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Emails with an unskeptical skeptic

Posted By JoNova On February 17, 2009 @ 11:34 pm In Global Warming,Logic & Reason | Comments Disabled

This is a supplement to the main post: The Skeptic That Wasn’t. (So read that first :-) )

Below is the email exchange between Skeptico and myself, that started off as a friendly enquiry by me, as to why a self-proclaimed ’skeptic’ thought that anyone raising scientific questions about global warming should be lumped in with creationists, and called a denier. I wondered if he was just innocently unaware that the science has changed (OK—there’s nothing innocent about using the term ‘denier’).  [Look for my post hoc additions and comments about the emails are in blue].

The most interesting part is my third email.

MY EMAIL #1—The friendly hello with the Handbook

Hi Skeptico,
I applaud your clear framing of the 6 points that define critical thinking. (If only there were more people who understood logic and reason.) I too am trying to help people understand logic and reason. I’ve produced The Skeptics Handbook, available on my blog.

…two years ago I would never have imagined I would become one of those kind of ’sceptics’ – I was sure AGW was real…

Here’s the tricky thing. I meet all of your six critical thinking points, yet we seem to have arrived at a different point of view regarding global warming. Let me say that two years ago I would never have imagined I would become one of those kind of ’sceptics’ – I was sure AGW was real (how could anyone still deny it?) Then someone pointed out that things have changed, and that now there is no empirical evidence left that supports the theory that man made CO2 makes much difference to the climate.
Note:

  • I agree that the world warmed from 1975-2001.
  • I agree that CO2 should provide some warming effect.
  • I doubt that the warming effect is more than trivial, because it appears to be overwhelmed by other forces so often that there is no good correlation anywhere with co2 and temperature.
  • I’m curious to know what you think, and point out that this is a very different debate to the usual sceptical discussions, partly because:

1. $30 billion in climate funding has been used to search for answers to one question (and not for the alternatives), and
2. because the IPCC parades as a scientific organization, when it is political, and lastly,
3. because many scientists are using computer models as if they were empirical evidence.

I am relieved that for a change I won’t have to explain what argument by authority is, nor ad hominem attacks.

[Little did I know...]

If there is some empirical evidence I have missed I would be most grateful if you could point it out. De Smog blog ‘debunked me’ but you’ll note if you read it, that they don’t provide any empirical evidence that backs their case – unless you count ‘Venus’ and ignore a dozen other factors that could explain it’s temperature. (It is not our double-blind-controlled-twin-planet eh?)
Cheers!
Joanne
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SKEPTICO REPLY #1— (He doesn’t appear to have read the Skeptics Handbook, and dismisses the claim of ‘no evidence’ out of hand with an appeal to authority. There is no sign that he can entertain the idea that any new result could overturn the theory of Global Warming.)

Joanne:
Thanks for your email. I’m glad you like my brief summary of critical thinking – I mean to develop it into a full length post one day, but it’s taking time.

Regarding AGW though, I have to say that your comment “there is no empirical evidence left that supports the theory that man made CO2 makes much difference to the climate” is a pretty impressive denial of reality. No evidence? Really?

I did try to follow the debate on both sides of this argument up to maybe four or five years ago, and the two things that convinced me it was real were (1) the utter complexity of the subject – how anyone who hasn’t studied this subject in detail as a PhD for many years thinks they can possibly understand it is beyond me, and (2) the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of articles every year in peer reviewed scientific journals virtually all of them supporting the AGW hypothesis. [see my response to this here].

And I know what argument from authority is, but it isn’t necessarily fallacious to accept that thousands of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to this might know more than you do. At the very least, I think it’s extreme hubris to think that knowing a few denier talking points means you know more than the scientists who working this area, doing actual experiments and writing papers for scientific journals.

[ No No. I wouldn't suggest for a minute that I know more than people like say, Prof Richard Lindzen, Henrik Svensmark, Prof John Christie,... or most of the other experts who do actual experiments and write papers. Do you? And in case you get the urge to do an ad hominem attack on the aforementioned, know that I find these experts convincing, not because of their qualifications, but because they make more sense. They have better 'graphs' as it were. Perhaps if you actually looked at the graphs you might talk about the science instead of the largely invented unproveable socio-political stuff? —JN]

The debate here reminds me in many ways of the debate about intelligent design. [Conflating two unconnected topics there Skeptico: Hard atmospheric physics meets the fringe of philosophy?—JN] With ID, as with AGW, you have the deniers cherry picking some logical flaws or holes they think they have found in the data, and writing about it in books or on their blogs. [ So if we don't provide a reference, we're 'denying the evidence', and if we do provide a reference we're 'cherry picking'? - JN] And then you have the scientists patiently (although increasingly in frustration at how the deniers are misrepresenting their science) explaining what the data really means, refuting the misconceptions over and over.
[Got any evidence that I've misrepresented the science? Didn't think so. But Al Gore did according to a British Judge. Seems the AGW crowd use 'denier tactics' more than deniers do—JN]

So I’ll say to you, the same thing I would say to IDists, which is do some experiments, write up your data and submit papers to peer reviewed scientific journals, and let other scientists see if they can punch holes in what you are saying. [So you can ignore those papers too? —JN]
That’s hard, but it is how science works. Sorry, I realize that’s what you were looking for, but that’s how I came to the conclusion I have about AGW.
Best Regards,
Richard aka Skeptico

________________________________________

MY EMAIL #2— I’m politely pointing out the glaring flaws, and providing more links, mostly for him to ignore

Dear Richard,

> your comment “there is no empirical evidence left that
> supports the theory that man made CO2 makes much
> difference to the climate” is a pretty impressive
> denial of reality.

Ahem, with all due respect – Your comment here is pretty impressive claim of faith. Can you name a single paper, or even describe an observation that supports the AGW theory?

I quite understand if you don’t have time or the inclination to look into climate science – in which case it makes sense to have faith in the government committees, but since this is a scientifically lazy shortcut, why make any comments about the topic on your blog? This is argument by authority (and you know it). And why call anyone making a scientific point a ‘denier’? This is name-calling. Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable that you are committing two logical errors?

Imagine that the new results coming in since 2003 (when you admit you stopped looking) showed that AGW and the models were wrong. Are you happy to assume that the IPCC, Hansen, or Gore would announce that?

“…if you want us to pay lots of money for something you believe in, you need to provide some, any, evidence – other than logical fallacies”.

BTW: There are hundreds of expert scientists – including IPCC authors and climate scientists,and atmospheric physicists, on this rapidly growing list of dissenters…

>“So I’ll say to you, the same thing

> I would say to IDists, which is do
> some experiments, write up
> your data and submit papers
> to peer reviewed scientific journals,”

I don’t need too. Others have done it already.
Details and papers here.  My brief summary: here

[Skeptico ignores the peer reviewed evidence provided within the linked documents. Instead he writes: "Denialism Blog explains Selectivity (Cherry Picking): 'Denialists tend to cite single papers supporting their idea.' Bingo. Nova claimed AGW had been “falsified” by David Evans’s The Missing Greenhouse Signature paper (which is not a peer reviewed paper as far as I can tell, despite what Nova claimed)".
If he read the CSSP link contained on both summaries he'd realize that even 'Team AGW' want to reconcile the models with the temperatures and in true convoluted bureaucrateze they admit that they can't. That's game over in their own publications, albeit quietly. (They are hardly likely to trumpet just how poor their predictions have been.) They're hoping if they search long enough they'll find a way to make the data match the models, but it's been nearly ten years since the data came in - how many more years so we wait while they fiddle with statistics? The graphs are stark. Someone interested in the science would have googled to find out more about the reliability of radiosonde data or the model fingerprints. But instead of even looking at two documents with two links, and judging it for himself, he's invented a strawman. "She claimed it was peer reviewed...". (No she didn't.)—JN

[BTW One of the links from my summary is to, "Even the Gurus of AGW admit the hot spot went missing. That's peer reviewed papers from the front line of the AGW team.—JN]

I say to you, if you want us to pay lots of money for something you believe in, that you need to provide some, any, evidence – other than logical fallacies.

So far, empirical evidence from Richard = 0.
Logical errors = 2

This is not like ID. The AGW crowd made falsifiable claims, and they have been falsified.

I’m just trying to save you from the embarrassment of being caught out posting logical fallacies on a blog about sceptiscm!
Joanne
________________________________________

SKEPTICO EMAIL #2—(He ramps up the patronizing language, picks up petty points, uses more name calling, and attempts to justify the “authority thing” again.)

Oh I see, you’re just concern trolling. Well thank you so much for trying to save me some embarrassment. So kind. Perhaps I can return the favor. Now that we know that John Theon retired from NASA in 1994, 15 years ago and was not Hansen’s boss anyway perhaps you should take down that silly post crowing about him from your site. I wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed when people read it and think you’re just another ignorant denialist jumping on every anti AGW “fact” that you find without checking it. That would make you like most other denialists and would be the reason I find it hard to take the climate “skeptics” seriously.

Oh and you should know that even if Theon had been Hanson’s boss your post would still have been an appeal to authority, which in your case would have actually been a fallacy since Theon was not really an expert, having retired 15 years ago, unlike my reference to thousands of climate scientists which is not actually fallacious:

In a good Appeal to Authority, there is reason to believe the claim because the expert says the claim is true. This is because a person who is a legitimate expert is more likely to be right than wrong when making considered claims within her area of expertise. In a sense, the claim is being accepted because it is reasonable to believe that the expert has tested the claim and found it to be reliable. So, if the expert has found it to be reliable, then it is reasonable to accept it as being true. Thus, the listener is accepting a claim based on the testimony of the expert.

So that’s two errors you made – one of fact and one of logic. Don’t feel too bad about it – it’s a common rookie mistake. Admittedly they go on to say that even a good Appeal to Authority is not an exceptionally strong argument. But then I never said it was, which is why I haven’t written any blog posts on the subject using this as evidence, I was just answering your question. And strange though it may seem, I don’t feel that I am obliged to provide you on demand with scientific papers that you think I should have read on your chosen subject.

Moving on, we have your “pretty impressive claim of faith” response. Er, no, this is trust, not faith. So either that was a straw man, or equivocation – either way another logical fallacy. I make that two. [Faith: "a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence"; you've provided no evidence, so it's not a strawman, it's more like an exact fit, and there is no other interpretation of 'faith' that could be confused or 'equivocated' with in a scientific discussion. Nice try, but no banana.—JN]

So it’s really, errors of fact, Joanne 1, errors of logic Joanne – two / Richard 0. [Or rather points of logic: Joanne two / Richard 0 :-) —JN] Although I might be motivated to write a post about fallacious appeals to authority, [Strange, me too—JN] so thanks for at least giving me some ideas for another blog post…

________________________________________

MY EMAIL #3— I sum up his points; explain why they’re wrong; and describe his errors of logic

Skeptico,

> “In a good Appeal to Authority, there is reason to believe the
> claim because the expert says the claim is true.”

A “good” appeal to authority? Maybe in law, maybe in tennis, never in science. In the study of the natural world (instead of the legal world) the real world trumps expert opinion every time.
Pope=0 Galileo=1.

>”So that’s two errors you made – one of fact and one of logic.”

argument by authority is a cheap lazy shortcut

No and no. I still claim argument by authority is a cheap lazy shortcut and you have not proven me wrong. (You’re accusing me of hubris, and yet you’re rewriting rules of logic known since the ancient greeks? The irony…)

> “Er, no, this is trust, not faith.”

Righto then. How is trust different from ‘faith’, ‘hope’, ‘belief’?

Trust: intransitive verb
1. to have trust or faith; place reliance; be confident
2. to hope
Trust: transitive verb

1. to believe in the honesty, integrity, justice, etc. of: have confidence in
2. to rely or depend on

Planes don’t fly on “trust”. They fly on physics.
I would be embarrassed if I wrote about scepticism and I was exposed for having faith, trust, and belief in government committees.

What’s the opposite of sceptical? Gullible.

> “Oh and you should know that even if Theon had been Hanson’s
> boss your post would still have been an appeal to authority,”

Nope. You really don’t get this do you? I didn’t say Theon reckons AGW science is bunk “therefore it is”. I wouldn’t make a mistake like that. I used Theon and others to claim nothing more than that it was becoming cool to be a skeptic. In other words, since I was talking about ‘opinions’, and not science, I could hardly have done it any other way. The hypocrisy is rich. You’re the one claiming argument by authority is ‘meaningful’, then you miscomprehend my words, and mistakenly accuse me of using your own sloppy style of logic as if somehow, argument by authority works for you but not me?

> Admittedly they
> go on to say that even a good Appeal to Authority is not an
> exceptionally strong argument. But then I never said it was, which is
> why I haven’t written any blog posts on the subject using this as
> evidence,

Worse, your anti-agw-sceptic attitude underlies the reason for your whole blog. quote, Skeptico, ‘About’: “Global warming deniers (irritatingly, calling themselves “skeptics”), claim global warming isn’t real, or isn’t caused by humans.”

> I was just answering your question. And strange though it may
> seem, I don’t feel that I am obliged to provide you on demand with
> scientific papers that you think I should have read on your chosen
> subject.

You’re right, you don’t have to answer anything (and I said as much). You can claim to be a skeptic; claim skeptics of AGW are wrong; use faulty reasoning; and refuse to provide evidence. And I would defend your right to say unsupportable illogical things.
That’s free speech.

Alternately you could take the valid, easy short-cut and step out of a debate that you admit you haven’t bothered to read much about lately. That would be reasonable. (ie. you could stop slagging off at fellow skeptics – even if you don’t agree with them – until such time that you can show critical faults in their reasoning instead of holding ‘authority’ up as an answer to ALL their questions).

“Since you can’t back up your views with evidence, it follows that you ‘believe’, you have faith…”

I’ve provided links to papers showing that the theory has been falsified: have you even read the papers? You ‘deny’ you need provide any proof to back your public stand, so who’s the real denier? Since you can’t back up your views with evidence, it follows that you ‘believe’, you have faith in the political processes involved in deciding things like funding, issuing press releases, deciding committee placements, and you are confident that the IPCC will always be honest and unbiased. Right?

and
> Now that we know that John Theon retired from NASA in 1994,
> 15 years ago and was not Hansen’s boss anyway
> perhaps you should take down that silly post crowing about him from your
> site.

No. Whether Theon fits your odd bureaucratic definition of ’supervisor’ is immaterial. And you link to Deltoid. [Didn't you make a point about 'fake experts' earlier? —JN] As usual, Lambert can throw verbal abuse, but can’t back it up with reasoning. Saying that Theon wasn’t Hansens supervisor because he “did not give him his annual performance review”, but only evaluated his results and “justified his funding”, is an excuse to roar about administrivia and change the topic away from climate science (because it’s hard to win any points without evidence isn’t it?) In yet another example of Lambert firing impotent-verbal-ICBM’s (in this case, borrowed ones) this apparently is not just wrong, it does “linguistic violence to the term”.  Really.

For the rest of the world someone is “in effect” our supervisor if they are responsible for justifying our funding.

For the rest of the world someone is “in effect” our supervisor if they are responsible for justifying our funding.

Then he quotes Gavin Schmidt – who wasn’t even at NASA during the years Theon worked there, as a higher expert on the era. (But we know how little value Lambert puts on observational evidence).

Deltoid, BTW, can’t make a logical argument to save himself. You’re quoting him?

And in the end, Skeptico and Lambert are talking about a guy who happens to be an ex NASA expert with degrees up the kazoo* who (like so many others) doesn’t think the AGW case adds up. An own goal again.

[So Skeptico, maybe you know more than Theon on this topic? —JN]


*John S. Theon can call himself an expert anytime: B.S. Aero. Engr. (1953-57); Aerodynamicist, Douglas Aircraft Co. (1957-58); As USAF Reserve Officer (1958-60),B.S. Meteorology (1959); Served as Weather Officer 1959-60; M.S, Meteorology (1960-62); NASA Research Scientist, Goddard Space Flight Ctr. (1962-74); Head Meteorology Branch, GSFC (1974-76); Asst. Chief, Lab. for Atmos. Sciences, GSFC (1977-78); Program Scientist, NASA Global Weather Research Program, NASA Hq. (1978-82); Chief, Atmospheric Dynamics & Radiation Branch NASA Hq., (1982-91); Ph.D., Engr. Science & Mech.: course of study and dissertation in atmos. science (1983-85); Chief, Atmospheric Dynamics, Radiation, & Hydrology Branch, NASA Hq. (1991-93); Chief, Climate Processes Research Program, NASA Hq. (1993-94); Senior Scientist, Mission to Planet Earth Office, NASA Hq. (1994-95); Science Consultant, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (1995-99); Science Consultant Orbital Sciences Corp. (1996-97) and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab., (1997-99).

Still can’t name any evidence that supports AGW eh?

Joanne
________________________________________

SKEPTICO EMAIL #3

Global Warming Denial

Regards, Skeptico

————————————-

To finish: Judge him by his own words

Here’s how Skeptico recommends we judge the accuracy of an argument, from this page, because, shock (!), for the first time, I completely agree with him:

“The important question is, why should you believe me?  And the answer is, you shouldn’t.  Not automatically.  You should read my posts, see if they make sense and are logical.  Click the links I provide and read the cited articles, and see if they are valid articles that support my positions.  Read the comments to the posts, and see if the arguments of those supporting my position are better or worse than those opposing it.  See which group of commenters (pro or anti) provide evidence, links to valid studies, etc to support their claims.See which group of commenters rely on logical fallacies and which group call out the logical fallacies of the others.  See which group ignores rebuttals to their arguments, and carries on with the same arguments regardless. And then make your mind up. Then you’ll be doing critical thinking.”

Skeptico: Does it make you uncomfortable to fail your own credibility test?

UPDATE Aug 09: Inconsistent spelling, “Sceptico” corrected to “Skeptico”.

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