Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Climate of Doubt" Attacks Skeptics

This essay criticizes the PBS Frontline Video "Climate of Doubt" that attacks "deniers" of AGW. Read my thoughts either on PDF by clicking here or on this blog by clicking "Read more" below.

         The 'Climate of Doubt' Assault On Those Who Would Question AGW

                                                  W.J. Holly, Ph.D.

The following was posted to all at MJC at about 6:00 PM, April 4, 2013, one hour before a public presentation of the PBS Frontline video entitled "Climate of Doubt" that attacks "deniers" of AGW:

                Jason W. is performing a valuable service for our community in providing a showing of "The Climate of Doubt."  It approaches a controversial topic, AGW (anthropogenic global warming), in a fashion that should be instructive to us all.  Viewing this film could be very educational.

                We should remember that we are in the business of offering what used to be called a "liberal education."  That of course does not mean indoctrinating students into parroting our own "liberal" views.  No. A liberal education is one in which both sides on a controversial topic represent their own side of the issue, give supporting arguments, and give arguments against the other side.   Our job as educators, especially when we are teaching "reasoning" classes, is to help students improve their skills at assessing whether arguments are valid, helping them to identify various fallacies, and generally helping them develop their own powers of judgment.  Having developed their thinking skills, and having had free access to all opposing viewpoints and arguments, they should be able to weigh opposing views and figure out for themselves which side has the better of it.  The idea is to teach our sister and fellow citizens to think for themselves, so that they do not have to rely on others to do their thinking for them.  That is the kind of citizen we need in this, our land of the free and the brave.

                The core of any "liberal" education is freedom of thought and expression.  The classic argument for intellectual liberty was given by that old arch-liberal, John Stuart Mill himself.  Mill does not argue that we have any natural right to freedom of thought and expression.  All he argues is that only in such an atmosphere of intellectual freedom can we have any reasonable expectation that we have arrived at the truth, nor can we expect human beings to develop their human excellences except in liberty. 

                Concerning the discovery of truth, he says first than none of us is infallible.  He thinks our only chance of getting things right is to live in a society where all are encouraged to do their best to figure things out on their own and where all are encouraged to voice their opinions, even their doubts, on any topic.  Only in such an environment of freedom can we expect citizens to develop their powers of critical judgment and reasoning, and only in such an environment can we feel confident that all relevant information was available (not censored through fear or intimidation).  It should be noted in passing that this argument for freedom of thought and expression applies to all endeavors to discover the truth, especially to science.  Science has been so remarkably successful in part because it does NOT appeal to authority -- it relies upon scientists making public their experiments and data with the understanding that all other scientists can question and see if they can replicate the claimed results.

                A subsidiary part of Mil's argument for freedom here also includes this:  Even if a view is largely false, it might indeed contain a small kernel of truth that we might find useful.  And, even if a view is completely false, that still is no reason to silence it, because people need to know and to critically examine the arguments on its behalf to know what is wrong with it, and to combat it if indeed it does someday surface.  Moreover, if a person thinks things that are false or even dangerous to society, shouldn't we want to know who those people are, and to engage them in debate so that we might correct their views?   Just telling people to shut up and believe what we tell them to believe will not make them believe as we do -- it will only make them hypocrites at best.

                Concerning the type of person that develops under tyranny, Mill says that human excellence thrives and develops only in freedom and its exercise.   Even if we could tell our students all things that are true, and if they memorized the correct answers we gave, I do not see how they could even believe what we told them without knowing the evidence that backs up the claims.    And, even if they were such fools that they could believe anything that they were told, they could not have knowledge without knowing the evidence and arguments on both sides of the question.  Worst of all, for Mill, is that such men and women would have no dignity.    Mill is a progressive.  He believes that people should develop their talents as much as possible, and they can do this only by freely exercising those talents.  Mill fully believes that, of all the works of man, surely none is more noble than man himself.

                While most arguments for freedom of thought and expression emphasize their necessity for acquiring truth, I think that one of the most important aspects of liberty is left out of this equation. What is left out is this:  For many people, the cruelest insult that can be made is to tell them that they are so stupid, evil, or corrupt that they have no right to think or say anything on their own.  This cancels out their entire worth as a human being.  Man is the rational animal, and to be told that one's thoughts are worthless is to have ones humanity cancelled out.  When told that you should just shut up and just parrot what society's appointed "experts" say, you have been erased.  When you are even forbidden to state what you take to be facts about the world in which you live, it arguably even takes away your world. The world you think you know is denied, and your right to verbally recognize your reality is a denial of your world.  Socrates found it unbearable to lie, to say the thing that is not.  Why is a betrayal of reality, being forced to affirm things you know to be false, such a killer of the soul?  Well, it just is. 

                So, how does Jason's film, The Climate of Doubt, fit in here?  Does it support the notion that ideas should be feely and openly debated?   It does not.  Does it even present and assess scientific evidence in favor of AGW?  Not at all.  Does it explain and give evidence or arguments against doubts that some people have about AGW?    Not at all.  What, then, does this film do?  It assumes the truth of AGW without argument, and sporadically throughout, it flatly begs the question with bald assertion like, "Climate change is real," etc.  The rest is a parade of the lowest form of fallacies.   It engages appeal to authority ("97% of Climate experts agree,"  and it makes claims of consensus); and of course, the rest is vicious personal attacks (ad hominem) against those who argue against AGW.  Fred Singer, for example, is attacked for his funding sources, and for supposedly using tactics used by big tobacco.  No evaluation of his scientific claims.  All AGW skeptics are marginalized and dismissed as "deniers" whose motivation is entirely political or personal gain, who have no interest in the truth, but who are only trying to confuse the debate by waging a "campaign of misinformation."  They make this scurrilous accusation without mentioning any particulars -- they name no names and do not mention any misinformation, so they do not need to back up any of this with evidence..  And, finally, they dismiss the Climate-gate scandal as stolen emails taken out of context, and claim that 9 independent investigations have cleared those scientists of any wrongdoing! In short, this film, lacking any evaluation of the scientific evidence whatsoever, is nothing but propaganda, pure and simple.  Its message to anyone who doubts their "Expert consensus" is to just shut up.  Anyone who doubts AGW is just too stupid, too evil, or too corrupt to merit serious consideration.  On the other hand, they seem to think the climate change Experts are indeed infallible, contrary to Mill, and cannot be questioned. 

                The speaker presenting the film seems to be cut of the same cloth, feeling justified in marginalizing anyone who dares to undermine the AGW consensus.  Check out his organization's website at, and click on the various references to "climate change deniers" to see their attitude toward them.  No respect.

                After all this, one might ask, so what if these people defend AGW with a parade of fallacies?  Does anyone have any serious evidence that they are wrong?  How can I seriously question the consensus of the climate experts when I am not a climate expert?

                The short answer is that people who have good arguments do not ordinarily resort to personal attacks and appeals to authority when there are better arguments.  Why would they only use their bad arguments if they had good ones?  We must infer that name-calling and name-dropping is the best that they can do if that is all they do.  Their strategy:  "If you cannot carry the argument with evidence, then intimidate your questioners into shutting the heck up."  In the second place, using these fallacious forms of argument (personal attack, etc.) poisons the atmosphere in which productive dialogue is possible.  And, politicizing science corrupts science.   Silencing doubt corrupts science.   

                As to the final question, we always are faced with the problem (even when serving on juries) when to trust people who claim to be experts.  And, some of the most prominent Climate science "Experts" like Michael Mann and Phil Jones are simply not honest brokers of the truth.  They withheld data and codes on which their research was based, and in the Climate-gate emails, they were even caught conspiring to delete information that had formally been requested under FOI acts.  The reliability of scientific claims is founded upon the ability of other scientists to replicate their work, which cannot be done if they refuse to share data and codes.  No person who has read the Climate-gate emails can see the exoneration by those committees as anything but a scandalous whitewash, unless they themselves are morally bankrupt.  I stand by that statement, and refer you to A.W. Montford's the Hockey Stick Illusion for more details. 

                Moreover, it would be ignorance to cite Michael Mann as a climate expert, since his so-called Hockey Stick has been thoroughly discredited.  I was scandalized a couple years ago when a visitor (Mr Griggs), speaking about climate change and rising oceans showed Mann's graph as though it were science.  I wrote to him that the Wegman committee had concluded that McIntyre's analysis of Mann was correct, that the blade on the stick was spurious, and that the graph had zero statistical reliability.  Grigg replied that I apparently did not understand the deference owed to the NAS if I were willing to take the word of Wegman over that of Gerald North's NAS committee that looked at Mann's graph.  I was amazed by the arrogance and ignorance of his attitude.  The fact of the matter is that, in public testimony, North testified that his committee concluded the same thing that Wegman had worked out in more detail, that he agreed with Wegman entirely; and, when asked about McIntyre's paper, North said it was a nice piece of work.  Wegman also said that the climate community in general was unsophisticated in its knowledge of the kind of statistics it was using. 

                But isn't Mann just one among many climate experts?  Well, yes, but he is one of the most prominent, and he and many other so-called experts were just peer-reviewing each other's papers and often using the same (secret) data and discredited methods; they also conspired to prevent the publication of papers that disagreed with their own, even to the point of getting editors fired for publishing what they called "contrarians."  And, this group of conspirators held many positions of power in producing the IPCC reports, so that it is again absurd to appeal to the conclusions of the IPCC, when it was largely controlled by these corrupt operators. 

                I might add that many of the appeals to consensus and to authority are just silly.  A couple years ago a colleague here was publishing a list of over a hundred organizations that had endorsed AGW.  Among the endorsees cited were the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense, as well as the American Association of Pediatricians.  What a hoot!  Are these Climate experts?  Of course not. (I think my colleague was doing this tongue-in-cheek, as a joke!)  Note as well that The Climate of Doubt video attacked Singer's Oregon petition that had 30,000 or so scientist cosigners because few of those scientists were climate experts.  Well, I am from Oregon, and we do not do science by vote, by consensus, or by mob rule.  But, nobody objected when Science Magazine a couple years ago published a letter signed by 255 NAS scientists criticizing anyone criticizing AGW.  But, from what I could tell, very few if any of that angry NAS crowd were climate experts.  And, finally, any expert worth his salt should be able to make the case for his views without telling us to just shut up and take his word for it because he is an expert.

                Finally something should be said about Natural Variability.  Scientists cannot plausibly blame any temperature increases on C02 until they can predict fluctuations due to natural variability.  The first thing I did when I wondered whether AGW was true was to read a couple books by geologists on ice ages.  There seems to be a huge variety of natural factors that contribute to climate change.  It seems likely that extra CO2 can cause some warming, but there have been vast changes in the climate in the (geologically) fairly recent past, resulting in the formation and melting of vast sheets of ice across our continent.  CO2 doesn't seem to have been a major player.   Al Gore, in his famous movie, showed a graph from one of the ice caps that showed a correlation between increased CO2 and increased temperatures during the interglacial periods.  He inferred a causal relation between the two, and saw this as evidence supporting AGW.  However, a subsequent study has shown that the rise in CO2 actually followed the rise in temperature, so that it could not have been that CO2 caused the temp rise.   Typically, the CO2 increase lagged behind temperature by 600 to 800 years.  In public testimony, Ralph Cicceron (past president of NAS and featured in our video) showed himself to be less than honest; he cited the Gore graph as showing a correlation between high temp and high Co2, insinuating that this was evidence for AGW.  But the congressman questioning him got Ralph to admit that the temp rise came first, so that it could not have been caused by the increase in Co2.  Ralph grudgingly admitted this but still wanted to insist that, still, there was a correlation.   ///  Another thing that can be learned from the past is that there have been many periods during the past 600 million years during which CO2 concentrations have been several times greater than what they are today.  One PNAS study found no correlation between high temp and high Co2 (see Rothman, PNAS 2002);  another found some correlation, but despite the fact that it estimated CO2 levels several times greater than today, the planet did not tip over into any catastrophic runaway temperature.

                Well, I have taken so long to write this that nobody will have time to read it before the talk.  Maybe afterwards, I hope.  If you would care to see a more detailed explanation of the flaws in appeals to expert authority, or to learn more about why the real climate-gate scandal is the failure of the scientific community to censure the actors, I have attached a copy of a paper I wrote on the topic a couple years ago.  It has references, many arguments, and even has a discussion of "group think" which you might get to witness first hand tonight.  Enjoy! 

                It is important of course to know whether or not catastrophic climate change is on its way, but we cannot know so long as scientists and their apologists are allowed to withhold data, to play the victim when they are caught in professional misbehavior, when they are allowed treat us to fallacy after fallacy and play the infallible, unquestionable expert.  These actions cause us to lose respect, not for science itself, but for those who pretend to be scientists when they are only paid apologists.  And, in the end, it is not good for science, for society, or for the flourishing of human excellence.  

                And, how will you know you have met one of these false pretenders?  You will know them by what they do.  They will resort to nasty personal attack sooner than later.  They just can't help themselves.  Watch for it.

                                                                W.J. Holly, Ph.D., Philosophy


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