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If Einstein might be wrong about relativity, how can we really trust any scientist?
October 7, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

In a recent Op-Ed piece on the Wall Street Journal, author, journalist, public speaker and generally inquisitive fellow Robert Bryce offered up following analogy in his discussion of climate change science: "If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere. " And the internet took it from there, in the form of comics, the Twitter hashtag #WSJscience, and plenty of science-minded blogs and sites a-plenty.
posted by filthy light thief (123 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Science, how does it work?
posted by Aquaman at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Robert Bryce was heavily inspired by The Man Who Wasn't There, particularly the character Freddy Riedenschneider.
posted by Green With You at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These people deal well only with absolutes. It must be super comforting to live in a world with only black and white. Especially since they're white.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


Robert Bryce's articles have appeared in dozens of publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Counterpunch and Atlantic Monthly to Oklahoma Stripper. His third book, Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence," was published in 2008. Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book, Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy, and the Real Fuels of the Future, was published in 2010 by PublicAffairs and was recently issued in paperback. He lives in Austin.

Austin, please take out your trash.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


God, I think my head is going to explode. So I'm going to post David Mitchell's message to climate change doubters so we can all laugh and cry at the same time.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, if Neutrinos move faster than light then do I really like chocolate, or only think I do? Nope. Really do. *omnomnomnom*
posted by papercake at 9:12 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Relativity, eh? I wonder what Bryce thinks of GPS devices.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh god damn it. I called this the moment I saw the OPERA result (well, my guess was creation science, but it's the same anti-thought bag of garbage). If we report unusual results, we're idiots who get things wrong all the time and therefore Jesus. If there are no problems with our work, we're the physics fascists who are a secretive priesthood handing down pronouncements from on high (also, we're meanies cause we don't let you have FTL travel, free energy, Reardon steel, Galt's energy from static electricity, or the rest of the consequence-free fantasies). Fuck this guy.

Also, I'm impressed by his continued use of computers. After all, now that Einstein is clearly completely wrong and every other branch of science is polluted, all those integrated circuits obviously no longer run on quantum mechanics, but instead must be powered by small imps commanded by witches.

I'm off to do some physics, before to DOE gets defunded for publishing results that are sometimes contradictory in the early stages of investigation.
posted by physicsmatt at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2011 [48 favorites]


All hope is lost.
posted by tommasz at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2011


In fairness, if you guys could make a little progress on the consequence-free fantasies front, that really would be pretty sweet.
posted by Flunkie at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


So, it's basically just a theory that the Earth has an atmosphere. Perhaps we can send Mr. Bryce on a fact-finding mission to a planet with a more ..challenging atmosphere, and certainly a more bespoke name. Hint: it has many moons.
posted by obscurator at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2011


From one of the responses:

Just because one aspect of science can be questioned — and I’m not even saying that, which I’ll get to in a sec — doesn’t mean anything about another field of science.

Yeah it does, actually. I means that another field's assumption can similarly be called into question. That's how science works. Sorry if you don't like it, Mr. Not-Really-A-Scientist.

Look, I don't like climate change deniers any more than the next rational, reasonable person, but you have to allow for the chance that you're completely and utterly wrong or it's all just worthless hokum and dogma, even the Einstein parts.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is the punchline to that comic actually a joke?
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:21 AM on October 7, 2011


if only these guys would move en masse to some nice beach properties in bangladesh. show the courage of their convictions. that i would respect.
posted by fetamelter at 9:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Manhattan Institute

Responsible publications should point out when someone's employment is affirmative action for right-wingers. Everyone seems to acknowledge all think tanks as equivalent.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


how else do you make a living in the "knowledge economy"?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2011


Dude, interesting, seemingly paradoxical findings that challenge some aspects of pressure-tested but most likely imperfect theories is all anyone wants to talk about around here. The unwashed masses are screaming, "Are our assumptions, while supported by reams of empirical data, fundamentally incorrect, or merely incomplete? Was there a flaw in the experimental methodology, or an interesting failure of the measuring apparatus that produced this seemingly contradictory result (which result in any case requires close scrutiny and replication)!!??!"

I saw that on a sign at the Tea Party Rally, man. These guys are ALL ABOUT SCIENCE!
posted by Mister_A at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Flunkie, scientists gave you devices that let you fly (even to the moon), obliterate cities, make cats glow in the dark, see people around the world or at night, move mountains, or harness the power of the stars (albeit in a $50 billion experimental facility, or briefly and unpleasantly). That's like 90% of all comic book superpowers right there. The consequences mainly are A) you're going to have to lug a lot of pricy equipment around and B) you're going to have to pay taxes to (directly or indirectly) support millions of engineers and scientists who will create, design, build and repair the source of your superpowers. Oh, and C) those devices will probably come with a hell of a lot of toxic side-effects.

Civil_Disobedient, as a really-a-scientist, that statement reads to me as "just because one result in one field of science can be questioned, that means flying-fuck-all about the particular results of another, unrelated, field." As a really-a-scientist, I personally guarantee that every really-a-scientist working on climate change is very familiar with the idea that they might be wrong, and in fact, does check their work before reporting it. If this jackass thinks they are wrong, he can let them know. No one successfully has to my knowledge, and a mismeasurement about neutrinos in a tunnel in Italy doesn't mean shit to climate change. I don't need to start every scientific talk with a treatise on Plato's cave just because this asshole is being deliberately obtuse in order to curry favor with a Saudi petrochemical company.

Sorry, didn't mean to take that out directly on you Civil_Disobedient, I'm just sick to death of people suddenly discovering that science is not a religion, never claimed to be one, and will not offer 100% promises on anything and then commenting on this fact like its news to us. We do think about what we're doing and the limits of what we can and cannot know (and how well we know it). We don't necessarily communicate it well to the public, but as this drivel demonstrates, I think the bigger problem is that a certain portion of the public just refuses to hear us.
posted by physicsmatt at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [61 favorites]


Could his hostility to (and ignorance of) science be related to exposure to the Austrian School of Economics? Austrianism is famously opposed to empiricism.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm going to go take a walk now, because I didn't come to metafilter to be a dick to the other users. As you might have gathered, this article makes me furious.
posted by physicsmatt at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Two li'l bets:

1) Einstein ain't wrong. Relativity is the 800 pound gorilla of counter-intuitive science.

2) Haters gonna hate.
posted by tspae at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The statement in the post must be appended as follows:

"If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere... by serious scientists."
posted by joecacti at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


"If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then, non-sequitur. Now watch this drive!"
posted by crayz at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2011


"If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere."

Other than the fact that bringing relativity into it is sort of unnecessary, unless you grant it as a rhetorical example of "what science is in general," there is nothing incorrect about the above. It doesn't imply "therefore Jesus," it doesn't imply that any particular current theory about climate change is wrong. It just says there must be room for debate. And lo, verily there is. There are, in fact, lots of debates among reputable climate scientists. Very little, it seems, is not up for debate.

Popular proponents of climate change better get a grip on themselves and remember what science is before they commit this kind of massive vitriol against someone who disagrees with them and turns out to be right. It will happen. It always does. They're starting to look less like scientists and more like intellectual bullies these days.
posted by rusty at 9:53 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


NOTE: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL IS OWNED BY RUPERT MURDOCH'S NEWS CORP.
(It's a bit more obvious in this case than it was for The Daily, though.)

posted by JHarris at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2011


(I don't want to defend Bryce's other points, aside from "carbon taxers/limiters have lost" which seems self-evident. I would say it's a lot more unfortunate than Mr. Bryce presumably would.)
posted by rusty at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2011


Also (and then I'll shut up) has anyone else noticed that a popular Twitter hashtag feed page always makes everyone involved look like a pack of total assholes?
posted by rusty at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2011


Whoa.

So like I clicked through to that op-ed and read it and really absorbed what he was saying, and it hit me hard, you know? At first I just felt a little bit lightheaded and like my feet were asleep or something, but then this wave overcame my whole body and I started to slowly drift upward out of my chair, and I just kept going up slow but steady till I was pinned to the ceiling like a helium balloon.

So I thought maybe something weird had gone down with the air pressure in my room and I slid open the patio door and just went fwooooommmm straight out and up and up and pretty soon I was hurtling skyward and getting cold and short of breath and as I went up I looked around and there were bodies everywhere, people crying, screaming, laughing their asses off, and as we all passed from troposhere to stratosphere one guy went racing by screaming "MOTHERFUCKING ROBERT BOYCE DEFEATED GRAVITY!" and you could tell he was kind of excited about it. I didn't get a really close look but I'm pretty sure it was a Fox News commentator.

Anyway, I've got mere moments left before I clear the upper stratosphere and I'm pretty sure 3G's gonna start failing once we hit the mesosphere so I just want to say it's all been worth it to know the truth about climate change which is that there is no truth, they don't know anything for sure and we are all faster-than-light neutrinos now. Thank you, Wall St. Journal!

sent from my iPh
posted by gompa at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


I will preface that I am a layperson when it comes to scientific matters, and am not sufficiently well-informed to have an independent judgment on the merits of the prevailing consensus in climate science.

With that out of the way, isn't Bryce responding (perhaps clumsily) to statements such as this one from the American Physical Society?
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.
As a side note, Nobel laureate Prof. Ivar Giaever recently resigned from the American Physical Society, saying, "Incontrovertible is not a scientific word. Nothing is incontrovertible in science."
posted by BobbyVan at 10:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


why does anyone pay attention to ANYTHING written on the WSJ editorial page? That was taken over by right wing ideologues long before Murdoch had anything to do with the paper. Being published on the WSJ editorial page is the ultimate scarlet letter for corporate propagandist we have. Newsmax.com has more credibility.
posted by any major dude at 10:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dammit. The cynics in that Einstein Wept thread were right. But it's worth noting that's not due to any failure on the part of John and Jane Q. Public in this case.

It's the big media outlets, funded and tightly controlled by anti-regulation zealots like Murdoch, who are deliberately distorting the scientific issues to foment uncertainty and ignorance among the public around issues like climate change.

It's not the everyday common folks that are latching onto these kinds of justifications for skepticism of environmental science. It's the major mass media outlets that are propagating and promoting this kind of anti-science propaganda; don't blame the grass roots too much. They're just along for the ride with the rest of us.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Life is too short to deal with these kinds of people.
posted by polymodus at 10:22 AM on October 7, 2011


I'm willing to accept some doubt in climate science if you accept some doubt in Republican-style economics.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


The problem is not that Bryce is "wrong" per se, the problem is that it's a non sequitur. Climate change predictions definitely have some uncertainty, as is the case with all science. What matters is 1) how much uncertainty and 2) what the consequences of each outcome could be. Bryce doesn't really address these questions, which from a policy perspective are the really critical ones to answer.

Also, this seems disingenuous, sloppy, or both:
If Mr. Wigley's right, then using sources that emit no particulates, like nuclear and natural gas, will not make a major difference in averting near-term changes in the climate caused by carbon dioxide. But then—and here's the part that most media outlets failed to discuss when reporting on the Wigley study—widespread use of renewables such as wind and solar won't help much, either.
Natural gas still emits 50% the CO2 of coal, whereas wind and solar emit 0%. Also, one of the points made by the actual study is that burning natural gas emits methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2; wind and solar obviously don't have these problems either. Finally, the study only compared gas vs. coal, not nuclear, solar, or wind. This is really grasping at straws.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


you have to allow for the chance that you're completely and utterly wrong or it's all just worthless hokum and dogma, even the Einstein parts.

I can allow for the possibility of mind control without actually shopping around for a tinfoil hat.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2011


I'm willing to accept some doubt in climate science if you accept some doubt in Republican-style economics.

So you admit to holding climate science hostage to partisan politics? Wow, that was some admission.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2011


I'm willing to accept some doubt in climate science if you accept some doubt in Republican-style economics.

The evidence is incontrovertible: further economic deregulation must occur.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you admit to holding climate science hostage to partisan politics? Wow, that was some admission.

The point is that what's good for the goose is what's good for the gander. Without getting into a discussion as to whose economic principles are better, it's certainly the case that you'd never get a major American politician to publicly doubt the fundaments of our economic system as radically as climate change deniers "doubt" climate science.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The evidence is incontrovertible: further economic deregulation must occur.

The point is that what's good for the goose is what's good for the gander. Without getting into a discussion as to whose economic principles are better, it's certainly the case that you'd never get a major American politician to publicly doubt the fundaments of our economic system as radically as climate change deniers "doubt" climate science.

Are you guys really saying that climate science is really a way to strengthen government regulation over the economy -- and bypass Republican intransigence? Am I hearing you and Cool Papa Bell correctly? I have to think you guys are kidding, because you're seeming to confirm the conspiracy theories of right-wing critics of the climate science "consensus".

Science: What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2011


Flunkie, scientists gave you devices that let you fly (even to the moon), obliterate cities, make cats glow in the dark, see people around the world or at night, move mountains, or harness the power of the stars (albeit in a $50 billion experimental facility, or briefly and unpleasantly). That's like 90% of all comic book superpowers right there. The consequences mainly are A) you're going to have to lug a lot of pricy equipment around and B) you're going to have to pay taxes to (directly or indirectly) support millions of engineers and scientists who will create, design, build and repair the source of your superpowers. Oh, and C) those devices will probably come with a hell of a lot of toxic side-effects.
It was a joke, physicsmatt. I apologize if that wasn't clear.
posted by Flunkie at 11:05 AM on October 7, 2011


The problem is, Republican Economics is as well-supported as Climate Change Skepticism. That is to say, it's is almost totally invalid and is supporting policies that are leading us to disaster. If Science is taken over by the same short-term greed-heads who control Economics, it's time to give up on anything we call Civilization.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I hearing you and Cool Papa Bell correctly?

No, you are not reading me correctly, and I don't think you're reading CPB correctly, either.

The point is, Bryce obviously has no understanding of what doubt, theory, and the evolution of knowledge are like in science, and if were to extend his commentary towards something like modern free market economics, that would be the equivalent of tearing down modern free market economy because we're experiencing a recession. He brings up finding apparently FTL neutrinos at CERN with punching holes in the certainty of well-settled science like climate science and relativity. He obviously has no idea what apparently FTL neutrinos would mean for relativity, especially since he has probably used, say, a GPS device in the last month. He also trots out a physicist's opinion on climate science, because apparently physicists are authorities on things outside of their field.

So, if finding apparently FTL neutrinos means that climate science is "far from well-settled," then it is completely in line with Bryce's logic to say that, since we have had economic problems, then he should think that the modern free market economy is "far from well-settled." Somehow I don't think he'll be saying anything like that any time soon, even though his logic would necessarily lead him there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:15 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are you guys really saying that climate science is really a way to strengthen government regulation over the economy -- and bypass Republican intransigence? Am I hearing you and Cool Papa Bell correctly?

I'm really confused as to where you're getting this from. I think Cool Papa Bell was making a joke about the double standard in politics when it comes to the standards of evidence that are required to support a given platform.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sticherbeast, I'm totally with you on the non-sequitors in Bryce's argument. He's got a rhetorical point that would sound good on a cable TV debate, but not much more.

But I think you've got a bit of a strawman going when you extend the argument to free market economists. I know that a lot of them are probably strident in their views (as is a person like Paul Krugman), but are there any on record as calling their ideas "incontrovertible" (or otherwise beyond debate)?
posted by BobbyVan at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2011


> The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.

BobbyVan, speaking as someone who sees quite clearly that global warming is real and climate change is occurring, I see with equal clarity that some topics have the power to turn metafilter into /b/ and render all the members except me and thee too dim to have any problem with "incontrovertable" being applied to empirical science. Pfui.
posted by jfuller at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2011


I'm really confused as to where you're getting this from. I think Cool Papa Bell was making a joke about the double standard in politics when it comes to the standards of evidence that are required to support a given platform.

We don't have peer review in politics, or an academy that gives politicians credentials. Politics is by definition a popularity contest.

Science is not (or should not be) a popularity contest, and it does have guardians who offer pronouncements on what is true and what is false. So there are different standards.

I was reacting to the idea that Cool Papa Bell would only admit "doubt" into the equation when Republican politicians did the same with their economic ideas. If that's not injecting politics into science in the most crass way, I don't know what is... Which is why I said in my comment that I may have misinterpreted his statement.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:28 AM on October 7, 2011


My problem with climate change deniers is not whether there is a debate, it's just that they don't acknowledge when they lose the debate.

For example, the claim that improperly positioned thermometers such as those not shaded or nearly ventilator outflow ducts have skewed the results in favor of unusual warming.

The problem with this argument is that it is very easily tested (and rejected). If only a few thermometers in an area are what is skewing results that can be seen.

But, rather than admit that they are tossing out sophomoric arguments, they move on to to the next sophomoric argument. That's not debating, that's trolling.

One of the main reasons that I believe in global warming is the lack in quality of arguments of its deniers.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:29 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


But I think you've got a bit of a strawman going when you extend the argument to free market economists. I know that a lot of them are probably strident in their views (as is a person like Paul Krugman), but are there any on record as calling their ideas "incontrovertible" (or otherwise beyond debate)?

Well, starting from the fringes, Austrian School economists literally believe that their views are incontrovertible a priori principles, and even if empirical evidence apparently contradicts these a priori principles, this only means we have erred in applying the principles to the evidence at hand.

Getting to more mainstream economic views, I would happily wager that the vast majority of Americans take it as basically incontrovertible that the American free market system is basically the truly best system, and that a major shift to, say, a socialist or libertarian system, would be basically heretical.

I think people would have flipped their collective shit if, right after the Great Financial Crisis, Bush (or, later, Obama) had gone on television and said, "alright, everybody, time to investigate alternatives to modern free market economics." Because even though most people don't walk around all day, solemnly intoning to themselves that America's economic system is based on incontrovertible principles, on a certain level, that is what many people do believe. (Note how many protestors on the right and on the left make their pleas to change the system based on ideas of setting the economic system "back" to a better era - not forward!)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:31 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You all have no idea how close to home this article hits for me, LOL...Let me just say I know Robert and his family pretty darn well, and well, his viewpoints...I just avoided talking about it altogether with him.
posted by roboton666 at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2011


physicsmatt: Also, I'm going to go take a walk now, because I didn't come to metafilter to be a dick to the other users. As you might have gathered, this article makes me furious.

I'm pretty sure most MeFites are in on the joke that Robert Bryce is an idiot, as was the intention of my post (except, I'm pointing out all the ways other people say he's an idiot). I'm sorry I pissed you off, where I had hoped to make you (and others) laugh at stupid things said in an Op-Ed piece (as compared to an article, which should be truthier ... at least, that's my hope).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:38 AM on October 7, 2011


Robert Bryce was heavily inspired by The Man Who Wasn't There, particularly the character Freddy Riedenschneider.

Thank you! One of my favorite movies, favorite actors, and favorite characters...

Meet Your Lawyer

Riedenschneider's Uncertainty Principle
posted by mrgrimm at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, starting from the fringes, Austrian School economists literally believe that their views are incontrovertible a priori principles, and even if empirical evidence apparently contradicts these a priori principles, this only means we have erred in applying the principles to the evidence at hand.

Can you give me a citation or something? And how does Austrian School economics differ from Keynesian economics on the "my truth is incontrovertible" spectrum? Are Keynesians more easy-going and willing to accept differing opinions?

Getting to more mainstream economic views, I would happily wager that the vast majority of Americans take it as basically incontrovertible that the American free market system is basically the truly best system, and that a major shift to, say, a socialist or libertarian system, would be basically heretical.

You'd probably be right. But that's more of an observation on our national culture. And it doesn't excuse scientists for doing the same thing, hypothetically.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2011


Tangent: is it too much to hope that politicians who grasp the workings of the scientific method, if not the exact sciences being debated, rally around increased funding for science in schools so that the "climate debate" or any other public discourse over scientific studies is based on a level field of understanding? In short, why not take this time to show how everyone would benefit from a better background in science, even the non-scientists? You don't have to wear a lab coat to make use of science in your daily life.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2011


Can you give me a citation or something? And how does Austrian School economics differ from Keynesian economics on the "my truth is incontrovertible" spectrum? Are Keynesians more easy-going and willing to accept differing opinions?

Here's a page from Mises Institute on empiricism. The very first sentence reads, "It is indisputable that there is and must be an aprioristic theory of human action."

From the introduction to Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed:
"A priori theory trumps and corrects experience (and logic overrules observation), and not vice-versa....Hence, once a theoretical insight has been grasped it can be employed as a constant and permanent standard of "criticism," i.e., for the purpose of correcting, revising, and rejecting as well as of accepting historical reports and interpretations. For instance, based on theoretical insights it must be considered impossible that higher taxes and regulations can be the cause of higher living standards. Living standards can be higher only despite higher taxes and regulations. Similarly, theoretical insights can rule out reports such as that increased consumption has led to increased production (economic growth), that below-market-clearing (maximum) prices have resulted in unsold surpluses of goods, or that the absence of democracy has been responsible for the economic malfunctioning of socialism as nonsensical."
As for Keynesianism, that school has evolved and undergone quite a bit of interplay in the world. It enthusiastically attempts an empirically-based approach to economics - as does, to be fair, the Chicago School. I'm sure we could point to stubborn examples from each school, but neither of those schools features a philosophical opposition to empiricism the same way that Austrianism does.

But that's more of an observation on our national culture. And it doesn't excuse scientists for doing the same thing, hypothetically.

I don't disagree, but I'll also be churlish and point out that Bryce isn't a scientist, and I bet he'd react exactly as I predict, even though, according to his logic, we should, like, always be questioning, man. It's almost as if he questions things he disagrees with, but does not question things he does agree with.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:54 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thanks Sticherbeast, great comment.

I've not had much exposure to the Austrian school. I think we ought to reserve our strongest skepticism for those who begin sentences with words like, "it is indisputable."
posted by BobbyVan at 12:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've not had much exposure to the Austrian school.

Ha. Me neither. Funnily enough, I hadn't put much thought into them, until I was doing some research for some barely-related project, and I started reading Democracy: The God That Failed, mostly out of curiosity. That introduction...it...it certainly...introduced me to what the book would be like.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:02 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


we need to get to work on an anti-viral agent to counteract the idiot virus that is running rampant in our culture.
posted by TMezz at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think Cool Papa Bell was making a joke about the double standard in politics when it comes to the standards of evidence that are required to support a given platform.

What he said.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2011


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the whole problem with climate change deniers not that they question climate change, but that their method of doing so basically consists of shouting "see, Al Gore! It's snowing in DC! Where's your global warming now, huh? Neener, neener neener!"

OK, I'm no scientist, but I can't imagine that, if someone were to make a scientifically rigorous argument against the theory, that that wouldn't be taken seriously. That's how science works, far as I know.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2011


> we need to get to work on an anti-viral agent to counteract the idiot virus that is running rampant in our culture.

The part of me that silently screams "the only thing you can do with a rabid dog is put it down" notes that we already have one; it's lead-based. The actual human part of me just sighs and wonders what the hell we can actually do.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2011


And thanks, Sticherbeast for helping explain the (sarcastic) point that I thought would be obvious.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2011


For everyone thinking they've come up with a very clever rhetorical trick because they've found some scientist somewhere who says global warming is incontrovertible or some other "unscientific" statement, let me draw the following analogy.

I understand the dangers and risks of nuclear weapons, radioactive materials, and fallout better than the majority of people (there are of course, experts that know more). If, for example, a significant portion of the American voting public was in full vocal support of nuking the shit out of an area next door to say, New York City, and arguing that A) the explosion would be harmless and B) the fallout would cause cancer rates to drop, then because of my expertise, it would be my duty to say that it is incontrovertible that they are wrong, and dangerously so.

That would not be a scientifically correct statement. After all, the nuke could fail to go off, the fallout could blow the wrong direction, perhaps (in violation of all knowledge of radioactive materials, biology, and prior evidence from results of nuclear tests and accidents) the fallout will magically kill cancer and not healthy cells. As a trained scientist, I am aware of all these possibilities. I am also aware that the Sun might not rise in the east tomorrow, that I could be a brain in a box, that empty space might collapse into a true vacuum state tomorrow, or that the entire history of the Universe is in fact the fevered imagination of my cat, who dreamed it up last Thursday (note: I don't have a cat). All of these things are true, and all of these things should be taken into account if I want to say as a scientist something will happen with 100% probability.

But you know, if I'm making a public statement against the Nuke Westchester County brigade, I'm not bringing any of this up. You know why? Because I'm also a living, breathing human being who doesn't want my fellow citizens to make a colossal mistake. And I know that the Pro-Nuke party is playing a political game, where optics matter, and if I sit down and do a long technical discussion of the pros and cons, I will be derided as a long-winded egghead, and no one will listen. So I have an obligation to say, clearly and unequivocally: "due to my expertise, I know that the consequences are X,Y, and Z. All of which are bad. DON'T DO IT." If you ask me to follow up, I will, and in fact, every climate scientist I know of has followed up with the details of their work. But again, don't pretend this is a fair fight and we scientists are being jerks or political hacks for not having a conversation. We are communicating the risks, to the best of our ability. In return, we get lies and distortions - and if you believe the danger is real (Nukes in my example, global warming in the real world), then the fact that, after the 1000th time our words are twisted against us, spurious lawsuits are filed, and a billion dollar media machine gears up to make you into a liar, you just might lose patience and no longer preface your words with a long discourse on the nature of knowledge.

Note, I am a theoretical physicist, not a climate scientist. My views on climate science and global warming are not germane to this analogy. I am speaking here specifically about the complaints that scientists are refusing to engage on a fair playing field. That's hypocritical bullshit and I think everyone knows it.

Also, not all scientists are conservatives. Historically, in America, Republican politicians have been more generous supporters of science than Democrats. Science is non-partisan. The results of science may favor an action associated with a current political party, but if you are complaining that no scientists agree with you, you have two choices: either become a scientist (no Ph.D. required, but you will have to do actual reading from actual books and do real, actual, hard work) and prove everyone else wrong, or accept that you are mistaken and change your mind. The idea that we're doing this in order to rake in those sweet, sweet research dollars is pathetic, as my bank account would prove. Each of us are talented enough in marketable mathematical skills to make fortunes in the private sector (really, failed out theorists are spoken of as if they were dead: after all, they failed out and became Wall Street millionaires). No one becomes a scientist for the easy life and the cash.
posted by physicsmatt at 12:37 PM on October 7, 2011 [21 favorites]


I didn't come to metafilter to be a dick to the other users

Don't worry, man, I don't take it personally. They piss me off, too.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2011


Popular proponents of climate change better get a grip on themselves and remember what science is before they commit this kind of massive vitriol against someone who disagrees with them and turns out to be right. It will happen. It always does.

Of course it does. Here's the thing, though: most of the "skeptics" on climate change aren't actually disagreeing in a way that might turn out to be right. They're just plugging their ears and going "lalalalalala"; or else they're asserting that humans can't possibly be changing the climate, because liberals and scientists are big old poopheads.

That ain't science.
posted by steambadger at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't come to metafilter to be a dick to the other users

WELL, WHAT GOOD ARE YOU THEN?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the whole problem with climate change deniers not that they question climate change, but that their method of doing so basically consists of shouting "see, Al Gore! It's snowing in DC! Where's your global warming now, huh? Neener, neener neener!"

This would be a great point if climate change proponents didn't do the same thing every time there's a hurricane, tornado or tsunami.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2011


That's not to say that there aren't plenty of reasonable, credentialed and well-meaning scientists to believe that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing significantly to it... but rather that the whole debate has become infected by politics.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2011


well-meaning scientists who believe
posted by BobbyVan at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2011


This would be a great point if climate change proponents didn't do the same thing every time there's a hurricane, tornado or tsunami.

God, this. This was the hottest summer on record in texas and everyone is like SEE TOLD YOU GLOBAL WARMING (not to me, I don't mean to say that I'm a climate change denier or something). It being hot this week does not prove global warming.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If, for example, a significant portion of the American voting public was in full vocal support of nuking the shit out of an area next door to say, New York City, and arguing that A) the explosion would be harmless and B) the fallout would cause cancer rates to drop, then because of my expertise, it would be my duty to say that it is incontrovertible that they are wrong, and dangerously so.

I nominate this as the scientific equivalent of Godwinizing the climate change debate.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:59 PM on October 7, 2011


I'm pretty sure most MeFites are in on the joke that Robert Bryce is an idiot...

I'm not in on the joke, but would love to have it explained.

I knew him (personally and professionally) about 15 years ago, but haven't paid any attention to what he's done since. What I knew of him included that he was one of the journalists who worked hardest to uncover the truths about Freeport McMoran and the environmental devastation caused by their mining interests. Now I'm to understand he's a climate change denier? What happened between point A and point B?
posted by mudpuppie at 1:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I nominate this as the scientific equivalent of Godwinizing the climate change debate.

Why? As a for-real scientist myself -- although not a climate scientist -- I find this to be an excellent discussion of what kind of speech is needed for which kinds of discussions. Do you feel that this particular example is just too contrived? physicsmatt is not arguing that denying the climate change is equivalent to nuking Westchester County, or that climate change deniers have any particular interest in nuking anybody. He's emphasizing that while it is possible that such an event would not be catastrophically bad it is much more likely that it would be. It is conceivable that global climate change will not very harmful effects on billions of people, but based on what we know currently about the way our planet works, it will. The smart money will take steps to prepare for those outcomes.
posted by wintermind at 1:37 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie, sorry for the rude and off-handed way I phrased my earlier thought, and let me explain my only knowledge of Robert Bryce is this Op-Ed, and an extremely cursory skimming of his website.

In the Op-Ed, he drew a parallel between some very preliminary findings that haven't been replicated yet regarding the possibility of neutrinos traveling faster than light, and the general chance that overall climate change science isn't a closed topic for scientific debate. From my science-thin background, it looks like Bryce is cherry-picking useful quotes from scientists of some regard, relating something that has had one inconclusive result with a topic that has been studied from many angles for decades (and looking at information going back centuries). It seems like a set-up (much like the rest of the article: Al Gore and IPCC failed because global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%! Energy production is more efficient, going from 3% efficiency in 1882 to 60% efficiency in modern time! And US is getting better, while China and Africa are dragging us all down! So why fight it?)

Maybe Bryce was better in the past, or perhaps climate change spinning (I'm still not sure if he's denying anything, or if he's just saying we're already fucked, so why try any more) is his new gig. Either way, the juicy bit from this Op-Ed has gained internet traction, and that was the focus of my original post. I was crass in re-phrasing it in the comments, but others have said more lucid things than I in this thread.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on October 7, 2011


BobbyVan, I needed a ridiculous example with serious consequences in order to make my point. It wasn't partisan because no political party is advocating nuking Westchester. The scientists who warned us of global warming have found their models predict serious, life-altering changes to climate which could potentially endanger millions of lives if left unchecked. I did not argue they were right, because I am not a climate scientist (though from my better-than-average knowledge of some of the issues, they seem to be. I would not swear to that in front of Congress without more reading and work on my part, however). I wasn't going to draw an analogy to my day-to-day work, because there are no equivalent risks. Few people find themselves with the opportunity to stick their head in a TeV particle beam, after all.

I went through a lot of effort to explain why I consider it a moral duty of experts to explain the risks clearly and without hedging or getting caught up in pointless asides. If I wanted to bring the Nazis into this, I would have. If you don't want to discuss my point, or if you think my opinion about scientific communication is wrong, then address that. Or don't. But don't hide behind an inapplicable internet "law" (which doesn't even say that the guy who brought up Nazis is wrong, just that the probability of someone comparing someone to the Nazis goes to 1 as the conversation lengthens. Technically, all you did by bringing up Godwin's law was fulfill it. So, congrats).

Shorter, no Nazis version: Scientists know the limits of their knowledge. Starting every conversation about politically-sensitive scientific results with "but you didn't start with an absolute proof of the concept of 'scientific evidence' or a discussion of Karl Popper's work! Therefore you are just as bad as the side with a slick PR firm and made-up factoids from scienticians!" isn't a honest discussion of the issue. It's a cheap, bullshit ploy to avoid the debate. That's what this WSJ jackass did, that's what every discussion of global warming devolves into (the ones that aren't done in court because a scientist is being subjected to a witch hunt), and that's what I'm objecting to.

The anti-warmers want to hear every detail of the argument? They can go into the field seriously and get all the math they can handle, or they can at least prove that they are capable of having an adult conversation for 5 minutes with a scientist in public without lapsing into false equivalencies, lies, or accusations of criminal activity. Otherwise, they'll get the kiddie-version, because that's all they've proven they can handle.
posted by physicsmatt at 1:58 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


And yet, the necessity of Wall St. bailouts cannot be questioned.
posted by telstar at 2:09 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


We don't have peer review in politics, or an academy that gives politicians credentials. Politics is by definition a popularity contest.

I think the point is more that we do have these standards in economics, and people use economic arguments all the time to justify policy decisions that have just as much impact as climate legislation, even though scientists have much more heterogeneous takes on economic theory than they do on climate change.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:12 PM on October 7, 2011


Also, I should add that, in order for scientists to be taken seriously when we give dire, no-bullshit warnings, we need to be up front and transparent about our work: what we did, how we did it, what the uncertainties are, etc. I'm not saying that this should be hidden from the public, it should be there for all to see.

And you know what? It is. It's hard to understand some times, and it's hard to explain, and we don't do nearly as good of a job of communicating as perhaps we could. But it's there and if you ask a scientist in a way that makes it clear that you are interested in learning about their work, they will tell you. (Assuming that the thesis/grant/paper/application/etc isn't due that week. Or if we haven't had a bad day. If we have, there are lots of us, ask another). Hell, that is why I spend time on metafilter when I have real work to do. Because I care about science and I want everyone else to have accurate knowledge about it. This is also why plagiarism, forging results, or general shenanigans are treated so seriously by the scientific community. We need to keep ourselves honest, and be provably so, in order that you will trust us when it is absolutely critical that you do.

However, when that time comes, all of that deep, complicated stuff isn't what we need to say when a microphone is put in front of us and a dye-job blonde who has a Stanford degree yet pretends to not know what the word "czar" means asks us "gee, Mr. Doctor, this sounds awwwfully complicated for a Real American like me. Are you sure it is a serious issue?"
posted by physicsmatt at 2:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Also Also, after OPERA came out, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine, a physicist who does more science outreach than I do. I had the depressive "fuck, now the creationists/pollution-lovers will pounce" take. He was really excited, because it was a great way to show the world how we work and what happens when we get crazy, unexpected results. Which is of course what science is all about. People were interested in physics, and it was a great teachable moment, said he.

So you know, thanks for proving my point, WSJ.
posted by physicsmatt at 2:22 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't these dummies realize that TVs and mobile phones and shit are all SCIENCE with dash of engineering ?
posted by Mister_A at 2:31 PM on October 7, 2011


Because, if you don't believe in mobile phones, you are probably...






...a T-Mobile customer!!
posted by Mister_A at 2:31 PM on October 7, 2011


The anti-warmers want to hear every detail of the argument? They can go into the field seriously and get all the math they can handle, or they can at least prove that they are capable of having an adult conversation for 5 minutes with a scientist in public without lapsing into false equivalencies, lies, or accusations of criminal activity. Otherwise, they'll get the kiddie-version, because that's all they've proven they can handle.

Thank you, physicsmatt. Well said.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


science - it does not mean what i think you think it means...
posted by symbioid at 2:44 PM on October 7, 2011


I think we ought to reserve our strongest skepticism for those who begin sentences with words like, "it is indisputable."

Agreed! Now on to the next agenda item: those who begin sentences with "it is a truth universally acknowledged"?
posted by hattifattener at 2:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


physicsmatt, I shouldn't have been so rude/dismissive in my Godwin comment. Sorry - you've been making some good contributions here from a scientific perspective.

I do have an instinctive reaction to scientific doomsday scenarios, especially when they've been wrong (or "not yet proven correct") in the past (see the population bomb, the coming ice age, peak oil, etc.). When the proposed fix to these problems involves a massive expansion in the power of government, I become even more skeptical -- not as a scientist, but as a citizen. When I read your analogy to nuking New York City, I saw that as an overdrawn analogy, like comparing climate change skeptics to holocaust deniers and racists.

I really liked the way the scientists who did the neutrino experiment laid out all their raw data and asked the wider scientific community to poke holes in their methodology and conclusions. I'd like to see some of that same spirit in the climate debate, on both sides. I sympathize with your friend who lamented over the "creationists/pollution-lovers" pouncing on the results to question other scientific theories, but scientists do themselves a disservice when they try to play politics, because they don't do that very well.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:55 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


> This would be a great point if climate change proponents didn't do the same thing every time there's a hurricane, tornado or tsunami.

Cite?
posted by Bangaioh at 3:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]




This is a tangent, but from the Sticherbeast link:
...in order to refute a theoretical proposition (in contrast to a hypothetical one) another, even more fundamental theoretical argument is required, just as another mathematical or logical proof or argument is required (and not "empirical evidence") in order to refute a mathematical or logical theorem.
"Empirical evidence"? You mean, like, counterexamples?!
posted by en forme de poire at 3:19 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe Bryce was better in the past

He used to be a liberal (and also a devout Catholic, back when there political atmosphere was more forgiving of shades of gray). When I knew him, he would have been the last person to ever go to work for a conservative think tank. Like I said, I have no idea what happened in the past 15 years. Maybe he just got older. Who knows. Sure was a shock to see this, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:22 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Grist article isn't much of a cite since the author changed the headline and said "The intent of this piece isn’t to attribute today’s tragedy to climate change. Apologies to those whom I misled with the headline."
posted by plastic_animals at 3:29 PM on October 7, 2011


I really liked the way the scientists who did the neutrino experiment laid out all their raw data and asked the wider scientific community to poke holes in their methodology and conclusions. I'd like to see some of that same spirit in the climate debate, on both sides.

Poke away!
posted by ofthestrait at 3:45 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Empirical evidence"? You mean, like, counterexamples?!

Yup! The Austrian School's approach to empirical arguments is the "if it wasn't for my horse, I never would have spent that year in college" of the philosophical world.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:52 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Grist article isn't much of a cite

While at least the author had the decency to correct the article's inaccuracies, it still seems in poor taste to bring up climate change because of a recent and completely unrelated natural disaster.

The above doesn't mean that I agree with BobbyVan's argument that the rhetoric used or incorrect beliefs held by the supporters of a given proposition nullify the validity of said proposition.

It doesn't matter how many loons/dishonest people believe/don't believe in climate change, nor what far-fetched associations they decide to make to get their message across. Doubting climate science just because silly people do silly things is fallacious.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The above doesn't mean that I agree with BobbyVan's argument that the rhetoric used or incorrect beliefs held by the supporters of a given proposition nullify the validity of said proposition.

I'm pretty sure I didn't make that argument.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:40 PM on October 7, 2011


That's how I interpreted your reply to breakin' the law's comment.

He correctly asserted that deniers are called that because they do not exhibit true scepticism but instead reject AGW with irrelevant data and unreasonable arguments, and when you took the time to address his claim, I assumed you were pointing out that the fact that AGW supporters also exhibit the same behaviour was somehow undermining the credibility of the science. If that was not the point of your comment as you say, than what was?
posted by Bangaioh at 5:04 PM on October 7, 2011


scientists do themselves a disservice when they try to play politics, because they don't do that very well

Scientists rarely, if ever, play the kind of game of politics you're describing. In fact, this invention of yours just doesn't exist, in reality.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:04 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Scientists rarely, if ever, play the kind of game of politics you're describing. In fact, this invention of yours just doesn't exist, in reality.

I guess that this reality we're speaking of doesn't include the scientists at the University of East Anglia.

In any case, I didn't argue that political gamesmanship was endemic among scientists -- I simply stated that scientists ought not try to fight political battles. When you get involved in political arguments, you end up saying silly things like "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" and you inevitably compromise certain principles in order to achieve a pre-defined objective.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2011


I guess that this reality we're speaking of doesn't include the scientists at the University of East Anglia.

Okay, I'll ask you straight out: Do you think climate change science was invalided because of that? A simple yes or no will suffice.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:33 PM on October 7, 2011


Of course it isn't invalidated because of that.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2011


And this isn't a trial, so we can dispense with the hostile witness "yes or no" framing of questions if it's OK with you.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:48 PM on October 7, 2011


Of course it isn't invalidated because of that.

So you think climate change science is invalid?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:55 PM on October 7, 2011


Dude, quit trying to pick a fight and read my first comment in this thread.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:57 PM on October 7, 2011


Do you think climate change science was invalided because of that?

Maybe I'm wrong but there's a big problem implied by this question.

We can say that the Theory of Relativity could be invalidated or proven incomplete by measuring the amount that light is bent by a gravitational field. Because relativity comes with an exact prediction of what the distortion should be. Measure the number = check the theory.

Now what is the question when applied to "climate change science"

What's the number I should measure? Against what mathematical expression of climate change theory?

I can check the validity of the greenhouse gas effect. That's pretty clear. I can also check the rate of carbon dioxide release by permafrost and so on. But all these are simply single factors in a vastly complex system.

The problem is the leap - amalgamating the totality of these factors. You don't end up with a Theory that can be easily invalidated because there is no single measurement that'll do it. Or am i missing something?
posted by storybored at 6:40 PM on October 7, 2011


quit trying to pick a fight

It's hard to avoid picking a fight when you're, intentionally or not, displaying the same behaviour as your average denier/astroturfer: first you quibble about semantics, when rebuked you complain about Godwin, when called out you switch to listing past "scientific doomsday scenarios" that according to you were wrong and asking for data transparency (even though data is available and you admitted yourself that you're incapable of making sense of it) as if climate science has been somehow exempt from scrutiny for the last 30 years.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


With respect, I think a great deal of this discussion is aimless tail-chasing. It assumes implicitly that climate change denialism has something to do with what is true or not true. It doesn't. Climate change denialism is all a classic case of bullshit. That is, the unstated but actual purpose of denialists is to promote a particular political and ideological position. To do this, they will use any fact, deception, lie, line of argument, appeal to authority, red herring, or subterfuge that serves to advance this purpose. Whether what they say is true or not is irrelevant to their purpose. What matters to them is only that their ideological and political position is advanced by their tactics.

Continually attacking their logic or "facts" in a perverse way actually grants denialism some credibility. After all, if you take them on in argument, you must at least be granting their claims as being worthy of rebuttal. The problem is, all of their arguments have been dealt with previously, usually ad infinitum, by the people most knowledgeable about the subject -- climate scientists. Denialist arguments have been found wanting in every case. Over and over and over again. That denialists continue to make the same discredited arguments, without advancing any new credible evidence or fresh line of debate, is evidence enough that truth is not what they are about.

In such a case, it seems to me the best approach is to focus your attention on demonstrating their ideological and political purposes, driving this home repeatedly, so that onlookers never lose sight of the pea in the denialists' shell game. Leave the climate scientists to deal with the science.
posted by dmayhood at 7:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


That's awfully uncharitable, Bangaioh. Yes, I quoted a Nobel laureate who made the simple point that scientific claims ought not be deemed "incontrovertible". Then I called out an absurd comparison that suggested climate change skeptics were somehow comparable to people who would suggest that nuclear fallout was good for one's health. I apologized for bringing up Godwin, but I guess that wasn't enough for you. You're right that the IPCC publishes lots of data on its website, but I was referring more to the collaborative/cooperative spirit that you saw in the neutrino discussion, and noted that because the stakes in climate science are so high, the costs of backing down from entrenched positions are similarly high.

I'm not laying blame at any one side's feet, but rather making the rather benign point, again, that this debate is unduly infected by politics.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:23 PM on October 7, 2011


Continually attacking their logic or "facts" in a perverse way actually grants denialism some credibility.

Would you take the same see-no-evil approach with creationists?
posted by storybored at 7:28 PM on October 7, 2011


I may be wrong, but I have this nagging intuition that his real message is that if neutrons are FTL, then Rick Perry could be president, and the Koch's will eventually be recognized as the real saviors of mankind.

Once you spot the crack in the Cosmic Egg, man, everything's up for grabs.
posted by Twang at 7:46 PM on October 7, 2011


Of course it isn't invalidated because of that.

So you think climate change science is invalid?


Fail at basic reading comprehension, Blazecock Pileon.
Or basic logic (~~A ~= ~A).
Or both.
At any rate, you wasted valuable public resources in school.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 PM on October 7, 2011


BobbyVan: Then I called out an absurd comparison that suggested climate change skeptics were somehow comparable to people who would suggest that nuclear fallout was good for one's health.

With due respect, it's not an absurd analogy at all. There's people who argue regularly on the op-ed pages of a major Canadian newspaper that the rapidly rising level of atmospheric CO2 is actually beneficial, because it will lead to greater plant growth. I can provide cites if you like.
posted by russilwvong at 10:10 PM on October 7, 2011


That's awfully uncharitable, Bangaioh.

I'm sorry but that's exactly how you're coming across. Please note I did say "intentionally or not".


I quoted a Nobel laureate who made the simple point that scientific claims ought not be deemed "incontrovertible"

A Nobel laureate who makes all the trite arguments against AGW theory your typical YouTube commenter makes. Being a brilliant scientist in your field doesn't make you immune to bias. What about all the other Nobel laureates who have no problem with the word usage in particular, or APS's statement in general? How many of them also quit APS because of its position? How many of those who didn't are Nobel laureates?


I apologized for bringing up Godwin, but I guess that wasn't enough for you.

You apologise from one distraction and promptly bring up two others in that very same comment.


I'm not laying blame at any one side's feet, but rather making the rather benign point, again, that this debate is unduly infected by politics.

The "debate" you're talking about is mostly a media creation, as there's no comparable debate between actual climatologists and other scientists. It is the media and deniers who keep repeating the same discredited arguments and outright making shit up to make it appear as though the "science isn't settled" and that it's heavily politicised so we should be extra "sceptical". Delay, delay, delay...
posted by Bangaioh at 12:48 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


...What about all the other Nobel laureates scientists...
posted by Bangaioh at 12:50 AM on October 8, 2011


Q: How wrong was Aristotle about light and gravity?
A: Fundamentally wrong, but for a thousand years only a few people came to know or care otherwise.

Q: How wrong was Newton about light and gravity?
A: One or two important but non-obvious things wrong which weren't realized until nearly 400 years of people actually using his findings.

Q: How wrong was Einstein about light and gravity?
A: Known to be subtly wrong, but, in spite of millions of hours of work over nearly a century by very smart people trying to figure it out, it's still unknown how so. In the meantime, we have been profoundly changed by his theories and have come to rely on them in countless ways every day.
posted by wobh at 5:48 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The best rhetorical response to irrational argument is to shine a spotlight on framing and motive.

You'll never win an argument against someone responding "aha there's a chance that's wrong" to generally accepted scientific claims. Just like you'll never win an argument against someone who says "no it isn't" when you say the sky is blue. They don't care whether the sky is blue or not, their basis isn't fact, it's belief.

Since there's no debate team judge in real life and no trophy you get to carry home if you win, the only non-null outcomes of a public argument are swayed opinions. Casting doubt on the motives of someone with a scanty factual basis to their rhetoric is a really good way of doing this.

In other words: when someone starts a dirty debate in an arena, you must take your argument outside that arena; go meta.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:29 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I really liked the way the scientists who did the neutrino experiment laid out all their raw data and asked the wider scientific community to poke holes in their methodology and conclusions. I'd like to see some of that same spirit in the climate debate, on both sides."

"You're right that the IPCC publishes lots of data on its website, but I was referring more to the collaborative/cooperative spirit that you saw in the neutrino discussion."

Quit moving the goalposts. The collaborative/cooperative spirit you're seeing with the neutrino experiment is what's known as 'peer review'. You make your data and reports available for anyone to scrutinise, and invite experts to do so. The IPCC has followed the same peer review process as the neutrino experimenters, which is the same peer review process that any reputable scientist would follow. There's no difference.

As for 'both sides'... the deniers haven't published any evidence that stands up to scrutiny at all. So I think you should really be looking at them for a little proof that they're debating in good faith. It's not enough to say that they don't think current climate science is correct - they've got to put forward an alternative hypothesis, test it, come up with a theory, back it up with data, submit that data to peer review then wait to see if their work holds up to scrutiny. The same way that "God did it" isn't a suitable refutatation of evolution, "maybe it's sun spots" and "volcanoes put out CO2 don't they?" aren't suitable refutations of the known interaction between CO2, heat and our specific atmosphere.
posted by harriet vane at 6:45 AM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


...the deniers haven't published any evidence that stands up to scrutiny at all.

This is an interesting scientific question: how would you go about proving that recent climate change is not antropogenic?
posted by storybored at 7:54 PM on October 9, 2011


Storybored ... You can't prove a negative.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2011


Storybored, if someone seriously wanted to make the attempt, I suppose it could be done. You'd have to show that either CO2 doesn't trap heat the way we've thought it does for the last 100 years or however long it's been since someone researched it's properties, or maybe that humans aren't producing as much CO2 as it looks like we're doing. Not easy, but if it were true it would be possible.

Sunspots or volcanoes all by themselves aren't enough to dislodge the Humans Create Too Much CO2 theory. Whatever effect they have is in addition to human-caused CO2, not instead of it. So to say that it's not the fault of humans you'd have to work out why all the CO2 we know we make isn't having the effect it does under all other known circumstances (e.g. on other planets like Venus and Mars).
posted by harriet vane at 4:43 AM on October 10, 2011


Yes, you can.

Increased CO2 concentration has been found to be the main forcing driving climate change so far. So, if, for example, we found out that CO2 actually isn't a GHG after all (not gonna happen), or that the amount we're adding by deforestation + fossil fuels consumption is being completely removed out of the atmosphere by some sink (it isn't, and the 40% removal by the oceans is a problem of its own as big as global warming itself), or that hydrocarbon combustion somehow isn't actually contributing to the CO2 increase (it is due to analysis of the fraction of "old" CO2 in the atmosphere) and that the bulk of GHG are actually coming from something other than human activity (nope), then one would "prove" climate change isn't anthropogenic.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:47 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Yes, you can" was directed to CPB/storybored.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:48 AM on October 10, 2011


Yes, you can.

Great. Now, how can you prove that UFOs aren't causing climate change?

You can't prove a negative. It's simply not logical.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2011


Scientific "proof" is not the same as logical proof.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:34 AM on October 10, 2011


thanks for that, Bangaioh and Harriet.
posted by storybored at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2011




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