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Mar. 22, 2012

In Scientists We Trust… Except When We Don’t

by Neil Wagner

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Let’s take a look at the climate-change-related topics that appear in today’s comic strip:
A selective mistrust of scientists, especially with regards to certain hot-button issues.

While people are inclined to say they trust scientists, their actions don’t always support those words. In addition to the climate change debate (or so-called debate), there is the recent vaccine-autism controversy. With his book “Denialism,” author Michael Specter makes the case that for centuries, science was generally viewed as a neutral provider of information, whereas now it can be viewed as political and negative. Why?
 
Geologist James Lawrence Powell says that former climate skeptic Professor Richard Muller’s mistrust of the 98% consensus on climate change was not only offensive, but is also emblematic of an attitude that can actually set science back.
”He should have trusted the other scientists and the peer review process which had produced the data that he was questioning. Two years ago, you had 98% of the climate scientists in the world saying they accepted human-caused global warming. There was no reason to question that data, and it was a little offensive of Muller to simply say, ‘Well I don’t believe this until I do it myself.”
I’ve heard skeptics — lay people, mind you — who have said they won’t trust the “manipulated” findings of climate scientists until they can see the raw data for themselves. Of course, showing reams of raw data to a layperson will not likely convince them of anything. More commonly, I’ve heard skeptics admit up front that nothing will convince them of global warming’s reality.
 
A belief that humans can’t affect the climate.
Of course humans can affect the climate. The basic equation of climate change is a very simple and logical one, as we’ve described in this space before. In addition, this video by Bill Nye the Science Guy features a simple experiment (at the 48 second mark) that shows just how good CO2 is at heating things up.
 
A belief that climate change occurs in natural cycles.
As physicist John Cook’s website Skeptical Science points out, it’s true the climate changed before, but not because of a natural cycle. It changes because something has forced it to change: a brighter sun here, a volcanic eruption there, or a plethora of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions can all get the job done.
 
It just so happens humans are the main forcer right now and we are doing an awesome job of it.
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About Neil Wagner

Neil Wagner's What on Earth? comic strip uses humor to discuss global warming.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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