When I fight authority, reality always wins

The arguments from authority and popularity are slippery, tricksy little fallacies. Sure, they seems simple enough, but as I’ve recently discovered, they’re a bit more complicated than they look at first.

The most basic, stripped-down Argument from Authority looks like this: X is true because A says it is true, where X is some proposition and A is a figure of some authority (though not necessarily in the field which governs X). I doubt you’ll ever see it stated so simply, because on its face it is patently absurd. Despite what The Secret or What the Bleep might tell you, we cannot make things true simply by saying them. No, usually it’ll be “X is true, A says so!” or “A believes in X, why don’t you?” It’s all the same, just dressed up a bit.

And, regardless of what a Mage: The Ascension handbook might tell you, reality is not democratic, and is not created by what large numbers of people believe. So, when you see someone saying “X is true because lots of people say it is true,” you ought immediately to think “only if I’m holding a handful of ten-sided dice.”

But the problem with these arguments is that sometimes, they look right. I’ve had a bit of impromptu sparring with Mr. Kirk of the God/No God blog on the subject of Global Warming, and how the primary argument for it appears to be “it’s true because all scientists say so.” Now, I know that’s not the primary argument for it (the primary argument is “because it’s happening and we can measure it, and CO2 levels are building up to cause a Greenhouse Effect,” so far as I’m aware) but I can see where it might look like that to the laity. There are many (I might even say ‘most’) cases where both parts of the argument–“X is true” and “A/lots of people say that X is true”–are true. The problem is the “because,” which misrepresents the causal relationship.

And after a bit of thinking, I figured out the root of the problem: these arguments are conversions of true statements. But not all true statements have true converse statements.

So, let’s start with a true statement: Lots of people say the sky is blue because the sky is blue. Both the red and green parts of the statement is true, and the green statement is the cause of the red one, so the whole statement is true. Now, flip the red and green portions (forming the converse of the statement), and you get The sky is blue because lots of people say the sky is blue. Both the red and green portions are true, but the cause/effect relationship is screwed up, so the whole statement is false, and is an argument from popularity besides.

See, when something is verifiably true, lots of people and authorities will claim that it is true. Everyone says that the sky is blue because the sky is blue (except when it isn’t, but we’re talking generally). Scientists say that atoms exist because the evidence heavily suggests that atoms exist. The problem is that people and authorities often make claims which are not verifiably true, or which are demonstrably false, and so cannot be considered reliable sources in all cases.

So, what of Global Warming? I know I’m not the only one who has said “all reliable scientists say that it’s happening, and that human activity is contributing to it.” Isn’t that an argument from authority?

Well, not exactly. If I were saying “it’s happening because all scientists say so,” then sure, that’s an argument from authority. But I’m not saying it’s happening because all reliable scientists say so, I’m saying you should believe it because all reliable scientists say so. It’s not much of a difference, but it’s a significant one, because it doesn’t make a causal statement. I should just make explicit the causal statement that remains: “all reliable scientists say so because the evidence says so.”

See, in evidence-based fields like science, all claims have to be supported by evidence. If you make a scientific claim that isn’t supported by evidence, you’re going to get called on it by people who know what the evidence suggests. Since evidence is the same no matter who looks at it, most people in a given field will come to the same conclusions, until new evidence forces them to change their conclusions. So, when the majority of scientists in a given field support a conclusion in that same field, chances are the evidence supports it as well.

Now, there are scientists claiming that Global Warming isn’t happening (fewer of them, now), or that while it is happening it isn’t being caused by human activity. RealClimate has a list of answers to common contrarian claims, and lower on the page a list of links that addresses Mr. Kirk’s solar suggestion, but for a moment, let’s assume that these latter scientists are correct, and that humans are not the main cause of global warming. Now, there are a few things of which we can be relatively certain, based on the evidence and the models:

  1. Carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ act as a natural atmospheric insulator, trapping heat from the sun so it remains close to the Earth’s surface and is not just radiated back out into space.
  2. The Earth’s temperature is rising at an unprecedented rate.
  3. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are very high.
  4. Humans, through combustion, release Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere which would not naturally be there.

So, again, let’s assume that Global Warming is mostly caused by some other condition. Shouldn’t we still try to curb our CO2 emissions? We know that excess carbon dioxide has the possibility of increasing the surface temperature; even if it isn’t the reason for the observed climate change, shouldn’t we do what we can so that we don’t exacerbate it? We have the following options:

  1. GW is not caused by humans, and we do not change our actions. Human-generated carbon dioxide does not exacerbate the situation.
  2. GW is not caused by humans, and we do not change our actions. Human-generated carbon dioxide does exacerbate the situation.
  3. GW is not caused by humans, and we do change our actions, preventing any possible exacerbation.
  4. GW is caused by humans, and we do not change our actions. Human-generated carbon dioxide does cause and exacerbate the situation.
  5. GW is caused by humans, and we do change our actions, preventing any possible exacerbation.

If we don’t change our actions, we have a 20% chance of not making things worse. Changing our actions means not only do we eliminate the chances of making things worse (at least as far as CO2 emissions are concerned) and a chance of making things better, if in fact we’re causing the climate change.

And all the reliable information, and simple logic, suggests that we are. I mean, honestly, we know that carbon dioxide acts as the planet’s thermal insulator, and we know that we’ve been pumping extra CO2 into the atmosphere for the last hundred and fifty years, all over the world. Saying that all that would have no effect, when the effects that it’s predicted to have are occurring, seems disingenuous at best.

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27 Responses to When I fight authority, reality always wins

  1. Jon Maxson says:

    So I was reading this article, well it wasn’t so much an article as it was a piece of junk email forwarded to me by my Republican grandmother (god rest her right-wing soul) but it was talking about a professor in a nondescript European country who prided himself on making his students lose their faith in god (no surprise there!!!) So the professor challanges his students by asking them “Does evil exist? Did God create everything that exists?” A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!””God created everything?” The professor asked.”Yes sir”, the student replied.The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?””Of course”, replied the professor.The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?””What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Everybody or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”The professor responded, “Of course it does.”The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”The professor sat down.The young man’s name — Albert Einstein.It’s all true. Albert Einstein believed in god, why don’t you?

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    Wow. That’s amazing. And completely untrue, but you already knew that. Of course, what the Snopes refutation doesn’t mention is that Einstein rejected the idea of a personal God, and almost certainly wouldn’t have made such a ridiculous argument. Einstein believed in Spinoza’s god, the god of pantheism. Which means that God is one with the universe, is omnipresent, and therefore there is no such thing as “absence of god.”

  3. Derek says:

    I just wanted to say that it’s great to see you updating this blog again.And yes, Einstein did believe in a universal god. More’s the pity.

  4. Randy Kirk says:

    I think I agree with almost everything you say here. I have stated over-and-over that it shouldn’t matter whether GW is true or not, man-caused or not. More energy efficiency, less dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil is a good idea anyway. However, I will believe the GW is a real threat when I see Al Gore move into a 2500 sq ft home. Only when chicken little takes every possible step including real sacrifices to keep the sky from falling am I likely to believe the truth of the proposition.That goes for the scientists as well. I would expect them to be investing personal funds in those things that will benefit from warming (e.g. property in Canada), and divesting themselves from things like beachfront homes.Sorry to be so wordy, but you said a bunch. If a lot of people say its true, it should be considered a major piece of useful evidence. If not, all of the social sciences might as well shut down.

  5. Akusai says:

    Randy, your reasoning is terribly poor.However, I will believe the GW is a real threat when I see Al Gore move into a 2500 sq ft home.What in the world does this have to do with whether or not global warming is a threat? The size of Al Gore’s home is irrelevant to the question. Only the data matters, which is a point you seem intent on ignoring no matter what blog I find you at. Al Gore’s house doesn’t matter, a scientist’s house doesn’t matter, their cars don’t matter, and their choices don’t matter. It is that data, the mountains of evidence that show that global warming is real and we most likely caused it, that matter. And then there’s this:I would expect them to be investing personal funds in those things that will benefit from warming (e.g. property in Canada), and divesting themselves from things like beachfront homes.”Benefit from warming?” Benefit from warming? Yeah, it’ll get warmer in Canada, so that’s definitely a benefit. A complete and drastic reworking of the worldwide climate, a massive upheaval of the entire biosphere, but at least Canada’s warm now, eh?And, if your argument from irrelevance wasn’t dumb enough on its own, we have this. That little article shows that Al Gore is making all efforts to make his house, large as it is, as eco-friendly as possible, and it is likely far moreso than your house.

  6. Doubting Tom says:

    However, I will believe the GW is a real threat when I see Al Gore move into a 2500 sq ft home. Only when chicken little takes every possible step including real sacrifices to keep the sky from falling am I likely to believe the truth of the proposition.There are plenty of ways to live in a large house and not contribute to global warming. For instance, the Gores’ house gets its energy from wind and solar sources, minimizing the possible carbon dioxide exhaust. I think paying significantly more than the average person per kWh, so as to cut down on pollution and use renewable energy sources, is absolutely “making real sacrifices.”That goes for the scientists as well. I would expect them to be investing personal funds in those things that will benefit from warming (e.g. property in Canada), and divesting themselves from things like beachfront homes.I want to know what scientists are living in beachfront property. I mean, I guess CalTech might be somewhere near the beaches, but the centers of scientific progress in this country are usually land-locked (a la FermiLab and Argonne) or MIT. Scientists aren’t living in posh homes on the whole, especially not with the current administration’s abysmal support of research and universities. And why would scientists be investing in land in Canada? They’re trying to stop global warming. If they succeed, Canadian land will be as cold as ever, and beachfront property will not be underwater. It would be a conflict of interest to be working to stop global warming on one hand, and buying property that ‘benefits’ from it on the other. Sorry to be so wordy, but you said a bunch. If a lot of people say its true, it should be considered a major piece of useful evidence. If not, all of the social sciences might as well shut down.It may be useful evidence for the social scientists, inasmuch as it tells them about what people believe and perceive. When a scizophrenic tells his psychologist about the purple demons that bite his skin and tell him to murder people, that’s useful evidence, but it doesn’t mean that purple demons exist. Social scientists and natural scientists have somewhat different goals; social scientists want to understand people, and that means understanding what people think and believe. And while it’sd certainly true to say “many people believe that we never landed on the moon,” and while that data point may be of use to social scientists, it means absolutely bupkus for natural scientists, who are more concerned with the fact that we actually did land on the moon, than with people’s perceptions of that fact. If many people believe X exists, then the statement “many people believe X exists” is true. “X exists,” however, is not necessarily true just based on the word of those many people. Thanks for the article, Akusai. I caught the Olbermann thing about it, which didn’t go quite into the same detail.

  7. Jon Maxson says:

    So your doctor tells you that you need to lose 30 pounds or you may not live to your next birthday. Do you doubt his ability to read your EKG and take your blood pressure because the doctor is, himself, overweight? But why bother? Because if heart disease really were the leading killer of American men and women, then your doctor would have become a cardiologist, so he could profit off it. Someone double check my Freeper logic here…

  8. Jon Maxson says:

    By the way, what’s to say that geologists and global warming activists aren’t making property decisions based on the possibility that ocean levels may increase? Randy sounds like he keeps extensive tabs on inland property acquisitions and frequently surevys the reality preclivities of the scientific community. But I would suspect that a lot of activists have considered the threat of rising ocean levels in regards to their own property.

  9. Randy Kirk says:

    I know my reasoning skills can’t compare to akusal, but let me try again.1. Al Gore can move into a 2500 square foot house, still use his green sources and now use 95% less of those sources. Net gain would be impressive.2. If I know something to be true, and I don’t maximize my effort to gain from it and minimize my risks, I’m a fool.3. The doctor analogy is all wrong. The doctor needs to be examining himself, not me. Then the analogy works.4. Forcasting isn’t quite the same as other kinds of fact finding. We can argue about models and all, but we won’t really KNOW until it happens. So huge #’s of scientists saying 90% certainty seem impressive, unless the few have some really interesting science (like solar, self healing effect, etc.)5. Benefits. Of course there will be benefits. I don’t think science is prepared to come close to being able to weigh it out. The UN will state in its next paper that all plant life will increase as will crop production, at least in the short term. Sure, there will be disruption. There’s always disruption. Hurricanes, Tsunami’s, forest fires, floods. But the disruption just creates new opportunities for adaption.I’m always wary of scare mongering that doesn’t include lists of potential benefits. Somebody isn’t doing enough brainstorming, or they have a mind set problem, or they are deliberately trying to scare folks.

  10. Doubting Tom says:

    1. Al Gore can move into a 2500 square foot house, still use his green sources and now use 95% less of those sources. Net gain would be impressive.Sure, he could. We all could do more to help our pet causes. I could dump the computer, drop out of school, and spend my life trying to convince people to discard their delusions one person at a time. But the fact is that no one exercises that sort of commitment, and no one should be expected to give up all facets of their life to focus on one. Gore has spent a considerable amount of his time and money promoting green causes and legislation. Could he live like Thoreau? Certainly, but why should we expect him to? “You should be doing more” is not a valid debate tactic, especially against someone who is doing and has done as much as Al Gore. Randy, Couldn’t you do more? Is Christianity false because you haven’t donated all of your possessions to the church, because you don’t spend every waking minute either praying or proselytizing? What my daily routine is has no bearing on whether or not global warming is true. 2. If I know something to be true, and I don’t maximize my effort to gain from it and minimize my risks, I’m a fool.If I’m actively working to prevent something from happening, and I seek to benefit from the very thing I’m trying to prevent, I’m probably a criminal. You have yet to show that scientists are heavily invested in beachfront property, or even that Canada will “benefit” from global warming. I have a feeling that the inevitable sinkholes and mudslides will serve to balance out the warmer temperatures. 3. The doctor analogy is all wrong. The doctor needs to be examining himself, not me. Then the analogy works.No, the doctor analogy works perfectly. You’re claiming that you don’t believe in global warming because you don’t see scientists and Al Gore doing all they can to either benefit from it or prevent it. Just because Al Gore lives in a big house doesn’t mean that he’s wrong about the facts. Just because your doctor’s fat doesn’t mean that he’s wrong about your EKG. 4. Forcasting isn’t quite the same as other kinds of fact finding. We can argue about models and all, but we won’t really KNOW until it happens. So huge #’s of scientists saying 90% certainty seem impressive, unless the few have some really interesting science (like solar, self healing effect, etc.)It’s not all forecasting. It’s the verifiable fact that the global average temperature has risen a full degree in the last hundred years or so, after waffling between fractions up or down. It’s the verifiable fact that carbon dioxide levels in the air are higher than they have ever been in the past, and the simple physics that explain how gases like carbon dioxide help trap heat near the surface of the Earth, allowing things like life to rise and flourish. It’s the photographically verifiable fact that glaciers have been melting at ever-increasing rates for the last several decades, after centuries of general stasis. It’s not just “forecasting,” it’s following all the available evidence to its natural conclusion. And when every available data point is going the same direction, sure there’s a nonzero probability that it’s wrong, but it’s generally better to side with the overwhelming odds. Particularly when the alternative is widespread destruction. 5. Benefits. Of course there will be benefits. I don’t think science is prepared to come close to being able to weigh it out. The UN will state in its next paper that all plant life will increase as will crop production, at least in the short term. Sure, there will be disruption. There’s always disruption. Hurricanes, Tsunami’s, forest fires, floods. But the disruption just creates new opportunities for adaption.Just go with the flow, then? Nevermind the incredible loss of life, property, and resources. Nevermind the increasing loss of biodiversity, the climate upheavals, the various catastrophes, I’m sure we’ll adapt. When it’s the choice between “keeping things in a state where we know we can flourish” and “the completely unknown,” again, it’s best to err on the side of caution.I’m always wary of scare mongering that doesn’t include lists of potential benefits. Somebody isn’t doing enough brainstorming, or they have a mind set problem, or they are deliberately trying to scare folks.You’re clearly wary of everything that doesn’t already fit your worldview. If an asteroid the size of Denmark is about to hit the Earth, the last thing I want to see is scientists debating the positive aspects of such a change and buying beachfront property on Titan. There are those rare occasions when the sky really is falling, whether it’s due to a pandemic (polio, anyone? The bubonic plague? What benefits did those offer?) or an extinction-level event (going the way of the dinosaurs, literally), or even global warming. See, one of the problems is that things you’re seeing as benefits, like a change in Canada’s climates, are things that many scientists would see as big, big problems. The wildlife and plants in Canada aren’t adapted to a warmer environment. Already, many species are feeling the pressure of human encroachment and climate change, destroying their habitats and driving them to extinction. Global warming only exacerbates a problem that humans have, in a large part, caused, by introducing foreign species into well-balanced ecosystems and by destroying and modifying huge regions of natural habitat. Read a little of E.O. Wilson’s The Future of Life for a good take on this; making Toronto a beach paradise isn’t a benefit for everyone, particularly not for the humans.

  11. Doubting Tom says:

    Sorry, that should be “particularly for the non-humans.”

  12. Randy Kirk says:

    Tom,I don’t know a single soul who says the temperature has increased 1 degree give or take over the last century. There are a few folks who question the measuring techniques from 100 years ago, but this is not where the argument takes place.The carbon dioxide levels are the big issue, agreed. There are pretty impressive evidences that warming follows these increases going back 1000’s of years. But then the carbon increased in those times without human intervention and the temperature came back down without human intervention. So this brings into question whether or not human involvement is key, or merely contributory, or no consequential. The fact that we have had this 1 degree warming does not necessarily insure that we will have more. I would never suggest that those who believe it is true don’t have worthwhile studies and useful models. However, there’s another group of scientists with substantial resume’s that say the current warming is related to normal solar patterns, and that the cooling will begin shortly. Then there’s another group that propose that solar rays are the culprit, and they’ve shown exactly how this works experimentally. Still further there are many who believe that the self-healing nature of the three earth atmospheres will correct things. Finally, almost every honest scientist will say, as they did at the global warming conference, that science know almost nothing about clouds. And that the complexity of our climate is so immense that the butterfly effect could come from anywhere (e.g. huge increases in the amount of plant life on the ocean surface taking advantage of the additional carbon dioxide and creating a huge CO2 sink.)As to benefits, I could give you whole lists of potential benefits, and I don’t think we can prove even remotely that the negatives will be greater than the positives. In fact, there is evidence with regard to the last “warm period” that would show that the overall quality of life may have been substantially better at that time.With regard to animal and plant groups having difficulties and becoming extint, why is that a problem. The whole history of life on the planet has been about catastrophes in large and small biospheres and the way that life adapts and improves. Or at least I thought this was the major premise of Darwinian thinking. The Finches adapted.No, we shouldn’t put our heads in the sand, and I have stated here and very many elsewheres, that I am 100% for increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing dependence on non-renewable sources of energy. I have no problem trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the human race.As to Al Gore. I don’t like conspicuous consumption anywhere I see it. But it looks really bad to see Edwards in his 20,000 sq ft home talking about helping the poor. It looks bad to see Gore jetting around in his Lear and spending 20 times the amount I do on energy when the reason for that expenditure is way beyond any need or even most folks greatest wants. He doesn’t have to become a monk. He just has to know it is hypocrytical and gets in the way of his story. I guess the analogy would be that if I believed that my family was going to die in the next 20 years if I didn’t stop smoking in my home, and I was telling the world about the harmful effects of second hand smoke, but I was a three pack a day man ……..

  13. Akusai says:

    Yes, it may be hypocritical, but it doesn’t “get in the way of his story.” His actions say nothing whatsoever about the data.You sound like you got your information from Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. He goes on about the same things in that book at great length.

  14. Randy Kirk says:

    No. I appreciate Crichton for taking a contrarian stand, but his is only one of many place I get my info. I have at least a dozen posts at http://ideaplace.blogspot.com with links to original sources.My real beef is with fear mongering based on flimsy science. I don’t much like fear mongering even when it is based on sound science. I’ve lived through cranberry juice, alar, and coming ice age, just to name a few.Therefore I hold those who choose to scare little kids and the feeble to a high standard. Not only to prove the science, but to show that they are courageous enough to lead by doing.

  15. Doubting Tom says:

    I don’t know a single soul who says the temperature has increased 1 degree give or take over the last century.You’re right, depending on the scale. The general scientific consensus is that we’re up 0.6K (or °C), which is a little over a degree Fahrenheit. The fact that we have had this 1 degree warming does not necessarily insure that we will have more.No, but the fact that the warming over the past 30 years or so has been .17K, as compared to .43K for the total 70 years prior seems to suggest that things are getting worse rather than better. However, there’s another group of scientists with substantial resume’s that say the current warming is related to normal solar patterns, and that the cooling will begin shortly.And there is a rebuttal which states that there have been no major trends in solar activity since the 1960s, which is before the recent upswing in climate change rate. RealClimate addresses the matter of solar forcing here and elsewhere, generally showing that the calculations are overly simplistic and often misleading, which leads to overstatement of the problem due to changes in solar output. Then there’s another group that propose that solar rays are the culprit, and they’ve shown exactly how this works experimentally.Indeed, solar rays are the culprit. If more of them weren’t being constrained close to the surface due to greenhouse gases, we wouldn’t have a problem.Finally, almost every honest scientist will say, as they did at the global warming conference, that science know almost nothing about clouds.And knowledge of clouds is only necessary if sunlight (and specifically, sunlight in the visible spectrum) is the causal factor. Claiming “scientists have to know about clouds in order to make statements about whether or not the sun causes global warming” is a tautology; it assumes initiallty that the sun causes the warming trends. The biggest, most obvious problem with this is that clouds do not block UV radiation (which is why you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day), which is the highest energy solar radiation, and contributes more to heating the atmosphere and surface than the rest of the spectrum. Clouds are only significant if we’re talking about visible light, but the problem is with the whole spectrum.And that the complexity of our climate is so immense that the butterfly effect could come from anywhere (e.g. huge increases in the amount of plant life on the ocean surface taking advantage of the additional carbon dioxide and creating a huge CO2 sink.)Yes, the butterfly effect could come from anywhere and change the trends in unexpected ways. If someone shoots a cannonball at your head, it’s possible that a gravity lens or a strong wind current or a quantum effect will cause you to be completely unharmed, but do you really want to make a bet on it? The problem with plant life increasing production with increased carbon dioxide is that plant production decreases with increasing temperature. The effects of CO2 and the rising temperatures tend to cancel each other out in global flora trends.As to benefits, I could give you whole lists of potential benefits, and I don’t think we can prove even remotely that the negatives will be greater than the positives. In fact, there is evidence with regard to the last “warm period” that would show that the overall quality of life may have been substantially better at that time.And the last warm period occurred gradually on a geological timescale, allowing plenty of time for life forms to adapt to changing habitats. This trend, by comparison, is much faster and gaining speed. It’s not allowing for the multiple generations necessary for widespread adaptation. With regard to animal and plant groups having difficulties and becoming extint, why is that a problem. The whole history of life on the planet has been about catastrophes in large and small biospheres and the way that life adapts and improves. Or at least I thought this was the major premise of Darwinian thinking. The Finches adapted.I guess it’s only a problem if you see anthropogenic loss of biodiversity as a problem, and most biologists would. Again, take a look at E.O. Wilson’s “The Future of Life,” where he explains the long-standing human tradition of introducing alien species into natural ecosystems, upsetting the balance and wiping out whole communities. Couple this continuing trend with deforestation and global warming, and you have a world in which it kind of sucks to be an animal. Animals and plants are shaped by their ecosystems over millions of years; a balance forms in which some creatures are dependent on others, and where population trends and food supply trends tend to even each other out. When something happens to dramatically and suddenly change an ecosystem–a foreign species, a catastrophic event, a change in climate, a destruction of habitat–then there is a struggle to survive. Sure, some species will adapt, others will migrate, others will go extinct. It’s the way of the world. But when we are the source of this destruction, when we can do something about it, when we can preserve the species diversity of the planet, don’t we have some responsibility to do so? Catastrophes do happen naturally; why should we contribute to them? Yes, catastrophes happen naturally, and life goes on. It doesn’t mean that such catastrophes need to be seen as something positive (that’d be the naturalistic fallacy). And given how much effort we make to try to stop or ameliorate the damages done by natural catastrophes, when it is within our power to actually prevent or stop them, should we ignore it just because we wouldn’t necessarily benefit from it? And who’s to say we wouldn’t? You want to talk about the butterfly effect? No one could have predicted that asian beetles brought over to North America in the 1970s and before would end up overpopulating and facing no natural predators, becoming a seasonal blight on the midwest for the last several years. No one foresaw that kudzu would run rampant in the southeast after its introduction in the late 19th century. The smallest change in an ecosystem can have tremendous effects, not only on the wildlife, but on human life as well, as the millions of dollars spent every year in the south to try to keep kudzu off of the roads and power lines can attest. This is one of those situations where science ceases to provide adequate guidance. There are scientific reasons to preserve species diversity, but they pale in rhetorical value to the simple matter of human responsibility. We have made ourselves rulers of this world, and have long treated that as a position without responsibility. We can absolutely continue to do so, and watch species after species go extinct due to the spread of urbanization and the rise in global mean temperature. We’ll survive, and so will the cockroaches and the bacteria and the kudzu and the pigeons, but what sort of world will it be? I have no problem trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the human race.Thus, no matter the cause of global warming, whether most scientists are right and it is anthropogenic, or whether your scientists (and you have yet to cite sources, as far as I’ve seen…are they climatologists and meteorologists and astronomers, or not?) are correct and it’s solar forcing, carbon dioxide emissions play a role and should be curbed.As to Al Gore. I don’t like conspicuous consumption anywhere I see it. But it looks really bad to see Edwards in his 20,000 sq ft home talking about helping the poor. It looks bad to see Gore jetting around in his Lear and spending 20 times the amount I do on energy when the reason for that expenditure is way beyond any need or even most folks greatest wants.Except that he really doesn’t spend that much more energy than the average person. His home uses less energy than many homes half its size (remember, that partisan organization was comparing him to the average), he gets it from green sources, and while his expenditures on jet fuel are somewhat problematic, he offsets it by actively working toward change. He could stay in Tennessee and try to change things, but that isn’t going to be nearly as effective. He’s not a scientist, he’s not going to be able to change anything in the lab, he’s working instead on public support and popular perception, and that requires travel. The fact that he does it in a jet and not in a gas-guzzling bus is another move toward sustainability and green-ness. And Edwards, too, could donate all his money to help the poor; how many poor people would that help, and for how long? Or, he could use his money and influence to try to change the system, helping the poor a little less directly, but with far greater benefit in the long-term. It’s not hypocrisy to say “we need to change X” and then actively work to change X. It’s hypocrisy to say “we need to change X” and then to work against that. When Al Gore says “we need to stop global warming,” he’s not being hypocritical by going around trying to convice others to stop their wasteful habits. He’s one man who already sacrifices quite a bit to decrease the size of his footprint, and he’ll do a lot more to help his cause by convincing others to do the same, than he will by sitting at home in Tennessee and hoping the media will come to him. He’s using energy, yes, but in the long run he hopes that his extra energy use will be far offset by the policies of energy management that he hopes to enact through a solid media presence. No. I appreciate Crichton for taking a contrarian stand, but his is only one of many place I get my info.That is bar none one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. “I appreciate Tycho Brahe for taking a contrarian stand against the tyranny of heliocentrism.” Contrarianism is fine if you’ve got the evidence to back it up. Crichton doesn’t, and the fact that you would go to him, a fiction author with no background in the appropriate sciences, for any information regarding climate change, is ridiculous. RealClimate, which is actually run by actual climate scientists takes on the terrible inaccuracies in State of Fear here, and here, and Chris Mooney dissects his footnotes here. The big problem with getting your facts from fiction should be obvious, if for no other reason than that there’s no peer review process in sci-fi. and coming ice ageActually, you keep bringing this up, and I hit upon (on that wonderful bastion of well-cited information, RealClimate) the matter of the ‘ice age’ in one of my searches. It seems that the “new ice age” situation had scientists and the scientific journals noting a cooling trend and suggesting more research, while the popular media took quotations out of context and invented an imminent catastrophe. Strange that one of the key figures in creating that hysteria, columnist George Will, is now one of the key figures claiming that there is now no warming trend. So the major difference between the “coming ice age” of the ’70s and global warming since then is one of data and evidence. The “ice age” was fabricated by the media, blowing data out of context and out of proportion. Global warming is based on the best available data, supported by all the available evidence, and comes out of peer-reviewed journals rather than Newsweek. It’s a nasty thing to be fear-mongering without evidence (as I could accuse certain politicians of, with threats of terrorism and WMD). When the “mongering” is supported by the evidence, however, it ceases to be so nasty, and starts becoming necessary. Sure, you can wait for something unexepected to change everything, but you’re going to be better off following the advice of the guy yelling “duck!”

  16. Jon Maxson says:

    It’s interesting that Randy thinks that global warming scientists are “fear mongering” and intending to “scare the little kids” while also suggesting that if scientists were serious about global warming they would be trying to profit off it. This is laughable logic as the opposite actually tends to be true. Rarely, if ever, do real people practice to the “just plain evil” motive, or simply strive to “scare little kids.” People who manipulate science or otherwise intentionally distribute misinformation are almost universally doing it for personal gain or profit.

  17. Randy Kirk says:

    I only have a minute to leave this link to a documentary that will be coming out this Thursday on CBShttp://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/G/great_global_warming_swindle/index.html

  18. Randy Kirk says:

    Let me see. Al Gore’s credentials are fine, but Crichton’s are not? You asked me for folks in various disciplines, I gave you a list and the article about the upcoming documetary gives a list of top, top professors and scientists in a full range of disciplines.I’m not saying global warming won’t end up being a serious problem. I am saying lets do what we can within reason to deal with energy and polution for all kinds of reasons. Let’s stop scaring the folks.And back to the topic of the post, take a reality check on this subject and know that it isn’t a slam dunk. 10 years from now you guys could be the ones eating crow.

  19. Doubting Tom says:

    Let me see. Al Gore’s credentials are fine, but Crichton’s are not?Um…yes.Al Gore = Politician who has spent the last several decades working with environmental scientists and promoting green policies. Michael Crichton = Fiction writer whose books are frequently characterized by poor science content (see also: Jurassic Park), and who in preparation for the book consulted climate scientists and apparently ignored them (last paragraph). Yes, I’d say Gore has the better credentials here. He’s not a scientist, but he’s promoting real science as fact, not promoting fiction as real science. And talk about fear-mongering, here you have an author trying to convince the public that there’s a global scientific conspiracy to suppress the facts for some Machiavellian Rube Goldberg scheme of…something. Going to “State of Fear” for any facts on global warming is like going to “The Da Vinci Code” for facts on the life of Jesus. I’m not saying global warming won’t end up being a serious problem. I am saying lets do what we can within reason to deal with energy and polution for all kinds of reasons. Let’s stop scaring the folks.It’s not going to “end up” being a serious problem. It already is a serious problem, and it’s only getting more serious. You want to yell at people for creating a climate of fear, yell at the journalists, the same ones who cried wolf and fabricated an ice age in the last century, not the scientists who are actually trying to get something accomplished. And back to the topic of the post, take a reality check on this subject and know that it isn’t a slam dunk. 10 years from now you guys could be the ones eating crow.Or drowning, one of the two. Nothing in science is ever a “slam dunk,” but there’s not nearly so much dissent as you think there is. Thank you for providing the link to that documentary, but it seems that most of the claims made in their solar hypothesis have already been addressed by the climate science community (and I’d really like to know the mechanism by which a hotter sun causes greater CO2 production).

  20. Akusai says:

    It’s been said before, but I think it bears saying again: Michael Crichton is an anti-science luddite.I’ve read a lot of his books, starting with Jurassic Park and everything through until the DaVinci Code of climate science, State of Fear. I read Jurassic Park after greatly enjoying the movie. It’s still one of the most frightening movies ever, in my opinion, though I can’t say much for its sequels. At least not much good.I enjoyed the book for its fast plot and good suspense, and the same can be said about every Crichton book through Prey. They were page-turners, like The DaVinci Code itself. Poorly written and badly researched, but page turners nonetheless.Then, after State of Fear, it began to dawn on me that there’s a single, almost Frankensteinian theme that stands out in just about every Crichton novel: the big, bad scientist “going too far” and losing control over his creation. The message in his novels is simple: don’t explore. Don’t try to create new things or find new knowledge. We’re stupid, pathetic, greedy humans and we’ll fuck it all up and it’s none of our business anyway. Just be quiet and do what you’re told.

  21. Randy Kirk says:

    How about Dr. Allegre? Is he an anti-science luddite?With a wealth of data now in, Dr. Allegre has recanted his views. To his surprise, the many climate models and studies failed dismally in establishing a man-made cause of catastrophic global warming. Meanwhile, increasing evidence indicates that most of the warming comes of natural phenomena. Dr. Allegre now sees global warming as over-hyped and an environmental concern of second rank.His break with what he now sees as environmental cant on climate change came in September, in an article entitled “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in l’ Express, the French weekly. His article cited evidence that Antarctica is gaining ice and that Kilimanjaro’s retreating snow caps, among other global-warming concerns, come from natural causes. “The cause of this climate change is unknown,” he states matter of factly. There is no basis for saying, as most do, that the “science is settled.”Please read the whole article at http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=2f4cc62e-5b0d-4b59-8705-fc28f14da388

  22. Akusai says:

    I don’t know who Dr. Allegre is, and you’ll notice if you reread my post that my description of Crichton was based on a prevailing theme in a number of his novels where scientists screw up and cause a bunch of chaos and death, and the final decision is “We never should have done that in the first place. Science shouldn’t explore.”

  23. Doubting Tom says:

    “Dr. Allegre, a renowned geochemist.”If a biologist tells you that the face on Mars is proof of alien life forms living beneath its surface, and an astronomer tells you, “no, it’s a natural structure. The face only appears in that one image, and it’s just a trick of light, shadow, and a speck on the camera lens,” who do you believe? Both are scientists, both may have unimpeachable credentials, but one is clearly speaking out of his or her field of expertise. When the astronomer then says “here, take a look at these pictures of the same structure, from different angles. See, the ‘face’ disappears,” and the other one says “no, that’s wrong,” who are you more inclined to believe? I understand that Dr. Allegre has done influential work on global warming. I understand he’s written papers and has probably been published in significant journals. It still doesn’t change the fact that he’s not a climate scientist, he’s not an astronomer, and this matter falls outside (though not extremely far outside) his training as a geochemist. And if you go to any of the Pharyngula posts on Mike Egnor, or other similar posts, you’ll see how easy it is for an expert in one field to erroneously presume himself to be an expert in other fields, even fields that are apparently close, like Egnor’s neuroscience and biology. I admit, global warming is not my field of expertise, but I’ve done quite a bit of research on it, both at RealClimate and in the journals and popular media. I’ve seen a wealth of evidence to support anthropogenic, carbon dioxide-based warming trends, from a variety of different sources. I’ve seen several counterarguments–the “hockey stick” is false, the warming is caused by the sun, there is no warming trend, it’s a conspiracy–and I’ve seen rebuttals to every claim, backed up with hard evidence, graphs, statistics, and other information. I’ve seen the criticisms of the solar forcing crowd–that their graphs only support their claims if they change algorithms along the way, that there haven’t been any major shifts in the sun’s output or the number of sunspots to coincide with the current warming trend–and I’ve not seen the evidence in response, just the same criticisms over and over. That raises a red flag to me, as a scientist: when one group has evidence and can respond to all the criticisms leveled against them with solid arguments and more evidence, and the other groups can’t, chances are the first group is more reliable. But even moreso, I see a distinct difference in modeling and proposed solutions between the two groups. The mainstream anthropogenic carbon forcing group has named a source of the trend, a mechanism by which the trend can occur, models to explain the trend, and proposed solutions. The solar forcing crowd, so far as I can see, has no mechanism and no proposed solutions. The “it’s not happening” crowd has nothing but a dwindling level of support. Your Dr. Allegre has no source, no model, no mechanism, just the statement that “the cause of this climate change is unknown.” So, ultimately we’re faced with two sides. One side is relatively united, with a relatively complete picture of what’s happening, why, and what we can do about it. The other side is splintered, offers several woefully incomplete and completely incompatible pictures of what’s happening (or claims that nothing is happening), and offers no course of action, except when they say ‘well, yeah, the other guys are right, we need to cut down and search for alternatives.’ The only thing they all agree on is “the other side is wrong.” Now, to you, that may look like a debate of merit. And technically it is. Science thrives on dissent and disagreement. But science is also a meritocracy, and for any given phenomenon, the ‘winner’ of the debate is whoever has the most evidence and the best model to explain it all. The ‘contest’ may be overturned at a later date; in fact, such a turn is fairly likely. But until then, it’s foolish from a scientific, a statistical, and a common sense perspective to side with the party with the least evidence. Yes, it’s absolutely possible that we’ll be “eating crow” in ten years, and that the evidence then will show us things that we don’t know now. It’s at least equally possible that the mainstream scientists are right, and that unless we do X, Y, and Z, we’ll be under a lot of H, 2, and O. The science isn’t settled, science is never settled, but there is a clear surplus of information supporting one conclusion, and it’s not the conclusion of the contrarians. If they want to do research, come up with a coherent model and mechanism, and propose some solutions, by all means, let them. But until they can show something more substantial than “we’re right and they’re wrong,” it’s foolish to the point of potential suicide to not follow the advice suggested by the majority of evidence.

  24. Randy Kirk says:

    I admit that my area of expertise isn’t climate science, either, but I have read also. And I have reached the opposite conclusion. And to date, we only have this one degree of warming. I come from MO. You have to show me before I’m going to do things that will screw up the economy. I am beginning to see the debate swing away from GW. The predictions are moderating, the contrarians are getting bolder. Maybe they’ll start getting some money to pursue their research. I think we’ll know a bunch more in 10 years, and I’m not even close to buying into the idea that we only have one year to do something or the end of the world is upon us. That is the kind of garbage that hurts the cred of science.

  25. Doubting Tom says:

    And to date, we only have this one degree of warming. I come from MO. You have to show me before I’m going to do things that will screw up the economy.What does the state you come from have to do with the rise in temperatures? Are people from MO just stubborn when it comes to changing their lifestyles?I like when people scoff at that one degree. That’s one degree planet-wide, from Antarctica to the Sahara, after an entire planetary history of fluctuations in the range of .05-.3 degrees. That is a massive change, and it’s an average change, which means that in some places, it’s worse. I am beginning to see the debate swing away from GW. The predictions are moderating, the contrarians are getting bolder. Maybe they’ll start getting some money to pursue their research.Perhaps they’ll get some money? Various corporations have been funding conter-research into Global Warming since the late ’70s, while Federally-funded research has stagnated for the last several years. If all the contrarians have to show for thirty years of work is a pile of contradictory theories with no clear picture, then they’re really in a tight spot.No, the debate isn’t swinging away from GW. In fact, even most of the contrarians have been forced to concede that warming is occurring; hardly anyone denies that at this point (a far cry from just a few years ago). Michael Crichton is one of the last remaining warming-deniers, and even he couldn’t convince President Bush that nothing was happening. The popular debate has shifted from “is it happening?” to “are we causing it?” while the vast majority of the scientific debate is “how do we stop it?”I think we’ll know a bunch more in 10 years, and I’m not even close to buying into the idea that we only have one year to do something or the end of the world is upon us. That is the kind of garbage that hurts the cred of science.Who’s saying that we only have a year? Sure, we’ll know more in 10 years, we always do. But 10 years ago, the evidence said we were causing global warming. 10 years before that, the evidence said we were causing global warming. 10 years before that, the evidence said we were causing global warming. Do you really think it’s going to change so dramatically after 40 years? It’s possible, sure, but it’s not likely. I’m really curious, when you spend so much time throwing out information from “State of Fear” and playing with the solar forcing model (without apparently knowing about the responses to it), how much reading you’ve done. Delving into the background of Tom, I grew up watching (and believing) “Captain Planet.” I recycle (and disagree with Penn & Teller about it), I feel a little guilty if I leave the water on while shaving. And yet, global warming? Up until maybe two years ago, I’d laugh derisively and say “it’s crap. Geologically, we’re just coming out of the last ice age. Of course there’s global warming. Heck, the midwest used to be tropical.”Then, I actually started looking into the matter. Heck, I sent a message to some of the big skeptical bloggers earlier in 2006, asking for information on GW that wasn’t politically skewed. And that brought me to RealClimate, where I found that my objections to the theory were common and had been addressed. I examined the evidence there, and I’ve since read several scientific journal articles on the subject. I started out “contrarian,” but changed my mind once I actually looked at the evidence. Looking at the arguments of the contrarians now, I’m hard-pressed to find much more there than the same things I was saying a year ago. They’ve had the time and the opportunity to come up with alternative explanations, but so far they lack any coherent model, and they lack substantial evidence. Until they can provide those two things, it would be beyond foolish to believe their claims.

  26. Randy Kirk says:

    A reformed GW Skeptic? That explains a lot. But that should also tell you something about the nature of this debate. Two years ago, you had a different POV. Your study has brought you to a new point. Mine has not. A couple of subtle issues. I truly don’t do much Crichton. Can you site where he said there is no warming? I know there are a few who say that some or all of the warming is due to different of better ways of measuring. Was that his point?Where do you get the information on an entire planetary history of fluctuations in the range of .05-.3 degrees? I have never seen this. How does that comport with earlier very warm periods and ice ages? It seems like the swing was more than that within decades back and forth in the 20th century.There were all kinds of headlines in the last 60 days from Gore and Blair and others saying its too late, we’re cooked, and we need to take drastic action tomorrow.

  27. Doubting Tom says:

    But that should also tell you something about the nature of this debate. Two years ago, you had a different POV. Your study has brought you to a new point. Mine has not.You’re absolutely right. It tells me quite a lot about this debate. See, two years ago, I had an opinion that was based on absolutely no evidence. Once I looked at the evidence, I changed my opinion to reflect the majority of evidence.And that’s precisely what I see in this debate: one side with an opinion based on evidence, and one side with an opinion but no solid evidence. I’m afraid I’ll have to get to the rest later.

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