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Thank you, Matt Ridley - Comments

78rpm's Avatar Comment 1 by 78rpm

Oooh! This is going to be good! The comments on this forum will reach a new level of vituperation against him. Let the festivities begin!

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 15:21:19 UTC | #888620

peter mayhew's Avatar Comment 2 by peter mayhew

I think Matt is right that people, even other scientists, agree very readily when a load of experts reach the same set of conclusions. We trust in the process of science, and in our colleagues to spot each other's mistakes, so we take a consensus seriously. I do however wonder if he's overstepped the mark with this one. Predicting the future is tricky, and a lot of effort in IPCC does go into showing the range of possible scenarios and what we are most likely to be on course for. In addition, most of the climate change critics are not professional scientists or experts in climate science. And there's another point he doesn't touch on: the precautionary principle. The potential damage we are on course for is huge. And he doesn't even mention loss of biodiversity in this article: that can never be reversed if it occurs. Sure, mistakes have been made, and wild claims have been withdrawn. But if the news turns out not to be so bad in the end, then we are lucky, not stupid. And we're going to want a sustainable planet eventually anyway.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 15:31:44 UTC | #888628

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 3 by DavidMcC

So is quite a lot, though not all, of the argument for organic farming.

I'm glad he included those three words, otherwise I would be very suspicious of his motives - you know, maybe he's paid by Agri-business to slip something in.

In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.

In that case, so were Newton's Laws. After all, they were later found not to cover everything.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 15:40:02 UTC | #888631

debaser71's Avatar Comment 4 by debaser71

I'm not impressed.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 16:04:49 UTC | #888641

blitz442's Avatar Comment 5 by blitz442

Comment 3 by DavidMcC

In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.

In that case, so were Newton's Laws. After all, they were later found not to cover everything.

False analogy. Izzy's laws are still pretty darn useful - good enough to send spacecraft around pinging the solar system anyway.

Not sure that any of Freud's ideas ever achieved anything close that level of usefulness in the field of pyschology.

Comment 1 by 78rpm

Oooh! This is going to be good! The comments on this forum will reach a new level of vituperation against him. Let the festivities begin!

Yeah, should be good.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 16:10:33 UTC | #888643

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 6 by Mark Jones

Yikes! Cite a study showing that experts cannot predict political outcomes and then conclude that (all, presumably?) "experts are worse at forecasting the future than non-experts." That's quite a howler to start with.

The consensus could be wrong, but how is Matt Ridley justified in doubting it? He gives us no reason (apart from "I’ve spent a lot of time on climate") to explain why we should heed him above the consensus, so I can't see why we should. He does say that he perceives confirmation bias in climate science. Is this unique to climate science? Surely not, so does he accuse Richard Dawkins of blatant confirmation bias in his popular biology books? Not that I recall, but correct me if I'm wrong.

The flaws he discusses are common to human endeavour; it's science that mitigates them. If science mitigates them for evolution by natural selection, so it does for climate science, unless he can show that climate science suffers from a unique failure in the scientific method. I've yet to see evidence of that, although much is offered up by sceptics. It's possible, of course.

Apart from all the human flaws we know already, his argument that climate science is unique among the sciences for being a pseudoscience appears to be because he's been attacked for expressing scepticism about it in universities and the BBC. That clearly doesn't follow, just as it wouldn't follow if sceptics of any other science discipline claimed it, either.

My argument is that like religion, science as an institution is and always has been plagued by the temptations of confirmation bias. With alarming ease it morphs into pseudoscience even – perhaps especially – in the hands of elite experts and especially when predicting the future and when there’s lavish funding at stake. It needs heretics.

This is an argument for the advocacy of creationism, too, as far as I can see.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 16:16:46 UTC | #888646

Hideous Dwarf's Avatar Comment 7 by Hideous Dwarf

I thought it was a brilliant and thoughtful speech, but then I'm probably as mad as he is - just tilting at windmills (sorry, turbines). I find it amazing that even such a man as Matt Ridley can be written off as a lunatic, but perhaps we should just be thankful he hasn't been burnt at the stake for his heresy.

Of all the great religions, the Climate Change orthodoxy is merely the latest and probably the most profitable for its priests, but speaking from past experience of discussions on this subject, I do take a certain pride in being lumped in with creationists by the educated members of this excellent forum.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 16:42:43 UTC | #888662

Hume's Razor's Avatar Comment 8 by Hume's Razor

Is there any reason in particular why this is featured on the RDF's website? Should we take this to mean that the RDF is sympathetic to the message? If so, please let us know so those of us who still care about truth, critical thinking and intellectual honesty can make sure not to touch the RDF with a ten foot pole in the future. link text

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:03:04 UTC | #888669

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 9 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:18:43 UTC | #888673

btheist's Avatar Comment 10 by btheist

Everyone is missing the point.... his point is a warning to be vigilant in assessing scientific claims as their is a strong possibility of confirmation bias. What he's saying is that certain parties in the scientific community have used and will continue to use the same tactics we blame the creationist for using, namely cherry picking of data and labeling healthy skepticism as heresy.

You extract specific sentences and half phrases from his speech and interpret them differently, or speculate on "what he really meant", but it doesn't change the fact that the whole speech was a vivid reminder to be ever skeptical of everything you hear and read, and probably even more so if what you hear is confirming your own bias, lest you fall prey to confirmation bias yourself.

All in all a good speech.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:19:47 UTC | #888675

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 11 by Nunbeliever

If there’s one speech about the climate debate worth reading in your lifetime, this is it.

Erh? I did not read the whole transcript thoroughly but this whole speech is nothing but a collection of the same old straw-men or climate myths that have been debunked countless of times before. Note, that most of the time he just says things without providing one single scientific reference that would support his claims. No, we should believe a journalist like Matt Ridley because.... an ancient relative was burnt at the stake for heresy??? I mean, there really is no point in spending hours to refute every single argument he is presenting. He is doing exactly what the creationists are doing. He swiftly throws in as many arguments as he possibly can and hopes his listeners will be overwhelmed with how much "evidence" there is against AGW and that people who disagrees with his claims can't possibly deal with all topics or just don't bother to spend hours of their precious time to debunk arguments that have already been debunked countless times.

In light of all this his six lessons are very amusing to the point of being absurd.

1) "The gullibility of the media." Yes, he is right there. That is the big problem here. In the media the contrarians are often (in the holy name of balance) given equal time as mainstream scientists. Some networks like Fox News only present contrarian views. So, at best the media argument is irrelevant. But, I would say it actually can be used against him. It's quite interesting that a journalist highlights this as a lesson to be learned. What he is actually saying then... is that we should not trust him at all. Yes, I agree with him on that one.

2) "Debunking is like water off a duck’s back to pseudoscience." Yes, your speech is a good example of exactly that. You bring forth the same old myths and non-sequiturs. It seems like you are the duck after all.

3) "We can all be both. Newton was an alchemist." Yes, but no one claims that AGW contrarians are irrational in every other aspect of their life. Scientists just point out that in this regard they are simply wrong.

4) "The heretic is sometimes right." Yes, but most of the time the heretic is wrong. Especially with regard to modern science the lonely wolf type of scientist is becoming incredibly rare. Simply because collaboration is essential due to the very complex nature of modern science and the necessity of expensive equipment. Some just don't seem to realize science today is teamwork. This could not be more true with regard to climate science. It's not a tight little group of polemics who study the climate. The IPCC bases it's reports on the results of thousands of scientists.

5) "Keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others." Yes, although Matt Ridely seems to have missed the "yourself" part.

6) "Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future." Ok, but then who does Matt Ridley think we should trust? Is it better to rely on single contrarians about the future? Or are lay men better equipped to forsee the future? Perhaps we should trust the guy who predicts the weather by studying copulating frogs (we actually have such a looney in Finland who the media loves to write stories about every now and then). Some might say that if we are uncertain about the future we should be conservative. What people fail to understand is that the statement that things will be as they used to be is just as much a prediction about the future as that things will change. Especially since there is so much evidence suggesting the future might look very different if we don't do anything about climate change.

I think this last lesson really demonstrates what the contrarian movement in this regard is all about. People dislike authorities. Ironically they have no problem regarding themselves as authorities or people who agree with them as authorities. Is this some form of god syndrome? This journalist honestly thinks he is more capable of evaluting the evidence than the great majority of all renowned climate scientists.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:25:09 UTC | #888677

Hideous Dwarf's Avatar Comment 12 by Hideous Dwarf

Perhaps before people write Ridley off as a crank they should find out a little about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:25:12 UTC | #888678

Moderator's Avatar Comment 13 by Moderator

Comment 8 by Hume's Razor

Is there any reason in particular why this is featured on the RDF's website? Should we take this to mean that the RDF is sympathetic to the message?

Perhaps now would be a good time to remind users of what it says in our Terms of Use:

The posting of an article, video or other item on this website does not mean that RichardDawkins.net endorses its content: items are selected purely for their relevance and their potential to stimulate interesting discussion.

We're quite sure it won't take you long to find other articles on this site whose contents it's not likely we agree with.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:26:39 UTC | #888680

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 14 by KenChimp

Comment 8 by Hume's Razor :

Is there any reason in particular why this is featured on the RDF's website? Should we take this to mean that the RDF is sympathetic to the message? If so, please let us know so those of us who still care about truth, critical thinking and intellectual honesty can make sure not to touch the RDF with a ten foot pole in the future. link text

Is there any reason in particular why it should not be featured on a website devoted to reason and science?

I think you are welcome to take (interpret) this to mean whatever you will. That doesn't mean your interpretation or take on the matter is correct. The same may be said about Ridley's discussions.

Rather than be hyper-critical about the posting of a speech which mostly focuses on a hot-bed topic and which obviously reaches conclusions you do not. Why don't you offer some reasonable, scientific critique of Matt's monologue?

Or, perhaps that is asking too much?

For my part, I'm undecided. Ripley clearly makes some logically errant arguments. Or rather I should say his argument includes some logical fallacies. Not everything he says in this speech is flawed, but clearly he is not above reproach (none of us are or should be). And I mean that based on the merits of his speech, not his "pedigree". I couldn't give a rat's arse who he is. If he has something of merit to say, what he says and how he says it will provide me with the information I need to base a reasonable conclusion on.

My conclusion is that his skepticism of the projected consequences of anthropogenic climate change is reasonable, but many of his supporting arguments are not without flaws.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:28:50 UTC | #888681

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 15 by Tyler Durden

Comment 8 by Hume's Razor :

Is there any reason in particular why this is featured on the RDF's website? Should we take this to mean that the RDF is sympathetic to the message? If so, please let us know so those of us who still care about truth, critical thinking and intellectual honesty can make sure not to touch the RDF with a ten foot pole in the future. link text

Reform the IPCC for the sake of science - by Matt Ridley

Despite coming from a long line of coal-mining entrepreneurs, I’m not a “denier”: I think carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. I’m not even a sceptic (yet): I think the climate has warmed and will warm further. But I am now a “lukewarmer” who has yet to see any evidence saying that the current warming is, or is likely to be, unprecedented, fast or tending to accelerate.

So I have concluded that global warming will most probably be a fairly minor problem — at least compared with others such as poverty and habitat loss — for nature as well as people. After watching the ecologically and economically destructive policies enacted in its name (biofuels, wind power), I think we run the risk of putting a tourniquet round our collective necks to stop a nosebleed.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:35:54 UTC | #888685

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 16 by Nunbeliever

To Hideous Dwarf:

Of all the great religions, the Climate Change orthodoxy is merely the latest and probably the most profitable for its priests, but speaking from past experience of discussions on this subject, I do take a certain pride in being lumped in with creationists by the educated members of this excellent forum.

Do you actually ever contribute with anything else than your tiresome whining? Who says Matt Ridely is a lunatic? Oh, no one. It's just yet another strawman about how unfair you honourable contrarians are treated. Being sacrificed on the altar of intellectual integrity for not being member of the AGW cult. Yeah, yeah! We've heard it all before. Poor you...

Just a small piece of advice to you. When you stop whining and actually add some substance to your comments people will start taking you seriously. No one likes a cry baby!

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:39:25 UTC | #888686

Alex_Redsky's Avatar Comment 17 by Alex_Redsky

Hmmm...

Matthew White Ridley, journalist, writer, and businessman... non-executive chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock before the collapse... wrote "The Rational Optimist"... famous by his libertarian views and support for free market policies...

Well, despite being also a supporter of the BHA (to his credit), this man has clearly a very personal view, an agenda or, at least, a vested interest that some economic agents should go on unencumbered by any austere regulations aiming to reduce greenhouse gases emissions (or carbon taxes) that might hit the fat profits. I get suspicious when anyone starts saying that "the medicine can be worse than the disease" and advocates a "do nothing yet" as the most rational solution.

I might be wrong, sure, but I wouldn't take his words at face value without very strong supporting evidence. Especially because his discourse might be tainted by the same bias he accuses many others to espouse.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:43:39 UTC | #888687

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 18 by Nunbeliever

To btheist:

but it doesn't change the fact that the whole speech was a vivid reminder to be ever skeptical of everything you hear and read, and probably even more so if what you hear is confirming your own bias, lest you fall prey to confirmation bias yourself.

No, if that was true I would have no objections at all. But he does not hide the fact that he thinks mainstream climate scientists are not to be trusted and that there are no good evidence that shows we should do something about climate change. In fact he says he thinks the consequences of us taking actions could be disastrous. He is definately not unbiased. He accepts statements by contrarians like McIntyre or McKitrick without question while he regards mainstream science as unreliable. That is not skepitcism. That is bias confirmation. Ironically exactly what he is blaming mainstram scientists of.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:48:04 UTC | #888689

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 19 by KenChimp

Comment 18 by Nunbeliever :

To btheist:

but it doesn't change the fact that the whole speech was a vivid reminder to be ever skeptical of everything you hear and read, and probably even more so if what you hear is confirming your own bias, lest you fall prey to confirmation bias yourself.

No, if that was true I would have no objections at all. But he does not hide the fact that he thinks mainstream climate scientists are not to be trusted and that there are no good evidence that shows we should do something about climate change. In fact he says he thinks the consequences of us taking actions could be disastrous. He is definately not unbiased. He accepts statements by contrarians like McIntyre or McKitrick without question while he regards mainstream science as unreliable. That is not skepitcism. That is bias confirmation. Ironically exactly what he is blaming mainstram scientists of.

Not to mention that his "attempt" at arguing the AGW skeptic community consists of individuals who finance their own media presences and are not subject to or beholden to special interest funding is a complete load 'o bollocks.

Although I did not know who Matt Ridley was before reading this thread, I have seen many other AGW skeptics who claim independence from special interest who are, from what I've found, up to their necks in association with individuals and groups who definitely have vested interests in denying AGW.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:59:45 UTC | #888691

lazarus's Avatar Comment 20 by lazarus

It just goes to show that even atheists, members of the BHA etc can be as deluded ans as irrational as the most god fearing Christian.

Don't get me wrong I thought he started of rather well and even when he suggest scepticism on climate science he had a point but then he goes to quote the sources that 'utterly debunked' the Hockey Stick graph and you realise that he might as well believe that crop circles are not man made either.

Every historical temperature reconstruction is a 'hockey stick'. Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick to my knowledge have never published any research in a credible publication debunking any such thing.

Steve McIntyre isn't a climatologist but a mathematician with possible conflicts of interest having had a career working in the mining industry.

Ross McKitrick is an economist and a member of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a conservative Christian public policy group that promotes a free-market approach to care for the environment.

Then we get praise for Andrew Montford’s book, again not peer reviewed science. Monford is an accountant.

I had to stop reading there, but if this is the standard of evidence Ridley thinks is credible enough to change his beliefs despite the scientific evidence he has embraced pseudo-science with obsessive irony.

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:03:14 UTC | #888692

debaser71's Avatar Comment 21 by debaser71

"he has embraced pseudo-science with obsessive irony"

ahhh...very well stated

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:08:10 UTC | #888695

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 22 by Alan4discussion

The remarkable thing about the heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.

Ha! ha! ha!

May I present the cherry picking and disinformation award of the year!

It follows below. If there’s one speech about the climate debate worth reading in your lifetime, this is it. Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill has also formatted the speech into a PDF file, with an improved version, better graphics, A5 format for printing by Mike Haesler here Ridley_RSA (PDF) suitable for emailing, printing, and snail mail. Distribute both as widely as possible.

Denial campaign marches on! - Expect quotes from it from here on!

Like the creationists this hides in complexity and voluminous dubious assertions followed by the hope that readers will think earlier references to debunking examples pseudoscience will add weight to an argument and that some credibility will "rub off" on what follows, - after readers have been bogged down with irrelevant verbosity.

Thank you very much for listening. - How to do meditation!

.. an appropriate ending!

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:16:18 UTC | #888698

mlgatheist's Avatar Comment 23 by mlgatheist

Comment 3 by DavidMcC
In that case, so were Newton's Laws. After all, they were later found not to cover everything

Actually Newton's laws (while not universal) are usually valid when not referring to things moving at relativistic speeds (near the speed of light) or not near extreme gravity sources (i.e. blackholes, neutron stars).

They are good enough for intrastella spaceflight and finding planets long before they could be seen by any people (on Earth).

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:23:17 UTC | #888705

Narvi's Avatar Comment 24 by Narvi

I'm very disappointed that he was mislead by the uproar about the supposedly scandalous climate emails - if he's mistaken about those, if he's unwilling to do the basic research that would have uncovered the facts, how can we trust the rest of his rant? If he has these elementary errors (in addition to the others already mentioned in this thread), how can he claim to know anything?

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:35:15 UTC | #888710

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Comment 25 by Stephen of Wimbledon

Ridley makes a skillful politician - denying he is saying or doing things while actually committing those very same acts.

His speech is a good up-to-date lesson for anyone who needs to practice applying their critical thinking skills and reading the real message.

He's right about two things:

  • Confirmation bias is very difficult to overcome. It is why childhood indoctrination by religions is evil, for example.

  • The climate change debate too often proceeds on a gainsay basis: "Yes it is ... ", "No it isn't ... " etc.

  • That said, I was a little disappointed that he was so negative about peer review. Using Trofim Lysenko as an example highlights the pernicious way in which those outside the scientific establishment can be promoted by politics - not that outsiders with new hypotheses are heroic simply by virtue of not accepting the current scientific consensus.

    It is politics knee-jerk reactions (gainsaying) - including those within the science project itself - that are the main barrier between the public at large and scientific truths, not scientists seeking a common understanding as Ridley seems to suggest. And politics, above all other human endeavours, suffers from confirmation bias.

    Yes, go to top sceptic sites and read their confirmation bias. Yes, media institutions (NewsCorp, BBC, Blogs) suffer from political bias. Yes, climate scientists are paid for what they do. But that does not automatically mean that we are lost in a sea of pseudo-science. The science still shines through - even to the extent that Ridley himself says he's in the 98% of people who have looked at these phenomena and concluded that climate change is real and that humans have had a role in it.

    If Ridley wants to change things for the better he need look no further than his bathroom mirror. Scientists are not perfect, but compared to modern journalists they are paragons of political virtue.

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:36:38 UTC | #888712

    flamenco's Avatar Comment 26 by flamenco

    I'm very disappointed that he was mislead by the uproar about the supposedly scandalous climate emails - if he's mistaken about those, if he's unwilling to do the basic research that would have uncovered the facts, how can we trust the rest of his rant?

    You're no doubt very familiar with the detail of all those emails. But for those who may not have had the chance to look closely - be warned - it takes a while.

    Don't take anybody's word for what they do or don't reveal.

    Read them yourself.

    http://www.assassinationscience.com/climategate/

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:43:09 UTC | #888715

    Adam Felton's Avatar Comment 27 by Adam Felton

    A thorough dissection of Matt Ridley's previous attempts at misinforming the public on climate change and other issues

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Ridleyriddle1.html http://www.skepticalscience.com/Ridleyriddle2.html http://www.skepticalscience.com/Ridleyriddle3.html

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:53:06 UTC | #888723

    Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 28 by Peter Grant

    Matt Ridley is a zoologist, and apparently quite a good one. He should stick to it.

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:59:25 UTC | #888727

    AsylumWarden's Avatar Comment 29 by AsylumWarden

    There's two key points he misses out on:

    1. A lot of models based on climate change are based on worst case scenarios. There are also business as usual models, 10% reduction in gases, 20% reduction etc... all prone to standard error margins. Things may not have been as bad as predicted that they could have been with nothing done, but I'll think you'll find that's because we didn't go down the worst case scenario route.

    2. Climate change is not the only incentive for reducing emissions. Sustainability and economic factors play a big role. For instance if your car produces less emissions, it's because it is using less fuel or using it more efficiently making it cheaper for the consumer and wasting less of a limited resource. The population is growing, our resource base not so much for some, critically less for others. In order to create a sustainable environment we need to use our resources much more efficiently - and this generally comes about by using less fuel, producing less waste i.e. the same things that go about preventing climate change. Even if climate change is proven to be a complete hoax, there are still other reasons to implement many of the measures used to combat it.

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 19:42:58 UTC | #888737

    blitz442's Avatar Comment 30 by blitz442

    Comment 28 by Peter Grant

    Agreed. I like Ridley the evolutionary scientist and have read two of his books. But he appears to understand climate change about as deeply as he understands banking.

    Tue, 08 Nov 2011 19:56:31 UTC | #888740