The internet has created a new movement in science of the Citizen Scientist (aka sceptics in climate). This movement now rivals “official” sources for credibility in areas like climate. Is it time for this movement, which is so critical of “official” science for poor standards, to raise its own standards?
“Science” as we know it today, has very little in common to “science” when institutions like the Royal Society were founded in the 17th century. Paradoxically, we sceptics are arguably far closer to the this 17th century scientific “ideal” than most of today’s academics. Like them we are largely individuals who pursue knowledge for personal interest without being funded & directed by government grant bodies. In contrast, most modern “science” is part of a factory-style sausage-machine of scientific-clone-workers with next to no knowledge outside academic-science or indeed of the philosophical basis of “science” and knowledge.
So, there is much to praise about us sceptics, “climate auditors” or citizen scientists. But, as Lewandowsky is keen to assert, the internet is also full of conspiracy theorists: whether it is those who believe aliens will come to destroy planet earth because of humanity’s treatment of the planet, or those who believe big corporations are behind everything.**
(**Such as big oil making money from rising energy prices and with its huge wind interests must be funding those sceptical of those trying to increase the price of carbon and bolster profits from their wind interests).
So perhaps Lewandowsky in his naivity has raised a serious point: what is so different between “citizen scientists” who look at the facts and see academics conspiring to “hide the decline” and “conspiracy theorists” like BIG OILERs?
This raises some awkward questions:
- How do the public know when to trust citizen scientists like us sceptics and when not?
- The genie of the internet made it possible to create communities of citizen scientists and that genie cannot be put back in the bottle … but just because it cannot be stopped, should these “citizen scientists” be encouraged?
- The prevailing mood of sceptics is that “official” science should be better. But as “science” is now so much of a grant-led sausage machine needing scares like global warming, can “official” science ever be good enough not to need us citizen scientists?
- Can “official” science (in all its areas and not just climate) ever be made good enough not to need us citizen scientists?
- “Official” science is trying to ignore the phenomenon of the internet-powered citizen scientists (or as with us sceptics undermine our credibility by calling us “deniers”). That is rightly backfiring as the public realise that the real “deniers” are those who have been denying the pause in temperature. As a result “sceptics” are becoming more and more credible. But does that mean that all who appear as “citizen scientists” should be seen as credible? And who judges?
- We sceptics have an ethos of robustly critiquing each other that far surpasses anything seen in “peer review” … Or perhaps we sceptics owe “warmists” a debt of gratitude, because they have taken the time to critique our work which has generally raised the standard. But not all areas of citizen science have the same rigorous debate and even in climate, not all sceptic blogs either attempt or achieve the same high standard as for example Climate Audit. This situation is anarchic – but it has worked – but can it be relied on to continue working or do we need to do something to make it work better?
As a result of the debacle over climate, and the high standards of notable sceptics, our credibility has grown, or at least sustained, as that of “official sources” like the IPCC and Met Office have dropped. The result is that sceptics, albeit unofficially, are becoming a real force in the development of public policy. For example, few can doubt that if it were not for sceptics, much more of the anti-industry/CO2 policy would now be strangling our economies.
However, do we really deserve our success?
Whilst we have been highly critical of others for their poor standards, we have ourselves operated in a way that if official scientist behaved like us, it would have brought down howls of indignation. We have no organisation, we criticise “official” science for poor standards, but we ourselves have no recognised standards as we effectively say and do whatever we like.
Is this really the way those who are affecting government policy should behave? Is it time to stop being so hypocritical? Is it time to change? Can we change? Should we change?