Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Climate Change Sceptics - Craving A Cause

Climate change sceptics, according to Lisa Jardine, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, have:
...created an intricate web of their own associations and allusions, to produce their version of an alternative story which runs contrary to that of mainstream science.
This is an article on the BBC news website ostensibly about the novelist Umberto Eco, and in particular about his second novel, Foucault's Pendulum. As she describes it, the novel is about "...the credulity of those who crave a cause to believe in." She describes the outlines of the novel, which involves an elaborate conspiracy and a manufactured alternate history of the Knights Templar. In time one of the authors of this occult history is killed by people who believe it is true, and who are convinced that he holds more secrets that he is unwilling to reveal.

Aside from being very pleased with herself for being clever in front of Eco during an interview, the article says a lot more about Jardine's mindset - and that of the BBC - than it does about climate change scepticism.

You see, Jardine feels that only those people who are on the outside looking in, those who feel excluded in some way, become sceptics in order to have something to believe in. We are, as the title of the article suggests 'craving a cause'. To climate scientists she says:
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that international scientific near consensus is not enough to allay the fears of those who feel left out of the whole debate.
Now, personally, I feel deeply affronted by all of this. I have a PhD in a scientific discipline, I work as a mathematical modeller, I read the scientific literature and I do my research. Like many sceptics I started out wanting to understand more about the science. I had seen the hockey stick graph, I was a Guardian reading warmist who despised the United States for not signing the Kyoto Treaty. I saw the IPCC as representing an honest and robust view of the science. It was settled, I just wanted to find out more. And that's where the problem started.

In reading more widely, and at a deeper level than the New Scientist or Scientific American, I came away deeply disturbed. It had simply never entered my consciousness that so much of the evidence was model output. As a modeller this is stuff I am familiar with, it's what I earned my PhD doing. And as for the physical evidence, I was amazed at the lack of it.

And, it has to be said, far from craving a cause, I thought I had had one in wanting to fight climate change. If ever there was a cause that inflamed peoples passions and gave them something to believe in it was the fight against CO2-induced climate change.

What I discovered has caused me to question so much of what I took for granted. The people I once saw as political allies I now see as pernicious and dangerous. This has caused all kinds of arguments and strained relationships with family and friends. It's certainly not been an easy ride - I would have been better off ignoring the science and sticking to the Guardian. But I couldn't. You see, unfashionable as it might be to some, I actually believe in the scientific method. I actually think that science is not just another discourse, science is different, science has to be honest.

Jardine is blind to all of this, of course. In her simplistic world there is the 'near consensus' on one hand, and the cranks, conspiracy theorists and the excluded on the other. It would not enter her head that there are many scientists out there who disagree with AGW. It would not occur to her that the state of ignorance about climate is vast, and that far from being settled, the science is becoming more uncertain as more research is performed. And it would not occur to her to actually look at what Climategate revealed, or to look as the inner workings of the IPCC. To her and to her kind, the favoured circle of climate scientists are the good guys, the rest of us are not.

If we're talking about Umberto Eco, I would say that it's his first novel one should look at. In The Name of The Rose we have the story of a fanatical priesthood prepared to go to any steps to keep people from getting at the data (in this case a manuscript by Aristotle). The hero of the novel is William of Occam, the archetypal sceptic and one of the founders of the scientific method. The parallels with climate change are obvious, and require none of the intellectual contortions that Jardine has to go through tp make her point.

Come to think of it, maybe I do feel excluded now, thanks to people like her. But the feeling of exclusion came second, long after I had changed my mind because of the science.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and interesting blog. Thanks.

You would have thought Lisa Jardine could see through the groupthink (but maybe her association with the Royal Society prevents her).

Contrarian said...


I do wonder what her father - Jacob Bronowski - would have made of all this...