Archive for the ‘Confirmation bias’ Category
As it says on my About page, “The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” — John Dryzek (2005: 70).
This is the almost-ubiquitous advice of stockbrokers but, sadly, it is almost universally ignored.
I have never died before. Does this mean I can presume upon my immortality?
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a few suggestions to all those who think concern for the environment is a false alarm, a new religion, or an excuse to curtail your freedom or tax you more heavily:
1. Grow up.
2. Go back to school.
3. Open your eyes and look out the window.
4. Stop cherry-picking data that reinforces your prejudice.
5. Stop ignoring all the data that contradicts your misperception of reality.
6. Read this Wikipedia article on the New World Order – it might just open up your mind.
7. Read this Skeptical Science article on the History of Climate Science – it might just resolve your confusion.
In the Preface to my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, I make clear that it was reading Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, that prompted me to do the research that my book summarises.
Therefore, I am delighted here to reproduce the review of my book by Vice-President of the Geological Society, Dr Colin Summerhayes, now published on Amazon.co.uk, in which this comparison is made. Although Dr Summerhayes has asked me to stress that his review his solely a statement of his personal opinions, he agreed that it would be appropriate for me to highlight the expertise that perhaps make his opinions significant: Dr Summerhayes is a marine geologist and oceanographer with a particular interest in the Antarctic. As such, since 2010, he has been an Emeritus Associate of the of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) – a part of Cambridge University. Prior to that, Dr Summerhayes was Executive Director of the International Council for Science’s Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and, as such, was also one of the editors of the Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report published by SCAR in 2002. For the record, Dr Summerhayes was also, to my knowledge, the only other non-sceptical person in the audience when Professor Richard Lindzen gave his now infamous talk in a Committee Room of the Palace of Westminster in February 2012 (which I refer to as Lindzengate).
However, without further ado, here is the review posted on Amazon by Dr Summerhayes:
In 2010, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway did a service to science when they documented the manufacture of doubt about human-caused global warming by many of the same people who brought us ‘safe’ cigarettes. Most of their book focussed on doubt generated in the USA. The attack on the science of global warming remains shrill, and it comes from within the UK as well. Martin Lack has provided much the same service as Oreskes and Conway by documenting the UK’s sources of doubt about this socially important topic. Lack starts out by addressing the philosophical roots of scepticism, its misappropriation for ideological reasons and the psychological causes of denial. He lists the main UK organizations, scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others promulgating ‘denial’ of the science of human-induced climate change. Rather than labelling these ‘agents’ ‘deniers’, Lack prefers to label them ‘sceptic’ or ‘contrarian’, citing Robert Henson’s definition of the climate change contrarian position (in the 2008 second edition of “The Rough Guide to Climate Change”) as: “The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem”. Scientific scepticism is healthy and widespread within the climate science community, the group of people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to human-caused climate change. Their collective view could be called ‘scientific consensus, or scientific authority, or conventional scientific wisdom’. It is this ‘mainstream’ view that is attacked by the contrarians. Their common argument is that this or that particular point is wrong, hence the whole edifice is wrong. Such an approach displays a fatal misunderstanding of what Karl Popper meant by falsification. Read Lack and learn.
My book is now available in electronic form – search any online bookstore website for the ISBN 9781481783989 – and if it does not show up on Amazon.com please pester them until it does.
What we know is this: As a whole (including the oceans), on average, over the long term, the Earth is getting warmer; and that it is doing so at a rate equivalent to – or in excess of – that at which it emerged from the last Ice Age. Therefore, since we were already in the middle of a warm inter-glacial period, the question remains, which one of these are we now witnessing:
ACD = Anthropogenic climate disruption; or
AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming?
One is consistent with the reality that Earth’s climate is complicated (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the fact that it can be unusually cold in one place whilst unusually hot somewhere else (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the bulk of atmospheric physics; thermodynamics; and the Laws of conservation of Energy, Mass and Water (whereas the other is not).
Have you worked out which is which yet? If not, any or all of the following may help:
…The Sunday Telegraph starts advocating polices that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
Two days ago, one of Britain’s oldest and most-respected broadsheet newspapers decided to shred the last few bits of credibility it might have had by publishing an anonymous editorial piece calling for the Climate Change Act 2008 to be repealed.
I am therefore sorry but, I just had to post this response:
Thank goodness the Sunday Telegraph is not a widely-read newspaper. This kind of advocacy for policies that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption is short-sighted to say the least.
If you don’t like our countryside being despoiled by windfarms, new sets of National Grid power lines, and new nuclear plants… What you should be advocating is greater subsidies for households that install solar PV panels on their roofs, which will reduce UK demand for centrally-generated electricity of all kinds.
Oh and, by the way, shale gas is not low-carbon intensity: Because of the methane release it involves, it is extremely high-carbon intensity. Now we know we need to reduce our global CO2 emissions and that further delay will mean greater ultimate cost (i.e. Sir John Beddington, today)… the international push to extract shale gas – and all other unconventional hydrocarbons – is completely irrational.
If anyone is curious, the pronouncements of the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, to which I referred above, can be seen and heard in this video on the BBC website. This was a fascinating development, coming, as it did, on the same day that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) announced that it was willing to enter into discussions with the Royal Society – to try and resolve the fact that the two organisations hold diametrically-opposed views regarding the validity of the scientific consensus that ACD is already happening.
This prompted me to send the GWPF’s Director, social anthropologist Benny Peiser, the following email:
Dear Dr Peiser,
I note, with genuine interest, your acceptance of the offer by the Royal Society to put the GWPF in touch with mainstream climate scientists.
I note also the public statement by the Sir John Beddington – who says evidence of anthropogenic climate disruption is now unequivocal and further delay in reducing emissions will mean harder and more expensive policy changes in future.
I should therefore be very grateful to know how much longer you think the GWPF is going to continue to insist that the science is uncertain and that calls for action are politically motivated. For example, how long will it be before the GWPF accepts that we need to decarbonise our power generation systems – by implementing a revenue-neutral Fee and Dividend system as proposed by Dr James Hansen and many others.
Yours very sincerely,
No answer as yet.
‘The Science Delusion’ by Rupert Sheldrake
I was rummaging around on the blog of someone who recently re-blogged something of mine, when I found the post below and decided I just had to do the same (i.e. re-blog it). The post includes an embedded video of a recent TEDx talk (and book), entitled ‘The Science Delusion’, by Rupert Sheldrake – along with a biography of the speaker. From the latter, it can be readily established that Sheldrake is not just a self-deluded crank on a par with ex-TV-sports presenter David Icke who claims (amongst other things) that we are all being controlled by a alien race of lizard-like creatures.
However, in his 18-minute presentation, which TED have decided not to include in those available on their website, Sheldrake manages to challenge every single notion about science that most of us take for granted: Sheldrake itemises what he calls the 10 “dogmas” of modern science; and gives just a few examples that suggest that nothing in modern science may be quite as most of us insist that it is.
1. Nature is Mechanical.
2. Matter is unconscious.
3. The Laws of Nature are fixed.
4. The total amount of matter and energy is constant.
5. Nature is purposeless.
6. Biological inheritance is entirely material.
7. Memories are stored inside your brain in material processes.
8. Your mind is inside your head.
9. Psychic phenomena are impossible.
10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works.
I must admit that my immediate reaction to hearing this list was to affirm most of them without question. However, how can any of us do this without being extremely dogmatic?
Sheldrake, then picks out dogma #3, and points out that there are no laws in Nature; laws are things humans make up. We therefore forget that the concept of “Laws of Nature” is an anthropomorphic metaphor and nothing else. However, this talk by Sheldrake, who Wikipedia suggests is most famous for his theory of morphic resonance, rapidly gets very weird indeed…
Therefore, although it is a departure from the theme of this blog, I feel compelled to re-post this item because of:
1. My own advocacy of rational and reductionist thinking on Learning from Dogs.
2. The responses my recent “agnostic” remarks on this blog have received; and
3. The reaction I got when, on Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog, I asserted that the Sun is not a living entity and therefore is not conscious.
The Science Delusion: Rupert Sheldrake’s banned TED Talk
Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. (born 28 June 1942) is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and 10 books. A former Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honours degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize. He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow, before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University.
While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.
From 1968 to 1969, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life.
From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project funded from Trinity College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of Schumacher College, in Dartington, Devon, a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences near San Francisco, and a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut.
He lives in London with his wife Jill Purce (www.healingvoice.com) and two sons.
He has appeared in many TV programs in Britain and overseas, and was one of the participants (along with Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson and Stephen Toulmin) in a TV series called A Glorious Accident, shown on PBS channels throughout the US. He has often taken part in BBC and other radio programmes. He has written for newspapers such as the Guardian, where he had a regular monthly column, The Times, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Times Literary Supplement, and has contributed to a variety of magazines, including New Scientist, Resurgence, the Ecologist and the Spectator.
Books by Rupert Sheldrake:
A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (1981). New edition 2009 (in the US published as Morphic Resonance)
The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature (1988)
The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God (1992)
Seven Experiments that Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science (1994) (Winner of the Book of the Year Award from the British Institute for Social Inventions)
Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999) (Winner of the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network)
The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (2003)
With Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna:
Trialogues at the Edge of the West (1992), republished as Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness (2001)
The Evolutionary Mind (1998)
With Matthew Fox:
Natural Grace: Dialogues on Science and Spirituality (1996)
The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet (1996)
Robin Westenra then goes on to highlight another talk that TED decided not to list on their website; that in which Nick Hanauer pointed out that “rich people don’t create jobs”. This makes me wonder how many other talks TED have deemed too controversial to put on their website?
Presumably Lord Monckton (et al) will now sue the film-makers for defamation of character?
Or, maybe, just maybe, this new 90 minute documentary film could be the final push that US Congress needs to investigate the corporate misinformation machine that – like Frankenstein – just refuses to die. However, we killed it once; so we can kill it again. As Brenden DeMelle (of the De-Smog Blog website) has said in an email to all site subscribers:
Just imagine a Congressional investigation, like the one Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) headed up against the tobacco companies and their efforts to downplay the scientific findings that cigarette smoke causes cancer. Imagine, David and Charles Koch and Exxon’s Rex Tillerson, alongside Marc Morano, Fred Singer and all the others, in a Congressional hearing… It could happen. Both Rep. Waxman and Senator Boxer have the power, right now, to hold such a hearing.
In fact, De Smog Blog has an excellent summary of the movie and some great quotes from (or links to) reviews of it: http://desmogblog.com/2013/03/08/greedy-lying-bastards-new-film-pulls-no-punches
Here are a couple more I have found:
[The Director, Craig Rosebraugh] scores points by contrasting his film’s emotional title with the temperate rationality of his talking-head scientists. But the film’s effectiveness largely stems from the flat-out lameness of the opposition arguments, the lack of scientific credentials of those making them, and the self-interest of their corporate bosses. (Ronnie Scheib in Vanity magazine)
Although lacking the cinematic finesse and frequent doses of humor that such filmmakers as Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock bring to their similarly polemical projects, Rosebraugh advances his arguments with undeniable persuasiveness. The sheer volume of damning information, imparted in clear and comprehensive fashion, gives the film a power that might indeed succeed in changing some people’s minds. (Frank Scheck in The Hollywood Recorder newspaper)
This film deserves to do well. Indeed, it is in all our interests that this film should do well because, as I point out in the Preface to my new book, The Denial of Science:
…because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If this is the case, Peter Jacques (2009) would appear to be right to conclude that anti-environmentalism (i.e. environmental scepticism) needs to be exposed as being “in violation of the public interest”.
This means that the US Congress will only overcome the power of vested corporate interests (by which it is encircled and controlled) if there is sufficient public demand for this misinformation campaign – surely the greatest and gravest false flag operation in human history – to be brought to an end. We can but hope…
However, if there is anyone reading this who somehow remains unconvinced about who it is that has been lying to us for so long, please read this excellent article by international environmental journalist Stephen Leahy: http://stephenleahy.net/2013/03/07/climate-change-b-s-detector-sorting-fact-from-fiction/
There is an awful lot of rubbish spoken about climate change scepticism.
I have had a very busy week this week: preparing and delivering a Powerpoint presentation to students doing one of the options I did on my MA two years ago; preparing for and going to a job interview; and starting to proof-read the first draft sent back to me by the publisher of my forthcoming book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK (conceptual design for the book cover is shown here).
In between all this, I have somehow managed to read and respond to posts on a number of blogs by people who seem to want to insist that there is still some significant room for doubt about whether or not human activity is the primary cause of the climate disruption we are now witnessing.
Over on Learning from Dogs this week, Paul Handover has published an interesting series of posts culminating in an open letter to his “sceptical” friend Dan Gomez. My response to this was quite firm (and perhaps a little more polite than those I submitted to the previous posts). However, even this seems to pass some people by; leaving them still claiming that climate science is too abstract for most people to have a settled opinion regarding our current predicament.
Perhaps then, the problem is that they are focussing on the science – and feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of it all – when they should be focussing on the track-record that big business has for attempting to discredit science and scientists that threaten the viability and morality of the marketing of their products.
For any readers who are not familiar with any of the above, you may benefit from reading the comments submitted in response to all of the posts in Paul Handover’s mini-series (which may be accessed via the link above).
However, I am going to simply reproduce here my most recent comment on the unknowispeaksense blog:
That is an illuminating story, Michael. However, with regret, I am bound to point out, as I have done elsewhere, that there is nothing very“abstract” about the ‘The Organisation of Denial’ (Jacques et al., 2008).
On the contrary, climate change denial is a morally bankrupt, selfish, self-serving and ultimately self-defeating campaign being waged by the fossil fuel industry to preserve the profitability of its business interests; and delay inevitable changes in energy policy that need to be made ASAP by both individuals and governments.
For those who have not been subscribers to this blog for very long (and cannot wait for my book to be published), you may want to catch-up on the issues alluded to here by reading some or all of the posts below; and pursuing any links (within them) that spark your curiosity:
Update: 12 March 2013:
My book has now been published.
A kindle version will be available soon.
See the book’s Facebook page for more info..
Regular and longer-term subscribers to this blog may recall some of my exchanges with Doug Swallow (a.k.a. jdouglashuahin) who claims to be a US citizen resident in SE Asia somewhere. Whoever or wheresoever he may be, English is clearly not his mother tongue; and rationality is clearly not his strong suit.
Anyone who is not familiar with Doug Swallow, should take a quick trip to the Climate Asylum blog of Barry Bickmore, Professor of Geological Sciences at the Brigham Young University in Utah, where Doug’s entirely repetitious modus operandi is played out in one single (lengthy) exchange:
Those of you who need no such reminder may wish to cast a quick eye over the exchange of comments leading up to those appended below, over on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week blog (search for “jdouglashuahin”). However, even if you cannot be bothered to do that, the following is pretty self-explanatory…
charleszeller: To revisit this site is like making a trip through the graveyard with the ghost of Martin Lack howling like a banshee and, as usual, saying nothing and that is about like the video that I wasted 11 minutes watching a guy trying to sell books and no where addressing my challenge about providing an experiment that shows that the amount of a trace gas, CO2, at .037-9% of the total atmosphere and that naturally decreases with altitude to where at 18,000′ there is only 50% of the atmosphere there is at sea-level present, nor have I seen any link or information coming from you about this experiment ever having been done let alone an answer to the point about the mathematical derivation of CO2 forcing.
The reason I do not generally say much to you anymore, Doug, is that I have previously said it all (and so have you). Furthermore, as many others have said, the fact that you go from website to website endlessly repeating the same questions and cutting-and-pasting the same spurious information tends to suggest you are being paid to waste the time of people who are trying to clear the fog of misinformation peddled by the fossil fuel industry (i.e. as was the well-documented tactic of the tobacco industry before it). Either that, or you are not paying attention to the rebuttals you receive, or you are simply incapable of understanding their implications.
Whichever is the case, your repetitive request (reminiscent of [most-recently] Matt Ridley on the GWPF website) to be given the results of laboratory experiment that proves that CO2 is the primary cause of warming presupposes that the vast majority of relevantly-qualified scientists (who have concluded that it is) are either being stupid, illogical, or mendacious. Unfortunately, such a presupposition can only be made by people who believe in a scientific conspiracy or believe that they are cleverer than the climate scientists themselves. This is not only highly improbable; it is not consistent with all the available evidence (i.e. of both historical industry-led misinformation campaigns and of theoretically-deduced science validated by empirical observation and computer modelling).
However, I am already repeating myself so I will simply conclude by apologising for my earlier impolite remarks (which were prompted – but not justified – by your unfounded, illogical and disparaging remarks about my blog). Goodbye.
Dear Peter, Can you confirm whether this contribution from Doug is the longest-ever single sentence comment your site has received? Credit where credit is due it; it is a pretty impressive piece of syntax avoidance.
I hope he took a breath during that.
I admit that, in the above, some of my own sentences are quite long, but, they do at least make sense. However, if this were not so sad (and/or evidence of criminal insanity and/or intellectual incapacity), it would be funny.
A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and – as atmospheric physicists have been warning us for over 50 years now – this will result in more frequent and more extreme weather events of all kinds.
A recent opinion poll in the USA suggested that people who were skeptical of scientists are being convinced by the evidence of their own eyes. About time too, people; welcome to reality!
A big (possibly historic) winter storm just hit the Northeast of the United States — and climate change played a role in making it stronger.
Unusually warm ocean surface temperatures put more energy and more moisture in the storm, making a mess of roads and power grids.
This graph shows how climate change is making big storms more likely.
Still not convinced? How about this from James Hansen (et al) last July [PDF]:
The greatest barrier to public recognition of human-made climate change is probably the natural
variability of local climate. How can a person discern long-term climate change, given the
notorious variability of local weather and climate from day to day and year to year?…
We illustrate variability of seasonal temperature in units of standard deviation (σ), including
comparison with the normal distribution (“bell curve”) that the lay public may appreciate. The
probability distribution (frequency of occurrence) of local summer-mean temperature anomalies
was close to the normal distribution in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in both hemispheres (Fig. 2).
However, in each subsequent decade the distribution shifted toward more positive anomalies,
with the positive tail (hot outliers) of the distribution shifting the most.
Figure 2. Temperature anomaly distribution: The frequency of occurrence (vertical axis) of local
temperature anomalies (relative to 1951-1980 mean) in units of local standard deviation
(horizontal axis). Area under each curve is unity. Image credit: NASA/GISS…
Yet the distribution of seasonal temperature anomalies (Fig. 2) also reveals that a significant
portion (about 15 percent) of the anomalies are still negative, corresponding to summer-mean
temperatures cooler than the average 1951-1980 climate. Thus people should not be surprised by
the occasional season that is unusually cool. Cool anomalies as extreme as -2σ still occur,
because the anomaly distribution has broadened as well as moved to the right. In other words,
our climate now encompasses greater extremes.
What then should we learn from all this analysis of historical weather data?
We should not be surprised by the storm that has just hit the NE of the USA.
For this spoof of the Anglican version of the Nicene Creed I apologise to all those who lack a sense of humour:
We believe in some gods,
like Professor Ian Plimer,
writer of ‘Heaven and Earth’,
of all that is mean and not green.
We believe in some lords; John Christy
and in Richard Lindzen.
Endlessly they are proven wrong and yet still,
from their shite we recite,
true lies from sad guys,
opinions, not facts,
of one thing we are certain,
through them all truths were made.
For us and for our salvation
they came down from science:
by the power of our human folly,
they became embedded in ideology,
and made their plan.
For our sake they were crucified by climate scientists;
they suffered ‘death’ and were ‘buried’.
On the third day they rose again
in accordance with the sceptics;
they returned to their jobs,
and are seated in academic tenure.
They will come again in future to fudge the reason and the facts,
and their soapbox will have no end.
We believe in the wholly spurious, our god, the slither of doubt,
which precedes our judgement of evidence.
With the money and the vice it is worshiped and glorified.
It is supported through the profits…
We believe in one wholly cynical and irrational church.
We acknowledge one purpose; for the pursuance of greed.
We look for the perpetuation of growth,
and the life of the World to shun.
[Please be seated]
Copyright © Martin Lack 2013