Examining authority

I am going to continue with the medical specialist analogy. I read another climate change news article saying you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist if you needed a cardiologist. This seems to be the new “now we’ve got you” answer to objections about the argument from “appropriate” authority.

It is true that one does not go to a podiatrist for heart failure. Is this because the podiatrist doesn’t know what a heart is and how it works? Did the podiatrist just study feet in medical school? Of course not. A podiatrist should be able to recognize heart problems is the patient shares enough information with him. A cardiologist can recognize problem feet. Neither treat the condition, but they can recognize problems. Perhaps not with the same level of accuracy, but that is a matter of experience. (If experience is what makes climate scientists experts, then bringing in questioners for a year or two should convert them, should it not?) Should a podiatrist be able to understand a cardiologist’s explanation of heart disease? Both have exactly the same training up to specialization. The cardiologist could have chosen the same path as the podiatrist or vice versa. These two specialists posses the same fundamental knowledge. There should be understanding.

Why, then, are climate scientists the only ones who can understand climate science? Many of those in disagreement with climate science have degrees in physics, meteorology, and so forth, the same as the climate scientists. Yes, there are years of study in climate science that those not in the field may not follow. These studies are well-documented (we hope) or published. I cannot see why a physicist or meteorologist outside the field would not be able to follow the studies. They possess the same basic qualifications.

One way that published, peer-reviewed scientists could be the only group to understand the science is if the climate scientists withhold information from those who do not agree with the theory. This does seem to be some of the problem, since FOIA requests are sometimes needed to get to the data and studies.

If individuals with equal qualifications outside the peer-reviewed group are given access to the data and the scientists who created the research articles are available to answer questions, it should be simple to teach these people how climate science works. There is often the claim that climate science is based on simple physics so teaching someone with a PhD in physics how the science works should be no problem.

There is another difference. I have not seen one medical specialty having physicians from other specialities complaining that a specific specialty (e.g. cardiologist saying podiatry is seriously flawed) is actually pseudo-science or erroneous science. If a podiatrist were to look over the cardiologist’s training, he probably would not question the accuracy of the information. Physicians do object to homeopathic medicine, but not to specialties outside their own. This seems uniques to climate science, where meteorologists, physicists and many others do no agree with the “specialists” interpretation.

Why this apparent disconnect between climate change science and other scientists with equal training continues to occur, I do not know. With something as important as climate change, the studies should be given to as many scientists as possible. The studies should show sufficient evidence of a change and the ability of these studies to prove the reality of climate change should certainly be worth the effort to share the knowledge. This is how science works.


9 comments on “Examining authority

  1. I am writing a series to explain this. I know it’s frustrating to wait, but part 3 will have examples of why I disagree with arguments. I may not use only examples from SKS as I also read other sites. I will do what I can to answer the questions, but I don’t find it a good use of time to try and partially answer questions in comments and then rewrite the information in a post.

  2. I have gone over those points on SkS. I do not find the arguments compelling. Why is it so difficult for people to get that disagreement does NOT mean I don’t understand the argument?

    • What arguments do you not find compelling on Skeptical science?. You making a general statement like that gives no information and allows for no discussion of the validity of the point you are trying to make. How can i know if you understand an argument if you give no indication of what your understanding is?
      I have asked you repeatedly for specific examples of your criticisms and so far you have provided almost none. Again I am happy to criticize those who make claims that have no basis in science. Such as Hansen’s runaway greenhouse effect, and i agree that there are people who suppot ACC that exaggerate the science and the degree of understanding of the relevant factors that impact the consequences of global warming. But if you just make vague assertions there is little we can gain from discussin these things

  3. Reality, what you are asking for is prety much the entire point of the Skeptical Science blog. They explain the science at various levels of sophistication to a large number of arguments used by “people who do not accept the validity of CO2 caused climate change”. And they point out the errors in the arguments of each of those arguments in very clear understandable ways. I would be happy to go over any of those points with you, though clearly Glenn is much more qualified to do so

  4. Yes, a teacher who gets tired of being questioned is thin-skinned. Is taunting and deriding children who ask questions a good idea? Or does the teacher just tell them to shut up? What if the teacher is WRONG? Should the child just sit there and take it, or as so many do, just lie so the vindictive teacher won’t flunk them? Is there a “one-size-fits-all” for that? (No, it’s not unique to climate change science–teachers in all fields can behave this way.)

    I would note that the “faulty” arguments seem to come from and be pushed by the climate change advocates. Lovelock admits to being an alarmist and now I read he is “not a climate scientist”. He was when he agreed. Hansen is now an activist saying the runaway greenhouse effect is very possible on earth. Predicting all kinds of apocalypse. As you so astutely have pointed out, there really is no way for the average person to know what the real hypothesis is and how it was arrived at. So Hansen predicts an apocalypse, Mann uses ad hominem attacks constantly. How can anyone know what the theory is? Perhaps if Hansen and Mann actually addressed the issue and left out the theatrics, skeptics would have a better understanding of the issue. Do not blame people who are fed politics instead of science by the scientists themselves for asking the wrong questions. List the theory and how the science got there. It’s very straight forward. Mann and Hansen should be fully able to do so.

    If you want to avoid “all the usual skeptic arguments” here, perhaps emailing me a list of the incorrect skeptic beliefs and more importantly, of the correct climate change theories, would result in my addressing the real issues and not boring people with the “same old arguments”. Until the “same old arguments” are answered satisfactorily, these are all the climate change questioners have. To date, many of the answers to the questioner’s objections are not really adequate. That’s why you hear these arguments over and over. When the answer is satisfactory, the question will disappear. (Hint: The answer that climate change advocates are the only ones who can understand is not going to work. Arguing a theory is so complex that it’s truth must be taken on blind faith just does not cut it.)

    Warning: My next topics involves red flags and climate science. You may find it the “same old, same old”. I write what I know. I cannot write about that which is hidden from me. Hiding the knowledge and then berating people for not knowing it may be emotionally satisfying, but it really makes people look petty and vindictive.

  5. Glenn Tamblyn says:

    Whereas my experience is far more from the skeptic side aimed at non-skeptics.
    I don’t see anger at being questioned. What I do see a lot off, probably after years of people being hammered by skeptics who routinely seem unwilling to adjust their views as the learn more is a deep frustration that the other person may see as anger at being questioned.

    When you have explained why a particular argument is faulty for the 50th time, a lack of patience can creep in. ‘No, CO2 absorption isn’t saturated. No, High CO2 levels in the deep past aren’t inconsistent with the theory, No, Surface Air Temperatures aren’t expected to follow in lockstep with CO2, No, that Surface Temperatures might plateau for a decade or so isn’t unexpected, No, that CO2 lags Temperature in the ice cores is actually what is expected, No, AGW science wasn’t started by Al Gore or James Hansen, it began a generation before them. ….’ and so on and on.

    As for ‘an air of superiority’, is a teacher who knows more than a student showing an ‘air of superiority’? Or is the student if they think that the teacher is actually doing that themselves showing a rather thin skinned arrogance? The simple, perhaps brutal, reality of life is that some people know more than others. Yet the blogosphere allows anyone to think they are as knowledgeable as anyone else.

    If someone who is less knowledgeable gets their back up when someone corrects them, how will they learn. And where AGW is concerned, the blogosphere is a swamp of misinformation and partial understanding.

    Thus I will be interested in your series on the actual science to see how good your level of knowledge is.

  6. Your comment on your sense of how skeptics react is interesting. I will be honest–I find it difficult to read many of the climate advocate sites due to the anger at being questioned, the name-calling and the general air of superiority that plagues such sites.

  7. Glenn Tamblyn says:

    Also about this comment:
    “One way that published, peer-reviewed scientists could be the only group to understand the science is if the climate scientists withhold information from those who do not agree with the theory. This does seem to be some of the problem, since FOIA requests are sometimes needed to get to the data and studies.”

    The studies are always available, they are in the published literature. Often data is made available, particularly the bulk raw data, there are repositories filed with it. But there a fundamental aspect of how science is carried out, how it has always been carried out, that this comment and similar ones overlooks.

    Your comment reflects a common misconception that scientists ‘check (audit, review)n each others data.

    Science has never worked this way! Ever!

    Science is based on REPLICATION. A scientist carries out a study, does an experiment, takes some measurements, does some analysis, what ever. Then they publish their results, findings etc. Other scientists look at their paper, consider the methods they used and decide whether they think the methodology is robust, and thus that the conclusions might, provisionally, have merit.

    Then other scientists might seek to replicate the study, replicate the results. They do their own study, repeat the experiment or design a somewhat different one, take their own measurements, do their own analysis, and try to find out whether their results support, or not, the conclusions of the first study.

    This has a profoundly important consequence. It is a protection against any experimental errors, biases, etc that might be introduced by the first scientists approach. By forcing the second scientist to start from scratch it ensures that these biases are minimized.

    There is a particular case where this doesn’t apply. Where the data has been collected from large scale observation programs – satellites, ocean buoys etc. Generally the data from these programs is all available from a range of locations. Occasionally there are restrictions on access to some aspects of it for various reasons but generally not. Most climate data sets are fully available.

    Importantly, these data holdings are primarily as the raw data. The most basic readings from the satellite for example. What are often claimed to be the data that scientists ‘wont release’ is actually the derived data, the results of the analysis applied to the raw data. The raw data is still all available. Consider the BEST surface Temperature projects. They went back to the raw station data, to data for over 50,000 additional stations not used by the other teams. How were they able to get all this data if ‘they won’t release their data’? Because it is (mostly) all publicly available. You can go back and read the log sheets from the stations if you want.

    So requests ‘for the data’ in this sense are attempts to circumvent the process of replication and ultimately break a fundamental rules that give science it’s strength. And at heart, they are just simple laziness. People who don’t actually want to do the work. Just ride on others coat-tails and try and gain some notoriety for themselves.

    Consider that at least a dozen different individuals and groups on the Internet have independently replicated the analyses of the surface temperature record. They didn’t need FOI requests or any such thing. They just downloaded the available raw data and went to work.

    Science isn’t democratic, it is meritocratic. The bar for entry into science is set quite high. You have to get over that bar to get in. This is one of the essential quality filters in science, ensuring that, as an endeavor, too much time isn’t wasted on processing output from people who aren’t good enough at it. If the bar is too low, no progress would ever be made as the more capable people would spend all their time continually showing the less capable what they are getting wrong.

    That isn’t to say that people are barred from attempting to get into science. There is no discrimination. Anyone is free to attempt to get over the bar. Just that you have to be pretty good to do so.

    All the claims of data being ‘hidden’ come from people who, in my opinion, are either lazy, arrogant or mischievous. If they were honest in their interest they would have done what others have done – obtained the raw data and replicated the results.

  8. Glenn Tamblyn says:

    Its true, those from other branches of science can most certainly understand climate science. In fact most people who work in Climate Science actually come from other branches of science. However, just as for any other person who wishes to switch fields in science, they need to put in the effort to get up to speed in a field before they start to be really competent.

    In any branch of science a researcher usually goes through 3 phases to become ‘qualified’. Undergraduate level training, which really is just teaching the basics. Masters/PhD which usually is demonstration of their ability to be competent investigators, then Post-Doc where as junior scientists they start to serve their real apprenticeship.

    It is during the Post-Doc years as a research assistant, etc that they learn most of what they know. The history of science that has gone before, what ideas people have looked at in the past, what worked, what didn’t and why. And the workload in doing this is substantial. Take the study of Sea Level, all facets of studying that. In the last 10 years there have been around 10,000 papers published in the field of sea level. A search on the Web of Science using the search term ‘climate’ will bring up over 100,000 papers over the last 20 years. That doesn’t count all the papers that don’t include the word ‘climate’ in their abstract.

    Climate Science also has a particular character to it. It is an integrative branch of science. It is brings together knowledge from many other diverse branches of science and integrates them together. It is not unique in this respect, other areas of science do the same thing. And these different branches of science often use quite different approaches in their work, driven by the character of the field being studied. Precise mathematical approaches vs probabilistic/statistical approaches for example.

    However this poses a particular challenge for anyone coming from other fields – their background can often leave them poorly prepared for assessing those parts of Climate Science that derive from fields that have a very different character to their own. Importantly, they may not recognize when they are making fundamentally faulty assumptions in their thinking. But, because they are established in their own fields, and may even have the standing needed to more easily get published and in effect don’t need to serve their apprenticeship.

    When a scientist moves from one field of science to another, they are effectively stepping back to the starting, Post-Doc stage. They need to serve a new apprenticeship. Their previous experience MAY short circuit some of this, but only maybe. And they need the humility to recognize that their past knowledge may not give them much of a leg up in this.

    So your comment ” I cannot see why a physicist or meteorologist outside the field would not be able to follow the studies. They possess the same basic qualifications.” Yes. But they have to work back through the body of the published literature to do so. It is a basic characteristic of published science that scientists write for their peers; those in their field with a similar depth of understanding of the field. Thus most published science presumes a sufficient depth of knowledge of the prior literature and does not rehash all prior work in every paper. Anyone coming to a new field without that prior knowledge is at risk of reaching faulty conclusions through lack of background knowledge.

    Many scientists have come from other fields into Climate Science successfully – in fact most of those working in Climate Science originated in other fields. But what most of these people do is move from their old field into those parts of Climate Science more akin to their own field. So an Astro-Physicist might move into Atmospheric Physics. They will be far less likely to be successful if they try to move into Ocean Chemistry.

    In contrast the small number of scientists from other fields who attempt to engage in broad critiques across all of Climate Science are far less successful. Economists trying to use Econometrics to look for correlations between CO2 emissions and surface temperatures for example. Or an engineer who critiques CO2 absorption by the oceans for example.

    I have never seen any criticism from a scientist from other fields made of climate science that has stood up to scrutiny, that hasn’t been shown to be quite flawed. And given the prevalence with which many such critics then quickly materialize on the public stage/blogosphere/media stating with great confidence that ‘their analysis’ shows that it is all rot, oh and by the way ‘we are being told that we need to destroy our way of life because of this rot’, I can’t help but conclude that many of these voices are driven by other motivations.

    The threat of Climate Change, and the changes we need to make to address it are disturbing, threatening and deeply distressing at many levels. Our sense of safety in life, challenges to our sense of meaning, accepting that our way of life may need to change significantly, that the way we live our lives may be actually be destructive, that philosophies and ideologies about what matters in life may need to be abandoned. That the ideas we have lived our lives by may have actually been harmful.

    Climate Change can be deeply disruptive to our sense of meaning. Perhaps far more so for some people than others. Resisting the implications of this would be basic human nature, particularly for someone whose whole career and working life may have been deeply invested in these ideas. It is very easy to imagine that some people, when confronted with the idea of AGW have a fundamental, and deeply emotional reaction to it: ‘That’s Preposterous!’. Then anything they seek to do afterwards simply becomes a rationalization (quite possibly unconscious) for that original emotional reaction.

    I am not suggesting all criticisms of AGW have that basis, but as long time observer of climate change skepticism, particularly as someone who is always listening for the emotional dimension behind the outward statements, my personal observation is that climate change skepticism has a deep, profound undercurrent of emotional reactions against the idea. Particularly anger, outrage, a sense of affront at the notion.

    One should always seek to consider issues in a rational manner, but equally we need to bear in mind that their are deep emotional dimensions to things as well and there is no person more easily misled by their emotions than someone who thinks their thinking is rational and not emotional. We are all emotional, even in a deepest rational moments.

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