Removing the Rubbish: Consensus, Causation, and Denial

global-warming-floodBy Lawrence Torcello

In the 17th century the philosopher John Locke, writing in admiration of the great scientific thinkers of his time, remarked that he found it “ambition enough to be employed as an under-laborer in clearing ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish, that lies in the way to knowledge.” Locke was understating his considerable contribution to the new empirical and experimental sciences [1]. Still, Locke’s observation captures an essential role philosophy plays in relation to science. A hallmark of good philosophy is the advancement of understanding through the rigorous critique and clarification of concepts. While philosophers aren’t necessarily better equipped to arrive at truth than others, they are often, by training, well-suited to detect muddled and fallacious thinking. We too often overlook the way that knowledge advances through the detection and exposition of errors — the clearing of rubbish — as much as through the discovery of facts. The fact of anthropogenic global warming, for instance, bears existential and ethical implications that require our immediate attention [2], yet misconceptions must be clarified in order for informed public discourse to advance. In what follows I address three common confusions that are often encountered in public and political discourse regarding climate change.

Confusion One: “Consensus has nothing to do with science”

This erroneous claim plays on the ambiguity of the term consensus. In popular parlance consensus often refers to a simple (or merely popular) agreement. In science, the term is appropriately used when a clear-cut majority of researchers recognize that converging lines of evidence confirm the same conclusion. That is precisely what is meant when we hear that there is overwhelming consensus among scientists regarding human activity as a cause of global warming [3]. Scientific consensus is not a matter of popular opinion. A scientific consensus represents broad acknowledgment among experts that a particular claim bears strong evidential support. Humanity’s collective store of knowledge is increased once a scientific consensus is reached.

It follows that if a consensus does not exist, the scientific questions under investigation remain unsettled. Individual researchers, teams of researchers, and peer-referees are all subject to error; it is all the more important for non-experts to recognize scientific consensus as evidence that a claim has been broadly vetted. It remains possible for a scientific consensus to be wrong, of course. People sometimes point to historical cases of mistaken findings, or unscrupulous scientists, in order to question the certainty of consensus, or reliability of science on a given issue. These critics overlook the fact that such errors were finally revealed and surmounted because of the very same scientific process of vetting and arriving at consensus which their narratives are meant to challenge.

Ambiguities in language can lead people to talk past one another. When people are unaware of a term’s technical usage or fail to specify how they are using a term, it creates an atmosphere ripe for misunderstanding and equivocation. We see confusion similar to that concerning the term “consensus” in the claim that evolution is “merely a theory.” Theory as the term is used in science differs from one of its most common usages, which means something closer to speculation or opinion. In modern science, a theory reliably describes reality in a way that is sustained by a broad body of evidence considered so strong, and so verifiable, that it is unlikely ever to be overturned. Indeed, a theory does not exist independently of an overwhelming scientific consensus.

Science is epistemically powerful because it is self-correcting, as opposed to self-sealing. This is how scientific consensus carries intellectual and experimental weight, and why it is responsible for non-experts to trust claims endorsed by scientific consensus.

Confusion Two: There is no “proof” that human activity causes global warming

Proof is a term best left to mathematics and formal logic. Every undergraduate student who studies philosophy (not to mention statistics!) will have heard some version of the mantra “correlation does not entail causation.” This is true, but far from the end of the story. David Hume, writing in the 18th century, made it clear that causal connections are not matters of mathematical certainty [4]. Simply put: for any possible causal relationship it remains logically possible for a different causal relationship, or none, to hold. The term “proof” is, and will remain, irrelevant to causal reasoning. The question regarding a scientific correlation isn’t one of proof, but rather, of statistically relevant patterns. Consequently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) translates the 95% confidence level that global warming is primarily caused by human activity as “extremely likely.” [5]

Understanding the limits of causal inference is equally useful in apprehending the relationship between climate change and extreme weather patterns. No one hurricane, blizzard, drought, or flood (and the list could go on) can be attributed directly and exclusively to global warming. But it nonetheless remains true that a warming earth exerts a discernible influence on patterns of extreme weather. To argue that no single weather event can be causally linked to global warming is like arguing that no specific criminal act can be causally linked to poverty. The red herring search for precise and irrefutable necessary connections is irrelevant to the larger pattern of statistical correlation and influence.

The relationship between CO2 production and global warming is as well established as the link between smoking and lung cancer [6]. Upon being diagnosed with lung cancer it would be silly to insist, before giving up smoking and pursuing a treatment plan, that one’s physicians identify the specific cigarette (or carton, or even year spent smoking) that caused the disease. Certainty is an epistemic impossibility when it comes to any inductive inference, including scientific inferences. Following Hume, this epistemological limitation has long been acknowledged; indeed many would say it has been understood philosophically since Hellenistic skepticism. In both philosophy and modern science, the acknowledgment of fallibility is a constructive move, separating authentic discovery from dogma. Responsible reasoning does not justify the rhetorical exploitation of uncertainty; advancement of scientific understanding can be granted despite the acknowledgment of fallibility. As such, to stubbornly require a “proof” that global warming is the result of human activity and that climate change influences patterns of extreme weather — given the ready preponderance of real evidence — merely reduces to an argument from ignorance.

Confusion Three: The terms denialist and denialism are forms of ad hominem (or inappropriately personal) attack against climate skeptics and their work

The term denier is often associated with those who claim the Holocaust was a hoax. It is considered an insulting term, and since sincere conversations should avoid offense, the argument goes, we should avoid using such terms. Yet denialism is a phenomenon of real academic interest, following recognizable patterns, and, in order to avoid confusions, it should be discussed responsibly with its appropriate label [7].

Established science might be denied for a number of reasons. Some people deny an established scientific claim because they embrace a religious doctrine to which they find the claim inimical. Others may deny an established scientific claim because they hope to challenge the epistemic privilege of science on philosophical grounds. Still others are motivated to reject science for financial or political reasons, or a vaguer sense of group affiliation with a political or cultural faction. When those who lack the scientific expertise relevant to a claim they are making deny the established science on the issue, they evoke the language and authority of science by demanding to be described as skeptics. Skepticism is not mere disbelief motivated by pessimism, cynicism, or political ideology. Skepticism has always entailed a philosophical investigation into the constraints on human knowledge, either in general or in a given area. The intellectually cautious nature of science reflects this philosophical lineage.

Science works through its skeptical methodology; this is the motor of the vetting process that can ultimately lead to consensus. We do not expect scientists doing field research to share exact methodologies with scientists working in laboratory settings, but all fields of science involve (ideally) rigorous applications of methodological skepticism. Skepticism is an essential component of the scientific process. When one who lacks relevant expertise denies a scientific consensus, and attacks scientists who support it, that person does not behave as a skeptic. It is to play at being a skeptic while refusing to acknowledge the legitimate fruits of skepticism. This form of denialism is accurately described as pseudo-skepticism; it is a common if not essential feature of pseudoscience [8]. Pseudo-skepticism and pseudoscience should both be properly understood as types of science denialism. Many an appropriate label can be used constructively or as ad hominem bludgeons; this alone is not a good reason to give up on appropriate labels.

The majority of people who are unsure of what to think about climate change are not denialists of climate science. But for committed denialists, skeptics is a misleading and inappropriate label [9]. The term skepticism is ill-suited to describe the behavior of those who obstinately deny the evidence for anthropogenic climate change — the term pseudo-skepticism is more accurate. Moreover, it is more appropriate ethically to challenge, rather than to ignore, the broader phenomena of science denialism [10]. Indeed, it is vital to clear this sort of rubbish, which muddles the public’s knowledge of scientific consensus on climate change. Doing so requires sustained clarity of concepts, the consistent use of language, and active rejection of the distractions staged by the loud minority of denialists. It is an effort well suited to both scientists and philosophers.

_____

Lawrence Torcello is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, NY. He specializes in social and political philosophy, moral theory, and applied ethics. His current research interests focus on democratic theory, liberalism, and issues of climate justice. Recent work explores the moral implications of climate change denialism and other forms of science denial.

[1] Locke J., (1689) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Edited by Peter Nidditch (1979), “The Epistle to the Reader,” pp. 9-10 Oxford University Press.

[2] Torcello, L., Mann M.E., (2014) “Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science,” The Conversation US, Published online, Oct. 21.

[3] Cook, J., et al., (2013) “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature,” Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 8, No, 024024, 7 pages.

[4] Hume, D., (1748)  An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Peter Millican, (2008) Oxford University Press.

[5] IPCC AR5 (2013) Website.

[6] Fischer, D., (2014) “Climate Risks as Conclusive as Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer,” Scientific American, Published online: March, 19.

[7] Pigliucci, M., (2014) “The varieties of denialism,” Scientia Salon, Published online, Oct., 28.

[8] Torcello, L., (2012) “The Trouble with Pseudoskepticism,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 37-41.

[9] Deniers are not Skeptics, Skeptical Inquirer, 5 December 2014.

[10] Torcello, L., (2011) “The Ethics of Inquiry, Scientific Belief, and Public Discourse,” Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 197-215.

103 thoughts on “Removing the Rubbish: Consensus, Causation, and Denial

  1. I have been a reader (and infrequent commenter) of this magazine since its beginning and have mostly enjoyed the experience. I was brought up as a Catholic in a priest-ridden country but was fortunately able to throw off this upbringing in my teens and have been an atheist ever since. One abiding memory of my childhood is the feeling of mental claustrophobia produced when any topic of conversation was raised on which the church had spoken. That feeling was reproduced in me when I read the present OP. I usually have no difficulty in accepting the consensus view of experts in the many fields in which I lack expertise myself, but there is something about the language and the tone of this piece that makes me feel I am being silenced, even when I don’t want to speak. If it was only the OP, I could let it go, but unfortunately more than a few of the regular commenters seemed all too eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the priesthood by using insultingly rude put-downs of even the slightest hint of dissent. Most regretful of all, perhaps, is the fact that this behaviour was enabled by the unnecessarily rude contribution by the editor-in-chief, which seemed so out of character that it confirms in my mind the unusually emotional, almost religious attitude of many to the subject of the OP. In particular, I find it difficult to understand how so many commenters who normally show a fairly rational turn of mind can acquiesce in the idea that the terms “denier” or “denialist” are not pejorative, as if to be told to line up with the rest of the neo-nazis is a run-of-the-mill criticism and not an attempt to silence dissent.
    Anyway, that’s the end of it for me and SciSal. Best wishes to you all.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Massimo,
    In a previous thread you were asked:
    “why there are so many interpretations of QM…”
    And responded:
    “Because interpretations are metaphysical in nature, and therefore go beyond the (currently available, possibly foreseeable) empirical evidence. It’s not science, in other words.”
    Is this applicable only to Quantum theory and its weirdness or would you say that predictions/interpretations in Climate Science, say around the year 2100, are also metaphysical in nature?

    dadooq
    …almost religious attitude of many to the subject of the OP….
    “Anyway, that’s the end of it for me and SciSal. Best wishes to you all.”

    I would sincerely suggest that you not flee the scene and continue to participate. There is no cure for confirmation bias, even my confirmation bias, and I think Massimo, et. al, do an incredible job in keeping this site an open forum. We occasionaly even have admissions of going too far or reacting too emotionally by fellow opiners. For me, this is as good as it gets (or has gotten so far). Considering the kinds of topics we discuss and the amount of emotion required to fuel our most unusual of preoccupations (very few people are inclined to wrestle with abstruse philosophical questions), I think occasional religious attitudes are to be expected. When I am able to identify religious attitudes expressed on this site, as I often do, it makes me wonder which one of my attitudes could be similarly characterized.

    Marko

    “Nevertheless, the AGW-proponents are always tiptoeing around these topics, in the name of political correctness. And on the other hand they ridicule the AGW-denialists for… wow… being in denial!”

    I think this is why “alarmist” (AGW-proponents, how receptive does that make you to anything that follows?) and “denialist” are clearly terms that we should avoid. They can only provoke an attitude in the opponent that is unsuitable for discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When anyone proposes that less freedom and democracy will solve a problem, my advice is to run away – fast. We reduce population growth by empowering women and reducing insecurity. Bottom-up is more effective than top-down; fear-mongering from either side will get us nowhere (it will make the PR sector fat and happy). We can reduce energy use and we can develop new technologies – this is part of our history. We are problem-solvers. We often make blunders and are frequently short-sighted, but neither a “head-in-the-sand” business as usual nor a “sky-is-falling” mentality will get us out of the current mess. We need goals, we need strategies, we need feedback. If we can slowly shift to a sustainable, circular economy that more resembles nature, how do we lose?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Marko,

    Even if you were correct about the avoidance of the topic – and in my eyes there are plenty of people who argue that the planet is overpopulated – there would still be a massive difference between rejecting evidence for the existence of a problem on the one side and considering a specific suggestion of how to solve that problem strategically unwise or unrealistic on the other. Not the same thing.

    Also, you know that if the population were halved but they still used fossil fuels, any problems caused by fossil fuel use would remain entirely unresolved? It would only take a bit longer for stuff to happen.

    As for something completely different: It is fascinating to see how extremely offended people can get who openly vilify an entire area of research, that is hundreds if not thousands of scientists worldwide, as liars, conspirators, frauds, corrupt, or at least grossly incompetent, the moment somebody calls them irrational in turn. Double standard…

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  5. What is needed is the old traditional tyranny, which would enact compulsory sterilization of women after giving the first birth. Maintaining the one-child policy for 20-50 years would basically halve the current world population. This would have grave consequences for the world economy, for the human psychology and society, etc… But it would completely neutralize the AGW problem and save our planet!
    Nevertheless, the AGW-proponents are always tiptoeing around these topics, in the name of political correctness.

    I am having a little trouble with the concept that our scientists are afraid to tell us about the real solution to AGW because of “political correctness”.

    I often hear of people being unable to make certain statements because of “political correctness” and I am never sure how that works.

    Do you start to talk and a great big abstract noun comes and jumps on you?

    Or are our brightest and best afraid that some people might say frightful things about them, the way they forced that poor scientist to change his shirt?

    Except that no one forced him to change his shirt. If he liked the shirt and didn’t think it was offensive he could just have said so and kept on wearing it.

    I was once threatened with dismissal from my job for even possessing a T shirt that had a cartoon of a duck and the words “Innocent Bystander” on it. I defended the shirt. I still have the shirt and only refrain from wearing it because it is fragile and I don’t have the figure I had then.

    So I have a little trouble with the idea that our scientists are sitting on some really great solution to AGW but are afraid to tell us about it because of “political correctness”.

    Actually, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why no one is talking about the “subjugate the entire world and enforce mass sterilisation of women for twenty to fifty years” solution.

    Firstly, I doubt that there is more than a handful of scientist who would ever want such a thing to happen.

    Secondly, even if they did it is no more a practical solution than say “wave a magic wand, spread pixie dust around and make it all better”.

    Think about it, it is your first day on the job project managing the “subjugate the entire world and enforce mass sterilisation of women” solution. What exactly is the first step on your project plan?

    If it is difficult to get countries to sign up to some market mechanism on pricing carbon, I don’t think it would be a walk in the park getting them to sign up to forced sterilisation.

    People are focussed on solutions that have, at least, an outside chance of being achieved.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Buried in here is an interesting contrast and interaction between the mental functions of rationality and emotion. To put it colloquially, but effectively, between heat and light.

    There is no such thing as an objective point of view and we are deluged with enormous amounts of information. The second point is not a new phenomena. While we are increasingly buried under lots of media provided information, this often only replaces more organic forms.

    So we all have to develop processes for and standards to judge and sort out all this input. Everyone naturally assumes their viewpoint is fairly clear cut and objective. In fact, we seem to be born that way and usually have to learn the hard way that is not always the case. Most continue to hold portions of that view and to prefer factors to support their position. This is not an entirely irrational approach, given the first point, that there is no “God’s eye view.” Though that remains another popular assumption, both intentionalist and structuralist.

    So, when our efforts at rationality find that both the ground on which they stand and the streams of information they are given is subjective, it does become an issue of both external and internal consensus.

    That internal consensus is what is called emotion and intuition. That the accumulation of what we presume to know and believe points us in one direction, even if the immediate factors and arguments might be pointing another.

    The clear linear connections of rationality, the “light,” do not exist in isolation, but emerge and remain part of that much larger, non-linear atmospheric “heat.”

    Something such as AGW can be reasonably accepted as a fairly certain fact, but then the conflict arises because there becomes a somewhat linear desire to address it directly, without a serious consideration of the entire context in which it exists, thus eliciting significant negative response. Which might seem irrational to those promoting the “rational” view, but are entirely rational to those who might feel their particular interests are threatened.

    If we are to return human civilization to working within the resources of the planet, it would take a much larger and philosophically deeper discussion, than simply plugging the smoke stacks, tail pipes and cow’s butts.

    Why are we in this mad rush to own, control, get rich, live forever, keep up with the Jones, rat race, etc? How do we slow down? Coalesce back into working societies and not just atomized individuals mostly connected through the monetary system? Put and store value in our communities and environments and not just drain them to feed the “machine?”

    If we can start to answer questions like that, then we will work our way around AGW.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Michaelfugate,

    When anyone proposes that less freedom and democracy will solve a problem, my advice is to run away – fast. We reduce population growth by empowering women and reducing insecurity. Bottom-up is more effective than top-down

    When faced with having to make hard choices (i.e. choosing between two horrible evils), democracy is unfortunately not very efficient. An authoritarian decree can simply be faster in implementing unpopular measures. Also, I don’t really understand what you mean by “empowering” women and “reducing insecurity”. Assuming a more socially and financially secure woman, I fail to see why would she opt not to give birth to two or more children. What is the reasoning in that argument? While I am not a woman, still, if I had a better salary, more financial and other security, etc., I would certainly opt to have a bigger family — the more the merrier. I don’t understand why do you think that the majority of people would do otherwise?

    Alex SL,

    I agree, those are two different types of denialism. One is about denying that the problem exist, while the other is about denying what is the solution of the problem. But my point is that both camps are being dishonest (unintentionally or otherwise).

    Also, if the current population were halved (or reduced to some other proportion, I don’t really know the numbers), the CO2 emission would also be proportionally cut down. This may be enough for the current vegetation on the planet to be able to sustainably keep reabsorbing the excess CO2. This would be a permanent solution. But at the current levels of CO2 emission, the planet is oversaturated, and there is no equilibrium.

    Like

  8. Robin,

    What I mean by not succumbing to political correctness is to call spade a spade — the solution to the AGW problem is for all world countries to follow the example of China and implement one-child policy. This should be stated openly and clearly, with public campaigns by AGW-proponents to encourage governments to implement this. I just don’t see anyone doing that, anywhere in the world.

    As for implementing such a solution in practice, I never said it would be easy. But pretending that any less radical solutions are enough is irresponsible and dishonest. Instead, refraining from having children should be spinned as a Good Thing by the global media. Women should be encouraged to get sterilized voluntarily, worldwide, if they care about AGW and environment impact of having children. Institutions should be established (also worldwide) to educate women about this. Governments should look up to the successful implementation of population control in China, and follow their example. NATO could use military power to topple non-environment-friendly foreign governments who refuse to implement the one-child policy. Entertainment industry and Hollywood should produce a lot of movies in which the main heroine has successfully fought for her right to not have children, in the name of environment-friendliness, and helped her friends with that as well…

    I guess you can see where this is going. 🙂 The above list represents a sample of ideas that AGW-proponents should advertise as much as possible. But for some reason (why, oh why?) they don’t do any of those things. Instead, they bury their heads in the sand, and keep deluding themselves (along with the general public) that AGW can be resolved if we install enough windmills. Sure.

    My sole point is that AGW-proponents have no moral ground to criticize AGW-denialists for their denialism. Despite the fact that science is on their side. One camp is in denial of the problem, the other is in denial of the solution. Both are equally bad.

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  9. Marko:

    When faced with having to make hard choices (i.e. choosing between two horrible evils), democracy is unfortunately not very efficient. An authoritarian decree can simply be faster in implementing unpopular measures.

    the solution to the AGW problem is for all world countries to follow the example of China and implement one-child policy. This should be stated openly and clearly, with public campaigns by AGW-proponents to encourage governments to implement this.

    Women should be encouraged to get sterilized voluntarily, worldwide, if they care about AGW and environment impact of having children. Institutions should be established (also worldwide) to educate women about this. Governments should look up to the successful implementation of population control in China, and follow their example. NATO could use military power to topple non-environment-friendly foreign governments who refuse to implement the one-child policy.

    ————————————————————————————-

    I had to read this several times, because at first, I thought it was some kind of Swiftian satire — “A Modest Proposal, Mark II.” Alas, it appears that Marko is serious.

    Presumably, Massimo allowed this post to get through, in order to demonstrate the levels of madness AGW enthusiasts can descend to, just as he allowed Deadman’s post through, to highlight the crazies in the Denialist movement.

    Marko: I am sure you will have eighty arguments as to why this is necessary, why the whole world will drown/boil/burn to a crisp/freeze/suffocate/etc., if we don’t do what you say. Don’t bother. Your breezy advocacy for totalitarianism — nothing can be more invasive, on the part of a government, than intrusion into the family — calls for sterilization, enthusiasm for warmongering, etc., so discredit your basic judgment that nothing you ever say again will be credible — at least not with anyone who isn’t as ideologically demented as you are.

    I don’t hear stuff this crazy from the guys living in boxes under the bridge.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Marko, educated women, if at all, start having children much later and, as rearing children is time-consuming and requires time off work, have fewer. Europe and Japan already have zero or even negative birth rates – how could you not know this? Looks like the work has already been done for you, without any need for dictatorship. The problem is consumption and, by the way, have you considered suicide to help our future generations?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So I know this is a lofty thing to ask for considering how this thread is progressing, but let’s try to tone things down a little please.

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  12. “So I know this is a lofty thing to ask for considering how this thread is progressing, but let’s try to tone things down a little please.”

    No offense, but that’s a bit rich, no? Deadman gets piled on, with everyone whooping it up, and Marko comes along with some nutter post about how we should go all Stalin and Mao on anyone who disagrees. When Aravis rightly protests, the reply is to “tone things down a little”? Am I missing something here? Are we so in a froth about climate skeptics that we’re now happy to advocate insane political policies to get our way, including following China’s population policy (which includes forced abortions), as well as regime change by NATO for those who disagree? And we’re just supposed to nod our heads as if this is a rational response to people asking questions? No wonder Dadooq left. A few more of these and I’ll be following him.

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  13. MichaelFugate if you think that appropriate federal pollution regulations — including regulation of GHGs — is “less freedom and democracy,” then you’re welcome to meet our Randian overlords.

    Strategies? On my blog, years before Krugman stumbled across the idea, I noted that the WTO allows carbon tariffs on imports if a country has a domestic carbon tax in place. Pretty simple strategy to me. So, strategies exist.

    Marko “Self-censoring”? As for treating “the cause,” it’s true that environmental groups have differed on whether or not to discuss issues like population growth in conjunction with AGW — but some do! Most notably, Center for Biological Diversity does a lot of condom distribution and plays it up. I don’t see any pot-and-kettle here. Beyond the above, the kettle doesn’t even admit the fire that is blackening both cooking utensils even exists. (And, that’s how analogies are used!)

    As for military force? That’s crazy. Besides, arguably, under such a scenario, the US should start by bombing my own Texas or something. (Actually, Australia emits more GHGs per capita than the US.) Then, bomb other “red states.” Arguably, the portion of the Religious Right that doubles down on denying climate change by saying that, if it happens, then God will deliver them via the Rapture, is as dangerous as Indians (the BJP, at least) thinking that it’s national pride to pass China in population.

    Per what I said to Michael, strategies exist far less than what you propose. A carbon tax + tariff would be a huge start.

    Aravis, I think Marko is far less representative of people with legitimate concerns about AGW than Doom and Deadman are among deniers.

    Alex is right about “extremely offended.” The science on AGW is clear. And nobody here (sorry, Ted Cruz) is arguing that the reality of AGW is our opening to invite the UN to take over our golf courses under Agenda 21. For anybody who’s too hurt by that, that’s just one person’s comment, not the “priesthood” speaking out. (Note to EJ: Is scorning part of shunning, or at least an acceptable prelude?)

    gwarner99 Various denialist groups, in various ways and extremities, all have their own “Gish Gallops” and such, yes.

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  14. SocraticGadfly,

    I think I see your approach – you don’t know the answer to the question I asked but you don’t like where it seems to be heading so what better way to deal with it that to launch an attack on the person. Kudos!

    Hopefully the author of the article will identify the premise supporting the claimed 95% certainty (in his section, Confusion Two).

    For myself I have no doubt that human activity has contributed “significantly” to global warming but – as the authors of chapter 11 of AR5 humorously noted (citation already provided) – the 95% certainty claimed in the relevant chapter on attribution (chapter 10) is based on a premise that is clearly false.

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  15. Marco says: “My sole point is that AGW-proponents have no moral ground to criticize AGW-denialists for their denialism. Despite the fact that science is on their side. One camp is in denial of the problem, the other is in denial of the solution. Both are equally bad.”

    So AGW-proponents are too lilly-livered to admit that your (IMHO absurd and unworkable) proposal is the right one. Sorry, but I suspect very few people agree with your ideas, and it has something to do with them being wrong, not with “PC”.

    You are using the same sort of “everybody knows” argument as Deadman. I suppose “All currently attainable “clean” energy sources are nowhere near enough to fulfil this demand.” is right in some strict sense, but considering the rate at which solar and other renewable sources are advancing, some very aggressive research could slash the use of fossil fuels usage in even a decade — at least it is no more ridiculous than saying an 1960 that we would send a man to the moon and bring him back by the end of the decade, and on the face of it, it’s a far more practical goal than the moon shot. And is an infinitely more modest (and plausible) proposal than yours.

    It may be that some colleagues nod their heads at your ideas, but think lurking “better judgement” is a better explanation than rank hypocricy for their not getting on that bandwagen.

    An AGW denier, reading your proposals would think you proved all their ridiculous prejudices and fears about how what the aims of the liberal Molloch.

    As Robin Herbert asked, what could be your first step if you were king of the world? It would have to be “gain sufficiently unlimited power to do these things”, and like most would be benevolent dictators if you stuck to that program, you would generate oceans of blood without ever getting to step two.

    We have one group of people who want to give up on democracy because it can infringe on the total liberty they imagine for themselves (and theoretically, very theoretically, for everyone else).

    Personally, I’m afraid the dream of a benevolent dictator, while it may be easy to imagine — just think “someone like you”, and while we cannot imagine what it would look like to solve world problems by improving the way we think together as communities and nations and becoming more not less democratic. You can imagine looking down on the spinning globe and saying “this needs to move this way, and that needs to move that way”, but it is an unfortunate fantasy promoted by globes that we can take in the whole world at a glance. This is the very small kernel of truth in postmodernist anti-Enlightenment thinking – that modernism can lead us into such dangerous fantasies. Unfortunately they have no idea of a serious answer to the problem however.

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  16. Hi Jarnauga,

    my previous post was not directed at aravis in particular. indeed, i thought aravis’ response was appropriate, which is why it was posted.

    My comment was a general request to all commentators which just happened to follow aravis’ comment since right after aravis’ comment some posts started coming in that were very inappropriate. Trust me we are trying our best to keep things civil and productive on this touchy subject!

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  17. jarnauga111,

    dadooq,

    Deadman’s comment was not an argument. It was ad hominem invective, finally asserting that studies indicating causal correlation between CO2 admissions and global warming comprise “seemingly deliberate lie.” There’s no way to get around that his comment is a classic example of what is termed ‘denialism’ on any subject. That’s somewhat different from marking out a position and arguing for it, and responding to arguments in disagreement.

    Unfortunately, ‘denialism,’ as a cultural phenomenon, presents along a spectrum. Deadman is one step away from some troll shouting ‘you @#$#%*^ librul commies!’ Is scienceofdoom on that spectrum? Probably, given the other political commitments on his website. But his comment represents a more sophisticated argument, derived from interpreting statistics to his preference. That’s harder to argue – but at least it’s an argument. Is ThomasWFuller’s comment found on this spectrum? Possibly, but I think not – SocraticGadfly read his blog too uncharitably. With ThomasWFuller we actually enter an interesting grey area – a moderation that attempts to clarify the debate, but may obfuscate it by not admitting limitations between opposing positions.

    I remarked the attachment to environmentalism by New Agers for a reason: yes, the spectrum proceeds to the left, to activists who don’t recognize the political complexities of the issue.

    Nonetheless, there just has developed a scientific consensus on the issue of climate change. The specifics are open to criticism, the general trend simply is not.

    We’ve several interesting issues here, that require some philosophic detachment in order to consider clearly. 1) the nature of scientific consensus; 2) how this is addressed publically for political purposes; 3) how negotiations between differing positions on such consensus are best negotiated. Only after these questions are addressed, can we then turn to the actual debate.

    However, emotions run high. Deadman wants to save the world from leftie Luddites; the truth matters little to him. Marko Vojinovic wants to promote voluntary sterilization, which indicates a lack of cultural sensitivity. In between are all manner of possible responses. Why? My guess is that a) radical change threatens our way of life; and b) radical change cannot yet adequately account for our way of life; c) radical change may be the only change that can resolve the problem. Finally, (d) mediations and moderations offer hope, but they may be as impractical – and as difficult to argue – as radical change.

    None of this is anything we like.

    In my previous comments, I sounded the toll of the bell; I don’t think there is much going to be done about this issue, and This whole thread has indicated why that might be. Philosophic considerations of the future need to address the result of this. But I’m also aware that philosophy is, as reflection on what we know, essentially a backwards’ glance – as Hegel wrote, “the owl of Minerva flies at dusk.”

    There’s worth in that. I doubt that the discussion we’re having will change any minds. But perhaps it can help us understand the nature of mind in its social, historical setting.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer comes to mind;
    The courage to change the things I can,
    the patience to deal with the things I cannot
    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Marko provides a good, reductio ad absurdum example of why linear thinking in a non-linear reality can rapidly become detached from any hint of possible association with actual reason. If over-population is truly the ultimate reason for AGW and it is a terminal condition, it will resolve itself.

    The reason top down solutions don’t work is they ultimately lack the cohesion to contain the bottom up energy on which they are based in the first place. Civil order is top down. Social growth is bottom up. There is a constant tension between the two and while civil order gives structure to society, when the relation fully breaks down, that order fades into the past and society picks itself up and starts over again, when the dust settles.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Not to pile on Marko too much, given the Catch 22 of education is that the more programed you are, the more programed you become, but it is interesting to note that he didn’t suggest the mass sterilization of men.

    Something that even the Chinese communist party doesn’t consider. Which given the preference for male children and resulting abortions of females, would solve some of the resulting problems. Yet it’s safe to say, they would quickly find themselves in history’s dustbin, if they were to try.

    Downward pressure versus upward energy only goes so far before it all blows up.

    Like

  20. Hi Marko,

    While I share the opinion of those who think your view is dangerous and, if I’m honest, pretty repugnant, I can at least appreciate how you could have come to these conclusions and so I hope I can offer an argument for why they are a little misguided.

    First, I recommend you watch the following BBC documentary by economist Hans Rosling.

    It’s been a while since I’ve watched it so take the following with a grain of salt, but the gist of it is that while the population will continue to rise, it seems to be levelling off. Around the world, fewer and fewer children are being born. We seem set to reach a stable population level in the next fifty years or so.

    Fewer children are being born because women are becoming more financially secure and educated.

    > What is the reasoning in that argument? While I am not a woman, still, if I had a better salary, more financial and other security, etc., I would certainly opt to have a bigger family

    Because it’s not ‘the more the merrier’. Having kids is hard work. Poor, uneducated women have kids for a number of reasons.

    1) Ignorance about or taboos against contraception
    2) Having no education means no career, meaning their only role is to raise children
    3) Having no financial security means having children who can support them in their old age
    4) Having children to help with house/farm/factory work etc
    5) Poor healthcare and high child mortality means there is an incentive to have more children to mitigate risk.
    6) Traditional/cultural reasons being slowly superseded by modernity

    Incidentally, population will continue to rise regardless, because there are babies right now who will reproduce before their parents (and possibly grandparents) die. Even if we implemented a one child policy this minute the population would still grow to in excess of ten billion before it began to decline. The point is that even though the population continues to grow for the time being, this does not mean that we are not approaching a balance, and so your drastic, inhumane one child policy is probably not necessary.

    I see only a tenuous link between too many people and global warming. Having too many people means, arguably, more poverty, less food to go around and so on. It’s not at all clear that it means more energy usage. We would probably still be using great amounts of energy even with much fewer people — the per capita usage might expand to compensate.

    The fact is that all the available oil and gas in the ground is probably going to get burned and end up in the atmosphere sooner or later. The point of reducing carbon emissions, as far as I’m concerned, is to give us more time to figure out what to do about it and to deal with the consequences. One benefit of having more people is that we have more people working on that problem.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Marko: if the current population were halved (or reduced to some other proportion, I don’t really know the numbers), the CO2 emission would also be proportionally cut down. This may be enough for the current vegetation on the planet to be able to sustainably keep reabsorbing the excess CO2. This would be a permanent solution.

    I see where you are coming from with that, but that is severely underestimating the scale of what is going on. Again, I am not a climate scientist, but as a botanist I know a bit about vegetation and plants.

    The thing is that hardly any vegetation on the planet actually sequesters any large amount of carbon. Yes, if you plant a forest where there is now a patch of grass, you will sequester some carbon into the wood of that forest. But the moment the forest reaches climax/steady state, that’s it, there will be no more significant sequestration. Why? Well, because every leaf or branch that is built will within short order die and for the most part be turned back into CO2 by fungi, worms and microorganisms.

    Really the only areas that do any relevant amount of sequestration are peat bogs (that’s where coal comes from) and some anaerobic areas in the ocean (to simplify, oil). You need exceptional circumstances like these to do any serious sequestration in a short time, and note that “short time” here means hundreds of thousands of years, and even that event is controversial. And obviously sequestration being difficult is how it must be, otherwise all CO2 would have been lost from the atmosphere several hundred million years ago at the latest and we wouldn’t exist.

    So no, if climate scientists are right then even only three hundred million people driving cars and heating with coal would still wreck the climate, only they would do so over a few hundred years or so as opposed to in a few decades. The only permanent solution is then to use only renewable resources, and so the population discussion is a bit of a red herring, even as I acknowledge that we would have less urgent problems if there were less of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Socratic,
    My comment on freedom and democracy was referring to Marko’s post advocating a dictatorship like China’s to solve his population problem – not regulations of GHGs or other pollutants.

    Like

  23. Hi Ej,

    >We’ve several interesting issues here, that require some philosophic detachment in order to consider clearly. 1) the nature of scientific consensus; 2) how this is addressed publically for political purposes; 3) how negotiations between differing positions on such consensus are best negotiated. Only after these questions are addressed, can we then turn to the actual debate.

    I’d like to second this sociological look at the issues. Whether I’m way out on the left, or the right, or square in the middle, I will have personal interests to rise above in order to see things clearly. In these efforts I would hope for us to now admit that we’re all on this blog for the same essential reason: to earn the respect of others. Perhaps this isn’t the most noble reason to do something, but the observation may be helpful. Objectivity should be more attainable, once we admit that we ultimately have selfish motives.

    Like

  24. Wow people, I get a relaxing weekend with my daughter and then I catch up with comments and see talk of sterilization, totalitarianism, military intervention, and the like!

    First off: please be patient with our moderator-in-chief (Dan). He’s doing an excellent and difficult job, particularly when posts like these are published (and wait until we put out a new one on biological racism!). We are making a lot of subjective calls, which are bound to displease some more than others, but I still think the overall level of the discussion has gone way up since we implemented the new moderation policy.

    That said, I vehemently disagree with Marko on use of military power, and I seriously doubt that even halving the population would resolve the problem at hand anyway. I also think it is entirely unfair of him to say that proponents of AGW are in denial about anything: the problem is clear and there is plenty of scientific evidence; the solutions are many, much less clear, and they necessarily involve not just empirical facts but also political and ethical judgment.

    However, I don’t see voluntary programs to reduce world population as a bad idea at all. Indeed, we are doing this sort of thing already, via education, and it’s working, though not fast enough in certain areas of the planet. Sterilization also isn’t a bad idea, as long as it is voluntary and practiced by either (or both) men and women (I speak from first experience here…).

    Liked by 2 people

  25. @SocraticGadfly:

    “Aravis, I think Marko is far less representative of people with legitimate concerns about AGW than Doom and Deadman are among deniers.”

    Actually, the most important thing to come out of this thread is the soft-pedaling/half-hearted condemnation of Marko’s totalitarian comments by the climate science crowd on this site compared to the earlier lambasting of Deadman’s post (which, I will note, had nothing about invading countries, sterilizing people, or anything of the sort).

    @ ejwinner: No, Marco’s plan is not the promotion of voluntary sterilization. From Marco:

    “Of course, short of a good old nice pandemic high-mortality-rate plague, which would randomly wipe out one third of the overall human population in a course of a few months, the only “humane” solution to the AGW problem (which would treat the cause as opposed to symptoms) would be to enforce the Chinese-like one-child policy, planetwise. One obvious problem is that today’s modern democratic governments are completely ill-suited to implement something like this. What is needed is the old traditional tyranny, which would enact compulsory sterilization of women after giving the first birth.”

    The burping out of the word voluntary later in the thread, followed by another Mao love-fest, tells me that there’s nothing voluntary about it.

    That the climate science people on the thread don’t see that this is a real life example of every caricature of the right, is amazing to me, as is the casual acceptance of regime change policies that make Dubya look rational by comparison. That such smart people seemingly don’t care about the basic tenets of liberal democracy but are so concerned with the Deadman commentators of the world spoiling their party by repeating GOP boilerplate says much more about them than anything about Deadman.

    And you can forget about the election prospects of such an attitude. All this does is turn educated people like myself who are otherwise quite sympathetic to the scientific concerns of climate science squarely against it. If I now have to choose between people who soft-pedal/make excuses for/pooh-pooh the articulation of sick political policies in the interests of climate science and Deadman’s candidate, I’ll go with the latter. At the end of the day, I’m a humanist and I find this whole development on the thread 100 times more offensive than anything Deadman said. I’m not walking away from Magna Carta for the sake of your meteorological data.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Everyone (and especially Aravis),

    Apparently you’ve all misunderstood what I was saying. Despite my description of all those insane social measures to reduce population — I am certainly not *advocating* that any of those be actually implemented. The colourful descriptions are there just to emphasize the level of insanity of such measures. Instead, my whole point was that AGW-proponents are the people who *should* advocate such measures (btw, that is the very reason why I don’t subscribe to that camp).

    Let me put it more simply. When faced with a question “what do we do to resolve the AGW problem?”, an AGW-proponent has three choices:

    (1) to answer “sterilize the population”;
    (2) to answer “do nothing, let the planet cook”;
    (3) to lie.

    Obviously, it’s a tough choice to make. But my criticism is that most AGW-proponents opt for (3) — they try to dodge the question, delude the public about clean energy sources, switch the topic to bashing down AGW-denialists, and in general choose to behave very unethically — doing everything to avoid answering the question honestly.

    That’s the problem I am pointing to.

    Also, I don’t want to sound fatalistic, but I really don’t see a viable solution to the AGW problem itself. Short of dumping a lot more money (then what is already being dumped) into projects like ITER and hoping that the engineers can come up with a miracle, the scenario (2) is mostly certain to happen. Scenario (1) will of course never happen precisely because of all the reasons everyone stated in responses to my previous comments, and (3) is just a form of mass delusion, lulling the general public into belief that AGW-proponents are doing “the right thing” to resolve the problem (while the reality is very different).

    Your breezy advocacy for totalitarianism — nothing can be more invasive, on the part of a government, than intrusion into the family — calls for sterilization, enthusiasm for warmongering, etc., so discredit your basic judgment that nothing you ever say again will be credible — at least not with anyone who isn’t as ideologically demented as you are.

    Aravis, I really don’t understand how you (of all people here) managed to misunderstand my comments so completely. Maybe it’s a language barrier, or a written media issue, but I believed that the sheer insanity of “proposals” in my comments was very obviously implied. Did you really believe I *endorse* that “proposal” I was describing? Anyway, my response above should hopefully clear up the point I was trying to make.

    Finally, I hope you will reconsider your opinion about me being “ideologically demented”. 🙂 The “ideologically demented” characterization is more suitable to the AGW-proponents, when they choose to lie to people about the situation we are all in.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Marko, either AGW is real or it isn’t. Are you really choosing not believe in it because you don’t like the consequences if it is true? You seem to think there is only one solution, but this is certainly not true. One person who produces 100 tons of Carbon is equal to 100 who produce 1 ton each. I only see a failure of imagination on your part.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Hi Marko,

    What do you mean by AGW-proponent? Do you mean someone who believes that AGW is happening or somebody who is interested in doing something about it?

    Do you believe AGW is happening yourself? We can be forgiven for initially assuming that you did. You are a scientist, a well-informed contributor to the site and so not a person we would suspect of being a denialist. You have also stated in your original comment that we have AGW because of 7 billion people — read literally this seems to endorse the view that AGW is happening. In addition, you commented approvingly of Malthusianism, so even if AGW is not happening one might suspect you of being for mass sterilisation on these grounds alone.

    If you do believe it is happening, then are you not yourself just opting for option (2), letting the planet cook, and are you not yourself as bad a hypocrite as the rest of us for believing that mass sterilisation would help and yet refusing to advocate for it?

    If you do not believe in AGW, as now appears to be the case, then you perhaps are opting for a fourth strategy, denying against all evidence that the problem exists. Or perhaps this is merely a variant of option (3)?

    It seems to me that you are so persuaded by the moral consequences of belief in AGW (if one buys your argument) that you have chosen to believe it must not be true, a clear case of wishful thinking.

    To be honest, I think it would be almost be preferable if you stuck to your guns. The empirical evidence is in. AGW is happening. If you really believe in your argument then you should actually be for totalitarianism and mass sterilisation.

    But, as pointed out, your original argument is deeply flawed. You have not acknowledge the empirical fact that empowered, educated women have fewer children. You have not acknowledged the arguments to say that a massive reduction in population would not in fact help much. We don’t have an AGW problem because we have too many people, we have an AGW problem because we have access to cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels. As long as there are people (and no cheaper energy sources), those fuels are going to be exploited. The number of people probably does influence the *rate* at which AGW is taking place, but probably not as much as you think, and it doesn’t affect that it is continuing to worsen whether fast or slow.

    My own position is that AGW is happening, but I don’t know how bad the humanitarian consequences of AGW are likely to be. I actually think that running out of oil is likely to be more disastrous. So like most of the AGW-proponents camp I’m all for reducing emissions, renewable energy and more efficient use of energy, but my reaction to the discovery and exploitation of new sources of oil and gas is more ambivalent.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. DM and everyone,

    First, please note that this is my fifth post.

    My own view on the issue of AGW is that all evidence points that it is real, so I certainly do not deny it. But the thing is — given the immorality of (3) and the draconity of (1) in my nomenclature above, the only honest position to take is (2) — the AGW is going to do severe damage to the planet, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. People should clearly say this, and conclude that there is no reason for any further discussion regarding the AGW topic. Any such discussion is best left to historians of future generations, to describe what our generation did and maybe learn something from it. I don’t want to sound fatalistic, but that’s the current reality we have to face.

    As for the fossil fuels etc. — my position is of course to reduce fossil fuel usage as much as we can, but the reason has nothing to do with pollution of the environment. Instead, given that fusion is still too many decades away, we actually need to conserve fossil fuels simply because we depend on them, as a civilization. People should focus on energy efficiency because the fossil fuels will eventually run out, and we have no appropriate alternative at hand. This is the typical Malthusian argument, if one substitutes the old term “food” with a more modern term “energy”.

    Note that my argument implies reducing CO2 emission simply as a consequence of conserving fuel, and has absolutely nothing to do with the environmental impact, AGW and such — the damage to the environment has already been done, is still being done, and it will continue to be done into foreseeable future. Carbon emissions just cannot be reduced enough with 7 billion people living on the planet. The reliance on some yet-to-be-invented technology is naive, and technological improvements have limits — the efficiency of solar panels and such cannot increase indefinitely, etc. People will need to continue burning fossil fuels, and to continue polluting the environment.

    As my final comment on this thread — maybe folks should read my comments a bit more charitably, and stop misunderstanding me for some monster Maoist who wants to castrate the world, impose totalitarian regimes, instigate wars, etc. I was discussing all that only to show how draconic those measures need to be, in order to reduce the human population to the level sustainable by the planet’s ecosystem. What happened to philosophy being the exploration of conceptual spaces? Of course nobody *wants* those things to happen (me included). And of course the planet’s ecosystem is going down the drain as a consequence. But calling me “ideologically demented” just because I am discussing some conceptual possibility is a bit unfair in a philosophically-oriented forum like this.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. I would like to come to the defence of Marko. I think he raises an important question. He certainly did it awkwardly, but it’s there: what are we going to do about it? I don’t know the situation in the US, but maybe Marko has a point when he says that nobody is very clear about that. Which measures are we going to take? Which consequences will they have for our lifestyles and the quality of our lives? We are running out of time. How is a democracy going to respond? Will our politicians have to force some unpopular measures down our throats?

    The European parliament voted a directive on the energy consumption of buildings. After 2020 every new building in the EU will have to be (nearly) zero-energy. The EP is relatively free from the usual democratic pressures on national or local politicians – it’s not “close to the citizen” – but I doubt a similar measure would pass if a national government would propose it (probably it would have a chance in Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and perhaps the UK and Ireland – but the rest of the EU?).

    Perhaps most people – even the so-called deniers – don’t really have strong opinions about the truth of AWG. But they do have strong opinions about their lifestyles. AWG denial is perhaps just a proxy for a number of quite justified fears.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Hi Marko,

    My own view on the issue of AGW is that all evidence points that it is real, so I certainly do not deny it. But the thing is — given the immorality of (3) and the draconity of (1) in my nomenclature above, the only honest position to take is (2) — the AGW is going to do severe damage to the planet, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. People should clearly say this, and conclude that there is no reason for any further discussion regarding the AGW topic.

    The only honest position that anyone can take is that we should devote our resources to whatever is going to do the most good according the the very best science available.

    I imagine that pretty much everyone will agree with that.

    So the question remains, what is that action?

    If it really is the case that those climate scientists are afraid to tell the truth because of “political correctness” then the first thing is that they need to stop doing that.

    If someone has evidence that climate scientists are not levelling with us then they should present that evidence.

    We simply cannot proceed on the basis of the assumption that climate scientists are lying to us and then second guessing what they would say if they were not afraid of the “political correctness” bogeyman.

    If we could do that then, clearly, we would not need them in the first place.

    At this stage they are not saying “there is nothing we can do”, they are saying that we are close to a tipping point and that the need for action is becoming urgent.

    If we have passed that tipping point and carbon abatement will not help then we should switch our resources to managing the consequences.

    Me, I have no evidence that climate scientists are not levelling with us. That does not jell with what I know of scientists. This makes no more sense to me than the “skeptic” claim that climate scientists are lying to us to protect their lavish movie star lifestyle and that we should, instead, believe the starving idealists in the mining industry who only have our best interests at heart.

    I think that we should work on getting agreement from as many countries as possible to follow they course of action that scientists are recommending where we can get such a consensus.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. davidlduffy said

    Dear scienceofdoom: I’m having difficulty understanding exactly what your point is. The point estimate for the proportion of observed warming attributed to anthropogenic forcing (NAT) is actually over 100%, so the “half” is actually pretty conservative.

    The exact point is the statement of statistical certainty (95%-100%) is based on an unproven premise. You said “so the “half” is actually pretty conservative.” The half might be incredibly conservative but it has a 95% certainty attached to it. That is a calculation that needs to be defended. If the IPCC report had said “we think it’s more than half and as a judgement this is conservative” it would be a different story.

    It’s not particularly easy to figure out but the papers that are used as a basis for the conclusion in chapter 10 make statements like:

    — “A basic assumption of the optimal detection analysis is that the estimate of internal variability used is comparable with the real world’s internal variability.

    — “We then implicitly assume that this multi-model internal variability estimate is reliable.

    Also the analysis in the many papers frequently removes drifts and jumps in the simulated natural variability before using the output as the comparison. (Of course, they have some reasons for this but the natural world, pre-anthropogenic forcing, also has drifts and jumps).

    I go into more detail in Natural Variability and Chaos – Seven – Attribution & Fingerprints Or Shadows?.

    The reason for bringing up chapter 11 of the inspired report was to point out that it isn’t some outlier view that models under-represent real world uncertainty. The chapter 11 heretics put forward their finger in the air viewpoint that the statistical certainty is 66-100%. Are they right? The problem if you accept their hand-waving argument is that their revised estimate has no validity either. They are correct that 95% must be too high.

    What’s my point?

    Well the author of this article put forward the 95% claim of chapter 10 and seems to think that anyone questioning it is disputing some kind of proven science.

    Chapter 1 of AR5 said:

    — “Model spread is often used as a measure of climate response uncertainty, but such a measure is crude as it takes no account of factors such as model quality (Chapter 9) or model independence (e.g., Masson and Knutti, 2011; Pennell and Reichler, 2011), and not all variables of interest are adequately simulated by global climate models..

    ..Climate varies naturally on nearly all time and space scales, and quantifying precisely the nature of this variability is challenging, and is characterized by considerable uncertainty.

    Where is this “considerable uncertainty” factored into the statistical calculation that produce a certainty of 95-100%? Would you, or the author of this article, like to show me?

    I think it’s good to ask questions and press people to prove their case. I’m in a small minority I think.

    Like

  33. In my previous thread, commenting to gwarner99, I mentioned variations on “Gish Gallops” that deniers may perform.

    And, as if right on cue, Doom not only rejected my invitation to not return, but decided to give us an example of what a climate change denier’s Gish Gallop looks like.

    Thanks, if the thanks is only for your excellent object lesson.

    Jarnauga111, I wasn’t defending Marko’s original comment. I stand by my statement that he’s more of an “outlier” than are comments from AGW deniers. See my excerpts from Doom’s blog for Example No. 1. That said …

    Marko I think has brought us to the “clear as mud” phrase. I respectfully request straw men be described well enough, in the original comment, for it to be clear you’re creating a straw man.

    Also, I respectfully congratulate you for adding a third horn to a false dilemma!

    Beyond that, I’m sorry you didn’t read my previous post, noting carbon tax + carbon tariff. Between not reading that and your three-horned false dilemma, I was originally going to label you a “denialist,” but now, it’s clear that that’s not true, and that you’re rather an alarmist of some sort. And, such catastrophism scares off people who know about AGW, and think we need to do something, but, per typical nature, don’t think in that long of terms.

    I otherwise, without Marko’s apparent panic-mongering (please, folks, don’t put too much stock in the likes of a James Howard Kunstler on climate change!) agree with both him and DM that we may still need to worry about Peak Oil. (And, no, coal liquification for fuels is NOT the answer.) That said, increased use of hybrid vehicles, increased use of mass transit and other things, are all incremental solutions. (We should also remember that Big Oil’s flak has led the charge on Peak Oil denialism just like AGW denialism. Follow the money.)

    Robin talks about “starving idealists in the mining industry.” Do you want moutaintop removal coal “mining” in Australia next? And, of course, in coal, that’s why US miners are largely “starving” — it’s all so mechanized now.

    At the same time, let’s remember that there is a fair amount of environmental waste in mining rare earth metals for batteries, and that lithium ion batteries are still a ways away from being used in autos. While nuclear fusion is far in the future, breeder reactors with on-site waste burial offer another option for electricity to pair with renewables.

    This is another example of “no free lunch.”

    ==

    That said, back to the main post. In addition to consensus about climate change, and ignoring Gish-Galloping to the contrary, there is consensus, albeit less than 95 percent, I think, about what needs to be done about climate change, with reasonably strong, but non-alarmist, levels of concern. Rather than being alarmist, or creating alarmicized (sic) straw men, or being denialists for political reasons, let’s note the consensus and push for the political willpower to tackle the issue better.

    Like

  34. If I was tasked with project managing a serious approach to the global warming problem, here is how I would start.

    First I would assemble the best team of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, IT specialists, data analysts that my budget would allow. Then I would poach the accountant from a successful small business.

    I would make sure they knew the truth about political correctness, that it is a fiction invented by whiners and leaners with no actual answers.

    I would ignore the proliferation of meaningless information that plagues the field and design a unified dataset that represents the best and most up-to-date information we have on climate change.

    For example I would have a data set that represents, to the best of our knowledge, exactly where the new carbon entering the atmosphere was coming from and the proportion of carbon it represented, so that people will not waste their time and money on solutions that achieve very little.

    I would, for example, assemble all the information on all known and practical alternatives to the top ten contributors to carbon in the atmosphere, including its cost, time to build and the amount of carbon that is involved in the building and maintenance of the alternatives and their economic impact on the people who depend on these.

    I would keep in mind that a solution that involves forcing large numbers of people to do things against their will is ruled out on purely pragmatic grounds.

    I would similarly assemble information on all other aspects of the problem so that we could reasonably show whether or not there are practical solutions in the path of carbon abatement.

    If there were then I would present full details of these as the focus on any political discussions between countries, along with the timescales they must follow if these are to be successful.

    If there were no practical solutions on the path of carbon abatement I would say so clearly and suggest that a new project is begun to divert resources to alleviating the problems caused by the inevitable warming.

    Naturally this is just a summary of the task that would be involved. But nothing like this appears to be in place, or if it is then it must be some sort of secret.

    But I don’t have that job, nor am I likely to and so I must do what I can and vote for those who will do the next best thing.

    But I fail to see how I am somehow in denial if I say that, yes, AGW is likely happening and we need to take the action that the best science, as far as I can tell with my limited resources, says we should.

    I do not think that hearsay evidence about an email from an anonymous climate scientists is enough to change what I think about all of this.

    (PS Socratic Gadfly “starving idealists of the mining industry” was my attempt at sarcasm)

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Hi all,
    I appreciate the lively discussion, and thank you, as well as the moderators, for keeping it largely civil. I will limit this reply post to the issues I think immediately relevant to the content of my essay. My original piece addresses what I consider to be three confusions one commonly comes across in public discourse surrounding climate change. The common issue is ambiguity, which creates an atmosphere ripe for equivocation. The confusions are: (1) The role of “consensus” in science, (2) the inductive nature of causal analysis and use of the term “proof,” (3) the nature of science denial and appropriate usage of the terms “denialist” and “denialism.” I will also touch upon the term “theory” since several posts focused on it in a manner relevant to my overall position. Finally, I will have a few things to say about the charged nature of public discourse on topics like climate change and how to manage it responsibly.

    Consensus
    My piece points out and describes how the term consensus, as used in science, signals what I describe as: “…broad acknowledgment among experts that a particular claim bears strong evidential support” as opposed to mere popular agreement.

    One of the questions raised in comments is how we should parse the difference between a legitimate scientific consensuses and the influence of “band-wagon effects.” As others suggested, in following comments, it might be easier to do this on some topics than others. In the field of climate science the existence of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made this process easier by providing a periodically updated assessment of research findings for the media and public, the larger scientific community, and for policy makers. What of other fields where consensus findings are not so regularly summarized for the benefit of non-experts? The modern scientific process (though imperfect) is such that given sufficient time consensus findings will solidify and sift out “bandwagon” influences. In fact, this is one reason I wish to insist that the word theory, as used in science, should be reserved for explanations that have stood the test of time and are supported by large and diverse facts unlikely to be overturned. If a consensus, and theory, is eventually overturned, it does not follow that what preceded was mainly the effect of “bandwagon” influence. Rather, it signals that new information has been discovered, or previous barriers to understanding have been overcome. Such advancements signal that science is working as it should rather than succumbing to “bandwagon” traps. Moreover, I think it useful to keep in mind that confusions surrounding some findings, like those in nutrition, are often a reflection of what media outlets find “newsworthy” rather than what the scientific community strongly agrees upon. In other words, when “paper x” shows “food y” might protect against “ailment z” it tends to be widely reported on. If a later study contradicts “paper x” and is similarly picked up by the press it may seem like the “scientific community” has changed its mind. In reality, it might simply be a reflection of the process of science grinding on.

    Proof
    Another issue raised in comments involves the term “proof.” My position is that the term proof is misused in describing causal relationships. To say that a causal relationship has been “proven” is different than saying it has been “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” The latter is perfectly acceptable and signals overwhelming evidential support rather than logical/mathematical proof. Rather than saying that a question of inductive inference is proven I prefer to say it is “strongly supported.” Alternatively, one might think of a particular causal claim as having “warranted assertability.” Careful philosophizing rightly emphasizes the use, and stipulation, of precise definitions as a means of avoiding confusions of thought and communication.

    Denialism
    My claim is that the term denialism represents a category of significant academic interest particularly to philosophers and social scientists. My own view is that denialism is a broad category that opens into several other categories. The form of denialism that I focus most on in my own work is science denialism. In particular I consider the obstinate denial of an established scientific consensus (e.g. link between smoking and cancer, HIV and AIDS, GHG emissions and global warming) to be a form of pseudoskepticism. Pseudoskepticism is in turn a form of science denial, which might include religious denials of science, etc. The term denial precedes its association with holocaust denialism (a form of pseudohistory) and has uses in medicine. There is no place in my post where I advocate using “denier” as an ad hominem invective. The term remains meaningful and useful as a descriptor. As a corollary I think skepticism is extremely inappropriate and misleading in describing pseudoskepticism or other forms of denialism.

    The public discourse surrounding climate change has been corrupted with political, ideological and financial incentives to motivated reasoning. Given the seriousness of the problem, this inability to discuss the issue in a productive public and political manner is a serious matter in its own right. One modest recommendation I make is to consistently acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change when discussing the issue. One may doubt that the scientific consensus is correct and wish to challenge the consensus, but responsible discourse still obliges one to first acknowledge that a strong scientific consensus exists. This suggestion applies to the layperson and scientist alike. Once one has acknowledged the reality of a scientific consensus, whether it is on vaccines, climate change, or any other issue, one is left to explain why the consensus is wrong. This is no easy task for the layperson and may help explain why it is common among those who deny scientific consensus to resort to conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, if we are going to make serious efforts to address the problem, we will need to hold ourselves and our politicians to a much higher level of public discourse. Apologies to those whose comments and concerns I have not addressed.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. SocraticGadfly said:

    In my previous thread, commenting to gwarner99, I mentioned variations on “Gish Gallops” that deniers may perform.

    And, as if right on cue, Doom not only rejected my invitation to not return, but decided to give us an example of what a climate change denier’s Gish Gallop looks like.

    Thanks, if the thanks is only for your excellent object lesson.

    Fascinating to see that I am described by you as a “climate change denier”. On Anthony Watts’ blog I am listed under “Pro AGW Views”.

    Are you the blog owner? If you are, let me know and I will understand that I am not welcome on your blog. If you are just a commenter your request is irrelevant.

    Alternatively, the blog owner can also request me not to return.

    A gish gallop is a long series of points that make it impossible to respond to in a debate. Thus giving the uneducated audience the impression that the “galloper” has not been answered.

    I have asked one question – justify the 95% certainty. If I had put forward zero arguments in support of my request you could claim that I had no basis for my question. So clearly I have to put forward one or more reasons in support. I have put forward what seem like reasonable points in support of this request – quotes from IPCC AR5.

    That is not a gish gallop, it is support for a question.

    I don’t expect the (inappropriately-self-named) SocraticGadfly to be the one addressing my point. Hopefully someone on this blog can answer my one question. Alternatively, my one question can be ignored in more ad hominem style attacks.

    [Socrates asked lots of inconvenient questions that challenged conventional thinking. At least, according to Xenophon].

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Hi Lawrence,

    … I wish to insist that the word theory, as used in science, should be reserved for explanations that have stood the test of time and are supported by large and diverse facts unlikely to be overturned.

    The reason this won’t work is shown by your later sentence:

    … it is common among those who deny scientific consensus to resort to conspiracy theories.

    Having the “scientific” meaning of the word mean the opposite of the everyday meaning likely won’t get anywhere. Further, you stand almost no chance of persuading scientists to adopt this usage, since it’s just not what the word means to them.

    There are whole departments of “theoretical physics” filled with “theoretical physicists” who deal with “theory” (ideas and explanations) as oppose to personally doing observations and experiments, and since this is all cutting-edge science, hardly any of it is “unlikely to be overturned”.

    I’ve never even heard been of physicists having a discussion along the lines of “has this now become sufficiently well established to be called a theory?” — it is simply not what the word means to a physicist. It’s not what the word means to the Oxford English Dictionary either.

    The idea that “theory” implies something secure and well-evidenced seems to have been invented solely as a reply to the “only a theory” criticism of Darwinism. But, it’s the wrong reply. It is blatantly wrong, as shown — to give just one example — by the usage “string theory”.

    People should adopt the correct reply, that the term “theory” just means “explanation” and doesn’t connote either way about the strength of evidence.

    Further, we can’t use the word “hypothesis” for a proto-theory. As Alex explained up-thread, a “hypothesis” can be stated in one sentence, whereas a “theory” is a larger collection of related ideas (a bunch of “hypotheses” could be a “theory”).

    Further, let’s suppose we adopted your proposal, which means that at some point we have a vote at a large international conference pronouncing something to be a “theory”. That would raise accusations of “High Priests” elevating something to dogma that can no longer be questioned. Is that a good idea?

    My position is that the term proof is misused in describing causal relationships. To say that a causal relationship has been “proven” is different than saying it has been “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    You want to restrict the word “proof” to the mathematics/logic use, and yet, as with “theory”, the word is in far wider use in science and indeed society at large — law courts for example. Such attempts to prescribe language seem ill-motivated and won’t work.

    Anyhow, this nomenclature stuff is all a side issue. No-one doubts Darwinism because they’re confused over what “theory” means, they reject it because it conflicts with their religious ideas. The “theory” issue is a symptom, not the cause. Similarly, people reject AGW because it’s way too hard to deal with, not because of confusion over what “proof” means.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Being one of those language geeks (think “Rortian programmer”), a vocabulary (… “consensus” … “denialist”… “proof” … “skeptic” …) is significant relative to how useful it is. On the usefulness of “acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change when discussing the issue”, I’m not sure. This requirement is continuously being taught by one group of politicians-pundits (Ds) countering another group of politicians-pundits (Rs), but the public chooses Rs anyway. So it might be useful, and less frustrating, be find an alternative vocabulary and strategy.

    Like

  39. This piece in some way parallels the one on chimp rights. I’ll start by noting that while I disagree with Coel and hold that social sciences are indeed sciences, I also note they’re not “hard” sciences.

    Climate science is a “hard” science. Hence, the 95 percent or more consensus on AGW is solid. And, thought I’ve not seen percentages, I stand by my previous comment that there is a non-alarmist, science-based consensus on what we need to do.

    Sociology, political science, and behavioral economics (the most scientific wing of the least scientific of social sciences) are indeed “soft.”

    And, here, it’s true that there is no real consensus, even though the world of science has one, not just on the existence of AGW, but how to combat it.

    Why?

    Let’s start with the denialists, obfuscators (for those who are “fellow travelers” but object to the word “denialist”) etc. We know, per Oreskes, they use the same socio-political tactics as did Big Tobacco. In fact, some of their hired guns even worked for Big Tobacco.

    Given that, in the U.S., it took 25 years from the famous 1964 Surgeon General’s report to start moving beyond cigarette warnings to start seriously addressing things like ETS, marketing to minors, etc., we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re not at a point of social consensus.

    Per behavioral economics, people simply will not pay a short-term loss for a long-term gain. Dan Ariely has repeatedly shown this. Maybe we need Cass Sunstein-type “nudges.”

    Lawrence, of course, tackled this in his latest comment, along with emotional red herrings people like a non-named commenter interject (to said non-named commenter, I’ve also Googled a couple of sources on your blog; nice try — you do know what Google is, right?).

    I must disagree with Coel’s disagreement with Lawrence. First, AGW is not too hard to understand,; second, there’s lots of science people don’t understand, but use its effects, in technology, all the time — we’ve talked ad infinitum in comments here about how much everyday technology benefits from QM. Rather, people reject AGW from motivated reasoning, as Lawrence notes. This is usually fear-based political conservativism run rampant (Agenda 21) or religious conservativism run rampant (God won’t allow AGW, or he’ll Rapture us). Contra PatrickG these are NOT “quite justified.” In the US, the allegedly horrendous cost of environmentalism was a Big Biz talking point since the original Clean Air and Clean Water acts 40-plus years ago.

    Thus, I think the idea of Phillip won’t work, either. Denialists have plenty of money, a unified messaging system, etc. They’ll attack the new language just like the current language, or else try to obfuscate, or else launch emotional red herrings like claiming we are “dissing” Holocaust survivors, as I noted in an earlier comment about an unnamed commenter, also noted by Lawrence. (This is also why I don’t think I was too uncharitable to Fuller.)

    We fight fire with fire, period, on battling denialism and educating the public on the problem and solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Dear ScienceofDoom,
    I am not a climate scientist so I am not going to indulge a debate on why the IPCC identifies a 95% confidence level that human beings are causing climate change. The point of my referencing the figure is to illustrate that causal inference in science does not hinge on causal certainty (an epistemic impossibility), but that it takes into account statistically significant probabilities. Perhaps this article from The Guardian will be of interest to those curious about the figure.

    Dear Coal,
    I appreciate that “theory” is commonly used by “theoretical physicists” in a speculative fashion akin to how we philosophers use the term theory (e.g. ethical theory, political theory, etc.) Many scientists however do reserve the term theory to be more than abstract explanation. The concept of ambiguity is meaningful precisely because it involves the fact of multiple understandings of a given word. Theory is simply one of those words that have more than a single meaning. My suggestion is that we recognize this fact and that we are careful to use the word correctly when discussing fields relevant to particular meanings.

    In the case of evolutionary biology the term is commonly used as I suggest it should be. The 2005 Dover legal case concerning the question of whether or not a Pennsylvania school board could justifiably require teachers to read a short statement informing students that evolution is “just a theory” and that alternative theories like “Intelligent Design” exist revolved, partly, around the ambiguity of the term “theory.” The court rightly banned reading such a statement to students as a breach of the 1st amendment’s “separation clause.” The court’s decision was reached, in part, based on the testimony of numerous scientists that the term’s use in evolutionary discourse implies more than abstract explanation alone. It does not follow that such usage is a mere artifact of the Dover trial, or that scientific witnesses merely stated what was convenient for their legal side. Rather the problem raised by Dover highlights why it is important to recognize that terms do have different uses in different domains. It is true that the “just a theory” gambit may have forced some scientists to think critically, for the first time, about how they use the term. This does not mean that the use of the term as I reference it is incorrect or not widely used in particular scientific domains. We can trade anecdotes over scientists we know that use the term in our preferred way and I can also quote dictionaries, and encyclopedias, that support my referenced usage of the term. I suspect we agree that nothing will be settled that way. It is a normal feature of language that many terms have more than one meaning and it is not so difficult to overcome this so long as we are clear with each other on how we are using the term in a given context. That theoretical physicists, and philosophers, use the term in a more speculative sense doesn’t detract from my point that the term theory has technical meanings beyond what is normally meant in casual conversations.

    The term “proof” is more relevant to my essay. Regardless of how people use the term proof in science it remains the case that causal relationships are not subject to proof in the strict sense I advocate. I see no advantage in saying that a question of causation is subject to proof when it remains logically possible for an alternative explanation to hold. Whereas theory truly is an ambiguous term with more than one useful sense proof can only be used imprecisely when applied to causal inferences. Short of rehashing Hume’s analysis of causal explanations, and the nature of induction (I am in full agreement with Hume), in this blog post I am simply going to maintain my view. Though we disagree I maintain that use of the term proof to describe an inductive claim is a category mistake. Conventional usage in courts of law, and common conversational usage, is no justification for being casual about epistemological standards in science and philosophy. In any case my original piece is not about why people reject evolution or climate change, but about the linguistic confusions one commonly comes across in public discussions of climate change.

    Dear Philip,
    Because a consensus exists I am simply suggesting that people who wish to challenge that consensus ought to acknowledge the consensus before attempting to argue against it. However, with regard to usefulness there is increasing empirical literature suggesting that referencing the fact of climate consensus in public discourse effectively moves opinions, even among conservatives, toward the acceptance and acknowledgement of human caused climate change.

    Dear SocraticGadfly,
    From what I can tell we seem mostly in agreement.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Marko

    Sorry, I don’t see why “AGW Proponents” should advocate these things at all. You seem to assume that population growth is the main driver of climate change, or at least the main obstacle to reducing it; a gross over simplification at best.

    Then that a mix of political will and social and technological response is certain to be ineffective, or impossible, or both.

    Then that such measures as you describe would be the only effective way to reduce population growth. That ignores the reasons for guarded optimism or at least “possibilism” as, Hans Rosling calls it. That is, that given that we can control both the other drivers of climate change and the neocon-lead economic practices that exacerbate inequality and undercut the stabilising social developments that are undercutting population growth in many parts of the world. I don’t think it’s wishful thinking to reject such extreme conclusions when they are buttressed by such a string of false premises.

    You say “that is the very reason why I don’t subscribe to that camp.” This seems to imply that you would “subscribe” if it weren’t for this argument. That seems to imply that your judgement on the truth or otherwise of mainstream climate science’s conclusions is largely dependent on what you see as the political consequences. Isn’t that a classic instance of motivated reasoning, thinking back for what a proposition might imply in order to decide whether to accepts it? Or perhaps by “that camp” you mean people proposing a mix of solutions including restraining growth of demand through suastainablity measure, development of renewables, and perhaps the use of new generation nuclear power? It isn’t clear to me, at any rate.

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  42. Socratic Gadfly

    Thanks; I hadn’t come across the term “Gish gallop”: useful description. I have mentioned before that we might look at using technology to extend the established forms of debate and discourse.
    I thought about this out of frustration with the limits of formal time-limited face-to-face debates, which seem to encourage just such “galloping”, and with online forum style structures that often meander and circle round repeatedly. I’m imagining (quite loosely!) something like a wiki, a shared space to construct arguments, but with more structure (perhaps roughly like concept mapping?) to map and present the various positions and tease out their substantial differences (or evasions); perhaps embedding something like Rapoport’s rules, and prompts and learning tools on formal and informal logic.

    I know that’s a bit vague at present, but don’t see why we should assume that every way to conduct a dialogue has already been invented? Does anyone else see any mileage in this?

    Liked by 2 people

  43. This paper does touch on some of the reasons many non-scientists do not give sufficient weight to what is called scientific consensus. But I do not think it mentions the main reasons for suspicion.
    First the “just a theory” view. Yes I think this had some impact back when Ronald Reagan said evolution was just a theory. But that was during the 1980 campaign. And even then when I would hear that as a boy it was already quickly countered by “well gravitation is just a theory are you going to expect things to fall upward?”
    It seemed that this sort of argument was taken more seriously by academia than the public. It even lead to a movement to change the words we use and start talking about the “fact of evolution” instead of the theory of evolution. I am generally against these sorts of moves because changing language we use makes it difficult to understand what people wrote in the past. I am glad to see everyone here would rather defend the term “theory” than try to change over to “fact I don’t like describing theories as “facts” because I think a fact is something that presently exists or has happened in the past. Theories are not so bound, and apply in the future. Moreover I agree with what Coel said that theories are to some extent an explanation of facts. To call these explanations “facts” as well just seems an empty rhetorical flourish.

    As far as “proof” I think the author has far too strict of notion. The notion that “proof” is limited to conclusions that can be logically implied by self-evident axioms is far too restrictive and a bit naive.

    I think people in general need to understand the subjective nature of “proofs.” Even what counts as “relevant evidence” might be subjective. For example in Tyson’s rape trial one of the issues was whether she gave consent. The judge decided that witnesses who saw Mike Tyson making out with the victim right before they went into the hotel room together was not relevant to whether she gave consent, so she did not allow the jury to hear that evidence. Alan Dershowitz argued that it was relevant evidence. Now rather than go around on who is right, I would just ask that we recognize that people come with different preconceptions. Therefore we can see that certain premises will be held as true by certain reasonable people but not by other reasonable people. This means the same argument (sound or not) will be a proof for some and not for others.

    As far as calling people who disagree with your conclusions denialists, I am not sure that really adds to the reasoned debate.

    I think there are two major reasons why people might not give scientific consensus less weight. First, people have made high profile scientific claims that are not really science, thus watering down gravitas of being a “scientific” truth. Second, people worry about bias.

    Like

  44. 2/2
    What is considered scientific is fuzzy. Intelligent design presented arguments that went beyond biology and argued for an increased probability of God. This meant we were stepping outside of Science. But then we now get views that science is making God less probable. (Dawkins) We also get books written about how we science can answer all of our moral questions. (Harris) And we get people with very broad definitions of what science is along the lines of anytime you apply reason to observations, or use facts to draw conclusions or something vague like that. (Krauss)

    Well now science becomes much more loosey goosey. It seems that if we accept these views then ID might be science after all, so would history, philosophy, political science, etc. So the first problem is we are diluting the term science.

    The second issue is perception of bias. I think there are three concerns that can bring about perception of bias. 1) ideology 2) self selective and 3) financial.

    Ideological bias: If academics say it’s unscientific to claim certain natural facts increase the probability of God it would seem going the other way like Dawkin’s does should also be criticized as unscientific. To the extent Harris’s views on morality are science and science is as broad as Krauss claims then it seems that the real problem with ID was not the approach, but the conclusion. These three and their views do not seem to be ostracized from academia the way IDers are. They are embraced and flourish in academic circles.

    Why does Bill Maher get some sort of quasi scientific Dawkins award even though what he does is far from science? Is it not clear that Comrade Maher has been faithful to the ideology? Has he not spent long hours ridiculing religious people?
    The ideology of religion does not really play that big of a part global warming debate but it does tap into the whole democrat versus republican ideology. This connection with political ideology is a red flag.

    Self-selective bias: Are you going to spend your life studying global warming if you don’t think there is much too it? Will there be some underlying tension with your colleagues? Maybe you are going to decide to study something else leaving only the biased people in the field.

    Financial bias: This one would not seem to apply too much to global warming as it would for oil companies who want to deny it. Although I really have no idea. Some of us may remember all the tobacco CEOs denying that tobacco smoke had any link with disease. Well I remember also hearing a Doctor with phenomenal credentials saying the same thing.

    Such scientific experts are bought and sold on the market regularly. I am not saying that all experts are biased and driven by money – although plenty are. But I also think it makes a considerable difference who is paying the fee and whether a potential business relationship can be fostered.

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  45. SocraticGadfly,

    >This is usually fear-based political conservativism run rampant (Agenda 21) or religious conservativism run rampant (God won’t allow AGW, or he’ll Rapture us). Contra PatrickG these are NOT “quite justified.”

    Well, as I mentioned I don’t know the situation in the US, so I don’t know about “religious conservativism run rampant”. I doesn’t exist where I live. And fear-based political conservatism … We have conservatives where I live, but I assume they would be considered rabid communists in some parts of the US. However, I don’t agree when you dismiss the fears of some people as not justified. I’m a theoretical physicist, which means that I’m unusually bad at abstract thinking in the common sense of the word. So let me take a concrete example: that European directive on (nearly) zero-energy buildings. It’s aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buidlngs, which is a good thing. On the other hand, a (nearly) zero-energy house is, as far as we know now, quite a bit more expensive than a normal house. Many people probably fear they will never be able to own a house because of that directive. I wouldn’t call their fear unjustified, although only time will tell if it comes true.

    Liked by 2 people

  46. I think Coal and I share the view that theories are explanations that explain a series of facts. I am simply pointing out that a theory in science often implies a greater weight of explanatory evidence than it does in common usage outside of science.

    The following is pure conjecture on my part and I suggest because I would be interested in hearing what others think:

    I wonder if it is the case that fields tending to have low levels of professional consensus like philosophy, some of the social sciences, maybe even theoretical physics (I am not well enough versed to know the degree of consensus in the field), are more apt to emphasize the speculative nature of theory. While fields that have high levels of consensus are more likely to emphasize the sense of theory that implies a privileged level of evidential establishment (i.e. biological sciences, earth sciences, chemistry).

    Proof
    One of the reasons that theories should not be conflated with facts is theories cannot be proven, in the logically strict sense. With regard to inductive science a lack of “proof” is a good thing because it safe-guards science from stagnation and allows for the refinement of theories.
    The reason that “proof” in science falls short of mathematical and logical precision is not because mathematicians and logicians are just sticklers for exactness (though perhaps they often are), but because the nature of induction and induction are fundamentally different. Science does not exist independently of logic and the same rules of inference used in math and logic apply to experimental science.
    This is why scientists speak of global warming’s “influence” on extreme weather events without making claims of causal certainty or “proof.” As in this article, regarding the California drought, sent to me by Socratic Gadfly via twitter.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/science/new-study-links-weather-extremes-to-global-warming.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    You will find that those who dismiss anthropogenic climate change and its impact on extreme weather events commonly seek to exploit uncertainty. However, such tactics are a distraction because “certainty” does not apply when speaking of causal relationships.

    As for confirmation-bias and motivated reasoning it is the why we must rely on the continual process of science and weight consensus findings heavier than that of individuals.

    Regarding denialism, once again, I do not advocate using it as an ad hominem.

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  47. Hi Lawrence,

    The 2005 Dover legal case concerning the question of … a short statement informing students that evolution is “just a theory” and that alternative theories like “Intelligent Design” exist revolved, partly, around the ambiguity of the term “theory.”

    I’ve just re-read the case ruling, and very little of it was actually about the meaning of the word “theory”, which is mentioned in one sentence in a 30-page ruling.

    There was a lot more to the case than the phrase “just a theory” (which wasn’t actually in the statement). The original Dover board resolution said: “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory …”. The statement to be read in class then says: “Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence.”

    The claims that there are “gaps/problems” in the theory, that it is “not a fact”, and that there exist “gaps” in the theory for which “there is no evidence” goes well beyond labelling it as a “theory”.

    The statement then goes on to promote Intelligent-Design creationism, and points students to a creationist book. Thus, the substantive issues were about the religiously-motivated claims of “problems” and “lack of evidence” in Darwin’s theory, and the religiously-motivated promotion of un-scientific creationism.

    In the case of evolutionary biology the term is commonly used as I suggest it should be.

    It’s also easy to find examples in evolutionary biology of “theory” being used for controversial or speculative ideas. E.g. Kimura’s “neutral theory” (whch may be established now but wasn’t then), and D.S Wilson’s “multi-level selection theory”, and one can find plenty of “theories” explaining the Cambrian Explosion in the literature.

    Hi Joe,

    If academics say it’s unscientific to claim certain natural facts increase the probability of God it would seem going the other way like Dawkin’s does should also be criticized as unscientific.

    What makes something “scientific” is not the subject matter, it is the quality of argument and evidence. Arguing for creationism is “unscientific” not because of the subject area, but because of the lack of evidence and the arguing towards a prior ideological conviction. Arguing for evolution is scientific owing to the overwhelming evidence and the sound reasoning.

    One could envisage a theistic universe created and controlled by a god, and in that universe good science would point towards that god. That’s why gods are just as much a topic for science as any other aspect of the universe, and why Dawkins is right to draw conclusions from the a-theistic nature of today’s science.

    Hi Socratic,

    I think you misintepreted my previous comment. I wasn’t saying that people rejected AGW because the science was too difficult, I was saying that people rejected AGW because dealing with the problem of climate change is too difficult, whereas “dealing with it” by denying that the climate is changing is way easier.

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