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Scepticism

Clive James in the dark

Versifier Clive James is “sceptical” about anthropogenic global warming:1

Whether or not you believe that the earth might have been getting warmer lately, if you are sceptical about whether mankind is the cause of it, the scepticism can be enough to get you called a denialist. It’s a nasty word to be called, denialist, because it calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust.

On the word “denialist”, fair enough. But on what, pray, is James basing his own view?

I know next to nothing about climate science.

Oh! Well, shouldn’t James make the teensiest effort to find out a bit about it if he wants to write about the subject? It’s really not that hard. Of course, James didn’t say he knew nothing, only “next to nothing”. So what manner of microknowledge has got lodged in his warming cranial globe?

All I know is that many of the commentators in newspapers who are busy predicting catastrophe don’t know much about it either, because they keep saying that the science is settled and it isn’t.

That is all he knows about climate science! It’s not much! But wait, how does he know it?

I still can’t see that there is a scientific consensus. There are those for, and those against. Either side might well be right, but I think that if you have a division on that scale, you can’t call it a consensus.

In this way, compulsive chiasmist Clive James exhibits the curious asymmetry often found in protestations of “scepticism”: knowing literally nothing about the science, he finds himself able to be “sceptical” of positive claims about AGW, while being generously credulous of claims by self-described “sceptics”. (I note in passing that this works just as splendidly for “Intelligent Design” or for Holocaust denial: since there are people who propound those views, we must on James’s logic also be allowed to say that there is no “consensus” on evolution or the Holocaust, without bothering to find out the facts for ourselves.) As it happens, if one makes the seconds-long effort on google to check, one finds that 97% of active climate researchers agree that AGW exists. Can’t call it a “consensus”? Really?

But that’s not all; there is a general moral-philosophical lesson here too about the future of the human race!

Sceptics, say the believers, don’t care about the future of the human race. But being sceptical has always been one of the best ways of caring about the future of the human race. For example, it was from scepticism that modern medicine emerged, questioning the common belief that diseases were caused by magic, or could be cured by it.

That’s an interesting example. Let’s imagine what James might have said when “modern medicine” was still in its infancy:

I don’t know anything about biology; all I know is that some people are insisting on this new-fangled germ theory of disease, and others say it’s nonsense? So really one ought to be sceptical of the existence of these so-called “bacteria”, and this proves my massive-brained love for humanity!

Thus has laugher-at-Japanese-people Clive James provided, for all our mental relaxation, a beautiful general method of asserting one’s moral superiority without ever having to trouble one’s intellect. As long as one is content to wallow in unashamed ignorance, one may continue to congratulate oneself on being caringly “sceptical” about everything under the sun.

What are you sceptical about, readers?

  1. Via Sarah Ditum.
97 comments
  1. 1  underspecified  October 28, 2009, 8:50 am 

    Personally, I think that James’ argument for global warming skepticism via analogy to the golf ball potato crisp deserves a special place in the annals of absurd analogies, rivaling the handiwork of even “The Earth is Flat”‘s Thomas Friedman. Even more delicious, if you will forgive the pun, is his admission that he just takes his son-in-law’s word for it! Hardly the action we would expect from such a self-proclaimed sceptic.

  2. 2  John Keenan  October 28, 2009, 9:18 am 

    Kant thought that scepticism was the euthanasia of reason.
    Montaigne wrote that, “It is impossible to say anythingso absurd that is has not been said already by some philosopher or other.”
    I think Clive has illustrated both points rather well.

  3. 3  Ricardo  October 28, 2009, 10:13 am 

    Just yesterday I was reading a column of his on how he can’t wrap christmas presents, and thinking how he really ought apply himself to weightier topics.

    I’m sceptical about Clive James’ usefulness to the world since he stopped his Observer tv column in 1982.

  4. 4  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 10:35 am 

    “I’m sceptical about Clive James’ usefulness to the world since he stopped his Observer tv column in 1982.”

    You should read ‘Cultural Amnesia’ then.

    Naughty Clive being unsure what to think about science that he doesn’t understand! It is soooo easy! One must take a view! (Although I am not sure what would happen to the global temperature if more TV presenters and essayists where like rilly, riilly certain that sea levels were set to rise six inches in the next 32 years.)

  5. 5  Steven  October 28, 2009, 10:51 am 

    I think it is actually irresponsible to say: “I don’t understand x, so no one else does! There’s no consensus!” when you plainly haven’t made the slightest effort to understand it; and to do so is, willy-nilly, to “take a view”.

    (Of course, the question at issue is not any one figure for a predicted sea-level rise but whether human activity is responsible for the observed warming — though Clive even caringly leaves it as an open question whether the warming actually exists, as though this were an issue on which reasonable people, rather than only shills and idiots, could disagree.)

  6. 6  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 10:58 am 

    “I think it is actually irresponsible to say: “I don’t understand x, so no one else does! There’s no consensus!” “

    But that isn’t what he says. he says that people who do understand remain at odds (and this is true) so the correct stance is a scpeptical one. He is right. He would have been right to take this stance on germ theory too when it was just one plausible theory among others. Of course, eventually a consensus on germ theory emerged that was scientific (testable, observable), but we are not their yet with climate science. James is right to be sceptical, and he is right to attempt to re-claim the word from those who seem to want to anathematise scepticism. We know where that leads.

  7. 7  Steven  October 28, 2009, 11:03 am 

    No, Torquil, there is no scientific controversy about whether human activity has contributed to the observed warming, which is the question on which Clive James claims there is no “consensus”. It is only possible to think there is no consensus on this matter as long as one clings to perfect ignorance and undiscriminatingly accepts all voices in the “debate” as of equal value. Of course, all campaigns of fraudulent disinformation (see, again, “Intelligent Design”) rely on people doing just this to have their effect.

  8. 8  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 11:13 am 

    “No, Torquil, there is no scientific controversy about whether human activity has contributed to the observed warming, which is the question on which Clive James claims there is no “consensus”.”

    There is very little scientific controversy over whether there has been any warming (although there is some) or whether the warming is unprecedented (although there is some) but there is plenty of dispute as to whether or if human activity has contributed to it or contributed to it significantly. But this tack misrepresents the thrust of the James article which is not to take a firm view on any aspect of the debate but to promote an attitude of scepticism. I think he is right about that.

    And all voices in a scientific debate are of equal value, so long as they are based on data. That is why the dominant misama theory of contagion was eventually beaten back by the frankly much less plausible (on the face of it) theory that tiny invisible creatures travelled in water and in droplets through the air to give us diseases.

    I don’t wat to get into a wrangle (like I usually do), though, I just think you misrepresent James’s position here by ignoring the very clear thrust of the piece overall. And I enjoyed your spatchcocking of de Boton so I have warm feelings towards you at the moment.

  9. 9  Steven  October 28, 2009, 11:21 am 

    Thanks for the warm feelings! I don’t intend to get into a wrangle either, since it would only involve me reiterating the truth of #7 until one or both of us got bored.

  10. 10  Ricardo  October 28, 2009, 11:50 am 

    “You should read ‘Cultural Amnesia’ then”

    I thought ignorant scepticism was the order of the day?

  11. 11  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 11:53 am 

    “….there is plenty of dispute as to whether or if human activity has contributed to it or contributed to it significantly.”

    Plenty of dispute! Torquil, this site exists for the purpose of critquing unspeak, not practising it.

    Yes, there is a wide-ranging dispute which roughly correlates between people who know what they are talking about and people who don’t.

    Among climate scientists who publish peer-reviewed papers there is no dispute whatsoever about Anthropogenic Global Warming. The sceptics have failed to publish a single paper anywhere in the world to support their view. Why not? Because there is no evidence to back their glib assumptions. You are about as wrong about this as it is possible to be on any subject.

    Not just extremely wrong but wrong in an epic, world-historical fashion made utterly inexcusable by the huge amount of evidence contradicting your view that you can’t be bothered to read.

    Clive James, with your approval, acknowledgesthat he has not himself deigned to consider the evidence, yet tries to promote this evidence-free position as an act of specticism. An explicit evidence-free position is not scepticism, it is prejudice and assertion. Blather dressed up as intellectual discretion.

    It is pathetic.

  12. 12  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 11:54 am 

    “I thought ignorant scepticism was the order of the day?”

    Don’t be silly, scepticism can be very well-informed (you must have noticed that certainty retreats with knowledge in most spheres).

    Give yourself a treat and read CA.

  13. 13  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 11:56 am 

    @ Ricardo Ha! Ha! I missed that!

    Clive James should not have to read about climate science in order to discuss climate science, but Steven Poole should read more Clive James or else his scepticism of Clive James will not have a proper footing…

  14. 14  Steven  October 28, 2009, 11:58 am 

    …and my footing of James Clive will not have the proper scepticism.

  15. 15  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 12:02 pm 

    I think, Steven, that both you and Sarah Ditum don’t have much of a point here. James appears to be saying nothing more (or less) than: “If you simply don’t know, better not to come down on one side or the other”. And more people simply don’t know (and probably can’t know) about climate science than about the Holocaust; climate science is just that sort of hard.

    You can imagine what James might have said in the early days of modern medicine – and he might well have said what you have him saying, might well have said because these were still the early days, days when all the facts may not have yet come in, days before bacteriology crossed over from the purely academic to the patently indispensable.

    “Wallow in unashamed ignorance” is intemperate language; as is Ditum’s “James cares more than you will ever know, with your craven preference for “data” and “analysis””; the language has allowed itself to get carried away from the point it would like to make, carried away by the pleasure of its own intemperance. James isn’t quite wallowing, and his ignorance isn’t exactly unashamed. James is hardly the world’s humblest man, but his ignorance here is of the humble rather than the unashamed kind. He is admitting what he doesn’t know (which you might say is uncharacteristic of him) and what he doesn’t know, in this instance, is what most of us (including and indeed mainly journalists) don’t know too.

    You either come down on one side or the other, or you stay sceptical; James, lacking presumably the time and the special scientific training to be able to come down on one side or the other with absolute certainty, can do no better, for the time being, than to stay sceptical. And being sceptical about what he’s here being sceptical about is not the same as refusing to take the subject at hand as seriously as it may need to be taken. Scepticism here can be compatible with taking the very particular forms of action, lifestyle action, that the non-sceptics advise us to take; what it is not compatible with is the use of words and the adoption of a tone that are more cut and dried than we know our opinions honestly to be.

  16. 16  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 12:03 pm 

    “Plenty of dispute! Torquil, this site exists for the purpose of critquing unspeak, not practising it.”

    Well ‘plenty’ is a relative term, buytt not really unspeaky, we all know what is being driven at.

    “Yes, there is a wide-ranging dispute which roughly correlates between people who know what they are talking about and people who don’t. “

    A claim that both sides of nthe argument will agree on!

    “Among climate scientists who publish peer-reviewed papers there is no dispute whatsoever about Anthropogenic Global Warming.”

    It dependsI suppose on how you are defining ‘climate scientists’ . But there is dispute about the QA in AGW, you know there is, and among scientists too.

    “The sceptics have failed to publish a single paper anywhere in the world to support their view.”

    You are wondering aloud why no body has published a paper showing that human activity has not contributed to temperature increases? You must know rthat that is not how science works. The burden is on the proposer of a thesis to back it up with evidence, experiment and observation.

    “Not just extremely wrong but wrong in an epic, world-historical fashion made utterly inexcusable by the huge amount of evidence contradicting your view that you can’t be bothered to read. “

    This sort of over-heated rhetoric is what makes James’s cool scepticism seem so attractive. Not necessarily epically, world-historically attractive, but quite attractive to me at least.

    “Clive James, with your approval, acknowledgesthat he has not himself deigned to consider the evidence, yet tries to promote this evidence-free position as an act of specticism.”

    He does not have a position, that is the point. He is not denying that AGW exists, he just doesn’t know and will not commit to any camp given that he doesn’t know. My approval or dispproval notwithstanding.

  17. 17  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 12:09 pm 

    “He is admitting what he doesn’t know (which you might say is uncharacteristic of him) and what he doesn’t know, in this instance, is what most of us (including and indeed mainly journalists) don’t know too. “

    I think Degrus is right all the way through. And this point is especially pointed. James is mainly aiming in the article at journalists and not at scientists. There are a lot of very certain journalists out there on this subject (and on others, like immigration) who clearly do not understand the science at all (and who clearly do not believe the claims that they make in their journalism any more than Al Gore did).

  18. 18  Steven  October 28, 2009, 12:10 pm 

    Degrus, “all the facts have not yet come in” is of course a marvellous recipe for eternal ignorant “scepticism”, since all the facts have not and will never come in about anything.

  19. 19  Gregor  October 28, 2009, 12:26 pm 

    The irony here is that ‘sceptic’ comes from an old Greek word that means ‘thoughtful/ thinking’. It seems to me that people who call themselves ‘global warming sceptics’ without investigating are more properly ‘asceptical’ (to probably coin a neologism).

  20. 20  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 12:27 pm 

    Steven – “all the facts that are needed before a theory can be seen to be patently in the right” or “all the facts that a non-expert requires before he can commit to a position offered to him by experts and can do so free of any charge of gullibility or jumping the gun”

  21. 21  Steven  October 28, 2009, 12:33 pm 

    Oh, well that kind of subset of “all the facts” is, of course, already in on the question of the existence of AGW. To claim otherwise is either culpably ignorant (yes, wallowing in ignorance, given the ease with which one can educate oneself on the matter) or deliberately misleading.

  22. 22  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 12:46 pm 

    “Oh, well that kind of subset of “all the facts” is, of course, already in on the question of the existence of AGW.”

    Stephen, this just isn’t the case and if you talk to anyone in this area of science off the record they will tell you that. We have very little data and most of it is from proxies that are open, to say the least, to a fair amount of interpretation.

    “It seems to me that people who call themselves ‘global warming sceptics’ without investigating are more properly ‘asceptical’ (to probably coin a neologism).”

    How many do call themsleves this, I wonder, Gregor? How about ‘asecpitcs’ as an altenative title?

  23. 23  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 12:51 pm 

    That should have been ‘asceptic’, natch.

  24. 24  Steven  October 28, 2009, 12:51 pm 

    We have very little data

    Oh wow, my bullshit-o-meter is starting to go wild!

  25. 25  Steven  October 28, 2009, 12:55 pm 

    and if you talk to anyone in this area of science off the record they will tell you that

    Fascinating claim. Especially since, on the record, they all publish peer-reviewed papers accepting the truth of AGW. So basically you are saying that all climate scientists are liars?

  26. 26  NomadUK  October 28, 2009, 12:55 pm 

    James appears to be saying nothing more (or less) than: “If you simply don’t know, better not to come down on one side or the other”

    Leaving aside the clear validity of Steven’s position and utter worthlessness of the opposition, the above statement is idiocy as well, if one examines the relative risks involved: Acknowledging the anthropogenic basis for global warming implies that humans, being responsible, can and should do something about it, and that failure to do so risks catastrophe on a planetary scale the like of which this civilisation has never seen. Denying it, on the other hand, absolves mankind of responsibility, and provides support to those who claim nothing much is happening (in which case we do nothing), or that we should simply figure out ways to adapt to and even exploit the inevitable change (so sad about those billions starving, but, hey, Norwegian beachfront property!).

    The risk of doing little or nothing in the event that supposition is wrong is that billions die who might not have died before, and that, conceivably, civilisation itself could be threatened.

    The risk of acting, incorrectly, as though mankind were responsible and curtailing our activities is that some white (and yellow) folks in industrialised countries might have to adopt a more frugal lifestyle, spend a few billions of pounds/dollars/euros (lots of which appeared to be available to bail out financiers, who obviously matter far more than the rest of us) helping poorer nation avoid the unfortunate side-effects of industrialisation, and that Jeremy Clarkson might actually be pilloried or, at least, forced to ride a bicycle.

    There doesn’t seem to be much of a decision to make in this matter.

  27. 27  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:02 pm 

    “Fascinating claim. Especially since, on the record, they all publish peer-reviewed papers accepting the truth of AGW. So basically you are saying that all climate scientists are liars?”

    They publish peer-reviewed papers showing global warming and its effects and some of them (not all or even most) speculate on the correlations between that warming and the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere including from human activities. Many think the correlation and the known greenhouse effects are so strong that they are willing to speculate that one causes the other, others don’t. So, no, they are not liars.

    And we do not have much data. Accurate measurement of climate changes only began in the last few decades. Measurement of climate change in any form is only 100 years or so old. That is not very long on the geological scale.

  28. 28  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:03 pm 

    “the above statement is idiocy as well, if one examines the relative risks involved: “

    This is precisely why scepticism is called for, we just cannot know what the relative risks are or what the costs against benefits outcomes will be.

  29. 29  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 1:16 pm 

    Steven – your fondness for “wallowing”, with its implication of “what else does one do with one’s ignorance except wallow in it?”, betrays a rather feverish desire, that shows itself elsewhere, for something that can’t be wallowed in – it isn’t dark and muddy enough – but does lend itself to another dramatic verb: “to gloat”. You can gloat all you like when you have certainty behind you. To assert that it is “bullshit” that Torquil Macneil is talking when he mentions that not all – or that not enough – of the facts are in, to assert it and to leave it at that is nothing more than the hurling of more sticky brown stuff in place of argument.

  30. 30  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 1:17 pm 

    You are wondering aloud why no body has published a paper showing that human activity has not contributed to temperature increases? You must know rthat that is not how science works. The burden is on the proposer of a thesis to back it up with evidence, experiment and observation.

    That has been done, Torquil. The century-old thesis of AGW is now supported by as much evidence as any working theory in science. Of course, you wouldn’t know, because you haven’t bothered to find out and approve of those who don’t.

    Presumably, scientists can go on backing up AGW theory with evidence and observation and even experiment), but you will never know.

    Meanwhile the alternative explanation for global warming that you have yet to lay out for us goes unsupported in scientific literature because there is no evidence for it.

    In summary: The burden is on you to show why pumping billions of tonnes of warming gases into the atmosphere is warming the planet, but if someone meets my burden, I won’t read it.

    “This sort of over-heated rhetoric is what makes James’s cool scepticism seem so attractive. Not necessarily epically, world-historically attractive, but quite attractive to me at least.”

    Summary: I don’t like the tone of your voice, lad! I prefer the soothing balm of my explicitly uninformed guesswork about how the atmosphere works and my faith that secretly the world’s scientists don’t agree with the data they keep on publishing. Your shrill demands that I read evidence are irksome and, frankly, beneath me.

  31. 31  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 1:19 pm 

    Shorter Degrus: Steven, why don’t you lay out here the entire factual basis of AGW theory that I can’t be bothered to read about for myself? What is this, some sort of Inernet comment thread?

  32. 32  Steven  October 28, 2009, 1:26 pm 

    Torquil @27—

    Many think the correlation and the known greenhouse effects are so strong that they are willing to speculate that one causes the other, others don’t.

    a) “Speculate”?

    b) “others don’t”?

    Let’s try quantifying the extent of the “scepticism” among climate scientists! I will help you by linking to this survey:

    climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role.

    But I apologise: I shall now fulfil my promise made in #9 and absent myself from our “wrangle”.

  33. 33  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:27 pm 

    “That has been done, Torquil. The century-old thesis of AGW is now supported by as much evidence as any working theory in science. Of course, you wouldn’t know, because you haven’t bothered to find out and approve of those who don’t.”

    No, it isn’t. The theory is persuasive, emotionally and intellectually, but there is little evidence for it except a certain amount or correlation in events (and some non-correlations that it is impolite to mention) but there is little evidence for the A of that AGW, although personal;y I think the GW bit is well evidenced.

    “Presumably, scientists can go on backing up AGW theory with evidence and observation and even experiment), but you will never know.”

    We seem to have reached that point (similar to the one in discussions of Israel where you feel you have to declare your ethnic identity) where I feel obliged to say that I do not personally disbelieve in AGW, I think it is the most plausible theory we have. But I know that it is disputed by people who understand the science better than me and that we need a lot more information one way or the other.

    Where I propbably would come cliser to meeting your picture of a ‘sceptic’ is in the relation to the various prognoistications about what global warming will mean and therefore what we should do about it. Most of the press seems to think this is cut and dried one way or the other, but I think a Jamesian (if not Jamesian, if you see what I mean) scepticism is called for. I was talking to a climate scientists just the other day, for example, about tropical storms. He thinks the occasion and severity of them will increase, although the trend to date has been a decrease over the period of steepest warming. But he just does not no whether it will go up or down, he can model both events with the avaialable data.

    And you will find the same all over. If Stephen (or anyone else) can find me a climate scientists who will go on record as saying he or she just does not need any more data, I will be very impressed. In fact, the call is nearly always for more funding in research in this area. Strange if all the pertinent facts are klnown and uncontroversial.

  34. 34  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:29 pm 

    “Let’s try quantifying the extent of the “scepticism” among climate scientists! I will help you by linking to this survey:

    climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. “

    I agree that most scientists think that AGW is the most plausible explanation for recent cclimate trends, but they are speculating and speaking as laymen and not scientists in this sort of survey. In their papers they are more circumspect, as you must know from your reading. Most climate research papers do not mention AGW at all.

  35. 35  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 1:31 pm 

    NomadUK – “idiocy” is a strong word; you seem to be fond of strong words, fond of them especially where what is called for is not strong but fine ones.

    As I said later on in my first comment, being sceptical about the causes of global warming is (obviously?) not the same as denying, outright, that global warming is caused by humans and therefore is not a charter for doing nothing to change that human behaviour which some say got us into this mess in the first place. You can act as if global warming is man-made at the same time as retaining some doubts about whether it really is. You can be both sceptical and pragmatic.

  36. 36  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 1:32 pm 

    Right, so your terms are, you want a scientist uninterested in further research and funding.

    You haven’t so much moved the goalposts here as actually stolen them. Can we have them back now, please?

  37. 37  Steven  October 28, 2009, 1:32 pm 

    Oh, I shall immediately break my reiterated promise!

    Torquil, you are now being either careless or actively disingenuous in the claims you are implicitly attributing to me. I did not say that climate scientists do not need any more data, or that there do not remain big uncertainties in climate science. They do, and there do. What I did say, because it’s true, is that there is overwhelming evidence in favour of anthropogenic global warming and overwhelming consensus among climate scientists about its existence.

    kthxbai!

  38. 38  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:34 pm 

    “my faith that secretly the world’s scientists don’t agree with the data they keep on publishing. “

    Just to repeat, because this is a common mistake, the data scientists publish is one thing, that is the science, their views on social policy and possible causes of data is not science, although it can and will inform it.

  39. 39  Steven  October 28, 2009, 1:36 pm 

    I agree that most scientists think that AGW is the most plausible explanation for recent cclimate trends, but they are speculating and speaking as laymen and not scientists in this sort of survey

    Lol. You know, I am rather sceptical about your mind-reading abilities. In a survey of scientists conducted by scientists, they are not speaking as scientists? Come off it.

  40. 40  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:40 pm 

    “Oh, I shall immediately break my reiterated promise!”

    Well I did, after all.

    “Torquil, you are now being either careless or actively disingenuous in the claims you are implicitly attributing to me. I did not say that climate scientists do not need any more data, or that there do not remain big uncertainties in climate science.”

    You seemed to me to imply that there were no uncertainties in the main claims or that there was any shortage of data and yet research continues to be heavily funded in these areas.

    “What I did say, because it’s true, is that there is overwhelming evidence in favour of anthropogenic global warming and overwhelming consensus among climate scientists about its existence.”

    No, there isn’t. And if there was, we must ask why research into this correlation continues to be funded. How many projects attemting to corroborate the bacterial theory of infection (to use your earlier example) were funded this year, do you think? Sceintists may largely agree with the theory, but scientists have been and are often very wrong in their consensus (anyone had surgery for stomach ulcer round here recently?) so scepticism is called for.

    There is evidence for global warming and a plausible theory that it is caused by human industry. There is not evidence for that latter claim, though, how can there be? The data sequence is far too short.

  41. 41  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:44 pm 

    “Lol. You know, I am rather sceptical about your mind-reading abilities. In a survey of scientists conducted by scientists, they are not speaking as scientists? Come off it”

    I am not asking them split themselves into completely unrelated halves, but their science is what they write in those peer-reviewed papers, their opinions are something else. And although there may be a large degree of agreement, there is no scientific consensus equiavelnt to, say, the theory of evolution.

  42. 42  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 1:45 pm 

    Alex Higgins – you play snooker better than you summarise an argument. Good to know that between you, you and Steven Poole have solved a vast set of problems that the experts (you know, the actual scientists who go out there and observe and measure things?) are still troubling their brains over.

  43. 43  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 1:47 pm 

    “No, there isn’t. And if there was, we must ask why research into this correlation continues to be funded.”

    Because there is more to know, and we keep finding out more about the possible effects of AGW and how it works. And that is useful to know. Again, you’d be able to answer your own questions, as would Clive James, if you knew what you were talking about.

  44. 44  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 1:50 pm 

    Degrus – because Steven Poole and I are alone on this one? While you are speaking on behalf of climate scientists? That would be where you are going wrong.

  45. 45  Steven  October 28, 2009, 1:51 pm 

    There is evidence for global warming and a plausible theory that it is caused by human industry. There is not evidence for that latter claim

    Bullshit (eg, and), and basta.

  46. 46  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 1:56 pm 

    “Because there is more to know, and we keep finding out more about the possible effects of AGW and how it works. “

    Which is another way of saying ‘all the facts aren’t in’. I would say, not in on aa huge scale given the enortrmous amount of funding in this area.

    What evidence is there (I am being told over and over that there is huge amounts) that GW is caused by humkan activity?

  47. 47  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 2:00 pm 

    Alex Higgins – I think you’ve just potted the white. You and Steven Poole have access to information that ends the debate – that’s the implication of your previous comment, while the implication of mine was that maybe this information that the pair of you have access to isn’t, let’s say, definitive (it isn’t going to shut up those experts who indeed it hasn’t yet shut up).

  48. 48  Steven  October 28, 2009, 2:05 pm 

    Degrus — I think you’ve just kicked yourself in the face? (I like this new way of insulting one’s interlocutors with sporting metaphors!)

  49. 49  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 2:16 pm 

    Cultural Amnesia isn’t available in my local library.
    It is, however, available in oversized paperback for £2.99 in the cut-price bookshop, which is the same price they are charging for the first Lemony Snicket book, Where’s Wally greetings cards and almost anything by Mike Gayle*.

    Should this inform my uneducated opinion of the worth of James’ ‘history’ compendium?

    *If you’ve never read anything by Mike Gayle, simply know that a word has yet to be coined which would describe the extremely wretched catalogue of his novels. Which are mostly about a man around thirty years of age who writes for FHM and has relationships with girls and goes down the pub with his mates for two hundred pages. Sometimes the books are simply lists. Yes I’m writing this here because the police told me not to write to him directly any more asking him, in a variety of ways, to stop. If anyone knows him, could they please ask him for me, but don’t say it was me.

  50. 50  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 2:18 pm 

    “Cultural Amnesia isn’t available in my local library.
    It is, however, available in oversized paperback for £2.99 in the cut-price bookshop, “

    The bargain of the decade, what are you waiting for! (I assume that you were joking about the assumed correlation between price and value? )

  51. 51  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 2:39 pm 

    Begging your patience, I present:

    The Tragedy of Gerard the Sceptic

    Counsellor: Hello there, Gerard, take a seat.

    Gerard: Thanks.

    Counsellor: You’re looking confident! Are you holding up well?

    Gerard: Well, why wouldn’t I be?

    Counsellor: Well, because of… The doctors have told you, haven’t they? Sorry, I haven’t made a mistake, have I? Got the wrong Gerard?

    Gerard: Told me? Oh, about their ‘terminal illness’ theory?

    Counsellor: Er, yes. You’ve been diagnosed…

    Gerard: So they say, but the facts aren’t all in yet. There are some differences in opinion.

    Counsellor: (looking through notes) But you’ve asked for a second opinion 15 times. And all 16 doctors have confirmed the disgnosis. Don’t you think…?

    Gerard: Yes, but there are others who disagree with them.

    Counsellor: Like who?

    Gerard: Well, 2 of my friends say I look just fine.

    Counsellor: Are your friends doctors?

    Gerard: No, but they are experts in their own line of work.

    Counsellor: Which is what?

    Gerard:Literary criticism and badger-baiting, but I don’t think it matters. I mean, what I’m saying is that not everyone is agreed.

    Counsellor: But the doctors’ have carried out tests…

    Gerard: Yeah, but tests are one thing and the doctors’ opinions about what those test results mean are quite another. Their judgement about the test results are no better than anyone else’s. I mean, have you looked at the results? It’s all just squiggles and numbers. It’s anyone’s guess.

    Counsellor: Oh, I see. Now, Gerard, the first phase people often go through when faced with something like this is denial…

    Gerard: Denial! How dare you? That’s like saying I’m a Nazi!

    Counsellor: No, what I mean is…

    Gerard: I mean the illness theory is plausible… I mean I acknowledge their might be some truth to it, which really is being pretty reasonable of me. So don’t start saying I’m ‘in denial’.

    Counsellor: But, it says here you aren’t taking any medicine. You’re putting yourself at great risk…

    Gerard: But the facts aren’t all in yet! Find me one doctor who claims that he knows every coneivable piece of information about my anatomy, then I’ll be impressed. I mean, I challenged those doctors, put them on the spot and said ‘Are you absolutely, totally, completely, 100% sure? Would you bet your life on it?’ And after half an hour, two of them backed down and started whimpering! What does that tell you, eh?

    If the doctors know all about me, why do they keep insisting I come in to see them?

    Counsellor: Look, Gerard, frankly, you’re being foolhardy…

    Gerard: You see it’s just this sort of rhetoric that makes me want to ignore the likes of you and listen to people who agree with me.

    You think you’ve got it all sown up, don’t you? You know all the answers! You have to be right about everything! It’s like a religion with you guys, isn’t it? Why can’t you admit you don’t know everything? WHY CAN’T YOU JUST APPRECIATE UNCERTAINTY AND HEALTHY SCEPTICISM LIKE ME!
    ________________________________________

    Gerard walks out, dies.

  52. 52  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 2:39 pm 

    Well, not really. I haven’t READ any of Clive James’ books, but some people would say that they’re a load of guff, so the jury’s still out.

    I expect i’ll never read his books as long as there’s at least someone who says they’re rubbish. I probably won’t even read them if somebody tells me that somebody else says they’re rubbish.

    Even if the friend of a friend insists on remaining anonymous, i mean, it’s still a qualified opinion- right?

  53. 53  Steven  October 28, 2009, 2:57 pm 

    I think Alex just hit a homer?

  54. 54  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 3:12 pm 

    So … there being no response of any kind is it fair to say that none of you can point to any evidence for the A of AGW? This despite claiming that there is a mountain of it all undisputed by everybody? Very strange.

    “Well, not really. I haven’t READ any of Clive James’ books, but some people would say that they’re a load of guff, so the jury’s still out.”

    Zeus, you say this as if you think it is wrong in some way. You mean you have a firm opinon on James’s literary worth without having read anything of his, or that you should have? I am baffled.

  55. 55  Cian O'Connor  October 28, 2009, 3:37 pm 

    I was just thinking this thread was beyond stupid, and then Alex redeemed it. Fabulous.

    Can anyone point to any evidence that Torquil has this “knowledge” he claims about the current state of climate research?

  56. 56  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 3:41 pm 

    Cian, it isn’t a big ask for a single piece of evidence that global warming is caused by human activity when I have been assured over and over that there is loads of it. Peeople on here have likened the firmness of the theroy to those of evolution and bacterial infection, but we can pint to mountains of evidence for those. Very strange.

    I won’t go into why a human with an infection is not a great analogy for a global climate (the clue is in ‘global’ though).

  57. 57  Paul C  October 28, 2009, 4:02 pm 

    “So … there being no response of any kind is it fair to say that none of you can point to any evidence for the A of AGW? This despite claiming that there is a mountain of it all undisputed by everybody?”

    You could start with the IPCC reports, which do a bang-up job of synthesizing a wide range of climate research so that you don’t have to. Astonishingly they even give references! You can find them at http://www.ipcc.ch.

  58. 58  Alex Higgins  October 28, 2009, 4:04 pm 

    “I won’t go into why a human with an infection is not a great analogy for a global climate (the clue is in ‘global’ though).”

    You’re so right. The analogy would be in the attempt to dismiss evidence, where your arguments are reproduced more or less in their entirety. But the global warming/personal illness analogy is certainly off in that while personal illness would affect you, global warming affects huge numbers of other people, a point you astutely alluded to.

    Steven did in fact, despite your further denial, provide you with a link to Real Climate.org, in the original post.

  59. 59  Tawfiq Chahboune  October 28, 2009, 4:06 pm 

    The best joke Clive James ever made was to convince people he was a serious “intellectual” – far funnier than all that Japanese gameshow stuff he introduced us to. I picked up Cultural Amesia at my local bookshop and turned to the figures I had read (his take on Edward Said was particularly stupid and untrue). If this was supposed to be a labour of a lifetime’s reading and studying, then James should enrol himself at primary school and start his education again.

    Perhaps Cultural Amnesia was just another joke at the media’s expense: “Ha! look at the stupid stuff I write and yet I get trumpeted by crass comentators as a brilliant critic! Sokal’s got nothing on me!”

    All of which leads me nicely on to Alain de Botton, another clown whose got almost everyone swooning when another one of his weird books hits the shops. For those who have yet to read Steven’s hilarious “review” of de Botton’s latest inane offering, then click here http://www.guardian.co.uk/book.....ook-review

    All of the above brings me to what I’m sceptical about. Is it remotely possible that Clive James and Alain de Botton are being serious? Or are they playing some sort of very unfunny Sokalesque practical joke? Why is it only Steven seems to be the only critic who can see through the ludicrous de Botton?

    I don’t know what Steven’s views are on James, but it would be interesting to know. James has done some good stuff, but who wouldn’t in some forty years of access to all sections of the British media? He’s the critical and media equivalent of Paul McCartney: he did something of some interest a long time ago, but now all his songs are pretty awful and sound the same; no one knows why he’s still around and who buys his stuff; yet the media still humours him by giving him huge amounts of airtme and acres of print.

  60. 60  Degrus  October 28, 2009, 4:09 pm 

    I think the question “Are your friends doctors?” brought Alex Higgins’ run to an inelegant conclusion at the second base. Now, if Gerard’s friends had been doctors, rather than a literary critic and a badger baiter, we might have had a different story on our hands. Diseases are misdiagnosed now and again, you know, Alex? But that takes us in a direction it may not be helpful to go down… After all, it’s only an analogy that Alex is offering – it’s not as if he’s actually telling us how it is, more that he’s telling us what it’s quite like, if you let your eyes glaze over for a few seconds.

  61. 61  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 4:14 pm 

    “Steven did in fact, despite your further denial, provide you with a link to Real Climate.org, in the original post.2

    Alex, I am fairly familiar with Real Climate (I always check when there is a climate story doing the rounds) but I think I am right that although the evidence for warming is clearly presented there is no evidence on there for the link between human activity and GW. There is lots of speculation, but no actual evidence. To be honest, I don’t really know what that evidence migh look like. If I am wrong, I would appreciate a link to a salient or even relevant piece of this evidential mountain.

    “But the global warming/personal illness analogy is certainly off “

    It is because, of course, there is only one globe but lots of people. The tretements suggested to you by your doctoir will have been tested on many thousands of people before they are tested on you so you will have evidence that they work. Unless you are suggesting that you would take an untested treatment based on a ‘best guess’ which only a few doctors think will kill you?

  62. 62  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 4:19 pm 

    Look, once again the discussion has become so literal and dense that I am totally lost, and only able to make attemps at undermining your grammatical excellence. All of you.

    Alex Higgins, well played sir.

    So, I’m folding again. too rich for my blood. When evidence is not enough evidence to sway the sceptic, it becomes a belief issue and that probably isn’t even worth contemplating. (“I believe that God made the earth warmer for a reason, if it is in fact warmer”)

    Allow me to point out, as the door hits my shoe, that Michael Crichton was a frontline sceptic of global warming.

    And now he’s dead.
    So let that be a lesson to you.

  63. 63  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 4:22 pm 

    “When evidence is not enough evidence to sway the sceptic”

    Don’t leave Zeus, not without telling us WHAT evidence?

  64. 64  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 4:43 pm 

    What’s the use, Torquil? You’re either a highly successful troll* or you’re simply blind to reason**.

    In the end it’s really simple. You’re right- there is absolutely no proof that any human activity, or even the presence of human life on earth, is of any detriment to the environment.

    Let’s go back to coal- naw, screw it, let’s burn ‘clean’ coal since there’s no evidence it’ll make a spot of difference to the sea level.

    Let’s stop blighting our fair green land with unsightly wind turbines and place every obstacle imaginable, legal or illegal, in the way of those who would responsibly deal with the mountains of waste we bury in the highlands quarterly.

    Let’s invade Iran, Venezuela, Algeria, ANYWHERE that’s selfishly holding on to their fossil fuel reserves and CONFISCATE them so that we can BURN them QUICKER.

    WHO SAYS the oil’s running out? CAN THEY SEE TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH? what do THEY know?

    HOW DARE THESE FILTHY HIPPIES TELL ME I CAN’T DRIVE A RANGE-ROVER TO THE SHOPS?

    what do you MEAN I can’t buy 100w light bulbs anymore?

    It’s all just hogwash. Millions of units of currency wastefully invested in failing to prove ANYTHING WHATSOEVER.

    And the sooner we close the discussion on all this claptrap the quicker we can discuss exactly what the cause of global warming is, since it’s nothing to do with us.

    Maybe it’s China’s fault?

    *tretements, doctoir
    **#45

  65. 65  Cian O'Connor  October 28, 2009, 4:53 pm 

    Sorry Torquil, but I’ve been using the internet for far too long to engage with trolls/stupid people. I think I first encountered your argument in 94 on usenet, only then it was about evolution. Times change, but the stupid remains stupid; the virgins remain stuck in their parent’s basement convinced of their rhetorical brilliance.

  66. 66  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 4:54 pm 

    “In the end it’s really simple. You’re right- there is absolutely no proof that any human activity, or even the presence of human life on earth, is of any detriment to the environment. “

    Which is a different claim, of course, and by way of a smokescreen, I think.

    Look, there may well be evidence for AGW, I don’t know. I just haven’t seen any. And it is strange to have various voices insist that there is mountains of unrefutable evidence for something and yet, despite all the easements of Google, not be able to point to anything. The best I could find were assertions from the IPCC such as: “the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate”. Not really what was promised, is it? ‘Suggests’, ‘discernable influence’, ‘balance of evidence’? It almost looks like tll the facts aren’t in.

  67. 67  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 4:56 pm 

    “Sorry Torquil, but I’ve been using the internet for far too long to engage with trolls/stupid people.”

    You will excuse me, Cian, if I suspect you have just been using it to try to find some of the evidence that you insist exists in vast quantities and which you trust implicitly but have been unable to do so. I think the insults are just a bit of foot stamping to distract from that failure.

  68. 68  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 5:20 pm 

    Torquil, every time you say you don’t believe in GW another dolphin becomes extinct.

    btw, you do know what discernable means, right? I didn’t want to embarrass you- I’m just checking…fair enough, enjoy the sceptical dug-out. You’re in fine company under there with Philip Stott and Godfrey Bloom and the jurassic park bloke and of course…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  69. 69  richard  October 28, 2009, 5:21 pm 

    Sorry I’m not joining the flame war – I’ll leave you guys to fry that particular fish. But:

    while we’re on the subject of things Clive James hasn’t read, how about something on the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, which exactly covers creditworthiness of ideas, the categories of science, modernity and magic, and the fight for consensus that Global Warming appears still to be involved in? I recommend starting with Kuhn on paradigms and Latour on “black boxes.” It would at least help him avoid simplistic and plain wrong arguments like “scepticism killed the witch doctor.”

  70. 70  Cian O'Connor  October 28, 2009, 5:23 pm 

    If you’re going to imagine ludicrous activities for people who disagree with you, why stop there.
    Why not suspect that I use the internet to find kitty porn?
    Or to find slash fic of Anne Widdecombe and George Galloway?
    Or to trade classic McDonalds toys on ebay

    Trolls had more imagination in 1995, and weren’t stupid enough to make easily refuted statements such as:
    “some of the evidence that you insist exists in vast quantities”

    When actually, I haven’t. Reading, its a skill. Some have it and some rant from the safety of their parents basement.

  71. 71  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 5:24 pm 

    “btw, you do know what discernable means, right? I didn’t want to embarrass you- I’m just checking’

    Not only do I know what it means, I know how to spell it.

    If you HAD wanted to embarrass me there is a much better candidate.

    “fair enough, enjoy the sceptical dug-out. You’re in fine company under there with Philip Stott and Godfrey Bloom and the jurassic park bloke and of course…”

    And, it seems, the IPCC. Who knew?

  72. 72  Torquil Macneil  October 28, 2009, 5:26 pm 

    “When actually, I haven’t. Reading, its a skill. “

    If you don’t think there is any evidence for AGW, Cian, we find ourselves on the same side. Be careful the others don’t find out!

  73. 73  Steven  October 28, 2009, 5:30 pm 

    Torquil — I think you’ve just hurled your boule into an old lady’s mouth?

    But, being optimistic, I might surmise that what is at the root of our disagreement is simply that you are using “evidence” to mean “proof”, which is an unscientific usage, since as we all know only formal propositions in mathematics and logic are capable of being proven. Scientific theories are never proven, though there can be overwhelming evidence to support them. I offered you a tiny bit of the most concrete evidence supporting AGW at #45 above, which you seem to have missed in your argumentative exuberance, but please be forewarned that if you start quibbling that that evidence isn’t really “evidence” then I will not respond, and I ask you to consider yourself referred once again to this comment.

    Anyway, let’s get back to basics!

    1) Clive James said there was no “consensus” on AGW; but!
    2) 97% of active climate researchers agree that AGW exists; so!
    3) Clive James is wrong.

    That’s really all there is to it, readers!

  74. 74  Cian O'Connor  October 28, 2009, 5:33 pm 

    My goodness, you really are thick aren’t you.

    I haven’t ‘insisted’ anything about the evidence, because (careful now, here comes the tricky bit) I haven’t commented on the evidence. You see how this works.

    Of course if you want to try and explain how my silence is somehow “insistence” then please do so. That would be entertaining, and so far you’ve been a most tedious troll.

  75. 75  Ricardo  October 28, 2009, 5:34 pm 

    I lost track of the discussion ages ago, I’m just drifting off into the astral plane, dreaming of the places that might be “beyond stupid” (Cian, #55)

    Is it like politics, where left-wing and right-wing stretch around and meet at the dark side, and thus a place of incomprehensibly pure logic? Or more like a magical fairy land of free-floating notions, sparkling gently in the moonlight?

  76. 76  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 5:40 pm 

    “and thus a place of incomprehensibly pure logic”

    Like when you drink yourself sober, or beat your wife because you love her so god-damned much?

    Or get so tired that you’re over-tired?

  77. 77  Steven  October 28, 2009, 5:43 pm 

    Degrus, I think you just drove your car at 220mph into a crash barrier, spinning 720º through the air before bursting into flames?

  78. 78  speranza  October 28, 2009, 6:12 pm 

    I clicked through to Steven’s review of the De Botton book and, for reasons that are probably better left mysterious, misread the title as “A Wank at the Airport.” Now I can’t help thinking that might have been a much better book, and might possibly suggest a new direction in pop-philosophy publishing.

    Apologies in advance if I’ve lowered the tone, or caught a shoelace in the gears of my bicycle and plunged off the side of L’Alpe d’Huez, or something.

  79. 79  ejh  October 28, 2009, 6:30 pm 

    You know, we don’t actually have all the evidence in as to what happens if you walk off the edge of a cliff, since I just saw Wile E Coyote do it on Youtube and he got yards before he fell. I don’t suppose I can volunteer Torquil to give it a go?

  80. 80  Hey Zeus  October 28, 2009, 6:33 pm 

    …and we’re still waiting for someone to prove that Glenn Beck didn’t rape and murder a girl in 1990. It seems as though there isn’t even a shred of evidence that he didn’t do it.

  81. 81  KB Player  October 28, 2009, 10:14 pm 

    James doesn’t know what he’s talking about but insists on talking about it

    (I’ve just looked up chiasmus and I’m practising).

    Or, as his mate Kingsley Amis would have said:- “I know next to nothing about climate science, then WHY NOT KEEP YOUR GOB SHUT?”

    I’m a big fan of James, but his recent writings have been pretty lazy.

  82. 82  Roger Migently  October 29, 2009, 5:06 am 

    I’m a big fan of James, too, I even interviewed him once, but science is not what he’s supposed to be good at. He’s a performer, a wit, a clown if you like. A palid, latterday St Oscar Wilde who has nothing to declare but his genius. His job is to shoot from the gut but only to amuse. These comments of his are strikingly similar to those of his (and my) countryman, Cardinal George Pell, a man who Thomas Cromwell might have thought epitomises the “the snoffyng pride of some prelates”. He claims to be a sceptic but is clearly a through and through denialist. He was at it again in the last week spouting about hos whte earth is actually cooling etc. etc. .

    Please forgive me for chewing up the Unspeak bandwidth with what I wrote a couple of years ago about George Pell, which relates somewhat to this discussion:

    Cardinal Pell has claimed … today that Global Warming is not happening. He has “studied the science“, he says, and come to the rational conclusion that there is no evidence for global warming. In fact, he said, he was speaking to a “scientist” only the other day, and he said that the rise in CO2 follows warming rather than preceding it. Case closed.
    He’s talking about the Milankovitch cycles which in fact do not debunk human causes for global warming. Skepticalscience covers this and pretty much all the other arguments against anthropogenic causes for global warming.
    But hey, don’t put George down. It’s good that he’s a sceptic. That’s scientific, right?
    He’s always totally rational and that’s why he should be trusted. He uses a special textbook called The Bible, which was written by his imaginary friend in the sky, so it must be true, right?
    That’s why he believes that a virgin gave birth to a son after being visited by a winged humanoid from heaven and then being impregnated by an immaterial spirit; that a man actually walked on water; that a man actually rose from the dead; that a man actually floated bodily up into the sky and went to heaven. That there really is a place called heaven where physical bodies go and are re-animated after they die; that a woman was created from a man’s rib; that a man actually divided two loaves of bread and five fishes such that there was sufficient to feed thousands of people with some left over; that wine and bread become the real and actual blood and flesh of a man who lived—if he did live—two thousand years ago, and who left the earthly realm altogether in the most dramatic and unequivocal way imaginable, and that despite being actual blood and flesh the ex-wine and ex-bread still taste like wine and bread.

    George Pell’s rationalist credentials are obviously unquestionable. So lets put the future of the planet in his hands. Okay?

    Or let’s put it in Clive James’s hands, okay?

    Pascal’s wager is fraught because what if it’s not Jehovah who flings you into the fiery furnace but Grog the Mountain God of Kilimanjaro whom you omitted to accept into your life? With global warming, however, a similar wager makes sense. Global warming true: acting to mitigate the consequences – good. Global warming not true: acting to mitigate the consequences – not too bad. Global warming true, and failing to act – really really bad. Global warming not true, and not acting – meh. Or to put it another way, there is no serious downside to assuming global warming is true and acting accordingly. Is there? So what is James’s excuse for ignorant scepticism? “Oh, gee, I’m sorry we all ended up in Hell, but I couldn’t be sure, you know”?

  83. 83  roger migently  October 29, 2009, 7:27 am 

    Okay, “pallid” and “spouting about how the earth is actually cooling etc. etc.”
    Skepticalscience link is: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php
    If Clive James was really interested in reducing his level of ignorance, this is the quickest place to go.

  84. 84  Torquil Macneil  October 29, 2009, 9:31 am 

    “But, being optimistic, I might surmise that what is at the root of our disagreement is simply that you are using “evidence” to mean “proof”, which is an unscientific usage, since as we all know only formal propositions in mathematics and logic are capable of being proven. 2

    No, I am not making that mistake. I would accept almost any evidence of the usual kind (the kind we have for evolution, for example) but a mere correlation isn’t evidence by itself.

  85. 85  Paul C  October 29, 2009, 9:32 am 

    At the risk of repeating myself, for those wishing to review the evidence:

    You could start with the IPCC reports, which do a bang-up job of synthesizing a wide range of climate research so that you don’t have to. Astonishingly they even give references! You can find them at http://www.ipcc.ch.

    Oh look, I’ve repeated myself.

  86. 86  Adam  October 29, 2009, 9:42 am 

    I actually like James as well, and I enjoyed Cultural Amnesia a lot (though you find yourself, by the end, wanting to shout ‘yes, YES, Clive, the Commies were as bad as the Nazis we get it, come on now, wrap it up…’), but I have to say whenever he starts banging on about anything even vaguely scientfic all he does is prove CP Snow’s ‘two cultures’ theory right.

    James may know an awful lot about Argentinian dancing and obscure Austrian authors of the fin de siecle, but a background in lit-crit and tango-fetishism does not qualify you to write authoritatively on climate change.

  87. 87  Cian O'Connor  October 29, 2009, 9:46 am 

    “I would accept almost any evidence of the usual kind (the kind we have for evolution, for example) but a mere correlation isn’t evidence by itself.”

    Ha! Too funny. You really are totally out of your depth aren’t you. I think the problem is that you’re too thick to understand the evidence (or find it), but refuse to accept this. Less troll, more sad sack.

    Anyway, I’m still waiting for you to give examples of some of this “research” that you’ve read. So far nada, just lots of poorly digested Phil Science 101.

  88. 88  Cian O'Connor  October 29, 2009, 9:49 am 

    But the commies weren’t as bad as the Nazis. That’s just a stupid and shallow argument.

  89. 89  Dr Evil  October 29, 2009, 9:57 am 

    a mere correlation isn’t evidence by itself.

    Mr Macneil, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Strong and statistically significant correlations are widely accepted as one type of ‘evidence’ (esp. in medicine, cf discovery of smoking/cancer link – we still don’t know for certain how tobacco causes cancer, but no one is ‘sceptical’ any more that it does). Yet the evidence for AGW is not only ‘correlation’ because we understand this basic forcing mechanism quite well, i.e. we know that increased atmospheric CO2 causes warming (as Alex Higgins says, this prinicple is well understood for 100 years), and we know that we have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and we know that warming has happened. All this is extremely good evidence for AGW. As you have not yourself indicated what would count for you as ‘evidence’ if none of this does, we can safely assume that you are a troll.

  90. 90  Degrus  October 29, 2009, 10:26 am 

    This debate has descended into outright deniers versus global warming IS man-made propagandists. (When I say propagandists I do not mean that everyone who believes that global warming is caused by human activity is a propagandist; I say propagandist to draw attention to the bullheaded, hectoring tone that a certain section of that community relies upon in debates with the opposite camp).

    Where the whole debate started was with an article that I believe it is inappropriate to get angry about. That is, an article which described the quite tough position that people find themselves in when they must make up their minds about a matter which is, frankly, beyond their ken. Yes, of course, what you ought to do in this position, if you are one of the ignorant, is to consult the available data and use it to try to come to an informed position. But in this particular case, no sooner have you consulted that data, and are close to accepting it (in your necessarily not-entirely-satisfactory-to-yourself non-expert way), than you are confronted with data that disagrees with that other data, or questions the motives behind it. You can, naturally, then get mathematical about it all: many more people say this than that, so I’ll go along with those that say this, because that’s the way one ought to operate when it comes to matters of science which one understands in a not at all sophisticated way. However, still a voice holds out – and holds out precisely because you are not an expert, do not have a sophisticated understanding of the matter at hand, and are in the position of simply having to take everything about this matter on trust – that says: maybe there is a possibility that these “denialists” will be proved not so wrong, maybe they are in some way or another in the right, I mean that could well be the case, after all what do I know really?

    I should add – as I have added before – that the presence of this dissenting, or sceptical voice, need not prevent you from reducing your appetite for carbon.

  91. 91  Steven  October 29, 2009, 10:38 am 

    Degrus — that’s a much more reasonable version of the argument than the one Clive James actually made. I would only add that, as well as trying one’s best to learn about the facts (which James apparently thinks unnecessary), one can also, even as a layman, employ some basic strategies of discrimination as to which sources are more likely to be reliable than others. (E.g., the reliance of “Melanie Phillips” on what are plainly crank websites for her global-warming “news” is rather a red flag.) One is not left only playing a numbers game (though, again, James was wrong about the numbers game — and by the way this Wikipedia page shows that no national or international scientific body disputes the theory of AGW).

  92. 92  Cian O'Connor  October 29, 2009, 11:02 am 

    I say propagandist to draw attention to the bullheaded, hectoring tone that a certain section of that community relies upon in debates with the opposite camp

    You call it bullheaded, hectoring. I call it simple irritation with cranks such as Torquil. Its perfectly okay to not know things, indeed I admire people who know when they’re not qualified to comment on a particular subject and admit it. Its the pretense at expertise which is so annoying. Torquil doesn’t know what he’s talking about, his pretense at scientific sophistication is precisely that.

    Anyone who’s argued on the internet with cranks know that you’re never going to change their mind, it doesn’t really matter what they think (given they probably don’t have any friends and live in their parents’ basement) and there is simply nothing to be gained from engaging with them. There are certain topics that attract cranks. These include, the gold standard, evolution, 9/11 “debunking”, Fermat’s last theorem, perpetual motion machines, vaccinations, alternative medicine and global warming.

    As for expertise. It shouldn’t be that hard to work out who’s worth listening to on global warming for a man of Clive James’ intelligence. Or indeed for Melanie Phillips. The problem here is not confusion, but a wilful refusal to believe because they find the implications for their lifestyles/beliefs disquieting. Quite frankly they’d rather the planet burned, than admit the dirty hippies were right about anything.

  93. 93  Steven  October 29, 2009, 11:09 am 

    Degrus —

    [Y]ou are not an expert, do not have a sophisticated understanding of the matter at hand, and are in the position of simply having to take everything about this matter on trust

    I would add, too, of course, that I have to take all kinds of things “on trust” (in the sense of relying on the experts who seem to me reliable), and yet I can nonetheless call myself certain about those things, as certain as it is possible to be about anything one has not directly experienced — eg, that the Holocaust happened (I didn’t see it happen myself); that the earth goes around the sun (looks the other way round to me); that all living things evolved from a common ancestor, etc etc etc.

  94. 94  Torquil Macneil  October 29, 2009, 11:10 am 

    “(esp. in medicine, cf discovery of smoking/cancer link – we still don’t know for certain how tobacco causes cancer, but no one is ’sceptical’ any more that it does).”

    We certainly do know how smoking causes cancer through DNA damage and, even more importantly we can reliably reproduce the effects in the laboratory. And we have a control.

    “Yet the evidence for AGW is not only ‘correlation’ because we understand this basic forcing mechanism quite well, i.e. we know that increased atmospheric CO2 causes warming (as Alex Higgins says, this prinicple is well understood for 100 years),”

    Alex Higgins is wrong, the original ‘greenhouse effect’ was a mistake and has been shown to be wrong. But it doesn’t matter much, though, because we use the term more or less metaphorically now. There is a fairly basic physics that shows a forcing effect of higher CO2 concentrations. It predicts that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will lead to a 1.1 degree increase in temperature because the increase will raise the level of the emissive layer by about 150m and the consequent change in atmospheric pressures will have an affect on the heat distribution. But you know that because it is in ther IPCC reports. A lot of people have the idea that CO2 sort of somehow ‘holds’ heat from the sun in the atmosphere or bounces it back so that it can’t get away and this keeps happening until we are just bursting with heat, but they are wrong (there is some ‘trapping’ but it does not effect the surface temperature).

    “and we know that we have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and we know that warming has happened.”

    Yes, and I think it is a plausible link, but the increases in CO2 cannot account, by forcing, for the observed temperature increases, or, more to the point, the hockey stick up-tick. This must be the result of very complex feedbacks that we cannot (yet) accureatly model and which we barely understand and about which there is an enormous amount of controversy. In other words, we are best being a little scpeptical of thiose who claim that anything is proven yet.

    “if none of this does, we can safely assume that you are a troll.”

    You can assume anything. You seem to assume an enormous amount about climate science, for example.

  95. 95  Torquil Macneil  October 29, 2009, 11:17 am 

    “You call it bullheaded, hectoring. I call it simple irritation with cranks such as Torquil.”

    If I am your idea of a climate crank, I advise you to wear a hard hat when they let you ourt Cian. To rrepeat, I think that AGW is a plausible theory, I think it is likely to be true, I think that reducing CO2 outputs would be a good thing (depending on the costs) and yet I still remain sceptical about many of the claims made on both sides and especially of what I read in the paper. I am impressed by your, well faith, though.

  96. 96  Torquil Macneil  October 29, 2009, 11:21 am 

    “I have to take all kinds of things “on trust” (in the sense of relying on the experts who seem to me reliable), and yet I can nonetheless call myself certain about those things, as certain as it is possible to be about anything one has not directly experienced — eg, that the Holocaust happened (I didn’t see it happen myself); that the earth goes around the sun “

    But Steven, if the leading authorities on these subjects couched their discourses on them in terms such as: “the balance of evidence suggests that there is a strong likelihood that the sun goes round the earth” while other leading figures denied it was true, you might not call yourself certain, no? Even if you tentatively preferred the view that it probably does.

  97. 97  Steven  October 29, 2009, 11:34 am 

    Ah, Torquil.

    the increases in CO2 cannot account, by forcing, for the observed temperature increases, or, more to the point, the hockey stick up-tick. This must be the result of very complex feedbacks that we cannot (yet) accureatly model

    I’m afraid to say that, in my experience, these are classic troll gambits: the falsehood that AGW theory claims that CO2 is the only climate forcing operative, or the falsehood that the observed warming cannot be accounted for by climate models. In fact, the observed warming can only be accounted for by those models that include the forcing contributed by human-emitted CO2. (This, again, is another aspect of the evidence for AGW.) And these trollish claims have been repeatedly refuted, so I remain sceptical about the sincerity of your “scepticism”.

    In general you have spent this thread making peremptory demands that others educate you as to the “evidence” for AGW, of which you have repeatedly claimed there is none at all; and yet on every occasion that someone has volunteered their time and effort to provide you with a link to where the actual evidence resides, you have gone mysteriously quiet and changed the subject.

    I therefore conclude that this is a good point at which to close the thread. Many thanks to everyone else for their contributions!



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