Respectful Insolence

Yesterday, I wrote one of my typical Orac-ian length posts that was unusual. What was unusual about it was not its length. Rather, what was unusual about it was the target of its criticism, perhaps one of the last people in the world I would ever have expected to have to have taken issue with, James Randi himself, who had posted a truly embarrassing post in which he cast doubt upon anthropogenic global warming (AGW). What provoked my dismay was not so much that Randi had questioned AGW; what dismayed me so was how he did it. His post, as I pointed out, was chock full of logical fallacies and truly ignorant readings of the science. I concluded by pointing out that the true test of Randi’s mettle would be how he reacted to the criticism he was receiving and, in particular, whether he altered his position based on being informed of his errors and provided evidence by people whom he respects showing the validity of AGW science.

If ever there were a time when I wanted to bend over backward like a friggin’ contortionist and give someone every single benefit of the doubt, this was it. After all, it had been announced that Randi would be writing a followup post, and I figured this would be his chance to acknowledge his errors. When Randi’s followup post, I Am Not “Denying” Anything, appeared, I was all primed to accept almost anything he would say. Unfortunately, although Randi did take some baby steps in the right direction, he overlooked the most disturbing aspect of his original post. Sadly, from my perspective, it appears that Randi still just doesn’t get it. This time, I’m with PZ, although I’m going try to approach this from a different direction. Before I can do that, though, I need to tread ground that others have with respect to Randi’s response and cite this passage:

Sad? Yes, if it were true. But it’s not. There were a good number of other, similar comments, all quite wrong. I do not, and did not, deny the established fact — arrived at by extensive scientific research — that average global temperatures have increased by a bit less than one Celsius degree. My commentary was concerned with my amateur confusion about the myriad of natural phenomena that obviously bring about worldwide climate changes and whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences. Yes, I’m aware of the massive release of energy — mostly heat — that we’ve produced by exhuming and burning oil, natural gas, and coal. We’ve also attacked forests and turned them into fuel by converting them into paper at further energy expense, paper that is also burned, in turn. My remarks, again, are directed at the complexity of determining whether this GW is anthropogenic or not. I do not deny that possibility. In fact, I accept it as quite probable. I remain respectful of science and its participants. I stand outside the walls of academe, in awe.

This passage is particularly curious because it appears to be claiming that, if AGW is real, it’s a result of heat release from the release of energy from the burning of fossil fuels and wood. That is a complete misunderstanding of what is thought to be the cause of AGW, which is not energy from burning fossil fuels but rather the greenhouse gases, in particular C02, released by their use. What’s a bit more disturbing is that, again, whether he knows it or not, Randi is also mimicking the stance of AGW denialists by in essence a combination of argument from personal incredulity and the fallacy of the golden mean. Whenever there are two positions in science, the correct answer is not necessarily somewhere in the middle, although that is what Randi is implying by implying that the doubts about AGW expressed in his previous post are valid. Now, he may be doing this because he just can’t yet bring himself to fully admit his mistakes, leading him to admit them partially and equivocate. As I said before, I do not believe that Randi is an AGW denialist. However, by couching his admission as he has, he seems to be implying that there is far more doubt about AGW than scientists in fact have. As others have pointed out, this is no different than implying that there is doubt about whether Uri Geller is a fraud, facilitated communication is pseudoscience, or that Peter Popov the faith healer is a scammer. When Randi says that “I do not deny the finding of GW. AGW, to me, is less clear, though I accept that it is likely true,” although he has moved towards accepting consensus science, he has still expressed the view that his doubts have not been assuaged and implied that he thinks that there is still something to the denialist position.

Speaking of logical fallacies, I think what disturbed me more about Randi’s second post is more what wasn’t in it than what was in it. What was in it was a weak retraction of what he said and an admission that AGW is “probably” true. Fair enough, and he did more or less accept Phil Plait’s corrections of his misinformation, in particular his uncritical acceptance of The Oregon Petition. Rather, what disturbed me about Randi’s response is that he left out any acknowledgment that his previous post was chock full of logical fallacies, including argument from personal incredulity, argument from ignorance, straw men about what climate scientists actually say, and, one I particularly detest, the “science was wrong before” gambit. The problem with his original post was not just that it got the science wrong. Rather, it was that the form of his arguments was also very poor. In essence, Randi used rhetorical techniques that he has seen through so many times before when supporters of Uri Geller used them, when supporters of facilitated communication used them or when any number of dowsers, ghost chasers, and believers in the paranormal used them. In any case, Randi’s final comment, although all too human, revealed a pique that is unbecoming:

Again, the importance and the impact of this phenomenon is well beyond my grasp. I merely expressed my thoughts about the controversy, and I received a storm (no pun intended) of comments, many of which showed a lack of careful reading that led to unfair presumptions and interpretations.

I’ll admit that there were a few commenters who were a bit harsh on Randi, but the bloggers who criticized him, including (I hope) me, were all quite deferential and, in fact, read his original post quite carefully, making cogent criticisms of the logical fallacies and scientific misinformation that it contained. In fact, I wonder in retrospect if I was a bit too deferential. Probably not, because Randi has earned deference based on his long history of battling pseudoscience and nonsense. He still does. Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that, if it had been anyone other than Randi, there would have been a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence raining down upon his head. Either that, or I would have ignored it altogether were it not Randi. But it was Randi, which is one reason it had to be answered. A no-name blogger repeating AGW denialist arguments due to ignorance of the science means little. Randi repeating AGW denialist arguments due to ignorance of science is a massive PR victory for the AGW denialists. Indeed, it’s already begun as this post entitled James Randi vs mindless consensus pseudoscientists. Get a load of this statement:

Randi who may be the world’s #1 symbol of skepticism towards pseudoscientific charlatans (and magicians claiming to have special abilities: he reproduced lots of their tricks without any paranormal abilities) turns out to be consistent in his skepticism: he is skeptical towards the climate judgement day pseudoscience, too.

Randi’s arguments are kind of obviously valid. He enumerates many solar, galactic, geomagnetic, lunar, and other influences that change the temperature by quantities comparable to 1 °C per century and that are not under theoretical control. It follows that the climate “equation” that would reliably predict a century of temperature changes with such an accuracy or a better one cannot be written down at present which is a reason why sensible people shouldn’t make far-reaching claims about the future temperature.

The blogger, Luboš Motl, then goes on to repeat a number of AGW denialist canards. If you want to see them debunked, simply head on over to How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic, Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense, 50 reasons why global warming isn’t natural, The Global Warming Skeptics vs. The Scientific Consensus. Meanwhile, another AGW denialist expressed “suspense” about Randi and what he would do, whining, ” Skeptic that is skeptical about making Global Warming THE defining issue of our times? Obviously, that’s not something that could be left unpunished.”

Luboš Motl then shows the conspiratorial side that we all know and love when it comes to pseudoscientists of all stripes:

His [Randi’s] newly discovered skepticism may explain why Phil Plait who is not a skeptic but rather an uncritical irrational believer when it comes to te atmospheric Armageddon theories is no longer the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Well, he may have been simply yet diplomatically fired by Randi for having brutally violated the main principle that underlies the work of JREF – scientific skepticism.

Yeah, right. If Motl has valid reasons and evidence to doubt Phil’s explanation that he has a possible TV deal that he really wants to pursue, perhaps he would share it with the world rather than making dark insinuations that Phil was fired because he accepted the scientific consensus regarding AGW, perhaps he should let us all in on them or shut up.

Randi is a revered figure in the skeptical movement for good reasons. That he is so revered places a special responsibility on him that, for example, you or I don’t have. Because of his position as a founder and leader of the skeptical movement, his words have far more weight than those of a schlub of a blogger like myself. I can spout off about whatever I want. If I’m wrong, the consequences are momentary embarrassment on my part and the possible need to publicly rethink my position and, if appropriate, admit that I was wrong. Even so, I usually try very hard not to spout off in an uninformed way because I don’t like being embarrassed and, above all, because when I write something I want to get it right. If Randi gets it wrong, it supplies ammunition to the very sorts of people he has spent his life refuting. I understand that Randi may have been taken aback, hurt even, by the criticism he received, but that criticism was in this one instance deserved. I hope he comes to see that.

Comments

  1. #1 GAZZA
    December 18, 2009

    With respect Orac: Randi is not revered. Nor should he be – indeed, I’m sure he would be the first to agree that reverence is inappropriate.

    He is well loved, yes, but the thing about skepticism is that there are no sacred cows. Shermer has been taken to task over his libertarianism; Penn and Teller have been criticised for some of their poorly reasoned Bullshit episodes (like second hand smoking). And you yourself had no issues getting stuck into Dawkins and PZ for the half hearted defense of the recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award. This is all as it should be.

  2. #2 Mark P
    December 18, 2009

    “However, by couching his admission as he has, he seems to be implying that there is far more doubt about AGW than scientists in fact have.”

    Everyone in this issue slips up, because it gets too complicated and too heated.

    For example your quote suggests you believe all scientists are without much doubt. You know this to be untrue. Quite a few scientists are radically opposed to the CO2 theory. There are eminent climate scientists who do not go along with the current line.

    “Science was wrong before” is a poor gambit. About as good as “all the scientists agree” actually, since you know that is a logical fallacy as well.

    The anti-AGW side has some loonies. So do the warmers (Gaia anyone?).

    Cut Randi some slack, I say. He has doubts. They probably aren’t hugely focussed, but his attitude beats that of the protesters that had to beaten back with truncheons, so sure they are not only right but morally unreproachable.

  3. #3 artesian
    December 18, 2009

    Climategate Forecast…
    “• What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann.]
    Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”
    AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

  4. #4 JamesA
    December 18, 2009

    @Mark P: “Quite a few scientists are radically opposed to the CO2 theory. There are eminent climate scientists who do not go along with the current line.”

    If you don’t mind me asking, but who? There are very few individuals out there opposed to ‘CO2 theory’ that could be described as ‘eminent climate scientists’.

  5. #5 Christophe Thill
    December 18, 2009

    Please allow me to insist on the “argument from complexity” aspect. This is not generally listed among the usual logical fallacies, but it should be. It goes like this: “Reality is so complex, the result of so many factors and influences and interactions, that we can’t possibly model or understand it. Trying can only be a loss of time, so let’s just give up.”

    This argument was apparent in Randi’s original post. It has the false allure of intellectuality: you’re not over-simplifying things, as ignorants often do; on the contrary, you show that you understand things are not simple. Plus there’s an echo of the old philosophical stereotype: you have achieved true knowledge when you know that you know nothing.

    I think that this false appeal to complexity must be strongly denounced and fought. If followed, it leads to the negation of science and the abdication of knowledge.

  6. #6 Luboš Motl
    December 18, 2009

    There is nothing “conspiratory” about firing a guy who has shown a complete disrespect from the principles of scientific skepticism from the presidency of an institution whose goal is to promote scientific skepticism.

    Quite on the contrary, it would be a conspiracy theory to think that Plait’s shameful attitudes should go unpunished.

  7. #7 Jody
    December 18, 2009

    Lubos, there’s is no evidence that Phil was fired. He’s stepping down to pursue a TV hosting opportunity.

    Oh, an there’s no evidence that Phil has displayed “shameful attitudes” or “disrespect from the principles of scientific skepticism.”

    To paraphrase that great philosopher Inigo Montoya, those words… they do not mean what you think they mean..

  8. #8 N.C.
    December 18, 2009

    Well, obviously, Randi pulled some strings and got Plait that TV job, obviously. As a punishment, obviously. Also.

  9. #9 carrot eater
    December 18, 2009

    The person thinks that global warming is due to waste heat from combustion?

    I didn’t have to read a word beyond that. Somebody with such a basic misunderstanding of the topic simply cannot make any coherent comment on the topic.

    Skepticism also requires an ounce of self-awareness. You should have some idea that you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

  10. #10 bob koepp
    December 18, 2009

    I think it’s hilarious that people who claim to be champions of critical thinking want to constrain skepticism so it won’t raise its head in areas where there’s a broad consensus among scientists. That’s phony criticality, grounded in something other than a passion for truth.

  11. #11 a lurker
    December 18, 2009

    I will have to agree with carrot eater. Randi is an expert on “magic” and close-up detecting of fraud. From his statements it is clear that Randi does not even have a layman’s understanding of the issue because reading one so-so newspaper article on the issue would make it clear that the issue is not the heat from combustion. It is clear that Randi has made no effort to find out what climate change is about and thus on this issue, Randi is not a skeptic.

  12. #12 Mike
    December 18, 2009

    @bob koepp

    The “champions of critical thinking” took Randi to task for citing a dubious poll, applying fallacies as outlined here, and making basic errors when discussing the science.

    That’s what critical thinkers do. I don’t see the problem with that nor see how that is “constraining skepticism”.

  13. #13 delphi-ote
    December 18, 2009

    Randi has also posted very positive reviews of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. His opinions on this issue seem oddly inconsistent, especially lately. Maybe we should chalk this up to his recent illness.

  14. #14 Calli Arcale
    December 18, 2009

    Who’s asking for skepticism to be constrained? There’s a difference between skepticism and arguing in ignorance.

    Do you think it’s also skepticism when people want to “green their vaccines”? Or when they doubt NASA’s claims that they really sent people to the Moon?

    It’s fair for Randi to have doubts, and that’s been pointed out on this blog and on others. But it’s very disappointing to see that he did not base those doubts on the actual state of the science, instead basing them on common denialist talking points which he appears to have uncritically accepted without evaluation. On top of that, he has demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the topic. (It’s not about the heat we generate when we burn, for instance, coal.) If he doesn’t even understand that it’s about greenhouse gases, not heat generation, then he can’t have arrived at his doubt by actually analyzing the state of the evidence. He can only have arrived at it because it either suits some of his preconceptions, and/or because he has uncritically accepted someone else’s claims on the subject. If he demonstrated better understanding of the claims of AGW, I’d be more willing to accept that he’s merely being skeptical of those claims.

  15. #15 delphi-ote
    December 18, 2009

    bob koepp, how about the Holocaust and 9/11. Your rhetoric applies equally well there. Does your passion for truth lead you to doubt the broad consensus on those issues, too?

  16. #16 penn
    December 18, 2009

    I with you carrot eater. I don’t know why he is saying anything at all if he thinks anyone claims global warming is due to heat released from combustion. That heat doesn’t even appear as noise in the system.

    AGW “skeptics” need to do one simple thing to debunk AGW and that is break this simple causal chain:

    1. CO2 and other GHG’s trap solar energy.
    2. CO2 and other GHG concentrations have been rising for at least 6 decades where we have direct measurements.
    3. Humans activities have led to increases in atmospheric CO2 by burning fossil fuels and destroying carbon sequestering biomass.

    I get that the climate is complex, but AGW is simple. AGW “skeptics” like to hide behind the complexity of the climate to avoid the simplicity of AGW theory. Their whole argument seems to rest on the existence of some unknown negative feedback that will directly balance these effects. Unfortunately the evidence seems to pointing towards more and more positive feedbacks as CO2 levels increase and temperature increases (e.g. melting ice leading to decreased albedo, melting permafrost releasing methane, etc.).

  17. #17 James Sweet
    December 18, 2009

    Re: GAZZA up at #1 there:

    This is all as it should be.

    Exactly.

    When my wife was getting fed some anti-vax propaganda, one of the major factors that turned her back around was that she noticed the anti-vax people would sometimes hold viewpoints that were obviously contradictory, in that while both were anti-vaccine, both viewpoints could not simultaneously be correct — and yet nobody in that movement seemed to have any problem with that. As long as you were anti-vaccine, you could get there by any sort of tortured logic you like, and that was A-OK.

    The skeptic movement, on the other hand, is characterized by vigorous debate and honest — even, at times, harsh — criticism even of the luminaries of the movement.

    Indeed, this is as it should be.

    (I do have to say, I am more satisfied with Randi’s half-retraction than most… In fact, the bizarre statements about warming via energy make it clear that he doesn’t have any clue whatsoever what he is talking about — so little of a clue, in fact, that he probably doesn’t have a very good idea of how little of a clue he has, a well-known effect we should all be familiar with — so at the very least it makes me less irritated. And his admission that it was “highly likely” that >50% of warming is anthropogenic I felt went more or less far enough… More or less…)

  18. #18 Bijan Parsia
    December 18, 2009

    artesian, it’s unfortunate that you would appeal to the weakest part of the Wegman report (that “analysis” is far outside their mandate and their competence and even Wegman admitted it was entirely speculative). Of course, it’s even more unfortunate that the report seems to be nothing but weaknesses (i.e., the primary, within mandate conclusion is utterly wrong) and to be of suspect origin (in a way that impugns its overall reliability).

  19. #19 carrot eater
    December 18, 2009

    Penn:

    rap on the knuckles for this one:

    “1. CO2 and other GHG’s trap solar energy”

    cross out solar, and insert IR.

  20. #20 Sigmund
    December 18, 2009

    Randi turned up yesterday to add a comment here so perhaps he might be reading again. If so maybe he might address the point about waste heat not being the same as AGW. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt due to his past record and due to the fact that his current medical condition (chemotherapy for colon cancer) may not leave him in a perfectly clear frame of mind at all times. My Mother died of cancer a few years back and for half the time during her chemo she was on strong morphine based pain killers and was unable to concentrate for extended periods of time.
    What we need here is for some friends of Randi, like Phil Plait to discuss in detail the evidences for AGW and see how he responds to this. Phil seems to have set Randi straight on the dissent from AGW list but there still seems to be genuine confusion in Randis mind over what is the evidence and causes of AGW.

  21. #21 grabula
    December 18, 2009

    I just think this goes to show that even skeptics can overreact and shoot off their mouths without waiting for the whole picture.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think some respectful insolence is fine, but I find it somehow ironic when skeptics ban together to chew their own foot off before they’ve determined they were caught in a trap.

    I’m with Randi on this, in more ways than one. He’s admitted his amateur understanding of the complexities of global warming (something plastic boxes with pretty blinking lights should probably consider too?). but after spending a whole lot of time trying to understand those complexities myself, and the science behind what’s going on, I still don’t know what to believe, except that science indeed has show that something is going on.

    Call me an AGW agnostic at this point. I think we should do what we can to make sure we’re not having an impact but I think it’s a complex issue that requries a lot more study to determine the absolute facts. I don’t think this view is unreasonable, I do find those that think it is, unreasonable….

  22. #22 Militant Agnostic
    December 18, 2009

    Warming due to heat of combustion WTF – Sadly, James Randi appears to have opened his mouth only to change feet.

    Christophe Thill @5 and Penn @16 – That is the fatal flaw in the “Argument from Complexity” – things are just as likely to be much worse than predicted. If we really do not understand the climate system well, poking it with a sharp stick as we are doing now is very unwise especially since the more obvious feedback mechanisms that may kick in are positive (increasing albedo and methane from permafrost or in the worst case, melting seafloor hydrates). The denialists faith in some unknown negative feedback mechanism saving us is akin to religious belief – not exactly skeptical thinking.

  23. #23 Daniel J. Andrews
    December 18, 2009

    Quite a few scientists are radically opposed to the CO2 theory.

    I know James already asked you this, MarkP, but what scientists? What CO2 theory are you referring to? That CO2 is a GHG gas? That’s physics. The only people who might disagree are those who are working on perpetual motion machines.

    Or are you saying that there are quite a few scientists radically opposed to the idea that CO2 is causing the current warming? You will find a handful–not quite a few–most of them without any background in climate science. The genetic prof down the hall is brilliant, he has worked with NASA (fruit flies in space–enclosed in their habitat, of course, not free-flying), but he wouldn’t know more about climate, medical conditions, oceanography, limnology, glaciology, etc than the average person.

    Being a scientist in one field doesn’t give you any more credibility when you contradict the experts in their field. In fact, it is a statement of incredible arrogance. I, the dilettante, am right, and all those experts who have devoted decades to this research are wrong. And if that kind of statement is arrogant (and logically flawed) coming from someone with a science background imagine how it sounds coming out of the mouth of someone like Watts who doesn’t even seem to grasp high school math.

  24. #24 trrll
    December 18, 2009

    There are eminent climate scientists who do not go along with the current line.

    About as many as the number of “eminent” biologists who don’t accept evolution, or the number of “eminent” public health experts who don’t accept the value of vaccination, or the role of HIV in causation of AIDS.

    When used in this context, “eminent” almost always seems to translate into either “best known for work in an unrelated field” or “no longer engaged in active research.”

  25. #25 Daniel J. Andrews
    December 18, 2009

    Call me an AGW agnostic at this point. I think we should do what we can to make sure we’re not having an impact but I think it’s a complex issue that requries a lot more study to determine the absolute facts. I don’t think this view is unreasonable, I do find those that think it is, unreasonable….

    In other words, the “We need more study” argument. Or is it the, “Since we don’t know everything, don’t do anything” argument? Or maybe it’s the “It’s too complex” argument? Weren’t some of these same arguments put out by tobacco companies, opponents of the Montreal protocol (CFCs and ozone), YECs, and antivaxxers? Just because we don’t know all the facts about the human body doesn’t mean we can’t treat an illness with modern medicine.

    On the surface, your statement is right. It is very complex, it is not all understood, it isn’t unreasonable to do more study to try and understand these things. However, knowingly or unknowingly, you’ve reiterated one of the main denier talking points they use to try and sound reasonable which is, as above, “It is too complex, we need more study, so let’s not do anything just yet”. As I noted, it is the same argument put out by other antiscience groups.

  26. #26 LEM
    December 18, 2009

    Re comment 3 – The Wegmen report appears to have been substantially ghostwritten and plagiarized. See
    http://deepclimate.org/2009/12/17/wegmen-report-ghostwriter-revealed

  27. #27 TomB
    December 18, 2009

    Your criticism of what was not in Mr. Randi’s follow-up post is unfounded because Randi’s initial post does not contain the logical fallacies you describe.

    First, in context I believe Randi’s intended “science has been wrong before” to mean that science is a process not an outcome. The scientific process of discovering nature can pause on inaccurate theories. Typically, a scientific theory’s accuracy is based on its predictive and explanatory powers. If a theory poorly predicts outcomes or fails to explain why certain past outcomes occurred, it is appropriate to question the theory’s accuracy, along with the assumptions and methodology used to establish that theory. I believe Randi is saying that we should cautiously draw conclusions calling for hugely expensive actions because current scientific understanding is not always accurate.

    Second, when a scientific theory fails to predict and explain, arguments from incredulity are less fallacious. How much would the climate warm if humans did not put any CO2 into the atmosphere? What percentage of current warming is human caused and what is natural? Current climate science cannot answer these questions. Also, current climate models have failed in short-to-medium term predictions. Perhaps the models only are accurate over the long term. But in that case, the models have no known error rate, no mechanism for testing or validation. Such uncertainty justifies examining whether scientists have truly accounted for every aspect of a hugely complex climate system.

    The skeptical examination of AGW differs from the psuedoscientific skepticism of evolution. AGW theories purport to show how a change to one factor in a complex system will affect the system’s overall state. The theory of evolution describes the general process by which successive generations of organisms adapt to a changing environment. Evolution does not purport to predict what features organisms will evolve or how a species will adapt to a change in one aspect of the environment – it only describes the overall process.

    In climate science, it seems beyond dispute that CO2 will trap more heat. But AGW theories do not know how other interrelated climate systems will adapt to an increase in CO2. And AGW theories do not know whether any man-made changes will be of the same magnitude as future natural climactic changes. Appealing to the uncertainties caused by this complexity is not a fallacy.

    In sum, noting that science has been wrong is not an empty rhetorical technique when questioning sweeping conclusions drawn from a theory that lacks explanatory and predictive power. Arguing from incredulity or complexity is not invalid when a theory claims to be able to explain the macro-state of a large system based on a change to a small input. Therefore, I think you should reevaluate your criticism of Mr. Randi.

  28. #28 JoeB
    December 18, 2009

    Re: Luboš

    Anyone here a regular listener to soon to be JREF president D.J. Grothe’s podcast. If he’s taken a strong Pro-AGW stance then there’s really nothing to the conspiracy and Luboš massively failed at checking a basic fact that would collapse the conspiracy.

  29. #29 a-non
    December 18, 2009

    With all due respect to some of the commenters, I cannot get behind the idea that people that raise doubts about AGW should be equated in any way to anti-vaxers and Holocaust deniers. (posts 14 and 15 come to mind)

    If you were to put a gun to my head, I would suggest that AGW is a real phenomenon and that at least some of the earth’s recent warming is due to the actions of man. But I think that so many here are falling into the trap of the false dichotomy. You can believe that AGW is most likely real while still having legitimate concerns about the science and its misuse on both ends of the political spectrum.

  30. #30 killyosaur
    December 18, 2009

    @JoeB
    Considering Randi quotes Phil in his response in a positive light, I have a hard time believing the firing conspiracy on those grounds alone. As to D.J. Grothe’s position, he has never made a statement denying AGW, I can’t recall if he has made statements in support of them, but he did retweet the tweet by @badastronomer referencing a blog post about James Randi’s response.

  31. #31 natural cynic
    December 18, 2009

    TomB

    I believe Randi is saying that we should cautiously draw conclusions calling for hugely expensive actions because current scientific understanding is not always accurate.

    Look at the level of scientific understanding of AGW. I think you hopefully underestimate that level. AGW has obvious political/economic consequences: what are the consequences if you’re wrong and the current theory is correct versus the consequences of you being right? Is it better to wait until we are more sure and suffer greater economic consequences or start amelioration now. PZ has a cartppn that may interest you. If AGW is true, it’s a case not unlike old oil filter commercial “Pay me now of pay me later [when the costs are much greater]” Unless you’re a Lomborgian Panglossian and willing to accept quite a few Bangladeshian refugees in your neighborhood.

    How much would the climate warm if humans did not put any CO2 into the atmosphere? What percentage of current warming is human caused and what is natural? Current climate science cannot answer these questions.

    Current climate science has a whole lot of evidence about how much CO2 is natural [see USGS for volcanic estimates]and how much is man-made.

    Perhaps the models only are accurate over the long term. But in that case, the models have no known error rate, no mechanism for testing or validation. Such uncertainty justifies examining whether scientists have truly accounted for every aspect of a hugely complex climate system.

    Wrong, there are ranges of average temperatures and atmospheric CO2 that can be expected at future times. And ranges of deleterious consequences. You must be someone that crosses his fingers a lot.

    Evolution does not purport to predict what features organisms will evolve or how a species will adapt to a change in one aspect of the environment – it only describes the overall process.

    The overall process can predict how organisms will adapt [if they can] and only cannot predict the exact details. See Lenski’s work on E. coli, evolution of nylonase, antibiotic resistance, etc.

    But AGW theories do not know how other interrelated climate systems will adapt to an increase in CO2.

    W@hat other systems? The uptake of CO2, acidification and consequences in the oceans is well understood. You’re crossing your fingers and hoping again.

    Appealing to the uncertainties caused by this complexity is not a fallacy.

    Hoping for an uncertainty to rescue you probably is one.

  32. #32 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    JoeB | December 18, 2009 12:34 PM:

    Anyone here a regular listener to soon to be JREF president D.J. Grothe’s podcast. If he’s taken a strong Pro-AGW stance then there’s really nothing to the conspiracy and Lubos’ massively failed at checking a basic fact that would collapse the conspiracy.

    This is perhaps a good point, and I would certainly be interested to hear D.J. Grothe talk about AGW. However, his podcast is not the right place to look for his position; it is all about the positions of his guests, and in nearly all episodes he says little or nothing about his own position. See for example, this interview with Benjamin Wiker. With respect to AGW, this interview with Greg Craven is probably the most relevant episode – but it says little about D.J. Grothe’s own views. (Overall, I strongly recommend his podcast; despite a few disagreeable episodes, and the fact D.J. almost never challenges his guests, I think he gives some of the best interviews I have ever hear. A D.J. Grothe interview with Orac would be great fun, and very informative.)

    Finally – climate science is well out of D.J Grothe’s areas of expertise, and there are a good many highly skilled and well-paid charlatans out there, trying to create the impression global warming is not caused by humans, is good for you, or is a liberal conspiracy to take away our beloved cars. Just like anybody can be robbed, anybody can be fooled.

  33. #33 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    TomB | December 18, 2009 12:19 PM:

    What percentage of current warming is human caused and what is natural? Current climate science cannot answer these questions.

    Please read the IPCC AR4 Summary For Policy Makers. Note in particular:

    The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR, leading to very high confidence7 that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m-2 (see Figure SPM.2). {2.3., 6.5, 2.9}

    (From page 3)
    and

    Changes in solar irradiance since 1750 are estimated
    to cause a radiative forcing of +0.12 [+0.06 to +0.30]
    W m-2, which is less than half the estimate given in the
    TAR. {2.7}

    (From page 5)
    That is to say, net anthropogenic effects since 1750 are about 13 times the net natural effects.
    For more specifics, see Understanding and Attributing Climate Change, chapter 9 of the same report.

  34. #34 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    grabula | December 18, 2009 10:25 AM:

    Call me an AGW agnostic at this point. I think we should do what we can to make sure we’re not having an impact but I think it’s a complex issue that requries a lot more study to determine the absolute facts. I don’t think this view is unreasonable, I do find those that think it is, unreasonable….

    Please read Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming.

  35. #35 Colugo
    December 18, 2009

    Randi’s posts on anthropogenic climate change remind me of Scott Adams on evolution and Bill Maher on vaccination. Ignorant amateurs who were exposed to crank talking points and so believed themselves to be informed skeptics on these topics, but are simply parroting those talking points. It is a bit depressing that Randi, an icon of skepticism and opposition to pseudoscience, is no better than Adams or Maher.

    I suspect that Randi’s reputation will never be the same. Not so much because of the position he took, but because of the incorrect facts he cited, the identifiable fallacies of the arguments he used, and his later unwillingness to admit errors in judgment.

    But to be fair to Randi, is it any more excusable for a self-styled rationalist to be a Maoist, a disciple of Ayn Rand, or a utopian transhumanist? Or to believe that we have an ethical imperative – derived from evolution-informed logic – to ban animal research, or entertains Buddhist notions of body-mind duality and reincarnation? Yet we can find all of these views and equally strange ideas within the skeptical, secularist-rationalist, pro-science community. Perhaps all of us fail rationalism and consistency at some point. Some of us, like Randi, more publicly than others.

  36. #36 TomB
    December 18, 2009

    llewelly, Yes, I realize that the IPCC is not going to be consistent with what I say. You’ll note that the only natural factor affecting observed tempuratures that the IPCC considers is solar irradiance. The IPCC simply assumes that everything else is anthropogenic.

    natural cynic, I did not say we do not know how much CO2 would naturally be there, rather how much warming was attributable to natural factors and how much to anthropogenic factors. The observed climate is an open system, one that is subject to influence by not just solar radiation, but atmospheric conditions, ocean conditions, geological conditions. The assumption that warming not accounted for by some currently known mechanism must therefore be anthropogenic introduces substantial uncertainty into the models. This is not an appeal to ignorance. It is not a statement that science cannot know everything. In my opinion, saying “we do not know of a natural cause therefore it must be man-made” is the same as saying “we do not know of a natural explanation therefore it must be supernatural/alien/the hand of God”. Just because we don’t have a natural explanation right now does not mean that there is no natural explanation.

    Pointing out uncertainty caused by assumptions that ignore complexity or over-simplify is valid.

    In response to natural cynic, I will also note, albeit tangentially, that the proposed solutions come with uncertainties and potential negative consequences. There is a chance solutions could cripple economic growth, cause more problems (such as ethanol’s negative environmental effects), and fail to remedy warming. There are significant risks on both sides. And, as Randi notes, spending our limited resources on AGW prevents us from using them to solve more certain problems such as world hunger, AIDS, etc.

  37. #37 SLC
    December 18, 2009

    Re JamesA

    The only legitimate climate scientist who departs substantially from the scientific consensus is Prof. Richard Lindzen of MIT. Unfortunately, Prof. Lindzen is in danger of getting into Peter Duesberg territory as his dissent from the consensus is beginning to become shrill and unhinged, much like Duesbergs’ dissent from HIV?AIDS becaume shrill and unhinged so that now, the former Nobel Prize aspirant for his work on retroviruses has become irrelevant.

  38. #38 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    TomB | December 18, 2009 3:37 PM:

    llewelly, Yes, I realize that the IPCC is not going to be consistent with what I say. You’ll note that the only natural factor affecting observed tempuratures that the IPCC considers is solar irradiance. The IPCC simply assumes that everything else is anthropogenic.

    This is not true. The IPCC considered volcanic forcings extensively; see page 193 of Chapter 2, Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing.
    Volcanoes are not listed on the summary table because their effects are relatively brief; the climate cooling effects of the eruption of Mt Pinatubo lasted for only a few years, as the aerosols it introduced into the stratosphere and upper troposphere gradually drifted down to an altitude where they could be incorporated into rainfall, and then rained out.
    The IPCC also considered many other natural factors which affect large-scale temperature anomalies, but are not forcings, such as ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation), NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation), PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), SAM (Southern Annular Mode), and others. See page 709 of Chapter 9, Understanding and Attributing Climate Change.

  39. #39 sailor
    December 18, 2009

    Good post. I think Randi felt he had to reply fast, so he did so with undue haste and a bit defensively. It was however, way better than before. But I am still puzzled, when a man of Randi’s stature posts, he knows the huge audience he has. Why then not run the post in front of a climate scientist or two (he has lots of connections), and get their views on it?

  40. #40 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    TomB | December 18, 2009 3:37 PM:

    The assumption that warming not accounted for by some currently known mechanism must therefore be anthropogenic introduces substantial uncertainty into the models.

    That assumption is not now, and has not ever been an assumption made by mainstream climate scientists, or by modern climate models. Quite the contrary, many climate scientists have gone to great efforts attempting to falsify the idea that global warming is caused by humans – and they have failed, time and time again. Global warming is known to caused by humans because there is a clear sequence of demonstrable mechanisms, all well supported by evidence. Please don’t bring up tired old strawman arguments which mis-represent your opponents.

  41. #41 BobTexas
    December 18, 2009

    I get that the climate is complex, but AGW is simple. AGW “skeptics” like to hide behind the complexity of the climate to avoid the simplicity of AGW theory. Their whole argument seems to rest on the existence of some unknown negative feedback that will directly balance these effects.

    That negative feedback comes from water vapor.

    http://met.hu/idojaras/IDOJARAS_vol111_No1_01.pdf

    Water vapor is a much stronger GHG than CO2 and when CO2 increases, a smaller amount of water vapor decreases to compensate for the increase in CO2 in order to maintain the same relative temperature.

  42. #42 DLC
    December 18, 2009

    I think James Randi is a bit more clever than people are giving him credit for.
    I’ll note two things.
    First: He’s got people talking about AGW.
    Second: He’s got people talking about James Randi and skepticism.

  43. #43 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    BobTexas | December 18, 2009 5:43 PM:

    That negative feedback comes from water vapor.

    Your link does not work. And water vapor is a positive feedback, not a negative feedback.

  44. #44 Joseph
    December 18, 2009

    The assumption that warming not accounted for by some currently known mechanism must therefore be anthropogenic introduces substantial uncertainty into the models.

    No one has made that assumption, AFAIK. That’s completely wrong. AGW theory was not arrived by some sort of elimination process: “It must be us then!” See this page for its provenance.

  45. #45 TomB
    December 18, 2009

    We do know that CO2 causes some warming. However, CO2 cannot explain all warming that is observed, which is why people are exploring multiplier effects. The assumption is that since we cannot find a natural explanation, it must be CO2.

    As for falsification, there is nothing to falsify at the moment. When you build a model on past data, then use that data to verify it, you are less likely to prove yourself wrong. Which is why we have to wait.

  46. #46 TomB
    December 18, 2009

    Accidentally pressed “post” too soon.

    This all is somewhat of a digression. The point is that these observations are reasonable, even if you disagree. It is not pseudo-scientific hand-waving. And consequently, Randi’s observations do not suffer from those fallacies.

  47. #47 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    TomB | December 18, 2009 7:18 PM:

    When you build a model on past data, then use that data to verify it, you are less likely to prove yourself wrong.

    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 statistical 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. The claim that climate models are built on past data is entirely wrong.

    Which is why we have to wait.

    That’s been done. Climate scientists were right.

  48. #48 natural cynic
    December 18, 2009

    TomB$36:

    … that the proposed solutions come with uncertainties and potential negative consequences. There is a chance solutions could cripple economic growth, cause more problems (such as ethanol’s negative environmental effects), and fail to remedy warming. There are significant risks on both sides. And, as Randi notes, spending our limited resources on AGW prevents us from using them to solve more certain problems such as world hunger, AIDS, etc.

    I certainly know that proposed solutions for AGW have a significant cost. Economic modeling has put the cost of mitigating measures as a small, but not neg;igable, amount of the world’s GDP – if we start now. The question then is what are the likely costs of waiting another 10 or more years if the same scenario [or worse because we have lost 10 years of efforts] occurs. Much higher. And what is more likely to reduce future costs: starting now so we have 10 years lead time in developing technologies or waiting 10 years and only funding research, just in case AGW warnings are true, and then have to pay much more. A technology that is introduced today and tested and refined during the next few years will, in the long run, be cheaper. Pay me now or [probably] pay much more later.

    Ethanol and other biofuels does show a problem with one of the technologies. It was not researched thoroughly enough and now has unfortunately developed its own momentum. But that’s a political problem that has to be solved more than a tech problem. If AGW had been totally ignored for the time since corn-based ethanol had been introduced, would we have put enough into research to definitively show the economic, ecological and net carbon flux problems? maybe. We just need the cojones to to say no to corn belt pols.

    What a skeptic needs to do is look at the more known risks of action against the risks of being wrong in denying AGW and having to pay for it later. It’s tough.

    What is the greatest threat to global hunger? Climate change. In terms of global GDP, solving the real problem associated with hunger – distribution – is chump change compared to the costs of large scale changes in rainfall and sea level.

    And what could be the right time to start doing something? Now, or 10 years from now – when we will know more, or 20 years from now, when we know even more, but still don’t know everything, or … We just might be lucky, but it comes down to risk taking – and Dirty Harry asked the right question.

  49. #49 natural cynic
    December 18, 2009

    For those who don’t get the ’70’s reference, see this .

  50. #50 llewelly
    December 18, 2009

    The point is that these observations are reasonable, even if you disagree.

    They are reasonable from the viewpoint of someone who has been misled by the paid liars of the fossil fuel industry.
    That’s why I have linked to scientific explanations of why they are wrong; so you will understand that you have been misinformed.

  51. #51 Joseph
    December 18, 2009

    When you build a model on past data, then use that data to verify it, you are less likely to prove yourself wrong.

    That’s not how some of the models work (like the NASA model), as llewelly explained. They actually try to model the Earth with physics rules.

    It’s probably possible to derive a model in a purely statistical way, though. The problem you’ve brought up is common in machine learning. Basically, you train a program with one set of data, and it learns it well, but it’s unable to generalize to other sets of data. This is also called overfitting.

    The way you address that problem is you test the model with data outside of the original training data set. You don’t have to wait for the future. You can test further into the past. For example, you can try a 1000-year hindcast. While 1000-year data is low quality, you can at least verify that the predictions are roughly as expected.

  52. #52 artesian
    December 18, 2009

    Your criticism of (3): “Wegman report ghostwritten”

    This entire revelation of yours is a diatribe of ad hominem. It does not affect the conclusions one mote. You’ve only embarrassed yourself. Anyone can see from the Climategate language that the group was drinking it’s own whiskey, and has not got a whisper of respect for science or their communitity of researchers.

    That situation is unfortunately too common in the age of publish or perish. We reentered the dark ages when 2% increment of CO2 was attributed with magical properties. (Actually, when environmental lobby groups started pension funds.) Randi is right to criticise the complete abandonment of common sense by the true believers. The pyramid of agw is upside down and poised on a point of academic bias. That situation has been shown to be metastable and was thus easily gamed by the greed of the convenors at Copenhagen and may drive the charlatans to ground, Al Gore notwithstanding. If you feel only a climate scientist should comment on science, you are wrong. You listen to modelers who are physicists, but you do not read or listen to Lindzen, and he’s done the research. See the contradiction?

  53. #53 Sid Offit
    December 19, 2009

    Watching Charlie Rose on my 50″ coal-fire plasma TV and listening to the lamentations of Jeff Sachs and James Hansen regarding the failure of Copenhagen, I realize the debate here is taking on an inside baseball like irrelevance.

    It is comforting to know that even during the apogee of Obama and his progressive brand of socialism climate change/global warming legislation is going nowhere. Thus I can continue to wield my sasquatch like carbon footprint with impudence. Sri Lankans and polar bears beware

    Yes the EPA could still be problematic – that is until President elect Palin appoints Dick Cheney as head of the EPA in Jan 2013

  54. #54 BobTexas
    December 19, 2009

    Your link does not work. And water vapor is a positive feedback, not a negative feedback.

    The link works fine. And yes, water vapor increases the GH effect in a positive feedback to longwave IR radiation, but the relative humidity (the percentage of water vapor in the air) is driven in part by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. They respond to each other in an inverse relationship where when CO2 increases a much smaller amount of water vapor decreases in the formula given in the paper and for the reasons stated making a negative feedback to CO2 — not to IR radiation and thermal gain. Read the paper.

  55. #55 Bijan Parsia
    December 19, 2009

    artesian, this time you attack the weakest form of rejoiner (instead of selecting the weakest part of the report).

    Of course, it’s possible to have something which is ghost written or plagiarized and correct. However, it’s a definite concern when something that was presented as independent turns out not to be, esp. when part of the sold credibility was on the independence and lack of an ax to grind. The effect of hiding authors is to make it more likely to underestimate the possible confirmation bias (at a minimum). Thus, the fact that the report plausibly has an unrevealed, highly non-neutral expert shifts the burden of proof heavily. Indeed, this is exactly the sort of complaint the Wegman report mobilizes (in your quote). However, the shoe fits Wegman much more heavily due to the (probable) lack of disclosure.

    This is ad hominem in a non-fallacious sense. You cannot appeal to the authority of the report due to the potential problems with the genesis of the report. That means you have to make the case for the conclusions of the report more directly.

    The social network claims that you appealed were acknowledged by Wegman as exceeding week and definitely outside his competence. He also didn’t get review from e.g., social network/citation/sociologists of science experts, which, again, is the form of one of his complaints (that they climate folks didn’t consult with stats folks…something which is known to be false of the climate community as a whole).

    Finally, I did point to substantive rebuttals of the core point of the report. Notably, the subsequent science has continued to confirm the original conclusions and the results of the original Mann paper are robust to the recommended stats analysis changes recommended.

  56. #56 Anthro
    December 19, 2009

    I am shocked at the number of people who have posted with the general idea that climate change science and its anthropogenic cause is not settled, in the scientific sense. I expect to see that in the newspaper blogs or editorials even, but not on this blog. Orac took this apart piece by piece and many of you glossed over it the same way anti-vaxers must gloss over the science of vaccines.

    Even more shockingly, one of my beloved BBC science podcasts did the same thing–almost word for word the same as Randi’s take on CC, including the “of course, I’m not a scientist” bit! This level of science illiteracy is going to be the end of us (not that I see that as a really bad thing). If you are not an expert, then have the decency to seek out and listen to those who are. My god, would all you doubters/fence-sitters quit your doctor for a naturopath if someone put out a “petition” signed by a bunch of known quacks saying that some docs are doubting germ theory?

  57. #57 a-non
    December 20, 2009

    I am shocked at the number of people who have posted with the general idea that climate change science and its anthropogenic cause is not settled, in the scientific sense. I expect to see that in the newspaper blogs or editorials even, but not on this blog. Orac took this apart piece by piece and many of you glossed over it the same way anti-vaxers must gloss over the science of vaccines.

    Again, I fundamentally disagree with equating anti-vaxers with those who might believe that the dangers from AGW may be overhyped, especially since it is clear that the science supporting global warming is fluid and the ramifications not nearly as clear as folks (some with agendas) make them out to be.

    And you propose a false dichotomy – you can accept the idea that AGW is likely real, and likely a problem while still believing the depth and breadth of the problem is not yet well understood.

  58. #58 elaine
    December 20, 2009

    @GAZZA

    Perhaps you should spend more time within the skeptic community. Randi and other leaders tend to be revered. And I’m not so sure Randi would be the first person to discourage said reverence.

    I prefer to see this as a cautionary tale. There is the ideal of how skeptics behave and believe. And then there is the reality. We’re human and skeptics as a group are no different than any other. We can be sucked into group think as easily as anyone else. And as humans, we all have our sacred cows.

    I am happy to see that so many have not cut Randi any slack. Especially after his response. It’s a reality check for all of us who call ourselves “skeptics”. An opportunity to revisit what we believe and why we believe what we do.

  59. #59 raiseya
    December 20, 2009

    Orac, I last posted here over a year ago. I stopped because you stated that anyone who questioned AGW was a denier, period. I think your blog provides an important viewpoint and resource in the debunking of pseudoscience. It is your blog and your rules, and since questioning the ‘A’ portion of AGW makes one a denier as you still insist, I won’t post again for perhaps another year or two. No loss, I know.

    It is funny to see lofty peer reviewed journals such as New Scientist and Scientific American cited above as authoritative debunking points of reference. The Climategate emails reveal a pattern of altered, missing, and selective data, repression of peer review and FOIA requests, private campaigns against publication of skeptical articles, and data forcing in the computer code itself.

    I was glad to see the 400,000 Antarctic ice core data referenced. It, as well as the 50,000 year Greenland cores show periods of global temperatures well above current temperatures. The current AGW computer models can of course account for and in fact predict their past existence like any good model would.

    Evolution is a fact. The heliocentric model is a fact. AGW is a hypothesis. Extraordinary claims that by implication require the reordering of the world economy stat requires extraordinary proof. In reference to another argument made above, I should now renounce my lifelong athiesm. The price is small (throwing out reason and logic) and the risk is great (burning in hell forever). Heck, I’m convinced! Now where have I seen that argument before?

    One final point — even if the globe is warming and it is human caused, what is the ideal temperature? Would an ice age be preferable from a human survival POV? The Greenland cores suggest that we are due or overdue for another ice age. It is at least somewhat plausible to then argue that human GHG emissions have prevented another ice age thus far.

    /lurk mode back on

  60. #60 Harry Eagar
    December 21, 2009

    Somebody knows the global temperature in 1750 to within a tenth of a degree? Call me skeptical.

    Time to invoke the all-purpose quotation: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think you may be mistaken!’

    That was Cromwell.

  61. #61 Pinko Punko
    December 21, 2009

    You want to really crank Lubos’ chain, or at least get him to descend into obnoxious “I have a super brain” just start saying a bunch of nonsense about Quantum Gravity and wind him up.

  62. #62 Drosera
    December 21, 2009

    Lubos Motl is a totally dishonest character who on his own blog deletes any comment that is even slightly critical of him. Like remarking that there is a difference between weather and climate, or pointing out that it is racist of him to say that people from Tuvalu are wild tribes who have just jumped down from a tree.

    Anyone who doesn’t agree with him is either a socialist or a nazi, or both at the same time.

    He is living proof that a talent for mathematics and general intelligence are not always positively correlated.

  63. #63 Bijan Parsia
    December 21, 2009

    It is funny to see lofty peer reviewed journals such as New Scientist and Scientific American cited above as authoritative debunking points of reference. The Climategate emails reveal a pattern of altered, missing, and selective data, repression of peer review and FOIA requests, private campaigns against publication of skeptical articles, and data forcing in the computer code itself.

    I do not believe the so-called Cliamtegate email reveal anything of this sort (see this thread for some discussion of some of your allegations). Even if it revealed a problem with some researchers or some datasets it by no means says anything about the general science (which does not hinge on CRU’s work).

    The Pascal’s wager retort is not apropos for several reasons. First, Pascal’s wager really depends on the eternal punishment aspects to distort the expected utility argument. Second, there are multiple problems with CO2 emission (see ocean acidification and peak oil for example) which makes the “reordering” strongly desirable. Third, specific likely effects are quite obviously very bad in direct ways — coastal flooding is obviously dire — so the uncertainty isn’t in that things would be bad but at what point the bad things come in (2 degrees? 3 degrees?). For this, prudence is reasonable.

    It’s a bit like choosing to smoke. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer or has severe health problems or would live to die from smoking related problems. But the probabilities make it a sane bet not to smoke.

    Finally, I would hope that you would agree that lots of the argument for AGW is hugely settled (e.g., CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the rise of C02 is significantly anthropogenic, etc.)

    raiseya, I would urge you to reconsider your talking points carefully.

  64. #64 Harry Eagar
    December 21, 2009

    The dose makes the poison, Brian.

    Anyhow, since this is where the medical geniuses gather, why not address the claims that warming will spread, say, malaria?

  65. #65 raiseya
    December 21, 2009

    Bijan, I did go to the thread you referenced. Realclimate.org is cited in refutation to Climategate yet is funded by Greenpeace, hardly a neutral non-biased organization. BTW, thank you for a calm response to my post.

    Much (nearly all?) of the research in climate is funded through public monies. The utmost in transparency should be automatic in such a case. Publish your hypothesis, raw data, computer code, statistical methodology, and any assumptions you make. The WWWeb is a wonderful invention — overnight, a discussion will evolve on every aspect of the hypothesis testing it, seeking flaws, reinforcing it, etc. by hundreds or thousands of people with specific knowledge and expertise. This is happening now, but not with full and open disclosure up front. So many doubts remain.

    Again, asking for a massive reordering of the world economy may be in order to prevent catastrophic runaway global heating. But before the world is going to go along with it, extraordinary and unequivocal proof is going to be required.

    Also, I noted that no response was made to the NOAA ice core data showing periods of much warmer temperatures in the past. Human CO2 emissions could not possibly have caused those events and they self corrected.

  66. #66 Bijan Parsia
    December 22, 2009

    @Harry Eager, do you mean me, “Bijan”? If so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    @raiseya, I’m happy to be calm.

    I’m afraid that by appealing purely to the alleged funding of RealClimate.org, you have missed most of the discussion and made a fairly weak argument. First, to my knowledge, RealClimate.org is not funded by Greenpeace. Second, mere source of funding is not sufficient to refute things, to wit, I was a bit suspicious of Wegman due to his being solicited by people clearly looking for their conclusions, but I was willing to take it seriously. However, there are two sets of problem with Wegman: First, the substance and second the emerging evidence of bias and some deception. (I.e., if the report takes material from a denialist without reporting that aid, that’s outright deception and very problematic if part of the argument for the report is that it is neutral.) as well as the multiple lack of expertise or relevant review (i.e., Wegman et al are neither climate scientists nor social network theorists, nor did they consult or cross check with any).

    So, my initial refutations hold: You picked the most prima facie implausible part of the report which itself is subject to quite damning problems of precisely the sort you think are rather damning indeed. That should at least give you pause.

    Second, your public monies argument is a red herring. Read my last comment on that thread: It will show an FOIA request to the University of Manchester being partially denied due to commercial interest. Lots of public money goes into supporting private interests (look at the SBIR grant program in the states!). A reasonable argument for that is that governments subsidize things that they believe will, in spite of them being privately owned, ultimately contribute to society (and this is the best way to do it).

    So, no. Public funding doesn’t necessarily mean arbitrary disclosure.

    Also, you miss the fairly extraordinary open-ness of the climate science community. RealClimate hosts a page of links to open data and programs. You don’t need a perfect record of everything a scientist does in order to replicate, confirm, or disconfirm their work.

    You also are a bit naive about what happens when you put stuff out there. The uptake of public code and data from climate scientists is fairly small and rarely by people who are making the biggest hue and cry. There’s enough that I think it’s worth doing, but you hugely overestimate the benefits thus hugely underestimate the cost/benefit.

    You also ignore the point that CO2 has lots of negative effects and shifting toward carbon neutrality (or negative) has many benefits. It’s a bet either way and so the status quo needs some positive argument as well.

    What is your bar? Without some evidence what you would consider extraordinary and unequivocal proof in advance there’s no point in engagement with you. After all, you can always shift the goalposts. Suffice to say that the evidence that we’re facing significant warming (it doesn’t need to be “runaway”) and that the warming is of high expected disutility is very well established. Just the consensus across so many fields is telling. It’s like the (non)link between autism and vaccination (shout out, Harry!): What proof will convince an anti-vaccer? None. Certainly not the extraordinarily high level of evidence that there is no connection.

    Finally, with respect to you NOAA ice core data argument, let me point out that I, for one, am not a climate scientist. But I’m pretty skeptical that your single datum has been missed or its significance concealed by thousands of scientists. The repeated brandishing of that feels like the standard pseudoscientific move (“No transitional fossils!”) which, when rebutted, leads to another “clincher”. So, I’m afraid I’m not moved to look up what you’re talking about. But nothing stops you from trying to put together a clear and convincing detailed case (blogs are cheap!) and asking for review from knowledgeable folks. The RealClimate.org people are pretty patient as long as you really are respectful of their time and goodwill (which, I’m afraid, I find you not to be, sorry). If you really put together a detailed case with good source links, I’ll happily look at it and, if I think it will be interesting to pursue, try to tease it out.

    So, again, I urge you to reconsider your talking points. The scattershot nature, the accusatory tone, the inconsistencies with respect to sources you like or dislike, etc. all make for a worrisome package. At the moment, I’m still presuming good faith.

  67. #67 Harry Eagar
    December 22, 2009

    Yeah, you, Bijan. (SOrry, my color vision isn’t so good and your name in light blue on my screen was hard to read.)

    Well, all I meant was, you can hardly turn sround without some climate alarmist claiming that a warmer world will have more malaria in it, despite the fact that — as every medically literate person knows — malaria is not a tropical disease.

    Funny thing, though. You never hear the antiskeptics knocking down that canard.

    Too busy defending the funding of realclimate, and then poohpoohing the source anyway, although funding source DOES seem to be VERY important when the believers get to yell, ‘Big coal! Big coal!’

    I recommend you face the mirror and read this: “So, again, I urge you to reconsider your talking points. The scattershot nature, the accusatory tone, the inconsistencies with respect to sources you like or dislike, etc. all make for a worrisome package.”

  68. #68 Andrew Dodds
    December 23, 2009

    Harry –

    Actually, I’ve rarely seen the malaria argument made, and I would agree that it is a bit dubious.

    As far as I can tell, the main danger(s) from global warming are from a change in climate zones and hence a redistribution of rainfall – which could cause serious problem with agriculture worldwide, and the dangers of sea level rise, which given the proximity of much of the population to sea level represents an extreme danger.

    From a geological perspective, we are already reaching Eemian temperatures, implying sea levels roughly 6 meters higher; the only issue now is how quickly we reach that 6 meters, and looking at the geological record does not offer comfort.

  69. #69 Harry Eagar
    December 23, 2009

    Maybe, but from an historical perspective we are probably already back in the early stages of the ice age that has been the default for the last several million years, with half a mile of ice on top of Minnesota.

    It is really quite extraordinary that so little climate research asks about this.

    If you haven’t heard much about the malaria threat, you haven’t been paying attention. I offer as one piece of evidence this ridiculous introductory sentence to a statement on the threat of malaria:

    ‘Where malaria is found depends mainly on climatic factors such as temperature, humidity, and rainfalls. Malaria is transmitted in tropical and subtropical areas’

    Unbelievably, this nonsense is from the Centers for Disease Control.

  70. #70 Chris
    December 23, 2009

    So, Mr. Eagar, has there been a problem with malaria in Minnesota lately?

  71. #71 Andrew Dodds
    December 24, 2009

    Harry E –

    Although we would by default expect to be moving towards a glaciation now (and have been for the last 6000 years), the full onset of glacial conditions is not expected for a minimum of 5000 years and probably more like 10000.

    However, this is now highly unlikely due to the excess CO2 we have dumped into the atmosphere.

  72. #72 Harry Eagar
    December 24, 2009

    Depends what you mean by lately, Chris. Malaria was the leading cause of death in Illinois back when Abe Lincoln was a corporate lawyer. Malaria didn’t go away because the Upper Midwest has gotten colder.

    Andrew, you say that like it’s a bad thing.

  73. #73 Chris
    December 24, 2009

    So? And how is that recent? There are still mosquitoes in Minnesota and Illinois, are they the type that carry malaria? Many of the states just south of Illinois are considered subtropical. Italy, where much of malaria used to be common is the same latitude as Illinois!

  74. #74 Harry Eagar
    December 24, 2009

    Chris, you seem to be getting half the message. Yes, there are still malaria mosquitoes in Illinois, but there isn’t malaria in Illinois any more, is there?

    Despite the lies being pumped out by climate alarmists and — to my mild surprise — the CDC, malaria is not now nor never has been a tropical disease. It is a disease of poverty.

    Even if the globe does warm, it will not spread malaria except where people are still so poor they cannot defend themselves.

    People who aver that we must do something about (alleged) global warming because of malaria are talking through their hats.

  75. #76 Bijan Parsia
    December 28, 2009

    No worries about the name mixup, Harry.

    To your specific concern.

    I have not, personally, seen anyone making claims about a malaria/AGW connection. I did a bit of googling and there does seem to be some complex discussion going on. Prima facie, it’s no where near as simplistic as you make it out to be. I would be interested in a good discussion of the current state of thinking.

    However, strictly speaking, there is no requirement on my (or on our host) to discussion it. By “no requirement” I include dialectical requirements: It just doesn’t bear on the current discussion in any way. How diseases and species will react to changes in global climate is, of course, an interesting and complex topic, but it’s obviously logically separable from much of the evidence for the change. (There’s some subtle bits here, of course, esp. when one considers certain proxy temperature markers. But that doesn’t apply to malaria which, as far as I know, is not used in any of the temperature reconstructions.)

    So, you are attacking with an irrelevancy. (Similarly with your dose/poison line…that had nothing to do with anything written before or after. It’s literally incoherent in this context.) Rather scattershot, I would say.

    I happily look in the mirror all the time. I fail to see where I’ve gone off any rails or am vulnerable to the complaints I’ve raised. Your funding charges are clearly broken: I didn’t raise funding in this context; I pointed out that the charge of funding bias was false; I do believe that sources of bias are relevant considerations, but only one sort of relevant considerations and not typically dominant; I pointed out that the major conclusions of the Wegman report are wrong; I pointed out that the specific claims appealed to in this thread were noted by Wegman to be purely speculative and that they failed to meet their own standards (didn’t consult with social network people; didn’t consult with climate scientists; failed to disclose dubious connections while relying for credibility on an appearance of no such connections).

    I find it hard to attribute good faith to you in this discussion.

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