Friday, March 02, 2012


I'm somewhat sympathetic to those reluctant to accept anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Indeed, it seems that for many their reluctance is in large part a reaction to the force with which "they" try to force it on people. So instead of trying to argue the science, let me try respond gently to certain fair, but likely misguided points, that some of these "deniers" make:

  • they don't reject science, but instead choose which scientists to accept: I think what many people fail to realize is that one can find scientists who say the craziest things. Even Nobel-winning physicists have some crazy ideas. Sure, science isn't a democracy, but when just a small minority of scientists take a certain opinion, the odds are against their being correct. And so one could choose to accept that relativity is wrong, that the mechanics even of the very small is truly deterministic, that evolution is wrong, that the big bang never happened. Heck, moving beyond science, one could choose to believe those who are sure mankind never visited the moon, that six million people didn't die in the Holocaust, etc.
  • climate scientists are motivated to scare the public to maintain their jobs: Ok, fair enough. But aren't we all motivated out of self-preservation?  However, it wouldn't occur to me to publish something I didn't think was true for some professional gain. Besides the dishonesty, I would fear the inevitable refutation by other scientists. Academic scientists are no saints, but I think it fair to say that the motivations are more likely to have them steal the ideas and credit of others rather than to attempt to steer a research program along some particular agenda. And could they even pull such a global conspiracy off? But even if you dispute this, surely one so misanthropically inclined would have even greater suspicion of the intents and effectiveness of huge multi-national companies supporting the denier community.
  • there are many instances of mistakes or disputed claims. The science is either wrong or not well established: Deniers have often referred me to read the denier blogs. However, what these blogs generally have are fine-scale critiques of certain small claims, but with titles suggesting a larger scale of the critiques. I think what many scientists are good at is reading a paper and assessing weakness and strengths. Just because there may be some valid criticism of some aspect of some certain research, that's not necessarily an indictment of the entire field. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how critical to be in my paper which basically says that a competitor is wrong. But at the same time, the competitor is wrong in degree because he's over simplifying. As such, his overall position isn't even as "wrong" as the deniers claim about AGW. This isn't a court of justice with a final verdict. It's a messy, complicated system that we need to understand.


Douglas Natelson said...

I think your second point is what ticks me off the most. It is a very strong slam against the integrity of an entire cohort of scientists to imply that they are all slanting their analyses and conclusions because of financial interests. I am also frustrated by the arrogance of some of the deniers, along the lines of "I'm not an expert in this complicated subdiscipline, but I'm certain that my brief order-of-magnitude analysis is more valid than the conclusions of dozens of specialists who have been looking at this problem for years."

Angry said...

First, let me say that this new formatting for blogs has seemingly made it impossible for me (and presumably any reader) to see that there's been a comment. Second, I think "arrogance" is key here. I'm no sociologist, but my limited exposure to deniers leads me to suspect that denialism is a reaction somehow to their feeling left out. Maybe they dropped out of academia, or simply were never accepted by the scientific community.

David Brown said...

It seems to me that me that the deniers are either pro-carbon-based energy (some of them paid by the energy lobby) or small-government conservatives. Freeman Dyson is the only distinguished scientist that I know of who is both an Obama supporter and a skeptic against anthropogenic global warming. The deniers are basically politically motivated so far as I can judge. There might be a significant number of deniers who always have a strong predilection for challenging the conventional wisdom, whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

so what about Lubos?

Angry said...

I actually got to talk to Freeman Dyson a couple years ago, essentially by accident. He was actually fairly reasonable about global warming...accepting that the Earth is warming and mostly just having a problem accepting the predictions of those, he felt, had an interest in maintaining a scare.

As for Lubos, I don't really have much to say but just as I say that the deniers I know feel left out, I think this goes hand-in-hand with arrogance. They think they're smarter than "everyone" and somehow they latch onto this issue as one in which they can know the truth.

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Alrenous said...

It is indeed a very strong slam. It is also, unfortunately, true. It was predictive of the contents of the Climategate emails.

Climate Audit indeed needs some kind of index to point to the posts which demolish key points instead of faffing about with the details. I've seen the part where McIntyre was unable to reproduce Mann's time series from Mann's own data and published method, but damned if I could find it again.

It's not nearly as messy a system as it's made out to be. The problem fits in a single paragraph.

Climate is chaotic. There's a huge information asymmetry between what's needed to accurately model it and what we can actually measure. It's literally attempting to predict a coupled oscillator's exact position in twenty years by measuring the ambient temperature and pressure right now. As a result, clued-in climate skeptics (I will grant this is a very exclusive club) predicted years in advance that climate modelling is a fool's errand.

The only way to retrodict the climate, due to the information asymmetry, is to overfit.

Based on the latest numbers, climate modelling per se has been falsified as predicted at 98% confidence.

Moreover, the mistakes are clearly systemic, not random. Overfit models should wildly diverge both up and down, but existent models only diverge upward. This corroborates evidence from cliamtegate emails that data was cherry-picked. The models have been cherry-picked as well.