A number of emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in 2009, supplying global warming sceptics with plenty of ammo against advocates of the orthodox view of the issue. In Climategate: The Truth is Out There. Somewhere, Andrew Coyne tries to answer the question if the laics should take the scientists at their word in the light of this scandal.
As voters, we have the power to impact political issues that will shape our future, a category that global warming definitely falls into. As laics, we lack understanding of such complex scientific issues, but can we trust recognized authorities in the field to help us make the right decision? According to Coyne, the trust between the scientific community and the general public was seriously compromised by the Climategate affair, which gave the scientists solid reasons to distrust the public and the public solid reasons to distrust the scientists.
The emails that leaked out revealed, among other things, that scientists advocating the orthodox view on global warming were prepared to step out of the confines of acceptable scientific behavior and go as far as doctoring numbers and preventing their opponents from publishing in journals. Until now they have had the advantage of being able to claim that all relevant scientists supported the orthodox view, but now this advantage is gone, since at least some of these scientists discredited themselves with their behaviour. If a scientist employs such shady methods and vilifies his opponents in the public, it is reason enough to doubt his word.
[...] We should no longer subject to the authority of scientists, Coyne advises us, because scientists have shown us that they can be wrong. What we really need is a way to tell the difference between real authority and received wisdom and between legitimate scepticism and obstinate refusal to accept any evidence against one's beliefs. Coyne supplies us with three tools to do this: questioning the scientist's credentials, examining the novelty of the thesis, and looking at the widely accepted truths that would have to be thrown down for the new thesis to be proven true. [...]
[...] However, this does not happen often and is not likely to happen in case of global warming, as it would require us to dismiss a large amount of what we know about physics and chemistry. When climate sceptics do not take this into regard, they give us another reason for scepticism. Bibliographical Reference Coyne, A. (2010) The Truth is out there: Somewhere. [...]
[...] Until now they have had the advantage of being able to claim that all relevant scientists supported the orthodox view, but now this advantage is gone, since at least some of these scientists discredited themselves with their behaviour. If a scientist employs such shady methods and vilifies his opponents in the public, it is reason enough to doubt his word. Just as it is no longer true that all respectable scientists support the orthodox truths about global warming, it is likewise not true that all sceptics are loonies. Coyne makes a point that, although they are in a minority, there are some distinguished scientists in this group whose input definitely needs to be taken into consideration. [...]
[...] The same applies to the novelty of a thesis. When considering an idea, we should ask ourselves if it is a fresh concept or if it has been around for a while. Obviously, the longer it has been around, the more it can be trusted, as it has managed to resist all attempts at denial that have been thrown its way for quite an amount of time. Coyne gives Darwin's theory of natural selection as an example of this: it faced plenty of criticism along the line, but nobody in their right mind would try to dispute it today. [...]
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