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)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mann: Ice Has No Agenda

Here's a NOAA graphic that's been floating around. It's interesting how a little attention to design makes it somehow more attractive. It really doesn't take long to get the gist. Maybe the colors will help people remember it, though. Call it the Quaternary CO2 Hockey Stick or the orange on navy blue curve.

A site called Universe Today uses it to introduce a recent lecture by Mike Mann. I personally think neither well nor badly of Mann; there has been so much noise around the poor fellow that it's pretty much impossible to make a fair judgment without meeting him. But unless you are already caught in the ideological circus, you ought to admit he makes some excellent points which seem true to the scientific rather than the ideological approach to climate change.
“We have to make it clear that the ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats – they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear,” said Michael Mann, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been at the recent forefront of climate research. “Certain facts cannot be denied. We have to find a way to steer the conversation to a good faith debate about what we do about the problem, not this bad faith debate about the reality of it.”
So why the bad faith debate? Indeed, why the politicization of the non-political parts of the question?
“If you can politicize something in today’s political environment,” Mann continued, “you can immediately get half the population on your side. Unfortunately the forces of anti-science — those who deny the science — have been very effective in politicizing the framing.”
Yet many people suggest that Mann is at the core of an ideological push to politicize. Who is right? Well, if you have a few years to devote to the problem full time and a scientific bent, you can figure it out for yourself.

Probably, you don't. So you can look to scientific authorities like the National Academy of Sciences, The Royal Society, the AAAS, the AGU, the American Meteorological Society, etc. They pretty much unanimously defer to the IPCC.

Or you can start with the presumption that IPCC is broken. Well, it's been proven not to be flawless: all it took was one unequivocal error about Himalayan glaciers to do that, but I don't think anybody's been proposing it as gospel except as a straw man argument.

You can suggest that an anti-industrial ideology (rather than a scientifically based whole-systems view that comes naturally to someone studying climate) is behind a skewed interpretation of the evidence. You can construct imaginary histories of a vast conspiracy using the methodologies of paranoid movements through history. But you can't account for the support of IPCC from the national academies of all the countries with a substantial research culture without positing that all of science has been dishonest. This is essentially Greg Craven's approach, which I highly recommend to anyone who doesn't have the time to work through the science for themselves.

There's no doubt that we could do a better job of exposition. As someone who has been taught in engineering schools, I found the climate science curriculum even within the universities to be poorly organized and unsatisfactory.(I think it's gotten a bit better since then, and I'm very much looking forward to the release of Ray Pierrehumbert's textbook next month.) I think neither engineers nor scientists understand how much better engineering textbooks are compared to science textbooks. So that we do an even worse job at outreach to the scientifically educated segment of the public is not surprising. But I don't write it off. It's a real and important issue.

On the other hand, the opposition thinks we are swimming in money. We simply don't have the resources to do this. The market for atmospheric and oceanic science textbooks is small. The talent base is stretched thin. And the tradition of exposition is not great.

So admittedly, the whole chain of reasoning is more obscure than one would like. I am trying to do my part to help on this front. But the facts are still the facts, and you really need to start with a very suspicious and hostile point of view to imagine that the key concepts are imaginary. Yet, many people do.

This is the context for Mann's conclusion:
Mann asked for journalists’ help in the future.

“No doubt we are in for a period of months or even years where climate science is likely to be subject to the sort of politically motivated inquisition that we haven’t seen, frankly, since the 1950’s,” he said. “It is necessary and important for the scientific community to do the best it I can to defend itself from this oncoming attack, and frankly, we are entirely reliant on the willingness of the mainstream media to serve in its role as the critical and independent arbiter and not just report the two sides of the so-called debate, but to actually establish what is fact and what is fiction. The scientists will not be successful against the attack that is coming unless the media is serving its role.”
Emphasis added. I will add this. If journalism does not do its job journalism must be replaced.

13 comments:

manuel "moe" g said...

Quoting Michael Tobis: "If journalism does not do its job journalism must be replaced."

DICK-TOL-ALERT - Authoritarianism! Hide you kids! Hide your wife! Apply Hayek directly to your forehead! ;-)

Journalism is in the process, already, of being replaced. Too many capable people have had the personal experience of the mainstream press reporting upon their area of specialization, reading the journalist's cocked up narrative, and having the whole rest of the journal's fitness called into question.

Journalism was based on the idea of using journalistic professionalism to remove from the citizen the responsibility to understand the world. In a nutshell - it was found to economically unworkable because of Craig's list, and social-structurally unworkable because of the temptation to try to package and deliver a readership to be part of a voting block, to the benefit of the owner of the publication or its advertisers, and not the benefit of the readership.

Michael Tobis said...

"d'accord", as we say up north, or "yep"

Dean said...

"we are entirely reliant on the willingness of the mainstream media to . . . actually establish what is fact and what is fiction"

Except that these days, people consume the media that supports their existing world view, at least for the people who are in issue here.

If a reporter does fact checking and says something they believe is a lie, it's just a part of the MSM conspiracy.

I really think that the only solution, if it can be called that, is for the impacts to get so bad as to be undeniable for the average person. And it probably needs to be sudden. The so-called Pearl Harbor moment.

And even then those who become convinced will still blame the IPCC - because if they hadn't politicized it so much, then everybody would have seen he truth when they needed to.

Hank Roberts said...

It takes them a while. Consider how long journalists have been reporting raw dollar cost changes over time, ignoring inflation:

"This isn’t just an institutional knowledge failure, it’s one of numeracy."
http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/this_gold_record_keeps_skippin.php

hat tip to:
"This isn’t simply a question of math. Anyone who says gold is at a record high (or who said oil was several years ago) is getting the story wrong."
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/the-myth-of-record-high-gold/?hp

William said...

This seems like deja vue all over again for humanity. Remember the story of Cassandra? Or perhaps Jeremiah? No doubt at every point at which society has been subject to great threat there has been organised resistance to making the self-sacrifices that would help avert or reduce the threat.

Perhaps there's something for history teachers to consider when studying these old stories (or is that politicising education?). Perhaps pastors and other religious teachers could think about this in relation to the stories of prophets' warnings not being listened to by their people (or is this politicising religion?).

Why is such "denial" such a universal theme? Especially in societies that have reached some level of "decadence"...

cagw_skeptic99 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Tobis said...

cagw_skeptic, it is okay to be irritating here, but you have to be interesting when you do it.

Luddite said...

MT "I will add this. If journalism does not do its job journalism must be replaced"

In many cases, it already isn't. And in critical aspects - like science, and particularly climate science - it either isn't or isn't consistently doing its job properly. In some measure this is simply vested $$$ interests making sure that articles written by in-house journos or contributors are sufficiently controversial to get website hits or sell copy. It's about margins IOW. In part it's also the meeja kulcher we've ourselves been partly responsible for creating - the 4-second sound bite, twitter, SMS, and specious drivel (like which "famous celebrity" has this week farted in bed) posing as "news" - all of that leads to any serious article longer than two paras being considered "tl;dr". And it's also partly because tertiary courses in journalism are being dumbed down, to the point that a senior lecturer I know recently went to some lengths to dissuade me from doing the course his department ran. Why? Because almost none of the MSM outlets - print, TV, online (the exception being public broadcast radio, but who apart from Old Fogeys listens to that?) - value critical thinking skills, and if a potential student does have them, the last place they'll find any use for them is at a uni journalism course.

With rare exception, "professional journalism" is IMO becoming an oxymoron.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

I know you'll be heartbroken to hear this, but Little Tommy has put up a Goodbye Cruel World post. Thank god!

Steve Bloom said...

Happy news, but I could have done without the Vogon poetry.

Neven said...

I hope Fuller is paid so well that there is no more need to write books that subscribe to the denialist notion that AGW is one big hoax, which in turn makes implementing policy to mitigate the consequences of AGW even more difficult than it already is.

Neven said...

George Monbiot is battling it out with a Tom Fuller of his own. Background info. Skip to Fun.

Whenever I read something by Fuller (or his co-writer Steven Mosher) I think of the line from the Aeneid I learned in high school: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

It's a tactic to delay some more. That's the reason why WUWT has recently started to intersperse the commonplace denialist stuff with guest blogs that maintain AGW is real.

When this hasn't worked they will start to promote geo-engineering heavily.

Jim Bouldin said...

"...there has been so much noise around the poor fellow that it's pretty much impossible to make a fair judgment without meeting him."

Of all the people I have interacted with in science, Mike is without question near the very top of the respected list, for several reasons. The abuse he has taken is a travesty.

Ain't going to let this post go by without saying so publicly.