NYT: What Lousy Philosophy Tells Us About Belief In Global Warming

William Briggs Statistician

In the New York Times, Á Pinillos’s demonstrated his ignorance of climate science.

According to NASA, at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists think that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely caused by human activities.” Americans overwhelmingly agree that the federal government needs to take significant action. In a recent poll [of citizen’s who can’t say why the sky is blue, let alone delineate the intricacies of climatology]…

The canard about “97 percent” is particularly stupid. First, 100% of scientists agree that man influences the climate. How could we not? But that in itself, as Á does not understand, does not call for any specific action. And 97%? Did Á even read “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change“, which shows that the consensus over doom is more like 1%? No, sir, he did not.

Did Á even know to look for this paper? No, sir, he did not. He knows so little about the subject, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

He knows less about probability. Which is even more embarrassing, because nobody was expecting him to discuss the limitations of high-altitude cloud parameterizations. But we did think a professional philosopher would know the difference between decisions, knowledge, and probability. He doesn’t.

Suppose you observe a shopper at the convenience store buying a lottery ticket. You are aware that the probability that he will lose the lottery is astronomically high, typically above 99.99 percent, but it’s hard to get yourself to sincerely say you know this person will lose the lottery.

Look here, Á, if the shopper knew he would lose, he wouldn’t buy the damn ticket. We don’t know the shopper is going to lose. We only know it’s likely. Which means we also know he might win.

We can only know what is true. But we can believe anything. Right, Á?

If I had to bet whether the shopper would win, I’d have to think about the consequences about what would happen if I win or lose the bet, and the probability I calculate the shopper has the winning numbers. Probability is thus not decision. And my bet the shopper would lose is not knowledge he would. It’s a guess: a prediction.

Á does not grasp these distinctions, which are basic. He makes the same blunders in an example about his grading homework. I leave casting light on these as my own homework exercise for you, dear reader.

According to social psychology, climate change deniers tend to espouse conservative views, which suggests that party ideology is partly responsible for these attitudes. I think that we should also think about the philosophical nature of skeptical reactions, an apolitical phenomenon.

The standard response by climate skeptics is a lot like our reaction to skeptical pressure cases. Climate skeptics understand that 97 percent of scientists disagree with them, but they focus on the very tiny fraction of holdouts. As in the lottery case, this focus might be enough to sustain their skepticism.

Only a nincompoop uses the term “climate change denier”. Nobody denies the climate changes (I except lunatics). Knowing man influences the climate does not indicate any particular action, nor does it even imply that any such change is necessarily bad. Plus, climate skeptics (many of them) do not understand that 97% nonsense.

The full article is HERE.

A consensus is a political term, it is not a scientific term. Apparently, the New Your Time writer does not know the difference.

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