Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A climate of fear

It's not for nothing that the strapline for this blog is...what it is.
Stupidity, of course, takes many forms and has many supporters.
In this instance I would like to consider the vexatious issue of climate change or global warming.

I have posted on this before, with links and comments and mild sniping and major snideness and a general air of being roughly at one with a portion of the blogosphere who regard this sort of thing as, at best, a bit silly and, at worst, moonbattery.

To ape the raven, `nevermore', I cry.

Why do I say this? Because I believe that the reasons for this conflagration, this eruption of self-flagellation and finger-pointing, this continents-wide spasm of techno-millenarianism are more varied. To be more precise, I think that, in common with all major social movements, the climate-change movement has several sources and is fuelled by several interests.

Let me list them briefly.

1) the apocalyptic urge - this is one of the most common sources of major upheaval amongst the relatively wealthy;

2) the (useful) enemy without (and within): politicians confronted with trouble at home, or possessing the will to power without having an agenda which appeals to the electorate have usually found this an effective ploy;

3) the ambition to be a philosopher king: scientists are constantly led to believe that they drive the modern world, yet they are simultaneously `starved of government funds' and depicted as lab-coated geeks. Nothing raises the status and funding of a scientist like being the expert on a major and imminent threat.

4) the postmodern belief that truth is relative: many supporters of the idea that climate change is real, substantial and dangerous believe that if the science is dubious, then it is right to grasp the nettle and lie, lie, lie.

Really, having made these sweeping claims, I should spend much time and energy justifying them. Perhaps I shall, but for now I will content myself with saying that most of the justifications for it are easy to find on the net. A little patience will find sufficient material from reliable sources to at least cast doubt on the mind-boggling certainty with which the `changers' make their assertions.

So, let me merely point you at the post-modernist problem (again):

“It’s over. If CO2 is the problem, we’ve already lost.”

When Gieg gets to this point in his argument, as he often does when talking about global warming, he gets a little frustrated. “I always get sidetracked because, first of all, the science isn’t good. Second, there are all these other interpretations for what we see. Third, it doesn’t make any difference, and fourth, it’s distracting us from environmental problems that really matter.” Among those, Gieg says, are the millions of people a year who die from smoking and two million people a year who die because they don’t have access to clean water.

says Dr Robert Giegengack.

No matter, say the relativists, that is merely your truth and, because you oppose the climate change theory and you are a member of the white oppressive majority, your truth is clearly not worthy to lick the feet of our truth.
So if postmodernists are asked “Aren’t the claims of science just true, and some things objectively right and wrong?” the reaction is not so much “No, because…” but“They’re always doubtful, or relative to our paradigms, or just true for dominant groups in our society; and anyway, in whose interest is it to think science is true?”

Postmodernism is not only an attitude of suspicion, but one of unteachable suspicion.

And what is more, thanks to Kuhn, many of the scientists are on their side:
It would of course be a gross anachronism to call the flat-earth paradigm in geography mistaken. It is simply incommensurable with later paradigms: as is evident from the fact that, for example, problems of antipodean geography could not even be posed under it. Under the Magellanic paradigm, however, one of the problems posed, and solved in the negative, was that of whether New Zealand is a single land mass. That this problem was solved by Cook is, however, a vulgar error of whig historians, utterly discredited by recent historiography. Discovery of the Strait would have been impossible, or at least would not have been science, but for the presence of the Royal Society on board, in the person of Sir Joseph Banks. Much more research by my graduate students into the current sociology of the geographical profession will be needed, however, before it will be known whether, under present paradigms, the problem of the existence of Cook Strait remains solved, or has become unsolved again, or an un-problem.

What has happened is that Postmodernism has made its way into climate science and the results are invigorating.

To conclude:

Wegman found that Mann made a basic error that "may be easily overlooked by someone not trained in statistical methodology. We note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other authors in paleoclimate studies have had significant interactions with mainstream statisticians." Instead, this small group of climate scientists were working on their own, largely in isolation, and without the academic scrutiny needed to ferret out false assumptions.

Worse, the problem also applied more generally, to the broader climate-change and meteorological community, which also relied on statistical techniques in their studies. "[I]f statistical methods are being used, then statisticians ought to be funded partners engaged in the research to insure as best we possibly can that the best quality science is being done," Wegman recommended, noting that "there are a host of fundamental statistical questions that beg answers in understanding climate dynamics."...

Mann's hockey-stick graph may be wrong, many experts now acknowledge, but they assert that he nevertheless came to the right conclusion.To which Wegman, and doubtless others who want more rigourous science, shake their heads in disbelief. As Wegman summed it up to the energy and commerce committee in later testimony: "I am baffled by the claim that the incorrect method doesn't matter because the answer is correct anyway. Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad Science."

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