What Lousy Philosophy Tells Us About Belief In Global Warming

What Lousy Philosophy Tells Us About Belief In Global Warming

One reason people doubt global-warming-of-doom is because of lousy philosophers like N. Ángel Pinillos (note the New York Times-sophisticated inclusion of the accent). He wrote a piece entitled (in some places) “What philosophy tells us about climate change skeptics.

Let’s read this essay and see how awful thinking can be and still make it into the “paper of record.”

It starts well, but ends badly.

No matter how smart or educated you are, what you don’t know far surpasses anything you may know. Socrates taught us the virtue of recognizing our limitations. Wisdom, he said, requires possessing a type of humility manifested in an awareness of one’s own ignorance.

A limitation of Á Pinillos’s is ignorance of climate science.

According to NASA, at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists think that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely caused by human activities.” Americans overwhelmingly agree that the federal government needs to take significant action. In a recent poll [of citizen’s who can’t say why the sky is blue, let alone delineate the intricacies of climatology]…

Now you’d think Á P. before he gave a lecture of knowledge about global warming would take the trouble to look simple things up. But no. Instead he obviously relied on the media (yes, really), and on the opinion of people who haven’t a clue about, say, parcel theory.

The canard about “97 percent” is particularly stupid. First, 100% of scientists agree that man influences the climate. How could we not? But that in itself, as Á does not understand, does not call for any specific action. And 97%? Did Á even read “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change“, which shows that the consensus over doom is more like 1%? No, sir, he did not.

Did Á even know to look for this paper? No, sir, he did not. He knows so little about the subject, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

He knows less about probability. Which is even more embarrassing, because nobody was expecting him to discuss the limitations of high-altitude cloud parameterizations. But we did think a professional philosopher would know the difference between decisions, knowledge, and probability. He doesn’t.

Suppose you observe a shopper at the convenience store buying a lottery ticket. You are aware that the probability that he will lose the lottery is astronomically high, typically above 99.99 percent, but it’s hard to get yourself to sincerely say you know this person will lose the lottery.

Look here, Á, if the shopper knew he would lose, he wouldn’t buy the damn ticket. We don’t know the shopper is going to lose. We only know it’s likely. Which means we also know he might win.

We can only know what is true. But we can believe anything. Right, Á?

If I had to bet whether the shopper would win, I’d have to think about the consequences about what would happen if I win or lose the bet, and the probability I calculate the shopper has the winning numbers. Probability is thus not decision. And my bet the shopper would lose is not knowledge he would. It’s a guess: a prediction.

Á does not grasp these distinctions, which are basic. He makes the same blunders in an example about his grading homework. I leave casting light on these as my own homework exercise for you, dear reader.

According to social psychology, climate change deniers tend to espouse conservative views, which suggests that party ideology is partly responsible for these attitudes. I think that we should also think about the philosophical nature of skeptical reactions, an apolitical phenomenon.

The standard response by climate skeptics is a lot like our reaction to skeptical pressure cases. Climate skeptics understand that 97 percent of scientists disagree with them, but they focus on the very tiny fraction of holdouts. As in the lottery case, this focus might be enough to sustain their skepticism.

Only a nincompoop uses the term “climate change denier”. Nobody denies the climate changes (I except lunatics). Knowing man influences the climate does not indicate any particular action, nor does it even imply that any such change is necessarily bad. Plus, climate skeptics (many of them) do not understand that 97% nonsense.

Á skates over the obvious fact that when some hear “climate change” they hear “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. Which is precisely why “conservatives” doubt the (many already failed) predictions of global warming. And is precisely why progressives have no doubt that without drastic and constant government action, we are doomed.

Finally, Á explicitly brings up probability. “Instead of saying that you don’t know some claim, try to estimate the probability that it is true.” Here (as he continues) he makes another classic mistake: that of assuming things “have” probabilities. They do not. A “conservative” and progressive will come to different probabilities of the same thing because they are conditioning on different information.

It’s that information that we must concentrate on. To paraphrase Á’s last sentence, an appreciation of the distinction between probability, knowledge, and decision, the many, many, many failures of global cooling then global warming predictions, and how poor academic philosophers can get their name in the papers can help elevate public discourse on these important topics, including the future of our sanity.

P.S. I ignored the ridiculousness about psychology as if it were philosophy, but clever students may like to submit those errors below.


  1. “As a philosopher, I have nothing to add to the scientific evidence of global warming, but I can tell you how it’s possible to get ourselves to sincerely doubt things, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.”

    But he fails to see how liberals can get themselves to sincerely believe things, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

    None so blind as those who just won’t see.

  2. Gary

    Socrates taught us the virtue of recognizing our limitations.

    Harry Callahan taught us the value of recognizing our limitations.

    Á reminds me of the man in a race who was so far behind he thought he was ahead.

  3. For those who may not know yet –
    There is no evidence the climate is warming. None. Every single piece of evidence presented in support of this claim has been shown to be not merely incorrect, but fraudulent.

    Even if it were warming, there is no evidence that human activity has any substantial effect upon that warming.

    Even if human activity were found to be substantially warming the climate, there is no evidence that CO2 is to blame. Cutting down forests has a more noticeable effect.

    There is no evidence that a warmer climate would be detrimental to human life. Extra CO2 makes plants, including the ones we humans rely upon for food, grow faster and larger. Please count the number of humans living within 100 miles of either pole. Compare that to the number of humans living within 100 miles of the equator.

  4. DAV

    There is no evidence the climate is warming. None.

    So, it was just as warm during the last ice age? How then did all of that ice melt?

  5. Sheri

    “No matter how smart or educated you are, what you don’t know far surpasses anything you may know.”
    This INCLUDES the idiots in the media. Somehow, they never get that.

    If the lottery ticket was stamped “LOSER”, no one would hand over the money.

    “climate change deniers tend to espouse conservative views, which suggests that party ideology is partly responsible for these attitudes.” Utter fail at showing ANY science knowledge. Correlation is not causality. His sign: I AM A LOSING FOOL Perhaps he can have that tattooed on his forehead. (The media tends to espouse progressive views, so we can therefore deduce that news reporting is based on progressive beliefs and reality? And, yes, the media slants progressive. But we deduce this from the content, not the ideology of the speaker, though this reporter is arguing the opposite. He is progressive and the news is progressive, therefore HE made the news progressive and he tainted it as such. There may be causality in conservatives rejecting global warming—especially those that say “follow the money” or “world domination”–or it may be that progressives are drawn to reporting their own beliefs while conservatives are drawn to real science and real life. Perhaps it is neither. It is far too complex to draw a conclusion from one areas correlation or lack thereof.)

    “As in the lottery case, this focus might be enough to sustain their skepticism.” So you lottery ticket holders are IDIOTS according to the article writer. STOP BUYING THEM per a journalist with omniscience. Hey, you believed his drivel on climate change. You are therefore obligated to believe his drivel on lotteries.

    Actually, a huge portion of psychology IS philosophy. I majored in psych and minored in philosophy and had zero problems since it’s kind of like taking the same thing with different titles. Guess I can’t see an error in that “ridiculousness about psychology as if it were philosophy”. Therefore, I am not clever or Briggs is in error. 🙂

  6. DAV – McChuck is probably referring to the last 150 years, and if he is, then he is wrong. While I’ll submit that the temperatures overall in the NH have increased, they have not to the degree which the alarmist propaganda has stated, as those increases have been contaminated by the UHI. If only the temperatures from rural located stations are sampled, those readings provide an increase of only 50% (approx.) compared to the urban areas, and the increase in those urban areas is proportional to population size.

  7. This is an odd entry, even for Briggs. First he quotes some statements that he knows are correct, for example that NASA makes a claim about a consensus, but objects to them…for some reason. Then he actually repeats the statements of the author that he’s complaining about, but italicizing some phrases. What’s going on? Who knows. Later he makes the standard crackpot play of whining that someone didn’t read his paper in an obscure journal that nobody reads–and that’s been debunked, so that even if by chance one were familiar with it, one would not cite its conclusions, unless one wanted to prove oneself clueless in the extreme.

  8. Joy

    Warm or cold depends on where you start and finish, which data is most reliable. The graphs really look like ‘red noise.’ So an engineer once told me.
    Listen to Freeman Dyson from an interview April 2015. The climate is always changing, as I think everybody agrees. So by definition therefore it is always warming or cooling, on the move.
    Even your body temperature doesn’t stay static.
    I heard a good argument that there isn’t such a thing as global temperature, or if there is, we don’t know what it should be.
    There is evidence of recent warming according to Dyson, in Earth’s history but it is a question of how much and whether humans are to blame. Whether warming is in fact a good thing, as it seems to be (from school A-level Biology).
    Whether there is anything to worry about given the fact that Co2 has been much higher in the past.
    …and I think everybody knows, really.
    I used to check all the time, when the graphs were easy to find and navigate. Roy Spencer’s website gives an easy to follow updated record.
    I used to think it would be good to god to a pop concert or arrange one, print T-shirts with the recent temperatures and another with Al Gore’s on the back.
    It would have to be a big one. Nowadays, ten years on, it would start a riot. Bad idea.

  9. Joy

    Good to hold…not ‘good to god’. sorry.
    The other point of interest I only discovered recently was that James Hansen, and Freeman Dyson were friends. They did not have the strong disagreement or animosity that media has lead us to expect. I find that really very telling. Their views are opposing. They don’t hate each other. Very refreshing.

  10. John Q Public

    Diversity hire.

  11. Ken

    DID ANYBODY NOTICE the author, Pinillos, whose remarks Briggs evaluates reveals a very modern perspective, ponder the recurring pattern:

    “… understand that 97 percent of scientists disagree with them, but they focus on the very tiny fraction of holdouts.”

    “… at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists think that … Americans overwhelmingly agree that …. In a recent poll…”

    “According to social psychology, climate change deniers tend to espouse conservative views, which suggests that party ideology is partly responsible for these attitudes.”

    EVERY SINGLE one of those remarks, at least once & sometimes multiple times, reveals a very particular bias — the viewpoint expressed is based on the majority crowd (the common denominator of the mob).

    For example, “Climate Change Deniers” (the 1st of the above quotes) tend to reject alarmist global warming projections based on their independent analysis of the data … yet this philosopher (Pinillos) from academia fails to perceive, much less recognize, that and imputes attribution of their viewpoint to persuasion from a minority group.

    This view of going with the majority is particularly prevalent on college/university campus’s, but is extending to society more broadly to the extent that if one does not agree with the majority view, and express as much, one is almost immediately ostracized via social media.

    This is a trend from a “guilt culture” to a “shame culture” — look up the quoted terms and the social analyses using them as constructs; the societal trends are interesting and unsettling.

  12. DAV et al – Yes, yes, I know we are in an interglacial period. Technically, we are nearing the end of an ice age, since there is still snow and ice at the north pole in summer. That’s not the point.

    Yes, yes, every sane person knows the climate is always changing. That is also not the point.

    The point is that every last bit of evidence used to support the massive fraud called “AGW” is a lie. Not a mistake. A lie.

  13. Uncle Mike

    A philosopher? N. Angel must be a Nietzschean.

    This is typical beta male grovel-ance signalling. Nose in the dirt, tail in the air. Most likely he hopes to komendant of a denialist re-education camp someday.

    At any rate he must believe that fawning obedience to the power elite drooling class and their mass insanity Big Lie will get him brownie points. Maybe even get him laid. Or at least, divert the wrath of the vagina-hat mob.

    The crazy thing is that warmer is better and he knows it — instinctively.

    Mass insanity isn’t pretty, Doctor Pinillos. Heal thy own brain. Get with warmer. We all could use some common sense.

  14. Justin McCarthy

    Pretty pathetic. As a conservative, I accepted the AGW thesis in Al Gore’s first movie. And, would love to watch shows on Global Warming and its consequences.

    One day, I watched an AGW doom and gloomer and then a documentary on how the Vikings were driven out of their colonies on Greenland by the Little Ice Age. Hmmmm? So, I researched this issue much more closely. Then I happened on the Wikileaks release of the Climate Gate email files with all the lies, shenanigans, and manipulation by the IPCC’s, East Anglia University Climate Warming Unit.

    The only thing that seems to be true is that: 1) We have been warming since the mid 1800’s upon the end of the Little Ice Age. 2) CO/2 is a trace green house gas. 3) The climate fluctuates over time and we have had three warm periods in the historical record. 4) Scientists and the IPCC really have no clue why climate changed in the past. 5) And, the UN and its henchmen in the IPCC are attempting to engineer, via mass hysteria, a massive redistribution of global economic development by saddling the West (US) with expensive energy. And, 6) Any scientist who questions the AGW orthodoxy is committing a career ending action. And, anyone else who questions anything about AGW is a deficient human being in any one or a multiple of categories (intellectual, philosophical, social, ad nauseam).

  15. M E.

    I would suggest that it is Snob Rule and not Mob Rule.
    If you want to be “in”with the Right People you need to have the right opinions. Read The Organisation Man. Whyte.

  16. A. Scott

    “Social Psychology” … a Stephan Lewandowsky st al redux … let’s publish pure smears, devoid of a shred of science, masquerading as scientific “Studies” …

    I, and Mr. Briggs, among many others, both showed the outright fabrications… in particular the statistical analysis (or more correctly complete lack thereof) … behind these smears.

    Those efforts exposed the outright fraud behind these attacks and smears against the dastardly “deniers” … who in reality deny nothing … and saw the journals throw out and retract these garbage attacks.

  17. Michael Slay

    Like everyone else, I’m interested in some things and not in others. For example, I don’t follow stories about the British royal family. I’m not critical of those who do; it’s just not my thing.

    But there’s an implicit deal with that. I’m also not passionate about any “controversy” related to the royals. If one chooses to be uninformed about a subject, it’s ridiculous to take sides passionately on that subject. That’s contradictory.

    Yet that is exactly what global warming alarmists advocate. “Don’t look at the data; it’ll just make your head hurt. Trust us to tell you how to think. But you must ACT NOW! Be passionate. Insult those who don’t agree with you. Etc.”

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