I have the utmost respect for James Randi. He has done the most of anyone on this planet to promote skepticism and fight the woo. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him on a couple occasions and he left me with the impression of a man who chooses his words carefully, demanding precision in language. I think he believes that one must be exact in their arguments because the other side is often so inexact. In fact, their main tactic is to twist words and meanings creating purposeful misdirections to pull off their particular brand of magic.
Randi seems to have departed from this rigorous standard in his initial posting about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) on The Swift Blog. In AGW, Revisited, Randi created a storm of controversy among skeptics when he "turned his skeptical eye" to AGW. I think by now he is having regrets. Although he claims that this Global Warming is not his area of expertise and freely admits that he is only an amateur, even AGW amateurs like myself can see that he is still only on level 1. It became painfully obvious that Randi did not have enough experience to weigh in on this topic. While I understand not knowing the science, I don't understand how he could have so easily gotten in to trouble. After all, it is well known that AGW is contentious even among skeptics. He should have known that more in depth study was needed than what he evinced on his blog. He made several obvious mistakes that are understandable for an AGW amateur though not for a professional skeptic.
Thankfully, Randi responded to the criticisms a day later in his post I Am Not "Denying" Anything. His response seemed more geared towards the extremists who misinterpreted his earlier posting, or perhaps read something into it that wasn't there - namely that Randi denied global warming or AGW. He does well defending himself, though it doesn't take much to dispatch his most hardcore detractors. But this second post really doesn't do much more than this. Sure, he admits mistakes were made, and he reiterates that "the importance and impact of this phenomenon is well beyond my grasp", but he still makes himself available to AGW denialists (or 'skeptics' if you prefer):
As I've indicated, I do not deny the finding of GW. AGW, to me, is less clear, though I accept that it is likely true.OK. Wait - what? It appears he's leaning towards AGW, but it also sounds like it wouldn't take much to switch his vote. To be or not to be an AGW proponent. That is the question. But it's one I wish Randi would have never answered. At least not at this point in time.
Here's a roundup of some of the more distinguished blogs commenting on this:
- The Island of Doubt: It Wouldn't Be Fair... and James Randi Stands Corrected
- Pharyngula: Randi Responds and Say It Ain't So, Randi
- Rationally Speaking: James Randi, Global Warming and the Meaning of Skepticism
- Greg Laden's Blog: James Randi and Global Warming and Randi and Global Warming, the Retraction
- Respectful Insolence: James Randi, Anthropogenic Global Warming, and Skepticism
- Bad Astronomy: Randi, Skepticism, and Global Warming