Heretic (frame)

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The term Heretic is an alternative word for "Contrarian"; but unlike "contrarian", "heretic" carries the implication that the preponderant spectrum of views are preponderant, not because the scientific evidence supports them, but rather because of irrational groupthink, of which the outsider has broken free.

In climate science

Public figures espousing unusual climate science and policy views who some have termed "heretics" include:

But Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate says

"... there is very little that is ‘heretical’ in any of these voices. Only someone with no experience with the way science is actually done...would think that scientists being upfront about uncertainty and following the data where it leads is any kind of radical notion. The self-declared heretics do get criticised a lot, but not generally because of the revolutionary nature of their ideas, but rather because they often indulge in sloppy thinking or are far too quick to allege misconduct against scientists (or the IPCC) without justification, perhaps in order to bolster their outsider status. That does not go down well, but to conflate ‘mainstream’ expressions of distaste [regarding] this sort of behavior with the belief that the actual ideas of ‘heretics’ (about policy or uncertainty) are in some way special or threatening, is to confuse the box with the cereal."[2]

Potemkin heresy

Third parties who aren't in a position to assess the evidence or assess expertise may have trouble telling whether a purported heresy is genuine. Gavin Schmidt lists several signs suggesting that it's not:

"...for the [true] heretic who has a coherent alternative to the orthodoxy, it is very unlikely that this alternative will be in line with the thoughts of all the other outsiders. True heresy is actually very lonely.

If...the ‘heresy’ consists of thinking that every idea that pops up is worthy of serious consideration, [then the 'heretics'] are simply throwing away the concept of science as a filter that can actually take us closer to reality. ... The seriousness of a new ‘heresy’ then, can be measured in how much shrift is given to the crackpots. As Sagan said, one should always keep an open mind, but not one that is so open that your brains drop out.

...[Another sign of Potemkin heresy is] how well the supposed heretic understands [...what they're being criticized for]. Usually this is stated up-front by the critics..."[2]

Articles and Resources


  1. Andrew Revkin (2007-01-01). A New Middle Stance Emerges in Debate over Climate. New York Times. Retrieved on 2010-11-08.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gavin Schmidt (2010-11-03). Science, narrative and heresy. RealClimate. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.

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