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We offer below,
random musings, reflections, correspondence, scraps of
work-in-progress, and other such miscellany, perchance worth sharing
but not ready for the prime time of formal publication.
September 8, 2010
Farewell to a Friend, Stephen Schneider.
Last month I revisited Peter Sinclair’s excellent website,
“Climate Denial Crock of the Week.”
The piece opened with a video clip of “the late Stephen Schneider...”
“The late. . .!!!”
Omigod, say not so!
I immediately turned to Google, which confirmed my worst fears: Stephen
Schneider, one of the world’s leading climate scientists and my friend, died
on July 19th of a pulmonary embolism while enroute from Stockholm to London.
He was 65. (See
the Washington Post obituary here).
The tribute of fellow climate scientist, Ben Santer, describes Steve
Stephen Schneider did more than any
other individual on the planet to help us realize that human actions
have led to global-scale changes in Earth’s climate. Steve was
instrumental in focusing scientific, political, and public attention on
one of the major challenges facing humanity – the problem of
human-caused climate change.
Some climate scientists have
exceptional talents in pure research. They love to figure out the inner
workings of the climate system. Others have strengths in communicating
complex scientific issues to non-specialists. It is rare to find
scientists who combine these talents.
Steve Schneider was just such a man.
Steve had the rare gift of being able
to explain the complexities of climate science in plain English. He
could always find the right story, the right metaphor, the right way of
distilling difficult ideas and concepts down to their essence. Through
his books, his extensive public speaking, and his many interactions with
the media, Steve did for climate science what Carl Sagan did for
this link for the full eulogy. The reader responses that
follow are also noteworthy.)
I first met Steve Schneider in Boulder,
Colorado, some twenty seven years ago. He was at the time the Research
Director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. I was at the
University of Colorado conducting research in ethical aspects of applied
seismology, under a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The early eighties was a time of great geo-political anxiety. Early in his
presidency, Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union “the evil empire”
which he claimed was “the focus of all evil in the world. And in 1983,
Reagan announced this Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”), which most
informed scientists agreed was and impossible fantasy.
At the University of Colorado, several scientists and scholars actively
responded to these political developments, perceiving them to be grave
threats to peace and based upon unfounded dogma, economic interests, and
lacking sound scientific foundation. These individuals responded, not as
political partisans, but as professionals, and based their criticisms of
public policies on their areas of scientific expertise. And so we met in
informal fora, and wrote articles for both scholarly publications and public
media. (For my output see “Notes from the Brink,” at The Online Gadfly
[link]). Noteworthy among these critics:
John Birks, an atmospheric chemist who, along with Paul Crutzen (the
Netherlands), studied the effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer.
(Crutzen, along with Mario Molina of MIT, was later awarded the Nobel Prize
for this research).
Charles Archambeau, a seismologist, who participated with several
Soviet scientists in establishing, to the consternation of the Reagan
administration, seismic verification stations in the Soviet Union and in
Nevada. These stations refuted the Reagan administration claims that
clandestine underground nuclear testing could not be detected. (More
about this remarkable accomplishment here ).
Kenneth Boulding, world renowned economist, who skillfully debunked
economic justifications for the arms race.
And finally, of course, Stephen Schneider who, despite his employment
by a government agency, freely and effectively criticized Reagan
administration policies as he expressed his concerns about climate change,
and about the atmospheric effects of nuclear warfare.
After my departure from Boulder in 1986, I remained in contact with Steve
and followed the course of his career at Stanford University with great
interest and admiration. In 1991, I invited him to present the keynote
address at a symposium that I organized at California State University,
Steve Schneider was justly renowned as a man who did not suffer fools
gladly. In addition, unlike many scientists, he did not hesitate to enter a
public arena to express his concerns about the grave implications of his
scientific work.. The title of his final book, “Science as a Contact Sport,”
suggests both his engagement in public debates over climate change, and his
impatience with the way such debates are routinely conducted in the media.
For this he paid a price. In a touching tribute, posted at the New York
Times blog, “Dot Earth”, Scott Mandia wrote:
The mark of a true pioneer is the
number of arrows in his back. Stephen kept taking those arrows and never
missed [a] step. When the world finally wakes up to the grim realities
of man-made climate change, he will be one of those [about whom] people
will say, 'Why didn't we listen to him when we had the chance?"
Last December I sent Steve a note with a
link to my essay
Convenient Delusion”. In his reply, he told me about these “arrows:”
“You wouldn’t believe,” he wrote,” how ugly e-mails – some threatening
violence – have me worried about governing a democracy in the face of
complexity... These guys are scary, ignorant and as angry as they are out of
touch with reality to boot.”
Steve was justifiably contemptuous of the corporate media, which he
described to me as “a bankrupt mega-institution putting a business model of
ratings driven behavior over the due diligence of checking the relative
credibility of various claimants of ‘truth’.” Yet he fully realized
that he would have to deal with that media if he were to get the message out
that our world is in great danger of becoming what James Hansen describes as
a world unlike that in which our species evolved and flourished.
Steve steadfastly resisted being drawn into the usual media/legalistic “two
sides” debates – what Paul Krugman lampooned as: “The Shape of the Earth:
Two Views.” Steve took great pains to analyze and then criticize prevailing
mass-media practice. His website contains an insightful essay, wittily
“Mediarology,” which opens with this contrast between journalistic and
scientific approaches to controversial issues:
In reporting political, legal, or
other advocacy-dominated stories, it is both natural and appropriate for
honest journalists to report "both sides" of an issue. Got the Democrat?
Better get the Republican!
In science, it's different. There are rarely just two polar opposite
sides, but rather a spectrum of potential outcomes, oftentimes
accompanied by a considerable history of scientific assessment of the
relative credibility of these many possibilities. A climate scientist
faced with a reporter locked into the "get both sides" mind set risks
getting his or her views stuffed into one of two boxed storylines:
“we’re worried” or “it will all be OK.” And sometimes, these two "boxes"
are misrepresentative; a mainstream, well-established consensus may be
"balanced" against the opposing views of a few extremists, and to the
uninformed, each position seems equally credible. Any scientist
wandering into the political arena and naively thinking "balanced"
assessment is what all sides seek (or hear) had better learn fast how
the advocacy system really functions.
Being stereotyped as the "pro" advocate versus the "con" advocate as far
as action on climate change is concerned is not a quick ticket to a
healthy scientific reputation as an objective interpreter of the science
— particularly for a controversial science like global warming. In
actuality, it encourages personal attacks and distortions. (See also
Chapter 7, “Mediarology,” in his 1989 book, Global Warming.)
I could go on with my tribute to this
remarkable man, and hopefully I will soon do just that. Still on my agenda
is a review of his final book, Science as a Contact Sport, which I
have postponed pending my completion of James Hansen’s Storms of My
Grandchildren, and possibly a couple of additional books concerning
climate change, and the denialists.
But for now, I will let Steve have the final words. Addressing two of his
students, he writes:
Were I somehow able to be 20 again –
while knowing what I know now – that you know your elders love you and
want to leave you in a better world than they inherited. But the older
generations’ traditional model of “what was best for us is what is best
for you” may not apply. You could say to them, “You were brought up to
believe that the older generation has an obligation to leave us a legacy
of wealth and infrastructure. We don’t altogether reject that, but we
are willing to trade off some of that consumptive orientation to get a
legacy of clean air, a full complement of the diversity of nature and
culture, and not just material wealth on a damaged planet.
And most important of all, learn now to separate what part of the
discussion is over scientific disputes and what part is over worldviews.
Armed with that kind of literacy about sustainable development and
communications, there really is a good chance you will have had a hand
in getting the kind of world you’d rather have from those who can only
change course if you tell them what you believe and what you value.
Youth can be a powerful force for change through hour honesty ... Always
know some of us well be there right with you as you go through a
life-long apprenticeship in planetary sustainability management. (Science
as a Contact Sport, pp. 231-2).
(This is a work in progress. More to come)
hour-long lecture at Stanford University by Stephen Schneider.
Stephen Schneider: “An Overview of the Climate Change Problem”
Stephen Schneider’s Publications.
May 5, 2010
An Exchange Regarding Animal Rights.
A graduate student (identity withheld) writes:
I read with interest
your thoughts on animal
rights on your website. James Rachels' book Created from
Animals (Oxford U. Press, 1990) I think answers your thoughts on the
issue of animal person-hood. Some of them have biographies, not only
biologies, he concludes, on the basis of their capacities for individuality
and complex emotional and intellectual lives. Darwin's own findings on the
matter - which seem strangely to be ignored by scientists who otherwise
benefit from his theory - indicates that there is no difference in kind
between humans and many non-humans, but only a difference of degree in
traits - the same degree of difference that exists in our species in some
cases. If that is so - and the evidence seems to suggest it - then the
category "human" and "animals" is less distinct that we like to imagine, and
barrier between species is one more of appearance and reproductive ability
than anything else - and for this reason, depriving higher mammals of rights
is unwarranted - if we grant that humans should have rights.
Thank you for your thoughtful message.
However, I remain unconvinced of most of Rachel's position.
First, on a point of agreement. I do believe that many animals (i.e., those
with advanced nervous systems) are "moral patients," and therefore have
rights. I endorse Joel Feinberg's "interest theory of rights:" having
interests is necessary, but not sufficient, condition for having rights.
Because trees, bacteria, and presumably insects have no awareness whatever
of their existence, they lack interests. Hence they lack rights. However,
animals can experience pain and thus have an interest in avoiding same. (See
Feinberg's "Rights of Animals and Future Generations," and "The Nature and
Value of Rights.").
But animals have no "rights" to exercise capacities that they do not have:
i.e., no right to vote, no right to religious freedom, etc.
Contra Darwin, I affirm that there is a difference in kind between most
humans (excluding infants and brain damaged -who are also moral patients)
and animals -- a difference in kind that emerges from a difference in
degree. Humans possess syntactic language, and this makes all the
difference. Do animals communicate? Of course they do! In the sense that one
organism stimulates a response in another. The bees "dance" to communicate
the location of food, the hawk's cry communicates to the prey to take cover,
etc. But none of this is syntactical communication.
With language humans acquire the capacity to articulate third-person
sentences (about absent organisms, things, events, etc.), fund knowledge
(hence culture), and formulate abstractions, most notably, moral rules.
True, there are rudimentary skills of this sort that have been "forced" upon
experimental great apes ("Washoe," "Nim Chimpsky" etc.), but they are just
that: rudimentary, and apparently absent in the wild. Similarly, if
"rule-making" is interpreted to mean teaching a skill, such as training a
dog to fetch and return a tossed ball, then of course, animals can be taught
"rules." But the human capacity to learn, and act according to, rules is
much, much, more than this.
This is not idle speculation. If true, then the "in-kind" differences
brought about by language-use can be validated experimentally, as, I submit,
it has. It would be simple enough to demonstrate the transfer of
third-person information from one animal to another. I know of no such
No need for me to continue with this, since I have written about it at some
length. In addition to On the Rights of Animals and of Persons, which I
presume your have read, See Chapter 12 ("How
is Morality Possible") of my book in progress,
Conscience of Progressive.
Two points by way of response:
Why should possession of syntactical language be given such special status
as to allow humans to dominate non-humans? It is a peculiar evolutionary
trait, akin to the peacock's tail or the panda's thumb. Those who say that
human language entitled humans to rob non-humans of their basic right to
live and be free from harm seem to be saying that there is something special
about this trait that confers special status on those that have it. To
illustrate why this is wrong, consider that an alien race descended on Earth
and all of them communicated telepathically. Would this entitle them to
enslave the human population? Or consider the case of Europeans and Africa:
skin colour was said to entitle one group to enslave another. What is so
special about a particular type of thinking or speech? There is none. It is
a pretext for a powerful group to rationalize to dominate a weaker group.
You note that "animals can experience pain and thus have an interest in
avoiding same." And moreover, many animals can be free (such as those in
zoos or labs), they desire freedom, and have an interest in attaining it.
The right to life and the right to freedom from harm, and the right to
freedom itself - these are the only rights that I think animal rights
activists wish for animals. If these rights were not deprived, there would
be no need for an animal rights movement.
[And my final reply]:
Not much to disagree with in your second paragraph. As I noted, animals can
be said to have rights, including rights of freedom from harm.
But can they have duties? "Having rights" implies claims against those who
are in a position to respect or deprive rights -- i.e., moral agents, who
are thus said to have "duties" toward the rights-bearers. An animal's right
of freedom from harm is a duty-claim against moral agents, and these are (to
the best of our knowledge) exclusively human. The have has no "right" not to
be killed by a coyote, and the seal has no "right" not to be hunted by an
orca. In fact, humans have no "right" not to be attacked by sharks. Coyotes,
orcas and sharks are not moral agents. Accordingly, they can not be said to
have duties. In a world without moral agency, there is no morality.
You ask, "why should possession of syntactical language be give such special
status..."? Because syntactical language is the foundation of moral agency.
And that is a matter somewhat more significant than a peacock's tail or a
panda's thumb. If moral agency matters then yes, "there is something special
about that trait [language use] that conveys special status on those that
have it." (Again, read Chapter 12, "How is Morality Possible?" if you
You seem to regard moral agency as a license to exploit and dominate. I
prefer to regard moral agency as the foundation of responsibility -- of
Put fruit flies in a bottle of honey, and they will multiply enormously, and
then all die, poisoned by their waste. Same for yeast cells that produce
12.5% alcohol in grape juice, that then kills them (then we drink the wine).
Neither the fruit flies nor the yeast cells are to "blame" for their fate.
They don't know any better, and they can't know any better. But humans,
because they use language, are capable of knowing the consequences of their
acts, as they are also capable of self-deception. Cases in point: cigarette
smoking, ecological destruction, and climate change.
The possession of language bestows humans with a responsibility toward
non-human species. Language use does not necessarily imply a "special status
to dominate". That is a separate issue.
You ask if a telepathic alien race would be entitled to enslave humans? The
answer is NO. But I don't see what bearing this thought-experiment has on
language and moral capacity, unless one might argue that if these telepathic
aliens were moral agents it follows that they would understand that it is
wrong to enslave humans.
And I'm sorry, but I am not in the least impressed by your analogy between
racial differentiation and language-capacity. By allowing, as I do, that
racial differences are morally irrelevant, I am in no way required to
concede that there is "nothing special" about the use of syntactic language.
I refer not to "a particular type of thinking or speech," but to the
capacity for syntactic language (not "speech") per se, and the cognitive
capacities that follow therefrom. And as I argue at some length, these
capacities are truly "special."
Finally, as I point out with some deliberate care, if personhood and moral
agency are unique to the human species, this is a contingent fact and not
inherent in the species homo sapiens. The criteria of personhood and moral
agency are totally independent of biological concepts. Aliens and robots
could conceivably be persons, as could apes and cetaceans. Whether or not
they are is an empirical question.
I hope that his clarifies my position.
The Crisis Papers'
Correspondence Page has a three week limit, after which the letters "drop
off" the bottom of the page. From time to time, some outstanding letters
provoke extended replies by the editors, worthy of inclusion (and thus
retention) in this blog. Here is such an exchange regarding the essay,
Ayn Rand's Excellent Proposal. (EP)
I just read your Ayn Rand article at Information Clearinghouse. Then
I read a little of your book regarding Progressives.
I am a 60 year old activist in Los Angeles. I ran against Jane Harman for
Congress in 1992 as one of seven Democrats in an open primary. It was a
classic case of the millionaire "insider" carpetbagger buying the election.
I came in third with no money.
Anyhow, here we all are today, living in the world since the events of 9/11.
I am writing to you because I am at my wits end. I believe we are in a
Constitutional Crisis. And I don't say this lightly.
I have every reason to doubt the "official" story of 9/11 as do more than
half the American public. As you mentioned in the book you are working on,
the election of Bush was a judicial coup. Then there was vote tampering in
Ohio in 2004. Millions of human beings have been killed or have died since
1990 with the Persian Gulf War, then the sanctions, then the Iraq War, the
war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. We are now killing people with drones from
stations in Colorado using joysticks as if it's a high tech video game.
There is an epidemic of birth defects in Falluja. Israel used phosphorus
bombs in Gaza. Bush, Cheney are war criminals being patted on the back by
Obama and Holder and Israel's Mossad are assassinating Hamas leaders in
Dubai with not a peep from the U.S. government. The rule of law has flown
out of the window here. I feel as if we are living in a totalitarian,
fascist state. The looting of the treasury by Geithner, Paulson and Bernanke
in 2008 and now Obama and the Democrats are trying to force a health
insurance corporation bailout against the will of Republicans and MANY
Here is a series of articles (6) by David DeGraw you may not have seen on a
website called Amped Status regarding
The Economic Elite vs. The People.
I have been a loyal (and very unhappy) Democrat my entire life. When Ron
Paul ran against McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Tancredo etc. I supported many of
Ron Paul's positions, particularly those related to our wars of aggression
and also related to The Federal Reserve (I watched "The Money Masters" on
Google in two parts regarding the history of money and it was a real eye
Obviously I don't agree with many of Paul's Libertarian philosophies, but
the personal freedom parts I can certainly understand. It's easy to see why
Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul see eye to eye on so many things.
My question to you is, what should we do? DeGraw suggests we should no
longer give our votes to any Republicans or Democrats as they are all
working for the same corporate elite team.
What do you think of forming a third party? I know we wouldn't win any
elections out the gate, but we have to start somewhere don't we?
I have tried to participate in the political process my whole adult life. I
have played by the rules. But I can never vote for another Democrat again.
I'm very curious what your take on this is? I think people are ripe for
going to a new way of thinking.
It reminds me of the famous Einstein quote: "The splitting of the atom has
changed everything save our mode of thinking. Thus we drift toward
Charlene Richards, R.N.
Ernest Partridge replies:
Dear Ms. Richards,
I share your pessimism. Clearly, Wall Street and the mega-corporations
own the government of the United States. The SCOTUS decision, Citizens
United v. FEC, was the final straw that broke the back of American
To make matters worse (if that is possible), the election system is so
corrupt that it appears impossible to vote the corporate stooges out of
office. If the ESS/Diebold merger goes through, 70% of the votes counted
in the next national elections will be on machines with secret software
written by right-wing fundamentalists. In other words,
our elections are and will continue to be unverifiable. Yet the
mainstream media won't say a word about this, much less investigate it.
The corrupt financial system that got us into this mess remains intact,
following the bail-out of Wall Street with ordinary taxpayers' money.
There is every indication that another, greater, collapse is just ahead.
Meanwhile, the Bushevik criminals who lied us into these illegal wars,
violated international treaties, and dismantled our Constitution are at
large and unpunished.
It is a dismal situation, and quite frankly I don't see a way out. Not
to say that there isn't a way out, just that I can't see one at the
As for 9/11, I agree that there is reason to doubt much of the "official
story" -- the part about "who could have imagined that the terrorists
would fly airplanes into buildings." (C. Rice). I suspect that the Bush
gang knew an attack was coming, chose not to do anything about it so
that they might take advantage of it. They did not, however, anticipate
the scale of the disaster. I do not, however, endorse the "9/11-truther"
theory that the WTC fell due to a "controlled demolition." The available
evidence suggests that a coordination of a demolition with the impact of
the airliners is implausible. (My views on this may be found in
9/11 Conspiracy: A Skeptic's View.").
So we come to your question: "What to do?"
I'm not sure that a third party is the only answer, though support for a
third party should always be available as a "pressure point" against the
Democrats. We might, however, take a lesson from the radical right:
don't just support a major party, take it over. Progressives should
therefore support liberal insurgents in primary elections against the
"conserva-dems," like Bill Halter running against Blanche Lincoln in
Even more important, perhaps, than elections might be mass-movement
action. Arianna Huffington's "move your money" (out of the big banks and
into credit unions) is one such action which, if widespread, would do a
lot of "beneficial damage" to the banksters. The mass media should be
boycotted, and the word should go forth that the "official news" of the
mainstream media is no longer believed. Then the alternative media
should be supported.
I expect to have much more to say about such mass protest activities in
forthcoming uploads of The Crisis Papers.
Sadly, it seems that things will get much worse before we see much
improvement. "The establishment" appears to believe that there is no
limit to the amount of abuse that the American public will tolerate from
their corporate masters. In this, the establishment is wrong. Never
forget that we are talking here about (at most) 5% oppressors versus 95%
victims. The oppressors are using the familiar scapegoating techniques,
so evident amongst the "tea partyers" -- blame the gays, the minorities,
the socialists, the communists, and always, of course, "the libruls."
If the progressives respond wisely, they can redirect the public rage to
the appropriate targets. (See my
"Don't blame the tea partyers, recruit them").
I close with an observation that I have often made in the past decade:
Our struggle is hopeless. As hopeless as George Washington's struggle
against King George III, as hopeless as Gandhi's struggle against the
British Empire; as hopeless as M. L. King's struggle against southern
segregation; as hopeless as Andrei Sakharov's struggle against the
Soviet Union; and as hopeless as Nelson Mandela's struggle against
apartheid. (See "Where
are our Heroes Today?")
No, I don't see a way out. So let's
find some and invent some, and then put them to work.
"The people, united, cannot be defeated"!
Dear Dr. Partridge,
I am writing you today to thank you for your web site "The Online Gadfly,"
to ask your permission to make some copies, strictly for my personal
reference and study, of some of your articles posted on your web site and
other sites, and to share with you my own comment about one of the main
points of criticism of libertarian philosophy which you dissect in you
I was born into a very conservative, right wing authoritarian cultural
environment. In my early youth I adopted the views of those around me. In
early adulthood, I began to awaken to the fact that my natural bent didn't
fit in with my birth environment at all. I am actually liberal and
progressive in my inclinations and views, which was a bit of a surprise to
me. The gradual evolution, over more than four decades, of my self
understanding in this regard would have been greatly aided by your web site,
had it been available during those decades. Well I'm very glad to have
discovered your site now. Your analyses there help me put into words and
clearer focus things that I have felt for a long time and which I have been
able to only partially verbalize with the clarity that I'm now finding in
several of your essays and papers. Thank you very much! Your work is a great
As I'm studying what you have to say, I'm finding that it would be very
convenient and helpful to retain on my hard drive copies of some of the
content of your web site for offline study and my personal reference. If you
would be gracious enough to grant me permission to retain such copies for my
personal study and non commercial use, I will assure you that these copies
will not be redistributed without your explicit further permission. The two
writings from your site that I'm interested in at this moment are "Liberty
and Justice for Some" and "Why Liberals are Not Libertarians." And while I'm
at it, permit me to include here requests to retain copies of your articles
"A Question of Loyalty" -- from Democratic Underground -- and "Ayn Rand's
Excellent Proposal" -- from ICH.
I see from your web site that a print version of, at least, "Liberty and
Justice for Some" is planned for site visitors in the near future, however
I've actually already made copies of the four articles I've mentioned above.
But, after reading your copyright comments on your site, I don't feel good
about keeping the copies without consulting with you, and if my request is
not agreeable to you I will delete these copies from my hard drive and
Now for my comment. The libertarian concept of "atomism," which I think you
critique very well, brings to my mind the case of our human bodies. We are a
body, composed of individual cells, that is definitely more than just the
sum of the disparate, individual cells acting independently. The individual
cells, which do have their individual sphere of existence, must function
according to a common identity, or else they will die along with the whole
body. Conversely, the body must, in its complex functioning, respect and
preserve the appropriate individual spheres of function of its various cells
or the body will again become disordered and die. The parts and the whole of
the human body are inextricable.
Cells that go rogue, wildly pursuing their own growth at the expense of the
integrity of the whole, we call "cancers," with the all too well known
Now the question arises from this analogy, do humans, when we form a
society, create some form of actual collective entity that has a meaningful
relevance to the individuals in the society that cannot be ignored, except
at their natural peril? Is a society a metaphysical body of some real
significance? Well, I think that the obvious answer to that question is yes!
Commentators of many spiritual traditions, over thousands of years, have all
affirmed that, at some level spiritually, we are all connected, and that
that connection has practical significance whether we are aware of it or
not. In fact, it strikes me that awareness of our ultimate oneness is the
dividing line between the "every man for themselves" crowd and the "we are
all in it together" folks. If you are familiar with the Eastern mystical
system of representing the subtle anatomy of our consciousness, then we
could say that this dividing line is the forth chakra -- the heart chakra.
Human consciousness below the heart chakra is dominated by the illusion of
"separateness of being," while consciousness at the heart chakra and above
progressively opens up to awareness of our connected relationships with all
Perhaps you are already well aware of these perspectives and their
relationships to the points you make so well in your writings. If so, then
let me apologize for my presumption. If not, then perhaps you might find
these perspectives a profitable new dimension to your thinking.
Ernest Partridge replies:
Dear Mr. Earle,
Thanks for your kind comments.
You are welcome to collect any of my work on your hard drive, and to
print and distribute it as you wish. My only conditions are the usual
ones: include the author's name and the source (with URL) -- the Online
Gadfly or The Crisis Papers, or the journal if published. Also, if
printed and distributed, the note "with the permission of the author."
I require royalties only if the works are adapted in collections that
are for sale. This condition, presumably, does not apply to you.
I copyright my writings to discourage plagiarism. (I dare not guess how
often they have been used as student term papers). Otherwise, I am
pleased to see them distributed.
A small correction: the essay is titled "With Liberty for Some." I
briefly considered "With Liberty and Justice for Some" but then realized
that "Justice for Some" is no justice at all. "Justice" implies
universal application (i.e., "for all"). But "Liberty for Some" is
clearly meaningful, if indefensible -- i.e., "liberty" that is obtained
at the cost of the liberty and welfare of others.
I concur with your analogy of society with the human body. My late
friend, the novelist Edward Abbey, put it well when he wrote that "the
ideology of constant growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." I
explored this analogy in an unpublished essay,
Seriously.", As for "society" being more than the sum of its
individual parts, see Chapter 5 ("Good
for Each, Bad for All") of Conscience of a Progressive.
I would, however, add a caveat: while cognizant of the social dimension
of human existence and morality, one must not lose sight of the
integrity of the autonomous individual. There must be a balance between
individual autonomy and personal rights on the one hand, and social
responsibility on the other. The tragic error of both Nazism and Soviet
communism was to reduce the individual to a "cell" in the body politic.
Libertarianism commits the opposite error: a denial of the very
existence of a "society" apart from the individual. John Donne and John
Stuart Mill were both right: Donne - "no man is an island, entire to
itself...;" and Mill -- “over himself, over his own mind body and mind,
the individual is sovereign.”
Thanks again for your interest.
I agree with you 100% regarding the fate
of the banksters. But you are 100% wrong if you think they were the heros of
Atlas Shrugged, or that this is somehow a critique of Ayn Rand. She was
rather prescient in how things were going to play out. Look around you. Her
"heroes" already have gone on strike. There is no one left but the looters.
From The Smirking Chimp
I've observed that too.
[Ayn Rand] really was right about that, but she saw the looters as coming
from the left rather than from the right. The book, strangely enough,
continues to play out.
It'd be nice if truly productive people really were on strike and hiding out
somewhere, waiting for the right moment to save us. Unfortunately, though,
most of them are right here working their asses off and trying to survive,
not collectivism, but individualism.
From The Smirking Chimp
Ernest Partridge Replies:
So just who are these alleged "heroes."
Edison? Ford? Bill Gates?
Should they not pay a fair share for a support of the "commons" -- the
"whole social system ready to [their hands] in skilled workers,
machinery, a market, peace and order"? (Hobhouse)
Would Gates have founded MicroSoft if he had an expectation of earning,
not 60 billion, but a mere 6 billion -- or even 60 million?
Are there no innovators -- no "atlases" -- in regulated capitalist
economies with established social networks and free public higher
Are you suggesting that if we abolished all government regulation,
public schools and universities, all taxes on the wealthy, and thus
allow the infrastructure to disintegrate, that an army of John-Galt
entrepreneurs would emerge from their "strike" to save us all?
If so, then where are they now? Sitting by a pool somewhere, muttering
"if I can't keep everything, then screw 'em"?
No, the mess we are in right now is not due to an absence of John-Galt
types. Instead, the Galts have purchased the government, arranged to
have their taxes slashed, and now are stealing from the workers and
educators who are the ultimate sources of their wealth.
It's astounding how the novel's concepts
have been totally misunderstood (or misrepresented).
The villains of Atlas Shrugged were akin to the Wall Streeters taking
bailouts, not the heroes.
If Ernest thinks consumers are better off without the producers, rather than
vice-versa, he should re-think his premises.
From Information Clearing House
Ernest Partridge Replies:
No, Guest might take a closer look at his premises.
Galt (etc.) couldn't "produce" scratch without his workers. And the
workers, conversely, could produce nothing without tools (capital), and
the skills to use them (education),
It's this "versus" nonsense that gives the whole objectivist/libertarian
A flourishing economy is, and must be, a cooperative endeavor among
labor, capital, and government. It is not a free gift to the wealthy and
fortunate, to which nothing is owed for its sustenance -- owed in terms
of education, infrastructure, just governing institutions, etc.
February 2, 2010
A libertarian friend, who is a global
warming skeptic, writes that the climate change debate arouses his
suspicions regarding "precautionary thinking and policies" and "prior
Your note prompts a thought-experiment:
Would you have felt this way about "precautionary thinking" and "prior
restraint" on December 8, 1941?
Now suppose that scientists determine, with 50% confidence, that a
mountain-size meteor is headed toward earth which, if it impacts in ten
years, will result in a Chicxulub event (Yucatan, c. 60 million years ago),
and the extinction of all life larger than a cockroach.
Now suppose further that 97% of the scientists active in the relevant
specialties concur with this finding. (A
University of Chicago survey of 3,146 climate scientists found that 97%
believed in man-made global warming). Accordingly, a global conference
is convened where it is agreed that an aggressive, world-wide engineering
effort might succeed in "nudging" the doomsday rock away from a collision
Would a veto of the project due to qualms about "precautionary thinking" and
"prior restraint" be appropriate? Would it be appropriate of there were a 5%
confidence of a collision?
So how is this different from a projection that a 3 degree Celsius increase
in global temperature is likely, and a 5 degree increase is possible, if
there is no curtailment of CO2 emissions (i.e., "business as usual"), given
that the upper end of increase will lead to the abandonment of coastal
cities and farmland, crop failures, and the starvation of at least half of
the human population?
Of course, if 97% of active climate scientists are wrong, and the likes of
Fred Singer, Richard Lintzen, Frederick Seitz and the SEPP are right, then
the question is moot -- in this particular case. But these scenarios (meteor
and global warming) still raise the general question "in principle."
In short: are there not occasions which require collective action in the
face of common threats, and is not that collective action best accomplished
first through research and then through implementation by appropriate
scientific and technological experts? And is not that implementation
correctly described as "precautionary thinking (and action)" and "prior
What is the justification of a military establishment if not "precautionary
thinking" and "prior restraint"? (Albeit I would insist that the US Defense
budget is more than twice as much as is necessary, and is driven more by the
military-industrial complex than by necessity). Doesn't the libertarian
"minimalist state" concede that some institutions are required to secure the
fundamental triad of rights: life, liberty and property, through the "night
watchman" police, the military and the courts? How can one avoid describing
the function of these institution other than in terms of "precautionary
thinking" and "prior restraint"?
And finally, what is a "global defense" against a meteor strike or global
climate catastrophe other than "precautionary" thought and implementation
and "prior restraint" against a common threat to life, liberty and property?
Yes, global warming may be a "myth" and the consensus scientific view may be
wrong, as Sen. Inhofe and the SEPP would have us believe. Let us hope that
this is so. But do we dare act, or fail to act, on this hope? And if the
consensus view is ultimately refuted, the moral/political principles raised
by the spectre of climate change remain untouched. The stubborn question
remains, "yes, but what if..."? Other common emergencies demand
"precautionary thinking" and "prior restraint" -- military threats (e.g.,
December 7, 1941), "peak oil," the erosion of democracy and the rule of law
(e.g. "Citizens United v. FEC"), and meteor strikes. All of these potential
emergencies demand "precautionary" policies responsive to the libertarian
doctrine that the function of the state is to protect life, liberty and
Here are two lengthy exchanges
at The Crisis Papers regarding my essay, "A Convenient Delusion."
As a scientist in the field of paleogenetics (and therefore a user of
paleoclimatology data), I try to educate the public about the basics of
rational thought. You are failing at step one. You cannot correctly identify
a statement of fact.
1. "The summer Arctic ice cap is likely to disappear completely in 30 to 40
years." This is not a fact, and could not possibly be a fact; it is a
projection that may be true or false.
2. "The decade of the 2000s was the warmest on record, containing eight of
the ten warmest years." This is better; at least it could conceivably be a
fact. But it is not a factual (the Medieval warm period was warmer than
today; the Minoan Warm period was much warmer than today).
3. "Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas". At last, a fact. But then you
bungle it by saying: "Without atmospheric CO2, most of the earth would be
too cold to support human life." This could be a fact, but it is (in fact)
not factual. Water is the greenhouse gas that prevents the Earth from
4. "Methane is about 22 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon
dioxide, and vast amounts of methane are being released". A fact, followed
by a non-fact. You are trying to reproduce the idea that permafrost release
of methane will create a runaway greenhouse. But this did not happen in the
MWP, even though sea ice in the Arctic was largely gone.
5. "But with the advent of the industrial revolution and the massive
consumption of fossil fuels, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has
almost doubled". Imprecision makes it impossible to decide if this is a fact
(doubled over what), but it is wrong in any case. The earliest records of
atmospheric CO2 are in 1820; they are higher than today.
Al Gore and the political class declared a winner in what was previously a
lively debate among scientists. The result was the politicization of
science, including blogs like yours from people who know no science, but
know how to parrot other parrots. In fact, Jim Hansen had an interesting
hypothesis, but the preponderance of evidence (that is, actual fact) says
that it is wrong.
One last point. You say that you cannot "swallow" the possibility that
"hundreds of millions of dollars" in establishment science might be wrong.
You need to get an education. Science frequently follows fads that are
false. For example, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the belief
that acid causes ulcers (in fact, it was hundreds of billions of dollars).
New drugs were developed, got FDA approval, and were prescribed billions of
times. In fact, ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection. The two
scientists (Barry Marshall and Robin Warren) who pointed this out (and were
later given the Nobel Prize for pointing this out) were subjected to years
of ridicule by establishment scientists (something that the Nobel Committee
discussed). Imagine how much more difficult their problem would have been if
they had also had the Vice President, the President, and bloggers like
yourself every day claiming that they were "deniers" of the "established
consensus" about gastrointestinal disease, and whose anti-science view of
how truth is determined (heck, if we have spent hundreds of millions on it,
it must be right) was politically favored as well as scientifically favored.
Ernest Partridge replies:
This is, at last, a worthy criticism. Even so, like most of the other
critics, Mr. Benner fails to supply citations for his claims.
Now to Mr. Benner's points, in order:
1. Much of our disagreement reduces to our different interpretations of
the word "fact." My interpretation is much broader than my critic's.
Arguably, too broad. Is it a "fact" that a solar eclipse will take place
in Indonesia on March 9, 2016? The NYT 2010 World Almanac says so
(p. 338). Is it a "fact" that sun will expand into a red giant in
five billion years? Is it a "fact" that it will be warmer next
July than it is now? Is it a "fact" that the sun will (appear to)
rise tomorrow morning? All these are "projections" into the
future. I believe that some projections are sufficiently certain
that they may qualify as "facts." Among these "facts," I would include
the projection (with cited references) that the Arctic will be ice free
in about forty years if present trends continue.
2. This troublesome claim about "the Medieval warm period" deserves
careful examination. Which I have done. A NOAA report,
"The Medieval Warm Period" states:
As paleoclimatic records have
become more numerous, it has become apparent that "Medieval Warm
Period" or "Medieval Optimum" temperatures were warmer over the
Northern Hemisphere than during the subsequent "Little Ice Age", and
also comparable to temperatures during the early 20th century... In
summary, it appears that the late 20th and early 21st centuries are
likely the warmest period the Earth has seen in at least 1200 years.
If you examine this NOAA page, you
will find a graph that combines thirteen separate paleoclimatological
studies. Only two of these show a significant "Medieval warm period,"
neither of which show more warming than in the late 20th century.
A measured assessment of the so-called "hockey stick" graph of global
temperatures for the past 1200 years may be found in the MIT Technology
For a responsible debunking of the "Medieval war period" diversion, see
"The Medieval Warming Crock".
As for the Minoan warm period (3300-3450 years ago), I am not qualified
to comment, except to note that this was a local, not a global, event
and that due to its distance in time, difficult to quantify.
3. I can not say with assurance that I was right and my critic is wrong
about the temperature of an Earth without CO2. I am not a climate
scientist, and so I rely on the findings of those that are. In any case,
this was an offhand remark in my essay with no significant bearing on
the strength of my argument. I should not have made it without citation.
So I have removed it from the Crisis Papers posting. Other internet
postings, alas, are beyond repair.
"Global Warming: Methane Could be Far Worse than Carbon Dioxide,"
then follow the links in the article. If my response to #2 is valid, the
comment here about the Medieval warming period is moot.
5. Mea culpa! Here I goofed. In fact, the atmospheric CO2 has not
doubled since the advent of the industrial revolution. I "heard it
somewhere" but failed to check it out. Inexcusable, especially in view
of my insistence that my critics cite their sources.
So here are the
facts: If we date "the advent of the industrial revolution" at 1750
(James Watt patented his steam engine in 1769), the atmospheric CO2 was
about 280 parts per million. Today it is approaching 390ppm. But here's
the kicker: in the 51 years since 1958, the CO2 level has risen by
75ppm, from 315 to 390.
CO2 levels in 1820 "higher than today?" NEVER have I encountered such a
claim! Where on earth does this come from? I simply do not believe it.
Where is the evidence? What citations? Lacking these, I will continue to
dismiss this claim.
"The preponderance of evidence (that is, actual fact) says that [Jim
Hansen] is wrong." Easy enough to say. Now cite that "preponderance of
evidence." On the contrary, "the preponderance of evidence" gathered by
working, peer-reviewed and publishing climate scientists
has convinced 97% of them to conclude that anthropogenic global
warming (AGW) is real.
Finally, regarding the "they all laughed at Christopher Columbus"
Sure, just because virtually every scientist studying global climate
change accepts the hypothesis that the global atmosphere is warming at
an accelerating rate due to human activity (AGW), this does not prove
absolutely beyond all possible doubt that they are correct.
It does not prove this, simply because in science there are, in
principle, no absolute certainties. Far from being a weakness of
science, this condition, called
"falsifiability," is essential to science. According to the
falsifiability principle, there are numerous conceivable findings that
might "prove" that AGW is false: e.g., evidence from ice-core samples,
from global temperatures, from Mauna Kea measurements, etc. (Cf. the
IGCC, NAS, NOAA, AASS reports). But this conceivably refuting evidence
is not forthcoming, while the confirming evidence continues to
accumulate. Regrettably. I devoutly wish that what the climate
scientists were finding were not so.
Moreover, not knowing anything at all about the alleged acid/ulcer link
that you cite, I will stipulate that for awhile, many (most?) scientists
in the field were mistaken. (But I doubt that the number of scientists
and the amount of research involved with the study of ulcers was
remotely comparable with that of climate science). But what does that
prove? That we can't believe in any scientific research whatever because
it is occasionally wrong? Of course not! Overwhelming consensus among
scientific experts must count for something. And note also that
scientific fraud and error is corrected by more and better science. So
it was with the Piltdown Man, presumably with the acid/ulcer connection,
and so it will be with AGW if, as you claim, this too is false. But I
see no evidence of this. Again, regrettably.
Yes, "they all laughed" at Columbus, at Edison, and the Wright brothers.
But "they" also laughed at the inventors of perpetual motion machines,
at the discoverers of Atlantis and Noah's Ark, and at astrologers, UFO
buffs, creationists, etc. And "they" were right.
As for Columbus, it is quite possible that most Europeans of his day
believed that the Earth was flat. I just don't know if they did. But
most informed scholars at the time knew that the Earth was round, for
they were aware that
Eratosthenes had proved it so c. 240 BCE. The point?
Regardless of what most ordinary folk believe, or even some scientists
in other fields, the overwhelming majority of scientists who actively
study the earth's climate agree that global warming is real, is of human
origin, and is a threat to human civilization. And theirs is the opinion
that should count.
And so, at length, we return to the pivotal question of my essay:
Is the scientific affirmation
of anthropogenic global warming a "hoax," as Sen. Inhofe would have
us believe? Possibly. But to believe this one would also have to
believe either that (a) hundreds of millions of dollars of funded
and peer-reviewed research have systematically led to a false
conclusion, or (b) that thousands of scientists from around the
world are engaged in a giant conspiracy, or (c) that all these
scientists are simply fools. Sorry, but that is much more than I can
Nothing you have written is
remotely responsive to this challenge. Certainly not an indication of
the indisputable fact that occasionally scientists -- even a "consensus"
of scientists -- get things wrong, only to be corrected eventually by
more and better science.
The Bottom Line: I am not a climate scientist, and I don't even play one
on TV. So I rely upon qualified scientists and their peer-reviewed and
published findings. Like all of these scientists, I do not like what
they are finding, for their research has very grave implication for
But the sensible response is not to employ any and every available
sophistry to attempt to overturn the findings of these scientists. The
intelligent response is to take these finding seriously, refute them if
possible and if not, face up to their implications, and then implement
public policies to deal with them.
First, as a paleogeneticist, I am a user of climate science data and models;
I do not generate them. Therefore, I have no professional interest in seeing
one outcome over another; I am just interested in getting the truth so that
we can use it in our own research. This makes me an especially good person
to evaluate the current disaster that passes for "climate science'. Politics
has corrupted climate science so badly that one cannot trust anything that
anyone says, on either side.
As a second task, I try to explain to the public what science is, and what
discipline scientists must apply for their theories and models to have the
power that people want from science. Your post (and your rejoinder) are
especially disturbing, as they show how poorly our schools are at educating
the public on what science is, and does. Many of us are taking our outreach
more seriously as a result.
Now to substance. To have the power that the public want from "scientific
statements", scientists must distinguish between fact and theory. Anyone who
uses the "different interpretation" of the word "fact" denies (for himself)
the power of science.
It not a "fact" that a solar eclipse will take place in Indonesia on March
9, 2016. It is a prediction based on a theory. The eclipse may not occur in
that place on that date; if so, then the theory is wrong. Your rhetorical
questions presume that your theories (celestial mechanics, astrophysics, or
climate models) could not possibly be wrong. This is how humans generally
approach their theories, about everything from religion to medicine. But it
is not science, and any scientists who confuses actual facts with
projections that assume their theories are correct compromises their ability
to see facts when they presents themselves. Most importantly the facts that
contradict their theory.
This is the case now with much of climate science. No, it is not a "fact"
that the Himalayan glaciers will be gone in 2035; this is the "crock" that
the IPCC finally retracted last week. The appearance of this non-fact in the
IPCC report indicates how the inability for IPCC modelers to distinguish
between actual facts and projections that presume that their theories are
true. Anyone who knows basic physics can do the calculation that shows that
it is impossible to get that much heat into the Himalayans in that amount of
Nor is it a "fact" that the Arctic ice will be gone in 2040. The
qualification "if present trands continue" is a cheat. As is the claim that
it is all fine if one "provides the reference."
Especially when the reference is the video that you directed me to from
Peter Sinclair ("The Medieval Warming Crock" ). Briefly:
(a) the Medieval Warming clock did not come from the IPCC; it is based on an
analysis of Norther Hemisphere data.
(b) No a "larger view" does not change this view. Mann's "net" was not much
larger than the older dataset; it was still from the Northern Hemisphere.
(c) Mann did an incorrect renormalization of the data from 1000-1960 by
dividing it to get unit-less numbers by measurements since 1960. As any
statistician knows, doing this will always get a hockey stick, regardless of
what data are put in.
(d) The National Academy triangulated; Sinclair cherry picks the report to
claim that it supports exactly what it did NOT support, the
(e) The "hockey team" is multiple models all based on the same flawed
premises. It is like saying that because 100 copies of Friday's New York
Times agree, then its editorials must be right.
(f) The graph that he produces includes projected data after 2000, not
experimental data, even though experimental facts are known for this period.
This is the only reason why temperatures today appear higher than in the
In other words, Sinclair is so convinced that his theory is right because he
accepts theory-driven projections as "facts" that he is unable to see that
now that the facts are in hand that deny his theory, he continues to
represent projections as fact. Indeed, Jim Hansen predicted the curve that
Sinclair shows, but not the facts as subsequently measured (no run away
greenhouse, no horrible hurricanes, no further increase in temperature)
Hence my comment that the "preponderance of evidence says that Hansen is
wrong". And indeed, because you, Sinclair, and Jim think that "facts" are
projections that assume their theory is right, they do not reject the theory
when actual facts do not conform; they just discard the facts.
As for references, I went to www.igc.org to try to find out how someone
expounding publicly on climate science needs citations about what is taught
in paleoclimatology 101 about the Medieval Warm Period, who knows nothing
about the Minoan (but is nonetheless convinced that it is a local
phenomenon), and thinks that because a scientific establishment believes
something, it must be true. But the links did not work for me. [Wrong
link. Try www.igc.org/gadfly
EP] Read Bradley's basic textbook (Paleoclimatology, Second Edition:
Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary).
I attach a paper discussing the alternative view about the history of
CO2. Remember, Beck is also an advocate, so you need to look at the papers
he cites before drawing any conclusions. In fact, the difference in the
conclusions between Beck and the IPCC arises solely from which facts each
decide to discard. But it remains a fact agreed on by all sides (see
Copenhagen_Diagnosis for the IPCC concession on this) that CO2 rise follows
temperature rise; it does not precede it).
As for ulcers, you say that you do not know "anything at all about the
alleged acid/ulcer link that you cite", but you "doubt that the number of
scientists and the amount of research involved with the study of ulcers was
remotely comparable with that of climate science".
One wonders why someone who wants to make broad statements about how
reliable scientific "consensus" is to not know of the dozens of examples
like this, or the names "Prilosec" or other anti-acids that were the
products of billions of years of investment based on the consensus theory,
or the fact that Marshall self-infected himself to demonstrate the
establishment was wrong.
A simple google gives some places to start.
"But what does that prove?" you ask. It proves that people who do not
understand what a "fact" is can write nonsense.
As for your confidence that "scientific fraud and error are corrected by
more and better science", this is true, until the science become
politicized. It is not a fact that today's temperatures are inconsistently
high relative to those over the past 10,000 years. There is little evidence
that human CO2 emissions are causing current temperatures. There is no
consensus among climate scientists about these matters. There is good
evidence that CO2 rise has not historically caused temperature rises. These
are all facts.
But because of the politicization of science, non-scientists with blogs will
continue to do what you do, East Anglia scientists will continue to do what
they did, and climatology will not be fixed for many, many [years].
Ernest Partridge Replies
Thank you for your thoughtful and well-informed reply to my essay and my
Let's begin with my re-iteration of a foundational fact: I am not an
expert in climate science and I don't claim to be. Accordingly, I cannot
provide an informed critical response to much of your rebuttal. Your
refutation of the "common wisdom" held by climate scientists throughout
the world may be correct. I devoutly hope that it is, and would
enormously gratified if you and like-minded scientists were to prevail.
I am open to such an argument, however limited my ability to assess it.
However, from that limited point of view, I am unconvinced that the
consensus view is wrong, and I am somewhat impressed that it is, in
fact, a consensus arrived at through the research, both independent and
coordinated, of thousands of scientists of numerous cultural
backgrounds, throughout the world. I am not a climate scientist, so I
look to the opinion of those who are. Similarly, I am not an
astrophysicist, so I can add nothing to the dispute between steady-state
theorists such as the late Fred Hoyle, and "big-bang" theorists such as
Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg, etc. However, I can not ignore the
fact that over time the "big-bang" theory has prevailed among most
experts in the field.
While my knowledge is limited as to the content of climate science, as a
retired philosophy professor who has taught and published in the field
of the philosophy of science, I am not totally ignorant about "how
science works," and I resent your implication that I am somehow
ill-educated about the subject. While the philosophy of science is
not my specialty, I believe that I can claim some competence. (See my "Is Science Just Another Dogma?").
Accordingly, I am quite aware of the distinction between "facts" and
"theories," and thus of the fallacy of the shopworn creationist remark
that "evolution is not a fact, just a theory." (See my ""Creationism"
and the Devolution of the Intellect",
both of these written for a general audience and
therefore necessarily oversimplified and incomplete). I could go
on with an elaboration of the conceptual analysis of knowledge (as
"justified true belief"), the hypothetico-deductive model of scientific
inquiry, Karl Popper's account of scientific confirmation (as "failure
to disconfirm"), Quine's pragmatic verification theory ("Two Dogmas of
Empiricism") and all that. But I am not disposed right now to re-take my
Ph.D qualifying exams, and still less, I assume, are you inclined to
We begin with what seems to me to be a simple case of ambiguity. In
ordinary non-scientific usage, I submit, the word "fact" is correctly
used to refer to some virtually certain events in the future. Because I
was directing my essay to the general public, it was that sense that I
had in mind regarding eclipses, etc. So if you ask an
ordinary English-speaker (and I would include here most scientists) if
it is "a fact" that the sun will (appear to) rise tomorrow morning, I
dare say that almost all would reply that this is "a fact."
On the contrary, you interpret the word "fact" to
have no application to future events, however compellingly probable.
Very well. And if I accept your stipulation, then we have no argument:
it follows that there are no future facts. But this is an analytical
truth (i.e. "by definition") not an empirical truth.
As for my alleged assumption that "[my] theories ... could not possibly
be wrong," I refer you to my earlier reply: "in science there are, in
principle, no absolute certainties. Far from being a weakness of
science, this condition, called 'falliblism' and 'falsifiability' is
essential to science." So I plead not-guilty of your charge.
Furthermore, I did not claim, nor do I believe, that "the Himalayan
glaciers will be gone by 2035." However, there seems to be compelling
evidence that continental glaciers throughout the world (the Himalayas
and Alaska excepted) are shrinking.
Your careful critique of Peter Sinclair's "Medieval Warming Crock"
deserves the scrutiny of a climate expert, which I am not. You will have
to look elsewhere for a competent assessment. Again, I hope your
dismissal of the findings of the vast majority of climate scientists is
right, and I sincerely hope that you and like-minded scientists succeed
in proving it so. But at the moment, I am not hopeful.
My "expounding" on climate science was, as I clearly stated, the idle
speculation of an amateur. I lack the competence to advance the science
in any way. If climate scientists have in fact determined that Minoan
warm period was a world-wide phenomenon, then I stand corrected. It just
seemed improbable to me that data to support such a conclusion was
available about an event that took place more than three millennia ago.
But then, what do I know? However, I did not say (and wouldn't) that
"because a scientific establishment believes something, it must be
true." That assertion conveys a dogmatism that I do not embrace.
However, I believe that science, albeit fallible, has proven itself to
be the best source of knowledge about the natural world (which means
about reality -- I reject "supernatural knowledge"). Accordingly, I must
take scientific consensus very seriously, notwithstanding the fact that
occasionally in the past scientific consensus has been overturned -- by
scientific research, of course.
And so in closing, we return to the essential challenge of my essay:
Is the scientific affirmation
of anthropogenic global warming a "hoax," as Sen. Inhofe would have
us believe? Possibly. But to believe this one would also have to
believe either that (a) hundreds of millions of dollars of funded
and peer-reviewed research have systematically led to a false
conclusion, or (b) that thousands of scientists from around the
world are engaged in a giant conspiracy, or (c) that all these
scientists are simply fools. Sorry, but that is much more than I can
You present a fourth possibility
(similar to the second, the "giant conspiracy"): that climate science
has "become politicized."
I confess that I am having difficulty identifying the "politics" that
you allude to -- a "politics" that somehow unites in a common cause and
motivates thousands of scientists, from diverse cultures and political
systems and ideologies from around the world. Are we to believe that a
home-grown American politics (presumably some form of Al Gore's liberal
environmentalism) has somehow captured an entire scientific community?
Is this a "politics" that guides and distorts the research of the
scientists who extract and examine ice-core samples from Greenland and
Antarctica? Does this "politics" cause scientists to mis-read
thermometers and other research instruments?
Sorry, but unless and until you identify this "politics" and give me
compelling evidence that it has captivated an entire scientific
discipline, then your throwaway line about "politicized science" will
remain "more than I can swallow."
On the contrary, "politics," along with massive economic interests, are
overwhelmingly on the side of the global warming skeptics, as the
captive corporate media has lavished time and attention to the skeptics
with the predictable result that public belief in and concern about
climate change has significantly abated.
Your skepticism is among the most responsible and informed that I have
encountered, and I must therefore take it seriously (notwithstanding
your distortion of my views and your false accusation of dogmatism).
Once again, I sincerely hope that you are right.
But from my limited perspective from outside the circle of climate
scientists, and my somewhat more competent standpoint as a student of
the philosophy of science, my vote remains with the consensus view.
For the sake of the future of human civilization, let us hope that they
are wrong. But if they are right, we must promptly and massively prepare
for the emergency that is ahead of us if we are to avoid global
The US and Europe are having the coldest winter in decades. The Australian
drought is over and Arctic ice is near normal.
You can't maintain a lie by not reporting it.
Ernest Partridge replies:
I've been trying to make sense of
"You can't maintain a lie by not reporting it." I give up! Didn't you
mean to say, "you can't maintain a lie by not reporting the truth""
As for that "coldest winter in decades," Sean Hannity has said this
repeatedly, typically without any citation whatever. What is your
source? By way of refutation, NOAA reports that 2009 was "the fifth
warmest January through October period." The Goddard Institute of Space
Studies agrees. (Citation:
http://mediamatters.org/print/research/200911250020). But what do
NOAA and GISS know? They're just scientists who collect publicly
monitored and replicable data. How can all this stand up against Sean
As for Australia, no droughts are forever. This one has ended -- or so
you say (sans citation). If you are right (and why should I believe
you?), well, so what? I am more interested in global data and trends.
The alleged end of the Australian drought means nothing by itself.
"Arctic ice is near normal?" Flatly
false! In fact, "the
permanent Arctic Ice [is] vanishing." See also, Agence France Press:
"Arctic Ice Cap to Disappear by 2040." For still more
see the satellite images here. So who are you goin' to believe? Sean
Hannity (etc) or your own lyin' eyes?
This is the difference between us:
I cite facts, grounded in scientific research, and my critics, like
yourself, rarely do so. Occasionally I slip up, and when my errors are
brought to my attention, I correct them. (See my reply to Steve Benner,
Here are few official government references which should help out.
According NCDC, 2008 and 2009 had normal temperatures.
was the 13th coldest on record.
According to NCDC, October was the third coldest on record. [Illustration,
the source is not cited]
According to NSIDC Arctic ice is essentially normal.
[Illustration, the source is not cited]
According to NSIDC, Antarctic ice has been increasing for 30 years, and
according NCEP, Europe is having record cold. [Illustration, the source is
Ernest Partridge Replies:
For the benefit of our readers, I should note that your e-mail contained
several tables, maps and other illustrations, which I cannot include
Trouble is, that most of those graphics were uncited and in isolation
from the source texts. So they were meaningless by themselves. Since I
cannot relate them to a text or make sense of them out of context, they
are of no use in advancing your argument.
However, I believe that I can make a few general observations regarding
the "record cold" in Europe, the alleged increase in Antarctic ice, and
the "coldest December" (not "on record," but in the past 113 years, and
in the contiguous U.S., which you failed to mention), etc.
Climate change deniers seem to regard the global climate as similar to
the temperature inside a house. When the thermostat turns on, the
temperature of the entire house rises uniformly, and when the thermostat
shuts down, the house cools uniformly.
The global climate is not like this. It is, instead, a
a complex entity made up of numerous interacting parts. Accordingly, one
can not generalize from one location (the contiguous U.S.) or a brief
interval of time (December, 2009) to the entire planetary climate
system. Global warming can and does result in local cooling. When
records are collected and collated from around the world, the conclusion
remains firm: this past decade was the warmest on record, containing
four of the warmest years on record.
Case in point: Last week, southern California suffered its most severe
storm in years. It lasted a full week, and now, outside my window at my
mountain home in the San Bernardino mountains (elevation, 5000 ft), I
see an accumulation of 18 inches of snow. Does this refute global
warming? Quite the contrary. The storm was a result of an "El Nino"
event, which in turn is caused by an unusual warming of the Pacific
Ocean. Thus, that snow outside is quite possibly the result of global
Similarly, the alleged increase in Antarctic snow pack. I've read about
this, and am inclined to believe that it is a fact. But what is the
cause? Probably increased precipitation on the Antarctic continent, due
again to an increase in ocean temperature. Missing from your account are
the abundantly documented and thus undeniable facts that the ice shelves
along the edge of the continent are disintegrating (cf. the satellite
photos) and that the Antarctic glaciers are accelerating. Similarly,
there is no doubt that the Greenland ice shield is shrinking as the
glaciers there accelerate. And throughout the world,
are shrinking "at historic rates."
You quote Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, Colorado:
Well I have my own article on
where the heck is global warming? We are asking that here in Boulder
where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days
on record. We had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was
below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it smashed the previous records
for these days by 10F.
Trenberth knows full well that two
cold days in in Boulder tells us nothing about the state of the
planetary climate system. He is only repeating a hackneyed joke that I
often heard from climate scientists during my two years as an NSF
researcher in Boulder: on an unseasonably cold day, "well, so much for
global warming!" Just a joke, dammit!
As Aristotle famously remarked, one swallow does not make a summer. Nor
does a cold month in one locality refute the findings of thousands of
climatologists throughout the world.