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    The BBC And New Climate Change Rules - Science Accuracy Or Muzzling Dissent?
    By Hank Campbell | July 21st 2011 11:41 AM | 45 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    One aspect of journalism that has led to a sense of entitlement among the public, and certainly those who have dissenting opinions, is the idea of 'balance' in media coverage.   That is, showing both sides.

    While balance is certainly fair, is it accurate and is it doing a service to the reader?  Are anti-GMO activists as legitimate as all of the scientists in the field?   Are anti-vaccine activists as legitimate as all of medicine?  How about homeopathy proponents?

    How about climate change?

    The BBC, unlike American news, is government run.  Everything in the UK is government run.   You don't have President Obama approving the appointment of an archbishop for Minnesota, for example, but in England even the Church is government run.   The governing body of the BBC has urged it to give less coverage to opponents of the 'majority consensus' in its programs because it implies 'false balance', they said.     And in a sense they are right about reminding people that balance is not always better.    Far too often, journalists either have to really hunt for a contrarian view in science or the journalists become activists themselves and fall in love with the concept of the 'oppressed underdog' the mean old Big Science establishment is suppressing.    On the other side, though, you have science cheerleaders who lovingly coo over media talking points produced by the IPCC and print them as fact, which is no great service to the publc either.

    It's outside the scope of this piece, but climate change did more to kill science journalism than the Internet has because of those twin issues.   

    The BBC report, unsurprisingly, did not find bias in BBC coverage.   Regardless, Tory Chancellor Lord Lawson, chairman of the skeptical Global Warming Policy Foundation said,“The idea that because scientific opinion falls largely on one side you can’t have a debate is outrageous. Because there’s a strong majority in basic science doesn’t mean the issue is off the table, yet the BBC says it should be.”

    He is certainly putting his own spin on the issue and it seems like a rather weak argument.   What is the line between giving unfair coverage to the fringe and reporting legitimate science issues?   I am not talking policy, that is outside the scope of this article, I mean the science facts. Even skeptics like Lord Lawson concede carbon dioxide levels are rising and leading to global warming, he simply objects to its extent and effect.

    That's an awfully subtle distinction to make and then insist on equal time in the media.   Should there be a standard disclaimer in atmospheric science articles, like 'some skeptics concede that greenhouse gases result in global warming but are not convinced about some projections of extent and effect'?  That's a lot of room to take up in a 400- word article.

    Like me, Dr. David Whitehouse, a former BBC science correspondent, says the BBC is muddying the water for science journalism by issuing edicts rather than letting journalists do their jobs.   He says they are “grouping sceptics with deniers” and eliminating valid science in the process.   "A sceptic is not a denier, all good scientists should be sceptics. The BBC has got itself into a complete muddle," he told the Daily Express.

    Look, I think most, skeptics or not, with any knowledge of physics recognizes that warming is going to happen if we keep belching gases into our atmosphere.  In that sense, I would agree that it's time to move on to how to deal with the problem and not spend time on if there is a problem.   Pollution is bad.

    But, as I have said too many times to count, journalists should be asking the awkward questions and a government body telling them not to do that feels vaguely wrong.  For journalists to play along with self-censorship or even engaging in advocacy, the way far too many did last decade, is downright unethical.

    Comments

    The Stand-Up Physicist
    I would have preferred a statement about what constitutes good science reporting in general. That would only be necessary if there were examples of bad science journalism at the BBC. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    There is not much value in labels. A skeptic is valuable while a denier has negative connotations, so a smart denier will always say they are a skeptic. The small quiz I have is to ask a person about climategate and Al Gore. If they get super excited and go on the warpath, like I can see a jump in blood pressure, then I will not trust the speaker.

    I believe in inertia. The reversal of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) to deal with the ozone layer was impressive. That had to deal with refrigerants, a small slice of the global economy. But carbon equals energy equals money, so I think we are just going to live with the consequences. My bet is that the results will be worse than the current consensus because I don't believe the greenhouse train will slow down. Anyone who dares say things will be worse gets kneecapped by skeptics and deniers alike.
    Somewhere between very poor and dreadful. If I may.
    "... climate change did more to kill science journalism than the Internet has because of those twin issues."
    Unfortunately the twin issues were so far outside this article, the only plausible nugget of promise was your premise that not asking searching questions of government is vaguely wrong.
    How, I'm not sure, it is possible to accept on the one hand that everything is government driven in this country, and then "coo lovingly" how the state run media organ is correct in its assertion that they need to further extract dissent from its public debate of critical political issues seems unjustifiable.
    Much more poignant would it have been to reveal the bare-faced Lysenkoism, practised by the BBC in their censure of legitimate scientific debate on political grounds. In sweeping sceptical dissent of AGW under the carpet, they are
    effectively manoeuvring themselves in order to disconnect their coverage of the subsequent alternative political viewpoints surrounding critical issues such as energy policy, CO2 emissions reductions, taxation and subsidies for vested interests and green rent-seekers that results from rational scepticism.
    The BBC's cynical propagandizement of the climate change narrative by its intention of presenting facts selectively and by omission has gone unchallenged, and your article is unashamedly limp in its criticism.
    May I suggest that politics has done more to kill science journalism than climate change, and put forward this article as evidence?

    Hank
    May I suggest that politics has done more to kill science journalism than climate change, and put forward this article as evidence?
    I suppose you can try and do anything, but I am not sure how this helps.   Science literacy in adults is triple what it was when I was young and the science audience is gigantic compared to then yet few mainstream media outlets bother to have science departments.

    The reason is because a lot of it became advocacy and people stopped reading them.   I don't see how you would contend it was instead that people stopped caring about politics, since plenty of political journalists are still employed.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...the BBC in their censure of legitimate scientific debate on political grounds.
    Yeah, it's somehow always "legitimate" when it advances your political views. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yeah, it's somehow always "legitimate" when it advances your political views.
    True. But if you accept that our BBC remit is to deliver unbiased, politically balanced news strands, it must include - as uncomfortable as it is for them - both sides. My point, is that the BBC Trust report on science coverage, to which this article refers, betrayed their position on climate change, thus becoming nothing more than a position statement on a political issue.
    We here in the UK are legally obliged, under threat of arrest, fine and imprisonment, to pay for the BBC service, were we to watch any television at all. By extension, those of us who disagree with the BBC's journalistic advocacy with regard to AGW - and as a minority we may well be - still have to pay what is effectively a tax, to them. By doing so, we financially support the lobbying, marketing and dissemination of science and policies we either disagree with, are misleading, incomplete, or are simply unproven. In this respect, some of us conclude that:
    We should reduce/abolish the TV licence.
    Dismantle the Trust, in an attempt to rid the systemic bias.
    Hold the BBC to account for its obfuscation of its unconstitutional political stance on its support for a price on carbon.
    How would you feel, if money you were forced to pay, was used to promote the prescription of government policies you did not vote for? Rightly annoyed, I suggest.

    Gerhard Adam
    But if you accept that our BBC remit is to deliver unbiased, politically balanced news strands, it must include - as uncomfortable as it is for them - both sides.  My point, is that the BBC Trust report on science coverage, to which this article refers, betrayed their position on climate change, thus becoming nothing more than a position statement on a political issue.
    You're obviously confused.  Where's all the peer-reviewed data that represents the "other side"?  This is always the problem with the concept of "fairness", is that it invariably allows the fringe to be viewed as legitimate opponents instead of the minority that they are. 

    You've made my point quite well, since in your quote you clearly don't believe that this is a scientific issue, but rather that it is political.  Therein lies the problem, because it is clear that you don't actually want a scientific discussion.  You want the BBC to deliver a minority's political perspective as "balanced" opposition to the consensus position.




    Mundus vult decipi
    the problem with the concept of "fairness", is that it invariably allows the fringe to be viewed as legitimate opponents instead of the minority that they are...You want the BBC to deliver a minority's political perspective as "balanced" opposition to the consensus position.
    You obviously have a problem with minorities. That's generally frowned upon here in the UK - and rightly so. Are you suggesting that minority views are not legitimate, it certainly appears that way?
    You also need to be careful of suggesting consensus is scientific fact. There has been considerable review along these lines just recently:
    http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/16/manufacturing-consensus/#more-4090
    And the paper is here:
    http://goodwin.public.iastate.edu/pubs/goodwinipcc.pdf
    It's not happy reading for consensus supporters, or those who use it as a basis for political action.
    Lastly, it's just not credible any longer to try and detach climate science from politics, or indeed to suggest that never the twain shall meet, given that science informs policy on so deeply on so many levels, and denying this does not move the debate forward. But that is not your intention is it? Methinks that you would rather the scientific debate was behind us, in order to progress with implementing the policies you choose to vote for.
    Am I going to encounter the "climate change is not an agenda issue" line?

    For two generations, it was "settled science" that continents did NOT MOVE. Academic journals banned articles and authors who supported Continental Drift. I am strongly reminded of those in the Climategate Fraud record.

    Gerhard Adam
    There's no comparison.
    Mundus vult decipi
    logicman
    For two generations, it was "settled science" that continents did NOT MOVE. Academic journals banned articles and authors who supported Continental Drift.

    Citations ?

    Without citations this is mere handwaving. It is also just plain wrong. Before Wegener's theories were supported by strong evidence, the theory was widely and openly discussed.   As for "banned articles and authors", I suppose that the British geologist Arthur Holmes - who supported the theory - had to hide in a Siberian salt mine and have his heretical theories published in some obscure Innuit dialect.

    Pur-leez!
    Hank
    You're confusing an incorrect conclusion that was eventually proven wrong with a science conspiracy.  Once the data showed continental drift, it was published, refuted, argued about and validated.  Continental drift is the perfect example of how the scientific method does work.

    When there was only speculation, it was dismissed.   When it was shown using science, it was accepted.  That is how things are supposed to work.
    No, I don't see any confusion. No mention has been made of a "conspiracy", and so I think using this term is a weak attempt to discredit by association. Be fair.
    It was really nothing to do with data becoming available that led to acceptance of continental drift, and you are inaccurate to assert this. Neither was it speculation (as early as 1929), that the theory was dismissed as it was clearly the interdisciplinary nature of the hypothesis that led to the tribal denunciations of it until the 1960's.
    A much better description of the Wegener impact is here:
    http://www.scientus.org/Wegener-Continental-Drift.html
    It ends like this:
    "Paul Feyerabend, a modern philosopher of science, ...argues that science sometimes is required to work "against the facts".... it is amusing that in the early stages of the development of many theories, science is dependent on faith much like religion."
    This description appears to be a more accurate reflection of the territoriality that beset Wegener's theories than the sudden emergence of "data" that came over the hill like the cavalry in support of truth as you have it painted.

    Hank
    "Paul Feyerabend, a modern philosopher of science"
    This is just more evidence you have no idea at all what you are talking about.   Feyerabend, a Berkeley postmodernist who believed everything is relative, was the greatest hater of science and logic in modern culture.  Literally.   So if you want to rationalize never trusting any science result ever, along with rationalizing genocide, serial killing and pedophilia as simply different legitimate worldviews, then postmodernism is certainly the way to go.

    It just means you are firmly in the anti-science camp and looking for ways to rationalize it.    The problem with global warming deniers is just that - they know nothing at all about the science, or people in and around science, so they look for random talking points without being able to put them in proper context.   For global warming deniers to be quoting a hard-left Berkeley postmodernist is perfect irony; the only thing he hated more than science were conservatives.
    You should accept that your suggestion that the Continental drift theory was not refuted because it was speculative, or that data suddenly became available, as an inaccurate argument. Instead you have launched into the typical, name association tirades that faux science commentators and CAGW alarmists resort when they are exposed as spouting rubbish. Which was quite often in your article, as I have gently reminded you.
    So let me see: genocide, serial killing, pedophilia, denialism, anti-science, know-nothing. Simply a collection of unrelated, unjustified rant of associations that says more about you than it does the discussion at hand. It's very disappointing that you choose to unload this type of hysterical response, when the thread was challenging but courteous. Although I'm not surprised, it is a shame that this type of vindictive rhetoric is used to end debate and suppress dissent.
    The irony as far as I can see it, is that we have a sceptic who acknowledges the role of science in society and an AGW advocate who opposes po-mo po-no.
    Grim stuff, but it's your blog.

    Hank
    I like the way you ended that comment but it leads to a question; which of those two am I?
    As hard as you like to try, you simply can't reclaim rational scepticism as the preserve of supporters of the orthodoxy. That ground has already been lost much to your chagrin. ;)

    Hank
    You didn't answer my question - which one of the two you listed am I?
    State your position on AGW. Bullets will do. Lets have a look and judge for ourselves.

    Hank
    Warming is a physics reality but stick to 
    a sceptic who acknowledges the role of science in society and an AGW advocate 
    and go ahead and judge me and tell us all which of those two I am and, conversely, which one you must be.  Let's show the world you are talking out your ass.

    "Warming is a physics reality."
    Agreed. But cowardly. Don't be afraid to state your position.
    "go ahead and judge me".
    It's your blog and you can't state your position.
    "Let's show the world you are talking out your ass."
    This last comment informed my response. Are you capable or rescuing this thread?

    Gerhard Adam
    Vindictive rhetoric?  You're the one that brought up Feyerabend who gave us such insights as:
    Modern science, on the other hand, is not at all as difficult and as perfect as scientific propaganda wants us to believe. A subject such as medicine, or physics, or biology appears difficult only because it is taught badly, because the standard instructions are full of redundant material, and because they start too late  in life.

    Public action was used against science by the Communists in China in the fifties, and it was again used,, under very different circumstances,by some opponents of evolution in California in the seventies. Let us follow their example and let us free society from the strangling hold of an ideologically petrified science just as our ancestors freed us from the strangling hold of the One True Religion!
    http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm

    Sorry, but I feel Hank's comments were kind.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, that quote is utterly ghastly, and the post normal science that has grown in part from it, is objectionable. However, his observation that I quoted in relation to Continental drift theory, was substantially closer to the truth than the careless explanation by our host.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but Feyerabend didn't say anything substantive about science with respect to Continental Drift theory (1).  Everyone recognizes that there may be opposing views and that there will be entrenched interests that can make new ideas difficult to introduce.

    Scientists should not be held to some behavioral standard that the rest of humanity can't live up to, so let's stop pretending that they are supposed to be objective saints that don't have self-interest and career-interests as well.  Some will be better, some will be worse. 

    However, the point regarding Continental Drift, is that the evidence ultimately wins out because it begins to explain more than the prevailing view fails to.  Therefore in the search for new explanations and theories, invariably such an idea begins to gain traction.  It is this perpetual need to re-evaluate and change that brings it about.

    While we can certainly argue about the ethics of individual scientists and how people behave, (in my view) it is largely irrelevant except for those that insist on "rose-colored glasses". 

    Even politicians are ultimately beholden to their intrinsic desire for power, so their actions are not arbitrarily self-destructive, but instead are an attempt to garner support from as many people as possible to retain their positions.  As a result, if we find political behavior despicable, then look no further than the constituents that support them in office.

    You know as well as I, that the BBC will not turn into a "peer-reviewed" broadcast, and consequently the notion of opposing views will be filled with laypersons expressing political opinions and attempting to sway popular opinion.  If people are truly interested, then they will examine the science and not get it from the BBC.  Otherwise, the only purpose being served by the broadcasts will be to build political consensus.  So let's be honest here.  This has nothing to do with science and the argument is about politics.
    -------------------------
    (1)  This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else about their business, but without  any real disadvantage: they have more money, more authority, more sex appeal than they deserve, and the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society.
    http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm
    Lest we forget what his basic premise is.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Interesting.
    Firstly, I wasn't quoting Feyerabend on Continental drift, that is clear in what I wrote.
    Secondly, I agree with almost everything you went on to say. But to keep things on track - as responses narrowly fell off the rails a few posts ago - you say that the only purpose being served [by the BBC] will be to build political consensus... it has nothing to do with science and the argument is about politics. So I'm just trying to reconcile this with your comment that I "clearly don't believe that this is a scientific issue, but rather that it is political", which led me to believe that you did not accept the politics inherent in the debate.
    So...
    Do you think it appropriate that the BBC spend tax payers money on building political consensus, given that you accept this is their intention? I don't and that is my position.

    Gerhard Adam
    Do you think it appropriate that the BBC spend tax payers money on building political consensus...
    In the first place, this is invariably what media does, so I'm not clear on why tax-payer money would make a difference.  Obviously some will be in favor, some opposed, but it isn't much of an argument regarding the BBC itself.

    I think we do have to be careful in using concepts like "objectivity" as if they have some independent existence.  Objectivity is always within the eye of the beholder, so the question is more about accuracy and whether questionable opposing viewpoints need to be "fairly" represented.  I don't pretend to have a solution, but ultimately, as I said before, if people are serious then they will need to do far more exploration of data than a few BBC broadcasts.

    It isn't that I don't accept the politics in the debate, but I don't accept it under the aura of science.  In other words, if someone argues that they don't believe AGW is occurring, then it's a scientific argument and evidence is required.  On the other hand, if someone thinks that economic incentives to curb CO2 are wrong, then that's political since it involves public policy.  It's perfectly reasonable to accept the science and reject a "solution".  In fact, I think a strong argument can be made that we may not know enough to formulate a reasonable solution, given that AGW is true.  I don't have a problem with that.  I have a problem with people wanting to argue all kinds of nebulous and vague reasons against warming (or more properly; "change") when the evidence clearly indicates it is occurring.

    Similarly when people argue about how climate has always changed, they are obviously overlooking the 7 billion humans that weren't present during those periods.  Similarly, when people want to argue about some areas getting colder, while others get warmer, they are being disingenuous, because they are obviously arguing that climate is actually changing, but want to deny it.

    As I said in another post.  Any kind of change represents an unknown quantity for this many humans on the planet (and all their dependent animals, etc.).  As a result, we are uniformly unprepared to address change in any large-scale manner since our society simply can't absorb it.  The economics of it are ruinous. 

    So, in the end, it comes down to (1) is it the science you object to, or (2) is it the public policy "solutions" you object to?  From that, you can evaluate what is legitimate presentation with respect to the BBC.

    I guess, one question to answer is whether the BBC has ever been used to build political consensus?  Once again, this is a quarrel with your government and media, but I don't see that it actually has much to do with AGW.


    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    ...his observation that I quoted in relation to Continental drift theory, was substantially closer to the truth
    Actually it wasn't.  Consider this:
    In each case above,there were facts which when combined with the current assumptions of the time clearly contradicted their hypotheses. None of these scientists let those facts deter them. Paul Feyerabend, a modern philosopher of science, presents a similar view, where he argues that science sometimes is required to work "against the facts".
    http://www.scientus.org/Wegener-Continental-Drift.html
    One of the problems that Wegener had was that he had no mechanism to explain his ideas.  Darwin is often mentioned at this point, because he also didn't have an underlying mechanism, but these are vastly different situations.  Darwin had plenty of observable evidence because of artificial selection practiced in animal husbandry, and consequently even without knowing the specifics, it was clear that some process was at work.  In addition, evolution wasn't exactly a new idea, so Darwin was being more specific about something that was already being discussed.  Wegener didn't have any observable evidence that wasn't subject to alternative explanations.  Where  he proposed continents being joined, others suggested land bridges.  Where he suggested lining up of coastlines, others mentioned coincidence.

    In short, the point is similar to Sagan indicating that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  In other words, it is actually quite reasonable to stick with an existing theory that may have deficiencies than to embrace one with as many (or more) deficiencies and more assumptions.  After all, that's the point of Occam's Razor, which obviously isn't always a correct assumption.

    If look at the real history of science, we clearly see that significant progress invariably occurs.  Instead of considering specific instances out of context, when we examine the overall history, science is one of the few areas of human activity that truly illustrates far more successes than it does failures.  This certainly doesn't make it perfect, but it hardly makes it dogma either.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    One of the problems that Wegener had was that he had no mechanism to explain his ideas. Darwin is often mentioned at this point, because he also didn't have an underlying mechanism, but these are vastly different situations. 
    Not so much.  Darwin was also not completely accepted until 60 years later - when he wrote Origin there was no real knowledge of genetics.  His detractors, while wrong in the end, had a legitimate basis for being skeptical.  But his detractors, also being good scientists, accepted evolution when the data supported it.  So it was with continental drift.

    As I note, only the kookiest deniers contend there is no climate change and never will be.  I separate them from skeptics, none of whom have shown up in this comment thread.  Instead, it is people who think 'disprove a negative' arguments overturn data.    They have cited meaningless snippets and used ad hominem attacks because they can't interpret the data.   That's okay, of course, but they also object to anyone who does interpret the data and shows a result they refuse to believe anyway because they disagree with an admittedly bone-headed set of policy initiatives that will not help stave off climate change at all.  But they don't even get that science is on their side, they want 'you are with us or against us no matter how wrong we are on some points' lines in the sand. 

    i Am well aware that the scdience was fuzzy and unprovable at the time of Wegener. THAT is yhe parallel to the Climate group's "need" to belittle rather than look ar all the data.

    Problem is the "settled science" of CO2 driven global warming for several decades has presumed a linear increase in global temperatures with increases in CO2 to the point where the records got doctored when the actual data didn't quite correspond. I don't know where these "scientists" got the idea that we didn't have some massive feedback mechanisms in our weather system that maintain a remarkable degree of homeostasis.

    Now that it has become general knowledge that that linear relationship of CO2 vs temperature didn't work for the weather for the past decade and that the temperature hasn't risen significantly since 1995 {Phil Jones said this, mind, so don't come at me with a bunch of warmist bullshit}, we find our richly funded climate change establishment frantically trying to explain away the divergence of observed vs predicted temperatures with ridiculous confections like this.

    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-07-noaa-aerosols-inhibiting-global.html

    Not that aerosols don't suppress incoming solar radiation. They do. They also tend to suppress outgoing 12-14 micron IR, too, which they carefully don't mention.

    The climate establishment is in a very difficult situation. They bet the farm on their models and now that the data is coming in they're left with either being massively embarrassed or just flat out lying about the data. Climategate caught them in the lie. Now they're trying to explain away the data, as if that's going to do them any good.

    I used to model complex thermal conduction/radiation phenomena. The most dangerous thing that you could do is get to not having a very healthy respect for the limitations and unknowns in your model. The climate establishment fell in love with theirs and now its the morning after and they're having to come to terms with exactly what it was they were in bed with last night metaphorically. :-D

    Hank
    Not that aerosols don't suppress incoming solar radiation. They do. They also tend to suppress outgoing 12-14 micron IR, too, which they carefully don't mention.
    You linked to a press release, which is bad enough, and then as if that actually debunks the idea that more pollution will not lead to more warming.  This is basic physics stuff and I certainly can't be called 'warmist bullshit', I know I have taken on and beaten up a lot more numerical models than you have.

    Please now proceed with the next  phase of the discussion where you tell me I am some commie pinko liberal sucking on a government teat as I perpetuate some myth in pursuit of funding.
    Well of course journalists should use their judgement on whether to give equal time to an opposing opinion. And, as the author points out, it should be THEIR judgement, not some government flunky's. Which is why the First Amendment is so important here in the good ole US of A.
    That being said, there is definitely room in the global warming debate for contrary views. My own (admittedly layman's) view is that the scientific/political establishment needs to answer a few questions, such as:

    1) yes the Earth is warming, but aren't we still coming out of the last ice age?
    2) how much warming is man-made and how much is not?
    3) what is the price tag of controlling man-made global warming versus the price of dealing with its effects?

    And then, IMHO, the most important question of all:
    4) is global warming necessarily a bad thing? Yes, I understand all the bad things associated with global warming, but what about the benefits? Benefits such as a longer growing season, opening up the arctic for resources and transportation, not to mention little things like transforming the vast frozen wasteland of Siberia into fertile agriculture land.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Hank
    Only one of those is objective.   The other three are simply political and economic viewpoints.  "Man made" warming, how do you define that?   If you include processes related to growing food, housing people and giving them a better life, then virtually all of the CO2 is manmade

    Question 1, are we not coming out of the last Ice Age is a real question and the answer is a no.    Throughout the habitable life of the planet, 90,000 out of every 100,000 years have been ice ages and it has been 12,000 years since the last one so, historically, we should be in one.   I often joke that we'd better hope there is some global warming or we are in trouble but there are limits on how warm you want things to get.

    So when you say contrary views are important, you simply mean your political important should be as important as the science establishment's data.     It's science relativism, which is no different than moral relativism, so if conservatives are now embracing moral relativism and are dropping their personal objections to abortion and gays in the military (because all anyone needs to ask is "is abortion necessarily a bad thing?" and it must therefore be allowed in the interests of contrary views until that question can be answered with a 100% certainty.    The RNC will be thrilled global warming skeptics are so interested in postmodernism they are throwing out virtually the entire Republican platform in the interests of intellectual discourse.
    @Hank

    "You linked to a press release, which is bad enough, and then as if that actually debunks the idea that more pollution will not lead to more warming."

    Are you really under the impression that your screed is any better?

    "Please now proceed with the next phase of the discussion where you tell me I am some commie pinko liberal sucking on a government teat as I perpetuate some myth in pursuit of funding."

    Well, you seem to know how everything is going to be without requiring real world input, so why don't you just beat yourself up and the rest of us will just sit back and be the passive readers that you seem to be expecting.

    Hank
    There is a difference between a piece discussing the societal impact of rules on covering an important science issue that impacts policy and listing a press release as data - if the IPCC did that I am certain a fellow skeptic who does some research and doesn't just bookmark snippets of paragraphs they want to re-use over and over would blast them for that, and rightly so.

    If you are going to come to a science site, you need to know what your sources are and what you are talking about - and if you do, your thoughts are welcome.   Quoting a press release and ramping up your diatribes with how to frame science through your political agenda belongs on fellow traveler sites that ridicule science because it doesn't match their political agenda.
    @Hank

    "If you are going to come to a science site, you need to know what your sources are and what you are talking about "

    LOL! With as nasty an affect as you give yourself permission to express publicly it's little wonder that your website's readership has dropped by half after a promising first year.

    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/science20.com#

    Did something change in your life last September? Your readership certainly began a steep decline immediately afterwards.

    You might also want to ask yourself why the only people showing up at your website are people over 65 with advanced degrees...

    Your website is dying. You might want to wonder if the way you treat your readers has something to do with that.

    Good luck.

    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/science20.com#

    Hank
    I am not sure what point you are trying to make but it seems to follow with your understanding of science; if a small panel of readers with a toolbar enabled in their browser visits us less than they did a year ago, you think it means we are not a good science site.    It's a classic pseudoscience approach but I certainly get that you are frustrated that political talking points don't carry much weight scientifically so you are lashing out with ad hominem silliness.

    You also don't have access to Comscore, the only service that actually buys ISP data so knows what real traffic is for every site, but they are a company that charges people - you know, capitalism - and you only want data you can get for free, which is ironic for a right-wing person.

    More alarming is that you claim to care about independence and freedom but we are the only large science site not owned by a media corporation or funded by a government agency - the only one - and you want to piss on that and pretend it must be lower quality because it hasn't been edited by  people who insist all science be written for 14 year olds.   Get your science from MSNBC and Fox News then.   Enjoy having editors who use public opinion polls and business development people determine what science you read.  
    As for the RNC, I could care less what they think, I am a libertarian. As for abortion? Yeah, sometimes maybe it is a good thing. But you still haven't answered my questioned, you just dismissed it. Do you honestly know what the optimal temperature for mankind is? If we had the ability, at exactly what temperature should the Earth's thermostat be set? I am not trying to be argumentative, I just really would like to know if global warming would not bring some advantages, and at what point would they be outweighed by the disadvantages?

    And yes, point three is definitely a political question. Does that mean it has no place in the discussion? For instance, just pulling numbers out of thin air....if it costs one billion dollars to keep sea levels from rising to drown Hong Kong, but it would cost only 500 million to build dykes, is that not something that should be considered? (Again, I just made up those numbers as an example.)

    But I am not really arguing about global warming, just pointing out that other viewpoints than the majority consensus should be considered. I think your point was more about the ingrained habit of journalists to always find an alternative view, whether it has any merit or not, and whether the government should inject itself into that decision.

    Gerhard Adam
    And yes, point three is definitely a political question. Does that mean it has no place in the discussion?
    Actually, it doesn't.  Political discussions and proposed actions are in an entirely separate domain.  The problem is that too many people want to deny AGW because of the politics and not because there's any controversy in the science.
    Do you honestly know what the optimal temperature for mankind is?
    What kind of a question is that? 

    In the first place, you know that weather varies from year to year and season to season.  It isn't something that can be arbitrarily established as some fundamentally "good" or "bad" set of values.  Instead, we must approach it to what we are adapted for, and what we have established our society to expect.  Many of the problems experienced today are a direct result of population size, which restricts movement, access to resources, etc.  Therefore any shift from what we are "used to", introduces the possibility of change that may be detrimental.  Our entire human enterprise is based on the implicit assumption that things will remain relatively static.  Even though our planet has undergone several ice ages, it would be hard to imagine anything more devastating to modern society than such an event.  It is "change" that we can't tolerate, so to discuss "optimums" is meaningless.

    If weather patterns shift, does present-day farm land become desert?  Do coastal regions become submerged?  Do deserts become forests?  All of these changes are events that have occurred in the Earth's past, with one notable difference.  There weren't 7 billion people that had to adapt to those differences.

    If even a tiny fraction of AGW occurs as predicted, it won't necessarily mean the end of human beings, but it could be an economic catastrophe.  What would it take to have to move several million people inland from coastal regions?  What would the costs be for lost property?  What would it do for infrastructure? 

    To ask your question about "optimal temperatures" is disingenuous and simply foolish.  In short, it's the wrong question.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "To ask your question about "optimal temperatures" is disingenuous and simply foolish."

    LMAO! It must really suck to be you guys. :-D

    Bye, now. :-)

    Gerhard Adam
    Not as much as it must suck to be unable to respond to simple questions.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, finally. Even though you stated the question was the wrong one, you still answered it. You are saying that yes, the harmful effects outweigh the positive. Perhaps if these things were explained to laymen like me, more progress would be made in enacting the solutions you feel are needed. When the questions are simply dismissed, the public starts wondering about the motives of those doing the dismissing.
    You can say that "Political discussions and proposed actions are in an entirely separate domain" but you are the ones raising doomsday scenarios and agitating for massive expenditures of public and private money. So yes, in scientific discussions between you and your peers you can just discuss the data. ("Just the facts, ma'am"), but the public needs to have these questions answered.
    Showing how and why your critics are wrong is much more effective than just dismissing them.

    Also, I could still argue about the cost/benefit ratio. Billions of people living in areas who have to be relocated versus billions of people in dire poverty who are being told that they can not reach a living standard equal to ours because we have already spewed too much carbon into the air, for instance.

    Actually, lol, you could use that argument against the right-wing deniers. Something like "If we can force China to accept Cap and Trade, we can keep those dirty commies down!"

    Hank
    but you are the ones raising doomsday scenarios and agitating for massive expenditures of public and private money. 
    This is the problem with the various commenters who have brought a knee-jerk political agenda to a science site.  The notion that I, of all people, have raised doomsday scenarios or 'agitated' - a pleasant enough denier buzzword, I agree - for any expenditures of public or private money - ever - is shocking in its complete and total falseness.    I usually have to tell global warming fetishists they are out of their minds so it's nice to kick around the other side of the anti-science fringe for a change.

    I do agree with you that 'If you keep using fossil fuels, the terrorists win' would be a fine marketing campaign, but no one has implemented it yet.   We could 'home grow' an energy future, of course, and some policy folks have opted to wait and count on that instead of doing something now.  But the people who would create that science are the same people right-wing deniers hate so they won't want to fund any research.
    Gerhard Adam
    You are saying that yes, the harmful effects outweigh the positive.
    No, I'm not.  I can't predict what effects will be; harmful or otherwise.  The only thing I can state with certainty is that any kind of change introduces risk.  Our society is not build on being flexible, and therefore any kind of change could be beneficial or it could be disastrous.  The one thing we can't afford to do is to ignore it.
    ...you are the ones raising doomsday scenarios and agitating for massive expenditures of public and private money.
    Once again, I'm not raising doomsday scenarios.  I'm only indicating that changes are not so simplistic as often presented.  We already know what the reality of these situations are.  We've witnessed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami's in Asia.  We know how poorly prepared we are as societies for dealing with these issues.  We also recognize that these locations rarely get corrected quickly.  As long as they are isolated to a few sporadic areas, we can put the problems out of our minds, but in truth, we have done a lousy job of recovering from these small isolated disasters.  If something more significant were to occur, given our past response history, it truly could become a doomsday scenario.  Not because the problem is so insurmountable, but rather because we would rather deny the possibility than plan for the inevitability.
    Also, I could still argue about the cost/benefit ratio. Billions of people living in areas who have to be relocated versus billions of people in dire poverty who are being told that they can not reach a living standard equal to ours because we have already spewed too much carbon into the air, for instance.
    Sure, but that would no longer be a scientific discussion.  Public policy is different and requires different considerations.  I personally don't believe we can implement solutions dependent on relocation, etc.  We certainly can't do it with farms or other geographic areas that we're dependent on.  Are we doomed?  Probably not (as a species), but assuredly many of us are already doomed by simply looking at the living conditions in the world.  For those people it would be hard to imagine things being able to get worse.  The people that should be concerned are those that are doing well.  Those are the ones that will likely be impacted the most by global change, and unless you're very well moneyed ... you have no protections.
    Mundus vult decipi
    well, thanks for your replies. They will give me much to think on.

    logicman
    To return to the main topic of the article, apropos some assertions made about continental drift:

    If the BBC had covered continental drift in Wegener's times, it would likely have given equal time to the yeahs and the nays.  Nothing new there.   As part of my investigations into the history and historiography of climate change science - a branch of science which is founded in geological discussions and discoveries - I can state that the number of well-established scientists supporting Wegener was greater than the number who rejected his theories.  Of those who rejected his theories, many were religious fundamentalist philosophers like those who had previously rejected every other geological theory or finding which conflicted with the biblical account of creation.  We have such philosophers today.  They assert that CO2 was designed by a deity as food for the intelligently designed plants and that  T. Rex Ate Coconuts.

    As to the notion of censorship of continental drift theory - Wegener's paper was freely debated in German.  I suppose that for any parochialist who expects the whole scientific world to speak English, the shortage of papers in English is rock solid evidence of establishment censorship, admissible in any court of common law jurisprudence.  Yeah!  Right!