Home > AGW, Climate Change, Global Warming, Omniclimate, Science, Skepticism > Nonskeptical Skeptic Michael Shermer (Unwittingly) Disproves AGW – Plus Bonus From Scientific American

Nonskeptical Skeptic Michael Shermer (Unwittingly) Disproves AGW – Plus Bonus From Scientific American

When is a non-skeptical skeptic a skeptic? Why, that’s when skeptical words come out of a skeptic who, whilst for some reason unwilling to connect the last dots about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), still manages to make a good case against AGW.

Step forward Michael Shermer of Skeptic Society fame, writing for the 100th time in the July issue of Scientific American to ponder: "What Skepticism Reveals about Science".

As usual, Shermer’s remarks are very useful to explain how fundamentally and intrinsically reasonable is to have a skeptical approach on everything. For example this is the perfect reply to those tut-tutting skeptics as purveyors of nothing (in fact, it’s the people all too ready to believe in this or that phenomenon, the ones making it much more difficult to understand):

I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know

Here’s instead why it makes little sense to ask skeptics to come up with alternative explanations:

the burden of proof is on the person asserting a positive claim, not on the skeptics to disprove it

Alas, Shermer’s skepticism stops at the door of AGW, presented by him as an example of "historical and inferential sciences…that point to an unmistakable conclusion"

Climate scientists prove anthropogenic global warming from the environmental sciences, planetary geology, geophysics, glaciology, meteorology, chemistry, biology, ecology, among other disciplines

Thus the Great Thinker of Contemporary Skepticism Michael Shermer appears to be a (firm?) AGW believer (even if not of the Romm/Desmogblog/Real Climate variety).

And who would have guessed it? Shermer, the poor thing, has been convinced of AGW by a showing of Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" (for a not-your-usual rebuttal of AIT, follow this link. You too, Michael, please…).

But if you can take the skeptic out of Skepticism, you cannot take the skepticism out of the Skeptic. A few words away from AGW’s "unmistakable conclusions", Shermer manages to disprove AGW. Let’s see:

The principle of positive evidence applies to all claims. Skeptics are from Missouri, the Show-Me state. Show me a Sasquatch body

Can anybody "show me" anthropogenic global warming? With the recent Copenhagen scientific conference making little progress in detection/attribution, I guess not.

Shermer continues:

negative evidence along the lines of “I can’t think of any other explanation,” … is no evidence at all

How many times have we been told that the evidence for the reality of AGW is in the impossibility to write a realistic model using only natural variability? Answer: many. Well, now we can reply with Shermer: that "is no evidence at all".

it is okay to say, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure” and “Let’s wait and see.”…In science, lots of mysteries are left unexplained until further evidence arises, and problems are often left unsolved until another day…If there is one thing that the history of science has taught us, it is that it is arrogant to think we now know enough to know (w)hat we cannot know

For example, climate models are incomplete, still not functioning and not reasonably realistic and most likely pretty much useless for serious climate projections at the moment and for ever.

Wouldn’t it make sense to leave the climate computation problem unsolved until another day? Isn’t it arrogant to think we now know enough to know what we cannot know?



Millimeters away from Shermer’s column, an article by Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the one and only scientist that has ever visited a place rather than Earth. He’s been called in due to his expertise about planets, you know, to write about: "Space Geology: From the Moon to Mars".

Looks like Schmitt is qualified to talk about planets. But wait…isn’t the same Schmitt that has "come out" as a self-proclaimed AGW skeptic?

Who knows, one day we might get a Shermer column on how an expert cannot see what are supposed to be AGW’s "unmistakable conclusions"…

  1. Eve
    2011/09/04 at 02:20

    Last, even if NAS is correct, and temperatures will likely rise at least another 2°F, and possibly more than 11°F, over the next 100 years, there is nothing we can do about it. I look forward to your response to this but better minds have already looked at this and there is nothing we can do. China, India and Africa will not slow their emissions.

  2. Eve
    2011/09/04 at 02:14

    According to Nir Shaviv now that the CRF/climate link is alive and kicking, it naturally explains the large solar/climate links. As a consequence, anyone trying to understand past (and future) climate change must consider the whole effect that the sun has on climate, not just the relatively small variations in the total irradiance (which is the only solar influence most modelers consider). This in turn implies that some of the 20th century warming should be attributed to the sun, and that the climate sensitivity is on the low side (around 1 deg increase per CO2 doubling).
    The IPCC considers half of the warming from 1850 to now as return from the LIA. I don’t know why they wouldc’t consider all of it as we still have not reached the temperatures of the MWP. So .4 C of the .8 C is coming out of the LIA. We also have to conside the urban heat effect which is considered to be another half. This shows that the warming from C02 is small.

  3. Eve
    2011/09/04 at 02:00

    Erasmussimo, I was interested in your remark about Mr. Holdren rejecting the hypothesis that solar variability is responsible for the observed changes. According to Nir Shaviv “The CLOUD collaboration from CERN finally had their results published in nature, showing that ionization increases the nucleation rate of condensation nuclei. The results are very beautiful and they demonstrate, yet again, how cosmic rays (which govern the amount of atmospheric ionization) can in principle have an affect on climate.

    What do I mean? First, it is well known that solar variability has a large effect on climate. In fact, the effect can be quantified and shown to be 6 to 7 times larger than one could naively expect from just changes in the total solar irradiance. This was shown by using the oceans as a huge calorimeter (e.g., as described here). Namely, an amplification mechanism must be operating.

    One mechanism which was suggested, and which now has ample evidence supporting it, is that of solar modulation of the cosmic ray flux, known to govern the amount of atmospheric ionization. This in turn modifies the formation of cloud condensation nuclei, thereby changing the cloud characteristics (e.g., their reflectivity and lifetime). “

  4. David Brown
    2010/06/02 at 02:15

    Anon wrote that satellites have been measuring with IR for 40 years……….Now thats a mystery of gigantic proportion.

    You AGW believers will never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I suppose you worked on Al Gores “Inconvenient Lie” as well did you?

    • 2010/06/02 at 18:12

      Mr. Brown, I gather that you are implicitly referring to the writer’s mistake in claiming that satellite measurements of IR began 40 years ago. In truth, such measurements did not begin until about 30 years ago, and I’m not sure when they became systematic. However, the error has no relevance to the AGW hypothesis. Even if the measurements in question were taken only yesterday, their significance to the AGW hypothesis would remain the same.

  5. Anonymous
    2010/04/10 at 20:43

    This post is a big pile of fail.

    “An enhanced greenhouse effect from CO2 has been confirmed by multiple lines of empirical evidence. Satellite measurements of infrared spectra over the past 40 years observe less energy escaping to space at the wavelengths associated with CO2. Surface measurements find more downward infrared radiation warming the planet’s surface. This provides a direct, empirical causal link between CO2 and global warming.”

    Wow, I just destroyed your entire post with one paragraph.

    • 2010/04/11 at 22:57

      Dear Anonymous – it is not customary to start a comment with a disclaimer about its content, but thank you nevertheless.

  6. Chris Winter
    2009/07/08 at 21:04

    @Edward Hussey Binns (14:04:16)

    Sorry this is so late. RL…

    Yours is a fairly good answer on the question of computer model reliability. I am not an expert on computer modeling, but I probably understand more about it than the average layman. First, a general statement; then I’ll address your points in order.

    It’s obvious that any model will fail if it is based on invalid assumptions, or if essential data are left out. Some of the classic examples are bridge design failures: Tacoma Narrows and others. Eugene Ferguson’s “Engineering and the Mind’s Eye” covers this subset well. However, if the equations correctly reflect the physical laws relevant to the system being modeled, the modelers use valid assumptions, and the input data are accurate, there’s no _a priori_ reason to call the result untrustworthy. In practice, of course, competent modelers compare that result to reality and work to fix the model if it falls short. Modeling in general has made substantial progress in the past few decades. Think of astrophysics, for example, and especially the recent work on sunspots.

    1. I haven’t looked at the IPCC 2007 model in particular. But I know James Hansen’s GISS modeling has been vetted pretty thoroughly, and that his 1988 model of temperature in the “business as usual” scenario follows the subsequent 20 years fairly closely. The latest climate models track the actual temperature record well if CO2 forcing is included, but fail without it. Thus, IMO, the GCMs have been improved to the point where they deserve conditional trust.

    It may interest you to know that GISS makes available EdGCM, a GCM that runs on Macs or PCs (under Windows, not Linux.) Its source code is in the public domain. See http://edgcm.columbia.edu/support/faq/

    In a good article about GCMs, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_climate_model) has this to say: “No model — whether a wind tunnel model for designing aircraft, or a climate model for projecting global warming — perfectly reproduces the system being modeled. Such inherently imperfect models may nevertheless produce useful results. In this context, GCMs are capable of reproducing the general features of the observed global temperature over the past century.”

    2. I think we agree that using physical laws to model economic processes is a bad idea.

    3. Medicine uses a wide variety of modeling. I was thinking mostly of drug design (which is in its infancy) or of the basis of medical imaging — among the most advanced applications of computer modeling a patient is likely to encounter on an individual basis.

    My question to Maurizio was mainly a rhetorical one, intended to discover if he distrusts technology in general. But perhaps I’ve misread his intention. He apparently set up this blog as a place for others to debate.

  7. 2009/07/07 at 22:14

    I stopped reading “Skeptic” magazine when Shermer had a pro-AGW article in it. I also let my “Skeptic Inquirer” magazine subscription lapse – they also had a couple of issues promoting the AGW scare. I find it disturbing that so-called skeptic magazines cannot even have a balanced look at the data.

  8. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/06 at 14:12

    Will, we have reached a fundamental disagreement. You have offered accusations from others that the NAS supported eugenics, but these accusations are themselves devoid of useful information. It would be trivially easy to provide an actual quote from an NAS report showing exactly what they really did say. We could then decide for ourselves. Your sources do not provide any such quote. How do we know that they are referring to an official NAS report and not the President of the NAS? How do we know that they are referring to those aspects of eugenics that have been shown to be incorrect and not those efforts to prevent the promulgation of certain extreme genetic diseases, which are now widely accepted as prudent policies? How do we know that the sources aren’t representing a noncommittal statement as support? We don’t. You are attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill. You don’t have the evidence required to reject my claim.

    Moreover, there remains a serious problem with your position. You are still claiming that your own scientific judgement is superior to that of the top scientists in the USA. How can you justify that claim?

  9. 2009/07/06 at 09:49


    The multiple links I have provided — and these are intended as a starting point for your own education; they are not meant to be definitive — are laughably dismissed by you with a hand wave as “too vague”. Yet you somehow conclude that your own assertion that the NAS is “infallible” (never shown to be wrong) remains solid and unchallenged in your own mind. No evidence for this opinion, multiple requests for you to provide links are always ignored…

    If you want to be treated with respect by intelligent sceptically minded people, and not across as detached somewhat from reality, address the points raised and don’t declare victory even after your position has been destroyed multiple times. 😉

  10. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/05 at 15:53

    Will, I concede that some greater specificity on my part would help clarify the discussion, so let me provide a more specific statement regarding the NAS:

    The NAS has never submitted an official report containing statements that were later found to be incorrect.

    Now, all you have to do to disprove this claim is to provide a statement from an official NAS report that was later found to be incorrect. You have provided a number of quotes, but all of them are vague or do not address my claim. The quote “Finding eugenicists on National Academy of Sciences committees and panels is like shooting fish in a barrel.” does not address my claim. The quote “Support for eugenics came from members of the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences” does not address my claim.

    So, in the absence of contradictory evidence, I think my claim is solid. You next argue that it is illogical because many instances of a phenomenon (“the NAS has never made an incorrect…”) do not prove that a phenomenon can never occur. This is correct. However, in the real world, we seldom get the opportunity to prove any statement; proof is a mathematical concept, not a scientific one. In the real world, we end up making ALL of our decisions using this kind of logic. And in policy-making, we make a great many gigantic decisions on weak grounds — because we are forced to choose between differing options, NONE of which can be proven to be superior.

    So it is with AGW. Here we have a hypothesis that predicts grave consequences if we do not act. If it’s right, and we do not act, then we will suffer grave consequences. If it’s wrong, and we do act, then we will suffer grave consequences. And we can’t prove whether it’s right or wrong. But the problem is, either way, we run a huge risk. So what do we do in the circumstances? We make our best guess and act on that. And who should provide us with that best guess? Taxicab drivers? Tennis stars? Soccer moms? I claim that the best guess will be provided by the people most expert in the subject matter: scientists. Furthermore, I claim that we should rely not just on any old scientists, but the institution of scientists that was specifically established to perform this function for our government: the NAS. And lastly, I claim that this institution has a sterling track record, and so it can be relied upon. You may quibble regarding the infallibility of the NAS, but what you cannot do is demonstrate that any other source has a better reputation for reliability.

    You write (let’s see if I can use italics here):

    But unfortunately the literature itself is rather circular in nature: the published literature refers to computer modeling for justification of its conclusions; the computer modeling papers refer back to the published literature.

    I think you misunderstand what’s going on here. Yes, the models refer to the literature, but only for their underlying material, not for their conclusions. They incorporate the latest scientific findings into their internal calculations, and then use those calculations to make climate predictions. Then OTHER papers in the literature refer to the results of the models. We’re talking about two completely different sets of papers in the literature: the papers that are used as input to the models, and the papers that use the output of the models. (There is a third set of papers that start with the output of the models and then compare some details of that output with new measurements, demonstrating either conformance or noncomformance; these papers are often the source of revisions to the models.)

    The 2C to 6C range is largely based on warming trends from 1980’s-2000’s.
    That’s not correct. If we were talking about a simple extrapolation of data, we wouldn’t need multimillion-dollar simulations. Those simulations are meant to interpret the data in a meaningful way, and they are based on ALL the data, including data from ancient times. The manner in which that data is incorporated into the model varies from model to model, but the fact is that they factor in every bit of data they can to get the most reliable results possible.

    The situation is different now, as the warming trend from 2000’s-2009 are considerably lower. So the science will need to change to reflect the new empirical data available.

    The standard refrain here is “weather is not climate”. The rule of thumb usually applied is that climate applies to developments that occur over at least a 30 year period. A decade-long period is a fluctuation, not a signal.

    But more important, if you want to base your predictions on the last ten years, then you can only apply them ten years into the future. If you want to look fifty years into the future, you should consider at least the last fifty years — and you’d do best by considering ALL the data, not just the last ten years.

  11. 2009/07/05 at 08:11

    More links to associations between the NAT and Eugenics programs:

    “Finding eugenicists on National Academy of Sciences committees and panels is like shooting fish in a barrel. In 1965, for example, the Academy and its operating agency published a report on U.S. population. It recommended more money for population research, more propaganda (although not calling it that) for birth control, and birth-control instruction by welfare agencies. The committee which produced the report included several SSSB associates and received financial support from the Population Council, whose vice president also served on the committee.34 Phrases such as “dealing from a stacked deck” and “you can’t fight city hall” come to mind here.

    Academy population reports seldom had input from critics of population control, and the occasional critic was overwhelmed by enthusiastic advocates. A 1971 Academy report, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (a major and consistently hawkish leader of population control), proposed specific targets for birthrate reduction around the world and the legalization of both sterilization and abortion…”


    “Eugenics remains a blot on the history of American science, a pseudoscientific racist movement that led to the sterilization of perhaps 60,000 people nationwide in the first half of the 20th Century. Support for eugenics came from members of the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and pillars of “progressive” society ranging from Woodrow Wilson to Alexander Graham Bell.”


    Although I suppose if I provide 50 more links showing links between NAS and Eugenics, each can be argued away or dismissed in turn as non relevant?

    And therefore the NAS will continue to maintain its mystic of infallibility in your mind?

  12. 2009/07/05 at 08:02


    Let’s leave aside the quibbles for the moment on citations; discussing to what extent the NAS was supportive of the eugenics program in the early part of the last century is interesting, but one might ask, of what relevance is that today?

    I’d rather raise a concern with the peculiar logic you are using in defending your argument. Which is basically that a NAT report submitted to the US Congress has never been shown to be “wrong”. What exactly do you mean by making such a statement? What is your definition of “wrong” ? Since NAS reports typically discuss a very large range of viewpoints and possibilities, do you mean the general theme of such a report has never been shown to be wrong? But how would one go about disproving an entire theme? If the theme is, the world is warming and humans have contributed, then certainly this is beyond scientific dispute. But that’s not the relevant question to be asking. The actual question of concern is: will this warming cause significant problems?

    Or do you mean all the scientific statements ever contained in a NAS report have always turned out to be completely accurate? Surely, with science changing constantly, it would be trivial to show such an assertion to be false. Or do you mean something in-between or something else? You are so vague on this point that your statement cannot be disproved, however nor can it be proved.

    The other problem is the logical form of your argument. Because X has never happened following event Y, X *will never happen.* Such an argument has no basis in elementary logic. It’s like me arguing that because I’ve never died in a car crash, I will therefore *never* die in a car crash. Effectively, your argument takes this silly form.

    With regard to the belief that the NAS believes the bottom end of the likely range of probabilities for temperature increases is in the 1-2C range, then certainly this is true. Most of the recent literature on expected temperature rises are in fact in the 2C to 6C range. The middle position seems to be around 3C. The NAS is quite rightly in pointing to this literature. But unfortunately the literature itself is rather circular in nature: the published literature refers to computer modeling for justification of its conclusions; the computer modeling papers refer back to the published literature. The 2C to 6C range is largely based on warming trends from 1980’s-2000’s. The situation is different now, as the warming trend from 2000’s-2009 are considerably lower. So the science will need to change to reflect the new empirical data available. When this happens, one might still have trouble asserting that the NAS was ‘wrong’. At best one might point to the fact that there has been a change in emphasis, which will no doubt will be reflected in future NAS reports.

  13. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/04 at 23:34

    Richard, I have just spent some time going through the pages available to me on the Google Books link you cite. I covered pages 79 through 121 and there was no mention of the National Academy of Sciences other than the one I quoted above. Apparently your discovery consists of a book that talks about the National Academy of Sciences and also eugenics. It does not appear to link the two in any manner.

  14. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/04 at 14:23

    Will, the “citation needed” notation used in Wikipedia is not defined to have scope limited to a single sentence. The scope can apply to several sentences up to an entire paragraph. They don’t like slapping “citation needed” notations on every offending sentence. However, this is a trivial point. The Wikipedia article doesn’t provide any real evidence other than the interpretation of the author. I made a specific statement: that the NAS has never issued a report that has subsequently been shown to be incorrect. The statement that “the NAS supported eugenics” is entirely too vague to be applicable here. We need something more specific.

    Next, you take me to task for failing to find a reference. Actually, I did use the search terms you suggested, as well as “NAS” and “National Academy of Sciences” as a phrase. I examined several score pages. The page you link to contains only one reference to the National Academy of Sciences:

    “The National Academy of Sciences had meanwhile established a National Research Council to mobilize scientists for defense.”

    This doesn’t refer to eugenics nor does it refer to an official report, so I do not see the relevance of the link you provide. I request that you be more specific about where the quotation is (perhaps the page number will help: your link took me to page 80 of the book “In the Name of Eugenics” by Daniel J. Kevles).

    You also seem to have conflated several concepts. I have been referring to official reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences in response to requests from Congress. You interpret my term “report” to include any papers published under the auspices of the NAS. The official reports to which I refer are meant to represent the official position of the NAS on some scientific issue. Yes, there are many such reports issued by subgroups within the NAS. But the overall position of the NAS is quite clear here and is summarized in its overview reports. I provided a link to its simplest and shortest document on the matter. This represents the official position of the NAS on the question. You suggest that I have cherry-picked this document from among many documents, some of which contradict this one. That is not the case. This is the simplest, highest-level overview document from the NAS on climate change. It represents the official position of the NAS. If you have links to other NAS documents that contradict anything in this document, please provide them.

    In your last sentence, you provide some odd logic:

    “To repeat as per my previous post, a 2F temperature rise is something that many skeptics would consider plausible, so on what other basis do you think the NAS’s position is not compatible with that of many skeptics?”

    Which can be summarized as:

    1: Many skeptics accept as plausible a 2ºF temperature rise
    2. The NAS presents a 2ºF temperature rise as the lowest plausible outcome
    3. Therefore, the NAS position is compatible with that of many skeptics.

    First, I very much doubt that “many skeptics accept as plausible a 2ºF temperature rise”. There are quite a few right now who claim that the earth is cooling, and a great many more who flatly deny any AGW. However, I will not hang the idiocy of others on your neck. You accept a 2ºF temperature rise as plausible. I’ll address YOUR position, not the idiot position.

    If your position is that a 2ºF temperature rise by the end of the century is plausible, then it doesn’t quite overlap the NAS position. The NAS position is that a 2ºF temperature rise is the lowest possible rise. Think of it in terms of distributions of predicted temperatures. The NAS position is that the distribution ranges between 2ºF and 10ºF. If your position is that 2ºF is plausible, then that suggests to me that 2ºF is at the upper end of your range. Thus, the upper end of your range touches the lower end of the NAS range.

    If I have misinterpreted your position, please clarify for me.

  15. 2009/07/04 at 06:59


    “Will, that citation you present is actually a non-citation: if you look at the Wikipedia article, you’ll see that the statement you quote is marked “citation needed”.”

    You’re not even reading the article properly. The “citation needed” remark is in reference to the claim that eugenics was commonly taught in schools. The fact that the NAS was supportive of eugenics is not in dispute. A further reference:


    Which is the 2nd suggestion in google if you’d just typed “eugenics national academy of sciences”. So you’re not trying very hard to get to the information that disagrees with your statements.

    Your counter argument consisted of a statement that you read otherwise somewhere, but can’t remember where. Your first claim I queried, about your belief that the NAS is infallible, has so far not been addressed.

    But I agree with you that the NAS is a very diverse group – different groups of scientists doing all kinds of different research assessments. I’m not sure why you think that because they do their research under the umbrella label of the NAS, that they acquire infallibility as a consequence. But the NAS is, of course, an outstanding scientific group, one of the best in the world for producing quality science reports. No question about it. I’ve also read many NAS reports that have looked into problems with many core AGW arguments, such as paleo-reconstruction, or divergence between sat and ground based temperature trends. It depends on which research group you’re talking about and what type of research is being studied. To quote one NAS report but ignore (or down play) the others that aren’t as supportive of a particular viewpoint is more about playing politics than talking science. To repeat as per my previous post, a 2F temperature rise is something that many skeptics would consider plausible, so on what other basis do you think the NAS’s position is not compatible with that of many skeptics?

  16. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/03 at 15:43

    Mr. Binns, you write:

    my own distrust DOES apply to computer modeling that misuses equations about heat transfer in fluids to other areas which are more chaotic and complex.

    Could you cite the sections in any of the computer models that misuse such equations? Please provide the source code or analytical equivalent and point out the errors.

  17. Edward Hussey Binns
    2009/07/03 at 14:04

    Just one question: Does your distrust apply to other applications of computer modeling? Because if so, you shouldn’t fly in a modern airliner, or drive a modern car… and there’s a whole panoply of medical techniques you should be wary of as well. — Chris Winter

    My answer: my own distrust DOES apply to computer modeling that misuses equations about heat transfer in fluids to other areas which are more chaotic and complex. Example –IPCC 2007 global warming modeling. Another example — the Nobel winning application of fluid heat transfer to the pricing of options and derivatives (see Robert Bookstaber’s “A Demon of Our Own Design” for how the worldwide credit crisis is really a derivatives crisis).

    Physics equations aren’t good bases for models of inherently more complex problems. Economics ultimately models human nature, the rhodium standard of complexity. The worldwide climate is n-dimensional, it’s mathematically too complex for the IPCC models to work, and, in fact, the ten (to fifteen?) year “pause” in global warming was not predicted, even though it was well underway at the time the “conclusions” were published.

    See also Armstrong and Greene on dozens of forecasting standards that weren’t followed.

    When modern medicine (which depends on diagnosis of mathematically simpler situations and on double-blind testing of pharmaceuticals) models, it is humbler and more thorough. Aviation computer simulations, again, are modeling problems with fewer variables raised to fewer degrees, and even then, they may be fallible (the original A-310 instrument panel, for example. Possibly an A-330 design flaw or incomplete understanding of computerized instructions based on multiple pitot-static readings — wonky, technical, but life or death decisions).

    I can’t find that IPCC was scientifically humble enough about the complexity of what they were analyzing and modeling. “Where was the null hypothesis?”

  18. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/03 at 00:38

    I’ll start with a very general claim that I recognize to be far off-topic; should you prefer to restrict commentary here to this specific topic, I’ll be happy to respect your requirements.

    I argue that the single most powerful argument in favor of AGW is the NAS statement that AGW is a real and serious problem. First, some background:

    The American National Academy of Sciences was created by an act of Congress in the late 1860s with the mission of providing Congress with the best possible scientific judgement on scientific issues that have policy implications. Thus, the NAS is to science (in the American government) as the Supreme Court is to law, with some important differences:

    1. The Supreme Court has only nine justices; the NAS has hundreds of eminent scientists.
    2. The Supreme Court must make its decisions in the nine-month period of a single annual session. The NAS takes as long as it needs.
    3. The Supreme Court uses a simple majority to reach a decision; the NAS’s procedure is opaque but is reputed to require a strong supermajority.
    4. While the Supreme Court has an excellent record, it has undeniably been wrong on a number of occasions; in 140 years, the NAS has NEVER issued a report that was later shown to be incorrect.

    So here we have an elite body of America’s best scientists. When they were first asked to report on climate change back in 1975, they declared that there was not enough data to make a determination. All through the 1990s they refused to make a statement. But over the last few years they have made their decision and published it. You can find it here:

    Click to access climate_change_2008_final.pdf

    Here are a few quotes from this document:

    “temperatures will likely rise at least another 2°F, and possibly more than 11°F, over the next 100 years.”
    “Most scientists agree that the warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”
    “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to begin taking steps to prepare for climate change and to slow it.”

    Now, here’s the question I put to you, Maurizio: what is your justification for rejecting the claims of the NAS?

    • 2009/07/03 at 09:10


      I don’t think any skeptic is arguing the point that a temperature rise of 2F is plausible. So what is your point?

      I’m curious as to your statement that the NAS is infallible. In particular you wrote: “the NAS has NEVER issued a report that was later shown to be incorrect.”

      Where is your citation to back-up this opinion?

      “In the USA, eugenic supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, pre-1960’s Democratic Party, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and the National Research Council. Research was funded by distinguished philanthropies and carried out at prestigious universities.It was taught in college and high school classrooms.”


      So the NAS was right about the ugly pseudo science that was eugenics last century?

      • Erasmussimo
        2009/07/03 at 15:18

        Will, that citation you present is actually a non-citation: if you look at the Wikipedia article, you’ll see that the statement you quote is marked “citation needed”.

        My own knowledge of this is based on a book I read about the history of eugenics; I no longer have the book so I cannot provide a citation. However, I did a lot of web research and determined the following:

        1. The meme in the Wikipedia article has a lot of echoes all over the web. You can tell that they’re echoes because they use much the same wording.

        2. There is no evidence that the NAS ever issued a report on eugenics. The key notion here is that the NAS is a big organization with a lot of activities going on. For example, I found one instance of a pro-eugenics lecture delivered to members of the NAS. There appear to have been some papers on the subject published in the Proceedings of the NAS, although I do not know whether these papers were pro- or anti-. But none of this is relevant to the key question: did the NAS issue a report to Congress supporting eugenics? I found no evidence of any such report. Moreover, I found no evidence of Congress ever requesting such a report. Without the request, the NAS cannot issue a report.

        3. There’s a lot of confusion arising from the fact that Mr. Terman, the President of the NAS during the 20s and 30s, was a strong supporter of eugenics. The support of the President of the NAS is a far cry from a report by the NAS; the NAS is extremely careful in its reports and does not take an official position until it has a strong supermajority in favor of that position. The evidence is that no such supermajority ever existed.

        4. Moreover, the single term “eugenics” covers a lot of intellectual territory and cannot be fairly used as a condemnation of all work in the area. There were eugenicists who labored to established a solid scientific foundation for eugenics, and much of their worked served to undermine the claims of the popular crusaders. For example, some eugenics effort concerned genetic diseases whose existence is undeniable. The problem was that the crusaders for eugenics extrapolated this research to a wide variety of conditions that had no scientific support. Hence your characterization of eugenics as a “pseudo-science” is off the mark.

        But the key point is this: there really is no evidence that the NAS ever issued an official report supporting science that has since been determined to be incorrect. If you believe that it has, I’ll ask you to cite any such report or provide a “smoking gun” quotation from an NAS report (not a paper published in any of the NAS Proceedings).

    • 2009/07/07 at 22:40

      According to MIT Atmospheric Science professor Richard Lindzen, John Holdren was admitted to the National Academy of Sciences through the “back door”: “for over 20 years, there was a Temporary Nominating Group for the Global Environment to provide a back door for the election of candidates who were environmental activists, bypassing the conventional vetting procedure. Members, so elected, proceeded to join existing sections where they hold a veto power over the election of any scientists unsympathetic to their position. Moreover, they are almost immediately appointed to positions on the executive council, and other influential bodies within the Academy. One of the members elected via the Temporary Nominating Group, Ralph Cicerone, is now president of the National Academy. Prior to that, he was on the nominating committee for the presidency. It should be added that there is generally only a single candidate for president. Others elected to the NAS via this route include Paul Ehrlich, James Hansen, Steven Schneider, John Holdren and Susan Solomon.” See: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0809/0809.3762.pdf

      • Erasmussimo
        2009/07/07 at 23:40

        Alan, Mr. Lindzen’s accusations against the NAS are scurrilous and without merit. He offers no evidence whatsoever to justify his accusations. Mr. Lindzen has made many worthy contributions to atmospheric science and he certainly deserves his membership in the NAS. However, scientists are human and they are subject to the same emotional vicissitudes that everybody else is. That is why it is inadvisable to base a case on the claims of any individual. I challenge you to provide some substantiation for these ugly accusations.

  19. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/03 at 00:17

    Well, OK, let’s see if we can’t stake out our disagreements. I suppose that the burden is upon me. Let me take a little time to prepare something.

  20. timetochooseagain
    2009/07/03 at 00:10

    “negative evidence along the lines of “I can’t think of any other explanation,” … is no evidence at all”

    Indeed. As Richard Lindzen has noted, the argument for attribution of global warming is in fact a reworked version of the argument for intelligent design.


    Click to access Lindzen-12-9-08.pdf

    “The IPCC claim that man is responsible for most (ie more than 50%) of recent warming is not so different from our finding of about 30%, but the IPCC justification is logically far more questionable.
    The basis for the claim is, ultimately, that modelers cannot think of any other cause for the surface temperature rise of the past 50 years.
    Moreover, the IPCC WG1 report acknowledges this – though the press release does not. Further, the change has been small, and the IPCC claims that it is merely probable that most (51%) is due to man.
    To put it simply, consensus is invoked because arguments are unavailable.”

    “Note that this is a weak version of the rightfully criticized argument for intelligent design. However, when it comes to global warming, the argument is somehow considered canonical by the ‘official’ scientific community.”

    • 2009/07/07 at 22:31

      Obama’s science adviser John Holdren also uses the same unscientific logic. He said: “First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities.”
      But then Holdren is one of the most unscientific people in Obama’s cabinet.
      See: http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/ObamasGovernment.htm

      • Erasmussimo
        2009/07/07 at 23:32

        Alan, where is the unscientific logic in observing that no alternative hypothesis has been offered to explain the observed rise in global temperatures? Mr. Holdren specifically rejects (with good reason, in my opinion) the hypothesis that solar variability is responsible for the observed changes. In science, if we end up with just one plausible hypothesis to explain a set of observations, there is nothing illogical about accepting that hypothesis.

  21. Erasmussimo
    2009/07/03 at 00:06

    Maurizio, I happened to stumble upon your blog while researching something else, and I was tempted to participate, but after reading some of your posts I fear that an open and fair-minded discussion is unlikely here. You seem to rely heavily on sarcasm and innuendo. I myself prefer courteous, straight-up discussion intended by all parties to clarify their differences without necessarily reaching agreement. I urge you to seek out disagreement and develop your skills at evincing productive discussion. But hey — it’s YOUR blog!

    Best wishes.

    • 2009/07/03 at 00:08

      > an open and fair-minded discussion is unlikely here

      Beats me, Erasmussimo. Why don’t you give it a try?

  22. 2009/07/02 at 11:22

    Michael Shermer is prominent in skeptical circles although I have not come across his writings very much. I did listen to various interviews on podcasts when he was peddling his new book, “The Mind Of The Market.” It struck me as more like uncritical justifications for ideological nonsense, than actual science or skepticism. However, that may merely have been the unfortunate impression left by the “sound bite” discussions I had privy too.

    • 2009/07/02 at 12:53

      I would vouch for Shermer, he’s usually very spot-on and the kind of intellctually-opened person that doesn’t try to rubbish religious belief per se

  23. Chris Winter
    2009/07/02 at 03:37

    “For example, climate models are incomplete, still not functioning and not reasonably realistic and most likely pretty much useless for serious climate projections at the moment and for ever.”

    So, you believe that computer models of climate are inherently unreliable, no matter how far their development might proceed. I tend to disagree. But you should really take this up with a climate modeler if you want a complete answer. I can tell you where to find some.

    Just one question: Does your distrust apply to other applications of computer modeling? Because if so, you shouldn’t fly in a modern airliner, or drive a modern car… and there’s a whole panoply of medical techniques you should be wary of as well.

  24. 2009/07/01 at 15:47

    Excellent post and some delicious ironies here. Reading about Michael Shermer’s blind spot reminds me of a passage in Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers, where he mentions the various failed predictions made by environmentalists down the ages, such as Paul Ehrlich, etc. Then he goes on to the subject of AGW, and says something like: “However, man-made global warming is entirely different…”

    Ditto re SciAm publishing Harrison Schmitt’s article. They trust him as a scientist when he talks about geology, but they don’t trust him as a scientist when he talks about the climate. Interesting…

  1. 2011/08/17 at 11:49
  2. 2009/10/01 at 11:12

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