One man’s facts are another man’s dogma are yet another man’s conjecture. So it is with the global warming debate. When Rick Perry, Texas governor and now presidential hopeful, publicly pronounced his opinion on global warming, his remarks weren’t all that remarkable (my opinion), but were sure to elicit howls from parishioners in the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming, which perhaps was the point:
“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed. But I do not buy into, that a group of scientists, who in some cases were found to be manipulating this data.”
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 17, 2011th
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” took umbrage at Mr. Perry’s remarks, slicing and dicing them for having been objectively untrue. In particular, two points of Mr. Perry’s comments were deemed objectionable by the Fact Checker:
1. A substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so they will have dollars rolling into their projects.
2. Almost weekly or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.
The Fact Checker obviously does not even recognize a fact. By saying a “substantial number of scientists…”, and offering no insight as to what he means by “substantial”, Perry’s observation should be immediately consigned to the realm of opinion. Checking his assertion against its probity as a Fact is utterly pointless. Perhaps by “substantial” he meant three or four. Surely then his “Fact” would be factual. Given that scientists are human beings with all the moral failures thereby implied, there is apt to be a few scientists manipulating data to keep the research money flowing in. It’s happened enough in other areas of science until it would be foolhardy to think mankind assumes some sort of moral purity when donning the lab coat of the climate scientist. But Perry didn’t explain what he mean by “substantial”, so my observation is just conjecture, and his statement is just an opinion.
The second “fact” is no better than the first. What does “almost weekly or even daily” mean? Does it mean that a new scientist appears almost weekly or daily to question the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, or does it mean there are scientists that challenge it, and they do so on a weekly or daily basis? Presumably if one were a heretical climate scientist professing disbelief at the miracles of the God of AGW, he’d necessarily do so on a continuous basis.
Thus the Fact Checker checks two of Mr. Perry’s opinions as if each were issued as statement of fact. Then it does worse, issuing its own opinions in lieu of Mr. Perry’s:
The question of whether humans have contributed to climate change in recent years has generated increasing skepticism among the American public, especially as proposals to deal with the problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, have come with high price tags. But Perry is wrong to suggest that skepticism has gained strength among scientists.
To the contrary, various surveys of climate researchers suggest growing acceptance, with as many as 98 percent believing in the concept of man-made climate change. A 2010 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which surveyed 1,372 climate researchers, is an example of this consensus.
See what happened, Perry’s claim that “almost weekly or even daily” has been contorted to “suggest[ing] that skepticism has gained strength among scientists”?
Then the “Fact” offered in refutation isn’t even a fact: “…various surveys….suggest growing acceptance..” suggests the Fact Checker hasn’t a clue as to what is a fact and what is an opinion. If Mr. Perry really did mean that scientific opinion, which by the way is not the same as scientific fact, is moving towards skepticism over AGW, the only real way to know if his hypothesis were correct would be to have two surveys, conducted over time, of people agreed upon as representative of scientists. If a plainly worded query, such as, “Is the earth’s climate growing warmer because of mankind’s activity upon it?” reveals a growing number of negative responses, then Mr. Perry’s falsifiable hypothesis would prove true. Anything less than such rigor in determining the state of scientific belief is either conjecture, or belief, or simply lying.
But the Fact Checker knows how to frame its opinionated argument–lash out at the credentials of the other side:
[Regarding a petition Perry’s camp pointed out as evidence of a “substantial number”] Only 9,000 of the signers actually have PhDs, and the list of signers’qualifications shows only a relatively small percentage with expertise on climate research. (One study estimated that under the petition’s rather expansive definition of a “scientist,” more than 10 million Americans would be qualified to sign it.) Judging from news reports, the number of signers has barely budged from 2008, further undercutting Perry’s claim of a groundswell of opposition.
Only the opinion of a scientist with a PhD, in climate science, should be considered? Climate science ain’t all that hard to understand. What is it about a scientist with expertise in climate research that might mean it would be preferable to ask a scientist without such expertise? Indeed, a climate scientist is biased to find a connection between climate change and human activity because he thereby might gain in stature and wealth. And what sort of fact is “judging from news reports”? And, isn’t whether an article is anecdotal or scientific a matter of opinion?
In her marvelous survey of scientific history, Science: A Four Thousand Year History, Patricia Fara observes the latest developments in science with the gimlet eye of a skeptic:
Over the past fifty years, media-sensitive scientists have learnt that the best way of attracting public attention and government funding is to deliver apocalyptic prognoses—nuclear devastation, meteoric bombardment, an impending ice age, global warming. Modern scientific forecasters seem to fulfill the same psychological needs as religious prophets who preached that the end of the world represents God’s punishment for the sinful. In that sense, global warming is more rewarding than an ice age because blame can be assigned to the human race. In contrast with natural disasters, the greenhouse effect and the thinning of the ozone layer are attributed to the industrial activities that drive modern profit-based capitalism. Following this rhetoric, people may be guilty of destroying the world on which they depend, but scientists are offering them the possibility of redemption through altering their behavior. By enlisting public cooperation to think green and rescue the environment, scientists convert themselves from agents of destruction into secular saviors.
So far as my opinion of AGW goes, Fara pretty well sums things up.