Beyond the Pale-Green

|

In a piece at Tech Central Station, the organizers of an American Enterprise Institute conference on climate change are claiming that certain scientists have been pressured into withdrawing from panels by activists who don't want to "legitimize" global warming contrarians.

Now, I'll confess, I'm one of those folks that also finds it just a bit suspicious that the "contrarian" position is most often articulated in the publications of free-market tanks who find the view politically congenial, rather than in peer-reviewed journals. But refusal to debate scarcely seems like a way to advance the ball. After all, on the issue that the scientist they cite uses as an analogy—evolution vs. creationism—biologists are typically perfectly happy to have a chance to rebut the creationist case when given the opportunity.

Advertisement

NEXT: Why Slots Are Better Than Pills

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Actually, that argument exactly mirrors something I read by Richard Dawkins months ago in an issue of the secular humanism magazine Free Inquiry. He was explaining why he no longer had debates with creationists, and he reasoning was the creationists really had no argument, and merely getting the chance to “debate” the issue of creation vs. evolution legitimized their viewpoint. The best way to beat creationists, he said, was to ignore them, because they needed the tacit endorsement of evolutionists in order to get attention and validation, even if they lost in debates.

  2. “biologists are typically perfectly happy to have a chance to rebut the creationist case when given the opportunity.”

    It’s only recently that evolutionary biologists have started to fight back seriously against the creationist propaganda machine. Before, except for a few people like Gould and Dawkins, biologists were more concerned with doing research and not so much with seeking public approval for the theory of evolution. It may be the same here. If there is a consensus among climatologists on global warming, they may view the contrarians as politically motivated and therefore not to be dignified with a response. It would be like cosmologists giving flat-earthers a podium at their conference (sorry for the extreme example, but I couldn’t think of another).

  3. … biologists are typically perfectly happy to have a chance to rebut the creationist case when given the opportunity.

    I think Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and others recently said in a public statement (obviously, before Gould’s passing) that they would no longer engage in certain kinds of public debate with creationists because it conferred undeserved legitimacy on them.

    (In particular, the concern was that various creationists described those debate invitations along the lines of, “When Harvard invited me to lecture to its students on intelligent design …”)

  4. “Now, I’ll confess, I’m one of those folks that also finds it just a bit suspicious that the “contrarian” position is most often articulated in the publications of free-market tanks who find the view politically congenial, rather than in peer-reviewed journals.” So, you think Lonborg was wrong? And, what were the chances that Scientific America would have printed his stuff? Frivolous thinking from the frivolous Sanchez again.

  5. I have no idea whether Lomborg is right or not; I’m not an environmental scientist. (Neither, for that matter, is he.) Are you? If not, you provide a handy example of precisely what makes me uneasy: people deciding empirical questions on the basis of which scientific outcome fits most nicely with their political views. If the refusal to do that is “frivolous,” I guess I’ll don my jester hat…

  6. Isn’t this the intellectual community’s version of closing it’s eyes, clasping it’s hands over its ears and singing “Lalalalalala! We’re right, you’re wrong, not gonna listen! Lalalalalala!”

    Hey, this could be the next step in scientific revolution: don’t bother peer review and alternate theories. Do you realize how much money could be saved?!

  7. There seem to be two types of global warming contrarians: legitimate scientists who quibble with this aspect of this model, or this assumption in this cost-benefit exercise (I’d put Lomborg in this category); and self-consciously political tools who know “the window is closing” on their ability to make a reasonable sounding case in public, and are committed to fighting a rear-guard action in order to sqeeze out a few more months or years of profits for their status-quo-benefitting patrons.

    It is too bad that some environmental activists are unwilling or unable to draw the distinction, but TCS and AEI have no one but themselves to blame for the inability to distinguish between the two. Blurring that line has been their primary tactic in the global warming debate for years.

  8. i’m an scientifically-educated guy — chemical engineering, to be exact — and i consider myself pretty fair and open-minded. but i have to admit that i’ve yet to see the evidence that i find convincing to support the case for global warming overall — and far less so that which would support the notion that mankind’s activities are responsible for the onset of some catastrophe. the three data sets on global atmospheric temperatures that i’m aware of are hardly damning evidence of runaway greenhousing — quite the contrary, in fact.

    that isn’t to say that it’s not possible — clearly, it is. it is only to say that the evidence that i’ve seen does not yet validate the ongoing execution of the possibility outlined in theory. while there is plenty of room for advocacy and argument for and against, there is hardly a solid case that the earth is facing a disaster of some minor type (in the geologic sense).

    as such, i don’t find it surprising that scientists who are sceptical face pressure as though they were committing heresies. indeed, as far as i can tell, global warming activists (i.e., those who KNOW that disaster is imminent without radical action) must have made a “leap of faith” to arrive where they are, and faith by its nature must prosecute the heretical.

  9. When the arguments get sufficiently technical, the rest of us are left to appeal to some authority for an explanation.

    The problem comes when the authority has an agenda. There are several problems with the authorities on this issue.

    1) A great majority of them are outright green activists.

    2) The minority view holders may be politically motivated by ‘big business’ concerns, or they may have something to contribute. Folks can argue that they never show up in peer reviewed journals, but how much of that is due to 1? Shouldn’t you pick one and level him in print to shut people up?

    3) The science is possibly the most inaccurate I can think of. Find a climate model that has ever predicted anything. How expert are the experts?

    I am left to conclude that the jury is out. We don’t know if it is real, what its impact will be, and if it is too late to stop it. It could be horrible, it could be not too bad, it could be beneficial, because all we are talking about is change. How can I take seriously requests that I fork over some trillion dollars to reduce gasses that may contribute to a phenomenon that, if it exists, may be harmful or not?

  10. There are several problems with the authorities on this issue. … A great majority of them are outright green activists.

    I have the same problem finding credible nutrition experts. A great majority of them seem to be on some kind of anti-fast-food bender.

  11. I’m not an atmospheric scientist. I’m a condensed matter physicist. But if I were an atmospheric scientist, and if I concluded that the evidence was against global warming, and if the community turned out to be very dogmatic (I don’t know if it is, and don’t confuse activists with real scientists) I wouldn’t attack the orthodoxy head-on by publishing a report that “Global Warming is False!” Such an assertion is unscientific anyway, because it lacks the necessary error bars and caveats.

    If I had contrary evidence, I’d publish something like “A careful technical analysis shows that such-and-such algorithm, previously used to model climate phenomena, contains subtle but significant flaws. Accurate forecasts of global warming will require development of new algorithms.”

    Or “A re-examination of time-series temperature data shows that failure to correct for such-and-such factor compromised the findings. When such-and-such factor is corrected for the data fails to yield evidence of warming. To reconcile this data set with other studies showing the existence of global warming, we must re-examine assumptions and approximations used in the analysis and look for previously ignored factors.”

    Such statements come across as “Uh-oh, we left something out. To prove our point we need more funding”, a much less confrontational approach than “Global warming is a lie!”

  12. It would be like cosmologists giving flat-earthers a podium at their conference

    it could also be like giving the flat-earthers giving the copernicans a podium at their conference. the trick is knowing which is which, and that will mostly be sorted out only in hindsight.

  13. Jack Wayne writes: ” So, you think Lonborg was wrong? And, what were the chances that Scientific America would have printed his stuff?”

    Scientific American isn’t a peer-reviewed journal. So even if he had been published in it, it wouldn’t have meant much.

  14. Here’s what Marty Hoffert says about pulling out:

    (from David Appell’s Quark Soup)

    “I tried to reach a compromise with AEI in which I would give a talk on our proposed Apollo-like like R & D program to develop CO2-emission-free energy technologies in the afternoon policy session, in exchange for my also giving a talk summarizing global warming science in the morning. This didn’t fly with AEI because they said I’d be getting too much time (I asked for 30 minutes for each talk; and would have accepted 15 to 20 minutes each). I felt this time was essential given the complexity of the topics and AEI’s bias in the other direction, but they refused.”

  15. The science is possibly the most inaccurate I can think of. Find a climate model that has ever predicted anything. How expert are the experts?

    agreed. the models that are in use are paltry things compared to the complexity of the machinery — like attempting to model the human body with stick figure art. moreover, there is a near-total ignorance of a multitude of inputs, from solar output varaition to corrective feedback systems that alter atmospheric composition, none of which are constant or whose effects could even be approximated because they are not understood at all.

    when at the doctor’s office, i often find myself musing on the primitive barbarity which i’ll view the proceedings as in a hundred years. i think in retrospect, that is rather the state of long-range climatology today. by all means, keep studying — but don’t attempt to ascribe great meaning to the results. one risks appearing as an ancient greek deciphering entrails for augury.

  16. From this layperson’s view, the idea of imminent catastrophe (or “collapse” as environmentalists often put it) seems more pseudo-religious than scientific, and often dovetails too easily into the environmental left’s Ludditism and antipathy to material wealth.

    OTOH, I take issue with Jason Ligon’s view that global warming could just as easily be beneficial as harmful. That kind of seems like saying that throwing a monkey wrench into a well functioning machine is as likely to inadvertently fine tune the machine as it is to screw things up. Life on earth has evolved under a particular set of circumstances, I don’t see how changing things in ways the planet has yet to experience is as likely to be good as bad.

    That said, it may only be in the very long run that we witness significant harm, and meanwhile the task of measuring how much harm is being done to what victims by what perpetrators would be formidable, to say the least.

  17. people will believe what they want to believe regardless of science to the contrary. we have our accepted notions of how science is, and no amount of fact can change things. as long as we can apply technology using what is currently accepted as forefront science, we can make more pills for the bread and circus consumers.

    we, the public, no longer request good science. ask should people about the validity of their numbers. have them cite sources. ask what is the value of the resource and how much is the author vested in that current perceived value? global warming is an economic issue – expect the science to follow the money

  18. The difference between debating creationism and evolution and positions on global warming is not trivial: creationism or some variant requires some level of *faith* in a god or gods as part of the mechanism that formed life on Earth. What self respecting scientist would bother debating a theory that can’t be validated using scientific methods? Your faith is your faith but it can’t inform science.

    Jason L., I’ve been around the global warming debate long enough to conclude something else: most global warming researchers, Ph.D. holding folks working in agencies and labs, *are not* radical environmental activists. Getting a Ph.D. in climatology or related disciplines is an indication one is fully engaged in one’s own society. A conformist one might say, not a radical.

    I have seen instances where the “scientific consensus” on an issue was just blind conformity, as ideas that were previously thought true were overturned with new evidence. I’ve also seen the corrupting influence of political goals on scientific debate.

    I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but I do know that in the Pacific Northwest, 33 out of 35 weather stations have recorded a 1.5 F increase in mean annual air temps over the last century (the two others showed no trend). Glaciers in the region are receeding, especially at the lower elevations. These are facts. I can’t explain them fully but, like Nelly sings, “It’s gettin hot in here.”

  19. Jason L: U said “How can I take seriously requests that I fork over some trillion dollars to reduce gasses that may contribute to a phenomenon that, if it exists, may be harmful or not?”
    Can I borrow twenty bucks until payday?

  20. Fyodor,

    throw out your analogy of life being like a well oiled machine. Machines don’t exhibit any resiliency, a trait of life. Life didn’t evolve around a particular set of circumstances: Ice ages and hot cycles abound in the geologic record. Global warming isn’t really about threatening life on earth. Not even total nuclear war would threaten life on earth, just life as we know it.

    The debate is about changing the status quo. Are humans changing the status quo through our own activities of burning carbon fuels for energy?
    The thickness of the atmosphere to earth is like the skin of an apple. Have human activities changed the composition of the skin? Does that change the underlying apple?

    Because this debate involves energy, the most basic fundamental component of our modern economy, it is the most politicized scientific debate of our time.

  21. “I have the same problem finding credible nutrition experts. A great majority of them seem to be on some kind of anti-fast-food bender.”

    Brilliant parody! Four stars!

    Let me try: “With all these brainwashed doctors running things, I can’t seem to find anyone who’ll honestly discuss the health benefits of crank!”

  22. Life on earth has evolved under a particular set of circumstances, I don’t see how changing things in ways the planet has yet to experience is as likely to be good as bad.

    i agree that life’s current state has evolve to fit these circumstances, and that change will beget change — but the change is coming regardless. i wonder if mainstream environmentalists, who seem hellbent on ‘saving’ everything, truly understand this point.

    the problem i have with the common discussion of the issue is the constant moralizing from both sides — what is “good”, what is “bad”. there is no good or bad here. there is only change — and the change is inevitable. whether it’s man’s doing or some other animal’s or plant’s or asteroid’s, the change is coming. it is part of the game. it’s our role to try to survive it. and there is no morality about that.

  23. You can’t compare the changes that occur as part of a natural cycle with those imposed by human activity. When changes caused by some geological or climatological force occur, they do so relatively slowly, and respond to the feedback from the rest of the system. When an extemely power event occurs quickly, like a huge volcanic eruption or asteroid strike, it is of short duration, allowing natural recovery to take hold.

    Our technology had advanced to the point where we can cause enormous changes to occur quickly, to continue to occur over long periods of time, and to keep hitting the “override” button whenever we get inconvenient feedback.

  24. fyodor:

    Condensed matter, eh? I butted my head against quantum as an undergrad physics student, got my BS, and ran like hell from the discipline.

    Anyhoo – “Life on earth has evolved under a particular set of circumstances, I don’t see how changing things in ways the planet has yet to experience is as likely to be good as bad.”

    Humans have broad ability to adapt to the various climates on Earth. If the average temperature in Siberia makes it a place you can grow food, things could be better. If warming continues over all regions in a boundless way, then we have a problem. I don’t know which is the case.

    mark nas:

    I feel more like we are having leeches attached to us at this particular stage of environmental science. Don’t most scientists have to prove something by making successful predictions?

    trainwreck:

    “most global warming researchers, Ph.D. holding folks working in agencies and labs, *are not* radical environmental activists.”

    You speak from greater experience than I. I am probably making assumptions based on the environmental establishment’s willingness to publish findings that are so amazingly untested, then going so far as to recommend policy.

  25. With all these brainwashed doctors running things, I can’t seem to find anyone who’ll honestly discuss the health benefits of crank!

    By an odd coincidence, that’s the subject of the next Jacob Sullum column.

    (Kidding, kidding …)

  26. Our technology had advanced to the point where we can cause enormous changes to occur quickly, to continue to occur over long periods of time, and to keep hitting the “override” button whenever we get inconvenient feedback.

    on what do you base this? where is the evidence?

    i’m sorry, joe, but your statement is politicized speculation. the earth is VERY big and VERY complex, and i’m unprepared to assume that these changes, even though they are possible, are actually underway to any meaningful degree without more evidence — and i’m further unprepared to accept that mankind’s activity is the primary driver of those changes without still more specific evidence.

  27. mak_nas writes: ” it’s our role to try to survive it.”

    How very passive. I don’t know about you, but when it’s cold out, I put on a coat before I go outside. I prepare. I don’t dress for July and just passively “try to survive” the winter.

    Trying not to exacerbate natural cycles is also a form of ‘trying to survive’, by acting now when changes are cheap, compared to changing later.

  28. Life didn’t evolve around a particular set of circumstances: Ice ages and hot cycles abound in the geologic record. Global warming isn’t really about threatening life on earth. Not even total nuclear war would threaten life on earth, just life as we know it.

    well said, trainwreck. having just again seen a documentary piece on the “snowball earth” theory, perhaps i’m even more demanding of evidence than usual, because it seems to me that the changes that can be extrapolated from data and theory are of a very small kind on either a geological or biological scale, compared to even relatively recent events in the global record.

    it’s hard for me to lend credence to 100 years of data and a uselessly simple model predicting civilizational disaster. and it really should be hard for everyone, imo — but that’s just me.

  29. in the Pacific Northwest, 33 out of 35 weather stations have recorded a 1.5 F increase in mean annual air temps over the last century […] These are facts. I can’t explain them fully but, like Nelly sings, “It’s gettin hot in here.”

    Yes, the Earth is getting warmer — the observation of which, ironically, helped refute the *previous* hysterical sky-is-falling theory, that pollution would usher in a new ice age by lowering global temperatures.

    The cynicism people feel towards the concept of “global warming” stems largely from the fact that the things it calls for — reducing use of, and ultimately abandoning, the use of coal and oil — are things environmentalists have been demanding for decades. The reasons for these demands may shift and change, and contradict one another, but the underlying demand itself remains curiously static.

    So what we’re being asked to swallow, here, is that even though the people who were previously screaming “we need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent global cooling!” now admit that they were utterly fucking wrong, we should be willing to trust their judgement when they demand we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent global warming.

    Here’s a better idea: climatology has, to date, made no accurate long-term predictions. Any scientist who anything even remotely resembling the statement “it is virtually certain that human activity is making the earth warmer” is a liar or a fraud. The best that anyone can say, at the moment, is that it is possible that human activity is making the Earth warmer. And that is ALL anyone can say, with any accuracy. We can’t say if the change will be good or bad; we can’t say if we can prevent it, or if we even should. “Maybe possibly sorta” doesn’t merit action.

  30. Trying not to exacerbate natural cycles is also a form of ‘trying to survive’, by acting now when changes are cheap, compared to changing later

    that’s fine and perhaps even quite prudent — but no one has show me the evidence that such exacerbation even exists. evidence first — then policy.

    i know that our human tendency is to tell stories, and one of the stories told again and again in human history is that or the end of the world, usually as punishment for our sins. i think the story of global warming has more in common with the book of revelations at this point than it does with science.

    THAT IS NOT TO SAY that it can’t happen, or won’t happen — to the contrary, climatic change is a matter of time, as pointed out by trainwreck. it is only to say that, in the absence of evidence, the story is just that — a story.

  31. i do tend to use a coat, though.

  32. Sigh, I knew I should have included a disclaimer on “particular set of circumstances.” Of course, there was variation within this *set* of circumstances. And of course life has a degree of resiliency. But only a degree! We can’t survive anything! Furthermore, I’m not talking about catastrophe, I’m talking about the probabiity that introducing random change might help rather than harm. Resiliency has nothing to do with that. mark_nas, if real harm is being done to real people, then it does not simply follow that we should simply accept it.

  33. ‘I think Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and others recently said in a public statement (obviously, before Gould’s passing) that they would no longer engage in certain kinds of public debate with creationists because it conferred undeserved legitimacy on them.’

    The key words being “*certain kinds* of public debate”. In particular, the article excerpted below notes that the “he said, she said” back-and-forth debate allowed the creationists to go on the attack, twist their words, and use debating tricks to score points without any solid research being involved; to a layman not paying much attention, it sounds like the creationist wins that way.

    Here’s the article — by Eugenie Scott at New Scientist’s archive (sorry, paid archive access required): http://archive.newscientist.com/secure/article/article.jsp?rp=3&id=mg16622355.000
    I’ll excerpt a little here:

    ‘I went on the offensive, confronting (Duane) Gish (of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego) with the fact that, during the previous 15 years or so, membership of an organisation of scientists, the Creation Research Society, had remained constant at about 600 ? clearly, scientists were not rallying around his flag.

    “Dr Gish,” I proposed, “If creation science is such great science, why aren’t more scientists jumping on your bandwagon?” His response was instant. “But Dr Scott, hundreds of scientists are giving up on gradual evolution.”

    He was right, of course. This was 1987, and there was quite a kerfluffle going on among scientists over whether the pace of evolution was gradual or jerky?the “punctuated equilibria” debate. But I knew damn well that the audience wasn’t going to hear the word “gradual” in that sentence?only that “hundreds of scientists were giving up on evolution”. Gish had scored. There were 15 seconds to go before a commercial break, certainly no time for a scholarly treatise on the pace of evolution. My heart raced, I hesitated before beginning to speak . . . and the programme’s host moved on to another guest before announcing the commercial break. I had lost my opportunity.

    I was angry because instead of answering my question, Gish had cleverly used my attack on him to put me on the defensive?a good debating ploy but not the way we do science. And debates are about scoring points, not arguing scientific issues, which is why so many scientists lose out in encounters with creationists.’

  34. “I have the same problem finding credible nutrition experts. A great majority of them seem to be on some kind of anti-fast-food bender.”

    Brilliant parody! Four stars!

    Let me try: “With all these brainwashed doctors running things, I can’t seem to find anyone who’ll honestly discuss the health benefits of crank!”

    There is this thing called a correlation co-efficient. When most scientists make a hypothesis, they are able to establish very strong (nearly 1-1, less experimental error) correlations between a hypothesis and experimental results. This can be translated to a level of confidence in your model. You are saying here that epidemiology and climate models have similar predictive powers?

  35. On further scrounging about, the Dawkins/Gould joint statement never occurred because of Gould’s untimely death. But their correspondence is reprinted in Dawkins’ recent book A Devil’s Chaplain.

  36. “I think Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and others recently said in a public statement (obviously, before Gould’s passing) that they would no longer engage in certain kinds of public debate with creationists because it conferred undeserved legitimacy on them.”

    $#@% wussies!

    I’ll take on any “creationist” (i.e., a young-earth, Noah-and-the-Flood true believer) any day.

    I’ll also take on any scientist, engineer, or private citizen who thinks that the climate change predictions in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Third Assessment Report (TAR) are anything but a pathetic crock.

    And I’ll eat ’em all before breakfast. 🙂

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer, skeptic extraordinaire)

  37. mark_nas, always good to point out that the concept of apocolypse is deeply rooted in our collective psyche.

    However, global warming has gone way beyond theology.

    As for me, the preponderance of evidence suggests that, (1) fact: burning carbon based fuels releases greenhouse gases, (2) fact: greenhouse gas concentrations have increased in the atmosphere over past few hundred years, (3) theory: greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere lead to climate warming (3a) lab studies simulating atmospheric conditions support greenhouse gas theory, adding weight to global warming theory.

    It’s a simple, plausible theory, it doesn’t require any value judgements. To me the debate is mostly over the consequences, which aren’t as predictable.

  38. There is this thing called a correlation co-efficient. When most scientists make a hypothesis, they are able to establish very strong (nearly 1-1, less experimental error) correlations between a hypothesis and experimental results. This can be translated to a level of confidence in your model. You are saying here that epidemiology and climate models have similar predictive powers?

    With respect, you have this entirely wrong.

    To the extent there is reasonable debate about global warming, the question is not whether climate researchers have statistically significant results.(*) Of course climate researchers have statistically significant results. If they didn’t, then as a practical matter they would never be published. (“Um, I came up with this model, and it doesn’t show anything.” “Brilliant! I think we have the lead article for our winter issue!”)

    The debate is not about whether a particular data set exhibits statistical significance but about all the things that happen before you get to statistical significance — how you collected your data, whether you ignore any data points and your reasons for doing so, whether your model properly takes account of other potentially causal factors, etc., etc. You can’t just run a test on the data and resolve those questions, although you might introduce other data and run other tests to support your arguments on those questions.

    Because not many of us are proficient enough in climatology to evaluate those questions, we might look to authorities in the field to help us with that. You argued that we can’t trust the authorities because a majority of them have a particular view. The point of my response (and Joe’s) was to point out the logical fallacy in that objection. Just because many climatologists hold a particular view doesn’t mean that they hold it because of a preconception, or even that their preconception is wrong — the fact that so many of them hold that view could just as well be evidence that that view is correct.

    (* Incidentally, not all tests of statistical significance involve a correlation coefficient — there are many other types of statistical tests.)

  39. fyodor,

    sorry but I’m a biologist! When you start talking about “life”, I don’t think about “us”, but all of it from microbe to man. After all, as Dawkins suggests, life is just a means for DNA to replicate itself.

  40. You can’t compare the changes that occur as part of a natural cycle with those imposed by human activity.

    Is human activity not part of the natural cycle?
    And on a different train of thought:
    Surprised thoreau and the other scientist haven’t pointed this out yet, but somebody did allude to the scale problem. That is, why are junk science scare stories always based on linear extrapolations of the data? The physical world doesn’t always behave linearly (fortunately for us, since atoms wouldn’t exist). Consider the 100 years of data on an axis representing geological time. The data will be a tiny little dot, and one could come up with an infinite number of curves that will pass through that dot, but don’t try using any established curve-fitting algorithms because THERE IS NOT ENOUGH DATA.

  41. Recently I was involved in a related discussion on what sort of people to invite to panels on science for a general but scientifically literate audience. The general sense of the discussion was that there are multiple views which the people doing the planning would consider legitimate parts of the debate — that what’s happening is more complex than a simple warming trend (what I call “global weirdness”), that the phenomena may be largely a natural trend or mostly man-made, that there are greater or lesser degrees of danger — but that they would regard people who claim nothing unusual is happening as cranks who aren’t likely to contribute anything beneficial to the panel. So at least in this group, they’re able to distinguish among different kinds of dissent and assign them different degrees of being worth listening to.

  42. alkali,

    For scientific crowd, I know that R^2 isn’t the only game in town. I was trying to keep the eye on the ball in the face of some commentary to the effect that questioning climatological models is like questioning your doctor about crank.

    When the claim is made that climate change is man made, that climate change is unidirectional, and that this is all bad, you are making a hypothesis that should correlate to your models, right?

    That is all I’m saying. Your doctor’s degree of certainty is much higher. Apples and oranges.

  43. If wackos are to be barred from debate, H&R (and congress) will become very quiet.

    I understand the idea that letting wackos in might legitimize them. If the legitimization takes hold, they might not be so crazy after all, since the converts to the wacko viewpoint must have found some kind value there.

    If the wacko views are so far out of step with widely-accepted data, I don’t see how they could ever gain meaningful legitimacy. Let the wackos talk, and if you don’t want to hear them, use that time to get a sandwich or something.

  44. “…but that they would regard people who claim nothing unusual is happening as cranks who aren’t likely to contribute anything beneficial to the panel. So at least in this group, they’re able to distinguish among different kinds of dissent and assign them different degrees of being worth listening to.”

    Depends what those people mean by “nothing unusual!”

    If those people are claiming that the increases in CO2 content of the atmosphere are completely the result of non-human phenomena, then “cranks” would probably be a pretty good description. It’s virtually beyond doubt that CO2 concentrations have been increasing at least largely due to human emissions of CO2.

    If instead they are claiming that the measured surface temperature increases are completely a result of non-human phenomena (e.g., the sun), or are caused by a combination of non-human phenomena and human-induced effects such as urban “heat islands”…I think that “crank” wouldn’t be a very good description.

  45. What makes science science is that there is a settled procedure for settling disputes. There doesn’t seem to be in this case; editors resigning, peers complaining. Finding the right peer for peer review seems to be important. It doesn’t come up in mathematics, for example; curious thing.

    Unlike science, for example moral arguments have no procedure for settling them. Their function is to stake out positions, and see if they’re ones the other guy can respect; or whether he’s the moral incompetent you suspect. The point of a moral argument is the argument, not settling it.

    I mention it because it resembles environmental science, a curious coincidence.

  46. “If I had contrary evidence, I’d publish something like ‘A careful technical analysis shows that such-and-such algorithm, previously used to model climate phenomena, contains subtle but significant flaws. Accurate forecasts of global warming will require development of new algorithms.'”

    Accurate forecasts of global warming will require scientific honesty. The IPCC’s Third Asssessment Report’s forecasts are simply dishonest. It isn’t even really a close call.

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

    P.S. If the global warming forecasts in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report WERE honest, I’d be in heaven. It would be a tremendous boon to my career.

  47. trainwreck,

    So? What’s your point? I’m sure there’s a lot about biology that you know that I don’t, but I think it’s only logical to expect that introducing a random element into the earth’s environment is more likely to be harmful than beneficial. Telling me that life is resilient is silly. Of course it’s not one specific circumstance that life thrives within, there’s a spectrum.

    Anyway, there’s an island with people living on it that’s getting covered up because of global warming. GW is being blamed for the extinction of barrier reefs and mountain pikas. We don’t have to resort to the (ulp!) strawmen of environmental collapse and precautionary principles to be concerned about these things.

  48. “…and self-consciously political tools who know “the window is closing” on their ability to make a reasonable sounding case in public,…”

    Given the fact that the skeptics are basically right, and the IPCC is demonstrably clearly wrong, it’s not possible for “the window” to be “closing on their–i.e., the skeptics–ability to make a reasonable sounding case in public.”

    In fact, in 2100, the IPCC’s bogus nonsense will be laughed at along the lines of the predictions that trains would move so fast that all the air would be sucked out of them, and all the passengers would die. (Except that some will claim that the IPCC’s predictions WOULD have come true, if humanity hadn’t been saved by environmentalist alarm bells.)

  49. Merovingian,

    What I found interesting in the McIntyre & McKitrick paper was not that they corrected some bad data, but that their correction doesn’t change the bottom line that it’s been getting warmer over the past 10-12 decades (see figures 7 and 8), although their data would totally change the long term trend line.

    In the words of the Dead: “Just then the wind
    came squalling through the door, but who can the weather command?”

  50. fyodor,

    I was just trying to explain why someone like me might nitpick one of your statements. Please do be concerned about human induced climate change. I know I am. But again, speaking as a biologist, I am not qualified to say whether or not these things are harmful or beneficial. Those are value judgements beyond the scope of science.

  51. Ron: It does feel like a moral argument. Each position has a set of data which it believes validates that position, and their research seems directed toward further validation, or to refute another position’s data. I thought part of the scientific process was to replicate somebody else’s experiment and see if you got the same results. This comes across more as a pissing contest. There’s no neutral curiosity about climatological processes.

    What is the moral argument these scientists are masking with their “too complex for Joe Sixpack” hypotheses?

  52. The analogy to the creation v. evolution “debate” is inapposite; creationism is not science, and those with scientific credentials who travail in its service do not act with their scientist hats on. For example, “scientists” with The Institute for Creation Research — the largest creationist enclave in the world — are required at hire to sign a pledge affirming that Jesus is the son of god and that the Bible is inerrant in its every word, and that nothing they purport to show will ever claim otherwise. So, empiricism is wholly subordinate, for them, to revelation and faith, thus largely if not wholly preventing them from adhering to a scientific mode of inquiry; neither side of the global warming divide is remotely that bad.

    It is true that evolutionists, of late, have determined it is wiser to refuse to debate creationists. This is because creationists have focused on honing their rhetorical skills before lay (and usually religious) audiences, and not on offering scientifically sound arguments. Your average zoologist or geolgist does not have the forensic skills of a shill like ICR’s Duaine Gish, and cannot assume a level of scientic literacy among his/her listeners necessary to communicate how absurd the creationist position is. Therefore, creationists are right about this one thing: evolutionary scntists often lose and so are “afraid” to debate creationists.

    The global warming debate is quite different. Yes, politics drives both sides, but peer-reviewed work is still available and found within both camps, even if the antis are a minority — you won’t see ANY geology journal presenting an article showing that the geologic strata resulted from Noah’s Flood. But, as a layperson, it is my undertanding that articles disconfirming of serious global warming can be and are published in professional journals.

    Myself, I err in favor of those who pooh-pooh global warming, because so many environmental scientists argued an incipient ice age when I was a young lass, only to be proven so dead wrong. Buttheir remduies — draconian — were the same,then. Many of these same folks now agitate for the proposition at gloabl warming is upon us, and argue for essentially the same(exensive, anti-capitalist) remedies. But both sides eschew revelation or non-empirical methods, even if they fudge facts in favor of their agenda.

  53. I liked Richard Lindzen’s response when asked by congress why so many of the world’s “top scientists” agreed with the UN version of global warming. He said that “top scientists” don’t generally go into the field of climatology.

  54. Ok, I’ve had it. Reading my last post I must ask: is there any fucking way for horrible, awful typists to edit after posting? Yeah, I give a quick proofread, but (obviously) I miss a lot. And how do some of you italicize and bold? Is a spellcheck available?

    These pressing matters have been of concern to me since I began on H&R last spring, and I can be silent no longer.

  55. Citizen,

    Actually, isn’t this kinda the basis of biological evolution?

    Sure, but please note (once again) that I am not predicting mega-calamity but pointing out that GW (heh-heh, didn’t realize the double-entendre the first time!!) is more likely to do harm than good. To wit, evolution took millions of years and is based on killing off those who don’t survive. One great evolutionary propellent was the randomly introduced factor of a killer asteroid. Good or bad for those life forms living here at the time?

  56. Addendum:

    Instead of simply saying, “…based on killing off those who don’t survive,” I should have said, “…based on killing off those who are not able to survive.”

  57. Ya know, speaking as an American (not a biologist) now, I have to say that sometimes this whole discussion gets lost.

    The real issue is energy, how do we get it, distribute it, use it, what are the consequences.

    If it’s a precious, limited resource, then all efforts should be expended at conservation. If it contributes to pollution, efforts should be made to curtail the byproducts, regardless of how accurate the effects can be measured. If our basic source of energy makes us dependent, rather than independent, then we should encourage independence.

  58. Glad to see my scientific point was picked up on, that being my strong area. However, what do people think of my philosophic point that human beings are not a seperate entity from nature? To suggest otherwise, as most environmentalists tend to do (nature=good, humans=bad) seems like religion to me.

  59. BaBar,

    When you say that anything done by humans is natural because humans are a part of nature, you’re simply playing with the definitions. The word, natural, has more than one meaning, as many words do. But when people use it to mean something other than that which is created by humans, they are not contradicted by the fact that humans are part of nature because they are using a definition of the word that DOES separate humans from nature. So to suggest otherwise is a circular argument that merely begs the question of what do you mean by “nature” or “natural” in the first place.

    OTOH, I agree that the equating of nature with good and human with bad is an oversimplification that is all too easily embraced by environmentalists who don’t stop to consider that many of the things they cherish most in the world are not natural. OTOOH, if people feel a certain way, there must be a reason for it. And if people value nature, that becomes an economic fact, and they have every right to value it, as I do myself.

  60. BaBar,

    The reason humans view themselves separate from nature in the Western, Judeo-Christian culture is in part because of the belief that only humans are created in the image of God and have a soul, and because the Bible says God granted man dominion over the earth. So yes, our world veiw is indeed an artifact of religion.

    If we view ourselves as integral parts of nature, and recognize our kinship with other organisms, and realize our activities can have negative consequences for the environment we are part of, do we all end up wanting to become vegan wearers of hair shirts?

  61. Mona:

    Italics and bold can be accomplished with HTML tags, like so:

    This <i>word</i> is italicized, this <b>word</b> is boldfaced.

    — when posted, becomes —

    This word is italicized, this word is boldfaced.

    As for spellcheck and typos: “Preview” is your friend. A few web sites provide a spellcheck function for comments but no sites that I am aware of provide for after-the-fact editing by site guests: no one has come up with a nice way of implementing it. Among other things, you would need to have some sort of identification system so that people don’t corrupt each other’s comments.

  62. mark_nas, if real harm is being done to real people, then it does not simply follow that we should simply accept it.

    and if real good comes to real people, we should? and if the effects of global warming — IF it exists — are so complex and wideranging as to ensure both, what to do?

    this is the moralizing problem again. something as complicated as climate change will have both beneficial and detrimental effects, even on the same people. characterizing change as “bad” because it is inconvenient for some is absurdly conservative, imo.

  63. It’s a simple, plausible theory, it doesn’t require any value judgements. To me the debate is mostly over the consequences, which aren’t as predictable.

    right, i don’t want to give the impression that i think it COULDN’T happen. (that would be theology, wouldn’t it!) i mean simply to say that, while the simple concepts you outline are straightforward enough, the model you’re suggesting as a predictor for what is now happening on a planetary scale is woefully insufficient to start making policy decisions on.

    if we could even get the science far enough to show that the warming is really occurring on a global scale, that would be a start. but the data sets i’ve seen don’t even show that (although most activists consider that statement heresy, of course). until we get that far, the idea remains a valid theory that deserve study and scrutiny — and the jumping up and down about how it’s all happening right now is more or less religion.

  64. Consider the 100 years of data on an axis representing geological time. The data will be a tiny little dot, and one could come up with an infinite number of curves that will pass through that dot, but don’t try using any established curve-fitting algorithms because THERE IS NOT ENOUGH DATA.

    an exceedingly important point. it seems to me that little can distinguish the variations in global atmospheric temperatures we have observed from noise.

  65. Mona, you give me the false ice age predictions by environmentalists, I’ll give you the false assurances that the ozone hole isn’t shrinking and isn’t a problem even if it is by anti-environmentalists. And I can keep em coming just as long as you can.

  66. And that question of scale is the key to the whole debate, in my opinion. As an analogy, think of the government basing economic policy on information obtained by only looking at one day’s trading at the stock exchanges. I think that most people would agree that is a bad idea. The same force is at work here. Governments are proposing policies that are wide-reaching, with non-trivial effects on peoples daily lives, based on information gained from observations taken for 100-200 years.

  67. Joe:

    “Mona, you give me the false ice age predictions by environmentalists, I’ll give you the false assurances that the ozone hole isn’t shrinking and isn’t a problem even if it is by anti-environmentalists. And I can keep em coming just as long as you can.”

    Fine, its a draw. We don’t know very much about it. Ask me to spend trillions when we know something.

  68. Or maybe, Jason, there are other relevant considerations than “someone who reminds me of you said something that turned out wrong.”

  69. fyodor:

    “GW is being blamed for the extinction of barrier reefs and mountain pikas.”
    I read this and thought “They’ve gone too far if some jackass is blaming the president of the United States on the extinction of barrier reefs.” 😀

    “I think it’s only logical to expect that introducing a random element into the earth’s environment is more likely to be harmful than beneficial”
    Actually, isn’t this kinda the basis of biological evolution? That with enough random events things start growing eyeballs, fingernails and circullitory systems?

  70. Mark, I take your point about losing if one does not play, but I’ve heavily studied debating histories and tactics used by creationists, and they are very, very savvy — at least the ICR crew are. Look, marshalling dry, scientific facts does NOT persuade the hoi polloi; arguments from incredulity do.

    A skilled rhetorician can hold an audience in his/her hand; when the facts are not on your side, you do well to develop your persuasion techniques and exploit the ignorance of your audience, and to offer a liberal dose of humor. These ploys the creationists have down to an, um, science. How many geologists spend a lot of time learning how to obfuscate and mesmerize a crowd?

    OJ was guilty, but Johnny Cochran was as brilliant as Duaine Gish. The truth does not always out.

  71. Mark, I take your point about losing if one does not play, but I’ve heavily studied debating histories and tactics used by creationists, and they are very, very savvy — at least the ICR crew are. Look, marshalling dry, scientific facts does NOT persuade the hoi polloi; arguments from incredulity do.

    A skilled rhetorician can hold an audience in his/her hand; when the facts are not on your side, you do well to develop your persuasion techniques and exploit the ignorance of your audience, and to offer a liberal dose of humor. These ploys the creationists have down to an, um, science. How many geologists spend a lot of time learning how to obfuscate and mesmerize a crowd?

    OJ was guilty, but Johnny Cochran was as brilliant as Duaine Gish. The truth does not always out.

  72. “Mark, I take your point about losing if one does not play, but I’ve heavily studied debating histories and tactics used by creationists, and they are very, very savvy — at least the ICR crew are. Look, marshalling dry, scientific facts does NOT persuade the hoi polloi; arguments from incredulity do.”

    Well, all I can say is to send ’em my way. 🙂

    One simply can’t make a rational case that, for example, that 2 (or slightly more) of all of the kinds of animals in the world were put on a boat 3400 years ago, and then released to repopulate the earth in the manner we see today.

    “How many geologists spend a lot of time learning how to obfuscate and mesmerize a crowd?”

    Well, I’ve spent no time learning how to obfuscate and mesmerize a crowd. And I also don’t know much about about geology, or biology. But I’ll still happily debate any Bible Scientist (my brother’s term…note the clever initials) any day of the week.

    And I also have no degree in climatology, but I’ll happily debate all the entire assemblage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the question of whether their projections in their Third Assessment Report are scientifically defensible. They aren’t.

    In fact, this really bothers me about the state of science today. (And environmental science in particular, since I’m an environmental engineer.)

    When I see school science teachers say that they won’t “teach” creationism in their classes, I think they’re wrong. If I were a science teacher, not only would I be happy to teach ABOUT creationism (and by that, I mean 6000-year-old-earth, Noah’s-Flood creationism)…I would quite happily invite the absolute best creationist debater to come into the school to debate me. The important thing would NOT be whether those kids all thought that I was right. The important thing would be that they THOUGHT, period.

    “OJ was guilty, but Johnny Cochran was as brilliant as Duaine Gish. The truth does not always out.”

    The truth *does* always out. In 2100, the earth’s temperature will be some value. Maybe it will be somewhere between the 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius higher that the IPCC says. Or maybe it will be less than 1.0 degree Celsius warmer, like I think. But SOMEONE will be right, and someone will be wrong. (And the odds are much stronger that I will be right, than that the IPCC will be right.)

  73. “Therefore, creationists are right about this one thing: evolutionary scientists often lose and so are ‘afraid’ to debate creationists.”

    They “lose”? How can they possibly “lose”?! They’re right, and the creationists (i.e., the young-Earth, Noah’s-Flood creationists) are wrong.

    To rephrase a great line from the movie “War Games”…”the only way to lose is not to play.”

  74. “Sure, but please note (once again) that I am not predicting mega-calamity but pointing out that GW (heh-heh, didn’t realize the double-entendre the first time!!) is more likely to do harm than good.”

    Actually, the total biomass on earth is virtually certain to go up with CO2-induced global warming.

    So if one’s primary goal is increasing the total amount of living material on earth, CO2-induced global warming is virtually certain to be beneficial. (Unless we were talking about something like a 25+ degree Celsius increase.)

  75. EMAIL: krokodilgena1@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://www.PENIS-ENLARGER-PILLS.NET

    DATE: 12/10/2003 07:17:12
    Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

  76. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
    IP: 68.173.7.113
    URL: http://mail-order-pharmacy.drugsexperts.com
    DATE: 01/09/2004 06:19:56
    Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.