Sunday, November 29, 2009

Warming and the Tyranny of the Left Brain

In The Sunday Times I write about global warming and I discuss the left-right brain divide with Iain McGilchrist


  1. Sorry, Bryan, but your AGW piece reads more like an account of a Damascene conversion than a reconsideration of objective science.

    You will note that there is some wiggle room in these statements. It is “almost certain” that humans are responsible; nasty things will “probably” happen. That is because all science can ever be is the best guess of the best minds. Also, the climate is a complex system, meaning it can behave in ways that are opaque beyond our most sophisticated calculations. But, as I have often been told, those statements are as true as any scientific statements can be, and nobody — I repeat, nobody — has been able to refute this. In short, to deny any of these statements is to put yourself beyond the bounds of rational discourse.

    You are not describing empirical, observed science here, you are describing its predictive capabilities, i.e. it's ability to foretell the future. In some cases like eclipses and planet paths, these can be reliable because they are built on relatively simple and stable physical and cosmological laws and beyond human agency, but climate is complex, chaotic and barely understood, and the prevailing IPCC wisdom is that we are the stars of the show. Epidemiology is a much more developed and understood discipline than climate studies, but they still may have overstated (early days yet, I allow) H1N1 significantly and they were only predicting a few months ahead.

    Surely you, of all people, know better than to argue that to question this kind of orthodoxy "puts yourself beyond the bounds of rational discourse". A more anti-scientific proposition is difficult to imagine. It's nothing more than an argument from authority that would leave a 17th century Jesuit breathless and it is an all-too-common arrow in the quiver of the scientific establishment, along with diversionary sniffs about qualifications, peer reviews, "science-denial" and outright fabrication. I think a good psychologist might have something to say about this war of the ad hominems.

    How in the world can you know that medieval warming was just a European phenomenon, and what can such a statement made so blithely mean? That must be the last word in Eurocentrism (Are you aware that Newfoundland/Labrador was originally christened "Vineland" by the Vikings?). I can play too--I accept AGW, but I believe it is just a polar phenomenon, so there! The grudging admission by the AGW crowd about medieval warming only came after a decade-long, take-no-prisoners battle over the IPCC hockey stick that went so far at to be investigated by the U.S. Congress. The admission by Mann et. al. after fighting such a rearguard battle has more than a little sniff of sour grapes about it. The battle is still raging among those whose idea of a good time is to argue about tree rings all day.

    If you choose to accept the prevailing wisdom about AGW, good for you, but don't fool yourself into believing classic science has resolved it all, or that it's even about material Truth. Here is a disarmingly forthright piece by one of the head honchos at East Anglia as to what is underlying it.

  2. If you buy the dead tree version of the ST, the endlessly-recurring problem we have with this 'debate' is obvious.

    Bryan's piece, which is a reasonable look at the scientific debate, is in a magazine special containing a whole load of lifestyle and trendy celeb junk which the editors can put under the label 'Green'.

    The endlessly occuring problem is that the question "if it's true, what should we do about it" is not treated seriously. So, Bryan: you think it's true. What do you do about it? The important thing for you seems to be the ability to win arguments at dinner parties. Which is fun, but if this really is a serious problem, that's not a serious conclusion.

    Carbon emissions might lead to climate catastrophes. I'm willing to accept that. I'm not a 'denialist' (horrible word that - nasty implications). But we have had and always will have climate catastrophes anyway. So should we do things with immediate bad consequences to attempt and possibly fail to avert climate catastrophes when, even if we do avert them, we might get different ones?

    That is a genuine question, and has got nothing to do with boneheadery.

  3. Well I read the first article and found I might be a bonehead. Then I read the second piece and found the reason I was a bonehead was because I believe Copenhagen and most government interventions on climate change to be very left-brained.

  4. "Nobody has come up with an alternative explanation that stands up."

    This is the Sherlock Holmes approach to science, Bryan. Try a bit harder.

  5. So Anaken, the dark side has finally triumphed, you've bin and gone and done it, a seat in the house of the Sith awaits.
    Y'all take care now, remember the ending.

  6. 'Christianist' which you used in the piece is an embarrassing nonsense term invented, I believe, by the 'Drivelist' Andrew Sullivan in one of his sweatier, ultra hysterical (as opposed to merely hysterical) moments to create a false equivalence between Sarah Palin fans in the US and suicide bombers/hostage beheaders in the ME. Sorry to see you using an intellectually bankrupt term so obviously beneath you.

    The same goes for deniers/denialists etc, which is the same as shouting racism, Islamophobia and what have you at the drop of a hat. Jeez.

    Just sayin'.

  7. Dear Bryan Appleyard,

    it is all a case for common sense. Everyone should read The Four Laws of Ecology by the perfectly named Barry Commoner.

    'Warming and the Tyranny of the Left Brain' is a thought provoking combination , which together with the article by Mike Hulme [courtesy of the link from Peter Burnet] led me to think you may be interested in a thought experiment underway at:

    a creative project that has also been 20 years in the making, the web site delineates the development of a visual dialogue, together with a stab at conceptualism called The World's Face. Intended as a provocation, people may make of it what they will, it is but another piece in a larger work emphasising that Everything is connected to everything else, among other things.

    Common sense requires both sides of the brain...

    with thanks,