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What George Will should have written

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 February 2009

We’ve avoided piling on to the George Will kerfuffle, partly because this was not a new story for us (we’d commented on very similar distortions in previous columns in 2004 and 2007), but mostly because everyone else seems to be doing a great job in pointing out the problems in his recent columns.

We are actually quite gratified that a much wider group of people than normal have been involved in calling out this latest nonsense, taking the discussion well outside the sometimes-rarefied atmosphere of the scientific blogosphere (summary of links). Maybe RealClimate has succeeded in its original aim of increasing the wider awareness of the scientific context? However, like many, we are profoundly disappointed in the reaction of the Washington Post editors and George Will himself (though the ombudsman’s column today is a step in the right direction). It would have been pleasant to see an example of the conservative punditocracy actually learning something from the real world instead of resorting to ever-more unconvincing pseudo-legalistic justifications and attacks on the messenger to avoid taking their head out of the sand. Nonetheless, in a moment of naive optimism, we have allowed ourselves to indulge in a fantasy for how a more serious columnist might have dealt with the issue:

The scientific method in journalism
Feb 29th, 2009, Washington post

This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done.

It is no secret that I am a critic of sensationalism in the coverage of environmental issues and that I have a philosophical preference for reality-based policies over those based on the ideologically-based fantasies of those I critique.

In my last column, I reported on a statistic concerning sea ice extent – that global sea ice extent is unchanged since 1979 – that was trivially shown to be untrue, and for that I apologize. Rather than throw the fact checkers in my office or at the Washington Post under the bus, I take full responsibility for the mistake. However, as with good scientific practice, this provides an example of how journalism too can learn from its mistakes.

The source of the original quote was a Daily Tech blog post published in early January. While that post itself was heavily criticized as being misleading, it did use data from a reliable scientific source which was technically accurate at the time. My error was in assuming that scientific ‘facts’ don’t change over a month or two and thus it was not necessary to revisit the source of the original data before writing my column. What was true in January would still be true in February, right? Wrong.

What I didn’t consider was that in complex and noisy data there are always going to be outliers, and in heavily politicised subjects there will always be people who will want to exploit a chance occurrence for a sound-bite. I should of course have known better since I decry this practice on a regular basis in discussions of economic issues. Through a combination of wishful thinking and time constraints, my failure to recognize a piece of classic cherry-picking lay at the heart of this problem.

However, sometimes old dogs do learn new tricks. The surprising fact (to me at least) that the difference in global sea ice between two single dates 30 years apart can change so radically in such a short space of time, implies that it is not a particularly good measure of long term climate change. It is a bit like looking at a single stock to gauge the health of the economy. Unfortunately (for me at least), it also validates the scientific consensus about the original article. It was indeed a misleading statistic, and I was indeed misled. Next time I will try and be more careful.

There continues to be a pressing need for an informed conservative discussion of the issues of climate change. Voices such as Senator John McCain, and businessman Jim Manzi (writing in the Nation last year National Review in 2007) can perhaps show the way. The distraction of the last week over exact parsings and interpretations of technical data are just a sideshow while real decisions are already being made every day in Washington. In order for conservatives to have a voice at those tables, we need to be seen as serious contributors. Every time we are mislead by amateur bloggers, we lose another chance to influence policy. This may have been useful as a delaying tactic in the past, but now that there is clear leadership in the White House, this serves only to marginalize conservatives even further. Unlikely as it may seem for me to quote President Obama approvingly, it may be time for us to put aside childish things.

If only…..

497 Responses to “What George Will should have written”

  1. 101
    Pat N says:

    Added ref. to Hansen Testimony (to my comment at Chanhassen Villager, 62)

    “We have a planet in peril.”…

    Testimony by Dr. James Hansen to House Ways & Means Committee on Carbon Tax & 100% Dividend vs. Tax & Trade, Feb. 26, 2009, at:

  2. 102
    Rod B says:

    BPL, I know this is nit-picky (sorry), but, while appreciating your reference I do not comprehend how they measured insolation to 3 decimal places (7 significant digits) back in 1610, e.g.

  3. 103
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Speaking of politics and science, there’s some possibility the Triana (now “DISCOVR”) spacecraft may after all reach L1 orbit. Although the craft would be repurposed as yet another solar wind/plasma observatory (endlessly fascinating, that plasma…), Triana still has the Earth-observing bits attached.

    Any comment from RC about the value of the experiments originally envisioned for Triana? It was coincidentally shelved when Cheney/Bush arrived on scene, so I’m wondering if they were worried about encountering uncomfortable facts not comporting with the romantic fantasy world they inhabit.

    More here:

  4. 104
    RickA says:

    #99 – Gavin’s in-line question:

    [Response: What data are you looking at here? I know of no such sea ice data set that would demonstrate this. – gavin]

    You are making my point.

    We don’t have very high quality data for the Arctic much before 1978.

    We have lower quality data which make this point.

    Jones et al data set shows the temperature in the arctic higher in the 1930’s than currently.

    The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment p. 52 talks about the temperature in the Arctic over the last millennium and seems to support several rises and falling trends in the Arctic over that time period.

    Roald Amundsen completed the first sailing of the Northwest passage in 1903-1906 – so I assume it was pretty warm in the arctic then (I admit this one is implied).

    The point is that the temperature has been higher in the Arctic in the past – more than once even – so what is different about today than those other times?

    [Response: Thank you. You clearly demonstrate that you have no data that shows that sea ice was equally low in the 1930’s. The little data there is (from ship reports mainly) indicate that this was not actually the case. If you wanted to use an example where the prevailing data did suggest less ice then than now, you’d have to go back to the Early Holocene (say 8 to 6,000 years ago). There are beach deposits and large faunal remains in what are now frozen inlets across the Archipelago and northern Greenland. However, why that happened than is easier to understand – the orbit of the Earth at that time meant that summertime solar irradiance in the Northern Hemisphere was larger than it is now and summer temperatures were higher as a result. This is not therefore the cause of today’s changes, but the example does serve to indicate that sea ice is indeed sensitive to the radiative balance. It is thus not surprising that sea ice is retreating when we have our own radiative perturbation underway. – gavin]

  5. 105
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good article at spaceflight now. Key bits:
    —excerpt follows—-

    Valero acknowledges the satellite’s “innovative” observation method, but he contends DSCOVR’s mission was rooted in science geared toward climate change research.

    DSCOVR’s Earth-pointing telescope and radiometers, still bolted to the spacecraft today, are designed to check the planet’s thermostat by gauging solar radiation reaching the planet.

    The radiation balance would tell scientists whether Earth is warming or cooling based on the difference in energy that is absorbed and released each year, Valero said.

    Scientists already know the planet has a radiation imbalance a few times greater than the greenhouse effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    Valero said a deep space Earth observatory would give scientists a new way of studying the planet by facilitating continuous imagery. Other Earth observation satellites fly in low-altitude orbits and collect global data on a timescale of days.

    “I am not watching, say, San Francisco, then 10 hours later, New York, and then Denver,” Valero said. “I’m looking at the whole thing now.”

    The new paradigm demonstrated by DSCOVR would be more reliable because using low Earth orbit satellites is like “looking at the forest tree by tree,” Valero said.

    NASA decided to suspend work on Triana in 2001, months after former President Bush took office following his defeat of Gore in the 2000 election. …

  6. 106
    Sekerob says:

    #91 coakely,

    no one came up with these percentages, I did, by taking e.g. the Arctic annual data for Area and Extent and expressing that in the table above. All but the winter months, the ratios are steep, much the same, if not steeper than the seasonal sea ice extent chart the Gavin linked to and shown on the front page of Cryosphere Today. Their chart is largely the same as the one I did with the NOAA data, but using the meteorological seasons rather than the calendaric e.g. DJF instead of JFM.

    oh and watch out if you want to test. Some folk forget to consider the polar hole ;>)

    As for the usual more data more data, lets wait, fortunately governments with their heads screwed on correctly wont wait for that, and most in the “haves” world seem to wise up rapidly.

  7. 107
    RichardC says:

    22 Steve said, “That word is thickness”

    Absolutely. Nobody would ever measure the ice in the local hockey lake by extent. EVERYONE knows that ice health is primarily measured in thickness. There’s another important term as well, “salinity”, which is measured primarily by age of the ice. Everyone also knows that salty ice is easier to melt, so the *FACT* that the ice is younger *GUARANTEES* that it is weaker. The deniers’ argument boils down to, “There is 1cm of ice nearly from shore to shore on the lake, so let’s shove all our children out to play hockey.” I find it hard to believe that anyone could miss the obvious logic, so I don’t agree that George Will is both intelligent and moral. It is immoral to write a high profile article about ice without a 6th-grade grasp of ice mechanics. I’d say George is Willfully ignorant, and that’s immoral and rather stupid too. Oh, and deniers, the *ONLY* reason “extent” was *EVER* used is because it’s the easiest number to measure accurately. Extent is reasonably useful *ONLY* at the end of summer. In the winter, there’s some variation at the edges, but the whole Arctic Ocean is covered in ice, so it’s not a helpful measurement at all. This will change *ONLY* when extent in winter starts dropping significantly. Give it a few more years.

  8. 108
    Marcus says:

    RickA: Look at:
    It has sea ice estimations going back to 1953 (one third of the way down the page). It refers to a reconstruction going back to the early 1900s, but alas does not provide a pointer.

    From what I’ve read, it seems that the Amundsen expedition took several _years_ to complete, and went through channels that would not be considered commercially navigable. That’s possibly a big difference with the Northwest Passage opening in 2007 which (as I understand) was (visually, anyway) pretty much a straight shot through…

  9. 109
    Will Denayer says:

    I value this site a lot, because you people have taught me many things on climate change, I enjoy reading the discussions and I am completely convinced that climate change is a very serious problem.
    However, sometimes you people shock me. It is probably because I am European. Earlier today, I wrote a post using social-ism and the text got blocked. I do not get this at all. We’re all supposed to be adults here and thinking people as well – most of us being scientists – why should it be forbidden to use certain words? I do not want to plead in favor of social-ism, but that is not the point. The point is censorship. Besides, social-ism is not that bad; it did a lot of good in the world also. I guess we just see these things differently.

    [Response: It is not a political judgment, it is a pharmaceutical one. – gavin]

  10. 110

    Re: #108:

    Correct, Marcus, as I recall from elementary school “social studies,” Amundsen used a specially ice-strengthened hull to survive two winters in doing the Northwest Passage. Not what you’d call commercially viable, or straightforward for that matter.

  11. 111
    William says:

    #85 SecularAnimist
    It can also be argued that it would be healthy for those employed in the “climate change community” to maintain and promote a concensus in order to continue to receive funding and insure their employment. Any climatologist that strays from the concensus would certainly find it impossible to be funded and would not be published in peer reviewed Journals.

    I don’t understand why this discussion has so little middle ground. One side is populated by liars, kooks or is bought by the energy industry, and the other side is motivated only by the pure desire to share the truth that has been revealed to them by proxy studies and GCM’s.

    It’s great to have strongly held opinions it’s another thing to denigrate those that disagree with you. Can we focus more on the science and less on the name calling?

    [Response: So accusing all climatologists for being in it for the money isn’t name calling? (And please note, the way to further funding is too continually claim uncertainty, not to conclude that the big picture is well understood). Practice what you preach. – gavin]

  12. 112

    In post #81, Nick Gotts wrote: “In other words, AGW denialists are either outright liars, wilfully ignorant, or believe, without evidence, that the scientific community consists almost entirely of liars and fools.”

    First of all, I heartily endorse this site and its owners. Gavin — you do good work.

    That being said, I challenge the statement above. SOME AGW denialists, such as Rush Limbaugh for instance, clearly qualify. But last weekend I met with three of my colleagues (we are all ASA members) and the AGW issues were explored. One is clearly a denialist; he is a professional geophysicist and bases his skepticism on some rather extensive analyses of temperature data. The other two are “agnostic” on AGW — or maybe skeptics, but do not claim any climate expertise. One of them asked a particular question on this site a week or so back and thought the answer given was kind of a brushoff, but he will probably try again.

    If my geophysicist friend agrees, I will at some time in the future share his findings here, asking how they ought to be considered.

    But none of my three friends can be said to fit — not in the slightest degree, the description Gotts made.

    John (Burgy) Burgeson

  13. 113
    James says:

    Further on left vs right politics (sorry, but it seems inescapable), it appears that the left is just more sophisticated in hiding its anti-anti-AGW agenda. For instance, I ran across this, on the NY Times op-ed page Yes, according to a prominent liberal economic theorist, our current economic problems are rooted in the fact that we just weren’t consuming enough. So the solution, apparently, is to crank up those coal-fired power plants and start making more stuff to fill whatever space is left in our garages, and to enable the rest of the world to follow our example.

  14. 114
    David says:

    Nick (82), For many (most ?) people (including many newspaper commentators) the scientific world is a closed book. If they look around on the web to try and educate themselves, they see that for every argument there is a counter argument and a conspiracy amongst scientific organisations seems just as plausible as a conspiracy run by Exxon.
    Consider Mitch (13) on this thread. Maybe he is just trolling, but equally he could be genuinely interested. He doesn’t know any physics, and doesn’t know where to look to learn. He reads a dozen blogs written by people who are opinionated but ignorant, and concludes that very little is really known about climate. Even if he reads the links provided here, without a scientific background he will find it very difficult to grasp the content.

    Have you ever tried teaching basic chemistry or physics to someone with no scientific background ? For most people terms like heat, light, mass, density, pressure, temperature etc have some vague meaning only very loosely connected with the scientific definition. For these people, even carefully written explanations on a good site like realclimate get internally translated into something like “blah blah blah global warming is real blah blah blah trust us”.

    Could people please refrain from pointing out to me that the science is real ? I know. I am just trying here to explain what global warming looks like to many, many people outside the scientific world.

    Finally, pharm-a-ceutical spa-m often uses the term soc-ialism ?

    [Response: So-cialis-m is found to be very stimulating. – gavin]

  15. 115
    GaryB says:

    William, it gets extremely frustrating and perhaps maddening to have to make the same responses to the same uninformed nonsense day in and day out. Eventually a sharp, snide, sometimes seemingly abusive response is all there is left to say.

  16. 116
    GaryB says:

    James, I have no idea how you got that from Krugman’s article but I didn’t see him suggesting we consume more, in fact I didn’t see him suggest anything.

  17. 117
    Mark Cunnington says:

    Science works, on a fundamental level, by some scientist proposing a hypothesis and then devising an experiment to verify that hypothesis. Then the results go through a peer review process where other scientists try to poke holes in the hypothesis. If the hypothesis can stand up to repeated attack from all different kinds of scientists for a long time, it can then be called a theory. However, at any time, some scientist could come along and present evidence which shows that the theory is invalid, or more likely, simply off base a little bit and in need of revision, or not as wide in scope as previously thought (for example, classical Newtonian physics, which has been shown, long after it was first developed, to be only a very small subset of what is actually going on.)

    To this end, skepticism is essential for science to work — it’s actually HOW it works! It keeps everyone honest.

    The problem is that the political AGW denialists who know nothing about science hijack this process and take any critical discussion around the science or data surrounding AGW to be a source of weakness in which to drive a wedge, then expose it to the masses who don’t understand the science, and try to destroy the process.

    It’s gotten to the point, IMHO, that due to the political backlash against the implications of global warming, this normal process of scientific study can’t really function as it should.

  18. 118
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #112: Your geophysicist friend has done private analysis that seriously leads him to believe he’s got the jump on everybody else? And he has not published this? Not to fall back on name-calling, but that smacks of alchemy.

    If it ain’t published, it ain’t science, not in the sense that we’ve used the past several hundred years, anyway.

  19. 119
    SecularAnimist says:

    William wrote: “One side is populated by liars, kooks or is bought by the energy industry, and the other side is motivated only by the pure desire to share the truth that has been revealed to them by proxy studies and GCM’s.”

    Actually, I think that is a pretty accurate description of the situation. I would make a few slight tweaks to it. The global warming denialists do include both industry-funded liars, as well as genuine cranks or “kooks”. They also include some who are politically motivated (e.g. those who start frothing and ranting at the very mention of Al Gore and who imagine that climate science is somehow a “liberal” agenda).

    I don’t know whether George Will is directly paid to lie by fossil fuel corporations, as are the denizens of various ExxonMobil funded propaganda mills masquerading as “conservative” think tanks, but his writings indicate that he is generally in favor of whatever wealthy, powerful corporations want. And he is definitely both a crank and a partisan political propagandist.

    And importantly, I would add that the denialists include much greater numbers of people who have been duped by the paid liars and the cranks and the political operatives. There is hope for many of these folks, except perhaps for the hardcore ditto-heads, if they can stop listening to Rush Limbaugh and start listening to scientists. In this respect RealClimate is especially valuable.

    And on the side of science, I think that climate scientists are motivated by a desire to learn and to make known the truth — to a point that has sometimes muffled their voices in the public discussion of AGW, where it has seemed that they hesitate to speak out about what they are quite certain is actually happening, unless and until they can state every result with 99 percent confidence to the tenth decimal point. If anything, the scientific community has put its devotion to truth ahead of alerting the public to the urgency of the the problem and the gravity of the danger.

    But I think that increasingly, climate scientists are also motivated by an entirely justified fear of what they see happening to the planet, and the planetary catastrophe that they see coming down on us fast; as well as by an equally justified concern that their message has not been getting through to those who are in a position to do something about it.

    When James Hansen is willing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against coal-fired power plants, something has definitely changed — and not a moment too soon.

  20. 120
    Rod B says:

    Gavin (111), you misread William (IMO, though I might be wrong…). He was not overtly accusing climatologists of those bad deeds but using a foil to play off and exemplify SecularAnimist’s black and white thinking — them 100% bad and evil; us 100% pristine and altruistic.

  21. 121
    sidd says:

    I have read Mr. Will for decades. I am afraid he shares some of the more repulsive traits of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He reflects the thinking of a class of oligarchs whose every word and action is aimed toward perpetuating their own wealth and power, and destroying all that might, conceivably, threaten their privilege. They would passionately deny such a charge, claim they act for the benefit of all mankind, rather than their own. In practice, of course, they are convinced that the benefit of all mankind is best served by advancing their own ends.

    Mr. Will and some of his fellow travellers provide a valuable window into the minds of a rapacious class of powerful thieves. That is why I read his columns.

    That said, Mr. Will is not an unintelligent man, with some command of the English language, as is evident in his careful constructions in the article, skirting the edges of untruth, and most economical with the truth as well.

    His misstatements are calculated. His errors are intentional. He has done this before. And he will again.

    Oh, yes, and he has a few passably interesting opinions on baseball.

  22. 122
    Hank Roberts says:

    > One of them asked a particular question on this site
    > a week or so back and thought the answer given was
    > kind of a brushoff …

    You might help him a bit. If he asked a really general question of the kind often posted by complete novices who didn’t read the links at Start Here, he likely got pointed to Start Here and to Weart’s link.

    That’d be more likely if he didn’t give any indication of understanding the science generally.

    Speaking only for myself, please do remind him a that often those quickest at jumping on new people’s questions are “Some Guy On A Blog”-grade commenters (like me). And we should do better.

    The climate scientists sponsoring the site are listed on the right hand sidebar. A little reading and searching, then asking a question that says “I read this and that, and I don’t understand something….” can get a more thoughtful answer.

  23. 123
    truth says:

    Alan of Oz: [50]
    Thanks for your ‘calm’ and ‘tolerant’ critique.
    I notice you are completely unable to refute.
    The attitudes and situation I described are all on the public record—including the Gore interviews.
    In this case, it’s you who are in denial.
    And, by the way, have you seen any of those back bench politicians exercising their freedom of speech by putting themselves and their unfashionable views before the public for the Australian media to crucify?

  24. 124
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE 121 Sidd

    “Oh, yes, and he [Will] has a few passably interesting opinions on baseball.

    Here is comedian Dana Carvey’s take on George Will and baseball:

    Also, check out the George Will baseball quiz below the video window on that page.

  25. 125
    James says:

    GaryB Says (2 March 2009 at 5:51 PM)

    “James, I have no idea how you got that from Krugman’s article but I didn’t see him suggesting we consume more, in fact I didn’t see him suggest anything.”

    Not even that the current economic problems were rooted in a “glut” of savings? And since the opposite of saving is spending on consumer goods, and all that spending creates more jobs, which creates more demand…

    Oddly enough, I remember (vaguely enough not to recall the author) an old science fiction story on this theme: the poor had to spend their lives living in mansions & working their butts off to use up an open-ended supply of consumer goods; the rich got to live in small cottages in the country and wear old clothes. Might be by Issac Asimov, since I recall that the hero saved the day by getting the household robots to do his consuming for him…

  26. 126
  27. 127
    Martin says:


    First (and more importantly), I’m pretty sure the story you’re thinking of is in Midas World by Frederik Pohl, one of the great social commentators in the world of sci fi.

    Second, saying the savings glut is responsible for our economic woes is a little simplistic. In fact, the economic problems are more a cause of too LITTLE savings on the part of most consumers (in the US and some other developed nations) and too MUCH dependence on credit by, well, everyone in the developed world. At the same time, there were huge pools of money looking for somewhere to be invested, and there was only so much economically productive investment to be made. So, lots of that money was invested in financial instruments that inflated asset values and bank-rolled consumers whose incomes couldn’t support their consumption. It was a classic house of cards.



  28. 128
    David B. Benson says:

    James (125) — Frederik Pohl:

  29. 129
    dhogaza says:

    Not even that the current economic problems were rooted in a “glut” of savings? And since the opposite of saving is spending on consumer goods, and all that spending creates more jobs, which creates more demand…

    You didn’t understand his point. Actually, first of all, he’s recapping a point made by Barnanke, not claiming it as his own.

    Rather than paraphrase, here’s a snippet:

    But after the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 (which seemed like a big deal at the time but looks trivial compared with what’s happening now), these countries began protecting themselves by amassing huge war chests of foreign assets, in effect exporting capital to the rest of the world.

    The result was a world awash in cheap money, looking for somewhere to go.

    And much of it ended up in the US, a lot of money looking for somewhere to go, leading to lowered standards when evaluating whether or not to lend to individual “somewheres”.

    He’s talking about large scale tides of capital, not you or I saving or consuming, and regardless saving rather than spending just moves the money elsewhere, resulting in some other institution needing to figure out where to invest.

  30. 130
    Jeff says:

    I’ve spent many years (25+) working with and developing complicated simulations of the space environment and spacecraft. During that time I’ve become all too familiar with how difficult it can be to develop accurate models that work under a reasonable set of varying inputs. Consequently, I have been very surprised at the level of certitude expressed by the pro-AGW crowd – I can’t imagine how no doubt very smart people can reasonably expect the climate models to be anywhere close to accurate.

    Lately I’ve spent many hours trying to understand the Global Warming/Climate Change debate (and I use that term loosely) and the models. I haven’t been able to find much useful info (and I read the GISS model description – not much meat there). I’m hoping someone here can point me to useful descriptions (models, algorithms) for a few things:
    1) How do you model varying solar flux (F10, Ap)? I have the impression it may be treated as a constant (??) but am having trouble digesting that.

    [Response: F10, Ap are solar proxies – they have no impact on climate. The irradiance (which is correlated to those proxies) varies and impacts the amount of energy coming in at the top of the atmosphere. – gavin]

    2) What about the energy balance? How are the thermodynamics modelled?

    [Response: Not sure what you mean. There are equations for energy in the model with inputs, outputs and various fluxes, phase changes etc. They are written to be energy conservative. – gavin]

    3) Albedo model. Radiation and impact of ice/snow, cloud cover, etc.

    [Response: The surface albedo is a complicated function of surface type, zenith angle, snow cover, type of snow, wind speed (for ocean albedo) etc. It varies as a function of wavelength etc. But again, I don’t really know what you are asking. – gavin]

    4) General descriptions of the models would be helpful.

    [Response: Try ‘A Climate Modelling Primer’ by Henderson-Sellers. Or one of the earlier GCM papers (Hansen et al 1983) which is a pretty good description of the model at that time. – gavin]

    Thanks for the help. I have really searched quite a bit and found next to nothing (I have found interesting stuff about Milankovitch cycles though)


    P.S. I’m an informed skeptic on AGW. I’m very pro-environemtn and have been for decades. I think it is clear that humans are having a huge impact on the planet. Probably all the CO2 is a bad thing. But for anyone to think we understand how this is going to play out strikes me as big time hubris.

  31. 131
    James says:

    Martin Says (2 March 2009 at 8:41 PM):

    “Second, saying the savings glut is responsible for our economic woes is a little simplistic…”

    Well, I thought so too, but that did (and still does) seem to be the thrust of that column, and several others of his that I’ve seen in recent weeks. Though I’ll be the first to admit that economics at this level confuses the heck out of me, it does seem that he’s describing a healthy economy that looks a lot like a snake eating its own tail: people have to get credit in order to buy consumer goods which will create jobs so more people can qualify for better credit so they can buy more…

    The point, of course, being that this end of liberal economics wraps right back through some higher dimension to the right-wing denialist who says we can’t possibly even try to do anything about AGW ’cause it’d affect his sacred lifestyle.

    Anyway, this seems to have drifted far enough from the topic.

  32. 132

    David (114),

    You wrote:
    “For many (most ?) people (including many newspaper commentators) the scientific world is a closed book. If they look around on the web to try and educate themselves, they see that for every argument there is a counter argument and a conspiracy amongst scientific organisations seems just as plausible as a conspiracy run by Exxon.”

    That is the reason that I compiled an (incomplete) list of clues for the layperson to make sense out of the (media) debate on climate change (or other complex scientific topics):

    E.g. no scientific background is needed to see that there is a vast difference in likelihood of the two conspiracies you mention to be true. But admittedly, a person’s worldview (to what extent are science or corporations trusted) can greatly influence their perception of this likelihood. A certain degree of rationality is still needed to apply these clues correctly.

  33. 133
    Mark says:

    Rodb #120. Argument by the excluded middle.

  34. 134
    ccpo says:

    re:#55 (mine), #9, all responses to Mitch, et al:

    I said in my previous response there was a concerted effort, organized and intentional, to create massive disinformation currently and into this year over ACC. I have found the central source for this, and – Surprise! – it appears to be Inhofe’s office. From The Wonk Room via Climate Change: the Next Generation:

    “Marc Morano, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)’s environmental communications director, sits at the center of the right-wing global warming denier propaganda machine — of fifty-two people. Conservative columnist Fred Barnes recently refused to tell TPM Muckraker who’s informed him “the case for global warming” is falling apart, but all signs point to Marc Morano. Morano’s “entire job,” Gristmill’s David Roberts explains, “is to aggregate every misleading factoid, every attack on climate science or scientists, every crank skeptical statement from anyone in the world and send it all out periodically in email blasts” to the right-wing echo chamber. The Wonk Room has acquired Morano’s email list, and we can now reveal the pack of climate skeptics, conservative bloggers, and corporate hacks who feed the misinformation machine.”

    #35, et al.: First, I’d like to suggest that Gavin, et al., take the KISS it principle deadly serious. Explanations need to be accessible to the general public. Humbly, here’s my take, from a post I should have put on my blog back in September/October, but haven’t yet:

    “Not nearly as well-covered is the issue of ice mass. 2008 appears to have had the lowest ice mass on record due to thinning of the ice. This is important because it deals with the Arctic sea ice’s ability to rebuild during winters.

    Ice **mass** is the number that tells you how much ice there actually is, but extent gets all the action.

    Extent is very important because it is the key to calculating albedo. That is, how much solar energy is being absorbed by the water. More ice area causes more energy to be reflected out to space and less absorbed by the water. BUT total ice mass is also vital. The point is obvious: the thicker the ice is, the less likely it is to melt in the summer.

    Not well known is that much of the melt observed this summer came from the bottom and sides of the ice as a direct result of warmer water. In fact, a certain amount of the melt occurred while air temperatures were below freezing **because** the water was so warm.

    I assume the fascination with ice extent obviously has to do with the dramatic images. It’s hard to make ice thickness interesting, while ice extent makes an easy, and striking, visual for ice melt. The changes are so obvious. But leaving the public uninformed on all aspects of the issue leaves them vulnerable to anti-Anthropological Climate Change nonsense.

    It is easy to twist the reality when important elements are ignored. Anthropologically-forced Climate Change denialists point to the slight rebound from 2007 to 2008 and scream that it can’t be due to GHGs because the ice is now coming back! Set aside the unscientific absurdity for a moment and let the numbers do the talking: while extent in 2008 was slightly higher than 2007 (just as 2006 was higher than 2005), it appears the total ice mass was the lowest recorded yet.


  35. 135
    pete best says:

    OFF TOPIC but necessary post.

    Good psot from Stefan showing that Bjorn Lomborg is not telling us any scientific truths about AGW (well we knew that already).

  36. 136
    truth says:

    How desperate so many of you on the consensus side are —desperate to firmly slot anyone who disagrees with you into the ‘religious right’, intelligent design, Far Right extremist , Exxon mole, or whatever pigeonhole—anywhere where they can then be sneered at and vilified..
    I’m not in any of those categories —I’m speaking only for me and my family—- but no doubt some other label would be found
    Even people who just ask that all the ramifications of precipitate actions [previously-failed Emissions Trading Schemes —geo-engineering musings etc] be rationally discussed —- are fair game—such a crime to discuss these important issues.
    I’m accused of paranoia for describing the existing , [ on the record there for anyone to see ]situation that this world of post-normal science and policy has produced in my country, Australia.
    It’s become popular on this blog to use the word ‘meme’ to try to discredit anyone who has a dissenting view—as you use it here to dismiss me .
    The word more closely describes what’s happening on the consensus side, not the dissenters—as does the paranoia label.
    This blog is full of AGW consensus conspiracy theorists who see Exxon, Chaney or Rush Limbaugh lurking behind every dissenting view.
    But they need to look to the situation that post-normal science , [as advocated by Mike Hulme] , has created, where many people wonder how we’ll ever know whether truth has , as Hulme wished for, been traded for influence.
    More than 90% of Australians said , when polled, that they were in favour of a unilateral Emissions Trading Scheme—but when asked if they actually knew what an ETS was, the same numbers said they hadn’t a clue—they just believed in it—believing in it having become more important than whether or not it’s true.
    That ‘consensus’-induced mindset, which is replicated around the world [interviews with ‘believers’ attest to that in the US and Europe] fits better with the labels ‘meme’ and paranoia.

  37. 137
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jeff #130, I think that part of the problem you may be having is that you don’t understand how climate models work. Yes, there are many complicated inputs, feedbacks, etc., but at the root it is very simple. Start with a system in thermal equilibrium and in which energy may only escape via radiation. Make a change that decreases decreases the energy escaping (e.g. raising ghg levels). Voila. The system has to heat up. I would suggest studying the physics a bit before delving into the guts of the models. After all, the models are merely a tool for elucidating the physics, and the physics is quite clear.

  38. 138
    jhm says:

    kevin (97)

    I’ve concluded that much of the right’s vehement accusations of “left bias” in scientists (and experts of any discipline) can only be explained by the knowledge that they themselves have of their own misconstruing evidence. Since they themselves try to cobble together the most plausible (at least to their target audience) arguments to support a predetermined position, ignoring contradictory evidence, they assume that those who ‘oppose’ them are doing the same.

    Now this seems so unlikely it took me a while to think I could believe it. It requires one to imagine people who do not believe in people whose motive is finding the truth, but only in finding arguments for their political biases. Nevertheless, I’ve been unable to come up with a better explanation for some of the anti climate change, or anti natural selection, or any other of the various anti-isms. I call them anti-isms (I’m not sure if this has been used before, so I don’t intend to import any previous connotation), but this is to be separate from whether the bias if for or against a thing—or even whether the mainstream idea it is ‘against’ is true or false—but that the arguments an anti-ism makes are not in the pursuit of truth, but of sheer opposition. Like the Monty Python skit.

    [Response: I too have come to pretty much the same conclusion. To these people it is inconceivable that everything they do is not with some specific political objective – therefore no-one else’s actions can be for any other motive. It’s a curious phenomena. – gavin]

  39. 139
    Nick Gotts says:

    Krugman ends his article:
    “So that’s how we got into this mess. And we’re still looking for the way out.”

    Your claim that he is recommending increased consumption powered by coal simply has no warrant whatever. As GaryB says, he’s not, in that article, making any suggestions as to a way out, just noting that one is still being sought.

    A suggestion that I have a hunch he might agree with, however, is that a good chunk of those excess savings should be invested in renewable energy infrastructure and lower-emission transport systems – or even, if you must, nuclear power. both for the rich countries such as the USA and western Europe; and for those that have been building coal-fired power plants as fast as possible recenrtly, such as China and India. A “glut of savings” can be dealt with by investing more, rather than consuming more.

    Hmm. Captcha says “STUMP $100-million”. I think it’s rather outdated though – that should surely be $100-billion” if not “$100-trillion”!

  40. 140
    Mark says:

    Re 136’s paranoic contention

    “How desperate so many of you on the consensus side are —desperate to firmly slot anyone who disagrees with you into the ‘religious right’, intelligent design, Far Right extremist , Exxon mole, or whatever pigeonhole—anywhere where they can then be sneered at and vilified..”

    Well, yes, if you have enough pigeon-holes, you can classify EVERYONE in at least one of them.

    This does not mean you are being pigeon-holed for nefarious purposes. It’s a consequence of using pigeon-holing to classify broad sections of people.

    Meanwhile, this:

    “This blog is full of AGW consensus conspiracy theorists who see Exxon, Chaney or Rush Limbaugh lurking behind every dissenting view.”

    is pigeonholing all the consensus people of being conspiracy theorists and all seeing Exxon et al lurking behind… and so on.

    Seems to be a common problem with you.

  41. 141

    #136, Mr T, There is no doubt about AGW, just some doubt about how fast and fierce its happening. I don’t think Mr Will for instance
    is working for EXXON or the CATO institute, I believe he is catering to his crowd, willing to be re-assured by ignorance. There are a lot of people not attached to any vested interest, who shut down their minds, in favor of someone else thinking for them, who rather discuss other things than the entire planetary climate systems changing. These people are set in their ways, many have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle at the expense of their environment. They do not care, and love to hear anyone saying that AGW is a mass scientific delusion propped up by politics, a forum, where lying is acceptable.

    I can assure you, that those who believe in these like minded
    in ignorance spokespersons are in the same boat as those who chose to think for themselves. AGW is a done deal, whether you believe in it or not. The only thing we can do, is try to mitigate its
    impact. Happily, I am amazed by the younger generation taking charge
    on this subject, while the older one wallows in incertitude, worried about the faltering economy still driven by pollution.

    It is time to invest in energy renewables big time, a massive make work project, leaving to our younger generations the gift of a cleaner world driven by a greener economy. Its all about this; shall we stay the same old same old? Stuck in a rut since 1909? Or advance to counter the negative impacts unleashed by our growth with a positive approach?

    This is why Mr Will and all, are said to be conservative (pro pollution), they see AGW as a political battle not a scientific one. I don’t see see most deniers as moles, just simply as being wrong with respect to the science freely offered to them, all they have to do is reason it through.

  42. 142
    Hank Roberts says:

    ‘truth’ writes
    > I’m speaking only for me and my family
    But you’re using the catch-phrases, jargon, and common misspellings found on the PR sites you claim people unfairly think you read.

    Where are you getting this stuff? Why do you consider your sources trustworthy?

    Tell us something you read under Start Here (top of page) and the History (first link under Science in the right hand sidebar) — tell us something you understand from reading the science.

    While you’re simply writing stuff — even if it’s all purely your own work, and you never ever read any of it at the PR blogs where they use the language you’re using, even if that’s _all_coincidental_ — you still aren’t talking about the science.

    Try the science. It can’t hurt you. It may help.

  43. 143
    William says:

    #111 Gavin
    Thanks for your response but that’s not my accusation. I used those two examples to illustrate the extremes of commentary on this topic here and elsewhere. My comments are respectful to others and proceed from an honest desire to learn and have a discussion about the science. Thanks again for your reply and I do and will continue to practice what I preach!

  44. 144
    pete best says:

    Re #134 Indeed the idea of ice extent and thickness says it all for it is about energy. Why would the oceans suddenly start to absorb energy (heat and light/UV I am presuming) unless something was causing it to happen. Something that was not there before (the graphs that Gavin posted as a reply to one of the replies in this thread)? The amount of energy required to have caused the amount of summer sea ice loss must be down to GHG theory and of course Albedo changes due to the thinning of the ice and the pools of water that form on thinner newly formed ice.

    This energy requirement must be very large and cannot have just materialised out of thin air. For those that deny AGW/GHG theory must be able to demonstrate where the heat energy has come from and I doubt sincerely that undersea volcanoes or increased sun output can explain it as the science from other disciplines (geology and astronomy) would have demonstrated otherwise but they do not so they ?

    So the whole idea of the denialside is purely economic and political and has no science attached to it ?

  45. 145
    SecularAnimist says:

    jhm wrote: “I’ve concluded that much of the right’s vehement accusations of ‘left bias’ in scientists (and experts of any discipline) can only be explained by the knowledge that they themselves have of their own misconstruing evidence. Since they themselves try to cobble together the most plausible (at least to their target audience) arguments to support a predetermined position, ignoring contradictory evidence, they assume that those who ‘oppose’ them are doing the same.”

    I think it is much simpler than that. It is important to understand the top-down structure of the so-called “conservative” movement in the USA. It is starkly divided between the propagandists on the one hand (e.g. Rush Limbaugh) and the grassroots “conservatives” (e.g. Rush Limbaugh’s self-proclaimed “ditto-heads”) on the other, whom the propagandists are paid to systematically deceive and mislead.

    The fact that a completely non-ideological issue like the scientific reality of anthropogenic global warming has become a central issue for the so-called “conservatives” demonstrates that the movement is actually not ideological at all — it is at most pseudo-ideological. It was created, funded and developed over decades by wealthy corporate interests for the purpose of deceiving gullible people into voting for politicians who will advance the agenda of those corporate interests. It has no real ideology and no real principles, other than the rapacious greed of those who created it and use it to deceive and manipulate ill-informed and gullible people.

    The fossil fuel corporations are certainly among the wealthiest and most powerful of the corporate interests behind the so-called “conservative” movement, and in this instance they have mobilized their bought-and-paid-for networks of “conservative” propagandists to preach to their “ditto-head” followers that “global warming” is a “liberal” hoax.

    The propagandists who read that script on the radio or type it up in their newspaper columns don’t actually believe this, but it’s not their job to believe or disbelieve. It’s their job to disseminate the propaganda messages that are given to them by their owners. They say this stuff because it has been focus-group-tested and proved effective on their audience, who have for decades been hammered with propaganda that they are the poor pitiful victims of “powerful liberal elites”. The “global warming = liberal hoax” script builds on that conditioning.

    On the other hand, the targets of this propaganda — the rank-and-file, grassroots, so-called “conservative” ditto-heads — do believe it, but not as a result of any thinking process such as you describe. They “believe” it simply because they have been systematically conditioned and programmed to believe whatever Rush Limbaugh or George Will tells them.

    When you scratch the surface of any denialist who posts comments here, that’s what you will find: ultimately, the reason they don’t “believe” in global warming, the reason they believe it is a vast conspiracy by “leftist” scientists, is simply because that’s what they have been told to believe, and the core value of the so-called “conservative” movement is to slavishly believe (and repeat) whatever the corporate-funded “conservative” propagandists tell them to believe.

  46. 146
    William says:

    Ray #137
    Your response sounds simple However, I’ve just learned that GCM’s are not capable of modeling actual average global temperatures. By actual temperature I don’t mean the “anomalies”, I’m referring to the full average surface temp. Based on the GISS database, global temps over the last 100 years or so were about 14-14.5C. All but twow GCM’s forecast temperature over the last 100 years to be between 12-14.5C. see link at:
    If GCM’s cannot accurately describe actual current temperatures how can they accurately describe future climate?

    [Response: The GISTEMP data does not compute the average annual global mean temperature. In fact, it’s not clear that is even possible to do so. They use 14 deg C as a convention, but as explained ably here, the actual value is highly uncertain. It is therefore not widely used as a tuning target, and so models end up with a range. – gavin]

  47. 147
    Leonard Evens says:

    Jeff writes:
    “P.S. I’m an informed skeptic on AGW. I’m very pro-environemtn and have been for decades. I think it is clear that humans are having a huge impact on the planet. Probably all the CO2 is a bad thing. But for anyone to think we understand how this is going to play out strikes me as big time hubris.”

    First, that is why all studies and projections include error estimates. The best we can do is to base action on what seems, in balance, likely on the basis of what we know.

    Second, if you assume that modern climate studies are so uncertain that nothing can be concluded from them, the last thing you should be in favor of is making large changes to the radiative nature of the atmosphere. That is what we are doing, and unless we change something, the imbalance will grow at an accelerating pace. Of course we may be lucky and doubling atmospheric CO_2 concentration may have only minor consequences. But what reason do we have to believe such is the case. It is not enough to be skeptical about the results of action. You need to be even more skeptical about the results of inaction.

  48. 148
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: #52 and #41

    There is some degeneracy. Over here Sir Patrick Moore is an enthusiastic populariser of astronomy with maverick right wing views. In North America Patrick Moore is a lobbyist who has campaigned in favour of CFC’s and CO2. Which one?

  49. 149
    Kathy says:

    I often come to these posts looking for responses to show my climate change doubting friends and relatives. I’d love to show them the responses but most of the articles can’t help themselves from using labels like “left” = good, “conservative” = bad, or including generally snarky responses. Those types of labels shut down the arguement before it even begins. I think we’d all have a lot more credibility as scientists if we stuck to the facts and left the labelling and value judgements aside. Pointing out Will’s scientific errors makes sense. The rest is noise.

  50. 150
    Hank Roberts says:

    William — Note the spin, you got spun.

    You link to wossname’s site where she refers to a single specific number (not useful, not used, not news, not a problem for the models). You interpret (or she spins it) as though a revalation, news, proof of a problem, a new copypast point you can use

    Then you exaggerate _that_.

    You come here and write, as though it were a general fact, your newly acquired belief that models can’t calculate “current temperatures” — plural, general.

    You got spun. Watch for it.