There’s no doubt that I am my own worst enemy. I only have myself to blame for being up so early after fuming over something so trivial. On the other hand perhaps that’s what I’ve been missing; maybe it’s more that I’ve felt far more content in my current need to focus on my personal and professional life and leaving the pseudoscience arena on the sideline. Maybe it’s the frustration itself which motivates my writing.
Whatever the case, I find myself at the keyboard, when I could have had an additional hour of sleep before work.
Mike, at Watching the Deniers, has recently written two articles relating to Gina Rinehart’s latest attempt to control media in Australia. Mike did what I had been thinking to do in one of the articles,(Oh Lordy: Monckton rejected by his own political party, but “Uncle” Monckton’s effect on Australia’s media landscape is still playing out) in linking it to a relevant video in which Monckton suggests such an action by Australia’s rich and self-interested. Honestly, if anyone truly believes Gina has the interests of anyone else in mind, except for herself, in such a move, that is very telling of such a person. She’s no Princess Di. But why waste time bashing at a keyboard on something blatantly obvious?
No, in the other post, (Rinehart on climate: deeply concerned about our “lack of understanding” on issue), Mike included a quote from Rinehart which annoyed me;
“It is a fact that there have been ice ages, then periods of global warming to end the ice ages, and these have occurred naturally, including due to the earth’s orbit, and not due to mankind at all.”
When I entered this arena back in 2009, this absurd statement by “committed sceptics”* was already dated and yet, to this day, it just won’t die.
In reply to Mike’s post, I made the point that it’s like saying that Mike clearly doesn’t drive simply because in my time, I’ve seen many thousands of cars on the road and not one of them was driven by him. Of course he drives. He has written posts in the past about driving and had video footage of local flooding filmed from inside his car up on his site. That he is not always the reason behind why one car moves doesn’t refute the claim of his driving.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s good enough and still, this isn’t what bugged me enough to motivate this post.
What annoyed me the most – and is perhaps the core reason why I write online at all – is that such a statement goes just as far along the path of reason as is comfortable before taking one hell of a leap of faith. I detest when people attempt use favourable scientific evidence to disprove compelling evidence they are not in favour of.
Of instance; for Rinehart’s argument (well, not only hers, of course) to exist, she needs to accept the following results from climate studies to be accurate;
- Proxy data accurately outlines many millions of years of climatic conditions on Earth,
- We can accurately model the shape of the Earth’s orbit and the shifts in degree of the Earth’s axis over time,
- We can accurately measure and equate the effects of other greenhouse gases over the millennia through ice cores etc (*potentially* as I’m not sure which greenhouse gases, if any, are acceptable in Rinehart’s logic)
All of which, I personally feel are compelling results, at least in long term trends, from amazingly talented researchers tackling difficult fields. Yet, at the same time, she needs to refute other results from climate studies and physical chemistry, such as;
- The observable absorption of infrared radiation by certain greenhouse gases (most notably, CO2),
- As much as a couple centuries of direct observations in solar activity, ambient temperature, ecological shifts (ie. timing in blooms, migration, location shifts etc), changes in atmospheric chemistry, sea level height and glacial retreat,
- A scientific community consisting of many hundreds of thousands of research hours yet unable to find compelling alternative conclusions (of course, the previous two points make it clear enough that CO2 atmospheric concentration changes must make a change to the energy stored in the atmosphere – that is a well known and essential component to the habitability on the surface of this planet). Even though the endless rhetoric is provided by committed sceptics, it fails to shift the expert community from this position (what do these committed sceptics know that experts continually overlook?).
On Christine’s blog, 360orBust, I ran into a similar argument by someone attempting to use the scrap of data we have from Venus to overturn the wealth of data all around us (in this case, the individual had a paper or two in peer-reviewed science literature, so it’s telling that instead of attempted to do the same with this gem of his intellect, he shared it in comment threads, linking back to a New Age book he had written at his mother’s expense).
I must admit, I can see the appeal – it’s far easier to accept valid evidence that supports an idea one already holds onto – but science would get nowhere if we allowed our bias to pick and choose what findings we will accept. Attempting to map out the deep history of climatic conditions of Earth is immensely difficult and by no means as precise as directly measuring climate or firing different spectrum of radiation through known quantities of materials as we are doing today. We should be wearier of former investigation rather than the latter – but for people like Gina Rinehart, it seems the latter is too uncomfortable to acknowledge.
It’s funny with this in mind that Rinehart calls for greater “understanding” of climate science in the public via the media (which she is in the process of gaining influence of), especially when genuine understanding places pressure on the source of her immense wealth.
Climate changes. It has always changed – except for the relative stability of the Holocene, which allowed our species to develop beyond hunters and gatherers to the point we developed “gross domestic product”. Ultimately it would have changed again, whether by our geo-engineering skills (as is currently the reality) or by natural means (as the committed sceptics would have us believe is the situation at hand). We need to come to terms with that. What we don’t need are people who pick and choose from equally valid evidence, based on their personal ideologies, influencing our media.
That will lead to an intellectual black hole.
* In retrospect, I’m more than happy to call those I once considered “deniers” instead “committed sceptics”. Personally, I feel it is the most accurate title that gives such a crowd due respect for what they stand for. The reason for this change of heart comes from recently reading (finally) Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World:
“I’ve tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly sceptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and sceptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension…
“If you’re only sceptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything. You become a crochety misanthrope convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) Since major discoveries in the borderlines of science are rare, experience will tend to confirm your grumpiness. But every now and then a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you’re too resolutely and uncompromisingly sceptical, you’re going to miss (or resent) the transforming discoveries in science, and either way you will be obstructing understanding and progress. Mere scepticism is not enough.”
Yes, they are “committed sceptics” and thus immune largely to the scientific debate. This is probably why a reasoned rebuttal will not see the death of such silly arguments.