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The Suspension of Skepticism

July 15, 2016

How many opinions make up a fact?

The entire body of human knowledge has its foundation in logic, reason, and empiricism. We observe. We question. We attempt to explain. We want to know. As we’ve fine tuned the processes logic, reason, and empiricism depend on… math, philosophy, scientific method, etc… the growth of our body of knowledge has greatly accelerated. This has led to rapid improvements in every measure of human well being. We are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. We have managed to largely insulate ourselves against many of the forces of nature that formerly humbled and destroyed us. Disease, predators, and climactic conditions are more and more held at bay. War and other forms of violence are in decline. We’ve made great strides in much of the world in pollution control and protection of biodiversity and environment. These improvements are measurable. Statistics attest, and can be investigated at and, among others.

Despite this amazing progress, and the empirical data that says it is true, large numbers of people around the world contend that things are NOT getting better, and are getting worse. They are pessimistic even though there is every reason to be optimistic for the future of humanity and nature. A great number of scientists share in this pessimism. And they always have. Human history is littered with prognostications of doom. This pessimism is evident in every ‘prophesy’ that the very progress that brought us our comfort and prosperity is dooming us. Many of these claims come from SCIENTISTS… scientists that have access to all the same data you and I have. Yet they grasp at minor and temporary indicators to assert that horrors await us, while minimizing or ignoring the impact of a much stronger set of positive indicators. Fortunately, brilliant minds like Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley (and many others) have begun to enlighten us to the realities of modern life: It’s a LOT better than what we had previously. We DO have reason for optimism.

So why are so many scientists so pessimistic? Because scientists are human, and subject to the same evolutionary influences as the rest of us. They are liable to various biases, poor reasoning, faulty logic, mistakes, self interest, and even deliberately misleading and corrupt practices. This is not to say something nefarious is afoot, at least not on any large scale. This is why the scientific method and peer review were developed; to weed out influences that might lead to incorrect conclusions. Of course they aren’t perfect screens. But the ongoing nature of scientific inquiry means any conclusion is open to future examination, revision, or rejection. Science is NEVER settled. Better explanations will always replace weak ones.

Which brings me to Michael Shermer’s article in Scientific American; Why Climate Skeptics Are Wrong. I’m a great admirer of Shermer, and greatly appreciative of his efforts to advance and promote skepticism as a force for good for everyone, scientist and non-scientist alike. However, like anyone else, he is also subject to bias and error. And here, it is his skepticism of skepticism that is wrong.

Shermer aims to replace scientific consensus with “consilience of inductions.” Fine. The explanation sounds reasonable. But he provides no examples of the “convergence of evidence.” In fact he moves from that description back to a discussion of “consensus science”:

“Is there a consensus on AGW? There is. The tens of thousands of scientists who belong to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the American Meteorological Society, the American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and, most notably, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change all concur that AGW is in fact real. Why?”

This is misleading. Endorsement of the orgs doesn’t equal endorsement of the members in whole or part. Tens of thousands of scientists belong to those organizations. Do the members support leadership 100%? Or 1%? Somewhere in between? He doesn’t know, yet leads you to believe they ALL support the leaders’ endorsement. In truth, we don’t know if the members were consulted at all. What is this endorsement worth? It can’t be quantified. It’s value from a statistical or scientific perspective is nil. And it should be mentioned some of these societies base their position on the same Cook et al paper mentioned later. They are NOT all independent evaluations of the evidence. And one last tidbit regarding the IPCC… They admit warming is out of step with CO2 emissions, has paused for at least 15 years, and that 111/114 climate models overstate warming.

IPCC Report

AR5 Climate Models Evaluation

“The answer is that there is a convergence of evidence from multiple lines of inquiry—pollen, tree rings, ice cores, corals, glacial and polar ice-cap melt, sea-level rise, ecological shifts, carbon dioxide increases, the unprecedented rate of temperature increase—that all converge to a singular conclusion. AGW doubters point to the occasional anomaly in a particular data set, as if one incongruity gainsays all the other lines of evidence. But that is not how consilience science works. For AGW skeptics to overturn the consensus, they would need to find flaws with all the lines of supportive evidence and show a consistent convergence of evidence toward a different theory that explains the data.”

In each of these “multiple lines of inquiry” there are questions as to the rates, measurements, and cause. If you choose not to look at contrary evidence, disregard, or cherry pick only what supports your bias, you’ll arrive at a conclusion. But it will have nothing to do with science. In the case of ice cores, even prominent ‘warmists’ admit CO2 lags warming by 800 years.  In the others, they are NOT unprecendented. All have happened before. And the geological record shows both lower and higher temps in much higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations. In fact all changes seen now are within the range of natural variability. Shermer then moves on (he is now using consilience and consensus interchangeably) to suggest skeptics need to “overturn the consensus” after saying in the very same paragraph: “It is not because of the sheer number of scientists. After all, science is not conducted by poll. As Albert Einstein said in response to a 1931 book skeptical of relativity theory entitled 100 Authors against Einstein, “Why 100? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.” Why would skeptics need to overturn a consensus? A consensus is an opinion. Notice the burden here is not on ‘the consensus’ to show a testable hypothesis confirmed by experiment, but on skeptics to overturn opinion. This isn’t science, but the epitome of politics.

Next Shermer moves on to the crux of all confused AGW arguments; the Cook et al study. To even call this a ‘study’ is laughable. It isn’t even a poll of opinions. It is a text search of selected abstracts. But even if we accept what Shermer says “Of those papers that stated a position on AGW, about 97 percent concluded that climate change is real and caused by humans” it still tells us nothing. Of course climate change is real. I defy Shermer or Cook to find any sane person, scientist or not, that disputes that. So it comes down to what “caused by humans” means. 100% caused by humans? 0.1% caused by humans? Somewhere in between? Doesn’t say. Again, this is statistically and scientifically meaningless. What it really says is that 97% of an unknown number of papers we carefully selected from 11,944 (how many were selected vs rejected?) by a text search of abstracts accept climate changes, and some undefined percentage of that may be due to human activity. A monkey with dementia would use more rigorous standards than Cook. And Shermer willingly repeats the nonsense.

Now if Shermer wanted to look into this a little deeper he could. He CHOSE not to. That is bias. And I hope he is uncomfortable with it. What Cook actually said about the 11,944 papers is this: 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming.”

Joanne Nova, Richard Tol, and Jose Duarte (and others) have all written devastating critiques of Cook et al. Shermer could have found them as easily as I did before becoming Cook’s Minister of Propaganda. See:

Jo Nova on Cook’s 97%

Richard Tol – Global warming consensus claim does not stand up

Jose Duarte – Cooking stove use, housing associations, white males, and the 97%

In short, I don’t know whether Shermer is lacking introspection, careless, or simply a victim of unrecognized bias. In any case, I would urge him to reflect on his own closing sentence.

“Such practices are deceptive and fail to further climate science when exposed by skeptical scrutiny, an integral element to the scientific process.”


  1. Canadian Climate Guy permalink

    Reblogged this on Canadian Climate Guy and commented:
    Required reading for all critics and skeptics of man made climate change.

  2. AGT is way above 2C – the public worships at the feet of fake ” experts “.

  3. dumboldguy permalink

    A monkey with dementia would make “more rigorous” arguments than Toad Licker.
    All this piece proves is that the term “denier” fits him well.

    • Dumbie! I wondered where you were. And good to see your comments are as cogent as always. No need to be specific. Insults and ad homs are always a convincing response.

      • seek7516 permalink

        You wondered where I was? Actually I was wondering where YOU were, since there have been so few postings on this site. I had thought that perhaps my fellow Crockers and I had convinced you to stop sharing your ignorance on the web by tearing you so many painful new assholes during our last encounters, but it appears that your narcissism has won out, and here you are spouting more bullshit.
        I am sorry that I wasn’t as “cogent” and “specific” as your only other “contributors”, with their “Required reading for all critics and skeptics…”, and “the public worships at the feet of fake ”experts “(whatever those two statements really mean) but trying to educate you is about as difficult as trying to educated the narcissist of the year—-Donald Trump, so I didn’t expend much energy.

        I AM highly amused at your brilliant question—-“How many opinions make up a fact?”. Don’t you understand that is exactly what you and the other deniers do? Cherry pick and distort “facts” based on your “opinions” and then keep repeating them and piling the bullshit higher and deeper until it becomes “fact” (in your minds, at least). Your first paragraph is nothing but “opinion” and mindless bullshit—-“improvements in every measure of human well being”? Lord love a duck, but your ignorance of science and the real state of the world is apparent once again.

        And your name dropping makes no sense—-“brilliant minds like Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley (and many others)”?. Matt Ridley is a discredited coal baron and Pinker has said little of relevance—do you have some actual quotes (and who are the “many others”?) Oh, wait—-you must be referring to JoAnn Nova, Richard Tol, and that right wing whacko Jose Duarte, who wrote “devastating” critiques of Cook (LMAO!). Top drawer talent there.

        Your critique of Shermer’s piece and comments on scientific “skepticism” are sophomoric at best (or ARE you a sophomore in HS or at some second rate college?), and I won’t waste the time to dissect them bit-by-bit. I WILL suggest, however, that YOU are the one who is “lacking introspection, careless, and simply a victim of unrecognized bias”.

        In closing, I will AGAIN ask you some SCIENCE questions—-like those I asked you several times in our past exchanges and to which you never replied. How do you explain:
        The FACT that June was the 14th. straight month of new global record high temperatures?
        The FACT that we appear to be headed for a new record season of Arctic Sea Ice melt?
        The FACT that the Greenland ice sheet looks to be headed for some new melt records as well?
        The FACT that increased CO2 in the atmosphere appears to be the ONLY thing that correlates with these and all the many other evidences of AGW?

        fully expect you to NOT answer these questions AGAIN and instead just spout more bullshit—-no surprise there, because that’s what deniers like you do—evade, obfuscate, deflect, and endlessly repeat the same old tired talking points—-that’s why those of us who DO understand the science of AGW and employ rational analysis say that you all live in the “echo chamber”.

      • “My fellow Crockers”… That’s gold! At least you don’t try to hide your group think or biases. And my goodness you are excitable. Still lacking in decorum and rationality, but excitable… I’ll try to save you some time in the future. If all you want to do is repeat the same insults and nonsense and call it FACT, don’t bother. You are treading over old ground and not addressing anything I’ve said. And I will not approve any more such comments. Either you discuss like an adult, and address the topic at hand, or you are banished. Clear?

      • seek7516 permalink

        Been busy and haven’t had a chance to reply to your last message. Still intend to do so. In the meantime, here’s something that has relevance to the question “How many opinions (feelings) make up a fact?”

      • 1. It’s a rhetorical question
        2. This is a clip from a comedy show
        3. What is that supposed to answer?

      • seek7516 permalink

        1) Ah yes, a “rhetorical question”, also defined as “pointless talking without making any real points just to hear yourself talk”

        “A rhetorical question is a question that you ask without expecting an answer. The question might be one that does not have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect.language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content”

        “rhetoric synonyms: bombast, turgidity, grandiloquence, magniloquence, pomposity, extravagant language, purple prose; wordiness, verbosity, prolixity”

        2. This is a clip from a comedy show.

        Do you deny that “comedy” is often used to make very strong and easily digested political and philosophical points? Starting with Aristophanes and Lysistrata and continuing down to Pogo, Doonesbury, Saturday Night Live, Jon Stewart, and now John Oliver? This isn’t slapstick from the Three Stooges, TL.

        3. What is that supposed to answer?

        Did you even view the clip? The segment showing the interview with Gingrich is jaw-dropping in how clearly it illustrates the gap between those who rely on FACTS and people who would ignore and misinterpret them because their “opinions” (The Newt called them “feelings”) have them mired so deep in cognitive dissonance that they’re not sure it’s daytime when the sun is shining. Watch it as many times as needed until that FACT sinks in.

      • It’s over 11 minutes. Don’t care enough to watch. Considering how VERY loquacious you are, you should have no problem with saying something for yourself.

      • seek7516 permalink

        It’s over 11 minutes and you don’t care enough to watch? Lord love a duck!

        You prove my point about your narcissism. You spent far more than 11 minutes writing “Suspension”, consider it to be absolute truth, and now refuse to spend the time to really discuss it or examine evidence of your wrong thinking? Feelings of Infallibility and grandiosity personified!.

        You probably think you’re cutting me to the quick with “Considering how VERY loquacious you are, you should have no problem with saying something for yourself”, but that too begs the question. It’s not just a cliche to say that “a picture is worth a thousand words”,and your refusal to look at something that is worth TEN thousand words says a lot. To save time, go to the 6:00 mark in the clip and view the next two minutes—that’s the part that is hugely relevant to your “rhetorical question”, although most of the rest is also. Then tell me that you agree with Gingrich and reject what Oliver and the reporter said.

        PS You threatened me with banishment?—-“Either you discuss like an adult, and address the topic at hand, or you are banished. Clear?”. Actually, I was surprised when a post appeared in my inbox from Toadliquor after ten months of silence. I thought you had given it up and also thought I had unsubscribed from your feed (which would have put a big dent in your number of subscribers, which can be counted on the fingers with some fingers left over). So far, I am not impressed with the “return of Toad Licker” to my world. Either follow your own advice to “….discuss like an adult, and address the topic at hand…”, or I may just unsubscribe and “banish” you to a higher level of obscurity. Clear?

      • That was the last blathering, nonsense post I will accept from you. I’ve put up with your petulant nonsense long enough. You no longer hold entertainment value; it’s just time wasted. Do with this information as you wish; I fully expect another post of utter drivel, followed by me banning you… and not without some pleasure. Try to surprise me with information that counters or expands on anything I’ve said… but I doubt you can. So back to insults and various fallacious nonsense you will predictably return, as it is all you have, and I’ll gently place you in the bin, never to be heard from again.

  4. seek7516 permalink

    PS I don’t understand why your site is now demanding that I use the “seek7516” handle rather than dumboldguy. That is from an old gmail account that I haven’t used for at least a year and thought I had deactivated. If anyone is watching, please remember that seek7516 = dumboldguy.

    • It’s WordPress. The only relevant setting is “Users must be registered and logged in to comment”. Obviously you have such an account and are logged in with it. If you don’t want to use it, log out and log on with a different account.

  5. seek7516 permalink

    Perhaps the best way to “counter or expand upon” what the Toad Licker said is to simply post the Shermer piece in its entirety so that all can see how RL has misused it. Here it is. *SNIP*

    ** I linked to the original and used excerpts because there is no need to post the article AGAIN. My blog; I get to edit for space and readability. And that is before even considering any possible issues beyond ‘fair use’ arising from lifting another’s work in it’s entirety. If you are troubled by MY comments, address MY comments. ** ~~ TL/SM

    • No, it isn’t. And won’t be permitted. If I wanted to reblog, I would do so, where proper attributions, context, content and format would be preserved.

      • seek7516 permalink

        The Toad Licker tries to hide the truth as much as Donald Trump does with his refusal to release his income tax returns. What are you afraid of T-L? Why so you so strongly resist ANY effort to expose your failings as a “thinker” about science and AGW.

        You haven’t. You haven’t even tried. I keep asking you to. You instead toss insults and make ridiculous parallels with Trump’s taxes. Once again, you are welcome to actually tackle my blog and comments with counter arguments. Not once have you. NOT ONCE.

        I have to laugh at your self-righteous and evasive claim that you need to be “proper” in quoting the whole article. You did “attribute” (in so far as identifying Shermer as the author of the excerpts), but your cherry picking and rearranging of the order of those excerpts (to alter meaning and destroy “context”) was dishonest. I will say it again, you misuse and insult Shermer by using his words in this essay.

        I LINKED to his article, Dumbie. Anyone can follow the link. In fact, that is why it is included. So how am I hiding anything?

        Apparently no one is reading this blog, or they’d likely chip in to the discussion, but if anyone is following, I suggest that they access the article themselves and do as I did—-T-L provided the link above at “….Michael Shermer’s article in Scientific American; Why Climate Skeptics Are Wrong….” —–compare it in its entirety to what parts of it were used here in The Suspension of Skepticism—-what parts were used, particularly what parts were left OUT because they destroy R-L’s premises, how the excerpts were alter their meaning. T-L is nothing if not obvious in his deviousness..

        Yes, they should. NOTHING was “reordered”. And “excerpt” by definition means parts were left out. Again, this is why the link was included. Is this somehow hard for you to understand? Are you new to the internet and how HTML and hyerlinks work? No… you are just Dumbie, without an argument. And I don’t whore for hits, or try to raise money by blogging. Does the possibility of impartiality trouble you? You are welcome to leave and stay away.

        I again laugh at T-L’s claim that he “edited for space and readability” and that he is concerned about “possible issues” arising from “violation of the fair use” doctrine. My *SNIPPED* quote was the actual article from SciAm in its entirety, It is only about 2/3 to 3/4 the length of T-L’s maundering “SOS” (serendipitous acronym for this piece, eh? “HELP!” LOL), so space is not an issue. In terms of “readability” the full article is far more carefully constructed than the weakly sewn together logic fails in “SOS”. And finally, I am considering contacting Shermer and pointing out how T-L so UNfairly uses his work and his ideas. I wonder if T-L would *SNIP* anything Shermer might want to say here about “SOS”.

        Logic fails! You could point them out! But… you failed again… Repeating yourself, still without tackling any of the content… blah blah blah…

        And in closing, I will once again warn the Toad Licker that he is closer to being banned from my life. I read, think, and write fast, and as a school administrator I dealt with these kinds of things almost daily—-it is not a great burden to spend the time to try to educate T-L, but I WILL lose interest if he doesn’t become more responsive and show us SOMETHING other than evasive BS. Up your game, T-L, before you get benched.

        Warned, am I? Now you are copying me? ( Educating requires imparting knowledge or conversing. You are seemingly incapable of anything other than personal attacks. These are the hallmarks of a weak intellect and swollen ego. So goodbye, Dumbie. You shan’t be missed.

  6. My comments in bold, Dumbie. So long. May the dumb be with you…

    • seek7516 permalink

      Does this “so long” mean you have finally found the courage to ban me from your site? Thereby proving my point that you are a thin-skinned narcissist that is unable to consider any viewpoint but your own? Someone who uses as an excuse any perceived “impoliteness” or “insult” to ignore any and all accompanying facts?

      How will I ever survive if I am really banned from a site that I thought I had dropped a year ago? The horror of it! A better question is how does banning me jibe with “Chances are I don’t believe it. But if you can prove it, I might change my mind…”, the proud statement in the banner of this blog.

      • Given that even now you refuse to tackle subject matter, but attack me personally… why would I do otherwise? Ciao, dud.

  7. Good read. Agree with your detailed analyses. Cheers.

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