I read this commentary piece by John Spooner in the Age on 29 December 2012 with utter bemusement at the logic used.
Somewhat hastily, I wrote a letter to the editor that day as follows:
“John Spooner’s opinion piece “Sceptics weather the storm to put their case on climate” employs all the same logical fallacies and misstatements of fact that look and feel like scientific scepticism as the heroes he portrays throughout his piece do.
Beginning the article with the unfulfilled Mayan end of the world prophecy adhered to by only the ardent of true believers of such pseudo science to introduce his readers to his list unfulfilled prophecies of climate scientists will surely only lure in the most gullible readers.
To then provide his list of evidence to his readers, the “jurors” of his trial of climate change science, so that a verdict may be handed down in the same way as the judicial process does, is nothing but a false analogy. He presents his expert witnesses on the question to sway the jurors. Unfortunately for him, if this were a real trial, his experts would be ruled inadmissible for lack of expertise on the question being tried. He has effectively brought a psychic to present expert opinion on DNA evidence.
For instance, apparently “everybody agrees that the warming trend paused 16 years ago”. Assuming the MET office data and the original journalism on this issue has not been read by Mr Spooner, I can only suggest he and others look at the data properly, and take a truly scientific (read “truly sceptical”) view of how it can be concluded that warming has stopped from it. Cherry picking data so that it appears how you want it to appear is not scepticism, it is to hold onto a belief or point of view – something not at all scientific or sceptical.
As for the failings of the scientists themselves in the so-called “climate gate” scandal, these “god is in the gaps” arguments only serve as a straw man and deflect attention from the real data, and fail to report the outcomes of every investigation, either of the scientists themselves or the data and conclusions that they have contributed to this issue.
For anyone willing to truly make a decision on where the weight of evidence lies, well over 30 years of predictions and massive amounts of data can be found online in trusted journals by proper climate scientists. Make a decision from the data and the science itself, not from unscientific viewpoints on either side of the belief scale, and not from a cartoonist and his merry band of non-climate scientists.
The letter didn’t get published (it may have been over the 200 word limit and was definitely not as eloquent as other letters with the same view that were published), but a great response was published on 7 January 2013 by Roy Robbins-Browne of Melbourne Uni, which is definitely worth reading in detail.
Although it delves into ulterior motives of Mr Spooner and using minority opinion to inform public policy, it also comments on the often used “16 years of no warming” argument (usually used by Andrew Bolt and like-minded commentators) that Spooner used, and Craig Kelly used in his article I commented on earlier, and how such tactics of cherry picking data is used by those attempting to frame the evidence to their own belief.
Robbins-Browne also explains in the limited space he had the complicated process that is the scientific method and how it is used to advance what we understand about the world around us. It is this process that anyone wanting to investigate the basis of human knowledge in any area of science must be aware of and understand, and it is the avoidance of participating in this process, and instead using the media or other outlet to publish an opinion, that must set the context for any such piece that proposes an alternative to scientific consensus.