Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Looks like I'm not betting Dr. L Graham Smith

Ecomyths blog decided it had arrived in the blogging world because I emailed the climate denialist author, Dr. L Graham Smith, to see if he would bet over his denials. Actually, I only came across his blog in a fairly random blog search on climate, and I don't claim that my sending someone an email is an earthshaking event.

So I had sent him a polite email and he sent a polite response nearly immediately, saying he'd think about betting. Since then, no answer, other than some speculation on his blog about why I'm asking him to bet (from the link above):

...the implication being that a refusal to accept the bet is either:
  • cowardly and/or
  • a lack of commitment to my perspective and/or
  • because my views are wrong.
I don't have much interest in the "cowardly" implication, but "lack of commitment" is probably an accurate rephrasing of "refusing to bet because the denialist doesn't actually believe his own nonsense." I also don't understand the "views are wrong" implication, except as a repeat of the implication that they're lying. Of course any particular skeptic might honestly not be interested in betting, but the widespread lack of interest tells you something. As for my motivation, Smith misses the possibility that I might want to make some money while arbitraging money in the scientifically-correct direction.

Smith isn't finished though:
My concept of science comes from reading Popper, Kuhn and Wilbur. I am trying in vain to remember where betting as a strategy for refutation and conjecture fits in with either scientific method or understanding.
I actually think betting fits pretty well with Popper's theory of falsification, and it uses money to figure out which hypotheses are credible enough to be tested. Kuhn isn't particularly relevant. I'm not sure who "Wilbur" is, but if it's this guy, then he's totally irrelevant.

By way of contrast to Smith, I'll point to James Annan's description of the bet process he, William Connelly, and I worked out against Joe Romm's prediction of early Arctic ice melt:

Brian originally bravely offered to stake a spare button and an old stick of part-chewed gum. William offered up $500, and I suggested $1000. At this point, Brian decided he could be a bit braver and Joe started to sound a bit lukewarm. In the end we agreed to evenly share $1000. It is interesting to observe, and experience, how the contemplation of putting down hard cash (even if not very much) focusses the mind!
It's an educational enterprise, but the denialist types don't seem interested in learning. (Smith in particular doesn't even allow comments on his blog, so it's a correction-free zone.)

Finally, Smith asked that I post his email reply, so here's the relevant part:
As to the bet I don't gamble generally but will consider your proposal if only to avoid having you assume it is from a lack of conviction on my part.

Once I have had chance to view your site and perspective I will respond again., although at first glance I'm not sure what the bet would resolve: few if any would dispute that mean global temperature has risen over the past 100 years, nor dispute that the increase has been the 0.6 C +- 0.2 over that interval as per the IPCC -- the dispute is:
  • what proportion of the increase is anthropogenic?
  • what part of the change that is anthropogenic is due to rising levels of carbon dioxide (as opposed to land use changes etc.), if any?
  • does it matter? i.e. how is this a crisis requiring intervention?, and:
  • given that temperatures were at this level 1000 yrs. ago without any link to carbon dioxide levels, what is the provenance for the AGW theory?
I'm not sure how your bet would answer these questions.

Moreover, I would contend that AGW is a belief and as such there are no facts that will alter the opinion of someone who subscribes to this belief (see Tierney's post in the NYT): facts don't alter beliefs only the acceptance of alternate constructs [ed. note: he may be onto something here - but where facts don't alter beliefs, money might]. By proposing the bet I would infer that you view the issue as simply one of scientific evidence: I do not.

Should you decide to post my blog amongst those you have challenged, you may wish to show your own sense of principle and also post this reply to your request when referring to ecomyths.

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