Science and the Climate

I just finished Fred Singer’s book about how warming is not anthropogenic. It’s a little better than The Heat Is On in terms of actually presenting a scientific argument, but not by much.  Certainly not a worthy match for Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren. Of course that doesn’t mean Singer isn’t right, it just means he’s not a good spokesman for the cause (although his is one of the names I see mentioned most frequently as a “prominent scientist” who refutes AGW). I think maybe Lindzen from MIT would be a better mouthpiece, but it seems he hasn’t written any books targeted at a scientifically literate mass audience. Bummer.

Yeh, I’m spending way too much time on this climate investigation. :-) But I find it really interesting, not just because, if right, the implications for my grandchildren could be staggering. But also because it gives a fascinating glimpse into how people believe what they believe, and how people come to think they know something about things they can’t touch or see, either through science, through propaganda, or whatever.  And then how they try to convince others of their belief and defend it against attack.  Here you see  in-group dynamics — an “us-vs them” mentality – come into play in a big way.   The topic also raises many questions about the scientific process itself, how it works generally and whether it can work when issues beyond science impinge.

The confirmation bias, in particular, seems a particularly pernicious enemy of the truth. And you can see it everywhere in talk from AGW proponents and skeptics alike. And if we’re truly honest, I think it’s inevitable that each of us will notice it in ourselves. I know I notice it all the time. So how does one overcome one’s own confirmation bias and truly evaluate the evidence for what it is?
It’s not easy, I think. You have to keep questioning yourself — is this evidence really compelling or do I just find it so because it matches what I already believe? Is this study really junk, or do I just find it so because it opposes what I already believe? You have to think hard about what could possibly be wrong with every piece of evidence, not just the evidence presented by your opponents.   And you need to look closely at *every* piece of evidence. This is the really difficult one. The confirmation bias naturally leads us to filter the very information we receive. It’s simply not as much fun to read something that disagrees with what we believe. I believe the degree to which an individual is able overcome the confirmation bias is a big factor in what separates a great scientist from a mere propagandist. Unfortunately you see far too many propagandists on both sides of any controversial issue like this one.

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