While empiricism is an insufficient model for science, while not everything reduces to statistics, empiricism offers cover for a certain kind of pseudo-scientific denialism.
Here’s the comment:
What takes five long and laugable pages could’ve been distilled to an honest few sentences:
Since we have no clear way to measure the effect of land-ice melt on sea-level, and, indeed, no reliable way to measure “global” sea levels at all; and, further, only the most primitive models of how such melt might be occuring and what its consequences might be, we can only say that with regard to these phenomena we have no scientific understanding whatsoever and can therefore make no predictions of any kind.”
And indeed the “scientists” in the article are obliged to say such things, over and over. Except when they extra-scientifically announce that, despite their total and complete ignorance and admittedly utterly primitive grasp of these phenomena, they “feel” that things are “bad” and “getting worse all the time.”
There’s more; that’s just the polite part. Yes, I love being called a scare-quote scientist. Nothing better to start a conversation on an even keel. Of course, that isn’t the intent, is it?
But look at what’s being said. This is Watts Up technique asea; the measurements are uncertain; therefore they might as well not exist; therefore there is no cause for concern!
Does one have to answer this sort of reasoning? Dress anything in high enough dudgeon and it sound plausible at first reading.
But no, if sea levels go up two meters we won’t have any doubt about it, any more than if global mean temperature goes up 5 C. If there are inaccuracies in the precursor information, that does not mean there is no information available at all. And even if there were no empirical evidence whatsover, that doesn’t invalidate the concern, because there is already no empirical evidence whatsover that the concern is invalid.
So this is an example of how the perfectly ordinary scientific concept of uncertainty gets conflated with the nasty irrationalism of denialism.
So here’s a piece by Matt McCormick that examines this turf:
But the nature of this impulse is coming into focus with recent efforts in empirical psychology. Geoffrey Munro of Towson University recently showed that when we are confronted with scientific, empirical evidence that challenges a position we favor, we are more likely to reject science altogether and claim that it cannot be employed to address questions of that type at all. The Scientific Impotence Excuse: Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts. Munro took test subjects with views about stereotypes, such as homosexuality. Subjects were tested beforehand to determine what views they held. Then they were given fake abstracts of scientific studies that purported to either prove or disconfirm the stereotype. So some studies indicated that homosexuals had a higher rate of mental illness, for example, while others indicated that their rate of mental illness was lower. Not surprisingly, the subjects who read abstracts that supported their preconceived views concluded that their views had been vindicated. But something remarkable happened with the the subjects who had their prior views challenged. Rather than acknowledge that they were mistaken and change their minds, these subjects were much more likely to conclude that proving (or disproving) the thesis simply couldn’t be done by science. They rejected science itself, rather than give up their cherished idea.
Their charges are in need of protection; they need their faith strengthened against doubts that would undermine them. Sermons, prayers, devotionals, and cermonies serve to fortify beliefs and behaviors in them that would not be sustained otherwise. Doubt, criticisms, and objections are the point of the scientific method. Finding reasons to reject a hypothesis makes it possible for us to make some provisional claims about what is true. Without some methodological procedure for vetting hypotheses and separating the good from the bad, we can’t claim to have any justification for them. The method of doubting is what justifies and keeps the floodgates of failed views closed.
Insidiously, failing to doubt is the charge increasingly hurled at us.
As Oreskes points out, it’s very common for the opposition to hurl charges that describe themselves! It’s hard to answer. No, you’re stubborn and gullible, not me. Are too!
But the credulity is not ours. We actually know the difference between uncertainty and ignorance. And yet, people who might realistically have been expected to be allies are being convinced that all we are doing is being stubborn and closedminded. We are politically outclassed. We are a pickup street team playing on professional turf. Their job is too easy, and I don’t think recent developments change this much.
But they’re still wrongheaded and foolish. The fact that they have won the year and look to win the decade is nothing to celebrate.