Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Month in Denialism


Be it known: A couple of commenters -- let's call 'em Pat and Mike -- recently rapped me on the knuckles for my use of the term "denialist." As far as I can tell, Pat feels that it's a logically incoherent attempt to conflate honest skepticism with a movement -- Holocaust denial -- whose goals and tactics it doesn't share; as such, it's an all too typical example of partisan idiocy from Communists like myself, who've cast aside science, common sense, and morality in order to join the Warming Cult.

Mike seems to find the term impolite, prejudicial, and insufficiently thoughtful, and to worry that my use of it may undercut the already-negligible effectiveness of my pointless pseudo-engagement with the "vermin" who write for politically inconsequential rags like National Review.

As you can see, it sux 2 B me. In light of this good-natured critique, I've decided that whereas I previously used the term out of arrogance, I'll now use it out of shame, so that all who read it may know just how impolite and biased I am.

On the bright side, this criticism did get me thinking about Pat's claim that sincere believers in AGW have a quasi-religious faith in the IPCC only because they don't understand Teh Science. I happen to agree with William of Ockham that "it is absurd to claim that I have scientific knowledge with respect to this or that conclusion by reason of the fact that you know principles which I accept on faith because you tell them to me," so I see Pat's point.

But of course, this is equally true of a non-expert's knowledge with respect to dissenting science. Since I'm not a climatologist, my belief will be somewhat faith-based no matter which side I choose to believe...except inasmuch as I don't have to be a climatologist to recognize that a denialist claim like CO2 is Life is completely irrelevant to the theory of AGW, and that any attempt to imply otherwise involves a certain amount of contempt both for science, and for the intelligence of one's audience.

This is where the issue of credibility comes into play, natch, which is why we hear so much about "Algore's Global Warming Theory," and not so much about the official stance of, say, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Or the American Meterological Society. Or Chevron.

With that out of the way, let's see what those goddamn denialist assholes have been saying lately. First up, we have Bjorn Lomborg, who's not a denialist so much as an inactivist. His claim, as usual, is that reducing emissions "would slow American economic growth by trillions of dollars over the next half-century." How do we know this? Projections and modeling, of course. (Sometimes they're actually reliable!)

Some of Lomborg's assumptions are impolitely described as "myths" by the McKinsey Global Institute, which claims that "the measures needed to stabilize emissions at 450 pppm have a net cost near zero." Obviously, Lomborg and MGI can't both be right...which means the only sensible thing to do is accept whichever theory is more optimistic. (You wouldn't want to be an "alarmist," would you?)

Greg Pollowitz notes that arctic ice is melting, and that volcanoes erupted under the Arctic in 1999. While he didn't get nearly as jubilant over this story as the rest of the Wingnuttosphere, he does imply that heat + ice = water, bwahaha! (Apropos of which, Coeruleus has some kind of chart that purports to show something or other. Who even knows what that's all about?)

Pollowitz's more general conclusion is that science sometimes gets things wrong, as is demonstrated by the former scientific belief that "this kind of so-called pyroclastic eruption could not happen at such depths due to the crushing pressure of the water." Let this be a lesson to all those who say that certain things are unlikely to happen!

Denialists were thrilled, recently, to learn that the American Physical Society has reversed its position on climate change.

The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming.
Denialists were annoyed, even more recently, to learn that the American Physical Union has done no such thing, and resents any implication that it has.
The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:

"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate."

An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS. The header of this newsletter carries the statement that "Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum." This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.
The bolded section would be the part that the author at Daily Tech left out of his "retraction." This may not do much good in the long run, though, since the APS has added the following disclaimer, in bright red letters, to the original article:
The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions.
The author complains that this warning was added without his knowledge or consent, and demands satisfaction on the field of honor. It's not at all clear to me why the APS would need his consent to distance itself from "findings" that it doesn't accept, especially since there's been an effort to make people believe it does accept them. Something further may follow of this masquerade.

David Evans says that there's no evidence whatsoever that CO2 is to blame for global warming. There's plenty to take issue with in his op-ed, but let's stick to the something nice and simple:
Satellite data is the only temperature data we can trust, but it only goes back to 1979. NASA reports only land-based data....
If only there were some way of finding out whether or not this is true.

Michael Gerson reasonably concedes that even a small possibility of a major climate disaster "should concentrate the mind," and attacks that vanishingly small group of conservatives whose "attitude seems to be: 'If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it.'"

Having done so, he goes on to claim that the real threat to the environment comes from the failure of environmentalists to form effective coalitions with people who a) hate them; b) believe that there's absolutely no possibility of a major climate disaster; and c) would cheerfully eat a plate of dogshit if Al Gore told them not to. He also worries that environmentalists sometimes display a certain "hostility to the extractive industries." They're partisan, in other words, and must straighten up and fly right in order to avoid "causing suffering for many, including the ice bears."

Unfortunately, the part of the article where he explains how to save polar bears and avoid climate disasters without irritating the extractive industries and their hypercapitalist bedfellows seems to have been left out due to space considerations. But I'm sure it was at least as incisive and informative as what I've quoted here.

UPDATE: Regarding Monckton's "peer-reviewed" APS newsletter article, Duae Quartunciae makes a sobering point:
The initial decision by the APS editor was extraordinarily naïve. I don't know what they expected to achieve with this; but whatever happens now it's a big win for Monckton and his fans. He's got a pulpit, and any response will be dismissed as scientific close-mindedness. Treating it as a serious debate is all that the denialists really want to achieve. Firing the editor (as some have suggested) is surely an over-reaction that would only make everything even worse.
(Link via Deltoid.)

22 comments:

monkeygrinder said...

I saw a few minutes of lomborg on Teve the other day. I sense a slow attempt by bjorn to triangulate away from his stupidest statements towards something more in line with actual observed reality.
A good goal would be to not have the pants around the ankles when the ocean rises above the knees.

ellroon said...

Dear Mr. Phila of Bouphonia.

I am a fan. You are tremendous. I like your big words. Remind me never to piss you off. I think I've said that before.

Yours, sincerely. Very sincerely.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar /Helluvafella!) said...

excellent critique!
hope the hiatus was for pleasure...

Anonymous said...

Remind me never to piss you off.

Indeed it must be terrible to be the target of one of your blog entries. Michael Gerson must be dying of shame right now.

I bet he'll be embarrassed next time he googles "Michael Gerson" and there on page 42 will be your devastating critique, adrip with mordant sarcasm.

If only there were some way of finding out whether or not this is true.

One observation - none of the TOPEX satellites mentioned in your link measures tempurature at all but topography. I know it says on the web page that they map yty heat changes in the ocean but these changes are only inferred from measures of sea-level in combination with all kinds of land based data.

see also here:

http://nasadaacs.eos.nasa.gov/articles/1996/1996_oceanheat.html

Obviously David Evans doesn't trust these inferences as much as direct observation via microwave sounding. His remark is 100% accurate although obviously not clear enough to be understood by laypersons and bad-faith googlers.

Phila said...

His remark is 100% accurate

So you're in complete agreement with Evans that NASA only reports land-based data?

Interesting.

chris said...

I'm surprised that none of these geniuses have suggested pumping more O2 into the atmosphere to balance the CO2-which-is-life.
The best plans are the simplest. Here, have a cigar. Light?

John Cole has a few words for Gerson and the Wapo.
http://www.balloon-juice.com/?p=10880

Phila said...

I'm surprised that none of these geniuses have suggested pumping more O2 into the atmosphere to balance the CO2-which-is-life.

'Cause there's no need. More CO2 means more trees and more forests, which means more oxygen, which means that we can cut down existing forests with impunity.

I read all about it in a textbook from Regnery; it's known as the Limbaugh Cycle.

MikeJ said...

You have neglected to mention that Al Gore is fat. This, I believe, is the fulcrum upon which the remainder of the anti-AGW argument rests.

What are you trying to hide?

Anonymous said...

So you're in complete agreement with Evans that NASA only reports land-based data?

No actually as any first-grader would know NASA reports plenty of data from space. But Evans was only talking about global temperature readings. I picked this encoded message by reading his piece slowly and carefully! Pretty sneaky huh? Evans is deliberately hiding his secret message from axe-grinding critics too lazy to read more than every other word... it's ingenious! I see now why he totally sucks.

Phila said...

But Evans was only talking about global temperature readings.

So you're in complete agreement with Evans that NASA only reports land-based data on global temperature?

Even more interesting!

Since this seems to be one of your areas of expertise, and you've been blessed with the ability to read things slowly and carefully, perhaps you'd care to mention one or two of the real errors in Evans' article?

If you find none, you can of course say so.

If you have sufficient spare time -- which seems very likely -- I'd also welcome any thoughts (pro or con) that you might have on Evans' credentials.

Anonymous said...

Even more interesting!

Why is it interesting? Is it false? The only link you've offered in opposition is to a oceanographic satellite study that doesn't measure global temperature but topography. Do you have another in mind? Is this a test of my psychic powers!? I hate tests!

perhaps you'd care to mention one or two of the real errors in Evans' article?

I didn't notice any, but maybe I missed a spot. Inviting your audience to find all the errors you claim exist has to be the coyest approach to criticism I've ever seen.

I'd also welcome any thoughts (pro or con) that you might have on Evans' credentials.

Although I'm "pro-credential" in most cases, I'm not interested in Evans credentials but what he wrote. I'm sure your favorite experts like Tim Lambert (PhD in computer graphics) can kick his ass. I bet they also smell better and have straighter teeth. Your concern for credentials is (again) totally noted.

Phila said...

Why is it interesting? Is it false?

Views differ, apparently. You came here claiming to agree 100% with Evans that "NASA only reports land-based data" on global temperature. If you can dig up any other evidence for this claim than the article about TOPEX (which I'm sure you read slowly and carefully), feel free to post it here. Take all the time you need!

If you're in a hurry, you might find it easier to start out by trying to falsify your claim. That should only take half an hour or so, even if you're reading slowly and carefully.

I hate tests!

I can see why.

I didn't notice any, but maybe I missed a spot.

Maybe you did, despite having read it slowly and carefully.

Inviting your audience to find all the errors you claim exist has to be the coyest approach to criticism I've ever seen.

I'm not inviting my audience...I'm inviting you. Your reading skills are far better than mine, it seems, so it should be fairly light work.

Read the article slowly and carefully, and tell me just two things Evans said that aren't true...that's all I'm asking. How hard can that be?

Although I'm "pro-credential" in most cases, I'm not interested in Evans credentials but what he wrote.

If you re-read the article slowly and carefully, you'll note that Evans wrote at length about his credentials. Shouldn't that make them "interesting," by your standards? Interesting enough, perhaps, to ascertain whether he's describing them accurately?

Anonymous said...

If you re-read the article slowly and carefully, you'll note that Evans wrote at length about his credentials

Truly he devotes only two sentences to his credentials:

I DEVOTED six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian Greenhouse Office. I am the rocket scientist who wrote the carbon accounting model (FullCAM) that measures Australia's compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, in the land use change and forestry sector.

The end. Even reading slowly, that took all of 20 seconds. So now we go to the greenhouse.gov website, where we see Evans is exactly who he claims to be!

http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/ncas/reports/pubs/tr28final.pdf

...the carbon accounting model for forests developed by the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO), CAMFor (Richards and Evans, 2000a), the carbon accounting model for cropping and grazing systems – CAMAg (Richards and Evans, 2000b)

So whats with the innuendo? Is Evans really a labrador retriver posing as a scientist? Perhaps Tim "class act" Lambert has uncovered a compromising Polaroid. Don't keep your audience in suspense!

Phila said...

The end. Even reading slowly, that took all of 20 seconds. So now we go to the greenhouse.gov website, where we see Evans is exactly who he claims to be!

Yes, he's THE "rocket scientist" who "wrote" the carbon accounting model (or one of them, at any rate). Exactly! Any idea what any of that actually means, friend?

Perhaps Tim "class act" Lambert has uncovered a compromising Polaroid.

You seem pretty obsessed with Lambert. I wonder why? Did you get banned over there or something?

And it looks as though you've got nothing to say about Evans' other errors...nothing at all. So every word of his article is true, and a sermon in itself, eh?

And you have no further "proof" of NASA's stubborn refusal to report satellite data on SST?

Like I said, interesting!

I must say, you've come a long way from the days when you were just a concerned well-wisher with an interest in stringent accuracy and fair play....

Anonymous said...

Exactly! Any idea what any of that actually means, friend?
Yes, mon ami! I DO have an idea what it means! It means he's a computer scientist, and that "he" wrote the "model" that's "used" for carbon accounting "in land use and forestry", exactly as advertised. (nb by "wrote" i suspect he didn't actually "write" anything but actually typed... is this on the scavenger hunt list?)
Sure we can all agree that 'rocket scientist' is an incredibly lame flourish, but his level of schooling as a scientist (post doc from Stanford) is at least as impressive as any of the contributors at realclimate. Surely you are aware vanha ystävä that 'climate science' rests entirely on the strength of computer models, and that the insight of a computer scientist might be relevant? Speaking of computer scientists...
You seem pretty obsessed with Lambert.
Obviously I've mentioned Lambert only because you've plugged his site in many of your posts including this one!. Of course you're not obsessed with Tim Lambert, are you?
And it looks as though you've got nothing to say about Evans' other errors...nothing at all.
I've nothing to say because I haven't identified the factual problems you claimed existed but refused to specify, besides the "easy" one in your link that turned out to be a dud. If I could read minds I'd live like an emperor. You could really make me look a fool by spelling them out in black and white, otherwise it just seems like a time-buying bluff.
NASA's stubborn refusal to report satellite data on SST?
NASA (via GISS) analyzes satellite data --not their own but NOAA's in conjunction with their own terrestrial data and they report on the results. Quite obviously that isn't what Evans means by "reporting data" when he is specifically talking about primary temperature measurements!! Once again your weird out-of-context haphazard reading is the problem. Newsflash: NASA has *no* satellites in orbit capable of reading temperature!!!

Anonymous said...

Newsflash: NASA has *no* satellites in orbit capable of reading temperature!!!


Before we suffer thru a flurry of links about NASA joint projects with other countries, please know that those satellites (EOS eg) aren't owned by NASA, and they clearly are specifically mentioned by himself. Ultimately NASA has a hand in most weather satellites launch and control. It doesn't make the weather data NASA's.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Aqua, I see that "yammering fuckhead" Roy Spencer (who also believes in ID & writes for NR -- truly the fourth horseman!) is not only still affiliated with Aqua, he's reporting temperature data from the project directly to Congress.

http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=e12b56cb-4c7b-4c21-bd4a-7afbc4ee72f3

I heard he cheats on his taxes, and has an Exxon tattoo on his forehead. I'd bet ''Exxonecrets.org' has a dossier an inch thick on that bible thumping freak.

Phila said...

Yes, mon ami! I DO have an idea what it means! It means he's a computer scientist, and that "he" wrote the "model" that's "used" for carbon accounting "in land use and forestry", exactly as advertised.

So he wrote (or co-wrote) a model, while employed as a contractor by the AGO. What did that entail, exactly? Or roughly? How much climate data did he gather or interpret, I wonder?

his level of schooling as a scientist (post doc from Stanford) is at least as impressive as any of the contributors at realclimate.

You know who else's level of schooling is at least as impressive as theirs? Sir Martin John Evans, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

That doesn't make Sir Martin an expert or quasi-expert on climatology or climate modeling, though. Maybe you should be comparing levels of schooling in the field under discussion, eh? Or is that too, like, linear for you?

God knows I don't expect much from you...but this attempt to wave away the relevant academic distinctions between Evans and, say, Gavin Schmidt makes you sound way, WAY more crazy than usual.

I've nothing to say because I haven't identified the factual problems

Why not? I thought you were "interested in what he wrote." Besides...where's your fine grasp of climate science, and your fierce interest in accuracy, and your slow and careful reading, and your bone-deep hatred of cant and rhetorical sleight of hand? Don't tell me you're mellowing with age?

You could really make me look a fool

Coals to Newcastle, pal. Again, someone who holds up Evans' CV against those of the folks at RealClimate doesn't need my help to look like a schmuck.

That said, I'll make it easy for you: " The greenhouse signature is missing. We have been looking and measuring for years, and cannot find it."

True or false?

Quite obviously that isn't what Evans means by "reporting data" when he is specifically talking about primary temperature measurements!!

"Additional variables also being measured by Aqua include radiative energy fluxes, aerosols, vegetation cover on the land, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter in the oceans, and air, land, and water temperatures."

This image depicts a 3-day average of actual sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, from August 25-27, 2005.... The SST data came from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite.

But never mind that. It's obvious that it's prefectly reasonable to downplay the availability of ocean temperature data of the highly specific sort preferred by amateur climate sleuth David Evans, 'cause NASA doesn't "report" it -- in the sense of gathering it -- but merely reports it, thanks to "joint projects" by means of which the data in question become available and interpretable (along with some other data that don't count 'cause Evans doesn't think they're worthwhile).

Needless to say, the way Evans explained this problem couldn't possibly have been intended to mislead anyone. And that goes double for his claim to be THE "rocket scientist" who wrote (coded?) the AGO model.

I'd have some hope of realizing all this, if I weren't too busy accusing Great and Good Men of being horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Speaking of Aqua, I see that "yammering fuckhead" Roy Spencer (who also believes in ID & writes for NR -- truly the fourth horseman!) is not only still affiliated with Aqua,

Mindblowing!

I heard Michael Behe is still at Lehigh University. He must totally be right about everything!

Anonymous said...

That doesn't make Sir Martin an expert or quasi-expert on climatology or climate modeling, though.

Seems to me that Evans isn't writing as an expert on climatology but on computer modeling. Surprise! Lambert isn't an expert on climatology either, but he's perfectly qualified to opine on some of the science involved. Have you ever coded any kind of model? unless you understand the system you're modeling it's impossible.

someone who holds up Evans' CV against those of the folks at RealClimate...

Evans has a doctorate in engineering from one of the best schools in the US. What does he need to earn your respect, a Nobel Prize?

True or false?

Like you I have read graphics expert Deltoid's piece on Evans. Unlike you I have found it wanting, and addressed my points to him. You haven't presented any kind of criticism of your own so I truly don't know where you're going here.

[.. overlong link from EOS... ie AQUA..., exactly what I warned against!...]

Aqua is a multinational joint project involving a bunch of ex-NASA scientists including one you termed a "yammering fuckhead" -- is he suddenly back at NASA reporting data on their behalf because his project's instrument rides atop their satellite (a vehicle, not an instrument) and his name appears on their website?

"NASA doesn't report it" when they don't perform the data collection AS NASA and they have to (by law) cite the research body that does in all their public statements including your link.

the way Evans explained this problem couldn't possibly have been intended to mislead anyone

It's only misleading if you ignore the rest of the paragraph which specifically concerns discrete, primary temperature records. Only someone with a major axe to grind would miss this. Evans couldn't make reference to any non-NASA satellite data unless he were only discussing primary data.

Personally all these points could have been made clearer, but the article wasn't written to counter such haphazard criticism.

Phila said...

Seems to me that Evans isn't writing as an expert on climatology but on computer modeling.

That'd be why he made it so abundantly fucking clear to the casual reader that he was A contracted computer modeler / programmer, as opposed to THE "rocket scientist" who singlehandedly wrote the AGO model. (It's probably just a coincidence that countless bloggers and media figures are currently championing Evans as "a rocket scientist," a "top rocket scientist," a "top scientist," a "climate researcher," a "climate scientist," a "greenhouse expert," the "top Australian scientist who developed [the] Kyoto accounting protocol," a "climatologist," a "committed believer who produced scientific evidence for the Australian Greenhouse Office," and so forth. How could he possibly bear the slightest responsibility for these misconceptions?)

That'd also be why he has nothing much to say about computer models in this article -- beyond pointing out that they're "theory," as though that constituted an argument against them -- and instead concentrates almost entirely on critiquing or citing empirical data. His only specific complaint about computer modeling has to do with radiosonde data, and it amounts to nothing more than an argument from incredulity: "If you believe that, you'll believe anything." Really makes the debate crystal-clear to the layperson, doesn't it?

Evans has a doctorate in engineering from one of the best schools in the US. What does he need to earn your respect, a Nobel Prize?

Sorry, pal, but this isn't about me. You claimed that his level of education was at least as impressive as that of anyone at RealClimate. Do you stand by that statement, or not?

Like you I have read graphics expert Deltoid's piece on Evans. Unlike you I have found it wanting, and addressed my points to him.

How interesting! Once again: True or false?

Personally all these points could have been made clearer

And yet, they weren't...and the result is that the naive reader will come away with the impression that NASA doesn't take sea temperatures into account in its assessment of global temperature. That's why Evans says "the other three global temperature records use a mix of satellite and land measurements"...to imply that NASA doesn't worry its pretty little head over satellite data. Which isn't quite true, is it?

It's only misleading if you ignore the rest of the paragraph which specifically concerns discrete, primary temperature records.

What "rest of the paragraph" would that be? Quote, please?

And just 'cauise I'm an eternal optimist: "Satellite data is the only temperature data we can trust." True, or false?

Anonymous said...

How could he possibly bear the slightest responsibility for these misconceptions

This is priceless. Evans is responsible for misconceptions carried away by some idiot bloggers. Got it.

as though that constituted an argument against them

It is an argument against their use as "proof" of AGW. Empirical evidence is a much higher standard of proof, which is why he is ignoring the model "data" and discussing direct observations.

Really makes the debate crystal-clear to the layperson, doesn't it?

Unlike a trained engineer and programmer, the layperson wouldn't be qualified to evaluate the climate models Evans is discussing. One of the many reasons why laypersons without advanced engineering degrees shouldn't pretend to weigh in on their epistemic merits.

Sorry, pal, but this isn't about me. You claimed that his level of education was at least as impressive as that of anyone at RealClimate. Do you stand by that statement, or not?

Yes your honor, I do. I also stand by my statement that I like pizza. By God above, I am as impressed by post doc in EE from Stanford as I am by any scientific degree in the world. Clearly you have higher standards, except in the case of Tim Lambert, whose insights you seem to value even though he's a moron with a mere Phd in computer graphics from a 4th tier university.

"Satellite data is the only temperature data we can trust."

Evans is here offering what's known as an "opinion." You are reading what I think is called an "editorial" where such ideas are often expressed.

Anonymous said...

the relevant academic distinctions between Evans and, say, Gavin Schmidt

why not start with their similarities? For starters neither guy has a PhD or even a bachelors in an environmental science - Schmidt studied applied mathematics. Ok, so he can integrate a fluid equation ... before he was involved in GISS what classroom -- or better still-- laboratory experience had he in physics, chemistry or any atmospheric science? Far less I imagine than a doctorate in engineering. (the same is true btw of Chris Ho-Stuart aka "Duae Quartunciae" -- yet another computer scientist-turned-climate expert.)

I'd bet that if you were involved in any discipline populated with mathematicians and modelers, you'd recognize something. Many highly trained mathematicians seem to think that exotic integrals hold more insight than mere experience . The more elaborate the model, the more likely it'll be taken up as a 'golden hammer' immune to empirical evidence and public criticism.

so why promote scientific obscurantism? and why malign model skeptics as 'denialists' (a term better suited to a religious tribunal??)