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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"I'm a (insert politically correct category) and I don't believe in Al Gore"

I came across this Twitter account.

Currently self described as

"Pros: labor unions, free expression, secular humanism. Antis: war, corporate rule, climate hysteria"

the account mostly retweets things; although purportedly based in Japan the retweets seem to be about American politics, and indeed lean center-left, although not really lefty enough to use a tendentious phrase like "corporate rule".  Mixed in with these are retweets of classic denier stuff - Tol, Watts, and Tom Nelson. Which is to say not just wrong, but also unkind, illiberal and stunningly inconsiderate.

Now, in my opinion, anyone who retweets "Tom Nelson" is quite likely to actually be, you know, "Tom Nelson".

The suspicion that this is a sock puppet is reinforced by the phrase "climate hysteria" in the account description. Well, you know, the word "hysteria" has a very nasty history and just isn't used "on the left" (that is, by people with any sort of sensitivity to others) anymore.

So, with that and the sort of caricature of a moderate leftist in "anti-corporate rule" I have some doubt that this is a real left-leaning person.

(I could be wrong. For all I know @scottinfukie is a real person whose isolation in Japan makes for some very odd word choices in his self-description. But bear with me.)

BNotice, if it is a sock puppet, how it essentially adopts the sane bit of Kahan's advice. In order to convince someone of something, you have to look like a member of their tribe.

Kahan would advise that, to induce doubt in leftists, you should claim some lefty urban hipster cred.

You know, just as Kathy Hayhoe has credibility (as a climate concerned person) among evangelical Christians since she is so obviously nice, sincere and authentically part of their community.

Note, though, that it's much easier to make this play, at least at a superficial level, if you don't have the burden of sincerity, which carries a whole lot of extra baggage about consistency, responsibility, decency and so on. There are advantages in dispensing with that. Mostly, you don;t have to actually convert a real person.

So even if @scottinfukie is not one of "Tom Nelson"'s sock puppets, it's probably not because "Tom Nelson" is above that sort of thing. If @scottinfukie did not exist, "Tom Nelson" would have been happy to invent him.

I've seen this pattern before - frank denial from someone who otherwise (to a liberal mentality) "seems nice". When first encountered it is very disconcerting.


A recent example of the strategy has come up, and for some reason has garnered some attention. It's an article, supposedly a retraction of prior climate concern, called

As the dog-whistle title would indicate, it's the usual baffled nonsense. For instance:
"Most of what people call “global warming” is natural, not man-made."
"CO2 has very little to do with it."

"Additional man-made CO2 will not likely harm oceans, reef systems, or marine life."

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others are pursuing a political agenda and a PR campaign, not scientific inquiry. "
etc. etc. In short, baseless, shallow, wrong, and irresponsible. Alas, nothing unusual.

For some reason people are a bit taken aback by this particular article. The main thing appears to be the identity politics play at the beginning. The opening paragraphs really are the payload; the rest of the piece is just the vehicle.
If the answer is It would take a ton of evidence to change my mind, because my understanding is that the science is settled, and we need to get going on this important issue, that’s what I thought, too. This is my story.

More than thirty years ago, I became vegan because I believed it was healthier (it’s not), and I’ve stayed vegan because I believe it’s better for the environment (it is). I haven’t owned a car in ten years. I love animals; I’ll gladly fly halfway around the world to take photos of them in their natural habitats. I’m a Democrat: I think governments play a key role in helping preserve our environment for the future in the most cost-effective way possible. Over the years, I built a set of assumptions: that Al Gore was right about global warming, that he was the David going up against the industrial Goliath. In 1993, I even wrote a book about it.
Got that? Even an environmentally motivated vegan can disbelieve in "Al Gore is right"!

That's the interesting part; the science is the usual Wattsian handwaving nonsense.

But is it for real? "This is my story," he claims. So what's the story, really?

A disconcerting clue: People who believe or once believed that Al Gore is right to the point of writing a book about it summarize their opinions about global climate disruption in other, more complex ways than "Al Gore is right". No?

Now if this is just play acting, it is right out of Dan Kahan's playbook.

Now, I don't think the good guys can benefit from Kahan's advice; our job is to tell the truth. That's where I disagree with him. But Kahan is right about the strategy for the bad guys.

The way I put it is "when deep information is unavailable, we default to shallow information"; we look to people we trust, and with whom we have affinity. That's totally reasonable.

And most people can't really follow the debate. Not because the main points of the science are that difficult, but because of the professional bullshit-slinging and consequent Benghazification of the climate issue.

So did this person really undergo a conversion experience from reasonably sensible understanding to abject confusion? We know it's not inconceivable; Judith Curry seems to have managed it for one. But it would be nice to hear a personal account.

My curiosity was piqued enough to follow the links in his first paragraph.

So I followed the links in his opening paragraph, quoted above,seeking more information about himself and his journey.


First link "I became vegan"
- presumably about Mr Siegel becoming vegan? Nope!

It's a more or less random vegan activist site. Nothing related to Mr Siegel except insofar as it proves that vegans exist.


Second link "I believed it was healthier (it's not)"
- presumably rebutting health benefits of a vegan diet? Nope!

It's a decent piece of skeptical analysis, which criticizes some over-the-top vegan propaganda. It shows some equivocal evidence, but it also is clear that substituting plants for animals is generally good and concludes "The most important take-home message with diet and health is that anyone who ever expresses anything with certainty is basically wrong, because the evidence for cause and effect in this area is almost always weak and circumstantial"


Third link: " I believe it’s better for the environment (it is):
Well, presumably since he is a climate denier, this will point to a site which points to environmental damage other than through greenhouse gases? Nope!

He links to "Cowspiracy" (which I don't endorse at all by the way) which is ALL ABOUT the greenhouse impact of livestock. So he is vegan out of environmental responsibility to a cause he doesn't believe in? ?? ???

Oh, and I have a bridge for sale, in case you are interested.


Fourth link: " I even wrote a book about it."

A climate book about whether Al Gore was right in 1993? Well, to be fair, Earth in the Balance came out in 1992. So it's conceivable. But Google this book. How a book could have so little evidence of having been written is completely baffling. The link goes to an Amazon link to an out-of-print book with two used copies in existence; the author isn't even listed. The sole reviewer admits he hasn't read the book (and obviously followed the link from Medium).

The book is called "What is worth doing? A Conversation on Conservation" The only hits all seem to go back to one or two used copies for sale somewhere, except for one rather spammy thing that pretends to be a PDF. (It isn't.)

Amazon lists no author, but lists David Siegel as publisher!

What is this thing, a term paper?

(Anyway, what the heck, I ordered one of the two copies left in the universe. I'll let you know.)


So, was that a compelling tale of tortured environmental reconsideration or what?

OK, what else can I tell you about this guy? He has a bunch of pointy-hared-boss type articles on his Medium page and on his consulting business site.

I would like to leave you with an example of the sort of clarity of thinking we can expect from this new player on the field. (webcite) Here, Siegel explains Bayesian reasoning:

The essence of Bayesian reasoning is that we should take into account what we already know about something before we analyze a particular situation. Thus, if someone says she's going skydiving and you're concerned about her safety, you should ask questions about how she will get there, how long the trip will take, who's driving, what shape the car is in, traffic, etc. If you hear of another tragic school shooting, and the shooter's name, life, and photos are all over the press and the shooter is an instant celebrity, you can assume there will be another shooting some months later, no matter what people in law-enforcement or government do. If you go to a casino, sit at a $5 blackjack table, and play the optimum strategy, you can expect to lose $3 per hour. If you invest in a hedge fund or mutual fund that has outperformed its peers in the past five years, you can expect it to underperform in the next five. If God has ever answered one of your prayers, you now know how datamining works. A Bayesian outlook requires us to use evidence to see what is most likely to be true and what isn't, so we can be less wrong in our assumptions. And, studies show that only 15% of doctors can answer Bayesian problems properly. We have a long way to go.

I am especially impressed by "If you invest in a hedge fund or mutual fund that has outperformed its peers in the past five years, you can expect it to underperform in the next five." What a subtle and elegant application of Bayes theorem that is!


UPDATE: I participated in a thorough fisking of Siegel's ten points here.


Tom said...

I intend to blog on this. I must say you could have picked a better example.

As someone who moved from a skeptical position to the lukewarmer stance I hold now, I can only say the science moved me to lukewarmer, but much of the nonsense coming from those on your side of the fence prevented me from moving any further.

Things that you are apt to characterize as "short, baseless, shallow, wrong, and irresponsible" in fact may not be. And while I agree with your statement, "And most people can't really follow the debate. Not because the main points of the science are that difficult, but because of the professional bullshit-slinging and consequent Benghazification of the climate issue" I really doubt if you are even able to see how much that applies to you and others on your side of the fence. I'm not saying the skeptic side is innocent of this. But I see more of it coming from your team.

Not one day goes by without some piece of complete nonsense being thrown to the media wolves. Case in point:

Study: Climate Change Could Make Workers Less Productive

"The report, published Wednesday in the science journal Nature, profiled 166 countries around the world over the course of 50 years and found that economic productivity peaks when a region's average annual temperature clocks in around 13 degrees Celsius, or 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Above this point, the authors said, productivity begins "declining strongly."

This is nonsense on so many different levels that it doesn't even pass for wrong. I blogged on it yesterday:

And tomorrow something equally silly will be in the headlines.

I don't (quite) think you're silly or gullible enough to swallow crap like that. But you don't challenge it.

When crap serves as your shield and sword, you can talk about science all you want. All people like me see is the crap.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, much as I greatly appreciate your diligence in responding to everything I write, I'd prefer if you actually read it first.

If you think I am on a "side" with economists running IAMs, you definitely aren't paying attention to my writing, despite your quickness to respond to it. By the way, Gavin Schmidt has been all over the internet eyerolling over this sort of thing this week, so I'm not seeing why it's my responsibility to join in.

If I'm required to respond to every piece of academic BS coming out of the soft science, I'm not paid enough. *What do you know, I'm not paid at all!) I would need a pretty big staff for that. Please assume that if I ever see any climate relevant academic economics that I think is worth spending even two seconds thinking about, I'll let you know. It's not unprecedented, but there's very little of it.

Anyway, that's all totally off topic. I am talking about cynical manipulation of identity politics, not the usual tiresome drivel from publish-or-perish economists.

If you know of someone pretending to be a rightwinger and flinging baseless alarmism, by all means let us know. Otherwise your attempt at symmetry is pretty hamfisted.

You're off topic.

Tom said...

I don't get paid either, Tobis. You write, " I am talking about cynical manipulation of identity politics, not the usual tiresome drivel from publish-or-perish economists." So am I. Tom Steyer, Grist, NGOs galore, Nick Stern, et al. You're talking about equally egregious flim flam fluffery from the skeptic side of the fence.

Much of a muchness.

Tom said...

Cynically manipulating identity politics, much?

‘[Climate] deniers are increasingly intellectually marginal and irrational. Some sceptics were paid by industries hostile to the findings of science about climate change, Stern said, and had a vested interest in contradicting it. Some were “deliberately distorting” the way people understood risk.

Tom Steyer plans to put Republican presidential candidates in the “hot seat.”
Declaring 2016 a “crossroads election,” the billionaire megadonor’s super PAC, NextGen Climate, announced an aggressive campaign Monday targeting conservative contenders who deny the existence of manmade global warming.

coby said...

(I'll give it a quick try, Michael)

Tom, to find a relevant example you need someone like Richard Muller, who has a "I was a skeptic till I looked at the science" story but unlike Muller was never really a skeptic. The example in this post is of someone (apparently) falsifying his "I'm one of you" credentials and then dishing out the standard denialisms.

Your examples are not people pretending they used to be on the other side but have now seen the light.

Bill H said...

Michael, Did you manage to get hold of a copy of this book that Siegel purports to having written? I'd be intrigued to know what it actually reveals about his previous views on climate change.

Best wishes, Bill

Bill H said...

Hi, Michael, Have you managed to get hold of a copy of this book that Siegel claims to have written about the dangers of AGW. My impression is it might be quite difficult to find!