Last night I wrote a piece about James Delingpole's unfortunate appearance on the BBC program Horizon on Monday. In that piece I refered to one of his own Telegraph articles in which he criticizes renowned sceptic Dr Ben Goldacre for betraying the principles of scepticism in his regard of the climate change debate. That article turns out to be rather instructional as it highlights perfectly the difference between real scepticism and the false scepticism commonly described as denialism. I don't know whether James is aware of the difference. Perhaps he hasn't taken a step back far enough to see the intellectual trap he has set for himself. I will endeavour to explain by using his own examples.
This Telegraph piece is by far the mildest of his that I've ever read. It appears that James has tremendous respect for Ben Goldacre, who is a qualified medical doctor and has written a best-selling book about science scepticism called Bad Science and continues to write a popular Guardian science column. Here's what Delingpole has to say about Dr Goldacre:
Many of Goldacre’s campaigns I support. I like and admire what he does. But where I don’t respect him one jot is in his views on ‘Climate Change,’ for they jar so very obviously with supposed stance of determined scepticism in the face of establishment lies.Okay, first of all we need to examine the meaning of scepticism because it seems that Delingpole doesn't get it. Scepticism is not some sort of rebellion against the establishment as Delingpole claims. It is not in itself an ideology. It is merely an approach to evaluating new information. There are varying definitions of scepticism, but Goldacre's variety goes like this: A sceptic does not support or promote any new theory until it is proven to his or her satisfaction that the new theory is the best available. Evidence is examined and accepted or discarded depending on its persuasiveness and reliability. Sceptics like Ben Goldacre have a deep appreciation for the scientific method of testing a hypothesis through experimentation and are generally happy to change their minds when the evidence supports the opposing view. Sceptics are not true believers, but they search for the truth. Far from challenging the established scientific consensus, Goldacre in Bad Science typcially defends the scientific consensus against alternative medical views that fall back on untestable positions. In science the consensus is sometimes proven wrong, and while this process is imperfect it eventually results in the old consensus being replaced with a new one.
That's scepticism. So the question becomes "what is denialism?" Denialism is a mindset that chooses to deny reality in order to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Denialism creates a false sense of truth through the subjective selection of evidence (cherry picking). Unhelpful evidence is rejected and excuses are made, while supporting evidence is accepted uncritically - its meaning and importance exaggerated. It is a common feature of denialism to claim the existence of some sort of powerful conspiracy to suppress the truth. Rejection by the mainstream of some piece of evidence supporting the denialist view, no matter how flawed, is taken as further proof of the supposed conspiracy. In this way the denialist always has a fallback position.
In the next paragraph Delingpole makes the following claim:
Whether Goldacre chooses to ignore it or not, there are many, many hugely talented, intelligent men and women out there – from mining engineer turned Hockey-Stick-breaker Steve McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick to bloggers Donna LaFramboise and Jo Nova to physicist Richard Lindzen….and I really could go on and on – who have amassed a body of hugely powerful evidence to show that the AGW meme which has spread like a virus around the world these last 20 years is seriously flawed.I'm glad Delingpole has done this because it gives me the opportunity to debunk. So he mentions a bunch of people who are intelligent and talented and have amassed evidence to the effect that the consensus of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is a myth. Should I take his word for it? No. I am a sceptic. I will examine the evidence and the people behind it.
First there is McIntyre and McKitrick. These guys are heroes to the climate "sceptic" movement because they co-authored two papers that the denialists claim refute the consensus that average temperatures on earth have increased at an alarming rate during the last half of the 20th century. These two manuscripts were written in 2003 and 2004 and are both referred to as MM. The second of the two was submitted to and rejected by the journal Nature. Both make the same claim that the main feature of an earlier academic paper by Mann et al in 1998 (the "hockey stick" shape of the historical temperature record) is an artifact. MM claims that global temperatures are not accelerating. The claims have however been roundly disproved as explained here. It is worth noting at this point that neither man is a climate scientist. McKitrick is an economist and McIntyre is a mining industry policy analyst. It is clear from the very detailed rebuttal article that McIntrye and McKitrick have no qualifications to critique the earlier paper and betray fundamental misunderstandings of methodologies employed in that study. It should come as no surprise that the peer review process discredited them. This is not a global conspiracy. This is how science works. This Wikipedia article explains in better laymens terms how the MM claims are faulty. Here we can see lead author Michael Mann explain away the MM corrections:
"...so-called 'correction' was nothing more than a botched application of the MBH98 procedure, where the authors (MM) removed 80% of the proxy data actually used by MBH98 during the 15th century period... Indeed, the bizarre resulting claim by MM of anomalous 15th century warmth (which falls within the heart of the "Little Ice Age") is at odds with not only the MBH98 reconstruction, but, in fact the roughly dozen other estimates now published that agree with MBH98 within estimated uncertainties..."It is difficult for me to find out much about blogger Donna LaFrambois. As far as I can see she runs her own blog at http://nofrakkingconsensus.wordpress.com and is the founder of another site here http://www.noconsensus.org/. It's not very clear to me what her credentials are or if she has any. If you search for her name you will see what I mean. She seems to be a critic of the so-called climate bible, a comprehensive report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) every five years or so. I am familiar with some of the criticisms of this panel. Working Group 2 famously overstated the estimated rate of disappearance of the Himalayan glacier in 2007 and was forced to admit the error.
Jo Nova. Another blogger? I really can't be arsed. Sorry.
Richard Lindzen. Okay, there's information about this guy. He has a wiki page, which is more than I can say for the previous two. He is an atmospheric physicist and Professor of Meteorology at MIT. In 2007 he had this to say on Larry King Live:
"we're talking of a few tenths of a degree change in temperature. None of it in the last eight years, by the way. And if we had warming, it should be accomplished by less storminess. But because the temperature itself is so unspectacular, we have developed all sorts of fear of prospect scenarios -- of flooding, of plague, of increased storminess when the physics says we should see less.According to Wikipedia, it would seem that Lindzen is well respected in his field and represents the 3% of the climate science community who disagree with the 97% consensus. Fair enough. Interestingly there are other climate scientists that Delingpole could have mentioned such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. I'll let the link speak for itself as to why he probably left them out. The second to last paragraph of Delingpole's article asks this:
I think it's mainly just like little kids locking themselves in dark closets to see how much they can scare each other and themselves."
If Goldacre really wants to stick his neck out, why doesn’t he try arguing against a rich, powerful, bullying Climate-Change establishment which includes all three British main political parties, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the President of the USA, the EU, the UN, most schools and universities, the BBC, most of the print media, the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government, CNBC, ABC, the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, most of the rest of the City, the wind farm industry, all the Big Oil companies, any number of rich charitable foundations, the Church of England and so on?I hope Ben won't mind if I take this one for him (first of all, Big Oil companies? Are you serious?) The answer is a question and the question is "Where is your evidence?"