The Island of Doubt

James Randi has corrected himself. After this week’s Swift blog post that verged on climate change denialism, he now writes that his observation that the world has cooled over the last 150 years was supposed to have said “warmed.” And he accepts that his description of the Oregon Petition as something that “may be valid” was a mistake.

… 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. Will I do it again with other subjects? Without fail, I promise you. This is what human interaction is all about, what makes it important.

PZ isn’t satisfied and makes some good points about why JR would bother to write about a subject he admits he isn’t really all that up on.

But I’m hoping we can chalk this one up to a bad case of premature punditry and leave it at that. JR deserves at least as much.

Comments

  1. #1 cdrealilst
    December 17, 2009

    Randi is on the right side often enough to give him some slack when he pops off without thinking or makes a typo.

  2. #2 Phil
    December 17, 2009

    I support Randi. He is not a scientist, or a climatologist. He approaches things from a layman’s view, albeit skeptically. If a skeptic like him cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, it tells us what sort of a job the scientific community has done compared to the denialist industry.

  3. #3 JohnV
    December 17, 2009

    That was close?

    In his post he states that GW is describing warming caused by heat release from human activities and then wonders if this warming is anthropogenic.

  4. #4 Guy
    December 17, 2009

    Unfortunately, I think this shows how effective the denial crowd has been in spreading their disinformation on the net. If you were say, a high school student, doing a research paper on global warming where you likely go for information? The Internet right? You would be hard pressed not to be exposed the worst information about AGW there is from people who make their living denying it. Randi probably has some leanings that caused him to look at, other than reputable sources, or maybe he really just didn’t know better.

  5. #5 dhogaza
    December 17, 2009

    In his post he states that GW is describing warming caused by heat release from human activities and then wonders if this warming is anthropogenic.

    Yes, either he doesn’t get the whole concept of how GHGs heat the world, or he’s muddled up this post very badly, too.

  6. #6 Jason A.
    December 17, 2009

    These comments:

    If a skeptic like him cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, it tells us what sort of a job the scientific community has done compared to the denialist industry.

    Unfortunately, I think this shows how effective the denial crowd has been in spreading their disinformation on the net.

    I think point to the most worrisome thing here…

  7. #7 Deen
    December 17, 2009

    On the other hand, it’s important that even Randi isn’t beyond criticism, and gets the full force of it when he says something that’s wrong. No sacred cows, no prophets.

  8. #8 Katharine
    December 17, 2009

    It still kind of weirds me out that he’s all ‘Oh look at me I’m a prominent skeptic but with no scientific training whatsoever let’s make a comment on global warming’.

    Dude’s good at calling out magic and superstitiony bullshit. But let we who have the scientific training do the calling out of the unscientific bullshit.

  9. #9 thingsbreak
    December 17, 2009

    JR deserves at least as much.

    Doesn’t he- I dunno- deserve being called out for his bullshit?

    If you took his posts and simply substituted Intelligent Design or Jenny McCarthy anti-vax “doubts” in place of his about anthropogenic warming, who would be sticking up for it?

    Coddling him because of either his “status” in the skeptic community or his age/health seems like the most insulting thing people could do in this situation.

  10. #10 Michael Varney
    December 18, 2009

    You know what I find most interesting while reading about this subject, and the posts here, which are representative of many so called skeptics? The fact that many people seem to equate being skeptical with being right.

    Skepticism does NOT mean being correct.

    Skepticism is asking questions, and looking for evidence rather than blindly accepting what one is told.

    Skepticism will not always lead one directly to the right answer to any question, be it scientific, moral, political or what not.

    Skepticism does not constrain one to stating an opinion unless one is right.

    Skepticism allows one to change their mind in the face of evidence, not in the face of browbeating, political pressure or snarky comments and ridicule.

    Skepticism is not being afraid to ask stupid questions, and not being afraid to seem stupid to others while asking them.

    Skepticism about a topic does not require you to be an expert in that topic.

    I think many “skeptics” would do well by understanding these realities.

    A skeptic being wrong is NOT a close call. (“Phew that was close”)

  11. #11 Anna Haynes
    December 18, 2009

    Sounds like Randi’s a hedgehog, not a fox.
    (in a Berlin/Tetlock way of speaking)

  12. #12 Michael Blarney
    December 18, 2009

    Scientists are supposed to be skeptical, nicht wahr? Not true believers and defenders of the faith. Persons with a BS or BA in some peripherally scientific topic should not consider themselves experts on political topics such as climate disaster.

    Burn the heretics! Just trying to fit in with the crowd.

  13. #13 Michael Varney
    December 18, 2009

    I see you don’t undersand what it is to be a skeptic, Michael. Skepticism of done right fights off the propencity to defend the true faith. Lol!

  14. #14 Doyle
    December 20, 2009

    Bullshit. Randi spouted off on a topic without bothering to actually know much about it. That is generally considered to be expressing an uninformed opinion or, less politely, talking out of one’s ass. Apparently skepticism has become a euphemism for opinionated ignorance.

  15. #15 paulm
    December 21, 2009

    Public attitudes in Canada have changed hugely over the last couple of months. Call-ins to the majority of MSM radio programs all mainly stating that CC is critical and we need to do something about it. This is very promising. I think the email hack issue backfired.

  16. #16 pough
    December 21, 2009

    I like how Randi admonishes PZ for posting first and asking questions later. I guess PZ should learn to be moreless like Randi…

    (I’m not sure if I got the right tag, but preview’s still busted on this site. James, if you need some help, let me know. It looks like there is at least one missing template file – “HTML Head”, or else some code is still trying to load a template you were hoping to avoid.)

  17. #17 QrazyQat
    December 21, 2009

    I think Randi is leaning too much on Penn and Teller and sharing in their Libertarianism. His waffling insistence that those who corrected his BS simply didn’t understand him is pretty much how every pseudoscience nut handles such an event. And that’s sad, because he’s personally seen this done by at least a hundred dowsers, blinfold see-throughers, and others by now; he should know better.

  18. #18 Qiggley
    January 8, 2010

    “PZ isn’t satisfied and makes some good points about why JR would bother to write about a subject he admits he isn’t really all that up on.”

    At least JR admits he’s not really all that up on a subject he writes about. PZ goes on for post after post about things he knows nothing about but won’t admit to his willful ignorance.

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