Thursday, September 19, 2019

#2243: Robert Sheaffer

This is an important entry. Robert Sheaffer is a writer and skeptic who has written sharp and illuminating articles, e.g. for Skeptical Inquirer, about such topics as UFOs and creationism. But Sheaffer is also an example of the remarkable powers of compartmentalization – though good at identifying the fallacies, sloppy thinking and denialist gambits employed by creationists and various conspiracy theorists, he effortlessly, and ostensibly without noticing, falls into employing the same tricks himself when talking e.g. about global warming.

Sheaffer is a global warming denialist, and has tried on an impressive number of global warming denialist PRATTs. Sheaffer has for instance suggested that global warming is due to the sun (it demonstrably isn’t), that there has been no warming since 1998 (false, and it really doesn’t take much background knowledge to recognize the stupidity of that claim), that we’re really heading into a new Little Ice Age (a stupid claim on many levels), that the “hockey stick” is broken (false and irrelevant), that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today (most likely false, and also irrelevant), that the IPCC was wrong about Himalayan glaciers (well, yes: there was, in fact, one minor error in a very long, technical document), that Michael Mann performed a trick in Nature to “hide the decline” (false, but a really good example of Sheaffer’s lack of understanding and his willingness to parrot nonsensical denialist talking points without bothering to try to understand them), and that the IPCC was wrong about Amazon rainforests (they were not; they did fail to properly refer to the studies that say precisely what the IPCC said about Amazon rainforests – this should be pretty illuminating).

So how, according to Sheaffer, did climate science go so wrong? Well, climate scientists must be lying about global warming to obtain research funding. Which makes sense: if you, as a student, don’t have scruples and want to get rich, go into weather and atmosphere research and make sure you stick to consensus (rather than the kinds of claims the oil companies, say, would have liked to hear): that’s where the money is! (hat-tip: R. Allen Gilliam. Sheaffer is also a consensus denialist; after all, he is able to name two or three people with credentials that disagree with the mainstream view, so “it is disingenuous to speak of a ‘consensus’”, which is exactly analogous to the claim the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture makes about the theory of evolution in biology. Also, “given that unknown factors have caused previous climate changes, how can we be certain that these same unknown factors are not active today?” Similarly, we suppose, for science in general: after all, scientific results are never certain and there is always the possibility that some hypothesis we haven’t thought about would explain the observed data better. 

Sheaffer has also made numerous strange claims about feminism, an area he evidently knows nothing about.

Diagnosis: A striking example of how people who are apparently intelligent in one area can go on to violate even basic rules of critical thinking in another, especially one he knows little yet has nonetheless formed strong opinions about. Unfortunately, the utter lapse in reasoning on global warming suggests that one needs to show some care when encountering Sheaffer’s work in other areas as well.

Hat-tip: Jim Lippard

No comments:

Post a Comment