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« This is a joke, right? Right?? | Main | Evolution’s Evangelist »

September 30, 2006

Re: Global Warming

Apparently The Point is already attracting some smart readers. My post on Global Warming generated some thoughtful comments from Walrus, Florida Gene, and Robyn.

Robyn comments as follows:

First, you self admittedly aren't a statistician or a scientistist of any sort but, you say, you've worked with statisticians. You feel this gives you the right to make some relatively broad claims about the state of the earth. This is something like a layman making an assessment of a person's illness... because he's "worked with" a neurologist or a surgeon.

Presumably you've also read a number of books, written for the layman about the subject of global warming. I can understand the false confidence these give about the subject. Would you go into surgery with this same sort of lay knowledge? Of course not. Yet you're quick to ridicule the idea of global warming.

In fact, Robyn, I was really trying to avoid sounding like I am ridiculing the idea of global warming. Instead, I was trying to stick to what I know: statistical models. To your point, as I admitted, I'm not a statistical modeler, but -- to be clear -- I have learned statistical modeling techniques and have built regression models for academic purposes. That doesn't make me a statistical modeler nor a statistician. But it does mean that I at least have a fundamental understanding of how models do and don't work. And when some of the best statistical modelers in the business confirm what I was taught in graduate school -- that statistical models inherently cannot predict values beyond the scope of the input data (and a global warming catastrophe is wellllllll outside the input data) -- I tend to listen.

At the same time, I acknowledged that if some sort of environmental calamity was on the distant horizon, the only hope for predicting it would be through -- yep -- statistical models. If that sounds to you like Catch-22, there's probably something to that. Which is why I ultimately conclude that we, as stewards of the earth, should consider the matter with an open mind, but without mistakenly believing that a coming global warming catastrophe is a demonstrable scientific fact.  For more on that, see this piece from Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Studies at MIT.

By all means, in our efforts to serve as stewards of the earth, we should respect each others' opinions. Part of showing respect is to avoid cheating in the debate by intentionally or inadvertently making definitive claims that simply aren't true.

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