William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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A Common Fallacy In Global Warming Arguments

Our post today is provided by Terry Oldberg, M.S.E., M.S.E.E., P.E. Engineer-Scientist, Citizen of the U.S. That’s a lot of letters, Terry! Oldberg joined our Spot the Fallacy Contest, which had been laying fallow. He says he found multiple instances of equivocation in global warming arguments. What say you?

Summary and Introduction

No statistical population underlies the models by which climatologists project the amount, if any, of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions we’ll have to endure in the future. This absence of a statistical population has dire consequences. They include:

  • The inability of the models to provide policy makers with information about the outcomes from their policy decisions,
  • The insusceptibility of the models to being statistically validated and,
  • The inability of the government to control the climate through regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than describe global warming climatology warts and all, the government obscures its unsavory features through repeated applications of a deceptive argument. Philosophers call this argument the equivocation fallacy.

The Equivocation Fallacy

The failure of global warming research is concealed by multiple instances of the equivocation fallacy (EF), an example of which is (Jumonville):

Major premise: A plane is a carpenter’s tool.
Minor premise: A Boeing 737 is a plane.
Conclusion: A Boeing 737 is a carpenter’s tool.

The mistake can be exposed by replacement of the first instance of “plane” by “carpenter’s plane” and by replacement of the second instance of “plane” by “airplane.”

Major premise: A carpenter’s plane is a carpenter’s tool.
Minor premise: A Boeing 737 is an airplane.
Conclusion: A Boeing 737 is a carpenter’s tool.

A term that has several meanings is said to be “polysemic.” The technique to expose the fallaciousness of any example is to disambiguate all of the terms in the language in which an argument is made.

Polysemic terms in climatology

Climatologists often use polysemic terms. Some of these terms are words. Others are word pairs. The two words of a word pair sound alike and while they have different meanings climatologists treat the two words as though they were synonyms in making arguments. Examples are (Oldberg):

  • model
  • scientific
  • project-predict
  • projection-prediction
  • validate-evaluate
  • validation-evaluation

An example

In “Is Climate Modeling Science?,” Real Climate’s Gavin Schmidt attacks an opponent’s claim that climate models are not scientific. His argument, though, draws an improper conclusion from an equivocation.

Were climate models of the past built under the scientific method of inquiry? Schmidt argues that: At first glance this seems like a strange question. Isn’t science precisely the quantification of observations into a theory or model and then using that to make predictions? Yes. And are those predictions in different cases then tested against observations again and again to either validate those models or generate ideas for potential improvements? Yes, again. So the fact that climate modeling was recently singled out as being somehow non-scientific seems absurd.

Dr. Schmidt’s argument appears to be:

Major premise: All scientific models are built by a process in which the predictions of these models are validated.

Minor premise: All climate models are built by a process in which the predictions of these models are validated.

Conclusion: All climate models are scientific models.

This argument contains the polysemic terms “model,” “scientific,” “prediction” and “validate.”

Disambiguating “model”

The word means: a) a kind of algorithm that makes a predictive inference and b) a kind of algorithm that makes no predictive inference. For reference to the kind of algorithm that makes no predictive inference, I’ll reserve the French word modèle. Models and modèles have remarkably different characteristics, as we’ll see.

Disambiguating “predict-project” and “prediction-projection”

To “predict” is to do something different than to “project” yet most global warming climatologists use the two terms synonymously (Green and Armstrong). The idea of a “prediction” is closely related to the idea of a “predictive inference.” This relationship follows because a “predictive inference” is a conditional prediction, like these:

Given that it is cloudy: the probability of rain in the next 24 hours is thirty percent.

Given that it is not cloudy: the probability of rain in the next 24 hours is ten percent.

A “prediction” is an unconditional predictive inference. For example, “The probability of rain in the next 24 hours is thirty percent.” Notice there is no condition.

A predictive inference is made by a model but not a modèle. On the other hand, a modèle is capable of making projections while a model is incapable of making them. The “projection” of global warming climatology is a mathematical function that maps the time to the projected global average surface air temperature.

Disambiguating “validate-evaluate” and “validation-evaluation”

As the long time IPCC expert reviewer Vincent Gray tells the story, many years ago he complained to IPCC management that its assessment reports were claiming its modèles were validated when these modèles were insusceptible to being validated. After tacitly admitting to Dr. Gray’s charge, the IPCC established a policy of changing the term “validate” to the similar sounding term “evaluate” and the term “validation” to the similar sounding term “evaluation.” Thereafter, many climatologists fell into the habit of treating the words in each word-pair as if they were synonyms. A consequence was for the two polysemic terms validate-evaluate and validation-evaluation to be created.

A model is said to be “validated” when the predicted relative frequencies of the outcomes of events are compared to the observed relative frequencies in a sample that is randomly drawn from the underlying statistical population, without a significant difference being found between them. As it has no underlying statistical population, a modèle is insusceptible to being validated. However, it is susceptible to being “evaluated.” In an evaluation, projected global average surface air temperatures are compared to observed global average surface air temperatures in a selected time series.

Disambiguating “scientific”

According to Wikipedia, “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” For a model, validation serves the purpose of confirming through observation and experiment. Does evaluation serve the same purpose for a modèle?

It does not. In an evaluation, projected temperatures are compared to observed temperatures but a judgment is not made in which claims made by a modèle are confirmed or denied. Thus, “scientific” cannot legitimately be used as a modifier of “modèle.” On the other hand, “scientific” can legitimately be used as a modifier of “model.”

Translating Gavin Schmidt’s argument

With the help of the disambiguated terminology developed immediately above, Dr.Schmidt’s argument can be translated into a form free from equivocation. His argument now reads:

Major premise: All scientific models are built by a process in which the predictions of these models are validated.

Minor premise: All climate modèles are built by a process in which the projections of these modèles are evaluated.

Conclusion: (none logically possible)

No conclusion is possible because Dr. Schmidt’s argument is not of the form of a syllogism. His original conclusion that “All climate models are scientific models” is a consequence from drawing an improper conclusion from an equivocation.

Contrasting a model and a modèle

This contrast is illustrated in this table:

model modèle
makes predictive inference makes no predictive inference
makes predictions makes no predictions
underlying statistical population no underlying statistical population
makes no projections makes projections
susceptible to validation insusceptible to validation
insusceptible to evaluation susceptible to evaluation
product of scientific method not product of scientific method
conveys information to user conveys no information to user
makes climate controllable does not make climate controllable

The last two lines of the above table deserve amplification. If there were any, predictions from a climate model would convey information to a policy maker about the outcomes from his or her policy decisions prior to these outcomes happening; the availability of this information might make the climate controllable. Currently, however, we have no climate models. We do have climate modèles but they make no predictions hence conveying no information to a policy maker. Thus, after decades of effort and the expenditure of several hundred billion U.S. dollars on global warming research, the climate remains uncontrollable. Nonetheless governments, including our federal government, persist in trying to control the climate.

The “models” of AR4

Every entity in AR4 which is referenced by the polysemic term “model” is an example of a modèle. If the language of the methodological arguments that are made in the Federal Advisory Committee Climate Assessment Report (FACCAR) were to be disambiguated, the authors of the FACCAR would be compelled to admit that the items in the above list are descriptive of the climate modèles that are currently being used in making policy on emissions of greenhouse gases by the federal government. If these admissions are not made, there will be continuing catastrophic waste of the capital of the people of the U.S. on: a) attempts at controlling the uncontrollable and b) foolishly framed, deceptively described global warming research. To make these admissions would require courage and integrity on the part of the Advisory Committee.

Political Philosophy: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part IX

Politics happens here. The appalling brown thing is Art.

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Read Part VIII.

Question IX is Political Philosophy. Stand back!

Article 1: Whether the state is natural to man?

Yes. “Whenever two or more are gathered, somebody is gonna start making rules.” That’s my quote, not Kreeft’s.

The real question is how the state comes about. Hobbes, Rousseau, etc. think a “social contract” is involved. If so, maybe you’re like me and don’t have a memory of signing one. Anyway, it is indisputable that people begin organizing whenever they can, some taking positions of power, others following orders. And this must be so (the only disagreement would come from those who believe human beings don’t have a nature). All that is in dispute are the forms these organizations take, which is bad, which good.

Article 2: Whether a good state is “one that makes it easy to be good”?

Yes, and the opposite is true, too. From Mere Christianity:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Readers will be able to judge which direction our State is going.

Yes, we all have duties to the State, but “it is not true that the state is its own end. Only individual human beings are intrinsic ends and must never be used merely as means, while there is no moral evil in treating the state in this way.”

Article 3: Whether the state should have a substantive philosophy of the good life?

Yes. Ours seems to be “Re-elect me and all will be well.” Kreeft says modern states of the West don’t profess a substantive philosophy of life. I say we do, which is something like this: “Mine! Me! Not Fair! Gimme! It’s Not My Fault! He Hurt My Feelings!”

Plainly, “if the state has no substantive philosophy of the good life, then the state cannot know what a good state is. For this depends on what a good human life is, which in turn depends on what man is, which in turn depends on what is, and how we know it.” That’s all of philosophy, brothers and sisters. And that is the one area which is deemphasized among all others in our culture.

Article 4: Whether democracy is the best form of government?

No. Plus, pure democracies are impossible—not just unlikely, but impossible (infants, children, the senile and incapacitated cannot vote; there are too many decisions for all people to make, etc. etc. etc.). It is silly to wish for something that cannot be, and the first person to quote Churchill loses twelve points.

What’s best? “Aristotle and Aquinas both teach that the best regime is a blend of aristocracy, monarchy, and democracy. This reflects the same kind of mature, inclusivist wisdom as their judgment that the best life is a blend of contemplation and action, the common good and the private good, and goods of body and goods of soul.” Kreeft also loses points for “inclusivist.”

On the other hand, the sorts of representative bureaucratic democracies (which are not democracies) we in the West have developed for people in the West function reasonably well in our time. This does not imply, and it is not true as experience proves, that this form of government is best for all peoples at all times. Thus it is silly to wander into a strange land to teach people to count votes and then vanish, content that all will be fine.

Another myth is that regimes derive their legitimacy from the “consent of the governed.” This is another impossibility. Most gain legitimacy by custom, apathy, inertia, force. If you think not, tell me: has our federal government done everything to your satisfaction?

A final myth is the government which gives people the most of what they desire is best. This only works in a land of saints. Simple proof: examine your desires closely and honestly and imagine what would happen if these whims were mandatory for all (and the same for the desires of others).

Article 5: Whether freedom is an intrinsic good?

Sorry, no. If you think so, boot your infant child outdoors and say, “You’re free!” Or go out yourself and do whatever your little heart desires. Anything you want, now. No. Complete freedom is neither possible nor desirable.

Absolute power corrupts, intrinsic goods cannot, and since freedom would certainly corrupt, it cannot be an intrinsic good. “The freedom that is intrinsic to human nature and unalienable is free will, not political freedom.” There must be constraints. Our job is in discovering what they are.

Article 6: Whether there is a double standard for good for states and individuals?

Sure. Example: “it is right for the state, and for a soldier who is acting in the name of the state, to attempt to kill an enemy soldier in a just war; but it is wrong for an individual, in the name of private vengeance, to attempt to kill another on his own authority, even if the other is deserving of death.”

And my favorite—pay attention politicians!: “ready wit is a minor virtue for individuals, but not for states.”

Article 7: Whether wars are ever just?

Certainly. If Hordes intent on rape, murder, pillage are massing on the border, it is surely right to take up arms to discourage them. Defending one’s homeland is just, but “Even the Qur’an says that ‘Allah hates the aggressor.'” That’s true even when we are the agressor.

A sometime objection goes like this: “It is impossible to imagine Christ shooting a machine gun at an enemy soldier.” Yes, but it is “also impossible to image Christ pregnant, or gambling, or cheering for the Red Sox, but these are not evils.”

Article 8: Whether human laws should be superior to human wills?

Yes: this is a variation on freedom. The rule of law is so obviously important that even tyrants pretend to it, running mock trials before they murder their enemies and holding pretend elections to claim “mandates” (on the other hand, didn’t we read the New York Times reporting as serious news that Castro won re-election once again with 95%+ of the vote some years back?).

Here’s a strategy that has everything to recommend it:

“The laws of the Medes and the Persians” were irrevocable, even by the King. Therefore they were decided only after two days of deliberations. On one day, everyone was sober, and on the other day, everyone was drunk. If both days did not produce the same result, the law was not enacted.

My statistical recommendation is to require Congress to pass all laws at a minimum of two-thirds consent. A bare majority makes it far too easy to create laws.

Article 9: Whether the principle of subsidiarity is true?

Yep. Subsidiarity? “[W]hat can better be done by smaller and more local levels of government should not be done by larger ones.”

Augustine “describes government as a ‘necessary evil’ due to sin. But necessary evils should be decreased as much as is feasible, not increased. Therefore government should be decreased and localized as much as is feasible.”

I’ll take this as read for today, particularly as I see most or all of you agreeing: we’ll look at subsidiarity more in depth another day.

Article 10: Whether there should be a world organization of states?

He says yes because of a corollary of subsidiarity: not everything can be done at a local level.

We live in a “global village” with a global economy and a global military fragility where war in any one place always threatens to spread to others and spark another world war. Under these conditions, an international organization is morally necessary.

Problem is, Kreeft never really defines what a “world organization of states” is nor describes its limits. Plus groups of people, in states, kingdoms, and even roving bands, have always had diplomatic relations (so to speak) with their known neighbors. It’s just that now because of cheap travel our neighbors are everybody. Relations between countries is an inevitability. The problem is that nobody has figured out what these relations should be, except to agree that the UN isn’t the ideal forum.

Fashion Predictions: The Return Of The Waistcoat

What not to wear

What not to wear

You’re talking to the guy who predicted the return of the pocket square and the re-emergence of the bow-tie. So listen to this: waistcoats—vests, that is—are on their way back.

For whatever God-sent reason, men are beginning to dress well again, to don the clothing of adults. To be sure, not in great numbers or everywhere, but many gentlemen have ceased taking their cues from the poorly dressed and are rediscovering the notion of beauty. Let us encourage this trend.

Evidence? Look around. Waistcoats are on the racks of the mid-range stores already, albeit in limited supply. People are wearing them.

This unfortunately includes hipsters, who delight in discovering new ways to dress like one another, all the while congratulating themselves on uniqueness.

The hipster summer uniform is a t-shirt (“ironic”, if possible), covered by a too-small waistcoat, too-skinny jeans, sunglasses, a scruffy beard, and skimpy brimmed mass-produced fedora. The end result is a young man who looks like he was dressed by a mother who cannot accept that her baby has grown up (he hasn’t). Example #2, Example #3, Example #4 (see bullet 7).

This is distressing and worth emphasizing because, for example, just as hats were about to reassert themselves upon the pates of gentlemen, hipsters in great number latched onto the ugliest which rightly frightened the normals who said to themselves, “No way I will wear a hat if I’ll look like that.” They will now say the same about waistcoats.

But you won’t, Mr Reader, you will not look a fool, as long as you avoid buying your gear in S-Marts and the like. And if you follow a few simple rules.

What to wear

What to wear

Do not wear your waistcoat without a coat. It is not meant as an outer covering. If you wear it solo, you will either be admitting your hipsterness or you will be mistaken for a waiter. Nothing wrong with being a waiter, of course, but you do not want people telling you what they want to eat as you stroll down the sidewalk.

A waistcoat obviates the necessity of an expensive, or even well-fitting shirt. And of ironing the shirt carefully. Once you reach your destination (work, home, a party) and it becomes unbearably hot, then you can remove your coat. You will still look (mostly) dressed up.

The waistcoat can be a vest, as in shown here by Christopher McDonald (who happened to be in the paper today). (McDonald is most well know for playing “Shooter McGavin” in Happy Gilmore.)

Never, not ever, not even at the risk of hypothermia, wear a waistcoat made of denim. Unless—and this is a narrow exception—it is embroidered with your motorcycle gang’s emblem, your name is Birdshyte (a true example; a man my father hired once to assist with some drywalling), and the vest could not possibly encompass your burgeoning gut.

The fatter you are the more likely you need a waistcoat. A waistcoat covers a multitude of belly rolls. I’m thinking of Richard Griffiths (as Henry Crabbe in Pie in the Sky) or Sydney Greenstreet. Nothing is more slimming than a well-cut coat (the material below the coat’s bottom button should swoop back quickly in fat men) over a waistcoat.

Grossly fat men should keep their coats on, even when hot, because after waistcoats grow to a certain size, their backs become abbreviated, turning in some cases to bare straps, and these look silly unless they are covered.



The shorter you are the more likely you need a waistcoat. Look at Edward G. Robinson, whose height was generously listed as 5’5″. The stripped waistcoat adds a good two inches. (Incidentally, only one of the men in this picture would go on to become a murderer. Can waistcoats keep one from sin?)

The waistcoat need not be of the same material or pattern as the coat. Indeed, especially in the summer and when on holidays, it is better for the waistcoat to be a brighter color or even be patterned. Then again, a “three-piece” suit in which all pieces are cut from the same cloth always look sharp.

There are many other rules, such as the height of the buttons, whether to have pockets or lapels, whether to have it cut to your figure or to incorporate a drawstring, the tightness of the fit, and so forth. Of these, another day.

Health Is Not A Goal

Light ‘em up, boys!

Regular readers will know these words from Mark Twain by heart: even so, they bear repeating:

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.

Like an obedient little citizen you have eschewed (not chewed) donuts, you never drink soda pop in measures greater than 15.9 ounces, and have you assiduously avoided even secondhand smoke. Congratulations. You almost certainly have clearer arteries, a less peccant pancreas, and pinker lungs than your disobedient neighbor who indulges. You are healthier than he.

Now what?

What will you do with your extra store of health? How will you spend it? What are you saving it for? Or aren’t you being rather self-indulgent by avoiding “every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation”?

That was the argument Socrates gave in the Phaedo (quotes either from Tredennick translation [T]; or Jowett [J]). He said the temperate are “temperate because they are intemperate [J]”. And “What about temperate people? Is it not…a sort of self-indulgence that makes them self-controlled? [T]” The temperate, or self-controlled

are afraid of losing other pleasures which they desire, so they refrain from one kind because they cannot resist the other. Although they define self-indulgence as the condition of being ruled by pleasure, it is really because they cannot resist some pleasures that they succeed in resisting others; which amounts to what I said just now—that they control themselves, in a sense, by self-indulgence. [T]

Jowett’s translation of the same passage is also helpful:

For there are pleasures which they are afraid of losing; and in their desire to keep them, they abstain from some pleasures, because they are overcome by others; and although to be conquered by pleasure is called by men intemperance, to them the conquest of pleasure consists in being conquered by pleasure. And that is what I mean by saying that, in a sense, they are made temperate through intemperance.

Now unless your desire is to pose for a health magazine, or to make a tour showing off your healthiness, or to bore your workmates with tales of your pulse rate and cholesterol number, health is not a goal. You cannot bask in health: your body is either in optimal working order directed towards some behavior, or it is in less than perfect condition. But either way, your body is meant to do something, even if the something is as simple as sitting quietly and thinking.

This is what the food police (coincidentally, a new book with same name) and folks like Nanny Bloomberg cannot understand. They have failed to recognize that not everybody is directed towards the same activities as they, or that not all want to spend their health in the same fashion.

As Socrates showed us, your temperance for smoking must be because you are saving your lungs for some other self-indulgent activity. Maybe it’s in making a spectacle of yourself wearing ugly shorts and garish tennis shoes as you “jog” down a path. Or perhaps it’s because you want to join a bubble-blowing contest. Whatever. And your avoidance of trans-fats is only because you choose to be intemperate in some other aspect. Maybe it’s fitting into a pair of skinny-legged hipster jeans. Who knows.

But these are differences in choice, and that’s all. You cannot convince a man not to smoke or to eat excessively just because it is “healthy”, for that is like trying to sell him a dry cow. If you want him to change his behavior, you must convince him that the behaviors he is forgoing outweigh those which he has embraced.

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