Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Good Example of Bad Climate Skepticism: Frank Pastore

Over at Townhall, Frank Pastore has a column that is a perfect example of how NOT to be a skeptic.

Skepticism is good. It's what we use to find our errors, and we all make them. We should have a healthy skepticism about any grand claim, one that demands evidence, and relies on the expertise in the fields of science relevant to the issue. What one should NOT do however, is begin with a predetermined position, and merely ask questions, any questions, no matter how ignorant, and ignore the counterarguments that exist. This all-too-often is the case with denialists of all stripes, whether the issue being denied is HIV/AIDS, the holocaust, evolution, or in this case, global warming.

One word of warning. I am not a climatologist, and therefore I am not going to attempt a technical refutation of Pastore's arguments. That has been done often enough elsewhere, and those interested in seeing the counterarguments are likely familiar with them already. My focus is on the basic perspective the questions come from in the first place, and how little effort has gone into thinking of obvious problems with the reasoning behind them.

Pastore begins thinking he is cute comparing Al Gore and the supporters of the anthropocentric global warming hypothesis to a rock band, with of course, the obligatory attempt at well-poisoning so common to denialist rhetoric:

"Despite the wild popularity of their number one hit “Man Is Responsible for Global Warming,” I’m still not wowed by the music of Al Gore and his backup band, The Live Earth Hystericals. All their songs sound the same, and all their lyrics always reduce to the same one hook that’s also the title of their one hit song."

This is science Frank, not entertainment. Reality doesn't care whether you are entertained by it, and its unlikely any scientists care either. Nor does anyone care if you toss around the term "hysterical". In science, it's not lyrics, but evidence that matters. When that evidence gets consistent, that's good. It's how scientific theories are born. When the science tends to ward the same conclusion in spite of coming from divergent fields, that's a positive too. It's how a scientific consensus is formed.

"But, great ideas, like great music, can stand the test of time. And they invite inquiry, investigation, dialogue, and discussion. Advocates of great ideas—true ideas—are not afraid of engaging in debate, especially when they have the arguments and the evidence at the ready—in the bullpen if you will."

This is exactly the arguments the ID/creationism crowd makes, and it contains all the same flaws.

The debate is science is done in scientific journals, not Oprah. Through that process a scientific consensus has formed with respect to anthropocentric global warming. It is not as strong a consensus as we have on evolution, but it is formidable, and it is growing consistently as more information is gathered. If climate skeptics have such powerful arguments, why haven't they written them up in the journals? The answer is obvious. This is a fact that climate skeptics really haven't given a plausible reason for (more on that later), other than the obvious one: because it is true.

"By repeating the mantra 'the debate is over,' when thoughtful observers know it isn’t, the Hystericals are screaming one thing loud and clear for the whole world to hear: 'We don’t have the science to back us up.'

On the contrary, scientifically the debate is nearing an end, as every major report from practically every scientific organization all over the world attests. That is a simple fact. While there are still details over which to haggle, as there are in any science, there is no scientific debate over the truth of anthropocentric global warming. All that is left on the other side are hacks of business interests, scientists opining outside their fields, and garden variety denialists and cranks.

Now of course, there is still debate in the political and social realm, just as there still is for even better supported theories such as evolution. But this attests only to the intransigence of the deniers, not to any flaw in the science. The similarities are unmistakable: near homogeneity of membership (fundamentalist Christians for evolution denial, Republicans for AGW denial), attempts to circumvent the scientific process, fake experts, and no attempt at alternative science.

Pastore then shows just how disinterested he is the truth of the matter by asking questions he believes to be a challenge to the AGW science, but which are so inane and ill-conceived I was embarrassed for him as I read them. Any climate scientist would be forgiven for not wanting to debate someone who would ask something like this:

"Why is it getting hotter on Mars without any SUVs and private jets emitting carbon dioxide? If it’s the sun that’s responsible for the warming on Mars, then maybe it’s also responsible for the warming of the Earth."

Mars? MARS?! The little red planet about 50 MILLION miles away from us, with two moons, and nothing remotely like our atmosphere? THAT Mars?

Oh brother. I hereby nominate the "Mars is getting hotter too" argument as the most moronic argument put forth by any denier on any subject. If anyone has other candidates, I'd love to hear them. Needless to say, since there are plenty of ways a planet's climate might change, as our own earth's history makes clear, the idea that Mars might have something going on that we don't isn't exactly a giant leap in the dark. This argument is the equivalent of denying that my jogging in place is making me hotter because my friend in Texas is just sitting there and is getting hotter anyway. Mars is literally a different world than the Earth. The idea that ANYTHING on the two of them should automatically be the same is absurd in the extreme.

"How do the alarmists adequately explain past warming and cooling cycles that started long before the introduction of the first internal combustion engine? There was a Medieval Warm Period from 900-1300 and then a Little Ice Age from about 1500-1800. By simply looking at the covers of our most popular periodicals over the past century, these cycles are clearly evident."

They explain it the same way I did above: there are lots of ways a planet's climate might change, human behavior being one of them. Prior earth climate changes were caused by something else, just like Mars' change is. This should be obvious. Yet Pastore effectively answers his first question with the premises of his second, and none of the deniers notice. Their myopia has them being told "humans are causing the current earth's warming", yet they hear "the only possible cause of a planet warming is humans". This is a tell-tale sign of someone who isn't being skeptical, they are being a denialist.

A word on cycles. Deniers use the term as if it answers the questions when it is no answer at all. Saying past climate change was due to "cycles" leaves unanswered the question of what caused the cycles (and really they are changes, not cycles). There is no Great Climate Controller in the sky rolling dice. SOMETHING caused temperatures to increase in 900, just like SOMETHING caused them to decrease in 1500, and on Mars and earth now. Pastore plods on ignoring all this with his next question:

"If man is solely responsible for the increased levels of CO2, then how do you explain the Ordovician Period, 440 million years ago, when the CO2 level was 16 times higher than today? Or, the Cretaceous Period, 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and CO2 was 8 times higher? Or, the CO2 levels from 95 million years ago which were about the same as levels today? How can these levels be changing long before the appearance of man?"

Roll the tape boys. It was caused by something else. No one ever claimed that human beings are the only possible cause of increased CO2, just like no one claimed human beings are the only possible cause of increased temperatures. Volcanoes are a nice natural one.

The argument for AGW was not based on an assumption of human causality. That was a hypothesis that has since been confirmed by a wealth of science. The denialists like Pastore however, do no science. They simply criticize in ignorance. If they want to argue that current climate change has the same cause as previous changes on earth, and the one on Mars, the burden is on them to perform the falsifiable experimentation and make their case. Sitting on the scientific sidelines and booing those actually getting their hands dirty and doing the work just won't do.

And what would a denialist article be without the ubiquitous conspiracy theory, sans evidence as always:

"But, it has never really been about the science anyway. It was, has been, and continues to be all about the money. Who needs to pay it, who collects it; who redistributes it."

Pot meet kettle. Very many large and powerful business interests stand to lose tons of income were many of the suggested green regulations were put into place. Talk about your motivation to ignore the science. Yet Pastore ignores this elephant in the room to concoct a ghost.

"Put it this way. Al Gore views capitalism the same way other liberals view tobacco. He doesn’t want to outlaw it, he just wants to tax it. He doesn’t want to kill the Golden Goose, he just wants more of the eggs for himself and his big government cause."

That's right, Al Gore and everyone else pushing for societal changes to combat global warming are only doing it because they hate capitalism. All those scientists, living all over the world, with different cultures, philosophies, and economic systems (some capitalist, others not) are just doing it to make American government bigger.

The evidence for this? Nada, which is pretty much par for the course for denialists. They aren't interested in evidence, unless it supports their side of the argument, which is why the glaring holes in their claims above go unnoticed by them. I hope my efforts have made them get overlooked by a few less others out there. Do not fall for this charlatanism. These people are not interested in science. They do not speak the language, and they refuse to play on the scientific field. The reason is obvious.

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