Sunday, May 6, 2012

Skepticism of skepticism

[Cc J. & T.]


Here's an interesting blog post from a statistician, about skepticism on global warming, and confirmation bias on the skeptics' part. Gelman makes a really good point here that you shouldn't make confident assertions about what the other side is doing unless you really are very in touch with their work.

Recently I was disturbed (but, I'm sorry to say, not surprised) to see Seth post the following:

Predictions of climate models versus reality. I [Seth] have only seen careful prediction-vs-reality comparisons made by AGW [anthropogenic global warming] skeptics. Those who believe humans are dangerously warming the planet appear to be silent on this subject.

In response, Phil commented:

Funny, on the day you [Seth] made your post saying that you haven't seen comparisons between models and predictions except by skeptics, thetop entry on RealClimate, the single most prominent global-warming-related blog that is not run by skeptics, was "Evaluating a 1981 temperature projection."

Pretty amazing, huh? On its face it would seem surprising to claim that the majority of leading climate scientists don't do "careful prediction-vs-reality comparisons," and indeed on the very day of Seth's post, there is such a comparison right there on the first place you might look for what the climate scientists are doing!

How did Seth miss it?


I think this is important not only for the followers of Seth Roberts but more generally in that it illustrates the traps that people can fall into when seeking out confirmation of their beliefs. Seth is better-equipped than most people to read about scientific evidence, yet he is stuck, not only in holding a scientific view which I find implausible (after all, I might be wrong) but in not understanding that Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Rein Haarsma, etc etc etc are doing serious science. It's sad, and it's scary. 

His point is well-taken. This mistake is one I am sometimes guilty of, because I am really judgmental and quick to generalize from examples without thinking about how I encountered those examples. Be skeptical of your own skepticism. And then be skeptical of that too.



Hahahahaaaa!!! That is ME laughing at YOU, cruel world.
    -Jordan Rixon

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

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