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, September 7, 2009

Try Again; Your Objective Opinion Was Too Subjective

I think I never blogged about this Peggy Noonan blurt. I saw her name today and it came to mind again, in all its blazing glory.
Thursday, July 20, 2006 12:01 A.M. EDT

During the past week's heat wave--it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday--I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warning is real, what must--must--the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?

You would think the world's greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can't. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.

All too many of them could be expected to enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view.

And so, in the end, every report from every group of scientists is treated as a political document. And no one knows what to believe. So no consensus on what to do can emerge.

If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing.

But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy.
See? It's our fault after all! Because, if we hadn't been all ideological about the physical properties of the biosphere, and corrupted the process where all the world's scientists got together to be serious about it, we could have explained to everybody that it was somewhere around 2.5 to 3 C per doubling, and that we really ought to have stopped at 350 ppmv, but there's still barely time to stop at 450 ppmv, and we'd better get on it.

But because we ideologically INSISTED that it was somewhere around 2.5 to 3 C per doubling, and that to be on the safe side we really ought to have stopped at 350 ppmv, but there's still barely time to stop at 450 ppmv, and we'd better get on it because that might be less than totally catastrophic, and because we had big serious meetings where everybody pretty much agreed on those things, nobody is going to believe us.

So it's our fault. If only we had been more flexible about that sensitivity!


Alex said...

Many a true word spoken in jest! Yes, it may well have been an ideological insistence that the forcing is around 3C per doubling, rather than honest science.

The Lindzen and Choi paper (0.5C per doubling) still hasn't had a triumphant rebuttal from the pro-AGW advocates, (as far as I know) so I guess it's not that easy to dismiss. Its conclusions come from actual observations, rather than tinkering with GCMs.

Add in the cooling conclusions of IPCC Author, Mojab Latif, as reported in the New Scientist, and you start to see some signs of realism in the debate. I was particularly struck by Latif's comment, "However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it."

There's an uncommon sign of intellectual honesty, which in previous threads I had suggested was rather suppressed in Big Science.

Latif lists just one of the simpler natural cycles, the NAO, suggesting that it has contributed to the warming of the last few decades and may now cool the world. But, as he admits, "The jury is still out."

Some intellectual honesty from Latif, and by implication from colleagues at the Geneva gathering, who are obviously starting to recognize their lack of understanding of the significance of natural cycles.

You'll probably think I'm pushing forward the Lindzen paper and the NS article (and many others in the same vein) as evidence to overturn the AGW edifice. Obviously I'm not, but it's equally obvious that there are still massive holes in understanding here, with a large gap between theoretical and observed Charney numbers. And some scientists who are publicly inclined to ask the "nasty questions."

So to pick up one of your themes from past threads, who would you trust for your AGW science? Those who blindly stick to theoretical numbers, or those who observe and measure, and ask the difficult questions? I think Peggy Noonan has made up her mind.

Michael Tobis said...

Lindzen's track record isn't great, and the evidence for 2.5 - 3 C is pretty compelling. Not everybody is going to provide something as shabby as McLean & de Freitas that can be seen through on first reading.

But Noonan's request for a big international meeting of experts is perfectly ridiculous for anyone who has even an inkling of the history of the subject. You know, since we've been having those since '92.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Shorter Peggy Noonan:

I have this conspiracy theory, which says that climate scientists are engaged in a worldwide conspiracy to fudge climate science in order to further their [fill in the blank] ideology. Because of my conspiracy theory, I hold everything that climate scientists say in deep suspicion. Therefore, whatever climatologists say is extremely suspect, and it's thus the scientists' fault for making me believe that they're in a conspiracy.

This is not a circular argument.

* * *

Shorter Alex:

Anyone who agrees with me is obviously honest. Anyone who disagrees with me is obviously dishonest. Therefore, I'm open-minded.

-- bi

Michael Tobis said...

I'm pretty sure Latif isn't trying to say what people are trying to make out that he said.

Marion Delgado said...

Although Maureen Dowd is almost as bad, Peggy Noonan is openly a columnist who disdains facts and presents her subjective feelings about something instead. The stephen colbert WHCD joke about always thinking with your gut is literally her POV and she doesn't hide it. For one thing, she's famous for channeling dead people in her columns to show how they agree with her (usually a reversal of their opinions while alive). She wrote an entire column once on how shapely Ronald Reagan's foot was.

I once wrote and performed a song about her.

Marion Delgado said...

Alex is putting the cart before the horse - you have to first establish who's correct scientifically, then hunt for ideological reasons for the erroneous side, if you wish.

Steve Bloom said...

Alex should be aware that all of Lindzen's thoroughly refuted work of the last 20 years has bee similarly based on observations. Worse than that. he continues to blow off the fact that paleoclimate studies thoroughly support a sensitivity in the 3C range. At a certain point it becomes better to just ignore him.

ebishirl said...

Dear lord, the ludicrousness of her statement is beyond mind-boggling. It's clear she knows nothing about how science actually works, much less how the IPCC works ... the sad part is that so many of her readers will read this and nod their heads in agreement, saying, "Yup, she's right."

Very sad ... for all of us.

Dano said...

the sad part is that so many of her readers will read this and nod their heads in agreement, saying, "Yup, she's right."

Very sad ... for all of us.

What's very sad is that the Reality-Based Community cannot get heads to nod when explaining scientific findings and their implications.



Marion Delgado said...

As an FYI, since some lurkers/commenters will get it, even though it's dated, this is how our song started:

"Peggy Noonan said to me Friday over tea that children dying in trailer fires down upon their knees was proof of His wise and infinite love, and all I could do was agree, what else could I do but agree?"