Oh, it must be Christmas. As I mentioned in Wednesday's news briefs, James Randi has come under fire from all quarters this week, after posting his thoughts about global warming to his blog:
An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to "belong" in the scientific community. Why do I find this "unfortunate"? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by "politically correct" survival principles than by those given them by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr. (Granted, it's reassuring that they're listening to academics at all -- but how to tell the competent from the incompetent?) Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.
...It's easy enough to believe that drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are signs of a coming catastrophe from global warming, but these are normal variations of any climate that we -- and other forms of life -- have survived. Earth has undergone many serious changes in climate, from the Ice Ages to periods of heavily increased plant growth from their high levels of CO2, yet the biosphere has survived. We're adaptable, stubborn, and persistent -- and we have what other life forms don't have: we can manipulate our environment. Show me an Inuit who can survive in his habitat without warm clothing... Humans will continue to infest Earth because we're smart.
In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming.
Given that Randi's skeptical peers and scientific admirers have spent the last couple of months attacking 'Global Warming Deniers', Randi found himself in the unlikely spot of being attacked for his 'pseudo-scientific' opinion piece. Blog posts decrying Randi's statement appeared quickly on Pharyngula, The Quackometer, Cosmic Variance, Greg Laden's Blog and Respectful Insolence. Even more vicious were the comments threads (lead, as it would be expected, by more than 500 Pharyngula comments) in which it was suggested that Randi was suffering from dementia and so on (although you'd have to say there may have been some karmic retribution for Randi in the meanness of it all...with friends like those, who needs 'woo-woo' enemies!) And, in a wonderful bit of timing, Randi managed to post his piece on the same day that a fund-raising drive for the James Randi Educational Foundation kicked into gear. Oops.
The back-pedaling was swift - the next day, Randi posted a new statement, "I'm Not 'Denying' Anything" (which P.Z. Myers labeled a 'not-pology', leading to some fun exchanges between Myers' minions and Randi's followers in comments threads.) And then the back-patting, with plenty of 'skeptics' saying that the criticism of Randi showed how healthy the modern skeptical movement is.
But this is nonsense. Randi took a position which was diametrically opposed to the current scientific consensus, and furthermore one that was absolutely contrary to the argument being put forth on a regular basis by other skeptics such as Phil Plait and P.Z. Myers. There was no other option for them but to criticise Randi – it was either that or be hypocrites. What would be a better test of the health of modern skepticism is if other skeptics pulled Randi up for speaking nonsense about more fringe topics. Which he does on a regular basis. And the silence is deafening. The real truth of modern skepticism as a dogmatic faith is revealed in those particular moments.
In the comments threads, many people seemed shocked that their great beacon of truth was spreading misinformation. But the only reason was because Randi took on a topic which didn't allow his sheeple to nod their head in agreement. Randi often posts rubbish and misinformation on his blog - I've criticised him before in the comments section to his blog (asking for references for dubious claims etc) only to be attacked by other 'skeptics'. For instance, as I mentioned recently, Randi once attacked parapsychologist Dr Dean Radin by saying that he had recently moved into researching presentiment after his other research had failed - in truth, Radin has been publishing successful results on presentiment for more than a decade, in addition to his other research. On another occasion with which I was personally involved, Randi deliberately misled his readers to suit his own personal ends. Randi also often states his dislike (or at least distrust) of the 'ivory tower' of academia, perhaps a result of his own lack of education.
But if 'skeptics' would like to dismiss what I say because it refers to fringe ideas, it should be asked why this GW statement caused such uproar, when Randi has posted scary social-Darwinism rants such as the following (regarding the 'beneficial' effects of drug legalisation on addicts) which perhaps deserved far more criticism:
[T]hose individuals who were stupid enough to rush into the arms of the mythical houris and/or Adonis's they would expect to greet them, would simply do so and die - by whatever chemical or biological fate would overcome them...the principle of Survival of the Fittest would draconically prove itself for a couple of years, after which Natural Selection would weed out those for whom there is no hope except through our forbearance, and I'm very, very, weary of supporting these losers with my tax dollars.
...Any weeping and wailing over the Poor Little Kids who would perish by immediately gobbling down pills and injecting poison, is summoning up crocodile tears, in my opinion. They would - and presently do - mature into grown-up idiots, and Darwin would be appalled that his lessons were ignored.
So says the world's premiere defender of reason.
Update: Er, for all those people commenting about my GW stance, this post wasn't on that topic at all. It was discussing modern skepticism, and it's figurehead. Reading my criticism of Randi as an attack on skeptics of AGW is completely off-base.