Dembski Confirms it’s Science Envy

| 95 Comments

Over at Uncommon Descent Dr. Dembski has replied to commentators who pointed out he misrepresented climate science, especially his claim that in the 70’s

The scare back then was global cooling!

In response, Dr. Dembski quotes an article which proves he did misrepresent climate science. If that’s not enough, he goes on to make stuff up.

I draw your attention to the last clause: there was “a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s.” One would think that this would constitute “scientific evidence” for global cooling. ….. But the Principle of Methodological Counterintuitiveness tells us that this just means that the earth is getting warmer.

Well, what did we expect (and he’s probably doing it just to stir scientists up anyway). What caused people to conclude global warming was the relentless rise in temperature from the early 70’s on.

Fig.A.lrg.gif

Plot of global annual-mean surface air temperature change derived from the meteorological station network [This is an update of Figure 6(b) in Hansen et al. (2001).] Uncertainty bars (95% confidence limits) are shown for both the annual and five-year means, account only for incomplete spatial sampling of data.

What is more interesting is the continued tone of science envy, carried over from his previous article.

What allows scientists to line their pockets with our tax dollars is that science must, perforce, tell us things that we can’t figure out on our own.

Yes, yes, all those research grants go into our pockets weighs them down so much we can’t move except to type our panic-inducing screeds (I’ve dealt with this before). But weirdly, he is also envious of the counter intuitiveness of science.

But the Principle of Methodological Counterintuitiveness tells us that this just means that the earth is getting warmer. …. (a corollary of the Principle of Methodological Counterintuitiveness is that the greatness of a scientist is in direct proportion to the counterintuitiveness of his/her theories). Note that this is a methodological principle – we make it a method of science to look for the most counterintuitive theory and then baptize it as “science.

The findings of science are quite often counter-intuitive. That the Earth rotates around the Sun, that disease is caused by invisible living organisms, mass bends space (and so on and so on, don’t get me started on Quantum Mechanics)). Even in the simplest things. Ask someone to imagine they are walking along carrying a ball, and ask where the ball would land when they dropped it, most people imagine the ball would fall behind them, instead of beside them. Most of what we intuitively believe about the world is wrong.

But being counter-intuitive is not enough, these findings have to be supported by evidence. Earths rotation around the Sun is supported by the phases of Venus, Foucault’s pendulum, Stellar parallax and a whole lot more beside. A funny theory by some fusty old gent with big whiskers is accepted because of the findings of genetics, biogeography, paleontology, molecular biology and so on. And Global Warming is accepted because the world is warming.

And what about that flat bit in the warming record, from roughly 1940 to 1970? We were pumpimg out CO2 then, whey did the warming pause? Surely that flat bit is counter-intuitive. But at the same time as we were pumping out CO2, we were also pumping out a wide variety of aerosols, soot, sulfides and so on, which acted as cooling agents. In the 60’s, clean air acts were passed which reduced the input of the cooling aerosols, and the existing aerosols slowly precipitated out. by the 70’s warming started again. (actually, it’s a little bit more complicated, but lets leave the detailed stuff to Real Climate see also here and here).

The pause in warming may seem counter-intuitive, but there was a good reason for it, explained via painstakingly collected evidence. Dr. Dembski may envy us for our money (snort) and counter-intuitiveness, but the whole point of science comes back to evidence, the money we spend on experiments to produced data, and the counter-intuitiveness comes for that data of the real world confounding our expectations. Now if only the Discovery institute could get their minds around the data part of the equation.

(PS really read “How to talk to a climate skeptic”)

95 Comments

I’m beginning to understand how worrisome people like Dembski are, in that their sneering, anti-science posturing is so accepted by so much of the public. I read his stuff, having only a layman’s grasp of most subjects, see all the strawmen, ad hominems and outright lies, and wonder who can take this person seriously. He’s a self-parody.

But clearly, people do. That’s why it is so important to keep countering his potentially dangerous nonsense.

Ian Musgrave Wrote:

Well, what did we expect (and he’s probably doing it just to stir scientists up anyway).

I wonder if this might be the same political tactic being used by some Republican congressmen who apparently agree with the “birthers” about Obama’s citizenship in public but can’t bring themselves to put it down in the permanent record in Congress.

There are a lot of tactical similarities between the ID/creationists and the broader culture war instigators. Stirring up hatreds and rabble-rousing seems to be one of the major tactics.

On the other hand, what a dismal life Dembski is living as a scholar wannabe. A real scientist and scholar learns from his colleagues; Dembski is spending the rest of his miserable existence fuming because he isn’t the revered “Isaac Newton of Information Theory” he expected he would be.

He blames the science community for that; and as long as it gets him points with his rube followers, he apparently finds a worshipful following of groveling rubes preferable to the hard work of swallowing his ego and actually going out and learning something real.

The findings of science may often be counterintuitive, but we have learned that intuition is very often wrong; and the science turns out to be more interesting and makes more sense once we catch on.

Most of what we intuitively believe about the world is wrong. Growing up in India, I got almost all my popular science education from English translations of books published in the Soviet Union - the publishing powerhouse Mir Publishers. Their titles were simply illustrated, very, I mean very, well written, and free of any attempt to be politically correct about the material world. Common sense and intuition were given the short shrift, mercilessly if necessary. While the titles at the British Council Library and the USIS Library were better in gorgeous colour, glossy, and racy, Mir Publisher titles - books actually - were informative and educational, with the advanced level books good enough to be used as textbooks. And of course the British Council and USIS libraries had long waiting lists and after the arrival of the failed school marm in the UK and the fake cowboy across the pond their budgets were cut drastically and the libraries became less cheerful places. Even after the breakup of the USSR Mir Publishers titles were available for some time. Only now, thanks to the manufactured controversies over evolutionary biology have scientists in the US started reading out the riot act on scientific writing. Hope they continue to do so.

It wasn’t just the rise in temperatures from the 70s onward, warming was predicted to occur based on human introduction of greenhouse gases way back at the turn of the century by Arrhenius.
By the time most of the “global cooling” papers were published, they were already outnumbered by the body of papers predicting a warming trend and rather consistently outpaced by them year after year. (PDF) But given Dembski’s Methodology of Counterintuitiveness, that must mean that science really did predict global cooling over global warming!

Dembski’s just leading us on a wild goose chase. Let’s try and remember the big picture:

1. Dembski falls for a math blunder in support of his non-AGW stance.

2. People challenge him on the math blunder.

3. He responds by quoting another article in support of no-AGW. But (tricky tricky D), he misquotes it so badly that he successfully shifts people’s attention away from the original blunder on to the new blunder (which is probably a lot less personally embarrasing, considering he’s a mathematician).

Do not be distracted. Continue to ask him why he thinks the McLean et al. paper (not some other paper) refutes global warming.

Wheels said:

It wasn’t just the rise in temperatures from the 70s onward, warming was predicted to occur based on human introduction of greenhouse gases way back at the turn of the century by Arrhenius.
By the time most of the “global cooling” papers were published, they were already outnumbered by the body of papers predicting a warming trend and rather consistently outpaced by them year after year. (PDF) But given Dembski’s Methodology of Counterintuitiveness, that must mean that science really did predict global cooling over global warming!

A quick glance at the PDF shows that by the early 80s most people realized this was a myth. Like the Haeckel’s embryos canard, it looks like the DI is using Yesterday’s Science^TM to make idiotic arguments.

DM: you can just put brackets around TM and it comes out as the trademark superscript, thus™. Kewl, huh?

Though the carat/exponent thing sends the message clearly, too.

caret. Jeez.

fnxtr said:

DM: you can just put brackets around TM and it comes out as the trademark superscript, thus™. Kewl, huh?

Yesterday’s Science™

I am an htm illiterate. All that I know how to do I learned here at the Thumb…

For Dembski’s term “methodological counterintuitiveness,’ the closest I could come was this reference in the wikipedia, which in Dembski’s case seems appropriate:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoscience

And Ian, please, I’m being picky here, but you said “…the Earth [rotates] around the Sun?” No, the earth [revolves] around the sun in its orbit and [rotates] around it’s axis on a 24 hr cycle. Also, Foucault’s pendulum does not support the Earth revolving around the sun, but does demonstrate the Earth rotating on its axis.

Though they are frequently confusted, there is a marked difference between the two.

Though they are frequently confusted, there is a marked difference between the two.

Yeah, but both are circular arguments!!1111!!!one!

I don’t think it’s science envy so much as science resentment. The natural world is hard to understand, and he blames scientists for that.

About the 1940-1970 and “the many variables involved”, one could also point out that from 1938 to 1945, conventional weaponry was pumping more dust into the air than had ever been done by that source before or since.

And to make matters worse, above-ground nuclear testing was kicking up almost as much in a matter of seconds and was happening all over the world throughout that era (in islands in the pacific, mountain ranges in china, deserts in America and Australia, and who knows where the Soviets were doing their bit…).

Above ground nuclear testing slowed considerably by choice and by treaty by the 1970s.

So you had major sources of planet-cooling dust that aren’t kicking up dust anymore.

Dembski said, “What allows scientists to line their pockets with our tax dollars is that science must, perforce, tell us things that we can’t figure out on our own.”

I’m am engineer and, I assume, am considered a scientist. I personally feel that mine is a noble profession where I have the great fortune of working with the laws of science on a daily basis in the pursuit of designing great structures and processes that have taken mankind on a grand and wonderful journey.

Yes, every day Mr. Dembski I work on wonderous concepts that neither you, nor the general population could even begin to “figure out on [your] own”.

You don’t agree? Fine. You sit at my desk for one day and design a plane or a bridge or a spaceship or a chemical plant or a pollution control system and we’ll see.

The thing is, Demski could, if he wanted, go to school for a long time and learn the skills and background knowledge required to understand it himself. Scientists are not hoarding this knowledge, nor are they dissuading people from becoming educating themselves about science. Quite the opposite.

truthspeaker said:

The thing is, Demski could, if he wanted, go to school for a long time and learn the skills and background knowledge required to understand it himself. Scientists are not hoarding this knowledge, nor are they dissuading people from becoming educating themselves about science. Quite the opposite.

Yes, but that would be contrary to Dembski’s self-imposed world view. He’s supposedly been there already and has rejected such explanations in favor of his garden of eden perspective.

Joe Shelby said:

About the 1940-1970 and “the many variables involved”, one could also point out that from 1938 to 1945, conventional weaponry was pumping more dust into the air than had ever been done by that source before or since.

And to make matters worse, above-ground nuclear testing was kicking up almost as much in a matter of seconds and was happening all over the world throughout that era (in islands in the pacific, mountain ranges in china, deserts in America and Australia, and who knows where the Soviets were doing their bit…).

Joe,

Keep in mind that the size of a large volcanic eruption, such as Mount St. Helens, is measured in hundreds of megatons. While we and the Soviets shot off a few whoppers of 20-50 megatons, most of the testing was in the 0.01-1 megaton range.

Now, I’m not claiming nuclear testing had no effect. And we humans are very good at putting a lot of other crap into the atmosphere that has caused global warming. But when it comes to big dust-kicking explosions, our total contribution this century is probably the equivalent of about one or two “bonus” middling-sized volcanos. Not even an extra Pinatubo.

At it’s simplest, he blithely ignored his own article: “This hypothesis never had significant scientific support, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles, and a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s.”

Reread that first bit about “This hypothesis never had significant scientific support.” Also, this whole discussion and analysis of the graph, shows again how the term global climate change is a better term then global warming. Some of our pollutants do cool the planet. We should limit them, but that does make CO^2 emissions more potent.

Dembski said, “What allows scientists to line their pockets with our tax dollars is that science must, perforce, tell us things that we can’t figure out on our own.”

So, Dembski admits he is no scientist. Good to know. Well I recently received a copy of “The Evolution Wars” which described him as “a scientist”. I sent the book back.

What allows Dembski to line his pockets is lying about science to those too ignorant to know better. Which do you think would be greater sin?

Oh and of course Dembski is dead wrong again. There is absolutely nothing preventing scientists from telling us things that we can figure out on our own. Would Dembski prefer that scientists do that instead?

Dembski’s playing to his audience.

Based on his behaviour since Dover, he’s given up on getting anywhere politically, legally or scientifically with his ID cargo cult. All that’s left is to take what he can from his base: poorly-educated religious conservatives. And which sector of society is most likely to beleive there’s an evil cabal of pointy-headed intellectuals conspiring to obtain money and power by spouting stuff which is obviously untrue? Poorly-educated religious conservatives.

Alternatively, I suppose it’s possible that some other scientist is sitting on his yacht with his pockets lined with my share of the tax dollars…

waynef to Dembski

“You don’t agree? Fine. You sit at my desk for one day and design a plane or a bridge or a spaceship or a chemical plant or a pollution control system and we’ll see.”

Great. I already suffer from the “bad guys chasing me” nightmares, and the “I can’t stop falling” nightmares.

Now I’m going to get the “Dembski engineered that bridge/plane” nightmares.

I may never sleep again.

Off topic, but I seem to recall a discussion on comets here at PT. Here’s an upcoming paper on Science on this issue, thought I’d mention it:

“Reassessing the Source of Long-Period Comets “

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/conte[…]ract/1172676

What I find interesting is the increasingly bitter tone of Dembski’s writing. He is becoming the sad old curmudgeon of the ID movement.

DavidK said:

And Ian, please, I’m being picky here, but you said “…the Earth [rotates] around the Sun?” No, the earth [revolves] around the sun in its orbit and [rotates] around it’s axis on a 24 hr cycle.

Not to be picky or anything, but “rotates on its axis” is redundant.…

waynef said: Yes, every day Mr. Dembski I work on wonderous concepts that neither you, nor the general population could even begin to “figure out on [your] own”.

This topic is apparently new to you. When you look closer, you will see that IDists don’t do what engineers do (produce patterns/models) and engineers don’t do what IDists do (detect purposefulness.) In other words, the term “design” is used differently in ID than it is used in engineering.

RBH said:

What I find interesting is the increasingly bitter tone of Dembski’s writing. He is becoming the sad old curmudgeon of the ID movement.

It wouldn’t surprise me that the bitterness stems from the fact that he could change if he listened to the evidence and his critics.

However, he is apparently locked in; he sold his soul to the ID community looking for high-profile fame. What he got instead is high-profile derision from the science community, but his paycheck must now forever come from his employers whom he can no longer ignore or cross.

That could certainly make one bitter.

JohnW said: Dembski’s playing to his audience. …his base: poorly-educated religious conservatives.

I’ve been spending some time over at Uncommon Descent recently, being a troll but not quite enough to get kicked off (all of you should visit…). It’s interesting…the religious fervor of some of the commentors, combined with their scientific illiteracy and foaming-at-the-mouth rightwingnuttery is sometimes downright astounding.

RBH said:

What I find interesting is the increasingly bitter tone of Dembski’s writing. He is becoming the sad old curmudgeon of the ID movement.

I’m afraid I have to agree. Dembski was the student of Leo Kadanoff. Kadanoff has the most funny, humane, playful, yet powerful intellect anyone could ever want to meet – he’s an all-round nice guy as well as a great scientist. Back in 1998, Dembski acknowledged Kadanoff graciously in “The Design Inference”.

Today, Dembski can only spout that scientists like Kadanoff should “have their feet put to the fire” because they’re in business only to “line their pockets with our tax dollars.”

Freelurker said:

waynef said: Yes, every day Mr. Dembski I work on wonderous concepts that neither you, nor the general population could even begin to “figure out on [your] own”.

This topic is apparently new to you. When you look closer, you will see that IDists don’t do what engineers do (produce patterns/models) and engineers don’t do what IDists do (detect purposefulness.) In other words, the term “design” is used differently in ID than it is used in engineering.

What in the world does it mean to “detect purposefulness”? Is this a science term I’ve never heard of?

Anyone who dismisses faith and god as scientific untruths does not realize the limits of science…

They may not be untruths, but they’re most certainly unscientific. Apparently it is you, bb, who does not realize the limits of science. You are free to beleive any superstitious nonsense you want, but don’t pretend it’s scientific, ‘cause, like henry’s posts, we’re not buying the bullshit.

believe

BioBob said:

We don’t KNOW how the universe began - we THEORIZE.

Similarly, we don’t KNOW the shape of the Earth, we THEORIZE. (It’s definitely not a sphere. It’s closer to a ellipsoid. But in fact the exact shape of the Earth is still unknown …

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/gra[…]inition.html

) Does this mean we shouldn’t draw maps, because we don’t know the exact projection to use?

BioBob said:

I put my money on naysaying the probability that you [Dave Luckett] were there to witness the [origin of the universe] event ;)

If Dave had been there, it wouldn’t have helped. The radiation was mostly X-ray, and Dave can’t see X-rays.

BioBob suffers from a common misconception, that the only reliable evidence is eyewitness testimony.

This misconception comes about because most humans depend more on their eyes than on their noses, or their fingers, or any of their other sensory inputs. (I imagine that when dogs develop more technology, they will broadcast “smellavision” instead of television, and they will have programs like “nosewitness news”.)

In fact, numerous studies (for example, A. Rattner, (1988) “Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and the criminal justice system” Law and Human Behavior, 12, 283-293) have shown that eyewitness reports are unreliable. It is far better to rely on forensic evidence … for example, no one saw Timothy McVeigh blow up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, but the evidence for McVeigh’s guilt is overwhelming.

And this is exactly what Dave is doing. He’s relying on the evidence left behind, not on unreliable eyewitness reports.

BioBob criticizes Dave precisely because Dave is using reliable evidence!

Wow, BioBob.…you’re rather, er, dumb.

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This page contains a single entry by Ian Musgrave published on July 30, 2009 10:27 AM.

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