On reading that article, I can’t help but notice the intriguing similarity between the Ptolemeic solar system and the obsession with finding “natural cycles” to explain the recent temperature history of the Earth such as those referenced 2 articles ago on this very site. The Ptolemeic system’s calculations were, essentially, the fitting of several different superimposed perfect cycles without a physical basis. While Ptolemy’s cycles produced some useful results (which is more than can be said for the most recent contrarian forays into climastrology), in the end they were of poor accuracy. Similarly, modern fourier analysis will happily model any given system (including global temperature) as a series of perfect cycles. However, both Ptolemeic astronomical predictions and cyclical fits to the climate inherently fail because their predictions are not based on physical sources of the cycles, but on the siren call of the beauty of cycles for cycles sake.
[Response: Very interesting and correct point. I’ve been meaning to do a post on this, and will, at some point -eric]
I remember well doing battle with the stupid in the comments on that article. Steve’s article was pretty good. Some of the comments were weapons-grade stupid. How the numbskulls could find Physics Today’s site and still be that ignorant of physics remains one of the great unsolved mysteries.
The history behind the APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate is a bit more complicated than one might imagine. In 2007 the APS Council adopted an official policy statement on climate:
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.
If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Although this was very similar to other professional society statements (such as the AGU statement) a small group of skeptics within the Council and the Society started an effort to modify/soften/revoke the statement. After much input from members, a “commentary” was added in 2010 (see http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm), which effectively reaffirmed the statement although it back-handedly impugned the use of the word “incontrovertible” (even though this referred to warming, not cause attribution).
Given the significant interest shown by members in this issue, the idea of the topical group was spawned. APS topical groups can always be formed when there is enough interest from members – this process just confirmed that fact.
It looks like some research is needed. That article states “Copernicus’s calculations surpassed all others in their ability to describe the observed courses of the planets, and they were based on a far simpler conception. ”
That’s not what I recall. Wikipedia (that “highly reliable font of wisdom”) says “The Copernican system was no more accurate than Ptolemy’s system, because it still used circular orbits. This was not altered until Johannes Kepler postulated that they were elliptical (Kepler’s first law of planetary motion).”
That fits my recollection of the history. Again, according to Wikipedia, Copernicus published in about 1543. Keppler published his most influential work in about 1620. So, it took awhile to get from the idea of a non-geocentric universe to the more modern heliocentric solar system and to get a theory that gave more accurate answers than the Ptolemy’s models.
The author of this piece also seems to be a little weak on his physics. He writes “It was easy for those not wishing to accept Copernicus’s insight to devise persuasive counterarguments against it. For example, in 1597 one prominent commentator declared that a moving Earth would “see cities and fortresses, towns and mountains thrown down,” and that “neither an arrow shot straight up, nor a stone dropped . . . would fall perpendicularly.”2 Those arguments would not fly today because nearly everyone has experiential knowledge, from riding in cars and airplanes, of what are now called the Galilean principles of invariance. ”
Well, rather than not flying,those arguments provide confirmation of the theory today—as they match empirical observation. The Paris Gun of WWI fired projectiles as far as about 80 miles and they were in flight for about 3 minutes. The Germans adjusted the aim point to account for the rotation of the earth during those three minutes. Calculating quickly and probably inaccurately, I think Paris would move about 30 km during those 3 minutes although the aim point would not shift that much. The problem for defenders of the Copernican theory was that they could not shoot an arrow high enough to see the effect. But, the Germans could. Now, if the defenders of the Copernican theory had known to build a Foucault pendulum they could have seen the effect of rotation in a relatively small system.
Galilean relativity does not apply to accelerating systems—like the rotating earth. The earths rotation is slow (2 Pi radians/day) so it’s hard to see the effects. But, they are there.
[Response: All fair points (but they don’t detract from the thesis)–eric]
Interesting article, I remember discussing this on Realclimate some 2 years ago.
About relativity, the article suggests there was no scientific concensus before 1970…(see the timeline figure 4)
I understand the theory was not really used/assimilated before the 60s and the “Golden age of general relativity”, but does that mean there still were some strong debate about it until then?
I thought the eclipse of 1919 (plus the Mercury orbit before that) kind of ended the debates.
[Response: I’m not an expert in this but my strong impression is that general relativity was very well accepted by anyone that understood it very quickly, and certainly by 1919. That it took most other scientists some decades is quite believable — and simply reflects the very conservative nature of science.–eric]
It’s not because the science is so revolutionary, a la the heliocentrists and Einstein:
From Physics Today:
“The current theory of global climate change is hardly elegant or scientifically revolutionary, and in that respect it seems like no bedfellow to the others. Its prominence comes from its implications for the sustainability of current Western consumption patterns, not from reshaping physics; its many contributors would not claim to be Einsteins. What it shares with the others, however, is its origin in the worked-out consequences of evident physical principles rather than direct observation. That sort of bottom-up deduction is valued by physics perhaps more than by any other science.”
The ancients’s “science” was based on best observations and theories to date – the earth is not perceptibly moving (except during earthquakes), and the sun comes up in the east & sets in the west, and brings heat. What else moves across the sky. Birds. The sun is a firebird (Chinese myth). Pretty good.
Millennia later when the heliocentric model became more apparent, I think there was fear that because all the ancient books & bibles were written from a geocentric world view, people might throw out religion and its morality along with this old ancient geocentric “science.” Also heliocentrism displaces our symbolic self, earth, and threatens our ego.
Same with evolution.
The problem with anthropogenic climate change is that it not only threatens our ego and self-righteous image, but (according to many denialists and their great fear) our way of life, our world view of an ever increasing pie, and progress being our most important product. It means we have to conscientiously think about what we do, and reduce our GHGs, when we’d rather be getting on with our regularly scheduled lives and fun.
That’s much more serious than being decentered or having apes and slime as our relatives & stardust cruising our veins.
Just read an article about how events that stir up thoughts of distal death threats (as with climate change) make people who have self-esteem issues go into denial, when logically these events should prompt people to address and mitigate the threats: Dickinson, J.L., 2009. “The People Paradox: Self-Esteem Striving, Immortality Ideologies, and Human Response to Climate Change.” Ecology and Society 14.1:34-50.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 21 Dec 2011 @ 4:59 PM
I’d say I’m one of those Tyconic AGW supporters. I’m against coal power for CO2 and other reasons, but I don’t see any practical alternatives to gas powered cars in the next decade.
It all comes down to cost/benefit ratios, really. We can replace coal with nuclear without raising electric rates significantly, and cut CO2 emissions in America by 40% without significant disruption to our society, but there’s simply no easy way to replace gas in cars yet.
In 1932, a Japanese novelist took the motif of Arrhenius:
– Higher concentration of CO2 will make the climate warmer.
He combined it with two other facts.
– Volcanoes emit CO2.
– In northern Japan, rice yield is better in warmer years (among interannual variability in the 20th century).
So, the story went into geo-engineering, to induce a volcanic eruption, in order to achieve global warming.
My more specific description of the story is here.
Paul from VA writes: “…the obsession with finding “natural cycles” to explain the recent temperature history of the Earth”
It should be noted that we are in fact using “natural cycles” in several cases without noticeable opposition, notably in the computation of ocean tides. Computations of the tide based directly on our knowledge of physics are since long seen as impossible to do in practice. Yet we have excellent tide tables based on natural cycles.
I believe that it would be wrong to condemn natural cycles as unacceptable because it is not based directly on physics. After all climate science is not a religion, and it’s importance is heavily dependent on its ability to produce reliable predictions.
Statistical methods can be used to test hypotheses involving natural cycles. I agree that in the case of climate science with all its complexity, natural cycles that are not based on solid science is a risky business, but such methods may still prove useful.
If an approach involving natural cycles is to be abandoned, the reason should be that it is proven to be useless and not because it is not directly based on our physical science.
William, yes, lot’s of promising avenues of research, but nothing remotely scalable to produce anything more than a small percentage of a small percentage of current demand.
What we need is far less demand. Most gasoline is wasted on discretionary driving, trips that could be made by other means, or trips that could fairly easily be carpooled. And, of course, our current auto/truck fleet is still enormously inefficient.
What we really need to do, of course, is stop un-sequestering any more carbon, and use the best techniques of extracting oil from algae to re-insert this high-carbon stuff back into the ground. That is still not what anyone is talking about at this point, as far as I can see.
In Re 14: The point about using Fourier series analysis for ocean tides is that we have many, many cycles of data; indeed multiples of the 18.6 year Saros cycle (and others) on which to base the calculations. It is a fair use of the method to predict a year or so ahead, say 1% or so of the dataset available. Even then, weather fluctuations muddy the waters, to coin a pun. The same is NOT true of climate change to anything like the same extent.
In re 14: The point about tidal predictions is that we have many, many cycles of data on which to base the calculations. We do NOT have that for *climate*. Even then, weather can disrupt the tide predictions.
The Recapcha crap is making it really difficult to post replies. This will by my last comment, if it succeeds.
Knut Wilberg: “we are in fact using “natural cycles” in several cases without noticeable opposition”
There’s a huge difference between fitting ‘natural cycles’ to phenomena that are physically known to be cyclic and imposing ‘natural cycles’ on every variation. There’s good reason the tides are cyclic; there’s nothing but wishful thinking to ‘ramp and sine’ or whatever the curve-fitting meme du jour is this week. To say ‘it’s a natural cycle’ without any basis other than a couple of sine curve fits is Climastrology pure and simple.
The article has a number of unexpected flaws.
First, he does not note the huge difference in the kind of opposition that faced the theorists he mentions. Galileo and Copernicus faced strong theological opposition. Religious people were absolutely right that the Copernican Revolution was an (unintended) sword in the side of their core ideas about God’s place in the universe. Einstein faced a little of that, but mainly scientific opposition and the attacks on him were far, far less fierce than those against followers of Galileo and Copernicus.
Opposition to climate change is neither neither mainly theological nor scientific. It is business/economic oriented. To respond properly to climate change does not threaten most people’s world view, but it does suggest a possibly-chaotic overthrow of the world economic system that is built on fossil fuels. The threat is to lifeways developed on fossil fuel, and it is very, very real.
Second — The author omits to mention what might be the greatest revolution of them all, the Darwinian revolution. I can hardly believe he left this out without knowing that mentioning it would force him to admit a very serious contradiction to his position.
Namely – The Darwinian Revolution is still “unsettled.” Most Americans and Australians and many, many people around the rest of the world are still firm believers in some form of creationism. All you have to do is listen to religious radio while driving across the mid-west Darwinism, 100% accepted in the scientific community still has only a very weak hold among the public.
Public acceptance of Darwinism was not nearly as important to its progress as scientific acceptance. But that is not the case with climate change. Public acceptance, including the acceptance by the corporate interests that no oppose it, is crucial to making the changes necessary to face climate change and it is very, very unlikely that such acceptance will come before it is too late.
[Response: Well, one might argue belief in the current status quo is a religious belief, but that’s an argument I don’t want to actually get into. On the other point, I’m not sure you are right about Darwinism. People may say they don’t believe it, but I think most people actually do understand that bacteria evolve (for example), and if put in a situation where that belief was severely tested (say, some evolving pathogen crisis…) they might behave as if they believe it. It has been said that we are all Darwinists now, in the sense that the ideas have fully become incorporated into the way our societies function. We are certainly not there yet with climate.–eric]
I read the article when it came out in October. One of the most interesting things with “global warming” as compared to relativity or plate tectonics is the “money issue” this time around.
Global warming is special in that it goes beyond trying to get scientific sense of a phenomenon…the answer is yielding the inconvient truth (not specificially referencing Al Gore’s book) that the solution interfers with the most basic part of the engine that drives the economies and markets of the world. This is the world’s thirst for fossil fuels for nearly everything we do and the sacrifice and $$ lost (at least in the short-term) for really doing something about the problem.
It can all be summed up with the fact: “The belief in global warming for a country’s population is inversely proportional to that country’s emissions of CO2″. That speaks volumes to me.
As an example of just how far climate change is from the minds of the “general public” I noticed today that the Fidelity Investing guidance for the Energy Sector — https://guidance.fidelity.com/viewpoints/energy-sector-2012 — doesn’t even mention climate change or global warming as a factor in the outlook for the sector. The entire focus of the guidance is on how new technologies are allowing for previously trapped greenhouse fuels to be extracted. What I find most telling is not that climate change is being rejected, but that it isn’t even acknowledged. The Physics Today article focuses on the backlash against the scientific opinion by non-scientists, but I think that the common response is more of a yawn than a backlash. Whether the Earth circles the sun is largely an academic question in comparison to climate change that will likely affect the lives of people very directly–so it intuitively seems that people would be more engaged one way or the other with the issue. Among my co-workers (admittedly a small sample size) there are a couple of people who have very strong feelings about climate change being a hoax of the liberal media and scientific community (somebody leaves Watts propaganda in the men’s’ room on occasion.), and a couple others like myself who are “believers,” but for the most part it’s just not something that people care about or think about at all. They don’t seem to have opinions one way or the other.
There’s more symmetry than parallel between the Copernican revolution and the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change. In the astronomical case, the assertion of fact came first, the explanation later. The observational data were equivocal and could be used to support the schemes of Ptolemy, Tycho, or Copernicus. Which is why the question wasn’t settled until Newton provided a physical theory that accounted for the structure of the solar system. With global warming, the situation was almost exactly the reverse. Arrhenius provided the explanation before the phenomenon had even occurred.
Comment by John E. Pearson — 22 Dec 2011 @ 12:45 PM
Jon Flatley and Bob,
I had an interesting insight when I attended the Washington conference of the International Electronic Device Manufacturers (IEDM). IEDM is where folks present research on the bleeding edge of electronics technology. Frankly, I was blown away by the amazing diversity of technologies being developed–probably an order of magnitude more innovation than we saw back when electronics was driven by the physics of CMOS scaling.
It occurred to me that maybe CMOS scaling provided an easy path forward. We didn’t have to get too creative–we had a recipe to follow. Then when CMOS scaling failed in ~2004-2006, suddenly the only way to stay on course with Moore’s Law was to innovate–so you innovated or you died.
Could it be that our reliance on fossil fuels has similarly limited innovation in energy development? Might it have made us lazy by providing an easy and reliable path forward? Could it be that far from bringing prosperity to an end, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels could usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity?
The true alarmists are those who prophecy disaster in every carbon tax or cap and trade bill. The end of fossil fuels is the way forward.
The Fidelity and Swiss Re documents linked to above have completely different goals.
How is climate change relevant to investing in the energy sector in 2012?
Should investors be concerned about occupiers, saboteurs or terrorists? I don’t think so.
Mitigation policies might be relevant if something was happening there. No policy means BAU for capitalists. That document illustrates why the type of policies they oppose are needed for mitigation.
Comment by Anonymous Coward — 22 Dec 2011 @ 1:24 PM
As an example of just how far climate change is from the minds of the “general public” I noticed today that the Fidelity Investing guidance for the Energy Sector — https://guidance.fidelity.com/viewpoints/energy-sector-2012 — doesn’t even mention climate change or global warming as a factor in the outlook for the sector. The entire focus of the guidance is on how new technologies are allowing for previously trapped greenhouse fuels to be extracted.
I’ve been noticing this too, in a variety of financial outlook articles on the energy sector. I’ve not seen a single one mention concerns about climate change as being relevant to the future of fracking, oil sands, etc – it’s not just Fidelity.
To the last few comments about the complete lack of consideration of climate change in the markets, Dave Roberts has a great post about this. Neither climate change effects and adaptation, nor changes in energy resulting from mitigation have been priced into markets at all.
Two groups of the “general public” that have not failed to be interested in a changing climate are the insurance industry and lawyers. On at least four occasions in the last two years my advisor has been asked to address both groups. In coastal areas, state and municipal risk managers and civil engineering types are seeking advice.
I’m not a fan of Thomas Kuhn’s scientific revolution stuff (Anyone read Heinz Post’s General Correspondence Principle?) but I suppose he did rightly emphasise how difficult it is to shift entrenched opinions. Eric says
That it took most other scientists some decades is quite believable — and simply reflects the very conservative nature of science.
One empirical climate scientist said this to me recently:
When conflicts between climate models and the real world occur the climate modellers will believe their models.
Are the modellers to conservative? Do they dismiss the real world to easily? As John F. Harkness pointed out in the comments section of a recent NY Times Green Blog (Justin Gillis was mustering scientific research to downplay the recently reported emissions of methane from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf):
–Readings from the monitoring stations at Barrow do in fact show huge increases in atmospheric methane levels
I didn’t notice the increases at first – until I set the timespan to 2010-2011. Provisional data show there is a substantial increase in methane levels in the past few months. Looks worrying to me – Barrow seems to be the nearest station to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, from where seabed methane may be being released.
This may be an interesting test of “scientific conservatism”. The conservative attitude would be to wait until some paper with a theoretical framework (or computer model) has been peer reviewed and published. The liberal(?) attitude would look at the few dots on the graph and panic.
OK, I’m quietly panicking. I’m liberal but to a degree…
Can someone look for me and tell me if panic is rational?
Waiting decades is too late. Right?
P.S. I know about methanotrophs and stuff like that. Not a climate scientist but pretty well informed.
“In 2007 the APS Council adopted an official policy statement on climate: … We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.”
There is where I have to object. That’s not a science or physics statement. The science/physics facts, figures, projections, and predictions are merely inputs into the risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis required to even begin to make such a decision.
Yes, I’d say fossil fuels, having been cheap an easy have delayed research and development of alternative sources. There just hasn’t sufficient potential for decadal scale or shorter profits to drive them. At least until recently. The past year, capital expenses for new power generation is nearly evenly split, between renewable and fossil fuel consuming plants, for new electrical generation. The fact that production costs of solar panels have only recently been dropping like a rock, may be an indicator that a tipping point has been crossed.
Unfortunately I have to agree with the decision of investment advisors to ignore climate change. Their narrowly defined fiduciary duty requires them to ignore factors which are orthogonal to the profit potential of individual projects. And as the prospects of carbon taxes, or some other form of carbon limitations have faded, the relevance of carbon emissions to the probable profit making potential of an investment is now nearly zero. This is unfortunate, but it is a direct result of the fact that negative externalities that are not likely to be charged to an individual project, have no effect on its proftability.
24 Jim said the question of the Copernican revolution wasn’t settled until Newton.
Maybe. But maybe not. It depends on what you mean by “settled” doesn’t it? I would’ve said that Kepler settled the question. There are sort of two issues. (1)What are the planets doing? (2)What physical principles require the planets to do what they do?
I would argue that Kepler nailed down the answer to (1) and that Newton nailed down the answer to (2).
After Kepler (who died in 1630) there was little doubt that the planets were orbiting the sun. It was understood that if the planets were seen from the sun their motions were simple and that complexity of planetary motion as viewed from earth was simple. The angel in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (which was finished in 1664) said:
“What if the Sun Be centre to the World, and other stars By his attractive virtue and their own Incited, dance about him various rounds? Their wandering course, now high, now low, then hid, Progressive, retrograde, or standing still, In six thou seest; and what if, seventh to these The planet Earth, so steadfast though she seem, Insensibly three different motions move?”
(Orchard, Thomas Nathaniel (2009-10-04). The Astronomy of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ (p. 106). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition. )
Kepler’s curve fitting was a work of genius. Before he figured out that planets moved in ellipses he tried to describe the positions of the planets in terms of nested regular solids which strikes me as a bit loony but probably no loonier than stuff that people try in theoretical physics every day.
All this was well before Newton wrote the Principia in 1687. There was a 57 year gap between the time when Kepler “settled” the question of the Sun centered universe to the satisfaction of educated people and the time when Newton provided a physical principle which produced Kepler’s laws. I’m not knocking the clarity that Newton’s succinct laws of motion brought but those laws didn’t clarify the fact that the planets orbited the sun and not the earth.
Comment by John E. Pearson — 23 Dec 2011 @ 12:51 AM
Clive Hamilton’s paper “Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” is much better at explaining the current situation. Centuries ago, both “science” and “mythology” were the province of the elite. With democracy, the people decide the truth and the elites have been thrown from authority.
The popular opinion of the truth of AGW is now the determining factor, not some elitist group of scientists, even if the number of scientists is in the million. The non-elites number in the billions, and they aren’t going to allow a mere few million scientists dictate how they live their lives.
Periods of time, the populists saw scientists like the populists now see Lady Gaga or for old people, Elvis or the Beatles. Science and technology were popularly credited with creating the middle class post WWII. And that included management science (giving us the MBA) and political science.
Conservatives objected to these new elites, attacking them as not being legitimately elected to their exalted positions of power. But most important, they created populist movements attacking the elite scientists.
The elites have said life doesn’t come from a sacred act and through god, but from DNA. The elites have said you are not responsible for your illness (genetics). The elites have said you are responsible for your illness (smoking). The elites have said you must be fired. The elites have said you must wear seat belts. The elites have said you must stop driving your car.
Who gave the elites their power in this democracy?
The elites never answer “god”, which even Einstein spoke of “I won’t accept god plays dice with the universe.” But “god” and “nature” are in large part one and the same. Even the atheist scientist believes in something created from nothing spontaneously which is a miracle leading to our existence. You can’t be a scientist without believing in a higher power – nature – and it is that higher power that gives scientists their authority as seers for no democracy is going to change the face of god or the laws of nature.
Conservatives dislike elites, and together with the elites of the fossil fuel industry, they have defined the scientists as out of control elites who need to be brought under control of the people and their work subject to the democratic process. Scientists have tried to grab power and dictate instead of deflecting the attack onto god or nature. “In politics, you campaign in prose” so scientists need to campaign for the authority of the facts by attributing them to the will or laws of the creator. Thus questioning the science is to question god. Defying the science is to defy the gods.
[Response: Hmm. I’m not convinced this approach will work very well! –eric]
I think a better comparison would be with the acceptance of Darwinism and evolution. As with global warming, the message is pretty simple, yet the underlying mechanisms are parts of a very complex system. And while few doubt that global warming (or climate change) is happening, the debate is more how and what does it matter, evolution is likewise not completely rejected, just the scale, the evidence, and importance of it. That is, even devote creationists will accept microevolution and the basic principles of evolution. But there are fewer religious connotations in global warming than in evolution (though both sides in the warming debate will readily accuse the other of religious beliefs). Global warming has political connotations instead, which might be just as powerful. That is, one can argue that mixing science and politics is no better than mixing science and religion.
Still, I don’t think such comparisons are very useful. While I have no problems whatsoever with evolution, I think we shall be much less sure about climate science. For one thing, the science of evolution has matured more than a century longer than the science of anthropogenic climate change. The ideas in today’s climate science are relatively new, and I don’t think it would be fair to make such comparisons in a long time. What I’m saying is that even if most climate scientists today are basically correct about their conclusions, I think we need the test of time to find out if they were right for the right reasons.
(By the way, I had problems posting this. I got the recaptcha wrong, and when I tried again, my text got refused because of a duplicate checker – I wasn’t allowed to post the same text. Hopefully, adding this paragraph will get me past that).
[Response: Sorry about the recaptha hassle. Darwin died in 1882 and Arhennius in 1927, so they weren’t quite contemporaries, but climate science has been around for a while. But your are certainly right serious consideration of climate is relatively new.-eric]
[Response: At least some of that difference is very understandable, given the nature of the empirical evidence. Evidence for evolution was readily observable at a wide range of spatial scales early on, specifically, fossil evidence at one end, and the products of animal breeders and other short-term selections at the other. The latter were particularly important w.r.t coming up with a mechanism, at least for Darwin. Long time scale climate change evidence was there too (though arguably murkier) but without a single, clear, over-arching mechanism that could explain all the observed changes across scales of space and time. It is interesting that biology has, in the case, provided a universal theory based on a single simple mechanism (if we include genetic drift and neutral theory, though admittedly not part of Darwin’s formally stated understanding), whereas physics has not done so for climate change, given that it is potentially caused by many different mechanisms. This is the opposite of the usual situation, in which physical science provides a robust and universal explanation, while biology is caught up describing a million and one variations.–Jim]
There appears to me to be a real confusion in this discussion between actual science and the past and future history of human civilization. Science is the logical and reproducible explanation of observed phenomena. What humanity does or does not do with that information is not science. The scientific consensus is not the general consensus of all humanity. It is a consensus among those that understand what science is and know enough about the subject at hand to have a knowledgeable opinion.
What defines this group of people has changed over the years. In recent times, as areas of expertise have gotten more and more complex, fewer and fewer world leaders can correctly claim to understand the intricacies involved in complex scientific specialties – they must rely upon (and actually listen to) scientific advisors, rather rely solely upon their own personal opinions. The destructive potential of such decisions have increased dramatically as human technology has expanded.
To claim that one is skeptical about the science because one doesn’t know what the reaction of humanity to the science will be makes no sense, because they are two completely separate topics. Science tells us what is actually happening. How we use that information is affected by religious beliefs, politics, economic paradigms, and the distribution of human wealth and power.
This article is about certain examples of the historic interface between scientific discovery and the human reaction to it. While there are interesting and informative parallels between then and now (I enjoyed the article), there are also considerable differences. While many Americans will claim that they do not “believe in” evolution, the scientific consensus on evolution and how it operates (DNA) is respected enough to condemn a man to death beyond any reasonable doubt. NO ONE argues with that proof of innocence or guilt, not even the most ardent creationist. What does that tell you?
To claim that somehow humans are unable to reduce their output of CO2 in the atmosphere in time to stop the worst effects of AGW makes no sense to me. Of course we can do it – we just need to collectively see the need to do it. Human necessity has ALWAYS been the mother of human invention. The thing holding us back is the blindness that power and greed (and the ensuing fear and distrust which always follows these two) creates in human civilization.
But what weight do you put on preliminary figures? None?
OK, at 75% on the conservative/liberal scale, I might panic a bit too much.
But I never believed the “Arctic sea ice has recovered” stories that were bandied about in 2010 – the minimum yearly volume seems to have gone down each year – but the actuality made me a notch more liberal.
Can you place yourself on the C/L scale?
If so, where?
P.S. I even panicked a bit when I read this in September:
A group of Russian and U.S. scientists will leave the port of Vladivostok on Friday on board a Russian research ship to study methane emissions in the eastern part of the Arctic.
“This expedition was organized on a short notice by the Russian Fund of Fundamental Research and the U.S. National Science Foundation following the discovery of a dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas from the seabed in the eastern part of the Arctic”, said Professor Igor Semiletov, the head of the expedition.
The example of the fight to replace an earth-centred view with a heliocentric view has been used many times as an analogy for climate change. It is comforting to have an example of a successful ‘fight’ but there have been cases of scientific views which became widely held and later faded.
In the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’, published in 1899, a young ship’s engineer goes for a medical examination. The doctor, an adherent of phrenology, gets out a set of callipers and starts measuring his skull. Phrenologists believed that a person character could be deduced from the shape of the skull.
Around that time, eugenics was seen as solution for the world’s problems. It had many prominent supporters, including Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H. G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg and Sidney Webb; a group very similar to today’s ‘great and good’ who support moves to combat anthropogenic climate change even if they don’t understand the science.
It might be instructive to study ‘failures’ as well as ‘successes’.
35, 36, 37, 38: “FOOL ME TWICE; Fighting the Assault on Science in America” by Shawn Lawrence Otto; Rodale Books
Cherished American belief that gets in the way of both climate science and evolution: The belief in a just universe and a just America. GW is very unjust. The innocent get a raw deal. Evolution is downright bloody. In evolution, the criminals win [not really, but it looks that way.] Since the Americans are “Guilty” of GW, some people have to buy a bigger SUV to deny the guilt.
How to turn this around: We were ignorant of the “Law” of GW until recently. The inertia of built infrastructure gives us a pass until 2015. We are not saying “Use less energy or change your lifestyle.” We are saying “Change the source of the energy. Engineering will find a way to avoid a lifestyle change for most Americans.”
39 Geoff Beacon: Another problem: the conservative/liberal scale. Science is neither conservative nor liberal, but science is pro freedom. Science gives us the power to do things we couldn’t do before, and science gives that power to everybody. Science is anti-feudal. Al Gore is a problem, but Al Gore did not start GW.
A third problem: Most people think that we are generating rhetoric to get our way on something. Teaching the facts doesn’t help because it isn’t a facts gap. Teach the process. K-12 education and college education for non-science majors should be laboratory rather than textbook science. Science from a textbook comes across as doctrine. Emphasize that scientists do not vote on the truth because only Nature has a vote. Tyndall’s 1859 experiment should be demonstrated as often as possible and done by the student whenever posible.
Comment by Edward Greisch — 23 Dec 2011 @ 10:56 AM
Ron Manley links to a very professional-looking site I’ve never heard of before.
The first page promises
“We provide a model to quantify the effects of climate change. With the model you can:
… Analyse changes to river flow, runoff, soil moisture, groundwater recharge, snow melt, frost days and irrigation demand
Simulate the impacts anywhere in the world
Output the results in a range of graphic formats ….”
Sounds like they’re far ahead of anyone else, nobody else claims such omniscience
“We provide a comprehensive search to examine the current and archived information from over 80 climate blogs including the popular blogs wattsupwiththat.com, climateaudit.org and realclimate.org….”
Looks like he’s in the business of providing … something.
Anyone know more about this “Climatedata.info” website?
Be careful. I didn’t go past clicking on the disclaimer, which pops up a clickwrap license that claims you agreed by reading their page that much of what’s provided is their intellectual property.
Looks like a slick tool for generating convincing graphs and charts to me.
There’s a real story there somewhere, but the sites reposting the same old story year after year as though it’s news aren’t helping much.
Supposedly something new is coming out. It may be a change activity in shallow water or surface sediment organisms producing more methane, rather than increased melting in deep sediments — isotope ratios ought to help clarify that.
It might look like the same story but it’s definitely a new chapter.
I did look at the Real Climate AGU 2011: Day 5 and wrap-up and was surprised Semliatof wasn’t mentioned – I now see the discussion was in comments after I had looked.
There you said
wili, you’re looking at the orange dots on the Barrow Alaska methane chart, right? Those are preliminary and very often far higher than the corrected data. Check again later; look at the monthly and daily charts. The outlier values don’t generally hold up and there’s no “big jump” or trend there yet.
Yes the concern is real. No, the data aren’t there yet to support this.
To me that implies a dangerous conservatism.
The provisional data that are in the Barrow record do support methane emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Obviously it’s a matter of judgement how much. If you have a hard an fast rule to judge what “support” means that’s up to you. Don’t expect everybody else to fall in line with your meaning. Especially someone who is a fan of Paul Feyerabend. Have you read Against Method?
I hope you are right about the outliers being reigned in. But this feedback is just one the conservative scientists don’t seem to cope with.
There are feedbacks that are hard to model and measure. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them.
#42 Hank Roberts
“No clue on the first page who’s funding this rather impressive effort.”
No one funded it. I’m a freelance and work on the web site when I’m ‘resting’. One of my main areas of work, and the area where I have published peer reviewed papers is hydrological modelling; hence the climate impact model which I’ve tested now in several countries and am just waiting to get time to write the User Manual.
“Good to wonder about someone who equates Climatology with Eugenics” (Thank you Jim for your comment.)
I actually chose the examples carefully. Phrenology because some sceptics think that climate science is at the same level. Eugenics because it could be argued (note carefully, I do not so argue) that it failed for political reasons not scientific; if you can breed pigeons (an example used by Darwin) and beef cattle, why not breed humans? Combating climate change could also ‘fail’ for political reasons; why, in a global economic crisis, should we spend money to help out as yet unborn descendents?
[Response: Because we have an ethical imperative to do so. That you apparently lack this should concern you, but should also be a signal to others that they are unlikely to find any common ground with you on any policy issue whatsoever. – gavin]
Gavin’s response to my #44
Gavin, I feel you may have misunderstood my point. I was arguing that whilst in the case of planetary orbits science won in the end, there could be circumstances where sound science was defeated by political considerations. I made it clear, by including the phrase “note carefully, that I do not so argue” that I disassociated myself from the sort of political arguments which could still ‘win’.
[Response: (previous inline removed since I wasn’t paying enough attention to the thread – apologies) – gavin]
Geoff, watch the sites for a few years. Each year a few orange dots far outside the rest of the data show up as provisional; each year those disappear when the provisional data have been checked. It’s routine.
These comments about elites are very disturbing. Conservatives appear to me to believe more in elites than the rest of us – those with power and wealth. They appear to want to be left alone to take and not give back. When they don’t like reality, they label the communicators of that reality, in this case scientists, as dangerous and use a variety of dishonest arguments to defeat them.
Unfortunately, the world we live in is an objective and independent of us in many ways. Scientists have developed a variety of means to describe and understand and are very careful to limit themselves to things they can make relatively clear so their work can be reproduced and matches objective facts. Over time, they have accumulated layers of knowledge which provide, for example, the computers we are using, the vehicles we drive, the plumbing we use, modern medical procedures, and things like that. It appears that when they say our continuous expansion and exploitation is beginning to exhaust our resources and poison our environment, and point out that the recent consequences anyone without blinders can see all over the planet are only to be expected and will get worse, conservatives get busy vilifying them.
The political right does appear to be averse to regulating anything that might endanger the rich and powerful, at the expense of the victims of their exploitative attitude. Our financial system has no limits on usury, for example, since the Reagan era when there was a maximum of 16% imposed on creditors. The “out of control” elites to me are the ones who regard their profits as sacrosanct and not subject to limitations that are beneficial to all of us, not just the few, and over time, not just in the short term.
At this point, the looming pollution of all types is accelerating and the evidence is mounting, so the attacks on the messengers are also gaining in skill and volume.
new subject: the Democratic political organizers have also abandoned environmental issues. This business of letting polls determine our morality is all too insidious.
Fourier analysis can not be used for extrapolation since it presumes that at the end of the time series, the function returns to it’s initial state at the start of the time series.
Hence a simple line with a positive slope will always be shown by extrapolation of the Fourier series to have a negative slope as the function declines to it’s initial value.
For extrapolation Empirical mode decomposition provides a much more reasonable way to proceed since it doesn’t presume that the base data set is itself periodic.
“If an approach involving natural cycles is to be abandoned, the reason should be that it is proven to be useless and not because it is not directly based on our physical science.” – 14
Comment by vendicar decarian — 23 Dec 2011 @ 5:48 PM
There are various kinds of elites: besides wealth, people can excel in knowledge, charisma, beauty, breeding, political power, even perceived piety. In fact, a lot of political scientists don’t treat the super wealthy as constituting an elite. They treat oligarchs as belonging to their own category because a group that dominates solely because of its economic power doesn’t operate like the other groups. Which makes sense in the current situation. Conservatives find it perfectly natural to be anti-elitist at the same time that they lionize the very wealthy. Money is a very populist variety of distinction. It requires no particular feat of imagination to identify with a billionaire, and Americans have always done so. Scientists, on the other hand, are a rather alien lot because you really do have to be a bit of rocket scientist yourself to understand what’s up with the rocket scientists. Meanwhile, everybody is one lottery ticket away from riches.
These thoughts would be off topic except that reactionary populism is a frequent component of climate denialism. “Where do these guys get off telling me that?”
Is Ron Manley’s website (@42/49) a new form on the web? I have productively visited some of its pages in the past but would question its motives after my visit there today. Of the three pages I have just sampled, all rang alarm bells, two of them very loud alarm bells. This site gives the appearance of provide background understanding of climate change (and it does in some areas) but it is actually promoting climate apathy with a strong seasoning of out-and-out skepticism.
In age when everyone concerned with climate is either classed (or classes themselves) as ‘sceptic‘ or ‘warmist’ it may be difficult to believe, but Pat and I had no hidden agenda when we set up the web site. My main, but not only, field of professional activity is hydrological modelling. These days this invariably means taking account of climate change projections. The web site was designed to demonstrate my skills in this area.
I fully accept that some of the data I present, and the conclusions I draw from it, sit uncomfortably with some claims of climate change. However I could only be described a sceptic if I had falsified the data (and I present details of the source so you can check it if you want) and my conclusions were at variance with the data (which might happen – I am by nature a contrarian).
If I had a sceptic agenda why would I present clear evidence of warming at 8 at 12 km altitude (http://www.climatedata.info/Forcing/Forcing/radiosonde.html) or why I would I be as harsh on Plimer as on some of the figures in Archer & Rahmstorf. I talk about tree rings and Bristlecone pines without mention of the controversy and I mention that growth patterns in Southern Hemisphere trees do appear to follow temperature trends; would a ‘real sceptic’ do that?
As we say on the FAQ we are open to comments on our choice of data and our interpretation of it.
The excellent article in Physics Today is packed with good points. It is of course impossible to find perfect historical analogies and this is no exception. For example, I agree with the author’s reservation:
The current theory of global climate change is hardly elegant or scientifically revolutionary, and in that respect it seems like no bedfellow to the others.
which implies the creation, rather than a shift of a paradigm. Also the apparent lack of elegance is a product of the subject which is complicated and messy and has its counterparts in other areas of non-fundamental science.
Applied science needs sound basic foundations, and there was no space for them in the article or in the time line. Many of the foundations were being developed during (or close to) Tyndall’s lifetime; e.g. spectroscopy, thermodymamics,fluid mechanics and the theory of thermal radiation. These are very firm foundations and non-physicists may not be well informed about them. It is not obvious that they have counterparts in the heliocentric vs geocentric controversy.
Another difference between the two examples is that climate change involves an effectively irreversible phenomenon. If we wait for another century things will not just ‘go around’ once more.
We have always had it within us to do what must be done. We just do not always choose to do it. The desire for power and greed does not only rest with the rich and powerful. Maybe we can determine the path to save us all. Then again, maybe not.
re: #4 Steve
“The history behind the APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate is a bit more complicated than one might imagine.”
Yes, but it is EVEN MORE complicated.
Almost any science-related group can have a small fraction of people who strongly reject the science of AGW, for various reasons.
Starting in 2009, there was a concerted effort on the part of various people to change the position statements of various societies, usually by petitions, votes by small subgroups or publicity campaigns created while the overall organization wasn’t watching carefully enough. Large groups can be vulnerable to such tactics. All it takes is small group of people with intense beliefs, especially if inside a larger group not focused on the specific topic.
Generally, these have taken the following forms;
1) Small subgroup, maybe even single person, drives views for a local chapter or committee. Examples:
1a) Laurence Gould of University of Hartford became co-editor of the APS New England Section (APS-NES) ~2005, see this, but by 2007 see his editorial, pp.4-9.
For more history, see pp.95-96 of PDF @ Another Silly Climate Petition Exposed. Gould helped Monckton with the 2008 APS FPS issue, and went on to become one of the 6 organizers of the 2009 APS Petition and a speaker/expert for Heartland. Gould continues, see pp.10-14 of the Fall 2011 APS-SNES newsletter. Gordon Fulks (Oregon, I think) writes letter whacking Andy Dessler:
“Moreover, Dessler anoints himself as some sort of heavenly “messenger” warning the rest of us of “unchecked climate change.” That’s a bit melodramatic for a scientist who completely ignores the logic and evidence that sets science apart from another human pastime: telling tall tales.”
Then there’s a letter from Roger Cohen (Durango, CO, I think), a retired ExxonMobil guy, saying for starters:
“[The following letter pertains to the October 2011 issue of Physics Today]
The two latest global warming articles (Physics Today 64, 10 (2011)) continue the consistently
one-sided advocacy drumbeat that has characterized AIP publications and posture….” He also denigrates the Somerville/Hassol article. Cohen is another organizer of the 2009 APS Petition. Then Gould comments:
“It is most regrettable that Administrators of the AIP have continued to accede to the AGW
alarmist claim, through, e.g., one of its member organizations (APS). This behavior has directly
resulted in the resignations from the APS of two sterling physicists: Ivar Giaever (September
2011) and Hal Lewis (October 2010) …”
Such material is typical of the APS-NEWS newsletter over last few years.
1b) IOP(UK) in 2010, see Physics World or later Stoat. In this case, IOP snuffed out the silly subgroup, albeit in quiet British fashion.
1c) The Ohio chapter of the AIPG (American Institute of Professional Geologists, mostly petroleum and mining geologists) decided it did not like Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade (that’s OK, that was certainly arguable), but then claimed to reject it for entirely scientific reasons, p.3. Not all their members agreed with this, but they did a position statement, published in the national magazine, here, pp.14-15. (Slow download, be patient.)
They asserted credibility as scientists … but people might read that statement and see how many citations and references come from Heartland newsletter, OISM, Fred Singer, etc. The OH president Matthew Justice got an award (p.13) for bringing relevant professional geologic judgment to national policy deliberations. OK, if they want to base their professional credibility on Heartland, that is their choice.
A sensible commentary was given by Andrew “Drew” Diefendorf on pp.19-20 and the Exec. Director asked for civility on p.27. Wikipedia says “In March 2010, AIPG’s Executive Director issued a statement regarding polarization of opinions on climate change within the membership and announced that the AIPG Executive had made a decision to cease publication of articles and opinion pieces concerning climate change in AIPG’s news journal, The Professional Geologist. The Executive Director noted that “the question of anthropogenicity of climate change is contentious.””
Opinion: it would have been perfectly plausible for AIPG to say, upfront “we have no relevant expertise,” although better would have been “We do not have the expertise, so we defer to our colleagues at AGU and GSA.” But instead, OH-AIPG collected Heartland info and sent it to elected officials, claiming expertise. The AIPG tagline is “Competence, integrity, ethics…”.
1d) Big meetings of societies that have relatively minimal involvement with climate issues and relatively little effective review of sessions can be vulnerable to determined efforts to get speakers who would be laughed out of an AGU meeting. For example, Ed Wegman and Yasmin Said generated some amazing talks for the 2010 Joint Statistical Meeting.
1e) Of course, even better is to have your own conference. See Appendix A.6.4 in Strange Scholarship, in which Wegman’s Interface 2010 (statistics) had talks by Fred Singer, Jeff Kueter (President of George Marshall Institute), and Don Easterbrook (of imminent global cooling fame).
2) Attempts to weaken or prevent statements on climate change by societies.
2a) American Chemical Society (ACS) has seen petition attempts, run by Peter Bonk (with Heartland even having a booth at 2009 ACS meeting), and like 1d) generating “interesting” sessions for ACS meetings. Fortunately, Ruby Baum is pretty savvy and keeps an eye on these things, documenting Bonk’s weird session at last ACS, like 1d above.)
2b) Geological Society of America (GSA): In 2009, Bill Ruddiman was driving an update to strengthen the GSA position, which did happen in April 2010. Bill had assembled a blue -chip panel, who together had at least 1,000 peer-reviewed publications, many relevant. Fred Singer and others tried to derail this, which didn’t work, although it took ~4-6 months from when they were done until the position was finally approved, hinting at internal resistance from somebody. When a society actually has a useful number of knowledgeable people, it is much harder to play games.
2c) The noisiest effort was APS, documented in detail in Another Silly…. This got ~200 signers, or less than 0.5% of the 47,000 APS members, with demographics heavily skewed older, likely skewed male and with conservative political views. Rather than a grassroots effort, this was clearly driven by the social network around the 6 organizers:
Robert Austin (Princeton biophysicist, NAS member)
Roger Cohen (ExxonMobil, retired)
Laurence Gould (University of Hartford)
Will Happer (Chairman George Marshall Institute, also Princeton atomic physics, also NAS)
Hal Lewis (emeritus nuclear physicist, since has resigned from APS)
Fred Singer (SEPP, which ~= Singer), who was an APS member in 2009, although apparently not right now, and I don’t know if he was a member just before this petition thing got going.
That leads to APS GPC:
The petition bounced off the generally-sensible APS executive, despite all sorts of letters by the organizers, including hassling the incoming 2010 President Curtis Callan. Having failed to reset the position, then they pushed very hard to set up a topical group, which in fact got enough signatures to do so. (Of course, other APS members who think GPC might be a good idea supported this. I did.)
See Topical Group on the Physics of Climate. It is currently in the hands of an 8-person organizing committee, of whom *2* members are Robert Austin and Roger Cohen…
Having recorded the list of APS signers (less than 0.5% of APS), I have been able check their APS Directory entries and have found that about 50% of the signers (90+) have joined GPC … despite the fact that very few have any obvious professional involvement with climate research. I’ve done some sampling, and the other 99% of APS is not signing up at anything like a 50% rate. Certainly, Austin/Cohen would have their emails and keep them informed and presumably they will vote. We all look forward to hearing who the candidates will be.
The Debunking Handbook has definitely changed the way I will write comments for dotearth from now on. The last 2 are strategic rather than tactical. Our campaign will change the Economic Paradigm, or climate change will change the Economic Paradigm. That is what makes the latter 2 relevant here.
Well, actually, the other way to achieve a GW avoiding economic change is to change the economic paradigm first. We knew that.
Comment by Edward Greisch — 27 Dec 2011 @ 12:05 AM
Hank Roberts #61 and Radge Havers #62
“How do those forcings [Milankovitch and El Nino] weigh against what’s known from CO2?” The answer of course is that they don’t appear to but it is possible that when we understand them better we’ll have a better understanding of the feedback mechanisms in which CO2 plays a role.
After all, the site is not about ‘climate change’ and promoting a particular perception of it, it is about ‘climate data’ and the Milankovitch page is one of our most popular. There has recently been a some discussion in the Blogosphere on the way the perturbations in temperature due to El Nino/ La Nina might have masked underlying temperature trends; we have recently added a page on El Nino and precipitation (http://www.climatedata.info/Discussions/Discussions/opinions.php) which show a strong link between them. A lot of the stuff on the site is there simply because it is interesting; the reversing polarity of the sun spot cycles, in all probability, has no influence on climate, but the diagrams are pretty. (http://www.climatedata.info/Forcing/Forcing/sunspots.html) The site is something of a voyage of discovery for us and, we hope, visitors.
I appreciate that this discussion is ‘off topic’ and I’m grateful to the moderators for giving me a chance to respond to comments on our site. I repeat my request to tell us of specific areas where you think there is a disconnect between our data and our words about it. For this purpose I have set up a discussion thread on our web site which can be accessed via the above link.
Ron Manley @59 & @66
You say these days everyone is either sceptic or warmist and go on to say that you are no sceptic (because you do not falsifying data, although you do come to some contrarian conclusions).
Your website however is strongly sceptical. Whether its ‘climate data’ or ‘climate change,’ its still sceptical. If the views expressed there reflect your own, then you are indeed a sceptic. Giving primacy to WUWT in your climate blog search function, using PIPS to underplay the loss of Arctic sea ice, presenting graphs & text on snow cover that a sceptical propagandist would be proud if. Those were the three pages I visited earlier that rang alarm bells. Elsewhere I note that your only concern with burning fossil fuel is in not running out of the stuff. In my book, that’s a bit of a clincher.
You may deny being a sceptic but I see scepticism as being in denial about a whole lot of stuff, so denying being a sceptic would not come as that much of a surprise.
[Response: Skepticism is a noble tradition that forms the backbone of all scientific progress, if you are not discussing true skepticism (see Bertrand Russell for instance), try to use a different word. – gavin]
MARodger, I suggest “obscurantist” — user of smoke and mirrors.
There’s an award in the category; climate nitwittery won last year:
“The Stockholm Initiative lobby group
receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award, as it
‘… mainly works to deny the state of scientific knowledge in climate science, promote home-made and often contradictory theories about how climate ‘actually’ works, disseminate conspiracy theories and relay unsubstantiated rumours and unfounded accusations against climate scientists.'”
Response: Skepticism is a noble tradition that forms the backbone of all scientific progress, if you are not discussing true skepticism (see Bertrand Russell for instance), try to use a different word. – gavin]
You know, I don’t think this is a particularly good example. Or that philosophical skepticism in general is what scientific skepticism is. The philosophical version basically says we can know NOTHING; not just the truth of a scientific theory, but whether you exist or the computer I am looking at exists. Without taking a long philosophical detour, I’ll just say that it is not clear that this is a coherent position.
If I were to say what scientific skepticism was, I’d say its more like the “I’m from Missouri–you’ll have to show me” attitude.
[Response: Read the link. Russell is specifically making the distinction between practical/scientific skepticism and the more Pyrrhic kind of philosophical tradition – gavin]
Hank Roberts @69/70
Yes I was aware of using the ‘s’ word quite frequently although I was but complying with the sceptic/warmist dicotomy defined by Ron Manley.
Obscurant I know but the word ‘obscurantist’ is a new one on me. Obscurantism “the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known“. I like it. All that is missing is the verb – obscurantise?
Verb: Keep from being seen; conceal.
darken – dim – hide – conceal – cloud – overshadow
See Elisa K. Ong and Stanton A. Glantz, Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms. American Journal of Public Health: November 2001, Vol. 91, No. 11, pp. 1749-1757.
“Vetenskap och Folkbildning, the Swedish Skeptics …. is a Swedish non-profit organization set out to promote popular education about the methods of science and its results….. VoF uses the following definition:
‘Science is the systematic search for such knowledge that is independent from any single individual, but that anyone could rediscover or verify. Pseudoscience is statements not based in science but presented in such a way that gives them the impression of being so.'”
People may recall that various people have pointed out the odd role of the tobacco industry in fostering the machinery of ignorance and anti-science in the US, inherited by those who promote climate anti-science. Oreskes & Conway, in Merchants of Doubt, went into the odd ties, but actually, it turns out that more is available by diligent searching of the tobacco archives. Most of the thinktanks that push climate anti-science have long history of taking tobacco money.
Hank R. @74
I’m not at all happy with ‘obscure’ as a verb to charictarise the actions of “them”. An obscurant obscures. An obscurantist would then surely practise something more narrow than ‘obscuring’.
In UK we object to folk splitting infinitives or breaking other silly grammatical rules. In the US things are more flexible. What do they say in the US? “You can verb any noun.” So let’s verb ‘obscurantist’ = ‘obscurantise’ or ‘obscurantize’.
A fairly direct translation of the Swedish prize could be “Misleader of the year.” I’m not a native speaker, but I guess that this nouning of the verb “to mislead” is about as natural in Swedish as it is in English. It is awarded to those who have “contributed to creating confusion and lack of clarity over the methods and results of science” (my translation). “Obscurantist” looks like a good English title, and the “Stockholm Initiative” looks like a most worthy recipient…
BTW (and with a smidgen of relevance to the Santa Fe thread), Nils-Axel Mörner was awarded the same anti-prize in 1995. Not for denying sea-level rise, but for his university courses on dowsing.
Science is neither conservative nor liberal, but science is pro freedom.
Which science do you mean Edward?
* Science as practised by physicists at CERN
* Science as published by medical trials
* Science as described by Braithwaite, Carnap, Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend etc.
* Science as it comes out of the IPCC
* Science as practised by Dr Mengele
Remember the conservative/liberal brains are different. See Wikipedia:
According to studies relative hypertrophy of the portion of the brain that processes fear and identifies threats (the amygdala) is correlated with right political orientation/conservatism, whereas having a relatively larger part of the brain that processes conflicting and contradictory information is correlated with left political orientation/liberalism.
These differences show up on brain scans. Would it be an interesting scientific experiment to see the brain scans of our leading scientists? Seems to me that processing “conflicting and contradictory” information is important to science.
Following this up I found a comment of yours on Semiletov vs. Dmitrenko which gave me more reason to panic and more reason to believe (perhaps ‘feel’ is more accurate?) that the there is a conservatism around that can’t cope with the reports from Smeliatov and Schakhova.
I liked the slogan the blog author reported
I AM A BOMB TECHNICIAN,
IF YOU SEE ME RUNNING,
TRY AND KEEP UP
[Response: Read the link. Russell is specifically making the distinction between practical/scientific skepticism and the more Pyrrhic kind of philosophical tradition – gavin]
He is not making in fact making that distinction: he is saying that he will in practice ignore the kind of skepticism he accepts (and is commited to) in theory. To be forced to ignore a chain of reasoning you admit to be valid is, unfortunately, the fate of empiricists like Russell. And saying that though a truth cannot be certain, it can be very probable, is arguably incoherent. Like saying you can get closer to a place that is infinitely far away. It also muddles the distinction between statements about which we ARE certain and statements which really are just very likely. It is certain that the world is round and orbits the sun; that AGW will cause X effect is only “very likely”.
Again, this is perhaps just nit-picky;but I don’t think discussions of scientific certainty gain much from discussions of the philosophical version.
> very high provisional figures … removed. (Was there a better way
> than eyeballing these graphs?)
Age and experience helps. At the website they caution against using preliminary uncorrected information; believe them. Corrections happen with most any data collection. Raw data is available as people demand it–but people do fool themselves with pictures. Crap and noise have to be removed from raw data, carefully testing each step. It’s routine, complex work.
Another example of backing away from methane overhype:
#87–I’m not sure that S & S are “backing away” from anything. Here’s a bit that I wish Revkin had highlighted (though he does quote it):
Last spring, we extracted a 53-meter long core sample from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, to validate our conclusions about the current state of subsea permafrost. We found that the temperatures of the sediments were from 1.2 to 0.6 degrees below zero, Celsius, yet they were completely thawed. The model in the Dmitrenko paper assumed a thaw point of zero degrees. Our observations show that the cornerstone assumption taken in their modeling was wrong. The rate at which the subsea permafrost is currently degrading largely depends on what state it was in when recent climate change appeared. It makes sense that modeling on an incorrect assumption about thaw point could create inaccurate results.
Given that Dmitrenko was Revkin’s basis for “all’s well on the methane front” piece, you’d think he might have acknowledged this new uncertainty.
Scientifically, I’d love to hear more about this–I think.
Excessive greed and the desire for power appear to me to be basic human traits. But the ability of these traits to cause damage to human culture is directly proportional to the wealthy and political/economic power of those so afflicted. Peasants and servants did not denounce Copernicus. He was denounced by the clergy, the veracity of whose dogma (and therefore claim of control of the path to an afterlife), and as a result the accrual of enormous economic power, was threatened by heliocentrism. Likewise, the strongest attacks on anthropogenic global climate change have come from the dirty carbon industry, and all the ancillary industries that have based their technology on carbon fuels. These are some of the wealthiest corporations that have ever existed, with mammoth investments in infrastructure. To make it worse, money is now “speech” and corporations are now “people.” The question is, can the strength of a strong scientific consensus and the empowerment of the average person by democratic forms of government defeat public ignorance and political corruption in time to save the planet?
And a really depressing question: have things really changed that much since the mid-sixteenth century? It took the Catholic Church until 1835 to finally officially drop their censorship of Copernicus’ final book.
Stay tuned to the next episode of RealClimate to find out (about the science, at least)!
Could it be that our reliance on fossil fuels has similarly limited innovation in energy development? Might it have made us lazy by providing an easy and reliable path forward? Could it be that far from bringing prosperity to an end, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels could usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity?
Answer to first question, No. That’s my answer anyway. or at least “not necessarily”. Alternatives have been explored for the entire 20th century, and the current solar technology is the result of decades of R&D. What differs most now is the relative inexpensiveness of current manufactured products.
Answer to second question, No, or at least not necessarily. Again, that’s just me. It wasn’t laziness, but direction of effort in more profitable directions.
Answer to third question, Yes, sort of. Fossil fuels have gotten more expensive and difficult to extract, and there is no good reason to think that the trends will end; everything points to higher demand and more difficult and expensive extraction. As innovative markets usually do in such a case, innovators are finding alternatives that will, eventually, supply replacement energy at lower cost. PV, wind and biofuels could expand rapidly enough that the net costs of electricity and fuel will not permanently increase above what they are now.
To me, the most relevant policy debate is whether the development of alternatives needs to be speeded up in order to prevent global warming; the developments that Secular Animist and I regularly post about are ongoing and will almost certainly persist for decades.
PV, wind and biofuels could expand rapidly enough that the net costs of electricity and fuel will not permanently increase above what they are now.
Baloney – even with the “could” modifier. With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population, the costs of electricity and motor fuel will ever increase, there is no chance the alternatives can even take up the slack as fossil fuel supplies level off and decline. Nearly 100% of your food depends on fossil fuel fertilizers to grow in the quantities needed today, even with a large portion of the world population malnourished because they can’t afford the petro-fertilizers. Nearly 100% of the transportation to market of your food and consumer goods depends on fossil fuels, there isn’t enough arable land available to produce biofuels to replace that unless you take over land currently used for food production, as the situation today with corn crops in the US.
What “cheap” fossil fuels have done is not made humanity “lazy”, but allowed the population to increase beyond the carrying capacity of the planet – and of any possible energy supply.
95, Hank Roberts: Why do you think it’s possible to prevent global warming?
That seems like the policy debate about pi or evolution, doesn’t it?
It’s possible that human created CO2 is causing global warming, and it’s possible that reducing CO2 sufficiently might prevent global warming from continuing in the future. Some modifier like “too much” future global warming should be in my sentence. If it is not possible to prevent “too much future global warming” then the public policy debate is ended. If it is not possible to prevent too much global warming then James Hansen gets arrested for nothing.
I don’t believe it’s certain or even very likely that future global warming can be reduced or averted by dramatic reductions in anthropogenic CO2, only that it is possible. By posing your question, are you asserting that it is not possible?
94, flxible: there isn’t enough arable land available to produce biofuels to replace that
Hence the interest in breeding algae with higher oil production; interest in breeding salt-tolerant varieties of soybeans, camelina and miscanthus; and interest in catalyzed creation of H2 and syngas powered by electricity and by sunlight directly. 100 years ago people mocked automobiles stuck in mud and objected to federal investment in air mail. The only things we know for certain about future fuel supplies are (a) we can’t violate the laws of thermodynamics and (b) anything that we do not work on will not be developed. The word “lazy” was introduced in the prior comment by Ray Ladbury, not by me. Your answer to his question was considerably more pessimistic than my answer to his question, for what it’s worth.
Baloney – even with the “could” modifier. With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population, the costs of electricity and motor fuel will ever increase, there is no chance the alternatives can even take up the slack as fossil fuel supplies level off and decline.
Two decades of consistent R&D in cane ethanol in Brazil reduced the cost of ethanol to less than the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, on an energy-equivalent basis. It is possible that increased development of biofuels generally can reduce the increased fuel costs that would result from increased demand and increased extraction costs of petroleum.
Comment by Septic Matthew — 31 Dec 2011 @ 12:36 PM
1. religious doctrine (such as what Galileo had to face when embracing Copernicanism)
2. the effort required to alter a well-established routine (such as the need for most people to exercise, eat right, and lose weight)
and 3. the lost revenues that certain industries would face (such as the logn-argued point that smoking causes cancer by the tobacco industry once upon a time, and the present issue of climate change being argued by industries connected to fossil fuels.
The best chance for successful change will come with improved education of the population at large, and the provision of means to make the required change as easy as possible. Only then will we manage to overcome the hurdles we presently face.
#94–I take your larger point, that growth (of various sorts) has to be seriously considered, rather than assumed to be desirable.
However, this bit–“With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population”–seems counterfactual, according to most demographers. To them, it appears that we have (other things being equal) about 30 more years of (decelerating) global population growth until we reach a peak of around 9 billion or so.
Of course, many here suspect that there will be numerous ‘other things’ which do NOT remain equal, and which will cause the peak population to be lower than that–and to decline from peak more steeply than one would desire.
Bradley J.Dibble @99
I do agree that the population at large are the most important part of ‘overcoming the hurdles we presently face’ (there being no easy technoligical fix available in time). And getting folk properly on side is not at all easy & some of the required change will not be painless (which is why they need to be on-side to making the required changes easier, more desirable, a ‘must-do’ activity.)
This makes the analogy with Galileo less pertanent. In Galileo’s day, the population that mattered were the clergy & nobles. Getting the majority of them to agree in a timely fashion wasn’t an issue for Galileo. Indeed Galileo did actually “abjure, curse & detest” his heliocentric theory (okay, under pain of death) and there is no evidence to supports the myth of his muttering protests. The upshot was, his heliocentricity went silent.
I have been meeting the resistance within the population for the best part of two decades. The only death threats I can remember were from me (e.g. airliners should have health warnings “Flying this areoplane is gonna kill people”) so I remain far from silent.
My own opinion of why the resistance to accepting AGW is so long-lived yields a number of ideas.
(i) The initial position of folk when first confronted with Global Warming is sceptical.
(ii) Politicians and the media are still collectively too sceptical (& popularity-seeking) to act robustly. (I see in (i) & (ii) a real feedback loop that will cause climate change as strongly as any climatological feedback loop.)
(iii) Words like ‘very certain’ are a kiss of death to an unwelcome scientific argument.
(iv) Opinion-formers can (and do) use single emeritus porfessors of climatology (who must be better informed than they ever could be) to justify a continued skeptical viewpoint.
(v) The unprecidented level of disaster that world civilisation faces is not yet evident & probably won’t be until it is too late.
vi) The survivors write the history. Every “unprecedented disaster” in the past — regardless of what was lost — came ’round to us, here, now. Few mourn what was gone before they were born — shifting baselines.
Just a comment on 20/21 (Jay Mulberry). What evidence is there that most Australians don’t believe in evolution? This is an incredibly general statement and one that, as an Australian, I would consider to be untrue. The great majority of Australians certainly seem to accept evolution and it is never challenged in the media or by politicians as we repeatedly see in the US.
Planetary orbits are directly observable at the level of human scale. Climate change occurs over vast time periods. Orbital models could be questioned, tested and discarded at will…that is, when it finally became acceptable to question and test. Conclusions regarding climate change are largely the result of modeling and are not testable in the same way. Many AGW deniers hang their hats on the idea that models are really “only theories” (like evolution?) and are, therefore, essentially useless. When the science is too far removed from the understanding of the common man then it’s really no better than magic.
It is probably apposite, given Sherwood’s comparison of Copernicus with Arrhenius and the fact that Mr Monckton is trying to observe (with incorrect orders of magnitude) a site-viewing landmark over at Watts Wrong With That, to suggest that WWWT is to Arrhenius what the Association for Biblical Astronomy is to Copernicus.
As an aside, it would be very interesting to figure out what overlap there is between the 20% of adult USAdians that thinks that the sun revolves around the Earth, and those that believe that thousands of professional physicists and climatologists are incompetent and/or engaging in a conspiracy to defraud the lay populace.