Friday, February 13, 2015


The current outrage of the week, or maybe it was last week, things move so fast here abouts, is what do you call the folks who deny the truth of scientific results.  Deniers, denialists, whatever.  There has been considerable posting and commenting on this, but there has been always been a constant undercurrent even back into the days of USENET.

Matt Ridley and David Rose touched this flare up off.  ATTP has been a willing participant with Richard Betts as guest blogger.  Of course, Mother Kloor had his say and today Justin Gillis at the NY Times has a piece up which will appear in dead trees next week

..the fight about what to call the various factions has been going on for a long time. Recently, though, the issue has taken a new turn, with a public appeal that has garnered 22,000 signatures and counting. 
The petition asks the news media to abandon the most frequently used term for people who question climate science, “skeptic,” and call them “climate deniers” instead.
The petition was organized by Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Labs and Forecast the Facts.  Gillis points out that while climate scientists may have fist fights about the details there is essential unanimity that climate change is an extraordinary risky thing.
As a first step, it helps to understand why they so vigorously denounce the science. The opposition is coming from a certain faction of the political right. Many of these conservatives understand that since greenhouse emissions are caused by virtually every economic activity of modern society, they are likely to be reduced only by extensive government intervention in the market.

So casting doubt on the science is a way to ward off such regulation. This movement is mainly rooted in ideology, but much of the money to disseminate its writings comes from companies that profit from fossil fuels.
and goes on to describe how the tree tries to distinguish itself from the nuts to maintain some credibility
Some make scientifically ludicrous claims, such as denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas or rejecting the idea that humans are responsible for its increase in the atmosphere. Others deny that Earth is actually warming, despite overwhelming evidence that it is, including the rapid melting of billions of tons of land ice all over the planet.
Yet the critics of established climate science also include a handful of people with credentials in atmospheric physics, and track records of publishing in the field. They acknowledge the heat-trapping powers of greenhouse gases, and they distance themselves from people who deny such basic points.

“For God’s sake, I can’t be lumped in with that crowd,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a former University of Virginia scientist employed by the libertarian  Cato Institute in Washington. 
Contrarian scientists like Dr. Michaels tend to argue that the warming will be limited, or will occur so gradually that people will cope with it successfully, or that technology will come along to save the day – or all of the above.
Eli has agreed in the interests of comity to call those who deny climate science, rejectionists.   OTOH, how to describe those fiendishly trying to define climate sensitivity down?

No one ever did a better job of this than the Idiot Tracker, using the then current term of art, lukewarmers and describing their tactic as jimmying the Overton window by minimizing climate sensitivity while acknowledging the greenhouse effect.
The real contrast here is not between "activists" and "skeptics" but between deniers and everybody else – between the science and the right-wing lunacy. But lukewarmers are exploiting the shift in the Overton window brought about by voluble climate deniers to position their radical views as a sane middle ground.
In part two, the Tracker points out the incoherence of the lukewarmer position because, if they want to play scientist, they simply cannot pick a value for climate sensitivity, or future warming, or whatever, but need to assign a range, in Baysean language a prior, in frequentist terms a distribution, but then you would need a few dozen Earths, so let Eli stick with the Rev. Bayes and his alter boys James Annan and Andrew Gelman.
So the critical question then becomes: what is the lukewarmers' range? Consensus scientists estimate climate sensitivity at about 3C, but concede that it might be 1.5C, 4.5C or even higher (and very unlikely to be much lower). What range do lukewarmers think is plausible?

So far, to my knowledge, no self-identified lukewarmer has been persuaded to answer this question. They will find it difficult. Because they have positioned themselves as participants in the scientific debate, they can hardly claim 100% confidence in X climate sensitivity, no error bars. If they are reasonable, they have to accept they they are as fallible as the rest of the scientific community, and although they think the climate sensitivity is 1.5C (say) it might be 1.0C, or 2.0C, or even (gasp!) 3.0C (where the consensus puts it).
When that is done the argument becomes not one about certainty or uncertainty but about risk.  What is your attitude towards risk, how much risk are the lukewarmers willing to take? And there are serious risks from climate change out there, sea level rise, crop failures, heat waves and the like.
Once you've acknowledged the greenhouse warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases, even a ludicrously low estimate of climate sensitivity will not save you from the iron logic of risk assessment: "maybe not" and even "probably not" are unacceptable for the kind of impacts we're talking about. Even 1% is too high. But, absent a new data set allowing a much, much more exactly calculation of climate sensitivity than we have been able to provide to date, there is no way even the most Pollyanna estimates of climate sensitivity and future emissions can provide any acceptable level of assurance that "business as usual" is anything but a road to ruin.
So how to describe this position?  Eli suggests that the proper description of this luckwarmers.  They feel lucky and are betting the house on it.  Unfortunately it is our house.



Since semantic agression is generally not a Good Thing, why not simply call those whose grond state is to reject plain vanilla climate science


Because that is what they reflexively do.

Hank Roberts said...

Can't we use dog-Latin?
Ignoramuses, or perhaps Antiphysicalists


Half of Hank's dog latin is Greek to me.

Tom Curtis said...

Being fair to the lukewarmers, some including Nic Lewis and Steve Mosher have indicated uncertainty ranges (sort of). The first problem is that Lewis' uncertainty looks an awful lot like dogmatism given how tight his uncertainty interval is relative to that of the IPCC. The second problem is that Mosher's range looks more like a con job.

Specifically, Mosher has said:
"ECS is not less than 1.2C ( or basically a no feedback value however you want to calculate it And the probablity of it being less than 3C ( Hmm I’ve prolly said 3.2 in a couple places) is great than

The IPCC does not give a PDF, but from their statements it is clear that any distribution maximally coherent with their claims must have a strong right skew. Assuming that their likely range is centrally placed, ie, that it is as unlikely to be below the range as it is above it, that means the modal value is around 2.5 to 2.8 C and the median is likely to be very close to, and possibly below 3 C. So, in an attempt to give a range for a purportedly distinct position, Mosher appears to simply redefine the IPCC as "lukewarmers".

Hank Roberts said...

> Mosher appears to simply redefine
> the IPCC as "lukewarmers"

Isn't it widely understood that the IPCC is far from sufficiently alarmed?

The IPCC lags the research by one to five years, so they by definition don't know the recent news, which so far is worse each year.

I mean, I can remember Antarctica being good for a thousand years despite the worst we could do. I can remember when meltwater couldn't go right through glaciers, and melt channels in icecaps couldn't stay open through the winter because the ice always flowed shut. And, heck, I passed Geology 101 the year before they accepted continental drift -- it was all synclines, anticlines, erosion and deposition making those fancy mountain folds.

We had it so good, back then. Everything looked stable.


Promptscalders , lukewarmers & cold fish are all invited to = place their bets on which decade before the year 2100 will be the first to see a positive delta T of :

150 millidegrees C

300 millidegrees C

450 millidegrees C

These numbers seem salient in that ten such decades are needed to get into the range of year 2100 warming projections in the current IPCC report

Tom Curtis said...

Hank Roberts, it may widely be assumed that the IPCC is insufficiently alarmist, but I see little evidence to back it up. I particular, as relates to climate sensitivity, the current IPCC estimate has changed little from past estimates and truly reflects the balance of published estimates. Estimates since the closure of the IPCC deadline have, if anything, favoured a lower value.

More importantly, as a non-expert I should accept the best statement of the consensus view that I can find, and that is without question the view in the IPCC reports.

Ed Darrell said...

Maybe they should be called simply "political, scientists" if they are scientists.

Maybe "political hacks" if they lack science.

EliRabett said...

Tom, remember the Idiot Tracker's posts come from 2010 and yes, as bunnies have seen with Mosher there is a force of logic that drives the luckwarmers to maybe not feeling so lucky.

FWIW it should be fairly simple to show (ala Annan) that a too narrow prior distorts the posterior as the uniform prior over too large a range does.

<1.2 C certainly drives one into the rejection of energy conservation camp.

Mike Dombroski said...

The pause may turn into a jump. Methane may start us inexorably into another PETM or maybe even into Venus as Hansen believes. I'm still with the lukewarmers. Ridley and Lomborg still have a much more hopeful vision for humanity.

There's no guarantee for the future, but the cornucopians have a pretty good empirical record against the malthusian doomsayers like Ehrlich and Holdren.

The CAGW crowd is infested with ludites like Bill McKibben and David Suzuki. With people like Michael Mann, Naomi Oreskes and Steven Lewindowsky, I wouldn't put you guys in charge of a lemonade stand!

Anonymous said...

Canman, the Cornucopian response to Ehrlich was based on market processes - innovation and investment responding to profit opportunities brought about by high resource prices. If CO2 were comprehensively priced, based on (risk- and loss-function adjusted, ouch, and non-discounted) projected damage, then the corncopian reasoning behind Simon's wager with Ehrlich would be relevant. Since it's not, it's not.

Hank Roberts said...

> evidence

Remember? the 4th IPCC report said they didn't have enough information. That's the lag I'm talking about.

Is there any evidence of science coming in after any given IPCC report that suggested we'd* see less of an impact than the then current IPCC report foresaw, so the following IPCC report reduced the expectation?
*Values of "we" meaning grandchildren, as always

Hank Roberts said...

Rate of change ....

Ed Darrell said...

Okay, how about calling them the "dissenting infinitesimal minority of scientsts."

Oh, hell. They won't like the acronym.


Frederickguy should apply the Precautionary Principle to his enthusiasm for the Ehrlich revival-

Paul's boundless dystopian enthusiasm encompassed more routes to universal miserry than a copper futures crash.

Tom Curtis said...

Hank, you cannot show the IPCC to have been too conservative by citing a single example. Because their reports cover so vast a scope of material, only by surveying that vast scope and comparing it with a some other reliable indicator of the consensus can you make that case. So, you note that they have been too conservative with regard to sea level rise. Even if I accept that* it remains a fact that the model ensemble over predicts recent warming by about 18% on 30 year trends, or ENSO, VEI, and TSI adjusted trends. So that is a case of them being insufficiently convervative (and this has nothing to do with the so-called "pause"). Anecdoting single cases does not tell the tale.

The only evidence I am aware of that compared the IPCC findings with the scientific consensus is the 2008 Bray and von Storch survey, and in particular questions 39a to 39d, and 40a to 40d. In general, on the scientific questions agreement on the accuracy of the IPCC reporst on specific issues correlates with the certainty expressed by the IPCC, ie, where there is tight agreement among the surveyed scientists, the IPCC express great confidence in their results, and where the scientists greatly disagree, the IPCC expresses great uncertainty. In question 39, however, surveyed scientists are asked, "The IPCC reports tend to under estimate, accurately reflect (a value of 4) or over estimate the magnitude of the impacts resulting from changes in "(a) temperature, (b) precipitation, (c) sea level rise, and (d) extreme events", with responses between (1) and (7). The responses are (a) 0.015, (b) 0.145, (c) 0.223, and (d) 0.113 standard deviations below the mean. All four have modal responses of 42% or greater on 4, with standard deviations increasing monotonically from a through to d. Based on this, the IPCC AR4 position is not statistically distinguishable from the consensus position. Across four questions it shows a slight conservative bias, but with only four questions, that result is also not statistically significant. Curiously, despite this phenomenon that the accuracy of the IPCC is well rated, and diversity of views is correlated with increased uncertainty by the IPCC (also shown in question 41 on future predictions), the IPCC does not rate well on reflecting the consensus. In all questions, the preponderance of responses agree that the IPCC reflects the consensus, but very few "strongly agree". The skepticism expressed in response to question 40 is not justified, however, by the perceptions of accuracy in questions 39 and 41 (or other related questions elsewhere in the survey). IMO, this shows scientists are not good at judging the consensus.

* My personal opinion is that the anti-denier blogosphere tends to be too bullish on sea level rise, and on sea level rise damage in particular. For most of the world, sea level rise can be handled by adaption fairly easily, and with much of the cost incorporated in the normal costs of infrastructure and construction development. That assumes sensible planning laws that encourage a migration of cities inland, and to higher ground. There are, however, exceptions to this general rule, notably on heavily populated river deltas, and low lying islands.

Anonymous said...

Physicalism has many meanings, none of which looks related to being knowledgeable about science:

It might be best not to turn this epithet into a stigmatization tool.


OTOH, scientism runs into all sorts of problems:

Ed Darrell said...

" For most of the world, sea level rise can be handled by adaption fairly easily, and with much of the cost incorporated in the normal costs of infrastructure and construction development."

"Easily" if cost and political opposition is not taken into account.

Where there is no consensus will, there is a difficult way and pending disaster; by the time we get the Dissenting Infinitesimal Minority of Scientists to go along, and their barking dog lackeys in Congress, the costs will have escalated dramatically, and the engineering will be much, much more difficult.

I'll offer a couple of links later.

Ed Darrell said...

For example, EPA has a program to try to get affected harbor cities to deal with the issue. Denialists work to stop funding, and deny that it's even necessary, as I noted here (this guy still argues it's no problem at all):

I was impressed by the worldwide scope of this article; it's "easy" to move a ship, but not so easy to move the entire U.S. Navy establishment connected to that ship's home port:

Hank Roberts said...

Tom Curtis, you may not be old enough to remember 1990

You're arguing that the new science published during the five years after each IPCC Report hasn't added to what the IPCC found on previous report worth worrying about -- or that the good news and the bad news average out to no new worries.


It's always a pleasure to meet an optimist about climate change.

I hope you're right.

Hank Roberts said...

P.S., if this is the point you're making, then I'd agree with you. That first IPCC Report (heck, the science in the early 1970s for that matter) was sufficient to make clear that we had created a big problem, and the science done since hasn't changed that basic fact.

JohnMashey said...

Re: Ed and Navy:

I heard past Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead talk a few years ago. He had task forces on energy and climate to assess priorities of what they needed to do, and showed every evidence of being a sensible guy.
He mentioned that one Congressman had asked him why he had any worries about sea level rise, since his ships floated.

Hank Roberts said...

Jeremy Jackson agrees, explicitly, that the IPCC has always been on the conservative side with each report.

Hat tip to Susan at RC for this:

Evening Lecture | Jeremy Jackson: Sea Level Rise is Dangerous
Naval War College
Published on Feb 5, 2015
By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
Feb. 4, 2014

More than an hour.

"When it breaks, it will break suddenly.... and we'll see ten foot sea level rise in a few years.... So there are a lot of people saying to hell with the IPCC, we're just going to do it.... look at this broad tailed distribution ... a five percent chance of something really, really bad happening by 2100 ....."

Alastair said...

"Gillis points out that while climate scientists may have fist fights about the details there is essential unanimity that climate change is an extraordinary risky thing."

Is that true? Aren't climate scientist like Gavin Schmidt, William Connelly, and James Annan in denial when it comes to abrupt climate change. Gavin and his cohorts tweeted down Prof Watkins who warned about a methane burp in the Arctic. In Gavin's talk that followed at the Royal Society, he claimed that since methane had not caused an abrupt warming in the past it could not cause it now. Where have I heard that argument before? Was it from the deniers claiming that mankind had not caused warming in the past so how could man made warming be happening now? I think lukewarmer should be reserved for Gavin and his ilk, and any to his right called deniers. The number of people who will die from starvation and thirst as a result of AGW will make the Holocaust seem trivial.

Here are the conditions in California, breadbasket not only to America but also the whole world: Those in the rich West may believe that if global warming hits them they can turn up the air conditioning, but that won't help them if there is no food.

Here are the conditions in Brazil: Never mind starving do death, they face dying of thirst!