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The Moderate Voice: Global Warming Credibility Problem

Rasmussen poll shows that a strong majority of Americans not only believe that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) has yet to be proven, but also that scientists may falsify data in trying to prove the theory true.

The worst news for AGW believers is that the skepticism about their honesty cuts across party lines:

Republicans and adults not affiliated with either major political party feel stronger than Democrats that some scientists have falsified data to support their global warming theories, but 51% of Democrats also agree.

The more interesting question may be why.  Certainly, the scandal over scientists at the University of East Anglia appearing to falsify data bumped up the numbers (Rasmussen reports that skepticism about scientists’ honesty on the topic has increased 10 points since the scandal broke in late 2009), but that explains only a fraction of the overall skepticism.

Part of the credibility problem might arise from the frequent use of hyperbole by many AGW believers.  There is a natural human skepticism regarding predictions of the end of the world, and certainly much of what comes from AGW prophets qualifies for that category.  And when some of the hyperbolic predictions wind up being destroyed by reality, it exacerbates the credibility problems of other global warming predictions.

Another credibility problem arises from the incessant claims that there is scientific “consensus” about AGW. When people that hear that claim are also aware of the very real dissenters and doubters including at least some scientists as well as the studies that present data that at least calls AGW theory into doubt, they naturally wonder what else global warming theory promoters might be lying about. For those familiar with the scientific method, the methodological defect of a “non-falsifiable theory” which occurred after AGW was recast as more generic and bi-directional “climate change” exacerbates the credibility problem.

To be sure, there is enough data in support of AGW theory to at least raise legitimate concerns.  And it is a conservative attitude towards risk called the “precautionary principle” that would counsel taking at least moderate actions to reduce CO2 emissions “just in case” AGW theory turned out to be true. But those who truly believe that AGW should stop attacking their critics and start dealing with the problems in their own camp that give their critics such a huge advantage in public opinion.

The Moderate Voice, 4 August 2011