October 11, 2005 | Graham

Intelligently designed global warming

Pat Robertson has a different spin on recent natural catastrophes – they are a sign that the end of the world is nigh. Or is it so different?
Robertson’s outpourings can be characterised in a number of ways. One is as an example of “confirmatory bias” – the tendency to choose those facts which confirm an already-held point of view. Another is the tendency of people to make decisions based on statistical outliers. An example of this is the gambling industry – they won a million dolars, so I can too. Another is to infer meaning from perfectly random events. For example you meet someone, who, out of the millions of attributes they have, shares one with you, such as a date of birth, and immediately assume this is significant, despite the millions of other attributes you don’t share.
Which is why science requires not just that observations that have been made should fit the theory, but that the theory must be able to predict observations that have yet to be made. Theories that aren’t predictive are called “coincidence”.
We’ll all laugh about Robertson – that’s confirmatory bias, because in our culture we’ve learnt to dismiss religion. But some of us will enter into deep and heart-felt argument about Anthropogenic Global Warming on an equally logically flawed basis. We’ll assume coincidence equals causation, and we’ll exaggerate the coincidence on the basis of statistical outliers, because deep in our hearts most of us are apocalyptics.
Now, before Wayne Sanderson jumps in and accuses me of being a “denialist” when it comes to AGW, I’m not. What I am is someone who wants to see the processes of science, rather than religion, applied to the debate. I’d like to see government money going into climate models to make them as predictive as possible, and I’d like to see government money going into putting them to the test, and developing alternative hypotheses. And I’d like to see people arguing abot facts and principles, rather than preconceptions.
But all this could be academic. If a meteor hit earth tomorrow, destroying it, Pat would be right, even while he was wrong, but for an instant his would probably have more adherents than any other theory. Makes you wonder how intelligently designed any of us are.

Posted by Graham at 10:17 am | Comments Off on Intelligently designed global warming |
Filed under: Environment

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