Writing a blog can be satisfying. But the downside is that there is less time to follow other blogs. I spent much less time on them since the creation of this blog. But sometimes I find something that I would never find before. One example is Eight Pseudoscientific Climate Claims Debunked by Real Scientists by Joshua Holland. Never heard of the Bill Moyers site, not likely to go back.
The author uses statements of scientists to give it more power. Those “real” scientists seem to be Kevin Trenberth, Ben Santer, Andrew Dessler, John Abraham and Katharine Hayhoe. Not really the most balanced ones in the debate, to say the least.
The pseudoscientific climate claim that interested me most was the claim “4. Yes, There Is a Scientific Consensus”. That was what I was looking for in the first place.
It starts rather predictable:
The most important thing to understand about the scientific consensus that human activities are causing the earth to warm is that it isn’t a result of peer pressure or someone policing scientists’ opinions. It results from the scientific method.
Having read a big part of the climategate emails and with the latest revelations of Lennart Bengtsson this is something I would take with some grains of salt. I also guess that I have a different definition of what is “the scientific method” than the author…
Then John Abrahams is quoted:
“Scientists are very interested in theories that other factors may be causing climate change,” says John Abraham. “The contrarians put forward ideas and the consensus scientists investigate them honestly and find that they don’t withstand scientific scrutiny. This happens all the time. That’s how science works. In fact, showing that these guys are wrong makes the science better.”
Now I get all soft and fussy. In the world of the unicorns those nice scientists reach out and take the ideas of the contrarians to investigate them in order to find the Truth. I can have it wrong, but in the real world I see a lot of name calling and ridiculing the skeptic arguments. Calling skeptics “deniers” or “contrarians” will probably not help. 😉
A scientific consensus emerges when the weight of evidence for a proposition becomes so great that serious researchers stop arguing about it among themselves. They then move on to study and debate other questions. There’s quite a bit of scientific debate about lots of different aspects of climate change, but the question of whether humans are causing the planet to warm isn’t one of them.
Now I start to recognize the controverse again … the science is clear … the evidence is unequivocal… I would have no real problem with that in an exact science, but in a field with sparse data, large uncertainties, that depend on many disciplines and that is politicized, I would find it rather unbelievable that researchers stop arguing about it. That humans are causing some warming is not really uncontroversial. The big question of course is “how much” and is it significant.
But then the ultimate argument:
There have been three studies, using different methodologies, that have shown that almost all working climate scientists – 97 percent – accept the consensus view.
The link goes, of all sites, to Skeptical Science. Nice of course that the three studies with different methodologies come to the same conclusion, but this doesn’t really prove anything. It is an opinion, a survey, not real evidence in the scientific sense of the word.
In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them. A survey of 928 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004).
The statement: “stopped arguing about what is causing climate change” is an interesting one. Really? In the complex and chaotic system that is climate, there are a gazillion possible causes, some maybe not even known, other with no or hardly any data, other put forward as THE main cause (probably for political reason, not scientific ones). But yet, no doubt anymore about the cause of climate change?!?!
The three studies were those from Oreskes (2004), Doran (2009) and Cook (2013). They all agreed that humans had some influence on temperatures. But not much more than that. None of them was really specific in what they were looking for. Such a consensus is rather meaningless. No wonder they found so many to agree. None of the three asked anything about the catastrophic nature or the need to act, as it is often marketed.
Science doesn’t advance via consensus (consensus is not a valid scientific argument). The fact alone that one needs the opinion of scientists, even if it are climate scientists, means that the underlying evidence is not solid. If it were, we would rely on the evidence. A survey of scientists is not proof of anything. Nor pro, nor contra. That is an opinion of scientists. When you think about it, there is a reason why we have to rely on the opinion of scientists and that is science doesn’t provide the hard evidence.
If I have the choice to call something pseudoscientific, I would choose this specific claim. It is a extremely nice example of the headcount fallacy and appeal to authority.
Consensus is about level of agreement, not about the amount of evidence. People agree about many things with each other. Not necessarily for good reasons.