Gutting on Experts and Global Warming

Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, offers a pretty rock-solid argument that I recommend to our resident AGW denier: On Experts and Global Warming.

How can we, nonexperts, take account of expert opinion when it is relevant to decisions about public policy?

To answer this question, we need to reflect on the logic of appeals to the authority of experts. First of all, such appeals require a decision about who the experts on a given topic are. Until there is agreement about this, expert opinion can have no persuasive role in our discussions. Another requirement is that there be a consensus among the experts about points relevant to our discussion. Precisely because we are not experts, we are in no position to adjudicate disputes among those who are. Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim.

There’s really no way I can see around his logic. I’m sure shcb will find a way, but I think that’s more a testimony to the power of motivated reasoning and the plasticity of shcb’s reality than it is to the merits of Gutting’s argument.

38 Responses to “Gutting on Experts and Global Warming”

  1. shcb Says:

    This one is easy, I simply disregard his basic premise. So he is saying the only opinion that matters is that of an expert. Isn’t that going to sort of destroy the entire concept of blogs or most every other form of the media for that matter.

    But just for kicks let’s say I did agree with what he said. I am no expert in the area of computer models, people like Charlie Martin are, Charlie has written extensively and specifically that the models used to come to the conclusion that supports AGW are heavily flawed. Since Charlie is an expert and I’m not I guess I have no choice but to trust what he has said. I’m no expert in statistics but M&M are statistical experts, they have written extensively that the statistical analysis used in the AGW is likewise very flawed.

    So now remember, it is my absolute and undeniable duty to trust these experts without question. So I guess my conclusion must be that yes AGW is real and a dire concern, but I must also acknowledge that the methodology used to come to that conclusion is wrong. Doesn’t make any sense does it? You see, being an expert doesn’t have an on-off switch, we all use the various aspects of areas where we are expert in, we mix in a generous helping of areas we aren’t expert but have a working knowledge, add just a pinch of our own personal bias, a little ice, then shake, don’t stir and we have an opinion.

    What this article really does illustrate is my assertion that AGW is something of a religious experience. Read back through that article and just imagine yourself in the mid-1960s at St Joseph’s Catholic School in the back of the room of Sr. Mary Catherine’s class, she is standing over a petulant young shcb with her arms crossed, her chest relaxing from a long sigh and her eyes returning to their normal position from being rolled into her head. She says to the young man “you don’t need to understand why, the priest (read expert) said it is so”

    “But Sister, the minister at the little church down the street said Mary really wasn’t a virgin, that that is physically impossible”

    “Shcb, are you going to take the word of a minister in a small nondenominational church in the middle of a small town in Kansas or are you going to take the word of a priest that has the backing of the largest religion on the face of the planet, all these priests have said that Mary was a virgin, the pope himself has said Mary was a virgin. It is incontrovertible (did she just say incontrovertible to a 10-year-old) that Mary was a virgin you just have to accept it since all the experts say it is so.”

    She has a point, I guess I better not question it.

  2. NorthernLite Says:

    It doesn’t matter anyways. After the USA completes it’s current self destruction exercise it will buy the rest of the world some time to formulate a real plan of action.

  3. NorthernLite Says:

    But keep comparing science to religion, it really makes look you smart.

  4. shcb Says:

    Why do you have to wait for us to crumble? Spend your reserves to find the new technology that will save the planet, be a leader. If we crumble we won’t be able to contribute anyway, we’ll be like Mexico looking to the north like a baby sparrow waiting for our benefactors to give us a worm. Show us how socialism really works, tax yourselves enough to save the planet.

    I’m not comparing science to religion, I’m comparing religious like actions to religion.

  5. Smith Says:

    Everything is simultaneously Religion/Socialism/Fascism/Conspiracy unless shcb blindly worships it. Hurf Durf.

    There is much to be said about the article, but not in this venue.

  6. shcb Says:

    “Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim.”

    Really? you have no problem with that statement? If a dozen experts said the oil platform that blew up last year was safe and a couple made some good points that it wasn’t we have no basis rejecting the dozen? Even if the dozen worked for BP? (like Paul Teague) (all he did was pioneer deep sea drilling)

  7. shcb Says:

    Paul didn’t work for BP, he worked for Texaco, should have made that more clear

  8. Smith Says:

    To whom are you last two comments addressed, shcb?

  9. shcb Says:

    Anybody that agrees with this aryicle

  10. shcb Says:

    Let me give you some examples:

    Gutting says “Another requirement is that there be a consensus among the experts about points relevant to our discussion” without that consensus he has no point, then he says ” There are climate scientists who doubt or deny this claim.” so he has now eliminated one of his absolute points, but he tries to temper it with “but even they show a clear sense of opposing a view that is dominant in their discipline.” Ok, but he doesn’t say what percentage of a consensus is required for us to not question the authority of experts. Is it 51%? Is it 95 or 99%? He doesn’t say. He points to studies that show about 80%, JBC has pointed to studies that were in the 60% range. So why doesn’t he give us those figures? Well because it would make his whole article moot if he were to be honest about the level of decent.

    “Critics within the community of climate scientists may have a cogent case against A.G.W., but, given the overall consensus of that community, we nonexperts have no basis for concluding that this is so.” Why not? If this were any other subject this kind of thinking would be met with well deserved distain. If more experts of economics think capitalism is superior should we just abandon socialism?

    So let’s take this one step further, the computer models. The conclusions of the climate scientists have been based on computer models, so if the models are flawed, the conclusion is flawed. Model experts have said the models are flawed, climatologists have said they aren’t, but climatologists aren’t computer model experts so using Gutting’s thought process the climatologists have no standing to make that judgment.

  11. ethan-p Says:

    So…let me see if I have the argument straight here:

    Gutting is saying that we need to trust experts. He says that there is a strong consensus among climate scientists, except for the ones who disagree. But they’re clearly a minority, and non-experts are not qualified to evaluate the research and come to a personal conclusion.

    That’s a very interesting argument. I hate to sound a broken record and suggest that this sounds like a religious argument again. Maybe it’s because the idea is stuck in my head that I can’t help looking for it. With that disclaimer in mind, while parsing the article, I couldn’t help but draw parallels in my head suggesting that we leave the theological discussion to the theological scholars. All other questions should be directed towards our local clergy, who will tell us what to believe. (Because clearly, we’re not smart enough to think for ourselves or draw our own conclusions.)

    Also, I remember reading somewhere about expert opinions (discrediting them). Maybe it was in Freakonomics – which, yes, is controversial on many levels – but it’s interesting none the less, and I find the field of behavioral economics fascinating. I’m not able to dig through the text, but the one link that I was able to find discusses the idea that we tend to value confidence over expertise when choosing which experts to believe.

    Anyway – this is more of the same: Listen to these experts…there are more of ours than there are of theirs, so clearly ours are correct. Also, you’re neither sufficiently qualified nor sufficiently intelligent to interpret what they say – so just take it as gospel. Anyone who questions what they say is clearly responsible for our doom…and a fucking heretic.

  12. knarlyknight Says:

    ethan, While I agree with you I’d question / clarify that last line…

    Most people don’t care so much whether others fully agree or question AGW, the extreme response is reserved for those who don’t conform to fiscal and behavioural changes intended to avert a man made catastrophe that the “experts” say will be the result of our current lifestyles.

    The extreme responses, e.g. “you’re a f’ing heretic” is a basic, defensive response against people who are perceived as extremely threatening to our children, grandchildren and who seem to be intent on the destruction of this Garden of Eden collectively known as planet Earth.

    Sure, go ahead and question. Just don’t ensure that a worst case scenario is forced upon our children.

  13. ethan-p Says:

    Knarlyknight – Couldn’t the same argument be made of any religion (again – sorry for the dead-horse-beating)? E.g. ignore eternal damnation at your own peril, but don’t sell out our children’s souls with your questions.

    Should we automatically buy into anything with predictions of dire consequences? Personally, I think that this is a tactic to make people on the fence fall in line.

    Even if we all agreed in the principles behind causal AGW, I seriously doubt that we would all agree about what should be done to combat it. How can we conform to fiscal and behavioral changes if we don’t agree that they’re the right thing? Some see humans going back to the stone age as the only plausible solution. Others would rather play politics all day long than make any real difference (e.g. energy from corn-based ethanol from conventional farming using petro-fertilizers). Dubner and Levitt reported on the possibility of using geo-engineering to employ sulphuric acid generators to negate CO2 buildup in the upper atmosphere. Now, I’m certain that the latter idea has been almost universally poo-pooed by environmentalists. Would it be rational to accuse those who do not agree with my proposed remedy of not conforming to the changes needed to avert a man-made disaster?

    Also – is the heretic accusation really a rational thing to do? …or is it essentially a witch hunt based on a religious-like perception (screw you for selling my children out to eternal damnation)?

  14. NorthernLite Says:

    Science has always been about consensus. There is clearly a very large consensus among scientists about the causes of global warming.

    Because of that, I still find the religious comparison to scientific consenus very silly. There is no proof that one will burn in hell if they don’t “believe”.

    But there is plenty of proof of what GW is going to do because it’s already happening. If you don’t think there is proof, I suggest you take a trip to Northern Canada and the Arctic.

  15. shcb Says:

    But you see NL no one is arguing GW, we are arguing AGW, whatever is happening in the arctic may very well be cause by GW but not AGW, if it is caused by GW it will at some point be reversed by GC with or without all our political solutions.

  16. ethan-p Says:

    NL: I’m not sure that I agree with your first statement at all. Science has little or nothing to do with consensus. It’s not like hypothesis becomes theory and is then accepted as law after a vote of registered scientists. Scientific consensus does not appear anywhere in any description of the scientific method that I’ve ever read, and consensus is not in and of itself any kind of scientific argument. Also remember that consensus evolves over time as consensus is often shown to be incorrect (as an example, the theory of continental drift was almost universally rejected). In the context of this discussion, I see consensus is little more than a political tool.

    I’ve pointed out quite a few parallels between fervent proponents of causal AGW and religious zealots, and these are not limited to dire consequences of not towing the line. There isn’t much more that I can say about the religious parallels other than to continue pointing them out when I see them. In any case, I respect your decision to reject my observations.

  17. ethan-p Says:

    SHCB – I read the same thing in what NL said at first. He wasn’t referring to GW vs AGW, but more specifically the consequences of GW and possibly inaction.

  18. shcb Says:

    Ethan, this is one of those semantic infiltration issues. GW and AGW are often intermixed, if warming is GW there is little we can do to prevent it, and probably wouldn’t want to if we could, not nice to fool with mother nature and all, If it is AGW then we can do something about it, at issue is do we want to, but at least we can.

    What happens is the AGW people see a warming consequence and just assume it is AGW, in my mind that may be just as dangerous to the environment as ignoring it all together. Your ethanol example above is a good one. How much have we hurt the environment with constant farming instead of letting fields go fallow just so we can produce fuel. The only way you can engage in constant farming is to pump nitrogen into the ground in hellish amounts since it has no time to naturally decompose last year’s crop.

    Funny how politics affects even the simplest of chores, farming. A couple decades ago it was decided we were over farming, so a government plan was put in place where crops were left in the field, to get the government money you couldn’t bring in that last crop, you had to let it set, let it go to weed for ten years (made pheasant hunting hell). This was to naturally replenish the soil. Then global warming came into play now they can’t pump the chemical fertilizer in there fast enough. Fresh water wells are showing it too.

  19. Smith Says:

    Promoting ethanol is a matter of courting farm votes. It has fuck all to do with climate change.

  20. shcb Says:

    Actually, Democrats just wanted farmers’ money, we know this because the patron saint of global warming told us so.

  21. knarlyknight Says:

    Did I hear that right? Mansbridge (boring national newscaster with Walter Cronkite wanabe vibe) just said the governor of Oklahoma called today for a state wide day of prayer in the hope it would result in cooler weather. Hahahahhahahahahaaaaaaa!

  22. NorthernLite Says:

    Wow… I guess that’s one way to combat AGW.

    ethan, “scientific consensus” is a very real term and a very real process.

    Google “scientific consensus on global warming”. Many scientific journals and publications use that term, “scientific consensus”. Actually it’s more like, “the overwhelming scientific consensus…” Perhaps the word ‘consensus’ is used so much for this topic because it’s become so political and divisive. I’m not sure.

    shcb, I actually left out the “A” by mistake in AGW. I think it’s pretty obvious that the rise in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere coincides with the rise in the global average temp. CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas that traps heat – it’s like a blanket over our planet. The more we add, the thinker the blanket has become. The warmer our planet gets.

    I do think that the Earth goes through natural cycles but if you look at historical data, what’s happening now doesn’t seem to reflect those natural cycles.

  23. shcb Says:

    Ok Enk watch how this is done,

    NL, thanks for explaining it was just a typo, you really meant GW to read AGW.

    See how easy that is?

  24. NorthernLite Says:

    I also meant to say “thicker” above instead of “thinker”…

    Too many brewskis this summer :-)

  25. knarlyknight Says:

    Henceforth, any disussion of GW that does not include mention that “as knarly has concluded, the biggest potential changes to global temperatures are due to variations in the amount of heat escaping from the earth’s core into the oceans from subsea volcanoes and fissures,” will be chastized.

    Your point about CO2 being a blanket is fine, as long as you recognize that contrails are like partly shutting the blinds on a sunny window:

    Also, there is no such thing as too many brewskis.

  26. shcb Says:

    Not on a hot sunny day anyway. But we are getting off track here a little, the point Ethan and I are making is the response of the AGW proponents, not really the science itself, although it is related of course. One of the things that makes me suspicious is the ferociousness of the attacks on people that even just question AGW. This is where we start to see parallels with religion. In a normal discussion of this type where the investigations are in the infancy to the middle of the investigation people usually lay out their evidence on both sides and then go back and forth in a point counterpoint manner.

    In this case I really haven’t seen that much. For instance, the models being flawed, the models were kept under a cloak of secrecy for years even after FOI requests were made… for years. Then the model experts gave detailed accounts of what they had found wrong with them but I never really heard the AGW people counterpoint what was wrong with the model experts critique, they just said we’re the experts, there is nothing wrong with the models. Even the internal investigations I have read did that. There was one official document that I read that I though surely would have citations, examples, at least a footnote leading me to another document but it didn’t, just said they found nothing wrong.

    But here I am digressing.

    To good beer, Cheers!

  27. knarlyknight Says:

    shcb has exactly described the 911 coverup conspiracy. Replace “AGW proponents” with “Government officials and vested interests.” You couldn’t ask for a better comparison.

    Too bad shcb only has sunny day beer. We’ve got rainy day beer, snowy day beer, night-time beer, inside beer, outside beer, etc. There is an old saying, “Beer is proof that God wants man to be happy.”

  28. shcb Says:

    I was wondering how long it was going to take you to get to that point. I suppose there are some comparisons there but the degree is way off.

  29. NorthernLite Says:

    Well if you’re going compare me to a religious nutjob for trusting climate scientists, then I’m going to compare you and ethan to 9/11 Truthers for believing AGW is just some big, left-wing conspiracy.

    And I agree with what you said:

    … people usually lay out their evidence on both sides and then go back and forth in a point counterpoint manner.

    Isn’t that what the IPCC has been doing for over a decade now? I’ve read that it’s damn near impossible to get something published in one their reports because so much back and forth takes place… until a consensus is reached.

    But that’s not the same as you and me going back and forth, or Rush Limbaugh going back and forth with the IPCC report. We’re just bloggers and talking heads. When people see a big snow storm in the middle of February and proclaim CC to be a big hoax, how are you supposed to discuss the issue with them? The whole dining room table thing…

    As the article above states, “given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim.”

  30. knarlyknight Says:

    Fair comments, however it was short sighted and somewhat contemptuous of you not to mention that, as I have concluded, “the biggest potential changes to global temperatures are due to variations in the amount of heat escaping from the earth’s core into the oceans from subsea volcanoes and fissures.” ;-)

  31. NorthernLite Says:

    LOL, I’m sorry man. I wasn’t sure if you were being serious… I’ve never heard of this but I will try to read about it so I can comment.

    Definitely sounds interesting though. Is this what you think is causing our planet to warm?

  32. knarlyknight Says:

    LOL indeed. That’s the spirit.

    What I think is causing the planet to warm? Mostly a natural climate variation (somewhere between 50 and 95%) with AGW effects somewhere between 2% and 50%. FYI – I give a 3% chance that global warming is being caused by Islamic extremists, out of deference to the wwnj’s reading this.

    I had wondered about it with idle curiousity as to why it was never mentioned. My curiousity was based on the fact that the atmosphere and aquasphere is but a thin skin, and that lots has been analyzed on the solar impacts, but virtually no comments on the heat coming from earth’s core (except for land volcanoes which were only considered for the temporary cooling effect of their soot and huge additions to greenhouse gasses.)

    Then National Geographic published a big thing on the venting in the subsea Pacific “ring of fire” being a far bigger deal than previously thought and that, together with similar vents in the Atlantic suggested they should be investigated for effects on ocean temps. I thought to myself, “well, duh.” So I’m betting we’ll hear more about this in the coming years. It justs seems inconceivable to me that the astronomically high temperatures within the earth are not somehow influencing or even balancing the astronomically low temperatures of space. Perhaps the earth’s surface is comfortable to us life forms due to how gravity causes immense pressure /temperatures in the earth core which results, through the action of ever-changing fissures into the core, as a balancing mechanism for the surface. In other words, what if Bill O’reily was sort of right that the tides create global warming…

  33. NorthernLite Says:

    Ha, I think you give ol Bill too much credit.

    But I like your source. I tend to trust the good folks at National Geographic myself…

  34. knarlyknight Says:

    Good summary, thanks for the link.

    I was hoping it was the link to the undersea venting article, but I couldn’t find it. iirc, I have not been dropping acid, so perhaps it was another source like Nature. I’ve already provided the link here at lies on another thread, but searches do not bring that up either. Maybe I am just going mad.

  35. knarlyknight Says:

    “iirc, ihnbda”

  36. ethan-p Says:

    Knarly, what about the lack of pirates? Surely that must play some role in global warming.



  37. enkidu Says:

    yep, it’s pirates whats the problem
    and lorry!

    so, knarly, how do you explain the sudden increase in temps as the industrial revolution ramps up in the last 100 years or so? Are there any historic precedents for this? Seems awfully coincidental that the core suddenly lets off a hundred year long belch just as we begin spewing GHGs into the atmosphere (and no, CO2 isn’t the only GHG to be concerned about). Then again, I am no climate science or vulcanism expert.

    Actually I have to take issue with jbc’s original post: wwnj’s reality isn’t malleable plastic. Judging by years of long winded right wing gibberish, an objective expert would have to conclude that wwnj’s world view as a rigidly polarized right wing bundle of denial and nonsense.

    wwnj looks at the world thru (bullshit colored) lens that are polarized 90˚ to the right of sanity and reality. Every ill is caused by sociamalism! and ‘that boy’. Sadly the sane right wingers seem to have gone the way of the dodo. The wingnuts are literally threatening to default on America’s debt obligations to blow up the world economy so that they can blame it all on ‘that boy’.

  38. knarlyknight Says:

    Hi Enk, where you bin lurkin?

    How do I explain “sudden” increase in temsp? Well it could be AGW too. Sure people release huge amounts of GHG’s in absolute terms, but relative to natural sources (and volcanoes) aren’t the human emissions relatively small? iirc, they certainly are.

    Are there any historical precedents for temps to increase as the industrial revolution ramps up over the past 100 years or so? No, iirc the last 100 years was the first industrial revolution that people had so no there is no precedent for this. ;-)

    In any event, I’ve had a hard time seeing that the increase in the CO2 leads to higher temperatures: any graph I’ve seen looks mostly like temperatures start to increase and CO2/GHG follows, or at least that they are roughly simultaneous.

    There are two processes at play. (1) Warmer temperatures produce a feedback effect resulting in vast amounts of Co2/GHG being release from natural sources, and (2) CO2/GHG emissions contribute to warming. They are both problematic, but it seems to me like a leap of faith to decide that one or the other is a true independent variable, oir “real” source of the problem.

    Coincidental (release of heat from the core?) This sounds like a straw man. If you have information that the core has release a 100 year long belch please provide the link. You and others here believe in coincidences a million times less probable about the 911 terrorist attack than the possible coincidence that subsea venting has been higher in the last 100 years than otherwise.

    For example, here is one of 19 coincidences:

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