It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, July 21, 2008

How the Public is Deliberately Misled

Deltoid reports on a complaint to the UK's media watchdog commission about the unfairness of the infamous Great Global Warming Swindle swindle. The outcome appears to have been somewhat marginal; if I understand correctly the commission agreed that the program was egregiously misleading, but somehow not in violation of the letter of the law.
Actually Ofcom said that to be in breach, not only did Swindle have to materially mislead, this misleading had to cause "harm or offence". Ofcom decided that it wasn't harmful if viewers came to believe untrue things about the science, so it sidestepped the question of whether Swindle was misleading.
Charming. Anyway, the text of the complaint is perhaps the most thorough document we have of the methods of this particular effort to mislead the public on matters of science, and is most revelatory about the techniques used elsewhere in the misbegotten sleight-of-mind industry.

People taking the bait on such nonsense as the culpability of Rachel Carson in all malaria deaths and so on ought to consider that there are people going around doing this sort of thing.

The text of the complaint is available, and a summary is also available.

[Update: Above emphasized because it is my main point and I didn't want it lost in all the bickering.]

The plaintiffs have also got some interesting supporting commentary from some leading lights including Pachauri, Houghton, Wunsch, Santer and Trenberth. (Unfortunately the organization of their website is a mess; hopefully they will reorganize it somehow. The only thing worse in an information website than a how-to-use page is an information website whose how-to-use page is 404.)

Tim Lambert has crossed my mind several times this week, and it's time I doffed my cap to him for some extremely valuable work he has done over the years on his blog. People interested in environmental science and environmental policy really ought to follow his efforts.

And congratulations also to William, who appears to have had a hand in setting the ball in motion, and who has an insightful summary of the outcome. Links in the comments there are also useful.


Assorted bickering follows:

Update: [Meta-Update: McIntyre continues to insist I withdraw the following, on the grounds that the text "That’s not to say that Ofcom said that Durkin’s point of view had been vindicated, merely that the complainants were seeking comfort in the wrong bed." was in the original article. He is correct. Accordingly I hereby withdraw the following:
McIntyre is portraying this as complete vindication [Update: "vindication" is disputed by McIntyre: see below; however, unabashed admirers of McIntyre also read McIntyre's description as vindication] of the propagandists.
My attribution of "vindication" was factually incorrect, and I apologize for it.

I remain very unhappy with the way McIntyre is handling this business, but I did not phrase my complaint, which expressed my honest opinion after a quick reading, with acceptable precision. I'll be more careful in future.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled Update.]

Presuming he is serious, and not simply as malign as Durkin, this [McIntyre's apparent satisfaction with a result he sees as a "stuffing" of the plaintiffs] is a very grave error and a real shame, I think. I can understand a nonscientific body being shy about judging what is or isn't a reasonable representation of science, but nobody with any grasp of the issues should condone this level of spin, in any direction.

This sort of provocation cannot serve to improve communication between scientists and serious skeptics.

Update: Under my challenge Steve McIntyre recast what read to me as a celebratory bleat as helpful advice to scientists undertaking a legal challenge that I oddly misread. See if you are convinced (comments 69 and 71). Then go read the latest on Deltoid for some context. Tim seems to share my impression that McIntyre's report reads as something other than sage advice to future petitioners.

Update: quoth McIntyre (comment 92):
I repeated the statement that he had not been “vindicated” twice in the comments here here, including once in reponse to Michael Tobis.

Notwithstanding these clear and repeated statements that Durkin had not been “vindicated” by Ofcom (which is a quite different thing than thecomplainants being stuffed), Tobis told his readers at his blog that he had siad the exact opposite - that I claimed that Durkin had been vindicated. Tobis: in a post about “How the Public is Deliberately Misled”, then misleads his reading public by attributing to me a statement where I had said the opposite three times.

McIntyre is portraying this as complete vindication of the propagandists.

Maybe he was trying to see if his readers could pass a skill-testing question on being misled. If Tobis wants to talk to his readers about “deliberate misleading”, maybe he could start by withdrawing his untrue and misleading characterization of my post.
I concede that McIntyre has adopted a conciliatory tone in his response to me and explicitly disavowed vindication in that reply, as well as perhaps elsewhere.

This doesn't change the fact that his article actually seems not just to emphasize the aspects where the complaint failed but to relish them. To be sure, that seems to be what his audience wants, but I think it undermines his claim to want to get past games and actually look at the facts. There is little doubt that making fun of opponents can be fun. (See Joe Romm using an inappropriate and excessive Monty Python metaphor about the celebrated Lord Monckton of late) but it doesn't do a lot of good either way, insofar as one concedes that we need to collectively get a good estimate of the seriousness or otherwise of the carbon problem.

So I am a bit taken aback by the injured tone, here.

McIntyre here is just gleefully stirring the pot. At least Romm knows he is being puerile. (Not that this didn't lose Romm quite a few points with me; one should keep one's class resentments in one's own country and not try to import others'. Such things lose a great deal in the translation.)

I really do try to see the point of what the skeptics are saying, and it is on occasion more interesting and thought-provoking than you might expect (though, of note, a couple of silly lit-crit types apparently haunt CA trying to go all deconstructionist out of left field at the slightest opportunity!) It wouldn't take a great shift on their part to make the conversation much more productive than it is, and I'm willing to do some compromising of my own to that end.

Alas, though, McIntyre's protestations, though arguably valid in the letter, frankly seem contrived to me in spirit. Worse, they seem contrived to reassure McIntyre's audience, largely populated by politics-first no-such-thing-as-AGWists, and to offend those of us in the mainstream.

Update: Stoat's take, from closer range than McIntyre's, obtains a very different verdict on who was "stuffed". And Revkin comes right up the middle!

Update: Tim Lambert has mysterious psychic powers about such matters.

35 comments:

bernie said...

I read the Ofcom report and basically it reads "no harm, no foul" according to the rules that Ofcom plays under. This clearly leaves open significant room for disagreement, not to mention name calling.
As to the tone at CA, I would have to agree that SM seemed pleased with the outcome. However, I think his pleasure was not with any notion that Dorkin was in any way vindicated. I think the underlying source was that those who would shut down debate were shut-down or "stuffed".
It is not hard to understand why SM would react in this way and I do not see his reaction in anyway indicating a need to take him at any less than his word on why he does what he does.
SM wants openness and transparancy.

Steve Bloom said...

Bernie, he may in part want that, but the central focus of his agenda makes that impulse hard to distinguish from opportunism.

bernie said...

Steve:
It is hard to find anything incorrect or inaccurate in Steve McIntyre's deconstruction of the Ofcom report - which is more than can be said for a number of others with vested interests. . Interpretation obviously depends upon one's starting point, but it does help one's case if you are both precise and accurate.

EliRabett said...

Since McIntyre's entire tactic box is filled with parsing and fisking, digging in and refusing to admit anything, so given the opportunity why did you not invite him to go fish?

And notice the style with which bernie enters.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli, I am not unaware of that reading of the matter.

The question is whether to engage those people at all.

If one does, one would have to play by rules one would expect them to play by. So the ball went slightly out of the court. His point. I don't see them making too much hay out of it.

So that is really the interesting topic. Should one attempt to participate in a conversation at Climate Audit at all? The reasons to avoid it are obvious. The problem is that there is a lot of appeal to sincere and intelligent people who really perceive our constant struggle with marginal viability as conspiratorial and venal. Weird, huh?

McIntyre can be read literally as simply claiming we are sloppy; on this point the best thing to do is concede when it is true, which it often is. We simply don't have the resources to behave like a medical or engineering firm just for starters, leaving aside about six other problems I can think of.

Addressing one of the other six (lack of appreciation within the field of modern software methodology) is my modest career mission.

That McIntyre's spin plays into the hands of those that have a more conspiratorial view of our little clan is consistently true. I am not sure to what extent he does this deliberately. He may just have learned to write what pleases his audience. He may genuinely dislike most of us.

Regardless, it's crucial to understand that his audience is vast. When I write a message or two over there, just the backscatter to here doubles my traffic. This is very troubling; he must have thousands of regular readers to my dozens.

I am inclined to engage on that account alone. They are in need of some coherent challenges over there, so that the more openminded of the regular readers will take note of the fact that their conspiracy theories don't hold water.

He is such a different beast from you or me, Eli, that it is hard to understand what he is thinking but my impression is that McIntyre is sincere and actually thinks he is performing a service. This may mean he is accessible to reason.

I am not asking him or his readers to stop criticizing climate science, which is hardly above criticism as you will probably concede.

If I go back in earnest I would be asking them first to stop indulging the conspiracy theorists among them and second to mix a little top-down thinking amid all the nitpicking. A quixotic quest perhaps, but there you have it.

Since I'm contemplating such a step (which would be immensely time-consuming and override my other hobbies including this blog) it seems that one should give the devil his due. If a nitpicker finds a real nit to pick, it seems to me that one should smile and calmly say, yes, that is indeed a nit, thank you for picking it, and move on.

No amount of me admitting to misreading a fine point of somebody else's skew of some overseas government agency's view of somebody's complaint about somebody's misrepresentation of the facts will change the facts in question.

One need make no claim to infallibility to try to draw attention back to the fact that meanwhile, another gigaton of carbon has been spewed.

bernie said...

Eli:
"And notice the style with which bernie enters."

I am not sure I understand your point. I thought I was simply stating my view of the situation in a way that invited alternative views. DId you see it differently?

In what ways do you mean "fisk", since apparently this neologism has a variety of meanings?
If Michael wants to check on how Steve McIntyre "feels about the Ofcom report in the light of what Steve would like to see happen around Climate Science" - why not simply ask?

As to SM "digging in and refusing to admit anything", do you have some examples?

One other thought springs to mind about the role of auditors and SM's reaction to the discussion of the Ofcom report. In business there are two potential roles for auditors: the traditional role is the "cop" and their role is to ensure that controls are in place. This is close to the IRS auditor model - not a pleasant experience and not intended to be one either. Some companies, not withstanding Sarbanes-Oxley, have championed a role for internal auditors as business advisors and they are expected to be constructive in their comments to the business leaders - not simply accusatory. There is a dynamic, however, where if auditors under the second model feel that people are not being forthcoming they will tend to revert to the traditonal auditor function leaving neither party particularly happy.

MT:
I just saw your post. I think it is fair comment that a number of commentators at CA and RC for that matter operate as if they derive entertainment from writing flames and seeing conspiracies everywhere. On the other hand I am pretty certain that many are also genuinely and simply skeptical especially about the policy recommendations and their implications for how resource decisions get made. A good example is the way Ross McKitrick's proposal for carbon taxation has been totally ignored by pro-AGWers.

Steve Bloom said...

It's an interesting idea, Michael, although you are not the first to have it. You may want to check with those who have gone before, including in particular Leif Svalgard but also Judy Curry and Rob Wilson.

McIntrye has several tactics aimed at making him appear as mainstream as possible, e.g. dismissing the truly crackpot ideas (although finally he had to set up a bulletin board as an outlet for such material). That veneer aside, his efforts are precisely what you would expect from someone with an extractive industry background who has launched a second career "auditing" climate science. To have remained focused as he did on the hockey stick kerfuffle was more or less understandable, but now everything he does seems aimed at repeating that self-perceived "victory" in other areas of the science. You would think that a person who claims to accept the general advice of the IPCC would eventually have broadened his interests. As he has not, it seems to me that his acceptance is not honest, and is simply another tactic to make himself look fair even while he pursues his single-minded mission.

McInytre himself is somewhat prone to the same flights of fancy as his regular commenters, and consequently has put up a number of posts that he quickly was informed were completely wrong. One sees no record of such things since he makes a practice of deleting them ASAP. I've seen him do the same in the comments. (Note that I probably miss seeing a lot of this stuff since I'm by no means a daily visitor there.)

Add to the foregoing the fact (IMHO) that most readers of CA are not in fact persuadable, and there seems to be a strong case that a better use of your time would be to join the RC team. I think it's a well-established fact in the blog world that, all else being equal, daily or close-to-daily posts will greatly increase traffic, and RC's problem along those lines is obvious. Lots of people don't like to use RSS feeds, and with frequent posts a person who makes a habit of visiting each day will generally find something new.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Steve.

Yes, that is the counterargument in a nutshell.

McIntyre however does seem genuinely uncomfortable that nobody is engaging him, albeit on his own terms. He will not stop doing what he does, but perhaps he can be persuaded to do it in a more constructive way. I do find it an interesting prospect.

Re RC, I don't think it's as simple as volunteering. I think if I had anything of RC quality to say they would probably publish it, but I don't presume to put myself in the same intellectual class as most of the RC team, at least not insofar as the core interests of the discipline go.

Perhaps I am a better writer when addressing a broad audience than some of them. That said, some of them do just fine, and when Ray sets his mind to an outreach presentation he is as brilliant as in his other areas of expertise.

Pantheist Mom said...

Michael,

Personally, I enjoy the integrated approach you make in your blog - science + economics + social movement + etc. I think your unique contribution is big picture issues and trying to move slightly out of the box, with the benefit of also being knowledgeable in the details of the science. Just my opinion, of course - not that it was asked for.

I am extremely disillusioned wrt to the ability of the general public to engage in any kind of constructive discourse. I hope that it is simply that the process for a population to make a dramatic shift in ideology is long and ugly, and that my disillusionment is really only a mask for impatience.

I've gotta say I totally agree with Steve Bloom. You could be very engaging on CA, but I think ultimately, the payoff would be low.

I respect that you find all of this important. We'd do well to have more with the same mindset.

hankroberts said...

> a couple of silly lit-crit
> types apparently haunt CA ...

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/impostor.png

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, re RC, I was thinking in terms of much shorter posts. There are other possible subject categories, but one example is the large number of significant and/or informative papers that never get a mention outside the journal they appear in. As an "informed amateur" I find it possible to mostly understand the material, with the major exception of the more difficult atmosphere physics ones, but I have little ability to place papers in their context; e.g., how important the results really are, are there competing ideas, any larger implications, etc. There's also the frequent problem of often just being able to see the abstract. RC would also be a good place to get the word out to journalists regarding such papers.

I completely agree about Ray, his recent "Julia Child" post being a great example, but the problem is that he's not in position to write very many of those. On the flip side, the level of detail in such posts is perhaps a bit much for many readers. I think leavening them with some shorter, more digestible posts would be a big help to the site.

Michael Tobis said...

Hmmm. I'm enjoying In It and that would have to be a more serious endeavor, but I'd certainly do something like that if I were asked.

It seems a bit presumptious to volunteer.

EliRabett said...

One does not "engage" with a propagandist, one narrows his audience.

Michael Tobis said...

I am not convinced that McIntyre can be described so simply. I think he is a mite peculiar but obviously talented. I have some hope that his talents can be redirected somewhat toward more useful goals.

You may be right though. It is a hard call for me. I'm not entirely enamored of the atmospheric science community myself, you understand. There are things I won't say that I enjoy seeing other people say.

McIntyre has got a temper on him, though, and nobody calls him on it. That tends to work out in peculiar ways to fulfill expectations of an "uncooperative" scientific community.

On the other hand, unlike most of the denial sites, there is much intelligent and interesting conversation going on at CA. Misguided, mostly, but not stupid or ill-intentioned.

Anyway, I'm surprised to find myself enjoying the read sometimes. The porblem is that I find myself uttering a sentence or two, hoping that will be the end of it. And of course since most people who have a fair idea of what is going on avoid the place, that's like throwing red meat into a pack of hungry wolves. It's a most unfortunate dynamic.

My thought is that McIntyre is too interesting to be just a paid shill. Though he arguably does more damage than any ten of them, I don't think he means to.

bernie said...

MT:

You say that Steve MCIntyre
... is such a different beast from you or me, Eli, that it is hard to understand what he is thinking but my impression is that McIntyre is sincere and actually thinks he is performing a service. This may mean he is accessible to reason.

As I have said ask him. I honestly believe that SM is quintessentially a WYSIWYG kind of person.

As for commenting at CA - why on earth not if you can clarify issues and represent an alternative viewpoint. But I suspect youwill get some tough responses if you suggest that climate scientists "...simply don't have the resources to behave like a medical or engineering firm just for starters." That will simply noy fly. The current thread about CSIRO data is a perfect example.

Steve:
You say SM's "efforts are precisely what you would expect from someone with an extractive industry background who has launched a second career "auditing" climate science. To have remained focused as he did on the hockey stick kerfuffle was more or less understandable, but now everything he does seems aimed at repeating that self-perceived "victory" in other areas of the science. You would think that a person who claims to accept the general advice of the IPCC would eventually have broadened his interests. As he has not, it seems to me that his acceptance is not honest, and is simply another tactic to make himself look fair even while he pursues his single-minded mission."

It is plain and simple. First, the extractive industry shot is just that, an unwarranted and slightly sophmoric shot. Second as I noted above, WYSIWYG. Steve says that he would listen to the IPCC, as reflecting the prevailing consensus, if he was responsible for policy. However, as someone able to review aspects of the science - he sees major issues in the adherence to the types of scientific standards and risk management procedures that the scope of the policy decisions demand. I have not seen anything that Steve has written that runs counter to this. If you have some examples I am "persuadable" but not a push over for sheer rhetoric.

Barba Rija said...

Good morning. All I see in this blog post comment thread (and apparently M Tobis seems to agree with it) is sneer, speculation and witch hunt at a single person (McIntyre).

Examples:

McIntyre's entire tactic box is filled with parsing and fisking, digging in and refusing to admit anything


. That veneer aside, his efforts are precisely what you would expect from someone with an extractive industry background who has launched a second career "auditing" climate science. To have remained focused as he did on the hockey stick kerfuffle was more or less understandable, but now everything he does seems aimed at repeating that self-perceived "victory" in other areas of the science.

Or the inane

ou would think that a person who claims to accept the general advice of the IPCC would eventually have broadened his interests. As he has not, it seems to me that his acceptance is not honest... (who are YOU to dictate where other people should be interested?)

One sees no record of such things since he makes a practice of deleting them ASAP. I've seen him do the same in the comments.

He deletes comments that are out of scope of thread, but he warns first. Other than that, I've seen nothing that you are here referring. I haven't even read any complaint about censorship in his blog. Or are you accusing him of even deleting such complaints? That would appear to be more the likes of Real Climate.

Add to the foregoing the fact (IMHO) that most readers of CA are not in fact persuadable

It depends on what you mean by "persuadable". If by that you mean sticking a graph of 650 000 years of history of CO2 and temperature to my head as a "proof" of GW, while it is obvious that it is not so for innumerous times explained already, count me off. I demand better than that. I demand scientists to be true to me, to tell me where they probably are wrong and where they don't even have certainties. I don't like to be "sold" science.

Another thing that gets me in many climate scientists that blog is this notion that GW is beyond criticism and the "debate is over", and so any debate place in the internet at it is instantly classified as a site of "shills and misinformations". This prima donna attitude doesn't help your cause. It doesn't help that many studies simply don't archive and make available the data and algorythms they used to get their results. Like many people say, it takes more than peer-review. It takes cross-checking, replication of results. It's a crude task, cruel and merciless. When Michael Tobis says, for instance:

Though he arguably does more damage than any ten of them, I don't think he means to.

he simply testifies that he doesn't really understand how real science advances. Real science gets punches in the stomach. It gets torn upside down, it gets demolished. Only in this method real science, not pseudo-science (ala Freudian theories), can be created. McIntyre's activity is something that many more people should do. Skepticism, not sheeplessness, should be encouraged.

The irony of this is that if climatologists did cope with McIntyre's complaints about transparency and cooperation, climatology would speed up immensely its findings, and perhaps would reach to a point of real understanding of climate and be able to make real working forecasts.

Much unlike what is happening right now.

Barba Rija said...

PS: It is telling, from a "censorship issue", that in this blog, one has to pass through the moderation barrier, while in CA one does not.

It's in the details, you know?

Michael Tobis said...

Barba Rija does a good job of summarizing the misguided position that dominates on CA, despite the fact that McIntyre does not seem entirely comfortable with it.

It is, at least, vastly more plausible than the conspiracy theory.

Other than sputtering outrage or silence, what can be done to address this sort of concern? It is a legitimate concern a priori, despite the fact that it is much more wrong than right.

One thing is to point out that we constantly make decisions based on economics, despite the fact that economics suffers from all of these problems far more than we do. That isn't sufficient, though.

Tim Lambert said...

The censorship at Climate Audit often very heavy handed.

Steve Bloom said...

Barba, I've personally been subjected to some quite heavy-handed censorship there. Also, just to be clear, McIntyre from time to time has deleted his own posts. Had he left those up someone surveying the site would conclude that he's not so temperate after all.

I think what you don't get about climate science is that it's constantly under revision, and so scientists will prefer to get on to new work that will improve our understanding and/or reduce the error of the prior work. They properly see it as a waste to devote too much effort to defending and rehashing old work. If I were one of them I would respond very negatively to the idea that I should spend extra time and resources readying my work for "audit" by amateurs who can do arithmetic but can't understand the underlying significance without a large amount of hand-holding.

Steve Bloom said...

Bernie, when you say McIntyre "sees major issues in the adherence to the types of scientific standards and risk management procedures that the scope of the policy decisions demand," I wonder if you're aware that it's been approximately twenty years since enough science was in place to tell us that we had better start sharply reducing CO2 emissions?

bernie said...

Steve:
I assume your question was rhetorical, so I won't worry about answering it. More to the point, with regards to the need for scientific research to be open and transparent and, therefore, replicable, I don't think that it matters. Again the CSIRO data is a case in point. As far as I know regional climatic effects, i.e., precipitation and incidence of drought, for Australia as a result of global warming are not definitive (20 years or not) therefore the requirement to post data and methods to enable replication has both scientific and policy implications.

Steve Bloom said...

Bernie, my point is that McIntyre is straining very hard to avoid the big picture, as are you. Twenty years ago the direct research was probably mostly all crap by current standards, but it plus the physics was enough to tell us that we had a serious problem that should be addressed immediately. Arguing that the details of current results undermine that twenty year old conclusion is intellectually unsupportable.

I should add that I think most opposition to appropriate climate policy has the same roots as resistance to dealing with the problems of peak oil and oil security. People just plain resent being told they're going to have to change. Picking at details is a good strategy for distraction.

Steve Bloom said...

It's very difficult not to be cynical about McIntyre when he's responsible for this sort of crap. Notice how he uses Watts' site as a dumping ground for stuff too unrespectable to post at CA? Next thing you know they'll be resurrecting Doc Ewing, if they haven't already.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, so Rachel Carson wrote a popular article about climate in 1951 Popular Science that was basically wrong though not spectacularly so. Let's even stipulate it was the same Rachel Carson. So what? I don't know why this is especially interesting to anyone.

Sending anything to Watts is a bit dubious but this doesn't amount to much. Did I miss something?

As to your point about nitpicking, yes, exactly. They are nitpicking to avoid looking at the big picture. Shouldn't somebody be over there saying that?

bernie said...

Steve:
I agree "People just plain resent being told"
When the stakes are big enough and costs likely to be staggering, I personally would prefer to persuade myself.
It is no accident that many of those who are skeptical are of a more libertarian persuasion. That doesn't make them right or wrong on any particular issue or part of a conspiracy - it does however make it somewhat predictable that they will be reluctant to trust anyone arguing for larger government in any shape or form.
In much the same way that environmentalists are likely to believe stories about negative environmental consequences without looking at the data or the science.
The criticism that SM does not speak to the big picture -- well, I guess he gets to chose what he focuses on. I suspect he focuses on that which interests him -- like most of us.
You seem to think that SM is part of some conspiracy?

bernie said...

Michael:
Nitpicking? I am not sure I would use that term. SM as far as I can tell is primarily focused on one of 10 substantive chapters from the most recent IPCC TAR and a general reasearch practices issue. Tangentially he surfaced issues with the temperature record and has made some not inconsequential technical contributions in that area. Roger Pielke focuses on another issue. Roy Spencer on another. I don't see anything wrong with this type of specialization. It just so happens that SM focused on that which his statistical and data represenation skills allowed him to quickly gain some traction.
What you seem to want is for him to become an evangelist for catastrophic global warming. That is a bit much!

David B. Benson said...

I doubt they are cpable of looking at the 'big picture'.

bernie said...

David:
What makes you think that they are not capable? Me, I think about the big picture all the time, if by big picture you mean how can approximately 3 billion East Asians achieve a reasonabe standard of living without using fossil fuels? The Indian Government which has a whole bunch of smart folks and minimal domestic fossil fuels don't think they can. But I think about how much better off they would have been without nearly 30 years wasted trying to establish a centralized non-market economy with the concommitant continued population growth. The issues with Pakistan and Bangladesh are on a slightly smaller scale, but even more intractable because of the more dfficult social mores. Alas there is not much I can do about it, but I do think about it.

Michael Tobis said...

Bernie, if there are two big picture problems and you only think about one of them, that is not big picture thinking.

(Actually there are more than two; the principle holds for any strict subset M of the N real problems. We have to resolve all N of them.)

bernie said...

Michael:
That is definitively your definition of "big picture thinking". If that is what you and David meant by "big picture thinking," it does not allow for much of a difference in perspectives. It would also make someone like Bjorn Lomborg not a big picture thinker, at which point your definition seems a bit suspect.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't understand. I think Lomborg qualifies as a big picture thinker under my definition. An incorrect one, to be sure, I think mostly because of his attachment to conventional economics and the growth imperative at time scales where they do not apply.

I share your concern that universal development is needed, but I don't see how that cancels out the necessity to preserve the planet in the process.

bernie said...

Michael:
I identify more with BL's overall perspective than with those who would suggest that addressing the issue of reducing AGHG is the primary issue. I see nothing sacred in the wilderness per se nor with any particular species save our own - at the same time like most I am very much against waste, cruelty, inefficiency, and thoughtless destruction of anything.

Michael Tobis said...

Some might argue that a failure to see anything sacred about the world is indeed your problem, but I'm not here to argue religion. The question for you is whether humans can survive without an approximately intact natural world, and whether, even if we could, that could be construed as "growth".

If the atmosphere were to become unbreathable a vigorous bottled air industry will emerge, contributing positively to total economic production. Ah, progress!

bernie said...

Michael:
You wrote:
The question for you is whether humans can survive without an approximately intact natural world, and whether, even if we could, that could be construed as "growth".

The first part of the statement I agree with though we would undoubtedly differ on what constitutes "approximately intact." I am not sure I understand the second.