Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If your arguments are sounds then why not?

I expect by posting this, with the title I've given it, that some will think it makes me a climate change denier. However, the way I see it, if someone is convinced of their argument they should not feel the need to refuse to debate something with someone. The following is a response to Iain Dale from a high up person at Greenpeace.

For me it exemplifies the problem with the environmental lobby these days. It is the policisation of science pure and simple. Science is not about proven realities, it's about testing hypotheses. Refusing to engage with someone who questions those hypotheses is, putting it simple, wrong.
We have a policy at Greenpeace that we no longer debate people who dont accept the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. Its similar to the policy undertaken by cancer specialists who used to debate the tobacco industry but discontinued doing so. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, if we debated Dominic Lawson on climate change it would look great on his CV, not so good on ours.

I would make clear that that doesnt mean I dont think there should be freedom of speech for people with DLs view, there should be. He is welcome to write about it and speak on it all he wishes, even though I disagree. But by debating him and his fellow-travelers we perpetuate the myth that this is a he said/she said issue, a 50/50 where there is still a debate.

Id debate Bjorn Lomborg, who accepts the science but disagrees vehemently on the need to take action on climate change. But not Dominic Lawson.
They actually do themselves no favours I think.


BrotherWolf said...

This is a nonsense post about a person wishing to score points in a ridiculous exercise of self-promotion.

Dominic Lawson has expressed views that climate change is affected by greenhouse gas emissions but that these are a result of increased solar radiation. This is a theory which has been proven to be using incomplete data on the many occasions and different forms it has been submitted as a scientific journal.

Climate change is too serious an issue to get wrong. Yes, debate should be held as to whether we are getting it right, however it should be held in the right way. There is no point in holding a media debate on the issues between an environmental organisation and a journalist (who believes the opposite) as this just muddies the waters. What you need is debate between scientists who may actually have a grasp of what's going on.

But wait! We've had that!

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed as a collection of the Worlds climate scientists to engage in meaningful and constructive discussion regarding the science of climate change. They have take into consideration the entire known spectra of information on the topic and deduce results in a meaningful way.

What they have concluded, to-date, is the overwhelmingly corroborating evidence for man-made impact on climate change.

I guess that's not sexy enough for the media though, and probably far too depressing to deal with as people may have to change their lifestyles - which no one likes to hear.

It would be nice if, now that a reputed body of many scientists have reached consensus, the journalists could help spread this information and help focus people on trying to avert planetary Armageddon in manageable steps.

If Dominic Lawson really has something to contribute to the debate on Climate Change perhaps he should submit it to the IPCC where it will duly get evaluated rather than abusing his position in the public eye.

Journalists are there to report news not make it.

I believe George Monbiot's comments on Channel 4's Great Global Warming Swindle programme summed up the situation succinctly:

So now the whole weary business of pointing out that the evidence against man-made climate change is sparse and unable to withstand critical scrutiny while the evidence in favour is overwhelming and repeatedly confirmed must begin all over again. How often do scientists have to remind the media that a handful of cherry-picked studies does not amount to the refutation of an entire discipline?......

Do you still think Greenpeace's position on this request for debate is wrong? Or perhaps they, and other environment groups, should get on with pressuring the governments of the World into dealing with the issues before we sleepwalk ourselves to the point of no return.

dizzy said...

Science is not about consensus. I do wish people would stop using that word. Consensus is something politicains acheive, scientists do not. Science is not about getting a group of scientists toghether and them all arguing until they agree on a single stated position. That is bad science, actually, it's not even science.

At it's very core it is an ad populum argument and is based on flawed reasoning. There used to be a conensus many year ago by all the really clever people that the world was flat. It did not make them right.

Incindetally, I'm not saying that they are wrong, I'm saying that your reasoning for stating that they are right is wrong.

Science does not deal with proofs, it deals with the failure to disprove things. The more times you fail to disprove something by testing opposing hyptoheses the stronger your case become but it is not proven. Otherwise you end up with induction, along the lines of observing the sun rise each day and claiming that it will tomorrow, even though it might not.

BrotherWolf said...

Sorry, I should have said "reached an overwhelming consensus". They'd already reached a consensus. No, science is not a consensus. But that's not what I said. I said scientists have reached a consensus. I for one trust the consensus of scientists who study climate change rather than a journalist who thinks he should be news.

The consensus the IPCC reached was an attempt to clarify the current known knowledge on the subject of climate change and provide a coherent opinion that cannot be selectively dipped into by people like Dominic Lawson or corporations with vested interests like Exxon Mobil in an attempt to prove a point they desire to make.

With the corporations manipulating data for their own ends and the media lapping up the confusion, governments have been getting a lot of bullshit (and in some cases cash) that they shouldn't base any decisions on. So whilst this consensus may not reflecting all scientific views it represents the vast majority of currently valid information and allows governments to act upon it without having to have to be scientists themselves. That's if they chose to act.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) haven't just released one report and said "there you go". They re-evaluate when new science emerges. It is not their job to prove a particular outcome, nor to prove what they previously reported, but to state what the current scientific evidence does or doesn't point to.

To pick up your analogy, current scientific consensus states that the world is roughly spherical - which, incidentally you state as a scientific fact that can't be wrong. Maybe 11th dimensional physics will prove it to be flat, but I wouldn't bet the Earth on that happening.

Perhaps we might just work on the principle that we are causing accelerated climate change and make changes to our lifestyles and to those companies around which our lives revolve. If climate scientists turn around in five/ten years time and say "oops we may have miscalculated a teeny bit. Sorry about that, no need to be so green anymore." I can imagine the worst that'll have happened is that our environment might be a little clearer of pollutants and we might use energy more efficiently. We may even still have rainforests.

If we make like an ostrich then five/ten years down the line those scientists could turn round and say "Now, matters are worse."

Bishop Hill said...

Also, because the IPCC is preventing people from seeing the reviewers comments on its draft report, we have no way of making our own assessment of how solid the alleged "consensus" actually is.

There is plenty of evidence of cherry picking of data, refusal to release data, and shoddy data collection.

I think the credibility of the IPCC has been tainted by its refusal to address these issues. They need to be addressed by anyone who is interested in science, rather than "consensus".

verity said...

I don't know what the IIPC is, but if it is so up its own arse that it is known to the world only by its initials, I already know it is full of poseurs and people who like being interviewed on TV.

Brother Wolf (you just know, with a name like that, he holds universal truths in that doggy head) writes: "If we make like an ostrich then five/ten years down the line those scientists could turn round and say "Now, matters are worse."

No. In 10 years, the caravanserai will long have moved on and "global warming" will be so much a thing of the past that it will almost be time to start pencilling in "global cooling" again. (We haven't had "global cooling" since the '80s!)

Bishop Hill said...

"With the corporations manipulating data for their own ends..

Corporations manipulating data for their own ends? What about the climate scientists?

mister scruff said...

i find the shutting down of debate to be deeply troubling. it infers that the political classes are NOT getting the full picture and are thus making bad decisions.

if MMGW is such a big problem as the politicians and greens say it is , where is the "Apollo" project to develop an alternative to the internal combustion engine? where are the thousands of scientists, the enormous campus, the nasa sized effort to do such a thing?

and then thing is, the Greens arent even pushing for that. they'd rather control our lives and tax us like crazy, which reveals a lot about the pseudo-fascist anti-capitalist and anti-freedom attributes of the green agenda.

i thought we'd got rid of the communists - we haven't. they've just resurfaced as the "green" agenda.

flashgordonnz said...

Brotherwolf: the IPCC is not made up of climate scientists. It is made up of many different types of people. The recognised climate scientists are only a small number. The others include representatives of NGOs and governments. In other words, non-scientists.

And since when has CO2 been a pollutant? Stop breathing, brotherwolf!

I've only ever heard climate scientists rejecting the idea of man-man climate change. Funny that.

Athos said...

The underlying problem seems to me to be the perception that the debate is past.

You see: our club got together, talked about it and reached a conclusion (our conclusion), which is therefore undeniably fact. So there's no point talking to anyone who believes differently because the arguments have already been had (by us) and our view won irrefutably.
This allows for so much more populist zealotry: I don't know how it works, but those guys over there assure me that you're only arguing that because you have an agenda to profit from convincing us of the alternative. This makes you irrefutably evil because you put your own profit in front of our irrefutable truth (that I believe because the man behind me told me so).
And because you're not only proven irrefutably wrong, but also evil, I am fully justified in ignoring your arguments and attacking you personally.

I follow the logic, but its backed by such a degree of arrogance (I know the one real truth!) or such blind faith (our savior knows the one real truth!) that I really can't see a way to break it.
I hope someone can.

The Tin Drummer said...

There is no point in holding a media debate on the issues between an environmental organisation and a journalist (who believes the opposite) as this just muddies the waters.

Excellent: debates should only take place between people who agree with each other! People who disagree should be ignored because it muddies the waters!
I wish all politics were like this. We could save so much time...

Guido Faux said...


I assume you brushed up on the Problem of Induction when you made that comment.

I liked Peter Singer's counter to Karl Popper:

The proposition of something having being falsified is in and of itself a scientific theory subjected to validation by induction which is problematic in that the propostition of falsification itself, logically speaking, will not necessarily always be true under the same circumstances.

i.e. "It's my word against yours - let's take it outside ya bas"

JuliaM said...

"..people may have to change their lifestyles.."

Hmm, which people, brother lupus? The frequent fliers George Monbiot & Sheryl Crow? The massively domiciled Mr Al Gore?

Somehow, I just don't think so...

BrotherWolf said...

I'll try and respond to everyone, except Verity whose name indicates they must be right and who could only muster a troll with misspelt acronyms.

My bad... the IPCC is made up of more than just climate scientists. But it is mostly composed of scientists - or science policy types. The rendering of the big assessment reports is a political process, which is lead by Governments. There are some NGO scientists who are authors of reports but they are peer reviewed like all submitters.

CO2 being a pollutant - I think you might have paid too much attention to an Exxon Mobil advert suggesting CO2 was our friend. Yes, CO2 is vital for life, but too much will end life as we know it. If you accept that climate change is accelerated by our producing CO2 is it unfair to label it a pollutant? It's all contextual which seems to be lost in sound bites.

Bishop Hill:
I'm not really sure what you're trying to say with your post. Are you suggesting that the original data passed peer review? Or that the criticism has been peer-reviewed. Or that the scientists in question removed obviously false data from broken machinery? ClimateAudit.org and RealClimate.org appear to have a disagreement with the former set up because of it. Without knowing which one was touting what and for what reasons I wouldn't be able to agree or disagree with ClimateAudit's view. It has to be stated though that they are both only blogs and not peer-reviewed data.

The Tin Drummer:
If you read my post I was suggesting that the debate should be between people who specialise the science of the subject. If the journalist in question feels he has a valid argument to the contrary of scientific opinion why is he not trying to pick it up with the scientists? Not all the scientists agree that man-made climate change is a reality and they have submitted papers to that point. The IPCC takes their views into consideration along with those of the opposite view.

I hardly see the debate as over. The IPCC will release future findings in the future which will be based on the consensus at that time. I think I've already said this though. I would expect our understanding of the mechanisms of climate change to evolve. I doubt very much that man-made climate change will be disproved but I'll leave that up to the experts.
With man-made climate change we can affect it so there is at least some cause for hope, even if it might be wishful thinking we'll deal with it in time.

mister scruff:
The climate change "Apollo Project" is not there because there has been decades of debates over the issue of whether man-made Climate change exists. The climate change "Apollo Project" requires cooperation across the entire human population not simply a case of US Democracy versus the soviet commies.
You also state capitalism and freedom being stomped on by the green movement. I don't think this is a thread for debate on capitalism but surely freedom should be freedom for all? If you accept the current consensus is that man-made climate change is a reality, and that a multitude of natural disasters are the result, then surely the freedom of those few who bring it around should be questioned?

My original intention was to defend Ben Stewart a bit (Head of the media team at Greenpeace UK). The response he gave to Iain Dale makes sense to me (link at top of page). Scientists do debate it because it's more complex than just how much CO2 is in the atmosphere. They also debate whether their reports are right or wrong. They have produced a consensus on all their findings and will continue to do so.

If you feel left out maybe you should start by learning about climate change and then debate with other scientists, rather than debating whether the scientists who do know about it are right or wrong.
A 30 minute (or however long) programme, as touted by Iain dale, is not going to even cut the surface of issue and only leave the public confused.

The Tin Drummer said...

between people who specialise the science of the subject.

Fine. So in that case, why do Greenpeace, who are not neutral, and most of whose members are not climatologists, get to debate freely without your condemnation, while their opponents should shut up and leave the debate to the specialists? Do you think Monbiot should shut his gob as well, or is it ok for him as a non climatologist to debate and pontificate?

The way science reaches the mainstream is usually through the writings, debate and interaction of people who are not front line researchers themselves, ie print hacks, tv reporters and science writers. It is perfectly fair enough for Dominic Lawson to request a debate, whatever you think of his views or his right to them, and ridiculous for Greenpeace to take - as seems to be their wont - a "no platform for deniers" stance as if they were above all agendas and biases.

flashgordonnz said...

Hi Brotherwolf
You say:
"If you accept that climate change is accelerated by our producing CO2 is it unfair to label it a pollutant?"

My reply goes:
"If you accept that death by drowning is caused by an excess of dihydrogen monoxide (H2O), is it unfair to label water a pollutant?"

But I don't accept that manmade CO2 is having any discernable effect on temperature, therefore I will not refer to CO2 as a pollutant.

However, benzene, particulates, lead ARE pollutants and we should do something about it. I am surprised that it has taken until now for gas powered buses to appear on London roads. I am amazed that a government so keen on regulation and coercion has not mandated that from [inset date here] all NEW government vehicles (excluding perhaps military), local authority vehicles, licensed taxi cabs, licensed omnibuses, etc, must run exclusively on LPG/CNG. What a signal that would send, eh? And what a boost this would provide to motor gas infrastructure in the UK, for private individuals to benefit from when they renew their own vehicles. So much green rhetoric from government, but little worthwhile action. It shows that maybe they don’t really believe the “consensus”: they are merely on the bandwagon. A lot of government talk (all governments) of reducing emissions actually seem to translate into a reduction in the growth of emissions. If you accept that

Okay I conceded that they are talking about going nuclear renewal, but it is talk and is opposed by many on the same side of the MMGW debate, so it will be VERY HARD to do. SO why not do something that doesn’t place a burden on anyone else: fix your own vehicle fleet.

PS A “science policy type” is not a scientist. I go to the movies; it doesn’t make me a filmmaker.
In fact, a “science policy type” is in all probability a “policy type” person landed with science. Next year they will rotate to agriculture, the next education, etc.