Bioethics Blogs

Cross Post: What do sugar and climate change have in common? Misplaced scepticism of the science

Written by Professor Neil Levy, Senior Research Fellow, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Erosion of the case against sugar. Shutterstock

Why do we think that climate sceptics are irrational? A major reason is that almost none of them have any genuine expertise in climate science (most have no scientific expertise at all), yet they’re confident that they know better than the scientists. Science is hard. Seeing patterns in noisy data requires statistical expertise, for instance. Climate data is very noisy: we shouldn’t rely on common sense to analyse it. We are instead forced to use the assessment of experts.

So we think that experts should have much greater standing on these questions than non-experts. And we think that a consensus of experts is particularly good evidence for a claim. Famously, there is a near consensus among (relevant) experts about climate. The exact numbers have altered from study to study, but there is a consensus on the consensus: about 97% of climate scientists agree that the world is warming and that our emissions are largely to blame.

In response, climate sceptics sometimes argue there is no consensus, citing, for instance, an infamous petition allegedly signed by thousands of scientists rejecting the claims of man-made global warming. Even if the signatories to the petition are all genuine, and all have credentials in science (both claims are hard to verify), few have expertise in climate science: so the petition is entirely consistent with the 97% consensus claim.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.