Monday, August 8, 2011

Ignoring Salby: An apology

A certain Professor Murry Salby has become the toast of the denialosphere after a talk in which he gives academic CPR to the long-flatlined myth that natural sources account for the recent rise in CO2 concentrations.

Along the way he revisits other "skeptical" golden oldies, arguing that CO2 has a short residence time, and slipping in the old non sequitur that human CO2 emissions are a small fraction of the "emissions" from natural sources.

Despite the fact that these points have been more or less done to death, despite the fact that there is no publication to refer to (one is promised soon) and no slides from the talk (an inexplicable and frankly dodgy omission) Salby has been everywhere. The Mothership. Jo Novo's virtual antiscience coffee klatsch (come to think, she's entertaining. Added to the denier blogroll.) Judith Curry, most bizarrely, gave it a quickly infamous "Wow."

Aside from the System Lords of Psuedoskepticism, the minor Goa'uld of denial are in full on dittohead mode: Bishop Hill, Andrew Bolt, and plenty of obscure bloggers you've probably never heard of (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Takedowns have quickly followed, including a bracing post from Open Mind, a takedown from Deltoid, and a typically devastating off-the-cuff analysis from Gavin Schmidt.

And so of course you must ask, why not me? Where is my enthusiastic, amateurish analysis upon which the true climate change news junkie has come to depend after they have read literally everything else on offer? Well, I'll confess: I haven't listened to the lecture, and I'm not going to. I'm not willing to waste an hour of my life on a lecture in which the lecturer spends much of their time explaining slides I can't see. It's one thing to spend precious hours of your life on repetitive, nonsensical, anti-intellectual, oft-refuted crap. That's what we do here; it's right on the masthead. But to waste time on an argument without being able to see any of the evidence or data -- no. That's a bridge to nowhere too far. Call me when he posts his slides.

Let's talk about the reaction for a minute, though. The reaction we can see. The reaction tells us a lot. The first thing it tells us is that good or bad, original or hackneyed retread, we're in for many, many repetitions of this argument. Once a piece of nonsense has circulated through Watts Curry Jo Novo et al, deniers will be repeating it endlessly, as fact, for years to come. Congressmen will endorse it. The bellignorant will throw it in the faces of their opponents and demand to know why the sublime Truth of Selby which overturns the entire Global Warming Conspiracy is being suppressed.

So Selby is going to be around. For a long -- long -- time. So once he produces his slides, there will be time to review his argument. In the meantime, note the way Selby has effortlessly breathed life into two or three hoary denier myths, despite being up against mountains of empirical evidence wielding nothing more than slides which he will not show us.

This is happening because for all their noise about the nobility of dissent from the consensus and the folly of appeals to authority, deniers recognize the tremendous importance of scientific credentials in determining credibility on scientific matters. And so when a professor who has published climate science arrives on the scene and says something "skeptical," it doesn't matter if his evidence is alien telepathic communications or Egyptian hieroglyphs he has discovered in his mash potatoes. He is instantly a star.

Which is fine -- we should be more interested in what climate scientists have to say about climate science than the ill-informed amateurs that form most of a "skeptic's" daily caloric requirement of misinformation. But the hypocrisy is thick. If they are so easily seduced by an argument with literally nothing to support it but the speaker's identity as a climate scientist, how can they justify ignoring the vast majority of climate scientists who are telling them AGW is real and dangerous?

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