Randi, skepticism, and global warming

By Phil Plait | December 17, 2009 11:58 am

Yesterday, James Randi posted an entry on the JREF’s Swift blog about global warming. In it, he expressed some doubt over the consensus that humans are causing global warming. He does not doubt that warming is happening, as he made clear, just the role of humans in that change.

Unfortunately, one source he used in his essay was the Petition Project. This was an attempt by global warming denialists to muddy the climate issue, and one that has been thoroughly trashed — it’s really just as awful as the similarly ridiculous, and just as thoroughly nonsensical, attempt by the Discovery Institute to get a petition by scientists who doubt evolution. Randi also made a claim about the complexity of global warming, and how difficult it is to model, casting some uncertainty on it. As he said, this makes it very difficult for someone not well-versed in the field to come to a well-informed decision on climate change.

I was unaware that Randi had just posted his essay when, yesterday, I wrote a post asking for donations to the JREF. Obviously, the comments focused on Randi’s post. While some were fair, I was taken aback by the vitriol of many of the comments; some people were out-and-out calling Randi a denialist, which is ridiculous. Other comments were worse.

Needless to say, this made quite a splash in the skeptical blogosphere as well. Posts and comments sprouted up everywhere about it. Some were thoughtful, others, um, not so much. I was surprised by how many skeptics were quick to vilify Randi, again accusing him of being a global warming denialist. I got emails from people fearing for the skeptical movement as a whole!

Instead of rending my garments over this, I read Randi’s post carefully, and then sent him a note outlining why the Petition Project is a crock, as well as saying that yes, mathematical models of climate are very complex, but that doesn’t change observations indicating the reality of global warming or our role in it. Randi told me he was writing a followup, so I decided not to say anything about it here until his new post went up. I wanted to make sure I had all the facts before commenting.

Randi posted that followup blog entry today. As I expected, he took the new information into account, admitting that he was unaware of the dubious nature of the petition, and re-affirming that he is not denying global warming is occurring.

So what are we to make of all this?

One is that anyone, everyone, is capable of making mistakes, from grand to minor, from basic ones we never should have made to ones that are inevitable. Skeptics make these same mistakes, too. Even noted skeptics. I’ve done it, Randi’s done it, every human has done it. Apropos of exactly this, Michael Shermer changed his stance on global warming after sufficient evidence swayed him.

Another is that even skeptics can be quick to jump to conclusions based on our own preconceived notions and methodology. Randi made an error, yes. Pointing that out politely and clearly is fine, as can be seen by the fact that he followed up on his post once he was given better data. But the ways in which many people attacked him were, in my opinion, unfair. If someone has a history of spinning the truth, of lying, of distorting reality for their own agenda, then sure, have at them. But when it’s someone who has devoted their life to prying the scales from everyone’s eyes, I think they’ve earned a modicum of decorum when they make a mistake.

Of course, on blogs (either writing them or commenting on them) it’s very easy to simply react. Again, we have all done this, and usually with some regret later. I’ve had to go back and retract things I’ve written when better evidence has arisen, or simply when someone has pointed out where I blew it.

Part of being a skeptic — and it’s a big part — is admitting when you’re wrong.

And finally, there is a really good takeaway point from this: when it comes to reality, no one and no thing is sacrosanct. If something is wrong, it gets called out. That’s what skepticism is all about. If Randi makes a mistake, he gets called on it. If scientists do, or the Pope does, or anyone, then it is up to all of us to speak up. And I think that how we do it is just as important as the content of our claims.

I’ve known Randi many years, and I know that for him, truth trumps all. May all of us be so inclined.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, JREF, Skepticism

Comments (154)

  1. “Part of being a skeptic — and it’s a big part — is admitting when you’re wrong.”

    Amen to that!

  2. mk

    Phil,

    You are right. Randi deserves better.

    But I also think PZ is correct. Randi didn’t go far enough in his new post.

    The one thing he shouldn’t have done is reaffirm doubt where it is undeserved. It reminds me of all the apologists for Uri Geller, who like to say that although he sometimes does a few tricks when he’s nervous, his powers are real whenever Randi isn’t around to intimidate him. Of course it’s possible — it’s just that the case has been made so strongly that Geller is a phony and that human CO2 emissions contribute to global warming that it’s disingenuous to argue for the exceedingly unlikely…especially when there are special interests out there eager to grab onto that glimmer of false doubt to continue to promote more self-destructive behavior.

  3. Part of being a skeptic — and it’s a big part — is admitting when you’re wrong.

    How true! That, and the ability to say, “I don’t know.” Too many people seem to forget that, and how being able to admit those things are even central to how we as a species have advanced!

  4. A true sign of humility is admitting when you are wrong as well! Kudos to Randi!

  5. Jacob Spinney

    I find models to be quite unreliable, because so far their predictions have simply gone completely opposite to the facts. For example, no model predicted that the global temperature would be staying the same (actually even cooling a little) for the last decade. Show me a model that’s actually made predictions that continually pan out and I’ll start considering it.

  6. PaleGreenPantsWithNobodyInsideThem

    One thing I’ve learned in this thing is that online posters, be they skeptic or not, are a bunch of [redacted] emboldened when backed by their mob. My heart goes out to Randi, but I know he has thicker skin than most.

  7. Lupine

    I am a little surprised that he didn’t know that the “Petition” was BS though. This wasn’t exactly breaking news.

  8. JT

    I for one didn’t see why people reacted the way they did either. Randi is not a scientist, and has never claimed to be. The fact that he can make a mistake with respect to a field that he has no expertise in is hardly a surprise. All it shows is that he’s vulnerable to certain types of deception, just like every other human on the planet. It’s hardly his first mistake, and not even waiting to see how he responded to being corrected before going out and renouncing everything remotely associated with him was a tad on the extreme side.

    Quite frankly, the reaction reminded me of the reaction of people who idolize a celebrity, and then learn that their idol isn’t actually a god-on-earth. Which makes me think that perhaps a lot of people in the “skeptical” movement have rather severely missed the point.

    P.S. Kudos to Phil for actually waiting for all the facts to come in before weighing in. If more people did that, there would be a lot less pointless melodrama in the world.

  9. Good of you to take the time and effort to set things straight, Phil. Randi is an absolute treasure. He just made a mistake.

  10. In the response post, one of the other commenters there (minusRusty) made a great statement:

    This whole thing reminds me of Penn’s explanation of his “I don’t know, I just simply don’t know” position regarding AGW at TAM7. When he said “… but I’m not the one you should be listening to”, the spontaneous applause to that line was right on. Penn, and Randi, are not the experts we ought to be listening to here.

  11. Mike

    I think it’s an excellent example of a few things

    a) why the skeptical community needs both magicians and scientists
    b) just how muddy the waters are for anyone looking to gather their own information

    =)

  12. Good response, Phil. I think it was an interesting lesson for all of us observers. We don’t give ANYONE a free pass from fair criticism (good) but we tend to get riled easily and take it too far too fast (bad).

    I’ve got to go find my patience somewhere hidden in a closet and try it on to see if it fits.

  13. Like many others, I would also like to have seen Randi go a little further. As I’ve already commented on several blogs, I believe that an honest skeptic who isn’t well informed about a subject for which there is a scientific consensus, should treat the consensus as the default position and assign the burden of proof to the detractors. In other words, “not knowing” should be the equivalent of deferal to the scientific consensus and not staking out a middle ground between “maybe the scientists are right and maybe they’re wrong.” I saw Randi move in this direction, though I would have liked to see him move further. (I’m also a bit puzzled by his comments which seem to imply that AGW is the result of direct heating with fossil fuels.)

    Having said that, his clarification is a step in the right direction and I’m happy with that. I didn’t really expect a complete turnaround (though I would have liked one). In an ideal world, our brains would act like computers which can change their opinions on a dime the moment they’re presented with proper evidence. In reality, ideas and beliefs get entrenched and people often get attached to them. Letting go is a slow process; millions of neuronal synapses don’t just rewire themselves overnight. It seems apparent to me now that Randi had bought into many AGW denialist claims a bit deeper than I had originally thought.

    However, as an optimist, I see today’s post as the first step on the road to full rejection of AGW denialism. Prove me right, Randi!

  14. Gebo

    As usual, Dr. Plait, you have spoken wisely!

  15. Jacob,

    “Show me a model that’s actually made predictions that continually pan out and I’ll start considering it.”

    Most of them show this effect. They did not show this effect 10 years ago because assumptions about other forcing factors could not have been known, like the strange recent behavior of the sun.

    You are trying to use the models in a way that they are not useful for: robust specific prediction. We dont know what the sun will do, we dont know when humans will get off their asses and start reducing carbon output, we dont know if a volcano will erupt. But when these things happen, the data from the event can be plugged into the model and the model can be verified by “predicting” the response and verifiying this prediction with what actually happened. That is how you verify any model, whether it is climate or mechanical.

    That hardly makes it useless. We can use these verified models to then do some scenario exploration. We say “well if the sun goes through its normal cycles, and we cut our carbon output by 1/2, what will happen?… oops 1/2 doesnt look like its enough”.

    If Phil tells you that there is a good likelihood of a meteor (or meteroid?, I know its a pet peeve of some, but I can never get it straight…and I DID read the book!) hitting the earth, will you also say “well I dont trust models”. But those models are just as prone to unknowns and measurement error as any other model. That doesnt mean we cant trust them at all.

    Nirvana Fallacy anyone?

  16. PaleGreenPantsWithNobodyInsideThem

    @13

    Though it does seem that he’s missing the point on GW. he seems to assume that it’s being caused by the heat generated by burning the fossil fuels. Until that is nipped, he can’t hope to come to an informed decision.

  17. 9. JT Says:
    December 17th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I for one didn’t see why people reacted the way they did either. Randi is not a scientist, and has never claimed to be. The fact that he can make a mistake with respect to a field that he has no expertise in is hardly a surprise. All it shows is that he’s vulnerable to certain types of deception, just like every other human on the planet.

    I believe it was Randi who has pointed out that ‘scientists’ (physics, chemistry, etc.) are fairly easily bamboozled by pseudo-psychics because the scientists 1) tend to believe that the ‘psychics’ are being honest, as they expect from their colleagues 2) since the ‘psychics’ are using ‘magic techniques’, a Magician can more easily see what/how they are doing what they’re doing.

    So also, many non-scientists (and remember, a ‘scientist’ is usually familiar with one particular area of expertise such as Physics, but not necessarily knowledgeable in other areas) can be similarly fooled by areas they are not familiar with, especially when there’s a political agenda involved that means the ‘truth’ of a particular proposition for someone means they ‘spin’ information.

    RE: the Petition.
    I remember years ago when it first hit, I went to the website and read some ‘research’ they’d done, and was (even as a layman) not impressed by their conclusions, or even their technique. Also, it had been pointed out that some of the same ‘scientists’ who ‘signed’ it also apparently were signed up to vote by ACORN (who are not responsible for phony registrations, and correctly turned in the bogus registrations as questionable)… Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.

    J/P=?

  18. theinquisitor

    @16

    Indeed, that is a misunderstanding that even rabid denialists aren’t making. Where on Earth is he getting his information from?

  19. Ok, we all love Randi, allright?

    But wait a sec, this wasn’t just a mistake, it’s a pretty big methodological f_ckup.

    It’s like saying “hey, homeopathy sounds crazy, but who am I to judge? Many pharmacists and engineers use it and they actually feel better. So it can be a placebo or a true effect, but there are so many factors, I want to be open to the possibility”.

  20. Anders Eg

    Most scientific papers are wrong. TA Randi has noticed how easily scientist are duped by crackpots like Geller, why not by collegues. He has good reasons to form his own opinion.

    from Ioannides, link below

    “a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias”
    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0020124
    see also
    http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/band139/b139-2.html
    Don´t believe every thing which is peer reviewed!

  21. I wish Randi had never weighed in on this topic. I think the official JREF policy on AGW should be the one given by Brandon Thorp:

    “Since people who are more scientifically literate than we cannot agree about AGW, we have no official opinion on it, save this: Be skeptical of everything.”

    This POV is still not satisfactory to the majority of scientists who have poured over the data and are in full agreement about AGW, but it does straddle the middle line.

  22. Guy Mac

    Why is climate change complex? I say apply some skepticism to that notion! Does it not stand to reason that doubling (on the way to tripling) the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere–simple, accurate, peer-reviewed, undisputed measurements that have been made for decades–would raise global mean temperatures? After all, Arrhenius speculated that this would be the case 100 years ago.

  23. Richard

    I agree with the earlier commenters who suggest Randi’s follow-up doesn’t go far enough, but I don’t think that’s the biggest unresolved issue. No, more concerning to me is this shameful strawman argument: “In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming.”
    Is Randi next going to tell us we should cut funding to NASA so that we can end famine?

  24. papabear

    This is one of the problems I have with the whole Global warming scene. One of the most respected, and well known skeptics, who is celebrated for his dedication to science and science education makes one little post that doesn’t fit with what the rest of the group thinks and he’s attacked for it unmercifully. The correct tactic, and the one the BA seems to have taken, was to address the flaws and let Randi have a chance to adjust his statement. Given that he understands science he modifies his opinion based on new information instead of holding onto his “beliefs”. To me that’s the way it should work, but it doesn’t happen often enough. Any one who has questions about GW is dismissed as a crackpot “denier” out of hand, even if all they really had was questions they would like answered.

    When one of my friends back in college was trying to “educate” me on how the moon landings were faked, there was plenty of places to get the information I needed to show him where he was wrong (which was how I came to read the BA many moons ago). There’s good debunking out there on the denialist claims, but it’s usually in bits and pieces wrapped up in attacks on credibility(yes, many times it is warranted)…and far too often in my opinion it just dismisses the claims as uninformed. Even though I’m sure that’s true in most cases I still prefer to see the actual science for why instead of the generic “tons of evidence” remark.

    I don’t doubt for a second that humans are having a negative affect on the climate (Just spend a day or two in Mexico City and your lungs will beg you to find greener alternatives). I do wonder just how accurate our models are considering the huge number of variables that come into play for something like long term climate. I understand that they are better than we had even ten years ago and I’m sure as we learn more they will get even more accurate. Instead of actual discussion with real information, I usually see one side saying the models are wrong with the other saying no they aren’t…like taking a road trip with a couple of small children fighting about who started it. Both sides talk about the mountains of evidence they have to back up their side, and talk about how dishonest the others research is without ever discussing the actual research. My point is not that I’m a denier(although I’m sure some will claim that’s what I’m trying to do), just that I wish it was easier to find good solid information to answer the questions, curiosities really, I do have on the subject. That’s become increasingly more difficult as the issue has become more and more of a hot button. I understand how frustrating it can be to deal with CT’ers, or denialist, or anti-vaxers because it took me years to get my friend off of the moon landing hoax theory(and I’m not convinced he ever truly stopped believing, or just gave up with me). There were many times where I just wanted to tell him what a !@!@#$@# @%$% he was (and did on several occasions actually), so I understand that its’ easier to just dismiss them or call them hopeless, but that doesn’t do anything to help out the average person on the street (like me) who doesn’t have a deep grasp of climate science when their honestly looking for answers.

    P.S. Since I rarely comment I do want to thank Phil for the information he has linked to in the past regarding vaccines. That information helped me persuade a friend that she should vaccinate when she was almost dead set against it. She still asked her doctor to spread out the shots, but I still considered it to be a huge victory.

  25. Thanks, Phil, for a thoughtful post on this. There’s way too much vitriol flying around over this thing. Can’t we allow someone like Randi to make a mistake once in a while? Gee whiz.

  26. DaveH

    To be honest, I thought Randi’s follow up was pretty awful (and a little bizarre in places).

    All he had to do was say he was wrong. Blaming PZ and the commenters for his mistakes is disappointing.

    Randi marked out two comments as the type of thing he was unhappy with:

    “Randi just came out against the science that indicates that Global Warming is happening, that it is man made, and that it will harm our biosphere (and is currently doing so).”

    “I was also saddened by Randi siding with the GW denialists. He seems to have fallen for a number of logical fallacies, and apparently prefers self-deception and ignorance when it comes to this issue. Very, very sad.”

    However, he DID come out against the science that indicates GW is happening. By endorsing the petition he was de facto siding with the GW denialists. He DID fall for a number of logical fallacies and it was fair to say he had made no attempt to examine the petition’s credibility nor did he make the attempt (given his friends and allies) to be anything other than ignorant about AGW.

    Maybe there was something else Randi and/or Phil were unhappy with, but I think those comments he brought up – and PZ’s article- were spot on.

    I just hope Randi is more circumspect in the future.

  27. Denialist

    Well, look at this. A skeptic tries to argue both sides of an issue and nearly gets ostracized for being an amateur who should stick to things he knows.

    We’re constantly told to just believe the climate scientist. These scientists, apparently, are people who are incapable of being corrupted, influenced, or otherwise incorrect about this particular issue.

    Question the level of human influence in climate change, and you’re labeled a “denier.” A word with a connotation which used to be reserved for holocaust deniers. You are assumed to be anti-environment, and invariably accused of being a religious nut.

    Well, I guess I’m a denialist in your view. And I watch the world become obsessed with Carbon Dioxide, the worst pollutant in existence according to climate-change hopefuls (see what I did there?) Not sulfur oxides, not Nitrogen oxides, not toxic metals.
    The destruction of our oceans and forests will have to take a back seat for a couple decades as we focus on reducing CO2. Forget about exhausting rare metals, because that Prius you’re driving gets pretty damn good fuel mileage!

    Remember kids, it’s good to be a skeptic. Just don’t be skeptic about climate change.

  28. Bryan C

    “Part of being a skeptic — and it’s a big part — is admitting when you’re wrong.”

    Unless, apparently, you are participating in climate science. In which case honest critiques and informed dissent are simply feeding into dangerous “denialist” skepticism. Because good science is all about passive “acceptance”, you know.

    Randi may not have all of his facts right, but his instincts are sound. He recognizes flim-flam when he sees it. Unfortunately it appears that his more timid fellow skeptics are now dead-set on pressuring him into recanting his heresy. This is sad.

  29. SLC

    Re Jacob Spinney

    For example, no model predicted that the global temperature would be staying the same (actually even cooling a little) for the last decade.

    This is part of the big lie that climate change denialists repeat over and over again, much like evolution denaiists clain that there are no intermediate fossils. This is based on the observation that the average temperature in 1998 has not been exceeded in the 11 years since (actually, 2005 was pretty close). However, there is no particular reason to pick out 1998. If one were, for example, to pick out 1997, one would find that all 12 years since then have been warmer then 1997 was. Based on that, one would certainly not conclude that average temperatures have not been rising. Any statistician looking at the data over the last 30 years would be highly suspicious that 1998 was an outlier.

    Re Phil Plait

    As PZ Myers points out in the thread linked to above, Mr. Randi still has got it wrong. He is apparently under the impression that global warming is caused by the heat produced by combustion. I suggest that he may need a little more educating.

  30. Rock on.

    It’s too bad that such a prominent figure as Randi can’t have an opinion without it reflecting somehow on all of skepticism in general.

    Also, it’s one thing to disagree with our heroes, and I’m glad to see some skeptics who are willing to do that. It’s a whole other issue to vilify someone and get all up in arms. Echoing Tim Farley, “gee whiz!”

  31. JT

    Many of us ‘denialists’ as we continue to be branded are just as prepared to change our minds if the (perceived) uncertainties are addressed. My own skepticism aligns with Randi’s sentiment that while I’m not certain why the earth has warmed, I know that particulate emissions are a terrible thing anyway which we should seek to eliminate. I want to shut down all those coal power plants as much as anyone, but still I resent the lack of civil discourse about the uncertainties of the role of CO2 in global warming.

  32. Michael Swanson

    I’m going to admit first that I have read neither of Randi’s posts yet. I’d like to say that, first, I consider him a hero. Second, I’ve read some of his works and watched many of his appearances, and – gasp! – I’ve disagreed with some of them, thought others could have been better stated. It’s almost like he’s just a guy! A guy who works insanely hard at making the world a better place, and then sometimes doesn’t do it perfectly.

    My goodness, it’s all just falling down around our ears now, isn’t it?

  33. Timmy

    If global warming were that clear, then there wouldn’t be a debate about it. Lighten up!
    I think there is no question that humans are contributing to CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas which traps heat radiating from the Earth and causes global warming.

    What we can’t agree on is how much warming from CO2 is taking place and what effect it will have in the future. So lets just work on that and meet up later to discuss.

    OK, so that debate is finished! Now we can spend the rest of the day watching the Iron Man 2 trailer!

  34. Beelzebud

    I recall the collective freak-out in the skeptic blog community when Bill Maher said he didn’t think everyone needed the flu shot. If it’s good enough for the goose, it’s good enough for the gander, and James Randi isn’t above being called out for being wrong.

    For those in this thread that whine about him being “unmercifully attacked”: That’s what skeptics do when someone is wrong about the science. The reason a skeptic would call you a denier is because you are denying the enormous scientific consensus that exists. You’re in the same league with creationists, quite literally.

  35. MartinM

    I find models to be quite unreliable, because so far their predictions have simply gone completely opposite to the facts. For example, no model predicted that the global temperature would be staying the same (actually even cooling a little) for the last decade.</blockquote.

    That's not actually true. The point estimate for the last decade's trend may be slightly negative, but the error bars include the model predictions. You simply can't infer a trend from such a short series. You're basically asking for the models to accurately predict noise as well as signal.

  36. MartinM

    If global warming were that clear, then there wouldn’t be a debate about it.

    Just like creationism, vaccines, and whether or not we landed on the Moon.

  37. I too have sighted Shermer’s example of a skeptic who changes his opinion once the evidence convinces him.

  38. ND

    I wonder what Iron Man’s carbon footprint is?

  39. PaleGreenPantsWithNobodyInsideThem

    @35

    I imagine pretty low as a super-hero. He has that tiny energy source that doesn’t seem to give of emissions.

    Now, Stark is another story. I bet he’s right up there with Gore.

  40. DennyMo

    #23 papabear, that was an awesome post, thanks for summing up my thoughts for me.

  41. deep

    His follow up post didn’t quite address the issue as thoroughly as I would have liked.

    But I’ve been flabbergasted at all this talk about vitriol and impolite criticism. Skeptics do need to tug at their forelocks every time they criticize someone on poor logic or incorrect information. How can you say that no one is sacrosanct and then expect people to treat Randi any differently than any other blogger who pushed for a petition of such dubious value without first doing any research? He is a great man who deserves some respect and I think a modicum of decency helps and if I ever meet him I’ll be polite and shake his hand, but his posts were foolish and deserve to be called as such.

  42. bubba

    I think JR’s entry was crap. His ‘correction’ was just more of it. Speaking, as he says, not as an expert, what business does he have writing about it at all, then? It’s so sad when people in a position of influence (and power?) write or speak about on which they have no authority. He simply stepped in it, big time. Is this dog too old to learn? We’ll find out in the future.

  43. papabear

    @31. Beelzebud Says: “That’s what skeptics do when someone is wrong about the science”

    I completely disagree with that statement in regards to skeptics attacking someone who is wrong. Sceptics/Scientist should use the science to show how they are wrong and not resort to attacks acting as if someone has completely lost their mind for being wrong. It’s one thing when it’s a public figure, like Jenny McCarthy, who has shown repeatedly that she’s not interested in the actual science and only in forcing her beliefs on the general public. It’s quite another when it’s a respected sceptic such as Randi who will gladly review the science and alter his views. I’m shocked that Randi isn’t more well informed on this subject as well, but the tendency for an automatic attack on someone(and not their incorrect claims) who steps out of line is not helpful in any way.

  44. Robert L

    Agreed, Papabear’s comment was right on.

    It’s very hard to even ask/posit a question, let alone express any skepticism, when you are drowned in a wash of political correctness.

    Observation trumps hypothesis. We’ll see soon enough how it works out.

  45. MartinM

    It’s very hard to even ask/posit a question, let alone express any skepticism, when you are drowned in a wash of political correctness.

    Perhaps if you actually asked, rather than complaining about how hard it is to ask, you might be pleasantly surprised.

  46. Adrian Burd

    Jacob,

    You say:

    “For example, no model predicted that the global temperature would be staying the same (actually even cooling a little) for the last decade. Show me a model that’s actually made predictions that continually pan out and I’ll start considering it”

    There are several problems with your statement. Firstly, average global temperatures show considerable inter-annual variation – of the order of plus or minus 0.2 C. This inter-annual variation
    cannot be well predicted by models (that’s what Kevin Trenberth was really talking about in the
    quote-mined passages from the so-called Climate-gate files). However, the long term
    trend in temperature, and by long term I mean 20-30 years, is clearly very well predicted by almost
    all (if not all) climate models.

    Think of this. You’re sitting outside on a fine April evening, and it’s rather chilly. Does this mean that the daily temperature is going down? Maybe tomorrow will also be cold. But the trend (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) will be for increasing temperatures, as summer is just around the corner. So a model showing that general increase in temperature would accurately reflect the long term trend, but may not predict the temperature for that particular evening very well at all.

    So, in order to understand the model results, you need to be looking at the long term, multi-decadal results.

    On top of this, choosing the “last decade” often involves starting ones record in 1998. This is well known to have been an exceptionally strong El Nino year. El Nino is one of those things that leads to
    the inter-annual variability (or noise, if you like) in the climate signal. El Nino’s also tend to produce warmer average temperatures. So, starting in 1998 is really cherry picking the data. Again, the moral of the story is, look at the long term, multi-decadal signal. Then you will see that models and data agree very well.

    There are some excellent discussions of these types of matters on Tamino’s Open Mind blog:

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/riddle-me-this/

    Adrian

  47. @MartinM

    ‘Just like creationism, vaccines, and whether or not we landed on the Moon.’

    Tell us you’re being facetious. Dog, I hope so. Perhaps I missed the tone of the post.

  48. mk

    Exactly right MartinM.

  49. Screechy Monkey

    Nicole @27: “It’s too bad that such a prominent figure as Randi can’t have an opinion without it reflecting somehow on all of skepticism in general.”

    If Randi had simply rambled a bit at a dinner party when asked about the subject, and someone reported it and it led to a big fuss, then I’d agree with you. But when the founder and namesake of a leading skeptical organization, and someone who many skeptics cite as a role model, publishes a long piece on that foundation’s website, I think it should reflect on skepticism.

    The problem isn’t that Randi happened to reach an incorrect conclusion because hey, he’s human. It’s that he seems to have reached that conclusion based on very sloppy methods: not checking his sources, not consulting people with knowledge in the field, etc. And while that, too, is a human mistake, it’s not the kind of mistake that a leader of a skeptical organization and someone who solicits donations for his efforts at promoting critical thinking should be caught making in so public a fashion. And Randi’s “notpology” is a little too focused on blaming his critics for my taste.

  50. BMcP

    And finally, there is a really good takeaway point from this: when it comes to reality, no one and no thing is sacrosanct

    That also goes true for man made global warming theory. Although from some of the reaction by so-called “skeptics” against Randi of a personal nature, it would seen the theory is sacrosanct to some. One could even compare it to a response on someone’s skepticism of a True Believer’s™ religion. Now that’s irony.

  51. carlos

    @Papabear

    This whole thing is just another example that AGW is not about science anymore, but about politics and moralization. Most people against AGW won’t ever change their minds, regardless of the evidence; but it seems to me that the people in support of AGW—judging by their reactions—wouldn’t change their minds either, if new evidence appeared against the “A” in AGW.

    People that only care about facts wouldn’t have attacked Randi the way they did. Like BA said, “when it’s someone who has devoted their life to prying the scales from everyone’s eyes, I think they’ve earned a modicum of decorum when they make a mistake.”

  52. MartinM

    Tell us you’re being facetious. Dog, I hope so. Perhaps I missed the tone of the post

    …yes. The point was that people debate issues which are, in fact, extremely clear all the time. Climate change is no different. Most scientists in relevant fields on one side, with a mountain of data, bunch of idiots, cranks and frauds on the other. And, unfortunately, large sections of the public caught in between, unable to tell the difference.

  53. Yeebok

    After reading all the comments on the other post yesterday I went and read Randi’s post. To me it was more a devil’s advocate post – expressing and explaining why he and others may be uncertain – as opposed to saying ‘global warming is a fake’. I was pretty surprised to see the heat in the responses to be honest, I didn’t think it was remotely justified.

  54. MadScientist

    I’m disappointed that some people are so fanatical they instantly accuse Randi of being a denialist. As I see it, Randi has never had a great interest in the subject and has made the mistake of trying to make sense of it by looking over information on the internet rather than consulting people who could explain things. It takes a lot of time to go over just the most basic ideas and the evidence and I imagine that Randi wouldn’t be too keen on taking so much time away from writing his book. I still support the JREF even if Randi publicly states that he’s taking the typical scientific approach and saying “maybe humans are causing the globe to warm up much faster, but I haven’t really looked hard at the evidence yet.” Unfortunately, while reasonable people take such an approach (and all good scientists can be very annoying by responding to everything with “oh, really?”), I think the general public interprets such a reaction as being opposed to the claims.

    Unfortunately, as PZ Myers points out, the denialists will be rubbing their hands and grinning. I’m also disappointed that even PZ (in his earlier post) seems to assume that Randi is a denialist.

    @PaleGreenPantsWithNobodyInsideThem: That’s an easy mistake for non-experts to make, and only one of many mistakes Randi has made in his quick look at global warming. I’d prefer that Randi just point out that he really didn’t put a good effort into the topic and should not be treated as any sort of expert on the subject, then get on with writing his book.

    @Jacob: The models predicting future climate are of absolutely no significance to the issue of global warming. The energy in our earth surface + atmosphere system is increasing due largely to increased CO2. What the climate modelers attempt to do is guess at how that energy will be distributed around the globe; whether they get that distribution right or not doesn’t affect the fact that the earth is warming and that humans have a large part to play in it. Personally I believe the IPCC will do an awful lot of good by severing all ties with climate modelers and telling them that their contributions will be considered when they have demonstrated that they have anything of value to contribute.

  55. @MartinM

    Thank you. I thought so. It has been a long day.

  56. deep

    That also goes true for man made global warming theory. Although from some of the reaction by so-called “skeptics” against Randi of a personal nature, it would seen the theory is sacrosanct to some. One could even compare it to a response on someone’s skepticism of a True Believer’s™ religion. Now that’s irony.

    Yes, I’m dogmatically defending AGW no matter what the evidence says. Now all that’s left is to get Randi to cast some doubt on evilution and the world will finally see how pitiful all that “evidence” and “peer-reviewed papers” really are.

  57. Thom

    I think you left out the most important thing to note in Randi’s defense, which is simply that part of being a “skeptic,” and in fact what most people would consider the definition of the word, is the unwillingness to accept something simply because someone else says it’s true. Granted, the IPCC is one hell of a “someone else,” and Randi is no climatologist himself, but it’s clear from his discussion of the Petition Project that he was confused as to the extent of the “consensus.”

    Randi was making an effort to look into the issue for himself and (it seems to me) was asking questions so as to make up his mind. He got answers, and the bent of his next post was very different, having apparently been satisfied by the community that answered him. This does not make him “wrong” like you keep saying in your post. I am with you 99% of the time, but it really bugs me how dogmatic the skeptical community can be. Not necessarily on climate change, which is pretty exhaustively researched, but sometimes on some really shaky ground.

    People don’t like change, and they don’t like having their convictions challenged. A lot of the vehement supporters of the consensus are in it for entirely ideological reasons–90s environmentalists who have leaped on board to seize the opportunity to advance their related, but separate, cause. They probably don’t see it in those terms, of course, just as knee-jerk “climate change skeptics” seem to legitimately reject the scientific consensus but often driven by economic considerations.

    I always think of the clash between Oppenheimer and John Wheeler in 1958. The latter, who went on to be a great physicist, refused to accept the possibility of a singularity in a black hole simply because it didn’t “feel” right to him. I wonder how many of the steadfast proponents and opponents of the consensus would fit that description.

  58. Patrick OConnell

    No one seems to have talked about the uncertainty in climate change, and where it comes from (never mind the politics).

    Weather and climate equations are by definition chaotic. They are:
    1. sensitive to initial conditions,
    2. must be topologically mixing, and
    3. periodic orbits must be dense (i.e. every point in the space is approached arbitrarily closely by periodic orbits).

    If you want to read more, go to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory

    I’m not going to set myself up as a chaos theory expert, because I’m not (a month in one class in Computer Science grad school). However, chaotic behavior of systems means that predictions in a chaotic system are fraught with uncertainty.

    Similar equations also apply to oceans (see the El Nino/LaNina annual current changes for an example).

    What this means is that weather, climate, and ocean effects are what change our weather, in hard to predict ways. It also means that people can cherry pick short term and long term climate change information to suit their purposes. Be very careful when working with chaotic math…

  59. At this point, I think global warming is probably happening and we probably play at least some role. That said, I don’t much care. I’m in favor of putting an end to pollution simply for the sake of putting an end to pollution. I don’t need global warming to emphasize the point.

  60. Daniel J. Andrews

    By James

    I find models to be quite unreliable, because so far their predictions have simply gone completely opposite to the facts. For example, no model predicted that the global temperature would be staying the same (actually even cooling a little) for the last decade

    Wow. Two sentences, 3 wrong facts, one possible lie, and a misunderstanding. Not bad but you’ll have to try harder if you’re looking to win the Christopher Booker prize (Google it).

    Here read this article on models.
    logicalscience.com/skeptic_arguments/models-dont-work.html

    Does that look like models have gone completely opposite to the facts for the last decade? Find the latest IPCC report and see what they predicted. Are we completely opposite? Find the previous IPCC report. Same question.

    How about Tamino’s post, Riddle Me This? tamino.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/riddle-me-this/ Emphasis added in quote.

    Those who are in denial of global warming insist that the last decade of global temperature contradicts what was expected by mainstream climate scientists.

    Sound familiar?

    Also this and links inside it.
    sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/global_cooling.html

    Or how about the MET calling it the warmest decade on record?
    metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2009/pr20091208b.html

    Actually even cooling a bit? Let me guess…the globe has been cooling since 1998, right? Zombie myth.
    civilianism.com/futurism/?p=3325 Note that this article also quotes climate monitoring chief of NOAA, Deke Arndt, after NOAA reanalyzed the data.

    Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.”

    I’m sure Goddard Institute for Space Studies would be most interested to hear the globe even cooled in the last decade and their models predicted the complete opposite. data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

    And you say no model predicted temperatures would be staying the same? Really? Do you have any evidence for this? You do know that depends on the drivers, right?

    If left to run on their own, the models will oscillate around a long-term mean that is the same regardless of what the initial conditions were. Given different drivers, volcanoes or CO2 say, they will warm or cool as a function of the basic physics of aerosols or the greenhouse effect.

    See this article on models.
    realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/11/faq-on-climate-models/
    Did you know that James Hansen’s early temperature model included the effects of a volcanic event as a means of testing how well his model reflected reality? Then Mt. Pinatubo blew its top and cooled temperatures worldwide…and the decline and recovery of temperatures was just as Hansen had projected (and he did that with those crappy old computers from the 80s).

    So which models did you find to be unreliable? What were the inputs? Here, ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_wg1_report_the_physical_science_basis.htm
    Download Chapter 10 and the supplementary material (the supplement has a list of models on page 3 if you need to jog your memory on what models you think are unreliable).

    I think you don’t know much about models, and the only reason you find them unreliable is not because you have any evidence against them, but because you don’t understand what they do, how they run, what they project, what and how they’re used, the differences between physics-based and statistical models, etc. All models are wrong. Some models are useful.

    Lastly, your source is either as unknowledgable as you are, or your source is lying to you. As a skeptic ask yourself, Why should I trust them?

  61. Daniel J. Andrews

    Denailist @29. Not often you see an entire post based on strawmen. Nicely done. When you’re finished rehearsing your prejudices, perhaps you’ll settle down and learn something about climate-related sciences and what nearly all the relevant experts around the world are saying. When you’re ready, come and join a climate blog where you can have a real discussion.

  62. DaveH

    @60,

    The chaotic nature of weather means the short-term is often impossible to predict. It doesn’t necessarily mean the long-term climate is so difficult to predict. For example, we don’t know if it will rain at the weekend, but we do know it will be hotter (in the Northern hemisphere) come July.

    There is considerable confidence that climate models provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at continental scales and above.

  63. MartinM

    see what I did there?

    Lied?

  64. Caleb

    And can we please stop using the word “denialist”!? It brings the same connotation as if someone were called a climate change “zealot”. Both are so emotionally charged that they almost always reduce the quality of debate rather than support it.

  65. Josh

    There’s a few stupid tropes that Randi and the denialists are tirelessly dragging out in this thread that should be addressed.

    1) “I think global warming is occurring, but we cannot know if it’s man-made.” This is a ridiculous argument akin to the creationist saying, “I think microevolution occurs, but not macroevolution.” The evidence for humanity’s influence on global climate through CO2 concentration is remarkable and just as startling as the evidence for the rise in global temperatures. In fact, it may be more dramatic considering we are at levels of CO2 concentration that are essentially unprecedented in all but the most long-range baselines.

    2) “Climate modeling is complicated, there are too many variables, it’s chaotic, so scientists can get it wrong.” This is akin to the anti-vaxxer saying that we don’t understand the “full implications” of what happens when we put a vaccine in our bodies. Appealing to your own ignorance on a topic as a reason to dismiss clear and present evidence is not compelling. Moreover, the ridiculous trope about “too many variables” makes me want to ask the person, “Can you list the variables? Because I can.” Energy budgets, forcing, and feedback are all well-understood processes that are governed by well-behaved mathematical equations which describe reality at a lot of levels. Just because something is chaotic doesn’t mean we must throw up our hands in dismay and claim that there is no way to know. The accuracy of models is being tested constantly, and the understanding of the microphysics that go into them is being discussed and argued about all the time. It’s an insult to the thousands of scientists working on these projects to simply dismiss their work out-of-hand.

    Denialists need to get over themselves and start educating themselves instead of just shooting off at the mouth. Educating yourself before you speak is a noble characteristic, and I’m afraid Randi is just as guilty of failing to do the necessary legwork as your run-of-the-mill creationist, homeopath, or believer in the paranormal.

  66. Dan

    Wow, this reflects as badly on PZM as it does on Randi. Randi made the mistake of questioning the consensus (we skeptics should never do that) and PZM instantly called him a denialist (a clever word meant to bring forth deniers of another sort).

    I had had some interest in getting more involved in organized skepticism as I’ve recently divested my self of a few sacred cows, largely due to Randi. But if this is how people react when faced with a hero who seems to have a disagreement, or who just questions some things that seem less and less settled (Russians claiming climate data was cherry-picked, CRU acting like senators at an ethics hearing), then count me out.

    You guys attacked with positively religious fervor. I doubt I’d be comfortable even asking questions unless I was willing to instantly tug my forelock and bow in submission at your answers, rather than take time to consider them. This is not the sort of back and forth I felt skepticism was about. This is a pack of dogs waiting to eat anyone who falls.

  67. MikeD

    @GuyMac

    “Does it not stand to reason that doubling (on the way to tripling) the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere … would raise global mean temperatures?”

    No, it does not stand to reason. Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by capturing energy that was leaving the earth in the form of EM radiation and re-radiating it back. Increasing CO2 levels only have a direct effect up to the point where there is no longer any radiation in a wavelength that is found in CO2′s absorption spectrum is making it into space. For that matter, holding everything else constant, CO2 levels only matter to the extent that its absorption spectrum is distinct from Nitrogen, Oxygen, Water Vapor, etc.

  68. MartinM

    Russians claiming climate data was cherry-picked

    More specifically, a right-wing Russian think-tank claiming climate data was cherry-picked, despite the fact that the ‘cherry-picked’ data and the raw data are in more or less exact agreement since 1950, and the ‘cherry-picked’ version shows more warming in the early stages, which is the exact opposite of what you would want if you were trying to cook the data in support of AGW.

  69. MartinM

    Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by capturing energy that was leaving the earth in the form of EM radiation and re-radiating it back. Increasing CO2 levels only have a direct effect up to the point where there is no longer any radiation in a wavelength that is found in CO2’s absorption spectrum is making it into space.

    We are, of course, nowhere near that point.

  70. Grizzly

    Phil, I’m not going to get into the Randi argument but I do want to comment.

    You said “Part of being a skeptic — and it’s a big part — is admitting when you’re wrong.”

    I would like to point out that this isn’t exclusive to skepticism. I know you don’t think so either, but let’s for a moment replace “skeptic” with “believer in the Space God Zuuul”. Do you see what I’m getting at?

    Don’t lets fall into the trap of ascribing great virtue to a system of thought that makes it appear as if it is exclusive to that system of thought.

    I would just leave it that admitting when someone is wrong is a virtue regardless of one’s background, system of belief (or non belief) orientation, gender… whatever.

  71. sailor

    “This is one of the problems I have with the whole Global warming scene. One of the most respected, and well known skeptics, who is celebrated for his dedication to science and science education makes one little post that doesn’t fit with what the rest of the group thinks and he’s attacked for it unmercifully.”

    Phil works with and knows Randi and so was able to react in a very constructive way. However, Randi has spent his life trying to make people skeptical. He should be proud that when he does a bum post they sit on him hard. This is proof of the good work he had done. And many of those posts were good, they pointed out the same things that Phil did. Yes, Phil contacted him personally and was more tactful, but that was appropriate for him. What the others did was fine. It shows skepticism works.

  72. Rob Z

    That was SPECTACULARLY poor timing from Randi. And it was an ill-informed post. Not helpful at all.

  73. Adrian Burd

    Patrick @60

    Whilst chaos and predictability are an issue with weather prediction, they are far less of a problem in climate models. The affect of chaos on climate models has been intensively studied for a long time and there is a lot known about it. Please go and read

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/11/chaos-and-climate/

    Adrian

  74. Peter Beattie

    Phil:
    Obviously, the comments focused on Randi’s post. While some were fair, I was taken aback by the vitriol of many of the comments; some people were out-and-out calling Randi a denialist, which is ridiculous. Other comments were worse.

    I just read all of the comments in that thread again. Your assessment seems to be flat wrong. Any vitriol came from obviously disturbed people, talking about JREF’s oil money etc. They can be safely discarded as nutty, and it seems strange to focus on them. As to the denialism, Randi unmistakably used quite a lot of talking points out of the denialists’ playbook. Here’s a (it turns out, not so) quick list:

    1. He starts off with a little poisoning of the well by referring to “academics who are often more driven by ‘politically correct’ survival principles”, and who are also driven by “religious and other emotional convictions”. At best, that kind of introduction is gratuitous.

    2. He says, “a growing number of prominent scientists disagree.” Without giving even a single name of those alleged prominent scientists.

    3. Next up, the Petition Project. Its claims are so patently ridiculous that it’s hard to believe that anyone would even need to look into them. Neither do numbers prove anything, nor was the survey representative of anything relevant, nor indeed were respondents asked whether they had actually looked at any relevant evidence for global warming.

    4. To add insult to injury, Randi says: “I strongly suspect that The Petition Project may be valid.” He of all people should know that ‘I strongly suspect’ is the most strongly suspect phrase in the book. What someone suspects, strongly or otherwise, is of no import whatsoever; either you have evidence or you don’t. If you don’t, your opinion has no meaning. (Unless, perhaps, you’re an acknowleged expert in the field in question, which might lend to your gut feeling just a little bit of weight.)

    5. The very next sentece reads, “I base this on my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the facts about planet Earth.” This is a complete non-sequitur. Either the so-called survey is representative of anything, or it isn’t. Facts about planet Earth just don’t enter into it.

    6. Sherlock Holmes: “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.”

    Randi: “I believe we simply cannot formulate an equation into which we enter variables and come up with an answer. … Please note that this my amateur opinion, based on probably insufficient data.”

    It certainly wasn’t Self-Awareness Day when Randi wrote this.

    7. “Years of warming followed by years of cooling have left us just a bit warmer than before.” Conveniently leaving out the fact that recent warming has been on a scale unprecedented in the last couple of ten thousand years.

    8. And the last five paragraphs make one point after another to the effect that life on Earth will go on, a rise in CO2 levels doesn’t necessarily mean an equivalent rise in temperature, we need CO2 to survive, a little warmer climate may not be a bad thing, and we have more important things to worry about. Each of those statements is either trivial, irrelevant to the issue, misleading, or outright callous—of course our species will adapt, but it’s the poor of this world who will suffer from global warming, not we who live in quite breathtaking luxury. And each of those statements is a staple of the denialist rhetoric.

    Of course Randi deserves a lot of respect for all the things he has done. But we would actually be dishonouring his legacy if we didn’t forcefully point out the fallacies whenever his thinking and his arguments so dramatically fail to measure up to his own standards. I think your ‘mistakes were made’ reaction was rather unhelpful, and in my opinion, it will not do.

  75. Ryan Jensen

    “… no one and no thing is sacrosanct”

    Except, of course, for man-made global warming.

  76. Gil

    Unfortunately, expect more of this. James Randi won’t be the only one.

    Take kid’s science guy Johnny Ball – the UK counterpart to Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye – who got booed off the stage on Tuesday during the “Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People” show. The audience had adored Johnny Ball since childhood and was, until then, one of their science heroes. Unfortunately, he dared disagree on a central tenent of orthodoxy and paid the price.

    Think of how certain groups treat “infidels” who might agree 100% on everything, except for that one single point. Don’t think for a minute that “skeptics” are immune or above that kind of reaction.

  77. Well said Phil. I was concerned over Randi’s comments and was disappointed with the way that the thread deteriorated. He may not come around right away but as always learning is the first step.

  78. Vincent

    @79
    ——
    “… no one and no thing is sacrosanct”

    Except, of course, for man-made global warming.
    ——

    And Evolution. And the belief that man walked on the moon. Liberals have lots of religious beliefs, they just don’t like calling them that.

  79. Radwaste

    Maybe you should wonder why what a man says becomes the point.

  80. On the one hand, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, both in terms of sticking up for Randi and making a point about the fallibility of all. On the other, this seems like more than a little bit of a cop out.

    In it, he expressed some doubt over the consensus that humans are causing global warming. He does not doubt that warming is happening, as he made clear, just the role of humans in that change.

    Jenny McCarthy has expressed some doubt over the consensus that vaccines are safe. She doesn’t doubt that vaccines prevent diseases, just whether or not children should be given so many so fast.

    Intelligent Design proponents have expressed some doubt over the consensus that life has evolved through natural selection and gene transfer. They don’t doubt that life has evolved, just that it could have happened without a Designer.

    Etc.

    What he said wasn’t particularly defensible from either a genuine skeptic’s perspective or scientifically. His follow up post wasn’t really that much better. You’re loyal and you’re compassionate, and that’s wonderful for Randi. You should be so to your hearts content wearing your friend “hat”. You trying to put lipstick on that pig of a post is a little insulting to skeptics and your readers when you do it wearing your skeptic’s “hat”.

    Randi also quite obviously doesn’t even understand the basic workings of the greenhouse effect, something you didn’t even mention.

    Like I said, I appreciate where you’re coming from. I’m a big fan of Randi’s and of yours, and you’re not going to lose me as a reader or anything like that. But you’re not doing Randi any favors by making excuses for him.

  81. Marvin

    I’m really bothered by the language used by man made global warming evangelists. Again you say “global warming denialists” which clearly isn’t the case. Man made global warming is another issue, doesn’t seem to me there is much denying of warming itself. Seems the language you are using is dubious at best, the same kind used by psychics, antivaxers and the like. While it may be plausible for human action to be responsible for the warming to a catastrophic degree, the consensus among scientists is not as unanimous as you make it out to be. At the very least you shouldn’t put words in the man made warming sceptics mouths. Please don’t continue to reduce the issues at hand to a handful of slogans and meaningless punch words.

  82. Melissa

    Dear Phil,

    How can I be skeptical of you when you’re always right?

  83. Ray

    This whole situation as the very real possibility to bite science as a whole on the collective behind.

    Those who believe that human activity is responsible, as Marvin states above, in not a consensus by any means. And the behavior of the supporters of that idea has been more than a little arrogant and sometimes draconian.

    Science is under attack, particularly in the US. This is giving the religious and political opposition a golden opportunity. Reduce the rhetoric and let start by making the case for human actions being responsible. Show us, the interested public. Make the case that this is not a result of a natural fluctuation in weather. Silence the critics like me. Come down from the moral high ground and talk with the non believers, don’t berate or trivialize us.

  84. bad Jim

    Ray, are you kidding? What evidence of shrinking glaciers and disappearing polar ice caps don’t you understand? There’s no shortage of explanation unless you’re intent on shutting it out.

    Let’s think about following the money. Scientists make a decent living if they’re tenured professors or working for industry, but not everyone gets there and the process generally entails years of genteel poverty. There’s no payoff for them in warning the rest of us of a looming catastrophe except perhaps a sense of satisfaction.

    On the other hand, there are many very large, very wealthy coal and oil companies whose future earnings might be compromised by any actions that could be taken to limit carbon emissions. There are billions of dollars at stake for them.

    Which side has an incentive to lie?

  85. Science_Boy

    The problem with the whole Global Warming issue is that it has been taken over by politics, and economics, and people who passionately defend their entrenched positions. I want to see the raw data.

    At this link is a pie-chart, typical of things I find on the internet. (http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/climate/mitigation_intro.html) The problem with that pie-chart and all the others I could find is that they only break down man-made sources for greenhouse gases. I want to see a pie chart that shows the total breakdown, including natural sources and sinks of greenhouse gasses.

    My understanding, from an NCAR presentation I attended, is that even if we reduced all man-made carbon dioxide sources to 0 right now, there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to cause the temperature to continue to rise. It will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. We really need to find way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere bring the rising temperatures back down. That may require manipulating natural sources and sinks rather than merely cutting back on human produced greenhouse gasses.

  86. DigitalAxis

    Taking a step back, I think the thing that bothers me (and evidently not just me) MOST about this latest kerfuffle is how quick some people were to denounce and belittle James Randi. He went from everyone’s skeptical hero to ‘just some senile guy’ incredibly fast. It’s like we’ll kick ANYONE out of the skeptic’s club if they disagree with what we like even ONCE, even if they’re James “The Amazing” Randi. That strikes me as somewhat dishonest.

    Now, I think Randi was wrong there, and the statement troubled me (especially because I have to assume that Randi as a good skeptic would not come to the conclusion he did without evidence) but he’s built up enough goodwill that he can make more than one mistake before I refuse to have anything to do with him.

  87. Randy A.

    Is global warming caused by human actions? That is the WRONG QUESTION!!!

    We can’t wait to find out for sure, because if we’re wrong, the results will be catastophic.

    If we act, there are a lot of side benefits. The obvious ones are less pollution from fossil fuel use, and avoiding the problems of peak oil.

    So to summarize: if global warming is our fault and we do nothing, we’re totally screwed. If global warming isn’t our fault, phasing out fossil fuels and changing our habits to include more energy conservation will yield lots of benefits.

    It’s a no brainer.

  88. I find it amusing that while other people are mercilessly villified on this blog as “deniers” when they question the anthropogene cause of global warming, Randi is excused. Even though he is a magician with little knowledge of climate science (unlike some of the scientific global warming sceptics – who are heaped on one big pile with neocon morons here on this blog). That smacks of doublethink.

    Phil, as much as I respect you with regard to other topics, I feel you are just parroting with the crowd when it comes to the AGW debate, with very little real insight yourself (and as someone who has close ties to climate science, I can say that). And now you display this kind of double standards when suddenly your buddy Randi stepped over to your earlier defined ‘dark side’, I can take you even less serious on this topic.

    By the way, the January issue of Journal of Quaternary Research is completely devoted to a Paleoclimatology view on the IPCC report conclusions. There is some interesting stuff in there, both showing how much and how little we know and can model. Very interesting for example is one of the contributions on sea level rise predictions.

  89. PseudoWrestler

    I think Randi’s rebuttal was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s difficult to know when you have enough information about a particular subject to speak on it with authority. He is a figure head and a leader to a lot of skeptics and he felt he should weigh in on the issue. While I was initially shocked by his original article, his rebuttal was a very eloquent look at what he was trying to hint at with his original article, and I accept the explanation. Keep in mind that he did have to remove some of the fluff to fit it into the websites requested format.

    I would of course remain at least mildly skeptical, as I do with AGW, as well as most other scientific theories that are esoteric, beyond my realm of understanding with my current knowledge, and upon which does not rest another realm of science that I can verify through other means. (ex: I cannot witness atoms slow down with lower temperatures myself, but I can judge that explanation to be correct through observable phenomena such as gas diffusion, pressure variation, changes in viscosity/transparency…)

    I do indeed believe that we are causing global warming and I find it imperative that we find ways to lessen our impact on the planet regardless, as it is currently our only home ; )

    I think if anything, he successfully reminded us that we need to remain critical, even of those ideas and theories that seem to fit perfectly into our own world view.

  90. Jonathan

    Although as far as I’m concerned, AGW is absolutely happening, I am far from comfortable with responses to so-called deniers. In the morning paper here today it’s claimed 40% of the population at large are at best undecided about the validity of the science.

    It seems to me that this is a real case of science failing to engage with the public. In my physics days that aspect was seen as a hugely important part of the job and I think climate science as a whole seems to have forgotten that. And it’s nothing to do with how solid the science is. I remember explaining cosmic rays to someone who was unconvinced (although when she understood, her description of them as “a crazy kind of rain” remains my favourite)

    Mocking someone, calling them a denier, or even worse is not going to change the minds of that 40%, it’ll make things worse. We’re seeing that now. Stick to real arguments based on real science.

    And also please no more “The Earth will be sterilized in 100 years/fish will go mad from acid seas” proclamations. The tabloids lap it up and another x% of the public are disengaged.

  91. Utakata

    Accept evidence is siding with man made global warming, thus it’s no longer evangelism, Marvin @ #85. Though the global warming denialist I find are pretty preachy….that is, putting faith into things that have not been proven. Even though, I have to admit…they are pretty good at using skeptic language masking their religious zeal.

    Anywhoos…

    @ BA: If my language was pretty harsh in dissing Randi, I apologize. I guess I was pretty dismayed when he went of the rails like that. Especially citing such a dubios source. And I will admit, I’m still not quite comfortable that he has adequately admitted to his fault…which I agree with many here, was pretty grave. I would never go as far as calling him a denialist…that was pretty harsh. And suggests maliciousness in his actions. Far from it; just was horribley wrong on this point.

    Though thank you for the time in explaining this to him with a level head. And providing evidence that was enough to help him see the error of his way. Hopefully this is a good start.

    Though one thing I did learn out of this affair: PZ’s middle name is Zachary, I never knew that. :)

  92. Pieter Kok

    Phil, you are being apologetic. I understand this, because Randi is a friend of yours, but that doesn’t change the fact that he wrote a piece that in tone was consistent with AGW denialism. While it is true that he never came out saying “I don’t believe that global warming is man-made”, his entire piece read as an undermining of climate science. These are Glenn Beck tactics: “I’m just saying…”

    In his follow-up piece he backtracked, arguing that it was cut down from 5000 to 1400 words and lost clarity, etc. Irrelevant. He signed off on the original piece, and thus bears responsibility for it. He also repeatedly says he’s an amateur who doesn’t know much of the science. Well, I don’t know much about climate science either, so what do I do? I do not write an article about it. That is the truly skeptical thing to do. In Randi’s case it is especially damaging because he has such a big public profile as a skeptic.

    I don’t care much for Randi, even before this episode (frankly, I think he’s a bit of a bully), but I hold you to a higher standard, Phil.

  93. It is sad to see that then one true skeptic showed what skepticism is he got attacked by fanatics.

  94. Petrolonfire

    I think the Global Warming Skeptics are right – at least given the unliklihood of anything strong enough to make a real difference coming out of the Copenhagen talkfest we’d all better really *hope* they are! ;-)

    If what the Gore, Hansen and the other AGW believers say is really true then we’re just so screwed. :-(

    Perhaps its lucky and reassuring then to see in “climategate” good reason to take the Warmer’s claims and their supposedly rock-solid “science” with a fair sprinkling of salt? :-/

    Honestly, I don’t quite know what to think now.

    @ 95. Rimantas – Along Pro-Choice / anti-life vs Pro-Life /anti-choice analogous lines; I think the counter term to skeptics being insulted as “deniers” is generally to call the pro-AGW folks “Alarmists.” Although I have seen “Gore-Bull Warmers” used somewhere as a stronger & funnier insult label. ;-)

    Both these “denier” and “Alarmist” terms have at least reasonable justification to me. Those who are skeptical that the Global warming warming is happening & /or that it is the fault of us humans are “denying” that this is the case as many (most?) but not all scientists seem to think while those trying to scare us by insisting that Global warming is happening fast – and is our fault – and will be *dreadful* to ” The End-is-Nigh!” point are indeed “alarming” people with alarming – & as yet still controversial and in many folks eyes dubious – claims.

  95. John

    So you’re saying consensus is irrelevant phil?

    But you’ve just taken the AGW proponents’ best argument…

  96. Listrade

    Ok I get it. One guy, even one we tend to like, comes out and says he just doesn’t know and he’s a denier. I suppose I’m a denier too. There’s just too much out there that has muddied the waters. You know it was a lot easier way back to get my head around AGW when it was just scientists. One it became an issue for politicians to make a career out of (either pro or anti) we lost that.

    So I don’t know. I personally see it as very scientific to look at the accuracy of models, to look at the things that were omitted from the models. What I’ll do is make up my own mind as to how much of an impact those omissions or accuracy has on the overall conclusion.

    I just don’t see what the initial fuss was all about with one person, who we happen to like, comming out and saying they don’t know.

  97. Mike

    People jumped on Randi because he cited dubious sources including the ‘Petition Project’, and he implied that climate scientists may be fitting facts to theories under “peer pressure’, without foundation.

    He got called on it by other skeptics, who were simply doing what they and Randi do to Creationists, Homeopaths and others who make similarly flawed claims.

    It’s annoying that others have spun this into a case of ‘AGW fanatics’ attacking Randi because he burst their eco bubble.

    Most of us love Randi, but if he starts screwing up and giving credence to hokey Petitions, he needs to be told. And I’d like to think Randi wouldn’t expect anything less.

  98. Steve in Dublin

    There are two web pages that, for me anyway, completely nail the whole CO2 issue. And they are both pitched at a level that lay people can comprehend. The first page shows what happens (using statistical analysis rather than models!) when you add/subtract CO2 from the various factors that contribute to global climate change:

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/not-computer-models/

    Most instructive is the graph labelled ‘No GHG’, which shows the effect for all factors besides CO2 (methane and other gases also play a part, but not nearly as much as CO2). OK, so that page shows us that CO2 is one of the biggest forcings driving global climate change. But how can we prove that this effect is largely man-made? Well, have a look here:

    http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/FAQ/wg1_faq-7.1.html

    From that page, this is the most telling quote:

    The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration is known to be caused by human activities because the character of CO2 in the atmosphere, in particular the ratio of its heavy to light carbon atoms, has changed in a way that can be attributed to addition of fossil fuel carbon.

    Fossil fuel carbon. Hmm. I wonder where that could come from?

    Of course, even those explanations are not going to convince someone who has a political/monetary agenda against AGW. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

  99. Is Phil going to stay on Randi’s side, or is he going to accept Myers’ stance? That is the question.

  100. papabear

    @75. sailor:

    Your right in that there were many constructive comments (both here and on Randi’s post). I just think that it would have been better to take the opportunity to debate(or in this case educate might be more appropriate) someone who is known to be intelligent and reasonable would have been much more useful than the Randi and his denialist buddy comments. The holier than thou, if you were as smart as me you would already know this stuff type of comments aren’t going to help get someone to look at the science.

    For the record I am most definitely not a denier, even though I think I got lumped in with that group. There are things I don’t completely understand about AGW, but that doesn’t mean I think the climatologist are wrong. It just means I need to study the issue more if I want to have a deeper understanding.

  101. Aerimus

    @Maurizio Morabito:

    Personally, I’d hope neither. Randi’s wrong, and he needs to be shown that and if he doesn’t accept it still, then he is falling for the very thing he teaches against. On the other hand, PZ is just an ahole. Surely we all could find a middle ground where we both criticize Randi and try to show him the real data while at the same time not acting like a bunch of jerks.

    *Disclaimer: I actually haven’t read PZs response, but that’s because I can’t stand reading PZs stuff. From what I have read from him, the man is 97% vitriol. I would put it at 100% if I didn’t think is guest spot on Mr. Deity was so amusing.

  102. Dave

    Interesting. AGW looks like the perfect subject to use to start breaking up the organized skeptic movement. Scientific consensus is on the side where experiments are near impossible to perform. There is a threat such that many believe immediate action is required even if the impact of those actions is not fully understood. The issue is politically charged and polarizing. Action will mean economic windfalls for some and bankruptcy for others and involves providing economic support for some demonstrably corrupt governments.

    Recommendations for the anti-skeptic movement for proper use of this subject in an aggressive role:

    1) Destroy the hero – use verbage of the community to attack James Randi. He should be painted as a ‘denier’ and naive, foolish and having lost relevance. The aim is to polarize his supporters from AGW supporters and put those who support both into a confused but uncomfortable position.
    2) Divide and conquer – get other prominent members of the community to comment on the situation and take a side supporting or denying/questioning AGW. Try to get them to commit without citing underlying science as a reason. The idea here is to create multiple camps which can be later brought into conflict.
    3) Keep the issues alive – Attack the weak points of whichever side seems to be ‘losing.’ It will be key to tie in non-scientific issues in order to be able to support both sides. Since scientists are not economists it is logical to attack cost/benefit, tax implications and the like. Social issues should be tied in as well, mostly poverty but also drug use, the value of species, responsibility to future generations, etc. The point here is to keep all sides in conflict which will destract from other issues and prevent them from forming more politically effective coalitions.

    Those are a few to start. I’ll have to finish this off later.

  103. Yes, Randi is human; yes, he can make a mistake. However, the fact that someone KNOWN FOR HIS SKEPTICISM used as part of his evidence the petition whose background has been THOROROUGHLY DEBUNKED BY FELLOW SKEPTICS shows that he should have done a bit more research before stating his opinion on something on which he, by his own admission, does nothing. As Carl Sagan would have said, his baloney-detector malfunctioned.

    I feel sorry for Randi. It reminds me how fans of progressive rock felt when ELP’s “Love Beach” came out. :-)

  104. Doc

    Since my short post was quoted by Randi in his response, I would like to explain my objection to his original post, and also why I feel his reply does not help his case.

    —-

    When is “I don’t know” no longer acceptable?

    Like ideas and technological advancements, every doubt has its time. Over 1500 years ago one wouldn’t be looked at askance for saying “I don’t know if the world is round.” But today, even the most uneducated resident of the flattest land on the planet is expected to know, or at very least accept the word of others, that the earth is a sphere. Any doubt about the shape of the earth has become outdated and unacceptable because of the preponderance of available evidence within the scientific community and the general acceptance of the concept by the average people. Anyone now professing that the earth is flat is widely perceived as either being facetious or mentally unsound.

    A more recent example can be found in cigarette smoking. The first paper linking smoking and lung cancer was published in 1929. By the 1950s the link was being confirmed by scientists around the world. Before and between those times, expressing the opinion that smoking may not be bad for you was within the realm of social acceptability. Now stating that same opinion will get one branded as a kook or a shill for the tobacco industry.

    But where is that line – the demarcation between a belief that is still uncertain and one that is undeniable?

    The context of the expression of doubt is obviously important. A statement of uncertainty about perpetual motion machines to a friend at a cocktail party is unlikely to cause any stir. It is simply an admission of a lack of understanding of the physics involved. However a public statement by a politician to a reporter doubting the citizenship of the president will – justifiably – be interpreted quite differently.

    The impact of the doubt is also obviously important. Ten years ago, when the safety of vaccines was just being questioned in terms of a possible connection to autism, the expression of doubts about vaccines by prominent people was seen as calling attention to a possible problem. With the passage of only those ten years, conclusive studies have been performed and verified that disprove any causal link between vaccines and autism. Now, given the potential risk caused by insufficient “herd immunity”, a prominent person making statements about vaccines causing autism can and should be regarded as a menace to the health of the public.

    For sufficiently prominent individuals ignorance is often unacceptable. When Senator Grassley was repeatedly asked about a highly controversial law being proposed in Uganda, he initially stated that he didn’t know about the law and was too busy find out. One day later, after encountering severe criticism, he apparently learned enough about the law to publically condemn it.

    When the above is considered in the context of anthropogenic global warming, the options for expressing doubt have more than crossed that invisible line. Those working within the field of climate science can gather data and suggest modifications of the current model – after all, that’s what they’re supposed to do. However those of us who do not work in that field must rely upon them.

    Scientists have amassed an enormous amount of climate data since 1896, when the concept of human-caused global warming was first proposed by Svante Arrhenius. The preponderance of that evidence points to three conclusions: that the average global temperature is increasing, that this increase is caused by human activity, and that allowing it to continue will have devastating effects on global ecology and human civilization.

    For an average person to privately express doubt about anthropogenic global warming is an admission of ignorance.

    For a person with any degree of social prominence to publically state that they don’t know whether or not human-caused climate change is happening, or will have horrible effects if left unchecked, is a political statement – whether it is intended as such or not. It implies not only personal doubt, but also suggests that either there is no scientific consensus or that the scientific community is misguided in their certainty. The latter is particularly troublesome in that it can take on an anti-intellectual overtones – “I don’t know, but I know better than those scientists”.

  105. Flying sardines

    Can we all just calm down and stop name calling and start thinking & talking seriously here?

    For this issue the Climategate emails do raise, at least for Jane & Joe Public, a bad impression regardless of whether this is justified by the real facts or not.

    The fact that 1998 was the hottest year ever and we’re now twelve years on from it and throughout that time human C02 has risen and dangerous rapid warming is supposed to be occurring also affects the *perceptions* for many people. Yes, 1998 was exceptional and, yes, the decade overall has been warmer but these are subtleties that most non-science folks out there don’t really appreciate or accept as a knock out blow to that point.

    Sadly, there are people who would say the fact Alaska still gets snow in winter “disproves” global warming but that’s another story again. :roll:

    There has been an awful lot of politicking mixed in and muddying up the science on climate change and the science has – at least in many people’s eyes – become politicised and the public perception is of scientists -and, yes, now skeptics too probably – being divided into warring groups on this issue.

    I don’t like this situation – but it is there & we do have a mess to deal with.

    So, how do we do it?

    I think the call for an investigation into “climategate/swifthack” is a good idea because NOT holding one risks looking far worse than holding one. Never mind that AGW theory opponents such as Inhofe are the one’s calling for this – sunlight and open public disclosure is usually the best disinfectant and if an enqiury gets the facts of climate change out in full media spotlight so much the better for the AGW side and the worse for the doubters.

    If the science is good then it will speak for itself. See Dover & Scopes trials for precedent there. Science needs to be open and needs to be explained in a way that Joe & Jane Public get. At the moment I don’t think the message or the real scientific situation is getting through.

    We need to think how these things look from the other sides – & individuals – perspectives and in the minds of those who are still undecided -and, yeah, I’m sure I’m belabouring the obvious here but will say it anyway. ;-)

    I also think we have to be smart enough to avoid alienating people who are confused with what they may think good reason and not throw terms like “Denialists” or “Alarmists” around.

    Randi is an extremely smart bloke – so is PZ Myers so is Phil Plait and if these guys can’t think and talk their way out of this snarled up, politicised mess who can blame others for failing to do so? I’d say they should meet and talk preferably privately & calmly – assuming of course this isn’t already happening.

    On a wider scale, it probably doesn’t hurt to pull back and reassess the whole situation and see what the facts are. Checking again – provided its not an excuse for stalling & completely delaying action -can’t hurt. At least I don’t think so. (Not a climatologist or expert in this at all myself. The consensus of scientists is probably right but all this metaphorical heat and noise does make me wonder sometimes.)

    I am not optimistic and I think in many ways we need to start over here if only that were possible.

    This will blow over and settle down in time but a lot of damage has been done and a lot of skeptics have put friendships & reputations in peril here methinks. All of us (even Randi) are human and prone to errors of personal preconceptions, personal fallibility and sometimes following what we would like to believe in rather than what is objectively real. Mea culpa too. I hope we can accept that & forgive each other (specifically Randi but also Randi back to those who abused him and other AGW doubters) and mostly now, cool down.

    The best way to fight global warming and clear up negative perceptions however they’ve been created is not to get hot tempered and start flaming ourselves. :-(

  106. “Yes, I’m aware of the massive release of energy — mostly heat — that we’ve produced by exhuming and burning oil, natural gas, and coal. We’ve also attacked forests and turned them into fuel by converting them into paper at further energy expense, paper that is also burned, in turn. My remarks, again, are directed at the complexity of determining whether this GW is anthropogenic or not.”

    This is Randi’s reply to the criticism of his post. Read it at

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/806-i-am-not-qdenyingq-anything.html

    Randi thinks that GW is a result of the heat released by burning stuff, and not the result of the greenhouse effect. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the heat released as a result of human activities is negligible. Randi needs to do some highschool-physics level reading before spouting such nonsense.

  107. I could be paddling a rowboat down Market Street in San Francisco after the poles have melted, and there will still be conservative fanatics who deny that humans are responsible for Global Warming or that it is even real. I invite you to my web-pages devoted to raising awareness on this urgent issue: http://pltcldscsn.blogspot.com/2009/12/conservatives-still-deny-global-warming.html

  108. Jim

    Hey Phil, your pal Randi has shown that he is a closet denier. Explain that.

  109. Hey Jim (#114): Um, did you read a single word of what I wrote? Y’know, the very post you commented on where I talk about Randi not being a denier?

  110. Flying sardines

    @ Phillip Helbig: Those working within the field of climate science can gather data and suggest modifications of the current model – after all, that’s what they’re supposed to do. However those of us who do not work in that field must rely upon them.

    Therein lies much of the problem created recently.

    We need to trust the climate scientists and trust that their work is reliable and accurate not “cooked” to show the conclusions they want.

    Even if “climategate” does NOT actually show that the data was twisted or made up that is the *perception* which has been created for a lot of people in the general public and, as a result, today many people think that climate scientists are, frankly (& NOT a view I share) liars who can’t be trusted.

    Regaining this trust – showing everyone in the public that this is NOT the case – is going to be very difficult and unfortunately probably fairly slow. Getting everything out in the open is probably the first step towards doing so IMHO.

    Sadly, the public regard for science and scientists more broadly is potential “collateral damage” here too, I think. Much mud has been thrown and some (at least for for some in the public) will seem to stick.

    This also applies to Randi’s personal reputation which is a pity too. :-(

  111. Adam Morgan

    “And I think that how we do it is just as important as the content of our claims.”

    This is of vital, cosmic importance. The moment we let anger, or rudeness enter our arguments, they are no longer rooted in facts, or logic, but emotion. In order to spread the truth, we have to remain logical and factual. We can be passionate about it, but we can’t be ruled by those passions, and that is what happens with anger and rudeness. It is no longer about the facts or the truth, but about our feelings.

    In my years of being a skeptic to my circle of friends and family, I’ve discovered that it is far more often HOW I say something than WHAT I say that makes people listen. I’ve learned, the hard way, that as a skeptic we must always remain polite and cordial and kind. We can make our point forcefully, but the second we get rude, people click off and we become the whack jobs that are always arguing against everything.

  112. Peter Beattie

    » Phil Plait:
    Y’know, the very post you commented on where I talk about Randi not being a denier?

    Phil, notwithstanding what you said, Randi’s original post sure sounded as though he had read too much climate denialist literature—see comment #78 here. Your opinion on the specifics would be much appreciated.

  113. Beelzebud

    Randi is known for being a rather abrasive skeptic when dealing with people peddling woo. Carl Sagan even dealt with that very issue in a chapter in Demon Haunted World.

    To me it’s rather ironic to hear people saying that the reality community was being to harsh on him. Most of us learned that technique by watching him do it to homeopaths, psychics, and other snake-oil salesmen, over the years.

    It’s nice to see him open to the science, but here is one observation I have to make.

    There is a large segment of self-proclaimed skeptics, that consider their political and economic beliefs as proven science. We see many libertarians who call themselves skeptical, but throw all of that out the window when it comes to economics (Michael Shermer, and Penn Jillette I’m looking at you). I wonder if Randi wasn’t led to the “Petition Project” by libertarian / right-wing view points. The “petition project” was started by Senator James “GW is the biggest hoax in history” Inhofe, and backed by many libertarian think tanks. Every libertarian, or right-winger points to it as their “proof” that GW is bogus.

    Was Randi’s thoughts about global warming motivated by the science, or by the politics?

  114. George Martin

    It speaks very well of Randi that he was able to change his mind so quickly. And it was unfortunate (ironic?) that Phil was asking for donations for JREF right when Randi was making his error! One thing that still needs some comment, is Randi’s conclusion that at least half of the warming [of the last half century] is due to human activity. Once again, Randi seems to be getting his information from a limited number of sources, in this case, a journalist. In fact, most models have the earth cooling somewhat over this period, so it could be said that the best science we have indicates that human activity is responsible for *more* than the *totality* of warming we have experienced. So although it is true to say that at least half of the warming was caused by human activity, it is nevertheless misleading.

  115. Dave

    Destroying organized skepticism, continuing from above. The overall focus is still division followed by polarization and facilitated conflict.

    4) Push for the extremes – Fanatic support is less likely to argue logically and from the facts. AGW supporters should be encouraged to treat ‘undecideds’ or anti-AGWs as ignorant, foolish, anti-scientific and even less than human. Anti’s should be encouraged to treat supporters as intolerant, arrogant or even as a type of religious fanatic. An ideal approach convinces each side to treat their opponents as dangerous or insane as communication will not even be attempted in such a situation.

    5) Focus the press – Any person on either side who makes an unkind or inaccurate comment should be featured prominently. The more press they get for the comment the harder it is to back away from and the more it can stain their reputation. That person can also be publicly attacked for the comment (or apologies can be demanded) which will either cause the individual to commit more to the comment or to admit error which should weaken their leadership position.

    By the way. I’m guessing most people recognize why I’m putting these down here. If I can think of them so can opponents of sanity and reason. It would be smart to prepare for these attacks and act against the kind of tactics I’ve outlined.

  116. Gary Ansorge

    God, these “discussions” are so fraking boring. If there IS a god, this may be one reason it never drops by for a “Hi, howdy, how Y’All doing?”

    Skeptic: definition of:
    one who looks at available evidence and moderates their opinion based on that evidence.

    Randi IS a skeptic. He based his INITIAL opinion upon limited data. When presented with more EVIDENCE he altered his opinion. Does he currently have sufficient data to make his opinion 100% accurate? Unless he has suddenly acquired 20 years education and experience in meteorological study, I’d have to say no. As is also true of the vast majority of the posters on this site, both those who are pro AGW and Anti AGW.

    ,,,but I expect his opinion is better informed today that it was a week ago.

    Which is what it really means to be a skeptic.

    Damn! I feel like (26. papabear). Trying not to run my car into a tree while the kids are fighting in the back seat.

    GAry 7

  117. adam

    More specifically, a right-wing Russian think-tank claiming climate data was cherry-picked, despite the fact that the ‘cherry-picked’ data and the raw data are in more or less exact agreement since 1950, and the ‘cherry-picked’ version shows more warming in the early stages, which is the exact opposite of what you would want if you were trying to cook the data in support of AGW.

    I assume you have sources to back up these claims?

    The IEA says data from 40% of Russian territory was excluded in reports that the CRU used to substantiate AGW. Has the CRU denied this? If not, what was their reasoning for excluding that data? What’s their response to evidence that they preferred urban data (that skewed towards warming) in the southern and eastern regions? Seriously, I would like to know.

    To me, it looks like either they chose not to include a large portion of the data because it confused their findings OR they’re simply lazy. Either way, it doesn’t make me any more inclined to accept their findings as they interpret them.

  118. Blind Squirrel

    69. MikeD Says:

    Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by capturing energy that was leaving the earth in the form of EM radiation and re-radiating it back. Increasing CO2 levels only have a direct effect up to the point where there is no longer any radiation in a wavelength that is found in CO2’s absorption spectrum is making it into space.

    72. MartinM Says:

    We are, of course, nowhere near that point.

    Both wrong. (I didn’t learn about this until recently.) Check http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/06/a-saturated-gassy-argument/

    BS

  119. Dan Pangburn

    A fairly simple model accurately predicts average global temperatures since 1895. Consideration of change to the level of CO2 or any other ghg is not needed. The model, with an eye-opening graph, is presented in the October 16 pdf at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true.

    This model predicted the ongoing temperature decline trend. None of the 20 or so models that the IPCC uses do.

  120. Ja Muller

    So everybody should be nice to Randi because you like him? Its not that Randi made a “mistake”, its that he decided to talk about something that he clearly doesn’t even come close to understanding.

  121. DaveH

    @122,

    Does Joe Bloggs currently have sufficient data to make his opinion on whether quarks exist 100% accurate? I’d have to say no. As is also true of all the posters on this site, both those who are quarkists and anti-quarkists.

    However, it would be just as ignorant of Joe to come out and say “I have insufficient data to tell whether the Standard Model of physics is correct, but I strongly suspect that the anti-quark petition may be valid.”

    If Joe said his amateur opinion was that he suspected a “Skeptics of General Relativity” petition may be valid, he would not be a good skeptic, nor thanked for his ignorance.

    Not The Standard Model nor GR nor AGW are 100% certain to be true. However that does NOT mean they are just as likely to be false. All of them are very likely to be true, almost certainly aspects of all of them ARE true, having been tested and evidenced and modelled repeatedly.

    It is NOT some coin flip between AGW and not-AGW.

    *

    “Climate models only reproduce the observed 20thcentury global mean surface warming when both anthropogenic and natural forcings are included”

    “Anthropogenic forcing contributed to sea level rise during the latter half 20th century -Very likely” (90-99% probability)

    “Simultaneous tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling due to the influence of anthropogenic forcing has been observed (latter half of the 20th century) – Very Likely” (90-99% probability)

    - From Ch 9 of the 2007 IPCC Report, AR4GW1

    http://www.ipcc.ch

  122. DaveH

    @123

    The IEA says data from 40% of Russian territory was excluded in reports that the CRU used to substantiate AGW. Has the CRU denied this? If not, what was their reasoning for excluding that data? What’s their response to evidence that they preferred urban data (that skewed towards warming) in the southern and eastern regions? Seriously, I would like to know.

    There is no evidence the Hadley centre preferred urban data. Not that it would matter, because (Duh!) they adjust for urban effects.

    The whole story is made up nonsense.

    The IEA was created by Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov , a Russian libertarian economist and former economic policy advisor to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. A well known global warming skeptic, Illarionov is currently employed by the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute, a pro-free market, libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

    The IEA retains close links with the Cato Institute, who have in turn received funding from the American Petroleum Institute. The IEA website reports on a recent cozy joint conference. Isn’t that nice?

    A spokesman for the Hadley Centre said it did not choose which weather stations to collect its data from.: “The World Meteorological Organisation chooses a set of stations evenly distributed across the globe and provides a fair representation of changes in mean temperature on a global scale over land. We don’t pick them so we can’t be accused of fixing the data. We are confident in the accuracy of our report.”

    It seems that once again we have a smear story from the rumour mill that has absolutely nothing to do with climatology.

  123. MartinM

    I assume you have sources to back up these claims?

    Ah. So you’ve read what someone’s said about the IEA’s claims, but haven’t actually checked out the source material. Right.

    Take a look at the graph on page 20.

  124. MartinM
  125. MartinM

    72. MartinM Says:

    We are, of course, nowhere near that point.

    Both wrong. (I didn’t learn about this until recently.) Check http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/06/a-saturated-gassy-argument/

    Your source is entirely consistent with my statement.

  126. MartinM

    A fairly simple model accurately predicts average global temperatures since 1895.

    If by ‘simple model,’ you mean ‘cheesy curve-fit,’ sure.

  127. Dan (#68) wrote: You guys attacked with positively religious fervor.

    I agree. Cut the guy some slack. He’s earned it. I’m not suggesting to back off on the science, but I don’t think the data require us to pillory anyone for expressing their doubts or their ignorance. Let’s leave that to the dogmatists.

    Randi’s post struck me as dipping his toe into a relatively unfamiliar AGW pool. Little suspecting there were so many sharks in there! It’s to his great credit that he admits his relative ignorance about the subject and is willing to be persuaded by the evidence. Isn’t that what skepticism is all about?

  128. Dan Pangburn

    MartinM, @132
    Apparently the research that “accurately predicts average global temperatures since 1895″ in the October 16 pdf at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true is too complex for you to grasp. So you will just have to continue to wonder (along with Trenberth et. al.) why the cooling trend is down while the CO2 level continues to go up.

  129. DaveH

    Dan, wow. This would be big news. Every relevant journal would jump to be the first to publish your result if it were valid. you would be famous within months. So why haven’t you published?

  130. Blind Squirrel

    MartinM Says:

    Your source is entirely consistent with my statement.

    You are correct. My mistake.

    BS

  131. Dave Hall

    Well, I’m not going to claim any scientific expertise, having a totally useless MA in History.

    But this whole kerfluffle seems to be an example of the polarization of our culture. In politics, there used to be coalitions that crossed party lines. Conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans (yes, there were such critters) used to ally themselves with like minded politicians across the aisle and come up with workable policies that benefitted the commonweal. Of course, there were times when the system failed such as the late unpleasantness of 1861-65.

    I think we are at risk of such a system failure again. Now, it seems, there is a siege mentality pervading much of our culture. (viz Fox News vs CNBC or 95% of AM radio) A few years ago, anyone unable to see how a bunch of Saudis attacking the World Trade Center justified attacking an Iraqi dictator (formerly an ally) was labelled an “America Hater.” This “either you’re with me or you’re against me” mentality is quite destructive. Everyone, it seems, is so convinced of the righteousness of their own beliefs that anyone holding a differing opinion is unworthy of consideration. Of such attitudes, are lynch mobs made.

    This knee-jerk reactionary attitude is quite dangerous. Several months back, I took umbrage to one of Dr Plait’s posts where he seemingly promoted ad hominum attacks on those too stupid (or uneducated) to be sceptics like him and his supporters. And I fell into the same trap and unleashed a rather unseemly tirade. And promptly got my ass handed to me be several Plait fans and the kindly BA hisself. And I found myself apologizing for violating my own position that incivility will not help you constructively express your point of view.

    I’ll shut up after this: On either side of any argument, the most untenable position will be that of a fanatic.

  132. You know.. I have given this some thought. IF they where serous about this, instead of CAP and TRADE, it would JUST BE CAP!!! sorry about the caps… Anyways, Merry Christmas!

  133. Dan Pangburn

    DaveH:
    Publishing takes time. The paper, actually a more rigorous (longer) version, is in peer review.

    Meanwhile, those who understand numerical integration, the first law of thermodynamics, and the difference between energy and power should be able to understand the paper. Some may simply accept the results derived by a licensed engineer with a MSc degree in Mechanical Engineering who has researched the subject for thousands of hours in pursuit of the truth. Others, well, like I said, “will just have to continue to wonder (along with Trenberth et. al.) why the cooling trend is down while the CO2 level continues to go up”.

  134. DaveH

    Some may simply accept the results derived by a licensed engineer with a MSc degree in Mechanical Engineering

    I know, some people will swallow anything. That lack of critical thinking annoys me too.
    Some may trust an arrogant climatologist to tell an engineer he’s building his boat wrong.

  135. Chris Winter

    I’ve admired James Randi for a long time, so I felt keen disappointment when I read a few days ago here that he cited the OISM petition as evidence for his doubt about global warming. There was much more wrong with that column, as Peter Beattie (#78) and several others have pointed out.

    But Randi has now admitted he was wrong. It’s useful to contrast his reaction to that of Rush Limbaugh, who made a similar mistake. In late 2007, a paper came out that claimed the increased CO2 was actually caused by oceanic bacteria. It was a spoof. Even though he was warned of this by a scientist, Limbaugh fell for it and proceeded to dump on AGW proponents in his typical fashion. Which he still does to this day. And the scientist had to apologize to Limbaugh for not warning him strongly enough!

    So: Randi wrote a very dubious column about AGW, which he has now largely retracted. Limbaugh was fooled by an intentional spoof, admitted it, but still clings to his doubt of the mountain of evidence for AGW. I think it’s clear which of the pair is the true skeptic.

  136. MartinM

    Apparently the research that “accurately predicts average global temperatures since 1895″ in the October 16 pdf at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true is too complex for you to grasp.

    I understand cheesy curve-fitting just fine, thanks. Tried adding the number of pirates?

    So you will just have to continue to wonder (along with Trenberth et. al.) why the cooling trend is down while the CO2 level continues to go up.

    It isn’t.

  137. Marsha L.

    Getting rather tired of the increasing ‘urban legend’ spreading that Plait is leaving the JREF because of the AGW issue.

  138. Dan Pangburn

    Since 2000 the atmospheric carbon dioxide level has increased by an amount equal to 20% of the increase from 1800 to 2000. According to the average of the five reporting agencies (four since Climategate), the average global temperature has not changed much for several years and during the seven years from 2002 through 2008 the trend shows a DECREASE of 1.8°C/century. This measured SEPARATION between the increasing carbon dioxide level and not-increasing average global temperature is outside of the ‘limits’ of all of the predictions of the IPCC and ‘consensus’ of Climate Scientists. The separation has been increasing at an average rate of about 2% per year since 2000. It corroborates that, at the present level, atmospheric carbon dioxide increase has no significant influence on average global temperature. If you would like to check the data, a list and the links are given at the July 30, 6:52 PM post at http://www.sindark.com/2009/07/28/hfcs-and-climate-change/#comment-83310

  139. Jar Jya Binks Killer

    @ 143 Chris Winter :

    So: Randi wrote a very dubious column about AGW, which he has now largely retracted. Limbaugh was fooled by an intentional spoof, admitted it, but still clings to his doubt of the mountain of evidence for AGW. I think it’s clear which of the pair is the true skeptic.

    Er … Limbaugh? ;-)

  140. MartinM

    According to the average of the five reporting agencies (four since Climategate), the average global temperature has not changed much for several years and during the seven years from 2002 through 2008 the trend shows a DECREASE of 1.8°C/century.

    With a standard deviation of…?

    Cherry-picking is dishonest, incidentally.

  141. Dan Pangburn

    MartinM @148
    The data were averaged not ‘cherry picked’. The time is too short a period to draw any firm conclusions on climate trend. That is why I said corroborates even though it is “outside the ‘limits’ of all of the predictions of the IPCC…”. It was long enough for Trenberth to consider it a “travesty” that they couldn’t account for the lack of warming.

    Apparently you are more impressed by the 22 year long temperature run-up from 1976 to 1998. You might even be astounded by the research linked @135 which produced an excellent match of average global temperatures since 1895. That is 114 years…and counting.

  142. So I can be skeptical about AGW as long as I’m ready to admit I’m wrong. Sounds good to me. Glad I’m not a denialist anymore. :)

    Also, I wouldn’t lump the Moon landing into this. The only people who debate Moon landings are crazy cat people, people who want to make money from the crazy cat people and people who like to just get weird looks. There isn’t a concensus on it because it physically happened. It’s not a variable thing that might or might not be occuring. It’s nothing like climate change.

    Yes, climate changes. How large is our role in it? That’s all I want to know.

    Lastly, I’m all for renewable energy. Who wouldn’t be? Less pollution is a good thing! I’d rather take a ‘lets have a cleaner planet’ approach than ‘the sky is falling!’ approach. Eh?

  143. Chris Winter

    Jar Jya Binks Killer,

    I picked up your wink, but I’m still not sure how to take your message. Let me just say that anyone who ignores valid evidence that challenges their belief is not a skeptic. Some other term applies.

  144. SuperModeller

    While I am not sceptical about AGW, as a proponent of the scientific method I think it needs to be pointed out that “consensus” has nothing to do with scientific validity.

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