Saturday, 2 November 2013

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #19: 32,000 wrongs do not make a right

On Thursday a new wingnut reared his head on the letters page, a Dr John Holt. Yes, wingnuts can sometimes have PhDs, though I cannot be sure of Mr Holt's qualifications. They are, fortunately, irrelevant, as he proves with his letter.
I must respond to Mr Rainbird's letter (Cairns Post, October 29) particularly in relation to his statement that climate change is accepted by "virtually every scientist worthy of the title".
I did not see Mr Rainbird's letter, but would have responded that I don't care what "virtually every scientist" thinks on the subject. Virtually every scientist isn't as well-informed on the subject of climate change than, well, me - and I am not a scientist and don't know that much about it. This is because most scientists are busy doing working in their own field and living their lives, and thus are too busy to become familiar with the issue of climate change at all.

The argument from authority isn't a great argument, especially if the authority being appealed to is not an authority at all. If we are going to use this argument as a shorthand method of knowing what well-informed scientists think, then we need to be selective. We should look to climate scientists and other specialists who have studied the subject in depth. We should look to position statements from respected scientific bodies like the Academies of Science, the Royal Society, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. When we do that the result is clear. The vast majority accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change and think it's a problem we need to address.
I wonder what criteria he uses to make that conclusion as I could name hundreds of Australians, including climate scientists, that disagree with his conclusion.
This is a good question. I am reminded of Creationist efforts to manufacture the appearance of scientific disunity on the subject of evolution. Two groups, the Institute for Creation Research and the Discovery Institute, created separate petitions of "scientists" who denied evolution. The vast majority of those listed have no specialist knowledge of the subject, but it let Creationists say they knew hundreds of scientists who denied evolution. The fact it was a tiny percentage of scientists, most of whom were motivated by religion and ideology, also casts a different light on the petitions.

These petitions were wonderfully parodied by the National Centre for Science Education when they created a list of scientists who accepted evolution, with the proviso being that their name had to be Stephen (or a cognate thereof, like Stephanie, Esteban, etc) in honour of the late Stephen Jay Gould. 1,285 Steves have signed on to Project Steve so far.

Now, I wonder if any wingnuts have created a similar fake authority to appeal to on the subject of climate change. I vaguely recall something. What was it again??
Is he aware of the Oregon petition (2007) post IPCC 3AR, which includes the statement "Not only has the global warming hypothesis failed the experimental test, it is theoretically flawed as well"?
Ah yes, that's it. The  Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine Petition. 32,000 American science graduates have signed a petition. It sounds like a lot, but it's a small fraction of 1% of science graduates - that is people with a BSc or higher in any field. This includes engineers, medical doctors, geneticists, veterinarians, computer programmers, and those in many other fields. Whether these people are "scientists" or rather practitioners in a science related field is debatable. Importantly, we should remember that the large majority will be utterly clueless on the science of climate change.
That petition was signed by over 31,000 scientists and I am sure that most of them were worthy of the title eminent researcher.
I wonder what criteria he uses to make that conclusion. Given that all that was required was a degree in a science field, few would actually be "researchers" at all, let alone eminent researchers.
Every good scientist when examining a hypothesis must approach the task by being 'sceptical', and researching all the pertinent literature, not just that which supports one side.
Perhaps Mr Holt should practice what he preaches.

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