Seeing as we’re back onto our favourite topic, I thought I’d mention an issue that’s been buzzing around the Ozboy headspace for a while now. In the AGW debate, it’s clear the battle lines (for such they are) were drawn some time ago. It has long ceased to be a purely scientific debate, both sides drawing down issues of philosophy, politics and psychology. Trying to place myself in the shoes of a newcomer to the debate, it’s obvious that wading through all that to get to a scientific conclusion must be—at a minimum—a daunting prospect; the temptation must be there to write off all participants as cranks of one form or another.
That’s why it’s instructive to focus on scientists who have changed their minds on the issue: that is, those who have held one position publicly, and then recanted, again publicly. Looking through the web, there are many such scientists—and it appears the change of mind is almost entirely in one direction: believer to skeptic. Joanne Nova’s Skeptic’s Handbook has an eye-opening (if not downright eye-popping) selection of these, including Professor Ivar Giaever, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for physics, French geophysicist Claude Allègre, Israeli physicist Professor Nir Shaviv, British environmental campaigner Professor David Bellamy and the Russian Academy of Science’s Professor Andrei Kapitsa.
Typical of the positions of these scientists are public recantations such as those by oceanographer Dr Tad Murty,
I started with a firm belief about global warming, until I started working on it myself;
Professor Shaviv, who
…believes there will be more scientists converting to man-made global warming skepticism as they discover the dearth of evidence;
…global warming is largely a natural phenomenon. The world is wasting stupendous amounts of money on trying to fix something that can’t be fixed;
and IPCC expert reviewer Dr Richard Courtney:
To date, no convincing evidence for AGW has been discovered.
The efforts warmists appear to have gone to online, in order to distort or discredit these statements goes beyond staggering, into the realms of the sinister. For every one of the names and statements I have quoted above, there are articles claiming either the person in question was quoted out of context, or they hold some far-out belief on a totally unrelated topic, or they are they in the pay of Big Oil, or Big Pharma, or—
But why go on: you’ve heard it all before.
When I tried to find prominent scientists who have changed their opinion in the opposite direction—that is, from skepticism to belief in anthropogenic global warming—I found… the sound of chirping crickets. Googling skeptics who have changed their minds turns up just six names, over and over (and over): Bjorn Lomberg (not a scientist, and never doubting the anthropogenic influence on climate, as James Delingpole recently pointed out); Dmitri Medvedev (lawyer and politician, now President of the Russian Federation); Michael Hanlon (journalist and science editor at the UK Daily Mail); Michael Shermer (publisher and editor of Skeptic magazine); Gregg Easterbrook (journalist and editor of The New Republic magazine), and Stu Ostro (meteorologist with The Weather Channel).
The comparison between the two groups should be fairly obvious.
Of course, to cite such a prominent list of believers-turned-skeptics in isolation, as evidence that AGW is bunkum, is to fall into the same logical trap (argumentum ad vericundiam) as we so often witness the warmists do. Rather, it raises the more metaphysical issue of belief systems, and our attachment to them:
One of our number here at LibertyGibbert, a contributor whose opinions (I won’t refer to them here as beliefs) on AGW are diametrically opposed to those of most of us, has repeatedly stated his reasons for inhabiting what must be (for him) a hostile online environment, include challenging his own personal Morton’s Demon. To save you looking it up (I had to), Glenn Morton is an ex-creationist who recognized the existence of a personal demon (analogous to Maxwell’s Demon). Rather than admitting or refusing fast-moving or slow-moving molucules however, Morton’s Demon admits only confirmatory evidence to the mind of a believer in a theory, subliminally rejecting disconfirming or contradictory evidence. Morton’s Demon is thus a corollary of confirmation bias, and an impediment to objective, rational thought.
To challenge one’s own personal Morton’s Demon, therefore, is to profess a commitment to intellectual honesty. It is to hold oneself vulnerable to the possibility that one may be completely and utterly wrong on a deeply-held position; it is the sine qua non of the scientific method, and an altogether admirable thing. Well, here is a list of world-renowned scientists who have done just that—famed intellects who have each challenged, and ultimately slain, their own personal Morton’s Demon. It was the economist John Maynard Keynes who said when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?