The fallacy of the middle ground

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There’s been quite some climate discussion in the Political Science section of the Guardian lately. Warren Pearce had an invited post in which he asked the rhetorical question “Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?

He makes some good observations about the dynamics of the public debate and the nature of skepticism (e.g. most contrarians don’t deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect, but rather dispute the magnitude of warming that would result from an increased greenhouse effect). On the other hand, he misses the mark in other areas (e.g. he correctly describes how contrarians see themselves but doesn’t investigate how their argumentation really stacks up; often they are guilty of what they accuse mainstream science of).

My main beef with his piece though is his flawed argument of why a well-known contrarian blogger like Anthony Watts, according to Pearce, should be seen as someone who “seeks to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice” and “a ‘mainstream’ sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience”. Why this praise? Because Watts publicly disagreed with the fringe group Principia Scientific who deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect (which was first established in the 19th century).

That is not a logical argument to make though: Regardless of what one may think of Watts, contrasting an extremist with someone who is even more extreme doesn’t make him mainstream. Regardless of what one thinks of Watts, contrasting someone who frequently flirts with pseudoscience with an all-out pseudo-science lover doesn’t free the former from any link with pseudo-science.

That is what I would call the fallacy of the middle ground.

2012Toon05 - Climate Abyss

Dana Nuccitelli described it as follows:

Pearce’s question is like asking whether moon landing conspiracy theorists are the real champions of the scientific method because they don’t believe the moon is made of cheese.

That shows the illogical nature of Pearce’s argument quite well. I tried (rather unsuccessfully) a very dry analogy to take the heat out of the argument by tweeting

3 is smaller than 10 even though 1 is even further removed from 10

Regarding Watts’ position on climate science, Dana correctly states

However, aside from accepting the 150-year-old science behind the greenhouse effect, Watts will latch onto any argument so long as it suggests that the human role in global warming is minimal – an attitude also known as ABC (Anything But Carbon).

In response to my criticism that he had fallen victim to ‘the fallacy of the middle’ Warren Pearce asked me on his Guardian post:

Hello Bart, thanks for your comment – much appreciated. Of course, it would be wrong to argue that someone occupied the ‘middle ground’ just because someone else holds a more extreme position.

The point I was trying to make was not that Watts necessarily ‘became’ a mainstream figure by distancing himself from Principia Scientific, only that such an act was a necessary precursor of him having any scientific credibility (I provide no argument here on whether Watts does or does not have such credibility).

You argue that Watts “frequently flirts with pseudoscience”. If you have time, I would be interested to know why you think Principia were treated the way they were, and whether other ‘pseudoscience’ has been given a more sympathetic hearing.

It seems that he is packpedaling a little bit here, or perhaps I misunderstood him the first time around? I have no beef with the argument that someone who aligns themselves with the dragon-slayers has no scientific credibility, but the reverse (having credibility because of distancing oneself from this fringe group) is not necessarily true. As Dana wrote, that’s setting a very low bar. Pearce sure gave many readers the impression of arguing that Watts has such credibility.

Pearce asks why imho Watts would have distanced himself from the slayers. I can think of various reasons, but I don’t claim to know how (un)important these were for Watts:

- Perhaps he understands enough physics to know that they don’t have a leg to stand on

- Perhaps he accepts basic physics because it’s been around un-falsified and confirmed for so long

- Perhaps he takes his cues from the more scientifically minded contrarians (such as Roy Spencer and Judith Curry), who have publicly chastised the dragon-slayers for having no credibility whatsoever.

- Perhaps he felt that aligning himself with this fringe group (who are criticized by most scientifically minded contrarians) would marginalize him.

- Perhaps he felt that it was a strategically smart move to criticize people with even more contrarian ideas, so that he could place himself (or be placed) in the middle ground (i.e. appealing to the fallacy of the middle by moving the Overton Window). It worked, apparently.

The second question that Pearce asks if other ‘pseudoscience’ has been given a more sympathetic hearing. One example I can think of is the argument that the increase in CO2 concentration may not be human induced after all, but of natural origin. The isotopes of atmospheric CO2 are however as clear a sign as you can get in science that most of the excess concentration originates from fossil fuel burning. This is only marginally less ‘pseudo’ than denying the greenhouse effect. Or trying to explain global warming by curve fitting, also a popular pastime at contrarian blogs, but very befitting of the pseudoscience label.

The bottom line: Ideas that are clearly nonsense do not gain in credibility if someone comes up with an even more nonsensical idea.

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55 Responses to “The fallacy of the middle ground”

  1. dana1981 Says:

    I think your last two suggestions for Watts’ anti-dragon slayer position are the most likely. First, he recognizes that they are obviously wrong, and aligning themselves with the slayers could badly damage whatever credibility ‘skeptics’ have left. Second, sacrificing the slayers makes people like Watts and Spencer look like they’re being genuinely skeptical. As you note, Pearce fell for it.

    It’s a win-win: prevent the slayers from making all the ‘skeptics’ look like complete whacko looneys, and build up some credibility as a seemingly real skeptic in the eyes of folks like Pearce. I’m kind of surprised a social scientist doesn’t see this.

  2. wottsupwiththatblog Says:

    I’ve also become frustrated by some I’ve what I’ve been reading recently and have also, like Dana, got the sense that some are arguing that climate scientists should change how they engage with “sceptics” and that “sceptics” should be taken more seriously. I hope that those making these suggestions have simply been taken in and that what you’ve written here and what Dana is writing in the Guardian will act to convince them to think a little more (and maybe talk to some actual scientists) before deciding to recommend that those on the fringes be brought into the fold.

  3. caroza Says:

    Of course climate scientists should engage with skeptics and take them more seriously. After all, surely you expect your neurosurgeon to discuss his latest technique with the local butcher before he operates on your brain? Anything less would be lack of balance. You don’t know what insights those pig-slicers might come up with!

  4. Victor Venema Says:

    Anthony Watts writes that the Principia Scientific International and the Dragon Slayers are the same: “As readers may know, Dr. Roy Spencer and I have had a long running disagreement with the group known as “Principia Scientific International” aka the Sky Dragon Slayers after the title of their book.”

    The Sky Dragon Slayers clearly do not like WUWT. A recent post it titled The Relentless Pseudo-science of WUWT.

    And this is already a problem for a longer time. In spring PCI wrote: Greenhouse Gas Errors Abound on WUWT Blog: “Because of the stringent censorship policy of Anthony Watts his award-winning WUWT science blog is not a place you will find articles skeptical of the so-called greenhouse gas theory (GHE).”

    Maybe the Dragon Slayers were simply not sufficiently polite to Anthony Watts. He is not very good at handling criticism.

    Watts does not have any problems with other people with the same opinion according to HotWhopper: Anthony Watts has made a big to-do about banning Dragon Slayers from WUWT on the grounds they deny the greenhouse effect. However many of his guest posters also deny the greenhouse effect, so I can’t see why he makes such a fuss about the Dragon Slayers.

  5. Warren Pearce Says:

    Hi Bart,

    Thanks for writing this post, one of the most cogent responses to my piece for the Guardian.

    I have no aversion to back-pedalling if required. However, I am not doing that here. I just think this is a good demonstration of hermeneutics: that is, people tend to interpret texts rather differently depending on their own prior knowledge/interests/beliefs etc. Nowhere is this more ably demonstrated than the comments section of a Guardian climate change article :-)

    All I said was that Watts concurred with the mainstream view of the greenhouse effect, and sought to distance himself from more fringe sceptics such as PS. To quote in full from Watts’s piece that I linked to: “Rational climate skeptics acknowledge that the greenhouse effect exists and functions in Earth’s atmosphere, but that an accelerated greenhouse effect due to increased CO2 emissions doesn’t rise to the level of alarm being portrayed. Yes, there’s an effect, but as recent climate sensitivity studies show, it isn’t as problematic as it is made out to be.”

    My claim is that “Watts’s actions also helped position himself as a “mainstream” sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience”. I am *not* claiming that he *is* mainstream, merely that it is how he seeks to position himself. Perhaps some may not see this as a relevant distinction, but I think it is interesting. In particular, what I find interesting is which actors are included and excluded from the debate and for what reasons, and how this varies across time and space.

    Some commenters have sought to criticise me for not providing an in-depth dissection of how Watts’s claims stack up against the tenets of physics, climate science etc. Obviously this is part of the story, but not one that I wish to dwell on too much in my research, mainly because it’s the subject of so much comment already. Presumably there are people much better qualified in physics than I who can adjudicate on such matters. As a social scientist my focus is on the *social*, what the actors involved are doing, how they are arguing, and what the impacts are for society.

    Thanks again – happy to chat more in future…

    [I have cross-posted this comment on the original Guardian piece: http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/25766702%5D

  6. Eric Says:

    There is an irony here, which is that everyone seems caught up in what Pearce said about specific skeptics and ignored the broader conclusion at the end, which is that the obsession with settling the debate between the warmists and the skeptics may be only a distraction. As Krosnick’s independent polling has shown, a majority of [Americans at least] more or less accept the consensus view, and have for a couple of decades. But that hasn’t gotten us any closer to solving the GHG emissions problem. Why should I care what Watts has to say?

  7. wottsupwiththatblog Says:

    Warren [edit - BV],

    I realise that literally your article was probably quite correct and you, strictly speaking, didn’t make any claims about whether or not Watts really was mainstream. The subtlety is, I think, that Watts is so far from the mainstream, and the science he presents on his site is so easily shown to be wrong, that he really shouldn’t be a player at all. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not that you mis-represented him, necessarily, it’s that you mentioned him at all in an article discussing who might be the true defenders of science. It’s certainly my view, that if we want to clarify where we stand with regards to our understanding of climate science we should be avoiding bringing those on the fringes into the fold and should, instead, be focusing on the professional climate scientists who are the ones who really understand the science.

    As a social scientist maybe you could argue that there is some interest in how such people do get so much exposure and how their views – that credible scientists can easily show are wrong – get accepted by some. That, however, didn’t seem to be the gist of your article. I realise that you don’t want to backpedal but it still seems that you used someone who’s science is incredibly flawed as en example of someone who has properly used the scientific method. Even if you were not intending to indicate that this made Watts mainstream, it’s very hard to see that you were not trying to give someone who really should be marginalised a platform they didn’t deserve.

  8. deminthon Says:

    “He makes some good observations about the dynamics of the public debate and the nature of skepticism (e.g. most contrarians don’t deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect”

    Actually, this claim is factually false. Even at WUWT, most of the commenters are considerably less rational and knowledgeable than Watts. When you go to the denier population at large, few of them even know what the greenhouse effect is, and many of those who do insist that it isn’t possible, violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    From Pearce:

    “Some commenters have sought to criticise me for not providing an in-depth dissection of how Watts’s claims stack up against the tenets of physics, climate science etc. Obviously this is part of the story, but not one that I wish to dwell on too much in my research”

    What is obvious is that, before you suggest that Watts is the real scientist, you have an obligation to dwell precisely on that. I’m going to be as kind as I can you: [edit. BV]

  9. deminthon Says:

    “As a social scientist maybe you could argue that there is some interest in how such people do get so much exposure and how their views – that credible scientists can easily show are wrong – get accepted by some. ”

    This is the sort of work that a competent, intelligent, knowledgeable, intellectually honest social scientist like Stephen Lewandowsky does. I have had to point him out to a few people who have suggested that the reason that Pearce wrote such an appalling, wrong-headed, incompetent, factually incorrect piece is because he’s a “soft” scientist. it’s a pity that the likes of Pearce give social science such a bad name.

  10. deminthon Says:

    “Why should I care what Watts has to say?”

    Because the FUD produced by Watts and other fossil industry-funded folks has a powerful influence on policy (or the lack of it), which is not based on what a mere majority of the populace accepts.

  11. deminthon Says:

    “I am *not* claiming that he *is* mainstream, merely that it is how he seeks to position himself. Perhaps some may not see this as a relevant distinction, but I think it is interesting. ”

    It’s about as interesting as the fact that no number is larger than itself. When the WSJ publishes letters from AGW deniers, it positions them as “sixteen concerned scientists” rather than “a bunch of libertarian cranks, mostly retired and not in climate science fields”. Gee, how interesting.

  12. deminthon Says:

    Oh, and by the way, Peace is prevaricating … an article asking whether skeptics are the real champions of science is most certainly NOT merely examining how deniers position themselves. And for someone who is supposedly interested in that, to have to ask someone else why Watts treats Principia the way he does whether other ‘pseudoscience’ has been given a more sympathetic hearing is way beyond inept … and those scare quotes of his around “pseudoscience” tell a lot about him and his own position.

  13. deminthon Says:

    “Thanks for writing this post, one of the most cogent responses to my piece for the Guardian.”

    Yes, it’s *everyone else’s fault* — so lacking in cogency they are — that they took your piece to imply what it actually does imply. But just take a look at the comments on your article — for instance this one from “Foxgoose” immediately following the (broken) link to your post of Bart’s response:


    It’s very encouraging to see the Guardian taking up a more open minded approach to the over-polarised climate debate.

    The comments here are quite interesting too – with a sharp contrast between those searching for explanations and a middle way against the doctrinaire “with us or against us” mind set of the green activist brigade.

    Maybe a few more intelligent interventions by objective commentators like Warren can begin to untangle the confusion between activism and science which has dogged the climate debate for decades.

    Please keep it up.

    So you see, Warren, *everyone* sees you as a friend of the deniers — those who claim that real climate science is “activism” perpetrated by “the green activist brigade”.

    If that isn’t what you meant to communicate, then you are no good at communicating.

  14. Nichol Brummer (@Twundit) Says:

    Maybe a more interesting distinction to make is the one between those contrarians that actually believe what they say, and those that knowingly deceive the public. For money. And maybe there are those that are somewhere in the middle between these two cases. They are willing to deceive themselves, partly stimulated by payments from their PR masters, partly because they feel uncomfortable with some of the consequences of the truth. They fall in the abyss of being a willing tool of the merchants of carbon (doubt), while also believing themselves.

    Or are they just like the white queen of Lewiss Caroll, who boasted she could believe 6 impossible things before breakfast?

  15. deminthon Says:

    Here’s a bizarre comment from Pearce that shows how confused, ignorant, and/or disingenuous he is:

    https://id.guardian.co.uk/profile/id/11665839/public

    If his “main point” is that “there is too much focus on all sides about what is and isn’t real science”, then why the heck is he writing an article asking whether skeptics are “the real champions of the scientific method” and *arguing in favor of that proposition*, with positive assertions such as “I’d argue sceptics cannot simply be written off as anti-science or conspiracy theorists”? And then absurdly asserting that ” one or two may fall into that category”, which is contrary to any casual observation, as well as *real* social science such as done by Lewandowsky.

    That’s the argument he really makes, and he makes it very badly, very ineptly, and has now backpedalled furiously while denying that he is doing so.

    “a notoriously hard boundary to police”

    And for this he cites an article on **Velikovsky**? If he read it he certainly doesn’t understand it, or understand science. From that article: “Pseudoscience is used to label not the obviously non-scientific, but things that imitate science and do so illegitimately. The imitation happens because science is so successful. Yet it is successful, in scientists’ eyes, only in so far as it manages to weed out the blatantly false theories peddled by pseudoscientists.”

    That’s right — *blatantly false*! Indeed pseudoscience is not obviously non-scientific … but to whom? It’s plenty obvious to practicing scientists in the field and others with a scientific outlook and a basic familiarity with the field, but it is not obvious to the general public, those who are ignorant of and incapable of judging the scientific accuracy of these imitations … people like the AGW deniers and people like Pearce. Pearce *can’t tell* whether Velikovsky’s theories were absurd, and he *can’t tell* how much of the blatantly false stuff that Anthony Watts publishes is real science or not.

    “there is … not enough [focus] on what the social/economic/political arguments are for action”.

    Of course Pearce, being as ignorant as he is, is wrong about this too … *most* discussions about climate change are not held between climate scientists and deniers but rather among everyday people, and this is there primary focus. Though when deniers are involved, whether the focus is on the science or not, they always interject political arguments against action … some variant of “Al Gore and those one world order science hoaxers are taking my tax money on the basis of a scam!”

    But if this really is Pearce’s “main point”, then why the heck didn’t he write about it, rather than an [edit. BV] piece that suggests that the ability of deniers to damage policy isn’t their fault, it’s the fault of “an overly scientised policy process”, and arguing against the notion of “real science as the arbiter of knowledge claims”?

    The tragedy is that policy is not “overly scientised”, it is way under-scientized … the real science says that we should have radically shifted policy decades ago if we wanted to avoid severe unfortunate consequences. Of course science (as opposed to human scientists with human emotions and concerns) cannot tell us *to* change policy, it can only tell us what will factually happen if we don’t. And this is what deniers deny, and this is why we call so-called “skeptics” deniers.

  16. deminthon Says:

    @Nichol Brummer

    Yes, those are the sorts of distinctions that a real social scientist like Stephen Lewandowsky explores … as opposed to someone who would absurdly claim that there are only “one or two” deniers who are “anti-science or conspiracy theorists” — while, amazingly, *citing* the paper by Lewandowsky et. al. who “found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science”!!!

  17. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Deminthon,

    You’re crossing the line of civil dialogue. Please refrain from disrespecting others in your comments. It’s ok to agree to disagree; it’s not ok (at least not in my house) to be so spiteful about it.

  18. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You’re right that people, myself included, interpret your words through their own lenses. Still, people from different persuasions seem to have interpreted your article as providing credibility to contrarians such as Watts (with some applauding you and some criticizing you for that). And re-reading it, that seems to be a factually correct or at least a logical interpretation of your words.

    Indeed, you were not claiming that Watts is mainstream, but rather that he is a mainstream sceptic. But you go on to describe mainstream sceptic in such a way that many, myself included, find overly charitable and not all congruent with reality. You wrote:

    Watts’s actions also helped position himself as a “mainstream” sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience, a brush he had previously been tarnished with.

    Watts’s public experiments provide an example of one more area in which sceptics seek to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice.

    It is not clear, neither from the context, whether this is your description of Watt’s position, or Watt’s self-image. You’re now claiming it is the latter, if I understand you correctly. Why not make such a vital distinction clearer? And why then not providing the view that others (e.g. mainstream scientists) may have of Watts, to provide some context to how he views himself? (isn’t someone’s self-image often overly charitable?) Providing the self-image of someone who you surely know is far removed from the mainstream, gives a very skewed picture, don’t you think?

    I’m not faulting you “for not providing an in-depth dissection of how Watts’s claims stack up against the tenets of physics, climate science”. That was not your goal, and that is not your niche. That’s perfectly fine. But you did chose to qualify Watts as a credible voice with high scientific standards. That’s very far besides how most climate scientists see him. The low bar you set to qualify him as such (or to have him qualify himself without providing context or other opinions) is meaningless and not at all a valid reason for this qualification. Which was my main point of contention with your article.

    As such, your description of the dynamics of the climate debate was quite far off imho.

  19. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Eric, good point re the fruitless obsession of the debate with contrarians (to which I also claim guilty).

    As HBaH wrote:

    The problem of climate change isn’t that handful of climate scientists advocating particular policies, it isn’t distrust of climate scientists and it isn’t a knowledge deficit. It’s a huge, complicated problem that can’t be addressed by climate scientists alone.

    Re the majority of people accepting the consensus view: Most polling data that I’ve seen still indicate a large gap with the much stronger consensus amongst scientists re human causation of global warming.

  20. Warren Pearce Says:

    Hi Bart (& Eric)

    Point taken re the paragraph you quote, perhaps it’s too vague. All I was trying to illustrate was Watts’s interest in scientific method, as demonstrated by the experiment he carried out. He may well be applying that interest unevenly, and I do mention the very real possibility of ‘politically-motivated scepticism’, for want of a better phrase, further down the piece.

    You are right that a lot of people interpreted the piece as friendly to sceptics, although some non-sceptics did not. Including my editor who could hardly be described as sceptic-friendly: https://twitter.com/alicebell/status/362855828253982720

    Eric is of course exactly right about the irony of the reaction to the article. Maybe I should have been clearer on this, but the point was to show how sceptics and their opponents wrangle over what is ‘real science’ and use that category to support their arguments for policy decisions (a lot of this happened in the comments). This is self-defeating, but rather an inevitable consequence of a policy area which has been too dependent on scientific knowledge, and paid too little attention to the social consequences of the policies which scientific knowledge imply.

    That is not to say that I disagree outright with the aim of cutting carbon emissions. On the contrary. However, attempting to base policy overwhelmingly on the science is a well-meaning, but flawed, approach.

  21. wottsupwiththatblog Says:

    Warren,

    That is not to say that I disagree outright with the aim of cutting carbon emissions. On the contrary. However, attempting to base policy overwhelmingly on the science is a well-meaning, but flawed, approach.

    Okay, so technically this is completely correct. Science cannot tells us what to do. It can only informs us about what might happen in the future, based on scientific evidence. That’s completely correct. However, to make an informed decision about policy would – I would argue – require that one considers the scientific evidence. That’s essentially the issue that (I believe) some have with your article. Noone is suggesting that scientists should be allowed in any way to unduly influence policy. The issue people have (myself included) is that your example of someone who has illustrated the correct application of the scientific method – Anthony Watts – is someone who’s understanding of the science (according to most credible scientists) is essentially completely flawed. It is someone who’s view of the science of climate change and global warming (if we wish to understand it) should not be being presented to the general public as a reasonable option by a credible commentator. Watts’s views of the science are demonstrably incorrect.

    Let me make a slightly more positive comment. You have a platform, both through your blog and through the fact that you’ve been given an opportunity to present your views in the Guardian. Your interests are science communication (I believe). If you really want to play a positive role in what could be the most important issue facing us in the coming decades, I would recommend that you spend some time talking to actual climate scientists. Maybe you have done this and have already made an informed decision, but that is obvious from what you’ve written so far. The reason I suggest this is not because I think you should agree with me. It’s because I think you should expand your exposure to this area so as to make an informed decision of your own. If you do this and your views remain unchanged, that’s fine. You have that right. But for a science communicator to apparently be ignoring actual scientists, seems a little odd.

  22. wottsupwiththatblog Says:

    Sorry, was meant to be “that isn’t obvious from what you’ve written so far” in the above comment.

  23. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Hi Warren,

    I don’t think that Watts’ actions regarding the dragonslayers are sufficient as an illustration of his interest in the scientific method. At least not in the context of him applying that interest as unevenly as he does. His decision to distance himself from the slayers may very well have been (partly) strategic, as I hypothesize in my blogpost. And even if not, the instances in climate science where he disses the scientific method are so much more numerous. Taking one instance where he does align himself with mainstream science as a worthwhile illustration, while omitting all the other instances, is a form of cherry picking that leads to a faulty conclusion or at least gives a skewed impression.

    One may equally well find an area in which a dragonslayer accepts mainstream science (e.g. gravity or evolution) and take that as an illustration of their sincere interest in the scientific method, their upholding of scientific standards and them being freed of the pseudoscience brush. That would be a very poor argument to make, wouldn’t it?

    Btw, you’re entirely correct that policy doesn’t stem linearly from the science. That is an important point to make. Too bad that it got lost by being preceded by a poor characterization of some of the main players in the public debate.

  24. Victor Venema Says:

    To add to the last point of Bart. Warren Pearce, you are right that the policy does not directly follow from the science.

    However, this is because there are *additional* considerations.

    For productive discussions on the right policies, it is very helpful to have a joint understanding what may happen to the climate. I find it hard to imagine productive negotiations if a large part of the politicians (act as if they) believe that there will be no or hardly any consequences to increasing level of greenhouse gasses.

  25. William Connolley Says:

    Bart: you are, as usual, extremely gentlemanly; possibly too much so. I have a very poor opinion of Warren Pearce’s piece: see http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2013/08/01/two-opinion-pieces-or-three-if-you-count-james-but-thats-four-if-you-count-me-oh-hang-on-ill-come-in-again/#comment-32958 for details.

  26. Marco Says:

    Warren, does it interest you to know that Anthony Watts has just given yet another “sky dragon”-type figure a forum?

    On the day he was “gobsmacked” about your piece he featured an opinion piece of Tim Ball (one of the ‘slayers’), today he promotes the opinion of one Alan Caruba, who had this to say about Slaying the Sky Dragon:

    http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.dk/2011/02/deconstructing-global-warming-fraud.html

    One almost wonders whether Anthony is making amends for his criticism of the really-out-there cranks. Perhaps he realises he needs them to maintain his audience sufficiently angry.

  27. deminthon Says:

    ” you are, as usual, extremely gentlemanly; possibly too much so”

    Indeed. Why are people engaged in a “fruitless obsession” of debate with Warren Pearce, who brings nothing of value to a discussion about climate change, science in general, or policy? Because what he wrote does such great harm.

  28. deminthon Says:

    As for my previous comments, I would welcome any demonstration or argument that anything I wrote is factually incorrect, including my “spiteful” characterizations.

  29. Bart Verheggen Says:

    deminthon,

    Whether certain adjectives are “wrong” is a judgment call. Regardless of them being right or wrong, I found some of them to be spiteful and asked you to refrain from doing so. Take it or leave it.

  30. deminthon Says:

    “Including my editor who could hardly be described as sceptic-friendly: https://twitter.com/alicebell/status/362855828253982720

    And yet most of the tweets agreeing with her come from “skeptics”, with comments such as “Sceptics welcomed it”.

    “This is self-defeating, but rather an inevitable consequence of a policy area which has been too dependent on scientific knowledge, and paid too little attention to the social consequences of the policies which scientific knowledge imply.”

    This is nonsense for which, as with most of what Pearce writes, he offers no evidence, or none that bears out his view (most of his citations in his article counter the position he cites them in support of). Here’s a good response:

    http://wottsupwiththatblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/watt-about-being-gobsmacked/comment-page-1/#comment-3119

    Rachel isn’t the only one who “had to re-read the last couple of paragraphs numerous times to get the gist” … it’s amusing that, a few comments above, dana1981 and wottsupwiththatblog have an exchange in which they express different views of how Pearce’s piece stands on the question in its title, but neither is at all sure that they interpreted the piece correctly.

  31. deminthon Says:

    “Whether certain adjectives are “wrong” is a judgment call.”

    All questions of fact are, in some sense, a judgment call … but you still haven’t indicated that you think that any of my judgments are *wrong* … and many of my judgments were of a quite substantive nature. Perhaps you could re-read my comments, mentally whiting out the few words that so occupy your attention, and say *something* about the substance.

  32. deminthon Says:

    “His decision to distance himself from the slayers”

    But he has not in fact done so … as Marco notes, he has given them and continues to give them a forum. From the Alan Caruba piece that Marco links:

    “From the earliest days the global warming “theory” was proposed I knew that it was a complete hoax. It never made any sense to me that an element of the earth’s atmosphere, carbon dioxide that measured an infinitesimal 0.0389%, could have an effect on the planet’s climate. Just one of the so-called “greenhouse gases”, water vapor—clouds—is 51 times greater than CO2. ”

    I wonder, is this skeptic number one, or number two, of Pearce’s “one or two” who can “simply be written off as anti-science or conspiracy theorists”?

  33. deminthon Says:

    “Btw, you’re entirely correct that policy doesn’t stem linearly from the science. That is an important point to make. ”

    But, as Victor Venema points out and that comment from Rachel reiterates, Pearce makes it *in the wrong direction*. Pearce doesn’t merely make a point that policy doesn’t stem linearly from science — since no one thinks that, it is not important to point it out — but rather he asserts that policy is *over* scientized, when the reality is that policy, especially policy in re fossil fuels, pays far too little attention to the science.

  34. Victor Venema Says:

    @deminthon. It is not a matter of being right or wrong, but a matter of tone. Your style may be acceptable at HotWhopper or WUWT, but here you are guest in a House of Science and scientists like a less exited tone.

    Furthermore you write way too many comments. The blog OvercomingBias, has an explicit comment frequency policy:

    Commenting frequency: A good rule of thumb is that your name should not appear more than two times in the 10 most recent comments, as shown on the right sidebar. Three times is acceptable on rare occasions. Four times, never. Post authors are of course excepted. To help us enforce this, we ask that you only use one name when commenting here.

    I think this is appropriate everywhere.

    Maybe it is time to start your own blog? Your contributions sound worthwhile.

  35. deminthon Says:

    Pearce writes:

    “a policy area which has been too dependent on scientific knowledge, and paid too little attention to the social consequences of the policies which scientific knowledge imply”

    Does anyone know what he means by that? It *sounds* like a stock denier argument, that carbon emissions policies will have huge economic costs, destroy businesses, rob us of our taxes, etc. Whereas I would think that the “social consequences” have more to do with vast numbers of people suffering and dying from the results of global warming … but that sort of outcome can only be determined by paying close attention to the science, so it doesn’t seem to be what Pearce is talking about.

  36. deminthon Says:

    @Victor I would appreciate a response to the substance of my comments rather than ad hominems.

  37. twemoran Says:

    Why should Watts name even come up when science is being discussed?
    Watts is not a scientist, he’s an anti-scientist that attempts to spread disinformation under the pretense that propaganda is science.
    Any article that can be read to boost Watts’s standing should be seen as an article arguing for baseless propaganda and promoting disinformation. If this wasn’t the intent of the author, the author’s skills have to be brought into question.
    Terry

  38. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Deminthon, quit trolling. You’re on moderation.

  39. Jim McGinn Says:

    Watts communicates in the same kind of wishy-washy rhetoric of warmies.

  40. Eli Rabett Says:

    Now some, not Eli to be sure, point out that Watts has no degrees and at best only a few undergrad science courses. While this in general is not something Eli harps on, as Bart and Victor point out, he in no way thinks as a physical scientist. This may not be obvious to Fred Pearce, but to any physical scientist it is.

  41. toby52 Says:

    Eli,

    This is Warren, not Fred (Pearce). Probably, your comment applies to both.

  42. Paul Kelly Says:

    Without defending Watts, none of the criticisms here relate to whether he “seeks to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice”. The argument that much of Watts’ contrary view of the science is wrong (stipulated) is not germane. Nor is the fact that he is very critical of the methodology of some scientists.

  43. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Paul, I’d turn it around: the argument that Watts upholds those standards (by pointing that he criticized even worse offenders of those standards) is not valid.
    Also check the ‘contradictions’ on sks.
    Pearce made a meta argument and didnt delve into the science. I responded in kind.

  44. Tom Fuller Says:

    Anthony Watts received well-deserved street cred because of his work on the surface stations projects. He’s been dining out on it ever since. His blog has a lot of inaccurate posts written mostly by guest posters.

    I know the man. He does believe in the physics involved in climate discussions. He (like me) believes that sensitivity is low. His guess is lower than mine. He (like me) is not a scientist.

    He is an honest man. He treats people fairly. His 15 minutes of fame got extended because of the importance of the subject that brought him this fame. He is far less than perfect in how he has used that fame. I’m happy to consider him a friend.

    Because of the abuse he has received over the years he is trigger happy about posting material that disputes the consensus. That’s an understandable pity. He did, however, make an important contribution to our understanding of the urban heat island effect with his surface stations project.

    Life is complicated.

  45. Victor Venema Says:

    Yes, the surface stations project is interesting for future climatologists if it is continued. I wish we had something similar for Europe or even the world.

    However, if he is an honest man, I see no reason why he should publish lies on a daily basis.

    He claims the blog is just a side project, that he makes his money with selling weather stations. Thus there is officially no economic reason why he should not honestly report on climate science.

    It might cost him readers, it may mean less guest posts by crack pots, but it would be right thing to do for an honest conservative citizen.

    What is complicated about letting the evidence speak?

  46. Marco Says:

    Victor, Anthony lost any potential of being called honest when he accused NOAA of deliberate fraud and failed to openly apologise. He may have had the excuse that NOAA took his data and published an analysis, but they in turn had the excuse that his continuous claims that the supposed poor siting caused spurious warming, simply was not true.

  47. Victor Venema Says:

    Marco, NOAA also offered Anthony Watts a co-authorship for their paper on the quality of the US station network. Watts refused, with as argument that only 1/3 of the US stations had been classified yet. (Which again shows that he does not understand statistics, the number of stations was more than sufficient for a first analysis.)

    Thus NOAA had no other choice as to publish without him. Given the PR circus around Watt’s surface station website, I fully understand that NOAA did not want to wait an indefinite period before being allowed to write that their data is okay after homogenization.

    Still, the surface stations project could be a useful resource for metadata in future.

  48. Marco Says:

    Fair enough that the surface station project could be a useful resource. But why all the innuendo?

    Now, I know why: if you look at the beginning of WUWT, well before that surface station project, Watts was already attacking the theory that CO2 is a major driver of present climate change.

  49. Paul Kelly Says:

    “Watts was already attacking the theory that CO2 is a major driver of present climate change.”

    This has come to be known as the lukewarmer position. It is insulation against charges of denialism and provides membership in the 97% consensus.

  50. Marco Says:

    No, it doesn’t provide membership in the 97% consensus. The latter explicitly assigns most of the warming of the latter half of the 20th century to greenhouse gas emissions.

  51. Kristian Says:

    dana1981 said:

    “I think your last two suggestions for Watts’ anti-dragon slayer position are the most likely. First, he recognizes that they are obviously wrong, and aligning themselves with the slayers could badly damage whatever credibility ‘skeptics’ have left. Second, sacrificing the slayers makes people like Watts and Spencer look like they’re being genuinely skeptical. As you note, Pearce fell for it.”

    Why would he ever align himself with the slayers if he ‘recognizes that they are obviously wrong’? If he recognizes that they are obviously wrong, wouldn’t Bart’s first two-three points be the more likely explanations for his ‘anti-dragon slayer position’?

  52. Marco Says:

    Kristian, being “obviously wrong” doesn’t stop Watts from aligning himself with people. The slayers are mostly just a bit too much over the top in their behavior. Nonetheless, despite being a “slayer”, Tim Ball still gets the occasional opportunity to post his stuff on WUWT.

  53. Eli Rabett Says:

    What made the surface station project go was that it fell on the demarcation line between cheap digital cameras, storage and GPS. It simply was not economically possible to include digital pictures in the metadata beforehand and even by including it today forward (Eli is sure that this will happen if it has not already) the question of pre 2000 homogenization remains.

  54. Alan Poirier Says:

    So many of you here do not appreciate how you appear in print. I read these comments and what I see is a perfect example of a religion. Deniers are blasphemers. Scientists who are outliers are apostates. It is truly troubling. Science should be skeptical and disrespectful of authority.

  55. Victor Venema Says:

    Alan Poirier, you forgot something. Science is not only about being sceptical, but also about quality, strength of evidence. Without the second part you could not distinguish a fool from a scientist.

    I see you like Isaac Asimov, thus maybe you find it convincing what Asimov wrote about science. We got where we are because of the strong commitment to quality of evidence, without it, science would not progress.

    But you may be right about the outside impression. People that cannot distinguish between fools being “sceptical” and scientists begin sceptical, may see trouble. The only cure for that is to read a book about climatology, if you are able to.

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