Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Nov 27 2009 - 08:40:29 EST


Speaking only for myself, and not for John, because I don't want to put words in his mouth, I would make these connected points:

1. The argument that scientific evidence was deliberately falsified, if it is to be made, is to be made on the basis of the purloined e-mails, which allegedly contain admissions of such falsification.

2. The e-mails appear to show that the data was at least "massaged", and the claim of accusers is that the "massaging" goes above and beyond normal scientific practice.

3. Supposing for the sake of argument that the claim in 2 above can be established, the question of motivation needs to be raised. *Why* did the massaging go beyond normal scientific process?

4. Asking the question in 3 above is not, in itself, an un-Christian activity.

5. One possible answer to the question "Why?" is: "In order to rescue a theory which the data do not support." There are of course other possible answers. But merely letting this possible answer cross one's mind, and realizing that it must be considered a possible answer, is not in itself un-Christian, any more than considering it a possible answer that the man fleeing a murder scene might be the murderer is in itself un-Christian.

6. Obviously all possible answers must be considered, including both innocent and non-innocent explanations for the allegedly unusual massaging of data. The only attitude that might possibly be considered "un-Christian" is the predisposition to assume a non-innocent motivation.

7. However, as long as the non-innocent motivation is not assumed, but only suspected, and as long as those suspected of non-innocent motives are given a full chance to explain themselves in detail, I don't see how the mere suspicion is un-Christian. Otherwise, all work done by police investigators, prosecutors, intelligence agents, etc., is inherently un-Christian.

8. In any case, I did not try to justify speculating about other people's motives on the grounds of Scripture. Rather, I rebutted a claim made by someone else, on the grounds of Scripture, that we were *never* allowed to speculate about other people's motives. I would prefer that Scripture had never been dragged into the question at all. I think speculation about other people's motives should be done when, and only when, there are "reasonable grounds" for suspicion, and that in most cases *normal human context* establishes when there are "reasonable grounds". Introducing Scripture into the question just clouds objective thinking with a haze of piety.

9. Should a police investigator not consider the possibility that Mr. X murdered his wife for the insurance money, because that would an uncharitable and un-Christian way of thinking about Mr. X? This is obscurantist reasoning, which no one would introduce into a criminal investigation. Indeed, were it introduced, we would rightly suspect that the objector fears that Mr. X *did* murder his wife for the insurance money, and doesn't want the truth to come out, and so is introducing the Bible in order to make the police feel ashamed of themselves for their uncharitable suspicion and give up the investigation.

10. What is needed in the case of these e-mails is the intellectual equivalent of a police investigation, where all possible hypotheses, involving both the innocence and non-innocence of the writers, are on the table. This does not violate any Biblical principle known to me.

11. What I was objecting to was the proclamation, or at least very strong hint, that the normal, commonsense, interpretation of some of the statements in these e-mails, expressed in a suitably provisional way, was automatically un-Christian.

12. The fact that the above proclamation was coming from someone who has been arguably (in my opinion, anyway) the most one-sided person on this list regarding the question of AGW, precisely at the time when the most stunning evidence of weakness in the AGW position has emerged, did not endear me to the appeal to Christianity.

13. The fact that none of the defenders of AGW here, to my knowledge at least, has ever pointed out that the frequently made charge that Ph.D.-holding earth scientists who are critics of AGW are "in the pockets of the oil companies" is at least as uncharitable as the charge that the AGW scientists have illicitly manipulated their data in order to rescue their theory, does not endear me to the appeal to Christian charity in this case.

14. The fact that many generalizations have been made here about the motivations of people who write on Uncommon Descent, or who are fellows of the Discovery Institute, without any acknowledgement that such generalizations may spring from uncharitable assumptions, does not endear me to the appeal to Christian charity in this case.

15. In sum, in a forum which up to now has tilted clearly in a pro-AGW direction, and in which that tilt has often been expressed in a very partisan way, and when one of the (in my opinion) leading partisans pulls out pious-sounding phrases from the Westminister Confession or anywhere else, as if that should close the debate for Christians on whether or not some AGW proponents have behaved in an unprofessional and unethical manner, I am somewhat angered. Neither God nor Christ nor the Bible nor any catechism should be used as a cover to excuse possible professional misconduct from the full light of public investigation. If normal human context provides grounds for suspicion, the investigation should proceed.

16. Of those who post regularly to this list, the only one (to my knowledge) with a Ph.D. in a science close to climatology has indicated that, at least at first blush, the e-mails in question indicate a very irregular scientific attitude toward data and toward the impartiality of the peer-review process. This gives me further encouragement in my view that an investigation should be launched.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Randy Isaac
  Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 7:02 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated

  And with all due respect, I would disagree on all points. I do understand what you are saying but I see no scriptural justification for judging others before having a chance to hear all the evidence. No, you weren't there all along, advocating to get all the truth. You said you were glad we discovered all this before we did something unnecessarily drastic about AGW. That opinion is not at all vindicated and I believe was highly inaccurate. Let's keep the focus on the data. If you have information that any data was falsified, then please share it with the appropriate responsible people. If not, let's not speculate on other people's motives without the proper information, trying to justify it on a scriptural basis.


  From: John Walley
  Sent: Thursday, November 26, 2009 5:31 PM
  To: Randy Isaac ;
  Subject: Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated


  With respect, I think Cameron's advice on judging motives is better and more scriptural. We know them by their fruits. Actions reveal motives and at some point we have to use our discernment and respond. Forever tip-toeing around and excusing evil doing on subjective grounds like hurting their feelings is a deception from the enemy. We have to speak out for truth.

  If you don't want to be called out, then avoid the appearance of anything questionable. And if you do, then take your correction like a grown up and don't try to socially engineer an environment that shields you from this. For then you have just alienated God. This is the way He works. The example of Jesus with the Pharisees nails it. Any other approach is Pollyannism like Cameron says.

  Practically as applied to this current situation we are already seeing this approach being proved out. You say that whether this was justified whistleblowing and whether or not the comments can be defended will be worked out and I agree. But this is a far cry from the first set of "see no evil" responses which were also bundled with judgmental charges of bearing false witness and worse that tried to squelch this. So now it appears we are to a point where we all agree we should get to the bottom of this and let the truth come out. That is good but some of us were there are along and it should have just been obvious.

  As you mention, I don't think any of the responses took the hardline position that AGW was falsified. I think many have pointed out that the rush to enact some draconian economic measures without consensus and proper debate is what was objected to. As far as skeptics being vindicated, I never took that to mean the skepticism about AGW itself, but just about our handling of it and our response to it, which now in my opinion is thoroughly vindicated.




  From: Randy Isaac <>
  Sent: Thu, November 26, 2009 12:46:40 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated

  Though I think the discussion on this list has been of commendable quality of late, I'm afraid this topic hasn't been our finest hour. Too many of us were too quick to blame each other for inappropriate biases and to commend ourselves for true objectivity. May I remind all of us to stop using this list to ascribe motives and nefarious behavior to each other or to others. Let's stick to ideas and concepts. Whether the unethical acquisition and release of private emails is justified as "whistleblowing" will be determined by others. Whether the authors of the emails in question had a legitimate context in which the comments should be understood will also be worked out in due time.

  But before anyone on this list can jump to conclusions about the implications for AGW, it may be helpful to step back and take a look at the big picture. First, it is important that we always remember that fraud, and its more common cousin, subconscious bias, are an ever-present possibility in any scientific endeavor. That's why scientific methodology seeks to offset and compensate for such possibilities. Ever since grad school, I've been intrigued by pseudo-science (having been caught by YEC, I suppose) and have had to deal with it all too often in my career. One of the most common indicators of fraud, and often the way it is discovered, is the lack of reproducibility of data. For example, a few days ago I was just reading about Paul Kammerer and the declaration of his apparent fraud on midwife toads in 1926 which led to his suicide. There was no independent confirmation of his results.

  What is the situation with AGW? In this case, it seems that the data in question are far from the only argument for AGW. In fact, the case is made quite independent from it. As John pointed out, the fact of AGW isn't really in question, just the magnitude and timing and seriousness of it. Maybe it's good to remind ourselves of the evidence for AGW.

  1. Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 since 1957 show an accelerating increase in concentration to its current level of about 385ppm, up about 40% from its pre-industrial level of about 275ppm.
  2. The isotopic ratio of atmospheric carbon, C13/C12 has been declining in exact proportion to the increase in CO2 concentration. The only known source of low C13/C12 carbon is fossil fuel. Hence, virtually all of the increase in CO2 is due to anthropogenic consumption of fossil fuel.
  3. At present trends with a rate of increase of 2ppm/year, which is accelerating, by the end of this century the CO2 levels would be approximately 600ppm, and continuing to rise rapidly, if our carbon emission rate continues to rise.
  4. Paleoclimatology informs us that there is a very close correlation between CO2 levels and global temperatures. (just google any vostok ice core data). There is positive feedback in that higher temperature enhances CO2 and higher CO2 enhances T so either one can be the driver, depending on sources. During the 4 temperature peaks in the last 420ky, CO2 never rose to its current level though the temperature was near or higher than today. It also indicates there has apparently never been as fast a rise in CO2 as we are experiencing now.
  5. Hence, we find ourselves in a disequilibrium state, with anthropogenic activity forcing CO2 levels to rise well beyond the equilibrium level. The temperature lags due to thermal inertia but will inevitably rise to equilibrium levels.
  6. The big question is how fast and how long before negative feedback forces kick in. Unfortunately, the solar cycle that might induce another ice age is a few thousand years away. This is the arena of uncertainty. Going back even farther in paleoclimatology, it appears that the last time the earth had a CO2 level of about 1000ppm was 50mya when the north and south poles were dominated by tropical forests, setting the stage to create the oil and gas fields that are now there. It seems the ice sheets formed when the CO2 level dropped to around 500ppm or so. Hmmm. This is reversible so it is likely that CO2 levels climbing back up could melt the poles eventually. Historical sea level data indicate this would raise the ocean levels by perhaps 15-25 meters, if not more. How soon? who knows. But it seems clear that what we are emitting into the atmosphere now is setting the stage for a radical change in the future which would have major disruption in the human population, sooner or later.

  In other words, the seriousness of AGW is quite independent of any of the data in question. There is a consilience of evidence from several lines of investigation. This indicates that even if there had been a fraudulent intent, it had no bearing on AGW. It appears that the data in question dealt with specific examples of where global warming was already evident. That's a different question from the severity of AGW in the broader scope.

  In summary, to trumpet that "skeptics are vindicated," implying that AGW isn't as serious as was thought, is rather premature and ignores the basic science of AGW.


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Received on Fri Nov 27 08:43:08 2009

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