This post is NOT about global warming. It is about the credulity of some religious fanatics who, ironically, pose as paragons of scientific skepticism. Global warming alarmists often call skeptics of global warming alarmism “science deniers.” The idea seems to be that the alarmists are the sober-minded champions of dispassionate science, and the skeptics are benighted opponents of scientific endeavor.
The reality is, of course, oftentimes just the opposite, as a recent exchange with wd400 illustrates.
In a previous post I noted how the recent “2014 Warmest Year on Record” headlines were almost certainly false. The alleged record consisted of a .02C increase when the margin of error of the measurement was 0.1C. In other words, the alleged increase was a small fraction of the margin of error, and the NASA director now says there was only a 38 per cent chance that his press release was correct.
Wd400 picked up on the following sentence from the post:
Global warming: The only area of science where researchers report as absolute fact claims that are almost certainly not true.
And the following exchange occurred:
62% is “almost certainly” and you are accusing others of being fast and loose with numbers?
So you admit that it is overwhelmingly false; just not certainly false. And that makes you feel better?
I don’t even know what “overwhelmingly false” means, something is true or it a’int. Evidence might overwhelming support a hypothesis, but are you really trying to say a probability of 62% is “overwhelming” in addition to “almost certain”?
Well, wd, let me see if I can help you out. First, the entire context of the discussion was the probability of the NASA report being false. In that context “overwhelmingly false” is obviously shorthand for “an overwhelming probability of being false.”
And yes, ontologically speaking, something is true or it is not true. Either 2014 was the warmest year on record or it was not. But this is not an ontological issue. It is an epistemological issue. As in many scientific endeavors we cannot know with certainty. That is why many scientific conclusions are cast in terms of probability, i.e., “there is a 97% chance that X is true.” That is why the field of statistics was developed to begin with. The issue, therefore, is about the confidence with which we can say 2014 was the warmest year on record, and it turns out that we cannot make that assertion with any confidence. We now know the statement is probably false.
And speaking of statistics, historically the threshold for scientific assertion was 95% probability. In other words, a scientist worried about his reputation would not assert anything as scientific fact if there were even a 5.1% chance that he was wrong.
Well, of course, that all got thrown out the window with global warming hucksterism such as that demonstrated by the NASA report. There NASA asserted as fact a proposition that had a 62% probability of being false. In other words, NASA threw scientific standards out the window. If 5% is a historically acceptable margin, NASA accepted a margin that was 12.4 times greater.
WD suggested I was playing “fast and loose” with the terms “almost certainly” and “overwhelmingly.” Well, those words are relative. In this case they are relative to the historically accepted scientific confidence levels, and in comparison to those levels the terms I used are perfectly appropriate.
Now that we have that cleared up, let’s go on to discuss the larger issue – wd400’s credulity. His comments seem to suggest something like “there is only a 62% chance that the ‘2014 was the warmest year’ assertion was false; therefore the phrases ‘overwhelmingly false’ and ‘almost certainly false’ are exaggerations.”
To which I would say, what is your point? You are the one who says he is on the side of science. Scientists always say it is important to be skeptical, to insist on high standards of proof for scientific assertions. That is why we have a confidence margin (95%) that is so high in the first place.
What does it say about you that you quibble with the words “overwhelming” and “almost false” when a claim falls short of that margin by a factor of 12.4X? It says that the science is not important to you. It says that your blind leap in the dark religious faith is comfortable accepting any assertion as scientific fact – even if that assertion is probably false – if the assertion is consonant with your faith commitments. And that, coming from someone who claims to be on the side of science, is truly ironic.