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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. 301
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #298 (Dean_1230) How science works

    I doubt very much that scientists a century from now will think our science ‘simple’. Just like we don’t think Newton’s science is simple. Newton’s laws just turn out to be a limit case of the more general theory of relativity; in everyday life Newton is perfectly correct.

    A nice essay by Asimov on how science progresses is here:
    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

  2. 302
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 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.
    ==============

    Thanks.

    Pot-kettle-black.

    No one was really saying science was a betting game, your representation notwithstanding. Chuck was making a point in relation to what he was saying in 290 when he said “I’ll put my money on the authority with the PhD in climate science.”

    But you conveniently ignored what he was saying regarding the authority of scientific expertise to take his point out of context and imply he had said something different. Your attack on the use of “authority” remains a straw man.

    To quote you: “Are you always that dishonest?”

  3. 303
    Jon H says:

    Hank Roberts wrote: ” Paul Steiger, who was managing editor of The Wall Street Journal until earlier this year, the group said in a statement Monday”

    That might not be bad – the Journal’s *news* pages have historically been pretty good, and have broken plenty of stories about corporate misconduct. The editorial pages, on the other hand, are coming from Republican Dimension X, and often contradict the reporting in the news pages.

    With the Murdoch takeover, I expect the news pages to become more like the editorial pages.

  4. 304

    I’m not going to bite, I’ve got better uses of my time. I just check in here every couple of months to see what is going on. With southern California burning it seemed the appropriate time. Good luck with your debating the debate while the world continues to burn. I’ve got other leaves to harvest, and other compost piles to turn.

    I seem to recall an election almost a year ago, but nothing changed.

    I fully expect that nothing much will change the next election too.

  5. 305
    Joe Duck says:

    Ray wrote:
    science works. And it works just fine without congressional audits and amateur investigators etc. It has worked with respect to climate …

    Very nicely put.

    and the only reason people are questioning the scientific results is because they don’t like the conclusions…

    Ray! False and unreasonable – surely you didn’t mean this?

    The reason many people are questioning results is because they are practicing good scientific method and retaining a degree of skepticism.

    Most science, and climate science in particular, has a degree of uncertainty and works towards increasing confidence about how things work rather than claiming certainty in how things work. Informed skepticism drives new findings and revisions to current understanding.

    Skepticism, especially informed skepticism, should be celebrated.

  6. 306
    Timothy Chase says:

    Question for Gavin

    Have posts been bouncing today?

  7. 307
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 283 Thomas Lee Elifritz “here’s my CV”

    That link leads to an online paper, “On the Nature of Bismuth (I) Iodide in the Solid State.” No CV in sight.

  8. 308
    David B. Benson says:

    Joe Duck (305) — There is essentially no evidence within the comments attached to threads here on Real Climate that ‘skeptics’ are anything but either ignorant or else denialists.

    While climatology has some uncertainties, there is enough solid data and supporting theory so that no one (in their right mind) can doubt either that global warming is occuring or the fact that it is anthropogenic in origin. Informed skepticism has its place, but not when it is clearly time for actions towards mitigation to be undertaken.

    Think of the events of this past northen hemisphere summer as being a call for action analogous to that of Pearl Harbor 46 years ago.

  9. 309
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. Joe Duck, #271, (in which you refer to a post by me in another thread):

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

    As I’m sure you must be aware, the Ministry remitted the case to the DCSD, on procedural technicalities, but they did not rule on the substance of the DCSD’s findings – that is, the ministry did not itself evaluate the soundness of the science or the claims in the book. The DCSD then decided not to act further on the complaints, reasoning that renewed scrutiny would simply result in the same conclusion.

    I’m not sure what evidence you mean as this is well documented even at the link you provided.

    Are you missing the point on purpose or did you fail to read my post properly? I asked you what hard evidence you have for your implicit accusation that the DCSD’s findings were politically motivated (which is a very serious accusation to make unless you have hard evidence to back it up); and that evidence is not documented at the link I provided.

    Also, I notice you didn’t comment on the article in Nature by Partha Dasgupta that I linked to. Do you believe that Dasgupta was also politically motivated, and that Nature is a politically motivated publication? If so, please could you cite your evidence for that accusation as well, with links? Or didn’t you bother to read his article?

    What about Pimm and Harvey’s review of TSE in Nature, and Grubb’s review in Science – do you also consider them to be politically motivated? Please cite your evidence, if so.

    As regards your original, and so far unsupported, accusation against the DCSD, the report of the DCSD’s ruling in Science magazine states:

    It’s “an unusually hard ruling by a committee known for being immensely difficult to convince of any wrongdoing,” says ecologist Carsten Rahbek of Copenhagen University.

  10. 310

    I’m not seeking an interview for employment.

    The result itself is sufficient to get me in the door, or if you prefer, shown to the door and escorted off the premises, depending on your perspective.

    My perspective in 1992 when I wrote this, was the BCS-BOSE model applied to chemistry, and electronic Bose-Einstein condensation.

    From now on, I’m playing hardball. Get used to it.

    (But don’t worry, I’m not playing it here.)

  11. 311
    lilybart says:

    Interesting that Business is going green. Yet, the so-called “Business Newspaper” denies there is any need to do anything at all.

    There are many examples of dissonance between the news and the opinion.

  12. 312
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joe Duck Re #305. The evidence for anthropogenic causation of climate change is quite strong, and there is NO evidence that strongly suggests otherwise. There are still a few physicists who don’t believe in quarks, but the overwhelming majority do, and you don’t see congressional hearings with ignorant food tubes (an accurate description, not an ad hominem) saying the quark model is the biggest hoax in history. Yet, I would say the evidence for anthropogenic causation of climate change is stronger than that for quarks. It is probably stronger than that for General Relativity and for the Big Bang. And yet, while Young Earth Creationists froth at the mouth, you don’t hear Congressmen baying for the head of Arno Penzias.
    It is extremely difficult for me to imagine what sort of experimental result could come along and dislodge the anthropogenic explanation. Hell, even W is convinced. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has softened its stance to neutral. If that’s not consensus, what is?
    So, given the current state of knowledge, the question is not whether we are changing climate, but what we do about it. I’m all for healthy debate on that front. But challenging the science without empirical evidence is not science. It’s not even good politics, because all it does is leave empty your chair at the table where people are deciding on mitigation.

  13. 313
    Rod B says:

    308 says, “…While climatology has some uncertainties, there is enough solid data and supporting theory so that no one (in their right mind) can doubt either that global warming is occuring….”

    See, that’s how they close the loop of the circle. If he disagrees with me (and my well thought out conclusions) he must be crazy. Hey! Then if he’s crazy he doesn’t get a place at the table. Whew! That was easy.

  14. 314
    John Mashey says:

    re: #312 Ray
    Hey, Arno’s Nobel was an *accident*, he and Wilson were trying to get rid of the static plaguing their antenna, so the Creationists have no reason to bug him, as he wasn’t *trying* to prove them wrong.

    It wouldn’t do them much good anyway, he’s just having a good time being a VC doing investments in alternative energy. I expect most VCs around here read the WSJ, but I suspect most ignore what WSJ Editorial says about AGW; too many are investing assuming AGW is real.

  15. 315

    Thomas Lee Elifritz posts:

    [[>>>>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.]]

    So you really would believe Rush Limbaugh on climate science over a climate scientist, as in the original poster’s example? I take it if you needed open-heart surgery, you’d be just as happy having Rush Limbaugh do it as having a surgeon do it. After all, medical science is not an authoritarian betting game. And if your car engine dies, I assume you’d just as soon take it to Rush Limbaugh as to an auto mechanic? After all, engineering is not an authoritarian betting game.

    You are more likely to get the right answer from someone familiar with the field. Especially when the alternative is someone known for making things up as needed, like Rush Limbaugh.

  16. 316

    Joe Duck writes:

    [[and the only reason people are questioning the scientific results is because they don’t like the conclusions…

    Ray! False and unreasonable - surely you didn’t mean this?

    The reason many people are questioning results is because they are practicing good scientific method and retaining a degree of skepticism. ]]

    If you think the global warming skeptics are “practicing good scientific method,” you must not understand what the scientific method is. Ray is much closer to the truth than you are. If you want to know why there’s massive opposition to global warming theory (though not among scientists), Cherchez l’argent.

  17. 317

    Rod B posts:

    [[308 says, “…While climatology has some uncertainties, there is enough solid data and supporting theory so that no one (in their right mind) can doubt either that global warming is occuring….”

    See, that’s how they close the loop of the circle. If he disagrees with me (and my well thought out conclusions) he must be crazy. Hey! Then if he’s crazy he doesn’t get a place at the table. Whew! That was easy.]]

    You’re right, the original poster was being too extreme. It would be more correct to say “there is enough solid data and supporting theory so that no one (with any understanding of the evidence in question or of how science works) can doubt either that global warming is occuring…”

  18. 318
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., OK, so what is the point of your post #313. Are you claiming that science should withhold support from a theory when a “scientist” objects to it even if he has no evidence that contradicts it or even supports another theory? If so, you are advocating faith-based science and there’s nothing more to talk about.
    Or are you claiming that there is evidence supporting a mechanism other than anthropogenic causation being dominant? If so, what might that be? Time to put up or shut up, Rod.

  19. 319
    J.C.H. says:

    Rod B. Here’s some chairs and some blank name cards. Put your men at the table. I’m seriously asking because I want to read their work.

    I stayed up until 2AM reading a 2007 paper by Hansen. Right now I’m a whipsawed wreck. I could use a few rays of hope like the Iris Hypothesis, or the models left out water, or pictures of children playing water pistols at temp stations, or something, anything. I want Hansen to be right like I want a hole in my head. Help me out here.

  20. 320
    Rod B says:

    I’m saying there are credible scientists out there who dispute to some degree or another AGW or parts of AGW. You folks, who claim irrefutable and unassailable evidence for AGW (and may prove to be correct), can not countenance any disagreement however slight, and refuse to recognize any opposition (which is different from recognizing the opposition’s arguments and a long way from accepting those arguments, for which I am not being critical in the least) by defining them as not credible simply and only because they have some opposition. True, there is a whole lot of learned-sounding words that describe the rational like, “When’s the last time he published a peer reviewed paper?”, or “She’s not a real climate scientist!” (which, BTW, as I’ve said, would wipe out 95% of posters on RC were it not for the fact they are on the “correct” side of the fence), and maybe, “His neighbor works for the oil company!” — but that is all smoke and rhetoric. This, my friend, is what is not scientific. Poohpooh their arguments? A little extreme, but acceptable. Discard them out of hand becuase “they must be nuts”? Not.

  21. 321
    SecularAnimist says:

    matt wrote: “I’d bet that world consensus of world experts was easily at 85% that Iraq had nukes and was planning on doing something bad with them.”

    You would lose that bet. NO “world experts” believed that “Iraq had nukes.”

    It appears that you are as poorly informed about that off-topic issue as you are about the science of anthropogenic global warming.

  22. 322
    dhogaza says:

    Rod B. Here’s some chairs and some blank name cards. Put your men at the table. I’m seriously asking because I want to read their work.

    Keep in mind that Rod B’s an Intelligent Design Creationist, so if you asked him for experts on evolutionary biology he might well respond “Behe and Dembski”.

    So you might want to take a close look at the credentials and background of any “expert” on climate science he might put forward, if you’re looking for serious skeptics who aren’t out in la-la land.

  23. 323
    Joe Duck says:

    Ray wrote:
    given the current state of knowledge, the question is not whether we are changing climate, but what we do about it. I’m all for healthy debate on that front

    I agree with this strongly. My views on skepticism are that regardless of mainstream or consensus views, skeptics *as people* should be treated with respect even if their ideas or hypotheses deserve derisive treatment.

    Dave Rado:
    Yikes – I simply don’t have enough time read each article and address each of your points but in the other thread people are also suggesting that the DCSD fiasco discredits him and I’ll try to address that over there, because I think it’s unreasonable to say DCSD’s rescinded decision tells us much about Lomborg’s legitimacy as a critic of alarmism in science and science reporting.

    My take on Lomborg’s books is that he intentionally simplifies highly technical issues, and in so doing leaves himself open to technical criticisms. Some of that criticism is legitimate but most I’ve read seems to take the tone of attacking him rather than his ideas, as Lomborg himself did when attacking some scientists in TSE.

  24. 324
    David B. Benson says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (317) — Thank you for the correction. However, I question the degree of sanity of anybody who does not know the science doubting the words of those who do.

  25. 325
    Taber Allison says:

    It seems like this thread on Dan Botkin’s op-ed has nearly run its course and has strayed a bit from its original topic. I would point out in reference to the many posts on “scientific authority” and “expert” that the IPCC couches all of its conclusions in probabilistic terms, e.g., degree of confidence in the data (highly confident) and level of certainty of specific outcomes (very likely). A healthy skepticism (healthy is the operative word) is always advisable, and to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, a foolish skepticism is the hobgoblin of little minds…

    Bringing the thread back to Dan Botkin’s op-ed, an acquaintance pointed me to a blog from which I pulled the following quote:

    “What’s the equivalent of buying global-warming insurance? Actions to lessen the rate of warming or offset potential effects of global warming. The intriguing thing is that most of the actions we would take to “insure” ourselves would benefit us even setting aside the issue of global warming.

    and

    “Forget about empty debates as to whether or not global warming is going to bring catastrophe and whether it is our fault. Take action that is carefully chosen to both combat global warming and benefit living things with or without global warming. And be particularly careful not to act in such panic as to do things that are dangerous and damaging to life on Earth.”

    Here’s the blog url if you want to read the whole post and other posts on climate change (there are three):

    http://www.danielbbotkin.com/archives/category/global-warming-and-life

    That’s right, it’s Dan Botkin’s blog with a tone that seems to be a far cry of the inflammatory prose of his WSJ op-ed.

  26. 326
    charles Farrell says:

    Those whom you call skeptics maintain that human activity accounts for less than 5% on the CO2 emission into the atmosphere, that is on the order of 6 billion of the 200 billion tons per year total. If “global warming” is anthropogenic, even though the current interglacial period seems much like the previous one, I would expect a number far higher than 5%, at least 50%. What gives?

    [Response: They are trying to mislead you. CO2 has increased 36% from human sources (380ppm from 280ppm), CH4 more than doubled (~140% increase) and N2O increased by 15%. Since they won't even accept basic facts, I think we are justified in describing them as "sceptics" (i.e. not real ones). - gavin]

  27. 327
    pjclarke says:

    Can anyone ease my confusion? David tells us that the rate of warming is unprecendented in 2.5m years, based on ice core evidence. But the same ice core evidence is cited in the most recent post on Younger Dryas There are still some more YD mysteries though. The ocean models might have won the Southern Hemisphere round, but they still have a hard time explaining why it lasted so long, and how the rapid warming (10 or so degrees in the space of a few decades in Greenland) at the end occurred. The fact that similar events occurred all through the glacial period (Dansgaard-Oscheger events) implies that they must be fundamental to the climate system rather than a one off.

    So, at least during the D-O events we have rapid warming and cooling that dwarfs the current 0.1C / decade?

    Can anyone explain this apparent contradiction?

    [Response: Local vs. Global. - gavin]

  28. 328
    pjclarke says:

    Thanks, Gavin. I guessed it must be a question of spatial distribution. Would it be a gross simplification to say that the YD and other D-O events were more a redistribution of heat as ocean currents switched, with associated feedbacks, whereas AGW is a question of an external forcing producing a net increase in heat?

  29. 329
    garhane says:

    Well, it really is a great relief to see that we are coming to the end of the denial parade. Quite a few of the “new” entries have the unmistakable appearance of the undead. The glaring holes in logic, the tattered garments, the aged and wild eyed look of them, even the weird quotations that seem to suggest hopelessly repeated recycling, and close to the elephant’s rump with broom and dustpan who do we see? Why it’s the Wall Street Journal, jostling to claim the honours for biggest and most noisy liar of them all. I can just see a gradual sideways slide of the whole group towards what remains of the Art Bell wonderful world of really weird ideas. Bon voyage.

  30. 330
    Rod B says:

    dhogaza says (322) “…Keep in mind that Rod B’s an Intelligent Design Creationist, so if you asked him for experts on evolutionary biology he might well respond “Behe and Dembski”.”

    DAMN! There goes my cover!

    And just how is it that you “know” I am an Intelligent Design Creationis? I trust not from same source(s) that told you about AGW.

    Ray, see what I’m saying?

  31. 331
    Rod B says:

    re 329: “…Quite a few of the… entries have the unmistakable appearance of the undead. The glaring holes in logic, the tattered garments, the aged and wild eyed look of them, even the weird quotations that seem to suggest hopelessly repeated recycling, and close to the elephant’s rump with broom and dustpan who do we see?”

    Yeah, and a few of the skeptics are looking peaked, too.

    Tabor’s (325) paraphrase of Emerson using “foolish sceptism” instead of the actual “foolish consistancy” (purposeful or accidental?) seems to turn the tables and meaning 180 degreees. Or did the meaning fly right past me?

  32. 332
    Taber Allison says:

    Rod B:

    The substitution was intentional. The point was perhaps too obscure – what did you think I meant? Being skeptical for its own sake is neither constructive nor the basis of good science.

  33. 333
    matt says:

    #282: Ray Ladbury: 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.

    Good, OK. Now, what % of top climate scientists would work for Big Oil Inc if Big Oil Inc paid a $3M/year salary and said “study whatever you wish, publish whatever you wish, here’s a bucket of money for research”

  34. 334
    Earl Killian says:

    Here is another item concerning Botkin’s assertion about warming and extinction:
    http://www.journals.royalsoc.ac.uk/content/3x081w5n5358qj01/fulltext.pdf
    Of course by using 2.5My, he excludes the data used in the above, but it seems of concern despite his attempt to draw a line.

  35. 335
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #326 (charles Farrell): Just to add a little to Gavin’s brief response, the point is that there are large exchanges of CO2 between the atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere. So, it is true that the human component is a pretty small part of the GROSS amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. However, it is essentially all of the NET amount emitted. (In fact, it is really more than the net amount emitted because the biosphere and oceans have actually been able to take up about 1/2 of the excess CO2 we have put into the atmosphere but the rest is hanging around and will do so for quite a long time.)

    Fundamentally, the issue is that the exchanges between oceans, atmosphere, and biosphere represent essentially the same carbon being recycled again and again. (This includes, by the way, the CO2 we ourselves breath out after eating the carbon from the biosphere.) What we are doing by digging up fossil fuels and burning them is liberating carbon that has long been locked away from the atmosphere.

    An analogy might be to a fountain that is fed only by the water going down its drain so that it just keeps recycling the same water through again and again. If you come along and start pouring water into this fountain until it starts to overflow, you might try claiming that it can’t be the water you are adding that is causing the overflow since you are adding water at a rate small compared to the rate of the water coming out of the fountain valve itself. However, you would clearly be wrong.

    That humans are responsible for the rise in CO2 levels is clear. First of all, you have the very strong circumstantial evidence that CO2 levels have risen in a period of ~100 years to values that are significantly higher than anything seen for at least the last 750,000 years (which takes us through something like 7 ice age cycles). Second of all, you have the fact I noted above that the amount of CO2 we have liberated by burning fossil fuels is indeed enough to account for the rise. (It is in fact about twice as much as would account for the rise, showing that the system has been able to absorb about half of this excess.) Third of all, scientists can look at the distribution of carbon isotopes in the carbon dioxide found in the air and see it is changing in agreement with what would be expected from the CO2 being liberated by burning of fossil fuels.

    So, believing that the current CO2 rise is not caused by us is akin to believing in a flat earth. It is simply not scientifically tenable whatsoever and the motives of any people who try to present it as scientifically-tenable argument should immediately be questioned.

  36. 336
    matt says:

    #321 SecularAnimist: You would lose that bet. NO “world experts” believed that “Iraq had nukes.”

    Yes, you are right, I mistyped. Substitute WMD for nukes.

  37. 337
    matt says:

    #282 Ray Ladbury: 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.

    And yet the reliability engineers were able to convince most, if not all, of NASA that their estimates were true based upon their position of expertise. OR, NASA was simply not managing the project properly. Which is it? Your assessment that it was not science is monday morning quarterbacking. Are you seriously proposing that there were folks inside NASA that knew all this was a snow job? Or were they really convinced by the experts?

    FWIW, I am a design engineer (BSEE) with 16 years of high volume product design behind me (architecture, RF, baseband, logic, SW). Folks on this board likely use several products I have worked on. Risk analysis is part of the job. In my first 6 months on the job, at a company I no longer work, I sat in a room while attorneys and engineers debated back and forth how many houses might catch on fire due to a battery charging circuit that could get into a weird state at times. The decisions only got larger from there. Product recalls are extremely expensive–several tens of millions of $ in this business. Of course, not shipping a product soon enough is also extremely expensive as competitors will eat your lunch. Deciding when a product is ready to ship is one of the most amazing exercises in risk analysis you will experience. I don’t really feel I need much more education there, and in fact could likely write a book myself there.

    My background puts me in constant contact with well meaning folks that try to convince me something is “truer” than it actually is. Engineers really want to do the right thing. They do. But at the end of the day, an engineer giving guidance that he’s 90% sure on a problem that he mostly understands isn’t at all bankable. That’s simply engineering speak for “I don’t really have a clue.” When engineers start to tell me they are 99.9% sure and have a host of statistical data to back it up, then I start to listen. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been in a post-mortem where engineers (and business people) got it wrong based on crap assumptions that weren’t challenged early on.

  38. 338

    Rod B posts:

    [[You folks, who claim irrefutable and unassailable evidence for AGW (and may prove to be correct), can not countenance any disagreement however slight, and refuse to recognize any opposition (which is different from recognizing the opposition’s arguments and a long way from accepting those arguments, for which I am not being critical in the least) by defining them as not credible simply and only because they have some opposition. ]]

    List which scientists you mean and what their arguments are. The endless accusations against RealClimate are ad hominem by definition and do nothing to advance your argument. If you disagree with AGW theory, explain why.

  39. 339
    Ray Ladbury says:

    dhogaza, Rod B. et al., OK, Rod, I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that some of the positions you take might be viewed as a bit contrarian. However, I think that the underlying motivation of your skepticism is that you are not willing to sign onto a position unless you feel you really understand it. Since no one can understand everything, this leaves you in a somewhat difficult position when it comes to very technical issues like climate change. Still, I have to say that I have been appreciative of the efforts you have made to understand the physics of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. My attempts to assist you in this effort have helped me to clarify a few points in my own mind.
    So, I would call Rod B. a true skeptic. He simply does not feel that he has sufficient information and understanding to make an informed decision. We can argue about whether we think his standards of understanding are reasonable or not, but I don’t think it is fair to question his bona fides.
    Rod, a couple of things for you to think about:
    1)All the contributors to this site probably went through what you are going through now as they tried to understand the physics of the atmosphere. It is not intuitive. They ultimately succeeded in understanding that physics, and that should give you hope. We owe them a great debt for taking time out from their day jobs to help the rest of us follow suit–as well as sharing with us the insights they develop as part of their ongoing studies on their day jobs.
    2)In a very real way, not to decide is to decide. By stalling over the science, you are removing yourself from the debate over appropriate mitigation. By all means, you should continue to try to understand the science, but at the same time, it should tell you something that there have been no new credible ideas coming from the skeptic side of the argument in almost a decade.

    True skeptics can be persuaded. Indeed it is worthwhile as a skeptic to think in advance what standard of evidence one would require to be persuaded–even St. Thomas the Apostle said he would believe Jesus was risen when he felt the wounds on his hands. He was evidently persuaded eventually, as he traveled all the way to India to spread the gospel. This ultimately led to an interesting confrontation when missionaries arrived from Portugal and found a Christian community that had existed since the first century C.E., when Rome was still pagan.
    BTW, I, too am a skeptic. Although I am an agnostic, I actually made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). It is a long walk down the beaches, but finally you reach the Cathedral of St. Thomas. It’s nothing to write home about, but I did anyway. We make some pilgrimages for grand ideas rather than grand monuments.

  40. 340
    Petro says:

    matt answered to #321 SecularAnimist: “You would lose that bet. NO “world experts” believed that “Iraq had nukes.” Yes, you are right, I mistyped. Substitute WMD for nukes.”

    You lose that bet as well.

  41. 341
    David Bright says:

    The following is the text of an email I sent to the WSJ on 23 Oct: “I would prefer to rely on the collective assessments of Nicholas Stern, Jeffrey Sachs and the IPCC regarding the potential economic damage which Global Warming threatens to bring down on our heads. I consider this article naive, complacent and condescending. Here’s a challenge – how about inviting a supporter of the ‘pro’ camp to write a considered counter-view? I suspect many in the business community would find such an input more realistic.’

  42. 342
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt, All I can say is that I’m very glad I don’t work where you do. Where I work, people ultimately know that the satellite will be put to the test in space and will succeed or fail. That is not to say that there aren’t slackers or bullshit artists, but they are usually easy to spot.
    The thing is that a bullshit artist can usually produce lots of statistics to back him up. Disraeli’s quip about lies, damnable lies and statistics comes to mind. To which I reply: Any damned fool can lie with statistics. What takes skill is using statistics to elucidate the truth. Or as Twain put it much more succinctly: “If you tell the truth, you’ll eventually be found out.”
    When someone is telling the truth, their story doesn’t keep changing. They don’t say “It isn’t happening;” and then “It may be happening but it’s no my fault;” and then “Well, I may have had something to do with it, but it will be a good thin;” and then “Well, it will be too expensive to fix anyway;” and finally switch back to “It isn’t happening.”
    I used to work for a physics trade publication. We reported on the latest advances in all fields of physics at a level for the general physics community. Cool job. A couple of wise women who worked there clued me in to the key to success: Realize that you will never be an expert in any of these fields. Get to know the experts. Get to know their biases, agendas, etc. Figure out which ones you can trust and when. Never rely on a single source.

    Matt, the proposition that some experts bullshit so therefore all experts bullshit is simply not tenable. What is more, you need to take care that you do not use your distrust of experts as an excuse for complacency. This threat is real. If you don’t trust the experts, then you need to become sufficiently expert yourself that you at least know which experts you can trust. If you do not, then you disenfranchise yourself as to decisions about how to mitigate the threat.

  43. 343
    Rod B says:

    Tabor: I think that “foolish consistency” would be a dig at the AGW proponents. “Foolish skepticism” would of course be a dig at foolish sceptics. With the “foolish” part, I, a card carrying sceptic, would agree, with the exception that some proponents routinely define all sceptics as foolish.

  44. 344
    Hank Roberts says:

    > while attorneys and engineers debated back and forth how many
    > houses might catch on fire due to a battery charging circuit
    > that could get into a weird state at times.

    Yep. And how could they possibly know, without studying it?

    A few years back the Association of State Fire Marshals came out with papers arguing that the number was grossly understated because home electronics fires generally destroy the evidence of how they started.

    I recollect hearing that that decades ago the Underwriters Laboratories allowed manufacturers to select the products that were tested for the UL seal, but (shocking!) manufacturers were loading up their samples with expensive fire retardant, passing the fire resistance tests, then changing the formula and selling plastic that burned very easily from a short circuit, for electrical and electronic equipment.

    A while back someone on another forum posted about working for a big manufacturer of home faucets, saying the company was very unhappy that California was buying their products over the counter to test them for lead content, because every other time they’d been checked by a state or national agency, they’d been able to send their special low-lead faucets to the testing agency to avoid problems.

    The assumption that people can honestly fool themselves even when they don’t plan to cheat is hard to get used to, til you get old enough to have experienced it over and over.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  45. 345
    matt says:

    #337 Matt: But at the end of the day, an engineer giving guidance that he’s 90% sure on a problem that he mostly understands isn’t at all bankable.

    Another interesting case study: NOAA predicted there was only a 5% chance this year that hurricanes would be below normal. And they forecast an 85% chance that it would be above normal.

    Of course these opinions come from a “consensus of scientists at the NOAA”.

    Season isn’t over yet, but it looks like expert opinion over the last two years here was way wrong. Flipping a coin wouldn’t have just done a little better. Flipping a coin would have have done much, much, much, much much better.

    Has anyone reviewed NOAA’s accuracy on years that they have called for a “high likelihood” (>85% chance) for a specific type of activity? It’d be an interesting case study for part of the discussion here: the relevence expert opinion on things that are only partially understood.

    Why is 85% confidence level from climate scientist to be taken more seriously when the mechanisms aren’t completely understood?

  46. 346
    Dan says:

    Despite the developing El Nino last summer (which generally reduces the number of Atlantic storms below average), the number of tropical storms last year was remarkable still about average. All things equal, it should have ended up being a below average season. In short, the fact that it ended up around average rather than below average is quite consistent with the concept of global warming raising the baseline. I suspect there is more info at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.

  47. 347
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 345. Matt, have you ever looked into what goes into forecasting hurricanes? There you are dealing with a chaotic–and very complex–system. You are looking at extremes of what weather can produce, and we’ve never been good at forecasting extremes. It is an art, not a science. Climate science on the other hand is much less ambitious–it looks at average behavior. We’re much better at averages. Again–you go from a specific example of where experts may be wrong and proceed to indict all experts. Methinks perhaps you have a bias.
    Complete understanding is not necessary when you are looking at average behavior like climate. All you have to do is nail down the main contributors to the energetics of the system–and climate science had done that at least a decade ago. Since that time, progress on climate models has been incremental…tweaking around the edges. That’s the way science is done. You can either learn about it sufficiently that you know how to trust or you can marginalize yourself by trusting no one. Your choice.

  48. 348
    Rod B says:

    Barton (338), you have missed my point entirely. I am not attacking RC per se, nor in this discourse arguing against AGW. While RC has imperfections (what doesn’t?), for my money it is far and away one of the most serious/scientific climate warming blog out there. (I also do not have any problem with people with whom I disagree being passionate in what they believe.) Secondly, attacking one’s logical base for their position is not ad hominem, even if the attackee would prefer their logic not see the light of day, or, more often, is blinded to it. My point was very simple. 1)There are many credible scientists who have doubts about AGW, at least in part. 2) There is a large number of AGW bloggers who consign those scientists, and most sceptics, to the trash pile by simply defining them away: “if he is a sceptic, he can not be credible — prima facie”, and come up with all kinds of rationalization backup for that. This is why providing a list is an exercise in futility, even though those folks and scientists are readily evident.

    What I just said is no more an ad hominem that it is a piece of apple pie.

    Ray (339), I think your words are pretty accurate; I appreciate them. Sometimes I let my contrariness go too far — bad trait; I tend to be tenacious (some have said obstinate, but that’s just their frustration showing!) — good trait. But I won’t decide on faith (until all else is exhausted), if that might be what you are suggesting, though I am acutely aware that often (usually) decisions must be made before all of the known facts are in. I am also aware and privately concerned a bit that while we sceptics reasonably press our case, and maybe prevail to some significant extent, and then be proven wrong, great throngs of people will be hurt badly. But, likewise plowing full speed ahead on mitigation will also create tremendous hardships for great throngs — the rose-colored and convenient economic predictions of many AGW proponents not withstanding.

  49. 349
    Rod B says:

    Petro Says:
    “matt answered to #321 SecularAnimist: “You would lose that bet. NO “world experts” believed that “Iraq had nukes.” Yes, you are right, I mistyped. Substitute WMD for nukes.”

    You lose that bet as well.”

    No he doesn’t — not at all.

  50. 350
    matt says:

    #342 Ray Ladbury: A couple of wise women who worked there clued me in to the key to success: Realize that you will never be an expert in any of these fields. Get to know the experts. Get to know their biases, agendas, etc. Figure out which ones you can trust and when. Never rely on a single source.

    Matt, the proposition that some experts bullshit so therefore all experts bullshit is simply not tenable. What is more, you need to take care that you do not use your distrust of experts as an excuse for complacency. This threat is real. If you don’t trust the experts, then you need to become sufficiently expert yourself that you at least know which experts you can trust. If you do not, then you disenfranchise yourself as to decisions about how to mitigate the threat.

    Bingo. We’ve just reached a common understanding after thousands of words. I’m thrilled that you have at some point in your life thought it important and healthy to question motive when weighing the opinion of experts.

    As I’ve said, I don’t distrust experts inherently. I distrust experts predicting where the “mostly known” will take us, especially if a suspect motive is involved. And the reason why is because the track record of experts in these “mostly known” situations isn’t great.

    Make no mistake, I’m not for the status quo. If it were up to me, September 12 would be remembered as the day we kicked off an initiative to get 85% of our energy production over to nuclear and 95% of our annual auto miles powered by electricity. But it wouldn’t because I was worried about CO2…


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