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Gavin Schmidt's analogy ceasefire

...I agree with him...

Shockingly enough, the climate fearmonger Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate.ORG wrote something that I agree with:

On arguing by analogy
Climate skeptics often like to say that the climate alarmists are analogous to the defenders of Lysenkoism, phlogiston, phrenology, and eugenics, while the climate alarmists themselves love to compare themselves to Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and maybe even Paul Ehrlich who has predicted that hundreds of millions of Americans would starve to death by the year 2000.

Schmidt's main point that I agree with is that these analogies are pretty much worthless for the debate about the substance because these analogies are only relevant for someone who already accepts the basic points about the substance. If one already knows (or at least assumes) that the climate panic is hogwash, he will know that the skeptics' favorite analogies are approximately right while the alarmists' analogies are misleading. If she still believes that the climate is dangerously changing, she will refuse the skeptics' favorite analogies and buy the alarmists' ones.




None of these analogies can really settle the starting point, namely the substance of the climate panic or the non-existence of it. All people who are rational know that. (The previous proposition isn't supported by empirical data but it is backed by a logical argument.) If we compare a group of people to some generally accepted big winners (or losers) of the history of science, we are making an assumption that we haven't proven by this analogy itself. And the analogy is only as relevant as its assumptions are valid.




In the previous paragraph, I mentioned "people who are rational". It's because many people are not rational and if they hear someone comparing a group (e.g. climate skeptics) to someone who is a loser, they automatically deduce that the group (e.g. climate skeptics) is wrong and bad even though they have actually been given no evidence whatever.

The analogies and other demagogic arguments may have a great impact on the reasoning and beliefs of such gullible people.

It is not hard to see that most of the devoted believers in the climate change orthodoxy belong among these gullible brainwashed impressionable morons. The previous sentence isn't an analogy; it is a sociological comment about this particular situation. You may check that it's probably right when you open the comments under Schmidt's article. Most of the commenters disagree with Schmidt. They think it's important to compare climate skeptics with unpopular groups. No doubt about it, these critics love to elaborate upon such analogies.

While I agree with Schmidt about his main points that these sociological analogies have nothing to say about the substance, I disagree with many other things he believes or writes. Of course, I disagree with the substance of his climate hysteria. But I disagree with some of Schmidt's other sociological claims, too. For example, he insanely believes in the "consensus science":
Given the rarity of a consensus-overturning event, the only sensible prior is to assume that [the majority of gullible sheep and multiply counted would-be experts living in a deep and mindless group think is always right].
But this logical implication is completely wrong. Consensus-overturning events may be "rare" if we use a certain measure, but that doesn't imply that the majority is right about controversial questions.

In fact, every discovery in science is a consensus-overturning event and almost all of progress in science is composed of these events. So while they may be "rare" in the sense of "percentage of the time" that they occupy on the timeline, they represent almost 100% of the events that the history of science is composed of. To discover something means to find something that others don't know or believe to be non-existent (or to prove the non-existence of something that is believed to exist, like the luminiferous aether). The more important the discovery is, the more likely it is for a significant opposition to emerge. The more important the discovery is, the more visibly it overturns the existing knowledge (or it changes the opinions about more important questions).

Otherwise, Schmidt realizes and acknowledges that analogies between two situations are helpful and independent of the assumptions about the scientific substance if they show that a particular method or logic would lead (or would have led or actually has led) to completely wrong or undesirable outcomes in other situations. For example, we may see that the political intimidation of scientists would have distorted lots of other scientific research as well and many discoveries could have become impossible, or impossible to spread.

The undesirability of the non-experts' political intervention into the scientific research isn't an analogy. It is a general principle that may be seen theoretically as well as by looking at many examples from the history of science. Of course that the intervening political forces may sometimes happen to be right, too. That's why the existence of such undesirable influences doesn't prove and doesn't disprove the climate change psychopathy.

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reader James_IIa said...

If A argues that the theory of global warming must be true because it is supported by a 97% consensus, and B returns by citing the case of Galileo, B may be putting forward an analogy (I am like Galileo) which is almost certainly a very weak argument, but he may be using Galileo as a counterexample, which could be quite a strong argument.


reader NikFromNYC said...

Gavin recently lashed out at someone trying to justify calling skeptics deniers, in this short video clip:

http://tinypic.com/r/2lsehp2/5


reader John Moore said...

One gauge of rationality is whether someone is alarmed about "climate change" or "global warming." If the first, they are most likely a herd follower, because the real controversy is about global warming, not change, and the terminology change is only a rhetorical device. If the latter, there is at least a chance of rationality.

Of course, some may claim to be alarmed about "climate change" but really be worrying about global warming, just because they recognize the value of the change term in convincing the gullible.


reader Luboš Motl said...

A pretty nice surprise, indeed!


reader Luboš Motl said...

I agree but you may also have other examples where the minority side didn't do as well as Galileo did, like the case of the rejected relationship between AIDS and HIV (Schmidt mentions it as well), not to mention "staged moonlanding" and other conspiracy theories. If you pick those analogies instead of Galileo, the minority side suddenly looks very different and its humiliation looks more understandable.


reader br said...

I was intrigued that a question about free will came up from the audience at the end. Anton's response was that the universe does not know what will happen next, due to objective uncertainty, so free will is not excluded. Of course, that is a very different statement than saying free will exists. Plunging in to the deep end, I would say that the main problem with free will is that if it depends on something then it is not free, but if it does not depend on something then we can't say anything about it mathematically or causally. If it operates but we can't say anything about it and it doesn't appear to be causally due to anything, it will look random. So how can we tell free will from randomness? I guess it might take an extraordinarily sensitive experiment which showed a skewed result, but it is hard to imagine what that setup might be. On the whole it seems to me that QM's randomness, along with our subjective experience of free will go together quite nicely. As you say, Libet's experiments are still debated as to what they really imply, and still allow "free won't" (nice paper! - I'm digesting it now).


reader Thomas Kuhn said...

While I support the general notion that consensus itself is not proof, the use of Galileo is itself an inappropriate analogy. The scientific community of the day supported the geo-centric theory, it was the political power of the theocracy that did not. In that sense, given the current theocratic aspirations of the right in American politics, the Galileo analogy (i.e. Church v. Science) is more supportive of the AGW side of the debate.


reader James_IIa said...

Thanks for the reply. Yes, if one is to be remembered for rejecting the consensus, it is better to be remembered as an Ignaz Semmelweis than as a Peter Duesberg (a prominent cell biologist who rejected the HIV virus theory).


reader Richard Warren said...

Seems to me there is a valid analogy to Lysenkoism that works to discredit warming alarmism, and that is based on the premise that politically/ideologically based science is likely to be flawed. Lysenko tried to show if I remember correctly that acquired traits can be inherited. This was part and parcel of the Marxist ideology that enshrined the proposition that mankind may be fundamentally changed. Global warming alarmist science serves the interests and goals of a group of people who predate any prediction of global warming, and (they say) calls for the same type of measures these people have wanted for a long time.
A rational person fears political science and government science even more.
Comparing people who don't believe in global warming or that it is caused by man or that it is not a problem to Holocaust deniers is not an analogy. It is merely invective.


reader David S said...

Ironically it may be that Lysenko was more right than the climate alarmists. An interesting debate is going on among epigeneticists and some of Lamarck and Lysenko's ideas have been exhumed. By contrast the GCMs are stone dead.