RealClimate logo


Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

What do climate scientists think?

Filed under: — gavin @ June 24th, 2010

by Gavin and Eric.

… and why does it matter?

Una traducción en español está disponible aquí.

There is a lot of discussion this week about a new paper in PNAS (Anderegg et al, 2010) that tries to assess the credibility of scientists who have made public declarations about policy directions. This come from a long tradition of papers (and drafts) where people have tried to assess the state of the ‘scientific consensus’ (Oreskes, Brown et al, Bray and von Storch, Doran and Zimmerman etc.). What has bedevilled all these attempts is that since it is very difficult to get scientists to respond to direct questions (response rates for surveys are pitiful), proxy data of some sort or another are often used that may or may not be useful for the specifics of the ‘consensus’ being tested (which itself is often not clearly defined). Is the test based on agreeing with every word in the IPCC report? Or just the basic science elements? Does it mean adhering to a specific policy option? Or merely stating that ‘something’ should be done about emissions? Related issues arise from mis-specified or ambiguous survey questions, and from the obvious fact that opinions about climate in general are quite varied and sometimes can’t easily be placed in neatly labelled boxes.

Given these methodological issues (and there are others), why do people bother?

The answer lies squarely in the nature of the public ‘debate’ on climate. For decades, one of the main tools in the arsenal of those seeking to prevent actions to reduce emissions has been to declare the that the science is too uncertain to justify anything. To that end, folks like Fred Singer, Art Robinson, the Cato Institute and the ‘Friends’ of Science have periodically organised letters and petitions to indicate (or imply) that ‘very important scientists’ disagree with Kyoto, or the Earth Summit or Copenhagen or the IPCC etc. These are clearly attempts at ‘arguments from authority’, and like most such attempts, are fallacious and, indeed, misleading.

They are misleading because as anyone with any familiarity with the field knows, the basic consensus is almost universally accepted. That is, the planet is warming, that human activities are contributing to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (chiefly, but not exclusively CO2), that these changes are playing a big role in the current warming, and thus, further increases in the levels of GHGs in the atmosphere are very likely to cause further warming which could have serious impacts. You can go to any standard meeting or workshop, browse the abstracts, look at any assessment, ask any of the National Academies etc. and receive the same answer. There are certainly disputes about more detailed or specific issues (as there is in any scientific field), and lots of research continues to improve our quantitative understanding of the system, but the basic issues (as outlined above) are very widely (though not universally) accepted.

It is in response to these attempts to portray the scientific community as fractured and in disagreement, that many people have tried to find quantitative ways to assess the degree of consensus among scientists on the science and, as with this new paper, the degree of credibility and expertise among the signers of various letters advocating policies.

It is completely legitimate to examine the credentials of people making public statements (on any side of any issue) – especially if they make a claim to scientific expertise. It does make a difference if medical advice is being given by a quack or the Surgeon General. The database that Jim Prall has assembled allows anyone to look this expertise up – and since any new source of information is useful, we think this can be generally supported. Prall’s database has a number of issues of course, most of them minor but some which might be considered more problematic: it relies on citation statistics, which have well-known problems (though mostly across fields rather than within them), it uses Google Scholar rather than the standard (ISI) citation index, and there are almost certainly some confusions between people with similar names. Different methodologies could be tried – ranking via h-index perhaps – but the as long as small differences are not blown out of proportion, the rankings he comes up with appear reasonable.

So it is now possible to estimate an expertise level associated with any of the various lists and letters that are out there. Note that it is worth distinguishing between letters that have been voluntarily signed and lists that have been gathered with nothing but political point scoring in mind (the Inhofe/Morano list was egregious in its cherry picking of quotes in order to build up its numbers and can’t be relied on as an accurate reflection of peoples opinions in any way, and similarly contributing to RealClimate is not a statement about policy preferences!). Additionally, it isn’t always clear that every signatory of each letter really believes every point in the statement. For instance, does Lindzen really believe that attribution is impossible unless current changes exceed all known natural variations (implying that nothing could be said unless we got colder than Snowball Earth or warmer than the Cretaceous or sea level rose more than 120 meters….)? We doubt it. But as tests of political preferences, these letters are probably valid indicators.

So, do the climate scientists who have publicly declared that they are ‘convinced of the evidence’ that emission policies are required have more credentials and expertise than the signers of statements declaring the opposite? Yes. That doesn’t demonstrate who’s policy prescription is correct of course, and it remains a viable (if somewhat uncommon) position to acknowledge that despite most climate scientists agreeing that there is a problem, one still might not want to do anything about emissions. Does making a list of signers of public statements, or authors of the IPCC reports, constitute a ‘delegitimization’ of their views? Not in the slightest. If someone’s views are widely discounted, it is most likely because of what they have said, not who they sign letters with.

However, any attempt to use political opinions (as opposed to scientific merit) to affect funding, influence academic hiring, launch investigations, or personally harass scientists has no place in a free society – from whichever direction that comes. In this context, we note that once the categorization goes beyond a self-declared policy position, one is on very thin ice because the danger of ‘guilt by association’. For instance, one of us (Eric) feels more strongly that some of Prall’s classifications in his dataset cross a line (for more on Eric’s view, see his comments at Dotearth).

But will this paper add much to the ‘there [is/is not] a consensus’ argument? Doubtful. People are just too fond of it.

But there really is.


427 Responses to “What do climate scientists think?”

  1. 151
    caerbannog says:

    Just a couple of rhetorical questions here for lurkers/etc. here to think about. If anyone wants to follow up on them, that would be great. But I’m mostly tossing these questions out as food for thought for the lurkers…

    1) Question for the ACC “supporters”. Can you name 5 prominent scientists who “support” the IPCC position and describe briefly what they’ve done to advance the state of climate-science in the past decade?

    2) Now for ACC “skeptics”. Can you name 5 prominent scientists who are skeptical of the IPCC position and describe briefly what they’ve done to advance the state of climate-science in the past decade?

    Not that I’m expecting anyone here to burn up a lot of time answering these questions… But questions like these are what lurkers here should be keeping in mind as they peruse on-line arguments about Anderegg et al.

  2. 152
    Timothy Chase says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote in 145:

    Gerard Harbison, This paper is not really a piece of “social science” so much as it is sociology of science.

    Gerard Harbison wrote in 148:

    When you’re counting angels on pinheads, Ray, you’ve lost contact with the real world.

    If you are working in science, this is quite different from someone who is working in either the philosophy of science or the history of science. Likewise if you are working on the history of philosophy you might take an interest in the rise of religions or science and turn to either Hegel or Marx with their grand narratives attempting to explain the evolution of human civilization, whereas if you are interested in the history of philosophy you might consider Frederick Copleston — who is largely just trying to describe in layman’s terms and in chronological order different philosophical systems.

    In any case, Ray Ladbury was responding to what you had written in 137:

    The theme of the PNAS paper is that CEs are more qualified than UEs to comment of climate science policy because they’ve published more research papers in the field. The PNAS paper is published in a field in which none of the authors have ever published a single piece of prior research. This is beyond irony; we have here a paper invalidated by its own premise.

    … but he wasn’t the only one that addressed it.

    Former Skeptic wrote in 136:

    Gerard Harbison:

    You could, for instance, use your search engine of choice, type “Stephen Schneider” and click on his website.

    From there, you can click on his publications page yourself.

    I think you can find at least one “social science” based paper/book chapter in there.

    Either way your point has been rendered mute.

    Gerard Harbison continued in 148:

    FWIW, I am not a climate skeptic. I am a scientist who cares about the integrity of science.

    A chemist involved in the study of bacteriorhodopsin — a rhodopsin they use not for seeing but for the conversion of sunlight into energy. Fascinating stuff. Along these lines I have heard that there is a bacteriophage (virus that infects bacteria) that will substitute its own rhodopsin gene — which it has no use for in the absence of a host — for the bacterial rhodopsin so that the bacterium will continue to produce energy even as its systems shut down due the the infection. Zombie bacteria — bacteria that are the living dead. Interestingly enough, the viral rhodopsin is more efficient.

    The scientist part checks out.

    However, you said, “FWIW, I am not a climate skeptic. I am a scientist who cares about the integrity of science.”

    I found your blog — and your self-description:

    The Right Wing Professor is the web name of Gerard Harbison, an atheist, libertarian-conservative chemist. Atheist conservatives; we bitterly cling to no religion; instead, we own twice as many guns!

    The Right Wing Professor’s Blog (Gerard Harbison)
    http://homepage.mac.com/gerardharbison/blog/RWP_blog.html

    When it comes to climatology or any other branch of science that begins to rub up against your ideology, it appears that you are a scientist who seeks knowledge in the same way that zombies seek life — and now we see the light.

  3. 153
    vendicar decarian says:

    “In short, this paper says almost nothing of value.” – Reasonable Observer

    In other words it doesn’t support your world view.

    The ages of the deniers is what interests me. They are old, and will be dying out much earlier than the experts.

    [Response: You're assuming that as the rest of us age we won't turn into deniers too. ;) --eric]

  4. 154
    MapleLeaf says:

    Timothy Chase @153 and Former Skeptic @ 150. Many thanks for settling that.

    Dr. Steig. If you do decide to go ahead with the Times article, best of luck.

    Dr. Judith Curry continues to disappoint at Keith Kloors……

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2010/06/21/the-climate-experts/comment-page-7/#comment-9026

    Fortunately Stephen Leahy, dhogaza and Eli Rabett set the record, and Dr. Curry, straight.

    [Response: OMG. Judy Curry claims that state climatologists are losing their jobs due to being skeptics. Hence, McCarthyism is here, and this time it is coming from the left! OMG OMG. Oh wait, check sources. Always check sources. Reboot, reboot! Judy admits that this is just something she found on "Google". What's "Google?" I don't see that in the Citation Index anywhere. Hmm. When my students cite "Google" as a source in their research papers, they get an F. Isn't she a full professor at GaTech? Maybe I had that wrong and she is just a Yahoo, err, I mean Google. I can't keep these new media sources straight.... {Sorry for what may be taken as snide remarks but... really, I am once again appalled.--eric}]

  5. 155
    Timothy Chase says:

    vendicar decarian wrote in 154:

    “In short, this paper says almost nothing of value.” – Reasonable Observer

    In other words it doesn’t support your world view.

    The ages of the deniers is what interests me. They are old, and will be dying out much earlier than the experts.

    I don’t think age has quite as much to do with it as you might think.

    I grew into adulthood reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and as a follower of a libertarian philosophy called Objectivism I learned that existence exists independently of our awareness of it and that consciousness is radically dependent upon existence for its material. This is the principle that Objectivists refer to as the primacy of existence.

    As a corollary to this I learned that identification has precedence over evaluation — that the standard of objectivity is primary and the standard of value derivative, or to put this in somewhat more general terms, the normativity involved in epistemology is more fundamental than any normativity that arises in relation to ethics. Consequently, fallacies such as appeal to authority or ad hominem attacks are invalid at root because they violate this principle — and likewise, the root of all sin lies in evasion — the refusal to know. As such, I concluded that if identification is granted precedence over evaluation then science — which deals primarily with the identification of reality — must be granted precedence over politics and ideology — which attempt to provide guidance to our actions in how we deal with one-another — which is itself derivative of how we live in relation to reality.

    But far too often this isn’t what “Objectivists” “learn” from Objectivism. Instead, with a concrete-bound understanding of metaphysics, they believe that they must reject Special Relativity, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics as violating what they understand to be the law of identity and causality. And they learn to reject science whenever it comes into conflict with their libertarian ideology, whether it happens to be in the area of carcinogenic dioxins, ozone-destroying CFCs, asbestos-related lung disease, tobacco with all of its associated diseases or anthropogenic global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

    They believe themselves to be rational in part because they reject religion, but like a religious fundamentalist who rejects evolutionary biology because it comes into conflict with his understanding of Genesis and his religion, they reject science when it comes into conflict with their philosophy and political ideology. And this isn’t something that they pick up only later in life — but that they will most fervently believe in during their early college years. Later — having come to believe that politics comes first — they will fall away from Objectivism — yet remain libertarian.

    The denialism and evasion remain, but they took firm root early on. They still do.

  6. 156
    John Mashey says:

    re: #154 age distributions
    Vendicar, if you are into this, you might take a look at last year’s petition to American Physical Society, which included some demographic analysis of the signers. See section 5, p.17-. It is strongly-skewed older, and there is enough data to estimate APS’s demographics.
    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s so much an age thing as a specific combination of historical environments. When some one who is now 30 turns 80, they will *not* have lived through WW II, worked on the Manhattan Project, or been heavily involved in the Cold War.

    Also, be very careful of direction of causality between (retired) and (signing such things) and the strength of effect.

    This analysis:
    1) Studied the list of signers as it grew. All signed it last year, so it wasn’t stale data.
    2) Observed that the list was used for widespread publicity purposes beyond the ostensible purpose of changing the APS position, citing the signers as (mostly) PhD physicists and using that credibility to promote this.

    In the light of current discussions, perhaps studying a list from a heavily-promoted website is viewed as counterproductive, but if so, so be it.

  7. 157
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Gerard Harbison says: 25 June 2010 at 9:39 PM

    [edit]

    Rats, I don’t get my allotted portion of insult.

    …you’d be more credible if you knew how the PNAS ‘peer review’ scam works.

    Your remark suggests some questions.

    When you publish in PNAS do you get in on the “scam” by picking your own reviewers? Why do you publish in a “scam” journal anyway? Are you inclined to “scams” yourself or do you just get a thrill from consorting with “scammers?” When submitting a paper to PNAS have you prefaced your cover letter to the editor with remarks to the effect that you know the journal is a “scam” but you’re hoping to avoid being besmirched? How does it feel to be first author of a paper in a “scam” journal? Does that make you “lead scammer?” Do your coauthors realize you’ve involved them in a “scam” journal? Do your coauthors know you’re hanging around on blogs characterizing their work as part of a “scam?”

    Back to the topic at hand, as you’re prepared to speak your opinion on so many things, let me ask, why do you feel Anderegg et al are unqualified to write their paper but you are suitable to critique it? Are you a social scientist? Would you suffice as a reviewer? Or is this some kind of scam you’re practicing?

  8. 158

    155, Heard it all… Judith, if you read this, is Arctic sea ice embracing a political view? Rather than merely an expression of integrated weather… Oh dear, things in academia contrarianism have gone from bad to nuts….

  9. 159
    Edward A. Barkley says:

    Barton Paul Levenson. Thank you for the link to your page on the Testability of Climate Models. I’ve been recently researching climate-reviewed papers and measured data that disagree with the very first item on your list (which is also the most directly appropriate to the broader discussion).

    …that Global Climate Models (plural) “have predicted that the globe would warm, and about how fast and about how much.”

    Yes, I’ve read in RC, “Hansen’s 1988 Projections” from May 15, 2007. I read it the day it was posted. I’ve also read the more recent piece on attribution, among dozens of others.

    Still, as the potential contributor of 70 thousand dollars over my remaining lifetime (see posts above), I must echo your sentiment when I say that your presumption in that first item is “stunningly wrong”. Using as an example, the much lauded climate models from James Hansen as presented to Congress in 1988, the statistical data over the past six years has clearly showed a real declining deviation from those predictions. You may deny it if you wish (again, may I call you a “denier? :-)), but both data manipulation and dubious statistical methods have been used to represent global temperatures over the past half decade as they set against Hansen’s A, B and C scenarios. Granted, much of that has been done for political purposes and in less structured forums, but, as you know, a variety of questionable methods are now being associated with the last IPCC report. That is a document which should not find itself embroiled in such controversy. Talk about an attribution problem! It seems fairly clear that even many of you are more frequently using the now politically correct term “Climate Change” – even on this distinguished blog – over that same time period of five years. I could probably “prove it” statistically.

    I have studied peer-reviewed papers and published data which corroborate my point-of-view, but I suspect you would then find the authors of those documents to be less than “credible”, despite their credentials. Maybe, someone should make a list of those troublemakers, so that the average AP reporter on the warmist payroll knows who to ignore? :-)

    Still, your own list shows signs of a common bias. You precede the seventeen items with “Global Climate Models have successfully predicted:” Now, there are a lot of models in that well from which you draw. I’m not at all surprised that some of them have made successful predictions when there are so many to choose from. It’s the key to a tried and true card trick i’d be happy to show you. All the best in their field have used it – from Houdini to Copperfield.

    Again, I do honestly appreciate the opportunity to contribute an opinion in this forum. Hopefully, my sarcastic tone is taken in the spirit in which it was delivered – and in response to the same tone from others. Despite being almost ridiculously studious on these issues for a layman, I am not ungrateful for the chance to address my concerns.

  10. 160
    Snapple says:

    I’m old. And I’ve seen these conspiracies about the “plots” of scientists before.

    Eventually, the political winds change, and the junk scientists get thrown under the bus by their former sponsors who denounce their old conspiracy theories because they finally realize that they need the help of real scientists to solve problems.

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

    Izvestiya (3-19-92) reported:

    [KGB chief Yevgeni Primakov] mentioned the well known articles printed a few years ago in our central newspapers about AIDS supposedly originating from secret Pentagon laboratories. According to Yevgeni Primakov, the articles exposing US scientists’ ‘crafty’ plots were fabricated in KGB offices.

    [Note: the Soviet Academy of Sciences had publically distanced themselves from this conspiracy theory about crafty American scientists in 1987.]

    [Response: Myles Allen made some interesting points about the development of AIDS research, scientific conspirancy theory, and the like, here.--eric]

  11. 161

    AP 140: Climate change is nothing out of the ordinary. It been occurring for millions of years,

    BPL: Extinction of primates is nothing out of the ordinary, either, and it, too, has been occurring for millions of years.

    You’ve got the wrong time scale. On a historical scale, global climate has been exquisitely stable for thousands of years–that’s probably WHY agriculture finally succeeded, after intelligent primates had already been around for hundreds of thousands of years and several interglacials.

    We’re changing the climate faster than our agriculture and economy can keep up, and it’s a very great danger.

  12. 162

    Walter Crain 147,

    Drought. That’s what’s going to kill us long before sea level rise.

  13. 163
    Roger D. says:

    It seems that Anderegg et al are confusing or confounding two things. First is to ask the question, are the UE (unconvinced) as expert as the CE (convinced) scientists? This is a sampling issue. That is, we regard their two groups as random (or at least reasonably representative) samples drawn from the population of UE and CE scientists. The second is a population issue: what fraction of all climate scientists are the CE ones (c97-98% they say)? In this case, we hope that somehow either they have pretty much got every climate scientist in their sample, or alternatively have hit on a method of sampling randomly/representatively from the entire population of climate scientists so that the proportions in the two groups reflects the true population proportions.

    Some of what they do certainly seems to be plain wrong. Take Fig 2. They say

    “We examined a subsample of the 50 most-published (highest expertise) researchers from each group. Such subsampling facilitates comparison of relative expertise between groups (normalizing differences between absolute numbers). This method reveals large differences in relative expertise between CE andUE groups (Fig. 2). Though the top-published researchers in the CE group have an average of 408 climate publications (median = 344), the top UE researchers average only 89 publications (median = 68; Mann– Whitney U test:W= 2,455; P < 10−15). Thus, this suggests that not all experts are equal, and top CE researchers have much stronger expertise in climate science than those in the top UE group”.

    Critically, according to their definition of a climate researcher, there are 93 UE types and 817 CE types (from the appendix).

    Suppose the truth is that both groups have the same distribution of expertise (= publication count). That is, the probability of having more than a certain number of publications is the same for a UE as a CE person. They take the top 50 of each group. Now the top 50 from a group of 93 will include a lot of people way down the probability distribution. The top 50 from 817 will be hitting much higher numbers with very high probability. So the comparison is meaningless without correcting for the relative sample sizes. I cannot really believe they did something so stupid, so maybe I am misreading the method, but I don’t think so. (If I’m right, someone else must have pointed this out already.)

    They say:
    “TheUE group comprises only 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise (number of climate publications)”.

    This depends critically on whether they have a method for getting a representative sample across all climate scientists, or have more or less got all climate scientists in their sample, as mentioned earlier. I can’t see any reason to think that they have.

    Figure 1 is more meaningful, but again there is a big selection question. Say that IPCC contributors are selected because they have solid track records (hopefully this is true!). On the other hand people who sign statements are more randomly drawn from the field, including much more junior scientists. Then since the CE group is defined to include the IPCC contributors, it will by construction have people with more papers (the IPCC inclusion would be a form of truncation), it seems inevitable there will be a bias. This would apply a fortiori when all 1372 researchers are included in their comparisons.

    [Response: You make some interesting points here, but your null hypothesis that 'both groups have the same distribution of expertise (= publication count)' misleading. Even if it were true, it would still be the case that there are more highly-published experts in the UE group, simply because there are more of them. A random sampling from each group would indeed -- if you null is correct -- result in a subset with equal expertise. But why would you sample randomly? If 'expertise' is actually measured by publication count (the premise here), then you would actually want to sample from top end. And if you do that, you'll hear the same voice over and over again on the UE side, but you'd have multiple voices on the CE side. Which is of course exactly what happens in reality. So it would seem that Anderegg's point is demonstrated, *even if* your null hypothesis is correct.

    Your point about 'selection bias' by choosing IPCC as a filter has more merit. (As you say, one would hope that there is a bias here towards expertise!). But here, your implied null hypothesis is that there is an equally large expert group out there somewhere on the UE side. Maybe there is, but if so, one ought to be able to compile the data and subject it to Anderegg's et al.s type of analysis. I'm not holding my breath.--eric]

  14. 164

    Re: inline to #155–

    Here in Georgia, it’d be far more likely for state climatological personnel to be subject to political pressure running the other way. . . not that I’ve specifically heard anything suggesting such a thing has occurred.

    But I have had significant correspondence with our federal Senators, who are political allies of the Governor and the majority party in the state Legislature. You might metaphorically say “it’s Moranos all the way down.”

  15. 165
    pasteur says:

    Your students get an ‘F’ for citing Google as a source while Anderegg et al, a work largely based on Google searches, gets published by PNAS. The authors excuse themselves by suggesting it is the most conservative of the search engines in the context of their interests, blah, blah, blah.

    This paper is “disingenuous and dishonest with respect to the science.” Indeed there was little or nothing related to science involved in its authorship. Some google searches and a significance test? That’s the stuff of an undergrad. You’ve rightly characterized it as “egregious.”

    Given the lack of critical attention this paper has received outside of the ‘UE’ blogs, your lone criticisms notwithstanding, one wonders if the ‘CE’ side recognizes the irony.

    While this paper purports to distinguish expertise and prominence, in fact it diminishes the credibility of its co-authors, shames its publisher, undermines the credibility of the process by which it was reviewed, and very likely contributes to the skepticism.

    But having that list sure makes it easy to identify the bad guys. And that really was the point, wasn’t it?

    [Response: You are conflating a few different things here. --eric]

  16. 166
    pasteur says:

    Conflation where conflation is due.

  17. 167
    dhogaza says:

    Your students get an ‘F’ for citing Google as a source while Anderegg et al, a work largely based on Google searches, gets published by PNAS

    For citing Google scholar, which indexes the scientific literature, not every blog rant in the universe.

  18. 168
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gerard Harbison@148, I’m sorry, but I don’t see where I mentioned either “pins” or “angels” in my post#145.

    [edit - please keep it polite]

    If none of the above, perhaps you might like take time from you busy schedule of doing “libertarian-conservative chemistry” to respond to the substance of my argument–to wit, that there is every reason to expect those who publish most actively to have the best understanding of a field.

  19. 169
    RickG says:

    pasteur 166, 167

    I believe I would give you an “F” for such an obtuse comparison.

  20. 170
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I’m sorry, but when an ignoramus isn’t even aware of STS studies and accuses ME of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, I think he is due any amount of vitriol I can spew his way.

  21. 171
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s so much an age thing as a specific combination of historical environments.” – John Mashey

    I agree with you, and repeat the observation that the denialists – being older – will soon be extinct, while the consensus view will live on.

  22. 172
    Marco says:

    @pasteur:
    I guess Inhofe’s list of climate ‘skeptics’ is a blacklist, too?

    Or is it a *whitelist*: those scientists who will get money when the Republican Party gets back in power?

    And all those petitions that the ‘skeptics’ signed (willingly, I might add). Blacklists, too? Oh wait, those are actually the source of Jim Prall’s list!

  23. 173

    Tim Chase (#156) wrote:

    But far too often this isn’t what “Objectivists” “learn” from Objectivism. Instead, with a concrete-bound understanding of metaphysics, they believe that they must reject Special Relativity, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics as violating what they understand to be the law of identity and causality. And they learn to reject science whenever it comes into conflict with their libertarian ideology, whether it happens to be in the area of carcinogenic dioxins, ozone-destroying CFCs, asbestos-related lung disease, tobacco with all of its associated diseases or anthropogenic global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

    Subjectively–and the irony is noted!–this strikes me as a pretty penetrating analysis, based upon the interactions & conversations I’ve had with such folk. The irony that applies to my response, however, also applies to the process described: in valuing a “concrete-bound understanding of [meta]physics” [my brackets], they essentially value a more subjective thought system [a logically-rigorous but unempirical metaphysics] over a more objective one [relativity.]

  24. 174
    SecularAnimist says:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “… as a follower of a libertarian philosophy called Objectivism I learned that existence exists independently of our awareness of it …”

    That’s an assertion that cannot in principle be subjected to empirical observation. It is thus an untestable, unfalsifiable article of faith.

    What exactly is meant by “existence”?

    What if anything is meant by the statement “existence exists”?

    What is meant by “awareness”?

    How can anything at all be said about this “existence” other than that which is known, discovered, determined or realized by our “awareness” of it, i.e. by actual observation?

    Does not the assertion that “existence” is “independent” of “our awareness of it” beg the question of whether “existence” and “awareness” are in reality two separate things rather than mere conceptual categories of thought with which we organize different aspects of experience?

    The reason that Objectivists reject the epistemology and ontology of relativity and quantum physics is precisely because those disciplines show that the philosophical basis of Objectivism is as fundamentally wrong as the notions of absolute time and absolute space, or the idea that a particle simultaneously has an exact position and an exact momentum.

    Libertarianism is another and more down-to-earth matter.

    Libertarians are simply people who place great value on personal liberty. They want to realize their values. Well, don’t we all.

    And sometimes, they may succumb to rejecting “inconvenient truths” that they perceive as negating their values, or limiting the realization of their values. Well, don’t we all.

  25. 175
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 156 Timothy Chase – very interesting.

  26. 176
    Mal Adapted says:

    Eric, inline response @48:

    Your arguments about non-predictibility is nonsensicle.

    Sorry, Eric, but I can’t resist nominating “nonsensicle” for Internet coinage of the year. As in…

    “His argument was festooned with nonsensicles.”

    “Whilst standing next to his house of cards, he was struck by a falling nonsensicle.”

    …and so forth.

  27. 177
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 160 Edward A. Barkley -

    In the absence of more complex models, relying on simpler models still tells us to expect some amount of warming in response to increasing atmospheric CO2, etc. In the absence of simpler models, conceptual models tell us to expect some amount of warming in response to increasing atmospheric CO2. Looking at the paleoclimatic record and at other planets, the predictions of more basic physics are corroborated.

    We are both asking each other to fund an experiment. Whose is less likely to fail?

  28. 178
    Edward Greisch says:

    See
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502158.html
    “If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening”
    A possible tactic.

  29. 179
    Timothy Chase says:

    Kevin McKinney wrote in 174:

    Subjectively–and the irony is noted!-this strikes me as a pretty penetrating analysis, based upon the interactions & conversations I’ve had with such folk. The irony that applies to my response, however, also applies to the process described: in valuing a “concrete-bound understanding of [meta]physics” [my brackets], they essentially value a more subjective thought system [a logically-rigorous but unempirical metaphysics] over a more objective one [relativity.]

    At core, I take the metaphysics to be nothing more nor less than an analysis of the subject/object-relationship for a being possessing volitional awareness in which one begins with the object that one is aware of and not the subject who is aware. The trick is realizing that consciousness discovers itself only in relation to a world that it must discover first. As I view it, the metaphysics is empirical, but it is addressing issues at a very high level of abstraction. So high in fact that by bringing in the Aristotlean distinction between actuality and potentiality it is possible to define truth, justification and belief — the elements in terms of which Plato defined knowledge.

    And as such it lays the abstract foundation for a theory of knowledge. One that integrates the contextuality of coherentialism and both the corrigible knowledge and the low-level, empirical basis of moderate foundationalism where the vast majority of our knowledge is corrigible — and would result in a falliblistic, self-correcting method of awareness.

    It is largely consistent with the sort of synthesis between foundationalism and coherentialism that is argued for by Robert Audi in “Fallibilist Foundationalism and Holistic Coherentialism,” an essay specifically written for inclusion in the anthology “The Theory of Knowledge, Classic and Contemporary Readings” (1993). And I believe this sort of an approach is at least potentially consistent with the scientific method — but it is no longer my life’s project.
    *
    SecularAnimist wrote in 175:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “… as a follower of a libertarian philosophy called Objectivism I learned that existence exists independently of our awareness of it …”

    That’s an assertion that cannot in principle be subjected to empirical observation. It is thus an untestable, unfalsifiable article of faith.

    Sounds like early twentieth century empiricism.

    SecularAnimist continued:

    What exactly is meant by “existence”?

    What if anything is meant by the statement “existence exists”?

    It isn’t possible to define every concept in terms of other concepts without facing an infinite regress or engaging in circular reasoning. Thus some terms must be taken as either basic or fundamental. Nevertheless the are capable of ostensive definition whereby one says, “By existence I mean this” and you point to something, such as a rock. And by “existence exists” one simply means the basic fact that something exists, for if nothing exists then there would be nothing to be aware of, to discuss, and no one to be aware of anything or anyone else to discuss nothing with.

    In any case you might be interested in a paper I wrote for a graduate level course in epistemology. It is a history and critique of early twentieth century empiricism beginning with the similarities that exist between it and Hume and its roots in Kant. It deals with various strains of logical positivism, both operationism and operationalism, gives a fairly conventional critique of Popper and the Principle of Falsifiability and ends with a critique of certain aspects of Quine and his web of belief.

    Please see:

    A Question of Meaning
    http://axismundi.hostzi.com/0/024.php
    *
    Anyway, my primary intent in bringing up Objectivism is first of all to give people some idea of what they are dealing with when they face people who are ideologically opposed to various scientific discoveries and to give those who are so opposed to such discoveries some personal insight. But I am not particularly interested in promoting the philosophy or the movement. For reasons that should be obvious.

  30. 180
    Roger D. says:

    Eric,

    Thanks very much for the response (#164). I think I was unclear. I agree that sampling from the top end is something you might very well want to do – it might be whether there are real experts (= high publication counts) that interests you. But I think what you say illustrates the way they confound the two things I mentioned at the start of my post. One question is whether the there is simply more super-expertise *in total* in the CE group. Then doing what they do in Fig 2 is fine provided their sample either includes almost all climate scientists, or at least has the proportions of the two groups right. But I don’t see them even really attempting to justify either of these assumptions.

    On the other hand the question might be: “is there a difference in the make-up of the CE group, particularly at the top end; that is, is a random CE person more likely to have say > 500 publications than a random UE one?” This is possibly what they have in mind. Their conclusion was “Thus, this suggests that not all experts are equal, and top CE researchers have much stronger expertise in climate science than those in the top UE group.” I tend to read this as some kind of comparison of the typical top researcher in either group, but maybe I am wrong. My point was simply if that is what they have in mind, what they do is wrong.

    In any case, if they want to say there are more top researchers in total in the CE group, they have to argue that they have got right the relative numbers of the two groups. Otherwise simply adding more to one of the groups (say, finding another signed declaration) will improve how that group does in the figure and will improve the average score. Which emphasises how much these results depend on the selection method they employed.

    Of course as an outsider I hadn’t realised that you all know who some of the people in the graph are, and maybe you all know that there aren’t any other high publishing UE types, so it makes it hard to look at this as an abstract exercise.

  31. 181
    David B. Benson says:

    What a tempest in a teapot in the comments!

    Yes please, do think carefully before posting. [When in doubt, cross it out.]

  32. 182
    David B. Benson says:

    Edward A. Barkley (160) — Here is a decadal climate model for you:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/03/unforced-variations-3/comment-page-12/#comment-168530
    in which I even venture a prediction of the global average temperature for the 2010s. But also see Tol, R.S.J. and A.F. de Vos (1998), ‘A Bayesian Statistical Analysis of the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect’, Climatic Change, 38, 87-112 for a rather simlilar study, with rather simpilar conclusions from 12 years ago.

    Mine was intentionally simplified (but not overly so) so that many people can replicate it, maybe with their own modifications. Have at it.

  33. 183
    P. Lewis says:

    Nonsensicle: portmanteau word, derived from nonsense and testicle. Meaning: talking a load of [self-edit]!

  34. 184
  35. 185
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 156 Timothy Chase, 175 SecularAnimist -

    Actually I had thought that the concept of an actual reality extending beyond our minds behaving according to some underlying rules independently of what actually happens – ie if the rules do change, it would be according to a more fundamental set of rules – was a sort of ‘default’ mode for most humans attaining a certain age. (Even if there were no rules, then everything would have to be random, which itself would have statistical tendencies and thus appear to conform to rules??? but even beyond that, I think the concept of an objective reality merely requires that if something is true, then it is true, even if it is not known to be true, it can be known that if it were true, then it would be true. Something can easily be sometimes true and sometimes not true, but the key is that the two different ‘sometimes’ are mutually-exclusive. Schrodinger’s cat could be somewhat alive and somewhat dead, but not completely both, right?)

    relativity and quantum physics those disciplines show that the philosophical basis of Objectivism is as fundamentally wrong as the notions of absolute time and absolute space, or the idea that a particle simultaneously has an exact position and an exact momentum.

    But the ways in which space and time are relative and in which a particle cannot have a precise value of both of some number of pairs of variables, etc, could be the reality that Objectivists (and various non-Objectivists)(should) hold as actually existing.

  36. 186
    Sam Weiss says:

    Re 179 Edward Greisch

    Mooney is being rather idealistic in that opinion piece. I notice that he didn’t tackle the biggest elephant in the room – evolution – other than to give it a mention once then drop it.

    The evolution education effort in the US has been huge, involved many scientists, and yet only a quarter of Americans fully accept the scientific view in whole. Another quarter accept some sort of theistic evolution, while the remaining half pretty much rejects the science. It has been that way for years even in the face of numerous attempts by scientists to interact with the public.

    There will always be a vested interest in denying AGW. In my opinion scientists should not waste their time fighting all the policy wars as these conflicts will go on without end.

  37. 187
    Snapple says:

    The Post is noting, in passing, a very important fact: propaganda frequently targets elites, not just the unwashed masses.

    Libertarian organizatons sponsored by the fossil fuel interests crusade against “big government,” but people don’t seem to realize that when we have a weak government and lax regulations it means we are being ruled by politicians funded by big business. Please, who voted for EXXON, BP, or Gazprom, a huge and powerful monopoly that pays the bills for the Russian government?

    Really, what opened my “conservative” eyes was reading the tabloid Pravda and watching Russia Today mock the “plots” of climate scientists. When I hear that sort of thing in Russia, I know what it is; and Russian media sound exactly like Fox News and the Telegraph—”Hoax of the century” and all that. Pravda sometimes quotes Fox News. Elderly Russian scientists are trotted out in the fossil-fuel-owned media to debunk global warming. Just like in America. I don’t think the Russian media reflects the views of their best young scientists. They certainly are studying global warming because the gas and oil infrastructure is sitting in a thawing permafrost. Arctic sea lanes are opening up. That’s hard for Russians to miss.

    I always considered myself a moderate Republican, but when I saw that Fox and Inhofe sounded exactly like the Russian media on the topic of Climategate, the alarm bells went off in my head.

    I checked the US government science sites and saw that the science of global warming was well-accepted. Who am I going to believe, the tabloid Pravda or my own country’s scientists?

  38. 188
    Snapple says:

    Remember how Dr. Phil Jones supposedly said there was no global warming in recent years? He actually said there was no “statistially significant” global warming, but people don’t know what that means. He was trying to be very precise, but he didn’t communicate.

    I explained statistically significant to my friends in terms of a diet. If I weigh myself every hour for a day, at the end of the day I really can’t tell if I have gained or lost weight. There are too many variables or too much “noise” as you scientists would say.

    But if I weigh myself every day for a year, there may be some ups and downs, but a trend will be statistically significant.

  39. 189
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I’m sure Chris Mooney means well, but I really get tired of him telling us that we must pander to the myths of the Great Unwashed if we want to convince them that scientists know what they’re talking about. Yes, we can get better at communicating science–but that means telling them what the science says, not reassuring them in their ignorance.

    And right now the biggest obstacle to communicating science is the media. Media outlets are owned by billionaires and run on a shoestring. They pander to the basest prejudices of their readership so as not to lose them. Reporters are so scared of losing their jobs they don’t even bother to report news. And increasingly, they demand to be spoonfed stories rather than actually learning something themselves. The US founding fathers recognized how critical a free press was for a democracy. It is a pity that “free” has come to mean free of any obligation to print the truth.

  40. 190
    Timothy Chase says:

    Patrick 027, Secular Animist, Kevin McKinney

    I think we may be straying a bit from climatology. My fault, of course.

    If any of you would be interested in continuing discussions, I myself might be a little slow to respond at times, but we could create an email list or wave list. I know how to create wave lists — and nowadays it is a lot faster even on the big waves, you have the ability to create links, etc..

    Patrick 027 — there is something else I would like to check with you about as well — more climate-related though.

    Anyway, if any of you are interested contact me at timothychase at gmail dottish com.

  41. 191
    Leonard Weinstein says:

    48, Edward Barkley,
    You are confusing 20-20 hindsight with predictability. You also seem to be confused about the scientific method. By the way, being a skeptical but reasonable person is critical to being a good scientist. The trick is not to take the skepticism too far. I clearly think most of who are being called denialists are in fact still well within reasonable skeptical bounds, although there are some off the track on both sides of the issue.

  42. 192
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Hypothesis 2a: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.”

    Some natural causes of climate variations – rearrangement of continental land masses by plate tectonics, silicate weathering removing CO2 from the atmosphere, long term changes in solar output (“dim sun paradox”), Milankovic orbital changes, CO2 exchange with the deep ocean – operate too slowly to explain the increase in temperature seen (HadCRUT, GISS) since 1900 and confirmed by more recent satellite (UAH) measurements.

    The natural causes of climate variations that have time scales (century, decadal; e.g. Schwabe sunspot cycles, average solar output during the satellite measuring era, , ENSO/PDO/AMO and the rest of the alphabet soup of “oscillations”, volcanism) either don’t capture energy over multiple cycles – if I push a child on a swing, his average position doesn’t move away from me – or are going in the wrong direction.

    If the first order human climate forcings (e.g., agriculture & deforestation changes in methane emissions, albedo, and aerosols) other than CO2 emissions are positive and the same order of magnitude as CO2, then the CO2 sensitivity must be lower. However, those forcings weren’t operative during the transition from ice age to interglacial; in order to explain the amplification necessary (rate and magnitude) for the small slow changes in solar influence due to Milankovic cycles to result in the rapid(compared to the descent into an ice age) transition to an interglacial, CO2 sensitivity must be higher. One might posit that CO2 sensitivity decreases more than logarithmically with concentration, but that would preclude the 50-100,000 year PETM event.
    The first order human forcings that are negative (e.g., sulphate emissions) and mask some of the CO2 forcing increase the risks of AGW; if they decrease because of Peak Oil, or economic changes, or are eliminated because of other adverse effects they have, the warming impact of the CO2 we’re adding to the atmosphere will be even larger. Some interesting questions arise – how will expected AGW changes such as increases in weather extremes interact with agriculture to amplify or diminish warming – are albedo changes due to agriculture warming or masking, and how will that change with floods or drought? – will soot and other particulate emissions(brown clouds) from developing economies interact with increased humidity to amplify heavy rainfall events?

    “There is no democracy in physics. We can’t say that some second-rate guy has as much right to opinion as Fermi.”
    — Luis W. Alvarez

  43. 193
    Eli Rabett says:

    Anyone who read Ayn Rand as a kid was missing all the fun. Robert Heinlein was a much better writer. Of course, we grow up and put away childish things. Unfortunately, some like Alan Greenspan take longer to do so.

  44. 194
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I could never read Ayn rand. Her prose was turgid, her plot lines thin and her philosophy was utter naive-realist garbabe. Anyone who has studied quantum mechanics would laugh at the very notion of “objectivism,” let alone Objectivism.

  45. 195

    EAB 160,

    Go look up what the cake said to Alice.

    I don’t care what your scientific credentials are. Tom van Flandern was a Ph.D. astronomer with a huge reputation in celestial mechanics, but he was still a flaming crackpot. And do I have to mention William Pearce?

    If you disagree that

    1) Global warming is happening,
    2) It is anthropogenic, and
    3) It is a serious threat to our civilization,

    then the quality of your beliefs on the subject are akin to believing in creationism, or the idea that aliens built the pyramids.

    BTW, the temperature rise is entirely consistent with the range of Hansen’s predictions, especially Scenario B. Is the trend lower? Sure. Do you understand what a confidence level is? A standard deviation? How to invalidate a null hypothesis? For a scientist, you seem strangely ignorant of statistics.

  46. 196

    Sam Weiss 187: There will always be a vested interest in denying AGW. In my opinion scientists should not waste their time fighting all the policy wars as these conflicts will go on without end.

    BPL: If scientists don’t get involved, the end that will come will involve trucks and trains no longer bringing food into cities. Rationing lines. Starvation. Plague. The collapse of civilization.

  47. 197

    Ein Reich, ein Volk, Ayn Rand!

  48. 198
    Timothy Chase says:

    Eli Rabett wrote in 194:

    Anyone who read Ayn Rand as a kid was missing all the fun. Robert Heinlein was a much better writer. Of course, we grow up and put away childish things.

    Heinlein… For some reason Moira never really wanted me to read his stuff. Something about it giving me funny ideas.

  49. 199
    Patrick 027 says:

    “Schrodinger’s cat could be somewhat alive and somewhat dead, but not completely both, right?”

    I mean of course, the same cat at the same time along the same branch of an Everett-style multiverse…

    ————————————-

    Re 190 Ray Ladbury, 187 Sam Weiss, Snapple (the best stuff on Earth, I presume), 179 Edward Greisch concerning http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502158.html

    About halfway down the first page my reaction to
    In other words, it appears that politics comes first on such a contested subject, and better information is no cure-all — people are likely to simply strain it through an ideological sieve.
    was that such a straining in fact prevents better information from penetrating it’s (from the point of view of a hopeful educator) target. Better information would help but if people refuse to take it, what are you gonna do (besides building up a political majority and then forcing the relevant policies on the unbelievers, which ultimately is what will happen, of course).

    However, farther along I realized a different take – the advocates of sensibility may get farther by better identifying the source of the bias or motivator of the willful ignorance and addressing that directly. However, that’s not necessarily a job for the scientists – or at least, it’s a not that a scientist could necessarily do as simply a scientist – whoever does it may have to put on his philosopher (of politics/ethics and morality/economics)/theologian/historian’s cap.

    For example, with evolution, one could get at the problem by pointing out that 1. if God created nature (as you, the person being engaged in disussion, presumably believes), then why should the theory of evolution as a natural process be offensive to a belief in God. 2. Why would evolution by natural processes imply anything particularly fundamental about morality? Niether the idea that humans evolved naturally without a devine plan, or with a devine plan but without direct intervention, nor the idea that God might not exist, should change the fact that people are people, they experience pleasure and pain, have desires and goals, hopes and dreams, and are generally an amazing and precious thing, each one, etc. If morality is truly moral, God would not be able to change right-from-wrong on a whim; if it is good then it is good, and God is good because God knows what good is and wants it; things are not good because God declares it so; God recognizes what is good because it is good and God knows what good is. If God came truly before all else than logic and morality must actually be part of God, and many atheists would therefore believe in at least that part of God because they accept logic and believe in morality. (3. one could get into the real history of the you-know-what if necessary – also for benifit of Glen Beck, empathy was not the cause (it’s ironic he’s come that close to implying that Jesus is you-know-who))

    It may be possible to do this without pretending to be something your not (a religious person, for whom that would apply) – for example ‘I am not a religious person, but if I were, I would think of it like this…’.

    A problem could arise with biblical literalists, but one could address that by suggesting that some fictional stories have great value in teaching some lesson or illuminating some aspect of the ‘human (or other sentient being) condition’, and also address actual historical events in the translation of the bible – or one could be more abbrassive and ask ‘do you believe deaf people can’t be saved’ (see one of Paul’s letters, and the history of the Catholic Church) – oh, you don’t – so when you said you were a literalist, you were speaking figuratively?’ (Or am I taking the concept of literalist too literally :) ?)

    Another matter is the probability of things turning out as they have; but one can point out that any specific outcome may be unlikely, but some outcome has to occur. If rather different intelligent beings had evolved, they might ponder why they didn’t end up like two-legged… etc. … beings that we’ll call ‘humans’. Why am I not you?

    ————-

    I suppose with AGW, one would have to take economic philosphy head-on, taking note of what is actually fair (it’s not fair just because you like it or because that’s how it has been** – also important for political issues in general).

    (But first, note the distinctions among: science of climate, study of economic effects of climate change, effects of public policy on both and the morality of that.)

    One would have to point out that 1. an otherwise ideal market loses efficiency from externalities, which actually pertains to property rights; it makes sense for the government to actually protect such rights to property and life (except for some who would want a privatized police force etc.?). Externalities may be addressed by either a tax/credit or some other public policy, public ownership and management of the commons, or privatization of the commons, or through court actions – each option may have it’s own costs – for example, the large-scale privatization of the climate system may be impractical with given technology (analogy with toll roads), and even without that, it has at least an aesthetic cost (nature is supposed to be nature; and psychologically, humans may benifit from some amount of public space) and perhaps scientific (ie nature – in this context, nature as it is with relatively small impacts of humankind – is not nature if it is not being itself) costs; there may be inefficiencies in the court system that could be bypassed for issues that are easily addressed with legislation (unless we had a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all people now until the year). Any method of addressing an externality may have various costs (directly economical and otherwise – bureaucracy and possibility of corruption, etc.) and some might not have a net ‘profit’; the most ‘profitable’ (including morality) option should be pursued (legislation and enforcement options that are less corruptable and more efficient would be preferable). (Wait, we can’t legislate morality? Then why is murder illegal? Also, quite ironically considering the issue here, see what George Will said on “This Week” concerning Rand Paul’s position on civil rights). Even if the externality doesn’t have a clear overall net public cost, if it has signficant costs to some portion of the public, then it is an issue of fairness and rights. Note that while, legally, rights might not apply equally internationally, morally, if the rights are good rights to have, then we should act like they do apply, except wherein there is some problem in that which justifies a different position (ie different national policies, international treaties – such that require different treatment in order to achieve justice).

    Given that, if one wants freedom of choice and an efficient market, shouldn’t one accept a market solution (tax/credit or analogous system based on public costs, applied strategically to minimize paperwork (don’t tax residential utility bills – apply upstream instead), applied approximately fairly to both be fair and encourage an efficient market response (don’t ignore any significant category, put all sources of the same emission on equal footing; if cap/trade, allow some exchange between CO2 and CH4, etc, based CO2(eq); include ocean acidification, etc.), allowing some approximation to that standard so as to not get very high costs in dealing with small details and also to address the biggest, most-well understood effects and sources first (put off dealing with the costs and benifits of sulphate aerosols, etc, until later if necessary – but get at high-latitude black carbon right away)? Does policy impact your choices? Yes? But the policy reflects costs and benifits, and this (shaped by scarcity) always has this affect on your choices. It is not truly an attack on freedoms.

    Ideally, all emissions globally should be taxed/regulated equally and apportioned according to where public costs are realized or to those investing in mitigation efforts, etc; absent that, there could be an agreement to allow countries to put tariffs/subsidies on imports/exports according to associated emissions and differences between national policies.

    Of course, there are other problems with a market that may make it’s performance less than ideal. Still, it may make sense to start with policies based on the efficient-market concept (tax/credit), which should tend to have a desired effect (while markets are imperfect, it’s not like they’re worse than randomness; perhaps the efficient market concept is a little bit like the quasi-geostrophic approximation applied to midlatitude synoptic scale systems – intense cyclones (large Ro) will require corrections, but it’s a good place to start.). Other problems (concavities in the PPC and the benifits of public planning (simplest example: drive on one side of the road), negative sum games (role in the housing bubble?), entrenched behavior and slow market learning, other stuff) could be addressed with auxiliary policies (building codes (including, contingent on economics and local climate and landscaping, skylights, solar water heatings, solar cells), incentives for certain kinds of technology and infrastructure arrangements, public coordination of changes, public support for emerging industries/businesses to compensate for mass-market advantage (including accelerated effort to evaluate environmental or other impacts for potential renewable power plant or HVDC line sites, so that the industries have a map of where they can work), R&D (both for the previous purpose and also for a general maintenance of ‘technodiversity’ so as to have options in the event that problems are discovered with a economically-successful technology. (Note that at least some of these programs can be phased out once the economy has shifted, allowing market behavior to take-over.) This also applies to an important strategic value in how developing countries develope – they can avoid legacy costs by making some choices earlier rather than later, but they may need help; it is in developed countries’ interest to do this.

    These types of solutions may be harder to stomach for the libertarian (? but again, some/many could tend to be structured as incentives that would have a market response, rather than orders), but if the libertarian were willing to support these things, they might be able to encourage lawmakers to actually do sensible things rather than ‘greenwashing’ or building ‘CFLs to nowhere’ or whatever problems could arise (if a larger political majority supports some overall goal, then the legislators might be under less pressure to cut costly deals to win-over special interests or opponents! (I actually would consider placing some of the blame on conservatives for such issues that might arise in the health care bill). A conceivable danger is that, as with big fossil fuel, big corn, military equipment manufacturers, etc, now, a clean energy and efficiency lobby could conceivably develop to maintain subsidies beyond their justification. But then again, what was the justification for the more stupid subsidies we have now? Were they (aside from the military stuff- the problem there has been, so far as I know, the way in which the industry has been structured in response to the public-private dynamic, not the lack of general need for military equipment) ever as significant or real as the justification for public support for a shift to a cleaner more efficient energy economy now? (PS how many of those libertarians benifit from and would defend those subsidies?) And why must we accept such a trajectory? If the libertarians could prevent sensible action now, why couldn’t they prevent nonsense actions later?

    ** true, because people play a game based on the rules as stated (so far as they’ve been told those rules), there can be an inherent level of fairness in not changing the rules, but if the unfairness or other problems in not changing the rules would persist for a long time, then it can be better to change the rules; some phasing in of the changes over time can help alleviate shocks to the economy and in some cases, som compensation may be offered to those who are giving something up (but preferably not the sort of compensation that actually erodes the purpose of the change in the rules).

  50. 200
    Brian Dodge says:

    The natural causes of climate variations that have relevant time scales (century, decadal…


Switch to our mobile site