Michael Tobis on irrational skepticism


mt over at CaS (slightly adapted):

Real skeptics do not place irrational disbelief in a different category than irrational belief, because a stubborn evidence-defying disbelief in proposition A is not different from a stubborn evidence-defying belief in proposition ~ A.

In fact, these people (“so called skeptics”) want us to bet the future of the entire world on the proposition that not only is climate sensitivity < 2, but  climate sensitivity < < 2, despite the advice to the contrary of essentially  every scientific body with any relevant expertise. Their irrational attachment to the S < < 2 proposition is something they choose to call “skepticism”, just as the fact that they are shown up in stolen emails as being held in low regard is regarded as scandalous.

Tobis is active on several good discussion threads. I just noted his excellent comment at Curry’s about the question of why scientists have not “publicly spoken out against what they might see as reprehensible behaviour.”

Initially I interpreted this reprehensible behaviour as the attacks on science from so called “skeptics” but apparently what the commenter to whom Tobis is responding, Don Aitkin, meant is the behaviour of some mainstream climate scientists. Which prompts mt to reply that it’s a “have you stopped beating your wife” kind of question. Don Aitkin gives a good and thoughtful exposition of where he’s coming from though (even though I don’t agree with him).

That’s the kind of discussion worth having.

13 Responses to “Michael Tobis on irrational skepticism”

  1. Michael Tobis Says:

    The paste is wrong. I said

    “a stubborn evidence-defying disbelief in proposition A is not different from a stubborn evidence-defying belief in proposition ~ A”

    The tilde (meaning, as I hope is clear form context, “not”) is important; it was meant as a tautology.

  2. MarkB Says:

    I don’t find Aitkin’s responses very thoughtful. Statements asserting consensus positions are not based on science:

    “The statements supporting AGW by many learned bodies and professional organisations are there because those who run the organisations see them as advantageous for the body, not because the science compels such statements. ”

    or referring to Carter and Pilmer as “excellent scientists” (some of the worst arguments I’ve heard comes from them)

    “Not only that, I knew excellent scientists who were sceptical, like Bob Carter and Ian Plimer”

    or mitigation will:

    “condemn the third world into continuing poverty”

    are dead giveaways into some pretty heavy biases, however cloaked in eloquence they might be.

    A number of opinion pieces from Aitkin (and responses) are linked here. He’s been at it for a little while.


    One such article “A Cool Look at Global Warming”

    “The earth’s atmosphere may be warming, but if so, not by much and not in an alarming or unprecedented way.”

    “but new evidence suggests indeed that the growth of cities itself explains a good deal of the apparent warming.”

    Linking to the Watts project…

    “A recent study of one third of the sites in what is arguably the best temperature measuring system, that of the USA, showed that in a majority of the sites surveyed the instruments were inappropriately located — close to buildings, on tar or concrete, next to parking areas, on top of roofs, and so on. The majority of estimated bias errors (and the bias was always towards a higher reading) were
    larger than 1ºC; many were 2ºC. The sites were not even using the same instruments.”

  3. Bart Says:


    Thanks, I changed it back to your original.


    Thanks for the background.

  4. crackpot Says:


    Are we going to discuss Venn-diagrams? Your remark is utter nonsense in itself. There is a large space between the two categories you postulate. The space is defined by your qualification “stubborn evidence-defying disbelief”. This leaves space for additional situations:
    1: non-stubborn evidence-defying disbelief
    2: non-stubborn non-evidence-defying disbelief
    3: non-stubborn evidence-defying non-disbelief
    4: non-stubborn non-evidence-defying non-disbelief
    5: stubborn non-evidence-defying disbelief
    6: stubborn evidence-defying non-disbelief
    7: stubborn non-evidence-defying non-disbelief

    I think I have all permuations correct. If not, there will be someone to fry me.

  5. crackpot Says:


    I missed one:

    8: non stubborn non-evidence-defying non-disbelief


  6. crackpot Says:

    My mistake,

    8: stubborn evidence-defying disbelief

    (Of course)

  7. Tim Lambert Says:

    My exchange with Aitkin might be of interest.

  8. Jeff Id Says:

    Skeptics are scientists are skeptics.

    Maybe a title for a new thread.

  9. Bart Says:

    Note also my reply to Don Aitkin on his politically sounding kind of reasoning.

  10. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Bart, you say ‘that’s the kind of discussion worth having’, referring with praise to the comments Tobis has made at Keith Kloor’s and Judith Curry’s.

    This is part of one of his comments you highlight in your post above:

    ‘In fact, these people (“so called skeptics”) want us to bet the future of the entire world on the proposition that not only is climate sensitivity < 2, but climate sensitivity < < 2'

    Now I don't want to cherry-pick, exaggerate, and so on, but how can it be a discussion worth having with someone, however charming, erudite, and clever, who talks such nonsense as that?

    What does 'BET THE FUTURE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD' mean, for heaven's sake? It's just nonsense. The point of most sceptics, so far as I can see, is that they don't doubt some warming but do doubt that we are doing anything like 'BETTING THE FUTURE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD', as well as doubting that Tobis has an adequate policy reponse if we are.

  11. MapleLeaf Says:

    Lindzen says CS is << 2 C. Now, in all likelihood CS is close to +3 C and maybe even close to +4.0 C, unlikely, but that does not preclude it. And those numbers and that is just for doubling, and we will easily double CO2. Heck, perhaps AR5 should include some runs for trebling CO2 or CO2 equivalent….

    So do we bury our heads in the sand and naively hope that we get incredibly lucky and CS is close to +1.5 C, or do we take the prudent and responsible course of action? Fortunately, most reasonable and informed people have determined the latter course of action to be the most sensible.

  12. Bart Says:


    I can see that you find the phrase “betting the future of the entire world” over the top. It’s not how how would have phrased it. However, in a burn-baby-burn scenario the world will not end (duh!), but the planet will really go through quite a transformation, physically. So if you interpret it a bit less melodramatically than you may have done, it probably sounds less over the top.

  13. Roddy Campbell Says:

    It’s the melodrama and its knock-on effects that I object to, because they frame the debate, and end it at the same time.

    ‘We are endangering the planet’ is a meme that determines the morality of the conversation. No, we’re not, we might be changing the climate which will affect people in different geographies in different ways, very slowly.

    It’s like the Aid conversation – people are dying, we MUST DO SOMETHING. And if you are Dambisa Moyo, the Lomborg of aid, you say why? It looks to me as though your diagnosis and your remedy are both wrong, and will make things worse, more people will die. Stopping aid would in the end be a net gain in lives. And then she’s vilified, because her stance is by definition immoral, because she is suggesting watching people die and doing nothing. She came to dinner at my house the other day, and told me that Bill Gates had jabbed her in the chest saying she had killed millions WITH HER BOOK. Mad, or what?

    But no, it’s not mad, because that happens every day in the climate debate. If I, or more likely Lomborg, write a book saying Kyoto is futile, and it’s not the end of the world anyway, and the money would be better spent on literacy and malaria, we are vilified – you know what happened to Lomborg – because IT’S IMMORAL to talk like that, because of the phrasing of people like Tobis.

    If Pielke Jr writes about energy policy and politics and the iron law of climate, he’s an outcast for the likes of Rabett and that Aussie nutter.
    That’s what Tobis is doing, he’s saying that all the immoral Roddy Campbells in the developed world are selfishly frying the planet, betting the future of poor Bangladeshis and, worse, my own grandchildren, and WE MUST STOP THIS, and anyone like Pielke who says sorry, that policy won’t work, he has to be silenced too.

    And if Curry writes about her increasing uncertainty re the attribution chapters in AR4, she has ‘gone over to the dark side’. WTF?

    And I say to Tobis, like Dambisa would, I’m not so sure of your diagnosis, and even so I think your ‘cure’ will actually be ineffective at best, and kill more people at worst.

    But I can’t say that because I am already immorally betting the future of the planet, according to Tobis, and to some extent you. If I say it people call me a denier, an evil selfish capitalist, and spit at me and cross the street. Why?

    Because the debate has been allowed to be framed as a planet-gamble by the likes of Porritt and Tobis.

    Rant over, but do you see what I mean? I come across this all the time, and it drives me nuts.


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