Disagreements about global warming often involve people not trying very hard to understand one another. Sometimes, however, it appears they also involve people intentionally trying to misunderstand one another. Today I'm going to discuss an example. I wasn't going to, but the author of a post, David Appell, made a somewhat snide remark about how I didn't want to go through this. His post begins:
"In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the [causes of the] earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for [human caused] global warming."
– D. Ryan Brumberg and Matthew Brumberg
This is a truly hilarious statement, that could only have been made by nonscientists. (I haven't been able to identify these Brumberg chaps, but I'd bet.) That any scientist, even Curry, would agree with it is quite puzzling.
By there logic, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the existence of atoms or conservation of energy, because there's a universal consensus on both.
That sounds pretty damning. A person who believes scientists agreeing closely on a point means they are wrong would be absurd. Normally, when confronted with such an idea, a person would look again at what was said and perhaps see if they misunderstood it. Appell did not. He's not the only one; I've seen several people make this same argument. This post isn't about calling people how though, so I'm just going to focus on his post. Specifically, I'm going to focus on how his post takes this quote completely out of context and alters its content in a way which changes its meaning.
If fairness to Appell, he is not the one who altered this quote. The post he mocks was written by Judith Curry, and she altered the quote. She changed it from:
In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming. To reach their conclusions, climate scientists have to (a) uncover the (historical) drivers of climate, (b) project the future path of these inputs and others that may arise, and (c) predict how recursive feedback loops interact over multi-decadal time horizons, all without being able to test their hypotheses against reality.
This is a very simple point. Global warming involves many different things, and many projections/hypotheses cannot be tested in any direct manner. And as you can see, the authors clearly refer to a number of these issues, such as projecting the planet's climate in the future. That goes well beyond what Curry altered the quote to say. That is perhaps understandable as Curry's alterations make the quote appear closer to its intended meaning as they give some context for what the authors were saying, but the alterations to the quote are still inaccurate.
David Appell doesn't even appear to have looked at this. He uses this quote as Curry provides it at the top of her post, but there's no indication he even bothered to scroll down where he would see the original quote in full context. If he had, he would have seen the above text and:
We would, therefore, expect this limit on empirical verifiability to birth widely divergent views on the path, causes, and consequences of earth’s future climate. In other arenas, only after a theory has been empirically verified has the scientific community coalesced around it. Even then, scientists continue to subject such theories to rigorous testing and debate.
The authors of the post Curry was discussing make a simple claim. They say given the complexity and uncertainties inherent to an issue as broad as global warming, they would expect there to be many different views on many different aspects of the global warming debate which would be subject to a great deal of discussion. They then say:
Yet the expectation of a rich debate among scientists about climate change does not reconcile easily with the widely endorsed shibboleth that human activity will warm the globe dramatically and dangerously over the next one hundred years. Any discussion that doubts the fundamental premises of climate change is dismissed by the mainstream media and climate scientists as pseudo-science conducted by quacks or ideologues.
Indicating they believe such isn't happening. They hold the global warming debate is not as wide or diverse as it should be due to societal or other pressures which discourage such from happening. Whether or not one agrees this is true, the concept is logical. If societal or other pressures were pressuring people not to express a lack of agreement, or even disagreement, on certain points, that could cause the debate on global warming to not show the breadth it ought to. Based on the idea that is the case, the authors then say:
In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming. Does this mean that climate change is not happening? Not necessarily. But it does mean that we should be wary of the meretricious arguments mustered in its defense.
In their view, the "consensus" on global warming is being pressured or even forced by various pressures unconnected to the actual evidence currently available. Their view is the "consensus" on global warming is not a fair representation of the actual evidence. As such, that people are pushing the idea there is a "consensus" is evidence, to these authors at least, that those people don't have solid enough evidence for their views and are instead resorting to trying to force an agreement with societal or other pressures.
Read in context, this argument is coherent and sensible. The facts of it may be wrong. People need not agree on how severe the complexity issue is or that there are societal and other pressures trying to force a "consensus" on people. That wouldn't make the argument illogical though; it would just make the argument wrong.
It is only by stripping this altered quote of context one could present it as saying things like:
there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the existence of atoms or conservation of energy, because there's a universal consensus on both.
In fact, the authors explicitly referred to how a consensus can be reached in a manner which does not indicate a lack of evidence:
In other arenas, only after a theory has been empirically verified has the scientific community coalesced around it
Which makes it clear the authors are not saying the existence of a consensus inherently indicates a problem, but rather, are saying the existence ofa consensus in cases where a consensus is not justified indicates a problem. That's a pretty simple idea, and the context of this quote makes is abundantly clear. Yet Appell says:
— David Appell (@davidappell) April 19, 2016
I think you'd have to try very hard not to see how the context of the quote makes it clear the authors didn't mean what Appell claims they meant.