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April 11, 2007

Global Warming -- Or Not -- Online

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Is global warming really happening? And even if it is, is it really worth worrying about? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.)



posted by Michael at April 11, 2007


Is anyone else starting to notice similarities between the climate-catastrophists and the pre-reformation church? We have the dispensations for elites (private jets for those who spread "awareness"); the hawking of indulgences (carbon credits); crusade monies raised then “temporarily” diverted (consultancies, administration fees, sundries, more sundries); papal lavishness (Gore mansion, lifestyle); threats of excommunication to cower the mighty (even our John Howard!); heresies (observational science) outlawed in favour of pure revelation (computer models); lawless but untouchable zealots roaming the countryside and the high-seas (Greenpeace)....

Who will rid us of these turbulent priests?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on April 11, 2007 8:40 PM

Warning - I have not seen "Swindle," but what I hear is that it is mostly very good but has some small inaccuracies, notably the statement that volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans (which is badly sourced and almost certainly false).

This is a pity, because when you're up against the Machine you need to be right all the time, not just most of the time.

Anyone interested in this subject needs to stop what they are doing immediately, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and go directly to Climate Audit.

Posted by: Mencius on April 12, 2007 2:27 AM

" heresies (observational science) outlawed in favour of pure revelation (computer models)"

Computer models are used to extrapolate based on... derived from empirical evidence. In the case of global warming, the amount of empirical evidence is enormous.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on April 12, 2007 4:37 AM

December in April here in upstate New York. But I guess that doesn't count. Only a hot spell in July will count.

Posted by: ricpic on April 12, 2007 10:12 AM

Peter Winkler,

If you call what these hucksters are passing off "hard science" when it comes to the catastrophic weather and climate changes predicted of global warming, I have a question for you. How can a bunch of guys who can't accurately tell you the weather one week in advance possibly predict with any accuracy what the weather will be like 10, 20, or 50 years into the future? Why should I take these clowns seriously just because they have a PhD?

Posted by: BIOH on April 12, 2007 12:26 PM

Oy. Michael. This is one of your ultra-dry meta-jokes, right?

The first five minutes alone made me laugh out loud. It's produced with all the delicacy and finesse of The Secret.

Of course, you're right about the worrying part. Worrying is a pretty pointless endeavor no matter what the charge.

Posted by: communicatrix on April 12, 2007 1:29 PM


The problem is twofold.

One, empirical evidence is not experimental evidence. Nature is not a controlled experiment. For the perils of uncontrolled experiments, see Feynman.

Imagine if we were gods, and we did have a toy Earth we could experiment with. We could isolate the variable and just set different CO2 concentrations on otherwise identical planets.

Next to the results of that experiment, our present "empirical" evidence would look pretty lame. In fact, anyone who could perform that experiment, but chose not to, and instead relied on the natural experiment that we are performing (by continuing to drive our SUVs, and at the same time employing an enormous contingent of climate scientists) would be immediately, and quite accurately, described as a pseudoscientist.

But surely, pseudoscience is pseudoscience. That the experiment cannot, in practice, be performed, cannot affect the epistemology of the alternative, which we are in fact performing.

Two, I think you may be misinformed about the nature of science.

You seem to think that scientists are motivated by curiosity and the pursuit of truth. Of course this has never been entirely the case, but perhaps it was once mostly the case.

But this was before we decided that scientists should have money and power. Or to put it another way, this was before we decided that science should be part of the State. And this is mainly what science is about these days: money and power.

The problem is not just government funding. It is the triangular relationship between granting agencies, scientists, and the press.

A good rule of mine is that anyone whose name appears regularly in the media is, by definition, a media whore. Think of all the scientists whose names you know because you read about them in the paper. These people may be fine and good and doing wonderful work. But they are certainly all media whores.

A few years ago I dated a medical researcher (a "public health" specialist to be precise, it was an odd match to say the least) and she told me something very interesting, which is that journals in her field are known familiarly by their color. So the Journal of Rectal Epidemiology might be the "brown journal," the Journal of Sticky Sputum Specimens might be the "green journal," etc. etc. But the most prestigious journal of all is the "gray journal" - which is, of course, the New York Times.

This makes perfect sense, because all power flows upward. Granting agencies are deeply connected with the political system. They have to fight like hell on the Hill to get their cash. They are snarling and squabbling for the tit just like all the other little piglets. There is never enough money to go around. And anyone's take is likely to be directly proportional to the quantity of headline space they can score.

Journalists, in turn, can't get enough of this. And why wouldn't they? They are arbiters of the universe, gazing down benignly on all they survey. They stick out their fingers and they alone go bang. Who cares if your average science reporter has a BS in psychology? Has your average business reporter ever worked for a business? Has your average war correspondent ever fought in a war? Would they be "objective" if they had? Ignorance, as usual, turns out to be wisdom.

And just as there is never enough money to go around, there are never enough stories. Global warming is wonderful from this perspective, because it generates a permanent stream of content-free, but not quite monotonous press.

The result is that finding a way to work "climate change" into almost any kind of "research" increases your chance of getting funded by an obviously nontrivial factor. So, of course, it is everywhere.

Take a look at this howler. 60 years ago, this could have been published, as is, in Der Schwarze Korps. Now it's all about climate change.

Look at the kind of hack journalism this generates. See how this very dubious - and hilariously politically incorrect - research, which really has nothing at all to do with CO2, in the hands of some C-list journalist, turns into "driving SUVs will make ur children st00pid."

Obviously, this is not the cutting edge of science. On the cutting edge of science it doesn't look like such a joke. But that's because the people on the cutting edge of science know what they're doing.

So there is all the "empirical evidence" you can shake a stick at for global warming, and it is all very impressive and imposing. But it is also all generated by researchers who are operating under the same set of incentives that produced "Global Warming Could be Reversing a Trend that Led to Bigger Human Brainz."

If you step back and look at it from afar, this is an entirely predictable result. The whole system is simply one giant conflict of interest. The effect of CO2 controls will be to tax everyone and create more jobs for the scholar-mandarin caste. It should not be at all surprising that said caste has elevated the idea to such glorious quasitheological status. Inconvenient for who?

There is no systematic fix, either. The only fix is that scientists shouldn't take money from anyone who has an interest in steering their results. And that includes the State. In fact, it goes double, triple, and quadruple for the State - which is not, contrary to popular belief, endowed with divine superpowers.

In fact, if the word "science" remains equated with Official Truth for too much longer, even that name may have to be discarded.

Posted by: Mencius on April 12, 2007 1:43 PM

This piece (PDF) by Bob Carter is also a good read.

Posted by: Mencius on April 12, 2007 4:43 PM

"There is no systematic fix, either. The only fix is that scientists shouldn't take money from anyone who has an interest in steering their results. And that includes the State. In fact, it goes double, triple, and quadruple for the State - which is not, contrary to popular belief, endowed with divine superpowers.

In fact, if the word "science" remains equated with Official Truth for too much longer, even that name may have to be discarded."

It seems the Bush administration is on board with your plan. Ignoring scientists is obviously the best course of action in these cases. Science is just a global conspiracy, a New World Order, if you will.

If you need me, I'll be in my lean-to rubbing two sticks together.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 12, 2007 4:55 PM

rick, how far upstate upstate are you? I'm going to Mohonk next week.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 12, 2007 5:50 PM


The US has not one, but two, competing executive branches: executive A, a democratically elected "political" system symbolized by the White House, and executive B, a "nonpartisan" civil service which is isolated from "politics."

The simplest definition of executive A is all political appointees. The simplest definition of executive B is everyone whose salary is paid by tax dollars, and who is not in executive A. This certainly includes the researchers who bring you "global warming," who probably pay their salaries out of their grants.

(Disclaimer: both my parents were career employees of executive B. My stepfather worked on the Hill, which probably should be considered part of executive B, but we'll let the figleaf of three-branch government stand for the moment.)

Executives A and B have almost no power over each other. The Hatch Act prevents, or at least ostensibly prevents, civil service employees from being involved in "politics." The Pendleton Act (which ended the "spoils system" and enacted "civil service reform") prevents the White House from making personnel decisions in most of the executive branch.

The White House does appoint a limited set of top-level employees in the various executive departments. However, these "political appointees" have neither budgetary nor personnel authority. They are not analogous in any way to the managers of a private corporation. For the most part, all they can do is get in the way. And as we've seen lately - US attorneys, anyone? - the White House does not really have management control over them.

Here are some more observations about the relationship between executives A and B:

1. Executive B is at least two orders of magnitude larger than executive A.

2. For the last 60 years, the power of executive A relative to executive B has been decreasing. (Look at the power FDR, or even LBJ, or even Nixon, had over the Federal government.)

3. In any conflict between executive A and executive B, the press almost always sides with executive B.

(In fact, the difference between the US and Europe, in which the official media is often a de jure part of executive B, strikes me as insignificant. Does a BBC reporter, for example, really act under a different set of incentives than a CNN reporter? I doubt it. The civil service ethos, summed up in the word "responsibility," pervades throughout.)

4. In general, the employees of executive B tend to be smarter, more professional, and more competent than the employees of executive A.

5. A good contemporary example of a state in which there is an executive B, but no executive A, is the People's Republic of China. Close behind it is the European Union.

Anyway. We could go on.

But what you're telling me (I think) is that, since executive A is a bunch of asses (understandable, given the bizarre ochlocratic rituals by which the Presidential faction is selected), I should allow my trust to repose infinitely in executive B.

Which has no connection with "democracy" at all, but selects itself, as it has for the last century. I mean, why even bother with executive B and its version of the Truth? Why not just ask Pope Benedict? After all, the Catholic Church has been selecting its elders from the ranks of its own acolytes not for the last century, but for the last 20. Surely, if this process works so well, more can only be better.

Frankly, the sooner we can dispense with this charade of an executive A, this ridiculous vestigial stump, the better. Electing a Democratic President will help, because since the New Deal the Democrats have served the interests of the civil service faithfully and without cease.

There's also the problem that the one major department that the White House has any influence left in, DoD, tends to, um, overcompensate a bit. Tossing Rumsfeld helped, but it was a half measure. Expect a serious purge after the next election, comparable to the post-Watergate lustration of CIA. These men will learn to sing the praises of their masters yet.

And then we can get down to the real problem of how to get rid of our bureaucratic one-party state, executive B. I think it's pretty clear that electing Republican officials is not the answer.

Posted by: Mencius on April 12, 2007 7:03 PM

FWIW, I know nothing about any of this, and am the farthest thing from a scientist you can imagine. I'm pretty rad-Green in sentiment, but in my case that's an aesthetic thing. Then again I take my aesthetics pretty seriously. Still: always fun to learn that not all the experts agree, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 12, 2007 7:34 PM

"But what you're telling me (I think) is that, since executive A is a bunch of asses (understandable, given the bizarre ochlocratic rituals by which the Presidential faction is selected), I should allow my trust to repose infinitely in executive B."

No, what I meant is that the vast majority of SCIENTISTS are saying one thing about, in this instance, climate change, while the ones on the other side are POLITICIANS and BUSINESS EXECUTIVES. I'm well aware that science is not perfect and scientists are only human, but in matters of science, I'll go with the scientists.

I'm not a treehugging hippie, I very much like the capitalist country I live in, but the writing seems to be on the wall on this one.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 12, 2007 7:40 PM

Anybody who asserts that, with the tremendous number of variables that affect both weather and climate, that they know 50 years into the future what both climate and weather will be like, is a liar, an idiot, or both.

Too bad that you never had much of a science or engineering education Patriarch. If you had, you would have far more skepticism toward these self-annointed scientists than you do. They can be just as political, close-minded, and evangelistic as any sociologist or minority studies hack. I think that's why so many engineers and science types I've met are so conservative on this issue--we know the Chicken Littles too well

Posted by: BIOH on April 12, 2007 7:55 PM

Also, there's lots of scientists that don't agree that Global Warming is caused by man. You need to check those guys out.

As a last side observation, its interesting to note that the the main greenhouse gas is water vapor. I wonder how we can stop this deadly agent from escaping the oceans, ground, and freshwater lakes and rivers around the world to SAVE THE EARTH! Perhaps large sponges could be floated into the atmosphere to sop up and limit this lethal scourge and return it safely to earth. Yes, yes! And we could paint such huge sponges white to reflect back all the solar radiation that would otherwise penetrate the atmosphere and warm our Weak, Fragile Planet!

Good God! What genius is there among us who could pull off such a great scientific feat? Let's all pray for a miracle! Until then, we have no hope but to brick all our toilet tanks, ride bicycles, and wear sackcloth made out of hemp until Our Savior arrives. Or at least until we get a better paying job!

Posted by: BIOH on April 12, 2007 8:14 PM

I have an interesting PDF of a major Newsweek article from the 70's. It speaks of catastrophic climate change on the way, and the pressing need for political and collective action to alleviate the consequences. The article also speaks of massive evidence and a broad unanimity among scientists.

The predicted catastrophe was global cooling.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on April 12, 2007 9:13 PM


The set of people who support or oppose a proposition is quite unrelated to its validity. So, even, are their motivations.

I'm sure there are some businessmen and politicians who oppose the global warming hypothesis for venal reasons. I'm sure there are some who oppose it for sincere reasons. And I'm sure both categories also apply to the large number of businessmen and politicians who support it. I don't see how any information can be deduced from these incontrovertible facts.

Do you have a minute to follow a link? You might find this page interesting. It is rather free of context, but perhaps its tone might spark your curiosity.

Now, what is your first question on reading this? Is it, by any chance, "Is Steve McIntyre a scientist?"

You see, there are two possible definitions of the word here.

One is that a "scientist" is anyone who follows a certain process which, in the past, seems to have been very effective at producing reliable information. This process is called the "scientific method," and while it is certainly not infallible - nothing is - it seems pretty good at eradicating error. And it works for anyone, black or white, Gentile or Jew.

Another is that a "scientist" is someone who has been awarded a certain credential by a certain institution, which entitles him to occupy one of a small number of prestigious positions. In this sense, calling someone a "scientist" is like calling him a "duke." The word "duke," from the Latin dux, originally meant a leader of fighting men, a warlord. There are still dukes today, and there are still warlords, but the dukes are not warlords and the warlords are not dukes.

As it happens, McIntyre is a scientist (I would say) in the first sense of the word, but not in the second.

His background is actually in hard-rock mineral exploration, which is one of the shadiest industries in the world. As a mining consultant with a strong background in statistics, he essentially made his living investigating bad numbers, and he developed an excellent practical sense of the ways data can be fudged.

One day out of pure personal curiosity he decided to take a look at the use of statistics in paleoclimatology. Paleoclimatology is a field which tries to estimate temperature trends from the time before we had scientists running around with thermometers everywhere. It does so by measuring "temperature proxies" which naturally record temperature effects - tree rings, for example, As you can probably imagine, before the rise of global warming, this was a rather obscure discipline, but it has since risen to great global importance.

The first result McIntyre looked at was the famous "hockey stick" curve associated with several notable paleoclimatologists, notably Michael Mann. If you have ever seen a headline saying "200x is the warmest year in XXX years," you have probably experienced the "hockey stick." On the basis of this result, Mann (no relation to the Miami Vice director) had become a star in his field, was named one of Scientific American's top 100 young researchers, etc, etc.

What McIntyre found was that this work was based on a pattern of bad statistics that came very close to simply being fraud. Mann had chosen nonstandard statistical procedures which amplified a single sample, from a set of trees (bristlecone pines) well-known to respond directly to CO2 rather than temperature, into a pattern that looked like it covered the entire world. Moreover, Mann's FTP site had a directory called "CENSORED" on it in which the same calculation was repeated without the bristlecones, showing no "hockey stick" at all.

Scientific misconduct happens. Just because a physicist, like Jan Hendrik Schön, pulls some stunt, doesn't mean Einstein was wrong.

But Schön was rapidly drummed out of his profession. Events in the Mann scandal have gone very differently.

The entire field of paleoclimatology has stonewalled on the "hockey stick." Mann is still very much an honored member of the field. And this despite the fact that two external reports, a National Academy of Sciences panel, and an independent report prepared by Edward Wegman, one of the US's leading statisticians, confirmed all of McIntyre's results.

What was the consequence of all this in the press? Funny you should ask.

The NAS panel, which included many of Mann's colleagues, came up with a very nice dodge. They admitted that Mann's results were useless, but claimed that, since other studies - many using the same flawed methodologies - reported the same results, the entire concept was vindicated. You may have heard the phrase "fake, but accurate."

As a result, the release of this report was actually an occasion for a new wave of "Earth is Warmest in 2,000 Years" stories. You had to be very, very savvy to understand the actual content of the report, which included a large dose of spin.

Wegman's report contained no spin at all. However, it also happened to be commissioned (pro bono, with no payment at all, etc, etc) by Joe Barton of the House Energy Committee. Therefore, it received no press coverage at all - despite the fact that it exposed one of the major scientific frauds of the last century, one which was lavishly promoted by the press.

In fact, not even Republican news outlets - like Fox News or the Washington Times - would touch the Wegman report. Why would they? Why go through another round of being attacked as shills for the oil companies? What's in it for them? Because they are, of course, shills - but for the Republicans, not for the oil companies.

It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where there were these institutions, like "Science," or "The Church," or "The New York Times," which you could just trust. But such a world has never existed in the past. Why should it exist now?

Posted by: Mencius on April 12, 2007 10:28 PM

BIOH, please provide links to scientists who do not believe that man is at least partly responsible for climate change and/or who do not believe that climate change is taking place. I know there are some, but I also know their numbers are relatively few. This does not necessarily mean they are wrong, I'm merely pointing out a fact.

Mencius, your arguments are well thought out and quite convoluted. You say we shouldn't "trust" scientists. I don't trust anyone or thing absolutely, but I do give creedence to those who have done some work in a particular field. In your paradigm of eternal skepticism, who or what do we look to for good information? I have neither the time nor skill to do in depth climate research, so again, I defer to those who do.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 12, 2007 11:43 PM

Dear BIOH (and others here):

"Objection: Scientists can't even predict the weather next week, so why should we believe what some climate model tells us about 100 years from now?

Answer: Climate and weather are very different things, and the level of predictability is comparably different.

Climate is defined as weather averaged over a period of time -- generally around 30 years. This averaging smooths out the random and unpredictable behaviour of weather. Think of it as the difference between trying to predict the height of the fifth wave from now versus predicting the height of tomorrow's high tide. The former is a challenge -- to which your salty, wet sneakers will bear witness -- but the latter is routine and reliable.

This is not to say it's easy to predict climate changes. But seizing on meteorologists' failures to cast doubt on a climate model's 100-year projection is an argument of ignorance."

On the matter of water vapor and greenhouse gases:

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on April 13, 2007 12:48 AM

Peter, I believe this was best summed up by Heinlein: "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get" :)

I think it's pretty telling that even in such a small "community" as this, there's such wildly different points of view on this topic (well, on pretty much EVERY topic), and consensus will never be reached even here. Perhaps, rather than trying to figure blame and point fingers, wouldn't it be best to simply come to some kind of consensus that something is or isn't happening? I mean, right now, everyone's so concerned to debate WHY it's happening (or not happening) and/or what impact it might (or might not have) that we're not putting enough attention of if something's actually happening. Wouldn't it make more sense to verify there's a problem before trying to determine root cause and/or solutions? To quote another great: "Worry is the interest paid in advance on a debt that may never be owed."

To me, there seems to be sufficient evidence to indicate temps are going up. Personally, I couldn't care less why and am inclined to agree with those who say it's a natural occurrence and that we have nothing to do with it. I can live with slightly higher temps, too, but I'd like to have an idea of what impact it's going to have on me and mine. If we can do something about it, great, but I'd like to know how we're going to adapt (or if we even need to) if we can't.

On a tangent, perhaps if we "caused" global warming it's a self-healing problem. Higher temps means less cloud cover, right? That means solar becomes a much more viable solution, which means less pollution, which means less global warming. There, problem solved. :)

Posted by: Upstate Guy on April 13, 2007 11:14 AM


I am sorry to have to be pessimistic. There is no one you can trust. Everyone has a conflict of interest.

Even McIntyre. When McIntyre started his work, he was no one. Now he is someone. He, too, has "changed the world" - even if the world doesn't know it yet. He is naturally going to be more interested in facts that support his perspective, than in ones that don't.

Before WWII, when science actually was independent, this is how it worked. You had a pool of scientists which was tiny by today's standards, but each one of them could have their own little pet theory to defend. Progress was made when you exploded someone else's pet theory, often after great difficulty.

Now that pet theories are held not by little cliques of scientists, but by giant conglomerates of funding mafias and NGOs, what was once difficult has become simply impossible.

There is no future in climate science for an AGW skeptic. This is why all the skeptics that are still around are dinosaurs, full professors and professors emeritus. As a grad student or an assistant professor, you'd have to be crazy to attack these people. You'll never get a grant again.

Oh, sure. ExxonMobil might give you a hundred bucks here and there. Until they're buffaloed into submission like all the other oil companies. Businesses, contrary to popular belief, do not succeed by attacking the State. I may still have some fond memories of the Liberty League, but at least I don't act like it still exists and has only grown stronger.

Why on earth would you hitch your horse to this decrepit wagon? When there are rivers of enviro-cash to be had? Green indeed.

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 12:50 PM

Peter Winkler,

I know exactly what the difference is between climate and weather. I also knew that water vapor is the main greenhouse gas, not CO2, which many dips in the media don't know or write about. What I also know about being trained as an engineer is statistics and how scientists try to model complex natural phenomena with simple (even simplistic) equations they derive and computer modeling. With all the variables that go into climate and weather, even small changes in the values of the variables they assume would make the outcomes drastically different than what they are promoting. These models are really pretty useless in forecasting the future that far out. But you don't know that, do you? They know what they are promoting is shaky at best. But believe it or not, lots of scientists are political people too, and like the idea of being in the thick of things rather than on the margins. Some even have messianic tendencies. Did you know that?

I think that statistics courses should be mandatory for liberal arts types. Can you at least admit that you have no idea in judging the validity of such claims if you don't have a technical background? If so, why the jump to one conclusion or the other? Do you have a technical background? Why not the survey of the skeptics (actually the ones who are sane on the issue)?

Face it, a lot of you agree with the anti-big business and anti-industrial bias of the left, which is just the stale leftover of marxism and its disdain for the industrial revolution and the inequalities it fostered. The ruse of Global Warming has just been adopted by the left to try to dismantle the industrial revolution and return us to the joys of farm life. Ridiculous moldy leftovers! Why can't you see that you are being played? Why can't you see that marxism is the worst economic and political system ever created? Why are you people trying to institute that despicable failure of a system here and ruin us like marxism has ruined every other country?

Posted by: BIOH on April 13, 2007 12:59 PM

Peter Winkler,

I don't know why I bother responding to you when you dish out the good old stonewall - a rhetorical style that has always been the last, best resort of the powerful. The Ogre, as Auden put it, cannot master Speech.

So I suppose this is actually a response to Robert Townshend above - on global cooling. But it was triggered by that little masterpiece of propaganda on ""

The excuse that is offered for the global-cooling interlude (see here for the Gristmill story, which is typical) is fascinating. It is perhaps the most revealing story of all.

The excuse is: the popular press was making it all up. Sure there was a cover story in Newsweek. Sure there were big headlines in the New York Times. But we, the scientists, had nothing to do with that! You can't hold us responsible!

Yeah, sure. Journalists at the NYT make stuff up all the time. It's actually in their style manual. Slow news day? No problem. Just invent some kind of crisis or scandal.

Of course, that raises the question of why, if we shouldn't have believed the NYT then, we should believe it now. But never mind.

A while ago I was curious about this so I took a look at one or two of the "global cooling" articles from the '70s - not the popular press but the scientific publications. Stephen Schneider's work is a good example. What's there is very interesting, because it shows you that the ability of scientists to work the press is by no means new.

The writers of these articles knew they were predicting a relatively near-term catastrophe, and they knew that if the catastrophe didn't happen, there would be some kind of a backlash. So they hedged their bets. They used all kinds of weasel words. They never said, "there will be global cooling." They said, "there might be global cooling. And oh, there might be global warming, as well."

Technically inarguable. They didn't discount global nothing, either. There could be global nothing. In the language of politics, this strategy has a name - plausible deniability.

But they led with global cooling, and that's the story they fed to the press. Who of course printed it, etc. What does the press have to lose? Who can attack the press? The NYT could print nothing but lies for a year, and it would still be the most powerful institution in the world.

No doubt if global warming fails to pan out we will see exactly the same thing. Every "if," "maybe," or "but" in the fine print, previously unnoticed by all, will be trotted out and displayed prominently. It's Science, after all. How can you criticize Science?

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 1:09 PM

Upstate Guy,

I think your post is by far the most sensible on this thread.

You can see the weird post-Calvinist mysticism behind the global warming movement with a little thought-experiment.

Imagine that, instead of Scientists predicting that the earth was warming due to us all driving SUVs, they predicted exactly the same level of warming, due to natural oscillations in the sun.

Imagine that the solution the Scientists proposed was not a global program of eco-Puritanism, but Paul Crutzen's idea of pumping sulfur particles into the stratosphere.

How much attention do you think this problem, and this solution, would get? For that matter, how much attention has the Crutzen solution (which is independent of the cause of the warming, and could be implemented at a fraction of the cost of reducing CO2 emissions) received?

Yet the effects on humanity are exactly the same. Conclusion: whatever it is that makes the AGW movement so successful, it is not its (undoubtedly sincere) concern for humanity.

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 1:20 PM

"Face it, a lot of you agree with the anti-big business and anti-industrial bias of the left, which is just the stale leftover of marxism and its disdain for the industrial revolution and the inequalities it fostered."

I think a lot of people not inclined to believe in the consensus among the scientific community regarding climate change do so out of disdain for any hint of a lefty, environmental agenda. I would also agree that many on the left are more than glad to jump on the global warming bandwagon for the reasons you mention. Both sides run the risk of avoiding reason in favor of stroking their respective political leanings.

Where I come down on this is to lean towards caution and listen to people working in a specific field.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 13, 2007 1:44 PM

Mencius, now I ask - no, demand - that you start blogging on your own.

Or simply collect various sparks you sprayed around (before they started the fire), for my leasurely enjoyment.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 13, 2007 2:52 PM


Perhaps I can express myself more briefly by asserting a proposition: in the Western system of society as it now stands, it is possible to corrupt an entire field of science.

In other words, an entire department (such as paleoclimatology, or even climatology as a whole, or even environmental science as a whole) can stably exhibit systemic bias.

If you can refute this proposition, your case is made.

Of course you have to explain why past corruptions of science, such as Lysenkoism, the lag in accepting Wegener, "German physics," and so on, have occurred. Perhaps everything is, indeed, different now. Perhaps humans have simply become good and sweet.

Personally, I don't see a lot of goodness and sweetness around science. I see a lot of politics and a lot of power structures. I see that science, and the creation and distribution of information in general - what one might call, as a whole, "education" - has a role in the present Western structure of power that is perhaps best comparable to the influence of the military in Wilhelmine Germany.

Certainly, if you compare it to the position of the military in the West today, you can see that a Michael Mann has more influence on the actual course of history than any general since at least MacArthur. Suppose you were evil and you wanted to destroy the world, to lead it astray in the sickest and subtlest possible way? Would you rather be a general in the US Army, or a reporter at the New York Times, or a professor at Harvard? Which of these three is not like the other?

So you observe quite correctly that, today, in the world as it stands, there are some people, who presumably for reasons of pure obstinate ignorance if not actual venality, happen to reject this system. These people are predominantly (a) old, (b) stupid, (c) bad-tempered, and (d) corrupt.

Aha, you say! I see it. These people have every reason to reject the future. So why should I listen to them?

BIOH is right. If you follow this line, you is taking the bait. You think you're charging the matador, but you're charging the cape. You've done pushed the worm away and ate the hook.

Yes. It's true. These people do, in fact, have some influence in the world. And they are exactly the people you think they are.

But if you go back ten years ago, they had more influence than they have now. Go back twenty, etc, etc. In fact, if you go back not twenty but more like 150 years, at least in the US, I think you'll find that the power of this traditionalist haute-bourgeois "Dallas" style upper crust has been diminishing monotonically for the entire period.

Basically, your memetic immune system is still fighting the Civil War. It remains vigilant for Confederates everywhere. It is still even a little concerned about the Jacobites and the Cavaliers, who could at any time ride in on their snowy steeds. And what about the Papists? Could they be hiding in the Islets of Langerhans? Nuke 'em - just to be safe.

Meanwhile, in the exact opposite direction, you are getting reamed with an iron bar. But you don't notice, because you're keeping such a good eye out for the second coming of Nathan Bedford Forrest...

But I digress. In any case. Global warming. What you see is people who oppose the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis for the exact same reason they oppose Darwinian evolution, "rock music," or the bikini.

These people exist. Why wouldn't they? But what you are seeing is an entirely false opposition. They are allowed to exist because their existence demonstrates that opposition exists. You need your regular hour of hate against the "deniers."

But when a corrupt system suppresses opposition, it focuses on its most capable and accurate opponents. All you have to do is make it clear to young, ambitious scientists that working on the production of evidence to substantiate theory X is not a direction that will further their careers, and theory X will die.

For example, if theory X consists solely of the idea that some other theory Y, already established, is rotten to the core and deserves nothing less than the axe - that is, if theory X is an entirely negative result, and a result established not by science but by metascience, the philosophy of science - there can be no possible reason to invest one's career in it.

This is path-dependence in a nutshell. Again, why should the world be pretty? What, does it owe us?

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 2:55 PM


The problem is exactly that. It would need a name, and I get stuck going back and forth on whether it should have "Iskra" in it. I mean, why can't I be a libertarian Leninist? It worked for Lenin, didn't it? But on the other hand...

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 3:14 PM

Again, nicely written, but it doesn't really address what I said. Let's put it this way: Why do you, Mencius, not believe in the generally accepted view amongst the woefully human scientific community that a) the climate seems to be warming, and b) it may have something to do with human output? Is it out of sheer mistrust of institutions in general and/or the scientific community in particular, or do you have evidence that would refute the Chicken Littles clucking about global warming? Or is it both?

I'm not saying lack of evidence of one side is proof of the other. I'm merely saying that I choose to put my faith (gasp!) in people working on this issue. I do realize that an entire field of one thing or another can be systemically biased. For instance, the oil industry.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 13, 2007 4:29 PM

I don't believe in AGW for the same reason I don't believe in Zeus. (As Sam Harris puts it, "we're all atheists with respect to Zeus.") In general, I try not to believe things unless I have a reason to.

Basically, the logic I've laid out is my motivation for treating the Scientific Consensus as epistemologically irrelevant to my own estimation of future climate trends. I believe I've described a social process that could produce the Consensus whether or not the AGW proposition is true.

If anything makes science Science, it's that the "scientific method" is a social process which, in the past, has shown a tendency to eradicate error from its own conclusions.

I believe McIntyre's work has shown quite conclusively that, at least in the field of paleoclimatology, this process is not now operating, at least not in the form that produced its reputation.

I also believe that, since the culture of climate modelers (such as James Hansen) does not appear to differ from that of paleoclimatologists, and since climate modelers have at least as much, if not more, of an opportunity to tune their models in the same way that paleoclimatologists tuned their statistics, I should treat the information generated by both with the same distrust.

Since AGW research consists (since it can only consist) of modeling and paleoclimatology (the former is much more important - the paleoclimate follies are very much a canary in the coal-mine kind of thing), I choose to ignore it.

For example, if climate modelers wanted me to change my decision on this, they would have to build a new climate model in a clean-room process, which (a) correctly simulated Earth's climate in the past and (b) was not made to do so after a very extensive process of tuning, with abundant opportunities for the introduction of unconscious bias.

To be more specific, the largest source of uncertainty in climate models (GCMs, general circulation models) is their handling of water. ("Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln...")

As BIOH notes, water in the vapor phase is a greenhouse gas. Water in the solid phase, and aerosolized water in the liquid phase, reflect radiation back out into space and cool the earth.

The interaction between these phases, and the more common surface liquid phase (like WC Fields, I never touch the stuff) is chaotic, which essentially means unsimulatable.

All GCMs in operation today predict a powerful positive feedback effect from (clear) water vapor, which strikes me as a pretty convenient truth if ya know what I mean. As notorious climate-criminal Richard Lindzen points out, the increased temperature caused by CO2 can just as easily produce a negative feedback from increasing cloud cover.

I'll bet something like 1% of the people who read about global warming in the papers know that the effect is logarithmic. Doubling the CO2 concentration produces a global radiation increase that, in the absence of modeling, if you just run the numbers straight, would make Earth about 1C warmer. Double it again - same result.

In the last century, CO2 has gone from about 280ppm to about 380ppm. The level of positive feedback the GCMs need to assume in order to turn this into an epic human catastrophe is, obviously, quite nontrivial. In fact, with a little more tuning, the GCMs would probably be quite happy to turn us into Venus.

And if that result generated more funding for the people writing the GCM, that's probably exactly what it would print out. But there's a balance of credibility that has to be maintained. In fact, GCMs in testing apparently quite often turn the Earth into a snowball or a boiling planet. The fact that they work at all is a genuine accomplishment.

So what is my prediction of the weather in 2057? I have no idea, I am not a climatologist. But Nir Shaviv's view strikes me as pretty sensible.

Of course, Shaviv is just one guy. He's not a Consensus. I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you on that one, although again, if you are interested in the subject, Climate Audit is the place to be.

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 5:47 PM

Mencius, "iskra" means "spark" in Polish, and perhaps other Slavic languages too. Just noticing.

I don't think a blog would work for you. I think you're at your best, and most motivated, as a visiting commentator. Faced with a blank input screen, you'd ask yourself, "now what?"

So keep 'em coming here at 2Blowhards. Your comments are some of the most original, entertaining, and possibly, most startlingly true writing I've come across on the Web.

Posted by: PA on April 13, 2007 6:38 PM

Well, here's hoping you're right.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 13, 2007 6:47 PM

Mencius, you can call it "crock-pot", and I still be reading.

*wispering* PA, I think Mencius is quite aware of the translation.

I disagree with you - so what if M looks at the screen as blank as his brain at the moment every once and a while? All he has to do is to visit couple of hundred people a day who think they had something coherent to tell the world- and then bomb them to pieces from the comfort of his own property.

Besides, it'll be much more convenient for those who don't want to labor for sparkles in the mud. yes, I know I'm lazy - but then didn't laziness ignited industrial revolution?

Posted by: Tatyana on April 13, 2007 7:59 PM


Thanks - maybe we'll put that one to the test. ("Iskra" does indeed mean "spark" in Russian too - I believe it was the title of the little rag Lenin edited in Zurich.)

Patriarch, indeed! I sometimes find it interesting to consider whether my view on a subject is not right or left, but optimistic or pessimistic. If you realigned the US into Optimist and Pessimist parties, you'd certainly get some interesting ideological bedfellows.

Posted by: Mencius on April 13, 2007 10:34 PM

Not to toss in too red a herring here, but I'm curious; there seems to be an obvious political/ideological division when discussing this scientific subject. If we look at other issues entirely, say WMDs instead of AGW, why does one side opt so often for consensus while the other follows a "one percent rule' (if there is a one percent chance we're right nd not the consensus, we need to act.)? Do we want consensus or decisions made by true believers?

Posted by: Chris White on April 14, 2007 10:41 AM

Mencius, everyone is both a pessimist and an optimist, depending on the subject. As Chris White points out, change the scientific topic, and suddenly everyone shifts to the other side.

Anyway, I think it was me who first urged you to get a blog, so do it already. Don't cost nothin'.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 14, 2007 5:00 PM


I agree - that's a very insightful comment. It's always interesting to look at the thinking processes on each side of any issue, and I do like the AGW/WMD analogy...

No faction today is entirely optimistic or entirely pessimistic. But that doesn't mean you can't regroup their thoughts and imagine what the platform of, say, the Optimist Party, would be...

Patriarch, yeah, we've got a team looking at that right now. Here at Mencius Global we try to think real hard before snaking any of our corporate tentacles into something new and untried. Oil services have been good to us lately, people will always want to smoke tobacco, and the market for baby seal skins is as strong as ever. But maybe we'll still give it a shot.

Posted by: Mencius on April 14, 2007 8:54 PM

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