A simple poll of readers , begun two weeks ago, asked “Are you a closet skeptic?” After a reasonably healthy response of 160 respondents, here are the results.
Question 1: How open are you in your doubts about climate change? I considered defining the question more than just saying ‘doubts’, asking what people doubted, but the science is so complex that I left it simply as “if you have doubts about the ‘orthodox view’ of climate change, how open are you about it?”
Under “Other”, comments were, amusingly “I’m a lawyer. Everyone hates me anyway.” and “I’m retired, so can be completely open without fear of consequences”. There were quite a few retirees, judging by comments below the post. Obviously I am most interested in those who are not completely open. I did consider a question “Why?” but trying to provide catch-all category reasons was too difficult. I also considered for one brief moment of madness an open response question, but realised I didn’t have the time to try to sort through perhaps a hundred responses, even though it would have been very interesting.
I’m not surprised that a significant percentage of people are not open. I can think of many jobs which are at least indirectly dependent on government subsidy, regulation or direct procurement. Then there are people like teachers who are supposed to teach climate change as part of the school curriculum, or those who need to be seen to uphold government policies in some way. Probably there are those who like to keep a foot in both camps, to hedge their bets in a manner analogous to Pascal’s Wager (and more appropriate than at first sight, since AGW seems to be more about belief than… 😉 ).
Question 2 asked “Is your work directly connected with climate change or its consequences?” Of 152 responses, 26 (17%) said yes. Obviously I can’t tell if they are open or not. Due to the limitations of Poll Daddy, I kept the poll simple. I had considered Survey Monkey, but did not want to be limited to 100 respondents. A divergent, cascading poll would have been the ideal but then I couldn’t guarantee enough responses to make that in any way meaningful either.
Question 3: What best describes your background and area of work (max. 2 answers)? I made a big gaffe by allowing two answers here. 188 people responded here (more than in Q1), with a total of 205 answers. Difficult to interpret.
Under “Other” were: retired (x3); architect; counsellor; real estate; lawyer; research now industry; data processing; builder; farming; environmental student; retired academic (arts); carpenter; military; artist; culture.
Question 4 simply asked about location and there was similar magnitude response from Europe and North America, with Australia making up the most of the remainder.
“I have been a skeptic all my life. However, I found out at an early age that expressing skepticism about commonly accepted beliefs resulted in arched eyebrows, obvious disapproval, and shocked questions such as, “Don’t you believe in anything?” As a result, I learned to keep my mouth closed while my mind was open. Of course, family and close friends are well aware of my ideas and opinions,…”
This is the beginning of an essay entitled Musings of a Closet Skeptic by Arthur L. Kohl (Engineer). It is not in any way related to climate change and is in fact posted on a humanist blog, but Kohl outlines his generic (scientific) beliefs as a skeptic and suggests a few “nonlaws” and some “negative virtues”, one of which is faith, which he says can have strong negative attributes.
““Faith” implies the belief in something that is not proven to be true. (It does not require faith, only logic, to accept something that is well proven.) Typically, faith comes about as a result of the teachings of a parent or charismatic figure or the acceptance of statements in a respected document.”
Respected document? Hmm. He ends with:
“If the characteristic of accepting unproven beliefs is genetic, it must have been an important survival tool, because so many people have it. Certainly more people believe in some kind of religion than in none at all. In fact, I would not be surprised if more people believe in astrology than do not. If most people are believers in unproven dogmas, then believing can be considered to be normal and being skeptical not normal, which probably explains any tendency of skeptics to remain in the closet. (Who wants to be considered abnormal?)”
So that would suggest most people want to believe in something – something that allows them to think they have a means to control or influence their world – say by reducing C02. Perhaps climate skepticism unintentionally threatens more than just challenging the science. If it strikes at the very heart of believers’ need to think they can make a difference and their hope for self-determination (which requires group action and altruism), you can see how skepticism can seem so threatening. Perhaps the closest isn’t such a bad place to be in some ways, especially when it’s said that you can never change anything from the outside.