Anti-scientific “scepticism”? Climate change, smoking, and astrology

The refusal to accept scientific facts or to act on well-established scientific beliefs ought not be called scepticism. Science is the embodiment of sceptical thinking and rejecting it is a form of faith or dogmatism.

The dogmatic belief that climate change is not being caused by humans is a particularly pernicious form of this phenomenon often mislabelled as “scepticism”. Interestingly, at least one prominent Australian climate change denier turns out to have been a “sceptic” about the dangers of tobacco smoke as recently as 1995.

Australian Liberal senator Nick Minchin has stated that the idea that CO2 is “the main driver of climate change” is a kind of left-wing conspiracy intended to “de-industrialise the western world”.

This sort of statement dramatically reveals the ideologically based dogmatism that climate change deniers often hold. Minchin says that he sees environmentalism on par with communism and is something that must be fought against.

Interestingly, Kate Legge reported in yesterday’s edition of Murdoch’s The Australian that as recently as 1995, Minchin was a “sceptic” about the addictiveness of nicotine and the dangers of second hand smoke.

“Senator Minchin wishes to record his dissent from the committee’s statements that it believes cigarettes are addictive and that passive smoking causes a number of adverse health effects for non-smokers,” the committee’s minority report says. “Senator Minchin believes these claims (the harmful effects of passive smoking) are not yet conclusively proved. . . there is insufficient evidence to link passive smoking with a range of adverse health effects.”

Legge goes on to point out that in 1995 there were publicly available documents showing that even US and British tobacco companies acknowledged the daggers of passive smoke.

Minchin was not being “sceptical” about the dangers of tobacco smoke and is not being “sceptical” about climate change. Calling his beliefs “sceptical” is equivalent to calling an astrologer’s rejection of science “scepticism”. Of course, it is precisely science that provides the sceptical view point in these cases.

The attitude that Minchin and other climate change deniers take towards science is not only irrational and anti-sceptical but deeply irresponsible and anyone who holds it now ought to be considered completely discredited.