2010-08-26 23:46:31Basic rebuttal 73: The science isn't settled - REVISED
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
58.105.164.221

This is the original version. See my latest post, or here, for the revised version.

Here is my first try at a rebuttal to “The science isn’t settled.” I’m not entirely happy with it at this stage, so all suggestions are welcome.

The science isn’t settled

What the science says: That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.

Skeptics often claim that the science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not “settled”. But to the extent that this statement is true it is trivial, and to the extent that it is important it is false.

The skeptics say that results must be double-checked and uncertainties must be narrowed before any action should be taken. This sounds reasonable enough – but by the time scientific results are offered up to policymakers, they have already been checked and double-checked and quintuple-checked.

Scientists have been predicting anthropogenic global warming, with increasing confidence, for decades. By the 1970s, the scientific community were becoming concerned that human activity was changing the climate, but were divided on whether this would cause a net warming or cooling. As science learned more about the climate system, a consensus gradually emerged. Many different lines of inquiry all converged on the IPCC’s 2007 conclusion that it is more than 90% certain that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing most of the observed global warming.

What about the remaining probability of 10%? Shouldn’t we wait for 100% certainty before taking action? We do not live in a world of certainties. The only things that can be 100% proven are logical syllogisms and mathematical theorems. Science comes to tentative conclusions based on the balance of evidence. The more independent lines of evidence are found to support a scientific theory, the closer it is likely to be to the truth.

Some aspects of the science of AGW are known with near 100% certainty. There is no reasonable doubt that the global climate is warming. And there is also a pretty clear trail of evidence leading to the conclusion that it’s caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. Some aspects are less certain; for example, the net effect of aerosol pollution is known to be negative, but the exact number needs to be better constrained. But just because some details are still not well understood should not cast into doubt our understanding of the big picture: humans are causing global warming.

2010-08-27 11:52:36worth pointing out
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.114.71
that the greenhouse effect has been studied for over 100 years: The theory is older than relativity or quantum mechanics.
2010-08-27 17:01:23Highlighting the Science that is proven
CosmicRami

project_rami@y7mail...
115.64.26.223

Hi James, hope im doing this right, this is my first post as an author ....

I agree with Nealjking

 I think you have started the article perfectly, with stating that the skeptics dont feel 100% of the science is valid. It makes a stand on a strong skeptical argument.

I think you should then go into that Climate Change is not about one sound proven theory, but rather made up of many known, tested, agreed and proven scientific research / knowledge.

 

For e.g. create short summaries of some of the following Physics:

- The Greenhouse Gas Effect

- Thermodynamics Temperature of Matter

- Geometry of the Earth-Sun system, relative to Mars and Venus (Good Planetary Models) (define the shape of the Earth, the Tilt causing the Seasons, the strength of Incident radiation received at equator and poles)

-  Rotation of the Earth, and how this drives large scale thermal circulation patters of atmosphere and oceans

- Global Energy Balance vs. Global Water Cycle vs. Global Carbon Cycle (inc. Biosphere)

 - Sunspots

- Thermohaline Circulation, El Nino, La Nina, PDO and NAO and heat transportation

- Volcanic Eruptions, and how they effect the temerature (e.g. Pinatubo '91, temps dropped '92 & '93)

Then the trick is to tie it all together in "how does this contribute to global warming" .... The skeptics say the science isnt real, but all of the above points have been proven, some for hundreds of years, and no scientist will deny any of them.

 

Hope this helps :) 

 

2010-08-27 19:30:41Suggestions
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

Hi James - a few suggestions:

"But to the extent that this statement is true it is trivial, and to the extent that it is important it is false". I know what you mean, but you could consider if it's a bit superfluous. It is also a bit like ducking the issue you've set up in the previous line. I would have done something like this:

"Skeptics often claim that the science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not "settled". No science ever is. Science deals in probabilities, and when they are so high that no credible scientists care to challenge them, we can regard the science - colloquially - as 'settled'."

You don't have to put it that way of course, but I think the issue of probabilities is important to stress from the start.

The only other thing I would remark on, in an otherwise really nice post, is the last paragraph. It gets equivocal - accurate of course - but it doesn't close the article as well as I would hope. I really liked the way the second to last para ended "...the closer it is likely to be to the truth". If the rebuttal ended there, it would be a strong close in my opinion, so how about swapping the two paragraphs, except for the very last line, which must stay where it is "But just because some details are still not well understood..." (I'd get rid of the 'but', mind you - weakens the statement a little).

CosmicRami: You're doing fine. Keep 'em coming, we need all the help we can get. Just bear in mind that we all started out putting more in than the basic version required. I think it's easy to forget the intermediate versions are where the detail can be expanded. Your list is spot on, but too much detail and too complex for the basic version in my opinion.

2010-08-28 12:01:56Accessibility
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

100% certainty might be amenable to analogy helpful for some who're not familiar w/logical and mathematical proofs.

"If your oil pressure light is on, your engine is making an unusual clattering sound and you can smell something burning it's still possible nothing's wrong with your oil pressure. What would you do?"

2010-08-28 13:00:05Trimming away extra messages
Jim Meador

jimm58@gmail...
67.101.212.216

My tendency on these "basic" rebuttals is to keep them tightly focused, as simple as possible, paring then down to the core elements needed to make the case. 

"The only things that can be 100% proven are logical syllogisms and mathematical theorems" 

I would strip away this sentence. If the argument really needs a statement like this, I would rewrite it using a more basic vocabulary. I want my basic rebuttals to be accessible to 8th graders. 

I like Doug's car analogy. That or maybe something about personal health instead of cars. Anyway, some situation where most people would agree that the prudent thing was to start to take action even in the face of imperfect knowledge. Actually maybe you could go back to some past disaster and discuss all the clues that people missed on their way to that disaster. Like all those icebergs that the Titanic went speeding past....sure, there was no 100% guarantee that they would hit the iceberg...but in hindsight, the signs were all around...

2010-08-28 16:16:27Alternative
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
Following on from the previous points, you could also allude to the fact that nobody can prove your house will ever burn down, but that doesn't stop us insuring against fires...
2010-08-29 14:54:28Revised version
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
58.105.164.221
At the bottom of this post is a revised version of the rebuttal. I’ve changed the order around a bit and added some stuff in response to all your suggestions. Graham, I’ve changed around those paragraphs like you suggested. I hope it’s an improvement. (I’ve left the original intact at the top of this thread so you can compare the two versions.)

CosmicRami, I agree with Graham that your list is too detailed for a basic rebuttal.

I tried to fit in a variation on the fire insurance theme, but I ended up with it sort of tacked on the end.

The science isn’t settled

What the science says: That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.


Skeptics often claim that the science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not “settled”. But to the extent that this statement is true it is trivial, and to the extent that it is important it is false. No science is ever “settled”; science deals in probabilities, not certainties. When the probability of something approaches 100%, then we can regard the science, colloquially, as “settled”.

The skeptics say that results must be double-checked and uncertainties must be narrowed before any action should be taken. This sounds reasonable enough – but by the time scientific results are offered up to policymakers, they have already been checked and double-checked and quintuple-checked.

Scientists have been predicting AGW, with increasing confidence, for decades (indeed, the idea was first proposed in 1896). By the 1970s, the scientific community were becoming concerned that human activity was changing the climate, but were divided on whether this would cause a net warming or cooling. As science learned more about the climate system, a consensus gradually emerged. Many different lines of inquiry all converged on the IPCC’s 2007 conclusion that it is more than 90% certain that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing most of the observed global warming.

Some aspects of the science of AGW are known with near 100% certainty. The greenhouse effect itself is as established a phenomenon as any: it was discovered in the 1820s and the basic physics was essentially understood by the 1950s. There is no reasonable doubt that the global climate is warming. And there is also a pretty clear trail of evidence leading to the conclusion that it’s caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. Some aspects are less certain; for example, the net effect of aerosol pollution is known to be negative, but the exact value needs to be better constrained.

What about the remaining uncertainties? Shouldn’t we wait for 100% certainty before taking action? Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties. Science comes to tentative conclusions based on the balance of evidence. The more independent lines of evidence are found to support a scientific theory, the closer it is likely to be to the truth. Just because some details are still not well understood should not cast into doubt our understanding of the big picture: humans are causing global warming.

In most aspects of our lives, we think it rational to make decisions based on incomplete information. We will take out insurance when there is even a slight probability that we will need it. Why should our planet’s climate be any different?
2010-08-29 15:51:01Like this
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
Think this works nicely James - thumbs up from me
2010-08-29 20:07:31Looks OK
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.45.10
OK
2010-08-30 03:27:56Good one.
Jim Meador

jimm58@gmail...
68.164.185.100
One suggestion... "In most aspects of our lives, we think it rational to make decisions based on incomplete information." I suggest... "In most aspects of our lives we have to make decisions based on incomplete information." Either way I am OK with it. Good work James!!!
2010-08-30 06:33:40Ready
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
Great, I like the reference to insurance. (We collectively spend something like 6% of global GDP on various forms of insurance, buying emotional and practical comfort against things necessarily unlikely to affect us as individuals because after all, insurance is sold at a profit...)
2010-08-30 13:56:13Great! (and thanks)
CosmicRami

project_rami@y7mail...
115.64.26.223

Thanks for the Tips all ... will def. be adding more to these threads, so if im not doing something correctly, then please feel free to let me know, as it helps me learn too :)

 

I like the new revised version as well!

 

 

2010-08-31 07:02:10Great Job!
Nicholas Berini

nberini@gmail...
68.197.202.231
Great basic version.
2010-09-03 23:16:53Bump
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
58.105.164.221
Bump.
2010-09-04 23:26:26Published
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.93.62
Hope you don't mind, I made one change, "a pretty clear trail of evidence" to "a clear trail of evidence". The word 'pretty' just didn't sit well with me. Very nitpicky little change, great rebuttal, really well written.