Archive for the ‘scepticism’ Category
Here is my attempt to make sense of the academic literature categorising the rhetorical positions adopted by climate change ‘sceptics’. However, please note that the term ‘sceptic’ is used solely for convenience: Given that the totality of post-industrial climate change can only be explained as primarily human-caused, these forms of ‘scepticism’ represent varying degrees of ideological blindness.
Given the recent speech by Pope Francis on Capitol Hill, it will be interesting to see how resilient this ideological blindness is – and/or how strong the cognitive dissonance is – amongst the Catholic members of the Republican Party.
I recently became aware of an article published on The Conversation website over a year ago, written by James Painter, author of Poles Apart: the reporting of international scepticism. The article, entitled Enough scientific certainty exists on climate change to challenge media sceptics (4 March 2014), is still worth reading if you haven’t seen it. Here is the crux of his argument:
So when sceptics stress the “nobody knows” narrative, they are misrepresenting the existence of any uncertainty at all as meaning that, for example, no action to reduce carbon emissions is necessary. It’s the nature of climate science that there are lots of uncertainties, but this doesn’t mean scientists know nothing, or are simply speculating.
However, it should be noted here that Painter uses the terms ‘scepticism’ and ‘sceptics’ solely for convenience: As is self-evident from what he writes, he does not accept this is an accurate term for those whose statements he analyses.
If you do not understand what I mean, perhaps the following will help:
Having read the above article, I decided to look at the comments, amongst which I found this from someone going by the name goldminor sanchez:
Here is another way to look at co2. Human emissions of co2 equal approximately 4% of the yearly release that goes into the atmosphere, the other 96% is natural. Co2 itself constitutes 400 parts per million of the atmosphere. So we have only added a tiny fraction of the total amount of a fractional gas. If the Earth was that sensitive to such a tiny change, then man and most life forms would have been wiped out many billions of years ago. That is something to consider.
This comment is so misleading, or simply betrays an astonishing level of scientific illiteracy, that I felt compelled to respond (even though over one year late). I also reported sanchez for being misleading.
Therefore, just in case his comment is removed, I have included it above. However, for ease of reference, here is my response (which explains what real sceptism is):
Here is yet another way to look at it… “Natural” CO2 is in constant circulation between the biosphere and the atmosphere (as is water), whereas “unnatural” CO2 has been out of circulation for millions of years. Thus, humans are well on the way to adding all this geospheric carbon back into the biosphere in just 300 years (thousands if not millions of times faster than the Earth can recycle it).
There have been 5 mass extinctions in geological history, all of which have resulted from climatic changes that occurred faster than organisms could adapt. Post-industrial change is about ten times faster than any “natural” change in geological history. That is why biologists have concluded that the 6th mass extinction is already underway.
To be sceptical is to accept that all our beliefs about reality are potentially falsifiable by contradictory evidence. Therefore, rejecting all evidence contrary to your antecedent beliefs (as young earth creationists do) is the opposite of being sceptical.
Given all of the above, it should be clear that disputing the primary human responsibility for ongoing climate change is not consistent with some very basic physics,* the totality of what we should learn from the Earth’s geological history, and the philosophical roots of genuine scepticism.
I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change. People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.
However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet. This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts. Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:
Scientific conspiracy theories: ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).
Political conspiracy theories: ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).
Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it. This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.
In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things: NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.
In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research. Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.
Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether. Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) – who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.
As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:
On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.
Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website – the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).
If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.
It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.
UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction
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.
I began my previous post by asking the question: “Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations?” I followed this by observing that: “This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus – or the IPCC’s 95% confidence – that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.”
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is, of course, a very funny and very famous book by Oscar Wilde. Sadly, this post is neither funny nor famous (not yet, anyway). In fact, this post is prompted mainly by a TED video (embedded below) of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz – the author of ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’.
As the TED website makes clear, in its biography of her, Kathryn is a journalist who has written articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines and is also a former editor of the Grist blog. She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East.
Anyone who automatically assumes 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… needs to watch this video. Although this may sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it probably is not.
Earlier this year, the movie ’Greedy Lying Bastards’ went on general release – and so will soon be available on DVD. Accordingly, reviews are now appearing in the media again. This one by Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian website is typical. For many people, therefore, the truth that the fossil fuel companies have financed a longstanding campaign to perpetuate doubt regarding climate science is a well-established fact – as incontestable as the fact that the tobacco industry did exactly the same for decades in order to sell as many cigarettes as possible. However, there remains a sizeable minority of people on this planet for whom, it seems, the very repetition of this fact is proof of its falsity. For these people, who generally decided what they wanted the truth to be a very long time ago, any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right (or that the person presenting the evidence has been duped by – or is part of – the conspiracy to perpetuate a lie).
Of course, if you try and point this out to such people, you are accused of peddling your own conspiracy theory. However, tobacco companies have been taken to court and found guilty of trying to hide the link between cancer and smoking. Climate scientists have only ever been taken to court for saying things fossil fuel companies do not want us to hear. This too will be dismissed by the factually-challenged as evidence of a wider conspiracy; now including the judiciary. However, for these people, is there no point at which the simplest explanation (which is supported by observable and documentary evidence) becomes more reasonable than an ever-expanding conspiracy (which is not supported by the vast majority of available evidence)?
This brings me back to something else I said on my previous post:
Unfortunately, for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant: Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments. Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists. However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious: The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.
So, again, the question remains: What about all those people who are not being paid to misinform (i.e. the so-called ‘Merchants of Doubt)’? How do we explain their existence – and how can we tell the difference between those who are being deliberately deceitful and those who are merely wilfully ignorant? To be blunt, how can we spot the difference between someone who is just bigoted and someone who is being paid to be wrong?
I am afraid that I do not know for sure but, having spent an entire year carefully examining all the evidence, I am entirely satisfied by the scientific, historical, and observational evidence – and the logical arguments – that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the Earth’s climate. Therefore, although I can never be certain, despite everything Kathryn Schulz says in the above video, I think it is legitimate to question either the sanity or motives of anyone who repeatedly ignores the fact that their arguments have been shown to flawed; and/or repeatedly re-states things that can easily be determined to be false.
No-one should be in any doubt about this: such people are not being sceptical; they are in denial.
Sadly, I recently had to delete an entire comment on my most recent post by someone identified only as ‘Oakwood’. He or she claims a professional need to remain anonymous but spends an awful lot of time posting comments on blogs by non-experts such as Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat), Steven McIntyre (ClimateAudit) and Andrew Montford (BishopHill). It is, therefore, not that surprising that much of the content of what Oakwood’s comments elsewhere can be traced back to things by these non-experts (whose arguments have all been repeatedly falsified and discredited).
I therefore decided to send Oakwood an email in which I started by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts…” In response, Oakwood started by saying he agreed with that assertion but, sadly, followed it with yet another re-statement of his own “facts” that are not actually facts at all… Then, as if to add insult to injury, Oakwood followed that litany of previously debunked arguments and climate myths (which I will look at in detail tomorrow), with this masterpiece of unfalsifiability:
…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’.
This is a self-sealing argument that is entirely predicated on conspiracy theory: If the consensus is real, reliable and reasonable, there is no legitimate reason to doubt the science. Therefore, 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.
Tomorrow, probably not for the last time, I will rebut all of Oakwood’s “facts” in part two of this series, entitled: ‘The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood’.
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.
This did not make the news today in the UK but clearly should have done.
Analysis by Brenden DeMelle is re-posted here from the DeSmog Blog:
President Obama Pegs Fate of Keystone XL On Climate Change Impact; Slams Climate Denial Flat Earth Society
“I refuse to condemn your generation, and future generations, to a planet that is beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change.”
President Obama stepped up his game today on the issue of climate change, committing to several strong actions to curb dangerous climate pollution from coal power plants, build resilient communities to deal with extreme weather events, and foster clean energy investments around the world.
The speech was peppered with notable nods to the movement-building work undertaken by the environmental community, especially the clear shout-out to Bill McKibben and 350.org with the “invest and divest” line towards the end.
And it was a rough day for climate deniers, who again took multiple shots to the chin from the commander in chief, who said he doesn’t have the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.” [Salon.com notes the president of the actual Flat Earth Society accepts climate science, adding insult to injury for climate deniers.]
But perhaps the most important thing the president did today was to confirm that the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be determined chiefly based on its climate impact – whether the pipeline will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions – firmly cementing the issue of climate change as the central determining factor in the president’s mind.
Here is what the president said:
I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline — the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.
But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.
Powerful words from a powerful leader. Now let’s see how that all shakes out in reality.
It’s too bad that the president pivoted from this great point on Keystone XL to bizarre and unfortunate cheerleading of natural gas fracking. But that’sanother story.
What is clear from this moment forward is that if President Obama intends to hold true to his word, both today and in his prior climate change commitments, there is no way that he can approve Keystone XL.
There will certainly be attempts by TransCanada and the State Department to waffle and pull technical backflips to claim that Keystone XL will not increase GHG emissions. But those would be extremely awkward public relations moves, with no basis in logic or fact.
Of course Keystone XL will increase carbon emissions. Its sole purpose for existence is to connect Canada’s filthy tar sands with export markets in Asia, Europe, and South America, leaving behind a hefty dose of pollution to impact American communities along the Gulf coast’s refinery row.
And this doesn’t even account for inevitable pipeline spills like the one in Mayflower, Arkansas that has created the first U.S. tar sands refugees who will never return to their homes thanks to toxic diluted bitumen flooding their neighborhood.
The climate action community will surely remind the president of these facts repeatedly – you can’t be a leader on climate action if you’re a willing accomplice in accelerating the expansion of one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.
If President Obama’s words today are sincere, Keystone XL is doomed, as it should be.