James Randi and Global Warming

Yesterday, James Randi put up a blog post in which he questioned the validity of anthropogenic global warming. He has subsequently made the statement that he probably has more thinking to do about global warming, and he admits that he really knows nothing about it. So Randi’s blog post is, essentially, a non-starter as an issue, although there are some interesting things to think about.

James Hrynyshyn has an excellent blog post about this, in which he reports a conversation he had with Randi about Randi’s post.

Randi’s original post displays a rather embarrassing ignorance of earth science and global warming. He states things as fact that simply are not true, and he makes references to run of the mill AGW denialist philosophy in an utterly uncritical way. On one hand, Randi really needs to not do this sort of thing: He is a vitally important, central figure in the skeptical movement (if you want to call it a movement) and what amounts to an AGW denialist post (and it is) by him would be very important if it was a valid critique, but as a rambling inaccurate pile of crap it is only an annoyance that will certainly grow disproporionatly to its significance.

We were all busy trying to fix this problem … of global warming … and to deal with the denialism. Emailgate is a stupid distraction but at least it was based on a crime perpetuated by unethical AGW denialists. Randi’s denial is equally irrelevant to the issue of AGW science, but it comes from a source that should have known better.

On the other hand, it was a blog post. The guy was thinking out loud. So who cares? While it is true that if you are a major figure whom people look to for guidance and inspiration and stuff, one might want to avoid randomly tossing spurious wrenches in the politically charged works, we are not perfect, and blogging is blogging and thinking out loud is thinking out loud.

The fact that the most recent communication I’ve had with Randi was him slapping my wrist over a very minor infraction (not even a factual one, almost more of a grammatical one … and he was totally correct) could leave him open to me going ballistic on him because of this whole responsibility thing. But I won’t. We’ll deal with it like colleagues, allies, and adults.

Everyone simply has to read James’ post. Now.


  1. #1 Noadi
    December 16, 2009

    What disappointed me about the post was not that he has doubts, that’s good we should never think anything in science is settled.

    Mostly it was what he said about consensus. Science is about consensus, or at least how science should be used is. We use the current consensus to decide actions, since right now it’s that AGW is happening then we need to use it to decide to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That all the details aren’t clear is no reason to do nothing, it would be like saying we shouldn’t develop new medicines because we don’t know everything about how the immune system works yet.

  2. #2 Duncan
    December 16, 2009

    Just keep hating like that.
    Keep calling anyone who questions orthodoxy a holocaust denier.

    You’re sure to convince people you possess the unique truth.

  3. #3 Katharine
    December 16, 2009

    Duncan, let us know when you’ve gotten your PhD in climatology.

  4. #4 NewEnglandBob
    December 16, 2009

    Duncan, your statement is extremely stupid. The only one who used the word Holocaust here is you.

    Greg, I read James Hrynyshyn’s blog post as well as PZ’s. I surmise the point you are trying to express here is that deferring to experts in any field is not argument via authority and that any of us non-experts can be skeptical but must be careful.

  5. #5 Charles
    December 16, 2009

    On the Pharyngula post about this issue a guy named John Huntington posted a comment (comment #99) in which he includes Randi’s reply to his email complaint about Randi’s blog post. It reads as follows:

    Mr. Huntington, I regret your disillusionment with the JREF as a result of my recent AGW piece. I urge you to see – later today – my follow-up. I’ve been chastised – correctly – for the piece, but I think much of that came because I was – at 3 a.m. – cutting a very long article down to one-quarter of its original size. My follow-up will perhaps somewhat alleviate readers’ apprehensions…

    James Randi

  6. #6 MadScientist
    December 16, 2009

    I was disappointed that PZ seems to have instantly branded Randi as a “denier” when Randi is demonstrably someone who can deal with facts. Think about it: if you wanted to know about global warming, where would you get your information? The IPCC report doesn’t adequately summarize the basic ideas behind the hypothesis and how it is supported by data. Even for people who know what they’re doing the IPCC reports have numerous WTF??? moments. In contrast, the denialist spiels are easy to read, use newfangled sciency-sounding words (well, really they misuse technical words), and appear to non-experts to be reasonable.

    Global warming was simply not a subject of great interest to Randi; he’s very busy with other things that do interest him and which he is very good at. His post appears to say that he’s given in to public nagging about why he doesn’t talk about global warming, but it’s also apparent he hasn’t consulted anyone who knows what they’re talking about. Now if you were to ask him about bending spoons with your thoughts, “facilitated communication”, psychics, faith healers, and so on you’d get an authoritative answer.

  7. #7 Romeo Vitelli
    December 16, 2009

    So can I win a million dollars by proving global warming or can’t I? My retirement plans are riding on this.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2009

    Romeo, that was actually my first thought …

    … but I don’t think it works that way.

  9. #9 Jim Lippard
    December 16, 2009

    I’ve put up a blog post (linked from my name on this comment) about some of the climate skeptic organizations, including the OISM and the Petition Project, in hopes that skeptics won’t repeat Randi’s mistake.

  10. #10 MadScientist
    December 16, 2009

    @Romeo: First you have to convince everyone that global warming is a paranormal phenomenon.

  11. #11 Dacks
    December 16, 2009

    Here’s the link to Randi’s post, for those of you who prefer to work from primary sources 🙂
    He really waded in with both feet. I scooted over there to ask him to rethink his opinion.

  12. #12 Irene
    December 16, 2009

    Dacks, you mean like the link in the first sentence of the blog post?

  13. #13 John McKay
    December 17, 2009

    One of Randi’s most valuable insights over the years has been his demonstration of how easily scientists can be fooled by a little magic. The scientists who have been embarrassed by having their gullibility exposed can now take a little comfort in knowing that magicians can be fooled by a little science.

  14. #14 Joel
    December 17, 2009

    I understand that it’s important to have open, honest and lively discussions about important topics and the problems facing our country and the world. But at this point in time, I think Americans have simply lost their minds and I think it is irresponsible for anyone with any credibility to publically voice any doubts or even questions.

    When 40% of Americans can doubt evolution, an idea that has survived 150 years of research and questioning, what chance does any idea, even mildly controversial, have? Absolutely none. The forces against logic and reason are simply too powerful and appear to have unlimited resources to sow doubt and mistrust of science in the imaginations of the general population.

    From now on, any of you geniuses of the world have some questions about things like AWG, phone a friend, using a secure line of course, write a letter on self destructing paper, or speak to someone in a room that has been swept for bugs. And for fucks sake, don’t write them in an email or any kind of computer! Just keep it away from the dumbfucks known as the general population.

  15. #15 Dacks
    December 17, 2009

    Oops, I didn’t see the link. For some reason on scienceblogs, if there is a link to a site that I’ve already visited it gets unhighlighted. I don’t know if this is related to the fact that I use Firefox.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    December 17, 2009

    Dacks, not any more! Or at least, not here. Originally, that was a lame idea I had … make unvisited links red, then make the visited links grey (but not black) so they blend into the background. But that grey looks just like the black.

    So I just changed it so that all links looks the same, visited or not.

  17. #17 bosley
    December 17, 2009

    Than for al gore to spout repeated stupidities.

  18. #18 Stephanie Z
    December 17, 2009

    bosley, can you explain the difference between a right and a responsibility?

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    December 17, 2009

    bosley, thank you for providing an excellent example of what being an AGW denialist is all about.

    Now, do you have anything substantive to say?

  20. #20 dave
    March 9, 2011

    Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for population concerns and global warming? Perhaps. One tremendous solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and vastly lower global transportation costs.
    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed between 14 and 16 Billion people, just using presently available modern farming technologies. With a present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for the next 425 years. Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .

  21. #21 Darren Parker
    October 6, 2011

    I’d like to engage the community here in a discussion on global warming but I’m afraid taht I’ll just be attacked with ad hominem insults and not answered on the science.In particular i would like to talk about how the figure for climate sensitivity is calculated. Can we do that without it devoloving into the usual accusations of ‘denier’ etc/

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    October 6, 2011

    Very funny, Darren. Knowing that you wouldn’t get your victimization speech said before I kicked your butt out of here, you lead with it.