As regular readers will know, I prefer the term “pseudoskeptic” over “denier” when it comes to those who insist we needn’t be worried about climate change. This is because the common denominator among any set of such characters tends to be a misapplication of the scientific method, a failure to apply rigorous skeptical analysis to the subject. Not all of these pseudoskeptics are deniers, as this list from Foreign Policy makes clear.
Indeed, the distinctions among the selected “Guide to Climate Skeptics” make it even more important to choose our descriptors carefully. I would argue that calling them “skeptics” is the authors’ first mistake. But let’s look at each one in turn as FP tries to “sort out the noise from the serious concerns.”
First up is Ross McKitrick, an “economist at the University of Guelph in Ontario; fellow at the Fraser Institute, a free-market think tank.” This is the economist half of the “hockey stick is flawed” duo, along with Steve McIntyre, who doesn’t rate his own entry for some reason. McKitrick may have once been a genuine skeptic, but long after the hockey stick was revised, confirmed and validated a dozen times over, he’s still at it, suggesting no real devotion to science as such. Associating himself with the Fraser Institute, which has never shown any commitment to evidence-based analysis, further undermines his credibility.
Next is Roger Pielke Jr., but not his father. Another curious selection. Pielke gets lot of attention from former NY Times reporter Andy Revkin, but also warrants his own entry in Tim “Deltoid” Lambert’s list of those who consistently get the science wrong. The thing to note is Pielke is not a climatologist, but a social scientist who describes his interests as “understanding the relations of science and politics, technology policy in the atmospheric and related sciences, use and value of prediction in decision making, and policy education for scientists.” He is also not a climate skeptic, accepts the basics of anthropogenic global warming and objected to FP‘s decision to include him on the list.
Number 3 is John Christy, who made a name for himself, along with creationist Roy Spencer, pointing out that satellite data showed the world wasn’t warming anywhere near as much as the ground-based data suggested. A few years ago, though, it turned out the satellites had been miscalibrated and when their data were corrected to take that into account, the discrepancy disappeared. His data for this past month show the Earth is about 0.72 °C above pre-industrial levels. Yet he continues to make contrarian statements. Curious really. Hard to figure him out.
Fourth is Richard Lindzen, the once-respected scientist who is now largely considered a crank. Although he’s obviously a right-wing ideologue, and doesn’t publish much anymore, he’s the most scientifically accomplished on the list and it would be foolish to dismiss him. I would argue that he and Christy are perhaps the only two genuine scientific skeptics on the list and as such his arguments merit consideration. Until now, however, his arguments have failed to withstand criticism from his peers.
Then we have Bjorn Lomborg, who isn’t a publishing scientist or even a denier. He accepts the science, just takes issue with the threat climate changes poses. He is, however, a pseudoskeptic, as he has shown a consistent inability to understand the sources he cites. He argument boils down to a blind faith in our ability to find cheap solutions to energy and climate challenges at some point in the future — before things get really bad. So another non-scientific, non-skeptic.
Next is Freeman Dyson, an aging giant of the sciences who no longer keeps up to date. He seems like to play the contrarian card, but has no serious adherents in the field. Hardly deserving of inclusion.
Freelance mathematician Douglas Keenan wants to be take seriously, but as Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate lays out, is finding that hard to do.
The inevitable Anthony Watts makes an appearance. He has a popular blog, but doesn’t quite get the whole science-as-process thing. As the FP entry points out, his efforts to find flaws in the U.S. temperature-recording network have failed, but he isn’t letting a little thing called peer review get in his way,
Finally we get Christopher Booker, Richard North and Christopher Monckton, none of whom have ever made anything approaching a serious contribution to the debate.
So has FP managed to sort out the signal from the noise? More or less. But the fact that there is only one publishing climatologist (Christy) on the 11-member list tells us much more than do the particulars of the entry.
I’d also like to float the idea that it’s the journalists who quote them, rather the pseudoskeptics themselves, that are the real problem these days. Jonathan Leake comes to mind…