Wikipedia bites Oreskes in the ***

Naomi Oreskes has an interesting and troubled relationship to the D word (climate change denial). She is known to have claimed that anyone who doesn’t believe “renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs” is a denier. That pushes James Hansen, a favorite hero of climate activists and sometimes called the “father of global warming” right into the unsavory crowd of deniers.

But it gets worse. Oreskes’ position in 2010 was clear that the science of climate change was “settled”, that there was a scientific consensus and that anyone challenging the consensus was creating “manufactured doubt”. And worse, with the sleights of hand used in the book Merchants of Doubt, it’s made to seem even more sinful. As I wrote in 2014:

Doubting an alleged scientific consensus (whatever its strength) is described [by Conway and Oreskes] as “denying the facts”, “fighting facts” or “fighting science” and then later on escalated further to “disinformation”.

But now, Oreskes has decided that the consensus is no longer sacred. We need to focus instead on uncertainty.

Specifically, a decade ago Oreskes vilified scientists who focused on uncertainties in our models of the climate, and trumpeted the sacred “consensus” as the altar upon which all hesitancy about government action should be sacrificed. Yet today, Oreskes is co-authoring articles in the New York Times telling Americans that scientists have been underestimating climate change and that the economic models are full of uncertainties—and that this is why we urgently need government action.

It seems even that Oreskes thinks the need for consensus can be harmful:

Among the factors that appear to contribute to underestimation is the perceived need for consensus.

But the funny thing is that the Wikipedia page on Climate change denial (warning: propaganda) is still telling us that climate change denial is “denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change”. So basically she ends up being a disinformer according to herself in 2010 and a denier according to Wikipedia in 2019. Of course, she might say that her doubt, unlike that of the climate skeptics, is “warranted”. A strong enough double standard can protect anyone from following their own rules. Her opportunism is showing.

The fundamental problem is this: The idea of denial builds on the idea of consensus. Take the consensus down from the pedestal and the concept of denial collapses. I have discussed the concept of consensus extensively under the heading “Consensus, what’s the point” here.

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