Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

HOW TO BE A SCEPTIC - Part Two

The Straw Man

When someone claims that scientists are saying something and then goes on to produce graphs or other evidence proving them wrong a true sceptic will consider if scientists are actually saying what is claimed and if the graphs and evidence presented actually relate to those claims.

A good example to consider recently appeared on Steve Goddard's, rather optimistically called, 'Real Science' blog.

He claims that there is 'No Correlation Between Arctic Ice And Northern Hemisphere Snow Extent'.
To support this he first says that 'the climate science community (are) claiming that the extensive snow cover this year is due to a lack of Arctic ice', then shows graphs of Arctic ice extent and Snow extent, which indeed looks as if there is little relation between the two.




Lets learn to be sceptical.

The first concern for a real sceptic is that there is no reference to the 'climate science community's' claims. Indeed it is almost inconceivable that research has been done and peer reviewed for this winter during this winter. So who knows exactly what Goddard is referring to but I suspect that it is this which is linked from another post on his site.

It talks about the climatologist Kevin Trenberth, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist, who is in turn talking about 'some German work that suggests the cold outbreak pattern might somehow be stimulated by reduced Arctic Sea Ice.', Trenberth goes on to say 'I have not seen the study but count me skeptical.'

 Does this sound like claims from the 'climate science community' when even this scientist is sceptical? And so scientists should be if they haven't even seen the research.

The second thing we should be sceptical is that Goddard first refers to 'extensive snow cover this year is due to a lack of Arctic ice' but his graph shows Arctic Ice Extent. Without seeing the German research it is difficult to know if it is about snow cover and ice extent or snow cover and the actual amount (volume or mass) of ice. I suspect Goddard hasn’t even seen the research and is making some rather large assumptions about what this research might show and how well supported it’s claims will be.

But I suspect that Goddard’s assumption is more likely. A theory that the extent of snow somehow correlates with the extent of ice sounds the most plausible although both sea ice extent as can be seem from Goddard’s graph and ice mass as are both in decline. Though it should be noted that science deniers often claim there is no decline but seem content to use graphs that show different if they think it can be used to make some other denailist point.

The third and most serious thing to be sceptical about is Goddard’s graphs. The real problem with the first graph is that it shows no trend line and shows just the extent for a single week - Week 49, which I assume is the first week in December but he then tries to compares this with the Arctic ice extent for the whole month of November! No really I’m serious, just look.

Are you Sceptical yet? It would take far to much effort to sort this mish mash out to see if there is anything in it particularly since it is not apparent what he is basing his 'climate science community' claims on, and if it is the particular piece of German research that the 'climate science community' is actually sceptical of.

But out of interest I did look for a graph for snow extent that did have a trend line and found this from here;


 It does at least show that snow cover has declined over time just as sea ice extent has. Of course this doesn’t really prove anything since we don’t really know anything about the claims of the of the ‘climate science community’, but neither does Goddard’s post.

Which type of pill should be developed next?


I was a Christian and somewhat anti-gay, after all it was what I was told I had to believe in. Hate the sin but not the sinner. I was never nasty to gay people, I’m not a nasty type of person, but I used to make comments, jokes and innuendos. I thought I was being funny and maybe I was in some cases as most gay people have terrific humour but looking back I know I was the idiot. I have since lost my faith, and understand that choosing to be gay is like choosing eye colour. I feel so much better in myself than I did when I believed and loosing my homophobia is part of that. I know now that if any of my children came to me a told me they were gay I would not only accept it but support them.

There are only a few words in scripture that condemn homosexuality but they have caused so much misery for thousands of years, surly the day will soon come when they will be regarded in the same light as slavery, stoning to death for blasphemy and the like.
Now I am completely shocked at the attitudes that still exist. I know that there are some complete nut jobs about with backward and shameful thinking. This type of person seems to REALLY believe that gay people have chosen to be gay and they could choose to be straight? Is homosexuality an illness or disease than needs to be cured or perhaps a round of psychotherapy is in order?

This leads me to the most disgusting things a ‘Christian’ said to me and it was all the more sinister because of their stated sympathy for gays.


It was about the possibility of the development of a ‘make me hetero pill’ so gays can be normal. I found this a most evil and disturbing thing to say. If gay people are not attracted to the opposite sex, why would they want a pill to change that any more than a heterosexual people would want a pill to make them attracted to the sex they are not attracted to?
 


 When these people have developed the ‘make me hetro pill’ which other pills do you think should be next? Make me impotent until marriage pill?, an anti-contraceptive pill?, a never ever consider the possibility of abortion pill? a believe in no gods but me pill?

I don't believe there is no gods, I have no belief in gods.


One thing I get a lot from believers is that they really don't get Unbelief. It seems a foreign concept for a believer to imagine people that do not believe in some equivalent to the beliefs they hold. It often manifests itself in claims that atheism is just another belief. Sometimes I get accused of not believing and I often correct them by saying  it isn't that I don't believe, it is that I have no belief. The difference between not believing and having no belief may be subtle but for me it is important

If you will indulge me in telling a story inspired by the late Carl Sagan I will attempt to make things clear.


I have fairies at the bottom of my garden. 

I seriously make this assertion to you and being open minded you say “Show me.” 
I take you into the garden and you see the bottom of it – some grass and a hedge. “Where are the fairies?”
I say, “Oh I forgot to tell you, they are invisible fairies.” 
You propose some tests, “Can we put some powder down so we can see their tracks?”
“Wont work, fairies can fly and rarely land”. 
“Can we use some sort of infrared or UV detector or camera?”. 
“Wont work, fairies will only show themselves if they wish it”. 
“How about throwing a net over them?”. 
“No good, fairies are ethereal and the net would just pass through”. 
On it goes, every physical test you propose I tell you why it won’t work.

Now what is the difference between an invisible flying, ethereal fairy and no fairy at all? Claims that cannot be tested and assertions immune to disproof are worthless, regardless of whatever values they may have inspired in me. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing in fairies at the bottom of my garden, in the absence of evidence, and on my say so. The only thing you know for sure is that something is going on in my head and if no tests apply what convinced me?

However you want to be scrupulously open minded so you don’t reject it outright but put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it but you are prepared to examine any new body of evidence. Surely it is unfair for me to be offended by you because you do not believe, or to criticise you for being closed minded or unimaginative?

Now suppose it is not just me. Millions of people who could never have met each other all believe there are fairies at the bottom of their gardens. They cant all be lunatics and ‘evidence’ starts to appear. People show marks in their garden made by fairy feet, and photos start to appear that claim to show the little creatures. But this never happens with sceptics present and all the evidence could have occurred some other way or even been faked. Such evidence is far from compelling – you think the only sensible thing to do is to again reject the ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ hypothesis, but to be open to future physical data and to wonder what might cause so many apparently sane and sober people to share the same apparent delusion.

Now I suspect that unless you do believe there are fairies at the bottom of gardens you are a fairy atheist. Would you say that you do not have any belief in fairies, or that you believe fairies do not exist? I admit it is a fine line, but to not believe in fairies could mean you do believe there is a unicorn at the bottom of the garden.

It’s more correct to state you have no belief in fairies as it better infers that you probably have no belief in other mythical creatures like most fairy atheists. Having no belief means you have not been convinced. Believing their isn't fairies suggests that what ever evidence you have seen has convinced you to not believe. This concept is often difficult and alien for believers to conceptualise. If someone tells a believer he believes their god does not exist, it would be understandable for the believer to think this person believes in another god or gods or some equivalent. If someone tells a believer they have no belief in god, (a more atheistic statement), then it would be normal to assume this covers all possible deities but they are still open to evidence.

Back to you being a fairy atheist. Because you do not believe in fairies have you suddenly become part of an alternative belief system about the existence of fairies? Of course not. Do you now have a lot more in common with other fairy disbelievers? Perhaps similar morals and ethics? No that would be absurd. There are plenty of books written by people about fairies including by other unbelievers like you. You may be interested in reading them to see what they say about the ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ phenomenon. Are these books part of a creed for fairy unbelievers? Are they your holy books forming part of religious cannon? No, that would be completely ridiculous.



7 finger prints of Man Made climate Change.

Taken from this the  Climate Progress site that also includes these graphics and much more information;

1) Fossil fuel signature in air and coral.

2) Less heat escaping out into space.

3) The Ocean warming pattern.

4) Nights warming faster than days.

5) More heat is returning to earth.

6) Winter warming faster.

7) Cooling upper atmosphere.


Thinking about No. 4 and perhaps 5, nights warming faster than days is an indication of GHG increased warming. Many climate skeptics argue that the Sun is the cause of our increased planetary warming but surely a signature of solar warming would be the opposite and days would warm faster than nights?

Anyway, all these 'finger prints' seem well supported by empirical evidence and research and most were predicted to happen as a result of AGW BEFORE they were detected. It is also worth noting that none rely on computer modelling which seems to be a catch all reason for many to reject the science.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Is the Sink sunk?

The ocean is losing it's appetite for carbon. The total uptake of carbon is declining

 One of the most concerning pieces of research to come out in the last year or so is the news that the Ocean uptake of Co2 seems to be declining.

About two thirds of all emitted Co2 is absorbed by the oceans, offsetting the effects our emissions have been having on the atmosphere. This is causing concern in its self because it causes the oceans to become less alkaline and more acidic over time and the altered chemistry can affect ocean life - a process known as Ocean Acidification.

But oceans cannot absorb carbon dioxide indefinitely, there must come a point of saturation when it stops or even emits - a tipping point. It seems unclear when this point will be reached but the latest research suggest that a decline has started which means a larger fraction of our emission will go directly into affecting the atmosphere.

More reports on this effect can be found here and here.

Gods verses Unicorns


"It has not been demonstrated that there is a God nor has it been demonstrated that there is not a God therefore it is equally true that there may or may not be a God."

This was actually said to me once – and seems a fairly standard argument that tries to sound logical while still allowing belief in the un-provable. But this is a complete fallacy that is used by theists so often in arguments that even atheists often accept it.


 Just because something can not be demonstrated either way does not make the chances of one being true equal to the other. You cannot demonstrate that there unicorns or there are not unicorns. Can you say there is an equal chance that there may or may not be unicorns? Of course not. The chance of unicorns existing outside imagination is very small. Evidence is required to demonstrate anything and the evidence to demonstrate the existence of unicorns is about the same as the evidence that there is a god.


So the chances of a god existing cannot be anywhere near 50% or even higher, no matter how much some may wish it. The odds of these are not equal to a heads/tails of a coin flip. If it were true then we would all live in fear every full moon because there is a 50% chance of werewolves on the prowl.

Some might say; ’It is not about unicorns or werewolves, it is about god’. OK put god into the same logic. What has changed? What special insight, revelation, or knowledge do we have that makes one supernatural being more likely to exist than another and even having a 50% chance of existing in reality?

Ban all fundamentalist religions!


Clearly I think religious fundamentalist a problem so shouldn’t we just ban any & ALL religions that preach hate, violence etc?


Well no. The last thing we need is banning anything. There is already enough pressure from faiths to ban and censor plays, books, films etc. However individuals who preach hate' should be banned although it can be a fine line between freedom of speech and breaking the law.

It is a grey area for me. I'm not sure what the law says and where it draws the line between preaching hate and freedom of speech.

On one hand I think there can be too much control. I want the right to criticise religions without fear of blasphemy laws. But on the other hand people who pose in positions of authority, especially divine authority, need to be stopped from persecution and incitement to hate. Ideally people should not be able to preach making claims that they cannot support with evidence, but the religious often reject evidence or the lack of it in favour of faith.

I have just had a great idea (well maybe not). How about a law giving the right to alternative speech? In an organised gathering any speaker must allow an opposing speaker to put forward their views. I can see a great job for atheists on Sundays down the local church!

Morals pre-date religion


A very oft used reason to justify religious belief and scripture is that is where morals are learned - this in spite of religious scriptures containing some of the most horrific and immoral events.  I argue that people do not get their morals from any deity or scripture but that the basic foundations are evolved and ingrained in most of us from birth.

 
I stole this from another site about moral dilemmas:

Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank space with “obligatory,” “permissible,” or “forbidden.

  1. A runaway boxcar is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the boxcar onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is ______.
  2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond, and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child, she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _______.
  3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical condition, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time to request organs from outside the hospital, but there is a healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes this person’s organs, he will die, but the five in critical care will survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is _______.

 If you judged case 1 as permissible, case 2 as obligatory, and case 3 as forbidden, then you are like the 1,500 subjects around the world who responded to these dilemmas. If morality is God’s word, atheists should judge these cases differently from religious people, and their responses should rely on different justifications.

For example, because atheists supposedly lack a moral compass, they should be guided by pure self-interest and walk by the drowning child. But there were no statistically significant differences between subjects with or without religious backgrounds, with approximately 90% of subjects saying that it is permissible to flip the switch on the boxcar, 97% saying that it is obligatory to rescue the baby, and 97% saying that is forbidden to remove the healthy man’s organs.





When asked to justify why some cases are permissible and others forbidden, subjects are either clueless or offer explanations that cannot account for the relevant differences. Importantly, those with a religious background are as clueless or incoherent as atheists.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Godwin’s law used to explain why atheists pick on the easy targets.


I have been accused on forms and even on here of being dishonest. Essentially creating straw men by misrepresenting most Christians.

Of taking the most extreme elements of religion and holding these up for criticism and the implication that they are representative of a religious belief system. I admit I do pick on fundamentalism, the cranks and extremists, the easy targets like the Jerry Falwells, or Westboro Baptist Churches.

But is this wrong? Have I just done the same thing as accusing all shoppers of theft because there are some shop lifters?



No it isn’t wrong. The most extreme elements show how extreme it could get, the very worst case scenario.
Only looking at the good stuff with religion is like saying how good Nazis were. How they had great youth groups that the kids really enjoyed. How splendid the uniforms were. How they really helped their communities and the country – which is all true but overlooks all the bad that exists and the bad that could potentially occur.

It also highlights that the Nazis rarely criticised themselves just as most true believers rarely openly criticise extremists of faith. They often take the attitude that an attack on those of faith, regardless of how intolerant that faith may be, is an attack them.

So it can be seen that even the shop lifting analogy does not apply to me. Few shoppers take security measures to catch and restrict theft as a personal slight on them.

So the next time someone slags of religious faith, consider what they are being critical of before defending the whole system of religious belief. Consider being critical as well if the criticisms do not represent your views rather than claiming foul by assuming that was the intent.

God in Charge? Then give some guidance.


 Religious non-believers are often asked why they have no belief or stopped believing. My short answer is to say that the world makes more sense to me without a god in it than it does with some kind of loving deity. But here is a longer answer.

Looking at the world there doesn’t seem to be a god in charge. If there is a god he either doesn’t want to get involved or he's cocked up the idea of a wondrous creation big time.

Shouldn’t a loving god stop bad people doing bad things? Stop good people doing bad things is his name? Give people clear guidelines on how to live? Tell us the point of life? But it seems all 'holy scriptures' are so open to interpretation and mis-interpretation.

But believers will claim that their god doesn’t only use scriptures to communicate with them, that he does give clear guidelines if we are ready to listen.

However this supports the point I am trying to make. If we need help from god and it is not clear in scripture then we should expect clear guidelines from the other methods of communication. Do we get them?


Abortion’ contraception, the death penalty, homosexuality, woman’s rights, helping the poor, starving and afflicted, gays and women’s place in the clergy, etc, etc, etc. Questions on these subjects are sought from religions, clergy and their congregations all over the world using scripture and other communication (prayer, meditation etc).

If god has any control or involvement then these questions should be answered – are they? Many religious people and organisations definitely believe they have answers to questions on these subjects and they are often black and white, but different between people, sects and denominations. And the answers they have received cause so much misery. Surely the answers should be the same for all, or at least the overwhelming majority should have the same guidance?

I am not asking for nor do I mean direct intervention by god. A burning bush or trumpeting angels is not needed, and I’m not suggesting any loss of free will here either, just guidance resulting in similar answers to similar questions asked of god. I can accept some differences in interpretation due to cultural background or the retelling of the guidance to others if that became necessary. I can even accept that due to personal agendas the guidance could become totally distorted in rare instances, but overall this guidance should have a very similar core message for all worshippers.

What we have in the real world are gays preaching from the pulpit and gays being stoned to death for being an abomination and everything in between all in the name of god and his ‘clear guidelines’. We have abortions deemed Ok by some faith denominations  to people working in abortion clinics being killed and girls who have had abortions being jailed for very long sentences and everything in between all in the name of god and his ‘clear guidelines’. Just to point out 2 of many possible examples.

I don’t see even the slightest evidence of guidance, but a total lack of it. So if there is a god he either is not involved or if he is involved and in control, he is doing a piss poor job. If there is a loving god in the world this makes no sense to me, but exactly how I’d expect the world to be without one.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Coldest Winter since 1910

Merry Christmas to anyone with the time to waste reading this.

Just a quick to post to highlight that according to the BBC the Met Office are now saying that this winter in Britian is set to be the coldest for a century.

A global temperature graph shows what an unexpected winter it has been;

Global Temperature Graph copied from Skeptical Science.
Looking at John Cooks graph we can see just how much an anomaly this winter is. Globally 1910 was about the coldest on record  so it could be expected to have a cold winter, while this year was pretty much the warmest.

I'm not convince but some recent reports that colder winters could be expected - it is too early to tell, but I think the last few years will be unrepresentative in the longer term and we can expect more milders winters like we have bee getting previous to the last few.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The disfigured are barred from God's sanctuary

All religious scripture contains a lot of wisdom and good sense, but there are some passages that, according to my moral compass at least, are plainly wrong or bonkers. Of course it could be argued that such passages are open to interpretation, allegorical or taken out of context. However there are some that I find difficult to take any other way that what seems to be plainly written. 

Being from a Christian culture I am more familiar with versions of the Bible and I find that such passages are rarely well known amoung Christians, even thoses who claim to have read the Bible. Either they accept the moral and ethical implications of such passages or they have found a way to ignore them or only cherry pick the bits they think are relevent and good.

One such passage that offends my morals and which I struggle to view in any other way that which seems obvious is Leviticus 21

It contains such trivial commands directly from God as, Priests must not shave and marry only a virgin.

 


To the more serious, particularly if someone is serious about their scripture in a fundamental way, with God commanding that if a Priest happens to have who becomes a prostitute they must burn them if they become prostitutes. Honour killing is therefore justified.


But the passage that should make Christians think is verses 16 to 23;

" The LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’”"

 

 

Does this mean that the disabled or disfigured can not recieve the sacrament or is my interpretation wrong?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why 'Hipocrites' Celebrate Christmas.

I can appreciated cultural traditions and celebrate them just like everyone else. I also have religious friends and family and wish to support them. I see no difference form religious people doing something special for pagan festivals like Halloween, or Hogmanay.

But perhaps for those that still consider themselves Pagan we should remember that celebrating around the winter soltice was  Christmas started off as a Pagan Festival (I have no axe to grind with Pagans) but Christians stole/adopted the date from The Pagans. Equally they should be asking;  How can Christians celebrate a Pagan Festival? Many do.
 
Well it's when the birth of Jesus is celebrated , even though it is accepted that there is no reason to believe that he was born in late December - and that by scheduling his birthday then, the Church in Rome was overwriting the winter solstice, Jewish Hanukkah and Roman Saturnalia.

The decision to go for DEC 25th was taken by Pope Julius in 350AD, before which time Christmas would not even have celebrated and the New Year was reviled by the church for its paganism.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Heretical texts

Following my previous Harry Potter post I was wondering if many people read books they might consider heretical, or do they avoid them as an ‘evil’.

I read a wide variety of material from religious to science to anti religious. But do people generally only read stuff within their comfort zone? Do atheists only read Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris or do they read books promoting faith or against un-belief. Do fundamental Christians read modern science books explaining evolution? Would general Christians consider studying the ‘Book of Mormon’ for example?

I get the impression that people without belief will read most things but those of faith only study their own texts and even fear those of others in case they are tempted or corrupted.

An example I had personally is that a read a book called ‘LIFE How Did It Get Here? By evolution or creation?’ given to be by a JW I know. At first glance it looks like a science book but soon degenerated into standard Watchtower creationist propaganda with so much bias it was childish. By the way if anyone else has read this, especially JWs and though it was well argued I would be glad to discuss its faults. In return for this book I tried to give this person a copy of ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’ by Sam Harris by they refused to even consider reading it.

I know some religions have had lists of banned books that you read at your peril but I'm not sure if this is still true. There have of course been book burning sessions in the recent past by religious groups and according to Goggle it looks like the catholic church had a list of banned books until 1966. I cant find which is the most modern books that were on this list though.

A few seasons ago the BBC programme 'Waterloo Road', a drama about a school, there was a story line where it was going to get sponsorship by an American creationist group and this led to some kids burning the 'Dark Materials' books from the school library. That suggests that we are still not far away from what I consider a nightmare scenario of book burnings and censorship.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Has RE teaching changed since 9/11?


A news report in 2007 said that teachers should include ways in which religion is not always a force for good, basically because of religiously motivated terrorist attacks like 9/11 and 7/7.

Has this happened? I only have experience of my own children’s (faith) schools and have seen no evidence of it.


I think it is well past time for RE education to be revamped to show that many faiths and even atheism exist, all can be valid choices and you need not be lumbered with the religion of your parents.

From what I remember from RE lessons we did a bit on Hinduism but other that that it was all NT stuff from a devout Christian teacher. I’m sure if made to teach that religion wasn’t always a force for good, they wouldn’t have included their faith but maybe others and probably used Islam as an example.
In a previous post I suggest that as a non-believer I thought more religious education was needed, not less or even banning it as some might expect. But my thoughts are very clear on the subject of religious education.

Religious education should be just that; Teaching children about the different religious and belief systems in the world which would also lead to the possibility of non-belief. Children should not be taught that there is a god, as I was, but that many people believe in a god or gods and in which ways they worship. I learned very little about Jewish beliefs and cannot remember Islam even being brought up in class. I hope current RE is not like this but I suspect in many cases, perhaps in faith schools, it is not too removed.

If a child learns about someone not eating certain foods, praying in a certain direction several times a day or wearing a veil, do you want them to think these people a bit weird, as I would have as a kid or do you want them to have the education to know about different religions and why they behave as they do?

Being a historically Christian country I would expect some bias toward Christianity but more as a history of Christians and the different sects within it. Children should NOT be taught religious belief in schools.
So there should be more RE taught in schools but of the type that the news item suggests. It is the teaching or preaching of a specific religion or set of beliefs than needs to end. If you are going to educate children about religions, that is exactly what it needs to be, not teaching them to believe in a specific god or dogma.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Bring Back the Dodo!

Climate Change Deniers consider re-evolution of extinct species.
The strange and irrational nature of the climate change denial argument was highlighted for me in a thread on the ironically named 'Real Science' blog.

In the discussion that followed a post about the survivability of Polar bears, one of the contributors, Tarpon, who has a blog of their own, Tarpon's Swamp, suggested that Polar Bears are just "white ‘brown bears’" and why "If polar bears disappeared, can’t we just get more brown bears to move north during the next inter-glacial?" - No seriously!

Typically of the client├Ęle that frequent this blog none thought to challenge this idea at all. Perhaps I should have but it seemed more fun not to. After all the concept that we could re-evolve extinct species if we felt the need to was such a novel and wondrously wacky one. So of course I decided to go along with it and suggested that we could put some birds on remote Islands to re-evolve the Dodo.

But this silliness does highlight a serious flaw in the deniers arguments. Even setting aside the irony that someone can dismiss AGW as a fraud by rejecting all the supporting peer reviewed science, and basic physics while completely putting faith in the Theory of Evolution to bring back extinct species - something any evolutionary biologist would find laughable, there is a glaring failure in logic of this basic type of thinking.

If AGW isn't happening then it isn't happening and any rational argument should be made using the available evidence to support this. The argument shouldn't be; AGW isn't happening but if it is then it isn't going to be much of a problem. This is a bit like saying a meteor isn't going to hit the earth next week but if it did, no problem we can always rebuild.

Clearly if AGW is happening as the scientists say, then all the changes and climate extremes it must bring is going to be a problem, but it seems that deniers in their irrationality need to deny every stage just in case they ever have to accept some part in the future.

This reminded me of a' Real Climate' post over a year ago that highlight this sort or erroneous thinking;
" (a) global warming isn’t happening,
(b) even if it is, its entirely natural and within the bounds of natural variability,
(c) well, even if its not natural, it is modest in nature and not a threat,
(d) even if anthropogenic warming should turn out to be pronounced as projected, it will sure be good for us, leading to abundant crops and a healthy environment, and
(e) well, it might actually be really bad, but hey, its unstoppable anyway."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Students not to blame for riots.


I'm not suggesting that the protesters in the recent demonstrations are not responsible for their individual actions or that they shouldn't be accountable for what they did as individuals but history will not blame them for bring anarchy to the streets of the British Capitol, any more that history blames the protesters for the Poll Tax riots 20 years ago.

The Government must take the blame for bringing riots to the streets of London.

Ironically, successive governments and political parties have for generations been trying to engage the young in politics. For many young people this has now been achieved but I doubt this is what the parties had in mind.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Do you want to spend Eternity with this man?


We can only presume that the late Jerry Falwell, who died in May 2007 and other like him are in Heaven. He certainly believed that is where he was headed along with the parishioners that this Christian evangelical fundamentalist Baptist pastor administered to.

He started the Christian Political Movement in America known as the Moral Majority a powerful group that was instrumental in electing Ronald Reagan to Office on two occasions.

Falwell attacked the Black Civil Rights Movement singling Martin Luther King out for special criticism; he attacked the anti-Apartheid Movement singling Bishop Tutu out for special criticism. And, of course, apart from Blacks he also attacked Gays, Liberals, Jews, pagans and women activists:

'In 2001 he said "that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" helped the Sept 11 attacks happen.'

Would you want to spend Eternity with him in Heaven? It sounds more like hell to spend eternity with a sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist.

Of course he may not get to Heaven, for those who believe such a place exists. Some may claim he was the wrong sort of Christian, particularly if he wasn’t part of a certain Christian grouping – the ‘true faith’. Some would claim he was a bad person, and I would agree, but and they might say "Why abandon the whole religion just because of some bad people?"

But can you say Falwell was a bad person? He was a fundamentalist who seems to have got his beliefs and morals from the bible. He was in every sense of the word a true Christian and he could justify all his statements with scripture.

So why shouldn't he go to Heaven? He lived and preached according to an interpretation of the bible. Why should his interpretation of it be less valid than other believers? A few decades ago the majority of Christians believed more or less what he preached up until his death and similar or worse is still being preached by some Christian ministers today. If they lived their lives according to it they would be expecting to be going to heaven and the person they pray to every day isn’t telling them any different.

Remember that Falwell was not a one man band either. He had supporters and plenty of Christians agreed with him. They will also be expecting to be going to heaven by following their version of Christian belief. Why should a more modern and moderate version of Christianity be better or be right? He obeyed the Bible. Just because our ethics have changed in the last 2000 years has Gods? And his interpretation is more in keeping with Christianity’s of the last 2000 years.

So it might be expected that anyone who gets their morals and ethics from the bible should end believing like the Late Pastor Falwell. He lived his life according to the scriptures. What I mean is that his version is more similar to the one that led to the burning of heretics, inquisition, crusades and numerous other examples from Christianity since roman times.

'Nice' Christians cherry pick the bible for all the nice bits. Fundies like Jerry Falwell are true to the spirit of the whole book. I'm sure he would have said he loves everyone, which is why he is doing homosexuals the favour or pointing out if they don't change their ways they will go to hell. He certainly wasn’t expecting to be there to meet them.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Who voted for this idiot?

Roger Helmer, Conservative MEP for the East Midlands constituency

As reported in the Guardian, Conservative MEP for the East Midlands constituency, Roger Helmer has launched a £9000 anti-climate change poster campaign.

A political poster campaign is nothing new but this one is launched at a time when there are no elections and no votes to gain. So why has he done it? It seems the only reason is because in coincides with the UN climate talks in Cancun Mexico. But that still does not explain why. None of the people he represents as an MEP can influence those talks which he is attending.

So what about the funding for the posters? The £9000 cost is coming a European Conservative group known as the ECR which gets it's funds entirely from the EU Parliament. And of course that is funded by its member states paid by taxes form us!

My title of this post is being somewhat disingenuous to voters. Many may not have really voted for idiot at all as we often don't know much about our candidates and vote in reality for their parties. But the views expressed by Helmer do not represent either the Conservative Party, the ECR, or Conservative MEPs as a group. As the Guardian reports; "This does not represent the view of the Conservative Party."

Helmer's £9000 poster. Someone on CIF has suggested that the Green text be replaced by 'Roger Helmer'. I think I agree.


So what we have is one maverick MEP, (and I don't mean that in any romantic way), who is spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers money to buy advertising space to promote his own unsound beliefs and theories.

Now don't get me wrong. I understand that any country's commitment or legalisation to do any thing about climate change is going to get political. I have no problem with politicians thrashing out policy whether domestic or international and a poster campaign is a valid way for any political group to publicise it's views and policies. I have no problem with that as long as their response is based on need determined by sound science. But that is not the case here, Helmer is speaking for no one other than himself when he talks about climate change. Every taxpayer in the EU regardless of their views on climate change should be appalled that our money is being spent on a personal campaign like this, it is a misappropriation of funds.

I think the most interesting question the Guardian reports asks is;  'in what capacity has Helmer travelled to Canc├║n?' He is clearly not representing his party and holds no environmental position in the EU parliament. Unless he has personally funded his whole expedition and claims no parliamentary expenses, then that will be another misappropriation of funds. Add that to the fact that he has left the country during this time, even if it is simply a coincidence and he is on holiday, it is still a dereliction of his parliamentary duties.

Why my outrage? If all of the above isn't enough to be going on with, I am one of his constituents. Roger Helmer, MEP, is my representative in the European Parliament! I wonder is it possible for me as one of his constituents to issue an FOI request to determine exactly what he was doing in Cancun Mexico at this time and how much if any were his expenses?

I feel a strongly worded letter to my MEP coming on.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Biblical authority for abortion.


Abortion is one of the most contentious subjects in the science/religion debate for some people of faith, along with evolution and homosexuality.



Being from Christian origin I was always totally against it. Now as a non believer I no longer have my Christian belief as a guide and if I claim rationality I must consider other evidence for guidance.  

I can no longer see it as a black and white issue but generally I’m against abortion. It should not be used as a form of contraception and there seems to be plenty of childless couples of good standing who would adopt unwanted children, rather than see them aborted.

But there are many scenarios where I could not claim any moral superiority to say if abortion was justified or not, I’m just thankful that I am not in the position where I need to make any decision. Abortion is an unpleasant fact of life whether planned or unplanned. The morality is an open topic and I would not presume to think I have answers but to get those morals from copper and iron age books when we have another 2000 or more years of ethical debate and medical advancement is a very sad thing to contemplate.

I accept that life begins at conception – that is simple logic.
But for the religious, when does the foetus have a soul and therefore human?
You may again think at conception but is this logical?

Many zygotes (the initial ball of cells that develop after conception) split into 2 and become identical twins. If the soul is present at conception the do twins have the same soul? Obviously not.

And when there are 2 zygotes present they do not always become non identical twins but can combine and can become a single individual known as a chimera. Does a Chimera have 2 souls – again obviously not.

However, from my new un-Christian perspective I began to wonder if there really was any Biblical authority on abortion. The Bible does not comment directly on abortion, even though abortion was practiced then. All Biblical arguments on abortion are indirect and open to interpretation, and debate continues even among the world's most respected theologians.

The most cited verse is the Commandment ‘Thy should not kill’, but it is difficult to believe that abortion was in mind when that was brought down from the mountain. The ‘killing’ is clearly very selective because there is plenty of it in the name of God from that point in the Bible, including pregnant women;

Hosea 13:16 (King James) Samaria will bear her guilt because she has rebelled against her God.
They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to pieces,  and their pregnant women ripped open. 

Nice.

Also I believe that according to Jewish Law which was in force in the Old Testament, a baby is not considered to be living until thirty days after its birth. One is not allowed to observe the Laws of Mourning for an expelled foetus and these Laws are not applicable for a child who does not survive until its thirtieth day. In fact, the Jews, who are famous for their preservation of tradition, have never considered abortion to be a sin. This makes some kind of sense when considering the high rates of child mortality in the Bronze Age.

Exodus 21:22-23 (New Living Translation) seems to support this;

22 “Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely.  If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve. 23 But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life,

It seems to say that the assailant's life and the stillborn's life are not equal so is proof that the Bible does not count the foetus as a person. It could be argued that it does not explicitly say that the further injury only includes the woman but Jews, who know their own tradition best, have always accepted the first interpretation

There may be some other biblical passages that could be interpreted as being against abortion but there isn’t anything specific that I can find. So it seems that the generally Christian concept that abortion is murder is not very will supported in scripture, and although it is a difficult topic, when considering specific cases perhaps a less fundamentally religious view is called for. One that looks rationally at the issues and ethics and considers the views of those involved to help them make an informed decision rather than dictate what others consider must be so.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

I am a Climate Sceptic, and I Accept the Science

I am a sceptic, and I accept the science. There is no contradiction in that statement.

Accepting science and being a skeptic does not mean accepting every piece of research published, - you would for ever flip flop your understanding from one likelihood to another.

It does not mean rejecting things you simply don't want to hear or can't handle.

It means accepting that the most likely is also the most supported by the researchers and their interpretation of the data.

It means not being so arrogant that you think you know better than specialist experts, particularly when most broadly agree.

It means accepting the general direction and conclusions of all the separate threads of evidence.

The only real way to do this is to accept statements from the scientific communities on a subject, while being sceptical of research than contradicts this and highly sceptical, but not immediately dismissive of, evidence from non-expert sources like unqualified blogs and media reports.

It means not accepting something just because it is what you want to hear.

It means not dismissing sound science that adds to our understanding because it contradicts your most cherished beliefs.

It does means rejecting anything that is only supported by the unqualified, or pseudo-science or conspiracy theory, or even conspiracy unless extremely well evidenced.

I accept where the science points. I can never be wrong by doing this because if the research reveals evidence that modifies our understanding, then that is still what I will accept.

If the worlds national science academies start to issue statements saying that AGW is over blown, that is what I will accept. Or if the scientific community band together to declare climatology is using unsound methodologies, then that is what I will accept.

There is a problem if you already believe that AGW is over blown or climate scientists are untrustworthy without real, credible and irrefutable evidence to support this.

That isn't scepticism. It is belief supported by ignorance.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Chinese wispers disprove global warming.

It doesn't take much for most climate skeptics to un-skeptically accept some stories - apparently just telling them what they want to hear will do. It also doesn't help that the standard of most of the worlds reporting media is so, so awful. Most journos are happy to take the lazy way out and rehash others stories, spinning them for effective headlines without backtracking to confirm sources. And so the Chinese whispers start.

A recent and revealing example of this was reported on the RealClimate blog. An interview with a Polish climatologist about a hypothetical, but presently unlikely breakdown in gulf stream circulation, which would cause server winter in the northern hemisphere, results in a shoddy article entitled 'Scientists warn that awaits us, "Winter Millennium"'. This is re-reported, without any apparent checking of the source until it morphs in to claims of "Coldest winter in 1,000 years on its way". 



It is picked on by the 'skeptical' blogger  Anthony Watts on his blog 'Watts Up With That?, which will be known forthwith as 'Watts Wrong With That?' The premise of this is apparently that if this winter is really cold in the north, the coldest for 1,000 years even, then there can't be global warming.


Of course the real irony is that the climate 'skeptic' was not at all skeptical of this report and one of the main reasons that the gulf stream might alter would be due to fresh water melt caused by climate change.



Sunday, 5 December 2010

Web publishing is a poor substitute for peer review.

Every so often, too often to my mind, a piece of 'research' appears on the web that has science deniers pushing as evidence that supports all their misconceptions.This web publishing circumvents the very corner stone of science publication, peer review. This doesn't usually seem to be a problem for the deniers, in fact many claim that peer review is overrated or flawed, but rather than than try to offer something better they just dismiss it in favour of just about any sciency looking stuff that confirms their anti-science bias.

One such 'research paper' was about the intensity and frequency of hurricanes by the well know climatologist Les Hatton;
http://www.leshatton.org/Documents/Hurricanes-are-not-getting-stronger.pdf


OK you got me, Mr Hatton isn't a climatologist but the lack of appropriate qualification is no barrier to those that need something to call research that supports their beliefs, but this paper was being pushed at me on a forum as good science.


I shouldn't have been surprise by some people taking this ‘paper’ seriously that isn’t by a climatologist and isn’t peer reviewed.

I always give such things a wide birth, because if it was good science it would not be self published. When I do get involved in looking at such ‘evidence’ I always regret it as it quickly becomes apparent that my time has been wasted and the flaws are obvious to anyone who truly thinks critically.

Yet against my better judgement I decided to see what all the fuss was about. So here is my appraisal of the paper and why, as Dr Hatton agrees, it is un-publishable. Don’t take my word for anything I say, I admit to being completely unqualified in climate science – however that may make me as qualified as Hatton himself.

First strange thing is that Hatton seems to be a true academic but does not appear to have used this to any advantage. I’m certain he must have published in his own field at least so he must me well aware of the quality of material needed to get published in a peer reviewed journal but he does not make any attempt to do so here. Also if he contacted scientists working in climatology there is a good chance he would get replies and answers to any queries he had about the IPCC conclusions – he does not appeared to have done this.

The paper looks at 6 statements made by the IPCC and compares them to his own analysis of some of the raw data.

Here is the first problem, the IPCC statements are made based on many papers all of which are available and referenced in WG1. I have only looked at Chapter 3;

Among the hundreds of references I can find over 60 that relate to hurricanes, cyclones or storms. All of which use much more detailed analysis than Hatton uses. Basically if he wants to compare his analysis with that expressed by the IPCC he needs to use the same data sets, like for like, – or have a very good reason for not doing so. I suspect any journal considering this for publication would expect that at least.

There is no evidence that he has read any of these papers or understands how the IPCC conclusions were arrived at. Why should his simple graphing and analysis be more credible than any of the papers published by researching climatologists?

His conclusions are also lacking.

Conclusion 1, he agrees with the IPCC but adds “this is only a return to the level of activity it had in the 1950s and 1960s after a 25 year period of relatively low activity from around 1970.”
But his analysis does not look at much before then. On what basis can it be said to be a return? There is data going back to 1851 for this area, and scientists say that the data is fairly good for the last 100 years. So why hasn’t he used as a check before making such a conclusion?


NASA and PEW appear to have and do not conclude as he does;

FREQUENCY OF ATLANTIC HURRICANES DOUBLED OVER LAST CENTURY; CLIMATE CHANGE SUSPECTED
About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago, according to a new statistical analysis of hurricanes and tropical storms in the north Atlantic. The study concludes that warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and altered wind patterns associated with global climate change are fueling much of the increase."

Is the frequency of hurricanes increasing?

Globally (not just in the North Atlantic), there is an average of about 90 tropical storms every year. According to the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4), globally "[t]here is no clear trend in the annual numbers [i.e. frequency] of tropical cyclones."
However, in the North Atlantic there has been a clear increase in the frequency of tropical storms and major hurricanes. From 1850-1990, the long-term average number of tropical storms was about 10, including about 5 hurricanes. For the period of 1998-2007, the average is about 15 tropical storms per year, including about 8 hurricanes. This increase in frequency correlates strongly with the rise in North Atlantic sea surface temperature, and recent peer-reviewed scientific studies link this temperature increase to global warming.


Conclusion 2, he dismisses on the basis that climate models were used – “Climate models are corrupted by unquantifiable errors. This could be due to inadequate physics, software error or both.”

He is a software specialist; shouldn’t he be more specific about what the problems are? Shouldn’t he give some evidence that what he claims is actually the case?

And yet the IPCC conclusion was that “The observed increase in hurricane intensity is *LARGER* than climate models Predict”. So it seems that if there is anything wrong with the models it is to err on the side of conservative estimates.

Conclusion 3 – Agrees with the IPCC.

Conclusion 4, he claims the IPCC has made “a worryingly incorrect statement”. But that is only based on the data sets he used and with no input form any one qualified in climatology. Here is where his lack of qualifications lets him down. As a respected academic he could try to contact the authors of the relevant chapter of WG1 AR4 or the authors of the papers it was based on and ask on what basis such a conclusion was drawn. This again is the least that a journal would expect before publishing a paper stating that other research could not actually be confirmed.

Conclusion 5 & 6 suffer from exactly the same problems as conclusion 4. They were made based on his limited data and climate knowledge. He has made no attempt to qualify the IPCC statements and on which basis they were reached.

So for a paper that is aimed at confirming or refuting statements made based on many published science papers it apparently fails to look at any of the evidence presented in them, and his conclusions are based on an analysis of  very narrow data, both in quantity and time frame, without seeking any input from those who are experienced in the subject. He also dismisses, without presenting any evidence, climate models that may have been used in some of the many papers that the IPCC conclusions are a summary off.

Yet his paper in un-publishable, simply because no effort has been made to write to anything near the required standard for a credible journal to consider.

I do of course welcome any thoughts and opinions on the issues I have raised.