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The skeptic who wasn’t

Posted By JoNova On February 13, 2009 @ 5:07 am In Global Warming,Logic & Reason | Comments Disabled

Supplement: Our Email exchange ……Ref: Skeptico on “Global Warming Denial”

What’s the most embarrassing thing that could happen to a skeptic? Could it be worse than being exposed for believing anything and everything a government committee (the IPCC) tells them?

“Science without debate is like business without competition and a trial without a defense. It’s a sham.”

Unfortunately some of the loudest skeptics are the part-time ones. They busy themselves ‘catching out astrologers’, but then suspend all their usual rules of logic to defend the largest scientific scam in history. Ironically, at the same time as the scammers plot to suck billions from citizens, pretenders like Skeptico arm themselves to the teeth to, wait for it… fight for “authority”.  (He actually does this—the unthinkable—he claims that argument by authority is legitimate in science. Holy-Cringeoli! Let’s bow to the bureaucrats.)

Here Skeptico responds to my emails by publicly trying to justify his belief in the AGW theory. In response, he steadily exposes himself for having faith, trust, and poor reasoning skills, he proves to be a ‘denier’ (of the need for empirical evidence), a name caller, as well as patronizing, and totally unaware of his religious faith to boot. All that, and his reading and comprehension is not so hot either. See the whole email exchange here.

To date, my questions for skeptico go unanswered:

Q 1/ Can you name a single piece of empirical evidence that man-made carbon raises temperatures?

(He needs post only one reference, but instead he throws the lazy-mega-link-pages back: the 800 page IPCC report, the 450 link index of Real Climate, a Wikipedia page with 250 links, and a link to a software developers blog, just in case I had time to follow the other 1,500 pages and I still hadn’t found any evidence. Thanks Skeptico. Probably most of these pages link in a circular jungle back to each other, and possibly, under all the links to links, somewhere there might be one paper that supports the AGW theory, but no one seems to be able to find it. This is argument from authority ad infinitum, or reason-by-exponential-repetition. Since Skeptico obviously hasn’t read all these links himself, presumably he takes them on faith…(sorry, ‘trust’). This is not a polite scientific response, it’s an attempt to bewilder.

Q 2/ Imagine that the new results since 2003 showed that AGW and the models were wrong. Are you happy to assume that the IPCC, Hansen, or Gore would announce that? (If there was a legitimate question about global warming science how do you expect it to be discussed in the public arena if people like you won’t even read those peer reviewed papers that disagree with your publicly held position?)

This is ‘thinking’?

The most devastating blow to his reputation as a thinker came in an unguarded moment when he described the process he went through to arrive at his current passionately held position. Here’s his critical thinking tool at work:

“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.”

So Skeptico admits he stopped looking into this years ago, and says that two things made up his mind, but surprisingly neither were arguments about radiation, temperatures or ice cores. To paraphrase: (1) It’s a complex confusing topic, and (2) there are thousands of peer reviewed articles. Heck… tens of thousands.

“Since when was not-understanding a topic, a reason to believe it?”

Ouch. Since when was not-understanding a topic, a reason to believe it? I’m confused so I’m convinced? And point two: if ”thousands of peer reviewed papers” exist —er, so, name ONE?

Skeptico admits it’s argument by authority, which should be a show-stopper for a skeptic, but instead he claims it’s ok. He tosses in a quote that essentially says “Argument by authority is alright if the expert is not a fake one.” Right. Of course.

Problem is, we don’t know which experts are the right ones until after we’ve got the evidence. In 1895 the esteemed Lord Kelvin, president of The Royal Society effectively said planes were impossible. In 1902 Professor Newcomb scientifically demonstrated with reason and maths that human powered flight couldn’t happen with present capabilities. Despite the proof-by-authority, two bicycle mechanics did it anyway the next year.

Plus, awkwardly, there are experts on the other side of this debate (like Richard Lindzen: MIT Professor, Harvard grad, 200 papers and books, and a lead author of one chapter of an IPCC report). Thus science by ‘authority’ becomes like a Big Brother episode, but only PhD’s and Profs can vote to evict a theory. Likewise, what’s the scorecard for scientific scrabble: 1 point for a bachelor, 3 for a PhD, 5 for a prof, and double for a degree in climate science? (And triple if it’s not. Cheers Al). But who keeps the tally?

If there is ever a “good” appeal to authority, it’s in law (a supreme court judge can overturn a lower court). Authority also works in tennis (don’t argue with the umpire). But in science it’s a fallacious lazy shortcut, and Skeptico’s quote (which relates to the Holocaust) doesn’t prove me wrong, nor overturn Aristotle. In the study of the natural world, instead of the legal world, the universe trumps expert opinion every time. Pope=0 Galileo=1.

Skeptico is down a hole but keeps digging. Look at this gem of unreason: “Denier Tactics”. Skeptico ascribes this list with great powers of prediction about the climate. It’s as if there is a proven natural law discovered by political science that overrides the need to get measurements. He says, if you “Employ denier tactics, you’re a denier.” This natural law could save us a lot of money. Think of all the experiments we won’t need to do. Does this Fusion Reactor work? Don’t test it—let’s look for denier tactics. The official Denier Tactics list is so all-encompassing, it pretty much wipes out scientific endeavour from here on. Apparently, I can’t quote peer reviewed references (because that’s cherry picking), I can’t point out that they still haven’t offered any evidence (because I’m being repetitious), and I can’t speak about the flaws in their arguments (because that’s been loudly debunked, by some expert blogger somewhere that Skeptico ‘trusts’). I also can’t set any goal posts for falsifiablity either, because that’ll be ‘moving them’ (Ironically, I’m just using the goal posts the AGW crowd set themselves ten years ago, and failed to meet). The AGW crowd are the ones moving goals. Now they aim so low, they’ve given up on actually scoring; they’re just hoping to stretch the error bars so far they include some of the data.

Oblivious to the obvious

All Skeptico had to do was back up his public attack on skeptics with evidence, or go silent and stick to topics he knows something about. Instead, this looks so bad for him, I’m wincing in sympathy. Yet he appears oblivious to the outrageous flaws in his thinking.

“Instead, this looks so bad for him, I’m wincing in sympathy.”

Skeptico: “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.”

JoNova:with all due respect – Your comment here is pretty impressive claim of faith. Can you name a single paper…”

Skeptico:  Er, no, this is trust, not faith.

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

With a impressive display of false confidence, he goes public, and writes on his blog that he “trusts the scientific method”. Except that method—correct me if I’m wrong, requires that there actually BE a debate where people are encouraged to try to prove the idea wrong, to falsify it. In climate change, instead of getting an analysis, we’ve got name-calling. As a skeptic he ought to be outraged that the debate gets shut down by ad hominem attacks. Yet he uses  ‘denier’ or ‘denialist’ no less than 27 times in his blogged reply. (Twenty seven times!) That’s argumentum ad hominem, ad nauseum. Did he take his hypocrite pills this morning?

He claims I mistakenly equivocate ‘trust’ and ‘faith’, yet he equivocates the scientific method with a giant multinational committee—one set up to find ‘effects of CO2′. The IPCC is a political organization. If you trust the IPCC, you obviously have faith that if the science fell away they’d be honest about it. I can see the IPCC press release: “Good News; Research Shows CO2 Effect Is Insignificant. IPCC to Disband in Two Months.” Sure.

What drives the pseudosceptics like Skeptico who parrot bureaucrats?

Scan his site;  the topics he attacks are from a kind of “government approved list”, or are at least unpopular with mainstream committees: things like psychics, astrologers, the anti-vaccination crowd, and alternative medicine. The government and professional associations of doctors, dentists, and physicists may well be right about most of these issues, but it looks like he isn’t analyzing things for himself, he’s just adopting the views of a collective pool of bureaucrats. The only time he doesn’t agree with government per se, is if any minor official wants to bring in Intelligent Design. It’s a fair point to protest, but I’m struggling to see any sense here that Skeptico thinks for himself. I mean it’s hardly radical to support ‘evolution’.

In other words, everything Skeptico does, fits the mainstream consensus position. If you can find a committee, association or department to back a concept, Skeptico will hound your opponents—and do it for free. An unpaid lap-dog. A yap-hound for group-think.

He’s volunteering to attack scientists to help create big bucks for bankers and giant junkets for bureaucrats.

“Devotion to Deities versus the Cult of Consensus:
what’s the difference, it’s all a belief in a higher power.”

Predictably, he also attacks religion—kind of ironic given his own faith (sorry, ‘trust’). Possibly his big problem with organized religion is that it competes with his own disorganized one. Devotion to Deities versus the Cult of Consensus: what’s the difference, it’s all a belief in a higher power.

So in the end, it appears that what drives pseudosceptics might actually be their unfailing belief in authority and organizations, which explains why he’s gone so troppo on this one issue. It’s true our civilization owes a lot to the organizations that help revolutionary ideas roll forth and become mainstream. But any revolutionary scientific idea is anti-consensus by definition and not mainstream. So, at least on the climate, Skeptico is working against the very same mechanisms of debate and discussion that helped us build modern medicine, mass transit, and meteorology. He’s forgotten that the system to support is not the end result, but the process.

Science without debate is like business without competition, and law without a defense. It’s a sham.


Skeptico replies at comment #16.

Update: Aug 09 – Inconsistent spelling – “Sceptico” corrected to “Skeptico”.

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