Bloggers behaving badly

Maybe I should save this stanza for a slightly more apt occasion, but I’m impatient, so:

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
“And every single one of them is right!”

(Kipling, In the Neolithic Age, of course). But back to the post.

We might hope that the blogosphere would be full of reasoned debate, with people making interesting points supported by logical argument and careful references. Of course, any such hope would be dashed by fare such as posts titled “IPCC: not science, just dishonest!” (I’ve deliberately not linked that; before I go on, try and guess who that is) and quotes like:

Now, (yet again) these climate “scientists” have been caught out working not to the level of science, nor even to the standards of economics, but at a standard so appalling it would not be tolerated by any politician. Claiming to be “scientists”, getting public money to be “scientists” and then not behaving as “scientist” is totally dishonest. And when these people obtain public grants as “scientists” and they are not, such dishonesty must be fraud.

That’s a direct, and entirely false, accusation of fraud and dishonesty. What saves it from being actionable, in my humble non-legal opinion, is the careful avoidance of any specific individual targets.

Now, lets compare that to a minor kerfuffle that my attention was drawn to, viz The Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5) by ScottishSceptic – examined by CC and the follow-up, Dear ScottishSceptic, why do you keep threatening me? (you guessed, didn’t you?). This, in turn, is a critique of The Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5). Before I go any further, I’ll take a moment to revisit my criticism of (some small aspects of) that. This occurs in the comments on another post, sceptics vs. academics (a post so bizarre as to be largely surreal) and which (keep up at the back there!) has a post commenting on it at ATTP.

Anyway, I said

Its sweet that you try to claim the “hard facts” for your side. But that’s hard to reconcile with your view, that you say most “skeptics” support, that “Current estimates of about 0.8 C temperature rise in the past 150 years are very likely too high. There is compelling evidence of malpractice, urban heating and poor instruments & siting. A figure of 0.5-0.6C warming appears more likely”, and which you say is based on

“We had a discussion on this on WUWT (which I cannot find!!) where the consensus was around 0.5-0.6C from memory!! I felt if we said “the 0.8 figure is wrong”, I had to give a sense of what kind of warming we felt could be realistic.”

There are no hard facts in your revision, just your memory, which is as fallible as everyone else’s.

If the IPCC tried to produce temperature records, or evidence for or against UHI, based on “errm, a discussion we had somewhere, I can’t find it now” you would (correctly) rip them to shreds. But when it comes to your own words, suuddenly your “skepticism” disappears.

this gets a non-answer, as you’d expect, and it continues further on if you can bear it. So far, so many excuses for swipes by me, but bear with me, the connection will become clear in due course. Now, back to SS’s complaints (SS is ScottishSceptic) against CC’s posts (CC is citizenschallenge). SS complains under two headings, copyright and libel.

WP:NLT

But before I do that… Wikipedia has an interesting and possibly relevant policy, WP:NLT which is, somewhat expanded, “No legal threats”:

This page in a nutshell: If you have a dispute with the community or its members, use dispute resolution. If you do choose to use legal action or threats of legal action to resolve disputes, you will not be allowed to continue editing until it is resolved and your user account and or IP address may be blocked. A polite report of a legal problem such as defamation or copyright infringement is not a threat and will be acted on quickly.

Within the blogosphere, I’d translate this into: if you’ve got a problem, start off by making a reasonable attempt to solve it reasonably. In this case I don’t think it would have worked, but it was worth a go nonetheless. Within wiki, the policy is strictly enforced, and does a good job of preventing people using legal threats as a debating trick, or to intimidate people in argument. You can go to law of course, if you really want, but if you do you’re off in a different arena and can no longer participate on wiki.

Copyright

Claim one is The document is my copyright. You have copied it without permission.

It is true that CC has reproduced SS’s “Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5)” statement. However CC has done it in blocks, and clearly with the purpose of critiquing it, and the original is clearly attributed. It might also be argued that the document isn’t clearly SS’s copyright: as it says of itself, its been compiled from the views and with the input of numerous others.

I would also argue that anyone publishing a “statement” that is clearly political in nature offers an implied right to reproduce it – indeed, it seems pretty clear that SS would like the document itself to be widely publicised; what he is really objecting to are the critical comments.

Is it possible to permit copying only if no critical comments are made, but permit and encourage it otherwise? Perhaps. It hardly fits within a desire for vigourous debate, though: it smacks strongly of defensiveness.

What of the moral issue? Here the answer seems clear: because the document’s original source has been clearly attributed, and its been so cut about that no-one would copy the copy, they’d certainly go back to the original, I can’t see that any theft of intellectual property has occurred.

Libel

Claim two is and then listed it under “denial industry” making numerous false claims. This is a libel… (is there a missing “and” in there? I.e., should this read under “denial industry” and making numerous false claims? Or is this suggesting that the listing, under “denial industry”, in itself constitutes numerous (false) claims? That seems an odd reading; I’ll go with the former).

I’m not sure what the “numerous false claims” are supposed to be. On a quick skim, I’d say that CC is more correct than SS. I’ve already noted the problem with the arbitrary lopping off of 0.2 oC. It would be interesting to see SS back up the NFC assertion with evidence, but based on past behaviour I consider this unlikely.

di The unambiguous claim, though, is that by filing the post under “denial industry” CC has, errm, labelled SS as part of the denial industry (BTW, allow me to make it clear that I don’t think the SS is part of a “denial industry”. He says he isn’t paid for anything he writes, and I know of no reason to dispute that). But… well, firstly, its not exactly prominent. Here’s a half-size screen grab, but remember its taken from the bottom of a loooong post. Secondly, its also labelled “AGW educational link”, which is far from uncomplimentary. Third, I’m dubious that just putting a post into a category is really as serious as SS thinks. It seems rather thin-skinned to me.

Conclusion: clean hands?

Morally, I can’t see that SS has much of a case, even on the merits of these few posts taken in isolation. But more than that, SS doesn’t have “clean hands”. The quote I started with – when these people obtain public grants as “scientists” and they are not, such dishonesty must be fraud – isn’t an isolated example; you could find many more at his blog. More, there’s a complete lack of reflection, or self-consciousness, or any ability to read his own words as others would. Try this comment of his for example, ending There are two standards of morality in this debate – ours which is what any reasonable person would expect – and that of your side which would lock us up and tattoo us for the crime of saying it isn’t currently warming. Need I say more, guv?

The Spirit of Mawson

ATTP has a post on this, from which I’ve nicked most of my links. But he also has 50+ comments, so I abandoned my original plan to put some observations there, where they’d get lost, and have written this.

I’m not going to pretend my opinion – for that is all that this is – is definitive. I worked in Antarctic science a while ago, but never went South myself. But I’ll pretend I can evaluate some of this stuff.

Other people have written stuff:

* Andy Revkin
* the Frogs seem very unhappy
* Chris Turney defends himself in the Graun.
* Their blog.
* SPRI’s own “Bob” Headland isn’t impressed

I’d say there are two interesting questions: was their expedition sufficiently sciencey to ward off criticism; and, if it wasn’t – if it was largely a jolly – were they reckless? After all, no-one criticises pure tourist ships for going south (actually that’s not true: plenty of reflex enviro keep-ant-pure stuff exists, but that’s a different matter), so tourism itself is not a sin, but they tend not to go far south. And this stuff was rather definitely far south. BAS regularly sends people down for jollies, sometimes thinly disguised as “need to familiarise HQ staff with Antarctica”, but no-one believes that. They were selling places on the trip.

I think that a question asked by AR was the trip important enough to justify the cost that is now mounting? is obviously *not* the right question to ask – if they knew they were going to get stuck and need rescue, then obviously they wouldn’t have gone. A righter question would be was the trip important enough to justify (the cost that is now mounting) times (the probability that cost would be incurred)?

If you read their science case you notice that there’s an awful lot of blurb and padding before you get to their actual science case. Which is:

1. gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
2. explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
3. use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past
4. investigate the impact of changing climate on the ecology of the subantarctic islands
5. discover the environmental influence on seabird populations across the Southern Ocean and in Commonwealth Bay
6. understand changes in seal populations and their feeding patterns in the Southern Ocean and Commonwealth Bay
7. produce the first underwater surveys of life in the subantarctic islands and Commonwealth Bay
8. determine the extent to which human activity and pollution has directly impacted on this remote region of Antarctica
9. provide baseline data to improve the next generation of atmospheric, oceanic and ice sheet models to improve predictions for the future

Of those, I think that 1 isn’t desperately plausible: that kind of thing needs a concerted programme, not a one-off. They may have thrown some argo floats off, which is nice, but the regular resupply ships can do the same. 2 I have a hard time believing as well. I doubt they were equipped for it.

3 and 4 are believeable, but crucially don’t require going far south into the sea ice. Indeed, those were done on “leg 1”, not “leg 2” where they got into trouble.

5, again, can’t really be done on a one-off. They probably intended to look at a few birds, but there are loads of people down there doing that kind of stuff anyway. 6 ditto. 7 is squishy bio stuff so I don’t know, but I’m doubtful. 8 sounds dodgy – surely the Australian Antarctic Programme does this kind of stuff?

9 is too vague to mean anything. Richard Tol makes some of the same points at ATTP.

CT says

The AAE is inspired by Mawson but is primarily a science expedition; it will be judged by its peer-reviewed publications

which may be true eventually, but certainly isn’t true now; and he can’t possibly believe that everyone is going to suspend judgement for several years. He also says:

The aim of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) is to lead a multidisciplinary research programme in one of the most scientifically exciting regions of our planet, straddling the Southern Ocean and East Antarctic. Using the latest in satellite technology, we are beaming images, movies and text in an attempt to excite the public about science and exploration…

This puzzles me. Here he is, trying to defend its sciencey-ness, and the first thing he does is talk about attempt to excite the public about science and exploration.

TL;DR

From what I’ve seen, which is a distinctly non-exhaustive survey of Stuff, I don’t think their expedition was sciencey enough to ward off criticism. Were they reckless? Well, not quite reckless perhaps, but they were a long way South in what appears to be an isolated area, which was perhaps incautious.

Update

Well, not much chance to leave it there. ATTP added the big issue… is whether or not their decision to go as far South as they did with the ship they were using can be justified which is another question. They weren’t in an icebreaker, they were in an “ice strengthened ship”: see wiki. So they were safe(the Russian crew is still on board,and has not been evacuated), but they risked getting stuck. And even icebreakers can get stuck, unless they’re really sooper, as the Chinese proved. BAS, for example, doesn’t operate icebreakers.

[Further update: but in This was no Antarctic pleasure cruise in Nature, CT says the Russian icebreaker MV Akademik Shokalskiy. That leads me to re-read their website, which says “you can book a berth and join us on the amazing Shokalskiy, a true expedition vessel”; which elides the question. But the brochure clearly states “the Shokalskiy, is a true expedition vessel. Built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research, she is fully ice-strengthened”. Anyway, now that a major question turns around the ship getting stuck, I think its bad that CT isn’t being more accurate about the nature of the ship.]

http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/News/Cambridge-University-researcher-Robert-Headland-says-Akademik-Shokalskiy-expedition-was-on-the-cheap-20140105134404.htm

Another Question: how far are they away from a Proper Scientific Base? How far from Mawson? I haven’t seen this written explicitly – or if I have, I’ve forgotten – but I get the impression that its a Long Way – 1000 km or so. Were they only 10 km away, or perhaps even 100, that would alter the “risk” case. [In the continuing bizarre blog-storm on this, TC says at ATTP that Casey is closer – but still 2000 km away – but Dumont D’Urville is only 100 km. The question then becomes, but what facilities do they have?]

Shub Niggurath Climate has a moderately detailed chronology of the ship’s getting stuck. It might even be accurate, who knows. I certainly don’t understand Turney knew southerly winds were prevalent and would likely drive pack ice against their vessel. Perhaps SNC means “northerly”? [Later update: CT gives a rather shorter and not entirely compatible version of events at Nature.]

[And yet another update: McI has one of his usual detailed, but not entirely to be taken at face value, posts. Note in particular how he is careful to assign all responsibility to CT, and doesn’t even consider that the Captain might in any way be responsible. However, the compilation of imagery and positions is useful. What’s missing it the meteorology: having wind overlaid would be very useful, since the movement of sea ice is a key part of the story.

In one aspect McI scores a definite hit: CT claimed (in the Graun) that We worked on our research programme with the Australian Antarctic Division and other bodies and the expedition was considered significant enough to be given the official stamp of approval. In this recording (at about 1:30) Tony Fleming, director of the Australian Antarctic Division very clearly states that only the Env Impact Assessment was approved; they didn’t consider the science at all. CT is telling porkies.

OTOH, Fleming makes clear his opinion that the Captain is the one ultimately in charge of safety.]

Refs

* Eli Is Puzzeled
* The Trapped Polar Expedition: Spectacle or Serious Science? – attempts a summary of various discussions, including this one.

Architecture and morality

omd I’ve said this before – in Carbon Tax Now – but you could be excused for missing it, because that was mostly about carbon taxes, oddly enough. So I’ll be more explicit, here, and argue for solving GHG emissions as a matter of economics, to be handled by taxation, rather than as a matter of morality, to be handled… somehow. Context: Eli wants to handle it as ethics. And a fair amount of the comments on Can global emissions really be reduced? are about this. Disclaimer: I don’t understand economics.

I think this view (the morality view) is shared by, say, Greenpeace, whatever their public pronouncements about costs might be. They think GW is Bad and should be forbidden. Not taxed; not slowed; not ameliorated; not adapted to: forbidden. This is the moral approach: it is a bad thing, so don’t do it.

This is the approach we adopt for, say, murder. Or rape. Or a host of other crimes: they are forbidden. You can’t pay blutgeld as reparations for murder and avoid prosecution: this isn’t ancient Norway, or present-day Saudi Arabia (and let us not complicate the issue by worrying about the rich and lawyers).

But its not the approach we adopt to smoking. Smoking is Bad, but its not forbidden, its heavily taxed. Partly in order to discourage it, and partly as a pure money-raiser, which I admit complicates the analysis. And smoking differs from Murder in that whilst it may be Bad, in that your mummy told you not to do it, it isn’t morally bad1. [Would be nice to throw in another couple of examples here: anyone?]

wrmf And emitting GHG’s isn’t morally bad, in itself: only the GW consequences are. But they are “balanced” by “good”s, which are the things we get from burning GHG’s: light, heat, shelter, food, cheap shit from China. I say “balanced” because whilst they are goods and bads, they probably don’t balance. Indeed all economic analyses say that the goods (far) outweigh the bads. Anyway, that is to wander from my point.

Dealing with GHG’s as a matter of ethics throws up the problem that we might well not agree on our ethics. Though dealing with it economically throws up the problem that we don’t agree on the costs, true. Do you think polar bears going extinct is Bad? If so, how Bad? Is it bad enough to rule of GW all by itself (I doubt that would fly) or does it need other buttressing bads (in which case it isn’t absolute). And so on.

Some have raised the “intergenerational moral issue” as though it makes a qualitative difference. I don’t think it does. Indeed I don’t think it even appears in the economic analysis, because ownership of assets and debts just cascades: it makes no difference to the analysis whether you live a long time, or if your children pick up your goods and bads, or their grandchildren do. You could, perhaps, argue that this is a hole in the economics analysis, in which case I’m sure there are scholarly papers discussing this kind of issue.

But in the end, my main reason for arguing for the economic version (with all significant externalities internalised, of course, per std economic theory) is that it is the only approach that has any chance of working. Trying to do it via morality won’t work, but will offer vast scope for special pleading and political interference, all of which is Bad.

[Update: an important question in all of this is, do the gains from CO2 production outweigh the losses? Or, said another way, Are we producing negative wealth?. This was a question I asked yeeeaaarrrsss ago in sci.env, and got no answer. The link points to a paper which suggests that in some cases the answer is that the losses are larger. I don’t know if it is correct.]

Notes

1. There’s a legal distinction worth mentioning here (2018) that I wasn’t aware of, or only dimly,when I first wrote this post, between Malum in se (things bad in themselves, essentially irrespective of the law) and Malum prohibitum (things bad because prohibited by law). Murder is “in se”, smoking, whilst mildly “in se”, is mostly “prohibitum”.

It has to get worse before it can get better

This is actually a comment made at Early Warning about the current Eurozone crisis. Any number of people, too numerous to mention, believe that the situation there (or here? We’re not part of the Euro, but are economies connect closely) is a slowly unfolding train wreck, but that as so often elsewhere, the politicians don’t fully understand the problem, and/or institutional inertia prevents effective action. And this will continue until the problem becomes so bad that pretending the problem will go away if we talk a lot is demonstrated to be wrong by reality rather than just careful analysis.

Which is just like GW. Doing something about GW will cost money, and will upset powerful interests, and the effects are in the future and aren’t clearly understood, and “why don’t we just quietly do not very much for a while” is so much easier. By contrast, the Eurozone problems are about as acute as they can possibly get without being completely fatal, and yet people are still flailing.

Refs

* Looks like Reiner Grundmann reads stoat

Nierenberg vs Oreskes, round 2 (or maybe 3; I lose track)

Back in 2008, I examined the Oreskes vs Nierenberg affair and concluded that Nicolas Nierenberg was correct and Oreskes was wrong. And then NN capped that by actually writing stuff up into a paper, published in July of this year: Early Climate Change Consensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate.

And (I missed this at the time I think), Nature published a letter from Nierenberg, Tschinkel & Tschinkel, titled “An independent thinker, willing to say what he thought”:

We object to the inaccurate and misleading characterization of William Nierenberg by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (Nature 465, 686-687; 2010). Their claim that the peer-review panel chaired by Nierenberg “played down the severity of acid rain” is a contradiction of the panel report itself…

which was a reply to Oreskes earlier opinion piece puffing her book. And so now Oreskes has a reply to the reply in which she says:

William Nierenberg’s relatives disagree with our description of his role in the acid-rain debate in the early 1980s (Nature 466, 435; 2010). But their supporting evidence is a quote from The New York Times that is based on an interim report on acid rain, not on the final one. We maintain that Nierenberg worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology to weaken the final report on acid rain (Nature 465, 686-687; 2010), despite the consensus of the peer-review panel — articulated in the interim report — that acid rain was a serious threat. Historical documents from the White House and from Nierenberg’s own papers in the archives of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (for details, see N. Oreskes and E. M. Conway Merchants of Doubt; Bloomsbury Press, 2010) show how this was accomplished, and reveal the concern of other panel members when they discovered what had happened.

Oh dear, it is all too compicated. Where does the truth lie? I can’t check Oreskes assertions at all, without tedious library searches. For myself, until the matter is clearly settled, I’m going to trust NN on this: because he has clearly demonstrated errors by Oreskes in the matter of Nierenberg before, where she has wilfully misrepresented reality to fit her agenda. He says (pers. comm.)

The final version of the report was largely irrelevant since the interim report published a year earlier already made headlines with the recommendation for immediate action… All of this was made further irrelevant by the fact that the completely unmodified version of the report was leaked prior to publication. Nierenberg was quoted on numerous occasions as calling for action on acid rain, and he never changed his view.

Refs

This story is all getting tangled, so here is an attempt to put at least my posts into order:

* [Sept 2008] Nierenberg
* [Sept 2008] Book club: Nierenberg. Part I: introduction
* [Sept 2008] Book club: Nierenberg. Part II: Future CO2
* [Sept 2008] JASON arrives
* [Nov 2008] Nierenberg, chapter 3 and 4
* [Nov 2008] Nierenberg, concluded: Oreskes is wrong
* [July 2010] Well write a bloody paper about it, then
* [Aug 2010] This post
* [Aug 2010] Jastrow, Nierenberg and Seitz vs Hansen

I find it hard enough to keep my own posts in order, let alone anyone else’s, but: if you think *your* post deserves to fit into the list above, please mail/comment and if I agree I’ll add it.

* Brian Angliss at Scholars and Rogues has what I’d regard as an unduly favourable “review” of Merchants of Doubt: the problem is that he has failed to pick up any of the problems I’ve noted above, and has clearly taken Oreskes word for stuff. For all I know she is good for everything but the above, but that doesn’t seem entirely likely.
* http://nierenbergobservations.blogspot.com/ is NN’s viewpoint.

And if you want to watch WN speaking, here he is (the content isn’t very interesting – std type of skeptic stuff around 1999 – calls Spencer and Christy’s stuff a “perfact thermometer” for example; spends a long time playing down the CO2 residence time; TOPEX/Poseidon sees no SLR).
Continue reading “Nierenberg vs Oreskes, round 2 (or maybe 3; I lose track)”

Well write a bloody paper about it, then

So often you get folks who have some brilliant theory, but unaccountably lack the courage to write the thing up and submit it for publication. However, I’m pleased to report that Nicolas Nierenberg is not such a man, and he *has* written a paper: Early Climate Change Consensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate (blog post). Whether (like me) you think it is basically correct or (perhaps, I’m guessing, like Eli you don’t) you will, I’m sure, welcome the way this is being played out in scholarly debate.
Continue reading “Well write a bloody paper about it, then”