"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, June 28, 2010

There are more than two camps

When I foolishly wandered over to Climate Audit to see the polite and open-minded reception I was promised there (hint: nope) I made the comment that there are "more than two camps", one of the few comments that met with any approval. I call them "camps" rather than "sides" to avoid this oversimplification.

Hilariously, (I laughed out loud) somebody proposed "alarmists, lukewarmers, skeptics and deniers" as the four camps. Well, no, that's not what I meant.

I propose to think about this for a while; it seems to tie into the varieties of advice we are getting from various, um, camps. The key insight, for me, was in this entry, wherein it became clear to me that I and Joe Romm are not in the same camp at all.

At that time, I envisioned the conversation as

1) advocates for green power
2) advocates for "no" government intervention in the market (*)
3) journalist/referees (including RP Jr.) who are studiously neutral on everything
4) people who think scientifically, who will go where the evidence leads

The things about groups 1 and 2 is that they will play up scientific evidence which suits them, downplay evidence which doesn't, defend dubious actions by their allies, and blow them out of proportion when undertaken by their opposition.

(Note: Not all scientists by job title fit in group 4, and not all people in group 4 are scientists.)

If I have one point in everything I write it is that group 4 is underrepresented in the public conversation. This may be because group 3 controls the conversation, and there is a natural competition between groups 3 and 4 vying for the middle ground.

One reason to think about these encampments is to imagine how to design it so it's more healthy. Which groups are really needed? What motivational structures can we set up so the motivations of the various camps are more benign and less hidebound and destructive?

Of course, it's possible to refine these groups, and add others. (Politicians, regulators, pundits, energy solution vendors...) One refinement that occurs to me now is among the scientific group: there are definitely shades of engagement:

a) Leave me alone! I am a scientist. Figuring out what to do with the information is somebody else's job.
b) Lip service to outreach, but avoiding anything important. Spend a little effort teaching junior high kids about cloud formations, etc.
c) Occasionally willing to talk to a church group or the optimists' club about policy-relevant science but generally reticent and controversy-averse.
d) Engaged in science and policy debates and willing to take whatever lumps that entails.
e) Let other people do the science; I'll try to stay in touch but this policy debate is too important and interesting for me to leave it alone.

The denial camp perceives only subgroups d and e! So one of the ways they fail to be realistic is to treat people like Steven Schneider as representative. Really the first three camps are dominant; a little less so than previously, though, as the (d) group has been much energized in the last few months due to the excesses of the malicious trumped-up allegations related to the CRU emails.

Anyway, everybody has a hand in the present mess, but journalism and other compulsive difference-splitters are not outside the dynamic. Until the journalists are willing to put themselves under the same lens they focus on the other groups, I think we will have a lot of trouble making progress.

(*) As if the "market" weren't a government artifact.

Image: vubx.com


Steve Bloom said...

RP Jr. neutral? Er, may I remind you of the strange Klotzbach et al. incident, his overt attacks on the IPCC and his advocacy for the "Breakthrough" policy proposals?

Beyond that, scratch a lot of journalists and not very deep down you'll find support for the Breakthrough proposals, mainly IMHO because it's perceived as the middle ground.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, I am holding my fire on RP Jr for the moment, but I see your point. I certainly haven't forgotten Klotzbach among other things.

Neutrality is a posture, not a position, as I believe Jay Rosen once put it. If one side is much stronger than another, the neutral party must de facto favor the weaker side, lest there be no two positions to triangulate between. You can't be neutral on any debate which is over.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

What if I am in camp 1 simply because it makes sense from a variety of views and in camp 4 on the climate science views. But please, someone show that the consensus view is wrong. Please!

I just which that we could argue entirely on the ground occupied by camp 1, but IMHO the science says that things will get ugly in the next 50 years or so.

I am reminded of one of the most insightful finding of the The Club of Rome (conflict of interest statement, one of my uncles worked on the model). They tried to divide up the view of people into their views on long term changes. The basics run like this: those who look only to themselves, those who look to themselves and their children and grandchildren, those who have a more expansive view which takes in the consequences for their compatriots or humanity in general over the next few generations, and those who look to the future of humanity.

Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category -- I care about our species.

davidp said...

RP Jr is a concern troll. That makes him a subspecies of 2, because he only ever fusses about flaws when that would support the no goverment action side of the debate.

Brian said...

While I haven't read RPJr's book, I think the Honest Broker thing he talks about applies to scientists, and he exempts himself as a policy guy. I could be wrong about that, but he seems plenty willing to make recommendations.

On the scientist flavors, I can only think of skeptics that fit category e, like Dyson, Singer, and Michaels.

I'm not sure whether I agree with these categories in general, though. Where are you going with this, Michael - what analytical value do these camp designations have?

Michael Tobis said...

Schneider is clearly in "e", and I'd have to put myself in there too.

The purpose is to investigate how communication to the public and the policy sector now happens and how it might in a better world happen.

To some extent I am trying to reason on the topics Pielke Jr writes about prior to reading his book. What are the necessary roles in connecting sustainability science to sustainability policy? What institutions would be required to support those roles? These are actually good questions.

Michael Tobis said...

Dyson is an amateur and an outlier; he doesn't matter much.

Singer and Michaels belong in the advocate camp, not the scientist camp. Again, it's not a question of credentials but of approach.

Steven Sullivan said...

Michael writes:
"The denial camp perceives only subgroups d and e! So one of the ways they fail to be realistic is to treat people like Steven Schneider as representative. Really the first three camps are dominant; a little less so than previously, though, as the (d) group has been much energized in the last few months due to the excesses of the malicious trumped-up allegations related to the CRU emails."

Note that entrance of and (a) into (d) realm can also produce this unintended consequence:


I'm been trying on Kloor's blog, probably too archly for it to 'take',
to caution against accepting a limited number of 'representatives' as the voice of climate science authority. Outliers -- and I'm pretty sure Dr. Curry self-identifies as one now -- can easily become major voices.

So I do hope some more (a) from the fat part of the curve, become (d). The RC crew can only do so much.

Btw, Peter Webster: George Tech; Curry: Georgia Tech. Idea for book: "What's the matter with Georgia?"

--Steven Sullivan

dhogaza said...

Joan D'Arc was almost certainly schizophrenic. I wonder if Judith Curry appreciates the comparison?

davidp said...

Another categorization that's interesting to think about is underlying motive. I see 4 categories (which can overlap):

Truth) I want to be consistent with the physical world
Real World) I care about the real world and what we do to it
Philosophical) I care about philosphical constructs and want to defend them and be consistent with them
Economic) I care about economics and want to defend a healthy (personal, national or global) economy

"Truth" Covers most good honest scientists and science-friendly people. Of itself it leads to debate but does not lead to action. A remarkable proportion of people lack this motivation, apparently including most telephone customer support staff :-{

"Real World" Includes people who care about their grandchildren's world, people who care about what will happen to the inhabitants of poor countries such as Bangladesh, people who want to protect natural environments (who are also in c). It also includes people who distrust geo-engineering proposed solutions, and some who oppose nuclear power.

"Philosophy" includes strong animal rights supporters, people who demand minimal human impact on 'nature', free market & no government intervention people, politically driven people on both sides

"Economic" includes people who are afraid action will cost them their jobs or profits, or will just harm the economy, and a few people who afraid inaction will wreck the economy (but they've been persuaded on other grounds first)

"Truth" Includes some older people who are just not convinced, although that's often combined with a belief in the 1950's "engineering always makes the world better".

"Philosophy" includes lots of extreeme people on both sides of the AGW & response debate, and amost all "Enterprise Insititues" and "think tanks"

"Economic" includes fewer of the "Enterprise Insititues" and "think tank" people than they'd like to admit. "Better free and the others poor sand than forced to have health insurance" many believe.

davidp said...

Mangled the last sentence.
"Better free and the poor eating sand than forced to have health insurance"

Pete Ridley said...

Hi Michael. I’m very surprised that you didn’t receive a welcome from Climate Audit, since I have understood Steve McIntyre to be a reasonable and open debater. I’ll pop over and see what it is that you are complaining about.

You appear to have missed the most important camp of all those debating (pushing?) The (significant human-made global climate change) Hypothesis – the politicians. DavidP incorporates these into his “philosophy” camp but I place them as the major camp. The significant players which I place in that category include (of course) members of the UN (and its IPCC), the EU, the USA, etc.

In your article to which you link you appear to be talking disparagingly about Tsonis with your QUOTE: .. "yet another Tsonis paper". .. He is essentially a mathematician and not a climatologist .. UNQUOTE. Steve McIntyre is not a “climate scientist” (whatever that might be) either, but being an expert statisitician he was able to expose the significant flaws in Professor Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” claims. As expert statistician Professor John Haslett says QUOTE: .. Yet inference on the palaeoclimate is indirect and uncertain. .. UNQUOTE and repeatedly makes reference to these uncertainties. For example QUOTE: .. Two sources of complementary information about the palaeoclimate are (a) dynamical models of the Earth climate system and (b) proxy data such as pollen, from which reconstructions may be attempted. Both of these are subject to considerable uncertainty, but of very different types. .. UNQUOTE. (I can provide citations for these if you want them.)

I suspect that you place yourself in the 4th camp but I may look into that later, meanwhile I post as a separate comment (due to the character restriction on comments) a relevant comment that I submitted to another blog which is run by someone who probably also places herself into that camp.

Michael Tobis said...

I received the same comment from Pete Ridley five times.

Please be tolerant of moderation delays.

Pete Ridley said...

Michael, when I tried postin gmy comment I was given no indication that it had been received. All that I has was a message saying |"URL is too long".

Pete Ridley said...

Here's PART 2 of my comment, a copy of the comment that was considered to be "inflammatory".

I wish you success in your aspirations about becoming a “climatologist”. Which of the numerous scientific disciplines that are involved in trying to unravel the enormous complexities of global climate processes and drivers (ranging from statistics - arguably the most important discipline involved in palaeontology - to soil science) are you particularly studying?

I see that your objective with this blog is to QUOTE: .. eliminate the discrepancies between scientific knowledge and public knowledge on climate change .. UNQUOTE. You need to do this with an open mind, i.e. be sceptical – all of the time. There are those on both sides of the climate change debate who will distort the facts in order to push their own particular agenda. Politicians are the worst but there are plenty others who play politics, two of the main drivers being a desire for career enhancement and a desire for power (through money).

The use of statistics to manipulate data is a trusted tool of such people, so whenever this tool is involved seek to understand how the real data were handled. For more on this may I suggest that you take a look at my Global Political Shenanigans blog “Statistical Shenanigans & the IPCC’s Assessment Reports” thread (Note 1).

I became aware of your blog while checking up on Professor Greenwood’s credentials. A staunch supporter of The (significant human-made global climate change) Hypothesis provided a link to an article “Arctic Climate May Be More Sensitive to Warming Than Thought, Says New Study” in Science Daily on 29th (Note 2). This mentioned the paper co-authored by Professor Greenwood that is due for publication this month.. Finding that he studied at Adelaide I checked up on his relationship with Professor Barry Brook, who runs the Bravenewclimate blog that “plover” pointed you towards on 28th August.

Professor Greenwood, you should be aware of the revelations resulting from the audit by statisticians Steve McIntyre and Steve McKittrick and the related revelations from “Climategate” and subsequent IPCC-gates. “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by Andrew Montford is an excellent exposee of the statistical manipulations used to produce and purport to support Professor Michael Mann’s “hocket stick” graph of past global temperatures from proxies”. Both the Wegener enquiry in the USA and the recent UEA CRU enquiry in the UK recommended that expert statisticians should be major participants in the analysis of palaeontological research programs. Can you tell me who were the statisticans who were involved in the analysis of the proxies used for the paper “Significantly warmer Arctic surface temperatures during the Pliocene indicated by multiple independent proxies”. I could not identify any among your co-authors A.P. Ballantyne, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté, A.Z. Csank, J.J. Eberle and N. Rybczynski.

I am very surprised that the IPCC appears not to have invited/appointed an recognised expert statistician like Professor John Haslett as Lead Author of the 5th Assessment Report WG1 Palaeontology chapter (5?) although I do recognise more than enough “hockey team” members among those involved.

1) see http://globalpoliticalshenanigans.blogspot.com/2010/06/statistical-shenanigans-ipccs.html
2) see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100629131318.htm


This comment was removed by the blog administrator because it was considered to be “inflammatory”. I see it as being merely fair comment from the sceptical side of this debate. What do you think?

I am exchanging E-mails with some of the authors of the “Significantly warmer Arctic surface temperatures during the Pliocene indicated by multiple independent proxies” paper in relation to the involvement of expert statisticians like Steve McIntyre and John Haslett and will let you know the outcome if you are interested.

Best regards, Pete Ridley

Michael Tobis said...

Pete, please take more time to write. I find it difficult to understand what you are saying. The several layers of quotations and subquotations don't make for an intelligible comment.

If you don't make your points more clearly I may not approve them. My main purpose is to provide useful things for my readers to think about. Long, rambling and unclear comments don't really qualify.

That said, I'll briefly address what appears to be one of your points.

The relationship between statistics and climatology is indeed an interesting one. The way it is read among the critics of the field and among its participants differs substantially. That is a topic I haven't addressed in the depth I'd like to. Thanks for the reminder.

Pete Ridley said...

Michael, I have E-mailed you direct about my reasons for posting my two comments in the manner that I did and hope that you see fit to point out to the individual involved in the second one the importance of engaging in debate with sceptics.

You picked up on one of my main points and I look forward to hearing more from you on the issue of the lack of involvement of independent expert statisticians in the analyses of research within the numerous disciplines involved in trying to improve our poor understanding of those horrendously complex processes and drivers of global climates. This applies particularly to palaeoclimate research and the work of the IPCC, as McIntyre and McKitrick so clearly demonstrated when investigating the statistical manipulations involved in order to produce the global temperature “hockey stick”.

I refer you again to my thread “Statistical Shenanigans & the IPCC’s Assessment Reports” at http://globalpoliticalshenanigans.blogspot.com/2010/06/statistical-shenanigans-ipccs.html.

As your area of expertise appears to be in computer engineering and computer science you should be fully familiar with the importance of applying independent professional Verification, Validation and Test (VV&T) procedures to any complex computer systems prior to their use in commerce and industry for operational and policy-making purposes. Perhaps you’d also like to comment on the extent to which such VV&T procedures have been applied to those atmospheric and ocean GCMs which are so relied upon by the IPCC when making its policy-making recommendations to the politicians of the UN.

Best regards, Pete Ridley

seamus said...

"Long, rambling and unclear comments don't really qualify."

Let's be blunt: you can't just come right out with a conspiracy theory. It must be couched in elaborate rationales, carefully talked around, and approached only by the most tortuously circuitous of mental pathways. Otherwise people will immediately see it for the nonsense that it is.

Not much effort is made to disguise the low-key hostility however.

Michael Tobis said...

Pete, don't hold your breath. If I say what I think about climate science and statistics, I doubt you'll be terribly enthusiastic about it.

Seamus, point taken.

davidp said...

Peter Ridley is right to point out politicians.

I'd say that people taking a position for political gain should be a separate category - I don't mean people with a genuine politica belief - they are my "Philosophical" category. I mean politicians who promote a position because they see political benefit in it, even though they don't really believe it. We see this lots - e.g. people whose position on filibusters alternates with who's in power. Peter shows his conspiracy mongering by putting the UN IPCC and EU into this camp.

A related group is people who take and promote a position as a way of identifying with a social/political group and improving their status within the group.

Pete Ridley said...

Michael, don’t worry, I’m very keen to hear what you think about climate science and statistics, along with the views of associates of yours on the editorial board of the scientific journal Geoscientific Model Development (Note 1). I am asking similar questions of James Annan on his “Penn State Live - Investigation of climate scientist at Penn State complete” thread (Note 2) and intend to get around to E-mailing other members of the editorial board about both the involvement of expert statisticians and that other dubious “hocket stick” – the attempts by palaeontologists etc. to reconstruct past global atmospheric concentrations from air “trapped” in ice.

Seamus, from the look of your The Climate War blog you appear to be in the same camp as the person who runs Deep Climate. He chooses to hide behind a false name as well (as does DavidP). Like James Annan he tries to spin the facts about Climategate (Note 3) with his own version of a conspiracy theory. Perhaps he belongs in that “Politician” camp along with the UN’s IPCC etc. Anyone know his real identity?

Getting back to the need for expert statisiticians to be involved in the analysis of climate data, this was recognised almost 4 years ago by expert statisticians Edward Wegner, David Scott and Yasmin H. Said in their peer-reviewed report (Note 4) on the USA enquiry into the “hockey stick” manipulations. They said “As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implications of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently no independent statistical expertise was sought or used .. With clinical trials for drugs .. it is standard practice to include statisticians in the application-for-approval process. We judge this to be a good policy .. when substantial amounts of monies are involved, for example, when there are major policy decisions to be made based on statistical assessments. In such cases, evaluation by statisticians should be standard practice. This evaluation phase should be a mandatory part of all grant applications and funded accordingly .. ”.

The recent UK “Climategate” enquiry commented similarly “We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians”.

Wegman had words to say (Note 5) relating to conspiracy and peer review, that “sacred cow” of The (significant human-made global climate change) Hypothesis cult. “I am thoroughly familiar with .. peer review. .. It is precisely in a small specialized discipline that the likelihood of turning up sympathetic referees is highest. .. The referees have a vested interest in seeing that research is published, .. Peer review, while often taken to be a gold standard, is in fact very conservative and radical new ideas are much less likely to be funded or published. Again, because peer review is typically anonymous, I cannot “prove” that there are sympathetic reviewers, but I maintain that my 38 years of experience in scientific publication gives me exceptionally strong intuition and insight into the behaviors of authors and reviewers”. (I had to remove a fair bit of that quotation because of the blog limitatin on characters so please see the reference for the full context).

As Michael will be fully aware through his involvement with the scientific journal Geoscientific Model Development, the peer review process is anything but perfect.

1) see http://www.paleo.bris.ac.uk/~ggwiki/Main/HomePage
2) see http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2010/07/penn-state-live-investigation-of.html
3) see http://deepclimate.org/?s=Wegman
4) see http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/108/home/07142006_Wegman_Report.pdf
5) see http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/StupakResponse.pdf

Best regards, Pete Ridley