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Saturday, February 27, 2010

iPhone app pitches climate change science against scepticism

Deniers queue up to lambast Skeptical Science application developed by solar physicist John Cook. Now there's a surprise
Skeptical Science iPhone app
The Skeptical Science iPhone app

by Leo Hickman, The Guardian, February 17, 2010

I'm not sure this is going to quell the climate wars raging at present, but it's an interesting development nonetheless. An Australian solar physicist called John Cook, who runs the popular Skeptical Science website, has developed an app which "lets you use an iPhone or iPod to view the entire list of skeptic arguments as well as (more importantly) what the science says on each argument." So the next time you're caught at the fag end of a wedding reception in an interminable one-way conversation with a reactionary uncle who's boring on about how "the climate's always changed", just switch on this app, hand them your iPhone, and proceed to the bar.
In reality, of course, this is hardly likely to win round any sceptic, least of all your worse-for-wear uncle who, with or without the evidence presented to him by this app, will still continue to swear blind that climate change is a fiction made up by a clandestine world government-in-waiting because he's read about it all on his favourite blog, which just so happens to be frequented by an army of other reactionary uncles. One suspects this app will only act to increase the polarisation between the two sides of this "debate." (Still think a debate's going on? When was the last time you heard someone from either side say, "Thank you for this information. Actually, I'd never thought of it like that before. I'm now prepared to change my mind on climate change.")
For example, Climate Realists, a site manned by sceptics such as weatherman Piers Corbyn, is already jumping up and down in horror at the news of the app's release:
"WARNING! There is an iphone app trying to put down what we have to say under the heading of 'Skeptical Science'. We need as many of you as possible to promote that this iphone app is yet another attempt to discredit 'Climate Realists'. We can only hope the general public can see through this as a cheap trick to prop up the FAILED SCIENCE OF MAN MADE CLIMATE CHANGE. Climate Realists need another iphone app that shows our side of the argument as it is, rather then what a supporter AGW thinks it is! Please send this message to all known friendly sites that support our side."
This call to arms appears to have worked as the first reviews on the iTunes app store are deeply negative. This is what the reviewer "GabesiPod" said:
"This is app from an AGW [anthropogenic global warming] supporter and just supports his views and NOT the views of SKEPTICS! I find that iPhone apps have mislead people, in that, the name of the product is NOT what it is claimed to be. This is a cheap trick to support the FAILED SCIENCE OF AGW, AND HAS NO SCIENTIFIC VALUE. This app should be withdrawn!"
Just what is it with sceptics and their love of block capitals? So what does this app actually do that is proving so unpalatable to the folks at Climate Realists? This is how it works, according to Cook:
"You browse arguments via the Top 10 most used arguments as well as 3 main categories ('It's not happening', 'It's not us', 'It's not bad'). When you select one of the 3 main categories, a list of sub-categories pop up. You can then select any category to see the skeptic argument, a summary of what the science says and the full answer including graphs plus links to papers or other sources. A novel inclusion is a feature that lets you report when you encounter a skeptic argument. By clicking on the red ear icon (above left, shown to the left of the skeptic arguments or above right, next to the headline), the iPhone adds another hit to that particular skeptic argument."
The app currently has rebuttals to 90 sceptic "arguments", which include many of the classics, such as "There is no consensus", "Models are unreliable", "It hasn't warmed since 1998", "Ice age predicted in the 70s", "CO2 lags temperature", "It's freaking cold!", "CO2 is not a pollutant" and so on. According to the site, the most frequently cited sceptic argument is "It's the sun." You can read Skeptical Science's rebuttal to this particular argument online .

This might shock some people, but I happen to agree with the sentiment underlying the request issued by Climate Realists for sceptics to build their own rival app.

I think it would be very constructive if they compiled a one-stop shop for all their arguments with full references and citations so that everyone could assess them calmly and dispassionately. This would be done away from the white heat of the blogosphere cauldron where people can make any claim they choose and know it has the ability to stick – as proved just this week with the shameless, wilful twisting by the Daily Mail of climatologist Phil Jones's remarks to the BBC about whether there has been a statistically significant rise in global temperatures since 1995. I await with bated breath.


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