"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, May 2, 2008

Blaming the Messenger

I sat immediately in front of Tim Ball at the AGU plenary last fall where Lonnie Thompson discussed the worldwide retreat of mountain glaciers. I wasn't aware that I was doing that, but immediately after the presentation I heard someone grumbling nonsense about the CO2 greenhouse effect saturating.

It's a perfectly normal mistake for a lay person and it's common in the wingnut press, but I certainly didn't expect to hear it at an AGU meeting. (The surface temperature of Venus makes an excellent counterargument if you don't actually want to work through the math.) So I turned around expecting to see a young beginner and set him straight, only to find myself staring at Dr Ball's nametag, so I saved my breath.

Keep his ability to get things totally wrong in mind as you read his history of the IPCC. See, in the alternate universe from which Dr Ball hails, the evidence for anthropogenic climate change gets weaker and weaker every year. Yet another transporter beam accident?

Note the concluding paragraph:

As evidence grew that the hypothesis was scientifically unsupportable adherents began defending rather than accepting and adjusting. The trail they made is marked by the search for a clear human signal, identified in modern parlance as ‘smoking guns.’ They also became trapped in what Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoi identified many years ago, namely, “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.” Next we will examine how the political system that Strong and the UN set up allowed perpetuation of incorrect science and falsely identified smoking guns.
As evidence "grew" ???


Dano said...

Denialists' inability to draw upon fact forces them into this down-is-up and mischaraterization strategy.

Too bad their whack-a-mole, lather-rinse-repeat strategy continues to work at the underinformed lay public level.



Dano said...

Great story. Although I played competitive baseball and basketball (pitched until I was 35 and tore rotator cuff), I enjoy watching women's sports more. Of course for the obvious reason, but also because they don't take themselves so seriously, egos are less, and team works so well.

Women bike riders, too, often are better disciplined and have fewer bad habits.



Joseph Hunkins said...

It is reasonable to challenge Ball about the overwhelming evidence supporting AGW. But unless I'm mistaken you'd call me a denier to assert that there is very little reason to *worry* about what appear to be minor impacts from AGW.

That point aside, what climate measurements/phenomnenon would you need to see to move into, say, agreement in general with Pielke?

I worry that climate models have become a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, They are poor predictors and are then modified as new data comes in. All are non-falsifiable in the traditional sense of that word, right?

Michael Tobis said...

Dano, wrong story.

Michael Tobis said...

Joseph, you are on much firmer ground questioning the impacts than questioning the phenomenon.

In fact I have heard two experts make opposite claims about the IPCC impacts group - one that it was horribly overstated and the other that ot was horribly understated. I personally don't put much stock in WGII and WGIII.

Regarding response under uncertainty I've long advocated a risk weighting. The best case outcome is somewhat modest, but the worst case is very severe. So the risk weighted rational strategy takes the worst case into account more than the best case.

Regarding the falsifiability question, I'm thinking about it.

There is some question as to when we might recognize evidence that the problem is small. Those of us who think the threat is spectacularly out of proportion with the current response tend to feel that is a pretty hypothetical question.

I hope we get to the point where it's worth seriously considering whether we are overreacting.

The question as to which evidence would overturn my opinion is an interesting intellectual exercise, though it's very unlikely at this point to matter much in practice. I've been thinking about it and will report.

David B. Benson said...

Joseph Hunkins --- Falsifiability is rarely the issue in any science for several decades now. One needs to think in terms of informal and formal Baysian reasoning, say starting here:


to think and discuss in terms of the weight of the evidence tending to confirm one hypothesis and disconfirm another.