Naïve Realism

November 1, 2009

On Friday, Roger Jr. pointed to a recent study in Science observing that climate change is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional problem involving many more pollutants than CO2. He writes the following:

This recent research suggests that we must now be open to the possibility that there will not and cannot be a single policy approach to addressing the full spectrum of human influences on the climate system. The recognition of complexity may present an opportunity to move climate policy forward, by providing a justification for reconsidering the flawed (and some would say doomed) approach.

I think Roger’s point is fairly clear, but others on his comment board make great hay of his claim. Some even take his observations to be a full-blown indictment of climate science altogether. As evidence of this, Marc Morano takes the opportunity to impugn climate science by headlining on his blog with the words “Settled Science?” and then linking to Roger’s post. Missing only is the Drudge-style siren.

I simply fail to see how this [Roger’s post, coupled with the study in Science] is anything like an indictment of climate science. I suspect that the confusion has something to do with a presiding misconception that somehow science, generally speaking, and climate science, narrowly speaking, infallibly uncovers facts about the objective world. It’s hard to say what’s behind this, except that this sort of naïve realism is just exceptionally common. Too bad it’s also deeply flawed.

More after the jump…

If you think that science gets at facts, much like one might unearth an old shoe in the closet — aha! that’s where my favorite pink galosh disappeared to! — then I suppose you might arrive at the conclusion that since some things about climate science are not settled, then indeed, there’s quite a bit more work for science to do. One’s favorite pink galosh has in fact not yet been found. We should keep digging through piles of clothes, through our rotten, stinking Doc Martins and decaying flip-flops, in search of more information. If that’s what science is up to, then perhaps it is reasonable to conclude that when the science is not settled, we should wait for more information. But I also think (a) that this is a false view of what science is up to and (b) that if it were a true view, then it’d be mighty damn hard to get anything done.

I’m far more inclined to think pragmatically about the state of scientific knowledge. Science is, and forever will be, an unfinished project, oriented at creating an idealized book of knowledge, yet driven and regulated by a methodology that opens itself to critique and revision. It is, therefore, fallible. This fallibility and openness to revision is as true for the other sciences as it is for climate science.

Thing is, despite this fallibility, it is wrong to conclude that therefore some scientific claims, about the climate, say, or about the safety of vaccinations, say, do not deserve a place as justified, hard-won positions. The truthmaker is still the objective world on this view, but what it is for us to say that some scientific claim is true isn’t as tightly dependent upon whether the science directly describes that objective world. Instead, the strength of a scientific claim is dependent upon whether it has been justified. (Shall we revisit the peer review threads for more?)

The problem for climate science is as much related to (a) as to (b). Just as our scientific knowledge-base is always moving, so too is our resultant set of policy imperatives. (Policies, of course, are driven by more than our knowledge-base; but they are certainly, or at least certainly should be, subject to amendment given the current state of knowledge.) Inasmuch as the movement of knowledge is a problem for science, it is also a great strength of science. Even though any given body of scientific knowledge is not and never well be “settled,” there is still quite a bit of good and helpful information to go on. Indeed, it would be foolhardy to ignore that science.

For instance, when you present at the hospital with a headache and vomiting, a triage nurse will make a snap judgment about your condition. He has very little information about your overall health. That nurse then uses his judgment to give you a place in line. Eventually, you are seen, you are given more tests, and as information comes in, physicians and nurses adapt their responses to the new knowledge available to them. What you very much wouldn’t want is a triage nurse who refuses to treat you because he doesn’t have enough information about your condition to do anything.

So too with climate science. As the science develops, we adapt our management strategies. If other non-carbon GHGs are forcing our climate away from stability — I was under the impression that this was accepted scientific fact, but I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know — and some of those GHGs are anthropogenic, then we should worry about those emissions too. We should be concerned about methane emissions, just as we’re concerned about carbon emissions, for instance.

There’s nothing threatening about this new information. There’s nothing about this that should call into question the certainty with which carbon policy is being set. That’s the reason that we need to keep studying these things, to learn more and adjust our strategy accordingly.

I’m not sure I agree with Roger that a climate policy apparatus “that is decentralized and more focused in its elements will be better able to adjust as science evolves,” but that’s a matter for another day. I’m sure we’ll talk about it online as well as offline. The more important observation is that simply offering amendments to the body of climate knowledge doesn’t impugn climate science as a body of knowledge. It also doesn’t warrant a Drudge-like siren. It simply contributes to and furthers our understanding of these incredibly complex systems.

(Please note: At several points I used the singular of ‘galoshes’ in a sentence. When was the last time you’ve seen that done?)



  1. Eli can scarcely restrain his joy that Roger has finally come to a conclusion the bunny reached many years ago.

    “Most importantly the solution will be composed of multiple solutions. All eggs in one basket is a loser.”

    And, as long as recycling is going on:

    Well, as Roger Pielke Jr. himself admits, the numbers are sensitive to the rate at which you assume emissions would grow without any effort to reduce emissions, so let us ask Roger, where would we be if we adopted his lay back and enjoy it while praying to the technology fairy policies.

    I might point out that the original technology fairy fan, Newt Gingrich, appears to have jilted the creature, or at least is not going out with her as much.

    The facts are that even if you believe in technology fairies or ponies, the longer we delay on policies such as Joe Romm outlines, the more the fairy is going to have to deliver. There are serious procrastination penalties associated with non-action on climate change, and a large cliff that our grandchildren will fall off of.

  2. You can read between the lines of Karl Popper’s rules below, and see the rampant corruption of climate peer review and climate science in every point.

    Popper states:

    1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

    2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.

    3. Every “good” scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

    4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think), but a vice.

    5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

    6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of “corroborating evidence.”)

    7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a “conventionalist twist” or a “conventionalist stratagem.”)

    One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

    The CO2=AGW crowd directly violates every one of Popper’s points. Every one of them. A hypothesis can only be falsified with the full and transparent cooperation of the proposer[s] of the hypothesis, including all raw and subsequently adjusted data, and the entire methodology used to arrive at the hypothesis — something that the CO2=AGW purveyors never willingly provide.

    Further, the canard that only peer reviewers are qualified to either assess a hypothesis or possess the data and methodologies used to invent a hypothesis is a cop-out; a physicist is fully competent to assess the raw data and methodologies used in climate science. Pretending otherwise enables fraud.

    For one example out of many, look at the previously accepted chronology [the black graph] overlaid on Briffa’s obviously bogus Yamal hokey stick [the alarming red hockey stick on the chart].

    The scientific method requires that even the proposer of a hypothesis has an obligation to try to falsify it. And the proposer of a hypothesis has a clear obligation to fully and completely cooperate with any other scientists who wish to try and falsify his hypothesis. That is how scientific truth is arrived at.

    But in the case of climate science and climate peer review, rather than cooperate to get to the truth, people like Keith Briffa [for one example; there are many others who appear similarly corrupt] stonewall any attempt to provide the necessary cooperation. Rather, they engage in deliberate obstruction.

    These people have been corrupted by two primary forces: money, and status. Over the past decade some $50 billion in tax money has been allocated toward studying AGW, vs about $19 million toward skeptics’ studies. And of course Michael Mann skyrocketed to fame and fortune in his early 30’s based entirely on his thoroughly debunked hockey stick.

    This is taxpayer fraud on a massive scale. Why? Because all good scientists are skeptics, first and foremost. Good scientists strictly adhere to the scientific method. Crooked scientists hide the raw data and methodology — a recognizable trait among the purveyors of the CO2=AGW conjecture.

    When people like Michael Mann still obstruct and stonewall their putative ‘work’, their honesty is properly called into question. Mann’s highly questionable work was done with taxpayer dollars, but Mann makes clear that he will not share his raw data and methodologies.

    If you think you can explain these dishonest climate scientists’ actions, I look forward to your apologia that condones crooked science. If you wish to take the bait, please stick to the specific points made here. Re-framing the argument and moving the goal posts is a tired old tactic of the alarmist contingent, used when they lack a coherent rebuttal.

  3. What is it about Popper that has you so persuaded that his view is the right view?

  4. “What is it about Popper that has you so persuaded that his view is the right view?”

    What is it about Karl Popper that makes his conclusions so incomprehensible to you,Slick? What is it that you can’t handle regarding the mainstream view that Karl Popper’s analysis is correct?

    Your lame response is exactly the kind of avoiding of stated issues that I warned against. It plainly demonstrates that you have no adequate refutation to the very serious charges made. So sophistry takes its place. Why am I not surprised?

    Changing the subject to a pathetic ad-hom against the man who is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science is typical AGW claptrap: when you have no facts, attack the person.

    It probably has never occurred to you that you are another mindless victim of academic group-think, otherwise known as Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance. Forget the scientific method that eliminated hunger in America, that made the average American wealthy, and that put men on the Moon. Instead, your typical mumbo-jumbo group think currently rules academia, and your personal safety is with the echo chamber herd. Because above all, safety is the holy grail of college profs; truth always take a back seat to folks too enamored of their professional safety to honestly debate problems.

    Dr Popper was an internationally esteemed philosopher who quantified the scientific method — which is the basis for the technological progress that lets you use electricity to do your laundry instead of a washboard, and lets you go to a medical doctor instead of a witch doctor to treat your illness.

    By casually denigrating Dr Popper’s great accomplishments with a silly throwaway line like you did, you demonstrate pathetic jealousy and personal inadequacy. You will never come close to Karl Popper’s achievements; tenure is your one big score in life.

    Why not answer the specific charges I made, instead of deliberately changing the subject? The answer is obvious: you don’t want to be cornered into defending the rampant corruption endemic to climate science, and even more, to the thoroughly corrupt climate peer review process.

    Rather than discuss the specifics I raised, you reverted to silly word games. That is a typical response of parasites sucking at the public teat.

  5. Maybe you don’t know what an ad hominem is. Here, let me help:


    I asked a question about your commitment to Popper’s position, I didn’t offer an ad hominem. Moreover, his view, I’ll have you know, is not quite the “mainstream” view. It’s a view, albeit an important one, in the philosophy of science. It is not above criticism.

    Since you are clearly better read on Popper than I, I will humbly confess that my concerns about Popper are pathetic and jealous, and also that I have a deep penchant for group-think. My jealousy over Popper’s success as a philosopher, I suppose, could be chalked up to my struggling relationship with my father, as well as my suppressed but unrequited desires to do the nasty with my mother. That sound about right to you, Smokey?

    While you’re answering my question, maybe you wouldn’t mind explaining what about Popper’s position “quantifies” the scientific method?

    • “While you’re answering my question, maybe you wouldn’t mind explaining what about Popper’s position ‘quantifies’ the scientific method?”

      I’ll gladly answer your question — after you’ve answered my original comment; something you have studiously avoided mentioning. Your tactic of answering a question with a question is simple obstructionism. I don’t really blame you. I have plenty of strong evidence that the purveyors of the CO2=AGW conjecture are dishonest. So go ahead and try to defend their actions. If you think you can.

      Finally, with regard to your wanting an explanation of Popper’s quantifying the scientific method, how’s your reading comprehension doing? Is it really that lame?

      Dr Popper specifically quantified the scientific method in his seven point summary that I included in my original post. Maybe you just, like, missed it, eh? Cognitive dissonance does that to people.

      • Ah, maybe you don’t understand what “quantifies” means. Here, maybe this will help:


        (Hint: It relates to quantities.)

        There’s nothing obstructionist at all about what I’m doing. I’m a philosophy professor. I read, write, and teach philosophy. I ask questions, sometimes for clarificatory purposes, sometimes Socratically. I offer arguments in response to misconceptions or failures in reasoning. I’m not an historian of science. I’m not an historian of the climate debate.

        You raised some points about Popper, who is also a philosopher. Popper’s view, to me, is more interesting than the sideshow of the current political situation in climate science. My above post was loosely about naive realism. You responded by quoting Popper.

        So tell me, what about Popper’s view is so compelling to you that it would have you disregard the rest of the work of the Vienna Circle? Or, maybe differently, what about Popper’s view has you so convinced that falsification is the gold standard of science? Are you skeptical of induction? Do you have concerns about the confirmation of hypotheses? Are you of the view that demarcation is the central consideration of the philosophy of science?

        I’m happy to take up any of those points.

  6. FYI, Ben, the field of environmental ethics is also subject to amateur auditing. If you’re not careful, the Eye of Sauron, er, I mean the gaze of McIntyre, will fall on you.

  7. Yeah, that may yet happen. We’ll see. Fortunately for me, philosophers aren’t quite in the same business as scientists. We just throw arguments back and forth.

    Yankees won.

  8. Ah. I get it. You get to ask all the questions, but you are exempt from ever answering the questions put to you.

    Isn’t that special.

  9. It is.

    • Real philosophers [as opposed to faux philosophers] seek the truth above all else.

      For scientists seeking the truth, transparency and full cooperation are acknowledged requirements of the scientific method. A couple of good places to see the shenanigans that pass for climate peer review…

      Crichton’s Senate testimony:


      “The dog ate my homework”:


      Still more climate peer-review shenanigans:


      If that old troublemaker Socrates was around today, I doubt that he would defend the outright lying and corruption by the rent-seeking climate peer review clique.

      But for some folks, the end justifies the means. Because it’s all in a good cause, right? [Oops, that was a question. Sorry about that.]

    • If Socrates were around today, he’d probably ask a lot more questions than I do. From the looks of it, you haven’t read much Plato, not to mention Popper, Quine, Duhem, Carnap, Hempel, Toulmin, Albert, Apel, Habermas, Putnam, or anybody else who has chimed in on questions about truth.

      Incidentally, you might reconsider linking to that Crichton piece, since Crichton clearly advocates a verificationist position — a view about which Popper was outrageously critical.

  10. IEHO the problem with Popper is the fairly simplistic way his ideas are taught in junior high school.

    • Who taught you to write sentences?

      • Smokey aka the Black Knight.

        Actually, Smokey, it’s a bit of an achievement to be made fun of by two professors at once. Congrats!

      • Miss. Livalara, your basic issue sixth grade dragon. (Eli kids you not). Next

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