Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

with 19 comments

As for the flat Earth, the debate is over.

I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood.  This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…”   In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.

There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).

Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz.  This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.

Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false.  However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right.  This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong.  I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly.  However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:

Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).

So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:

“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”  Yes, that applies to everyone.  Here are a few facts:

IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause.  If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event.  The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications.  This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy.  Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped.  See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).  

Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP.  This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited.  For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info).  As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.

While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’.  Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic.  See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.

The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk.  Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent.  Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.

IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter.  Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor.  See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.

The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming.   This myth has been repeatedly debunked.  This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.

There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise.  CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems.  Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog

Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.

But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.

It’s about proper open debate.  The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.

While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat.  For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant.  Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science? 

Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.

19 Responses

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  1. It is politics, ideology or personal philosophy. No person would be dumb enough to step up and say ‘see that physicist ? I’m smarter than him/her, see that geneticists I am way smarter than them as well and actually I don’t bother to see a doctor when a family member is ill because guess what?

    In a more abstract sense we can be right, our politics is the best and even if the vague chance of our political leader leading the country and it doesn’t work out we can blame others. We are always right about our gods and politics and we would never consider ourselves to be less than averagely intelligent.

    ACC requires political action and it is something the politics of growth : capitalism / free market etc cannot address. It is interesting that deniers also push the line [lie] that peak oil – limits to growth- is a myth. Because ‘hey they just discovered 40 billion barrels off the coast of Brazil’ – 40 billion which is 80 weeks of oil supply. Any challenge often results in that terror of insults :- socialist.

    The deniers are right- their privileged position at the top of the energy chain is threatened. But their failure is to confuse opinion with science, to confuse theory with an idea, and to confuse argument with evidence based conclusions. If you are that confused then you can be right [and oh so wrong]

    Science is everything politics isn’t- sure, it is full of backbiting, backstabbing and politicing – when it comes to the evidence it is hard to refute- and not just one or two or 5 studies- the evidence has to mount up and when it is a paradigm it is only the retired and failed scientists who are foolish to play to the gallery. Did you know doctors in the NHS are retrained as soon as they start work as their studies are already out of date?

    Oakwood is fighting an ideological battle- one that he may win- although there will little comfort ultimately for the victor.


    27 October 2013 at 00:51

    • Thanks Jules. The weirdest thing of all is that Oakwood claims to be left-wing as well as a geologist. If so, and if genuinely a climate change ‘sceptic’ – he/she is in an extremist of extreme minorities. Of course, I could, if I were a conspiracy theorist too, I could invoke a more-complicated explanation, such as: Our British socialist geologist, ‘Oakwood’, is actually a fully paid-up member of the anti-science Tea Party in America; a sock puppet of the Heartland Institute; funded by donations from the Koch Brothers; using a totally fictitious alter ego in an attempt to make his talking points seem more credible…?

      As for your, “we would never consider ourselves to be less than averagely intelligent.” This prompts me point out to all that only 49% of the population can be better than average at anything (including being clever).

      Martin Lack

      27 October 2013 at 14:42

      • left wing, perhaps- Marxism is capitalism owned by the workers- and an inevitability, apparently!

        The NHS is fossil fuelled, as is the welfare state, as is education for the masses, and prosperity for all. The left seek to curb the excesses of capitalism- and for many years neglected the environment.

        we need a new politics- not the left-right of growth economics.


        27 October 2013 at 14:57

  2. Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense.


    27 October 2013 at 02:29

  3. Wow. Quite flattering to get a dedicated post. The TED talk is interesting and thought-provoking. I thank Martin for making me aware of it. However, I think Martin missed the point a little. It is intended to encourage the listener to reflect on their own beliefs and consider whether they could be wrong or prejudiced. Not to use it to reenforce their own views of why someone else is wrong and they are right. Does Martin consider me ignorant, an idiot or evil? Is his post intentional or accidental satire?


    27 October 2013 at 20:36

    • Try reading what I said again, Oakwood. Here is a 5-point summary:
      1. Although I provide very good reasons to think otherwise, I accept that the vast majority of experts could be wrong (my beliefs being pretty irrelevant actually).
      2. You, on the other hand, cannot provide a logical basis for your position and continue to insist that you are right (and that your beliefs are all that matter).
      3. In accordance with Schulz’ advice, which I very clearly acknowledged, I deliberately avoided labeling you in any way.
      4. Instead, I have explained why your dismissal of the vast majority of evidence, endless repetition of debunked arguments, and rejection of the scientific consensus and/or IPCC confidence resolves down to ‘I know best’ or ‘it’s a conspiracy’.
      5. From me, therefore, satire was not included. From you, however, sarcasm clearly comes as standard (tactical avoidance and obfuscation).

      Martin Lack

      28 October 2013 at 13:40

      • Martin, with regard to point 1, do you accept that the vast majority of experts can be wrong about AGW? No one has yet shown that CO2 drives temperature. And, we have Hansen being wrong about the water boiling from the earth in 400 years vs. millions of years, and he could be wrong about many other things. Two years ago, when I asked you about some of these issues, you ended up just taking the position that your blog is not about the science, but rather about the psychology of “denial,” and who am I to question the experts. The truth is that the experts are often wrong, and free human beings have every right to take issue with them. As a child I had my tonsils out for no apparent reason other than “the experts” said it should be done. They were wrong, and I was subjected to unnecessary surgery. So I don’t just blindly follow what any expert says. If CO2 drives climate, show me. It should be easy. But since no one can, the AGW crowd resorts to name calling. “Denier.”


        29 October 2013 at 14:46

        • JK, I am sorry about your tonsils but, given this prior experience, it is odd that you cannot see that what you are now doing is analogous to someone with toothache desperately trying to find a dentist who will tell you that you don’t have to have it extracted.

          As for the rest of your comments, I am fed up of you repeating the same old talking points. Any further repetition of them will be deleted.

          Martin Lack

          29 October 2013 at 17:04

  4. The only thing we are likely to agree on is “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.” Given that most of what you say is based on opinion, that’s not a big deal. [Most of what I say is based on peer-reviewed science. – ML] Certainly, stating a different opinion does not qualify as ‘debunking’. Reference to does provide any credibility at all given they state on their front page:

    Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn’t what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that purports to refute global warming. This website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism.

    Thus, their opinion is that anyone who questions any aspect whatsoever of the man-made climate change theory is making it up. [All SkS is saying is that skeptics reject the vast majority of peer-reviewed science and uncritically accept any other sources of information. – ML] In effect, man-made climate change theory became ‘correct’ from Hansen’s presentation to US Congress in 1988, and since that moment should not be subject to their own stated approach that ‘Scientists should always challenge themselves’. Its not that sceptics refuse to accept evidence. They make the challenges and are ‘debunked’ by opinion. [Skeptic challenges are, at best, based on flawed research prepared by people like Richard Lindzen who would probably testify that his mother was a Muslim if someone paid him enough money. – ML] Climate scientists seem to have given up on scepticsm from day one. Any comparison to such established scientific truths as gravity, evolution and the link between cancer and smoking are pure propaganda. [Total reality inversion: It is an undeniable historical fact that Lindzen helped tobacco companies delay effective regulation of their industry arising from the link between smoking and cancer. Having failed at that he has moved on to defend fossil fuel companies in exactly the same way. – ML]

    I have given numerous examples to Martin why I am a sceptic. He does not even attempt to understand the reasoning. His response is ‘you are wrong because: you are out of line with the consensus and you can’t convince me’. [Falsehoods do not become true no matter how many times they are repeated. It is not me that needs to be convinced that skeptics have legitimate arguments; it is the scientific community. – ML]

    Martin will of course always have the last word on his own website. That’s accepted. So whatever I say will either be censored or addressed with other ‘debunked’ claims. [I have rebutted your assertions with a combination of logical argument and reference to sources citing peer-reviewed science. – ML] But given that Martin himself claims not to understand the science of man-made global warming, I can’t see how he feels he is qualified to claim what represents debunking or whether or not a sceptic challenge has any validity. [There are numerous posts on this blog that demonstrate my understanding of climate science. In the absence of a scientific or political conspiracy, there is no reason to doubt that challenges with validity would be taken seriously. – ML]


    28 October 2013 at 21:32

    • Please do not think, Oakwood, that I will continue to publish your comments indefinitely. The only reason I have allowed this one is that it is so blatantly counter-factual (i.e. see inline rebuttals above). Contrary to what you say in your penultimate paragraph, I have tried very hard to understand your reasons for rejecting the scientific consensus. However, apart from all the talking points offered here, all you have ever done is indirectly refer to research done by a handful of contrarian scientists (such as Richard Lindzen) and non-scientists (such as Stephen McIntyre).

      Whereas the former remains a minority opinion from a very unreliable witness, the latter has been carefully considered by a large number of experts and – one way or another – prompted numerous investigations. All have concluded that the scientific basis for concern regarding anthropogenic climate disruption remains valid. Like you, McIntyre continues to repeat himself because he is convinced that he is right and everyone else is wrong (for whatever reason). I make no apology for concluding that this is either unwarranted self-reliance or self-identification as a conspiracy theorist.

      However, as you appear to given up addressing your remarks to me, I think this conversation may now be over.

      Martin Lack

      29 October 2013 at 14:07

  5. You are the one who chose to make me the subject of your post – not for the first time. You respond to each of my stated facts – most of which you don’t even seem to disagree with – with a variety of opinions, non sequiturs and links to propaganda websites. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Lindzen. Most of my knowledge about him comes from you in fact…
    [Unsolicited psychoanalysis deleted. – ML]


    29 October 2013 at 16:23

    • I can see very few facts stated by you (and even fewer with which I have not disagreed). I think the biggest non sequitur I can see here is you calling SkS a propaganda website but insisting you are not a conspiracy theorist.

      However, just as ‘McIntyre’ is shorthand for your ‘hockey stick is broken’ garbage, ‘Lindzen’ is shorthand for your ‘climate sensitivity is low’ nonsense. Without such people, you would have nothing to say. Therefore, as for JK, any further repetition of stuff like this will be deleted.

      Martin Lack

      29 October 2013 at 17:14

  6. Of course, I couldn’t give a frack whether you let me comment or not. You entertain me, whatever you say, especially your little defensive insertions in bold. You like to see my comments, which of course is why you make me the subject of your posts. Your intention is to provoke a response, which you sometimes achieve. You then counter-respond with higher levels of provocation… [Additional gratuitous psychoanalysis deleted. – ML]


    29 October 2013 at 16:36

    • Yes, this post was bound to provoke a response from you (that is why I have allowed your comments). However, with apologies to your ego, that was not my primary objective. My “little defensive insertions” are in fact the best way to avoid other readers being misled (although I am now very tired of arguing about science). If you want to continue to argue that ‘the sky is pink’ prepare to have your time wasted.

      Martin Lack

      29 October 2013 at 17:22

      • Which just goes to show, Martin, that one should not wrestle with pigs – because they like the mess they create.

        So, Oakwood only heard of Lindzen from you? Given his arguments, this makes him little more than “an interpreter of interpretations”. Chinese whispers anyone?

        Little wonder he gets it all wrong. Now where did I get that idea from? Not by being oblivious to the history of climate science denial – as well as the science itself.

        Lionel A

        29 October 2013 at 20:56

  7. Everyone’s lost interest now. That’s the way it goes….anyone out there still listening? Come on lackblog fans.


    29 October 2013 at 21:26

    • Lionel is still here (see above); and you are still denying the consequences of insisting that most experts are wrong (which is absolutely not the scenario presented in Schulz’ talk).

      Martin Lack

      30 October 2013 at 14:43

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