Even though I was wrong I’m still right…
I’ve just been listening to BBC Radio 4’s More Or Less. It was the episode announcing that the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s scientific adviser Dr David Whitehouse had won a £100 bet made on the programme four years ago with climatologist Dr James Annan. Annan predicted temperatures would rise in that period; Whitehouse predicted they wouldn’t. Annan lost.
But you’d never guess it from his high-handed tone when he was asked why he’d lost. “Just bad luck,” Annan explained, going on to insist (contradicting most available real-world data, it must be said) that the trend for global warming remained “robustly positive.” He then agreed to another four-year bet. If it went against him a second time would he change his mind, Annan was asked. At first he appeared to agree that it would but then he started backtracking, insisting that it wouldn’t change in the slightest his view that carbon dioxide causes global warming.
This “Even though I was wrong I’m still right” syndrome afflicts a lot of people in the climate alarmist community. But then, you can hardly blame them for their wilful self-delusion and glib complacency for they seem to operate in a bubble in which there are no punishments for failure.
The classic example is Paul Ehrlich who lost a famous bet on “scarce resources” with the late economist Julian Simon (aka the “Doomslayer” because he was so good at confounding environmentalists’ hysterical scaremongering using actual scientific data as opposed to computer projections).
The interesting part, as I recall in Watermelons, is what happened next:
While Ehrlich continued to be feted as an environmental seer (in 1990, the year he lost the bet, he won a MacArthur Foundation “genius award”), Simon was invariably dismissed during his lifetime as a right-wing crank.
As a profile in Wired put it: “There seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days “experts” spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.”
Digging that puzzling magic glow, Dr Annan?
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James, please see Dr Lakatos’s talk “Science and Pseudoscience”, published in the Open University’s published in Philosophy in the Open and in The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Philosophical Papers Volume 1 (Transcript here: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/philosophy/about/lakatos/scienceandpseudosciencetranscript.aspx ):
“If we look at the vast seventeenth-century literature on witchcraft, it is full of reports of careful observations and sworn evidence – even of experiments. Glanvill, the house philosopher of the early Royal Society, regarded witchcraft as the paradigm of experimental reasoning. …
“… Knowledge can only be about Nature, but this new type of knowledge had to be judged by the standards they took over straight from theology: it had to be proven beyond doubt. Science had to achieve the very certainty which had escaped theology. A scientist, worthy of the name, was not allowed to guess: he had to prove each sentence he uttered from facts. This was the criterion of scientific honesty. Theories unproven from facts were regarded as sinful pseudoscience, heresy in the scientific community.”
Fact: if you pump CO2 into a greenhouse, it gets warmer. Case closed. However, greenhouses don’t contain oceans and clouds inside them, where the clouds form as a response to the initial warming of the ocean, and then shadow the surface from further warming (negative feedback). This is where people like Nurse/Phil Jones go wrong. It’s also the flaw in the earth centred universe system of Ptolemy, where the planets, sun, moon and stars orbit the earth daily on closed crystalline spheres. Ptolemy was able to predict the positions of the planets etc using an ad hoc mathematical model called epicycles, where fiddles were introduced to allow for the errors in the original foundations of the theory. This way, Ptolemy could ridicule Aristarchus who suggested an alternative idea, but didn’t have the thousands of followers working out predictions that Ptolemy had. AGW is more of this.
Where’s the glass ceiling needed for the greenhouse effect? You must have one, or global warming will cause water vapour which gets warmed by the sun (positive feedback) and thus expands and rises, forming increased cloud cover until the additional warming from the CO2 has been cancelled out. This is anathema to Nurse/Phil Jones and the Guardian writers like Monbiot, who just scoff and ask where the peer-reviewed papers are that prove that hot air rises? What matters to them is not fact, but political correctness. And it matters to you too, since you’re got to be understandable and compelling to a substantial proportion of your readers. It’s not so easy to overcome witchcraft which has billions of funding and is disguised as left-wing ethical morality.