Curiously incurious

While on the subject of being talked about, a columnist writing for Pajamas Media recently took a pot-shot at me and my How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic series.

No publicity is bad publicity, right? Plus, a close second to imitation, mockery is another of the most sincere forms of flattery, at least in the blog world, so I'm not complaining.

On to some substance in a moment, but one thing I found rather remarkable was that even though they get some 450,000 hits per day, my traffic barely registered a blip, despite a prominent link in the first paragraph! The main thrust of the article was about how "incurious" my approach to the science is, but I guess their readers took that as a direction rather than an admonishment! (They need to get over to Eli's place where he always reminds us to RTFR.)

The piece started out very nicely:

Question global warming theory by commenting on an alarmist-based site and a reply will likely direct you to the writings of blogger Coby Beck. A self-described software developer specializing in "artificial intelligence," Mr. Beck is the author of "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic" -- a series of phenomenally popular blog posts seen as unassailable dogma among his fellow believers.

"phenomemal", "unassailable", it almost made me giggle out loud! I especially like the scare quotes around "artificial intelligence." (Hey...wait a minute! ...what does he mean by "dogma?")

It quickly turned ugly:

Had it been his intent, Beck could not possibly have forwarded more solid grounds for delegitimizing his movement. "Climate Skeptic" is a mash of remarkably cursory, blinkered responses, leaving unanswered questions readily apparent to the cold, scientific observer. Yet Beck's charges seem quite willing to battle with his tinfoil-and-cardboard, Hanukkah-play weaponry, swinging madly and wondering why the supposed faith-based and unenlightened are so slow to die or convert.

In love with theory and the "righteousness" of the cause, Beck's work may be the definitive historical snapshot of the alarmist movement's startlingly anti-intellectual approach. A movement that assumes to champion the scientific method's sound defeat of ideology, yet stands content to be so blithely -- and publicly -- incurious.

Okay. He's not a friend after all. (And yet, I'm still giggling!)

It seems he feels insulted that in my "levels of sophistication" categorization of climate skeptic arguments ("silly," "naive," "specious," and "scientific") only 6 of 57 fall into "scientific." Sorry, but look at what I have to work with, it is just not my fault! That said, in reviewing that breakdown just now, there is probably a case to be made for some of the topics being moved from specious to scientific. The thing is, I tried to considered how the arguments are used as much as how technical they are. For example, the CO2 lags, not Leads article is a fairly technical one with lots of meaty science but the thrust of it is a false dichotomy, not a disagreement over theory or data. Who says it has to be one or the other, lags or leads? CO2 can do both. It requires some intimate knowledge of the actual science to present this objection to current climate theory (versus parroting it), but anyone with that much scientific insight must also know that it is a flawed argument. That's why it falls in the specious category. Just like how Bob Carter clearly must know, as a real scientist, that he is lying with statistics when he says global warming stopped in 1998, the argument is a calculated deception.

After expressing his distaste for my "snobbery" and pretended "intellectual superiority" (hang on, I thought I was "anti-intellectual"? Make up your mind!), Mr. Steinberg selects a single article to illustrate his point. Nothing like a sample of one to analyze a population!

But it's okay, I like the article he picks. In fact I just mentioned it above and it is an excellent topic to use as an example, containing so many of the facets of the faux debate.

On the one hand, we have an excellent repository of climate data in the ice cores. Really there is none better. And when you look at it, the way greenhouse gases and temperatures track so closely is a very compelling argument for their relationship. So this gives the advocates of the science a really compelling visual, especially when you add on where CO2 levels are today, never mind where they will probably be in 50 years (hint: off this chart, somewhere above the top of this paragraph)

(image courtesy of Global Warming Art)

But on the other hand, when you look closer and find out that for the first 600 to 1000 years of the 10,000 year long warming cycles temperatures were rising on their own, you are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that life is complicated. This gives the denialists something to seize upon and use to persuade people who have not put much thought into global warming science. They get to falsely claim this contradicts global warming theory ("see, rising temperatures cause elevated CO2, not the other way around") and, more importantly, they get to claim that the librul scientists are trying to pull the wool over all of our eyes.

Actually sorting it out is just complicated enough for the sceptics to win this one hands down, because remember, "doubt is their product."

So now that we know what to expect, what does Steinberg have to say? It turns out, not much. He kindly quotes the entire article and then inserts questions and comments inline in bold. I was going to go through and answer them, but you know, there is just no there there. I point out that for 90% of the time temperatures rose, they rose together with CO2, all he says is "so?". When I say "This remarkably detailed archive of climatological evidence clearly allows for CO2 acting as a cause for rising temperatures" rebutting the sceptic claim that it disproves CO2 as a warming agent Steinberg can only manage a mocking "'clearly allows?'" Yes, clearly allows. The ice core data does not disprove anything, it clearly allows for CO2 as a forcing. Not every peice of evidence is the definitive smoking gun, in fact no single piece is. That is what the denialists never acknowledge, that the case for anthropogenic global warming is made of a mountain of evidence put together over 100 years. It did not rise and it will not fall on a single paper or data set.

A bit further down he expresses incredulity that a small orbital forcing melted miles thick ice sheets. Well, exactly! Orbital forcing alone was not enough to do this, that's the whole point!

The rest is more of the same, intentional obtuseness and incredulousness. He also throws in a complaint that I don't have all the gory technical details in line, only linked to. But, you know, I always intended this as a laymen's guide to the science. If you want the equations (and why not?) follow the links. Oh, right, his readers don't like to do that.

So it looks like all in all, our expectations from above were well met indeed.

Anyway, to wrap up where I started, I still appreciate the attention, negative though it is, so thanks Pajamas Media! I just hope Glenn Beck will not make a sound bite out of me!

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I read this when it was first linked to in the comments. My first impression was that he was trying to implicitly deconstruct your argument based on the fact that you're a software developer. I thought this was pretty goofy, considering he himself is a fitness training company owner. Not that fitness training company owners CAN'T comment on Global Warming, just that its odd to mock the qualifications of others while doing so.

Also, it's important to remember how Pajamas Media (overall) feels about expert opinion, so we really shouldn't be too surprised that they completely reject scientific arguments.

Maybe next they will send Joe the correspondent Plumber out to examine the whole global warming conspiracy thing...?

This is typical alarmist claptrap. I do not think anyone disputes a correlation between CO2 and temperature evident in past records. Whether it laggs or leads does not disprove AGW. Though lagging does prove that alot of alarmists are idiots. Whether it laggs or leads is important because the magnitude of CO2 forcing is purportedly driven empirically from the correlation. A lagging relationship means there is another large magnitude forcing present, and without establishing the strength of that forcing you can not derive that of CO2 - atleast not solely from that correlation. You are correct the role of skeptics is to cast doubt - and science is supposed to be skeptical. It is not the role of skeptics to prove any alternate explanation, it is to challenge alarmists to prove their arguments. What should be evident to alarmists is that time is not proving kind to the AGW theory. This debate has resulted in substantial further research, and it is increasingly evident that the earth's climate is not following the alarmist model.

By Dave Lynch (not verified) on 09 Jul 2009 #permalink