What Is A “Climate Change Skeptic”? Assist With Definition

As requested by Richard Drake and J Ferguson, who began a conversation on a similar topic last week, this new post asks what is the best “opinion poll-ready definition of climate skeptic.”

As in, “Excuse me madam,” assuming we’re still allowed to use that form of address, “Would you classify yourself as a climate skeptic, where by ‘climate skeptic’ I mean X?” Our job is to fill in the “X.”

This isn’t an easy question. I know of nobody who denies that the Earth’s climate has changed. I also do not know any trained scientist, or any non-trained but educated civilian, who denies the evidence that mankind has influenced the climate. Every species influences the climate. Every non-living thing, too.

The main question is how much? Implicit in that is “Why?” Orthogonal queries—to the main question and to each other—are, “What are the consequences?” and, “What can or should we do about them?” My experience is that these questions are often conflated, or that people let the answer from one skew their judgment of the others. Thus, whatever question we arrive at should make plain that other questions are immaterial.

The way I posed the main question implies the answer should be “Yes” or “No.” It needn’t. It could be put entirely quantitatively, as in, “What degrees C will the Earth’s average temperature be in 2015 and 2020?” The answer could also be an interval in which the responder is, say, 90% sure his answer will fall. I like this one because, as I say always, this is the best test of any theory.

The next objective is to decide who gets to answer. An internet poll is of no use. The opinion of the uneducated is of use, but only politically. It can only tangentially answer the question of how convinced the electorate is.

Should we ask economists, sociologists, engineers, and so forth? After all, the IPCC touts these kinds of folks as “climate” scientists. Once more, the use of asking them is only political, because few of these people will have primary knowledge of the subject.

So, ask only those trained in assessing climate data (modelers, dynamicists, forecasters, etc.)? Great idea. First find me a list of these people. Then verify that the folks on the list deserve to be there. Just defining “deserve” ought to be a useful exercise. At the least, it would put to rest claims of “The consensus”—which, incidentally, seems to have faded from discourse. As has “The science.”

Please, I beg you, be dull in your discussions. Attempts at hilarity will not be helpful here.

To summarize, we have two goals:

  1. What question best answers the term “climate skeptic”?
  2. Who should answer this question?

Update 17 January Comments for all posts are closed after one week to avoid a deluge of spam. I’m just back and will try and summarize this post in a new one soon.


  1. Joe

    Is the question not more easily framed in a way to identify “climate believers” then inverting the response to identify “sceptics”?

    My reason for suggesting that is that, from my observations, believers have a single, identifiable, core belief that man’s actions are harming the climate in ways that cause net harm. Sceptic’s beliefs, on the other hand, encompass (amongst others) that man is having no detectable effect, that any effect will not be harmful, that any effect will cause net benefit, or that we simply don’t know enough about the system yet to know. Those possibilities can’t be wrapped up in a single question without making it read like something out of a piece of (heavily amended) legislation!

    Of course, framing the question in a way to identify believers and deduce who’s a sceptic leaves the problem of people who have a considered opinion that they don’t know and don’t care – sort of “climate apathists” if you like. The true believer would probably include them in the “sceptical denialist big-oil seal-killer” camp and the true sceptic may well accept them as not being one of the “leftist world-government tofu-munchers” but shouldn’t they really be in a separate category of their own?

    So could I ask two questions please?

    (a) Do you have, or expect to develop, any interest in climate change as an issue?

    (b) Do you believe that man is changing the climate in avoidable ways and that those changes are, on balance, harmful?

    For all those who answer “yes” to (a) we can then say that those who also answer “yes” to (b) hold the core AGW belief and any who answer “no” to (b) are climate sceptics, in that they don’t subscribe to that core belief.

    As to who should be asked, I’m not a statistician so I’ll leave questions of sampling to someone else!

  2. John

    1) Climate sceptic question. Are you someone who asks for tangible evidence to support the claim that Mankind is predominantly responsible for any change to climate heat content by igniting fossil fuels?

    2) Who should be asked? Any adult.

  3. j ferguson

    I was most interested in “informed” opinion. How to qualify “informed?” I had suggested an understanding of radiative physics. The most effective question would be one that I wouldn’t know, not myself being “informed.”

    Maybe something like “Name the radiation passed by CO2 molecules in the atmosphere and the radiation absorbed or reflected.” No multiple choice.

    I agree with Joe. I’m interested in discovering holders of “informed” opinion who are convinced of a significant effect due to increase in CO2 content of the atmosphere.

    I’d pose the question to those qualified by the first question, “Are you convinced that the effects of co2 growth in the atmosphere warrant consideration of governmental intervention?”

    My preference for a question along these lines is based on not caring what people think who aren’t either advocating or resisting governmental intervention.

    Maybe others here don’t see the climate tussle as inextricably linked to politics, but that does seem to be where the noise is.

  4. Bernie

    I seem to recall Dick Lindzen making the point that he is not a “climate skeptic” but a denier that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that man has a measurable and practically significant impact on global climate. It seems to me that his position encapsulates the core issue whether we label his position that of a denier or a skeptic. But his position is a very
    demanding one: With Lindzen’s definition, there can be only a few people who can actually answer the question based on personal knowledge of the available evidence. A weaker definition might be – one who believes that there is insufficent evidence to suggest… I would not meet the requirements for Lindzen’s definition but I would qualify for the diluted version.
    Without the context for posing the question, I find it difficult to answer the second question as to “Who should be asked?” or even why the question should be asked.

  5. mrsean2k


    Do you believe that discretionary anthropogenic acitivity exerts a significant influence on globally monitored weather systems when compared with natural variation?


    As with @John, any adult.

    However, this isn’t the same as ” which answers should we regard as worth recording, any why?”

    My finger in the air test for that is “anyone who doesn’t ask for a simpler question”

  6. j ferguson


    much better than my suggestion. a very fine question indeed. excludes all who don’t understand the application of “discretionary” in this context. And we now don’t need a second question.

  7. Thanks very much to Matt for a new thread focusing on this issue, which I believe is both important and neglected. I’m tied up mostly until the middle of the week so I won’t dive in deeply now, except to say that I agree that *sean* (unique with wildcards!) has come up with something useful.

    My target audience though was always voters (in any democracy, better say English-speaking for now). That is why my original suggestion was couched in the terms it was. I believe that’s a difficult and worthwhile exercise in itself. In the end I would like a series of questions – a tree in fact, with the next question asked dependent on previous answers – with ‘skeptic’ potentially being the union of various subsets defined by each possible series of answers.

    I agree that there’s another, extremely important exercise seeking to define whose opinion is worth having on the scientific aspects, which is where *sean*’s question lives. The strength of it is that it doesn’t seek to qualify the ‘significant influence’ by whether it’s harmful or not – because that brings in economic and social judgments that are outside the expertise of the required scientific elite.

    If Matt isn’t fed up of the subject you may hear more – a lot more! – from me in a few days!

  8. PS My original proposal is at https://www.wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=3354&cpage=1#comment-33672. The motivation last June was partly to be able to establish whether the views of a group I’d gathered together to look at the openness of climate science and policy, broadly defined, was representative of the wider community of voters. I think this is a very important question to be able to ask – but the current weaknesses in opinion polls makes it virtually impossible to answer. I don’t think for example the BBC has nailed it, despite the interesting change in the numbers post-Climategate – see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8500443.stm

  9. Bernie

    For me, adding “believe” to the question has troubling implications – though I recognize that it may be necessary given the amount of uncertainty and the need to respond to proposals that have serious implications. Lindzen’s position is that it is not a matter of belief, but a lack of compelling empirical evidence that leads him to his “denier” position. That seems to me to open the matter up for discussion, where as the assertion of a “belief” tends to constrain further discussion and grossly simplifies the entire debate.

  10. Tom Bakewell

    Someone with a reasonably broad background in history seems to be a natural candidate as some sort of ‘skeptic’. If proxies don’t match recorded historical events then something isn’t right.

    I was trained at Rensselaer and worked as a geophysicist. It always came down to what data can be trusted and how was it measured. Conclusions had to be supported with data because both lots of money and sometimes lives depended on accurate interpretation.

  11. j ferguson

    I liked Richard Drake’s suggestion of “convinced” as a less troubling term for a question in this area.

    “Unconvinced” seems less loaded to me than denier.

  12. Bob Ludwick

    Of course the question as phrased is meaningless. The first requirement is to define what skeptics are skeptical OF.

    As I understand it, the basic premise of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) (and the whole shebang CONTINUES to focus on warming, no matter the morph to Climate Change, Climate Disruption, or the catch phrase of the day) is:

    The climate of the earth is warming rapidly. The warming is unprecedented and is being driven by the introduction of huge quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere as a byproduct of western technological civilization. The rate of change is increasing rapidly and computer models show that unless action is taken immediately to halt or limit our production of CO2 and/or take active measures to reduce atmospheric CO2, the changes will be catastrophic. CAGW poses an existential threat to not only humans, but to the biosphere as a whole. Because of the magnitude of the threat and the fact that it affects the planet as a whole, the only feasible method of addressing it is to establish an organization to regulate the production and consumption of energy worldwide, with commensurate authority to compel compliance with the regulations issued.

    Assuming that I stated the premise with reasonable accuracy, what is there about it that could possibly arouse skepticism?

  13. RickA


    Is the warming the globe has experienced since 1850 outside the bounds of natural variation since the last interglacial started?

  14. Rich

    To what purpose will the answers be put? If it’s to produce numbers (which may or may not be abused later) I’d ask:

    “Do we need to take action NOW to prevent the upcoming global disaster brought on by mankind’s use of fossil fuels?”

    If you want to analyse the content of the answers then this question is useless but if you want to count the numbers who respond “Yes” or “No” then I suggest it might separate people into believers and non-believers along lines that most of us intuitively understand already.

  15. Are you SKEPTICAL that we must take specific steps NOW in order to adequately address FUTURE man-made climate change?

    The scientific method, by definition, already requires that the sole test of knowledge be experiment — not the consensus of scientists. Thus, every climate scientist is already a skeptic of any climate consensus.

    And everyone is concerned about us affecting the quality of our environment. Who would not be greatly alarmed by any future catastrophic climate changes we might cause?

    However, this has nothing to do with being a Climate Change Skeptic or a Climate Change Alarmist.

    By analogy, consider the abortion issue. In general, most people are both pro-life and pro-choice, yet a person must either basically be a Pro-Life advocate or a Pro-Choice advocate. It is impossible to be both.

    So what is the importance of the definition of Climate Change Skeptic? It is important to advocacy. So what is the basic assumption behind all forms of climate change advocacy?

  16. Tim

    The term “Climate Skeptic” is a mean spirited, derogatory moniker placed on individuals who do not share the same beliefs or faiths as those who support the predictions, models and theories brought forth by factions in the scientific, political and altruistic communities who claim that mass CO2 producing human activity is the predominate cause for erratic warming patterns of the earths climates.

    Ask anyone.

  17. DAV

    I think Joe is on the right track. Being a “climate skeptic” means viewing recent environmental claims with skepticism. Unfortunately, the list of claims is maybe too long. Some of which are:

    1. The warming in the latter decades of the 20th century is unprecedented in human history
    2. The warming is verging of catastrophe
    3. The upcoming catastrophe is evidenced by recent weather extremes
    4. Humans are the major cause of this warming and thus can avert it by changing their ways (in particular by reducing carbon emissions)

    I don’t know how to sum all that into a neat phrase. Being a skeptic means (to me) to allow room for doubt of any one of those claims.

  18. DAV

    “The opinion of the uneducated is of use, but only politically. It can only tangentially answer the question of how convinced the electorate is.”

    And the reason for the poll is ….. ?

    If estimating the electorate’s position isn’t the reason what is it? Surely, we aren’t trying to evaluate the claims of the warmers by vote. Knowing the reason behind the poll should answer who should be asked. (I would think)

  19. Jim

    Would you classify yourself as a climate skeptic, where by ‘climate skeptic’ I mean someone who does not believe coercive, collective state action should be proposed as a solution?”

  20. Steve

    It is quite simple. Anyone who is not sceptical about scientific hypotheses that have not been rigorously supported by properly peer-reviewed and replicated evidence is not fit to be called a scientist. Take away their PhDs and make them earn a living down a coal mine.

    In climate science, if it may be called so, AGW is certainly in this category. Nobody has even claimed to have proved a quantitative causal relationship and it seems that effective peer-review and replication, as recommended by Popper et al, have not yet been introduced.

  21. Kevin

    Climate skeptic: A person who displays some disbelief in the current, popular wisdom about climate, it’s causes, and its future course.

  22. GoneWithTheWind

    What defined a climate skeptic in the 11th century? How about the 16th and 17th century? (In the little ice age a climate skeptic burned withces at the stake). Who is the skeptic, the one who believe our climate is cyclical and controlled by the sun and the earths movements in relation to the sun or is it the person who thinks it all began with an SUV? Is the skeptic the one who is appalled at the fraud and dishonesty that was/is the scientific community that was exposed when someone made their emails available online? I am skeptical that using our precious energy supplies to convert corn to ethanol causing a worldwide food shortage was ever a smart decision. I am skeptical that our government has our best interests in mind when they make energy decisions. I am skeptical that when we “all” make sacrifices to the “green gods” that the elite in government will sacrifice anything. I am skeptical that when our current naturally occurring global warming cycle ends and the next natural occurring global cooling cycle begins that the global warming nuts will be any smarter or that the “sacrifice” we all must make to the “climate change” gods will be any different. I am very skeptical that throwing another virgin into the volcanoe is going to appease the gods…

  23. JH

    As an OBSERVER, I have seen the positions of so called skeptics progress as follows. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    0) No Global warming…

    1) Yes, there is a warming trend during 1970-2005, but no worry since we don’t know the ideal temperature of Earth…

    2) No doubt that there is a climate change but AGW is a hoax…

    3) It’s likely that the change is due to human activities but it can also be due to natural variability…

    4) No doubt that mankind influences the climate but how much…

    5) No doubt that increasing greenhouse effect will cause the surface to warm if all other things remaining constant…

    6) Low climate sensitivity to CO2, solar radiance, water vapor and so on…

    7) T0 be continued later…

    So, they are skeptics in the sense that they are willing to change their minds and accept certain results, and have continued questioning!

  24. I don’t use “skeptic” anymore. The preferred moniker is “climate realist”.

    Skepticism is realism. Ignorant belief is idealism at best, delusion at worst.

    The founding and principal adherents of CAGW don’t really believe in their putative theories. They know that science cannot exist without skepticism, that skepticism is at the core of the Scientific Method. Doubt is the only true consensual agreement among scientists.

    CAGW is a scam. It’s all about extracting wealth from the poor and concentrating it in the pockets of the already very wealthy. The con men involved at the highest levels of the CAGW Hoax know it is a con. They are not delusional — they may be disengenuous and dishonest, but they are not delusional. Like the Enron execs, they are very smart and are in fact realists who play on the irrational fears of (many of) their fellow humans.

    The believers are victims of the scam. They are ignorant people who placed their trust in the hoaxers. They are, as Barnam described them, suckers.

    Hence a “climate skeptic” is anyone who is not a sucker for the CAGW hoax.

    Is that too un-dull? If so, once again I apologize for making something other than a bland and meaningless comment.

  25. L Nettles

    This chain of logic is from Warren Myers’ Coyote Blog

    1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
    2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
    3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
    4. The increases in world temperatures due to man’s CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
    5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

    Each of these questions has a role to play in determining the existence of a Climate Skeptic

  26. j ferguson


    Line #5 appears to betray a skeptic’s hand. Do you imagine that the proponents of the various schemes to “significantly” reduce or control the increase of CO2 emissions have really recognized the costs indicated?

  27. IMO most commenters here are too deeply invested in their specialties and fields to reasonably resolve this issue. I offer an alternative view. Taking a cue from Joe, who wisely points out we are questioning the wrong folk and should concentrate on determining the veracity of “believers”, rather than “skeptics”, I believe the folk asking the questions – and thus parsing the responses – should belong to a class of individuals falling in at least one of the following categories:
    a. did you parent and raise to [their assumed] majority at least three teenagers?
    b. did you work in a front-line position at a Department of Motor Vehicles for at least five years?
    c. did you work in the field as a peace officer for at least five years?
    d. did you work as a clerk or judge in a traffic court for at least five years?

    There may be other qualifying occupations and experiences, but the mentioned individuals have broad and frequent experience recognizing and dealing with liars. They are the ones among us most uniquely suited to smell out the stench of evasiveness, untruthfulness, equivocation, fabrication, dissemblance, misrepresentation, promotion and delusion. Under my suggestion they would make the initial call, and then turn their results over to folks commenting here for any necessary collaborative confirmation. In that way the process would be basic, straight-forward and above reproach.

    You’re welcome.

  28. papasan

    One of the posters in the earlier thread linked to a well-written essay by Michael Crichton in which Dr. Crichton drew parallels between the once popular acceptance of eugenics with the popular acceptance of AGW. It should give one pause to think that eugenics could still be with us as accepted, well-settled science but for the extreme actions of murderous mad men. Read the essay before you cry foul at the comparison; Crichton deftly recognizes the differences in the theories and their logical consequences. His point is about how easily ideas are accepted as fact in spite of a lack of good science in support. We have seen that once a theory is generally accepted by people as fact it is difficult to remove the theory from conventional wisdom even if disproved by science (any bets on how many people think vaccinations cause autism?). And while a theory stays in the conventional wisdom there is a corresponding smugness from the true believers that the theory has been scientifically proven. Are we headed in the same direction with AGW?

    All of this is to say that I think that the questions should be asked of the rank and file rather than the experts. The questions should be asked in ways to help educate people and to give policy makers a better perspective on their electorate. And the polling should be non-partisan – if that is even possible here in the US.

    I have zero expertise in climatology, meteorology, weather, statistics, and science in general, matched by the same degree of expertise in politics, policy making, and polling. Nonetheless, to take a stab at questions to ask the general populace as an illustration of my thoughts on the subject, I would ask questions along the lines of the following:

    1. Would you pay higher taxes to combat AGW?
    2. If you answer “yes” to the first question, would you pay the higher taxes without first requiring that the science supporting AGW be well settled?
    3. Alternatively, if you answer “yes” to the first question, would you pay the higher taxes without requiring any models used in support of AGW to successfully predict climate change for a reasonable period of time (however you may define “a reasonable period of time”)?
    4. Are you aware that if you answered “no” to any of the above questions you are regarded as a climate skeptic or as a climate change denier?

    BTW, here in New Mexico, our new governor has appointed a new Energy Secretary identified by the local main stream media as one “who bucks conventional wisdom on human-caused global warming.” The same media (Albuquerque Journal, 1/7/2011) quotes an “environmentalist” who refers to the appointee as a “climate change denier.”

    My approach would be to inform people that the media uses these terms to describe reasonable rather than extreme behavior and positions.

  29. Bernie

    Interesting approach and points. Your example of the NM Energy Secretary underlines the idea that the value and meaning of the label of climate skeptic depends upon the context. I wonder how the new appointee describes his or her own position and whether he or she accepts or rejects the label of climate skeptic.

  30. David

    1)Determining what people thinks is often hard to determine, even if you ask them. That’s why looking at their actions gives a better idea of what they really think. So to answer what constitutes a climate skeptic, I would propose anyone who is not in favor of climate policy response. If you believe climate change is a real problem, you are in favor of policy responses. If you have any reservation (brought up by any of the usual suspects skeptics bring forward) then you will be against any policy response. Your willingness to refrain from any actions should be a good indicator of our skepticism.

    2)Anybody can answer this question. Depending on what you want to do with this info, you will probably see what the subset groups have to say (whether climate scientists, scientists in general, college graduates, political affiliation, gender, etc…)

  31. j ferguson

    Dr. Briggs,
    If you asked your students to define a climate skeptic, would a concise encompassing definition of a believer or “convinced” and a statement that a skeptic is any else pass muster?

    It occurs to me that believers as a group are not necessarily polar opposites of non-believers. So saying, I agree with several of the commenters above that it is more useful to identify the believers and then assume that everyone else can be thought skeptics.

    My question, then, would be “Are you convinced that the effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions now or projected warrant governmental intervention?” As Richard Drake pointed out in the earlier thread, this might include among the “convinced” some people that we might all have thought skeptical.

    Can you add that the “governmental intervention” might impose significant costs to the intervened economies without giving the question a political flavor?

    it appears that this skeptic-non-skeptic question is inextricably linked “science” with politics.

    Maybe the question should be “Do you think the drive to control CO2 emissions in connection with Climate Change politically motivated?”

    I realize that our host suggested that we define climate skeptic and what instead we’re doing is concocting questions. Is it legitimate to say that anyone answering our trick question affirmatively is a non-skeptic, by inference if not definition?

  32. Ken

    BRIGGS — your legalistic analysis is fundamentally flawed based on the fact that government authorities with the power to define the issue HAVE defined the issue (in this case they have defined what a “climate believer” believes, though not in such overt crass terms). Such intellectual parsing of a topic detracts from the very real issues being faced today. You might a well start debating what “is” means (relative to former Pres. Clinton’s infamous interrogation vis a vis M. Lewinsky, etc.).


    To summarize, we have two goals:

    1. What question best answers the term “climate skeptic”?
    2. Who should answer this question?


    ONE: To respond to question one, above (and not answer it with a “question” as this is, irrelevant),

    A “CLIMATE SKEPTIC” is someone that disagrees with any or all of the following to a sufficient degree that any basic premise therein articulated is rejected, or, that the premise is not [yet] accepted even if it has not been rejected:

    “Scientists know with virtual certainty that:

    “Human activities are changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.

    “The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

    “An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).

    “The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
    Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.”
    Source: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/stateofknowledge.html


    “Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will increase during the next century unless greenhouse gas emissions decrease substantially from present levels. Increased greenhouse gas concentrations are very likely to raise the Earth’s average temperature, influence precipitation and some storm patterns as well as raise sea levels.” SOURCE: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/futurecc.html

    AND: The net effects of such changes in climate are undesirable, so much so that taking action to mitigate or prevent their occurence is warranted AND imperitive.


    In the USA the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clearly defined the premises of belief–thus defining the criteria for “climate skepticism” (aka “deniers”)–as a matter of regulatory policy. It has taken subsequent actions as a result (declaring CO2 as a pollutant) and is embarking on further regulatory actions to avert climate change (actions sure to adversely impact the US economy, probably harshly if EPA gets its way).

    A MUCH BETTER QUESTION IS: “Who should define the criteria–and who should be responsible for approving derivative policy & regulatory requirements that will be imposed on society–for respondeing to climate change?”

    Clearly, today, informed observers think that in the USA the EPA is NOT the authority that ought to be responsible…but for the time-being it appears to be in just such a position.

  33. j ferguson

    Another thought. Maybe the appellation is the wrong one. Climatist? Someone who believes that the effects of human activities on the climate can be moderated by regulation.

    I probably should that I’m not so much concerned with opinions, convictions, beliefs one way or the other UNLESS they involve advocacy of governmental intervention in combination with the fantasy that “good” will be done.

    I should add that I don’t reject governmental intervention out of hand.

  34. Adam H

    1) What do you think we should do (or continue to do) to prevent the earth from experiencing catastrophic climate change within the next 50 years?

    2) Who should be asked: those who characterize themselves as either of the following: in a position to influence other’s opinions on this subject OR judged by a majority to have a disproportional amount of effect on the climate.

  35. j ferguson

    Ah, er…. make that “I should add that I don’t reject the concept of governmental intervention in the rare cases where the necessity is proven and there is no other alternative.”

  36. KuhnKat

    Climate Change Skeptic is a strawman created by the IPCC and enviros. There are few people who are skeptical of climate change. What we are skeptical about is the IPCC and enviros claims of large scale climate issues due to human activity.

    Climate Sceptic is similar. How can anyone be skeptical of climate?? Again, we are skeptical of alarmists exaggerations of anthropogenic effects.

    IPCC skeptic or climate alarmism skeptic would be more reasonable. I like denier myself. It shows the level at which the alarmists operated before being beaten over the head with their activities.

  37. Doug M

    Economists are part of the IPCC to asses the cost-benefit analysis of various approaches to CO2 mittigation, assuming that environmental consequences are accurately forecasted.

    I doubt that the economists have been consulted on model building. But, many economists have insight on the challenges of building a model with feedback.

  38. mt

    Why am I reminded of the recent discussion on “diversity”?

    Let’s look at the EPA definition of climate change:

    Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from: natural factors, such as changes in the sun’s intensity or slow changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun; natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation); human activities that change the atmosphere’s composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)

    Not much to be skeptical about there. So to be a “climate change skeptic” means we’re beyond the dictionary definition of the term and into a political definition. I think the real term we should be using is “climate science skeptic”. That’s the real sticking point. It’s OK to disagree with Greenpeace. They’re an advocacy group, they give opinions. However, it’s not OK to disagree with science, with hard facts and data. To do so means that something is wrong with you or your way of thinking.

    So my questions would be:

    1a: Do you trust the science (and/or scientists) behind climate science?
    1b: How much time have you independently spent looking at climate science?

    And anyone can be asked these questions.

    And a for Ken quoting the “virtually certain” section of the EPA State of Knowledge for climate change as a definition:

    What’s Very Likely? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”

    What’s Not Certain? Improving understanding of natural climatic variations, changes in the sun’s energy, land-use changes, the warming or cooling effects of pollutant aerosols, and the impacts of changing humidity and cloud cover. Determining the relative contribution to climate change of human activities and natural causes.

    To summarize, while we don’t know what the climate would be like without man’s influence, the unknown change of unknown size is very likely the fault of man.

  39. j ferguson

    “To summarize, while we don’t know what the climate would be like without man’s influence, the unknown change of unknown size is very likely the fault of man.”


  40. Jerry Musial

    Q: As the thermometer was invented circa 1722 and the dataset of earth’s global temperature is derived from thermometer records supplemented with temperature estimates derived by sampling various earth materials (ice cores, bristlecone pines, satellite observation) do you believe that the climate dataset available today can provide an accurate representation of earth’s past 2000 years?

  41. KuhnKat


    since the measurements being used are so poor that they must be adjusted and readjusted repeatedly I am skeptical that there IS much actual Science in you claimed Climate Science!! There are continuous arguments as to even the latest measurements made by Argo, Aqua, Ceres… Nope, until the Climate Scientists themselves can start agreeing on some data there ain’t no there there!!

  42. Bernie

    Your last sentence, if serious, is wonderfully ridiculous.
    Personally, I have no more trust in scientists than I do in lawyers, politicians and clergymen. “Trust but verify” is very a propos when it comes to anyone claiming to speak the truth or present facts.

  43. Richard

    Q1. What proportion of the instrumentally observed rise in Global Average Temperature since 1800 do you attribute solely to human activity as opposed to contributions from other, natural cycles?

    a) 100%
    b) 80%
    c) 60%
    d) 40%
    e) 20%
    f) 0%




  44. A friendly reminder from the IPCC


    You forgot to capitalize Science.

    Don’t let it happen again please.

  45. steven mosher

    Wanna know what’s weird. I believe in AGW, however, I also believe that the mails revealed some pretty shoddy behavior. Some people call me a skeptic because I believe in the science ,but refuse to excuse the wrongdoing in emails! WTF? Then the really crazy requests come.
    If you really believe in AGW you’ll denounce Monkton. Ok, consider him denounced. Denounce McIntyre! for what? his math? No, he is snarky! crap, I like snarky. The point being this. The term skeptic is just a catch all term for anybody who refuses to pass certain litmus test questions. You can believe in all the science, but if you like a snarky canook, you don’t belong in the tribe.

  46. j ferguson

    But how much AGW, Steven, how much? Enough? Too much?

    I think we were looking for a definition we could use, not the one presently in misuse.

    help us.

  47. Joe

    Steven makes an interesting point, which I tried to encapsulate in my original suggestion for questions. The problem is, for all the requests to “keep politics out of the question”, the question itself is inherently political. It’s an attempt to divide a group of people into two (or, I still maintain, three) groups according to their view of the world. You really can’t get more political than that!

    Taking that, and Steven’s comment about how he’s been categorised, into account I’d like to suggest the following question. It’s entirely political but possibly gets to the heart of what scepticism (in this or any other matter) entails:

    Q: Are you willing to seriously consider evidence from people who don’t fully agree with your current view on climate change?

    A “yes” answer to that proves scepticism.

  48. j ferguson


    “Q: Are you willing to seriously consider evidence from people who don’t fully agree with your current view on climate change?”

    This seems the most effective we’ve yet seen. And its beauty is that it works both ways. As a doubter of the efficacy of the present “proofs” of the C in CAGW, I continue to imagine that someone may come up with something I can appreciate, and while I won’t like it, it will be helpful.

  49. j ferguson

    and best of all, it’s sneaky.

  50. Mike B


    WTF? I thought you were a lukewarmer.

    Traitor! Turn in your card.


  51. Mike B

    Apologies if something very similar to this has already been posted, but this is my question that separates global warming/climate change skeptics:

    Are you convinced that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide generated from the continued burning of fossil fuels will result in catastrophic, irreversible damage to the Earth’s climate and eco-systems?

    If you answer “no”, you’re a skeptic. If you answer “yes” you’re not.

    Who should you ask?

    Anybody, I guess. But it would be interesting to see the results broken down by a variety of demographic variables, too numerous and deadly dull to get into here.

  52. j ferguson

    Richard Drake, It’s Wednesday. Your fans await.

  53. max

    Mike B.

    I’ve been pondering the question of how to differentiate skeptics from warmists since the question was asked here and came to a similar conclusion to yours, although because the original project was to identify “skeptics” my question allows more leeway for lukewarmers to answer “yes”. It pretty much has to be a question which is answer with a “no” since what defines a skeptic is a negative belief.

    The problem with the issue it is that the difference is in epistimologies. Warmists have one truth (in the post-modern sense) while skeptics have another, even though they have the same set of facts. The acrimony comes from the failure to recognize that (a post-modern) truth is not fact, it influences reality by changing peoples actions and it changes how people perceive reality, but it doesn’t change the nature of reality. Regardless of whether the warmists’ truth or the skeptics’ is correct, “the continued burning of fossil fuels will result in catastrophic, irreversible damage to the Earth’s climate and eco-systems” or it won’t – physical laws don’t care what 97% or 55% or 4% or even 100% of humans think.

    The issue is further compounded by human nature. Since I am an intelligent, rational person for whom THE TRUTH is obvious from an objective examination of the facts, those who reject THE TRUTH after being presented with the facts must be unintelligent, irrational and/or corrupt in their objectivity.* Sometimes intelligent, rational people who accepted THE TRUTH become corrupted and no longer objectively examine the facts, while they may still accept THE TRUTH they are corrupt and must be cast out before they can spread their corruption, which might lead some to reject THE TRUTH. It is entirely possible that the corruption may become widespread before I notice it and infest the majority of those who accept THE TRUTH, in which case my option is to wander the wilderness trying to instruct whatever intelligent, rational people I find in how to objectively examine the facts to see THE TRUTH. Skeptics are less vulnerable to falling into this mind-set because they started from a position of doubting a truth, but they are by no means immune (and many have it). Skeptics include those who have rejected THE TRUTH as accepted by the warmists by reason of lack of intelligence, irrationality, corruption before examination of the facts resulting in their never accepting THE TRUTH, and those who become corrupted and rejected THE TRUTH. Lukewarmers consist of those who accept THE TRUTH of warmism, but have been corrupted and accept it non-objectively (many used to call these “skeptics” too, and some still do but lukewarmers have become numerous enough that they should be differentiated from skeptics).

    And now I’m drifting off and getting off topic.

    *So goes the mindset that causes the acrimony. Personally I have a rule of thumb that any day in which I don’t give myself at least 3 reasons to doubt either my intelligence or my sanity is a day I haven’t done enough. While I strive for objectivity, I know I often fail. The again, I come from a fallen mankind school of philosophy which has few adherents these days. For us not only is failure an option, it is inevitable; and while perfection is the goal to strive for, it is an unobtainable goal. Coming from this school of philosophy makes it much easier for me to acknowledge my mistakes than it is for people believe that fallibility is a bug not a feature or that perfection is possible (but I’m also sure I am not perfect in this and no doubt have a blind-side where I don’t recognize my mistakes or something).

  54. steven mosher

    How Much AGW? hmm, this sounds like one of them there philosophy dilemmas.

    Let me detail what I believe and why I believe it is a “warranted belief”
    ( if you insist on references http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliabilism)

    First. I believe that adding C02 to the atmosphere will warm the planet and not cool it. I believe that the probability of an effect that is absolutely ZERO is vanishingly small. It will either warm the planet or cool it. I believe it will warm the planet. I base that belief on an understanding of radiative physics. These are physics that I used in my work ( aircraft sensors). Belief in those physics allowed me to build devices that worked as predicted. In short, RTE worked. I believe these physics to be reliable. When I look at satillite temperatures of the atmosphere I realize that the temperatures given ( models of observations) rely on radiative physics. When I built cell phones I had to rely upon the physics that explains how radiation propagates through the atmosphere. That physics worked. I can make calls. Further, I have seen no evidence whatsoever that leads me to believe that adding C02 will cool the planet. I have read no theory that explains why adding c02 would cool the planet. So I think that belief is warranted and reliable. it’s a justified belief.

    That’s tenet number one in AGW. GHGs warm they do not cool.

    Tenet number two. Man is responsible for the increase. My reason for belief here is less personal experience and more trust in the science. After reviewing the data colection procedures and possible explanations for the rise I think its reasonable to conclude that
    human activity has contributed to the rise and that this rise will warm the planet not cool it.

    That is it.

    Now, to the question of how much? whoaa. that’s a whole different question

    1. barely measurable? mousewarmers
    2. 1-3C per doubling? lukewarmers
    3. 3-6C per doubling? alarmists
    4. 6C+ catatrophists.

    See, in my book, there is no reason not to say you believe in AGW cause the real fight is how much.

  55. steven mosher

    So mike. My questions would go like this.

    1. Do you believe that it is cooler now than in 1850?
    if yes, your a skeptic.
    if no.. non depositive.
    2. Do you believe that doubling C02 from 1850 levels will a cooling effect
    or no measurable effect on temperatures?
    if yes, youre a skeptic.
    if no, you are a warmer

    I diabolically make it very hard to be a skeptic, consequently everybody is a warmer of some sort. This annoys alarmists whose rhetoric depends upon clear lines where belief in AGW means “must take action”

  56. I can solve both parts:

    “What do you think of ‘Climategate'”

    A) “reveals scandalous prejudicial and deck-stacking behavior by scientists” – skeptic

    B) “tragic and malicious misdirection of attention; reveals understandable impatience with pseudoscientists and obstructionists but nothing more sinister” – advocate

    C) “controversial” – journalist

    D) “huh?” – normal person, who should not have been asked

    I am firmly in camp B. The only positive contribution of the CRU hacker in my opinion was to facilitate this discrimination.

  57. steven mosher


    you forgot the category of people who thought.

    1. It showed fraud ( not me)
    2. It showed law breaking (the ICO)
    3.It showed CRU bring trouble upon themselves and a deriliction of administrative duties
    (the investigations)

  58. Mike B

    “Tragic and malicious”? “pseudoscientists and obstructionists”?

    Lordy you advocates are drama queens aren’t you?

    And why did you need climategate for a litmus test? If anything, climategate revealed that the “advocates” had already identified their enemies both within and without the scientific community.

  59. j ferguson

    Steven Mosher: “See, in my book, there is no reason not to say you believe in AGW cause the real fight is how much.”

    It’s so difficult to get beyond the pirouettes. I thought Briggs’ question quest had morphed to trying to provoke an answer which actually might be useful.

    “How much and how sure are you?” That seems pretty useful.

    If I take your list and use it a a skepticism scalar, then 1 and 2 might be thought skeptics and the other guys, the believers. It’s the believers who make me worry, and they seem to be the ones advocating costly governmental meddling in the hopes of affecting what could be mostly natural processes.

    I really do want to know who is, and who isn’t and the proportion between them among the scientific literate.

    Mike Tobis. You might have a little more compassion for those of us inadequately educated to follow the work of you and your colleagues in detail – assuming that you share enough of the details that we could.

    In our ignorance, well my ignorance, we’re left to a choice to accept which hinges on replication. Has the thing been replicated and if not why? It could well be that replications aren’t easily funded and may not be as useful in advancing careers and “the science” as moving on to the next thing.

    Understood. I have to concede that if I was doing these things and liked the looks of something< i'd be on to the next thing too.

    At the same time, I don't feel under any ethical imperative to accept inferences drawn on un-replicated studies even if those studies are seemingly substantiated by parallel studies.

    You and your colleagues seem dismayed that your work isn't universally accepted. You shouldn't be.

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