I often get weird but enjoyable e-mails forwarded to me. This week, it’s an exchange between well-known climate skeptic Fred Singer and a group at MIT setting up a climate change seminar. It seems that some members opposed the idea of inviting Fred, which Fred found offensive:

It has come to my attention that Mr. XXXX has addressed a long letter to members of the committee organizing the MIT Seminar series “The Great Climate Change Debate.” Apparently, he considers any debate superfluous and strongly objects to my participation.

Mr. XXXX appeals to ‘authority’ and ‘consensus’; I prefer to examine the actual evidence. I believe that’s how science works — or is supposed to work.

A few e-mails in support of Fred then circulated, including this one:


Is it not sad? Today some scientists proclaim unprecedented, anthropogenic warming, ignore the observations of helio influence, and make special appeals to authority and consensus. Four hundred years ago, some scientists proclaimed an anthropo-centered universe, ignored the observations of a heliocentric solar system, and made special appeals to authority and consensus. For these, nothing has changed in four hundred years.


My point here is not the irony of Fred claiming to investigate “actual evidence,” or to debunk the well-worn myth that it might be “helio” influence (it’s not).

Rather, my point is that this is a good example of “Dessler’s First Rule of Skepticism”: Anyone who compares themselves to Galileo is a nut case. Anytime someone compares their situation to that of Galileo, it just means they’re wasting your time.

As University of Maryland physics professor Bob Park wrote a few years ago:

Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right.

Sadly, climate skeptics fail the second part of that test.

Update [2007-9-19 17:21:46 by Andrew Dessler]: Apparently Fred was able to convince the organizers to give him an invite to the series. Looks like another victory for irony in the climate change debate.