The illogic of blaming man

The physicist Freeman Dyson, in a slightly tetchy email exchange with the Science Editor of the Independent news paper, argues that the IPCC’s alarm about warmer temperatures is due to dogmatic overconfidence in the projections of some poor models.

“My impression is that the experts are deluded because they have been studying the details of climate models for 30 years and they come to believe the models are real. After 30 years they lose the ability to think outside the models. And it is normal for experts in a narrow area to think alike and develop a settled dogma. The dogma is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. In astronomy this happens all the time, and it is great fun to see new observations that prove the old dogmas wrong. Unfortunately things are different in climate science because the arguments have become heavily politicised. ” Extract from The Independent

No doubt, climate modelling will improve as knowledge of climate change improves. But I can agree with Dyson that the IPCC’s conclusions are unsound without evaluating their modelling skills because their logic is faulty and can be remedied only by an untruth.

In my course on Trade Research Methods (part of the Masters in International Trade and Development, at the University of Adelaide) I say that a researcher must be able to precis complex or detailed arguments because, among other things, a precis helps focus attention on the main premises of an argument, exposing its logical structure and, sometimes, faults.

One example I offer is a four-sentence precis is of the voluminous “Synthesis” of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report that runs to more than seventy pages of dense prose and illustrations. I argue that the summary exposes a logical gap in the IPCC’s argument that would have to be remedied by putting the word “all” (or even “all important”) at the front of the second sentence of the second item. But then, this would make this premise untrue and the conclusion unsound, despite the validity of the revised argument.

  • There has been a significant rise in the global average temperature. (Section 1.1 of AR4 Synthesis Report)
  • It is almost certain that this temperature rise has been caused by the actions of mankind. Other suggested causes have been subject to scientific evaluation and found to be either non-existent or insufficient. (Section 2.2)
  • Global temperature increases of 2 – 4 deg. C. will have many undesirable consequences, which increase in seriousness with increasing temperature rises. (Section 3.3)

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