Sunday, November 14, 2010

Facts vs Beliefs

I should really be studying... but my attention has been drawn to several articles and interviews over the last few weeks that coincide with a recurring theme here at Stickman's Corral: The tendency of beliefs to trump facts, and a priori biases to cloud objective decision-making.

For instance, the below radio interview discusses new research on the problem of "backfire". As the name suggests, this is the phenomenon whereby facts don't necessarily have the power to change people's minds... Indeed, quite the opposite, as people actually tend to cling to their beliefs more strongly when presented with opposing evidence!

A related article on the same research can be found here:
The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.
Similarly, this article (which links to this report) discusses the problems of the "Enlightenment Model", which
holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.
A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn’t work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change. [HT: WTD]
Regular readers will know that I've been trying to make a similar point on this blog for a while (e.g. herehere and here).  Stickman's Corral tries to abide by the relaxed principles of El Duderino and this approach was motivated by the realisation that: a) Making purely unequivocal statements is a one-way ticket to intellectual stagnation, and b) The fear of embarrassment or being wrong is among the most powerful motivators out there. If you don't offer people a way out that preserves their sense of dignity, you don't really offer them anything all. I'm always taken aback by how many people don't seem to grasp this simple rule of human behaviour. Or, as I've said several times now: Calling someone an "idiot" is not the best way to convince them of your position.

Now, of course, being respectful of someone you disagree with is hardly the same as not having an opinion. I take numerous angles on this blog that I feel are pretty clearly laid out. Further, I abhor false equivalences. Being open to changing your mind is of fundamental importance, but there are many issues where I think the evidence is simply too compelling for any reasonable person not to embrace a particular side. On this topic, it really grates me to see how tautological the defensive arguments against, say, evolution and climate change are. The first of these is well documented, but the latter typically goes something like this: 

Knee-jerk Sceptic: There is no scientific consensus about humans causing climate change.
Response: Well, actually every major survey shows that over 95% of practising climate researchers support this mainstream view...
Knee-jerk Sceptic: Those studies are flawed. [Or: Those mainstream scientists are wrong and the minority who disagree and are correct and have simply been marginalised.]
Response: Come on, that's a real stretch. The dissenting research simply doesn't hold up to scientific evidence and peer-reviewed scrutiny... 
Knee-jerk Sceptic: The peer review process has been corrupted. We can't trust it any more as opposing views have been silenced. Just look at the "Climategate" emails.
Response: Well, actually, the whole thing was blown ridiculously out of proportion and three independent reviews have cleared the involved parties of any significant scientific malpractice. 
Knee-jerk Sceptic: The reviews were just a sham and a cover up.
Response: Seriously? Okay, how about the fact that independent media analyses have come to a similar conclusion and even sceptics have offered compelling reasons not to put stock into the conspiracy theories...
Knee-jerk Sceptic: I don't care about those reviews; they aren't official. And there is a conspiracy: The governments of the world want to institute a new communist world order by imposing a huge carbon tax so to regulate the free peoples of the world.
Response: That is ridiculous. The amount of money spent on fighting climate change pales in comparison to money spent on, say, oil exploration and research. Even if it didn't, why do you suppose governments would sabotage their own economies by potentially depriving themselves of "cheaper" fuel? Think about it: They can't even agree to binding emissions targets!
Knee-jerk Sceptic: Governments are just fighting it out to see who gets greatest share of the pie.
Response: Look, scientists working separately all over the world have arrived at the same basic hypothesis that CO2 is the most likely culprit behind the observed warming of the last 150 years. Yes, there is uncertainty, but that should call for more caution if anything. More to the point, putting a price on carbon is ultimately about saving us money, since it corrects  for the negative costs that climate change is likely to entail.
Knee-jerk Sceptic: Scientists/Economists are part of the global conspiracy.

Etcetera, etcetera...
Sealed argument, much?

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Facts are important, but you have to play - and be sensitive - to peoples' emotions and values if you really want to win hearts and minds.


  1. On the subject of false equivalences, it was interesting to see the press that Bill Maher (among others) generated recently by criticising the John Stewart / Steven Colbert "Rally to Restore Sanity" (e.g. Maher fans - of which I am one - could tell you that he's been making this point for some time:

    That's the problem with our obsession with always seeing two sides of every issue equally -- especially when one side has a lot of money. It means we have to pretend there are always two truths, and the side that doesn't know anything has something to say. On this side of the debate: Every scientist in the world. On the other: Mr. Potato Head.

    There is no debate here -- just scientists vs. non-scientists, and since the topic is science, the non-scientists don't get a vote. We shouldn't decide everything by polling the masses. Just because most people believe something doesn't make it true. This is the fallacy called argumentum ad numeram: the idea that something is true because great numbers believe it. As in: Eat shit, 20 trillion flies can't be wrong.

    Or take this recent headline: "TV weathercasters divided on global warming." Who gives a shit? My TV weathercaster is a bimbo with big tits who used to be on a soap opera on Telemundo. Media, could you please stop pitting the ignorant vs. the educated and framing it as a "debate."

  2. Nice one. First up you say "95% of practising climate scientists support the mainstream view..." but then you agree with Maher when he says "we shouldn't decide everything by polling the masses."

    In your first exchange with 'knee-jerk sceptic' you took a poll of climate scientists, in this case 'the masses', to make an argument that the consensus view is correct...

    Anyways, the 'knee-jerk sceptic' is correct when he says there is no consensus. According to you, 5% of practising climate scientists don't agree with the mainstream view.

    Which begs the question: when did science become democratic?

    It's not a conspiracy THEORY, these developments are actually taking place in the real world. At Copenhagen, the IMF, and the G20, politicians are trying to come up with agreements to enforce global governance of various issues, whether it be on carbon emmissions taxes or currency coordination or to make create a new single global currency, by making the sdr convertible. It might be a conspiracy, but not a theory.

  3. Becks, where have you been all my life? I was waiting for you to get involved here.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Briefly (I'm slap bang in the middle of a 30-hour home exam)...

    Your first comment strikes me as most odd. It appears that you've missed the point that "masses" refers to general population and not a majority (among the scientific community or otherwise). Of course we should consult scientist; they possess the relevant knowledge about the subject!

    Let me put it this way: If your car was giving you problems would you consult some mechanics or take a poll among your friends to identify the problem? The answer, I trust, is self evident...

    "Which begs the question: when did science become democratic?"
    Another odd assertion. Science is about testing and eliminating competing theories until we are left with those that best describe the relevant phenomena that they purport to explain. Why on would you subscribe so strongly to a minority view (less than 5% if we're being specific) when the great majority of experts have rejected this in support of another? This strikes me as a strange case of fetishism.

    Lastly, I think you meant "mightn't" be a conspiracy. Anyway, we are both well aware that conspiracy is foremost on the mind of many self-professed sceptics. Again, what seems more likely to you: That scientists working separately all over the world have independently come to the same basic hypothesis regarding the cause of observed warming, or that they are complicit in a devilish socialist plot to gain control of the world?

    At any rate, this seems to reinforce my point about the tautological arguments. There seems to be no reasonable way to convince (many) sceptics; they've sealed themselves off to all possible explanations.

  4. No, I haven't missed 'the point' about 'the masses'. What I'm getting at is that scientists can also be viewed as a collective and that this group may be described as the 'masses' of the scientific community. You argued that because the scientific community (well, 95% of them!) agree on a view, they must be correct. Call it fetishism if you like, but in all groups, whether a group of scientists or bergie's, the best and the brightest will tend to account for a small proportion of the total, maybe ~5%. So no, I don't take the consensus view too seriously, ever. I think the word you were looking for was not 'fetishism' but 'contrarianism.'

    If my car was giving trouble, I may choose to go either to a mechanic or to a friend. For one, mechanics can't always be trusted. Many 'experts' take advantage of others' ignorance/lack of understanding/naivity, and I am mindful of this. Can the same not happen in the scientific community?

    In fact, thinking out loud, maybe as a community it is even more important for scientists to con the 'masses' so they can keep their jobs?

    A little like withdoctors that are reliant on public trust in their practices/methods.. Not many of them left are there? But 95% of them would've told you what their methods and treatments are effective...

    No I mean this is a conspiracy, but it isn't a theory. A theory implies it is unproven, but the real world proves there is conspiring for global governance.

  5. I don't wish for this to degenerate into a endless back-and-forth, but I am cannot make sense of your logic.

    Maher - via his comment on "the masses" - was clearly referring to the need for us to consult the relevant experts, rather than poll the court of public opinion on scientific issues. There is very strong and broad agreement among those that are most knowledgeable about the subject... Why fixate on the opinions of laymen as an equal counterweight?

    Call it fetishism if you like, but in all groups, whether a group of scientists or bergie's, the best and the brightest will tend to account for a small proportion of the total, maybe ~5%. So no, I don't take the consensus view too seriously, ever.
    That is your prerogative. However, this strikes me as non sequitur, which provides an unsatisfactory justification for your views. You seem happy to imply here that the 5% minority will necessarily be representative of "the best and brightest". I'm curious as to why you think so? Would you say the same for the contrarian voices on Darwinism and HIV/AIDS?

    A little like withdoctors that are reliant on public trust in their practices/methods...
    Seriously? You equate modern scientific discourse and practice with witchdoctors?

    I think that everyone should support healthy scepticism, but there seems no end it in some corners: No-one appears worthy of our trust if they have knowledge beyond our own. Again, this fundamental mistrust seems to prevent (many) sceptics from engaging the subject of climate change in good faith and on reasonable terms. This is the tautological defence that I referred to in my post.

    I hope that we can ultimately side on the same argument, but I suppose I need to decipher the nature of your mistrust first.

  6. [Below an email from a mutual friend after he had trouble commenting here because of length. I'm going to split it in two.]

    Becks, long time.

    I am going to have a stab at this. Please take note of my caveats.

    Firstly, maybe I can try and clear up what appear to be some semantic issues:

    1. I think that when Stickman was talking about the 'masses', he was talking about non-specialists. I take your point that every group
    could be called the 'masses' but I don't think that in any way suggests that Stickman has somehow contradicted himself – which is
    what you seemed to be implying in your first post. In this regard, something is amiss with your allusion to (what I think was) "group think" amongst scientists. You are correct to suggest that the use of science in public policy making has a chequered history. That said, I don't think that Stickman's dismissal of the 'masses' (as a group of non-specialists) meant he was dismissing them for fear of group-think. Rather it was the fact that they actually don't know anything about the topic. Given this, I believe it makes sense to distinguish the information (and how we act on it) that we get from polling non-specialists vs specialists. (In this case we are talking about what account we should pay to the voices of non-specialists, not the specialists who disagree with the dominant view.)

    2. 'Theory', 'event' and 'observation' need to be separated out. You are correct that negotiations are going on to try and get agreements over carbon emissions. You are also correct that in some cases the strategy for achieving this is through proposed carbon taxation. However, this is an "event" and what you have done is merely observe that event. A "theory", which describes why these events are taking place can never be proven fundamentally. It can only be reinforced by the observation of more and more events which confirm its basic hypothesis.
    (As an analogy, one does not need a theory of gravity to observe things fall. Yet it remains a theory even if one is able observe something falling whenever you drop it.)

    The reference to conspiracy theory here regards the explanation of why the negotiations are taking place at the G20 summit. The competing theories are: (i) For the sake of preventing anthropogenic climate change, or (ii) For the
    megalomaniacle/greedy/corrupt ends of achieving global control/hegemony/taxation etc. The latter is considered conspiratorial because it is both devious and has no documented basis.

  7. [Cont'd...]

    Neither of these points, however, is substantive. More important is the disagreement over whether or not anthropogenic climate change is a real phenomenon... or simply a made-up observation in the name of achieving increased global taxation. (On this note, you haven't actually said here that you think climate change is made up so I apologise if I am reading too much into your argument. If this is the case and you were simply arguing with Stickman's logic, then I hope the above on semantics helps.)

    However... Assuming you buy the conspiracy argument - which suggests that anthropogenic climate change is, at worst, fictional and, at best, of far less consequence than most specialists would have us believe, then I have two questions for you:
    (Note I am willing to acknowledge that the conspiracy theory might be correct... I just don't think that it is and can see no reason to believe otherwise).

    1) First, regarding your statement on the "democracy of science". For a number of reasons that are probably not worth going into here, I don't think a discussion about the potentially democratic nature of science is fruitful. What I do consider fruitful, however, is a discussion about how we decide on appropriate action in a context of disagreement amongst specialists. In such a case I think that a 95% majority might be worth following. You seem to think differently. Could I ask you what you think would be a suitable level of consensus for informing action?

    2) My second question stems what I read to be a belief on your part that not only is a lack of consensus among specialists a problem for decision-making, but that you actually believe the 5% of specialists to be correct in this matter. In this case might I ask both why you believe this to be true and what evidence of climatic/atmospheric processes you would need - either to observe or be informed of - to be suitably convinced of the reality of anthropogenic climate change?

    Again, I apologise if I have misread your positions, but I look forward to your answers.


  8. Stickman, Like I said before, I understand what Maher was getting at. I do not fixate on the layman’s opinion as an equal counterweight.

    But I do not give the same weighting to all ‘experts’ within a particular group either. Experience has taught me 1) not all are trustworthy, and some, like mechanics and witchdoctors, have an incentive to deceive, sometimes on purpose, other times unwittingly; 2) not all ‘experts’ are equally knowledgeable or good; and 3) not all charge the same fee.

    If I were to have problems with my heart and needed complex heart surgery, I would not poll all heart surgeons and go with the consensus’ suggested treatment. I would choose the surgeon who understands me best, whom I trust, that will provide me the best possible treatment at the best possible price. Would you recommend a panel of experts decide my fate?

    In the same way, I do not believe the consensus of climate scientists know what’s best for the planet, and don’t believe consensus is necessarily correct when it comes to the best treatments for the planet.

    Also, I do not believe the layman’s opinion should be completely disregarded, as he is the one funding these climate projects!

    Under the present system, the layman has no way to opt out of paying these bills if he questions the science or sides with a scientist who disagrees with the consensus. At least he can choose not to see a mechanic or witchdoctor again if he chose not to.

    Having the government force these issues just makes it even worse. If you want to “win hearts and minds”, I suggest it be done through free and peaceful methods, and not by government propaganda and force.

    I don’t fundamentally mistrust all experts or climate scienctists. But I do have a fundamental opposition to force and coercion.

    *Mars, howsit boet, I will reply later, got some work to get through first.

  9. But I do not give the same weighting to all ‘experts’ within a particular group either.
    So, I see. However, both Mars and I wish to understand why you are particularly siding with the minority in this case? Throughout your reply you continue to imply that the vast majority of scientists basically either a) really don't know what they are talking about, and/or b) are deliberately misleading the rest of us. What do you base this assessment on?

    If I were to have problems with my heart and needed complex heart surgery, I would not poll all heart surgeons and go with the consensus’ suggested treatment. I would choose the surgeon who understands me best, whom I trust, that will provide me the best possible treatment at the best possible price. Would you recommend a panel of experts decide my fate?
    A nice analogy, but one that is misplaced.
    First, if virtually a hundred percent of modern doctors agreed on the cause of (and treatment of*) your ailment, then I think it would be a rather, um, heroic decision to seek contrarian advice.** For the sake of applicability to climate change, I think it's fair to assume your condition has been subject to tremendous amounts of study and debate within the field. To extend your medical analogy, I again refer to the HIV/AIDS case above.
    Second, I'm less concerned with the decisions that someone makes when it affects only themselves.*** What worries me more is the legitimacy/indulgence of "fringe" contrarian opinion in instances where others stand to be affected from my or your actions.

    * "Treatment" in this case entails economic decisions (see below)...
    ** Having said that, if modern doctors gave me a very negative diagnosis (e.g. cancer with slim chances of survival), then perhaps I too would be motivated to seek out, say, a faith healer who offers a more "comforting" diagnosis...
    *** Excluding a close friend such as yourself ;)

    Also, I do not believe the layman’s opinion should be completely disregarded, as he is the one funding these climate projects!
    Of course, and this lies at the heart of the problem of indulging false equivalences. In particular, since the economics of climate change is a very separate issues from the science of climate change itself, we have been discussing where we obtain the best information to base our decisions on. Which leads me to...

    "I don’t fundamentally mistrust all experts or climate scienctists. But I do have a fundamental opposition to force and coercion.
    Again, I wonder how you think meaningful action against climate change would be achieved without government regulation or intervention (e.g. a carbon tax to level the playing field for polluters)? Please bear in mind that we are dealing with complex public goods that will encompass people from all over the world and over many generations...


  10. Hey guys. An answer to both your questions of why I side with the minority: I side with the minority, because the minority understands amongst other things that climate science is a soft science that cannot and doesn't understand a system as complex as the climate. 95% of the profession is enamoured of the use of mathematical models and the related theories, even though their models cannot predict or even explain the climate. Yet policy decisions are based on the findings and predictions of these scientists and their models...

    For more on my thoughts on this pseudo-science see link below.

  11. That's just, like, your opinion man.

  12. Becks, thanks for your reply.

    I must be brief as I am still in the middle of exams, unfortunately. While I am pressed for time, I shall provide some links for you to peruse at your leisure. I encourage others to do the same.

    1) Climate science is science plain and simple. The basic pretexts rest on very fundamental physics. That CO2 is a greenhouse gases and GHGs absorb solar radiation is not up for discussion. Further, the fact remains that the trends among other plausible culprits for radiative forcing - natural variability, solar output, etc - are not consistent with the observed warming of the last 150 years (let alone proxy constructions of pre-industrial times).
    Please see:

    * To be frank, I'm not even sure what you are getting at via your "soft science" straw man. You seem only to happy here to intimate a direct link between physics (i.e. climate science) and social science (i.e. economics) when you yourself have argued many times that it is foolhardy to so. Indeed, it seems your major qualification for a "soft" science is the presence of complexity. I guess string theorists, astrophysics, , etc, etc all qualify as soft scientists then as well, since they too have dedicated their lives to the study of complex phenomena... Again, please see the above links for a discussion of climate physics as science.

    2) The mainstream models have actually been quite accurate at predicting the climate - let alone explaining it; how do you think they were selected in the first place? If anything, the IPCC models may have underestimated feedback effects as the observed temperature rise is tending towards the upper bound of the predicted path...
    In addition to the previous links (all of which are relevant), please see:

    3) You write:
    "95% of the profession is enamoured of the use of mathematical models"
    First, nice quote. Sounds vaguely familiar ;)(
    Second, this statement is ironic because the most celebrated "alternative" temperature sets (e.g. John Christy and Roy Spencer's satellite radiometer measurements at UAH) rely on even more convoluted modelling procedures to obtain their results. (Satellites do not measure temps; only various wavelength bands, which must then be mathematically inverted to obtain indirect inferences of temperature.) Nevertheless, while the UAH methodology has come under severe criticism, Spencer and Christy have tweaked their models in an attempt to correct for errors. The result? Even their satellite data currently shows that 2010 is on course for the warmest year on record.
    Please see:


  13. Mars,

    On semantic issues:

    1) “Knee-jerk Sceptic: There is no scientific consensus about humans causing climate change.
    Response: Well, actually every major survey shows that over 95% of practising climate researchers support this mainstream view...”

    I was pointing out that “knee-jerk sceptic” is not necessarily incorrect when he says there is “no scientific consensus about humans causing climate change.”

    2) I agree with you. That’s actually what I was getting at, perhaps in a convoluted way. Conspiracy theory or not, I observe events of politicians using the claims of climate science to enforce taxation on the people. They are conspiring to levy carbon emission taxes. But this is not a theory, these are events that are actually taking place. Therefore it is unfair to call me a conspiracy theorist with all its negative connotations for observing the events.

    On your questions:

    I believe the climate is changing. I believe it has through the millennia and that it will continue to change through the millennia. I do not believe that it is caused by industrial and man-made activity, as there is still dispute regarding the historical data, as well as on other theoretical assumptions of the science such as feedback between water vapour and CO2. Some ‘skeptics’ argue it is negative (shouldn’t all scientists be skeptics?) while alarmists argue positive.

    I would say the appropriate criteria for action should be based on an unfalsifiable science (such as your gravity example). But then again, I don’t believe it should be forced on anyone and that property rights trump coercion and intervention.

    Every major scientific breakthrough was preceded by a vast majority who believed a lie.

    Should we have banned sailors from sailing because the consensus of scientists said the world was flat?

  14. Becks,

    I see what you're saying and trying to say on some of the issues. Unfortunately I'm not qualified, well not qualified... Ja to wade in on either side of this particular debate.


    "Should we have banned sailors from sailing because the consensus of scientists said the world was flat?"

    What the hell are you on about?

    I don't know whether you've mixed a metaphor here or misquoted Peter de Villiers? It makes absolutely no sense.

    Please clarify!

  15. Haha, the 'consensus' of scientists believed the world was flat and that you'd fall off the edge of the world to your death if you were to go there. Was consensus among scientists therefore valid grounds to ban people from sailing to unknown destinations? Like climatology, the consensus could be dead wrong about CO2 causing global warming/climate change/climate disruptions, so it is no grounds to force the public to pay for these 'damages' or 'externalities' as stick likes to call it with higher taxes or by making laws to say we must use solar or wind energy.

    So in short, the consensus can be wrong, as it has been before any major scientific revolution, and as a result consensus should not be taken as a reason to create new laws, policies, or taxes.

  16. Becks, Becks, Becks(!)

    Why do you keep dragging me out here to comment when I should most certainly be studying?? I thought we were mates?

    Bud, I don't know how else to put this, but you are making some bizarre statements... I want to say they have a veneer of verisimilitude, but even this I think is a stretch.

    No-one, and certainly not ANY serious climate scientists, has ever disputed that climate has changed over the millennia. This is a fundamental aspect of climate science and goes back to something I keep repeating: The natural variability factors simply do not correspond to the observed level of warming! As a very simple explanation, see:
    More detailed here:

    Or, to expose a favourite contrarian argument, see these posts on the current level of solar activity:
    (Basically, sun activity and temperatures are moving in completely the opposite direction...)

    I would say the appropriate criteria for action should be based on an unfalsifiable science (such as your gravity example).
    SURELY, you mean "falsifiable"? Although, if not, that would explain a great deal...

    I am staggered that you think the flat-earth "consensus" is an appropriate analogy to make against in this context. It was SCIENCE that did away with the flat earth theory! The great irony of your analogy is that much denialism is precisely founded on the wilful ignorance of scientific evidence. For an amusing (and unfortunately depressing) example of this, please see my post:

    That being said, even if I suspend my disbelief and indulge your line of thinking, the natural conclusion is that we should never act on any commonly held scientific information; since we are waiting for the next "scientific revolution"! Sounds suspiciously like an argument that's turtles all the down... (
    Or, instead of doing nothing, are you perhaps suggesting that we should do the exact opposite to what majority science tells us, because the next revolution will prove them exactly wrong??

    Okay, no more from me until my last exam is completed!

  17. Yes, by suspending your disbelief you are getting my point. Me and you are free to act on scientific evidence or theories of our choice. If people are really serious about the reality and impact of climate change, exit the government funded realm and start something in the free market, it will either quickly be exposed as a scam or be very successful, like Piers Corbyn of WeatherAction. (side note, to expose another alarmist argument, he argues CO2 has been rising over last decade, yet temps have fallen)

    But using science that may be completely wrong is not valid grounds to force laws, taxes, and regulations on a group of people.

    I suggest the government and their team of academics should stay out of other people's business, and that NOTHING should be done by governments. Scientists and academics can be used in a court of law to prove that climate change and CO2 emmissions damaged someone's property, but I don't see any need of using their findings to make laws or levy taxes.

    Good luck with the exams boet

  18. “Becks, everytime you say climate change doesn’t exist, another polar bear dies…*weep*


  19. Climate is changing, it's just not caused by humans. Even if it is, seeing as you have access to a computer, my guess is you are just as serial a murderer as me. At least I've saved some black rhino's. How many have you saved?

    PS. this doc is quite relevant to the above debate, any comments guys?

    "The science is settled."

    that's just like, your opinion.

  20. Becks,

    I think you missed the fact that dundun was being facetious. (dundun, I assume you were being facetious!)

    I have already provided a number of links regarding the natural forcing elements that have shaped climate changes over the millennia. [Bottom line: Natural factors are undoubtedly present and important, but actually run counter to the warming that we have observed in the industrialised age!] Again, please read over these when you get the chance, as I really think that it would clear up a lot of misplaced scepticisms that you have.

  21. PS. this doc is quite relevant to the above debate, any comments guys?

    Yes :)
    Ah, good old James Inhofe. (For the uninitiated, Inhofe is the most prominent AGW-denier in the US sentate... which says something in of itself.) Before continuing, let me just say that I'm always amazed at how people genuinely concerned with maintaining individual liberties* will easily side with someone like Inhofe when it comes to climate change. Apart from his views regarding the need for academic freedom in climate science (he has called for McCarthy-esque criminal persecution of climate scientists:, Inhofe's "dedication" to individual freedom can be seen via his unabashed anti-gay message and his refusal to support prisoner human rights.** Strange bedfellows indeed.

    Anyway, lest I be accused of diverting attention away from the issue at hand, the above report is flawed on many levels. There have been a great number of articles debunking Inhofe's list since it first appeared in 2007, but I'll give you a sample to read over:

    - (This one is a summary to most of the necessary articles countering the report...)

    The take home message: The list is substantially comprised of "Economists, Amateurs, TV Weatherman, and Industry Hacks". Less frequent, but as embarrassing, it includes a number of people who do not reject the "consensus" view and yet Inhofe still included after explicitly being asked not to!

    Similarly, here is a final link that comes from an independent scientific institute (and thus forms arguably the most neutral assessment of the report):

    Its really worth reading through the whole press release, but here is part of the conclusion:

    After assessing 687 individuals named as “dissenting scientists” in the January 2009 version of the United States Senate Minority Report, the Center for Inquiry’s Credibility Project found that:

    • Slightly fewer than 10 percent could be identified as climate scientists.
    • Approximately 15 percent published in the recognizable refereed literature on subjects related to climate science.
    • Approximately 80 percent clearly had no refereed publication record on climate science at all.
    • Approximately 4 percent appeared to favor the current IPCC-2007 consensus and should not have been on the list.

    Again, it all boils down to an understanding of, yes, numbers... but crucially offset by the most relevant expertise. (Which I think we've more than covered above!)


    * For what it's worth, I certainly consider individual liberties to be central to my own political and economic views. (I have always scored highly on the liberal/libertarian axis in the relevant tests; e.g. However, I believe "market failure" IS a problem in many instances and, similarly, Government often - i.e. not always - has an important or even necessary role to play in society.
    ** Inhofe has previously campaigned on a platform succinctly titled: "God, guns and gays". I'll let that speak for itself.

  22. Becks here is an example of what Maher meant by moving on. His arguments are fallacious, he's basically walking slowly backwards while not admitting error, and he's missing the larger evidence among scientist - that scientists in numerous other fields have found evidence of global warming.

    This is where one says to Becks 'you're lying or a fool, and I don't care which'.