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What do climate scientists think?

Filed under: — gavin @ 24 June 2010 - (Español)

by Gavin and Eric.

… and why does it matter?

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. 201
    Patrick 027 says:

    … “These types of solutions may be harder to stomach for the libertarian”

    Actually, though, perhaps libertarians could get behind some (maybe not all) of the reforms to agricultural policy that would be helpful to the economy in general, the food supply, healthcare, and mitigation and adaptation regarding climate change.

  2. 202
    Gilles says:

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

    Brian, on which time scale do the current variations exceed the natural noise, measured by the same method and in a homogeneous way, and by how many sigmas ?

    [Response: By about 3 sigma on decadal timescales. See Fig 9.5. - gavin]

  3. 203
    Marco says:

    @Barton + RC moderators, re 198:

    I find Barton’s remark to be well over the top. Perhaps meant to be funny, but most decidedly inappropriate.

  4. 204
    ccpo says:

    Eric, you should be wearing “activist” as a bad of courage. Just doing the science is not good enough anymore with the stakes so high. The world needs more scientist-activists because the message is not getting out with just “science”.

    Comment by Scott A Mandia — 25 June 2010 @ 10:03 AM

    Galasyn deleted my comment to this affect, assuming an insult where =none was offered. Let me reinforce this to the utmost, for it cannot be stated strongly enough. We are passing thresholds, very nasty thresholds, and we need scientists to do more than inform and debate. Whether a fair request or not is irrelevant. Climate is changing faster than even I imagined, and I’m about as “alarmist” as one can get.

    Max temp records set in seven nations recently, three months of global temp records.

    Time’s up. It’s pretty much now or never.

    Cheers

  5. 205
    Richard Steckis says:

    Doug Bostrom says:
    25 June 2010 at 6:22 PM
    Gerard:

    “I highly doubt this paper would have survived actual peer review.

    Gerard, you’d be more credible if you were aware of some elementary facts, such as that Anderegg’s paper was in fact reviewed prior to publication according to PNAS’ normal process.”

    According to some, you are wrong about peer review of this paper. It is indicated by others that the paper could bypass peer review because one of the authors being a member of NAS has the right to publish without undergoing peer review (namely Schneider). Apparently this is a privilege accorded to members of the National Academy of Sciences for publication in PNAS.

  6. 206
    Ray Ladbury says:

    BPL@198:

    WIN!

  7. 207
    pasteur says:

    @173 Marco
    Why would you assume anything about my thoughts on Inhofe based on what I wrote about Anderegg? Must everyone be a ‘UE’ or a ‘CE’? Bias much?

    @168 dhogaza
    …for citing any unreliable source. Indexing literature doesn’t make the search engine reliable, even if it is scientific literature. The authors acknowledge the problems; papers they cite discuss the problems.

    @170 RickG
    Obtuse, how so? IMO the paper is junk. By their own methods this junk would increase the authors’ “expertise.” That’s ironic.

  8. 208
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Pasteur #166, as one who has used both Google Scholar and ISI Thomson, I can tell you that they give similar results, showing both to be legitimate instruments for measuring what they do. This is mentioned in the paper too. ISI isn’t without its problems either, in spite of being more established — and somehow I just know you would have highlighted those has they chosen to use ISI… while whining about the choice of a non-free service.

    You’re the one being disingenuous my friend.

  9. 209
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Richard Steckis says: 27 June 2010 at 4:33 AM

    According to some, you are wrong about peer review of this paper. It is indicated by others that the paper could bypass peer review…

    Yeah? Well, maybe some are wrong and ought to check their facts. Here’s what I see on PNAS concerning Anderegg’s paper:

    (sent for review December 22, 2009)

    Impressionism is not the only school of rhetorical art, fortunately. We can also resort to realist depictions. Why listen to “some” and worry about what “others” think when we can simply read PNAS’ submission and review policies directly?

    PNAS Submission Guidelines
    The standard mode of transmitting manuscripts is for authors to submit them directly to PNAS. Authors must recommend three appropriate Editorial Board members, three NAS members who are expert in the paper’s scientific area, and five qualified referees. The Board may choose someone who is or is not on that list or may reject the paper without further review. A directory of PNAS member editors and their research interests is available at http://nrc88.nas.edu/pnas_search. The editor may obtain reviews of the paper from at least two qualified referees, each from a different institution and not from the authors’ institutions. For direct submission papers, the PNAS Office will invite the referees, secure the reviews, and forward them to the editor. The PNAS Office will also secure any revisions and subsequent reviews. The name of the editor, who may remain anonymous to the author until the paper is accepted, will be published in PNAS as editor of the article. Papers submitted directly are published as “Edited by” the responsible editor and have an additional identifying footnote.

    Academy members who have told authors they are willing to oversee the review process have 48 hours from the time of submission to alert the PNAS Office to their request. During this period the PNAS Office will contact the member to confirm. Authors should coordinate submission to ensure the member is available. The Board cannot guarantee that the member designated by the author will be assigned the manuscript or that it will be sent for review. Throughout the review process authors are not permitted to contact the editor directly and all correspondence must be sent through the PNAS office. The standard submission process does not require a prearranged editor. Papers submitted with a prearranged editor are published with a footnote.

    An Academy member may “communicate” for others up to two manuscripts per year that are within the member’s area of expertise. Beginning July 1, 2010, we will no longer accept communicated submissions. Before submission to PNAS, the member obtains reviews of the paper from at least two qualified referees, each from a different institution and not from the authors’ institutions. Referees should be asked to evaluate revised manuscripts to ensure that their concerns have been adequately addressed. The names and contact information, including e-mails, of referees who reviewed the paper, along with the reviews and the authors’ response, must be included. Reviews must be submitted on the PNAS review form, and the identity of the referees must not be revealed to the authors. The member must include a brief statement endorsing publication in PNAS along with all of the referee reports received for each round of review. Members must select referees who have not collaborated with the authors in the past 48 months. See Section iii for the full conflict of interest policy. Members must verify that referees are free of conflicts of interest, or must disclose any conflicts and explain their choice of referees. These papers are published as “Communicated by” the responsible editor.

    An Academy member may submit up to four of his or her own manuscripts for publication per year. The member must have made a significant contribution to the work to warrant authorship and the subject matter must be within the member’s own area of expertise. Contributed articles must report the results of original research. A special obligation applies to a Contributed paper for which the member or coauthors disclose a significant financial or other competing interest in the work. Since January 2009, we no longer consider such submissions using the contributed route. Members who disclose a significant conflict of interest must submit their manuscripts using standard direct submission. When submitting using the contributed process, members must secure the comments of at least two qualified referees. Referees should be asked to evaluate revised manuscripts to ensure that their concerns have been adequately addressed. Members’ submissions must be accompanied by the names and contact information, including e-mails, of knowledgeable colleagues who reviewed the paper, along with all of the reviews received and the authors’ response for each round of review, and a brief statement endorsing publication in PNAS. Reviews must be on the PNAS review form. Members must select referees who have not collaborated with the authors in the past 48 months. See Section iii for the full conflict of interest policy. Members must verify that referees are free of conflicts of interest, or must disclose any conflicts and explain their choice of referees. The Academy member must be a corresponding author on the paper. These papers are published as “Contributed by” the responsible editor.

    All manuscripts are evaluated by the Editorial Board. The Board may reject manuscripts without further review or may subject manuscripts to review and reject those that do not meet PNAS standards. Manuscripts rejected by one member cannot be resubmitted through another member or as a direct submission. When revisions are requested prior to final decision, revised papers must be received within 2 months or they will be treated as new submissions.

    PNAS Information for Authors

  10. 210
    Gilles says:

    [Response: By about 3 sigma on decadal timescales. See Fig 9.5. - gavin]

    sorry Gavin, I’m ready to believe you, but I don’t see on the figure 9.5 any period T on which the variation is statistically outside the distribution of variations in the past.

    I mean : if you choose a given period T, and you compute the average slope on this period, is the most recent period statistically outside the distribution of slopes computed in the past ? i don’t see that on the figure.

    [Response: What you mean is that nothing I say or show will make any difference. We discussed attribution last month, if you didn't get it then,me repeating it is not going to change anything. Argument for argument sake is pointless. - gavin]

  11. 211
    Marco says:

    @Richard Steckis #206:
    “According to some” being those who want to cast doubt on the study, just so they can dismiss its findings. The paper was peer-reviewed, as clearly noted on the paper itself (“sent for review December 22″). Also, on collide-a-scape there was a reaction from one of the reviewers (through another person). Finally, as noted on the PNAS website, papers that are “communicated” (or “contributed”, yet another possibility) by a PNAS Editorial Board Member are *also* required to be reviewed.

    @pasteur #173:
    You were the one who complained about a blacklist. You fail to realise that the ‘blacklist’ consists of TWO lists (one UE, the other CE), so one can wonder why only one should be seen as a “blacklist”. Both lists were made by the scientists themselves signing activist statements. They *themselves* are responsible for being on a list. All Jim Prall did was combine the various lists into one bigger one. And suddenly this is to be perceived as something horrible? I have not seen you (nor many others) complain about the Inhofe list, which notably is a list where the scientists often did *not* sign up themselves. In fact, requests to be removed were not even granted in various cases. See a difference here?

  12. 212

    Marco: I find Barton’s remark to be well over the top. Perhaps meant to be funny, but most decidedly inappropriate.

    BPL: People deserve respect until they demonstrate otherwise. Ideas do not. Ayn Rand certainly does not. I didn’t insult any poster here, aside from any supersensitive “Objectivists” who might feel that I committed blasphemy.

  13. 213
  14. 214
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Richard Steckis #206:

    It is indicated by others that the paper could bypass peer review because one of the authors being a member of NAS has the right to publish without undergoing peer review (namely Schneider).

    According to the Instructions to Authors, a Contributed paper (which this is, by Schneider) should be reviewed by two “qualified referees”. Which may be picked by Schneider — the only privilege a NAS member has. And if he too transparently would pick his buddies or they wouldn’t do a proper job, the Editorial Board (who get to see the review file) can still stop the paper. Not a risk worth taking.

  15. 215
    MapleLeaf says:

    Richard Steckis @206,

    “According to some, you are wrong about peer review of this paper. It is indicated by others that the paper could bypass peer review because one of the authors being a member of NAS has the right to publish without undergoing peer review (namely Schneider).”

    They are mistaken Richard. Please read #150 and follow the links provided.

  16. 216
    Martin Vermeer says:

    …and according to the paper, it was sent for review December 22, 2009.

  17. 217
    Ike Solem says:

    There seems to be a lack of similar outrage from Eric & Gavin about the fossil fuel industry working with the American Petroleum Institute to develop a whitelist of approved scientists for media interviews, then giving that list to media executives and having them direct reporters to these sources.

    Now that a study has been published on this, there’s outrage? That seems rather odd. I do understand that the scientists at realclimate state that they don’t want to get involved in political or policy debates, just scientific debates – but by rushing to the defense of the whitelisted / blacklisted groups who refuse to accept the facts about global warming, they’ve just entered the political arena.

    The paper hasn’t been questioned on merits, methodology, etc. The conclusions seems sound – so what is it? The motivation of the researchers involved is problematic, is that it? The comments on the “failure of a free society” seem outlandish, too.

    [Response: Ike, just to be clear we a) don't say - and don't believe - that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the Anderegg et al. paper. I'm not convinced it is very good, and I am very concerned about the way it cavalierly yet obscurely is linked with the Prall list on the web. Yes, of course I am annoyed by the API, and Gavin probably is too, but we can't be writing something every time a political organization does something political. RealClimate is fundamentally a science blog, whatever anyone else claims about it. We get into the politics when scientists (or people presenting something as science) get it wrong, or when direct attacks on the science we are experts in need to be addressed.--eric]

  18. 218
    Marco says:

    @Barton,

    I think references to the Third Reich (and that *is* what you did) more than just insulting to objectivists. I’m not an Ayn Rand fan (in fact, I haven’t read a darn thing written by Rand), but have some problems with the gratitious references to the nazis.

  19. 219
    SecularAnimist says:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “… 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.”

    It would certainly seem that the very idea of “ideological opposition to various scientific discoveries” would be be diametrically opposed to the stated principles of a philosophy that styles itself “Objectivist” and proclaims that (in your words) “the root of all sin lies in evasion — the refusal to know”.

    The source of this apparent paradox can be found in the fact that Objectivism is anything but “objective”.

    Objectivism is in essence a philosophy that was “reverse engineered” from Ayn Rand’s subjective value system, in order to claim that her particular personal values were “objectively” correct and true and good, and that other values were “objectively” wrong and false and evil. Objectivism begins with Ayn Rand’s personal values, and works backwards from there to establish what sort of reality — in particular what sort of facts about human nature — would be required to prove that her values are the “right” ones because they are in accord with those facts. It then simply proclaims those facts to be true. It is thus an anti-empirical philosophy.

    And Ayn Rand’s own writings are full of instances where she rejects or ignores actual empirical facts, particularly facts about human nature, that falsify the assertions that underly her claims to “objective” moral superiority. Denial of “inconvenient truths” is not an aberration from Objectivism, it is the essence of Objectivism.

    And really, “philosophical” discussion such as this does not begin to convey the depth and breadth of Objectivism. To fully appreciate this philosophy, one must read Rand’s essays in which she proclaims that the types of art and music she likes are not only objectively superior to other types of art and music, but are morally superior. For example, photo-realistic painting is morally right, whereas impressionism and abstraction are immoral, because they represent the “sin” of “evasion”. Similarly, diatonic, melodic music is “moral” and atonal music is “immoral”.

    And of course one must note that in Ayn Rand’s fiction, the most horrible fates are reserved not for the cartoonish “collectivist” villains, but for the characters who of their own free will and choice, devote their energies to helping the unfortunate — because, you see, altruism is “self-immolation” and is “objectively” evil.

  20. 220
    SecularAnimist says:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “… 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.”

    I don’t know if the moderators will permit my previous “philosophical” comment which was verbosely critical of Objectivism, but in defense of Objectivism in the context of AGW denialism, it is my observation that the overwhelming majority of denialists who claim or appear to be “ideologically opposed to various scientific discoveries” are not operating on the basis of any such intellectual framework as Objectivism.

    Rather, they are operating on the basis of believing, saying and doing whatever they are told to believe, say and do by the so-called “conservative” media which spoon-feeds them a steady stream of corporate-sponsored, Madison Avenue-scripted, focus-group-tested, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-ideological drivel, that has no purpose but protecting the profits of the fossil fuel corporations, that has little real content other than hatred of “liberals”, and has about as much to do with actual intellectual traditions like Objectivism and Libertarianism as the Three Stooges have to do with Shakespeare.

    It’s one thing to read and appreciate the voluminous, wide-ranging, sometimes challenging writings of Ayn Rand and to be so moved by them as to find one’s personal philosophy and world view strongly shaped by them.

    It’s quite another thing to tune in Rush Limbaugh and say “Ditto That!”

    And AGW denialism owes more to Rush than to Ayn Rand.

  21. 221
    Ike Solem says:

    @Eric,

    Well, I suppose the practical issue here is related to this:

    IPCC, key target of war on climate science, announces 831 experts to author Fifth Assessment Report

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has announced its selection of 831 authors and review editors for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report to be published in 2013-2014. In light of the denial machine’s war on climate science, which seeks to delegitimize the IPCC and lay a predicate for rejecting any unwelcome conclusions of the forthcoming reports, we expect they will find a way to challenge the author selection and subsequent steps of the IPCC process.

    Let’s say the Stanford methodology is applied to all the scientists involved in the IPCC. What would it find? Would that be useful, or misleading?

    The interesting question is this: is this a sound methodology for identifying reliable experts in a given scientific field? This is an important question for science journalists. For example, right now, science journalists who are covering the Gulf spill need to identify experts in the various issues – biodiversity impacts, toxicology, ocean currents, deepwater engineering issues – how do they go about it? How do they know they haven’t been set up with some quack hired by the fossil fuel lobby to spin the story?

    Rather than trusting whitelists or blacklists of “media-trained scientists” provided by others, science journalists should try andto find the experts for themselves. They’d get more interesting stories that way, that’s for sure.

    In the long run of course the original scientific work itself is what matters, not the conclusions of committees. The real value of the IPCC is that it collects and organizes all that work in one convenient location, minus the most recent work. However, PR types like to attack the IPCC, rather than the original scientific work – because the latter is pretty conclusive, and they’d lose the argument.

    Regardless, if someone got their hands on the American Petroleum Institute whitelist of acceptable scientists for media interviews, publishing it would not be an assault on scientific freedom, in my opinion. I imagine it’s a carefully guarded secret, though.

    [Response:Ike. You make many good points, and I agree in general. Regarding whether it would be o.k. to make public the API's 'whitelist of acceptable scientists', yes, I suppose I would agree, but it would depend very much on how it was used. Criticizing (or for that matter applauding) their choices might be reasonable. Claiming that the list is anything other than API's opinion would not be. Of course, all of this gets into the questionable territory of what one does with private information, that one uses illegal means to obtain in the first place. Releasing the Watergate information was important, justified, and ethical. That doesn't mean all other such instances are comparable. I'm not saying this is simple, but I simply don't buy into the argument that 'any information, no matter the source and no matter how dubious the information, should be disseminated as widely as possible', which is essentially the excuse I hear for Prall et al. on the one hand and 'cclimategate' emails on the other. Everyone has to make their own ethical decisions, but for me, it requires more thought than simply appealing to laissez faire.--eric]

  22. 222
    Timothy Chase says:

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote in 198:

    Ein Reich, ein Volk, Ayn Rand!

    Ray Ladbury wrote in 207:

    BPL@198:

    WIN!

    I thought it was funny.

    Anyway, I will say this in a little more detail at the end, but my point wasn’t to promote Objectivism or defend it — but to explain what it is to some small extent — because it has played a very big role in the creation of the Libertarian movement, and the Libertarian movement is one of the two major factors in opposition to recognizing the threat that anthropogenic global warming poses and to getting countries to do anything about it.
    *
    The movement has it’s hardliners wing — lead by an organization called ARI. Then something that was called the Institute for Objectivist Studies, then there is the Jefferson School and even the Libertarianz of New Zealand, and I am sure there are more — it has been a decade since I was involved. Usually the ARI people can’t get along with anyone other than themselves.

    They are strongly focused on there being one and only one Objectivism — maintaining its “consistency” as a coherent system — partly because they are only gradually developing it as a “technical” system and presumably they want to do things right — which was made exceedingly difficult as it got developed at a popularized level first — trying to change the world. They are the most cultish of the various branches and will often get called “Randroids” even by other Objectivists.

    One of the points I have made before on various occasions is that fundamentally totalitarianism isn’t really political — at least not in the sense that people mean the term “political.” It is psychological — it is about controlling the minds of others. It is about insuring that the individual has one and only one frame of reference — one and only one conceptual framework through which to view the world. And in this sense all cults are totalitarian. Even the libertarian ones. And I thought it was applicable to Objectivism and even said so — openly, when I was still active in the movement.
    *
    Oh — and when I suggested the possibility of an email list I was actually hoping that no one would take me up on it. I don’t have the time. (Got to get a career going — and if I am not doing programming or focusing on climatology in one forum or another I would rather be studying the role of retroelements in evolution.) And this is what I expected and got. But it seemed the easiest way to bring discussion of Objectivism and philosophy to an end. For those who may not have noticed it can be something of a hotspot.
    *
    However, Ray — you are wrong about the naive realism. Assuming you are speaking of perception, Objectivism normally distinguishes between the form and the object of awareness — where the form is the way in which the object is grasped. David Kelley developed that at length in “The Evidence of the Senses” and admits that he got the distinction from Rand.

    Absolute space and time? As far as I know Rand never got into that — although others have, unfortunately. Causality? That was a mess. Arguing against the probabilistic causation that exists at the quantum level — and thus evidently for causal necessity, but then also arguing for volition — in which free choice is the is the ability to choose between two potential courses of action in which either may be equally actualizable. This isn’t chance, but it isn’t compatible with a world that acts strictly in accordance with causal necessity, either.

    Likewise, Kelley (the fellow who lead the Institute for Objectivist Studies) had problems simply in terms of conceptualizing error from a realist perspective on cognition. I called him on it at one point and he said that there was an answer to the problem — which he would get around to telling people some day.
    *
    Your criticisms of Rand’s fiction writing? I disagree, but a lot of people would agree — and as far as I am concerned I don’t see it as something we need to argue about — here or anywhere else.

    Beyond that?

    As I indicated above, I wasn’t exactly my intention to be defending a system or movement that I was criticizing. And this wouldn’t be the forum for it anyway. But opposition to doing something about anthropogenic global warming comes largely (although not entirely) from two different sources: fossil fuel interests and the ideology of libertarianism.

    And I don’t think that someone can really understand libertarianism without having some understanding of where that came from. Objectivism, to some extent the Austrian School of economics — and to a lesser extent other authors, including even Robert Heinlein. And that understanding is an asset.

    Truce?

  23. 223
    Gilles says:

    [Response: What you mean is that nothing I say or show will make any difference. We discussed attribution last month, if you didn't get it then,me repeating it is not going to change anything. Argument for argument sake is pointless. - gavin]

    Sorry Gavin but I don’t find your answer is fair. My question was not about attribution, which relies in some way on comparison with models. It was purely a question of data.

    Does the modern variation statistically exceed the past variations over the same time span ? no.

    If the past, pre-industrial variations were considered as random NOISE, there would be nothing significant in the observed data, especially if you consider homogeneous measurements (through proxies).

    The trick is that past data aren’t considered as “noise” , or only in limited amount, but rather as a significant “signal” that can be substracted from the observed data to get a significant trend. This may be right – but it is by no way obviously right, since there is no real validation of the background signal by the models. Nobody really knows what the trend would have been without the anthropic component. There is no validation of “natural” models, and no accurate enough data in the past to validate them at the needed accuracy. This is unfortunate, but it would be fair to recognize that it lets a door open for skepticism.

  24. 224

    Here are some statements awaiting a retraction:

    wattsupwiththat.com/2010/…/arctic-sea-ice-about-to-hit-normal-what-will-the -news-say

    http://www.floppingaces.net/2010/…/global-cooling-confirmed-arctic-ice-returns-to -normal/

    jennifermarohasy.com/…/sea-ice-extent-now-normal-in-arctic

    startthinkingright.wordpress.com/2010/…/arctic-ice-returns-to-normal-how- will-global-warming-alarmist-fearmonger-next

    meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.com/2010/…/arctic-ice-back-to-normal.html

    and Bastardi needs to retract as well

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV3SaxgDNnM
    AccuWeather.com: Global Warming News, Science, Myths, Articles global-warming.accuweather.com

    wrong about sun ice and so on…

    because:

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/seaice.anomaly.arctic.png

    sea ice extent anomaly exceeded 2008- 2009 2 months early

    Look guys, its in our best interest to call them wrong, and also they might retract, apologize, and listen more to the science guy. Until they do we must expose these contrarians who were wrong so that perhaps a Journalist will ask them why they are wrong instead of asking them about their vastly incorrect opinion about AGW.

  25. 225
    Edward Greisch says:

    156 Timothy Chase: That is exactly why EVERYBODY should be required to take enough laboratory courses as early as possible to learn that: Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.
    Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else except math. This is what must be taught in science class.
    See: “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul 1980
    University of California Press

  26. 226
    Rod B says:

    Ray Ladbury (190), this has little to do with anything helpful, but today’s problems with the press/media that you point to are not materially different than they always have been. See Alien and Sedition Act, e.g.

  27. 227
    John McManus says:

    I always thought that Ayn Rand had an infinite number of monkeys.

  28. 228

    Marco 219,

    So mark me down for breaking Godwin’s Law.

  29. 229
    Timothy Chase says:

    SecularAnimist wrote in 221:

    I don’t know if the moderators will permit my previous “philosophical” comment which was verbosely critical of Objectivism, but in defense of Objectivism in the context of AGW denialism, it is my observation that the overwhelming majority of denialists who claim or appear to be “ideologically opposed to various scientific discoveries” are not operating on the basis of any such intellectual framework as Objectivism.

    Agreed — and on behalf of Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz I thank you!

    But you will notice that the good majority of organizations that are part of the disinformation network used to defend everything from dioxin to asbestos to cigarettes and greenhouse gas emissions are in terms of their espoused ideology Libertarian. Sure — Rush Limbaugh pushes it now as well — but I doubt that he would have become as popular as he has without decades of work on behalf of Libertarians chiselling away at the idea of anything beyond a minimalist government.
    *
    However, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Libertarianism to be that intellectual, either. Hayek? Certainly. But otherwise? One of the shining lights of Libertarianism was, like Friedrich A. von Hayek and Alan Greenspan also a student of Ludwig von Mises — a fellow by the name of Murray N. Rothbard — who argued in favor of anarcho-Libertarianism, in fact in favor of the idea that police forces could compete with one-another in offering their services. Of course most countries already have something along these lines — and in our country they are typically referred to as the mafia.

    In my view Libertarianism has succeeded well out of proportion to what it would have done otherwise because certain financial interests regarded it as a useful and wise investment. Particularly the various front organizations that acted as a cover for various industrial interests. The companies that dealt in dioxin, CFCs, asbestos, lead paint and leaded gas, cigarettes and fossil fuels. I personally put together a list of over thirty different organizations that were involved in both the tobacco and AGW disinformation campaigns — and although I haven’t checked yet, I suspect that one could easily identify ties to Libertarianism in all but say five of the organizations.
    *
    But there are other influences as well — including attempts to create a fusion between what many would call religious fundamentalism and economic fundamentalism. The editor of Reason magazine (a libertarian glossy monthly with obvious ties to Objectivism) didn’t know what to make of it — as it would seem to be the attempt to wed Libertarianism to some form of theocratic government. This has been going on for a while of course, but you might find this to be an interesting development — the attempt to create opposition to environmentalism based upon End Days religious extremism — being promoted by fossil fuel interests.

    Please see:

    On Friday, at the polluter-funded Heritage Foundation, Cornwall rolled out its latest campaign called “Resisting the Green Dragon.” Billed as “a Biblical response to one of the greatest deceptions of our day,” the video series claims the entire climate change movement is a “false religion,” a nefarious conspiracy to empower eugenicists and create a “global government.” Watch the absurd trailer here, which portrays the idea of climate change as akin to the Lord of the Rings villain Sauron: …

    The oily operators behind the religious climate change disinformation front group, Cornwall Alliance
    Watch their absurdly paranoid video asserting environmentalism is “without doubt one of the greatest threats to society” today
    June 19, 2010
    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/19/the-oily-operators-behind-the-religious-climate-change-disinformation-front-group-cornwall-alliance/

    Then again, in New Zealand you have a the libertarian Libertarianz which is essentially another branch of the Objectivist movement — aligned for a while with Kelley’s Institute for Objectivist Studies, but then which started gravitating towards the Ayn Rand Institute. I was the webmaster for the website of their glossy monthly called “The Free Radical” while living in New Mexico — so I knew the magazine’s editor. He was the fellow who paid me for the work, let me install an internal search engine, heavily edit one of his lengthy speeches — when he handed it to me it was one solid block of text which I broke into paragraphs, then collected into sections then parts, then titled the sections and parts. “In the Revolution’s Twilight” which was in part about the failure of Libertarianism — and which suggested its future success.

    If I had to give a brief description, I would say that he was a passionate, fairly intellectual gay libertarian version of Rush Limbaugh — with the perfect BBC accent. None of these influences are necessarily as distant as you might think.

    Anyway, I will try getting back to you later on your earlier post, probably offlist, but right now Moira wants to take a walk.

    Take care.

  30. 230
    David B. Benson says:

    I found it funny as well, but certainly OT.

  31. 231
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Does the modern variation statistically exceed the past variations over the same time span ? no.” Gilles — 27 June 2010 @ 12:25 PM

    Really? It took about 6000 years for the CO2 to rise from 190 ppm to 270 ppm coming out of the last ice age.

  32. 232
    Frank Giger says:

    I’ll caution against the calls for more activism on the part of scientists.

    When scientists become activists one begins to wonder which is driving the train: is the activism driven from the research, or is the research driven from the activism?

    Similarly, I noted that papers that print articles that are wrong are demanded to apologize as well as correct. Why? Do scientists apologize when they get it wrong?

    Or is it more about “winning” the political debate than anything else?

  33. 233
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Marco, How about if we give BPL a yellow card for Godwin’s Law and one for you for being a humorless git?

  34. 234
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Timothy Chase,
    No offense intended. I merely found Ayn Rand to be a second-class intellect, with a grossly inflated sense of self importance and a poor grasp of epistemology. I find many of her accolytes even more insufferable. Again, as I said over at Tamino’s recently: If you find yourself pushing back on the advancing walls of human knowledge so there’s room for your philosophy, it’s a pretty good sign your philosophy is wrong.

  35. 235
    wili says:

    Far less OT than Ayn Rand and much else discussed recently–Has anyone noticed the sudden near universal melt now well underway throughout the Arctic.

    The time lapse sequence is quite dramatic. Things have been melting ahead of schedule up there, and the total ice volume and long term ice coverage anomaly charts have been dropping impressively (if that’s the right word) for weeks. But so far on the maps most of the action has been on the periphery.

    But since the solstice and especially in the last few days there has been a very dramatic shift from deep purple (code for unmelted ice) across most of the central part of the Arctic ocean, to suddenly magentas, yellows, greens…leaping across almost the whole extent of the ocean.

    The only place left with a respectable chunk of unmelted ice is the area just north of Greenland.

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/CT/animate.arctic.color.0.html

  36. 236
    Timothy Chase says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote in 235:

    If you find yourself pushing back on the advancing walls of human knowledge so there’s room for your philosophy, it’s a pretty good sign your philosophy is wrong.

    You won’t get any argument from me there — or with your estimation of her accolytes, for the most part. Incidentally, a large part of:

    Religion and Science
    http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/ForClergy/ReligionAndScience

    … is about what happens when push against those walls. And one of the biggest flaws (in my view) with the Objectivist movement can be found here — in an essay that is presumably dealing with young earth creationism — also up at the British Centre for Science Education:

    A Conspiracy of Silence
    http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/Main/AConspiracyOfSilence

    I am not sure if you ever got the chance to look at them before, but I think you might like them.

  37. 237
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 233 Frank Giger – regarding the first part; I can understand the concern about scientist-activists, but it should not be so hard to accept that people who actually know things may be moved to publically argue against confusion and misunderstanding. Even lacking the obvious economic and sociological consequences as with AGW, it is understandable that scientists who have studied evolution, motivated by curiosity if nothing else, would not want the public to be mislead simply by a religious misunderstanding (and note that, while many of the scientists may disagree with the religion, it may not be necessary to argue against the religion, because at least some of the resistance to teaching evolution comes from a misunderstanding of the implications of evolution). Hey, Buzz Aldrin actually punched a guy over moon-landing conspiracy theory – not to defend getting physical, but that hardly proves the conspiracy.

    Aside from the distinctions of where the actual science is, and who gets paid by whom, and the personal motivations of people, the label of activist would not apply to only ‘pro-AGW’. Certainly, Richard Lindzen is an activist. His claims can be challenged for reasons going beyond that label, or even beyond the funding (I personally wouldn’t bother to find out about the funding if I knew the statements were correct, or logical or defensible).
    ———-
    “Similarly, I noted that papers that print articles that are wrong are demanded to apologize as well as correct. Why? Do scientists apologize when they get it wrong?”

    I’m not sure if this applies to what you’re thinking of, but studies working at the edge of our knowledge are a different matter than journalism that reports scientific findings, or established scientific knowledge, to the public.

  38. 238
    Timothy Chase says:

    Walter Crain wrote in 147:

    what will be the worst effects of global warming?

    sea level rise? species extinction?

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote in 163:

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

    Don’t know if it is worse than drought, but here is something else to keep in mind:

    We conclude that a global-mean warming of roughly 7 °C would create small zones where metabolic heat dissipation would for the first time become impossible, calling into question their suitability for human habitation. A warming of 11–12 °C would expand these zones to encompass most of today’s human population. This likely overestimates what could practically be tolerated….

    If warmings of 10 °C were really to occur in next three centuries, the area of land likely rendered uninhabitable by heat stress would dwarf that affected by rising sea level.

    Steven C. Sherwood; Huber, Mattheww (May 25, 2010) An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress, PNAS vol. 107 no. 21 9552-9555
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/21/9552.abstract

    … as quoted in:

    Death, doom and disaster coming soon to a planet in your neighborhood
    TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2010
    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2010/06/death-doom-and-disaster-coming-soon-to.html

  39. 239
    Timothy Chase says:

    wili wrote in 236:

    But since the solstice and especially in the last few days there has been a very dramatic shift from deep purple (code for unmelted ice) across most of the central part of the Arctic ocean, to suddenly magentas, yellows, greens…leaping across almost the whole extent of the ocean.

    The only place left with a respectable chunk of unmelted ice is the area just north of Greenland.

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/CT/animate.arctic.color.0.html

    The following isn’t as up-to-date as your time lapse, but this is what PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly has been doing the past few weeks…
    http://psc.apl.washington.edu/ArcticSeaiceVolume/images/BPIOMASIceVolumeAnomalyCurrent.png

    At its worst back in September of 2007 we had an anomaly of -8,000 km^3. And presumably it has been dropping like a rock for the past several weeks where as of 2010 June 18 we were nearly at -11,000. Of course anomalies are calculated relative to the date, so to a large very large extent that is comparing the anomaly in late June to that in late September is apples to oranges. Still, does that seem right? If so, judging from the graph such a rapid and extended drop is quite unprecedented. Likewise, NSIDC states that the rate of loss in sea ice extent has been “… the highest for the month of May during the satellite record.”

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    And that is even older news. But yes, all indications are that something big is underway.

  40. 240
    Edward Greisch says:

    233 Frank Giger: It isn’t a political debate. It is about avoiding EXTINCTION. I don’t see anything political about survival. Count me as an activist. Remember that extinction includes everybody, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy or wealth or anything else.

  41. 241
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “Far less OT than Ayn Rand and much else discussed recently–Has anyone noticed the sudden near universal melt now well underway throughout the Arctic.” – 236

    Yup. Now 1.9 million km**2 under historic norms for this time of year.

    I have little doubt that I will soon see the Denialosphere claiming that the meltdown is a result of a lack of sunspots.

    With regard to the issue of scientific activism and it’s potential to bring into question the motivation of the activist scientist. I note that the motivation has already been established in the mindset of the Denialist. That motivation claimed to be gubderment funding. So it would appear to me that this denialist load has already been shot.

    The question I would like to see is… If not now… Then when?

    What America needs is a national non-science day to combat the non-science coming from traitors like Inhofe and the other members of the denialism industry.

    And as to the date for such a day, I would think there would be no better day than the day of the minimum ice pack extent in the Arctic.

    What did you do when the warming came daddy?

    I stood by and complained about the press.

  42. 242
    HotRod says:

    Eric, thank you for your polite reply to my post #72 – I haven’t been online since then.

    You say ‘Many of the prominent (and not so prominent) ‘skeptics’ are advocating policy choices on the grounds that the mainstream scientific view of the physical science is wrong.’ You have been around rather more than I have, but my impression is that most ‘skeptics’, however we define them, at least the ones I read, when it comes to policy discussion do not start from a base that the science is wrong. That isn’t a policy discussion anyway, it’s a statement that we don’t need a policy discussion.

    Your HIV/AIDS example is a decent example – you say ‘I sure as heck would not want to have anyone (whether they are a ‘policy expert’ or not) dictating health policy predicated on the grounds that HIV does not cause AIDS’ – but surely health policy would be not based on that simplistic black/white question, but on transmission rates, behavioural adaptation, cost, and so on. I think your example is a false dichotomy?

    More importantly, you say: ‘First off, they (climate scientists) certainly do have the most expertise when it comes to “what is the likely impact of a given emission policy on CO2 concentrations and global mean temperature”? That’s precisely my area of disagreement/confusion. I don’t think they do, and the UK example of wind/solar I gave was an example of that. For example, climate scientists are least well-placed to make a judgement on the timing and quantum of CO2 emissions that are exported from, say, Spain, as a result of higher electricity prices there resulting from wind and solar, and certainly very poorly placed to opine on the impact on global GHG emissions of cap-and-trade or any similar EU or even EU/USA-wide policy.

    They can say, I agree, ‘IF the world does nothing and CO2 emissions continue to rise, then, ceteris paribus ….’ and so on. But that isn’t really policy, and it’s the ceteris paribus part that matters, a lot, and I don’t want to hear about that from climate scientists. Policy might be, say, a global carbon tax, from which the GHG impacts would be unknowable to anyone except economists, and they’d just make it up! :)

    So I don’t think I’m missing ‘missing a critical contextual fact’ – I just don’t think climate scientists should opine on the policy choices they believe are needed, because they look stupid, as I would if I opined on climate feedback.

    (I agree that there are some scientists better versed in the policy end than others, as you say, and I was not ‘assuming that among the experts in science, there are no experts in policy.’ I would paraphrase Samuel Johnson – “Sir, a climate scientist preaching on emission policy choices is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”)

    :)

  43. 243
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: New programme by BBC1.

    What do climate scientists think.

    Panorama seems to be using this list.
    1. Bob Watson. 2. Michael Mann.3. John Christy,Bob Ward and Lomborg *

    (* OK not all scientists)

    Judging from BBC’s web site here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/06/whats_up_

    with_the_weather.html

    [Why does the BBC have to borrow its title from Anthony Watts?]

    it looks as if the BBC will try to minimise the differences between them this time , after all we have a coalition government now.

    Up-date on this:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/06/leakegate-a-retraction/comment-page-1/#comment-178478

  44. 244

    A few days back a person posted the following on my blog. Does anyone have an inkling of what he may be talking about, and is there anything to it?

    [blockquote]Did you know that Hansen was recently accused of, found guilty and admitted to drastically fudging his climate research studies at NASA.[/blockquote]

    My response was:

    [blockquote]Your claim of Hansen found guilty of fudging climate studies is a surprise. Of course, even if it were true — and I’ll have to have links and more info before I even consider it true — that still does not disprove AGW, which is based on much evidence from many scientists and from many different angles, plus laws of physics… [/blockquote]

    …and I went into explaining AGW as much as I could, and how robust the science on it is.

    [Response: I know of no evidence or basis for this claim or any reasonable variant. - gavin]

  45. 245
    wili says:

    Thanks, Tim and Ven.

    The “tale of the tape” long term sea ice extent anomaly graph over at Cryosphere Today also continues to drop like a stone:

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/sea.ice.anomaly.timeseries.jpg

    What should we look for as a first indication that the melt is leading to a massive methane eruption?

    Is there anything more up to date or more focused on the north than this:

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/iadv/

  46. 246
  47. 247
    John E. Pearson says:

    245: Will

    Study Says Undersea Release of Methane Is Under Way

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/science/earth/05methane.html

  48. 248

    #241 Edward:

    We should not underestimate human resolve and the ability to survive under awful conditions. Technology, although unlikely to save most of us, will help to save many. If we end up with 5-6C because we are too stupid to act early enough, then yes, many will perish. Those that have the ability to move toward the poles will survive. There will be water there and food can be grown in the NH higher latitudes and the rest can be grown in indoor facilities. Perhaps there will be giant Biosphere-like facilities? Humans will survive. I think it is too extreme to claim extinction.

    My greater concern is global nuclear war as we fight over dwindling resources. THAT could be an extinction event when compounded with climate change.

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    My Global Warming Blog
    Twitter: AGW_Prof
    “Global Warming Fact of the Day” Facebook Group

  49. 249
    Snapple says:

    Frank G. writes:

    “I noted that papers that print articles that are wrong are demanded to apologize as well as correct. Why? Do scientists apologize when they get it wrong?”

    The Times was not just wrong. The article was dishonest about what the scientists are actually saying.

  50. 250

    239 Timothy, Hudson Bay was/is really melting fast, as the winter there was warm, eventually thinner ice dont have a chance at the summer solstice, but I marvel at its rate of disappearance, so rapid and sudden. The rest of first year ice fate is written on this animation sequence:
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/CT/animate.arctic.color.4.html

    BPIOMAS seems accurate, extent is meaningless unless backed by volume, and I would not be shocked if even the contrarians will be astounded soon. The speed of which Hudson Bay Ice has disappeared is but a preview…


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