There’s consensus and then there’s consensus: Climate “Sceptics” Just Don’t Get It

Every single time researchers go to the otherwise wasted effort of reviewing the standing position of climate research in relation to anthropogenic climate change (for, in what other field of science do scientists undertake such analyses?), we hear the same backlash from the committed sceptics.

In fact, looking at the dismissal charges of conservative columnists in relation to climate change, Elsasser and Dunlap (2013) found that attacking the scientific consensus was by far the favoured approach. This illustrates just how much such anti-scientific groups understand the scientific consensus hurts their position, if it is against them.

And it is against them.

Time and time again, I comment that these committed sceptics just don’t get what scientific consensus is. Without blinkers, when one reads such consensus research papers as the recent Cook et al (2013) they find that such an analysis is NOT the result of questionnaires sent to scientists. It is in fact asking, “what is the position drawn from the conclusions of the paper and are these conclusions pro-anthropogenic climate change or not?”

Scientific consensus here is weighed by the evidence presented within peer-reviewed literature and not merely the expert opinion of a few. This is why it hurts the committed sceptic so much and needs such venomous denigration. Donna Laframboise sounds silly when she says, “science isn’t done by consensus” when one looks at what real scientific consensus is.

Moreover, local gold hoarding conspiracy theorist, Jo Nova, presents just how little she gets science in her reply to Cook et al (2013) by referring to her beloved, Oregon Petition Project;

“You want authority? Skeptics can name 31,500 scientists who agree, including 9,000 PhDs, 45 NASA experts (including two astronauts who walked on the moon) and two Nobel Prize winners in physics.”

Righto – is that what’s supposed to challenge empirical evidence? A bunch of names of people – the vast majority of which, regardless of their other achievements, are without any relevant training or contributed any relevant analysis to the related fields of science – signing on the dotted line…?

The Oregon Petition Project is a one-sided vote. It is irrelevant.

Science isn’t done by consensus and the scientific consensus isn’t done by people. It is done through evidence. Hence the print in Cook’s infogram; 97% of climate papers stating a position on human-caused global warming AGREE global warming is happening – and we are the cause.

Nowhere do the positions of people come into it. It’s an argument made on evidence, not opinion.

Yet the climate sceptics attempt to denigrate it as opinion, whilst providing evidence that IS based purely on opinion!!

There’s consensus and then there’s consensus. The body of scientific evidence simply does not support  the committed climate scepticism and the sceptics know this fact and do whatever they can to present a sideshow and misrepresent the body of scientific evidence because of this.

There is no debate over consensus because the definition of it is different for those who accept scientific evidence and those determined to remain “sceptical”.

Stats and Musings: Behind the Scenes of New Anthro

As most bloggers would naturally do, I keep an eye on my stats over time. This allows me to better understand my readership and tailor my work so that it both achieves the purposes of my own goals while merging with what my readers prefer to read.

This only goes so far, obviously. For, if I wanted a higher readership, I’d probably forgo my natural writing style for short, bombastic pop articles, with a couple cute kittens and “memebase” references to boot…

A couple persistent features have stood out to me over the near four years of my writing.

The first of which is that my readership is twice as likely to be from the US than Australia. Unlike many of my counterparts, I don’t actually spend a great deal of energy following the goings-on across the Pacific. My writing is largely about environmental governance and Australian politics. I’m intrigued that, no matter how I break down my stats, it always returns two US hits for every Aussie one.

The second interesting feature – and one that intrigues me more – is that good ol’ Donna Laframboise without fail draws in the crowd. For committed sceptics, she is fairly obscure. Unlike the batty Monckton, Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova and Anthony Watts, she appears (at least to me) nowhere near as prominent. Her arguments are even fairly pathetic – even for denialists.

I mean;

  • Climate scepticism is free speech: Yes, however opinion is no substitute for critical evidence derived by experts. You’re opinion does not deserve equal consideration because it is not equally explored via critical methodology.
    .
  • We can’t predict weather in a month, but we think we can predict climate a century from now:  No we don’t. Apart from the fact that weather isn’t climate (ie. weather is the physically observable noise overlaying a climate signature visible only through statistical analysis) no-one pretends to predict weather or climate accurately. If she had read the IPCC reports as she claims to have done, she would have noted the effort gone to within them to explain certainty. The could also be said about understanding the genuine science behind meteorology rather than just listening to the local news weather presenter.
    .
    Certainty is the point most exploited by the committed sceptic because they don’t understand it. It’s like odds in betting on a sporting event BUT not the result of one blokes guess against the punter, rather the result of a community of highly skilled experts teasing out reality. Rather than a spread, like you have with sports betting, the odds tend to be very close to 1:1 for one idea and the rest 1:1000+. That climate change cannot result from our greenhouse contribution fits into the latter. No punter, who actually read and understood the methodology and uncertainties – or even understood the physical chemistry of greenhouse gases – would make such a stupid bet. Yet, this is exactly the bet the commit sceptic wants us to make.
    .
  • The authors to the IPCC reports had a lot of internal kafuffle and political and advocacy involvement: So…? This is disingenuous. What does it say about the quality of the peer-reviewed literature on which the conclusions are drawn? Not a lot. What about the independent reviews by independent experts who have provided another tier of review, which find it sound? Why are the only people who seriously question the validity of the reports they type who hang out, present and/or a funded by deeply conservative think tanks, like the Heartland Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs and create straw-men, such as Donna’s criticism?
    .
  • Greenpeace are funded by the fossil fuel industry: Um… okay. lol

Donna’s arguments are pretty weak at best and she certainly doesn’t attract the mainstream media like Nova, Bolt, Monckton and Watts so it is intriguing that she rates higher in the New Anthro than her more noisy peers. Hopefully she reads this and her head inflates just a little.

Of course no-one rates as high – no topic at all rates as high – as another person; Gina Rinehart. However, that’s not so interesting really. She is an oddball with oodles of cash – she is entertaining.

Is there a Reasonable Mind in the Debate?

Anyone who engages on the non-debate over such subjects as anthropogenic climate change, evolution and vaccination hears, from “both sides” (I hate the term – but it accurately portrays such events for what they are; sport for entertainment) the assertion “reasonable mind” or “rational mind”.

Everyone insists they have reached their conclusions by reasonably and rationally reviewing the available data. The obvious flaw here is that some sort of debate persists, so someone must have reached their conclusions less reasonably and less rationally.

So what is it to be reasonably minded?

The Jo Nova’s of the world would insist they are being reasonably minded because they ask questions. The Donna Laframboise’s would think so because they employ free speech on the subject of committed scepticism. Of course, asking questions is not enough, nor is receiving the answers, as I’ve written with Jo Nova’s obvious lack of understanding of science. Likewise one can dispel the free speech argument by simply referring the Westboro Baptist Church (having an opinion and voicing that opinion doesn’t make that opinion sound or, in many cases, even ethical), but I’ve done a lot more on that subject in this piece and the referenced links.

Perhaps, as I hear often, it’s about being open-minded. Maybe I’m close-minded to what might possibly be true…

This sounds appealing and indeed logical. Science after all proceeds by great minds thinking, “what if…” and testing outside of the box. Are we right to thus reject anything, because, for all we know, it might possibly be true.

This is a favourite of the religiously bent individual which allows for the god-of-gaps. It fails, again, to understand the science method. We need to make three simple assumptions; 1) we exist, 2) the universe is bound by certain rules/laws, and 3) we can learn about the universe by discovering these rules/laws.

With this in mind, no-one can seriously suggest that, perhaps the Earth is really flat or that gravity isn’t really a constant law of attraction (ie. changing unpredictably). It’s not close minded to reject such hypotheses without wasting time on investigating them in depth (and at great expense), but reasonably minded to accept that the body of work is largely done and dusted on these matters and, if anything, it’s in a stage of fine turning (eg. the Earth isn’t a perfect globe, but more pear shaped and there is still a lot of work in understanding the force of gravity).

We also know about the misadventures of Mr. Credulous.

The great appeal for others to be reasonably/rationally minded quickly becomes, with only a general review, a complex matter from this perspective.

However, I don’t really think such appeals are anything about a methodical and critical review process, as the ego of such people suggests it is, but rather one hooked on personal values which filter acceptable data.

Listening to such discussions, it’s clear that the “debate” is really one over where the individual deems the appropriate height for the bar of possibility. A creationist, to render their ideology plausible, requires the bar to be set low, for instance, appealing to the mentioned “all things are possible” mantra. A committed climate sceptic probably has the bar a little higher – sensible on most subjects but low enough so that if they cannot understand the science in its entirety and if there isn’t universal agreement on every little detail, well then the jury is out on the subject and we can get on with business as usual. Even higher still perhaps (but unlikely from my experience) could be the bar for the anti-vax individual; it needs to be low enough just so that hear-say and YouTube videos render their objections sensible.

If others refuse to set the bar at the required height, they must be closed minded, not (what is really the case) that the quality of the data isn’t of the quality required to make the bar.

A lot of what my writing these few years has been on addressing these short comings. The links provided above to posts on the likes of Jo Nova and Donna Laframboise are about me looking at their claims and the “ergo…” conclusions drawn and finding the original position either false or irrelevant, which strips away the foundations to their conclusions.

It’s an unpopular approach because it doesn’t engage – for the blood thirsty trolls – but only exposes genuine shortcomings. It also taps into personal values which is most easily ignored by characterising me as close minded.

So what is it, in my opinion, to be reasonably/rationally minded?

First and foremost, it requires one to understand critical review and investigation. One needs to understand the scientific method and review the actual study articles, perhaps some of their underpinning studies as well as relevant review papers. It’s not glamorous nor is it as easy as reading a post on WUWT or Jo Nova and parroting that off anywhere that will let you.

Secondly, one needs to remove emotional ties to desired conclusions. By doing so, one is often more easily able to take the next step and change one’s mind after critical review of the available data. Two personal examples I offer are my views regarding invasive species and religion (separate, below).

Many of the debates we encounter are nothing more than emotionally fuelled beliefs in how the world ought to be – or is perceived to be doing us harm. God loves us. Hidden bankers are out to take over the world. The “environmental movement” is nothing more than a thinly veiled socialism uprising. Governments are always trying to find ways to undermine rights of the individual. Reasonable parental love and care coerced  into illogical fears propagated by anger/upset individuals whom have latched on to anything rather than the truth (ie. “we’re just starting to understand autism, but it shows no relationship to vaccination”) message of science.

In each and every debate we encounter on such topics, we find such beliefs entwined intimately with them. For instance, no committed climate sceptic has discussed the validity of their conclusions without including conspiracies involving the government, secret agents or devious scientists (all without a shred of evidence). Why is that? It’s because their argument cannot be justified or explained without such conspiracies. There’s no point for it.

Remember this the next time you find yourself in such a debate. You cannot win, nor are you likely to alter the position of the other – you both are likely to have the bar set at a different height. Who is really reasonable and rational? That’s open to later reflection.

Just save yourself the effort, as you would on a troll insisting on a flat earth.

________

In the case of the former, I chose my degree (and hoped-for career path) based around a deep love for the environment through which I hiked and explored. I have come to understand that it is not always feasible – indeed sometimes impossible – to remove invasive species and in a few cases, such species provide valuable services to the surrounding ecosystem. In the latter case, I was raised a Lutheran. In my teenage years, I began to question the validity of the stories I had grown up with. I started to discover how the fundamental points of the doctrine (most notably, the book of Genesis) just didn’t match the facts known about the world, thus muting the rest of the doctrine. I also discovered vast amounts of the good book, that had previously been overlooked in Sunday school etc, to be immoral. After researching a number of other faiths, I had to conclude that none represented any verifiable truth. I became a non-theist (not an Atheist, who I see to hold a religious stance, albeit negative; my position is more like zero – it’s a nonissue) which had many of its own hurdles to overcome (ie. rationalising death, morality, meaning etc).

 

 

 

Soap Box Superstars: Let them Speak

I must admit, I’ve been lazy in contributing to the wider scientific communication network over the last year. I was once in continual contact with a wide range of communicators, scientists and advocates, however with my attention focused elsewhere throughout mid-2011 to mid-2012 and in some ways allowing the endless swarm of trolls burn me out, my heart just wasn’t in it.

The people whom have been patiently keeping tabs on my site through this period (for which I am very thankful) would have noticed a return to regular posting. My plan is a new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a set time, with random posts around that. I am also keen to build up the former connections I once had as well as many more.

With that in mind, in resurfacing to the subject matter – that is (in my case), issues that impact our immediate future – I have found that the arena is becoming dirtier and, well, more pathetic.

The actions behind the whole Climate-gate saga where nothing more than a criminal act; private information was stolen from research facilities. For all the hype and bung “nails in the coffin”, all that happened was theft and unfounded noise. One would have thought, if there was indeed a genuine case of fraudulent behaviour, such material would be teeming with it. That we have a couple quotes, taken out of context illustrates the point I return to again and again – committed sceptics are in no way interested in the science.

But it gets worse.

I only recently learnt about the hacking and theft of private material from the forum of Skeptical Science and again the same pathetic quote mining. Geez; someone said we need a conspiracy to save humanity, OMG – the crazy environmentalists are duped by, I don’t know, bankers, the devil, Zombie Stalin, in the grand scheme to produce the one world government… this one quote proves it all!!!

No it doesn’t. It was one of the cuff comment that wasn’t really entertained and even if it was; these are people writing on one website… come on, get over it.

A perfectly valid reply to Jo Nova’s equivalent (not to mention, hysterical) comic.

Entertainers of this delusion are simply looking for confirmation to their warped perception of the world. This proves the whole conspiracy! When you have no expectations, when you don’t have a strong ideology to prop up, you have no need for confirmation bias. It’s a wonderfully liberating place to be – although, I must admit it is isolating.

This is because the same types of events are occurring against the contrarians. This has happened to Jo Nova (from what I’ve heard, twice in the last year) with her site being bombarded by traffic and shut down.

Now this act too demonstrates no interest in the science. The science may never have actually come into it at all, instead it is purely a battle between the two major political wings; a battle that has resorted to cyber terrorism and has long included bullying. It’s increasingly an affront to free speech as much as the Islamic backlash, insisting global adherence to religious law.

I’m not really in favour of the petition against letting Anthony Watts pollute the air ways with his nauseating brand of hype and misinformation or the online petition in response to the, somewhat typical, thoughtless rant of the near senile Alan Jones.

In the spirit of free speech, I say; let them speak! Let every last loud mouth, zealot, hypocrite and idiot stand on a soap box and record their thoughts and values.

If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have the brilliantly funny video presentations by Peter Hadfield and the world would be a poorer place for it.

Think about it; by letting every last people write or present themselves, they are effectively telling their decedents what kind of person they are. The black and white photos from rallies against racial equality look horrid by today’s standards. We can judge them, as we do the Westboro Baptist Church, for what they were and what people like Monckton, Alan Jones and Watts write and say. We have the right to object to their rubbish, which itself is recorded.

What I feel is being overlooked is the true cause for all this angst (in those who counter the contrarian position); the proliferators of nonsense and ideology have lulled us to confuse “equal” for “fair”. They demand “equal” time to sprout their contempt for reason, when what they deserve is “fair” time.

To quote Eugenie Scott;

“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”

Fair air time for Anthony would be a 30 second bite, in which he can say, “I don’t like it,” following a 30 minute presentation of the best information we now have due to critical investigation by the leading experts on the matter. We should be petitioning for fair weighted media on the important subjects – weighted by its empirical credibility and not political popularity. That’s the fight worth fighting.

Outside of this, as I’ve hinted throughout this post, we should have a laugh at what is really funny: Many of these people actually believe there is a secret agenda to create a one world socialistic government! Many of these people actually believe in various conspiracies dating back to the Middle Ages – even John Tyndall must be involved somehow! Many of these people still believe the warming trend in the data is entirely the result of urbanisation encroachment on weather stations! Many of these people actually believe that an invisible superhero is the sole agent behind our climate (the seasons too were in this boat until we understood the tilt in the Earth’s axis)…

These, and many more similar arguments, are hilarious. We should acknowledge just how far off the spectrum into some dark and dank extreme pocket they arrive from. By taking them seriously – without credible empirical evidence – we unfairly give them weight, in fact, equal weight.

I’m totally against censorship and all in favour of transparency and fairness. Let everyone share their thoughts, demand empirical evidence and weigh their ideas accordingly, just don’t resort to this juvenile warfare.

More Fun With Jo Nova

I love her poor graphics – especially in the second, more hysterical handbook – which brings me back to her writing time and time again. Occasional, something stands out to me which is clearly wrong, such as her Decarbonised planet image I’ve discussed previously.

Such errors stand as illustrations of her own hopes, misconceptions and outright delusions and so are worth sharing. Here’s a couple more from the same handbook;

” Real deniers claim something needs to be peer reviewed in order to be discussed. (Bad luck for Galileo and Einstein eh?) At the very least this slows down debate for up to a year, instead of discussing results that are right in front of us now.” (pg 14)

Committed sceptics love this theme. They see the peer review process something like a bunch of old crabby men, sitting around a large mahogany table scoffing down printed articles that challenge their world view. It’s used as buoyancy to hold up their favoured papers when critical analysis leaves them in tatters. It’s also the theme used when individuals, such as Christopher Monckton, publish material outside of peer review or in recorded lecturing. Ultimately, if the evidence being presented to support a hypothesis was strong enough, it would be repeatable and undeniable (ie. peer review, thus the strength to the scientific method).

The constant attraction to Galileo and Einstein is understandable, both men were revolutionary and faced hardship for what evidence their investigations returned. However, did both men really avoid peer review? Did they simply publish their ideas and, while they faced a strong backlash, these conclusions were otherwise embraced?

Of course not!

Their studies may have been published without peer review, but their studies were debated and tested time and time again. Their research was peer reviewed. It’s only in recent times that we have began to have the technological advancements required to physically test some of Einstein’s mathematics. Apollo 15 Astronaut Dave Scott’s hammer verses feather test was itself further confirmation of Galileo. Amazing stuff!

What did the committed sceptic really think would happen when Chris Monckton drew strong, contrary conclusions about climate change? The world would take a brief look over his world, leap out of their chairs with a cry of “hallelujah!” and hold a street party in his honour?

No; they tested his reasoning, critically and thoroughly… It didn’t turn out to be that strong – don’t lose sleep over it!

Yes, the results are in front of us right now, but science is about independent retesting and alternate lines of investigation (ie. you don’t just look at the elephant from 3 inches from it’s trunk and claim to have done an intense physiological investigation). Confirmation, or at least increased certainty, comes from critical review.

“A Scientist: Gives out all their data, all their methods, everything other people need to repeat their experiment; Is helpful; Is polite…” (pg 13)

The first point here is a lot of fun – it contradicts the indignation the committed sceptic expresses when others repeat their logic (ie. peer review) and find it wanting… hmmm… It isn’t sensible to give raw data (eg. some errors are known only to the technical staff, thus validation is imperative), but otherwise, yes, data and methods tend to be given for review. More important is to independently repeat the study to test the methods themselves.

Helpful? Polite? I don’t remember undergoing finishing classes as part of my degree – perhaps that’s part of post graduate courses?

Scientists are humans too. I’ve known a lot and I’ve found them to be everything from warm and inviting to demonstrating incredibly poor social awareness, just as I have the general public. Newton was a genius, but he was also rude, grouchy and secretive.

Personally, I find Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to both be thoughtful, patient and polite public speakers, especially when debating with contrarians, however, I know their critics would disagree with me. I think their critics, like Nova, don’t like it when they’re informed, in no uncertain terms, that their favoured hypotheses are blatantly wrong. That’s not being rude, it’s being honest.

“A Non Scientist: Uses circular reasoning; Uses argument from authority; Uses argument from ignorance; Uses ad hominem attacks; Hides or loses their data; Adjusts the data to fit the theory; Won’t debate or answer questions; Bullies, threatens, name-calls [repeating herself here]; Idolises human institutions. (Hail the IPCC!); Has “faith” in systems, committees, or authorities” (pg 13)

I don’t know which scientist she has been speaking to, but the only circular reasoning, arguments from ignorance, ad hominem attacks and refraining from genuine debate or answering questions I’ve witnessed have been online, in blog threads, from committed sceptics (have a look under the alfoil hat or George from this post from WtD for example). No good scientist, indeed no respected scientist, gets to such accolades and maintains them for long by playing such games. Same with dodgy data – the truth has nasty habit of popping up time and time again. Bad ideas fall down under critical investigation – both methodology and data (what science is all about).

Key words “idolise” “faith”: the terrible religion of science she doesn’t like. Of course, if scientists are generally convinced that the evidence is very strong for a given idea that is contrary to something one knows must be true, it must be the scientists who have falling from the perch of reason and entered the sand box of dogma… okay.

Again; present the evidence for a contrary hypothesis and have it critically reviewed. Don’t be upset if it is actually looked at – Monckton, as a “non scientist” should have been grateful that scientists took him seriously enough to spend their time evaluating his research. That it didn’t stand up to such evaluation is just as good; it means one less potential hypothesis we can rule out – meaning we are more certain than we were!

The only conclusion I can draw is that her writing exposes a poor understanding of science and scientific method. She seems to be openly offended by critical  investigation and honesty; both of which, I assume, must not leave her with much grounds to stand her hypotheses upon. She seems to want anthropogenic climate change to be false. That science cannot draw the same conclusions as her must mean science is wrong, or so her book reads to me. That not all scientists are personable tends to be inflated; that critical review finds her ideas (and those favoured ideas produced by others) wanting; it’s all inflated to the level of conspiracy. How else to explain such a fork in the road without seriously analysing her hopes and expectations?

Heroic Individualism: Protecting Us From Hidden Bankers?

In rejecting evidence contrary to ones values we’re left with an obvious question; what is it about the value that leaves it immune to reasoning?

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris provides such an answer to religious conviction with a fear of death. As discussed in my previous post, this clearly spills into other subjects, such as evolution and climate change, which ultimately question a given doctrine adhered to by an individual. Without meaning to, by challenging the creation myth or omnipotence of a super being (in controlling our climate), we bring the theology into question and with it, one’s immortality. It’s simply unquestionable to such people.

On the other hand, what can we make of the mantra of people like Dr David Evans and Christopher Monckton (associated and apparently shared views with The Galileo Movement)? An outline of this was spotted by Mike at WtD and highlighted in the post, A cabal of bankers and Sister Souljah: Lewandowsky versus the extreme sceptic fringe. I suggest you read through the full article, but for the sake of this post, I’ll mention a few key features.

Basically, dating back to the Middle Ages, there has been a developing class of invisible people growing rich on making money out of thin air, leading us down a path of endless debt to this secret group, syphoned from communities via taxes and interest (bared on, money imagined into existence). It gets weirder in that this invisible enemy is working to develop a single world government that one gets the impression would be oppressive.

See Jo’s fear: the greedy fat cat who wants to change your entire life, taking away everything you hold important

Even involuntary commitments, such as only being able to purchase high efficiency light globes (I suspect fluoridation of drinking water as well – especially if it’s deemed to be costing us) are taken as evidence of the build-up to this new government. Nova provides a caricature of these fears (which she obviously shares).

It reads like Hubbard’s Dianetics.

This doctrine, like its religious counterparts, is far older than the “debate” over climate change and is not really focused on the science of climate change at all (ie. it’s more about the use of fuel to power their dreams and taxes that propose to restrict climate change – the scientific evidence is just a victim to all this). It is an extremely conservative ideology, manifesting its own boogiemen to drawn the necessary conclusions. It justifies (and indeed, exaggerates) a core conservative value: individualism. As Sam Harris puts it in Free Will;

“Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse…

“And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they weren’t born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.”

Now, to bring this back to the opening point; what is it about this ideology that leads one to reject compelling contrary evidence? I suspect the principles of individualism ultimately let such people down and they need a scapegoat.

To return to the Harris quote, such individuals believe beyond all doubt, that it is the individual alone that is responsible for their successes and failures in life. We of course tend to far more easily acknowledge our personal successes than the shortcomings of our actions. In the case of extreme conservatives, the only thing that ought to stand between themselves and the riches they can obtain (or deserve) is, well, themself. Why then, are they not rich/powerful/etc?

It is those who “steal” their money – the banks and governments. It is the “powerful” (which, in most cases, doesn’t seem to stretch to the CEO’s and players on Wall Street within this ideologies – rather, such people are the example they wish to emulate) to blame.

Accepting the compelling evidence against reckless resource exploitation and climate change leads to changes in behaviour necessary to ensure increased sustainability into the distant future (and look how this is portrayed in Nova’s caricature). This ignores the core principles of individualism while amplifying the fears that governments and bankers are out to take your hard earned money.

Just as with the religiously minded who hears you challenge their doctrine when confronted with conflicting evidence, these extreme conservatives hear mindless puppets to a secret world order, threatening their way of life; their pursuit of personal wealth. It also touches on a sensitive nerve already imbedded to explain their failed attempts to emulate their heroes of success.

It would explain the venomous behaviour we encounter in such “debates” and the overall tone of works, such as Nova’s second handbook.

The only course of action, I suspect is, firstly, keep your distance. Secondly, ask questions (as mentioned in the previous post). Questions such as, “Who is behind the multigenerational “hoax” of climate change?” or “What hard evidence do you have of this secret banker society, their desire for a new world government and involvement with climate change?” or “Why have they been hiding for more than 500 years, waiting to take over – surely they could have in the great depression or at countless other times in history – why wait so long in hiding?”

Nut it out – dig into the rabbit whole. By exposing it to the light, one would hope they would start to see the many unanswerable questions to their ideology – the great lengths they go to make it fit reality. They may start to feel a little silly with the increasingly odd conclusions they have to draw (again, I direct you back to the post at WtD for a more detailed look at it).

The thing to remember is that you’re not arguing with such people over the validity of the scientific evidence regarding climate change. You’re nowhere near it. For that reason, you need to aim the conversation instead to what it really in question; how valid is the idea of hidden bankers out to take over the world?

Jo Nova: Even Wrong in Comic

I was reviewing some of my older work recently, when I stumbled upon an image I have used from Jo Nova’s fear propaganda, The Skeptics Handbook II: Global Bullies want your money, page 11. (note it’s three years old and yet has done nothing to modify to scientific conclusions regarding anthropogenic climate change – maybe she should submit it to Nature or Science or Climate Change?):

Stupidly, I looked over the most obvious error (accuracy is, after all, not the point of her work from what I can tell). It’s a photo of Mars! The atmosphere is some 95% CO2! Hardly a good representation of a “decarbonized” planet!

Of course, she could have used a picture of the lunar landscape instead – with next no atmosphere to speak of, it would be a clear candidate for a decarbonised planet. However, being in approximately the same orbit as the earth, the problem would become, “why then is the mean surface temperature around -50oC and can fluctuate by more than 250oC?”

A whole can of worms would be open with that question!

I Won’t Convince You of Scientific Reasoning

Very recently, I stumbled into a very hot little debate over vaccination. I should blame myself. Just as with evolution and nowadays, climate science, it’s more akin to an ideological position for many people and thus, just like politics and religion, taboo in polite conversation. Personally, I don’t buy that, especially when the subject matter could make a difference to the standard of living for our species. But that’s not where I’d like to go with this article.

If we're to act on climate change, Nova simply wants... From her handbook.

No; the other, who took insult by my comparing anti-vax groups to creationists (or ID theorists as they call themselves as their world view grows less and less plausible)  and climate change “sceptics”, brought up a familiar argument used by many whom would like to reject the current standing conclusions derived by scientific investigation; he insisted that if the science was so strong, it is up to me to convince him of that. He reminded me of an image I’ve previously used from Jo Nova’s sceptic’s handbook.

This has always struck me as weird, which probably says more about me than anything else. If, to the best of our scientific knowledge, something seems to be true, testable and repeatable, is it the obligation of the scientific community to convince the lay audience as such before the weight of the evidence is acted upon?

I don’t really think so.

That said, I do think science communicators should do their best to explain the scientific understanding in a reasonable fashion for the wider community and there should be a high level of transparency within the science. I would love nothing more than for more people to get involved in various fields of science, if for no other reason but fascination! I, for one, never really grew out of that kid; collecting whatever crawled or buzzed around my local area. I find life amazing and couldn’t be happier if such intrigue was commonplace.

Science, of course, also prospers from transparency.

However, I wouldn’t expect to understand the biology of a particular bacteria, the chemical compounds found in a certain medicine and how these will react when they come “face-to-face” somewhere in my body, before I took the medication. Personally, I would hope that scientific methodology had rigorously tested the medication prior to human use to decrease the chance of adverse side-effects and while proving to be effective in treating the condition (I would also expect a governing body strong enough to regulate the industry so that it works for the community, not at the community’s expense, but again; another tangent).

I don’t require the schematic of a tower, including all the materials used and where, so that I can calculate just how sturdy the structure is before I will enter it.

I will never ask for… okay, you get it; we are literally immersed in technology that results from science that we’re unlikely to understand in great detail. This neither means that we refuse to use it, or, more absurdly, accept its existence! There might be a few out there who would like to remind me that these things we can see, while climate change is only in models. I could point to numerous celestial bodies, sub-cellular units – why not sub-atomic particles – or even a remote corner of the globe we haven’t been to and I have no doubt that most reasonable people would concur that such things are very likely to exist, even if we haven’t seen them or understand the methodologies undertaken to illustrate them to us.

As Scott Denning recently put it, “everybody… understands how climate works well enough. Arguing about the details is just not worth your time.”

Likewise, I would suggest that most people understands vaccination well enough to be aware that smallpox and polio are no longer concerns nowadays because of this practice. Most people understand aspirin and paracetamol well enough to know that they generally help with minor pain. Most people understand how a vehicle works well enough… again, I could go on and on.

The point is, whilst we may not necessarily understand the fundamentals behind much of the technology around us, we often understand it well enough to use it and don’t demand to be convinced about the finer details before we make use of it.

Believe it or not, I’m not attempting to make an appeal to “blind faith” in science either (oh, I can hear the scoffs of disbelief). It all comes back to the points I raised above, most notably, transparency.

Scientific methodology prospers when done in the open as this allows a global network of experts to cross-examine the procedure, the results and the conclusions. Different minds give different perceptions leading to alternate, and otherwise unthought of, modes of testing. What stands up and is repeatedly supported by independent findings becomes a building block for our model of the natural universe, as best understood at this point of time by our species. It’s a special thing. It’s not set in stone, however, it’s as credible as we’ve yet derived. We only need to look around at the technical advancements and revolutions in medical science over the enlightened period to know this to be true.

It’s not perfect, but it’s exponentially better than the four humours, exorcisms and rhino horn of times prior. All that former nonsense were pot-shots, with more often a placebo effect as their only support. That was the time of ideology where rigorous testing was largely unheard of.

Right now highly trained minds are pulling apart the held scientific conclusions so you don’t have to. That said, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If such people desire to be genuinely convinced, to the level at which they insist, they needn’t rely on the communicator of the science literature, but can fully immerse themselves in the science itself. The reason we have experts in a given field is because they, not only went to the effort of developing the required skills within an appropriate professional environment for that field of science, but went one further and actively test their hypotheses in the peer-reviewed literature, to challenge the held consensus on a given subject and prove themselves in such a competitive environment. That same window of opportunity is open to anyone willing to join.

In that way, the demand to be convinced by a science communicator is a cop-out. Firstly, the blog-o-sphere, indeed even conventional media, are so awash in pseudo-science and junk science, I’d remain highly sceptical of anything written on scientific research, especially of those making claims without linking back to the original science article (and when they do, I’d read the article for myself). Secondly, you wouldn’t take the advice of a self-proclaimed GP who admitted that his training came solely from what he read online and saw on YouTube, so why would you take such an evidence base as your only education on science? Even if the evidence base is credible, it’s still an unguided path without the skill-building exercises undertaken in tertiary education.

As I see it, science communicator is a presenter of our current learning through scientific investigation, here to present the science as best they understand it. We’re all fallible, so be wary and become concerned when an author or media outlet refuses to fix obvious mistakes. It’s not the position to teach – for one thing, you have no idea of the audience’s level of understanding or any ideological biases they may hold which could limit their perception of the science.

Therefore pandering to demands by those who insist on being convinced is a mug’s game.

Ignorance is not a basis for valid rejection of scientific conclusions. In many cases, as touched on above, rejecting the conclusions of scientific investigation on such a basis would be laughable. The obligation is not on the communicator or even the science to convince the observer, but the observer to challenge themselves in learning the subject at hand and test the held conclusions for themselves. Any high school student, for instance, wasn’t told to believe that cells exist, but were taught to see cells for themselves through a dissecting microscope.

As difficult as it may be for some to accept, if genuine holes are found, that would be excellent for our understanding of the natural universe and I, for one, thoroughly encourage such people to dive into the science and help in sweeping away our ignorance. Science favours a genuine and engaged sceptic.

All this emotionally charged banter online does nothing but bruise egos and inflate others. It’s not the way to become informed or challenge scientific conclusions.

I promise you this one thing; I won’t aim to convince you of anything.

Echo Chambers Are Ruining Scientific Communication

Fairly early on, in my venture into the blogosphere space, I used to follow a scientific communicator with avid interest. Everything he wrote seemed so painfully obvious that it was difficult not to be drawn into his perspective… Well, almost everything.

One passing sentence he wrote sounded a little funny to me. So I did what many people would do; I asked for further clarification.

Up until that point, the only comments I had provided to his space were trivial points of approval. I’d even quoted his writing in what could rightfully perceived as advocating his views, which until that point, I was in complete agreement with. But I saw a new side following my simple question.

As far as it can be said within the blogosphere, I was “shouted out” of the conversation. Note; I hadn’t posed any real criticism, but merely questioning the views of the author was perceived as such and was treated with hostility.

I saw introduced to the echo chamber.

You would think, as I initially started out attempting to do what many science communicators have also tried – clarify the needlessly hotly debated (publically and politically but not so much within the science community) subject of anthropogenic climate change – that my first encounter with an echo chamber would be at such places like WUWT or Jo Nova’s space. Indeed both are notorious echo chambers, as I later witnessed firsthand. However the first encounter was a blog I largely agreed with by a writer who knows the science.

No-one is free from potential creation of an echo chamber.

This has worried my in the latter months of the now retired space of MothIncarnate and now New Anthro but more so for Gen[A]. I’m not interested in only attracting a readership (and authorship as I’m hopeful that both New Anthro and Gen[A] attract greater input by the readers) which only agrees with the views of the space and shouts out opposing ideas, but equally, I’m not interested in a game of Hathos or entertaining those trolling in their desperate need for attention.

It’s a tightrope between an echo chamber and opening the floodgates to debate for debate’s sake.

We often hear repeated ad nauseam the same old debunked climate change scepticism or unreasonable fear of a western economic collapse as a result of action. However, it’s very difficult to tell which is the misinformer and the misinformed or the fear-monger and the genuinely worried.

Arguably, it’s a much smaller group, who are beyond reason or are intentionally misinforming, that perpetuates a pointless discussion which not only leaves the general public saturated and disengaged (which also assists their purpose) but also sets the scene for a greater divide; what too often is labelled as “my side and your side”, as though it were a sport.

When the genuinely interested, albeit misinformed, approaches such an echo chamber, ultimately, they will feel more at home with a space such as WUWT or Nova, because their views, questions and fears are less likely to be shouted down than an echo chamber such as that spoken about above.

In short, we do ourselves and the science a great injustice by applying a hard and sharp rule of rejecting anyone and everyone who disagrees.

I’ve tried throughout to engage with everyone who has appeared on any of my posts, in comment threads I’ve contributed to and even those whom I’m made aware of via pingbacks. In some instances, I’ve gone to great lengths on what I can now see were merely merry-go-rounds by people whom are obviously just trolls seeking attention. It is easy, after all, to stir up such a person as myself to continue a silly debate, if you push the right buttons.

Run thin from all of that, I found myself disinterested in engaging with such people, but also worrying about the potential creation of an echo chamber.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have occurred on New Anthro as yet.

However, I caution that if we wish to remain effective scientific communicators, we must remember that nothing is beyond question in science; anyone is invited to test the theory of gravity as much as the greenhouse effect until they’ve taken “planking” to a new level or cooked themselves silly (preferably not doing such a test on our communal atmosphere, of course).

We mustn’t, therefore, take ourselves so seriously – it’s not an ideology but only sound advice based on the best possible evidence collected from the most stringent investigative methodology we have yet derived.

The word “only” is key – it’s really up to all of us whether or not we accept such methodology, but not to disregard the evidence without a sound understanding of the scientific approach undertaken (eg. you have the right to personally feel that evolution is rubbish, but not state the evidence is lacking without sound understanding of the fields of science applied).

Asking questions and debating rigorously are part of scientific exploration. We must be careful never to shout someone down, but to engage with them positively and enthusiastically. It won’t take long to work out if the other is genuinely interested in the science or is fighting from an ideological perspective and selectively plucking a small handful of points that fit their view.

We can spend a small amount of time working out which is which.

Those who fall into the latter group too shouldn’t be treated with hostility – it only makes those who lash out look foolish. However, you can laugh and walk away as you would someone who insists that the Earth is flat or only six thousand years old. In doing so, they lose attention, they lose the Hathos game play but most importantly, we can effectively defuse the war of this insane divide. “My side and your side” is the advent of the climate change sceptic which entrenches the people involved on both “sides” and wrongly inflates the small amount of contrary scientific evidence that the climate sceptic insist to be correct.

It needs to be put in perspective as does the whole crazy sport that has resulted from it. We will not achieve this through echo chambers.

If we wish to do science any justice, we need to get off our soap box and remember that science is about finding the “most likely” not absolutes. We should engage and lose interest when we realise that the conversation has stepped out of developing conclusions based on the evidence and into finding evidence that supports the held conclusions. Otherwise we are no better than the hostile climate sceptic, in fact, we’re worse; we risk shouting down reasonable, yet misinformed individuals whom may have only required a little of our time.

Additional Thoughts on the Climate Argument

It is an argument after all. It’s not a debate, at least not a reasoned one nor a sensible one.

I’ve recently found that the best strategy is to turn the heads on the so-called “sceptics” and rather than defend the strong scientific body of evidence (as if it needs such defense after all), simply question the sceptics themselves.

Steven Lewandowsky makes the point, “Tellingly, so-called climate “sceptics” refuse to participate in scientific debates: by and large, they do not contribute to the peer-reviewed literature and they do not present their views at scientific conferences…”

It doesn’t mean that their views are beyond question, however, and by demanding evidence to their claims, you stop the gallop.

For example, rather than defend the scientists caught up in the thoroughly discredited “climategate” affair, demand that the self-proclaimed sceptics provide the damaging evidence that has been overlooked by the numerous investigations. If they state that the investigations were  a whitewash, then they still must back this up with evidence – which simply does not include climategate books or blog posts but a thoroughly audited review of the investigations.

Likewise the varying claims from, “it’s not happening,” to, “it’s natural climate change,” – too often we rush to explain why the science doesn’t support this rather than take the appropriate scientific approach; ask for the evidence to these claim and the analysis which undermines the consensual standing within the scientific community.

After all, these self-proclaimed sceptics in fact do have various, indeed copious, hypotheses; the obligation is on them to not only test these hypotheses, but to then present their findings in a like fashion to that of genuine scientists within the peer-reviewed literature. Without this, theirs is nothing more than a bluff. As Chris Monckton demonstrates, it can be on first glance a convincing bluff, but it remains a bluff nonetheless.

Without this expectation to include their work within the confines of scientific methodology, we in fact unfairly promote their conclusions to the same status as those thoroughly tested and scrutinised by the scientific community; just as it inflated Chris Monckton’s status beyond all reason by respected scientists subjection themselves to his Gish gallop.

While the Jo Nova’s of the world might plead ignorant to evidence to support their bogus claims of genuine scepticism (it is after all, up to them what they choose to know and how much they’re willing to learn and understand, not ours to educate) it is entirely different when they start proposing their own hypotheses.

At the end of the day, we’ve waste a lot of energy on engaging with such people in what can only be described as a screamfest, when we should have; presented the evidence how it stands; engaged with those who really do want to learn more; ignored those demand you to convince them; and, asked for those with alternate hypotheses to address them in like fashion to that of any working scientist. Not only has it been a waste of effort, it has unfairly promoted their noise and saturated an otherwise lukewarm audience now saturated on a very serious matter. We’ve simply handed them the ‘win’ on a silver plate. Not a win based on evidence, of course, but one that is very much in the realms of public discussion and political at best and it remains valid in the the eyes of the general public.

On that, it is great to hear Malcolm Turnbull – probably one of only a few prominent figures in the Liberal party firing on all cylinders (I was disgusted when Abbott took his place) – has finally stood up for his previous views regarding climate change and for the scientific evidence itself. See the following;

“It is an intensely moral issue…”

“Do not fall into the trap of abandoning the science.”