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Talking past one another

Via Jo Nova, have a bo peep at this posting by Chris Mooney on DeSmog Blog:

Last week, an intriguing study emerged from Dan Kahan and his colleagues at Yale and elsewhere–finding that knowing more about science, and being better at mathematical reasoning, was related to more climate science skepticism and denial–rather than less.

Now don’t pat yourself on the back chummy, not unless you truly are informed and numerate. This is a statistical analysis; it says nothing about individuals. I have known AGW proponents who are educated, informed and reasonable, as well as knowing sceptics who were dumb as dogshit and ignoramuses to boot. Jumping up and down in pride because other members of group you identify with are, on average, more informed than members of some other group is a strange thing for libertarians to do.

Anyway, he goes on:

For citizens as a whole, more literacy and numeracy were correlated with somewhat more, rather than somewhat less, dismissal of the risk of global warming. When you drilled down into the cultural groups, meanwhile, it turned out that among the hierarchical-individualists (aka, conservatives), the relationship between greater math and science knowledge and dismissal of climate risks was even stronger. (The opposite relationship occurred among egalitarian communitarians—aka liberals).

Well, it is nice to see what my reading has led me to intuit has been supported by peer reviewed research, but sceptics being more informed than warming hysterics is not what I’m writing about. It is his meta context (thanks Perry) which makes me start wondering if Mr Mooney and I inhabit the same universe:

This is bad, bad news for anyone who thinks that better math and science education will help us solve our problems on climate change. But it’s also something else. To me, it provides a kind of uber-explanation for climate skeptic and denier behavior in the public arena, and especially on the blogs.

In my experience, climate skeptics are nothing if not confident in their ability to challenge the science of climate change–and even to competently recalculate (and scientifically and mathematically refute) various published results.

All right, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this acknowledgement by more reflective warmists. Some years ago (and I’m sorry, I can’t find the specific reference) I read a series of discussions around warmists acknowledging that the discussion tended to be far more informed on sceptics sites than on warmist. And if people like McIntyre, Watts and Montford, to name just three, seem confident it isn’t as if they don’t have reason. These guys are hated, I mean hated, at blogs I have read.

Now we hit the red meat, the place where not just the road, but the universe we inhabit, forks.

It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science.


Is he serious?

The purpose of any and all scientific research is to tease out new knowledge, and questioning existing paradigms, theories, and hypotheses is a time honoured and outrageously successful strategy. Whether you finally debunk or affirm mainstream science is an outcome, not an aim, and science is improved whichever outcome is achieved. Experiments are designed to test the hypothesis, not affirm it, and any scientist who sets out to support the mainstream is a waste of a good grant.

If a paper can be debunked it must have been bunk to start with. That’s science folks.

But the fact is, if you go to blogs like WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit, you certainly don’t find scientific and mathematical illiterates doubting climate change. Rather, you find scientific and mathematical sophisticates itching to blow holes in each new study.

And he thinks this is a criticism, truly. The next sentence goes on to say:

The Kahan paper explains this oddity


Wot oddity?

Seriously, what oddity? This is what I would expect I would expect as a matter of course from any crowd of scientific and mathematical sophisticates, regardless of their politics or preconceptions. This is what they do, for Gods sake. I truly can’t imagine wanting to be part of a group which didn’t get excited at the prospect of hunting for holes in intellectual endeavour.

Scientific papers are published for four reasons, to disseminate knowledge and to give readers the opportunity to to find error in hypothesis, assumptions, method, observations or conclusion. Blowing holes in studies is what scientists are supposed to do. Bleedin heck charley, what does he expect?

The third and fourth reasons for publishing, by the way, are the ego and career of the researcher; I mention this solely for completeness, not relevance.

If Mr Mooney believes that assertion and authority should be respected, then I suggest he should divert himself to study of the Quran or Talmud; he seems to lack understanding of scientific method completely. Either that or we live in different worlds; we use the same words, but blink in mutual incomprehension when either speaks.

Have a look at his posting, he gives details of further studies and again finds puzzles where I see clarity.

What Mr Mooney misses is that so many sceptics are sceptics for the same reason I am a sceptic. I am educated, I am informed, and I can identify shoddy science when I see it.


  1. NickM says:

    Excellent stuff. Too excellent indeed for me to riff on it to any porpoise.


  2. John Redwood (a UK MP) asked the department of energy and climate change (yes it is actually called that) how much CO2 in total did they estimate all human activity accounted for. Apparently it’s about 3% of the world’s total.

    So say we do achieve 50% CO2 cuts, setting aside the enormous cost of this, are we really trying to convince ourselves that 98.5% CO2 and we’re all saved, but 1.5% more and it’s global doom?

  3. Roue le Jour says:

    Very interesting paper. What a shame Kahan only compared AGW and Nuclear Power. If they had found, say, five topics to compare and found science types were solid on four and rejected AGW, there would have been some explaining to do. A sample of two isn’t (conveniently) really conclusive.

    Anyway, on with the jokes-

    It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—creation science.

    There, fixed it for you.

  4. Lynne says:

    Cats, good takedown.

  5. fred says:

    Just think what could have been achieved if Einstein had concentrated his efforts on reinforcing the Newtonian view of the universe rather than wasting his time finding problems with it and developing relativity, and if Pasteur had concentrated on finding evidence to support the overwhelming consensus of spontaneous generation on life. And that chap wasting his time finding problems with the stress theory of stomach ulcers. Such a waste of effort. Shame.

  6. View from the Solent says:

    “It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science”

    Quite right. If only Einstein had spent his time on improving the theory of luminiferous aether instead of farting about with special relativity.

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    Exactly, Cats. Spot-on. And we’re the ones who get called “anti-science”.

  8. RAB says:

    He needn’t worry, the way Education is going, they will all be gullible thickie innumerate science void illiterates soon. Problem solved. Back to the caves everyone!

  9. [...] refer you to a posting by Chris Mooney of that parish (and my response is here), in which he expresses bemused puzzlement over what he dubs the "sophisticates effect" – [...]

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