Climate Change 4
Yes, I’m afraid so. And some are really basic things that have occurred to me as a layperson as I have pondered quite a few views since last posting on this. I’ve been storing my finds on Google. So before I purge the favourites, I’ll share a few with you.
There does seem to be a lot of that going on…
Truth be told, I’m more interested in people who are overcoming barriers to progress than in the endless “does global warming exist?” debates. When your house is on fire, at some point you stop arguing with someone who says there’s no fire, and you focus on getting your family out. Or if the house is an inescapable planet, you get to work dousing the fire.
But … there’s this awesome metaphor in The Economist that’s useful for understanding how climate realists and skeptics talk past each other. It goes like this: If you view climate science as a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture becomes clear once you’ve got most pieces in place. A loose piece here and there doesn’t obscure the whole picture. If it’s a kitten in a laundry basket you’re looking at, you can be sure it’s a kitten in a laundry basket with only 90 percent of the pieces in place.
On the other hand, if you view climate science as a house of cards, with each piece dependent on another piece, one loose card can topple the whole apparatus. (The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, to add yet another metaphor.) So the improper emails at the heart of the “climategate” uproar or one incorrect report on Himalayan glaciers can seem like a fatal blow, even though the body of scientific work confirming climate change vastly outweighs them.
I find this illuminating. Understanding the difference between jigsaw people and house-of-cards people doesn’t resolve their disagreements. But it’s useful to see how they’re working off different metaphors. And The Economist’s thorough overview of climate science makes a strong case for why the jigsaw metaphor is the more appropriate one…
2. An example of a politically corrupted source?
Ever been to the “denialist” site Global Warming.org? What, from the title, might you have thought it was? Well, objectivity isn’t its long suit. In fact, it is instructive to follow the tabs at the top of the site to the CAP Project.
CEI’s CAP project (“Control Abuse of Power”) aims to fight unaccountable government power.
In recent decades, government has increasingly assumed tax and regulatory powers that impact consumers and businesses nationwide. But many of those important policy decisions are made independently of lawmakers and voters. The $240 billion tobacco deal, for example, was made by state attorneys general and major tobacco companies– not by legislators at the federal or state level. And the PCAOB is comprised of regulators who are unaccountable to the president or Congress or the businesses they regulate.
Unfortunately, businesses are often fearful of incurring the wrath of government officials and regulators. And average citizens are often ill-equipped to wage expensive and complicated challenges to such government abuse of power. But such massive use and abuse of government power cannot be left unchecked.
CAP pursues its mission through public education, regulatory interventions, litigation, and policy research.
The project’s initial targets are the 1998 tobacco settlement and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). CEI has mounted constitutional legal challenges to both the tobacco settlement and the PCAOB in an effort to restore power and accountability to the people.
As a non-profit public policy organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government. We believe that individuals are best helped not by government intervention but by making their own choices in a free marketplace.
It and Global Warming.org are projects of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Checking it out one finds pretty much the usual suspects. This is a case where cui bono? is definitely rewarded. OK, cross that off your list of reputable scientific sites.
3. It’s all over now, Baby Blue!
There’s a feature article in the latest Der Spiegel: A Superstorm for Global Warming Research by Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and Gerald Traufetter. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the time lag between commissioning a print feature article and publishing it, events have overtaken some of its best examples.
Plagued by reports of sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations, climate research is facing a crisis of confidence. How reliable are the predictions about global warming and its consequences? And would it really be the end of the world if temperatures rose by more than the much-quoted limit of two degrees Celsius?
Life has become "awful" for Phil Jones. Just a few months ago, he was a man with an enviable reputation: the head of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, an expert in his field and the father of an alarming global temperature curve that apparently showed how the Earth was heating up as a result of anthropogenic global warming.
Those days are now gone.
Nowadays, Jones, who is at the center of the "Climategate" affair involving hacked CRU emails, needs medication to fall sleep. He feels a constant tightness in his chest. He takes beta-blockers to help him get through the day. He is gaunt and his skin is pallid. He is 57, but he looks much older. He was at the center of a research scandal that hit him as unexpectedly as a rear-end collision on the highway.
His days are now shaped by investigative commissions at the university and in the British Parliament. He sits on his chair at the hearings, looking miserable, sometimes even trembling. The Internet is full of derisive remarks about him, as well as insults and death threats. "We know where you live," his detractors taunt.
Jones is finished: emotionally, physically and professionally. He has contemplated suicide several times recently, and he says that one of the only things that have kept him from doing it is the desire to watch his five-year-old granddaughter grow up.
Now exonerated**, as you know. See also: Climategate: An Autopsy; The Smoking Guns and Blue Dress Moments of Climategate.
In seeking balance it also pays too much attention to some dubious viewpoints.
A Climate Rebel Takes on the Establishment
One man notes with particular satisfaction how Phil Jones and his colleagues are being forced to confess to one mistake after another. Steve McIntyre lives in a small brick house near downtown Toronto. It is a Sunday afternoon and he is sitting at his well-worn desk, illuminated only by a small energy-saving bulb on the ceiling.
This man, with his thinning gray hair, is an unlikely adversary for climatologists, and yet he is largely responsible for the current tumult in their field. "This is the computer I used to begin doing the recalculations," he says, holding a six-year-old Acer laptop with a 40-gigabyte hard drive. "My wife finally gave me a new one for Christmas."
Here are some survey results for Germany published in “A Superstorm for Global Warming”. The first does testify to two matters wider than just Germany, I suspect: how the issue has been taken off the boiler by politicians since Copenhagen – certainly the case here in Oz; how the “sceptics” have had considerable success.
Don’t get me wrong: as a feature article, not an example of scientific writing, it’s not bad at all, even interesting. See what you think of it.
Balance, however, isn’t as easy as it looks.
There is something to be said for presenting a debate in terms of the two strongest cases that can be made on either side. But this can also lead to important distortions…
The problem is that the traditional way of balancing is not just one way that debates are presented, but the formula that is almost invariably followed. The cumulative effect of all these discussions is to present a picture of a society which is dominated by adversarial conflicts and huge gulfs. The moderate middle ground, occupied by the majority, is left unrepresented, and so the striving for balance actually fails to fulfil its primary purpose of reflecting the opinions that are out there.
What is perhaps even worse is that to give both sides equal weight can severely distort what are actually important imbalances in a debate. This is typical of many scientific issues, where one rogue researcher is pitted against an opponent who represents the opinion of the vast majority. This is probably one reason why the public thought the claims that autism was caused by the combined MMR vaccine were more credible than they were. The media gave equal time to both sides of the argument (or perhaps even more to the minority view), which inevitably gave the impression the issue was much more uncertain than it really was. This kind of balance tips the scales in favour of the maverick.
This is an issue not of the content of arguments themselves but how they are framed. The concern is that certain views are already granted more respect or importance than they are due simply by the way they are debated and discussed. We need to be on our guard and remember that a “balanced discussion” can nevertheless be a hugely distorted one.
** Dear me, what a story! Fox News’ Ed Barnes Tries to Re-Ignite Attacks on Climate Scientist Exonerated by Penn State.
In his “exclusive” story, titled “Top Climate Scientist’s Exoneration Won’t Be the Last Word,” Fox News’ Ed Barnes suggests that the Penn State investigation that cleared Dr. Michael Mann of any wrong-doing was a “whitewash” designed to protect the “millions of dollars in grant money it gets by having Mann on the faculty.”
Barnes claims that Penn State’s decision to exonerate Mann generated “a storm of controversy” and “came under severe attack.” Reading his inflammatory language, you might think that a whole lot of academics and scientists ridiculed the inquiry. Who is this angry mob that generated such a “storm of controversy?”
Actually, the Barnes storm is comprised of only three people – a mining executive, the wealthiest member of Congress, and a former FoxNews.com columnist…
Barnes and others at Fox News have played a central role in the “Climategate” echo chamber, providing a megaphone for skeptics trying to spin the stolen CRU emails into scandal every which way, and continuing the long smear campaign against Michael Mann.
Despite all their rants, the inquiries into Mann and the CRU scientists have found no evidence of the data tampering or interference with information requests that FOX and friends hoped would emerge from their “ClimateGate” dud. They can’t tolerate the fact that Dr. Mann and Phil Jones and others have been largely vindicated. So they resort back to spin. And when that doesn’t pan out, they spin again.
It’s dizzying just trying to follow it, really.
Sounds like the “critics” are projecting their own “values” onto Penn State to me…
8 April: Real Climate offers a trenchant critique of the Spiegel article: Climate scientist bashing.
…What is it all about?
SPIEGEL defames some of the best scientists worldwide, who not least for this reason have become prime targets for the “climate skeptics”. If you look at publications in the three scientific top journals (Nature, Science, PNAS), the just 44-year-old Mike Mann has already published 9 studies there, Phil Jones 24 (comments, letters and book reviews not included). In contrast, DER SPIEGEL always calls upon the same witness, the mathematician Hans von Storch, who has published only a single article in the prime journals mentioned (and that was faulty). But he says the politically wanted thing, even if without any supporting evidence from the scientific literature: in his view we can easily adapt to climate change. He also publicly accuses the vast majority of his colleagues who disagree with him of alarmism, calls them “prophets of doom” or “eco-activists” who indoctrinate the public. He also insinuates political or financial motives for disseminating horror scenarios. In this article he says things like “unfortunately, some of my colleagues behave like pastors, who present their results in precisely such a way that they’ll fit to their sermons”. This quote matches the article´s inflationary usage of the words “guru” “popes” “fiery sermons” “missionaries” and so forth. And he goes on: “It’s certainly no coincidence that all the mistakes that became public always tended in the direction of exaggeration and alarmism.” The following statement would have probably been more correct: it is certainly no coincidence that all the alleged errors scandalized in the media always tended in the direction of exaggeration and alarmism.
It is obvious that DER SPIEGEL does not care about science. This really is about politics. This year will decide about the future of the German climate policy: in the fall the government will announce its new energy strategy. This will decide whether the energy transformation towards a sustainable electricity supply, increasingly based on renewables, will be pushed forward or thwarted. In a global context the issue is whether global warming can be limited to a maximum of 2 ºC, as the Copenhagen Accord calls for, or whether this opportunity will be lost. The power struggle on this issue is in full gear. The energy transformation can best be prevented by creating doubts about its urgency. The fact that scandal stories about climate science have to be invented to this end just proves one thing: good, honest arguments against a forceful climate policy apparently do not exist.
The author of that critique, originally published in German, is Stefan Rahmstorf — a climatologist and head of department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a professor at the University of Potsdam. He is co-author of the 4th IPCC Climate Report and belongs to the Scientific Advisory Council for Global Change (WBGU). His research focuses on climate changes in the Earth’s history.
Added 9 April 2010. Some may be interested in this PowerPoint presentation for Australian Science teachers.
12 April: Debunking Lord Monckton, Part One.