I generally don’t say anything much about climate change as there are many other people out there writing about it who’ve spent far more time looking into it than I have. However the recent video of Brian Cox “explaining” climate science I think deserves some comment. I’m not going to talk about the science so much as about how he’s answering the questions. If you’ve not seen it already, here’s the video:
Now I’m also going to ignore how often Senator Malcolm Roberts is interrupted and how the chair lets that pass, and just pay attention to Prof Cox (who for the record I don’t care for much at all). Now the first thing that strikes me is that Prof Cox is obviously prepared – presumably just because he knew who else was on the show, and not because he was in any way briefed. The first problem starts with the chair deferring to Prof Cox purely because he’s a scientist, now “science” is a very very broad church and knowledge of one field doesn’t in any way imply knowledge of another. I know this because I read physics and know less than feck all about biology, if you’re lucky scientific training will teach you to be skeptical and how to interpret data and recognize good and bad studies – but it doesn’t give you magic authority in every field. Prof’s Cox’s deference to the “shocking” predictions isn’t really that encouraging as science has predicted all sorts of things in the past, what matters is how well those predictions match observed data and climate change wise the score isn’t so good. He then makes a horrible mistake in science of appealing to “consensus”, science isn’t a consensus activity. The scientific consensus lasts until someone proves the theory wrong, which relies upon falsifiable predictions being made, it doesn’t matter how many scientists believe something unless they can make predictions that can be tested and that support their case. Also the “consensus” in climate science has been shown to be not nearly so strong as some would have us believe and note the chair isn’t prepared to let this be challenged. You’ll note that when Sen. Roberts is talking Prof Cox seems to be not listening but instead is leafing through papers for a graph he just happens to have brought along.
Talking of graphs he then asks if graph A is correlated with graph B, when any scientist worth their salt knows that:
“Correlation does not imply causation”
To suggest other wise is lazy in the extreme and would fail most under grads. Now I said I wouldn’t talk about the science but I think his graphs are worth looking at.
For his question to be meaningful we have to assume that the two graphs cover the same time frame in which case the correlation doesn’t look that good to me, as the temperature graph shows a fairly steady rise, but the CO2 graph only shoots up right at the end. If there was correlation one might expect the lumpiness of the CO2 graph to be present in the temperature graph. Oh and he switches between CO2 in the atmosphere and CO2 emissions, which is a bit of sleight of hand. He really does go on about correlation an awful lot, not so much about causation. The chair then steps in with an appeal to authority, because Prof Cox is a specialist on one field we must trust him in another. Prof Cos then indulges in another sleight of hand by correlating NASA putting people on the moon with their ability in other areas. Which makes as much sense as saying:
“Bert can fix cars are you really suggesting he can’t perform brain surgery?”
NASA may or may not be qualified to talk about climate science, they may or may not have mucked about with temperature data – but the fact that they put people on the moon is entirely irrelevant. Then as the Senator observes he tries to tie having doubts about climate data with doubts about moon landing, to discredit by association. What I find very strange is that as a rebuttal to the accusation of manipulation Prof Cox speaking about the various agencies says:
“They’ve all manipulated it in the same way and accidentally got to the same answer”
Personally that’s exactly what I’d expect, if you have sets of data which show the same thing initially, then manipulate all sets in the same way, if you don’t get the same answer either you’re doing it wrong or your data sets didn’t show the same thing to start with.
So for a scientist Prof Cox really doesn’t seem to be very good at doing science, and when Sen. Roberts calls him on it he’s subject to yet more interruption. Prof Cox then finally talks about science briefly in that we have to make predictions that can be falsified (making models), when the Senator points out that the models have been proven wrong he blusters and doesn’t allow the Senator to make his point. When they do start talking about the data and the models the chair interrupts and gives Prof Cox even more time claiming that the Senator had been listened to rather than interrupted.
So what we actually have from Prof Cox isn’t so much a rebuttal nor any sort of answer nor even a lesson in the scientific method, we just have appeals to authority, straw men and claims that correlation is the same as causation. Which really doesn’t make a convincing case against the Senators view-point. Far too much pounding of the table and not enough pounding of the facts (whatever they are).
Now before I run away and resume avoiding talking about climate change again here’s a link that asks the very pertinent question of what dow we mean by “global warming” and does it even make sense as a concept?
Abundant Scientific Evidence That ‘Global Warming’ Is A Made-Up Concept