All posts for the month June, 2010

Burning At The Stake: The Credibility of AGW Skeptics

Published June 28, 2010 by glaumland

The weather changed this weekend…we’re out of a very hot pattern of hot nights and hotter days to something called more ‘seasonal’ weather. For those of us who pay attention, and for even those who don’t, the weather is always changing and never repeated from season to season or year to year. I’ve noticed, so I guess you could say I’m a believer in CLIMATE CHANGE.

CLIMATE. CHANGE. HAPPENS. All you have to do to figure this out is either a) look at the wardrobe you’ve accumulated for all weather conditions where you live; b) listen to the meteorologists talk about ‘average’ temperatures, rain-fall, numbers of storms, or whatever; and 3) do some historical research to learn about the Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age, or Year Without a Summer. The science to back up these changes could not be measured with the same instrumentation that we use today, but rather depend upon our understanding of weather-changing phenomena (like solar & volcanic activity), historical records and archealogy. And I don’t believe any observer could debate the legitamacy of this information.

At question is how much control or responsibility the human race has over climate change (formerly known as the GLOBAL WARMING argument). Historically, this argument comes around now and again as some scientist puts together data, draws erroneous conclusions, and tries to create hysteria for personal gain or public acclaim. In the 1970’s, many climate articles were written in news magazine & scientific journals. Those scientists blamed their GLOBAL COOLING hypotheses on man-made activities…starting to sound familiar?

Now, however, we’re fully in the grips of the next CLIMATE CHANGE hysteria – MAN-MADE GLOBAL WARMING (otherwise known as Anthropogenic Global Warming, or AGW). And I’ll state right here that I’m not going to debate the science here today, I don’t have enough time for that. I also believe that other and more qualified people have made excellent arguments, and if they can’t change people’s opinions, I doubt my words will have any sway.

However, as I was reading the news this morning, I came across an article that piqued my interest.

Stanford University (2010, June 27). Scientific expertise lacking among ‘doubters’ of climate change, says new analysis. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2010,

The premise of the Stanford’s research is that Anthropogenic Global Warming must be true because those who support this theory publish more articles and have more citations than those who doubt AGW. They state the reason for this research is to prove that most scientists agree with AGW, and that the disagreement that has been reported is actually very small. But let’s look at their hypothesis as applied to other topics (from most practical to most absurd):

1) Genealogy – If you have done any genealogical research online, you know that there are two kinds of information: factual (based on historical documentation like Bibles, church records, census data, wills, etc.) and hear-say. In this era of internet genealogy, the hear-say records are easier to find than ever. Oftentimes, good-intentioned people will find an ‘ancestor’ then add that information to their own records, without any research into facts or sources. When that cycle gets repeated over and over again, pretty soon you have a ‘fact’ that must be so because it is so often repeated. Some websites do not care if they publish factual information, and are only looking to make connections or go back and add another generation to their line. Unfortunately, once this information is out there, it is present forever, whether or not it is factually correct. The genealogist with the correct information could present it until he is blue in the face (or fingers) and still not overcome the mountains of misinformation.

2) Email – I don’t know about you, but I receive lots of email from from well-intended people (or mostly!) wanting me to know about the latest faux-paux of some political or famous person, or even of a business or product. And I’m to believe it must be true because of how many times it has been forwarded by other well-intended people or because the name at the bottom sounds credible. In actuality, very few of these email are true or are true in their entirety. But if the public promotes them enough, they seem to gain credibility just because of their shear numbers. Thank goodness, there are entire websites devoted to researching and debunking these emails, and it is a good idea to always check the validity of an email before forwarding, no matter how juicy and salacious it may be.

3) Hollywood – I promised to include the most absurd, and here it is. There are whole newspapers, television shows and websites dedicated to the latest ‘true’ news coming out of Hollywood. I hope I’m preaching to the choir when I say these ‘facts’ must be taken with a grain of salt, not to mention my credo, “Who Cares?” Yet to see the same ‘facts’ repeated so often and in so many forms, many people begin to repeat them as gospel truth. Unfortunately, those voices who do speak truth do not get the coverage in the media (let’s face it…boring truth doesn’t sell). Sadly, this same problem that exists in Hollywood is coming to fruit in Poli-wood and one has to wade through mountains of rotten mainstream media fruit before you find the real prize.

So, back to the premise of the Stanford research…AGW must be correct because researchers (experts) have written and cited so many papers with an abundance of scientific evidence, much more so than skeptics. However, let me offer one more example that seems to refute this line of reasoning:

In 1692 in Salem, Massechusetts, of the over 150 people accused, 26 people went to trial and were convicted on witchcraft. It wasn’t just the numbers of witnesses that lent credence to the proceedings, but also the results of scientific testing. These included: spectral evidence (with the Devil’s help), the witch cake (using a urine-soaked cake and a hungry dog), peine forte et dure (a torture involving lots of heavy stones) and the touch test (where evil effluvium flows back from victim to witch). Prosecutors poured through published documents to find many more ‘scientific’ ways to prove witch-hood; these documents included reports of witch-hunters and doctors, proceedings from previous witch-trials, and even parliamentary papers. Eventually, wiser people debunked the science (often at risk to themselves), saner heads began to re-think the reasons for and methods of the trials, and local governments attempted to clean up the mess by reversing judgements and compensating victims.

When reading the Stanford article, the scientific question we must ask ourselves then is “Does a mountain of published information make something true?” Perhaps Winston Churchill answered best, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” The argument that AGW sceptics have less expertise or credibility because they have fewer publications is unsupportable, however it will sadly be continued. In this article, William Anderegg admits that universities make hiring and tenure decisions based upon publication and citation metrics. In common speak, “Publish or Perish.”

Another scientist Stephen Schneider is quoted as saying, “I never object to quoting opinions that are ‘way out.’ I think there is nothing wrong with that, but if the media doesn’t report that something is a ‘way out’ opinion relative to the mainstream, then how is the average person going to know the relative credibility of what is being said?” 

Schneider asserts, as does the rest of the article, that because an opinion is ‘way out’ or not mainstream, it loses credibility. Once again, we are faced with the false argument that unpopular opinion has less credibility, or stated oppositely, popular opinion makes something more credible. History, though, proves that this is a very uninformed stance. Copernicus and Galileo contradicted the long accepted notion that the sun revolved around the earth – their science was considered heretical. William Wilberforce and Frederick Douglass took on the cause of abolishing slavery, even when slavery was socially acceptable and an economic necessesity for many countries. Their ideas were considered ‘way out’ by many of their peers. And Susan B. Anthony advocated for Women’s Suffrage in the United States, while Lubna Olayan is working today to push for woman’s rights in the Arab world.  These women risk(ed) not only their credibility but also their safety for their beliefs that are not mainstream. History is full of examples only show that truth may start small and have many obstacles to overcome before being widely recognized.

You know, this assertion also reminds me of a common teenage mantra, “Everyone is doing it!” but does that mean a parent should buy in to this argument? “Everyone has them!” so I should just go out and spend my money so you can look like a photo-copy. “Everyone says so!” so I should just discount my own thoughts and experiences and just go along? “Everyone else is going!” – what one lemming says to another as they leap off the cliff…

This article by Stanford should have applied their quantitative assessment to determine the presence of hysteria, not credibility, in AGW. Hysteria says that misinformation, often repeated, becomes fact. Hysteria needs scientists (with ‘evidence’) and celebrities (with opinions) to feed their need to be important, in power, or in front of the camera. Hysteria discounts differing opinions and disdains the valor it takes to be ‘way out.’ Hysteria depends upon people following them over a cliff and not thinking about the outcome.

Those people who are sceptic of AGW are not suffering from a lack of credibility, but they are experiencing a lack of hysteria. And that’s just fine with me…

Until next time…