Follow-Up Case Study in Skepticism
Posted on 30 January 2011 by dana1981
Recently, in A Case Study in Climate Science Integrity, we examined the reactions to a report by Universal Ecological Fund (Fundaciíon Ecológical Universal [FEU-US]) and an article written by Dr. Richard Lindzen. In both cases, the authors had performed calculations which neglected the thermal inertia of the oceans and impacts of aerosols and other cooling factors. Despite making the same errors, the two papers arrived at dramatically different conclusions - the FEU-US wrongly concluded that the planet will warm 1.5°C over the next decade, and Lindzen wrongly concluded that the global climate is insensitive to atmospheric greenhouse gas changes (in a future article we will look at Lindzen's errors in depth and quantify them).
The reactions from the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) camp and the self-proclaimed "skeptics" were also diametrically opposed. Climate scientists, journalists, and bloggers consistently wrote articles acknowledging and correcting the FEU-US mistakes. On the other hand, the "skeptic" media re-published Lindzen's article with little commentary or analysis, allowing his errors to propagate to a wider audience, which generally also received Lindzen's piece with an uncritical eye. The Skeptical Science article concluded that in this case study, it was the AGW camp which had behaved like the true skeptics.
Subsequently, the article was picked up and re-published by The Guardian Environment Network. The Guardian allowed comments on the article for 3 days, and over that period, 310 comments were posted. The comments were fairly evenly split between the AGW camp and the "skeptic" camp. This provided an opportunity to observe how the self-proclaimed "skeptics" would react when confronted with the lack of true skepticism coming from their camp with regards to Lindzen's errors. Would they acknowledge his mistakes, or would they continue to turn a blind eye to their fellow "skeptic" while criticizing the FEU-US for making the exact same errors?
If you guessed the latter, you win a gold star. I must say I was rather disappointed, but not surprised that both camps confirmed the conclusions of the Case Study in The Guardian comments. None in the AGW camp defended the FEU-US, and there was universal criticism for the group's unwillingness to correct the errors themselves when they were notified of them.
The self-proclaimed "skeptics", on the other hand, behaved in a much more biased manner. They almost universally attempted to defend Lindzen's errors. Several attempted to blame the FEU-US errors on the IPCC. The "logic" was that the FEU-US scientific adviser (Osvaldo Canziani) was previously an IPCC co-chair, and the report heavily referenced the IPCC report. The fact that the IPCC had nothing to do with the FEU-US errors did not dissuade these self-proclaimed "skeptics". Although the projected temperature increase was listed as the report's first "key finding", it was not integral to the rest of the report. The majority of the paper was effectively a summary of the IPCC and other UN report predictions about climate change impacts on agricultural production, which did not assume or depend upon the unrealistically rapid temperature rise projection in the FEU-US study.
Many "skeptic" commenters also engaged in ad hominem attacks against myself, John Cook, and Skeptical Science. The amount of dirt they were able to dig up (mostly about other people who share my name, or outright falsehoods promoted by "skeptic" bloggers about this site and its founder) would have almost been impressive, if it wasn't so misguided. The Guardian moderators were kept busy deleting these inappropriate comments. An approximate breakdown of the comments (courtesy of Rob Painting):
19 comments defended Lindzen's error
0 comments defended FEU-US error
47 comments were deleted (ad hominem or otherwise off-topic)
51 remaining comments were off-topic (on ocean heat content, blaming the IPCC, etc.)The remainder consisted of arguments among commenters
In the end, The Guardian comments provided a secondary case study about the behavior of both camps. The actual skeptics, who acknowledged the mistakes where they were made, happened to be in the AGW camp. Those who refused to look at all the evidence with an equally critical eye and were unable to set their biases aside were in the "skeptic" camp.
In this follow-up case study, we are once again reminded who the true skeptics are.