Pharyngula

I must be some kind of purist

Lots of sources are telling me about Pat Robertson’s sudden acceptance of the fact of global warming. I’m sorry, but it’s no cause for rejoicing. He accepts it for the wrong reasons.

This week the heat index, the perceived temperature based on both air temperatures and humidity, reached 115 Fahrenheit in some regions of the U.S. East Coast. The 76-year-old Robertson told viewers that was “the most convincing evidence I’ve seen on global warming in a long time.”

If there’s one broad, overall message I wish everyone would get from this blog and from my teaching, it’s that science isn’t about getting the right answers—it’s about how you arrive at your answers, by verifiable, testable, repeatable methods and logic and good evidence. Deciding that global warming occurs because you’re having a hot, sticky, uncomfortable summer: bad and unscientific. Deciding that global warming occurs because the climate research community has evaluated multiple lines of evidence and documented an anomalous pattern: smart.

I’m sorry, Jake, but while getting the religious right on the side of conservation is a good thing, doing so on the say-so of an incompetent authority like Pat Robertson who uses an anecdote about the weather to justify it is a bad thing. What are we going to do if Colorado has a blizzard in January, and James Dobson uses that to argue that an Ice Age is on the way? Or if Jerry Falwell has a bout of incontinence, so he prophesies great floods?

Comments

  1. #1 Bronze Dog
    August 4, 2006

    *Unenthusiastic yay.*

    But we know he’ll eventually find a way to rationalize the weather anecdote and get back to his 2,000+ year old ways.

    I don’t know much about the global warming issue, but I know that one heatwave doesn’t prove it true, just like one cold snap doesn’t disprove it.

  2. #2 craig
    August 4, 2006

    A few years backa religious woman I know decided that the string of cold rainy summers we were having were because of “all these shuttles they’re launching these days.”

    That was the first time, but not the last that I came across someone who had come to that conclusion.

  3. #3 roger
    August 4, 2006

    thanks for that pz. i heard about brother robertson last night on the news and had the same reaction as you. the news also reported snow in johannesburg. maybe the northern hemisphere is warming and the southern is cooling? let’s ask nostradomus.

  4. #4 No One of Consequence
    August 4, 2006

    It’s not surprising that Robertson would base his opinion on anecdotal evidence. It is the story of his life.

    He’s not real big on logic or critical thinking.

  5. #5 quork
    August 4, 2006

    I understand your unimpressment with Robertson’s reasoning ability and evaluation of available evidence. However, there certainly is some value in coming to the right answer, no matter how you got there. This principle ought to be clear to someone who understands natural selection.

  6. #6 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    August 4, 2006

    Jerry Falwell has a bout of incontinence, so he prophesies great floods?

    Genesis 9:15 – “And I will remember my covenant, which [is] between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

    (Of course, God must’ve been drunk on December 26, 2004 and forgotten all about this verse, so maybe Falwall COULD talk about great floods.)

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    “However, there certainly is some value in coming to the right answer, no matter how you got there.”

    Yes, if one assumes a selection procedure. It seems selection works badly on ideas…

  8. #8 Steve LaBonne
    August 4, 2006

    Hey,a plague on both the religious-right and corporate wings of the Rethug party- however, if the former are starting to realize just how badly they’ve been had by the latter, the resulting crackup can only be good for the rest of us. Climate could be one of the issues that brings that about.

  9. #9 Max Udargo
    August 4, 2006

    I had the exact same reaction upon reading about Robertson’s “conversion.” Even when he’s right, he’s an idiot.

  10. #10 Mena
    August 4, 2006

    I have also heard the space shuttle theory for climate change. Does anyone know what that’s about? The woman who I was talking to at work said something about having heard it on the news, which is plausible since they seem to have been harping on the apocalypse a whole heck of a lot lately.

  11. #11 craig
    August 4, 2006

    mena, the people I’m talking about were saying this in the early 90s, well before they would have heard of climate change…. they were just complaining about the weather, essentially.

    They never dared to explain why they thought this – I can only imagine “poking holes in the sky” is about the furthest they’ve thought it through.

  12. #12 N.Wells
    August 4, 2006

    “There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in,
    but they’re ever so small, that’s why the rain is so thin”
    Spike Milligan.

  13. #13 dr. dave
    August 4, 2006

    I wouldn’t expect this conversion to result in the Right “getting on the side of conservation”. Rather, I expect the change of heart has more to do with amassing more evidence for the impending Apocalypse.

  14. #14 newbie
    August 4, 2006

    First time commenter, long time reader. I have a question about this comment:

    “If there’s one broad, overall message I wish everyone would get from this blog and from my teaching, it’s that science isn’t about getting the right answers–it’s about how you arrive at your answers, by verifiable, testable, repeatable methods and logic and good evidence.”

    Isn’t this a bit strong? I don’t think I agree with this, but I think I would agree with the slightly weaker “science isn’t only about getting the right answers”. So, for example, in this case though Robertson got the right answer, he’s certainly no scientist. That is, just because he got the right answer doesn’t mean he is doing science. But isn’t the reason science is about “how you arrive at your answers, by verifiable, testable, repeatable methods and logic and good evidence” is because we think that these methods get us the right answer or closer to it than any other method (e.g., guessing, appeal to unwarranted authority, faith, etc.)?

  15. #15 Christian
    August 4, 2006

    I shudder at the though of Fallwell with incontinence. That man is so full of waste products, he really could produce a global flood.

  16. #16 Scott Hatfield
    August 4, 2006

    PZ:

    Would you rather be right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the right reasons? I don’t ask this question idly.

    Earlier in my teaching career, when students tried to pigeonhole my views on global warming (they’re slick enough to know a controversy), I sort of hedged my bets and would say something to the effect that the planet appears to be warming but we needed more data before we could conclude that it wasn’t ‘business as usual.’

    I knew darn well that the emerging consensus seemed to be not only that the planet was warming, but that it was in large measure forced by unprecedented disturbance of the atmosphere by human activity. But I also had in mind that episodes of ‘Chicken Little’ alarmism tended to undercut the effectiveness of scientific claims and so I was cautious.

    In general, I think scientists tend to exercise similar restraint. Regardless of our personal views, when it comes time to making claims, we tend to present new findings cautiously and provisionally, and my reluctance to take a stand based on the evidence I had was certainly not a personal reluctance. I was cautious because I had been trained to be cautious.

    Then I read the IPCC report in 2001 and realized that my latter fears were unjustified. If anything, the situation was more serious than the popular press was reporting at the time. And I came to regret my caution, even though it proceeded from the sort of critical attitude embraced by science, an attitude sorely lacking elsewhere.

    So, was I wrong for the right reasons? It’s discouraging to realize that the very things that give science its strength tend to weaken it in a political realm that wants certainty, and will get it by any means necessary, even if that means giving face time to some preacher who is right for the wrong reasons.

    Thoughtfully…Scott

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    August 4, 2006

    I’d rather be wrong for the right reasons. I know already that I must be wrong on some things, but adhering to the principles of the scientific method means I have hope of correcting my errors, someday.

  18. #18 Millimeter Wave
    August 4, 2006

    Whilst I’d agree that arriving at the right answer for the wrong reasons is nothing to cheer, I think it’s worth pointing out that Robertson did reference things other than just the high temperatures this year:

    …the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air.

    I haven’t found a complete transcript yet, but this particular quote does encourage me to seek one out and see what he had to say beyond the snippets reported in Yahoo! news and elsewhere.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Robertson is an ass, but I think he may be due just a little more credit than you’re giving him in this instance…

  19. #19 James Allen
    August 4, 2006

    So will all the conservative critics out there jump on Robertson for flip-flopping now?

    The only way global warming can be stopped is through science. If the process you use to question things isn’t scientific, then the process you use to answer them probably won’t be either. So although I think it is a good sign that Robertson is thinking about the possibility (if he is thinking about it then awareness of the problem must have penetrated pretty deep), I don’t really welcome his support.

    Doesn’t he believe that the world is about to end anyway? So why would he care about global warming? No one will be here to deal with it anyway.

  20. #20 Amit Joshi
    August 4, 2006

    Mullah Robertson is no fool, he knows global warming is real. But Al Gore owns the issue politically, and the Mullah values partisanship more than the earth.

    But by now most people recognize the reality, due in large part to Gore’s movie. It’s time for the wingnuts to move on, and all they want is an excuse to jump ship. Anything that doesn’t acknowledge the scientific community, or their de facto spokesman, Gore.

    Hence this bullshit about the recent warm weather convincing the Mullah.

  21. #21 JakeB
    August 4, 2006

    “Or if Jerry Falwell has a bout of incontinence, so he prophesies great floods?”

    Damnit, PZ, I’m trying to eat my lunch here.

  22. #22 lazybratsche
    August 4, 2006

    roger: maybe the northern hemisphere is warming and the southern is cooling?

    I think you’re on to something… aren’t there more pirates in the southern hemisphere compared to the northern? The Wikipedia entry on pirates says that the majority of piracy happens in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the coastal waters of South America. What we need to do is start attracting pirates to northern waters.

  23. #23 Kagehi
    August 4, 2006

    Look at it this way, these are the sort of people who win Darwin awards with logic like: “The doctor told me it was poisonous, but I didn’t believe him until three of my friends died and I started to feel sick. Is there anything you can do for me?”

    And it also lies at the heart of the entire problem. Its better to be wrong, but trying to do something that also benefits long term improvements in technology and environmental sustainability, than be right, but assume these things will all “eventually” be figured out by some nebulous “someone else”. There may be some cases where this sort of forward thinking is actually destructive, but *usually* it is only destructive when the goal ignores every short term consequence, or the long term difficulties stemming from cleaning up the mess, or worse when delays in any attempt to solve the problem are so extreme that the only solutions that are “possible” *must* be destructive ones. Of course, for some, long term difficulties are irrelevant, and they would rather hope they are right and a solution isn’t necessary, than actually find a long term solution. I think that about sums things up.

  24. #24 PZ Myers
    August 4, 2006

    these are the sort of people who win Darwin awards with logic like: “The doctor told me it was poisonous, but I didn’t believe him until three of my friends died and I started to feel sick. Is there anything you can do for me?”

    Oh, yes. The people who snipe at science by sneeringly bringing up the problem of induction, but gloss over the problem of evil in their own theology. It’s a bad combination.

  25. #25 Dan
    August 4, 2006

    This week the heat index, the perceived temperature based on both air temperatures and humidity, reached 115 Fahrenheit in some regions of the U.S. East Coast. The 76-year-old Robertson told viewers that was “the most convincing evidence I’ve seen on global warming in a long time.”

    Sure, and in Colorado, it’s been floating around in the upper 50s and lower 60s all summer. Instances of extreme local temperatures neither prove nor disprove global warming.

    I think this is just another illustration of how deeply and pathologically self-obsessed these people are. The logic goes like this: “I’m hot today, therefore the planet is warming.” They don’t (and I believe can’t) understand the difference between “the temperature in my backyard in BFE, North Carolina, at exactly 2:15pm on 4 August, 2006,” and “global average temperatures over the past 300,000 years.”

  26. #26 Tim F
    August 4, 2006

    Yep, me too.

  27. #27 Rocky
    August 4, 2006

    PZ, don’t you realize that Pat recieved this revelation directly through prayer???
    In fact, I’m absolutely sure that before very long, he, Pat Robertson, will take credit for bing the man who foretold of the worlds coming clamity, which of course can only be corrected by prayer, and a small donation to his coffer.

  28. #28 G. Tingey
    August 4, 2006
  29. #29 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    newbie:

    “I think I would agree with the slightly weaker “science isn’t only about getting the right answers”"

    This comes back to if ideas can be evaluated. Science *is* an evaluation method for ideas, so as PZ says even wrong ideas are corrected later. In the absence of science, there is some ideas that may be well evaluated, see the comment on “Darwin awards”. Others just hang around indefinitely because there are little or no means to see if they are right. Politics comes to mind. :-)

  30. #30 Kristine
    August 4, 2006

    So, why should Pat “Pimp My Theology” Robertson suddenly decide to believe in global warming, if he thinks the world is going to end soon, anyway? Simple. He is a fool; yet he does believe (now) in global warming; moreover, he believes in his own healing powers; thus, he’s going to wish global warming away from his church and into the next county, as he claims to have done with that tornado. (Or was it Oral Roberts who made that claim? These fundies are all sounding alike to me.)

  31. #31 hexatron
    August 4, 2006

    If the heat wave drives votes against the Party of God and Mammon this November, it will have been well worth the sweat.

  32. #32 David Harmon
    August 4, 2006

    A stopped clock is right twice a day….

  33. #33 George
    August 5, 2006

    Fact: Pat can steer hurricanes with his prayers (he did it with Gloria in 1985).

    If Pat asks his millions of listeners to pray real hard, they might just be able to make global warming go away. So let’s be nice to Pat – the fate of civilization could rest in his hands.

  34. #34 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    August 5, 2006

    Why would someone who is religiously inclined to believe the end of the world is coming soon also believe in global warming?

    I wonder if there’s a connection!

  35. #35 Alon Levy
    August 5, 2006

    The advantage of having a YEC who realizes that the world is warming is that he can honestly say, “CO2 levels are higher than they’ve ever been since Creation”; “CO2 levels are higher than they’ve ever been in the last 20 million years” is less spectacular.

  36. #36 Keith Douglas
    August 5, 2006

    newbie: Actually, I would argue that the strength of science is not getting close to right answers, but giving us good tools to find error and improve upon it. I often put it this way: you can get to the truth by chance sometimes or for stupid reasons (like in the issue we are discussing) but what if you make a mistake? How will you know and do better?

  37. #37 Jason
    August 5, 2006

    Christian: “I don’t accept global warming.”
    PZ: “You idiot!”
    Christian: “I’ve finally accepted global warming.”
    PZ: “You idiot!”

    Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. I suspect the only way Robertson could’ve received praise from PZ is if he had said, “I’ve finally accepted global warming and it’s made me reject God!!! Praise Darwin!!!

  38. #38 Dan
    August 5, 2006

    Christian: “I don’t accept global warming.”
    PZ: “You idiot!”
    Christian: “I’ve finally accepted global warming.”
    PZ: “You idiot!”
    Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. I suspect the only way Robertson could’ve received praise from PZ is if he had said, “I’ve finally accepted global warming and it’s made me reject God!!! Praise Darwin!!!”

    Yeah, pretty much.

    Notice, though, how getting this one little thing right doesn’t mean that you’re no longer a shrieking little fascist shill.

  39. #39 horrobin
    August 5, 2006

    Christian: “I don’t accept global warming, despite the preponderance of scientific evidence”
    PZ: “You idiot!”
    Christian: “I’ve finally accepted global warming, because I’m hot.”
    PZ: “You idiot!”

    Corrected. Glad to help.

  40. #40 Alexander Vargas
    August 6, 2006

    Hmmm you know, I wouldn’t congratulate myself at all for being wrong for the “right” reasons…It kinda means that they were not really good reasons after all, that I played it narrow-mindedly or were too satisfied with some answer…
    I’d rather have the ability to know when to shrug

  41. #41 Lyle Gaulding
    August 6, 2006

    A winter or two ago, Ann Coulter’s toes got cold. She KNOWS there is no such thing as global warming.

  42. #42 TokyoTom
    August 7, 2006

    PZ, Pat Robertson’s conversion on global warming IS cause for rejoicing, for many reasons, even if you don’t trust his thought processes. As for the latter, none of us is ever completely rational, and most of us find it extremely difficult to change our minds. At some point, it may just be the slightest of straws that breaks the back and forces a reconsideration and change of view.

    As for rejoicing, Robertson’s conversion will help many others to change theirs, adds to the growing wave of conversions from those once thought safely in the Bush camp – including those who announced the “Evangelical Climate Initiative” in February: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/08/national/08warm.html?ex=1297054800&en=c3998565b07f9657&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss.

    Conversions like this put growing political pressure on the Administration, which is already facing a revolt from Republicans in Congress, and Republicans everywhere must now must be worried that they are very vulnerable to inroads by Democrats on both global warming and foreign wars – both rather “inconvenient truths”.

    With Schwartzenegger in California and now the Houston Chronicle now in open revolt, it’s possible that we are finally seeing a tipping point in political discourse on climate change in the US.

    Whether the Republicans will be able to recover in time and limit the political damage – a likely factor in Bush’s appointment of Hank Paulsson of Goldman/Nature Conservancy as Treasury Secretary and its figleaf Asia-Pacific Initiative – remains an open question, but there is no doubt that things are finally starting to move. And that is cause for rejoicing!

  43. #43 Joe Verlaine
    August 8, 2006

    I’m also inclined to take a more pragmatic approach and view Robertson’s “conversion” in a positive light, albeit reluctantly. I’d also like to comment on one statement in PZ’s opening post:

    “Deciding that global warming occurs because the climate research community has evaluated multiple lines of evidence and documented an anomalous pattern: smart.”

    I completely agree except I can see how the layperson, especially someone with a conservative-bent, can fail to get an accurate read on the mainstream research community. There are enough critiques and disinformation by global warming “skeptics” out there to create the illusion that there is a lack of consensus around human-induced warming. Much of this has to do with the desire of the mainstream press to appear “balanced” and give equal weight to both sides of an issue, even if the sides are 99 to 1. It also has to do with the ease of posting information on the Internet without peer review.

    I think the scientific community needs to work harder to engage the public, for example through forums like this, plus seminars, community ed classes, etc. The average person does not know have access to scientific journals or seminars, or even know about the IPCC.

  44. #44 David Marjanović
    October 14, 2006

    Jason… why exactly do you call Paul Robertson a Christian? He’s a hypocrite exactly as described in the New Testament. He owns a diamond mine in Africa — “Rather will a ship rope pass through the eye of a needle…” He preaches hate. “If I had faith so that I could move mountains, but did not have love…” “Not those will enter the Kingdom of Heaven who call me ‘Lord! Lord!’, but…” I could easily go on for an hour or two.

  45. #45 frank
    September 24, 2008

    you probably are