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News James Randi's comment on AGW

  1. Dec 16, 2009 #1
    Taken from JREF website.

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/805-agw-revisited.html [Broken]

    According to Chris Mathews, this expression of the slightest concern regarding the tenets of AGW, means that Randi is a republican who hates Al Gore, and listens to Rush Limbaugh all day.

    Edit to quote the article directly.

    AGW, Revisited PDF Print E-mail
    Written by James Randi
    Tuesday, 15 December 2009 17:14

    Though this subject is not one that directly concerns the JREF, I'm very frequently asked if I'll turn my skeptical eye to it. As a year-end fling, I'll give it a try. To wit:

    An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to "belong" in the scientific community. Why do I find this "unfortunate"? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by "politically correct" survival principles than by those given them by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr. (Granted, it's reassuring that they're listening to academics at all -- but how to tell the competent from the incompetent?) Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- a group of thousands of scientists in 194 countries around the world, and recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize -- has issued several comprehensive reports in which they indicate that they have become convinced that "global warming" is and will be seriously destructive to life as we know it, and that Man is the chief cause of it. They say that there is a consensus of scientists who believe we are headed for disaster if we do not stop burning fossil fuels, but a growing number of prominent scientists disagree. Meanwhile, some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming that Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous.

    Happily, science does not depend on consensus. Conclusions are either reached or not, but only after an analysis of evidence as found in nature. It's often been said that once a conclusion is reached, proper scientists set about trying to prove themselves wrong. Failing in that, they arrive at a statement that appears -- based on all available data -- to describe a limited aspect about how the world appears to work. And not all scientists are willing to follow this path. My most excellent friend Martin Gardner once asked a parapsychologist just what sort of evidence would convince him he had erred in coming to a certain conclusion. The parascientist replied that he could not imagine any such situation, thus -- in my opinion -- removing him from the ranks of the scientific discipline rather decidedly.

    History supplies us with many examples where scientists were just plain wrong about certain matters, but ultimately discovered the truth through continued research. Science recovers from such situations quite well, though sometimes with minor wounds.

    I strongly suspect that The Petition Project may be valid. I base this on my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the facts about planet Earth. This ball of hot rock and salt water spins on its axis and rotates about the Sun with the expected regularity, though we're aware that lunar tides, solar wind, galactic space dust and geomagnetic storms have cooled the planet by about one centigrade degree in the past 150 years. The myriad of influences that act upon Earth are so many and so variable -- though not capricious -- that I believe we simply cannot formulate an equation into which we enter variables and come up with an answer. A living planet will continually belch, vibrate, fracture, and crumble a bit, and thus defeat an accurate equation. Please note that this my amateur opinion, based on probably insufficient data.

    It appears that the Earth is warming, and has continued to warm since the last Ice Age, which ended some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. But that has not been an even warming. Years of warming followed by years of cooling have left us just a bit warmer than before. This conclusion has been arrived at from data collected at some 1,200+ weather stations in the USA, though bear in mind that there are very few weather stations over the vast oceans that cover 70% of our planet, or on the continents Africa, South America, and especially Antarctica.

    We can now record temperatures with much better than the former fraction-of-a-degree accuracy we had just a decade ago, but that temperature change appears to be just about half a degree Centigrade.

    Our Earth's atmosphere is approximately 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen. Just .04% is carbon dioxide -- a "trace" amount. But from that tiny percentage is built all the plants we have on Earth. CO2 is a natural molecule absolutely required for plant life to survive, and in the process of growing, those plants give off oxygen. We -- and all animal life -- consume that oxygen and give off CO2. (No, this is not an example of Intelligent Design.) If that balance is sufficiently disturbed, species either adapt or perish. And the world turns...

    Incidentally, we have a convenient phenomenon that contributes to our survival. Doubling the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere will not double the temperature rise, small though it is. The basic principle of what's known as the "greenhouse effect" is quite simple: in a glass-enclosed environment, sunlight enters through the glass and strikes a surface, where it is transformed into longer infrared rays which do not easily reflect back through the glass; they're trapped. and raise the temperature. However, the greenhouse effect as applied to our planet is more complicated. The infrared rays that are reflected back from the Earth are trapped by the greenhouse gases, water vapor and CO2 -- a process that warms those gases and heats the Earth. This effect makes Earth habitable, preventing extremes of temperature. The limit of the influence of CO2 is dictated, not by the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but by the amount of solar radiation reflected back from the Earth. Once all the infrared rays have been "captured" by the greenhouse gases there is no additional increase in carbon dioxide.

    Yes, we produce CO2, by burning "fossil fuels" and by simply breathing. And every fossil fuel produces CO2. Some products produce more than others, varying with their chemical composition. Methane gas produces less CO2, wood produces more. But almost paradoxically, when wood burns it produces CO2, and when a tree dies and rots it produces yet more CO2. Oceans are huge storage tanks for CO2, but as they warm up, they hold less of the dissolved gas. They release it into the atmosphere, then more of it is absorbed back into the oceans. And as far as humans are concerned, ten times more people die each year from the effects of cold than die from the heat. This a hugely complex set of variables we are trying to reduce to an equation...

    It's easy enough to believe that drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are signs of a coming catastrophe from global warming, but these are normal variations of any climate that we -- and other forms of life -- have survived. Earth has undergone many serious changes in climate, from the Ice Ages to periods of heavily increased plant growth from their high levels of CO2, yet the biosphere has survived. We're adaptable, stubborn, and persistent -- and we have what other life forms don't have: we can manipulate our environment. Show me an Inuit who can survive in his habitat without warm clothing... Humans will continue to infest Earth because we're smart.

    In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1891 A Scandal in Bohemia, I quote:

    Watson: "This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that it means?"

    Holmes: I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2009 #2
    Good post. I also think GW is diverting away from other serious problems. Like the living conditions of most people on the planet. Not that GW isn't a problem, but we can focus on other issues too.
  4. Dec 16, 2009 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Source? I'm no Chris Mathews fan but your statement doesn't strike me as being accurate.
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  5. Dec 16, 2009 #4
    Source? I'm the source, as I watched the show in question last Sunday.

    Of course, my ego misled me into thinking that others knew what I was referring to. Here is a link to the thread I started about Sunday's show.

  6. Dec 17, 2009 #5
    I'll post this as well in this thread, despite it being a slightly different headline.

    This morning from slashdot. http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/12/16/2336239/Russians-Claim-More-Climate-Data-Was-Manipulated

    Science: Russians Claim More Climate Data Was Manipulated

    "On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) claimed that the Hadley Center for Climate Change had probably tampered with Russian-climate data. The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory. Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations. The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley CRU survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century."
  7. Dec 17, 2009 #6
    ....Galileo is mentioned, Einstein is namedropped (the writer normally warnes that these are heavy signs of weird argumentation), i think more and more like a Swedish forum friend; it's probably a hoax/irony from Randi's side.

    Maybe he's trying to illustrate the problems around when skepticism approaches solipsism, or something like that. Or just testing whether he's believed no matter what he states.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2009
  8. Dec 17, 2009 #7
    Has he ever utilized his forum in a similar manner before? As a means to conduct a social experiment?
  9. Dec 17, 2009 #8
    To be honest i don't know much about Randi, he has probably not done this before, if it's a hoax thing.

    But when i google for his views, i find old statements (e. g. one from April 2007) where he indeed warns for man-induced global warming.

    "Global warming, in my opinion, is a danger of which we should be aware. Yes, it is being substantially augmented by Man, and that situation needs serious attention."
    http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-04/040607mi.html [Broken]

    But of course, Climategate might have changed his mind.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Dec 17, 2009 #9
    Well, maybe back THEN, he was doing a sociological experiment. :confused:

    It would seem to me to be pretty quirky for him to claim in a week or so "Ahh yes, I was just testing you. That's the ticket..."
  11. Dec 18, 2009 #10
    ...i guess Poe's Law just overwhelmed me

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/806-i-am-not-qdenyingq-anything.html [Broken]
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  12. Dec 18, 2009 #11
    Care to explain yourself? Are you calling Randi a crackpot, or some a fundamentalist?
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  13. Dec 18, 2009 #12
    No, i really haven't seen anything but serious notes and interviews from Randi so far.

    But this article (from Sept 15) was an exception to me, it looked so much like things he and other skeptics normally caution about: referring to petitions, namedropping Einstein and Galileo, referring to ones own amateur knowledge when questioning consensus among scientists,...It's the arguments i'm questioning, not the personality of the author.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/say_it_aint_so_randi.php [Broken]

    I was a bit relieved when i read the follow-up (17 Sept) from Randi, though.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Dec 18, 2009 #13
    What *I* am questioning is the immediate attack on anyone that expresses even the slightest doubt about ANY part of AGW. Even Randi was not immune, even when he expressed his opinion in an eloquent manner.

    Certainly his references to Einstein were not meant to bolster his argument, but were a simple method to explain his reasoning. If he had put forth his opinion in say, 3 sentences, readers would have found it incomplete, not to mention inadequate.

    It is the month of December :)

    I do not regard his followup as a renunciation of his earlier statement. It is a slight clarification.
  15. Dec 18, 2009 #14


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    Randi is not a climate scientist, though I appreciate his fervor for rational skepticism, and share it. Some of the "believers" on both sides of the AGW debate seem to want to attack, denigrate, and insult skeptics who don't believe that either side has made their case as scientifically and as convincingly as they claim. I have taken my licks on this forum and have pretty much stayed out of climate threads as a result.

    But here goes:
    1) Is the climate warming?
    2) If the climate is warming, is man's activities a contributor and to what extent?
    3) If not are we just "along for the ride"?

    There is enough gray area in 2) and 3) at least to make unbridled support for or denial of AGW suspect, IMO.
  16. Dec 18, 2009 #15
    I wonder about this argument.

    Not all members of the IPCC are climate scientists and neither are all the proponents of AGW.

    On the other hand, certainly there *are* some climate scientists who object to aspects of AGW.

    I have illustrated how if one suggests *anything* but unbridled support for AGW, one are labeled as a rush loving, creationist, republican who just hates Al Gore.
  17. Dec 18, 2009 #16


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    And in contrast, anybody who doesn't enthusiastically grasp the denial of AGW is a lefty, communist, enviro-freak. Let's please engage this complex study with something approaching maturity, and leave the nastiness at the door.
  18. Dec 18, 2009 #17


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    That would be wonderful.

    What about AGW makes people crazy? I was reading up on the 1987 National Academy of Sciences debacle where they refuted the Dutch study that showed trans fats were harmful. The NAS, the AMA, and a laundry list of academies debunked the Dutch study that said trans fats were harmful and the NAS even produced a booklet, which the Surgeon General endorsed that basically said (and this is from a magazine I have dated from 1991) "The National Academy of Sciences, along with the Surgeon General and other authorities in this country, has concluded that the levels of trans fatty acids found in a balanced diet are safe".

    Oooops. Mistake. It's an interesting major debacle where the official scientific concensus, (they actually held a Cholesteral Consensus Conference where trans fats where proclaimed to be ok.) made a huge mistake. Anyone trying to post research showing how harmful trans fats were, were blocked from publication in peer reviewed journals. It took years before the scientists that had the proof finally got heard. Anyone interested in a discussion of the debacle, let me know.
  19. Dec 18, 2009 #18


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    You do understand that there's a difference between saying trans fats are harmful and the amount in a balanced diet are not, don't you? The surgeon general post is a figure head, for all intents and purposes. I'd rather believe peer-reviewed articles than a figure head or magazine article (you would not believe how horridly distorted most popular press or magazine articles are about science...I've had colleagues who have published significant papers in top journals whose work was completely misrepresented in the popular press, to the point I don't even bother reading newspapers anymore because I've decided the reporters are morons looking to make a buck on headlines with no real interest in getting a story right).
  20. Dec 18, 2009 #19


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    It was really bad Moonbear, they said 4% of calories from trans fat in your daily diet was ok. They said that trans fatty margarine with 35% trans fat was better for you than butter. These are the actual "peer reviewed" papers that are wrong, not from articles.

    I've been thinking of starting a thread on how things have changed and the fight that it took to get the facts accepted. I just stumbled upon it when I was reading an old magazine, because I remembered the hype to eat margarine back in the 70's, then did some research and found out it was quite a scandal.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  21. Dec 18, 2009 #20


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    My brother and I had quite the debate over the telephone a couple of weeks ago regarding this topic. (There was much shouting!)

    I told him that watching you-tube video's and watching cnn were not research.

    As an amateur with little time to study such things, my 100 hours of research over the last two years have resulted in the same conclusion that Randi came up with: There is not enough data.
  22. Dec 18, 2009 #21
    But the problem is that as formulated: by the time the data is convincing to enough, it is too late. Remnds me that on another thread where we have been talking about cirrhosis of the liver, the disease process is poorly understood(like many others), but seems to have a threshold in terms of risk exposure, and after that seems unpredictable.

    What seems to be lacking in the discussion at least on a public level is a risk/benefit readout.

    A good gambler knows knows what the expected value of any manuever carries: Medicine itself is based on the premise of ignoring false positives while improving outcomes associated with a less certain but early true positive that might be false. The recent debate about breast cancer screening brought this home. The backlash vs a seemingly logical and coherent set of recommendations was torn asunder within days of airing.

    Curiously, the public seemed not to throw caution to the wind, and seemed well prepared to put up with the psychological torment and money wasted on false alarms.

    I read this to mean that folks are pretty cautious when it comes to their own health. Which is why I wonder it seems to be the opposite when it comes to public policy and AGW. More and more, people are being seduced into the belef that this is a false positive. I just don't get it--certainly human behavior is notoriously inconsidtent, but not that much.There are denial/wishful thinking factors at play which relly need to be confronted with:

    if a then b, and the costs/consequences are these.
    if b, then c, ... Obviously there are more slots for expected values. But what I find most didtressing is that instead of this kind of mature, seasoned.reasoned assessment is whether the casino is trusty.

    Certainly, the scientists who in this case run the casino are no more immune of human foibles than the sleeziest pitboss. But their behavior and choices in becoming a scientist vs a pitboss, begs the question of motivation, and whether they might be more counted on to act fairly--assuming truth and understanding are priority values. Kind of trust your doc vs your stockbroker assessment.

    Whether we should trust the scientists vs the many very multiplied monetary interests in maintaining the status quo seems to be a no-brainer, but I personally am becoming discouraged. Put simply if ther is a 1% chance of breast cancer vs a 99% chance of wasting money and comfort on a false alarm, which would you choose forself or your loved one?
  23. Dec 18, 2009 #22


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    What I don't get is the apparent complete lack of interest people have with what is a major factor in climate change, the deforestation and uncontrolled ranching which is something we can actually do something about now.

    If people really care about the planet, why no interest in fixing things that have an immediate impact? I'm thinking people don't want to lose polar bears but their real interest in fixing the actual problem is nil.

    See this thread on fixing the problems.

  24. Dec 19, 2009 #23
    This subject, AGW, really seems to need a solid meta debate.

    For instance, examining where the actual disagreement in the debate lies, would probably take away some of the shouting,

    What do we mean by "AGW is happening"? Man's doubled fossil emissions will affect the temperature at all? By at least 0.1 centigrades? Lion part of skeptics would agree to that statement.
    (except for the ones who claim there has actually been no temperature rise at all, and the ones who claim that water vapour is the only real GHG, not CO2)

    I think the definition of AGW is the following: "Doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere will increase global temperatures by more than 1 centigrade, probably more than 2. (This will cause glaciers melting and deserts growing)".

    http://uppsalainitiativet.blogspot.com/2009/12/vari-borjar-det-som-vi-inte-ar-overens.html" [Broken] where i've been trying to find the spot where the disagreement begins (in Swedish, but i might post one in English as well. Meanwhile: Google translate gives a pretty good idea about what it says, and the comments as well). Some of the skeptics liked my approach.
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  25. Dec 19, 2009 #24
    :redface: edit, I posted this, intending to respond to the question what the essential dispute is in the climate debate is, but I can't find that post back, anyway

    It's simple, the key element in the debate is 'feedback'. It is positive according to the warmers which is required to boost the "planck response" of 1.2 degrees per doubling CO2 to the IPCC numbers of something like 2-4.5 degrees, The feedback is negative (if any) according to the sceptics, which would inhibit a temperature increase of more than 1.2 degrees per doubling CO2

    You'll find the most difficult discussions about that in Earth forums where some peer reviewed acticles demonstrating negative feedback were presented. We'd also like to investigate the evidence that supports positive feedback.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  26. Dec 19, 2009 #25
    So would you be prepared to sacrifice the rainforests, just to make that 1% sure, or do a lot of geo-engineering to dim the sun, only to find out that we're heading straight for a new ice age?
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