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Richard Milne separates skepticism from denial

Posted on 30 October 2011 by John Cook

Dr Richard Milne from the University of Edinburgh has published an entertaining and educational lecture 'Criticial Thinking on Climate Change'. He explores the nature of science and genuine scientific skepticism while managing to pack in more cartoons, animations and jokes (yes, I LOLed on multiple occasions) than I've ever seen in a climate lecture. He also debunks a number of climate myths, using some great metaphors which I'll be adding to my vocabulary for future reference. Definitely worth watching for any interested in climate science.

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Comments 51 to 69 out of 69:

  1. 44, Shibui, Okay. I looked at Ridley. It's mostly a lot of vacuous fluff, but I'm a little surprised that you didn't take the key points to heart, in trying to recognize pseudoscience (i.e. Watts, Nova, any number of cranks on the 2nd Law thread here, etc.) rather than presuming that his proclamations apply to the real science and scientists. I'm sure you clung to this statement, but in an upside-down, inside-out, black-is-white fashion:
    Lesson number 4: the heretic is sometimes right.
    but failed to take heed of this one
    Lesson no 5: keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others.
    But when I got to lesson 6 I got angry, because I've seen that Feynman quote misapplied frequently since last year. In fact, I got so tired of seeing it misunderstood and misapplied that I wrote a post on it on my own too infrequently updated blog. The Feynman quote that he got wrong is here:
    "Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts"
    His woefully incorrect interpretation of that quote is here:
    Lesson 6. Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. Experts are worth listening to about the past, but not the future. Futurology is pseudoscience.
    This is wrong. It is an entirely inaccurate interpretation of what Feynman meant. Please take the time to read my commentary on The Ignorance of the Experts. And please... to compare this drivel to Milne's talk is a huge insult to Milne.
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  2. Anyone looking for 'balance' will find more satisfaction in Scott Denning's video. "Its pointless to worry about decimal places. Its a big problem, and needs solutions. " Tell that to the crowd that thinks warming stopped for the last 20 minutes.
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  3. Albatross@50 Indeed the scent of BS increased the closer I got to the source. Sphaerica: The ".html" dropped off the link all by itself... must be magic ;-)
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  4. Shibui @ 44 - Aha, the false equivalence gambit.
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  5. I get the feeling some of you didn't like it ...
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  6. What did you take from Ridley, Shibui? Did he convince you of anything?
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  7. Matt Ridley is on the Academic Advisory Council of The Global Warming Policy Foundation alongside such well known AGW deniers as Ian Plimer, Richard Lindzen, Robert Carter, Ross McKitrick, William Harper and many others. As such, anything he says is not based on science but on his libertarian ideology. As an aside he was Chairman of Northern Rock the first Bank to face problems in the UK, problems which appear to be blamed on Matt Ridley.
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  8. "I get the feeling some of you didn't like it ..." Some of us have a great respect for the truth.
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  9. Hi Ian @57, SkS has dealt with Ridley's musings before. See here. In fact, AndyS did a whole series, that is how much misinformation there was to counter.
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  10. Shibui - watch Richard Milne's lecture - you're a textbook case of denial.
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  11. Ian @57, Guess who is McKitrick's BFF? Yes, Steven McIntyre.
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  12. Thank you for posting this and thanks to Dr. Milne for lecturing on true skepticism vs. denialism/deception. Sometimes, I get the impression I am surrounded by denialism in the U.S. and often are only hearing that side of the debate - which isn't really to say it's a scientific debate whatsoever. The politicians are the loudest and ironically perhaps, from those political figures and our media these views are "trickled down" to ordinary, non-scientific people and so many of them embrace it with (as Dr. Milner points out) a kind of compassion or conviction. Despite this, I feel at home with less emotional and more forward scientific thinking here at skepticalscience.com and Dr. Milner's lecture illustrates the differences perfectly and candidly.
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  13. Not sure if this is directly on topic here, but Barry Bickmore has a great video of a lecture here in Utah, talking about his previous beliefs and how we fool ourselves. http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/how-to-avoid-the-truth-about-climate-change/#comment-5348 Maybe SkSci needs to have a button for "conservatives who were swayed by the science" stories with vids and links?
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  14. Dr Milne's lecture is now posted and being abused on the denialist Bishop Hill blog. They are also openly attacking SKS on the comments below. http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/11/14/richard-milne-on-the-divergence-problem.html Strangely they focus only on two small aspects of the lecture (tree rings, and the admission that Dr Milne is also an environmentalist). Yet they have the cheek to accuse SKS of cherry-picking!
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  15. Monkeyorchid @64, I do not think any reasoned and grounded individual should care or pay attention to what an ideologically (and anger) driven Montford and his followers might think/believe. He is just feeding them fodder to keep them all worked up and angry. Pretty sad that this is what they have to resort to in lieu of science. But thanks for the notification.
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  16. I'm late late late to this, but what can you do. Better late (I watched this last night, August 20 2016) than never.

    I really enjoyed the video, and echo Dr Milne's recommendation of this website (skepticalscience.com).

    But am I the only one who noticed the pot calling the kettle black? Rick Perry was one Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential race. Rudy Giuliani was another. Milne chose Perry as representative of — I guess — "right wing" views. Giuliani is a "right wing" guy and his take on climate change is the opposite of Perry's. Giuliani ran for the nomination of the very same party. Milne wanted to portray that party, which happened to be contending the upcomping presidential election, as retrograde. He picked the best caricature of that view. Giuliani would have made a poor choice for that purpose.

    That, in Milne's own definition, is, um, uh... cherrypicking.

    Another example of PCKB (pot calling the kettle black), and hugely important in the context of exactly how mankind can flourish without continuing to dump obscene amounts of carbon into our air: Milne's example of a logical fallacy "I wasn't at Chernobyl, so radiation isn't dangerous."

    Yes, that's a logical fallacy. And so is Milne's implication that radiation IS dangerous.

    It was a throwaway line, I know. But it was a pretty breathtaking thing for a scientist, lecturing about skepticism, to imply.

    I, you, and Dr Milne are under constant radiation bombardment, from natural terrestrial and cosmic sources.

    Are we dead?

    And Dr. Milne's example of how he momentarily fell for Tony Blair's case for invading Iraq, before coming to his senses and realizing how wrong it was. 

    How wrong "what" was? Blair did not make, and did not pretend to make, a scientific case for the invasion. He made a polticial case, and framed his case in EXACTLY the way Milne says political cases should be made.

    So how could Dr. Milne have figured out it was wrong? Unless he had some inside knowledge of the state of Saddam's uranium isotope separation program, which I am certain he did not, he could only have evaluated Blair's case on the political merits that Blair himself laid out.

    I don't mind a scientist venturing into poltics — he's a citizen just like everybody else. I do believe however that public scientists do their own cause a disservice when they buy into a particular partisan frame and insert that frame into their speeches.

    The climate change "community" (i.e. those who believe man-made CO2 is a problem worthy of huge effort and action) are making a major mistake if they think that politicians who have glommed onto this issue and say the right buzz words are worthy of support.

    German politicians utter the right buzz words, in spades. Germany's electric power generation sector dumped more than 330 million tons of CO2 into the air last year. France, right next door, made a comparable amount of electricity and dumped only 43 million tons. 

    I do not see, on this web site or any of the other excellent ones that deal with the issue of climate change, any inquiry into the reasons for the remarkable fact I laid out in the previous paragraph.

    I do see a lot of rhetorical support for the route Germany has chosen to cut carbon. This amazes and disappoints me. A glance at the publicly available data instantly tells you the German approach is a failure.

    Scientists are supposed to work from evidence, not politically motivated fairy tales.

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  17. SteveAplin @66, Guliani ran in the 2008 presidential race, not the 2012 presidential race.  Of the 2012 presidential race he said "it's tough to be a moderate and succeed in GOP primaries".  Therefore his views cannot be taken as representative of the Republican party in 2011/12.  As it happens, of the still viable candidates at the time of the first primary, four were explicit deniers, 2 had walked back from previously moderate positions to more denier friendly positions (including eventual Republican nominee, Mitt Romney), and only one had a climate policy avowedly accepting of climate science.  That one polled only 0.44% of the vote, recieving just one delegate.  That, however, is beside the point.  The citation of Perry (12:43) is not made to present him as representative of the Republican party, but as a citable instance of the "galileo gambit" being played, which gambit is then rebutted.

    If you want to discuss the other examples, you should provide time stamps for their time of occurence rather than expecting interlocuters to watch the entirety of an 80 minute video to find the obscure reference to find out whether or not you have fairly represented them. 

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  18. Tom Curtis

    Fair enough, and I appreciate your reply to a five year old thread!

    It's perhaps beside the point that the 2008 GOP nominee was an avid sponsorer of climate change legislation which was (in my view) much more strenuous than what eventually emgerged from the House in 2010.

    Romney "walked back" from a previously moderate position to a more denier friendly one during the 2011 primaries? Candidates say all sorts of things in the primaries. If that's an indication of what they'll do as president, then Bush Junior would have dedicated his eight years to overturning Roe V Wade and cutting taxes, instead of ignoring RvW and hiking them, and Obama wouldn’t be firing drone missiles at suspected terrorists in Yemen.

    Picking Rick Perry's absurd Galileo claim as an example of the Galileo fallacy is just as much a shot at party positions as an illustration of the actual fallacy. Which in my view is cherrypicking.

    The Chernobyle reference was at 41:30 of the video. My paraphrase was inaccurate — the fallacy was actually presented as "I wasn't there when Chernobyl exploded, therefore I'm immune to radiation" — but my assessment of the underlying implication was not. I think Dr. Milne meant for the rebuttal to be "no, you are not immune to radiation."

    A better example would have been "I wasn't there when Chernobyl exploded, therefore I'm immune to explosions and fires." Or even better: "I was not there when [pick any natural gas explosion from your local newspaper] went off, therefore I am immune from explosions/fires."

    You may think this is a quibble. But my antenna go up with this kind of statement. You want junk science and fallacies, look at what the anti-nuclear crowd says. In spite of my complaints, I very much liked Dr. Milne's talk because from his descriptions climate denier arguments sound just like anti-nuclear arguments.

    It would be like somebody citing as an example of a logical fallacy: "A single molecule of CO2 absorbs and re-emits infrared photons, therefore CO2 in any amount is dangerous."

    You would no doubt agree that the logic of that statement is incorrect. But you would be forgiven for wondering where the person giving that example stood on the climate change debate.

    On Blair (1:02:50): again, I can't see how anybody's logical side could, in early 2003, have kicked in, allowing them to see that what Blair said wasn't correct. Blair wasn't presenting scientific evidence, or even claiming he was. He was presenting a strict risk management argument — "Saddam has a proven history of (1) military aggression, (2) using WMD, and (3) secret uranium enrichment for military purposes. The consequences of him acquiring what we suspect he is trying to acquire warrant military action on our part."

    (That's a paraphrase; the full speech to which I believe Milne refers, i.e. Blair's to the House of Commons on March 18 2003, is here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/mar/18/foreignpolicy.iraq1)

    It's perfectly legitimate to disagree with Blair, as many (millions) do. But to say "it wasn't correct" ... is not correct.

    This may appear to be another quibble, and off-topic to boot. But it underlines my point about playing the politics of moving beyond climate change talk to action. There's a whole partisan cadre, on both sides of the Atlantic, that makes a lot of political hay over how they "knew" Blair/Bush et al were "not correct." Throwing in with that crowd on the expectation that they'll do something meaningful on climate change is, I'll repeat, a mistake.

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  19. SteveAplin @68:

    1)  A general shift in the Republican party position on climate change has been obervable over the last few decades, from a position indistinguishable from that of the Democrats in the presidency of George H Bush, to a position where the nominee and the runner up of the 2016 presidential race are avowed climate skeptics.  In this context, a shift towards a more "skeptical" position by senior Republicans who has previously backed significant anti-global warming legislation is significant.  Further, a shift in order to win the votes in the primaries (where Republican voters are the dominant part of those appealed to) is more indicative of the Republican party position than any later trimming to not scare away centrist and Democrat leaning voters.

    More importantly, the choice of Rick Perry as an example of the Galileo gambit probably owes most to his being the most prominent and recognisable user of the gambit that was likely to be recognized by students in a Scottish university in 2011.  I will revise that opinion if you can provide me with a list of equally prominent users of the Gambit around 2011.  If you cannot, you need look no further for a reason and your view of the choice of example as being a shot at the Republican party is unjustified.

    2) As it happens, arsenic is present in small quantities in all human diets, and hence in all humans.  We cannot thereby conclude that arsenic is safe.  At higher dosage it is a deadly poison.  Likewise, radiation at low levels in present in all human living environments, as you point out.  At higher levels, it greatly increases the risk of cancer, and at higher levels still it can cause a debilitating disease, or even death.  As it happens, 27 people died from the Chernobyl incident from Acute Radiation Syndrom (ACS).  A further two died from cancer tied to ACS, one died of "external and internal radiation burns, blistered heart", one died of "thermal and radiation burns, trauma", and one of trauma.  I take it that blistering of the heart comes from penetrating radiation, not thermal radiation so that at least thirty of the associated deaths are attributable directly to radiation.  This excludes discussion of any deaths due to the increase of radiation from fallout from the accident, because Milne restricts his discussion to those who were "there when Chernobyl exploded".  From the figures above, if you were present at the power station at the time of the explosion, you were more likely to die of radiation than of trauma or thermal burns.

    Because Milne talks only about the time of the explosion, no inference can be drawn about his views of the relative risk from radiation from fallout which (I agree) are often overstated.

    3)  With regard to Blair, it was possible to tell at the time he was mistaken.  That was because it was known at the time that UNMOVIC, based on on the ground inspections, was clearly stating that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction in a deployable condition.  That qualification is important because the purported legal justification of the invasion of Iraq was self defence, which required a clear and present danger (ie a danger that could be immediately implimented, and of which you had good reason to think it would be implimented).  It was further known that much of intelligence relied on by the US and Blair was unreliable, with the claims that Iraq was purchasing uranium having been publicly rebutted by the person who investigated the claims.  At the same time, a US intelligence agency was clearly saying the evidence did not support the administrations case, and and Australian intelligence analyst resigned and publicly declared the reason was the distortion of the evidence to make claims supporting the case for war that was not supported by the evidence.

    I paid very carefull attention to all publicly available evidence on this issue at the time; and was outraged (still am outraged) by what I can only see as a deliberate attempt to mistate the quality of the evidence with the intent to decieve the varous electorates of Bush, Blair and Howard (Australia's PM at the time) in order to bring about a war.  At best, it was a case of galloping confirmation bias, but for it to be confirmation bias, the intent to go to war must have preceded the evidence in any event.  Given that many of Bush's senior staff were associated with a conservative think tank that had been advocating a new war with Iraq prior to Bush's election (and ergo, prior to 911) only supports this analysis.

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