The following paragraph is perhaps one of the most astounding I have ever seen penned by a skeptic. It reads in part: “some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming that Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous.”
Wow, Randi fell for the old “thousands of scientists are against science” trick! First off, I’d like to see the 32,000 signatures (there is no link from the essay). Second, last time I checked, in order to be a career scientist you have to have a PhD, so how come only 9,000 of the signatories did? Did the rest not manage to finish graduate school? But more importantly: were the 32,000 climate scientists? Because if not, then it doesn’t matter how many of them signed the petition. I can easily get thousands of medical doctors (are they “scientists”?) to sign a petition to the effect that evolution doesn’t occur, or an equivalent number of assorted PhDs to express doubts on quantum mechanics, and so on. Having a PhD in a particular field provides no expertise whatsoever in another field, and Randi, of all people, should have known this.
“History supplies us with many examples where scientists were just plain wrong about certain matters, but ultimately discovered the truth through continued research” continues the essay. Another logical fallacy. Yes, the history of science has documented many blunders made by scientists, which usually are redressed by the built-in self-correcting mechanisms of science itself. But to imply that therefore the idea of human-caused global warming is another of these mistakes is like saying “Van Gogh was a great artist and he died penniless; I am penniless, therefore I am a great artist.” It is a non sequitur.
What sort of argument allows Randi to reach his conclusion about global warming? “The myriad of influences that act upon Earth are so many and so variable — though not capricious — that I believe we simply cannot formulate an equation into which we enter variables and come up with an answer.” Really? So Randi doesn’t think climate scientists are aware of the complexities posed by their own discipline? And they should give up building increasingly sophisticated climate models (which, by the way, don’t rely on “an equation”) because he thinks it’s too tough?
And then there is the often lurking ultra-optimism that so many climate skeptics display with no hint of contradiction: “Earth has undergone many serious changes in climate, from the Ice Ages to periods of heavily increased plant growth from their high levels of CO2, yet the biosphere has survived. We're adaptable, stubborn, and persistent — and we have what other life forms don't have: we can manipulate our environment. Show me an Inuit who can survive in his habitat without warm clothing... Humans will continue to infest Earth because we're smart.” So let me get this straight: we are not smart enough to model the changing climate, but whatever problem there is, we are smart enough to solve it. I guess what Walt Whitman used to say is true , great minds are large enough to accommodate contradictions.
But the real damning part of Randi’s essay comes when he says: “I strongly suspect that The Petition Project may be valid. I base this on my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the facts about planet Earth. ... this my amateur opinion, based on probably insufficient data.” This is essentially saying that although Randi has no expertise whatsoever in a complex scientific field, together with very scant information on the specifics of the problem, he nonetheless “suspects” that the overwhelming majority of (PhD-holding) practitioners in that field have made a colossal mistake. So are we supposed to take his position seriously on authority alone (another logical fallacy)? And where does that authority come from? His undoubted ability to expose real nonsense like hand surgery?
Yesterday was a sad day for skepticism because Randi’s essay will now comfort legions of pseudoscientific “skeptics,” regardless of the fact that I’m sure this was not his intention. But what was his intention, exactly? If Randi were Penn & Teller, I would have a ready answer: it is the libertarian ideological bias of P&T that has led them more than once to talk real bullshit to their audiences about issues like global warming, environmentalism, world politics, and economics. But I do not know Randi’s political leanings, so I will not speculate further. My guess is that this is just classic Randi, who is known for occasionally shooting from the hip just to stir the waters a bit, with the honest intention of stimulating critical thinking. Except that these waters have been quite muddied already by big corporations who have been actively engaged in public deception about this issue for years, so that public opinion and politicians are already confused enough, almost to the point of paralysis. I really think this was an uncharacteristically bad target for Randi to choose.
More broadly, however, we need to pause and think carefully about the entire skeptical movement in light of episodes like this one. “Skepticism” in modern parlance indicates a science- or evidence-based approach to the examination of unusual claims, typically in the realms of the paranormal, astrology, alternative medicine and the like. More recently, skeptics have expanded their aim to include some controversial issues in science, under the reasonable position that science itself should not be exempt from critical analysis. Fair enough, except that science already has a large number of professional critics: scientists themselves (remember the peer review system?), as well as philosophers and sociologists of science. Moreover, while critical analysis of claims of the paranormal does not really require professional scientific expertise (indeed, Randi’s own spectacular career shows that the pertinent expert is more often a magician, since wannabe paranormalists often employ trickery to fool the public), actual science criticism does.
I am not suggesting that critical evaluation of science is a matter to be reserved only to people with PhDs. But I am suggesting that public figures like Randi, Penn & Teller, or Bill Maher (the Dawkins-award winner who thinks that vaccines cause autism and who is generally skeptical of “Western medicine”) are doing a huge disservice to both the skeptical movement and the public at large when they step into territory about which, frankly, they are simply not qualified to talk. The role of skeptics who are not professional scientists is to educate the public about critical thinking (Randi’s Foundation being one of the shiniest examples). This is done most effectively through the kind of public outreach — including spectacular demonstrations, tv shows and comedy sketches — that professional scientists don’t do because they don’t have the time and they are not good at it.
But these same people should remember that the mantle of “skepticism” does not provide one license to shoot from the hip and express a cynical attitude about anything and anyone. When we cross that line from positive skepticism into negative cynicism we do no favors to critical thinking. Instead, we undermine the whole notion and make the public as distrustful of serious scientists as they are and should be of Deepak Chopra. The public loses, and the Chopra's of the world run laughing all the way to the bank.
Postscriptum: Randi has just published a clarification of his first essay. Unfortunately, it doesn't really make things much better. He insists that he is not denying global warming per se, but "only" raising questions about the role of humans. But he repeats that he is not qualified to do so, that he still "merely expressed [his] thoughts." That's not good enough. James Randi is a major player in the skeptic movement, and that kind of position comes with responsibilities, one of which is that he really ought not to just wonder aloud about his opinions unless he has put in the time to do serious background reading on the matter at hand. I remain respectfully disappointed.
I'm sure you've seen it, but here's Randi's clarification. That's the cool thing about science/skepticism: it admits error and makes corrections. This was a good lesson for us all.ReplyDelete
Sorry, here's the link.
yes, I've seen the clarification, and frankly, it doesn't really clarify much; take a look at my postscript.ReplyDelete
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Massimo, I must say I am not surprised. Individuals like Randi whose convictions often exceed their understanding (or anybody's understanding) -- which manifests itself quite predictably in the sort of hostility that was Randi's trademark -- have swung to opposite extremes as glibly in the past. Examples abound: Christopher Hitchens, Simon Blackburn, so on.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this post! I too was extremely disappointed and desired something to share with people that fully expressed that.ReplyDelete
Thanks much for this analysis. It helped me better understand how to refute arguments with similar errors in reasoning.ReplyDelete
After reading Pigliucci's post it seems Randi is the more objective and Pigliucci the more biased.ReplyDelete
Pigliucci's astonishing claim is that only scientists should be allowed to criticize other scientists.
I suppose I can't be skeptical about the over-medication of children because I don't have a degree is psychiatry.
But why stop at scientists. Maybe you shouldn't be skeptical of religion unless you have a degree in Theology.
Given the history of science, how can he honestly make this claim. One word should completely dismiss the argument: Eugenics.
It seems to me that many who believe man is causing Global warming do indeed have a religious-like belief in the matter. For me, I'm skeptical. Why? Because those in Earth science have an enormous bias towards finding problems and have been positing doomsday scenarios -- ozone layer, overpopulation -- for a long time.
And liberal nature-lovers, like myself, have a great bias towards finding scientific justifications for our dislike of pollution or anything that defiles the environment -- not to mention anything that sticks it to big business.
That said, I also know too much is at stake to be wrong. I feel it's worth assuming the scientists are right and man-made Global warming is real, even if it's not.
And if it's not, we wind up with a cleaner world and more sustainable energy.
What's the most ironic is some of the defending of Randi, even with people who are critical. That's the problem with putting people on a pedastal, no matter how deserved. We try to excuse their flaws. Randi's post read like that of a creationist 'questioning' evolution. Obviously one canReplyDelete
learn to argue fallaciously through osmosis. Inexcusable, not for the position he has taken, but for the way he has
arrived at it.
Well, come now, you're being a bit hard on Randi, I think (just how does one imply a logical fallacy, by the way? I thought such a fallacy actually had to be committed).ReplyDelete
I don't think the piece was intended to be a definitive statement on climate change. He repeatedly indicated he was expressing an uninformed opinion. Granted, the reference to the 32,000 scientists was bewildering, and he made thoughtlessly broad, conclusive statements, but in the end what more did he do than indicate he is skeptical of some of the more exclamatory statements being made in this area? Is it not permitted to be skeptical regarding such issues?
He may have unwittingly given comfort to "the enemy" but I think there's a certain danger in taking the position that there are certain facts, or truths, or opinions, or conclusions which should not be questioned, especially by someone respected, for fear that others may come to doubt them. We've gone down that road far too many times in the past, to our detriment.
Pigliucci's astonishing claim is that only scientists should be allowed to criticize other scientists.
I suppose I can't be skeptical about the over-medication of children because I don't have a degree is psychiatry.
This is a very peculiar way of thinking of it.
A science, be it climate science or evolution, is not going to be overturned, refuted or corrected by the average-joes, non-climate scientists or non-biologists of the world - we are simply in a much more concentrated world of technology and information for that to happen.
There is nothing wrong with Bob, a mechanic lets say, giving his take from what he's received in information about C02 emissions, but you wouldn't expect Bob's analysis or conclusion to weigh in on the matter seriously, would you?
There needs to be a more responsible measure of skepticism from not only those responding to the skeptic, but the skeptics themselves when criticizing something - on this note I could applaud Randi on reminding his readers of his uninformed opinion, but I am refrained from doing so due to his persistence to then go on and give an uninformed opinion.
He was called on it. I don't see the logic of your defense here.
I don't think you read my post carefully. I never said that *only* scientists can criticize scientists, I just said that those are the most qualified people to do so (and after that I mentioned philosophers and sociologists of science). And Randi is, my his own admission, woefully unqualified to speak on the matter.
it's not a question of positions that cannot be questioned, it is a matter of who does the questioning and on what grounds. Randi, again, admitted he has no expertise in the matter, but he spoke anyhow. That's unconscionable give the prestige attached to his name. Sure enough, plenty of global warming "skeptics" are already using his statement to further their propaganda.
Massimo Pigliucci said "Sam,ReplyDelete
I don't think you read my post carefully. I never said that *only* scientists can criticize scientists, I just said that those are the most qualified people to do so (and after that I mentioned philosophers and sociologists of science). And Randi is, my his own admission, woefully unqualified to speak on the matter."
You may not have said that *only* scientists can criticize scientists, but by saying Randi is unqualified to speak on the matter, you may has well have said it.
I don't think his qualifications have anything to do with the validity of his arguments. A patent clerk is capable of changing physics. There are hundreds of examples of "unqualified" people successfully challenging the scientific status quo. If I remember right, according to Kuhn, the advancement of science often occurs precisely when "unqualified people" participate and bring about a paradigm shift.
I think it's completely fair for you to challenge his arguments, and you made a lot of good points about them. I just disagree with your claim that he is woefully unqualified to speak on the matter.
Putting to much trust in experts can be very dangerous.
It reminds me of an argument I had with a fundamentalist Christian the other day. He basically told me I was unqualified to criticize is religion because I didn't know Theology.
I meant what I wrote, so please don't add stuff to it, especially if I explicitly say that I did not mean it. Besides, it is *Randi* who says that he is not qualified in the matter. Moreover, I never said he cannot, or does not have the right, to speak; I simply said that he ought to have done his homework, which he clearly didn't.
No, Kuhn didn't say what you seem to remember.
The difference between theology and climate science is that the latter is science, the former is fantasy. We do not require experts in things that are entirely made up...
Just to say that I agree with Massimo Pigliucci on this. I just think that everybody should adopt an "humble" position if they are not specialists of a subject, even - or especially because of his prominent position - James Randi. Especially with a subject as complex as global warming...
Nice blogpost, Massimo. Likely the most thoughtful of the bunch I've read on this mess.ReplyDelete
I apologize if I misrepresented waht you said. But I'm not sure how you can claim that you didn't say that only experts should criticize science, when you wrote that Randi is "simply not qualified to talk."ReplyDelete
How else can that be understood? If there are people unqualified to talk doesn't that mean that only qualified people should talk?
You wrote that "The difference between theology and climate science is that the latter is science, the former is fantasy. We do not require experts in things that are entirely made up"
I admit Theology was a bad example. But what about soft sciences? I am not a Psychologist, but I am extremely skeptical of what often passes for "science" in that field. If I wrote a reasoned argument criticizing some aspect of Psychology, would my lack of a PhD really make me unqualified to speak on the matter? (It seems that the PhD process itself does a good job of weaning out free-thinkers and skeptics, thereby insulating the field from criticism).
I guess I'm not going to convince you, but it seems to me if you are worried about people being turned off of skepticism, there's no better way to do it than having the attitude that only experts are qualified to speak.
Sam....the point is NOT that Randi shouldn't speak (even though he's not an expert); rather because of the public recognition accorded to him as a representative of the class, "skeptic", if he is going to voice an opinion, he has an moral responsibility to show that his is a well-reasoned and well-informed skepticism - esp. since it's a terrific opportunity to model what we mean by that.ReplyDelete
I think the main problem with what Randi said is he really just repeated a lot of inaccurate gunk.ReplyDelete
Where I think you go wrong is to claim it is because he is unqualified to speak on the subject - I think the problem isn't that at all, but the fact that he is misinformed and committed numerous logical fallacies and clearly scientifically inaccurate assumptions (his bit about the % of CO2 tending to indicate changing its concentration wasn't a big deal because its so small). "Experts" do this crap all the time, and we needn't troll through history to pull out instances of scientific inaccuracy to prove it.
I've received blatantly wrong advice from every sort of expert I've run into, from lawyers telling me the law is something it isn't, to accountants telling me to violate GAAP without knowing it, to programmers telling me something isn't possible when I know it can be done with but one line of code, to doctors proscribing medication that could have killed my wife.
The danger is in adoption of opinion without critical analysis. We are all human, we all have bias, we all make mistakes, and simply accepting something uncritically leads to a massive pile of gunk in your head.
Running statistics on scientific opinion is a terrible way to form an opinion, relying on experts uncritically because "Hey, they have a PhD..." is a great way to get manipulated, "X did it" is not an argument (it's a guess), and 100,000,000 Elvis fans can, in fact, be wrong.
This goes equally well for "qualified experts" as it does for unqualified laymen like James Randi. No one on earth has done anything, ever, to truly earn a pedestal of uncritical acceptance. You do not merely do yourself a disservice, but you do them a disservice as well.
Randi uses poor logic and bad data, and that's it. He's just a man, his error is no better or worse because he's in the spotlight. Opinions are like...well, you know. The point of skepticism, to me at least, is we must actively try to be mindful of what we think and believe, and no matter how long you practice it you are but one thought away from not doing it.
In closing though, excellant job on picking out many of the fallacies committed by Randi. I did want to point out one thing though:
"In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming."
I'm aware of no warming projections that state we are going to bake. 1 degree, or even 10 degrees, doesn't do that (I've lived in 130F climates, I assure you humans survive in such a situation...barely) - but if sea levels rise, hundreds of millions of people will be displaced within a single human lifetime due to permanent flooding. That is hardly something we can dismiss with a "oh well, lets cut down on smog a bit..."
Exacty, and what Randi modelled was 'fallacy 101'.ReplyDelete
A patent clerk is capable of changing physics.ReplyDelete
That's obscuring the fact that someone like Einstein had a day job while he was really dedicating himself in trying to crack a specialized field.
Someone who dedicates their lives to a subject can certainly have something to say on the matter - even if their day job is a clerk - that doesn't mean this applies to all clerks or that most clerks' opinions are well-informed in physics.
What you seem to be against is labeling someone according to status - as in whether they have letters after their name (like how Randi felt the need to point out a number of PhDs.) This is true in principal, however, in something like climate science, it helps to be qualified and in the field because of the resources needed to do the work and be involved. The computers need, for instance, to do some of the work are quite expensive.
Sigh, Randi has long been a hero of mine.ReplyDelete
1) But *basic science* here isn't that hard to understand: read David Archer's recent "The Long Thaw", written clearly for a general audience, little math. Somebody who knows Randi might send him one.
2) If one' math/science background is a less rusty, read Archer's "Global Warming - Understanding the Forecast." He uses that as a textbook for undergrad non-science majors at Chicago.
3) For the history, read Spencer Weart's fine "The Discovery of GLobal Warming" or just look at the website @ AIP:
4) If you want to know more about dumb petitions, read:
I covered the OISM thing, with lot of pointers.
However, the specific petition focused on there was signed by ~200+ PhD physicists. Such people could read the above sources with little effort ... but there are lot of extra-science reasons that seem to inhibit that. No magic is conferred by those 3 letters. About half of them signed OISM as well.
I'm new to skeptical blogs, having only recently been introduced to the SGU podcast and through that sites such as this one. I normally don't like to be a fence-sitter but this is one particular debate where I find it difficult to come down conclusively on one side or the other.ReplyDelete
In support of James Randi I think it's entirely fair to argue that he should be free to share his views and opinions based on his experience as a rational enquirer rather than a scientific expert.
Obviously the expert contributions of climate scientists should be evaluated preferentially in considering that debate, but I think it's unfair to assume that other critical thinkers (be they scientists in different fields or skeptics) don't have anything of value to add. And to Dr. Pigliucci's credit I don't think he meant to suggest otherwise, although I can understand how his argument might be viewed that way.
That said, I think the counter-argument has some validity. The fact is that climate change deniers -will- use this to support their erroneous arguments from authority, and no amount of prefacing by Mr. Randi to establish his own lack of such authority will change that. The argument from the deniers will be "James Randi doesn't believe in climate change, so why should you?" and once fortified with that preconception, anyone even bothering to refer back to Randi's own blog will find it apparently confirmed.
To that end James Randi's own reknown precedes him, and a little bit of self-reflection should have made the potential for his opinion piece to be exploited in this way quite evident.
So should prominent skeptics self-censor? That's a bit of a pandora's box which I'd prefer to let someone else open; but broadly speaking I think when they're resorting to op-ed pieces outside their own fields of expertise the question of "how can I be misrepresented by this?" should be considered particularly carefully.
"I am not suggesting that critical evaluation of science is a matter to be reserved only to people with PhDs."ReplyDelete
Yes you are.
"Second, last time I checked, in order to be a career scientist you have to have a PhD, so how come only 9,000 of the signatories did?"
And you are doing so by I assume accidentally exploiting an ambiguity in the word 'scientist,' not by my definition but by Randi's usage.
"'...some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming...'"
He didn't say 'career scientist' and you equivocated.
Since Randi is by his own admission, inadequately studied concerning the matter, I'm assuming you would have denied him a right to agreement with the climatologists as well?
All you have stated with this post, is that the under-educated should side with scientists on some particular matter. You predicated this upon one group of men and women, not the reason they use. You made a cultural argument only.
Then you spanked James Randi for his transgression, "That's not good enough. James Randi is a major player in the skeptic movement, and that kind of position comes with responsibilities..." That's not good enough?
While pointing out Randi's fallacies succinctly you missed your own: equivocating, making a legitimate appeal to authority (the climatologists)
into a false one by bandwagoneering, and those ridiculous comments about Penn & Teller, and Bill Maher.
Yes his belief about vaccines is unsound, and what does this have to do with Randi's argument? Nothing. What does his belief have to do with the "meaning" of skepticism? Nothing.
And the whole one PhD can't comment on another's work outside of his field idea? Utterly ludicrous, about as ludicrous as suggesting the under-educated can't use reason in order to escape the clutches of group think.
Not only that but you hold a double standard. I just watched you via youtube, try and authoritatively comment on linguistics. While the comments were brief and in the context of debate, you still (according to you) don't have that kind of authority. I think you and other scientists do; reason trumps categories and degrees.
Hmm, as predictable, some of the comments seem to have been written while the author was experiencing an unusually high peak of adrenalin.ReplyDelete
Once again: I never said, nor do I mean, that only PhD-holding people can talk on a given subject. But if you don't have a PhD in subject X you better do some serious research into subject X before you speak publicly about it.
Moreover, while a PhD is most certainly not a guarantee of infallibility (just remember that creationist Duane Gish has a PhD - in biochemistry), we need to be careful not to fall into the anti-intellectual trap that an advanced degree means *nothing*. There are experts, and statistically speaking they are more likely to get something right in their field than other people (this is true in science as well as in car mechanics). Especially when there is a broad consensus among said experts.
Nobody is talking about censorship, but Randi has a special responsibility in the community because of his high visibility and the prestige that his long career as a skeptic carry throughout the community. And it was *he* who repeatedly stated that he has no expertise in the matter.
As for my references to Maher and P&T, of course they don't have anything to do with Randi, but they *do* have a lot to do with my concern about the fact that an increasing number of people who go around wielding the sword of "skepticism" only to publicly defend inane positions they arrived at through zero critical thinking.
I woke this morning thinking of this issue, mainly the broader perspective.
I certainly stand by my assessment of your blogpost as "Likely the most thought of the bunch I've read on this mess". Myer's has said many of things you have, thankfully, including stating:
~ "I'm a bit disappointed. This was a case where Randi ought to have either a) admitted simple error, or b) recused himself from the argument, citing a lack of information. Either would have been the responsible thing to do."
However, whatever the approach Myer's and others have taken, the broader perspective is mentioned off offhandedly only. This wouldn't bother me so much if I haven't spent so much time the past few years concerned about the skeptical movement.
The day before this happened I post on this blog on the Pick's thread:
~ "You know, the past few years has really given me worry about the future of the power of positive skepticism within my own brethren who apparently have decided to deny the obvious for a "cause", frightening indeed."
Have we not learned? The message I hear the most is we have failed and failed miserably across the board. Statistics are thrown up about the beliefs of the public and used as weapons to not only assign failure, but to bolster whatever approach "they" wish to take and damn the rest (quite literally).
Oneblood's comment is very informative, a classic case really of what's happening. If there's not some axe to grind there, then oneblood, wish I could call you my friend but I don't know you, has some explaining to do.
However, Massimo, I do have a gripe with an undercurrent of what you say. Summed up here I think: "Sure enough, plenty of global warming "skeptics" are already using his statement to further their propaganda." Now, I agree with you wholeheartedly on: "are doing a huge disservice to both the skeptical movement and the public at large when they step into territory about which, frankly, they are simply not qualified to talk."
So, I wish to be understood. To idea the "skeptics" are "using" Randi's argument, so what? Seriously, so the f**k what. Why am I being this way? Think about it, how many times have you over the past couple years had this thrown in your face (in fact, if I may, our face by other "vociferous atheist")?
I just quoted the day before this people from another "atheistic" blog who called you an apologist, that your argument was going to be used against "us". It's a scare tactic founded on emotionalism.
For me, my complaint starts with the fact that anyone, scientist or otherwise, would chime in on this thin statement:ReplyDelete
"Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous.”
I can't comment on that. While there is clear evidence of human activity contributing to CO2 and temperature over an unprecedentedly short time, I don't think anyone can say "chief cause". Does "chief cause" matter? Does Al Queda have to commit to 51% of terrorism before the USA acts? Do you have to be 51% hungry before planting the garden?
The problem here is that this statement is not scientific and therefore any number of Ph.Ds or laypeople that agree or disagree do not matter.
The peer-reviewed literature, the National Academies and other luminaries that understand hypothesis driven science are in consensus of a human component that can be controlled to limit increasing temperatures.
Period. Who cares what anyone believes? It is about evidence, facts and good science. Not opinion.
After reading my comment, please excuse the poor grammar number one, but also my closure doesn't seem to fill the bill.ReplyDelete
It could be misunderstood that I'm drawing to close of a correlation between instances to make my point. This would be a misreading.
I'm speaking solely of the argument itself. Let me give another exmaple. A few years back now Michael Shermer "outed" himself as someone persuaded by the science that points to AGW. Shortly aftward, as is Michael's way apparently, he went at the jugular - Skeptic Society conferences on climate, special issues of the magazine, offering free audio of science lectures on climate change etc. etc. etc. It was clear his indecision on climate change was mute, in fact, before he "outed" himself I had no idea of his position, he was certainly wise in this regard admitting his lack of understanding, here we may agree.
However, while things heated up on the "skepticism - atheism" line, Shermer poked at the "new atheist" on approach. And in one instance brought up climate change. Standing at a podium directly next to Sam Harris and with other luminaries in the audience, he flat out said, look, how one approaches something is only going to show what objective they truly hold. Sam Harris' approach, Michael kindly said, has a particular edge that one can easily assume the goal, it is quite literally in black and white. He reminded others that this approach may in fact limit progress and spelled out why, which to many of course from reading the brouhaha induced by his remarks. Strangely, when observed properly, Harris is in agreement, see a quote by him I just put up two days ago.
Where am I going with this? Well, put it this way, what happens if I say: "we need religious people to help save this planet, they need to understand the science, now". Am I an apologist? Have I stepped into "accommodationism" for a "cause"? What about the accusations against Shermer that in fact was what he was doing? In fact,....... oh, nm.
It's to early for this.. :)
Great post. Period. Thanks.ReplyDelete
The fact that people can agree on an issue (like AGW) despite their beliefs on other things doesn't mean that one is therefore obliged to refrain from criticizing/talking about/challenging those beliefs. Of course religious people are capable of critical thinking - whether it is about climate science, evolution or taxes. I don't see why Harris in your example has to be seen as shrewd (as I think thats whats being implied) because he's asking people to be just as critical in their thinking of religious beliefs as they are in other areas.
And, yes, to not do so intentionally, that is to say, to know the person working with me on something like evolution also believes their god created all life with man in his image and not say anything about it *is* accommodating beliefs with no substantiation or evidence.
Before you react with your gut on that - that doesn't necessarily mean that people shouldn't accommodate ever at all times - but at least call it what it is.
Thank you for clarifying Massimo.ReplyDelete
"...oneblood, wish I could call you my friend but I don't know you, has some explaining to do."
Perhaps "utterly ludicrous" was a bit over the top.
I don't have an axe to grind but, as Massimo implied, it was an emotional reaction to, whether intended or not, seemingly, barely disguised intellectual elitism.
The reason for any emotion whatsoever had nothing to do with James Randi or climate change. I think I perceived Massimo to be "different," consistently rational, and not overly dismissive in tenor to anybody.
Upon reflection, a childish expectation on my part.
His response clarified his position, and it's reasonable. I do not however think his original post conveyed those sentiments clearly.
~ "The fact that people can agree on an issue (like AGW) despite their beliefs on other things doesn't mean that one is therefore obliged to refrain from criticizing/talking about/challenging those beliefs."
Never, once, said otherwise.
Luke said: he flat out said, look, how one approaches something is only going to show what objective they truly hold. Sam Harris' approach, Michael kindly said, has a particular edge that one can easily assume the goal, it is quite literally in black and white. He reminded others that this approach may in fact limit progress and spelled out why, which to many of course from reading the brouhaha induced by his remarks. Strangely, when observed properly, Harris is in agreement, see a quote by him I just put up two days ago.ReplyDelete
I'm commenting on Harris' approach which you seem to disagree with. My apologies on assuming you'd read that.
Randi did, I think, take it too far; his statement regarding his doubt with respect climate change was seemingly unqualified, taken out of context. I understand that someone in his position should expect this to result, and so should exercise caution. In today's world, his later explanation may come too late.ReplyDelete
I understand also that doubt has value only to the extent it is well-founded. But technology is now such that all have access to most information, and the capacity to comment on it, publically and extensively, for good or ill. I don't think telling those who do so who aren't qualified that they should keep their mouths shut, as it were, and heed their betters, or disregarding them, will work or is beneficial anymore. I don't think they'll shut up in that case, but will instead shout louder and longer, and complain about elitism, and be more inclined to distrust the experts.
These days in particular, the more open and responsive one is to criticsm, even when it is unfounded, the better. Contempt isn't endearing, or persuasive.
this article is sort of relevant, and answered some questions for me:ReplyDelete
my biggest question was, and still is, why is it relevant to believe or not to believe in global warming? can one want a healthier, cleaner, more sustainable society without taking sides in this issue?
It may be because I saw him interviewed on some Penn and Teller dvd extras, or it may be because I first starting reading him in Skeptic Magazine while reading Carl Sagan at the same time, but, as much as Rhandi has done for the skeptics movement, I think he's done almost as much to set it back. He is the perfect know-it-all, self-righteous skeptic with superior airs that feeds the stereotype all us skeptics suffer under.ReplyDelete
~ "I'm commenting on Harris' approach which you seem to disagree with. My apologies on assuming you'd read that."
I see. I actually did read your entire post, believe it or not. I commented on what I thought was relevant.
I could go a few directions here. One, the fact that I support open criticism of religious beliefs etc. (obviously so does Shermer, I purposefully did not personalize my example) - Two, you stated: "I don't see why Harris in your example has to be seen as shrewd (as I think thats whats being implied).." No, that's not what I was implying at all. Three, my paragraph was poorly written and I need to thank you for highlighting this fact.
I assume a few things here. One, that Massimo reads my post on occasion and can put a few things together, like my mentioning the quote by Sam Harris from his "The Problem With Atheism" and how it related to my pointing out Shermer mentioning GW in his very cautious remarks. Putting it together is simply an exmaple to underscore my objection to Massimo's concern that GW "skeptic's" are using Randi's argument (which actually read to me very much Bjorn Lomborg's - but, even here I think Bjorn has been more cautious, though a thousand times more pretentious and flat out wrong on occasion). Two, that Massimo, from occasionally being kind enough to read my babble, kind of "gets" where I'm coming from. Three, that the overriding concern expressed by Massimo is shared by me and I only wanted to clarify my objection.
Now, as I noted, I did a poor job in that paragraph and I only have myself to blame for any misunderstandings. However, in my defense I will say that I do actually expect in a way for Massimo to know what I'm basically referring too. That paragraph alone contains enough information to fill out a lengthy comment post.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Oh my God, Massimo, this is one of the best articles you have ever written. You have picked apart so much of the fallacious, pretentious rhetoric of global warming denial.ReplyDelete
Those who deny Anthropogenic Global Warming often accuse those who acknowledge it of simplistic thinking and argumentation. It is their own thinking that is simplistic. They make statements like this and act like they've hit home runs:
"The Earth's climate varies naturally, you can't assume that warming is occurring as a result of human action."
"CO2 makes up a very small percentage of the atmosphere."
"Living things are fundamentally adaptive. There is no reason to be afraid of new circumstances."
There is pretension and then there is just honesty. Honesty is saying that most people are too stupid to contribute meaningfully to any discourse on global warming whatsoever. I am so sickened by James Randi right now that my satisfaction at passing Math 125 is almost totally overcome.
I seriously hope Randi is not headed into the 'just wreck my legacy' type danger that happened to James Watson.ReplyDelete
“Skepticism” in modern parlance indicates a science- or evidence-based approach to the examination of unusual claims
Technically you are quite right, but commonly people say "You may be right but I am skeptical" is a polite way of saying "I call bullshit on that". Clearly these days people are way overfond of calling bullshit on this that and the other. It's a social disease.
Just ran across a piece by Stewart Brand, specifically referring to climate change but more generally relevant:
The calamatists and denialists are primarily political figures, with firm ideological loyalties, whereas the warners and skeptics are primarily scientists, guided by ever-changing evidence.
(There's Stewart using "skeptic" in the sense of "people who don't think the warners are right." Be that as it may....)
The real question about climate change is, "What shall we do about it?", and that is a political question, and therefore needs "a broad social consensus", that is to say a decision of not just specialists, but other-specialists and even the uneducated. It won't do to say "most people are too stupid to contribute meaningfully to any discourse on global warming whatsoever".
If everybody-we are to make a reasonable decision about allocating scarce resources, the first thing that needs to happen is get the noise level down. Stewart is missing a necessary fifth class... don't know what to call it... people who can say "I don't know if I understand you, but you may be right... can you say more?"
Good luck with that, eh?
Hi Massimo, I was not sure where else to leave this comment, and don't want to go off topic; but I was reading your essay "On the Moon" (Thinking about science) and it appears that the second page got mixed up with another essay about the Loch Ness monster. Is there another link I could trouble you for to finish the rest of the essay?ReplyDelete
It is excellent, by the way! Thanks, Luke.
Test post for changing profile.ReplyDelete
Seems Luke and I share a great name (named after St. Luke I assume? Raised Catholic also, Luke?).
If this works, me, Luke, will appear as Luke R. Vogel with a picture to help further.
thanks for noticing the problem with the Moon article. I'll try to fix it, though I don't think I have the magazine around to rescan the second page. Stay tuned...
Dr. Bob Ironic,ReplyDelete
Personally, I think we may need to be careful here in worrying about such things. In a way this relates to my minor objection to something Massimo referred to (it is only minor, I hope I didn't upset anyone with my objection).
James Watson is a good example. There's others as well. Take for instance, Antony Flew, as what I consider an extreme example since he went from atheist to deist while recognized as offering some of the strongest atheist arguments to date.
For him he was dissected down to a senile old man taken advantage of by an evangelical Christian.
But, there's others as well. Take a good reading of Richard Dawkins' remarks toward E.O. Wilson in conjunction with D.S. Wilson as co-authors of a paper, "Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology" in the Quarterly Review of Biology.
Basically Richard is saying that E.O. is being taken advantage and further is susceptible because of what Richard considers previous lapses in offering fuller support for different theories. D.S. Wilson responded stating:
~ "Dawkins acts as if he is the No. 2 monkey, kowtowing to the No. 1 monkey (Ed) while dishing it out to the No. 3 monkey (me)! As Ed commented to me after reading Dawkins' comment, "What does he think--that you slipped me a Mickey?"
Response to Richard's remarks by supporters of his position suggested the "senile" and "taking advantage of" route.
Recently Paul Kurtz has found himself in a similar position. For whatever reason Paul has seen fit to chime in on an idea of "fundamentalist atheist" (there's plenty of discussion elsewhere on this so I don't wish to discuss it here on this thread). However, scan around the blogs and comments and you'll surely find as I have charges of "old man/senile", "resentful", being "taken advantage of" (if memory servers right a commenter suggested that finger points to his son).
Martin Gardner began to have this problem come his way not long ago. Normally open about his Fideism, though nothing he ever spread around like it mattered, but suddenly when a push came a few years ago that "skepticism = atheism" etc. etc., the question arose of his years, his "old guard" ways, and the "new way". His reputation unexpectedly has taken a hit.
There's others examples as well. My point here is we must be careful in assigning levels of significance to such cases.
James Randi is fine. I had a gripe about Randi for a year or so (still do to some extent) over Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith. If there was ever a person to speak on how Harris portrayed the work of Radin, Sheldrake and others it was Randi and mainstream science in general in regards to their work, it was James Randi. However, he has admitted to staying silent on purpose for about two years on the issue though being fuller away of the problem. He says he liked the approach to religion in the book more than he wished to dampen it's impact by being openly skeptical of claims within. That's a sad commentary and speaks poorly of the skeptical movement in general. It is indeed part of what worries me now.
So, lets all take a deep breath. Not worry to much about reputations and stealth tactics of the "enemy".
I'd like to dig into this further with regards to the release of the new Harris poll on beliefs and charges consistently made by Jerry "The 900 Foot Jesus" Coyne. :)
To stay on topic, I am following the discussion and learning, and enjoying.ReplyDelete
Off Topic to Luke Vogel; Hello! My dad picked it because he liked the movie Cool Hand Luke; sorry. *smile*
Oh yes, and many thanks to M. for your writing and your help!ReplyDelete
Ah, that's terrific. I've spent a good of my life with people associating my name with that movie and countless times I've heard: "Luke, I am your father".
*Correction* to my last post:
A sentence in last full paragraph should read:
~ 'However, he has admitted to staying silent on purpose for about two years on the issue though being *fully aware* of the problem.
Sam, I think you will enjoy/appreciate my little flowchart here: http://platosbeard.org/archives/562 ;-). No reference to our open-minded host intended (in the flowchart).ReplyDelete
Roy speaks of Randi making his bones and [some of] us picking his bones -- I have no problem with such a characterisation. Arrogant white men who go strutting around the world showing off magic tricks are essentially fighting dirty. As such they are a net negative to human understanding even if a large part of the issues and ideas they claim to defend are legitimate and serve the purpose of expanding understanding -- and fair game for bone-picking. The same is true of the New Atheists. There is a liberal, educated and well-off segment that finds pleasure in their antics (and that is fine, we all need our catharsis) but few other causes are advanced.ReplyDelete
I only kind of skimmed the comments but I don't think anybody posted the link to the Petition Project.
I pretty much had the same opinion you had when I heard about and was reaffirmed when I saw the site. I guess I should care what a man with a B.S. in Engineering says about global warming.
The implied epistemology in this post is interesting; if a group of scientists who study a field makes a pronouncement, that pronouncement is true.ReplyDelete
Of course, this poses a problem. There are fields with either internal consistency or legions of explanations for the contradictions that are clearly invalid. The ideal example (mentioned on this thread) is theology. Theologians certify new theologians. Theologians all agree on the validity of theology. This seems to be an unsolvable problem. Fortunately, you cut through this quite neatly:
The difference between theology and climate science is that the latter is science, the former is fantasy. We do not require experts in things that are entirely made up...
The question is, how did you decide that theology is nonsense and climate science is science? Has climate science made testable predictions? Has theology? Climate scientists and theologians would both claim yes.
My method for deciding that theology is nonsense is something close to this:
1) Do the producers of the field's output actively conspire with one another to ensure that "heretical" opinions do not gain an official seal of approval?
2) Do the producers of the field's output gain power or influence or money if they produce the correct results and lose power, influence, or money if they do not? Who directs the funding? Do those people have an interest in the outcomes?
3) Truth is independently verifiable; lies have to be coordinated. Does a field have a hidden network of theoreticians to dispense the party line? Does this network control the organs of official publication?
4) Content of claims.
I'd like to know what your process is for telling sense from nonsense.
For 1-4 there are serious and strikingly similar problems for climate science as well as theology.
it is a gross misreading of my post to claim that my "implied epistemology" is the one you outline, and an intellectual joke to state that climate science is on par with theology. Plenty of people have written on how to separate sense from nonsense, my full take will be available soon:
I have read some of the AGW “deniers/skeptic’s blogs. If you are an academic statistician, you would know some of the posts do not explain the statistical methodologies correctly. (Perhaps I am being a snob, but this is how it is. And the deniers wonder why researchers don’t wish to engage in debates with them.) The so-called skeptics can go on and on by cherry picking that effectively stirs up the emotions among the deniers. The comments are full of attacks, nothing but pouring gas on the fire. If one doesn’t understand a thing, how can one criticize it? Isn’t this prejudice? Instead, shouldn’t one inquire by asking questions?ReplyDelete
I posted a complete version of the Moon essay in Skeptical Inquirer, available from the same link on the right side of the blog, as before. Unfortunately, the second page is straight from the galleys, instead of the magazine, but it is the version that went into print.
Been reading the blog for awhile now and quite enjoy it. However, a statement in this post irked me just a bit. I've posted it verbatim below.
"This is done most effectively through the kind of public outreach — including spectacular demonstrations, tv shows and comedy sketches — that professional scientists don’t do because they don’t have the time and they are not good at it."
It's mostly the last little bit that stood at to me. It seems a bolder statement than I would have suspected since you normally seem pretty careful with your wording in your posts. The idea that no scientists make the time for effective public outreach and if they do are not good at it just doesn't work for me.
As a budding scientist, but not yet a PhD, I take public outreach very seriously and have even started a podcast with some friends in the lab to get people excited and interested in current scientific research.
I'm sure you didn't mean to be so dismissive in your post so I'm curious to hear your thoughts on my critiques.
Respectfully (at least I hope it came across that way),
thanks for your comment. I'm afraid you are taking my words a bit too literally and interpret them a bit too broadly.
Of course I would not say that *all* scientists are bad at outreach - I know several good ones, and outreach is one of the things I do as a (former) scientist.
Second, my phrase was actually specifically addressing the type of "spectacular" outreach that few if any scientists do, the sort of thing that got Randi on the Johnny Carson show, or P&T to do Bullshit! (the show).
Keep taking outreach seriously, we need young scientists to do that!
OK, more on Sokal - or 'reverse Sokal'.ReplyDelete
Worth remembering that Social Text was not a peer-reviewed journal. Prestigious in certain circles, yes. But it relied on the good faith of those contributing, and snap judgments of editors. So for a 'reverse' Sokal to work, you would need, say, a psychoanalyst with master of an array of technical terms (superego, hysteria, obsessionalism, or for Lacanians - symbolic, imaginary) take your pick. One could do something similar with ideas of Foucault too) to offer to give psychoanalytic insights into some are of science for some kind of experimental science journal that explored the fringes of science and was not peer reviewed. The Freudian would then have to misuse, in more or less obvious ways, a few of the technical terms. Then, when published, he could have a good laugh at the journal for not understanding the term 'superego' and bewail the state of ignorance about Freud. Roughly. Seems at least possible to me. Pointless, but possible.
One of the things that Stanley Fish got right about this controversy was how much of intellectual pursuits in our world rely on trust. How easy, for example, to scupper even the workings of a peer-reviewed journal simply by bombarding them with clever hoaxes?
I didn't honestly think you were saying that all scientists are bad at outreach which is why I wanted to write in for clarification.
Your statement is much more agreeable in the context of scale in which you meant, but I failed to infer.
Thanks for the encouragement, I do take the outreach seriously even if our podcast is anything but. We'd be happy to have you on the show anytime to promote your own upcoming debut into the podcasting world.
Our show is Science... sort of. Which can be found at www.sciencesortof.com or on iTunes and you can reach me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again for the quick and thoughtful response.
NOT TO MENTION the fact that SUPPOSEDLY 90% of extinctions occurred before man graced the planet. Or did they? Man is the SINGULAR cause of global warming? Hmmm.ReplyDelete
One day its actually going to dawn on someone that environmentalism certainly does NOT compliment or lend support for any evolutionary ideas at all.
lacanmark: I think one of the more penetrating critiques of the Sokal hoax was Stephen Hilgartner's "The Sokal Affair in Context" in _Science, Technology, & Human Values_, vol. 22, no. 4, Autumn 1997, pp. 506-522. Hilgartner points out that Sokal's hoax was predated by an experiment on editorial decision procedures by William M. Epstein ("Confirmational response bias among social work journals," _Science, Technology, & Human Values_ 15(1990):9-38) which, unlike Sokal's hoax, formulated a specific hypothesis, tested 146 journals in a defined field, used two versions of a paper (one positive and one negative), randomly assigned which version of the paper went to each journal (74 positive, 72 negative), and performed statistical and qualitative analysis on the results. For his efforts, Epstein was accused of ethics violations by failing to get informed consent from his subjects, and a disciplinary inquiry was begun by the ethics panel of his discipline, he had difficulty obtaining publication of his results, and he received little media publicity. By contrast, Sokal's hoax really wasn't doing science at all, yet had much more significant impact.ReplyDelete
Jim, brilliant comment, and thank you for the pointer to Epstein. Sokal's prank was not just "not doing science" (as you write) but ironically (for Sokal) proved the very thesis of the philosophers of science, postmodernists and STS folks that he was attempting to criticise. And just as they have pointed out (and you sort of do), these matters are settled in an "unscientific" manner as well. It's rhetoric and politics all the way down.ReplyDelete