The New “Skeptical Science” Website: What is Going On Here?
I was recently informed of a website called “Skeptical Science” run by a Mr. John Cook. As a scientist (physicist), I decided to check it out to see what I could learn. I started with the assumption that Mr. Cook was a competent and well-intentioned person. After some looking around there, here’s what I found out and concluded.
The first red flag is the fact that Science (by definition) is skeptical, so why the repetition in the name? It’s something like naming a site “The attractive fashion model”.
Of more concern is the fact that (c0ntrary to what one might be led to believe by the title) the site is actually focused against skeptical scientists — specifically those who have the temerity to question anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Hmmm.
Mr. Cook says he’s motivated by his young daughter’s future. Great — all the more reason he should want to get it right.
I was fascinated by his site’s supposedly comprehensive list of 119 reasons given by “AGW skeptics,” as well as his rather cursory dismissal of each of these.
For instance, his answer to the consensus matter (#3) is that “97% of climatologists support AGW.” Well that in itself is debatable, but nowhere do I see any discussion that addresses the larger issue: the fact that science is not decided by consensus. What was the consensus of 99% of the “experts” about the solar system in Galileo’s time? Twenty-five years ago what was the consensus of 99% of the “experts” about the cause of ulcers? In both cases (and in many others) 99% of the experts were 100% wrong. That is exactly why science is not decided by consensus.
Another example is item #94: “Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project” and his response is “The ‘OISM petition’ was signed by only a few climatologists.” Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought that this was a scientific matter (remember the website title?). Is he really saying something so elitist as “physicist, chemists, biologists and other scientists are not qualified to assess the scientific legitimacy of AGW”? Apparently so.
Oops — if so then that means that Dr. Hansen’s theories should be discarded, since he is a physicist!
Further, if Mr. Cook is saying we should listen only to specialists, and if Mr. Cook is not a specialist in climate science, what is his authority for reaching such a conclusion? Should I also ask my barber who to listen to?
The OISM petition should be looked at as a peer-review process where a great number of scientists (from many fields) have concluded that a relatively small number of specialized scientists (climatologists) have diverged from good scientific practices. In other words, the 31,000± petition signers have concluded that the methodology for supporting AGW was more political than scientific.
The IPCC’s Own (Back Door) Skepticism: Two Examples for Mr. Cook
The Skeptical Science website can begin its revision with these two quotations from the IPCC itself to introduce skepticism toward climate alarmism and open-ended policy activism. Here they are:
“The set of available models may share fundamental inadequacies, the effects of which cannot be quantified.”
- IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 805.
“Limited and early analytical results from integrated analyses of the cost and benefits of mitigation indicate that these are broadly comparable in magnitude, but do not as yet permit an unambiguous determination of an emissions pathway or stabilization level where benefits exceed costs.”
- IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group III Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 18.
So in my opinion (as a physicist), the most surprising thing is that his exhaustive list of 119 reasons does not get to the fundamentals of the AGW debate in its scientific and public policy dimensions. How can such an extensive enumeration omit the most important core issues?
Maybe it’s partly our fault. In response to the AGW claims of its proponents, it seems that good sites like this tend to respond with a shotgun approach, instead of using a rifle. For example, look at the recent articles in WattsUpWithThat. They cover an exceptionally diverse list of topics.
That’s good in some ways, but it’s bad if it leads any of us to lose our focus.
So what IS the number one concern about AGW? The answer lies in what science is all about.
The Scientific Method
Science is NOT a collection of data. Science is a PROCESS. (That’s why when 31,000 scientists criticize the process, it is apropos and significant.) When an answer (e.g., AGW) is proposed to a technical problem it is entirely up to the proponents to subject it to the SCIENTIFIC METHOD.
This has NOT been done — and is by FAR the number one deficiency of the AGW hypothesis.
AGW promoters are well aware of this key shortcoming. Their solution is to devalue the merits of the Scientific Method. Of course, they usually aren’t foolish enough to come out and say that specifically, but that is the effect of their actions.
So how are AGW proponents attempting to undermine real science? It’s in their assertions that “consensus” trumps the Scientific Method; that computer models are superior to empirical evidence; that we don’t have the time to get down and dirty so the precautionary principle justifies specious extrapolation; that “Post Normal Science” is a better way of resolving complex technical issues, etc., etc.
This is, in a word, bunk.
The Scientific Method is at the core of real science. Until AGW (and other illegitimate offspring — e.g., wind energy) are truly subjected to the Scientific Method, they remain entirely in the category of being unproven hypotheses.
We simply must keep this is mind as the most fundamental of ALL issues here.