The Appeal to Ignorance
When confronted by new information which clashes with their previous assumptions, people do their best to resolve the contradiction. By ‘do their best’, I do not mean to patronize. In criticizing the thinking of those who accept the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change (CACC), I am criticizing myself, or at least a more naive version of myself, since I too casually believed the doctrine before becoming more informed.
Most people, as I was, are lacking in scientific knowledge or logical expertise, so they use ‘informal logic’ to test out any novel proposition. In other words, we resort straight to fallacies – as we have been taught to do. So faced with, say, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist stating outright that anthropogenic global warming theory is a lie, we feel unqualified to comprehend the science or interpret the data ourselves, and so we jump from the ‘What?’ question – the facts of the case – to the ‘Why?’, which we somehow feel more qualified to answer.
“Why would they lie to us about [x]?”
This is a mistake, of course. It’s putting logic – formal or otherwise – before grammar, an inversion of the correct procedure. ‘Grammar’ here denotes the What? which must come first. We have to understand the sentence, if you like, before we can interpret its meaning. Nevertheless, we tend to feel that it’s the best we can do, and so we ask –
Question: But why would they lie to us about [x] ?
Answer: I don’t know.
Conclusion: Therefore they are not lying to us about [x].
This is known in logic as the Appeal to Ignorance, and it shows how ignorance reinforces and protects itself. Defaulting to a question which you are not in a position to answer – the ‘why would they’ question – settles the question based on a premise of ignorance, which is no premise at all.
Still, the fallacy of the appeal to ignorance is what most of us resort to when confronted with something that conflicts with our paradigms, our understanding of how the world works. We go straight to motive — why would they lie? — which is a secondary question having no bearing on the primary question, ‘ARE they lying?’
So, is Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change, in the formulation of Professor Ivar Giaever, the 1973 Nobel Prizewinner for Physics, real science?
We have to start with [x] itself, the question of what is happening to climate, whether the changes taking place are anthropogenic, what role is played by carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases, how the climate system works and what other forces and processes are at play. As a layperson, one of course has to approach all of this through authority – but to do so critically. Any fault in either the premises of an argument or the reasoning by which a conclusion is reached will invalidate the conclusion. Even if we cannot verify the premises for ourselves, we can validate or invalidate the logic. If the logic is valid, the conclusions may be sound (if the premises are true in the first place). If the logic is invalid, then the conclusions are unsound regardless of the truth or otherwise of the premises.
Thankfully, there are plenty of scientists who are able and willing to outline the issues involved. In terms of scientific principle, the case for anthropogenic climate change and the case against it are by no means difficult for any intelligent layperson to grasp. One has to approach the question in the confidence that science is not a mystery religion – we can comprehend the issues and the nature of the premises and reasoning on which the conclusions are based. By applying critical thinking we must establish, to the best of our ability, whether the premises are true and the logic valid. If the answer is no in either case, then the hypothesis fails, and we must move on to more productive hypotheses.
As soon as you begin to apply some logic and a little understanding of the nature of science, you will begin to see problems everywhere in the treatment of the CACC hypothesis. For a start, you might notice that the proposition that ‘the science is settled’, encountered everywhere in the promotion of CACC theory, is itself fallacious, in fact a contradiction in terms: science, by definition, is never settled. Science is a process, not a product. Anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of what science is understands that all scientific conclusions are provisional, and will quickly see that the statement itself exemplifies confirmation bias – which is, according to Giaever, the definition of pseudo-science.
Nothing in science can ever be conclusively proved by data, and the famous example of swans elucidates what is meant by this. If you are from Europe, you may have seen, in your lifetime, hundreds of white swans. Therefore you would accept, unthinkingly, the proposition that swans – ie, all swans – are white. It would only take a visit to New Zealand and the sight of a single black swan to prove the proposition wrong.
After observing hundreds or thousands of white swans, our conclusion might be that it is extremely likely that swans are always white, but we cannot claim 100% certainty. The science is not ‘settled’. Understanding this, we can then see that the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose remit is only to look at human causes of climate change, is an institution founded on fallacy – it is, by its own terms, an institutionalization of confirmation bias. And once confirmation bias becomes institutionalized, any mention of black swans is first stigmatized and later penalized. Over the past decade, global warming skeptics have been driven from their jobs, denied research funding and suppressed in the scientific journals. Those who ask the appropriate questions are stigmatized and stereotyped. At the same time there have been repeated and increasing calls for the arrest and punishment of so-called ‘climate deniers’. Like Dr Giaever and many other scientists, I protest against these calls for the suppression of science and the criminalization of reason – and cannot distinguish between it and a religious inquisition. It a matter of deep concern when logic makes us heretics.
One doesn’t have to get far into the scientific issues to understand that the argument for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change (CACC) is constructed entirely out of fallacies. Again, even basic epistemology, applied to data which neither side disputes, is enough to invalidate the ‘logic’ used by those determined to present the hypothesis as fact. It is not hard to find clear and accessible expositions of the issues involved. Professor Bob Carter, for instance, can explain to you how temperature reconstructions can be used either to show that the planet is warming or to show that it is cooling, depending on how you ‘fit your line’… in other words, how you ‘cherry-pick’ your start points and end points.
Hopefully you wouldn’t need any kind of expert to explain to you why splicing together two different data sets, as Dr Michael Mann did in creating his famous ‘hockey-stick’ graph of historical temperatures, showing temperatures rocketing upwards in the twentieth century, is wrong. This is the graph to which the UN CACC-istocracy nailed its reputation, and by which its reputation falls.
Both of these examples pertain strongly to the ‘What?’ question. Are global temperatures rising? According to Giaever, it is actually not possible to answer such a question, and even if it were, a variation of 0.8 degrees over a period of one hundred years shows an extraordinary degree of stability. Proceeding to ‘Why are temperatures rising?’ is then an absurdity, since we do not know if they are rising or not, or what the question means or whether it matters.
Dr Roger Revelle of Harvard University was one of the first scientists to advance the hypothesis. Revelle noticed the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the post-war period, and asked in 1957 whether this might be a cause for concern. After more than three decades of studying the question, Revelle concluded that the hypothesis remained unproven and advised that it should not form the basis for drastic action, in a paper co-authored with Fred Singer and Chauncey Starr. (“What to do about greenhouse warming: Look before you leap,” which was published in the summer of 1992.) Some of the most famous names in physics, such as Nobel Prize winner Sir Edward Teller, supported him. The eminent Freeman Dyson committed himself to the ‘denialist’ heresy – otherwise known as logic or common sense:
“I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.”
What distinguishes scientists like these – and Giaever, and Lindzen – is not that they are paid by the oil industry but that they have reached a stage in their careers and an eminence in their fields such that they cannot be intimidated. People like these are in a position to apply the scientific method in this question: the scientist poses a neutral question, and is disinterested in the outcome, finding disproof as satisfying as proof. One of Revelle’s students, however, a certain Al Gore, dismissed his teacher’s warning in a famously ludicrous ad hominem attack, alleging that Revelle had become senile before his death. Gore’s partisan approach to the question shows a complete lack of scientific neutrality.
Gore’s careerist espousal of the global warming hypothesis and his constantly reiterated pronouncements that ‘the science is settled’ reveals a profound ignorance of the scientific method. We can find many examples throughout the history of science where the treatment of ‘inconvenient’ questions (i.e., which threaten establishment agendas) reveals the institutionalization of bias and the suppression of critical thinking. In the case of global warming theory, this suppression has reached the point of repeated calls for the punishment of skeptics or ‘climate deniers’, a fact which should in itself make us suspicious.
The Reverse Correlation
The case for catastrophic anthropogenic climate change rests on a reverse correlation and a series of ad hoc hypotheses.
Firstly it reverses the correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature. If a correlation between A and B is noticed, there are three possibilities: A causes B; B causes A; or some other factor, C, causes both A and B.
Every time you experience a power-cut, you look out of your window and see that starlings have settled on the power lines. This is a correlation, but which way round is it? Have the starlings caused the outage by alighting on the wires, or has the power outage, caused by something else, allowed the birds to settle on the lines without getting cooked to a crisp?
The reconstruction of temperatures and carbon dioxide levels over the past 650,000 years based on ice-core sampling (the single reliable proxy available to science) shows incontrovertibly that rises and falls in temperature occur first, followed by corresponding rises or falls in carbon dioxide levels after a time lag of around eight hundred years. Changes in carbon dioxide levels, then, do not cause rising or falling temperatures, unless it is possible for a later event to cause an earlier one. In fact, if a causal relationship exists between temperature and carbon-dioxide levels, we can more safely conclude that higher and lower carbon dioxide levels are the result, not the cause, of warming and cooling. Oceans absorb carbon-dioxide as they cool and emit it as they warm, and of course oceans warm and cool much more slowly than landmasses.
In addition one must consider the third possibility, that C is driving both A and B. The best candidate for C would be solar activity – and there is some very interesting emerging science by Nir Shaviv and Henrik Svensmark on the precise mechanism by which this would work.
Bait and Switch
While the true direction of the correlation between temperature and carbon-dioxide might be news to casual, uninformed believers in CACC, well-informed (and honest) proponents of the theory will acknowledge the true causality, that temperature drives carbon-dioxide rather the other way round.
Pay attention to Gore’s argument for the reverse correlation between temperature and carbon-dioxide levels in his film An Inconvenient Truth, and note that he assumes the reverse correlation while obfuscating the fact that he is doing so:
“The relationship is actually very complicated, but there is one relationship that is far more powerful than all the others, and that is this: when there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer.” Al Gore’s CO2 Emissions Chart
The reversal is clearly and knowingly deliberate, as evidenced by the fact that Gore performs a bait-and-switch maneuver to deceive his audience, by using the colour red to represent temperature and blue to represent carbon-dioxide in a graph of a thousand year reconstruction of temperature and atmosphere. However, in the next, now famous graph representing a 650,000-year reconstruction, the colours are switched: red now represents carbon-dioxide and blue temperature.
The purpose of this is clearly to obscure the direction of the correlation, obfuscating the real trend that temperature changes occur first, which is visible in the graph and agreed on by all scientists on either side of the debate. The idea that such a switch could be made without such an intention seems impossibly naive to me, and so this is evidence not just that CACC theory is wrong — ‘pathological’ science, in Giaever’s terms — but an example of fraudulent science: an intentional lie. But still we must defer the Why? question until the What? is established
The CACC party, once it became apparent that the true direction of the historical correlation cannot be denied, then introduced a series of ad hoc hypotheses to rescue their primary hypothesis.
Here’s how an ad hoc hypothesis works. I say to you that fluorescent light bulbs are powered by hundreds of tiny leprechauns holding candles inside them.
You smash open such a bulb and say, Look! No leprechauns.
Ah, I say, but the leprechauns might be invisible.
That’s an ad hoc hypothesis. In case of climate change, two main ad hoc hypotheses are used to rescue the failed primary hypothesis of CACC. First, the feedback loop hypothesis, which goes like this: a rise in CO2, which is a greenhouse gas, creates a rise in temperature, which leads to more evaporation and a rise in water vapour, by far the most important greenhouse gas, which creates a feedback loop and a runaway greenhouse effect.
Firstly, this is based on the false premise (QED) that CO2 drives temperature; predictions based on it (such as the tropospheric ‘hotspot’) have not been fulfilled; and of course it is completely illogical, since CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas – if it were true, rises in water vapour alone (or any other greenhouse gas) would create a runaway greenhouse effect. Said runaway greenhouse effect would be triggered every time the sun passed over the ocean. Every summer, every morning, would be a disaster.
The second problem with the feedback hypothesis is that it fails to take account of other variables. The fact is of course that higher temperatures lead to higher evaporation from the oceans, which leads to more cloud cover and an albedo effect which balances the system.
The second ad hoc hypothesis is that of a putative (though undefined) tipping point, i.e., a level of atmospheric carbon-dioxide which would lead to a sudden change in the way the system behaves. Again, this is a case of invisible leprechauns, if I might put it like that, as Professor Richard Lindzen, who is acknowledge as the leading figure in the creation of climatology as a scientific field, explains. It is extremely unusual, if not impossible, for a tipping point to occur in a system characterized by diminishing returns, and climate is one such system: as carbon-dioxide is added to the atmosphere, each quantity added has a decreasing effect; the second million tons has less greenhouse effect than the first, and the third has less than the second, and so on. At this point, the ad hoc hypothesis of a tipping point, an unfalsifiable but highly unlikely hypothesis, cannot stand.
At this point, I think I am justified in concluding that the science of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change theory (CACC) is invalid – either pathological or fraudulent in Giaever’s terms, but not real. Such clear pathology in the science cannot go unnoticed by anyone, expert or layperson, who informs himself as to the issues. The answer to the Why? question cannot be that the scientific establishment is universally incompetent. Clearly the scientific method is being suppressed in regard to climate, and so the question must indeed at this point become not merely ‘Why would they lie to us about climate change?’ but ‘Why are they lying?’ And that is a very interesting question.