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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lomborg Achieves Boring

So Climate Spin and I saw the Sunday matinee of the Bjorn Lomborg slef-congratulation movie Cool It in Chicago last Sunday, as far as the Reader knew at the time the only showing of Cool It in Chicago in its second week. Based on the eight tickets apparently sold, we can attest that no less than 25% of the Chicago audience for the week held doctorates in the climate sciences.

It's a bit irritating in its self-congratulation; whoever was bankrolling this effort must have decided to put up with Bjorn's efforts at self-promotion. We have to humanize Bjorn the same way AIT humanized Gore. If Bjorn has led a singularly charmed and practically event-free life, this puts him at something of a disadvantage, but he does still love his mother, at least when a film crew is present. But the self-promotion is clearly a failure, as on conventional terms, the movie is as well. It was boring enough that CS and I both struggled to stay awake through it. (I failed.)

Of the parts that I saw, there was indeed a fundamental dishonesty: the claim that a Kyoto implementation "would only cool the earth 0.01 degrees" (I forget the numebr, perhaps it was even smaller, but this is the idea. The movie claims that "conventionl approaches" to carbon emissions are not just cost ineffective, but are simply ineffective. This trick is a common one in denialist circles. The point is not reduction in CO2 concentration per dollar spent on Kyoto. The point is conversion to non-CO2 infrastructure per dollar spent.

More to the point, if you look at something Kyoto-like as a necessary first step in the right direction, you will see that it is a first step in the right direction. Something we haven't really seen, and, you know, ought to see, because a first step is necessary. Any sensible analysis will agree that we would have a long way to go beyond there even if Kyoto had been enacted. The main difference would be not in the numbers, but in our capacity to credibly exert pressure on other countries (notably the Chinese as it turned out) about now. And our incapacity to do that will have huge impacts into the future.

So that is all, basically, lying. The rest of it, though, seems more like misdirection; a collection of reasonable research endeavors, and a pitch for money. A plea, in other words, to buy off the research community rather than trying to destroy it. I have to say that between those choices I am on Lomborg's side.

Randy "such-a-nonscientist" Olson may have even more of a point than he thinks when he argues that we shouldn't be reassured by the lack of interest in Lomborg's movie. Lomborg offers no villains, nobody to blame. That is not how you make a documentary these days. That in itself is unfortunate. More charitably to the public, you might say that people are concluding that they get enough corporate greenwashing in a typical week without going out of their way to pay or it.

It didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen in a big way. It scored 46% on Rotten Tomatoes — less than the 60% threshold needed to earn a tomato — meaning the consensus is don’t waste your time seeing the movie. It’s not a disastrously bad movie, it’s just not that good. And worst of all, it leaves people in Hollywood, with their ultra-simple, short attention span, saying, “Climate movies don’t sell.” Which means the end of the line for reaching the general public through a movie. At least for a while.
But really, isn't that a success from the point of view that Lomborg promotes? Go back to sleep, all, nothing to worry about here, the smart people have it under control. Wouldn't you really rather spend your ten bucks on a romantic comedy or an action adventure? Seriously?


Steve Scolnik said...

Re Kyoto:
In the book, he claims:
"The temperature by 2050 would be an immeasurable 0.1°F lower . . ."
The notes allege it's based on Wigley, GRL 1998, but there's no derivation shown.

[Word verification "slimmede" should have been "slimed"]

Martin Vermeer said...

Olsen's account reminds me of my own experience when a prominent sea level rise paper was retracted due to mistakes in the analysis. I was one of those credited with noticing that there was something wrong, prompted by the implausibly low sea level rise estimates found using a method that, in the hands of others, had produced much higher values.

Paper retracted, authors doing the honorable thing, scientific record corrected. Good news all-around, right?

Not in the eyes of the denialists. For them, this discredited the whole notion of sea level rise, and all sea level studies. And, by implication, all of climatology and its practitioners.

I would take this chain of inference one step further: the experience discredits, by implication, the notion that mankind would be deserving of being saved from its own stupidity, or even that doing so would be an option that realistically is on the table :-(

Neven said...

[Word verification "slimmede" should have been "slimed"]

Slimmede? SOunds Danish! ;-)

I tried to download this movie last week, but it ironically contained a virus.

Anna Haynes said...

Where else is publicity for the film happening, besides aimed at the faith community (e.g. Propeller Consulting's Reel Truths site - see SourceWatch...)

Steve Bloom said...

Probably whoever financed it had preaching to the wingnut converted as an objective that would be achievable regardless of financial; success, but I wonder about how effective it will be with a gay Danish protagonist. OTOH that sort of cognitive dissonance doean't seem to be a problem for those folks.

Steve Bloom said...

Just to note also that to the extent there's a lesson about this category of film, DiCaprio's effort of a couple of years ago conveyed it pretty thoroughly. IMHO the success of AIT was in part serendipity (people hearing about the issue for the first time in that format) and equally if not more so a consequence of Gore's unique and compelling personal story. The Lomborg film couldn't have the former and lacked the second as well.

Overall I think Randy's analysis is a little strained.

wv suggests a different approach: fearema

Anna Haynes said...

> Lomborg offers no villains, nobody to blame.

According to Kaare Fog, he does offer people to laugh at - " point where the audience was amused and could not stop laughing... at the stupid environmentalists:...the part about polar bears."

(I myself have not seen the film, so am operating 100% on hearsay)

BTW, does anyone know what's up with Andy Revkin's "five questions from Dot Earth readers that Lomborg promises to answer" project?
(my guess: Lomborg assumed he'd get to pick which ones)

David B. Benson said...

Lomborg is boringly wrong.

Brian said...

I disagree with Olson's analogy to competing Liberace biopics. My analogy would be to competing Reagan biopics. A second biopic would do well according to Olson if the first one does, but what if they have very different takes on Reagan? The first one could interfere with the message of the second one.

If your goal isn't to make money at documentary films but to influence people, I don't see why you wish success for the film with the contrary viewpoint.

Let's try the falsification test. If Cool It had been a big success, would we really have been happy?

Anna Haynes said...

Re Steve Bloom's
> "I wonder about how effective it will be with a gay Danish protagonist" -
seems to me in tree-lobster chess, that fact is moot. Who's going to mention it? Not the evangelical-PR folk - and if it's brought up elsewhere, then pieces can be captured by calling the messengers bigots or hypocrites.

re Brian's "Let's try the falsification test. If Cool It had been a big success, would we really have been happy?" -

Again, in tree lobster chess, for every move Fate (or the moviegoing public) makes, there's a way to spin it for optimal PR impact.

(but I agree, with box office failure this impact is less)

Lars said...

I would like to know more about this "tree-lobster chess". It sounds strangely compelling.

Tom said...

I note that you are making false claims about the shape of the Earth at Collide-a-Scape. I note your absence from Judith Curry's post on the Italian Flag and I wonder why? As long as you're sliming Lomborg, why not spread the contempt evenly?

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, did you really come out of retirement to argue that a slightly oblate spheroid is not "round"?

Tom said...

Are you really such a gutless wonder that, after trashing Judith Curry because of her Italian Flag offering, that you are scurrying around the fringes of the blogosphere peddling your usual ad hominem crap instead of going over to Curry's blog and engaging with her?

You called her everything except a senile old goat. You slimed her completely. And now you sit on your fat Texas ass after she addresses your whiny complaints.

What--did you go to the George Bush school of debating?

Sam said...

Clever rhetoric, Tom. After that engaging and interesting launch of a discussion, I can't see why anyone would wait to join in with you. Why I am almost compelled to go see what's new on the Curry blog. Almost.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom seems to mean that I should reply before reading carefully and considering Curry's argument?

Clearly I am obligated to say something. Equally clearly I am obligated to think it through carefully before I do so.

Tom's suggestion that not responding within 24 hours amounts to cowardice is far more revelatory of what he thinks about thinking than about anything else.

I note that Curry took a month to reply to me. Was that cowardice, too?

Oh, and not to let you off the hook for changing the subject, is there really a middle ground between a flat earth and a round earth? Do you really think the slight deviation of the earth's shape from a sphere is
remotely relevant to the question as usually posed?

Tom said...

Tobis, our planet is not round. It is, as you wrote here, an oblate spheroid. But saying it's close enough to round not to matter is the kind of crap that you call skeptics out on, innit?

Tom said...

As far as the time lag on your response, your previous hatchet job certainly gave the impression that you had devoted sufficient attention to the Italian Flag concept to warrant your accusations of incompetence and/or perfidy.

Maybe you didn't think about your post. Maybe you were just looking for an excuse to slime Curry. Maybe you're frantically searching for a way to reconcile your shabby behaviour with the ethical pose you adopt here and elsewhere.

Maybe you only now are starting to think about it. Which makes your previous post even worse.

Michael Tobis said...

Fuller, what happened to your retirement from this topic anyway? It made a lot more sense than the last two things you posted.

Tom said...

Sorry Michael, calling you on your b.s. does not equal 'not making sense.'

You wrote with authority when you condemned Curry on the basis of a blog post about the Italian Flag concept. You wrote as if you had given it all the study it required for you to do your level best to trash the reputation of a scientist.

Now you gotta think about it? The time for thinking was before you went on a slime hunt.

And as you may have guessed, I've retired from commentary, not commenting. But if you want me to go elsewhere, just say so.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Commentary, commenting, commentricious. Tom Fuller, your persona was more plausible and pleasant when you were a commentator rather than a mere commenter like what I am. Your retirement from the commentariat has made you less retiring. Is there a universal lesson to be drawn from this? Yes? No? Comments?

Tom said...

Vinny, I actually started to change before I 'retired,' one factor that helped speed my decision. Why, by golly, I remember when I tried to be nice and polite with our host here. Get slapped around enough, it eventually changes you.

Anna Haynes said...

re Tom F. -

"Tasty bait, nicely jiggled. Smells tasty, yes. Twitches as dragged by. Almost lifelike. Tempting ….

Lars, tree lobsters; where the prize is the world.

Tom said...

Hi Anna

Stop by my office any time and talk about it. Not.

David B. Benson said...

MT & Tom --- Both of you are wrong about the shape of Terra. It s not an oblate spheroid with a sphere as a limiting case of no obliquity. Unless one looks minutely closely, it is approximately pear shaped.

So there.

[Word verification agrees with a distmis.]

Sam said...


your history of advocacy makes me doubt your interest in advancing discussion. While your fireworks are jarring, your contribution is slim, and thus we will have to consider options and plan without your input. Feel free to adopt a pragmatic mindset and restrain your tantrums if you'd like to talk with the adults. Or not. MT and JC will have their proxy fight, but the chemistry and physics will judge the projections. I understand that as an aging gentleman, you will get to live out your life without suffering the consequences of your positions. Not all of us have the luxury (or our kin children), and are less inclined to tolerate scientific illiteracy or innumeracy.

Tom said...

Well, Sam, I don't think I'm the only one doing advocacy here--do you? I'm just not advocating lynching Judith Curry. Still don't see Tobis over there defending his hatchet job--would you call that advocacy, Sam? Oh, well. Maybe he went to see Cool It a second time.

And that's despicable, referring to my lack of children--but I was very hungry, you see. And worse yet--you called me a gentleman!

King of the Road said...

I, for one, am glad Tom stopped by. Dudley Do-Right is a bit less entertaining without Snidely Whiplash.

Tom said...

You guys can't quit pissing over all my favorite shows, can you?

You can think whatever you want about me, but Tobis as Doright? More like the dean from Animal House.

Neven said...

Maybe you're frantically searching for a way to reconcile your shabby behaviour with the ethical pose you adopt here and elsewhere.

That's not fair. If there is someone in the climate blogosphere who is transparent, openly doubts himself and his judgment, and readily admits and apologizes when he's wrong, it's Michael Tobis. Otherwise I wouldn't be here.

And neither would you, Tom.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Neven, I am honored that you see it that way. That is certainly my goal.

I also try very hard to make it clear when I'm sure of something, when I am inclined to believe something, when I merely suspect something or speculate about it. I don;t want to limit my writing to any of those spheres; I think we need to be able to think across multiple layers of certainty and uncertainty. But it's important to be clear when one is speaking for oneself, when one is trying to convey the weight of science, and when one is just throwing ideas out for consideration.

Tom said...

Tobis, anybody reading your latest comment and your post on Judith Curry would experience cognitive dissonance in its highest form. It doesn't count if you play the serence scientist part of the time and the hysteric witch hunter the rest.

Sorry--doesn't fly.

Michael Tobis said...

There's nothing witch huntish about finding elementary incoherence in an elementary claim. Which is what I did. I was shocked by the poor quality of the prior flag article and I said so. That hasn't changed.

Obviously I need to find time for the latest one, but I won't be rushed by Tom Fuller.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, I looked Curry's latest flag article over. It's a literature review.

She makes no claims so there's nothing to argue with.

She seems to be aiming for an assault on IPCC key claims for lack of a formal propagation of uncertainty from all evidence. That would be, I think, really hard. Pending that, expert elicitation per IPCC tradition would appear necessary.

However, responding to that needs to wait for her to make her case. So far she just repeats other people's definitions of various statistical approaches. She did avoid being silly, but she made no attempt to defend or amend her prior silliness.

So no need for me to say much. Nothing of note has changed with the current article.

Tom said...

So you feel no need to amend your previous slime job, then? Wiener would be proud. I guess. Or maybe he would look at humbugs like you and say something like "What most experimenters take for granted before they begin their experiments is infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead."

I'm fresh out of swear words. But you should feel deeply ashamed.

Neven said...

But you should feel deeply ashamed.

Says the man who tried to make a quick buck with his CRUtape letters. :-D

Tom said...

Neven, I did make more than a buck, but it wasn't quick, and I made it by writing a book that was based on facts, not slime. Got a problem with that?

Paul said...

I am gratified that Dr Tobis did not shoot from the hip in response to Curry's IFA Part I. Direct engagement with Dr. Curry on her blog by professionals has not been very fruitful in the past. When things get specific we are usually referred to Part II. Waiting for part II before making any detailed comment makes sense to me.

It was obvious that she had added little to the earlier post other than discussing some literature references to the three value concept.

Judging from the the comments, the references are pretty hard to understand. Dr. Curry has not made any further specific application to the detection and attribution problem of current warming beyond the post which so incensed our host.

If Dr. Curry is hot the trail of new ways to quantify uncertainty then I would think the people behind TESLA might show up on her blog and help sort out some of the confusion amongst her followers.

I admire Dr. Tobis for being willing to address specifics in a fraught environment. He wears his heart on his sleeve sometimes and takes a lot of heat for it.

As an aside, Dr Curry has attracted her own "Willard" in the form of some fellow named Wojick whose ellipticity exceeds Willard's by more than a bit.

Pau Middents

Anna Haynes said...

Ditto to Neven's comment re Tobis; I didn't think it was necessary to mention, but for newcomers' sake it's good s/he did.

Thank you for In It, MT.

Don't take the bait, everyone else.

Anna Haynes said...

And for the record, since I don't know if I've said this publicly, what I most like about MT's writing - beyond the general erudition & skill at effing the (for me) ineffable - is that he'll say things I don't initially agree with, & so makes me think.