This blog is mostly aimed at a source of criticism and fact checking for the blog 'real science' run by someone who goes by the name Steven Goddard. It is intended that material presented here is informative, neutral, impersonal and well sourced such that any of my claims can be checked and criticized in their own right if necessary.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Poor arguments used in climate science debates.

Merely my observations. A few common fallacies used when debating.

1) Quote mining:

Quoting famous scientists, authors, celebrities, the man on the street e.c.t in such a way to advance a point. Generally this is ill-advised as essentially anyone can be made to support any proposition by skilfully quote mining them, i.e taking the person out of context. Typically quotations are judged on how profound they sound, rather than actual utility. Instead of quotations which might be appropriate in an English literature exam, I would recommend a reference instead. Here is a webpage that gives an exemplar method of citation <> Obviously it is not expected in a forum setting, but a URL to a journal article is not too much to ask.

2) Appeals to conflict of interest or conspiracy

In the first case, such an objection could be justified. However it is not the case simply to assert a conflict of interest without justification. All scientific papers and journal articles are plagued by this phenomena, although the peer review process tends to minimize the effect for high impact journals, so be weary of open access, or articles not submitted for peer review. Certainly using conflict of interest as a way of simply discarding a journal article without even reading it, is completely inappropriate. This however, generally only applies to situations where confirmation bias is reasonably low which boils down to the peer review system once again. In the case of conspiracy of suppression, there are statistical means to implying publication bias for instance, however it is all too easy to assert a conspiracy without evidence, because by definition a conspiracy theory is un-falsifiable. Anything that can be applied without distinction to any publication is not a useful determinant of validity.

3) Giving undue weight to individual scientists.

The same applies to giving undue weight to a single scientific study. An argument from an individual scientist given to the public will seem convincing regardless of the position, usually because the scientist is arguing from a position of knowledge, whereas the public come from a position of relative ignorance. Thus appeals to the general public, and media are no substitute for the peer review process and the opinions of other scientists, and colleges in the community. Now, by the same token one should not simply dismiss the opinion of a scientist because he or she disagrees with most of his or her colleagues. However new and innovative ideas would still be examined by said colleagues. This is the concept of reliability, and repeat-ability.

4) Poor referencing, often to blogs or media articles.

Now of course, the reference should suit the purpose. It is fine to link to a newspaper that objectively reports on a phenomena in science; i.e scientific journalism. However, blogs and newspapers are not the place for original research and should never be referenced to in the context of a review of evidence (or indeed a 'systematic review' in the case of a paper published examining all the relevant evidence for a particular concept).  This holds true particularly if the concept or idea conflicts with current understanding. For instance, I could get away with talking about Newtonian mechanics by referencing to a informative website, or the general media - I wouldn't be expected to go back to Newton's principia. However in the case of paradigm shifting ideas, I would be expected to provide a more appropriate reference.

5) Ad homenin attacks, tone critisms.

Often these just annoyingly get in the way. In the first case, an ad homenin attack is critisising a persons character with the aim of refuting their idea. As always, an idea or concept is true regardless of the author. In the second case, tone criticisms are a specific example of an ad homenin attack. I.e attacking the presentation of an argument, rather than the argument itself. That is not to say tone isn't important, or cannot be critsised, but shouldn't be done so under a veil of refuting a concept or idea.

6) Arguments from ignorance - the big one.

Or arguments for intuition. Allow me to construct an analogy. If you push an object, it moves faster. If you push an object going pretty fast, it goes even faster. So if you push an object moving at the speed of light it will go faster surely?! This is a simple one that most people should be aware of, but counter-intuitive concepts are extremely pervasive in science. For instance, try and explain to me concisely why moving faster on a bicycle increases stability, and why a person might fall of if they were to move too slowly? Or perhaps, why drinking alcohol actually lowers your body temperature not raises it. Or why the sea ice in antartica is growing despite a generally warming southern ocean? I think I have made my point. Just because something is counter intuitive does not mean it is 'obviously' wrong. I would be weary of even using the word 'obvious' at all. But before making an argument from intuition, please consider how realistic the view is, that no climate scientist would have thought about such an 'obvious' objection.

7) Fitting evidence to the conclusions.

It is possible to tell sometimes when people are doing this. Please, before making an argument consider whether you have checked a reasonable body of evidence. And I don't mean 'from both sides of the argument'. The idea that simple dichotomies exist in climate science is incredibly naive, a more accurate reality is different models/methods producing different results that have different interpretations.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Robert Wagner article . Opening paragraph

So, I read this article that seems to have caught people's attention recently:

I'm going to have a look at some of the problems with this article, and offer a few refutations. Note I will be quoting from the article, but note this is allowed under copyright law as fair use.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.
It is my understanding that this quote originates from Richard Feynman. I think it is important to give the full context of this quote. As far as I can tell it originated from a lecture to a teachers association in 1966. Now I have to admit, I have not yet been able to fully ascertain the reliability of the source I am about to give for the Richard Feynman lecture. However there are sources which do seem to corroborate the existence of this lecture as the origin of the quote. So with that caveat in mind I will give a bit of context to feynman's quote (courtesy of

"We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on, but these do not thereby become established science, established knowledge. They are merely an imitative form of science analogous to the South Sea Islanders' airfields--radio towers, etc., made out of wood. The islanders expect a great airplane to arrive. They even build wooden airplanes of the same shape as they see in the foreigners' airfields around them, but strangely enough, their wood planes do not fly. The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. [But] you teachers, who are really teaching children at the bottom of the heap, can maybe doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
The overriding context being a presentation to science teachers about the teaching of science and the danger of 'going through the motions' in a way that isn't critical, reflective or willing to question. I haven't managed to fully wrap my head around the actual quote. But I think the following interpretation provided by Wagner is dubious:

"Science isn't about joining the herd. Science isn't about confirming someone else's work. Science is about looking at the world, looking at the current explanation, deciding that the world is wrong and you are right, and then going out and proving it.
It seems to me like feynman would agree with some of this (incidentally its worth reading the proceeding paragraph to the one quoted by Feynman and preferably the whole thing), science isn't about joining the herd, that is definitely true. I would take issue with the 2nd bit though, because science is about confirming (or falsifying) other people's work. In fact the crux of the scientific method is the idea of empirical reliability. I.e if something is reliable, an independent scientist would expect to be able to achieve a similar result. If a result is not reliable, then it will not be accepted; and rightly so. A well known example of this was cold fusion, the results that were claimed could not be verified by any other scientists so the idea was subsequently dropped. As for the 3rd part, I would also take great exception to this. You do not 'decide' the world is wrong, you do an experiment, or observe a phenomena that casts doubt on conventional theories. And this has been done countless times, for instance Young cast doubt on the idea that light was composed of particles 'corpusculs'. We now universally accept that light does have wave-like properties. Of course Young didn't just decide the world was wrong, but his interference experiment did provide evidence against the corpuscular idea with the wave-like interference property.

"In real science the status quo is the null hypothesis to be rejected, not confirmed.
Yes, this is true. In science an alternative hypothesis is provided H1 'light is wavelike', and evidence is provided that can either confirm the idea is true in a certain confidence limit (for instance there is a 95% chance that the evidence in support of  H1  does not arise from chance - note in some aspects of modern physics confidence limits tend to be very high, and are quoted in multiples of the standard deviation i.e sigma, a '5 sigma' event corresponds to a likelihood of 99.99994%). If the experiment does not meet the agreed confidence limit then we are forced to revert to the null hypothesis 'default position' as it could be argued that the phenomenon can simply be explained by chance. If the confidence limit is met, then the null hypothesis is rejected, and the alternative hypothesis accepted.

"Never in my life have I seen scientists going out to prove the null hypothesis is true...except in the field of climate "science.
Well in this context I suppose the alternative hypothesis might be 'humans are responsible for at least some (significant amount) of the recent warming over the last few decades' (this is just for illustrative purposes, a much less vague hypothesis would in reality be used). Of course in order to confirm this alternative hypothesis within a certain level of confidence, evidence must be provided. Given that there is a consensus that anthropomorphically induced global warming exists, the implication would be that the standard of evidence needed to reject the null hypothesis has been reached. It is possible to find many scientific papers (although abstracts are usually all that is publically avalible) on basic search engines like Google scholar. For instance here is a link to a relativly recent paper in a high impact journal:

but since the view that humans play some role in climate change is so pervasive it is often more common to find articles like this highly cited one from nature:

which do not discuss the existence of AGW but rather go into specific detail about climate change, while implicitly accepting humans have some role in the main body of the paper. Most papers on climate change don't even express a position on AGW which is what the cook et al paper found:

Going out to prove the null hypothesis is true, would presumably mean showing there is no evidence for AGW. Apart from there being a complete lack of scientific journal articles that do that, isn't that what you are saying we shouldn't do? I am a little confused.

"It is called the "scientific method," something people that blindly accept the man made climate change theory apparently know nothing about.
Any blind acceptance is against the scientific method, regardless of the position. I would examine the evidence for man made climate change before claiming such a position is blind. This paper would be an excellent start because it is a meta analysis, i.e it analyses different research done using different methods to produce a representive idea about what is going on - in this case about climate sensitivity and humans.

"Like medieval inquisitors, supporters of climate change "science" don't debate the issue, they insult, intimidate, smear and ridicule.
So that is your alternative hypothesis then? Can you show within appropriate confidence limits that scientists that hold such a view are represented  by 'insult, intimidate, smear and ridicule'. Of course among individuals you should have no problem confirming the alternative hypothesis, but trying to justify this stereotype is harder. I could equally point to 'climate skeptics' that have done similar things, but I don't think it would gain anything. Anyway, this is an argument about tone; and at the end of the day a poor tone is unprofessional but it is still independent of the evidence and a valid argument.

"Real scientists are by nature skeptical, it is a defining characteristic of science.
Of course. So are you skeptical of a round earth, evolution, or the expanding universe? I am, and I would not accept any of them lightly, and I would dismiss them without evidence. But there is evidence for these three things, just as there is evidence for evolution. Part of being skeptical is weighing up the evidence that exists, an unexplained phenomenon that doesn't fit the evidence would be brought to the table as something to discuss, not ignore. That is why dark matter is such a big topic in physics, because our current understanding of gravity fails to adequately explain the rotation of galaxies. Evidence that is not explained by the AGW model would similarly pose an issue and therefore be readily discussed.

"Somehow in Orwellian fashion being a "skeptic" has become an insult, not a merit is climate "science." Skeptics are called "flat earthers," "deniers," and climate "heritics."

The act of being a skeptic is not the reason 'climate skeptic' has become an insult. The reason for this is because it represents throwing out a working model that explains reality well for no reason, just like throwing out a round earth would. So the analog is reasonable, climate scientists are similarly skeptical about a round earth. The crux of the matter is, there is no elephant in the room - rejecting the notion of a round earth would only be reasonable in light of paradigm shifting evidence. Experimental evidence that may arrive tomorrow, although admittedly highly unlikely.

"Skeptics are to be shunned and ignored, and ironically the ones who don't have science on their side.
On the contrary the opposite is true:

This represents some of the issues with the opening paragraph. I will en-devour to examine the rest of the article when I have time.