Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Renowned Canadian historian, Margaret MacMillan, suckered by junk science

Terence Corcoran on the opening of the 16th annual Junk Science Week:
... Modern science seems less about science and more about working up consensus, agitating for social agreement, shaping opinion and aligning political decision-making, from climate to smog to chemicals. Science becomes the backdrop to an exercise in marketing and propaganda.

... A sidelight to the science of climate change is the willingness of even our most learned academics to fall into line behind the idea of climate “consensus.”  Margaret MacMillan, one of the world’s most celebrated historians, told a Toronto audience recently that a consensus will likely never form around the origins of World War One. “The past is not settled,” she said. “We should not be trying to find a single settled version of the past. We should be arguing about it because these are important questions.”

About 15 minutes before saying that a war fought 100 years ago was ultimately unknowable, Ms. MacMillan saw no need to argue or debate over climate change issues. We have, she said, something like 90% agreement among scientists.  As a result, she was more than willing to accept that climate change would bring a crisis 100 years from now. We can have no consensus on the past, but the future is settled.
Ouch! Ms. MacMillan would do well to avoid embarrassing contradictions brought on by pontificating on subjects she clearly knows little about.  And to improve her understanding of climate science the least she could do is take the time to read Ross McKitrick's excellent update.


badbeta said...

What an open fraud she is...no surprise though.

Anon1152 said...

I have two points to make. (I'm guessing that they are each worth one cent).

1. Based on what is quoted here, it looks as if MacMillan DID NOT say that WWI was "ultimately unknowable". Rather, she said that there will never be a consensus about "the origins of WWI". And that isn't too surprising. WWI involved many countries and many (millions) of people. Will we ever know for sure what motivated everyone? History isn't exactly a "science". You can't recreate WWI in a lab… Which brings me to my second cent. Or… er… point.

2. Corcoran seems to ignore the differences between history and science. Will we know what long-dead leaders were thinking and the information they had in their minds while they were thinking? Can we test and measure any of that? No, not really. Can we replicate WWI many different times, changing certain variables and then measure the results? No. But science is different. Is carbon dioxide transparent to visible light but not transparent to infrared light? We can test and measure that sort of thing.

Yes, the climate and climate science is more complicated than that. But I think that my point--that there are significant qualitative differences between history and science which make it quite reasonable to say that there will be no real consensus on the origins of WWI but that there can be/will be/should be/is a consensus on the idea that CO2 emissions are significantly changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and warming the climate--still stands.

Maybe you guys are right about climate change and MacMillan is wrong. But this attempt to characterize her as some sort of hypocrite or idiot is not convincing.

JR said...

Anon 1152,
Based on his previous words Corcoran's "unknowable" remark referred to the causes ("origins") of WWI. So using that as a counterargument would be picking a nit.

But you're right that history, unlike most science, can't be tested in a lab. And climate science, like history, can't be tested in a lab either. We rely on what we think happened in the past, together with what we think is happening now to try to deduce what will happen in the future. It's an extraordinarily difficult challenge that should be subject to vigorous and serious debate between scientists, not shut down with claims that it is all "settled". Much of what passes for climate "science" today is actually highly speculative and highly politicized and therefore rightfully classified as "junk science" as defined by Mr. Corcoran.

In her ignorance, Margaret MacMillan has been suckered into adding her voice to the ridiculous, anti-scientific "settled" science and phony "consensus" mantra.

"... there can be/will be/should be/is a consensus on the idea that CO2 emissions are significantly changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and warming the climate--still stands."

One big problem is that there is very poor understanding of the skeptical position. Be assured that there is almost 100% consensus among all scientists, including the supposedly "skeptical" ones (you know - the "deniers"), that human produced greenhouse gases play a role in warming the Earth's climate. That's because everyone agrees on the physics involved. The theory is about as "settled" as any scientific theory can be. What is far from settled is how much influence these GHGs have on warming the climate and by extension how much influence the human produced component contributes.

The climate system as a whole is governed by many more variables than just the atmospheric concentration of GHGs. Climate models incorporate the hundreds if not thousands of known variables and processes in an attempt to estimate what the future holds. So far, most of these models (>97% of them) have wildly over-estimated the sensitivity of the climate to GHGs. Actual measurements show that the climate is not nearly as sensitive as models predicted - and certainly not enough to justify implementing policies that risk wrecking the global economy.

So you are dead wrong when you say there will be/should be/is a consensus that CO2 emissions are significantly changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and warming the climate. So was Margaret MacMillan.