Following my first post comparing history deniers (as Dawkins’ refers to them) to climate change deniers (CCD), I fell into yet another debate with a character who had me thinking again of Dawkins’ wonderful book, The Greatest Show on Earth.
Firstly it was from a foot note where he quotes Peter Medawar ;
The spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.
However I thought I might continue in this fashion and compare another denier, more strictly an evolution denier (rather than a history denier) to climate change deniers, which is discussed in Dawkins’ book.
In the TV documentary series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright, President of ‘Concerned Women for America’. Much of this interview did not make it to the documentary, but a fuller transcript can be found in Dawkins’ book and even more here. I think fragments of the transcript shows some remarkable parallels to the public climate change debate that persists [emphasis added];
Wendy: There’s no evidence of evolution from one species to another. There’s micro-evolution within a species, but not going from one species to another (Richard: Oh really?) And actually the way you’ve framed this and your closed mindedness, really is a very good example of the kind of censorship we see within the scientific community that won’t even allow discussion about the controversy that says, that we cannot even discuss any evidence that shows that evolution is questionable.
Richard: Right. Where did you study science?
Wendy: Well, see that’s the point. Scientists are now claiming that they are the only ones that can speak on this issue. And yet when people who look at the evidence, uh, go to the Smithsonian museum on natural history, and when you look for where’s the evidence to show evolution from one species to another, all we find is drawing, illustrations. There aren’t the actual material evidence showing it. So while there are attempts to say that only scientists can speak on this, what we have are scientists that are then creating a, um an isolated community and saying that we’re the ones.. uh, it’s almost like a religion in which scientists are the only ones allowed to speak and teach on it and teach everyone else and everyone else must believe what the scientists, what particular scientists say, but the scientists who question evolution are being censored out or are being blackballed out of the scientific community and being told that the rest of the world cannot listen to them…
Richard: …the whole thing [DNA] falls into a beautiful hierarchical pattern just like a family tree. It is a family tree. How would you explain that?
Wendy: And where is the evidence?
Richard: Well it’s in the DNA.
Wendy: Excuse me, where’s the evidence of, uh, evolution from one species to another species? The macro-evolution.
Richard: Well it’s in the DNA. It’s in the DNA, it’s in the geographical distribution…
Wendy: What you’re talking about it commonalities, but again, where’s the material evidence of evolution from one species to another species?
Richard: Well we obviously have a different conception of what evidence is. Scientists accept that as evidence, it’s overwhelming massive evidence.
Wendy: …the ad hominin attacks that people who favour evolution use against people who don’t buy into that, I think shows the lack of confidence in the evidence. If evolution had so much evidence behind it then those in favour of evolution would not have to be reduced to ad hominin attacks on those who say, “show us the evidence. Show us what’s lacking.” (amazingly similar to Nova’s illustration, fig. 1)
Wendy: …What I go back to is the evolutionists are still lacking the science to back it up. But instead what happens is science that doesn’t bolster the case for evolution gets censored out. Such as there is no evidence of evolution from going from one species to another species. If that, if evolution had occurred then surely whether it’s going from bird to mammals or, or, even beyond that surely there’d be at least one evidence.
Richard: There’s a massive amount of evidence. I’m sorry, but you people keep repeating that like a kind of mantra because you, you, just listen to each other. I mean, if only you would just open your eyes and look at the evidence.
Wendy: …if evolution has had the actual evidence then it would be displayed in museums not just in illustrations.
Richard: I just told you about Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens – archaic Homo sapiens and then modern Homo sapiens – that’s a beautiful series of intermediates.
Wendy: You’re still lacking the material evidence so…
Richard: The material evidence is there. Go to the museum and look at it… I don’t have them here obviously, but you can go to any museum and you can see Australopithecus, you can see Homo habilis, you can see Homo erectus, you can see archaic Homo sapiens and modern Homo sapiens. A beautiful series of intermediates. Why do you keep saying ‘Present me with the evidence’ when I’ve done so? Go to the museum and look.
Wendy: And I have. I have gone to the museums and there are so many of us who still are not convinced…
Richard: Have you seen, have you seen Homo erectus?
Wendy: And I think there’s this effort, this rather aggressive effort to try and talk over us and to censor us…
Wendy: …Well, let me ask you why you are so aggressive? Why is it so important to you that everyone believes like you believe?
Richard: I’m not talking about belief, I’m talking about facts. I’ve told you about certain fossils, and every time I ask you about them you evade the question and turn to something else.
There is a great deal more and if you follow the link above, you can’t help but share Dawkins’ frustration – especially with Wendy’s (probably nervous) laughter. He tries again and again to explains some of the evidence available, which Wendy side steps only to continue to state that the evidence is lacking.
I won’t patronise my readers by further exploring the above fragments of the transcript. I’m sure many readers are only too aware of the similarities. It’s not a question of suppressing the controversy or of those who state that they’re, “not yet convinced!” but rather being sensible about the science and asking for criticism that is of the same level of sceptical science demonstrated in the peer-reviewed literature.
You cannot convince someone of anything. All you can do is provide the best evidence available and leave them to draw their own conclusions. If the other cannot provide reasonable criticism of the drawn conclusions, of course there must be a limit as to where scientists can continue to entertain such musing.
Wendy, as with many CCD’s, also relies on some desperate hope that the peer-review process somehow censor scientists who challenge the theory. Anderegg (2010) explores this notion [emphasis added];
For the current mainstream tenets of anthropogenic climate change to be a product of a broad-scale cabal, peer-reviewed papers by skeptical scientists, especially those threatening to the main paradigm, would have to be systematically suppressed and rejected, regardless of the data presented. Nearly everyone, from famous scientists to journal reviewers to graduate students, would be implicated as a participant. But in reality, the incentives of scientific epistemology are exactly the opposite (Gleick et al. 2010). Every scientist wants to be the next Darwin, the next Einstein. All young scientists dream of truly changing the way we think about the world, climate science, or redefining and redirecting a field. The common charge that “they’re all doing it for the grant money” is laughable when one considers the potential funding capacity of typical grant agencies such as National Science Foundation compared to the capacity of private corporations who would rather not see climate legislation.
He also argues that if there were an attempt to censor contrarian scientists, we would expect to see similar backgrounds and credentials between such a group and mainstream scientists. If a large difference were present, it would be more likely that the sceptics are less frequently published due to less data or relevant expertise. Angeregg (2010) finds;
…these researchers without clear natural science qualifications comprised 30% of the skeptical community, as opposed to an estimated 5% of the mainstream community in R10 (45 researchers out of 929 investigated) (Fig. 1). Of these dropped researchers, 80% had no documented doctoral degree. Examining the remaining skeptical researchers shows stark contrasts with that of the mainstream scientific community. Atmospheric scientists comprise only 20% of skeptical researchers, compared to 43% of the mainstream community, and ecologists comprise 0% of the selected subsample, compared to 11% in R10 (Fig. 2). Geologists, not counted explicitly in R10 but tallied here, comprise a much larger percentage of the skeptical community (25.7%), surpassing atmospheric scientists. These estimates are in line with other more thorough examinations of the credentials, background, and expertise of skeptical researchers (Anderegg and Harold 2009).
Interestingly, Anderegg (2010) also found;
Climate change skeptics/contrarians tend to be an even more homogenous group. Men comprise 98.7% (465 of 471) of climate change skeptics and, based on the data available for ∼60% of the community, skeptics received their PhD’s an average of 10 years earlier (1977 versus 1987) than mainstream scientists. Thus, if one assumes a minimum age of receiving a PhD of 27, the average age of skeptics is around 60, and that of mainstream is around 50, which aligns with the mean age of 48 documented by R10. Others have indirectly documented the political leanings of leading climate contrarians. Jacques and colleagues found that over 92% (130 of the 141) of English language books espousing environmental skepticism were published by conservative think tanks, or written by authors affiliated with those think tanks (Jacques et al. 2008).
Clearly there is a conspiracy in the peer-review literature out to ensure a high quality of published studies! Who would’ve thought such a despicable act could occur!
Another very worthwhile point is Wendy’s continual resorting to the fallacy that if people did accept the evidence, they would be reduced to a lawless society without meaning – akin to the CCD’s social destruction that would result from accepting the evidence behind the AGW theory. If all else fails, we fine a true case of alarmism.
Finally, to continue on Anderegg’s comments on consensus (as I’m all too often attack for apparently relying on it), in the BBC’s Science Under Attack (posted by Peter Sinclair here), Dr. Paul Nurse makes a excellent point;
Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time and if it’s working well – it doesn’t always work well – but if it’s working well, they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that, so there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough.
Paul goes on to simplify “consensus” by using an analogy which complete stumps James Delingpole – certainly a good laugh!