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Climate Hustle

A Perfect (Twitter) Storm

Posted on 14 March 2017 by Rob Honeycutt

Last week an entertaining barrage of tweets erupted from Dr. Gavin Schmidt's account in response to a blog piece written by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Being that Adams' original tweet promoting his blog post makes the presumptuous claim of "saving the world" by teaching climate scientists how to communicate science, you can only imagine how this would raise the ire of more than a few actual real-life experts.

 

Aside from the ludicrous notion that saving the world somehow pivots on convincing "skeptics", Adams' fundamental fallacy is the notion that it's the job of climate scientists to convince "skeptics" that climate change is real. What we know from research is, when someone has taken a specific position as a "skeptic" of man-made climate change, adding more information generally produces a backfire effect. They actually reject the science more in response to more information. It doesn't matter how persuasive you are. Most anyone who has already made this choice is not going to be persuaded, regardless of how the science is packaged.

Schmidt's initial response suggests that he fully understands this, saying upfront that his comment would be unlikely to change Adams' thinking. And subsequent tweets from Adams confirm his expectation. But, for those who follow climate science and the public debate, Schmidt's tweets serve as an entertaining take down of Adams' untethered world-view.

Down the Rabbit Hole, then a Hard Right

For anyone who's spent time following Scott Adam's blog, you will know this is an utterly bizarre world of anti-logic where "persuasion" is the dog whistle of choice. I would describe his blog as an authoritarian version of Lewis Carol meets the Beatles on acid. The rhetoric is hard and absolute, not to be challenged, whilst the logic is non-linear, rejecting basic ideas like the existence of reality.

None of Adams' concepts are supported in any manner. He produces no research tied to it. There is no rigorous method applied to rationalize it. It's little more than cultish ramblings validated by a small loyal following acquired through his previous success as a cartoonist. 

Exit the 140 Character Limit

Gavin does a great job of explaining Scott's errors within the limitations of a Twitter thread. Other bloggers have also taken up the exchange at Greg Laden's Blog and at And Then There's Physics. But we can also take a little more time and look at these points individually.

Adams opens with this passage...

I don’t know much about science, and even less about climate science. So as a practical matter, I like to side with the majority of scientists until they change their collective minds. They might be wrong, but their guess is probably better than mine.

That said, it is mind-boggling to me that the scientific community can’t make a case for climate science that sounds convincing, even to some of the people on their side, such as me. In other words, I think scientists are right (because I play the odds), but I am puzzled by why they can’t put together a convincing argument, whereas the skeptics can, and easily do. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

As a public service, and to save the planet, obviously, I will tell you what it would take to convince skeptics that climate science is a problem that we must fix. Please avoid the following persuasion mistakes.

One might reasonably assume that the points that followed would make a serious attempt to demonstrate where the scientific community doesn't make convincing arguments, and one might assume examples of strong "skeptic" points. As you'll see, neither are delivered. Instead we're left with the sense Adams is not only far out of his depth relative to climate science, but he's also far removed from what actual cognitive research finds. 

His list of points follow:

"1. Stop telling me the “models” (plural) are good. If you told me one specific model was good, that might sound convincing. But if climate scientists have multiple models, and they all point in the same general direction, something sounds fishy. If climate science is relatively “settled,” wouldn’t we all use the same models and assumptions?"

Here Adams show us his severely limited understanding of what climate models actually are. He fails to grasp the idea that climate models are a boundary conditions experiment rather than an initial conditions one. You can't create one really good computer model and ever expect that it will be representative of the planetary climate system when what's being modeled is a chaotic system. Even reality wouldn't operate this way!

Think of it like this. If you could instantly replicate the Earth (solar system and all) and start both Earth(a) and Earth(b) in precisely the same states, within a short time the two climate systems would diverge, even though they would continue to operate within the limits of the forcings imposed on them. This is what models also do. What models and model runs are telling us is, what are the boundary conditions within which the climate system will progress given known forcings.

2. Stop telling me the climate models are excellent at hindcasting, meaning they work when you look at history. That is also true of financial models, and we know financial models can NOT predict the future. We also know that investment advisors like to show you their pure-luck past performance to scam you into thinking they can do it in the future. To put it bluntly, climate science is using the most well-known scam method (predicting the past) to gain credibility.

Again, Adams does not grasp what climate models are. There is a functional difference between financial/economic models and climate models in that climate models are bound by physics (link). Financial models are statistical rather than physics based. Conflating the two is essentially a way to avoid making the effort to understand the value proposition climate modeling presents to the body of science.

3. Tell me what percentage of warming is caused by humans versus natural causes. If humans are 10% of the cause, I am not so worried. If we are 90%, you have my attention. And if you leave out the percentage caused by humans, I have to assume the omission is intentional. And why would you leave out the most important number if you were being straight with people? Sounds fishy.

Anyone who follows climate science – even peripherally – will understand Adams is ignorant of human attribution research.  The only thing fishy here is that Scott doesn't even attempt to research this before making an assumption and expounding on the subject in a blog post.

The single most discussed part of the IPCC reports is the attribution statement! They state that most or all of the warming of the past 50 years is very likely due to human contributions of greenhouse gases. Gavin demonstrates that the likely contribution is 110%. It's not like this is hidden information. It's not like it hasn't been discussed ad nauseam on almost every climate blog around, for years. Scott merely hasn't read it yet, and has the audacity to presume he has something of value to offer to the scientific community on how to communicate this matter.

4. Stop attacking some of the messengers for believing that our reality holds evidence of Intelligent Design. Climate science alarmists need to update their thinking to the “simulated universe” idea that makes a convincing case that we are a trillion times more likely to be a simulation than we are likely to be the first creatures who can create one. No God is required in that theory, and it is entirely compatible with accepted science. (Even if it is wrong.)

Gavin waved this one off, for good reason, but this touches on the untethered aspect of Adams' world view that I mentioned above. It's a big non sequitur dropped into this topic, for what reason, we don't know.

Personally, I have no problem admitting that I do not understand quantum mechanics. I've read a number of popular books about it. I think it's a fascinating subject which I'm always eager to try to understand more. But QM is a world that is far outside of what we experience in our everyday lives. There is also an incredible void of experimental evidence that can validate what scientists say about the quantum realm. With QM there are many highly trained physicists poring through the math. They're checking the concepts. They're publishing research and arguing with each other to validate the concepts. Ultimately it all has to be testable to a level to convince the broader scientific community that there are realistic claims being made.

In this, even as a non-scientist, I can simultaneously not fully understand the subject but have a strong sense that, however strange the quantum world is, the subject is scientifically valid and important. I know this is a broadly accepted theory and has been so since the early part of the 20th century. As a non-scientists I know I'm not on thin ice to discuss quantum theory.

This is a complete contrast to Adams' "simulated universe."  This idea has a basis in cognitive research in the work of Berkeley professor, Donald Hoffman. There's a good TED talk where he describes his research related to how our brains interpret reality. The challenge is, as with climate science, Adams is unequipped to analyze and interpret this cognitive research. Dr. Hoffman's work looks interesting. It's an area worth exploring. There were a number of logical leaps in his TED talk that I would want to know more about. But this research is definitely not established. It's a fairly new area Hoffman is exploring, and it may prove to reveal some interesting things about reality, but it also might not. 

What Scott has done is spin it into, as he says, "[T]rillions of times more likely..." that reality is a simulation. (In his TED talk, Hoffman specifically suggests this is unlikely.) And out of that Adams flings off into a realm of dogmatic, non-linear, anti-logic untethered to anything rational, on par with 1960's pop guru's explaining "chakras" and "planes of enlightenment."

5. Skeptics produce charts of the earth’s temperature going up and down for ages before humans were industrialized. If you can’t explain-away that chart, I can’t hear anything else you say. I believe the climate alarmists are talking about the rate of increase, not the actual temperatures. But why do I never see their chart overlayed on the skeptics’ chart so we can see the difference? That seems like the obvious thing to do. In fact, climate alarmists should throw out everything but that one chart. 

This one is particularly irksome to me because I've repeatedly done the work to show where "skeptics" are erroneously using temperature charts. I can only imagine that Scott is discussing the numerous misrepresentations of GISP2 data as global temperature data, where, in fact it's a local measure of temperature at the Greenland summit. Those charts have been "explained away" so many times that it's beyond absurdity. 

It's unclear what "one chart" Scott thinks he's describing here. One of the basic tenets of science is, you can't make stuff up to support your preferred conclusions. There are many charts showing the rise in industrial era temperature, millennial temperature, holocene temperature and even temperature extending back over many millions of years. This information is easily accessible to anyone interested in reading the actual published research, or even taking the time to read the IPCC reports.

6. Stop telling me the arctic ice on one pole is decreasing if you are ignoring the increase on the other pole. Or tell me why the experts observing the ice increase are wrong. When you ignore the claim, it feels fishy.

What smells fishy is that Adams hasn't taken the time to read what scientists say about NH vs SH sea ice. It's easily available. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a very clear description of what is happening. And ironically, Scott makes this claim during a season when we've just witnessed an extreme decrease in Antarctic sea ice.

7. When skeptics point out that the Earth has not warmed as predicted, don’t change the subject to sea levels. That sounds fishy. 

I'm not sure what Scott's preoccupation with fish is, but what is abundantly obvious about this comment is... No one does this. He certainly doesn't bother to offer a citation or example of where this has happened. My experience has been that, when "skeptics" talk about this topic, scientists address it. Repeatedly. This particular stinking zombie myth has had its head removed from its body more times than there are pages in all of George R. R. Martin's novels combined.

8. Don’t let the skeptics talk last. The typical arc I see online is that Climate Scientists point out that temperatures are rising, then skeptics produce a chart saying the temperatures are always fluctuating, and have for as far as we can measure. If the real argument is about rate of change, stop telling me about record high temperatures as if they are proof of something.

Again, Scott presumes that adding more information is going to change a "skeptic's" position. If we just keep giving them the information that scientists 'should' be giving them, that would fix it. Research shows that Adams is deeply misinformed. Scientists are not ever going to change the minds of confirmed "skeptics" any more than Martin Luther King caused any racist to change their position. MLK was effective because he confronted the facts of a critical issue in ways that made people uncomfortable. Dr. King forced us to face reality.

9. Stop pointing to record warmth in one place when we’re also having record cold in others. How is one relevant and the other is not?

Because there are more of the former than the latter, Scott. This is the shifting temperature distribution predicted by climate scientists many decades ago. Fewer low temperature extremes and more high temperature extremes. To even have a chance of understanding climate science would require familiarizing one's self with what a distribution curve represents.

10. Don’t tell me how well your models predict the past. Tell me how many climate models have ever been created, since we started doing this sort of thing, and tell me how many have now been discarded because they didn’t predict correctly. If the answer is “All of the old ones failed and we were totally surprised because they were good at hindcasting,” then why would I trust the new ones? 

Reprise #2. It's not clear how Adams concludes this would have any affect on persuading anyone since his understanding of models is essentially non-existent, nor is it clear how he even gets to "If the answer is..." Adams should trust what experts say about their models, but that involves actually taking the time to listen to what climate modelers are saying about their work.

11. When you claim the oceans have risen dramatically, you need to explain why insurance companies are ignoring this risk and why my local beaches look exactly the same to me. Also, when I Google this question, why are half of the top search results debunking the rise? How can I tell who is right? They all sound credible to me.

Here we get a double barreled straw man argument. It's not clear how he concludes that anyone is saying that sea level has risen dramatically. Certainly sea level is rising. It's rising faster than in the past. SLR is accelerating. But I'm not sure that could be properly stated as "oceans have risen dramatically." And where is Scott's data coming from suggesting that insurance companies are ignoring SLR? I find that insurance companies are highly cognitive of the inherent risks.

It is certainly reasonable to ask why Google delivers inaccurate information on sea level rise. If I had any Google exec standing in front of me right now, I'd be forcefully asking the exact same question. It definitely takes a certain level of skill to validate what is a reliable source of information and what isn't (I frequently have this discussion with my own teenaged kids). I have to admit, though. I'm more than a little suspicious that Scott actually does have the capacity to know a reliable source when he sees it. I think he actually prefers being confused for his own particular purposes of being (faux) incensed about climate communication.

And, yes Scott, with 1 meter of SLR in 2100, your local beach will look significantly different.

12. If you want me to believe warmer temperatures are bad, you need to produce a chart telling me how humankind thrived during various warmer and colder eras. Was warming usually good or usually bad?

Again here, I have my doubts that this is a genuine question, but rather just a randomly crafted point without any substance. Humans, in our current form, have only been around for perhaps 200,000 years. The last interglacial (the Eemian; 120kya) global temperature reached only, perhaps, 1°C higher than today. There were precious few of us and we nearly went extinct  along the way. Our early survival can easily be ascribed to luck as much as our capacity as an adaptive species.

The challenge we face is that we have 7 billion people alive today. We will likely be pushing past 9 billion this century, while we're potentially going to warm the planet some 4°C over the stable preindustrial temperature range that gave rise to modern human civilization. It would take an extreme level of deliberate ignorance to avoid the obvious conclusions that this implies.

13. Stop conflating the basic science and the measurements with the models. Each has its own credibility. The basic science and even the measurements are credible. The models are less so. If you don’t make that distinction, I see the message as manipulation, not an honest transfer of knowledge.

Reprise #2, again. We've already established that Adams is nearly clueless about what models are or what they do. 

14. If skeptics make you retreat to Pascal’s Wager as your main argument for aggressively responding the climate change, please understand that you lost the debate. The world is full of risks that might happen. We don’t treat all of them as real. And we can’t rank any of these risks to know how to allocate our capital to the best path. Should we put a trillion dollars into climate remediation or use that money for a missile defense system to better protect us from North Korea?

We have no way to conclude what Scott is talking about when he doesn't offer any reference here. We all know Pascal's Wager is the idea that you should believe in God because, if God is real then you go to heaven, and if he's not it doesn't matter anyway, assuming an omnipotent being wouldn't see through such a thin ruse.

The problem is, no one in the climate science community makes this argument. Literally, no one. What scientists do is present the available scientific understanding. The research acts to constrain the range of what is reasonable and rational. Within the constrained range of understanding we have the opportunity to make specific and hopefully effective decisions on how to best respond to threats.

Adams puts forth classic false equivalences. Usually people frame this as, should we spend money to eliminate hunger or invest in climate mitigation. That's a false choice since no one is suggesting that we address climate instead of other issues. Climate change is a threat multiplier. We can't ignore any of the many other critical human issues we face. But addressing climate change will help to ensure those other issues don't become much more critical along the way. 

Scott ends with this...

Anyway, to me it seems brutally wrong to call skeptics on climate science “anti-science” when all they want is for science to make its case in a way that doesn’t look exactly like a financial scam.* Is that asking a lot?

People ask me why I keep writing on this topic. My interest is the psychology around it, and the persuasion game on both sides. And it seems to me that climate scientists are the Hillary Clinton of scientists. They think facts and reason will persuade the public. Even though science knows that doesn’t generally work.

Ironically, Scott ends saying that scientists know that facts and reason won't persuade anyone, after he's ranted on about 14 points of why the facts and reason sound "fishy" to him. Like a large number of "skeptics", Adams has amply demonstrated that he has no interest in (or is too lazy to) even starting to understand climate science topics. He demonstrates a fundamental level of ignorance related to each and every topic discussed. And somehow he believes conveying that ignorance will help to inform climate scientists how to persuade "skeptics." 

Throughout this piece I've used scare quotes on the term "skeptic" for the very reason that Scott Adams has embodied here. He is not – in any way, shape or form – skeptical, nor are any of those whom he purports to be speaking for. Skepticism requires the humility and self-awareness to know when you don't have a sufficient grasp of a topic to substantively discuss it. Skepticism requires that you take the time to fully inform yourself before attempting any of the kinds of conclusions he puts forth. As has been stated over and over again, this is not skepticism. This is "white walker" level denial. 

Scott claims that his interest here is the psychology, but there is an ample body of cognitive science that is specifically directed to the climate science issue which (a) Adams does not refer to nor intimates that he even understands exists, and (b) most certainly has not contributed to in any substantial (or even glancing) manner.

Facts and reason are what scientists do regardless of what people choose to believe. That has been true since the earliest application of science. Facts and reason are what gave us modern society. What is most exciting about science is that it can tell us things that we don't know, and sometimes science tells us things we don't want to believe. It's not the scientists' job to repackage reality based on what people will be persuaded by. It is the job of individuals to have the humility to stop and listen when the scientific community is in broad agreement on critical scientific issues like climate change, and from that take appropriate informed actions.

By the same right, science does need effective communication in order for more people to understand what scientific research is telling us. There is a long list of very effective communicators out there already. But these are people who actually understand the science they're communicating, or people who are working in conjunction with scientifically trained advisors. Any potential value that Scott Adams might bring to the table is significantly undermined by his lack of knowledge on the topics of climate science and cognitive science, which is further compounded by his peculiar brand of sociopathy.

And... No, I don't expect Scott Adams to be "persuaded" by any of this.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 55:

  1. Bravo, Rob and well done. I couldn't make it past Adams' first sentence. Thanks for doing this!

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  2. Adams' list of skeptic complaints- condensed: "You didn't say it right, so I don't believe you."  Ask yourself: why would anyone who confers that much power to himself ever give that power up? 

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  3. Points such as # 6, 9, and 13 prove that his is not a quest in good faith but that he has imbibed too many perennial denier memes. People like this want a detailed weather forecast for the next 150 years, and then pretend that not knowing exactly how global warming will play out might mean it will not be wrenching. After, all didn't the temperature rise during the Permian extinction as well, oh, did we say extinction at a time when there was no fixed infrastructure mammals needed to flourish and survive?

    The notion that it is brutal to call skeptics anti-science when all they want is to be spoon fed a convincing narrative/film that doesn't "remind them of a financial scam". Is that too much to ask? You cannot be more disingenuous. The truth is that most scientists have been convinced by the evidence and the facts, despite fighting desparately to hold out more hope for continuing civilization and progress, despite looking for a way to get out from under the devastating implications, despite the reluctant acceptance turning into a virtually unanimous consensus...

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  4. Based on observations of what has been going on globally, and not just related to climate science, I offer the following "Best Explanation of what can be seen to be going on":

    Competition to "Win" can only be expected to produce an "Improvement for future humanity" if "improving the future for all of humanity" is the over-riding rule regarding what is allowed to compete for popularity and profitability.

    Popularity and profitability games can easily be won by the people with the largest competitive advantage. The less decently a person is willing to behave, the more harmful (less helpful) they choose to try to get away with being, the more competitive advantage they can have. And misleading marketing is a powerful weapon.

    Many people are easily tempted to be greedier or more xenophobic (tribal desires to Win by comparison/competition with Others, especially by getting away with actions that are detrimental to "Others")

    As a result, efforts to improve the future for all of humanity are at a serious competitive disadvantage when people can become influential and potentially be leaders without first proving they have developed into thoughtful considerate adults aware of and dedicated to their responsibility to help others. And all leaders should be expected/required to help lead the improvement of the future for all of humanity (suffering legal consequences if they act Otherwise - because Good Leaders they cannot claim they did not Know Better). Winning by people with other interests (particularly Ones wanting to Win to the detriment of Others) will not develop an improved future for humanity.

    A solution: Leaders who fail to properly present matters like climate science should be legally removed from their roles because they have proven that they are "Not competent to properly perform their leadership duties". And that should apply to business leaders as well as to political leaders and to any wealthy person who acts to influence leaders as a financial/marketing supporter.

    Of course misguided people like Scott Adams would still be free to present nonsense, but they would have a very different and diminished following/influence.

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  5. ... further compounded by his peculiar brand of sociopathy

    In this final sentence, Rob, you're claiming Adams is some kind of sociopath , i.e. a person "characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits" as explained by Wiki. You provide no direct evidence of this. Certainly, the evidence in OP points that Adams does not understand psychology & conginitve science in particular and makes bogus statements about it contrary to his claims that psychological aspects of climate science denial are his interest.

    However that does not look to me as implying sociopathic type of personality. If you think it does or that I missed that point in your OP, please explain it again to me.

    Regardeless of the above (can be possibly my misunderstanding) I find the OP very god and enlightening.

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  6. Fair comment, chriskoz. I've inferred sociopathy from previous interactions and didn't really fully explain here in this piece.

    In my experiences with him, and with those who defend him, there seems to be very much a cult leader quality to it all (which I do reference, somewhat obliquely). That is what I would interpret to involve sociopathic behavior. I'm certainly not a psychologist so I don't want to over-interpret. What I see is someone who really doesn't care much about anyone else's opinions, expert or otherwise, unless it fits into his own framework of thinking. He doesn't seem to care whether he's lying or telling the truth because that's all dismissed as being somehow irrational since reality is only what's in your mind. 

    It's certainly my own interpretation of what I've witnessed but I don't think I'm in too shaky a position to call his behavior sociopathic.

    It the past, when I've dealt with people I would consider to be sociopathic, they tend to have no sense of boundaries or propriety. I think many sociopathic people will rightly choose to surround themselves with people who have the capacity to help them interpret those boundaries. As far as I can tell, Adams chooses the opposite. He seems to shun any pretense that his cognitive framework can be challenged.

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  7. Ok clearly Scott Adams has got things all wrong. But one thing jumps out at me. Climate science is proven as far as I'm personally concerned, but it is by nature a complex weight of evidence argument, where ordinary people have to connect quite a few dots. But having said this, we have to work at this. It is what it is.

    Denialists are lazy. Crack open a book, and stop expecting science to be easy, or black and white. Stop manipulating the complexity of the situation to score points, spread confusion, or promote unrelated ideological agendas.

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  8. nigelj@7,

    I do not share your opinion that climate science represents "complex weight of evidence where ordinary people have to connect quite a few dots". Yes, it maybe complex, but it the pends on the recipient's choice at which level s/he wants it to understand. That applies to every discipline and every type of knowledge. While learning any stuff you have to rely on the work of others who are proven experts. Examples abound. To start with, you can understand GHE of CO2 as "like putting on a sweater that feels you warm without help of any heater", which is gros simplification but is still fine. Or you can dive into the level of quantum mechanics of energy levels in CO2 molecules plus thermodynamic interaction with other gases explaining how that energy is radiated back to the surface. And scientists do not need to communicate their work at all those and intermediate levels: it would be insane waste of their time. The website like this one should be in charge of communicating science to "ordinary people" and SkS is doing a very good job with basic, intermediate & advanced myth debunking levels. At policy levels, IPCC is also doing a tremendous job with their assesments. Do you think it could be done any better? Do you have an idea how? More impotantly, do you think scientists &science communicators in any other discipline are doing it better than climate scientists and ourselves are doing here? If you don't have answers to questions as I'm posing them, your point is at least moot, or I even dare say baseless.

    AGW is not an environmental problem but social problem as I've been underscoring many times here. So sociopaths (as Rob is trying to show is the case of Scott Adams) and special interest groups as in the case of previous SkS article, are going to deny it, or even trying to manipulate science to bend them to their subjective opinions. Note, that the motives of Scott Adams scolding scintists can be very similar FF infiltrating relevant academia: the later is a clever tactic of a smart person, while the former is a primitive & dumb demagoguery. Such people will always deny the reality, subtle or gross way, and scientists who are not trained as phychologists can do nothing about it.

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  9. I'd say the list of communicators needs to be longer.  We're barely keeping up with "skeptics" on that front.  Otherwise his points are laughably naive and easy to swat down.

    As for models, I just point out that there is NO physically realistic model that can describe recent warming without CO2.  Period. So it doesn't matter whether the models are perfectly accurate - that is a red herring. They are far better than any model based solely on "natural" causes.  The only models of the latter type that claim to be successful are correlative retrodictions projected forward, which is exactly what he poo-poos in financial models. 

    He seems inordinately stuck on models, as many "skeptics" who seem to have a fear of being hoodwinked, or have irrelevant and misleading experience from other fields.  So maybe he dismisses all "models" out of hand.  Then I go to the empirically derived input terms - global heat budget and solar, albedo and ocaen heat exchange terms.   Qualitatively they say the same thing, and you can't get around the first law of thermodynamics, nor do you have to watch a TED talk to understand it.

    As for whether it matters to humans, well, the question is whether he wants civilization or zombie apocalypse.  Of course humans as a species survived at least one ice age.  Not many individuals made it though, so I'd by life insurance.  Hell, our society can barely absorb the effects of a sinngle drought in Syria!  And isn't survival a rather low bar?  I'd like to run for office on that slogan - "Some of you will survive!"

    Finally.  The scientist scam hypothesis.  His whole premise is that scientists are not good at talking about this stuff to the public.  Why is that?  Because we generally only talk to ourselves!  We're too busy doing that to scam the public.  And how would we scam other scientists who do know better and have an incentive to prove you wrong?  

    So Adams is at once saying scientists are dimwitted at communication, and also that they are capable of pulling the biggest scam of all time.  A scam that, even more amazingly, would go unnoticed among peers who know better, or peers in medicine, geology, physics, economics — virtually every major scientific body that has no stake in the issue but has issued a statement in support of the proposition that AGW is true.

    Funding has been flat for a long long time by the way.  You think they would see the writing on the wall and stop trying the scam. But they are dumb!  And yet so smart!  

    Oh, by Pascal's wager, he's probably making an analogy to the precautionary principle as applied to climate sensitivity uncertainty.  They are both forms of bet hedging.  It's interesting because his beginning premise is a bet hedge.  So apparently he can do that but we can't.

    It's too bad.  I used to like Adams.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] "All-caps" constitute shouting and are prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy. You may emphasize a word or words by bolding the font.

  10. I was always more of a Bloom County/Calvin & Hobbs sort, myself. :-)

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  11. I do a lecture on the history of AGW for my global ecosystems class. I've been thinking about having as an organizing principle a list of a priori predictions concerning the effect of increasing CO2, and contrasting that to predictions if other natural source terms were the cause of warming.  I would slowly populate the list as I talk through the history, and then check off the predictions based on recent observations.  That may be more in line with what Adams is talking about.

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  12. First post here so I'm not sure if this is considered a political comment or not.

    I don't think it's a case of scientists not doing a good job in communicating the scale and likely negative impacts of climate change. Some have taken the extraordinary step of going before Congress going back decades make it clear just how serious an issue this is.

    This is a question of the other "side" doing a very professional job of cancelling out the science.

    With the current situation I think it's highly likely that a majority of people could be fully convinced of the reality and risks of climate change and still nothing would be done.

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  13. Rob Honeycutt@6,

    Thanks for your explanation. I've watched few interviews with Adams, both recent (in last Sept), when he explains why T-man (a true sociopath) will win with Hillary, and from 20 years ago  when describing his inspiration behind his Dilbert character. In both times I see the man who does not appreciate the people's knowledge or the beauty of people's art forms. As an artist he should definitely be familiar withthe later. But nothing of substance: the only thing he can say is that he identifies himself with Dilbert in one third but does not really explain why. I see a cynical person, for whom the only important aspect of life is "the power of persuasion". It is understandable thten why he endorsed T-man, who is far better than Hillary in that aspect. Of caurse, unlike T-man, Adams is very eloquent and even a nice person. But overarching it is his overwhelming cynicism. We've seen examples of it in climate science & psychology here, I've seen it in politics, I guess we can generalise it to pretty much everything.

    In summary very uninteresting personality. I'm not sure how high he would score in PCL-R test. I would say that his empathy is not impaired in the interview I've seen and he must understand social life in order to create a successful cartoon. My observations might be less complete than yours but I rest on describing him as dumb cynic rather than sociopath. His chronic cynicism explain very well his denial of climate science and his demagogery we are discussing here.

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  14. Chriskoz @8, I mean climate science is complicated for the average person in the sense that there are several potential causes, and anyone will be interested in these, but they take a lot of working through. Few people will simply take what the IPCC says at face value. It's just an observation i'm making.

    It took me a while to read up on these possible causes  to determine that CO2 was the cause, and this website helped.  Climate change science is just not as clear cut as some other science theories, where you can nail things with just one or two experiments or very clear observations etc. The trouble is we can't put the entire planet in a laboratory, so it becomes a case of multiple strands of evidence.

    I don't think scientists can do much more than explain it all the way they generally have. I thought it was pretty obvious I meant that.

    I agree it's all more of a social problem. You have a whole lot of denialist agendas and personal egos and issues in the way Although it's tough to be sure if Scott Adams is just not well informed, lazy, well intended, or a closet denislist trying to confuse things.

    I would add climate change is also a political problem. It's metamorphosised into a bitter battle of conservatives and liberals, which is just unhealthy. Right now an awful lot of the nonsense is coming from Trump & associates.

    However things can change quite quickly. Not only climate reaches a tipping point, so do human responses to situations, and it can be sudden and unpredictable. Humanity might suddenly wake up and demand much more action on climate change. All sorts of social phenomena incubate then reach tipping points. There is a book on this "The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell".

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  15. nigelj@14,

    With that explanation you opinion makes sense now, thanks. Especially putting "the entire planet in a laboratory" is what is unique about CS as the domain. At the ultimate level, it is about models like GCMs and you need lot of computer power to run GCMs and people just can't understand all details and, if they are conspiracy theorists, they start inventing their own theories based on their preconceptions rather on evidence and denialosphere is born. But even if you're a dummy, you can still e.g. listgen to e.g. the ecxellent TED talk by Gavin, where he very casually explains the inner workings of GCMs in very digestable terms.

    Further, I think other domains of research are both newer than CS and deal with equally complex systems. Take the science behind autonomous driving: the machine learning, and especially convolutional neural networks. Enormous amout of computer power is involved here and hardly anyone understands e.g. the processes of deep learning by CNNs. Yet no one questions the AI the way the deniers of AGW question CS. Maybe it's political as you're saying because there are no political reasons to deny that authonomous car is possible.

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  16. This video from the National Academies shoudn't overstretch Scott's grasp:

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  17. A great post describing Adams' superficial glimpse at climate science

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  18. Yes, nearly all of Scott Adams points are misinformed or flat-out wrong. And, as for his general state of mind, his past explanations of why Trump is "persuasive" (see YT) does not, in the least, resonant w/ me. I don't get his logic whatsoever (so I think his reasoning skills are 'in question').

    But, there is a very small piece of what Adams is saying that has a thin veneer of truth to it, and I think we should step back and consider this point. I might get slammed on this point. Here it is: I think, in many cases (though not always), that scientists explain the science in a way that is a bit obtuse, in a way that simply doesn't register to the average person, it doesn't speak in a language that "means" anything to them.

    Here are a couple examples: 1) a recent article (HERE) put the heat imbalance in terms of zeta-joules (yes, it explained that's 10^21 joules, even saying that's 10 with 21 zeros after it), but that still doesn't really mean anything to people. Yes, it's a big number; but it still doesn't speak in ways that people can relate to. The author probably thought this was an effective way to get the point across, sorry, not so! It's still just a big black box of numbers to the average person.

    Another example: 2) When James Hansen & many others talk about the heat imbalance, they will say things like, it's 1watt/m^2 (Storms book). And, then they will step back like that means something to people. Sorry, not so. It's like they just said something in greek.

    This is partly why ridiculous gimmicks like James Inhofe's snowball is so effective. It speaks on the level where the average person is at. And, when you compare that to complicated charts that explain the heat imbalance or else charts that dissect the details of the satellite surface temperature data or an array of model predictions, people just tune out. The silly but direct Inhofe presentation wins the day for the average person. ... Unfortunately, we have to cross this chasm (& I think we can) if we want to build political will that truly gets us where we need to be, transition to a sustainable economy. 

    It is hard to dumb-down the science so that it talks in the same language as the average person but I do believe it is possible. You just have to re-think your presentation into a way that talks in a language that they can relate to. And you have to do it in a way that is very respectful (genuinely so), and not in overly "alarmist" terms either (let the alarm bells go off in their own minds).

    I have done something like this, and have personally voiced this to the engineers that I work with. Prior to my explanations to these technically savvy people, they had not spent any quality time delving into the science mainly because it hadn't grabbed their attention (well, enough for them to fret out the right from the wrong). And, they were like Adams, full of lots of right & wrong misinformation, but none of the truth potent enough to lure them into digging deeper. We have to grab their attention in a way that is both truthful but instantly talks their language & instantly gets past the murkiness of the darts of confusion that compete with the truth.

    True, these engineers, that I have spoken to, speak in a "technical language" so my 'new language' speaks in their 'engineer' language, but I have given this same explanation to a few non-engineers, and it seemed to be moderately persusaive too (jury still out though). After hearing my spiel, many of these people have expressed a new & clearer understanding of the science with this sort of explanation; and I think it genuinely broke thru the web of misinformation that blocks truth from coming in, and peaked their possible acceptance of the truth (of the body of science) so to get them to genuinely to think twice on the matter.

    Yes, this message/style is dumbed down, but it is still truthful. It works because it puts what's going on into terms that the average people can relate to. And, that maybe is the worthy take-away here from Adams' implicit (if only unconscious) points buried behind his words. I think, in one small way, if the presentation was put in this way, that then even folks like Adams might (that's a big might) not get so confused & tripped-up on other misinformation that clouds their understanding.

    HERE is link to my recent written down point-by-point summary on how I try to "get the point across" in the most persuasive means possible. I am in the process of massing publishing this out to local & state community and policital leaders with the hope of building political will (pending local CCL chapter approval).

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  19. chriskoz @13... I agree, that's why I qualified it as "a peculiar brand" of sociopathy and avoided directly calling him "a sociopath." I don't think I have the toolbox available to make a definitive statement one way or the other. Rather, I would suggest he exhibits some behaviors that lean that direction. 

    I would add, though, I don't think sociopathy rules out a capacity to be socially adepts where required. Many CEO's are very sociopathic and they absolutely must have a capacity to navigate social situations in order to succeed. 

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  20. sauerj @18

    I had a look at your story.  I like the atom-bomb analogy.  A concept I thought of that might help is to liken atmospheric CO2 to a goldilocks gas: too little and the planet freezes, too much and the planet sweats.

    One thing you could perhaps consider is to clarify the effect that the sheer inertia of the climate system has.  As I understand it, for example, the last time CO2 levels were at 400 ppm was a little over three million years ago in the Pliocene.  At that time average global temperatures were two or three degrees Celsius higher than today, there was not much snow and ice around, and sea levels were some 25 metres higher.  We'll get there too, but it'll take time for the climate system to reach the new equilibrium.  In the meantime, CO2 levels are rising even higher . . .

    A final point concerns something I learnt only recently.  It seems that people are not comfortable with CO2 concentrations above about 600 ppm.  The more it exceeds that level, the greater the cognitive decline that sets in.  This is all the more reason to limit emissions.

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  21. Digby Scorgie @20, the standard view is that reduced cognitive function at about 1000 ppmv is due to accumulation of other gases in minute traces.  CO2 is just a useful indicator of poor ventilation.  One study I looked at that purported to show otherwise did not show reduced cognitive function when high CO2 levels were generated by introducing CO2, although they did when lower CO2 levels were generated by recirculating interior air.  To my mind, that confirms the conventional view rather than rebuts it.  (Unfotunately I do not have the study to hand or I would give more detail.)  Of course, there may be other studies that do show an effect from CO2 only at levels potentially obtainable by CO2 emissions in the next 100-200 years, but the idea should be regarded as controversial at least.

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  22. From what I know, hypoxia is much more likely to affect cognition and the brain will also be much sensitive to hypoxemia than hypercapnia. Without looking at the study mentioned by Tom, I'm assuming that, in general, recirculated air would be more likely to cause impaired cognition due to the decreased oxygen content and corresponding decreased gas exchange. There may be other effects than cognitive due to impaired exchange of the CO2, the main being acidosis, which is not good news.

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  23. To elaborate on that, we do see impaired cognition in COPD patients having exacerbations and other patients who are hypercarbic for other reasons. In fact, altered mental status is a relatively early warning sign that will prompt us to do an arterial blood gas analysis, as the patient could positive end pressure ventilation, usually non invasive but that can progress to invasive if there is no response.

    However, there has to be a significant departure from baseline, which can be very high for some COPD sufferers who learn to function with much higher levels of CO2 than the normal population. In fact, these patients often do not benefit from oxygen at all, because their ventilatory rate regulation (which happens in the brain stem) is modified and responds to variation in oxygen content rather than CO2 in a normal person. Additional oxygen reduces their respiratory drive. 

    I am not sure about how much of a fraction of CO2 in ambient air would be equivalent to what they experience through impaired ventilation.

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  24. Rob Honeycutt @6, I just have a comment on your suspicions that this Scott Adams displays sociopathic tendencies. 

    I think you are right he has some personality issue, but maybe not sociopathic as such. I did stage 1 (introductory)  psychology and have come across sociopathic people. The defining characteristics are lack of conscience and empathy, lying with impunity (well beyond the norm) and hyper self confidence, and strong controlling tendencies. I'm not seeing this with Adams so much.

    In fact sociopathy is in the class of disorders which is just an extreme variation of normal behaviour. You have a spectrum between extreme empathy towards sociopathy at the other extreme. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

    He has some features of sociopathy but not enough to fill the description.

    I think Adams is more an extreme cynic and extreme nuisance and intellectually lazy, and a bit obsessive.  Being a very extreme cynic could possibly become a personality disorder.

    He is worried about apparent contradictions (so he alleges) in the climate issue. Well it can be frustrating, but there are reasons for all the stuff he complains about if you start digging. Climate change will be a complex mix of things going on because of the number of variables and the fact we cant put the planet in a lab, but theres enough evidence for high levels of certainty on what's going on.

    I can however think of a few politicians who look a bit sociopathic. 

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  25. nigelj... That's interesting, because in my interactions with him online, that's almost exactly how I'd describe him.

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  26. Rob Honeycutt @25. You seem sure hes sociopathic. Fair enough, you have interacted with the guy,  I have only read a few of his comments.

    Perhaps hes a cynical sociopath.

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  27. Whatever he is I don't think there is any excuse for anyone to attack scientists and claim there is a deficiency in information available to understand the fundamentals of global warming and climate change.

    I have some second year college science courses but no degree so I have some science literacy but I'm definitely not a professional. About a decade ago I got frustrated with being unable to get a clear idea of what was going on with climate change and all the contradictory views and began my own research. I spent many hours reading IPCC reports, articles from climatologists like James Hansen, books by "skeptics" who claim there is no such thing as human forced global warming and books about the extensive denial campaign.

    At some point I had a rather unpleasant awakening that some climatologists have described of going through a period of despair when they realized what their research was saying and how no action was being taken to address it. This lasted for several months for me.

    There's no question in my mind now that the science supporting anthropogenic global warming is extensive and very well supported. If a person is willing to commit to the time and energy that is required to get a meaningful grasp of this issue it is more than possible with all the information out there now. I think it requires a choice either conscious or unconsious to remain in ignorance about this issue. In one of the books I read by a Scottish scientist - I forget his name - he talked about something he refered to as consensus trance reality where people use a short-hand form of information to deal with the complexities of modern life that prevents them from fully grasping some complex issues like climate change. Maybe group-think is another term that aaplies.

    Whatever the case, it's clear that there is some deep psychological factors at work on a wide scale that prevents a lot of people from coming to terms with what is actually happening in the world around them not just with this issue but many others. They follow a mental shorthand that is often written by others against the common interest. I think this is in part what the extensive climate change denial disinformation campaign is targeted to do.

    From what I read here Skeptical Science is part of an effort to come to terms with the psychology behind denial which I think is crucial. It seems to me that Adams and his supporters would make good case studies in the dynamics of denial. Instead of informing themselves of the true dimensions of this subject they take the approach of shooting the messenger.

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  28. Tom Curtis @21

    I read about this by following a link to a recent paper.  And as you'd expect, I'm damned if I'd be able to find it again!  However, the bit that sticks in my mind is that they measured the CO2 concentration in a room and asked those working there how they felt about (I think) their mental alertness.  It seems that they didn't like it when the concentration started to exceed 600 ppm.  There was a lot more to the paper but I admit I'm not qualified to say more.

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  29. Doug C @27

    I agree totally, but  I think there are two separate issues, and you need to separate them out. There is this frustrating guy Scott Adams and science communication, and then there is climate  scepticism (or denialism if you prefer this term).

    Firstly Scott Adams is critical of climate scientists for allegedly not communicating things well enough. Personally I think scientists do a pretty good job explaining this stuff. There are plenty of good, clear books on the issue and websites, as you point out, like NASA has some good material, and of course this website. Nobody can plead ignorance.

    Scott also complains of various apparent contradictions or problems as he sees them with models not being 100%, or disagreement on climate sensitivity etc. Well the climate issue is complex, as I alluded to above, because we can't put the planet in a laboratory and adjust various knobs on Co2 etc. What we have is a range of different types of evidence,  and we have to assess how it all adds up. Evolution is similar in complexity, in that there are gaps in the fossil record that can't ever be filled, because fossils only formed under a few chance, specific geological processes. We have to do the best with the information we have.

    Scott needs to understand this and read some of the detail on climate science. There are plety of explanations for frustrating aspects of the science "if" you put in the effort to read up in an open minded way, and they are explanations in plain langauge, and this website has plenty.

    I can't work out if he is lazy, or a closet sceptic and fixed in his views. He may have a personality disorder, but that's secondary to me. Others have moaned about science communication.

    Could scientists communicate it all better? Well I suppose it's possible for any of us to do better, but you cannot over simplify, and I think they do pretty well. You just have to listen,  and google if something seems needing more explanation or amplification!

    The simplest way I could put climate science as I understand it as a lay person, with only some basic university science is as follows: We have solid evidence CO2 absorbs heat, and temperatures have increased since CO2 has increased. We have causation and correlation, the two fundamentals of science.

    We can exclude other factors like solar changes because causation is weak and correlation is non existent recently. We also have another powerful proof in that models have made generally good predictions. Predictive ability is a good proof.

    The trouble is such a chain of factors means there are several things sceptics can attack. But I have some faith most people get the basics, and see the strength of the theory.

    Secondly we have climate change scepticism, or denialism if you prefer the term. We have people like Ted Cruz, Donald Trump etc.

    (A good book on the healthy, rational form of scepticism is 'Skeptic" by Michael Shermer.)

    But regarding climate scepticism, this has turned into denialism, and general craziness with a vast range of deceitful and nonsenscial claims.

    I think there are several drivers of climate science denialism: Obviously the fossil fuel industry has vested interests. in fact we all do a little as we own cars, but some people are more protective of their interests, and worried about costs of petrol increasing etc,  and others are more open to accepting change. But vested interests are clearly turning some people into denial of the science.

    I think there's a political dimension in terms of worries about government rules about reducing emissions, and government power. This is turning into quite a partisan battle between conservatives and liberals. However there are strong  justifications for environmental regulations originating in basic, mainstream economic theory.

    Then there are a range of psychological factors, such as confirmation bias, tendencies to think short term, peer group pressures, and being tricked by logical fallacies and other propoganda from denialist campaigns. 

    We also have an element of political grid lock in terms of politicians being captive to big campaign donors.

    I'ts all reminiscent of the tobacco issue some years back, but on a whole other level.

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  30. Tom Curtis - The tests I've seen show VERY high levels of CO2 in enclosed spaces. I have seen reports of 5,000 ppm of CO2 in commercial airliners. Small auditoriums likewise.

    I'm told that commercial airliners human response is that some people get a headache though I never have.

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Off topic for this thread.

  31. nigelj @29

    I think that puts it really well, scientists are trying to describe a very complex global system in a period of rapid transition, I think they are doing a very good job in presenting the physical aspects of climate change and the very likely cause. That is the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that us people have added to the natural carbon cycle over the last couple hundred years.

    The science backing this up goes back just as far, with the discovery of how much warmer the Earth is due to some unkown factor in the 1820s to the discovery of what was likely creating the warming in 1850s with John Tyndall demonstrating the ability of water vapour and carbon dioxide to trap heat.

    You need to learn a broad range of subjects to get a comprehensive picture of what is actually taking place, in my case this has involved learning some quantum mechanics, reading up on ocean circulation, glaciology, geology, paleotology, laser spectroscopy, biology and much more.

    All these disciplines are pointing in the same direction in regards to climate change and causation, to claim that the science isn't clear and isn't well communicated is totally inaccurate in my experience. At that time I was living in Edmonton Alberta and although the city has a strong link to the fossil fuel sector the public library system there had extensive materials on this and related topics. The resources are many including this site.

    There were also texts that covered the industry sposored disinformation campaign so there's very little doubt in my mind why in 2017 this is still a subject of "doubt". The amounts of money spent to distort the science is staggering as is the money spent lobbying politicians to enact policies that don't reflect the clear science. One figure I remember clearly was over $100 million being spent by Washington DC fossil fuel sector lobbyist in 2009 alone to sway politicians in their interests.

    Sure there is psychology at work here that prevents people from coming together in an effective way to assert their long term interests, but a lot of that destructive psychology has been intentionally prgrammed into global culture in the same way many products are sold. On a mass media level there has been a very concerted effort to brand fossil fuels as good and essential and those who threaten their continued use as dangerous.

    When if you take the time to look at the facts is almost the opposite from what the evidence says. George Monbiot did a great piece on the roots of the climate change denial movement and its outgrowth from the efforts of the tobacco lobby to deny the evidence of the link of tobacco and serious health risks.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2006/sep/19/ethicalliving.g2

    Any genuine sceptic would be challenging the true presenters of misinformation of a highly destructive and inaccurate nature in todays world. And that is not coming from climatologists or any authentic researcher in climate change related fields today.

    Adams and anyone actually concerned about this issue shoud be directing their ire at the parties that have created such a chaotic global forum of information. The Royal Society of London took the extraordinary step of criticizing Exxon Mobil in 2006 for funding climate change denial but this has not ended the denial campaign. As reported in Scientific American, massive funders of denial have moved to techniques more closely related to things like laundering money for the illegal drug trade. It's hard to even know where the money is coming from to broadcast denial on a global level.

    These are the things we should all be deeply concerned about.

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  32. Doug C @31 thank's, and I agree with your comments, mostly anyway.

    I can see you have really got into this thing in some depth, probably more than me to be honest although I read a lot on the subject. But it encourages me to look more deeply.

    However the average person doesn't need to go into that level of depth and probably won't have the time. There are some good books out there that cover the basics, and both sides of the debate fairly, and then explain why the denialist side is so weak. Those are the ones to hunt out because they are balanced. One is "Poles Apart" by Gareth Morgan ( I have no connection with the author or anything) and there are others.

    You say "trying to describe a very complex global system in a period of rapid transition, "

    And that sums it up very well in just one sentence.  While there's a place for healthy scepticism, scientists need to be respected for the difficult challenge they face figuring this thing out, and trying to provide explanations that lay people can understand. 

    Regarding your mass media comments, very true. I would add there are lots of groups who present themselves as "ordinary people" , "citizens and tax payers" etc but some of these have been analysed in my country, and they are just fronts for business lobby groups, and sometimes very extreme ones. All this adds up, and distorts everything.

    A lot of the money funding denial comes from fossil fuel companies and business interests like the Koch Brothers who are billionaires, and have strongly libertarian leanings and oppose government programmes on principle etc. This  article is on the Koch brothers:

    www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/climate-deniers/koch-industries/

    But these days there are a lot of concealed donations from both large and smaller players. The following article in Scientific American notes "A Drexel University study finds that a large slice of donations to organizations that deny global warming are funneled through third-party pass-through organizations that conceal the original funder"

    www.scientificamerican.com/article/dark-money-funds-climate-change-denial-effort/

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  33. nigelj @32

    I did go into this topic about as deep as I could, I wanted to understand to the best of my ability what the quantum mechanical basis of global warming was. When I look at the sky now I don't see a relatively passive envelope of gas, I see something very much alive. The air around us is in constant activity absorbing and releasing photons in a very complex balance that is determined by molecular concentration, air temperature and pressure.

    Adding even a relatively tiny amount of one of the principle moderators in this balance is significantly altering it. If 280 ppm of carbon dioxde makes the difference between the kind of global environment that allows the existence of tens of millions of species or a perpetual snow ball in space, then rapidly increasing that concentration is going to have a profound effect on the entire system.

    This is and has been well commincated to those willing to take the time to learn the facts, which is why it requires such a highly organized and well funded campaign to prevent action being taken.

    I look a few tens of millions mile inward to our twin planet in the Solar system and take heed from what Venus is telling us. With it's dense cloudy atmosphere it reflects most of the incoming solar radiation. The little sunlight that gets through is so efficiently trapped by the 96.5% carbon dioxide atmosphere that Venus has the hottest surface of any planetary body in the Solar system. That is the power of CO2 to moderate the radiative balance of a planetary atmosphere and we don't need to get anywhere close to that to create a very hostile to life global environment here.

    These facts are easily accessable and using just basic critical thinking skills can readily be placed in the proper context and the information has been there with growing certainty for decades. The first person to calculate climate sensitivty - doubling of CO2 - was Svante Arrhenius in the 1890s, it's so ridiculous to claim that scientists aren't doing a good job of communicating the facts of climate change when it's been a central part of science for over a century.

    And the more powerful our tools both theoretical and technical become the more certainty we have of the reality of rapid global warming caused by significantly increasing the concentration of CO2 is and how catastrophic the impacts will be if we take it much further. The impacts are already serious when you consider entire cities being burned as Fort McMurray in Alberta was last year due to an extreme April heat wave. And that is just one claxon going off, things like the rapid loss of corals worldwide and so much more are constant warnings. You really wonder what people like Adams really need to wake up, because all the information anyone needs to be fully alarmed at what we are programming is already out there and has been presented in such a clear and concise manner that it takes the world's most accomplished deceptionists to make sure it isn't acted on.

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  34. Doug C @33, that's all interesting.

    I have read a popular style book on quantum science (in the style of Steven Hawking's " a brief history of time"). Well worth I read, I recommend this sort of thing to anyone.

    Unfortunately I don't have enough advanced maths or physics to deal with the details, and find textbooks on QM too tough going. I'm semi retired, and have thought of going back to univ. and doing a physics degree. But I do see exactly what you are saying on the issue.

    As you say some people don't get how small quantities of CO2 can cause big changes. QM is the full explanation. One simpler analogy is how semi conductors work, where just a few atoms of materal can modulate a very significant current. There are many other examples of small quantities or changes having bigger than anticipated effects. I'm amazed people can't see this, as it's all around us.

    I agree the material is all there for people and it just needs some critical thinking, - and an open mind.

    But I actually do think it's a shame Al Gores book didn't mention Arrhenius. This was an eye opener for me, when I came across this guys work in some article, that the science went that far back, and his predictions were about right. It was really the first climate model. People need to be aware of this.

    Regarding climate impacts, I think we have become complacent. We are used to regular "one in a hundred year" floods, with everything tuned to cope with this and infrastructure designed foir this. When it becomes 1 in 50, or 1 in 20, the costs are bigger than people realise, and it makes forward planning of infrastructure uncertain, expensive, and difficult because we are facing an ever changing, escalating situation.

    My city has just had a record flood that's pushed things beyond the limits and caused massive inconvenience. Ironically it has also caused sediment to contaminate our entire water system, and we have been asked to cut our water use quite steeply for weeks on end, until the sediment settles.

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  35. nigelj @34

    Not to get too far off topic, but I found the Feynman lectures in book form really helped get better grasp of QM, as Feynman put it, no one really understands how it works, just that the formulas seem to describe what is going on at the smallest level. A lot of the math is over my head as well, but some of the basic principles are very relevant to the climate change issue, such as photons of certain wavelengths being quantized to be absorbed by certain elements and compound due to their atomic structure. Basically these photons when absorbed by elements with the right atomic structure kick electrons to higher orbits which are unstable. When these electrons drop back down to a more stable level they release another photon which is emitted in a random direction. From  what I understand, one CO2 molecule can go through a billion such interactions in a second and about half of the photons involved instead of speeding off into space are sent back towards the Earth's surface, this is what makes it such a powerful moderator in the atmosphere. And why such a tiny amount can have such a profound effect on the global climate. The Earth really would be a frozen and mostly lifeless ball if not for the relatively tiny amount of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere.

    I've also read a lot of work done by James Hansen and the GISS team. Lonnie Thompson at Ohio State has a lot to add with the ice picture, he's been around the world working on alpine glaciers and has watched as many of those have rapidly retreated in his lifetime. He started out as a climate change sceptic but is now fully convinced of how radical the change we're forcing are.

    If someone needs visual evidence of how rapid the changes are, then there's nothing better than James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey which has captured in time lapse photos just how fast we are losing glaciers and ice sheets across the planet.

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  36. Doug C @35

    Yes without CO2 the planet would be very different. Too little and it would be much colder, too much and we head towards the extremely hot conditions on Venus. 

    I read a book ages ago called "Thin Ice" by Mike Bowen. This talked a lot about Lonnie Thompson, I think. You have probably read it, but just in case you haven't I mention it.

    Our glaciers in NZ have lost approximately 40% of their ice mass over the last 100 years, and this is too long a period to blame on simple natural variation in my opinion. Photos of this sort of thing were the main thing convincing me we are altering the climate, I guess because it's visible and tangible.

    We are probably talked out on these issues for now, but I wanted to mention that book.

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  37. nigelj @36

    "Thin Ice" is an excellent book as was "Censoring Science" about the efforts of some in the Bush administration to silence climate scientists working for NASA, NOAA and other government agencies.

    I live in the BC Okanagan and changes here have been significant in recent decades. Massive wildfires from droughts and heat waves, rapidly shrinking alpine glaciers that help ensure our rivers maintain flow year round and huge areas of this province are covered in dead and dying pine trees from beetles that are no longer controlled by harsh winters.

    Thanks for your comments, it always helps to get a better picture with personal updates from the other side of the planet.

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  38. Apologies for using a fone. This site is optimized for a desktop.

    Anyhow, above, a comment was made in passing regarding a one meter rise in the oceans by 2100. This is more than a centimeter each and every year until then. Where is a link to a model or prediction which shows how much sea rise to expect in each year until 2100?

    I'm rather familiar with the paucity of research in Scott Adams climate postings.  I think that persuasion is a powerful tool for policymakers, but it is not the only way to make an argument.

    T

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  39. JohnFornaro @38. from the blog of Aslak Grinsted, a researcher into sea level rise, we have the following two graphs:

    The images come from a discussion of Jevrejeva, Grinsted and Moore (2014).

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  40. JohnFornaro @38:  Unfortunately, most scientists who study sea level rise consider the IPCC projections to be minimum sea level rise.  According to RealClimate, a survey of sea level rise experts produced this graph:sea level rise

    Figure 2: Sea level rise over the period 2000-2100 for two warming scenarios (red RCP8.5, blue RCP3). The ranges show the average numbers given across all the experts. The inner (darker) range shows the 17 to 83 percentile values, the outer range the 5 to 95th percentiles. For comparison we see the NOAA projections of December 2012 (dashed lines) and the new IPCC projections (bars on the right). 

    For RCP 2.6 the difference is not that much, but for RCP 8.5 the low projection of experts is similar to the high projection from the IPCC.  Because the IPCC always uses consensus numbers it ends up with low values for sea level rise.  

    It seems to me that while a low value that 80% of experts agree on is OK, for the high end they should use a value that 80% of experts think is the highest possible value.  Apparently they use the high value that 80% of experts think is the lowest high value.

    As side comment, when I searched on Bing for "Real Climate Sea Level Rise" Stephen Goddard was the first hit and several more hits from his blog were present.  On Google the Real Climate article was the first hit.  Where does Goddard get the money to buy the first place on Bing?

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  41. michael sweet @40, it is helpful to put the results of Horton et al (2014), ie the paper on which the Real Climate article is based, into some context.  

    First, while the IPCC AR5 projected a 0.52 to 0.98 likely range for sea level rise in RCP 8.5, they add the significant qualifier that:

    "We have considered the evidence for higher projections and have concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to evaluate the probability of specific levels above the assessed likely range. Based on current understanding, only the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet, if initiated, could cause global mean sea level to rise substantially above the likely range during the 21st century. This potential additional contribution cannot be precisely quantified but there is medium confidence that it would not exceed several tenths of a meter of sea level rise
    during the 21st century."

    Therefore, according to the IPCC, the probability of a result exceeding the likely range is greater than the probability of it being below that range, but that the extent to which this is so is unquantifiable.  To the extent that it does exceed it, according to the IPCC, it will be due to a partial collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.  Those experts who think the IPCC assessment is too low tend to think that the increased sea level rise will come from just such a collapse, and differ from the IPCC primarilly in their willingness to quantify the probality of the likelihood and extent of such a collapse in the 21st century.

    Second, IPCC assessments represent an review of the evidence by a group of experts.  It differs from a review paper in a journal primarilly in the far greater extensiveness of the peer (and non-peer) review of that results.  As a review of the evidence, we should not expect the results to precisely match the results of a survey of expert opinion, although would should expect some similarity.  Even if it were a survey of expert opinion, we would expect the upper bound to be set at "a value that 80% of experts think is the highest possible value" but rather at the median or mean estimate of the upper value by experts.  That value would more closely approximate to the 95th percentile of a Probability Density Function (PDF) generated by averaging the PDF's of the experts.  The box plots of expert opinion of the 5th, 17th, 83rd and 95th percentiles of expected sea level rise is shown in Figure 2 of the paper.  Here is that part of Figure 2 relating to RCP 8.5 and 2100:

     

    As an aside, I made a mistake in the text in that it should be Fig 2 b.  In any event, by your of criteria expert opinion the upper limit should be above 2 meters, whereas by mine it is about 1.6 meters.  For the 5th percentile, the lower limit should be below 0.5 meters by your criteria, and just above 0.5 meters by mine.  In either case the IPCC underestimates the range of plausible outcomes.

    Third, while the IPCC understates the likely consensus projection of sea level rise, it is a much better fit to the consensus projection of the most expert experts, ie, those with a h-index of 40 or above, whose likely range for RCP 8.5 is approximately 0.62 to 1 meter sea level rise by 2100 (see Figure 3 B).  Again, this fits with the IPCC report being a review of the evidence rather than a statement of the consensus of the experts.  Presumably the most expert of the experts will have a better grasp of the evidence, and certainly those with a higher h-index will have contributed more of the evidence that is being reviewed by the IPCC.  This disparity of the most expert opinion, along with the significantly increased knowledge of the potential of Ice Sheet collapse that became available after the IPCC cut off period may be sufficient to explain the relatively optimistic position of the IPCC on sea level rise.  

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  42. Tom Curtis @39 and Michael Sweet @40:

    Thanks for those graphs.

    My question is pretty simply stated:

    At what point can we measure sea level rise and point to that rise as incontrovertible evidence that one or more of these models is accurately predicting sea level rise?

    I printed the graph provided by Michael to fit an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and manually graphed the minimum and maximum sea level rise for the years 2017 to 2020. The minimum level rise can't be seen readily at this scale, but the maximum level rise would indicate a sea level rise of about 4 cm over the next three years.

    I quite understand that I have arbitrarily selected the highest predicted rise.

    Is there a better selection from among the eleven possibilities suggested in the graph?

    When can the models be tested against reality? Is 4 cm good enough proof?

    Michael Sweet: "Apparently they use the high value that 80% of experts think is the lowest high value."

    I saw that too. Scott Adams' Twainian hammer is persuasion, and he rants, there's no other term for it, about how <b>all</b> things are about persuasion. Of course he's broadly wrong about that, but still, it is the case that people are trying to <b>persuade</b> policy makers to change policy regarding the climate, with tax policy being the tool of choice.

    A graph such as this, with eleven scenarios and various percentages of confidence does not persuade well.

    I saw Tom Curtis @ 41, quoting IPCC AR5:

    "Based on current understanding, only the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet, if initiated, could cause global mean sea level to rise substantially above the likely range during the 21st century. This potential additional contribution cannot be precisely quantified but there is medium confidence that it would not exceed several tenths of a meter of sea level rise during the 21st century."

    Clearly, Larson C is in play and it seems that higher rates of sea level rise can be expected by current modeling.

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  43. John,

    As I understand it, every year a lot more is learned about the melting ice sheets.  This new information changes the opinions of experts somewhat over 10  years or so.  It is not really possible for amateurs to determine which model is the best fit right now.

    In addition, if the nations of the world really start to work hard on carbon emissions it will change the trajectory that is followed.  We must hope that China successfully invests in renewable energy and the rest of the world follows.  Parts of Europe are putting in a good effort and demonstrating what is possible.  If wind and solar energy continue to go down in price it may happen.

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  44. JohnFornaro @42, the current rate of sea level rise, taking the average of the five teams determining it, is 3.34 +/- 0.44 mm per year (see side bar here).  Taken over the 17 years todate since Jan 1st, 2000, that represents a sea level rise of 57.35 +/- 7.55 mm.  Comparing visually to the the second graph @39, that is above the upper limit of the IPCC "likely" range (shaded in purple), but about 40 mm below the "upper limit".  Unfortunately this does not preclude the upper limit as yet.  

    The difference between the upper end of the likely range in the upper limit will, if the IPCC is correct, come from significant collapse of ice sheets.  That is likely to be an irregular process, with periods of slower sea level rise interspersed with periods of rapid rise when undermined maritime ice sheets break loose, and/or when glaciers increase their flow because the ice shelf that had been slowing the flow break up.  As with many things with regards to AGW, it will be a decade or two before we can significantly resolve which projection/model combination is most accurate with respect to sea level rise.  As it stands, however, the current best estimate from an empirical stance would be a near 1 meter sea level rise.

    With regard to Larsen C, it is an ice shelf, not an ice sheet.  The difference is that an ice shelf is not grounded, ie, it floats.  Consequently the break up of an ice shelf has a minimal direct effect on sea level rise; and no more direct effect than the melting of a similar volume of sea ice.  The break up of an ice shelf can have a significant indirect effect in allowing the more rapid motion of the glaciers behind it.  Given the location of Larson C on the Antarctic Peninsular, however, such glaciers will be of short length and limited mass.  The effect on sea level rise is therefore likely to be, if anything, less than the similar break up of ice shelves on Greenland. 

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  45. Rob,

    First I want to thank you for taking the time to do this write-up. Anyone who is willing to stick their neck out to state something and is willing to open the floor to comments deserves thanks and you have mine.

    I feel like climate scientists are being put in a position closer to that of an economist or an engineer because of the policy implications/ramifications that come as a product of climate research. While scientists in other fields do not normally have to assume the mantle of professional soothsayer, the fact that one of your opening comments (provided below) basically says you are unwilling to take on this mantle and that this view is probably widely held amongst climate scientists is very troubling given the importance of anthropomorphic climate change:


    Aside from the ludicrous notion that saving the world somehow pivots on convincing "skeptics", Adams' fundamental fallacy is the notion that it's the job of climate scientists to convince "skeptics" that climate change is real.


    How I interpret this comment is to say that climate scientists, in general, are not willing to spend time to convince those holding the purse-strings (going with Scott’s assumption that those holding the purse-strings are the skeptics) to make some sort of policy decision based on their prognostications.


    So I have two questions: First, if you truly believe that it is ludicrous or futile to try to convince deniers to change policy then why say anything at all; why not aspire to push climate science to some sort of academic backwater to avoid all the attention? Second, if it’s not your job to convince skeptics then whose job is it?


    I can tell you that the folks holding the purse-strings assume that it is your job to do the convincing since they are the ones who will feel the immediate impacts of your prognostication (e.g., voted out of office because you spent too much money). You could argue that your prognostications are based on physical laws and the “skeptic” should just take your word for it, but from the perspective of the person holding the purse, your argument is no different from that of a structural engineer who applies basic physical laws to create a schematic for a roadway bridge.


    The only difference being that the structural engineer is willing to go the extra step of applying his/her license numbered stamp to the schematic which essentially says, "I certify that if you build it to these specifications, the bridge will not collapse." The climate scientist does nothing besides say “trust me.”


    From the perspective of the purse-holder, which model is more believable? The model of the bridge where the structural engineer is willing to stake his/her professional engineering license (and subsequently his/her livelihood) on the belief that his prognostications are true, or the model of the climate scientist who has absolutely no skin in the game and isn’t even willing to simply explain his results?


    While I’m on the topic of “skin in the game”, I want to explain to you what skin in the game feels like because I hope it will illustrate why climate models are not taken as seriously as the climate modeling community thinks they should. I happen to be a professional commodities speculator. I build and use mathematical models every day (I am an applied math PhD dropout). Furthermore, I have done the work explaining to others what I do so that other people give me money to make bets based on the outcome of my models.


    In a single day I once lost $30,000 of my own money and $450,000 of someone else’s money based on a data error in one of my models. When I realized what had happened I threw up in the trashcan at my desk and was unable to eat for weeks. Since the error was a clear oversight on my part, I thought I would lose my job and I would be finished in this business. I’m still trading, but I never forgot that day. In fact, I still have a job precisely because my error put me in such financial “pain” and my superiors knew I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.


    While I believe in anthropomorphic climate change and that it is imperative that human behavior must be changed, I can’t help but wonder, is the average climate scientist willing to stake his livelihood on the output of one of his modeling runs? Will the scientist stake their home or whether or not they will have a job tomorrow that their models are free from data and programming errors? That’s what skin-in-the-game feels like, and once you can demonstrate to the person holding the purse that you have skin in the game, your model will take on a level of believability above and beyond what it actually does.

    So I guess to make a long story short. For the sake of the planet, more empathy may be required on the part of the climate scientist since the scientist is essentially asking of the person holding the purse-strings that they put their money where the scientist’s mouth is.

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  46. jupiterjosh... The issue here is, all the data is there. Scientists explain this stuff all the time. Over and over. Repeatedly and ad nauseum. My point is, it's like the old adage, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." It requires some willingness to listen on the part of "skeptics" in order for them to actually understand.

    There are a lot of people who will go to their graves rather than accept scientific facts. This is just a simple failing of human nature. And in terms of "purse string holders" go, we need to put the purse strings into different hands if the one's holding them now are unwilling to accept facts.

    In terms of having skin in the game, (a) I think science operates differently than markets, and (b) we all have skin in this game that involves potentially catastrophic impacts on future generations. 

    I think it's also important to reiterate the point that climate models and financial models are vastly different animals. The basis of the scientific understanding of anthropogenic (not anthropomorphic) climate change is fundamental physics, not models. Models are there only to help researchers to better understand what's happening and where things are likely going. They're used to constrain the range of uncertainty.

    There is definitely no lack of empathy here. Scientists are working very hard to make their complex science clear to the general public. But there is also an extremely well funded effort out there driving confusion on the science as well. And remember, a lie can get half way round the planet before the truth can get its trousers on. (Quote attributed to various people.) 

    Telling the complex truth amidst a stormy sea of lies is always going to be challenging. 

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  47. jupiterjosh @45, first (a very small point), it is anthropogenic climate change, not anthropomorphic.  The former means human generated or caused, the later human formed.

    Second, a number of climate scientists and communicators have tried very hard to get direct "skin in the game" in the form of bets on future temperatures.  These include Rob Honeycutt himself, the climate scientist who blogs under the name of Eli Rabbet, and others.  Generally they have had difficulty finding betting partners from among purported skeptics.  Curiously, often purported skeptics are only prepared to bet on terms which presume a warming climate, although the bet Rob Honeycutt is involved in is not among those.  Richard Lindzen, for example, is only prepared to bet on odds that assume it is 50 to 1 against a cooling climate in future. 

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  48. jupiterjosh@45,

    You seem to have a problem that "skin in the game" is not part of climate scientists' job, unlike your job.

    In addition to the responses by Rob Honeycutt and Tom Curtis - indicating that those scientists often want to put their "skin in the game" as private citizens (with poor results when pitched against cowardice deniers) -  I want to emphasise that a typical job of a scientist in general does not involve any betting games or such.

    Scientists are like teachers: they sell you the knowledge of e.g. the physics. They don't sell you the products, e.g. the computer programs that are guaranteed to make money like you do. Their programs, as opposed to your program, are the teaching tool and not commercial tool. Cettainly they may become commercial tool when they are sold from one university to the other: then the authors from the original uni put their "skin in the game", in a sense that their program is free of design and implementation bugs.

    Have you ever heard of a case when the students (like us in SkS) demanded from the teachers (like climate scientists) to put their "skin in the game" of teaching? Such notion is unheard of. Because all teachers' and all scientists' job desciption does not require them to do that. Their stake is not finance but reputation.

    It's arguable if scientists would be inspired for a better job and/or their trust would increase if we forced them to have financial stake in their job description. For once, in case of climate scientists, all contrarians like Judith Curry, Fred Singer, Wili Soon, Dick Lidzen, etc. would have been eliminated from such field. But that's beside my point. My point is that our civilisation developed such ethical considerations around teaching jobs for a good reasons: that the scientific knowledge can be debated and developed unencumbered by any commercial obligations, therefore free from commercial bias.

    To give you another perspective, for better understanding the difference between teacher's job and other commercial jobs, consider the case of medical professionals that can be both. Doctors may do research based on their practice and publish the new/breakthrough methods in medical journals and lecture at the unis. This is a teacher's job and they have no stake in it other than their reputation. On the other hand, when the patients come to their office for a medical consultation, they surely put  "skin in the game", because they may be liable financially (e.g. sued) for wrong dignosis.

    Finally, let's consider if making sicentist/teachers liable financially rather than morally for their job would encourage them to perform better? I doubt. Reputation for many people (especially highly educated and at level 3 of moral development according to Kohlberg) plays far important role, than financial remuneration, as the reward for their activities.

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  49. Hi Rob @46, Tom @47, and chriskoz @48.  Anthroprogenic — yes, my apologies — if you can't get the little things right, you're never going to sell them on the big things :-)

    First to chriskoz @48.  I agree with you 100%. I don't think I was clear in my original comment.  What I meant to say is that I believe a role above and beyond what is traditionally a scientist's/teacher's role has been thrust upon the climate science community because of the policy ramifications that result from their research.  As you point out, it is unethical for a climate scientist/teacher to have a financial conflict-of-interest with their research.  But the deniers can employ anyone they want to further their agenda.  So if climate scientists do not take on this additional role of engineer/evangelist/promoter/soothsayer, then who will? Who can?  

    These were my original questions and I still don't know the answer to them.  I believe this is the spirit of what Scott Adams was grasping at.

    Getting, to Rob and Tom's comments.  While I agree that there a some folks holding purse-strings that aught not to, in the U.S. at least, we are where we are. So Rob, do you not at least agree that the transaction being suggested by climate science is for someone holding the purse-strings (politicians, CEO's, etc.) to accept a short-run risk (in terms of being voted out of office by either the public or shareholders should the average person suddenly forget why the climate policy was enacted in the first place) in exchange for the promise of a long-term gain?  

    I think it is important to also point out that the market *has* put a price on the status quo. If there was no price associated with the status-quo then there wouldn't be a coordinated effort to deny climate change. All that lobbying and TV-time costs money.

    This is why climate models look like financial models to me and why it seems like having skin-in-the-game is an important ingredient to convincing someone holding the purse that what you're saying is true. As chriskoz pointed out to me, from the climate scientist's perspective they do have skin in the game in the form of reputation amongst their peers, and this would be enough if they were trying to convince eachother, but I don't think reputation amongst peers is exchangable currency with folks outside of one's peer group.  Not having skin in the game certainly isn't the fault of the climate scientist, and as Tom pointed out it certainly isn't for lack of trying (via temperature bets).  

    But this again brings me back to the original questions in my post.  If the climate scientist is unwilling to take on the job of convincing skeptics then whose job is it?  If saving the world doesn't pivot on convincing skeptics, what does it pivot on?

    As a quick aside/fyi, I think you'd be surprised at how close these climate models are to becoming financial models.  Constaining the range of uncertainty is exactly the purpose of a financial model.  A financial model attempts to "predict" a distribution of financial outcomes. It does this by (1) specifying a universe of future events, (2) identifying a "cost" function that tabulates the cost of any individual event occuring, and (3) somehow imputing a distribution on the likelihood of those events occurring. The standard climate model does (1) and (3). The only thing the climate model doesn't do is (2).  Consider that seasonal weather models are used to price heating-degree-day (HDD) and cooling-degree-day (CDD) financial options.  If there was a market for 50-year HDD/CDD options, then climate models (regardless of how mathematically sophisticated and grounded in physics) would drive the options prices.

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    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  50. JupiterJosh... Let me ask you this: What other science has required "skin in the game"? Relativity? Quantum theory? Germ theory? 

    Personally, I'm not seeing a fit.

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