European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 261–278 | Cite as

Climate skepticism and the manufacture of doubt: can dissent in science be epistemically detrimental?

  • Justin B. BiddleEmail author
  • Anna Leuschner
Original paper in the Historical and Social Studies of Science


The aim of this paper is to address the neglected but important problem of differentiating between epistemically beneficial and epistemically detrimental dissent. By “dissent,” we refer to the act of objecting to a particular conclusion, especially one that is widely held. While dissent in science can clearly be beneficial, there might be some instances of dissent that not only fail to contribute to scientific progress, but actually impede it. Potential examples of this include the tobacco industry’s funding of studies that questioned the link between smoking and lung cancer, and the attempt by the petroleum industry and other groups to cast doubt upon the conclusion that human consumption of fossil fuels contributes to global climate change. The problem of distinguishing between good and bad dissent is important because of the growing tendency of some stakeholders to attempt to delay political action by ’manufacturing doubt’ (Oreskes & Conway 2010). Our discussion in this paper focuses on climate science. This field, in our view, is rife with instances of bad dissent. On the basis of our discussion of climate science, we articulate a set of sufficient conditions for epistemically problematic dissent in general, which we call “the inductive risk account of epistemically detrimental dissent.”


Science and values Inductive risk Agnotology Social epistemology Climate science 



Each author is responsible for the paper in its entirety, and both authors contributed equally to the final product. Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at Bielefeld University, Tilburg University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the GAP.8 conference at the University of Konstanz. We would particularly like to thank Paul Baer, Gregor Betz, Sebastian Cacean, Martin Carrier, Matt Cox, Michael Hoffmann, Paul Hoyningen-Huene, Philip Kitcher, Frederike Neuber, Bryan Norton, Naomi Oreskes, Juha Saatsi, Christian Voigt, John Walsh, Torsten Wilholt, and Eric Winsberg for their valuable comments. Thanks also to the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study for support.


  1. AEI. (2007). Letter to senators Sanders, Feinstein, Leahy, and Kerry by Christopher DeMuth. Accessed 19 April 2014.Google Scholar
  2. Bekelman, J. E., Li, Y., & Gross, C. P. (2003). Scope and impact of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research: A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(4), 454–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Biddle, J. (2007). Lessons from the vioxx debacle: What the privatization of science can teach us about social epistemology. Social Epistemology, 21, 21–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biddle, J. (2013). State of the field: Transient underdetermination and values in science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 44(1), 124–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biddle, J., & Winsberg, E. (2010). Value judgements and the estimation of uncertainty in climate modeling. In P. D. Magnus & J. Busch (Eds.), New waves in philosophy of science (pp. 172–197). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  6. Bowen, M. (2008). Censoring science: Inside the political attack on Dr. James Hansen and the truth of global warming. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, J. R. (2008). The community of science®. In M. Carrier, D. A. Howard, & J. Kourany (Eds.), The challenge of the social and the pressure of practice (pp. 189–216). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  8. Brysse, K., Oreskes, N., O’Reilly, J., & Oppenheimer, M. (2012). Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama? Global Environmental Change, 23, 327–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Douglas, H. (2000). Inductive risk and values in science. Philosophy of Science, 67(4), 559–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dunlap, R. E. (2013). Climate change skepticism and denial: An introduction. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(6), 691–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dunlap, R. E., & Jacques, P. J. (2013). Climate change denial books and conservative think tanks: Exploring the connection. American Behavioral Scientist, 57, 699–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Elliott, K. (2011). Is a little pollution good for you? Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elsasser, S. W., & Dunlap, R. E. (2013). Leading voices in the denier choir: Conservative columnists’ dismissal of global warming and denigration of climate science. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(6), 754–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Freudenburg, W. R., & Muselli, V. (2010). Global warming estimates, media expectations, and the asymmetry of scientific challenge. Global Environmental Change, 20, 483–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gelbspan, R. (1997). The heat is on. New York: Perseus Books.Google Scholar
  16. IPCC (1995). Climate change 1995: A report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Accessed 19 April 2014.Google Scholar
  17. IPCC (2013). Summary for policy makers. In T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex & P. M. Midgley (Eds.), Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Jacques, P. J., Dunlap, R. E., & Freeman, M. (2008). The organization of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental skepticism. Environmental Politics, 17, 349–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jeffrey, R. (1956). Valuation and acceptance of scientific hypotheses. Philosophy of Science, 23(3), 237–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science. Science without legend, objectivity without illusions. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kitcher, P. (2011). Science in a democratic society. New York: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  22. Krimsky, S. (2003). Science in the private interest: Has the lure of profits corrupted biomedical research? Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  23. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago PressGoogle Scholar
  24. Kuhn, T. S. (1977). Objectivity, value judgment, and theory choice. In The essential tension: selected studies in scientific tradition and change (pp. 320–339). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lahsen, M. (2008). Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse. A cultural analysis of a physicist “trio” supporting the backlash against global warming. Global Environmental Change, 18, 204–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the growth of knowledge (pp. 91–196). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Levi, I. (1960). Must the scientist make value judgments? The Journal of Philosophy, 57(11), 345–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G. E., & Oberauer, K. (2013). The role of conspiracist ideation and worldviews in predicting rejection of science. PloS One, 8(10), e75637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lloyd, E. A. (2012). The role of ‘complex’ empiricism in the debates about satellite data and climate models. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 43(2), 390–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Longino, H. (2002). The fate of knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Mann, M. (2012). The hockey stick and the climate wars. dispatches from the front lines. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Mann, M. E., Bradley, R. S., & Hughes, M. K. (1998). Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries. Nature, 392, 779–787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mann, M. E., Bradley, R. S., & Hughes, M. K. (1999). Northern-hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations. Geophysical Research Letters, 26, 759–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McGarity, T. O., & Wagner, W. E. (2008). Bending science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. McIntyre, S., & McKitrick, R. (2003). Corrections to Mann et al. [1998] proxy database and northern hemisphere average temperature series. Energy and Environment, 14, 751–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McIntyre, S. & McKitrick, R. (2005). Hockey sticks, principle components, and spurious significance. Geophysical Research Letters 32, L03710Google Scholar
  37. NRC. (2009). Restructuring federal climate research to meet the challenges of climate change. Washington: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  38. Oreskes, N. (2004). The scientific consensus on climate change. Science, 306, 1686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. (2010). Merchants of doubt. New York: Bloomsbury Press.Google Scholar
  40. Proctor, R., & Schiebinger, L. (2008). Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Rahmstorf, S., Cazenave, A., Church, J. A., Hansen, J. E., Keeling, R. F., Parker, D. E., & Somerville, R. C. J. (2007). Recent climate observations compared to projections. Science, 316, 709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Regalado, A. (2005). In climate debate, the ‘hockey stick’ leads to a face-off. Wall Street Journal (February 14). Accessed 15 May 2014.
  43. Rudner, R. (1953). The scientist qua scientist makes value judgments. Philosophy of Science, 20(1), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rutherford, S., Mann, M. E., Osborn, T. J., Bradley, R. S., Briffa, K. R., Hughes, M. K., & Jones, P. D. (2005). Proxy-based northern hemisphere surface temperature reconstructions: Sensitivity to method, predictor network, target season, and target domain. Journal of Climate, 18, 2308–2329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schneider, S. (2009). Science as a contact sport: Inside the battle to save earth’s climate. Washington: National Geographic Society.Google Scholar
  46. Sills, J. (2010). Climate change and the integrity of science. Science, 328, 689–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sismondo, S. (2007). Ghost management: How much of the medical literature is shaped behind the scenes by the pharmaceutical industry? PLoS Medicine, 4(9), e286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. UNEP (2009). Climate change science compendium 2009. Accessed 19 April 2014Google Scholar
  49. Vom Saal, F. S., & Hughes, C. (2005). An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol a shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(8), 926–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wahl, E. R., & Ammann, C. M. (2007). Robustness of the Mann, Bradley, and Hughes reconstruction of northern hemisphere surface temperatures: examination of criticisms based on the nature and processing of proxy climate evidence. Climatic Change, 85, 33–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wilholt, T. (2009). Bias and values in scientific research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 40(1), 92–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Program, School of Public PolicyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Institut für PhilosophieKarlsruher Institut für TechnologieKarlsruheGermany

Personalised recommendations