How Many Philosophers Does it Take to Change your Mind?

 

Philosophers are like buses. There’s never one when you want one, and then three come along at once. Thanks to Barry Woods for alerting me to this paper by Catriona McKinnon, Professor of Political Theory at Reading University, and to Ruth Dixon for pointing out this contribution to the Oxford University Press Climate Science Research Encyclopaedia by Michael Lamb.

Under the title “Should we Tolerate Climate Change Denial?” Professor McKinnon argues that there’s no justification for letting climate deniers express themselves, and she quotes John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” to prove it. Indeed, following her logic, there’s no justification for not hanging climate deniers up by their goolies until they repent. It’s a complex argument, but it boils down to this: Mill gives three possible reasons for allowing our opponents a hearing, but only the second of his reasons can apply in the case of climate deniers, because it’s the only one which applies to opponents who make false statements, which is what climate deniers do. Professor McKinnon goes on:

For climate denial to fit Mill’s second model, it has to be the case that either it benefits scientists, or it benefits wider humanity (or both). Are any of these things true?

Contestation in science is what opens up new fields of scientific enquiry: contestation can falsify a conjecture, shift a paradigm, or make a research program degenerate [Yerwhat?]. Contestation is also a continuous process whereby refutations of conjectures are attempted, scientific paradigms are refined, or research programs are developed. Present climate denial does not fit these models of contestation: it is antiscientific. Climate deniers are not scientists with beliefs about climate change that differ from scientists in the mainstream: climate deniers are not scientists at all. Many of them are not trained in climate (or any) science, their methods are unscientific (cherry picking data or making fundamental errors such as confusing weather events with long-term climate trends), and they do not submit their writings to professional peer review. The antiscientific contestation of climate science offered by deniers is of no benefit to climate scientists themselves, and it is legitimate for them to be denied employment in and access to universities and research institutions, and to be ineligible for resources (such as funding for research) which society makes available to support real scientists in their work.

So sod you, Lomborg, Spencer, Lindzen & co. Mill’s second case doesn’t apply, so it’s basically off with your goolies.

Michael Lamb’s argument is more complex, since he is dealing with the correct ethical behaviour of scientists, not deniers. He outlines three theories of ethics (Consequencialism, Kantian deontology, and Aristotelian value ethics) and states that the one he prefers is the Aristotelian one, backed up by many many references to studies of Aristotle’s (and Thomas Aquinas’s) ethics by Professor Lamb et al.

He defends the multiple Aristotelean virtues of honesty, objectivity, etc., making it very clear that he is on the side of Truth, i.e. climate science, as understood by the people to whom his encyclopaedia article is addressed, to whit “scientists, policymakers, and environmental advocates.”

[But isn’t it rather odd that an encyclopaedia article should be addressed to a certain audience? Isn’t the whole point of an encyclopaedia that anyone can consult it, even people who are not policymakers or environmental advocates? I used to devour my granny’s encyclopaedia, which came cheap with her newspaper subscription. The editors didn’t feel the need to specify that it was addressed to Daily Mirror readers.]

Lamb argues for decent behaviour on the part of scientists, including not lying, not even a tiny bit. He doesn’t mention Professor Phil Jones, who lied about tree ring proxies using Mike’s Nature trick and was absolved of any wrongdoing by half a dozen official enquiries. Nor does he mention Dr Gleick, who lied in order to obtain confidential documents, and used them to fabricate a false document which was extensively quoted in the press long after it was known to be fraudulent. He argues against lying for a good cause, but he doesn’t mention the wholehearted support for Gleick’s lies provided by George Monbiot in the Guardian, or by Lamb’s fellow OUP Climate Science author Professor Lewandowsky.

Professor Lamb may be arguing for ethical standards which have ben systematically trashed by climate scientists and their supporters, but he’s basically on their side, as he makes it clear when he talks of “…the deceptive framing that climate change skeptics sometimes use to oppose mitigation or adaptation policies. (Reference: McCright ‘Dealing with climate change contrarians’)” and of “climate change’s potentially dangerous effects on the entire planet,” and “the massive consequences of climate change for the planet.” And when he states that “the consequences of climate change are potentially disastrous,” and that “climate change is currently ‘the world’s biggest collective action problem’ and involves so many different types of uncertainty” and that “climate communication must serve an ‘analytical’ or informational role that informs the public about climate change and a ‘motivational’ role that persuades the public to act.” For professor Lamb, climate policy is something to be imposed, but in a nice way. This is philosophy as exposition, not as enquiry. Lamb’s set text is Aristotle’s Rhetoric, not the Nichomachean Ethics. (He is an expert on the theology of St Thomas Aquinas.)

I do agree with Lamb though about the Aristotelian criterion being the best one, even though that’s the one I come out worst on. But philosophy is all about admitting when you’re wrong.

[Briefly: I’m ethically lousy on the consequencialism ethical measure, since my efforts are entirely inconsequential; I’m ok when judged by Kantian deontology, since I don’t mind when OUP authors Cook and Lewandowsky are as rude about me as I am about them (though I do mind when they lie to me, and to their scientific colleagues, and even to each other); but on the Aristotle / Thomas Aquinas scale my ethical score is abysmal, since I am wholly lacking in a number of key virtues, including patience, magnanimity, and a tolerance of idiots. See below.]

My third philosopher is Rupert Read; Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. His article at the Conversation splendidly combines support for the Precautionary Principle with an attack on Brexit.

To quote Read:

..the precautionary principle points out that when full evidence is lacking we should err on the side of caution….In other words, rather than scientists having to prove that something is dangerous before it’s regulated or prohibited, those wishing to do the potentially dangerous thing should have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is safe before they are allowed to do it. Better safe than sorry.”

Or in other other words, don’t join the Common Market, because it might be dangerous, but once you’re in it, don’t leave, because you never know what might happen if you do. Don’t go outside, because it might rain, but if you do, take an umbrella. But don’t open it, because a spoke might bust and poke your eye out. Best to stay at home holding your unopened umbrella and read the Conversation.

Rupert Read begins his sermon with a reading from Calamities: Chapter 1, Verse 1:

The world is witnessing an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines. A significant part of this is attributable to the temperature rises and disruption to the weather systems that human industrial activity has triggered.

His reference for this information is: Global Increase in Climate-Related Disasters”: principal author, Vinod Thomas, Director General at the Independent Evaluation Department, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

The Philippines Bank article cited has a number of useful graphs showing:

Figure 1: that the number of climatalogical disasters peaked in the year 2000 at about 60, falling in 2014 to about 20;

Figure 2: that the number of people affected by climatological disasters peaked in 2002 at about 130 million, falling in 2014 to about 30 million.

And there’s a wide range of experts cited, including Pielke, Stott, Stern, Nuccitelli and Cook. Take your pick.

I’m not criticising the article by Vinod Thomas of the Asian Development Bank and his colleague Ramón E.López, Professor of Economics at the University of Chile. But I am concerned about a philosopher at the University of East Anglia whose first article at a website financed by some of the world’s most prestigious universities opens with a sentence about climate change containing eight misencounters with the truth in the first seventeen words, referenced to a paper by a Filipino banker which states the exact opposite of what he is asserting.

After his opening salvo about hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines, he settles down to a criticism of Brexit for its failure to conform to the precautionary principle of not doing anything that might not be entirely safe:

At its heart, precaution represents a challenge to purely “evidence-based” risk-management practices. Instead, the precautionary principle points out that when full evidence is lacking we should err on the side of caution and regulate potential threats, if those could cause serious or irreversible damage. This is more important than ever as we create new synthetic products, including even synthetic life, and as we meddle, at our existential risk, with our climate.

The references here are to an article at the Guardian offshoot Business Green: “Evidence – or precaution? A new way of looking at the business and financial worlds” by Green Party candidate for Cambridge, Rupert Read; and to the evidence submitted to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on Genome Editing by Rupert Read, “philosopher of science, and environmental philosopher.”

The article ends with a call to UK citizens to alert their MPs to the need to abide to the Precautionary Principle, supported by this argument:

If we believe that risks should be borne by those who take them and not by the public, then we must defend and indeed extend the scope of the precautionary principle.

supported by a link to this article whose author Rupert Read argues that:

We need to be less fixated on the evidence, where the human world is concerned, and more determined to take up a precautionary stance. The stakes are high It would be wrong to gamble, in such a situation…

Well, if the stakes are high and it’s wrong to gamble, you take your chips off the table and shut up. But that’s not what Rupert does. He multiplies interventions, in the form of books, papers, blog articles and evidence to parliamentary committees. Rupert is willing to stake his reputation on the Precautionary Principle. And so am I. And my sense of precaution tells me that I wouldn’t trust Rupert if he was selling me a lifejacket for the last lifeboat out of Libya.

Because Precautionary Principles are like opinions: everybody has one. And my Precautionary Principle tells me that Rupert is like one of those unique bodily organs people are always talking about, but never mention.

Precautionary Principalists are obsessed with the stakes, but never mention the odds. Keynes, on the other hand, (whom Rupert admires) was keenly interested in the odds. When the Provost of his college burst into his rooms to announce that the zero was being suppressed on the roulette wheels at Monte Carlo (reducing the odds of losing from 25.5:25 to 1:1), they took the night train to Nice for a weekend of serious throwing of precaution to the winds. But Keynes had lived through the Great War, and knew a thing or two about risk (even if at second hand.)

To return to the wholly imaginary “ increase in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines” with which Rupert begins his article: they don’t exist. They are mythical. They don’t even exist in the source he quotes for their existence. But, as Rupert tells us, he is not that bothered about evidence. He thinks that relying on evidence is “…a hubristic stance. Hubris, in the long run, inevitably leads to nemesis.”

His authority for that statement is mythical too: the Greek tragic poets (via Aristotle.) Who also teach us that Nemesis frequently comes in the form of evil-smelling winged Furies who will swoop down on you and tear you apart with their razor-sharp claws if you defy the Gods. It may not sound very likely, but the stakes are high. So if you’re the hubristic sort and given to telling porkies (and who isn’t?) and you believe in the Precautionary Principle, you should certainly take your airgun with you next time you go shopping. And an Airwick.

64 thoughts on “How Many Philosophers Does it Take to Change your Mind?

  1. Geoff I do highly recommend a health warning be added before you quote from Professor McKinnon’s “Should we Tolerate Climate Change Denial?”. When reading it my blood pressure progressively rose and my heart started skipping beats. You surely don’t wish to terminate your more elderly clientele?

    My first sentence of rebuttal would have been like yours, but simpler – “So sod you, Professor McKinnon”

    Will continue reading after taking my medication – in a tumbler.

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  2. A great example of how modern “academics” make it acceptable to treat skeptics like “n!@@=rs” and to feel good while doing it: after all, it is philosophically justified.
    Once the object of a bigot’s hatred can be properly dehumanized and isolated, there is no end to what can be justified.
    Afterall, not only is their great belief scientific. Their actions are philosophically justified.
    And those n!@@=rs….er “deniers” had it coming for daring to be so uppity.
    Look how smug McKinnon, Read, Dixon and the Oxfird Uni Press are in their resctionary bigoted ignorance.
    And they feel good abiut it, apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These so called philosophers explain why Cook and pals chose to dress themselves up as they did for those special family photos a few years back: even then it was clear as to which drum the philisophy of “climate change” marches into the future.
    These “philosophers” would have been even more widely (and wildly) celebrated back in the late 1920s and 1930s for their clear trail blazing in pointing out how Europe’s suffering was due to those pesky special people, and how “special treatment” for those special people was entirely justified.
    Afterall, that worked out so well, didnt it?

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  4. Hunter. I believe you identify the cause of the outrage I was beginning to experience in reading McKinnon. It’s the enormous ego of these particular academics – the outright presumption that what they believe is the utter unvarnished truth. That there are no alternatives to the foundations of their academic research – that CAGW is reality. Those that do not subscribe to such basic precepts are to be stripped of their rights because they are Unmenschlichen. The links made with Nazi thought are, for once, I believe appropriate.

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  5. Is it right and proper for a Professor of Politics to be a politician? Don’t your biases show even more? Remoaner Rupert doesn’t care. He calls himself a “Green Politician” Personally, I can’t get a picture of a philosophising little white bear out of my head.

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  6. For a philosopher, Professor McKinnon seems overfond of employing the Argument from Authority. Summed up: ‘The conclusions of Climate Scientists can only be legitimately criticised by Climate Scientists. Climate Scientists don’t criticise Scientists.’
    As for Messrs. Read, Dixon, and the OUP, the following comes to mind:
    “When there is insufficient information to determine objective probabilities, individuals assume the risk is higher, even though there is no basis for doing so. This is the thinking behind the application of the precautionary principle, where risks with so-called ‘unknown probabilities’ are used to justify policy. The experts who warn of CAGW are clearly ambiguity averse since they readily invoke the precautionary principle.”
    (Quoted from wattsupwiththat.com/2017/11/23/playing-the-cognitive-game-the-climate-skeptics-guide-to-cognitive-biases/ 23/11/2017 by John Ridgeway.

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  7. Casuistry, Catriona McKinnon, you illiberal ‘liberal,’ you. J.S.Mill defends
    free speech per se.

    ‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing
    the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent
    from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they
    are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose,
    what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression
    of truth, produced by its collision with error.’
    ― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

    Liked by 3 people

  8. And J.S. again, Catriona regarding your attempts at justifying controls on free
    speech by attribution:

    ‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of
    the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one
    person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’
    ― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The precautionary principle says, in effect, don’t do anything, don’t change anything, until all the possible consequences have been exhaustively analysed.

    A long time ago there were two tribes of apes sitting in the trees in a forest. Food was plentiful, but not very nourishing. The first tribe said, those rabbits down there look really tasty, why don’t we climb down to the ground and see if we can catch a few of them. The second tribe said, have you thought of all the problems and dangers that might exist? You could be caught and eaten by sabre-toothed tigers, you might find it too difficult to climb back up again, and besides which we don’t know what the long term effects of eating rabbits might be.

    The first tribe said screw you, we’re going down to the ground anyway, and so they did to the wailing cries of “remember the precautionary principle” of the second tribe.

    The first tribe evolved into humans, the second tribe remained as chimpanzees. And the moral of this story is that taking risks is what separates humans from animals. It would seem that the modern devotees of the precautionary principle are trying to devolve back to chimpanzees.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My perception of Philosophers is that they are quite careful with their language, to avoid ambiguities. Therefore, when a philosopher writes about climate denial, one would expect a reasonably clear definition of the term. From Catriona McKinnon’s introduction.

    By “climate denial,” I mean the deliberate and deceptive misrepresentation of the scientific realities of climate change, such as the fact that climate change is happening, its anthropogenic causes, and its damaging impacts (Dunlap 2013).

    In terms of anthropogenic causes, consider the IPCC’s viewpoint. AR5 WG1 Ch10 Page 869 states

     It is extremely likely that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in GMST from 1951 to 2010.

    There is no recognition in the Dunlap definition that there are other possible causes of rising global average temperatures. Yet this is the supposedly the main element of climate change and believed the key driver of other elements and many of the consequential damaging impacts. As such “climate denial” is contradicting one of the belief mantras, not any clear scientific statements with empirical content. Therefore “climate denial” can be flung at any study that finds the real world contradicts an element of the mantras, whereas nonsense proclamations by academics that reaffirm mainstream beliefs will be accepted.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. AK,
    Thanks. The historical prriod tvat comes to mind more than the German dysfunction of the posr WW1 era is that if the Council of Nicea, where the Catholic Church was essentially born out of a series of state sponsored meetings over several years.
    The Competing versions of Christianity were dealt with more harshly than the pagans.
    The non-trinitarian and Gnostic versions were repudiated and suppressed.
    Constantine wanted a unified paradigm to spiritually unite his fractious empire.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hunter: Analogies with the days of Constantine have their dangers but I’ve been thinking a lot about them since hearing Catherine Nixey speak about her new book, which I was put onto by Matt Ridley, as discussed on another brilliant Chambers thread in September. This was at Southwark Cathedral earlier this month – as Nixey said at the start, an indication of grace on some parts of the modern church! Perhaps the most fundamental point about Nicea, made to me by a church leader in London called Roger Forster, is that, like the shorter Apostles’ Creed, its key output fails to mention surely the most important assertion about the divine in the New Testament: that God is love. And, in line with this omission, you’re right that treatment of dissenters was becoming appalling – and this was codified by Augustine less than a hundred years later with his disgraceful twisting of the words of Jesus, “compel them to come in,” subsequently used by the torturers of The Inquisition and every other such rejecter of the teaching of Jesus. Catherine appeared to be struck to meet a believer who repudiated this line of thinking, as I have since a teenager. Which, returning to Geoff’s post, has always made me suspicious of philosophers, who seem awed by Augustine’s great complexities, and the arguments from authority he gave such a vicious twist to, so early in the development of ‘the West’. Ridding ourselves of such hateful influences was never going to be easy.

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  13. Coming back to more recent philosophers, I was moved the other day by the end of Roger Scruton’s chapter on Michel Foucault in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, in which he describes how in his view the Frenchman, unlike Sartre, came round to love, not power, being the centre of things as he was dying of AIDS. A lot of our missteps with post-modernism, identity politics and its resulting demonisations could be put right by following suit.

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  14. “I think, therefore I am” worked for Descartes

    “I think warm, therefore I am warm, and so is everyone else” only works in Climate Science

    Liked by 1 person

  15. ManicBean

    I’ve just got hold of Dunlap 2013 which McKinnon claims as the source of her definition of denialism. It contains no definition of denialism and is simply the introduction to a collection of papers on denialism, with no analytic content at all. The collection of papers concentrates on conservative thinktanks, with heavy reliance on Oreskes & Conway, Mooney, Gelbspan etc. Dunlap mentions blogs in passing, but hardly anyone in the social science literature seems to give them a mention, which explains McKinnon’s confused attempts at a definition (she excludes “outlier “ scientists, and says she’s only attacking “industrial” climate denial. She has three stabs at definig the climate denial she wants to ban from publication and from the university:

    By “climate denial,” I mean the deliberate and deceptive misrepresentation of the scientific realities of climate change, such as the fact that climate change is happening, its anthropogenic causes, and its damaging impacts (Dunlap 2013). What I do not mean by “climate denial” are minority or outlier positions on aspects of climate science that lie within the range of normal and healthy disciplinary disagreement.

    Climate deniers are not scientists with beliefs about climate change that differ from scientists in the mainstream: climate deniers are not scientists at all. Many of them are not trained in climate (or any) science, their methods are unscientific.. and they do not submit their writings to professional peer review…

    The climate denial with respect to which all else is not equal in the application of autonomy-based liberal arguments for freedom of expression is a set of well organized, well funded, strategic, deceptive, ideological practices undertaken by a range of Conservative think tanks in the United States which are heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry. I shall call this “industrial” climate denial…

    So she’s after lying non-scientists associated with conservative think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry. Think tanks are not stupid, and tend to employ scientists. Someone like Christopher Monckton might fit ther criterion, though accusing him of lying might eat a hole in her million pound Leverhulme fund.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hunter: “Look how smug McKinnon, Read, Dixon and the Oxfird Uni Press are in their resctionary bigoted ignorance.”

    Happy to oblige…

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  17. Sometimes philosophers
    -post–modern fergit
    what philosophy was
    mostly about in its
    original, pre-
    science, enquiry,
    watsus, watfer speculation
    by fallible humans
    seeking to penetrate
    Nature’s mysteries,
    (not Gods’) with whatever
    tools at their disposal,
    starting from scratch
    and the desire to understand,
    evolving critical argument,
    -O Socrates.

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  18. Without philosophy
    we would know not
    of the pin
    beneath the massed ranks
    of dancing angels.

    Singer beneath Bridges

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hunter: Ruth Dixon, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, with her husband, Jonathan Jones, in the pub in Oxford and at Parliamentary select committee meetings on climate, is not my idea of a “banal smug apparatchik”. She alerted Geoff Chambers to the entry in the OUP Climate Science Research Encyclopaedia but there’s no evidence I’ve come across that she shares the smugness and “reactionary bigoted ignorance” you see in Catriona McKinnon and Rupert Read.

    Perhaps you can point us to that evidence or apologise to Ruth?

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  20. I posted this at TC:

    “The world is witnessing an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines.”

    It interests me that an article at the Conversation, supposedly a purveyor of academic rigour, starts out with a statement that is unsubstantiated and untrue. How does this happen?

    Here is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in its most recent report.

    “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century and it remains uncertain whether any reported long-term increases in tropical cyclone frequency are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities (Knutson et al., 2010).”

    “No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”

    The relevant figure is here, showing no increase in hurricanes hitting America, cyclones off Eastern Australia and typhoons hitting China.

    So Rupert Read seems to be one of those who ought to be banned from speaking, according to McKinnon.

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  21. Paul. Increases in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines are, if not reality, to be found in the minds concerned with the perils of climate change. As evidence fails to materialize, the stridency of the warnings increase. It’s counterintuitive, but then much of climate science is these days. To explain this and other logical paradoxes, philosophy has to adapt and mutate. It’s all in the mind after all.

    Warnings are to be found everywhere, not least in Attenborough’s Blue Planet. Now subject to a backlash, see
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jeremy-clarkson-stick-to-pretty-fish-sirattenborough-andstop-blubbing-aboutdeadwhales-gwbkxdfzh

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  22. “How Many Philosophers Does it Take to Change your Mind?”

    It might take more than one philosopher to change my mind. The two I am thinking of are Ian Hacking and Nancy Cartwright, both entity realists who deny that theories are real, but insist that theories are useful explanations of reality.

    In effect, theories are inventions. Utility, not truth, is not what makes theories so important. As I understand entity realism, the utility of a theory is not something so crass as the invention of TV, but the power of scientific theory to liberate mankind by providing a world view much improved over that in which people, mostly women, were burned at the stake for witchcraft, for causing, among other things, extreme weather and climate change.

    For example, I never thought, and do not believe my professors thought, that the Koppen and Trewartha climate zones were real. Before plate tectonics was a gleam in anybody’s eye, I did believe that South America and Africa were once joined because of the empirical evidence in the rocks as well as the close fit between the continental margins.

    (My undergraduate degree was mostly maths, science and geography and I have two masters degrees, geography and physical science, with Earth science emphasis.)

    Television was introduced about the time I graduated from high school. I believed in photons long before I knew anything about quantum theory. I declared my belief by replacing a dead cathode-ray tube in my mother’s black and white TV set. The empirical evidence was over-whelming: engineers can direct a beam of photons to create the illusion of a moving picture, therefore photons exist.

    I do not have confidence in the existence of a global climate. I believe in rain and snow and sleet and hail. I believe that molecules in mercury or a thermistor can vibrate at different rates sufficient to allow us to measure temperature with varying degrees of precision. I agreed with Hubert Lamb that these measurements mean is something worth study.

    But I am nowhere near believing that the average of temperatures measured in a few thousand places on the Earth’s surface means that there exists an entity called “the climate of the Earth”. Combining temperature, precipitation and wind-speed gets me no further.

    My skepticism is so fundamental that, although I recognize the existence of individual trees, I do not recognize the existence of such an entity as a “forest”. To me the term “forest” is a way of referring to a lot of trees growing close to each other or an ecological definition, a legal definition or a management definition.

    Our world is full such terms as “forest” in many languages that enable us to interact with the physical world and with each other. But most of the words are social constructs. I come from Canada. So I have many more words for snow than Singaporeans. The Inuit (Eskimos) have many more words for snow than I do. But glaciologists can run rings around me and the Iniut in their theiries of how snow evolves into firn and then solid ice. But anyone who follows the literature knows that over time glaciologists change their theories about firn formation, while the firn they study has been frozen for years, even thousands of years. Still, we support the glaciologists because we believe they will help us to understand the world better.

    But let us not get conned into believing that words such as “climate” describe entities that actually exist just because we can talk about the weather or about the global climate. Let us not fall into the trap of believing that science will arrive at Truth.

    Once we come to the belief that science will arrive at Truth, science has become a religion and the scientists have become the priests of that religion.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Richard, you are correct. I lumped Ruth Dixon in a group she is not part of.

    Ruth Dixon,
    I apologize without reservation for making assertions about you which were uncalled for and inflammatory.
    Sincerely,
    hunter

    Liked by 4 people

  24. Frederick Colbourne. “although I recognize the existence of individual trees, I do not recognize the existence of such an entity as a “forest”.” An interesting argument, but unfortunately one that I think is fatally flawed. It’s all a matter of perception. At ground level the Amazonian Forest cannot be perceived because all you see are individual overlapping trees. But from a plane you cannot discern individual trees but large segments of greenery (=forest) can be seen. At such a height the entity is the forest.
    The same goes for entities such as “summer”. You may remember a past summer or anticipate a coming one, but you can only experience it day by day. Climate is clearly a construct but few would argue that it doesn’t exist, cannot be measured or suffers change.

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  25. Not so admirable really. He had no compunction about insulting Dixon despite evidently not knowing anything about her or her connection to the issue. Pretty shitty behaviour I’d say. He only apologized because one of the blog owners called him out. The alternative was losing his blog credibility among the faithful.

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  26. Len, you ask for everything you get here. An unqualified apology should be accepted by third parties without reservation, however it doesn’t wipe out the original offense. And you have no reason to interfere. Why don’t you apologize, not for what Geoff accuses you of, but for being deliberately offensive?

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  27. Hunter, thanks for your apology. I was most amused by your mistake (and copy-pasted by someone else!). And that my five minutes of fame is so quickly forgotten. Please feel free to visit my blog (linked via my name above) to see my published commentaries on the works of Lewandowsky and Stern.

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  28. Did it become un-shitty behaviour just because he apologized? Oh, that’s easy then: I apologize without reservation for all the unpleasant things I’ve said about you all which were uncalled for and inflammatory. Does that make it better now or have you changed your minds?

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  29. Len appears not to understand that there is such a thing as a genuine mistake prompting a genuine apology. He compounds his apparent lack of understanding by disingenuously apologising for the many snide remarks he has made about us which he is fully aware have not been genuine errors, but somehow, in the strange mass of twisty, topsy turvy neural connections which is Len’s mind, equivalence is found between the two situations.

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  30. I don’t know whether either the deed or the apology was ‘genuine’. He insulted the folks at OUP at the same time as Dixon and no apology to them has been forthcoming. So what? His ignorant insult to Dixon was deliberate but turned out to be a mistake and his ignorant insult to OUP was deliberate but it turned out he could get away with it because you all share his contempt for OUP and you wont expect him to actually know anything about the targets of his insults, since you like to insult people you know nothing about too. Is that about right? At least my insults are directed at people who have good reason to expect to be insulted (on account of saying stupid things here).

    Barrel man, love and kisses. See you later.

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  31. Len,
    My contempt is for anyone who dehumanizes others based on their contrived political/religious rationalizations.
    Climate extremism fits that profile rather well.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Contempt for the views expressed by academic philosophers who presume to judge the scientific validity of a consensus theory of man-made dangerous climate change based not upon a direct and honest evaluation of the evidence for or against, but on vague considerations of ethics and whether or not we should tolerate dissent from a vocal minority of ‘unbelievers’ and finally, a consideration of the dreaded Precautionary Principle (hmmm, that’s a new line of enquiry – haven’t heard that before). Such anti-scientific views expressed in support of a prevailing scientific theory are, by default, worthy of contempt by the rational-minded. The arrogant, haughty, holier-than-thou manner in which they are expressed, combined with the fake academic authority of their framing, most definitely suggests that contempt for the philosophers themselves is also warranted.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. In the unlikely event that anyone is interested in the history of interactions between Ruth Dixon and Ken Rice they could do worse than starting at

    I don’t actually think we have much of a history of interacting, so I’m not quite sure where you think that post would lead. We’ve exchanged comments on a few occassions, most of which I had thought we quite pleasant exchanges, and I wrote one blog post (almost 4 years ago) which – given the normal tone of blog posts around this topic – seemed rather mild. Some context, which I didn’t provide at the time, is that I have done a number of Antarctic trips and so found some of the criticism of that trip somewhat lacking in understanding of how such trips often work. However, that post seems to have irked some people so if I did say something in that post that was unreasonable, then I apologise (which I believe I have done before).

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  34. Jaime
    I don’t feel contempt for Michael Lamb, who is simply suggesting that politeness is the best policy (except he’s not doing it simply, because he’s roping in Aristotle and Kant, which forced me to think a lot harder than I normally would about what he is saying – a good thing.) But he believes that the science is settled. He may never have heard of (Cook 2016) but he’s on message.

    Rupert Read is different because he brings in the precautionary principle, which should have the nerve ends of any philosopher short-circuiting. But I expect he doesn’t have much time to reflect on what he’s saying, what with all his writing on Wittgenstein and science fiction and whatnot. Being interesting is a full time job for an academic.

    Catriona McKinnon is different, and I’ve got a whole post coming up on her.

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  35. A couple of weeks ago, McKinnon’s Leverhulme programme held an event called Climate Justice: can fairness create a green future? I don’t know what the answer was but they tried to find it by watching Greedy Lying Bastards, a film about Big Oil-funded climate deniers directed by a former US spokesman for the ecoterrorist group Earth Liberation Front (and produced by current ecotourist Daryl Hannah).

    http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/leverhulme-trust-climate-justice/2017/11/23/esrc-festival-of-social-science/

    The event also looked for an answer by making the scholars summarize their research in toddler talk, using only the thousand most common English words. That sounds like a potentially useful way of clarifying thought, though the example given in that blog wasn’t up to much.

    But let’s give it a go. Can anyone here offer a definition of ‘climate justice’ using toddler talk?

    https://simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Most_frequent_1000_words_in_English

    (There’s no ‘that’ there, which seems unlikely but…)

    I haven’t been able to find a clear adult definition of ‘climate justice’ to use as a starting point. The term isn’t explicitly defined anywhere in the official scholars’ handbook for the Leverhulme Programme on Climate Justice and there’s no obvious implicit definition because it’s applied to so many different topics. Wikipedia isn’t much help, either. It just points you at various other woolly terms – ‘social justice’ etc.

    Here’s a wild guess in toddler talk. ‘Climate justice’ is…

    The moment when you make a white man say sorry and pay money to people who are not white or a man and you tell this person nature is now dead wrong – the air is too warm, more and more water near land – because of this person and his society.

    Hmmm. Maybe not.

    As you were.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. You sexist beast Vinny, have you no feelings for the gender identity spectrum? All this talk of “man”. You have no right to be anywhere near a climate justice facility.

    Climate justice…
    Earth going to pot. All fault of stinking oil monopolies. Get revenge.

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  37. And I have never seen an assessment by Rupert Read of whether his call for a no fly zone in Libya was effective. Judging by the current FCO assessment, he might struggle to suggest it did any more than lead to a state of prolonged violent anarchy in the region. But an assessment of how his intervention helped would be welcome

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  38. Is it possible that you deny the existence of a gender spectrum, Alan? Hardly seems possible, but considering the forum, ….

    By the way, Russia lovers, there’s an excellent interview with Bill Browder, an update on the Magnitski Act that stops your friends accessing their blood money, on the latest Trumpcast: http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/trumpcast.html
    Enjoy!

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  39. “Is it possible that you deny the existence of a gender spectrum, Alan? Hardly seems possible, but considering the forum, ….”

    Martinez, in the UK our National Health Service would be pleased to remove that six inch flaccid fleshy protuberance from your forehead entirely free of charge, but I assume in the USA you would have to pay for the operation.

    May I suggest you avail yourself of such surgery at the first available opportunity, you can have no idea how much losing it would improve your social interaction and life in general.

    You really don’t need to be a dickhead all your life when medical assistance is only a phone call away.

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  40. “Does that mean you really do think that gender is strictly binary, weasel?”

    It means I think you’re a dickhead.

    No more, and no less.

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  41. Oh, the feeling is mutual, weaselly one. I just thought you were going to display your usual ignorant bigotry as well.

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