Friday, September 16, 2011

Exposing 'Skeptic' Illusions - Part 1 - Climate Change, Equivocation & 'Peer-Review'

Skeptic Denialism
Scootle Royale

Although leading skeptics Michael Shermer and James Randi have expressed some degree of skepticism over man-made global warming, many 'skeptical' bloggers defend it and attack the so-called 'deniers' - in fact, when Randi questioned it, the skeptic guru himself was accused by his own community of being duped by 'denialism' and recanted somewhat - so it's worth addressing the claims of those 'science bloggers'.

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) skeptics are often called 'climate change deniers' or 'global warming deniers' by the AGW-defenders. As well as being an obvious attempt to link AGW-skepticism with holocaust denial, the label is also highly misleading, since noone is denying that global warming has occured and certainly noone is denying that climate changes. Of course climate change is real, the climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years!

The following three GSCE Bitesize pages give you a fairly good idea of how global warming is taught in schools in the UK ...

AQA Science - Humans and their environment - Greenhouse Gases
Edexcel Science - There’s one Earth - Global Warming
Geography - Managing resources - Global Warming

Students are taught about the greenhouse effect and told that our CO2 emissions are causing global warming. The only 'evidence' that they are shown is a comparison of graphs - one of CO2 concentration and one of temperature. These facts that kids are taught are facts. The greenhouse effect is a real process, temperature and CO2 concentrations have increased throughout the twentieth century, and we are adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Noone is denying these facts. It is the interpretation of these facts that's the problem.

Simply noting a correlation between CO2 and temperature is not evidence for causation. And to be honest, the correlation isn't even that good. Look at the graph above. Notice how temperature increased between 1910 and 1940, then decreased between 1940 and 1975, then increased again between 1975 and the present. What's interesting is that the gradient of the 1910-1940 warming trend is the same as the gradient of the 1975-present warming trend. Yet, if you look at the CO2 line, the gradient between 1975 and the present is much steeper than the gradient between 1910 and 1940. If CO2 was the main driver of recent warming, you would expect the 1975-present warming trend to be much steeper than the 1910-1940 warming trend.

What we can learn from the lack of correlation is that the relationship isn't as simple as warmists would like you to believe. Either there are other factors at work or there is a delay between CO2 increase and temperature increase. Either way, these graphs by themselves provide poor evidence for the claim that global warming is due to human CO2. You take them out and what do you have left? Nothing but assertion.

Global warming as it is taught in schools therefore is oversimplified, dogmatic and based on logical fallacies. The reason I'm attacking how it is taught in schools is because this is how most people come to know about it. Global warming needs to be taught more constructively, or else you're not really teaching science but spoon-feeding children dogma. At the very least a more constructive teaching will encourage critical thinking, which is something I think everyone can agree is severely lacking in education today.

Of course, the scientific case for man-made global warming is much more than what is taught in schools, but there is debate about the more advanced stuff too. Rather than engage in rational debate about this, what the alarmists tend to do is employ a semantic sleight-of-hand to create the illusion that there is no real debate. Terms like 'global warming' and 'climate change' encompass so many different ideas, and alarmists have a tendency to exploit the ambiguity of the terms and blur these ideas together, as if it's a single idea. They then accuse their opponents of being a 'denier' of this single idea as if they are denying everything.

One example of this semantic sleight-of-hand can be found in this essay by Kevin Trenberth:
Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence.
Did you see what he did there? In a response, Willis Eschenbach exposes his sleight of hand:
As Steve McIntyre has often commented, with these folks you really have to keep your eye on the pea under the walnut shell. These folks seem to have sub-specialties in the “three-card monte” sub-species of science. Did you notice when the pea went from under one walnut shell to another in Dr. T’s quotation above? Take another look at it.

The first part of Dr. T’s statement is true. There is general scientific agreement that the globe has been warming, in fits and starts of course, for the last three centuries or so. And since it has been thusly warming for centuries, the obvious null hypothesis would have to be that the half-degree of warming we experienced in the 20th century was a continuation of some long-term ongoing natural trend. But that’s not what Dr. Trenberth is doing here. Keep your eye on the pea. He has smoothly segued from the IPCC saying “global warming is ‘unequivocal’”, which is true, and stitched that idea so cleverly onto another idea, ‘and thus humans affect the climate’, that you can’t even see the seam.

The pea is already under the other walnut shell. He is implying that the IPCC says that scientists have “unequivocally” shown that humans are the cause of weather ills, and if I don’t take that as an article of faith, it’s my job to prove that we are not the cause of floods in Brisbane.
The proper name for this semantic sleight-of-hand is equivocation, and the illusion created by AGW-activists depends so much on this fallacy, that a clear understanding of it can completely alter ones perception of the global warming debate.

For example, whenever there is a natural disaster, such as the earthquake/tsunami in Japan in March or the recent tornado outbreak in the US, the alarmists always try link it to 'climate change' and attack the AGW-skeptics for continuing to deny what's right in front of their faces.

Now, if by 'climate change' they mean simply a change in climate, then yes, these events likely were due to 'climate change', noone is denying that. But that's not what they mean. When they say 'climate change', what they reallly mean is 'global warming due to human activity', or in other words: you! That's right, you are to blame for earthquakes and tornadoes! Especially if you're one of those evil climate deniers! But there isn't really any science supporting that, so they just blame it on 'climate change', knowing most uninformed people will interpret the term 'climate change' as 'a bad thing caused by humans'.

Another example of this fallacy being used to great effect is when warmists claim their views are supported by a vast amount of peer-reviewed science or evidence. By bundling all these different ideas under one term, they again make it appear as though 'climate change' refers to just one single idea that is supported by a vast amount of evidence, instead of multiple different ideas with different degrees of evidential support.

This allows them to prop up their grand claim of catastrophic, human CO2-driven warming with a vast amount of literature that is completely unrelated to it. Since most studies in climate science are fairly neutral on the issue of whether or not global warming is due to human activity or whether or not it's a bad thing, most of these studies are irrelevant to the debate. However, by blurring all these different ideas together under the term 'climate change', one can claim there is a vast amount of evidence supporting 'climate change' (catstrophic, human CO2-driven warming), by pointing out the number of 'climate change'-related studies there are. And that's exactly what global warmists do.

In order to have a truly rational debate on this subject, warmists need to stop playing these silly games of semantics and fully acknowledge that 'climate change' is not just one single idea that you either fully ascribe to or deny entirely.

So again, let's be clear. The basic facts - that the climate changes, that the frequency and intensity of natural disasters obviously varies with climate change, that the Earth has been in a warming trend since the 19th century, that CO2 traps heat via the greenhouse effect, that we are adding CO2 to the atmosphere and that we are having some effect on the environment - are all accepted by AGW-skeptics. Noone is 'denying' any of this. What is debatable though is the grand alarmist claim that if strict regulations aren't imposed on society by some tyrannical world government body, our CO2 emissions are going to destroy the planet.

When it comes to the politics, the most important questions are:
  • Are current temperatures unprecedented?
  • Are human CO2 emissions the main driver of recent warming?
  • If we don't do something about it, will there be a climate catastrophe?
According to climate alarmists, the answer to all three of these questions is 'yes'. It is these issues primarily that AGW-skeptics disagree with them on.

Despite what climate alarmists constantly assert, there are many peer-reviewed papers supporting the skeptic view of AGW. The website Popular lists lists over 900! Also, on the website, there is a database of some 300+ papers that support the skeptic view of the Medieval Warm Period. For two corroborating examples, see here; for maps, see here, here and here.

Another thing that's worth mentioning is the scandals. The so-called 'Climategate' scandal was big news in late 2009, but that was only the beginning. Since then there have been numerous other scandals that discredit just about every area of the AGW-alarmism, including 'Amazongate', 'Glaciergate', 'Satellitegate', 'Polarbeargate' etc. The website NoTricksZone lists over a hundred of these climate scandals.

Speaking of Climategate and peer-review, the most important thing exposed by the Climategate emails and data was that the peer-review process in climate science has been corrupted. In a 2006 report on the 'Hockey Stick' graph, professor Edward Wegmen noted how scientists such as Phil Jones and Michael Mann worked together in a tightly-knit social network and suggested this undermined the legitimacy of the peer-review process:
One of the interesting questions associated with the ‘hockey stick controversy’ are the relationships among the authors and consequently how confident one can be in the peer review process. In particular, if there is a tight relationship among the authors and there are not a large number of individuals engaged in a particular topic area, then one may suspect that the peer review process does not fully vet papers before they are published.
Wegmen hypothesized that members of the 'cliche' were peer-reviewing each other's work. At the time though, he had no proof of this. Well, thanks to Climategate we now have that proof.

When AGW-skeptics attempt to publish papers challenging the so-called consensus of man-made global warming in a leading journal, the editors try very hard to find a reason to reject the paper. Recently, Professor Richard Lindzen attempted to publish a paper supporting AGW-skepticism in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The PNAS editors were not happy with his choice of reviewers and recommended five additional reviewers. Two of their suggestions were Gavin Schmidt and Kevin Trenberth, who are prominent AGW-alarmists and Climategate conspirators! These people are far from unbiased. After further correspondence, Lindzen received a letter of rejection with four peer-reviews attached. Two of the reviews were from people suggested by Lindzen, which were respectful and constructive, recommending reworking. The other two reviews were from people PNAS suggested, which were more bitter in tone. Lindzen and his co-author wrote a detailed response to their reviews, and revised their paper to satisfy them as much a possible. However, their paper no longer satisfied the length constraints of PNAS and so they had to settle for a journal with a much lower impact factor. The warmists were successful in keeping the paper out.

Now you may argue that everything PNAS did was perfectly justified, and in a way I agree. The problem is not the rules, but the selective enforcement of those rules. As I discuss in more detail with evidence here, pro-AGW submissions are not neccesarily subjected to the same rigor. The Climategate conspirators often reviewed eachother's papers while their critics were given no say and those submissions were accepted. Apparently, such a thing is okay when they do it! Not only that but Phil Jones was even given the opportunity to review and reject papers critical of the CRU's work. Again, the same luxury is not given to AGW-skeptics.

These obvious double standards expose how 'peer-review' in science tends to be biased in favour of the politically correct view. The problem with peer-review in its current form is that it fails to take into account the group think and confirmation bias of the reviewers and journal editors. The implications this has for science are deeply troubling. When the defenders of man-made climate change (or any establishment dogma, for that matter) appeal to 'peer-review', they are really just employing circular reasoning.

It's not that peer-review is bad, it's just not the gold standard people would like you to believe. The process can be corrupted by various interests. And the alarmists know this. After all, that's exactly what they accuse the skeptics of doing ...
"The peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board." ~ Michael Mann, March 11, 2003

"This latest assault uses a compromised peer-review process as a vehicle for launching a scientific disinformation campaign." ~ Michael Mann, April 24, 2003
Yet they would also like us to believe that perversion of the peer-review process is impossible ...
"The whole point about trying to pervert the peer-review process is that it is impossible to do it." ~ Phil Jones, Climate: The hottest year, Nature News, November, 15 2010
So on the one hand they're saying they couldn't possibly be corrupting the peer-review process because the peer-review process is impossible to corrupt, yet on the other hand, they are accusing the skeptics of corrupting the peer-review process. Anyone else see the obvious contradiction here?

Another AGW-skeptic paper that was the subject of an editorial controversy is a 2008 paper by Lord Christopher Monckton entitled Climate Sensitivity Reconsidered. Shortly after that paper was published, a disclaimer appeared above it that read:
The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions.
The very fact that the APS Council felt the need to make it clear which side of the global warming debate they were on illustrates how politically-driven this issue is. Lord Monckton asserts that the paper was in fact peer-reviewed and has even published the reviewer's comments to prove this. However, the APS refuses to remove the disclaimer. For a full statement from Monckton about this controversy, see here.

More recently, a paper by Roy Spencer published in July 2011 has attracted similar controversy. On September 2nd, the editor-in-chief of Remote Sensing, the journal the paper was published in, resigned over the paper. The paper was not retracted, and in fact he admitted that "there were no errors with the review process". His alleged reason for resigning was that the paper supposedly ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. Roy Spencer disagrees:
But the paper WAS precisely addressing the scientific arguments made by our opponents, and showing why they are wrong! That was the paper’s starting point! We dealt with specifics, numbers, calculations…while our critics only use generalities and talking points. There is no contest, as far as I can see, in this debate. If you have some physics or radiative transfer background, read the evidence we present, the paper we were responding to, and decide for yourself.

If some scientists would like do demonstrate in their own peer-reviewed paper where *anything* we wrote was incorrect, they should submit a paper for publication. Instead, it appears the IPCC gatekeepers have once again put pressure on a journal for daring to publish anything that might hurt the IPCC’s politically immovable position that climate change is almost entirely human-caused. I can see no other explanation for an editor resigning in such a situation.
More evidence of peer-review bias comes from the fact that warmist Andrew Dessler was able to successfully publish a rebuttal paper within only six weeks of the publication of Spencer's paper. As Anthony Watts writes:
This paper appears to have been made ready in record time, with a turnaround from submission to acceptance and publication of about six weeks based on the July 26th publication date of the original Spencer and Braswell paper. We should all be so lucky to have expedited peer review service. PeerEx maybe, something like FedEx? Compare that to the two years it took to get Lindzen and Choi out the door. Or how about the WUWT story: Science has been sitting on his [Spencer's] critique of Dessler’s paper for months”.

If anyone needs a clear, concise, and irrefutable example of how peer review in climate science is biased for the consensus and against skeptics, this is it.
It seems likely that pressure was put on APS and Remote Sensing to distance themselves from their respective papers. The Climategate emails reveal how warmists plotted to discredit or put pressure on journals that published papers challenging AGW. In an email dated April 24, 2003, Tom Wigley suggested a strategy for dealing with one such journal:
One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word 'perceived' here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about -- it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.
Peer-review? More like peer-pressure! This is such a damning quote because it illustrates how the scientific community is plagued by group think, and how the alarmists know this and exploit this. In his statement on the APS controversy, Monckton commented on how this group think, peer-pressure and ideological bias in the peer-review arena makes is difficult for skeptics of a politicized 'consensus' to even enter it, regardless of how scientific their skepticism may be:
I have set out this history at some length because it is a not uninteresting example of the difficulties that researchers who question the current orthodoxy face when trying to get their results published.

I am by no means alone in having been treated with what many enquirers have described as unreasonable discourtesy on the part of the learned journals. Too many of the journals, and too many scientific bodies, have taken preconceived stances on the “global warming” question, and now simply refuse to countenance any paper, however scientifically solid, that casts any doubt on their publicly-declared prejudice.
'Peer-review' is the mantra of global warming alarmists and 'science bloggers'. The problem is, the process has been corrupted to the point that it's no longer simply a quality-control filter, but a way of censoring dissent and reinforcing dogma. Rather than have a real and fair debate over controversial topics such as global warming, the establishment simply dismisses dissenters and tells them that, in order to be taken seriously, they must follow what can be best described as a scientific bureaucracy that is inherently biased against them.

For a crash course in the climate change controversies, see my 16-minute video, A Peer-Reviewed Deception.

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