In our last post, we looked at how a recent paper by the proprietor of the Skeptical Science website, a man named John Cook (and two co-authors), claimed global warming skeptics hold "incoherent" beliefs by grossly misrepresenting and distorting a variety of quotes.
Specifically, Table 2 of the paper provided quotations from several different skeptics which supposedly showed those skeptics contradicting themselves. This was a key issue for the paper, which was titled "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism" based on the well-known quote from the story Alice and Wonderland:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This is the key concept for the paper. It's entire concept rests on the idea skeptics hold "incoherent" beliefs because they are willing to and capable of holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. The evidence they offer to support this claim is bogus though. We can tell just by looking at Nazis.
If you're wondering what the Nazis have to do with anything, good. That's the point. We'll get to it in a minute. First, we need to understand the nature of the argument offered in this paper. While they do claim individual skeptics are willing to hold contradictory beliefs, they explain that doesn't have to be true for their argument:
Our analysis was performed at the aggregate level; that is, we considered the incoherence of collective argumentation among a “community” of like-minded individuals as if it were a single intellectual entity. It is possible, therefore, that individuals within this community would only hold one or the other of two incoherent views, and that each person considered in isolation would not be incoherent. In that case, one could argue that there is merely a heterogeneity of views in the “community” of denialists, which might in turn be interpreted as being an indication of “healthy debate” or “scientific diversity” rather than incoherence.
We reject both the possibility and its hypothetical implication.
Our introductory quotations of Ian Plimer established that the argumentative incoherence that we analyzed in this article also arises within arguments offered by the same individual. Table 2 lists additional contradictory statements that, unlike those in Table 1, were made by the same person on separate occasions. This sample is far from exhaustive but is sufficient to establish the existence of argumentative incoherence at the level of the individual in addition to the denial movement in the aggregate.
Moreover, even if incoherence were entirely confined to being between the opinions of different individuals, there are several reasons why this would not be reflective of “healthy debate” or “scientific diversity”.
Basically, their argument is even if individual skeptics do not contradict themselves, that doesn't matter because skeptics as a whole hold contradictory beliefs. That is, skeptics don't all agree with one another. This is somewhat nonsensical. That people disagree with one another in no way means the general stance they hold is wrong. Even climate scientists disagree with one another on many issues.
This isn't to say the argument is nonsensical or "incoherent." In theory, the less disagreement there is amongst a group, the more likely they would be to be correct. This isn't always true, but as we've seen in science, it is true more often than not. The reason is when people know more as a whole, they are more likely to come to the correct conclusion. That's not surprising.
Of course, there are times groupthink and other issues cause people as a whole to gravitate toward beliefs that are incorrect. That's also not surprising. It's also not important for today's post (though it is always an important point to consider). For today's post, there are two points which matter.
First, the less people know about a topic, the more disagreement there will be. That people who disagree with the mainstream view on any particular subject might disagree with one another than people who endorse the mainstream view is unremarkable. That's how disagreements work. People who think the popular answer is wrong are not likely to all agree on what the "right" answer is.
Second, the authors of this paper offer no evidence global warming skeptics disagree with one another any more than various climate scientists disagree with themselves. The authors say:
First, as we noted at the outset, science strives for coherence (e.g., Douglas 2013; Laudan 1984; Roche 2014; Thagard 2012) and there is little room for incoherent theories in science (and any incoherence contains within it an impetus for reconciliation). The scientific consensus on climate change embodied in the IPCC reports represents a coherent body of knowledge that draws an arc from the microscale of molecular chemistry (viz. the heat absorbing properties of CO2CO2 ) to the macroscale of a suite of global indicators (viz. global temperatures, sea level rise, mass loss in the cryosphere, and so on). This coherence is attained even though several thousands of scientists are involved in production of the report as authors and reviewers. It follows that if climate denial were to constitute scientific reasoning—as is its purported purpose (e.g., Solomon 2008)—then it would exhibit coherence notwithstanding the presence of multiple agents and actors. The fact that it fails to achieve this and that incoherence is manifest at the aggregate (Table 1) as well as at the individual level (Table 2) leaves little doubt about the non-scientific nature of denial.
But this doesn't quantify the amount of agreement of disagreement amongst climate scientists. All it says is many (not all) climate scientists agree with a report which offers different ranges of possibilities on many different issues. Are those ranges and disagreement smaller than one would find with global warming skeptics? Maybe. Who knows though? The authors do nothing to find out.
This brings us back to the Nazis. I don't normally like to bring up Nazis in conversations because the subject is rarely relevant. Nazis usually only come up if someone wants to score cheap rhetorical points by comparing someone they dislike to the most vile group they can think of. However, Table 1 of this paper offers this as a "contradiction" amongst skeptics:
Now, the authors don't say which skeptics believe Nazis invented global warming. Maybe some do. I can't say I've ever heard that claim myself, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn't just Godwin's Law at work. Even so, I can't help but notice the source they provide for this table of supposed contradictions is:
That is a web page on the Skeptical Science website, run by John Cook. That's the same John Cook who is an author of this paper. The page is just a page he manages, which claims to list contradictory skeptic positions. It does not, however, offer any evidence or sources to demonstrate anyone believes the things the page claims they believe.
A naive person might think science requires actual evidence. As in, if you want to claim a group of people hold "incoherent" beliefs, you need to show those people actually hold those beliefs. You couldn't just make a web page that says they do, cite that web page in a "scientific" paper and claim to have proven people you dislike are "incoherent."
Of course, that is the same naivety which would lead a person to expect tables in a scientific paper listed as being contradictions would in fact be contradictions. Our last post showed that wasn't true for the examples where individual skeptics supposedly contradicted ourselves. A previous post showed it wasn't even true in general, as the statistical argument the authors used to claim it is was completely bogus.
But what about this one? I'm not talking about Table 1 in general. No. I want to know, what's the contradiction involving Nazis? You don't normally bring up Nazis unless you have a good reason, so why did the authors of this paper bring it up? Why did the authors say some skeptics believe:
Global warming is a socialist plot
Which contradicts the belief of other skeptics who say:
The Nazis invented global warming
The truth is: I don't know. I have no idea what the authors were thinking. What I do know is a bit of history. That bit of history tells me the Nazi party was the:
The National Socialist German Workers' Party
That's right. The Nazis were socialists. If the Nazis invented global warming, then by definition, global warming would have to be a socialist plot. While the authors claims these beliefs contradict one another, they in fact are mutually necessary. If a person believes one, they must necessarily believe the other.
In sum, the authors provide no evidence global warming skeptics as a whole believe what they claim global warming skeptics believe. The only "source" they offer is a webpage ran by one of the authors where he can just add whatever claims he wants without any verification. On top of this, the authors misrepresent a variety of quotes to falsely claim specific individuals contradict themselves (see the last post). Then they misuse and abuse statistics to claim data shows skeptics contradict themselves using a methodology that will give them the results they want even with 0 data. On top of all this, they claim it is contradictory to believe a socialist party invented a socialist plot.
Amazingly, there is still more wrong with this paper. Stay tuned for future posts!