Part 4. Denial, doubt, and fear
“Uncertainty is commonly misunderstood to mean that scientists are not certain of their results, but the term specifies the degree to which scientists are confident in their data.”
– Anthony Carpi and Anne E. Egger, Data: Uncertainty, Error, and Confidence
Science is a cooperative endeavor dedicated to produce the most accurate possible image of how
things are now, or once were, or will be. No clique can rig an inaccurate image of truth and perpetuate it. Science is about our understanding of the Cosmos and everything included within. Competition among peers is relentless, and valid hypotheses that turn out to be wrong are identified, and those on the right track are reinforced. Science is never a one-track path of advance, but rather it is a web of thought. Scientists must simplify the web for the public so they may derive some tangible meaning from the complexity; however, scientists must not be so simplistic as to present science as a singular linear train of thought, as from ignorance to knowledge, from false to true, from evil to good. It is rather a dispassionate construction of an image of reality that is never perfect but can be ignored or inverted only to one’s peril.
Being wrong is not the issue. Reality is always there and rather insistently will tend to correct any falsehoods and incorrect conceptions. A few activists among the climate skeptics appear to have sincere motives to get to the bottom of matters, which can be confusing and complicated (because the Earth is complicated). The climate-change science community has no worries about well-intending skeptics; we thrive on serious questions and rise to the challenge of developing better explanations, filling logical or observational gaps, and doing a better job at communicating the science. Where we are weak, we need and thrive on criticism; identifying weaknesses in one another’s work, and our own, and then remedying the weaknesses, is what we do for a living. The history of science is replete with examples of how nonscientists have contributed critical analysis that has strengthened or altered scientific ideas. In climate change science, deep probing by some of the more able skeptics led to an improved attention to uncertainties by many climatologists. This has improved the science (actually lending greater credence to the high side of climate sensitivities). Likewise, scientists who have models that may be on an extreme low or high side of climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases, or glaciologists who have nonstandard models of glacier responses, have nothing to fear; they may be wrong, or they may be right. Ideas that rail against the status quo of general understanding can and do meet with some resistance, but ultimately those ideas are given a hearing.