Saturday, 7 September 2013

What Alhazen can teach Monckton about skepticism


I had a feeling of deja vu when I read Lord Monckton's latest screed at WUWT, entitled A Question For Oreskes - But What Do We Mean By Consensus?.  Go there on your own, if you must.  Better still, go here and read what Sou has to say at HotWhopper.

The feeling came from reading the same quotes as I thought I had read in a previous post from Monckton but I must have dreamed it.  Obviously I need to stop eating cheese just before bedtime.  What pricked my ears up was the use of quotes from Alhazen, TH Huxley and others and they all seemed so familiar.  I suspect when you have the same story to tell, you eventually use the same words again and again. 

What also pricked up my ears was the way the quotes were used.  Tiny fragments of quotes are used by Monckton to make his points.  See this, from his current essay (I've picked it out in bold lest you miss it):
Al-Haytham, unlike Naomi Oreskes,[1]did not consider that consensus had any role in science. He wrote that “the seeker after truth” does not put his trust in any mere consensus, however venerable: instead, he submits what he has learned from it to reason and demonstration. Science is not a fashion statement, a political party or a belief system.
Perhaps we might let Alhazen (Al-Haytham) use his own words (albeit in translation) to speak for themselves. Once again I use bold to pick out Monckton's bit:
"The seeker after truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the job of the man who investigates the writings of scientist, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency." 
But look, I've underlined the last sentence because that contains something I bet Monckton isn't so keen on. In which case I am going to throw it back in his face.  "He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."  Pretty straightforward stuff - Richard Feyman once said the easiest person to fool was yourself.  Monckton shows all the signs of having fooled himself.

Perhaps I should expand on that. But I need not bother, just watch any of his presentations and then check against any of the YouTube demolitions, such as Climate Denial Crock of The Week, Potholer or Collin Maessen videos and you will know just what I mean.  Monckton might be genuinely misled, or he might be doing it for other reasons - it matters not. What matters is that his faux idiot act is filled with misrepresentation.

If you don't believe me, here is one, from this very article:
Given these real uncertainties, the IPCC’s claim of 95% consensus as to the relative contributions of Man and Nature to the 0.7 K global warming since 1950 is surely hubris.
You see, even though the IPCC report isn't out yet, someone has leaked the fact that the IPCC is giving a 95% confidence level to the idea that humans have caused the current warming.  Not a 95% consensus.  No, that's what Monckton wants us to believe, today, 7 September 2013.  Wind the clock back all the way to 3 September 2013 (that's four Earth days):
This shock result comes scant weeks before the United Nations’ climate panel, the IPCC, issues its fifth five-yearly climate assessment, claiming “95% confidence” in the imagined—and, as the new paper shows, imaginary—consensus.
Notice, 95% confidence.  The author of this is his majesty King Monckton of His Own Mind. He got it right a few days ago, but today he doesn't bother with accuracy. He just gives the audience what it wants.  Mark Knopfler wrote a beautiful satire on the economic problems of the early 1980s, Industrial Disease which contains the lines "Two men says they're Jesus/One of 'em must be wrong". Same applies here: two statements, one of them must be wrong.

And, of course, Monckton is equally wrong when he calls climate science religion.  I've done that idea over so I won't repeat myself. Rather I'll let Jeff Schweitzer do it just once more.

Monckton's intention in this piece is to cloud the idea that there is a consensus in science on climate change.  That there is one should not be a surprise. Scientists don't work for a consensus but one is arrived at when the evidence is overwhelming. Same goes for quantum physics, the Big Bang, evolution, atomic theory... The list goes on.  The same thought goes for why string theory has no consensus at the moment - the evidence is not strong enough.  It's simple, but obviously not simple enough for some people.

No, wait. It is simple enough for them but they have made a decision not to accept what is straighforwardly simple.  Some evidence I might adduce in favour of my hypothesis that some have chosen the path to confusion:
ATheoK says:
Oreskes got published in Nature!?
Well, that leaves the question; “Can Nature as a scientific outlet, degrade any further?”. I shudder to think how…
Well, they could publish Monckton's dire stuff. That would be degrading further.
RCH says:
Perhaps Lord Monckton would be so inclined as to submit an abbreviated comment to his ‘hometown’ journal, NATURE, where Oreskes’ ill-advised op-ed appeared earlier this week. More from the other side need to read what Christopher Monckton has to say about Oreskes’ poorly thought out views of science (Plate Tectonics) and consensus (politics).
Someone already suggested it.  I think Oreskes's views on plate tectonics are not ill thought out. She is a bit of an expert on it.

RichardSCourtney, habitually over egging his own expertise adds this:
When a scientist seeks consensus as a method to gain support for his science then he becomes a politician, he stops being a scientist, and he becomes a pseudoscientist. And a politician who adopted seeking after truth as his objective would fail in his political activity.
It's a bit trite but so wrong.  Scientists rarely seek consensus as a method to support their science. Instead they watch nervously to see if their ideas pass the test of time. And that does not make them a pseudoscientist. And a politician who seeks the truth would not necessarily fail in his political activity. Perhaps Richard needs to sit back and think a bit first.

As a teacher, I love this one:
Justthinkin says:
A sorta sad story for a sunny Saturday AM,Lord Monckton. I remember wayyyyyy back in HS chemistry,where an errant student flopped her experiment(just a baby bang). Her first words where,”oh my.That’s not right.My method must be bad.” While others laughed,our teacher stood up and awarded her A on the spot.When one of the increduolous students asked why she got an A for failure,he simply answered….because she has demonstrated the traits of a real scientist. She admmited her failure,and not that she was terribly wrong,but that her hypthosesis was wrong,and needed further research and study.
Where have these teachers and students gone?
Well, Justthinkin, we're still here.  But you are mistaken.  "That's not right. My method must be bad" doesn't sound like anything any human would actually say. More likely the surprise of a bang was met with "I must have added the wrong chemicals".  But the teacher is then supposed to have explained to the rest of the class that the errant student got an A because "She admitted failure...her hypothesis was wrong and needed further research and study."  Not according to you. What's the true story or was this one made up?  Justhinkin asked where the preview has gone from WUWT comments.  It's called reading back what you've just written. NB, I corrected some of JT's very bad English for my quotes.

Lots of the WUWT commenters claim things they presumably have little knowledge of. If they are going round thinking teachers don't want students to think for themselves then they are wrong. I love it when a student asks a tricky or challenging question, asks about how science knows things, suggests an idea or an explanation. And so do all of my colleagues. And so do the exam boards. It's just that there is a point at which no matter how many alternative explanations you can put up, there is one that is supported by the huge weight of evidence that it is stupid to think any alternatives are correct. It seems churlish to deny kinetic theory, or the laws of thermodynamics, yet someone out there probably does.

I remember sitting through lots of reading comprehension lessons when I was at school.  Reading for comprehension is important. It is the only way to get the information out of something. I read what Oreskes actually said. She is right. Climate change deniers are in a tiny minority because the greatest number of scientists who actually do study the subject, who do publish on it, are forced by the weight of evidence, to accept the probability that current warming is caused by human activities. They are not stupid, they read scientific papers correctly, they understand the nuances and the inherent uncertainties and they can form their own opinions. They do not seek consensus. They just find themselves in the majority because, ultimately, they are correct.


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