Sceptical of sceptics?

When I first decided I had to campaign on climate, I knew that the subject had been corrupted – I knew that if this evil dogma was not controlled it would literally destroy western civilisation – and coming from “within the beast” (I worked in the wind sector and was a member of the Green party and attended the Scottish Parliamentary Group) I had met government civil servants, politicians and media and I knew that very few of these people had the knowledge or guts to stand up to the Global Warming beast.

It was the right thing to do.

What I didn’t have when I started was a detailed knowledge of the climate – indeed, in retrospect no one did! So I cannot be overly critical of myself. And I’m happy to say that after many years I have finally developed a good (not great, just good) understanding of the climate I’m reasonably content that I did not mislead anyone through my initial ignorance.

So, yes, both from a moral and from a scientific point of view – I took the right line.

I would liken what I/we have achieved to that of a immunisation jab. When I started as a sceptic, the politicians, public and press were entirely gullible about climate – they were like a human body that had no protection against a new foreign disease – and that diseases was rapidly spreading and taking over every organ of the body. We few sceptic could only reduce the rate of spread – but by doing so we kept that disease from getting out of control and taking over to such an extent it could not be stopped. We stemmed the flow, slowed the bandwagon, allowed a pause for thought, just long enough that society itself developed an inherent “scepticism” of what it was being told about the climate.

That I think is what counts as “winning”.

That does not mean new infections cannot start – but it does mean that society has an inherent “immune response”. There are now many people – like anti-bodies in a body – who are embedded in society and will recognise the alarmist hype and will be ready and willing to create a robust sceptic response to any new alarmist threat.

However … now I see a new threat … one which is that if the sceptical response to any new ideas is too strong, sceptics themselves may repress all scientific progress. By being too dogmatic about “the scientific method” … we may deny the free thinking and discussion that is essential to scientific progress.

Yes I agree, when it comes to public policy, it should not be based on highly speculative and unproven “science” as occurred in the naughties and teenies in climate. But the problem was not the academics who had the courage to imagine that CO2 could be dramatically changing the temperature of the globe.

The problem was not those who originally considered CO2 – it was the academics (and many non-acdemics posing as “experts”), who without the skill, knowledge or experience to pontificate on the subject then said in a completely dogmatic way that CO2 WAS CHANGING the global temperature (and worse given they might know some science, but were totally ignorance of economics) that GOVERNMENTS MUST END THE SUCCESSFUL FOSSIL FUELLED ECONOMY. The result was a move toward what appears to me to be a perpetual motion machine powered economy (For good reasons I don’t believe windmills produce more energy than should be attributed to their manufacture, installation etc. – in simple terms – each windmill we put up uses energy not saves it).

However, another great problem of society is that within my lifetime I have seen science stagnate. Or at least the huge scientific progress in Physics in the early 20th century appears to have slowed to a snails-pace. The evidence is in the text books. My grandfather had completely difference text books from my father, my father had ones completely different (and incomprehensible) to me. But if one of my children did Physics at University, they could largely use the same text books as I had. Massive progress in the early 20th century – followed by a dramatic and sudden stop. Why?

That may be because almost everything there is to discover in this area has been discovered – but more likely I suspect that the inherent scepticism in Physics has stifled new innovative ways of thinking. We saw the same development in climate it took the call of repeated assertions that “the science is settled” that “the consensus” is such and such. But fortunately – whilst the “scientific” elite could assert the science was settled, they could not just stop anyone doing any new experiments (though a “consensus” formed that the science was settled – literally meaning no more research was needed – mother earth just kept churning out the data which could not be ignored).

But imagine if like much of Physics and no doubt other areas of science, that in 2007 when they said “the science is settled” … that they really took that to heart. That like in Physics, they never measured another piece of climate data but instead just kept writing the same text books saying “the science is settled”. How could anyone ever prove the science was not settled? How could anyone ever prove the consensus wrong? Progress would stop and there would be no new ideas.

The science would be settled, not because it was right or there was nothing else to discover, but purely because all further research was deemed redundant.

But that is what in effect has happened in many areas of science. The science was “settled” and as a result the experiments closed down and all hope of future progress was curtailed. Or is it just a coincidence that Physics – which progressed so rapidly in the early 20th century appears to have made almost no substantial progress in fundamental understanding in half a century?

The world needs sceptics – to stop another crazy dumb scheme like global warming apocalypse taking off.

But the world also needs crazy academics like Mann and Hansen who will rant and rage about their crazy politicised beliefs – because whether or not we like it, sometimes …. just sometimes … those “idiots” turn out to be right. But more pertinently, it needs the idiots like Mann – to be like the fairy on the Xmas tree – because like an Iceberg, for every Mann who we can ignore, there are dozens of serious scientists who are the future of science and if Mann were shut up – they too could be shut up and the necessary free thought for progress would end.

And yes – Ironically, the people who would most like to close down the discussion are dogmatic zealots like Mann – who are not only quite crazy in their own views, but who cannot stomach better alternative views. Hypocrites yes! They need controlling yes! They should be prevented from ever seriously influencing public policy ever again (unless they miraculously had concrete evidence – and even then with serious reservations) – but that must come by educating policy makers on the value of real science and scientific diversity – by showing them that Mann is in no way supported by the evidence – not by silencing him and with him many good scholars (even if that’s what he would have done to us).

However, as I watch and even participate in the discussion on WUWT – I sense a growing frustration that neither Anthony Watts nor the commenters are willing to consider, much less support, new ideas (unless they fall into some very slender categories that bash those like Mann).

They are sceptical – not in the sense the Greeks used it

The Greek word skepsis means investigation. By calling themselves septics, the ancient septics thus describe themselves as investigators.

but instead many seem to be sceptical in the common sense way of opposing new ideas – indeed a few are only sceptical when it comes to specific ideas from “Liberals”.

But there seems to me to be little difference between the dogmatic stifling of new ideas by those incorrectly asserting “the science is settled” like Mann and those rejecting or attacking new ideas as we see at WUWT.

To use an analogy: new ideas are like seedlings – not every seedling will grow to maturity or should – but if you’ve got a herd of Sceptical elephants stamping on every seedling as soon as it shows itself, none ever will grow at all. And by no means am I advocating the “consensus” approach – which using the same analogy would be to weed out all seedlings unless they are of the proscribed genetic purity – which are then given over attention to stop these pathetically inbred and sick seedlings dying as they ought.

The problem we have is that somewhere amongst those seedlings are the great ideas of the future. At present they either seem to be weeded out as not being “politically correct” by the consensus merchants in academia – or they risk being stamped on by a herd of sceptic elephants. As a result I’m far from convinced those ideas for the future will ever flourish – and the evidence from Physics suggests they are not. So between these two groups PC dogmatists and sceptics I can’t see much room left in which the ideas of the future can develop.

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5 Responses to Sceptical of sceptics?

  1. Sage Vals says:

    Science, it can be argued, advances in steps which don’t come at a steady pace. There can be a flurry of new ideas and then nothing new comes along for ages. Punctuated equilibrium, if you will. See Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.

    Advances are followed by years of ‘normal science’ while scientists explore the implications of the most recent advances, but nothing much new happens until the point arises when it becomes obvious that the current received wisdom is somehow incomplete or fails to explain all instances satisfactorily.

    Until that happens, scientists resist new ideas. This is made worse under modern research funding arrangements. Funders are reluctant to pay for pure research that they don’t understand and can’t be sure of publishable results.

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      Sage, one of my main fear is that the internet and before it international travel, makes it all too easy for groupthink to develop. If we were to use a genetic analogy, what the internet is doing by making academics so much part of one single community is as if we’ve gone from a diverse herd of buffola scattered across Africa to a single genetically very similar bunch of cows.

      Thus the old adage that we can just wait for new ideas to develop (in some isolated way out place that used to exist when academics were separate geographical communities) may no longer exist. And far from the “consensus approach” we saw in Climate, in light of the homogenising effect of the internet we may have to positively discriminate in favour of diversity of views.

      However, when I then look at the behaviour of many sceptics – it is to stamp down new ideas. In other words, I just don’t see how or where we are going to get the “genetic diversity” of new ideas that we need to progress.

      • Sage Vals says:

        Largely I agree. But funders – who need to be disinterested philanthropists – can help encourage diversity of thought. Current funding is usually government or by institutions​ with some ulterior motive, if only maintenance of the status quo.

        Accepted theories, says Khun, are undermined when it becomes obvious that they don’t predict everything they ought to, or that so many exceptions to the rule are discovered that ‘normal science’ becomes impossible under that ‘paradigm’. I suspect (ok, hope) that the catastrophic AGW paradigm is at, or possibly even past that point.

        • Scottish-Sceptic says:

          One idea I’ve had is to encourage retired people to give back the knowledge they have learnt during their life-time by way of carrying out research to get PhDs.

          Because the people will have come from diverse backgrounds – and will be a long time out of the homogenising and intellectually styling atmosphere of academia, you should get the diversity of ideas.

  2. Pingback: School of Scepticism | Scottish Sceptic

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