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This Is What Pseudoscience Looks Like

These people are engaged in a form of a logical fallacy called “begging the question” (a phrase often misused by people who simply mean “raising the question”) or circular reasoning. That is, they are assuming as a premise the conclusion of their argument. “Our theory predicts weather like this. We are seeing weather like this. Therefore it looks like our theory and our theory is valid.” But beyond that, what they are putting forth is a fundamentally unscientific theory, because it seems to be unfalsifiable. A few years ago, frustrated by the embarrassingly strong correlation between a speech by high priest Al Gore and record-cold weather at the speaking venue, they realized that they had to stop calling it “global warming,” and just call it “climate change.” Because “climate change” could explain any weather event. A recent Twitter exchange between me and Jason Major, one of the proprietors of the Universe Today web site, illustrates it perfectly:

JPMajor: @Rand_Simberg The trend seems to be shifting toward extremes. Extreme heat, extremely dry, and yes, in some places even extreme wet or cold.

Rand_Simberg: You mean like during the Dust Bowl? ‪#ShortMemory @JPMajor Trend seems to be shifting toward extremes. Extreme heat, extremely dry.

Rand_Simberg: Does that explain the mild winter we had? http://t.co/PzDMnqPV #ConfirmationBias @JPMajor The trend seems to be shifting toward extremes.

JPMajor: @Rand_Simberg Mild as in warmer? I believe it does.

Rand_Simberg: So “warmer” (i.e., “less cold”) is an “extreme”? ‪#IAmSoConfused ‪#ConfirmationBias @JPMajor Mild as in warmer? I believe it does.

JPMajor: A warmer climate may not have started the fires, but it sure helped them burn: http://fb.me/1PISNIpnq

Rand_Simberg: s/A warmer climate/hot weather/ FTFY @JPMajor A warmer climate may not’ve started fires, but it sure helped them burn.

Note the logical pretzels. “Climate change” causes “extremes,” except when it doesn’t and instead causes warm winters and hot summers (in its alter ego “global warming” form), as it did this year, in one location on the globe. It’s a very robust theory — any weather event is apparently evidence for it.

The problem, of course, is that weather like this can exist (and has existed for many decades) without global warming. One of the scientists that Borenstein interviewed but whose input didn’t appear in his story is Judith Curry at Georgia Tech. For those who haven’t been following, she’s been one of the few voices of reason in the climate science community. She posted her responses to his questions at her blog, in a post titled “What Global Warming Looks Like (?). Her summary:

So is this what global warming looks like? Well, this is what the 1930s and 1950s looked like. I have stated many times before that I think the 1950′s (warm AMO, cool PDO) are a good analogue for current weather patterns and extreme events. The good news in this latest episode is that no one seems to be trying to attribute extreme events to AGW; merely saying “this is what global warming looks like.”

Well, sadly, as one can see from the quotes in Borenstein’s piece, from Trenberth and others, and Bill Nye the pseudoscience guy, she was mistaken about the latter. But prepare to hear a lot more of it, unless the rest of July and August turn out to have back-to-normal temperatures. Or maybe that will be what global warming looks like, too. As I said, it’s a robust theory.

(Image by Shutterstock.com.)