Sane Skepticism, part 1

I alluded to the fact in my last entry that skepticisim is a healthy thing – when practiced with moderate doses. Skepticism, ironically, allows one to broaden their horizons by forcing them to analytically reason through an argument; analysis, in my opinion, is an incredibly enlightening process, should it be done thoroughly, methodically, and impartially. But when does a dose of skepticism go too far?

Not to pick on him, but Cyclonebuster at Ricky Rood’s Climate Change blog made a statement that could shed light on this question. In comment #140 to this entry, CB makes this statement which, at its heart, invokes the logical fallacy that “correlation does not imply causation”:

AGW will also lead to more tornadic activity. Take this year for example.

Leaving that correlation fallacy aside, is this statement remotely valid? Let’s adopt the viewpoint that yes, it is, and attempt to explain it. For starters, we’ll need to construct some sort of rational connection between AGW and tornadic activity. We could emphasize the fact that tornadoes are generally produced at the convergence of cT, mT, and cA air masses over the great plains; we could also emphasize the importance of the presence of shear and focus on the importance of the Jet Stream. Let’s go with the latter.

A primary effect associated with AGW is the earming of ocean surface temperatures. Ocean SST’s are very important in helping to define global circulation; for instance, the ENSO shift in SST’s has dramatic regional consequences depending on whether or not it shifts negative or positive. Although I’m not familiar with any research affirming this next statement, it seems plausible enough that a shift in SST’s could have an impact on the Jet Stream, particularly in the formation of larger-scale waves which help form the conditions necessary for tornadogenesis. From there, one doesn’t necessarily have to do anything else; we’ve constructed AGW -> warmer ocean SST’s -> shift Jet Stream (assume to a positive state for tornado generation) -> more tornadoes and voila, we have our explanation for this year’s incredible tornado season.

Do I really have to explain why it’s important to be skeptical of this sort of rationalization? First, we are assuming a teleconnection between ocean SST’s and Jet Stream configuration (again, I’m not sure if any research into this has been conducted; I could be entirely off base here). Then, we’re handwaving by claiming that the net effect of that teleconnection could be an amplification of the frequency of weather patterns which help produce a healthy environment for tornadoes. Although the explanation is logical and more importantly, plausible, it doesn’t make it reality.

We should be careful to rationalize every little aspect of the climate which is attributed to AGW. Certainly, changes will be widespread and far-reaching, but without proper evidence demonstrating otherwise, skepticism should be the modus operandi for dealing with statements and generalizations such as this. It’s helathy to be skeptical to claim such as this which is based off of speculation rather than sound science.

Of course, once you start ignoring the rationalization and attacking the statement on the notion that “liberals/greenies/environmentalists want to spin everything to be caused by AGW” then you’ve lost the objective stance and are not acting as a concerned, interested skeptic anymore, but rather a denialist (see my previous post).

Update: Part 2 of “Sane Skepticism” can be found here.

~ by counters on July 28, 2008.

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