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It's Getting HOT in Here, so... Part 2

Yesterday I posted the conclusion to an essay by Nir J. Shaviv which stated that human generated green house gases probably didn't have much to do with the global rise in temperature over the course of the 20th century. His notion is that solar activity effects the way in which cosmic rays interact with Earth's atmosphere the composition of which either reflects or retains energy from the sun. Right now, I don't have any opinion as to whether he's right or wrong about that, and while it's an important question, for my purposes yesterday, I didn't much care about whether he was right or wrong.

Upon reading his conclusion, it occurred to me that folks with an existing ideological commitment on the question of human culpability for global climate change would probably make certain assumptions about Shaviv's motives and credibility depending on those pre-existing commitments. With this idea in mind, I concocted a quick poll. You can find it here:


Only 15 people (other than me) took the poll, though two people left comments telling me why they refused to participate. ankh_f_n_khonsu gave, to my way of thinking, the best response:
It seems absurd to try to guess someones credentials from two paragraphs. It seems equally absurd to try to figure out their motivations - or yours.

Hurray for epistemological humility.

lordshell posted a comment that I took as an indication of just how strong a hold his memeplexes have over him:
Science is proven neither by consensus or polls. Either AGW is happening or it isn't. It's either a disaster or not. It's either time-sensitive or not particularly.

Now this is certainly a respectable position to take, and Michael Crichton has gotten a lot of mileage out of it, but it completely misses the fact that none of the four questions in the poll asked whether the pollee thought that Shaviv's conclussion was right or wrong.

Other folks posted longer comments about the likely truth or falsity of Shaviv's proposal. As soon as I realized what tack they were taking I stopped reading. I'll go back and read them later when I do dig into the question of whether his theories should be taken seriously, but as I've mentioned, and as should have been obvious from the poll questions, that was not the focus of my curiosity yesterday.

Two poll questions asked about Shaviv's motivations, one asked about his scientific credentials, and one asked about my probable motivations for creating the poll.

I haven't done any research into Shaviv's possible political affiliations and motivations. It does seem as though corporate energy "think tanks" are anxious to throw buckets of money at any scientist who questions the position that anthropogenic GHGs cause global warming. I don't know if any of that money has landed in Shaviv's accounts.

After his conclusion, Professor Shaviv provided the following clarifying remarks which convinced me that he's not a shill for the oil industry:
So, as you may understand, I am quite sure Kyoto is not the right way to go. I should however stress that there are a dozen good reasons why we should strive to burn less fossil fuels.

The two primary reasons why fossil fuels are bad are of course pollution and depletion, while minor reasons include for example the fact that many fossil fuel reserves are controlled by unpleasant governments.

Thus, I am very much in favor, and always have been, in using less fossil fuels and keeping the environment clean (I am proud to say that I grew up in a solar house), but we should do things for the right reasons, not the wrong ones (and I don't see Kyoto addressing the right reasons). I am therefore in favor of developing cheap alternatives such as solar power, wind, and of course fusion reactors (converting Deuterium into Helium) which we should have in a few decades, but this is an altogether different issue.

I've given away the answer to the question of his bona fides by referring to the author as Professor Shaviv above. You can find his CV here:


But here's the meat of it:

Associate Professor, Racah Institute of Physics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Senior Lecturer, Racah Institute of Physics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Post doctoral fellow at CITA - The Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Toronto

Lee DuBridge Prize Fellow at TAPIR - Theoretical Astrophysics Group, Caltech - California Institute of Technology

Over half the people who responded to the poll got that one right. He's a real scientist. You may argue that he's an astrophysicist and not a climate scientist, but he's obviously more than an unaffiliated boob with a theory and a website.

Next up; my motivations. Here again, there is a right answer, and again most people got it right. I put in the "promoting the C-Realm Podcast" answers as a joke. If I'd really been aiming to promote the podcast, I would have at least provided a link to it, and if I'd meant to make a sneaky political point about soft-headed "liberals" or soft-headed "conservatives" I wouldn't have explicitly pointed out that possibility. I may be a space case, but when I want to be sneaky I do know to cover my tracks and not to leave my business card at the scene of the crime.

Well, there it is. Now, I will go back and read the comments about whether Professor Shaviv is right or wrong, and if you want to talk about that, I'm game.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)
"sun effecting weather" is not a new idea, while never been mainstream it was to my best knowledge proposed by Diakov back in 1950s.
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
I'm told, "There's nothing new under the sun."

Nothing new about the sun either, I guess.
Sep. 11th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
Other folks posted longer comments about the likely truth or falsity of Shaviv's proposal. As soon as I realized what tack they were taking I stopped reading.

Since as far as I can tell I was the only one who posted a "longer comment" to the previous post, I assume this was directed largely at me. Maybe you should read my comment before judging it too harshly? I guess it was a bit nitty-gritty for whatever aethereal epistemological point you were trying to make, but I was not merely opining about climate change, as I suspect you may have inferred.

See this sort of rubs me the wrong way, to be honest, because after I banged out that comment I reread it for spelling errors, et cetera, and I actually thought something to the effect of, "Gee, the first few sentences sound sort of opinion-y, which I know isn't the point he was raising here. No matter, though, I make my point (however poorly) by the end, and whoever reads it will read the whole thing." And yet apparently you felt enlightened enough to infer my "tack" from the opening sentences alone, enough so to implicitly insult me here. I guess in the future I should pay more attention to, I guess, selling myself in the opening sentence of any comment I leave on your journal, lest you pass over the remainder to preserve whatever mental virginity you require while your weird LJ mind-games play out.

IN CONCLUSION, I don't even particularly like the comment I wrote yesterday, on sober reflection. And indeed this is turning into a much more bitter response than I intended to write (I probably should've stopped after the first paragraph, but I do feel genuinely offended here). So let me just re-state my position: I believe that there are profound moral reasons why drastic, global political action ought to be taken immediately to curb all manner of pollutants and waste products put out by human civilization, especially greenhouse gases. I view this as a fundamentally separate issue from the ongoing science of global warming, since the basic scientific data that our public policy ought to be predicated on is already in. Whether it pans out 100% in the final analysis is at least slightly beside the point. Nature is complicated. There are many, many possible causal relationships behind climate change. The preponderance of evidence at this point certainly points to some sort of anthropocentric primary cause or causes, probably set off by industrialization. Maybe that is not actually the case. I strongly suspect that it is. I am, however, open to any other rational model that explains climate change, as long as it is supported by the evidence. And I would like to think that I am capable of evaluating any such model without being prejudiced by my prior assumptions, to the extent that such models are not presented merely as justifications for a certain political course of action or inaction. In this case, I felt quite positive about many of the sentiments put forth my Prof Shaviv in the quotation in this post, but he lost me with his opining on Kyoto. That is exactly the sort of blurring of highly theoretical science and public policy that I object to, and it is why people like Bjorn Lomborg have absolutely zero credibility at all on this issue.

Again, that's neither here nor there, and I'm sure rather off-point as far as you're concerned. But since you're probably not still reading anyway, I guess it doesn't really matter that much.
Sep. 11th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
Not just you
Other folks left long comments on the community posts linking back to the poll. Again, I will go back and read them. Yours too. No personal slight intended.

Stay well.
Sep. 11th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC)
While I don't have a comment on Prof Shaviv's findings either, I agree completely with his follow up remarks. I think maybe the scariest thing about global warming is that when and if we get solid scientific proof one way or the other we can expect sweeping regulation and intrusion or complete abandon, as if this is the only environmental issue. "Hey kids! We were right about global warming! Load into the Hummer, we're hitting the drive though at McDonalds!"

Also, just like to say I really enjoy the podcast! I'm one of your iTunes subscribers, but I assure you I listen to every one.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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