Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/11

“What everyone knows” is that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse gas” that holds in heat, warming the Earth and causing climate change, with catastrophic consequences if it isn’t stopped soon.

All official agencies, all mainstream scientific groups, say that.

What few people know is that a considerable number of experts and informed observers do not believe this AGW scenario to be correct: AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming, global warming caused by human actions.

Those dissenting experts point out that actual data on temperature and carbon-dioxide levels, over the life of the Earth but also over the last century, show that carbon dioxide does not cause high global temperature.

But few people, again, can believe that “everyone” could be wrong about this, that “science” could be so dogmatically wrong. To form an opinion as to the relative merits of the official view and of the dissenting experts, therefore requires not only looking at the data but also at how the official view came into bring and how and why it persists. Few people want to take the time and make the effort to wade through huge amounts of writings by opposing advocates to ferret out the genuine facts and legitimate conclusions, which often calls for reading between the lines and being skeptical about everything.

My recent discovery of the Peter Ridd affair had a wonderfully beneficial consequence, learning about the writings of Don Aitkin, an Australian whose academic career included research on social and political matters as well as administrative experience that included heading a university (as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra). Aitkin spent a decade or more reading and thinking about AGW, and summarized what he learned in a series of blogs. The last in the series, #16,  sums things up and has appropriate links to the earlier ones which concentrate on different aspects of the matter.

This offers a wonderfully convenient way for anyone to become genuinely informed about AGW, and “climate-change denialism”, and incidentally about the interaction between science and public policy. Aitkin is factually reliable and ideologically unbiased, an all-too-rare combination.

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My appreciation of Aitkin’s series on global warming was enhanced when he noted that the hysteria over AGW “bridges the space between science and politics in an almost unprecedented way, though it has some similarities to the ‘eugenics’ issue a hundred years ago”, something that had occurred to me also.

Another Aitkin blog-post, “A good starting position in discussions about ‘climate change’” cites the salient points made by Ben Pile at Climate Resistance:

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone to reverse, any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.
  5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.
  6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig-leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.
  7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  10. The public remains unconvinced that mitigation is in its best interest. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.
  13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
  14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.
  15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.
  16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Aitkin is an Australian, and any connection to Australia always rekindles my appreciation for the sanctuary Australia provided the refuigee Bauers and the excellent public education from which I benefited in elementary school (Picton, NSW), at The Sydney Boys’ High School, and at the University of Sydney (moreover, in those years, at almost no cost to my parents!).
Browsing Aitkin’s writings, I came across an after-dinner speech about “Australian values”  that rings true to my own recollections and also, I think, offers some insights into the similarities and differences between American and Australian life.


Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The political division over climate change

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/11/01

A friend sent me this link  to a report of Senator Ted Cruz showing himself to know more about science and facts associated with alleged global warming than does the chair of the Sierra Club.

Looking for coverage of this story from other viewpoints simply confirmed that The Left  has its own facts and theories and The Right  has its own different facts and theirs, as I remarked in the inaugural post on this blog, A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?

In my view, Cruz is right on the science in this case but quite wrong in his politics. So I seem able to keep my science and my politics separate — but then perhaps that is not the case on every issue?


Posted in global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Who looks at evidence? Almost no one

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/06/28

I’ve been a crank for a long time about Loch Ness Monsters, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at Tim Dinsdale’s 1960 film which shows quite clearly a huge animal swimming in Loch Ness, submerging while still throwing up a massive wake.

For more than a decade, I’ve been a crank about HIV not causing AIDS, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at the clear evidence that HIV tests don’t track something infectious, and that the numbers in plain sight on the website of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, rates of sexual transmission at less than 1 per 1000 acts of unprotected intercourse, mean that HIV cannot cause an epidemic.

Now I’ve become a crank about human-caused climate change, frustrated because people won’t look at the clear evidence that carbon dioxide has been increasing steadily even as the global temperature was level or dropping form the 1940s into the 1970s, when the experts were predicting an Ice Age; and as the global temperature has not increased since the end of the 1990s.

Why don’t people look at evidence?

Because, I’ve finally realized, they don’t want to risk having to change their mind. There is no positive incentive and plenty of negative incentive. It’s beyond cognitive dissonance, which is to evade the significance of evidence after having come across it. It’s obviously even better not to have come across the evidence at all.

On human-caused climate change (HCCC), disbelief is expressed loudly and publicly by “conservatives” (in my view more accurately described as reactionaries) who have that opinion for the wrong reasons, namely the belief that economic free markets are the most important thing and regulating anything is bad.

“Liberals” or “progressives”, on the other hand (who are actually not liberal or progressive but simply knee-jerk politically correct) don’t look at the evidence because they don’t need to, it’s of no interest to them, they would take their stance that humans cause environmental damage no matter what. And they maintain perfect deniability, they are blameless, they were just accepting what the authorities, the experts, have been saying loudly and incessantly.

Most of my family and friends treat my “reactionary” stance on HCCC as a minor flaw, allowing me space because I tend to get caught up in Quixotic stuff all the time. They have no interest in looking at the evidence because they are completely comfortable with the notion of HCCC because it fits their anti-reactionary political views — which I happen to share. If it turns out that this HCCC is mistaken, there would be all sorts of undesirable consequences, in particular that reactionary views might appear to have been vindicated.

I was distressed when Stephen Colbert took HCCC as proven. I am not happy when all the MSNBC crowd does so, but they’ve become too extreme for me anyway and I rarely watch. But I was very unhappy when Jon Stewart took HCCC as proven. And Pope Francis may have been the last straw (in the wind, as far as ever changing public opinion). Though I did get a sort of sardonic enjoyment from the pundits who pointed out that the Pope knew what he was talking about because he had been a chemist. And I am getting continuing Schadenfreude over the contortions of the Republican presidential candidates as they are forced to comment on the Pope’s encyclical.

Evidence-seeking, I realize, is an obsession of perhaps the tiniest minority there is. On the dangers of modern medical practice, there are just a few dozen voices crying out publicly in the wilderness. On HIV/AIDS, there is our Rethinking AIDS  group of some dozens of people, with a few thousand more quietly agreeing. On HCCC, there are a few academic types like myself who got here because of the evidence, and who subsist uncomfortably in the association with people whose political and social views we do not share, to put it mildly.

I’m beginning to accept that none of the items in my bucket list will see the light of an enlightened day within my lifetime: Nessie discovery, rejection of HIV=AIDS, rejection of carbon-dioxide-is-hurting-us.

But I do remain curious about how the “authorities” will adjust when reality eventually catches up with them irrevocably.

[Corrected 8 August 2015 in paragraph 7]

Posted in consensus, denialism, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2012/11/25

There is no doubt that human-caused production of carbon dioxide is adding appreciably to the rate at which the Earth is warming. That’s settled science.
At least so it’s said by commentators on MSNBC, on PBS, and in most of the other media.

There is no proof that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.
At least that’s been said by prominent Republican candidates for President of the United States, and by commentators on Fox News and other conservative media.

It is politically incorrect for people on the political left to doubt human-caused global warming. It is politically incorrect for people on the political right to accept human-caused global warming. In other words, beliefs over a matter of supposed scientific fact are determined by political ideology.
This is absurd, yet the absurdity is being largely ignored in public discourse.

This state of affairs comes about in some part because science is thought to be too technical for the general public to understand. So the matter is left to be settled by science itself.
But what is science itself?
The conventional wisdom equates it with the position taken publicly by scientific organizations and their representatives — what’s often called the mainstream consensus.

Could the mainstream consensus —  “science itself” — ever be wrong?

Historians of science would find it hard to take that question seriously. They know that in one sense the mainstream consensus has always been wrong, at least in the long run. To varying degrees, of course; sometimes only a little wrong, but also sometimes entirely wrong. Science has progressed because the mainstream consensus at any given time was never the last word.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, quite a number of mainstream beliefs turned out to have been completely off the mark: unstable atoms, radioactivity, particles as waves and vice versa, energy existing as bundles and not in arbitrary amounts . . . .
Is all that water under the bridge? Is science now on the right path everywhere? Has the mainstream consensus somehow become the last word now?
Believe that at your peril. As the saying goes, those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.
But who remembers the history of science? Only a few historians and specialists in science & technology studies (STS), a relatively new field that seeks to integrate history of science, philosophy of science, sociology of science and other pertinent disciplines.
Concerning the possibility that a present-day scientific consensus could be wrong, the conventional wisdom, the media, the contemporary scientific authorities all seem to be ignorant of history. So we keep repeating that history of dismissing and deriding minority opinions, some of which later turn out to have been more correct than the mainstream. For one instance, Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren discovered the ulcer-causing bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, in 1982, but they were ignored, dismissed, derided by the mainstream consensus for a decade or two, because everyone knew that ulcers were caused by stomach acid and emotional stress; still, in 2005 Marshall and Warren received a Nobel Prize for their discovery. For another instance, recall that Carleton Gajdusek received a Nobel Prize in 1976 for discovering that kuru-type brain diseases (akin to mad-cow disease) were caused by a “slow virus”; but in 1997 Stanley Prusiner received the Nobel Prize for discovering that those brain diseases were caused by mis-shaped proteins, prions, and not by a virus. For an entrée into the literature about mainstream opposition to novel views, try Ernest Hook (ed.), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and  Neglect, University of California Press, 2002.

In principle, then, any scientific consensus could be wrong. How are the media, the public, the policy makers to judge, whether or not a given consensus is to be believed? Believed firmly enough to base on it such policies as attempting to curb emission of carbon dioxide, at enormous cost and disruption of industries?
Roger Pielke, in The Honest Broker (Cambridge University Press, 2007), suggests that the proper role for scientists is to lay out all sides of any given question and not to claim 100% certainty for any finding or theory. But that is far from the general practice. With global warming, for example, the policy makers and the media and the general public hear much about the scientific consensus and almost nothing about those who dissent from it — except that those dissenters are maligned as “denialists”, a conscious analogy to those who deny that the Holocaust happened, the Nazis’ deliberate extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, physically handicapped people, and others as well.
In absence of historical understanding, the fact of an existing consensus is said to establish its correctness. In the FRONTLINE documentary, “Climate of Doubt” (PBS TV, Tuesday 23 October 2012), the presenter (John Hockenberry) mentions several times that 97% of scientists accept that carbon dioxide significantly contributes to present warming — says it as though that discredits the skeptics whom he interviewed.
There are two improper things about Hockenberry’s 97%. One is that it merely states that a consensus exists, when there is no guarantee that a consensus is necessarily correct. But it is also improper to assert dogmatically on a matter of science something that cannot possibly be based on known fact: Did Hockenberry ask all scientists before arriving at that “97%”?
As to consensus, be it 97% or anything else, it’s hard to beat Michael Crichton’s take:
“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had” (“Aliens cause global warming”, Caltech Michelin Lecture, 17 January 2003; Google can find links to transcripts of the whole talk).

How then might a lay person reach a reasonable opinion on a scientific matter like global warming where there is a sharp, politically determined polarization between a mainstream consensus and a dissenting minority?
Only by looking at the evidence, of course.
But could non-specialists make head or tail of the evidence? Isn’t it all too technical for a non-specialist?
Not at all. There are several easily understood points to guide the reaching of a reasonably informed opinion:
1.    Do any competent scientists disagree with the mainstream?
If they do, then this might be one of the cases where the mainstream is wrong. Even 100% agreement doesn’t guarantee that the mainstream view is the last word, so history tells us; still less is 97% when the dissenting view is held by some of the most competent experts. In the case of global warming, there are thousands of dissenters; see for example the Leipzig Declaration and the websites of Fred Singer ( and Roger Pielke Sr. ( For continuing coverage of news and controversy, try
2.     What evidence could support unequivocally the mainstream opinion?
Note first that the crux of the mainstream view is a prediction more than a statement of observations already made. After all, even if there has been warming for some period of time, that does not entail that the warming will continue. Even if warming and carbon-dioxide levels have increased in tandem, that is only a correlation and not any proof of causation: correlations never prove causation.
To assess the possible effect of carbon dioxide on future global warming, one would need to take into account everything that influences the heat balance of the Earth. Even cursory scanning of the literature reveals quickly that there are innumerable relevant factors. The rate at which the sun radiates energy to the Earth, for example. The greenhouse effect — trapping of energy by gases in the atmosphere — is brought about not only by carbon dioxide: water vapor is actually responsible for more of the greenhouse effect than is carbon dioxide, about 3 times as much, in fact; methane is responsible for about as much greenhouse action as is carbon dioxide, at present levels of both. Heat also comes to the Earth’s surface from below, illustrated by the lava or magma flows from volcanoes and deep-sea rifts. An excruciatingly detailed and documented enumeration of factors can be found in Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009).
3.    The upshot is that the possible effect of carbon dioxide on global warming cannot be calculated directly. Instead, a model is constructed of the Earth’s climate. But the model can be trustworthy only if it incorporates every pertinent factor. With so many factors involved, one can be reasonably sure that no model could be absolutely reliable. Even if all the influences were known, one would also need to understand exactly how they interact with one another. For example, the largest greenhouse effect is owing to water vapor, and the amount of that in the atmosphere varies with temperature (among other things). Cloud formation depends on the amount of water vapor as well as on other things (e.g. radiation and presence of material particles that act as seeds on which water vapor can accumulate); and clouds may add to or subtract from global warming depending on how high they are, as well as on other factors.
4.    Most damaging to any mainstream modeling is the fact that the Earth’s climate has undergone many cycles of temperature, over ranges of temperature far larger than those currently being measured or calculated or speculated about. Over the Earth’s known history, average temperatures have cycled between about 10ºC and about 25ºC.

In the last million years, there have been 7 or 8 peaks and 7 or 8  valleys of temperature that differ by about 5ºC.

(Figures from Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine, where sources are given
Figure 1 has been turned by 90 degrees; click on it for a full-scale look)

The reason for those dramatic cycles is not known, or at least there is no agreement over what brought them about. Therefore no model of climate can be reliable, since it cannot account for these drastic historical variations in temperature.
5.    Finally: The last valley of temperature, the last Ice Age, came to an end only about 15,000 years ago. The historical cycles indicate that the Earth will now warm by about 5ºC over the next hundred thousand years or so owing to the influence of those unknown factors. It is impossible to stop that since we don’t understand why these cycles happen.

These points are surely accessible to anyone, and they demonstrate that one cannot truthfully claim that it is settled science, that human-caused emission of carbon dioxide is appreciably contributing to global warming.
There is no reason why conservatives should find these points more convincing than liberals do. As my title suggests, it is perfectly reasonable to be politically liberal and also skeptical about human-caused global warming. Indeed, I offer myself as an example.

Why have these points failed to penetrate public discourse?
I suggest the chief underlying reason is the failure to understand that mainstream science can be wrong. Such an understanding is an essential component of being literate about science. Scientific literacy ought to be defined — but presently is not — as literacy about the history of science and the nature of scientific activity and scientific institutions, not just literacy about bits of science like molecules or gravity.

Posted in global warming, politics and science | Tagged: , , | 25 Comments »

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