12.16.2009

Randi on Global Warming - Shockers!

James Randi is the world's most renown representative for skepticism. As such, his opinion is highly valued by skeptics from all corners of the globe. Recently, he posted AGW, Revisited - a short discourse on his doubting anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW). But he does it very carefully, noting several times that he is no expert, that he is an amateur in this area. He rightfully rejects 'science by consensus', but by doing so he leads one to believe that this is how we arrived at AGW - by consensus. It's not. It is an argument bandied about on the news as a way to convince others, but it has never been used in a scientific article as proof that AGW is occurring.

Randi argues that throughout the ages, throughout the many shifts in climate change, the biosphere has survived. This is a confusing point because no scientist argues otherwise. If AGW is occurring and we do nothing to stop it - even if we accelerate the effect - the biosphere will still survive. Whether man will or not is another question. Certainly, whole civilizations will change dramatically.

He writes
In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming.
In other words, he is saying we have other things we should be worried about before getting to Global Warming. Of course, we are worried about those things. The spectre of Global Warming does not diminish our more immediate concerns. However, what's the point of stamping out a few small fires in your room as the house continues to burn?

I was disheartened to know Randi's stance on this issue, but I understand that it is a divisive one even among skeptics. Or perhaps, especially among skeptics. Skeptics have a particular drive to ignore ideology and focus on facts and data. That this particular community can be so divided illustrates how difficult the issues are surrounding Global Warming. For one, GW is not immediate. It occurs over hundreds of years. Also, high quality data does not exist. The past history of climate change has to be obtained via proxies - e.g. tree ring growth, ice core samples, effects on corals, etc. These are fraught with many variables and often times run counter to what the GW proponents theorize. Lastly, computer models do not still adequately address a variety of feedback mechanisms, not the least of which is low and high altitude cloud formation, which can have a significant effect on GW.


Yet with all these problems, the vast majority of scientists (aka the consensus) has discerned that GW is occurring and man is largely responsible. Does Randi think they are wrong? It certainly sounds like it. His opinion goes against the grain of science, yet he has shown in the past how scientists - especially scientists - are easily fooled by charlatans and tricksters who depend on deception and human fallibility. Nature, however, does not engage in premeditated tomfoolery. It does not actively seek to trick the scientist. It may hide its secrets very well and require the construction of a large hadron collider to tease them out, but it does not purposefully evade detection. So, I do not understand how Randi arrived at his conclusion. His post makes vague references and cannot stand alone as validation of his convictions. It merely states what he believes and alludes to 'common sense' as justification. As for myself, I don't buy it.

(first seen at Pharyngula)

8 comments:

GooseBreeder said...

Like all of us he's entitled to his opinion and makes no bones about being 'an amateur'.
Sometimes the person in the street has a perspective scientists and politicians do not, as that person is not dependant on research grants or re-election.It's wonderfully freeing for developing an all round sensible point of view!

The skepTick said...

I agree. I didn't want to jump on the "criticism" train and I was planning a second post to make that clear. I recognize that this is Randi's opinion. But I do not relish seeing the ideologues using Randi as a garnish for their posts.

ytba said...

Thanks. I didn't know he had taken a stand on this, and wouldn't have even thought to consider it. I agree with him.

Interestingly, your defense involves asserting that consensus isn't that important. If so, you better tell some of your compatriots to stop using it as their defense. You can't have it both ways.

The skepTick said...

OK...I'll tell them.

But as I said before, the science doesn't rest on consensus - it rests on facts and data. However, let's not diminish the importance of consensus. Any theory in science can be easily disproved with some experiment or observation contrary to the theory. No amount of supporting experiments or observations can overcome the one counterexample. Yet until that time, the theory gains adherents, which is to say a consensus emerges. 100% of scientists supporting said theory is still a consensus. So, a consensus is a measure of the acceptance of the theory in the scientific community. It doesn't mean it can't be overturned.

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ytba said...

The skepTick said... "the science doesn't rest on consensus - it rests on facts and data. However, let's not diminish the importance of consensus."

Sorry, but there is no consensus, and the "data" has been rigged.

Fraud isn't science, it's a crime.

Christopher said...

I agree with him. But I do not relish seeing the ideologues using Randi's opinion as a garnish for their posts.However,I didn't know he had taken a stand on this, and wouldn't have even thought to consider it.
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