"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bad Guys

Tom Fuller, over at Eli's, castigates me for speaking of "bad guys" in the climate change debate. Tom is right on the edge of the category himself, but let me give you a pure unalloyed creep as a reference point, one Greg Pollowitz:
This past week, I was having lunch at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan when my colleague noticed Al and Tipper Gore dining across the room with another couple. It was a frigid day, with record-breaking temperatures keeping most people indoors, and we were the last two tables in the restaurant.
As the Gore party started walking out of the room, my colleague called out, "Hey, Al, how's all that global warming working out for you?" Gore turned around and stared at us with a completely dumbfounded look on his face. He was speechless. With a smile, my colleague repeated the question, again to a hapless look of dismay.

Finally, Gore mumbled under his breath, "Wow, you sound awfully angry." I responded with a thank you, explaining to him that we were actually extremely amused. The encounter concluded with Gore's friend mouthing a very animated "f--- you" at us, and they skulked away. My only regret is that no one at the table asked Gore, "What's the matter? The polar bear's got your tongue?"

What struck me the most about this meeting was Gore's complete inability to utter a sentence addressing his life's work. The former Vice President, Nobel Prize laureate, and Academy Award-winning producer standing before us was a moron, unable to articulate a simple comeback to address all that he has stood for since leaving office. He could have simply ignored us and kept walking, as he does with reporters, but by stopping and standing there dumbstruck, he looked like a fool.
Exactly how does Mr. Pollitowitz expect a Nobel Laureate and former Vice-President to react to a belligerent and stupid question interrupting what must otherwise have been a pleasant interlude?

"How's being a horse's ass working out for you?" would be the best answer, but it would hardly reflect well on the responder's dignity. What is the right Nobel Laureate expression for "f--- you" anyway?

To ice the cake there is that
My only regret is that no one at the table asked Gore, "What's the matter? The polar bear's got your tongue?"
And these people are so proud of their witty repartee as to brag about it. Got any cancer jokes while you're at it?

OK, Tom? Those are the bad guys. Get it?

The image of a guy in a black hat looking mean, who turns out to be Jack Abramoff, is all over the web. This particular instance is lifted from the beeb.


Lou Grinzo said...

Wow. That's a stunner.

One thing about the denier camp that never ceases to amaze me is their total inability to recognize self-parody in their own words and actions. That famous observation about the value of leading an examined life simply leaps to mind.

Unknown said...

They are self-marginalizing and are not deserving of a seat at the table.



(ooh - word verif = 'custat') Perfect!

EliRabett said...

That ain't no hat, that's a Borsalino. Eli would NEVER take a crayon to a Borsalino

Michael Tobis said...

Dude, I image searched for "black hat". Whatever else it is, it's a black hat.

Ken Green said...

You must not think much of Mr. Gore.

"During a television debate against incumbent U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings in 1986, Republican candidate Henry McMaster challenged his opponent to take a drug test.
“I’ll take a drug test,” Hollings responded, “if you’ll take an IQ test.”

At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, Georges Clemenceau held out for the harshest terms against Germany. Someone pointed out that historians would be arguing for generations over who was responsible for starting the Great War. “Yes,” Clemenceau said, “but one thing is certain: They will not say that Belgium invaded Germany.”

Just after the 1992 Republican National Convention, Vice President Dan Quayle revealed that he planned to be “a pit bull” in the upcoming campaign against the Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore. When Clinton was asked for his reaction, he replied: “That’s got every fire hydrant in America worried.”

Are you saying Gore is not in this league?



rpauli said...

I like to keep a few comments at the ready like:

"Yeah well it's even colder inside my freezer - why don't you crawl inside and measure it"

Or tad more complex: "Yeah well the cold weather used to stay up over the Arctic ice cap, but not that has melted and so it is looking for a new place sit"

and my favorite:
"Glad to see that you are finally looking at a thermometer... promise me you will still pay attention this summer"

Michael Tobis said...

Ken, I think the way the story was told it's quite likely that Gore came up with something clever and decided not to waste his ammunition on the situation, hardly expecting the idiot perpetrator to brag about the incident publicly.

Or, he may have come up with some variation of the obvious horse's ass answer and decided not to waste his dignity on this childish fool.

The picture I have in any case, is of Gore noe actually saying what he was thinking. That's entirely beside the point for me, though.

Despite what Pollitowicz thinks, a story that is expecially revealing about Gore. It;s what it tells us about Pollitowicz and his friend that is interesting.

Horse's ass, of course, is on the polite side ti describe this kind of behavior.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

So Ken Green thinks that the worth of Al Gore's environmental work is to be measured by his ability to come up with witty repartees to belligerent questions.

-- bi

Martin Vermeer said...


none of those were ambushes.

Dano said...

My take on the entire context is that if you are dimwitted enough to think that a career politician doesn't have a passel of witty reparte├ęs at the ready, you are too low-wattage to bother with.

And yet, here we have a subset of the small minority eating this up and sharing it, handing out spoons for everyone to enjoy, and looking around for the help to clean up after them.

Is it any wonder they are self-marginalized?



Michael Tobis said...

bi - it's all frat-boy antics to them. They are so far from being adults that they can't even perceive the difference.

rpauli said...

And yet it is those same, ethically-challenged frat boys that I blame for much of this situation.

Now, as we step into better defining the problem, I now blame those who block change, ignore the problem, continue with a passive BAU that deserve the next round of naming, blaming and shaming.

It is quite a large and growing set of individuals and institutions too.

Tom said...

Okay--if I'm on the edge of being a 'bad guy,' worthy of having a picture of Jack Abramoff above my name, I guess serious conversation about dealing with the effects of climate change is no longer needed.

Which is fine--but as the only people trying to actually engage on the subject are then limited to lukewarmers, skeptics and the growing army of people who have been excommunicated from your circle of discussion, do you not think that your position will be less well-represented?

I do think Gore should be permitted to dine out without being disturbed. I also think those who disagree with you should be able to speak in public without pies in the face, as happened to Lomborg. Amazingly enough, there are rude people on both sides of the aisle. My intuition is that the percentages probably don't vary much by opinion on this issue.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, I realize that what you say might have the superficial appearance of being reasonable, but sometimes, you know, it actually is a duck.

If it matters whether or not there is a duck, hewing steadfastly to the non-duck or the neither-duck-nor-non-duck position in the face of an actual duck really is an indication of irresponsible behavior, no matter how moderate your tone or demeanor might or might not be, nor how sincere your desire to establish a middle ground might or might not be.

Abramoff is a coincidence, though, The image represents black hats. What we are discussing is whether there are black hats, that is, people who are trying to make matters worse. Unfortunately, yes, there are.

Tom said...

Michael, I think you'll get much closer to the truth if you start from the assumption that most people, under most circumstances, are doing what they think is right, and are doing the best job they can under the circumstances. There are some skeptics who do not fit this rule. There are some warmists who also fit this rule. As I am neither, I prefer not to correspond with tools on either side. And, of course I am required by all the traditions of the internet to ask, Why a duck?

Hank Roberts said...

Clever replies to putdowns are appropriate in political debates and meetings and campaigns.

Any kind of clever putdown reply by Gore to a citizen being a jerk in public like that would be a mistake. Remember, at political events there are guards watching out for trouble. At a restaurant, not so much.

Right move: walk away slowly, knowing the creep may be looking for provocation to unload a curse, a cream pie, or a firearm.

The exception: Churchill's "Madam, you are ugly. Tomorrow I will be sober."

Hank Roberts said...

May I suggest a different and more appropriate image?





bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

So Tom Fuller's argument is:

1. There are no bad guys who are just being destructive.

2. Well, maybe there are bad guys who are just being destructive, but if we exclude them from the discussion, then our 'we should do nothing about climate change' will be underrepresented! This is bias!

3. Come on, there are also guys on your side who are just being destructive. (Clinton Did It Too!)

4. Therefore, there are no bad guys who are just being destructive. Even if there are they don't counts. Therefore, there are no bad guys.

-- bi

Marion Delgado said...

The thing is, the "examiner.com" system is far, far, sub-Drudge. I still do not comprehend why people waste time in dialog with people who hit-pander for it - is its model still not well-understood? IE, it has no fact checking or accountability.

This goes especially for some of the writers, endlessly repeating exactly the same equivocations no matter what is said in response, to create as much fake controversy as possible for their delaying ideology, in addition to the hit-pandering.

Michael Tobis said...

The neither-duck-nor-non-duck position is not usually intellectually dishonest, but is rather intellectually incompetent.

The dishonesty is not in getting the duck wrong. It's in pretending that one is in a position to evaluate the existence or otherwise of a duck.

Journalists believe that their right to write about something constitutes ethical license to do so, and their getting attention for their writings justifies them, The fact that what they do is legal doesn't suffice to show that it's ethical. On the other hand, it isn't the same sort of intellectual dishonesty showed by Singer, Michaels etc., wherein evidence is carefully cherry picked to reveal a planned misimpression.

Rather it is evidence of the writer's failure as a reader to distinguish between sense and nonsense. Many people become bullshit amplifiers with perfectly honest intentions. Unfortunately, the very same blindness that makes it impossible for them to see who is lying makes it impossible for them to see that they are gullible.

This doesn't account for Revkin, who surtely knows better than what he writes. But it could easily account for Fuller.

So, although Revkin is usually more interesting than Fuller, he appears to be consciously a coward, while Fuller is merely confused. Revkin will have a tougher time explaining himself at the pearly gates, and probably has done a lot more damage. But Fuller, to be responsible, should find another beat, one where he is able to separate out the sheep from the goats.

Tom said...

Michael, with all due respect, that's a crock. But thanks for your opinion.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, Tom, it sure looks like a duck to me.

So either one of us is deluded about the duck, or you are colluding with the dishonest scientist #2. Those are the only options I can see. Did I miss any?

Calling you duped is giving you the benefit of the doubt. You sure look to me like someone who has no idea what the science actually looks like. I think you mean well, but you haven't understood that you have already failed to do well.

Under the circumstances, your ethical response would be to go away. Go write about something you understand, or maybe get an honest job.

Tom said...

Hi Michael,

You did in fact miss more than one option, and I am sad. Not about that, nor about your rudeness.

I'm not sad about your characterization of my scientific knowledge (or lack thereof), as it's clear you haven't read anything I've written--and why should you? You've found the Truth. And I hope it sets you free.

No, I'm sad because this thread makes it clear that the Marx Brothers have passed from the cultural memory--or at least from the humorless cranks that seem to populate this space.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, the cue for the Marx brothers routine is "viaduct"; I thought your reference to it fell flat.

I am not concerned about your scientific knowledge. I am concerned about your grasp of science as process. If it were stronger, you would be open to the possibility of being proven wrong.

I have no revealed truth. I have the balance of evidence. You have a balance of hearsay, and you're evaluating credibility by criteria that don't actually work. So you get it badly wrong, because you don;t know what the duck looks like and you don't know who does.

This sort of journalism is nothing short of subversive of human progress, and still you expect me to thank you for it.

Try to consider the possibility that there might be something important you are missing. If you want me to acknowledge your jokes in return I will suffer through that.

Ha ha. Why not a goose?

OK, now your turn. How should an outsider to a scientific field distinguish between charlatans and experts?

Tom said...

Okay, Michael--last attempt to engage. I've written on this topic many times, and here's a distillation. Trust is earned, not given, and is earned by frank and honest talk that includes admission of uncertainty and error. The public communicators of scientific information that I have trusted in the past--Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, etc.--do not seem to have replacements in the modern world. People I trust today include Bjorn Lomborg, both Pielkes, Lucia Liljegren from the lukewarmer side, Bart Verheggen from the 'Real Climate side,' and a handful of others. They all have in common a willingness to admit the extent of what they don't know.

Most people with your position on this issue start off in attack mode and never come out of it. I have done nothing that would cause you to group me with Jack Abramoff. You have no idea how much science I do or do not know. None at all. As you think of me as a denier, you are literally unable to engage with me as a real human being--you've got me busy loading railroad cars with corpses due to my cavalier dismissal of climate change.

I don't want to make the same mistake as you, but you don't seem to be overly familiar with the canons of journalism, yet you feel free to beat me over the head about journalistic ethics, based on your less than perfect judgement of my scientific knowledge.

In short, you are abusive--not as much as your comrade in arms, the wascally wabbitt, but acting a bit like a prat, in all honesty.

Have a nice life, Mr. Tobis. I read a lot on your site, especially about Mr. Lomborg, that led me to think that the door had not closed in your mind. I'm saddened that that does not seem to be the case.

Anonymous said...

Michael asks Tom the million dollar question: “How should an outsider to a scientific field distinguish between charlatans and experts?”

I asked Tom a similar question over email a while ago, but that conversation faded away before he got to replying:

The question that is always on my mind is why do people believe what they believe? Especially, through what process do non-scientists (or non-specialists in the field) come to very strong opinions on a scientific subject? My answer to that would be along the lines of what I wrote on my blog here:


My interest in this question comes from the observation that public perception of climate change is so different than that of the climate scientists. If a blog post is trusted more than the body of scientific literature (or expressions from scientific bodies), doesn't that suggest a distrust [or misunderstanding] of the scientific process, or at least of the scientists involved? Where is that coming from? (Pointing to those same blog post as the reason would be a circular argument of course).

[Note that this was written before the stolen emails affair at CRU, so that couldn’t have been the reason for distrusting scientists back then.]

See also this very insightful comment from Robert Grumbine about the scientific culture and the blog culture (which he describes as 'having a beer'):


I would be very interested in your answer, Tom.


Michael Tobis said...

As I said, neither Abramoff nor Borsalino are at issue. The issue is whether there actually are bad guys. I am not exactly happy to stick with the opinion that there are, but that is my opinion, and the only thing that will change it is a world where science is not subject to legalistic and political thinking.

I certainly don't intend to compare you with Abramoff. You are mentioned because you are the one who raised the question, not because you are the pitome of the answer. I think, rather, you represent the vulnerability of the press to the bad guy tactics.

I certainly don't claim to be certain of very much, but I am certain that your choice of authorities is weird. Even myself and Bart are strange choices. Where are the actual leaders of the field? Do you have any idea who those people might be? (Hint: IPCC)

You once created a very badly conceived "poll" intended to gain common ground between the sides. In your first contact, I said I thought it was a good idea. Once I saw your questions, I said I wouldn't participate because your questions were clearly not phrased neutrally or in a way that showed any insight of what the consensus position believes is known and what the consensus position believes is unknown, among many other problems.

I asked you to begin discussion with me about the poll, but you were in too great a hurry to publish it. So it was consequently useless, and an embarrassment to you among people who are actually expert in thye science and policy.

Now you want me to admit what I know and what I don't know. I know that the list of myself and Bart and Pielkes A and B and Lomborg and Liljegren is a totally bizarre and wrong representation of the state of the science. I know that you went ahead with a poll that I warned you in advance was not remotely neutral. I know that you have staked out a position and Bart's patient attempts do not move you.

If you find "scientists" who buck the consensus and say that 2+2=5 and you go around saying it must be somewhere around 4.5, you really can't expect a lot of respect from the fourists. If it is "arrogant" or "rude" or "abusive" to be correct, science becomes impossible. You paint me in the corner where it is my obligation to stand up and be counted.

I am willing to start over with you. Forget everthing you think you have seen and try to consider the alternative that the opposition is largely baseless and wrong, even though they are "polite".

Well, what did you expect? They never wanted to convince you the answer was 5. If they wanted to convince you the answer was 5 they would have claimed 6. Of course they are polite. You are a success story for them.

I don't think IPCC is infallible by any means. But I think most if not all of the recent low-sensitivity results are not just invalid but shabby and shallow and nonscientific, albeit dressed up with difficult language,dense charts and graphs, and random references to the literature.

You seem convinced otherwise. Pn what basis?

Tom said...

Mike, you must have misread me--you were not on my list, although I respect some of what you have written in the past. I was speaking of the people on that list as people I trust to communicate on science, not as originators of the great scientific discoveries or participants in the cutting edge research, although I'm certain both Verheggen and Pielke Sr. are doing important things.

You've also mistaken both the purpose and the results of the poll, which was intended to explore areas where people on both sides of the issue might agree on policy mechanisms.

I have been practicing market research for 13 years, and I designed the survey in accordance with MRS principles, fielded it according to a sample frame that understood the majority of respondents would be skeptics and analysed it with full cognizance of the effect this would have on statistically projectable results.

But you, with all your years of market research experience, immediately say my study is absolutely bogus and an 'embarrassment.'

I guess you have now admitted some of what you don't know--journalism and market research. Which didn't stop you from trashing me and my work on both subjects. Now, did you want to talk about the foundations of my criticism of some of the science and scientists recently involved in climate research? Because I'll guarantee you the foundations are stronger than your critcisms of me.

Hank Roberts said...

How about a different black hat picture? If you can't find a picture of Tom wearing one, maybe this guy?

Unknown said...

Michael, he took his poorly-packaged snake oil and went home, as the snake oil didn't soften the paper bag enough to allow him to argue his way out of it. Note too the similarities to the dullard who claimed Fat Algore couldn't come up with a comeback, and note the stark differences to Ken Green.

As Marion said, examiner.com is the Tenderloin district of denialist doldrums and the smell isn't organic nitrogen and phosphorus sources fertilizing organic urban agriculture.



Michael Tobis said...

(shakes head ruefully)

You know, I have hadseveral courses in music, but any of my friends will vouch for the fact that I cannot sing.

Eli takes on the silliest question

Joe Romm does too

I can't find the rest of the survey but this first question, while a particular howler, was not the only problem as I recall.

No amount of statistical projections and MRS principles whatever those are can fix the fact that the question didn't make any sense.

Your claim that the poll was aimed at skeptics is revisionist. I have an email from you stating "I do not expect (and will not in any event treat) this as a representative sample of the public. I highly expect the 'attitude' questions to have a distinct barbell shape, skewing towards the activists at both ends of the spectrum. For my purposes, this is okay"

That isn't the point though. I said immediately on seeing your draft, "There are far too many problems with it as it stands. Sorry, I won't recommend participation in its present state.". You replied "Thanks for letting me know.". I said Don't you want to know what my objections are?"

You said "sure" but at that point you had already gone public. That is, you dismissed my review of your effort as irrelevant. You were perceived as being silly, because you were. I tried to save you from this, but you didn't listen. Now you are defending it because you have MRS principles.

I guess that means designing your poll so as to put off any opponents by the misdesign of your first question that would cause almost every one of of them to shrug and move on to some more productive activity.

Still a duck, though. So,

"Now, did you want to talk about the foundations of my criticism of some of the science and scientists recently involved in climate research? Because I'll guarantee you the foundations are stronger than your critcisms of me."

Sure. Why not? I like that game. Let's play.

Michael Tobis said...

Here is a special thread devoted to the question of Tom Fuller, specifically:

"Now, did you want to talk about the foundations of my criticism of some of the science and scientists recently involved in climate research? Because I'll guarantee you the foundations are stronger than your critcisms of me."

I took the oppoprtunity to give him a completely unjustified "-gate" suffix which he can try on for size to see how he would feel if somebody tried to pin something like that on him.

Michael Tobis said...

Here is a special thread devoted to the question of Tom Fuller, specifically:

"Now, did you want to talk about the foundations of my criticism of some of the science and scientists recently involved in climate research? Because I'll guarantee you the foundations are stronger than your critcisms of me."

I took the opportunity to give him a completely unjustified "-gate" suffix which he can try on for size to see how he would feel if somebody tried to pin something like that on him.

Tom said...

I waited for what--three hours? If you're not going to post comments, people will tend to find other things to do.

Okay--climate science is communicated through a chain of resources, and each link in the chain removes communication about uncertainty. We now have a celebrated instance of this in 'Hide the Decline' where uncertainty in the skill of temperature reconstructions is relegated to an asterisk leading one to a discussion, but not a resolution, of the causes of the decline.

Those supporting an activist response to the threat of global warming have been quite properly educated on the tactics of tobacco companies in the controversy over smoking. They learned that tobacco companies depended on sowing doubt in the science and uncertainty in the minds of the general public.

Having learned these lessons, the best of the activists became rigid and unable to admit error, lest this give the skeptics, who they viewed as analogues of the tobacco companies (and with some justification, let it be said) something with which to sow doubt about climate science. This is unfortunate, as it made communication with non-activists impossible, and non-activists includes a wider group than just skeptics.

For a smaller group within the activist community, this education led to something even worse--the adoption of the same techniques they had been warned against. Suppressing opposing papers, conspiring to replace unfriendly editors, advising each other on how to evade the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, and hiding uncertainty, not just from the general public, but the policy makers they were supposed to advise.

You find it convenient to label some very good people who are doing their best to advance knowledge in this area with some ugly names, like delayer or faux denier, or sometimes simply bad guy. I suppose that's easier than facing the truth about a rogue element within the climate science community. Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa and Ben Santer did bad things.

I believe what the scientific record shows--quick and dramatic warming from 1975 to 1998. I believe CO2 contributed to this rise, and continuing increases in CO2 emissions pose a threat to our continued development. I supported candidate Obama's energy program, including Cap and Trade, although I like Cap and Trade not at all as it stands.

But because I don't fall into step or lock step with the activist part line, you call me names.

You know nothing about journalism or market research, as your most recent post makes evident, yet you write in an authoritative tone on the subject. (Quite obviously, neither does Eli or Joe Romm.) Hence, what shall I make of you the next time you write in an authoritative tone?

Michael Tobis said...

Sheesh 1:

I am an amateur blogger with a job and a life that come ahead of moderating the blog. I am usually but not always at a computer; when I am at a computer I am happiest when the turnaround of my jobs is quick; in those cases I will not look up from my work for hours at a stretch, There is no quality of service guarantee for comment moderation on this blog. Which it clearly says in the text above the comment block. "Please be patient; moderation delays are not consistent and come with no guarantee of service " What exactly does that mean to you?

Sheesh 2:

Did you not understand the criticism of the first question of your poll?

There was no "none of the above"answer. I could not have answered the first question. That isn't theoretical. There was no answer remotely close to my position. Don't you see that as a problem?

Sheesh 3:

If you are allowed to disrespect climate scientists I am allowed to disrespect journalists,

Sheesh 4:

" I suppose that's easier than facing the truth about a rogue element within the climate science community. Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa and Ben Santer did bad things. "

I don;t agree with everything Mann has done. I don't know of anything Briffa did wrong but maybe he has. I consider their entire subfield of marginal importance.

Jones is another matter. He appears to have made some tactical errors in dealing with what he saw as a nuisance from unhelpful outsiders, but there isn't any evidence that his results are suspect.

As far as I know Santer's behavior has been exemplary at every point, and the accusations directed at him were especially outrageous.

Feel free to elaborate. We really are trying to understand how any of these relatively minor transgressions could possibly percolate to the policy level as is being alleged

Sheesh 5:

This is really the important part.

You cannot suggest there was suppression of opposing papers without pointing to papers that were not garbage. See, this is the whole trap we are in.

If the science is further advanced than you are willing to admit, many vaguely science-shaped results should be rejected. Indeed, those that are far out of the mainstream can be rejected by a clique, or can be rejected because the science has matured to the point where the out-of-mainstream stuff simply can't hold water.

Your job as a journalist is to determine which is the case. You are not just getting it wrong.

You are failing to understand that you might be getting it wrong. So you are on the wrong beat. I would not know how to prove this to you except to engage you in the details. But Bart has done so and you appear impervious to the evidence.

Anyway, I made you your own thread. Please take it there.