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Advocacy vs. Science

Filed under: — gavin @ 1 April 2009

The advocate will pick up any piece of apparently useful data and without doing any analysis, decide that their pet theory perfectly explains any anomaly without consideration of any alternative explanations. Their conclusion is always that their original theory is correct.

The scientist will look at all possibilities and revise their thinking based on a thorough assessment of all issues – data quality, model quality and appropriateness of the the comparison. Their conclusion follows from the analysis whatever it points to.

Which one is which?

595 Responses to “Advocacy vs. Science”

  1. 101
    Paul says:

    Way back at number 3…

    Corey Watts said:

    “Scientists, moreover, don’t work in a social or political vacuum.”

    In a defence of advocates.
    Corey are you suggesting that those that work in the social/political vacuum should maybe leave their scientific theories at home?
    And not plaster them across the media.

  2. 102
    Nick Barnes says:

    Jarad @ 97: Yes, in September the Arctic sea ice trend was -11.1% per decade. That was the trend for September sea ice extent. It compared 2008 September sea ice extent with September sea ice extents for other years going back to 1979.

    Now at the end of March, we have the March sea ice trend, -2.7% per decade. That is the trend for March sea ice extent. It compares 2009 March sea ice extent with March sea ice extents for other years back to 1979.

    So you cannot say that a -11.1% trend has become a -2.7% trend, because those two numbers are not measuring the same thing. -11.1% is the trend in September sea ice extent. -2.7% is the trend in March sea ice extent. September sea ice is a very different thing to March sea ice.

    September is the month at the end of the Arctic melt season; the September ice area/extent/mass is the lowest of the year and the most sensitive to Arctic warming (because it’s only in the summer that any of the Arctic is warm enough for any ice to melt; in a warmer Arctic, more ice melts in the summer).

    March is the month at the end of the long cold Arctic winter, during which essentially the whole Arctic ocean freezes over (and will continue to do so even when the Arctic is much warmer than it is today). For that reason there is less variation in sea ice area/extent in March than in September, and what variation there is is a much smaller proportion of the total.

  3. 103
    Dan says:

    re 84. Let’s get something clear: Dyson is primarily a physicist. Not a climate scientist. I have not found even one peer-reviewed paper re: AGW by Dyson on Google Scholar. The idea that anyone would give one person (Dyson, in this case) more weight because he is a “proven scientist” over the literally thousands of “proven” peer-reviewed climate scientists world-wide and every major climate science society/professional organization world-wide (AMS, CMOS, AGU, NAS, NOAA, NASA, etc.) who agree about AGW is absolute proof of looking for an answer to support one’s preconceived ideas re: AGW. And that’s definitely not science. That is wishful thinking and denialism to the max. And sounds a lot like the Cato Institute advertisement, George Will, Fred Barnes, and Fox News (getting a few non-climate “scientists” to say that AGW is no big deal, just to confuse and misinform laymen.)

  4. 104
    wmanny says:

    93. “As far as I can tell there are some significant predictions, by Hansen etc from as early as the late 70s of global warming, and that the trend has been fairly close to what was predicted.”

    There has been a lot written about those predictions (scenarios), and whatever you make of them, they are not in the same predictability category as cars and TVs.

  5. 105
    wmanny says:

    86. “And in this case Gore is far closer to the truth than Dyson.”

    Indeed that may prove to be the case. But let’s be clear here: if you put those two men in a room and query them about the specifics of how climate works, who do you think will know more? The problem RC has with Dyson, I believe, is that he is in disagreement about the significance of the problem. Gore is in near total agreement (though I suppose one could argue he is “more alarmist”) and his views are naturally tolerated more here as a result.

  6. 106
    Mark says:

    “I am merely saying that the Arctic extent loss trend is decreasing and the Antarctic trend is growing by a bunch.”

    But what does what you say about the artic extent mean?

    The pole is colder not because it’s further away from the sun but because the ground is obliquely angled to the sun. The rays glance in and have their energy spread over a lot of earth.

    Now this means that the further poleward you go, the less energy there is (by a decidedly non linear factor) and the harder it is for warmth to manage to melt the ice.

    When melting of ice occurs, the easy-to-melt ice goes first and you have a quick reduction in extent. But when all the easy ice is gone, you only have the stuff further poleward to melt and that’s harder to manage and you need more warming from the atmosphere to manage it.

    So the Artic has had in the past a lot of melting. All the easy stuff is gone.

    The Antartic hasn’t had much melting and so all the easy stuff is still available.

    Given these, is what your saying saying anything useful at all?

    I don’t think so.

  7. 107
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Response to Mike’s In-line: While several conservatives are on record as concerned about climate change, they’ve certainly been tepid in their defense of it. None have attacked the anti-science loon fringe of their party–despite the damage that fringe has done to the party.

    [Response: Ray, I can personally attest to the fact that both John McCain and Sherwood Boehlert have indeed done precisely this. I do nonetheless share your dissapointment that there is not far more support from their side of the aisle. – mike]

    What makes Gore stand apart is that he stands alone. Even the occasional joint appearance with a Republican politician would not only have added credibility to science where it is needed most, it would also have taken the emphasis off of Gore and put it on the science. The science is what needs to be emphasized.

  8. 108
    Mark says:

    “But let’s be clear here: if you put those two men in a room and query them about the specifics of how climate works, who do you think will know more?”

    Al Gore.

    He’s *listened* to people who know this stuff. Dyson doesn’t seem to feel the need.

    NB: You seem to be forgetting that Dyson still says that most of the warming is human origin from CO2 pollution. So if you got them both in a room, they’d generally be agreeing with each other.

    And neither agreeing with you.

    Oracle opines: Vigorous Division.

    AI is here…

  9. 109
    Mark says:

    “There has been a lot written about those predictions (scenarios), and whatever you make of them, they are not in the same predictability category as cars and TVs.”

    What about EE Smith’s prediction that we’d use spools of wire to record holographic images? Or that we’d be using slide rules in the future because computers wouldn’t be fast enough?

    And what the HECK do you mean “not in the same predictability category as cars and TV”???

    How about modern fighter jets? Build conditionally unstable. Impossible to do without computer SIMULATION of how to make the bleeding thing do what you want when it wants to lose control? Seems to be damn effective, even though you seem to think it isn’t science and gets everything wrong (or can only get it right when you fiddle the numbers: you can’t do that when you’re modelling something you KNOW you don’t know and make a real live machine that has to follow what your model predicted, even though there’s no way to tell it to do that…).

  10. 110
    walter crain says:

    who are some other republican candidates for the gore-_____ global warming tour?

    i can’t help but think if we had become aware (with the current levels of certainty) of global warming prior to the “reagan era” we would have united as a society to meet the challenge. reagan’s presidency marks the point where ideology became supreme over reason/compromise and EVERYTHING became a partisan issue. there are no politicians in the middle anymore….

  11. 111
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter Manny says, “…if you put those two men in a room and query them about the specifics of how climate works, who do you think will know more?”

    Actually, it is not clear to me which would have the better grasp. Dyson SHOULD win hands down, since he is a physicist. However, he has demonstrated fundamentally flawed understanding of many aspects of GCMs and an incomprehensible apathy toward the likely consequences of climate change. I enjoy reading Dyson. I consider him to be a fundamentally decent man and a good physicist. I am puzzled by his insistence on what are fundamentally erroneous positions, though. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    It may be that Gore knows fewer things for sure that ain’t so.

  12. 112
    Ike Solem says:

    Hey, I’ll volunteer to debate Freeman Dyson – because it’s obvious he knows nothing about climate models, and while I’m no expert, he seems entirely clueless on the matter. It’s a real problem among the theoretical physics crowd – their expertise in a small area of physics, they believe, allows them to comment on everything from a position of authority – because it’s all physics. Ask Freeman to read “The Discovery of Global Warming” and see if he can find any flaws in it. Are there flaws in the radiative balance models? That’s probably closest to Freeman’s expertise – but he’s not talking about that. Ask him about radiative balance models – if he denies that they are accurate, then he’s definitely a crackpot. If not, then ask him about convection in the atmosphere, fluid dynamics, etc – can he answer those questions? Great, now we’ve got him up to the level of a radiative-convective atmospheric model – but what about the ocean and the ice sheets and the land surfaces and the vegetation? More complicated, but he should be able to look into the issue, right?

    Instead, it’s just polemics and B.S. – no science, just artful propaganda and political squabbling.

    As far as subtropical drying, the exansion of the Hadley cells, etc., those are all model predictions. Hansen may have said something about the model predictions, but the science isn’t based on what someone says. Instead of going on and on about “Hansen & Gore” (a PR method involving associating a particular issue with certain individuals, and then attacking those individuals as a way of discrediting the issue), why not look at what the thousands of other scientists are doing?

    Thomas Reichler, ANL, Salt Lake City, Utah; and I. Held 2005

    We investigate the interannual and decadal variability of the meridional extent of the Hadley cell by analyzing variations in the shape of the lapse-rate define tropopause. The poleward boundaries of the Hadley cell are determined from the steep gradient between the high tropical and low extratropical tropopause. This method is applied to global monthly mean temperature fields from radiosonde data, reanalysis data, and to historical coupled simulations with the GFDL climate model. All data sources indicate that the latitudinal extent of the Hadley cell has been gradually widening by a few degrees latitude over the past decades. The importance of the location of the Hadley cell for the general circulation raises the question of what may have caused this trend.

    And this, coming from the other side, of the subtropical zone, that is:

    Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate
    Dian J. Seidel1, Qiang Fu2, William J. Randel3 & Thomas J. Reichler4

    Some of the earliest unequivocal signs of climate change have been the warming of the air and ocean, thawing of land and melting of ice in the Arctic. But recent studies are showing that the tropics are also changing. Several lines of evidence show that over the past few decades the tropical belt has expanded…The observed recent rate of expansion is greater than climate model projections of expansion over the twenty-first century, which suggests that there is still much to be learned about this aspect of global climate change.

    Thus, apparently both the subtropical belt (normally though to extend from around 15N to 15S) and the subtropical zone (normally thought to extend from 15N to 45N) are moving towards the poles, at least as far as the atmospheric circulation goes, the tropics dominating by rising wet air, the subtropics by falling dry air. That appears to represent a permanent climatic shift that is going to bring persistent drought to many regions in the subtropics. There are literally dozens of other papers on the issue – but the U.S. press is not interested. The New York Times has had particularly atrocious coverage:

    “Many farmers refer to a “man-made drought” caused by restrictions.”

    – by reporter Jesse McKinley and some unknown editor who assigned a reporter with little science background to cover the story, which does not mention global warming.

    Or how about this one:

    “With the rainy season well under way, early partial measurements indicate that the amount of water stored in the Sierra snowpack, the state’s natural reservoir, is higher than the amount at this time last year but well below average, said the state’s meteorologist, Elissa Lynn.

    The deficit can be made up if January, February and March are full of big Pacific storms. But this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the weather phenomenon known as La Niña, which is characterized by cooler waters in the western Pacific Ocean and drier conditions, had returned for the second consecutive year.

    “The worry is that La Niña does again what it did last year,” Ms. Lynn said Wednesday”

    Ms. Lynn did not mention global warming, and when I called her up to ask her why, she admitted that the San Diego story on “La Nina being the culprit” was inaccurate, then hung up on me. And another thing – who told the San Diego reporters and the New York reporters to use the same source on this story?

    It’s one thing to point out that Cato and Heritage and Lindzen and the other think tanks and their spokespeople are acting dishonestly – but I can’t shake the feeling that our major newspapers and top government officials are behaving in exactly the same way – just a lot sneakier. They can’t plead ignorance of the facts, that’s for sure.

    Note that this is in contrast to the media coverage of shrinking Arctic ice, which has been pretty good – many sources covered the recent (April 3 2009 GRL Overland) study that came up with an ice-free Arctic within 30 years. (168 news articles so far from Google on “arctic ice”). Why the difference?

    The loss of Arctic ice does not portend an immediate economic disaster, but huge agricultural losses due to massive droughts do – and that, as far as I can tell, is the primary variable in media coverage – if the there are large economic issues involved, the press won’t cover the global warming story – wildfires due to drought influenced by global warming? Not acceptable – and why? If we apply the same reasoning to the media and governmental institutions that we apply to the Cato-like think tanks, then it’s obvious: the financial interests that own the media don’t like that story, because it would spur on transitions to renewable energy, and fossil fuel interests are among the main media owners, the main donors to government politicians, and a source of cushy jobs for ex-government employees who did their bidding.

    A just one example, William Kennard, a director in the Carlyle Group investment conglomerate with huge fossil fuel investments, is also on the corporate board of the New York Times. If we’re going to criticize Cato and Heritage for their involvement with fossil fuels, shouldn’t we also criticize the NYT, especially as their coverage as grown biased towards the denialist side recently? They ran a lead-in story to the Heritage conference, but no lead-in for Copenhagen – and they sent Andrew Revkin to report on the Heritage conference, but not to Copenhagen. When I asked Andrew Revkin about this, he said it was to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions. Revkin also posted Don Easterbrook’s letter on the PDO, no questions asked, no commentary, nothing.

    So, those are the two poles of the media debate – one says global warming issues are plagued by “overheated exaggeration” (NYT Revkin quote), and the other says it is complete nonsense (Wall Street Journal,, etc.). Both sides engage in distortion of science in order to sell their particular line, and both sides also have many ties to the fossil fuel industry. Their motivations and intentions – I have no idea – but the distortion of science?

    That’s a different question, which can be analyzed. If they keep doing it after the issues have been clearly explained to them, and sources have been pointed out, then they aren’t journalists – they’re marketers or propagandists – and I wonder if they even know what the difference is, to tell you the truth.

  13. 113
    Jarad Holmes says:

    Response to Nick in Comment 102.
    Nick, I disagree. The trend lines plotted by the NSIDC is for ALL of the data points. They are not comparing September to September, March to March. I extracted the numbers from their database, summed them all and that is how they get the trend and then compare this to the mean from 1979-2000, all data months inclusive.

    [Response: You are mistaken. The -11.1%/dec trend is for september months only. – gavin]

  14. 114

    Alastair M., I seem to recall from somewhere on the NASA site that the essential difference is that the “non-scanner” channel views the entire planetary disk plus a bit of space “background” snapshot style, whereas the scanner, well, scans the disk. (Overall view vs. localized view.)

    The problems with the non-scanner arose because orbital decay slightly decreased the percentage of the field occupied by the dark “background”, which in turn raised the–oh hell, I don’t know–“brightness?” This accounted for the discrepancy between the original data used by Lindzen and the corrected version that he mysteriously ignored.

    Hope this helps. (Corrections invited from those more thoroughly in the know about this.)

    (Captcha pro-offers a cinema-style encouragement: “and print”)

  15. 115
    walter crain says:

    dan, you said
    “The idea that anyone would give one person (Dyson, in this case) more weight because he is a “proven scientist” over the literally thousands of “proven” peer-reviewed climate scientists world-wide and every major climate science society/professional organization world-wide (AMS, CMOS, AGU, NAS, NOAA, NASA, etc.)…”

    the reason many in the public treat these “skeptics” as if they know anything is because, due to the “skeptics” extremely effective PR/obfuscation machine the public thinks there is real confusion and dissent among scientists. they think, if scientists are still arguing how can we expect the public to “get behind” the initially unpleasant policies needed to address global warming?

    that’s why we need PROJECT JIM…

    i know stupid lists like this don’t really prove anything, scientifically, but i think the public is truly confused about the extent of scientific consensus.

  16. 116

    Jared, I don’t think you are grasping what people are saying. NSIDC plots trends in several ways, and that includes the trends for particular months. In fact, the September trend appears to be what you posted in your #97 above.

    You can also look up the March trends, as discussed very sensibly by Nick in his #102, or the annual mean trends. Just be aware that they are different metrics, and give different information. In this case, for example, the numbers show us clearly that the biggest trend is at the annual minimum; the maximum yearly extent is decreasing much more slowly.

    BTW, I think your assertion of a “fragile recovery” in the Arctic is probably not unreasonable. But even if it’s real, it’s awfully fragile. After all, we already know that 2008 was a tad cooler than the few years previous. It’s not likely to mean much for the longer term.

  17. 117
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Who “debates” the science? Science isn’t debated. Theories are proposed. Experiments designed to test that are performed, and the results published. Then, the experiments are criticized and refined and redone. Or new experiments performed. Then the results are published. Etc. Science isn’t a debate. It’s a method of increasing efficiencies by eliminating what doesn’t work.

    Who doubts anymore that greenhouse gases trap long wave radiation? Who doubts that CO2 levels are well above 19th century levels? Who doubts that human activity put the gases in the atmosphere? No practicing scientist. Who doubts the measurements of the extra energy that the process imparts? Nobody.

    That’s progress since even five years ago that wasn’t the case. That’s how science moves forward. Not with debates. Debates are public relations ploys.

    reCaptcha: evidence gagement (I swear.)

  18. 118
    Mark says:

    “The trend lines plotted by the NSIDC is for ALL of the data points.”

    You may want to check what they are doing.

    You can have a 10-year mean temperature that is the mean of all the recorded temperatures for 3650 contiguous days.

    You can have a 10-year mean temperature that is the mean of all 10 dates that are the same each year (mean all the 10th April temperatures).

    BOTH are using “all the points”.

    The difference is the hidden definitional problem: what do you mean by “all the points”?

  19. 119
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem wrote: “I would agree with Dyson that nuclear and biological warfare are still greater immediate ‘existential threats’ than global warming and species extinction are …”

    I don’t necessarily agree with that. Nuclear and biological warfare are not “immediate” existential threats, as long as nobody pushes the button. We’ve lived with thousands of multi-megaton hydrogen bombs locked and loaded on ICBMs on hair-trigger alert for half a century now, despite a number of close calls. We might continue to do so for another half century, and by then such weapons might be substantially if not entirely eliminated.

    But we have all been “pushing the button” on global warming for over a century, and by now the button is pretty well pushed, and we keep pushing it harder and harder. “Immediate” or not, very severe harms from global warming are probably now inevitable during the next half century, and may be irreversible on time scales short of millennia. And such harms might well be “immediate” — continent-wide, extreme, prolonged mega-droughts could begin at any time, leading pretty “immediately” to a worldwide collapse of agriculture and global famine. And it’s not inconceivable that global warming could trigger phenomena that would wreak as much havoc as a large-scale nuclear war, though perhaps on a time scale of years rather than hours.

    I don’t mean to deprecate the danger of nuclear war or biological war — indeed I feel strongly that people should be more aware than they are of these serious threats. The USA, Russia and China still have plenty of nuclear warheads, mounted in ICBMs, on active alert, use-it-or-lose-it status, and by many accounts the command and control systems in Russia particularly have deteriorated from the Cold War, increasing the chances of accidental or erroneous launch. And then there’s the problems of proliferation to unstable states, “loose nukes”, etc. It’s very serious.

    But that doesn’t mean that anything is necessarily going to happen. On the other hand, extreme and rapid global warming and climate change are already happening, and though this won’t incinerate the world in 45 minutes like a global thermonuclear war, it is still an urgent threat.

  20. 120
    DVG says:

    The answer to Gavin’s question (Which one is which?) is pretty clear, I think. BOTH are more advocacy than science, and in about the same degree.

    Almost (all?) major players in this debate have moved toward the political (advocacy as opposed to science) because the real life stakes — as perceived by each — are so high.

    I think it would be useful (for those like me who ultimately will make the necessarily political decisions about what to do or not do) to have more public, face-to-face debate (like the Intelligence Squared debate) but for some reason, that isn’t happening.

    [Response: Hmm… possibly something to do with the fact that it is much easier to put out 20 pieces of disinformation than rebut them? – gavin]

  21. 121
    Hank Roberts says:

    One reason people go emeritus: risk perception degrades with age, likely due to degradation of a specific area of the brain. Hey, excess optimism isn’t such a bad thing, is it?

  22. 122
    DVG says:

    Gavin’s response to my comment (#120) suggests to me at least that he doesn’t want to debate these questions, and that in itself causes me to be skeptical of the positions he takes. I’d say the same of anyone else from any other position on the issue.

    Ike Solem says he’s willing to debate Freeman Dyson (#112). Hey, do it. Seriously. And have a lot more than that. For goodness sake, if indeed the very survival of human culture as we know it is at play, these issues deserve much more debate than a relatively inconsequential election of a president who at max can only serve only eight years. This system of everyone taking pokes at each other in their own blogs does a lot of dancing but never really gets to it. Sort of like if if we figured out who the World Series champs were by observing and blogging about everybody’s practice sessions but never played the games.

    I really don’t get it. With so much at stake, and with so many people to persuade (as in the population of the world, no less), why is there not more public, face-to-face debate? The lack of it belies the claims, frankly.

    [Response: Because you are asking for political theatre, not debate. Read John Ziman’s article on whether debatable scientific questions are debatable. I am more than willing to talk about this stuff with almost anyone (and do frequently) but short time period grandstanding opportunities are not conducive to either explaining the complexities or dealing with disinformation. – gavin]

  23. 123
    walter crain says:

    i have no problem calling al gore an advocate. he’s just a good advocate (i.e. on MY side). we like lobbyists, special interest groups, etc…who are on our side.

  24. 124

    On the topic of GW vs. war utilizing “weapons of mass destruction,” it’s worth noting that the consequences of AGW include an increasing likelihood of armed conflict. So saith the Pentagon. . . or some of their consultants, anyway.

    So AGW actually increases the odds of “pushing the button.” Feedback in the political realm.

  25. 125
    wmanny says:

    111. Ray, I’m trying to think of how to put it nicely. Let’s just say I can’t imagine Gore even being able to hold up his own side of a conversation with Dyson. Here’s a partial stab at why I think so, the first two hits at googling Dyson and models:

    Now, I’m not saying he’s right or wrong, and please point out the nonsense where you think it exists, but Dyson is clearly not a climate rube. Neither is Gore, of course, but while it’s an unfair comparison to picture him in his film, up in his cherry picker showing us the near-vertical asymptote representing temperature increase, again I find it unimaginable to hear Gore speak about climate in as an informed a manner as Dyson.

    You may have examples of an unscripted Gore musing intelligently on the subject, and I would love to see them. You consistently point out you are “not a great fan” of his, but then you say he has it right. That’s not necessarily inconsistent, mind you, but a little confusing.

  26. 126
    ccpo says:

    “Re: #3 Corey Watts Says:
    1 April 2009 at 6:27 PM

    …I bristle at the strawman ‘advocate’. There is no essential divide between intelligent, intellectually honest advocacy and science. Scientists, moreover, don’t work in a social or political vacuum.”

    More ironic words were never spoken. Can anyone explain to me what a “science background” is if one is not a scientist? Is that not “layman”, just like the rest of us?

    More to the point, there is a huge divide between science (scientists) and intelligent, honest advocacy (laypersons): one far more often than not knows where of he/she speaks; the other might, but often doesn’t – as you ably illustrate often enough.


  27. 127
    dhogaza says:

    Jarad, earlier gavin gave this link.

    Please take a look at it. He’s set it up to plot both the september trend (-11.1%) and the march one (-2.7%) – the very figures you’ve posted.

    These plots are september 1979 … sept 1980 … sept 2008

    and march 1979 … march 1980 … march 2009

    Just as Nick described. Do you see the little select widgets on the left that choose “sept” and “mar” ?

    And as Nick says, it is summer melt that’s expected to be much higher, because as he says the winters are still very cold (24 hour darkness for part of winter up above the arctic circle!).

    Also, if you look at maps of the winter ice extent, you’ll see that the size of the arctic ice cap is partially constrained by the surrounding eurasian and north american continents. The ice simply can’t extend past those boundaries.

    Don’t feel bad over having misunderstand what you’ve looked at … happens to all of us.

  28. 128
    John Mashey says:

    re: #122 DVG
    There was a “debate” (Ryan vs Valentine) over here.

    In a post @ March 22, 2009 2:19 AM there, I summarized why live debates about climate change are silly, and that if you want to have a debate, doing it via a blog across many days, with pointers to data, graphs, rebuttals, time for audience to check things … is less silly.

    It is worth reading that discussion as an example. I wouldn’t call it optimal, but a live debate is just dumb, and is totally weighted towards people making stuff up and wanting to create confusion.

  29. 129
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter, The question is not whether Dyson is smart or whether he knows the basic physics. However, unless he has made a specific effort to understand the application of physics to the climate, his opinion is no more informed than that of an intelligent layman. Dyson has some flaky ideas about both modeling and consequences of climate change. It is quite possible to be both technically competent and wrong. In fact, being technically competent sometimes leads one to be more confident outside of one’s expertise than one should. Lubos Motl is another example.

    Gore at least doesn’t expect climate will be easy to understand. He knows he is outside of his expertise, so he listens. As a result, although he gets things wrong on occasion, he doesn’t commit errors of the severity Dyson does. Twain’s quote is good advice. First you have to figure out what you know that ain’t so.

  30. 130

    #97 Jarad Holmes

    It’s simple, you are talking about short term variation, and cherry picked data out of context vs. long term climate change and trends.

    Weather is not Climate.

    NASA: What Climate Means

    In short, climate is the description of the long-term pattern of weather in a particular area.

    Some scientists define climate as the average weather for a particular region and time period, usually taken over 30-years. It’s really an average pattern of weather for a particular region.

    Looking at changes over the long term allows for a more reliable trend picture with less short term variability and noise. Cherry picking just doesn’t cut it.


    A schematic representation of different simulations and periods in a coupled AOGCM climate change experiment that may be used in the definition of modelled climate change. t1 to t4 define alternative 30-year periods from either forced or unforced experiments.

  31. 131
  32. 132
    wmanny says:

    129. Well, Ray, fair enough. You see Gore’s occasional errors where I see a near-parody of climate science. You see him as a useful advocate where I see a salesman. At least neither of us goes to him to learn about the science. Many Americans, of course, do just that, which is less than ideal but the way of the world I suppose. We do lean rather heavily on our movie stars, for example, to learn about foreign policy and the like!

  33. 133
    Hank Roberts says:

  34. 134
    MikeN says:

    >The advocate will pick up any piece of apparently useful data and without doing any analysis, decide that their pet theory perfectly explains any anomaly without consideration of any alternative explanations. Their conclusion is always that their original theory is correct.

    Funny, that’s exactly the description I would give to your own site and other global warming scientists.

    Take for example your response to the time lag of CO2 increasing 800 years AFTER temperature increases. You write:
    “The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data.

    The 4200 years of warming make up about 5/6 of the total warming. So CO2 could have caused the last 5/6 of the warming, but could not have caused the first 1/6 of the warming.”

    So when you have data to contradict the fact that CO2 causes warming, you stick to your pet theory of man-made warming, and then to buttress support you might use a model that it built on the idea that CO2 causes warming.

    [Response: Increased CO2 causes warming because it is a greenhouse gas. How difficult is that to understand? – gavin]

  35. 135
    Nick Gotts says:

    “I really don’t get it. With so much at stake, and with so many people to persuade (as in the population of the world, no less), why is there not more public, face-to-face debate?” – DVG

    You’re right – you really don’t get it. There’s a reason why public, face-to-face debate is not an important part of the institutional systems of science: it’s a crappy way of trying to get at the truth. That’s why creationists (to give an example from beyond the AGW issue) are so keen on such debates: they give the advantage to those who are prepared to use rhetorical tricks, and just plain make stuff up, over those with real, in-depth knowledge (with its inevitable caveats), and the citations to back what they are saying. The primary arena for debating scientific issues is the peer-reviewed literature. Blogs form a reasonable secondary arena – because points made can be challenged, and failure to answer a challenge, or to answer it adequately, can become evident.

  36. 136
    DVG says:

    Re Gavin’s response to my post (#122).

    Just because Gavin declares I want “political theatre” doesn’t mean I do. And in fact, I don’t. Sure, I realize any debate participant can use tactics that are deceptive (theatrical), but in the long run, truth usually does out, at least for most reasonably intellient debate audience members. I actually did read the article Gavin linked me to some time ago. It made valid points but I ultimately disagreed with its pessimism about the ability to constructively use debate in the context of “scientific questions” (as if “scientific questions” are SO special). If scientific questions can’t be debated in a practical, productive way, I think we’re simply doomed, unless we decide to move away from democratic forms of government and at the same time are lucky enough to have the correct set of scientifically brilliant dictators that run our individual and collective lives.

    Beyond that, for whatever my opinion is worth, I think the AGW alarmists (hate to use labels but I have to) will simply lose in the court of public opinion (which will be the court that counts) if they are unwilling to debate. They are asking people to just believe them when they say they truly know that human habitability will desimate decades from now and when they consequently demand that we ALL spend what are heretofore unimaginable amounts of our current wealth to avoid something we can’t see, touch, generally experience or practically know about. With the kicker being that we’re told these questions can’t be meaningfully ‘debated’ — for our decision making benefit — among those (with great scientific credentials on all sides) of differing opinions.

    [Response: Where have I claimed any of these things? On the contrary, I have continued to assert that the future course of climate is uncertain in many respects – but that uncertainty is not your friend when it comes to minimising risk. Oh and by the way, relative to the current stimulus package or the Iraq war, costs of any reasonable mitigation effort are certainly not ‘unimaginable’. These issue of what to do about this can and should be debated – but formal ‘debates’ where nominally intelligent opponents continually put out disinformation that they know is a crock and you….. oh sorry we’ve run out of time. That is a waste of time. There is a really good reason why the National Academies or the IPCC spend months and years on their assessments, that jury trials can take weeks, that inquests months. That is because it takes time to get beyond the crap. People who insist that scientists (who have risen to their positions on the back of careful and measured work in the technical literature) debate showmen and charlatans (who have risen to their positions by being very good at entertaining) and win over every audience in the space of an hour, are not being serious – they are just throwing the game. Science is not decided on the basis of rhetorical skill, nor or oratorical delivery. Why then insist that those be the field of combat? – gavin]

    Of course, Gavin WILL be willing to talk to us one-on-one (he says so). But I know he can snow me one-on-one, just as could Freeman Dyson or Richard Lindzen or Patrick Michaels or John Christy.

    Ultimately, if I can’t have the benefit of meaningful debate (which I very much think is possible) I and most others (non-scientists, though not stupid) will say: nope, not willing to buy on that basis.

  37. 137
    Deech56 says:

    Jarad, for the monthly sea ice extent charts, also please notice that the base extent used to calculate the anomalies is different for each month. That should be an indication that we’re looking at different sets of numbers.

    captcha: the winfield I think I stayed there once.

  38. 138
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “The question is not whether Dyson is smart or whether he knows the basic physics.”

    A more important question is whether he knows the basic facts — the actual, empirically observed facts relevant to anthropogenic climate change.

    A flaw that I sometimes observe in extremely intelligent people is that they seem to think their powerful intelligence relieves them from any reliance on puny, boring facts. They seem to imagine that they can reach conclusions through pure “reason”.

    Unfortunately, even the most powerful intelligence and the most careful “reasoning” applied to baseless assumptions, unexamined prejudices, and misinformation does not tend to yield good results.

  39. 139
    Hank Roberts says:

    David Brin put it well recently:

    “See an interesting profile of Freeman Dyson, who has suggested not that Global Warming isn’t happening… (only dingbats and those whores at Cato believe that)… but that there may be a lot of net good to arise out of the warming trend. He makes some interesting points, and I agree that chicken little scurrying may have gone too far. On the other hand, rapid transitions… ANY rapid transitions, inevitably spur disruption, habitat extinctions, desertification and local desperation. Some locales that turn desperate will also have nuclear weapons. Read and be provoked.”

  40. 140
    SecularAnimist says:

    DVG wrote: “They are asking people to just believe them …”

    Scientists are not asking anyone to “believe” them. They are asking people to look at the facts:

    1. Carbon dioxide is a known “greenhouse gas”. Increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 cause the Earth system to retain more of the Sun’s energy, and thus get warmer. This is a FACT that has been known for over a century, and that can be easily and repeatedly demonstrated in a laboratory. No “belief” is required.

    2. Human activities, principally the burning of fossil fuels, have over the last century rapidly and dramatically increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2. This is an empirically observed FACT. The concentration of CO2 has been measured, and its source determined. No “belief” is required.

    3. The anthropogenic increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is, as expected, causing the Earth system to heat up. It is also leading to carbon uptake by the oceans, causing them to become more acidic. These are empirically observed FACTs. The warming has been measured. The acidification of the oceans has been measured. The cause has been determined. No “belief” is required.

    4. The empirically observed anthropogenic warming of the Earth system is already causing rapid and extreme changes to the Earth’s climate, hydrosphere, and biosphere. These changes are empirically observed FACTS. No “belief” is required.

    5. Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are not only increasing, but accelerating. Again, this is an empirically observed FACT. No “belief” is required.

    DVG wrote: “… they consequently demand that we ALL spend what are heretofore unimaginable amounts of our current wealth to avoid something we can’t see, touch, generally experience or practically know about.”

    Plenty of people are already seeing, touching and generally experiencing — and suffering harm from — the effects of anthropogenic global warming. All indications are that unmitigated AGW will produce even more extreme effects, which will be overwhelmingly detrimental to human beings.

    And no one is demanding that you or anyone else spend “heretofore unimaginable amounts of our current wealth” to mitigate global warming. The costs of effectively mitigating global warming would not be large in comparison to other things that human societies routinely and uncontroversially spend resources on when they are deemed important — for example, the $1.3 TRILLION PER YEAR the nations of the world now spend on wars and the military.

    The costs of mitigation are routinely exaggerated by particular industries, i.e. the fossil fuel corporations, who would indeed lose hundreds of billions of dollars in profit to other, new energy industries that would quickly replace them if human civilization made the rapid transition away from fossil fuels that is needed to mitigate AGW.

    On the other hand, the costs of adapting — or rather of attempting to adapt — to unmitigated global warming are likely to be so astronomical that they will crush the world’s economy under the burden.

    The economic question of global warming basically comes down to huge, short-term profits for a tiny minority, vs. the long-term survival of human civilization. Which side are you on?

  41. 141
    walter crain says:

    interesting link about the various kinds of debate/discussion etc… of course you are absolutely right that no scientific progress can be made in a public forum. but, while scientists eschew the scientifically-pointless debates, denialists have already taken the discussion to the people. the discussion IS HAPPENING whether scientists want it to or not. by virtue of having gotten here first, and being so relentless, “skeptics” have garnered a MUCH larger “market share” than they should have.

    elsewhere on this blog, someone made the point that blog-style debates over the course of several days are much better than in-person debates in front of a live audience. on that i totally agree.

  42. 142
    Jim Bouldin says:


    “Ultimately, if I can’t have the benefit of meaningful debate (which I very much think is possible) I and most others (non-scientists, though not stupid) will say: nope, not willing to buy on that basis.”

    On WHAT basis? That the scientific process is somehow inadequate as a basis for understanding and communicating the topic??

    Your entire argument can be summarized simply as a REFUSAL to do the work necessary to understand the topic. That’s why you want a sound-bite debate where you can just plop down in front of the TV and have someone “explain” it to you. The fact is, you really don’t care enough about the issue to do the necessary work, or you WOULD do it. The unfortunate fact is that there are millions more with exactly the same problem in this country. Don’t expect others to do your homework for you.

    Like so many others, you can’t discern between the different roles that entities play in the process of generating and communicating knowledge.

  43. 143
    Hank Roberts says:

    > a MUCH larger “market share”
    [citation needed to some credible poll; many different numbers out there]

    > than they should have
    [arguable, not answerable]
    ReCaptcha: “Lemon donor”

  44. 144
    Alan Millar says:

    “Response: Increased CO2 causes warming because it is a greenhouse gas. How difficult is that to understand? – gavin]”

    Not difficult at all. However, why do you and most other people posting here, use this utterly simplistic statement of physics to justify AGW on the planet Earth?

    I can also give a simplistic example of physics. Put the end of a bar of steel in a bowl of hot water and measure how long it takes the other end to warm up. Do the same with a bar of wood, lead, iron etc. You will soon see they all warm eventually but at different rates and you can draw conclusions that confirm a known law of physics.

    Now put an inanimate cellular based object in the bowl and voila the same effect.

    Now put your feet in the bowl and wait for your head to warm up. OOPS! What has gone wrong with the physics? Nothing of course. However this physical law is now operating in a dynamic environment where the heat may trigger other processes within the object/system.

    Unless you can confirm that you have an excellent understanding of all the possible significant connected processes within the Earths climate system (Sun, oceanic circulation, clouds, biomass response, albedo etc etc etc) and how changes in one might drive changes in others then how can you possibly predict the future?

    If anyone says that they have settled the science because of such an understanding I would call them naive, a liar or deluded.


    [Response: Brilliant logic. The question was why we consider CO2 (etc.) to have contributed to the magnitude of the ice age cycles. The answer is because it is a greenhouse gas. Your response is to state that other things might be going on. This is of course true, but CO2 is still a greenhouse gas. How can we predict warming in the future? Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas and we are increasing it by 2ppm a year. If you think this is a matter of debate you are either naive, a liar or deluded. – gavin]

  45. 145
    walter crain says:

    i understand that those are imprecise terms, and i have no citations, but i’m pretty sure there’s a higher percentage of laymen who are AGW “skeptics” than scientists who are “skeptics.” heck, i could cite that book, “lies, damn lies and science” for that stat. by “should have” – i’m imagining a world where laymen are well-informed and our opinions match the scientific consensus. by that standard, laymen “skeptics” should be an extremely small percentage.

  46. 146
    Chris Colose says:


    “Scientific debate” and discussion occurs all the time in the peer-reviewed literature, academic conferences, etc. Real debate on climate change happens on much more specific topics such as how ENSO patterns will evolve in the 21st century, how hurricanes will be influenced by increased temperatures, etc. Debating whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas or other tiresome issues is as productive as debating flat-earthers. “The public” does not serve as a scientific jury because science evolves through data, theory, falsification, etc…not articulate talking or majority vote. It’s very easy to present misleading information that looks convincing…the general public will believe a lot of things that take the form of colorful graphs and fancy equations.

    Those who request public debates all the time have no desire to learn the science, and will continue to request debates. It doesn’t matter how many debates are won or lost, or if they even occur; it’s a stall tactic to prolong any action until we have 101% knowledge of everything.

  47. 147
    Michael says:

    SecularAnimist, do you agree that mitigation cost scenarios must include the costs of adaptation, since regardless if we act or not we will still see more warming?

  48. 148
    Chris Colose says:

    So Alan, suppose I start a fire with a match. Suppose the fire then spreads to a gas can, which then blows up and makes the fire much worse. After all is said and done, do you then conclude that the gas can had no effect at all just because it didn’t *start* the fire?

    This logic is widely accepted among skeptics and is why most of their arguments are very easy to invalidate. Think before you make arguments. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find any skeptic with something productive to say.

  49. 149

    #134 MikeN

    There are apparently quite a few holes in your understanding of CO2 and warming. You need context probably, so here’s a bit of context.

    1. CO2 is a tiny fraction of our atmosphere.
    2. Without that tiny fraction of CO2, the earth would be a giant frozen ball in space.

    A Tiny Fraction of CO2

    CO2 Lag

    Natural Cycle

    Milankovitch Cycles

    and of course, just put Co2 lag in the realclimate search box and you will get some truly great stuff to help you understand.

    It’s a good idea to read up on the science and relevant materials prior to making claims that are born of a myopic or grossly incomplete understanding.

  50. 150
    Lawrence Brown says:

    I won’t address your comments since Ray and Ike already have. However, Dyson also goes after James Hansen in a recent profile in the NY Times(Mar. 29)
    where it reads in part:
    “Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change’s “chief propagandist,” and James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and an adviser to Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Dyson accuses them of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models that foresee a Grand Guignol of imminent world devastation as icecaps melt, oceans rise and storms and plagues sweep the earth, and he blames the pair’s “lousy science” for “distracting public attention” from “more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet.”
    and further on:
    “The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers.”

    Now Hansen is a horse of another color. He epitomizes someone who uses the scientific method, use of the much maligned models as well as observed data. Hansen has been studying climate science intensely for at least 3 decades and doesn’t make statements lightly. I don’t know how long Dyson has been studying the field, but by his own admission, he gets antsy after looking at a problem for a relatively short time.
    From the same article:

    “In the 1970s, Dyson participated in other climate studies conducted by Jason, a small government-financed group of the country’s finest scientists, whose members gather each summer near San Diego to work on (often) classified (usually) scientific dilemmas of (frequently) military interest to the government. Dyson has, as he admits, a restless nature, and by the time many scientists were thinking about climate, Dyson was on to other problems.”

    Significantly, Jim Hansen didn’t go on to other problems. There are other real problems that need addressing but that’s no excuse to claim that global warming isn’t happening.

    A word about ideology. My education and experience are in civil engineering, so you can take my rantings on political ideology with a ton of salt, but many conservatives have a kneejerk reaction when it comes to anything resembling,ironically, conservation. Individuals like McCain and Shwarznegger aren’t from the arch conservative school, and are more open minded than those on the far right, who have done considerable damage in preventing action to address this problem over the past 8 years.