when to doubt a scientific consensus

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby PeterB » Thu Apr 15, 2010 3:17 pm

The cloud of ash from Volcanic activity in Iceland has now grounded all aircraft across northern Europe.....
A spokesman for the UK meterological office said that the effects on climate were impossible to calculate at the moment..
All tips on how to prevent future volcanic activity gratefully received..now wheres that tinfoil hat..
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:53 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:http://www.dhammawheel.com/posting.php?mode=quote&f=12&p=60976&sid=ac1dda49e964bb65df6e19799e0de1d1
No. As I (quite seriously) said in my first response, "it is not about what it says it is about: it is single-minded attack on one branch of science." I could have added, "masqueradiing as something else entirely."
As such, it is a really bad starting point for a discussion about scientific consensus.


no its not an attack on one branch of science, popular consensus is not equal to :quote: "truth" :quote: based on evidence from all possible sources without prejudice, it is attacking blind acceptance based on popular opinion.

I will say popular consensus can easily masquerade as science to the detriment of ALL fields, and this is not limited to Climate, serious science is serious science, no matter what is field is being looked at, no one side should receive preference in any aspect until there is enough evidence to say something is guaranteed to be not the case. popularity does not make something true or proven.

it is a perfect starting point precisely because it is a hot issue, this isn't the first time this has been done, only the first time on climate. if it was some field few except those involved directly with heard of no one would pay attention, and take a closer look at both sides those who are not in the group of people who have access to, and can interpret the relevant data and information first hand, for themselves, need to rely on those who do & can, this means all information and sources of information need to be open for peer review on an equal footing, not just one side because of loudness or popularity.

if a theory has merit no matter what field it is in, it is worth looking at and giving it wide scrutiny and testing, and just because something may be uncomfortable or objectional to some even if that is the majority doesn't mean it is not worth looking at!

you should read number two of the points
(2) When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 16, 2010 2:54 am

PeterB wrote:Spoken like a true believer Kim O Hara..I will leave the floor to you.

Oh, I am a true believer ... no question about that.
I believe I bleed when I have been cut.
I believe I can see things better by sunlight than by moonlight.
I believe that the wavelength of blue light is shorter than the wavelength of red light.
I believe germs cause disease.
I believe pouring more and more CO2 in the atmosphere causes it to trap more of the sun't heat and drives up the average temperature of our one and only home.

Everything I know, I also believe. Don't you?
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 16, 2010 3:00 am

PeterB wrote:The cloud of ash from Volcanic activity in Iceland has now grounded all aircraft across northern Europe.....
A spokesman for the UK meterological office said that the effects on climate were impossible to calculate at the moment..
All tips on how to prevent future volcanic activity gratefully received..now wheres that tinfoil hat..

You don't need to worry too much. The effects are well understood and, in this case, more helpful than harmful (unless you happen to want to fly in to or out of Northern Europe in the near future, I guess). See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/current-volcanic-activity-and-climate/

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Dan74 » Fri Apr 16, 2010 4:12 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
PeterB wrote:Spoken like a true believer Kim O Hara..I will leave the floor to you.

Oh, I am a true believer ... no question about that.
I believe I bleed when I have been cut.
I believe I can see things better by sunlight than by moonlight.
I believe that the wavelength of blue light is shorter than the wavelength of red light.
I believe germs cause disease.
I believe pouring more and more CO2 in the atmosphere causes it to trap more of the sun't heat and drives up the average temperature of our one and only home.

Everything I know, I also believe. Don't you?
:namaste:
Kim


I feel much the same. But I guess it would be more productive if PeterB actually produced a substantive point that has lead him to doubt the evidence for anthropogenic global warming and this could be addressed, perhaps?
_/|\_
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 16, 2010 4:48 am

Hi Peter
In Australia, the term true believer has an altogether different connotation to one you might be after. In Australia, the term does not usually indicate One who is strongly attached to a particular belief or True-believer syndrome, a term used by skeptics to describe an irrational, persistent belief in the paranormal (Thanks Wick-ee poedia)
Instead, the term "true believer" connotes someone who maintains a particular postion against the tide of mass irrationality. My observation is that this connotation arose following the defeat of John Hewson by Paul Keating in the Federal election in 1994. In Paul Keating's victory speech, he referred to his supporters as the 'true believers'.
By telling Kim that she is a "true believer", you maybe inadvertently and sub-consciously validating her position.
Kind regards

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but great rivers flow silently.

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tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:36 am

Hi, Ben,
I did understand that Peter may not have intended 'true believer' to have the meaning I chose to give it. Quite apart from the Aussie sense you mention, he could have meant it with a sneer (though I hope not) or with a smile of encouragement. :juggling: Such things are hard to discern via the plain text.
BTW, just to avoid any other misunderstandings, I'm a 'he' not a 'she'. My gender was discussed at some length :tongue: over on e-Sangha but perhaps you weren't around there at the time.
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:37 am

(1) When different claims get bundled together.

the cause isn't the same as the object itself, an atheist can deny god/s exist but doesn't deny life itself exists.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:41 am

Hi Kim
My apologies as I didn't realise you are a boy! However, I don't think it would have changed my perception of you or my behaviour towards you.
As for Peter - He's a nice guy.
metta

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby PeterB » Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:07 am

I dont know about that Ben...I try. :thinking:
What I find most interesting about the debate is the emotionality attached to it.
I am not thinking here about the debate on this forum only..
There is the thing-in-itself which a reasonably intelligent person can form a view about.
And there really is more than one view.( A point not concedable apparantly to those who accept the hypothesis of man made climate change.)
Then there is the degree of emotionality with which that view is defended.
I find it interesting. It has replaced Christianity as the unassailable doctrine du jour.
It has become a means of identifying "us" and "them". On both sides of the debate.
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby nathan » Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:38 am

PeterB wrote:I find it interesting. It has replaced Christianity as the unassailable doctrine du jour.
It has become a means of identifying "us" and "them". On both sides of the debate.
I'm sure you've noticed that the overwhelming majority of people prefer to take a polarized view of almost everthing as opposed to having any kinds of more nuanced discussions.

I thought the questioning of what constitutes a scientific consensus was more interesting whereas yet another climate change debate was relatively uninteresting. Oh well. In regards to that I'm more curious as to who's interests are really served by the climate change agenda. Half a decade of pollution rhetoric later we have more pollution created day to day then we did when silent spring was in it's first printing. Obviously reusing and recycling hasn't had much impact on that problem overall. I always thought that was a pretty obvious attempt to avoid making any kind of more significant changes to how things are commonly done.

I have the same skepticism about the aims of the climate stuff. I foresee a world half a decade from now when meteorologists still can't predict the weather two days hence much less for the next hundred years but where various corporations and governments are able to make out like bandits by trading in things like carbon credits and green taxes. At the same time I expect the smoke will only be all that much thicker. I don't know how people can breath in places like Bangkok now but they do. People will probably find some way to tolerate an atmosphere that is predominantly carbon monoxide and the rhetoric continues to be increasingly misleading. Many are most of the way there already. It's frogs in a pot again.
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 16, 2010 11:03 am

PeterB wrote:There is the thing-in-itself which a reasonably intelligent person can form a view about.
And there really is more than one view.( A point not concedable apparantly to those who accept the hypothesis of man made climate change.)

Hi, Peter,
Without getting into emotionality and unassailability, I will comment on the point I have quoted.
I was gently pointing to one aspect of it in my 'true believer' post a little while ago: the difficulty of distinguishing between 'belief' and 'knowledge'.
We do 'believe' things we know to be true (e.g. my car is white); we also 'believe' things we cannot know to be true (e.g. the world is ruled by an omniscient deity). In between, there are all the things we can be fairly sure of (e.g. the sun will rise tomorrow), or have a preconceived opinion about but no real knowledge (e.g. ministers are more honest than used car salesmen), or have a wrong belief about (e.g. that the sun goes round the Earth), or accept because we have them on good authority (e.g. germs cause disease) and so on.

In relation to climate change, the facts could be either well established or poorly established.
If they are not well established, there is room for contrary views. Eventually the facts will be sorted from the errors, and there will be only one view.
If the facts are well established, there really is only one view, and anyone propounding contrary opinions is either ill-informed or lying.

You seem to think the first option is correct. As far as I can remember, you haven't given us any reasons for your belief.
I think the second option is correct. I have been keeping tabs on the science as it has developed over nearly twenty years, and I am very confident of its truth. It is now as solid, as good, as convincing, as it is for CFCs and the ozone hole, for smoking and cancer, for just about anything in the natural sciences. Not quite as rigorous as particle physics, admittedly, but that's the nature of the subject.
That's my knowledge and my belief, and I'll hold to it until someone gives me better information, just as I will hold to my knowledge that my car is white and the sun is likely to rise tomorrow morning. It's not a faith-based belief which cannot be substantiated, nor a prejudice which I refuse to examine.
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Fri Apr 16, 2010 12:10 pm

Peter, when you make your foil hat, be sure to construct it around a grid of copper wire, no wider than 1" mesh. This also blocks out the emissions from Project HAARP and the mind-enslaving radiation from the Overlords of Pima Centaurus.

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby PeterB » Fri Apr 16, 2010 12:22 pm

I'll bear that in mind John.

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby nathan » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:54 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:If they are not well established, there is room for contrary views. Eventually the facts will be sorted from the errors, and there will be only one view.


I'm led to conclude that scientism has a lot in common with stalinism. Seems to have built the more effective killing machine, in a global sense. So I'm forced to agree. When all of this 'progress' reaches it's natural conclusion and there is no one left alive, the arguments will all end.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I once conceded the point to a four year old that the sun does in fact move around the earth. I could see no good cause to maintain any disagreement about it. In a similar fashion, I have often conceded the point that God made everything in a week, that everything evolved from nothing and that it makes sense to pay more for 500 grams of cheese than it does to pay the lower price for two kilos of the same cheese.

So it will be relatively easy for me to concede that a couple of decades of playing with computer models is entirely equivalent to a prescient foreknowledge of meteorological events in the far future even in the context of the ongoing inability to accurately forecast the local weather for the week to come. It fits in perfectly with our complete understanding of the distant past and the origins of life earth as we now know it to be as divined by the greatest sorcerers who ever lived from a handful of dust.

In the end, I am entirely certain that the deep inner meaning of all of this will simply be that the same cheese will be costing me many times more than it does now for much less cheese.

I am still waiting to find out how a scientific consensus comes to be. I suspect it is probably somehow similar to the way that they choose a pope.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Apr 17, 2010 2:43 am

nathan wrote:I am still waiting to find out how a scientific consensus comes to be. I suspect it is probably somehow similar to the way that they choose a pope.

Nothing like it at all. :tongue:
You can see it happening over at http://www.realclimate.org/, as I said before.
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby fig tree » Sat Apr 17, 2010 10:26 am

nathan wrote:I'm led to conclude that scientism has a lot in common with stalinism. Seems to have built the more effective killing machine, in a global sense. So I'm forced to agree. When all of this 'progress' reaches it's natural conclusion and there is no one left alive, the arguments will all end.

If you're concerned about the abuse of science, you shouldn't limit your concern to just one side. Here we have a case where certain businesses have a financial stake in what opinion the public has about this issue, and have been spending a lot of money to try to influence that opinion. In this case it's the "dissenters" who keep complaining about how (businesses' notion of) progress would be sacrificed by doing too much, while most climatologists are more concerned about the impact that doing too little would have on human beings and other living things. Businesses are more prone to err on the side of wishing to push this kind of "progress" at the expense of other values. If we want to prevent the kind of disaster you describe, we need to be pushing businesses to exercise restraint where their idea of progress poses risks to others.

nathan wrote:So it will be relatively easy for me to concede that a couple of decades of playing with computer models is entirely equivalent to a prescient foreknowledge of meteorological events in the far future even in the context of the ongoing inability to accurately forecast the local weather for the week to come.

It's only natural that long-term global averages are easier to understand and predict than daily local averages. You also do a disservice to climatologists by calling it "playing" with models.

The piece you linked to tries in various ways to turn failure on the part of the "dissenters" into reasons for us to trust them more! If they have trouble getting their papers published, we're supposed to assume that this is because of bias on the part of journals, so we should distrust the journals and instead regard the "dissenters" as relatively to be trusted. If they have in general a low reputation among mainstream climatologists, we should take this as a sign of bias on the part of the majority of climatologists. If people basing their careers on "dissent" are rewarded by industry but not academia, so much the worse for academia: we're asked to interpret this as "pressure" within academia rather than what it mostly is, a preference for good work over bad. There is an incentive for cartographers to believe that the world is round and not flat, for example. If reporters do not always regard the "two sides" as being on par with each other, this too is supposed to count as a point in favor of the side that (sometimes) is presented (correctly) as weaker. Finally, we are asked to treat statements that there is a consensus as evidence that there is not a consensus!

In point #1 he presents the "pro" side as acting in a way that doesn't seem accurate to me, but without citing specific examples. I really don't see issues being "bundled" like that. If for example someone has a typical opinion of the science, but is opposed to policy changes, I don't see that they are usually branded as a climate denier... more likely they will simply be a Republican and/or libertarian with a different policy preference. Of course it's really quite frequent that people who oppose doing anything about the climate crisis go on to say that they have especially strong suspicions of the scientific work that motivates the interest in doing something.

The industry shills would like for us to think that "dissent" is coming from a wider diversity of sources than it is. One can presumably find people who adopt all these different possible positions on the topic. But so much of it seems the same because the same interests are behind it, especially the people who stand to get more profits if nothing is done.

Point #1 also seems intended to reinforce a certain misconception about how the science has proceeded: by speaking of the need to separate the question of whether warming is occurring from the question of why it is occurring, it helps to convey the impression that the latter question came second historically. But global warming is not an observed phenomenon that went hunting for an explanation; it's a prediction that was proposed around a century back, based on general physical principles, and which was then confirmed.

This is also a problem with his point #8, the reliance on involved models. The main chains of cause-and-effect here are not terribly complicated. Putting CO2 into the atmosphere increases what is there. CO2 absorbs a certain amount of certain frequencies of light (which we know from physics). This adds to the available heat. Heat also causes water to evaporate faster. Water vapor also absorbs a certain spectrum of light. None of this is problematic on its own.

But if this were all that we knew, we certainly would not be entitled to be as confident as we are now. (Indeed, decades ago, climate scientists were much more tentative about their opinions.) That's because it doesn't say what else might be going on to cause the system to behave differently. For example, at one time, the degree to which additional water vapor might increase the cloud cover, and thus reflect more light back into space, was much less well known. (This effect is apparently one reason why the average temperature during the winter has gone up less than the average temperature during the summer; water vapor is more likely to form clouds then.) There are many effects that might be relevant, and the "dissenters" love to remind people of them.

The models are important if for no other reason, because they help to check the extent to which major additional effects might be being missed. For a long time, for example, models that didn't take into account the cooling effect of aerosols (including some pollution) deviated from reality much more than current models, which do recognize this effect. The "dissenters" like to pretend that "alternative explanations" for warming are being given short shrift, but in fact they've gotten every reasonable opportunity to find other relevant effects, whether from observed data or theoretical analysis.

By now, it would be reasonably amazing to find that there is some effect that we don't understand yet, that negates the warming effect of CO2 that I outlined above. Going back many decades, yes, one could easily imagine that some auxiliary feedback loop unknown to us would help to keep temperatures more stable and blunt the impact of gigatons of CO2, but at this point, we have mainly the bare claim that such a mechanism could conceivably exist, without a statement of what it might be. (Some of what we have discovered, in fact, is further positive feedback loops that seem to be making matters worse, not better, like the effect of warmer weather causing arctic tundra to release some of its stored CO2.) It would, on the other hand, be similarly amazing to find that there is some effect that we don't understand yet, that causes the warming that we have observed to occur anyway (and not because of what we are doing). People have said, for instance, maybe the Sun has gotten brighter. But we now have much better evidence as to what the brightness of the Sun is doing, and similarly for the other suggested "alternative explanations". For the "pro" side to be basically wrong would require that both of these somewhat amazing things to be true at the same time. The dissenting side is unable to give good support to either one, let alone both.

For his point #2 the author describes ad hominem attacks on the "dissent" as "predominant". This is nonsense. The "dissenters" spend hugely more of their time talking about the alleged vices of their opponents than do mainstream climatologists. This whole piece is devoted to asking the reader to scrutinize the manner in which scientists go about their business, and not the content of what they are working on.

Similarly, in point #4, he gives us no reason to believe that climate scientists are any more "cliquish" than any other profession of a similar size. If you go looking at "dissenting" material, I think you'll find that a remarkably large amount of it comes from a very small group of people who are quoted over and over. When I see an article on the "dissenters" overall, I expect to see a reference to Lindzen, for instance.

In point #7 we see an example of a common tendency in "dissenting" essays, which is to keep repeating factoids that sound good, even when they were corrected a long time ago. George Will misrepresented this 1992 Gallup poll so badly, that they wrote to his paper to ask for a correction. Supposedly 53% of "scientists concerned with global climate research" "do not believe warming has occurred". But it was actually 66% of the scientists polled saying that global warming was caused by people, 10% disagreeing, and the rest undecided. (Moreover, it's not clear to me that their sampling of 400 members of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society counts purely as scientists "actively involved in global climate research". I would tend to expect the American Geophysical Union in particular to have as members many people with close ties to industry, some with a good understanding of the issues and no particular bias, but also some who would be defensive about research that suggests their employers could be doing harm, and inclined to believe industry propaganda on the issue.)

Consensus was not declared prematurely. Contrary to what many "dissenters" have been saying, in the 1970s there was no pretended consensus in favor of global cooling; a survey of the literature has shown that the predominantly expressed opinion in papers on the topic was that probably the climate would be warming as it has done. As I said, there was more reason for uncertainty back then, but the smart money was already on warming a very long time ago.

These guys love to exploit our desire to be fair and not come to premature conclusions. It's understandable that one expects bias often to result in excessive confidence in conclusions. But there are cases where an unbiased assessment of evidence leads one to a reasonably high degree of confidence, and it's the granting of substantial plausibility to the alternatives that is due to bias. I'm sure you can still find people who think smoking doesn't cause disease or that HIV is not a major cause of AIDS. There are people who write to math departments to dispute this or that fact too.

For purposes of decision-making, whether we are 99%, 90%, or 80% sure that the climate crisis is as described by most climatologists may be significant, but isn't all that crucial. To be staking hopes on that chance that they are thoroughly mistaken would be a bad idea even if there was a 1 in 3 chance of it. What it would make sense for us to do if we were 100% sure is not that much different from what it makes sense for us to do anyway.

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Dan74 » Sat Apr 17, 2010 10:53 am

:goodpost:

Thank you for the effort.
_/|\_
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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Apr 17, 2010 11:18 am

:goodpost:
Ditto ... doubled.
I felt a bit lonely there for a while. :smile:

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Re: when to doubt a scientific consensus

Postby PeterB » Sat Apr 17, 2010 7:06 pm

The BBC news is talking about the disruption to air traffic lasting a long time, perhaps months.
Which of course would bankrupt all European airlines.
Gaia strikes back...?
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