Skeptics in the closet – poll results

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.

There are many positive reasons to be a sceptic in life – it is a healthy thing.  Typically sceptics and cynics have a hard time when they challenge firmly held beliefs.

“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.

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3 Responses to Skeptics in the closet – poll results

  1. ArndB says:

    It is not difficult to imagine that a ‘simple poll of readers’, needs a lot of musing about the questions and considerable efforts to present the answers, whereby the last sentence caught my particular attention:
    ___”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”

    Admittedly, I have had some problems with the poll (except Q4), presumably because the poll subject “Are you a closet skeptic?” and Question 1: “How open are you in your doubts about climate change?”, the meaning could actually be very differently interpreted. Being a ‘skeptic’ is a reflection to something, being “open on doubts” is a behaviour (active, or non-active), and ‘closet’ and ‘open’ are contrary. But even if one assumes that both texts address the same subject: “Climate change”, it is not really clear what that means: “average weather”, or statistical weather, over months, or million of years, comprising 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, or 100 weather components? http://www.whatisclimate.com/ What surprises that “skeptic” have shown little interest to challenge science on this. Why do they not recognised the terminology flaws in atmospheric sciences?

    Maybe I would have stopped here, and send the writing to the trashcan, if I could not now refer to the cited essay Musings of a Closet Skeptic by Arthur L. Kohl (Engineer), who lists in section “Beliefs of a Skeptic”, as item (2) the following text:

    __”There are natural laws that govern all physical processes, and there is only one set of these laws, not one for science and one for religion. Several, such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the law of gravity, are well established, although, of course, they are always subject to modification as our understanding of the universe expands. A very important function of science is to verify and upgrade the known laws and develop new ones as required to explain new observations.”

    If the skeptics would indeed belief in laws of all physical processes and thermodynamics, why do they accept to be cornered as skeptics on meaningless definitions as for example: climate change, climate system, climate variability, climate sensitivity, a.s.o., when it is a matter of physical laws? It is the responsibility of science to work with clear terms and definitions. CLIMATE is a layman’s expression, and average weather as well.

    Thanks for the very interesting poll. It will be a pleasure to join the next poll as well.

  2. Brian H says:

    I think “believe” has numerous levels. I can “believe” it’s going to rain tomorrow, because it rained today and the forecaster called for more of the same, or I can believe the universe was created by the all-knowing and omnipotent Dog, or I can believe that 3×2 is the same as 2×3. They all have different strengths and I would react differently to disproof of each.

    As it happens, I BELIEVE AGW is entirely bogus, and would be mightily disgusted if it turned out that a bunch of charlatans and ripoff artists had got it right.

    • Verity Jones says:

      I think I learned from this a lot about how not to do polls!

      I am fascinated by semantics when I take the time to think about exactly what is meant, and it is a real joy to use the right word, but increasingly my blog posts are rushed and I end up knowing what I mean but chosing the wrong word to convey the meaning. I’m a visual thinker so sometimes my translation into words is not exact.

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