Re: [asa] World sets ocean temperature record

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sat Aug 22 2009 - 16:57:08 EDT


I am not claiming to be an expert on climate change, nor do I have any
particular axe to grind about the data, theories, and models. (I *do* have
an axe to grind against leftist politicians and ideologues like Al Gore and
Gwynne Dyer who are making cultural and political hay out of the climate
change debate, but that is another matter.)

I have found it interesting, though -- and relevant to the purpose of the
ASA, which is in part to promote responsible science and analyze the
foundations of scientific belief -- that over the last several months, on
this site, people are always linking to sites and articles and blogs that
purport to show beyond doubt that the data posted by the "deniers" is all
wrong, filled with lies, written by the oil companies, etc., whereas over at
UD, an equal or greater number of sites and articles and blogs are cited
that purport to show beyond all doubt that world temperatures have
"flatlined" since about 2002, that the arctic icecaps have almost recovered,
etc. Almost all the ASA people have appeared to believe their sources
uncritically, and almost all the UD people appear to believe their sources
equally uncritically. So who is an intelligent, neutral person supposed to
believe? The dozens of facts and opinions endorsed by admiring ASA people,
or the dozens of facts and opinions endorsed by admiring UD people?

It is hard for me to judge, but one thing that tilts me slightly toward AGW
skepticism is the sanctimonious tone and the appeal to authority and
consensus that I find in the pro-AGW literature and news reports. The
moment I hear someone telling me that I should believe something because
"the scientific consensus" holds to it, or because some official body holds
to it, or because the United Nations agrees to it, or because some
prestigious body of Scandinavian scientists agrees to it, or because most
climatologists agree to it, my back gets up. I distrust all arguments from
authority. Arguments from authority are to a philosopher no argument at
all, but attempts at intimidation.

Appeals to specialist knowledge are also very suspect in many cases.
Specialists often have specialist blinders. When the only pair of glasses
you own has green lenses, the whole world looks green. Specialists also are
often too arrogant to listen to anyone who has an outside perspective and
therefore doesn't do things they way they are done from "within the club".
They also often have their professional egos tied up with pet theories.
Someone once said, "There are no specialists, only vested interests". That
is an exaggeration, of course, but one with truth in it. So when someone
says that "only climatologists know anything about global warming", I either
laugh out loud (if I'm in a good mood) or I turn purple with rage at the
specialist smugness. I say: Really? Geographers, geologists, physicists,
engineers and mathematicians who work specifically in modelling complex
systems, etc. -- know *nothing* relevant to discussions of climate change,
because their Ph.D. is not in climatology? They are not entitled to an
opinion? They have no right or competence to criticize the methods of the
climatologists? They don't have well-enough trained scientific and
mathematical minds to see potential problems in a climatological argument or
hypothesis? What a bunch of self-serving baloney!

I know from five years of intense study of the intelligent design debate
that claims of specialist competence can be ludicrous. I've heard it said
that Behe has no business commenting on evolution because he is only a
biochemist, not a biologist -- as if biochemistry has no relation to
genetics, and through that, to evolutionary claims! Or that none of the ID
people have anything relevant to say about evolution, because none of them
has a Ph.D. in biology. Leaving aside the fact that Wells has a Ph.D. in
developmental biology, neo-Darwinian theory relies largely on stochastic
mechanisms, and you can't discuss the likelihood of the truth of
neo-Darwinism unless you have mathematicians who can deal with probability.
Dembski's work is thus highly relevant, even though he has no degrees in
biology. So also were the comments of the high-level M.I.T. mathematicians
and engineers who participated in the 1966 Wistar conference which was
critical of neo-Darwinian evolution. (That Wistar conference, curiously, is
never mentioned by the biologists here -- another example of specialist
blindness to opinions coming from intelligent outsiders?) And there's also
an interesting double-standard when people argue, well, OK, there are a few
ID supporters with Ph.D.s in biology, but they still aren't qualified to
talk about *evolution* because they aren't *evolutionary biologists*, as
Coyne and Dawkins are. Interesting. Ken Miller (a cell biologist) and
Eugenie Scott (an anthropologist) are never similarly disqualified.
Apparently non-specialist opinions are worthless if they go against the
consensus of the specialists, but of great value if they support the
specialists. Surely the dishonesty of the appeal to the notion of
"specialization" is in such cases very apparent.

Let's not forget that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA,
was a physicist, not a biologist or even a biochemist. And let's not forget
that Darwin's only university degree was in Arts; he had dropped out of the
only scientific training program he had ever enrolled in (medicine), and had
not a single formal qualification in zoology when he published *The Origin
of Species*. Yet he revolutionized zoology. And Robert Alter, an English
professor, in co-operation with some other outsiders, revolutionized the
study of the Old Testament by forcing the specialists in Biblical Studies
(who were die-hard worshippers of the historical-critical method) to
acknowledge the power of the narratological method, something which the
specialist training of Biblical studies up to Alter's time utterly blinded
Biblical scholars from seeing. If the Old Testament experts had had their
way, we would be stuck in an eternal time warp, endlessly discussing nothing
but J, E, D, and P, the Early Source, the Late Source, etc. Biblical
studies would be an arid, sterile desert, instead of the lively field it is
today. Intelligent outside criticism is needed everywhere in life, to keep
the specialists honest, and to bring in breaths of fresh air when fields of
inquiry grow stale.

In any case, even if we accept the argument that climatologists know more
than anyone else about global warming, the fact is that *some* Ph.D.s in
climatology *do* dispute the consensus. How do we deal with that? Take a
show of hands, and if 90% of the climatologists say yes and only 10% say no,
the majority wins? Is that a good scientific principle? If we held to
that, we would still believe in phlogiston and the four humours and the
Ptolemaic system of astronomy. Isn't it possible that the 10% are right,
and the 90% are wrong? It's happened many times before in the history of

Burgy, does your opinion on the AGW issue come mainly from reading opinions
of the sort you have cited? Does it come from mere deference to those you
take to be specialists? Or do you have training in climatology, or at least
in mathematical modelling and physics, which allows you to read the primary,
highly technical climatological modelling literature by yourself? Can you
follow the calculus and/or algebra used in the complex climate change
equations? Have you checked the assumptions? Or are you reliant on the
opinions of others for what you believe about it? If you are reliant on the
opinions of others, why should I follow your opinion? If your opinion is
secondhand, and I follow you, wouldn't my opinion be thirdhand?

My comments above are not meant as a personal assault upon you. I mean no
disrespect. I would not think less of you if you lacked the scientific
training needed to read the primary source literature in climatology. I
can't read it myself, so I could hardly criticize you on that score. I am
posing a serious epistemological question. How can anyone who isn't an
expert know which experts to believe? How can anyone tell when the expert's
opinion is tainted by ego, vanity, money slipped under the table, peer
pressure, generous research grants, hopes of a Nobel Prize from Scandinavian
AGW-disposed Nobel judges, etc.? And given that the scientists who are
loudest about "the science is settled", and who insultingly call their
dissident peers "deniers" (rather than treating them with respect, as a
loyal intellectual opposition), seem to be working hand-in-glove with
leftist political activists (Al Gore, David Suzuki, Gwynne Dyer, etc.) whose
views on almost every moral, political and economic issue I utterly despise
and whom I regard as enemies of Western civilization, how can I *not*
suspect their "science" of being ideologically driven? I have seen the
intellectual and academic and political dishonesty of another group of
scientific "experts" -- the neo-Darwinians; I have seen the intellectual and
academic and political dishonesty of the "experts" with Ph.D.s in education
who have ruined our school systems with their left-wing-ideology-based
curriculum and teaching methods; why should I believe that climate change
scientists are immune from political motivations?

One thing that would help to convince me of the objectivity of
climate-change science would be the ability of its proponents to write up
the *main practical results* of the science in everyday English, without
endless complex technical diagrams and technical jargon. When a specialist
hides behind impenetrable jargon that no one else can understand, it is hard
to trust the specialist. Even if the average person cannot understand the
*proofs* offered by climate-change scientists (the math being too technical,
etc.) the average educated person should be able to understand the *general
outline of the argument*. If the general outline of the argument looks
good, the average educated person will be inclined to trust the specialist
regarding the details. But if the general outline of the argument is hazy,
fuzzy, illogical, etc.; if the argument appears to rest on speculations,
arbitrary suppositions, etc.; if it is filled with expressions in the
subjunctive mood; and most of all, if it is filled with invective and
denunciation against those who disagree, rather than a calm, rational,
expository tone -- then the public will rightfully suspect that climate
change scientists (and even more, their journalistic and political
supporters) are trying to put one over on them, of substituting guesswork or
pet theories for solid results, possibly motivated by an anti-Western,
anti-capitalist political agenda.

In any case, I would make a small wager that, just as the number of people
who post regularly on this list who can talk about detailed Darwinian
mechanisms is very small (I would guess 10 maximum, and probably more like
6), and the number who can demonstrate in Darwinian terms the detailed
origin of the eye or lung is smaller (i.e., 0), and yet almost everyone here
is sure that neo-Darwinism is right, so the number of people on this list
who have the specialist competence even to *understand* the climate-change
primary technical literature is very small (I'm guessing no more than 6),
and the number who could actually sustain the AGW argument against a
knowledgeable skeptic, with full scientific and mathematical rigour, is
considerably smaller (I would guess no more than 1 or 2), yet just about
everyone here is sure that "the science is settled" when it comes to AGW.

If I am wrong in saying the above, I invite correction. But if I am right,
I cannot understand the uncritical attitude that pervades this list, leading
to the mere following of consensus or authority on major controversial
issues. Why do people here trust the AGW websites and opinions, and not the
anti-AGW websites and opinions, *unless they can do the science themselves*?
I simply do not believe that the almost complete submission to AGW here,
versus the almost complete rejection of it over at UD, is a statistical
fluke. There are "predispositions to believe" and "predispositions to
disbelieve" going on here. Why should there be such a correlation between
ID and AGW skepticism, and TE and fervent AGW endorsement? Something deeper
is going on here than a mere debate over the techniques of measuring Arctic
ice thickness.


----- Original Message -----
From: "John Burgeson (ASA member)" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Saturday, August 22, 2009 12:14 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] World sets ocean temperature record

> Caneron, with all due respect, some of the data you refer to in your
> post is simply not correct.
> A few months ago I wrote a short article for the Rico Bugle in which I
> tried very hard to summarize the issue of AGW. This article can be
> accessed at
> Below I comment on some of your post:
> Burgy
> On 8/22/09, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:>
>> 1. Are there sound scientific measurements which indicate that the earth
>> is
>> warming?
> Answer; Yes. There are several independent lines of evidence.
>> 2. Is there evidence to indicate that part of this warming is caused by
>> human-produced greenhouse gases?
> Answer: Yes. The first support for this came about 50 years ago with
> isotope studies. I refer you to the book THE DISCOVERY OF GLOBAL
> WARMING by Spencer Weart. The full text is available free online. I
> bought the book.
>> 3. Is the component of global warming caused by human-produced
>> greenhouse
>> gases significant enough that even a major reduction in production of
>> such
>> gases would make a significant difference to icecap melting and sea
>> levels
>> and other things?
> Answer: Yes. More importantly, if such emissions are NOT curtailed, it
> is possible that civilization itself will not be around in 200 years.
> Admittedly, this is a pessimistic outlook; what the OPTIMISTIC outlook
> is that there will be a significant sea level rise (7 meters or so)
> and resulting deaths in the millions from flooding.
>> 4. If the answer to #3 is "yes", what are the realistic trade-offs
>> (social,
>> political, economic, ecological, etc.) between *not* reducing greenhouse
>> gas
>> emissions, and tolerating a shrinkage in the ice caps and a probable rise
>> in
>> ocean levels of Y feet over the next X years, and taking drastic action
>> on
>> the industrial, economic and political front to reduce the greenhouse
>> gases?
> Answer: These tradeoffs get debated all the time on such sites as
> and others. Join in. Anybody may post t here.
>> 5. Given the answer to #4, what is the wisest policy to follow?
> Answer: See above. Most (not all) scientists see the current Waxman
> bill as a "good start."
>> If everybody, on the left or the right, would ask the questions about
>> global
>> warming in some such sequential way, public discussion could be rational
>> and
>> helpful. But the questions are often lumped together in a blurry way,
> Comment: I agree.
> (It makes more scientific sense to deny the fact of global warming
> today than it
>> did 6 or 7 years ago,
> Commet: Flat wrong.
>> Then you had arrogant scientists who, having committed themselves to the
>> AGW
>> analysis, would not retract it even when new temperature data came in,
>> and
>> even when Canadian scientists showed that the "hockey stick" model was
>> flawed,
> Comment: It's not flawed. See discussions on
>> Over at Uncommon Descent, on the other hand, there is a tendency of ID
>> people to dispute many of the scientific arguments in favour of AGW
>> (especially since the temperatures have flatlined and the Arctic ice has
>> almost recovered),
> Comment: See the discussions of this on Both pole ice
> and Greenland ice are a factor and all are shrinking.
> BTW, RealCimate is run by persons such as Gavin Schmidt who are real
> climate scientists. If one posts data there that is clearly in error,
> things can get a little rough.
> Burgy

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Received on Sat Aug 22 16:58:52 2009

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