Science by Consensus-A Discussion

I wrote a post recently about the global warming 'consensus.' My post was 'picked up' by our friend Wulfgar here, and it has sparked some relatively tense debate between Wulfgar and Dave Budge.

It is certainly not my intention to get in some sort of a blog war with Wulfgar (come to think of it, some of my earliest 'discussions' with him were about global warming), but I do think I need to respond to some of his points.

I will start with one legitimate point he makes, although in the debate at hand I don't think it is especially powerful. He is right that I (and the two gentlemen I linked to, Andy Hammond and Jeff Jacoby), do paint with a broad brush. I did not think, though, that one could read my original post to imply that all believers in man-caused global warming ignore the science of it all and simply base their beliefs on scientific 'consensus.' To the extent anyone reads my original post that way, I can only say that it is not what I intended.

That being said, it is not intellectually honest to dismiss my point either. Anyone with a nose in the wind is constantly inundated with reports of "consensus," explaining how the "debate is over." Maybe these are mostly media pundits, but the average Joe doesn't read the scientific literature. To respond that, well, not all believers in man-caused global warming use consensus as an argument, really misses the point. (If one seriously wants to make the argument that our claims of "consensus" as a bludgeon are misplaced, find examples of the "consensus" here, here, here, here, and here.)

Wulfgar then states that my point rests "on the idea that something must be universally accepted in order to be true." Actually, that is the exact opposite of my point. Science is not a democratic process; theories are not validated by vote. Hence my reference to Copernicus.

It is disingenuous, too, to compare Newton's theories with climate change models. As Wulfgar points out, we build bridges based on Newton's theories. Climate change models will not be tested for hundreds of years. If the year were 2200 and we were looking back in time, then perhaps we would have the same empirical support for climate change as we do for Newton.

Wulfgar then takes issue with my jabs at global warming hypocrites. He's right that not every believer in man-caused global warming flies in a private plane or owns two houses. So what? Is Wulfgar really trying to argue that Al Gore is not the poster boy for global warming? Give me a break. But the point is an easy one. There are individuals, including Al Gore, who talk about global warming as though it is the impending catastrophe of the ages, that it will mean the end of man. Yet these individuals fail to treat the "threat" seriously in their own lives. To suggest that, just perhaps, we might consider such an apparent dichotomy when considering Mr. Gore's credibility, is certainly not unreasonable.

Finally, I think Wulfgar and I do agree on one thing. Whatever the reason, it makes sense to limit our use of nonrenewable resources, and to try to limit our impact on the environment. One need not believe in man-caused climate change to go there.


Wulfgar said...

You definitely did catch me in an inaccuracy of my own. While attempting to engage all three of you, I washed you with a brush meant for Hammond and Jacoby. Review the quote I posted. Hammond exactly calls for certainty before action, and as we agree, that will never take place.

My point about 'consensus' was simply this: as long as we rely on a need for consensus, from either side, then there will be no action taken, which is precisely what those who claim "there is no consensus" desire. In other words, the debate is over by default. That isn't intellectually dishonest at all ... that's just simple observation of the facts.

Climate change models will not be tested for hundreds of years.

That isn't true. Climate change models are being tested right now. It was a faulty climate change model that lead to Chrichton's infamous book. It is Climate change models of ocean current that have promoted the popularity of Dr. Gray as an AGW denier, with no regard to those who have challenged his models as inconsistent, and founded on faulty premises. These things are being done, and that's where the real debate should be. But that isn't where it is.

It's now in the court of those who have to do something about it (i.e. the time has come to build bridges) Do we wait for certainty, as Hammond would have us do? Do we fear monger and promote anxiety against 'the other' as Jacoby does? Or de we accept the best models at hand and actually do something, as a society, about the threat that we face.

Waiting for Madonna or Al Gore to prove their commitment to the cause is just another farcicle sideline. It's not that I defend them half as much as that I don't care any more than I care about Lindsey Lohan. Lohan cannot single-handedly corrupt the youth of America, and Al Gore cannot stop AGW, regardless of whether he's a hypocrite for bringing the topic to the fore without single-handedly solving it or not.

Anonymous said...

"as long as we rely on a need for consensus, from either side, then there will be no action taken"

Ridiculous. The "need" for consensus never stops leftwing extremists from pushing their agendas and forcing them down the throats of opposition.

Climate change models seem to be the new hanging chad recounts.

Anonymous said...

Although he didn't intend it as such, the editor of the Kalispell Interlake today has written what is an excellent rebuttal to Wulfar's comments. It can be found here:


What is truly bizarre is Wulfar's claim (if you follow the linkP, is that you, Geeguy, and others, are trying to "silence disagreement..." He doesn't say how you are doing this exactly, he cites no examples. Maybe he's saying this tongue in cheek--his writing style makes his meaning somewhat hard to interpret.

Obviously, the effort to crush dissent isn't coming from your side of the aisle, as the examples cited in this debate have shown.

Anonymous said...

A thought from Walter E. Williams

"The only costs relevant to decision-making are what economists call marginal or incremental cost; that's the change in costs as a result of doing something. That cost should be compared to the expected benefit. Think about pollution. Getting rid of pollution is a no-brainer. All that the authorities of, say, Los Angeles would have to do is to mandate that all pollution-emitting sources shut down. That would mean no driving, no manufacturing, no airplanes, no power generation and no lawn mowing. Angelenos would have perfectly clean air, but I doubt whether they'd agree that it's worth the costs. That means perfectly clean air is non-optimal, and so is perfectly dirty air. The question is, how much clean air do we want and at what cost? In other words, we should compare the additional benefit of cleaner air to the additional costs of getting it.

The idea of weighing the costs of doing something against its benefits are part and parcel of intelligent decision-making. If we only look to benefits, we'll do darn near anything because everything has some kind of benefit."