By JR on Sunday, December 18, 2016
Trump has embraced pseudoscience and its deceptive tactics in a post-truth world (?)
Michael J.I. Brown, an Australian astronomer with a big chin, has an amusing article below. As is usual with the Green/Left, it's only when you know what he does NOT say that you can see the hollowness of his argument. He creates a false dichotomy where the only alternatives for exploring knowledge are academic journal articles and public debate between non-scientists.
So what does that leave out: Perhaps the most important thing is the unreliability of what is reported in the academic journals. This is the subject of an agonized debate among academics at the moment after as many as two thirds of journal reports were found to be unreplicable. And one of the factors in that debate is an admission that scientists sometimes deliberately fake their results to make them interesting enough for publication. Clearly, anyone who relies on academic journal articles as a sole source of truth is leaning on a broken reed.
The second thing Prof. Brown leaves out is that not all public debates are ill-informed. You can have fruitful public debates about a topic between people well versed in the available evidence. That occurs routinely at academic conferences. Such debates can be very beneficial in ensuring that all parties have a balanced view of their field. But there have been few debates of that kind over climate. Knowledgeable skeptical scientists and scholars have repeatedly challenged Warmist believers to such debates but the Warmists run away. They know that people like the formidably well-informed Lord Monckton will make mincemeat of them. So if astronomer Brown is mourning the absence of such debates, he can look to his Warmist colleagues for the lack of them, not skeptics.
Monckton has even produced his own climate model, one that has better predictive skill than the pathetic GCMs used by Warmists. Warmists have of course "replied" to Monckton's paper but the fact that the reply is laden with ad hominems tells you how good their science is. Even I could comprehensively debunk their reply if I had to, but some of the things I would say are here. There is a better discussion of the paper here, including a rejoinder by Monckton. Whatever you conclude about Monckton's model you have to see that he is in the great British tradition of the independent scholar, a category of enquiry not acknowledged by Prof. Brown.
And given that there is no monopoly of knowledge anywhere, why cannot discussion of publicly available data be fruitful? Prof. Brown is very hostile to the way in which journalist David Rose pointed out that publicly available climate data showed a drastic recent fall in global temperature. This threat to their beliefs energized lots of Warmists and much scorn was heaped on Roses's article. The findings were said to be unrepresentative. But they were not. Various authors have now pointed out other lines of evidence that lead to the same conclusion.
Prof. Brown below regurgitates the early criticisms of the Rose finding as if it had not been refuted. He fails in an academic's basic duty to keep up with the relevant literature on his topic. And the relevant literature is no longer all in the academic journals. Bodies such as NOAA and NASA regularly report climate data publicly and that data is available to anybody who wants to point out features in it.
And you don't need to look hard to see how contrary to Warmist claims some of it is. I am only a humble social scientist but for most of this year I have been pointing out that CO2 levels observed at Cape Grim and Mauna Loa plateaued for the entire recent warming period -- showing that the warming was due to El Nino, not CO2. That finding has now found its way into the academic journals but you read it here first.
It now needs to be taken into account by Warmists. But they will ignore it as they usually do with inconvenient climate facts. The warming concerned was a huge subject of fake news from Warmists, who almost totally ignored El Nino and preached climate Armageddon. Prof. Brown seems to be much against fake news so how curious it is that he has ignored that bit of very fake and obviously fake news.
Brown's entire rant below is the very cherry-picking he deplores. It is a highly selective coverage of the relevant facts that ignores facts that do not suit him. It is an extended outpouring of abuse with only the most glancing scientific references and a total lack of epistemological sophistication. It is a polemic, a Gish gallop in fact. It is not nearly a scientific treatise. It is Brown who has embraced pseudoscience and its deceptive tactics in a post-truth world
As a scientist, I expect the Trump presidency to have a curious familiarity.
Why? Because the relentless stream of falsehoods and character attacks of Trump’s campaign mainstreamed disinformation tactics that biologists, immunologists and climate scientists have come to know and despise.
Trump has embraced pseudoscience and its accompanying conspiracy theories. He’s tweeted that climate change is a hoax and vaccines cause autism.
Trump has met with Andrew Wakefield, whose fraudulent 1998 study kickstarted the modern anti-vaccine movement. And he has just appointed a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
These pseudoscience communities are nothing new, and they haven’t even bothered to rebadge themselves as "alt-science" (yet).
It’s critical that the broader community learns from the grim experience of scientists when dealing with these attacks. Often scientists failed to appreciate that many public arguments about science are actually political battles, rather than evidence-based discussions. Raw political battle isn’t about seeking truth and reasoned argument. It’s about winning news cycles and elections.
Scientific argument is often methodical, technical and slow. Perhaps this is exemplified by the biggest scientific announcement of 2016, the detection of gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein a century ago.
I’m engaged in a scientific argument right now about how rapidly galaxies form stars. My key points are in a 10,000-word manuscript detailing the data, methods, comparison with prior studies, and conclusions. An anonymous astronomer is reviewing that manuscript, and I expect my article to be published in 2017.
So if commentators or politicians demand "an honest debate" about science, what are they doing?
First, don’t ignore the adjective "honest", with its veiled implication of dishonesty. It can be the starting point for conspiracy theories, with scientists and organisations around the globe manipulating science for no good.
What kind of debate is being sought? Are both sides going to face off by undertaking years of research and submitting 10,000-word manuscripts to scientific journals? Not likely.
Often a very literal debate is being sought, either on television, radio or stage. We find such debates, with their rhetorical flourishes, provocative and entertaining but they rarely advance science.
When Albert Einstein and Phillip Lenard debated relativity in 1920, Einstein wasn’t the clear winner. Perhaps the audience and newspapers that dutifully reported the debate didn’t appreciate that Lenard’s arguments about fictitious gravitational fields were wrong.
Demands for debate – such as the recent call for one by Australian One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts – are often seeking formats where even Einstein couldn’t win an argument about relativity.
They provide theatre and column inches. And critically, they provide equal billing for scientists and those who’ve never truly engaged in science. They embrace false equivalence.
Who am I?
I’m a scientist, but on Twitter people have some strange ideas about who I am. I’ve been accused of being a "warmist" and "alarmist" who is on the "gravy train" with a "bed wetting agenda". (For the record, I prefer people not to wet their beds.)
I’ve encountered these accusations when discussing evidence, and they’re a means of derailing discussion. "Warmist" and "alarmist" are attempts to frame scientific findings as extreme political positions. Creationists can play this game too, preferring "evolutionism" to "evolutionary biology". This tactic falsely reframes the argument as a debate between competing and equivalent ideological positions.
It doesn’t matter if the accusations have no factual basis, embrace conspiracy theories or are insincere. That’s not the point. I’ve been accused of using neo-fascist techniques and neo-Marxist attacks on the same day. Donald Trump has never provided evidence that climate change is a "hoax", with its accompanying global conspiracy of scientists.
This isn’t reasoned argument; it’s disrupting discussion of evidence. It’s about what needs to be true to reject scientists, not what is actually true about scientists.
Scientists slowly accumulate evidence to test their hypotheses, but in political fights evidence only needs to survive the news cycle. Robust methodology, statistics and hypothesis testing be damned.
I was reminded of this recently when the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology tweeted a link to a Breitbart article claiming that global temperatures are falling:
Breitbart wasn’t reporting the findings of a new peer-reviewed study with new data and a compelling analysis, but rather was quoting the Daily Mail’s David Rose.
While the accumulation of data, from satellites and weather stations, shows the globe warming over decades, Rose had a different focus. He highlighted a few months of data, from a deprecated dataset, that excluded polar regions and the oceans, to suggest the "run of record temperatures are at an end". This is misinformation, as there’s no evidence to show an end to long-term global warming.
Of course scientists picked apart Rose’s article, but by then the news cycle had moved on.
Such articles are a feature, not a bug, in the politicised climate debate. In 2008, Bjorn Lomborg in The Guardian noted "a slight drop" in sea levels, and concluded that we "urgently need balance." In 2012, the Australian’s Graham Lloyd reported on sea level falls that supposedly "defied climate warnings." Of course, those were blips in the long-term trend of sea level rise, but those articles did effectively spread doubt about climate science.
Trump has embraced pseudoscience and its tactics, and will be bringing it to the White House. I expect the accusations and misinformation of Trump’s campaign to continue, and like many scientists I will find it all too familiar. To argue with today’s politically expedient statements as if they’re evidence-based and carefully reasoned arguments embraces a false equivalence of fact and fiction. It is a time for true scepticism.