In his article “Climate Deniers Are Giving Us Skeptics a Bad Name” published at American Thinker back in February, S. Fred Singer has a go at those he sees as ‘Warmistas’ and ‘Deniers’ whilst commenting about the group he includes himself in.
In principle, every true scientist must be a skeptic. That’s how we’re trained; we question experiments, and we question theories. We try to repeat or independently derive what we read in publications — just to make sure that no mistakes have been made.
In my view, warmistas and deniers are very similar in some respects — at least their extremists are. They have fixed ideas about climate, its change, and its cause. They both ignore “inconvenient truths” and select data and facts that support their preconceived views. Many of them are also quite intolerant and unwilling to discuss or debate these views — and quite willing to think the worst of their opponents.
“No problem there” I thought, “At the Talkshop, not only do we question experiments and theories,, we conduct new experiments and build new theories.” We discuss and have contrary opinions included (as long as they are reasonably presented), and in general we put what we perceive as errors on the part of the warmista (no ‘s’ required in this designation to signify the plural Fred) down to cockup rather than conspiracy. We tend to take the proverbial in good humour rather than take the hump with those we disagree with.
But as I read on, past the section on the IPCC and the forthcoming AR5, I became increasingly baffled by some of the things Fred chose to put into his ‘Denier’ category:
Now let me turn to the deniers. One of their favorite arguments is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics — i.e., one cannot transfer energy from a cold atmosphere to a warmer surface. It is surprising that this simplistic argument is used by physicists, and even by professors who teach thermodynamics. One can show them data of downwelling infrared radiation from CO2, water vapor, and clouds, which clearly impinge on the surface. But their minds are closed to any such evidence.
Then there is another group of deniers who accept the existence of the greenhouse effect but argue about the cause and effect of the observed increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. One subgroup holds that CO2 levels were much higher in the 19th century, so there really hasn’t been a long-term increase from human activities. They even believe in a conspiracy to suppress these facts. Another subgroup accepts that CO2 levels are increasing in the 20th century but claims that the source is release of dissolved CO2 from the warming ocean. In other words, they argue that oceans warm first, which then causes the CO2 increase. In fact, such a phenomenon is observed in the ice-core record, where sudden temperature increases precede increases in CO2. While this fact is a good argument against the story put forth by Al Gore, it does not apply to the 20th century: isotopic and other evidence destroys their case.
Another subgroup simply says that the concentration of atmospheric CO2 is so small that they can’t see how it could possibly change global temperature. But laboratory data show that CO2 absorbs IR radiation very strongly. Another subgroup says that natural annual additions to atmospheric CO2 are many times greater than any human source; they ignore the natural sinks that have kept CO2 reasonably constant before humans started burning fossil fuels. Finally, there are the claims that major volcanic eruptions produce the equivalent of many years of human emission from fossil-fuel burning. To which I reply: OK, but show me a step increase in measured atmospheric CO2 related to a volcanic eruption.
I have concluded that we can accomplish very little with convinced warmistas and probably even less with true deniers. So we just make our measurements, perfect our theories, publish our work, and hope that in time the truth will out.
Now, I’m thinking that quite a few Talkshop reader and regulars will find themselves saying, “wait a minute, there is a lot of mischaracterisation of argument and ignorance of research going on here, and I don’t like getting called a ‘Denier’ by a fellow sceptic like S. Fred Singer because I think some elements of those arguments are genuinely part of the uncertainty of the unsettled science”.
So I’m throwing this one open to see what others think, because I’ve been grappling with how to respond to S. Fred Singer’s apparent desire to define quite a number of people who think of themselves as genuine sceptics as being ‘beyond the pale’ of rational scientific debate. He’s not the only one who has been labelling people lately, and I see the trend as cause for concern. People who label others close their minds to the ideas they are working with too, and true sceptics don’t do that. Mutual criticism and review of each others work should be part and parcel of healthy scientific debate, not an excuse to take personal offence and shut the door on potentially useful ideas.
Only 18 months ago, Some of those now seeking to label, define, and dismiss others were bristling at the production of what amounted to a blacklist of dissenting scientists organised by the late Stephen Schneider. I hope Fred and others reconsider the options for attempting to set the terms for the climate debate, and so enable everyone to soften positions and recreate the air of mutual tolerance which was such a strong asset to the sceptical community.