In June EoR looked at the sorry state of the WA Skeptics and its seemingly relentless parade of climate change denialists as guests. Things almost seemed to improve for a while, with the last couple of meetings being devoted to a discussion of miracles, and whether magnets can improve the taste of wine, but Dr John Happs's views are more than persistent.
Dr Happs yet again pushes the line that 'the science is not settled', that global warming is "a possibly imaginary threat" (those are classic weasel words, implying much, saying nothing) and
The [Royal] Society duly appointed a panel to rewrite its official position on global warming, and in October 2010 the panel published a new guide that indicates the areas where the science is well established, and the many areas where there are still major uncertainties. In short, the debate is nowhere near over. To claim otherwise is to ignore science in favour of ulterior political objectives.
Dr Happs seems strangely reluctant to cite his sources directly, the only source he provides being a denialist blog report about a Scientific American survey. The link from that page to Scientific American is broken, but this page explains the matter:
Ignore for the moment that this poll was not scientific (nor was it meant to be) and that it was open to all who have access to the Internet, not just to our subscribers, as Gilder implied.
Rather, the big problem was that the poll was skewed by visitors who clicked over from the well-known climate denier site, Watts Up With That? Run by Anthony Watts, the site created a web page urging users to take the poll.
It sure worked. Our traffic statistics from October 25, when the poll went live, to November 1 (the latest for which we have data on referrals) indicate that 30.5 percent of page views (about 4,000) of the poll came from Watts Up. The next highest referrer at 16 percent was a Canadian blog site smalldeadanimals.com; it consists of an eclectic mix of posts and comments, and if I had to guess, I would say its users leaned toward the climate denier side based on a few comments I saw. Meanwhile, on the other side of the climate debate, Joe Romm's Climate Progress drove just 2.9 percent and was the third highest referrer.
So we were horrified alright---by the co-opting of the poll by Watts Up users, who probably voted along the denier plank. In fact, having just two sites drive nearly half the traffic to the poll assuredly means that the numbers do not reflect the attitudes of Scientific American readers.
This does rather prompt EoR to ask Dr Happs: "what are the ulterior political motives in skewing an online poll?". It would also be interesting to know in what way Dr Happs thinks an online poll is trustworthy in any sense whatsoever. Furthermore, "what are the ulterior political motives in citing a skewed online poll as evidence against global warming?"
The line Dr Happs takes on the Royal Society statement (see how easy it is to link to the source document? Dr Happs could have so easily done the same if he wanted people to assess the evidence directly) is remarkably similar to that espoused in the Coalition propaganda rag, The Australian. A line that prompted Professor John Pethica, Vice-President of the Royal Society to write to The Australian correcting their errors (EoR's emphasis):
IN your coverage of our newly published Climate change: a summary of the science ("Top science body cools on global warming", 2/10) your correspondents suggest that the society has changed its position on climate change. This is simply not true.
There is no greater uncertainty about future temperature increases now than the Royal Society had previously indicated.
The science remains the same, as do the uncertainties.
Indeed, the purpose of the new guide is to help people understand what is well established and what is still uncertain.
There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the main cause of the global warming that has taken place over the past half century.
The warming trend is expected to continue but the sizes of future temperature increases are still subject to uncertainty.
To their credit, at least The Australian published the letter. Dr Happs appears uninterested in views that differ from his own.
Dr Happs, as a scientist, should understand that science is never settled and that there is always uncertainty. This is, as Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway point out in Merchants of Doubt, precisely the point deniers latch on to in order to unculcate doubt in the media. Evolution is not settled (it might interest Dr Happs to know that there are actually scientists out there still studying evolution and its mechanisms). Gravity has hardly any evidence base at all. And don't even start on Dark Matter. Medicine has many things that it doesn't understand, and many things still to learn. Again, there are actually real scientists who are studying medicine in order to discover what causes diseases and how to cure them. So much still unknown. So many uncertainties.
EoR imagines that Dr Happs is just as convinced that evolution, gravity and medicine are huge hoaxes perpetrated in order to assemble massive grants funding and to make scientists famous. He also presumes Dr Happs takes the line that creationism, a gravity-free world, and homeopathy are valid (non-political) truths that have been suppressed by the World Communist Government Conspiracy. Or that the Bible really does reveal the terrible truth that Osama bin Laden has nuclear weapons.
Like the denial movements that attacked smoking, acid rain, and CFCs the scientists have beeen saying the same thing for a long time: the evidence tells us that the globe is warming. As The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism puts it:
Scientific skepticism is healthy. In fact, science by its very nature is skeptical. Genuine skepticism means considering the full body of evidence before coming to a conclusion. However, when you take a close look at arguments expressing climate ‘skepticism’, what you often observe is cherry picking of pieces of evidence while rejecting any data that don’t fit the desired picture. This isn’t skepticism. It is ignoring facts and the science.
Dr Happs has been president of the WA Skeptics for 25 years. Perhaps it's time for some fresh blood.