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Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 December 2008

I recently came across an old copy of Arthur Koestler’s “The Case of the Midwife Toad”. Originally published in 1971, it’s an exploration of a rather tragic footnote in the history of evolutionary science. Back in the early years of the 20th Century (prior to the understanding of DNA, but after Mendelian genetics had become well known), there was still a remnant of the biological community who preferred the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics over the Darwinian idea of natural selection of random mutations. One of the vanguard for the Lamarckian idea was Paul Kammerer whose specialty was the breeding of amphibians that apparently few others could match. He claimed that he could get his toads and salamanders to acquire characteristics that were useful in the new environments in which he raised his specimens. This was touted loudly (in the New York Times for instance) as proof of Lamarckian inheritance and Kammerer was hailed as a ‘new Darwin’. It all ended very badly when one toad specimen was found to be faked (by who remains a mystery), and Kammerer killed himself shortly afterwards (though there may have been more involved than scientific disgrace).

The details of the experiments and controversy can be read online (with various slants) here and here, and a more modern non-replication of one of his experiments is described here. However, the reason I bring this up here is much more related to how the scientific community and Koestler dealt with this scientific maverick and the analogies that has for the climate science and its contrarians.

There are (at least) four points where the analogies with climate science are strong: First, there were clear philosophical motives for supporting Lamarckism (as there are for denying human effects on climate change) (see below). These are strongly articulated in Koestler’s book, and it is obvious that the author feels some sympathy with that argument. Second, there is idealization of the romantic notion of the scientist-as-hero, sacrificing their all (literally in Kammerer’s case) for the pursuit of truth in the teeth of establishment opposition (cf Svensmark). Third, there is the outrage at the apparent dirty tricks, rumours and persecution. Finally, there is the longing for a redemption – a time when the paradigm shift will occur and the hero will be proven right.

Enough time has passed and enough additional scientific evidence has been gathered however to show that Kammerer’s ideas are never going to be accepted into the mainstream. Therefore, we can use this episode to highlight how people’s misunderstanding of scientific process can lead them astray.

So let’s start with the non-scientific reasons why Kammerer’s ideas had resonance. Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) puts it well (p143):

Just as Lamarckianism combines easily with an idealism in which the entire creation is fulfilling God’s vast plan by constant upward striving, so also does it combine easily with political doctrines that emphasize the building of a better world.

The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. That was a depressing thought for many people (what is the point of striving at all?), and hence there was a clear non-scientific yearning for Lamarckian inheritance to be correct. I use the past tense in referring to these almost 100 year-old arguments, but Koestler’s book and more recent attempts to rehabilitate these ideas tap into these same (misguided) romantic notions. (Odd aside, one of the most positive treatments of this “neo-Lamarckianism” is by Michael Duffy, a frequent climate contrarian Australian journalist). Note that I am distinguishing the classic ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’ from the much more respectable study of epigenetics.

The scientist-as-hero meme is a very popular narrative device and is widespread in most discussions of progress in science. While it’s clearly true that some breakthroughs have happened through the work of a single person (special relativity is the classic case) and someone has to be the first to make a key observation (e.g. Watson and Crick), the vast majority of scientific progress occurs as the accumulation of small pieces of new information and their synthesis into a whole. While a focus on a single person makes for a good story, it is very rarely the whole or even a big part of the real story. Thus while Koestler can’t be uniquely faulted for thinking that Lamarckianism rose and fell with Kammerer, that perspective leads him to imbue certain events with much more significance than is really warranted.

For instance, one of the more subtle misconceptions in the book though is how Koestler thinks that scientific arguments get settled. He places enormous emphasis on a academic tour that Kammerer made to the UK which included a well-documented talk in Cambridge in which the subsequently-notorious specimen was also in attendance. In fact, Koestler devotes a large number of pages to first-hand recollections of the talk. Koestler also criticises heavily the arch-protagonist in this story (a Dr. Bateson) who did not attend Kammerer’s talk, even though he presumably could have, while continuing to criticise his conclusions. The talk is in fact held up to be the one missed opportunity for some academic mano-a-mano that Koestler presumably thinks would have settled things.

Except that this is not how controversial ideas get either accepted or rejected. Sure, publishing papers, giving talks and attending conferences are all useful in bringing ideas to a wider audience, but they are very rarely the occasion of some dramatic denouement and mass conversion of the skeptical. Instead, ideas get accepted because of the increasing weight of evidence that supports them – and that usually comes in dribs and drabs. A replication here, a theoretical insight there, a validated prediction etc. Only in hindsight does there appear to be a clean sequence of breakthroughs that can be seen to have led inexorably to the new conclusions. At the time, the landscape is far more ambiguous. Thus in focusing on one specific talk, and on its reception by one particularly outspoken opponent, Koestler misses the wider issue – which was that Kammerer’s ideas just didn’t have any independent support. The wider community thus saw his work (as far as I can tell) as a curiosity: possibly his findings were correct, but his interpretation was likely not, and maybe his findings weren’t all that reproducible in any case?

This remains the issue, if Lamarckian evolution were possible, it should have been viewable in hundreds of other systems that were much easier to replicate than Kammerer’s toads (nematodes perhaps?). Absent that replication, no amount of exciting talks will have persuaded scientists. In that, scientists are probably a little different from the public, or at least the public who went to Kammerer’s more public lectures where he was very warmly received.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that Kammerer’s more vocal opponents would occasionally give vent to their true feelings. Koestler is particular critical of Bateson who, in retrospect, does appear to have gone a little far in his public critiques of Kammerer. However, Koestler perhaps doesn’t realise how common quite scathing criticism is in the halls of academe. This rarely gets written down explicitly, but it is nonetheless there, and forms a big part of how well some people’s ideas are received. If someone is perceived as an exaggerator, or an over-interpreter of their results, even their most careful work will not get a lot of support.

Koestler ends his book with the familiar refrain that since modern science is incomplete, alternative theories must continue to be pursued. He states that since “contemporary genetics has no answers to offer to the problem of the genesis of behaviour”, the replication the key experiments (which he clearly expected to vindicate Kammerer), would very likely make biologists ‘sit up’ and have a long-lasting impact on the field. This notion fails to take into account the vast amount of knowledge that already exists and that makes certain kinds of ‘alternative’ theories very unlikely to be true. The link between this optimistic expectation and discussions of climate change is persuasively demonstrated in this pastiche.

There is one additional characteristic of this story that has some modern resonance, and that’s the idea that once someone starts accepting one class of illogical arguments, that leads them to accept others that aren’t really connected, but share some of the same characteristics. Some people have called this ‘crank magnetism‘. In Kammerer’s case, he was a great believer in the meaningfulness of coincidences and wrote a book trying to elucidate the ‘laws’ that might govern them. Koestler himself became a big proponent of parapsychology. And today there are examples of climate contrarians who are creationists or anti-vaccine campaigners. Though possibly this is just coincidence (or is it….?).

Of course, the true worth of any scientific idea is whether it leads to more successful predictions than other theories. So I’ll finish with a 1923 prediction that Kammerer made while he was on a speaking tour of the US: “Take a very pertinent case. The next generation of Americans will be born without any desire for liquor if the prohibition law is continued and strictly enforced” (NYT, Nov 28).


703 Responses to “Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad”

  1. 1
    tamino says:

    An excellent, and excellently written, essay. My compliments.

  2. 2
    Dario says:

    Very interesting article. Just one minor correction:

    “While it’s clearly true that some breakthroughs have happened through the work of a single person (special relativity is the classic case)”

    I think you mean general relativity, not special. Around 1905 there were quite a few people working along the same line as Einstein (and to some extent drawing insights from each other). If Einstein hadn’t published his ideas, someone else (Poincaré, perhaps) would have come up with something very similar to special relativity within a short timeframe (1906/1907?).

    General relativity was a different matter though. That really came out of the blue and required an extraordinary out-of-the-box thinking on Einstein’s part.

  3. 3
    Brian D says:

    Thank you for this. It’s an interesting read.

    Although, I wonder — in response to “scientist-as-hero-against-establishment” (i.e. part of the Galileo Gambit), why is the counterexample of Einstein never brought up? He fits the bill of a lone scientists (well, accounts vary on the role of his first wife, but…) whose ideas were so contrary to the establishment that the establishment… turned them into the new consensus after they passed peer review and stood up to observational evidence. He even had a Nobel Prize, became the first modern scientific celebrity, and was so recent that many folk are only one or two generations removed from him. Seems the perfect counter to those who claim the heroic lone scientist is always suppressed.

  4. 4

    There is something that needs to be made very explicit, very plain and very simple and must be repeated loudly and often. It is:
    What scientists Believe is the following:
    Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person's head isn't public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or another instrument.] There are no conspiracies in Science. All scientists are the opposition to any idea, not just all other scientists.
    Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else. Why? Science works. You are reading this on a desktop computer, a product of engineering made possible by Quantum Mechanics. Religion doesn’t work.

    BACKUP/BACKGROUND:
    Science is the ultimate Protestant Reformation in which Religion is reformed out of existence. As I remember the Protestant Reformation, it happened because the invention of printing press enabled everybody to own and read and interpret the bible. Priests were no longer necessary when everybody could read the source of knowledge. Science takes the next step: Ancient text is not the source of knowledge when every person can find out the truth by carefully following a procedure called “Science” for him/herself. There is another implicit step here. The implicit step is realizing that ancient people did not have some source of knowledge that we do not. In fact, we have enormous knowledge and “The Ancients” did not. Even people in the middle ages had technology that the ancients did not, such as crossbows or even longbows. Yet there are still people who believe that “The Ancients” knew things that we don’t. I find that describing people as old stone age, new stone age, copper age, iron age, mideval, etc does not work. What works is describing “The Ancients” as “just a bunch of wild indians”. The description that works is inaccurate in the details, but it gets the correct message across. It is understood. This is said with apologies to stone age native Americans who were no more stone-age than stone age Europeans or stone age middle easterners or stone age anybody else.

    If anything truthful HAD been told 2000 years ago, languages change so fast that the “second coming” would have been required in 25 years. If the language didn’t change, you know from the game of “telephone” that 6 re-tellings is enough to completely scramble the story. Nobody wrote any “gospel” down until 50 years had passed, and then it was in a different language, introducing translation errors.

    In the book: “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler 2006 Chapter 19, FILTERING TRUTH, page 123 lists six commonly used filters people use to find the “truth”. They are:
    1. Consensus
    2. Consistency
    3. Authority
    4. Mystical revelation or religion [another name for several forms of mental illness]
    5. Durability
    6. Science

    7. I would add a seventh that our legal system uses: Combat. A trial is nothing more than a ceremonial name-calling contest. That the legal system is nonsense is proven by the fact that the Governor of Illinois had to commute all of the death sentences in his state because so many of the convicted were proven by evidence based on Science to be innocent. No court of law ever proved anything.

    8. I would add an eighth that we call Democracy: Voting. This is not the same as consensus because consensus requires unanimity. Voting is applicable when Science is not yet ready to make a determination, as in politics.

    9. I would add a ninth. Human/Ape Instinct. We all behave as dictated by instincts and drives that were created over the 400 Million years of chordate evolution that preceeded the invention of Science. These instincts and drives are no longer appropriate most of the time now, but they are hard-wired programs in our brains and stomachs that we cannot over-ride without severe training, if at all.

    As the Tofflers say: “Science is different from all the other truth-test criteria. It is the only one that itself depends on rigorous testing.” They go on to say: “In the time of Galileo . . . the most effective method of discovery was itself discovered.” [Namely Science.] The Tofflers also say that: “The invention of scientific method was the gift to humanity of a new truth filter or test, a powerful meta-tool for probing the unknown and—it turned out—for spurring technological change and economic progress.” All of the difference in the way we live now compared to the way people lived and died 500 years ago is due to Science. The other truth filters have contributed misery, confusion, war, fanaticism, persecution, terrorism, inquisitions, suicide bombings, false imprisonments, obesity, diabetes and other atrocities.

    Reference: “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul 1980 University of California Press. In this book on the Eloges of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1699-1791) page 99 says: “Science is not so much a natural as a moral philosophy”. [That means drylabbing [fudging data] will get you fired.]
    Page 106 says: “Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.”

  5. 5
    jcbmack says:

    Good insights. Even Watson and Crick had Barbara McClintock and a brilliant Linus Pauling saying that it was impossible for DNA to have such a conformation. I, myself know several people who are well educated (non scientists) who cling to the idea of Lamarckian acquired characteristics.

  6. 6
    Joe Hunkins says:

    Gavin on the one hand kudos for cleverly connecting this mini-milestone in biology thinking with climate skeptics. However like so much of the dialog here this is too much of a straw man argument.

    Unlike Lamarckians, most critics of the prevailing concensus on climate change agree with the overwhelming data that supports global warming and many agree most of that warming is caused by human activity. What worries responsible critics is how most media and most of the political interpretations have distorted the message to suggest we are at the brink of environmental collapse/catastrophe.

    This is of concern because we face many extraordinary challenges and wise allocation of resources suggests that massive CO2 reduction is massively expensive and will have minimal impact for decades and perhaps centuries.

  7. 7
    Andrew says:

    This is all about politics, not science.

    Our society is simply too dependant on carbon combustion in all its various forms. There is no way around it. As such it is unlikely that there will be a meaningful near term reduction in CO2 emissions and projected atmospheric concentrations. Forget about stabilization, CO2 concentrations are accelerating.

    Currently, politicians can either accept or deny that CO2 causes global warming. There are pros and cons to each position with very little that anybody can do about it no matter which tact they take. However, since climate change is so slow, either position is totally viable politically because neither position can really do anything to control CO2 levels.

    Unfortunately some people have resorted to exaggeration in an attempt to advance their position. This is true for both sides of the debate. So although the science is technically settled for the most part, the political turmoil will continue for a very long time.

  8. 8
    Gwyan Rhabyt says:

    The parallel goes even further. When Kammerer says:
    “Take a very pertinent case. The next generation of Americans will be born without any desire for liquor if the prohibition law is continued and strictly enforced”
    he uses the same impossible to falsify language of the climate contrarians. That prediction doesn’t count, Lamarckians would say, because, prohibition wasn’t strictly enough enforced. We hear similar language today

  9. 9
    Jordiet says:

    Mendelevian genetics? You probably mean Mendelian genetics, or do I miss something?

    [Response: whoops. fixed. - gavin]

  10. 10

    A good book on methods for changing minds and behavior:

    Reference: “Influencer” by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler.:

    Step 1: Set an example that is observable. The “Mad” scientist idea is untenable once they see that you are a nice person.
    Step 2: Tell stories. People react negatively to being told that they are wrong. Tell a long [but not tall] story instead. Soap operas on radio have helped slow the spread of AIDS.
    Step 3: Demonstrations work better than instructions. Vicarious experiences cause brain neurons to light up as if the viewer were performing the same action. Instructions are not understood. Simple experiments are good. They may not know what the words you use mean.
    Step 4: Make sure they have a way out of whatever their problem is. If you don’t solve their problem, they just give up and continue their old ways. They DO have some sort of problem. What is it? Observe the opposition carefully to determine what their problem is.

    That book says: Change 1 or 2 vital behaviors. They may seem like very minor things, but the result can be major.

    I am on page 84, so I have just started reading this book.

    Not from the book: The best deal would be to get science into the public schools. Make science a laboratory course in elementary school. Require 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 8 years of math of all students in high school.

  11. 11
    cogito says:

    “And today there are examples of climate contrarians who are creationists or anti-vaccine campaigners.”
    Is this sentence worthy of a true scientist? And what is the message?

    [Response: It's an observation, nothing more. - gavin]

  12. 12
    Patrick 027 says:

    “The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. That was a depressing thought for many people (what is the point of striving at all?)”

    So strange; did they never expect to inherit money, infrastructure, scientific and technological advancements? (link to climate – do they never expect ‘green-tech’?, etc.)

  13. 13
    Prof. Bleen says:

    These are very good points. In the first paragraph, however, it should read Mendelian genetics and not Mendelevian genetics.

  14. 14

    Gavin:

    Your recount of the infamous Kammerer story and its possible relevance to the motivation of many deniers may be on the mark. But you must also allow, that some skeptics that you lump with deniers, may occasionally have valid points to make. And maybe they deserve more attention here – than analysis of the ‘philosophical’ beliefs of deniers.

    I’m definitely not a ‘denier’. However, from my naive frame of reference – a biologist who is more expert on Kammerer and Watson/Crick than on realclimate – I would much prefer seeing what you have to say about Pat Keating’s latest article “Simple radiative models for surface warming and upper-troposphere cooling” in the Int. J. Climatol. (2008), just published online. I find it quite compelling, as an ‘explanation’ for the probable significance of the differences between the radiosonde data and GCM’s predictions of tropical environmental lapse rates – as effectively ‘poo pooed’ in your recent Santer et al. article. (My acute interest is mostly on the possibility that GISS Model E may regularly underestimate tropical precipitation – just because it neglects the radiative ‘subtleties’ that Keating addresses?)

    [Response: Actually most models overestimate tropical precipitation (by around 10%) compared to the satellite climatologies (which may be underestimates in any case). I don't know where the 'overestimate' idea comes from. I haven't read Keating (2008), but I will at some point and possibly address it then. -gavin]

  15. 15
    John Philip says:

    Instead, ideas get accepted because of the increasing weight of evidence that supports them – and that usually comes in dribs and drabs. A replication here, a theoretical insight there, a validated prediction etc. Only in hindsight does there appear to be a clean sequence of breakthroughs that can be seen to have led inexorably to the new conclusions

    A common meme amongst the contrarians is that the IPCC et al came to the conclusion of GHG-forced warming faute de mieux or by elimination – it cannot be anything else therefore it must be CO2. Leaving aside the question of the literature on detection and attribution, what I would find useful when fighting the good fight would be some examples of succesfully validated predictions from the theory, preferably that are unambiguously due to GHGs and with supporting peer-reviewed evidence. It is an article of faith among the target audience that models are tweaked or trained to reproduce past trends (I know I know, let’s not repoen that one) so any model-free examples would be useful additions to the toolkit.

    I can think of Hansen’s Scenario B, the IPCC model projections published in the TAR (which showed a projected midrange surface temperature gain of c0.35c from 1990-2010, a good agreement with the observed trend so far, sorry Lucia), ditto the accelerating sea level rise, Arctic ice loss, stratospheric cooling (does this effectively rule out solar forcing?), SSTs and ocean heat content, the observed increase in atmospheric water vapour as reported recently in GRL.

    Any other low-hanging fruit? Hurricane intensity seems controversial, what about the DTR?

    cheers,

    JP.

  16. 16
    Manny, in Canada says:

    “today there are examples of climate contrarians who are creationists or anti-vaccine campaigners. Though possibly this is just coincidence (or is it….?).”

    There are examples indeed. But the majority of “contrarians” are in fact scientists, including climate scientists. And “there are examples” of climate alarmists who are lawyers, politicians and other professional spin doctors. It is not a coincidence.

    Thankfully, as for Darwinism vs Lamarckism, we are talking about a scientific issue. Given enough time, the sum of good objective data will convince (most) everyone.

  17. 17
    Phillip Huggan says:

    Not relavent to the post…
    I wonder if the next generation of space observatories:
    http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/TPF/tpf_earths.cfm
    …could be useful in establishing the bounds of Milankovitch orbital cycles?
    We should find many rocky planets orbiting Sol-sized suns, at various orbital eccentricacies. Id think some of these brainstormed telescopes should be able to tell if a planet has liquid water, ice, or some combo. Maybe the phase states for other substances too. So if a planet is found that has a certain orbital eccentricacy, yet has more or less water than expected, it may be because there are holes in existing Milankovitch theory that could be plugged by exoplanet observations. There are many other factors including geology that won’t be observable. If the observatories are powerful enough to tell atmospheric compositions, it could rule out many factors. Just an idea that maybe hasn’t been considered, and maybe should be considered in the suite of instruments that will be used by these fantastic spacecraft.

  18. 18
    wmanny says:

    I’m not sure how changing the subject advances any understanding of the climate science “from climate scientists” that realclimate purports to promote. The proprietors of this site have been admirable in their impatience for the non sequitur, and I look forward to their returning to the topic. This straw man’s legs are wobbling before he can even stand.

  19. 19
    John Lang says:

    Hansen et al 1988 had a baseline starting point of 1960 at O. (You could perhaps use 1985 as the starting point as well since the temp was very close to the same 0 that year (0.1C) and that was the last official annual temperature data available at the time of the model predictions.

    Scenario B projected a temperature increase of 0.85C by 2008.

    GISS temperature increase from 1960 to 2008ytd: 0.412C

    [Response: This is off topic - but also a great example of cherry picking. The trends in annual temperature anomaly in scenario B from 1984-2007 (which is when the projections started) are 0.25+/-0.05 deg C/dec (95%, OLS). That is equivalent to 0.57 deg C over 23 years - not 0.85!. The changes in the annual GISTEMP indices over the same period are 0.24 +/- 0.07 and 0.21+/-0.06 deg C/dec. Thus despite the slight over-estimate of the forcings in scenario B (by about 10%), the long term trends are well matched and certainly within the respective uncertainties. Analyses that don't take into account the differences that short term weather makes are bogus. - gavin]

  20. 20
    Rob Negrini says:

    Re: post #10.

    Considering the nature of the overall problem we’re discussing (Earth’s climate), I’d add a few years of Earth Science to the list of high school courses. In fact, part of the AGW awareness problem may be rooted in the fact that Earth Science is usually not taught as a serious course in high school. Earth Science is no more an applied area of science than is Life Science, and it’s as important in the long run.

  21. 21

    Joe (#6), people who “agree with the overwhelming data that supports global warming and … agree most of that warming is caused by human activity” are not climate skeptics/deniers/delayers/contrarians. Quite the reverse, that is the consensus view.

    There seem to be plenty (or at least a loud minority) of people who do not accept the consensus view despite the weight of evidence behind it or, as Naomi Oreske puts it the “multiple, independent lines of evidence converging on a single coherent account.” See: http://www.ametsoc.org/atmospolicy/Presentations/Oreskes%20Presentation%20for%20Web.pdf

  22. 22
    Anne van der Bom says:

    #6 Joe Hunkins,

    Unlike Lamarckians, most critics of the prevailing concensus on climate change agree with the overwhelming data that supports global warming and many agree most of that warming is caused by human activity. What worries responsible critics is how most media and most of the political interpretations have distorted the message to suggest we are at the brink of environmental collapse/catastrophe.

    I do not quite follow you, if these critics ‘agree with the overwhelming data that supports global warming’, then they are part of the consensus, right? In that case Gavin’s article was not meant for them and there is no straw man. What Gavin had in mind is the group of loud and irresponsible scientists, journalists and bloggers that categorically reject any notion of human-caused climate change and get more attention than quality of their arguments warrants. (See ‘Why don’t op-eds get fact checked?’)

    But you’ve made me curious, who are your responsible critics?

  23. 23
    James says:

    Joe #6 says
    “This is of concern because we face many extraordinary challenges and wise allocation of resources suggests that massive CO2 reduction is massively expensive and will have minimal impact for decades and perhaps centuries.”

    Your point being ?

    Scientific American (October) presents evidence for an extinction event at 1000ppm (CO2). That’s beyond our lifetimes, what 100+ years, so lets ignore it …

  24. 24
    Joel B says:

    Your article brings this analogy to mind: You are to skeptics of AGW as the Cathlolic Church was to Galileo. Luckily, the facts will eventually win over models.

    [Response: More likely that you are as Harold Jeffery was to plate tectonics, or Fred Hoyle to the Big Bang. But as you imply, Nature is the only judge worth worrying about. - gavin]

  25. 25
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joseph Hunkins, The fact is that we cannot preclude catastrophic consequences if we allow business as usual to continue. Indeed, we can show that such consequences are quite plausible and that some are an inevitable consequence of warming. What is more, not all ghg reduction strategies are costly–many actually save money. Certainly, the cost of many measures pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars the American taxpayer is on the hook for wrt the Wall Street bailout, and the consequences of climate change could be more dire than a financial meltdown.
    The fact of the matter is that we need to do what makes sense to mitigate risk, while at the same time improving the science to better estimate risk and developing strategies to ameliorate adverse consequences of a changing climate. I do risk reduction as part of my day job. It is simply irresponsible to ignore an unbounded risk.

  26. 26
    naught101 says:

    The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. That was a depressing thought for many people (what is the point of striving at all?), and hence there was a clear non-scientific yearning for Lamarckian inheritance to be correct.

    This is absurd – obviously Darwinian evolution rewards success: if a parent is successful in raising their young, their young have a better chance of survival. The only difference is that Lamarkism allows the parent any ideological definition of “success”, where Darwinism restricts that to raising the child well – this is obviously offensive to the sensibilities of numerous old-school oligarchs, who simply believe having shite loads of money should make their children good people, while conveniently ignoring the need to nurture.

    Which makes this a perfect analogy for climate science – the fundamental reason that climate science isn’t already widely accepted with large sections of the non-scientific public is that it conflicts with their world view. The economic fallacy of an infinitely expanding economy within a finite ecological system is being harshly tested, and it will take excessive amounts of evidence to overcome the world view that holds it.

  27. 27
    bruced says:

    As a geochemist with many \denialist\ colleagues, I find the topic of this post fascinating. At least in Kammerer’s case he did not have evidence such as DNA to blatantly ignore. But what I find strange in the current climate are academics/ scientists who want potificate on AGW from a point of ignorance. Just one example – why does a geologist such as Prof Ian Plimmer steadfastly refuse to understand that his model for CO2 from mid-oceanic ridges is just plain wrong when the carbon isotopic data is considered. Surely his geology department has an isotopic expert who could explain it all to him. Personally I just challenge my denialist colleagues to publish their ideas with the promise that if they can prove AGW is all wrong then great fame will follow. Do others have different approaches to this problems, noting that telling people that they are \off-the-planet\ does not help relationships.

  28. 28

    Watson and Crick — I remember reading something about them in Newsweek a few years back, about how it was actually a woman scientist who made the discovery, and they stole the idea from her. The unrecognized lone woman science heroine :) But I’m not sure if that’s the same theory you’re referring to here.

    Anyway, when I was drawing water from a well in India some years back I made the comment it must have been a woman who invented the pulley, since women traditionally have drawn and carried the water. My sister-in-law said it was a man, So&So Pulley. To which I replied, Mrs. Pulley must have actually invented it, then her husband got the credit.

    Captcha: Savannah honored

  29. 29
  30. 30
    Steve Reynolds says:

    “First, there were clear philosophical motives for supporting Lamarckism (as there are for denying human effects on climate change)”

    That point can work on the other side also.

    There are clear philosophical motives for supporting AGW as well. I think it’s clear the majority of contributors to this site have philosophical positions (before considering climate effects) objecting to modern high consumption lifestyles.

    Is if fair to apply this argument to denialists and not to alarmists?

    [Response: I don't know who you talking about. I have never expressed any dislike of modern lifestyles, and my opinion of the radiative impact of increasing GHGs is (maybe surprisingly to you) not correlated with any supposed consequence. This is the difference between science and wishful thinking. If CO2 was not a greenhouse gas and did not make the oceans more acidic there would be no need to worry about it, or the energy that is derived from releasing it. - gavin]

  31. 31

    RE #16 & “And ‘there are examples’ of climate alarmists who are lawyers, politicians and other professional spin doctors. It is not a coincidence. Thankfully, as for Darwinism vs Lamarckism, we are talking about a scientific issue. Given enough time, the sum of good objective data will convince (most) everyone” (emphasis mine).

    The problem, it seems to me IS time, plus the false-positive avoiding, conservative nature of science.

    Environmentalists, policy-makers, and persons concerned about life on planet earth would be more interested in avoiding a false negative (assuming AGW is not happening & doing nothing about it, when in fact it is happening).

    Now, since the purported harms from AGW are enoromous (esp those from tipping into climate hysteresis), AND mitigating AGW is quite beneficial to one’s finances and the economy, without lowering living standards or productivity — at least down to a 3/4 reduction in GHGs for rich nations — then we don’t really need much scientific confidence that AGW is happening. Any decent person would have started mitigating at least by 1990, well before the first studies reached .05 alpha-level significance in 1995. We should have already reduced our GHG emissions here in the U.S. at least by 50% cost-effectively. We’ve had 20 yrs to do so.

    I think contrarians are the alarmists — they’re alarming people that AGW mitigation will harm us economically and bring on totalitarian dictatorship. Where is their evidence for this at .05 significance? And their evidence that AGW is NOT happening (with the null hypothesis that it is happening)?

    A person who informs people there is fire in a theater when there really is a fire, and does so in a calm manner that allows them to exit peacably is not an alarmist.

  32. 32
    Doc Sief says:

    Straw man argument is a perfect description of this article. The genetic arguments of Darwinism vs Lamarckism which is now a hard science is as far as you can get from the ‘soft science’ of global warming alarmists vs skeptics as you can get. It’s not like you could just stick to the data and make your arguments from there. Currently 2008 is turning out to be the coldest year since 2000, ok, normal variations in a trend if the trend was indeed upward, but then again ‘depends on whose data you believe’. Some say temps are up or stable or downward, and that is the problem with all these theories on it warming. There is definitely climate change, but climate change is the norm. What is the perfect temp? Who decides what the perfect temperature is? I personally like the 1400′s but my Inuit friends like the 1810′s.

  33. 33
    jcbmack says:

    # 27 Barbara McClintock.

  34. 34
    Eli Rabett says:

    Joseph Hunkins, we wish you were right.

  35. 35
    ccpo says:

    Re:#31. Do you not understand what a trend is? Just more cherry-picking…

    Cheers

  36. 36

    RE #4 & “Science is the ultimate Protestant Reformation in which Religion is reformed out of existence.”

    That’s assuming religion & science are (in our era) iso-mor-phic. They are not. In the ancient past “science,” religion, philosophy, ethics, history, art, and such were all rolled into one. I teach mythology and suggest the ancients in their myths used the best “science” (observations, theories) of their day. They could observe the sun rising in the east and heading westward. Their theory of the “elements” and nature was anthro-po-mor-phic (based on what they knew about themselves and human relationships — opposite today’s mechanistic view of the human body and society). Think of the in-cest-uous gods and goddess of ancient Egypt involved in human intrigues, who were the “elements” (the sun, earth, air, etc), as being sort of like their periodic table of the elements and “chemistry.”

    But ancient religion is more than ancient “science,” it is also a guide to living one’s life and healing society, moral lessons; it’s art, poetry, drama, and ritual; it’s their entertainment center.

    Today these are separated into different spheres. Science is a belief system that deals with the empirical material world & is quite powerful in its realm; religion is both a belief and value system that deals with the known & unknown/unknowable (by science).

    Believing God is truth (among other things), I would say that religious persons of today who do not accept science (changeable tho it be) are committing sin. Those who hold to creationism or intelligent design, refusing to accept (non-Lamarckian) evolution, are perhaps committing sin — maybe a minor one like lying. Those who don’t accept what the climate scientists say about AGW & refuse to mitigate it perhaps committing a serious sin.

    It’s really counterproductive to viciously attack religion and religious persons. We should instead all be working together, religious and atheist alike, in mitigating global warming.

  37. 37
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Lynn, you have a very evolved point of view on religion and science. It was quite a pleasure to read your post. Pity that so many have to perpetuate the false dichotomy.

  38. 38
    Anne van der Bom says:

    #26 naught101:

    The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. [....].

    This is absurd – obviously Darwinian evolution rewards success: if a parent is successful in raising their young, their young have a better chance of survival.

    It is not absurd, it is correct. What is important are the words: “genetic material”. Good parents can make their offspring stronger, healthier, smarter, whatever, but it can not alter them genetically.

  39. 39
    Anne van der Bom says:

    #32 Doc Sief:

    I think you can not used the ‘hardness’ of a science as a criterium for it usefulness. The first problem is that there is no formal method to assess the ‘hardness’ of a science. I would argue that medical science is as soft as climate science, yet we all reap the benefits of it.

    The issue about climate change is NOT to get some optimal temperature. Nobody ever said that. You are creating a straw man here.

    The issue is preventing unforseen and nasty consequences that come from tinkering with something you don’t understand thoroughly. We are a bit like a 7-year old messing around with daddy’s car to make it go faster.

    The message from the AGW camp is stopping the tinkering, not trying to get a desired result.

  40. 40
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    Edward Greisch, in his never-ending quest to make friends and influence people, writes:

    Nobody wrote any “gospel” down until 50 years had passed, and then it was in a different language, introducing translation errors.

    Al the gospels were very likely written down before 70 AD, which would put them within 37 years or less of Jesus’s death, and Thiede and Ancona think they have a fragment of Matthew which they can date to 66 AD. And it wasn’t in a different language. Greek was the lingua franca, the trade language, of the whole Mediterranean basin area, and Jesus very likely spoke Greek in the street and Aramaic at home, the way a modern-day Moroccan might speak French in the street and Arabic at home.

    We all behave as dictated by instincts and drives that were created over the 400 Million years of chordate evolution that preceeded the invention of Science. These instincts and drives are no longer appropriate most of the time now, but they are hard-wired programs in our brains and stomachs that we cannot over-ride without severe training, if at all.

    The human evolutionary specialization is flexibility of behavior. The whole point of human beings are that we are programmable. Very little human behavior is hardwired. Blaming human social problems on our “animal instincts” is pseudoscience, not science.

  41. 41
    Figen says:

    My understanding (and clearly limited since I am not a biologist) of Lamarckism is that biological evolution is driven by inheritance of acquired characteristics (giraffe getting a longer and longer neck). So I guess I am confused about how that supports “intelligent design.” If a mother with a torn limb will have children with torn limbs, does this really create the “perfect species” as “intelligent design” intended?
    Also, while Darwinism is the stronger basis for the theory of evolution, we now know that some acquired characterisitics can be passed onto offspring if the acquired changes affect the parent’s genetic material. So Lamarck’s idea wasn’t 100% wrong. He just didn’t have good data to back it up and it only explains some special cases, not the general mechanism of evolution.

  42. 42
    Anne van der Bom says:

    #40 Barton Paul Levenson:

    The whole point of human beings are that we are programmable. Very little human behavior is hardwired. Blaming human social problems on our “animal instincts” is pseudoscience, not science.

    I know this is OT, but couldn’t resist to react.

    You should study human behaviour in war. How quickly all civilization (programmable behaviour) is abandoned and humans revert to their hardwired behaviour. Take for instance Germany in the 2nd World War. This was a nation that produced people like Goethe, Bach, Nietzsche, Einstein and Schweitzer!

    Much of our day-to-day behaviour may be programmed, but it is not more than skin deep.

  43. 43
    John Lang says:

    Regarding Hansen’s Scenario A,B,C – one can do their own math with these two links from GISTemp

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/GTCh_Fig2.pdf

    2008 ytd temps are here:

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.C.txt

  44. 44
    bigcitylib says:

    I actually think the dinosaurs = bird controversy is a little more typical of the way scientific consensus develops and the way scientists treat their dissenters. For one thing it relies less on dramatic events like the exposure of scientific fraud. Also, Feduccia and his followers are still bonafide scientists with real accomplishments (like, perhaps, Lindzen). Their views on this particular issue, however, have become incresasingly marginalized.

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/search?q=feduccia

  45. 45
    Hank Roberts says:

    John Lang, you can’t do even your own math with a picture.
    Did you make up numbers you thought fit the picture to get your result?
    Share your numbers. Show your work.

  46. 46
    Hugh R says:

    In Response 22 Ann van der Bom asks of Joe Hunkins (response 6): “…who are your responsible critics?”
    Joe doesn’t seem to have replied yet, but he may have been thinking of people such as meteorologist Roger Pielke Snr. and his colleagues at Univ of Colorado and elsewhere.
    Pielke Snr’s view of the climate change consensus is summarised by the following extract from a 2008 article in Physics Today:
    “The 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I presents a narrow view of the state of climate science. Attempts to significantly influence regional and local-scale climate based on controlling carbon dioxide emissions alone cannot succeed since humans are significantly altering the global climate in a variety of diverse ways beyond the radiative effect of CO2.”
    That certainly reads to me like a criticism, although whether it counts as responsible or not is perhaps a subjective judgment.
    For more from the Pielke Snr. stable see his blog at climatesci.org

  47. 47
    Jim Eager says:

    And then along comes Joel (@24) to wrap himself in Galileo.

    Priceless.

    Captcha: Almighty dull

  48. 48
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Lang, Thanks for the weather report, but perhaps it escaped your attention that the name of this site is realCLIMATE.

  49. 49
    Jim Eager says:

    Doc Sief asks @32 “What is the perfect temp?”

    Ahh, a rhetorical question AGW deniers/obstructionists are currently so fond of asking.

    Why, the temperature range to which your species and all of the species it depends on for survival are adapted to.
    The temperature range that its technology and infrastructure are designed to withstand and function in.
    The temperature range that human civilization developed to cope with.

    Exceed that range at your species’ peril.

  50. 50
    SecularAnimist says:

    gavin wrote: “… once someone starts accepting one class of illogical arguments, that leads them to accept others that aren’t really connected, but share some of the same characteristics … Koestler himself became a big proponent of parapsychology.”

    Parapsychology has nothing to do with “logic” and everything to do with empirical evidence.

    In his very interesting essay, Gavin mentions non-scientific or “philosophical” tendencies to embrace or reject certain scientific notions.

    I have noted in previous comments on this site what I see as a parallel between the pseudo-skeptical rejection of climate science and the equally pseudo-skeptical rejection of parapsychology.

    In both cases, what is purported to be “skepticism” is actually dogmatic, obstinate denialism that is (1) driven by a priori, non-scientific beliefs that certain phenomena cannot possibly be real, hence no amount of evidence can ever be sufficient to establish their reality; and (2) more often than not comes from people who are unfamiliar with the science at issue.

    How many people who reject parapsychology as “illogical” are familiar, in detail, with the parapsychological research documented by Dean Radin in his books The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds? How many of them reject parapsychology because they have studied this information in detail, understand it, and have specific and substantive objections to it?

    How many of them reject parapsychology because they know hardly anything about it but already know that it is “illogical”, “superstition”, etc. and will therefore never, ever read any such book as Radin’s? How many of them believe that the only opinions about parapsychology that can be trusted and have validity are those of non-parapsychologists who know little about the details and substance of psi research?


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