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Mythic Reasoning about Climate Uncertainty

Posted on 29 August 2011 by muoncounter

In her June 2011 paper, Reasoning about climate uncertainty, Dr. Judith Curry earns a place of honor in the pantheon of climate myth-makers.  The paper takes us on a perilous journey from climate science to the realms of semantics and psychology; along the way, we find we must do battle with a monster.  All the elements of an epic myth!

This paper argues that the IPCC has oversimplified the issue of uncertainty in its Assessment Reports, which can lead to misleading overconfidence.

An auspicious start, promising scientific insight above and beyond the now-famous "Wow."   But by "oversimplified the issue of uncertainty," isn't she really saying 'understated the uncertainty'?  What does the ambiguous "can lead to" mean?  That phrase could apply to just about anything (including the tendency of horses to refuse a drink).

The remainder of the paper neither presents new evidence nor makes any attempt to argue against existing evidence .  We find instead, this lesson in stylistic criticism:

In practice, primary conclusions in the AR4 included a mixture of likelihood and confidence statements that are ambiguous. Curry and Webster (2011) have raised specific issues with regards to the statement “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations,” that are related to apparent circular reasoning in the attribution argument and ambiguity in the attribution statement itself.  --emphasis added

According to Dr. Curry's online publication list (as of 20 Aug 2011), Curry and Webster 2011, entitled "Climate science and the uncertainty monster," is in review for publication in the Bull. of the American Meteorological Society.  An online preprint is available here.

The 'uncertainty monster' is given teeth here:

The “monster” is therefore the confusion and ambiguity associated with knowledge versus ignorance, objectivity versus subjectivity, facts versus values, prediction versus speculation, and science versus policy.  The uncertainty monster gives rise to discomfort and fear, ....

The vital question of scientific uncertainty has nothing to do with knowledge vs. ignorance or science vs. policy; it has everything to do with accurate determination of physical quantities, and the confidence one may place in the validity of those measurements.  This is given serious treatment by serious workers:   See this post by tamino, who draws a useful line between a trend and various types of noise that may obscure the trend, and this SkS post by hfranzen, who discusses uncertainty as inherent in the type of science being done.   Dr. Curry's paper has turned a serious question on its head; by anthropomorphizing the concept of uncertainty, it is something to be feared rather than understood.

We have thus entered a myth worthy of Lewis Carroll:

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jub-Jub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"


Look again at the IPCC statement labeled as ambiguous: 

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”


The IPCC AR4 chapter 1 section 1.6 unambiguously specifies 'very likely' as more than a 90% probability of occurrence.  The only possible ambiguity is the word 'most' (and certainly we can agree that 'most' means 'more than 50%').   If the IPCC had stated a specific percentage, skeptics could just as easily pick at the number (or the number of significant digits).  Arguing the choice of words, rather than the evidence, is a sure sign that thre is little evidence on her side.  But myths don't need evidence.

What we read next comes sounds like psychological analysis:

“All else being equal, individuals tend to be significantly better at detecting fallacies when the fallacy occurs in an argument for a conclusion which they disbelieve, than when the same fallacy occurs in an argument for a conclusion which they believe.”

That statement, an outgrowth of confirmation bias, is surely a sword that cuts both ways!

"As more and more peers weigh in on a given issue, the proportion of the total evidence which consists of higher order psychological evidence [of what other people believe] increases, and the proportion of the total evidence which consists of first order evidence decreases . . .  “Over time, this invisible hand process tends to bestow a certain competitive advantage to our prior beliefs with respect to confirmation and disconfirmation. . . In deciding what level of confidence is appropriate, we should take into account the tendency of beliefs to serve as agents in their own confirmation.”

Unfortunately for this argument, it is the weight of the evidence of climate change in general and anthropogenic influence in particular that continues to grow; the 'invisible hand' has no documented effect on the scientific community.  Given all the public scrutiny, what climate scientist merely accepts the conclusions of his or her peers solely because 'that's what the experts say'?  Given the relative ease of access to data, why would anyone with a truly skeptical mind do that?

We find instead that this 'invisible hand' pushes those who self-identify as 'skeptics' to denying the data and the physics.  Denial pushes people towards increasingly radical positions, such as the rejection of science simply because of a lack of trust in 'experts.'  From there, it is a short trip to leveling accusations of manipulating data for financial gain and declaring that those are the opposite side are out to destroy their way of life.  Those in denial don't need to ask for evidence of any of these things; they know these things to be true because that's what their myths tell them to believe.  True skeptics and serious scientists don't think that way.

Finally, we read this:

The consilience of evidence argument is not convincing unless it includes parallel evidence-based analyses for competing hypotheses. Any system that is more inclined to admit one type of evidence or argument rather than another tends to accumulate variations in the direction towards which the system is biased. ... To be convincing, the arguments for climate change need to change from the one-sided consilience of evidence model to parallel evidence-based analyses of competing hypotheses.

This would be possible had the mythic uncertainty monster not left such a strong impression: We don't know enough or won't ever know enough to have a rational debate between competing hypotheses.  Pity there, because most of the 'competing hypotheses' are themselves myths already rebutted here at SkS.

Myths grow via retelling.  In this paper,  Dr. Curry acknowledges the "contributions of the Denizens of my blog Climate Etc. for their insightful comments."   In so doing, the myth-peddler sets a dangerous precedent.  Can scientists who also write blogs now repackage a selection of their followers' comments in the form of scientific publication?   If true, this is a quantum leap in the power and reach of the pseudo-science blog and a handicap for those that merely practice actual research.  We are truly at the door to the Land of Make Believe.  Or as Dr. Curry likes to put it, 'we've been busy slaying the skydragons'.

Carroll (a mathematician, whose real name was Charles Dodgson) would enjoy the metaphorical slaying of the 'uncertainty monster ':

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 74:

  1. Seems to me that Curry has made this inapt (or is it inept) metaphor a foundation for her pronouncements on the state of climate science. All that somewhat clever verbiage for what basically amounts to "we don't know everything, so we cannot know or say anything", which is exactly what the rejectionists want to hear. I do agree that giving the commenters over at Climate Etc. a degree of credibility and influence is dangerous and odd; from my various visits there, many are merely using personal political dogma as a basis for their comments, with very little actual science or scientific thought applied to the subject. A more-appropriate venue for the commenters' "contributions" would be a journal in psychology or sociology, not BAMS.
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  2. The trees seem to prevent Dr. Curry from seeing the forest.
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  3. Jeff T#2: That's a common enough problem; it can require a good deal of work (and skill) to see a trend in noisy data. But why populate the forest with scary 'monsters'?
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  4. "To be convincing, the arguments for climate change need to change from the one-sided consilience of evidence model to parallel evidence-based analyses of competing hypotheses." I guess this explains why she takes the iron sun types who comment on her blog seriously ... just wait until the moon's made of green cheese types find her blog!
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  5. I trust that this comment is not viewed as ad hominem, and I certainly do not mean for it to be taken as such. I have great respect for Dr. Curry and the others that I will mention as productive scientists and esteemed members of their profession. However, I believe that there is a valid point about the social and affective cognition of some of the more prominent and argumentative scientists. Dr. Curry is certainly one of them, as is Pielke, Jr., Pielke, Sr., John Christy, and others that I could name. There can be little doubt that all of these scientists have excellent minds, and there is little question that they have high standards of ethics. Their funding streams appear to be impeccable, and they do not seem to be motivated by vested outside interests. I have no knowledge of how their politics and religious views may or may not influence their conduct of science. To illustrate what I am talking about, take a look at the baroque reasoning about the IPCC definition of uncertainty that Curry uses in her recent submission to AMS. To be sure, her argument is internally consistent and rational, but it is my view an over interpretation of the IPCC process for gaining consensus. Similarly, her criticism of the models is nothing new, and I doubt that any of our mainstream climate modelers would take huge issue with many if not most of her concerns. All of this is beside the real issue here. The monster is NOT the uncertainty, but rather anthropogenic climate change itself. EOS and PNAS both recently published independent surveys of climate scientists and showed that a vastly overwhelming majority of these scientists do indeed consider the basic tenants of anthropogenic forcing of the atmosphere to be settled and agreed upon. For Dr. Curry or anyone to suggest or imply that all of these sharp, critically thinking individuals are misguided by inappropriate faith in certainty is simply too much to swallow whole. As a scientist, my ethical obligation is to falsify hypotheses as I develop my research program. The vast majority of climate scientists and scientists (myself included) would be delighted to falsify AGW. So why do these individuals push back on mainstream climate science so insistently and vehemently? It may be that they simply believe as scientists that we are all wrong, but I think that because we are social primates affective forces are in play. A recent example of this is a British television interview of Chris Field and Roger Pielke, Jr. It is very apparent in this interview that Roger's feelings are hurt and that he is harboring deep resentment. His behavior and arguments are affectively driven, although his language is intellectual. I have seen similar displays from Christy and certainly from Curry. I believe that there is evidence that their seeming crusades, which are presented as intellectual diligence, are in fact an affectively driven response to the criticisms that they have received from the academic community. This is unfortunate, and in this highly politicized environment, it does little to clarify the issues for the lay public. Note that this concern could be leveled at scientists on all sides of AGW. The fundamental reality is that the cost error with respect to AGW is enormous and possibly devastating to our species. I believe that it is not appropriate for any of us to publicly seek personal reparations through intellectual discourse. I am truly sorry if these individuals feel hurt, but the stakes are huge and we should all be focused like a laser on the big issues, not just the intellectual minutia of our respective niches. I question Dr. Curry to ask herself if she really thinks that her line of reasoning will result in the falsification of AGW. If so, then please carry on and work hard to enlighten us. If not, then maybe our world would be better served if you turn your considerable talent to something more productive for our kids and grand kids (e.g., your paper on logical fallacies is destined to be a classic). We all share an obligation to the future and we should be working together to build a better world for our kids. Obviously, the above is simply my opinion based on my observations of my colleagues and their behavior over the last decade. I could be wrong, but I know that It is rough out there, as I am sure Michael Mann would agree. I think that we should all take a deep breath and analyze our motives. I am routinely accused of bad motives and being a knee-jerk liberal, when in fact I work very hard to be a scholar of the literature and a critical thinker. Deep introspection and self honesty is required of me. The bloody tirades focused on Dr. Mann attest to the threatening professional environment of climate science. We should all be bigger than this kind of affectively motivated reasoning. Dr. Curry, in your case, I believe "winning" the argument could result in our children losing the biggest argument of all. Am I sure of this?, not 100%, but as reported in PNAS about your peers, perhaps I am 97% sure. Thanks for considering my thoughts. Stephen Mulkey, PhD President, Unity College
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    [DB] Thank you, Dr. Mulkey, for your insightful, measured and reasoned perspective.

  6. smulkey#5: "Deep introspection and self honesty is required of me." A fundamental point; one that should be required of every scientist, if not every human being. One must ask oneself 'how do I really know this?' or 'can I really support this?' and often 'is what I am about to say really that valuable?' Unfortunately the phenomenon of 'blog science' creates a virtual platform that is all too easy to abuse; unless tempered by these questions, the results are of little or no value. Curry's act of quoting her own blog comments in a published paper takes this to a new and potentially very harmful extreme. I vastly prefer the thinking of the grad student at the end of yesterday's Schneider Symposium who stated something to the effect of "Facebook and Twitter are terrible ways to communicate science."
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  7. "To be convincing, the arguments for climate change need to change from the one-sided consilience of evidence model to parallel evidence-based analyses of competing hypotheses." So, for example, we need parallel evidenced-based analyses of the following competing hypotheses:- 1. "The earth is warming" vs "The earth is not warming" 2. "It's CO2 forcing" vs "It's the sun" 3. "It's anthropogenic CO2" vs "It's volcanic CO2" and so on. Funny. I thought that had been done already.
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  8. AB#7: "I thought that had been done already." Spend some quality time browsing the comments on these misinformer sites and you'll find that folks there do not inhabit the same reality as the rest of us. In their world, warming stopped in '98, the warmest year was '34, the Arctic is recovering nicely, etc. There's even a new meme starting today: Hurricanes aren't linked to warming - because Irene didn't get to cat 4 or 5 and 'weakened' as it moved north. The fact that some can make such statements before the rain stops and the damage assessment is done is repugnant to anyone who has ever lived through such a storm. When a serious scientist makes a statement like 'we need evidenced-based analysis,' you have to wonder if they haven't been in that world so long they would no longer recognize ours.
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  9. The change in Dr. Curry's approach to science in a few short years is fascinating. I was very impressed with the first paper of hers I read which is a sort of forensic/logical dissection of the arguments used by various people including "well-known global warming deniers" (her phrase) who set about muddying the interpretations on her earlier study of increased contemporary hurricane intensity. She comes down firmly on the side of the hypothesis (incorporated in the title of her paper just below), and describes the problems wth media and World Wide Web in muddying the debate. J. A. Curry, P. J. Webster, AND G. J. Holland (2006) Mixing politics and science in testing the hypothesis that greenhouse warming is causing a global increase in hurricane intensity Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc. Aug 2006, 1025-1037 link to paper (hope it's freely accesible) The abstract of the paper is fascinating as it indicates a startling volte face in her subsequent approach to science, science misrepresentation, and uncertainty:
    abstract: This complex hypothesis has been muddied frequently in recent public debate, yet can be clarified by laying bare the underlying causal chain and potential approach to verification.
    Since now she's actively promoting "muddying" of the science in "public debate". And whereas (as muoncounter has described above) Curry and Webster quibble over the phrase from the IPCC report that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations,” (apparently forgetting that this phrase only has meaning in the context of the large amount of evidence presented in the associated reports), these two (Curry and Webster) were careful to point out in the hurricane/hypothesis paper that:
    "These simulations and analyses provide solid evidence that the global surface temperature trend since 1970 (including the trend in tropical SSTs) cannot be reproduced in climate models without the inclusion of anthropogenic greenhouse gases."
    ...and addressing the null hypothesis that: "Recent trends in tropical surface temperatures are not a response to greenhouse warming.", Curry and Webster come down firmly on the sie of rejecting the null hypothesis:
    "Hence, the null hypothesis is rejected because the trend in tropical SST cannot be explained by natural internal variability and/or volcanic eruptions or solar variability, and the observed trend is consistent with model simulations associated with forcing from greenhouse gases."
    What on earth happened? From a careful and logical analysis of the evidence that bears on an aspect of climate science including cautionary accounts about the problems of science denialism and Web- and media-based a complete switch of viewpoint in which Web-based misrepresentation and promotion of nonsensical faux-explanations of otherwise rather well-supported science are actively encouraged....all in the space of a few years...
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  10. Seems to me that Curry's latest is simply an erudite game with words, "full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." DaveW
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  11. chris#9: That is a stunning find; the paper is indeed available in pdf from your link - thanks! It is quite a difference from the current party line, which includes:
    And finally, I’m sure you knew it had to be coming: Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming The quote is from Bill McKibben, cited in a post at Collide-a-Scape. Apparently Kevin Trenberth’s reversal of the null hypothesis has taken hold in certain segments.

    The 2006 paper quotes Trenberth as inspiration: Trenberth (2005) published a commentary in Science raising the issue as to whether the increase in North Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995 could be attributed to global warming. This paper motivated us to begin looking at global hurricane data. Here is Curry's own reversal of the null hypothesis: while there are uncertainties and heterogeneities in the global hurricane dataset, the magnitude of the trend identified by WHCC is sufficiently large that the null hypothesis must be rejected based upon the currently documented uncertainties in the dataset. Acknowledgments go to Trenberth, Emmanuel and others - most notably the arch-enemy Joe Romm; a far cry from thanking the denizens of ClimateEtc for their 'contributions.' I believe this is known in political circles as a flip-flop.
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  12. I continue to be disappointed in how little science is presented in Dr. Curry's pronouncements. She also fails to point out that uncertainty cuts both ways.
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  13. SkS should create a button for its series of articles about Dr. Curry's pronouncements -- "Curry's Curios" perhaps.
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  14. muoncounter: that is indeed extraordinary. I wonder if Curry offers extraordinary evidence to explain her change of mind on global warming? If not, then it certainly leaves one wondering as to how & why someone can so completely change their public statements on an issue. As you've suggested, in politics it's all too common, and driven by a motivation to gain or retain elected office. Elsewhere, the motivation is generally ideological, religious, or financial (or a combination thereof).
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  15. muoncounter, Dr. Curry isn't the only scientist who's scientific philosophy has changed dramatically from straightforward participation in the scientific effort to politicized (one assumes) support of science mirepresentation. The psychology associated with these transitions is rather fascinating. Craig Loehle provides another example: 20-odd years ago Loehle felt so strongly against attempts at political interference in science, and particularly the efforts at "fraud-hunting" and "auditing" that he wrote a letter to Nature on the subject. some excerpts [see Nature (1989) 338, p. 370]:
    "There is a danger in the controversy over fraud in science of merging the concepts of fraud and error. The call for an audit of scientific papers for error is a symptom of this trend. Fraud such as fabricating data or publishing the work of other's as one's own is of course serious, particularly when it involves assessment of drugs and other medical treatments whwre lives are at stake. But error is an inevitable part of science. The fundamental point is being missed in the current debate...."
    and towards the end:
    "Who will review the error hunters? Who is qualified to punish whom?"
    And yet Loehle spends time on a blog where the sort of "auditing" that he decried all those years ago is used to bully and harass scientists. Googling "Craig Loehle fraud", uncovers many examples of his (scientifically pretty dismal) work being used to bolster the efforts of those bellowing "fraud" against science. Dr. Loehle seems to think this is now acceptable.
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  16. Re: #14 I've been reading Judith's blog quite a bit lately - and from what I've seen, her change in perspective is at least correlated to her interpretation of "Climategate." Judith has indicated that she believes "Climategate" created a "crises" in climate science - in the view of the public in general (although, interestingly, from what I've seen has yet to quantify the data that underlies her certainty about the impact of "Climategate"). My interpretation is that her view of a larger reaction to "Climategate" is more a projection (of her own reaction) - as she has stated often that "Climategate" deeply affected her own approach to the "climate community." I am sympathetic to Judith's concerns about the impact of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias in the debate about climate change; those basic psychological phenomena are fundamental attributes of the reasoning of people (scientists or otherwise) engaged in debate about controversial topics. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, ironically Judith fails to consistently apply similar scrutiny to her own reasoning processes, the reasoning of her "denizens," or the reasoning of other players in the "skeptical" blogosphere. Judith was concerned about phenomena such as "motivated reasoning" both before and after "Climategate" (even if the terminology she used to describe those phenomena evolved over time). I think that the dramatic shift in her own conclusions about the science of climate change, the related political context, and the reasoning process of people that she disagrees with, clearly lies in a shift in the "motivations” behind her own reasoning. I’m not suggesting anything particularly nefarious there; without knowing her personally it would be impossible for me to assess what lies at the root of her motivations. I think that it is “unscientific” for anyone to base conclusions about someones motivations based purely on speculation (although I will note that Judith seems unconcerned with the constant drone of many of her "denizens" attributing nefarious motivations to pretty much anyone who thinks that global warming is 90% likely to be anthropogenic). However, something fundamental changed with respect to what Judith is motivated to prove in her view of the climate change debate. As to whether “Climategate” or something else lies at the root of her shift in motivations may be a chicken/egg enigma – but perhaps the answer to that riddle could be found in “laying bare the underlying causal chain and potential approach to verification” evidenced in her reasoning process."
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  17. Joshua#16: "she believes "Climategate" created a "crises"" That's a great observation, although it strikes me as an extreme overreaction to events. Crisis of confidence, perhaps; crisis in the observation and understanding of the science, no. I have to wonder how the 'denizens' would react to the conclusions of the 2006 paper. Conflict with their core beliefs (greenhouse warming is real? Does not compute!) is not tolerated.
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  18. "Crisis of confidence, perhaps" I question just who is having this "crisis of confidence." I think that Judith is projecting her own "crisis" onto the larger public without evidence to support her speculation. That projection is fueled by the general vibe among her "denizens," who seem to be similarly affected. When I see what I consider to be overextrapolation, I tend to wonder about the very same sort of "motivated reasoning" that used to concern Judith with respect to the reasoning of "skeptics," predominantly. Now Judith seems predominantly concerned her about the "motivated reasoning" of what she calls the "climate establishment." What motivates that change in the focus of Judith's scrutiny?
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  19. How can anyone seriously claim conservative IPCC statements lead to overconfidence as claimed in the conclusion? They go out of their way to highlight uncertainty. I haven't seen any attribution study that can assign 50% or more of the warming of the last 50 years to the net of natural causes, yet the IPCC leaves that open to a 10% chance. Then there's the best estimate that natural contribution has been nil or even a little negative. Also take a look at statements from Dr. Andrew Lacis. Lacis at NASA on Role of CO2 in Warming Also see: More Curried Leftovers
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  20. NewYorkJ I feel that the IPCC statements definitely lead to overconfidence, ( -Snip- ). Whose best estimate has natural contributions being negative? Solar activity was high, ENSO cycles yielded stronger and more frequent EL Ninos, and volcanic activity was low. ( -Snip- ).
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    [DB] Intimations of fraud and scientific misconduct deleted.

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  21. Eric the Red - Would you care to support any of the statements in your post? Natural forcings alone over the last 150 years should have resulted in a slight decrease in temperature, as opposed to the observed 0.8C temperature rise with our contributions. "I feel that the IPCC statements definitely lead to overconfidence, and they went out of their way to minimize other causes in the AR4 report." Are you accusing the IPCC of deception in this statement? They went through the evidence quite thoroughly - and that evidence supports the quite conservative (with many underestimates, in fact) statements the IPCC made.
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  22. "Now Judith seems predominantly concerned her about the "motivated reasoning" of what she calls the "climate establishment." " Maybe I am off base here but if you read Dr Curry's commentary the verbiage sounds familiar. Not familiar as in 'others in her camp have said the same thing' (although true), but familiar in the sense that the same kinds of misuse of syntax and dismissal of data are common in the 'soft sciences'. Now those 'soft sciences' (polysci, sociology, economics) have, to a large degree, been undone by postmodern philosophy. The latter seems to boil down to 'my opinion equals your data, because all your data must be inherently biased'. I often wonder if the widespread adoption of postmodern philosophies in our universities has not had some terrible unintended consequences.
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  23. Eric the Red, I find your claims overconfident and not supported by the evidence, as indication by your lack of support for any of your statements. "Solar activity was high" No. Solar activity trended downward. Solar Trends "volcanic activity was low" No. A monthly and latitudinally varying volcanic forcing dataset in simulations of 20th century climate "ENSO cycles yielded stronger and more frequent EL Ninos" There is such an ENSO/SOI trend during the covered period, but as we know from various ENSO-adjusted analysis, it has a limited effect on long-term trends. "The IPCC tried to diminish these effects, resulting in higher warming attributed to CO2 rise. " If they "diminished" the volcanic effect, there would be, if anything, less attribution to human causes. Nothing, however, was "diminshed".
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  24. Eric, looking over your postings over the last few months, it seems you believed a large number of false things to be true, but it seems no amount of corrections change your position. I notice you havent taken the challenge. Want to prove to us that your position isn't simply rooted in political values?
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  25. rdr95#22: "my opinion equals your data" We certainly see a lot of 'I don't believe your data' or 'my back of the envelope analogy disproves your data.' It's as if there is inherent suspicion of 'data' or inherent fear that those who work with data are out to deceive. I don't accept that as a natural outgrowth of legitimate skepticism; it almost requires a politicized or biased point of view. This isn't a new problem. See the Huxley-Wilberforce debate: Wilberforce supposedly asked Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley is said to have replied that he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth. These days, using one's gifts to obscure truth is a profession.
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  26. "The IPCC AR4 chapter 1 section 1.6 unambiguously specifies 'very likely' as more than a 90% probability of occurrence." That's not really a specification. 90% there means a subjective judgement expressed in the form of a number. I could define "pretty sure" as 65% certain if I wanted to, but it doesn't relieve the ambiguity. If the 90% value were arived at mathematically that would be different as the equations would constitute the definition. This is a special problem when subjective judgments are expressed in the form of a number in a scientific publication meant for consumption by policy makers who might be unaware of this nuance and assume the number was a result of a derrivation.
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  27. rdr95, postmodernity did not develop historically of its own accord. What we understand as 'postmodern' are a set of responses to a set of shared conditions (the conditions of global capitalism, its relations and demands). "These days, using one's gifts to obscure truth is a profession." Indeed, Muon: theory under market capitalism is a commodity, and doubt enhances the market for theory. Of course, it's only to a certain extent, because eventually the process reaches a point where theory becomes without value, and the market collapses. Louis Menand a decade ago recognized the end of useful production for the literary criticism industry. It's much like the relations that emerge from the replacement of workers with machines. Individual capitalist entities are driven to do it, but they must do so without regard for local or global economic repercussions. And that, rdr95, is one of those "shared conditions." Under capitalism, we are driven to produce more and more exchange value, and that demand encourages us to consider anything and everything as commodity, valued more for exchange than use. When you combine that with the inability of the average citizen to comprehend the science (not necessarily through disability but as well through not having the time, means, or training), the market for cow patties really opens up. I imagine the worst thing that could happen to Watts, Curry, Goddard, Monckton, Spencer, etc. is for one of them to be suddenly easily and demonstrably right about "it's not happening/not us/not bad." And that is also the best thing that could happen to scientists with conscience. Unfortunately, there's no indication (or physical basis) that it will happen.
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  28. rcglinski#26: "I could define "pretty sure" as 65% certain if I wanted to, but it doesn't relieve the ambiguity." Why not? If I need to run an economic model, telling me that an event has a 65% chance of occurrence is an input to an expected value calculation. This happens in an industry of uncertain outcomes on a routine basis (my experience was the oil business, where 'chance of success' is taken very seriously). Calling this an ambiguity is purely a semantic objection. "when subjective judgments are expressed in the form of a number in a scientific publication" Look at the quotes from the publication discussed in this post: They are pure opinion, with no mathematical basis whatsoever. Arguing over the definition of 'more'? A bit like arguing over the definition of 'is'.
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  29. Curry's about-turn is rather pathetic (good spot chris #9). Her ramblings now seem largely to be unfounded speculations, unsupported by coherent evidence, wrapped in flowery language so that it is harder to see that they are just speculations. The last example in the OP is a classic one of that. By her definition we cannot accept anything as true unless we test it against a competing hypothesis. Do I need to test that a glacier is made of ice before I decide whether it is likely to accumulate frozen water? Do I need to test whether gravity works downwards rather than upwards when walking near a cliff (after all maybe it doesn't...)? Do I need to test whether the plate glass window will break if I throw a cricket ball at it (maybe it won't...)? In Curry's world, a theory of how the world works is no good if you've already discarded competing hypotheses. It boils down to the fact that we don't have any coherent competing hypothesis to the current well-verified theory of climate and the various greenhouse gases. We've been looking for over a century, and anything that looks like a competing hypothesis has failed to match the data. I'd love for someone to find such a theory, but this is now staggeringly unlikely, and the lack of such a competing theory does not make it less likely that we are right about GHGs, it makes us more likely to be right. Any change to the theory, say in a manner similar to going from Newtonian mechanics to relativity, has to incorporate the same observations and so will pretty much certainly have to incorporate something physically very very similar to the CO2 greenhouse effect. Otherwise it will fail the observation test. ETR, IPCC is well known to be conservative about their views. They had to be, in order to get every singly country to sign up, including the likes of Saudi Arabia. Current observations of Arctic sea ice decline, and current research on sea level rise are two examples where the conservatism is quite prominent.
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  30. skywatcher#29: "a theory of how the world works is no good if you've already discarded competing hypotheses." Yet celebration of the 'demise' of greenhouse warming continues now that the new pet theory of GCRs has been 'confirmed.' No one seems to be calling for multiple competing hypotheses; no one is bothering to look at uncertainties in the new experiment. In soft science world, the same rules do not apply.
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  31. #31 mc - agreed. But we know that so-called 'sceptics' of the theory of climate and greenhouse gases are never very sceptical of any opposing claims, pretty much however bizarre they are. Or even checking if the papers support the headline claims they read... To support my last point on IPCC conservatism - William Freudenberg's presentation last year on 'The Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge' is relevant.
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  32. There are a great deal of confusion is the area of climate science and many areas do not make sense to the public. Science has still yet to dissect AGW deeper into the heat generated by BTU's to the CO2 created by SOME processes, NOT ALL processes. Friction and chemical reactions can produce different results. Yet heat and CO2 are bound by current theories but NOT recreated evenly in laboratories. CO2 is studied but what happened to the heat that produced it? There are many examples of these type of mistakes in science from understanding that solar radiation from the sun collides with molecules in the atmosphere(NOT RECREATED) but the laboratories study the direct line of NO atmosphere. Many Examples!!!
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] This is not the case, the contribution from waste heat is negligible, further discussion belongs on the appropriate article. Please note that just because a "skeptical" website say that climatologists don't consider some particular issue, does not mean that it is true. Please take time to read the responses to common skeptic arguments listed to the left of the page.
  33. Joe Lalonde#32: "solar radiation from the sun collides with molecules in the atmosphere" Not so much. Far more solar radiation is absorbed by the surface than by the atmosphere. Please see It's the sun and any of the various threads on the mechanics of the greenhouse effect. Use the Search function or search arguments by taxonomy. Note too the Newcomers Guide and the Comments Policy; we generally see the use of allcaps as the online form of shouting, which is not necessary in any way in this forum.
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  34. muoncounter, What is NOT considered is that the atmosphere rotates which means that the solar energy is NEVER direct to the planets surface. A lens effect is also produced since the planet is smaller at the poles and rotates slower due to the circumference size.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] The first claim is obvious nonsense; climate models reproduce features of atmospheric circulation that would not exist without the Earth's rotation. Secondly if the lensing effect is not built into the models, it is just possible that it is because its effects are negligible. Please before you post any further, read the responses to the arguments you are posting, or possibly go and read Ray Pierrehumbert's excellent book on planetary climate so that you have at least some idea of the basics of climate models.
  35. Sorry about the all caps! They were used for emphasis and NOT shouting.
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  36. Muon, About half the incoming solar radiation is absorbed by the surface, and roughly one-fifth is absorbed by the atmosphere. The rest is reflected. While it is more, it is only two and half times higher. Also, Here is the response to those who feel that solar activity declined: Or that ENSO contributions were negative:
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Please take this discussion to a more appropriate thread.
  37. EtR#36: Eric, Nice to see you replying with at least some form of sourced information rather than pure opinion. But you'll have to try much harder. Reply to 'those who feel that solar activity declined.' Small point: whether one feels that solar activity has declined is irrelevant; this is about measurement, not feelings.
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  38. muoncounter #various Not being familiar with Dr Curry, I had a look at her publications. They seem far from the efforts of a fringe scientist. To say that her conversion from warmist to 'luke warmer' - to chronicler of the crisis of confidence in the 'standard theory of AGW' is somehow invalid is to miss the point. Climategate and Copehnhagen were gamechangers for the interested members of the lay public. Recent differences between Drs Trenberth and Hansen about the measured energy imbalances in recent years adds further uncertainty to the debate. "Motivated reasoning" is another term for 'advocacy science'. Cool rational apolitical thought and expression is the ideal to which a scientist should aspire - but such sights as Dr Hansen being arrested in a demo outside the White House would moreso read 'advocacy scientist' in the public mind and weaken the case for an overwhelming concensus which is required for effective action on climate change.
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  39. critical mass - you are essentially saying that scientists should not involve themselves in politics - which would a breach of their human rights (in most countries anyway). Science SHOULD affect your political views, it is only politcal views influencing the science that is a problem. It is not correct thats science should be apolitical, it is just you neeed to keep the causal arrow in the correct direction. Prof. Hansen getting arrested for protesting is evidence of science affecting his politics more than the other way around. Of course if the likes of Hansen did not lobby politicians you would get the denialists questioning his commitment to the science. E.g. "If climate change is such a big problem, why aren't you protesting outside the whitehouse and getting arrested?". Complete BS of course, but that is what you will be faced with as soon as you step out of the scientific domain. You can't win in a PR battle between science and politics, whatevery you do is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Having read Dr Curry's paper it looks to me very much like an attempt at obfuscation, there is very little in her paper that could actually be put into practice, and there are obvious errors, such as saying that scenario uncertainty has an effect on estimates of climate sensitivity (which are based on hindcasts not forecasts so there is no scenario uncertainty).
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  40. criticalm#38: "far from the efforts of a fringe scientist." No one suggested Dr. Curry is a fringer. "Climategate and Copehnhagen were gamechangers for the interested members of the lay public." We're not talking about the lay public; we're discussing a myth created by someone qualified to know better. Climategate did not change the underlying science; for someone like Dr. Curry, any 'crisis of confidence' would be with the messengers, not the message. "differences between Drs Trenberth and Hansen about the measured energy imbalances in recent years adds further uncertainty" Nonsense. They do not differ on the extent and causes of warming. How the energy balance is resolved does not add uncertainty to either of those questions. "weaken the case for an overwhelming concensus which is required for effective action on climate change. " This is an entirely artificial standard, created by the denial industry. Did we have 'overwhelming consensus' on the technologies needed to go to the moon? To build an atomic bomb? No, we saw an imperative and acted in the best way we could at the time. The fact that we have been lulled into inaction by the combination of this 'need for consensus' and disinformation specialists should outrage those who understand the magnitude of the problem. If that outrage manifests as participation in a demonstration, so be it.
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  41. Eric the Red (#36), One wonders why you posted a solar activity graph starting around 1900, when from #19, #20, and #23, one can clearly see that we were clearly referring to the last 50 years and the related underconfident IPCC statement. A standard "skeptic" tactic is to move the goalposts when refuted.
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  42. "rdr95, postmodernity did not develop historically of its own accord. What we understand as 'postmodern' are a set of responses to a set of shared conditions..." I think the main 'shared conditions' were the desires by some to get the prized tenured faculty positions. That was achieved; unfortunately the postmodern virus then spread throughout the university system. The result was a descent into semantic woo and a rejection of virtually all contradictory data on the basis of bias. Even a number of scientists, e.g. Dr Curry, have been infected.
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  43. New YorkJ, There is no movement of goal posts, that is just a tactic used by those who like to cherry-pick data. Some posts specifically state 50 years (19), others 150 years (20), and others are open-ended. Oftentimes, one needs to compare the recent timeframe to an earlier time to determine how recent events have changed. Solar activity was higher in the latter half of the 20th century and the ENSO oscillation resulted in stronger and more frequent El Ninos. You could argue that these forces are lower than CO2, but to claim that they resulted in negative forcings, contradicts the data.
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    [DB] "that is just a tactic used by those who like to cherry-pick data"

    Let's not let this degenerate into name-calling.  Otherwise some will call you Pot for your Kettle.

  44. It's difficult to know where Judith Curry is coming from. On the one hand she has cultivated, via her blog Climate Etc , her own gang of, largely, climate rejectionists who seem to like her enough to call her St Judith. On the other, she is of the opinion ( or at least she was in Feb of this year) that there is a 16% chance of 2xCO2 sensitivity being as high as 6 degC and presumably at least 50% that it will be high enough to warrant concerted international action to mitigate the problem of rising CO2 levels. I don't have any rational explanation for her behaviour other than to speculate that she may be torn between what she knows scientifically and what she thinks politically.
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  45. muoncounter #40 ctitical mass: "differences between Drs Trenberth and Hansen about the measured energy imbalances in recent years adds further uncertainty" Muoncounter: "Nonsense. They do not differ on the extent and causes of warming. How the energy balance is resolved does not add uncertainty to either of those questions." Dr Hansen believes that sharply increased Asian (mainly Chinese) aerosols is largely responsible for the reduced warming imbalance and Dr Trenberth says that he does not believe that for a moment. Here is Dr Trenberth's quotation from this site in "Trenberth on Tracking Earth's energy post #68: "There is discussion in the comments of the supposed finding that increasing aerosol (pollution) from China may be the explanation for the stasis in surface temperatures and I do not believe this for a moment. Similarly, Jim Hansen has discussed the role of aerosol as a source of discrepancy. However, the radiation measurements at the top of the atmosphere from satellites (CERES) include all of the aerosol effects, and so they are not extra. They may well be an important ingredient regionally, and I have no doubt they are, but globally they are not the explanation"
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  46. Been enjoying the foray into post-modern philosophy on this positivist website. Positivism got a lot of traction in the early twentieth century when quantum mechanics made it seem that chemistry and eventually everything would be reducable to physics.Postmodernism reacted that emergent phenomena in complicated systems made them irreducable, at least in their behavior. We have seen the models founder at the decadal time scale...
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  47. trunkmonk#46 "chemistry and eventually everything would be reducable to physics." All science is either physics or stamp collecting. --Ernest Rutherford
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  48. Well, what do you mean when you say "positivism"? That's only half a joke. I would say that what you call "postmodernism" is actually post-structuralism being used as a defense against moral demands resulting from the dialectic between the current mode of production and human interests: you can't prove my responsibility because proof requires an absolute structure, and all structured theories ultimately fail (sooner rather than later in the case of any theory that involves a human factor). In other words, you attack by pointing out the apparent failure in the approach, and that, I'll assume your opinion, releases you from the knowledge-based responsibility produced by the approach. Yet you offer no alternative, defensible structure. I'll follow Jameson and point out that the term 'postmodern' is typically used to describe the cultural production that results from a historically-specific set of cultural conditions (collectively called 'postmodernity'). Your willingness to use a post-structuralist attack but not offer an alternative is a postmodern response. Models reflect the current-best effort of humans to predict the future of a system that is beyond their ability (individually or collectively) to comprehend. Models may "founder" at the decadal time scale, but if one says they "fail completely," then one implies that one is holding them to a standard that one is incapable of matching (and forever will be). Even models that predict the complete opposite of observed reality end up helping us produce subsequent models that are more accurate. Everyone's a positivist. You yourself continually act based on models with far greater uncertainties than the IPCC, and action is the representation of one's current understanding of "authentic knowledge," an understanding that is in constant flux--again, especially for individuals, but for the social construction of knowledge as well. Any other epistemology is a form of desperate response to the results of the positivist method (a method, by the way, that works increasingly better as the knowledge base is built and as we learn more and more about our weaknesses as humans). There is tremendous hubris in assuming that quantum randomness is either truly random or not random. So whatchu gonna do?
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  49. critical#45: Trenberth: Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have led to a post-2000 imbalance at the TOA of 0.9±0.5 W/ m^2 Hansen: ... that Earth is absorbing more energy from the sun than it is radiating to space as heat, even during the recent solar minimum. The inferred planetary energy imbalance, 0.59 ± 0.15 W/m^2 during the 6-year period 2005-2010, confirms the dominant role of the human-made greenhouse effect in driving global climate change. There may be differences in the numbers, but there is minimal uncertainty as to the mechanism and the cause. As Denning says, physics doesn't care what you believe. Arguing over the last decimal place is silly; it's real, it's happening. Stop denying that and do something about it. That we do nothing but wait until we 'can get more data' is ultimately the harm done by those who trumpet 'uncertainty' as if it is a red light.
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  50. @ 28 muoncounter "Why not? If I need to run an economic model, telling me that an event has a 65% chance of occurrence is an input to an expected value calculation." This is an example of a situation where specifying the number does remove the ambiguity. You can't run an economic model off of "pretty sure." You need 65%. The number really means something. If you thought it was actually a 63% chance you'd use that number. Contrast to the IPCC. If they were to define "very likely" as 88% instead of 90% nothing really changes. The intent isn't to say there is actually a 90% or 88% chance that something is right. You're not adding information by citing a number the way you are in the example you gave.
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