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Bickmore on the WSJ response

Filed under: — group @ 24 February 2012

Guest commentary from Barry Bickmore (repost)

The Wall Street Journal posted yet another op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers, which even include a few climate scientists(!!!). Here is the editor’s note to explain the context.

Editor’s Note: The authors of the following letter, listed below, are also the signatories of“No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” an op-ed that appeared in the Journal on January 27. This letter responds to criticisms of the op-ed made by Kevin Trenberth and 37 others in a letter published Feb. 1, and by Robert Byer of the American Physical Society in a letter published Feb. 6.

A relative sent me the article, asking for my thoughts on it. Here’s what I said in response.

Hi [Name Removed],

I don’t have time to do a full reply, but I’ll take apart a few of their main points.

  1. The WSJ authors’ main point is that if the data doesn’t conform to predictions, the theory is “falsified”. They claim to show that global mean temperature data hasn’t conformed to climate model predictions, and so the models are falsified.
  2. But let’s look at the graph. They have a temperature plot, which wiggles all over the place, and then they have 4 straight lines that are supposed to represent the model predictions. The line for the IPCC First Assessment Report is clearly way off, but back in 1990 the climate models didn’t include important things like ocean circulation, so that’s hardly surprising. The lines for the next 3 IPCC reports are very similar to one another, though. What the authors don’t tell you is that the lines they plot are really just the average long-term slopes of a bunch of different models. The individual models actually predict that the temperature will go up and down for a few years at a time, but the long-term slope (30 years or more) will be about what those straight lines say. Given that these lines are supposed to be average, long-term slopes, take a look at the temperature data and try to estimate whether the overall slope of the data is similar to the slopes of those three lines (from the 1995, 2001, and 2007 IPCC reports). If you were to calculate the slope of the data WITH error bars, the model predictions would very likely be in that range.

    Comparison of the spread of actual IPCC projections (2007) with observations of annual mean temperatures

    That brings up another point. All climate models include parameters that aren’t known precisely, so the model projections have to include that uncertainty to be meaningful. And yet, the WSJ authors don’t provide any error bars of any kind! The fact is that if they did so, you would clearly see that the global mean temperature has wiggled around inside those error bars, just like it was supposed to.

    So before I go on, let me be blunt about these guys. They know about error bars. They know that it’s meaningless, in a “noisy” system like global climate, to compare projected long-term trends to just a few years of data. And yet, they did. Why? I’ll let you decide.

  3. The WSJ authors say that, although something like 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that humans are causing “significant” global warming, there really is a lot of disagreement about how much humans contribute to the total. The 97% figure comes from a 2009 study by Doran and Zimmerman.
  4. So they don’t like Doran and Zimmerman’s survey, and they would have liked more detailed questions. After all, D&Z asked respondents to say whether they thought humans were causing “significant” temperature change, and who’s to say what is “significant”? So is there no real consensus on the question of how much humans are contributing?

    First, every single national/international scientific organization with expertise in this area and every single national academy of science, has issued a statement saying that humans are causing significant global warming, and we ought to do something about it. So they are saying that the human contribution is “significant” enough that we need to worry about it and can/should do something about it. This could not happen unless there was a VERY strong majority of experts. Here is a nice graphic to illustrate this point (H/T Adam Siegel).

    But what if these statements are suppressing significant minority views–say 20%. We could do a literature survey and see what percentage of papers published question the consensus. Naomi Oreskes (a prominent science historian) did this in 2004 (see also her WaPo opinion column), surveying a random sample of 928 papers that showed up in a standard database with the search phrase “global climate change” during 1993-2003. Some of the papers didn’t really address the consensus, but many did explicitly or implicitly support it. She didn’t find a single one that went against the consensus. Now, obviously there were some contrarian papers published during that period, but I’ve done some of my own not-very-careful work on this question (using different search terms), and I estimate that during 1993-2003, less than 1% of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change was contrarian.

    Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 (Anderegg et al, 2010), looked at the consensus question from a different angle. I’ll let you read it if you want.

    Once again, the WSJ authors (at least the few that actually study climate for a living) know very well that they are a tiny minority. So why don’t they just admit that and try to convince people on the basis of evidence, rather than lack of consensus? Well, if their evidence is on par with the graph they produced, maybe their time is well spent trying to cloud the consensus issue.

  5. The WSJ authors further imply that the “scientific establishment” is out to quash any dissent. So even if almost all the papers about climate change go along with the consensus, maybe that’s because the Evil Empire is keeping out those droves of contrarian scientists that exist… somewhere.
  6. The WSJ authors give a couple examples, both of which are ridiculous, but I have personal experience with the Remote Sensing article by Spencer and Braswell, so I’ll address that one. The fact is that Spencer and Braswell published a paper in which they made statistical claims about the difference between some data sets without actually calculating error bars, which is a big no-no, and if they had done the statistics, it would have shown that their conclusions could not be statistically supported. They also said they analyzed certain data, but then left some of it out of the Results that just happened to completely undercut their main claims. This is serious, serious stuff, and it’s no wonder Wolfgang Wagner resigned from his editorship–not because of political pressure, but because he didn’t want his fledgling journal to get a reputation for publishing any nonsense anybody sends in.[Ed. See this discussion]

The level of deception by the WSJ authors and others like them is absolutely astonishing to me.


PS. Here is a recent post at RealClimate that puts the nonsense about climate models being “falsified” in perspective. The fact is that they aren’t doing too badly, except that they severely UNDERestimate the Arctic sea ice melt rate.

262 Responses to “Bickmore on the WSJ response”

  1. 201
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “There’s hardly any appropriate role left for scientists in the matter”

    That’s Cassandra talking.
    Someone could write a book on early warnings that have been disregarded.

    Oh, wait — someone did:

    Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000

    Septics, of course, kneejerk “p-p-p-p-pre-preca … ” and don’t read it or anything with those words in it.


    Conservatives who have something to save could have learned a lot by now.

  2. 202
    Dan H. says:

    It does not take a degree in physics to understand the basics. The basics are straightforward, a doubling of CO2 result in ~1C of warming. But the planet is much more complex than that, and the real-world result may be much different. What Edim appears to be saying, is that he has the understanding to go much deeper into the subject matter, than just the basics. It is at this point, that some scientists are calling into question what other people are presenting.
    Your response seems to be patronizing.

  3. 203
    dbostrom says:

    Hank: That’s Cassandra talking.

    Yep. Cassandra has made her predictions on climate, unheeded as required in the tragedy. Notably there’s actually nothing in the myth about her having to get stuck in a groove, repeat herself endlessly.

    Who plays Ajax? Inhofe?

  4. 204

    #203–And Cassandra was always right–that was the other ‘horn’ in her curse of prophecy.

    Never tick off Apollo.

  5. 205

    #202–“Your response seems to be patronizing.”

    Only if you read the comments out of order, or so it seems to me.

  6. 206
    guthrie says:

    dbostrom #199 – I find your friends comment to be interesting, would it be ok to quote it and your comments elsewhere?

  7. 207
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edim, OK, now let me get this straight. You are saying your BS in Mechanical Engineering and the fact that you were “very good at physics…” trumps the decade or more of study followed by decades of research by hundreds if not thousands of climate scientists who constitute the consensus? Is that about right? When you consider the level of effort you have put in to understand the planet’s climate versus the level of effort of 97% of the publishing climate scientists on the planet, doesn’t that sound a little…well, silly? And that doesn’t even begin to consider the fact that the consensus is endorsed by all major National Academies of Science, every professional organization of relevant scientists and that even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has withdrawn its opposition. Hey, I’m with Chris. I’d love to hear your rationalization of your position.

  8. 208
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H. puts up a comment on basics which manages to ignore most of the basics. It seems that Dan buys the basic radiative physics of CO2. Unfortunately, he ignores the Claussius-Clapeyron equation, which says that when you raise the temperature, you evaporate more water, a positive feedback. Thats pretty basic, Dan. You also ignore the fact that snow melts as you warm things up, decreasing planetary albedo and warming things further–again pretty basic.

    And you manage to ignore most of the planet’s climate history–which tells us that you really can’t explain things unless you have a significant positive feedback that amplfies the small forcings that plunge Earth in and out of ice ages, occur when there is a volcanic eruption, etc. Gee, Dan, maybe you and Edim can go back and review the basics together. Naah! On second thought, I think he needs a much better teacher than you.

  9. 209
    Jim Eager says:

    “Your response seems to be patronizing.”

    This from a fellow who couldn’t read a graph of the Palmer Drought Severity Index without help.

    Sorry, you’ve shown no indication that you even know what the word patronizing means.

  10. 210
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mickey Reno,
    You have raised some interesting questions in your post 196. Unfortunately, I think that to some extent your questions are motivated by a misunderstanding of scientific modeling. In scientific modeling, the goal is not so much to “get an answer” or even to “match data,” but rather to gain understanding of the object of study. Now in so doing, we often produce models with sufficient skill that we get good answers or make skilled predictions–and that is the ultimate test of the model.

    In understanding scientific modeling, I find that it is useful to start with George Box’s dictum: “All models are wrong; some models are useful.” So, you see that it really doesn’t make sense to talk of falsifying a model–they are already “false” in the sense that they do not include every influence, forcing, etc. Indeed, the simplicity is in part what makes them useful. It allows us to identify the most important effects that drive the dynamics of the system. If a model diverges from reality in a significant fashion, you don’t “falsify” it, you replace it with one that works better. The new model may closely resemble the old, with a few tweaks or additions. Or it may be radically different.

    So really, the refutation of the WSJ-16 (or as I call them, the Urinal-16)is that ain’t how science works. If they were serious, they would be proposing an alternative model that not only fit the temperature profile better, but also did at least as well reproducing the paleoclimate, explaining transient response to volcanic eruptions, etc. No such constructive proposal has been forthcoming. These guys aren’t interested in science. Rather they are experts trying to persuade idiots to their point of view by Gish Galloping around the entire phase space of denialist zombee arguments.

  11. 211
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Vendicar @200, here is a cheering note for you:

    H/T DK

    But elsewhere there are pollution problems.

  12. 212
    Chris Crawford says:

    We have an interesting sideline on the matter of models in this morning’s news: some fellers have announced that their computer models of the operation of the jaw of T. Rex demonstrate that it had much larger bite force than was previously thought, bite force larger than any existing creature, and that the bite force increased dramatically after maturity.

    Now I’m certain that a T. Rex denier could assemble a case that computer models of T. Rex skulls are obviously flawed because we don’t have a statistically significant set of T. Rex skulls to work with, none of the skulls we have are undamaged, we can’t assume that bone strength and muscle cells 100 million years ago were the same as today, their assumptions about the size and placement of muscles are not justified, we cannot know if the connecting tissue was strong enough to maintain the claimed forces, there was no selective advantage in having such powerful bite forces, there’s no evidence that T. Rex teeth were strong enough to stand up to such forces – and those are only the objections I can think of off the top of my head. Perhaps some of these objections will appear in the scientific literature in coming years. Perhaps it will take some time to resolve these issues.

    But once the issues have been figured out, paleontologists will not be burdened with a hardcore of deniers continually repeating the long-debunked objections. They will not be denounced in Congress, they will not receive death threats, they will not face a well-funded campaign from oil companies seeking to discredit their work, they will not have their emails hacked, published to the world, and pored over word by word seeking something embarrassing. They will not face an army of Internet activists who have memorized but don’t understand a long list of bullet points.

    Unless, of course, the bite force of T. Rex takes on political significance with implications that conservatives don’t like.

  13. 213
    vukcevic says:

    New Paper from NASA GISS
    WE PROPOSE that the Arctic/North Atlantic Oscillation (AO/NAO) can amplify small solar fluctuations , producing the reconstructed hydrological variations. The Sun may be entering a weak phase, analogous to the Maunder minimum, which could lead to more frequent flooding in the northeastern US at this multidecadal timescale.
    my emphasis in the above.
    Dr. Schmidt could you explain what is this amplification they are talking about, how does it work?

    What is mechanism?
    No mechanism, no theory !
    Mechanism with full data (plotted in red) available here:
    Arctic is in darkness for 3 months of the year, and most of the temperature rise happens in the winter:
    Any questions? Happy to answer.

  14. 214
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    One of the reasons I am a CO2GW skeptic is because I care about planetary health….

    Makes no sense.

    I am ~liberal/communist/anarchist….

    All at the same time? multiple personalities? So is there one of you who is good at physics, and another who doesn’t get greenhouse warming? :)

    Seriously Edim, if you are good at physics you should love planetary physics. Climate and weather are the effects of the sun’s energy as it moves through our environment and then continues its journey through space. It’s not all physics; outside of school all the “subjects” run together. It is the carbon cycle, the placement of continents, albedo feedback and more. But start with Fourier (1, 2, 3). But don’t stop there. Come to appreciate that planetary physics (working out the consequences of standard physics on a planetary scale) is a large and challenging subject in its own right. Appreciate that planetary thermodynamics is rather more dynamic than what you learned in school. Nothing holds still, and advection is a very major player. Why does not the Arctic temperature come close to the temperature of space during the long Arctic night? Not knowing how dynamic planetary thermodynamics is, Fourier concluded that space must be a couple hundred degrees warmer than it is!




  15. 215
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Ray @ 179 2)As important as global climate change is, it is only one tiny aspect of current research into the planet’s climate, and while most research has some implications for climate change, relatively little research is directly related. It is worth noting that most of the research supporting significant positive feedback in the climate system comes from outside the subcommunity specifically researching anthropogenic climate change.

    Interesting. Could you elaborate?

  16. 216
    dbostrom says:

    guthrie says:
    29 Feb 2012 at 7:07 AM

    would it be ok to quote it

    Sure. Bear in mind that the quote is a paraphrase summary of a longer conversation, but I’m sure I captured the essence accurately. It was an eye opener for me but on reflection I shouldn’t have been surprised.

  17. 217
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Mickey Reno, so far so good. But do appreciate that climate science is by no means just the GCMs

    I think you are trying to find out something, but more or less think of climate science as just this one part of itself, and for that and other reasons are still not asking the right questions to find out what you are trying to find out. Can you state your real question without using the word “model?”

    But anyway
    Gavin’s statement clearly implies you’ve done some type of analysis of some models.
    Has it ever been tried to use a whole variety of CO2 feedback forcing assumptions in many models,
    The models are used for endless experiments.

    You seem to be stimulated by the WSJ boys smearing models (the word model means essentially doing the math). Those boys are not doing science in that WJS letter. They are doing propaganda. They know very clearly that if they had something scientific to offer they would write it up for a scientific journal. However, for a bit of background,
    don’t skip it

    Finally, to support the slur made by the WSJ bunch you have to do the right sort of statistical hypothesis testing. See the paper mentioned here
    if you can. If you have an email address maybe someone will send it to you.

    p s This will often help you get papers:

  18. 218

    Busted ‘pollution problems’ link. . .

  19. 219
    Dan H. says:

    You remind of one of the groups to which Fred Singer referred.

  20. 220
    Susan Anderson says:

    Trying to stick to what I know and where I have experience, another thought. Having successfully taught many beginners to draw, a large number of them scientists, I get a good look first hand at what hinders people.

    The advantage real scientists have is that they know what they don’t know and are willing to expose themselves and look “stupid” (which is the opposite of being stupid).

    A lot of the people here who have bought the phony skeptic line think they know a lot. It’s similar to the difference between some art students who are more interested in promoting their status, point of view, what have you, and make lousy students, badly blocked, and scientists who come in ready to take the risk of not knowing.

    Those who have something to prove are not going to learn.

    This only tangentially related:

    I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years about why engineers, who should be good thinkers, often get the big picture wrong (at first I thought it was insider prejudice, so I really wanted to know), and I think it’s a variant on:

    “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”

  21. 221
    Susan Anderson says:

    dbostrom @199, thanks. Those are almost the exact words I got from the curmudgeon, which resulted in my remark about not “consensus” but “obvious”. “Settled” has become so loaded people have forgotten what it means.

    “There’s hardly any appropriate role left for scientists in the matter” is a fair summary of this fellow’s remarks; there’s plenty of investigation left to do but nothing’s likely to come up that should affect public policy outcomes of the research already accomplished.

  22. 222
    vendicar decarian says:

    Re: 211

    The key issue, which everyone seems to be missing is the fact that the corrupt NewsCorp owns the Corrupt WSJ.

    Since NewsCorp can correctly be tarred for violating journalistic standards in it’s British operations, the WSJ can be held up as an example of similar violations of ethical and journalistic standards in the U.S. for the distortions and lies in it’s editorial pieces, and elsewhere like the dishonest padding of it’s circulation numbers.

    These are tools. Use them.

  23. 223
    Doug Thrussell says:

    Sometimes one should revisit material from the past to refocus on and possibly reframe the issue. I am not saying anything critical here, just reminding those that chose to attempt the leveraging of smaller detail into some point, that there is plenty of ‘big picture’ support available.

  24. 224
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    pollution problems link fixed: all you need is

  25. 225
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Chris Crawford @ 212, There is a bug in that pie. T. Rex is a theropod dinosaur, and there are deniers of the theropod origin of birds. Nothing as bad as climate change deniers though.

  26. 226
  27. 227
    OldNavy says:

    There are many things in nature that are very complex. Often, there is very little historical data that describes this complexity especially in the pre-scientific past. Proxies for the lack of data are useful but these estimates are subject to greater uncertainty.

    When it comes to making policy decisions, accurate forecasts are needed. These forecasts must include uncertainty. Typically, the forecast performance must be measured out-of-sample. In-sample measures are folly with respect to forecast performance. The effort related to ‘hindcasts’ are useful for model building and for interpreting results; but a not very useful for future forecast performance.

    If you build a model and it does not predict the future, then you have a problem. Your model may be valid a hundred years in the future; but, you have proved little for policy makers who live now. Everyone alive today will be dead (or near dead) a hundred years from now. Hundred year policies used to be left to some divinity.

    Having built many mathematical models for many years for a variety of scientific disciplines, I hope to warn others against sweeping and grandiose statements about their theoretical and mathematical creations. Do not love your creations too much. They may die and make you broken hearted. You do not want to be in a situation where you run around saying that the ‘dingo stole my baby’. Any scientific forecast must be validated going forward (not backward). Do not break your heart. Do the due diligence with out-of-sample analysis.

    I am not ‘denying’ the impact of humanity on the climate, the environment, the survival of other creatures, etc. All human activity changes this planet just as it has in the past and as it will in the future.

    Proper and balanced policies are needed to simultaneously minimize the human impact on the planet while maximizing the prosperity of human condition. These policies need accurate and provable forecasts.

  28. 228
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I’m referring mainly to the paleoclimate stuff–there is no way for Milankovitch cycles to swing the planet from ice age to interglacial without significant positive feedback. Indeed, there is no way to get 33 degrees of warming over blackbody temp out of H2O + CO2 without significant positive feedback. I am sure it is possible to construct a climate model without positive feedback–it just won’t look like Earth.

  29. 229
    dbostrom says:

    Susan: I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years about why engineers, who should be good thinkers, often get the big picture wrong…

    I’m a huge admirer of engineers and engineering, particularly of things such as bridges that allow expression of functional artistry. Thus for me it’s distressing how often we hear words to the effect of “I’m an engineer and [uncalibrated, insufficient conclusion to do with climate change].

    When I think of competent engineers, I picture people who are proficient with mathematics, are accustomed to dealing with highly defined material properties and are used to making predictions intended to produce very high degrees of confidence, beyond 100% (think safety factors) when it comes to things such as structures intended to preserve human life or economically viable mass manufactured items. It’s thus maybe no surprise that when wearing an engineering hat, confidence in climate research results sounds uncomfortably low, too low for application.

    Thinking of the problem in terms of safety factors, for an engineer creating a bridge it would be unthinkable to implement such a structure with a 50% probability of its collapsing under normal load within its intended useful life. Rejecting public policy applications of climate research is pretty much akin to making such a choice, with the odds being arguably better or worse but still outside of the threshold of acceptability. We -might- get away with it, just as an engineer -might- get away with skimping on expensive structural connections or the like, but the potential cost is too high

  30. 230
    dhogaza says:


    You do not want to be in a situation where you run around saying that the ‘dingo stole my baby’.


    A dingo *did* steal her baby.

  31. 231
    Chris Crawford says:

    OldNavy, I think you go too far when you write:

    These policies need accurate and provable forecasts.

    In the first place, there is nothing outside of mathematical theory that is provable. We never proved that E=mc^2, but atomic bombs still go boom. We have never proved Newton’s laws of motion, but we still got men to the moon and back. Theories don’t have to be proven, just close enough to do the job.

    Indeed, many of our most important policy decisions are made with very little certainty. How much certainty did we have that Mr. Hussein possessed WMD? We invaded a foreign country, expended more than a trillion dollars (and the costs are still rising), 5,000 American lives and at least 100,000 Iraqi lives, all on the basis of — what? I think we can all agree that the evidence supporting the invasion of Iraq was far weaker than the evidence supporting ACC theory. So if we could make the decision to invade Iraq on such flimsy evidence, why can’t we make a decision about climate change?

  32. 232
    dhogaza says:


    You do not want to be in a situation where you run around saying that the ‘dingo stole my baby’.

    Addendum: you do not want to be in a situation where you run around telling the truth …

    Own goal, I’d say.

  33. 233
    Craig Nazor says:

    Dan H (@219):

    Here’s the first paragraph from your Singer link:

    “Gallia omnia est divisa in partes tres. This phrase from Julius Gaius Caesar about the division of Gaul nicely illustrates the universe of climate scientists — also divided into three parts. On the one side are the ‘warmistas,’ with fixed views about apocalyptic man-made global warming; at the other extreme are the ‘deniers.’ Somewhere in the middle are climate skeptics.”

    If I saw a piece of pie in the refrigerator with two pieces of crust lying on the plate with it, I could not really honestly claim that there were three pieces of pie in the refrigerator. So Singer implying that climatologists are divided into “three parts” is more than a bit of a stretch. Of course, he provides no statistics to back up this claim. This really doesn’t help his credibility (or yours), does it?

    Dan, do you continue to deny that there is a strong consensus among actively researching climatologists that anthropogenic global climate change is real and is happening now?

    If that is still your opinion, then I would really like to know on what information that opinion is based. Until that is settled, why would anyone believe your completely unsupported claim about the value of the climate sensitivity (@202)?

  34. 234
    MARodger says:

    Ray Ladbury @210
    You quote George Box – ‘All models are wrong, some models are useful.’
    I am myself more acquainted with Box’s colleague Gwilym Jenkins via his academic successors who would certainly point out that the function of the human brain is to provide us with our very own in-built model of the world. As models, it would then be logical to suggest that some (indeed many) of these brains will prove to be not “useful”.
    In the field of AGW, we see strong supporting evidence for such a logical suggestion.

    Susan Anderson @220
    bdostrom @229
    As an engineer myself (& my ‘acquaintance’ mentioned above), I would suggest you both have failed to capture the main cause of professionals like engineers acting like total morons when faced with the issue of AGW.
    “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is too general a statement.
    It is certainly nothing to do with incompetance within low probability situations. Engineers well understand such things as their designs will indeed consider such low-probability, potentially damaging/catastrophic situations.

    Engineers are trained to be myopic. They are trained to provide technological solutions often of a very narrow type and people who deal with engineers really should understand that fact when they approach an engineer professionally.
    A famous anecdote that illustrates this well concerns a high-rise appartment manager finding himself with multi-million $ costs to increase the speed of the lifts due to rich residents’ complaining of delays. A chance meeting with a psycologist friend found a perfectly acceptable solution costing just 0.1% the price quoted by the engineers – full length mirrors beside every lift door.

  35. 235
    barry says:

    Singer’s American Thinker article has multiple claims that are false, and can be demonstrated to be false very easily. Eg, ‘no warming from 1978 to 2000’ in the satellite temperature record is scotched with a quick trip to woodfortrees. Same goes for Ocean Heat Content (700 metres or 2000, take your pick).

    I’d not noticed Dan H’s contribution prior to this thread and I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt reading along. I can’t tell whether he’s gaming the discussion or subordinating rationality because he cannot let go of his position, but it is clearly pointless trying to reason with him.

  36. 236
    Dan H. says:

    If a small, homogenous sample is chosen, then the possibility of reaching a consensus is much greater than when using the population as a whole. Consequently, if you chose a population with a pre-disosed opinion, the chances are also high. Using the IPCC as your starting point, does just that. When starting with a group which already believes in the outcome, as Anderegg did, then it should come as no surpise that a consesus was reached. Your idea of consensus centers around the smaller group that already believes this way. My idea of consensus is the broader scientific community. I disagree with the opinion of the smaller scientific community, but agree with the broader community. Maybe this will resolve the whole “consensus” issue. As Singer mentioned, there are no sharp distinctions between the sceintific community as a whole, but rather a slight gtradation from those adhering to the higher climate sensitivity down to those claiming none at all.
    Contrary to your claims in your last paragraph, the direct warming caused by a doubling of CO2 is well-known to be ~1-1.2C. This is well-supported in the literature, and I could list a mulititude of references.

    [Response: You are grasping at straws. Whether veterinarians and dentists have opinions about climate change is not in the least bit relevant to whether there is a broad consensus on a topic. For instance, I guarantee most of them won’t give the right answer if you asked them to explain what you mean for the ‘direct effect’ of CO2 – but you are happy to take that as a consensus. It is also worth pointing out that your ‘direct effect’ is actually just a mathematical fiction that is something that is relatively easily to calculate, but not measurable or observable in the real world. You (and Lindzen) do like to focus on that number though and imply that the actual sensitivity could be more or less depending on the feedbacks letting listeners get the impression that this is the actual mid-range of sensitivity – when all the real world constraints (including water vapour and ice-albedo feedbacks, and paleo constraints) point to a number 2 to 3 times as large. Again, neat rhetoric, but not honest science. – gavin]

  37. 237

    #233–“Three parts. . .”

    Based upon relative magnitudes, wouldn’t that imply that Singer is calling his “denialista” colleagues ‘crumbs?’

  38. 238
    J Bowers says:

    William Nordhaus weighs in.

    Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong

  39. 239
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Old Navy, I strongly support your admonition for researchers not to “believe” in their models. I continually counsel my colleagues that the goal of scientific modeling is not answers but rather insight. However, I think that in addressing climate modelers you are preaching to the choir. The climate scientists are very careful to point out that the model runs are “scenarios,” not predictions. The predictions come from the insight gained from the models.

    That doubling CO2 will give you about 3 degrees of warming is a very robust result. It is based not just on models but also on observations of the modern and paleoclimate. What is more, the models do have a strong record of confirmed predictions. Perhaps most important–there are no models that come even close to yielding understanding of the climate that do not indicate significant warming and significant issues being caused by it. What we do not know does not invalidate what we do know.

  40. 240
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H.,
    Complete utter nonsense. Scientific consensus is defined by those actively publishing in a field. Who else do you expect to be familiar with the science? The only thing you get from considering the broader scientific community is an indication of whether what the active practitioners of a field are doing is recognizable as science by other scientists. The imprimatur of the National Academies carries weight in this regard, as would AGU, APS, ACS… OISM means bupkes. Good Lord, man, you expect us to believe you are a scientist when you haven’t even the vaguest understanding of how science actually gets done?

  41. 241
    SecularAnimist says:

    Dan H. wrote: “My idea of consensus is the broader scientific community.”

    With all due respect, please stop insulting everyone’s intelligence

    [edit – please don’t attack other commenters]

  42. 242
    Chris Crawford says:

    Re Engineers: I have worked with quite a few engineers and scientists over the course of my career, and I think there’s one sharp distinction between them: engineers are much more confident in their beliefs than scientists. It is surely the case that scientists are an intellectually conservative lot and are always ready to countenance doubt. By contrast, most engineers are quite certain of themselves.

    The difference is explainable by the dynamics of the cultures in which they operate. Scientists are proficient nitpickers, always seeking to criticize each other. Since so much scientific output is carried out in writing, a mistake once made is a permanent blot on your record. Every scientist is prey to a hundred lean and hungry critics eager to climb the ladder over each other’s bodies.

    By contrast, engineers operate in a strict meritocracy mediated primarily by oral communication. Engineers make their reputation in group meetings where it is easy for the big fish to dominate the smaller fish. Credibility is achieved by the image of confidence and certainty, not by being actually right. Since the engineer operates in small groups, the fear of somebody, somewhere, finding a mistake is much reduced, encouraging a more assertive stance.

    For these reasons, we are well advised to render science to scientists, and engineering to engineers. When engineers venture into science, they often make fools of themselves with their sophomoric certainty. But they never realize that they’re making fools of themselves.

    There are also variations by engineering field. My impression — although my statistical base for these impression is small — is that electrical engineers tend to be the least sophomoric and mechanical engineers to be the most sophomoric. There seems to be something about the level of theoretical knowledge required at work here. Programmers are a wildly mixed lot.

  43. 243
    Susan Anderson says:

    Doug Bostrom @~229,

    Thanks very much for the well reasoned and temperate response. I think those who are accustomed to solving problems – a superb ability – sometimes don’t realize that expertise in any field requires study of that field and think if they are skilled and intelligent in their own area of expertise that should be enough. The more I learn about what goes into ongoing work on climate science, the more intriguing and difficult it gets (once you get past the “basic” physics mentioned earlier).

    For those still sticking to their “skeptic” arguments here, they might do a whole lot worse than read some of his articles on SkepticalScience. I’ve been enjoying his comments here and google led me to these that might answer some people’s questions, if they are honestly seeking. Some homework for me, too. Of course if their questions are only meant to provide an entry point for their material, this won’t float their boats:*

    Blog posts matching the search ‘doug bostrom’:
    Climate cherry pickers: cooling oceans
    Explaining Arctic sea ice loss
    Return to the Himalayas
    Sea level rise: the broader picture
    September 2010 Arctic Ice Extent Handicapping Via ARCUS
    Skeptical Science housekeeping: Contradictions, URLs and getting hacked
    University of Queensland talk wrap-up
    Waste heat vs greenhouse warming

    *Evidence of the campaign starkly presented in things like this:
    “Probably the most significant thing to happen to Skeptical Science over the last few weeks was the website got hacked! The first time it happened, content was changed in the skeptic arguments and one comment was overwritten (sorry, Peter Hogarth, you were the unlucky victim). A week later, they managed to remove most of the blog posts off the homepage. I am deeply indebted to Doug Bostrom who was able to figure out how the hacker got in, where they came from and offer a mountain of very wise and helpful advice on how to secure the website.”

  44. 244
    MARodger says:

    Chris Crawford @241
    Perhaps @234 I should have written “As a mechanical engineer myself…” (And apologies to dbostrom for the careless typo.)

  45. 245
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks for the further elucidation about engineers. Very useful. How to get the stubborn brain to open up?

  46. 246
    Joe Cushley says:

    Can we please just consign Dan H to the Bore Hole? He stinks the place out. [agreed. done]

  47. 247
    dbostrom says:

    Ray: Engineers are trained to be myopic. They are trained to provide technological solutions often of a very narrow type and people who deal with engineers really should understand that fact when they approach an engineer professionally.


    I’m currently assisting in the creation of a robot, my focus being software on this project. Earlier in the process some motors were added to the machine. At the time I suggested we add encoders to these motors as it seemed likely we’d need feedback from them even though no obvious need was apparent at that stage. “No, I don’t really see why we’d need those” was the response from the engineer I was working with, the motors clearly already able to provide what he saw as their function, namely motive power only. No big deal. Yesterday(!) very late on the chart I received an email from this same engineer, urgently wondering if we process encoder data from these same motors, in accordance with “unforseen” evolving requirements. The encoders are going to have be added in the field so no embarrassment-free testing possible; we’re going to be adjusting our hems right on the dance floor.

  48. 248
    dbostrom says:

    Susan, I’m indebted to John Cook for teaching (reminding?) me of the value of reasonably polite behavior. His insistence on civil discourse is a huge plus for the value of his site, even as constructing elliptical and often better descriptors for terms such as “lie” and “deceit” is a valuable exercise in itself.

  49. 249
    Tom Scharf says:

    Looks like a fine case of engineer bashing going on here. Just to be clear, I are an engineer. ha ha. 30 years EE with a fair amount of signal processing background.

    This post is simply one man’s guide to how an engineer evaluates this problem. It is mostly opinion on what I have seen and read.

    I think engineers are a special case because many do in fact have the capability to understand the math involved with the modeling and the statistics. And they have many times used both in their work so also have experience to bring to the table. Why is this a special case? Because the “appeal to authority” argument is much less effective with this group. The response is going to be “I don’t care what someone else believes, show me the data and convince me”.

    Clearly there is specific knowledge in separate fields of science that make those in the field the experts. However if your theory is heavily mathematically based and you cannot make a convincing argument to other fields of science (and engineering) than you have a problem with your argument, not their ability to understand it. It is noted that some problems are too difficult to convey easily (quantum mechanics).

    Clearly this works on a case by case basis, depending on the strength of the argument and the competence of the receiving engineer or scientist. Many would argue that my failure to accept the prognostications of climate models to be due to my own incompetence, or the brain damage that is clearly proven by my occasional vote for a Republican candidate. So be it.

    I have examined and accept the temperature records since 1850, I accept that CO2 will cause some warming and that humans emit CO2 as a by product of their civilization. I have examined and believe trees make poor thermometers and this data is unreliable. I believe that tree rings are also largely irrelevant to the issue of where the climate is going, which is what really matters. I accept that there has been an “impulse” of CO2 presented to the environment and believe that the environment’s “impulse response” is largely unknown, and accept it could have negative, possible very negative effects.

    Impulse response:

    So as you see, I agree with most on the main points, possibly even a member of the coveted 97%. However when the rubber meets the road, this is what turns me into a “denier” in the minds of many:

    I don’t believe the scientists have the answers to where the climate is going. They simply don’t have enough data and don’t know the answers. This is the crux of the issue. Don’t confuse this with believing the modelers are “wrong”.

    Why? Complexity of the problem is scary hard. Examination of model results is not encouraging. Science is relatively new compared to time scales required for model validation. The modelers themselves don’t exude confidence and don’t present a convincing case as to why I should trust the models at this early stage.

    But also there is a significant “irrational” input that is difficult to explain properly, but that is I intuitively know from my 30 years of work, that this problem is too complex for a team to solve without a lot of model iterations and really good input data. I also intuitively know that the only way the model team can convince themselves it is working is by successful results.

    Of course I could be wrong, so sue me.

    Arguments about what to do in this situation (precautionary principle, wait and see, etc.) are interesting arguments, but are more value based. I’m for wait and see, but my cultural experience of running my own small business for 15 years makes me more comfortable with risk than most, so that me be part of it. I also see a lot of very poorly thought out solutions that are ineffective and expensive.

    I am of course for the low cost solutions, moving away from fossil fuels gradually, and support nuclear power.

    And one final note, engineers tend not to be impressed by argument by analogy as well.

  50. 250
    Chris Crawford says:

    MARodger, remember that all generalities are laden with exceptions; generalities about human beings are doubly cursed; and generalities based on my tiny data set are triply cursed. While I maintain that there is certainly a germ of truth in my generalities, I certainly wouldn’t apply them universally.

    Susan, my experience suggests that those who do fit my nasty description are unreachable by evidence and reason. The most constructive thing you can do with such people is walk away. It is possible to use one as a foil with which to demonstrate to a peanut gallery just how unreasonable deniers can be. The problem here is that such people have a long list of arguments that sound technically sophisticated, but are in fact pretty stupid. We’ve seen a bunch of those arguments here. It takes special rhetorical talent to explain the science clearly enough to discredit the pseudo-scientific arguments.