Sunday, January 1, 2012

Skeptical of the Skeptics

One thing I constantly run into when talking about climate science is self-styled skeptics, who, we are given to believe, are the true custodians of science because they are “skeptical” whereas actual scientists are, we are led to believe, na├»ve simpletons who believe everything they’re told and follow the herd without question.

One example of this phenomenon is the “rogue scientist” who apparently possesses a unique wisdom, inaccessible to others in the field. A prime example of this is Steven Levitt’s pair of books, Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, that purport to overturn conventional wisdom in a large number of fields (OK, he’s an economist not a scientist, but he still presents as a “rogue”). This stuff is entertaining reading, but it is it really such a challenge to convention?

American Scientist has a thoughtful article on some of the errors of these two books; I recommend that anyone enamoured of the rogue scientist meme read this article. It’s also well worth reading Raymond Pierrehumbert’s (aka Raypierre) rather thorough debunk of one point in SuperFreakonomics.

Sadly, it’s a lot easier to spew out a long stream of pseudo-facts and incorrect science than to debunk that sort of thing. One final piece of holiday reading: understand what a Gish Gallop bogus debating tactic is.

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