The Shamanistic Logic of Climate Science

Lowell Feld.

I’ve been mixing it up with Lowell Feld, publisher of Blue Virginia, who took exception to my argument that the debacle in Charlottesville represented a clash between the far Right and far Left. He accused me of “moral equivalency,” which is absurd, for I have thoroughly denounced the white nationalists who provoked the confrontation and made it clear that their crimes (including alleged murder) far exceed those of the Antifa and other Leftist elements in this particular instance. You can read his fulminations here, in which he hilariously highlights statements I made that he finds outrageous yet are undeniably true. And he renews his ongoing campaign to lambaste Dominion for sponsoring a blog that expresses opinions so far beyond the pale.

Among the many offenses I have committed, one is “climate science denialism.” I responded to his post as follows (with minor changes):

I love the way you proclaim to be an advocate of “science” in the global warming debate, in contrast to me, a supposed “denier.” But you have shown no indication of understanding what science is. The scientific method creates falsifiable hypotheses, then tests those hypotheses to see if they are valid, modifies the hypotheses to account for the data, and re-tests them in an iterative process. Climate models represent hypotheses regarding the relationship between various climatic variables and the effect they will have on future temperatures increases.

It’s frustratingly slow to test climate hypotheses because it takes many years to accumulate useful data. But enough time has passed since the creation of the early climate models, and the results are clear — the overwhelming majority of models failed to predict the modest temperature increase of the past 20 years.

Climate scientists are wrestling with this outcome and trying to find an explanation. While some scientists are modifying their hypothesis (predicting smaller temperature increases over the years ahead), some are sticking to the catastrophic-global-warming hypothesis and searching for explanations — the heat is hidden in the deep ocean, aerosols reflected the sunlight, whatever — that allows them to maintain predictions that temperatures will increase to an alarming degree.

This mental process reminds me of the writing of a certain Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an anthropologist who studied the Dinka and Nuer tribes of the southern Sudan in the 1930s, with a particular emphasis on their practice of magic. Shamans would tell their customers, do X, Y, and Z, and your sickness will be cured, your husband will stay faithful, your rival will be struck dead, whatever. If the desired outcome came to fruition, the shaman would take full credit. If the husband continued to stray, the shaman would concoct an explanation — oh, you should have used eye of newt, not eye of frog, or you should have said the incantation this way, not that way. By such rhetorical devices, the shaman maintained a belief among the people in the efficacy of his magic. Evans-Pritchard called these explanations “secondary elaborations.”

As the most politically vocal Climate Change scientists confront the reality of data that don’t conform to the temperature predictions of their models, they are engaged in a vast exercise of secondary elaboration — they’re insisting upon the efficacy of their hypothesis (catastrophic global warming is coming) and creating explanations of why the predicted temperature increases are not yet visible.

So, you can call me a climate “denier,” which is a form of an ad hominem attack, not an argument. And you can make your appeals to authority — 97% of all scientists believe in global warming, etc. — echoing the Catholic Church’s attacks on Copernicus and Galileo. But at the end of the day, your arguments mimic those of the Dinka-Nuer shaman. Your reasoning is pre-scientific and based on faith. Your dogma is catastrophic global warming, and the pseudo-scientific justification for your dogma evolves as needed.

Feld replied that he would not dignify my post with a response. Perhaps that’s because he has no intelligible response.

As for Dominion, I have no idea what the company’s position is on climate change, or if it has a position on climate change at all.

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30 responses to “The Shamanistic Logic of Climate Science

  1. If you can’t win the argument, divert onto something else so the original point is lost and no one knows the person lost the argument.

  2. Isn’t it wonderful how these folks, when confronted with facts (“inconvenient truths”?), withdraw from engaging and hope you will go away.

    By the way, both the ad hominem attack and the appeal to authority are subsets of the informal fallacy set known as “Irrelevancy”. They are, indeed, arguments of a sort, but they are fallacious arguments that have no validity.
    Whoever this guy is, he resorts to it continually. So, let’s see. Your post is “crap”, “drivel”. All wonderful arguments, along with his lambasting Jim for his misquote of the deceased girl’s name, another variant of the ad hominem attack (“Jim, you ignorant slut”) having nothing to do with Jim’s comments on the battle between left and right. But perhaps most insidious is the Alinskyite method of attacking Jim’s sponsor, all without proof of any wrongdoing or wrong-headedness on the part of Dominion concerning the point in question. Yes, diversion describes this nicely.

    Such attacks are part of a broader leftist/progressive technique to destabilize society by attacking its major institutions, calling them into question without evidence, and making their leaders nervous about the status of their institutions in society. The recent departure of executives from the president’s business council (whatever it’s real name) is an example. This now-leftist technique was employed by Joe McCarthy in the 50’s until General Welch stood up to him in a Senate hearing in (1954 ?).

  3. A summary:

    1. The oceans have risen and fallen hundreds of feet (compared with today) over the relative recent (50,000± years) geologic past. There is evidence of this all over the Earth.

    2. The Earth’s climate is currently warming. No question about it.h

    3. We don’t know the explanations for 1, or 2, or if they have different explanations.

    4. “Global warming” as the result of man-made greenhouse gas emissions is a possible explanation for 2. We can’t be more certain than that unless we first can understand and exclude 1.

    5. The debate continues over whether the link between warming and man-made greenhouse gasses is proven with sufficient certainty to support remediation at (enormous) public expense.

    6. What is “sufficient certainty” under the circumstances? Given the potential harm from sea level rise and the decade-long lag times involved, a good case can be made that public policy should err on the side of remediation even while we remain unsure of the cause of current global warming.

    Did I leave anything out? The effect of ad hominem attacks on sea level, maybe?

  4. Acbar:

    Your summary proves way to much. I would have reached exactly the opposite conclusion from the premises you state. You have engaged in the Fallacy of Neglected Aspect, namely, what is caused by the “enormous expenditure” of public funds. Where does the money come from? What is its relation to other expenditures? What public expenditures are eliminated in favor of the “enormous expenditure”? In other words, what is the cost-benefit analysis involved? How can you even begin such an analysis when you don’t really know the parameters of the problem? This is also sometimes called the Fallacy of the Unwarranted Assumption, that an action/result/conclusion is justified based on facts that are unknown.

    I don’t think a “good case” of any kind can be made that public policy should err on the side of remediation unless you specify what that remediation will be and how much it will cost and what its effect will actually be. If you want public funds to study the problem, as opposed to engage in Gore-ist religious dogma, I’m with you.

  5. A recent weather column in the Crozet Gazette noted it really isn’t global warming, but global less cooling. The highs have not moved much but the lows seem to be creeping up. The atmosphere does not seem to cool as much overnight, which again can certainly be explained by changes in the chemical makeup or growing human settlements. I accept it is happening. As to “climate change” that is a meaningless phrase because it changes constantly. Rained yesterday…

    So right, CJD, the question is what should we do and would it change anything? What really matters? I remain in favor of a steady reduction in reliance on fossil fuels mainly because my main concern is the oceans, where much of the carbons and some the heat seem to be settling. Killing off the ocean ecosystems would cause a catastrophe – an extra degree of average air temp will not. The good news is the technology to replace fossil fuels exists and is being deployed. And I have faith the people who pay Bacon’s bills will figure out how to profit from it themselves. The bad news is we are so afraid of nuclear power we have made that route hard to envision.

  6. Further, the cost for remediation by the United States (public and private) should not exceed the costs of expected damage/costs to the United States (public and private).

    We need cheap, reliable renewable energy simply because non-renewable energy sources are finite. We need energy efficient products to improve national productivity.

    But I still think that, even if we get our hands on renewable energy and limit carbon emissions, those wailing and gnashing over global warming/climate change will find another catastrophe issues because their real goals are political power and access to someone else’s money.

  7. CrazyJD:
    You made a lot of good points. But studies that don’t start with solid scientific reality and use computer models based on unsupported theories too often push remediation in the wrong direction. If sea level rise is the concern, then install more tide gauges to see what’s really happening at local levels and don’t rely on global guesses from computer models with semi-empirical approaches a la Rohmstorf to create hockey stick graphs.

    More importantly, don’t assume one set of facts fits without looking at the whole picture. For example, USGS found half of Hampton Road’s relative sea level rise is from subsidence from excessive water withdrawal based on actual measurements. ( All the GHG remediation in the world can’t fix that.

    The recent discussions on the Tangier Island situation show erosion from wind and wave action is the root cause of their problem, not global sea level rise from anthropogenic emissions.

  8. Having just looked at the Blue Virginia post again, the funniest thing about it is the headline for the previous article:

    Now More Than Ever, After Charlottesville, We Need a Steadfast Togetherness

    I’m sure the attack on Jim and the effort to drag Dominion into a debate over the Nazi rally were offered in that spirit of steadfast togetherness….

  9. Brian Schoeneman over at Bearing Drift (as a teaser to the full article at the Richmond Times-Dispatch w/ no paywall) makes a very interesting observation. According to Brian the City Council of Charlottesville never had the authority to do anything with that statue. There is apparently a long standing law on the books of the state (circa 1950) that protects the status of war memorials. In 1998 the General Assembly clarified the law to specifically include monuments of Civil War leaders. So, the 3-2 vote by the Charlottesville City Council was nothing more than a “show vote” approving something they had no authority to do. Thence sprung Corey Stewart, the first torchlight parade and, finally, last weekend’s debacle.

    Assuming Brian is correct (and I have no reason to believe otherwise) it’s hard to see this whole series of events as anything other than a mindless right vs left political battle waged over a mindless “show vote” by the Charlottesville City Council. Are three people really dead because grandstanding politicians on both sides of the aisle decided to play games rather than govern?

  10. Not justifying the violence but you have folks on one side who advocate policies to discriminate and harm entire classes of people and you have folks on the other side who are bound and determined to oppose it.. equating people who want to discriminate against blacks, jews, hispanics – as a PEOPLE with those who oppose that idea.. well it’s MINDLESS to think about it in those terms to start with.

    But if we are going to have this – then treat it like we do airports or sports stadiums or the state fair – no weapons .. period.. go shout your lungs out at each other but no weapons.. and the police should completely film the venue and access to it.. and track down and prosecute every single person who assaults others.. regardles of whether they are left or right or updside down pineapple cake.

    on Climate.. what is the difference between people who doubt science on climate and those that don’t believe science on evolution?

    is there really any difference? people who believe that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans.. they seem to have the same basic complaint against science, no?

    • talk about MINDLESS. really, larry, i can hear you even if you use lower case.

      And yes, I agree, it’s MINDLESS to talk about the situation as you have framed it. After you get through “virtue signaling” by saying “not justifying the violence” (a new phrase to me, “virtue signaling”…I kinda like it; rather descriptive), you go ahead and frame the issue with further virtue signaling: “It’s those horrible people who discriminate vs. those virtuous people bound to oppose it” No, Larry, it’s two bunches of idiots who, as Jim so colorfully puts it, came ready to rumble. Neither more nor less.

      Now, Larry, in an open carry state where carrying of guns is guaranteed by Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution, you’re going to have a hard time with your gun proposal. And I can’t see where the feds could prevail on a pre-emption theory. Beyond that, however, how do you enforce a “no weapons” policy in an open public place. Sheer folly.

      Hard to argue with prosecution of those who assault.

      You lost me on the climate change comment.

      • re: ” Now, Larry, in an open carry state where carrying of guns is guaranteed by Article I, Section 13 ”

        why don’t you tell me how that works at airports, guy

      • re: ” You lost me on the climate change comment.”’s really a simple thing Crazy.. the people who reject evolution – do so ON THE SAME BASIS as those who reject climate science..

        there is no difference between the two groups.. on the basis of their “skepticism”… they both do not believe science.. it’s really not very complicated.

        • There’s no difference between the groups who reject global warming orthodoxy and reject evolution? Really?

          I, for one, reject global warming orthodoxy. But I totally embrace the theory of evolution.

          • yep we know that but your reason is you basically don’t believe the science, correct?

            They use the same basic scientific approach and funding sources that evolution does, that plate tectonics does.. that is used to study ocean currents… cancer, etc.

            science does not provide immutable truth.. it’s our understanding at a point in time and it’s a continuing changing body of knowledge that gets added to and over time parts of it solidify.. as parts are gradually better understood and consensus develops.

          • I do believe the science. When it’s actually science.

            But I also recognize that the scientific consensus — or prevailing “paradigm,” as Thomas Kuhn called it — often changes and should be regarded as provisional. Even among the scientists who study different facets of evolution, there are many raging debates — over dinosaurs and human evolution just to mention two of which I’m aware. Paradigms are overturned with some regularity as scientists add new knowledge and refine their thinking.

  11. I wasn’t in Charlottesville last Saturday. While I’ve watched lots of videos of the melee in Charlottesville I recognize that no number of videos will ever provide a full view of what happened. However, I do have some observations from what I saw:

    1. Only one group scheduled the protest – the Alt-right.
    2. Only one group arrived carrying semi-automatic weapons and wearing side arms – the Alt-right.
    3. Only one group had members dressed as Klansmen – the Alt-right.
    4. Only one group had members carrying flags with swastikas – the Alt-right.
    5. Only one group had a member ram a car into pedestrians murdering an innocent woman – the Alt-right.

    What message is the Alt-right trying to send?

    1. The KKK is not only racist it is extremely violent. Wearing Klan garb doesn’t just say, “I hate blacks, Jews, Catholics, etc” it also says, “and I will use extreme violence against the people in the groups I hate.”

    2. Nazis aren’t just haters of Jewish people, Roma people, Catholics, etc they are also known for using incalculable violence against the people in the groups they hate.

    So, when people wearing Klan robes, waving swastika flags, carrying assault weapons and with sidearms strapped to their hips arrive in my town … what am I to think? This will be a peaceful protest?

    Violence is at the core of the KKK and Nazis.

    The reason that there is no equivalence between the protesters and the counter-protesters is that the counter-protesters didn’t appear on the scene armed to the teeth wearing uniforms of groups who consider violence as a core tenet of their philosophy.

    If the Alt-right showed up in street clothes with a minimum of firearms saying, “We’re here to protest the shabby way that American society treats white Americans” there might have been equivalence. But showing up with every possible symbol of violence short of Abrahams tanks put the onus for proper behavior squarely on the alt-right. My (perhaps simple-minded) assumption is that those showing up preaching violence, with a core philosophy of violence, dressed for violence and armed for violence are probably the instigators if violence breaks out.

    Can anybody explain why these knuckleheads feel compelled to chant Klan slogans and wave Nazi flags? What are they trying to say? That they want to kill all the Jews and lynch all the black people? What’s their statement?

    • Their statement? Sounds like you summarized it rather well. And more important they have decades of history to demonstrate they really mean it.

    • >>Can anybody explain why these knuckleheads feel compelled to chant Klan slogans and wave Nazi flags?>>

      I usually like to go for the simplest explanation: they’re assholes.

  12. CJD — But we agree. Of course clarity is needed before remediation. “Err on the side” of doing something rather than waiting is what I hear all the time. But that’s “all other things equal.” They are not equal; throwing money at a problem without a very specific goal is unwise; coordinating an international effort to do so is a fools errand.. And that begs the question, where is the money to come from? Who will ensure that the cost is shared fairly? Who will administer the remediation tasks? Who will hold them accountable? But IF one had solutions to those impediments, and IF it were demonstrably reasonably likely that current warming would not be occurring but for man-made emissions, THEN a cost-benefit analysis of possible remediation tactics could be performed and in so doing it MIGHT make sense to choose action over inaction, all other things equal. As for public funds to study the problem: short answer yes; longer answer, yes but, we have a long way to go to better climate modeling and there is a risk that awaiting the perfect understanding will block progress on remediation for too long politically; if we assume that action proves to be warranted, it is going to be a monumental, long lead time task to organize it.

  13. It’s pretty clear – a LOT of people REJECT the message of the KKK/neo-nazi/White Supremacists…

    and yes.. they also reject violence in response to them…

    but folks are missing the bigger picture…. people reject these folks and the monuments days are numbered… because they are not just “history” they are symbols that the KKK folks are clinging to – to prove that they remain as a legitimate force .. and a continuing reminder to blacks, jews, and others that the KKK is still around and still a force in politics and culture.

    And the jury is in – and modern America rejects them and their hatred.

    some want to use violence to reject them.. and that’s overboard… but others, the majority – don’t want any one misunderstanding their intent.. there is no equivocation …this is no misunderstanding…..

    people are sick and tired of these folks.. and their hatred of others.. and their intent to try to divide people along racial or cultural lines.

    these guys are not some USA-unique screw-ups…… this KIND of ideology exists around the world.. from Europe to Africa to Asia.. it’s a disease… and we’ve got our share of it in the USA… and it’s never been and never will be what the USA is about…

  14. there are other things that can be done to bring more scrutiny on the KKK types… Publish their pictures so that people know who they are in their daily lives… where they work.. where they go to school, where they go to church or belong to other social clubs and groups.. Expose who they are.

    One of the side benefits to Charlottesville is that some of the protesters are now being fired from their jobs… because they were essentially hiding in plain sight and once their bosses knew their association they wanted no part of them – it’s bad for business to have white supremacists “on staff” or providing goods and services to John Q Public and more than that if there are black folks that are employees at those companies.

    Of course then the response might be to go back to wearing hoods …. but in the era of cell phones.. it’s going to be harder and harder to evade getting “caught on camera”…

  15. Jim – ask your boy Lowell to explain why McAuliffe lied about: 1) the caches of radical right weapons that were found in Charlottesville; and 2) the Virginia State Police being under-armed vis a vis the radical right. And for a bonus question, ask him about why he thinks some of McAuliffe’s remarks were edited out of a New York Time story.

    Why is the Governor lying? McAuliffe is s smart guy. And where is the MSM coverage? By anyone’s standards this is a material story.

    • if this is true TMT – why isn’t it in the RTD?

      are you saying the RTD is part of the MSM that does not tell the truth?

      and I’m not finding the actual interview… all I’m finding is right wing sites who SAY … sites like Breitbart ..and Daily Caller and the Free Beacon.. geeze TMT is this what you read guy? Good Lord.

      • Larry, my friend, your questions prove my point. The reason one needs to go to Breitbart, etc. is because the MSM is suppressing the story. There are no MSM sources because they didn’t cover it.

        In reality, the Brietbarts, Daily Caller and the Free Beacon are the polar opposites of the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times.

  16. re: ” But I also recognize that the scientific consensus — or prevailing “paradigm,” as Thomas Kuhn called it — often changes and should be regarded as provisional. Even among the scientists who study different facets of evolution, there are many raging debates — over dinosaurs and human evolution just to mention two of which I’m aware. Paradigms are overturned with some regularity as scientists add new knowledge and refine their thinking.”

    Jim – the “body of knowledge” for ALL science is Provisional. whether it’s Cancer or black holes or even evolution.

    tell me what what differentiates climate science from other science .. it’s the same.. scientists around the world participate .. and the standard response from the skeptics is that Scientists from around the world are participating in some kind of conspiracy to lie about it.. ..

    if you check other science the same issues of certainty and even disagreement among scientists .. sometimes vociferous.. is present..

    • Here’s one difference between Global Warming science and evolution science: Global Warming “science” provides the justification for empowering central governments and overhauling of the world’s industrial economy, pleasing lefty ideologues and alternative-energy business interests alike. By contrast, the stakes of evolution science — forming the K-12 science curriculum for a handful of conservative states — is much smaller, and nobody stands to make a killing financially.

      • no it doesn’t. no more than any other science.. might.. like oceans rising …or ozone holes.. pollution.. cancer cures that are exceedingly expensive., etc.
        or for that matter – gene research that provides knowledge but at the same time presents troubling quandaries and decisions.

        you’re confusing information with what you decide to do with it.

        you’re blaming science for providing the information.. that you think then “forces” govt to do “something”.

        geeze guy .. you sound more and more like a Luddite!!!

        at least you’re better than TMT – he thinks in terms of massive worldwide conspiracies where 98% of the worlds scientists collude in an unholy conspiracy to lie the scientists can then benefit from trillions of dollars of govt money spent to remedy the threat…

        you guys kill me..

        at the end of the day – this is about what you believe.. and you “believe” evolution .. even though there is no way on Gods green earth to “prove” it.. you basically take the word of science… but when it comes to climate science …because it might cause govt to spend horrendous amounts of money – .. it must be a “lie”.. eh?

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