Penn Jillette on skepticism

From half of the same team that brought you this classic video of di-hydrogen monoxide:

Climate change? Once more, ‘I don’t know’

Being honest about not knowing enough of the science to make a judgment isn’t the same as an outright denial.

 

By Penn Jillette

July 3, 2008

From: The Los Angeles Times

My partner, Teller, and I are professional skeptics. We do magic tricks in our live show in Las Vegas, and we have a passion for trying to use what we’ve learned about fooling people to possibly get a little closer to the truth. Our series on Showtime tries to question everything — even things we hold dear.

James Randi is our inspiration, our hero, our mentor and our friend. Randi taught us to use our fake magic powers for good. Psychics use tricks to lie to people; Randi uses tricks to tell the truth.

Every year, in Vegas, the James Randi Educational Foundation gathers together for a conference as many like-thinking participants as you can get from people who question whenever people think alike. There are smart, famous and groovy speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. There’s lots of real science stuff with real scientists questioning things that a lot of people take for granted, like ESP, UFOs, faith healing and creationism. It’s a party.

Teller and I are always honored to be invited. We don’t wear our usual matching gray suits, and Teller doesn’t stay in his silent character. Teller chats up a storm. It’s not a gig; it’s hanging out with friends. During our loose Q&A period this year, someone asked us about global warming, or climate change, or however they’re branding it now. Teller and I were both silent on stage for a bit too long, and then I said I didn’t know.

I elaborated on “I don’t know” quite a bit. I said that Al Gore was so annoying (that’s scientifically provable, right?) that I really wanted to doubt anything he was hyping, but I just didn’t know. I also emphasized that really smart friends, who knew a lot more than me, were convinced of global warming. I ended my long-winded rambling (I most often have a silent partner) very clearly with “I don’t know.” I did that because … I don’t know. Teller chimed in with something about Gore’s selling of “indulgences” being BS, and then said he didn’t know either. Penn & Teller don’t know jack about global warming … next question.

The next day, I heard that one of the non-famous, non-groovy, non-scientist speakers had used me as an example of someone who let his emotions make him believe things that are wrong. OK. People who aren’t used to public speaking get excited and go off half-cocked. I’m used to public speaking and I go off half-cocked. I live half-cocked. Cut her some slack.

Later, I was asked about a Newsweek blog she wrote. Reading it bugged me more than hearing about it. She ends with: “But here was Penn, a great friend to the skeptic community, basically saying, ‘Don’t bother me with scientific evidence, I’m going to make up my mind about global warming based on my disdain for Al Gore.’ … Which just goes to show, not even the most hard-nosed empiricists and skeptics are immune from the power of emotion to make us believe stupid things.”

Is there no ignorance allowed on this one subject? I took my children to see the film “Wall-E.” This wonderful family entertainment opens with the given that mankind destroyed Earth. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone hating ourselves for what we’ve done to the planet and preaching the end of the world. Maybe they’re right, but is there no room for “maybe”? There’s a lot of evidence, but global warming encompasses a lot of complicated points: Is it happening? Did we cause it? Is it bad? Can we fix it? Is government-forced conservation the only way to fix it?

To be fair (and it’s always important to be fair when one is being mean-spirited, sanctimonious and self-righteous), “I don’t know” can be a very bad answer when it is disingenuous. You can’t answer “I don’t know if that happened” about the Holocaust.

But the climate of the whole world is more complicated. I’m not a scientist, and I haven’t spent my life studying weather. I’m trying to learn what I can, and while I’m working on it, isn’t it OK to say “I don’t know”?

I mean, at least in front of a bunch of friendly skeptics?

Penn Jillette is the louder, bigger half of the magic/comedy team of Penn & Teller.

Advertisements

82 thoughts on “Penn Jillette on skepticism

  1. Sounds like typical bullying of anyone who says ” It isnt happening or I’m not sure”
    Wrong Wrong answer. The answer should be ” I beleive in AGW, it must be happening , [snip].
    I’m not a mathemetician, but did do maths and physics to a high standard at college. It seems to me if you take out the 1998 blip you are left with very little warming at all. Also Hansen’s range of temps for 2008 which he forecast in 1998 is out, he didnt hit the target. How can we beleive he can then hit the target for 2050? or 2100?
    Lets have a bit more real time analysis and less hype before we commit eco harikari.
    Great site Anthony, really sorry I cant understand all of it. I rely on people like you to tell the truth. Cheers Adrian

  2. Further demonstration that the cult of AGW is religious in aspects. No heresey allowed. “I don’t know” is the only correct answer based on the noisey data, incomplete climate models and troublesome agendas prevalent in climate research today.

  3. AGW-belief is more of a religion than a science
    – you have to ‘believe’ in it
    – you have to accept the doctrine handed-down from on-high, without question….
    – or thou shalt be cast out!

  4. Something I haven’t understood about science–perhaps someone could explain?–is the difference between “the evidence so far supports…” and “we actually know”. I keep wondering about the analogy with having a search party out looking for someone lost in a forest: if you know the size of the forest, then you wouldn’t give up searching until you’d covered every foot… and once you had, you could say with certainty, either that they are not here, or, we found them. But if you are dealing with unknown unknowns… how do scientists decide at what point they know enough to be reasonably sure that “they know” ?

  5. You got Penn Jillette to write a blog post? I feel even more blog envy.
    Oh well. Maybe if you have a get together of everyone who has guest posted, I could persuade Penn to dance the Rhumba with me. 🙂

  6. I sympathize somewhat with Penn. Here he is a professional skeptic so to speak, consorting with the likes of James Randi (an alleged paranormal skeptic) and a big algore supporter as well as an AGW acolyte.
    I imagine he got beat on by Randi & Co. to drink the Kool Aid.

  7. Penn, of course it’s OK to say “I don’t know”. And you’re working on it, which is great. But, don’t be fooled by your “really smart friends” who know “a lot more than me”, and are convinced of global warming. The very fact that they’ve been hornswaggled by AGW shows that they may in fact not be as smart as you think. Furthermore, you do not have to be a scientist to do your own research. You will find that the more you look into it, the more skeptical you will be of AGW. Many of us, myself included, started off believing AGW was true. At this point, I do not consider myself a skeptic on AGW, but rather a “climate realist”, having advanced beyond mere skepticism.

  8. good article….but richard dawkins is a hack and anyone that considers him worthy of respect (philosophically) shoud be embarrassed. he truly is a logical heretic (meaning he has no apparent skills of logic…..

  9. For many years I subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP now CSI). Back then they professed to believe that “Extraordiany Claims Require Extraordiany Proof.” In those days Randi was a CSICOP Fellow (I met Randi and Jillete at a CSICOP conference in Washington DC in 1990). Randi split with CSICOP some time back over a libel suit and Randi started his own magazine SKEPTIC. Recently, I was horribly dissappointed when the Skeptical Inquirer bought into the AGW theory hook line and sinker. SKEPTIC has published articles favorable to AGW, but at least it also published a well researched article skeptical of AGW. <a href=”http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v14n01_climate_of_belief.html” title=”A Climate of Belief”

  10. Back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, I was skeptical about global cooling and then global warming, but I was concerned about the increasing CO2. I knew much less than the little I know today and was then “skeptical” as I didn’t know.
    We now have 20 years of non-rising temperatures with rising CO2; I have moved from “skeptical” to heretic as the AGW religious movement has developed and prognostications haven’t.

  11. I saw a P&T thing on recycling. It was so funny I literally fell out of my chair laughing.
    REPLY: You mean this one?

  12. Mark:
    Dawkins logic is pretty good
    – he has an amazing clarity of thought.
    – he does a scientic should do – let himself be led by logic & reason, not emotion & prejudice.
    – I don’t know where he sits on the AGW vs non-AGW debate, but it would be interesting to find out.

  13. Why can’t more people be that honest! I have constantly repeated that we don’t know enough to go about messing with ‘solutions’ that could prove worse then the problem!
    Case in point:
    Seventeen year study shows Greenland Ice Cap melting much slower then previously though! It would take thousands of years, at the current rate, for the melt to affect sea levels.
    We were told in the next decade those islanders would be swamped and every major coastal city was shortly to follow.
    Yet with the limited knowledge we have we are expected to make changes that could lead to current dangers like expanding world hunger and unknown long term consequences.
    David

  14. “You can’t answer “I don’t know if that happened” about the Holocaust.”
    Actually, you can, and you should. NO aspect of history should magically be exempt from rational consideration and re-evaluation in the light of new evidence. For example, the BBC documentary “The Nazis, A Warning From History” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207907/) gives quite a new slant on the widespread killing of civilians under the Nazi regime, and asserts that quite a few ‘traditional’ views of the Holocaust are wrong. Is this documentary correct? I don’t know, but I suspect that it might be….
    When it comes to AGW, it should be a lot simpler, because the maths IS available to everyone. Honestly! And when you delve into it you can make up your own mind fairly easily……

  15. I’d like to point out what I think to be the real message of Mr. Penn’s piece. It’s not just OK to say you don’t know, it’s prudent. He’s saying that he’s not a scientist and he doesn’t know. I would advise some of the commentators on this blog to adapt the same point of view. If you are not familiar with the science, then you don’t know, and it’s best to admit that to yourself. Of course, if you want to learn about the science, then by all means use this blog to ask questions and educate yourself. But if your purpose truly is educational rather than political, then you really should be reading all sides of the issue, not just one side.
    And the people who suggested that this was just one more example of the “Global Communist Conspiracy to Take Over the World Through AGW” criticizing somebody for not hewing to the party line, may I remind you that the person in question was apparently a reporter for Newsweek — not a member of the scientific community.
    Robert Wood writes:
    We now have 20 years of non-rising temperatures with rising CO2
    Why don’t the responsible anti-AGW people jump all over people who make blunders like this? Mr. Wood discredits your cause.
    LifeTrek writes:
    We were told in the next decade those islanders would be swamped and every major coastal city was shortly to follow
    Could you cite the page in the IPCC report that makes that claim? Or any such claims in any of the NAS reports?

  16. Well, Penn, you should listen to your really smart friends. Maybe this one. At the 58th Nobel Laureate Meetings at Lindau, July 1, 2008, from a panel discussion, Douglas Osheroff said the following:

    Admin note…the above was not censored. “James” appears to have made an error in posting. Try again.~jeez

  17. Well, Penn, you should listen to your really smart friends. Maybe this one. At the 58th Nobel Laureate Meetings at Lindau, July 1, 2008, from a panel discussion, Douglas Osheroff, Nobel Prize in physics, 1996, said the following:
    “As you look at the CO2 level going up, temperatures rising, ice melting all over the world, you can say is this just an aberration of our climate and the answer is no”.
    or
    “If you look at the huge floods in the United States Midwest that is an example of what we can expect to happen over and over again”

  18. Amazing how people bought into the dihydrogen-monoxide story so easily. The lady circulating the petition, didn’t even have to mention that it kills several thousand people a year (through drowning). All she had to do was give it a chemical sounding name and say that it was in lakes and streams and food. And everyone thought it must be evil stuff and should be banned.
    I was born in the USA and I love this country so it hurts me to say this, but boy we’ve got some real dopes here.
    Now that I think of it, the hysteria over carbon-dioxide isn’t that much different. Some folks are even going so far as to call it a pollutant, when in fact it is a natural component of our atmosphere and is necessary for plants to survive.

  19. OPIE (Ophiuchus):
    Please detail the error in Robert Wood’s statement (oh, and I wouldn’t recommend using GISS as your reference on this blog, the regular readers know too much).

  20. It still amazes me that the brain-washed eco-terrorists of the world have such distain for people who are honest enough to say “I just don’t know”
    I’m proud to say that I’m just not a believer in these theories. There is still far to many holes in the science to be able to say outright that climate change is down to man. 7 of those wholes are orbiting the same star that we are.
    I have faith in the truth and, faith in people like Anthony to bring the facts to the people. Many thanks for your hard work and dedication, Anthony.

  21. To use the appropriate terminology that fits the concept, it would appear that Mr. Penn is an agnostic. That would make me an atheist as far as man overwhelming natural variability and causing massive warming. The most that mankind might achieve is localized land-use effects.
    And, as for dihydrogen monoxide, if the precautionary “principle” were to be consistently applied to all substances and not just those that activists have targeted, the use of the substance would have to be banned, though such logical consistency conflicts with the human drive for political power.

  22. James (14:41:21) :
    “As you look at the CO2 level going up, temperatures rising, ice melting all over the world…”
    Both of those statements are wrong.
    Care to try for a hat trick?

  23. Regarding AGW, most people have it backwards. It is not up to Skeptics ( aka “Deniers” ) the to prove their points. It is up to AGW supporters to prove that their theory is correct. The skeptics raised some very good points that AGW supporters have so far failed to explain. They are – in no particular order -:
    1., There is no historical, or paleo-climatical evidence that CO2 concentration controls the climate. Evidence of past climatic changes like Medieval Optimum, or LIA were not correlated to CO2 concentration and the largest of recent ( geologically speaking ) climate changes, the ice ages- through the ice core samples – show that that the CO2 concentration changes were the consequence rather than the cause of temperature changes.
    2., In absence of a clear understanding of all the non CO2 caused temperature changes – which is clearly the case – assuming that all temperature changes are caused by CO2 is wrong. The evidence is both empirical -temperature changes both in the 1940 to 1975 period and in recent years failed to correlate with CO2 concentration increases. The second reason is purely logical. In absence of knowing what other factors influence climate, it is impossible to determine CO2’s contribution. Rather like in algebra. You need two equations to find two unknowns. One is not enough.
    3., There is an undisputed observation that CO2 concentration is increasing and there is some modest warming taking place. Computer models, however predict a catastrophic runaway warming. The reason why computer model predict a catastrophic warming, because they were programmed to do so. Our understanding of our climate, both recent and historical, show that this is an incorrect characterization of our climate. Our climate is remarkably stable and small temperature increases do not lead to runaway temperature increases – as current climate models predict. If the computer models are screwed up -as they clearly are –
    junk them and do not try to change the world to fit the computer models.

  24. Why don’t the responsible anti-AGW people jump all over people who make blunders like this? Mr. Wood discredits your cause.
    Because, Ophie baby, it’s true.
    I will not respond any more to Ophie. He is just a * stirrer

  25. Smokey, that wasn’t James’ comment. He was quoting said comment.
    In the meantime:

    I’d like to point out what I think to be the real message of Mr. Penn’s piece. It’s not just OK to say you don’t know, it’s prudent. He’s saying that he’s not a scientist and he doesn’t know. I would advise some of the commentators on this blog to adapt the same point of view. If you are not familiar with the science, then you don’t know, and it’s best to admit that to yourself.

    Some pretty significant scientific finds have been brought to the world by non-scientists.

  26. With regard to my last comment, I will make one final response to Ophie.
    Now I get it! You’ve swapped time scales. The warmenistas were always about 30 years; now, if I can decode your posts, you are talking, what? 400 years, the height of the LIA.
    Frankly, this is a strategy you warmenistas should always have followed, but it still doesn’t heat up the argument, as it was both a lot warmer and colder before. Are you cherry picking there, Ophie?

  27. Ophie doesn’t realize that my mind is highly trained and paid and razor sharp.
    Sorry for the crappo, but I do take insults un-lightly. Especially by thirds.

  28. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but when I was in college scientists and engineers were encouraged to be skeptical (something that might be missed pursuing a B.A. from Yale ). Today in my daytime job I am held to this standard.
    A questioning attitude is cultivated.
    Individuals demonstrate a questioning attitude by challenging
    assumptions, investigating anomalies, and considering potential
    adverse consequences of planned actions. This attitude is shaped by an
    understanding that accidents often result from a series of decisions and
    actions that reflect flaws in the shared assumptions, values, and beliefs of
    the organization. All employees are watchful for conditions or activities
    that can have an undesirable effect on plant safety

    I don’t turn off that mindset when I come home.

  29. I’m sure someone’s said this before:
    Sceptics tend to summarise the science, whereas our “smart friends” tend to “summerise” the science.

  30. Yes Phil, Dawkins is very clear. He is willing to believe in aliens as long as they EVOLVED!!
    Apparently mathematics and odds aren’t part of his logic.
    James:
    ““If you look at the huge floods in the United States Midwest that is an example of what we can expect to happen over and over again””
    Would you please explain the connection between cyclical flooding in river valleys that has been occurring longer than humanities existence and the scam called AGW??
    Ophiuchus (or Serpentarius or snake-handler or whatever):
    “Could you cite the page in the IPCC report that makes that claim? Or any such claims in any of the NAS reports?”
    Since not even the IPCC utilises the actual science and recommendations from many of the contributors, I find this statement to be just a little disingenuous. Tell me, how can the Conclusions and Recommendations be published 6 months before the science parts have been completed if the science means anything to them??
    Maybe they KNOW what the results are going to be because their requirement is that the Science will support their Conclusions!!! Yes, it is even stated there. (read it again if you missed it. try and be a little discerning and not in the worship mode this time!!)
    By the way, have you noticed how their certainty is very high, yet, each report brings their projections closer to us deniers?? Boy, you AGWers are sure RUBES!!!
    So, how much time did Hansen give us in his last Religious fire and brimstone rant?? Think you can crash the world economy in time to save us from ourselves??
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  31. Ophiuchus said:
    LifeTrek writes:
    We were told in the next decade those islanders would be swamped and every major coastal city was shortly to follow


    Could you cite the page in the IPCC report that makes that claim? Or any such claims in any of the NAS reports?

    Not sure what your reading, but I never mentioned the IPCC or NAS reports.  But for your reference:

    IPCC SRES Scenario A1FI
        * Best estimate temperature rise of 4.0 °C with a likely range of 2.4 to 6.4 °C (7.2 °F with a likely range of 4.3 to 11.5 °F)
        * Sea level rise likely range [26 to 59 cm] (10 to 23 inches)

    Or you may want to check An Inconvenient Truth where 20 feet is the figure used for the high end.
    I was actually referring more to reports like this:

    SOON Tuvalu will be lost forever. Barely 23 years since it gained independence, Tuvalu, a tiny island country in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, faces the threat of being lost to the sea. Global warming and the consequent rise of the sea level no longer seem to be just theories.
    The Tuvaluan government fears that the nine atolls spread over some 26 square kilometres that constitute the country will ultimately go under the sea. But it has denied reports of a plan for the imminent evacuation of the 11,000 citizens.
    Fearing a rise in the sea level the Tuvaluan government appealed last year to Australia and New Zealand to provide permanent homes for the people. While Australia refused to take in Tuvaluans, New Zealand is considering the matter. … 

    With the rise in the sea level, Tuvalu has experienced lowland flooding. Saltwater intrusion is affecting its aquifers and food production. The nine islands have faced extensive coastal erosion.

    And this from the BBC:

    Tuvalu’s nine islands are little more than thin ribbon-like atolls scattered in the immensity of the Pacific Ocean.At their highest point, they stand no more than four metres (13 feet) above sea level and if predictions of rising sea levels caused by global warming are correct, they could become the world’s first casualties of climate change. … 

    We’ve had high tides before. But this is the first time it’s reached my doorstep,” he explained, gesturing to the water still flowing down the island’s main road.

    Seeking shelter
    The local people are shaking their heads in bewilderment – it is August, and this is not the right season for such high tides.

    David

  32. Yes, and 8,000 years ago, sea level was 120 meters (400 feet) lower than it is today. About 5,000 years ago, sea level was about 2 meters (6 feet plus) higher than today.
    There really is no “correct” level. Sea level fluctuates. See my website for an animation.

  33. I am not a scientist, merely a lawyer. With respect to AGW, I am very comfortable in saying “I don’t know.”
    However, I am very worried about exposure to DHMO and I feel that it should be banned. Okay, not really. Actually, in 1996 I met the man responsible for creating the DHMO website. I thought it was a hoot.
    The similarities between the DHMO joke and the AGW movement are amusing…and frightening.

  34. Richard Dawkins is brilliant in his field of evolutionary theory. I highly recommend all his books. However, his views on political issues including AGW I find kooky to say the least.
    Attributing the flooding of Tuvalua to rising sea levels is just untrue (less politely it’s a lie). The reason for the islands flooding is well understood. It’s because the undersea volcano the attol sits on is settling over time. The land underneath the attol is sinking and any contribution from rising sea levels is minor.
    Unfortunately, the BBC is one of the worst offenders in publishing these untrue articles.

  35. I too was highly disappointed when the Skeptical Inquirer published last year pro-AGW articles. For that reason, I didn’t renew my subscription, after 30 years of loyalty.

  36. Dawkins views on climate change are easy to google, though I’m afraid they won’t me very popular around these parts:
    “Is global warming a threat to the human species? ROBIN THOMPSON, Oxford
    Yes. You could say that the human species is a threat to the human species. I recommend Al Gore’s film on global warming. See it and weep. Not just for the human species. Weep for what we could have had in 2000, but for the vote-rigging in Jeb Bush’s Florida.”
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-you-ask-the-questions-special-427003.html

  37. I always think it’s a joke when people talk about Midwest flooding around the Mississippi as an outcome of global warming. The first time I heard Gore do it in the 90s, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
    People built around the Mississippi because it was a “highway” in the 17th and 18th centuries. But it is a river that drastically changes its course every 1000 years or so. Since the economics are so important we (the government) have done some heavy engineering to prevent the change. As New Orleans showed us, this is a battle we will eventually lose. It has nothing at all to do with global warming.
    An excellent book on this subject is “The Control of Nature” by John McPhee.
    On another note, didn’t Osheroff win the prize for low temperature physics? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard AGW people say non-climate scientists are not supposed to comment on AGW. I don’t believe that should be the case but if the AGW people think the restriction should be lifted, I think we’re making real progress.

  38. Penn & Teller have done a show on global warming and actually interviewed Lomborg, who took a stick to the concept; the show featured, from memory, some entertaining exchanges with feral greens. I can’t remember the date, but it was some years ago.

  39. James quotes Dr Osheroff at the recent Nobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau as saying:
    “As you look at the CO2 level going up, temperatures rising, ice melting all over the world, you can say is this just an aberration of our climate and the answer is no”.
    and
    “If you look at the huge floods in the United States Midwest that is an example of what we can expect to happen over and over again”
    You can watch the actual 90 minute discussion here:
    http://nobellaureate.feedroom.com/index.jsp?auto_band=x&rf=sv&fr_story=60d8eeecb63502e7f7b041331a3c1a6f30c9766f&skin=showcase
    Interestingly, at 8 mins 36 secs into this discussion Dr Osherwood starts his brief talk thus:
    “Please let me just state that is actually, I mean, I’ve already given a talk on Global Warming at a Lindau meeting which showed that I do not shrink from talking about things I know absolutely nothing about. So I will continue therefore”

  40. My two cents:
    I’ve been watching for years, waiting for the global warming episode 🙂
    But here is the bottom line: even if Penn knew–with total certainty–that AGW was bogus, he still shouldn’t preach that fact. Penn and Teller do too much good work. If they came out against Gore et al, they would lose too many connections, and too much influence. The best strategy is to continue doing what they do: teach skepticism. Teach people to question what they are told. The rest will work itself out it time.
    PS. James Randi is a helluva guy–I’ve met him, and own all of his books. But he’s a lot less qualified than I am to judge the merits of the IPCC reports. I’d be silly to take his opinion over my own judgment. It’s a bit ironic, but Randi made some of his best contributions by showing how easily scientists could be fooled by magicians. (Geller, etc) It may be that his biography will one day includes a chapter on how he was fooled by scientists.

  41. not at all surprised that Dawkins believes in AGW. seriously, i don’t know who told you (phil) that Dawkins is logical and reasonable. he is anything but. his emotions and lack of reason are evident in his very poor and pitiful arguments. while he is clearly a brilliant SCIENTIST….he is a tragic excuse for a philosopher. the leaps he makes to come to the conclusion that God does not exist are beyond sad. the only reason he is famous is because 1. he is saying what people so badly want to believe…..2. most people are not adequately trained to spot his very poor rhetorical skills logically speaking.

  42. Interestingly, Dawkins “Prisoners’ Dilemma” works have some features in common with climate models.
    Postulate a formula or model with parameters that cause it to converge, then woe and behold, claim the convergence is some sort of significant result.

  43. When people used to profess disbelief when I said “I just don’t know” I used to ask them, “Well then, what piece of evidence convinced you?” I don’t bother anymore. It is drifting towards the time when saying “I don’t know” is like answering the question “Is Christ risen?” with “I don’t know” in 15th Century Spain.

  44. Mark:
    My opinion about Dawkins was formed from reading ‘The God Delusion’ and also listening to what he had to say (about evolution), and watching a few of his videos on the web
    http://www.richarddawkins.net is a good place to start
    – I’m generally pretty impressed with his reasoning

  45. But here is the bottom line: even if Penn knew–with total certainty–that AGW was bogus, he still shouldn’t preach that fact. Penn and Teller do too much good work.
    I don’t see Penn as being a preachy type of guy no matter what he believes, but I’ll bet he could find clever (read evil) ways of needling AGWers mercilessly, and still be funny about it. More importantly, though, I think he really just wants to know, so that in the future if someone asks him “what about global warming?”, he’ll have an answer besides “I don’t know”.

  46. I see Penn was responding to a Sharon Begley blog posting. Ms. Begley uses a rather sophomoric tactic in responding to those who do not hold her opinions on global warming. Like Penn, she tried using this same tactic on me when I wrote her to criticize her article last August in Newsweek titled “Global Warming is a Hoax”. Ms Begley responded quite quickly and said she was thinking of writing an article for a future issue of Newsweek on how smart people can be fooled into believing dumb things, and asked if I would I be willing to be interviewed for such an article. I imagine that when she pressed the ‘send’ button she stuck out her tongue for good measure.

  47. Always time for as second post…
    Dawkins is not logical and not particularly intellectually rigorous either. Now, Carl Sagan, I can respect. Carl Sagan was logical, sensible and could probably convince me he was right (me being a christian, since you’re asking) if we spent long enough arguing about it. Sagan respected his opponents and consequently they respected him. He didn’t resort to arguments from authority, or strawmen or anything like that. He simply persisted with the logical, rational argument until his opponents saw his point of view for themselves. Dawkins just browbeats people until they surrender.

  48. I don’t like to see my faith ridiculed by P &T. Who are they? I also don’t like to see the reasoning of Dawkins placed above my faith. Evolution is based on similar reasoning and evidence as dark matter, dark energy, and global warming. As a Christian I see these teachers such as the ones who should be lumped in with holocaust deniers, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, UFO searchers, etc. Oh, I forgot bigfoot.
    Reason is broken. We don’t think right. We confuse correlation with causality; substitute analogy for demonstration; description for definition. Then we bash the next guy for doing the same.
    Christ is risen. No man comes to the Father except by Him. There is far more evidence for this than all of the above.

  49. Yes. You could say that the human species is a threat to the human species. I recommend Al Gore’s film on global warming. See it and weep. Not just for the human species. Weep for what we could have had in 2000, but for the vote-rigging in Jeb Bush’s Florida.”

    Talk about uninformed! Obviously Dawkins either didn’t take the time to educate himself that the supervisors of elections that Al Gore hauled into court were Democrats, or he just knowingly perpetrated a lie. If he wasn’t able to pick up on the errors in Al Gore’s film, how can he call himself a scientist?
    When I see such slipshod work outside of a person’s area of expertise, I question the quality of work inside his area of expertise as well.

  50. I don’t like to see my faith ridiculed by P &T. Who are they?
    Perhaps your “faith” isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be then, if you feel it is threatened by a comedy act, Grant.
    Christ is risen. No man comes to the Father except by Him. There is far more evidence for this than all of the above.
    Puh-leeeze, spare us. If we want to preached at, we’ll go to church. Religion and science just don’t mix.

  51. Speaking of Carl Sagan and climate change, I came across the little 1990 SNL gem of Mike Myers parodying a “Carl Sagan Global Warming Christmas Special”.
    http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/71374/
    Sagan was one of the earliest voices arguing that AGW was a serious problem, much of which arose out of his pioneering work on the composition and characteristics of the atmosphere of Venus.

  52. Swampie-yes, he is being ridiculously naive. First of all, as you point out, it was the blue counties that screwed up. Second, the recounts have quietly been done-NYT, and others, have proven that Bush legitimately won the 2000 election.
    Personally, I don’t see Athiests like Dawkins as “skeptics”-the simply out right deny the existence of God-which requires a leap of faith in and of itself. More disturbing however is the attempt turn evolutionary biology into a whole, metaphysical religion. It is also quite obvious that many of them deny religion becuase they wish to undermine traditional morality becuase of their liberal views. I can respect that they feel the way they do, but their presentation of their antireligious polemics is highly misleading.
    If Phil is so impressed by Dawkin’s logic, he may wish to know that his friends have been having rings run around them in debates with Dinesh D’Souza. You can watch him debate Christopher Hitchens:
    http://www.isi.org/lectures/flvplayer/lectureplayer.aspx?file=v000187_cicero_102207.flv
    Penn and Teller are very funny IMHO, and I and am glad that Penn is trying to keep a level head and open mind about AGW. This goes to show what happens when libertarian Athiests say something to upset their more liberal Athiest friends.

  53. As to Sagan whom I respected and admired, he was not infallible either. His ‘nuclear winter’ hypothethis and his political opposition to war led him to predict dire climate consequences to Saddam burning the oil fields prior to the Gulf War in ’92. Saddam burned most of them and what happened? Nada.
    Or maybe now we know why temperatures haven’t been rising the last decade or so! 🙂
    Point being, a scientist’s politics in this case as in others may lead to making dire predictions that are not supported by the facts. Scientists are human beings, not Spock-like beings.

  54. Pingback: When “I don’t know” is heresy… and when it’s not « Likelihood of Success

  55. The problem with Dawkins (whom I used to read voraciously) is that once he took a theological stand he became so confident that he is gullible. If something aligns with his worldview, he has very little interest in questioning it.
    Dawkins wasn never fundamentally skeptical, he was just smart and thought that he was right about a few controversial issues. (many of which he was right about, imo)
    Penn Jillette is so reflexively skeptical that he does not fall into that trap. If the evidence emerged that Jesus Christ was really risen, walking around, and promoting homeopathic colonic recycling, Penn would reconsider his positions. Richard Dawkins never would.
    (Matt Stone and Trey Parker wouldn’t care much either way, but they would get some great episodes out of it.)

  56. So even one can’t even say “I don’t know” without being accused of AGW heresy?

  57. when someone tells me that Dawkins is “reasonable” and “logical” i question their ability to understand basic philosophical reasoning. in college my best friend began to read Dawkins to give him a fair reading and he would literally laugh out loud as he read different passages to me. i couldn’t believe that Dawkins was considered respectable by anyone with half a brain……but then again, my major was philosophy so i have a bit of an advantage in spotting shoddy reasoning. dawkins is slick….he is eloquent……he is british……other than that, he is an embarrassment. i have even seen other atheists distancing themselves from him……

  58. This post and the accompanying comments highlight a phenomenon that I first noticed back in the 60’s and which has gotten nothing but worse ever since. The problem is a growing number of people, probably a significant majority at this point, can no longer differentiate between the meaning of saying I know or saying I believe. In most cases I believe is an adequate substitute for I know, but in the modern parlance I know has fairly much obliterated I believe, much to the detriment of any kind of rational discourse.

  59. Yuck.
    Next time Penn can add that he’s generally skeptical of beliefs that demand obedience rather than persuading with evidence.
    Re: “20 years…”
    Can someone point me in the direction of the data you’re all apparently looking at? The data I usually look at (the atmospheric satellite data) looks like there’s substantial warming from 1988-1998, and no rise from 1999-2008. But there really does look to be about a 0.2 degree (centigrade) rise from 1988 to 2008 (or basically from anywhere in the ’80’s to anywhere post-2000).
    In fact, that data appears on this very web site, if you scroll down to July 3rd….
    I usually say the data has been flat for the last decade, but I wouldn’t say it’s been flat for 20 years.
    What am I missing?

  60. Let’s end the religion and science commentary please, I have nothing against either, but they are way off topic.

  61. But there really does look to be about a 0.2 degree (centigrade) rise from 1988 to 2008 (or basically from anywhere in the ’80’s to anywhere post-2000).
    Yes. The point was that at the precise time Hansen made his speech (July 1988 ) was an upswing and the precise time he made it this year, the temperatures are on a downswing. The result is that when he actually made the first speech, it was warmer than when he actually made the second speech.
    The overall first-order flat trend, however, over the entire 20 years was, as you say, c. 0.2C to the warm.

  62. It’s really a shame that Richard Feynman isn’t around to comment on the whole CAGW brouhaha.
    Anyway, I’m an attorney and I’m a “denier.” People lie to me all day long and CAGW has all the red flags of a hoax. I’ve studied the “science” carefully and satisfied myself of this.
    When you cut through all the BS, the only evidence for the CAGW hypothesis is that it’s possible to construct a computer simulation which is (1) consistent with some aspects of climate history; and (2) consistent with future CAGW. A very slender reed.

  63. I have a few questions if anyone could help me:
    I under stand that there is around 0.04% CO2 in our atmosphere. What do AGWers believe is the correct amount?
    Glaciers – why are they melting and when did it start. Was there not a period when there were none? Same for the ice-caps (Polar ones)
    Is CO2 not vital to plant growth (aka the Kalvin cycle)
    I agree with you on Skeptic.com and have given up on them. Being a skeptic makes it hard for me to take them seriously when they seem so entrenched.
    The only vote I feel I have is my buck. Get the feeling the Economist magazine is Pro- AGW too.
    Many thanks for this website. I feel I have been alone with my wits and confidence challenged too often by the licenced media and friends(with no science training).

  64. You don’t have to be a skeptic to be a d-bag. All of the people Penn proudly mentions as conference attendees also strongly believed that Saddam had WMDs (Hitchens still does), and very often “skepticism” is a code word for libertarianism, which is itself a euphemism for crippling the power of government to make people’s lives better by protecting them from massive d-bags, while insisting that government start foreign wars. Parker and Stone’s movie Team America lays it out when the protagonist [moderator censored for profanity~Charles the moderator]
    http://stuffwhitedbagslike.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/dictionary-of-national-d-bags-penn-jillette/

  65. I haven’t read all the comments (far too numerous) but I would like to back-up Penn’s premise that it *is* OK to say “I don’t know”, if that is the case. It is not foolish, it’s honest.
    However, I too used to say “I don’t know” about AGW, until I became frustrated by my lack of knowledge. So I did what we all should do; research! It isn’t hard now we have the internet. One link lead to another, new contacts would send me to other sources of information. And so I found out that AGW is an unproven hypothesis with no empirical scientific evidence to back it up.
    Am I mad about the AGW hype and lies? You bet I am!
    Sue.

  66. chunque-
    Not to completely derail the discussion, but does it bother you that we just got 550 tons of uranium ore safely out of Iraq and into Canada? (link)
    That’s 550 TONS.
    Containing enough U-235 to construct about 70 atomic bombs (550,000 kg * 0.0072 (isotopic fraction) / 57 kg (critical mass)).
    No, no.
    Clearly, believing that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon is an embarassingly silly view.

  67. Clint,
    That stash of yellow cake was known to exist for decades and had been verified by UN inspectors to be in Iraq. This yellow cake was there and was part of the shut-down operation completed by UN inspectors prior to the lead-up to the invasion. After the invasion, it was guarded by troops till it could be safely removed. And by the way, it can’t be used in dirty bombs other than a scare tactic and it has to be enriched in order to be used as a high grade product in nuclear programs (either bombs or reactors). Troops were not looking for this stuff in their search for WMD’s. They already knew about it.

  68. I keep wondering about the analogy with having a search party out looking for someone lost in a forest: if you know the size of the forest, then you wouldn’t give up searching until you’d covered every foot… and once you had, you could say with certainty, either that they are not here, or, we found them.

    Or they moved to an already searched area while the search was ongoing…

  69. I sympathize somewhat with Penn. Here he is a professional skeptic so to speak, consorting with the likes of James Randi (an alleged paranormal skeptic) and a big algore supporter as well as an AGW acolyte.
    I imagine he got beat on by Randi & Co. to drink the Kool Aid.

    Randi’s not that bad. I’ve had personal correspondence with him in the last year, and he’s hardly an AGW acolyte. He could rightly say “I don’t know”, since he takes the word of his friend Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy..) for it.

  70. Well, Penn, you should listen to your really smart friends. Maybe this one. At the 58th Nobel Laureate Meetings at Lindau, July 1, 2008, from a panel discussion, Douglas Osheroff, Nobel Prize in physics, 1996, said the following:
    “As you look at the CO2 level going up, temperatures rising, ice melting all over the world, you can say is this just an aberration of our climate and the answer is no”.
    or
    “If you look at the huge floods in the United States Midwest that is an example of what we can expect to happen over and over again”

    Talk about narrow vision. That’s like looking only at one day’s data and saying “OMG! It’s getting hotter as we approach noon! Quick! Destroy all the clocks before we fry!” It completely ignores all the ups and downs in temperatures and climate events throughout history and calls a small snapshot in time “unprecedented”.

  71. Attributing the flooding of Tuvalua to rising sea levels is just untrue (less politely it’s a lie). The reason for the islands flooding is well understood. It’s because the undersea volcano the attol sits on is settling over time. The land underneath the attol is sinking and any contribution from rising sea levels is minor.

    It’s also due to erosion of the protective reefs due to construction. The islanders have created their own problem.

  72. Puh-leeeze, spare us. If we want to preached at, we’ll go to church. Religion and science just don’t mix.

    Thanks Bruce, my thoughts exactly. Trading one fairy tale for another isn’t the answer.

  73. Robert Wood said something about 20 years without cooling, and got fragged for it. I think I know what he was talking about. I happened to be reading climateaudit.org and found charts that pin point the global temperature 20 years ago, when Hansen gave his “famous” testimony, and compare it to today.
    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3231
    The global average for June 2008 is fractionally lower than when Hansen first began to tell us that we were doomed if we didn’t follow his advice (at least as I read the chart). So Robert’s right.

  74. wattsupwiththat (22:11:44) :
    Let’s end the religion and science commentary please, I have nothing against either, but they are way off topic.
    Jeff Alberts (16:19:31) :
    Puh-leeeze, spare us. If we want to preached at, we’ll go to church. Religion and science just don’t mix.
    “Thanks Bruce, my thoughts exactly. Trading one fairy tale for another isn’t the answer.”
    Ahem.

  75. I under stand that there is around 0.04% CO2 in our atmosphere. What do AGWers believe is the correct amount?
    Yes. At least the experts do. But for such a small amount to have a big effect, there has to be a “domino effect” of positive feedback loops. But the recent Aqua Satellite data indicates it’s just a lone domino. No positive feedback.
    Glaciers – why are they melting and when did it start. Was there not a period when there were none? Same for the ice-caps (Polar ones)
    Rather steadily, ever since the end of the little ice age (c. 1850). There have been a few time-outs (e.g., 1951-1976) and a few accelerated periods (e.g., 1920 – 1940).
    Remember the proportions:
    Antarctica: c. 80% of land ice
    Greenland: c. 20% of land ice.
    Everything else: c. 0%

  76. Not to completely derail the discussion, but does it bother you that we just got 550 tons of uranium ore safely out of Iraq and into Canada?
    I remember the story from 2003. We had to confiscate the empty barrels from the Iraqis (who were using them for water) on account of the contamination.
    The media mentioned it once, commented on how it proved nothing, and ignored the story from that point forward.
    I, however, did not forget it. But I find it surprising that it has come up again. (I predict it will again sink into obscurity.)

  77. “Most of the downward adjustments were made this decade,…”
    Hmmm…
    I guess that will make it a little easier for them to show an upward trend in the next decade. Remember the RC bet.
    Evan,
    Are you sure about them ice proportions?
    I hear it’s more like 90/9/1%

  78. The fact is, you don’t have to accept Al Gore’s hype about “Global Warming” as a fact to want to conserve, recycle, etc. You just have to accept the precept that it is better to use trash to make new paper than cut down trees, and you shouldn’t piss in your drinking water.
    It is a fact that the planet is heating up. The ice caps are receding and there is more CO2 in the atmosphere.
    However, that planet is MARS. (And of course there is more CO2 in the atmosphere as it heats up — Martian ice caps are made of CO2.)
    Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.
    But don’t expect any Eco-Indulgences (ie, Carbon Credits) to be refunded…

Comments are closed.