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Currently the NZ High Court is hearing a case brought against NIWA by a local climate change denial group.* You can catch up with the background and progress at When asses go to court, When asses go to law, Exclusive: Flat Earth Society appeal to NZ climate sceptics – join us! and Niwa breaching its duties with figures – sceptics group

The most interesting aspect of this trial will be the judge’s verdict and reasons. But at this stage I just want to justify my description of the complainants as climate change deniers rather than sceptics (a term I know they prefer – although one of them is objecting even to that (see Four go a-court, with a hey, nonny-no). To me it all boils down to questions of  “good faith.”

We have plenty of debates in science – and sometimes these can become heated. But they are important to the whole enterprise. Ideas and theories must be tested against reality, and that testing should be done collectively – individuals are too prone to bias. So argument, debate and testing against reality is what keeps us honest.

But of course that debate must be carried out in “good faith.” With the intention of exposing errors and coming to a resolution which provides a better picture of reality. From my perspective scepticism is part of the process and there is plenty of room for sceptics in science – including climate science. Honest, good faith, scepticism can only be good.

So what about “deniers.” Well, the difference here is that their “scepticism” is not aimed at improving our knowledge, or of furthering truth, but in discrediting that knowledge. By now we have all become used to the climate change denial activity, its sneering attitude towards science and the facts, and the support it gets from the fossil fuel industry and extreme right-wing and conservative politicians.

But here’s a little guide I came across which helps illustration the difference between scepticism and denial. It’s from Get Energy Smart! NOW! and the post is titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire …” Differentiating Skeptic from Denier. (I sort of think the childishness of the title is appropriate in this case).

The post contrasts Legitimate scientific scepticism with denialism. Here’s an extract:

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

Denialism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Here’s an analysis of how that data set impacts your overall result.”

Denialism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

Denialism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Get it yet?

Actually, for anyone who has delved into the blogs, comments sections and forums of the climate change denial echo chamber the spite and sneering is not far from “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

I look forward to the High Court verdict.


*This denier group is rather weird. It calls itself the “New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust,” and is known as a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition – a local denier group with links to the US Heartland Institute and other right-wing think tanks. It originally attempted to register as a charity and was actually listed for a short time in the NZ Charities register. Now it has been removed!

Perhaps their registration was rejected, possibly because of its political nature or its unwillingness to provide financial reports. Or perhaps they decided that there was little mileage (and little support) from going down the charity road and it has fallen back on deeper financial pockets.

It might need them.

Image credit: Dirty Bandits

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