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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Climate Debate Apogee



Foil hat image from Wikipedia Commons.

Climate Gate was inevitable. For a while there the lay press and television news was rife with headlines about various and sundry climate science "hoaxes." I dutifully chased down one claim after the other, which all turned out to be hoax hoaxes. Luckily there are a few blogs out there that serve as liaisons to climate scientists, conveying explanations to the general public. Most researchers are not real interested in engaging the ignorant masses (and who can blame them). They just want to do their research.

Climate Gate reinforced my opinion that climate change is real. Nothing more convincing than watching three or four front page hoax claims go down in flames in quick succession. You would think that a line of debunked claims stretching past the horizon would dampen a skeptic's enthusiasm but then again, the majority of Americans don't buy the theory of evolution.

Climate Gate had the opposite impact on many people, reinforcing their suspicion that climate change is a hoax. The difference being that some sought out and read science-based sources to get the real scoop and others stuck with what they last saw in their local newspaper, or most likely, television news. Television is the backbone of ongoing adult education in America. Read "Entertaining Ourselves to Death" then rent the movie Idiocracy ; )

The game is over. Public interest is rapidly waning. Most have made up their minds. Not that it matters. It is unlikely that our government is capable of solving the problem--not real sure they should try. There is a very real chance they would only make things worse as witnessed with corn ethanol. Hopefully, solutions will arrive "despite" government, as sometimes happens. It is possible that a green energy meme has been set in motion as happened with family size in the past. Time will tell.

If we are to replace fossil fuels with something better, it will happen for reasons unforeseen at this time. The future is notoriously hard to predict. I once thought that personal computers in homes were a fad that would eventually give way to cheap word processors (which was actually starting to happen) and machines dedicated to computer games (which is happening). Then the Internet came along.

There are still quite a few sputtering armchair climatologists out there (a subspecies of Internet Baboon) participating in the skeptic echo chamber. One great explanation I've seen for their existence (on top of my contention that people are capable of and willing to believe anything they want) involves an aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I'm not sure how seriously to take parts of this study. The authors were the recipients of the prestigious Ig Nobel prize (get it, ignoble?). The Dunning-Kruger studies are sometimes used (wrongly) to beat debate opponents about the head and shoulders with the claim they are too stupid to know how stupid they are.

It isn't about stupidity (whatever that is). It is about ignorance. We can be too ignorant to know just how ignorant we are. You see this a lot in comment fields.

I read the book Superorganism by Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson. It must weigh five pounds and represents the tip of an iceberg. Who would have dreamed that there is so much to know about ...ants. Imagine the equivalent of today's armchair climatologists engaging Wilson in debate on the subject of sociobiology, or ants for that matter.

I recall the time I used the Great Wall of China as an example of government waste in an article only to be called on the carpet by a scholar who studies great walls around the world (and apparently there are many such walls). In another article about rhino poaching I attracted a specialist in rhinos with similar results.

I also recall a beer commercial where the engineer put the finishing touch on the business jet he just designed (closing the radome). Miller time! The person who wrote that commercial had no idea what it takes to design a jet, or a radome for that matter ; ).

[Update 4/12/2010: A short, relatively respectful debate ensued in the comment field from which I drew a few more insights. What motivates the armchair climatologist? Some apparently see themselves as purveyors of truth and justice, struggling against the "establishment." This suggests to me that whatever it is that motivates the stereotypical conspiracy theorist is also at work here in the climate skeptic blogs.

In this case my nemesis used the bacterial-ulcer link and continental drift as examples where the established science was overturned by armchair versions of geologists and medical researchers. I love analogies but a bad analogy is worse than no analogy. For starters, my debate partner got it ass-backwards. The new science is climate change. The old guard is saying that there is no anthropomorphic climate change. He's defending what was once thought to be true.

The continental drift theory had been kicked around for centuries and was not particularly controversial. A concerted attempt to debunk it was made by a physicist as late as 1953 and his arguments would have looked very sound to armchair plate-techtonisists. I'm sure he would have had a large following had the internet existed.

The bacterial link to ulcers was discovered by researchers using the scientific method and peer reviewed publications.

All new theories, evolution, relativity, you name it, are met with resistance by other scientists The scientific method works because it meshes with human nature. Scientists love to prove their competitors wrong, which can also be an easy ticket to fame and glory. Finding flaws in a theory or hypothesis is much easier than forming a new one.

12 comments:

  1. amazingdrx7:51 AM

    Is it the willful ignorance that feeds ignorance based media, or media that feeds ignorance? Both.

    Media that reinforces ignorance gets higher ratings and therefore has more resources. Most people resent media that aims to educate and inform because of the implication that their beliefs are uniformed and/or just plain wrong.

    Communication is a battlefield. A status seeking behaviour for most of us, not a learning behaviour. Too bad, but it seems we humans have met with an evolutionary dead end.

    Like bacteria in a Petri dish that can't adapt to the growing media, the contents of our biosphere will eventually be flushed. We are lucky to be in a relatively comfortable area of the dish, and have a short enough lifespan left to have a pretty good experience.

    Ignorance makes for a happier existence. Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it. So it goes.

    Of course there is always the slim chance that a very profitable commercial boom in renewable energy will stave off GHG climate change related flushing.

    Most likely government will slow it down for as long as is possible, then join in once it is acomplished, politicians will then pretend it was their idea all along, hehey.

    BTW, if you want to view some classic ignorance, check out Friedman on Zakaria today on CNN. Hilarious! And these are the guys most of the intellectual elite actually turn too for information?

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  2. I am always amused at the blind arrogance of people who dismiss critics simply because they are not part of the establishment.

    It is quite a rediculous position to take given the number of times the non-establishment critics have turned out to be correct.

    That is why I look for verifiable physical evidence that is not subject to interpretation by people who may or may not be biased. People may lie or fool themselves. Nature does not.

    The trouble is there really is no verifiable physical evidence that supports the catastrophic AGW hypothesis.

    There is verifiable physical evidence that adding CO2 to atmosphere will cause some warming. But that same evidence puts an upper limit of about 1 degC on the amount of warming CO2 is likely to cause.

    Predicting a catastrophe requires a climate model. And trusting a climate model requires that you believe in the integrity of the people designing the models.

    The trouble for me I cannot trust people who lie to me about topics where I do have the expertise to know better. I think it rediculous for anyone to expect me to.

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  3. Let me quote you, Raven:

    "It is quite a rediculous position to take given the number of times the non-establishment critics have turned out to be correct."

    Now,change the word "correct" to the word "wrong."

    Doesn't it bother you that 99 times out of 100 they turn out to be wrong, which is the whole premise with the Grist post?

    Read Armchair Climatologists.

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  4. Raven2:56 PM

    So what if the establishment turns out to be right 99 times out of 100? That is no excuse for dismissing critics simply because they do not agree with the establisment. Too much is at stake to ignore the possibility that this is the 1 in 100 scenario where the experts are wrong.

    The way to resolve these disputes is to look for evidence that can independently verified and is not subject to manipulation according to the biases of the presenter.

    When it comes to the basic GHG effect we do have good experimental evidence which shows that adding CO2 will cause warming. We also have good evidence that warming has occurred over the last 100 years.

    The trouble is we have no reliable evidence that supports the claim that adding CO2 will lead to catastrophe. The "evidence" offered is really nothing but the opinion of experts who have demonstrated a willingness to resort to lies and deceptions in order to promote a specific political agenda.

    What this means for me is we need to wait for more evidence before we engage in any radical reorganization of society. That does not mean we do nothing. We can always benefit from finding alternate sources of energy. But I think it is premature to discuss specific targets for CO2 reductions or doing anything that could cause economic hardship.

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  5. Raven, I tend to agree with your concerns about the potential ramifications of having our inept government try to solve a problem this big and complex.

    That seems to me to be what motivates most skeptics. They deal with that concern by refusing to accept the science. Sounds dumb but that's why most people go to church, to reserve a spot in the afterlife.

    If you were to ever accept the science as I have (and you never will), you would then have to face the same harsh reality that I do--my children will most likely live on a planet with irreversible runaway warming. It is a game of Russian roulette.

    My only hope is that we get really lucky and dodge the odds given by the IPCC (you do realize that they never claim there is a 100% chance), or solutions arise out of concern over the problem, despite the government.

    Solutions won't arise if we are not motivated to look for them.

    Which brings me to skeptics. I was once a skeptic. Anyone who was not at first a skeptic was an idiot.

    Skeptics will slow government action, if not eliminate it, but hopefully they won't stifle the free market, which is where the answers will come from if they exist and you can bet they will make money instead of lose it.

    Your arguments against the science:

    1) Critics are dismissed simply because they are not part of the "establishment"

    2) There is a 1 in 100 chance the IPCC assessments are wrong (when they didn't even offer odds that good in the first place).

    3) That the peer-review process and formation of the IPCC did not remove enough bias for your tastes

    4) The "evidence" offered is really nothing but the opinion of experts who have demonstrated a willingness to resort to lies and deceptions in order to promote a specific political agenda.

    ...speak for themselves. You are a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You fear the reality and have created a less fearful alternative, just like the hundreds of millions who all think they are going to heaven.

    Ever try to convince someone that there is no heaven?

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  6. Raven9:56 PM

    Russ,

    Have you taken the time to look carefully at the arguments raised on the science centered sceptical blogs like Climate Audit?

    Have you taken the time to understand the hockey stick and cru debates from the POV of SteveMc or RossMc?

    I get the impression that you simply get your information from places like RC and never even consider the possibility that there is substance to the complaints of sceptics.

    I started out believing the consensus and assumed that SteveMc was a crank. However, I read a few of his arguments which sounded reasonable and deliberately sought out the other side of the story RC and other places. I spent weeks sifting through the claims and counter claims. I even dug out my university texts to research some of the issues myself. After a while I could not avoid coming to the conclusion that the folks at RC were deliberately misrepresenting the science behind the hockey stick.

    That was the point when I started to ask myself whether I could trust anything they said about climate.

    I was optimistic when the CRU emails were released because I had hoped that it would a cathartic moment for climate science where the honest scientists would get to the courage to denounce the tactics of Mann and Jones and break the strangle hold the political activists seem to have. I have been soundly disappointed. The climate science community closed ranks again and insisted on defending the indefensible.

    The net result is I am extremely cynical and have no confidence in the climate science community or any of the claims they make. That is why I have said I will only accept independently verifiable claims.

    On that front, sceptics have been doing some good work on the temperature records. It is looking like the different choices of algorithms don't have that much of an effect on the trends even if the it is not clear how much UHI contamination exists. The net result is I have more confidence in the GISS and CRU records as measures of the total temperature change. More work is required to determine if UHI has any real effect on the trends.

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  7. "Have you taken the time to look carefully at the arguments raised on the science centered sceptical blogs like Climate Audit?"

    No. I go directly to the science centered blogs that debunk what is found at places like Climate Audit. It saves time.

    "Have you taken the time to understand the hockey stick and cru debates from the POV of SteveMc or RossMc?"

    Yes. See Wiki article on topic.

    "The net result is I am extremely cynical and have no confidence in the climate science community or any of the claims they make. That is why I have said I will only accept independently verifiable claims."

    That sentence makes little sense to me, although it obviously makes sense to you. From Wikipedia:

    "People from over 130 countries contributed to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report over the previous 6 years. These people included more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors."

    Likewise, the arguments of a Twin Tower conspiracist only make sense to other Twin Tower conspriracists.

    If you can't get your research to pass muster in peer reviewed science journals it isn't because of a giant conspiracy in the science community.

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  8. Raven7:41 PM

    I suggest to take the time to learn about groupthink:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

    All eight symptoms are painfully evident in the climate science field.

    The fact that you refuse to read and understand the arguments of critics and insist on charactizing them as stupid or ignorant (see symptom #4) shows you are also entrapped by group think.

    If you were really interested in the truth then you would learn what the sceptics are actually saying instead of reading the misrepresentations that appear on alarmist propaganda blogs or wikipedia.

    I will leave you with one reference to some peer reviewed science which has the potential to overturn the consensus:

    http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/guest-post-by-antonis-christofides-a-random-walk-on-water/

    Of course, I expect to dismiss this just like the establishment dismissed the bacterial-ulcer link or continental drift. But denial does not make it any less likely to be true.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Raven said...

    "I suggest to take the time to learn about groupthink"

    How does group think apply to the theory of evolution, and which group would it apply to?

    "The fact that you refuse to read and understand the arguments of critics and insist on charactizing them as stupid or ignorant"

    I read and understand the arguments of the critic's critics.

    I have not called critics stupid (whatever that means exactly) or ignorant.

    "I will leave you with one reference to some peer reviewed science which has the potential to overturn the consensus ..."

    As I said in the original post, my mind is made up (as is yours). I quit following links that claimed to overturn the consensus after seeing dozens of them debunked. It just got old after a while. Why that long list of debunked claims fails to moderate your enthusiasm is beyond me.

    The theory of punctuated equilibrium remains a mystery but it was not nearly enough to overturn the theory of evolution, unless you are a creationist of course.

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  10. Raven9:03 PM

    You say:

    "I read and understand the arguments of the critic's critics."

    Then you are uninformed and cannot claim to understand the issues. I always go to alarmist sources to understand the alarmist argument. I do not rely on what sceptics say the alarmists say.

    "I have not called critics stupid (whatever that means exactly) or ignorant."

    Your blog post calls people who dispute the consensus ignorant.

    "I quit following links that claimed to overturn the consensus after seeing dozens of them debunked."

    I guess that is difference between you and me. I am interested in learning the truth and keep an open mind. You have decided that you know what the truth is and don't want any new information that might disturb that belief.

    Ultimately, I think the consensus is artificial and imposed by peer pressure. Scientifically legimate alternate hypothesis are too quickly rejected because the establishment is desperate to push a political agenda. It is possible the consensus is right but the evidence of groupthink is too strong to ignore.

    Also, if you cannot understand the difference between a theory of climate dervived from the mathematics of chaos theory and creationism then you have a lot to learn about science.

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  11. ".. Then you are uninformed and cannot claim to understand the issues.."

    I'm not uninformed and I most certainly do understand the issues. You are extremely well informed. It just happens to be the wrong information.

    ".. I always go to alarmist sources to understand the alarmist argument.."

    Excuse me, coffee just came out my nose, and substituting the word "alarmist" for the term "skeptic critic" suggests your real motivation.

    You're not seeking the truth. You are seeking evidence to disprove the findings of the IPCC, which you are convinced is engaged in a giant conspiracy to hide the truth. There's a difference.

    And if you are going to start calling those who are critical of the skeptics "alarmists" I should feel free to drop the term skeptic and label you a denier, or better yet, conspiracy theorist:

    ".. trusting a climate model requires that you believe in the integrity of the people designing the models .."

    "..I cannot trust people who lie to me..

    a willingness to resort to lies and deceptions in order to promote a specific political agenda...

    where the honest scientists would get to the courage to denounce the tactics of..

    ask myself whether I could trust anything they said about climate...

    misrepresentations that appear on alarmist propaganda blogs..


    You think you are taking the moral high ground.

    Think again:

    ".. There is no doubt which side holds the science high-ground on this issue and after reading this book there should be little doubt which side holds the moral high-ground .."

    You continue:

    ".. Your blog post calls people who dispute the consensus ignorant .."

    My post was discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here's what my post said:

    "It isn't about stupidity (whatever that is). It is about ignorance. We can be too ignorant to know just how ignorant we are. You see this a lot in comment fields."

    And did you follow that link to the Dunning-Kruger effect?

    ".. I guess that is difference between you and me. I am interested in learning the truth and keep an open mind .."

    You guessed wrong, again. Look at the above quotes. Do they sound like they came from an open mind? You think you are locked in a titanic battle with liars and cheats.

    You are interested in proving a conspiracy theory and seek out fellow conspiracy theorists. It's an old game. Conspiracy theorists never see themselves as conspiracy theorists but as seekers of truth in a world of deception.

    "..You have decided that you know what the truth is and don't want any new information that might disturb that belief .."

    No. I have relied on others to tell me what the truth is because I know better than to second guess decades of peer-reviewed science. I subscribe to several science journals, which I read. The truth is sought through published peer-reviewed research, not conspiracy theorist blogs in sheep's clothing.

    ".. Ultimately, I think the consensus is artificial and imposed by peer pressure .."

    You are of course free to have your unsubstantiated opinion, unoriginal as it is.

    ".. Scientifically legimate alternate hypothesis are too quickly rejected because the establishment is desperate to push a political agenda .."

    Too quick? Establishment? Political agenda?

    Scientists are just people. They have always fought like cats in a bag. They rarely cede victory to one another.

    That's why we have the scientific method which includes peer-reviewed published research. The rest is cats fighting in bags.

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  12. Anonymous3:24 PM

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