Judy Fahys has another article in the Salt Lake Tribune, in which she asked Utah Scientists (especially those who are Republicans or used to be) why only 6% of scientists now identify with the GOP. I hope my fellow Republicans keep asking themselves that question.
As the new Chairman of the House Environment Subcommittee, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) isn’t about resting on his laurels, refusing to spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars. No, he is busy spending your money to protect corporations from having to shoulder the cost of adverse health effects of air pollution. If corporations benevolently distribute jobs to the poor, boosting the economy, is it their fault everyone else has to put up with the asthma and various other diseases that go with it?
Ok, wait… air pollution isn’t very popular, nowadays, so how can House Republicans let the polluters off the hook, while acting like they’re being completely reasonable? I KNOW. They can attack scientists for being part of the liberal conspiracy to take away our GOD-GIVEN FREEDOMS!
Judy Fahys reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that Rep. Stewart has teamed up with fellow genius Rep. LaMar Smith (R-Texas) to demand that the EPA release the data used in a couple large studies of the health effects of air pollution. Now, sure–lots of other studies (using different data) have confirmed the results of those two studies, and an independent industry- and government-funded institute already spent 3 years confirming the results of the studies–but the fact is that the studies in question have slavishly followed ultra-liberal “laws” that forbid them from releasing health data of patients in any form that would allow someone to connect the data to the person (e.g., by looking up obituaries). THEY MUST BE HIDING SOMETHING!!! I mean, what other purpose could ultra-liberal privacy laws have, than to provide cover for a giant conspiracy?
One of the researchers being attacked is BYU economist C. Arden Pope. Judy interviewed me, too–presumably because I’m a Republican scientist, and quoted me strongly implying that Stewart is a nut.
For Barry Bickmore, a BYU geochemist, the attacks on air-pollution science are the latest examples of “nutty beliefs” about scientific issues from the GOP.
Bickmore, who takes on “climate deniers” in his Climate Asylum blog, said this controversy is the latest example of the manufacturing of uncertainty to accomplish political aims, just as politicians have done in the past to discredit the science surrounding secondhand smoke and the addictiveness of nicotine.
“This is just par for the course,” he said. “This is the same thing going on — some of the same people, too.”
I just watched a TED video of Margaret Heffernan talking about “The Dangers of Willful Blindness”. (She’s also written a book called Willful Blindness, apparently. See her official website.) Heffernan talks about why some people turn a blind eye to glaring problems, while others choose to become “whistleblowers”.
Her introductory example was the case of Libby, Montana, where one woman, Gayla Benefield, started asking questions when both her parents died young, and she noticed an abnormal number of older men on oxygen tanks in the town. She wondered whether the problem could have anything to do with the vermiculite mine that was the main economic engine of the town, and came to find out that the vermiculite mined there actually contains some asbestos. [Note: Heffernan says that vermiculite is a highly toxic form of asbestos, but that's not true. Vermiculite is pretty harmless--it's just that this particular deposit also contained the minerals tremolite and actinolite, which are asbestos minerals. Sorry, I'm a mineralogy teacher.] At first, Benefield mostly just annoyed her neighbors, who didn’t want to look at the issue seriously, but that ticked her off and she kept at it. Some of the neighbors even printed bumper stickers that said, “Yes, I’m from Libby, Montana. No, I don’t have asbestosis.” When the government finally stepped in and started screening the residents of the town, they found out that there was an asbestosis problem, and as a result the mortality rate in the town was 80 TIMES HIGHER THAN ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY. Not 80% higher. 80 TIMES higher. Not 80 times higher than average. 80 times higher than ANYWHERE ELSE in the country.
Now, I don’t have to tell my readers how I think this story relates to being a Republican Earth scientist who takes climate change seriously. But watch the video and pay attention to how Heffernan describes the excuses people make for remaining willfully blind. See if you don’t find eerie similarities with the excuses you hear coming from the “Do-Nothing-About-Climate” crowd.
Climate change wasn’t the first issue about which I had encountered willful blindness, though. Back in 2000-2001, I worked on a project having to do with leaked nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Eastern Washington. This is where most of the plutonium for US nuclear weapons was produced since the 40′s, and production stopped in the late 80′s after a safety inspector blew the whistle on some of the UNBELIEVABLY unsafe things that were being done. Since it was part of the weapons complex, all this stuff never came out before then because it was all hush-hush, national defense kind of stuff. Maybe a couple million gallons of high-level nuclear waste have been released into the subsurface, a few miles by groundwater flow away from the Columbia River. When I started the project, I decided to read up on the history of the site, and let me tell you, it cured quite a bit of my aversion to environmental regulation. If you want to read a good historical account, see Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America’s Nuclear Arsenal, by Michael D’Antonio.
This isn’t a uniquely Republican, or American problem. It’s just the way people are. But while I can use this fact of life to make myself feel a little more kindly toward people who brush off serious concerns about things like climate change, it also makes me want to give them a good shake and a couple backhanded slaps. If facing the truth is going to make people fly into a panic, well maybe they just need to buck up.
Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science…. Science works in evidence through best explanations, most credible theories, and so in a sense we’re at a disadvantage because we have to play by the rules, the other side doesn’t… They’re not offering up credible alternatives or explanations. In most cases they’re trying to pick holes. Not real holes, just things that the public will think are holes, in the science. We are at a disadvantage.
Trzupek was so incensed because it was obvious to him that,
Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”
That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.
My response (which was similar to those of Tamino and Phil Plait) was to point out that Professor Mann was correct, and Trzupek appeared to be hopelessly confused. ”Credible theories” (which are just plausible explanations for some set of data) are the best science has to offer, and even if those theories happen to coincide with “absolute truths,” human beings would have no way of absolutely “proving” that. This is all standard philosophy of science fare, which Trzupek could have found discussed in any introductory textbook on the subject. It’s also an important distinction in a practical sense, because the refusal to accept any of our explanations as the final truth is one thing that makes modern science a much more powerful system of thought than the various natural philosophies that preceded it. Moreover, it’s important to understand that, since scientific theories are all tentative to one degree or another, they are all susceptible to nitpicking. All of them have a few grey areas where the predictions don’t exactly match the data, and many times we don’t know whether the problem is with the theory, the data, or both. And even if we know the theory isn’t quite right, it still may be very good for predicting some things, so we hang onto it until someone comes up with a “better” theory–one that explains more data, or at least explains the same data in a more simple and elegant manner.
All of this is quite inconvenient for the intellectually lazy, because it requires continual sifting and re-sifting of evidence. There usually aren’t any “silver bullets”–single tests that can make or break a theory–and so there is always at least a little subjectivity involved in theory choice. This makes it very difficult or impossible to achieve 100% consensus among scientists about anything.
It’s interesting to read the discussion in the comments section of Trzupek’s post, as well as the repost on Watt’s Up With That? Some of the commenters were hard-core climate change contrarians–real Mann-haters–but even some of them had to point out that, in this case, Mann was right.
Now Trzupek has written a follow-up post to reassure his readers that he’s not as uninformed as his initial post makes him appear.
Ah, me. It seems that I wrote a post herebouts that was intended to hold AGW-panickers like Michael Mann to something of a standard, that standard being that they should have an obligation to show that their theories are pretty darn reliable and consistent with real world evidence.
In my day job, dealing with air quality science and regulations, that’s the kind of standard I am held to by the EPA, and it seems reasonable to expect that people who expect us to change our entire way of life in deference to a theory should be held to the same kind of standard. In attempting to make that point, I used the word that Mann had used – “proof” – and that it is of course that is the word that Mann’s supporters seized upon to demonstrate what an utter pratt I am….
Anyway, the point of my particular screed was not to reaffirm the difference between Chesterson’s (rather obvious) point that two plus two equals four because there can be no other result, and the scientific need for proof in our discipline’s eternal search for truth. It was to re-emphasize the fact that offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality is even more important in the scientific sphere. Such evidence is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced.
Did you get that? When Trzupek accused Professor Mann of “redefin[ing] science” by saying that science doesn’t deal in “proof,” but instead only has recourse to “credible theories”… when Trzupek said that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are but steppingstones to those absolute truths… he was really just saying that scientific theories should be supported by evidence. Well, so much for “absolute truths and proofs.” But then, how was Mike Mann “redefining” anything? How can a theory be “credible” if it isn’t backed by evidence, and how can it be a “best explanation” if it doesn’t explain real data?
Could it be that, just as his critics charged, Trzupek’s criticism of Mike Mann was completely unfounded… just another in a string of bizarre attempts by unhinged wackos to target a scientist whose work, although not without faults, has repeatedly withstood the most intense scrutiny?
Trzupek doesn’t want to be seen that way, and it was especially distressing to him that his article was criticized on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. You see, Trzupek is a fan of Phil’s, and much of his follow-up post is a friendly invitation for Phil to reconsider his views about climate change “skeptics” [sic].
If you’re buying into Mann’s argument that everyone on the “other side” is a tool of the energy lobby, there’s no point in having a conversation — for that’s not really an argument, but is rather an excuse to not have an argument. I’ve interacted with a lot of people on the skeptical side of the aisle and they are – without exception – good, decent, sincere and well-meaning folks. That goes in particular for the folks at Heartland. People like Joe and Diane Bast, James Taylor, Jay Lehr, and Jim Lakely are the sorts of people you’d like to have as your neighbors. That’s the reason I choose to help them out whenever I can and why I have never – and would never – accept a dime from them.
Well, I can’t speak for Phil Plait, but since Rich Trzupek’s plea seems sincere, I figure I’ll try to explain to him why he has such a hard time getting those on the other side of the fence to take him seriously.
I noted that in your latest Heartland blog post you seem bothered that Phil Plait, a scientist whose work you greatly admire, was so dismissive of your article about how Michael Mann was trying to “redefine” science. You seem very sincere in your efforts to convince Phil and others that you and your friends associated with, or employed by, the Heartland Institute are nice, sincere people with genuine questions about the validity of mainstream climate science. And while you joke about what a thick skin you have because you “routinely get called everything from a liar to a baby-killer,” I can tell that it bothers you that you are criticized so vigorously “when [you] go after the Sierra Club or NRDC or other environmental organizations for blowing the tiniest risk out of all reasonable proportions.”
I think I understand your point of view, to some extent. I’m a geochemistry professor, but I’m also a lifelong pro-business Republican who has never picketed or marched to support or protest any cause of any kind, environmental or otherwise. I’m just not the type. I’ve witnessed excesses by some environmentalists, too, and while I agree that these people are usually well intentioned, I just don’t think they have always thought through the consequences of the policies they advocate.
I’m also a former climate change “skeptic”–meaning that I didn’t buy that humans were going to cause much damage by burning fossil fuels. Now that I have taken a harder look at the issue, I have changed my mind. Yes, there are extremists on this side of the fence–there always are–but the people running the show over here are, in my opinion, reasonable people and conscientious scientists who have no interest in trashing the world economy or taking extreme measures to reduce the human population. The parts I am able to check of the science they use to back up their claims seem generally good and reasonable, and most of these people seem willing to bend when it comes to the kinds of solutions they will support.
“Good and reasonable” science isn’t necessarily right, however, so I probably would still be more of a fence sitter if I hadn’t also been checking into the claims of some of the most prominent contrarian voices. I really wanted to believe them, but what I have found so far is that the most prominent contrarians–the ones hailed as climate Galileos and the like–are either complete crackpots or are so blinded by ideology that they don’t recognize that their science on the subject is just awful. Oh, it’s not that I never see anything coming from that side of the fence that’s worth hearing, but those points are really few and far between. For the most part, what I’ve seen over there has seemed kind of creepy.
If you really want people like Phil Plait–scientists who are on the other side of the fence on the climate change issue and have done some checking for themselves–to take you seriously, I have to say that you have an uphill climb ahead of you. Allow me to point out a few aspects of your last two Heartland posts, for instance, where I think you were shooting yourself in the foot.
1. Your first argument was flatly wrong, and your second made no sense. Reasonable people try to be more self-critical than that.
All your talk about how Michael Mann was “redefine[ing] science” because he said that science deals in credible theories and best explanations, not “proof,” was just wrong. Pick up any introductory philosophy of science textbook, and you’ll be treated to historical case studies and logical analyses to demonstrate that Mann had his description of the nature of science exactly right. You’ll also find that your statement that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are “how you [get] to those truths,” is wrong. Scientific theories don’t graduate into “absolute truths.” They remain theories, no matter how well supported they are.
But then in your follow-up post you seemed to switch gears, claiming that all you meant was that science requires “offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality.” And what, exactly, did Professor Mann ever say that would make you think he believes otherwise? Considering how pointed your language was about “absolute truth” and “redefining science,” it seems clear that you are backing off your original claim, but refusing to apologize to Professor Mann for an obviously misguided criticism.
2. Your initial criticism and subsequent failure to apologize make it seem like you are part of the rabid lynch mob who have been trying to ruin Mike Mann’s reputation over the past several years. These people creep us out.
The fact that you failed to apologize to Mike Mann for your obvious blunder, but instead decided to bluster about how thick-skinned you are, daring your audience to compare you to Jerry Sandusky, makes me wonder whether you are one of those obsessed weirdos who are constantly trying to ruin Prof. Mann.
Climate change contrarians generally seem to have problems with Mike Mann’s “hockey stick” reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures over the past few hundred to couple thousand years. I understand that it’s a visually stunning illustration of the fact that the Earth’s surface temperature has lately been doing something different than it was in the relatively recent past, but it’s not as if it’s the lynchpin of all modern climate science. I would think it was, considering the rabidness of the response from the contrarians.
The anti-hockey-stick mob includes two camps. Those in the first camp are the sort who can read some innocuous reference to “Mike’s Nature trick” in an e-mail and become irreversibly convinced that there is some giant conspiracy going on. The others are the ones who, even though they don’t have a clue what a “principal component” is, are convinced that nitpicking, poorly done statistical analyses (such as those by McIntyre and McKitrick) prove that Mann purposefully did something funny with his data… even though over a dozen subsequent paleo-proxy reconstructions, using different proxy mixes and different statistical techniques, by different groups, have given very close to the same answer Mann et al. got.
How many panels need to clear Mann of wrongdoing, and how many studies need to show that, whatever the flaws in his analysis, his answer was pretty close, before these people stop trying to get various rabidly anti-government attorneys general and congressmen to launch investigations to harass Mann? To those of us over on the other side of the fence, this behavior is really creepy–something you’d see in a horror movie about some murderous cult.
3. You demonstrate almost a complete lack of understanding about how scientists use models, and what surface temperatures have to do with climate physics.
After we strip away the ridiculous charge that Professor Mann was “redefin[ing] science,” what we’re left with is your contention that the standard climate models are obviously wrong because the warming trend over the last 15 years isn’t statistically significant.
For me (as someone with some experience doing numerical modeling of Earth processes,) it’s a bit odd to see people huddled around the global temperature reports every month to see for how many years they can claim the warming trend isn’t statistically significant. While the models don’t predict that such a long period with statistically insignificant warming will happen very often, they do predict that they will happen, once in a while. But suppose the flatter (not totally flat) trend goes on for a few more years? What will that prove? It seems to me that it will prove that the models aren’t that great at predicting ENSO fluctuations (which we already knew), because the most obvious physical reason for the recent trend is that lately the ENSO cycle has leaned more toward the La Niña end. In other words, more heat than average has been shoved down into the deeper ocean due to fluctuations in ocean currents. Measurements of ocean heat content at different depths bear this out, and show that the Earth as a whole (not just the narrow band right at the surface) has been heating up just like it has been for decades. When the cycle flips and we start getting more El Niños, the surface temperature will go up faster.
Students in pretty much every numerical modeling course are introduced to this quotation by the statistician, George Box. ”Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” Even if the physics represented by the models were absolutely perfect, plugging those into a 3D grid where the boxes are kilometers across would lead inevitably to errors, especially in the short term. This is especially true for a chaotic system like the weather. So the idea that we should conclude they are useless just because they don’t USUALLY predict warming slowdowns quite so long seems patently absurd to me.
If you want scientists to take you seriously, make some kind of effort to learn how they use models, and what deviations from model projections might mean. Take the time to learn the difference between short-term chaos and long-term predictability. And take the time to learn a little climate physics–which will teach you that the short-term surface temperature isn’t necessarily a good indication of how much total heat the Earth is absorbing.
4. You are writing for the Heartland Institute. Like it or not, their reputation adheres to you, especially when you specifically put forward certain Heartland operatives and associated scientists as wonderful folks just out to find the truth. We have experience with these people.
Take your Heartland pal James Taylor, for instance. I don’t know the guy personally, but it’s obvious from his writing that he’s a libertarian ideologue who is WAY too easily convinced that any study tending to confirm his bias against the utility of government regulation is the last nail in the coffin of mainstream science. For instance, he proclaimed, regarding a recent study by Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell, that “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism.” Well, the thing is that Taylor is a lawyer, and wouldn’t have a clue about the significance of any satellite data if it smacked him upside the head. It turned out that the situation wasn’t quite as dire as Spencer and Braswell claimed. They were making a statistical argument without calculating any uncertainties, for one thing, and they just happened to leave out most of the data they said they had analyzed, some of which completely undercut their main argument. In the end, all that could be said of their analysis was that it showed that the timing of certain short-term fluctuations in weather is better predicted by some GCMs than others. Which was already well known.
Now take another of your Heartland pals, Jay Lehr, Ph.D. Jay isn’t a mere lawyer like James Taylor–he’s a groundwater hydrologist with a Ph.D. [UPDATE: Yeah, Jay Lehr is a really great guy. He was successfully prosecuted for defrauding the EPA.] A few years ago, he gave a glowing review to Roy Spencer’s book, The Great Global Warming Blunder. For Lehr, Roy Spencer is “one of the nation’s leading climate scientists”.
Spencer documents that the science clearly shows man does not in fact control the climate in any significant way and the natural forces that continually alter the earth’s climate are relatively easy to discern and understand….
I can assure you that anyone with honesty and an IQ exceeding plant life will, after reading Spencer’s book, at last understand the workings and proper role of mathematical climate models.
Being a “skeptic” who rejects the majority view of climate specialists because he’s a tough-minded iconoclast–a true scientist–he came to these conclusions after he checked into Spencer’s models for himself, right?
Wrong. I know this because I did an extensive review of Spencer’s book myself. One of Spencer’s main claims was that a natural mode of climate oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), has lately been the main driver of global climate change, and that climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low. He supported this conclusion by creating a simple climate model that, when forced by the PDO index, still explained most of the 20th century warming. I reproduced Spencer’s model, showing that there were so many free parameters that an infinite number of solutions existed. The statistical technique he used to obtain “best-fit” parameters could have given him any climate sensitivity he wanted. In addition, to get his model to resemble the data at all, he had to start his model wildly out of equilibrium in the year 1900. Physicist Arthur Smith followed up my review by doing a mathematical proof, showing that Spencer’s model HAS TO have an infinite number of solutions. He also showed that if the model had been started 1000 years ago, Spencer would have had to have the starting temperature be a few trillion degrees out of equilibrium to properly reproduce the 20th century trend. In other words, Spencer’s modeling effort was pure junk. It didn’t even deserve the epithet “junk science.”
You might object that you’d believe Roy Spencer and Jim Lehr over me any day, but not so fast. If you got a degree in chemistry, you should have the tools to learn how to evaluate Spencer’s model. I can teach you how to code it in MATLAB (and maybe even Excel), explain all the relevant statistics, and so on. We could make a “Roy Spencer’s PDO Model Study Group,” and include others you trust. Roy Spencer refuses to answer my criticisms, so maybe a smart guy like you could do him a favor and put them to rest.
Finally, Heartland always invites Christopher Monckton to speak at their climate conference. Oh, please.
In any case, this is what other scientists see when they look at Heartland–a few ideologues of varying intelligence who aren’t nearly as “skeptical” as they want people to believe.
5. No really, we’re talking about the Heartland Institute, which has shilled for the tobacco industry, for Pete’s sake.
For me, it’s not the climate change disinformation campaign that’s the worst thing about Heartland–it’s the tobacco. Back in the 1990′s, Heartland was paid by Philip Morris to distribute materials questioning the health risks of second-hand smoke. [UPDATE: Heartland is actually still partly funded by tobacco companies like Philip Morris and Reynolds. H/T John Mashey.] Here we have a case where, after decades of obfuscation, the tobacco industry now generally admits that smoking is harmful to health, but now they are trying to maintain that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful. Smokers can’t sue the tobacco companies because cigarette packages have health warnings stamped on them, and the tobacco companies want to protect themselves from people who are involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke by maintaining that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful. A committee of the UK House of Commons, after conducting an inquiry in 2000 about the tobacco industry’s behavior in such matters, concluded,
In analysing the past and present record of the tobacco industry’s response to the health risks of smoking we have observed a pattern. It seems to us that the companies have sought to undermine the scientific consensus until such time as that position appears ridiculous. So the companies now generally accept that smoking is dangerous (but put forward distracting arguments to suggest that epidemiology is not an exact science, so that the figures for those killed by tobacco may be exaggerated); are equivocal about nicotine’s addictiveness; and are still attempting to undermine the argument that passive smoking is dangerous. The current exceptions to this – based on the evidence they gave us – are firstly Philip Morris who claim no longer to comment on these issues except to protect themselves in law and secondly Imperial who claim not to know whether smoking is dangerous or nicotine addictive.
The Philip Morris company (Heartland’s former sugar-daddy) is wise to keep their pie-holes shut about what they know about the health effects of second-hand smoke. A 2005 article in The Lancet summarizes their quandary as follows.
The tobacco industry maintained, for many years, that it was unaware of research about the toxic effects of smoking. By the 1970s, however, the industry decided that it needed this information but they were unwilling to seek it in a way that was open to public scrutiny. By means of material from internal industry documents it can be revealed that one company, Philip Morris, acquired a research facility, INBIFO, in Germany and created a complex mechanism seeking to ensure that the work done in the facility could not be linked to Philip Morris. In particular it involved the appointment of a Swedish professor as a ‘co-ordinator’, who would synthesise reports for onward transmission to the USA. Various arrangements were made to conceal this process, not only from the wider public, but also from many within Philip Morris, although it was known to some senior executives. INBIFO appears to have published only a small amount of its research and what was published appears to differ considerably from what was not. In particular, the unpublished reports provided evidence of the greater toxicity of sidestream than mainstream smoke, a finding of particular relevance given the industry’s continuing denial of the harmful effects of passive smoking. By contrast, much of its published work comprises papers that convey a message that could be considered useful to the industry, in particular casting doubt on methods used to assess the effects of passive smoking.
Fast-forward to 2003, and we find one of your Heartland pals, James Taylor, promoting a study that “concluded that secondhand smoke has little if any negative impact on mortality.” Was this study credible? Taylor quoted two people, Jacob Sullum, a journalist writing for the Washington Times, and Kimberly Bowman of the American Council on Science and Health, saying that this new study was actually consistent with most previous studies.
Really? Because that’s not the vibe I get from the medical research community. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer said the following in a 2004 meta-analysis of all significant published research on second-hand smoke health effects.
These meta-analyses show that there is a statistically significant and consistent association between lung cancer risk in spouses of smokers and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke from the spouse who smokes. The excess risk is of the order of 20% for women and 30% for men and remains after controlling for some potential sources of bias and confounding.
Boy, that seems strange… until one realizes that Jacob Sullum is a journalist who regularly writes for various libertarian-leaning publications about how smokers and drug users are picked on, and the American Council on Science and Health is another industry-funded think-tank that regularly argues against environmental regulations, although at least it usually acknowledges adverse health effects from tobacco (now that nobody would take them seriously if they didn’t). And it turns out that the study in question was funded by the tobacco industry.
That’s why most scientists don’t merely see the Heartland Institute as a collection of deluded ideologues. Think-tanks-for-hire that would even cater to Big Tobacco truly creep us out. We see them as the sort of ghouls who, whether for profit or in service of their extreme libertarian ideologies, can all too easily convince themselves to promote activities that demonstrably hurt, or even kill, many innocent people. They accomplish this by acting as if the scientific community is in their corner, when really they are leaving out most of the evidence and citing mostly industry-funded studies and think-tanks, as well as a few genuine crackpots.
Once in a while, the “concerned citizen” facade falls, and we get to see how these ghouls really think. This happened to the Chairman of the RJR Nabisco corporation at the 1996 annual shareholders meeting. (Here’s the transcript. See pp. 61-63.) One Ms. Donley asked the Chairman, Charles M. Harper, whether he had children or grandchildren, and whether he wanted anyone smoking around those children. The Chairman initially replied that he would try to discourage the children from smoking, but he didn’t want to restrict their right to be smokers. Ms. Donley wasn’t having it.
MS. DONLEY: That’s not my question, sir. Excuse me for interrupting you. I’m not asking you whether you want them to smoke, I’m asking whether you want people to smoke around them.
THE CHAIRMAN: I will not restrict anybody’s right to smoke. If the children don’t like to be in a smoky room, and I wouldn’t like to be, they’ll leave. I don’t know if you’ve got any grandchildren; I do. And if there is smoke around that’s uncomfortable, they’ll leave.
MS. DONLEY: An infant cannot leave a room.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well–okay. At some point they begin to crawl, okay? And then they begin to walk, and so on. Anyway, I guess that’s enough said.
Apparently, the crowd of shareholders was applauding the Chairman, which shocked the next person to speak, one Father Michael Crosby.
MR. CROSBY: Mr. Harper, I was going to say something else, but when people clap at what you just said, that–that children will crawl out of a room and will have to wait until they crawl–
THE CHAIRMAN: That’s a bit of a misstatement, Father.
MR. CROSBY: I mean, that is insensitive. And I think that’s terribly insensitive that the shareholders would clap at a statement like that. I don’t want to do a guilt thing, but it really is a disappointing thing. You might disagree, but children should not have to take in other peoples’ smoke. We don’t need it and we can walk out; a child can’t.
And these are the kind of people that Heartland has shilled for–the sort who care more about share prices than dead babies. If the babies don’t like it, they can learn to crawl and take a hike.
You have a tough row to hoe if you want scientists to take you seriously, my friend. I know you say that having people call you a baby-killer has toughened you up, but if it really does bother you, your first move should be to dump Heartland like a hot brick.
I told you so. For years, I have been arguing that scientists and science educators should stop talking about science as if it were possible to completely “prove” a hypothesis or theory. Instead, we should be MILITANTLY trying to get our students and the public to understand that science is always tentative, involves creativity, and so on. For example, I argued this point in a recent talk at DePauw University, a 2010 blog post, and a couple 2009 papers published in the Journal of Geoscience Education. Here’s a passage from one of the papers.
Scientists and science educators are often frustrated when their students or the general public reject certain scientific theories (e.g., evolution or climate change) without a proper hearing. We then complain that if people only understood the nature of science (NOS,) they wouldn’t be so militant in their resistance. This is true, but much of the fault lies with us. Science educators often either neglect to teach the NOS, or hold to outdated views and pass them on to students. If we hold more sophisticated views of the NOS, we often soft-pedal the creative and tentative aspects of scientific thought, out of fear that students will take this as license to reject science outright. (Bickmore et al., 2009, On teaching the nature of science and the science-religion interface, Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 168-177.)
Now, a recent case in point. On the “Somewhat Reasonable [sic]” blog of the discredited Heartland Institute, James Trzupek reported his astonishment at a comment about the nature of science by climate scientist Michael Mann. Here’s how Trzupek begins.
In a post over at Peter Guest’s blog, Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann is quoted making one of the most remarkable statements that I’ve ever heard coming out of a supposed scientist’s mouth:
“Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”
He goes on to explain that science is all about “credible theories” and “best explanations” and his gosh-darn critics supposedly don’t offer up any of those.
Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”
That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.
Mr. Trzupek’s comments seem to show an astonishing ignorance about the nature of science that could be cured by taking a single course in the History and Philosophy of Science or reading a single textbook on the subject. My recommendation for the beginner would be Samir Okasha’s Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction, but if you don’t want to spend the time to read Okasha’s 160 pages, I wrote a 15 page piece on the subject for introductory science students called “Science As Storytelling“.
The idea that scientific theories (or any other kind of theories) are always “underdetermined” by the data has been around at least since David Hume in the 18th century, but since the last half of the 20th century it has been the standard position among historians and philosophers of science. E.g., even back in 1934 Karl Popper could write (in Logik der Forschung) that scientific theories are “forever tentative,” because they can never be conclusively proven true, but he clung to the idea that at least they can be “falsified,” i.e., conclusively proven false. Subsequent scholars like Imre Lakatos and Thomas Kuhn employed very strong historical and philosophical arguments to show that even Popper’s falsifiability criterion was too strong. Now, a standard textbook in Philosophy of Science can bluntly state,
As a matter of logic, scientific law can neither be completely established by available evidence, nor conclusively falsified by a finite body of evidence. This does not mean that scientists are not justified on the occasions at which they surrender hypotheses because of countervailing evidence, or accept them because of the outcome of an experiment. What it means is that confirmation and disconfirmation are more complex matters than the mere derivation of positive or negative instances of a hypothesis being tested. (Alex Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. London, Routledge, 2000, p. 114.)
But are the philosophers going off on a tangent, here? No, well informed science educators all accept this point, so that the National Academies of Science publication, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science can say that “the statements of science should never be accepted as ‘final truth.’”
I said Mr. Trzupek’s comments “seem” to show an “astonishing” ignorance, but unfortunately his ignorance isn’t so surprising. The fact is that it is well known to historians and philosophers of science that scientists themselves are often quite ignorant about these things, and even if they aren’t, they don’t spend a lot of time trying to help their students come to the same understanding. The result is that it is perfectly possible for someone like Mr. Trzupek to earn an entire BS in Chemistry, and still believe that “science [is]… all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day.” This problem was noted back in 1990 by Virginia Tech philosopher of science Joseph Pitt.
Rarely is a connection made between the different sciences and it certainly is the case that little, if any, effort is made to touch on the history, philosophy or sociology of science. In short, most of our students are exposed to a year of the current (and soon to be obsolete) thinking about biology, or physics or chemistry and we call that science education. That’s a laugh.
The situation is not much better in the colleges. While it is true that there are more courses taught there, it is generally the case that in no science or engineering curriculum are students required to take courses in the history, sociology or philosophy of science, nor are they required to consider the relationships among the various sciences. (Pitt, 1990, The myth of science education, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 10, 7-17.)
Given these considerations, here are my conclusions about the Heartland Institute’s recent pontifications on the nature of science.
1. BRAVO to Mike Mann. What he said about the nature of science is spot-on, and scientists need to keep pounding this point home to students and the public. ”Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”
2. Mr. Trzupek provides us with an excellent example of what happens when we fail to pound the message in. Here we have a guy who managed to graduate with a degree in chemistry, and still has wildly naive ideas about the nature of science. Thinking that “real science” is a matter of proof, all he has to do to convince himself to reject any branch of science he doesn’t like (climate science, evolutionary science, or whatever) is to point out a few grey areas. I invite Mr. Trzupek to update his thinking about the nature of science so that he can join substantive conversations about climate science. (WARNING: It’s a lot more work.)
3. People like Al Gore, while I appreciate what he and others have done to publicize the problem of climate change, need to knock it off with their pronouncements that “the science is settled.” Warts and all, science has a pretty darn good track record, and everyone knows it. Thanks, but scientists don’t need that kind of help to make our case, because it’s too easy to point out some grey areas in ANY branch of science.
[NOTE: Tamino has also posted about Mr. Trzupek's nonsense.]
Back in April I gave an invited talk entitled “Climate Change and the Open Mind” at DePauw University. This was part of a workshop called “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic: The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” put on by the Prindle Institute for Ethics. Click here to see the video of the talk. There are also links there to the other talks given at the symposium.
The question I asked was why things like political ideology are much better predictors of a person’s views about climate change than things like education. I think some of the answer has to do with flaws in how we educate people about 1) what it means to be a critical thinker, and 2) what it means to do science. My primary example to illustrate my points was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and of course I had to bring in Christopher Monckton. That’s just a given.
Make sure to check out my new videos page, which you can access by clicking here or clicking on the “Videos” tab above. This page collects together the recorded talks I’ve given about climate change and other informational videos I’ve made. Yes, I make fun of Christopher Monckton. ;-)
A couple weeks ago, former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) published an op-ed in the Deseret News, in which he went on about how climate science isn’t “settled,” and that we shouldn’t “panic,” but instead do things that “make sense” to combat climate change. They just published my reply.
A number of Republicans like me believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot by acting like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels and tinfoil-hat-wearing loons with respect to climate change. Here’s a very good National Journal article about moves within the Republican party to start addressing climate change.
In my last post, I linked to a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) in which he said,
There is also uncertainty regarding to what degree man is to blame for global warming. However, the claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.
In my op-ed response, I said,
Several lines of evidence, including multiple surveys of climate science experts and the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change, indicate that at most a few percent of the experts disagree with the consensus view that humans are mostly responsible for the climate change over the past half century. Stewart doesn’t challenge this view with any competing study, He just nitpicks a single study and ignores the rest.
Now Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post, has gone into much more detail about why Stewart’s cherrypicking is disingenuous. He ends up awarding Rep. Stewart “4 Pinocchios,” which translates as “Whoppers”.
The editorial board for The Salt Lake Tribune has been mercilessly criticizing Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) for ignoring the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change, even though he has been appointed chairman of the House subcommittee on the Environment. Stewart is unapologetic, and the Tribune published an op-ed by him last week, in which he tried to justify his uninformed opinion. I responded with my own op-ed, which the Tribune published today. Enjoy.
A few years ago, a biologist at my university became enamored with Lord Christopher Monckton’s special brand of climate pseudoscience, and tried to drum up support for some department on campus to host him as a speaker. The response was… ahem… less than enthusiastic. But during the exchange among interested parties, the biologist said this:
This man stands out, unique, because he knows the field, possibly more broadly and deeply than anyone.I wrote to Prof. Richard Lindzen, Atmospheric Sciences, MIT, asking if I was overestimating Lord Monckton’s expertise. He replied immediately “Not at all. Monckton is knowledgeable”.
I almost choked. It was one thing for the biologist to fall for Monckton’s nonsense–he’s very convincing, or at least, he sounds very sure of himself. Rather, I was shocked that Dick Lindzen thought so highly of him. After all, it didn’t take me long to figure out that His Lordship has a tendency to make up data, among other things. But Dick Lindzen? Lindzen is a contrarian, to be sure, but the fact is that he is a very accomplished climate scientist. He’s made significant contributions to the field, and even though the climatologists I know think he has an unhealthy obsession with proving low climate sensitivity, they generally consider his objections to mainstream science to be worth considering, at least. In other words, Lindzen’s serial attempts to prove low climate sensitivity have been wrong, but not mere crack-pottery.
Like I said, that was a few years ago, and I wonder whether Lindzen has been fazed at all by Monckton’s downward spiral–making up fake data, falsely claiming to be a member of Parliament, claiming to have invented a miracle cure for almost all diseases, going about promoting various ultra-right conspiracy theories, including the birther conspiracy, etc. What, exactly, will it take to persuade Monckton fans it’s time to start slowly backing away?
It’s started happening here and there. For instance, last year a spokesman from the UK Independence Party (for which Monckton had been a top official) publicly bad-mouthed His Lordship, calling him “a loose cannon” and a “17th century pamphleteer”. Now Andrew Bolt, an Australian blow-hard newspaper columnist who has, in the past, praised His Lordship’s great genius regarding climate-related matters, has publicly given a “Deep Sigh” about Monckton’s recent endorsement of the fringe “Rise Up Australia Party”, whose platform’s main planks are apparently cracking down on Muslims and gays. Oh, and “religious freedom.” (How could I forget?) Here’s what Bolt said:
Why on earth was Christopher Monckton endorsing the nationalist Rise Up Australia Party? Great chance for warmists to paint climate sceptics as fringe dwellers.
More details and analysis on the Watching the Deniers blog.
Based on this trend, I am going to go out on a limb and add a two new Laws to the Bickmore’s Laws page (see below). We shall see how well these laws hold up to empirical testing over the coming months and years.
Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton: For every person who publicly endorses Lord Monckton’s climate pronouncements for merely irrational reasons, there exists a threshold in Monckton’s behavior which, if crossed, will cause said person to regret their association.
Bickmore’s Second Law of Monckton: Any behavioral threshold posited by Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton will eventually be crossed by Lord Monckton.
[UPDATE: More analysis by Graham Readfearn at DeSmog Blog.]
I’m gobsmacked. A Republican legislator from Heber City, Kraig Powell, has submitted a bill to the Utah State Legislature that… (drumroll)… assumes the possibility of human-caused climate change. The point of the bill (HB77) is to allow state land managers to consider human-caused climate change when developing plans to deal with wildfire mitigation. Yes, they apparently need the Legislature to give them permission.
Read the text of HB77.
Now make sure to contact Rep. Powell and give him your support, especially if you live in his district (Summit or Wasatch counties.) And if you do live in his district, make sure to show up for your next Republican caucus meeting and vote in delegates who aren’t Tea Party and/or Eagle Forum nuts who will be gunning for him.
Physicist Mark Boslough proposes a sort of climate futures trading market that carbon dumpers are required to participate in. If climate doesn’t change much, they make money. If it does, they lose money. Seems like an interesting idea for a market-based alternative to a carbon tax.
In my last few posts, I reported on how The Gibraltar Chronicle had printed several articles about Lord Christopher Monckton’s trip to Gibraltar meant to counter Al Gore’s appearance there. Frankly, the articles sounded like they were simply press releases written by His Lordship himself, but when Monckton’s PR guy started bullying the Chronicle staff because they wouldn’t print an unredacted version of his letter that the editors said was probably libelous, they printed an article about how they wouldn’t be bullied. I wrote to the editor a few times, and they printed part of my challenge to debate Monckton in an online, written format that allows for source checking (“US Geologist Challenges Monckton,” 24 October 2012). (In fairness, I should point out that Gibraltar is home to less than 30,000 people, so the Chronicle isn’t a big operation. We can criticize their coverage as trying too hard to be “balanced,” but it would be very difficult for such a small operation to go big on fact checking.)
I also sent the challenge to Bob Ferguson, Monckton’s handler at the Science and Public Policy Institute. (You have to love their URL, sppinstitute.org. Bob, you’re a genius.) Of course, I haven’t gotten a reply. It’s not impossible, but it seems unlikely. I mean, I truly believe Monckton has fallen off his box, but even he isn’t so cray-cray that he enjoys that foggy, confused feeling one gets when shown video evidence that one really did say what one just claimed he didn’t. (This is what veteran science journalist Peter Hadfield did to His Lordship, after which Monckton was far, far too busy to debate further.)
His Lordship just can’t shut up, however. Apparently, in a speech he gave Monday in Gibraltar, he claimed that a government agency in Gibraltar had twice lost his application for a press pass that would allow him to attend a talk by Al Gore. The No. 6 Press Office countered to the Chronicle that this was flatly untrue.
“Despite being the only individual to apply for accreditation after the deadline, Lord Monckton was given full journalistic access to the THINKING GREEN seminar. The Press Office can categorically confirm that Lord Monckton made just one single application and that his application was cleared without any delay. There were no ‘lost applications’,” said No. 6.
What’s more, apparently Monckton tried to set the agenda for the Opposition party in Gibraltar, which was not appreciated.
Meanwhile GBC reported yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition has denied that the Opposition is considering going to court over the cost of the Thinking Green Conference. The assertion, it said, was made by Climate Change sceptic, Lord Monckton, at a packed public meeting Monday night.
The story gets better, though. Monckton also appears to have threatened to have Al Gore arrested for making false claims on British soil. He seems very sure of himself.
“If you come to any British territory and you talk the rubbish you’ve been talking elsewhere, then you will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Remember how he made the same threats against IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri? Hmmm. I wonder how the investigation is going. I should ring Scotland Yard, but why bother? I’m sure they’re working on it, and His Lordship will emerge triumphant, just like he eventually will in all the other lawsuits and investigations he has threatened to carry out, but hasn’t gotten around to.
Now, I’ve been saying all along that His Lordship is God’s gift to people concerned about climate change. Why? Because he seems to be on a downward mental spiral, in which he keeps saying crazier and crazier things. Eventually, those who have taken him Oh, So Seriously will be looking at their watches and pretending they were never very tight. At that point, I’m sure we’ll just politely look the other way. ;-) I think Gibraltar is a microcosm that we can learn from in this respect, because now the word “Monckton” has taken on added meaning, according to the Chronicle.
The Government has hit out at ‘nit-picking’ Opposition member Jaime Netto, call him the “Lord Monckton of this Government’s Health and Safety policy.”
In their statement they say that it is clear to them that Mr Netto has set himself up as the ‘Lord Monckton’ because during the Tuesday Health and Safety meeting he was seen busily scribbling down notes only during the addresses given by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Minister for Health and Safety, Paul Balban, but that Mr Netto stopped taking notes “as soon as the visiting experts began their talks.”
This according to the Government makes it clear to them that “Mr Netto was there purely to nit-pick the Government’s ministers rather than to offer any genuine contributions to the debate.”
October 22, 2012
Dear Viscount Monckton,
I noticed a number of articles in The Gibraltar Chronicle (links here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) about your most recent attempts to engage Al Gore in a debate about climate change, and I agree that you deserve an answer, although not necessarily from Gore. In response, I would like to renew my challenge to debate you about climate change in an online, written format, in which we have time to check our opponent’s sources. I was never given a satisfactory answer as to why you declined the first time, but I am always willing to give you another chance.
On Jan. 20, 2010, your handler, Science and Public Policy Institute President Bob Ferguson, contacted me and challenged me to debate you in an oral, staged format. I immediately responded by declining the oral format, but instead suggested that we debate in an online, written format that would allow for source checking. Ferguson initially responded, “Your suggestion for a written, online debate is worth consideration.” However, when I asked Ferguson about the possibility of such a debate shortly thereafter, he simply responded, “No.”
Should you accept the challenge, I would be happy to host the debate on my blog, Climate Asylum, or on another site that we could mutually agree upon. I would also try to be flexible about debate rules and length limitations, although I must insist that we be able to link to outside sources.
I will certainly understand if you consider me too unimportant a figure to debate. After all, I’m sure that’s what Al Gore thinks of you. But before you decide, consider how you stated your challenge to Al Gore back in 2009. “I want you to face me in a debate about global warming, and if you don’t dare, I want you to remain silent about that subject forever, from now on.”
Barry R. Bickmore, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Geological Sciences
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah USA
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect any policy or position of my employer.
Yesterday I mentioned an article in The Gibraltar Chronicle, about how Christopher Monckton’s PR man had tried to bully the editors into publishing a libelous letter (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012). The libelous letter was precipitated by two letters to the editor by prominent citizens of Gibraltar, who objected to the Chronicle publishing a number of articles casting Monckton in a favorable light. The letters to the editor are not in the online edition of the paper, but I was able to obtain a copy. Here they are.
The on-going campaign by the Chronicle against Al Gore and the parallel promotion of the views of Lord Monckton is hard to understand. Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, elected on four occasions to the US Senate and deprived of the Presidency by a biased US Supreme Court, can hardly be placed on an equal footing to an obscure climate sceptic who represents nobody, as the Chronicle seems to be attempting to do.
A cursory search on the internet reveals a few interesting facts about Lord Monckton. This gentleman, a hereditary peer, has attempted, unsuccessfully, on four occasions to be admitted to the House of Lords, receiving zero votes on each occasion. He is currently a member of UKIP and stood for parliamentary election in 2011, receiving 1.1% of the vote. Though Monckton has no scientific qualifications, he has proclaimed himself to be an authority on climate change and, while accepting that there is a greenhouse effect, he strongly refutes that this man-made phenomenon is responsible for accelerated climate change. He is a regular speaker at the Heartland Institute›s Conference on Climate Change. The Heartland Institute is a rabidly right-wing institution heavily subsidized by oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, among others with vested interests. Some of its views include questioning the link between second-hand smoke and health risks, blaming ‘slackers’ for unemployment, arguing against universal health care and so on. This gives a pretty good idea of the kind of audience that Monckton is in sync with.
Monckton has also made a lot of noise regarding errors or inconsistencies in Al Gore’s film/book “An Inconvenient Truth”, for example the emphasis on the melting of the Arctic and the danger posed to polar bears, the flooding of low-lying islands in the Pacific, the threat to Greenland’s ice cap. Recent data about these developments strongly support Gore’s views and expose the vindictiveness with which his adversaries have acted. What really matters is that Gore alerted the world to the dangers and put environmentalism on the map. The general thrust of his arguments have been found to be correct by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. There is near universal acceptance (apart from “flat-earthers” like Monckton and at least one Chronicle opinion writer) of the impact of human activity on the world›s climate. If one thinks about it, it’s logical, reasonable, inevitable but, hopefully, not irreversible.
The views of Al Gore and Juan Verde are worth listening to and the Government is to be congratulated for giving us the opportunity to hear them first hand.
Editor’s note: Representing a diversity of views does not in our view amount to a campaign. Our readers in our view are able to make these judgments for themselves only if alternate views are presented.
On the 16th October, your newspaper touted Christopher Monckton as a “climate change science expert”. In science, the term “expert” is customarily reserved for scientists who have made an important contribution to their study subject via PhD theses and publication in journals that operate the standard scientific practice of rigorous peer-revision. Monckton is not a trained scientist and the lists of his publications that we have seen do not include papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, his claims about being Margaret Thatcher’s science adviser, including specifically on climate, appear to be exaggerated. In addition, his arguments are not supported by scientific consensus on climate change. That means that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, i.e., trained scientists who publish extensively in peer reviewed journals – “experts” – in the conventional sense – disagree with his views.
Monckton appears to be a publicity hungry sensationalist and is therefore guilty of some of the same accusations that he levels against Gore, albeit as a member of the opposite camp in the climate debate. An independent newspaper such as yours should research the background of all individuals – Monckton, Gore or any other – before making assertions about them.
Dr. Alex Menez
Dr. Keith Bensusan
Al Gore has lately been in Gibraltar giving the usual climate change speeches, and so, naturally, Lord Christopher Monckton has been renewing his constant debate challenges, telling Gore to accept the challenge or get out of Gibraltar, and so on. The Gibraltar Chronicle has published a number of fawning articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) publicizing Monckton’s challenges over the past few weeks, but their latest editorial (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012) seems to indicate that the honeymoon is over. I just sent the editors the following letter.
Dear Chronicle Editors,
Lately, you have published a number of articles depicting Christopher Monckton as a “science expert,” who was “recently appointed an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC’s 2013 Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change.” In fact, Monckton has no degrees in any science, and has never published a single peer-reviewed scientific paper on any topic. To become an IPCC reviewer, furthermore, one need only send in a request to the IPCC and agree not to publicly discuss the report before publication. All of you could just as easily become “Expert Reviewers,” in other words.
Your latest article about Monckton (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012) seems to indicate that you may finally be getting an inkling of the kind of man you are dealing with. Perhaps you are now in the right frame of mind to do me a small favor. You have repeatedly publicized Monckton’s challenges to Al Gore, but you may not know that a few years ago His Lordship’s handler, Bob Ferguson, offered to pay me $5,000 (U.S.) to debate Monckton. I declined, but offered to debate for free if we could do an online, written debate, in which both of us would have time to check the other’s sources. At first, Ferguson told me he thought it was a reasonable idea, but later flatly refused. I would like to renew this challenge to Lord Monckton. Would the Gibraltar Chronicle be willing to 1) publicly deliver this challenge to Monckton, 2) host such a debate on its website, and 3) publicize the event?
[Contact Info removed]
Friday I was on an Al Jazeera TV show called Inside Story Americas. The topic was “Why do many Republicans distrust scientists?” You can watch the whole show here.
This was my first time on a show like this, so don’t expect greatness. What I learned was:
1. When you do a remote TV interview, you are supposed to stare at a spot just under the camera lens, and the camera guy keeps pointing urgently at that spot if your eyes wander. It is VERY DIFFICULT to be animated when you are concentrating so hard on staring at a spot!
2. When there is a 2-second delay on the satellite uplink, you can actually hear an echo of yourself, which is very disconcerting. It made me temporarily lose my train of thought a few times.
Anyway, it wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone, but I think more Republicans need to speak up and shove Uncle Fester (i.e., the Tea Party) back into the closet.
This is the first and only blog I’ve ever done, so perhaps I can be forgiven for naming it something as appallingly bad as “Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah”. Well, I finally got sick of it, so I renamed my blog “Climate Asylum”. The inspiration for the name, in case you care, was Jon Huntsman’s “Call me crazy” tweet.
The Deseret News just reported on a new study that shows a more compelling link between hotter climate conditions and wildfires than had been demonstrated before. The scientists involved studied lake sediment cores, in which you can find horizons with bits of charcoal in them, indicating large fires. The charcoal can be carbon-14 dated to find the age, and the results can be compared to paleoclimate records to find links.
The study’s lead author is Mitch Power from the University of Utah. Over the past few years I’ve actually gone out on Utah Lake to collect sediment cores a couple times with Mitch, one of his graduate students, my pal Steve Nelson, and some of Steve’s and my geochemistry students. (We were looking at the cores for different reasons, so we would split the cores we took.) Congrats to Mitch!
Back in the attic, Uncle Fester. You were ok when the party was “not drowning in talent,” but we’re going to have to bench you now that the A-team of anti-windmill cranks has arrived.
My last post, a few weeks ago, was about Lord Christopher Monckton’s new role as hero to the Birther nuts here in the U.S.A. I asked,
Just how far does this guy have to go before his ardent admirers start looking at their watches and pretending to have an urgent appointment to keep?
Well, the climate contrarians haven’t gotten the memo, yet, but some of Monckton’s other associates are shuffling His Lordship back in the attic, and padlocking the door. (Charlotte Brontë would have been proud.) Read More…
His Lordship, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (glory be to his Beneficence) has long since careened over the Cliffs of Insanity, but we keep listening to no avail for the “splat.” It was proven that he had been falsely claiming to be a member of Parliament, but the climate change contrarians just kept lapping up his nonsense. He admitted that he had made false claims about the temperature evolution the IPCC had projected, but claimed he was right to do so, and Anthony Watts still kept publishing Monckton’s nonsense on his popular blog. John Abraham destroyed one of Monckton’s presentations, showing that His Lordship had misrepresented almost all his sources, but Monckton was still invited to testify before Congress as an expert witness on climate change. Monckton claims to have developed a Miracle Cure-All, but his admirers didn’t bat an eye. Just how far does this guy have to go before his ardent admirers start looking at their watches and pretending to have an urgent appointment to keep?
Well, we won’t have to wonder for long, because if there’s anything we can count on in this world, it’s the fact that Christopher Monckton will keep pushing the Crazy Envelope.
Not satisfied with his usual conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific nonsense, Monckton has graduated to become Hero of the Birthers. That’s right, he’s been touring the country with a fake Hawaiian birth certificate he had made, claiming that he has hired independent experts who have showed that Obama’s birth certificate is likely a forgery. He recently made the claim on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, after which Geraldo said he thought Monckton was “smoking crack.”
Here’s the thing about this Birther business. I can’t prove the birth certificate wasn’t forged, but I can look up Obama’s birth announcement in a couple 1961 Honolulu newspapers. Unless I want to believe that Obama’s granny faked the announcement in anticipation of her infant grandson’s future run for President of the United States, I have to conclude that he was, in fact, born in the United States, and therefore the question of the authenticity of his birth certificate makes no sense.
What I’m saying is that this is THE STUPIDEST conspiracy theory I have ever seen. And yet, the Heartland Institute recently invited Monckton to talk at their climate change disinformation conference, at which time he repeated his claims about Obama’s birth certificate, to the delight and applause of the attendees.
So hang on, Monckton admirers! When the “splat” finally comes, you can trust the rest of us to politely refrain from mentioning your complicity.
P.S. No, I didn’t vote for Obama.
Judy Fahys at The Salt Lake Tribune has a great story about how Utah is losing it’s snowpack due to climate change. The story is based on a new scientific paper by Rob Gillies, Utah’s state climatologist, and colleagues at Utah State University. This is very bad news in a state so well known for its ski industry, and even worse news in an arid region with a fast growing population.
John Christy, a climatologist who is Roy Spencer’s contrarian buddy at the University of Alabama Huntsville, just published a paper showing that there has been no statistically significant decrease in snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ok. But what happened next has become a familiar story. Christy went to the media with a press release claiming that his study proves that standard climate models are wrong. The story was picked up by James Taylor, a Heartland Institute operative who blogs for Forbes and by a few other media outlets. (Remember that James Taylor was the same guy who broke the story “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism“–you know the one about the study in which Roy Spencer had left out a bunch of data he said he analyzed, but that completely undercut his conclusions? That’s the kind of thing James Taylor writes about when he’s not trying to convince people that second-hand smoke is actually good for you because nicotine delays Alzheimer’s onset.) Well, a reporter at the Reno Gazette-Journal not only interviewed John Christy about his paper, but checked out what Christy said with other climatologists. It turns out that Christy might just have been exaggerating the significance of his results a teensy bit. And by “a teensy bit” I mean that almost all the standard climate models projected essentially the same thing that Christy reported in his paper.
The RGJ article is a great example of what reporters can do when they decide to go beyond “he said, she said” and actually check facts.
Back in January, I wrote this:
Here’s a rule of thumb for you. If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily Mail, the odds are excellent that it’s nonsense.
Turns out my rule of thumb is working quite well so far. Read Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week post about how a Syracuse University scientist is complaining that The Daily Mail printed a story saying that his research showed human-caused global warming is a hoax, when his research was really about a single site in Antarctica.
A few months ago, I gave a talk at Utah Valley University entitled, “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” (click here for video). In the talk, I introduced the concept of “truth-challenged individuals”–people who are better than the rest of us at ignoring evidence that contradicts what we want to believe–and gave a few examples. Well, it’s time to add another such individual to the list–Prof. Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton.
In 2010, Prof. Happer testified before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, “Over the past ten years there has been no statistically [significant] global warming. This is not at all what was predicted by the IPCC computer models.” The problem was that the IPCC models DO predict there will be whole decades of less rapid warming or even some cooling as the temperature gradually rises. But since the weather is “chaotic” in the short term, exactly WHEN these short-term dips in the temperature trend will occur is hard to predict, so different models (or even the same models run with slightly different starting conditions) will project the dips at different times. This FACT is clearly evident in the following graph, taken from Fig. 10.5 of the IPCC AR4 Working Group 1 Report. It shows climate model temperature projections for the A2 emissions scenario, with the individual lines representing individual models or averaged groups of models. Just look at some of the more squiggly lines, which represent individual models. They go up for several years, then they go down for several years, but in the long term the trend is up.
Oh, I’m certainly not the first one to point this out about Happer’s false testimony. Ben Santer and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research last year, in which they showed, “Claims that minimal warming over a single decade undermine findings of a slowly-evolving externally-forced warming signal [e.g., as in Investor’s Business Daily, 2008; Happer, 2010] are simply incorrect.” (Click here for a free pre-publication version of Santer’s paper.)
Well, now Happer has made the same claim again in the Wall Street Journal.
If anyone can point out where Prof. Happer has dealt with Santer’s refutation of his (obviously) false testimony, please do so in the comments. To me, it looks like he’s simply ignoring it.
[UPDATE: In 2011, Happer apparently wrote an article making similar claims in First Things. Climate scientist Mike McCracken did a point-by-point rebuttal here.]
Last month I wrote a post about how Peter Hadfield, an experienced science journalist and YouTuber, seemed to be cornering Lord Monckton into a debate. Here’s an excerpt from that earlier post.
Several months ago I wrote a post here about how Lord Christopher Monckton’s handler, Bob Ferguson, had tried to get me to do a live debate with Monckton. I declined, because I felt that live debates favor people who, well… make up whatever they want. Instead, I proposed a written online debate, in which we would have time to check each other’s sources. This proposal was flatly refused.
Well, it appears that Monckton may have been forced into a written debate by an experienced science journalist, Peter Hadfield. Or at least he’s been forced into looking very, very bad if he doesn’t accept Hadfield’s challenge.
Hadfield, who goes by the handle “Potholer54″ on YouTube, produces a high quality series of videos that debunk common climate myths. Some months ago he produced five videos debunking various claims made by Monckton. (Lord Monckton Bunkum Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). Much of it was simply a matter of checking Monckton’s sources and comparing what they actually say to the claims Monckton used them to support. In other words, Hadfield did a John Abraham, but with video clips to back up his assertions about what Monckton had said. Monckton posted a “response” to the video series on the Watt’s Up With That? blog, in which he dropped a bunch of insults on Hadfield and tried to squirm out of the charges by essentially denying everything. Hadfield responded back with a two-part video series (Part 1,Part 2), which was, to be frank, devastating, because Monckton was on video saying all those things he now denies having said.
But here’s where the story gets really good. Anthony Watts, a former weatherman and proprietor of the Watt’s Up With That? blog, has now posted a written response by Hadfield right under Monckton’s post.
Apparently, Monckton had promised to answer Hadfield’s criticism, but he has now responded to Hadfield’s requests by saying that he all of a sudden has far too much other stuff to do, and so he can’t possibly be expected to address such “inconsequentialities” as whether he misrepresented his sources to make all the major points in his public lectures. This is quite amusing to Monckton watchers like myself, because for years His Lordship has been touting the fact that Al Gore refuses to debate him. Al Gore would likely refuse to debate Jessica Simpson or the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell, too, but the fact is that Monckton has very publicly criticized certain points in Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and many, many people repeat those criticisms. In my opinion, most of the criticisms are absurd, but I don’t think Gore would be remiss in assigning a staffer to do some kind of written response. I’m all for ignoring fringe figures, but when fringe figures are testifying before the U.S. Congress as “expert” witnesses, maybe it’s time to take notice. Here is Monckton throwing down the gauntlet for Al Gore on Fox News (video here):
I want you to face me in a debate about global warming, and if you don’t dare, I want you to remain silent about that subject forever, from now on.
As I noted, however, the sort of debate Monckton wants is the kind where you can say anything you want and nobody can check your sources. So now that he has been cornered into a debate ABOUT his sources, with video clips and photographs of paragraphs in the papers he cites, I think it’s a bit uncomfortable for him. Hadfield has followed up with an open letter to Monckton, which he has posted on his YouTube channel, challenging Monckton to continue with the debate.
Will Monckton respond? I doubt it, but he has no excuse for it. Peter Hadfield had this to say with respect to Monckton’s “I don’t have time” excuse.
Let me address the first excuse first. I understand you are currently on a busy tour, but you promised Anthony Watts you would respond when you returned from your last tour, and you did not. Meanwhile I note that you have had plenty of time to respond to a university newsletter that criticized you, and you spent two hours talking on skype to a small classroom of students. I fail to see why these are “priorities”, while my 57,000 subscribers and the hundreds of thousands of subscribers to wattsupwiththat are not deserving of an answer from you concerning clear evidence that you seriously misled your audiences over a period of several years. The people watching this debate have watched you vacate your chair, and are still expecting to see you to re-appear from backstage at any moment with some incisive rebuttal after checking my evidence. I am sure they will be as shocked as I am to hear the squealing of car tyres as you make good your escape.
As the sound of Monckton’s squealing tires fades into the distance, the real question is this. If Monckton refuses to debate Hadfield, will he “remain silent about [climate change] forever, from now on”?
Conservative commentator and provocateur, Ann Coulter, recently gave a talk at the Lincoln Day dinner for the the Indian River County, FL Republican Party. (See the video below.) When an audience member asked about the prospect of a brokered convention, she first took a dig at Sarah Palin.
Yes, and one of the ones promoting that is Sarah Palin, who has suggested herself as the choice. I think as long as it’s between us girls — I’ve been observing something about her. I don’t think it’s likely to happen. I don’t know what these people are cheering for. I mean, as I wrote in a column a few weeks back, who is this dream candidate we’re hoping to get from the convention, because Rick Perry used to be the dream candidate. Could we see them in a debate first?
Then Coulter went on to say what she thought the larger problem in the GOP is.
And just a more corporate problem is I think our party and particularly our movement, the conservative movement, does have more of a problem with con men and charlatans than the Democratic Party…. The incentives seem to be set up to allow people…as long as you have a band of a few million fanatical followers, you can make money…. The Democrats have managed to figure out how not to do that. I mean, Dennis Kucinich is a nut, he has millions of fanatical followers–he doesn’t get a show on MSNBC…. No, no, no, no, no. You embarrass us, and drag this thing out–you are finished in the Democratic Party.
This is nowhere more evident than in the climate policy debate. The Republican Party is beset by “con men and charlatans” whose specialty is to convince people that there is no climate change problem. And why do we believe them? Because for people who think we should try to solve problems with as little government regulation as possible, it’s always easier to deny there is a problem at all. Figuring out non-invasive strategies for tackling society’s problems is difficult, after all, and it’s even more difficult to sell them to a public that wants the government to “do something” when a problem pops up. And so we desperately want to believe that big problems are overblown or nonexistent. Whenever a group of people “desperately wants to believe” something, there will always be someone willing to tell them what they want to hear, whether the opportunists are charlatans or simply nutjobs.
When conservatives fall for this, however, we are breaking one of our own cardinal rules–the Law of Unintended Consequences. That is, one of the standard conservative arguments against the growth of government regulation is that purposeful actions always have unintended consequences. For instance, if we intend to set up a universal health care system, there may well be unintended consequences for the national debt and the economic health of small business. But couldn’t we anticipate the same thing if we elect conspiracy theorist nutjobs?
Related Post: Republican Scientist: I. WILL. NEVER. VOTE. SANTORUM.
Roy Spencer recently posted an article on his blog called “Ten Years After the Warming,” in which he argues that there’s no excuse for a decade without much warming, because the radiative forcing is supposedly higher than it’s ever been. Steve Milloy has also reposted the article on his aptly titled blog, JunkScience.com. (In case you don’t remember, Steve Milloy is a Fox News commentator who goes about labeling as “junk science” any environmental issues that might precipitate some government regulation. Yes, that includes links between second-hand smoke and cancer.) Spencer’s main point is this:
You cannot simply say a lack of warming in 10 years is not that unusual, and that there have been previous 10-year periods without warming, too. No, we are supposedly in uncharted territory with a maximum in radiative forcing of the climate system. One cannot compare on an equal basis the last 10 years with any previous decades without warming. Read More…
Following is a guest post by Bob Fischer, a Wall Street quantitative analyst (“quant”) turned climate scientist. He is now working as a post-doc at NASA. An earlier version of this essay (somewhat different) appeared on the Planet 3.0 blog.
It should surprise no one that the WSJ has posted yet another climate change denial op-ed. What is surprising is that anyone might actually believe them. Why? Of course science is not their thing. But more importantly, the WSJ, along with most of Wall Street, has done a poor job of accurately predicting ECONOMIC calamity in the past — something that SHOULD BE their thing.
Let’s review some recent history. Before becoming a climate scientist, I was a Wall Street Quant for a decade. In that time, I worked for a hedge fund, a proprietary trading desk and an options trading firm. From the fascinating vantage point of the neve center of our economy, I was privileged to experiece first-hand so many of the recent market shocks: the Dot-Com Bubble, the Dot-Com Bust of 2000, the Mutual Fund Scandal of 2003, the Housing Bubble, the Sub-Prime Decline of 2007, the total market meltdown of 2008, the Flash Crash of 2010, and others. Many of these events affected me professionally, financially and personally — one even cost me my job. I also witnessed various responses to the events: by other Wall Street professionals, by Federal regulators, by the financial media, and by the nation at large. The year 2008 was particularly fascinating: I watched highly respected corporations fall apart and vanish in an instant, and the rest write off hundreds of billions of dollars in bad assets. I even got to watch as my co-workers ended up with mountains of illiquid toxic assets on their books.
Unfortunately, the financial press has been remarkably poor at predicting market shocks, or even of warning the average reader of growing market dangers. Where was the WSJ to warn us of the dot-com crash in March 2000, when the average stock was selling for a P/E ratio of 47.2? Where was the WSJ to warn us of a long-term glut of housing in 2007, a year in which home construction vastly outpaced any rational increased demand for housing? Where was the WSJ to do some investigative journalism on widespread mortgage fraud or inflated securities ratings, before it became painfully apparent to everyone in 2008 and beyond? Where was the WSJ to warn us of the folly of buying opaque mortgage-backed securities, with no information of who was going to pay them or what the risk of default might be? Where was the WSJ to suggest that personal debt has gotten out of line?
America today is mad at Wall Street, and rightfully so. The actions of “the Street” as a whole have left our nation today with high unemployment, deflated retirement savings and housing that we don’t need. People who are supposed to be our financial experts and leaders have failed us. The fact that many on Wall St. continued to collect princely sums for their services in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 only adds insult to injury for the average American.
In the face of such massive failures in foresight, money managers typically excuse themselves. ”We couldn’t see the bubble,” “everyone else was doing it,” or “hindsight is 20/20.” And then they move on to the “next big thing,” telling themselves <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/This-Time-Different-Centuries-Financial/dp/0691142165“>This Time is Different</a>. And the cycle repeats.
Why is Wall St. so bad at predicting upcoming calamity? It’s not like NOBODY was aware of the dangers. For example, <a href=http://www.econ.yale.edu/~shiller>Robert Shiller</a> accurately predicted the recent housing bubble long before it burst — but he was regularly dismissed in the press. Vanguard Funds <a href=”http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/how-vanguard-avoided-the-subprime-mess.html“>avoided buying toxic assets</a> because they investigated themselves, rather than relying on rating agencies — but few of their corporate peers followed suit. These rational voices did not have to use rocket science to come to their conclusions. Rather, they based their warnings of fundamental economic principles that anyone can understand: namely supply and demand, and reversion to the mean.
But there’s an old saying that Wall St. is ruled by greed and fear. And in 2007, Greed was King. People had a hard time thinking rationally about the long term when they believed they could flip their asset for 50% profit in a few months’ time. Meanwhile, a majority of Wall Street professionals were happy to oblige because they make money on every trade, regardless of whether or not it’s profitable: brokers, investment bankers, real estate agents, mortgage companies, etc. As long as these professionals weren’t left holding the hot potato, they could profit today off of someone else’s future loss. Opaque mortgage-backed securities provided a perfect vehicle for passing off the hot potato.
In my time on Wall Street, worked on the “buy side” (hedge funds), meaning I only got paid if we made money for our clients. But there was still great pressure to chase short-term profit in exchange for future losses. Why? Because we got paid a yearly bonus based on that year’s profit. If the hedge fund blows up next year, we would be out of a job. But we would still get to keep last year’s bonus.
Losing your job is rarely much of a problem on Wall Street, especially for an experienced Quant. We learned to save up during the good times for the next big shock (and pink slip): many Quants go a year or more “on the beach” between jobs. And some of the people who have lost the largest sums of money for their clients still manage to attract mountains of capital for their next attempt. Maybe it didn’t work out last time, but the sure-fire road to riches is just around the corner! Magical thinking never goes out of style.
So the boom-and-bust cycle of the financial markets continues, and will continue, as long as there are markets to go bust. We knew that nothing we did was sustainable — no investment strategy, arbitrage scheme or market making system. Over time, ever-increasing competition and market efficiency always whittle away any edge we had. And we also know that nothing (eg the economy) can grow exponentially forever.
Thus, we lived on a mining mentality: get all you can get today, so you have the resources to mine the next pot of gold tomorrow — a pot that will probably require increased sophistication and infrastructure for smaller returns. We never worried too much about predicting market crashes, just how to survive them (and maybe even make a profit). When things went bust, we would sow our seeds and hope that next year would be better, like an ancient tribal society doing the rain dance. We lived for the moment, with a sincere belief in human ingenuity. This is Darwinian Optimism: the belief that the best and brightest will always somehow find a way to adapt.
So what about climate change? Climate science is warning us of dire consequences that could threaten the habitability of our planet over the next 100+ years. The science suggests that the changes might overwhelm our ability to adapt. But Wall Street, with its millisecond view of the market, quarterly earning statements and belief in infinite human adaptability, has no concept or ability to think 100 years into the future. Heck, we rarely even though 1 year into the future. And the Street certainly cannot imagine a future in which people (the best and brightest) don’t, somehow, come out on top.
All the Street sees is the fact that there are billions to be made TODAY through continued exploitation of fossil fuels. So what if our grandchildren get flooded out? For Wall St, a climate crash would be not so different from a regularly scheduled market crash. ”We didn’t see it coming.” ”We thought this time is different.” ”We were just doing what we thought was right at the time.” And in the end, SOMEONE will make a buck. Speculators will buy up future beachfront property even as today’s beachfront is washing out to sea.
America and world beware. This is the industry that, in pursuit of short-term profit, has again and again failed to predict calamity. Instead of showing financial leadership for the health of the nation, it has brought us toxic assets, acres of unnecessary houses, a foreclosure crisis and high unemployment. Just to name a few. America is rightly angry at this industry. Its track record on disasters is so bad, it has absolutely no authority to speak about potential upcoming climate disasters. Things will always look rosy to those few working up in the Gold Tower of Wall Street. But that view does not extend to the rest of the world. If we listen to these voices in the climate change policy debate, we should not be surprised at the likely outcome: short-term profits in exchange for long-term loss, while the rich get richer. Let’s hope our grandchildren view us charitably.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Robert Fischer. All rights reserved.
*** Bob Fischer was a Wall Street Quant for ten years, a time during which he worked with a number of interesting, smart people. He is now a climate scientist.
A common contrarian argument is that “water vapor is a more important greenhouse gas than CO2, but we don’t regulate evaporation”. For instance, Roger Helmer, a British member of the European Parliament put it this way.
But the Warmists have the bizarre idea that only CO2 matters. Certainly CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it’s not even the most important one. That’s water vapour, and there’s nothing we can do about it (as long as the wind blows over the ocean).
You can read a good rebuttal about this over at Skeptical Science, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here. However, I made a nice infographic about why this “argument” is ridiculous… if you know any physics. Here it is, and use it however you like.
Now that Rick Santorum has overtaken Mitt Romney in the polls, I have to start asking myself whether I could vote for Santorum if he wins the nomination. What is a Republican scientist to do?
Politically, I think I am probably somewhere around the center of the Republican party on most issues, but unfortunately, this hasn’t been a good couple of years for “moderate” Republicans. This is certainly the case for Mitt Romney, at the moment. Oh, I know he is presently on the stump preaching about how conservative he is, but the fact is that he doesn’t have the most conservative of records. Another relevant fact is that he is a Mormon, so Romney does significantly worse in localities that have a higher percentage of Evangelicals, who often call the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “non-Christian cult”. All of this makes him a tough pill to swallow for the “Tea Party” wing of the party, which is dominated by ideological purists and Evangelical Christians.
Santorum doesn’t have the most conservative record on some issues, either, but he has consistently been on the extreme right with respect to social issues. He’s also a Roman Catholic, and Catholics generally aren’t viewed as unfavorably as Mormons by most Evangelicals, in my experience.
And then there’s the issue of climate change.
While Romney once backed emissions caps, he has now at least become more wishy-washy in his public statements about the issue. That is, while he once said that he “believed” humans were causing some of the global warming we’re seeing, he now says he “doesn’t know” what is causing it. While he once said that we should try to limit emissions, he now says it’s not the right time to be spending “trillions of dollars” on it. He sounds different, but in fact he hasn’t really contradicted anything he said previously. Maybe he still “believes” humans are causing global warming, but doesn’t “know” it, and “believes” that we ought to do something about the issue, but has in mind a price tag in the “billions of dollars” range. I have no idea, but I can imagine Romney’s updated language still sounds a bit suspicious to Tea Party activists, who overwhelmingly reject the evidence that humans are causing significant climate change.
Santorum has never had a moment’s doubt about climate change, however. According to Politico, Santorum recently claimed that global warming is a “hoax”.
Now, to some extent I can understand the belief that “the science of man-made global warming” is too uncertain, because there’s always uncertainty involved with any scientific theory. And the fact is that a few years ago I thought the uncertainty was too much for any drastic action, as well. My problem is that I’m a geoscientist with areas of expertise that overlap quite a bit with those of many climate scientists. When I decided to study climate change in depth, I fairly quickly found that even given all the uncertainty, there’s only a miniscule chance that human-caused climate change is such a minor problem that we don’t have to worry about cutting our emissions. When I looked into charges that climate scientists were guilty of conspiracy, I found the scientists’ critics had taken their words badly out of context, and the conspiracy would have had to be so vast as to be utterly impossible to sustain.
I’ll be blunt. The climate change conspiracy theories aren’t just untenable–they’re idiotic.
Now, I’m really not that picky about the political candidates I vote for. As long as they seem to mostly align with my policy views, and to generally be reasonable people who have some kind of moral compass, I don’t have a problem voting for them. But that part about being “reasonable” is a sticking point, here, because I don’t consider people to be reasonable who believe and promote wacko conspiracy theories.
Lately, conspiracy theories seem to have gained a lot of traction on my side of the political fence. Back in 2010, one poll showed that 46% of Republicans believed Barack Obama was a Muslim, and last year a poll of likely Republican primary voters showed that 51% were “birthers”. So what is someone like me supposed to do, when people like these are picking the Republican candidates? The ultra-right keeps telling me that nominating a moderate Republican like Romney is a recipe for failure, because there won’t be enough of a “contrast” with Obama, and such a candidate wouldn’t be able to “mobilize the base”. Even if they’re right, if Santorum is nominated I will be faced with a choice between 1) a guy who seems fairly reasonable, but disagrees with most of my policy preferences, and 2) a guy who agrees with most of my policy preferences, but is a conspiracy theorist.
If the ultra-right wing wants to draw a line in the sand and tell us that “the base” won’t show up to vote for a moderate Republican, all I can do is counter with my own line in the sand.
I. WILL. NEVER. VOTE. FOR. A. CONSPIRACY. THEORIST.
I just can’t make myself do it. I can’t put someone like that in charge of the most powerful military force on the planet–no matter what a second term for Obama might mean for the economy or the make-up of the Supreme Court. This is where my loyalty to the Republican team ends. I encourage like-minded Republicans to show up to the primaries and Just Say No to Conspiracy Theorists.
If you’d like to read more about the frustrations of Republican scientists about their party’s stance on climate change, see “GOP Not Listening to Its Own Scientists on Climate Change” by Katherine Bagley at InsideClimate News. [UPDATE: Steve Milloy, Fox News commentator and owner of the junkscience.com website, has called me and the other scientists featured in this story RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). Given that Milloy also thinks that things like the links between second-hand smoke and various health problems are "junk science," I will take this as a compliment. Let's just say that I don't have a very high opinion of his intellect.]
The Wall Street Journal posted yet another op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers, which even include a few climate scientists(!!!). Here is the editor’s note to explain the context.
Editor’s Note: The authors of the following letter, listed below, are also the signatories of“No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” an op-ed that appeared in the Journal on January 27. This letter responds to criticisms of the op-ed made by Kevin Trenberth and 37 others in a letter published Feb. 1, and by Robert Byer of the American Physical Society in a letter published Feb. 6.
A relative sent me the article, asking for my thoughts on it. Here’s what I said in response.
Hi [Name Removed],
I don’t have time to do a full reply, but I’ll take apart a few of their main points.
1. The WSJ authors’ main point is that if the data doesn’t conform to predictions, the theory is “falsified”. They claim to show that global mean temperature data hasn’t conformed to climate model predictions, and so the models are falsified.
But let’s look at the graph. They have a temperature plot, which wiggles all over the place, and then they have 4 straight lines that are supposed to represent the model predictions. The line for the IPCC First Assessment Report is clearly way off, but back in 1990 the climate models didn’t include important things like ocean circulation, so that’s hardly surprising. The lines for the next 3 IPCC reports are very similar to one another, though. What the authors don’t tell you is that the lines they plot are really just the average long-term slopes of a bunch of different models. The individual models actually predict that the temperature will go up and down for a few years at a time, but the long-term slope (30 years or more) will be about what those straight lines say. Given that these lines are supposed to be average, long-term slopes, take a look at the temperature data and try to estimate whether the overall slope of the data is similar to the slopes of those three lines (from the 1995, 2001, and 2007 IPCC reports). If you were to calculate the slope of the data WITH error bars, the model predictions would very likely be in that range.
That brings up another point. All climate models include parameters that aren’t known precisely, so the model projections have to include that uncertainty to be meaningful. And yet, the WSJ authors don’t provide any error bars of any kind! The fact is that if they did so, you would clearly see that the global mean temperature has wiggled around inside those error bars, just like it was supposed to.
So before I go on, let me be blunt about these guys. They know about error bars. They know that it’s meaningless, in a “noisy” system like global climate, to compare projected long-term trends to just a few years of data. And yet, they did. Why? I’ll let you decide.
2. The WSJ authors say that, although something like 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that humans are causing “significant” global warming, there really is a lot of disagreement about how much humans contribute to the total. The 97% figure comes from a 2009 study by Doran and Zimmerman.
So they don’t like Doran and Zimmerman’s survey, and they would have liked more detailed questions. After all, D&Z asked respondents to say whether they thought humans were causing “significant” temperature change, and who’s to say what is “significant”? So is there no real consensus on the question of how much humans are contributing?
First, every single national/international scientific organization with expertise in this area and every single national academy of science, has issued a statement saying that humans are causing significant global warming, and we ought to do something about it. So they are saying that the human contribution is “significant” enough that we need to worry about it and can/should do something about it. This could not happen unless there was a VERY strong majority of experts. [UPDATE: Here is a nice graphic to illustrate this point. H/T Adam Siegel.]
But what if these statements are suppressing significant minority views–say 20%. We could do a literature survey and see what percentage of papers published question the consensus. Naomi Oreskes (a prominent science historian) did this in 2004, surveying a random sample of 928 papers that showed up in a standard database with the search phrase “global climate change” during 1993-2003. Some of the papers didn’t really address the consensus, but many did explicitly or implicitly support it. She didn’t find a single one that went against the consensus. Now, obviously there were some contrarian papers published during that period, but I’ve done some of my own not-very-careful work on this question (using different search terms), and I estimate that during 1993-2003, less than 1% of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change was contrarian.
Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, looked at the consensus question from a different angle. I’ll let you read it if you want.
Once again, the WSJ authors (at least the few that actually study climate for a living) know very well that they are a tiny minority. So why don’t they just admit that and try to convince people on the basis of evidence, rather than lack of consensus? Well, if their evidence is on par with the graph they produced, maybe their time is well spent trying to cloud the consensus issue.
3. The WSJ authors further imply that the “scientific establishment” is out to quash any dissent. So even if almost all the papers about climate change go along with the consensus, maybe that’s because the Evil Empire is keeping out those droves of contrarian scientists that exist… somewhere.
The WSJ authors give a couple examples, both of which are ridiculous, but I have personal experience with the Remote Sensing article by Spencer and Braswell, so I’ll address that one. The fact is that Spencer and Braswell published a paper in which they made statistical claims about the difference between some data sets without actually calculating error bars, which is a big no-no, and if they had done the statistics, it would have shown that their conclusions could not be statistically supported. They also said they analyzed certain data, but then left some of it out of the Results that just happened to completely undercut their main claims. This is serious, serious stuff, and it’s no wonder Wolfgang Wagner resigned from his editorship–not because of political pressure, but because he didn’t want his fledgling journal to get a reputation for publishing any nonsense anybody sends in.
The level of deception by the WSJ authors and others like them is absolutely astonishing to me.
[UPDATE: Here is a recent post at RealClimate that puts the nonsense about climate models being "falsified" in perspective. The fact is that they aren't doing to badly, except that they severely UNDERestimate the Arctic sea ice melt rate.]
This has been going on for a couple days, but I have been too swamped to write anything about it. Here’s the scoop. The indefatigable John Mashey has spent months tracking down documentation, and has put together a package of info showing that the Heartland Institute and a couple of related outfits, all 501(c)(3) charities, have been engaging in lobbying and other activities that 501(c)(3) organizations are not supposed to do by IRS regulations. In case you don’t know the Heartland Institute, they put on a big climate contrarian conference every year, and for decades have been pushing pseudoscience to combat the scientific consensus that second-hand smoke causes health problems, and that humans are causing significant climate change.
Mere hours after Mashey sent his documentation to the IRS, an anonymous person dropped a bunch of purloined Heartland documents on the laps of a number of climate bloggers and reporters. These documents confirm much of what Mashey found out by other means, but also name names and contain a few embarrassing turns of phrase.
Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein blogs about a new study of attitudes toward climate change. Here’s a teaser.
You might think opinions on climate change are driven by news stories, or extreme weather events, or, if you’re really optimistic, publicly available scientific research. But it turns out that politicians affect the way that Americans view the issue more than almost anything else, according to a new paper in the journal Climatic Change.
Which is yet another reason why my fellow Republicans should start taking care not to elect so many frothing ideologues, e.g., Rick Santorum, who is really proud that he has never believed in global warming, and thinks it’s a big hoax.
It’s a beautiful day.
Several months ago I wrote a post here about how Lord Christopher Monckton’s handler, Bob Ferguson, had tried to get me to do a live debate with Monckton. I declined, because I felt that live debates favor people who, well… make up whatever they want. Instead, I proposed a written online debate, in which we would have time to check each other’s sources. This proposal was flatly refused.
Well, it appears that Monckton may have been forced into a written debate by an experienced science journalist, Peter Hadfield. Or at least he’s been forced into looking very, very bad if he doesn’t accept Hadfield’s challenge.
Hadfield, who goes by the handle “Potholer54″ on YouTube, produces a high quality series of videos that debunk common climate myths. Some months ago he produced five videos debunking various claims made by Monckton. (Lord Monckton Bunkum Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). Much of it was simply a matter of checking Monckton’s sources and comparing what they actually say to the claims Monckton used them to support. In other words, Hadfield did a John Abraham, but with video clips to back up his assertions about what Monckton had said. Monckton posted a “response” to the video series on the Watt’s Up With That? blog, in which he dropped a bunch of insults on Hadfield and tried to squirm out of the charges by essentially denying everything. Hadfield responded back with a two-part video series (Part 1, Part 2), which was, to be frank, devastating, because Monckton was on video saying all those things he now denies having said.
But here’s where the story gets really good. Anthony Watts, a former weatherman and proprietor of the Watt’s Up With That? blog, has now posted a written response by Hadfield right under Monckton’s post. Hadfield picks apart Monckton’s evasions handily, just like he did in the videos, and in the process lays down this challenge.
This is why he dislikes detailed examinations of his sources. While he takes every opportunity to debate on stage, where his speaking skills are essential and his assertions can’t be checked, an online debate is far tougher, because every paper and fact CAN be checked. So come on, Mr. Monckton, let’s debate this on WUWT to see which of us has correctly read your sources.
This is exactly what Monckton can’t handle, and I predict that he will either ignore the challenge or give another blustering reply in which he gratuitously insults Hadfield, drops a few Latin phrases to impress the rubes, and pretends that his words were taken out of context (all video evidence to the contrary). If he follows his usual M.O., he might even back off some of his wilder claims, all the while pretending that’s what he was saying all along.
But every time Monckton dodges challenges to debate his errors, and the more meticulous climate realists are about documenting his fabrications and general wackiness (like pretending to be a member of Parliament and claiming to be able to cure HIV, MS, herpes, Graves’ Disease, influenza, and the common cold,) the more he loses credibility, and the more those who have supported him lose credibility, too.
The fact that Anthony Watts, of all people, would post Hadfield’s response might be a sign that some Moncktonites are quietly trying to back away from His Lordship. Watts has a long history of posting Monckton’s nonsense along with some pretty sycophantic comments. See this recent post, in which I criticized Watts for his utter lack of quality control–posting Monckton’s latest claims about why he really is a member of Parliament, even though Parliament says he isn’t, as well as Joe Bastardi’s complete nonsense about how the greenhouse effect violates the Law of Energy Conservation. And those aren’t even the most nonsensical guest posts Watts has allowed. (See this classic in crackpottery, for instance.) Once, when I posted on my own blog a response to one of Monckton’s pieces that was published on WUWT, I submitted a comment on the WUWT page in which I simply announced that I had written a response and gave a link. The moderator (presumably Watts) deleted my innocuous comment and inserted something about how I could take my “personal crusade” against Monckton elsewhere. In other words, Watts has been an avid Monckton supporter in the past, to put it mildly.
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Watts. If he’s backing away from Monckton, I certainly won’t fault him for that, but let’s not forget how easy it was for someone like Monckton to take Watts in. Why? I think everyone has a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to those who tell us things that fit our biases, and I’m certainly no exception, but to my mind Monckton’s longevity as one of the key players in the climate change contrarian community is really telling. Nobody but a complete ideologue would hang onto Monckton this long in the face of the detailed evidence that he plays it fast and loose with the facts.
One of my students asked me about a new article just printed in The Daily Mail, a right-wing newspaper in the U.K. The article’s title is, “Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again)“. Here’s a rule of thumb for you. If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily Mail, the odds are excellent that it’s nonsense. Anyway, here is what I told my student.
Hi [Name Removed],
This is why I’ve gone all militant on these guys.
Solar activity is explicitly incorporated in climate models. It’s difficult to predict what the Sun will do in the short term, though, so projections based on the models make some assumptions about that, but at least you can incorporate measured values when you are “hindcasting” the models.
Anyway, here is the Met Office press release about the paper they are probably referring to. Now, let me show you how people like this Daily Mail reporter manipulate the public.
1. They cite a reputable source, the UK Met Office, but they don’t actually quote the paper or anyone from the Met Office. Why? Because “climate” is about long-term averages and trends, so real climatologists don’t go about announcing that “there hasn’t been any global warming in (fill in the blank with a number less than about 30) years”. The weather is a chaotic system, so in the short term you can get just about any trend you like.
2. All you have to do to get the trend you want is to “cherry-pick” the start and end dates. In this case, they pick 1997 and 2011. (They also cherry-pick the dataset, even though the press release I linked gives different results for the NASA and NOAA datasets. The one from the Met Office, HadCRUT, doesn’t include the polar regions, so it usually gives a little less steep warming trend than the others.) The problem is that the overall trend for the last 30-40 years is between about +0.15 and +0.2 °C per decade, but the interannual variability is about +/-0.2 °C PER YEAR. So you can definitely see a distinct trend if you go back far enough, but the random noise can give you all sorts of results in the short term. Let me illustrate. I calculate that the trend in the HadCRUT data from 1997-2011 is about +0.01 °C per decade, and not statistically significant. (In this case, a statistically significant result is one where the 95% confidence interval does not overlap zero.) What happens if we change the start and end dates by just one year, from 1996-2010? Then the trend is 0.10 °C/decade, and still not statistically significant. Do you see how you can use the random noise, e.g., from El Niño and La Niña oscillations, to get the trend you want in the short term?
3. Next, they launch off into their nonsense about how the flat temperature trend is all because of a decrease in solar activity, and we’re heading into a new Little Ice Age. The press release the Met Office put out just prior to the one I already mentioned was entitled, “Decline in Solar Output Unlikely To Offset Global Warming“, but the Daily Mail reporter says that these findings are “fiercely disputed by other solar experts,” and quotes Henrik Svensmark. I could name a couple other solar guys who agree with Svensmark, but that’s all. He’s definitely on the fringes. Svensmark has an interesting theory about why changes in Solar output might exert a much greater influence on climate than the models give it credit for, but the problem is that the statistics don’t pan out.
4. But wait! Just in case people didn’t buy the Solar connection, let’s completely switch gears and blame the whole thing on ocean circulation! The ridiculous thing is that the standard climate models DO incorporate ocean circulation AND variations in Solar output, and these things DO affect the temperature projections so that any given model will predict periods of several years where there might even be overall cooling. The models just differ about when these “pauses” in global warming will happen, because the system is chaotic and the timing of these things are incredibly sensitive to initial conditions and the model details.
5. If the scientific consensus doesn’t agree with what you want to hear, the Daily Mail reporter knows that you can always get some D-list fringe scientists to make it all better. E.g., take a look at Nicola Scafetta, who thinks that Jupiter and Saturn are affecting the climate to create a 60-year cycle, which Judy Curry also apparently buys into. Yep. But don’t ask Scafetta or Curry what Jupiter or Saturn are supposed to be doing that affects the climate, because they can’t give any physical mechanism. Maybe that’s why the Daily Mail calls Curry “one of America’s most eminent climate experts.” Whatever. Also, take a look at Benny Peiser, who is a social anthropologist too ignorant to properly read the scientific literature on climate change.
Now, take a step back and look at what has been done to the public. Most people have no idea about statistical cherry-picking, and even those who do wouldn’t necessarily suspect anything. Most people would have no idea that the Daily Mail is quoting a bunch of fringe scientists, and they would have no idea why the views of these scientists are dismissed by the others. It turns out that Svensmark WAS taken seriously, but his hypothesis hasn’t panned out. It turns out that Scafetta’s ideas are little better than curve-fitted astrology, at this point. It turns out that climate models DO account for ocean circulation, but there is no convincing evidence that this does much outside timescales of a few years.
Like I said, this is why I’ve gone militant on these guys. I think they are patently dishonest.
[UPDATE: The Met Office has now responded to the Daily Mail article. They said essentially the same thing I did.]
Naomi Oreskes has just published a fantastic op-ed in the LA Times. She draws an analogy with our jurisprudence system to show why “keeping an open mind” about climate change is the wrong approach. People tend to treat the community of climate scientists as the prosecuting attorney, but in fact, they are the jury.
In a similar vein, several months ago I tried to explain to Senator Orrin Hatch why his insistence on “keeping an open mind” was inappropriate in this case–i.e., he was just using it as an excuse for intellectual laziness.
Since the only reason anyone gets worked up about climate change is that we might need to do something about it, people who insist on “keeping an open mind”, no matter how much evidence they have to ignore, are in the same boat as those who outright deny the science. In both cases, the conclusion is that we shouldn’t do anything. How convenient.
Peter Wehner has impeccable conservative credentials, having served under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and most recently, as deputy assistant to Pres. George W. Bush. He resides at the “Ethics & Public Policy Center,” a neo-con think tank.
After a long look at the evidence, Wehner concluded that the scientific consensus on climate is correct. He wrote two interesting posts titled “Conservatives and Climate Change,” in the neo-con magazineCommentary, which prides itself in intellectual conservatism.
Read more at Skeptical Science.
Now that the authorities have confiscated the computers of a few contrarian bloggers to see whether they can find evidence of who hacked the University of East Anglia’s e-mail servers, Lord Monckton is incensed! INCENSED, I tell you! He says he’s going to go after the climate scientists whose e-mails were stolen and have them prosecuted for fraud. Why him? Because the bumbling police don’t know much about climatology, so they need help to understand the “fraud”.
You’re probably thinking this is just another stupid political stunt, but don’t worry. Monckton said last year that he was going to have Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud and… well, I’m sure he’ll get around to it, sometime. He also said he was going to sue John Abraham for libel many moons ago, and he assures us the investigation is still underway. So if there’s one person we can count on to follow through on bombastic legal threats, it’s the 3rd Viscount of Brenchley.
Inspector Monckton appealed to his readers on Climate Depot to send him any evidence of fraud regarding climate issues. Does this count? (Note to Monckton: I did not just accuse you of “fraud”. I merely asked for legal advice, so please refrain from contacting my administration again to threaten legal action for suggesting that your fake data is “fraudulent”.) I encourage anyone in a position to do so to e-mail Monckton such information, because if there’s one thing he needs, it’s a clue.
I made a few updates to my “Bickmore’s Laws” page. If any of you have any suggestions for other “laws”, put them in the comments. If I like them, I may put them in an addendum on the page. The theme of the “laws” is the difference between rationality and pseudo-rationality.
Bickmore’s First Law of Being Reasonable
Reasonable people understand that good arguments can sometimes lead to false conclusions, and bad arguments can sometimes lead to true conclusions.
Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Reasonable
Reasonable people resist bad arguments, even if they agree with the conclusions.
Bickmore’s First Law of the Box
“Thinking outside the box” requires being capable of recognizing “the box.” (Ignorance kills true creativity.)
Bickmore’s Second Law of the Box
“Thinking outside the box” is only laudable when “the box” is not rationality.
Bickmore’s First Law of Being Biased
Bias makes you human. Unckecked bias makes you stupid.
Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Biased
Nitpicking others’ arguments is not the same thing as “critical thinking.” That involves nitpicking your own arguments.
Bickmore’s First Law of Being Open-Minded
Failing to make critical decisions based on incomplete information is called “spinelessness,” not “open-mindedness.”
I did a follow-up post on my last one over at By Common Consent. It turns out the guy I was critiquing actually came around and apologized for slandering Jonathan Overpeck. My response gets at some of his remaining concerns about the latest batch of stolen e-mails.
I learned some interesting things. E.g., I found out that Phil Jones had discussed the problems of onerous FOI requests, proprietary data, and so on, before the scandal broke in 2009. In other words, all that stuff the panels investigating “climategate” said about why Jones dodged some FOI requests and didn’t release all of his raw data… was right there in the stolen e-mails, too.
- Al Gore
- Bob Bennett
- Chris Herrod
- Chris Stewart
- Christopher Monckton
- Climate Change
- Conspiracy Theories
- Daily Herald
- Heartland Institute
- HJR 12
- James Taylor
- John Christy
- Jon Huntsman
- Kerry Gibson
- Lord Monckton
- Mike Noel
- Mitt Romney
- Orrin Hatch
- Roy Spencer
- Science and Public Policy Institute
- Utah Legislature
- Utah Republican Politics