Scepticism, denial and the high court

Currently the NZ High Court is hearing a case brought against NIWA by a local climate change denial group.* You can catch up with the background and progress at When asses go to court, When asses go to law, Exclusive: Flat Earth Society appeal to NZ climate sceptics – join us! and Niwa breaching its duties with figures – sceptics group

The most interesting aspect of this trial will be the judge’s verdict and reasons. But at this stage I just want to justify my description of the complainants as climate change deniers rather than sceptics (a term I know they prefer – although one of them is objecting even to that (see Four go a-court, with a hey, nonny-no). To me it all boils down to questions of  “good faith.”

We have plenty of debates in science – and sometimes these can become heated. But they are important to the whole enterprise. Ideas and theories must be tested against reality, and that testing should be done collectively – individuals are too prone to bias. So argument, debate and testing against reality is what keeps us honest.

But of course that debate must be carried out in “good faith.” With the intention of exposing errors and coming to a resolution which provides a better picture of reality. From my perspective scepticism is part of the process and there is plenty of room for sceptics in science – including climate science. Honest, good faith, scepticism can only be good.

So what about “deniers.” Well, the difference here is that their “scepticism” is not aimed at improving our knowledge, or of furthering truth, but in discrediting that knowledge. By now we have all become used to the climate change denial activity, its sneering attitude towards science and the facts, and the support it gets from the fossil fuel industry and extreme right-wing and conservative politicians.

But here’s a little guide I came across which helps illustration the difference between scepticism and denial. It’s from Get Energy Smart! NOW! and the post is titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire …” Differentiating Skeptic from Denier. (I sort of think the childishness of the title is appropriate in this case).

The post contrasts Legitimate scientific scepticism with denialism. Here’s an extract:

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

Denialism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Here’s an analysis of how that data set impacts your overall result.”

Denialism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

Denialism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Get it yet?

Actually, for anyone who has delved into the blogs, comments sections and forums of the climate change denial echo chamber the spite and sneering is not far from “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

I look forward to the High Court verdict.


*This denier group is rather weird. It calls itself the “New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust,” and is known as a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition – a local denier group with links to the US Heartland Institute and other right-wing think tanks. It originally attempted to register as a charity and was actually listed for a short time in the NZ Charities register. Now it has been removed!

Perhaps their registration was rejected, possibly because of its political nature or its unwillingness to provide financial reports. Or perhaps they decided that there was little mileage (and little support) from going down the charity road and it has fallen back on deeper financial pockets.

It might need them.

Image credit: Dirty Bandits

Similar articles

15 responses to “Scepticism, denial and the high court

  1. Richard Christie

    The link to Treadgold’s cheerleading from the sidelines is broken

    Like

  2. Thanks Richard. I think it’s fixed now.

    Like

  3. Legitimate scientific skepticism:
    “I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

    Alarmism:
    “I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Therefore, you’re a right-wing 1%er being paid by big oil and big tobacco.”

    Legitimate scientific skepticism:
    “I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

    Alarmism:
    “I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Therefore, you’re a right-wing 1%er being paid by big oil and big tobacco.”

    Like

  4. Doug Proctor

    “…their “scepticism” is not aimed at improving our knowledge, or of furthering truth, but in discrediting that knowledge.”

    What a strange comment! The Coalition’s position is that the data adjustments have taken a real 0.34C rise and made it into a 0.91C rise. The change is from “natural” to “anthropogenic, and catastrophic”.

    It is not knowledge if it can be discredited. The adjustments appear excessive and warm-biased by any standard: the result is beyond the IPCC/Hansen global averages for an island surrounded by a moderating ocean, and the adjustments consistently warm the present and cool the past. (GISTemp shows the same thing.)

    The Coalition’s position is that the techniques specifically said by NIWA have not been carried out, or that post-standard techniques have been modified by unknown techniques. The Coalition is saying they cannot replicate the NIWA results. That is all. The lawsuit is about getting people on the stand to say exactly what they did and how they were able to get the results they claim from the publicly available data.

    This is not a trivial issue. Not just billions of dollars are riding on a valid understanding of how much and how fast and where “global” temperatures are rising. Societal changes, including population control (re: Erhlich) are being demanded as a result of the posited unnatural heating. Yet without the adjustment activity, the raw data shows only a portion of the IPCC CO2 model of anthropogenic global heating: if the alarm is due to an artefact of data management, would you not want to know about it?

    All of this nonsense with the courts would vanish if NIWA sat down with the Coalition’s experts and went through the process and showed how and why the NIWA results are so different from the Coalition’s. If I were the judge on this case, I’d request that the government party do this before the courts had to get involved.

    The refusal of the warmist camp to openly defend their claims is at the root of all the climate change wars. Neither Gore nor Mann will debate their critics on any stage but that of their own twitter accounts. The Heartland, you will recall, asked Gleick to speak to the skeptical camp just before he fraudulently claimed to be a Board member to get information on the Institute: if he had just spoken to the group in public, none of the outrage would have occurred.

    Nobody has to take anyone’s word for anything. Generally we do go with the mainstream, authority figure, but when things are truly important, there should be some opposition. Isn’t that the purpose of the second and third political parties in Parliament, to question and question again, and require evidence and answers to important issues of the day?

    Like

  5. The Coalition’s position….

    The Coalition does no work.
    They are just a bunch of lazy, old people who flap their gums.

    All of this nonsense with the courts would vanish if NIWA sat down with the Coalition’s experts…

    “Experts”. That’s funny. It sounds much better than retirees.

    The refusal of the warmist camp to…

    The word you are looking for is “climatologists”.

    Nobody has to take anyone’s word for anything. Generally we do go with the mainstream, authority figure, but when things are truly important, there should be some opposition.

    Gravity is important.
    The Moon Landings are important.
    The link between smoking and lung cancer is important.

    NASA did not lie to you about the moon landings.
    NASA is not lying to you now about climate change.
    There is no spooky-wooky global scientific conspiracy.

    NASA: Climate Change; A Warming World (HD)

    Like

  6. Richard Christie

    Doug, you and the coalition are obviously playing an important role in triple checking important matters.

    Here is something truly useful you could get started on, please write to Airbus demand all data and get cracking at replicating all their tests and simulations, check all the engineering calculations for all aircraft currently in service. Hundeds of thousands of passengers will thank you.

    Many are also unsure about the calculations for NASA’s upcoming 7 minutes of terror, so while you are at it your secret team of experts should double check that too. Sue if they refuse to disclose all original pencil calculations, right back to 1939.

    Write to your MP.

    Like

  7. Doug, I characterise these groups as deniers rather than sceptics because I think it fits -you seem not to know the history. Just consider this:
    Over 2 years ago Richard Treadgold and Manfred Otto Dedekind released a report “Are we Feeling Warmer Yet?” This claimed in part that scientists:
    “created a warming effect where none existed.” That “the shocking truth is that the oldest readings were cranked way down and later readings artificially lifted to give a false impression of warming.” And “we have discovered that the warming in New Zealand over the past 156 years was indeed man-made, but it had nothing to do with emission of CO2 – it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.

    They based this on their own plot of New Zealand temperature data where no effort had been made to correct for site effects! In fact they claimed “the station histories are unremarkable. There are no reasons for any large corrections.”

    Now if they were sceptics rather than deniers they would have provided evidence that no corrections (adjustments for site effects) were necessary. And they would not have accused our scientists of falsifying the data (cranking down, artificially lifting false impression, etc.) That later part is the school-ground equivalent of “Liar, Liar, pants on fire” (which is typical of the anti-science derision and Treadgold’s blog).

    Treadgold was politely asked for his evidence that site adjustments were unnecessary (you can download a full record of my email correspondence with Richard) – he was clearly confused by the question, and I realise subsequently he does not understand statistics so could not comprehend that testing for the requirement of site adjustments was a simple process. I commented at the time (see New Zealand’s denier-gate):
    “How can one combine data in the way they did without first checking if this was valid? Even worse – they made a bald assertion that there were no sign of site effects – without checking. Without any evidence.
    This is a dreadful mistake, even though the research was not done by scientifically competent people. A simple statistical analysis would have revealed any site effects and therefore the necessity of correcting the raw data when they were combined.

    Even simpler – site effects would have been revealed by simple plots of the data from different stations. This is demonstrated by the data for the three Wellington stations in the figure.

    David Winter at The Atavism (Peer Review for the Climate “Science” Coalition) did a brief statistical analysis of the data and showed that Treadgold and Dedekind were completely wrong. He concluded:
    “even a very simple look at their data have shown that drawing conclusions of the sort the C”S”C did from the raw data would be terrible science and accusing NIWA scientists of fraud on that basis really is disgraceful.

    Now, I realise some people in your group may be embarrassed about Treagold and Dedekind ‘s report (even Treadgold has since acknowledged that site adjustments are required which is strange) but Treadgold is still promoting his report and it should be considered as an important part of the evidence at the current High Court action because of what it reveals about the motives, and lack of scientific capability, of the complainants.

    So, Doug – what is your judgement on “Are we getting warmer yet” by Treadgold and Dedekind? Would you defend it?

    I think your reply to these questions would clarify your position (sceptic or denier) and indicate whether discussion of the science involved is at all possible with you.

    Like

  8. The Heartland, you will recall, asked Gleick to speak to the skeptical camp just before he fraudulently claimed to be a Board member to get information on the Institute…

    Whatever happened to the Heartland Institute?
    Oh, yes….

    Among the Deniers at Denia-Palooza

    Like

  9. @Ken,
    Recently I have read one or two, apparently authoritative, criticisms of the various enquiries into “climategate”:

    http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=understanding%20the%20climategate%20inquiries&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rossmckitrick.com%2Fuploads%2F4%2F8%2F0%2F8%2F4808045%2Frmck_climategate.pdf&ei=3joWUKPfDLDY0QWw5YCQDA&usg=AFQjCNER0Ni3nJvdb__1pIqQUZa7ODKmnQ&cad=rja

    As you have a special interest in this I wondered if you would like to comment or, better still, point me at one or two effective and authoritative rebuttals.

    Like

  10. Gordon, I suggest you google the enquiry reports and read them yourself. Of course deniers have been bad-mouthing them – we would not expect otherwise. But at least you can see for yourself and make up your on mind.

    Like

  11. Recently I have read one or two, apparently authoritative, criticisms of the various enquiries into “climategate”…

    How many were there? Count them.

    Like

  12. Why oh why are people still debating this. Its game over. The data is in and it is clear what the real picture is.

    Like

  13. or more like this:

    Legitimate scientific skepticism:

    “I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

    Protect-my-job alarmist:

    “You’re not a real climate scientist–you’re just a statatistion and couldn’t possibly understand my methods. I know you haven’t found a better way because you didn’t come up with my answer.”

    Legitimate scientific skepticism:

    “I think one of your data sets is questionable. Here’s an analysis of how that data set impacts your overall result.”

    Protect-my-job alarmist:

    “Questionable? You’re calling me a liar just becasue I adjusted the data? It had to be homongenized or would be meaningless. Raw data set? I didn’t see a need to keep it.”

    Legitimate scientific skepticism:

    “I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

    Protect-my-job alarmist:

    “Don’t think you will ever get that published in any journal, and if you try, I’ll see that the editor who accepts it is fired. I have connections .”

    Get it yet?

    Like

  14. Richard Christie

    @day by day

    No, you’ll have to spell out whatever you are referring to, or just crawl back under your rock and take your fantasies with you.

    It is uncanny how WordPress seems so often to accurately assign the one-eyed avatar to type.

    Like

  15. Truely miraculous. Whoever is in charge of WordPress is doing a great job. :)
    Science deniers use the same arguments again and again.
    (The sockpuppets may change but the arguments are the same ol’, same ol’.)
    PRATT’s never die. They just get recycled and pressed into service for some other issue.
    In this case, it’s three out of three.
    Uncanny.

    Claim CA118:
    Many arguments may be discounted because they were put together by amateurs who are not scientifically qualified

    Claim CA510.1:
    Problems with evolution are evidence for creationism.

    Claim CA325:
    Creationists cannot get their views accepted by mainstream science because they are prevented from publishing in mainstream scientific journals.

    (Index to Creationist Claims. The TalkOrigins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy.)</a

    Like

Leave a Reply: please be polite to other commenters & no ad hominems.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s