Well, part of what I wanted to do with this blog is look at evidence, logic and cognitive errors. I ended up talking a lot about the Hugo Awards and that meant reading an awful lot of John C Wright. It turns out that John writes posts that are like mini-case studies for the non-SF/F wing of the blog. A newish summation to his post on global warming is here http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/07/a-question-about-the-global-warming-hoax/#comment-118249
I’m going to go through step by step because it is a gem. Here is the fist paragraph and the rest is after the fold.
The Left uses ‘Climate Science’ as the latest excuse for attacking Western civilization. It has been remarkably successful so far, since the Rightist desire for conservation and maintaining health and safety is the aim of the appeal. There is consensus of climate scientists who believe this malarkey: there are a group of loud Leftists, men like Al Gore, who repeat the claim that certain unidentified scientists support this claim, and there are shenanigans like attaching the names of scientists from other fields to UN resolutions or studies, or editing the report after legit climate scientists have signed off on it. The evidence is ambiguous.
OK this is not easy to parse and I think there maybe a typo (not a criticism – JCW makes far fewer typos then I do). So here JCW claims that the whole of climate science is an excuse for attacking Western civilization. He doesn’t quite say how but I presume that the audience is supposed to know. Given the general lack of action this seems to be an odd sort of attack but perhaps I’ve missed something.
Wright seems to be saying that there is a consensus of climate scientists and I suppose that makes sense with his claim about Climate Science being an excuse to attack Western civilization. However I wonder if we was intending to say there is ‘no consensus’ and that actually it is just ‘a group of loud leftists’. It is a bit hard to tell.
‘Certain unidentified scientists support this claim’ is a very odd thing to say. It isn’t hard to find lots of scientists who support the claim of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Indeed much of the science is even endorsed by scientists who express skepticism of the claim. I’ll pick out just one because he isn’t a ‘climate scientist’ per-se at least not until recently. Richard Muller is a physicist who headed up the Berkley Earth temperature record reconstruction project. You can read what he has to say here http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/the-conversion-of-a-climate-change-skeptic.html?_r=0
The last bit of the paragraph seems to be referring to one of the IPCC reports. http://www.ipcc.ch/ The IPCC is a body that writes summative reports on the state of climate science. It is a political body (both Margaret Thatcher and George Bush Sr played a role in it being established) and the reports are attempts to sum up a wide variety of viewpoints. There is horse trading and differences between early drafts and final versions – which would be damned suspicious if the early drafts were the SAME as the final versions but maybe that is just me.
The argument-ad-al-gore makes an appearance (Al Gore made a movie about climate change and he is a poo-poo head so climate change isn’t real – one of the classic forms of rhetoric). JCW then finishes that paragraph with ‘The evidence is ambiguous’. I don’t know if he means the evidence for shenanigans is UNambiguous or that the evidence for global warming IS ambiguous. I think he must have meant the first and it is a typo because he seems to be saying overall that the evidence for global warming is actively false rather than just ambiguous. I’m not sure.
It is a not a conspiracy. It is a shared worldview that condemns the West, and which looks for various accusations to throw against it. Global Cooling was what was used when I was young. Now it is Global Warming. And since the warming is not warming, they changed the name to Global Climate Change. Of course what they call climate change is what sane people outside the cult call ‘the weather.’
This alludes to this post he made recently here: http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/07/conspiracy-or-code-of-conduct/
Of course this theory is all a bit problematic because firstly it is itself evidence free and chooses to deal with the issue purely in terms of ideology thus exemplifying the very problem he is criticizing. Secondly, it fails to distinguish between which bits he thinks are evil self-deceived leftist lies and which bits are related facts. ‘Skeptic’ scientist like Dr Roy Spencer (http://www.drroyspencer.com/ ) actually agree with many points of science in the global warming hypothesis – Spencer (who is a conservative and an evangelical Christian) regards the weak point of global warming to be an overly high estimate of climate sensitivity (a measure of the impact of CO2 on global temperature) but accepts that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that temperatures have risen more-or-less since the 1980s at least. So is here part of this cultish mindset? If not does that mean THOSE bits of climate science he agrees with aren’t part of the cultish mindset?
Wright then throws out a line about the great global cooling myth. This is a legend that grows with every telling. In the 1970s there were some climate scientist who assuming low estimates for the impact of CO2 on temperatures thought that natural cycles could lead to global cooling. Some major news outlets picked up on this and ran stories about a possible near future ice-age. This is now taken by people like Wright as an example of some flighty change of mind rather than evidence that our scientific understanding THIRTY-FIVE years ago was not as advanced as it is now. In reality the mid-70s was a time when the global warming hypothesis was really taking hold and, ironically, it was the counter arguments used then that informed the so called ‘global cooling’ scare story AND some of the ‘skeptic’ claims by a small rump of scientists now. There is an American Meteorological Society report on the ‘myth’ here http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1
In the next two short sentences Wright acts like he is trying to win a game of climate change denial bingo.
First he hits the big lie that there was a name change from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ because things weren’t getting warmer. Except history says otherwise. ‘Climate change’ was being used as a major term back in 1988 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established. Climate change is right there in the peak international body reporting on the issue and has been for DECADES. What Wright doesn’t grasp is that the two terms mean related but different things. Global warming is the increase in atmospheric surface temperatures, whereas climate change refers to the more general knock on effects of that warming on a whole range of of climatic phenomenon. This is one of the key sources of confusion in the debate – we know for something very close to certainty that greenhouse gas emissions are causing temperatures to increase and will continue to do so. The full impact of that on the whole climate and on specific regional climates is much less certain. The denial industry likes to conflate the two – for example doubts about whether, say, global warming will lead to more or less tornadoes in the US is used to suggest that somehow there are doubts that things will get warmer globally.
He then introduces a confusion he’ll revist in the next paragraph: confusing weather with climate.
These people are frothing lunatic nutcases. They are fighting against the weather. They are trying to stop weather. They think the trivial, insignificant amount of CO2 produced by recent human activity is somehow responsible for everything, a claim so absurd it does not pass the giggle test. They are predicting the weather fifty to one hundred years ahead of time to a degree of precision of one degree of temperature, but somehow we cannot predict the weather tomorrow.
Climate v. weather to start with and into a sort of hubris argument. Taking action on climate change is not an attempt to stop the weather. The weather is local, short term events. Climate is the overall average and context of the weather. The climate of a region can be warm and dry and the weather can be cold and wet without there being any logical contradiction. I’ll come back to that distinction.
The next throwaway is the tiny amount of CO2 argument. This is very much an argument that the more respectable side of the anti-warmists avoid. Anybody trying to look scientifically credible and with a good working knowledge of the debate will avoid it. Small amounts of CO2 really do contribute significantly to atmospheric temperatures. This is true even if we put global warming aside. Tiny amounts of CO2 help the Earth’s overall greenhouse effect and that in turn stops all life on the planet freezing. ‘Skeptic’ Dr Roy Spencer has a primer on global warming here http://www.drroyspencer.com/global-warming-101/ and note that this is from a person on Wright’s side of the debate. Spencer things the net effect of CO2 will be small but, because he isn’t insane or ignorant, he knows it isn’t non-existent.
Wright then goes on to double down on the climate v weather error and attempts to claim that as we can’t predict the weather tomorrow very well then we can’t predict the climate in the future. Now predicting climate change is not easy or trivial but it is not the same as predicting the weather. This is a strangely difficult point to get over to people, particularly if they follow Wright’s style of reasoning.
Wright is assuming that if an event is hard to predict then the average of those events is hard to predict. That fallacy probably needs its own Reason Hell post but a simple example should demonstrate the flaw.
Toss a coin. Can you predict it will land heads or tails? Probably you can’t 🙂 You have 50-50 chance of guessing correctly. If we wanted to improve our ability to predict the coin toss it would require vast resources and calculations to track the path of the coin in the air and mirco-air-currents and a thousand other parameters.
Now toss a coin 100 times. Can you predict how many times it will land heads? This second situation is quite different. In fact we have a good idea that the number of heads is likely to be around 50 and we can even estimate the degree of likely error around that estimate. I just need a spreadsheet and the binomial distribution to draw a very nice histogram.
Now toss the coin 1000 times. All those hundred of unpredictable events are actually a lot more tractable in greater numbers. The broader scale at which we are looking at coin tosses is much more predictable than the smaller scale. This is why gambling is a mugs game for the punter but a safe way to make money for a casino.
Predict future changes in climate is not as simple as running a casino (and I doubt running a casino is simple) but it is not the same problem as predicting the weather. They are different but related problems.
Now looking back over my whole post, you can see the crazy genius of climate change denial. Wright packs in a bunch of short, dense shout-outs to half baked pieces of incoherent claims. To unpack each one and show why it actually runs counter to actual facts takes time. Arguing against each point in turn will be met with half-baked anecdotes and the usual leftist-all-lie style arguments. In addition ignorance is actively used as a weapon because terms, theories and even some basic mathematical concepts have to be addressed to even begin the counter-argument.