The 106th Skeptics’ Circle is up at Disillusioned Words.
Much of the media has been abuzz recently with excited reports that the lost city of Atlantis might have been found using ocean in Google Earth. See the picture below of the finding – a grid like image supposedly resembling a city’s roads, covering an area “the size of Wales.”
Unfortunately the image is almost certainly an artifact of the mapping process. The underwater images for Google’s ocean maps come from multiple sonar measurements of the ocean floor. (Unlike Google Earth which relies on satellite imagery to show the surface only.) The area in question was mapped by boats travelling in a series of straight lines, and the “grid” merely shows the route taken by those mapping boats. A spokeswoman for Google has been quoted in numerous places:
…what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process.
Bathymetric (sea-floor) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea-floor.
'The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data.
But even without this information, it seems extremely unlikely this was ever an underwater city. A city the “size of Wales”? From this map of Wales you can see that would be approximately 130 by 70 miles in size - some city. And using a ruler to make some rough calculations, those roads would be at least a couple of miles wide. They must have been expecting some pretty heavy traffic over ten thousand years ago!
This morning, Orac called Keith Olbermann out on his ridiculous “worst person in the world” slot yesterday, where he (Olbermann) named Brian Deer as one of his ”worsts”. Olbermann called Deer’s reporting of the Wakefield MMR/autism fraud “journalistic malfeasance”, apparently because The Times didn’t mention that the investigation into Wakefield was the result of a complaint by Brian Deer. Leaving aside for now the fact that that Deer is not the complainant in this case anyway, my reaction was “so what?” How would Deer being the complainant change the facts so that Wakefield suddenly magically didn’t commit fraud any more? Obviously, it wouldn’t.
Of course, we know that Wakefield's work was flawed at best, and paid for by those seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers. Deer (as anyone knows) has been covering this story for years. As Orac writes:
Olbermann apparently doesn't know that the reason Deer made the complaint to the British GMC was because of what he found in his original report in 2004 and then again in 2006. In other words, Deer discovered that Wakefield had been in the pocket of a trial lawyers seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers, having accepted £435,643 in fees, plus £3,910 expenses for his "research." Who wouldn't have reported him to the GMC for that?
Talk about a conflict of interest. We now know that Olbermann’s piece was essentially written for him by anti-vaccine crank David Kirby, who is crowing about it today on the Huff Post. Several people including Brian Deer himself have written to Olbermann today to inform him of his mistake(s), but since there was no retraction from Olbermann tonight we have to conclude that Olbermann is happy with his hatchet job on a respected journalist. Pretty ironic for someone who criticizes Fox News presenters for reading talking points given to them without checking the facts.
Which brings us to a related story. Today a special court ruled that evidence presented to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program did not demonstrate a link between autism and childhood vaccines:
In a statement shortly after the release of the decisions, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it continues to support research "to better understand the cause of autistic disorders and develop more effective methods of treatment."
However, "the medical and scientific communities ... have found no association between vaccines and autism."
This is possibly a bigger deal than it may appear. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was set up to compensate anyone who might have been injured by vaccines. And quite rightly so. Everyone benefits from a vaccinated population, and so it’s only fair that the very small number of people who are actually injured by vaccines should be compensated by the rest of us. With this in mind, the Compensation Program was set up to make it easy for anyone injured by vaccines to claim compensation, with minimal legal and financial hurdles to overcome. The result is that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is very favorable to litigants. The standard of proof is much lower than it would be in a regular court. And of course, in a regular court, the standards of evidence are much lower than they would be in the world of science. So these hearings would have been expected to be very friendly to the litigants. The fact that even these courts found no link from vaccines to autism is very telling.
I predict that Kirby and his merry band will now commence smear tactics on the special masters of the court, and/or anyone else they can blame for this eminently sensible decision. One thing they will not do, I predict, is reflect that maybe, just possibly, it is just conceivable that they might be wrong about vaccines and autism. They won’t do that because nothing will ever change their minds. It’s the vaccines. It just has to be. Anyone want to bet I’m wrong?
Sometimes I worry that I’ve run out of new things to blog about, but then out of the blue up pops something that proves me wrong. I recently received an email from Joanne Nova, who writes a blog where she claims global warming isn’t caused by human created greenhouse gas emissions. In her first email to me she wrote “there is no empirical evidence left that supports the theory that man made CO2 makes much difference to the climate.” Note, “no empirical evidence”, not “I disagree with the evidence”, or “there is contrary evidence” – but there is no evidence. None! She emailed me to ask why I had come to a different conclusion from her.
Why do I accept global warming science as being true? Well, it’s partly because I followed the many claims of the global warming “skeptics,” and although their arguments had been debunked numerous times by experts (for example, read RealClimate’s Responses to common contrarian arguments), the so-called skeptics kept repeating the already debunked arguments. After a while you just start thinking, “but that’s been explained already,” and stop taking those people seriously. So that would be my initial reason. But the other main reason would have been the thousands of articles published every year in peer reviewed scientific journals, virtually all of them supporting the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis. And it’s also because of the denier tactics employed by the “skeptics”. (More on this later.) Nova writes back that this is argument from authority, and that it’s intellectually lazy to argue this way. Well, I disagree.
It isn’t necessarily fallacious to consider that thousands of climate scientists writing in peer reviewed journals might know more than you do about such a complex subject. Of course, this one is a little tricky for newbies, and I’m sure I got it wrong myself initially. Nizkor is one of the many sites that tries to explain it:
…a person who is a legitimate expert is more likely to be right than wrong when making considered claims within her area of expertise. In a sense, the claim is being accepted because it is reasonable to believe that the expert has tested the claim and found it to be reliable. So, if the expert has found it to be reliable, then it is reasonable to accept it as being true.
What we have here is trust in the scientific method. And we trust it because we have reason to believe it works – just look around you. (You’re reading this on a computer aren’t you?) And on a blog that promotes science and the scientific method, I’d have to be pretty perverse, or have a very good reason, to oppose thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers.
Note that what we should have is trust in science. This is not the same as faith, which is what Nova claimed I have. Faith is belief without evidence, while trust is acceptance of something based on what we have experienced before – ie what has worked and what has been right. In other words, trust of the scientific method is based on evidence that it works. Claiming that trust and faith are the same thing is the fallacy of equivocation that I have written about before. The fallacy is to use the same word in different meanings in an argument, implying that the word means the same each time. Implying that trust is the same as faith is actually the classic example I gave two years ago to explain the fallacy. Hilariously, Nova responded to this point with dictionary definitions of trust, that I think were supposed to show that trust can be defined in the same way as faith. But duh, that’s the point. They can be defined in the same way. But they can also be defined differently. And employing these ambiguous definitions s how they can be used to make a fallacious argument. Just because a dictionary gives definitions of the two words, and some of the definitions are similar, that doesn’t mean that trust in the scientific method is the same as faith. Nova even debunked her own point by writing “Planes don't fly on "trust". They fly on physics.” Yes. But I don’t need to understand the physics to get on a plane. I get on a plane because I trust that planes fly – and that trust is based on what we see in the real world (all those planes in the sky) not on faith.
Of course, trusting experts isn’t the same as Michael Egnor listing dead philosophers and scientists who he claims agreed with his views on Dualism. Science has moved on since the days of Galileo and Newton, and who knows what they might think now? It also isn’t the same as a certain commenter we all remember suggesting that since he studied plant breeding 30 years ago, his arguments on genetic engineering must be correct and everyone else’s wrong now. Those were fallacious appeals to authority because the people quoted were not necessarily experts. That would be the actual argument from authority fallacy.
It’s not intellectually lazy either to accept the majority peer reviewed science on a topic in which I’m not an expert. I don’t have any obligation to research and become an expert on every subject under the sun to determine whether to accept or reject a claim; I’ll study in detail only the subjects I feel an interest or a need to study, and no more. So sometimes I will rely on experts. Of course, relying on experts is weaker than understanding the evidence in detail, no one would deny that. And this would be a problem if I were writing a blog on global warming, or even writing posts on the details of global warming. But I’m not.
Nova replies that in that case, I shouldn’t refer to the AGW “Skeptics” as “deniers.” Again, I disagree. I refer to them as deniers because they also rely on denier tactics.
As I said, one reason I gave up with the global warming (so called) skeptics, was because of the denier tactics they clearly relied on. Here I think it would be useful to refer to Denialism Blog and their explanation of What is Denialism, because why reinvent the wheel? They talk about five general tactics used by denialists, namely:
I would add a sixth, namely continuing to repeat arguments long after they have been debunked. Climate denialists like Nova rely on many of these techniques, as I will show using this email exchange and her own web page.
Denialism Blog explains Selectivity (Cherry Picking):
Denialists tend to cite single papers supporting their idea
Bingo. Nova claimed AGW had been “falsified” by David Evans’s The Missing Greenhouse Signature paper (which is not a peer reviewed paper as far as I can tell, despite what Nova claimed). This paper starts with:
Each possible cause of global warming has a different pattern of where in the planet the warming occurs first and the most. The signature of an increased greenhouse effect is a hotspot about 10 km up in the atmosphere over the tropics.
Read the second sentence in that piece again. It’s presented as a fact that, if falsified, falsifies the whole of AGW. The problem is, as far as I can tell, it’s not true. For example, Tim Lambert writes:
This couldn't be more wrong. Study the graphs below (from RealClimate). The left one shows the pattern predicted for doubling CO2, while the right one shows the pattern for a 2% increase in solar output.
Both patterns include a hot spot. The difference between the two graphs is that the CO2 one shows cooling in the stratosphere, while the right one does not, so the "greenhouse signature" is stratospheric cooling. And guess what, that's what's been happening.
Then there is Chris Colose at Climate Change:
Tropospheric warming in the tropics is a signature of greenhouse warming, but it is more accurate to say that it is not a unique signature (i.e., you get this “hotspot” with all types of forcings).
Based on many recent papers, such as Tropical vertical temperature trends: A real discrepancy? by Thorne et al, Robust tropospheric warming revealed by iteratively homogenized radiosonde data, by Sherwood et al, and the recent Santer et al. paper, it is not obvious a real model-observation discrepancy exists, so to ignore these papers and the uncertainty in the data is not going to get Evans very far. Realclimate has a much more thorough discussion of those, and more papers on this topic here, Part 2, and Part 3
It looks to me as though experts disagree with Evans. Certainly few if any of them take seriously this unpublished and non peer reviewed essay. Of course, experts can be wrong, but clearly this paper does not “falsify” AGW as Nova claimed. The point is, Nova citing this paper as “showing that the theory has been falsified” is as clear an example of cherry picking as it is possible to make. The idea that the whole of AGW – thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers and evidence – is falsified by this one article on a web site, is just absurd. And a standard denialist / crank tactic.
In Denialism Blog’s section on Fake Experts, they state that:
[real] experts have experience in their field, and they can provide answers that are consistent with the state of knowledge in that field
…a fake expert is usually somebody who is relied upon for their credentials rather than any real experience in the field at issue, who will promote arguments that are inconsistent with the literature, aren't generally accepted by those who study the field in question, and/or whose theories aren't consistent with established epistemological requirements for scientific inquiry.
So who does Nova write about excitedly on her blog? John Theon, who was supposedly James Hansen’s supervisor at NASA but who now disagrees that global warming is man made. Of course we know that Theon wasn’t actually Hansen’s “boss”, and that he retired from NASA in 1994. Theon seems like the archetypal fake expert – someone with credentials but who hasn’t worked in the field for a long while – too long to be taken seriously over current experts to be sure. Nova adopts standard denialist tactics by writing about this as though it is meaningful, just as she also appeals to this list of 650 supposed experts who dispute AGW, although we know this list is padded with TV weathermen, economists, non-climate experts, and a number who are actually not AGW “skeptics” anyway. In fact 58% of the "experts" quoted have no credentials in climate research and only 16% have top-notch credentials. Also see another debunking of this list. Compare these 650 (really less than 100) "skeptics" with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) which has 50,000 members, most of whom really are earth scientists. Only a few dozen AGU members are on this latest denier list. Again, standard denier techniques from Nova.
Denialism Blog defines Impossible expectations (and moving goalposts) as “the use, by denialists, of the absence of complete and absolute knowledge of a subject to prevent implementation of sound policies, or acceptance of an idea or a theory.” And guess what, the example they give is of global warming deniers:
One finds that they harp endlessly about models, how much models suck, how you can't model anything, on and on and on. True, models are hard, anything designed to prognosticate such a large set of variables as those involved in climate is going to be highly complex, and I'll admit, I don't understand them worth a damn. Climate science in general is beyond me, and I read the papers in Science and Nature that come out, blink a few times, and then read the editors description to see why I should care. But with or without models, which I do trust the scientists and peer-reviewers involved to test adequately, that doesn't change the fact that actual measurement of global mean temperature is possible, and is showing an alarmingly steep increase post-industrialization.
I don’t need to add much to that, except to state that (unsurprisingly) Nova doesn’t believe climate models are empirical evidence.
Add the list of debunked AGW skeptic arguments that the AGW “skeptics” keep repeating, and you have quite a litany of denialism. Cherry picking one non peer reviewed and unpublished paper that few if any climate scientists take seriously and claiming in all seriousness that it falsifies the whole of AGW. Reporting on lists of “skeptics” as though this actually means anything. Claiming models aren’t science. Calling logical fallacies that aren’t while relying on them herself. After this exchange I’m even more convinced of the science behind AGW. I describe the AGW skeptics as deniers because they employ denier tactics. Employ denier tactics, you’re a denier.
Nova claims there is none. For those interested, here is some. The links are not direct to peer reviewed papers (although there are links in some of the articles to peer reviewed work). Obviously it’s not comprehensive. But it’s a good place to start and you certainly can’t claim there is “none.” Unless you’re a denier.
Coby on The Models are Unproven which includes a list of significant predictions of enhanced greenhouse gas warming that have been made and confirmed. Also How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic which also explains denier tactics.
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Note: the IPCC collates research published by scientists and institutions across the world – that’s thousands of peer reviewed climate science papers.
Scientific opinion on climate change – an article that documents scientific opinion as given by synthesis reports, scientific bodies of national or international standing, and surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Agreed it’s a Wikipedia page, but there are 90 links to follow.
February 18, 2009 – edited to add:
Joanne Nova just responded on her blog. I’m underwhelmed. If you want to read my reply, please scroll down to comment 105 below. (I’m sorry but links don’t work to comments on page 2 of TypePad blogs. I apologize – this has only been an open ticket with TypePad for a year or so with no resolution yet.)
Daniel at Unreasonable Faith has just published his list of the Top 30 Atheist/Agnostic/Skeptic Blogs which includes Skeptico. Thanks Daniel.
His top five are:
Pharyngula is on the top of my RSS feed and Friendly Atheist is there too, as are several of his other 25 (click the link for the full list). It's worth checking out some of the others if like me you haven’t read them all.
Religious people - explain that “code of conduct” thing for me again. You know, how the bible and the ten commandments is supposed to be:
the historical foundation of American law, moral values and code of conduct.
And then explain this:
A 24-year-old ski lift operator who fatally shot the general manager of the Eldora ski area was determined to kill co-workers who weren't Christian, according to court records obtained Thursday.
The documents, filed Wednesday in Boulder District Court, said witnesses told authorities that Derik Bonestroo walked into a building at work, fired a gun into the ceiling and said: "If you're not Christian, you're going to die."
Because from this story, it seems to me that this Christian “code of conduct” is pretty useless.
I’m not saying that most Christians or even many Christians would ever do such a thing. What I’m saying, is that being Christian, reading your bible, following God, clearly does not make you moral and is clearly not necessary as a “code of conduct” for us to follow. So, Christians, explain please exactly why I’m wrong here or stop banging on about how atheists are amoral. Please.
Hat tip to Atheist Revolution.
I just received an email advising me that “help is on the way,” with a link to Scott Teague’s Ten Commandment Awareness Walk’ to Washington, D.C.. Teague is apparently the founder of “The Ten Commandment Warriors,” ("warriors"?) and claims he is answering a call from God to make America aware of the ten commandments. Because, you know, there is so little awareness of these things right now.
My mission is to bring awareness to our great nation and to remind all that the Ten Commandments are the historical foundation of American law, moral values and code of conduct.
Well, perhaps Teague isn’t really that aware himself of what those ten commandments actually are. Only two – you shall not kill and you shall not steal – are actually laws in the US. You shall not bear false witness is only a law in the specific case of where an oath has been sworn. A “code of conduct”? We need to be told not to kill people?
Teague doesn’t care. He thinks the recession is punishment from God because we have turned our back on him, or something:
He believes the cause of the economic recession and other problems across the nation are a result of America turning its back on God and is claiming the scripture in II Chronicles 7:14 (If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land) as the solution. Teague says he is asking men and women everywhere to join him in prayer for America on March 4th.
Oh I see, they’re going to pray also. Well that’s a relief. For a minute I thought it was going to be a walk only – a purely symbolic act that would make people feel they’re doing something but ultimately would have absolutely no effect at all. But they’re going to pray as well. Phew! Good to know this Teague guy has fully thought this through.
The best bit was at the end:
Teague says he he has no doubt that God has blessed a drought stricken Johnson County with rain and snow recently because so many people have fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse. “It works at this level, and God can work at any level, and I believe he will.”
Wow, Teague has never heard of winter. I guess it’s not mentioned in the bible.
Skeptico is four years old today. Yes, I’ve been writing this blog for four years now. In previous years, I’ve marked the occasion with examples of how the people we met during the year might answer the age old chicken / road question. Here are those previous years’ versions:
February 2006 - Why did the chicken cross the road?
February 2007 - Why did the chicken re-cross the road?
February 2008 - Chicken, Road, Year Three
Some serious woo in those first three years. I wondered whether to continue with the tradition this year, wondered if it wasn’t getting a little tired, or if there was enough material. But then I read through some of the year’s posts and I decided that yes, there really was enough woo again this year for more chicken/road answers (including a late entry by Michael Egnor). And yet again, Deepak Chopra makes an appearance – the only person to be featured in all four years’ chicken/road celebrations. Choprawoo – the woo that truly keeps on giving. And the actual reason I started this blog and wrote my first post in 2005.
Now you’re all up to date, with no further ado, here are the chicken abusers we met last year.
Animal Liberation Front (ALF)
We’re going to firebomb anyone who works with chickens crossing roads.
Not for a chicken reason. But because people prayed for it. [Turns to aide.] (What? The chicken didn’t cross the road? Not even after we prayed?)
It was the vaccines! Has to be.
The answer is outside the realm of science.
If your name’s PZ Myers you aren’t allowed to watch the chicken crossing the road.
The Moses Code producers
What The Bleep and The Secret didn’t tell you but we will.
Chickens crossing roads leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany. It’s quite obvious really.
I’m serving you with a subpoena demanding all documents (including financial records) related to the chicken’s crossing of the road, all communications with anyone connected to the crossing roads issue, and all communications with anyone who blogs about poultry and/or pedestrian-highway access.
The aliens made it. We’ll have the proof soon. Really.
Here are some psychic kids. They’ll imagine some nonsensical reason and some dopey “professor of psychology” will validate it as real. I’m not a ratings whore. No, really.
A psychic said you’re abusing the chicken so we’re reporting you to the cops.
Were ‘time’ to physically exist, then, a simple experiment would have long ago proven it. That experiment would consist of two chickens. One of the two chickens would cross the road, while the other would wait on this side. Were ‘time’ to exist, then the two chickens, a few feet apart (one this side, and one on the “other side” of the road) would be affected at a similar rate by the surrounding-them same speed of ‘time’. As ‘time’ does not exist, but the physical process of change does, the first chicken that has “crossed the road” is on “the other side”, while the chicken that has not crossed would remain on this side indefinitely, for as long as that chicken does not cross the road.
It didn’t – it was all a camera trick.
To set up a Wiki for people uncritical of alternatives to chickens.
To drink some wheatgrass juice, dammit. I’m telling you it’s good for you. We CAN digest it.
Genetically engineered chickens, crossing roads, are causing the biggest-ever traffic disaster. I know because I’ve been to the Punjab. And western Australia. I have been there. Seen it. Roads full of chickens.
To pray for lower gas prices. [Turns to aide.] (What?)
Ancient Code producers
Forget The Moses Code, What The Bleep and The Secret. WE’LL tell you. No, really.
And where does a lot of that earmark money end up? It goes to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good - things like chicken research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
To pray for McCain to win the election. [Turns to aide.] (What?)
To get acupuncture for its battlefield injuries just like pirates with earrings.
We can’t allow chickens to be offended, so stories about chickens crossing roads will be outlawed.
We don’t know but we are going to make up some lame explanation and pretend we’re psychic.
It only pretended to cross the road to get away from the Wi-Fi that’s messing up its chakras. But chakras are only pretend anyway, so that’s OK.
To completely miss the point.
Unlike me, Steve Salerno has no discernible professional credentials in poultry studies, so how dare he say the chicken didn’t cross the road?
To get to
the Ossett and Batley area Batley.
I assert that the properties of crossing roads are not the properties of chickens and I assert that this is a problem for materialists. As proof, here is a list of dead philosophers who agree with me.
That’s it. On with year five. And I predict Chopra will feature there too.