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Climate Hustle

The value of coherence in science

Posted on 6 October 2010 by Stephan Lewandowsky

Guest podcast by Stephan Lewandowsky
(listen to the original audio podcast)

Suppose a bloke drifts up to you and says, “Apples don’t exist”... While your eyebrows are still rising, he adds, “but they grow naturally on trees!”

What?

“Apples don’t exist but they grow naturally on trees?” Surely you wouldn’t trust that bloke with the lives of your children if their future depended on logical coherence.

Now suppose you walk down the street and some other bloke sidles up and says, “The price of sheep is unknown, but I’d buy some now because they are cheap.”

‘Scuse me?

The price of sheep is unknown but they are cheap? No point trusting that bloke with your kids’ lives either, if their future depended on logical coherence.

Now here’s a surprising fact: Your kids’ future, and the future of their kids, very much depends on logical coherence—very much hinges on protecting them and their future from the incoherent claims of so-called climate “skeptics.”

One of the reliable insights of philosophy of science is that scientific knowledge is virtually never incoherent. In science, a hallmark criterion of whether you can possibly be right is whether or not you are coherent. If you are coherent, you might be right. If you are incoherent or contradict yourself, then you are most likely wrong.

The beauty of this is that you don’t even need data or peer-reviewed science to be sure: If an argument is incoherent or mutually contradictory, then you can be fairly confident that it is wrong or stated for entertainment purposes only.

What does this have to do with so-called climate “skeptics?”

Everything.

Because the sum total of so-called “skeptic” arguments is an incoherent muddle of contradictions.

On a Monday morning your resident “skeptic” might tell you that global warming does not exist. On the Monday afternoon, she may tell you that the warming is all natural, just the same way that non-existent apples grow on trees.

Nothing this incoherent can be right.

And on Tuesday, a so-called “skeptic” may drift into town and make claims about the temperature record not being accurate. He might also assure you that there is nothing to worry about because it hasn’t been warming in the last 23 days anyhow. So the sheep are cheap but no one knows their price.

Nothing this incoherent can be right.

By Wednesday morning, your excited “skeptic” may have invented the possibility that the sun is causing global warming, and by afternoon tea time it might be cosmic rays, or El Niño, or Inspector Clouseau or whatever.

Now, you may find it hard to believe that anyone could be so muddled, but in fact, it takes little effort to go to a “skeptic” website and dig out dozens if not hundreds such contradictions. Hundreds of instances in which apples were said not to exist but then happily grow on trees. Hundreds of clear indications that this so-called “skepticism” amounts to little more than muddled mutterings.

There is, of course, a coherent alternative. It is the coherent and overwhelmingly supported scientific fact that the Earth’s climate is warming and that humans are largely responsible for it. That is coherent, backed by peer-reviewed science, and endorsed by all major scientific organizations in the world.

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO PODCAST

This 3-minute podcast was previously “blog reviewed” here on www.skepticalscience.com, and I wish to thank those who contributed to improving this piece through their thoughtful and detailed comments. For new readers, please bear in mind that the podcasts are spoken and hence must be understandable by listening alone—though obvious, this is no trivial matter because it mandates simplifications that would be unnecessary in writing.

For aficionados of philosophical esoterica, a theory of ontology known as Meinongianism, after Alexius Meinong, holds that even non-existent entities (e.g., Santa Claus) have some type of “being” simply because one can think about them, which in turn means that they may be thought to have properties (e.g., living at the North Pole). This position has been critiqued by several philosophers, Bertrand Russell foremost among them, and I am not aware of it having any influence on contemporary science.

I thank my philosopher colleague Dr Nic Damnjanovic for helpful discussions about the issues raised in this podcast.

There will be a post forthcoming on this website in the near future that explicitly enumerates contradictions and incoherent statements made by “skeptics.” In the meantime, you may wish to check Eli Rabbett’s earlier analysis of contradictions.

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Comments 51 to 85 out of 85:

  1. Interestingly, I find myself drawn to Judith Curry precisely because she is very mainstream in relation to climate science but deals with those who aren't quite on side with courtesy and respect. I think the sceptic community value this far more than any musings on 'post-normal' science.

    I'm certainly not qualified to comment on her take on McIntyre - I lack the requisite background in statistics. However, no blogger proposing serious engagement with climate science can afford to leave McIntyre to out of the debate. I'm struck by the relative absence of argument as to his statistical methodology (or more accurately by my failure to notice arguments addressing the issue). Perhaps in the interests of coherence, some folk better equipped than I might care to post some comments.

    As far as tribalism is concerned, I have observed that those most firmly immersed in tribes/subcultures be they political parties, religious minority groups, recent immigrants to a new land, special interest groups, and the like all too often cannot see the mob mentality permeating their behaviour. Membership of a 'tribe' discourages the requisite self-reflection.

    As a so-called rootless cosmopolitan who has close ties with three continents and would be best described as 'non-clubbable,' I have seen tribalism operating in a wide array of contexts. Many of my patients moreover (whistle-blowers for example) suffer the consequences of expulsion from the 'tribe.'

    I would prefer to see myself as a member of one tribe only - the human race.

    For a lighter take on tribalism, see here.
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  2. Chris, my observation is that unless used very carefully, remarks about "tribalism" and "post-normal science" exhibit the same properties as "process corruption" and "publication bias" or "group think."

    I don't think Juditch Curry intends it this way, but for many of her on again, off again enthusiasts, focusing on "tribalism" is a way of casting aspersions on research findings in general without actually showing how any specific research finding is unreliable. Vaguely targeted innuendo is a rhetorical magic trick.
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  3. Chris @43, 51

    Everyone who approaches commenting on these sites from a position of intellectual honesty should be prepared to call out incoherence, even if it's from their own "side". However, I would wager that the motivation to rebut a comment is somewhat proportional to how wrong it is and so most of the slap-downs on this site are for the most incoherent comments, which tend to be from "skeptics".

    In any dialogue, tone, thoughtfulness and a lack of crazy go a long way, even when you disagree. For this reason I actually read your comments, while I may skim over those from people who mostly just repeat zombie arguments.

    With regard to Judith Curry, the way I see it, when you are a scientist, commenting in your field, then people are going to expect you to act like a scientist. Doesn't mean you have to be nice, but you should attempt to be accurate.

    When Dr Curry made (clearly incorrect) statements at RealClimate and then admitted she was essentially just repeating claims in a book she had read, she failed to show proper scientific skepticism IMHO. This can happen to the best of us and could have been fixed if she had taken responsibility and admitted she was wrong (calling out her own incoherence if you will) but unfortunately she didn't.
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  4. Doug, to my surprise (thanks to Google), I discovered that 'post-normal science' rates a page in Wikipedia’ which states:

    'Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent" (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991). It is primarily applied in the context of long-term issues where there is less available information than is desired by stakeholders.'

    Moreover (in the same article):

    'Few mainstream scientists advocate the approaches taken by post-normal science, even among those who agree with the goals of Funtowicz and Ravetz, though the idea has gained some publicity in recent times, appearing prominently in an article published in The Guardian in March 2007... Some... argue that there seems to be little to distinguish post-normal science from the 'skewed cargo cult science’ described by Richard Feynman in 1974.'

    The latter was used 'to negatively characterize research in the soft sciences (psychology and psychiatry in particular) - arguing that they have the semblance of being scientific, but are missing "a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty".'

    I'd certainly agree that some of what passes for research in my field readily meets the definition of cargo-cult science :-\. People design research projects which generate lots of numbers which allow for sophisticated statistics which often bear a tenuous relationship to clinical realities.

    I would also acknowledge that much of the clinical decision making in psychiatry comprises 'post-normal science' in which the diagnosis and treatment of a patient equates to a hypothesis which is at best testable 'on the run' - you try this treatment hoping it works - if it doesn't, you try something else, and so it goes.

    'Post-normal science' and 'cargo cult science' seem to me to be rather different beasts. 'Post-normal science' seems a concept very much applicable in the context of the understandable urgency that many feel when approaching AGW given the perception of many that dire outcomes will follow if we don't act now.

    'Post-normal science' in short sounds like the sort of work a nation might undertake in wartime. The Manhattan Project, while soundly based in physics, might I suspect partake of this category (superb science undertaken in a climate of urgency and uncertainty with horrible outcomes but that's not germane to my point - the project had a specific goal which it attained in spectacular fashion). It certainly wasn't 'cargo cult science.'

    By contrast, wartime analyses of the carpet bombing of Germany undertaken with ultimately similar goals in mind would be a good example of 'cargo cult science.' The effectiveness (let alone morality) of strategic bombing of Germany’ with their enormous civilian casualties has been the subject of much debate. German production rose despite the bombings and civilian morale held up remarkably well. The belief that Allied bombing efforts were meeting their goals despite a massive cost in aircrew and aircraft reflected a great deal of wishful thinking.

    In short, a policy decision (strategic bombing)based on military science as then understood undertaken in conditions of a 'post-normal' decision making framework in retrospect seems to have degenerated into a horrific 'cargo cult science' scenario.

    So to come back on topic, 'post-normal' science need not be a pejorative term. I practice 'post-normal' science daily striving to avoid 'cargo cult science.'

    Equally, those who practice 'post-normal' science often are not aware that this is what they are doing. They need to be be reminded of the fact and of the limitations this imposes on them. My colleagues in internal medicine and surgery would probably be quite offended if I suggested to them that much of modern medicine despite the plethora of highly sophisticated investigations actually fits into the paradigm of 'post-normal science.'

    This applies all the more in an age when the prevailing mantra in medicine and psychiatry is 'evidence based treatment' often based on analyses of highly selected populations bearing little semblance to real patients in real clinical settings.

    I haven't had the opportunity of acquainting myself with Judith Curry's battles in the blogosphere (I'm still very much a newcomer to this area). However, I can see how the notion of 'post-normal' science might raise hackles. Whether it ought to do so is another question.
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  5. Mike, I didn't see your commented until after I'd finished writing my bit but I'd be interested in a link to Judith Curry's misadventures/misdemeanours on RealClimate.
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  6. chriscanaris writes some nice things about my excessively long rant earlier in this thread. He then tries to disagree with me on some points:

    Actually, with respect, I think there is far too much labelling of positions taken by various players.

    I would suggest that this "labeling" is largely an outcome of the exact situation I was lamenting. That is to say, even though we don't have little colored icons next to our names saying "Ned is on Team A, So-And-So is on Team B" most people self-organize into those groups anyway, based on their behavior here.

    I think this is a bad thing. I would like to break this pattern.

    chriscanaris continues: I often feel I have to couch what I say with great care to maintain credibility as a poster - far more care than if I was perceived as a card carrying warmist. [...] Overall, this site is far more tolerant of sceptics than the other players in the AGW team. Still, the feeling of differing standards and expectations doesn't go away.

    I can understand all of that. I would like to think that this site does a pretty good job of encouraging polite discussion, thanks largely to (a) the requirement that people register before commenting, (b) the fairly rigorous comments policy, and (c) the example set by John Cook, who always seems to administer this site with grace and good humor.

    At the same time, I know that these efforts aren't perfect, and that for a number of reasons it probably feels subjectively less welcoming to someone on the "skeptic" side than to those of us who are already predisposed to agree with the overall weltanschauung of the site. That disparity will probably never be eliminated, though we should do what we can to minimize it!

    A note, though, about your comment re: maintaining credibility. Credibility is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, and on this site, judgments of credibility will obviously involve both science and "style" (for lack of a better word). Being polite, thoughtful, reasonable, and careful in how you "couch what you say" will all help, of course, but that can only get you so far.
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  7. chriscanaris wrote : "...I'd be interested in a link to Judith Curry's misadventures/misdemeanours on RealClimate."


    Just in case Mike's away at the moment, and without getting into page numbers, etc., I think you will find a good round-up, including relevant links, at Climate Progress, if that is a site that you don't object to.
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  8. Chris, in my opinion, the most instructive exchange is in the lengthy comment stream for the RC post The Montford Delusion.
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  9. Earlier in this thread I wrote: I think there are no shortage of cases where people make incoherent arguments in support of mainstream climate science. (If people doubt this, I can go into detail in another comment).

    In case anyone doubts this, let me point to the issue of Arctic sea ice. Having just spent the summer "watching the ice melt" on a variety of blogs on both "sides" I must ruefully say that nobody has a monopoly on incoherence.

    Overall, at the end of the season the result was basically exactly what would be predicted from the trend over the past few decades. But the unpredictable fits and starts along the way led many commenters on each side to engage in rather incoherent and self-deceptive arguments. When the ice was doing what Blogger X wanted it to be doing, the decline (or lack of decline) was real. When it wasn't cooperating, this was due to the winds, compaction/dispersion, the Beaufort Gyre, errors in the satellite analysis, or whatever. People would focus on ice extent one month, ice area the next month. The energy put into it all was impressive, even if the arguments were not especially consistent over time.

    Obviously, there was plenty of incoherence on both "sides", but the ice goes ahead and does what it does regardless. The fact that Steve Goddard is routinely incoherent and illogical would not actually prevent the ice from "recovering", and the fact that Neven's commenters are often opportunistic in their interpretation of events would not somehow mean that the ice would have to refuse to decline as predicted.

    So by all means, let's try to be reasonably coherent in our arguments. But there is plenty of incoherence on both sides, and more importantly the fact that one's rhetorical opponents seem incoherent doesn't mean that your side will be proven right!

    -------------------

    [No, I'm not trying to draw a false equivalence between Goddard/WUWT and the commenters on Neven's sea ice blog. In spite of the way that discussions on the latter often seemed to involve "special pleading", there was still a huge amount of value in that blog, and I look forward to reading it next summer. The same cannot be said of SG/WUWT.]
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  10. Chris, good comment, more than just a comment.

    We could wish that most people using the term "post-normal science" in connection with climate science bothered to look it up, as you did.

    What I find disturbing about employment of the term by folks tossing it around on climate blogs is-- again-- that they label climatological research as well as research in other fields as "post-normal science" based not on the content of the research itself but rather on whether it is connected with anthropogenic climate change, particularly if it happens to lend support to the notion of anthropogenic climate change as a threat. Reflexive categorization itself is presumed to be a negation of the worth of research, but it's not.

    It's reasonable to claim that the course of inquiry leading to some particular finding was inspired by reaction to a perceived threat; I'm sure we can agree that in myriad cases, concern about an emerging situation may well motivate choices about where to expend research effort, as in the case of HIV. However, categorizing research in that manner does not explain results, doesn't invalidate findings. Regardless of the reasons for why particular questions are answered or attempted to be answered, answers themselves can and must be assessed for reliability outside of motivational frameworks, leaving aside the impetus driving any particular actors.

    Tagging collective or individual work with labels such as "post-normal," "selection bias" and even the celebrated "cargo cult science" doesn't answer any questions about the validity of things dropped into those various identification buckets. To be useful, criticism of scientific findings must offer detailed and cogent arguments against specific results.

    Actually constructing a case for why any particular research finding is worthy of dismissal requires unraveling the work in question at a level of intricacy so divorced from sweeping terms such as "post-normal science" that I'm left wondering, what's the point of using these categorizations at all? I've a feeling the answer to that question as it stands in connection with anthropogenic warming usually lies with rhetorical impressionism, has nothing to do with making productive contributions to research.

    As a case in point, Christy et al have just published a paper discussing observations versus model predictions as they relate to the troposphere. Christy and his coauthors refer to the general context of the importance of improving models, the relevance of their own research in relation to matters outside of the particular matter of the science itself. I sincerely doubt we'll see any charges of Christy's work being "post-normal science" leveled by the contrarian community.
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  11. #54 chriscanaris

    As far as tribalism is concerned, I have observed that those most firmly immersed in tribes/subcultures be they political parties, religious minority groups, recent immigrants to a new land, special interest groups, and the like all too often cannot see the mob mentality permeating their behaviour. Membership of a 'tribe' discourages the requisite self-reflection.

    True enough, but this is just as applicable to viewing oneself as a centrist, an individual, "rootless," "non-clubbable," or what have you. Hopefully, there's no intentional implication here that your stance is comparatively unique in being the result of "the requisite self-reflection," but you've definitely left some room for that interpretation, which is troubling.

    The discussion of "tribalism" and "post-normal" science is all very interesting, but it does nothing to resolve questions like whether Curry or Schmidt is correct about, say, "IPCC deadlines." In many public arguments relating to AGW, a fact of the matter can reasonably be said to exist and to be accessible to us; at such times, the retreat into airy meta-discussions about the psychology and sociology of science seem less like "the requisite self-reflection" than an attempt to muddy the waters in a case where one person is clearly right and another is clearly wrong.

    Again, science is a group project. This means that tribalism comes into play, of course, but it also means that conveniently timed accusations of tribalism are part of how the game is played, and are just in much in need of deconstruction as tribalism itself (if not more). Real self-reflection isn't a matter of patting yourself on the back for "understanding" the tribalist motives of your critics; it's a matter of considering whether the things they're saying are demonstrably true, even if you'd prefer them not to be. That's what's missing from Dr. Curry's account of the matter, in my view, and that's why I wouldn't call her views on "tribalism" coherent, let alone constructive.
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  12. Doug_B's and Phila's comments are both excellent.
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  13. @ Chris

    There are some ~500-600 comments on that Realclimate thread making it hard to find the relevant exchanges, but the Climate Progress post linked to by JMurphy @ 57 is a copy/paste of guts of it.
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  14. Thanks for your responses Ned, Mike, Phila, & Doug, all of which are very helpful and thought provoking. I'll follow up the links you've suggested.

    Ned comments about 'self-organisation' of groups, saying 'I think this is a bad thing. I would like to break this pattern.'

    I can only say enthusiastically, 'Hear, hear!!!'

    Phila @ 54, I don't think I'm comparatively unique - if I did, you would be very right to find this troubling.

    I'm in a line of work which requires a high degree of self-reflection but whether I do it particularly well or not is another question. I often fail at it - just ask my wife and children :-). I'm good at talking about self-reflection, which is not the same thing, as you so rightly point out :-).

    Doug: 'Reflexive categorization itself is presumed to be a negation of the worth of research, but it's not.'

    Again, you're absolutely right. And for all my grumbles about the 'post-normal' aspects of a lot of medical research, I can't see any viable substitute for our present system. The only value in labels such as 'post-normal' (I actually think it's a rather clumsy term and wish there was a more neutral label) lies in understanding the limitations of a research paradigm. Understanding the limitations of a research paradigm is not the same as to dismiss it. The research may still be very useful so long as we retain the capacity for requisite discernment.

    For example, Jenner's popularisation of vaccination (he did not 'invent' it) took place in the setting of zero understanding of our immune system. Nevertheless, none would question the value of his work or that of Pasteur which saved millions of lives and served as a springboard to our current knowledge explosion in immunology. At the same time, there would have been numerous interventions back then which would have looked broadly similar and yet were singularly useless. Some such as homeopathy remain popular even today.
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  15. Oh and thanks also JMurphy :-)
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  16. chrisc, et al Post-normal science as defined reads
    ".. appropriate for cases where "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent .."

    I really dislike the use of this term. To me, it's dog-whistle in the sense that
    "we-don't-know-enough" = "facts are uncertain".

    The examples given are for surgeons being forced to deal with life-threatening injuries despite not knowing the full extent of those injuries or engineers faced with a collapsing dam or bridge not knowing exactly how the original fault arose.

    With climate science the same does not apply. It's in the same position as any other branch of science - it is simply not possible to know every single thing that might possibly have some marginal impact on the body of knowledge. But the core body of knowledge is substantial and proven.

    The accumulating data merely supports and expands the current science, occasionally there's an interesting unexpected item. Those are mainly big things, like the speed of Arctic ice loss, with a few small ones, mainly in the area of regional effects which are specific consequences rather than core to the science itself. (And all science would stop in every field if it was impossible to find out anything new or interesting.)

    There are questions about just how much faster sea level and temperatures will rise, how badly acidification will impact certain regions or food items, lots of questions. But the core issues of
    1)the climate is changing by warmong,
    2)the observed change is much faster than any known previous warming,
    3)the cause of this change at this time is CO2 released too fast from carbon sinks,
    - not one of those core facts is in question.

    So I'd strongly dispute climate science as meeting the definition of post-normal science.
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  17. in #40 BPP asks "A question that I have for any of the skeptics here is - What evidence would you find sufficient to change your mind about ACC?" My position on AGW has been consistent and coherent for more than a decade. I don't need any evidence for AGW (without the Catastrophe) because I believe the theory is sound. I don't even care if it is warming or cooling because I believe that natural factors modify sensitivity to AGW on various time scales, for example the blocking weather patterns which may be caused by lower UV.

    A question for you: what makes the CAGW position coherent? If the important catastrophe is stronger, more frequent storms and heat waves now, then sensitivity is low and the Greenland melting catastrophe is way out of range and not worth worrying about. If the more important catastrophe is Greenland melting, then there cannot be stronger and more frequent storms now because those lower sensitivity. In case someone wants to propose paleo evidence for sensitivity, there's a thread for that http://www.skepticalscience.com/detailed-look-at-climate-sensitivity.html with my assertion at #37.

    The bottom line is that a coherent CAGW theory can only choose one type of catastrophe, not both.
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  18. Eric, I don't follow your reasoning on MEC (mutually exclusive catastrophes, :=) ).

    Would you please sketch that out a little more fully?
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  19. Eric - There are whole ranges of negatives associated with global warming, particularly at the rates we're seeing.

    Assuming that there are MEC's (mutually exclusive catastrophes, excellent acronym) is a False Dichotomy; an oversimplification of the consequences.
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  20. @Eric: let's assume, for the sake of argument, that you are right, and such MECs exists (I'll be eagerly awaiting your detailed explanation of this as well). What you don't seem to understand is that having multiple possible outcomes is not being incoherent, as these are future probabilities, not statements on past events.

    Saying "there is no warming," then claiming "the warming is natural" is being incoherent, because it describes things that have allegedly already happened, but which are contradictory.
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  21. Eric, it partially depends on what the definition of 'catastrophic' is. For arguments sake, let’s accept the basic idea of your MEC (thanks Doug) premise – so that more storms and heat waves mean less sea level rise; that still doesn’t mean that both won’t be catastrophic. For example, let’s assume we can expect weather extremes like those seen this year every X years and Y meters of sea level rise by 2100 – even if changing X to 2X means Y goes to Y/2 doesn’t mean that both X and Y won’t be catastrophic.

    Were the floods in Pakistan and the heat wave in Russia catastrophic? I think the people effected would say ‘yes’, and the people of Bangladesh would probably say that even ½ a meter of sea level rise would be catastrophic.
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  22. Doug, there are some model experiments where variables are modified independently of others (although dependent variables will change too). A bunch of abstracts are here: http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/publications/PhD%20and%20Masters%20Theses.htm such as #3088067 where the increase in concentrated convection yields a drier upper troposphere and thus cooling or less warming. Drying is noted part of the time in 9948702 and the MJO activity is trending up in real world measurements. On the other hand, 3071048 shows stronger convection reducing aerosols which would be generally warming.

    It's not a simple issue, but although the concentrated convection can push more moisture to a higher altitude, the general effect of higher altitude convection is drying due to the subsidence starting from a higher altitude, see http://www.drroyspencer.com/Spencer-Braswell-97-BAMS.pdf It also makes sense looking at an IR satellite of a hurricane. The cloud tops in the hurricane are very cold (so globally warming if there are more of them), but the subsidence zone around the hurricane is generally much larger and it is globally warming if there is more of it. The caveat is the hurricane is over warm ocean which sends out lots of IR to space in subsidence areas, the same might not be true in extreme storms over land.
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  23. Eric, I still don't quite understand how we've got MEC from what you describe. The role of convection and circulation of air and moisture at the tropopause as a radiative feedback has been explored for decades and it does not seem there's a conclusion in agreement with your hypothesis, or that is to say, the role of convection at the tropopause does not appear to affect surface sensitivity in a way that precludes (for example) substantial and swift ice sheet negative mass balance (trying to avoid the freighted term "collapse") at the surface.

    You did inspire me to go digging, where I found a myriad of interesting stuff on convective overshoot and the like. This paper by Hartmann seems to have had considerable knock-on effects:

    An important constraint on tropical cloud climate feedback

    Here's a useful general roundup:

    Radiation balance of the tropical tropopause layer
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  24. Thanks Doug, I appreciate your feedback (no pun intended). Left my internet dongle at work but I downloaded the first paper to read offline. The second timed out so I will try somewhere else later.
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  25. Just caught this on the Irregular Climate podcast e12.

    I had to register and say how wonderful that podcast was - it's worded so well and accessible.

    My mum asked a few years ago about this global warming thing. So I started out a lit. survey and found that Oreskes already had done it for me and published her finding in late 2005 Science. Job done as far as me and mum were concerned.

    But then on my gaming forum, deniers kept making odd claims that every time I investigated their claims, they would move onto other claims often contradictory to their previous claims but they could not see that. The contradictions they thought covered more ground thus they were more right.

    I tried to classify their points into
    1)Earth is cooling
    2)Earth is neither cooling or warming or we can't say for sure.
    3)Earth is warming but not due to CO2
    4)Earth is warming, due in part to CO2 but not our CO2
    5)Earth is warming and it is CO2 but CO2 is plant food and warming good for us

    I assert that holding more than 1 of these positions at the same time is impossible for a sane person.

    They claim additional mutually exclusive points make a bigger net. The apples and sheep kill this claim like I could not.

    Thanks
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  26. I think there is a very good example of 'so-called skeptic' incoherence at the moment, over the Wegman Report accusations.

    Previously we were told that the report was a serious, peer-reviewed scientific study headed by a serious statistician whose views on the 'hockey-stick' could be boiled down into the succint saying : "Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad Science".

    Now, however, we are being asked to believe that the report shouldn't be held up to as high a standard as peer-reviewed scientific studies (it was only a report to Congress that had to be made as intelligible as possible to the layman, for heaven's sake !); that Wegman can't be held responsible for everything in the report, especially the stuff he didn't know anything about (although you wouldn't have known that at the time); and that, anyway, the statistical bits are the most important bits and it doesn't matter if the rest of it is copied from elsewhere, i.e. "(Some) Method(s) Wrong + Answer Correct (as believed by all 'so-called skeptics') = (Not really, totally) Bad Science (especially the bits that 'so-called skeptics' need to accept as being true)".

    Try and rationalise that about-turn...
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  27. Another CAGW incoherence I just noticed: the http://www.skepticalscience.com/billions-of-blow-dryers.html argument basically claims that about 1/3 of the extra heat from CO2 winds up in the oceans on a continuous basis (essentially 1W/m2 out of 3W/m2) implying a few decades for complete turnover. But a much lower ocean turnover rate is used for the long CO2 residence time argument (500-1000 years)
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-residence-time.htm
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  28. Where I say "ocean" above, please substitute "deep ocean"
    0 0
  29. Cross posted by request. The comment below was made in response to this post on the Models are unreliable thread.

    Poptech,

    This is what you should have said, which might have been somewhat closer to the truth, albeit still highly misleading:
    "Nature Admits Climate Scientists are Computer Illiterate"

    My retort would be (as exemplified by your post and as noted by Stephen @2701 above):

    "Climate "skeptics" illiterate on the science and fact checking"

    [edit-- the offending post is probably also a good example of the incoherence of the arguments put forth by "skeptics"]

    Anyhow,
    1) Nature did not admit that "climate scientists are computer illiterate" as you would so dearly love to believe. The title you elected to use is clearly your spin of the article's content.
    2) The example from the University of Edinburgh that Wilson discusses (and which you bolded) does not seem to apply to climate scientists, but scientists in general. Yet, you oddly chose to conclude that he was referring to all climate scientists.

    Also, From the very same Nature article:

    "Science administrators also need to value programming skills more highly, says David Gavaghan, a computational biologist at the University of Oxford, UK."

    "The mangled coding of these monsters can sometimes make it difficult to check for errors. One example is a piece of code written to analyse the products of high-energy collisions at the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland."

    So using your (flawed) logic, are all CERN scientists, and by extension all physicists, computer illiterate Poptech? No, of course not.

    "Aaron Darling, a computational biologist at the University of California, Davis, unwittingly caused such a mistake with his own computer code for comparing genomes to reconstruct evolutionary relationships."

    So using your (flawed) logic are all computational biologists, and by extension all biologists, computer illiterate Poptech? No, of course not.

    "The CRU e-mail affair was a warning to scientists to get their houses in order, he says. "To all scientists out there, ask yourselves what you would do if, tomorrow, some Republican senator trains the spotlight on you and decides to turn you into a political football. Could your code stand up to attack?"

    So your post at #270 was seriously flawed, and a perfect example of confirmation bias and cherry picking which is often used by "skeptics" to distort and misinform. You would have been better of citing the example of Harry at CRU that they discussed...oh, but that has already been done months ago, and is not sufficient evidence to make sweeping generalizations. Please, do not insult us here with your misinformation.
    0 0
  30. Eric #77: Are you suggesting that heat and carbonic acid should disperse through the oceans at identical rates?
    0 0
  31. CBDunkerson, yes, between the surface and deep ocean, because their main propagation vector is the same: movement of water.
    0 0
  32. Poptech: Using your logic, scientists not formally trained in English would likely be illiterate. Their training in English after High School is very much self-taught.

    Your argument does depend on a very narrow definition of 'illiterate', Scientists have indeed been criticized for their use of english and have been asked to improve their communication skills. I have no doubt English professors would view some of their scientist colleagues as illiterate barbarians.

    In its more common usage, calling out climate scientists as computer illiterate is a shallow attempt to mislead.
    0 0
  33. Poptech's argument also depends on a rather idiosyncratic view of the research environment (as indeed does the original Nature article, to some extent).

    Development of software in research groups was (in my day) carried out by graduate students and post-docs. It almost certainly still is today (as in the case of "Harry"). Like any organisation, a research group will be made up of specialists whose expertise is not shared throughout the group. Therefore, it seems to me, the idea of making scientists more "computer literate" misses the point. What is really needed is for the research group as a whole to be aware of good software practises, whether it is test-driven-development, pair-programming, peer-review and documentation standards.

    Poptech's assertion that by "dealing with university scientists" he understands the software culture of a research group seems dubious to me.
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  34. #82: Nice to see this repeated.

    Your 'logic' is really the bottom of the barrel in terms of arguments: A general swipe at a class of individuals. You might as well say 'all plumbers are crooks' or 'all cops are out to get you'. No way to deny, no way to verify, because it doesn't apply to anyone in particular. Nice.

    Of course, my earlier note still stands: This sword cuts both ways. By your 'logic', climate deniers must be just as computer illiterate as climate scientists. Have you posted same at W@tt$ and Co. or clim@te @udit or any of the others? Let us know how 'Hey $teve, you're computer illiterate' goes.

    "My post was 100% accurate." Accurate, yes: as quotes from a 'News Feature', which is not a scientific paper. The 'feature' is based solely on anecdotal evidence (and part of that provided by someone who owns a company in the business of fixing just this problem!) Does the author have a degree in computer science and is therefore qualified to assess even this anecdotal evidence or is she a freelance journalist and author?
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  35. Chris @50,

    "I would prefer to see myself as a member of one tribe only - the human race."

    I agree.
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