Global Warming: Save the hypothesis!

December 29, 2010

Christmas Day delivered a special present to critics of the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) point of view:  an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Judah Cohen – Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming.  One couldn’t ask for a better example of an intellectual house of cards being passed off as science than this wonderful essay.  Like George W. Bush, for whom the answer to any economic problem – slow growth, budget deficit, budget surplus, whatever…  was always to cut taxes, for Mr. Cohen, all observations lead to global warming as an explanation.

Anyone who seriously thinks about climate change understands that weather and climate are not the same, and that  just as a few cold winters don’t disprove AGW, neither do a few hot summers prove it (although that latter point is not often heard from AGW advocates!)  Nevertheless, the record cold in Europe and North America seems to fly in the fact of the AGW theory.  Why the freeze if the Earth is getting warmer?  So, Mr. Cohen leaps into the fray to answer just that question…Of course, one wonders why he feels he must address this ‘question’ if weather is not climate..?

Mr. Cohen is a forecaster for a firm (AER.com) that sells information, or rather, data, to firms that need to estimate their exposure to climate-based risks.  Certainly a reasonable service, but it’s not the same as science.  And like all forecaster/modelers, he must have an explanation for everything, or his credibility falters.  In this regard, he is like a conspiracy theorist, the type of person who has a theory that explains everything!  To leave any question unanswered is to invite a withdrawal of confidence.

Cohen presents a complicated explanation for how the earth can be warming and yet experience colder weather in the northern hemisphere.   It’s very logical, and even plausible…but it’s all speculative.  There is no proof for any of it, and he offers none.  It also happens to be derived from his pet theory that he has modeled and flogged before.  Time will tell if the Earth continues to behave in a manner that could be explained by his notion.  Meanwhile, his ideas offer no proof at all for the AGW theory, but simply constitute an example of “saving the hypothesis.”

Saving the hypothesis is the tactic one takes when observed phenomena seem to invalidate one’s theory:  Construct another theory to “save” the original one!  Blaise Pascal exposed this tactic brilliantly in his epistolary debates on the vacuum, although he did not give it that name.  Aristotle, and centuries of his successors said that Nature could not “tolerate” a vacuum, so all evidence that a vacuum can be created was explained away with new substances, ethers, compounds, etc. that we can not see or measure, etc. etc.  No matter what evidence one presented from direct observation, there was always a reason why one was not observing a vacuum.  So, today, no matter what the evidence – and the recent weather is not evidence of much of anything either way! – it must support the accepted idea that AGW does exist.

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Spinoza on the Essence of Conspiracies

September 11, 2006

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Came across this in the first part of Spinoza’s Ethics .   Somehow, he anticipated the nature of conspiracy theories by centuries. Ooops, they have always been with us. Instead, he is the earliest of which I know who laid bare the nature of their non-thinking arguments. “Reduction to ingnorance,” I like that.   In this passage, he was refuting the notion that everything that happens, happens for a reason, or an end, similar to the reasons or ends that humans would imagine.   That is, things don’t “just happen,” there is always a reason explaining them.   This is how conspiracy theories work:

Why weren’t those telephone calls from cell phones on the record..?” [Taken from the website Petition to Investigate 9/11.]

It couldn’t just be an error, or system foul-up out of all the thousands from that building that day…if, in fact, the report that they are missing is correct in the first place.   It must be because…And how do you explain the fact that the impact happened on a beautiful day when visibility was so great..? JFK was killed by several people – must be so – one person couldn’t have done it, and there are those reports of…

And so, Spinoza (my italics):

We must not omit to notice that the followers of this doctrine, anxious to display their talent in assigning final causes, have imported a new method of argument in proof of their theory–namely, a reduction, not to the impossible, but to ignorance; thus showing that they have no other method of exhibiting their doctrine. For example, if a stone falls from a roof onto someone’s head, and kills him, they will demonstrate by their new method, that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for, if it had not by God’s will fallen with that object, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many concurrent circumstances) have all happened together by chance?  Perhaps you will answer that the event is due to the facts that the wind was blowing, and the man was walking that way. [Here, Spinoza perfectly captures that knowing tone of the conspiracy theorist…] “But why,” they will insist, “was the wind blowing, and why was the man at that very time walking that way?”  If you again answer, that the wind had then sprung up because the sea had begun to be agitated the day before, the weather being previously calm, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will again insist:  “But why was the sea agitated, and why was the man invited at that time?”  So they will pursue their questions from cause to cause, till at last you take refuge in the will of God–in other words, the sanctuary of ignorance.

Pynchon addressed this tendency of people to try and make sense of the world by creating nonsense because they can’t accept the non-sense of the world in Gravity’s Rainbow. It was all due to the Mother Conspiracy.  Mom’s are to blame for everything.  Or you can fret about the ultimate conspiracy, God.