Are you a real skeptic? I doubt it.

I mean, you might be, but I’m certainly not going to take your word for it….

I have an email from a blogeague (that’s a colleague in the blogosphere) asking for clarification on the use of the word Skeptic in relation to climate change. This is a person very much involved in ocean conservation who had understood the word “skeptic” to mean a person who “does not believe in” anthropogenic global warming, but I had used the term in a blog post to describe a person who is not an AGW denialist. We have a commenter on this site who seems to have been pretending to have just woken up one recent morning and realized that the argument for anthropogenic global warming was flawed and thus decided to be “skeptical” about it. That person looks a lot more like a “denialist” than what I would call a “skeptic.” In other contexts, I’ve had to stop and explain to people what is meant by the term “skeptic.” Isn’t a creationist an evolution skeptic? Can a skeptic ever believe it was Oswald acting alone? Well, no, and no. I mean yes.

It’s all very confusing.

This confusion may be novel for you if you are true skeptics and have been using the word for a while, and are surrounded mainly by skeptics. Or maybe you just haven’t been paying sufficient attention. In my world I am constantly encountering confusion over the use of the term. And when I say “constantly” I mean something like a few times a month. And I exaggerate only slightly.

Fine. So I could say that people have different opinions about the meaning of the word “skeptic,” or more dogmatically, that some people don’t understand the meaning of the term. And I will get to that. But I also want to point out that there is another problem with the term “skeptic” which is a bit more vague and not everyone will agree on. The word “skeptic” also means holding a certain particular set of beliefs. A skeptic believes that AGW is real, and that evolution is a good theory and that Apollo astronauts actually went to the moon. In other words, there is a “skeptic’s” agenda and a “skeptic” is a person who toes the line. This is a problem.

I will produce evidence that this is probably true, but first let me throw on the table a working definition of “skeptic” for use in the present context. A skeptic is a person who strongly prefers to accept as fact only that for which there is verifiable and reasoned evidence, and who is prepared to put aside that fact should the evidence suggest this be done. That is a simplified definition and begs several questions such as “what is a fact?” and “what about things that are not exactly facts?” and so on. It also does not address the circumstance when things are unclear. But you get the idea.

So, a skeptic today probably would agree that anthropogenic global warming is “real” and that it is mostly or entirely caused by human activities, mainly the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. But, that same skeptic could easily change to thinking that Global Warming is not real if the evidence shifted, or could easily decide that human involvement is not important if some major other causal factor unrelated to humans was suddenly discovered.

In other words, with respect to global warming, a skeptic does not have a predetermined view. This is in contrast to a “denialist” who by definition does not evaluate the evidence, but rather, denies the paradigm. As James Hrynyshyn recently noted, scientists and skeptics who criticize denialists should avoid the use of the word “doubter” to describe said denialists. A skeptic is a doubter by definition. A denialist has no doubt, and thus, is not engaged in a thought process.

(As an aside: If you are interested in creating Artificial Intelligence, it might be easier to start with the Denalist then work your way up to the more difficult and complex Skeptic. I’m just sayin’ …)

For me, this consideration of the question … of what is a skeptic, and of the point about skepticism that I haven’t quite made yet … began last Fourth of July weekend when I was attending and variously participating in panels in the SkepchickCon in Minneapolis. During one of the panels, in which I was an audience member, there was quite a bit of discussion about science education. Among other things, the following statements were made by various individuals (mainly members of the audience):

  • The problem with science education is that it is all about teaching facts.
  • In science teaching, no one teaches process.
  • Science teachers do not know how to teach. They only know how to babysit.
  • The problem with science teaching is that the students are not involved in learning, they are just taught.
  • All these bad things are caused by standards that require them (teaching facts, not process, etc.)
  • Teachers are teaching to the tests.

(I’ve paraphrased but you get the gist.)

The room was full of skeptics. Every person who made these statements would easily characterize him- or herself as a skeptic. All the people who nodded in assent when the statements were being made would count themselves as skeptics. You couldn’t really swing a Halloween cat without hitting a skeptic in that room.

But it was unskeptical skepticism, as it turns out.

Each of these items regarding science education has an element based on known problems with the system of education and science education in particular. Ask any teacher. But by and large each of these statements is incorrect. The actual situation varies by state, and has changed over time, but there has been for a few years now a set of trends that obviate these statements either a little or a lot, depending. Standards are being re-written to focus more on process. Teaching techniques such as inquiry based learning are considered state of the art, even if it is often hard (due to class size and other mainly budget related limitations) to implement. Teachers generally do teach to a test, but the complaint here is that teachers are being forced to teach to THE test, to some standard state wide test. But most science teachers I know appreciate the existence of the standards based tests to which they teach, because that significantly reduces the problem of having a creationist science teacher in the next room teaching to what they feel is a higher authority.

We could argue about these points of education forever. Suffice it to say that if you ran this list of “facts” by any currently active science teacher who is not working in some backwater (i.e. Texas) they would likely tell you ways in which these statements are oversimplifications, out of date, or just plain wrong.

So why are skeptics repeating falsehoods or oversimplifications in a discussion about education? At a skeptics meeting? And using these factoids as the building blocks of arguments about important things? Why were they not being more critical in their thinking about teaching?

I suggest that there were at least two reasons. 1) Many skeptics are not really skeptics, but rather, members of the skeptics camp, who embrace the skeptics platform, and toe the skeptics line. And bless their pointy little heads for doing that because, verily, they swell our ranks and make us significant when the pollsters inquire or petitions must be signed. But we should demand better of ourselves, we should be skeptical about our skepticism; or 2) The old saws, the aphorisms, such as “science education is all about The Factoidz and not about Teh Prozess!!11!!” are convenient tools in a conversation in which one might be trying to advance a certain agenda. The fact that uncritical balderdash is incidentally being promoted be damned. But that is not good either.

Lest you think that it is only Con-goers who sometimes play fast and loose with their skepticism, I have three other examples, two from fellow bloggers (and their commenters) who wrote about very current topics, and one from yours truly.

The first is the Twilight maneno. Twilight is seen by many people as a bad phenomenon. The books and the movies promote negative, potentially misogynistic or even damaging attitudes among teenagers. I’ve never read the books, but I’ve seen the two movies that have come out so far, and I basically agree that this is a problem, even if I think much of the energy being spent on hating Twilight could be better directed.

Within this dialog of criticism, I noticed a few things things. First, most people with an opinion either love Twilight or hate Twilight. Second, among those who hate it, there are strong opinions expressed by those who have never read one of the books or seen the movie, and among those, there are many who are willing to base their understanding of the books and/or movies on the detailed statements of others who, in some cases, also have never read the books or seen the movies!

Third, many of these opinions are based on facts that are simply incorrect. One commenter noted that the boy vampire Edward loves girl mortal Bella only because she is hot (referring here to the movies). But there is considerable time spent on the big screen, including a major dream sequence and a conversation between Edward and Bella, making clear that this is not the case. But the “love her only because she is hot” idea fits so well with the Bad Role Model paradigm that someone actually saw the movies, thought they saw this, made this statement, and as everyone else fell into line beating up the movies, no one seemed to notice that this basic fact was simply not true. (I have verified indirectly that this is the case as well with the books. Bella is “plain” and Edward is not interested in her because of her looks. He’s much more interested in her smell. For what that’s worth…) Putting it more plainly and at the risk of being offensive, if you are a feminist, you’d better not like Twilight, and there are bullet points you need to know. Don’t argue. Which is fine. But I’ve mainly read skeptical blogs and skeptical commenters and I’m a little embarrassed. Sure, don’t like Twilight … but please do your not liking with reference to actual, rather than made up or erroneously attributed facts.

One expects incorrect statements to emerge by accident when a bunch of people are discussing something like this, but if the discussants are all skeptics, one would also expect corrections to be made. What is happening instead is that efforts to make corrections are typically seen as efforts to minimize the potential damage of a set of books and movies like this, or to “Defend Twilight.” In other words, if you don’t toe the line, shut up.

Here is a jumping off point to explore the Twilight Maneno in more detail.

The second is the recent criticism of the numerically poor representation of women in the recently published science anthology edited by Richard Dawkins. The criticism here is that there are not enough women represented. I agree with that criticism and wrote my own post on that, showing as evidence a roughly similar volume that had a much higher percentage of women represented in it. But, among the extensive discussion we see many people making mistakes about what the anthology is about … the initial criticisms tended to characterized the volume as representing living, modern, science writers (like science journalists) and notes that there are plenty of females in this category. But the book does not represent writers … or living or current people. It represents scientists of the 20th (mostly) century. In that category, there are fewer women. So, while the book should have, and could have, included more women, the various critiques of the book were in many cases off base. Somewhere, in some comment or another, I likened this to sending someone to jail for a crime you KNOW they did not commit, but comfortable in that miscarriage of justice because you also KNOW they must have committed some other crimes.

Have those who incorrectly characterized Dawkins’ book (but still came up with a conclusion that is more or less correct) corrected their original statements? Have others graciously made those corrections, and a positive dialog ensued? So far I don’t think so. But it’s not over yet. Follow the links and report back!

For my own part, I made what is either an egregious miscarriage of blogospheric justice, or an insightful save, on my blog just the other day. A commenter named timo started to bring up questions about anthropogenic global warming. He sounded a lot like a typical AGW denier, but he denied that he was. He made the claim that he is a liberal, atheistic, democratic, pro environment guy who just does not buy climate modeling.

But I used camp membership to categorize timo as a fake. His adherence to skeptical and progressive views in some areas but a standard run of the mill AGW denialist presentation led me to guess that timo himself is an elaborate deception. And I told him so and I have not backed down from that assertion. My assumption, after hearing his position on global warming, was that this was virtually impossible, and that he had to be some sort of plant.

Using the camp membership paradigm, I was not able to accept that timo could just be a free thinking skeptical kind of guy who happens to have not drunk what he sees as the uncritical Kool Aid of climate change. That is not very skeptical of me. Maybe.

It is not good enough to accept, believe in, promote, go along with, or pass along a position generally found in the skeptical community, such as accepting the reality of global warming or the validity of evolutionary theory. It is not good enough to jump on the anti-sexism bandwagon to trounce Dawkins the Biologist or Edward the Vampire. You need to have a handle on the underlying facts and their relationship to methods and theories, or social or creative processes, as needed. Note also that the skeptical community is not monolithic. There are skeptical Atheists and there are skeptical Catholics, and so on. But I am weary and wary of people who claim to be “skeptics” because they are “Darwinists” but who aggressively fight against rational thinking when it comes to the climate. False skepticism is a way station en route to Palinesque Orwellian antifactualism. Real skeptics need not toe a particular line with respect to facts or conclusions, but real skeptics are skeptical … meaning rational and thoughtful and fact-oriented … in all areas.

In a month or so several of us will be meeting up in The Triangle for a meeting on science communication, and bringing skeptical thinking to our readers and listeners (as bloggers or podcasters) will be one of the topics. It is possible that we will, as a group, buy the party line and assume that there is only one way to think about each of the important topics of the day. But I’m skeptical. We’ll more likely be thinking that it is good to be rational and inquisitive, and to investigate and learn. But in the end, we are likely be thinking pretty similar things, at the broad brush level, about many of these key issues. We won’t be toeing the line. But we will hoe the row, as needed.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    December 10, 2009

    An even better example of skeptics mindlessly nodding their heads in agreement, is soccergirl’s TAM 6 report (the relative part is about halfway in). How many of those head nodders do you suppose benefited from a public education? Pfft!

  2. #2 Moopheus
    December 10, 2009

    I am skeptical I am going to get all the way to the end of this post.

  3. #3 becca
    December 10, 2009

    1) When I was an undergrad, I was a journal article gofer for the state water survey library. There were staff scientists at the library, mostly requesting obscure publications on arsenic levels in groundwater. When these were pertaining to our state- Illinois- fetching these publications generally required only rolling open the right shelves. When they were pertaining to other states, we had to ILL them. Only a handful of the dozens of scientists ever asked for any other type of article from the other 40 on campus libraries, and of the ones that did, probably 90% of my time was spent getting articles for just one guy. This guy read a bit of EVERYTHING. I mean, publications from the 1800s in the physics archives, sociology, geography. And this guy did not buy the anthropogenic climate change stuff at all.
    Lesson learned: IF all global warming deniers are kooks, some of them are the the widest-read, most intelligent, and most interesting kooks you’ve ever met. Full disclaimer: I may have a soft spot for fellow well-read smart kooks.
    2) “He’s much more interested in her smell.”
    Nailed teen ‘romance’, that author did.
    3) What if you are skeptical of *everyone’s* capacity to be skeptical?

  4. #4 Sailor
    December 10, 2009

    I guess it is like the word “theory”, it means different things for different people – you can say “I am skeptical of something” because you do not believe it, regardless of the evidence. This does not make you a true skeptic.

    The science of global warming is complex, as is the science of biology. On most general blogs, discussion on some specific point is often beyond the technical expertise of the commenters (or at least they have to waste time looking stuff up to answer}. So maybe it is best for send agw denialists to “real climate” where they can be shredded with greater ease. Similarly for technical biology questions PZ blog should do it.

  5. #5 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    I have been sceptical of the science behind anthropogenic climate change since the first scare I went through about it in Australia in the 1960s. Drought, hot weather and the, honest to god, loss of a Prime Minister lead to apocalyptic scenarios that frightened the life out of little pre-teen catholic boy.

    I went from frightened in the 1960s to puzzled in the 1970s when heat death was replaced by cold death in the apocalyptic scenarios and then to just plain jaded in the 1980s when it went back to heat death again. If the problem swings from one extreme to the other, it never made any sense to that the same actions could be proposed as the solution.

    My attitude is that real science is not a popularity contest. Real science does not apply adjustments to seemingly random data that miraculously all work in the same direction to produce a trend that was not apparent before. Real science does not feel the need to suddenly remove inconvenient historic epochs.

    My favourite explanation of the current lemming like belief in anthropogenic climate change is Charles McKay’s “Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” the books 150 years old and its insights are still going strong. The book explained the stock market bubbles of the 70s, 80s and 90s beautifully. It explained Y2K hysteria and it fits what we are currently observing.

    For the record – I accept that darwinian evolution is the best explanation how we got here – I am not paid by any oil/fossil fuel/tobacco company – I have never argued that smoking does not cause cancer – I don’t like any political party (a plague on both their houses) – I have studied quite a lot of history and I make my living as a physicist.

  6. #6 timo
    December 10, 2009

    That I am trying to deceive you and am a plant for a denialist camp is absolutely ridiculous and absurd. Greg looks at my Facebook account, which I never mentioned in any post, and he decides I am committing an elaborate hoax spanning at least a year. And supposedly this blog is my coming out, since I have rarely discussed this issue except with friends and once or twice on this blog. Google me: There is nothing. Paul thinks because I was born in 9.11, I must be a conspiratist. 2) I have given you my full name and address. Anyone can walk up to my apartment and verify I am a real person with a real life, and that I am not deceiving anyone.(you can see my drivers license) I will happily talk to anyone, though I think you will find i’m quite ordinary and boring. Feel free to contact some of my co-workers, who incidentally email me crap about Obama and his evil plans for a America which I fact check and return with a “don’t send me this shit anymore”. They will tell you I am a socialist non-believer who will burn in hell. I have been an atheist since I was about 19, and my skepticism of global warming goes back to at least 1991 when I took an Oceanography class at the UW. Incidentally you can go the the UW degree verification site and check that I graduated from the University. Go here http://sdb.admin.washington.edu/sisDegreeValidation/Public/default.aspx

    write my full name timothy turner and you will see I graduated in 1992

    So as you can see I am an open book. I don’t accept everything, but if you read my previous posts, I don’t claim certainty about my position either. I can’t think of a conspiracy theory I believe in: Oswald did it, men went to the moon, Bush didn’t slam planes into wtc, there is no Illuminati plot to take over the world etc. This is all well-known by my longtime friends. And you know my views on Evolution. And as I said, I accept climate science in its ability to reconstruct past climate, just doubt its ability to accurately predict the future. I don’t think I was trying to convince any of you of anything except that I am what I say I am. Please judge for yourself, but also verify, ok. Don’t just make wild assumptions because I am not something you have seen before. There are black swans as Taleb would say.

  7. #7 MadScientist
    December 10, 2009

    @becca: He may have read a lot, but did he understand any of it?

    As for “I don’t trust the climate models” I would just have laughed and said “join the club”. The climate models are not essential to showing that the globe is warming overall. The idea of calculating an “average” temperature for the whole globe is that no matter how you distribute the energy around the globe, if the energy is increasing, an average over the globe should show an increase in temperature. Now fairly basic physics tells us more CO2 = more warming and the mean global temperature does show a relatively rapid warming trend which is consistent with increased CO2. Other contributions to the overall energy input/output of the earth have been investigated – changes in solar output over long periods, the short-period change in solar output (‘solar cycle’), distortions in the earth’s orbit etc – and whatever people could think of to investigate simply came nowhere near explaining the temperature rise. Now another portion can be attributed to the direct heating effect of increased CO2 and that has been done, yet there is still a fairly large unexplained temperature rise and this is mostly attributed to the “enhanced greenhouse effect”. So far no climate models involved; the climate models attempt to guess at the actual/likely energy distribution around the globe and the amount of the enhanced greenhouse effect, and I’ll agree that so far that does resemble reading tea leaves. Now to successfully refute the claims of the magnitude of the earth’s warming, people need to provide substantial evidence that something else is causing this warming. So far no one has done any such thing; “the earth has always warmed and cooled” is merely a statement of ignorance which implies that the earth has warmed and cooled in the past and therefore all warming and cooling must not be affected by humans, and it also (quite ignorantly) implies that we can’t determine the reasons for the warming and cooling of the earth.

  8. #9 llewelly
    December 10, 2009

    I went from frightened in the 1960s to puzzled in the 1970s when heat death was replaced by cold death in the apocalyptic scenarios and then to just plain jaded in the 1980s when it went back to heat death again.

    Myth.

  9. #10 MadScientist
    December 10, 2009

    @russel: You have to be careful about statements like “The book explained the stock market bubbles of the 70s, 80s and 90s beautifully.”

    You can always retrofit the facts (as the Nostradamus cultists and others do), so I prefer to see “The Madness of Crowds” as a social commentary (which it is) and not an “explanation” of anything. So in looking at stock market crashes we can see many of the observed phenomena described in that book, but the book doesn’t predict or explain any of that behavior. It is not always an easy distinction to make, but by way of example I’ll tell the boring story of the work of some of my colleagues. My colleagues set up a very precise gas measurement system and on one occasion collected ancillary information under favorable conditions and with a known gas release in the vicinity. They then claimed to be able to detect the gas release, but they analysed the data post-facto. I challenged them to detect a gas release and offered to conduct gas releases in favorable conditions but unknown to them – and they declined the offer because they knew full well that they cannot present evidence of a gas release unless they have apriori knowledge of the release – in short, they can’t really detect a gas release as they claimed they could, but if they had the apriori knowledge they could always look for a few facts which are consitent with detecting a gas release and claim that they had detected one.

  10. #11 llewelly
    December 10, 2009

    This article explains the timeline of the so-called scandal, in which an attacker stole the emails and other files from an East Anglia computer, attacked a real climate computer and tried to post the files there, and, once stymied there, the files appeared on the Air Vent.
    A case of classic Swift-Boating: How the right-wing noise machine manufactured “Climategate”

  11. #12 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear MadScientist,

    Just for the record – your style of argumentation doesn’t work for people who are not in your head-space.

    From my perspective you sound the sames as the people who thought I was an ignorant boob for not understanding that PE ratios were no guide to stock market value in the 70s bubble (or the 80s bubble or the 90s bubble). You sound the same as the people who thought I was silly to ignore their Y2K rants. In fact, you would fit in perfectly with Charles McKay’s descriptions of the South Seas Bubble, the Tulip Mania, the OP mania and so weiter.

    Your understanding of the complex global climate system is unlikely to be orders of magnitude better than mine. From my persepective your accusations of ignorance are best explained as you having enthusiastically joined the current mania rather than superior understanding of the actual climate.

  12. #13 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    Sailor: Are you saying that the commenters on this blog are not competent to handle climate change or “real” biology, or that I’m not!??!?? Maybe YOU should go over to RealClimate and Pharyngula.

  13. #14 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear llewelly,

    Thanks for your kindness in pointing out that my own real and vivid memories of my own life experience is nothing but a myth.

    I am curious as to how you might have come to know my life so much better than I do myself.

    I await your explanation with rapt fascination.

  14. #15 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    Russell, a lot of people have had similar experiences as you. In fact, the whole climate science community experienced some of this when greehouse effects were first predicted right at the end of warm swing and as we went into a cold swing (both part of the normal up and down) thus confusing the hell out of everyone … no one understood el nino cycles or other important causes of variation at that time.

    The difference between you and the actual climate scientists is that you’re still using the personal reaction to personal experience and climate scientists are using increasingly sophisticated methods combined with more powerful theories using much better and more copious data.

  15. #16 Gabby
    December 10, 2009

    Russell#10 translation:
    They all laughed at me. They called me MAD!!
    Soon, they won’t think me mad. They’ll all see!

  16. #17 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear Greg,

    My problem is that I don’t accept that the current debate on climate change is based on real science. I am not a ranter or a raver – I am just saying I am not willing to actually join this particularly mass cultural phenomenon.

    Dear Gaby,

    A more accurate translation would be “I laughed at them in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and the noughties and I expect to be laughing at them in teens, twenties and so on”. The cause of my mirth changes frequently, sometimes it is the stock-market – sometimes it is some species of doom but the mirth is fairly constant.

  17. #18 MadScientist
    December 10, 2009

    @Gabby: hehehe – I think you got it. :) I also love the instantaneous accusations that I’m calling people ignorant. But one of the funniest things remains the claim “I am not a denier! I can think for myself!”

  18. #19 MadScientist
    December 10, 2009

    @Russell: For your information, your own behavior fits in well with the various descriptions of mania. Being a denial-manic you somehow seem to exclude yourself from the descriptions in the book. The problem with your cockeyed view is that you have absolutely no evidence on your side, but rather than make an effort to look at evidence you just cover your ears and go “nah nah nah nah, NO EVIDENCE! nah nah nah, AGW CONSPIRACY!”

  19. #20 Podblack
    December 10, 2009

    Dear Greg -

    You might like to see my blog series on ‘Skeptics Should Support Reading – To A Twilight-Hating Teen’ – there’ll be an article on a similar topic in a future edition of an online parenting site, where I talk about the importance of critical literacy when watching films, reading and how parents can help. I write on the topic for a parenting site, because I see it less as a ‘skeptic’ issue and one that should be on my blog… but I don’t see why a blog should be open to discussing as many topics as one wishes? I’ve done plenty of posts on skepticism and literature before (one such post is in the Open Laboratory Blog Anthology for 2008, for example).

    Additionally – I’ve reposted yesterday about the issues that there are many skeptical spokespeople who do not have a Science Education background. One post that reflected on how difficult it can be to find a ‘voice’ is called ‘Cassandra – Or Why Being A Teacher Is The Worst Thing A Skeptic Could Be’; ‘Questioning Skeptics – On Primary And Secondary Teaching’ and a variety of others at http://podblack.com/essays.

    You can read on my blog an interview with Michael McRae of CSIRO at ‘Science Communication and Education – Michael McRae’, for a Science educator’s take on it all too.

    As someone who made a point of personally thanking Soccergirl at Dragon*Con 2008 for what she said about Penn’s condemnation of public education at TAM, and as the person who created the ‘Skeptics In The Classroom’ panel at D*C 2009, I hope that people in the education profession will not be so easily overlooked by those only wanting ‘pop-culture skeptics’ on the stage at future conventions. The fact that D.J Grothe is now the President of JREF is a great sign.

  20. #21 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear MadScientist,

    Just for the record “I also love the instantaneous accusations that I’m calling people ignorant“. I was not actually “accusing” you of calling people ignorant – I was actually just responding to your accusations of ignorance in your post #6 above – I have helpfully highlighted the relevant words in your post since you seemed to have difficulty seeing them for yourself.

    So far no one has done any such thing; “the earth has always warmed and cooled” is merely a statement of ignorance which implies that the earth has warmed and cooled in the past and therefore all warming and cooling must not be affected by humans, and it also (quite ignorantly) implies that we can’t determine the reasons for the warming and cooling of the earth.

    Glad to be of service

  21. #22 Stephanie Z
    December 10, 2009

    I do wish I could find the exact text of Park’s Law (at least that’s what I call it). It always makes me laugh when someone says, “Well, I think this and I’m a physicist. To paraphrase: There is no pseudoscientific theory so ridiculous that one cannot find at least one physicist to endorse it.

  22. #23 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear MadScientist,

    You don’t actually talk to many people do you?

    I have simply noted that I find the current mania unconvincing and therefore I decline to join it. There has been no mention of conspiracy theories on my part, no “nah nah nah nah, NO EVIDENCE! nah nah nah, AGW CONSPIRACY”.

    You seem quite heated – maybe you should have a nice lie down until you feel better.

    Regards

  23. #24 timo
    December 10, 2009

    I am looking at your camp membership comments. Clearly your model of the world is a false one, since you are clearly wrong about me. You need to update your model of the world with actual facts.

    I laughed when the economic expert Greenspan testified that his model of the world had been wrong. Any skeptic knew that the market would have to crash, that real estate prices could not keep rising indefinitely.

    Incidentally, I am interested if any of you “real” skeptics lost money on real estate or other investments after the collapse of the market. If you did, I think your claim to real skepticism is marginal at best.

  24. #25 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    PodBlack: Yess!! All excellent. Everone must read all of that, and we can discuss more of this at SO-10, right?

  25. #26 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    tim, you are going to have to take it down a notch. A fair number of comments are getting stuck in moderation on this blog today (I am making adjustments). Stop making comments about the comments that you don’t see showing up right way. (Don’t look for those comments, I’ll delete them.)

  26. #27 Elfie
    December 10, 2009

    My theory is that there’s a strong bias in most humans towards hoping that we have the power to control our own future.

    If we believe that we can control the weather and avert our extinction – we satisfy this need. So, for some reason, we’re always trying to find disasters that we can avoid by our own intelligence/preparation. It’s the paranoid instinct packaged to appear sane.

    And regarding the climate change… this isn’t science, it’s model design. Do none of us remember how that went with the recent economic crash? We were modeling everything, had it all figured out, and yet, somehow, all the models hadn’t taken into account certain variables… nobody had doubted the models, because they were too complex to understand, and every pompous idiot who designed them waved their PhD in math/economics/bullshit around as if it meant something.

    One of the recent quotes by some of the climate change folks said that we were on the verge of “extinction” if we didn’t avert this disaster. How perfectly ludicrous, because the oceans rising by even a few inches is really going to wipe out humanity.

    Climate change has completely diverged from science, and has completely been taken over by politics. Fear/power/greed has crept in, and both sides have been corrupted. It’s evolution – we’ll adapt.

  27. #28 badrescher
    December 10, 2009

    Geez, As I thoughtfully compose a response, 9 comments beat me to the punch!

    So, let me add a couple of things off the top:

    @MadScientist, for the record, has made brilliant points and, IMO, stated them quite eloquently.

    @podblack… yes. Not that you need my approval or anything, but… hell, yes.

    Now, Greg… This topic comes up often and consumed much of my morning oddly enough. Here are my thoughts:

    A skeptic is a person who strongly prefers to accept as fact only that for which there is verifiable and reasoned evidence, and who is prepared to put aside that fact should the evidence suggest this be done.

    That’s a great definition. Similar to the one I use, but a little more concise and in more casual language my students might understand. I hope you don’t mind if I use it (and I’m sure you will let me know if you do).

    I agree that many “community skeptics” fall short of “true skeptic”. I like the term “pseudoskeptic”, even if it is somewhat condescending. Your discussion of what does and does not make a skeptic skeptical is dead on as is your comments on diversity among skeptics.

    However, I must take issue with your discussion of our discussions of education. It’s not really that I disagree, but I think you’ve overgeneralized a bit.

    So why are skeptics repeating falsehoods or oversimplifications in a discussion about education? At a skeptics meeting?

    As a skeptic who has discussed some of those issues (on the panel Kylie mentioned) I would like to address this criticism. First, I do my best to clearly identify what I know (i.e., accept) given evidence, what I suspect given my own experience and anecdotes of others, and what is hypothesis deduced from both. Also, discussion does not mean that everyone in the room is oversimplifying the problem. I have certainly seen polarization, especially in the audience, at meetings, but I don’t believe that is the norm among panel members.

    Outcomes-based teaching may be less prevalent today than it was 5 years ago, and it certainly varies across schools, districts, regions, and states. For example, my own children (still in elementary) have not been “taught to the test”. However, there are averages and measurable trends in rehearsal learning strategies, entitlement attitudes, and student expectations which lead to a brick wall when students reach upper-division coursework which requires more spitting out terms they do not understand. These things are not supported only by anecdotes. An instructor can test hypotheses themselves using their own records and share information with others across the country. Yes, there are confounding variables and generalizability issues, but it is much more than unsupported speculation.

    Some of us are actually studying these issues and I think that we should be given the benefit of the doubt that we are thinking critically about them.

  28. #29 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    Elfie, do you have a specific criticism of a particular modeling technique or are you just condemning all such things. Because such things are running a lot more of your life than you might imagine, including landing the commercial jets you fly in, facilitating the communication systems you use, even creating some of the movies and animations you watch. If writing off “modeling” as a useless activity or non scientific is the best you can do then you’ve kind of lost the argument.

  29. #30 Stephanie Z
    December 10, 2009

    timo, there’s a difference between having money in the market and thinking it will never go down. It’s called playing the only game in town.

    Yes, my retirement funds decreased when the market plummeted. However, I’d been expecting it. It’s been pretty clear since the Dow hit 10,000 the first time that the market was growing at an unsustainable rate. It’s also been clear that the 6-8% long-term assumed growth is a number based on wish-fulfillment. A much better historical average is 5%, or just a couple percent above long-term inflation but still better than most other financial instruments. I know because I ran the numbers myself.

    I did the same thing with the unusual mortgage that we have. The way we pay it, it makes sense for us, although it wouldn’t for everyone. And we haven’t lost anything on real estate.

    Now you seem to be confusing skepticism with cynicism. While cynicism can apply a correcting factor to balance some types of fallacies, it only enhances others. It’s still not the same thing as scrutinizing the evidence and making decisions based on that.

  30. #31 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    Barbara, you are of course correct that people are studying these things, and yes, I was generalizing. I go to a fair number of meetings and events with educators, and in that professional setting, it is never the case that aphorisms of the sort I outline above are bandied about as relevant. That isn’t the problem. But as soon as the discussion of education is broadened to include anyone else, you start hearing this sort of thing.

    This is a phenomenon that happens with any area of expertise, by the way. For instance, I’ve also attended a fair number of public hearings at which environmental issues were brought up, at which I was on the team with the “expert witnesses” (CRM) and the same thing happens there. The nuanced, technically complex realities of environmental mitigation (including the regulatory complexities and nuances, not just the science) are out the window and people are talking about spotted owls when the topic at hand is air quality in a tunnel in Boston.

    But all that is the general public. What I mean to point out in this post is that people in habiting that very important space between “general pubic” and “expert” … the people that we really rely on to support doing the right thing, support science, etc. … are in this boundary region that we need to nurture and develop, beause in many ways it is not there yet. And, by the way, the people in that boundary region for one area of expertise are often people from a different area of experties.

  31. #32 Andrew
    December 10, 2009

    Now you seem to be confusing skepticism with cynicism. While cynicism

    But they are both cisms!!! This is so confusing!!!

  32. #33 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear Greg,

    No need to post this – but having the comments that have been held for moderation appear in their place in time the original time order rather than after they exit moderation is creating some odd juxtapositions that distort the thread somewhat. Some of the points raised by timo are separately being raised by me, the current order makes it look like we are talking in concert, when in fact I didn’t get to see timo’s comments until a fair while after mine were posted.

    If we make the same points in isolation from each other it means something different than if we simply speak in unison.

    I am not actually expecting/trying to get you to change your posting policy – just pointing out an aspect of this that you may not have considered.

    Regards

  33. #34 badrescher
    December 10, 2009

    Climate change has completely diverged from science, and has completely been taken over by politics.

    Elfie, I think you are confusing “media discussion of climate change” with the study of climate change.

    We’ll adapt? Like the dinosaurs?

    Although I agree that climate change models are not perfect predictors. Neither are weather models or models of any other complex system. They are the best we have, and when different models predict similar outcomes, it’s time to start listening.

  34. #35 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2009

    Russell, there is no policy, there is only a technology over which I have no control. The comments show up in the thread in the order they were written, as though they were there all along but invisibly. Of course, the numbers are renumbered when they do appear. Which sucks.

    I’ve tweaked the moderation yet again so I expect there to be fewer moderated.

  35. #36 badrescher
    December 10, 2009

    *back pedaling* I was probably a little defensive. There is certainly not enough skepticism in skepticism as a rule, rather than an exception.

  36. #37 timo
    December 10, 2009

    Elfie,

    Are you a plant by the right wing denial machine like I am? I didn’t know it until Greg made me realize that I am unwittingly part of a conspiracy that until today I didn’t even know existed. I have been manipulated by malevolent forces to believe in Evolution, Universal health care, Progressive taxes, Social Justice, etc but I have been cleverly programmed to doubt AGW, solely in order to confuse the shit out of people on this blog.

  37. #38 Diane G.
    December 10, 2009

    I am skeptical of some of the predictions being made based on AGW, mostly due to the known limitations of complex modeling, particularly the assumptions required. I am a bit skeptical about AGW itself, but I think a risk-benefit analysis indicates that we should act as if it were true, and I vote, etc., accordingly. I worry especially when I hear scientists call AGW as solid as evolutionary theory; I quake at the fodder this will provide the creationists should even one of the AGW-based predictions prove false. Until fairly recently, climatology was mostly a retroactively based study; it doesn’t exactly have a track record for prediction.

    I guess I differ slightly from Greg’s definition of a skeptic; I would include the stance that one fears all the data aren’t in; that the tools and models are not yet precise enough; that current evidence, while often convincing, is not yet a slam-dunk; and that preponderant scientific thinking has been fallible in the past. All of these caveats do not make one a “denialist” by any means. In general, I tend to think the smart money in on the side of prevailing scientific opinion. But I reserve a small corner of skepticism, largely due to the very same complexity that the anti-denialists, i.e., most everyone here, are so good at pointing out.

    Finally, I think one has to have a deathwish to express as much on most of SciBlogs. (Checks will…)

  38. #39 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear Greg,

    I understand – I suppose that timo and I are making some of the same points means that my head space on this is not as individualistic as I supposed.

    Though it is pretty weird that timo considers himself a green socialist and I am an ardent laissez faire capitalist but we are making the same analogies to stock market mania’s in this context.

    The major point I am trying to make is that everybody else seems to see each of these strange cases: the club of Rome and related Malthusian panics, the social and religious milenial fervours, the various mania’s in various assets and so on as all being separate and distinct whereas to a few of us they all just look like aspects of the same thing.

    To people looking at these things with my eyes, the various social responses don’t actually tell us anything about science or the value of assets or the prospects of doom – they just tell us about commonalities in the human condition.

    Regards

  39. #40 Steven Douglas
    December 10, 2009

    Gee, all those words just to move a dumb goal post? Why not just come out and say, “A skeptic is…_______”, even if you have to redefine what the definition of a skeptic is!

    (I don’t normally end my sentences in prepositions, but I’ve been learning some awfully bad habits about rule-bending of late)

    Incidentally, is brevity still the soul of wit, and is a fool still known by the multitude of his words? Inquiring skeptics want to know.

  40. #41 Irene
    December 10, 2009

    Steven, it is hard to read a lot of words, but if you can’t manage it you may want to reconsider not admitting that you did not understand that the point of the post was not do define what a skeptic is.

  41. #42 Paul D.
    December 10, 2009

    Timo, anyone can make mistakes in the investments they make. For example, I know someone who lost a pile of money on art. Today, he is not humble about it. People do not always learn.

  42. #43 Russell
    December 10, 2009

    Dear Steven,

    You don’t have to worry that you ended your sentence with a preposition – “is” is the present continuous of the verb “to be” the worst you could be accused of is ending your sentence with a copula.

    I proudly end my sentences with prepositions wherever possible. Its just the kind of head-space I am in.

  43. #44 timo
    December 11, 2009

    Russell,

    You said it better than I ever could. I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you.

    Saludos y buenos noches

    timo

  44. #45 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Dear timo,

    Schoen abend noch!

    It is only 4:00pm in sunny Canberra – I have many hours of very boring coding before I can finally call it feierabend.

  45. #46 Val
    December 11, 2009

    Saludos y buenos noches

    Lucky us.

    Non skeptical: Coming to blogs to verify your beliefs and throwing snits when that goal is not met. Or is that self victimization? I always forget.

  46. #47 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Dear Val,

    Coming to blogs to verify your beliefs and throwing snits when that goal is not met. Or is that self victimization? I always forget. – you got all of that from timo wishing us all a good night!

    My, my, you are so very good at reading between the lines. What did you get get from my Shoen abend noch, I am just dying to hear.

    Regards

  47. #48 Stephanie Z
    December 11, 2009

    Russell, if you’d like to be skeptical, how about asking Val whether her statements were connected before being certain you know and getting all condescending?

  48. #49 llewelly
    December 11, 2009

    Russell | December 10, 2009 9:53 PM:

    Dear llewelly,

    Thanks for your kindness in pointing out that my own real and vivid memories of my own life experience is nothing but a myth.

    If you had followed the link, you would know the article does not accuse you of myth-making. Instead, it explains how the myth entered popular perception, through the media. Now please go back and read the linked article.

  49. #50 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Dear llewelly,

    I have read the article – it was first brought to my attention about a week ago – I found it very amusing.

    I am puzzled as to why you think pointing at an article invalidates my own memories and personal experiences in the 1960s and 1970s.

    I made no reference to “scientific consensus” in my post. I noted that as a pre-teen I was seriously frightened by the then current global warming panic and how the sudden switch to global cooling panic in the 1970s puzzled me.

    How does your link to an article invalidate things I very clearly remember from my pre-teen and teen years.

    I know that it is terribly inconvenient when people remember things that affected them personally. In spite of your link to the article my memories remain unchanged. I didn’t read them somewhere, I am not relying on some call to authority – I am simply relating an element of my past.

    Sorry that you consider my memories of my past inconvenient to your current worldview preference.

    Regards

  50. #51 Stephanie Z
    December 11, 2009

    Real skeptics need not toe a particular line with respect to facts or conclusions, but real skeptics are skeptical … meaning rational and thoughtful and fact-oriented … in all areas.

    This is one of those statements that is both true and false. I guess I’d say it’s more aspirational than achievable, and I’d hate to define “real” skepticism based on an unreachable ideal. I don’t think it’s possible to make this point too strongly, so I’ll repeat it again: Skepticism is bloody hard work. Some areas don’t reward it.

    Does my hair really look that infinitesimal bit better if I wait until it’s completely dry instead of only almost entirely dry to mess with it, as I tend to believe it does? I could gather some objective data on it, but my acquaintances would get tired of being asked and I’d be spending time I could better spend on…something that isn’t my hair. In the meantime, my belief just determines the order in which I run a routine while I’m really to sleepy to do anything except by rote.

    That’s a deliberately silly example, but there are others, some of them under much discussion in skeptical camps. Let’s talk religion. How much work does it take to rearrange a religious world view into atheistic one (“There is no evidence that any gods or goddesses take any action in our universe”)? How painful is it? How much social rearrangement does it require?

    I don’t know, and the deconversion stories I’m most likely to hear are the cathartic ones so I’m probably not getting a representative picture, but what I do see is that it’s incredibly traumatic and work-intensive for many of the people who have done it. Is it appropriate to claim that someone who doesn’t choose to undergo that process is not a real skeptic? What if they recognize that these are beliefs they choose to hang onto and don’t try to impose them on others? Are they real yet?

    Greg, I think you’re making a very important point about skeptical camps versus skeptical processes, but I also think that a skeptic needs to be able to say, “Kids, I’m sitting this one out,” without penalty. It’s very different from what denialists do, which, as anyone can see in this thread and the others you’ve linked to, is to say, “I’m not applying skeptical processes to this problem, but I still think you should listen to me and validate what I say.”

    There’s one other thing I want to address in this (so far), but I think that one’s going to become a blog post. For that matter, this comment has gotten close.

  51. #52 Val
    December 11, 2009

    Russel, no I did not get that from the last sentence of your sock puppet Timo. I got that from the previous several thousands words of OT whining that I’ve been unfortunately enough to follow along with hoping for it to gain some level of interest.

  52. #53 Val
    December 11, 2009

    Russel’s problem is that he was frightened by an impending climate disaster while a babe in arms. For some people it was a cat that frightened them, and henceforth they have been afraid of cats. For Russel it is climate change.

  53. #54 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Sock-puppet?

    You actually think timo and I are the same person – really?

    Greg should be able to verify from our IP addresses that it is not physically possible. I am provably in Australia and timo provided proof he is elsewhere.

    Are you meaning the term in ironic fashion or do you actually think like that? Two people are expressing opinions that I disagree with so they must be the same person.

  54. #55 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Dear Val,

    Respectfully, your emphasis is wrong

    “Russel’s problem is that he was frightened by an impending the evil boogey-man of climate disaster while a babe in arms. For some people it was a cat that frightened them, and henceforth they have been afraid of amused by cats. For Russel it is the evil boogey-man of climate change.”

    You see what we have here is you projecting your fears upon others. I can not help but find this very amusing.

  55. #56 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Stephanie,

    I agree with what you are saying.

    Having said this … the five or six people who had to tell us how bad the school system is using only the above mentioned aphorisms during the skeptics panel were not sitting it out. They were babbling and wasting valuable time, and spreading and reifying bogus concepts uncritically held by them. The people who have gone with the flow rather than keep track of the facts in critiquing Dawkins; anthology and Twilight were not sitting it out.

    I would actually say that rather than sitting things out now and then, that one engages actively in skeptical inquiry and thinking, even activism, and at other times perhaps one relaxes and tries to keep a check on being too stupid. How else would one read a fantasy novel or watch a movie? Or an episode of Bones? If one takes this approach (which may not be the only approach) over time it is not hard to settle into a mode where most of your active skeptical thinking is in the right place in your life, and not intruding in other areas.

    At the same time, and this is the point of my post, many people who consider themselves skeptics and even go so far as to label themselves as such quite overtly are capable of engaging in non-rational blathering in the context of their so called skeptical lives . See podcat’s comment above and the link to soccergirl’s report by TSP. I wanted to wack Penn and/or Teller (the big one) up side the head… jeesh..

    There is not a formula. But there is a reason why a physician can’t watch House without gagging, but some other intelligent skeptical person can. I would just add this one rule-like guideline: In areas of public policy you can’t sit it out. You can actively engage in being smart about it, or you can actively engage in shutting up and letting others get engaged (not quite the same as sitting it out in my mind, but depending on your definition, could be). As Fitgerald said, the sign of intelligence (I paraphrase to avoid the gender biased language) is the ability to hold two (or more) contradictory thoughts at the same time and remain sane. Rigorous skeptical thinking and not being skeptical can both happen in the same person at the same time. But, as we see in the case of certain individuals who shall remain unnamed (timo and Russell), skeptical engagement in matters related to public policy (and so on) is a responsibility and some degree of consistency in that area is desired or one appears a fool (and is, likely). Not necessary, but honest and the right thing to do.

  56. #57 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Val, you know now that you mention it, timo and Russell are very similar and have never been seen in the office at exactly the same time … and Washington and Australia both border the Pacific Rim …

  57. #58 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    By the way, I find it very possible, subject to verification, that the people who came to Dawkin’s rescue with apologetic comments vs. those that attacked him most fall into two camps. The former atheists and general PZ/Dawkins fans, the latter either religious or anti- “New Atheists” In other words, if we really wanted to we could identify a non-random distribution of opinions and explain it with prior affiliation, association, or label … i.e., predict it … based on irrational criteria. My gut feeling is that this applies to aqbout 60% of the comments and blogs. Which, for this kind of human interest issue, is a pretty strong association.

    I’m not sure why that suddenly occurs to me, but it does.

  58. #59 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Dear Greg,

    I read your post above with interest but I honestly don’t understand your point in the following bit “ skeptical engagement in matters related to public policy (and so on) is a responsibility and some degree of consistency in that area is desired or one appears a fool (and is, likely). Not necessary, but honest and the right thing to do.

    Since I consider the current climate change theory to be nothing more than a social mania – your point would appear to be that I should actively engage to derail it. This is probably not what you mean. I won’t engage to support something I don’t believe in, but (just like a stock market mania) nothing I can do can prevent it from running its course.

    Can you please expand on your point a little bit?

    Regards

  59. #60 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Russel, the only way you are going to get this is if you learn more about actual climate science. You are clearly unwilling to take the entire freakin’ scientific world’s opinion on this, which is fine. That is a whole other post, by the way … how does a responsible skeptic come to conclusions they really can’t because they are not a specialist in an area. But since you insist on putting your social analysis and experience forward as your own crazy eight ball, then you simply can never have a reasonable or believable position on climate change. You are one step away from the person who simply believes what Rush (or somebody) tells them to believe. One step, but not a step in the right direction.

    So get that straightened out first. K?

  60. #61 Russell
    December 11, 2009

    Ok Greg,

    We seem to have taken this as far as we usefully can. You still find it difficult to conceive that someone can actually understand the issues and simply not accept the conclusions – I still find it difficult to take the whole concept of the current social movement as really being based in what I recognise as science.

    Thank you for the opportunity to engage even if the overall effect has been no advance in either camp.

    I am going to finish the rest of my coding at home.

    Best personal regards

  61. #62 Sam N
    December 11, 2009

    @51, Stephanie

    I think you may be thinking along the same lines I was during this post. I would generally consider myself a skeptic because I am always open to new evidence. That’s really how I would classify skepticism.

    That said, I often don’t invest the energy to investigate things, it is a wasteful process and I want to get things done. Thus I rely on resources I have found are reasonably trustworthy, unless or until new evidence presents itself.

    If I am invested in an issue, I always try to find the strongest criticism of my own position and honestly evaluate it. I guess it’s the same method I employ as a scientist, but that can take some serious time.

  62. #63 The Science Pundit
    December 11, 2009

    Speaking of skeptics and denialists, Peter Sinclair has a new “Climate Crocks” video. Aside from mispronouncing Senator Inhofe’s name (a “transgression” which I’m all too quick to forgive), he pretty much nailed it again.

  63. #64 sosaipan
    December 11, 2009

    I enjoyed the blog, and the discussion; it’s something I’ve been pondering. People who reject the ‘denier’ label, for instance, preferring to be AGW ‘skeptics’. The word isn’t useful in that context. Are they skeptical of the data and how it was gathered? Do they or don’t they think that there has been warming? Do they or don’t they think CO2 levels are still rising? If that’s accepted, do they or don’t they think there is possible causation or correlation? Boring, plodding, and the only way I’ve found to reach a conclusion.

    It’s a shame that the debate on policy has to take place on the level of the least common denominator.

    A little housekeeping: Many Y2K problems were avoided precisely because they were anticipated. Some COBOL programs, for instance, had very real issues with dates. It’s false logic to say they weren’t problems because they were successfully avoided. Since I’ve already shown my age with the ancient language example, I’ll add that my remaining brain cells tell me global cooling was a hypothesis that was overblown (as usual) in the media.

    (I still think I’m a skeptic, but maybe I’m wrong.)

  64. #65 skeptifem
    December 11, 2009

    Thank you. The whole ‘skeptic’=__set of beliefs thing is part of why I started blogging & getting angry about the refusal of people to aim skepticism at social issues. A lot of logical fallacies are employed without protest as long as it is on the correct side of the skeptic line.

    Part of what bothers me so much with the label is the snobbery of it too; skepticism should be a method to examine that everyone can use to improve their lives, not something that is only for folks with tons of education.

    Regarding Russel/Climate change- I really don’t know a lot about climate change either, but I am on the side of most climate scientists for other good reasons. I have a hard time taking a position against or for something I don’t really know about. However, unless the earth is assumed to have infinite resources the push to conserve and pollute less absolutely makes sense. I don’t need to be an expert to figure out that we do indeed run out of things eventually, and that waste should be reduced for that reason. The amount of resources that western countries use is INSANE, and it forces the vast majority of the world’s people to live on almost nothing. This way of life just isn’t sustainable, and the cost to others is much too great. The industries that are said to contribute to climate change the most are generally wildly ineffecient and wasteful as a matter of logic anyway (public transport/walking vs everyone burning fuel in their own cars, feeding animals much more food than their meat provides, building houses without any consideration for reducing energy usage, etc). How much we use and produce must be reduced eventually, and sooner is better than later.

    From a ‘what if’ perspective of outcomes the choice to support reducing carbon emissions is pretty simple. If we reduce carbon emissions and global warming is fake, then we haven’t hurt anything (we just lost time & effort). If global warming isn’t fake and we do not reduce carbon emissions then a huge world wide problem has been caused. No one really stands to gain any sort of power or authority via reducing carbon emissions (corporate power would actually be reduced), so I am having a hard time seeing how complying could go wrong.

  65. #66 H.H.
    December 11, 2009

    Science is already a skeptical enterprise. It’s applied skepticism. When you doubt science you aren’t being skeptical, you’re being skeptical of the skeptical. If you have doubts about evolution or human-caused global warming, then your doubts are unreasonable. Denialist is an effective descriptor. I actually like the term Todd Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary came up with: contrarian.

    http://www.skepdic.com/contrarian.html

  66. #67 Jody
    December 11, 2009

    We seem to have taken this as far as we usefully can. You still find it difficult to conceive that someone can actually understand the issues and simply not accept the conclusions – I still find it difficult to take the whole concept of the current social movement as really being based in what I recognise as science.

    Russell, there’s a level of personal humility you are lacking here, deference, or at least caution, in the face of matters outside your kin.

    The fact is that, with most things in this world, we aren’t experts on it. Sure we can think we’re experts, think we’re knowledgeable, think we’re “unbullshitable,” but we really aren’t.

    If you’ve read the research from scientists across the planet, who’ve been a part of an advancing system of knowledge about said planet tracing back 150 years, and rejected their conclusions simply because of your feelings and your personal history, then you are being just as ridiculous as evolution deniers and moon landing hoaxer nuts.

    Reality exists independently of your opinions about it.

  67. #68 MadScientist
    December 11, 2009

    Why are there so many who say “I don’t believe because I don’t believe the climate models”, then when it is pointed out that the climate models don’t matter, the earth is warming, people go “Oh, but I don’t believe the climate models”? Are people that lazy that they really will just bleat the same thing over and over rather than try to learn?

    The Argument From Non-Sequiturs is no better. “The world is warming”. “I don’t believe you, that’s not what I saw in the newspapers in 1960″.

  68. #69 csrster
    December 11, 2009

    The odd thing is that my unreflecting prejudices about modern science education are exactly the opposite of those being discussed. I tend to assume – possibly without sufficient reason – that kids today just learn a lot of waffle and how to express their feelings about pollution, instead of learning proper science like valence-theory and how to roll carts down inclined planes, like what we did when I was young.

    As for Dawkins, I suspect the explanation for the sex-imbalance in his book is that it reflects concerns that are more-keenly felt in American than in Oxford. Leaving Dawkins himself aside, I doubt an editor at an American university press would have allowed through an anthology with such an overwhelming gender imbalance. Dawkins himself seems possessed occasionally of a certain insouciant otherwordliness, which at times can be charming or even bracing, but which seems to have let him down here.

  69. #70 MadScientist
    December 11, 2009

    @csrster: A lot of nonsense is promulgated in schools; given the deterioration in the literature subjects (discussing movies and soap operas), I hate to think what’s happening to science. However, I suspect that most of the feel-good greenie-do-nothing stuff comes from watching too many cartoons rather than simply a poor education; it also has a bit to do with growing up in a world where you don’t really need to know anything useful like where all that tar and rocks come from to make your roads.

    Now for Dawkins, despite all the whining, no one actually substantiates any of their claims. For example, what articles by male authors could have been dropped in favor of better articles by female authors? Personally when I review papers I really couldn’t care less about whether the author is male or female or what not; decisions are based entirely on the content of the article. The vast majority of scientists I’d met over the decades couldn’t care less either (but there are some old fogeys with stupid ideas and I tell the prospective female students not to waste their time with those people). So until people come up with valid and substantial criticism of Dawkins, I’ll presume that the criticism is nothing but idle chatter from idle minds.

  70. #71 sailor
    December 11, 2009

    “Science is already a skeptical enterprise. It’s applied skepticism. When you doubt science you aren’t being skeptical, you’re being skeptical of the skeptical.”

    Yes but we also need to be aware of the limitations of our present level of knowledge. I am reminded of the 1902 in St. Pierre when the volcano came to life. The best current scientific knowledge at the time said the citizens would be safe. A small proportion took one look and said “this is nuts” and left. The other 30,000 or so died because science did not yet know enough.

    Greg, I have seen lots of discussion on global warming (more in Randi’s blog) that seem to flounder endlessly because of what looks like a lack of expertise. Do you feel your knowledge of climate science is enough counter all the arguments that seem to come up? (I have to say there has not been much in this particular post)

  71. #72 Barn Owl
    December 11, 2009

    @ #69:

    Dawkins himself seems possessed occasionally of a certain insouciant otherwordliness, which at times can be charming or even bracing

    Is that insouciant otherworldliness considered “charming” only for a male scientist, just as obesity is considered “cuddly” and “teddy-bearish” for same? I suspect that insouciant otherworldliness in a female scientist might be dismissed as “ditzy spacecadetedness not-very-bright”, just as obesity often equals “lazy, gluttonous cow who needs to go on a diet”.

    But I could be wrong – that’s why I’m asking (not projecting that particular interpretation on you personally, csrster).

  72. #73 Spartan
    December 11, 2009

    If you have doubts about evolution or human-caused global warming, then your doubts are unreasonable.

    H.H., do you think that our knowledge of global warming is really on par certainty-wise with our knowledge of evolution? I think the logic behind AGW makes sense based on what we do know, but we do have confounding factors. As Greg said, “no one understood el nino cycles or other important causes of variation at that time.”; shouldn’t the skeptic say, wait a minute, what other important things are also not understood? There appears to be several competing theories as to what caused the ice ages; is it wrong for the skeptic to point this out and question then how advanced our understanding of climatology actually is at this point? Ice ages are pretty significant climate events; to have their causes in dispute I’d liken to having several competing theories as to the origin of dinosaurs.

  73. #74 Katkinkate
    December 11, 2009

    We can’t afford to wait for perfect knowledge. What we know imperfectly now is enough to indicate we’ll be in big trouble as a civilization if we don’t turn around the trend in CO2 dumping into the atmosphere very soon. The exact measure of temperature increase per tonne of CO2 and it’s exact timing and type of manifestation is really irrelevant. Things have to change now for the sake of our grandkids and further generations ability to live well on this planet. The climate scientists will continue to refine their knowledge and models as we go. if we put a scheme in place to reduce carbon use, it will be easier to fine tune the carbon decrease as our knowledge gets more exact.

  74. #75 JohnV
    December 11, 2009

    “It explained Y2K hysteria and it fits what we are currently observing.”

    Yeah I guess the gazillion person-hours of work to fix software bugs had NOTHING to do with it.

  75. #76 Jim Lippard
    December 11, 2009

    Although “skeptic” was adopted around 1975 as the self-identifier for those who hold to something that started being called “scientific skepticism” around the turn of the century, it has a perfectly legitimate generic meaning. Under that generic meaning, an “x skeptic” is “one who doubts x.”

    There are self-identified climate change skeptics who doubt climate change. The fact that the term “skeptic” is overloaded with multiple meanings doesn’t change that. And not all of them are accurately described as “deniers”–in fact, the most scientific of them don’t deny anthropogenic global warming, though they question the extent of the earth’s climate sensitivity and some of the claimed impacts of increasing atmosphere CO2.

    IMHO, calling those people “deniers” is itself an ideological move, an attempt to demonize and delegitimize them. And I say this even though I think those people are wrong, and that there’s a very high correlation between political ideology and being a climate change skeptic.

  76. #77 Jeremy
    December 11, 2009

    I think it’s worth noting that there probably aren’t any perfect sceptics. I think everybody holds some beliefs that they haven’t given enough critical thought to. I think though that a genuine sceptic has to be prepared to change their mind when new and convincing evidence is presented to them.

  77. #78 Mu
    December 11, 2009

    For me, there are three “degrees” of stuff to be skeptic about. You have the unprovable, God and what was before the big bang for example. You have the possibly provable by the very knowledgeable, but impossible for the layman (and that includes me with graduate level math and science education) to follow the proof, like climate modeling and dark energy. And you have the disprovable like psychics and paranormal phenomena.
    The first and third cases are the easy ones to me, it’s clear that believe in God is a subjective matter, not subject to proof or disproof, even as PZ and diverse churches claim the opposite. And paranormal skeptics are just shooting at fish in the barrel, often making it more a reality TV show than a worthwhile scientific endeavor.
    It’s that middle case where the “skeptic” is challenged. You are discussing facts, but you can’t be sure you have them right. You are listening to very bright people who say it is so, but then you look at the error bars on their graphs and start wondering.
    My pet topic is cosmology in this regards, I grew up “knowing” there was a big bang, and everything followed logically. Since then, observation has forced the model to be revised with inflation, dark matter and dark energy, and we’re still told by the bright people that the model is sound. Am I right to be skeptical of data I can’t check? I’m clearly not a denialist since I know I don’t know, but is it “worthy” skepticism or “foul” ignorance?

  78. #79 Katkinkate
    December 11, 2009

    There comes a time when you have to make a decision on who do you trust. If the field is a bit above your head, you either choose to trust the experts in the field or not.

  79. #80 Coturnix
    December 11, 2009

    Is this the post that you tried (unsuccessfully) to link to from the wiki page for your session at scio10?

  80. #81 Ray
    December 11, 2009

    Your definition of ‘skeptic’ coincides with mine, formulated while I was considering what to call Bill Maher, who is a “””skeptic””” about organized religion, but who has been captured/pwned by anti-vaccination autism cranks. Simple: the man’s not a skeptic at all, but a mere contrarian, motivated more by a grudge against authority than by reason, evidence and compassion.

  81. #82 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Coturnix, yes. Did I do it wrong?

  82. #83 Mike K.
    December 11, 2009

    Barn Owl,

    Not speaking for csrster of course, but I like to put a positive spin on things. I prefer to refer to obese/large people as “horizontally gifted.”

  83. #84 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Fixed. (Gee, I thought I’d tested it!)

  84. #85 llewelly
    December 11, 2009

    Spartan | December 11, 2009 8:47 AM:

    Ice ages are pretty significant climate events; to have their causes in dispute I’d liken to having several competing theories as to the origin of dinosaurs.

    Major glaciations are widely agreed (with high confidence) to be caused by Milankovitch cycles. The exact chain of mechanisms which connects Milankovitch cycles to major glaciations is a topic of valid scientific debate, but there is very little doubt about whether Milankovitch cycles are the ultimate cause.

    For an analogous case, consider pterosaurs. They’ve been studied just as long as dinosaurs, and yet there are still competing theories on how pterosaurs are related to other archosaurs. Should that be cause to doubt evolution?

    Most importantly, understanding of modern AGW is not primarily based on theories about ice ages. Instead, it is based primarily on the physics of CO2 and other atmospheric gases, as established by laboratory and in-the-wild tests, and on the modern records of temperature and CO2 levels. If scientists turned out to be dramatically wrong about the causes of ice ages, there would be little or no reason to spread that doubt to extant explainations of modern AGW.

  85. #86 Stephanie Z
    December 11, 2009

    Greg, I think we’re mostly in agreement on this (big surprise). I agree with your post and your concerns about unskeptical skepticism. I just want the other said, loudly and clearly, because I see too much skepticism being played as a sport with scorekeeping–which skeptics are “real skeptics”?

    I don’t see it much from people who write a lot about skepticism, but I see all too much of it in comment threads. It’s particularly noticeable right now with the debates on the subject of religious skeptics. I strongly suspect the points-scoring comes mostly from unskeptical skeptics, but I don’t have any real evidence of that aside from where I don’t see it happening.

    I definitely agree that “sitting it out” is not something skeptics do enough of. It’s our own version of the problem of experts outside their fields (see Park’s Law above). That’s part of the reason I want more attention paid to the limits of skepticism. We need to know where we’re being skeptical and where we’re relying on experts so we can at least exercise some skepticism in which experts we decide to listen to. Or as you say, be smart.

    In regard to political action, this isn’t an unlimited resource either. It’s probably worth unpacking what you said a bit further. There’s a difference between being one of the troops who can be rallied at a critical point and being an activist. If someone doesn’t have the resources to apply a skeptical eye to one area of activism but does for another, there’s no harm and probably some bit of good in sitting out the activism in one area in order to devote time to the other. This is different from sitting it all out when numbers are required for something, which is different still from getting into a political fight based on your gut feelings.

  86. #87 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    llewelly: Great points, but I’d differe slightly on one point: The understanding of Pleistocene glaciation is very much linked to understanding AGW because of the very important relationship among different forcing mechanims and climate, and feedback/inertia systems and climate.

    23 glacial cycles are available with varying conditions and a lot of data (more data for the last several) of full climatic cycles play a very significant role in understanding forcing and feedback. Hansen’s book does a very good job of relating paleoclimate to modern studies ..

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/12/storms_of_my_grandchildren_by.php

    Anyone who reads this book with an open mind can not possibly walk away saying “modeling … malthus … chicken … sky falling … modelling ….” or whatever.

  87. #88 Sam N
    December 11, 2009

    @65, If you truly believe AGW is not occurring, then there is no reason to take measures that will curb economic growth. However, there still are reasons to pour some real funding into development of alternative energy sources–reasons that even right-wingers should like, e.g. national security.

    To several other posters regarding AGW evolution comparison. I think evolution is too wide a topic to be compared to AGW. My preferred comparison is to the HIV causes AIDS hypothesis, which is a recent scientific discovery that has required circumventing direct experimental tests, and has its own denier movement to boot.

    @76 Jim, I reserve the label deniers for the people propagating anti-AGW arguments posing as experts, as they adopt the tactics of deniers. See http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/about.php

    People who reject AGW based on the deniers’ arguments, without taking time to critically examine their arguments, I call gullible ignoramuses.

  88. #89 badrescher
    December 11, 2009

    I would actually say that rather than sitting things out now and then, that one engages actively in skeptical inquiry and thinking, even activism, and at other times perhaps one relaxes and tries to keep a check on being too stupid.

    A good, if rather specific, example of this: I was a little baffled at first by a somewhat open invitation to participate in a panel discussing the last half hour of Battlestar Gallactica on the Science Track at Dragon*Con, but I realized that there was a reason I was interested in talking about it myself: I can brush away what is highly improbable given what science has told us is true because it is science fiction. What I cannot do is brush away references which imply that our reality is something other than what it is. And I cannot brush away implications that knowledge is bad.

    So, I’ll sit out a rant about what’s wrong with the science in BSG, but I won’t sit out a discussion of what those things suggest about what is and is not true in the real world.

    I still find it difficult to take the whole concept of the current social movement as really being based in what I recognise as science.

    What Russell is having difficulty with is separating the issue from discussion of the issue. I agree with him that there is a social mania surrounding climate change. That fact, though, has nothing to do with whether or not global warming is happening. To use an appropriate, if grammatically poor saying: Just because you are paranoid it does not mean that nobody is out to get you.

  89. #90 llewelly
    December 11, 2009

    Russell | December 11, 2009 12:37 AM:

    I am puzzled as to why you think pointing at an article invalidates my own memories and personal experiences in the 1960s and 1970s.

    The article explains that the “global cooling” notion was overblown due to media hype. The news loved it, but the scientists did not think much of it. Your memories and experiences are memories of the media hype. The article does not invalidate your memories; it explains why they differ from what the scientific consensus actually was. You were misled by irresponsible reporters.

  90. #91 Bhetti
    December 11, 2009

    Hi, I’ll drop this in since its relevant to the argument and I’ve just been exposed to these recently:
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/understanding_climategates_hid.html
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/08/my_global_warming_epiphany.html
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/emails_schmeemails_look_at_the.html

    I’m not an expert on climate change either but seeing the arguments presented above has made me disappointed in myself: why wasn’t I asking questions about climate change, too? Why did I accept it without question? Why didn’t I know about these criticisms to the theory? It’s nowhere near as solidly as it is presented. I’m not satisfied with the ‘find another causal link to explain this apparently normal variation that has occured before’.

    The experts have proven themselves not to be trusted.

    I do agree there’s a lot of value in especially the emphasis on renewable resources. However, bad information breeds bad decisions, sooner or later. Misrepresentation of data creates increasing distrust with the scientific establishment. We need to question it and rigorously; I can’t pretend I can do this myself.

    Basically, climate change has been turned like many issues into a poltical football. The scientific community, governments and industries have invested in the theory; whether its true or not, the public have been convinced and the factions opposed stigmatised as a whole. The implication is that no sensible person would even really question it; debate and disagreement has been cut off at the knees using this villification, including if climate change is truly a huge issue that should be cared about amongst every other problem facing us.

  91. #92 Bhetti
    December 11, 2009

    And more points posed!

    Do the experts actually agree? http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=2158072e-802a-23ad-45f0-274616db87e6

    “Developing nations, including China, India and the Middle east, will account for 97% of the increase in CO2 emissions from 2006 through 2030. The United States, along with the other OECD nations, will cause only 3% of the increase in CO2 emissions, assuming there is NO change to existing fossil fuels consumption policies.”
    http://www.financialsense.com/editorials/cooke/2009/1130.html

  92. #93 José
    December 11, 2009

    I don’t know anything about Twilight, but I get annoyed when skeptics dismiss The Chronicles of Narnia as heavy-handed Christian allegory.

  93. #94 Spartan
    December 11, 2009

    Thanks for the info, llewelly. Serves me right to consult wiki concerning ice ages, as their article lists several possible causes for ice ages, and considers the causes of ice ages to be controversial and likely a result of multiple factors. They explicitly state that Milankovitch cycles are very unlikely to be able to start or end an ice age, although it is very likely that they are responsible for glacial periods within an ice age. But yea, it’s wiki, so there’s a huge grain of salt involved.

    But to my original point, do you really think our understanding of AGW is on par with our understanding of evolution? Per HH’s point, it may be unreasonable to deny AGW, but is it unreasonable to doubt the real issue, to what extent AGW is responsible for overall GW? If there was a controversy about the causes of ice ages, wouldn’t that potentially call in to question how much confidence we should have in climate scientists’ ability to measure how much of our current warming period is attributable to humans? (these are theoretical questions, and are not to be taken as evidence that I personally am that skeptical of AGW)

  94. #95 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Spartan, the question “what caused the ice ages” … meaning what caused each of the nearly two dozen ice ages to happen … can be answered precisely and with no controversy whatsoever. At as slightly finer level, there are probably two causes of an ice age: Orbital geometry, and bad luck. The orbital geometry causes a situation in which an ice age is extremely likely to happen at any time over a period of centuries. Then, a “final kick” has to happen. The chances that such a “final kick” will NOT happen appears to be close to zero, because so far, it has always happened.

    This gives Iceageologists something interesting to do: To explain the final kick for each ice age. But it is a minor detail, really.

    The kind of kicks is potentially diverse, but there’s ag ood chance that most or all of them have to do with reflective aerosols. Volcanos, biggish meteor impacts, etc.

    Comparing evolution and climate change is comparing apples to oranges, really, and each of these two things would have to be broken down to its componant parts …. like when you say “evolution” do you mean process (analog: greenhouse dynamics)? or do you mean that it happened (analog: the paleoclimate record).

    The think is, the question itself is a little silly. How much you want to “believe in” or “accept” one field of science vs. another is a little hart to fathom as a concept unless you are starting from the premise that you won’t believe a science … it’s validity or what it does or says, or it’s basic evidence … until you feel right about it, or the right people say it’s OK to so so, etc. If that is one’s approach, one is truly fucked in the rationality department.

  95. #96 timo
    December 11, 2009

    Val,

    Fyi. 1. I didn’t come here to have my biases confirmed.
    2. I never left this or any other discussion in a snit. Of course, it is weird to be labeled something I am demonstrably not, ie a fake material atheist, fake left wing fake evolution believer, fake conspiracy denier kind ofperson. But I left because I do have other things to do, like putting my son to bed last night.

    To others, you think I’m a sock puppet of Russell because I appreciated his arguments?

    Greg,

    You admitted making an egregious internet injustice, if you are wrong about me. And I would appreciate an apology. You can call me . I will give you my phone number in my next post, which I hope you intercept, and delete, so it is not published here.

    Saludos

    Tim

  96. #97 timo
    December 11, 2009

    Val,

    Fyi. 1. I didn’t come here to have my biases confirmed.
    2. I never left this or any other discussion in a snit. Of course, it is weird to be labeled something I am demonstrably not, ie a fake material atheist, fake left wing fake evolution believer, fake conspiracy denier kind ofperson. But I left because I do have other things to do, like putting my son to bed last night.

    To others, you think I’m a sock puppet of Russell because I appreciated his arguments?

    Greg,

    You admitted making an egregious internet injustice, if you are wrong about me. And I would appreciate an apology. You can call me . I will give you my phone number in my next post, which I hope you intercept, and delete, so it is not published here.

    Saludos

    Tim

  97. #98 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Tim: I have admitted nothing! I still don’t know if you are a fake or not. And, your position on global warming remains wrong, wrong-headed, indefensibly wrong, and stupidly wrong. If you don’t like to hear how stupid your position is on global warming, then don’t have that position!

  98. #99 tim
    December 11, 2009

    Seattle city area code starting with two. Three fivefivetwo4five7

  99. #100 MadScientist
    December 11, 2009

    @sailor: Of course there are limits to knowledge, but we’ve really moved on since 1900. What we do know is that the earth is getting warmer and in a way that is consistent with increased CO2, and not with other known causes of prehistoric cooling and warming. What we haven’t got a handle on yet is (1) how much the “enhanced” (not direct CO2 warming) will be and (2) how the energy will be distributed across the globe – those are the 2 things that the climate modelers work on and they’ve got a long way to go. However, none of that changes the fact that the earth is warming, and far quicker than at any known time in the past. The melting of the polar ice caps is not a good thing; you need an awful lot of energy to convert ice at 0C to water at 0C (same amount of energy needed to raise water from 0C to 80C), and whereas the ice reflects sunlight very well and at night radiates energy very well, plain old water absorbs sunlight very well and isn’t much better than ice as a radiator in the dark, so molten ice caps means a hell of a lot more heating. When you look at photos of earth from space, the blue oceans are an illusion – they are in fact black – the blue you see is light scattered by the atmosphere.

    @llewelly: You missed one extremely important thing about the Milankovich cycles – orbital effects (and precession, etc) can be predicted with a great degree of accuracy by astronomers (thanks to modern computers) and these are changes over immense periods of times – for example the earth’s precession has a period of almost 26,000 years. So the orbital and geometry stuff doesn’t cause such rapid changes – well, except for the change in seasons due to the earth’s tilt.

  100. #101 Mal Adapted
    December 11, 2009

    You admitted making an egregious internet injustice, if you are wrong about me. And I would appreciate an apology. You can call me.

    Kwok, is that you?

  101. #102 MadScientist
    December 11, 2009

    @Spartan #73:

    “As Greg said, “no one understood el nino cycles or other important causes of variation at that time.”; shouldn’t the skeptic say, wait a minute, what other important things are also not understood? There appears to be several competing theories as to what caused the ice ages; is it wrong for the skeptic to point this out and question then how advanced our understanding of climatology actually is at this point?”

    No, that would be like the creationists claiming there is controversy about evolution. Like evolution, human-induced global warming is real. People fight over details like how energy is distributed across the globe (weather and climate) and the effect of the “enhanced” warming – but there are no significant disputes over the fact that the earth is warming and that humans are contributing a significant amount to that warming.

  102. #103 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Spartan, what are the current competing theories for the ice ages?

  103. #104 tim
    December 11, 2009

    Greg

    I may be wrong and stupid, but that isn’t the point. I don’t care about being called wrong. I have been called wrong by people who I care about including my parents who think I’m going to hell for being a liberal atheist.

    However, you made serious accusations about my character. I’m not just a made up name on the internet, since now you and everyone else knows my name, birthday and address and Facebook account. Oh and now my phone number.

    And since you accused me of being a liar and a fake, you have the obligation to do more research to determine if you are right or not. Clearly your method of placing me in a profile “camp” is not evidence.

    I am not a fake and if you had any integrity you would do your best to find out.

    Saludos

    Tim

  104. #105 tim
    December 11, 2009

    Greg

    I may be wrong and stupid, but that isn’t the point. I don’t care about being called wrong. I have been called wrong by people who I care about including my parents who think I’m going to hell for being a liberal atheist.

    However, you made serious accusations about my character. I’m not just a made up name on the internet, since now you and everyone else knows my name, birthday and address and Facebook account. Oh and now my phone number.

    And since you accused me of being a liar and a fake, you have the obligation to do more research to determine if you are right or not. Clearly your method of placing me in a profile “camp” is not evidence.

    I am not a fake and if you had any integrity you would do your best to find out.

    Saludos

    Tim

  105. #106 Stephanie Z
    December 11, 2009

    Tim, of all the information you’re concerned about, Greg only asked for your birth date. You should manage the privacy settings on Facebook right now anyway, since they’re recently changed a bunch of things, and Greg will probably remove the rest if you ask, since it’s pointless having them on his blog. Besides which, they’re not evidence of anything.

    As for impugning your character, he made some suggestions about a handle on the internet. You made sure those were connected to you. Nobody else has.

  106. #107 Irene
    December 11, 2009

    The fact that Tim has pasted all of his private information on this blog is definitive proof that he is not real. No real person is dumb enough to paste their home address, phone number, and other important details on a public Internet site. “Timo” has stolen someone else’s identity or made up one of his own.

    Or, if that is not the case, Greg, I recommend that you delete his private information, for his own good.

  107. #108 Spartan
    December 11, 2009

    Okay Greg, I see now that I’ve injected a buttload of confusion into this ice age conversation, starting with my original misconception that what caused the last ‘ice age’ was controversial. I looked up information on ice ages on wiki and Nova online and they both indicate that the cause of ice ages is not all that certain. What I failed to notice is that we are using the term ‘ice age’ colloquially; it appears to be more accurately called a glaciation or a glacial period. There are several glacial periods in an ice age, which last millions of years.

    From Nova:
    “Although the exact causes for ice ages, and the glacial cycles within them, have not been proven, they are most likely the result of a complicated dynamic interaction between such things as solar output, distance of the Earth from the sun, position and height of the continents, ocean circulation, and the composition of the atmosphere.”

    But this of course is not what I meant by ‘ice age’ either, and I don’t think any controversy about true ice ages has much relation to what we should think about AGW science, as they are not as closely related. I lose twice. And I’m ridiculously sloppy and should be referring to ‘predictions from AGW science’ rather than just AGW. My multiple bads.

    Comparing evolution and climate change is comparing apples to oranges, really, and each of these two things would have to be broken down to its componant parts

    Fair enough, but at a higher level I don’t think it’s apple and oranges to take two unrelated propositions and compare the certainty we have that they are true. Do we know that Tiger Woods had 11 mistresses with the same certainty we know the bright hot thing in the sky is a star?

  108. #109 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Spartan, no, that is all wrong. The terms “ice age” and “glaciation” when used properly are interchangeable. Let’s drop “ice agee” and talk about “glacial” only.

    The onset of “glacials” is caused by orbital forcing plus a final kick forcing, which is usually aerosols or something like that. I really don’t care what Nova or Wikipedia says, but if there are specific objections to the orbital forcing theory that are a) not old and b) not some crazy cosmic ray lunatic theory (or whatever) then please let me know.

    This really is not controversial. But it is also a little complicated, so it is understandable that there would be questions. But we can deal with that.

  109. #110 tim
    December 11, 2009

    Irene,

    Are you serious?

    Why don’t you call the number and see if I answer and know what this is all about. Damn you people are lazy. You realize how easy that is to verify this is?

  110. #111 jolly
    December 11, 2009

    I am curious to know about the people who disagree with the Climate Change position. What part of the science do you NOT agree with? For example, do you agree/not agree that glaciers are retreating, artic ice is thinning, etc? Or that it is human caused? or what future effects it will have? etc. I, personally, am going with the vast preponderance of the evidence towards climate change being caused by humans but I am interested in understanding another point of view.

  111. #112 psudeobecca
    December 11, 2009

    There seems to be an awful lot of hating on fake persons around here. I find this offensive.

  112. #113 timo
    December 11, 2009

    Here is an analogy of what Greg and the others have done to me. This is a joke and I don’t expect anyone to believe it and certainly don’t think Greg needs to prove anything.

    I have analyzed Greg’s writing style according to my own camp membership model, and though I suspected it from the start, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I really have to say I am pretty sure he is Gay and living a double life that his wife is unaware of. Gay people tend to use words like silly, creepy, sailor, and he has used them at least once in our conversations, therefore he is Gay. Am I smart or what? Or did I just make an egregious internet injustice. Well He can’t prove he isn’t, and I am too lazy to verify it. No apologies necessary.

  113. #114 Irene
    December 11, 2009

    Timo, shall we assume that in your world calling someone gay an insult?

  114. #115 tim
    December 11, 2009

    No,

    Gay is not an insult to me or anyone else. Perhaps living a double life that a spouse is unaware of is though.

  115. #116 The Science Pundit
    December 11, 2009

    timo → killfile

  116. #117 timo
    December 11, 2009

    Anyway, the point was/is that you are something that you are not. If I knew he was Gay I might of said he really was straight and had a secret GF. GET IT?

    Listen I am tired of arguing this, and I am sure you are all sick of me.

    I simply want someone to verify what I said about myself. Why don’t you call me Irene? What is the worst that could happen? You can block your number you know, if you are nervous.

    And I want Greg to apologize., You have no proof I am not what I said, and I have given every reason to think I am also an acknowledgement that his camp membership model is not mirroring the real world, or maybe I am just an outlier, I don’t know.

  117. #118 Spartan
    December 11, 2009

    No Greg, I’m definitely mostly wrong, but I’m not ‘all wrong’. ‘Ice age’ has multiple meanings, and Nova and wiki are not incorrect. Is this link also full of shit (read especially the second to last line):

    http://tinyurl.com/2gcj9c

    I’m finding many references to the fact that the time periods when glacials occur is not random, and these glacial periods are sometimes referred to as ice ages. I’m also seeing several other references that there have been 4 maybe 5 of these types of ice ages, not two dozen that you had mentioned. I’m not certain whether the cause of these ice ages is controversial.

  118. #119 sailor
    December 11, 2009

    MadScientist, I have no argument with you on AGW, it is obvious to anyone takes some notice of what is going on around them. My point about the level of knowledge was just in reply to a very specific point about whether skeptics should ALWAYS trust science. I was saying it depends on what work has been done and our level of understanding. Yes, trust it, but don’t go overboard accepting sweeping generalizations based on inadequate data. In the case of climate, there is clearly much not yet understood, but from what we do not it would be risky not to act on it quite radically. Unfortunately I cannot see that happening in a meaningful way.

  119. #120 MadScientist
    December 11, 2009

    @sailor: No, global politics is not really up to addressing global problems. There are individual states going ahead on their own and doing something useful though. The Montreal Protocol succeeded largely due to scientists in industry who supported the public scientific literature and who had developed alternatives to the ozone-destroying chemicals. The case is not as simple with solutions for CO2 reduction. So for now I expect to see unilateral action by a number of states and only general global agreements long after that.

  120. #121 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2009

    Spartan, I probably went over that too quickly … sorry … I was on my way out the door.

    The term “ice age” is, these days, a vernacular term. Even “glacial” is of limited use. The term we use today for periods of time during the “Pleistocene” is “Oxygen Isotope Stage” … then a number/letter. Some of the OIS’s are “glacial” some are not.

    Glaciations are correlated over time perfectly with Orbital Geometry phases of a certain type, and non-glacial periods with a different set of conditions, hands down, no exceptions, no controversies, for the last couple of million years. Like clockwork. We understand the mechanism, we’ve documented it fully, there is no controversy whatsoever.

    There is a great deal of misinformation out there for a lot of reasons, one being that our understanding of all of this is fairly recent, and as our understanding has changed, the relationship between the terminology and the evidence has changed. There was once “and ice age” then “ice ages” then there was the Five Glacial System and so on.

    Then, science discovered stable isotopes and sea cores and the Pleistocene was re-understood. And now we get it.

    What you are seeing on the intertubes is confusion owing to these changes in understanding over time.

    Seriously, look at Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery
    . Read that book. … it is not real recent but it will bring you up to date and is a fascinating history of the transformation from the old vs. new version of what we think about glacials today.

  121. #122 Enoch
    December 11, 2009

    Imbrie and Imbrie is indeed a great book for an introductory understanding of ancient climate studies.

  122. #123 Nathan Myers
    December 12, 2009

    What you’ve demonstrated is that the word “skeptic” doesn’t mean much of anything. So, calling oneself a skeptic doesn’t convey anything more than dressed-up opposition to somebody or other. I doubt it was ever any different.

  123. #124 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    Does anyone here consider the temporal resolution of the reconstructed paleoclimate dataset (based on proxy data) compatible with the currently available direct measurement datasets that humans have collected over the past 150 or so years? Because I consider myself to be rather sceptical about that, though if somebody knows better I’m all ears (well, eyes actually, but anyway). And yes I’ve heard a few arguments about data manipulation and conflicting proxy data, but I’m not sure I agree with them.

    I’d ask a geologist, but all the ones I know don’t seem very keen on AGW theory, and I’d ask at realclimate.org, but it seems to be full of zealots. And I have asked academic climatologists, but the only answer I could get from them were along the lines of “we don’t really know but we’d like to find out”.

  124. #125 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    Pseudoperson, good question.

    The big news of the 1990s was the development of a year by year data set for many paleosettings. It started in the previous decade with the “world at 18K” project, and then worked out in both directions from there. By the mid 1990s, the SST data and delta-O18 data was available from sea cores at one year intervales for 500,000 years.

    Nathan, to whom is your remark directed? I can’t tell, and it obviously is not about the original post.

    Then ice cores, then more sediments, then lots and lots of lake data.

    So, no there is not a daily, weekly, or monthly record, but there is a yearly record, of many of the key proxies.

    Is there some specific issue you have with the resolution, or did you just not know about this? Because we’all are pretty darn excited about it.

  125. #126 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    Thanks Greg, yes I knew a little about the existence of and type of proxy datasets for reconstructing paleoclimate. My specific source of scepticism (in this instance) is related to a statistical problem that you have no doubt heard of: Modifiable aerial unit problem. (MAUP)
    Yes, we do have a nice historical proxy data set (though I hear not everyone would agree with that, but for discussion purposes lets ignore that). However it was built from measurements of samples taken from different places, and representing different periods of time. This presents 2 issues for me:
    1. The spatial distribution of source samples
    2. The temporal distribution of source samples. If we assume time has moved in a roughly linear fashion since said samples were deposited then why would it not be subject to similar spatial aggregation effects (I’m no physicist but I hope this is a logical assumption.)
    MAUP (perhaps amongst other things) will undoubtedly impact upon the reliability of our proxy dataset resolution. I’m not saying the obvious trends in paleoclimate variation would be definitely be obscured (though in some cases it might be) but it must affect the reliability of more detailed temporal interpretations.

    The crux of the issue is that our understanding of one dataset (proxy) is of a lower resolution than our direct measurement data would it not be very difficult to separate causal relationships from MAUP’ed correlation/s – with obvious implications for those attempting to filter “natural” variability as determined by analysis of historical data from “unnatural” variability caused by human activity.

  126. #127 skeptifem
    December 12, 2009

    @Sam N

    “@65, If you truly believe AGW is not occurring, then there is no reason to take measures that will curb economic growth. However, there still are reasons to pour some real funding into development of alternative energy sources–reasons that even right-wingers should like, e.g. national security.”

    I don’t really know either way. If I had to guess, I would say it is happening, but I certainly do not understand the science behind it. This kind of science is extremely boring to me, I gravitate more towards biology. I would certainly put a lot of time and effort into understanding AGW before deciding it WASN’T happening.

    HOWEVER, there are a lot of reasons to curb economic growth. Namely, the stuff I said in the post you replied to. About how we cannot possibly enjoy limitless resources, and capitalism relies on growth continuing forever (this system dominates the global economy). It just isn’t a sustainable system. The number of people living on our planet makes it impossible for everyone to enjoy this sort of lifestyle; it by definition relies on the existance of a majority of people being exploited and the rest using way more than what they need. I find this state of affairs to be deplorable. I think waste is an awful thing because it is always costing someone (and likely the environment). Even if the environment could sustain this forever (somehow), it would still be very very wrong because the hurt of consumer culture and global dominance would still be going strong.

    The human cost of western global dominance is easy to understand and easy to find information about. It is a matter of history, and it repeats itself over and over again. I am not sure why this wouldn’t be enough of a reasont to get behind the reccomendations for reducing energy usage and wasting less. We have everything to lose and nothing to gain in this situation.

  127. #128 MadScientist
    December 12, 2009

    @pseudoperson: The 18O isotope work is really quite exceptional so it is a very believable proxy. The resolution you get with ice core work depends on the snowfall for any particular era at the region you’re coring. In some places there’s so much snowfall that you have to core to great depths to go back only a few thousand years – those areas would have the best temporal resolution. Still, you do usually get an average over a few years but that really doesn’t matter since we’re looking at changes over many thousands of years. Imagine taking average measurements of contemporary temperature data over decadal periods from 1900 to 2010. While you won’t see the annual fluctuations, you’ll still see the temperature trend. As far as ice cores go, there are numerous cores taken from numerous sites and they’re all in pretty good agreement. Due to the cost of a coring campaign I don’t expect the available cores to grow quickly in numbers; if anything people are pooling resources and targeting areas for very specific reasons.

  128. #129 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    @MadScientist, thanks for your response.

    I don’t actually doubt the proxy measurements themselves. I’m a geologist and I collect and study a lot of drilling data, so I know that despite a range of problems that you inevitably experience in the real world you can usually extract reasonable quality measurements from these types of samples. I am prepared to accept the proposition that the people that analysed the various ice and rock samples collected data of known reliability – of course, if it were my project I’d double check it, just in case. Because I’m a bit of a skeptic…

    What I’m most sceptical about (and granted this may be due to my own lack of knowledge on the subject) is the way that data is interpreted, as I detailed above

    I suppose I should say that (without trying to be too philosophical or cynical) once you have reservations about one part of the process you also find yourself being sceptical of the downstream outputs.

  129. #130 timo
    December 12, 2009

    Jolly,

    You asked awhile ago about why not everyone agrees with the consensus on AGW and what is out thinking about it. I am a fan of Freeman Dyson, and I discovered this interesting NYT about him and his particular skepticism. This may be a good place to start to learn about why it is that not only right wing bible thumping nut jobs can be doubters.

    timo

  130. #132 timo
    December 12, 2009

    For those who don’t want to read the article I have included a few excerpts. If you think I will quote mine, ignore the quotes and go right to the article.

    What may trouble Dyson most about climate change are the experts. Experts are, he thinks, too often crippled by the conventional wisdom they create, leading to the belief that “they know it all.”

    Climate-change specialists often speak of global warming as a matter of moral conscience. Dyson says he thinks they sound presumptuous. As he warned that day four years ago at Boston University, the history of science is filled with those “who make confident predictions about the future and end up believing their predictions,” and he cites examples of things people anticipated to the point of terrified certainty that never actually occurred, ranging from hellfire, to Hitler’s atomic bomb, to the Y2K millennium bug. “It’s always possible Hansen could turn out to be right,” he says of the climate scientist.

    I never claim to be an expert on climate. I think it’s more a matter of judgement than knowledge.”

    Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience.

  131. #133 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    That article is very poorly written. It stinks like an “appeal to authority” argument.

    Dyson may or may not be correct, and that article may or may not present his views in context, but that’s not the issue here. You might notice his published (and probably genuine) grievances address the political dogmatism and fundamentalist behaviour of AGW theory supporters, not any technical criticism of the science itself.

  132. #134 MadScientist
    December 12, 2009

    Oh no, Freeman “everyone else thinks they’re an expert” Dyson. As far as predictions go, science has been extremely successful and Dyson is well aware of that. If astronomers were to tell me that a large chuck of rock would hit the earth in a few months, I’d say there’s an extremely good chance of a giant spacerock hitting the earth – and that at the very least we’d have a spectacular light show as the rock whizzed past and reflected the sun’s light. When considering such predictions, the whackadoodles like nostradamus and his loony cultists don’t even need to be considered – they don’t offer predictions with any scientific merit. Dyson reminds me more of a certain class of economists and the “technology will miraculously save us all” mantra. Despite his incredible mathematical abilities, Dyson seems to be too lazy to look at actual facts; what a pity. Some of the “solutions” he espouses are not only decades old but discredited. For example, let’s look at his “artificial trees”. About 40 years ago someone suggested that CO2 can be taken out of the atmosphere by an artificial tree which reacted CO2 with the mineral serpentine. That’s a losing proposition – the reaction is very slow and you’d release more CO2 mining and transporting the serpentine and manufacturing the “tree”. Nor are there any known reactions which would give a net loss of CO2 for the effort – except for planting real trees, but unfortunately planting trees, despite popular myth, is not a viable solution for CO2 reduction.

    Short story: Dyson has been lazy about looking at facts and has retreated to a fantasy land where he imagines all sorts of fantastic gizmos which current chemists/engineers/technologists can’t envision. Maybe someone in the future will come up with something very clever, but all the clever people around today are banging their heads on the wall wishing there were something more obvious.

    When Dyson speaks of “enormous gaps in our knowledge” I really don’t know what the hell he’s going on about. Current knowledge and current data are sufficient to establish beyond doubt that the globe is warming due in large part to humans. Dyson is just plain wrong.

  133. #135 aratina cage
    December 12, 2009

    I don’t know anything about Twilight, but I get annoyed when skeptics dismiss The Chronicles of Narnia as heavy-handed Christian allegory. -José #93

    Oooh, yes. When I read the Chronicles of Narnia, I loved it as a fantasy book. I had no clue about the Christian allegory at the time (being too young). Great art transcends the creator’s intentions and resonates within observers as well as without in the surrounding culture (and sometimes across multiple cultures). To me, knowing too much about the intentions of the creator of a work of art can spoil it, which unfortunately happened for me with the Chronicles of Narnia movie series; I just can’t bring myself to support or view one long Christian apology.

    As for Twilight, I mixed it up with True Blood as having the Mormon understory and ended up innocently watching Twilight and enjoying it as one of the most angst-filled vampire romances ever (maybe Mormonism is just so different from everything I know that it doesn’t jump out at me like Christianity would, or maybe the Narnia films aren’t as bad as they have been made out to be either). Greg’s review of Twilight was right-on; I thought the film portrayed a female hero who boldly stood up against the bloodsuckers. Ugh, I’m going to try really hard to not roll my eyes at the Mormon-Native American understory when I see New Moon.

    I guess what I think the real problem is with skepticism (and atheism) is that sometimes it destroys culture by tearing open things we hold dear. I think this applies to movies cloaking religion, books with great ideas that don’t represent minorities, and global-warming denialism (which is pushed forward by our cultural consumption of petroleum products). Skeptics are culture destroyers! It sucks that things we like are tainted and that we go for generations ignorant about the problems with our cultural holdings, but that is not a good enough reason to keep perpetuating wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

  134. #136 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    Freeman Dyson …. not a climatologist.

    For every Freeman Dyson (fantasizing about trees that will fix our problems for us that have not yet been invented) there are a hundred people who have improved theories on quantum mechanics. Do you know what physicists do to those people? They write them off. Dyson deserves nothing different. Timo, have you consulted any off the references yet? All you are able to do so far is repeat out of the playbook. You do nothing but toss us items from the AGW playbook while a the same time decrying your own victimhood. Every time you go through this cycle the possibility that you are not a POE or a fake goes down in my estimation.

  135. #137 timo
    December 12, 2009

    My point in bringing in the article was not to demonstrate that you are wrong about the science. The point was to simply show you that someone, in this case, Dyson, can be a skeptic, and not be a right wing, bible thunping looney. It is more of a challenge to your camp membership model than anything else. You seem to be in denial that someone like him, or me, can hold doubter views while still being liberal, atheist etc etc.

    Saludos

    I

  136. #138 timo
    December 12, 2009

    What is a POE?

    Ockam’s razer might be useful here. You claimed I was an elaborate deception. I have a facebook account which goes back awhile that shows I am for healthcare, evolution, and against conspiracy crazies like my friend mark thomas. You think it is all fake and that I’m living a double life and perhaps have stolen someones identity (irene’s idea) with my sole purpose to come on this blog to claim that I’m a AGW doubter BUT agree with you on everything else ie concerned troll as I have now learned it’s called.

    That or tim turner, whose address and phone number you have, am telling you the truth.

    Now you must decide Greg and either admit you are wrong about me (not the science) or continue to believe something that is clearly ridiculous.

    OR

  137. #139 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    It is more of a challenge to your camp membership model than anything else.

    Great! That is very closely related to the next post I’m working on for this topic!

  138. #140 The Mad LOLScientist, FCD
    December 12, 2009

    You’re not a real skeptic unless you’re skeptical of skepticism. So there.

  139. #141 timo
    December 12, 2009

    Greg,

    I think you need a little humility. You don’t always have to win every argument. Admission of error on one thing doesn’t make you wrong about everything else.

    Ps perhaps you should write a post on the effects on a person’s psyche by spending so much time in the virtual world arguing with strangers whom you don’t know and who may not be who they say they are.

  140. #142 timo
    December 12, 2009

    Here’s an idea. Perhaps the blogging world need an identification verification system, like some commercial website have. Each commentor would have to verify using a credit card, matching address etc, before they could comment. Something like that. One person, one blogging handle.

  141. #143 Monado
    December 12, 2009

    I’m always puzzled by people who think that the Y2K problem was some kind of big, overblown false alarm. After the issue was raised, companies realized that their computer applications and systems would need a 4-digit year value to operate properly through the year 2000. There was a massive programming effort to inspect, analyze, and correct everything that might be affected. Programmers came out of retirement to work as consultants on old programming languages. Operating systems were retired and replaced. Control systems were revamped. The City of Toronto hired more than 30 engineers to inspect and evaluate each of the several hundred city properties. Banks and hospitals rewrote their software. And when the corrected software worked properly, some people decided that the whole thing had been alarmism? I don’t get it.

  142. #144 Monado
    December 12, 2009

    Greg, just a little usage note.

    You mean “raises several questions.” To beg the question is a rhetorical trick of assuming your conclusion and slipping it into the statement of the problem, e.g. calling a fetus an unborn child or an innocent victim or claiming that “there’s no smoke without fire” and therefore an accusation must be true.

  143. #145 daedalus2u
    December 12, 2009

    timo, the problem with trying to use Dyson as a skeptic is that in terms of AGW, he isn’t one. He is not a skeptic because he is not arguing from facts and logic, he is arguing by saying “scientists were wrong in the past” and concluding “scientists might be wrong now”. He isn’t arguing that the science of AGW is wrong, just that the economics of reducing CO2 emissions will make poor people worse off. He is not a skeptic.

  144. #146 R.C.Hughes
    December 12, 2009

    I try to be a skeptic, but I’m skeptical about my efforts and the more certain I feel, the more skeptical I get, which I think is healthy, though it drives me a crazy.

    Greg,
    In your meeting in The Triangle (or perhaps here) could you discuss the obligation you think (or don’t think) skeptics have to fair debate? I see a lot of skeptics opting to shout down or bludgeon into submission those they disagree with (*present company not excepted) even when their victim’s challenge appears to be in-earnest and have they have shown no signs of irrationality other than their disagreement with said skeptic.

    @88 Sam N,

    @65, If you truly believe AGW is not occurring, then there is no reason to take measures that will curb economic growth.

    Can you explain the argument that anti-AGW measures will economic growth? I hear this argument banded about all the time, but it strikes me that all the economy cares about is that money is spent. It can’t tell whether the money’s spent on reducing carbon emissions or sweaters for fido. Has anyone ever done the analysis to determine how much money is being spent on the discussion alone?

    @29
    Greg, I’m an engineer and use and trust models all the time, but those are fully validated models of known systems that have had all of their coefficients and constants tweaked and tuned to account for all the noise and unknowns that can’t be individually modelled. People are tempted all the time to use these models to predict the performance of systems for which they were not validated. One can sometimes get away with extrapolating one or two steps and get reasonable answers. Other times one can’t and the problem is, we never know which it will be until we actually go out and do the thing we were modelling and find out if the answers were reasonable or not. In my work, we’re modelling, relative to climate, very simple devices with finite numbers of components and interactions, where most parameters can be determined with good precision and the physics of all those components and interactions is fairly well understood and we still get wrong answers. So yeah, I’m very skeptical of climate models and believe that in the coming years we’re as likely to see ice ages as global warming (or perhaps even both). I’m sure you know this, but just because you can provide exampls of lots of models of known systems that work and some predictive models that have happened to be correct, does not mean that all models do work.

    In any case Elfie didn’t criticise ALL modelling, Elfie compared climate models to financial risk models. Both attempt to predict the future of extremely complex systems with a number of representative variables based on a relatively limited quantity of historical data. In my opinion an apt and fair comparison whether you believe in AGW or not and absolutely nothing to do with landing jets or communication systems or animations. (*See comment above about fair debate.)

    But here’s the thing: I’m an engineer, so I’m also naturally conservative and when a negative event seems plausible I take measures to prevent it. The more sever the potential consequences of that event the more likely I am to take preventativ measures. Whether or not I can predict that the event will occur doesn’t factor into it. In fact the less I know about the predictability of the event the more certain I am that it should be prevented. And that’s the approach I take to AGW. All I needed to know to believe in the plausability of manmade climate change was a few estimates of the magnitude of manmade contributions relative to the environment as a whole and the knowledge that in a complex system a change of a percent or even a few tenths of a percent in a parameter can be enough to disrupt an equilibriium. I don’t know if it’s happening. I don’t know if it’s likely. I don’t know how severe** it would be if it did happen. But I don’t need to. I sometimes think our argument would be stronger if we left all the discussion of models out ot it. (I don’t need to model my drive in to work to know that I’d be pretty dumb not to wear my seatbelt.)

    **though that the only planet we’ve got would be affected in it’s entirely suggest the severity would be significant

  145. #147 daedalus2u
    December 12, 2009

    RC is exactly right. When your models are imperfect, you use a “safety factor”. In the ASME boiler code, the factor of safety is to use 3x more material than your calculations indicate is necessary.

  146. #148 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    R.C. Hughes: Which climate models, and what parts of those models do you have a hard time with? Specifically.

  147. #149 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    @deadelus2u
    Putting conservative factors into model code is useful only when the model is designed for a specific applied purpose. When you have a rough idea about what your outputs need to be it’s easier to tailor your inputs so you can achieve those specifications. So that’s not really relevant to climate models.

  148. #150 daedalus2u
    December 12, 2009

    pseudoperson, you are correct. A “safety factor” is not appropriate for a climate model, multiple iterations and a sensitivity analysis is. A “safety factor” is completely appropriate for determining what policy to follow.

    In the case of the boiler code, the “safety factor” is applied after the calculations, after the modeling which is done as precisely as is known how to do.

    Using a safety factor of zero is a policy decision that is independent of the accuracy of the models. In the New Orleans levy design, there was no safety factor, it was designed for a 100 year storm, and Katrina was a 300 year storm. Katrina was a category 3 hurricane when it hit New Orleans. It had been category 5 just a few hours before. There had been proposals to upgrade the levies at New Orleans, but those studies went unfunded.

    What did Bush say right after the levies failed? “No one could have predicted the levies would fail”. Plenty of people predicted they would fail, and with surprising accuracy.

  149. #151 llewelly
    December 12, 2009

    R.C.Hughes | December 12, 2009 2:36 PM:

    Elfie compared climate models to financial risk models. Both attempt to predict the future of extremely complex systems with a number of representative variables based on a relatively limited quantity of historical data.

    Climate models are based on physics, not statistics. They are tested with historical data, but they are not based on it in the sense that (most) financial models are.

    An important example of how this matters: Climate models predicted (at least as far back as the 1970s) the stratosphere would cool while the troposphere warmed. The history of stratospheric temperatures available at that time was short, and covered a time period during which increases in sulphate aerosols more or less offset increases in greenhouse gasses. So the historical data was not capable of predicting that the stratosphere would cool. But the models, based on physics, predicted it, and that is exactly what happened. (Note this is complicated by the fact that ozone depletion also causes stratospheric cooling.)

    Of course this does not mean that everything not in the historical record is predictable by climate models; not all the relevant physics are perfectly known, and climate models lack the resolution to simulate some important phenomena. But comparing climate models to financial models is flawed because climate models are in some cases capable of making correct predictions that could not have been derived from the historical record.

  150. #152 psuedoperson
    December 12, 2009

    Ahh, yes, the question of policy. I’m sitting this one out. The science is interesting – from initial data collection to interpretation and modelling – but the politics and policy regarding what to do with/about said interpretation/s is to my way of thinking a separate matter.

    The funny thing about Katrina and New Orleans is that it demonstrates how people don’t consider risk mitigation to be their highest priority in life. New Orleans is built on a major floodplain. As surely as Bangladesh has catastrophic flooding every year it is inevitable that New Orleans will flood regardless of what mitigation systems are implemented. Geophysical reality is not influenced by collective human fantasy. The obvious solution is of course to move the city to another site. But residents are not interested in hearing about that. For whatever reasons (emotional attachment? familiarity?) they would overwhelmingly prefer certain periodic inundation than move. Humans treat their health in much the same way, it is well documented that smoking and excessive drinking will damage your health but many do so anyway, because their health is less important to them than their attachment to tobacco or alcohol.

    I remain sceptical of some aspects of climate science, and hopefully that will inform further research and learning on those matters. But as to policy? Let them eat cake.

  151. #153 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    llewelly: Good points about how climate models are different from finance models, etc. The historical record has changed the way models are built, or affected them, mainly in relation to stability/instability effects of ice reduction and formation and other amplifying effects.

  152. #154 Ema Nymton
    December 12, 2009

    Holy shit! Bhetti, you stupid wanker. You really think citing articles in The American Thinker helps your case?

  153. #155 R.C.Hughes
    December 12, 2009

    R.C. Hughes: Which climate models, and what parts of those models do you have a hard time with? Specifically.

    Well if I could tell you that I wouldn’t be sitting here wasting my time reading your blog. I’d be off saving the planet.

    I don’t know much of anything about climate models, let alone enough to talk about specific ones, but philosophically you can only model what you know and unless climate science is way ahead of every other field of study I’m guessing there are some pretty significant gaps in our knowledge, at least gaps that are bigger than those in the simple physical models I’m using. The other danger of models is that folks not specifically involved in their creation stop thinking about what’s going on inside and only care about what comes out. I’ve seen a lot of very smart people suddenly get very dumb when they started using models, because, well, the model was doing the thinking for them and that seemed okay because they’d seen a couple of examples where the results matched expectations. And if smart people are vulnerable to this where’s that leave the media, politicians, and the public. That’s not to say that models don’t have some use. I’m just saying that we need to remain cognizant that they’re only models and criticism of the fact that they are only models is fair. Insufficient to deny AGW, but fair.

    That the financial models are based on statistics (not that I want to pick a nit, but I suspect llewelly meant “probability”, since I’m hoping the climate models make use of a fair amount of statistics,) is a trivial difference. The experts seem to have said that there was nothing inherently wrong with the financial models, it was just when people began treating their results as real that they got into trouble. Because when the model outputs became real, their users stopped paying attention to all that other evidence that should have been telling them things weren’t right.

  154. #156 Roger Jones
    December 13, 2009

    R.C.Hughes,

    You’ve back-tracked but you’re still speaking through your hat despite quoting cautionary use of models 101 to give you an out. Please don’t try to save the world, I think the world is safer that way.

    Taking on the maxim of all models are wrong but some are more useful than others, climate models are physically-based and dynamic, macro-economic models are equilibrium based and are optimised to equilibrium, financial models are statistical, much like statistical weather models.

    Climate models give a scientific prediction, they do not forecast the future, which is subject to socio-political decisions. So they can do risk, even with some degree of conditional probability. Some of the conditionality is based on physical uncertainties. There is sufficient knowledge to use the models for policy which does not need science with high precision, it just needs to have confidence that the general principles on which a decision can be made, has been established.

    One reason I’m skeptical in general can be judged from the evidence posted on this thread, where strength of opinion is often inversely proportional to knowledge.

  155. #157 Greg Laden
    December 13, 2009

    I don’t know much of anything about climate models, let alone enough to talk about specific ones, but philosophically …

    I stopped reading here. No offense, but, how dare you?

  156. #158 sosaipan
    December 13, 2009

    I’d like to thank the self-described ‘sceptics’ here for driving me off to an instructive (and welcome) review of logical fallacies. I could list them, but the post would be entirely too long.

    You may indeed be sceptics, of the Sophist variety, practicing some sort of scientific relativism. So how about using sophist– proudly.

    Meanwhile, congratulations on nit-picking fights while never addressing the core argument for AGW.

  157. #159 Greg Laden
    December 13, 2009

    I could list them, but the post would be entirely too long.

    But you don’t list even one (the ultimate sophistic argument!) Therefore I assume you have nothing to actually say. You could correct that if you like.

  158. #160 sosaipan
    December 13, 2009

    Touche’

    There is a rain of red herring throughout the thread (ice ages, models, but how about Russell @5?

    He creates a straw man (and attempts to poison the well and uses an inappropriate appeal to authority) in depicting the lemmings he says are described by McKay. He is not arguing with the scientists or the science, but with ‘lemmings’ and ‘crowds’, stock market bubbles and Y2K.

    (Disney’s lemmings jumping off of a cliff is one of my first movie memories– too bad it was faked)

  159. #161 R.C.Hughes
    December 13, 2009

    “How dare I?”

    Congratulations. You’ve summed up the tone and content of this discussion in only three words.

    Good luck with that whole “skeptical thinking” exercise.

  160. #162 Stephanie Z
    December 13, 2009

    R.C., learn to recognize a verbal smack when you’ve been given one. You’ve earned it here. Not only did you pull out the “debate” canard (debate is about performing for an audience, not approximating the truth). Not only have you argued about climate models without disclosing that you don’t understand them until you were challenged. Not only did you then decide that you still knew enough about modeling in general to continue to criticize something you don’t understand.

    Not only did you do all that, but you did it all with reference to economic modeling, another area in which you have no idea what you’re talking about. Yes, economies “care” what money is spent on. If they didn’t, we would have no bubbles. To simplify, money that is spent on money is not spent on wages, which drive an economy.

    Also, the economic models you want to compare to climate models were not based on anything like the best knowledge or assumptions available. There have been two competing schools of economic thought for quite some time. One school thought models should account for real, irrational consumer/investor behavior. This is not the school whose models were found useful by the corporate media, so you may not have heard of them. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, or that they didn’t predict collapse.

  161. #163 Greg Laden
    December 13, 2009

    Yeah! What she said!

    I will just add this. It is not my job to make you feel like you are saying something smart.

    (Unless you are saying something smart and have a bit of a self esteme problem and are my friend, which happens sometimes.)

  162. #164 timo
    December 13, 2009

    @Greg

    ‘It is more of a challenge to your camp membership model than anything else’.
    “Great! That is very closely related to the next post I’m working on for this topic!”

    Did I miss your next post?

  163. #165 Greg Laden
    December 13, 2009

    timo: Nope. I’ve a post scheduled for Monday and one scheduled for Wednesday, and those two plus this one are meant to be a starting point for this discussion:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/12/science_online_2010.php

  164. #166 timo
    December 13, 2009

    Thanks Greg. Looking forward to them. Hopefully they are written for(if not for, then accessible to) a layperson such as myself.

    Saludos

  165. #167 timo
    December 13, 2009

    Oh and thanks for removing my personal information. It was a little rash of me to post it. Mind you, not a single person called me, which was a little disappointing. (Esp Irene since she accused me of stealing someone’s identity.)

    Anyway, enjoy what’s left of your weekend.

    Saludos

    timo

  166. #168 Brian X
    December 13, 2009

    I would have to say that there’s really two different forms of skepticism — empirical and Fortean. The empirical type is the good kind — the kind that tries to fill in the blanks and honestly answer questions. The Fortean kind, on the other hand, is a form of abdication in which everything and nothing are simultaneously true and no knowledge can ever be confirmed. Many people who claim to be skeptics are Forteans, especially those who use it as an excuse to believe whatever they want despite evidence. (Many creationists, for example, are Fortean in outlook, as well as believers in psychic and alien encounter phenomena.)

    And then you have denialists, who prey upon Forteans as useful idiots in the same way the political Right preys upon libertarians…

  167. #169 R.C.Hughes
    December 13, 2009

    The exasperating part of this is that I never set out to criticize climate models. I set out to express my opinion that a skeptic has an obligation to engage in fair debate (argument, debate, discussion, disputation, disagreement — choose your word, I’m not picky as long as you don’t try to use the definition to score sneaky points*. ) when the other party is arguing in earnest.

    *I think it’s pretty obvious I wasn’t speaking of formal debate.

    Speaking of canards…

    Saying “Because such things are running a lot more of your life than you might imagine, including landing the commercial jets you fly in, facilitating the communication systems you use, even creating some of the movies and animations you watch.”

    is a canard that had nothing to do with the point Elfie was making. The main point, as I understood it, was that a form of what I’ll call “intellectual bullying” prevented anyone from challenging those models. In that regard the climate models are far closer to the “financial” models that Elfie speaks of than the models Greg threw out as examples. It was both disappointing and gratifying to see commenters go on to confirm her point, i.e. If you’re not an expert or can’t talk details, then shut up.

    I never claimed to have any expertise in climatology (and neither did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night),but I have spent the last 10-15 years building, using, involved with models for chemical kinetics/combustion, fluid dynamics, heat transfer and various other finite element analyses, fluid and mechanical dynamic systems and controls, risk and reliability of electro-mechanical systems and various combinations of the above (and a whole lot of testing, measurement and data interpretation). About half involved rocket engine performance and the other half involved electro-hydraulic control systems on earth-moving equipment. Before that there was about three years building and using probabilistic mission effectiveness models for the navy. So while I know nothing about climate (or financial) models specifically, I can make some educated guesses about what they’re doing. Could someone please let me know what subjects I am and am not qualified to speak on?

    As a manager / lead / customer / etc. I’ve also learned to recognize the blowing of smoke / scientific bullying which usually commences with the salesperson / engineer / scientist / vendor in question puffing out their chest and saying, “now specifically which part of my work didn’t you understand?” (and this applies to more than modelling) Mostly I try to limit my response to, “the answer,” but as I’ve shown today I’m not very good at it. In my field if you can’t handle having your work (or work you’re trying to defend) challenged and aren’t willing to assist in that challenge you’ve got no business in that field, because mother nature will eventually test your answers, often in unfortunately spectacular ways. Climatologists will hopefully be more fortunate in that regard.

    Yes, economies “care” what money is spent on. If they didn’t, we would have no bubbles. To simplify, money that is spent on money is not spent on wages, which drive an economy.

    You’re right. I misspoke. It’s more complicated than we can discuss here, but I still don’t think economies care whether the money is spent on anti-AGW measures (assuming those measures eventually result in someone being paid to do something) or for sweaters for Fido.

    One school thought models should account for real, irrational consumer/investor behavior. This is not the school whose models were found useful by the corporate media, so you may not have heard of them.

    Apparently those other models were also found useful by the banks, corporations and other financial institutions that lost their shorts or they would make very poor examples. I’d bet that many of those other models were defended using some of the same arguments deployed here. “You don’t understand, these models are different. They’re based on blah, blah, blah” and out the window goes Cautionary Modelling 101.

    I shouldn’t have to say it, but c’mon man, I’m on your side. I argue with denialists/deniers all the time. I find I’m more successful when I don’t bring up modelling as the financial meltdown, unrelated or not, had a real impact on the public perception of models.

  168. #170 Enoch
    December 13, 2009

    Engineers.

  169. #171 Stephanie Z
    December 14, 2009

    R.C., I get that attacking climate models may not have been your intent. I get that you didn’t like somebody being told they had no idea what was going on, that it didn’t look fair. The problem is that fair doesn’t consist of raising the ignorant to an even-footing with the experts.

    Well, that’s just one of the problems. Another is that there are people out there who really are professionally naive on this subject. It’s their job to go out and share their “innocent” concerns with the science. Even where people are in a position to make a detailed critique, it’s a distraction. As you may be. I don’t know. I don’t have any way to know, despite certain protestations here and in the linked thread that contact information proves sincerity.

    On the other hand, I have very little that I can usefully do politically at the moment regarding AGW. I can explain why failed economic modeling is a bad reason to distrust the climate modeling, however. Part of it is already above. More is that where I can see and comprehend analyses of the competing climate models, it’s the anti-AGW models that are dunned for oversimplification, to the extent that they exist. You looked into that before complaining about the modeling, right? You’re not just assuming that because you don’t know, no one else does either?

    The rest is that the happy, feelgood, “don’t worry, be consumers” message, which benefits the powers that be, comes from the oversimplified models, just as it did with the economic models. Why would banks adopt the cheery models, even if they were wrong? Because “We might fail” is a lousy advertising slogan. Because “Long-term rates of market return don’t look as good as short-term rates” doesn’t get you investors. Because “The economy depends on more than the Fed rate for stability” makes people tuck money in their mattresses. Because “You can’t buy a house right now at anything but an inflated price” doesn’t sell mortgages.

    And why would a consumer culture refuse to endorse a model that says we need to rein in consumption and take measures that will likely increase the costs of goods? The fact that everybody knows these models exist is a testimony to how validated and widely trusted these models really are.

    Now that you know all this, you can go out and influence some public perception yourself. Or you can hang around continue to make assumptions about models you haven’t studied.

  170. #172 Stephanie Z
    December 14, 2009

    By the way, R.C., I should note that no one is telling you that you can’t talk about a particular topic. However, if you try to speak authoritatively about things you haven’t done the work on, don’t be surprised when someone points that out. When you aim that “authority” at someone who has done the work, don’t be surprised when the response is less than polite.

  171. #173 Michael J
    December 14, 2009

    I rather use rational rather than sceptic. Due to lack of time, you do need to accept one or another side in a debate and I think that a “rational” person should as a default position accept the scientific consensus.
    I think that the rational position is pretty powerful.
    In discussions with AGW deniers for example, I first ask them why I should believe them (a plumber for example) over thousands of climate scientists.

  172. #174 jolly
    December 14, 2009

    #130,timo, I don’t know how you read into my post what you did but I asked what part of the climate change issue do you or anyone else disagree with? Is the climate warming at all? Is it caused by humans? I’ve broken it into two very simple questions.

  173. #175 Joe
    December 15, 2009

    Do those people writing about economic models and climate models in the same post really believe that they are comparable? Where have they been for the last 18 months, while the economy was crashing, in spite of the economic models? The only economists with any credibility these days are those who reject neo-classical economics, people like Steve Keen and Bill Mitchell (I’m being parochial here).

  174. #176 davidbaer
    January 25, 2010

    Everyone has their favorite way of using the internet. Many of us search to find what we want, click in to a specific website, read what’s available and click out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s efficient. We learn to tune out things we don’t need and go straight for what’s essential.

    http://www.onlineuniversalwork.com