Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Temper Tantrum Tuesday: Skeptics vs. Denialists

While writing my Sunday post about “Climategate” I looked around the Blogosphere and saw that comments are divided into two camps. On one side are people who know something about science and can see this story is bunk, and on the other side are people who get frightened by scary words.

The people who get frightened by scary words look at the posts of people who have some clue what they are talking about and cry “Denialist” because they have no idea what that word means.

With Global Warming as well as most science stories there is a difference between Skeptics and Denialists. I am a Global Warming Skeptic. That doesn’t mean I disbelieve the science, actually the exact opposite, I disbelieve non-science being put forward.

A denialist just simply doesn’t believe everything about it, even if they can see it with their own eyes. It’s easy to spot the difference between a skeptic and a denialist by asking not what they don’t believe, but what they do believe. Start with the most basic concept and work your way up.

Do you believe that the Earth’s average temperature is 57 degrees or the –67 degrees (the average temperature for objects as far away from the sun as Earth)?

A skeptic will look at the fact that the oceans are liquid, not ice and agree on that the average temperature is in fact 57 degrees.

Do you believe that the spectral absorption tests that are preformed daily in thousands of labs in universities across the world show that CO2 lets visible light pass through easily but blocks the infrared?

A skeptic will agree with the fact that it has been repeated over and over again means it is true. (Unless you can show that part of the result was achieved through Quantum Tunneling and write a brand new mathematical theorem on the back of an envelope to prove your point, that if you sent it to the math dept at Harvard it would take them 20 years to prove your theorem, in which case all I can say is stop showing me those envelopes and send them to people with PhDs in math, they make my brain hurt.)

Do you believe that the careful measurements of the Troposphere that show its temperature is rising while measurements of the Stratosphere and above show those parts are cooling mean heat is being trapped in the lower atmosphere?

A skeptic will have to agree.

Do you believe that the increase in CO2 which has proven infrared blocking abilities can be (and has been) calculated to show a correlation and those calculations have accurately predicted the rise in temperatures within one standard deviation?

A skeptic will look at those predictions and have to agree, although the fact that the real temperatures have consistently hit the higher end of the predictions tend to make them believe the models are too conservative.

Do you believe that since the vast majority of climate models using different approaches from different specialties point to a 2 to 6 degree (Fahrenheit) increase in the Earths average temperature over the next century that there is a high probability that it will happen?

A skeptic can have fun here, there is the fact that most of these predictions have been too conservative, and there is also a thing known as regression, where complex systems may change quickly at first then try to move back to equilibrium closer to the original value. Both of these have merit and that is why the climate models have a 4-degree uncertainty. I tend to think that since the middle value of 4 degrees hasn’t changed since climate modeling began in the 60s that’s probably the correct value, but there are valid arguments for a 2 to 4 degree change or a 4 to 6 degree change.

Do you believe that various feedback mechanisms within the planet’s troposphere and oceans will be triggered and cause the end of all life on the planet if the temperature increases by more than 4 degrees?

A skeptic will look at the probability of those events and use basic 9th grade math to add up the probabilities: Event A has a 25% chance of happening, leading to a 25% chance of triggering Event B. The chance of Event B happening is 6.25% (25% times 25%) when you add on Event C and Event D you quickly run into the world of the improbable and as Douglas Adams said, if you add up enough improbables you get the impossible. So a skeptic will probably disagree with an 18 degree temperature rise, but agree that studying the possibility of the first stages in the feedback loop is a worthy endeavor.

The real difference (and it is an important one) between a skeptic and denialist is the skeptic can point to the exact spot in the chain of logic that they disagree with and have a pretty good idea of what it takes to change their mind. A denialist simply states that everything in the chain of logic is false and will refuse to be pinned down as where they disagree.

Being a skeptic my mind can be changed if the known facts change. Like if new evidence shows Event A has a 50% chance of happening then I would start to worry about the 12.5% chance of Event B happening.

A denialist refuses to be pinned down so changes in the known facts don’t change their opinion.

Its like Stephen Colbert said about President Bush, “Facts may change from day to day, but his opinion never does.”

So I have a challenge for all of you Global Warming denialists reading this. (I’ve been to your sites, I know you visit.) Point out exactly what part of global warming and climate change you do not believe and I will treat you with respect and write a respectful post linking to your site, and I will stop commenting that you think that the Atlantic Ocean is frozen.

(Sorry Stephanie you are excluded from this challenge as you are not a denier and you’ve posted on the exact points where we disagree and gave well thought out and reasoned points why.)


Stephanie B said...

*Kicks dirt*

I never get to have any fun.

askcherlock said...

I really believe that the answer lies somewhere in the middle so I guess I don't fall into either camp. I have read and seen enough to make me believe there is global warming, but to what extent is where my quandary begins.

Project Savior said...

That's the whole idea behind being a skeptic, you take in the information and examine it. Then toss out the parts that don't make sense.
Even then the parts that don't make sense might not be false, just not completely examined. Having skeptics around make researchers go back and re-examine their own work.
Denialist just bog down the conversation.

Jamie Jeffords said...

If you are going to comment on one of my posts, show some backbone and and do not do it anonymously.

Stephanie B said...

"don't do it anonymously..." Are you upset that he provided a comment on your post that you don't believe he acknowledged or were you hoping for a backlink in his post to the Global Warming Denialists he is mocking?

Project Savior said...

I never leave anonymous comments on blogger (and I try not to do it on non-blogger sites but some sites, not yours, make it damn near impossible to leave your name).
BTW: the only recent anonymous comment on your site is about 10 words long. I've been told I can't tell some one what time it is in under a 1,000 words so I think that's kind of a compliment.

Jamie Jeffords said...

Actually, I assumed it was your comment because, according to site meter and MyBlogLog, you visited this morning at 5:11 AM, which is the same time the comment was posted.

Second, this is not the first healthcare post you have grinded your ax about while offering up no substance in response.

Third,, you made a snaky comment right before this one, thought better of it, then figured you should be more polite since you had been caught not only posting anonymous attacks, but not even putting the comment on the relevant post. The healthcare post you are complaining about is above this one.

Fourth, you have shown nothing but contempt, insulting me as an oversexed bigot on my blog, your own, and even some of my other critics, so I already know you have no class. I have no problem with anonymous posts or anonymous attacks, for that matter. But the cowardice of it combined with the stupidity of not only not covering your tracks, but putting it on the wrong post must be called out.

Project Savior said...

First I never called you a oversexed bigot, I've called you a paranoid bigot.
If you think I'm picking on you for the pictures you post you've got it off by about 180 degrees. I appreciate the pictures.
The post I made on your site that I deleted was the exact same post with links. Your site doesn't allow links so it came out as gibberish. I deleted that post and the HTML and reposted.
I stopped trying to penetrate your paranoia about Death Panels, Federal Funding for Abortions and time machines long ago.

Erik said...

I may not agree with all of your points in your article, but it's nice to have someone reasonably point out the difference between skeptics and denialists. You are on target there.

Another question to ask is, "Why are we spending tax dollars intentionally heating the ionosphere if our scientists and legislators believe so strongly we are experiencing a global warming trend?"