Climate Expertise Lacking among Global Warming Contrarians
Yes, there are skeptical scientists, but climatology is hardly ever their field-
Climate Expertise Lacking among Global Warming Contrarians. “A majority of scientists who dispute global warming lack the climatological expertise to do so.” By David Biello. Scientific American.
I would say that the “contrarians” have largely carried the day in public opinion. Too bad scientific truth isn’t discovered that way. Then the Earth would indeed be flat.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
25 Responses to Climate Expertise Lacking among Global Warming Contrarians
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Climate change. It’s so last year.
Unfortunately, it seems like the damage they did is near irreversible. There was such a furor over the email “scandal,” and even though it was all resolved, the average person only remembers that there was a scandal and the scientists were making it all up.
The world isn’t flat? When did that happen? Looks flat to me.
Obama had a real chance to inject science back into the political world and he has not done a good job. Consider the difference in having a Sec of Interior who was a professional land manager, a professional biologist, wildlife resources, etc. Instead just another politician with a big hat and history of using public lands for private gain.
In Utah our republican senate primary was won yesterday by a Washington, D.C. lawyer, who could effectively argue he is not part of the problem but part of the solution. We don’t have people in this state, only lemmings.
Who needs science when you can use the vaunted “look out my window and it’s snowing” methodology by numerous AM talk radio listeners.
Contrarians, deniers, what’s the difference? It’s discussions like this one that prove it’s a political, not scientific, debate. The entire institution is closed down to the debate, while the politicians with their investments into green technologies try to get the populace to throw billions into their industries.
Both sides are guilty of hyperbole and propaganda. This article continues the same. For starters, discrediting a mathematician in the debate about temperature records is plain stupidity. If you’ve taken math into the upper reaches of calculus and probability and statistics, you’ll realize that most climate scientists are in fact unqualified for dealing with the trends in the data. Add the fact that climate science is a relatively new field, and they develop their research without adequate transparency and of COURSE the populace won’t believe them.
They want us to believe that a) they are infallible and don’t need to be checked (proven untrue, in many cases), b) the world has never been this warm (again, untrue as melting glaciers are uncovering ancient farms in Greenland), c) there aren’t 101 other ways we could spend our money to better the environment. Last week I read an article that blamed mankind for starting the last ice age, because killing all the mammoths meant no more mammoth burps, which resulted in less greenhouse gas, and then ice age… Of course, that’s not scientific, it’s pure bedtime story conjecture.
I’m not saying it ISN’T anthropogenic warming. But what if CO2 isn’t the enemy? The climate models depend on the scientists telling the model how much of a forcing agent CO2 is… well no surprise when it comes out as the cause!? What if we should be spending that money on preventing deforestation? Protecting watersheds? Or just limiting pollution because we SHOULD. Science is burning its bridges with the populace, trying to ram through some as-yet impossible-to-prove science, with a Machiavellian tone of condescension. It’s going to hurt conservationists everywhere, and probably already is.
Science by very nature is tolerant of questioning. Particularly from PHD’s in tangential fields: geology, oceanography, astronomy… But now, apparently a PHD at MIT in oceanography is not good enough to have meaningful discourse on climate, REALLY?! We already know that it is the ocean currents that drive most of our weather trends. Come on!
It’s gone down exactly the same road of politicization that got the Church calling a round-earth heretical. No surprise they are using the parallel, but it’s still terribly ironic. My 2c.
But David, you ask “what if CO2 isn’t the enemy” where chemistry, climate science, oceanography and whatever other disciplines you want to throw in says IT is the enemy. So right off the bat you force a choice where science has shown there to be none.
The parallels with the kind of arguments you raise to the “discussion” of evolution are striking. You might say ” what if there is intelligent design” while all of biological science says clearly there is none. You can continue talking to yourself about the issue but you have departed from the realm of facts and into the land of unsubstantiated opinion…also known as politics.
Show me the science that proves it again? Correlation is proven. Causation is not. We’re not talking about any demonstrable facts. There are no scientific experiments that prove it to be so. There’s a historical proxy record, where I have seen no single person demonstrate that the time-scale of the measurements is sensitive to the point that it is even physically possible to demonstrate causation. CO2 is actually less potent than methane by a signifcant factor, which in turn is less potent than water vapor and less prevalent…. and water happens to be largely ignored in the climate models predicting our doom. Further, we’re NOT warmer than all moments of the past… So, I have to ask… where is there ANY concrete evidence of the doom we’re facing, let alone the fact that we’re causing it?
I find that evidence all around me, but the funny thing is, it has NOTHING to do with AGM. I can watch them build a highway through critical habitat with no wildlife underpasses (actually in discussion on the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti). I can watch them approve offshore drilling with no safety guarantees whatsoever, capable of causing ecological collapse of a huge region. The list goes on. We’re destroying ourselves one giant leap at a time, and, in my opinion, wasting time worrying about half a degree Celsius, which may or may not be caused by the industrial revolution.
There are indeed parallels with the debate regarding the origins of life. Nothing proven, yet some choose to belittle others for their stupid ideas. By even suggesting that the intelligent design crowd departs from the realm of facts, you ignore the fact that you have as well. Because the simple truth is…. We do NOT know the origin of life on the planet earth. As long as no one can demonstrate life spontaneously erupting from molecules or soup it will remain a mystery to which people pursue the answer.
…Which brings me back to my original point… Scientists need to be scientists, they need to QUESTION, and TEST hypotheses… not release studies trying to prove that those who disagree are less qualified. It’s a mockery of science, and if we don’t start standing up for it, we’re all going back to the dark ages.
I agree with you in that everyone seems fixated on climate while a million other more destructive things are happening all around. Habitat destruction and fragmentation I would count as much more important–the climate will change over time regardless, but if there are not large natural areas and corridors, we will lose biodiversity and ecosystem function at appalling rates even if the climate remained stable. I have been looking into the gigantic hydro projects that China and other nations are funding in places like Africa, Vietnam, Brazil. These are projects about to begin that will destroy the integrity of huge tracts of otherwise undisturbed habitat and bring roads, bushmeat hunting, deforestation, pollution, etc., not to mention the obliteration of indigenous peoples and their cultures. It’s a sad time to care.
I am a climate scientist, even worse I am a climate modeler and have been a climate modeler since before the topic became political. I got into the field through my passion to understand the atmosphere and how it works, not to carry on some agenda.
Many of your comments regarding climate, climate change and climate models are incorrect. That said, your broader comment about being critical of scientific findings is right on. You might find this hard to believe, but climate scientists (and in particular, climate modelers) are extremely critical of our findings. Personally, I never believe a new model result until it can be corroborated by theory, observations or experiments.
The major problem with the typical climate “skeptic” (and I have met and debated many) is not that they don’t bring knowledge to the problem, but that they are not particularly interested in learning how the system works. They are interested in disproving some piece of knowledge.
I will be at a national climate modeling meeting next week. It will contain hundreds of scientists from around the world. The meeting will be filled with people holding a very large range of opinions that will lead to hot debates. The difference is that these debates are meant to lead to a better understanding of how the climate works.
“”Scientists need to be scientists, they need to QUESTION, and TEST hypotheses… not release studies trying to prove that those who disagree are less qualified. “”
Just what the hell do you think scientists do? You honestly think they sit around planning studies whose sole purpose is to discredit non-academic mouth pieces? If so, you don’t know jack about science nor the people who practice the craft.
Let me explain something to you. Scientists, more than anything else, want to be right. They shudder at the thought of publishing something that is wrong ’cause they know some dude in Belgium or California is going to prove them wrong and embarrass them within the field. They always want to be right.
The second thing that drives scientists is to make a big discovery. If YOU were a climatologist, what better coup than to prove scientifically that the burning of fossil fuels has nothing to do with the climate disruption we are in the middle of. You don’t think there have been many, many hours consumed by the brightest of minds in the world trying to do just that? Of course they have, but who are they, where is the data? If such a proof was available, these researchers would be paid in gold and praise to the rafters. Talk about cold fusion….
Most scientists could not give a damn about the public’s opinion of their work: all they care about is getting their papers published and grants approved, which is a process of peer review, not public review.
The reason why climatologists and others are willing to engage in the process of public opinion on global climate change is because they KNOW if we keep doing what we are currently doing, that our actions will make human habitation in many of the low lying areas of this world impossible. They KNOW climate disruption means flooding, increased intensity of storms, increased drought in some areas, and increased rainfall in others. And since they fundamentally care about the world and human kind and plants and critters, etc, they are willing to put up with the public dismissal of their work and the attacks on their credibility by industry/political hacks. And the way to stop the process is to stop burning fossil fuels.
I, for one, think these scientists should go back into their ivory towers, get out of the public discourse, and just let all hell break loose. Few people in this world seem willing to listen to them, and the scientists are just getting stoned in the public square for their attempts to educate the public. Time to walk away and not look back.
FYI, Regarding the scientists sitting around discrediting those that disagree? Read the link at the top of the post, which was what I was responding to in the first place.
Also FYI, the the list of things they supposedly KNOW… not a list of facts. It’s a list of hypotheses. Some supported by extant data, some validated by predictive modeling. All open to debate, discussion, and testing. As shown here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7000063.ece
You’ve missed the point of my post altogether. I THOUGHT I was reacting to an article about the nature of scientific debate in our country, not global warming. Well, you’ve proven my point. On AGM, you’re clearly convinced. I’m not. You belittling me over the disagreement doesn’t make you somehow better. It makes us all poorer.
I think it makes for interesting discussion, and I feel the stakes are high on the issues at hand. Maybe no one here agrees with me. But I would rather the Congress make sure that the Dept. of Interior is doing their job, upholding the law, and enforcing environmental protections, pursuing science that supports landscape protection, safeguards resources from development, etc, etc… than sitting around debating whether we should buy in to cap and trade… whether in 20 years, we should consider giving up our Hummer and buy a few Priuses. It’s political BS, and they could be doing any number of things that would be concrete, lasting, and effective in the short term.
But then, I’m just a guy… who CLEARLY knows jack about science.
@Angela: Well said!! I couldn’t agree more.
“I agree with you in that everyone seems fixated on climate while a million other more destructive things are happening all around. Habitat destruction and fragmentation I would count as much more important–the climate will change over time regardless, but if there are not large natural areas and corridors, we will lose biodiversity and ecosystem function at appalling rates even if the climate remained stable.”
I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve been involved in a number of projects aimed at improving the dialogue between scientists and the public. Most of them resulted in increased interest in science and improved scientific literacy for the participants. Given the chance, many scientists are excited to share their research with an interested public.
It is true that the poor level of scientific literacy among the general public makes meaningful dialogue between scientists and the public very difficult. A public that doesn’t even understand the fundamental tenets of science isn’t likely able to sort out politically charged claims about specific research. Thus, interest groups get away with arguments like “climate change (or evolution) is just a theory” or “there’s no evidence” or “scientist are uncertain” or “it’s only based on models”. These seem to have weight among the public, but you won’t catch scientists making these arguments.
I think the take away message from the article is further confirmation that there is not much scientific debate about climate change, mostly political debate.
We really do forget how little the general public understands about how the field of science works. I moderate at an African cichlid forum and someone recently posted a link to a peer-reviewed article documenting sex change in a Lake Malawi cichlid. There were comments questioning whether the scientist may have somehow skewed the experiment to get the “result he wanted” and other questions, and one guy just refused to believe the results entirely. It took a long time and a lot of writing and linking to explain the significance of scientific literature in terms of progress in scientific fields: how the paper is reviewed and commented on by other experts in the subject, how nobody would purposefully lie about results unless they wanted to be publicly embarrassed, that it often takes a very long time and a LOT of work to get a paper published, how other scientists then build upon what has been done before them, etc. These people were not stupid. They were serious hobbyists that knew a lot about Rift Lake cichlids and breeding them. They just were unfamiliar with the process of scientific publishing and its significance. This type of audience is interested enough to ask good questions and learn. It’s also been a great place to introduce people to various aspects of evolution such as speciation and sexual selection, etc. When these discussions occur, its very rewarding to me. It’s an absolute necessity to fight back against the growing portion of the population that is almost anti-science in their outlook. There are still people out there who believe that the sun revolves around Earth and that’s not funny!
Discussions of evolution vs ID are very similar to those occurring in the climate debate.
I’m afraid it’s clear to everyone but you. Before you embarrass yourself further, take a look at this. Please try to see yourself as others see you.
I am not referring to David above, but the”Dunning–Kruger effect” in the link you gave, in my mind is a partial explanation why Sarah Palin, and many of her supporters, are so unconcerned about her lack of knowledge about almost every area of public and foreign policy, e.g., “anyone with good old common sense” can sit down a figure this stuff out in a minute or two.”
It’s even worse than that. The DKE leaves the unskilled-and-unaware vulnerable not just to know-nothings like Palin, but self-interested parties like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who know the facts perfectly well, but are waging a campaign of deliberate disinformation.
“Climate change. It’s so last year.”
Angela: You are more right than you know. Climatologists and global warming detractors will still be debating this 10 degrees from now. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the scientific community has moved on to trying to figure out how we mitigate and adapt to the local/regional effects of climate change. Google “climate change adaptation” and prepare for the onslaught on information.
David: Scientists speak in the language of probability. If 95% of climate scientists say that they are 95% sure that the earth is warming due to anthropogenic factors the rational person asks (a) what are the likely effects, and (b) what can be done about it. Only the person with something to gain from a contrary finding seeks to endlessly argue the point.
“Meanwhile, most of the rest of the scientific community has moved on to trying to figure out how we mitigate and adapt to the local/regional effects of climate change.”
JB, I’m involved with that very process right now as we are trying to incorporate planning for climate change into a larger restoration plan for Klamath River fish. There are a lot of watersheds where temperatures are already stressful for anadromous salmonids and the Klamath is a prime example. Even slight increases in temperature could have disastrous effects and many west coast salmon populations are already barely hanging on as it is. There is increasing demand for water for agriculture and development at the same time. Loss of salmon could have some serious effects on riverine and upland ecosystems. It’s not just temperature either, but changes in precipitation, snowfall vs rainfall, seasonal patterns, sediment delivery, riparian veg characteristics, etc. Most of the public just hears about a couple degree increase in temperature, so they don’t understand the bigger picture that is so worrisome.
A follow-up test of sorts:
Two years ago I received in my mailbox at school what looked to be a peer-reviewed article refuting global climate change (in fact, I heard later that these articles were distributed to scientists of all sorts across campus). I also found out later that this supposed publication was a sham; it was designed to look like a peer-reviewed journal, it contained real data, but it was put out by a group of global-warming deniers with the intent to mislead scientists.
These same tactics were used by the tobacco companies. They denied–in the face of all evidence–for decades that smoking tobacco caused lung cancer, claiming that correlation isn’t causation and that there was some uncertainty regarding findings.
– – – –
Ask yourself this: if tomorrow astronomers announced that there was a large asteroid heading for earth and 95% of scientists agreed that there was a 95% or greater probability that it would strike the earth and cause mass extinctions on scale we haven’t seen in millions of years, would we be having this conversation?
Interesting responses. I appreciate those of you who can disagree with intellect rather than insult. Todd Ringler, I hope you realize that I am not suggesting that climate scientists are lacking integrity. That is not my position at all. Nor is my position on climate change that a) it is not happening, b) that we are not causing it… I remain “skeptical”. Last time I checked, if scientists are 95% certain, then there is 5% SCIENTIFIC room for doubt. And the community at large would do well to entertain that 5% with high importance, in the interest of narrowing it, rather than just belittling it for being “only 5%”. Regarding the policy-response to the science, however, you’d have to be daft not to hedge your bets… (especially when it comes to asteroids, JB.) At any rate, Todd, best of luck at the conference. I’m sure it will represent some of the highest aspirations and successes of the human race: Accurately understanding our world.
JB, I have nothing to gain by the proving wrong of climate science other than the hope that it is wrong for the sake of the environment…. and the pursuit of knowledge that isn’t spoon fed, but rather comes from the questions of the mind. Perhaps I am contrarywise, or choose to follow a path of devil’s advocacy. I guess maybe I do this to buck the trend of society which is that those that do not agree with the 95% line are idiots, or industry hacks. For the record, I am neither. Though climate is not my expertise, I hold two Bachelors of Science with honors from a top school. I have not read all the papers on climate change, or the entire IPCC report, but I have read more of these than anyone I know. I’m not saying this to brag, only to point out that I do not have my head in the sand. I care, I enjoy learning… I happen to have been taught that questioning is paramount, and that accepting either answer in time is part of that process.
Regarding DKE: I would suggest there’s a level of hubris in all of us, even in the scientific community, even with regard to AGM.
Mal Adapted, please try to see yourself as everyone else sees you. You’re an imperious jerk. If a thread is below you, perhaps there is an ivory tower where you better belong.
I may be an imperious jerk, but I don’t claim to know more about climate than the scientists who’ve spent years earning their expertise. Yours is the arrogance of ignorance. FFS, read a book!
I am not qualified to scientifically review the climate literature and certainly unable to conduct my own experiments.
I do know about the sociology and politics of science.
The way that scientific knowledge becomes accepted by other scientists is by those in the area of study gradually reaching a consensus. There are always outliers and people in other disciplines who can sometimes offer brilliant insights, but most of the time the outliers are cranks, and insights are flat out poor and wrong. Think of Von Däniken’s alternative theories of astronomy.
I posted the article to indicate that climatologists have reached a consensus. . not on everything but on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. The scientists objecting are not climatologists.
Scientific knowledge that suggests that powerful interest groups are wrong, dating back to Galileo, has often had to confront massive attacks. Imprisonment or worse has been the result at times.
Today these methods are too crude, but the reality of climate change steps on many, many politically powerful toes. They have responded by launching numerous, and often connected campaigns designed to sway public opinion. They have been very effective.
As JB indicated, the method being used to discredit to the public these findings, and even some of the same people, were those that defended the tobacco companies back in day fighting the knowledge the smoking causes cancer and many other diseases.
Ralph, your points are well taken.
There are two conspiracy theories here. One, is the one that I have related to, not out of expertise, but out of gut-feeling; that the political motivation for reacting to climate change is dedicated to personal gain. The other, is the one you are describing, that the motivation for questioning climate change is dedicated to personal gain.
As you say, the public campaigns to discredit climate science have been effective, of which perhaps the most effective attack has been to point out several failures of the peer review process in the IPCC report. As Todd pointed out, SOME highlighting the errors in the report may not be trying to be part of the solution, but are rather spoilers. I also appreciate this point. Any human organization has flaws, and I do not expect any report on anything to be without accidental errors, which may not detract from the overall conclusion.
However, the point that set me off in the first place has been that people like me who WANT to understand, but have serious questions, tend to be swept into the same corner with those you say have ulterior motives (deniers, skeptics, etc). The article in this post, Jdubya, Maladapted, and many other more public figures perfectly illustrate my point.
It may well be that Calculus 4, Probability and Statistics, Thermodynamics II, Chemistry 3, and many other courses I have under my belt are completely inadequate for understanding the forces and analyses at work in climate science. But almost everywhere I look for answers to what seem to me like reasonable questions highlighted by the “contrarians” the response is the same:
It is decided. There’s no debate. Consensus. You’re an idiot. Flat-earther. It’s the CO2, stupid. Disinformation Campaign. “Climate Expertise Lacking Among Global Warming Contrarians”.
ONE more time, for the record: I’m not a denier, just unconvinced, though open to the possibility. Nor do I think I’m a climatologist, genius, or am I suffering from DKE. I learn by questioning.
One point I am making was that this article, while well-intentioned, will be received by most of the population as yet another attempt to discredit all questioning. Something has gone wrong for Science to be in this position. If I can remain unconvinced, with NO ulterior motives, and no predetermined result that I’m trying to prove, then there isn’t a prayer of convincing the population at large without fear-mongering. (95% chance of asteroids, anyone?)
The other point, which Angela picked up on right away, is another question: Say we ignore climate change for 100 years. Will the effects of this be more or less disastrous to the earth than failing to devote the same amount of energy and money to landscape-scale conservation? Deforestation, resource extraction, housing and corporate development, road and rail creation… I realize the two are not fully mutually exclusive, but has anyone considered a study of return on investment for these two options? If anyone has seen one, I’d love to get pointed in that direction.
David, your initial comments on this thread contain a litany of denier talking points. You seem unaware that they’ve all been debunked thoroughly and repeatedly. You’re scornful of the consensus of the vast majority of genuine experts, in favor of popular misconceptions and deliberate disinformation by self-interested “skeptics”, plus your own “Calculus 4, Probability and Statistics, Thermodynamics II, Chemistry 3, and many other courses I have under my belt.” I’m sorry, but that’s the paradigmatic Dunning-Kruger effect.
Can you acknowledge that it’s not enough to be smart, you actually have to have specific knowledge about the subject? If you don’t trust the established experts, you’d better become one yourself. You’ll get respect only if you’ve put the time in, and not skipped any part of the process. Your coursework is a good start, but take some geology, oceanography and atmospheric science courses too. Climate is a set of complex phenomena that are emergent from basic principles of physics and chemistry.
In any case, course work is only the beginning. You need to become familiar with the massive amount of empirical data, from multiple independent sources, that the AGW consensus is built on. To even know of the existence of key data requires reading all the historical and current peer-reviewed literature. Then you’ll want to conduct your own experiments, and develop and test your own models.
Very few people can do all of that on their own. For most of us, the only practical route is an extended apprenticeship: obtaining a graduate degree, doing original research (usually under the guidance of an established advisor), and publishing your research in peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is just the first, rough assessment of your work; once it’s published, the real scrutiny starts.
Throughout, you’ll interact with the community of professional peers that have been working on this for decades. Informally and formally, they’ll provide the feedback to let you know whether you understand the subject matter as well as you think you do. Often their feedback will be unsparing — hoo, boy! If you think I was rough on you, try making your first couple of comments on RealClimate or Open Mind!
OK, not everyone wants to be a scientist. If you’ve read this far, and you’re sincere about wanting to learn, I recommend The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart, science historian with the American Institute of Physics. The book is an easy read, the website is more interactive. For scientists’ responses to specific contrarian arguments, with citations to the relevant primary literature, see Skeptical Science — now available as an iPhone app 8^)!