Why Skepticism is Important

"Nah, Mr. President. We're sure we can solve this problem in a matter of days." "Awesome. I was a bit worried about that one."

Hey, do you guys remember when there was a bit of an oil leak down south?  You know, there was an explosion on an oil platform, the deep water horizon station suffered a catastrophic failure and spewed a massive quantity of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months with little hope of stopping the deadly flow.  It was sort of a big deal at the time.  Well, a new report out states that as we all could have guessed, the administration drastically underestimated the amount of oil spilling out of the ground.  It sucks that they got the numbers so wrong, because not understanding how much oil was coming out of the ground meant that they could try a lot of solutions based on faulty evidence and that it slowed down the proper environmental response to the disaster.  But you know what the nice side of this whole problem is?  It gives us a great talking point on why skepticism is important. … continue reading this entry.

The Other “Skeptics”

Im not saying hes not necessarily a dick, but that doesnt mean hes wrong.

I'm not saying he's not necessarily a jerk, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

Our self-professed title has been popping up in the news, have you seen it?  There are skeptics going against Brits and skeptics going against the USA.  There are skeptics all over the place!  And they’re going around… denying science.  Hmmm… Maybe these guys aren’t us?  You know, there was a time when the word “skeptic” was full of negative connotations.  Skeptics were doubters, people who just wouldn’t try things because they didn’t believe in them.  And then something happened.  Do you happen to know what that thing was?  Oh yeah, it was us.  We happened.  We’d tinkered with words like “rationalist” and “bright” and figured out that painting ourselves in a way that painted everyone who wasn’t us in a negative context was probably a bad idea.  So we claimed the word “skeptic.”  We doubt.  We admit that.  Without evidence, we don’t accept claims about the world that we can test.  And it’s probably to our credit that a group of folks who want to ignore the reality of anthropogenic global warming want to claim the moniker of “skeptic” as well, now that we’ve gussied the term up.  It’s flattering!  But it’s also incredibly annoying.  So called “climate skeptics” are not using the term in the same way that we do.  They are holding onto their claims against a theory no scientifically recognized organization on the planet is going against anymore.  They’re making our name look bad all over again. … continue reading this entry.

James Randi, global warming and the meaning of skepticism


James “the Amazing” Randi is an icon of skepticism. The man has done more — over a span of several decades — to further the cause of critical thinking and to expose flimflammery of all sorts than arguably anyone else in the world, ever. That is why I was struck with incredulity and sadness yesterday when I read Randi’s latest take on global warming. He begins by stating that, contrary to scientists’ own self-image as almost preternaturally objective human beings, “religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.” Well, true, to a point. Many philosophers and sociologists of science have said that before (and documented it), but your baloney detector should go up to at least yellow alert when someone starts a commentary on global warming with that particular observation. … continue reading this entry.

I wonder if the hacker was a disgruntled ex?

1995 film, United Artists

1995 film, United Artists

When a friend directed me to the stories indicating that the webmail server for the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia was hacked, I felt like a bomb had gone off in my stomach. Private emails among scientists discussing controversial and difficult research? This is going to be a cherry-picking, anti-science, PR nightmare. After reading only one or two blog posts covering the story, I instead sat down to read the actual leaked emails in chronological order. These are cataloged and searchable! over at The Opinion Times (but I will not provide the link here, you can search it yourself).

First, my opinion on the issue of the hacking of these emails, derived after a quick discussion with a wise, open-source-loving, and somewhat idealistic friend. It is true. Your email does not belong to you. Your email that you send using your government-funded university webserver definitely does not belong to you. However, it is culturally and socially accepted that email is meant to be read by the sender and receiver only. So, yes, in the grand scheme of Web 2.0 and our technologically driven globalization, anything on the web is free and open to anyone with the means of obtaining it. But reading other people’s email is unforgivably rude. … continue reading this entry.

Science + Courtrooms = Bad Science

There’s an article in the LA Times from last week all about how the US Chamber of Commerce wants a trial about Global Warming. What’s really weird about it is that they’re calling it “The Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century,” and the thing about that is… the Scopes monkey trial is the perfect example for why this shouldn’t be in a courtroom.

John T. Scopes, circa 1925, unpublished photograph donated to the Smithsonian Institute

John T. Scopes, circa 1925, unpublished photograph donated to the Smithsonian Institute

The first weird thing about the Scopes references is that they’re being made by the members of the Chamber of Commerce. They’re trying to imply that they are the Scopes of this trial, and that the EPA is in the role of William Jennings Bryan. Well… no. To begin with, Scopes was the defendant, and not the prosecution. By going after the EPA, the Chamber of Commerce has clearly placed itself in the role of aggressor. Secondly, and more importantly, like Bryan, it is the Chamber of Commerce who are going against established science. In fact, the metaphor sort of makes perfect sense when you realize that it’s the US Chamber of Commerce that’s playing Bryan in this third adaptation of “Inherit the Wind”. … continue reading this entry.

Global Warming, Denialism, and Solipsism

In his 1637 paper, “Discourse on Method”, Réne Descartes wrote “Je pense donc je suis.”  In 1644, he would translate that phrase into Latin for his famous Principles of Philosophy, writing it as “Cogito ergo sum.” “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”  When I was in high school, I became a big fan of Descartes.  I still hold that the cogito is one of the most brilliant things to come out of philosophy.  Descartes comes to the conclusion that because your senses themselves can be fooled, your memory is fallible, anything that you experience could simply be happening inside your head.  However, Descartes also comes to the realization that if you are thinking, there must be something which you are a part of that is existing. … continue reading this entry.

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