Ken Fabian Posted January 2, 2016 Share Posted January 2, 2016 (edited) Ophiolite and I had an exchange in the "Who here is a global warming skeptic?" thread. I did want to continue but the thread was locked (for being overlong) before I could do so. Hope I'm not stepping on toes by starting this thread. Ophiolite asked for responses to this - I am a global warming skeptic. I think it is not only plausible to have doubts, but essential, especially if we wish to honour the memories of Bacon and Galileo and Newton. We should doubt the data gathering techniques, we should doubt the analytical processes, we should doubt the conclusions. We should doubt the researchers, we should doubt their motives, we should doubt the peer review process.Doubt is a cornerstone of good science. Skepticism is an essential part of the scientific method.Having doubted all of these things in relation to global warming I am left with the distinct impression that global warming is very real and very serious. However, as a good skeptic, there is one area in which I have no doubt. I do not doubt the possibility that new research could turn our current understanding on its head - its just that that possibility is, on the balance of the evidence, extremely remote. In the meantime we should proceed on the basis that global warming is a real and present danger.Oh, and have a look in your dictionary. You will likely find that skepticism and denial are not synonyms. Skeptical? Just go ahead and check. My own reply was that it is not an appropriate default position to take because most people do not have the ability to evaluate complex science and accepting what the overwhelming majority of experts in a field tell us is not just appropriate, for those who hold positions of trust and responsibility it could be considered negligence for them to fail to do so.Ophiolite replied that many participants here are scientists and it is a correct position for scientists to take but agreed that, for those without the requisite skills, deferring to experts is more appropriate. I still find myself disagreeing.Ophiolite - It may be a matter of semantics - just what you mean by "doubt" in this context - but I think a default position of doubt suggests, intentionally or not, that you won't accept the validity of climate change science (or any other science) until personally satisfied, through personal investigation. That may not be what you mean but I think it requires clarification.My own view is that, even for scientists, treating the work of other scientists as valid should be the default position. It's not a matter of tribal loyalty or science as faith but of trust in the institutions and practices of science. We can quibble - there are some areas of science that I personally think need to lift their game - but climate science is, in it's fundamentals, about maths, physics and chemistry. It's based on the 'hard' sciences rather than the 'soft', without much room for the subjective. And perhaps no area of science has been subject to as much scrutiny as modern climate science. For those involved in oversight within scientific institutions, keeping eyes open for sloppy science, bias and malpractice is good practice but not the same as doubt as the default.Perhaps, for those appointed to a panel of experts by Institutions like the National Academy of Sciences to review a field of science - as happened at President G.W. Bush's request on climate science - witholding any acceptance and doubting everything it might be appropriate but more generally even for other scientists I don't think it is. It looks most appropriate when individual science papers are submitted and published, for experts capable of competent review to provisionally withhold acceptance and begin with doubt and scepticism; in that circumstance it could be the kind of scientist's obligation suggested. For the accumulated body of knowledge within a field - the consensus if you will - an initial position of acknowledged ignorance is, I believe, more appropriate - an "I don't know" rather than "I doubt" - if only because it won't be construed to mean the work of others is provisionally rejected.I never completed undergraduate science - not qualifying as a scientist - but my impression was that students don't begin from a position of doubt but of acknowledged ignorance. Along the way they should learn how and why the widely agreed conclusions within a field have been achieved rather than presented as unassailable 'facts'- ie come to know why it's valid not simply taken on faith. And learn which conclusions are in dispute and why. The end result for a student starting from a position of doubt should be much the same; a confidence in the conclusions that merit it and awareness of the grounds for dispute for those that don't.Making the effort to understand something personally and be well informed is to be applauded and sharing your experiences, of your doubts and how you dealt with them, in places like this is worthwhile. With respect to climate change science Doubt has become a professionally crafted product by and for partisan interests for political gain - to compromise, impede and delay oppropriate and effective government policy. In a context of climate politics where concepts of doubt, scepticism and uncertainty are being misused we need to be especially careful in urging it's wide application. People who don't have the skills and competency or even a real comprehension of scientific scepticism and who may not follow through with it as a process, are being encouraged to provisionally withhold acceptance of mainstream climate change science and oppose policy based on that 'scepticism'. So I'm sceptical about urging doubt as a default place to start with climate science. (edit: last three sentences added after initial post)My own experience is that, whilst the nitty gritty of real science can often be dense and opaque and beyond the non-expert to critique, even ordinary people like myself can recognise misunderstandings, misinformation, logical fallacies, appeals to tribal loyalties, pressing of emotive buttons ie the charlatan's (or politician's or PR/advertiser's or tankthinker's or non-thinker's) tools of persuasion. Most of the commonly repeated grounds for doubt of climate change science can be examined by non-scientists and recognised as weak or invalid. Edited January 2, 2016 by Ken Fabian 1 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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