Saturday, 5 April 2008

Climate change - sceptics versus deniers

Sooner or later in any debate (sic) on climate change, something odd happens. Rather than actually talking about science and facts and stuff that might actually win them the argument (there is a reason for this lack, but we'll come to that later), the anti-anthropogenic global warming climate change start bemoaning the fact they get called mean things like 'deniers' for expressing scepticism about the 'new religion' of 'St Al Gore.' They complain that being called 'deniers' rather than sceptics is demeaning, as it is suggestive of Holocaust deniers like David Irving and his repulsive ilk. Mention is often made of Galileo before the inquisition and others martyred int he man of truth in the face of frightened orthodoxy.

(This rant was brough on by the immediate and predictable response (1) to the news (2) that the global temperature for 2008 may drop slightly, as a response to the el nino warming cycle being replaced by the la nina cooling cycle.)

It's a good trick, garnering some moral authority and suggesting your opponent is a mindless apparatchik. The anti-AGW contender gets to play the underdog. Of course, it doesn't matter that their opponet may not have made any such suggestion, justified or other wise. It's enough that someone one some distant and irrelevant blog might have suggested that climate change doubters are on a par with Holocaust deniers for the doubter to dismiss all criticism and appear hard done by.

So is the charge valid? Is there any space for scepticism in climate change?

Of course there is, and there is plenty of it. Science is an inherently sceptical proceedure. Given their way, scientists would probably still be boiling and re-boiling water, just to check if it still boils at the same temperature, just to be sure. Thankfully, they don't have unlimited funding, so they can't spend their time staring at the thermometer's and quivering with anticipation, and have to do something to justify their existance.

But ther is a difference between legitimate scepticism and denerism. The difference is very simple. The former is based on sceince, the latter isn't. It might appear to have some scientific validity, but even a quick investigation proves that it is phoney. Given the ease that most claims can be dismissed by a moderately dilligent amateur (me), it is not likely they are the product of honest mistakes, but a sign of a more invidious attempt to spread confusion and misinformation. Hence the comparison to Holocaust deniers, who also lie through their teeth, misrepresent and mislead, is justified.

This doesn't mean that everyone who raised a question about climate change or the best waty of respnding to it should be called a denier. Far from it. As long as they are operating honestly and working from careful research, they can be given the honourable title of scpetic. If, on the other hand, their claims can be demolished by a quick check of Wikipedia, then they can probably be dismissed as a denier.

Let me give you an example. Martin Durkin claimed that, "To the utter dismay of the global warming lobby, the world does not appearto be getting warmer. According to their own figures ... the temperature has been static or slightly declining since 1998" (3). In absolute pedantic terms, this is true. The high of 1998 has not been exceeded. It is also, however, irrelevant, as year-on-year temperatures are not critical - the overall trend is. A more accurate picture is gained by looking at the five year rolling average temperature (4), which irons out the vagaries of individual years (which may have been unusually hot for all manner of reasons - there is more at work that human CO2 emmissions) and shows the real trend quite clearly.

So Durkin can be judged a denier. Yes - I am the scientific test of denierdom. This is Lurgee's Paradigm:
If, by taking moderate care and engaging in a little bit of thinking, lurgee can show that a so-called scpetic has neglected to do so, they are a denier.
And if they don't like the association with holocaust deniers, stop using their tactics. Use proper science instead, not lies, misrepresentations and propganda. Only, of course, when they have to fall back on real science, they find there isn't much for them to use.

(And no, Lurgee's Paradigm isn't a case of "Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong." It's more like "Anyone who appears stupider than me in matters of science has to be faking. Because you just can't get stupider than me.")

Unfortunatley, deniers still have to be answered, because their purpose isn't to win the argument by convincing the AGW camp it is wrong - I suspect most deniers know that their case is weak. Instead, they are trying to mobilize public opinion against climate change, create the impression there is still a lot of reasonable doubt surrounding the issue. In their favour, there are two things: climate change theory is moderately complex (though not so much so that a scientific imbecile such as I can't get a grasp of it) and it would be much nicer if it wasn't happening, because accepting it is and doing something about it means changing and limiting our excessive lifestyles.

So its important to rebutt the deniers, as often as they produce their twaddle. To save time, I'm going to compile a list of standard responses to common denier claims, that I can deploy without having to re-write from scratch everytime. Anyone reading this is welcome to use them to rebutt deniers oand to judge whether or not a particular commentator qualifies as a denier, by use of Lurgee's Paradigm.
1 - 'Global temperatures not risen since 1998,' a discussion thread on MSN News discussion forum, started by Kog, 5th of April, 2008. (http://uk.msnusers.com/News/general.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=2437993&LastModified=4675667578890647160&all_topics=0).
I post there as la la.
2 - 'Global temperatures 'to decrease',' by Roger Harrabin for the BBC, 4th of April, 2008. (
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7329799.stm)
3 - "Up against the warming zealots," by Martin Durkin in The Australian, 21st of July, 2007. (
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22105154-30417,00.html)
4 - "Global Temperature" graph, viewed on Wikipedia on 31st July 2007. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Instrumental_Temperature_Record.png)

No comments: