As a realist and an ex-believer, if I learned something in the last eight years, it is a more nuanced story than how it is brought, which is not picked up by believers. They view skeptics/realists as people that stubbornly reject “the science” and act as a brake for progress.
Been there, done that.
However, when I looked deeper into the matter, I realized that it is a much more nuanced story and context is very important.
I came across a very recent paper The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism by Lewandowsky, Cook and Lloyd. The authors of this paper seemed to completely neglect nuances and avoids giving any context. More, they seem to have elevated misrepresenting the arguments of skeptics to a true art form. It is the most elaborate form of straw man reasoning that I even saw (or probably will see).
On the bright side, I think this paper is a good basis for explaining the arguments of the skeptics and show how they are misrepresented. Most, if not all, will be presented in this paper.
This post will be about the abstract of this paper and how skeptics are (misre)presented there (attention for skeptics with a high blood pressure: it is even worse in the paper itself).
This is the part of the abstract that immediately caught my attention (my emphasis):
Instead, we suggest that people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge) oppose whatever inconvenient finding they are confronting in piece-meal fashion, rather than systematically, and without considering the implications of this rejection to the rest of the relevant scientific theory and findings. Hence, claims that the globe “is cooling” can coexist with claims that the “observed warming is natural” and that “the human influence does not matter because warming is good for us.”
As far as I know, most skeptics AGREE that the greenhouse gas effect exists and human emissions can have an influence on that. There is however a very small group that reject the greenhouse effect
, but as far as I know these are not taken seriously (removed because it is subjective, difficult to quantify anyway and due to my own biases, see comments).
Unless the authors are talking about that very tiny group (which I don’t think is the case, looking at previous papers of Lewandowsky and Cook), they misrepresent the views of skeptics. It is a matter of nuance and nuance is completely missing in this paper.
From my own experience, skeptics DON’T REJECT that:
- the Earth’s climate is changing (on the contrary!)
- the greenhouse effect exists
- temperatures are now higher than at the start of the measurements
- human emissions add greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere
- this extra emissions can result in a higher temperature.
- there are risks involved in higher temperatures
They QUESTION the:
- proposed strength of that effect (how much warming will there be with this human emissions addition)
- certainty in which the consequences of the effect are proclaimed
- the notion that this warming will be necessarily bad/catastrophic
- that we can be certain that warming will lead to catastrophes
- that the consensus position is that warming will lead to catastrophic events (this has not investigated in papers that quantified the consensus and even if it would, it will be an opinion, not an established fact)
The example used in this abstract also lacks nuance. When skeptics talk about a natural warming, they talk about the temperature increase from around 1850. The current temperatures are higher than those measured back then and they think it is (mostly) natural (recovery from the Little Ice Age, later combined with some human influences).
When they talk about “cooling”, they are talking about the last, say 18 years, when there was no warming and maybe even a very slight downward trend in the satellite record (which should be our most accurate tool to measure GLOBAL temperatures, but only started at the end of the 1970s).
So they are not talking about the same time frame, yet this is completely neglected by the authors. The incoherence doesn’t come from the skeptics, but from the translation of the skeptic views by the authors.
The view that warming is good doesn’t contradict this either. There is no contradiction between the three views that:
- the temperatures are now higher than at the start of the measurements in the 19th century
- during the last 18 years or so there wasn’t much warming/maybe even slight cooling in the satellite records
- this (past, current or future) warming may be good for us (or more correctly: “better than cooling”).
The contradiction is brought in by the authors themselves by rambling together statements over different time frames, making it sound as if they have conflicting views. Therefor I don’t think that this still hold for most of the skeptics:
Coherence between these mutually contradictory opinions can only be achieved at a highly abstract level, namely that “something must be wrong” with the scientific evidence in order to justify a political position against climate change mitigation.
That mechanism may or may not be right, but there is no conflicting views by skeptics, at least not according to the example given, only the ones that were created by the authors themselves. I think it is their translation of the skeptic’s view that is not coherent.
Here we have a paper in which the bias of the authors shines through. The subject of the paper is not the incoherent view of the skeptics, but the incoherent view of the authors on the skeptics. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
The good thing is that it are the authors that are in Wonderland, not the skeptics who they so wonderfully misrepresented.