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Food (Vegan, of course, so as to minimize global warming) for Thought

I ran across this article today on a link trail. Basically, it is an article from 1995 which explains the steps necessary to establish and “sell” a pseudoscience. While reading it, I found it impossible not to extrapolate from the subliminal tapes and phone psychics Pratkanis was talking about to the current state of affairs regarding global warming. Take some time to read it and see if the same idea doesn’t present itself (as it did to Motl, here).

Pratkanis’s first step in selling a pseudoscience is the establishment of a phantom:

…an unavailable
goal that looks real and possible; it looks as if it might be obtained
with just the right effort, just the right belief, or just the right amount
of money
, but in reality it can’t be obtained. Most pseudosciences are
based on belief in a distant or phantom goal. Some examples of pseudoscience
phantoms: meeting a space alien, contacting a dead relative at a seance,
receiving the wisdom of the universe from a channeled dolphin, and improving
one’s bowling game or overcoming the trauma of rape with a subliminal tape.

(emphasis mine)

In this context, Motl makes the following point about anthropogenic global warming pseudoscientists and their acolytes:

the phantom or impossible goal is to stop the climate from changing

(emphasis mine)

When you reduce it to its most basic form, that is, indeed, what the AGW folks are asking us to do. (With the added bonus of wrecking Western economies, industry and capitalism.) To which the only rational response is: You’re out of your fucking mind. But, that is the hubris that is involved here. (see the post on environmental anthropomorphism)

Responsible AGW skeptics (with an emphasis on the Anthropogenic part) are not “Climate Change Deniers” as often portrayed. I (yes, I know, the question as to whether or not I can be considered “responsible” is still very much open, but play along anyway) have maintained that the world is not as hot as it was 1000 years ago and not as cold as it was in the 1600’s and it will probably get warmer for a while whether or not all traces of humanity were to be wiped of the planet or not. But (let’s assume for a minute that you are playing along and are pretending that I am a responsible AGW skeptic) my effort to discuss my view rationally will, of course, never be engaged at face value. (see Pratkanis’s point 7 on pre-persuasion and 9 on attacking opponents through innuendo and character assassination)

Try reading a news article, press release or blog entry by an AGW true believer using Pratkanis’s framework. It may not change your life, but it might amuse you.

I have to add, that none of us are immune to using these deceits. But when reading about stuff like this, it seems to me it is sometimes helpful to try to distill the message down to “What is he asking for?”

Take recent comments by NASA’s Hansen (whose data is often used by the AGW folks as definitive proof). Hansen has been criticized by skeptics because his results included “corrections” for various factors (some of which are no doubt legitimate) but he will not release the algorithms used to “correct” the raw data. Although I am not accusing Hansen of doing so, I am a good enough mathematician that if you allow me to “correct” data for unspecified biases I can “prove” that (for example) the facility I work for has a 95% success rate (it is actually around 65-70% in the short term) and as long as I don’t tell you how I “corrected” the data, you can’t prove me wrong. Sure, you can point out the individuals here and there who were not successful, but you can’t show that my 95% figure isn’t correct. Your only recourse would be to ask how I went about calculating my figure.

Now, let’s look at Hansen’s recent statement about a recently discovered error in the computer program which does the “corrections”.

The said computer program is rerun every month as new meteorological station data and new satellite sea surface temperature data are reported. The program produces a global surface temperature field using an analysis scheme documented by Hansen et al. (2001) http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2001/2001_Hansen_etal.pdf The flaw affected temperatures only in the United States (by about 0.15°C) and only in 2000 and later. We corrected the flaw in the program, thanked the fellow who pointed it out, and thought that was the end of it….

Make no doubt, however, if tipping points are passed, if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control, the contrarians who work to deny and confuse will not be the principal culprits. The contrarians will be remembered as court jesters. There is no point to joust with court jesters. They will always be present. They will continue to entertain even if the Titanic begins to take on water. Their role and consequence is only as a diversion from what is important.

Notice that there is no consideration of the possibility that if one flaw existed there might be others? Instead, there is a lengthy attack on people who raise that possibility. I think it is fair to paraphrase Hansen as asking us to ignore the fact that there was one tiny error and trust him that the rest of the data and its “corrections” are perfect.

Contrast that to the request of folks like Steve McIntyre who are only asking to be allowed to see how the “corrections” are done.

I don’t have time to go into my belief that Hansen is ignoring the idea that court jesters often performed the function of pointing out the foibles of the powerful in the court. It isn’t an original idea; I read it on a blog last week and don’t have time to look for it tonight.

I also don’t have time to go into the idea that Hansen proves through his misuse of quotes that he doesn’t have a clue what Thomas Jefferson was really saying about the concept of “usufruct” and that if he really did understand he would know that Jefferson would be appalled by his attempt to bring our children, grandchildren and the unborn into the equation of what we should do now. See Motl for a discussion of this point.

And why don’t I have time to do the scholarly thing and flesh out these arguments? Well, there is some resource intensive, large carbon dioxide footprint from production and transport producing peppered bacon and some home-grown tomatoes downstairs calling to me, just begging to be turned into BLT’s. And since I feel no obligation to leave either the bacon or the tomatoes to future generations, it’s dinnertime!

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