As the science spirals…..

Once upon a time, there was a group of scientists who discovered what they believed to be a warming of the planet, caused by humans burning fossil fuels.  This elite group of scientists spent years studying the subject, had very advanced degrees and numerous published papers.  They were the best of the best–the supreme and infallible authorities on climate change and how humans were destroying the only planet they had.

Then came the skeptics.  Those pesky people asking uncomfortable questions about the science. How dare they????  These were Authorities–one does not question authorities.  Yet skeptics did and the skeptics refused to back down and go away.

The climate scientists supporters started simply saying that NO ONE who did not have a degree in or has worked for years in climate science and published beaucoup papers was a valid authority. This would eliminate most of the skeptics and the others would not amount to a threat.  And for a while, that seemed to work.  People knew the difference between “real science” and those pesky wannabes out there questioning climate change.

All was not well in the kingdom, however.  The skeptics kept hitting on plateauing temperatures.  The climate scientists started using words like “stalling” and assuring everyone the warming would pick up again.  Some went so far as to say nature might temporarily be overwhelming what we humans were adding, though that would not continue indefinitely.

The biggest change, however, was the newly defined “authority” or perhaps “who is okay to listen to” would be a better term.  It began with a psychologist writing a paper about conspiracy theories and skeptics (which is totally irrelevant to the science and basically name-calling) which did apparently finally get published somewhere.  This allowed into the arena “social science” in place of the “hard science” of the past.  No longer did climate change scientists care if it was getting warmer, only how to make people believe it was.  Then there was the graduate student who created a new hockey stick–in his doctoral thesis.  He was hailed as vindication for Mann.  He had no “years of experience” .  His degree was not climate science.  After that, a blogger became the new hero.  This was for his “citizen” science–an internet survey to prove 97% consensus on authorities believing in climate change.  (Is it not interesting that the 97% number remains constant over years and years and whatever the approach to measuring consensus?  Almost unheard of in the world of surveys and polling, yet there it is, over and over and over.)  This blogger that clearly indicated he “was not a scientist” (thought he does have a degree in physics).  This blogger that now is associated with a university in Australia.  His qualifications seem to be “well-known” so people recognize his name and appears to agree with everything climate change tells him.  His “research” was an internet survey.

In the last couple of years, climate science has gone from “expert with advanced degree and years of experience and peer-reviewed journals” to “any guy who agrees with us and we can use to further our cause using internet surveys or whatever it takes”.  This is good news for skeptics.  No longer can the climate change advocates claim that skeptics are not “qualified”.  Many, many skeptics have degrees in science, some write blogs.  Of course they don’t agree with the climate change science, but that is the only qualification they lack.  Since it’s science we are talking about , that agreement is actually considered “unscientific”.  After all, Darwin and Einstein didn’t poll scientists to get consensus before presenting their theories. Nor did they take consensus polls after presenting the theory.  Scientists who disagreed with Einstein were not vilified (probably not so Darwin, but that, like climate change, had more to do with science eliminating God and replacing Him with science).  Only religion forbids disagreement.  So the “agreement” qualification is moot.  Virtually everything advocates objected to in skeptics has become part of the advocate side now.  No years of experience, writing on things outside climate science if they sell your cause, and blogging as a gateway to becoming a bona fide climate science researcher.

When climate change advocates start claiming lack of experience or lack of degree disqualifies skeptics, just say “Lewandowski”, “Marcott” and “Cook”.  When the discussion of the current “pause” in warming comes up, just say “nature overwhelming manmade”.  It seems climate science has become that which they criticized.  Desperate measures for desperate times, I think.

Examining science, part 1

We will be starting with definitions and other such things so hopefully the discussion will progress more smoothly if we are all using the same terminology. Please feel free to comment and let me know if the definitions are not clear.

Climate change: The theory that humans are contributing to changes in the climate through CO2 and feedback mechanisms. The theory is generally associated with James Hansen and the IPCC

Natural climate change: The variations in the climate that have always existed, with or without human CO2 contributions

The following terms refer to changes due to human activity, mostly CO2. If I am referring to these phenomena as part of a natural cycle, I will use the modifier “natural”
Sea level rise
Glaciers melting
Extinctions
Temperatures rising
Coral reefs dying
Ocean acidification

Settled science: I have been told these two points are settled: 1. CO2 raises temperatures and 2. Humans are causing global temperatures to rise due to the CO2 put into the air.
I accept that CO2 raises temperatures and that humans contribute to this phenomena. I do not accept that this means a catastrophic rise in global temperatures will follow and do not consider this settled.

To be clear, I do believe the temperatures rise, glaciers melt, coral reefs die, but I do not find the evidence that human beings are the main cause of this, nor is there cause for alarm. This series covers the reasons why.

Logical Fallacies:
I am including a section on logical fallacies to pre-empt (hopefully) the use of these arguments. Such arguments, if presented, will be dismissed immediately.

A. Ad Hominem—name calling, personal insults and attacking the speaker
Example: You are so stupid. You know nothing. My dog is smarter than you (unless you can prove your dog is smarter than me.) Flat-earther. You know nothing about science.

B. Poisoning the well: using one belief a person has in an unrelated area to dismiss everything the speaker says
Example: You cannot believe John’s work on paleoclimatology because he believes there is a conspiracy surrounding 9/11. His beliefs on political conspiracies does not mean his work on climate is suspect. This is a common fallacy thrown at both climate change advocates and questioners.

C. Argument from authority. As a deductive argument, it is always a fallacy. There is currently an informal use that an appropriate authority is acceptable for common usage. My belief remains that “argument from authority” is a fallacy, even where the authority is an expert. One may use the authority as a guideline, but that is all. Authority is not the definitive proof of a scientific theory, the data and methodology are.

D. Straw Man: Using a larger, more outrageous belief or idea to impugn someone’s beliefs
Example: Skeptics question climate science. Therefore, skeptics refuse to believe science.
Using the broader statement is designed make the disagreement irrational.
These arguments are often used in conjunction with ad hominem attacks.

E. Argument from persecution: This fallacy most often shows up in religious arguments, but Michael Mann seems to have found it worth a try:

Attacks (i.e. persecution) do not prove you are right. In fact, if we follow that logic, skeptics are attacked too, so this proves two mutually exclusive ideas (AGW and lack of AGW).

screen-shot-2013-03-21-at-9-13-53-am

 

While not a fallacy (at least not as it generally stated) there is the “follow the money” argument. While it is always prudent to check out all sides of a debate, including who paid for it, it is NOT automatically proof that the speaker lacks a valid argument. This is very popular for dismissing anyone who questions climate science, and I have seen it applied by skeptics. (Advocates say oil money, questioners say government money. However, I have seen oil companies pay for research into wind energy storage, so the money is not always an indicator.)

Correlation:
Correlation does not prove causality, but causality does require correlation.

Proving a negative:
One cannot prove negatives such as “Prove ghosts do not exist” or “Prove there are no unicorns”. However, finding a ghost or unicorn proves the statement false.

One can indirectly prove a negative such as: I am housebound so I did not steal the car. In this case, one proves the premise (that I am housebound) and the conclusion follows (I did not steal the car).

I include this because I am often confronted with a misunderstanding of how scientific methodology works. A scientist presents an hypothesis, the data to support it and then awaits comments and questions. It is the responsibility of the scientist to answer these questions. It is not his responsibility to point out possible errors or alternative theories. Demands to prove that humans are not the cause of climate change are asking one to prove a negative. The only thing science can do is show one theory, humans or nature, has the higher probability. That is how science works. If sun activity shows higher correlation to temperature increases than does CO2, the CO2 is a less likely cause. Remember, causality requires correlation. The item with the lower correlation is less likely to be the cause.

Climate science presents some unique problems. Much, if not most, of climate science is based on mathematics. Actual readings of temperatures, sea level, etc are used, but subjected to a great deal of statistical manipulation before a conclusion is reached. This makes it much more difficult to understand than say, gravity. Gravity is a physical phenomena that is clearly demonstrable. Climate change is not. We have limited data, various models and a system so complex a super computer is required to run the data. All of which can introduce error and serial error. While climate science likes to say it is “certain”, it is anything but certain. The only result one can produce is a probability coefficient or a confidence interval. These may be as high as 95%. They may be much lower. Results can fall outside the interval and the theory still be true, but not over and over again. It’s so much more difficult than dropping a hammer.

I will cover these items in more detail in future postings.

(Comments and ideas are welcome if presented in a polite, respectful tone.  This is science.)

How does a person decide what is good science?

In the comments section, there is a continuing demand for peer-reviewed articles to “prove” claims (some of which are not actual science claims, but rather reasoning and logic). Rather than continuing to answer in the comments section, I have decided to write a series of posts on how one can evaluate scientific claims. The criteria is not related to “peer-reviewed journal articles written” or other methods generally used by the climate change advocates.

Please be patient. There are other projects I have to complete, so the series may take a bit to produce.

Argument from Authority

Much of the power of the CAGW position relies on argument from appropriate authority.

As of 1978, the word appropriate was not in the term.  Appropriate was added in the hopes of making a logical fallacy valid.  I have searched but cannot find where the change originated.  Since most frequently I see the term used when discussing CAGW, I suspect that may be the origin of the change.

What does the insertion of “appropriate” do for science or any other discipline (Carl Sagan said there were no authorities in science)  CAGW is supposed to be so complex only a climate scientist could understand it.  A condescending remark at best.  Basic science is understood by many.  Poor experimental design, name-calling, bullying–many people recognize this as not science.

For now, I will ignore the truth/falsity of the claim and go with the idea that there is an appropriate authority.  What is a climate scientist?  Consider the following scientists, based on actual scientists out there today:

Scientist A     PhD in physics and geology               Scientist H     PhD  in paleontology

Scientist B     PhD in atmospheric science            Scientist I     PhD in meteorology

Scientist C     PhD in meteorology                       Scientist J   PhD in environmental science

Scientist D    PhD in meteorology                       Scientist K      PhD in Ecology/Climatology

Scientist E     PhD in physics                                 Scientist L      PhD in applied mathematics

Scientist F     PhD in meteorology                            Scientist M     PhD in physics

Scientist G     PhD in theoretical physics

Which of these are climate science experts?  Which are climate scientists?  One could inquire about their GPA, the subject and content of their master’s and doctoral thesis in an effort to find the most qualified in their field.  The best and the brightest should be the appropriate authority, right?

That was not the choice of CAGW followers.  The criteria chosen was how many peer-reviewed articles each scientist had published.

First question:  How does writing a paper indicate who is brilliant and who is not?

Second question:  Who determines which journals qualify as peer-reviewed?  (Hint–it’s the same people who benefit from the classification of said journals.)

So the definition of the authority is independent of degree, schooling, thesis subject, and so forth.  It depends entirely on how many articles are published in approved journals.

I cannot find any justification for defining an expert as someone who can get a small number of peers to give his paper a thumbs up.  The small number of papers published versus papers written would also indicate a great deal of luck in getting the paper published.  Name recognition probably helps.  In addition, there are a lot of papers that are quite good that will never see the anointed status of “peer-reviewed” even though they were excellent papers with no errors in them.  Unless someone can empirically prove that publishing papers makes you smarter, faster and cooler than the guys with the exact same degree and education, this is not proof of expertise.  It’s an arbitrary definition that allows CAGW to choose whom they want to call authorities and control the story line.  One would also need to explain why a PhD in physics supporting CAGW with publishing in peer-reviewed journals makes you a superstar while the same degree means nothing if you disagree with the CAGW and are not published.  The education is the same–the knowledge of math, computer modeling, and so forth should be easily understood by the unpublished physicist.

The argument from appropriate authority is just an attempt to convince people that a logical fallacy can be altered to produce a desired outcome. Cleverly adding words to a logical fallacy does not make it any less a fallacy.  It’s still argument from authority and it’s still invalid.

One response I have seen to the authority question is concerning doctors.  You don’t go to a cardiologist for dentistry and vice-versa.  You don’t go to a cardiologist for treatment of dental problems, but cardiologists can and do recommend trips to the dentist.  Dentists and hygienists are trained to look for signs of heart disease and diabetes, mouth cancer, etc.  They don’t treat the problems but they can recognize the need for someone trained in another field to take a look.  One would hope if a patient went to a cardiologist on the recommendation of their dentist, the cardiologist would not tell them the dentist is overstepping his bounds and send them home.

Also, specialists in medicine look for what they are trained in.  Go to a infectious disease specialist for treatment of thrush and you may end up with months on an anti-fungal medicine because the thrush won’t heal.  The thrush was diagnosed, so the treatment is applied and applied.  Give up, try a periodontist and an otolaryngologist and it turns out the problem is an auto-immune disorder.  Had you gone with the specialist because he was the “authority” and stubbornly stuck with him, how long would a correct diagnoses have taken?  Would it ever have occurred?  Narrow fields of study may prevent a scientist from seeing anything outside their fields.  It may well be the answer lies outside their field–and dismissing anyone outside the field as “not an appropriate authority” is destroying any chance of the truth being found.  That’s why there are no authorities in science, only data.

The  latest in peer-review:   Flatulence on airplanes: just let it go  (Abstract only–paper is pay-walled)

http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/abstract.php?id=5532