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Todd C. Riniolo - When Good Thinking Goes Bad
Posted: 31 October 2008 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Let me say that I am pleased that so many people took the time to listen to my interview.  Keep in mind, the book really is about applying the methods of skepticism equally across different claims, which seems to be mostly lost in this discussion forum.  Normally, I would not comment like this on my interview, but I did want to briefly point out two things.  First, In Hunter’s (1914) “A Civic Biology” (the book on trial during the Scopes Monkey Trials) eugenics was portrayed as a scientific method to improve humans (see p.261-3).  This is a fact that “Inherit the Wind” omits… Second, listening back on my comment about 1998 I could have made a better argument (according to the Climatic Research Unit 1998 was the warmest on record; http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/).  I agree with some of what was written about the analysis of the data.  What I should have said, and what I point to in the book, is that in 1998 many said that this was undeniable evidence that global warming was now rapidly accelerating and subsequent years would even be hotter (this is a testable hypothesis).  They were not… Likewise, many seem to forget that the “consensus” during the 1970s was global cooling… In any case, I would encourage the listener to read the chapter as the overall intent was to demonstrate that the methods of skepticism should be applied equally across claims.  If you believe after reading the chapter that I applied the methods inconsistently myself, I would love to hear from you (I provide my email address in the book).

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Posted: 31 October 2008 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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triniolo - 31 October 2008 06:44 AM

Likewise, many seem to forget that the “consensus” during the 1970s was global cooling…

This is not correct, so far as I can tell. There was never a scientific consensus on global cooling. For information about the 1970s global cooling hypothesis check, e.g., HERE:

The National Science Board’s Patterns and Perspectives in Environmental Science report of 1972 discussed the cyclical behavior of climate, and the understanding at the time that the planet was entering a phase of cooling after a warm period. “Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end, to be followed by a long period of considerably colder temperatures leading into the next glacial age some 20,000 years from now.” But it also continued; “However, it is possible, or even likely, that human interference has already altered the environment so much that the climatic pattern of the near future will follow a different path.”

<snip>

The 1975 NAS report titled “Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action” did not make predictions, stating in fact that “we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate.” Its “program for action” consisted simply of a call for further research, because “it is only through the use of adequately calibrated numerical models that we can hope to acquire the information necessary for a quantitative assessment of the climatic impacts.”

This is not consistent with the claim that there was a true scientific consensus about global cooling in the 1970s, nor a consensus that it was anthropogenic. Indeed, the assumption of anthropogenicity tended to defeat the cooling hypothesis (“likely ... will follow a different path.”)

The contemporary scientific consensus on climate change, however, is strong and universal. I suggest checking out the Wiki page outlining this consensus. This is the take-home message:

With the July 2007 release of the revised statement by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate.

Concurring organizations include:

National Research Council (US)
European Science Foundation
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Federation of American Scientists
World Meteorological Organization
American Meteorological Society
Royal Meteorological Society (UK)
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
International Union for Quaternary Research
American Quaternary Association
Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
International Union of Geological Sciences
European Geosciences Union
Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences
Geological Society of America
American Geophysical Union
American Astronomical Society
American Institute of Physics
American Physical Society
American Chemical Society
American Society for Microbiology
Federal Climate Change Science Program (US)
American Statistical Association

If the proper skeptical stance is to accept scientific consensus where it exists, we ought to accept anthropogenic climate change as factual. If in the future some honest disagreement arises from new evidence, then of course we can reconsider. But it is hubristic to assume that a non-specialist will have access to the same data and statistical modeling that has convinced these scientists.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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I appreciate the reply… First, facts are independent of scientific consensus.  Science is the best method to identify facts, but scientific consensus is not the same thing (there used to be a consensus that ulcers were not caused by bacteria…).  Once again, the purpose of my chapter on global warming (as well as the other chapters in part 3) was to emphasize the importance of skepticism across claims (perhaps I provide an example myself of inconsistency, but you must read the chapter to find out).  It least it has been my experience (perhaps I am wrong here) that many people have very strong opinions on this topic via second hand sources, just as so many have strong opinions about the paranormal based upon second hand sources.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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facts are independent of scientific consensus

Then why did you write:

the “consensus” during the 1970s was global cooling

Skepticism is always an important component of scientific inquiry, but it is important to intelligently direct the skepticism towards the weak points, not the strong ones. In the case of global warming, skepticism of the overall hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change is not justified by the evidence. The best target for skepticism, in my opinion, would be the magnitude of the positive feedback effects.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I wrote that the “consensus” during the 1970s was cooling to show that sometimes what is believed by the majority turns out to be wrong or needs to be modified.  In essence, too many people today are confusing scientific consensus with fact.  They are not the same thing, as the history of science demonstrates.  Also, I do not think we disagree on some things as much as you think, but my overall belief that skepticism should be applied equally across claims (both strong and weak) appears to be a major area of disagreement.  However, I do enjoy the debate!
Best,
Todd

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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triniolo - 31 October 2008 07:39 AM

I appreciate the reply… First, facts are independent of scientific consensus.  Science is the best method to identify facts, but scientific consensus is not the same thing (there used to be a consensus that ulcers were not caused by bacteria…).  Once again, the purpose of my chapter on global warming (as well as the other chapters in part 3) was to emphasize the importance of skepticism across claims (perhaps I provide an example myself of inconsistency, but you must read the chapter to find out).  It least it has been my experience (perhaps I am wrong here) that many people have very strong opinions on this topic via second hand sources, just as so many have strong opinions about the paranormal based upon second hand sources.

Of course, facts are independent of scientific consensus. But we aren’t talking about metaphysics here (the facts), we’re talking about epistemology (what is the best route to gain knowledge about the facts). There is no better route to knowledge than following the scientific consensus. Indeed, I would argue that there is no other route to knowledge than by following the scientific consensus.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Mr Riniolo,

Thank you for your reply.  I’m not sure what to make of your citation of the Climatic Research Unit’s claim that 1998 was the warmest on record.  I’ve browsed their site but cannot find the data you’re referring to though on their home page they have a link labelled “Climate Change Myths” which has “Fact 2: Temperatures are continuing to rise”.  Here they say:

1998 saw an exceptional El Niño event which contributed strongly to that record-breaking year. Research shows that an exceptional El Niño can warm global temperatures by about 0.2 °C in a single year, affecting both the ocean surface and air temperatures over land. Had any recent years experienced such an El Niño, it is very likely that this record would have been broken. 2005 was also an unusually warm year, the second highest in the global record, but was not associated with El Niño conditions that boosted the warmth of 1998.

Another way of looking at the warming trend is that 1999 was a similar year to 2007 as far the cooling effects of La Niña are concerned. The 1999 global temperature was 0.26 °C above the 1961-90 average, whereas 2007 was 0.37 °C above this average, 0.11 °C warmer than 1999.

(Source:  http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/myths/2.html)

This point doesn’t concern me that much.  If there’s some fuzziness in the data and 1998 did turn out to be the warmest year of the past decade, the data that NASA has shows that the top five hottest dates on record are also all in this past decade which is much more worrisome.  In addition to this one single measurement, there is a huge body of evidence supporting global warming yet in your interview and now again you dismiss that and grasp a single data point:

What I should have said, and what I point to in the book, is that in 1998 many said that this was undeniable evidence that global warming was now rapidly accelerating and subsequent years would even be hotter (this is a testable hypothesis).  They were not…

Yet again, you act as if this conclusively disproves Global Warming though none of the experts in this area would agree.  When a lay person looks at a single data point instead of the entire body of evidence and believes they have demonstrated that many thousands of experts are wrong based on an “obvious” and cursory examination, this just screams out “crank”.  At the very least, it should give you pause to ask whether you might be making a mistake.  If it’s so obvious to you, it’s equally obvious to the scientists who study this every day.  Why haven’t they dismissed it?

It least it has been my experience (perhaps I am wrong here) that many people have very strong opinions on this topic via second hand sources, just as so many have strong opinions about the paranormal based upon second hand sources.

Well I am not a climate change scientist and nor are the vast majority of the world so have never collected the data myself and am forced to rely on the reports by the IPCC and other groups.  How is this different than my understanding of modern physics, biology, chemistry, or any other field?  I have a BSc but I’m ignorant of much of the research in my own field, this ignorance is a fact of modern life and it necessitates an intelligent use of second-hand sources.  Just because we rely on second-hand sources it doesn’t mean they are mistaken and if the sources are well chosen and you apply sceptical principles, we’re doing as much as is possible.

I’m astonished that you try to link people who don’t turn to primary sources with people who believe in the paranormal.  Indeed, if you look at Ghost Hunters and other paranormal believers they frequently have first-hand experiences and it is their willingness to discard huge bodies of study based on a couple observations which they have made (and on their unwillingness to consider their own fallibility) which leads them astray, not their overreliance on second hand sources.


It has been my experience that people with beliefs that deviate strongly from the scientific consensus pride themselves on their own scepticism.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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For what it’s worth, the story that the scientific consensus was Global Cooling in the 1970s is a myth, spread most often by (surprise) Global Warming deniers.

The supposed “global cooling” consensus among scientists in the 1970s — frequently offered by global-warming skeptics as proof that climatologists can’t make up their minds — is a myth, according to a survey of the scientific literature of the era.

The ‘70s was an unusually cold decade. Newsweek, Time, The New York Times and National Geographic published articles at the time speculating on the causes of the unusual cold and about the possibility of a new ice age.

But Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center surveyed dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles from 1965 to 1979 and found that only seven supported global cooling, while 44 predicted warming. Peterson says 20 others were neutral in their assessments of climate trends.

The study reports, “There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age.

[...]

“People have long claimed that scientists in the 1970s were convinced a new ice age was imminent. But in fact, many researchers at the time were already more concerned about the long-term risks of global warming.

Along with Peterson, the study was also authored written by William Connolly of the British Antarctic Survey and John Fleck of The Albuquerque Journal. The research will be published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Quoted: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/environment/2008-02-20-global-cooling_N.htm

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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One more comment, quickly this time smile


I found the CRU site discussing global temperatures mentioned earlier:

http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/warming/

I don’t want to get into why this group has different data than other sites as I think it’s unimportant.  1998 may have been the warmest year on record as far as I know.  What I want to get at is the notion that it is reasonable to say that this falsifies global warming as Mr Riniolo implies.

The CRU page elaborates on the data getting to the heart of what I think is important and why I think that the focus on a single observation can deceive people into false conclusions:

The 1990s were the warmest complete decade in the series. The warmest year of the entire series has been 1998, with a temperature of 0.546°C above the 1961-90 mean. Twelve of the thirteen warmest years in the series have now occurred in the past thirteen years (1995-2007). The only year in the last thirteen not among the warmest twelve is 1996 (replaced in the warm list by 1990). The period 2001-2007 is 0.21°C warmer than the 1991-2000 decade.

Analyses of over 400 proxy climate series (from trees, corals, ice cores and historical records) show that the 1990s is the warmest decade of the millennium and the 20th century the warmest century. The warmest year of the millennium was likely 1998, and the coldest was probably (but with much greater uncertainty) 1601.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report in 2007 stated:

  ‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’

  ‘Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations12. This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns


All of this is taken directly from the page which contains the data that Mr Riniolo has cited in his radio interview and here again in the forum.  How can you read this and still imply that people who accept Global Warming are insufficiently critical?

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Posted: 31 October 2008 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I’d like to add my own two cents—well, probably only a couple of mils—regarding the “global cooling” myth. I was a grad student in the mid-70s, and I recall a planetary atmospheres course in which the professor discussed this issue in regard to the evolution of planetary atmospheres. He observed that the continuing injection of CO2 into the atmosphere by humanity should eventually lead to warming, but he also noted that, as yet, there was no empirical evidence to confirm the theoretical expectation.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Chris Crawford - 31 October 2008 08:44 AM

I’d like to add my own two cents—well, probably only a couple of mils—regarding the “global cooling” myth. I was a grad student in the mid-70s, and I recall a planetary atmospheres course in which the professor discussed this issue in regard to the evolution of planetary atmospheres. He observed that the continuing injection of CO2 into the atmosphere by humanity should eventually lead to warming, but he also noted that, as yet, there was no empirical evidence to confirm the theoretical expectation.

This confirms the Wiki quote I included above re. the NSB’s 1972 climate report:

The National Science Board’s Patterns and Perspectives in Environmental Science report of 1972 discussed the cyclical behavior of climate, and the understanding at the time that the planet was entering a phase of cooling after a warm period. “Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end, to be followed by a long period of considerably colder temperatures leading into the next glacial age some 20,000 years from now.” But it also continued; “However, it is possible, or even likely, that human interference has already altered the environment so much that the climatic pattern of the near future will follow a different path.”

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Posted: 31 October 2008 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Sorry, I had to run to class so that I was unable to reply in a timely manner (this will be my last reply until after the weekend… no internet at home).  First, the 1998 data at the Climatic Research Unit website can be found by clicking on the temperature graph (you then can download the data).  Once again (a redundant theme), I encourage you all to read the book.  When you do, you will notice that I point out that 1998 is an outlier year because of El Nino!  (I also do not deny that the earth has warmed recently).  Yet in 1998, when anyone pointed out that El Nino influenced the data and it was an outlier, they were dismissed out of hand.  So at the end of 1998 it was not an outlier, but now in 2008 it is an outlier.  Am I the only one who finds some inconsistency here??? Of course, this is what the book is all about.  Personally, I believe the most important part of my book is not part 3, but part 2 which is about why all of us are likely to abandon our skepticism at times.  I did focus on controversial topics in part 3 because I believed it would lead to some interesting debate.  Everyone have a wonderful Halloween, and I will look forward to any further comments on Monday…
Todd

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Posted: 31 October 2008 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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triniolo - 31 October 2008 09:52 AM

Am I the only one who finds some inconsistency here??? Of course, this is what the book is all about.  Personally, I believe the most important part of my book is not part 3, but part 2 which is about why all of us are likely to abandon our skepticism at times.  I did focus on controversial topics in part 3 because I believed it would lead to some interesting debate.  Everyone have a wonderful Halloween, and I will look forward to any further comments on Monday…
Todd

Mr. Riniolo thank you for responding. I previously said in this thread that it is unfair to expect the average citizen to have a solidly informed position on global warming. I cite the remainder of this thead as proof. The topic is big and complex and imagining average people who do not necessarily care about epistemology or climate science to dig in and pour over data points is absurd. You said that it is a problem for people to adhere to scientific consensus rather than facts but frankly getting people to follow the scientific consensus (however imperfect) would be a huge step up for us. It would mean that a) they know what it is and b) bias (such as religion) no longer chained them to ignorance. More than half of Americans would believe in evolution, for example.

But hell, cut people some slack. People have jobs and kids and don’t all want to be philosophers on endless research assignments.

-s

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Posted: 31 October 2008 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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triniolo - 31 October 2008 06:44 AM

First, In Hunter’s (1914) “A Civic Biology” (the book on trial during the Scopes Monkey Trials) eugenics was portrayed as a scientific method to improve humans (see p.261-3).

This however doesn’t mean it’s directly connected to evolution which is ridiculous to people who understand what evolution is. Eugenics is a scientific method, although “improve humans” is perhaps too ambiguous. I wouldn’t be surprised if the text book had some very unscientific content about eugenics. This seems to be an irrelevant conclusion, the book that was on trial about evolution had eugenics in it.

triniolo - 31 October 2008 06:44 AM

What I should have said, and what I point to in the book, is that in 1998 many said that this was undeniable evidence that global warming was now rapidly accelerating and subsequent years would even be hotter (this is a testable hypothesis).  They were not… Likewise, many seem to forget that the “consensus” during the 1970s was global cooling…

Some people say that the temperature of the global climate is related to the total number of pirates. Were all these people wrong? Yes. Are others making the same mistakes on climate change now? Make your case for this, otherwise this isn’t an exercise in critical thinking, it’s an exercise in how many red herrings can you throw at climate change.

triniolo - 31 October 2008 06:44 AM

I wrote that the “consensus” during the 1970s was cooling to show that sometimes what is believed by the majority turns out to be wrong or needs to be modified.  In essence, too many people today are confusing scientific consensus with fact.  They are not the same thing, as the history of science demonstrates.  Also, I do not think we disagree on some things as much as you think, but my overall belief that skepticism should be applied equally across claims (both strong and weak) appears to be a major area of disagreement.  However, I do enjoy the debate!

a) Do you expect that anyone here is going to disagree with you that a consensus can be wrong or need modification?

b) Too many people today use the word “fact” in the context of science in a confused and inappropriate way.

c)  Should we be aiming for “fact”, “equally across claims”? What is a “fact”?

[ Edited: 31 October 2008 10:13 PM by Aj ]
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Posted: 01 November 2008 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I had an opportunity to check my email today, so I thought I would make a brief and final reply (yes, I also have a job and family, so I decided this should be the end of the back and forth…).  I sincerely appreciate everyone taking the time to post on the discussion forum, but at this point it appears that the posts are from people who have not read the book (thus, unless I reprint the book here in the discussion forum, we will keep going in circles).  The theme of the book is why all of us can be inconsistent with our skepticism, and an awareness of this fact can ultimately help all of us be better thinkers.  In fact, if you prefer a smaller version, I recently published an article in the Skeptical Inquirer (The Myth of Consistent Skepticism… http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-03/einstein.html) that may be of interest.  If anyone has any specific questions after reading the book, please feel free to email me directly (I provide my email address in the book and have responded to everyone who has written). 
Best regards to all who have written,
Todd

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