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Michael Shermer’s Five Questions on AGW Skepticism

2009/10/01 10 comments

Chill Out” blog on AGW skepticism by nonskeptical Skeptic Michael Shermer (Sep 29).

Shermer’s point is so incredibly obvious, I am sure very few people will be able to “get it”:

In my opinion we need to chill out on all extremist plans that entail expenses best described as Brobdingnagian, require our intervention into developing countries best portrayed as imperialistic, or involve state controls best portrayed as fascistic. Give green technologies and free markets a chance

Will the above earn him (again?) the label of Denialist? Who knows? For well-known reasons, his mention of Bjorn Lomborg seems to have caused a stir (even if they both are firmly in the AGW camp…I presume that’s what happens when one agrees with people all too ready to label as “denialist” anybody that doesn’t fully agree with them).

Shermer suggests also five questions to help establish if  one is “a global warming skeptic, or […] skeptical of the global warming skeptics“:

  1. Is the earth getting warmer?
  2. Is the cause of global warming human activity?
  3. How much warmer is it going to get?
  4. What are the consequences of a warmer climate?
  5. How much should we invest in altering the climate?

Shermer’s answers: (1) yes, (2) “primarily“, (3) “moderate warming with moderate changes” (following the IPCC, no less), (4) “consequences must be weighed in the balance” (that is, positive consequences should be considered too), (5) much less than the “Brobdingnagian proposals being talked about, and not even as much as recommended by the IPCC (with references to Lomborg and Nordhaus).

Interestingly, Shermer shows his skepticism increasing from nil (questions 1 and 2) to almost 100% (question 5)

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How do you score on Shermer’s questions? I can answer also on the basis of my About page: (1) yes, (2) slightly, (3) between almost nothing and half of what Shermer expects, (4) overall, consequences will be positive and (5) zero.

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

2009/07/01 38 comments

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?

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AND NOW A BONUS FROM SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

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"…

On Climate Change, Hands off Phil Plait!

2008/11/10 6 comments

I find them silly in the extreme, those global warming skeptics taking it upon themselves to send insults to people like Phil Plait for the one reason that the author of “Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing ‘Hoax’” and “Death from the Skies!” is not exactly a passionate campaigner against that extremely poorly thought-out of scientific theories, anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

For one thing, Plait (whom I met personally in London a few months ago) has studied and debunked many, many kinds of hoaxes, so it is all very natural for him to consider AGW skepticism as “denial” if he sees in climate change skeptics the same pattern of behavior as in those believing in UFOs and a global conspiracy around the “Apollo Moon hoax” (first and foremost, a barrage of insults).

Secondly, from his very words it is clear that Plait is not interested in the study of weather and climate really, and his stance on AGW is what most persons will have: that is, follow the experts (emphasis in the original)

[experts have] been studying [greenhouse warming] a long, long time. It’s a very difficult field of research, fraught with hidden variables, difficult measurements, and political landmines. But chances are they know more about this than you and I do. There’s a reason they’re called experts, folks.

It must be noted that Phil Plait is a very active representative of a large community of Skeptics, alongside the likes of Michael Shermer and James “The Amazing” Randi. Their collective motto is well described by the following words by the Skeptics Society:

the key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between “know nothing” skepticism and “anything goes” credulity“

Interestingly, plenty of time is devoted by Skeptics to debunk silly astrological and creationist claims.

For some reason though, even if Plait may still think otherwise, “global warming skepticism” is considered as belonging to a whole different category than pseudoscience. For example, the Skeptics Society’s “Skeptic” magazine has recently provided plenty of space to Patrick Frank to state the following (“A Climate of Belief“, Vol.14, no.1, May 2008):

the claim that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the current warming of Earth climate is scientifically insupportable because climate models are unreliable

I recommend Phil Plait and all to read Frank’s article, if only as evidence that it is illogical to call “global warming skeptics” as “deniers”: because rational skepticism is the informed reader’s proper response to AGW claims.

In the words of Patrick Frank:

[…] The proper response to adamant certainty in the face of complete ignorance is rational skepticism […] It is critical to keep a firm grip on reason and rationality, most especially when social invitations to frenzy are so pervasive. General Circulation Models are so terribly unreliable that there is no objectively falsifiable reason to suppose any of the current warming trend is due to human-produced CO2, or that this CO2 will detectably warm the climate at all. Therefore, even if extreme events do develop because of a warming climate, there is no scientifically valid reason to attribute the cause to human-produced CO2. In the chaos of Earth’s climate, there may be no discernible cause for warming.

Who knows? Perhaps one day Phil Plait will make the final connection between the flimsiness of AGW theory and the Mark Twain quote below, from his old website’s homepage.

“In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. Therefore … in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long… seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long… There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

In the meanwhile, it’d sure help if nobody’d insult him.

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