After I posted my previous entry, I found myself suckered into discussing global warming with morons. This need to broadcast my freshly demonstrated expertise as widely as possible really ruined my weekend. I had that weekend explicitly marked off for idling, reading and play. I’m very busy during the week, so I like my weekends free.
(Well, I also spent a lot of my allotted computer time – admittedly there was a fair bit of that – treating my previous entry like a personal Wiki entry on global warming. I got a lot of questions, decided to add more information and I’m a consummate editor of my own prose. It’s now twice as long as it was when I first posted it.)
As hinted in the title of this post: I learnt something very important from all these debates; and not just that I was debating with religious people ignorant of their own religiosity. Are you ready for this?
Apparently anthropogenic global warming is not happening because my Facebook display picture looks effeminate.
Obviously this means the deniers are right. Global warming clearly isn’t happening.
I do look ‘kinda girly’, and I like my androgyny. The fact that I have physically feminine features to accentuate – despite my decidedly masculine biology and affect – is exactly why I think I’m an okay looking guy. My wiring dictates that I find men physically repulsive and women beautiful. Who wants to cringe when they see themself in the mirror?
That’s why I wouldn’t make a very good proponent of equal rights between the sexes. While I think it’s palpably obvious that men and women are intellectual equals (though men and women do have differences in body language, regardless of sexuality), I think women are vastly superior in the looks department.
It is enlivening to know that my inescapably subjective aesthetic preferences and the way they dictate my personal grooming could have such a significant effect on Nature. Since my biology is a product of Nature, this does make a little sense. Think about it.
Obviously warming has become more apparent since the year I was born – 1988 – and what with all this sciencey talk of quantum nonlocality and quantum teleportation, who is to say that Nature didn’t link the Earth’s climate to the way my genes respond to my life experiences?
This idiot may have a point. But his point does conflict with my deeply-held conviction that nobody’s aesthetic preferences should have any influence on anything at all, aside from what they buy when they shop for themselves; and that while science can explain a person’s aesthetics, science is not the same thing as aesthetics, ergo scientists have no business dictating aesthetics to anyone. Clearly I should reconsider my wrong-headed beliefs.
But I digress.
I noticed that none of these anthropogenic global warming (AGW) deniers seem to adhere to the basic principles of science.
I suspect that at one point I was engaged in an argument with an apparently real scientist (not a climate scientist) on YouTube, who spoke in a shady right wing anti-carbon tax smear video put out by something called ‘The Galileo Institute’. (To his or her credit and my dismay, this person didn’t bring up my good looks.) I was quick to point out that if this trend continues we’re soon going to see an anti-vaccination brood calling themselves ‘The Socrates Foundation’.
A science-denialist group calling itself ‘The Galileo Institute’ is a veritable onion of irony, but I think the most salient point is that Galileo was, how to put it… oh, you know, actually right. And there was another big problem too.
Look, if you’re going to use a well-spoken scientist as the embodiment of your argument from authority – use a good one. Superficiality, glibness, and eloquence coupled with suspect data doesn’t necessarily mean we’re dealing with someone who has anything useful to say. Just ask a criminal psychologist experienced in diagnosing psychopaths.
Since I’m not Andrew Bolt, I should say that I don’t think I’ve spoken to any psychopaths so far – just people who think the government is out to get them because everyone else in the world is wrong and they’re right. Actually, attributing grandiosity and self-centredness to this particular YouTuber is putting me back in dangerous territory for a jounalist. To clarify: I don’t think the scientist – if that was the scientist from the video – who fought me is a psychopath, merely disingenuous and not very bright.
I’d like to be able to link to the discussion, but after my debating partner called me a prophet of Satan (which made my inner teenager squirm with delight), he or she went cold. I think it’s fair to assume that my favourite species of internet troll got involved in the discussion. I don’t want to endorse illegal behaviour of this sort, but I’m not averse to a hit of schadenfreude from time to time.
To return to my point: good science follows certain rules. None of the deniers seem to understand this.
First: You can’t just poke holes in the prevailing theory, you have to offer a viable and complete alternative. Every theory has holes. It’s up to graduate students to investigate them to see whether or not they need to be consolidated into the most successful theory; if they can’t be, then you might be on to something. But in this day and age, probably not.
Second: if you want to propose an alternative theory for observed phenomena, your brilliant new theory needs to explain all of the same phenomena just as well as the prevailing theory in an equally parsimonious way.
Third: your alternative theory must make testable, falsifiable predictions that the prevailing theory does not. If the tests of these predictions yield positive results, those results must be incompatible with the prevailing theory.
Fourth: your theory cannot depend on untestable assumptions – like, you know, God or spirituality.
Those are just the basics, but if your hypotheses address each of those criteria, then I’ll listen. I’m a sceptic, so these criteria are very important to me, and other sceptics too.
Your brilliant new theory of how the climate works would also need to adequately account for the following: the observed global temperature increase which almost perfectly mirrors the amount of CO2 we can account for adding to the climate; how the Earth stays warm enough for our kind of life to exist if the climate isn’t sensitive greenhouse gases; the high frequency of insane weather events we’re experiencing as predicted by the AGW model; ocean acidification; and all that other stuff I covered in the previous entry. And everything I missed too, and I missed a lot.
These simple rules aren’t difficult to wrap your brain around. Among my VCE philosophy class readings were chapters from Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. If we high school students could correctly answer questions on those texts, there’s absolutely no justification for any scientist to be ignorant of them. Not incidentally, you’ll find the ideas of Popper and Kuhn guiding the thinking of every competent researcher in every respectable field of scientific inquiry.
It also helps if you don’t staff your non-profit with people known to be on the payroll of companies who stand to profit a great deal from the public swallowing the turd your non-profit is shitting. Maybe that’s just a personal prejudice of mine.
But even good scientists can screw things up without being intentionally unhelpful. Here is a great article from the aptly named Foresight Institute’s website. Their organizational aim is to promote the development of nanotechnology, and the article I’ve linked to reflects that, but exactly the same principles apply in all scientific disciplines. To quote the conclusion of the piece:
Given this kind of swirling interplay of confusion, misinterpretation, emotion and simple ignorance it is remarkable that new ideas are ever accepted — and indeed, we have examples of human civilizations that stagnated for long periods, rejecting new ideas altogether. What is remarkable is not the span of many decades that is required before a new idea can gain acceptance, but that it can gain acceptance at all.
As a society we have much to gain by improving our ability to analyze new ideas, more rapidly adopting those that are correct and more rapidly rejecting those that are wrong. The standard of living we enjoy was built on centuries and millennia of technological advance. Life in the middle ages was short, brutish and nasty and would be our lot today had we as a society followed the advice of those who ridiculed and attacked all that was new and different. If we wish to improve our standard of living and that of future generations, we must learn to accurately evaluate new ideas and new concepts, filtering out the emotional biases and confusion that seem to inevitably surround our perceptions of them.
I hope that clears things up. The science worth listening to says that man-made global warming is real and it is an immediate threat that we should act on five years ago.
It should go without saying that this indictment doesn’t apply to people who are merely ignorant of the evidence. I’m attacking the clowns who are aggressively ignorant of the evidence. That’s right, I called you all clowns. You’re actually much worse than clowns, but you caught me in a good mood and once again, I’m feeling diplomatic.
Now I need to go do some homework, and tomorrow I’m going to reply to the more interesting emails my last entry garnered.