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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

Abstract

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.”

Keywords

Science and values Inductive risk Agnotology Social epistemology Climate science 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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.

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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

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