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Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 December 2008

I recently came across an old copy of Arthur Koestler’s “The Case of the Midwife Toad”. Originally published in 1971, it’s an exploration of a rather tragic footnote in the history of evolutionary science. Back in the early years of the 20th Century (prior to the understanding of DNA, but after Mendelian genetics had become well known), there was still a remnant of the biological community who preferred the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics over the Darwinian idea of natural selection of random mutations. One of the vanguard for the Lamarckian idea was Paul Kammerer whose specialty was the breeding of amphibians that apparently few others could match. He claimed that he could get his toads and salamanders to acquire characteristics that were useful in the new environments in which he raised his specimens. This was touted loudly (in the New York Times for instance) as proof of Lamarckian inheritance and Kammerer was hailed as a ‘new Darwin’. It all ended very badly when one toad specimen was found to be faked (by who remains a mystery), and Kammerer killed himself shortly afterwards (though there may have been more involved than scientific disgrace).

The details of the experiments and controversy can be read online (with various slants) here and here, and a more modern non-replication of one of his experiments is described here. However, the reason I bring this up here is much more related to how the scientific community and Koestler dealt with this scientific maverick and the analogies that has for the climate science and its contrarians.

There are (at least) four points where the analogies with climate science are strong: First, there were clear philosophical motives for supporting Lamarckism (as there are for denying human effects on climate change) (see below). These are strongly articulated in Koestler’s book, and it is obvious that the author feels some sympathy with that argument. Second, there is idealization of the romantic notion of the scientist-as-hero, sacrificing their all (literally in Kammerer’s case) for the pursuit of truth in the teeth of establishment opposition (cf Svensmark). Third, there is the outrage at the apparent dirty tricks, rumours and persecution. Finally, there is the longing for a redemption – a time when the paradigm shift will occur and the hero will be proven right.

Enough time has passed and enough additional scientific evidence has been gathered however to show that Kammerer’s ideas are never going to be accepted into the mainstream. Therefore, we can use this episode to highlight how people’s misunderstanding of scientific process can lead them astray.

So let’s start with the non-scientific reasons why Kammerer’s ideas had resonance. Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) puts it well (p143):

Just as Lamarckianism combines easily with an idealism in which the entire creation is fulfilling God’s vast plan by constant upward striving, so also does it combine easily with political doctrines that emphasize the building of a better world.

The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. That was a depressing thought for many people (what is the point of striving at all?), and hence there was a clear non-scientific yearning for Lamarckian inheritance to be correct. I use the past tense in referring to these almost 100 year-old arguments, but Koestler’s book and more recent attempts to rehabilitate these ideas tap into these same (misguided) romantic notions. (Odd aside, one of the most positive treatments of this “neo-Lamarckianism” is by Michael Duffy, a frequent climate contrarian Australian journalist). Note that I am distinguishing the classic ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’ from the much more respectable study of epigenetics.

The scientist-as-hero meme is a very popular narrative device and is widespread in most discussions of progress in science. While it’s clearly true that some breakthroughs have happened through the work of a single person (special relativity is the classic case) and someone has to be the first to make a key observation (e.g. Watson and Crick), the vast majority of scientific progress occurs as the accumulation of small pieces of new information and their synthesis into a whole. While a focus on a single person makes for a good story, it is very rarely the whole or even a big part of the real story. Thus while Koestler can’t be uniquely faulted for thinking that Lamarckianism rose and fell with Kammerer, that perspective leads him to imbue certain events with much more significance than is really warranted.

For instance, one of the more subtle misconceptions in the book though is how Koestler thinks that scientific arguments get settled. He places enormous emphasis on a academic tour that Kammerer made to the UK which included a well-documented talk in Cambridge in which the subsequently-notorious specimen was also in attendance. In fact, Koestler devotes a large number of pages to first-hand recollections of the talk. Koestler also criticises heavily the arch-protagonist in this story (a Dr. Bateson) who did not attend Kammerer’s talk, even though he presumably could have, while continuing to criticise his conclusions. The talk is in fact held up to be the one missed opportunity for some academic mano-a-mano that Koestler presumably thinks would have settled things.

Except that this is not how controversial ideas get either accepted or rejected. Sure, publishing papers, giving talks and attending conferences are all useful in bringing ideas to a wider audience, but they are very rarely the occasion of some dramatic denouement and mass conversion of the skeptical. Instead, ideas get accepted because of the increasing weight of evidence that supports them – and that usually comes in dribs and drabs. A replication here, a theoretical insight there, a validated prediction etc. Only in hindsight does there appear to be a clean sequence of breakthroughs that can be seen to have led inexorably to the new conclusions. At the time, the landscape is far more ambiguous. Thus in focusing on one specific talk, and on its reception by one particularly outspoken opponent, Koestler misses the wider issue – which was that Kammerer’s ideas just didn’t have any independent support. The wider community thus saw his work (as far as I can tell) as a curiosity: possibly his findings were correct, but his interpretation was likely not, and maybe his findings weren’t all that reproducible in any case?

This remains the issue, if Lamarckian evolution were possible, it should have been viewable in hundreds of other systems that were much easier to replicate than Kammerer’s toads (nematodes perhaps?). Absent that replication, no amount of exciting talks will have persuaded scientists. In that, scientists are probably a little different from the public, or at least the public who went to Kammerer’s more public lectures where he was very warmly received.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that Kammerer’s more vocal opponents would occasionally give vent to their true feelings. Koestler is particular critical of Bateson who, in retrospect, does appear to have gone a little far in his public critiques of Kammerer. However, Koestler perhaps doesn’t realise how common quite scathing criticism is in the halls of academe. This rarely gets written down explicitly, but it is nonetheless there, and forms a big part of how well some people’s ideas are received. If someone is perceived as an exaggerator, or an over-interpreter of their results, even their most careful work will not get a lot of support.

Koestler ends his book with the familiar refrain that since modern science is incomplete, alternative theories must continue to be pursued. He states that since “contemporary genetics has no answers to offer to the problem of the genesis of behaviour”, the replication the key experiments (which he clearly expected to vindicate Kammerer), would very likely make biologists ‘sit up’ and have a long-lasting impact on the field. This notion fails to take into account the vast amount of knowledge that already exists and that makes certain kinds of ‘alternative’ theories very unlikely to be true. The link between this optimistic expectation and discussions of climate change is persuasively demonstrated in this pastiche.

There is one additional characteristic of this story that has some modern resonance, and that’s the idea that once someone starts accepting one class of illogical arguments, that leads them to accept others that aren’t really connected, but share some of the same characteristics. Some people have called this ‘crank magnetism‘. In Kammerer’s case, he was a great believer in the meaningfulness of coincidences and wrote a book trying to elucidate the ‘laws’ that might govern them. Koestler himself became a big proponent of parapsychology. And today there are examples of climate contrarians who are creationists or anti-vaccine campaigners. Though possibly this is just coincidence (or is it….?).

Of course, the true worth of any scientific idea is whether it leads to more successful predictions than other theories. So I’ll finish with a 1923 prediction that Kammerer made while he was on a speaking tour of the US: “Take a very pertinent case. The next generation of Americans will be born without any desire for liquor if the prohibition law is continued and strictly enforced” (NYT, Nov 28).

703 Responses to “Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad”

  1. 201
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod, sorry, but the standard for scientific truth is not flexible. 95% confidence means you can take it to the bank. What is more, most of the measures people are talking about in the short term actually SAVE money. There’s zero excuse not to carry through with them when confronted with a credible threat. Now I know they are not enough, but saving energy NOW buys time in the future, and time is what we need–to better understand the science of climate and mitigation AND to come up with technologies that will save our tuckuses.
    I’m afraid I disagree with Matt. Folks like Lynne Vincent-Nathan and Furry Catherder and Jim Galasyn are heros, because they are doing something NOW…buying time. I have a feeling that in about 50 years, our progeny are going to wish a whole lot more of us had acted similarly.

  2. 202
    Joseph O\'Sullivan says:

    Rod B:
    “Ray (87), I agree with you and Andrew that the real concern is, at the core, economic. You imply this is a “baddie”, but economic, political, or philosophical motivations, per se, are NOT bad.”

    Rod B’s core concern is economic, political and philosophical because that is what his comments usually are about. I stopped responding to him because it would just encourage off topic trolling. Remember DFTT!

  3. 203

    RE 197 & “Lynn seems to want everybody to upsticks and move closer to his/her place of work, a massively disruptive suggestion”

    I’ve always said “on your next move.” I don’t think I’m suggesting people move soley for GW reasons. But it would have been good, if over the decades people had taken into consideration peak oil and now GW in their deliberations about which house to buy when they ARE in the process of moving.

    Perhaps there could even be some “house exchange” thing, where people who live in suburb A and commute to suburb B, exchange houses with people (paying the difference in values) with people who live in suburb B and work in suburb A.

    Of course, those renting can move more easily, and a renter I know moved some 4 months ago to be closer to work due to the then high cost of gasoline. She had originally moved to be close to her mother, but then realized she only saw her mother maybe once a week, but had to work 5 or 6 days a week.

  4. 204
    Jim Eager says:

    Rod (191), since I readily concede that there were some environmentalists and others concerned about global warming cheerleading ethanol schemes your charge that I am wishing or willing them away is rather hollow.

    The fact is “truth”s original charge was that “little is heard from AGW proponents on that” [the ill-thought-out biofuel option], and later, that those pointing out the downside “must have been very timid and muted,” charges thoroughly trashed by Hank at 126.

    And the meme that environmentalists and those concerned about global warming are the influence and the power behind the etahanol gold rush is simply preposterous, no matter how much some would wish or will that that they were.

  5. 205
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Douglas Wise @197: “Jim suggests that any proponent of AGW who advocated the use of biofuels was being unrealistic. (I am supposing that he was referring to ethanol production from soya or corn). Why?”

    Because manufacturing ethanol from high-starch food crops is grossly inefficient, yielding barely more energy than all of the combined fuel inputs expended in planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, harvesting, transporting and processing the crop into ethanol fuel. That alone makes it a senseless boondoggle. We might as well just burn the inputs directly since the same amount of fossil carbon will go up in CO2 and it will have no net effect on reducing imported fossil fuels.

    Because growing high-starch food crops for fuel either diverts food from human consumption, or it removes agricultural land from food production.

    “There is little compelling evidence that food costs were adversely affected…”

    You must be joking. Although in your defense, the corn price shocks widely featured in media reports were mainly due to speculators taking advantage of the situation to boost profits, since the corn used to produce ethanol is not the type of corn used to make corn meal for tortillas.

    Douglas: “but, even if they were, the major sufferers would not have been US citizens.”

    Yes, that is indeed callous. Are you quite sure you want to go down that road?

    And finally, I don’t think that there are any proponents of AGW, which is why I have started to use the term AGW realists.

    Captcha: PUNCH down

  6. 206
    Craig Allen says:

    Rod B,

    If the climate science predictions continue to unfold as expected over the next couple of decades, I believe that the dire seriousness of the situation is likely to become undeniably obvious and frightening to every sane person.

    Barack and the leaders who follow him, in the US and elsewhere, will be then far more likely to take on the Herculean task of switching the World’s economy to low or zero emissions through the decommissioning of fossil fuelled electricity generation, a concomitant ramp up of solar, wind and geothermal generation, and possibly (if ever possible) the commissioning of technologies to start stripping CO2 out of the atmosphere. They will be unable to resist the strident demands of their populaces that we all get on with the job.

    Lamark and other scientists who passionately and honestly pursued scientific dead-ends should be remembered with respect. The contrarians who attempt to twist public perceptions of climate science to suit their political and economic orthodoxies will be remembered with derision.

  7. 207
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Lewis, While I agree that the potential sacrifices demanded for mitigation of climate change could be daunting, how is it such a bad thing to go out and buy a smaller, more efficient car? Or even to keep your tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage. To switch to compact fluorescents? To wear a sweater in the house? How is it a bad thing to plant a garden and grow some of your family’s food? Or even to go hunting? Or to plant some trees? All of these things save money and energy NOW, and buy time in the future. Accepting the truth is essential to responsibility. Accepting responsibility is essential to self defense.

    RECAPTCHA gets personal: despise Jersey

  8. 208
    Rod B says:

    Lynn (188), I applaud your effort and agree every little individual bit helps. I’m just saying you can not credibly project these things to a satisfactory system wide solution, and set it aside as a hunky-dory done deal. Gonna take more than car pooling and keeping our tires inflated, though individuals should.

  9. 209
    SecularAnimist says:

    Rod B wrote: “Barack is going to kill only the 100+ GWatts (40% of) from coal planned for the next 20-25 years and leave (much to your chagrin it seems) the current 300 GWatts alone?”

    As I wrote above, my hope is that the Obama administration, and the Democratic majority in Congress, will move quickly to ban construction of any new coal-fired power plants, period, and will then move to phase out and shut down the existing coal-fired power plants as quickly as possible.

    I am opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power plants. There is no need for them. The USA has vast commercially-exploitable wind and solar energy resources, that are more than sufficient to provide all the electricity we need to maintain a prosperous, comfortable, technologically-advanced society. I am OK with existing nuclear power plants continuing to operate for some time yet, until they can be phased out. Of course at the end of their service lives they will all have to be decommissioned — which will be a huge, huge cost but cannot be avoided now.

    The downside is that as long as those plants operate, they are producing more nuclear waste, which we presently have no way of dealing with safely. That’s bad, but not as bad as continuing to spew massive amounts of CO2 from coal, so IMO phasing out nuclear is not as urgent as phasing out coal. However, if we are going to continue running those nuclear power plants, the inadequate regulation and safety regime for the nuclear power industry — from mining and refining fuel, through operation, to waste sequestration and decommissioning of old power plants — must be considerably strengthened.

    ReCaptcha says it’s “anybody’s verdict”.

  10. 210
    matt says:

    #201 Ray: 95% confidence means you can take it to the bank.

    I wonder what % of the time scientists that claim 95% confidence are wrong? As previously stated, experts tend to overstate what they think they know, and don’t know what they don’t know.

    If confidence was really 95% on a single event, then that implies one would be willing to take some severely lopsided odds that indeed what they say will happen will in fact happen. But nobody ever will. On either side.

    Which implies people aren’t 95%.

    Would Hansen have won a 20 year bet that we’d be close to B? Nope. Inside A through C? Probably not. What was his confidence in his prediction?

    Everyone talks about the guys that predicted the market will melt down. If in fact they believed it, then they should have made $100 for every $ they had invested.

    But they didn’t.

    Find me the climate scientist that will bet his kids education and his retirement on a 20 year assertion that is half as scary as the IPCC and that will deliver odds that are proportional to his confidence. Is there one? Ditto on the naysayers. Absent both, let’s not pretend we know more than we do.

  11. 211
    Rod B says:

    Douglas (197), a minor clarification, not a disagreement. The problem with corn ethanol as a mitigator of AGW is that it depends totally on the stalks, leaves and roots sequesturing carbon forever; it’s not clear how much of that is true. As a mitigator of oil imports it works and becomes the oil import vs. food question.

  12. 212
    Nick Gotts says:

    ““Truth” pedals anything but.” – Jim Eager@83

    It’s a useful heuristic that anyone using a nym such as “truth” or “common sense” in an online discussion is almost always peddling some sort of disingenuous garbage.

  13. 213
    matt says:

    #207 Ray: Lewis, While I agree that the potential sacrifices demanded for mitigation of climate change could be daunting, how is it such a bad thing to go out and buy a smaller, more efficient car? Or even to keep your tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage. To switch to compact fluorescents? To wear a sweater in the house? How is it a bad thing to plant a garden and grow some of your family’s food? Or even to go hunting? Or to plant some trees? All of these things save money and energy NOW, and buy time in the future. Accepting the truth is essential to responsibility. Accepting responsibility is essential to self defense.

    These aren’t bad things IF people want to do them on their own. They don’t help any measurable amount, especially if they are adding electronic gadgets to their house at a rate that exceeds their reductions (and overwhelmingly they are). But I get the feeling that volunteering to do these things won’t be enough for you in the future.

    That’s the part that worries me.

    [edit – OT]

  14. 214
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Also, the green movements are even more dangerous than the denialists at times.” – jcbmack

    Justification for this claim?

  15. 215
    matt says:

    #203 LynnV: I’ve always said “on your next move.” I don’t think I’m suggesting people move soley for GW reasons. But it would have been good, if over the decades people had taken into consideration peak oil and now GW in their deliberations about which house to buy when they ARE in the process of moving.

    If we substantially reduce CO2 emissions in the next few decades, either through nuclear or enormous alt energy or both, and if electric cars become the primary means of transportation, then why worry at all where people live?

    In fact, cars in 20-30 years will move on highways densely packed and at very high speeds, talking to other cars around them and coordinating their moves.

    Only if we stay on oil does sprawl matter. If we solve the oil problem and travel in cars moving at 120 MPH, sprawl will become the preferred path for most.

  16. 216
    Jim Eager says:

    “Only if we stay on oil does sprawl matter. If we solve the oil problem and travel in cars moving at 120 MPH, sprawl will become the preferred path for most.”

    And these people have asserted here that climate change is not the most important environmental risk?

  17. 217
    matt says:

    #209 SecularAnimist : I am opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power plants. There is no need for them. The USA has vast commercially-exploitable wind and solar energy resources, that are more than sufficient to provide all the electricity we need to maintain a prosperous, comfortable, technologically-advanced society. I am OK with existing nuclear power plants continuing to operate for some time yet, until they can be phased out. Of course at the end of their service lives they will all have to be decommissioned — which will be a huge, huge cost but cannot be avoided now.

    You can bet new nuclear plants are coming. Excelon are busy “uprating” existing plants, and planning on building more once they can be sure the red tape is out of the picture..

    “Exelon will not commit to building new nuclear plants, however,
    until we are satisfied that our conditions for safety, regulatory stability, bipartisan
    federal, state and local support, spent fuel management and cost have been met.”

    If safety and fuel storage really worried them, then they wouldn’t be uprating current plants. Instead, it’s the regulatory red tape they worry about. And that’s why they’ve donated so much to Obama.

    Let’s start rolling the concrete trucks, because more nuclear is coming. Finally.

    http://www.exeloncorp.com/NR/rdonlyres/6BF790FC-6ADB-422D-A7A5-36F3776748CC/0/080716Exelon2020_A_Low_Carbon_Roadmap.pdf

  18. 218
    Rod B says:

    Eli (199), just so I understand, are you asserting the using natural gas instead of coal in power generation results in a massive reduction (for the same kWh) in CO2. My chemistry says about 40% less joule for joule (though one can find tons of different estimates for joules/mole or /kg for coal). Noticeable; but enough to say “NO PROBLEM” here?? Then gasoline which is only about 15% or so worse than natural gas ought to be no problem too, yes?

  19. 219
    SecularAnimist says:

    matt wrote: “… cars in 20-30 years will move on highways densely packed and at very high speeds …”

    We have that technology now. It’s called a railroad.

  20. 220
    Rod B says:

    Ray (201) But the 95% was not delivered on the tablets; it was prepared by the folks assessing their own work (hidden somewhat behind obscure math). And I can not buy the sanguine effect of mitigation that you rose-colored glasses wearers see. I suspect we will continue to disagree here.

    I do support the insurance idea. It makes sense to do some not largely expensive and disruptive “mitigation”, like the individual efforts (many of which do save money — though will not fix the problem as I asserted to Lynn), or larger things that will be likely required anyway like getting off the eventually depleted oil stocks.

  21. 221
    Rod B says:

    It’s O.K. Joseph. I’m not hungry anyway. ;-)

  22. 222
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Further, no one set out to disbelieve that human behavior affects climate” – snorbert zangox

    This is completely false. There is a considerable section of right-wing opinion which cannot stomach the possibility that any human activity has serious environmental effects – because this undermines their faith that “free markets” can solve all problems. consider this random sample, from http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2008/10/29/the-great-libertarian-purge-of-2008/

    ““Belief” in AGW is a test of intelligence and knowledge, not libertarianism. The idiots and dupes and whores (Scientists who get their funding based on saying the “correct” things) believe in it, the rest of us don’t.

    At a minimum, the rest of us understand that the cost of Kyoto etc. FAR outweighs any potential benefits.” – Greg Q

    or follow the links from:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2008/06/15/libertarians-and-global-warming/, particularly http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2007/2/6/155027.shtml,
    the author of which claims: “The real purpose behind the global warming movement is the establishment of a world socia-list order under the control of the United Nations.”

    Other examples are legion.

  23. 223
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt complains: “If confidence was really 95% on a single event, then that implies one would be willing to take some severely lopsided odds that indeed what they say will happen will in fact happen. But nobody ever will. On either side.”

    Ah, but you see, we aren’t betting on a single event, but rather a trend. It’s more like your retirement (at least if you are being responsible) than a roll of the dice. You claim that experts overstate their confidence. Care to provide an example of a time where the overwhelming majority of experts (>100) claimied 95% confidence and were wrong in the physical sciences? Actually, most experts I know are very conservative. If you aren’t, you don’t stay an expert very long.

  24. 224
    simon abingdon says:

    #207 Ray, your long suit is science. Be true to your calling. Steer clear of politics (cf my comment about Bohr #92). Your advice “wear a sweater in the house” isn’t one of the world’s most persuasive vote-winners. I was working in Berlin when the wall fell in 1989. When the East Germans saw what they’d been denied (from bananas to Mercs) their fury knew no bounds….

  25. 225
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK, Simon, here’s a question: What do you have against sweaters? Why do folks like you take so much pleasure in being wasteful? You guys had a field day with Jimmy Carter in his sweater turning down the thermostat in the Whitehouse. You ridiculed Barack Obama for having the temerity to suggest that properly inflated tires could make a difference. Now these things are all demonstrably true and in fact proven. So, why do you hate the idea of giving the planet a break and backing off on wasteful consumption?

  26. 226
    t_p_hamilton says:

    matt:”I wonder what % of the time scientists that claim 95% confidence are wrong? As previously stated, experts tend to overstate what they think they know, and don’t know what they don’t know.”

    Spoken by someone who doesn’t know about level of expertise and self-assessment. As a matter of fact, it is the nonexpert who WAY overestimates their level of knowledge, precisely because they don’t know what they don’t know (because they don’t know anything). This is called the Dunning-Krueger effect. Look it up in Wikipedia.

  27. 227

    re 217 & 218–

    If environmental costs are appropriately represented in the economy, more of us will be wearing sweaters inside–as I am now, actually.

    Our present economy, though, sends hopelessly mixed signals. That’s why cap and trade or some other mechanism for attaching a cost to pollution is so critical. The denialist furore surely provides us ample proof that purely individualistic, voluntary measures are not going to save our butts–some of these folk wouldn’t be convinced even if Miami *were* to be submerged in glacial meltwater, and the “tragedy of the commons” logic will still apply for quite a while as the number of the unconvinced slowly shrinks. So we will do better if structural reforms make possible to “do well by doing good.”

  28. 228
    Lewis says:

    Ray at #207, then what?

    I changed the light bulbs. If I turn down the furnace any lower the girlfriend will break up with me. She’s miserable many nights even with a sweater over long sleeved t-shirts and despite all the cuddling and despite her own desire to do the right thing.

    Maybe I should just turn it down more anyway? It would be the right thing for future generations wouldn’t it?

    It is a bit of quandry. Protect the earth for future generations or not father them.

  29. 229
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray wrote: “… how is it such a bad thing to … switch to compact fluorescents? … save money and energy NOW, and buy time in the future.”

    matt replied: “These aren’t bad things IF people want to do them on their own. They don’t help any measurable amount …”

    matt is mistaken. According to WorldWatch Institute:

    Replacing all the inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with CFLs in the United States alone could prevent 158 million tons of CO2 emissions according to one lighting company, the equivalent of taking more than 30 million cars off the road. Sub­stituting CFLs under a global scenario that ­minimizes costs would reduce lighting energy demand by nearly 40 percent and save 900 million tons of CO2 a year by 2030, with a cumu­lative savings by then totaling 16.6 billion tons — more than twice the carbon dioxide released in the United States in 2006.

  30. 230
    jcbmack says:

    #214 Nick, as a scientist with a background in physics, engineering and degrees in biology and chemistry and an individual belonging to green movements email news, I know a lot of what they propose is not feaible from an engineering standpoint, far too expensive in a too short period of time and most of the people running or belonging to the green movements have little to no scientific backgrounds. Any climatologist, physicist and especially engineers know this.

  31. 231
    simon abingdon says:

    #225 Ray. I have been wearing my lined wool-mix Norwegian-style sweater which I bought in Lidl two years ago for £15, every day indoors since Dec 1. The daytime temperature here (UK lat 54degN) has been freezing or thereabouts ever since then; my wife wears two sweaters of a more fashionable provenance (pure wool I believe). I do not attribute the temperature to any unseasonable effect, it’s just that I can no longer afford to heat the room of the house we normally inhabit during the hours of daylight at this time of year. I’m sorry that energy isn’t as cheap as it used to be and I’m very concerned that it will not even be available on a continuous basis in the foreseeable future. Anyway, I’ve nothing against sweaters (your first question).

    Second question: “Why do folks like you take so much pleasure in being wasteful?” Maybe it’s a surprise for you to learn that I too abhor waste (although the issue “what is waste” becomes somewhat philosophical given the conservation laws of physics). Did you know BTW that if you overinflate your tyres (tires) you get much better fuel consumption? (Wears them out quicker of course).

    It’s your last question that is for me the most telling however. I quote ”So, why do you hate the idea of giving the planet a break and backing off on wasteful consumption?” Wasteful consumption of what exactly?: sunlight? water? iron? aluminium? timber? coal? oil? uranium? How will “backing off” use of these resources give the planet “a break”?

  32. 232
    Hank Roberts says:

    Simon, give it a break. You can’t be as naive as you’re pretending to be. Overinflate your tires and you decrease the contact area, creating a severe hazard to yourself and other traffic. Don’t give advice that can get some naive reader killed, eh?

  33. 233
    llewelly says:

    Jim Eager:

    And finally, I don’t think that there are any proponents of AGW, which is why I have started to use the term AGW realists.

    Are you sure about that? There are plenty of people who insist global warming will be a good thing, and plenty more who insist that burning fossil fuels is both wonderful and necessary. Aren’t they effectively promoting global warming?
    :-)

  34. 234
    simon abingdon says:

    #232 Hank – Higher tyre pressures give better consumption and better roadholding. We all knew this in the sixties!
    The only negative issue is tyre life. Hank says “Don’t give advice that can get some naive reader killed, eh?” We’re way OT here Hank, but do please stick to the facts.

  35. 235
    Jim Eager says:

    llewelly (233), sure there are plenty of people who insist global warming will be a good thing, but they also tend to argue that it isn’t happening, that humans aren’t causing it, that it’s the sun, that the weather stations are poorly sited, etc, etc, etc.

    In other words, it’s just one more bogus argument in their arsenal.

  36. 236
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Mention has been made several times about 95% certainty of AGW. How about a certainty exceeding 99% by one of the leading climatologists of our time, if not the leading one:

    “Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.
    The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.”
    The above quote is from James Hansen’s testimony to Congress last June.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen/twenty-years-later-tippin_b_108766.html

  37. 237
    Dave Andrews says:

    #230 jcbmack,

    I can’t match your scientific qualifications but I have 25 years experience of activism with UK NGOs, especially the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which has brought me into contact with many green organisations and I can confirm that much of what you say is correct.

  38. 238
    Rod B says:

    Craig (206), “if”, of course, is the operative word in all of this. Your second paragraph is probably accurate in its context. It will be a long way from the walk in the park that many predict, though. [Executive Order: Beginning next month no electricity by coal or methane and all cars, trucks and busses must be shut off and parked. Ought to work.]

    And if AGW proves correct but almost too late as you say in your third paragraph, your prediction of the altitudes toward us skeptics is also probably correct — and probably not totally unreasonable. You guys will be equally derided if we upset the fruit basket at the tune of maybe hundreds of $trillions for mitigation and find it was not needed. (Admittedly, however, we might not logically be able to tell then; good position for you to be in. ;-) )

    reCAPTCHA = mighty bill

  39. 239
    Rod B says:

    Matt, but what about all the CO2 released from manufacturing the concrete on all of those trucks??? :-P

  40. 240
    Rod B says:

    Well, Ray, more than 95% of the scientists, starting with Ptolemy, were more than 99% certain that Earth was the center of the solar system for centuries. I know. I know. They don’t count!

  41. 241
    Rod B says:

    Ray, “properly inflated tires can make a difference”??? Like putting bricks in the toilet tank??? Careful. I like it when you keep your wits. ;-)

  42. 242
    Rod B says:

    Kevin, good point. Environmental costs are not properly accounted for in the market economy of things and that is a primary problem. But, it isn’t easy. And cap and trade is a smoke and mirror ineffective panacea.

    captcha: Ayres legality ???

  43. 243
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Simon Abingdon asks: “How will “backing off” use of these resources give the planet “a break”?”

    Are you aware of the energy needed to produce aluminum? Have you ever seen an open-pit coal mine? Are you in denail about the effects of fertilizer run-off into streams and estuaries as well as the effect of CO2 on climate?

    Look, there are a lot of things I wish were true. One of them is that we weren’t jeopardizing civilization by putting CO2 into the atmosphere. That, unfortunately, means that the advancement of science is going to be a lot slower than it would have been as we have to divert resources to address climate issues. That affects me directly. But that’s reality. It does no good to deny it. It does no good to pretend you didn’t hear the experts. We have to deal with it. It isn’t optional.

  44. 244
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod,
    “Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Check your manufacturers specifications, or if you have specialty tires often times their websites will tell you, if its not listed directly on the tire itself. Typcailly for most sedans its 30-35 PSI. Having properly inflated tires can get you up to 10% better gas milage on average.”
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4397589_better-gas-milage.html

    Good Lord, Man. As Hank says, you can look this friggin stuff up!

    Now onto science: The sceintific method dates form the era of Francis Bacon and Galileo, not Ptolemy. Prior to this point, you have “natural philosophy” or philosophy, not science.

  45. 245
    Rod B says:

    Lawerence, there was a question whether I was the smartest guy within a 20 mile radfius. I did a study and found I was, with a 99% certainty. Man!

  46. 246
    Rod B says:

    Ray, can you reference the peer-reviewed papers that show that the average driver is driving with sufficiently low tire pressure that he can improve MPG 10% by raising it to 35psi? Actually raising to 30psi would be easier and evidently result in exactly the same improvement.

    Don’t rear the ads in the car mags!

  47. 247
    John Lang says:

    Just noting that we are in that “rare opportunity zone” right now where there is no real impact on global temperatures from an El Nino or La Nina or the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

    The ENSO has been mostly neutral for the past 5 months and the AMO in November fell to a paltry 0.055C – or more-or-less ZERO for both of them.

    The southern Atlantic sea surface temperatures which have a big impact on particularly the Southern Hemisphere temperatures is also roughly ZERO right now.

    In other words, temperatures are not being affected by the natural variation caused by the most influential ocean cycles – the ENSO, the AMO and the Southern Atlantic.

    The Hadcrut3 anomaly was only 0.387C in November 2008 signaling there has only been about 0.4C of warming over the last 40 years.

    GISS Temp for November is not out yet, but this month provides a really rare opportunity to assess how much global warming there really has been to date.

  48. 248
  49. 249
    Hank Roberts says:

    See also:
    http://www.edmunds.com/advice/fueleconomy/articles/126090/article.html

    Rod, you can find the studies behind the current trend toward automatic tire pressure monitoring systems, I’m sure, if you look.

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wups, copypaste fail; that second link should be

    http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/123996/article.html

    Edmunds surveyed their own employees using digital tire gauges (first link), and also quotes the federal estimates (second link).

    And you’ll also find — by now you know how to find this stuff for yourself:
    “Underinflated tires waste gas. How much gas? The Department of Transportation estimates that 5 million gallons of fuel per day are wasted due to low tire pressure. That’s more than 2 billion gallons per year…..”