10 reasons you might not trust a climate scientist (in no particular order)

After the discussion started by Tamsin’s post on advocacy in climate science, I tweeted a bunch of reasons that you might not trust a climate scientist. The list is based on my own personal experiences, and isn’t scientific in any way.

It was interesting then to see Liz Neely write about what science tells us about trust in science. I believe there is some overlap between the two lists.

Anyway, for future reference, here are the tweets.

To which, I might add two further reasons:

9. Because you think the climate scientist is an idiot.


10. Because the climate scientist thinks that you are an idiot.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which of these reasons I think has any merit.

I’d be interested to hear of other reasons why you might not trust a climate scientist.


  1. Derrick Byford · · Reply

    Because climate science is not science. Hence climate scientists are not scientists. (science builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions).

    Because climate models have failed, but climate scientists proceed as though they haven’t.

    Because climate scientist publicists produce press releases whenever research can be spun to alarm, but rarely when it can’t.

    Because climate scientists seem to be able to assign any climate outcome to increasing CO2.

    Because climate scientists appear willing to adjust, manipulate or revise raw data without explanation to support their worldview.

    Because climate scientists do not seem to know that humans and human like creatures have successfully negotiated climate change for five million years.

    Because climate scientists don’t seem to realise we have only had accurate measures of temperature for 400 years at most.

    Shall I go on?

    1. Thank you for your list of perceptions.

    2. Yes, please go on. Interesting.

      Because climate scientist publicists produce press releases whenever research can be spun to alarm, but rarely when it can’t.

      I subscribe to a German science information service that sends out scientific press releases. I must say I am touched by the naivete of so many climate scientists (and their supposedly professional press offices) to think that the press is interested in positive news. So many press releases are positively worded and will go straight into the waste bins of the journalists.

      Did you get this idea from real press releases or from reading the press?

      Because climate scientists appear willing to adjust, manipulate or revise raw data without explanation to support their worldview.

      That happens to be a field were I am knowledgeable, at least if you are thinking of climate station data.

      You can find some explanations in this blog post of mine, Homogenisation of monthly and annual data from surface stations.

      In short, the climate records does not only contain information on climatic changes, but unfortunately also non-climatic changes. If you want to study the climatic changes, you have to take the non-climatic ones into account. One non-climatic change is the urban heat island effect. Typically people think it is a good idea to remove this effect. Then it would sound logical to remove all non-climatic effects, wouldn’t it?

      I would love to understand the non-climatic changes better, that is the main part of my work. However, your too strong claim “without explanation” is trivially wrong.

      Because climate scientists don’t seem to realise we have only had accurate measures of temperature for 400 years at most.

      I would say, if you are thinking of the global mean temperature, which is what provokes most discussions, 400 years is extremely optimistic. It depends on the uncertainty you are willing to accept, but I would say that we have about 150 years of stations data. I would be surprised if any experience climatologist would think we have 400 years or even more.

      May I ask, what gave you that impression?

      1. werdnagreb · ·

        Victor, what an awesome response. Science is complex and any layperson who is following the field will at best get an incomplete picture field and at worst a misrepresentation. When the scientific results are scary and against the norm, it is far easier to dismiss than to engage.

  2. * Because the scientist is unlike you — age, gender, race, religion, political party, …
    * Because you feel the scientist is trying to take away your SUV
    * Because climate change is a liberal conspiracy to institute one world order (e.g. Dana Rohrabacher’s latest http://www.thenation.com/blog/175697/science-committee-congressman-global-warming-fraud-create-global-government#axzz2brf4Rj00
    * Because they tell you about a problem but don’t provide a solution
    * Because they _do_ tell you a solution, and you don’t like it
    * Because they can’t explain the climate system in 10 seconds or less

    I’ve encountered all, particularly the SUV one, in person. Though it overlaps strongly with the ‘liberal conspiracy’ one. Writing from the US. I suspect there are some differences between countries as to which elements are most significant (on all the suggestions so far, not just mine).

  3. I once heard an interesting take on this that made a lot of sense to me. It revolved around value-based decision making the context of individual communities. The gist of it was that someone may have more to lose by standing out in a community and embracing a set of scientific findings than they do by rejecting them regardless of the scientific merit.

    Consider things from the perspective of a single non-scientist

    Potential losses from accepting a scientific consensus:
    (1) social tension w/ family and friends
    (2) lost opportunities (social networks, jobs etc) – This is a serious concern and not trivial.

    Potential gains from accepting a scientific consensus:
    (1) a warm fuzzy feeling? unclear.

    climate change generally won’t change regardless of what you say, so why ostracize yourself?

    I found this line of reasoning to make a lot of sense, and honestly I can’t say I would accept a scientific finding if I were a non-scientist in a position where my employment opportunities would be seriously jeopardized by expressing views that do not benefit me in any direct way.

    1. Hi Weston, check out the cultural cognition work of Dan Kahan and group.

    2. There probably is a tendency of people to like to have the same opinion as important others. However, I cannot see how this would explain climate science denial. Even in the US, the majority of the population accepts the science. Thus then such a tendency would lead to more people accepting climate science.

      Also a significant minority of the US democrats does not accept the science. These people likely either do not conform to the party preference of their family, friends and neighbours or to their views on climate change.

      Such a tendency might explain why people say to their friends and pollers that they do not trust climate science, but why would such a tendency go so far as to make people actively spread the anti-science message and even lie about the facts like WUWT and co? Also honesty is officially a high value in such circles.

  4. Paul Matthews · · Reply

    This is about as useful as a christian listing reasons why people might not believe in god, Richard Dawkins explaining why people do believe in god, or Anthony Watts talking about why people trust climate scientists.

    Here are some of my reasons; they don’t have much overlap with yours.

    Because the climate scientist presents his data in a misleading way.

    Because the climate scientist manipulates the data to force it to conform to his preconceived ideas.

    Because the climate scientist presents partial, cherry-picked data.

    Because the climate scientist makes exaggerated misleading claims.

    Because the climate scientist says something really dumb.

    Because the climate scientist acts unscientifically (eg by not being objective).

    1. Steve Bloom · · Reply

      Because climate science threatens my preconceived notions about how the world works? Just thought I’d sum up for you.

  5. Steve Bloom · · Reply

    Because they either hadn’t read (unlikely) or were misrepresenting civil service rules they pointed to as a reason for not engaging with the public on climate policy?

  6. Because climate modelling is very sensitive to initial data. This is the realm of chaos theory.

  7. On this theme, I have appended my old joke:

    Q. How many climate scientists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A. 1 to change the bulb, 1 to hold the stool (because there is bound to be a tipping point) and at least another 95 standing around so they can claim an overwhelming consensus that there has been a change.

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