Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kevin Vranes opens a new window in the Exxon AR4 advent calendar....

At first there was no consensus, then everyone knew that a scientific consensus is unimportant, now, the latest tactic is that the holders of the consensus are feeling guilty. The first gun fired in this direction was the misleading article in the Telegraph telling about how the fourth Assessment Report from the IPCC will downgrade the risks from climate change. Today Tim Lambert has a link to a posting by Kevin Vranes, as fine an example of blaming the victim as exists.

We tried for years - decades - to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the "it's happening" side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side. But knowing the science, we knew the stakes to humanity were high and that the opposition to the truth would be fierce, so we knew we had to dig in. But now they are listening. Now they do believe us. Now they say they're ready to take action. And now we're wondering if we didn't create a monster. We're wondering if they realize how uncertain our projections of future climate are. We wonder if we've oversold the science.
This can be understood as the second leg in a campaign lead by reactionary industry and think tanks and politicians to discredit the scientific study of climate. The first effort was FUD based joining public relations firms, think tanks and a small group of denialists with scientific reputations, and sometimes just reputations of scientific reputations, and thin ones at that. Eli discussed the basis of that stage: (reproduced here in full for the link adverse)
Anyone who has come up hard and fast against reality understands that there is neither a theory or a model that explains everything. There are always residuals, unexplained anomalies and people on the fringes who will hold onto those for dear life, weaving webs of conspiracy theories that focus only on what remains unexplained. This throws the baby out with the bathwater: the fringe theories might explain the residuals, but they can't deal with the basic facts of the situation.

The best theories and models deal with the largest extent of the evidence available using intellectually valid and understandable ideas with predictive power. Those with no tolerance for ambiguity are doomed to a life of carping. The study of elephant droppings is not as interesting as the study of elephants. (Motivated by comments of Michael Sherman, editor of Skeptic Magazine on CSPAN)

However, if the elephant dropping salesman, is loud and insistent he can attract an audience, and if someone is paying him a lot of money to attract elephant dropping customers, why, as Barnum said, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
The elephant dropping salesmen, unfortunately were the ones talking to the public, indeed were the ones getting money to talk to the public through right wing think tanks and their supporters. When a few of the science types realized that the only way to get the gravity of the situation across to the public was to start to talk to the public, the push back was ferocious. The purpose of the attack was to force the scientists back to the lab bench. In many cases it was successful. If you want to understand this consider the ferocity of the onslaught against Jim Hansen and Michael Mann. Mann's case is particularly instructive. Mann was a post-doc when he was coauthor of the Mann, Bradley, Hughes papers. The other two are very senior scientists. Why was Mann attacked and NOT Ray Bradley and Malcolm Hughes? The simple answer is that the other two retreated from the confrontation, Mann met it.

Within the last few years, the public has become aware that there is a scientific consensus on global warming, first in the civilized world, lately among the population in the United States. Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth has played an important role, packaging the basic issues in a way that is understandable and entertaining for the public. The next tactic of the denialists was to deny that a consensus exists, then to deny that the scientific consensus had any meaning, and now, we have the Rovian tactic of attacking the opponents strength to discredit them, here, by claiming that the holders of the consensus are having second, guilty thoughts because there are outstanding issues, and, horrors, they have made clear to the public what the risks are.

Don't worry, Kevin, be happy

UPDATE: Great minds think alike, Andrew Dessler pretty much agrees with Eli.


Andrew Dessler said...

I'm amazed at how much blogger play this vranes comment has gotten. when you think about it, it's really a weak story: "I talked to a few people at the agu meeting and they told me we've oversold AGW. of course, I don't know what the other 13,995 people at the meeting thought." I guess the popularity of this story can be attributed to the fact that it's got something for everyone ...

Anonymous said...

Thats the problem Andrew. His post is as much to do with politics and public relations and stuff than anything else. I posted this on the thread:

It is also extremely important here to actually make some concrete statements about precisely how much you think it has been oversold. Its all very well saying "Well, some studies are crap and you know, we're not all going to die in 2100 of heat stroke", but thats not enough. Theres an iceberg of unstated context here, starting with whether you think the warming by 2100 or doubling of CO2 or whatever is going to be 1.5 degrees or 4.5 degrees.
Rather than going down a no names no packdrill kind of confessional format
(Tonight ladies and gentlement, in the darkened corner wearing a hood, we have an annonymous climatologist from central USA, he's going to explain how the studies he took part in overemphasised the effects of AGW on rainfall. His voice has been disguised.)
can we have more outlines of uncertainty. I appreciate that much of the science behind this is not settled in teh same way as quantum physics is settled, (ie 23 decimal places and all that) but in order to avoid an extremely messy brouhaha with people on all sides and none misquoting things, you are going to have to delineate your own uncertainties.

It is an important topic, but there is so much history behind it all that its going to get very messy.
(I'm going to have to get myself a blogger account someday)

Eli Blake said...

It's not just about consensus anymore.

There were some specific predictions about global warming.

And they are happening.

Anonymous said...

Vranes' is basing his statement on just a few conversations at the conference.

In other words, he is speculating on the basis of little or no evidence.

Roger Pielke jr engages in such nonsense as well.

This seems to be par for the course at Prometheus.

It has no place in any legitimate discussion of science or science policy.

Brian said...

I think it's important to distinguish between what Kevin said and what denialists will do/have done with it. Kevin's clear in his blog that he's not a denialist and thinks we should take action, but is still calling it like he saw it at the AGU. Unfortunately, if predictably, denialists are using his post in the way Eli describes.

Anonymous said...

[Vranes] is "still calling it like he saw it at the AGU."

Vranes used a science policy blog (Prometheuas) to air pure, unadulterated speculation based on a few conversations with people at a conference.

The idea that Vranes can siomeone "divine" the view of thousands of scientists based on conversations with a handful of people is just silly -- and more than a little irresponsible.

EliRabett said...

Let me try it this way. My issue with Roger Pielke is that for practical purposes he functions as a sophisticated concern troll while posing as an honest broker. On this issue, the only relevent sphere are the blogs so constant invocation of publications elsewhere does not enter into the case since it is on the blogs that he is addressing the public. Now I just wrote somewhere else that I never made an ad hominem statement about him without some back up, but it is late, and there are lots of posts here that point to some of this behavior including this one. Roger is remarkably precise and informed when he wants to be and remarkably out of the loop when he wants to be.

I saw much the same developing with Kevin Vranes. Take a look at the comments over in his post.

Anonymous said...

I posted the following on Kevin Vranes blog and had it disemvowelled. Luckily, it was easy to reconstruct from the disemvowellation (SP?) My apologies rfor any omitted vowells here and there.

Thanks Kevin for leaving it!

Kevin Vranes posted: "Comments after #31 aren't even worth responding to as they, predictably, completely forget the point of the original post."

How convenient.

Post #32 was mine and included this statement: "For you to draw any conclusions from a few conversations at a conference is simply nonsense."

It is most interestng that in your post, you saw this criticsm coming and attemptd to defuse it ahead of time by claiming to be a translator or "go-between". in Other words, you yourself were obviously very concerned that others would perceive your post as "drawing conculsions from just a few conversations".

if a small number of scientists at an AGU conference claimed the "world is flat", would that merit consideration as well?

Suffice it to say that the people who exprssd such concerns just might not represent an unbiased sample.

What was your "conversation sampling methodology" at AGU, by the way?

EliRabett said...

Mmmmmmph. L Rbbt dsvwlng slf. Sppk fr Stffrs

It's a big net out there folks and we do have an open bar for discussions. FWIW

Anonymous said...

Hey, there are worse things than being a disemvowelled rabett, right?

like being a disembowelled rabett, for example. Or "spit on rabett" or "rabett on a spit".

oops, I'm sorry, forgive my violent imagery ...and please don't dismvwll m nd/r bn m frm Rbbt Rn.

EliRabett said...

Why, surprise, Elmer Fudd has shown up for new year. Have a carrot doc.

Anonymous said...

What do you suppose the chances are that Vranes' post and Revkin's article -- and Pielke's blog-hopping are all related?

Naw, couldn't be. Could it?

Let's see, first we have Vranes telling us that scientists (in the silent middle?) are worried that some are "overselling" the science.

Then, less than a week later, we have an article in the NY Times by Revkin saying that the silent middle are concerned that the alarmists (including some among their climate science group) are co-opting them when it comes to policy decisions.

And we have Pielke in the "middle" (of course) talking about a third way (that is not James Hansen's way).

How very interesting.

If I didn't know better I'd conclude that "V has been talking to R who has been talking to P, who has been talking to V" (The circle game.)

But I certainly know better.