The Alarmists' Ossuary?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Some time ago, I noted with some bemusement the flurry of excitement over an announcement that the remains of the historical Jesus Christ had been found:

Even if we were to sweep aside the difficulties [of] making a definitive identification, my reaction to all this is: Interesting, but so what?


[A]ny arbitrary claim, by its nature, has no evidence for or against it. Whether we have found the skull of Jesus or not makes precisely zero difference in our evaluation of him as divine, on the question of whether he turned water into wine, or whether he rose from the dead. Whenever something earthly is taken as "evidence" for or against such claims, one will find that the person is guilty of perpetuating, or has fallen for, a package deal, an indiscriminate lumping-together of things that differ essentially in some way.
It is thus with similar bemusement that I watched this PajamasTV interview (HT: Glenn Reynolds) with several individuals heavily invested in the political agenda associated with the premise that the climate is warming. To a man, the ones who did not decline to speak at all were dismissive of the need to learn what all the fuss was about, much less address the serious questions about the soundness of the science that the exposed emails and computer code of what has become known as "ClimateGate" have raised.

This is the science that supposedly lies at the foundation of their entire political agenda, and which they constantly allege to be "settled" in order to browbeat anyone within earshot into accepting it as the only way forward for all of mankind. Given that they seem to think -- wrongly -- that how to run an economy is a matter of science, and not political philosophy, one would expect them to be intensely interested in making sure that they are on solid, factual ground.

Clearly, they are not. Instead, the activists babble about the science being "settled" (!), project their own denial onto the interviewers, and -- incredibly -- dismiss what could be evidence of an actual conspiracy as mere indulgence in conspiracy theories. (Just because the vast majority of conspiracy theories are bunk does not mean that people do not occasionally conspire. Also, the existence of a conspiracy should sometimes be viewed as the tip of a larger, non-conspiratorial iceberg best discovered by asking why the conspiracy occurred in the first place.)

Whatever you may think of George Monbiot, and setting aside his relentless attacks on "deniers," his reaction at least bears some resemblance to how an actual scientist ought to react, in terms of how he thinks the publication of the emails from the University of East Anglia should have been dealt with:
Pretending that this isn't a real crisis isn't going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We'll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.


One of the most damaging emails was sent by the head of the climatic research unit, Phil Jones. He wrote "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"


No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last.
If you wonder why I am not so optimistic that Copenhagen will come to naught, this is why. Already in the video, this affair is being dismissed as "cherry-picking" and relegated to the personal faults of the scientists involved, in much the same way that leftists and pragmatists deny the role of Islam in motivating and Islamic theocracies in fomenting terrorism -- and instead treat individual attacks as if they are unrelated crimes. (If this incident helps blow the lid off scientific fraud or destroys the warmists' credibility enough, global warming legislation could well lose momentum, but I think that now could be too soon.)

I have not looked deeply into this matter yet, and for all I know, it could well be that only part of the evidence for global warming has been negated or even that none of it has. But if the peer-review process has been compromised, lots of the data is now suspect, as are the theories based on that data.

Monbiot seems still convinced of the existence of global warming, and laments that, "However good the detailed explanations may be, most people aren't going to follow or understand them. Jones's statement, on the other hand, is stark and easy to grasp." He fears that the damage has been done for his side, but just listen to the environmentalists in this video. Damage has already been done -- just not the kind Monbiot is worried about.

The environmentalists have an entire web of mental interconnections (whether they conform to reality or not) in favor of the idea that the climate is warming. Our recent cold winter and this scandal look like outliers to them. These emails could well be just like those old bones from a few years ago -- fighting an uphill battle against the deeply-held faith of large numbers of people. To the extent that that these people, for all their lip-service to science, have accepted global warming on faith, these emails will fulfill a similar role. The bones were never going to make Christians doubt the resurrection and these emails were never going to make such disciples of global warming doubt their article of faith, either.

To determine whether the emails mean anything requires an insistence that they be examined in a proper context, a willingness to admit whatever the findings and their ramifications ultimately are, and an assessment of whether and how those findings affect the credibility of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, as well as how the ramifications might affect the theory itself. Except possibly from George Monbiot, I don't see any of this from the global warming camp so far.

Monbiot is right about one thing: Upholding the science is crucial. This goes equally well for those of us who oppose the current raft of proposed global warming legislation. Whatever the science says, making it up impugns those who do. Whatever the science says, admit it. And then argue from correct political principles that take into account man's nature and the proper role of government when engaging in the political debate about global warming legislation.

-- CAV


Mike said...

You reminded me of a funny story.

My high school media class did a project of a bogus "News Show" broadcast, to be taped and shown to the student body. One of our skits had a reporter at an archaeological dig site reporting (as if it was nothing bigger than the day's traffic report) that a recently unearthed grave appears to be that of a man named Jesus Christ.

The camera then showed the diggers pulling a leather wallet out of the hip area of a shrouded "body," opening it up, and taking out a driver's license and holding it up to the camera. The license was patterned after the AZ driver's licenses at the time, complete with "NAZARETH Department of Motor Vehicles" across the top, a photo, and the name JESUS HATHAWAY CHRIST, complete with suburban Galilee address. (See, his middle initial IS "h"!) There were all sorts of easter eggs on the license too, such as "Eyes: All-seeing."

The reporter then led out from the story with something nonchalant like "The archaeologists say the most significant find, and the thing that has them the most excited, is finally unearthing irrefutable proof that tri-fold wallets were used 2,000 years ago. Back to you, Tom!"

Strangely enough, now that I see things through a secular lens, my reaction at a discovery like that might be about the same as in your post. Sure, maybe Christ lived. Doesn't prove he had superpowers.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hathaway, is it?

I always wondered what the "H" stood for!

Steve D said...

“conspiracy should sometimes be viewed as the tip of a larger, non-conspiratorial iceberg”

Or perhaps just a lot of isolated incidents and/or tiny conspiracies which happen to have the same aim because the people involved have the same ideology.

“lots of the data is now suspect, as are the theories based on that data”

From the scientific point of view this is the crux of the matter. Even if the AGW theory is true, how are ever going to know it now. How do we figure out what data to believe and what data not to believe?

“Whatever the science says, admit it.”

If the science doesn’t yet have an answer or if the answer is uncertain we need to admit that as well. There is no shame in saying “I don’t know”

“Sure, maybe Christ lived. Doesn't prove he had superpowers.”

Oh I agree but events and personalities on the borderline of history are fascinating in themselves. What is the historical reality of Gilgamish, King Arthur, Menes, Trojan war, Atlantis? This is one of the most fascinating areas of history (protohistory) which someday I would like to study in more detail.

There may not be definite proof that Christ lived but it is hard to imagine events unfolding the way they did if he was a complete myth. The most likely scenario is the gospels are based on a real person and that the apostles were deluded rather than consciously lying.

When you look at some of these topics such as for example Arthur of Britain, for whom there may be at most just barely enough evidence for historicity (and this is debated) one way to deal with the evidence is to use very strict and stringent rules for what is historical. The other way is to look at all the evidence and try to get a sense of what is likely to be the answer, even if this cannot be conclusively proven. In most cases history just isn’t able to provide the same level of evidence as biochemistry (then again neither can astrophysics). What you MUST do to remain reality oriented is to understand the level of certainty of your claim.

Now we circle back to the AGW hypothesis which although it makes a great deal of sense theoretically, deals with an exceptionally complex subject, has a very broad but disunified set of data to recommend it and some specific items to contradict it. The level of certainty is not high and it is these types of less certain theories for which fake data is the greatest problem. After all if I faked some data to show that Copernicus, Einstein or Darwin was wrong I doubt it would affect the acceptance of their theories in the slightest or that anyone would care.

Hathaway? I thought it was Haploid due to the unusual circumstances of his birth.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Or perhaps just a lot of isolated incidents and/or tiny conspiracies which happen to have the same aim because the people involved have the same ideology."

That's precisely my point, and leads me to wonder whether, to pragmatists, the idea that ideas drive history looks like indulgence in conspiracy theories. I suspect so.

Mo said...

Gus Van Horn said...

Interesting. While I've likened global warming to religion here before, I wasn't aware that Michael Crichton had made the same analogy.

Strictly speaking, global warming isn't a religion, but the parallels are definitely there.

Steve D said...

Strictly speaking, photography isn’t an art, but the parallels are definitely there.

Religion is belief in absence or in spite of the evidence. What do you call it when you have a belief which is stronger than the evidence would allow. I would call that religious but not religion.

Art is a selective recreation of reality. When only part of what you are doing is selective that is artistic but not art.

“wonder whether, to pragmatists, the idea that ideas drive history looks like indulgence in conspiracy theories.”

That is an interesting point. There is no doubt that most people with similar ideologies also have similar ideas about how to achieve their goals. These change over time but still large groups of people at the same time will agree.

Steve D said...

“similarity between global warming "research" and Lysenkoism”

I am not sure that the scare quotes are completely deserved at least not for all researchers. As I have mentioned previously, AGW does make sense at the theoretical level so it is a hypothesis that should be tested. It is very difficult to test. If it isn’t true then we really need to know why and if it is true we need to know to know the details. Much of the research is legitimate although I guess we should just call it climate research.

Also, GW and AGW should be kept separate. GW has been happening off and on since the last glaciation. Even if GW is happening AGW still has to be proven.

By the way I’ve seen anti AGW advocates argue in one paragraph that the sun is warming the earth which explains why Mars and Jupiter are also warming and in the next paragraph argue that the satellite data proves the earth is NOT warming!? For a chaser they make the comment that because we cannot predict the weather five days in advance how the heck can we predict the climate 50 years from now. They seem completely unaware that climate is not the same as weather and in fact AGW advocates are generally claiming to predict only one single aspect of climate.

Gus Van Horn said...

"By the way I’ve seen anti AGW advocates argue in one paragraph that the sun is warming the earth which explains why Mars and Jupiter are also warming and in the next paragraph argue that the satellite data proves the earth is NOT warming!"

Heh! I read an entire book like that not too long ago.

Bill Brown said...

Was that book perchance "Unstoppable Global Warming" by Dennis T. Avery and S. Fred Singer? That book drove me nuts with its Janus-like conclusions.

Gus Van Horn said...


Nah. It was Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth, which I once very briefly commented on here.

See also a later comment.