Is anthropogenic global warming a scientific debate, or a matter of religious belief?

It seems to depend on the person.  Two long comments about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have been posted to the FM site this week.  Here we examine a comment by Mclaren made to A discussion about global warming, which was a reply by Eric Grant to “Aliens cause global warming”: wise words from the late Michael Crichton.  Both written by obviously intelligent and educated people (I assume they are men for convenience); both strong believers (that seems to be the right word) in AGW.

Both have written comments which have more in common with religious tracts than scientific analysis.  Specifically, medieval Christian writings — pre-Reformation.  Their emphasis is on authority as a basis for belief.  The “canons” of science are ignored in their writings — disclosure of data and methods, testing for replication and falsifiability, etc.  They are representative of much writing by laypeople about climate change, and as such I believe they are worth a look.

This comment is by Mclaren.  It exhibits the first 5 of the 7 common elements of pro-AGW comments found on the FM site as described in A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming.

  1. Pro-AGW comments often display no signs of having read the skeptics work.
  2. Pro-AGW comments often invent assertions which they can easily refute.
  3. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no awareness of the authoritative reports on this issue.
  4. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no knowledge of the long struggle to force some climate scientists to release data and methods.
  5. Pro-AGW comments usually show little understanding of the scientific method.

At the end are links to the posts on this site about climate change, some giving specific critiques of the case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW), both evidentiary and methodological.  Like most of the 160+ comments giving rebuttals to these posts, Mclaren almost totally ignores the case for skepticism presented, usually just repeating some varient of AGW is consensus science.  There are almost no references to the points I made, and none at all to the evidence I cited.  Much of his case is, like Eric Grant’s, just made up — rebuttals to things I never said plus irrelevant material. 

Due to its extreme length I interject my replies into the text.  Their frequency decreases in the middle, as I ran out of interest about half way through.

I feel sorry for people like Mclaren and Eric Grant. Based on these long comments. they are obviously heavily invested in a theory whose basis (evidence and methods) they do not appear to understand and seem reluctant to either question or examine. It is somewhat cult-like behavior.  If we enter a cooling cycle it will be interesting to see how they react.

Important:  I strongly recommend reading the comments.  Much of the value of these debates comes several rounds into the fray, as we burn through the surface issues into the key foundations.  I recommend comment #9 of special interest.

A note about comment length

I was tempted delete or severely edit this, citing the comment policy which clearly stated on the home page and at the end of every post: “please make them brief (250 words max).”  At 3,073 words this is 12.3x the maximum length. This is longer than almost all posts on this site — longer than those on almost every site (except professional or subscription sites). It sets a bad precedent to allow this.  Being a nice guy, I let this go by.

Be warned, evil malefactors, that your transgressions against the FM site’s comment policy will no longer go unpunished! Since I do not have the time to edit them to proper length, summary and swift justice will be done: deletion awaits your cursedly long comments!

Now, on to the text for today!.  My replies are indented and in italic.

Mclaren’s Comment

Here’s how science is done: experiments collect and analyze data which is then written up and submitted to peer review in professional journals.

The number of citations of each peer-reviewed journal article gets listed over time in the Science Citation Index. The papers with the largest numbers of citations have the most influence, and tend to attract the most effort in confirming or refining their results. Peer-reviewed journal articles with the most citations collect a constellation of confirming papers around them, which builds a scientific consensus based on the available evidence.

Here are the top cited recent papers on global warming:

  1. Report of the International Conference on the Assessment of the role of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouses gases in climate variations and associated impacts, World Meteorological Organization No.661 (Geneva, 1986).
  2. Wigley, T.M.L. Geophys. Res. Lett. 14, 1135 (1987).
  3. Jones, P.D., Wigley, T.M.L. & Wright, P.B. Nature 322, 430−434 (1986).
  4. Folland, C.K., Parker, D.E. & Kates, F.E. Nature 310, 670−673 (1984).
  5. Jones, P.D. et al. J. clim. appl. Meteorol. 25, 161 (1986).
  6. Jones, P.D., Raper, S.C.B. & Wigley, T.M.L. J. clim. appl. Meteorol. 25, 1213−1230 (1986).
  7. Jones, P.D. J. clim. (in the press).
  8. Hansen, J.E. & Lebedeff, S. J. geophys. Res. 92, 13345−13372 (1987).
  9. Wigley, T.M.L., Angell, J.K. & Jones, P.D. in Detecting the climatic effects of increasing carbon dioxide (eds MacCracken, M.C. & Luther, F.M.) 55−90 (US Dept of Energy, 1985).
  10. Pan, Y.-H. and Oort, A.H. Mon. Weath. Rev. 111, 1244−1258 (1983).
  11. Yasunari, T. J. met. Soc. Japan 65, 67−80 (1987).
  12. Heath, D.F. Nature 332, 219−227 (1988).
  13. Kiehl, J.T., Boville, B.A. & Briegleb, B.P. Nature 332, 501−504 (1988).

Your verbal arguments against these peer-reviewed papers are meaningless.

This is rich! A list of authors and journal issues given as evidence. But only one has a title. Why not post a picture of the Harvard Faculty Directory? It would have as much meaning. This is the appeal to authority in pure form.

If you want to be taken seriously, you must collect climate data, analyze it, write a paper, and getit published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Is this comedy? Turn it around… if you want to be taken seriously please show us that you have collected climate data, analyzed it, written a paper, and got it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Everybody — stop reading right here until he meets his own criteria! (I am weak; despite this self-confessed methodological error, I will continue on.) (Also, this might be a set-up; Mclaren might be a published climate scientist).

If you want to debunk the scientific consensus about global warming, you will have to provide at least 3 (three) papers which produce evidence directly contradicting each of the peer-reviewed published journal articles above.

How sad for Newton. He just wrote the “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (aka the Principia). The poor guy did not have your advice, so instead of a peer-reviewed journal he self-published it. BTW — why three papers? (Perhaps that’s how many he has written)

That means that you must provide at least 39 peer-reviewed published journal articles directly and specifically contradicting the data and analysis provided in the above citations. When you fail to do this, your claims are meaningless, and no on will pay attention to your assertions.

Mclaren obviously has neither read (or perhaps understood) any of my posts. These do not purport to be scientific articles; they are articles for a general audience reporting on the work done on the front lines. Hence the reliance on authoritative sources like the North and Wegman reports, or hard data (e.g.,

Also Mclaren does appears not to understand the scientific method. Data rebuts theories, no matter what credentials the theory’s author has — and how few the critic’s. Anthony Watts’ data, collected by him and many volunteers) shows that the US surface station network is not of high quality and that the adjustments to the data are larger than the warming signal “found”. That does not mean that AGW is disproved, but that this evidence for AGW is weak.

Note about the following section: a wonderful example of #2 — Pro-AGWcomments often invent assertions which they can easily refute. Rather than deal with any of the points I raise, which mclarencarefully avoids, he creates a totally bizarre analogy that he refutes at length.

To get a clear sense of how absurd it is to try to argue out of existence a vast mass of published peer-reviewed scientific evidence on the basis of mere words, substitute for “global warming” the term “Einstein’s limit on the speed of light.”

Note his first sentence; he does not even correctly state the most common element of the skeptics’ case. They ask for release of material to allow replication, and provide specific objections to data and methods. None of these involves attempts “to argue out of existence.”

Also note the repeated references in Mclaren’s comments to “vast amounts of peer-reviewed” reserach supporting AGW. But he never mentions any! Not one reference to a specific research paper, or finding of a research paper, or a survey of the research literature. Has he read any? Or is he just assuming this on the basis of what he’s read in the Sunday newspapers? Note Mclaren never mentions any evidence for AGW, so we have no way of knowing if he understands the arguements — is just parroting “I know AGW exists because I know.”

Now imagine someone said: “The 160+ comments giving rebuttals to a variable speecof light hypothesis almost totally ignore the case for skepticism presented, usually just repeating that Einstein’s special theory of relativity demands to be taken seriously.”

The “case” for skepticism about c as a universalconstant is unimportant, since overwhelming evidence supports Einstein’s claim. If you want to deny that c represents a universal constant, you will not get anywhere by raising verbalarguments against the published peer-reviewed evidence in scientific journals which confirms and supports Einstein’s hypothesis of c as a universal constant. Instead, you must provide citations of experimental evidence published in peer-reviewed scientific journals specifically disconfirmingthe results of the other peer-reviewed journalarticles which detail experiments confirming Einstein’s hypothesis of c as a universal constant. When you fail to provide such citations, your claims are meaningless and will not be taken seriously.

There is sufficient hard evidence that the case for anthropogenic global warming is weak. Like many aspects of science, much of this is understandable by the layman. Here are a few specific and tangible examples. Note that unlike your 3100 words comment (strangely devoid of references), these reference clear and relevant data.

  1. The current network of surface temperature recording stations is of low quality — like this and this — and gives us little useful data about climate trends.
  2. Global temperature data computed with poor quality control are useless as a basis for public policy decisions. See this and this; see this for a listing of such articles. Plus this describing one of the many oddities in the data.
  3. Computer models that do not adequately account for major factors like particulate emissions and soot (see this for more information) are useless as a basis for public policy decisions.
  4. Work by scientists who refuse to release their data and methods — making outside review and replication impossible — has no place in public policy decisions. See these and these articles. Or this for a recent example.

Let’s be clear here. There exist infinite possible arguments against the conclusions in peer-reviewed published scientific journalarticles, arguments of unlimited sophistication. No serious person cares about such arguments unless they are backed up with hard evidence. This is the fallacy of the scholasticsof the middle ages: they engaged in endless disputation without backing up their assertions with hard evidence. If you wish your arguments against globalwarming to be taken seriously, you must start by providing extraordinary amounts of scientific evidence — hard data produced by scientists withestablished reputations, not some guy in his back yard with a thermometer; and you must prove that your extraordinary amount of scientific data (of much larger quantity than the published scientific data confirmed anthropogenic global warming) can be taken seriously, by showing us citations to the peer-reviewed journals which published your anti-global-warming data.

If you can’t do that, your words are as empty as air. Absent hard evidence, solid scientific data, and a vast number of published peer-reviewed scientific journal articles supporting you claims, you claims are meaningless.

A note about the following section: it is so easy to make a powerful argument if you just ignore the case and evidence presented by the other side (#2 of the 7 frequent errors). This could be (and perhaps is) from a textbook, applying to any subject. There is no indication here that mclarenunderstands the issues on either side. It is boilerplate, which could be used for any theory challenging a current consensus position. Much of it has nothing to do with anything I said, or bizarrely misinterprets it. Also, I gave specific examples for my 7 items, which Mclaren does not bother to do.

A word about evidence, burden of proof, and logical fallacies:

Update: In comment #9 Mclaren gives the following source for these 5 rules of thumb: “they were first stated, in different form, by Francis Bacon, in his Novum Organum of 1620.” From a glance at Bacon’s text that seems unlikely to me, expect as distant parentage. Nor are they “rules of thumb” in the usual sense of the term.


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; both extraordinary in quantity, and extraordinary in quality. Anecdotes won’t cut it. One or two isolated papers aren’t enough. One or two dissenting scientists isn’t significant. Verbal arguments don’t cut it. Show us the data, prove it’s of better quality than the data confirming global warming in currently published peer-reviewed scientific journals, and prove there’s more data supporting your anti-global-warming claims than supports the scientific consensus that global warming is anthropogenic.

This is exactly backwards. The standard of proof go up substantailly when conclusions from academia (or “science”, more broadly defined) move into the public sphere. Consider the testing of new drugs. Conclusions of “peer reviewed” journals are insufficient to prove drug efficacy and safety. Approval requires meeting extensive criteria, including double-blind testing and review by outside review boards. With careful consideration for conflicts of interest. Climate science operates as more of a closed community. When such measures are taken in climate science we will have conclusions warranting large-scale public investments and regulation. Not before.


When a sufficient mass of confirming evidence builds up from many different sources confirming an hypothesis, an even larger mass of even more convincing hard evidence is required in order to disconfirm that hypothesis. In other words, if you’re on trial for murder and an eyewitness identifies you as the murderer and the gun registration shows you own the firearm and the ballistics show a bullet from your gun killed the victim, then it’s possible you’re the victim of a supremely ingenious frame. But you’re going to provide extraordinary amounts of remarkably good evidence to prove it, otherwise the logical conclusion is that you’re guilty.

Again, this is backwards. The climate science equivalent of a murder trial would be a decision made those who prepared the case — the police and the District Attorney. With perhaps a cursory review by police and DA’s of other jurisdictions, and the trialheld in secret with only a summary of the transcript made public. Again, this is inadequate when questions of such importance to the public are at stake.

RULE OF THUMB #3 – Debates about details of the evidence supporting a scientific consensus are not, and should not be mistaken for, debates about the scientific consensus itself.

What is the source of this “rule”? And what does it mean?

RULE OF THUMB #4 – Occam’s Razor applies.

Give the preponderance of the available evidence, the simplest explanation is probably correct. This applies to skepticism about the scientific consensus: given an overwhelming mass of evidence in favor of a scientific hypothesis, it’s possible that all scientists are engaged in a giant nefarious conspiracy to obscure the truth, and it’s also possible that most scientists are deluded by groupthink. However, it’s extremely unlikely. The simpler explanation is that a vast mass of scientific evidence converges on a conclusion because that conclusion approximates observed reality.

Here Mclaren move into just fancy ways of saying “I’m right.” Most of rest does not even make sense to me, and does not warrant a reply. it certainly has no relevance to anything I wrote.

RULE OF THUMB #5 – Public policy is not the same thing as scientific consensus.

Politics and science belong to different realms. We cannot draw specific conclusions about public policy from science, because politics depends on values, which are subjective, determined in part by culture, and subject to external considerations like economics.

The papers cited above represent the overwhelming preponderance of the available evidence that global warming is anthropogenic in origin. The exact rate of global warming is not precisely known, worst-case and best-case scenarios for global warming remain nebulous, and there is a wide range of forecasts by scientists about the specific long-term effects of global warming. This does not vitiate the overall conclusions in the above papers.

Let’s take an analogy, because non-scientists often have trouble understanding this point. Details of the structure of the sun are not well known. The inner structure of the sun exists at pressures and temperatures which make mathematical models hard to computer with exactitude. However, this does not change the fact that many overall facts about the long-term behavior of the sun are well understood. For example, basic physics tells us the mass at which stars collapse into black holes, and the conditions under which stars can go supernova. It is known with certainty that our sun will not turn into a black hole and will not become a supernova. The long-term fate of our sun is known in general outline — our sun will exhaust its fuel, expand briefly near the end of its lifetime in about 3 billion years, and eventually become a brown dwarf. These facts are known even though details of the sun’s inner structure are not yet fully modeled. The reason we know these things is that physics doesn’t change over time. Given a star with the mass and composition of our sun, we can calculate what will happen to it billions of years from now as its fusion reactions change over time.

With the time and effort taken to write these irrelevant analogies, he could have commented on something I actually said. But shadow-boxing is so much easier.

All your objections to global warming fit into a narrow range of well-known logical fallacies. You have committed (among many others) the fallacy of the excluded middle, fallacy of the consequences of a belief, fallacy of appeal to ridicule, fallacy of the biased sample, fallacy of the burden of proof, the fallacy of composition, the fallacy of guilt by association, the fallacy of hasty generalization, the fallacy of the middle ground, the red herring fallacy and the straw man fallacy — among many others.

It’s worth taking some time, this once, to detail the fallacies in your arguments, in order to show that your arguments against global warming are not merely factually bankrupt, but intellectually bankrupt as well. The two tend to go together: people who systematically ignore a vast convergence of evidence which leads to a given conclusion often do so because of defects in their reasoning. See Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Strange Things” for details.

Your “7 principles of pro-global-warming arguments” illustrate fulsomely the logical fallacies in your arguments:

This is just sad. First, Mclaren does not correctly state what I said. I gave descriptions of 7 elements (not “principles”) of pro-anthropgenic global warming (AGW, not “GW”) comments on the FM site.

Second, my 7 elements are descriptions of actual text. They can be challenged as incorrect by comparison with the actual comments. Instead he invents other things — which I never said — and provides rebuttals to them (#1 below). Or he provides totally spurious logic, pasting together irrelevant phrases (#2 below). At this point I lose interest, as this material is foolish. A long-winded way of say “I, Mclaren am right, without responding to anything you said.” It’s easy to win when you box with your shadow.

At this point the comment becomes increasingly absurd and my interest faded. I have posted a few more comments below on his more outrageous statements.

1. Pro-AGW comments often display no signs of having read the skeptics’ work.

This is the fallacy of burden of proof. Compare with the claims by a pro-UFO-absudciton kook: “Your arguments show no signs of having read my 17 books about UFO abductions.” This is a fallacy because once sufficient evidence converges to form a scientific consensus for an hypothesis, the burden of proof shifts to the skeptic.

Moreover, this is just common sense. If we accepted FM’s garbled reasoning here, scientists would spend all their time doing nothing but reading over the incoherent tracts written by bigfoot fanciers, UFOlogists, anti-global-warming cranks, zero-point-energy enthusiasts, and crackpots with alleged perpetual motion machines. Scientists don’t have time for that, and it’s pointless — the burden of proof falls entirely on the erstwhile perpetual motion machinist to demonstrate that the second law of thermodynamics is invalid. The burden of proof falls entirely on the UFOlogist to provide hard forensic phsyical evidence proving that aliens exist (i.e., a skin sample whose DNA can be analyzed and shown to be extraterrestrial). The burden of proof falls entirely on the AGWdeniers. It is up to them to provide a sufficient body of sufficiently impeccable scientific evidence to specifically refute the data in peer-reviewed scientific journal articles which confirm the AGW hypothesis. Moreover, the AGW deniers face a high burden of proof. They must not just disconfirm some of the pro-AGW published peer-reviewed published evidence, they must disconfirm most of it.

2. Pro-AGW comments often invent assertions which they can easily refute.

This the fallacy of the non sequitur. Even if true it is irrelevant to the question of whether the AGW hypothesis is supported by the overwhelming preponderance of published peer-reviewed scientific evidence. This is also the fallacy of the straw man, since we notice that you do not attack the authors of the peer-reviewed published scientific journals which present data supporting AGW, but only the non-scientists who support AGW in comments in this forum. You are using the pro-AGW commenters here as straw men for a failed and futile attack on the real scientists whose work overwhelmingly confirms AGW.

3. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no awareness of the authoritative reports on this issue.

This is a combination of the fallacy of the appeal ridicule (implying that pro-AGW people are stupid or ignorant or both) and the fallacy of the biased sample, the fallacy of composition, the fallacy of guilt by association, the fallacy of hasty generalization, and the red herring fallacy.

As with so many of your comments, you are just making things up. This is a factual statement about the text. What you deduce from it is your business. Writing rebuttals to arguements that you have not bothered to read is absurd, as this comment demonstrates at great length. If you do not consider the arguement worth reading, then do not attempt to write about it.

Appeal to ridicule fails here because it’s entirely possible for someone to be correct without deep knowledge of the basis of a subject. For example, if you state that 2 + 2 = 4 I cannot debunk your claim by ridiculing your lack of knowledge of the basis of arithmetic in Dedekind cuts. This is what you’re trying to do here, and it’s intellectually dishonest as well as flat-out wrong.
This is also an example of the fallacy of the biased sample because you are picking the “authoritative reports” on AGW. Where is the evidence that you know what the authoritative reports on AGWare? You have provided no citations at all of Science Citation Index journal citation numbers, which is the true final authority in published peer-reviewed science. Once again, intellectually dishonest.

However, you’re also falling into the fallacy of composition, since you are conflating the issue of alleged authoritative reports with the much larger issue that the overwhelming mass of evidence converges to support AGW. As an example of how fallacious this reasoning is, consider that the great 19th century scientist Rutherford calculated the maximum possible age of the earth based on the heating of the earth’s core due to gravitational compression. He arrived at an answer much less than 4.3 billion years, because in the 1870s radioactive heating was unknown. Regardless of his authoritative report, scientists of the 1870s rejected Rutherford’s conclusion because the vast mass of evidence from geology and paleontology and geophysics and many other disciplines converged on the conclusion that Rutherford’s calculated age for the earth must be wrong.

You also fall into the error of the fallacy of guilt by association: even if all the pro-AGW comments are wrong, that doesn’t mean the pro-AGW position is wrong because, as mentioned, the people commenting on this blog are laypeople, not scientists.

You’re also demonstrating the fallacy of hasty generalization, because lack of awareness of alleged “authoritative reports” on global warming does not mean lack of detailed knowledge of the rest of the evidence for AGW. It only means that may be a few gaps in a pro-AGW person’s knowledge.

And you also give evdeince of the red herring fallacy here because knowledge of any reports about AGW is wholly irrelevant to the question of the quantity and quality of scientific evidence supporting AGW as opposed to the quantity and quality of the evidence disconfirming it, which is the real issue here.

4. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no knowledge of the long struggle to force some climate scientists to release data and methods.

This combines the red herring fallacy, the fallacy of begging the question, the fallacy of the excluded middle, and the fallacy of the burden of proof.

Begging the question fallacy arises because you assume as part of your question that “some climate scientists” have not releases data and methods which support anti-AGW assertions, which is intellectually dishonest regardless of whether your assertion is even true. There is no evidence that any significant number of scientists have failed to release any significant amount of data disconfirming the AGW hypothesis. If such evidence exists, submit it to a peer-reviewed scientific journal and get it published — your nobel prize awaits!

This is absurd. I have links to sites — some authoritative reports — supporting what I said. Which is more than you have done. That’s all that is necessary or appropriate for a general audience website. Nothing I wrote purports to be original work or professional contributions to climate science.

This is also the red herring fallacy because even if “some scientists” (which ones?) have refused to release mythical “data and methods,” it doesn’t mean that the preponderance of the available published peer-reviewed scientific evidence does not strongly confirm AGW.

This too is absurd. Refusal to release key information is significant on several levels. It indicates a breakdown in the climate science professional standards and casts doubt on their work. Such behavior would bring severe results in fields such as drug-testing.

This is also the fallacy of the excluded middle, because your’re giving an extreme example of “some scientists” (presumably some nefarious evil scientists who seek to hoodwink us with false conclusions). You ignore the vast majority of scientists, focusing only on “some scientists,” when in fact it’s the consensus that has formed among the vast majority of scientists that really matters. This is same failed and faulty argument as the UFOlogist makes when he says, “You’re ignoring the opinions of some scientists who support UFOlogy!” Some scientists are cranks. There will always be dissenters. That’s irrelevant to the scientific consensus.

Conflicts of interest are a part of life. Which is why professions and public policy have methods to deal with them. To cite one of many examples, drug trials are not needed because all doctors are crooks, but because people who have personal stakes in debates lose objectivity. I am astonished that something so obvious needs to be said.

You are also guilty of the fallacy of burden of proof once again, since the burden of proof is not on scientists to provide unlimited amounts of evidence at your demand, and when you find even the tiniest gap in the evidence, to force them to produce ever more and ever more evidence, without end. The burden of proof is on YOU as an anti-AGW claimant to produce more evidence of better quality disconfirming the AGW hypothesis. This is same failed and faulty fallacy made by the UFOlogists who derided the Project Blue Book conclusion that 94% of all UFO sightings could be explained with the objection, “But what about the remaining 6%???!?!”

Explained above. Totally wrong.

5. Pro-AGW comments usually show little understanding of the scientific method.

This is the ad hominem fallacy as well as the fallacy of the appeal to ridicule. In fact, you have never mentioned the Science Citation Index, nor have you cited any more than a couple of peer-reviewed published scientific journal articles. Pot, meet kettle.

This is not the ad hominem fallacy. From Wikipedia: “An ad hominem argument (Latin: “argument to the man”, “argument against the man”) consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim.” I made a factual statement (usually show) about the text. That says nothing about the person, except what you impute to them. As in your comment, I suspect (guess) it is a rhetorical device. In arguements such as yours, the scientific method is your enemy.

6. They illustrate the pro-AGW faith in computer models.

This is the red herring fallacy. Evidence that the Greenland ice sheets are melting does not depend on computer models. Evidence from ice cores in the antarctic and arctic showing different and much lower levels of CO2 thousands of years ago does not depend on computer models. Evidence of species of fish dying off because of oceanic warming does not depend on computer models. Evidence from tree rings showing that the earth has warmed over the last several hundred years does not depend on computer models.

Do you know what these terms mean? This is not the red herring fallacy. From Wikipedia: “Similar to ignoratio elenchi, a red herring is an argument, given in reply, that does not address the original issue. Critically, a red herring is a deliberate attempt to change the subject or divert the argument.” It would be the red herring if computer models were not used in the AGW debate. As they are, it is relevant. Also, nowhere did I say that computer models were the only support for AGW — as you imply above. More of the “just make stuff up” school of debate.

7. They illustrate the irrationality of the “precautionary principle” as commonly used.

On this one I must agree with you, but it’s still the fallacy of the appeal to consequences because while you’re correct on this point it doesnt’t say anything about the factual question of whether the AGW hypothesis is correct. The scientific consensus is entirely separate from the question of what public policy we ought to pursue. The one does not specify the other.

I agree that some pro-AGW enthusiasts are guilty of hysteria. We do not have a firm scientific consensus about long-term global climate models, we don’t know exactly how many ppm of CO2 are dangerous, and so on. All we know for certain is that the earth has warmed recently (in geologic terms) and that humans appear to be responsible.

Update:  Articles discussing environmentalism as a religion

As an emminent scientist, Dyson’s brief comment (#5) on the subject IMO deserves special attention.

  1. Environmentalism as Religion“, Michael Crichton, speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco,15 September 2003
  2. Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest“, Mark R. Stoll (Prof History at Texas Tech University), H-Net Reviews. September 2004.
  3. Environmentalism as a religion“, Fernando Diaz Villanueva (author of Che Guevara), 22 March 2006
  4. Environmentalism as Religion“, John M. Ostrowski, posted at Lew Rockwell, 21 March 2007
  5. The Question of Global Warming“, Freeman Dyson (Wikipedia bio), The New York Review of Books, 12 June 2008

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about climate change:

  1. A look at the science and politics of global warming, 12 June 2008
  2. Global warming means more earthquakes!, 19 June 2008
  3. An article giving strong evidence of global warming, 30 June 2008
  4. Worrying about the Sun and climate change: cycle 24 is late, 10 July 2008
  5. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle, 15 July 2008
  6. Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?, 15 july 2008
  7. Two valuable perspectives on global warming, 4 August 2008
  8. President Kennedy speaks to us about global warming and Climate Science, 7 August 2008
  9. Solar Cycle 24 is still late, perhaps signalling cool weather ahead, 2 September 2008
  10. Update on solar cycle 24 – and a possible period of global cooling, 1 October 2008
  11. Good news about global warming!, 21 October 2008
  12. One of the most interesting sources of news about science and nature!, 27 October 2008
  13. “Aliens cause global warming”: wise words from the late Michael Crichton, 15 November 2008
  14. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008 
  15. A discussion about global warming, 20 November 2008

15 thoughts on “Is anthropogenic global warming a scientific debate, or a matter of religious belief?

  1. Projecting the future of global warming is like projecting the future of economics. The system being described is so massively complex, the possible interactions of future events so poorly understood, that no-one can really know what exactly will happen.

    You see an economic, cultural and political whirlwind coming. The market has feedback systems which have normally come into play and balance the extreme swings, but now they are impotent. Blind human action over decades has driven us to a slow tipping point with massive ramifications.

    We see the same with the climate. The paragraph above holds almost exactly.

    I agree in part with the response relayed above: that “some scientists” are being used to question the dedication and adherence to the scientific method and to peer review of all scientists whose work has concluded that global warming is a danger.

    But that’s almost a moot point. Because in reality I’m completely willing to concede that the science of climate isn’t anything like the science of physics, or even biology. By definition, it’s predictions of the future, which can’t be measured, based on massively complex data. And that any conclusions drawn are not deduced directly. They’re projected, using human insight.

    Just like economics. Economics and climate. These things can’t be described like light, atoms, molecular weights, subatomic particles. They’re inherently complex.

    But does that mean the impulse to think clearly about the future & address the visible risks, and the attempt to give sound advice for human action is not a laudable aim. Is that not the purpose of this forum? To recommend policy & direction in an uncertain future – depite the uncertainty of that future? It’s what those concerned about global warming are doing too.

    I’ll raise the ire of the scientists reading this and concede it’s not hard science to project temperatures 50 years hence. But I’ll also assert that it’s good work. Both economists & scientists yearn something more concrete, and fight against the complexity, performing arcane mathematical & statistical analyses to try to bring some clarity. Both are justified in looking at large scale obvious signals (equivalent mountain of debt & massive overspending in plain view) and seeing how their small corner of work fits in, draw the natural conclusions.

    The fact that the future is uncertain doesn’t eclipse human insight. And it doesn’t make it religion. Making informed, reasonable, clear commentary on a perilous future is what we’re doing here. Are we not?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagee with this on two levels.

    “I’ll raise the ire of the scientists reading this and concede it’s not hard science to project temperatures 50 years hence.”

    (1) We don’t know if we can forecast global temperatures over long horizons, and will not know with reasonable certainty until it has been done. Not much success so far, although rapid progress is being made.

    (2) Much worse, the surface temperature network is clearly inadequate to measure current temperatures over large areas with the accuracy necessary for climate science research. This is simple engineering, but it clearly has not yet been done even in the US — which has one of the world’s best networks. Much of the world, both land and water, has networks of far far lower quality. Do so is a matter of will and funding. As shown by the links in this post, we lack sufficient quantities of both at this time.

  2. I think this might interest people who did not hear it: “Denial near and far“, a broadcast by The World (from the BBC, PRI, and WGBH).
    – “in which Jason Margolis reports on cultural denial around the globe” (whether climate change skeptics are in a state of denial). According to this segment, either skeptics have too much invested in the theory being incorrect and/or they can’t accept the results the theory forecasts as they would be too earth shattering.

    Earlier in the show Obama announced, in regards to climate change, that “the science is indisputable”.

    Likening strict adherents to the theory of climate change to cultists interests me; as a practical and tactical matter I wonder whether one, if one were inclined to debate, benefits much by doing so on the terms set by the proponents of a theory, whether the theory is climate change or God. By the terms set by proponents of a theory I mean that the theory implicitly gets treated as likely or true when the burden of proof becomes shifted onto the opponent or skeptic of the theory. In my experience, one usually ends up arguing specifics that often have little to do with examining the basic premise as fully as possible.

    I hope the link I gave works or that anyone interested doesn’t mind keying it in. It’s hilariously ironic, IMO. Or would be if valuable resources were not likely to be expended to prevent climate change.

  3. What particularly worries me in this scientific debate or discussion of dogma is the lack of appreciation of one’s critics. Well argue and thoughtful critic helps any scientist to improve upon their theories, a case in point are the Bohr–Einstein debates. This goes whether you are pro- or anti-AGW.

    And finally as part of all critic sometimes the critics are right. The hard part here is to accept it and move on.

  4. Excellent argumentation rightly cleaving to the philosophical/logical underpinnings of the issue versus getting caught up in the tactical minutia which are important in the field but not in your thesis.

    Two small points.

    (1) About Co2 data: I was very impressed with Beck’s work which references supposedly accurate data going back since 1812: 180 Years of atmospheric CO2 Gas Analysis by Chemical Methods — papers and presentations by Ernst-Georg Beck. Here is a paper by Beck on this: “180 YEARS OF ATMOSPHERIC CO2 GAS ANALYSIS BY CHEMICAL METHODS“, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT, VOLUME 18 No. 2, 2007 — Excerpt:

    More than 90,000 accurate chemical analyses of CO2 in air since 1812 are summarised. The historic chemical data reveal that changes in CO2 track changes in temperature, and therefore climate in contrast to the simple, monotonically increasing CO2 trend depicted in the post-1990 literature on climate-change. Since 1812, the CO2 concentration in northern hemispheric air has fluctuated exhibiting three high level maxima around 1825, 1857 and 1942 the latter showing more than 400 ppm.

    (2.) I cannot find the link or remember the author’s name, but several years ago read a detailed paper, I believe peer-reviewed etc., disproving that light is the fastest-travelling thingumajig in the universe. Short story: gravity is instantaneous – pull of sun on earth, various particular behaviour in quantum experiments further confirming. The paper was filled with fancy-looking mathematical formulae, whizz-bang scientific graphics etc. but the underlying point was one that we all know from experience even if few of us might have twigged without prompting. Since poor old McLaren above cited it as an example of something ‘indisputable’ I just couldn’t help but dispute it.

    I understand both of these points are on the largely irrelevant tactical / data level, but still, they are germane tangentially.
    Fabius Maximus replies: A few comments.

    (1) About Beck: I also find Beck’s work of interest. In “Good news about global warming!” (21 October 2008) I said:

    Here is a comment by Ernst-Georg Beck about — or a rebuttal of — the alarming news stories about cooling of the arctic. Beck is a teacher of biology at Merian-Schuleat Freiburg Germany, which seems to be a combination vocational high school and community college. He has published several papers in peer-reviewed journals, available at his web site.

    (2) Note that the level of CO2 is not a point of dispute in the debate about GW. It’s role, past and present, in dispute on many levels.

    (3) The “speed of gravity” — It is a bit more complex. In September 2002 paper Sergei Kopeikin and Edward Fomalont published a paper about their experimental verification that the “speed of gravity’ equaled that of light. While the significance of their experiment has been hottly disputed, the results conform to general relativity (with almost universal agreement). There is another level to this, however. For a explanation I recommend this Meta Research publication “The speed of gravity“. Excerpt:

    A common thought experiment asks: “What would happen to the Earth’s orbit if the Sun suddenly ceased to exist?” The answer is now clear. The usual relationship “force is the gradient of the potential” would instantly end. The Sun’s potential field would then begin to dissipate, taking 8.3 minutes to dissipate out to the distance of the Earth’s orbit; so effects such as light-bending and clock-slowing would persist for that long. But the Newtonian component of gravitational force, the force that keeps Earth in its orbit, would cease almost instantly, and Earth would fly off along a straight line like a weight on a spinning merry-go-round that broke free from its moorings.

  5. As predicted, FM refuses to provide a list of peer-reviewed published scientific journal articles specifically rebutting the list of peer-reviewed published journal articles I cited.

    It’s easy to prove that FM is unwilling to study the actual scientific literature about GW: if you want to be taken seriously, FM, please tell us the titles of the papers 2, 3, 4 and 5 cited. You can’t tell us the titles of those papers because you haven’t actually done the library research required to obtained and read those peer-reviewed published scientific papers.

    Since FM refuses to cite peer-reviewed published journal articles, the rest of his comment is not worth discussing except in brief general terms.

    PREDICTION: FM will continue to refuse to cite peer-reviewed scientific literature to support his anti-AGW claims.

    PREDICTION: FM will continue to use general sophistry and name-calling, instead of addressing the specific scientific evidence I have cited in peer reviewed journals.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You cited them without titles, which was an absurd thing to do. If you want to know what they say, look them up and reat them.

    To repeat a note in the post: Mclaren makes repeated mention of “vast amounts of peer-reviewed” reserach supporting AGW. But he never mentions any! Not one reference to a specific research paper, or finding of a research paper, or a survey of the research literature. Has he read any? Or is he just assuming this on the basis of what he’s read in the Sunday newspapers? Note Mclaren never mentions any evidence for AGW, so we have no way of knowing if he understands the arguements — is just parroting “I know AGW exists because I know.”

    I cited specific and relevant data. If you wish to limit your evidence in that way, fine. I don’t. However I do cite peer-reviewed material in my other posts about climate science (see the FM reference page on Science, Nature, and Geopolitics.

    You make no detailed assertions about AGW, so there is nothing for me to reply to. So far as I can tell, your case is just “It’s true because I know it to be true.” The only support you provide is a series of unsupported assertions about “consensus”.

    BTW: I would appreciate it if you quote me when making assertions about what I have said. A large fraction of yours are, as I have shown, are false either in whole or in part. I avoid “name-calling.”

    As for the quality of our specific texts, I will leave it to our readers to decide for themselves.

  6. In his failed non-rebuttal rebuttal, FM falls into the same logical fallacies described in my earlier comment. Viz., the fallacy of burden of proof:

    Turn it around… if you want to be taken seriously please show us that you have collected climate data, analyzed it, written a paper, and got it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Everybody — stop reading right here until he meets his own criteria!

    This is the same attempt to shift the burden of proof from skeptics onto those who cite the peer-reviewed published scientific literature, a classic fallacy committed by UFOlogists, bigfoot believers, and AGW deniers. Asked and answered.

    The rest of FM’s non-response consists of the usual logical fallacies, the ad hominem fallacy (“Mclaren does not understand the scientific method”), the fallacy of the biased sample (FM focuses on Anthony Watts’ data, ignoring the vast mass of other data which confirms AGW, data from CO2 in ice cores, paleonotological pollen evidence, satellite data showing historical drying patterns from riverbeds, etc., etc.), the fallacy of the red herring (FM dredges up Isaac Newton in a frantic effort to disprove the requirement for modern peer review in scientific research), etc.

    In fairness, FM makes some good points about methodological problems with some AGW data, as shown by his citation of Watts’ article.

    However, FM appears unaware that a signal buried in noisy data can be extracted using many different mathematical methods, including signal subtraction, autocorrelation, time-series analysis, Fourier analysis and deconvolution, etc. As a counterexample, radio telescope data is largely buried in noise to a much worse extent than Watts claims global temperature measurements are buried in the noise from temperature measurement stations, but radio astronomers have no trouble at all in extracting valid data from extremely noisy signals, in many cases data in which the noise overwhelms the signal by orders of magnitude. Seismologists, radio astronomers, and many other scientists routinely extract signals from very noisy data using digital signal processing, so Watts’ paper (although valid) is irrelevant, and FM seems clearly unaware of the use of signal processing to extract valid data from noisy measurements. See this article or this link for typical examples. For more details, read IEEE Transactions on Information and Systems and IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing for current literature on extracting signals from noisy data. For basic textbooks on dignal processing, see here or here.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Don’t like it when your own text is cited against you, do you?

    As before, you cite references that do not mention climate science — then expect your arguement to be accepted as gospel on because you mention the “peer-reviewed literature.” Why are all your detailed arguements about other subjects than the one at hand? Does the existence of a literature about signals and noise automatically justify every use of the concept in other fields?

    BTW — There are power and easy to understand looks at signal analysis in the climate science literature. One just posted today, replicating a large body of work with similar findings: “Can’t See the Signal For the Trees“, by Willis Eschenbach, posted at Climate Audit, 23 November 2008. Often a robust analysis can be understood even by folks with a basic college education.

  7. FM Note: due to its length, I interject comments into the text. Although over the comment max, as a co-author of this post he of course has the right to reply at length.

    The most troubling aspect of FM’s discussion of global warming involves its intellectual dishonesty.

    FM violates every one of the 10 basic principles of intellectual honesty in citing a handful of isolated critics and few bits of isolated evidence casting doubt on AGW.

    *** The way Science is played, even one fact can disprove a theory. Also, as noted before, this is a brief general audience site. I am citing examples, with links to other papers and sites for additional information.

    1. FM overstates the power of his argument: he brings up only a few isolated problems with some AGW data and measurement methods — FM fails to deal with the fact that a wide variety of different measurements using many different methodologies all converge on the same AGW conclusion — and FM also fails to deal with the obvious rebuttal to Watts, namely, that scientists use signal processing to extract valid signals about global warming from noisy data, a standard procedure throughout the length and breadth of science from radio astronomy to seissmology;

    *** Mclaren keeps repeating this in different form. I am not writing a master disproof of AGW. This is a general survey-type blog post. Can nobody write survey articles, or anything less than the definitive treatment of any subject?

    2. FM shows no willingness to acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints to AGW denial exist — he appears to classify all AGW proponents as hysterics who propose extreme solutions. That’s just not correct. You can believe in AGW without agreeing that we need to reduce CO2 ppm below 350 within 30 years;

    *** More making stuff up. Note he very seldom quotes me, prefering to invent things like “he appears to classify all AGW proponents as hysterics who propose extreme solutions.”

    3. FM shows no willingness to question his own assumptions (I’m perfectly willing to question the assumptions behind the AGW — viz., a rise in CO2 doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding rise in global temperature, but we have seen both measurements rising and at this point so much evidence links the two that we need some strong scientific evidence to disconfirm that correlation);

    *** To what assumptions do this refer?

    4. FM is not willing to publicly acknowledge where his argument is weak (he has almost no scientific data to support his claim that AGW is not manman and that global warming is not occurring; where FM’s argument is much stronger is in his criticism of computer models which project global temperature far into the future. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge this as a big weakness, but it’s not a weakness of the argument that AGW has occurred and is occurring, it’s a weakness in the argument that AGW represents a global catastrophe, which is a different matter. The fact of global warming is one thing, and the question of what we should do about AGW, and how much we need to do, and how fast, is another matter entirely;

    *** More just making stuff up: “to support his claim that … global warming is not occurring.” I cite quite a few sources that raise reasonable doubts, which Mclaen just ignores.

    5. FM is not willing to acknowledge where he is wrong (I’m sure he will not acknowledge that calling a citation of published scientific literature “an appeal to authority” badly misrepresents that logical fallacy and is flatly incorrect because unlike an authority, if you disagree with a published scientific paper, you can collect data yourself and re-run the experiment, and if it’s wrong, you’ll disprove it — you can’t do that with the pope);

    *** The “citation” was a list of references without even titles. Reading it gives no indication as to the substance of the articles or their relevance to the subject under discussion. That is what makes it an “appeal to authority.” This was quite clear in my comment. Mclaren’s inability to respond to what I say is what makes his remarks so cult-like.

    6. FM demonstrates wild inconsistency, demanding vast amounts of evidence of superb quality in favor of AGW, but accepting very little evidence of low quality to believe critics of AGW;

    *** What “vast amounts of evidence” have you cited? Have you cited any evidence?

    7. FM consistently fails to address the published scientific evidence for AGW, instead preferring to make vacuous personal attacks like “[person X] does not understand the scientific method”;

    *** These are not personal attacks. In support of that, I said “Data rebuts theories, no matter what credentials the theory’s author has — and how few the critic’s credentials.” In what respect is that not an accurate reply to your text? BTW — I have edited that comment. My practice is to phrase such comments as “apppears to”, and have so changed that.

    *** Also, these are brief articles. The basis for AGW being well known, I focus them on the less well-known rebuttals. I give references to sources describing both sides, such as the National Academies panel (the North Report).

    8. FM consistently misrepresents pro-AGW arguments, most ludicrously when he stoops to citing Isaac Newton as an effort to “prove” that peer review and publication in a reputable scientific journal is not a crucial part of the way modern science is done;

    *** The reference to Newton shows that there is not one mode of science, and that saying “If you want to debunk the scientific consensus about global warming, you will have to provide at least 3 (three) papers” misunderstands the essence of the process.

    9. FM has shown no commitment at all to critical thinking, as we can prove by asking the crucial question: “What evidence would you accept in order to consider your hypothesis disconfirmed?” I have specified the amounts and quality of evidence I require to consider AGW disconfirmed. Show me the 39 pubslihed articles disconfirming the scientific journals I cited, and I will discard the AGW hypothesis. But FM has never stated (and, I believe, cannot state) what evidence he would consider sufficient to require him to renounce his anti-AGW belief. There’s a reason for this. FM can’t tell us what evidence would suffice to get him to change his mind because he’s playing word games and doing verbal calisthenics, nor being serious about science, or the evidence;

    *** This is silly, as if a debate like this can be so easily resolved. I have clearly listed some of the methodological steps which need to be taken. Full disclosure of data and methods; improvements in the global temperature recording system.

    10. FM is unwilling to acknowledge when any pro-AGW crticism of any of his assertions is valid. By contrast, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that FM and others make some good points — some global climate measurements have problems, computer models which project global climate into the far future are shaky, and so on. I’m particularly skeptical about far future climate projections. But that’s an entirely different issue from whether global warming is occurring now, and whether it’s anthropogenic.

    Lastly, note that while I cite peer-reviewed published scientific articles, FM cites wikipedia. That should tell you something.

    *** More making stuff up. First, I don’t see you cite any peer-reviewed climate science literature. Second, as for my replies — just to mention two, I repeatedly mention the North and Wegman reports. The FM reference page on Science, Nature, and Geopolitics lists others. I use Wikipedia as a reference for definitions, biography, and terms — nothing problematic.

  8. FM note: this is perhaps the most important comment on this thread so far, going to the heart of the debate.

    There’s a basic misunderstanding in FM’s argument which deserves special discussion:

    FM claims:

    Data rebuts theories, no matter what credentials the theory’s author has — and how few the critic’s.

    This is false. When J.J. Thompson took data to determine the charge of the electron in the 1890s, many of his measurements showed a fractional charge. They were data errors and had to be thrown out. FM has evidently never done actual science in a laboratory: otherwise he’d realize that you need a theoretical framework to make sense of measurements. All measurements will contain some error, and some bad data. Without the theoretical framework, you don’t know how many and which of the data to throw out as bad measurements. Data by itself represents raw numbers, and means nothing except in the context of a theory.

    This is also why peer review proves so important. A scientist can delude hi/rself, and peer review helps uncover this. In 1953 Irving Langmuir gave a classic talk about pathological science. So this kind of thing can happen in science. It generally doesn’t persist for long, because peer review and independent researchers typically shoot down pathological science pretty fast, as happened with the cold fusion fiasco.

    When many different researchers around the world have independently confirmed an hypothesis using different methods and a wide variety of different measurements for along time despite a great deal of scrutiny, as with AGW, the chances that you’re dealing with pathological science are greatly reduced. If the AGW hypothesis is wrong, either many thousands of scientists around the world must be badly deluded, or they’re all in a giant (and ludicrously unlikely) conspiracy together. Either of those alternatives are possible, but very unlikely.

    As a side note, FM sneeringly asks where my “rules of thumb” come from: they were first stated, in different form, by Francis Bacon, in his Novum Organum of 1620. Bacon laid down the foundations of the scientific method. He’s still worth reading today. All the logical fallacies Bacon discusses in the medieval schoolmen and alchemists, we find in AGW deniers today. We encounter the same behavior in UFologists, bigfoot believers, hollow earth devotees, scientologists and orgone therapists.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Lableing as “deniers” people with specific and reasonable questions about data and methods. This is more evidence, if any were needed, that mclaren appears to treat this as a religous or theological issue, not a scientific one.

    Interesting reference to Francis Bacon. Calling his aphorisms “rules of thumb” is a stretch, and asking the source of very heavily paraphrased material from a 1620 AD essay is not “sneering.”

    I think Bacon’s thinking supports my view, as he puts direct observation and questioning as the core of the scientific process. I suspect he would side with folks like Anthony Watts — going out and taking pictures of the stations that produce NOAA’s temperature records, showing that many are in such gross violation of its siting guidelines that their data is suspect — rather than those blindly siting journals as if they were Scripture.

    Note his first aphorism: “Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature.”

    FM claims: “Data rebuts theories, no matter what credentials the theory’s author has — and how few the critic’s.”

    Here we go our different conceptions of science. You appear to see scientists as a type of priesthood, like pre-reformation Roman Catholic priests who are the only ones allowed read Scripture and interpret what it means. I have a more traditional view, in which the temple doors are open and everyone can come in to do “science.”

    This why hearings like the Wegman Committee in Congress and the North report by the National Academies are so valuable, providing a forum for different kinds of experts to present and discuss their work — so that truth can slowly emerge over time. Unlike Mclaren, they have a wider conception of who can do “science.”

    That is why the surface stations review is so critical. Their evidence is an irrefutable rebuttal to one key piece of the global temperature record, and was collected by regular citizens. Unlike Mclaren’s view, regular people can make valuable contributions to scientific progress.

  9. FM embarrasses himself badly when he remarks:

    I cannot find the link or remember the author’s name, but several years ago read a detailed paper, I believe peer-reviewed etc., disproving that light is the fastest-travelling thingumajig in the universe. Short story: gravity is instantaneous – pull of sun on earth, various particular behaviour in quantum experiments further confirming.

    {FM note: this statement was made by Erasmus in comment #5. Not me. Despite repeated notifications, Mclaren refuses to acknowledge the error.

    Back in 1915 Einstein’s general relativity tensors showed that gravity waves are limited to the speed of light. FM’s lack of familiarity with this basic result is of a piece with his lack of familiarity with the other science cited here. Neither information nor mass-energy can travel faster than c in our universe. The well-known fact that gravity propagates at c is so universally familiar that it’s a shock to realize that FM, who claims to have a deep understanding of the scientific method, isn’t aware of this basic result. See here for a pop sci explanation that gravity propagates at c, and here for the first laboratory measurement confirming (as expected, since Einstein predicted it in 1915, and his theory has been exhaustively confirmed) that gravity propagates at c.

    Whenever someone doesn’t understand some aspect of basic science, they usually throw in a reference to quantum mechanics in a failed effort to dodge the issue — as here, where FM makes a vague reference to faster-than-light transmission of information via quantum entanglement in a failed and faulty effort to “disprove” one of my points. Once again, FM is totally out of his depth, once again unfamiliar with the basic scientific literature. See this link in the axchiv for a paper which shows that faster than light transmission of information (or mass-energy) via quantum entanglement is impossible. FM is probably thinking of quantum entanglement, though it’s hard to be sure since his citation of “quantum theory” appears to be the usual vague woolly-headed mysticism we encounter in people whose familiarity with QM involves having read popsci fluff like The Dancing Wu Li Masters.

    In reality, Eberhard’s Theorem proved that information can’t be transmitted faster than the speed of light via quantum entanglement: see this link for an abstract of the article. Once again, you’ll have to actually go to a library and pull that issue of that journal off the shelf and read it if you want the full text of the peer reviewed journal article.

    I’ve bothered to debunk FM’s claims about gravity traveling instantaneously and quantum mechanics allegedly allowing instantaneous travel only to show that FM is totally out of his depth when it comes to hard science. He’s not only unfamiliar with the basic scientific literature on global warming, he’s unaware that Einstein showed that gravity propagates at a speed of c in 1915, or that Eberhard’s theorem has shown that information cannot be transmitted faster than light via quantum entanglement.

    FM’s knowledge of science is evidently stuck at a pre-1915 stage, which is about par for the general public. That’s not a crime, but it does disqualify him from talking authoritatively about Einstein’s general theory of relativity, or quantum mechanics…or global warming.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I would take Mclaren’s writings more seriously if he could correctly quote me. Most of his references to what I said are either entirely made up or incorrect in one or more important ways.

    This comment was made by Erasmus in comment #5. I correctly restated the findings it in my reply (supporting general relativity, not disproving it), and gave several links to discussions of the experiment.

  10. This posturing and preening over who gets to be in the “science club” reminds me of Groucho Marx’s quip about never joining any club that would have him as a member.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Any saying of Groucho Marx is always in order here! But I do not understand what you are saying. What is your point?

  11. Sometimes, the self deprecating joke that any club who’s standards are so low as to qualify one for membership thus destroying that clubs credibility and reputation so much (based on ones poor qualifications) that it makes such membership undesirable is not a self deprecating joke at all, but rather a serious comment about the club and its members.

  12. A disconcerting aspect of reading the skeptics–particularly Steve McIntyre & Co. at Climate Audit–is the usual response of the AGW establishment.

    A discussion often develops as follows:

    1. Skeptic: “My analysis of Establishment findings reveals a possible problem in the underlying data set (or methodology).”

    2. Establishment representative (in blog comment or linked post): “That’s an absurd criticism, completely refuted by X, Y, and Z.”

    3. Sk: “Digging into the background of X, Y, and Z, these seem to be inadequately clear-cut, or of questionable relevance to the possible problem I have raised.”

    4. E.R.: “You are an unlikeable person given to ad hominem attacks. My patience is exhausted; I’ll offer no further support to your efforts to derail awareness of AGW.”

    As an outsider, I often can’t say whether the AGW Establishment or the Skeptics are likely correct on any given point of contention. However, I often think, “that’s not how Science ought to be practiced!” when reading these exchanges.

    A question for McLaren and F.M.: Are either of you aware of instances where the Skeptics’ efforts have resulted in a material correction to an aspect of the dominant AGW viewpoint, and where the AGW Establishment has responded to the Skeptics with sincere thanks and recognition?

    If these cases are uncommon, it could be (1) because the Skeptics’ critiques are usually baseless, or (2) because the AGW Establishment is more committed to Outcomes than to the methodology of the practice of science.
    Fabius Maximus replies: there have been numerous corrections to the literature and based on skeptics’ work, such as the corrigendum issued to Mann’s original “hockey stick” article in Nature and various corrections to the surface temperature record (here and here). Needless to say, these are seldom attributed to the skeptics’s work.

    These are trivial. The skeptics primary impact has been IMO to force disclosure of data and methods. It has been a long and difficult fight, of the sort few scientists have the time (or will take the career risk) to do. As this material becomes public, it becomes subject to review by mainstream scientists.

  13. There’s a non-scientific driver behind the importance of this discussion that I believe is nonpartisan: whether or not CO2 is a problem now, eventually the negative externalities of production will catch up to us on a global scale. Maybe it’ll be atmospheric, maybe food-based. Rest assured it will catch up, though. The tragedy of the commons applies. Whether we have a global infrastructure set up to deal with it, or whether we face the kind of exponential die-off common in what were wildly successful life forms of earth history, is up to us. Maybe CO2 isn’t the real bogie, but the ability to have an intelligent worldwide response to a problem is critical. The importance of this mechanism is why neither side should settle until at least the decision making process is settled. Most people don’t care about that decision making process, since the winners are different for different processes.

    That said, I find quite telling your inability to do a google search on the AGW papers identified early on a tragic sign of weakness. You’d rather spend time typing your witty response than spend a few seconds looking them up. Sounds like “P.F.M.” is the engine for your cool latin-sounding and therefore intelligent views. Argued like a lawyer trying to win a fight, not a scientist or even a risk mitigation policy maker. Stop hating your opponents and learn the basis of their views instead of opposing their conclusions. Even Sun Tsu would advocate that basic measure.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The first part makes sense, and matches with what I have said.

    (1) “Maybe CO2 isn’t the real bogie, but the ability to have an intelligent worldwide response to a problem is critical.”

    Exactly. Problem identification is essential, but only the first part of the process. Unfortunately, we seem to have problem with this first phase. Special interest groups each urge priority for their cause, with no regard for its relative importance or threat.

    (2) “Most people don’t care about that decision making process, since the winners are different for different processes.”

    Evidence for this, please.

    (3) “I find quite telling your inability to do a google search on the AGW papers identified early on a tragic sign of weakness. ”

    (a) Am I a dog, told to fetch articles by someone too lazy or ignorant to correctly cite articles? Who gives as evidence a meaningless series of references, devoid of titles or URLs?

    (b) With a few exceptions, the only links to actual evidence in these posts of pro-AGW comments were mine, going to a wide ranger of material — and the FM reference page “Science, Nature, and Geopolitics“, listing still more references.

    (c) Also, I doubt than anybody playing with a full deck who reads this site — with its many thousands of links — can believe that I could not do a simple Google search.

    (4) “You’d rather spend time typing your witty response than spend a few seconds looking them up. … Stop hating your opponents and learn the basis of their views instead of opposing their conclusions. ”

    Why can so few writing pro-AGW comments on this site give a simple quotes to support their claims? It makes a rebuttal impossible. Juan Delmastro now does, so we have a discussion about he issues.

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