Penn and Teller on Climate Change and Global Warming

I admire Penn and Teller. They are sensible, forthright, articulate, and most of all very entertaining. So here’s an episode of their “Bullshit” series from 2003. It is about the hysterical reactions of some to the matter of global warming and climate change.,t=1,mt=video

Penn and Teller – Bullshit! – Environmental Hysteria

12 thoughts on “Penn and Teller on Climate Change and Global Warming”

  1. Penn and Teller suffer from the same problem as the people they criticise: They are viewing “scientific data” with their own prism of libertarianism.

    For example, quote (~11 minutes)
    “[R]ight now the health of the planet is improving in almost all fronts. And in areas where its not getting better, it is getting worse at a much slower rate[…]”

    If you read what Lomborg said then and what he says now, its clearly very different. Now that he has realised that he was wrong about the facts in 2001, he now gets the facts right (eg. NY Post Column), although his conclusions remain exactly the same.

    [I learnt from Wikipedia that Lomborg’s PhD is in Political Science. That does not make his arguments any more right or wrong. Just that it allows us to take his statistical analyses a bit more skeptically than if he was a statistician.]


  2. 1. Have you noticed that the ones criticising the “science of climate change” are not climate scientists.

    For the sake of full disclosure:

    2. I agree with a significant part of that Bullshit episode. I just don’t think all environmentalists can be brushed with the same stroke.

    3. I tend to agree with Lomborg that the current political scene has made it very difficult to seek real solutions to the problem.


  3. I recently finished reading Micheal Crichton’s ‘State of Fear’ . It deals with how distorted information gets while arriving from the scientists who are actually studying ‘global warming’ and global climate, to lay people. Or in many cases, does not get to the people at all! And that ‘the globe’ has been warming past 6000 yrs. And the scientists’ opinion that climate is too complicated to be studied and predicted for even next 1 yr, leave alone the decades to come. He’s supported his arguments by citing references of actual papers published, of actual scientific studies. Which somehow aren’t brought up with the media. Though, I must admit, I haven’t checked up those references.

    From a staunch believer in ‘global warming’ I’ve now become a skeptic. I demand scientific paper citations ! 😀


  4. Prateeksha,

    Really… a science fiction novel leads you to become a global warming skeptic?

    Why blame scientists with elitism when someone is willing to take a piece of fiction as scientific fact rather than painstaking work that has gone into analysing the real data?

    Here is Chris Mooney doing some fact checking on Crichton’s novel.

    Here is debunking of State of Fear “science” on RealClimate, a group blog of several climate scientists.

    And the most of all, the lead author on one of the papers cited by Crichton as refuting global warming wrote a NY Times column saying that his research does not debunk global warming “myth”; quote:

    “Our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear” and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” […]”


  5. This is not the first time I’ve come across so-called educated people who think and believe that a FICTION writer’s (Crichton) FICTIONAL book is the real deal when it comes to anthropogenic global warming/climate change issue. Part of it probably stems from reading and enjoying his earlier books and an inability to distinguish between fact and PR, but Michael Crichton is not a scientist who has established his credentials through research in global warming, though he did write some decent sci-fi books which I enjoyed reading as a teenager.

    Here are some links:

    And if you’re interested in reading, along with Michael Crichton, I could suggest Elizabeth Kolbert – she’s a journalist who writes for The New Yorker, and has traveled around the globe reporting on climate change. Her new book – Field Notes from a Catastrophe – is out.
    ( )

    Why someone would *choose* to focus on fringe environmental loonies – every movement has people who fall somewhere on the spectrum – or write a post about it 😉 :p when there’s bigger fish to fry (like the powers-that-be behind the propaganda called “The Great Global Warming Swindle” and similar tripe) is beyond me. Only if people were skeptical of the claims made by the global warming skeptics too, instead of looking at the issue only through their single ideological lens….

    PRWatch and SourceWatch are good resources to check for what one sees in the media and who is behind it.


  6. prateeksha,

    Just because a study has been published by a scientist, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is credible. Not all studies are published in a peer-reviewed journal, and peer-review process is not without its faults – everyone needs their backs scratched, more so when the thorns of “publish or perish” are causing an itch. There are wonderfully-sounding think-tanks believing in all ideologies (from left-to-right on the political spectrum) that fund these studies/scientists, and corporations have much power to muddy the debate (DuPont and CFCs is one example among many). As U. Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    One must be careful to not make “science” the new religion or an article of blind faith. It is, after all, conducted by humans known to be fallible – simply getting a PhD is no guarantee against that.


  7. Hello nkaisare and Amit ,

    So I got convinced by a ‘piece of fiction’.. and you were otherwise convinced by…? I ask you to please doubt yourself because your source is not bonafide either.

    Well.. the doubting bit.. that’s called skepticism. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve not turned anti-global-warming as you seem to think I have.

    Have you read the ‘State of Fear’ ? All of the pages in the book? There’s a disclaimer in the end by the author, where he says what he exactly believes in. Or thinks rather. We can come to our own conclusions then, when we’re long done with the fiction.

    I am a student of science, and have gone through scientific papers, done some research myself.. therefore know how accurate a scientific study/paper is. Or the degree of accuracy of a plot of raw data. There are a lot of rounding-offs. I know for sure that 70% of scientific papers produced are junk – no useful knowledge is added, sometimes the papers are all wrong. And as we’ve seen from history itself, when have the scientists got everything right? The next generation is always proving the previous inadequate or wrong.Then what should one rely on? That’s difficult to answer. As the number of parameters increase in a system the more difficult it becomes to find the roots (solution to the equation) . Especially when you don’t know the value of most of the parameters.

    Besides, I have done simulations, for molecular modeling, and know how useless models really are. The degree of error is high, as I said, since the approximations done are huge.

    All in all, what SoF drove home (to me) was that

    1) models were used to predict global warming effects – which are not reliable, hence we cant say global warming is really taking place,

    2) our climate science is only in its infancy – hence we cant say global warming is really taking place. We’re only guessing.

    3) any predictions of climate for even a couple of years from now is extremely inaccurate – hence we cant say global warming is really taking place

    so… i.. who .. belived .. in.. global.. warming.. with .. inputs..from..the.. media (who i thought i could trust) .. no.. longer.. believe..that.. global.. warming.. is.. happening..for ..sure.. i..need.. gonna…take..a..while….

    get it?

    PS: I’m nowhere talking about the detrimental effect of pollution. There ‘s no question that pollution is harmful, and hence should be controlled.


  8. Prateeksha

    First, let me apologise for my statement “Why blame scientists with elitism …” That was uncalled for, inappropriate and I ought to know better.

    Coming to substantial points in your response (comment #8): “And as we’ve seen from history itself, when have the scientists got everything right?”

    Unfortunately, this is how good science works. Scientists will never get everything right. Science is uncertain and evolving and will never prove anything beyond doubt. Einstein’s work never disproved Newton’s laws… they just showed their limits.

    Secondly, we are not talking about pollution, we are not talking about weather, we are talking about climate. No climate scientist can ever attribute Katrina to global warming. No scientist will ever say that so many hurricanes will make land-break due to global warming. That is because systems are chaotic. Chaotic does not mean random, chaotic means unpredictable in the sense that systems are very sensitive to small changes in their conditions. What we can say is the emerging patterns. Which means there are likely to be more hurricanes, on an average the hurricanes will be stronger and that one expects more precipitation. That does not mean a hurricane more devastating than Katrina wouldn’t have struck US coast had the water temperatures been at the 1970s levels.

    So yes, the statement that we cannot predict climate accurately two years from now is quite accurate, but it misses the point that we can predict with good deal of certainty the specific trends the system will follow.

    To give an analogy (and I am using heaps of pedagogical liberty here): if you blow a balloon and release it, we know that the volume will shrink. We will never be able to predict how many bumps will form on the surface as air escapes the balloon. But the volume will shrink.

    What makes climate science unobvious is that in the balloon example, the surface area also shrinks. But it is quite possible to have a balloon where the surface area may actually increase but the volume decreases. (Yes, its possible to have infinite surface area but zero volume. Consider a simpler example… take two points and connect them with a curve. Now connect the same two points with a curve that has millions of folds in it. The curve has infinite length but zero area. Our hypothetical balloon is quite similar to this.)

    So while we may not be able to predict exactly what happens to balloon at every time, we can predict what happens to its volume, its area and some aspects of the surface topology quite well.

    (People working in chaos might be able to give a more technically better description of the science behind this.)


  9. Prateeksha,

    Thanks for your response, and I apologize for the snappiness in my earlier comment.

    I agree that there’s no way for us to “know” with a 100% certainty the truth about climate change, until maybe it’s too late and only in hindsight. (nkaisare’s previous comment explains this in detail.) It’s also possible (though not highly probable) that the IPCC, global organizations and scientists are engaged in a vast conspiracy that ensures their paycheck. A section of the environmental movement does readily believe in doomsday scenario (the other side of coin where some people totally ignore any and all environmental disasters, be it ozone hole, oil spills, Superfund sites etc.), and even a scientist like Carl Sagan admitted that he was wrong about “nuclear winter” phenomenon.

    On the other hand, there’s evidence of Bush administration manipulating science on climate change and downplaying it; the excellent Australian TV program “‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ Debate” (youtube link in previous comment – watch all 9 parts) – the likes of which we’ll never see in American media; evidence of oil companies muddying the scientific debate in the US; and many claims of climate deniers debunked (link to RealClimate website in previous comment).

    There are also regular reports in the media on how biologists are reporting shifts in migratory and breeding patterns of animals and birds due to changes in the climate (warmer); and plants and flowers blooming earlier.

    I also don’t need 100% scientific certainty before taking steps in this case, and while I don’t subscribe to the doomsday scenario, I do go by the precautionary principle based on our history. I also trust a report on climate change by NASA more than one by American Petroleum Institute as the former is likely to have less of a bias.

    So based on what I’ve read so far and some circumstantial evidence, I do “believe” that AGW is happening and real to some degree, and it’s simply common sense to be prepared to mitigate its negative effects. It’s likely that there will be some positives too, but we don’t know if those will outweigh the negatives or not, and we may still have to deal with the negatives irrespective of the positives.

    If tomorrow, there’s evidence of this vast conspiracy regarding climate change (I find it highly amusing that those looking for 100% scientific certainty regarding AGW don’t offer much in evidence of this conspiracy other than an ideological hatred of governments 😀 ), I’ll gladly change my view. If you have links that prove this, please share. As of now, I don’t view the AGW issue as a left-right political one.


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