Thursday, April 17, 2014

Science incompetence doesn't bother me

William decided not to waste making a comment when he could write a post instead speculating on why the denialati do what they do, and I've decided to do the same.

He thinks they're incompetent at the science so they deny it fluffily and therefore never reach the subject of climate policy, which has a broad ideological range of potential solutions that might actually work.

The reason I disagree with that is that unlike William or my cobloggers Eli and John, I'm not a competent scientist and I'm okay with that. I can more-or-less understand the occasional paper I read - discussion sections aren't that hard to follow generally. I don't understand them enough to judge their accuracy or have any insights of my own, but I don't need to and neither would the denialists. An individual, cutting-edge study shouldn't matter to the non-scientist anyway - it's the consensus or lack thereof that can plug into policy analyses.

Being amazingly competent with the science is not so much of an issue - I can disagree with Ray Pierrehumbert on whether regulating methane is important, or with Hansen's ridiculous opposition to cap-and-trade. I'm not arguing with them about the science but about the best political method for solving the problem.

What's bothering the denialists is a lot of things but I think the most important is they can't admit the hippies were right and are right. They believe this all about making them feel guilty and they don't want to feel guilty so therefore this isn't happening. The economic issues making people psychologically incapable of persuasion are there for some denialists or people they know. The economic issues are also important for some factions of their tribe and that has a reinforcing effect, but I think it's ideology that drives it more. The fact that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is completely unacceptable to the conservative side of the spectrum just says a lot about the mental closure and tribal affiliation (I buy some of what Dan Kahan says, just not the whole store).

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

William says 'they' don't know the science.
Brian says 'they' don't want to feel guilty.
Cynicus say 'they' don't want government interference.

Brian, whatever political method is deemed the best by left or right, the libertarian/laissez faire types oppose any political (government) influence by definition.

But we could argue for ages who has the best definition of 'they', more likely 'they' are not just one of these types but a whole range of types.

When you don't know shaite about the subject you can't be properly (i.e. scientifically) skeptical and consensus among experts becomes important. This is where we agree. But science incompetence does bother me. You and I may know that we don't have more then basic understanding of the subject and therefore have to put trust in the consensus, but we see an entire internet full of nitwits who have even less then basic understanding but still claim to know better.
Kids should be properly tought how to recognise authority at school.

-- cynicus

KBO said...

"Kids should be properly tought how to recognise authority at school."

Agreed, freedom of speech, and thought, is over rated in my opinion. We should be more like China -they're making a major push on renewables because the science tells them to, and why can't we do that here? I'll tell you why - Because of a small cabal of transnational elites with an outmoded deference to democratic principles and profit.

When we learn to accept what the science is telling us, WITHOUT QUESTION, perhaps we'll make progress as well. To be honest, I'm not that optimistic we have it in us.

And Then There's Physics said...

Yes, I find your motives more likely (based partly on my own experiences) than William's. It certainly seems that one reason that some focus on trying to argue that there are issues with the science is because if they accepted the basic scientific evidence then they would find it harder to argue against some of the more unpalatable - to them - policy options. If they undermine the science, then they can state that those policy options are ridiculous because the scientific evidence is uncertain.

Dano said...

I'm not arguing with them about the science but about the best political method for solving the problem.

What's bothering the denialists is a lot of things but I think the most important is they can't admit the hippies were right and are right. They believe this all about making them feel guilty and they don't want to feel guilty so therefore this isn't happening.


I disagree slightly - they don't like it that The Other is right and their self-identity based on their worldview is partially invalid or not relevant.

I'm not a psychologist so I may have some terminology incorrect, but IME it is a negation of the self-identity - whether rejection of The Other, man's dominion over nature, pure rationality over nature, whatever. But IME the important thing is when you negate their self-identity they go off the rails and foam.

Best,

D

William Connolley said...

> The reason I disagree with that is that unlike William or my cobloggers Eli and John, I'm not a competent scientist and I'm okay with that.

But I don't think the situation is symmetrical. You don't fully understand the science, but you know there's a consensus behind it, and people you know who understand the science do accept it. So you accept it, and it causes you no problems. But you only accept it because it causes no problems (OK, that's a bit unfair).

But if you're a denialist, and you know no-one who understands the science, and accepting it would (you think) cause you problems, and all the blogs you read tell you its junk: then why not reject it?

> the hippies were right and are right

The hippies were, and still are, hopelessly wrong on the economics. Arguably, they're "wrong" on the science too, in that they don't understand it well enough to say what they agree on.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I'm an old hippie, William, one who has enough critical thinking skills, background knowledge and enough understanding of advanced mathematics, theoretical physics, geophysics and astrobiology to easily determine myself that you are completely full of shit.

So tell me how that Younger Dryas impact hypothesis page is coming along on wikipedia? Any progress?

Susan Anderson said...

First, I'm a big fan of evaluating authority and accepting it: leaving physics to the physicists. If somebody expert is about I have just enough maths to watch the ping pong (duae quartuciae) and figure out who's bluffing. In terms of skills and effort, scientists in their disciplines have it all over the rest of us, and they're few and we're many. Better get curious.

Second, while I find I must accept some of the hippie argument, I think that's too much of an oversimplification.

I do wish we all had geography.

EliRabett said...

Some time ago, Eli observed that to be into denial, you had to be deep into cognitive dissonance. Believing multiple contradictory things is the defining contradiction as the spaghetti hits the wall.

MT named this the incoherence of denial and it is true of all forms. You also don't have to have any math to spot it. Brian does a good job here Wm.

guthrie said...

Many, not all, denialists, are competent enough at science, they just don't like the implications that AGW throws up and so refuse to act competently regarding the science.
Simple.

There are of course also science hating ideologues, fluffy headed idiots, etc etc, but it is clear that many just refuse to actually take the science seriously.

Brian said...

"But if you're a denialist, and you know no-one who understands the science, and accepting it would (you think) cause you problems, and all the blogs you read tell you its junk: then why not reject it?"

I think the reason why they think it's a problem isn't so much because of the policy solutions but because it would mean that the hippies (and the pointy-headed intellectuals, that's another group they've defined themselves against) have been right about our misusing the world, and about imposing harm on the developing world. I mean "right" in a general sense, not about any specific scientific question.

Where motivations shade together is that in the 1960s through the 1980s, environmental solutions generally required bigger government. A lot of these denialists truly believe in the watermelon theory that being green means being socialist.

I admit that generally leaning liberal makes it easier for me to accept the science here, tho.

Aaron said...

What about those of us with some background in the topic, that think the "experts" have understated the situation so badly that any policy or political solution based on the scientific consensus is useless?

As a class, we know the skill of IPCC ice models from their failure to understand Arctic sea ice. This class of models shows similar skill with ice sheets.

And, the IPCC climate models have focused on average temperatures. It will not be the average temperature, drought, flood or freeze that damages society but an exceptional event in the nearer term- which is enabled by AGW.

Today, we can say that the California drought is caused by AGW. That is the probability of AGW causing weather events with billion dollar damages is 1. The IPCC understated the risk of drought in AR4.

AR4 put climate risk in the deep future and neglected near term risks. Neglect is not a good basis for risk management.

willard said...

> You don't fully understand the science [...]

No one does, at least since Erasmus' times.

Contemporary science is a social product.

Steve Bloom said...

Aaron: "As a class, we know the skill of IPCC ice models from their failure to understand Arctic sea ice. This class of models shows similar skill with ice sheets."

No, we know no such thing. That statement makes it appear that you haven't reached the necessary (to comment intelligently from an amateur perspective) threshold level of understanding of this subject. Sea ice models and ice sheet models are entirely different animals. Beyond that, strictly speaking what you're actually referring to here isn't the sea ice modeling but what the GCMs do with their output. The latter have indeed been playing catch-up (putting it politely), but that doesn't necessarily reflect on the correctness of the sea ice modeling as such. AIUI the basic problem with GCMs (noting that there's a wide range of results, with CCSM4 starting to come close to reality) is that they haven't advected enough heat into the Arctic. The ice sheet models are more clearly crap, although they too have been improving.

That said, IMO the important thing is that from a policy perspective it really shouldn't matter much whether the first relatively sea ice-free summer period in the Arctic occurs in 2020 or 2050. Model projections aren't weather forecasts, and holding them to that standard is a straw man.


Gator said...

WMC, I know at least one denialist (my dad) who is a scientist, smart etc and certainly is capable of understanding global warming. He just doesn't want to because that might raise his taxes.

I sure there are dummy denialists, but there are plenty who are smart enough but choose to ignore the science, with all that implies, because they don't like the policies that follow.

And yes, you say again "hippies" are hopeless at economics. Is this another one of your definitions, like "fringe"? I.e., creationists aren't fringe in the US because they actually hold public office. I think it is blatantly stupid to say "hippies" are hopeless at economics if "hippy" is a stand-in for environmentalist, US lefty, or the general someone who cares about what climate change is doing to the world. If by "hippies" you simply mean pot-smoking deadheads, well, isn't that completely irrelevant to the discussion?

Mal Adapted said...

Right, WC, who you callin' a hippie? Let's have your inclusive and exclusive boundaries, please. If you're just going to say No True Hippie understands economics, well, you know that's a logical fallacy.

Hank Roberts said...

> they don't understand
> it well enough to say
> what they agree on.

Fortunately this is not the case for economists.

https://rwer.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/greenspan-friedman-and-summers-win-dynamite-prize-in-economics/

"This blog established the prize in response to attempts by economists to evade responsibility for the crisis by calling it an unpredictable, “Black Swan” event. In reality, the public perception that economic theories and policies helped cause the crisis is correct...."

afeman (recovering badger) said...

I think the the purposes of the term's use here, Paul Krugman is a hippy.

Anonymous said...

And so is the world-bank, by that definition.

--cynicus

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Hippies of the pot smoking deadhead variety aren't particularly likely to buy into the fraudulent consumer society based upon carbon combustion and overpopulation that is the root cause of your extinction level problems. As such they will be the most valuable contributors to society in the very near future.

William, it's extinction, stupid.

Hank Roberts said...

I posted this over there too, in trying identify Stoat's hippies
----------
Hank Roberts
2014/04/10

Stoat> a lot of that from the “green” side about economics.

Oh, agreed. I had taken Ecology 101 before the first (1970) Earth Day, after which suddenly there were all these soi-disant “environmentalists” who were very clear about what they wanted kept out of their yards but clueless about ecology. I haven’t seen much improvement there. Not that we knew a lot about ecology either, back then.

Stoat> By contrast, economists know enough
> to at least be wrong
A fair definition for any science, that. Some of them do.

The American Geophysical Union has a new open access journal, Earth’s Future. Economics is considered — here’s from an interview in the ((paywalled) EOS newsletter:

Eos, Vol. 95, No. 13, 1 April 2014 Earth’s Future Aims to Break Barriers to Interdisciplinary Science
PAGES 113–114

—-quote—-
Eos: I’d like to turn to you now, Dr. Norgaard, as Earth’s Future’s resident expert on economics. Traditionally, AGU journals have not covered topics that connect economics to Earth and space science. How do you plan to change that with Earth’s Future?

Norgaard: Many economists are working to include ecosystem services and natural capital into our economy—and this is okay— but they are not addressing the problems of accelerated economic growth….

Eos: But why should Earth and space scientists be thinking about economic theory? What are some of the pressing issues in ecological economics?

Norgaard: … it is the acceleration of human impacts on Earth processes the last few centuries that is really important. The increase in market-based economic activity in the past century has been approximately 15 times greater than population growth. The global economy, in terms of market activity, increased by a factor of 10 in the second half of the 20th century. There is nothing “natural” about this phenomenon. Rather, it is closely tied to how we have built our economies, and that is closely tied to how economists and pol-icy makers, along with the public and economic interests, have understood economics.

Ecological economists have a lot of issues to work through, as do scholars engaged in other efforts to bridge the disciplines, understand what sustainability means, and be effective….
—- end quote —-
#58 Hank Roberts
2014/04/10

And, aha — I find Norgaard has described that distinction I’ve tried to make above — between the self-serving myths (‘environmentalism’ and ‘economism’) on the one hand, contrasted with the sciences (ecology, and economics) on the other hand, here:

http://www.humansandnature.org/economy—richard-norgaard-response-26.php

“Economism is to the formal models of the discipline of economics as the complex beliefs that make up environmentalism are to environmental science. While distinctions between environmentalism and environmental science are commonly made, the term economism is relatively new, and the juxtaposition rare. Economism, this brew of popular, political, and academic philosophy and practical beliefs, keeps industrial civilization glued together while it furthers the economy’s expansion ….”
------
Note, he is not in favor of either environmentalism or economism as described.

I'll be curious to see how the new journal will try to "connect economics to Earth and space science" (which sounds to me rather like putting a string on the balloon to anchor it to the ground -- economics without that connection is just floaty bubbles)

Brad Keyes said...

guthrie:

"There are of course also science hating ideologues, fluffy headed idiots, etc etc..."

Science-loving ideologues will draw conclusions about your cognitive status from your inability, now or ever, to quote anybody on the Negative side voicing hatred of science. There are no known science haters on the Negative, and very few on the planet at all (thank God for small mercies).

Off the top of my head, the only anti-scientists who've been guileless enough to vow enmity towards human knowledge out loud are Phil Jones ("I'd rather delete the station data than share it with anyone") and Michael Mann ("giving them the algorithm would be giving in to intimidation"). Have I forgotten anyone?

Most people are too smart to get caught declaring war on human knowledge.

(In any case, bear in mind that 98% or so of the population doesn't know what science is, which arguably means they couldn't hate science even if they tried.)