This website, RealClimate, appears to be infuriating for global warming “skeptics”, those of you who proclaim an understanding of science, but present misinformation based on nothing of any scientific value.
I’ve seen no attempts to address any on the arguments and counter arguments methodically laid out by working climate scientists from RealClimate during my review of the “skeptic” position.
I’ve dealt with every kind of fallacious argument you can imagine.
For asking a series of questions to the “skeptics”, I’ve been called hysterical, alarmist, a “warmer”, an eco-fascist, a liar, an ideolog, privileged, condescending, and an arsehole.
I may have missed a few out, but you get the picture.
I’ve also been told how insensitive it is that anyone calls anyone a “denier”.
I was banned from Tallbloke’s Talkshop even though I never swore, insulted anyone, or was rude in any way, and the site claims to have no rules about how people should interact, other than minding manners, which I did. I’m not moaning about this, I don’t care, I point it out merely to indicate the quality of the argument I’m dealing with here.
I was in search of a fair-minded, scientifically credible discussion, with openness and a certain intellectual rigor. I got none of these things, as shown in the comments on my previous post.
The only possible conclusion I’m left with is that they have no argument, no data, no evidence, and the attempt to characterize their position as in any way scientific is patiently deceptive.
Is this man putting forward a coherent argument?
Note: I’ve now written an update where I do claim to be a bit of an amateur climate scientist, so there you go.
I’m not a climate scientist. The chances are that you are not a climate scientist.
In fact, let’s start on the basis of nobody here actually being a climate scientist, okay?
(If you happen to be a climate scientist, you may want to find something else to do for a bit, look at some data, go for a walk, whatever, this isn’t about you)
So, let’s start at the beginning. What with us not being climate scientists, let’s not get into a discussion about the data. I’m not qualified, you’re not qualified, there’s very little point.
So, here goes:
How do I go about unpicking the contradictory views on this subject?
1. One solution would be to listen to the different views then settle on a middle ground somewhere. That would be quick, easy, and would perhaps avoid any unpleasant arguments, and if not, I’d always appear to be the reasonable and balanced one. Great!
This is, of course, a fallacy.
Working on the assumption that there is a reality of some kind, one view must be closer to describing that reality than the others, and there’s no logical reason to assume that the most accurate view should lie exactly in the center of some perfectly balanced spectrum.
2. Perhaps I could consider what I intuitively feel is right, what seems to make more sense, and then look for the evidence that most strongly supports that position.
The trouble here is then I’m only really considering the position that I’ve already decided upon, filtering out all opposing points as a priori wrong. Cherry picking data through confirmation bias. Easily done. Not good.
3. Perhaps I could find someone with letters after their name and who tells me of their decades of experience in the field. Would they have the right answer?
Well, maybe, but just because of their position, reputation or former achievements, they may be wrong on this one, they may be mistaken. I cannot accept an argument purely from authority.
4. So what am I left with? I could stare at the raw data myself, not allowing myself to be influenced by anyone else’s interpretation of it, somehow transform myself into a self-taught expert. If I did this for long enough I may be able to convince myself that I am in fact an expert. I’d also probably send myself a little nutty. How could I avoid the confirmation bias I already wrote about? I know my brain is far from perfect, so why should I trust it here? No, that won’t do.
So, that leaves me pretty stuck. Of course there’s a scientific consensus on this topic, but we all know that a consensus could be wrong. Could there be a bias built into the way we educate scientists that supports the status quo? Sure, why not? Could scientists be influenced by career opportunities, funding issues, or fear of damage to their professional reputation? No doubt. So a consensus gets built up, and it becomes increasingly difficult to publicly challenge it.
So what I need is a trained scientist, or ideally a number of scientists, who have established themselves as voices who challenge authority, who are skilled not just at the data analysis needed, but also the communication needed to reach a broad audience. These scientists should also be committed to independence, to overturning assumptions, to systematically applying logic, critical thinking and rationalism to everything that crosses their path.
So here are a few candidates for this post.
In no particular order, Steven Novella, Phil Plait, and Ben Goldacre. Each man is a qualified scientist, each from a separate branch of science, each completely independent from climate science, and, for me, crucially, each with a well documented track record of challenging the orthodoxy not only within their own fields, sometimes at some personal risk, but also across science.
These guys could play a crucial role in overturning current herd mentality/group think, if that is the case, among climate scientists.
Each of them have, of course, already written at length about this topic.
So which side do my newly appointed panel of independent experts land on?
Each of them have used the term “deniers” or something similar to describe those who claim that AGW is a myth.
Worse, the implication is that the very people who are arguing so passionately for a reappraisal of the science are victims of exactly those fallacies that I’ve described above. A misreading of the arguments and evidence through confirmation bias, and a misrepresentation of the data through cherry picking.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of many who call themselves climate change skeptics. I also think they play an important role in counteracting some of the sillier proclamations coming from the environmental lobby.
I do have to conclude, however, AGW is real, and although I’m not sure that it’s a productive label, the term denialist is harsh but fair.
Many readers will skip down to the end, find a conclusion that they don’t like, and reject everything else. That’s okay, but if you do take the time to read it all, you’ll see that the skip-to-the-enders are making my exact point for me.
Many thanks to the good people of Tallbloke’s Talkshop for allowing me to grill them for a bit on this subject without getting all snarky. They got snarky in the end, but I was quite persistant with my questioning, so that’s fair enough I suppose.
Having butted into a discussion on another blog about morals and god and stuff, I became embroiled in a tricky argument with a nice fella who was some kind of Christian, and who took the position that science was a religion. I’m not sure I equipped myself very well, not being particularly clear and certainly far too longwinded, but in the end I managed to summarize my argument like this:
Where I step in is when people suggest that there is no way that evolution can account for certain behaviors. I’ve yet to find any evidence to support that position, and considering there is no evidence that the behavior of every animal on the planet has been shaped by *anything* other than evolution through natural selection, evolution is not even competing with serious alternative hypotheses. The construction of the origin myths and various deities are endlessly fascinating, producing a wonderfully rich texture to the history of our species, but the claim that without some of them we would somehow behave less morally is, to me, ridiculous. If the claim is that the Christian myth gives us superior morals compared with, say, Norse mythology, I see no evidence for that. The people of Scandinavia developed a complex society with social codes, restrictions, expectations, legends and guiding stories passed down generations. To claim that they lacked a morality (with the inference that they still do, as most of the Nordic nations are only nominally Christian) is just silly, but if this claim is not made, that leaves the whole validity of Christian morality hanging, imho.
So, to conclude, if people take inspiration from supposedly wise words written down a long long time ago, great! Do we need any of those words to live a good life? Probably not.
Give a child an understanding of the world around them through science, give them language skills, the gift of communication for them to share ideas and grow intellectually, independent of those around them, and give them the confidence to question, everyone and everything, to take nothing at face value, and to keep exploring until they form their own picture, do these things, and you’ll find you’ve done a pretty good job equipping that child with what they need.
So finally I felt that I got to sum up my main point, probably far too late in the day, but there you are. If you’re interested in such philosophical musings, the blog Love and Heretics is a lovely place to dip into.