Skeptics -- Don't Be That Guy Who Gets Us All Tarred as Anti-Science

Alarmists have adopted the seemingly farcical but oddly effective technique of finding the most absurd skeptic argument they can, then beating the carp out of this straw man, and then claiming that this proves that all skeptics are anti-science.

Don't believe me?  Kevin Drum did it yesterday, bravely taking on a claim -- that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have not increased in the last century -- that I have never seen a skeptic make and I am pretty active in the community.  Having beaten up on this odd, outlier position, he then claims this tars everyone who does not agree with him

Nonetheless, there you have it. In the tea party precincts of the conservative movement, even the simplest version of reality doesn't matter. If cheese denial is how you demonstrate you're part of the tribe, then anyone who denies cheese is a hero. The fact that you happen to be happily munching away on a slice of pizza at the time doesn't faze you at all.

Awesome.  So by this logic, everything Kevin Drum says about the environment is wrong because some moron environmental activists signed a petition against dihydrogen monoxide in a Penn and Teller Bullshit! episode

So, as a public service, I wanted to link to Roy Spencer's list of 10 skeptic arguments that don't hold water.  There are quality scientific arguments against catastrophic man-made warming theory.  You don't need to rely on ones that are wrong.

I agree with all of these.  I will say that I used to believe a version of #5, but I have been convinced as to why it is wrong.  However, it is still true that CO2 has a diminishing return effect on warming such that each additional molecule has less effect on warming than the last.  That is why climate sensitivity is most often shown as degrees of warming per doubling of concentration of CO2, meaning 400-800 ppm has the same effect as 800-1600ppm.

Postscript:  Drum choose to lampoon a position that is such an outlier it did not even make Spencer's list.  Spencer assumes even the craziest skeptics accept that CO2 is increasing, such that the bad science he is refuting in #7 relates to the causes of that increase.


  1. rod:

    You mean someone might lump you into one category just as you do with the tea party.

  2. slocum:

    A laudable effort, but the strategy on team AGW is not to engage in rational debate with reasonable, informed critics -- instead, it is to tar all critics as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing 'deniers' and, thereby, to convince low-information voters to join team AGW just to avoid being thought of as 'one of those people'. So it's really unlikely that Drum, et al, are going to refrain from targeting dumbest possible critics and arguments. They don't want to admit that serious, informed criticism is even possible, so they're certainly not going to address it (and take the chance of giving their readers the 'wrong idea').

  3. mikehaseler:

    And don't get caught in the trap of believing that the "science" we skeptics endorse means anything like the same as the "science" these alarmists talk about. "Science" for the alarmist means one simple thing - the peer or should we say "buddy" reviewed work of people who call themselves "scientists", but who work doesn't match the standards we skeptics call "science" .... or as I call it now "skeptic science".

    What alarmists really mean by "science" is a social constructed boundary around what is little more than an "old boys club" whose members pick each other members by virtue of them submitting suitably alarmist work to be "buddy reviewed".

    When you understand that this group of people is all the alarmist mean by "science", then too right most skeptics are anti-science. In contrast most skeptics see "science" as meaning reasoning from the data using the scientific method. Whilst many people who are in the group that calls itself "science" do work to the standards of "skeptic science", by no means all do, yet they are still called "scientists".

    So, eventually, the whole issue boils down to something very simple: "WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO DEFINE WHAT IS MEANT BY SCIENCE?"

    Is it:
    a) a group of people who call themselves scientists, that governments call scientists, which the public calls scientists, who the the media calls scientists and who most skeptics call scientists to decide what constitutes "science".
    or ...

    b) For members of the public who don't like the "scientists" definition of "science" who most of them do not call themselves scientists or in any other way suggest they have any authority to define what science means.

    I hope the answer is obvious. We skeptics can't force [consensus] science to work to the standards we would like to force on them. That choice is theirs and theirs alone.

    What we can do however, is to describe what standard we would like them to work to. So set up very clearly what "skeptic science means". That I think means things like:
    - working from careful observation
    - testing hypothesis using the "scientific" method
    - free and fair discussion
    - rejecting theories when e.g. the climate doesn't warm.
    - etc.

    If we were to lay out what we mean by "skeptic science", this would make it clear that we are not anti [skeptic] science, but instead endorse a higher standard than [consensus] science. In other words, we don't want to see science done by committee, with votes being taken or opinion polls. Instead we want laboratory testing, hard data and cautious and carefully checked assertions.

    So we are pro-skeptic science. Nor indeed, does Science (as in consensus science) have absolutely no use. There will always be circumstances where we lack evidence, where we need experts use judgement rather than saying only what the available data can conclusively support - but that isn't skeptic science!

  4. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Drumm appies the correct argument to the wrong group. He criticises some guy for a bad argument and says this invalidates any who agree with him. But, who agees with him?

    On the other side, people claim status as "scientists" and work for prestigious institutions. They have many responsibilities, including to do high quality work, to disclose their data and methods, and to criticise other scientists who fail that standard or produce false predictions.

    The AGW alarmists have utterly failed their responsibilities. Michael Mann has refused to disclose his data and methods. He should be laughed at by his colleagues. Instead, they join in a consipiracy to hide his real work while publishing politically convenient results.

    The AGW alamists condemn their own results by working to quash criticism rather than make their work plainly visible. It is political action under the cover of "science".

    Catastrophic AGW is a government product by committee. It would be amazing if it were correct.

    Here is a real scientist describing real scientific standards.
    Cargo Cult Science
    1974 by Richard P. Feynman - Commencement speech at The California Institute of Technology

    === ===
    [edited]   Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can to explain them, if you know anything at all wrong or possibly wrong.

    If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.

    There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory, but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
    === ===

  5. FelineCannonball:

    He chose to lampoon someone paraded as a "scientist" on Brietbart, Red State, etc. and various other conservative sites. Actually, he seems to have made his way on to several network news broadcasts. It may have escaped your particular notice, but that's a particularly self-centered metric.

    It deserves to be lampooned. Just like any other bullshit artist who accidentally rises up to notice. In fact, as far as I can tell, that's exactly what you're doing.

  6. marque2:

    There are some claims to be made that CO2 has not risen as much as claimed. The current data vs 1900 data are from wildly different data sets. Also the figures for 1900'were cherry picked. It is quote possible that instead of 300ppm there was say 335 ppm and therefore the rise was not as swift.

  7. mesaeconoguy:

    Kevin Dumb usually finds the dumbest Krugman argument he can.

    Says a lot about Princeton.

  8. skhpcola:

    Given Warren's continued infatuation with Dumb, I can't tell if Warren is trolling Dumb or if Warren is trolling us by continually talking about the guy.

  9. joshv:

    The global average temperature is not a temperature in any sense a physicist would recognize. Sorry. It's more of a statistical temperature index. It's not useless, but you cannot point to it and claim that an increase in the temperature index, in and of itself, means anything. It's an increase in a statistical derivative of thousands of temperature measures. Does the increase mean your regional or local climate will get hotter? Nope. Does it mean that the total heat content of the Earth's biosphere has increased? Oddly, actually no it doesn't. Measures of global heat content would actually be physically meaningful, but such measures are in their infancy.

    The various statistical temperature indices are useful to the extent that they correlate with real world climate measurements. But it is only by demonstrating such correlations that one can justify using statistical temperature indices as a proxy.

  10. W. C. Taqiyya:

    I'm gonna be that guy who asks for proof. Because, if they can't prove it, I ain't buying it. Oh, and I guess just to keep myself happy, I will suggest that CO2 haters grow more trees. Trees love CO2, it's a scientific fact. Why, I'll bet if we planted lots of trees in tornado prone regions, it might help a bit. That's my theory and I'm sticking with it. They want to control the weather all over the globe, I just want to mitigate tornadoes. I win.

  11. stevewfromford:

    Is Mr Woodcock wrong? Is there "reproducible scientific evidence" of increased CO2? Likely he is correct and is being falsely maligned.