Archive for the ‘maketplace of ideas’ Category
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.
This is a transcript of an email I sent to Paul Clark, the owner of the website Woodfortrees.org – from which graphs have appeared in presentations by numerous people who dispute the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.
RE: Your Comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 datasets
I have found my way to your website via a comment by Dan Olner on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week.
I note that on your Home Page you say:
I have no particular axe to grind in the “Global Warming Debate” one way or the other. Indeed, as a life-long Green I think a shift to an efficient and sustainable way of life is a Good Thing whether or notCO2 is a significant problem in and of itself.
Whilst I am not questioning your sincerity in making this statement, I am afraid I am bound to ask you two things:
1. What do you think the data tells us? and
2. Is it really appropriate to encourage non-experts to play around with it?
With regard to (1), my attention was drawn to your comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 and, yes, my first reaction was, “Why are they so different?” If I were David Rose, Christopher Monckton, or even Richard Lindzen, I would no doubt be very suspicious of the fact that HADCRUT4 anomalies are generally higher than those calculated for HADCRUT3. Therefore, I ask you, what purpose does it serve to present this comparison without a legitimate explanation as to why the two data sets are different? If you are in need of one, try this by Dana Nuccitelli on the Skeptical Science website.
With regard to (2), I am concerned about the frequency with which your website is used by climate change “skeptics” (such as those mentioned above) and therefore feel that, however good your motives are, you are merely encouraging unqualified people to bolster their unwarranted confidence in their unreasonable conclusions.
Returning to the comparison of HADCRUT3 and 4, I note that you have inserted a trendline for both over the last 1980-2010 (in addition to trendlines for the complete data sets). Have you considered inserting trendlines for both for the periods 1850-1910 and for 1910-1980? In fact, I suspect you don’t really need to do this: Just looking at these graphs, it is clear that there are three distinct changes:
– 1850-1910 – a downward trend of about 0.06/decade;
– 1910-1980 – an upward trend of about 0.08/decade;
– 1980-2010 – an upward trend of about 0.18/decade.
This is, therefore, yet another confirmation that the MBH98 ‘Hockey Stick’ cannot legitimately be dismissed as an artefact of statistical manipulation of data. In other words, it is signal not noise.
You call your website WoodForTrees but, with the greatest of respect, I think you are facilitating the denial of plain facts by people who don’t want to accept the nature of reality (mainly because of an underlying libertarian agenda). On your Home Page you may well pose all the right questions but, sadly, the vast majority of people who use or refer to your website appear to be coming to invalid conclusions.
Whereas a variety of natural factors contribute to global cooling – the Sun, ocean currents, and volcanic eruptions; only anthropogenic CO2 can explain the accelerating warming trend of the last 100 years.
I suspect you feel you are doing the right thing in encouraging everyone to play around with the data and satisfy themselves that they know what is happening. However, all the evidence suggests that your website is encouraging the unconsciously incompetent to play around with things they don’t really understand and reinforce the prejudicial insistence that we do not have a problem.
Irrespective of whether you respond to this email (I hope that you will), I am going to publish it on my blog at midnight tonight (British Summer Time [UTC+1]).
Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware of my previous exchanges of emails with the retired vicar, Rev Philip Foster (author of While the Earth Endures: Creation Cosmology and Climate Change). They will also be aware of how, after a lengthy exchange of views, I was forced to conclude that Rev Foster thinks that overpopulation, climate change, sea level rise and mass extinctions cannot happen – simply because God will not allow it. For those that are unaware of this back-story, please read ’The Three Monkeys – Monckton, Foster, and Peiser’ (20 August 2012).
All but very recent readers should also be aware that, over the summer, I attempted to get some sense out of The Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, the Bishop of Chester (no relation to Philip so far as I am aware) who is on the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). In my email to the Bishop, I asked (as politely as I could) what scientific background he had (if any); how many other Bishops share his views; and how he can dismiss the concern of the vast majority of Christians on the planet. I also asked (somewhat impertinently) if he could do this without reliance upon:(a) scientific-sounding arguments that conflict with the generally-accepted Laws of Physics; (b) invoking conspiracy theory to dispute the reality, reliability and reasonableness of the modern-day consensus regarding what is happening to our climate; and/or (c) claiming that climate change ‘sceptics’ are like Galileo (fighting against the Establishment).
In his initial response, he advised me that his first Degree was in Chemistry; claimed not to know how many bishops share his views; and said he did not “dismiss” any concerns of other Christians. Apart from this, he provided me with a copy of an article he had published in the Church of England’s own newspaper, the Church Times on 21 October last year (i.e. ‘Look to Adaptation; not Alarmism’ posted online [mostly behind a paywall] on 19 October). When I pointed out to him that he had failed to comply with my request (to respond without invoking a, b, or c), he expressed disappointment that I had not actually responded to the content of his article. However, when I did so, he thanked me for sharing my views and suggested we end our exchanges: Am I the only one to see this as a win-win scenario for the Bishop? He criticised me for failing to respond in detail and then ignored my refutations of his arguments when I did..!
In my comments to Bishop Peter, I suggested that, since he has is not an active climate scientist, his article appeared to be a lengthy restatement of a litany of contrarian arguments that have been repeatedly falsified elsewhere (e.g. in peer-reviewed literature and/or on the Skeptical Science website). Am I being unfair? Well, I invite you to decide based on the evidence of his own words. Or rather, I would, were it not for the fact that the Bishop has declined to give me consent to publish what he sent me (which may be different from what the Church Times published) – although he acknowledged that he cannot stop me publishing my opinions of what he wrote.
Therefore, because I think this is such an important issue, pertaining to the public understanding of science and respect for scientists, I believe that there is an over-riding case to be made for illustrating the ways in which Bishop Peter’s article is full of opinion but devoid of commonly-accepted scientific fact. However, since I cannot do this without quoting from what he sent me, I must therefore rely on the fact that Copyright law includes a “fair use” clause, which stipulates that “the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included”…
As can be seen by following the link to the Church Times website (above) – where the first few sentences are visible for free) – Bishop Peter begins his attack on the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) by citing the conditional nature of all scientific knowledge – effectively claiming that climate change “sceptics” are like Galileo. However, as I said to Bishop Peter in my comments, this is an entirely spurious and fallacious argument. Furthermore, the Church of Rome is thankfully not the arbiter of scientific truth today; and the so-called sceptics are not fighting against an anti-scientific and obscurantist establishment. In fact, they are probably helping to preserve one; it is called the fossil fuel industry.
Bishop Peter then cites the case of the Royal Society, which was criticised by a minority of its members (i.e. not climate scientists) for endorsing the consensus view of ACD. He quotes the views of Lord Broers (another non climate scientist) disputing the link between CO2. This is therefore an endorsement of the marketplace of ideas fallacy – that all opinions are equally valid – enabling anyone to pick and chose which commonly-accepted scientific evidence they will and won’t accept.
Having given you a taste of what is to come, I will conclude my review of the Bishop’s almost 1000-word article tomorrow. For now, though, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts on the alternative to what both Philip and Peter Foster are peddling. This peculiarly Christian form of denial is, in effect, a theologically-driven form of libertarianism, which is founded on the belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the environment because God is in control and/or Jesus is coming back soon.
However, even for the most devout, sincere and/or evangelical Christians – and everyone else too – there is an alternative to this utilitarian “use it up and wear it out” nonsense. You don’t need to be a tree-hugging fanatic who likes to dance around stone circles at sunrise on the longest day of the year in order to believe that we humans should be good stewards of the environment. If we just go forth and multiply in order to subdue the Earth and have dominion over it, the fairy tale will not have a happy ending. It is time for us to put away such childish thinking; accept that we do not have an inalienable right to have our needs met; that we are exceeding Nature’s ability to meet those needs; and that – unless we change our ways – this selfishness is going to have severe adverse consequences.
I think it really is time for Plan B. However, if you remain to be convinced, please come back tomorrow and see what a ludicrous position Bishop Foster’s Plan A really is…
(or is it the curse of Cassandra?)
Andrew Marr’s History of the World is the latest BBC programme featuring the eponymous presenter (although the word Human is clearly missing from the title somewhere). The second installment was broadcast in the UK on Sunday night and, I have to say, it was an improvement on the first. Some may ask, “If you thought the first was bad then why did you watch the second?” Well, the answer is that I was almost willing Andrew Marr to prove me wrong. You see, I suspect he is peddling a libertarian agenda; but I am hoping that he is not.
The first programme in the series covered the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa 70,000 years ago – and their subsequent conquest of the entire planet (and the extinction of Neanderthals in the process) – up to the emergence of agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation 7,000 years ago. The worst thing about the programme was the repetitive – and almost subliminal – message that climate change is natural and we cannot stop it. Wheareas Marr emphasised the way in which Homo sapiens were almost wiped out by natural changes in climate; he appeared to gloss over a complementary truth: Modern civilisation only came about – and has only persisted – because of the relative stability of sea levels and temperature over that last 7,000 years. I suspect, therefore, that Marr has been having too many lunches with the likes of Lords Monckton and Lawson. Whatever the case may be, episode 1 does not seem to have impressed Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent newspaper either.
In the second programme, this ‘climate change is natural’ meme made a brief appearance at the start; only to be juxtaposed with the suggestion that, although nature has been a tough adversary, human beings are their own worst enemy. Even though I not misanthropic, I am much more content with this assertion than the one that says climate change is natural and/or we must adapt to it: This is an utterly fallacious argument that can only be sustained by ignoring the fact that the change now underway is much faster than all previous natural change because human activity is causing most of it.
Nevertheless, I think Andrew Marr redeemed himself somewhat in this second episode: With his usual amiable style of delivery, he talked the viewer through the history of human civilisation, visiting places like the Assyrian city of Nineveh, the Persian city of Babylon, the Lydian city of Sardis, and the Greek city of Athens. Also thrown into the mix were brief accounts of the rise and fall of the Phoenicians as a maritime trading empire; the emergence of Buddhism in India and of Confucism in China; and Alexander the Great’s admirable early attempts at cosmopolitanism and globalisation (nice ideas; shame about the outcome).
However, as indicated by the title of this post, the thing that grabbed my attention was the emergence of what we now call democracy in Greece (i.e. in Greek, Demos = people; and Cratos = power); and how contingent our concept of democracy is… If the Persians had not gone down to such a highly-implausible defeat in a battle 26 miles from Athens, we might be missing a lot more than just a name for the longest event on the athletics schedule at the Olympic games: Had the Persians beaten the Athenian army at Marathon, the course of human history would have been very different indeed!
So why have I focussed on the case of Socrates, who was effectively accused and convicted of being dangerously subversive in 399BC and, having been found guilty, was required to kill himself by drinking poison…? Well, leaving aside the bizarre method of “execution”, what exactly was his crime? According to Andrew Marr, Socrates merely raised questions regarding the limitations of democracy and/or how dissenters should be dealt with. According to Wikipedia (link above), Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of the city and of impious acts (namely “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities”). Socrates philosophical musings were clearly seen as subversive and anti-democratic. However, all Socrates appears to have been guilty of is being one of the first to recognise the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas. He basically challenged the notion that majority opinion will always be right; and championed the idea that expert opinions should carry more weight. He also held unusual religious views. He was, in essence, a free thinker, a non-conformist, and anti-Establishment.
Modern science has much for which it should be grateful to Socrates; and so have Environmentalists: In essence, environmentalism is the consequence of thinking outside the box; it arises from pursuing the consequences of science wherever they lead; and refusing to be prevented from reaching any particular conclusion simply because it may be politically inconvenient.
Nowadays, fortunately, those who challenge the received wisdom of our political leaders are not executed (by poisoning, hanging, beheading or any other unpleasant means). Unfortunately, however, we just seem to be ignored instead.
Therefore, even though all we are really doing is embracing the Newtonian reality that all actions have consequences (especially when it comes to issues surrounding waste, pollution, and recycling), we seem to have swapped the philosophical legacy of Socrates for the mythological curse of Cassandra (whom no-one would believe).
Connecting some more dots…
It is almost a year since I published 3 posts on my old (disused) Earthy Issues blog (on the MyTelegraph website); and I believe they deserve being brought to the attention of a wider audience. They cover (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism; (2) the political misuse of scepticism; and (3) the psychological causes of denial (such as that Leon Festinger identified in people disappointed by false prophecies of the end of the World and/or their assumption into Heaven). Here then is the first of them:
The philosophical roots of scepticism
The philosophical roots of scepticism lie in the 3rd Century BC; and the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who saw scepticism as the logical end-point of intellectual inquiry. According to Pyrrho, the intellectually mature sceptic would still seek knowledge (because he or she “does not claim to know that truth cannot be found”); and would therefore be “prepared to investigate and evaluate any new argument in relation to any conclusion” [see Scepticism by Arne Naess (1968); pages 5-6]. It is self-evidently the case that climate change sceptics do not do this, and do not accept it when their alternative hypotheses are shown to be flawed. Unfortunately, exactly the same “catch-22 situation” has resulted in the ongoing failure of some people to accept that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was and is a complete fraud (hereinafter referred to as the PEZ problem).
In his 1991 book Unnatural Doubts, Michael Williams focused on modern Cartesian scepticism (i.e. named after René Descartes), which proposes that “there is no such thing as knowledge of the external world” (1991: xii). Williams also suggested that the fundamental question regarding scepticism is whether doubts raised are “natural” or “intuitive”; or (as he cited Thompson Clarke as having put it) is the sceptic examining… “our most fundamental convictions [about the nature of reality] or the product of a large piece of [their own] theoretical philosophising about empirical knowledge…?” (ibid: 1). Clearly, climate change “sceptics” are doing the latter; because the fundamentals of the so-called “greenhouse effect” are not in dispute. What is questioned is the primacy of CO2 emissions as the cause of the changes we are witnessing; despite the repeated rebuttal of alternative explanations (i.e. due to the PEZ problem).
In 1996, Timothy Fuller edited and posthumously published what he described as a summary of the thoughts of Michael Oakeshott [1901-1990] on modern politics and government (in The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism). In this book, scepticism is discussed as a political rather than philosophical entity; with the politics of faith and the politics of scepticism as two poles of political thought: Oakeshott equated the politics of faith with authoritarian control “for the purpose of achieving human perfection” [i.e. utopianism such as that of Karl Marx] (ibid: 24); and the politics of scepticism with government “detached from the pursuit of human perfection” [i.e. a utilitarian approach] (ibid: 31). Therefore, if Oakeshott’s dichotomy may be reduced to one of optimism (idealism) versus pessimism (realism), then climate change sceptics are clearly engaged in the politics of faith; in that they seek to maintain the optimistic belief that AGW is not a real problem.
In 2002, Neil Gascoigne summarised the sceptical position as one that questions the reality of anything and everything we think we know (Scepticism p.1); and cited two arguments used by sceptics to generate doubts, namely (1) the “argument from ignorance” [e.g. we cannot prove we are not dreaming]; and (2) the “Agrippan argument” [e.g. a childish retort of "why" in response to any adult statement of fact] (ibid: 6). Although some climate change sceptics do this in a debating context, this is often to avoid confronting the reality of the weight of scientific evidence arrayed against them. This, in turn, often leads to the demand, based on either the ‘we are like Galileo’ or ‘marketplace of ideas’ fallacies, that their alternative explanations deserve equal consideration; even if they have been repeatedly shown to be erroneous elsewhere (i.e. the PEZ problem once again).
Therefore, whereas blind faith and scepticism should be irreconcilable, in the context of thinking about ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), they are indistinguishable: The denial of human responsibility for what is happening to our climate is caused by cognitive dissonance and maintained by confirmation bias. However, just like all the other disinformation campaigns, I believe it is destined to fail; and the sooner the house of cards collapses the better it will be for all of us.
Record-breaking rainfall in the UK, unprecedented storms and temperatures in Washington DC, record-breaking droughts, floods, landslides, and bush-fires all around the world… Will the fake sceptics admit they are wrong when we see 1-in-100 year floods every 5 years? Or must we wait until they are an annual feature? Just how much longer must we wait for people to admit they are wrong; and that this is not normal?
“There is none so blind as those who will not see” (Jeremiah 5:21)
People of the world, for God’s sake, please open your eyes!
The world may not be about to end but, are the signs that it is past its best not clear enough to see? This is not random weather; this is what happens when we ignore what scientists have been telling for over 150 years.
Please Connect the Dots!
James Delingpole is almost as difficult to engage in debate as Lord Monckton; but not quite – at least I have had several exchanges of emails with Monckton. His Lordship may be equally as fond of facile sarcasm but at least he keeps up a pretence of being capable of debate. Delingpole is just sarcastic; and will not engage in debate with anyone who understands the science – let alone an actual climate scientist. But after being intellectually raped by Sir Paul Nurse, who can blame him? Still, I do wish he would shut up… This is a transcript of my latest attempt to get his attention (still visible here on his personal blog). However, he seems to be too busy over on his Telegraph blog debating the significance of more important political questions of our times such as: Has George Osborn has ever eaten a Cornish Pasty?…
I know you will cite the Met Office as being part of some anti-libertarian plot to install worldwide Socialist governance but, will you please do us all a favour and suspend your belief in conspiracy theories just long enough to take on board some new information:
“A project running almost 10,000 climate simulations on volunteers’ home computers has found that a global warming of 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 is ‘equally plausible’ as a rise of 1.4 degrees. The study addresses some of the uncertainties that previous forecasts, using simpler models or only a few dozen simulations, may have over-looked. Importantly, the forecast range is derived from using a complex Met Office model that accurately reproduces observed temperature changes over the last 50 years. The results suggest that the world is very likely to cross the ’2 degrees barrier’ at some point this century if emissions continue unabated. It also suggests that those planning for the impacts of climate change need to consider the possibility of warming of up to 3 degrees (above the 1961-1990 average) by 2050, even on a mid-range emission scenario. This is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.”
Citizen science looks at future warming uncertainty.
N.B. The ability of these computer models to recreate historical trends over the last 50 years is not evidence of fudge factors having been applied: It is evidence of model validation, which – along with calibration and sensitivity analysis – is an integral part of establishing the accuracy of such modelling techniques. You can – or should – trust me on this because, unlike you, this is what I have been doing for the last 20 years or so (i.e. using probabilistic computer modelling in environmental risk assessments).
Your beloved marketplace of ideas is a dangerous fallacy; of which your success in getting your ill-informed unscientific opinions plastered all over the media and infecting people’s minds is profound evidence. And for what purpose? You may think you are acting in the public interest but, unfortunately, like everything else in Watermelons 2.0, this is an inversion of reality: As Peter Jacques (University of Florida) has pointed out, it is precisely because environmental scepticism is not in the public interest, the tobacco industry invented the sound science versus junk science debate (now being used to great effect by the fossil fuel and energy industry) to confuse people and prevent sensible regulation of their product.
I have written much and often about Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s brilliant 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, but, if I am honest, our biggest problem is the scientifically-illiterate journalists that regurgitate misleading information, arguments and ideas; mainly as a consequence of ideological prejudice.
As I recently said to John Kosowski, I am sure they genuinely believe what they say is true. But so do people who believe the Moon Landings were faked and/or that 9/11 was an inside job: I believe that their problem is that they have decided that they cannot allow humans to be found to be responsible for climate change (because that would require fundamental behaviour modification)… Like Aldous Huxley setting out to prove that God does not exist, they have set out to prove that we are not responsible for climate change. Sure enough, they have found some evidence that appears to suggest to them that we are not the primary cause, but they are recklessly over-playing their hand.
Of course, John then picked me up on my preceding accusation that such people (and/or conservative think tanks [CTTs] like the Heartland Institute) are willfully peddling “misinformation” (i.e. saying stuff they know to be false). However, my response to that was – and is – that… If they are honestly misguided but in error then, OK, they cannot be guilty of deceit. However, that does not change the extremely high probability that they are ideologically prejudiced against accepting what the majority of climate scientists tell us; and it does not change the undeniable fact that like-minded people have denied a wide range of environmental problems in the past for the same reason. In other words, they have “form”. This is the message of Merchants of Doubt.
However, what about these journalists that do so much to spread their Merchants’ message of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD); where the fear is that there is:
– A socialist plot to subvert national governance via the UN (i.e. very reminiscent of the anti-semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax that does so much to perpetuate unrest in the Middle East because so many Arabs still believe it to be genuine); or
– A scientific conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous world purely to secure ongoing finance for their own research.
Failing that, the objective is just to perpetuate uncertainty and doubt in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies did (i.e. “the science is not settled – so we can all continue smoking”). Why are so many people still taken-in by this? Whatever happened to “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” Truly, anyone still fooled by this should be ashamed of themselves…
So, this week I am going to do something I have been meaning to do for some time, publish some examples of how and why these misguided – and I would say misinformed – journalists (who no doubt really believe in the validity of what they write) are so blatantly in error: In essence, this is because they are not scientists and, therefore, they are incapable of reaching a reliable judgement about the science. Instead, at best, they filter what they read through their own political prejudice and, at worst, they uncritically repeat the misleading arguments and misrepresented findings with which the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ feed them (or feed their conspiracy theories).
20 years ago, the most prominent ‘Merchants of Doubt’ were Bill Nierenberg, Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer; whereas today, the indomitable Fred Singer is primarily supported by the likes of Richard Lindzen, Partick Michaels, and Roy Spencer; all of whose research is primarily financed by CTTs acting as money laundering facilities for big businesses with special interests to protect (and ‘to hell with the planet’, hey guys?). Unlike the evidence for the FUD conspiracies postulated above, even before the revelations about the Heartland Institute last week, there was a great deal of evidence to show that big business – and the oil industry in particular – is engaged in just such a misinformation campaign. There is, therefore, no getting around the fact that this is straightforward political interference in the process of scientific enquiry. Furthermore, as such, any non-profit organisation in the USA so involved should be prosecuted under Federal Law. I genuinely hope that this will now happen.
However, I digress… Over the next four days, I will post four examples of non-scientific British journalists who are peddling the FUD message for prejudicial reasons, as follows:
– Brendan O’Neill – a left-wing ‘sceptic’;
– Melanie Phillips – an unorthodox ‘sceptic’;
– Christopher Booker – an illogical ‘sceptic’; and
– James Delingpole – an ideological ‘sceptic’.
As such, all of what will follow in the coming days is based on the research (into climate change scepticism in the UK) I did to produce a 15,000 word dissertation as part of the requirements for my MA in Environmental Politics. More information about this is available on my About page but, in this present context, the key conclusion I reached was as follows:
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction.
After a week of online discussion with John Kosowski (an Engineer from Illiois and – clearly – an amateur climate scientist in his spare time), I am posting this, my latest reply to his questions, as a new blog post in its own right; to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.
John and I have had our moments, each accusing the other of suspicious behaviour and/or feigning injury but, although at times extremely annoying, I believe John’s questioning has made me raise my game and become clearer and more concise in my responses. Here then, in response to his most recent attempt to resist what climate scientists are telling us, is where I think we have got to:
As I have repeatedly said to you John, I have no interest in playing numbers games with you. The purpose of this blog is not to discuss the science upon which concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is based, it is to focus attention on:
– the ideological prejudice causing many to delay us all taking mitigating action; and
– the politics and psychology causing people to deny the reality of what is now happening.
I too am capable of reading; and am fully aware of the limitations of Doran and Zimmerman’s (2009) work. However, have you read all 19 of the references on the ‘Surveys of scientists’ views on climate change’ Wikipedia page? What about all the Papers and Presentations contained on the ’4 Degrees and Beyond International Conference’ page? Have you read (and dismissed) all of them as well?
This stuff may be complicated, but it is not Rocket Science! (N.B. You need to read to at least 3rd paragraph of this (19 August 2011) post to see why I am linking to it here).
So, in a word, YES, I do believe a firm majority of those whose opinions should concern us do now acknowledge that Hansen has been proven right (because his modelled predictions match what happened when you look at the emissions scenario that turned out to be the right one). In addition, I do believe that the same majority accept there is sufficient probability of his being right about interpreting what is now happening for it to be imperative that we move to a zero-carbon global economy as fast as possible. As I have said before, I think you are basically out-of-date; a very great deal has changed since 2007. The debate should be over – not because I want to silent dissent but because the evidence is overwhelming – the only people who want you to think otherwise are those who will be hit the hardest by rapid investment in renewable energy and a cessation of fossil fuel burning.
However, when you are in a hole, it is always a good idea to stop digging:
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11).
In the course of the last week, we (you and I) have discussed palaeoclimatology, politics, philosophy, and now climate modelling. On each and every front, I have answered your questions or directed you to sources that I believe could do so. Your response has generally been to come back with more questions; and when I ask you to logically justify your “scepticism” you just play numbers games (which I have specifically asked you not to do). Is it any wonder that I have occasionally, regretfully, lost my patience with you or become suspicious? For example, why are you still taking any notice of Roy Spencer?
At what point in Barry Bickmore’s presentation did you put your hands over your ears and start shouting “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!”…?
If you are not open to accepting that we may well be at a fork in the road right now; that the Earth may well have reached a tipping point it has not been at before, then you are wasting my time. End of story.
Barry Bickmore is Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University (Utah, USA). His research specialties are low-temperature geochemistry and geoscience education. In this 40-minute presentation (appended below), he discusses how he moved from being a climate change “sceptic” to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. He then discusses how it is that people like him can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change. This is the best presentation I have yet seen of all the reasons why so-called climate change “sceptics” are, in point of fact, nothing of the kind… But first, used with permission, here is Barry’s own introduction, as quoted from his own WordPress blog on 11 Nov 2011:
I gave a talk called “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” for the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University. For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, I am a Republican and a geochemist who, until a few years ago, was quite skeptical about the idea that humans are causing significant climate change.
In the presentation, I briefly talked about how I had made the transition from being a climate change “skeptic” to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. I then discussed how it is that people like me can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change.
Please pass this video along! I am actually writing a book with the same title, but there’s no way I can get it published before the Republican primaries. Hopefully this kind of thing can influence a few people toward the center on this issue.
It has occurred to me that this is a very profound and important question for our times. I suspect that most people would put having an open mind up there alongside not killing people, but is it? Having an open mind should not be confused with being tolerant and/or flexible; and we cannot afford for it to be synonymous with being undecided (but more on that later).
For an individual to have an open mind, it is first of all necessary for that individual to believe that he or she has the requisite knowledge and understanding, or intellectual and analytical faculties, to assess information (if a valid conclusion is to be reached). This is OK if the question is, “Have a listen to Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and tell me whether you like it or not?” However, this is not OK if the question is, “Do you think we should accept the settled opinion of the vast majority of climate scientists who say we face an environmental catastrophe if we do not now act to prevent it?”
I am not a climate scientist, so why should I suppose that I can second-guess their opinions? Therefore, any non-climate scientist who rejects the consensus view (or indeed denies its existence) must be some kind of conspiracy theorist! How can anyone claim to have an open mind if, all the time, a little voice in their head is telling them that they are being lied to? But, you may say, what are we to do if both sides of the [supposed] debate over the validity of climate science claim that the other is involved in folly, error, or deceit…? Indeed, this is what leaves most people having no fixed opinion. However, as I said on this blog a few months ago:
“There is simply no evidence for [a] left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).” [Quoted from my 'To all who say AGW is junk science' (4 October 2011)] (N.B. For AGW, please now read anthropogenic climate disruption [ACD])
I believe it is that simple. This is because the marketplace of ideas is a nonsensical fallacy. Irrespective of how earnestly they are cherished, all opinions are not equally valid. Some people really do know better than we do. I think it is time we all accepted this as fact. As David Aaronovitch says in his Voodoo Histories – How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped modern History (2010), if all opinions are equally valid “…then we are lost… Relativism doesn’t care to distinguish between the scholarly and the slapdash, the committed researcher and the careless loudmouth, the scrupulous and the demagogic” (page 335). [See this quoted in context in my 'All that is wrong with the “marketplace of ideas”' (16 August 2011)]
Therefore, if we indulge it, the marketplace of ideas ultimately demands that non-scientists be allowed to act as judge and jury over complex scientific matters that they do not really understand. This is exactly what most people who dissent from the consensus view of climate change insist is their right. Indeed, this is exactly what James Delingpole (JD) asserted should happen a year ago on a BBC TV programme “Meet the Climate Sceptcs”. However, this is illogical and completely insane. (N.B. There is a link to a video clip and partial transcript of JD’s interview with Sir Paul Nurse from my marketplace of ideas post linked to above). Meanwhile, though there may rarely (if ever) be certainty in science, we always have probability; and probability becomes greater when observations match or exceed theory and/or predictions. This is where we are today with climate science.
The time for indecision has now passed.
What we need is the wisdom to know – and be comfortable with – the limit of our own expertise and, therefore, to know when it is appropriate to defer to a higher authority. Although it was a little tongue-in-cheek, this was the point I sought to make in my AGW – What would Jesus do? (18 September 2011): However, even if we could get all the greatest intellectual minds together and give them all the information to help them decide what we ought to do, would we listen? Or do we rate our own opinions higher than them; as well as all the experts?
This is why climate change denial reduces either to ‘marketplace of ideas’ thinking or to conspiracy theory: But, as I said, there is only one conspiracy and it is not a theory; it is a well-documented historical fact. This was probably best summarised on my very first substantive post on this blog: ‘Sceptical economists are intellectually bankrupt’ (10 August 2011).
That leaves us with a decision to take as to whether we are going to listen to the marketplace of ideas or listen to voices of authority. Our decision could have enormous consequences because, until we all insist that our politicians demand that action be taken, our politicians will continue to be controlled by the vested interests of big business and the fossil fuel lobby. Again, this is not conspiracy theory; it is well-documented fact.
This too is something upon which you should not have an open mind.