I have enormous respect for James Randi. As the father and de facto leader of the modern skeptical movement, he has done more to promote critical thinking than almost anyone else alive. But even skeptics can be wrong from time to time. And even skeptics can fall victim to common logical fallacies.
Unfortunately, for Randi, that day has come as he’s written two rather credulous and poorly reasoned essays (here and here) expressing his doubts about some of the current established science regarding global climate change. I think the best takeaway from this situation is that it’s situations like this that really prove how skeptics differ from religions and other groups that revolve around an ideology. While skeptics may admire leading figures in the movement, no one is above reproach or criticism. Not even the father of the movement itself. Skeptics don’t worship James Randi. We don’t blindly accept the positions of Michael Shermer or Phil Plait or D.J. Grothe, or Stephen Novella, or Richard Dawkins. And even though we’ve come to rely heavily on their experience and opinions, the moment they seem to stray from the path, so to speak, or take a position based on logical fallacies, they’re going to be bombarded with criticisms about it. But unless they slide too far down the skeptic spectrum and do a lot more damage to what blogger Jesse Galef calls their “skepticism street cred”, they still have a seat at the table.
But it certainly is disappointing to hear that the de facto leader of the skeptical movement is beginning to sound a bit like a global warming denier. And it’s even more disconcerting that, given his role in the movement, he would be naive enough to nonchalantly publish these controversial thoughts for all to see without considering how it may impact the larger movement and without first doing far more research. As Greg Laden said, he should have known better.
But on a larger level, it doesn’t really matter what Randi thinks about climate change because the strength of the very movement he empowered is that we don’t rely on authorities to tell us what to believe but rigorously demand evidence for scientific claims.
For now, I don’t have much else to say about the matter that hasn’t been said better by someone else already. So I’ve decided to post links to others who have commented.
Some other commenters: