More muddy thinking. Once again, a politico-journalist writes about science and misses the point. Science is not like law, politics or sport: there is no umpire, no judge, no boss who sets the rules (at least not one you can interview). Opinions don’t control the climate, yet Mike Steketee makes the basic error of elevating opinions above The Real World. Steketee is The Australian newspaper’s National Affairs Editor. He’s even won a Walkley award for journalism, yet somehow, the rules of engagement for science writing are so lax he can get away with a commentary which fails the basic test of logic. He pays lip service to the benefits of scepticism in journalism, while he simply repeats official PR from international committees. This is not investigative journalism, or even informed commentary.
“We have the illusion of ‘free press’, but when the press is untrained in logic and reason, free press is just free propaganda.”
What’s so comi-tragic about Steketee is that he’s so sure he ‘understands’ science that he can patronisingly imply that Fielding-the-engineer, might be ‘influenced’ by a contrarian (god forbid, a person who thinks)—all while Steketee is clearly not just influenced, but beholden to group-think. Yawn. There goes another herding-journo tugging the forelock to authority.
What we so desperately need are science writers trained in Aristotelian reason. And, while Science is nothing without Reason, politics would surely not suffer if it’s commentators were exposed to The Art of Rhetoric.
My letter to The Australian…
Mike Steketee Jun 20, 2009
Steketee boldly invokes Galileo, then unwittingly relies on arguing from authority—exactly the kind of illogic and unreason that Galileo risked his life to fight.
He recites the litany ‘the evidence is increasing for global warming’ but can’t cite any that matters. Instead of science, he talks ‘opinion’ and effectively just lists names and universities: NOAA, University of Chicago, Monash University, British Meteorological Office, The Climate Institute, Fourier, Garnaut(?), and yes, even Thatcher(?!)
It all sounds impressive, but The Climate listens to none of these. We could talk data instead—glaciers have been melting and sea level rising at about the same rate since 1800. Napoleon didn’t have SUV’s yet the planet has warmed. Dang. Something was warming the planet 200 years ago and we don’t know what it was, yet we kid ourselves that We Understand The Climate.
Facts about coincidences in the last 100 years can be ‘real’ and ‘really irrelevant’ at the same time
Sceptics are way ahead of Steketee, who bravely attacks arguments Fielding hasn’t made. Steketee patronizes us knocking down the solar argument, while he totally misses the point.
Catch up with us Steketee, we are NOT talking about solar irradiance. For ten years there has been a compelling theory about solar-magnetic effects, but if you haven’t heard about it, that because Fielding was right—the media haven’t talked about it. Go be an investigative journalist, and look it up, but don’t rely on David Archer, your favourite AGW-Teamster, to give you both sides of the story.
Yes, Steketee, if you must write about science, try to get the basics right. Facts about coincidences in the last 100 years can be ‘real’ and ‘really irrelevant’ at the same time. They are not so compelling if you look at the last 1,000, 10,000, or 1 billion years and the theory falls flat on it’s face.
There’s a compelling connection between postage stamp prices and global warming too. http://joannenova.com.au/2009/05/03/shock-global-temperatures-driven-by-us-postal-charges/
Correlation is not causation, authority is not evidence, and blather about strawmen theories, conspiracies, and myths is not what Fielding is talking about. He just wants evidence. Is that so unreasonable?
That fake principle strikes again
Let’s dissect a common truthiness dictate which is otherwise known as the precautionary principle. Quote Steketee: “But in an area where there can be no absolute certainty, at least about the size of the consequences, surely it makes sense to take precautions, particularly when the effect on national economic growth of doing so will be minor,”
The precautionary-principle is so mindlessly adaptable it also works in reverse.
This fake multifunctional principle works in all situations for any factor you care to name. Consider the threat of asteroids, or alien visits. The dictate fits—as long as we keep a cost-benefit analysis out. Using that logic, we can argue that we must construct a far distant warming system for asteroids and UFO’s at the cost of hundreds of billions (it won’t affect our economy much). The precautionary-principle is so mindlessly adaptable it also works in reverse. We know that rapidly changing The Energy Source modern civilization runs on, and making one of life’s most basic essentials more expensive, will cause deaths in the poorest nations. Therefore, before we kill anyone, we should take precautions. We don’t need conclusive proof the planet will warm, but we do need some, any, substantive observational evidence that a catastrophe is likely to be coming.
What makes the precautionary dictate utterly vacuous is that it denies that we need to consider the numbers. Let’s get quantitative: will the planet warm by 1 degree or 3 degrees (or 5 degrees even)?
The empirical evidence suggests 0.5 – 1 degree (tops) without feedback from water vapor (See the missing hot spot). No cataclysm here.
Just plain wrong
Steketee: “..emissions are rising faster than generally predicted”
No cause and effect here
We’re discussing the evidence of global warming right? So in a 1200 word article, how does Steketee reason that the theory of carbon-crisis is real? I’ll paraphrase:
it’s useful in an article about Fielding to contrive ways to mention the words myth, conspiracy and the phrase ‘no evidence’
- Big acronyms support it. (Authority rules…)
- Some people who are sceptical talk about conspiracies, therefore any idea supported by these people must be wrong, even if other sceptics have other reasons. (Smear by association)
- Margaret Thatcher agrees.
- Assume ”Solar Activity’ can only mean ‘Solar Irradiance’ and explain why that didn’t cause the warming. (Strawman)
- Despite the short records (since 1850), and variability that we can’t explain in those short records, there have been a lot of hot years lately. (Correlation is not causation)
- It really has been hot. Fielding didn’t suggest it, but I’ll point out anyway why it’s silly to think that there might be a conspiracy among meteorological organizations. (It’s useful in an article about Fielding to contrive ways to mention the words myth, conspiracy and the phrase ‘no evidence’.)
- Galileo talked about the sun, which has scientific and historical cachet, even though there’s no chance he was able to accurately measure the irradiance of the sun 400 years ago, and the irradiance is not the point in any case.
- I don’t know of many scientists who disagree and I read books by believers of the theory so I’d expect them to tell me all about those dissenting scientists in full and accurately too. (Argument from ignorance, about irrelevant authority)
- Let’s attack the idea of solar irradiance again, and talk about how we are worse than volcanos and that since CO2 is man-made, it must be bad. (Don’t mention Toba.)
- Claim the weight of history. People have been talking about the greenhouse effect for a long time. It’s a chance to name-drop ‘Fourier’. He showed the effect in the lab after all, which doesn’t have clouds, rain or humidity, but it’s not like those things affect the weather.
- Lastly, mention that someone somewhere predicted a temperature rise correctly and in advance. With so many predictions out there, it’s a given that one or two must be right by chance. Shame we have to go back to 1972 to find one. (Monkey’s on typewriters…)
Tick the following on your Steketee-score card: uses argument from authority; fights straw men; argues from ignorance; smears by association and is just plain wrong.