Skeptical Science honoured by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

I’m honoured to be elected as one of ten new Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. It’s especially cool to be listed with some scientists whom I deeply admire such as Naomi Oreskes, Stephan Lewandowsky and James Powell.

One of the goals when I started Skeptical Science was to restore the good name of skepticism, whose reputation has been sullied by being associated with science denial. The Committee for Skeptical Inquirer have also worked hard to claim back the word skepticism, including the powerful article Deniers are not Skeptics written by a number of prominent skeptics, featuring Mark Boslough, Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins and Bill Nigh. They also published my article Taking Back Skepticism.

What to call those who reject mainstream climate science (to borrow the terminology of Associated Press) is a topic of hot debate. There are two key points to remember in this debate, which we emphasise in our free online course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

Firstly, skepticism and denial are polar opposites. A genuine scientific skeptic first considers the full body of evidence then comes to a conclusion. A denialist comes to a conclusion first (usually influenced by ideology), then denies any science that conflicts with their position.

People who deny the scientific consensus on climate change are anything but skeptical. Consequently, it’s inappropriate and inaccurate to refer to them as “climate skeptics”. But how do you discern if someone is a genuine skeptic or a science denialist? A useful framework are the five characteristics of science denial (FLICC). When someone relies on fake experts, employs logical fallacies, demands impossible expectations, cherry picks the data or resorts to conspiracy theories, they are demonstrating the tell-tale traits of denial.

Secondly, some people shy away from identifying science denial as science denial. As the Associated Press articulates, this is largely because denialists get cranky when their behaviour is accurately identified. I would argue that refraining from accurate characterisation because we’re afraid of a few frowny faces on the Internet is not a sound guide to how to conduct ourselves.

Rather, I advocate an evidence-based approach to this issue. There is a growing body of scientific research into the phenomenon of science denial. Why do some people deny science? How do they do it? What do we do in response? If we are to reduce the influence of science denial, we need to answer these questions. And social scientists have been conducting empirical experiments investigating these very questions, and providing both insight and best-practices on how to respond to science denial.

Forbidding people from referring to science denial as science denial is actually ignoring or denying the scientific research into science denial. Which is kind of ironic, I think.

Posted by John Cook on Friday, 16 October, 2015

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