Monday, April 19, 2010

No Debate?

I promised to offer half a dozen statements about global warming that I can assert with confidence and certainty. Here’s the first one…
Despite vehement claims to the contrary, there is a good deal of disagreement among scientists in the relevant disciplines as to whether the central claims about anthropogenic global warming are true.
Let’s unpack this a bit. The central claims of the global warming alarmists I take to be… 1) The Earth is warming at an unprecedented and dangerous rate, and 2) the primary cause of this warming is human development and resource use. My purpose in this post is not to address (at least directly) whether these two statements are true or not. I’m not an expert in meteorology, climatology, paleo-climatology, or the like. Both statements may be true, or both may be basically false. The first might be true and the second one false. Each may be partly true and partly false. But while I won’t tell you what to conclude about the veracity of these twin statements, I can tell you a good deal about how such claims should be supported.

These statements are truth claims, statements purported to describe the way things are. Moreover, because they deal with atmospheric, planetary, and solar physics and chemistry, they would rightly be considered scientific truth claims. Now, the credibility of such claims should rest upon evidence and reason. That is, if they are to be believed by reasonable people, the preponderance of the relevant evidence should be such that these conclusions are strongly warranted. If contrary evidence exists, it should be acknowledged appropriately, and good reasons should be given why such evidence does not undercut the conclusion. All of this evidence should be dealt with within a logically sound format. Premises (that deal accurately with the evidence) should be strung together in a sound deductive argument that leads to a sure conclusion or in a strong inductive argument that yields a very high degree of probability.

Is this what we see regarding global warming? No indeed. Instead, very early in the argument, what we are told is,
There is no debate among scientists with regard to anthropogenic global warming.
Really? No, seriously? Is that all you can say?

This happens to be a claim about which I am sufficiently expert to draw a conclusion. It is thoroughly false. There is a heated and vigorous debate among scientists about the truth value of statements 1 and 2. And not only is there wide disagreement about these general claims, there is also deep disagreement about more particular claims. For example, a third claim is that carbon dioxide is a significant and controllable component of this (alleged) human-induced warming. This, too, is very much contested. And this is important because much of the proposed solution (to the problem which may or may not be actual) involves curbing our collective ‘carbon footprint.’ This, in turn, brings us to a fourth claim, that the solution to the problem is ___________ (The Kyoto Protocol or other political legislation).

If you’re tracking with me at all, you probably realize right away that, even among those scientists who generally agree with the other three claims, there is no consensus—but rather wide disagreement—about the correct solution.

We have come to give scientists a much greater level of authority and credence than they (we) deserve. At the same time, we have chosen to abdicate our right to assess a set of scientific evidence and argumentation, choosing instead to allow others to tell us what to think. And far too often, these twin failings have been exploited by those who would sell us a bad bill of goods.

Again, it may very well be that anthropogenic global warming is a real threat. If so, it’s quite problematic that in lieu of a careful treatment of all of the relevant evidence in a sound, reasonable argument, we are—early and vehemently—assured that “all scientists agree…”, an assurance that is easily demonstrated to be false.

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