Defending Science At the BA Blog (Of All Places!)

Life in various aspects means I can’t post as much as I wish, even if there’s quite a few loose threads that will surface here soon.

Anyway, in the meanwhile there are some signs of hope and despair in the comments section at this Bad Astronomer’s blog, where I am making a couple of points: (a) does Phil Plait believe people like astronaut / moonwalker / geologist / climate skeptic Harrison Schmitt is a “denier” and if so why doesn’t Phil tell the world about it and (b) how unscientific it is to call people “deniers” only because they don’t reach your exact conclusions (given the fact that science is a process, not a quiz show).

I have been said things and called names as usual, but that’s alright. As Gerry Spence would say, those unfortunate souls’ opinions would only matter if I cared. And I don’t 😎

Does Harrison "Jack" Schmitt Exist?

A few hours have passed since my first comment in Plait’s n-th tired “you’re all deniers!” blog, and not a single word on how would Phil or any AGW believer handle any debate with Harrison Schmitt, geologist, Astronaut, Moonwalker, and a skeptic of AGW.

Harrison "Jack" Schmitt
Harrison "Jack" Schmitt

I think we can safely assume that Schmitt, like Phil, has examined the claims, the science, and the techniques. However, Schmitt has come to the conclusion that

(see Wikipedia)

“[t]he CO2 scare is a red herring”, the “global warming scare is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision-making,” and scientists who might otherwise challenge prevailing views on climate change dare not do so for fear of losing funding.

I find the very existence of somebody like Schmitt incompatible with Phil’s simplistic climate change view where everybody that disagrees on anything, is a rabid anti-science ignorant denier or worse.

Nonskeptical Skeptic Michael Shermer (Unwittingly) Disproves AGW – Plus Bonus From Scientific American

When is a non-skeptical skeptic a skeptic? Why, that’s when skeptical words come out of a skeptic who, whilst for some reason unwilling to connect the last dots about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), still manages to make a good case against AGW.

Step forward Michael Shermer of Skeptic Society fame, writing for the 100th time in the July issue of Scientific American to ponder: "What Skepticism Reveals about Science".

As usual, Shermer’s remarks are very useful to explain how fundamentally and intrinsically reasonable is to have a skeptical approach on everything. For example this is the perfect reply to those tut-tutting skeptics as purveyors of nothing (in fact, it’s the people all too ready to believe in this or that phenomenon, the ones making it much more difficult to understand):

I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know

Here’s instead why it makes little sense to ask skeptics to come up with alternative explanations:

the burden of proof is on the person asserting a positive claim, not on the skeptics to disprove it

Alas, Shermer’s skepticism stops at the door of AGW, presented by him as an example of "historical and inferential sciences…that point to an unmistakable conclusion"

Climate scientists prove anthropogenic global warming from the environmental sciences, planetary geology, geophysics, glaciology, meteorology, chemistry, biology, ecology, among other disciplines

Thus the Great Thinker of Contemporary Skepticism Michael Shermer appears to be a (firm?) AGW believer (even if not of the Romm/Desmogblog/Real Climate variety).

And who would have guessed it? Shermer, the poor thing, has been convinced of AGW by a showing of Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" (for a not-your-usual rebuttal of AIT, follow this link. You too, Michael, please…).

But if you can take the skeptic out of Skepticism, you cannot take the skepticism out of the Skeptic. A few words away from AGW’s "unmistakable conclusions", Shermer manages to disprove AGW. Let’s see:

The principle of positive evidence applies to all claims. Skeptics are from Missouri, the Show-Me state. Show me a Sasquatch body

Can anybody "show me" anthropogenic global warming? With the recent Copenhagen scientific conference making little progress in detection/attribution, I guess not.

Shermer continues:

negative evidence along the lines of “I can’t think of any other explanation,” … is no evidence at all

How many times have we been told that the evidence for the reality of AGW is in the impossibility to write a realistic model using only natural variability? Answer: many. Well, now we can reply with Shermer: that "is no evidence at all".

it is okay to say, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure” and “Let’s wait and see.”…In science, lots of mysteries are left unexplained until further evidence arises, and problems are often left unsolved until another day…If there is one thing that the history of science has taught us, it is that it is arrogant to think we now know enough to know (w)hat we cannot know

For example, climate models are incomplete, still not functioning and not reasonably realistic and most likely pretty much useless for serious climate projections at the moment and for ever.

Wouldn’t it make sense to leave the climate computation problem unsolved until another day? Isn’t it arrogant to think we now know enough to know what we cannot know?

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AND NOW A BONUS FROM SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Millimeters away from Shermer’s column, an article by Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the one and only scientist that has ever visited a place rather than Earth. He’s been called in due to his expertise about planets, you know, to write about: "Space Geology: From the Moon to Mars".

Looks like Schmitt is qualified to talk about planets. But wait…isn’t the same Schmitt that has "come out" as a self-proclaimed AGW skeptic?

Who knows, one day we might get a Shermer column on how an expert cannot see what are supposed to be AGW’s "unmistakable conclusions"…

Jack Schmitt on Computer Models vs. the Real World

Astronaut, Moonwalker, NASA Advisor, former Congressman, and accomplished scientist, writer and public speaker Harrison “Jack” Schmitt has left the Planetary Society for a variety of reasons, apparently including global warming:

As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a “consensus” that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. “Consensus”, as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the “global warming scare” is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society’s activities.

A couple of perhaps not-well-known explanations are in order.

First of all, Schmitt is referring to the recent, pretty dumb decision by The Planetary Society (of whom I am a longtime member myself), of jumping onto the Climate Change bandwagon, to the point of dedicating a rather uncharacteristically clueless issue of “Planetary Report”, the Society magazine.

Another indication about the reasons for Schmitt’s decision can be found in this pre-lecture Q&A video from April 2008. At 23m 19s into the recording, Schmitt says

the first major important scientific discovery…when I stumbled across the..”orange soil”..and that is still a thorn in the side of the people who believe that the moon formed by a giant impact here on Earth. that hypothesis comes from computer modeling. models are great but they still have to agree with the real world. one big part that the model cannot explain in that hypothesis is how do you get the material that is in what is called the non-glass component in that soil. that material is very rich in volatiles…and just doesn’t fit…the debris [from the impact, would have experienced] very high temperatures.

Perfectly and very personally aware of the limitations of computer models, Schmitt cannot just take them as the ultimate Truth in Climate stuff just as he cannot, in Geology stuff.

Anybody wanting to bet if a person as accomplished and as scientifically renowned and respected as Schmitt will be called a denialist, with people figuratively dancing on his grave were a deadly disease to kill him?