Home > Academia, ClimateGate, Global Warming, IPCC > Skeptics – AGW Debate

Skeptics – AGW Debate


The whole purpose of the last post was to show that skepticism is an essential part of science. Science has to provide hypothesis that are testable and also falsifiable. This is a source of much confusion and ignorance for most people.

Falsifiability also means that nothing can ever be proven. Now when I say proven, I specifically mean that nothing is 100% certain. There is always an element of uncertainty in everything around us. There is also a high level of ignorance of the world around us. When faced with all that how can you not be skeptical?


Uncertainty means that there is a lot of random chance in the universe. Everywhere from Heisenburg to Black Swans, there is a certain amount of chance. There is something that is very certain, our ignorance. There are many many things about our universe that we just don’t know about. If we knew everything, would we even need scientists? The fact that we have many scientists, and they are legion, almost by definition, means that we still have a lot to learn about what is happening in the Universe.

Now what does that have to do with Climate Change?



First and foremost, we have incomplete data. Our modern temperature measurements only go back 150 years. When we are talking about a climate system that is on the order of 4.5 billion years, 150 years is like a single grain of sand in the Sahara desert. So how are we supposed to base this recent bout of warming? We need a reference in order to make the claim that; 1. it is unprecedented and 2. caused by man.

To get a reference we use proxies, tree ring data. This is the type of data that is the crux of the ClimateGate scandal. This is the data that Dr. Jones refused to share under FOIA requests.

Turns out that, assuming the proxies accurate and correlative, this recent bout isn’t all that unprecedented. There was the Medieval Warming Period. During that warming period, average surface temperatures were much higher than they are now. This poses an obvious problem for AGW proponents. How can they claim that the recent warming trend was the cause of Post-Industrial Man emission of Carbon?

If the Vikings were farming Greenland back then, and now Greenland is covered in ice, that would mean that sometime in between the temperature got a hell of a lot colder. Are our proxies wrong or are the AGW models wrong?


The second level of ignorance we have to deal with is the fact that we cannot model the complex system that is Climate accurately. In order to have any kind of model that we can work with, a lot of assumptions have to be made. Models have to deal with fluid dynamics problems, thermodynamic issues, and even the effect of Clouds on the Climate system.

I don’t know any scientist that would say we know everything that there is to know about thermodynamics or fluid dynamics. You know how I know that, because we have physicists still studying Thermodynamics and Fluid dynamics that’s why.

The next issue with the models are simplifications. Our computing technology isn’t up to the challenge of making the trillions of complex calculations needed to accurately predict protein folding, do you think he can make the trillions upon trillions of calculations necessary to model cloud movement or anything at all related to Climate? So there has to be simplifications. Who chooses what gets simplified and what doesn’t? What if they choose wrong?

Settled Science

This shows that there is huge amount of uncertainty and ignorance inherent in science, in general, and in Climate Science specifically. With this high level of uncertainty, I just can’t fathom how anyone could make the claim that the “science is settled.” Just from the perspective of our ignorance, that statement is preposterous but add to that the notion of falsifiability, that I talked about in the last post, and you find that it is very hard to “prove” anything. Yet these are the two most common terms used in the AGW debate.

Power Corrupts

You’d think that any intellectually honest scientist would cringe at such a notion of settled science. The Climate Gate emails show us that scientists are not above the same trappings that all people fall, self interest. Self interest manifests itself in the need for grands and funding. It’s in the need for publication and the prestige that comes with having your name on the latest article in the most prestigious journal. All scientists have egos just like everyone else in the world. It seems foolish to think they are above the same kind of scheming and unethical behavior that accompanies any one with power. Believe me the IPCC is all about power.

So the appeals to scientific authority fall on deaf ears to me. I know that scientists can be ruthless and self interested. I know they can be petty. I know they will lie to get more funding. I know they will fudge the numbers a little here and a little there if a grant is on the line. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I don’t have a romanticized illusion of a scientist in a lab coat working to better humanity. The cold hard truth is that many scientists are working hard, to get their name in the paper, to win a Nobel, to get that next grant, to sit on the IPCC, to become the director of the EPA, etc. It’s all about power and prestige.

Ad Hominem

Much of the debate involves ample use of the argumentum ad hominem fallacy. We hear it all the time when someone uses the term “denier.” The use of denier invokes the likes of the Holocaust denier, someone that denies a plain fact in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ad hominem is a pejorative, used to try and discredit a person instead of debating the merits of their argument. By calling a person a denier, the accuser can then justify in their mind that it is okay to not listen to the other person because they wrongly think that the accused is a victim of cognitive bias. Argumentum ad hominem is a sign of a bad argument in my opinion.

To be continued…

  1. yttik
    February 18, 2010 at 12:31

    In climate news today,

    UN climate chief quits


  2. yttik
    February 18, 2010 at 12:42

    I’m also having some trouble trying to figure this one out:

    “The Bay Area just had its foggiest May in 50 years. And thanks to global warming, it’s about to get even foggier”


    And yet:

    “Fog over San Francisco thins by a third due to climate change”


  3. February 18, 2010 at 21:58

    I heard about the chief quitting, I thought it was Panchuri at first…that would have been sweet. Boers is more of a politician anyway, no surprise in a politician quitting.

    Re: Fog
    That’s the argument by anecdote that I originally meant the whole piece to be about but went off on a side track. =) The problem with argument by anecdote is that it is a double edged sword. You can say weather = climate only as long as the weather does what you want it to do. When it doesn’t, you open yourself up to the appropriate ridicule.
    That’s why I revel in it. How long have we heard that AGW means hurricanes will get stronger, there will be droughts blah blah blah? So when they don’t happen they deserve to eat crow. They never should have made those claims to begin with. But trying to have it both ways, that’s just hilarious. I don’t think they realize that people can see right through the ruse. But that just confirms my suspicions that they think the people are dumb cows in need of a “real leader” anyways. Anytime you hear someone say that all they need is the right person, they really mean that everyone else is dumb and they need someone to trick them into doing what’s best for them….Obots much?

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