Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Climate Change Skeptics

People like package deals. When you are a part of a community, it's nice to be able to adopt all of that community's attitudes and values. So if your group of people is anti-abortion and anti-Obama, and they also turn out to dispute climate change, well, let's join in that, too.

That is one theory as to why many Orthodox Jews are dismissive of global warming. Jonathan Rosenblum knocks it here, here, and here (where he accuses others of not being empiricists!) and R. Avi Shafran expresses skepticism here and here (where he quotes Michael Crichton?! I loved Jurassic Park, but I would hardly cite Crichton as an authority).

Another possibility is that it may be part of a general attitude of skepticism towards science. With evolution being the hottest topic in science for religious people, and the overwhelming consensus of scientists being in favor of it, it is natural that anti-evolutionists would feel a need to attack the scientific edifice in any way that they can.

A third possibility is that it has to do with the same mistaken theological worldview that led Sefer HaChinnuch, Malbim and others to deny the possibility that species go extinct. One trusts that God is taking good care of the world, and that we don't need to take responsibility (cf. R. Shafran writing about natural catastrophes being prevented by "Divine Guidance.")

What I don't believe is that this dismissiveness is the result of clear, rational assessment of the evidence and of the scientific consensus. As demonstrated with evolution, these people do not have shining records with such things. And just compare Rosenblum's presentation of surveys of scientific opinion with that presented on Wikipedia. In any case, the majority of scientists clearly believe in global warming, and I seem to recall Charedim being very into the idea of following the majority, or even being yotzei according to all views - not dismissing the majority in favor of the minority.

Whatever the cause of their antipathy towards climate change (I would like to hear readers' suggestions), the recent scandal over severely inappropriate behavior by some climate scientists is bound to have been greeted with glee, and we can probably expect an article to appear on Cross-Currents soon.

Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change. But I do know how to determine the majority opinion of experts, and I see no reason to dispute them any more here than with the age of the universe. I can't see a secular (or any other) bias that would account for their conclusions, while I can certainly see the flaws with the anti-global warming crowd. In addition, it makes perfect sense to me that the amount of chemicals we put into the atmosphere would change it! With regard to the scandal of climategate, this looks to me to be the same as Piltdown Man or Haeckel's embryos: utterly shameful, but it doesn't mean that the overall model is false. One has to look at the context in which the emails were written, and in general to look at the overall picture.

I think that it would be wise to remember the words of the Midrash:
“Look at the work of God, for who can rectify that which he has damaged” (Ecclesiastes 7:13) – At the time when God created Adam, He took him around the trees of the Garden of Eden, and He said to him, “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! Everything that I created, I created for you; take care that you do not damage and destroy My world, for if you damage it, there is no one to repair it afterwards!” (Midrash Koheles Rabbah 7:19)

104 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. However, my question was less about the legitimacy of global warming theories than simply about the fact that it seems from these discoveries that a (large?) group of scientists got together conspired to conceal evidence that does not agree with their outlook.

    If scientists can act this way, why can't scientific knowledge of the age of the universe have been affected by a number of scientists pushing an agenda?

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  2. It seems from the sefer Chaim B'Emunasam that a (large?) group of rabbis got together and conspired to conceal evidence that does not agree with their outlook.

    If rabbis can act this way, why can't rabbinic knowledge of the Torah and God have been affected by a number of rabbis pushing an agenda?

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  3. So you're advocating some sort of nihilist view- that we can't really ever know what's going on because the "people in charge" might have an agenda, and can use their power to cover up information that doesn't agree with it?

    This would apply to religion- not in the classic nihilist sense, rather in the fact that we can't really know what our own religion believes!

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  4. Rabbi,

    >the recent scandal over severely inappropriate behavior by some climate scientists...

    so destroying raw data collected over dozens of years and manufacturing other data to support the conclusions is simply "inappropriate"? IT IS THE CORE OF THE MATTER. Is the Earth warming or not? Where are the thermometers placed? What does the data tell us?

    >Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change.

    So, before you blast people for being critical of the findings, do some leg work. Be rational!

    2 things that bother many of the skeptics are simple. 1) the hypocrisy (Al Gore exhausting more carbon that several countries do) and 2) the anti-capitalist agendas of many of its supporters. Its turning out to be an obvious money grab.

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  5. I am no expert on this subject and I am not entitled to an opinion regarding whether global warming is occurring and, if it is, what is causing it.

    However, I think there is a potential "bias that [could] account for [climatologists'] conclusions." Climate change alarmism (I use that word non-judgmentally) furthers many left-wing agendas and tendencies: anti-corporate, anti-industrial, anti-globalization, pro-"tilling the soil and living off the earth," etc. Scientific organizations and universities tend to be left-leaning, and climatologists may wish to, as you put it, "be able to adopt all of that community's attitudes and values." Furthermore, they may need to adopt the community's views in order to receive funding (as is alleged). If the scientific community were to misrepresent the facts, I would expect them to misrepresent them in a way that would interfere with big business rather than in a way that would promote it.

    I reiterate that I have no firm opinion on the matter. I just think it's conceivable.

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  6. Belief is useless if it doesn't cause a change in the actions of the believers. The reason "charaidim" don't believe in global warming is because the actions that would seemingly need change do not fit within the "charaidi" worldview. Nature is something to be seen at a zoo on Chol HaMoed, for the rest of the time it is something to be avoided by going to the Bet Medrash.

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  7. Re: Jeremy

    The culture of the research world and infrastructure of academic knowledge distribution makes it all but impossible for even an influential group of scientists to conceal data for long. A few reasons why:

    At the end of the day, scientist working in the field are, by an large, sincerely committed to observing and describing the world as accurately as possible. Scientists who are seen by their colleagues as incapable or unwilling to "do good science" in the face of pursuing political agendas, personal gain, or fame by publishing "sexy" results will lose their credibility over time.

    Also, as critics (correctly) point out with this case, there is very little to prevent individual scientists of a group of collaborators to conceal (or even fabricate) data in a particular set of experiments. However, it is very difficult to maintain on a practical level.

    Other researchers will, rest assured, do follow-up experiments based on said data once they are published, things won't add up, and they will be found out. Even if they would never be caught, the data will be seen as non-reproducible and therefore useless.

    One of the beauties of research reports in scientific journals is that they have to fully describe how the data was gathered and how the conclusions were reached from the raw data. Once it's published, any other scientist, including their competitors, have an opportunity to rip it to shreds. In fact, critically reading papers and punching holes in their methods and conclusions is one of the main analytical skills that I learned in my Biology Ph.D. program. We were trained, even ecouraged, to do this. Research reports by the biggest "gedolim" of the field are not immune from this sort of scrutiny. Despite certain orthodoxies that can set in within a given field, a very efficient way for a young professor to gain prominence is to convincingly show that a generally accepted idea or theory is incorrect.

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  8. I'd like to add another possible bias to the ones DES mentioned.

    Climatologists receive more grant funding if the public and government believe there is an impending catastrophe. They have a vested interest in maintaining a state of panic.

    I don't believe that the same bias exists in other fields. If biologists were to falsify evolution/common descent, or geologists were to disprove the ancient age of the earth, they would receive even more funding to find new theories to replace the discarded ones.

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  9. Note to the potential troll whose comment I did not post: I don't want this thread to be hijacked.

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  10. Rabbi Slifkin: I can't believe you are defending the climate change whingers. Don't you believe that G-d is running the world? Do you think G-d needs help controlling the weather?
    Perhaps if we stopped cutting down G-d's trees, the climate would fix itself.

    Anyway....Lord Monckton (who has spent years researching this subject) has responded to the climate change fanatics. You can see his video here:
    http://shiratdevorah.blogspot.com/2009/12/climategate-exposed.html

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  11. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/copenhagen-climate-change-confe/6762640/Global-warming-caused-by-suns-radiation.html

    It is not clear cut. Climate science is open to interpretation and the fudge-factors in your computer simulations. Lots of extrapolations and approximations are taking place, not to mention billions of dollars of jobs, positions, etc. riding on your results. When politics and money get mixed into science it makes for bad science.

    To say global warming caused by humans is just as proven true as the age of the universe is..well... kind of rediculous.

    From an eimail sent to me by a fellow APS member:

    "(The principals in this escapade have not denied what they did, but have sought to dismiss it by saying that it is normal practice among scientists. You know and we
    know that that is simply untrue. Physicists are not expected to cheat.)
    "

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  12. I saw I think this past week that R' Yaakov Kornreich had an article in the Yated about the affair and drew a direct comparison to evolution.

    Thanks for not feeding the trolls.

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  13. I agree with Tsurah: there is a lot of redundancy built into the scientific process. It's hard to put one over on the scientific community for long and there is a lot to be gained (career prestige) by proving "gedolim" wrong.

    My own perception of the rejection of climate change is simply that (like rejecting evolution) it is part-and-parcel of the American conservative world-view that most of the Orthodox world has adopted.

    You mention that these groups have a general distrust of mainstream science, but what's more interesting to me is that they don't generally reject mainstream medicine. One would think that people who reject the science of evolution (complete with conspiracy theories) would also reject modern medicine (vaccines, cancer chemotherapy / radiation, complete with conspiracy theories about doctors and drug companies) but in general I don't think that they do.

    I wonder how this ties in to traditional cultural perceptions of doctors and the medical profession?

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  14. It is interesting to note that among the Christian anti-evolutionists there's also a lot of skepticism about global warming. If for example you look at uncommondescent.com (which is run by some of the major intelligent design proponents) you'll see a lot of it.

    The notion that this coming from a generally skeptical attitude towards science would also explain the Christian treatment.

    It seems there's also some similar attitudes in the Islamic world, but my impression is that that is due in part to the fact that dealing with global warming would likely mean that less oil would be purchased from the Middle East. The assumption is made that this is therefore obvious a Zionist plot to hurt the Arab and Muslim states with oil.

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  15. To the person whose comments I am not posting: If you have a question, you can call me tomorrow and we can discuss it. If you just want to have an argument, forget it, I don't have the time to waste time.

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  16. The response of the Hareidi pundits is predictable, as anything that scientists say automatically becomes suspect.

    However, just because these columnists are usually does not mean they are always wrong.

    The climate change issue is far from scientifically settled. And with an issue as highly politically charged as this one is one certainly cannot automatically go with the majority of scientists.

    There are two distinct points to climate change. 1) Global warming and 2) its cause. Until recently it seemed that it was pretty much fact that the Earth has experienced some warming in the past 100 years. Of course recent revelations of data manipulations call even that into question.

    As to the cause, this was never more than theory and conjecture. Was it just part of the natural cycle of the Earth or was it man induced? And even if it was man-made could it be reversed by man.

    Yes, we should clean up our act and treat the planet better but using very questionable climate change assumptions to turn the world's economy upside down doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense at this point.

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  17. That's a beautiful midrash that you posted.

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  18. Rabbi Slifkin,

    MO people, who are more rationalist-inclined, tend to be more left-wing politically than charedim. Does that mean that being right wing is wrong?

    More educated people are also more left wing. They also have fewer children. Does that mean that being more educated is wrong or perhaps it makes having fewer children right.

    You're right that there is a connection between education, rationality and other items; statistics can prove it. However, I don't think that we should draw conclusions from this.

    (C.f. William Buckley's statement regarding being governed by the Harvard faculty vs. the first 40 names in the phone book.)

    I, for one, believe strongly in Torah umada/Torah im derech eretz, believe education is good, am proudly right wing, and refuse to be alarmed about global warming.

    Why don't I care about global warming for the most part? Because I don't trust the people promoting it. I don't trust people like Al Gore. Like the commenter, DES, I believe there is an anti-human, anti-progress, anti-industrial bias here.

    Essentially the message is: Man is evil. He is ruining the planet.

    Just look at the global warming campaign. It's all about not driving cars that people enjoy, not doing this and not doing that.

    Compare it to the anti-AIDS campaign. In that case, the message is: Let's find a vaccine, not how we shouldn't "misbehave."

    Global warming may or may not be true and man may or may not be causing it, but I simply don't trust the people leading this campaign. It most certainly is a left-wing cause inspired by left-wing ideology.

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  19. > the majority of scientists clearly believe in global warming

    The way this is stated is part of the problem. Global warming is not something to be believed in or not. It is true, or it isn’t. If it’s true, belief isn’t necessary. If it’s not, belief doesn’t make it true.

    But, since there is a perception that religion and science are equal opposites, and religion operates on belief, some religious people think science does also.

    What bothered me, aside from what the scientists did, was the way the incident was reported in the frum press. It was not so much, “these people did something wrong and got caught,” as it was, “Ha! Look, those duplicitous scientists are making things up! Science really is a conspiracy against religion! WE KNEW IT!”

    > If scientists can act this way, why can't scientific knowledge of the age of the universe have been affected by a number of scientists pushing an agenda?

    They got caught.

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  20. So a bunch of websites I found in a google search seems to reveal that this may be a giant hoopla over nothing:
    http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=1G1TSHB_ENIL355&q=debunking+climategate&aq=f&oq=&aqi=

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  21. If everyone were to follow the majority without a stiff challenge, we'd all be believing in geosynclinal theory instead of plate techtonic theory.

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  22. Found at R' Gottlieb's blog:

    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwightdeisenhowerfarewell.html

    "Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. "

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  23. " R. Shafran writing about natural catastrophes being prevented by "Divine Guidance.")"

    Is the following statement the R' Shafran quote you were quoting?

    "To be sure, were some humanity-threatening catastrophe both clear and present – and not merely distantly predicted by some – we would be required to take steps to meet the challenge. But forecasts of disaster like Dr. Ehrlich’s have come and gone countless times. Some turned out to have been based on error; in other cases, looming disasters were successfully averted by human creativity and Divine guidance."

    If this is the correct source, I don't quite think you represented his position properly.

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  24. "the recent scandal over severely inappropriate behavior by some climate scientists is bound to have been greeted with glee,"

    But wait, the majority of climate scientists says that there was no severely inappropriate behavior done. What happened to following the majority?!

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  25. This is a topic where it is difficult to be truly rational most people involved have a vested interest.
    It is one of the few areas of science where there seems to be a scientific disagreement about whether there really is man made climate change.
    We will only really know in either hundreds of years or in 50 years if catastrophic changes happen because there are long term cyclic weather changes occurring concurrently
    So I am a climate change agnostic

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  26. ChildISH behavior wrote: "The reason "charaidim" don't believe in global warming is because the actions that would seemingly need change do not fit within the "charaidi" worldview."

    Like what?

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  27. "One would think that people who reject the science of evolution (complete with conspiracy theories) would also reject modern medicine (vaccines, cancer chemotherapy / radiation, complete with conspiracy theories about doctors and drug companies) but in general I don't think that they do.
    "

    You would be mistaken. Just search the net for these topics. You might be surprised what you find.

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  28. So I looked into this a bit more. I'm probably going to give a speech on it for a class here at Touro.

    Found these posts and articles of interest:
    http://skepticblog.org/2009/12/07/the-climategate-fiasco/

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1946082,00.html

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2009-11-30-warming30_ST_N.htm

    http://climateprogress.org/2009/11/28/climategate-michael-mann-hockey-stick-copenhagen-diagnosis/

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/earth/4338343.html

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1392

    http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/16288

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  29. "People like package deals. When you are a part of a community, it's nice to be able to adopt all of that community's attitudes and values. So if your group of people is anti-abortion and anti-Obama, and they also turn out to dispute climate change, well, let's join in that, too.
    "

    This sounds like you are describing yourself. You have to fit into the package of scientist, and fail to see how damning this "climategate" issue really is.

    Scientific literature has been too consolidated for too long. The fictional account of the academy of sciences in "Atlas Shrugged" seems all too real today.

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  30. "the majority of scientists clearly believe in global warming"

    Few say, many parrot. As the Chazon Ish said.

    "and I seem to recall Charedim being very into the idea of following the majority"

    Right, thats why they're all Christian.

    "I can't see a secular (or any other) bias that would account for their conclusions"

    None?! Wow!

    "I can certainly see the flaws with the anti-global warming crowd."

    True. Me too.

    "In addition, it makes perfect sense to me that the amount of chemicals we put into the atmosphere would change it!"

    Gases, not chemicals. But I may be ignorant.

    What I had to say on this:

    "http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200203/mann

    I urge you to read this article in its entirety. You may be misled in the first few paragraphs as to the intent of the article.

    This tells me great insight into scientific research and to how it is conducted. While most might have a quest for truth, it is almost always distorted and biased unintentionally (as well as intentionally, which does not need mention), on both sides of the proverbial coin.

    While this article does seem to go against common knowledge and has some real holes in it, such as flimsy archeological evidence, some of it does seem to have substance to my untrained eye.

    A fascinating and enlightening read nonetheless.

    If true, it lend a whole new light to the subject of human driven climate change and the environment.

    What I take away from this is that usually, nature has its way to right itself and adjust. The human race might sometimes be victim to such change, which can be ruthless, but the nes of teva is amazing.

    If the subject of climate change is your cup of tea, please enjoy this read.

    http://article.nationalreview.com/print/?q=ZTBiMTRlMDQxNzEyMmRhZjU3ZmYzODI5MGY4ZWI5OWM=

    And read here for some insightful comments.

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=843517
    "

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  31. Even if global warming is occurring the proposed emissions cuts may be worse than the underlying problem. Cutting emissions drastically could trigger a global depression which would trigger a world war - with nuclear weapons.
    I will take a warmer earth over nuclear war.
    On the other hand, there are other benefits of smarter use of energy. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year do not need to flow out of this country. Nuclear power can provide substantial energy with minimal carbon impact.
    Josh from Dallas

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  32. Just look at the global warming campaign. It's all about not driving cars that people enjoy, not doing this and not doing that.

    This reminds me: Ten years ago, when I lived in Har Nof, they installed bottle-recycling containers. I remember being in the car with a colleague who also taught at Ohr Somayach, and when he saw them, he said, "What's this meshugass?!"

    I fear that a lot of the anti-global warming sentiment is from people who want to enjoy life and don't want to bother themselves with having to be more responsible. People who don't want to have to pay more for running the car, just to make it cause less pollution. People who wouldn't want to pay more for meat and eggs that were farmed in a more humane way. People who want to be able to just toss out their garbage, without having to think about where it's going.

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  33. In other words, what bothers me about the climate change skeptics is that I don't see them as being concerned in general about responsible behavior vis-a-vis nature. Furthermore, I don't see the remotest concern for the possibility that climate change might be happening; there is no "let's try to be more careful, to be on the safe side." They are absolutely, 100% sure that climate change is not happening, despite large numbers of climatologists who claim that it is. What happened to Pascal's Wager?

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  34. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I take your point. However, I refuse to be alarmed and refuse to do anything for several reasons.

    1) Trust. I don't trust these people. Global warming came out of nowehere a few years ago and has suddenly become a rallying cry of liberals. It wasn't calm, dispassionate academic research that led us to this point.

    It was introduced to the public at large by liberal activists and has become a mass hysteria.

    For example, a few weeks ago, a European boeard of rabbis put out a statement calling for greater environmental concern. I looked at the picture of these rabbis. Out of these 35 or so rabbis, I'm willing to bet that not more than 2 or 3 rabbis knows the first thing about the environment or global warming. They simply decided to join the chorus.

    The more the hysteria, the more I distrust. Why, by the way, are we never informed about what's wrong with global warming? I never read in newspapers or articles online about the effects this climate change is supposed to induce so that I can make a better and more informed opinion. There is no calm academic discussion. It's hysteria for the most part. And this hysteria is coming from a camp I strongly distrust.

    2) What am I supposed to do? If you and I drive more fuel efficient cars will it make any difference? Or will it simply make us feel good while not amounting to a drop in an ocean? If global warming is really real and man-induced, it is big businesses and countries like China that are going to make a difference, not you and I.

    I believe some people say we're already too far along the road and that we're already doomed. If so, why make people suffer for no reason?

    I care about nature. I do not wantonly rip flowers or plants from the ground. I just am not going to go along with this hysteria. (By the way, what ever happened to the ice age predictions or the over-population scare of the 1960s and 70s? These alarmist predictions generally tend not to be true in my experience.)

    Two final points: a) About recycling, I'm skeptical as well, and I believe there was a NYTimes magazine article about 15 years ago that questioned the benefit of recycling.

    b) Please remember cost/benefit analysis. When you a spend billion of dollars in one area, that's a billion less you spend somewhere else. If a big business is forced to spend 10 million a year, for example, to be environemntally sound, it will pass on those costs. Millions of consumers will pay more for products, the company will hire fewer workers or pay less etc. etc. etc.

    Just "playing it safe" has huge consequences. If the science is not good and if alarmist tendencies tend to be wrong and if maybe things will or won't work themselves out no matter what we do, why potentially harm so many people? Always remember the law of unintended consequences.

    Finally, please read this article. I don't like all of Ayn Rand's philosophy, but she is basically right-on about environmentalism. (Google Ayn Rand and environment if the link doesn't work):

    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_environmentalism

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  35. It appears to me that if we look beyond the leftists who tend to be pro-environmentalist and simply look at what most scientists are saying then we will understand that global warming is indeed taking place.

    I personally am right wing on some issues-for example I think that the Arabs should be expelled from Israel-but I have long understood that we must take stands on a case by case basis.

    I agree with the Admor MeSlifka.

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  36. R. Slifkin. I think you're basing your case on the extreme. Science, by definition, is and should be a "skeptical" process. Yes, there are skeptics who take reasonable doubt and carry it to far. However, the bigger problem today is that there are proponents, and many of those are people in power, who have removed the science from the climate change issue and turned it into a religion. And just as our religious fundamentalists attacks anyone as "unfaithful" who question the their assumptions so too here the religious faithful of climate change leave no room for doubt and crucify anyone, scientist or otherwise, who dares question that which came from on high.

    This thinking is what led to climategate, i.e. their "ends" of environmental protects justified the "means" of falsifying data and thus perverting the scientific process.

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  37. There is no such thing as the "majority" in the scientific method. Either something can be experimentally demonstrated, or it can't. If 1,000 scientists say something is, then 1 scientist experimentally shows otherwise, then 1,000 scientists are wrong.

    Given that the most complicated environmental science, weather prediction, is good for up to about a week - global climate predictions for decades are complete guesses at this point.

    Personally I remember GLOBAL COOLING of the 70's. The fact that so much money, power and control is tied to the climate change agenda, and it's operating by "majority" - sorry, we're in the world of guessing and influence.

    Science predictions that fail are failed experiments. None of the climate models is panning out - meaning they're ALL failed experiments. And frankly, people are reacting as if it's a religion. "Believers" and "skeptics". That's not science.

    And that's the problem.

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  38. There is no such thing as the "majority" in the scientific method. Either something can be experimentally demonstrated, or it can't.

    Sorry, but that's just not true. When you are dealing with a complex phenomenon such as climate change, the question is whether the evidence demonstrates it to be true or not. You and I are not qualified to assess it. Amongst the experts, there is dispute. So the concept of majority is very much relevant.

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  39. "In other words, what bothers me about the climate change skeptics is that I don't see them as being concerned in general about responsible behavior vis-a-vis nature. Furthermore, I don't see the remotest concern for the possibility that climate change might be happening; there is no "let's try to be more careful, to be on the safe side." They are absolutely, 100% sure that climate change is not happening, despite large numbers of climatologists who claim that it is. "

    R' Slifkin, you may have rushed into that post, generalizing climate change skeptics under one broad stroke. Well, at least you call them 'skeptics' instead of the 'deniers.' Being "absolutely 100% sure" is not the sign of a skeptic, but of a denier.

    Also, you probably intended to distinguish between GW and AGW. Although a good percentage of skeptics fail to distinguish, many others do.

    Me? I'm a skeptic (of some sort [definitely not the "100%" sort] -- there's a wide range, of course), but I can tell you that I just hauled off my yellow recycling box to the curb. What inspired me to recycle? Part of it happened to be an article in the very frum "Where What When" magazine printed in the Baltimore community: "The Debate on Global Warming" :
    http://www.wherewhatwhen.com/read_articles.asp?id=314 and the followup:
    http://www.wherewhatwhen.com/read_articles.asp?id=352

    Yehuda pointed out the NYTimes magazine article about 15 years ago that questioned the benefit of recycling. (Probably the one referred to here:
    http://environment.about.com/od/recycling/a/benefit_vs_cost.htm
    When I recycle, I'm simply taking a chance that it does more good than harm.

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  40. Hector, the "Where What When" articles are terrific! Very calm and sensible. And his discussion in the second essay about the feedback on the first is illuminating. Thanks for the links.

    I recommend that everyone read them!

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  41. They were really interresting articles and i find the way he presents his arguments is reasonable, and doesn't alienate Left or Right (Like this thread has brought up that issue)

    I did make me smile though when he gave his very dissaproving opinion on evolution. Especially since after you having read it Natan, you then recommended it forward. And the Godolim being semi-deified(we'll pretend thats a word)at the end of the follow up article was awkward.

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  42. One can deny Global Warming because leftists proclaim it. One can deny the value of Zionism, because it is leftist, secular. One can deny the Age of the Universe, Evolution, because the secular came up with these things. One CAN do all that. It is tempting, but alas: We must accept the truth from who says it. Denial of the truths of others is THE way to strenghten their general position, bad as it may be. It is also THE way to damage one's own general position, good as it may be.

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  43. Yehudah:

    Global warming came out of nowehere a few years ago and has suddenly become a rallying cry of liberals. It wasn't calm, dispassionate academic research that led us to this point.

    It was introduced to the public at large by liberal activists and has become a mass hysteria.


    I remember popular articles (Time magazine, e.g.) from 20+ years ago about the greenhouse effect. I assume there were scientific papers before that. I know university courses discussed global warming in the mid-90s (not courses in liberal activism; in meteorology).

    In any case, global warming is not a new issue, not by any means.

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  44. Rabbi, the irony of this discussion is that for a rationalist jew, you do not sound rational at all.

    i wish you could step back and see that (re-read some of your comments)

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  45. Anonymous - on this blog, telling someone "you don't sound very rational" doesn't count for much, without any arguments whatsoever to back it up.

    (also, please use a pseudonym, if you are afraid to use your real name.)

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  46. I concur with JXG and also clearly remember hearing and reading a lot about global warming in newspapers and major magazines in the mid- to late-1980s and through the early 1990s. It is not a "new idea" nor was it foisted on the world by "liberals".

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  47. People should't get excited about the "cooked data".
    Watch this
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nnVQ2fROOg

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  48. Hassidei HaAdmor MeSlifkaDecember 9, 2009 at 4:50 PM

    It dawned on me that the Admor MeSlifka has a lot more name recognition than some of the haredi gedolim who banned him.

    ReplyDelete
  49. It's my prerogative to follow the minority view of scientist who's analysis show no global warming. Their view just makes much more sense to me.

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  50. I remember popular articles (Time magazine, e.g.) from 20+ years ago about the greenhouse effect.

    Yes, and when I was in high school 30 years ago the prevailing scientific thinking was that of a coming ice age.

    The bottom line is that we just don't have enough data which forces a tremendous amount of conjecture.

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  51. While we're at it, I remember when I was in high school, everybody knew Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

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  52. Responding to climate change will impose costs on society because of a long term threat and it is rational to assume that that people who are poorer are less likely to agree to bear the costs. Thus, western countries are more likely to take action than other countries. Charedim are poorer than most other Jews and are therefore less likely to agree to bear the costs. Denial is a way of avoiding the costs of dealing with global warming.

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  53. was the midrash quote meant to be a snide snark at the majority of seforim which quote it for non-rational purposes?

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  54. Natan,

    Shame on you! You should know that climate change is not disputed. What is disputed is that climate change (and specifically glabal warming, which is a subset of climate change), is caused by man.

    I'd expect you to be a little bit more accurate with your choice of terminology.

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  55. Busted - no. Who uses it for non-rational purposes, and how?

    Yoni - I was just simplifying things for the discussion. Sorry, I guess I should have mentioned that. But there certainly are people who deny that any global warming is taking place! They claim it's just regular fluctuations.

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  56. Re: Isaac Balbin December 9, 2009 4:31 PM

    Just saw http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nnVQ2fROOg

    You're right. If that's all it is, then this is just a case of the media hyper-ventilating (again) about a non-story by SERIOUSLY over-reaching from what the facts say.

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  57. The bottom line is that we just don't have enough data which forces a tremendous amount of conjecture.

    That may be true, but my intention was to refute the claim made earlier that global warming / climate change was a "new idea" promoted by liberals just in the last few years.

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  58. They claim it's just regular fluctuations.

    Actually, without strong evidence to the contrary, and there's little, this is the most "rational" assumption. We are looking at 200 years worth of data relative to the 4.5 Billion year age of the Earth. It's the height of haughtiness to default to the assumption that man is causing a change.

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  59. An example of the "science" we're dealing with here...

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/5620571/the-smoking-iceberg.thtml

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  60. A rationalist view on climate change and how to do deal with it. (Hint: Al Gore would not approve.)

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/12/09/global-warming-copenhagen-flood-opinions-columnists-henry-i-miller.html?feed=rss_opinions

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  61. "In addition, it makes perfect sense to me that the amount of chemicals we put into the atmosphere would change it!"

    Sure, but this change needs to be quantified. The consensus on AGW is thinner when quantification is concerned.

    "One trusts that God is taking good care of the world, and that we don't need to take responsibility (cf. R. Shafran writing about natural catastrophes being prevented by "Divine Guidance.")"

    Don't you want to retract, even partially, what you insinuated about R' Shafran. Recall, he wrote: "looming disasters were successfully averted BY HUMAN CREATIVITY and Divine guidance."

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  62. "Busted - no. Who uses (that midrash) for non-rational purposes, and how?"

    Funny, when I read that midrash, I was struck as to the clarity of the advice. Midrashim are so often tricky to understand; this one seems to be the easiest I've ever seen! Being so simple, I wouldn't be surprised that many seforim want to liven up the teaching of the lesson with other Torah-related or mystical lessons.

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  63. Anyone like to guess who taught the following? "...typical of scientific progress. New facts, collected in old ways under the guidance of old theories, rarely lead to any substantial revision of thought. Facts do not `speak for themselves', they are read in the light of theory."

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  64. Jordan,

    I suppose I can't dispute your memories. However, I still maintain that most people became aware of global warming as a major issue suddenly in the last 5-10 years.

    It was not even close to a major issue until relatively recently.

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  65. I think the RW world's skeptism regarding global warming, comes from their political consevatism, and is shared by many Republicans, who do accept the scientific approach, but see this cause as a liberal to promote universal values that do not involve "nation building" or democracy based on questionable scietific evidence. The New Jersey election, in which R Steinman's daas Torah call to support a leberal candidate was ignored, shows to what extant the Right Wing Orthodox world identifies with the Republican line, and conservative pundits are very skeptical of this whole thing.

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  66. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Please check this letter of 140 global warming skeptics:

    http://www.copenhagenclimatechallenge.org/

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  67. From the original post:


    A third possibility is that it has to do with the same mistaken theological worldview that led Sefer HaChinnuch, Malbim and others to deny the possibility that species go extinct.


    I'm afraid that this is a real example of the kind of "tone" which purportedly led to the banning of your books.

    You know that I don't approve of the ban, and I don't know if any such tone does exist in the books you wrote a few years ago, but if you are now using a phrase like "mistaken theology" about the Chinuch and the Malbim, you are certainly asking for trouble, and not just from the extreme RW.

    In any case, isn't it possible that this is an isolated error and not an indication of an overall "mistaken worldview"?

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  68. Theological worldview of Chinnuch and Malbim = God's providence preserves all creation in static and perfect condition. No species ever becomes extinct.

    Reality = Most species become extinct.

    Theological worldview of Chinnuch and Malbim = Mistake.

    But you're right, I could have phrased it better - it looks like I meant that their fundamental worldview was wrong, whereas in actuality I was only referring to their view of providence.

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  69. But you're right, I could have phrased it better - it looks like I meant that their fundamental worldview was wrong, whereas in actuality I was only referring to their view of providence.


    To a detail of their view of providence (since that is all that was proven to be mistaken).

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  70. It's not a minor detail - it's a theme that they return to in several places.

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  71. It's not a minor detail - it's a theme that they return to in several places.


    I didn't say it was minor. Remember, the subject I'm talking about is tone and labeling their "worldview" as "mistaken" is pretty strong stuff.

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  72. Right, "not in conformance with modern scientific opinion" is seen as a better tone.

    I do understand that notion. However, maybe it's because I'm a Mancunian, but I like saying things straight. And to say that no species ever becomes extinct is plain mistaken.

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  73. R' Slifkin, I'm interested in reading the Malbim and Sefer haChinuch's (and others') comments on extinction "inside". Can I trouble you for the sources? Thanks!

    The link:
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/05/evolution-part-1-extinction.html
    didn't have them.

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  74. Chinnuch mitzvah 291 and 545.
    Malbim to Tehillim 119:90 and Iyov 37:24, and implicitly in other places.

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  75. (Also Ramban and Derech Hashem. I am working on a full article on the topic.)

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  76. Pliny - was it Stephen Jay Gould?

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  77. Rabbi Slifkin,
    Please check this letter of 140 global warming skeptics:
    http://www.copenhagenclimatechallenge.org


    Yehudah - what do you make of the far greater number of scientists who consider it true?

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  78. "what do you make of the far greater number of scientists who consider it true?"

    What about the far greater number of shittos that say chazal's science w as true?

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  79. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I'm not averse to taking a minority view. I simply wanted to demonstrate that distinguished scientists -- not just ill-informed charedim -- are skeptical of global warming.

    By the way, when talking about the majority, how many people in the majority are well informed and how many are simply relying on the next guy?

    The author of "Eim Habanim Semeicha" writes clearly that he was an anti-Zionist, not because he had investigated the issue, but simply because he relied on the majority. Hence, I question how many in the majority have truly investigated the issue.

    I think the minority doesn't suffer from this problem. Since it has become politically incorrect to be a global warming skeptic, I believe those who are skeptics are, by and large, truly well informed.

    (But I should mention again that I have no problem being in a minority.)

    Since I am not qualified to investigate the issue myself I am forced to rely on others. I would love to live in an ideal world where I could attend a conference where the best minds intellectually and calmly debated the evidence without any political and social agendas clouding the atmosphere. However, we don't live in this world.

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  80. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Since I'd like to think that I'm a rational person, let me say the following: I don't know, like the Yated does, that global warming is not true or not caused by man. I'm willing to accept that both proposals are possibly true.

    My working assumption is that it's not true (for all the reasons I've talked about), but I will never categorically state that it's not true.

    Even if it were true, however, I think we should searching for other solutions besides not driving SUVs. (As I mentioned, one of reasons I oppose global warmists is because their campaign seems to be more anti-man than pro-planet.)

    By the way, I'm not a black-and-white conservative. I've been against the Iraq war for several years now, and now I also oppose the Afghanistan war. If I were president, I would pull out every single American soldier tomorrow. So I'm not afraid to break with the crowd. It's just that this global warming campaign rubs me the wrong way.

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  81. By the way, is it your opinion that whenever there's a disagreement among scientists, the layman should simply accept the majority opinion?

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  82. - Climate prediction models that absolutely don't work, then the source data is manipulated to meet the non-functional models.

    - A climate conference that produces the carbon output of a small country for a year!

    - Assumption that all change is bad, that the status quo should be maintained.

    - A theory who's models don't work relying on 'consensus' rather than experimentation or accurate prediction.

    - Mitigation factors refuse to be considered versus crush all the average guy's lifestyle approaches.

    Data states in the 1300's there was a mini-ice-age and northern Europe was covered with glaciers. Not so long ago. Why not target that environment?

    Nobody has provided a comprehensive picture of what this theory will cause to occur. Perhaps a temperate climate in Canada and Russia with 2 growing seasons is a good thing. Perhaps environments that were already on the edge of habitability shouldn't be struggled over to maintain habitability (ex. Bangladesh).

    Maybe the Western world shouldn't impoverish itself to maintain habitability of South Pacific islands that all together support less than 1/2 million people, or Bangladesh that's been barely habitable during good conditions.

    Frankly, the charedi community lives, by choice, a lifestyle of minimum consumption to focus on communal standards and religious goals. Maybe the world should be learning from us?

    What is certain is this: Right now Western economies cannot handle the impact being demanded without being crushed. And Eastern economies (China, India) refuse to operate in a more sustainable fashion that would slow down their economic growth.

    It's been noted that a single major volcanic eruption drops world temperatures 2 degrees for 2-3 years. Why aren't options of reproducing that effect being considered?

    My net point: whether the science is valid or not, it's clearly been cooped by those with a particular social and political agenda. And those with the agenda would crush most of Western lifestyle while flying to conferences decided to do that in private jets.

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  83. Here's a milder form of criticism of global warming science:

    http://blog.american.com/?p=7710

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  84. Thanks for the sources, R' Slifkin!

    "Evolutionist" answered Pliny - was it Stephen Jay Gould? After Googling, that's what I came up with, too.

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  85. "Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change. But I do know how to determine the majority opinion of experts, and I see no reason to dispute them any more here than with the age of the universe."

    The problem is, R' Slifkin, if we applied a similar process of reasoning to those gedolei HaTorah who banned your books, we might argue that their view of a 6000 year old universe, etc. is the "correct one," (at least with regards to what constitutes the correct reading of Genesis) and your views are "fringe," and hence not true.

    I am sympathetic to your views on many issues, but not because I think they clearly constitute the "majority opinion."

    In general deferring to the superior knowledge of scholars in the field is a good rule of thumb. But it's possible that this approach can backfire at times, sometimes even dramatically. I don't see any clear way around this problem, but it underscores the need for intelligent, thinking, laypeople to think for themselves as much as is reasonably possible.

    I am under no illusion that the Halls of Academia are immune to dishonest, politically charged, or faddish thinking, even though the peer-review process is probably the best mechanism we have in place to publish scientific findings.

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  86. Busted raised the point that the midrash brought at the end of this post is often quoted for non-rational purposes. Perhaps the following, which appears in Chapter 1 of Mesilat Yesharim, is an example of it:

    "If you will delve deeper into this matter, you will note that the world was created to serve man. However, the world itself stand in the balance. If a person is drawn toward this world and distances himself from his Creator, he will be corrupted and corrupt the world with him. Yet, if he can rule over himself and he cleaves to his Creator and uses this world solely to aid him in serving his Creator, he will be uplifted and the world itself will be uplifted with him.... It is with reference to this, that our Sages of blessed memory have commented in Midrash Koheles (Koheles 7:13): " 'See the deeds of the Eternal...' - When the Holy One blessed be He created Adam, He took him on a tour of all the trees of Gan Eden and said to him, 'see how beautiful and praiseworthy My deeds are - and all the I have created i have created for you. Take heed not to corrupt nor destroy my world.' " "
    [Translation taken from the 2004 Feldheim edition of "The Path of the Just," pp. 9-10]

    I don't see that this understanding of the midrash nullifies its pashut pshat that man's physical actions can destroy the world, but I can see how someone might understand it in that way.

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  87. R. Slifkin,

    Here's an excellent article explaining why "consensus" in science, especially politically motivated science, can be wrong, very wrong.

    http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2009/12/09/rocket-man/

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  88. Menachem Lipkin,

    Thanks for the link. It's fascinating and informative.

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  89. While I respect your intellect and your point of view on most topics, I must question your understanding of science. Science does not work by majority rule. Exactly the opposite, in fact! A single scientist with a single new proof is enough to overturn centuries of "scientific consensus" on any given issue. Therefore, noting that the majority of scientists believe in global warming is meaningless.

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  90. Correct, a single proof can overturn it all. But what does the evidence about global warming say? When you are dealing with a complex phenomenon such as climate change, the question is whether the evidence demonstrates it to be true or not. You and I are not qualified to assess it. Amongst the experts, there is dispute. So the concept of majority is very much relevant. (putting the bias issue aside for now)

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  91. I mean no implication by sending the following link:

    "How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data"

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0005738

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi
    /10.1371/journal.pone.0005738

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  92. That last link was from me.

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  93. "Avi Shafran expresses skepticism ... here (where he quotes Michael Crichton?! I loved Jurassic Park, but I would hardly cite Crichton as an authority)."

    This is what R' Shafran wrote:

    "I was apparently not the first to think the thought. MIT Meteorology Professor Richard Lindzen has labeled environmentalism a religion (not intending a compliment), as its devotees are convinced “that they are in possession of a higher truth” and are intolerant of “heretics, or ‘climate change deniers,’ to use green parlance.” Author Michael Crichton has asserted much the same, even paralleling environmentalist credos with Biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden, the fall of man and an eventual Day of Judgment. “Environmentalism,” he told the Commonwealth Club in 2003, “seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.”

    I maintain that R' Shafran did not quote Crichton as an authority on global warming, but as a commenter on the /religiosity/ of so many of the global warming followers, at least the atheists among them. It doesn't take expertise in climatology to make this observation. Thus, I don't think your criticism of R' Shafran is fair in this case, just like I don't think it was fair in the "natural disasters" case I mentioned in this same post -- which you still haven't admitted/denied/addressed.

    I'm not R' Shafran's assigned defender. I've criticized things he's written before. It's just that in this case...

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  94. You are right, he was not quoting him as a climate expert. But why quote him on the religiosity of climate-change proponents? Would he quote Jonathan Kellerman? I find it odd that he is quoting an author of pop novels.

    With regard to natural disasters - I don't see it as significant that he also said that human creativity can be involved.

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  95. "You are right, he was not quoting him as a climate expert. But why quote him on the religiosity of climate-change proponents?"

    I don't know, but the real question is why would imply that he was quoting him a climate change expert, unless you have something against R' Shafran.

    "With regard to natural disasters - I don't see it as significant that he also said that human creativity can be involved."

    I see it as very significant that you left it out. It makes R' Shafran look like he's taking a "there's nothing we can do; let's leave it up to God" approach.

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  96. DF
    -------

    Rabbi Slifkin, I've enjoyed your works for a long time. About 7 years ago or so we emailed about R. Schwab saying the original nachash in the gan eden story was a Neanderthal man. This was before anyone had banned your books.

    Anyway, in my opinion I think you have lost this one debate (on global warming). Anyone who reads your works obviously respects science, and hence cannot be dismissed as some sort of luddite ostrich. But the science behind global cooling -cum-global warming-cum-climate change is extraordinarily suspect, if not disproven entirely. To steadfastly defend the "majority" of scientists (parroting, as they were, other scientists relying on deliberately falsified data) is no different than those well-meaning Jews who continue to accept the view of the majority of rabbis with regard to chazal's infallibility.

    Your entire following rests on the assumption that men are not stupid, and should use their own intellect to consider the truth or falsity of matters, rather than upon appeals to authority. If so, I suggest you adopt that approach with regard to the "global warming" industry. Otherwise, you risk being seen as someone as equally ready to believe whatever a scientist says, no matter how badly the evidence cuts against him, as a Charedi is readly to blindly accept whatever his GEDOILIM tell him.

    [Nor would this be the first time science has been wrong, but acm"l.]

    DF

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  97. I don't know, but the real question is why would imply that he was quoting him a climate change expert, unless you have something against R' Shafran.

    No, I have nothing against him. I know him and like him, although I really don't like some of his articles. The real question is why you would imply that I was quoting him a climate change expert, unless you have something against me.

    "With regard to natural disasters - I don't see it as significant that he also said that human creativity can be involved."

    I see it as very significant that you left it out. It makes R' Shafran look like he's taking a "there's nothing we can do; let's leave it up to God" approach.


    The question is whether there is a tendency in religious circles to downplay the need for human action and to trust in God's help. Any mention of catastrophes being averted by divine guidance is evidence of this, even if says that human creativity was also involved. But if you disagree, then your comment here will correct the picture.

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  98. the science behind global cooling -cum-global warming-cum-climate change is extraordinarily suspect, if not disproven entirely.

    What qualifies you to make this judgment? Are you a meteorologist? Or just someone who has read a few things on the internet? I'm pretty well educated in science, and I don't trust my own ability to evaluate the science. On what basis do you trust yours?

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  99. "I'm pretty well educated in science, and I don't trust my own ability to evaluate the science."

    Your graduate degree in science is from which university?

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  100. I sloppily left out a couple of words when I posted my last comment, causing you to misinterpret my intent. I wrote: "why would imply that he was quoting him a climate change expert, unless you have something against R' Shafran."

    My intent was to write: "why would you imply that he was quoting Crichton as a climate change expert, unless you have something against R' Shafran."

    Perhaps I was hasty in saying that you have something against R' Shafran, but I still think that you imply that R' Shafran was quoting Crichton as a climate change expert, whereas the paragraph (and the one before) in which he quotes Crichton is clearly talking only about the "religiosity," so to speak, of many of the climate researchers.

    Also: "Any mention of catastrophes being averted by divine guidance is evidence of this (i.e. a tendency in religious circles to downplay the need for human action and to trust in God's help), even if says that human creativity was also involved. But if you disagree, then your comment here will correct the picture."

    I can't really argue with that, but I would point out that R' Shafran mentioned human creativity before divine guidance.

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  101. "Your graduate degree in science is from which university?"

    Er, that was my point. If I had a graduate degree in meteorology, I might consider myself qualified to form my own opinion on climate change. But I don't, so I don't.

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  102. This is probably the better place to post this rather than the Bugs in the System. There has always been serious scientific dispute regarding the validity of anthropogenic global warming theories. One of the primary problems was that the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia which was the source for ( many / most / all ) of the computer models on which global warming predictions were base refused to share either the raw data or the source code for the models with scientists who were skeptical of their conclusions. In an incident which became known as ClimateGate, the e-mail accounts of scientists at CRU were hacked and it came out that they were intentionally hiding and falsifying data and tampering with computer models to make them fit reality.

    You can read a bit more about the general problem with the computer models in this short article written by:

    Willie Soon is a solar physicist and climate scientist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Madhav Khandekar is a former research scientist from Environment Canada and served as an expert reviewer for the IPCC’s 2007 reports.

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