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2013 SkS Weekly Digest #43

Posted on 27 October 2013 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

Before he left for a much deserved, two-week vacation in Australia, Dana posted two articles,Why trust climate models? It's a matter of simple science and Fox News defends global warming false balance by denying the 97% consensus. The comment threads of these two articles were the most active of the articles posted this past week.  

Toon of the Week

2013 Toon 43

Quote of the Week

"The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is," Gifford Miller, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a joint statement from the school and the publisher of the journal Geophysical Researcher Letters, in which the study by Miller and his colleagues was published online this week. "This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Arctic Temperatures Highest in at Least 44,000 Years by Douglas Main, Live Science, Oct 24, 2013

SkS Week in Review

Coming Soon on SkS

  • The Sun Has Cooled, So Why Are The Deep Oceans Warming? (Rob Painting)
  • Escaping the warmth: The Atlantic cod conquers the Arctic (John Hartz)
  • What's funnier than a climate denier at a science fair? (greenman)
  • 2013 SkS Weekly News Roundup #44A (John Hartz)
  • Eight years' worth of current emissions halves the chances of staying below two degrees warming (Roz Pidcock)
  • Keystone XL and Canadian tar sands are incompatible with solving climate change (John Abraham)
  • How we discovered the 97% scientific consensus on man-made global warming (MarkR)
  • Climate Science History - interactive style (Paul D)
  • 2013 SkS Weekly News Roundup #44B (John Hartz)

In the Works

  • How did Ancient Coral Survive in a High CO2 World? (Rob Painting)

SkS in the News

In his blog post,Joe Bastardi, a Bad Penny, David Appell sends his readers to Dana's article, One Confusedi Bastardi.

In his Clean Technica article,Note To University Press Release Writers, Zachary Kahn advises his readers to use both the Skeptical Science website and the Debunking Handbook to learn how to communicate the science better.

The Debunking Handbook is prominently featured on the homepage of the Climate Change Task Force, The Climate Change Portal of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office  or UU-UNO.

Grant McDermott, who writes blog post articles for the Energy Collective, relies on SkS for climate science updates.

SkS Spotlights

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office promotes well-being, peace, and justice throughout the world. Crucial to this effort is combating the impacts of the man-made global warming trend of climate change. The VISION of the UU-UNO Climate Change Initiative is a world with mitigated climate change viable for us and future generations. The MISSION is to provide motivation for climate action. An ambitious PROJECT underway is sparking the creation of a network of Climate Action Teams CATs in UU Congregations. Click HERE for information.

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Comments 1 to 15:

  1. Since these posts are usually the 'open threads' at Skeptical Science, I thought I would re-direct the conversation developing here to this one.

    With respect to engineers and climate science denial, there is a (sort of) joke, called the 'Salem Hypothesis', originating among people debating evolution with creationists, that engineers are over-represented among creationists with advanced (STEM) education. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to expect a similar (if not quite identical) outcome when considering AGW contrarianism or even denialism.

    Interestingly, papers such as this one suggest engineers might be predisposed to the sort of worldview or mindset correlating strongly with the adoption of religious creationism, or indeed AGW contrarianism/denialism.

    (Note that examining the adoption of contrarian beliefs with respect to specific fields of science is beyond the purview of the paper, which seeks to empirically confirm and account for the over-representation of engineers among violent Islamic organizations. It would be interesting to find further research specifically looking at the differing likelihood of people with advanced degrees to adopt unsupportable or conspiracist positions with respect to climate science, medicine, and so on.)

    (For those unfamiliar with the acronym, STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine.)

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Good call. Thank you.

  2. Since he is a chemical engineer, perhaps DSL should ask him if he is aware that, besides making an invalid argument, the same Steven Goddard he's referring to was the proponent of atmospheric carbon removal by deposition of carbonic snow in Antarctica (coz it's really cold down there you know). Last time I looked, WUWT had somewhat cleaned up that thread to make it look less ridiculous, something they have done on many occasions with their more laughable stuff (of which SG was a major contributor).


    The comment thread is still a class act of ignorance, stupidity and arrogance. The peanut gallery bought the thing hook, line and sinker, despite the occasional voice of reason pointing to vapor pressure and the phase diagram.


    They eventually let Steven go and be ridiculous by himself, something he did notably in 2012 on YouTube, when he said that the big storm was going to halt the Arctic sea ice melt. He later removed that clip from YouTube. I can attest of that because I responded on the comment thread. The clip no longer figures on his channel's list. 

    You'd think such a heavily credentialed engineer would know better...


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  3. No - he linked to a GWPF article on PDO.  I posted the abstract to Kosaka & Xie 2013, and he disappeared.  It was a Daily Caller stream.  Yah, I stepped right into the middle of the madness, asking for the pride of conservatism: a well-evidenced, well-reasoned argument against the theory of anthropogenic global warming.  Despite the heavy traffic, all of four people took me up on it.  From the number of "likes" on my interlocutors' posts, there must have been a decent crowd watching the exchange.  Perhaps utterly useless, but perhaps deep seeding. 

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  4. GISS L-OTI arrived this evening.  It will probably be revised down slightly, but at this point it's 1.01C for land and .74C for L-OTI -- easily the warmest September for GISS, despite the ENSO-neutral conditions.

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  5. Composer99

    Enough of the engineer-bashing already!

    papers such as this one suggest engineers might be predisposed to the sort of worldview or mindset correlating strongly with the adoption of religious creationism, or indeed AGW contrarianism/denialism.

    Respectfully, the paper shows no such thing.  Indeed, it does the precise opposite! It in fact argues that Islamic extremism is a special case, due to engineers networks, technical skills and social conditions, and finds this is not replicated to other forms of extremism.

    From the abstract:

    engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists

    Noting that Lewandowsky associates AGW denialism with laissez-faire economics ie right wing extremism if anything, this paper, if relevant at all to AGW, could only be argued as placing engineers as no different to other groups.

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  6. @VeryTallGuy #5: 

    My sentiments exactly.

    BTW, I have a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree. 

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  7. Further to VeryTallGuy and John and as a sample of the pragmatism of engineers, here's a sample of recent contributions to dealing with climate change by Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Climate Decision Making Center. (CDMC). CDMC is a unit of CMU's higly respected Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP).

    It's notable that among all the papers published through EPP and CDMC, you won't find a single proposition that anthropogenic climate change is a problem that can be ignored or is false. 

    Real engineers try to solve problems using engineering skills rather than trying to wish them away.

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  8. Engineers, physicists, economists, meteorologists, geologists, emeritus PhD's - No profession is immune to the mistakes of pontificating in an area not of your expertise, of confirmation bias, of looking at a large and unfamiliar field of data and theory - and claiming "Oh, look, you forgot to carry the '2', and hence you are completely wrong..."

    No person is immune to beginners mistakes in fields they do not know. And if the person in question is well established in their own field, used to being right, to being the reference point to others in that field, it can be difficult to put down the ego and humble oneself to being a starting student. 

    And worst of all, the drive, confidence, and ego involved with being an expert in one field can make it all but impossible for that person to even recognize their own lack of expertise in another. 

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  9. Imagine how far those poor sods with humanities degrees have to go.  Still, as KR points out (implicitly), I . . . err . . . they may have an advantage in not having to overcome the biases encouraged by their training.  I've been wrong so many times (thank you, Tom) that I get over it pretty quickly.  

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  10. I'll argue that the scanty natural sciences degree requirements for a BA are sufficient for humanities majors to easily gain a toehold on the subject of climate science, certainly enough to grasp the inevitabilities forthcoming from the underlying physics.

    Same deal as an engineer's impoverished exposure to visual arts, for instance. A handful of courses is enough to distinguish between up and down, left and right, where to find more information. 

    If executed in good faith, typical baccalaureate specifications will inevitably create the potential for a useful generalist, a broad mind.

    Whether or not an effectively liberal education with a bent in any particular direction can overcome inherent fallibilities is quite another matter. Chris Horner suffices as an example of this indeterminacy. Bill Nye is another, Ray Kurzweil yet another, and then there's the guy who has been key* to the success of the NASA Mars rover programs. 


    *Deep pun. See this. 


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  11. @John Hartz #6

    Full disclosure:  I have a Masters in Chemical Engineering

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  12. VeryTallGuy & John Hartz:

    I overstated the case I was making in comment #1, for which I apologize. I will stand by the statement that, based on the findings in GH2007, one can reasonably expect to see engineers form a larger proportion of climate science contrarians than other STEM professionals.

    GH2007 reviewed previous work documenting the political & religious views of academics in the US and elsewhere and found that on the average engineering faculty & students are more politically conservative (pp. 45-50), or more religious (pp. 51-53), or both, than their counterparts in other fields.

    This is a key finding in the paper, as noted in the abstract:

    We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern ["that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent [Islamist] groups in both" the Middle East/North Africa region and North America/Europe]. Is the engineers’ prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries? We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings [...] [emphasis mine]

    To the best of my knowledge, political conservatism and religious belief are both strongly associated (perhaps even causally related) with the willingness to adopt contrarian positions on evolutionary biology and climatology. (I am not sure, VeryTallGuy, that either creationism or climate contrarianism can be said to be extremist as social phenomena even though they clearly are extreme scientific positions.)

    As final notes:

    • For what it is worth, which may be very little, I began my own post-secondary education studying software engineering.
    • With respect to my own current vocation, my admittedly anecdotal experience suggests on average practicing musicians and other performing artists are far more likely to have contrarian positions on various scientific subjects, including harmful positions such as anti-vaccine sentiments, than are practicing engineers or other STEM professionals, and for far weaker reasons.
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  13. Composer99,

    well, I think I owe you an apology too - I misread the abstract, your reading #12 looks correct.

    However, I can't agree with

    based on the findings in GH2007, one can reasonably expect to see engineers form a larger proportion of climate science contrarians than other STEM professionals.

    initially on the facts:

    Firstly, rather than a "reasonable expectation", it's a huge extrapolation from the paper, which is about Jihadism, not climate denial. 

    Secondly, the data in the paper is mainly US based, and what little data there is from elsewhere shows major differences vs US and also is very  hard to compare directly.  For example, whilst I have nothing against Town Planners, I wouldn't at all agree they should be included in "engineers"!

    Thirdly, your statement above seems to state that you expect engineer contrarians to be more numerous than other STEM contrarians.  That depends not only on proportions, but on numbers - you'd also need to demonstrate the total numbers to support your statement.  However, for example in the UK engineers are only about 1/3 of STEM total, see

    Fourthly, I'm not aware of any correlation between religious belief and climate contrarianism as you assert.  I'd be interested if you can point towards any evidence for this?


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  14. And now on impact - why does this matter?

    I guess I’m interested (and likely biased) because I’m an engineer. I’m also interested in the motivations and causes of climate change denial.

    One of the drivers to increase entrenched positions in the debate, I believe, is the tendency to pidgeonhole or stereotype viewpoints. To include entire professions without a very careful examination of what is actually being suggested risks both alienating potential allies and obscuring the true root causes.

    Let’s say, for instance that at least a proportion of your hypothesis is true. I would not be surprised, for instance, to discover that “a larger proportion of US educated engineers than US educated natural scientists doubt the significance of human caused climate change”, although I’ve not seen any actual evidence to support that.

    If this were true, it would be useful to understand why. The paper you cite suggests that those in the US with a conservative and religious background are more likely to choose engineering than other STEM subjects. We could hypothesise the reasons for that, perhaps an unwillingness to choose subjects like biology likely to challenge core values such as creationism, or maybe a desire to uphold core values like economic self-sufficiency through a clear path to employment.

    Whether contrarianism of engineers, even if true, has anything to do with engineering per se is then questionable. It could only really be linked to engineering, rather than values and background, if it were shown that an engineering education increased this tendency. I suggest that is highly unlikely. As John points out, engineering faculties and institutions are, in fact very active in teaching and research on mitigation and adaptation to climate change and show, as far as I’m aware, no contrarian inclinations whatever.

    Which leaves the fundamental issue as nothing to do with professions, but rather on values:

    How do we engage with those who believe that climate science is in conflict with their core values?

    Stereotyping of groups in general and engineers in particular will only make that engagement more difficult.

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  15. VeryTallGuy:

    Because I do not intend to portray engineers, as an aggregate, as being likely to become climate science contrarians, I think I shall simply apologize for bringing the speculation up at all and leave it at that.

    Fourthly, I'm not aware of any correlation between religious belief and climate contrarianism as you assert. I'd be interested if you can point towards any evidence for this?

    As far as this goes, the second survey I linked to in #12 surveys the religious affiliation of the respondents, as well as their views on climate change.

    On pp. 28, we see that respondents identifying as Republican come in at 6% with no religious belief vs. respondents identifying as Tea Party coming it at 8%, vs. a national average of 14% (the "None") entry. In other words, these respondents were also more likely to identify as religious than respondents in other categories, as well as more likely to identify as being skeptical of global warming (whether of its existence or of its anthropogenic origin). Tea Party members also appeared to be the most likely to walk the walk - more Tea Party respondents attended a religious devotional gathering more than once per week or participated in "extra-curricular" religious activities than any other group (although curiously they were more likely than Republican respondents to never attend a religious service).

    I have found a more useful (in my opinion) survey here, dating from 2008, which examines the relationship between acceptance of global warming evidence as compared to religious belief, without also tying in political orientation. It is worth noting that only respondents who identified as "Unaffiliated" agreed in the majority that the Earth was warming (primarily) due to human activity.

    While the largest single bloc of respondents in each other religious group noted in the findings also agreed that the earth was warming (primarily) due to human activity, it remains the case that that bloc represented a minority of respondents. That is, the majority of respondents identifying with specific religious groups (in large enough numbers to be included in the analysis) included some sort of contrarianism in their response.

    There is also this report, which also surveyed respondents and found (on pp. 5 - page 6 of the PDF) that, where in 2008 respondents were very unlikely to cite political orientation or religious beliefs (separately) as reasons not to accept the existence of global warming (religious beliefs cited in under 1% of cases), by 2012 they were much more likely to do so (by 2012 religious beliefs cited in 10% of cases).

    I found some other surveys related to the topic, but like the one linked to in #12 they mixed political orientation & religious belief together, making it hard to see any separate relationship.

    The linked surveys are US-only, so the results may not hold elsewhere. I should also add that, not being a statistician I am not in a position to say whether these surveys are quality evidence or not.

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