"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, August 10, 2009

Morano Claims It's Over

Marc Morano of Climate Depot has written an article of his own, claiming to summarize the evidence (or pseudo-evidence) that can be brought to bear on the proposition that
"Desperation time has arrived for the promoters of man-made global warming fears. As the science of man-made climate fears continues to collapse, new tactics are being contrived to try to drum up waning public support."
Well, I suppose the final clause has some merit. There are signs that, in the US (as opposed to pretty much everywhere else) the public is lukewarm about climate change as a policy priority.

But why is the public so unconcerned? Is this because the science "continues to collapse"? Or is it because of clever misrepresentations of the increasingly robust state of climatological science and systematic neglect of the direct toxic effect of CO2 on the viability of ocean life?

The last week was a revealing one in the history of American politics. We have seen systematic national deployment of shrill mobs, intended to disrupt public ("town hall") meetings between congressional representatives and the public, intended to portray an impression of a popular trend that doesn't exist. The peculiar ethic of the American press which "represents all points of view equally" makes this sort of representation carry more weight than it ought.

In particular, there's an enormous reluctance to trace beliefs and movements to their roots in rumor, innuendo and misrepresentation, since that would appear to be opposed to the point of view in question. A fine example is in the "neutral" coverage of unjustifiably extreme statements about the currently debated healthcare legislation.

The climate denialists are engaged in a very similar tactic; be as loud and prominent as possible, misrepresent a small angry minority as a growing force, and spin the press.

I think it will be necessary for somebody to take Morano's account apart piece by piece.

For now, let's just take this one example, where he refers to "open revolts" in scientific societies. He links back to a previous piece of his in which he says "dozens of letters" had been written in response to a strongly worded editorial by Rudy Baum in the magazine of the American Chemical Society explaining the unscientific nature of opposition to the concepts of climate change.

Actually, 27 letters were published, of which I count eight as neutral, supportive, or off topic, leaving the number of "dozens" of letters as just over 1.5. That's out of a society with 160,000 members. Since people strongly opposed to an editorial will be more likely to write in than those who find it reasonable, this in no way provides evidence of "open revolt" nor of the balance of scientific opinion. It's just another masquerade.

The letter writers, of course, are entitled to their opinion, but they should be made aware that they are in opposition to the world's leading scientific assemblies. The rest of us, meanwhile, should not be presented with arguments that call 19 letters, perhaps a half dozen of them angry, in an organization of 160,000 at all degree-levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields, to constitute an "open revolt" or anything of the sort.

Of course, that is just one example among many that Morano raises. Most of them that address science rather than policy will not bear up under investigation as anything better than exagerations. (Whether the policies currently being proposed are productive is a separate question that shouldn't be bundled in with the question of whether we have a problem in the first place.)

I am confident that most or all of the evidence Morano musters for "desperation" is equally off-base when it comes to the matter of the intellectual foundations for concern about climate change. There is a simple conspiracy-free explanation for this failure. The science is sufficiently healthy and robust to draw the conclusions that Morano opposes. Morano is wrong.

Of course, Morano doesn't think the debate is nearly over and that the victory of his position (which is ultimately a political and not a scientific one) is at hand. If he did, he wouldn't have set up shop to oppose the scientific consensus as a full-time gig.

If, however, the question is whether a certain desperation is setting in about the politics, that's another question. Can a substantial but small, ill-informed but committed, group in one powerful country substantially damage the prospects for the whole world for centuries to come in the face of overwhelming evidence against them? So far the evidence is that, indeed, they can.

Voice votes are misleading when one side specializes in being loud. In the case of climate risk, the press should take care to represent science in accordance with the actual scientific literature and the actual beliefs of the mainstream scientific community, not in accordance with games and charades put on by a few.

The public, meanwhile, should carefully consider the sources of information, as is explained nicely in the book What's the Worst That Could Happen? by Greg Craven.

PS - I have to give Marc Morano credit for linking quickly back to here. That seems fair. While he and his readership are around, though, I can't resist asking for another bit of fairness. Why isn't the record heat in Texas this summer getting equal time on Climate Depot with all the cool episodes up north?

Update: James Hrynyshyn independently noted the analogy between the health care debate and the climate debate in his article "What health care and the climate have in common: an enemy"

Update August 11: Morano chickens out and unlinks this article. Later: resurgence of incoming traffic from this page but I'm not sure why. No link on the front page of CD. Later still: back on Morano's front page. Strange, but possibly not calculated.

Update August 11: Joe Romm was there first, on the 7th, comparing denialists with birthers.


Marion Delgado said...

Morano, hired gun for a huckster who embodies everything Thomas Frank described in "What's the Matter With Kansas" is WHY the canard that "you shouldn't care about who a study or spokesman is funded by" is just wrong. If the research is honest, some funding sources historically STOP funding you. It saves enormous time and effort to simply acknowledge that fact.

WV: comnie
(to which I reply: fasoist!

John Fleck said...

Michael -

I think Morano's characterization of what happened at the ACS, along with the coverage the deFreitas et al paper received, offer a couple of good case studies to test the hypothesis you seem to hold regarding the coverage of climate change by "the press".

In both cases, the stories got essentially zero traction in what I would consider "the press" - that is, people like me working for traditional publications. They got tons of traction in the opinionsphere, including these strange "Examiner" publications, as well as blogs etc. But not among what I normally think of as "the press".

I had an interesting conversation with one of the people involved in the Center for Inquiry's look at Morano's "list of 700". The Center had a bit of a hard time getting reporters to cover their debunking. When they looked into it, they realized that the mainstream press who didn't cover their debunking hadn't covered the list in the first place.

If, as you suggest, Morano is trying to "spin the press", he is failing, and "the press" seems to be doing, in these cases, what you would want them to do. That doesn't mean there is not reason to look closely at how the spin bounces around the Internet, but "the press" doesn't seem to be part of these exchanges.

Sean said...

I have just one question, if Mr. Morano and other skeptics are so easily blown away by the science, why is it that skeptics want to see a good debate while the "consensus" alarmists always retreat to "the science is settled" and refuse to debate?

Michael Tobis said...

Sean, it is really quite simple.

Scientists are trained to do science, and debaters are trained to win debates. So for a scientist to debate a debater about science is a losing proposition.

If one has no respect for truth, it is always easy to win a debate with someone who does. Simply make up a few "facts" at the last minute. The honest opponent, no matter how well-informed, will have no choice but to say "Really? I'll have to look into that."

Debates do not settle facts. The winnowing and sifting process of science settles facts.

Debates give you insight into the personality and intelligence of the debater, but not into the facts. I think they are a good tool for elections. But they are not a good tool for weighing evidence, especially if one of the parties is not interested in science but in winning a debate.

So in most cases it's a losing proposition. They only prove who is the better debater, not who has the better grasp on the evidence.

John Mashey said...

I've been studying the recent Singer/Happer, et al Open Letter to the APS. Hopefully, APS will respond sooner or later in some strong fashion.

Of course, 62 of 46,000 members of APS is a small fraction. But, it was interesting to see:

1) There was (perhaps) one serious climate scientist (Sultan Hameed) on the list, who might fit the "solar is more important than usually thought" school, but is still puzzling.

2) We have Douglass&Knox, Scafetta&West, generating various kinds of statistical analyses.
(By the way, West really works for the US Army, and Scafetta does work on an Army grant.)

3)Otherwise, we have (mostly) distinguished physicists in {nuclear, particle, high-energy, laser, bio-, missile, astro-, petroleum, defense} physics, none of whom have published peer-reviewed research in climate.

4) Many (not all) have either spent most of their careers in government research (like Los Alamos), or in universities, i.e., all or some of their careers have been funded by public money. [That's a necessity of course, and something I generally support. Research funding for basic research isn't expected from many corporations.]

5) Still, this means that the scientific reputations of many of these were built on public money. Then, by signing this, they attempt to declare null-and-void at least 30- years' of research (and even basic physics) to which, as a group, they have contributed little or nothing. This is pure anti-science or agnotology.

6) People still hold scientists in fairly high esteem, compared to many others ... but I'm not sure this is going to last. I hope at least a few of these people's colleagues might have some talks with them about the wisdom of doing this. They can of course say anything they like, and having long been an interdisciplinary fan, I'd be delighted to see smart people bring techniques from other disciplines to bear. I'm very unimpressed with PhD physicists with long pubs records, who suddenly start attacking another discipline of which most obviously know little. Unlike the ill-educated, most of these people should know better. None of them would take well to someone from outside their subdiscipline declaring that their field had no results.

Someone might tell some of them they have just bet their reputations as *scientists* (as opposed to (something)-physicists that a whole separate field is totally incompetent.

7) As a particularly extreme case, 3 of them (Gruntman, Kunc, and Rapp) are professors @ University of Southern Cal. Rapp is a retired ex-JPLer, and has written a book, which starts:

"Global warming alarmists believe"... which certainly can be trusted, because as he says at his website:

"I have surveyed the wide field of global climate change energy and I am familiar with the entire literature of climatology."

But here's the real zinger: their astronautics department is looking for funding to do climate research, despite having senior members who've signed this...

as they say:
"Traditional oceanographic or atmospheric programs are not necessarily well-equipped for such a challenge. USC is, however, well positioned to take a lead in this evolving science..." They hope to get money from US & California.

Michael Tobis said...

John, I do think Morano is trying to spin the press and failing to do so for the mainstream.

The press has the power, in practice, of deciding what's fit to print and what isn't.

Once you decide to print something it tends to lack teeth; everything is presented as about equally valid. That's my key complaint about the American journalistic ethic (and I think it's specifically American).

Also sometimes the stuff that gets zero attention (e.g. ocean acidification) is extremely important. So I'm not sure how well that power is wielded, though I'm glad to see less and less of the denial stuff out there.

I think the McLean-deFreitas thing got no mainstream press because the blogosphere was quick to correct the impression the authors were trying to present. Had nothing contrary appeared quickly, I am not sure we wouldn't have that ridiculous thing hanging around our necks for years.

We are also learning that there is a slice of the public that sees Fox as the MSM and the MSM as partisan.

I don't know how well Morano does in that segment. I seem to vaguely recall one incident when the Morano-Beck connection was pretty tight.

John Mashey said...

On debates:

Live debates can be useful if their are two real positions, but if one side is trying to create clarity, and the other to create doubt and confusion, I'd pick the latte any time.

It takes 10X or more longer to dispell a wrong idea than to say it in the first place, It is trivial to "win" a debate by just throwing out a lot of junk and hoping some of it sticks.

For example, one could easily pick 20 of the wrong ideas in Skeptical Science, and say them in a few minutes.

Likewise, one can cite or mis-cite papers, and a live audience has little chance or time to check them out. One can use outright lies in graphs, but it is difficult to respond to them live.

Unknown said...

Sean, scientists welcome such debate about the science - where it belongs, in the peer-reviewed literature. There's precious few large-scale skeptical articles being submitted there (the last big one I can think of was McLean et al, which has critical mathematical, scientific, and logical failings in it that I suspect it was published due to a rare failure in peer review).

If you want to discuss science, discuss it where science disputes are settled. Do not discuss science in the political arena and then complain that climate science is political.

However, I could flip things around: If the inactivists are so sure about their positions, why is it so few of them are willing to bet on it? (Famously, Lindzen was offered a token bet on one of his predictions (temperatures as likely as not to decrease over the next 20 years) which he refused to take without being given 50:1 odds!) As soon as the wallet gets put on the line, their conviction seems to vanish.

Dan Satterfield said...

This myth that the science is falling apart does seem to be the new mantra among the denier crowd right now. I'm getting it frequently.

It was well underway before the ACS editorial.

Amazing really, considering a summer of even more hard science.

Oh, and a comment on Sean's question about the science community refusing to debate.

You can only explain why these myths are incorrect so many times, after awhile it gets old.

At some point people have to have the responsibility to pick up a real piece of science, like the IPCC and read it, instead of these sites with junk science. Every single one of these myths have been discussed in the peer reviewed literature.

Unknown said...

John Mashey said "3)Otherwise, we have (mostly) distinguished physicists in {nuclear, particle, high-energy, laser, bio-, missile, astro-, petroleum, defense} physics, none of whom have published peer-reviewed research in climate."

You seem to believe that climate science is a discipline in its own right, whereas it seems to me it's a mish-mash of probably hundreds of different science disciplines, cobbled together through badly-written computer models that very few people except (possibly) the computer modelers understand. While the modelers certainly don't understand all the science that they're implementing.

In the last analysis, the computer models are basic physics with some chemisry and biology thrown in. Over-simplified, yes, but it'll do. And it's these mainly-physics models that are being used to project the future of the world's climate.

So it's puzzling to hear you say that your admitted "distinguished physicists" are attempting to "declare null-and-void at least 30- years' of research (and even basic physics) to which, as a group, they have contributed little or nothing."

Don't you think that distinguished physicists might be rather better qualified to know when "basic physics" is correct or incorrect than a motley collection of climate scientists? As far as I know, no reputable university offers a degree in "climate science". I'd much rather have "distinguished physicists" determining what's valid if we need to play computer games with climate models.

Michael Tobis said...


For the most part, physical climatology is the combination of meteorology and physical oceanography as equal disciplines. Most people claiming to "climatologists" are atmpospheric scientists or oceanographers. There is in fact a rigorous physical theory underlying the field.

I have had the privilege to know a few really top notch climate scientists. I have no doubt of their competence and rigor. I can understand that you won't take my word for it, but I'm not sure what to do about that. I suppose I can point you at papers that you won;t understand.

The climate problem itself doesn't appeal to everyone. A lot of physicists can't cope with the complexity; their idea of the best way to cope is to attack smaller, more exact problems. I agree that it would be good to get more people trained in other traditions to have a look, but there is no reason to suspect any dramatically different results.

The fact that a few dozen physicists feel competent to attack the discipline is, I think, as indicative of problems within physics as within climate science.

Certainly, Dyson has demonstrated a complete indifference to the actual scientific basis for the field. He simply intuits that he might have done better in his youth. Perhaps so, but that doesn't help us understand the situation. At present he doesn't distinguish between climatology and geochemistry.

There isn't a group of academics anywhere that isn't "motley" by some accounts, but in general you will find that the group which studies X is better suited to make statements about X than is the group that studies Y.

This might not always be true, so you have to look at the details.

For instance, I think non-economist scientists have a better grasp of some aspects of economics than do mainstream professional economists. So I grant that your position, though stated with a lack of compassion, is not obviously false from your point of view.

But you need some expertise to look at the details. So I am not sure how to prove to you that your characterization is wrong, but I am sure that it is.

Fortunately, the group in question is a small minority within APS. So in fact, the official position of the physicists is to trust the climate community on this. I expect this will not change.

James Annan said...

The McLean thing got quite a lot of traction down under where the authors are based, which is why there is such a preponderance of antipodean people on the rebuttal.

Would be interested to hear what you are "not entirely happy" with on that score.

John Mashey said...


Can you explain your real-world experience with physicists and climate scientists on which you base your opinion?

Steve Bloom said...

I've been following this stuff closely since 2001 or so, and the "climate science on verge of collapse" meme has been a constant for that whole time. It's just a morale-boosting technique for the denialists, and IMHO ignoring it might be the best response. If one feels compelled to say something, how about digging up past similar assertions by Morano? It shouldn't be hard to dig them up.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, that is an excellent idea for an approach to this!

Michael Tobis said...

Greenfyre's has an excellent article on the "debate" question just today.


Marion Delgado said...

to the general Sean question:

Go to a science presentation - a real one - not a public debate sometime. Someone presenting a paper (if it's not at some sort of symposium it's probably not a formal presentation but it could be a first presentation or a followup to a symposium). I've probably been to a hundred of them.

It's hard to fine one that's about a controversy, actually. most of that gets hashed out before presentations happen. Most of them are incremental or speculative.

But if you're lucky enough to find a controversial one, ask yourself, once you have talked to enough people to get a sense of what the issues are, how you'd tell someone in a robust way in the 1-5 minutes a particular debate question usually allows, or practically allows.

then mentally compare that to the usual run of exchanges of published paper, published letters, published counter letters, counter papers, symposiums.

At some point, doesn't it get obvious that it's not an issue of being "afraid" of public debates?

Unknown said...

Thank you Michael for your considerate reply to my, in retrospect, rather provocative post. Your assumption that I wouldn't understand the papers you could refer me to is slightly patronizing: I have a decent degree in Physics from a UK university that you would instantly recognize. But you make a valid point when you say that "a lot of physicists can't cope with the complexity; their idea of the best way to cope is to attack smaller, more exact problems." That was exactly my experience with all my colleagues, and it's why I left science - perhaps I should have gone into climate science instead! But, as a lapsed physicist, I tend to see problems in purely physical terms - it all comes down to physics in the end.

In response to John's riposte about my real world experience of climate science ... well, you've got me there, as my specialty was astrophysics, a long time ago.

John, you probably think I'm a complete "denialist" but in fact I'm not. I try to keep a very open mind on the subject, but what worries me is the huge areas of uncertainty in the field. (Which the IPCC acknowledges, but minimizes, obviously.) In a climate debate of religious fervour, I'm an agnostic, and I can only wonder at the passion that goes into defending beliefs, on both sides.

In what is only a very partial answer to John's challenge, I'd have to say that the blog discussions - on both sides of the camp - still show that the feedback mechanism of water vapour in the atmosphere is still unresolved (Hah! I hear your cry) yet it seems obvious - to me at least - that there is still a high degree of uncertainty about this fundamental. Unless you're a true believer.

And then there are the bits that don't get aired quite so much by the pro-AGW camp but must have a huge effect on any useful climate model. The effect of clouds (who'd have thought we knew so little about the physics of clouds?) Of oceanic circulation (and I'll need a lot of persuading that we know more than a smattering about that.It's certainly not in the models.) And the biggy - the sun, about which we know virtually nothing useful, as far as climate models are concerned, but which must have a big influence on climate (discerned hundreds of years ago), even if we don't understand it yet. The CLOUD experiment at CERN next year (and CERN doesn't enter into these things lightly) is looking at just one aspect of the sun/earth interaction.

So, from my point of view, it seems that the only possible honest position for anyone with some scientific training behind them is to acknowledge that we just don't know. The claim by climate scientists that they can model the way the whole world works with these glaring holes in our knowledge is pure scientific hubris. But then I certainly wouldn't expect you to agree with that position, either!

Just as an aside, on another aspect of this thread, the it seems to me that the pro-AGW camp protests rather too loudly about their unwillingness to debate the issues. It's no good complaining that they need to go and find some peer-reviewed paper that will refute their opponent (appeal to some authority, somewhere.) That's always the response, whenever I've engaged in discussion, and it might work in the coffee lounges at university, but it won't work in the real world. The AGW evidence and the mechanism must be obvious and easily explainable, and we're nowhere near that yet.

Which is why I'm staying an agnostic.

Anonymous said...

Rather plaintively, Michael, you asked "Why isn't the record heat in Texas this summer getting equal time on Climate Depot with all the cool episodes up north?"

Perhaps because of this:

"The July 2009 temperature for the contiguous United States was below the long-term average, based on records going back to 1895, according to a preliminary analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

The average July temperature of 73.5 degrees F was 0.8 degrees F below the 20th century average. Precipitation across the contiguous United States in July averaged 2.90 inches, which is 0.14 inches above the 1901-2000 average.

I keep telling you, Michael, go long in long Johns, the big chill is on its way!

David Duff

Anonymous said...

@ Steve Bloom
"a constant for that whole time"
Have you seen the excellent movie "Downfall"? The Denier claim always puts me in mind of the last days in the Fuhrer's bunker where they talk about crushing the Soviet armies even as the Soviets close to within a few km.

Every "discipline" becomes a mish-mash once you look at it a little more closely, because every discipline is merely a point of focus in a multidimensional space.

An authority on bird behaviour necessarily winds up working closely with ecologists, biochemists, neurologists, geologists, etc ... but that doesn't mean avian ethnology is not a real discipline, any more than working with an avian ethnologist makes all of the other disciplines nothing more than a mish-mash.

I wish you'd write up your APS letter thoughts and post them somewhere ... I assume I'm just one of many, many blogs that would give you space for damn near anything that amuses you.

For myself, I expect that the letter may backfire somewhat in that the APS undoubtedly will revise the statement "so as to more accurately represent the state of the current science.", which naturally will not go well for Singer et al.

Thank you :) ... last night I added another in the series on debates and engaging, which closes on what I think is a really critical point for us to collectively wrestle with.

Michael Tobis said...

Alex, a very interesting response.

Regarding "debate", that doesn't mean I am opposed to exchanging ideas with someone like you at length. It means I am not willing to stand up in public against the likes of Fred Singer and have to deal with whatever new piece of nonsense he will drag into the room, dealing with his posture of certainty and his talent for sarcasm while still on my side having to make due allowances for uncertainty and my own limitations.

Regarding the substantive concerns you raise, they are real enough. I think you will find plenty of people, myself included, willing to discuss them one at a time, at leisure, in correspondence, and with access to the literature. This is not the sort of debate we complain about.

In the end, though, the Polyanna carbon-is-no-big-deal camp are advocating a policy, not a scientific position. They then pretend that scientific uncertainties act oin their favor. But uncertainties emphatically do not act in their favor, so the whole structure of their political argument is nonsensical.

In the end, agnosticism is agreeing with the naysayer camp, since agnosticism amounts to not supporting vigorous policy. and under present conditions the default is to do very little or nothing.

Consider, though, that this no-policy position is not saying you don't know how close we are in our quantitative estimates. Nobody knows that, actually, and nobody will know until after the fact. It goes much further: it says you are confident we are wrong in our basic heuristics. Because if our basic heuristics are right, (and there is plenty of meteorological science to back those up) there is a problem, and if we can't quantify the problem, it is as likely to be worse than our quantitative estimates as better.

No, you have to argue not from hubris but from bias. If you are absolutely sure we are biased, then you have grounds for avoiding policy. But the arguments for bias are not coherent; the purported corrupting mechanisms either don't exist or operate in the wrong direction.

If you think we are overconfident, you should be MORE worried than otherwise, not less so.

Michael Tobis said...

David, it happens that my local climate is not the continental average, and it continues to be ludicrously hot, here, day after day after day, even by local standards.

Everyone in Texas knows this.

People in much of North America who are dealing with a cool anomaly do not understand the extent to which we are pulling up the average.

You'd think on a site so preoccupied with temperature records that the records set here in Texas this summer would be worth a mention.

The only way you will sell long johns around here is to sell ones with inner linings that hold crushed ice.

Anyway, along with the rest of Texas, I certainly hope the incipient El Nino pushes things in some other direction for a few months.

John Mashey said...

I asked: "Can you explain your real-world experience with *physicists* and climate scientists on which you base your opinion?"

(not just climate scientists).

To be more explicit:

1) To what extent have you followed the literature in the two areas?

2) Do you attend lectures and talk to folks?

3) Have you worked in companies/universities/government labs that employed such folks? [Yes, I understand you got out of science professionally, but some such jobs still retain involvement with such scientists.]

4) Have you visited or at least had serious discussions with physicists/climate scientists at many unversities or labs?

Anonymous said...

Alex, you you will probably be embarrassed to learn that you have a fan, er, me! Your second comment in particular summed up everything I feel concerning this global climate caper. I stress the word 'feel' because I am writing as someone who failed 'O'-level maths, physics and chemistry and therefore it is impossible to use the word 'know'. Even so, as a former second-hand car dealer I have a keen sense of when someone is selling me a pup! Ever since I became interested in this subject and attempted to come to terms with the science (to the best of my limited ability) all my warning alarms have been sounding. There are very many scientists and laymen who genuinely believe that the proposition of AGW is established and settled science - our host, here, is a typical example, or to be exact, he's an untypical example in that he at least will deal politely (well, sometimes a bit grumpily)with dissent. However, the number of charlatans should not be underestimated, either.

Like you, the more I have burrowed into this subject the more it is apparent to me that the gaps in our knowledge are so immense, so intractable, so overwhelming, that it would be better for all concerned if the 'practitioners' adopted a very much more humble posture and forswore fixed and settled theories and simply devoted themselves to filling in some of those huge holes.

Start a blog, Alex, and I will be your regular reader. (And Michael will probably be glad to be rid of me!)

David Duff

Aaron Turpen said...

Interesting that all of the dissenters who don't have any evidence get published here (in commentary), but those of us who questions things like the finances behind the global warming debate are left off...

John Mashey said...


Thanks. The writeup is coming along, but it takes a while to do it properly.

Since many of these names were new to me:

1) I add each one to my bigt spreadsheet of people-vs-organizations.

2) I try to hunt up a C.V., other references, a website if they have one, Google Scholar, etc, to fill in the set of attributes per person. Most people a re at least findable, although some can take work to disambiguate. To say with high confidence that someone has never published any peer-reviewed work in climate science (according to GS) takes work.

3) As part of that, I try to hunt connections to discover social networks involved.

For example, in trying to understand the trio of astronautics folks @ USC {Gruntman, Kunc, and Rapp}, I happened to find that Kunc was the thesis advisor for one Willie H. Soon...

Also, it seems very likely that some of the connections between people go outside the set of people actually listed there. For example, {Seitz, Jastrow, Nierenberg} are deceased, and I don't think Lindzen is an APS member.

re: the letter
I'd be astonished if Singer & co actually expected this to change APS' position. Rather this is aimed at the general audience, particular those overly impressed with credentials, but unable to tell the differences among disciplines. Of course, most really high-ranked physicists, if they get interested in climate science, talk to people and study up, rather than assuming that climate scientists are clueless. Some such, especially in person, can be pretty savage about the damage to science from those few scientists who put ideology above science.

Michael Tobis said...


I continue to encourage you to have your own blog, and fail to understand your reluctance. Serious science bloggers are not stingy with links. You will instantly be a known factor, and indeed your linking to the rest of us will enhance the credibility of the rest of us in the Valley, which would be a Very Good Thing indeed.

Failing that I'd be honored to host the list, or concede it to Greenfyre. One of your efforts went to two blogs as I recall, which damaged the ensuing conversation, so I'd recommend against that.

(Sometimes my articles get picked up by The Energy Collective. On the whole I appreciate it. It increases my visibility. But it also unfortunately splits the conversation. I think if blogs carry one another's articles they should have a mechanism to synchronize the comments.)

guthrie said...

Alex, I do have trouble understanding what you are saying.

Are you saying that we don't know enough of the science so can't be sure that the current warming is our fault? Or are you saying:

"So, from my point of view, it seems that the only possible honest position for anyone with some scientific training behind them is to acknowledge that we just don't know."

Which to me sounds exactly the same as someone saying, as I have seen so many times I can't remember, "Its too big and complex so this warming (if they agree its happening, sometiems they don't) can't be our fault at all".
Which is basically completely wrong.

You also say:
"The AGW evidence and the mechanism must be obvious and easily explainable, and we're nowhere near that yet."

The basics are simple, as shown by some bloke in a basement in the 19th century, and continued by Arhenius later on in that century. We can explain it and have done so, for hours and hours and hours, in books, blogs, TV shows, and yet people still don't seem to get it. What exactly are you looking for?

Hank Roberts said...

Michael, there's nothing on that CD page BUT the line of text and the words "visit site" -- which are a clickable hotlink:

Climate Fear Promoter: 'Morano Claims It's Over...Morano is wrong' visit site
Monday, August 10, 2009 By Marc Morano – Climate Depot

Michael Tobis said...

Hank, yes, but that in turn must be linked from somewhere else fairly prominent. It's not on Morano's homepage.

EliRabett said...


Gruntman, Kunc, and Rapp = Chilingar

Michael Tobis said...

Eli usually means something when he is that cryptic...

Hank Roberts said...

Ah. You need one of the tools that finds links elsewhere pointing to that page. I guess he's being clever, so it's harder to find out what they're saying about your site at the places from which they're sending their newbies here to witness (sigh).

Isn't there a tool for finding the places that have links to his page?

Seems like he's arranging for you to get a vast amount of attention without being able to tell where it's coming from. That sounds familiar, somehow.

John Mashey said...

Michael: htnaks for kind words, but:

I wouldn't want to derail this discussion with a general discourse on blogging, especially "Why I don't (yet) do a blog, despite friends urging me to."

Of course, if, any time after August, you started a thread about the nature of blogging, I'd be glad to contribute some comments. :-)

Michael Tobis said...

Hank, actually I am guessing Morano changed his mind about giving me attention, but somebody other high traffic site is doing so. Maybe somebody who actually got here by that route will tell us, but there's not much point speculating.

Michael Tobis said...

John M,

I added another item to my blogospheric debt. Thanks. :-\

Michael Tobis said...

Actually it seems literally dozens of sites carry Morano's feed. So maybe he can unlink but he can't unfeed. Got one end-times evangelism site pointing to the link page, for instance. This is probably not the sort of traffic that will stick around or buy my T-shirts.

guthrie said...

You have T-shirts?

Unknown said...

David Duff, I agree whole heartedly with you when you say that Michael deals politely with dissent. How refreshing that is! (And thanks too, David, for your kind comments.)

Michael made a very good point, which caused me to search my conscience: he said "... agnosticism is agreeing with the naysayer camp."
That struck a nerve, because I've been uneasily aware that I sound very much like a naysayer: a pity, because it's not true.

Guthrie accuses me of saying (I paraphrase) if we don't understand it, it can't be our fault. Definitely not what I meant, and I'm sorry if it sounded like that. I guess what I'm saying is that if we're going to commit trillions of dollars on a precautionary exercise akin to trying to change the spin of the earth, then we'd better be damn sure we know what we're talking about.

Climate science is at the nexus of science and politics. Science (more generalizations here) focuses on increasing levels of detail. Politics wants a simple Big Picture. And that's what science has failed to provide, at an appropriate level.

I'm aware of that because I'm a Big Picture man - my career is in marketing (IT, high technology for the enterprise). That means that most of my friends and acquaintances have science/technology degrees or doctorates And when I talk to them, it's obvious they can't match the narrative of the AGW brigade with what they observe in the real world.

The AGW cause had a golden opportunity in the 1990s.They could raise awareness of the problem (with cosy connotations of Saving the Planet) and build a narrative that would carry the population along with them, with clear ideas explaining why CO2 is part of a complex scenario, and all that implies. Just needed some intelligent PR.

But they overplayed their hand. Their narrative was, in effect, "Trust us, we're scientists" [consensus, science is settled, etc - see how the trust is already breaking down?] ... and "the world is (insert apocalyptic vision of choice)". And now they add " ... and it's happening even faster than we thought."

Well, in the world that I inhabit, that doesn't work. And for much of the rest of the world as well. Reality does not match the narrative. It's fairly obvious to many people that the earth is not going to hell in a handcart at any speed that seems relevant on a human timescale. (And if you don't believe me, show the average person in the street a satellite record of global temperature this century and ask them if they think the temperature is climbing. And don't be surprised if they don't ask about the confidence levels around a trend line.)

People (except perhaps for the scientific community) need a narrative, a story that they can believe in, which will touch them emotionally. The "saving the world" message did that for a while, but it seems way past its sell-by date, except for the wilder fringes. The AGW brand is diluted. (My observations only.)

But to explain, patronizingly, as guthrie does, that the "basics are simple, as shown by some bloke in a basement in the 19th century" just won't cut it. Intelligent people know that there are a myriad of other factors that can completely swamp - or rapidly accelerate - the diminishing effects of increasing CO2. And repeating myself, we don't know how all those myriad effects interact with each other. How can we possibly model the whole world's climate in such an impossibly complex and chaotic system? Especially when we haven't even included the biggest effects.

So to Michael and guthrie and others who are challenging me on my own position - I believe that the levels of confidence in the IPCC predictions are far, far lower than the 90% claimed by the IPCC (last I heard, anyway) and that it would be, well, unwise to tamper with the earth's economic systems to the extent that would be necessary, without fully understanding the risk factors involved. But that involves social and economic science as well as climate science and takes me way outside my comfort zone.

Hank Roberts said...

> T-shirts

I'd like one that says

"I went to see how life began, and all I found was this prebiotic soup!"

Unknown said...

The link is up on Climate Depot. Scroll down to left hand side. It's below Morano's national security post.

I wouldn't read too much into all this. Morano's site is way too busy and he's constantly shuffling things around on the fly. He's still trying to find the right formula. Stuff is always disappearing and reappearing.

For what it's worth, (not much, I'm sure, with this crowd) I think Morano serves a valuable purpose in the climate debate. Now you can read what you'd like into that statement. Or you can see what I mean with my post on this tomorrow AM, which uses M. Tobis to make my case.

Michael Tobis said...

Alex, if you are criticizing scientists' public relations skills, you will get no argument from me.

Carl Zimmer expands in a recent posting. (h/t Keith Kloor)

In addition, there is not an even PR playing field between advocates and scientists.

As a PR professional yourself, I would think you might be able to see past these influences. What you feel about it is not a reliable indicator of the truth in a battle between PR professionals and PR noobs. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Alex, start a blog - please!

David Duff

guthrie said...

Alex - I accept your re-wording of what you meant about whether or not we understand it and whose fault it is.

However, I do wonder if you are aware of other parts of the problem which we have been chewing over for years. That is the press. It is very rare these days for the newspapers and their websites to present a science story in a proper sensible manner. They have a tendency to squish the science into a poor narrative, put in bold, subtly wrong headlines ("We're all gonna die!"), and ignore corrections or followup. If a study six months later refutes the earlier one, nothing will be said in the newspaper and people will still think that some scientist said we're all gonna die, because people don't memorise the details of the story, they remember the headline and one or two emotionally related factoids. THis leads to the public getting a one sided view of the story. In the case of AGW, add that to the deliberate misinformation and lies put out by various people and organisations, and you have the recipe for confusion, even although people like me have been reading about AGW in publications like New Scientist since the early 90's.

There are various things happening to get around communication issues, which to be fair are not totally the journalists fault; apparently some university PR departments are a bit sloppy in their press releases. But at the moment it looks like the entire culture is against science. Science is hard, takes a long time, and does not deal in absolute certainty. This does not translate well for people who don't want to or cannot spend the time learning things, and also does not fit with a rapidly changing culture which desires personal gratification.

If you've worked in PR, perhaps you have some suggestions?

guthrie said...

Phew, I managed to exceed the allowable limit in my last post.
(I Have a blog already, but its an LJ for friends and me)

So, to continue...

Now we come to the interesting stuff.
You stated:
"The AGW evidence and the mechanism must be obvious and easily explainable, and we're nowhere near that yet."

I then pointed out that we knew the basic mechanism, absorption of radiation by CO2 (and of course other gases and vapours) rather well. That is the basic, simple, mechanism and explanation. YOu then replied:

"But to explain, patronizingly, as guthrie does, that the "basics are simple, as shown by some bloke in a basement in the 19th century" just won't cut it. Intelligent people know that there are a myriad of other factors that can completely swamp - or rapidly accelerate - the diminishing effects of increasing CO2."

You are shifting the goalposts at lightning speed. Once you start talking about logarithms, feedback mechanism, etc, you've just lost everyone without a science or maths degree. Unless they've spent a wee while studying the subject, they won't understand unless you spend even more time explaining things, and after a while it is no longer simple or obvious.
I submit to the audience that the two statements I have quoted are mutually exclusive, because of the complexities of the climate and unfortunate limitations on how many people actually understand things. You can't have obvious and easily explainable and yet covering the feebacks, mechanisms etc. Do you remember school? Do you remember how they said Benzene worked? Well they were lying to you. Ok, not technically lying, exactly, but it was over simplified for your consumption. Once at university you learn about pi orbitals and all the rest of it, but at school, you get a simplified picture. The problem with AGW is pitching the message to the audience, and having the audience accept that they are going to have to do some work.

I've seen it frequently - someone claims AGW isn't happening/ isn't our fault and we don't know what is going on, and then someone patiently explains it in a couple of hundred words. The person then comes back and cherry picks some small aspect of the science which the other person mentioned, and claims it doesn't make sense. They then get another reply which expands greatly upon that area of science. Before you know whats happening there are several small essays walking someone through the science, but simple and obvious gets abandoned as the objector keeps finding something else to object to. You can have simple and obvious, but you can't therefore cover all the science. You can have all the science but then you'r looking at the IPCC report and hundreds of scientific papers.

Steve Bloom said...

Just to note that the International Institute for Strategic Studies has a climate change blog.

Unknown said...

Michael, I'm extremely slow this afternoon, which explains why I'm having a little difficulty with your proposition that "there is not an even PR playing field between advocates and scientists." By "advocates" I assume you don't mean "advocates of contrarianism or denial"? So I think you mean that the dastardly massed media (professional advocates?) have hi-jacked the story from scientists, and grossly distorted it for commercial purposes: "if it bleeds, it leads."

To me, it sounds as though you're saying that honest science has been hoodwinked by a rampant media who're only interested in sensationalism. And I don't think that's quite fair or honest, on either side. For instance, on the science side, Stephen Schneider (to quote just one example) said nearly 20 years ago "So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have." He's still at it; he recently said something very similar. He's in a position as a lead IPCC author to influence the whole climate science ethos, so I'd blame him and his kind for trying to set a high-profile PR agenda ... and getting it wrong.

Here in the UK, the media have bought hook, line and sinker into Schneider's simplistic pro-AGW narrrative, to the extent that they can only publish a story when it's on-message: it's part of an apocalyptic vision (the Arctic ice will be gone by 2010, 100 days to save the world, etc) and it's happening even faster than we thought. And readers and viewers are, in general, yawning. It's a great surprise to hear a lone voice somewhere questioning the standard narrative - so there's hardly a professional contrarian PR machine at work!

Gosh, at this point, I've just seen guthrie's thoughtful first comment about the press. I think what you say is absolutely right, and I think you and I are very much on the same lines here, though I probably think science is not quite as blameless (see above) as you do! Two of the problems here are the media's very low opinion of the public's tolerance of scientific ideas, and the media's own complete inability to engage with anything more than a scientific scare story. (I'll have to answer your second part separately!)

Finally, Michael asked what I think, rather than feel, about the PR battle. Yes, you're right, I do tend to look past the graphic scare elements. I also follow some blogs (on both sides of the fence) and I recognize that I'm never going to have time to read the papers that both sides would like me to read. So, damned by my own words here, I have to try and integrate threads of information, ideas picked up from discussions and abstracts, then weight them in the slowly evolving stew of climate arguments in my head. While I think that I'm quite good at this, I know that it will be treated with scorn by real scientists. But it allows me to come to my conclusions through the filter of a physics education.

So what do I think about the PR battle? I wish for something quite impossible - I want "science", represented by some really significant body like the Royal Society, the APS, or even the IPCC (they'd never do it!) to show a little scientific humility, rather than hubris. Immediately, that would get everyone's attention, and may switch off the media's self-defeating approach of describing everything in terms of imminent apocalyspe. By humility, I mean an admission (and if it's a politicized, guarded, face-saving admission, then so be it) that actually there are still areas that need a lot more research before we tamper with the climate or economies.

My own opinion (as a marketer, not a PR person - different animals!) is that there would be a collective double-take from 90% of the population, and renewed interest in all matters climate-related. Sure, some will assume that the climate is back to normal, but most will follow a believable narrative with a lot more interest.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm afraid Alex's position is absurd.

Everything the IPCC says in its reports is so couched in qualifications and caveats that it is pretty much impossible to imagine going further in that direction without grossly under-representing the evidence.

What people say about IPCC is another matter.

As for Stephen Schneider, I will say I had the privilege of meeting him last year and he is a mensch.

The balance between strict scientific propriety and easily understood scare stories is actually a hard problem, and that is all he said. IPCC errs on the side of propriety, though, and they are still accused of exaggeration.

Gore tells the stories and mumbles quickly over the caveats, as does the UK press. Some people at least take notice, after 15 years of ignoring the IPCC.

Postulate for just a minute that what we are saying is correct. In other words, that we are 15 years late on acting, that the failure of Kyoto makes the global problem much harder, and that a failure in Copenhagen will probably move it into crisis proportions.

How should we behave, then, so as to convince Alex?

Unknown said...

Michael is right, my position is absurd (and I said it was "quite impossible" up front.)

But then, so is the position of the pro-AGW camp. Forget the IPCC, I know all about their caveats and qualifications in the technical appendices (again, not exactly in the public domain.)

What's absurd is the shriller and shriller, louder and louder shouting - from what I can only call alarmists - to a deafer and deafer population. Can you imagine a more absurd or comic situation?

It seems to me if the pro-AGW camp is not careful, the discussion will drop off the public agenda completely. Absurd times call for desperate measures.

I know what I suggested breaks paradigms. But a complete paradigm shift is what's needed now. With great respect, I suspect you're part of the old paradigm (though after only a day or two I don't know enough of your blog to fully understand your position.) But I think you'd be surprised how receptive the community at large would be to a new narrative.

Take another look at what I wrote. Is it really so completely impossible?

Michael Tobis said...

Is this your suggestion?

"So what do I think about the PR battle? I wish for something quite impossible - I want "science", represented by some really significant body like the Royal Society, the APS, or even the IPCC (they'd never do it!) to show a little scientific humility, rather than hubris. Immediately, that would get everyone's attention, and may switch off the media's self-defeating approach of describing everything in terms of imminent apocalyspe. By humility, I mean an admission (and if it's a politicized, guarded, face-saving admission, then so be it) that actually there are still areas that need a lot more research before we tamper with the climate or economies."

Well, except for your conclusion, that is what we try to do. But to suggest that 'there are still areas that need a lot more research before we tamper with the climate or economies' completely neglects the cumulative nature of the problem and the existing evidence.

Of course, we'd like more certainty, but perfect certainty is never available in real world decision making. What we have is a huge gap between the balance of evidence as perceived by experts and the balance of evidence as perceived by non-experts.

Some people, myself included, believe that this gap is due mostly to the distortion of the debate by people deliberately injecting disinformation and confusion into the conversation.

We simply cannot go so far as to say many things must be examined "before" changing the rules of the economy, because the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

Unknown said...

Michael, we may have taken this as far as is possible in this forum, but I'll diffidently mention one aspect that will be very sensitive ground as far as the climate science community is concerned.

You say "What we have is a huge gap between the balance of evidence as perceived by experts and the balance of evidence as perceived by non-experts." Exactly. The perception from the community is that they fully understand the mechanics of what's going on in the atmosphere, and where it's headed. I've used the word "hubris" before, in this respect.

I mentioned the banking world, and that's exactly what we saw there. ALl the "experts" were convinced they understood the way things worked and where they were headed. Crash.

In the UK we had a few voices (politicians, actually, but non-experts) who voiced theur contrarian opinions and were shouted down. A huge gap in perception.

The sensitive, or dangerous ground? Group-think, among other factors. Everyone (bankers) was convinced that the market supported their understanding of what was going on, but of course no one knew the totality of the model and its consequences. Not until far, far too late.

I venture to suggest that what we have in climate science is group-think to an unimaginably dangerous degree. And most scientists are very much less worldly thatn bankers! You obviously don't agree with me that there are massive voids in our understanding of the climate and its interactions with sea and sun. And, again with great respect, because I know that you believe passionately in the rightness of your cause, I think that you may be part of the Group's thinking.

From my agnostic position, the fact that a distinguished bunch of physicists from the APS is challenging the APS's position on AGW is a golden opportunity, an opportunity that the pro-AGW lobby squandered in the 90s.

It doesn't seem too absurd to me that the APS could change its position, even a little bit, in response to the expert opinion of Nobel prize winners, etc. And if they did, who knows where it could lead? It would certainly cause quite a stir in the scientific community. From my position on the sidelines, I shall be cheering them on!

tidal said...

mt, since you and your new buddy marc are apparently cross-posting alarmist climate change communications, perhaps you can make sure he gets a hold of this (cherry-picked*) shocker!

"warmer climates enhance mountain growth... the warmer climate tended to push the snowline higher, and the mountains grew taller"

* I think this is how it is done.

Michael Tobis said...

WHOOPS: Accidentally flushed a nice comment by Guthrie. Hit the wrong button, and there is no undo. Fortunately my email has it cached.


What the internet at least has allowed is actual scientists to put their point across directly to the waiting, possibly even shouty and demanding, masses. This is a good thing, but there is a huge culture of mistrust out there.

Apart from that, I don't see what else we can do. PR departments need to do their job well, obviously. There've been studies enough over the last 60 years that we know how to communicate things to people, and that is what we pay communications professionals to do. However I'm sure most of you know about the problems with the press. There are also apparently issues with schools, where things have changed even in the 15 years since I was at school.

I do not think it is worth making scientists devote time to communicating their science. Some will be good at it, because of natural ability or desire and practise. But others won't be because of lack of natural ability or whatever, which is where science writers need to talk to them and be intermediaries.

Everywhere I look there are awards, special bodies, august scientific colleges, media companies and others all yacking about the importance of science, all giving awards, patting themselves on the back. But the mainstream of public opinion is unswayed.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Alex, you are new around here. The distinction between the type of knowledge climate scientists have and the type of knowledge economists have is a core theme.

One of the first articles on this blog acknowledges that the analogy is hard to dismiss lightly.

On the other hand, if a competent astronomer gives me the date of a lunar eclipse 500 years in the future and a competent financial analyst gives me the Dow 500 years in the future, I will have much more confidence in the one than the other. Climate science lies somewhere in between.

The error you are making is the same one that Mr Armstrong of "Forecasting Principles" is forever flogging. The predictability of a system depends very much on the nature of the system (and also, importantly, on its inherent time scales).

Unknown said...

Michael, yes, I'm new round here, and I apologize for raking over old ground. Thanks for being patient with me.

I don't have any argument with climate science being a real science - there's no question in my mind that it is. Not so sure about economics, but it doesn't really affect the point I was trying to make: group-think can affect both bodies of expertise, equally. There are cases from physics 100 years ago ("we know all the physics there is to know" pre-Einstein) for example, or geology (similar, pre-Wegener and plate tectonics) as well as the US car industry in economics.

All cases of the experts knowing best. I admit the analogy is not a perfect fit ... and if you don't believe that the areas of (lack of) knowledge I've mentioned are significant to climate science, and at least raise a big question mark over the degree of certainty about rising global temperatures, then there's nothing more to be said.

No, perhaps there is! If you can point me to the papers that show why I should accept that the models can account, positively or negatively, for much more than just the simplest basics of the sun's effects (TSI, basic 11 year sun spot cycle) on the climate - and the same for clouds and ocean circulation too - then I promise to make the time to read the papers and revise my position on the scale of agnosticism. I and all your readership would benefit enormously.

And I'd appreciate it if you'd return the compliment and, if that information isn't accessible, revise your opinion about the certainty of AGW.

I'm afraid it isn't really a fair deal, because it puts the onus on you ... but it's the best I can do!

One other quick point - you said above that the gap between expert and non-expert is "due mostly to the distortion of the debate by people deliberately injecting disinformation and confusion into the conversation."

Well, that may be true in the US, but here in the UK, there's no chance of that in the mainstream media! All the press, and the BBC especially, are uniformly strident in their advocacy of AGW, except for just one or two occasionally maverick columnists. 99% of the news is pro-AGW. And that's where I started - the narrative doesn't match reality. But it might be very different in the US, the land of the free (press).

Hank Roberts said...

> mentioned the banking
> world .... the "experts"
> were convinced they
> understood the way things
> worked ...

Catton, _Overshoot_


Same problem with climate change -- folks like you will be claiming that no one warned them.

Much the same is true of the warning signs of the current financial crisis. Reputable business leaders and economists had been warning for years ...

So what's the problem? Is it a Goldilocks situation? Everyone is either too stuffy, scientific and reserved, or else too shrill and alarmist?

Michael Tobis said...


"why I should accept that the models can account, positively or negatively, for much more than just the simplest basics of the sun's effects (TSI, basic 11 year sun spot cycle) on the climate - and the same for clouds and ocean circulation too - then I promise to make the time to read the papers and revise my position "

I don't think the question is framed right. I find it odd that people who don't understand the material feel it reasonable to sketch out the argument for people who do.

One interesting piece of evidence is here. I think we can't talk about what models do or don't do without some understanding of what they are and how they fit in the science, neither of which is adequately covered in the press or in skeptic circles.

I acknowldege that the situation in Europe is very different than here with respect to press coverage, and that much of what appears over there is excessive. That said, it appears that Europeans are ready to do what is necessary, while Americans are not. So form a pragmatic point of view, exaggeration of the uncertainties to the level of knowing nothing is more problematic than understatement of the uncertainties and prognostications of immediate doom.

I think it is clear that a failure in Copenhagen is very likely to have tragic consequences, but only eventually, not necessarily soon.

Alex, you don't seem to get the main point of my response to arguments of your sort, though. The more understated the scientific uncertainties, the more severe the risk. Those who don't believe the earth's response to greenhouse gases is well-characterized should be doubly concerned, not less so, for the consequences could be dramatically worse than IPCC projects.

Hubris is not enough. To ignore the scientific community you must argue for bias.

It's clear the financial community is biased toward optimism. That's what makes bubbles happen. Why should climatologists be biased toward pessimism?

There are theories that say we are, but they are pretty much ridiculous.

Unknown said...

I was going to bow out from this thread but, coincidentally, and with perfect timing, I've just seen a post from Roger Pielke Jr, (probably a bogeyman?) that makes my point more succinctly and directly than I ever could. The post is titled "Signs that the mainstream climate debate has lost touch with reality" and it's worth a read, because he's one of the guys who really understands the cost versus risk equation of action on AGW.

Promise I'll stay quiet until the next topic!

Michael Tobis said...

Ah, the ubiquitous Roger Jr.

If there weren't already a bitterly sarcastic movie called "Roger and Me" I'd have material for one. Also interesting as the first direct encounter between Mr. Morano and myself; as well as between Keith Kloor and myself; and probably the angriest I've been at Andy Revkin as well.

Don't plan to just click through and read for a minute, though. Curl up with this one and read it like a novel. There's lots of suspense and interesting action.

Anyway as a consequence of those events I've sworn off having opinions about Roger Jr. Eli is good at that. Maybe he'll take it up.

Of course I've already broken down a bit because of his name on the new Klotzbach thing, which I'm in the middle of trying to parse. Maybe you can't plan to write about the climate controversy without running into Roger Jr.

guthrie said...

I think MT has responded well to Alex.
I'll just chime in on another point:

"Well, that may be true in the US, but here in the UK, there's no chance of that in the mainstream media! All the press, and the BBC especially, are uniformly strident in their advocacy of AGW, except for just one or two occasionally maverick columnists. 99% of the news is pro-AGW. And that's where I started - the narrative doesn't match reality. But it might be very different in the US, the land of the free (press)."

Whilst I think some go over the top in their stridency, if you look more closely at the situation you'll find some interesitng points. Firstly although the news reporting is pro AGW, I keep finding these opinion articles by the likes of Christopher Booker which use mistakes, lies and wishful thinking to try and combat the news articles or the scientists. Not that I am accusing CB of willfully lying, rather that he is uncritically taking anything which agrees with him and using it as ammo.

The letters pages are moer evenly matched, but are completely unsuited to discussion of the science. Because the news articles are pro-AGW, uninformed people get their information from the internet, from global websites, thus you will meet the same (usually wrong) talking points all over the UK that have come from the USA.

Plus the state of the press and the public now is that 90% of people automatically discount everything it says, unless it matches their preconceived notions about how the gvt is wasting our money on illegal immigrants or something.

skanky said...

Guthrie's point is a good one, but I think an additional bit can be added.

The tone of the higher selling scandal sheets (Sun, Mail, etc.) tends not to run much on AGW newswise, though their columnists (Philips, Littlejohn, Clarkson, etc.) tend to continue with the ill-informed rubbish, based on today not being a "scorcher", etc. like Booker.

Thus I would say that parts of the media can give a very denialist view of the situation whatever some of the "broadsheets" and broadcast media may be saying.

This is the same part of the media who is generally making stuff up about giving all our money to immigrants, that he alludes to (they sometimes mix the two subjects up, even).

Hank Roberts said...

A snippet found via the inimitable Benny Peiser -- why Plimmer was so publicly active and so widely echoed last week.

The Daily Telegraph, 13 August 2009

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent

The failure to pass new climate change legislation in Australia does not bode well for a global agreement ....

It was thought Australia was ready to follow Europe in committing to cut carbon. ....

Australia also is reliant on coal to run its economy, and it has some of the world's most outspoken climate change sceptics.

Ian Plimer ... has been lobbying politicians and appearing regularly on television....

Chris_Winter said...

Steve Bloom wrote: "I've been following this stuff closely since 2001 or so, and the "climate science on verge of collapse" meme has been a constant for that whole time. It's just a morale-boosting technique for the denialists, and IMHO ignoring it might be the best response. If one feels compelled to say something, how about digging up past similar assertions by Morano? It shouldn't be hard to dig them up."

Just so. I am reminded of a quote from Eric Frank Russell's novel Wasp*. It's spoken by the lead character, one James Mowry, about the Sirian military campaign against Earth. (Mowry is an Earthling, posing as a Sirian to act as a saboteur.)

"For months we have been making triumphant retreats before a demoralized enemy advancing in utter disorder."

With regard to substantive science (and except for the time scale), I think this perfectly sums up the Denialist campaign. I do grant, however, that a large segment of the public does not see it that way. That's a problem.

* The title refers to the insect, not to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Chris_Winter said...

Alex, you raise a lot of plausible points (and quite a few with which I flatly disagree, like the universality of the pro-AGW slant in British news media.) But at bottom you are that rarity, someone who disbelieves AGW yet argues reasonably.

In an August 11 message, you wrote: "So, from my point of view, it seems that the only possible honest position for anyone with some scientific training behind them is to acknowledge that we just don't know. The claim by climate scientists that they can model the way the whole world works with these glaring holes in our knowledge is pure scientific hubris."

This is overstated. No reputable climate scientist makes such a claim. A lot of effort goes into improving the models, and it is (as you say) a very complex undertaking.

Are the models good enough to support policy decisions? In my opinion, yes. One example is the GISS model of 1988, which has been shown to reproduce the subsequent 20 years of temperature increase quite closely. This is well known because of a notorious lie about it in Congressional testimony — a lie that originated with Marc Morano.

But again, the claim that models are all that undergirds AGW is never made by climate scientists, only by the opposition. There is the radiation physics behind the greenhouse effect. There are the many field observations about Earth's changing climate and its effects: melting glaciers, lengthening growing seasons, etc. Those observations include the carbon-isotope ratios that confirm the CO2 entering the atmosphere is largely from fossil fuels.

I don't think the basics of this climate science are that hard to explain. I recently spent some time trying to do just that. I'd like your opinion as an agnostic. Please have a look at this URL and tell me what you think:


Steve Scolnik said...

Re [C]Rapp's book (Mashey's earlier comment:
Springer is charging textbook rates of $179 US for this gem (no discounts at Amazon). Bet they'll be raking in the dough from Liberty U and their ilk.

Michael Tobis said...

Springer! Yoiks! I would have thought they would exert some editorial judgment.

Good swaths of the book are available online. I've seen all I need to.

Unknown said...

cpwinter, thank you pointing me to your website. It's extremely well written, with no chance of the layperson being confused by scientific jargon.

The problem I have is that it starts from the point of view of the status quo, the "consensus". To me, at least, it ducks the hard questions, and avoids narrative. I've used this term a lot - my own peculiar psychological makeup - but most people want an unfolding story that they can relate to their own experience of the real world. Add the science in bite-sized chunks where needed.

My internal AGW narrative goes something like this (internal dialogue in brackets):
1. The world is certainly warmer than 40/50 years ago (Yes, I can remember winters when I was young.)
2. So what's caused the increase? The obvious candidate is CO2, it's a "greenhouse gas" and we've been pumping it into the atmosphere for a century now. (Yes, we're burning fossil fuel at a helluva rate, and greenhouses get warm.)
3. How do we know that CO2 is the culprit? (Other than it seems sort of intuitive ....)
4. Well, there's no measurable physical evidence. But we can model the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere using computer models. (Uh oh. You mean that the only evidence is from computer models?)
5. Yes. But there's loads of peer-reviewed science in them, being added to all the time. (Oh, OK. So the way that the climate behaves is largely understood, and you can be pretty certain that temperatures will carry on increasing?)
6. Well .... no. There are areas of interaction that are still being debated, like the behaviour of all the water vapour in the atmosphere, but most climate scientists believe they know that it tends to reinforce CO2's warming. (Hmmm, global temperatures haven't climbed for around 10 years now, and there's still some debate about the model?)
7. Yes, the behaviour of the atmosphere in the last few decades is best explained by assuming the water vapour behaves in a certain way. (What?! You tweak the behaviour of the model to fit the observed behaviour and then say that it proves CO2 is the culprit? Wow ... are there any other areas of uncertainty?)
8. Unfortunately, yes. Clouds can cool the earth or warm it, but we don't yet understand how AGW affects cloud formation for positive or negative feedback. There's a massive amount of energy in the oceans, far more than in the atmosphere, but how that energy is stored, circulated, and released is almost totally unknown. And then there's the sun ... I'm sorry, we know even less about the sun. (So basically, the model is largely incomplete?)
9. Well, yes, but remember that scientists who've studied the climate for a long time believe they can explain what's going on with the current models. (OK. Did their models predict the current pause - or cooling - in the temperature record?)
10. Well, the models tend to show wavy lines, and some models showed a pause at this time. But it's all a bit hit and miss. (So, in the end, it all comes down to faith in the scientists, rather than the science?)
11. Yes. But they believe implicitly in the rightness of what they're doing!

You'll certainly tell me I've taken gross liberties, and distorted things for narrative effect. But I believe it's a fairly reasonable statement of today's state of play. Now, the narrative becomes entirely subjective and purely internal:

Hmm, not nearly as convincing as I'd hoped. While we're told the earth is warming, it's obvious to most people that it hasn't this century. And all the dire warnings we hear appear to be wrong or grossly overstated. We know that climate science has a deliberate policy of exaggerating risk, from their own public statements. And even some of the science has been shown to be, well, not robust. This does not create a cosy feeling of confidence.

So, on balance, I prefer to reserve judgement on the science's models and their predictions. That's how my own non-scientific line of reasoning goes, and I think the same is true for a lot of other people too. Detailed references are irrelevant when the big picture is so clouded!

Unknown said...

cpwinter, that darned character-limit on the posts ensured that I had to curtail the discussion in my response to you. I agree with almost everything you say, except where you talk about the evidence. It seems to me that the evidence you quote is simply for warming, not Anthropogenic warming. Obviously the climate has warmed since I was young - no argument from me there. And I know all about the radiation physics - so far, so obvious.

But it all comes down to whether the additional CO2 is specifically responsible alone for the observed atmospheric behaviour. And, as far as I know, there is no such evidence. My perception then is that we have to tune the models to fit the observations (the only "evidence"), and that tuning involves making assumptions that are strongly disputed. Add in large missing areas of knowledge, and the computer model becomes an extremely blunt instrument indeed.

I prefer my instruments sharp and incisive, especially where trillions of dollars are involved.

You can infer from all I've said that I'm a sceptic, or even denialist. I suppose I'm a sceptic about the wilder claims from the AGW side, but I much prefer the term agnostic because my perception is that what we don't know outweighs what we do.

Michael Tobis said...

But, Alex, that's fiction! The intellectual history of climate change is noting like that.

Paul said...

But Alex has his narrative and he's ever so comfy with it. I notice ice, sea temperatures, ocean acidification, phenological change have no place in the narrative. Just too complicatied and inconvenient to the narrative I suppose.

Dano said...

I added all of Coby's numbers that can be found in Alex's excuse-making and head-in-sand-burying diatribe, and the sum of all the long-ago debunked arguments' numbers is 666. Jus' sayin'.



Michael Tobis said...

"But it all comes down to whether the additional CO2 is specifically responsible alone for the observed atmospheric behaviour."

No, it doesn't remotely come down to that.

It comes down to what the sensitivity to greenhouse forcing is (especially, but not limited to, CO2 sensitivity). A number, not a yes/no question.

The secular time scale evidence contributes to constraining that number. So does plenty of other evidence.

The reduction of everything to yes/no questions too early is a key trick to the denial argumentation.

Climatology provides a reasonably well-constrained number for the Charney sensitivity on the order of 3 C, and some fuzzy but qualitatively plausible estimates as to the extent of change that will mean on the ground. Maybe some day we will be able to do better, and it's a worthy goal, but meanwhile climatology should HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DEBATE.

If we were being sensible, the debate would be:

1) in an unconstrained market, how much anthropogenic forcing will there be?

2) given such forcing, what will the consequences be?

3) given the consequences, what is a reasonable cost to avoid them?

These are within the bailiwick of IPCC, but not part of climatology. These are vastly more uncertain than the Charney sensitivity or the scope of its climatological consequences.

All of them are quantitative questions, not binary decisions! Just conceivably, the answer to q3 is zero in some alternative universe, but you have to go through the other questions to get there. None of them is about climatology.

So why is everybody looking at us?

So, here is the real fundamental intellectual flaw in what Alex and his friends are selling. They presume the Charney sensitivity is unknown. Therefore, they believe that we can treat it as zero, and ignore the other three questions.

But, under no circumstances is zero the best estimate of the Charney sensitivity. Rational risk weighted policy weighs all plausible values of that sensitivity. The less certain we are, the more weight we give to high sensitivities as well as low ones. And that skews the calculation toward more, rather than less urgent action!

Uncertainty is not enough to defer action. You must claim to be certain we have badly overestimated the sensitivity in order to propagate the argument through to inaction as the best course.

In particular, despite his revealing misunderstandings, Alex is not making such a case, so his argument does not support policy inaction.

Unknown said...

Hey guys, I was expecting a rough time! But I was expecting a rather more intellectual dismissal than a lofty assumption that I'm "excuse-making" or "misunderstanding."

I couldn't see anywhere any rebuttals of my main points (which I agree is not an accurate history, as MT pointed out, but so what?) I may have missed them, but what I saw instead were reminders about ice (certainly not a dramatic change, even in the Arctic), sea-level (ditto, according to the Argo system), etc. But it's all largely irrelevant anyway, in the bigger picture. See my discussion.

Frankly, if I was looking for a binary position, I'd say that you haven't rebutted my narrative, and you've lost the argument. Now, I know things aren't that simple, but that's what you're up against. You may have the utmost contempt for the way I've told it, but plenty of people will think like that, even if they haven't articulated it like that ... so you'll need to do better on the PR front. Which is where I think I came in!

And then Michael seems to move the goalposts. Let's not argue about what the climate is doing, let's discuss the cost. Well, yes, but if you've moved the discussion away from uncomfortable areas because they're too difficult, the discussion of costs becomes even more difficult too. Fortunately it's way outside my comfort zone. Unfortunately, you're suggesting the IPPC ;-)

I apologize if I've come over in a too-assertive way here, but I suppose I'm reacting to unsubstantiated criticisms of what I'm saying. Please tell me where my "big picture" is completely and utterly wrong. I'm truly willing to listen. I am an agnostic seeking spiritual guidance.

Michael Tobis said...

Alex, we are here to discuss what the climate is doing. I am not trying to not do that! I'm already interested in climatology.

I'm just pointing out that all the interest in climatology is driven by a red herring phenomenon. If there were a clear channel between science and the public, our work in informing the policy sector would be treated as, to first order, done. The real action should be elsewhere.

As long as it's not elsewhere, climate geeks will be happy to discuss it. I just think it's worth pointing out that the interest in what we are doing is not due to a success on our part but a failure on our part. Our science is sound, but our PR is awful.

I would, nevertheless, try to change the conversation with you and anyone like you to a quantitative one. Not do we know something or nothing, but what's the expected value, given current information, of the Charney sensitivity.

Our input doesn't entirely boil down to that number, but that number is agreed by scientists and policy makers alike as pour most important input.

People who claim that action is "premature" are making an implicit claim as to what they believe about the Charney sensitivity. The yes/no question makes a courtroom drama out of science. We are arguing about a quantity. I say 3 C with, say, a standard deviation of about .75 C. I and most members of the climate physics community will be very surprised if the number is not within 1.5 to 4.5 C.

Will you?

Let's drop the courtroom drama and speak quantitatively, please. That's my point.

Unknown said...

Michael, I'm slightly bewildered here. I entered a conversation about how to counter people like Morano with a suggestion about what the AGW PR problem might be for relatively uninformed people like me who nevertheless take an intelligent interest in what's happening and are perfectly capable of assessing and integrating information at a high level.

Obviously my well-meant suggestion was ridiculed, of rebalancing the narrative so that the likes of Morano don't actually get any traction. At present, it's childishly easy for Morano to tell a convincing story. Hell, you even get close to admitting it yourself.

But, from there, I was beguiled into talking about how reasonably intelligent people might fail to be convinced by a science-side story that's been heavily spun by the Schneiders ("scare 'em"), Hansens ("death trains") and Manns ("torture the data") of this world, and instead see the holes in the story.

Obviously this was a big mistake. Having felt that I'd made a reasonable point - because it hasn't been rebutted in the way I expected - I now find that I'm put in the embarrassing position of having to select a Charney sensitivity which, as you know, I'm totally unqualified to do. So, as I'll be damned if I do and damned if I don't, I'll take the easy way and merely say that the challenge is completely wrong (except within your own community.)

If anything I've said above has made any sense whatsoever, you'll understand that just focusing on the sensitivity is akin to changing the auto's spark plugs at the roadside because we don't know if there's anything wrong with the fuel injection, the ignition system, or the clutch and gearbox. Most likely doomed to failure, and a complete waste of time and money.

To close the loop, because I can't really add any more, I'd just say that your challenge is the ultimate scientific response - focus on the minutiae. The public and the press just aren't interested! If Morano is successful, it's because he rises way above that. So do Hansen et al, but they get it completely wrong! But now I'm repeating myself ...

Paul said...

". . .the Schneiders ("scare 'em"), Hansens ("death trains") and Manns ("torture the data "). . ."

Alex, from the land that gave us TVMOB and The Great Global Warming Swindle, you have run your true colors up the flag pole.

You really have had more than enough attention. You want it simple and on the back of an envelope. Look for it on Real Climate and places like Barton Paul Levenson's web site. You have already indicated that one blog was less than impressive. These probably won't impress you either because you want it SIMPLE. The devil is always in the details. Your unwillingness/inability to pursue/discuss the details tells us more about you than about climate science or about the PR failures of climate scientists.

You will go back to the deny and delay blogs and say look what a bunch of closed minded sciencey types we are on "the other side". I tried to reason with them and they ridiculed me. I declared a victory and now I am back well within my comfort zone.

You are upset that mt focused on climate sensitivity and you just don't know what to say. I am upset that all you could focus on in your stream of consciousness recital was global mean temperature. There is huge amount of data on sea temperature and sea level indicating an increase in the stored energy of this system. You dismiss this with a reference to the ARGOS buoys. Do you know any of the details of this or are you just tossing stuff out? You ignore all the other indicators that the climate system is storing energy and feeding it back in increasingly disturbing ways.

Alex, you will find lots of reinforcement on those blogs from which you have extracted all your tired memes. We don't have an obligation to convince you. Wait long enough and physics will prevail. Yeah, I have one of those degrees too from a large Midwestern University you probably never heard of.