Sunday, 13 December 2009

Can A Non Expert Comment?

To this post ‘Climate Gate’ I had a recent comment that really made me think about something else other than the subject matter too hand for which the comment was replying too. I also think that my reply is to long for a comment in this case.

Leonard Weinstein said...
"dazmando, I am a scientist (Physics and Aerospace Engineering) and have read much of the literature. I started out accepting the AGW position until I had gone into the issue in depth. I am qualified to give an opinion on the subject, and have been a skeptic for many years.

I find it offensive that you admit having little technical understanding on the subject, yet give a strong opinion. The large number of news media and politicians are also in that camp. If only highly qualified people that have INDEPENDENTLY reviewed the literature are counted, the skeptics are a large minority or even majority. However, nose counting is not science.

The evidence, especially in light of climategate info seems to support that skeptics have been correct. We all agree that coming out of the little ice age resulted in some warming, and humans cause pollution (dust, smog, dirty water, etc.) but calling CO2 and methane as major causes of the warming is not supported , and thus no major problem will result. It is clear the issue is not AGW, but an attempt to form a world controlling group that uses these excuses to tax and control the successful countries.”

Now as it happens I agree with Leonard’s last point that methane should be counted towards global warming. I also agree that nose counting is not science. I also agree that humans do cause pollution.

If it turns out that there is a conspiracy to “control successful countries” then fair dues. I think that if there is a conspiracy then those involved will be found out given time (i.e. 1. If the world does not get warmer. 2. This would be a massive cover up operation, one that could not be hidden). I also intend to read more on the subject from all sides of the argument.

However I’m not really replying to this point here. What I what to is explore this line here “I find it offensive that you admit having little technical understanding on the subject, yet give a strong opinion.”

Can a layman on a subject have a strong opinion? He is correct that I do admit that I'm not an expert. However I have read articles on both sides of the climate debate, therefore I am defiantly not an expert but I do have a considered opinion. I understand what the green house effect is and I also understand that there are a lot of variables too it, many more than the variables used in the most complicated computer modelling. Many people who believe in or indeed don’t believe in man made climate change do have strong opinion on it.

As an avid listener too the podcast, I do also understand what to be skeptic means. I am a generally sceptical person on matters that do not have scientific evidence and I also admit that I am sometimes let down by my own human nature.

Newspapers columnist and Bloggers and Politicians for that matter also have strong opinions on subjects that they may or may not be expert in. We all do. Of course it is there job to find out all they can about the facts. But they are still not experts. Also if they didn’t have strong opinions then I’m sure none of these people would be writing or standing for councils/parliament.

I have diplomas in Computer Science and Economics and am currently doing my finals in Accountancy. Does this mean that my opinion on the bank bailout is more strong (or valid) then the average member of the public? Should only people who have studied politics be allowed to vote? Are only people who work within the church allowed to have strong opinions on god?

Or is some knowledge on a given subject (like we all have on most subjects) a dangerous thing? After all I have an opinion on Tiger Woods recent revelations in his personal life, but I don’t know him. I have an opinion on who should win the Xfactor, but I will never buy the records, I’ve not even watched the last 4 or 5 episodes. I have strong opinions on my football team (Reading FC) but I'm not a coach, so should I not express these opinions when I watch them play or go to the pub? Do I tell my fellow football fans that they don’t know anything about it? Their not professional players or coaches after all?

I know that if all the bloggers just blogged on subjects that they are experts in then I think we would not have such a range in bloggers and commentators. If this was the case then those experts that do blog should only let experts reply to their comments and the rest of us laymen can just read the postings.

Discussion is important for democracy and human nature and expression. So I think that non experts should still have opinions. Of course this is just an opinion feel free to comment (expert or not).

I also think that we all have a right to comment on subjects if you are influenced by its effects. For example I pay my taxes and use the resources of the planet and have to live within whatever climate we have. I watch my football team and have an emotional attachment too them, I pay money for football tickets and use my spare time to watch them; I hope that also gives me the right to have a strong opinion.

I would like to thank Leonard Weinstein. I think his post is very considered and I didn’t want to cause him any offence as he believes I have. I apologies for this, it is never my intention to offend. Unfortunately this does happen from time to time when you have strong opinions. The comment did really get me thinking about who can comment. I really do appreciate the comments I get on this blog as I think the debate here is much more important that what I write in the articles. I also get some very high quality comments which I find very helpful.


  1. The idea that only an 'expert' source is allowed to make a comment is a logical fallacy known as the appeal to authority. The qualifications of the speaker do not usually bear direct relevance to the logical conclusion they make.

    That isn't to say that Mr Weinstein is right or wrong - just that when he attempts to use his qualification to somehow 'prove' his conclusion he is using a fallacious argument.

    In other words, laymen can speak about scientific matters all they like. Qualifications in an unrelated field are rarely as relevant as the possession of a premise combined with evidence which logically backs up a conclusion.

  2. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion has equal worth.

    We can distinguish three groups of people:

    (1) Climatologists, including scientists in related disciplines. These are people doing research in the field, share specialist knowledge and are well-versed in the arguments. Being human, they often disagree passionately.

    (2) Commentators. These are people who, while not scientists themselves (or at least, not in the relevant disciplines), have read widely on the subject and feel justified in expressing their opinions. This group includes, for example, Christopher Booker, Jeremy Clarkson and Al Gore. Being commentators, they often disagree even more passionately than the climatologists.

    (3) Members of the public. The rest of us. This group includes most politicians, and me.

    Most members of the public lack the knowledge and training to evaluate the conflicting opinions of the climatologists about the valid conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence. Instead, we tend to rely on the more accessible opinions expressed by the commentators. But which commentators? Often, we pick the ones whose overall views are closest to our own. We listen to the people we trust. However, this is also where political ideology really begins to skew the debate.

    Personally, I have faith in the scientific method. Good models and theories will eventually drive out the bad. In the meantime, it’s reasonable and rational to subscribe to the majority opinion. According to the polls I’ve seen, the majority of climatologists believe that human activity is influencing global warming. As long as that remains the case, that’s good enough for me.

    Paul Griffiths

  3. I once read a book on Christianity. It debunked the theory of evolution.

    It was a set of interviews with Christian professors, lecturers and scientists. Each of them had degrees, doctorates and qualifications coming out of their ears.

    They had far more qualifications than I did in biology, geology, physics etc.

    Am I allowed to comment on their findings? Or should I bow to their superiour knowledge?