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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to lose a scientific discussion

Browbeat your opponents, call them names, and use lots of pie charts.

I have a special computer dedicated specifically to two websites: the Daily Mail and National Review Online. Not because they have that much in common, but because my main computer fails to render the full glory of the god-awful Javascript they use. (Or used: I just noticed one of them has fixed it.)

I still read NRO occasionally, mainly for old-times sake, hoping to see some sign of regret for all that Trump bashing and all the lower-class-­vicious-­white-­culture-must-dye stuff.

So far not much of that. But I did come across a bizarre exchange on climate in an article titled “How to recognize science denial” by some blogger named John Cook whose main argument seems to be that skeptics are science deniers, and that everybody who's anybody agrees with him, so it must be true.

Snow Global warming

He writes: “There is a consensus of evidence that human activity is causing all of the recent global warming. Not some of it. Not even most of it. All of it.” His ‘evidence’ consists entirely of surveys claiming that 97% or so of scientists believe that humans cause global warming. Evidently unaware that the statistic has been debunked many times, he repeats it over and over: a bar chart showing 97%, then a pie chart showing 97%, then a video of somebody saying (I presume, not having watched it) 97 percent.

What's missing here? Hint: it starts with a ‘sci’ and ends with ‘ence.’

I've stated my hypothesis here and here: there's a good case to be made that global warming is caused not by CO2, but by chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. It explains the sharp rise as air conditioning became economical in the 1950s and 60s, and it explains the pause now that they've been phased out.

But the warmers are so bad at presenting their case that I'm having second thoughts about my earlier conviction. I am no longer sure that there really is any global warming.

All those reports of thermometers located near urban heat islands, next to air conditioner heat exhausts, and in sunlight-warmed areas of the ocean surface; all the contradictions that aren't addressed but merely papered over; and not least, all the dishonesty, hysteria, and name-calling have made the skeptics' case seem the only reasonable one.

When someone tries to browbeat me by saying, over and over, that 97% of X's believe Y, my reaction is: So what? How is this meaningful as a scientific case?

It is not. It is simply some guy trying to browbeat me. I could not care less how many people believe something. My job as a scientist and as a human being is to decide to my own satisfaction, based on the evidence, what the facts are.

Browbeating people only works if one values the opinion of the browbeater. When your argument is to deny that the ‘pause’ exists and call anyone who disagrees with you a denier, my reaction is: if it weren't for all the swearing, I'd think I was in church. And did I ever mention: scientists hate pie charts.

NRO posted a rebuttal by Oren Cass next to it in which he says he agrees with the IPCC that “it is extremely likely that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in [temperature] from 1951 to 2010.” He complains that he, too, criticized EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. He asks: “Is agreement with the IPCC now a symptom of ‘denial’? Then many will suffer the condition gladly.”

Not the most hard-hitting editorial of all time, I guess, but at least they're finally taking a break from bashing President Trump.

The intemperate language used by leftists serves an obvious purpose: it's intended to shove the window as hard and as far to the left as possible. The weakness of collectivism is that collectivists think everyone else follows the herd just as they do, and will change their opinion accordingly. Calling climate skeptics deniers*, calling conservatives Nazis, and calling everything that moves a racist isn't just ineffective. It's dangerous because it leaves them with no room to maneuver when somebody really bad comes along. People will think: well, this guy is a multi-axe-murderer who gassed his own people, but the press just calls him a racist Nazi. Guess he's not so bad then.

You don't use intemperate language when you're winning the argument. It's a sign your position is so weak that all you have left is emotions. It's also a sign of a lack of self-awareness: is not pause denial itself a form of climate denial?

The NRO article came out on the same day that Gloria Steinhem blamed global warming on the lack of ready access to abortion:

Listen, what causes climate deprivation is population. If we had not been systematically forcing women to have children they don't want or can't care for over the 500 years of patriarchy, we wouldn't have the climate problems that we have. That's the fundamental cause of climate change.

She's not helping.

Judging from the tone of their papers, climatologists seem puzzled that so few people accept their conclusions. The reason is simple: if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

* Update (May 28, 2017): Many people think the term ‘denier’ is an attempt to link global warming skeptics with holocaust deniers in the public mind. This might be true, but it overlooks that it's also a good example of the logical fallacy of petitio principii or ‘begging the question’: The warmers are assuming the premise of their own argument. From a scientific point of view, this is even worse than calling your opponent a Nazi.

Created may 16, 2017; last updated may 28, 2017, 5:40 am

See also

Global warming and CFCs
A remarkable paper has provided strong evidence that global warming was not caused by carbon dioxide, but by chlorofluorocarbons.

The futility of modeling
Mathematical modeling is a form of metaphysics.

An autopsy of the late global warming movement

What is the role of consensus in science?
The myth that science seeks to achieve a consensus has been debunked many times. But activists continually revive it.

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise
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