Thursday, January 17, 2008

Climate Debate Daily gives a megaphone to denial

Arts & Letters Daily has launched Climate Debate Daily: A new way to understand disputes about global warming. A more accurate tag would be “the same old ways of garbling disputes about global warming.”

The site’s layout creates the appearance of evenhandedness. The left column is “Calls to action,” links “supporting the idea that global warming poses a clear threat to humanity, that it is largely caused by human activity, and that solutions to the problems of climate change lie within human reach.”

The right hand promises “Dissenting voices,” “challenging the view that the world warming that began around 1880 is caused by human activity, that it constitutes a serious threat, or that the vagaries of the earth’s climate are within human control.”

The site claims, “As a matter of editorial policy, Climate Debate Daily maintains a studied neutrality, allowing each side to present its most powerful and persuasive case. Our object is to allow readers to form their own judgments based on the best available information.” Thus the casual viewer of Climate Debate Daily will have little chance to learn that the scientific debate has long moved on. At this point, making a fetish of balance just favors the rear guard.

One of the site’s co-authors, Douglas Campbell, sounds like a pretty solid specimen. He believes “the theory of anthropogenic global warming, and thinks that to the extent that the science remains uncertain the Precautionary Principle still justifies even relatively costly mitigation measures.”

But the site’s other co-author, Denis Dutton, teaches philosophy in New Zealand, and invokes the spirit of Karl Popper in favor of his skepticism. He says, “Working at the university where Karl Popper taught in the 1930s and 40s, I am more than a little aware of the way that good scientific hypotheses must always be open to falsification. The best way for science and public policy to proceed is to keep assessing evidence pro and con for anthropogenic global warming.”

Popper is a philosopher I admire. He would have had fine targets for his indignation in the climate change skeptics, who are just the sort of enemies of open inquiry he attacked with such zeal. Their views that have been falsified often and rigorously, but that doesn’t deter them. The same bedraggled arguments keep popping up, no matter how often the patient souls at Real Climate and elsewhere swat them aside.


Anonymous said...

The notion that the earth is round is always subject to falsification, the same way that gravity is just a theory the same as evolution.

Anonymous said...

"Popper is a philosopher I admire. He would have had fine targets for his indignation in the climate change skeptics, who are just the sort of enemies of open inquiry he attacked with such zeal."

Yikes! This post makes it painfully obvious you haven't read any Popper, Brian. A friendly tip.

Brian Thomas said...

Okay, I'll bite. Since I have read a great deal of Popper, you must be referring to my understanding of the philosopher. Perhaps you could explain what makes my ignorance so obvious and enlighten the rest of us.

I referred to Popper because the denialists spend most of their effort insulating their theories from refutation. They are adding epicycles to their theories, after the fashion described in The Logic of Scientific Discovery in his description of pre-Copernican astronomy.

Instead of actually refuting the IPCC mainstream, most denialists just recycle a small set of often-refuted objections. In their attempt to falsify the IPCC, they maintain their amnesia about the theories that have been debunked many times. Naomi Oreskes' work contains a detailed description of how this has worked over the years.

Since Popper died in 1994, and never to my knowledge discussed global warming, we don't know what he might have said had he been hale and active today. He was politically conservative. Perhaps he would have sided with the denialists. But I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I find it's the opposite. Whenever folks at Realclimate are asked if they can ever do falsifiable predictions with their models they sneer that science has moved on since Popper. Currently, global temperatures are actually refuting the older models' predictions...
Also which Oreskes work are you referring to? Hopefully not that nonsense that's in Science mag - that was a crap study and everyone involved who supports it knows it was.

rpauli said...

Excellent article.

It provoked me, and I lost all control expressing my thoughts:

And another criticism at