Sceptical about Skeptic Magazine

I have always been rather a fan of Skeptic Magazine.  Sure, they are unable to spell their own name, by reference to the English language, but then again, they are entitled to write in American, since they are American. And Americans spell sceptic with a “k”. So that is all right.

But what it not all right is their massive blind spot with regard to the global warming issue. Their latest leader is How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused by Donald R. Prothero.

I looked at my calendar. No, it is not  April Fool’s Day. So what on earth is Skeptic Magazine doing publishing this sort of rot?

It starts off with the sort of error that any sceptic should be alive to:

On January 27, 2012, the Wall Street Journal ran an Opinion Editorial written by 16 people who deny the evidence of human-induced climate change. Most of the authors of the editorial were not climate scientists… Predictably, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Journal refused to run a rebuttal by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences, although a “Letter to the Editor” by 38 of the world’s leading climate scientists1 did manage to get published there. The letter pointed out the numerous lies, mistakes, and fallacies in the editorial, along with a scathing rebuke by climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, whose remarks were quoted out of context to make them seem the opposite of what he actually said. As the Trenberth et al. letter pointed out, the 16 authors of the editorial were so far out of their depth in discussing the topic that they were the “climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology.”

For Prothero (who, incidentally not a climate scientist himself, but a geologist – not there is anything wrong in that) to adopt this view is akin to him saying that medical doctors are not qualified to challenge the actual effect of chiropractice or naturopathy because they if they are not themselves qualified chiropractors or naturopaths. If might be different if the climate scientists who dominate the AGW field (“The Team” as they call themselves) had demonstrated any reliable success in their predictions; but on the contrary, the majority of their predictions – based on their theoretical models – have been gainsaid by actual observation. If I had a heart condition, and given a choice between a clique of cardiologists, the majority of whose patients had died on the slab, and a sensible dentist, I think I might take the advice of the dentist.  Or even a geologist, if he had a suitably shrewd and sceptical approach to things.

To make the same point another way, it was never remotely convincing for Catholics to disqualify Richard Dawkins for his views on religion merely because he was not an expert of the finer points of the Church’s doctrine on angels.

A real sceptic does not follow the herd, but takes a critical look at the evidence. And unhappily, Dr Prothero has not done that.

For example, he gleefully adopts what Richard Muller said about the BEST research, which was briefly advertised as supporting the notion that global temperature have continued to rise over the last decade or so (this despite the now widely accepted wisdom that temperatures have stabilised over this period). But then Dr Prothero ignores the inconvenient truth that Muller’s claim was promptly punctured by Dr Judith Curry, who was on the BEST team, viz:

Prof Judith Curry, who chairs the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at America’s prestigious Georgia Institute of Technology, said that Prof Muller’s claim that he has proven global warming sceptics wrong was also a ‘huge mistake’, with no  scientific basis.

Prof Curry is a distinguished climate researcher with more than 30 years experience and the second named co-author of the BEST project’s four research papers…

‘There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped,’ she said. ‘To say that there is detracts from the credibility of the data, which is very unfortunate.’

In fact, there is a mass of data which shows that temperatures have not continued to rise, including the BEST data itself:

Yuri Geller might tell you that this shows a rise, but a sceptic should say, “Hold on a moment: there is an anomaly here.  This data does not show a recent rise at all for the last 10 years”.

Nor it is any good for Prothero to note that several of the recent years have been among the hottest on record.  The records are quite recent, and it indubitably got hotter during the 2nd half of the 20th century, and then temperatures stabilised at that level. So obviously several of the last few years will be among the hottest on record.  Equally obviously, more CO2 than ever has been pumped into the atmosphere over the last decade, and so any model that predicts that temperatures are a direct function of CO2 emission – such that temperatures should have been rising sharply over the last decade – is flawed. If the model does not predict what actually happens, a sceptic junks the model, and looks for something different and better.

Dr Prothero is no better on the subject of corals; he says

But the whole point of the global warming evidence (as shown from ice cores) is that the delicate natural balance of carbon dioxide has been thrown out of whack by our production of too much of it, way in excess of what plants or the oceans can handle. As a consequence, the oceans are warming18 and absorbing excess carbon dioxide making them more acidic. Already we are seeing a shocking decline in coral reefs (“bleaching”) and extinctions in many marine ecosystems that can’t handle too much of a good thing.

That is just plain wrong, since we have seen clear evidence that coral thrives on large doses of carbon dioxide; see my own post on this for the references. So there has been no “shocking decline”. And why does he add the word “shocking”?  This sort of language is not science; it is proselytising.

I could go on about his errors re ice at Antarctica etc, but that is enough to report:

Could do better, Skeptic Magazine.




1 Comment

Filed under Climate

One response to “Sceptical about Skeptic Magazine

  1. For some reason which I do not understand, this comment ended up in my “About” page. But since it is gratifying (thank you, Ted), I have copied it in here:

    Ted Swart
    Thursday, 9 February 2012 at 2:55 pm (Edit)

    Have just read your superb article on your Scepticism about Skeptic magazine’s latest pro AGW rubbish. Well done indeed.

    . . Ted Swart . .

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