A recent article at Real Climate (linked from BoingBoing) informed its faithful that they, the writers and site leaders “Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia with input from Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth”, are none too happy with Larry Bell, a fellow who managed to sneak “Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts” into Forbes, a document which questions key beliefs shared by Tobis et alia.
Tobis and pals say that “Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the ‘Gish gallop’, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish.” Using the word “denialist” signals that the effort to come will never reach above the juvenile. Proof of this is contained in the very sentence, where, via a cheap rhetorical trick, “denialists” are equated with those who would not only deny the Holocaust, but would question evolution itself, the later now the greater crime.
Bell’s minor mistakes are not especially interesting in the large scheme of climate science. And neither are the mistakes made by Tobis. For example, Bell claimed, “The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before.” Tobis et al. countered, “This is untrue in recorded history. The traversals prior to 2007 were in very specialized boats and often took years. In 2007 and 2010, genuine shipping lanes opened up for the first time. It was possibly open in the mid-Holocene about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago and was certainly open millions of years ago. ”
This kind of non-debate—both sides actually agree with other!—is tedious. So what’s the problem?
Now, it’s no mystery why people Tobis and his mates duke it out with Bell. Bell stepped onto their playground and they tried to kick him out. There is also no conundrum why people like my pal Gavin Schmidt believe as fervently as they do. They work intimately in an area for a long period of time and have convinced themselves that their theories are true. They surround themselves with others who have worked as hard as they have and who believe as they do. They meet as a group and tell each other that what they believe is so. They do not often ask how they can be wrong, because it is so obvious to them that they are right. When we look upon this group of scientists—who are obvious experts and who may well be right in some of what they proclaim—we understand them. We say to ourselves, “This is human nature.”
But what forces account for people like New York Times columnist Paul “Republicans Are Evil” Krugman, an untutored man (climatologically speaking) so convinced that the end is nigh that those that disagree are treasonous? Why do “activists”, similarly ignorant of the Omega equation, flock to places like Copenhagen and Cancun and stage puppet shows? Why do journalists regularly repeat the idiotic phrase “The debate is over”? Why are others compelled to march on this place and that demanding “action”?
Why, that is, are so many people who have no especial training in climatology, who could never hope to derive the equations of motion, even assuming non-compressibility, who, that is, are ignorant of the most basic of physical laws, are so convinced that their worst fears are being realized? These folks are not appealing to the precautionary principle, as dicey as that theory is. Instead they are convinced even immediate action is too late. How did they become so assured?
They could have polled climatologists and found the balance in favor of climate catastrophe, and then operated in a majority-rule fashion. If just one percent more than fifty says doom, why, doom it is! But I know of none who has done this. Instead the (false) claim is that all scientists have said “It is worse than we thought.”
But even if that were true, even if they if the untrained did not acknowledge any alternate views (such as Bell cites), they must have been aware that all history of human thought argues for caution. Yet the debate was declared long over without the need for proof. It must, therefore, be the case that no or little evidence was required for most people to believe so fervently. Or, even better, the belief was already there, just waiting to be set free by any excuse.
This is why the debate almost instantly turned political and why it will remain so.