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Global Warming Delusions at the Wall Street Journal

Filed under: — david @ 18 October 2007

Daniel Botkin, emeritus professor of ecology at UC Santa Barbara, argues in the Wall Street Journal (Oct 17, page A19) that global warming will not have much impact on life on Earth. We’ll summarize some of his points and then take our turn:

Botkin: The warm climates in the past 2.5 million years did not lead to extinctions.

Response: For the past 2.5 million years the climate has oscillated between interglacials which were (at most) a little warmer than today and glacials which were considerably colder than today. There is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast. The ecosystem has had 2.5 million years to adapt to glacial-interglacial swings, but we are asking it to adapt to a completely new climate in just a few centuries. The past is not a very good analog for the future in this case. And anyway, the human species can suffer quite a bit before we start talking extinction.

Botkin: Tropical diseases are affected by other things besides temperature

Response: I’m personally more worried about dust bowls than malaria in the temperate latitudes. Droughts don’t lead to too many extinctions either, but they can destroy civilizations. It is true that tropical diseases are affected by many things besides temperature, but temperature is important, and the coming warming is certainly not going to make the fight against malaria any easier.

Botkin: Kilimanjaro again.

Response: Been there, done that. The article Botkin cites is from American Scientist, an unreviewed pop science magazine, and it is mainly a rehash of old arguments that have been discussed and disposed of elsewhere. And anyway, the issue is a red-herring. Even if it turned out that for some bizarre reason the Kilimanjaro glacier, which is thousands of years old, picked just this moment to melt purely by coincidence, it would not in any way affect the validity of our prediction of future warming. Glaciers are melting around the world, confirming the general warming trends that we measure. There are also many other confirmations of the physics behind the predictions. It’s a case of attacking the science by attacking an icon, rather than taking on the underlying scientific arguments directly.

Botkin: The medieval optimum was a good time

Response: Maybe it was, if you’re interested in Europe and don’t mind the droughts in the American Southwest. But the business-as-usual forecast for 2100 is an entirely different beast than the medieval climate. The Earth is already probably warmer than it was in medieval times. Beware the bait and switch!

Botkin argues for clear-thinking rationality in the discussion about anthropogenic climate change, against twisting the truth, as it were. We couldn’t agree more. Doctor, heal thyself.

For years the Wall Street Journal has been lying to you about the existence of global warming. It doesn’t exist, it’s a conspiracy, the satellites show it’s just urban heat islands, it’s not CO2, it’s all the sun, it’s water vapor, and on and on. Now that those arguments are losing traction, they have moved on from denying global warming’s existence to soothing you with reassurances that it ain’t gonna be such a bad thing.

Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me–you can’t get fooled again.

-George W. Bush


453 Responses to “Global Warming Delusions at the Wall Street Journal”

  1. 251
    Rod B says:

    Dave (227, 209, et al) Here’s why

    1) They are a climate scientist.

    Pretty good but not perfect criteria. It would be credible for scientists from many other fields that play into climate to offer skepticism (within their realm).

    2) They still regularly publish in genuinely peer reviewed journals (that is, that are reviewed by other climate scientists).

    It’s not obvious while they have to still be publishing regularly.

    3) They do not issue press releases regarding their peer reviewed papers that state that their papers “prove” things that the papers don’t even discuss.

    I guess this makes sense — for anyone.

    4) They understand that science is about making one’s theory fit the evidence, not the other way round, and therefore do not resort to using cherry-picked data in order to further their policy objectives (see also here).

    This is a classic slippery criteria that depends only on the perception of the receipient. So if a guy says this or that skepticism, you can just holler “cherry picking” and wipe him off.

    5) They do not resort to making statements in public debates and in press articles that sound good to uninformed members of the public but which they which they must know to be untrue.

    The clincher: If the guy or gal makes public statements with which you do not concur, which must make them untrue, give him/her the hook. Again it’s a subjective criteria based entirely on the perception and belief of the referee.

    In 227 you boiled it down to only “a credible climate scientist”. Drop off the “climate” part (usually) and I can accept that.

  2. 252
    Earl Killian says:

    A very recent article in PNAS suggests that the Younger Dryas was caused by a comet air burst over North America (or something similar), and that this led to mass extinctions (challenging the hypothesis that humans were the cause):
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/104/41/16016
    This would then be an example of species extinction resulting from climate change (cooling instead of warming) that contradicts Botkin (though the comet event would have effects far beyond cooling–e.g. igniting immense tracts of forest in a few seconds, similar but on a larger scale than the much smaller 1908 Siberia event).

    This also seems to be in agreement with the following evaluation of the YD in the southern hemisphere:
    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/1004/4?rss=1

    [Response: Hey! I had a post all ready to go on just these two papers - now it's going to look like I'm at the commenters beck and call.... oh dear. :) - gavin]

  3. 253
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. 251, RodB:

    In 227 you boiled it down to only “a credible climate scientist”. Drop off the “climate” part (usually) and I can accept that.

    So if a physicist was a creationist (some are), would you consider that was good grounds to doubt the theory of evolution by natural selection?

  4. 254
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #240 & 250, and the concepts of skeptic, denialist, and contrarian (re climate change)….

    My sense is there are virtually no skeptics anymore regarding the basic facts of AGW (those who earnestly weigh the evidence & don’t cherry-pick), but there are lots of denialists (who know it’s happening, but it’s not in their perceived interests to admit so) and contrarians (who just don’t like to go along with the crowd, even when the crowd is right).

  5. 255
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Actually there are very good reasons why scientists should claim authority only in their area(s) of expertise–Dr. Watson’s eugenics flap being an illustration. First, scientists are busy people, and their work is usually demanding and time consuming. Keeping abreast of all fields of science–let alone every aspect of society–is just not possible.
    There are also very good reasons to demand recent publication in a relevant field–otherwise, one may not be familiar with the nuances of recent developments.
    I’ll agree that there is more to science than fitting theory to observations–the theory has to explain observations…provide insight into them. Still, it is critical to look at the agregate of evidence and not a few pieces of it.
    Finally, it is not the opinion of any one scientist that matters, but the consensus of the experts. Nonexperts do not get a vote in scientific matters.

  6. 256
    matt says:

    #185 Ray Ladbury: Mea Culpa, folks. And Matt, I specifically apologize to you for the harsh tone I took. I merely find the argument: “some experts lie, so all experts lie” a bit tiresome. Still, I should not allow myself to be goaded. The essential point is that probabilistic risk analysis works. There are challenges, but there are accepted standards for meeting these challenges.

    No need to apologize. I come here to learn, and I appreciate the debate. Mostly, I appreciate the chance to discuss this stuff with the folks actually working on it day and and day out. There are plenty of forums in which I can interact with the cheerleaders, but few places I can interact with the actual players on the field. I thank you very much for that, and I apologize if my stuff appears out of left field at times.

    Now, back to our regular programming…

    Risk analysis fails more often that you will know. In finance, it is mitigated by finace guys by placing a lot of small bets, rather than a single big bet. In engineering, it is mitigated by over-design. Bridges, for example, will have a safety factor than can in places approach 10X. In electronics that go into space, MTTF will exceed the mission requirements by a suitable safety factor backed up by real-world sampling of hundreds or thousands of components that are subjected to excessive heat, humidity, cold, vibration, etc.

    Experts are folks that are needed when a layperson isn’t sure. For example, I don’t need an expert when something will happen with less than 1% or greater than 99% certainty. It’s obvious and there for anyone to see.

    Experts are indeed useful when the probability falls between those extremes. We as a society inherently distrust experts. From doctors we seek second and third opinions. For construction issues we seek licensing that can be revoked in the event of malpractice.

    We as a society know that experts can be bought and sold all the time. When it’s time to “lawyer up” both sides find experts that make their case more convincing.

    We all wonder what to do as experts tell us interest rates will go up, then they will go down.

    Some laugh when the product of countless experts sits broken on the surface of a far-away planet due to a simple software programming error.

    And of course, we inherently doubt experts when we find out they are paid for by someone with deep pockets.

    And this really gets us back to the root argument here: Experts have such a poor track record when it comes to guessing about the not-really known. They will desperately try to convince they know more than they do. Consensus, simulations and “new studies” and eye witness anecdotes are key here, because all play so well on the evening news. But while these tools make it appear the expert knows more than he does, it doesn’t in fact change how much the expert knows. That is a subtle distinction. As Buffet said, models often give his money guys a false sense of security. How do you know you are immune from this?

  7. 257
    Rod B says:

    Nick (233), we’ve about milked all there is of this, but I can’t pass up your post. If you add “and his prepensity to use or provide for their use by people who are damn good at it” Sadam’s WMD program was exactly why we invaded them (coupled with the risk assessment of being right vs. wrong). Anyone who thinks otherwise has simply swallowed the kool-aid of revisionist wishful political history. What do you know that refutes this? As Hank would say: where are your sources? your cites? your peer reviewed papers? (Just a little friendly ribbing, Hank.)

  8. 258
    Rod B says:

    Hank (239) + Ray and Chris: Ray simply said, in a fit of temporal laxity I’m sure, that modelers and programers do not have any “wiggle room” within their models. Chris and I simply pointed out that that is ridiculous, no more.

  9. 259
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt, First, overdesign is not a failure of risk analysis, but rather a part of it. Sometimes (actually, usually) it is simply cheaper to overdesign than verify a marginal design. As to your 1% and 99% examples, sometimes 99% is not a passing score–manned space flight comes to mind. Ths space shuttle has performed at almost the theoretical limits of reliability, and yet this is not enough.
    Matt, I agree that there are SOME experts who can be bought. I agree some “experts” are incompetent. However, to go from there to saying no expert can be trusted is not only immature, it is dangerous. The problem is that YOU and many others simply don’t have enough background knowledge to decide which experts are trustworthy. Now, I realize there is no way for your to be your own expert in every field, but there are ways of handling this, and they work. Seeking a consensus of experts (e.g. second and third opinions of doctors, multiple estimates of contractors…) is one way. Ensuring the interests of the experts are aligned with the truth is another.
    Matt, true experts don’t appear on the evening news. They try like hell to avoid it. They’d rather be in the lab or with their family. They value their reputation above their fee or compensation. There are plenty of such people–indeed probably a majority of true experts. If you don’t know any, you haven’t been looking.

  10. 260
    Rod B says:

    242, et al: In the what it’s worth department, the following from Dept. of Comparative Literature, University of Montreal:

    On Mon, 26 Sep 2005, Bo-Christer Björk wrote:

    On the 26th of October 1905 the paper “Zur Electrodynamik bewegter Körper” by an unknown researcher called Albert Einstein was published by Annalen der Physik in Band 17, pp. 891-921
    (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/109924449/PDFSTART).

    This paper is of course a landmark in the history of science, but it also illustrates the big changes that the scientific publication process has gone through in a century. The paper did not go through an anonymous peer review but was read by the editor (Max Planck) who made a decision to publish it. The process was extremely fast since the manuscript was sent in the 30th of June and published three months later. It would probably have had problems in passing a current day peer review process since it contains no references, breaks with the prevailing paradigms in the field, and at the time lacked empirical evidence to back it up. What would Einstein do if he wanted to publish his results today?. He would probably have posted a copy of the manuscript to the open access repository for High Energy Physics (http://xxx.lanl.gov) and hoped that others would pick up the ideas and spread the word via viral marketing.

  11. 261

    Actually there are very good reasons why scientists should claim authority only in their area(s) of expertise

    Argument by authority is not generally considered a viable scientific method – anywhere. Not even in one’s narrow field of specialty.

  12. 262
    Rod B says:

    Dave (253) says, “….So if a physicist was a creationist (some are), would you consider that was good grounds to doubt the theory of evolution by natural selection?”

    I dunno. Maybe. But it is an extreme example that misses the point.

    Ray is not a climate scientist but I think he is none-the-less qualified to comment on AGW, e.g., because he understands radiation (emission, absorption, blackbody, power, … that stuff) which is an essential piece on how global warming does (or not) work. People like him could very well know that critical subject better than many climatologists. I submit Ray and the like are qualified to comment on global warming, maybe moreso than climate scientists. I suspect you might agree, but, it seems, because Ray happens to be one of the “good guys” who have much less stringent credentials to meet. I happen to disagree with some of Ray’s stance on AGW, even a little of his radiation stuff (with some trepidation). But I sure as hell would not disqualify him because of that, even though he does not meet your qualifications for a commentator.

  13. 263
    Rod B says:

    Don’t feel alone, Dave. Lynn is right in their with the they’re-credible-if-they-agree-with-me crtieria [;-). (I got to learn how to post those real emoticons!)

  14. 264
    Rod B says:

    You make valid points, Ray (255), but taken literally you might have just wiped out some of the greats: Newton, Maxwell (a mathematician mainly), Planck, Einstein to name just a few — all of whom bounced all over the scientific landscape.

  15. 265
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 261

    Actually there are very good reasons why scientists should claim authority only in their area(s) of expertise

    Your response: Argument by authority is not generally considered a viable scientific method – anywhere. Not even in one’s narrow field of specialty.

    ===============

    You miss the point, Thomas – there are no “authorities”, only experts. That was what he was saying.

    And one DOES listen to experts. Or would you preper getting a diagnosis for brain surgert from an ear, nose and throat man?

  16. 266

    I’m pretty sure I can distinguish the spelling and meaning of expert and authority. Who gets to decide who’s an expert and who’s not? Certainly not the ‘experts’. I certainly wouldn’t even want an expert operating on my brain. I prefer preventive maintenance and medicine. I generally make my own judgments, based on advice that I gladly accept from people, whom I myself determine to possess expertise in their particular area of knowledge, by observation.

    The second you claim you are an ‘expert’ at anything, you lose all credibility. One does not claim expertise, one demonstrates it, by example. Preferably over and over again. Even then, the experts still make mistakes. It’s the nature of the learning and scientific process. Education is a continuous never ending endeavor. One just doesn’t one day declare ‘I am an expert’. If they do, I generally refer to them as ‘emeritus’.

    Welcome to a new scientific paradigm. Better late than never.

  17. 267
    Ike Solem says:

    RE # 252 (the paper in PNAS on a possible comet/asteroid cause for megafaunal extinctions): Quote – “A carbon-rich black layer, dating to 12.9 ka (12,900 calendar years B.P.) (1), has been identified. . . . The cause of this extinction has long been debated and remains highly controversial due, in part, to the limitations of available data . . .”

    That could very well be a future scientist 12,900 years from now, examining the sedimentary layers being formed today.

    Regarding the discussion of climate models: keep in mind that there are three largely independent areas of climate science – paleoclimatology from sediments, ice cores, and so on, direct observations from satellites, weather stations, and ocean monitoring systems, and computer based climate models.

    All three indicate that the notion of abrupt global warming (i.e. decade-scale) induced by primarily by fossil fuel-sourced atmospheric CO2 increases and secondarily by global deforestation is indeed correct. The big uncertainty now is twofold: how fast and how far will this progress? The unexpectedly rapid Arctic ice melt and Arctic temperature increase is just one piece of information, but there is a lot of carbon stored in shallow Arctic ocean sediments and in the permafrost.

    Here in California, we’re having some unprecedented insect life-cycle activity. The oak caterpillars are chewing the oaks bare along the coast – this has never happened before. A dry warm fall is allowing them to keep going well past any previous record, and the drought stress is making the trees more vulnerable to this – see Global warming is killing trees in California parks, September 12, 2007. Some people think you can combat this with aerial spraying campaigns!

    All the data, all the indicators point in the same direction – and yet we’ve got the press still repeating things like “Gray, and not a few other scientists, believe the warming is a part of the natural cycle of ocean water temperatures, related to the amount of salt in ocean water, and will begin reversing soon — as in five to eight years.”

    We’ve also got things like this: “MSNBC Live hosts Mika Brzezinski and Contessa Brewer each described as a “top meteorologist” William M. Gray, who has stated that global warming “is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people.” (Media matters Oct 15 2007)

    Quote: “Definitely reminding people that apparently there is a debate on some of the issues related to global warming. So his numbers, Mika, not too far off thus far.”

    So, what’s wrong with large portions of the press? Why do they keep giving so much time to a few isolated denialists on this issue? It’s the complete absence of journalistic integrity to keep doing this, in my opinion. It’s the equivalent of running around claiming that HIV doesn’t cause AIDs, and that therefore no public health measures are needed.

  18. 268
    EricM says:

    One can agree with the basic scientific evidence, i.e, warming is occurring, and still be a skeptic (not a denier) as to the conclusions that are drawn from that evidence. One can even agree that ice is melting (a little), ocean levels are rising (a little), and localized flora and fauna will have to adapt or die, and still be skeptical that future changes will be as monstrous as predicted by computer models, or that a “crisis” exists warranting wholesale changes in lifestyle driven by heavy-handed government regulation.

    So what, exactly, is the optimal climate and/or optimal average global temperature to support the greatest global carrying capacity of plants and animals (and humans)? Isn’t the ability to adapt considered a positive genetic trait that strengthens the gene pool? Shouldn’t a valid scientific analysis evaluate potential positive impacts instead of assuming all change is bad?

    LesPorter way back at (47) has the right idea. Focus on real solutions. The last data I saw showed something like 40% of the annual US carbon budget was for electricity generation. A crash program to permit and build new Nuclear and Hydroelectric Plants, using existing proven technology, could drastically reduce our carbon output in less than ten years. Hydro in particular, would also provide increased water storage – a double bonus. Expand alternative fuels research. Subsidize solar technology for residential uses. Forget carbon sequestration.

    The scientific debates here are very interesting, but China and the rest of the developing world aren’t going to stop burning coal and oil until someone comes up with a cheaper alternative. The simple fact is that cheap energy has always been directly correlated with a higher standard of living, and for developing countries, higher CO2 emmissions and a little global warming are a pretty small price to pay.

    A final note to Ray, RE 255: The “truth” is the truth. It isn’t determined by concensus and a vote of the experts. History is repleat with inaccurate concensus and misguided experts.

  19. 269
    Timothy Chase says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz (#266) wrote:

    I’m pretty sure I can distinguish the spelling and meaning of expert and authority. Who gets to decide who’s an expert and who’s not? Certainly not the ‘experts’. I certainly wouldn’t even want an expert operating on my brain. I prefer preventive maintenance and medicine. I generally make my own judgments, based on advice that I gladly accept from people, whom I myself determine to possess expertise in their particular area of knowledge, by observation.

    The second you claim you are an ‘expert’ at anything, you lose all credibility. One does not claim expertise, one demonstrates it, by example. Preferably over and over again. Even then, the experts still make mistakes. It’s the nature of the learning and scientific process. Education is a continuous never ending endeavor. One just doesn’t one day declare ‘I am an expert’. If they do, I generally refer to them as ‘emeritus’.

    I just want to consider two statements of yours from above:

    1. “I generally make my own judgments, based on advice that I gladly accept from people, whom I myself determine to possess expertise in their particular area of knowledge, by observation.”

    2. “The second you claim you are an ‘expert’ at anything, you lose all credibility. One does not claim expertise, one demonstrates it, by example. Preferably over and over again.”

    How are you going to know how much expertise they have in their particular area of knowledge? Judging from the statement itself, this is not your own particular area of knowledge, is it?

    But to properly judge their expertise in their particular area of knowledge you would have to have a considerable amount of knowledge in that area yourself. Then again, chances are that you would only be able to judge them as either knowing more than yourself – or not. Wouldn’t you prefer to have someone more knowledgeable in that particular area judging the level of their expertise for you?

    Of course that someone would in all likelihood have to be an expert as well. A bit of a conundrum, isn’t it?

    Think for a moment of all the products that you buy, from toothpaste to gasoline to bleach and food. You might decide from watching a grocer that he has a certain level of expertise simply given the swift economy of motion with which she stacks the goods in the aisle. But you don’t know the farmers who actually grew the fruit or the vegetables or who raised the chickens which you bring home. How can you judge their expertise? Nevertheless you rely upon it.

    Now here is a common example: do you know how to make a modern pencil? Do you know of anyone who knows how to make such a thing?

    Think about this for a moment: what goes in to making a pencil?

    You have the graphite, the wood, the rubber eraser, and the metal which binds the eraser to the pencil. Seems simple enough. But then how do you get the graphite? You have to mine it. But to mine it you have to have the machines with which to mine it and the people who know how to use those machines. In the case of the paint, you have to have someone who knows how to mix it and prepare it. You have to have the chemical processing plants, the machines and so on. And the same with the wood or metal or rubber.

    Every machine that is involved has parts to it which have to be constructed and then those parts have to be assembled. And typically those parts and machines will be constructed in factories made of processed materials which would have to be traced back as well.

    At each step, someone has to have specialized knowledge, and if you trace things far enough, you will find an interlocking web of factors of production which spreads through much of the economy involving large numbers of individuals with specialized knowledge.

    How do you know that the right concrete was used for a given building? That a fertilizer used to grow certain crops was safe? That produce you buy was handled properly at each step leading from the farm to the grocery store or the kitchen of a restaurant? But you depend on them and you depend upon their knowledge and expertise, don’t you? What do you do when someone switches suppliers – where the new supplier has a different chain of companies and individuals supplying them? Chances are you won’t even know.

    You can’t observe all of these people.

    And you most certainly can’t observe them all repeatedly demonstrating their expertise – let alone judge their expertise – having the specialized knowledge required to judge that expertise, at least not as a member of an advanced economy. Nevertheless you depend upon them and their expertise – and the expertise of the individuals who judge them or know enough to report on events when something goes wrong.

    You of course have your own “independent judgment” based upon what you “know.”

    But I believe we could trace that back as well given that so much of which you “know” you got from others – with all of the implicit assumptions, theories and whatnot, the totality of which you would in all likelihood be entirely unable to justify if you ever tried. Elements of it? To some extent of course. But not the totality from the ground up. There is only so much that you can observe, know and judge.

    Thomas Lee Elifritz (#266) wrote:

    Welcome to a new scientific paradigm. Better late than never.

    Welcome to the modern world.

    We left what you appear to be familiar with more than 10,000 years ago. Society has evolved a bit since then. A systemic process, from what I understand. Don’t know all the details, though.

  20. 270
    Timothy Chase says:

    Here is something I don’t understand…

    I had written in 244:

    However, in the case of the West Antarctic Peninsula, [much of] it is outside of the West Antarctic Front. At least in the antarctic summer, this means that it is more likely to be affected by the moist maritime air. [The reason being that the Antarctic Front retreats poleward during the Antarctic summer, but expands towards the equator during the summer.] Some of the circulation of air by the westerlies [just outside of the Antarctic Front] will be along the surface [at least farther out from the pole] rather than from the upper troposphere. Consequently it is seeing more warming than anywhere else in the world.

    However, what this would suggest is that you are going to see the most warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula during the Antarctic summer. This isn’t the case.

    There is a neat diagram in the upper right of this graphic:

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2005/2005cal_fig3.gif

    …which is from:

    GISS Surface Temperature Analysis
    Global Temperature Trends: 2005 Summation
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2005/

    It shows that the temperature of the West Antarctic Peninsula has had a far higher warming trend during the Antarctic winter than during the summer. I would assume this has to do with the retention of heat from the summer – and the insulating properties of carbon dioxide. But perhaps there is more going on as well. I kind of figure there is.

    Anyway, worth taking a look. Not quite the map that I was hoping for of seasonal temperature trends, but it is informative and gives you some sense of the difference in behavior between the two poles.

  21. 271
    Joe Duck says:

    Ray wrote:
    To meet the challenges of the next 100 years, we will have to develop sustainability–both ecological AND economic. We cannot sacrifice the economy or development to combat climate change, because these are coupled problems. If we sacrifice economic health to combat climate change, we will both lose public support and fail to be able to pay for new technology to help us mitigate adverse climate effects. If we sacrifice development, then the poor will burn whatever energy resources they can obtain, making our efforts in vain….

    A very thoughtful passage IMHO.

    Dave – Lomborg’s Danish “scientific dishonest” verdict was rescinded by the body that supervises the body that criticized him – I’m not sure what evidence you mean as this is well documented even at the link you provided.

    Dave thanks for IPCC link. This jumped out at me as something that supports more alarm about melting than I generally assume, though it’s hard to follow what they mean here:

    There is medium confidence that at least
    partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1-4°C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea-level rise of 4-6 m or more.

  22. 272
    matt says:

    #259 Ray Ladbury: Matt, I agree that there are SOME experts who can be bought. I agree some “experts” are incompetent. However, to go from there to saying no expert can be trusted is not only immature, it is dangerous.

    Absolutely agree. The question, of course, is how do you know? Remember, bias doesn’t have to mean someone lies to me. Bias need only be that someone isn’t sharing with the entire truth. That’s why motive matters so much in all this. And that’s why I read writings from top scientists with my mouth agape at times. How can they possible be fair to their science with such motive driving their life?

    Hypothetical: Big Oil shows up an an IPCC convention, and says they will pay the top 100 climate scientists $3M/year salary to study any aspect of climate science that interests them. The only catch is that the scientists cannot publish anything pro-AGW. They can only publish things that that refute AGW. They aren’t required to lie or fabricate at any time. If in 5 years they don’t find a single thing refuting AGW, that’s fine. In fact, Big Oil would be equally happy knowing they simple took you out of circulation.

    What % of the 100 scientists do you think would take that? I’d hope that most would as the cost-benefit analysis is sound. But I suspect most wouldn’t, because they feel they are on a crusade and big oil is the enemy. I’d love to hear what you would do.

  23. 273
    matt says:

    #259 Ray Ladbury: Matt, First, overdesign is not a failure of risk analysis, but rather a part of it. Sometimes (actually, usually) it is simply cheaper to overdesign than verify a marginal design. As to your 1% and 99% examples, sometimes 99% is not a passing score–manned space flight comes to mind. Ths space shuttle has performed at almost the theoretical limits of reliability, and yet this is not enough.

    Absolutely agree. However, I think Feynman shined some very interesting light on the probabilities associated with the space shuttle. And again we saw how divergent the opinions of experts could be as they ranged from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10,000 for the failure rate. And in practice those figures are closer to one failed flight per 70 missions.

    I note, too, that the IPCC has a good section on probabilities that I haven’t read recently, but recalled today. There’s isn’t much granularity, and the percentages map to what I would call “gut feelings”

    I’ll re-read when time permits. But I recall reading at the time thinking “this is it? this is the basis for all the confidence?”

  24. 274

    Hank writes:

    [[Say Barton, when you quote someone before replying, would you mind adding the name the person used to make it easier to know who it is you’re quoting?]]

    Sorry about that. I’ll try to do that.

  25. 275

    Eric M posts:

    [[The scientific debates here are very interesting, but China and the rest of the developing world aren’t going to stop burning coal and oil until someone comes up with a cheaper alternative. The simple fact is that cheap energy has always been directly correlated with a higher standard of living, and for developing countries, higher CO2 emmissions and a little global warming are a pretty small price to pay.]]

    They won’t think so in Shanghai when they have to evacuate it.

  26. 276
    dean_1230 says:

    RE #272:

    Biased doesn’t even mean that someone isn’t being totally truthful. Bias can even interject itself in how we arrive at conclusions. A bias can keep a scientist from looking at an anomaly in the data (especially what the scientist considers a minor anomaly) because the results from the test support the hypothesis. And yet, that anomaly could have drastic implications on how the system actually works.

    For example, back before the wright brothers, there was a theory of how aerodynamics works but this theory failed to adequately account for lift. The data that had been taken up until then had clearly shown the discrepancy, but no one recognized the significance until the Wright brothers came along. They couldn’t figure out how the numbers they predicted weren’t realized when using the current theory, so they invented a wind tunnel and redefined aerodynamics.

    In this example, the Wright brothers refused to be biased by ‘scientific consensus’ and decided to work on their own.

  27. 277

    The ‘modern world’ is one where we discuss global warming, climate change, global mass extinction, overpopulation, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, and physics, chemistry and medicine, among other things. Your expertise in scientific paradigms is not even in the running, so I do hope you don’t mind that I ignore your long rant, much less read it, thank you.

  28. 278
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., First, I am certainly not a climate expert. I am a physicist familiar with the fundamentals who has made an effort to understand how they play out in Earth’s climate. As such, I’m in some position to assess whether the model is self consistent and matches the evidence. I am not in a position to do original work in the field and so influence the consensus of experts. Based on the independent assessments of many, many folks like me, professional societies such as the American Geophysical Union, the American Physical Society, the National Academy of sciences have all weighed in and stated that climate change is likely anthropogenic and that it is likely a significant threat. This contributes to the consensus because it means that scientists who understand the research, but who are part of quite different communities with different interests and priorities have found the consensus of experts to be credible–and not groupthink. So, in that sense I contribute in a very small way to the consensus.

    WRT great scientists of the past, Physics even in 1900 was a much simpler field than it is today. Now, it is a rare scientist who even has a fairly complete view of a field such as geophysics or condensed matter physics, let alone physics as a whole. I can claim some insight here as I used to write for a physics magazine and always had to struggle to find experts who could check what I had written in my news accounts. By contrast, Maxwell still called himself a “natural philosopher”, and pretty much all the influential physicists of his day cold have fit in Westminster abbey.
    Moreover, lot’s look at a couple of your scientists–Newton and Einstein–perhaps THE giants of theoretical physics. Great as he was, Newton was just flat-assed wrong about optics when he insisted on his corpuscular theory. Because Newton dominated science in England, this set English optics behind that of the Continent by decades. Einstein was also amazingly brilliant and broad in his understanding. Yet his objections to quantum mechanics–while profound–were also flat-assed wrong. However, by Einstein’s time, the necessity of scientific consensus was established, and the science continued to flow around the obstacle of Einstein, regardless of how formidable an obstacle he was.
    Eric M.–what is at issue is not what is TRUE (a question of metaphysics), but rather, how do we decide what is true (a question of epistemology). Science deals with the latter. If you want absolute truth, stick to philosophy and religion. Scientific consensus is not a vote by people, but rather a vote by evidence. The scientists assess that evidence and when it becomes cogent follow it. That is scientific consensus.

  29. 279
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dean_1230 said: “For example, back before the wright brothers, there was a theory of how aerodynamics works but this theory failed to adequately account for lift. The data that had been taken up until then had clearly shown the discrepancy, but no one recognized the significance until the Wright brothers came along. They couldn’t figure out how the numbers they predicted weren’t realized when using the current theory, so they invented a wind tunnel and redefined aerodynamics.”

    I love the smell of revisionist history in the morning. Smells like…victory. Actually, the physics of lift is fully accounted for by Bernoulli’s principle:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernoulli%27s_equation

    It dates from the 18th century.

    The problems scientist saw with heavier than air flight were mainly controlling the plane and strength of materials. The reality is much more interesting than the revisionist history:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers

    Now to the misconceptions about scientific consensus evident in this post. First, scientific consensus does not deal with questions of technology. For example, when the American Institute of Physics took a position against Star Wars in the ’80s and ’90s, it did so based on grounds of economics, and the ease of countermeasures, not “scientific consensus”. Scientific consensus does come into play on questions like faster than light travel and perpetual motion machines, since they violate fundamental physical laws. Moral: Be careful about your sources of information–and be especially careful when they are science fiction writers who don’t understand science. And off topic: Happy Birthday to that science fiction writer.

  30. 280
    Hank Roberts says:

    Killfiles were such useful tools. They let people ignore one another simply and silently, without telling everyone who and what and why they were ignoring and getting into discussions about it. There’s a tool out there now for some weblog software. I hope RC can get one.

  31. 281
    Jim Eager says:

    Timothy, just gooogle “Thomas Lee Elifritz.” Quite an eye opener.

  32. 282
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt, I would hope that 100% of the top 100 scientists would reject such an offer from any granting organization, and I think I’d be pretty close to right. The reason is that usually, the best scientists are perfectly happy doing the research they are doing and that there are usually plenty of opportunities to sell out before you make it into the top 100. In my humble opinion, $3M is a very low price for a soul–and any scientist who took this money would have to know that his career would be over.
    What Feynmann exposed was what real scientists and engineers had long known: the reliability calculations coming out of the contractors were faith based. In fact, it was a reliability engineer who tipped Feynmann off about the O-rings. That was not science–that was PR, and it is what happens when you let bean counters write proposals/contracts for technical hardware. It still happens–as I know all too well.
    The IPCC documents aren’t really the best place to look for an education on statistical reasoning. I would start with
    http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/
    also
    http://www.weibull.com/
    For a lighthearted intro to Bayesian ideas, try:
    http://yudkowsky.net/bayes/bayes.html

    Bayesian ideas aren’t really quite the black art they are sometimes made out to be. They can be misused, but so can frequentist treatments.

    If you really want to delve deeply into the philosophy, try:

    http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Scientific-Evidence-Philosophical-Considerations/dp/0226789578/ref=sr_1_1/103-0992479-1549404?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1193151197&sr=8-1

  33. 283

    I’m so flattered. I’ll save you the trouble, here’s my CV :

    http://webpages.charter.net/tsiolkovsky/bion.htm

    Now, what was the subject again?

  34. 284
    Timothy Chase says:

    I had something I was trying to figure out in 270:

    It shows that the temperature of the West Antarctic Peninsula has had a far higher warming trend during the Antarctic winter than during the summer. I would assume this has to do with the retention of heat from the summer – and the insulating properties of carbon dioxide. But perhaps there is more going on as well. I kind of figure there is.

    Thought about it last night while going to bed just after reading some more of Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky.”

    The land acts as a reservoir of heat from during the summer. As the temperature of the atmosphere drops precipitiously with the onset of the antarctic fall, the rate of which is to a large extent a function of the isolation of the continent due the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, resulting in the rapid decline of the absolute humidity of saturation, greatly reducing the ability of the land to lose this heat by means of moist air convection.

    Same principle would apply with respect to the Arctic Ocean except it isn’t as isolated, affected to a much greater extent by the ocean currents from the lower latitudes and remains warmer throughout the year. Interestingly enough, the temperature has risen the most during the arctic spring and the least during the arctic summer. And its split-up, such that the two seasons which have shown the most warming are spring and fall.

    Different patterns of polar amplification – and now the Arctic Ocean’s pattern is puzzling.

    I suspect the summer shows the least warming in part due to the light of the seasons themselves as flux is the fourth power of the temperature. Additionally, moist air convection should play a far greater role during the summer, and as to a first approximation this rises exponentially with temperature higher temperatures will result in more cooling due to the moist air convection.

    And I believe I’ve heard that it is the polar amplification of spring that is most significant in terms of the overall trend of the arctic. Melting of the snow and ice during the spring lowering the albedo to the point that more sunlight will be absorbed during the summer. Something which Hansen brought up in relation to glaciers, if I remember correctly. Likewise, the warmer air of spring which results from the lower albedo should lower the albedo even more just in time for the high sun of summer, resulting in the absorption of more light.

    Spring will warm more quickly as the ice which has melted by the end of fall will be replaced with thin ice which insulates the ocean from losing heat and therefore prevents the ice from thickening much over the winter. Thus what thin ice there is will be lost, exposing the dark ocean resulting in the absorption of more light as the season progresses.

    Anyway, this is all guesswork on my part.

  35. 285
    Robin Levett says:

    Joe Duck said:

    Dave – Lomborg’s Danish “scientific dishonest” verdict was rescinded by the body that supervises the body that criticized him…

    That is true – but only up to a point. In a nutshell, the DCSD finding was that if Lomborg had known what he was talking about, he would have been properly found to be scientifically dishonest. Lomborg appealed his acquittal. The MSTI made four specific criticisms of the DCSD verdict but didn’t actually disagree with the DCSD’s findings on Lomborg’s behaviour; they remitted the case back to the DCSD, which didn’t pursue the claim because they didn’t feel that their original acquittal of Lomborg, or their reasons for it, would change.

  36. 286
    Timothy Chase says:

    Jim Eager (#281) wrote:

    Timothy, just gooogle “Thomas Lee Elifritz.” Quite an eye opener.

    Already did – last night before the bit about the pencil – you know me. Probably should have done the same with someone else recently. I suspect I would have liked what I saw and with a different opinion endeavored to be more polite.

  37. 287
    David Bright says:

    Global Warming delusions in the Comment pages of the (London) Times here in UK too, propounded by David Bellamy (‘Today’s Forecast – Yet Another Blast of Hot Air’ – 22nd October). See his article in Times OnLine. Many of the usual canards, plus many supportive comments, but also a smaller number of critical replies, including one from myself.
    Bellamy appears woefully ignorant of what the hockey stick curve really was – he seems to think it has been used to predict global warming – not does he have any conception of the basic science (Arrhenius etc.). Doesn’t stop him sounding off, though!!

  38. 288
    Timothy Chase says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz (283) wrote:

    I’m so flattered. I’ll save you the trouble, here’s my CV :

    http://webpages.charter.net/tsiolkovsky/bion.htm

    Now, what was the subject again?

    Saw that as well but wasn’t sure that it was the same person. Now that I know all the pieces fit. We can keep it our little secret – assuming you know.

  39. 289
    dean_1230 says:

    Re #279

    Ray, what in the world are you talking about? did you even read the wiki entry on the Wright Brothers? Specifically, the section on the 1901 glider? here’s the relevant passage that details what i alluded to earlier:

    “The glider, however, delivered two major disappointments. It produced only about one-third the lift calculated and sometimes failed to respond properly to wing-warping, turning opposite the direction intended—a problem later known as adverse yaw. On the trip home after their second season, Wilbur, stung with disappointment, remarked to Orville that man would fly, but not in their lifetimes.

    The poor lift of the gliders led the Wrights to question the accuracy of Lilienthal’s data, as well as the “Smeaton coefficient” of air pressure, which had been used for over 100 years and was part of the accepted equation for lift.

    The Wrights—and Lilienthal—used the equation to calculate the amount of lift that wings of various sizes would produce. Based on measurements of lift and wind during the 1901 glider’s kite and free flights, Wilbur believed (correctly, as tests later showed) that the Smeaton number was very close to .0033, not the traditionally used 60% larger .0054, which would exaggerate predicted lift.

    Back home, furiously pedaling a strange-looking bicycle on neighborhood streets, they conducted makeshift open-air tests with a miniature Lilienthal airfoil and a counter-acting flat plate, which were both attached to a freely rotating third bicycle wheel mounted horizontally in front of the handlebars. The results, based on which way the third wheel turned, confirmed their suspicion that published data on lift were unreliable and encouraged them to expand their investigation. They also realized that trial-and-error with different wings on full-size gliders was too costly and time-consuming. Putting aside the three-wheel bicycle, they built a six-foot wind tunnel in their shop and conducted systematic tests on miniature wings from October to December 1901. The “balances” they devised and mounted inside the tunnel to hold the wings looked crude, made of bicycle spokes and scrap metal, but were “as critical to the ultimate success of the Wright brothers as were the gliders.”[22] The devices allowed the brothers to balance lift against drag and accurately calculate the performance of each wing.[23] They could also see which wings worked well as they looked through the viewing window in the top of the tunnel.”

    Isn’t that what i said????

  40. 290
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 261 Thomas Lee Elifritz: “Argument by authority is not generally considered a viable scientific method – anywhere. Not even in one’s narrow field of specialty.”

    Argument by authority is a logical fallacy (aka Appeal to Authority, Ad Verecundiam; http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html) – anyone, including a Nobel Prize winning scientist, can make a statement that is unsupported by evidence, misleading, or just plain wrong. But, if I have to decide who to believe about a technial matter, such as the scientific evidence for anthropogentic global warming, either Rush Limbaugh or a well-published climatologist, I’ll put my money on the authority with the PhD in climate science. Not everything the climatologist says will be 100% accurate, but he/she is a much more reliable source of correct information.

  41. 291
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 260 Rod B “The paper did not go through an anonymous peer review but was read by the editor (Max Planck) who made a decision to publish it. ”

    I would suggest that Max Planck reading the paper and then deciding to publish it constitutes peer review. Presumably, Planck read the paper carefully and felt it had merit.

  42. 292

    I’ll put my money on the authority with the PhD in climate science.

    Someone might try to explain to you why science is not an authoritarian betting game. It won’t be me, though. Carry on.

  43. 293
    Rod B says:

    Ray, I pretty much agree with your post 278. You also made my case against Dave’s criteria. All of thos scientists and acadamies would not be allowed to comment on climate science, were it not for the fact that they agree with the thrust. This is what makes his criteria (most of it anyway) specious and meaningless.

  44. 294
    Rod B says:

    re Chuck (291); Ah, the contortions some go through in support of their favorite icon. If peer review had a minor deviation somewhere, can’t just let it be — must redefine peer review!

  45. 295
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dean_1230 No, that is not what you said. You said that the story represented a failure of scientific consensus that said they wouldn’t fly. Instead it was an error in measurement that led to improper design. On the one hand, you have the research of a single individual doing one type of experiment. On the other hand, scientific consensus is based on evidence from many sources and different phenomena that all point to the same conclusion.
    Science does make errors, but those errors are self correcting.

  46. 296
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod and Chuck, Scientific Journals often have means for bypassing the normal peer-review process for articles that are considered very important and obviously of interest to the general public. I believe the paper of Watson and Crick went to publication without peer review because of its obvious importance. As I said, peer review is not an absolute guarantee of correctness–it just says that the article is of sufficient interest and sufficient correctness to be of interest to the larger community. What matters ultimately is the work’s acceptance by the larger community.

    Rod, Actually, a professional body can take a position for or against a finding. Prior to this year, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists had taken a position against anthropogenic causation. They softened their position considerably just this year, so there are now NO relevant professional societies in the dissenting camp.
    Rod, the way it goes is this. The experts are the ones who establish technical details of the consensus position. Normally that’s where it ends. However, if the subject is of sufficient general public interest, those in related fields may weigh in on whether the body of evidence, technical details, etc. all make sense. On rare occasions, you will have general scientific organizations–e.g. AAAS or NAS weighing in. In this case, there is essentially unanimity among the professional societies (with two abstentions–AAPG and the American Association of State Climatologists. When you consider the interests of AAPG, their turnaround is noteworthy!

  47. 297
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 292

    Someone might try to explain to you why science is not an authoritarian betting game. It won’t be me, though. Carry on.

    ===================

    No one said it was…except you, of course, and it is unlikely anyone is really buying into your straw man argument.

    The point everyone is making, and you seem to be missing, perhaps deliberately, is that while you may paste the label “authority” upon someone, what we’re really discussing is experts. A climatologist is an expert in the area of climatology. That means, quite simply, he is informed to a much higher degree on the subject than the average person and thus can be counted on to likely make better, more reliable observations.

    Now if you were going to try to play the game of first labeling everyone authorities and then claiming there are no authorities, you end up with no one capable of offering an authoritive opinion on a subject, or to to be counted on to do competent work.

    That doesn’t jive with reality.

    Again, I offer the question. Would you go to an ear-nose-and-throat doctor when you needed brain surgery, or would you consult with a brain surgeon?

    If the latter, then you would be conceeding that the brain surgeon, by virtue of is specialty, carries more authoritive weight (expertise) in his area of study and practise than the ENT man.

    If you picked the former, while consistant with the position you are offering up here, I wouldn’t give much for your chances.

    Bluntly, your “argument” is a non sequitur in relation to reality, IMHO.

  48. 298
    dean_1230 says:

    Re 295

    Wow… I wish I had known I had said that… (scientific consensus (Lilienthal, Langley, etc)at the time was that they would fly, but the WB were satisfied with the results they were getting so they set out to better understand aerodynamics and thus completely changed how wings are designed)

    My point was that often in history we see examples of “current understanding” woefully misses the mark as to what’s really happening and that oftentimes the “current understanding” leads to a bias among scientists as to what the result should be. That then clouds the judgment of the scientists. No willful misrepresentation. No deception by omission. And yet a bias exists. We should recognize that such biases exist and do our best to identify them and not let them cloud our studies.

    Another post talked about how far we’ve come in our understanding of physics in the last century. I see it as being entirely possible that a century from now, the physicists will look back at today and see our present understanding as being simple compared to what they know.

    Said another way, assuming that we really understand how things are working is in itself a bias and must be addressed. One way of addressing this is to openly seek scientific critique via the peer review process and also to seek out those that don’t fundamentally agree with our conclusions. To not actively solicit such discussion is to surround ourselves with “Yes-men” and any “agreement” has a significant possibility of being tainted.

  49. 299

    I’ll put my money on the authority with the PhD in climate science.

    Someone might try to explain to you why science is not an authoritarian betting game.

    No one said it was…except you, of course

    No I didn’t, I said exactly the opposite. Are you always that dishonest?

    Ok, then, it’s an entirely new scientific paradigm – science by euphemism. Feel free to discuss it at length.

  50. 300
    Ray Ladbury says:

    dean_1230, Have you ever been to a scientific conference? If you have 5 scientists, you’ll be lucky if they can agree on Thai or pizza, let alone politics, who should win the World Series or even most scientific issues. The last thing you need worry about is scientists being “Yes-Men”. Yes, science can be uncertain or in error, but chances are the state of the science will be too tentative to establish true consensus.
    Also, do not confuse error with bias–they are very different.
    Finally, you don’t understand the relation of past theory to present. Yes, relativity and quantum mechanics do better than Newtonian mechanisc, but rather than look upon Newton as a rube, scientists hold him in the highest esteem–precisely because he MOSTLY GOT IT RIGHT.
    Look Dean, science works. And it works just fine without congressional audits and amateur investigators etc. It has worked with respect to climate, and the only reason people are questioning the scientific results is because they don’t like the conclusions. That is not science.


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