Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chris Mooney on AGW: people should know nothing, believe, and shut up

Gordon has recommended to me to read an essay by Chris Mooney in DeSmogBlog (which made him upset):
“A Little Knowledge”: Why The Biggest Problem With Climate “Skeptics” May Be Their Confidence
Mooney has previously identified science with the war on the Republican Party - be sure that they're not quite the same things, they're uncorrelated in general, and in many individual cases, they're inversely correlated - and his new article shows that his misconceptions about the essence of rational reasoning have gotten even worse.

He started with a Yale University's survey which concluded that the more people know about the climate, the more skeptical they become. Needless to say, if the relationship were the opposite one (that skepticism decreases with education and intelligence), and Mooney indeed indicates that the more educated leftists could be more alarmist, it would be just another proof that the debate is over and the Armageddon will arrive either tomorrow or during the day after tomorrow.

However, the result of the study is kind of inconvenient - it confirms what all the skeptics have always known, namely that the alarmist beliefs are being silently accepted by those who don't know much and who are still being brainwashed. The more you know, the more clearly you can see that this whole business about a dangerous climate change is based on a complete collapse of the rational discourse.

So what does Mooney do with such an inconvenient truth?

The answer is obvious. Because intelligence, education, and critical thinking lead to skepticism, they must be a bad thing! Mooney therefore criticizes the people who know something about science for their knowing something. It's so bad, heretical, and moreover, if they know something, it makes them think that they know something, which is - according to Mooney - a bad outcome (you won't be able to explain him that it is a tautology).

According to Mooney, the ideal people should be gullible simpletons who are ready to consider climatologists to be "infallible experts" even if those climatologists have the IQ of a pumpkin (in Czech: "í-kvé ty-kve") - and many of them do.

It's remarkable when you notice that Mooney realizes damn well that the climate soothers are intellectually superior but he just denies the most straightforward corollaries of this insight. For example, he writes:
In my experience, climate skeptics are nothing if not confident in their ability to challenge the science of climate change--and even to competently recalculate (and scientifically and mathematically refute) various published results. It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science. But the fact is, if you go to blogs like WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit, you certainly don’t find scientific and mathematical illiterates doubting climate change. Rather, you find scientific and mathematical sophisticates itching to blow holes in each new study.
Note that under normal circumstances, the paragraph above would be inevitably considered to be a compliment, a confirmation of the climate skeptics' competence. However, because the conclusions are politically inconvenient for Mooney, those observations can't be viewed as a praise, can they?

Also note that he mentions that the climate skeptics can even recalculate things etc. However, he thinks that it means that their firepower is used "in service of debunking". That's a logically unjustifiable step. The recalculation of a result doesn't a priori mean "debunking". It depends on the results of the recalculation. If the results agree, it's a "confirmation", not debunking. A recalculation is a completely neutral procedure.

Indeed, it's true that many of the problematic papers can't be reproduced but it is usually not the skeptics' fault.

According to Mooney, the people should be "affirming or improving mainstream science". Unfortunately, he doesn't explicitly explain what it is supposed to mean. Well, let me tell you what Mooney means. "Affirming mainstream science" means "joining the movement of fringe crackpots who scream that a dangerous climate change is behind the corner" while "improving mainstream science" means to scream that "the catastrophe is even worse than we previously thought". That's how Mooney wants to constantly improve things. He is deeply convinced that the high-level intellectual firepower of the people should be used to wave the parade sticks and to scream Vivat Comrades Stalin, Mann, Gore, and Hansen.

However, science doesn't have any such predetermined, predictable direction. And indeed, because the claims that a dangerous climate change is coming have been qualitatively invalid, improvements in science inevitably lead in the opposite direction in most of the cases. Again, there is no law that every individual result will point in the "skeptical" direction and people who still believe (or just want to believe?) in such a "universal law" are equally misguided as the climate alarmists. However, the progress surely does show that all previous papers that have de facto assumed that a dangerous climate change was beginning - and they only wanted to describe the details whether it was "horribly dangerous" or "catastrophically dangerous" - had to have a fatal flaw.

In science, when it's done properly and impartially, a recalculation simply cannot be "classified" as a "constructive step" or "debunking". A new insight is a new insight - and it goes in some direction. One may try to decide whether two insights about similar issues go "in the same direction" or not. However, one can't determine whether the "absolute direction" of an insight is "positive" or "negative". There is no "absolute direction" in science! Whether an insight is "positive" or "negative" always depends on a subjective viewpoint.

The problem with uneducated zealots of Mooney's type is that they can't possibly understand that the future scientific results and their "direction" can't be guessed a priori. If this were possible, no further research would be needed. However, Mooney is convinced that new research is obliged to be compatible with the climate alarmism - and a good new research should even strengthen it. But it isn't the case. Science is not a prostitute employed to strengthen the predetermined beliefs of doomsday crackpots and in a vast majority cases, science indeed "fails" to support such hypotheses.

Obviously, there exist skeptics who are guilty of the same fallacy as Mooney - with the opposite sign. However, the community of climate skeptics has already gone well beyond this point. The skeptics - at least those who matter - are actually being equally cautious when they evaluate the claims of other skeptics as they're cautious when they're evaluating the statements of the alarmists.

I could give you hundreds of examples but let me offer you just a few. Lindzen and Spencer would be among those who are skeptical of cosmoclimatology and the influence of the Sun; Spencer recently admitted that the amount of evidence has grown enough to seriously consider this driver. Most physics-oriented skeptics disagree with the (published) claims that the greenhouse effect is physically impossible. A few weeks ago, I made it clear that I think that the "solar barycenter" theories of the climate are incompatible with the most universal principles of physics such as the equivalence principle, and so on.

There may have been moments when the most important "skeptical climate blogs" were just parroting a party line but this is no longer the case. People - at least those who matter - know very well and loudly admit that the next decade or two don't have to see a cooling trend just because it would be humiliating for the global warming alarmists. People know that it's not necessarily true that every newly proposed natural climate driver has to be important just because it would further diminish the "share" of the carbon dioxide. They know that alternative explanations don't have to be right just because they disagree with the "consensus". They're just cautious about all kinds of claims and that's how the things should be.

At the same moment, they're also willing to accept things that have undergone an appropriate amount of scrutiny and that succeeded. People - including those who used to be skeptical - mostly accept that the CO2 concentration has been rising as the curves indicate (I've never had any serious doubts about it) and that the global mean temperature probably changed by 0.6 °C per 20th century, too. If there exists evidence supporting certain similar simple enough claims, the knowledge about this evidence will inevitably spread if impartial and intelligent people spend enough time by discussions and exchange of arguments about these matters. It's inevitable.

On the other hand, this development isn't taking place on the alarmist side simply because the alarmists don't really try to learn and teach the climate science. They're not trying to rediscover any important things or recheck them. They prefer to blindly believe what the "experts" tell them - and, what may be even worse, they make unjustifiable guesses that the future science is obliged to be even more alarmist than the current one (even though such guesses don't follow and can't follow even from the most spectacular alarmist experts' proclamations).

The alarmists' way of thinking about the climate hasn't transcended the mindless repetition of slogans. Some well-known alarmist activists - such as former student John Cook - have automatized this approach. Programs have been written down that spit out an alarming slogan depending on the frequency of keywords in an argument. But real science can't be done or evaluated by counting the keywords and by spitting previously prepared sequences words from a small ensemble.

If you look at some climate alarmist blogs, the lack of progress in their owners' knowledge about the climate is just shocking.

The Yale University survey is far from being the first one that shows that the degree of skepticism grows with the knowledge and intelligence. Chris Mooney lists four previous papers leading to an equivalent result and he doesn't try to pretend that those results are fake. He agrees: the more a careful, conservative person knows about the climate, the more he or she realizes that the alarm is not scientifically justifiable.

What is his conclusion?
To me, there’s an interesting way to read this. It can be expressed as a familiar aphorism, which is actually a slight misquotation of Alexander Pope, pictured above: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

For the planet, anyway.
You see, a knowledge is a dangerous thing. A little knowledge is a slightly dangerous thing. And much more knowledge - which is what the more skeptical people possess - is an even more dangerous thing. Well, it's dangerous for those whose well-being and power depends on ignorance and stupidity. As far as those powerful people may tell, other people who know something must be burned at stake to save the planet! Burn the heretics!

The more stupid, uninformed, and gullible the human population will remain, the better for the planet, Mooney argues. Well, he's surely not the first one who ends up with the same conclusion. Every totalitarian system and dictatorship in the history - including the theocratic systems - needed their people to be ignorant about many fundamental things because it made the dictators safer. Environmentalism and its most radical branch, the global warming alarmism, is no exception to this rule.

Meanwhile, in the actual modern world, knowledge is power. Knowledge is a path to progress. The more widespread education and critical thinking becomes among the public, the higher fraction of the public will be ready to approach science at any fixed level XY. Knowledge and critical thinking can't possibly be bad for the increasing trend of the mankind's scientific knowledge, surely not in the long run.

And good or top scientists are always statistical fluctuations above the average, but the higher the average (of the intelligence and/or knowledge of the science) is, the higher chance you have to find some really good scientists. In principle, the work done by a good scientists is just a professional refinement of what "auditors" of the climate always do. There's no qualitative difference. People who think that science is something completely different just misunderstands science.

As a promoter of an Unscientific America, Chris Mooney wants to return the mankind to the Middle Ages. His dictum - that one shouldn't have any knowledge and she should uncritically believe some predetermined mediocre "experts" - may be good in his own case because his grasp of science is worse than the grasp of the mediocre people: he has no science background and no desire to change anything about it.

(However, his ability to choose the appropriate "experts" is very bad, too.)

On the other hand, for many others whose IQ and ability to study science impartially exceed the same quantities of the likes of Michael Mann by dozens of degrees, have a superior way to approach science. Never trust the "experts", especially not those experts who have been previously shown to produce junk or biased science and who continue to promote extraordinary claims without the extraordinary evidence that should back them up.

And that's the memo.

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