The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What not to do about Prometheus

I am struggling with my organization of the blogroll, per Heiko's complaint in a comment that I've misplaced around here somewhere. I think Heiko is reasonably fair-minded, and it's good to have sensible opposition. Maybe, in some old-fashioned dialectic, we can even learn from each other. Anyway I put him on the "good climate blogs", because he is always worth reading.

What I am struggling with is Prometheus. In my opinion Roger Pielke is a post hoc arguer, choosing a position based on a political calculation and then defending it, [Update: this is still my impression but given my confusion about the number of Roger Pielkes on the scene I am reconsidering it] rather than proceeding from evidence to conclusions. Consequently, he is sometimes very cogent and sometimes very counterproductive, depending on whether he started from a sound position or otherwise.

I am splitting the difference by not blogrolling him at all, partly compensated by my objections when he was [temporarily] removed from the blogroll at RC, and partly excused by the fact that anyone interested in climate blogging will come across Prometheus eventually anyway.

Anyway, Pielke was treated very shabbily by RC of late and has not been shy about saying so. This intemperate behavior at RC does far more damage than any half-baked laundry list Prometheus comes up with about what's wrong with the WGI report. [Update - I have confused RP Jr with RP Sr, and I withdraw this with apologies. Google for Pielke and "scientific errors" to see the article to which I was referring.]

It's bad enough when a random delusionist gets this treatment.

To treat a prominent academic in a relevant field in this way is, hmm, how to put this mildly, hmm, hmm, let me limit myself to "counterproductive"

Simply censoring him would be cause for concern, but yelling at him, openly censoring him, and not giving him room to respond is another matter. This behavior by RC editors is worse than no RC at all. It isn't Pielke that looks bad in this exchange.

21 comments:

Heiko said...

Thank you for your kind words, I suppose I didn't like the thought of being put in the same category as Lubos Motl ;-)

I've put you, James Annan, Fergus Brown and Coby Beck on my "blog roll" (and also global change), and not real climate or Roger (or the IPCC),
because over the last few months the people on the blog roll are those I've had fruitful discussions with that I've learnt something from.

You include a much wider selection of links, quite a few to sites I don't know at all, or only a little (in fact, I don't usually read Lubos Motl's blog, but it's so bad, that what little I've read is more than enough).

As you say Roger is an eminent scientist in the area of science policy / climate impacts. You could either leave out the link (it's not a slight really, the IPCC won't feel slighted either by neither of us putting up a link), or maybe include a new category, similar to Coby Beck's "Other interesting reads", if you feel uncomfortable with declaring his blog to be a "Good Climate Blog".

-----------------

I think that Real Climate isn't so much about discussion. They've got comments there, but I don't think that that's a major focus for them. I think they want to write specific articles, more than start long discussions. Personally, I think their comments threads are far too long, considering that I don't really thing they are that focused on discussion. It might be better to just get rid of their comment option. If it's an important correction or reply by the author of a paper they've discussed, that can be dealt with by email.

Anyways, that's for them to decide, what I've decided though is that their comments section are rarely worth reading and that it's not a place for fruitful discussion, largely.

Anonymous said...

Tactics like RP Jrs, IMHO, are intended to generate outcomes just like what you say, Michael.

He and his coterie will now trumpet (trombone, brass band, symphony orchestra) this RC misstep, and there may be a few minds out there who will be convinced that the scientists' findings reported at RC are buncombe.

I do think, however, that almost all decision-makers understand this AGW issue thing. They know man is largely responsible for current conditions. So wingnut tactics about "debate" and "consensus" fall on sensible ears.

No one yet knows what to do. That's the inertia. We've never done anything remotely close to this. We need some good, strong, compelling, inspirational leaders.

Best,

D

Anonymous said...

Tactics like RP Jrs, IMHO, are intended to generate outcomes just like what you say, Michael.

He and his coterie will now trumpet (trombone, brass band, symphony orchestra) this RC misstep, and there may be a few minds out there who will be convinced that the scientists' findings reported at RC are buncombe.

I do think, however, that almost all decision-makers understand this AGW issue thing. They know man is largely responsible for current conditions. So wingnut tactics about "debate" and "consensus" fall on sensible ears.

No one yet knows what to do. That's the inertia. We've never done anything remotely close to this. We need some good, strong, compelling, inspirational leaders.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks to you as well, Heiko. There are a couple of topics you have raised recently about which I am thinking, and I don't intend to let them drop indefinitely.

Regarding the value of RC discussion threads, that depends if you care what most people are thinking. If you wish to operate in a democratic context, it is important to understand how people are thinking, and not to rely on publc opinion polling, which is a blunt instrument at best.

It is my opinion that the RC editors should refrain from comment on the threads unless they take as much care as they do with the articles. If they do not express themselves at least as politely as they would do at a public gathering, they exacerbate rather than ameliorate the public's distrust of climate science.

Of course I am deeply appreciative of RealClimate's efforts to report the science, which are a huge help in keeping up to date.

This doesn't change my disappointment to see such counterproductive behavior by some of the editors in the discussions.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael- Thanks much for the comment and link back, which got me here. Absolutely no worries about the blog roll thing, we don't even have one.

I would be interested in any substantive examples of the following (I simply have no idea what you mean):

"Roger Pielke is a post hoc arguer, choosing a position based on a political caclulation and then defending it, rather than proceeding from evidence to conclusions."

Also, please do check your facts when you write about a:

"half-baked laundry list Prometheus comes up with about what's wrong with the WGI report."

I've always expressed support for and acceptance of the IPCC WGI report. WGs II and III, where I have expertise, I do have some differences which I discuss.

Thanks again, and best wishes.

Michael Tobis said...

"half-baked laundry list Prometheus comes up with about what's wrong with the WGI report."

RP Jr. asks me to check my facts and I must say he is right to do so.

My error, and a bad one!

I was confusing RP Sr with RP Jr.

It is certainly the case that I don't want to be responsible for everything my father has said, so I really should not hold RP Jr to such a standard! My sincere apologies.

Other characterizations may have been based on confusing the two. I will pay closer attention in future.

Thanks to Roger for taking this so well.

Anonymous said...

Michael, you pretty much nailed Roger Pielke Jr. The reason he is getting foul treatment over at RC is because he has a long history of raising contrarian "issues" for no other reason than to draw attention to himself.

For instance, Roger attempted to sully the work of Susan Joy Hassol, which enraged Ben Santer. He's also cherry picked information from industry consultants like Steven J. Milloy.

So, over time, Roger has just lost credibility and is now heavily edited and often the butt of jokes.

Oh, and Roger started banning people some time ago from his blog. So you could argue that turnabout is fair play.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli comments here.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Michael-

I suppose I should be flattered by all the concern about what I write. It must be some important, powerful stuff;-)

But seriously, if you or any of these anonymous commenters -- including my long-time acquaintance Eli -- would like to comment on Prometheus, you are absolutely welcome to do so. No one is prohibited from posting, and the only censoring we do is for spam.

If you'd like to comment on substantive issues, so much the better (oddly absent from this discussion!). Those who want to hide mindless ad homs and insults behind anonymous blog posts ... well, those pretty much speak for themselves.

Thanks again!

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, noting the below take-home point from Heiko's blog, I'm not so sure it's appropriate to put him in the "good climate blogs" category.

"In the longer term, a world with 1000PPM (for enhanced plant growth) and with 25C everywhere would be ideal."

I doubt he understands the implications of this, but still, yikes.

Gareth said...

Dano has this right. The world has moved/is moving on. This is much ado (in the blogosphere) about nothing (and the rest of the world just yawns).

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, re Heiko, good catch. It will be interesting to see him expand upon it.

Still, my sense of Heiko is like my sense of John McCarthy in the early sci.environment days; someone who is sufficiently amenable to evidence that you can respect his point of view. I would like to convert McCarthy and Heiko, but at the same time it is so refreshing to have cogent opposition that it might be a bit disappointing to have to go back to shooting down the usual noise.

Lomborgism is not as silly as Singerism or Lindzenism, though as you can see, in the end it tends to carry intelectual baggage that shows confusion about earth science and what appears to me as an ideological commitment to an infallible marketplace.

25C everywhere is simply not remotely desirable nor even dynamically possible, so presumably
this part wasn't thought out well.

What the long-run ideal CO2 concentration might be is a more difficult question, but we are so far from stability that it is almost absurd to discuss it.

Getting to 1000 ppmv rapidly by expeditious combustion of fossil fuels is lunacy, of course. Explaining why isn't entirely trivial.

That all said, while he seems to miss out on some of the answers I appreciate Heiko's questions and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Heiko said...

It's a philosophical point about what would be desirable, if it could be done. It's decidedly not meant to imply that simply getting to 1000 PPM would ensure 25C everywhere, because, well, it wouldn't.

There's no scheme available with present technology that would ensure 25C everywhere anytime soon.

And the philosophical / value issue point isn't so much about whether 25C or 20C is ideal or 1000 PPM or 500 PPM, it is that I have a very anthropocentric view of value and that means I want an environment that is good for people.

So, if we could control the climate of the world as well as we can presently control the climate of houses, I'd be inclined to do so.

As I point out on my blog this techno optimist / environmentalist distinction is one of tendency. Everyone has a bit of both in them and most won't take the tendency to silly extremes.

I'll comment a bit more later today.

Heiko said...

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/

John McCarthy does seem to be a very reasonable person, and like me he's towards the techno optimist end, of the techno optimist / environmentalist continuum. I have corresponded with him about nuclear power in the past (well about 5 years ago) and he modified one of his statements when I pointed out an error.

You might think that the techno optimist / environmentalist distinction should be about value judgments, rather than factual assessment, what I've concluded is that the two seem inextricably linked, because where you are on that continuum will influence who you trust and what you will conclude when the facts are contradictory / too complex.

You can be aware of the fact that what you'd like to be true pushes you in a certain direction, but it's impossible I think to always rationally compensate for it.

----------------------

I think most economists will be aware that the market is not "infallible". Revealed preference has its limitations, if I can, and I do in fact, argue paternalistically, that heroin is bad for you, no matter what the revealed preference of your purchasing decision shows,

I can, and jolly well do, apply that elsewhere. We've talked about this before, and I think you may have misunderstood me a little at the time. Paternalism has negative connotations, but I actually think it's got its place.

I don't agree with Lomborg on everything, he seems too confrontational to me. Presently, it isn't clear to me that a lot of money is actually being spent on reducing CO2 emissions. Decisions such as reducing coal mining subsidies in Germany or to have high petrol taxes make sense for other reasons. He's too ready I think to claim that money spent on climate change won't be available to deal with other pressing problems, not least because in many cases, the measures being taken because of climate change may be net positives even without considering climate change.

Steve Bloom said...

Heiko, the reason Michael and I responded strongly to the 1000 ppm CO2 remark is that it means a planet with no polar ice sheets (= @ 70 meters sea level rise), acid oceans that will cause a massive extinction there, and climate shifts on land that will lead to a similar extinction (and those are just some of the forseeable consequences). Personally, I think there is zero chance of humans going extinct under this scenario from direct causes, but OTOH I think it is very unlikely that we will respond very well as a species if the planet shifts in a matter of a century or two from being able to support @ 10G humans down to @ 1G. Humans don't have a very good record of group response to severe environmental crises (see Jared Diamond's Collapse), especially if it appears that it will be future generations that will bear the greatest burden.

Michael Tobis said...

Actually, a slow transition to 1000 ppmv, say over 10,000 years I understand it, will not acidify the ocean. The trouble is that the rate constants for certain aspects of ocean chemistry are very long.

The oceans have survived at much greater CO2 concentrations than 1000 ppmv, but they have not been exposed to rates of change comparable to present ones, as far as we know.

See the last paragraph of David Archer's extremely important article on RealClimate.

I did not take either of Heiko's numbers as substantive. It is simply impossible to have a uniform surface temperature on a planet with an even slightly transparent atmosphere.

Heiko is just saying that in his opinion the planet exists for us alone and no other moral obligations matter to him, I think.

Heiko said...

"Heiko is just saying that in his opinion the planet exists for us alone and no other moral obligations matter to him, I think."

Maybe that's a bit strong, I do have an issue with wanton cruelty against animals for example. It's not easy to put something complex into words.

I think the techno optimist / environmentalist divide is about a number of things. I know that when I dream about the future, my vision of what I'd like the world to be like, when I have sketchy thoughts of an idyllic future, I tend to think of space colonies, artificial environments made by humans for humans, more so than a world with few humans, and those humans living modest lives.

Steve Bloom also mentions species extinctions, and that's where I am extremly anthropocentric. I don't want wanton cruelty, but in the end, I don't think we've got a moral obligation to save species just for their own sake.

Fergus Brown had a nice post detailing the environmentalist point of view:

http://fergusbrown.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/31/#comments

"Typically, ‘environmentalists’ (understood to mean those people who believe that a care of the natural environment is a primary moral duty) take the moral high ground, using the rhetoric of ‘responsibility’ and ‘duty of care’ as the expression of a value system which places humans as both participants in and guardians of the planet."

Belette said...

I shall risk commenting. Firstly, I have both RP's on my blogroll, even though I find both irritating on occaision, but Jr is often very valuable. The edited comment on RC was regrettable, as was the silly "IPCC errors" article by Sr.

RC threads grow very long indeed - too long; but censorship is work. The problem is that its become somewhere people go to argue and chat without necessarily discussing the post at hand.

James Annan said...

The problem is that its become somewhere people go to argue and chat without necessarily discussing the post at hand.

Of course that was the sort of thing that globalchange was invented for...not that all of the RC stuff would be welcome IMO.

However, it seems that many people like to control the debate by hosting it on their blogs...

Michael Tobis said...

James, I made the same comment to William in email.

(btw is there something about climatologists that we aren't Jim, Bill and Mike? And my boss isn't Charlie? ...)

Anyway, I think we should either improve the visibility of Global Change or drop it. Probably google groups won't do the trick, either.

If there's further interest let's take it to the moderators' list.

EliRabett said...

Michael, IMHO you are crazy wrong to think that 1000 ppm atmospheric CO2 would not shift the pH of the ocean. The upper ocean and the atmosphere essentially equilibrate in only a few years. 1000ppm atmospheric proportionally increases the concentration of CO2 in the ocean which pushes the equilibrium toward acidity. Unless you have some magic way of introducing a load of carbonate ions from the deep ocean or the magical kingdom you will increase acidity

1000 or even 10000 years is not sufficient time for ocean life to adapt to the changed pH. There would be a rapid die off, followed by a very slow recovery