In the swirl of social media, I occasionally run across a climate change denialist. Or, for that matter, a denialist of anything that is established science. My own beliefs about science, validity, and truth are complicated, but rather than getting bogged down in the epistemological quicksand of determining whether someone is being a skeptic or a denialist. But there is one test for me: whether the argument is expected to be resolved in the same manner as the melodramatic ending to a Perry Mason episode.
Picture it: for the past 45 minutes, Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney, has been constructing a case where the suspect was seen in the vicinity of the crime, and then was aprehended 15 minutes after the time of the murder with the murder weapon in their hand. Oh, and they had an argument with the victim. Etcetera. Everything looks sure, but at the last minute, Perry Mason, Trickster God and Robin Hood rolled into one mild demeanor, stands up and asks a single pointed question. And then, someone in the audience stands up and screams in guilt, admitting that she was the killer, that she had put on a wig and mask, and had used a duplicate gun. And then Hamilton Burger realizes for the 250th time that he was chasing a red herring, the suspect goes free, and Perry and Della share a denouement, and everyone is happy. Now, replace this improbable scenario with one in which the weight of scientific evidence and theory, as well as an increasing body of people's personal experience, is being presented. And at the last minute, after the certitude of this seems absolute, someone in the gallery stands up and yells "But it was really the Milankovich Cycles/urban heat island effect/sunspots!", at which point the poor plucky defense cracks a big grin as the prosecution's case spontaneously falls apart. Everyone realizes that a single piece of contrasting evidence means the entire thing was constructed, and we can all go home.
Although this sounds silly, I have found this line of reasoning over and over again, where people expect that an argument based on consensus has never been tested, has no ambiguities or doubts, has never been challenged, and hasn't already incorporated or answered these challenges. A single voice from the gallery will, apparently, bring the whole edifice crumbling down. I am not the first person to point out the shifting goalposts and misunderstanding of science of people who question climate change. But the aspect of the sheer drama that people invest their skepticism of climate change with, is not often discussed. Every scientist or paper or concept that might "disprove" global warming is pulled out as if it is David Blaine showing us that the card we picked was hiding in his shoe all along. And when we are not immediately ready to be knocked over with a feather that a scientific theory has to deal with competing theories, we are the ones seen as too slow to realize the precious truth.