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Discussion > What makes a Sceptic? Or a Believer?

A chance conversation at the Royal Society brought to mind an older hypothesis .. that the 'harder' one's science background, the more likely one is to be a climate sceptic.

To test it, please reveal as much as you feel able about your scientific training and experience....

Here's an example (but not necessarily a template):

'I am Latimer Alder and I am a climate sceptic.

I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A level, have a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and a Masters.

For over 30 years I have been professionally involved in IT'.

Oct 21, 2016 at 1:46 PM | Registered CommenterLatimer Alder

Sorry to fail your hypothesis! My science education concluded with biology, chemistry and physics o levels, too many years ago to mention, followed by history, politics and economics a levels, and a law degree, followed by a career as a solicitor.

My stepson is an engineer, and I regularly quiz him, however; and many of my more scientific friends are equally sceptical.

I think experience of life is as likely to lead to scepticism (whether about climate change or generally) as anything else.

Oct 21, 2016 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Your premise is wrong, cos at science festivals/meetings I meet SOME highly intelligent people who've just talked coherently about something and then suddenly at the mention of Climate/Green their eyes glaze over and they become zombies spouting green nonsense against science rules. There are skeptical science people but they feel they must speak in whispers.
Yet I meet truck drivers or street cleaners who say "sample size too small", "cherry picked the data". A green festival encompasses all intelligences. On US web boards you can see some pretty dumb "skeptics", sometimes you wonder if they are TrueBelievers parodying.
Outside the university and Green biz don't meet experienced engineers who believe, only 1 or 2 beginners.

(Andrew Bolt is just discussing such stuff from the 10th minute of Monday's podcast
The narcissism .."You the one person the way you put out your milk bottles changes the entire climate" )

The vast majority of people have CERTAINTY in belief about many things that they don't have evidence for eg Major Religions.
Being unbrainwashed is the exception rather than the rule.
Green dream is a modern religion.
The majority of people of little practical understanding of real world maths.

My own background is so exceptional it doesn't fit your analysis
(Engineering Degree, practical Electrical experience, massive world travel, into scientifc skepticsm and critical thinking, extensive green festival/organic farm experience taught me greendreamers deceive themselves, many of the demonstrators are undercover cops etc.)

The difference between a skeptic and a true believer is that True Believers have girl friends ..they are cool.
Being a True Believer is the path of least resistance.
The dead give away is that True Believers don't practice what they preach ..they emit more CO2 than skeptics.

Oct 22, 2016 at 2:44 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

You can do worse than Euclid.

Oct 22, 2016 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I was going to say that in answering Latimer's question commenters could give an alias rather that their real name.
And there's a point.
What's the difference between an OPEN Sceptic? And an OPEN Believer?

It's easy to be an OPEN Believer a uni office, media corp, Greeny family, Hippy neighbourhood, Greenwashed corp ... everywhere You don't face intimidation
But a Sceptic in a uni office, media corp, Greeny family, Hippy neighbourhood, Greenwashed corp ... would face intimidation ..and would probably stay in the closet

Oct 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

stewgreen, that is why the Green Blob use bullying and intimidation tactics, to suppress dissent.

Oct 23, 2016 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Latimer Alder. I'm not certain I completely agree with the thesis being discussed. Certainly at UEA-ENV their were many scientists using the "hard" sciences and mathematics to address questions in Oceanography, Meteorology, physical Climatology, Hydrology and Hydrogeology and Ice studies who never, to my knowledge expressed any critique of AGW. Whether this was because they were true believers or where paying lip service to the dominent creed I was never able to establish. Certainly they gained much in terms of research grants from any association with climate change.

I was not alone, there was Paul Dennis, a stable isotope expert, at least two of my geoscience colleagues who I believed were closet skeptics, and most of the faculty who didn't care about my weird climate beliefs.

So I don't believe I have any personal knowledge that would support the proposition that hard science background = scepticism. Bloody mindedness and seniority perhaps.

Oct 23, 2016 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Thanks for all the responses so far.

My question was posed becuase I have noticed over the years that many of the Bishop Hillers I have met face to face have first degrees in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering. And a case can be made that Chemistry is the most 'show me' of all the physical sciences.

We are convinced by demonstration (did it actually go BANG?) not by theory (my new untested calculations lead me to believe it might go BANG?) or argument by assertion (a clever person or society of clever persons has said they think it might go BANG)

I'll not embarrass anyone else by 'outing' them without their permission, but it is well known that our host, Andrew is indeed a chemist by training

Oct 23, 2016 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Latimer Alder, I have gained qualifications and worked in surveying, engineering, sailing, and scuba diving. They are all things that when somebody makes a mistake, it can be expensive and fatal. I have worked in many varied fields, gaining "on the job" experience as a result.

Much of my work has been about trouble shooting, and fixing things that have gone wrong. Having made mistakes because I assumed someone else was honest and telling the truth, because they were deemed to be a qualified "expert", I am wary of assuming someone is competent, just because of fancy job titles and qualifications.

The expression "take nobody's word for it" seems a bit hypocritical of the Royal Society, given their support of so much bent science. I did ok in O Level Physics, but thought it was the most boring subject as a 15 year old! Chemistry was more interesting, but I loved Biology. Marine Biology was a serious career option, maybe I would have ended up in the Green Blob!

Instead, I am currently doing Practical Haematology, and have developed an aversion to needles.

Oct 23, 2016 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

What makes a sceptic? The ability to be honest with yourself and your own pre-conceptions. The ability to read, learn, mark and inwardly digest.


Oct 23, 2016 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Ratliffe

Me? BSc (1st class hons, awarded final year prize) E&EEngrg, PhD Electronic Engineering (signal processing).

Much of my work has involved understanding complicated situations where the application of conventional wisdom has resulted in things not working as they should have done. Often with problems that are organisational rather than technical, despite being viewed as the latter.

Manager and individual contributor in well-known industrial research labs (research on pattern recognition, signal processing, stochastic service system modelling), University teaching/research (telecommunications), International customer and sales support in commercial organisation, Quality/process manager/trouble shooter/odd-job-man in commercial IT organisation.

Oct 24, 2016 at 9:42 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Latimer Alder,
I have a technical backgrounf Highers in Physics, Mathematics, Engineering Drawing, plus others. I did Science based further education and spent most of my working lifer in electronics test and reliability. I have been a long term sceptic. My elder brother is in the finance field and is equally sceptical. My younger brother was an Art Teacher and his wife was a librarian both are believers. I don't know if that adds anything.

I think that a lifess experience has led me into the sceptic camp. I component reliability and operation faults which manufacturers will spend years saying don't exist until finally skewered leads to only beleiving your own lying eyes.

Perhaps learning the truth about Santa Claus lead to caution about what even your nearest and dearest say.

Oct 24, 2016 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Is there anyone who disagrees that
97% of arts people OPENLY expressing a view are True Believers (obvious exceptions are the Skeptic playwright)
Yet most engineers are skeptics ..if you ask them in a quiet corner of the pub (the exception being those who work in Greenwashed environments)

Oct 24, 2016 at 12:10 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Martin A 9:42 Your middle paragraph strikes a few chords with me!

So called "technical errors or failures" are often down to human error or mistakes. The "Experts" involved with the human errors, are normally the last people to admit their mistakes. Personal pride and financial interest play a major part. The Consensus view that we know our systems and designs are right, and therefore it must be an external factor that caused the problems, can lead to far greater waste of time and money, than the original problem.

Climate Science operates a closed shop, for "independent" verification, and therefore remains incapable of acting scientifically, and identifying and correcting its own mistakes.

Oct 24, 2016 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

BSc Biology, PGCE Education, PGCE Biomedical science.

Science teacher, Haematology technician, museum guide.

I see a correalation between the type of experience and scepticism. Those in mature sciences/technologies like chemistry and engineering, or in fantasy professions like IT are accustomed to knowing exactly what is happening. Their chemical reactions behave as mature theory predicts. Electronic circuits behave as calculated. Software does as programmed (GIGO excepted).

Such people look at biology, climate change or other sciences where variability and uncertainty are unavoidable. Since uncertainty is outside their experience, their heads explode and they reject it outright.

Another group have no technical or mathematical education. The reject unpleasant information because it conflicts with their political, emotional or religious beliefs.

Remember that everyone regards their own view as rational and correct. Anyone holding a contrary view must be mistaken, deluded, mad or part of a conspiracy. This is probably why we all get so frustrated and rude to each other at BH

Oct 24, 2016 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I've found someone who understands how sceptics think.

Oct 24, 2016 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

EM, we from the practical fields are often confronted by warmists, or should I say believers, who do not admit uncertainty in very uncertain claims and predicitions. Climate change science is all about uncertinty, but climate activism does not acknowledge that.

And the idea that some kinds of practical science don't contain uncertainty and thus we are confounded by it is just plain daft.

(A level maths, pure and applied, and physics. Non-graduate dropout of Imperial College. Helicopter engineer, In IT 39 years.)

Oct 24, 2016 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

EM, 4:11, Tamino presumes a lot based on his own prejudice.

I trust "my" NHS Haematology Team. I am monitored by regular blood tests. My blood is stuck into an electronic box of tricks. It spews out loads of numbers. I am assessed and treated based on a spreadsheet of numbers, and how they have changed, since the last time, and what has been done in the last week/fortnight/month.

I trust and accept the Haematology diagnosis, treatment etc. There is no attempt to "adjust" previous bloodtest results, or recalibrate the machine. I can make very rough self-assessments of how I feel, and compare it with what the numbers say.

The Haematologists never presume to tell me how I am feeling. That would be arrogance. What is Tamino's excuse?

Oct 24, 2016 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Golf Charlie

Fifteen years ago I was the tech driving those blood analysers. They were cleaned regularly, checked against standard calibration samples.and their output adjusted as necessary.

One of the senior staff spent most of their time validating the blood counts.

They did not stay accurate by accident. You had to work at it.

Oct 24, 2016 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Golf Charlie

In my days as an Air Training Corps civilian unstructor I once had a conversation with a helicopter engineer on 72 Aldergrove He described how aircraft used by the Royal Family were maintained.

All lifed items on "royal" aircraft spent the first third of their life on a squadron machine. They were then transferred to a "royal" macine. At 2/3 life they were removed and put back in the spares pool for squadron use.

The logic was that lifed parts were most likely to fail early in their life due to defects or late in their life due to fatigue.
By using only mid-lifed parts they minimised the chance of killing a royal.

Oct 24, 2016 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Entropic man
The Bathtub curve, well known in electronics. We spent a lot of time "life" testing components at the limits of specification in order to predict life times. One interesting thought which caused much discussion and no real resolution was whether the removal from their environment and testing them induced an early failure. We never really came to a conclusion on that, but the sceptics amongst sited Preventative Maintenance of major ATE which having run successfully 24/7 for a year would be given a check over by manufacturer's maintenance engineer would fail within a week not usually by any of the replaced parts. The same thing would happen when a system was powered down either deliberately or accidentally within a week perhaps two something would fail, one random failure was often followed by a second. .

So by changing a component unnecessarily perhaps the Royals were actually no safer and potentially at more risk.

Oct 24, 2016 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Test engineers used to keep standard documented known good parts for comparing new probrams, ATE and new interfaces. Parallel running of new against old was also standard practice.

I've never seen any reports of any parallel operation of new against old in any meteorological measurements. This makes me very wary of any long term record which involves a change, how many don't have a change of some sort in their history?

Oct 24, 2016 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Electronic circuits behave as calculated. Software does as programmed (GIGO excepted).
Since uncertainty is outside their experience, their heads explode and they reject it outright.

Oct 24, 2016 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

EM - You have stated a similar view previously once or twice.

And I have pointed out before that you yourself have a tendency to *imagine* how you think things are and for what you have *imagined* to become your reality. You then proceed to present what you have imagined to the world as reality, despite it being very often about things of which you have no experience.

Uncertainty and the need to figure out what is going in its presence is inherent in managing large scale electronic systems and software engineering. Statistical inference is everywhere - system quality control, target detection, system performance analysis, reliability prediction,...

Oct 24, 2016 at 8:37 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

SandyS, Martin A

I remember the old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it.."

I presume that the engineers maintaining the royal transport had factored the risk of problems due to changing parts into their inspection procedures.

In my haematology days Health and Safety taught that any complex but routine procedure goes wrong about one time in 100. When I tested to confirm that donor blood was compatible with the recipient I would occasionally find a mismatch.
If I missed it (a 1 in 100 error) my supervisor would pick it up in his check. He might miss it once in 100 times, giving a cumulative 1 in 10,000 error). The nurse in the ward also crosschecked the donor and recipient blood groups( total cumulative chance of error now 1 in 1,000,000). With millions of transfusions each year, you still et an occasional mistake, but the system is designed to get the error rate as low as possible.

In using station data to measure climate and weather it is possible to check the performance of a station against its neighbours. As a cold front moves across Northern Ireland it cools the stations at Castlederg and Enniskillen. An hour later it cools the stations at Parkanaur and RAF Aldergrove. 30 minutes later it cools Belfast City Airport.

There are local variations. Castlederg is in a rural frost hollow. Enniskillen and RaAF aAldergrove are rural airports near lakes which moderate their microclimates. Belfast City is warmed by UHI and sits on an estuary.

Normally the small differences between the five stations are familiar and predictable. As long as they persist you can have confidence that they are working as they should. If one station suddenly changes relative to the others, the change signals that there is a problem. It may be a problem with the equipment requiring repair or a change in the environment requiring an adjustment to the post-change data.

Offhand the only major recent change was when the Castlederg station moved from the town to the DoE depot just up the valley.The other four have been stable since WW2.

All stations, especially the gchn stations are monitored in this way.

Martin A

It is not just me. There s a correalation between chemists and engineers being climate change sceptics. Similarly biologists tend to accept climate change. Cook and Lewandowsky have observed similar correalations in large enough samples for statistical significance.

There is also the political link. Those on the right are more likely to be sceptics. Those on the left tend towards accepting climate change.

The really interesting question is why these correalations exist. Why do a biologist and a chemist interpret the same data differently, despite both having scientific training?
Why do political conservatives like the US Republicans see the world differently from the Democrats? Note that in the UK Labour passed the Climate Change Act and the retreat from the Act has been led by the Conservatives.

Oct 24, 2016 at 11:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

You've answered your own question, EM, without realizing it. It's quality control, a check on the product. Alarmism is a commodity that has been oversold.

Oct 25, 2016 at 12:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim