Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Arguing Against the Flood

Baglow assumes role of King Canute in Climategate controversy

With John Baglow now taking a place among the writers of the National Post's Full Comment blog, one has to remember that stranger attempts at bringing ideological diversity to such an outlet have been tried before.

In a recent post there, Baglow helps demonstrate the futility of such exercises if they aren't built on a foundation of respect for the truth.

In the post, Baglow demonstrates that he simply has none.

In a post clearly intended to dispel some of the controversy surrounding the recent exposure of emails from East Anglia University's Hadley Climate Research Unit, Baglow takes on the allegorical role of King Canute, the Egyptian King who believed he could command the tide not to come in.

In Baglow's case, however, he's arguing against more than simply the tide. He's attempting to convince a flood to not breach the levies, and apparently thinks he can do so by arguing far less convincingly than even a historical demagogue like Canute would have dared.

In the post, Baglow attempts to argue against the conclusiveness of the leaked emails, but oddly enough makes no direct reference to any of the emails themselves.
"I grew up with scientists -- astronomers and physicists, mostly -- and they were about the most apolitical crowd I know. They were far too interested in what they were doing. I try to imagine sometimes how these gentle folk might have reacted had some discovery of theirs, and the documentation that accrued around it, led to sudden and savage public attacks from howling cranks and scientific illiterates, including threats, thefts and loony accusations.

They wouldn't even have had the survival-schooling that Galileo had in the art of dancing carefully around the powers that be. A mis-step in those days could kill you. The bold man insisted on his views to the point that he was tried for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. But he still managed to keep friends in the Church: his books were not burned, and neither was he.
Of course, what Baglow declines to mention is that Galileo wasn't dealing with anything nearly so complex as attempting to delineate shifts in the Earth's temperature from tree ring data or ice cores. Galileo was dealing with something as fundamental, basic, and verifiable as the Earth orbiting the sun, as opposed to the other way around.

The conclusions offered by these scientists deal with claims that human activity is leading to an oncoming environmental apocalypse via a warming trend that they cannot irrefutably demonstrate. This inability to irrefutably support their hypotheses even, in time, led to the establishment of "climate change" as a fallback position from "global warming".

The simplicity of this truth is as glaring as the notion of the apolitical scientist. The political agendas attached to the climate change/global warming/whatever they plan to call it tomorrow issue have been as eagerly supported by a legion of activist scientists -- many of whom, like George Monbiot and David Suzuki, are not climatologists.

Yet in the wake of the release of the extremely-damning emails -- in which scientists discuss "tricks" used to "hide the decline" in global temperatures, plans to exclude dissenters from the peer review process, undermine scientific journals that publish dissenting papers, and even fantasize about committing violence against dissenters -- to the researchers in question merely being human.
"The embattled folks at the CRU in East Anglia, deluged with FOI requests, excoriated by denialists (few of whom are scientists, and even fewer, scientists in the field), reacted like human beings. In other words, they did not speak among themselves in that 'neutral' fashion that we have come, stereotypically, to expect of scientists. They called a spade a spade and a crank a crank, and their frustration showed. Now they're paying the price."
What Baglow declines to mention is that they also refuse to cooperate with FOI requests and refused to share their data with other scientists. The emails also speak of the discounting of entire data sets that simply didn't support their theories, and the artificial bolstering of other data sets in order to (in the now-famous phrase) "hide the decline".
"After two weeks, the so-called mainstream media have joined in on the feeding frenzy already bloodying the blogosphere, and they're doing nearly as badly. I read Doug Saunders' piece in the Globe this morning, in which he uses phrases like 'dangerous bunker mentality' and 'data-fudging scandal' as though the first was unexpected and the second, established. He quotes an excitable scientist who claims the mass theft of emails has 'set the climate debate back 20 years.'"
Indeed, the emails have set the climate debate back 20 years -- to when there was a debate, before activist scientists like those at East Anglia University worked so hard to shut the debate down.

On that note, setting back the debate 20 years has actually been a good thing, even if -- or especially because -- it imperils the political agendas swirling around the issue.
"On a political level, he says, the 'controversy has been catastrophic.' That, too, is grossly overstated, I think, but it is certainly the case that political denialists have not been slow to seize an opportunity and leverage it, as we saw just a few days ago in Australia, and then in Saudi Arabia, where it's all about oil. The latter, according to the breathless Saunders, 'will argue in Copenhagen that carbon-emissions controls are pointless because the CRU scandal has nullified any evidence of human-caused atmospheric temperature increase.'

'Nullified?' Did the earth stop rotating around the sun because Galileo was indiscreet enough to insult the Pope in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems?
Leave it to a true believer like Baglow to continue pushing this increasingly ill-fitting analogy. Unlike the CRU emails, Galileo's diaries contain no revelations about Galileo deliberately tailoring his scientific method to produce the kind of astronomical data that would support his theory.

There are no such revelations in Galileo's journals because he, unlike the CRU researchers, did no such thing.
"Says a critical climate scientist from East Anglia, Mike Hulme, 'I think there is a serious problem with the way scientists are used, and they way they position themselves, in climate-policy debates. Wherever you look around climate change, people are bringing their ideologies, beliefs and values to bear on the science.'

No kidding. Perhaps one positive thing that might emerge from this political tempest in a teapot is a public awareness that scientists are fallible, emotional, and anything but value-free--just like everyone else. Rather than having privileged access to some 'objective' realm denied to the rest of us, they are equipped with a well-tested and productive procedure. The only ethical question is how that procedure--observation, analysis of data, tests of replication, predictability and empirical adequacy, and so on--is administered.
That's a rather odd admission from someone who had previously promoted the myth of the apolitical scientist. But no matter.

Baglow goes on to claim that "thus far we simply have no smoking gun", despite the numerous emails that reveal the Hadley CRU's perversion of the very scientific methods Baglow speaks of here: observation, analysis of data, tests of replication, and empirical adequacy (at one point one of the researchers even decries their inability to produce data that supports their theories).

Baglow goes on to offer the same tired old denunciations of scientific dissenters at this point, even envoking the spectre of oil companies.

But odder still is that, even as Baglow dismisses the importance of the revelations offered by the Climategate emails without any reference to any of the emails themselves, Baglow goes on to state that he isn't very well versed in the science himself.

One supposes that his faith in climate research stems from him simply accepting the assurances of researchers like those at the now rightfully-discredited Hadley CRU that their science was unassailable, their conclusions irrefutable, and the debate settled.

Even as the flood of well-and-rightly-inspired skepticism washes over the climate debate, John Baglow seeks to stand at the levies so recently broken -- whether by computer hacker or by an internal whistle blower remains unknown -- like a modern-day King Canute and try to convince the flood not to burst forth.

But it's far, far too late for that. Whether Baglow likes it or not, the flood is now upon he and his contemporaries. It will take better arguments than the ones Baglow offers to convince the waters to recede.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Sorry, Kevvy. Only people with something to contribute are allowed here.

  3. King Canute, the Egyptian King who believed he could command the tide not to come in.

    A keeper. Stay in school, Patsy.


Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.