Just what is it, anyway?

I consider myself a skeptic, in general. I don’t really “believe” in anything, including deities, except the scientific method. Of course, that means that I also don’t actively disbelieve in deities. I simply have no opinion about them.

When it comes to science, I accept as a working theory that which best seems to scientifically explain the available data, which is why I think that evolution is the best explanation for the fossil record and the structure and relationship of DNA in life on earth. But I don’t “believe” in it. I don’t even “believe” in gravity. I simply view it as a useful invention of Isaac Newton, improved upon by Einstein, to explain a lot of empirical phenomena, like things falling when dropped, or bodies in space orbiting other bodies. And what makes it useful is that it is very predictive.

Which brings us to climate “science,” which seems to be anything but. Which isn’t surprising, because the models remain primitive, both in terms of the computer power needed to properly model such a thing, and our understanding of the interactions. So when asked if I “believe” that the earth is warming, or if that warming is being caused by humans, I don’t really know what to say, since I don’t “believe” anything. I certainly can’t “deny” it, since I have no idea, but (as I’ve often said), if the planet is warming, it would hardly be surprising, considering that we’re less than half a millennium from the Little Ice Age.

To repeat: Here is what I do deny:

I deny that science is a compendium of knowledge to be ladled out to school children like government-approved pablum (and particularly malnutritious pablum), rather than a systematic method of attaining such knowledge.

I deny that skepticism about anthropogenic climate change is epistemologically equivalent to skepticism about evolution, and I resent the implications that if one is skeptical about the former, one must be similarly skeptical about the latter, and “anti-science.”

As someone who has done complex modeling and computer coding myself, I deny that we understand the complex and chaotic interactions of the atmosphere, oceans and solar and other inputs sufficiently to model them with any confidence into the future, and I deny that it is unreasonable and unscientific to think that those who believe they do have such understanding suffer from hubris. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, extraordinary policy prescriptions require extraordinary evidence.

Nothing has changed in the interim to cause me to change my opinions in that regard.

55 thoughts on “Skepticism”

  1. Before a lot of them got all New Agey, Gaia-worshipping, etc., “liberals” used to pride themselves on their skeptical, reason-based, non-religious outlook on life. Now they’re pretty much Eloi-like State-cultists with the Off-Switch of their critical faculties pretty much locked in place. Recently I was reading the book HUMORISTS, by one of my favorite writers, Paul Johnson. In his chapter on Benjamin Franklin, Johnson quotes a lot of Franklin’s “Poor Richard” aphorism, and one that virtually leaped off the page at me–and not just because of the four-letter word–was “Force sh/ts on reason.” If you’ve got a philosophy based on force, the way statism is, it’s no wonder your critical faculties have atrophied due to lack of use. What use reason when you can just stick a gun in someone’s face (or vote someone into office who will).

  2. The skeptic or zetetic principle is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. See Truzzi.

    The claims that ” the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die” unless we completely overhaul “business as usual” may be true, but it is a claim that has been made before and generally has not manifested. So a higher level of evidence, than has previously been introduced for similar claims, is necessary before a claim such as anthropogenic catastrophic global warming is to be taken seriously. Evidence that is hidden, omitted, de-emphasized in presentation behind other evidence, or otherwise obfuscated is evidence that the claim is weak.

    As to ‘gravity’ or ‘evolution’ — we believe in all kinds of things that don’t exist, but are useful. Centrifugal force is not a force. Friction is not a force. Momentum and enthalpy and all kinds of concepts are useful abstractions about relationships among physical quantities but are not themselves ‘real’. Yet we believe, in that we USE the concepts. It’s not clear to me that quibbles about whether or not we ‘believe’ in this or that concept is a useful exercise.

    1. “the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die”
      You realize even the CAGW people don’t actually say that? That the endlessly attributed of that phrase to them by their opponents is deliberate hyperbole?

      1. “We the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency—a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential…the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising…Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on earth itself…” —Al Gore, former US Vice President, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10, 2007

        “Global warming, along with the cutting and burning of forests and other critical habitats, is causing the loss of living species at a level comparable to the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That event was believed to have been caused by a giant asteroid. This time it is not an asteroid colliding with the Earth and wreaking havoc: it is us.”
        ― Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

        1. A bit dated, more emphasis on the “don’t”, 2007 is a “didn’t” but, yeah, I wrote you a blank check, but if I go back to 2007 I can find claims from”skeptics” they wouldn’t make today.

        2. Gore doesn’t write that the ecology will collapse, that civilizations will perish, or that we’re all going to die. Turning his words into a claim that “we’re all going to die” is hyperbole.

          The claim that human activity had measurably increased global surface temperatures was an extraordinary one when it was first raised, but it’s since been backed by lots of evidence. Some people will never be persuaded, but the people who study the issue most closely seem quite convinced. Scientific skepticism is vital, but it isn’t a veto on public policy.

        3. Gee, I’ve spent the last two days arguing with warmists who were claiming that civilizationi would collapse due to global warming, and that only abandoning capitalism now could possibly save humanity.

          This March NASA Goddard made exactly that claim. Then in May the White House repeated and expanded on such nonsense.


          If you’re claiming that warmists haven’t made such claims since Al Gore’s book came out, you haven’t read a newspaper or been online since Al Gore’s book came out.

          1. The claim being attributed to “alarmists” is:

            “the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die”

            Didn’t see that in your link, only the usual stuff on extreme weather events.

            As I said to Jiminator “you can always find some people somewhere claiming anything you can imagine” so I regret even mentioning it.

            Looking at it from the other direction, there’s the Sky Dragon crowd who call themselves “skeptics” using them as an example I can claim that “skeptic” deny there’s even a “greenhouse” effect, claim there’s been no tropospheric warming this century etc, how about we call such people “fringe skeptics” and the people who think “we’re all gona die” (from AGW) fringe alarmists?

          2. Suppose a scientist were to come out and claim “Regions where temperatures range from -10 to 110 degrees F will see that range widen to -10 — 112. Coastal regions with tides ranging plus or minus 3 meters will see that range widen to 3.03 meters, meaning the high-water mark will, on average, reach 15 meters up the beach. Agricultural regions that experience rainfall of 10 inches or less per year, and so require irrigation from sub-surface fossil reservoirs, will experience 9.5 inchs per year and so deplete reservoirs a decade or so sooner than otherwise. Any actions taken by any citizens of any such regions will have no impact on this trend unless ALL citizens and regions take similar actions . ”

            That might be an un-extraordinary statement. It would not require much proof. But would such a statement justify reformation of the globe’s political and economic structures?

      2. “You realize even the CAGW people don’t actually say that?”

        I see them say stuff like that all the time. From the militant street activist to the man in the White House.

        1. Not to mention respected climate scientists, at present:

          “If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” James Hansen to Current TV host Eliot Spitzer. (2012)

          “We conclude that the large climate change from burning all fossil fuels would threaten the biological health and survival of humanity, making policies that rely substantially on adaptation inadequate.” James Hansen Climate Sensitivity, Sea Level, and Atmospheric CO2, (2013)

          Extraordinary claims.

          1. I don’t know about the 20 to 50%, bu that’s not “the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die”.

            Burning “all” fossil fuels would have dramatic consequences, but that’s still not “the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die”

          2. Extraordinary indeed, considering that 95% of the biomass and species of life on earth are subterranean bacteria.

          3. Yeah, that extinction level would be worse than the Permian or Cretaceous extinctions. And the nonsense shows no signs of stopping. Just this week a Duke professor made headlines (which is half the goal – PBS link) with his report that species extinction rate are a thousand times greater than before man was running around, and of course predicts that we’re on the cusp of one of the greatest mass extinctions in the planet’s history.

            That’s pretty amazing, considering the measured extinction rate per year is almost indistinguishable from zero. We have named all the species we’ve counted, so if thousands of species are going extinct every year it shouldn’t be a bit of trouble to provide the names of those species – but they can’t, because it’s never a named species that goes extinct, it’s always a hypothetical species in a computer model.

          4. I don’t know about the 20 to 50%, but that’s not “the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die”.

            I envy you, Comrade Andrew_W. As a newly-minted far-Left Progressive, I realize that I have a lot to learn yet from masters such as yourself. Anyone who can read “If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” and “We conclude that the large climate change from burning all fossil fuels would threaten the biological health and survival of humanity” and then state “but that’s not ‘the ecology will collapse, civilizations will perish, and we’re all going to die’” has truly mastered the art of brazen. Is there a book I can read, or a course I can take?

      3. When you see quotes like this:

        …it raises the risk of sudden avalanches of rocks and soil released from the ice, threatening the livelihoods of more than 2 billion people who depend on melt-water to feed rivers in summer. Glacier melting will also add to rising global sea levels.

        That would be considered histrionics. Just because they don’t exactly say the world is going to end, doesn’t mean they’re not implying it.

      4. You realize even the CAGW people don’t actually say that? That the endlessly attributed of that phrase to them by their opponents is deliberate hyperbole?

        Andrew, you may want to take a mulligan on this one.

        1. That’s a strange little quote, I’m wondering about the context, was it a claim that in 500 days from 14 May 2014 it’s all over, or does it refer to a negotiations schedule over the next year and a half?

          1. I provided the link, there is no need to wonder. But ask yourself about the spin suggesting he was referring to the upcoming French conference; is the foreign minister saying we have 500 days to avoid the conference? Is he saying the conference is going to be chaotic? We don’t have to wonder if his was English was misunderstood, because he said it both in French and English. But I would think if he was referring to the conference, he wouldn’t use words like “avoid” and “chaos”. And even if he was referring the conference using those words, it goes to show the willingness of CAGW folks to overly dramatize events.

          2. I think it pretty obvious that he was suggesting that he sees the conference as a critical event to get into place policies that will lead to changes intended to avoid climate chaos in the more distant future.

            Hyperbole, but then he’s a politician.

  3. Similar.

    One thing I do “believe” though is in Humans ability to rationalize, it’s something everyone does, I think it’s been built into us by evolution, and is another reason to be skeptical when people are so sure about a conclusion they’ve reached when the data supporting that conclusion seems lacking.

    1. The issue with GW/AGW/CAGW is that it’s fundamentally a -string- of conclusions. Each individual building block is almost always a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ piece. And all of these blocks are then used as ‘givens’ for the ensemble.

      I personally find the “Pre-1900 temperature estimation” to be weakest link.

      What’s the weakest link for you?

      1. What’s the weakest link for you?

        In terms of the claimed likelihood of CAGW?

        In weakness in being able to model and understand the atmosphere-hydrosphere linkage, climate models have evolved from models designed for weather forecasting, such models were weak on that atmosphere-hydrosphere link (at least that’s how they used to be and still appears to be the case), and if, as is now being claimed, heat is getting into the oceans faster that predicted, that’s likely to continue, and tropospheric warming will therefore be well below current predictions.

        1. This is the “We predicted a Hot Spot based off ‘more hot water means more clouds’ and ‘more clouds means more hot water’. But we don’t -see- a Hot Spot. New models that try to deal with the heat and mass transfer actually see tropical troposphere -cooling-. The heat must be going -somewhere-. Um. I think I can see it in the ‘sub 700m oceanic data. Maybe?”

          This is fatal to CAGW. Not to AGW necessarily, but it certainly is to -C-AGW. It’s an acceptance and admission that tropical thunderstorms are net-cooling, a strong negative feedback.

  4. Science includes skepticism. If skepticism isn’t allowed, it’s not science. There are lots of historical examples of mainstream science being upset by a few annoying facts. The observations of Mercury’s orbit are one example. de Broglie comes to mind also.

    1. Here’s an even better example: the widespread use of aspirin during the early 20th century.

      Does that seem like an inconsequential detail in comparison? It isn’t. During the first few decades of the 20th century aspirin was heralded as a miracle drug, and the medical establishment threw all prudence and skepticism out the window and began prescribing aspirin and salicylate treatments for all manner of ailments, in high doses, without sufficient research to determine the efficacy or the safety. And aspirin was so widely believed to be safe that it took a very long time for that conventional wisdom to die out.

      What was the cost? Until recently we didn’t know, but a fairly convincing study [1] has made a compelling case that the unusual mortality rates from the influenza pandemic of 1918 through 1919 were not necessarily due to the virus or illness itself but due to salicylate overdose in treated patients. Analysis of dosage regimes that were administered as common policy at the time indicated they would lead to extensive salicylate accumulation and toxicity. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the details of the causes of death from the pandemic, at least in the developed world, fit with the symptoms of salicylate toxicity and are very atypical with respect to influenza.

      In short, insufficient skepticism about the use, and overuse, of aspirin likely caused tens of millions of excess deaths.


      1. That’s a nice theory except that most of the people who died probably never saw an aspirin pill in their whole lives. For example, India was supposedly one of the worst hit places. How are they going to afford the aspirin to kill off the twenty or so million Indians who actually died?

  5. Let’s not forget skepticism about scientific institutions.. whenever people look into how science supposedly works, they quickly discover that it often doesn’t. It’s not “big science” that got us the world we see around us, it’s mostly practical men making do with whatever scraps of sanity that they can extract from the scientific literature to make real products. As a random example, most of what we know about statistics we owe to William Sealy Gosset, a chemist working for the Guinness brewery in Dublin who just wanted to make tasty beer consistently. If he’d never published his findings (which he did anonymously), no-one would remember his name. Just about everything you see around you has at least some component in it that has been improved by “Student’s t-test” for quality.

  6. of course, rand you believe in a magic model that will cause the earth’s radiation budget to remain stable and maintain atmospheric CO2 stability despite the fact Co2 levels are rising.

      1. You admit that CO2 and other greenhouse gases exist, work and do cause increased heat retention.
        That’s Physics 101.
        What you appear to claim is that “Something” will cause the earth to stay at a nice temperate
        level. Wether that’s increased plant growth, increased cloud cover or “Magic” seems unclear.
        However, what’s missing is that there is a century of great data and a couple of centuries of
        interesting data on atmospheric CO2 levels and temperature but, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence for your claims.

        1. You have to start arguing for a temperature rise well above typical projections to get to the point at which the Earth’s “average” temperature becomes uncomfortably warm, especially when taking into account polar amplification.

          CAGW is more about greater climate variability.

        2. So you’re demanding people prove a negative? On the one hand is the argument that the climate is so well understood and can be predicted out to over a century in advance with enough certainty to demand literally trillions of dollars of impact to the global economy. On the other hand are folks who claim that the climate is not so well understood and cannot easily predicted. And yet somehow you demand that skeptics prove they can model the climate completely and prove a different outcome? I don’t think you understand the argument nor who holds responsibility to prove their claims.

          1. ” enough certainty to demand literally trillions of dollars of impact to the global economy”

            So you believe an econometric projection based upon zero data but
            you are highly skeptical about climate studies based upon both historical data and the best modeling efforts available?

            When you say a policy will cost Trillions, that is an economic forecast.
            Can you cite where that comes from? Who did that analysis? Where did
            it come from?

            That’s part of skepticism.

          2. o you believe an econometric projection based upon zero data

            It’s not an “econometric projection,” you moron.

            It’s just math. If you reduce the economic growth rate, you destroy future wealth.

          3. @dn-guy your arguments are laughable. World GDP is about $100 trillion, so a policy that reduced economic growth by a mere 0.1% would cost a trillion dollars over a single decade, let alone over the better part of a century. Moreover, the impact of energy availability and cost on economic activity has been highly studied and there is little doubt in the matter. Moreover, nobody sane is saying that the typical cAGW response policies (e.g. CO2 reductions) won’t cost trillions, but they argue that it will be worth it regardless (even though their own math doesn’t really stack up).

            Moreover, it is cAGW proponents who are arguing for drastic changes at great cost, the onus of proof is on their heads first and foremost.

  7. More people should probably contemplate this map of global average temperatures before running around like headless chickens screaming about the collapse of civilization. The EU and other bloated bodies are claiming that a 2C temperature shift would be disastrous. A 2C shift would hardly change a shade on the global map I linked. A 10C shift wouldn’t matter very much, since the tropics (at around 30C) are pinned to ocean temperatures and the evaporation cycle, which would take tens of thousands of years to make a significant shift. What you get instead, based on geological data, is a spreading of the warm bands towards the poles, lowering the delta Temperature per latitude and easing weather extremes. Could Swedes possibly survive in the climate of Northern France? That is the question a 10C shift raises.

    1. Could swedes survive in the climate of Northern France? Sure.

      Can Spaniards survive in the climate of the Sudan, is a better question.

      Can Israel survive in the climate of the Sahara desert?

  8. Whether AGW is true or not is actually rather secondary, although I happen to believe that it is. At any rate, given the high cost of ignoring the problem if it does exist it would seem to make sense to take measures against the growth of CO2 emissions. Some of which make sense anyway, such as better insulated buildings and more fuel-efficient cars.

    What really matters (IMHO) is that even if one assumes the truth of AGW, the measures being taken to combat the problem are wrong. Wildly wrong, and obviously wrong to anyone with any common sense and/or training in quantitative thinking. Pork gets in the way of correct decisions, too – not only wind and ground solar, but tokamak fusion which is absorbing huge amounts of money. And finally, entrenched interests. The ME oil sheikhs and fossil-fuel companies don’t want cheap, clean energy, and are spending large amounts of cash to block it. And neither do watermelons.

    BTW, watermelons don’t want cheap clean energy for reasons which make perfect sense – to them. For example, the tropical rainforests are being destroyed at an astonishing rate which might prove catastrophic. But the trees are not being burnt as fuel – they are being burnt mostly for agriculture, much of which is extremely wasteful. As I’ve heard it said before, imagine the catastrophe that would result if someone invented a fusion-powered chainsaw. (Which also implies other fusion-powered machinery.)

    Finally, although fracking for gas obviously increases fossil-fuel use it’s probably a useful stopgap until a proper answer to the problem of cheap, clean energy is found.

    1. given the high cost of ignoring the problem if it does exist

      We don’t know what that “high cost” is. This is the fallacy of the precautionary principle.

      1. High marker, admittedly unlikely, for the cost is visible (right now – just checked) in the pre-dawn sky. But before that, the possibility of droughts, major shifts of climatic regions, disruption of the El Nino cycle, and category 6 hurricanes (along with other violent weather) is very real. Costing many billions. And the inhabitants of Tuvalu, along with a fair number of similar places, may well disagree with what appears to be your position.

        Yes, I do know there aren’t any category 6 hurricanes. Yet.

        1. There is no evidence for any of this. Trends in extreme weather are down.

          You are jumping at shadows. You can’t live your life in fear of the unknown, or obsess over a single hypothetical disaster which exists only in the fervor of your mind. I am far more concerned (infinitely, really, because any concern divided by zero is infinite) about loose nukes, antibiotic resistance, utopian ideologies, asteroid strikes… and many others for which there is at least a scrap of evidence indicating a potential problem.

  9. Hard topic for me to form an opinion on, since I know as little about the science of ecology as, say, Baghdad Jim knows about economics, Chris Gerrib knows about logic, or dn-guy knows about . . . well, just about anything. (Of course, knowing very little about the actual science–other than what they’re told by the Hive– hasn’t stopped most “liberals”–who have the scientific background of the Snuggle Bear– I’ve met from having an opinion about ecology, either.) All I can say is that since the alarmist view of ecology seems overwhelmingly to come from people whose philosophy is essentially legalized looting; are wrong on nearly everything else; and who belong to the ideological gang that gave us “No Truth But Socialist Truth” . . . well, why should I believe THEM?

    It’s like realizing someone’s hand is in your pocket and in the process of lifting your wallet, and when you interrupt him he says, “Run for your life! The sky is falling!” How much credence are you supposed to give a cutpurse?

  10. Skepticism about a topic is what happens when a bunch of “scientists” decide to cook the books, lie about data, lie about who agrees with them, browbeat dissenters, start talking politics instead of science, and whose remedies are always more centralized power whether the extreme they predict is an extreme rise or an extreme drop – or, as in the case of the Climate Watermelons – both.

    The moment the “scientists” stop behaving like scientists then anyting they say meets with healthy skepticism.

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