Crichton, global warming, etc.
March 13, 2006 12:53 AM   Subscribe

What's the most convincing response (provide a link, that is) to This Crichton speech about global warming. I'm looking for arguments other than "scientific concensus".
posted by Tlogmer to Science & Nature (10 answers total)
Quoting Crichton:

But now large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world-increasingly, models provide the data.

This is wrong. The models are tested by how well they can predict unobserved data. See
Barnett, Pierce, Schnur
in Science

The 1995 IPCC draft report said, "Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced." It also said, "No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes."

With the publication of Barnett's research in 2001, this statement is now out of date.
posted by gmarceau at 1:40 AM on March 13, 2006

RealClimate takes Crichton's Book State of Fear to task - not quite what you wanted but RealClimate is a good resource and you may find more of what you are looking for in there. Having said that, Crichton's proposal to 'double bind' the use of computer models is interesting.
posted by grahamwell at 5:12 AM on March 13, 2006

The film and book "An Inconvenenient Truth" will be coming out in a few months. Watch or read. Crichton is just a Republican hack who's making good money from catering to people who watch Fox News. Please don't confuse his bullshit arguments couched in science-ish terms with actual scientific arguments. Just a terribly brief overview, I don't have the stomach to rebut a speech full of lies:

--The Kuwaiti oil fires DID darken the entire region, blanketing the entire Gulf region with smoke for a year.
--Crichton uses politicized science (Reagan-era attacks on the EPA) as "evidence" that tobacco smoke is not a carcinogen. Right.

And the rest of it, just skimming, is Crichton just waving his hands and saying "Science can be wrong sometimes! So we can't know anything about anything, and we should never try." (that's the false generalization fallacy, for those keeping track.) This is just a base appeal to ignorance, there's no scientific argument here at all.
posted by jellicle at 6:28 AM on March 13, 2006

I believe that global warming as a consequence of human activities is real, and that we have much more to lose from not taking it seriously, than from taking it too seriously.

That having been said, it was my impression that the crux of the argument is that the earth naturally has cyclical variations in temperature that operate on different frequencies. In other words, that there may be year-to year variation in temperatures on the order of fractions of a degree, decade-to-decade variations on the order of some larger fraction of a degree, century to century variations that are several degrees, and millennia to millennia variations that result in an ice-age happening every once in a while, and a corresponding unusually warm age happening every once in a while as well. So the position of these people who do not believe in global warming is that the evidence observed in the past 50 years of global warming just means that we are on the up phase of a natural variation that will reverse itself in the next couple of decades, without any sort of change in human activity.

This type of theory seems exceptionally hard to disprove (beyond waiting a few decades and seeing what happens), and even worse, seems to be designed to be hard to disprove.

Jellicle, out of curiosity, do you have any information on the relative effect of the Kuwaiti fires on the global climate compared to the similar effect of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo? My completely uninformed guess would be that these two things acted similarly (in effect blocking out sunlight with soot/smoke in the short-term, and increasing the amounts of greenhouse gases in the long term).
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 9:02 AM on March 13, 2006

meant to say:

My completely uninformed guess would be that these two things acted similarly (in effect blocking out sunlight with soot/smoke in the short-term, and increasing the amounts of greenhouse gases in the long term), but the eruption would have been much larger in magnitude of effect.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 9:04 AM on March 13, 2006

This collection of links will help:

Ill considered - very good for simple questions well answered. Recommended Start.

stoat (another climate scientist)

Wikipedia - Global Warming page. Techie and heavy but the links are worth it.

Hardcore - IPCC wikipedia page with links to the real thing. Long.

(can't forget realclimate - mentions crichton)

I know of no answer as Crichton is another of those "its all a lie" people that like flat earthers and anto-evolutioners are just not worth fighting....
posted by Vroom_Vroom_Vroom at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2006

Specific rebuttal of the speech? Can do. Here is an article which directly references Crichton's "Aliens Cause Global Warming" speech as well as other climate "Contrarians. More specific yet? In the article is a link to a [PDF] personal communication with John Perry, a Fellow and editor at the American Meteorological Society with an analyss of Crichton's speech. Here is a direct link to the PDF
posted by mdevore at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2006

As a current scientist doing work with a climate-change bent (as in the Human Dimensions of Global Change) I don't see what's wrong with the scientific consensus argument... if it holds up in court, why isn't it ok for policy?

Part of the issue is science journalism - journalists are taught to report both sides of an issue, which is less reasonable in reporting on science. For many issues the only people who are on the "other side" of something which has a consensus are essentially lunatics. While giving these people equal weight of coverage might be acceptable in politics or sports reporting (among others) it is not very informative in science. More recent journalists have learned better, but still...

Most of the recent articles from Science are sound points from which to rebut. Those who argue against the basic findings from that journal are pretty much crackpots.
posted by sablazo at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2006

I don't see what's wrong with the scientific consensus argument...

Well... a lot. I think what Crichton and others are saying is that "10 out of 10 scientists agree that X" doesn't make X true. It can be, but it can and should also be a valid scientific inquiry to challenge X. At least that's what Karl Popper tells me.

What Crichton is complaining about is people who feel that "Science" is some sort of monolith that has to fend off its detractors. No doubt there are those who feel scientific inquiry is a waste of time, but there are others who -- despite their opposition to established doctrines -- remain convinced that the methods of science have merit. That seems to be Crichton's position.

Here's one way I'd make the distinction. "Science", if there is such an animal, has lined up squarely behind Darwinian evolution. Various others have jumped on board opposing ideas like creationism, intelligent design, and Pastaferianism -- these people are routinely lumped in with Holocaust deniers, flat-earthers, and other "crackpots". But it's not just them -- there are others, many scientists included, who remain skeptical of evolution or at least interested in investigating further, not necessarily for religious reasons but simply because they feel more knowledge could be created. Yet these people, too, are marginalized for daring to challenge the status quo. I've seen it happen firsthand with scientists I know.

I think, and hope, that what Crichton is advocating for is more tolerance of dissent in the scientific community; for actually leaving falsifiability as a legitimate possibility, rather than what he sees as many scientists being blackballed for refusing to tow what has become the party line.

Consensus doesn't prove anything. That's what evidence is for.
posted by SuperNova at 6:24 PM on March 13, 2006

If Crichton can vilify the scientific community by making it seem monolithic and based on some sort of consensus reality, then what world is he really living in? He's a fiction writer who has barely touched the science fiction genre with hack work. His work tends to take one vaguely scientific concept, bring a lot of absolute crap to the table that is purely from imagination, and then conflate his fictional ideas with actual scientific concepts.

Would you rather listen to someone who's studied the climate professionally, or the guy who wrote about spoon bending and colon therapy in autobiographical work?
posted by mikeh at 8:50 AM on March 14, 2006

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