Losing My Religion

Over at Climate etc., the eminent Professor of history and political science Dr. Don Aitken, posted an article titled “How did we get into this?


According to Aitken, AGW “orthodoxy” is dominant in part because of a loss of religion, among other things.

In my opinion what has occurred is a slow and essentially unplanned process over two generations that involves a substantial increase in the wealth of our societies, technological changes that have helped us communicate on a global level in an unprecedented way, a strong rise in the educational levels of the population, the rapid rise in the importance of science and research generally, a decline in the importance of organised religion (though not in the USA), an associated decline in the belief that materialism will suffice, the growth of an environmental movement that has some of the characteristics of a belief system, and the rise of lobbying organizations and especially of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that purport to speak for, or act for, what they claim to be unrepresented groups of people or poorly understood issues.
Why, Professor Aitken has just about everything in here — including the kitchen sink!
Here’s Aitken on women and religion:
The growth in wealth and education, and the movement of women into the workforce, seem to have accompanied, and perhaps helped to cause, a decline in the reach and importance of organised religion. The notable exception here is the USA, and I will have to deal with this exception in any further development of this essay. Here I simply notice it. Our societies are more secular, more open to evidence, more inclined to argue about everything, than was the case in 1951. In Australia at least the proportion of people who now go to church regularly seems to be much less than ten per cent. This shift has accompanied, and may have helped to cause, a greater permissiveness in all matters sexual, the nature of marriage and divorce, and so on.
And so on indeed!
I just posted this over at Climate etc, which summarizes my response to this essay:

“…how AGW orthodoxy got to the position of authority that it now enjoys in the Western world.”

I read your essay with interest. After reading your bio in the “denizens” page, I was expecting a tour de force. 2,500 words and not one citation or reference to any literature a reader can go to and explore further to see if you know what you’re talking about or are just good with words. In other words, not very scholarly. So this is an opinion piece and not one that would get a good grade in an undergraduate social science course.

For an article purporting to uncover “…how AGW orthodoxy got to the position of authority that it now enjoys in the Western world” I note that there is absolutely no discussion of scientific theory, methods or scientific evidence. You’ve thrown in every social political and economic phenomenon but have not offered any analysis of the science or physical evidence, as if they have no bearing on why AGW is so dominant.

Instead of doing a proper job, starting with the physics and chemistry and biology and geology and evidence and then predicting what might happen if there was a significant rise in atmospheric CO2 and other GHGs, comparing predictions to what has actually happened with climate, there is not much here except the musings of a retired professor who can’t be bothered to provide any evidence or support for his personal opinions. What we have here is a retired history PhD who feels quite comfortable with his own opinion that he feels comfortable writing off an entire field and its findings with a wave of a hand.


Yes, that’s right. AGW is so dominant in the Western World because women went to work outside the home, we have the intertubes, the Soviet Union fell, scientists became government workers, and we lost our religion.
Nothing at all to do with, oh, say, the development of climate science, the theory of the greenhouse effect, fossil fuel emissions, and just plain ordinary scientific evidence!
It’s those women working leading to a permissive sexuality and a loss of religion and the orthodoxy and the climate priests and — and those women working!
In other words, it’s MY FAULT!!!
But not to worry:
Human societies, like the climate itself, are never in equilibrium, and my present feeling is that the AGW scare is subsiding.
Aitken’s not worried…
But I plug along, reading, thinking and writing, inspecting new argument and evidence, prepared to be shown strong evidence that AGW is really real, but rather expecting that one day someone really important, not a little boy, will point out that the Emperor has no clothes, and that the science is perplexing, not settled. If we go into a prolonged cool period, as I posted recently, then the AGW scare will subside more rapidly. But I would expect to see some of the current scaremongers switch to the new scare, missing scarcely a beat.
TPL: [apologies for the weird formatting]
Just in case the moderators see fit to delete my response to Aitken, I repost it here:

Come on professor! . You are apparently so eminent that you must have a collection of dust on your shoulders…

You can do much better than this

First, you must admit that if one of your students handed this essay in for their term grade, you’d give them at the most a D- for at least being able to string sentences together in a coherent fashion and for being aware of the world outside their own small purview, but it deserves little else.

So let’s pretend this was handed in by one of your senior students. For one, they haven’t defined their terms. They throw about the terms “orthodoxy” and “scare” but fail to define them and show in the literature where these terms arose and how they have been used, let alone whether there is any justification in using such terms to describe the phenomenon in question. All this is assumed apriori.

Second — if one of my senior students had handed in this essay and when I pointed out the lack of references or bibliography, and they said, “Oh, just email me and I will let you know where all this came from” I’d fail them and send them to our essay writing workshop in the English Department. Proper references and citations showing evidence that you are using terms correctly is required to pass.

Third, you show contempt for your audience when you deprive them of a clear description of the underlying assumptions that are at the foundation of this essay — in other words, your theory of how the world works and how that theory informs your conclusions. Just as a scientist is expected to situate the problem in a literature, describe methods, and results and account or sources of error and bias, so too are “essayists” expected to lay bare their own approach to the world. At least, if they want to be taken seriously as contributing to the scholarly understanding of a subject. You make huge assertions without clarifying that they are just that — assertions. There is no evidence presented to support these claims and connections between historical events and AGW dominance.

So, sorry professor. I have to give you a D-. I expected a lot more from someone with your credentials. I’m sure you have it in you, but perhaps you are not quite taken enough with your subject to put in a good effort.

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33 Responses to “Losing My Religion”

  1. An elaborate argumentum ad hominem.

  2. So we are smarter, freer, more gender balanced, technologically advanced, less faith-based, and more evidence based in our risk assessment and decision making. Back in the olden days when womens was in the kitchen and we were virtual clueless, we were more optimistic. The only thing I gather from this anti-intellectual drivel is that Don Atkin and people who agree with him is that ignorance is bliss.

  3. Telling that Judith allows that stuff on her blog. Aitkin is a well known denier (who, how surprising, has complained about being called a denier because of its association to the holocaust), who is completely in the Lavoisier’s group grip (Bob Carter). This is the type of people Judith now associates herself with, something no rational scientist would ever do. Sad.

  4. Oh gawd, not this old chestnut. A more objective comparison:

    Science as a Belief System.

    All scientific statements have a built in emergency exit! Beliefs are able to change in light of new evidence or ideas.
    Religion in this regard, is a polar opposite. Beliefs are dictated and taken on faith. Belief revision is not encouraged. Indeed, religion has difficulty changing its dogma when pressured.

    Trusting in science is nothing like trusting in a deity.

  5. Is Aitken saying that people are more educated (he forgot the ‘except in the USA’ here), less inclined to put faith in one or other mythical ‘god’ to save us (except in the USA), have improved communication, and (from his article on women) more open to evidence – and therefore more likely to understand and accept that humans are causing global warming?

    If so, it makes some sense.

    Not sure where his conclusions come from though. And his argument, if there is one, is extremely hard to follow. Maybe he is trying to argue that ‘environmentalism’ has replaced the myth of a god – but his previous points don’t gel with that conclusion.

    The polls suggest that more women than men understand and are concerned about climate change – maybe that’s his beef. He, being a mere male, lacks the intellectual capacity to understand science. There is hope – quite a few men do understand it so if he only tries a bit harder… :D

  6. They have no clue. The weakness of such an argument is that they have to propose that there is some conspiracy, or groupthink, or mass hysteria to account for the overwhelming amount of research that points to the same set of conclusions. It can’t possibly be that scientists are right. Is this the best that they can come up with? Really? I thought the Age of Enlightenment was a good thing.

  7. Reading the article, I couldn’t help but wonder how many morally bankrupt scum can dance on the head of a pin for their fossil fuelled ideology and paymasters? Their intellects, if they bear any relation to their comprehension, should furnish plenty of room.
    I wonder if Don Aitken would hazard a guess?

  8. As a historical researcher, I would like to stress that Aitken has his PhD in political science and was a professor of political science, so he is more a political scientist than a historian. That said, he has more actual historical training than Tom Flanagan, who has sometimes been presented as a historian although he does not know how to do basic research in the areas people assume he has expertise in.

    Historians are supposed to rely on evidence too.

  9. Rattus Norvegicus Reply June 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I read his denizens post and I have to wonder one thing: what kind of a degree is a PDF?

    As far as his OP at Curry’s I got through the first couple of paragraphs with my bullshit meter pegged at 10 and eventually gave up after a couple of more.

    • As far as his OP at Curry’s I got through the first couple of paragraphs with my bullshit meter pegged at 10 and eventually gave up after a couple of more.

      That’s exactly what happened to me.

      Facebook has a “Like” button but we don’t just need “Didn’t like” we need a “Next!” button to reflect the mental process of giving up on something because it’s just too dumb to continue with.

      Of course there’s a good reason why he has no references or evidence in his essay, he’s not looking to convince anyone that doesn’t already believe or want to believe what he’s saying. If you want to reach non-”skeptics” then “Climate Etc” is hardly the place to do it, it’s way off on the Bishop Hill end of of the spectrum for the most part.

      Plus he has two big problems when trying to formulate an explanation:

      1. His constraints prevent him from acknowledging reality which forces him to dwell in the “competing values” area of explanation. A creationist writing about how Evolution came to be accepted cannot include “Because the evidence was very convincing, even to people that were lifelong experts on the topic” because that undermines his own arguments. Aitkin similarly cannot concede that AGW has a very convincing body of evidence behind it, instead everyone involved is either a fraud or a dupe.

      2. There’s no precedent at all for what he’s arguing. It has never happened that an entire branch of science heavily linked to physical theory has conducted fraud in association with most of the world’s governments. Conversely there’s lot of precedent for vested interest to oppose scientific findings they dislike and consequently lots of well supported arguments for how that happens. For Aitkin’s position there’s nothing and if it were to happen it would take more than a couple of thousand words on a blog to explain it.

    • Gavin's Pussycat Reply June 27, 2011 at 2:24 am

      “Too dumb to meter”?

  10. To expand on this – besides being a scientist-turned-bureaucrat, I am a church member and officer. We understand the difference between faith-based beliefs and conclusions based on observations (science). Aitkin’s whole essay is based on the premise that the science is wrong; in a couple of decades (if not sooner), his arguments will seem quaint and precious.

    Anyway, my denomination (which has no issues regarding female pastors and lay leaders) has advocated for action to address climate change for 20 years. We see sustainability as a moral as well as scientific issue and take the idea of stewardship seriously.

    BTW, Fred Moolten on June 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm wrote a much more eloquent post describing what I meant earlier.

  11. On reflection, I reviewed my previous post and decided it was neither scathing nor contemptuous enough, in comparison to Aitken’s own tabloid-closing-down-sale bottom-burblings.

    Shorter Don Aitken:
    blah blah….AGW orthodoxy….. blah blah…. failure of the Soviet system having driven those of a left persuasion into environmentalism….. blah blah…. research industry billions…. blah blah…. women in the workforce…. blah blah…. decline of organised religion…. blah blah Gaian religion…. blah blah….. beliefs in wood and river spirits…. blah blah…. AGW scare… blah blah…. Paris in 1739…. blah blah…. (imminent) prolonged cool period, as I posted recently … blah blah….AGW scare ….blah blah…. current scaremongers…. blah blah…. (will) switch to new (cooling) scare, missing scarcely a beat.

    Fabulous stuff. Which may look like the framework for a satirical skit on mundane paleorepublican angst, but actually a perfissor (of something, I guess) just used it to show to his satisfaction (and presumably Judy’s) that AGW is a religion over at Climatecranks employing commendable restraint – it could just as easily have been CAGW.

    In summary then, a not altogether surprising direction for Curry to go in, when you’ve burned as many bridges and boats as she has.

  12. You know, after spending a day or so commenting and reading comments, I am convinced that Judith Curry and her blog denizens are a lost cause. There is absolutely nothing of value written there – it’s all disinformation and denial.

    • It has been that way for a long time, probably since it started, hasn’t it? Does anyone worthwhile (present company excepted) even visit it these days or is it just another WUWT, perhaps slightly upmarket (meaning even less comprehensible).

      I figured Curry was close to retirement and looking to go on a speaking circuit for right wing causes. She seems to have complete disdain for her professional reputation.

    • I go with the RSS feed of the comments. I just pick through the usernames looking for someone I know isn’t going to post absolute crap and then read that. Maybe 1 in 20 are even worth clicking on.

      I do wonder if her colleagues/peers actually go in and read the comments and if so what they think of the whole endeavour.

    • I had to put Climate Etc. and C-a-S on my blocklist: I inevitably found the initial desire to engage and debate ended in bitter disillusionment and despair for my species.

      No matter how dispassionate I tried to be, after a few back-and-forths I was like how do you dress yourselves without help?! It just wasn’t worth the agita.

      YMMV, of course…

      • I wonder just how many of us there are. I put in a little time on her blog and in other discussion directly with her.

        Total frustration. Absolutely pointless.

        • I gave up on Curry after she trashed Eric Steig a few months ago. I haven’t been back. The patience and forbearance of contributors like Fred Moolten give the blog its only value. Our hostess here gives me enough of the on going flavor to keep me firm in my resolve never to darken the Climate Etc. door again.

          Paul Middents

          • It’s an interesting question – it seems there are plenty of people have completely given up hope of a sensible conversation with Curry.

            IMHO, there is a mixture of frustrated ambition and personal grudge at work. The former; she’s had repeated digs at a ‘young PhD’ (AKA Michael Mann) who seems to have upset her by getting all the atttention over other ‘very experienced researchers’. The later; the IPCC didn’t follow her precise recommendations, so she refuses to be engaged with it at all.

  13. I think a word was left out in the original post.

    Isn’t the question
    “How did we get into this _handbasket_?”

    Traditionally, this question is followed by
    “And now that we’re in it, where are we going?”

    Here’s another take, hat tip to Metafilter:

    “After long decades of activism and effort, planetary ecosystems are closer to collapse than they have ever been. I can think of three basic reasons for this. First, we have largely failed to look at the whole thing at once. Second, we’ve refrained from deeply feeling our predicament. And third, we haven’t been asking the right questions of the right people.”

    What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

  14. The cost of shilling is possibly £1100 per day based on Roger Bates’ daily rate of £800 per day in 1998. Just so you have an idea of amounts.

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