Archive for the ‘Confirmation bias’ Category
In the process of compiling my previous post, I was reminded of this one; and decided it warranted being re-posted in its own right… Originally posted on 7 September 2011, as How to be a climate change “sceptic”, this is probably (even if I do say so myself) one of the best things I have ever written here (because it neatly summarises the raison d’etre of this blog).
If I have not said it before, the reason sceptic is inside quotation marks is because I take the view, as do Clive Hamilton, Peter Jacques, and David MacKay, that those who deny anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are not sceptics at all.
As a consequence of this, my (MA in Environmental Politics) dissertation (researching climate change scepticism in the UK) included a threefold theoretical background, as summarised (on my old blog) as follows:
1. The philosophical roots of scepticism;
2. The political misuse of scepticism; and
3. The psychology of denial.
All of this leads me to offer readers this easy-to-use guide on “How to be a climate change ‘sceptic’”, as follows:
1. Assume everything you have been told by authority figures is a lie.
2. Assume, even though you are not an expert, that you know best.
3. Allow confirmation bias to prevent you from considering any information that might alert you to the fact that you are suffering from cognitive dissonance (i.e. “It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals…” – George Monbiot, 10 May 2005).
4. Continue asserting your individual human rights whilst simultaneously ignoring your collective human responsibilities.
5. Maintain a utilitarian attitude to the environment (i.e. “use it up and wear it out”) despite mounting evidence to indicate that the ecological carrying capacity of planet Earth (w.r.t. humans at least) has already been exceeded.
6. Accuse anyone who asserts that there is cause for concern and/or an urgent need for radical action to mitigate humanity’s impact on the planet as being any or all of the following:- anti-human, anti-libertarian, anti-progress, anti-Western, and/or in favour of a new global socialist world government (“which is what the UN is all about, init!”).
In his book, ”Bad Science”, Ben Goldacre says that proponents of pseudoscience have succeeded in making people think science is impenetrable. However, the truth may be even more insidious because, by awakening people to the fact that they are regularly being lied to, these peddlers of pseudoscience have in fact contributed to – if not caused – a much more widespread distrust of science and all scientific authority.
Therefore, I would humlby suggest that claiming that humanity is not the cause of climate change is even more stupid – and even more dangerous – than claiming (as did Thabo Mbeki for a long time) that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.
Thanks to Greenpeace for this amazing story:
Either David Rose has himself used the real (2007) cover to create the fake (1977) cover - or - he has been a little too ready to believe what he so wants to be true. Which is it David? The World is waiting for your answer.
This is the Gospel according to Roger Helmer MEP (and Cambridge graduate in Mathematics) – whose non-expertise in the subject leads him to conclude that the climate is not changing; and to equate people concerned about climate change with those who once insisted the Earth was flat…
I am pleased to report that the comment that featured in my previous post, entitled ‘A letter to Roger Helmer UKIP MEP’, did appear on his blog.
I am even more pleased that he decided to respond. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed by the extremely tired and pre-debunked arguments that he trots out.
But don’t just take my word for it; judge for yourself. What follows is a transcript of his reply and my response (which has also appeared on his blog). However, before you read that, see how many discredited arguments you can count in Roger’s remarks.
In response to my original comment, Roger Helmer said this:
Thanks Martin. Good question. Your are quite right that I am not “a scientist”, though you may also like to know that I have a Cambridge maths degree, and have followed a range of scientific issues that interest me. But the fact is that politicians have to make decisions and take positions on issues — and I suggest to you that I know a great deal more about science, and about energy policy, than most of the MPs who blindly voted through the disastrous Climate Change Act. I know enough about science to know that scientific questions are settled by the creation and testing of hypotheses — not by appeals to authority. The global warming hypothesis is looking increasingly threadbare. I also recall that a few hundred years ago all accepted authorities agreed that the world was flat, and you could be burned at the stake for taking an alternative view…
My reply to that load of dingo’s kidneys was as follows:
I take it you mean you have not seen enough evidence yet. If so, it would help if you looked at some (rather than relying upon anargumentum ad verecundiam of your own – courtesy of the very few people who tell you want you want to hear).
The passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008 was a landmark in cross-party co-operation at a national level, and may even have convinced the Chinese that some Western countries are actually willing to acknowledge their responsibility for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. The Communist Party of China may now only be acting in the interests of self-preservation, but at least it is acting (rather than continuing to dispute the science).
It is interesting that you should mention belief in a Flat Earth – or that the Sun revolves around the Earth – as this is directly comparable with the disputation of climate science today. Climate change“sceptics” are not like Galileo. Galileo confronted an obscurantist Establishment with evidence that it refused to look at (such as moons orbiting Jupiter) and insisted that – as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west – it was very obvious that the Sun goes round the Earth and not vice versa.
The only obscurantist Establishment today is the fossil fuel industry: In order to describe climate science as a threadbare hypothesis it is necessary to put your faith in a handful of industry-funded contrarians (like Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen) who – having been theologically or politically prejudiced before looking at any data – would have us all believe that the majority of climate scientists are now behaving like an obscurantist Establishment themselves. This is, to say the very least, highly improbable.
Given the fact that theoretical heat-trapping effect of CO2 was deduced from basic principles, tested in a laboratory, and continues to be validated by events (i.e. global warming did not stop in 1998, etc), your position is simply not credible: Indeed, it is comparable to someone insisting that the Earth is only 6000 years old – which is very easy to do if you reject every piece of evidence that suggests otherwise as part of a scientific and/or political conspiracy.
I suspect that, by now, Roger has dismissed me as a self-deluded eco-Marxist. However, what he and every other Maths graduate from Cambridge who thinks he knows best need to remember is this:
Reality is not altered by what you decide your personalised version of the truth is going to be.
Addendum (for all those who struggle with the basics of atmospheric physics):
Global warming is manifested in a number of ways, and there is a continuing radiative imbalance at the top of atmosphere. The current hiatus in surface warming is [therefore] temporary, and global warming has not gone away. — From ‘Global warming is here to stay, whichever way you look at it’, by Kevin Trenberth on The Conversation website (23 May 2013).
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..