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Earth Science

The Limits To Skepticism 1093

Posted by kdawson
from the sometimes-you-just-gotta-say dept.
jamie found a long and painstaking piece up at The Economist asking and provisionally answering the question: "Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it's shown to be wrong?" The author, who is not named, spent several hours picking apart the arguments of one Willis Eschenbach, AGW denialist, who on Dec. 8 published what he called the "smoking gun" — it was supposed to prove that the adjustments climate scientists make to historical temperature records are arbitrary to the point of intentional manipulation. The conclusion: "[H]ere's my solution to this problem: this is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further 'smoking gun' claims begins with: show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you're a crank and this is not a story. And then I'll probably go ahead and try to investigate the claim and write a blog post about it, because that's my job. Oh, and by the way: October was the hottest month on record in Darwin, Australia."
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The Limits To Skepticism

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  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:35PM (#30419118)

    show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here

    Of course, on of the issues revealed is that they were preventing dissenting opinions from being accepted in peer reviewed journals...

    You can prove anything when you're allowed to select the peers reviewing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arminw (717974)

      ...You can prove anything when you're allowed to select the peers reviewing....

      Here is an article that would have likely been rejected by those who have control over the peer review process:

      http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm [oism.org]

      You will find other interesting stuff on this website, that many if not most on Slashdot would disagree with.

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot&hackish,org> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:57PM (#30419252)

      While labeled flamebait, this is something of a problem, even in less politicized fields of science. Most scientists are earnest truth-seekers, but a minority are not, and the peer-review system is not always robust to them. I work in an area of computer science that will never make Fox News, but even in this area things are sometimes suppressed for what's hard to describe as other than political reasons. At the very least, politically unpopular positions get all sorts of extra hoops to jump through that others don't--- e.g. if you're casting doubt on a position the journal editor or one of his friends staked his career on, better expect some random made-up requirements [scienceblogs.com]. If your paper scoops a large and well-funded group's work, there's a chance it'll be rejected by one of their friends, so they get to publication first--- and their publication might coincidentally borrow a few ideas or theorems from your rejected paper.

      It's not all bad, and in fact most is probably good. But there are some very rotten parts of the scientific-publishing apparatus. It doesn't help that most journals are run by for-profit companies that are a bit shady themselves (Kluwer, Springer, etc.) who have no real interest in the quality of the science they publish or how to improve it. And it doubly doesn't help that the academic rat-race has gotten increasingly cut-throat, so people feel they need to resort to dirty tricks to get/keep a job, get tenure, get grants, etc.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:52PM (#30419652)

        Hokay. As someone who works in science publishing for a medium-sized (neither one of the top, nor one of the inconsequential) publishing houses:

        i) If you're casting doubt on our editorial board's position then you will indeed be expected to have more solid evidence than some random, 'out there' paper that blew in, unsolicited. That's just the way of the world. Got the evidence? All is well, it's probably an awesome scoop!

        ii) If you scoop an important and well-funded group's work, *awesome*! Get over here, we'll get you peer-reviewed thoroughly and double-quick, pulling in favours if necessary - that scoop will be great for our impact factor!

        iii) Kluwer are goddamn shady, make no mistake, but I work for a company which is both for-profit and for-science. There's no conflict, because so far we haven't been offered any money _not_ to publish the best science we can. Hell, it'd be *great* if someone would, but from experience I'd have to conclude that there _is_ no group with bottomless pockets waiting to bribe us into submission...

    • by srjh (1316705) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:08PM (#30419332)

      They weren't preventing dissenting opinions from being accepting into peer reviewed journals - they expressed disappointment in the fact that the peer review process wasn't doing its job: weeding out bad science.

      The main paper in question was a literature review paper (funded by the Marshall Institute [wikipedia.org] and the American Petroleum Institute [wikipedia.org]) full of bad science, where the actual authors of the papers cited claim to have been profoundly misintepreted, and in which severe methodological flaws have since been found. One of the authors doesn't even believe that CFCs affect the ozone layer. It should have stood as a textbook example of why we have the peer review process to begin with - it's not a platform for anyone to publish scientific nonsense.

      Scientists actually are pretty skeptical people by nature, those who seem to be saying "I'm a skeptic! I don't know the science, but I'm absolutely certain it's a liberal hoax and we're all being lied to"... not so much. Most "skeptics" are nothing more than contrarians; skepticism to me implies a willingness to investigate the issue for one's self, but most of the denial movement shows such a poor grasp of the science that they clearly haven't done so.

      • by cold fjord (826450) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @04:24AM (#30421188)

        They weren't preventing dissenting opinions from being accepting into peer reviewed journals - they expressed disappointment in the fact that the peer review process wasn't doing its job: weeding out bad science.

        I don't think you've captured the true flavor of their hijinks.

        Rigging a Climate 'Consensus' - About those emails and 'peer review.' [wsj.com]

        This September, Mr. Mann told a New York Times reporter in one of the leaked emails that: "Those such as [Stephen] McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted." Mr. McIntyre is a retired Canadian businessman who checks the findings of climate scientists and often publishes the mistakes he finds on his Web site, Climateaudit.org [climateaudit.org]. He holds the rare distinction of having forced Mr. Mann to publish a correction to one of his more famous papers.

        As anonymous reviewers of choice for certain journals, Mr. Mann & Co. had considerable power to enforce the consensus, but it was not absolute, as they discovered in 2003. Mr. Mann noted in a March 2003 email, after the journal "Climate Research" published a paper not to Mr. Mann's liking, that "This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'. Obviously, they found a solution to that--take over a journal!"

        Mr. Mann went on to suggest that the journal itself be blackballed: "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board." In other words, keep dissent out of the respected journals. When that fails, redefine what constitutes a respected journal to exclude any that publish inconvenient views.

        Scientists actually are pretty skeptical people by nature,...... Most "skeptics" are nothing more than contrarians; skepticism to me implies a willingness to investigate the issue for one's self, but most of the denial movement shows such a poor grasp of the science that they clearly haven't done so.

        When it comes to climate, there seems to be two groups - skeptics, and believers. It is amazingly difficult to get believers to reevaluate new data (and perhaps endanger millions in grants?).

        Climate of Fear - Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence. [opinionjournal.com]
        Physics Group Splinters Over Global Warming Review [cbsnews.com]
        Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation [telegraph.co.uk]

        Can most scientists afford to be skeptics?

        To which Paul Vaughan responded as follows [wattsupwiththat.com]:

        Personal anecdote:
        Last spring when I was shopping around for a new source of funding, after having my funding slashed to zero 15 days after going public with a finding about natural climate variations, I kept running into funding application instructions of the following variety:

        Successful candidates will:
        1) Demonstrate AGW.
        2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of AGW.
        3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.

        Follow the money -- perhaps a conspiracy is unnecessary where a carrot will suffice.

        Opposing toxic pollution is not synonymous with supporting AGW.

        After all, there is huge money to be made and transferred due to "Climate change", even if it all turns out to b

    • by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:19PM (#30419416) Homepage
      More to the point, peer review is NOT theory validation -- it is supposed to be a final edit by an impartial party to find errors of fact, reason, and presentation. It is never supposed to be the "Stamp of Approval" about the topic, it is only a filter to weed out papers not yet ready for publication.

      Theory validation comes from those who read the papers and use the information to test, retest, or modify their own experiments to either confirm, deny, or suggest alternatives to the information presented.
      • To quote Fark (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @12:47AM (#30420058)

        THIS.

        Having something published in a journal is not the be-all, end-all, it does not mean that a theory is now correct one and for all time. It means it is time to start wider discussion and testing. The way science works is by trying to prove things wrong. You see phenomena in nature, and you come up with what you think is an explanation for them. You refine said explanation to the point that it makes testable predictions, the sort of thing like "If X occurs, Y will also occur," or whatever. You then set out to try and prove your theory wrong. You test those predictions. You say "Ok, well then let's try making X and see what happens, if we don't get Y, we know that we are wrong." Each time you fail to falsify your theory, you are more sure it is true.

        Others join in, they re-try your experiments, make sure you didn't fuck up. They find alternate explanations and test those (well maybe Z could also cause Y, not just X). The more times that everyone tries and fails to falsify your theory, the more sure you are it is the right one. Only by repeated testing by yourself and others, only by actively trying to figure out what is wrong with your theory can you reach one that you are certain (or at least as certain as we can be) is right.

        So publishing an article is NOT the last step in that, it is the first. You do some work, your write it up, you publish it. Some reviewers look at it to make sure there is nothing obviously wrong, and it then goes out to the larger community. That's when things start.

  • reply by Willis (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:35PM (#30419120)

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/08/sticky-for-smoking-gun-at-darwin-zero/

    • Re:reply by Willis (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jasonwc (939262) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:00PM (#30419280)
      Thanks for the link. I know that on Slashdot you're not actually supposed to read the articles, but nonetheless, I found the Economist post and the author's response illuminating. The author raises good points about the dangers of over-reliance on the peer review system. It's a good system but it is not doesn't always work - crap gets through and good articles aren't published. Simply ignoring any non peer-reviewed work puts far too much faith into the system.
      • Re:reply by Willis (Score:5, Informative)

        by jasonwc (939262) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:02PM (#30419298)

        Why the hell did this guy get moderated down? He posted the author's response to the Economist article! It's directly relevant.

        Isn't this precisely the risk of overreliance on the peer review system? Unpopular opinions get silenced. I would mod up the parent but can't as I have posted in the thread. So, I'm going to repost the link:

        Willis Eschenbach's Response to the Economist Article:
        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/08/sticky-for-smoking-gun-at-darwin-zero/ [wattsupwiththat.com]

        • a common myth (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:38AM (#30420380)

          Isn't this precisely the risk of overreliance on the peer review system? Unpopular opinions get silenced.

          That's a common myth. You see, there are many journals. All want to grow their subscribership, increase their impact factor (the scientific journal measurement of notoriety.) They do that by publishing the most interesting research they can.

          Doing research that mirrors what's already been done isn't very popular; grad students and postdocs, for example, have to clear what they're doing with their PIs. That's not likely to happen unless they've got some angle. This isn't apparent to the layman- or even someone who has "PhD" in their title, but even a minor difference in premise can be a big deal.

          Identical research also doesn't get published. New, fresh, interesting research is what journals want. So while Willis thinks there's a massive groupthink, there's actually little of the kind. It may LOOK like groupthink, because on the surface, yes, there's the gross layer of widely-accepted-fact. The devil is in the details, and that's where research is taking place.

          It's a special kind of arrogance to think that you can just stroll in and understand, much less analyze, a field where people dedicate years, if not decades, to their research.

      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:25AM (#30420306)

        The author raises good points about the dangers of over-reliance on the peer review system. It's a good system but it is not doesn't always work - crap gets through and good articles aren't published.

        And neither of you understand the peer review system. It's actually a very complex system, and one full of competition on many levels.

        First, there are many scientists trying to get their work published. Second, there are many journals. Third, each journal has a journal impact factor. Fourth, papers mention other papers. Fifth, journals and papers are not the only means for how scientists communicate their work or collaborate. There are conferences, groups invite speakers, etc.

        A journal impact factor is a simple calculation. On average, a paper published in Nature gets X number of mentions in other journal's papers. A paper published just about anywhere else gets much less. So people want to get published in Nature, obviously. But people are also realistic, and their PIs help them with finding the right places to get published. And if you don't, you can try again. Sound research is likely to be resubmitted, often times elsewhere.

        When a paper is submitted, you don't just get a "we're publishing it!" or a "DENIED!". You get questions from the reviewers, sometimes requests for more data. If it's rejected, often times it's rejected with some helpful, useful suggestions on how the reviewers feel the paper could be improved, and sometimes it's said between the lines that if you resubmit after taking some of those suggestions, you'll get the thumbs up from that reviewer.

        Yes, Nature and the like are the holy grail. But many, many people don't look only in Nature. They read the journals dedicated to their little niche, because they know that sometimes good, fresh thinking doesn't make it into Nature just because so many people submit. And guess what? So are all their true colleagues. So while you don't get your name in the newspaper or a mention on the nightly news, your research still sees the light of day, and often times, with more 'useful' eyeballs. And if it's good, you impress people, they collaborate with you, present your paper at their group's internal meetings, or hell, just toss the paper across the lunchtable and say to their colleages, "you should give this a glance." It's extremely common for labs/groups to have two weekly presentations- one presentation is the work of someone inside the group, and often someone in the same group presents research OUTSIDE the group. And often, it's presented regardless of how sound it is; it's meaningful to say "here is what so-and-so found" and then show why they were wrong, or what they did badly.

        Now, I'm on the outside of all of this as an IT person, but I've made many scientist-friends and their lives revolve around this stuff. "Willis" clearly doesn't understand it. The peer-reviewed journal system is complex, but also remarkably free of collusion. After all, if someone presents solid research that something widely believed to be true is not, it helps the journal because controversy sells copies, generates debate and discussion, generates mentions in other papers in other journals (hellooooo impact factor!), etc. The primary concern of a journal is not looking stupid by publishing something that isn't sound and well supported, not suppressing controversial research.

        Show me a scientist who bitches and moans publicly about his anti-global-warming research not being published, and I'll show you someone whose science wasn't sound enough to cut the mustard. Every day thousands of papers are submitted to journals and rejected partially or fully, and it's not a conspiracy. It's people doing research that isn't supported enough. There is certainly a dark side, namely, reviewers who don't recuse themselves or aren't qualified to evaluate a particular paper, but that's one reason multiple reviewers are involved, and you can always submit your work to another journal.

  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:36PM (#30419122) Journal

    For some reason I don't think going, "Lalalalalala, I can't hear you" instead of refuting the points they bring up is going to engender somebody to change their viewpoint, rather the opposite. If somebody is already believing there is a cover-up this is about the only thing you could do, besides admit it, that reinforces that idea.

    • Sure, and all biologists should spend time repeating the same arguments proving that earth is over 6000 years old instead of doing science.

      No matter what is said and done, denialists will deny, it's a genetic disorder, nothing can be done about it.

  • by HebrewToYou (644998) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:38PM (#30419136)
    ...to link to Willis Eschenbach's response [wattsupwiththat.com] in the summary. It appears that The Economist didn't even bother to contact Eschenbach before publishing this article by an apparently unnamed author. That isn't exactly what I would consider high-quality journalism.
  • by jelizondo (183861) * <jerry.elizondo@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:39PM (#30419148)

    I beg all of you to please see this TED Talk [ted.com] before modding me down again. Ive been labelled heretic for posting on related stories in the last couple of weeks, actually modded insightful until the thought police arrived and modded me troll.

    The weather exhibits chaotic behavior [wikipedia.org] and to find precisely one single cause for variation is futile, like CO2 emissions from human activities.

    The hottest day on record! screams the summary. Er, well since 1941. Well and good, how do you know the hottest day last century in Australia didn't happen in 1940?

    The Earth has been getting warmer [wikipedia.org] since about 10,000 years ago. Truth. AGW doesn't explain that. But it does follow that the Earth was getting warmer while we humans still lived in caves and were probably numbered in the thousands, not in millions of people. No, we are told. AGW is about the speeding up of warming. Really? We know for sure what the speed of variation would be without humans around? Let us not confuse premises with facts.

    The variables are many and not one of them is well understood: ocean currents, atmospheric currents, solar radiation (insolation), the effect of the strength of the Van Allen belt, volcanic eruptions, etc. No weather model can correctly predict past, known, climate; how can one believe that the future predictions are correct?

    We need a more open discussion and a lot less cries of burn the heretics. We are talking about science, not religion.

    BTW, if anyone knows of a climate model that correctly predicts past, known weather, please post a link.

    • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:06PM (#30419324)

      The article's point isn't to ignore all that. It's that to say that some random blogger likely doesn't have the tools to correctly analyze the data, and may well be doing their own shaping of the facts. And proving that to yourself is going to take a couple of hours (at least) of research and your time. The end result of which is probably going to be that the people who posted the data were aware of the factor in question, went and checked what the source was, and have a good explanation for what's going on with the data and why they did what they did.

      All of which is public record, and has been analyzed six ways from tuesday, by people with far better credentials than you or the blogger is likely to have.

      So, in this writer's opinion, it's not worth his time. If someone can get into the peer-reviewed journals, where the standards of competence and knowledge are much higher than on a random blog, he'll pay attention. Because every time he's gone and done the background check on some blogger's new climate data scandal, he's found it isn't a scandal at all, and quite often (like in this case) the blogger already knew that. But was posting it as a scandal anyway.

      So it was a waste of time, both to read the blog and to take it seriously.

      • by Burnhard (1031106) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @08:04AM (#30421904)

        It's that to say that some random blogger likely doesn't have the tools to correctly analyze the data

        On the contrary, if the raw data is available and the method used to massage it, then the tools are readily available. It's interesting to me that when Prof Mann produces a paper where he's fiddled with the data (as shown by Wegman, McIntyre/McIntrick and as verified by Dr North of the NAS in congressional testimony), the paper is not retracted, it's `defended' (mostly by use of blogs). The same is true of Briffa's Yamal chronology and Steigs choice selection of PC's in his Antarctic Warming paper. We aren't talking particle physics here; you don't need a billion dollar accelerator to reproduce this kind of analysis.

  • by highways (1382025) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:41PM (#30419156)

    A little history. Darwin was bombed and mostly flattened in 1941 by the Japanese during WWII. And, most likely, the weather station with it.

    Hence, it was probably re-built at a different site with different local effects.

    Next?

  • The answer is yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timmarhy (659436) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:42PM (#30419170)
    The moment you demand all skeptics believe "just because", it stops being science. global warming is a perfect example of something with questionable science reaching the point it's being treated as a religion, and anyone questioning it is a heretic.

    we are in serious trouble if someone can't question manual manipulation of dataset's which are the basis of spending trillions of dollars of tax payers money on carbon trading. it's even more disturbing is the fact they get labels such as "denialist" - if you are incapable of leaving the emotional responses at the door, then you aren't fit to be argueing the science.

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:14PM (#30419370) Journal

      I believe that the climate science isn't the problem in terms of AGW; the problem is that the solutions to AGW are arguably economically questionable. Hence the issue has become intensely politicized. People who strongly oppose the proposed solutions to AGW are often the same ones who tend to argue aainst AW as a whole regardless of their actual knowlede of the topic. People need to be able to separate the two issues from one another, that is to say that the existence of AGW is a separate issue than any solutions to AGW. However, it will never ever happen. Both ends of the issues will not yield ground and everyone ends up losing something in the bickering.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Volante3192 (953645)

      The moment you demand all skeptics believe "just because", it stops being science.

      Understanding why the speed of light in a vacuum is the universe's speed limit requires a 300 year history in scientific advances, and that's considered dogma.

      Sometimes you just have to accept that the other person just might know more about a topic than you.

    • by Draek (916851) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:36PM (#30419542)

      The moment you demand all skeptics believe "just because", it stops being science. global warming is a perfect example of something with questionable science reaching the point it's being treated as a religion, and anyone questioning it is a heretic.

      If you *know* it's questionable, then send your explanation to a peer-reviewed journal for all of us to see.

      You can't? pity, but chances are then you're no different from the thousands of other "armchair scientists" making outrageous claims with no actual backing, as the guy analyzed in TFA. And making actual scientists try and reason with all of you is an utter waste of their time, which we'd rather they spent doing their actual job.

      • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @12:24AM (#30419878)
        hah i love the peer reviewed journal response. it's a perfect closed loop, you can make the challenge because you know no scientific journal is going to publish an anti AGW paper, and it lets you avoid answering any questions.

        ask yourself what's so threatening about someone like me asking why CO2 lags temperature gain? after all i'm just an armchair scientist, your mighty peer reviewing brain should be able to crush my arguements with ease, right?

        • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:11AM (#30420220)

          Yes except peer reviewed journals do in fact routinely publish anti-AGW articles.

          The problem is that none of these articles have been successful in establishing an alternative model.

          So that's a big old FAIL for the anti-AGW guys.

          • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @05:48AM (#30421470)

            You don't have to provide an alternate explanation to falsify a theory, you simply have to show that it doesn't do a good job of explaining what is going on. The "You can't explain it!" crap is precisely what the religious nuts try to pull. They say "Science can't explain everything about this, thus you have to accept our explanation." No, sorry, not how it works. Just because there isn't a scientific explanation at this point doesn't mean you are right.

            Well same deal here. You don't have to provide a perfect climate model to falsify an existing one, you only need to show how the existing one is wrong.

            Science isn't about being fair, it isn't a case of "Well YOU explain it better than me, or accept I'm right." It is a processes for learning about the natural world, and for separating what works from what doesn't. Showing something doesn't work is an important part of science. Ideally you'd be able to present a theory that doesn't but that's not always the case.

            Cold fusion was a good example. Group claimed to do cold fusion, other labs falsified their research, since their experiments were not repeatable. None of those labs provided a theory for working cold fusion, none had to. All they did was show that this particular theory was wrong.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @12:48AM (#30420064) Journal
        My problem isn't so much what's in the peer reviewed journals (maybe there are problems with the data, if so I assume we will eventually see that), most of the stuff I've seen in peer reviewed journals seems ok.

        It's the dramatic hysteria and propaganda that you hear outside of the peer reviewed journals that really gets to me. The idea that if we don't stop emitting CO2 the oceans will rise, flooding out ocean front cities. There is no peer reviewed article proving that, quite the opposite, actually.

        When you read peer reviewed articles, scientists are careful to put in qualifications and caveats, as they should. What I object to is the propaganda that comes after that fact, ie: "CO2 is a positive radiative forcing component (verified fact)..........therefore if we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere the results will be disastrous (wild conjecture)." Carefully watch what politicians say when they start talking. Very often they will start with something that is verified in a scientific way, then extrapolate in ways that no good scientist would dare to do. The fact is, global warming as presented in scientific journals is not nearly as disastrous as the event presented in the news.

        In a way it reminds me of Y2K. At the time I would read articles in journals like Communications of the ACM, studying how much it would cost to fix various things, and estimating the number of computers that might have issues. Then I would look at the news and hear predictions of power plants exploding and airplanes crashing and wild unrest. At some point there was a disconnect between the science and the propaganda.

        I object to the propaganda.
  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:44PM (#30419184)

    They've been keeping records for what, 150-200 years? That's a lot by our puny standards, but not in geological times.

    And when you say, "tree rings!", I ask, "How precise are they?" A cool but sunny summer, or hot but dusty/cloudy/smoky summer could produce anomalous results.

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:20PM (#30419422) Journal

      It's only anomalous if there's only one set of data points. YOu can take samples from all over the planet if you wish and compare the various samples which significantly reduces any local effects that skew the data. Isotope ratios can also be used to give an idea of the climate as well. Just because we haven't been keeping direct temperature records does not mean that the data set just stops.

  • If it requires a PHD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Norsefire (1494323) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:49PM (#30419214) Journal
    If the dissenters are morons who don't understand it, what does that make the believers? Blind-faith followers? You can't have your cake and eat it too.
  • Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:57PM (#30419248)

    Most of the anti-AGW crowd is simply doing armchair, a-priori reasoning behind why AGW is false. "Humans are too puny to have an effect!" they say, or "The climate has changed drastically fast even without humanity being around!" Often there are political reasons for holding this position--certain arguments on how to deal with GW are certainly political in nature, and may come into conflict with one's own dogma, and thus psychologically one may be predisposed to oppose GW on that basis.

    HOWEVER, that does not mean that some people that argue for AGW do not fit into the same shoes. Remember, just because you are "correct" does not mean your reasoning is. Naturally, someone that hates big business and "the man" may also psychologically have a reason to believe in AGW--another reason to rage on about the status quo.

    If I was a betting man I'd bet for AGW, but really I know the science behind it is quite complicated and I know I'm nowhere near competent to make a good, solid argument on the matter, so I must approach the issue with a tempered agnosticism while leaning a bit towards the AGW side because that's the verdict by a vast majority of hard-working PhDs, and I highly doubt that climatologists consist of some dark, left-wing communist sect of economy-destroying conspirators. That is what true skepticism is, noncommitance (particularly emotionally) to a position particularly when you are not an expert on it. Many on both sides of the GW debate are not skeptics but reactionaries with their thought ruled by political underpinnings. Most of the people I know that rant about how AGW is a fraud no absolutely nothing about the mechanisms scientists go about acquiring the data on past climate conditions.

    • by rantingkitten (938138) <kitten@mirrors[ ]es.org ['had' in gap]> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @12:42AM (#30420022) Homepage
      I've never understood why this is even an issue. Okay, from a purely scientific standpoint it would be interesting to know whether or not humans are having an effect on the climate. But as a practical matter I don't see why anyone has a problem with cleaning up our act. The basic goal is "Hey guys, maybe we'd all be better off if we found better ways of producing energy than by burning stuff and letting the smoke into the atmosphere."

      The only arguments I've heard from the (usually conservative) anti-global-warming crowd are absurd. They fall into two main points as far as I can tell -- one is "It's anti-capitalist" and the other is "Government has no business telling private companies what to do."

      In fact this is perfectly illustrated by the above post, who says

      Naturally, someone that hates big business and "the man" may also psychologically have a reason to believe in AGW

      How is that "natural"? How does that even remotely follow?

      "It's anti-capitalist" is just ridiculous. As an example, say we want to reduce emissions and stop using coal, so let's use nuclear. Where do they think the nuclear plants are going to come from? Someone is going to have to build, staff, and maintain those, and sell the resulting energy at profit. There are thousands of potential jobs just from the construction alone.
      Someone has to design, manufacture, install, and maintain the smokestack scrubbers. Someone has to design, manufacture, and upkeep new and more efficient engines. Or solar panels, or hydroelectric power stations, or whatever. All creating jobs, all being done at profit.
      There's a whole green industry waiting in the wings to do these things. How on earth is it anti-capitalist, anti-business, or anti-"The Man" to see a need for better and more efficient service, and provide that need at profit?!

      "Government has no business telling private companies what to do." I don't get this one either. Private industry would never regulate itself in consideration of anything but its bottom line. There's a reason we're not all still working 14 hour days and dealing with child labor -- and it's not because corporations voluntarily relaxed those standards. Why does anyone think it's a good idea for companies to crap all over everything, dump any pollutants they want anywhere they like? But the second someone suggests that maybe that's not good, out comes Fox News and their ilk to blame government for ruining everyone's fun.

      Finally, I don't see how anyone can argue that we can continue to take billions of tons of carbon-based fuel, set it on fire, release whatever combustion byproducts into the atmosphere.. and absolutely nothing bad will happen. So, again, even if it's not having any actual effect on the global temperature, wouldn't we all be better off not breathing that crap?

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:57PM (#30419250)

    It really does weaken the position of those who support the AGW theory. Why? Because it is name calling and over simplification. Pretending that everyone who doesn't agree with you is simply in denial of what is happening and then making up a cute little label is not the sort of thing that speaks to a rational debate. It is the kind of thing a con man would do, and thus makes people wonder, why would you use those tactics?

    So as a start, you have to understand that there are some major differences in terms of what people believe who are skeptical of the AGW thing. These are just some examples:

    1) There are people who believe the whole thing is a crock, there is no warming, it is all made up, etc, etc. These are the only people who could be called in denial, by any stretch of the imagination.

    2) There are people who believe that there has been a warming trend recently, however the trend is entirely natural. It is right in line with the kind of trends seen historically, and thus there is no cause to believe this is anything but a natural occurrence. They are skeptical that humans are contributing in any significant fashion.

    3) There are people who believe that there is warming, and indeed man is contributing to it, but that the result will not be problematic, and perhaps beneficial. They do not accept the conclusion that the warming will lead to catastrophe, even though they do accept that humans are at least partly causing it. They are skeptical that a warmer Earth will be bad for humans.

    4) There are people who believe that people are causing the warming, and that it will lead to worse conditions, but that it would be even worse to attempt to stop it. They believe that the money spent on trying to stop such a thing could be better spent on other things to improve human life. The sort of thing that while warming might cause X additional deaths per year, spending money on that instead of other things would lead to 5X additional deaths per year. They are skeptical that the proposed solutions are the best.

    5) There are people who believe that people are causing the arming and that it needs to be stopped, but that reducing output won't do that. We need a different solution like geoengineering or something. Reducing CO2 output wouldn't help, at least not enough to matter, so we've got to find another solution. They are skeptical that the proposed solutions would do anything.

    6) There are people who believe that people are causing the warming, and that it will be bad, but there is fuck-all we can do about it. We are too far along, shit is going to happen anyhow, so we might as well apply our energies and money to surviving the change, not to trying to prevent it, since that it impossible. They are skeptical anything can be done at all, other than to try and survive the change.

    So a big part of the problem with trying to frame everyone as a "denialist" is the simplification of the argument, to try and say "Oh they all just ignore everything that is said." No, in fact, many don't. They simply come to a different conclusion. Also they may well find enough evidence to sustain part of the argument, but not all of it. You find people who say "Sure, I'll buy the world is getting warmer. We've got pretty good instrumental data on that. However I'm not so sure about CO2 being the cause. The data on that is more shaky. Either way I'm really skeptical that a warmer Earth will be a bad thing, there's essentially no data to support that." They aren't just saying "La la la, I can't hear you!" They are just not convinced by all the arguments.

    Well, when you simply dismiss them as a "denialist" and act as though they are a moron, that does nothing to convert them. In fact, it may do the opposite. They say "Hmmm, this is the kind of thing con men do. When someone questions them, they just attack and shout down their questioner. They are afraid of scrutiny. They want you to accept what they say, unquestioningly. Why are AGW proponents acting like this? Could they be con men?"

    So seriously, knock it off with the label. You are doing nothing to help.

  • PhD required? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheCaptain (17554) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:59PM (#30419272)

    Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand.

    Aye, there's the rub...

    I think the author is overlooking two simple facts: not everyone with a website is an "average guy", and that there are more than a few people in the world who are capable of understanding advanced mathematics and statistical methods who don't have the related PhD that apparently enables one to do so.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:01PM (#30419294) Journal
    There are tons of examples of peer review not working. Even ignoring papers that are outright fraud but still manage to get through, scientific journals are places for debate, they don't establish truth. Any particular paper (that is good) will be looking at certain evidence, and possibly be considering its implications, it doesn't establish the final word on the matter.

    Now, you can choose to rely on the opinions of scientists to form your opinions, and often that is enough, but if you really want to be sure of any particular topic, you should investigate it yourself. It might take a lot of work, but you will be rewarded with knowledge.

    That said, global warming isn't all that inaccessible. If you have a basic background in math and physics, you can get close to the cutting edge just by reading the IPCC report [www.ipcc.ch] since its such a great summary of the field. I guarantee you will quadruple your understanding of the topic just by reading that alone, and it will give you a good launching point to dig deeper, because everything it talks about is directly referenced to real peer reviewed papers.

    Some interesting things I found reading the IPCC report:
    • It isn't entirely certain that the net effect of human pollution is warming, it could also be cooling (see chapter 2).
    • Despite some sensationalistic propaganda floating around, sea level rises are happening slower than geological processes (plate tectonics etc) on any given coast (see chapter 5).
    • There is no reliable knowledge of how much CO2 has affected the current warming trend. The report says 'most of it' based on the logic that they can't think of another explanation.(see chapter 9)
    • The writers of the IPCC report aren't very confident of their main conclusion, which is that it is very likely that most of the recent warming is human caused. In the report, they are very careful to qualify that statement; although they are not so careful in press conferences (see the synthesis report).

    Every self-respecting geek who is willing to opine on the subject of global warming should read that report. Otherwise they are leaving themselves uninformed.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:08AM (#30420198)

      The quotes cited below are taken from the "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report" (dated Nov. 2007).
      Needless to say, it's unclear what report the original poster was quoting.

      • It isn't entirely certain that the net effect of human pollution is warming, it could also be cooling (see chapter 2).

      "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR's conclusion that 'most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in GHG concentrations' (Fig- ure 2.5). {WGI 9.4, SPM} ... It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica) (Figure 2.5). {WGI 3.2, 9.4, SPM}" (p. 39; emphasis in original).

      Nothing, ever, is entirely certain in science. Even "laws" are constantly tested and retested.

      • Despite some sensationalistic propaganda floating around, sea level rises are happening slower than geological processes (plate tectonics etc) on any given coast (see chapter 5).

      "Sea level rise under warming is inevitable. Thermal expansion would continue for many centuries after GHG concentrations have stabilised, for any of the stabilisation levels assessed, causing an eventual sea level rise much larger than projected for the 21st century (Table 5.1). If GHG and aerosol concentrations had been stabilised at year 2000 levels, thermal expansion alone would be expected to lead to further sea level rise of 0.3 to 0.8m. The eventual contributions from Greenland ice sheet loss could be several metres, and larger than from thermal expansion, should warming in excess of 1.9 to 4.6C above pre-industrial be sustained over many centuries" (p. 67).

      • There is no reliable knowledge of how much CO2 has affected the current warming trend. The report says 'most of it' based on the logic that they can't think of another explanation.(see chapter 9)
      • The writers of the IPCC report aren't very confident of their main conclusion, which is that it is very likely that most of the recent warming is human caused. In the report, they are very careful to qualify that statement; although they are not so careful in press conferences (see the synthesis report).

      Yes, not very confident:

      "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level. {WGI 3.9, SPM}
      Many natural systems, on all continents and in some oceans, are being affected by regional climate changes. Observed changes in many physical and biological systems are consistent with warming. As a result of the uptake of anthropogenic CO2 since 1750, the acidity of the surface ocean has increased. {WGI 5.4, WGII 1.3}
      Global total annual anthropogenic GHG emissions, weighted by their 100-year GWPs, have grown by 70% between 1970 and 2004. As a result of anthropogenic emissions, atmospheric concentrations of N2O now far exceed pre-industrial values spanning many thousands of years, and those of CH4 and CO2 now far exceed the natural range over the last 650,000 years. {WGI SPM; WGIII 1.3}
      Most of the global average warming over the past 50 years is very likely due to anthropogenic GHG increases and it is likely that there is a discernible human-induced warming averaged over each continent (except Antarctica). {WGI 9.4, SPM}
      Anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has likely had a discernible influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems. {WG

  • I see... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Treeluvinhippy (545814) <treeluvinhippy@sn e t . net> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:25PM (#30419454)

    The author is a skeptic only as long as their skepticism and logic leads to conclusions that match the authors personal beliefs. As soon as it doesn't, well lets put a damper on critical thinking. Mmkay?

  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:54PM (#30419682) Journal

    That was once the rallying cry of the AGW "consensus" -- that skeptics didn't publish in peer reviewed journals. The skeptics, however, managed to do so. The response of the "consensus"? As seen in the leaked emails, they attempted to prevent the studies from being published and to boycott the journals which published them. So enough about the "peer review" stuff. Number one, it's been done. And number two, it's quite disingenuous to demand peer reviewed articles while working behind the scenes to prevent them from being published.

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