It’s Cold. Must Be Because Global Warming Is False

There is a special, and really warm, place in hell for people who use winter to “disprove” global warming. A highly appropriate reminder of the actual, y’know, science from Mother Jones. Science: actual observations.

1. Statements about climate trends must be based on, er, trends. Not individual events or occurrences. Weather is not climate, and anecdotes are not statistics.

But let’s zoom out for a second. What does this observation tell us, that climate skeptics go straight from the fact that they need to put on thick coats in winter to the statement that global warming is false?

This kind of statement is what’s called abductive reasoning. This is when you jump from observable facts (brrr, cold) to a hypothesis that explains the facts (global cooling!!!). Now, normally, abductive reasoning is a normal part of the scientific process. You see facts in the world, and you try to do what we could call, using a term I explained in an earlier post, a creative search through design space to explain those facts. This is normally a good way of arriving at testable hypotheses. Now you start doing experiments which can falsify or disprove your hypothesis. You try to prove yourself wrong.

This all-important last bit is where the science happens. You think to yourself something like:

Okay, so the fact that I’m cold could be explained by global cooling. How can I falsify that? Well, if there was global cooling, statistical temperature data would show cooling as a trend across the globe. Let’s go check that. No? The globe is still warming? Okay, so that falsifies that hypothesis. Let’s formulate a new one.

That way you might hit on the (so far not falsified, scientific consensus) hypothesis that maybe climate change is real and this is just a part of the seasonal fluctuations of weather. That hypothesis holds up pretty well. In fact, when you look at the models, you see that more precipitation in winter storms is common.

(Alas, where live, this heavier precipitation means that we get an extra three or four months of November.)

Now, the fact that this last part, the attempted, good-faith falsification of hypotheses does not happen in climate skeptics shows you the closing of the conservative mind. The reactionary mind, as Corey Robin calls it, is now a solely political mind, closed off to thinking. In our time, it remains uncommitted to rational inquiry or science. So uncommitted, in fact, that it commits one of the great sins of science. An error so egregious and common that it has a name. It’s called “affirming the consequent” or the “converse fallacy”. It basically means that you fail to acknowledge the fact that there are, at any given time, a near-infinite number of hypotheses which can account for the phenomena you are observing, and that these must be tested through evidence. (“If aliens used their freezer ray on me, it would get cold. I am cold, therefore, aliens are using their freezer ray on me.” Um. No.)

This inability to accept reality for political reasons has been termed “epistemic closure“. Epistemic means “having to do with knowledge”. The closing of the climate skeptic’s minds shows you everything you need to know about the discussion with them about whether or not climate change is real. It shows you that, for most skeptics, the discussion is a sham discussion, not an actual discussion. It is a theatre version of discussion. Shadow boxing. About the greatest challenges of our time.

It’s time to end that discussion. It’s taking up time and energy we do not have. Let’s ignore the skeptics and do what needs to be done.

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2 comments
  1. Outstanding post. You have explained this so well. Your conclusion that it is time to ignore, not engage, climate change deniers is correct as well. I saw a video of a US Congressman quoting the Bible saying that God will never destroy the earth so climate change is wrong. It is a mistake to waste time debating with such people.

    • Release said:

      It is indeed. In fact, their strategy can be seen as a kind of denial-of-service attack. They are trying to make sure we are so busy discussing whether or not climate change is real that we aren’t getting the policy goals they hate done.

      I’ve noticed lately that a lot of newspapers and online journals have started banning climate skeptics from the debate forums. The thought is that if climate change is actually not real, then the proper forum in which to prove that is in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

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