Someone very dear to me told me, a few weeks ago, that he had noticed I was becoming more and more intolerant with several positions and people —among them, climate change deniers. He felt it wasn’t fitting for a scientist, a person supposed to examine the facts objectively and to be a professional doubter, to reject challenges to the scientific consensus as a matter of principle.
So I started thinking whether I was indeed failing to uphold the values of my profession; whether I was becoming intransigent on scientific matters. I concluded that, at least for software research, I wasn’t at fault: several of my papers are challenges to popular notions in my field. Among other things, my coauthors and I have argued that mining software repositories is plagued with dangers, that software processes may be irrelevant or, at least, of very limited applicability, that literally replicating experiments of software developers may not be an appropriate strategy under some conditions, and that software estimation is extremely sensitive to judgmental biases. In fact, the theoretical foundations of my field are so weak that I think professional sceptics could build a good and productive academic career mainly by poking holes in them. (They would build an even better academic career by developing better theoretical foundations, though.)
What about scepticism towards climate change? Well, first of all, I am not a climate scientist. Though the theoretical foundations of climatology are relatively simple, there are far too many details I do not know, and if I wanted to know them I’d need to spend another decade at school. As a scientist, I must defer to the conclusions climatologists reach —with caution, of course, especially if their field is as immature as mine.
But it turns out to be quite mature, and for several years now climate science has reached a consensus as strong as that on evolution or the germ theory of disease. You wouldn’t know that by just tuning in to the news: in the interest of “balance,” journalists often look for someone -anyone- to counter the very grave conclusions reached by climate scientists. But if you talk to climatologists or read their work you’ll discover that the debate is artificial, that it happens almost exclusively in the media, and that denialism is entirely disconnected from scientific practice.
So the science is clear — we’re essentially burning our planet. There is simply no credible scientific opposition to this consensus. Since the consequences are so catastrophic, it is everyone’s moral duty to fight them, and at the very least to stop the misinformation in the public sphere — even if we sometimes, sadly, appear to be intolerant.
This is why I love John Cook’s Skeptical Science website (found via Steve’s blog). It’s a sort of Snopes.com for climate science: it lists all the popular arguments against the scientific consensus and it explains how they have been debunked. The site also sorts denialist arguments under a useful taxonomy, in case that works better for you. So just like you’d refer your uncle to Snopes whenever he sends you a chain letter telling you that next month Mars is going to look as big as the moon or some other nonsense, you can use Skeptical Science as a handy reference to fight his fabricated doubt on climate change.