The New Aristotelians

Bear in mind that my ancient philosophy is deeply unreliable; I’m just using NA as a label for a trait I think I can see amongst the “skeptic” folk one sees at WUWT and the like: an inability to abstract.

Let me try to explain that by example, in case it isn’t clear. To many people nowadays, with the success of science so obvious, the idea of abstracting problems isn’t difficult. If you need to consider the motion of a ball on a surface, you begin with an abstract perfect sphere on a perfectly flat surface and ignore friction. You can then learn about Newton’s laws of motion, about momentum, – that the ball moves in a straight line unless deflected or stopped by some force, and so on. If you like, you can consider the ball to be moving on a rotating planet, and discover exciting things about the Coriolis effect. Once you’ve done all that, then you can add back in all the effects – friction, non-uniformity, whatever – that you would need to actually find the path of the ball, considered as an engineering problem in, say, accurately computing its path in the real world.

The ancients (and I’m using A as an example because well known, possibly unfairly) didn’t do that abstraction, or didn’t begin with that abstraction, or it wasn’t clear to them that they needed to shuffle detail out of the way in order to understand. They were still trying to understand the whole world as it was. Which was why it was “obvious” to them that the first and most obvious property of moving objects was that they stopped moving once you stopped pushing them. An ox-cart rumbling down some rutted muddy path stopped when the oxen stopped pulling it; that was obvious, and the study of such was so mired in the nitty-gritty reality of the world that precious little progress was made until Galileo abstracted (I know, I know, I simplify: Oresme etc worked on the problem too and got some of the way there; but again, only by picking on simpler examples).

A gorgeous example of this tendency is Crowdsourced Climate Complexity – Compiling the WUWT Potential Climatic Variables Reference Page. As you’ll see, it is a worthless mish-mash of text copied from elsewhere (almost all from wikipedia, amusingly; they even feel a need to apologise for that because wikipedia is well known to be part of the Giant Conspiracy Against the Truth). But that, from their point of view, is fine; because the main point of all of that is to To demonstrate that Earth’s climate system is a ridiculously complex, continually evolving and sometimes chaotic beast, with the plethora of variables, many interdependencies and an array of feedbacks, both positive and negative. On that particular page, they aren’t really interested in understanding things – they are more interested in not understanding them. But the basic failure to understand physical processes and instead wallow in irrelevant detail shows up whenever discussions of the Greenhouse effect come out (though for true wackiness you need to head off for the wilder shores); any attempt to understand radiation is instantly overwhelmed by digression into irrelevant detail.

There is far more closed-mindedness over in “skeptic”-land that just this; indeed, the majority aren’t even thinking enough to get this far. But the failure to abstract is, I think, what traps a fair number of those that would be able to think, if they had better guidance.


Confirmation bias

So, Lindzen f*cked up (Misrepresentation from Lindzen) badly enough that he needed to apologise. He is being weaselly, though, in throwing the blame on someone else. And he is wrong to say that the URLs of the datasets were the same.

Part of his “apology” is rather amusing:

The public interest in this quantity, however, does make it a matter subject to confirmation bias

and to pull a comment out (thanks dp):

That’s exactly true – someone (Howard Hayden) got a result that they liked (looked like GISS had changed numbers) and confirmation bias made them and Lindzen believe it and publicise it without adequate checking.

[Incidentally – there was a slight comment hiatus over the weekend, partly due to me being busy, and partly due to something at mt failing. I’m now going to turn off approve-before-appearing and see how that goes. Well, that didn’t take long. Spambots are fast. OK, I’m going to try leaving moderation off but turning captchas on. I think its better for people to be able to see their comments immeadiately. I think mt is broken. Anyway, back to moderation – please comment on that, if you’re interested.]


Various things that I meant to write about, but didn’t, until too late. Happily, everyone else has now said most of them.

His transgression cannot be condoned, regardless of his motives – JEB, quoting Michael McPhaden being a bit po-faced about Gleick. This almost turned into a discussion on the philosophy of science with SE’s comment: Science works not because we trust each other, but precisely because we don’t trust each other, and we’re continuously finding and addressing the weaknesses in each other’s work. I don’t know about you, but I think most of my colleagues are deficient in intellectual rigor, truthfulness and integrity.

Totally unrelated, but if you row in Eastern England you want to come to the Head of the Cam, April 28th. Speaking of which, the crew I stroked came 4th in the Novice VIII’s category in the Winter League. I’m hoping to be not-a-novice by the time I’m too old to row, though many people retire virgin.

There was a long trail of deep stupidity (what else?) at WUWT about sea ice; Tamino took them to pieces in three parts: I, II and III. I joined in over at WUWT for part III but they weren’t really playing: Jeff Condon barely even attempted to defend his stuff, and had no answer to me pointing out that other people have done a far better job of defining first-year ice – and it doesn’t involve an arbitrary latitude.

Not to be outdone, Willis Eschenbach then proceeded to make Curry look good, by attempting to criticise a paper of hers, but making it painfully clear in the process that he hadn’t read it (its the one about recent-snowy-winters, which he misread as recent-increases-in-total-snow-extent; I’m vaguely interested in this as I have anecdotal evidence for enhanced snow over the last, say, 5+ years here).

The image I used above came from Tar Sands vs. Coal at ClimateSight.

Meanwhile, on the subject of plagiarism, Science has a story about an ecologist having nicked someone else’s words. That came via RetractionWatch, which usually covers medical stuff, but also covered Wegman recently.

Update: just in (thanks RN) is A view of climate “on the ground” from a reporter who was there at the beginning:

I worked as a journalist in the late 1980s in Colorado… I clearly remember the tone of articles on global warming during the 1980s. Most of the concern came out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research… The problem with NCAR’s interpretation on the ozone fluctuations were that some, like Hanson, took an immediate ideological tone to explain the ozone shifts – not once mentioning the Sun or the Interplanetary Magnetic Field effect on Earth’s ozone layers. For some reason, there was a resistance to even mentioning the Sun’s effects on earth by these new climate scientists getting jobs at the science agencies. It was odd I thought.

He can’t tell his ozone hole from his global warming. This is heavy-grade stupidity. And WUWT have fallen for it. Just in case you’re in any doubt:

in short, when I wrote pieces on the climate, I refused to write on the theory that chlorofluorocarbons were the sole cause of worldwide warming because that had never been proved


And I nearly forgot: Lindzen: what a lying toad, eh? [Update: but he has now apologised. Mind you, he is still wrong – the dataset URLs were different.]


* So, is it a fake?
* HBOS and the banking crash