Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Being a skeptic: a lifetime commitment

For those with an interest in climate change "skepticism" (as practiced by Fred Singer et al.), you might be interested to know that the same people that argue that the science of climate change is flawed also argued that the science of ozone depletion was flawed.

From http://www.sovereignty.net/floy/phasing.htm :
You see, Sallie Baliunas is Staff Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Deputy Director of the Mount Wilson Institute.

Is Dr. Baliunas a lone ‘contrarian’?

Hardly. Any list of ozone depletion theory ‘contrarians’ is today likely to number hundreds of scientists world-wide with substantial credentials and credibility.

Among them find: Dr. S. Fred Singer, Senior Fellow with the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, Dr. Hugh Ellsaesser of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Dr. Thomas Gold of Cornell University, Dr. Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia, Dr. Marcel Nicolet, world famous atmospheric scientist, Dr. Haroun Tazieff, whose Tazieff Resolution calls for a retraction of the Montreal Protocol, Dr. William Happer of Princeton, and Dr. Frederick Seitz, past head of the National Academy of Science.
Do those names look familiar? I believe that skepticism in the face of advocacy is a virtue, but this group gives skepticism a bad name. And I'm sure that when the next environmental issue arises, we can all guess who'll be "skeptically" investigating the science.


Anonymous said...

I think being a skeptic is a lifelong personality trait, akin to critical thinking. If my wife tells me it's raining outside, I have to personally verify the facts before I do anything, I just won't take anyone's word for anything, thus I suspect I would be a skeptic for most all things, scientific and otherwise.

I would imagine the people you mention here are similar, they need a level of proof (like with AGW) that may be far beyond the believers who accept a summary for policymakers by the IPCC for instance, instead of looking at the uncertainty and conflicting facts presented in the technical reports. Sometimes I wish I were a believer type person who wouldn't question others and those in authority, how much simpler and easy life would be.

Dano said...

Thank you Andrew for another rounding up of the usual suspects. It's good to be reminded that the same contrascientists appear, time after time, in the usual places.

Funny how some of the same people are appearing on the overseas version of the Heritage Victory Tour.

No Call for Papers, no abstracts for journals, no hypotheses, nothing but .ppts.

Any bets that the Wurlitzer Retail Outlets pick up the presentations and run with them?



Anonymous said...

George Landis wrote:

"I think being a skeptic is a lifelong personality trait, akin to critical thinking."

In fact, if you look at the arguments that these people were making back then, one aspect that stands out is their extraordinary gullibility. Over and over again, they would seize on some scrap of evidence that at first sight seemed to weigh against the conventional point of view on stratospheric ozone depletion, trumpt it to the skies, pass it on from one to another,and congratulate eachh other on their superior wisdom, without bothering to look up the original research to see if it in fact implied what they thought. The most outrageous case was the "myth of the 1956 ozone hole" - in a letter to EOS, Nicolet misunderstood a remark in a review article by Dobson, Singer then reproduced the mistake in his 1989 National Review article, Ron Bailey then repeated the claim in Reason magazine citing Singer as a source, and lots of other people repeated Singer and Bailey. Even the most cursory examination of the relevant figure in Dobson's paper shows that they had all misunderstood the remark - but they were so eager to announce that "there was an ozone hole back in the 1950's" that none of them bothered to check.

--Robert P.

Anonymous said...

Just because people may be "lifelong" skeptics doesn't mean they are wrong in each case. There were some who were quick to jump on the global cooling bandwagon (and no I am not saying that had the broader science community's support), and in those cases, the skeptics were right to be cautious in their acceptance of a theory. Science needs skeptics just as it needs progressives who dive ahead on new ideas despite widespread reluctance to support their theories. If you separate the science from the "politics of action" on any issue, skeptics play an important role by making sure that the scientists advancing an idea cross their t's and dot their i's before drawing conclusions from data they collect. Their reluctance has certainly slowed the political response to changing conditions in cases like AGW, but their presence and cross examination of data and theories makes the science better in my opinion. Whether you agree with their opinions, or feel their skepticism about a given topic is warranted, is up for debate just like anything else; but the presence of skepticism in science is a good thing and skeptic should not be a dirty word.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, that is painful.

Floy Lilley, J.D.
Murchison Chair of Free Enterprise
College of Engineering
U. Texas, Austin

J.D. -- a law degree.

Writing in 2001, and presumably teaching engineering students, that the ban onchlorofluorocarbons was not needed.

Well, it's good in one way -- it will teach them not to trust lawyers, eh? At least those willing to look up the published research for themselves.

Er, do engineers to that? Or do they just believe what they're taught?