Thursday, March 04, 2010

"I know more math/science than you" specious climate contrarian argument from authority

A local climate contrarian (commenter "ggoodknight" at The Union) has objected to my holding Greg Craven up as someone we can all learn from, saying:
I thought you'd like to know that your favored "risk management" source has one technical degree, Computer Science, whose program at Univ. of Puget Sound doesn't even require calculus, the basis for a true statistics and risk management treatment. My alma mater still requires computer science majors to take the same math, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering and engineering that math, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering majors take for the first two or three semesters.

How about your undergrad experience? How much real major-track math, how much real major-track science? Multivariable calculus? Differential equations? Physical chemistry? Relativistic and quantum physics?

What this fellow doesn't grasp is that

a) We all do risk management, every day; you don't need calculus to know to look both ways before crossing the street, and to argue that you do would be pretty foolish.
b) For a layman to use a "my science/tech" background is more thorough than [fellow layman] X's" argument, when staking out a stance that's at odds with the real experts, doesn't make him more credible than someone who may have a weaker science/tech background but whose views *are* in line with the real experts; and to argue that it does, would be to argue that first-graders should yield to second-graders' pronouncements. (Me, I think the kid would be better off listening to the teacher.)

(And he's evaded my request to provide a peer reviewed references to papers backing his contrarian "it's the sun" argument. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and to argue that the entire body of climate science is clueless is indeed an extraordinary claim - for which I certainly wouldn't give a layman's view much weight.)

Does it matter? Only if you like your children - who will be choosing your nursing home.


Anna Haynes said...

Here's a link to The Union's page for climate contrarian ggoodnight's public messages.
(fyi, I haven't yet tried to see if this URL will work if you're not signed in there.)

And on that page, ggoodnight does brandish an Aug. 2009 paper by Henrik Svensmark et al. in GRL (geophysical review letters), involving something called "Forbush events", as showing that cosmic rays influence Earth's climate.

In the "teach a man to fish" dept, here's how I checked this paper out:

I went to the (science-based blogs) Warming101 custom search engine - - and typed in Svensmark Forbush. Up comes a number of posts, including Still not convincing, from the real climate scientists at RealClimate.

This post walks you through the paper's arguments in some detail, and methodically points out its flaws.

My guess is that ggoodnight was under the grip of confirmation bias and didn't look for criticisms of this paper, and so didn't know of the RealClimate critique, and so didn't read it.

reminder: Peer review is necessary but not sufficient - it's an initial hurdle, then the paper must stand up to critical review after it's published. From the RC critique, this one doesn't.

Note: One of Greg Craven's messages is that you are the easiest person to fool, and confirmation bias afflicts us all; the process of science is how we keep from fooling ourselves.

Anna Haynes said...

Also, a more concisely, here:
It’s 2010 and cosmic rays still aren’t driving climate change