Climate Lies

From RP Jr and Nurture. Well, not quite direct lies, more in the nature of deliberately-misleading by omission. But I have a work colleague who habitually accuses me of spreading climate lies (hello Hugo!) so it only seems fair to use the phrase myself. [From the Nature article,] It isn’t quite possible to tell who is at fault: the quote from the review in Nurture is:

In The Climate Fix, Pielke argues… Fright sells, he points out, citing the late Stephen Schneider, the environmental scientist and political adviser who once wrote that, to rouse public support, “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have”. Schneider later stepped back from that piquant assertion, yet the approach remains widely used. [1]

Daniel Greenberg is the author of the Nurture review but it looks as though he is pretty well quoting RP [Update: RP in comment 2 denies truncating the quote, and provides the evidence on his blog. So it looks like DG is the guilty party]. There is a long-standing tradition of abusing this quote from Schneider: which means that neither RP Jr nor DG can have done it accidentally, which makes the abuse all the more surprising. If you don’t know the context, the quote continues:

This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both

You can find Schneider complaining about being misrepresented in this way by Julian Simon all the way back in 1996 in the APS newsletter..

[The Nurture article is paywalled; there is a sneak preview copy here]

Incidentally, one might wonder who DG is. He seems to be DSG, and is a Marshall Insititute expert, which is something of a black mark. But then again this seems OK OK in parts.

[Update: as is probably clear from the strikes above, when I originally wrote this it wasn’t clear who was truncating Schneider. RP has now provided enough context that it is clear that DG is the one at fault]

Whats wrong with the world

Misc people have lauded Kwame Anthony Appiah and his piece What will future generations condemn us for? He comes up with four fairly obvious and worthy answers: prisons, industrialised meat, isolation of the elderly, the environment. He doesn’t dare mention some other obvious ones: the war on terror, the war on drugs, for example, are notorious failures that have cost countless billions and countless lives. And mine, after not all that much reflection, are:

1. Our ridicuous decision-making processes. We have institutionalised bad leadership and institutions and structures that are appalling at taking decisions. And whenever anyone mentions this, some idiot is bound to pop up and say, aha, its the worst form of government except for any other, as though it made sense. This one fault causes so many others. For example, we have a fairly rubbish popular press that feeds the masses what they want: tripe. With a more sensible process, this wouldn’t matter.

2. Lawyers. First up against the wall when the revolution came, of course. Part of problem 1, too, but a problem in their own right. Far too many sane and sensible things cannot be done because of our ridiculous legal system, which similarly mandates any number of insane things. Yes, I’ve just confused the legal system with the lawyers, but I don’t care.

3. Waste and general “fatness”. Not fat as in your body being overweight, though that is a small part of it. Water-fat, as in Dune. Fat as in all the rest: the fools who drive SUV’s, who need ridiculous numbers of toys (who, after all, could possibly need a GPS watch? This one folds into “environment”, too.

4. Schools. Or, perhaps, just the general shape of society. Which indeed folds into his “isolation of the elderly”. Some schools teach some children well. But for many pupils at many schools they are really just a baby-sitting service allowing the parents to work. Am I being unfair? Yes, because in fact all the schools I’ve been associated with have been pretty good. But still there is that sense that there is just too much… teaching. I’m not being very clear, am I?

5. Religion. Sign of a sick society if there is too much of it (there, I threw that one in for PZ, I hope he is happy now). I’m prepared to cope with the good old C of E though.

Enough ranting for one evening.

Breaking a butterfly on the wheel, part II

Part I refers, in which I take PZ to task for getting too carried away over some harmless minor piece of hydrodynamics. PZ didn’t show up in the comment thread for his post after I criticised him there, which I took as an implicit admission of error, and was all ready to forget it. But no, PZ bites back:

I have been chastised by William Connolley; he thinks I was too “strident” in condemning that lousy paper about Moses parting the sea with a fortuitous wind. I disagree, obviously. It was a bad paper, and I gave the reasons why it was so awful: it was poorly justified, it was not addressing an even remotely significant question, and the logic of the work and the conclusions was lacking. Connolley also doesn’t seem to understand why it is objectionable and serves an ideological purpose for the creationists. Yes, as I pointed out, finding natural causes makes miracles irrelevant, but that logic doesn’t matter. The point of this paper was very simple: to allow creationists to make the claim that science supports the truth of the Bible.

There isn’t a great deal of point in repeating myself, so be sure you’ve read part I, so, on to the new stuff, such as it is:

1. As several people have pointed out in the comments over at PZ, there is a disconnect in how this issue is seen between the USA and… well, the rest of the wrold. Only they seem to have a sufficient mass of influential nutty ID / Creationist folk to have to care about. The rest of us don’t have to, and consequently don’t. So perhaps PZ is right to say that (from a we-are-wacky-USA perpsective), that I don’t care enough about Creationism. But it would be nice to see, in return, some realisation from him that the USA isn’t the whole world.

2. That was quite enough compromise for one post, don’t you think? Right! Onwards. Point 2 is that PZ purports to care about this paper because it is bad science. And he advances a number of reasons why this paper fails that test: stuff like one of the results of researching a topic should be the discovery of genuine problems that warrant deeper analysis. A science paper is a story, and it always begins with a good question. But actually, none of that is the real problem. There are any number of science papers that fail this test: that cover trivial problems, that repeat existing literature, that don’t do deeper analysis; and PZ cares about none of them enough to blog. Heavens, by those standards papers that are primarily about observations would be doomed. The reason PZ dislikes the paper is the religion he sees in it. I think it would have been better (clearer, more honest) to simply say that, and drop the mask of condeming it as bad science because (oh no, not again) the modelling part is unexceptionable.

I could go on, but I said much of it on the comments at PZ, so won’t repeat:

* General comments, including a snark at the (generally) hostile comment atmosphere there rather reminiscent of WUWT
* PZ reply, partially misunderstanding me, to which I reply
* Brembs.net comments that the editor is taking lots of flack, and suggests that had the paper been clear that this was all hypothetical, all would have been well. I point out the obvious similarities to Copernicus and Galileo but no-one gets the point.

It is possible to have a reasoned discussion of the merits or otherwise of this paper, and Sigmund and I have had such a discussion, in the comments on my part I. He is something of a voice of reason over at PZ too. But the “regulars” there give him (and me) short shrift.

Amusingly, I now know a little how Curry feels. Not that makes her right, you understand.

Random

no-fire I liked it, anyway, enough to clean it up. Perhaps better in context: Echo Park Time Travel Mart (via TS’s feed). And the Victorian iPods are good, too.

Via CIP, who feels for the suffering rich, a good piece from Krugman (which is itself really from Brad DeLong) Rat Race America. On why those who are really quite comfortably off no longer feel as comfortable as they would have 30 years ago.

Godel in Engine Summer?. You decide. But if you haven’t read it, you should. And The Deep. And Beasts. But don’t read Little, Big. Or at least, not all of it.

If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.

Rumours of an explanation of a bit of the 70’s cooling.
Nature’s take, and the thing itself.

Monckton on God. Monckton has already had far far more publicity than he deserves. But it is convenient to keep a link to everyone pointing out how wrong he is. More.

I think I need to pad out the text a bit here in order to make the images line up nicely. Um, what shall I say? It is raining. We’ve hoovered the living room. Errm, there must be more to life than that. I know: I’ll point out, unoriginally I’m sure, that the sea ice is definitely off its min, and definnitely “only” #3 in the records. As to what the september min will come in at, we’ll see in a little while.

Pix from China (h/t mt): boston.com/bigpicture/. mt chose the dam; I prefer this one. This is the scary one.

Miscellany: digital sundial. Who would have thought it? Oh, and the spectrum of mercury through a CD. And a nice pic to demonstrate that PZ isn’t all bad by any means.

Strange stuff from Pharyngula

I don’t, in general, read my fellow science blogs. Not because I hate them, you understand, but because they talk about other stuff. But I was lead to Inventing excuses for a Bible story, and getting them published in a science journal? and was immeadiately struck by (a) how strident it seemed, and (b) how backwards it all seemed. (a) I can excuse: I’m sure I seem the same fairly often, but hopefully not too often (b). Side note: I was “accused” recently of being tedious in my writing on wikipedia, at which I vigourously protested. But it became clear that she actually meant “tendentious” which isn’t great but is certainly much better (old joke: deaf old Oirish Catholic grandmother: and what do you do now, grandaughter? Grandaughter (embarrased, low voice, mumbles): I’m a prostitute. Grandmother (outraged): *what* did you say? Grandaughter: repeats, louder. Grandmother: Oh thank heavens, I thought you said you were a Protestant).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: someone has published a harmless paper with hydrodynamic modelling about whether the fabled crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites could be explained simply by wind forcing exposing some mudflats or reef. I read a bit of it (here it is, if you want to) but not enough to tell if it was any good. It reminded me of what I was taught in school, oooh, must be (thinks) 30 years ago. Much the same story, though with less detail. And we were taught by a proper C of E clergyman too, I tell you. In those days, “explaining away” the miracles of the bible was quite fashionable; perhaps it still is.

But PZ gets this completely backwards, altough bizarrely he also realises this, because if you can explain away all the miracles that is evidence against God, not in favour of it. so all the outrage and huffing and puffing is completely off target. Far better would have been a gentle mocking piece called something like “even the believers don’t believe” or somesuch.

I also find his “If a paper like this were plopped on my desk for review, I’d be calling the editor to ask if it was a joke. If it wasn’t, I’d laugh and reject it”. PZ knows nothing about hydrodynamics or ocean modelling. If this paper landed on his desk the only honourable thing for him to do would be to return it with a polite note saying that it was outside his field of competency to review.

Also, PZ has been rather careless with some of his sniping: It’s also troubling that this work actually got funded by NCAR and the Office of Naval Research. Why? I suspect that sympathetic Christians somewhere in the administration gave bad Christian research a pass… looks wrong (as pointed out in the comments [1]. The authors are funded; it doens’t look like this study specifically was. This looks like the kind of stuff one sees the septics pushing in the Global Warming arena. But PZ has no excuse: he is a scientist, and he knows how funding works.

Incidentally, there is a whole pile of speculation in PZ’s comments about where the idea for this came from, and why they bothered, etc etc. I think the answer is obvious: they were interested in the idea, and most importantly they had a model they could conveniently reconfigure to run this case, and computer time to run it. So they did.

Ha: and while I’m on disturbing reminders of GW: how about this from the comments:

I just talked to Drew via email, and he claims he performed this research ON HIS OWN TIME. I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that he used no government funded resources, and also to inquire why NCAR’s name was attached to this research in any way shape or form.

Does that kind of (threatened) harassment remind you of anything? I felt moved to comment over there:

PZ: you know (professionally) nothing about hydrodynamics. If this paper passed your desk for review, your only correct response would be to decline on the grounds of lack of competence. https://wmconnolley.wordpress.com/2010/09/strange_stuff_from_pharyngula.php Some of the comments on this thread are appalling. In particular I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that… looks very much like the kind of harassment that cliamte scientists have been subjected to by the septics. This is a harmless little paper. It may well not be great science, but if anything it deserves gentle mockery not vitriol.

[Note: visitors from P are welcome. However, make sure you’re aware of the comment policy which may not be as free-n-easy as you’re used to. In particular, insulting other commenters, or simply repeating yourself, aren’t welcome. I’ve already deleted some comments -W]

[Update: from Chris, over in the comments there, an important point: It’s well worth, in my opinion, standing firmly for the principle of academic freedom. I wish I’d said that too.]

[Update: another aspect I forgot and shouldn’t have (from Chris C in the comments): There’s a larger issue here: the importance of a playful attitude in the pursuit of knowledge. Yes! Lets not take this stuff too seriously. We have to work, but it doesn’t all have to be grind. We can have fun too, and should.]

[Thanks to the indefatiguable Hank for digging out Sci-Fi atmospheres by Ray Pierrehumbert. I haven’t seen that before. Meanwhile, BCL has found some more govt-sponsored trash that PZ will doubtless be attacking :-)]

Attribution errors

Judith Curry is now blogging, which is probably a good thing, because now instead of nitpicking other people’s blogs she is now attempting to say what she thinks. Unfortunately this results in some very strange things. In doubt she appears to believe that, over the next century, natural variablity is as likely to dominate as anthro forcing, and that uncertainty about this is as big as the two put together. Bart can’t make sense of that eany more than I can. She doesn’t seem to make any attempt to tie her opinion to published research, either.

But this post is about her take on the Pakistan floods. Passing lightly over her pointless ignorant snarking about the IPCC (as so often, wiki does it better) we come to her

Apart from the issue of whether or not we can attribute a portion of a particular extreme weather event to global warming (this will be the topic of a future post), exactly what is the point of even trying to do so? Suppose for the sake of argument that an attribution study determined that 5% of Pakistan’s floodwaters could be attributed to global warming. Well, 95% of a catastrophe is usually still a catastrophe, unless that 5% was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only is the attribution exercise pointless in our opinion, but it is actually counterproductive in that it distracts from the reality at hand and diverts the efforts of the meteorological and climate communities from actually doing something that might be helpful

mt gets part of the answer: that the idea that you attribute 5% of the thing is rather odd, and a very linear-thinking type approach.

Incidentally, I shouldn’t blame all these errors on Curry. Her co-author Webster makes his share of mistakes, such as

I find it frustrating to read statements (e.g., Trenberth) that attribute every catastrophe to climate change

Well, yes you would find it frustrating if you believed that, the problem is it isn’t what Trenberth said: the piece that Webster himself has just written starts with the usual anodyne quotes from the usual people, including “Kevin Trenberth has gone further, to state: What we can say is that certain events would have been extremely unlikely to have occurred without global warming, and that includes the Russian heat wave and wildfires, and Pakistan, Chinese and Indian floods.

But the point I actually wanted to make was that exactly what is the point of even trying to do so? is a strange question, easily answered. The point is that while we have a fairly good idea that the temperature will go up, and sea levels will rise, and weather patterns will change, we have much less idea about what the costs of climate change will be. Many people can be heard to assert that climate change will even be positive. So, evidence of costs would be valuable for economic discussions of our possible responses. So, say (hypothetically) knowing that 1 oC temperature rise would make such floods 50% more likely (*not* that 50% of the flood was caused by a 1 oC temperature rise) would be valuable information. That doesn’t seem to be a very difficult point to understand; I’m surprised that neither Curry nor Webster managed to think of it.

[Update: just to prove that there is a way back, I point out that Monbiot (who I’ve been fairly hard on before) managed a pretty decent column on Are the climate change sceptics with no evidence just naturally gullible?

Better still, read Inferno: To put two million square miles of arctic sea ice into perspective, imagine two million square miles of arctic ocean covered in ice.]

See also

* Curry jumps the shark
* Another token
* mt on Curry