Ah, me. It seems that I wrote a post herebouts that was intended to hold AGW-panickers like Michael Mann to something of a standard, that standard being that they should have an obligation to show that their theories are pretty darn reliable and consistent with real world evidence.
In my day job, dealing with air quality science and regulations, that’s the kind of standard I am held to by the EPA, and it seems reasonable to expect that people who expect us to change our entire way of life in deference to a theory should be held to the same kind of standard. In attempting to make that point, I used the word that Mann had used – “proof” – and that it is of course that is the word that Mann’s supporters seized upon to demonstrate what an utter pratt I am.
Which is fair enough. I can take criticism as well as the next guy and, being on the industry side of things in the day job, I routinely get called everything from a liar to a baby-killer when trying to help my clients through the ever-more complicated EPA maze. Hell, feel free to make Jerry Sandusky jokes about me if you wish. I’ve developed a considerably thicker skin over the years than your average climatologist.
Anyway, the point of my particular screed was not to reaffirm the difference between Chesterson’s (rather obvious) point that two plus two equals four because there can be no other result, and the scientific need for proof in our discipline’s eternal search for truth. It was to re-emphasize the fact that offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality is even more important in the scientific sphere. Such evidence is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced.
This particular observation garnered the expected middle-finger salute among many on the left, which (as noted) is both peachy and keen in the scheme of things. Having been raised with five rambunctious siblings, I rather enjoy a heated discussion. But one of the criticisms came from an unexpected, but most welcome, source: astronomer Phil Plait.
Let me begin by saying that (although I don’t know the man personally) I really like Phil Plait and I absolutely love his work. When he started his “Bad Astronomy” website, I was a quick fan. Phil has an obvious passion for science in general and for his particular branch of science in particular. Moreover, he has a talent for communication that many in the sciences lack.
Phil’s work began with pointing out errors in film and television related to science — things like the impossibility of seeing a galaxy actually spinning in Return of the Jedi, or of Bruce Willis actually blowing up an asteroid in Armageddon are examples of his earliest observations. And Phil explained those errors in a very accessible, entertaining manner. His goal, it was obvious, was not to dump on Hollywood, but rather to entertain and create some fun teaching moments.
Over the years, he’s had a number of television appearances and has taken his Bad Astronomy franchise over to Slate. Good for Phil.
I feel (although he will certainly shudder to hear it, since I’m a “denier” it appears) a certain kinship with Phil. (And should I deny being a denier, does that prove the point, refute it, or make one’s head explode in a Kirk vs. Mudd’s Women moment? Just wondering.) Let me make the case that we might be on the same page.
Phil has a passion for science and hates to see it misused. I do, too. In Phil’s case, his day job involves the intricacies of the cosmos and physics — and when he sees those intricacies misrepresented in popular culture he gently (but definitively) corrects the record.
In my case, as a chemist, I see the intricacies of my discipline misrepresented by the “environmental movement” on a regular basis. And the reasons I use my skill as a communicator (however poor those skills may be) to push back against those misrepresentations are my love for science in general, and for chemistry in particular.
There’s a difference in effect of course. If Phil corrects George Lucas for making a galaxy’s rotational speed exceed the speed of light, there’s little chance that a Hollywood lobbying group will dump all over Phil for attacking them. On the other hand, when I go after the Sierra Club or NRDC or other environmental organizations for blowing the tiniest risk out of all reasonable proportions, I get hammered. I’m not complaining mind you – it goes with the territory – just observing.
The way environmental groups routinely magnify risk by orders of magnitude is what dragged me into the global warming conversation in the first place. There’s a formula that environmental groups follow when they do their thing. I’m not saying that they do so consciously (for I believe the vast majority of us are well-intended, but unfortunately some of us are not as well-informed), but rather that in the eternal and entirely human struggle to pursue an agenda, they fall into behavioral ruts that are far too predictable.
I’ll save the particulars of that formula for another post, for this diatribe has gone on too long and I can’t adequately address the quibble-factory that is the Internet on that point without a lot more words than a reasonable entry should contain.
Let me close by asking a favor of Phil Plait: Talk to a skeptic. (Or, if you must, a “denier” or even somebody who denies being a denier). Not me. I’m a chemist and, like you, I’m not a climate expert — just a man who has a scientific background and who has looked at the evidence with interest. I’ve spent as much time at Real Climate and the Sierra Club as I have at Climate Audit and Watts Up With That? (and on and on), and hope you have done the same.
If you’re buying into Mann’s argument that everyone on the “other side” is a tool of the energy lobby, there’s no point in having a conversation — for that’s not really an argument, but is rather an excuse to not have an argument. I’ve interacted with a lot of people on the skeptical side of the aisle and they are – without exception – good, decent, sincere and well-meaning folks. That goes in particular for the folks at Heartland. People like Joe and Diane Bast, James Taylor, Jay Lehr, and Jim Lakely are the sorts of people you’d like to have as your neighbors. That’s the reason I choose to help them out whenever I can and why I have never – and would never – accept a dime from them.
“We know humans are at least partially if not mostly to blame for these increasing temperatures…”
Would you mind honestly getting another perspective regarding how much “partially” means and how much temperatures have actually been “increasing” as of late?
For the record, I don’t think that guys like Mann, Hansen, Jones, et al are evil people. But, I do believe that there is an entirely human tendency to be blinded by one’s agenda, especially when that agenda involves the greater part of one’s life’s work. Hopefully, we can move beyond that, especially if our observations continue to indicate that the worst of the doomsday predictions were anything but accurate.