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The legend of the Titanic

Filed under: — rasmus @ 3 May 2012

It’s 100 years since the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, and it’s still remembered today. It was one of those landmark events that make a deep impression on people. It also fits a pattern of how we respond to different conditions, according to a recent book about the impact of environmental science on the society (Gudmund Hernes Hot Topic – Cold Comfort): major events are the stimulus and the change of mind is the response.

Hernes suggests that one of those turning moments that made us realize our true position in the universe was when we for the first time saw our own planet from space.

NASA Earth rise

He observes that

[t]he change in mindset has not so much been the result of meticulous information dissemination, scientific discourse and everyday reasoning as driven by occurrences that in a striking way has disclosed what was not previously realized or only obscurely seen.

Does he make a valid point? If the scientific information looks anything like the situation in a funny animation made by Alister Doyle (Dummiez: climate change and electric cars), then it is understandable.

Moreover, he is not the only person arguing that our minds are steered by big events – the importance of big events was even acknowledged in the fiction ‘State of Fear‘.

A recent paper by Brulle et al (2012) also suggests that the provision of information has less impact than what opinion leaders (top politicians) say.

However, if the notion that information makes little impact is correct, one may wonder what the point would be in having a debate about climate change, and why certain organisations would put so much efforts into denial, as described in books such as Heat is on, Climate Cover-up, Republican war on science, Merchants of doubt, and The Hockeystick and Climate Wars. Why then, would there be such things as ‘the Heartland Institute’, ‘NIPCC’, climateaudit, WUWT, climatedepot, and FoS, if they had no effect? And indeed, the IPCC reports and the reports from the National Academy of Sciences? One could even ask whether the effort that we have put into RealClimate has been in vain.

Then again, could the analysis presented in Brulle et al. be misguided because the covariates used in their study did not provide a sufficiently good representation of important factors? Or could the results be contaminated by disinformation campaigns?

Their results and Hernes assertion may furthermore suggest that there are different rules for different groups of people: What works for scientists doesn’t work for lay people. It is clear from the IPCC and international scientific academies that climate scientists in general are impressed by the increasing information (Oreskes, 2004).

Hernes does, however, acknowledge that a background knowledge is present and may play a role in interpreting events, which means that most of us no longer blame the gods for calamities (in the time before the enlightenment, there were witch hunts and sacrifices to the gods). The presence of the knowledge now provides a rational background, which sometimes seems to be taken for granted.

Maybe it should be no surprise that the situation is as described by Hernes and Brulle et al., because historically science communication hasn’t really been appreciated by the science community (according to ‘Don’t be such a scientist‘) and has not been enthusiastically embraced by the media. There is a barrier to information flow, and Somerville and Hassol (2011) observe that a rational voice of scientists is sorely needed.

The rationale of Hernes’ argument, however, is that swaying people does not only concern rational and intellectual ideas, but also an emotional dimension. The mindset influences a person’s identity and character, and is bundeled together with their social network. Hence, people who change their views on the world, may also distance themselves from some friends and connect with new people. A new standpoint will involve a change in their social connections in addition to a change in rational views. Events, such as the Titanic, Earth rise, 911, and Hurricane Katrina influence many people both through rational thought and emotions, where people’s frame of mind shifts together with their friends’.

What do I think? Public opinion is changed not by big events as such, but by the public interpretation of those events. Whether a major event like hurricane Katrina or the Moscow heat wave changes attitudes towards climate change is determined by people’s interpretation of this event, and whether they draw a connection to climate change – though not necessarily directly. I see this as a major reason why organisations such as the Heartland are fighting their PR battle by claiming that such events are all natural and have nothing to do with emissions.

The similarity between these organisations and the Titanic legend is that there was a widespread misconception that it could not sink (and hence its fame) and now organisations like the Heartland make dismissive claims about any connection between big events and climate change. However, new and emerging science is suggesting that there may indeed be some connections between global warming and heat waves and between trends in mean precipitation and more extreme rainfall.


  1. R.J. Brulle, J. Carmichael, and J.C. Jenkins, "Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010", Climatic Change, vol. 114, pp. 169-188, 2012.
  2. N. Oreskes, "BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change", Science, vol. 306, pp. 1686-1686, 2004.
  3. R.C.J. Somerville, and S.J. Hassol, "Communicating the science of climate change", Physics Today, vol. 64, pp. 48-53, 2011.

169 Responses to “The legend of the Titanic”

  1. 51
    Susan Anderson says:

    I am at a loss as to why Ray Ladbury’s straight talk is more offensive than the serial dishonesty he is working on. Boring and repetitive assertion of delaying and doubt-creating talking points and refusal to think and learn in response to a variety of scientific information are a good deal more offensive than humorous anecdotes – or was it the namecalling (stupid and stubborn)?

    [Response: Well, the name-calling certainly doesn’t help, but the real problem was the vulgarity that I quickly edited out, and which I am not going to repeat here. I don’t care how right one’s cause is, such things are out of line in civil discourse.–Jim]

    It is nearly tragic that WUWT, ClimateAudit, Curry’s, or a host of other antiscience blogs and sites persuade and comfort people who do not want to pay attention to the combined expertise of the world’s best scientists and scientific organizations. Now that is s&s in my book.

    Heartland’s over-the-top promotions are offensive, earning an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. Ladbury’s points seem innocuous and even mildly entertaining. I am grateful to him for cutting through the sludge.

    Dave Roberts recently addressed some burning questions:

    Climate scientists, in my experience, are reasonable people, left-brained types, and they have trouble believing that humanity would accelerate into foreseeable disaster. They see the problem and what needs to be done. It makes sense to them. So they believe that others will see it too, in time. It’s so obvious!

    But what if countries do not act in concert to reduce emissions? What if the policies that end up getting passed are fragmented, expensive, and ineffective? What if countries react to shocks (droughts, floods, famine) and resource shortages not with commitment to climate mitigation but with nationalism, xenophobia, and militarization?

  2. 52
    Russell says:

    As Watts is re-re cycling his Titanic cartoon,

  3. 53
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Susan, I was in the wrong. ‘Nuff said.

  4. 54
    Ray Ladbury says:

    T Marvell: “I think the underlying issue is that conservatives are skeptical of any attempt at more government control.”

    Which, of course, is precisely the logical fallacy of argument from consequences. I do not see how we can reason with people whose postion is based entirely on a fallacy.

  5. 55
  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    Q: Why does history repeat, louder?
    A: You weren’t listening.

    “One of Australia’s richest men, Clive Palmer, on Monday unveiled plans to build a 21st century version of the doomed Titanic in China … Palmer, a self-made mining billionaire … vast coal and other mining assets in Queensland and Western Australia.” 2012/04/30/

  7. 57
    adelady says:

    t marvell “I think the underlying issue is that conservatives are skeptical of any attempt at more government control.”

    So why do they oppose the spread of technology that would promote individuals going off-grid with their own personal power supply and communities or businesses installing and running power facilities to suit their own needs? Sounds to me like an ideal way to get away from bureaucratic control of significant personal and business activity.

    That “government control” expression seems more like a mantra to recite when you don’t like something, rather than a reasoned, considered response to a genuinely intrusive or oppressive idea. Especially when you see those self-same advocates of ‘freedom’ and property ‘rights’ opposing the lock the gates movements among farming communities who genuinely fear losing control of their land and their business when it is commandeered by fracking companies. Just one example of clanging dissonance, there are others.

  8. 58
    Russell says:

    I think the Titanic replica a splendid idea, provided its propulsion system apes the original.

    This will assure its burns enough coal, and spews enough authentic coal tar to draw attention to itself by begriming every port it visits.

    If coal powered it would answer a plenum of interesting oceanographic questions about the great Age of Steam, by leaving a wake of Listerine flavored seawater, full of fat and happy algae ocean-fertilized by the phosphorus, iron and ammonium sulfate fallout from the T2’s mighty stacks.

    The only problem is luring equally authentic staff away from Cunard, as White Star is no more.

  9. 59
    Russell says:

    Come come, Hank–

    Provided it is authentically coal powered, and Clive can steal some real crew from Cunard, what’s not to like about Titanic II?

    Its copious fly ash production will certainly raise the profile of coal combustion, and besides providing a fragrant reminder of the Great Age of Steam, may answer a plenum of questions about ocean fertilization by depositing phosphorus, iron and ammonium sulfate in its wake.

    Think of all the fat and happy algae frolicking in T2’s Listerine-scented wake, just waiting to be harvested as biofuel !

  10. 60
    Fred Emmer says:

    I really like this article, as a non-scientist its one of the few on this website that I understand.

    What the titanic choose to transmit to the nearest ship the californian was, just prior to hitting the iceberg, “Shut up, I am working Cape Race”. The Titanic choose the ignore to the Californian, and continued to relay commercial messages.

    Maybe the Californian would have kept on listening to the radio if the Californian hadnt used their 5kw radio to snub the Californian. To me it sounds eery similair writer #2, whois telling the deniers to shut up because he doesnt want to hear it.

    As a layman i have to choose who to believe on the subject.

    II dont think climate scientists realize they use the same arguments as skeptics. One sides error, is considered an honest mistake on one side and a lie by the other side. If money corrupts, wouldnt it corrupt both parties at the debate, whether on the oil payroll or riding the govt gravy train ? The agw supporters are quick to dish out their believes about higher temperatures during a heatwave, but get mad when skeptics do it during snowmageddon. In the last few decades we found out that smoking kills more people than the tobacco industry claimed, and acid rain didnt kill as much fish as greens claimed.
    Isnt a climate scientist criticizing the way Heartland operates, calling the cattle black ?

  11. 61
    Mike Flynn says:

    Ray Ladbury,

    Apologies. My paragraph breaks seem to have vanished. Wouldn’t blame you if you find it too difficult to read. Sorry. Don’t know whether I should clog the system with a repost. Oh well.

    Mike Flynn.

  12. 62
    Radge Havers says:

    t marvell @ 50

    Well I certainly have my defeatist moments, but I wasn’t having one @33 (a senior moment, maybe).

    I caught the tail end of an interview on NPR this morning about the Yale climate opinion poll. One of the things he talked about was different audiences’ responses to climate change debate. A take away lesson might be that you can put out one size fits all messaging, however sometimes it will be advantageous to target specific groups. Some people, for instance, may need to be shown more evidence (or less) than others. More importantly we now live in a different world than back when smoking was an issue. The stakes are higher, the effects farther reaching, and everything is ideologically more fraught. And evidence, well evidence loses currency in a world where people have staked their egos, their cultural identities, and their bank rolls on making up their own alternate reality.

    Now I do tend to be leery of narrative as a tool. There are way too many infotainvertizing fairy tales out there in media land as it is. However, it can be well done as per Carl Sagan. And I know things like the machinations of the FCC, and how TV news departments are organized are a big yawn to tech types; yet they are important to understanding what information gets distributed to the public and why. Turn on your TV for news and watch beltway insiders tell themselves bedtime stories. They are disconnected… from you.

  13. 63
    Susan Anderson says:

    Jim and Ray, uncle, and thanks … do get too big for my underscientific boots sometimes. Enjoy Ray’s unpulled punches, but understand I was wrong … nuff said.

  14. 64
    Ike Solem says:

    “Conservatives” vs. “liberals” is a propaganda line. Back in the real world, there are hundreds of different political viewpoints, as the PR industry is well aware – they’ve got a list of different socio-economic groupings. Fossil-fuel-finances PR artistes use whatever language fits their audience when selling denialism and “clean coal” to the public – one story for liberals, another for conservatives, another for any one of the 100+ “defined focus groups” that PR outfits spin their material towards.

    The one thing they don’t want to see is a lot of positive stories about renewable energy, like this one:

    Planetsolar can produce up to 500 or 600 kiloWatts per hour in good weather — enough to travel 300 kilometres (186 miles) when the battery is fully charged using engines no more powerful than those on a scooter.

    Everything on board is solar-powered: from the boat’s engines and the on-board computers to the hot water and the light bulbs.

    This is where the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ press holds hands – renewable energy is such a threat to fossil fuel profits that it has to be ignored or downplayed by the corporate media. Really, global warming is not a concern – the concern is that the threat of global warming will lead to replacement of fossil fuels by renewables, thereby undercutting profit margins. Shareholders go berserk when their corporations lose money, and fire the executives, so the executives who get to keep their jobs do as they’re told. A nice way of tying your own rope, a classic example of short-sighted greed, but that’s how it works at Exxon and Chevron, isn’t it?

    This is also a problem in the academic system, which has tolerated the growth of climate science since the 1970s since it was largely non-threatening to anyone’s agenda, much in contrast to renewable energy research, which was flushed down the drain after Reagan entered office. Go look around on American college campuses – see any Cancer Research Institutes? Nuclear Energy Research Institutes? Climate Science Institutes? Yes you do – but no Renewable Energy Institutes. Academics don’t like to talk about this – criticism of the overall system that keeps them funded is viewed as problematic, and they really don’t like admitting that they’re under the thumb of corporate energy interests. Take Stanford’s “Global Climate and Energy Program” – GCEP – funded and controlled by Exxon, Schlumberger (oilfield services), etc. Nor are they willing to criticize DOE’s budgetary outlay (nuclear waste and fossil fuel deals, mostly) or lack of basic peer review.

    Don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, or you might end never get that nice cushy position, right? Don’t feel too bad – corporate media operates the same way.

  15. 65
    ozajh says:

    Ray Ladbury @ 39,

    I think you’re being too kind here. Among their own audience, their credibility can remain high for a startlingly long time.

    I have first hand knowledge of this. A personal acquaintance, who is a professionally trained structural engineer and a long-time but now retired senior government employee, has repeatedly told me that “Climate Change is BS” and quoted multiple contrarians as his justification. They still have full credibility with him. This is a well educated and by any objective measure intelligent man, but IMHO his political beliefs are driving his AGW beliefs (the other side of politics here in Australia has introduced a Carbon tax).

  16. 66
    t marvell says:

    Emmer (59), a fellow non-climate scientists, said that climate scientists should be more careful 1) that they don’t sound like the skeptics and 2) that they don’t make claims that can go awry. Good.
    1) The problem with Climategate is not any hint of fraud, but a strong hint that climate scientists are currishly dismissive of others, like the deniers are dismissive of AGW. That is evident on RC also. That attitude detracts from their message. It gives the impression that they are influenced by an emotional stake in their position.
    2) A potential problem with the notion that big events can help persuade people is that climate scientists might tout big events as evidence of climate change, without ironclad evidence, and then be contradicted by later events. That is expecially true of the mid-west heatwave this winter.

    Adelady (57) and Ladbury (54) – I didn’t mean to give the impression that deniers’ dislike of government control is justified or consistent. It’s typically routed in self-interest or screwy ideology (e.g. Ayn Rand). But I suspect that it’s behind a lot of the opposition to AGW, and a reason why the opposition so strong. Climate scientists don’t just have to persuade the public, but also be so persuasive as to overcome this hostility to government action that many hold.

  17. 67
    ozajh says:

    Fred Emmer @ 59,

    I agree that at some point laymen have to choose who to believe. At the moment I personally choose to believe that AGW is real, but I believe there will be a technological fix or fixes to reduce CO2 levels when there is a sufficient political consensus that action HAS to be taken.

    (Mind you, I suspect it will be similar to the situation with the ozone holes. A lot of momentum will have to be reversed before the CO2 reduction shows any positive effects, and then there will be a HUGE debate about the optimum overall CO2 level.

    I find it somewhat ironic, however, that you mention the issue of smoking. It is well documented that the same PR firms (and in some cases the exact same people) who were funded by the Tobacco industry to spread disinformation about the hazards of smoking are now funded by fossil fuel interests to spread information denying AGW. This makes me very cynical about the worth of the material they produce.

  18. 68
    Dennis Lynch says:

    Scientists (I mean generally all fields) have a problem communicating with the general public. There are few forums that reach a wide readership except news papers and they seem to be shrinking. Most scientists I’ve known write for other scientists in silos (journals)within their areas of expertse, it’s an insular practice and the use of jargon particular to a specific area of study is common along with calculus and chemistry and statistics. This is not a complaint, scientists should do that. That is their profession. However their work is out of reach to the average reader (read truck driver, he can drive but can’t read a graph) both in content and publication. Most Phds don’t have time to try to reach everyone. We end up with science writers who are not experts in the field and are looking to sensationalize. Only a few sciences are politicized and being denied – evolution and climate. They need outreach to counter the denialism. This blog provides that forum, Real Climate informs me, I am a geophysicist (rocket scientist, and remote sensing guy) but not a climate scientist. I use this site to get resources and information I would not otherwise have.

  19. 69
    Steve Fish says:

    In a high quality and lively discussion one can’t beat a mix of strong views and intelligence. Ray’s edge mixed with Susan’s thoughtfulness moderated by Jim’s sense of propriety and common sense is just about perfect in my opinion. This forum is great!


  20. 70

    “I dont think climate scientists realize they use the same arguments as skeptics.”

    That’s because they don’t. If you look carefully at ‘skeptic’ arguments, you will find them riddled with errors and internal contradictions. The most blatant example is the ‘warming Mars’ argument: Monckton, among others, argued that since Mars was warming at the same rate as Earth, that proved that CO2 emissions couldn’t be causing Earth’s warming. That’s not really logical, if you look at it–Mars and Earth could be (and actually, were) warming for totally unrelated reasons–but the kicker was that Monckton was arguing during the same time that Earth *wasn’t* warming.

    That’s known as “incoherent.” And while it’s an extreme example, it’s not unique in ‘skeptic’ rhetoric.

  21. 71
    owl905 says:

    @Dan H 36 – Your response is misrepresentation. Here’s the warning traffic to the Titanic that day:

    Additionally, the Royal investigation showed nothing that indicated Titanic ignored berg warnings – quite the opposite, they were specifically on the lookout for them. If you want to exonerate the operator and captain of the Californian, please provide something better than a personal claim as fact.

    [Response:Based on what I’ve read, I’d have to disagree. To plow along at ~22.5 knots (nearly full speed) when (1) they knew they were surrounded by a dense iceberg field that had forced one other non-passenger ship in the area to stop completely for the night, (2) on an exceedingly still, moonless, perfectly calm night with no wave action against the ice to provide the visual clues of ice presence that were commonly used, and (3) with no binoculars or scope available for the lookouts because these were left behind–this combination invited disaster. I think Ike Solem’s description above of the analogy is correct–forcing too big of an object at too high of a speed without the ability to make the necessary adjustments when they needed to.–Jim]

  22. 72
    Craig Nazor says:

    Fred Emmer@59,

    Your summation of what you got from “writer 2” has very little relationship to what I thought was the gist of comment #2. Lou (of comment #2) agrees with the scientific explanation for the observed warming of our planet. He doesn’t want (and is not telling anyone) to “shut up”; he is complaining about the “willingness [of many people] to listen to the deniers.” The deniers can say whatever they want. At some point, it is hoped that more voters (which is what it comes down to in the US) could realize that what the deniers are saying has little to do with the scientific truth.

    The story of the Titanic is one of hubris. The builders and operators of the ship were so enamored with their achievement of design and engineering that they lost sight of the fact that, as marvelous as it was, their creation was subject to the same physical laws as the rest of the universe.

    The scientific explanation of the recently observed planetary warming is based on a very long line of observation, experimentation, logical analysis, and scientific discussion and debate. The system that we have used to arrive at this explanation (research, peer review, publishing, research duplication efforts, further debate, and finally, a general consensus) has been intentionally designed to not be corruptible in the way that you appear to believe that it is.

    Climate scientists are scientists who do research. The Heartland Institute is a political body that does no research, yet tries to influence public policy. When you compare the opinions of the Heartland Institute with the scientific opinions of researching climatologists, you are comparing apples to oranges, which will not help you come to a wise decision about whom to believe concerning anthropogenic global climate change.

  23. 73
    Halldór Björnsson says:

    I must admit to having been a bit disappointed with Hernes’ book. His analysis of subject is excellent, he is clearly a smart guy and a good writer, but in the end it doesn’t lead to any useful results on how to move the debate further. But as with other Norden books this one is free to download, so anyone can read it.


  24. 74
    Ray Ladbury says:

    t marvell: “It gives the impression that they are influenced by an emotional stake in their position.”

    This entirely misses the point. How can we not be dismissive of anti-science nonsense that refuses to consider evidence? A ridiculous position is deserving of ridicule.

    Newsflash: Scientists are human. And we are passionate about our science. When someone insists on playing Calvinball rather than abiding by standards of scientific discourse–and misrepresenting what they are doing to the public as science–we are bound to be disgusted.

    Here is the point, though. The most important thing about science is not that it turns people into dispassionate, fact-producing robots. It does not. Rather, it is that science produces reliable understanding even when practiced by fallible and passionate human beings. Indeed, in part it is the passion for understanding that guarantees reliability. That is one reason why scientific fraud is guaranteed to end your scientific career.

  25. 75
    Edward Greisch says:

    Radge Havers, Susan Anderson and others: We live in a world where there are surprisingly many people who still believe in witchcraft and other amazingly nonsensical things. There are 2 books on related subjects that explain this phenomenon. They are “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart and “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.

    The architecture of the human brain is such that magical thinking is the standard. Putting an end to magical thinking requires a great deal of education at the very least. For maybe half or more of the population, that much education may be impossible. A re-design of the human brain, an impossibility in real time, could be the only way forward. Read “Religion Explained” first.

    Rasmus chose his topic well. Legends are understandable to a lot more people than science is. RealClimate is beginning to investigate the social science side of the problem. I wonder what some people make of the NASA Earth rise photograph.

  26. 76
    SecularAnimist says:

    Radge Havers wrote: “I caught the tail end of an interview on NPR this morning about the Yale climate opinion poll.”

    I heard that NPR program too. Like all such discussions of public opinion about AGW, it utterly failed to even mention the “elephant in the room” — namely, the generation-long, multibillion-dollar propaganda campaign by the fossil fuel corporations to shape public opinion through denial, deceit, pseudo-science, pseudo-economics and pseudo-ideology.

    It is really quite bizarre to discuss public opinion about global warming without mentioning that public opinion has been shaped by the tsunami of deliberate, elaborate, systematic, manipulative lies that has dominated the public discourse for a generation.

  27. 77
    t marvell says:

    Havers (62) The Yale group is so clearly an adversarial group that it might have trouble affecting public opinion. They claim that melting sea ice causes the ocean level to rise. See p. 55 in:

    [Response: This is actually true. It is not a big number but because the ice is fresh melting into a salty ocean, there is a small effect. You can test it with ice cubes and a glass of salt water. – gavin]

    Partly their mission is to determine how climate scientists might advance their message, and research on that is not in conflict with their being an advocacy group. I wish they would do research about what kinds of information would persuade the public, so that climate scientists can focus their research there.

  28. 78
    Susan Anderson says:

    Wayne Hamilton@~48, thanks for the radio link, I listened to that and was very moved. I’m not a Titanic maven but the analogy and choice for the article are useful. It’s interesting in that otherwise professional and well intentioned careful people made a colossal mistake, as evidenced in Jim’s response:

    [Response:Based on what I’ve read, I’d have to disagree. To plow along at ~22.5 knots (nearly full speed) when (1) they knew they were surrounded by a dense iceberg field that had forced one other non-passenger ship in the area to stop completely for the night, (2) on an exceedingly still, moonless, perfectly calm night with no wave action against the ice to provide the visual clues of ice presence that were commonly used, and (3) with no binoculars or scope available for the lookouts because these were left behind–this combination invited disaster. I think Ike Solem’s description above of the analogy is correct–forcing too big of an object at too high of a speed without the ability to make the necessary adjustments when they needed to.–Jim]

    Steve Fish, thanks, my blushes. I do sometimes wonder if I should get out of the way and at times could use to be a little less full of myself. This is such a safe place, though, I come here for some honesty to lower my blood pressure when the hate gets to me.

    Ike Solem, thanks as always, good to see you here.

    I took a look at the borehole and would like once again to point people at “The Republican War on Science” – in some ways, there is little new since it came out. The techniques have been refined and the appearance of scientific skepticism made into a less detectable fake, but the actors, while augmented, remain pretty much the same. There was a critique about policy, but it’s not that given half a chance those who are looking facts in the face are not eager to do something, but that they are hamstrung by a violently committed minority who as Edward G. says are wedded to magical thinking.

    Craig Nazor@~72, thanks, well said (among many others) – speaking of policy setting up against science where it should be guided by the likes of the people who created your computers, maintain your health, and create all the stuff you love and depend (though too much of it is likely to bring us all low), the experts.

  29. 79
    Radge Havers says:

    Edward Greish @ 75

    Yes, and you can watch how the roles played by things like magical thinking, greed, and the madness of crowds vary over time in peoples’ thinking. Those who forget the past are doomed to founder.

    A couple of recent discussions of the times we’re in:

    “It’s a different culture than we saw 20 years ago or 30 years ago. And it’s why people like Chuck Hagel, a very conservative Republican former senator, has decried what’s gone on in own party….

    …We had partisan media in the 19th century. We have it now with FOX, with MSNBC, and with a lot of others, with talk radio. But this is different. We don’t share a common set of facts. And we live in worlds that amplify those differences and, in fact, help to create the hype that we’re in a tribal world and you’ve got to oppose the other side because they’re evil.”
    -Norman Ornstein

    Is Washington’s Partisanship ‘Even Worse Than it Looks?’


    “The problem is that there’s not that much information out there if you’re an ordinary citizen. You can ferret it out, but it ought not be like that in a democracy,” Kaplan says. “Education and journalism were supposed to, according to our founders, inform our public and make democracy work.”

    Marty Kaplan on Big Money’s Effect on Big Media

  30. 80
    Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    It was interesting to see a climate tipping-point nobody had predicted yesterday:

    The decent into pure raving madness and incoherent invective by the Heartland Institute.

    (see for instance desmogblog if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

    It maybe a tad optimistic, but I interpret it as a sign that their usual obscuration-tactics no longer gets them the response they want, and that trying to turn the dial to 11 broke the knob.

    We recently saw sort of the same thing when a danish blogger went untethered from facts.

    Lets hope it is a trend.

  31. 81
    t marvell says:

    Gavin – 77 – I know that, and I thought of putting it in the comment, but I decided it is too trivial to take up space. Climate scientists regularly say that melting of floating ice does not raise the sea level, without adding this negligable caveat.

    [Response: Then what was your point? You criticise a group for saying something true, something that you know is true, and apparently you think the truth of the statement is too trivial to mention. How anyone reading your comment is supposed to assimilate all that is a bit of a mystery. – gavin]

  32. 82
    t marvell says:

    About the Californian and the Titanic (Dan 36,41, Anderson, 40, Davidson, 48, Emmer 69, Owl905 71). The NYTimes suggests that the Caiifornian was mislead by atmospheric conditions that distored its view of the Titanic. This kind of distortion apparently was well know.

  33. 83
    Christian says:

    Dear all

    Being a layman it is very difficult to evaluate technic terms and arguments. Therefore, it is often difficult to judge which side is being more correct in their arguments. Therefore, I would like to ask how many more years of “none warming” from year 2000 will make you reconsider your thesis. On the other hand, how much warming will it take during the next decade for you to silence the skeptics.?

    Hope for a good answer.


  34. 84
    Russell says:

    The Heartland demographic seems attracted to the proposition that the Titanic could have sunk the iceberg by backing up and ramming it a few more times.

  35. 85
    Robert Butler says:

    Part of the problem is we’re dealing with a values issue rather than one of fact. In discussing religion or politics, one doesn’t really expect to change the other guy’s mind. Discussion generates more heat than understanding. People simply do not let go of their base values without a clear and severe failure of the old values.

    If one is considering changing a culture, changing the base values of a large number of people, it is worse. I’m a member of a political forum where Pearl Harbor, Katrina and the Boston Tea Party are called ‘catalysts’ which lead to a ‘crisis’ where groups with different values attempt to force the other to accept new values. We attempt to explore what it takes to change a culture.

    If one wants to understand what it takes to force cultural change, to make someone let go of their existing values, examine photographs of Atlanta after Sherman got finished with it, or Berlin after the 8th Air Force was done. People will cling to old values rather intensely. Reason, data, logic and debate barely matter. Loyalty to one’s birth culture backed by propaganda and lies trump science and fact. If one is looking for a mechanism to force a values change on large populations, it must be absolutely clear in terms of cause and effect, and absolutely disastrous in its magnitude. The Great Depression allowed the US to consider government regulation of the economy. A long string of prior economic collapses and major inequality didn’t do it. Live radio coverage of the London Blitz caused a reconsideration of isolationist policy. September 11th moved us from being unwilling to risk American lives abroad to launching preemptive wars attempting cultural change at gunpoint. Small catalysts are not apt to have a significant effect. If one really wants to force a significant values change one might best become aware of the sort of stimulus required. They have to be bigger than a breadbox.

    There is an additional problem with global warming. Climate change involves a long lag between cause and effect. The time scale is much longer than wars, cultural clashes or economic cycles. By the time the climate changes to the extent required of a major catalyst, by the time there is a true clear and present danger, it will likely be too late.

  36. 86
    Ray Ladbury says:

    T. Marvell: “I wish they would do research about what kinds of information would persuade the public, so that climate scientists can focus their research there.”

    Actually, I would prefer that climate science advance wherever it can whenever it can. The idea that we should direct research to discover evidence to persuade people who cannot be persuaded by evidence seems rather silly to me.

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    > forcing too big of an object at too high of a speed
    > without the ability to make the necessary adjustments
    > when they needed to.–Jim

    Funny how that happens.

    “We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
    But the big fool said to push on.”

  38. 88
    dhogaza says:


    Therefore, I would like to ask how many more years of “none warming” from year 2000 will make you reconsider your thesis.

    Why do you think it hasn’t warmed since the year 2000?

  39. 89
    Dan H. says:

    Good question. The answer to your first question would probably be 18 more, or 30 in total. I would answer the second by bringing it in line with my answer to first, and say 0.8 by 2030.

  40. 90
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Robert Butler,
    You may be right. It may be impossible for people to overturn their prejudices without their prejudices leading them to disaster. However, as our population grows toward its likely crest of 10 billion, the consequences of those disasters grow increasingly severe. It is possible that even now the combined effects of climate change, Peak Oil, environmental degradation and resource depletion could threaten the viability of human civilization. And if we get through this crisis with something resembling a global civilization, what about the next one?

    If we do not beocome more reality based as a species, it is a matter of time before our species ceases to exist. The only question is when and how many other species we take with us. Science is the key to a reality-based society.

  41. 91

    “… how much warming will it take during the next decade for you to silence the skeptics.?”

    True skeptics? Or the fake variety?

    The latter, I fear, harbor views quite independent of any amount of evidence. Perhaps some future amount will suffice, but so far, there’s no basis to extrapolate from.

  42. 92
    dhogaza says:

    Dan H:

    Good question. The answer to your first question would probably be 18 more, or 30 in total. I would answer the second by bringing it in line with my answer to first, and say 0.8 by 2030.

    It’s funny how Dan H responds without checking the assumption, eh?

    Christian – take note.

  43. 93
    t marvell says:

    Butler (85) and others. You seem to dispair. The topic is too important for that. Again, I draw an analogy to cancer and tobacco. The problems you mention existed here, but were overcome. Eventually facts can overcome inbedded feelings, but the facts must be obvious to people.

  44. 94
    Marcus says:

    #83 Christian:

    There is no “a thesis” to reconsider. Climate is affected by many intertwined problems from various more fundamental sciences, and everything of it is rethought all the time, results published in the peer reviewed literature.
    The imagination that scientists are some kind of priesthood to defend a single dogma is absurd.


  45. 95

    78 Susan, I found the BBC recordings very impressive, the accounts from survivors place us there better than any movie.

    #82 T Marvell, Captain Lord had his none icebreaker ship stuck in pack ice at night, I dont think mirages swayed his decision to stay put anymore . The NY times article based on a book fails to portray refraction science correctly, at least in this case. After listening to actual witness testimony I am quite sure the Californian was much further away than the 5 or 10 miles estimate. 5 to ten miles is within near refraction domain. There are specific illusions caused within that range. None fit the description heard on BBC recordings. Will have something on this in a while.

  46. 96
    Craig Nazor says:


    As pointed out earlier, your assumption that there has been no warming since 2000 is scientifically false. Here is some more evidence:

    As to “How much warming will it take during the next decade […] to silence the skeptics,” well, you had better ask some skeptics (Dan H. is actually a good example of one). You should really ask more than one, as I am sure there will be little agreement between them, since there is no coherent “skeptical” theory to explain the observed temperature change.

    I would predict that, if humans do nothing to reduce the release of CO2 gas into the atmosphere until the year 2030, “skeptics” are going to be very hard to find.
    This reCAPTCHA is priceless: “erfelli cremasteric”

  47. 97
    Thomas says:

    If you go back and read the mass media hype of the Titanic in that day…..there isn’t much difference in the way a modern free market society reacts in the 100 years. Big events drive the news. Secondly we are sensing anmials and we respond rather well to real events, be they sinking ships, flaming space rockets, or floods and record snowfalls, rather than big ideas. The true turning point regarding action on climate data won’t happen until we have enough of these real events to shake up enough people. That threshhold hasn’t yet been reached, but it appears from recent opinion polls to be creeping upwards.

  48. 98
    Dave Griffiths says:

    Since there has been a lot of discussion about trends I (a rank amateur) decided to try figure out the trends for myself. If I understand the literature correctly, every doubling of the CO2 level produces a radiative forcing of about 5.35 watts/m.sq. According to the climate models, the inevitable temperature rise will increase water vapor levels which will in turn double the forcing in the short run (transient effect) and triple the forcing in the long run. The surface temperature of the earth must increase so as to counterbalance this effect. So I constructed a simple minded toy model where the radiated surface energy W watts/sq.m. increased like the natural logarithm of the CO2 (W=A+B*ln(CO2/Ref)). Using linear regression I could fit the simple model to the NASA GISTEMP Land and Sea data quite well (R-squared 0.83) for the period 1890 to 2010. The difference between the model and the data has a standard deviation of 0.1 deg C which I take to be natural variation (El Nino, Mt. Pinatubo etc.). The data falls outside the 2-sigma limits only 4 times in 120 years, and the calculated value B= 15.3, agrees pretty well with CO2 radiated forcing plus water vapor effects etc. So I think I have reasonable trend model.
    In the period 2000 to 2010, the GISTEMP results were above the trend 9 times, below the trend twice. They were always within 2 standard deviations of the trend. So the data is certainly consistent with a continuing upward trend due to a rising CO2 level. Apparently many people allow themselves to be confused by the natural year to year fluctuations of order +-.1 degree C. This is almost as large as the simple model predicted temperature increase from 2000 to 2010 which is 0.15 deg. C. Also, the very large anomaly in 1998, almost 2 –sigma, tends to obscure the underlying trend.
    One interesting question, how far and how long would the data have to vary from my simple minded toy model before I would be forced to say that it no longer fit the trend? This question may be little (or maybe a lot) above my statistical level. However, I think that more than two 2-sigma excursions in 10 years would have me worried. If anyone has a more sophisticated test I’d appreciate hearing about it.
    In case you wonder where I got the pre-Keeling CO2 data, I constructed a model giving atmospheric levels in terms of emissions. To construct the model I correlated the Sipple and Keeling data to CDIAC’s emission data for fossil fuel burning and land use. CDIAC gives yearly emission data, and the correlation to atmospheric levels is extremely good (R-Squared 0.995).
    On a related CO2 issue, I currently reside in Wuhu, a “third tier” city on the Yangtze, not far from Nanjing. The level of construction activity is startling. It looks as though more concrete is being poured here than in the whole of the USA. A steady procession of coal trains rumble through the city while an endless procession of coal and limestone barges sail up and down the river. It’s easy to believe that China now emits as much CO2 as the USA. It’s also easy to believe that the Chinese GDP is doubling every 10 years (or less) with all that that implies. From here the Alberta Tar sands look like a very minor issue.
    On a small positive note, you can’t buy incandescent light bulbs in Wuhu, and the most popular form of transportation is the electric scooter. People even save energy at night by not turning their scooter lights on!

  49. 99
    Radge Havers says:

    t marvell @ 93

    “Again, I draw an analogy to cancer and tobacco. “

    Holy cow.

    1. The days of mid-twentieth century type debate are gone.

    2. Smoking is still a problem here and tobacco companies are aggressively marketing overseas.

    3. AGW is an even bigger, meaner and more difficult problem.

    4. The is a more intense and sophisticated psyops level campaign to disinform and distract on AGW.

    4. There are people in this world who would rather die than admit they’re wrong.

    5. Despite this there are plenty of people who actually do get it, the problem is that the new intransigent oligarchy resists action. This is a systemic problem, not an evidentiary one.

    “Eventually facts can overcome inbedded feelings, but the facts must be obvious to people.”

    You apparently don’t want to make an effort to understand or respond to what people are have been trying to tell you. There’s more to history than your dinky analogy to smoking.

    Again, Holy cow.

    “Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain’t so.”
    -Mark Twain

  50. 100
    CM says:

    Dave #98,

    > every doubling of the CO2 level produces a radiative forcing
    > of about 5.35 watts/m.sq.

    …times ln(2) = 3.7 W/m.sq.?