William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Consensus Fallacy

A modern science conference

A modern science conference

Here is the word-for-word opening in the Vox “explanatory journalism” tidbit “John Oliver shows how to debate climate deniers“:

That climate change is occurring, and that humans are the primary cause, is beyond dispute at this point. Surveys have found that 97-98 percent of climate researchers and 97 percent of climate papers expressing a position on the subject agree with the consensus view that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change.

If one wants to claim the proposition “That humans are the primary cause of global warming is beyond dispute” is true, one immediately defeats oneself by saying only 97% of climate researchers agree. If 3%, or 2%, or 1%, or even just one solitary climate researcher, disagrees that humans are the primary cause of global warming, the proposition is not “beyond dispute”. It is, in stark opposition, actively disputed.

I am one of the climate researchers who disputes the proposition. Again, therefore, the proposition is not “beyond” dispute. Dispute is not only a live option, it is a respectable scientific position to take. It is not, of course, a politically correct position; no small point.

Because why? Because there is good evidence that the Vox tidbit writer meant his argument to be taken politically and not scientifically. For one, the writer has absolutely no scientific credentials and appears to believe that voting in science, like in politics, decides truth. For two, he badly summarizes the science: not one word on the more than two decades of failed forecasts, ample evidence that the theory which drove these predictions is probably false.

Vox, incidentally, might be described as the NPR for the web; that is, a place for those who think themselves intelligent and convinced they haven’t the time to learn. A place to have preformed opinions confirmed, where the intellectual challenge of understanding has been replaced by “information cards.” But never mind.

Voting does not decide truth, not in science nor in politics. Nor anywhere.

Now even if no climate researcher disagreed with the proposition above, it would still not be beyond dispute, because all experience shows empirically derived, which is to say scientific, theories are subject to updates, corrections, and even complete refutations. A theory as complex as global warming will almost surely be modified as time passes, not the least because it needs to fix its blush-inducing forecasts.

In short, a vote taken of qualified climate scientists, even if such a vote be unanimous, which it is not, would not settle the proposition. Such a vote would not settle any scientific question “beyond dispute.” To think it could would be like saying mathematicians could eschew formal proofs and adopt systematic votes to judge the truth of theorems. Sure would save a lot of time.

Votes are useful in deciding actions or settling conflicts in the face of uncertainty and differing priorities, but only where there is shared foundation underlying the disputes. Votes are useless, and even dangerous, to fix foundational truths. Desire is only coincident to truth, not its definition.

A failing society, by the way, is one which has lost its grasp of shared truth and begins to resettle questions which cannot be resettled by voting…by voting. Much as we see in Western culture today. Houses built on sand, said the wise engineer, will fall. Or perhaps the better metaphor is—could this be a coincidence?—the same fate of the divided house.

This applies on smaller scales, too, as in scientific organizations that purge membership rolls of those who do not hold the correct political views. It is not always wrong to bar members who hold contrary views, such as the physics club which rejects perpetual motion advocates. But notice that in this example there exists a solid proof of the truth that perpetual motion machines are an impossibility. There is no such proof, nor anything like it, that “climate disruption” and out-of-control global warming are about to strike.

Update Because there was some confusion on Twitter, caused by my inexactness, this update. There are indeed some truths beyond dispute, therefore the phrase does have some value. Take, for yourself, “I exist”. But these are all metaphysical truths. There are no contingent truths beyond dispute. Rampant out-of-control killer tipping-point global warming that can only by mitigated by massive infusions of government is one of these and is eminently disputable.

39 Comments

  1. Of course it went to politics. First, the media is politics and they are the ones reporting the “science”. And the science is failing badly and all that redistribution of wealth to solve a physical problem like climate change will be lost if the faithful do not believe horrible death is imminent and their money must be taken to save the planet. (Actually, the fact that a “physics” problem is solved by redistribution of wealth and a carbon tax should have been all the evidence needed to know this has nothing whatsoever to with science and everything to do with politics.)

    People always tell me Galileo was not opposed by scientists but by the Church on his theory of the earth circling the sun. They like to blame it on religion. In this case science jumped in bed with politics and are making Galileo’s opposition look positively reasonable and justified. Even “scientific” by the new standards. This one goes to greedy politicians and sell-out scientists, not religion. (Or not religion in the usual sense—most of climate change is faith based and very much like a religion. They just have a different god.)

  2. This reminds me of the polywater fad of the late sixties where the consensus for a time , counting only those papers that expressed an opinion, was for the existence of a polymeric form of water. I wonder whether, if a literature search was done now, we would find that there was still a majority of papers in support of polywater’s existence? After all once a field of study falls into disrepute there is no attempt to produce scores of papers to balance out the consensus. Scientists simply move on to other things. I suspect that the same thing will happen in climate research. For a review of polywater see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywater

    In your quote there is “97 percent of climate papers expressing a position on the subject”. The expressing an opinion is the key. From what I recall most do not express an opinion as has been amply shown in various posts at WUWT. This also applies to the polywater controversy as there was widespread skepticism that did not appear in every paper that happened to study some property or other concerning water.

    Your quote “A failing society, by the way, is one which has lost its grasp of shared truth and begins to resettle questions which cannot be resettled by voting”. I’m not sure what you mean by this. I might agree with it if I understood it or I might not.

    Finally, I wish that it was possible to use the double tap, single point, magnification on your new and improved website using the iPod. Most sites can do this and your old one could as well. I can use the brute force three point, double tap, method but this method lacks subtlety and is harder to use.

  3. Hi Scotian,

    I think you were confused by that sentence because you didn’t finish it. The full quote is “A failing society, by the way, is one which has lost its grasp of shared truth and begins to resettle questions which cannot be resettled by voting…..by voting.” I think he means that these people have lost their collective grip on reality and rather than facing truths they don’t like, they have begun trying to determine truth by voting on what is true. They are trying to settle “questions that cannot be settled by voting” by voting on them. It won’t work.

  4. “I think you were confused by that sentence because you didn’t finish it.”

    This is highly unlikely as I’ve been reading Briggs’ posts long enough to read between the lines. I am trying to draw him out on the “grasp of shared truth”. By the way, I do not think that your interpretation of what other people, not necessarily Briggs, are trying to do is correct. Nobody tries to determine truth by voting. If that was the case there would not be an attempt to suppress a minority position or to rig the vote, so to speak. No, instead there is the fear of being wrong and the resultant need to suppress any doubts. The claim of truth comes first and the recruitment of followers comes later. This is why dissenting views are feared since their followers may eventually gain enough support to topple from power the original consensus. Voting is about power not truth.

  5. I agree that it is obvious that the validity of a scientific theory is not subject to majority vote. I do think, you may be slipping into a fallacy, though; a claim should be criticized in terms of the conclusion it is supposed to establish. The trouble that I see is, that this claim is not meant, as far as I’ve seen, to establish the truth of the science itself. The question these figures are meant to answer isn’t whether or not the science is correct, but the size/degree of the debate among the relevant specialists. This is specifically targeted at the opposing talking point that the “jury is still out.”

    I believe you are right that anything is subject to dispute, and that if even one scientist dissents, then we cannot say absolutely that a theory is ‘beyond dispute’. But these are exact numbers. Terms like ‘large’ and ‘small,’ as in a ‘large debate’ or a small debate’, are construed differently by different people, so 3% may be more or less significant based on the context. If you had a heart condition, and 97 out of 100 cardiologists recommended that you had surgery, I find it very difficult to believe that you would not take this to be conclusive enough to have the surgery, even though it is entirely possible that the 3 dissenters could have been correct.

    The question becomes, what ratio of proponents to dissidents constitutes a significant indication of the degree of disagreement? In practice, a vote does establish whether or not, and the degree to which, something is in dispute, depending on the criteria we use to determine if a dispute is significant. People on both sides of this argument adapt a criterion that is favorable to their existing position. You are doing this same thing.

    You make an excellent point that arguing about the size or degree of disagreement, whether in favor of it’s significance or it’s insignificance, is totally irrelevant to the truth of what is actually happening. But at the same time you are making that point, you are saying that the degree of dispute is larger, or more significant, than claimed, and you seem to be saying that there is some significance in this fact.

    There may be people who are foolishly using these poll numbers as if they do establish the truth of the science, or using this debate as a proxy war to fight other battles, but I don’t see what is gained by attacking bad examples of an opposing argument.

  6. The ancient Greek sophists believed that reality was just a matter of perception, so you could determine reality by taking a poll. The sophists are still with us.

  7. “If 3%, or 2%, or 1%, or even just one solitary climate researcher, disagrees that humans are the primary cause of global warming, the proposition is not “beyond dispute”.

    I need a clarification here: while you are of course technically correct, the unwritten implication seems to be that if even one solitary climate researcher disputes the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of climate research, then we might as well be flipping a coin on the topic. Isn’t that somewhat of a false equivalence, for lack of a better term?

    I am not a climatologist and have zero formal qualifications in the field, but have logged countless hours over the last few years poring over the avalanche of available information out there. I am personally convinced that AGW is real and is largely due to human activity, but I really try to remove bias and consider this topic as objectively as possible, giving equal weight to both positions as best as I can.

    Here’s the thing: what I fail to grasp in the skeptic platform is an understanding of what would settle this debate on consensus. I mean, presumably you acknowledge that the failure of a model and the resulting dispute over that failure is a key component of the scientific process, right? Where does that process end, in your view? With a perfect model?

    If so, I feel that skeptics have essentially created an unwinnable debate. Climate patterns comprise what is probably the single most complex and dynamic system anywhere on the face of the earth. The scientific community has made enormous progress in understanding how this system works, but are by their own admission far from a complete understanding. What is the practical likelihood, then that the “perfect model” that skeptics require will be created in our lifetimes, or even in the next century?

    I wind up concluding that the skeptic position on this topic too often seems to be one for complete inaction until objectives which have been established as utterly unreachable are somehow magically obtained. It just seems intellectually dishonest to take a theoretical goal and translate it to what is in essence a real-world ultimatum.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Flawed but somewhat serviceable analogy off the cuff: There is overwhelming statistical evidence that seat belts reduce the likelihood of injury in a car accident. The evidence does not demonstrate, however, that wearing a seatbelt eliminates the possibility of injury. Nor does it clearly predict to the ten-thousandth of a percentage the exact reduction in general likelihood of injury.

    Therefore, I simply cannot endorse a policy that recommends or requires the use of seatbelts. I am one of a very small but vocal minority in the field who feels this way, so we should hold off on attempts to improve vehicle safety until my conditions are satisfied, regardless of the fact that the rest of the scientific community lays claim to a mountain of evidence that seatbelts are good for safety.
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    It’s far from perfect but it’ll do. Any thoughts welcome. Thank you for your time.

  8. Interesting sign left center: For Global Warming Vote Coalition

    By implication voting Coalition causes Global Warming of which 97% of scientists agree? Or is it just Democracy (or should I say Diversity) in action with the Denier View (those 3% Cook Kook “Scientists”) being proportionately represented ?

  9. What is often overlooked by the the pro-warmers is that there is a fantastically powerful flaming orb that heats the earth. If the sun is taken from the equation, how much warming would people produce?

  10. J: Again with doctor example? To be a correct example, 97 percent of doctors would have to have used a model and come up with your having a heart condition. This would be 97 percent of those who actively participated in the modeling. Then then would have had to been surveyed and say about 75 or 76 (out of a 1000 surveyed) agreed while 2 did not.. No actual medical tests can be done for this–it must be based 100% on the model. The model is based on previous patients who exhibited more or less similar symptoms. Now, based on that model and few doctors who actually participated in the modeling or answered a survey, are you going to have heart surgery? Also, the consequences of not having the surgery will only occur after all doctors who recommended surgery are dead. If you don’t have the surgery, every thing you eat, say and do will be proof you should have had the surgery, no matter how tenuous the connection. That is the correct analogy.

    Dan Watson: There is no settlement on “consensus” if you are using in regard to science. What would be needed to actually act upon the AGW theory–models that can actually show all variables, not the ones that leave out clouds, El Nino, etc. Complete removal from the political process. If the solution to a problem is a tax, it’s not about science.
    Perhaps if the “scientists” involved openly shared data, stopped attacking those who disagree (rather than address why the skeptic interpretations are wrong), and would actually debate, skeptics would listen. That is to say, if these people acted like scientists, skeptics would be more likely to listen.

    It’s not about 100% certainty. It’s about enough certainty to justify massive life changes. Your seat belt example is flawed. First, one person is affected by seat belt usage, not an entire planet. AGW demands an entire planet conform to a theory that is based on models many of which failed miserably in their past predictions. One would certainly want more proof for AGW than for one person in a car. It can be argued easily that people have the right to be foolish and not wear their seat belts. If they don’t, they die, maybe. They don’t take everyone else with them, as is the case with AGW. How certain would you need to be on seat belts if enacting the law fined everyone in the country any time any person was caught without a seatbelt?

    The certainty in AGW is not real–it’s a bunch of “probably”, “might”, “may” etc. The 95% from the IPCC is just a number they used–it relates not at all to science. I guess when I find that the predictions and behaviours of climate scientists more closely resembles science than a cold read from a psychic (“you will meet someone”, “you will have tragedy in your life”, etc) then perhaps I would be more concerned.

  11. Dan Watson ,

    The true test is the predictive power of the theory. No coin flip required. So far, the climate models have had nearly zero power. To point this out automatically makes one a dissenter.

    When the “Global Warming” claim is made what is really meant is “Anthoropogenic Caused Global Warming”. Of which, the only “proof” are the failed models. Pointing this out automatically makes one a dissenter.

    Where does that process end, in your view? With a perfect model?

    How about one that comes close? There is an obvious divergence between measured global temperature and model projections. That alone should indicate the idea behind the models is far from definitive.

  12. A number of comments. To J, your analogy is misleading since the 97% claim is not the result of a poll. It doesn’t even represent the majority of climate scientists and the consensus was manufactured. See

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/13/more-pear-shaped-trouble-for-john-cooks-97-consensus/

    Watson,
    “I fail to grasp in the skeptic platform is an understanding of what would settle this debate on consensus.” Well, the consensus should start acting in an ethical fashion and engage in honest debate. See

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/17/in-climate-science-the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same/

    “The scientific community has made enormous progress in understanding how this system works”. This position is very much in dispute as many would claim that the models are extremely primitive and have little to no predictive value. For example, they have completely failed to predict or explain the current 17 year pause.

    “I wind up concluding that the skeptic position on this topic too often seems to be one for complete inaction until objectives which have been established as utterly unreachable are somehow magically obtained. It just seems intellectually dishonest to take a theoretical goal and translate it to what is in essence a real-world ultimatum.” You need to widen your reading on the subject if you think that this represents the skeptic position.

    “Any thoughts welcome”. I hope that this is indeed true.

  13. Dan,

    I think you need to better understand the skeptic position. There are a wide range of views of course, but most skeptics agree that the temperatures have risen, and CO2 is partially responsible. Technically most skeptics are in this 97%. My view isn’t that climate science is wrong, it is that they do not currently understand it well enough to provide actionable intelligence through their modelling projections. Bottom line, I don’t trust their models. You may disagree, but this is a technically defendable position.

    The biggest scientific disputes are how much further warming there will be (climate sensitivity) , and whether it will be “dangerous”. Many feel that the projected dangers have been overstated and with too much confidence. A lot of previous alarmist doom and gloom predictions have not come to pass, and many advocates on your side of the fence clearly overstate the science, an example is the tenuous (at best) connection to extreme events.

    What I find is that it isn’t not believing that the earth has warmed over the past century that get’s one labelled a denier by your side, it is really whether you support immediate and costly policy changes now.

    Many skeptics such as myself are in the “wait and see” category. Wait several decades to resolve some of the uncertainty in the models, and then examine it again. The “we need to act before its too late” argument is rather unconvincing in my view. Delaying action in deep uncertainty is a reasonable response.

    Should we stopping dumping carbon into the atmosphere? Yes, but not at great economic cost. Should we keep trying to find or invent sources of clean cheap energy (R & D)? Of course. This is the answer where everyone wins. Should nuclear power be increased instead of decreased? I think so.

    Will carbon taxes change the weather? I highly doubt it.
    Will action in the US be meaningful? Not really, we are already down to 1990 emission levels and future emissions growth is China, India, and others. China was opening a new coal plant every week last year.
    Has this debate become politicized beyond repair into an us vs. them black hole? Probably. An example is advocates openly disparaging the same people they need votes from. This venting may feel good, but it is not likely to produce results anytime soon.

  14. Full-Fledged Fiasco

    May 17, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    “Surveys have found that 97-98 percent of climate researchers and 97 percent of climate papers expressing a position on the subject agree with the consensus view that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. ”

    See this:

    1. http://www.populartechnology.net/2013/05/97-study-falsely-classifies-scientists.html

    2. http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com.br/2014/02/a-climate-falsehood-you-can-check-for.html

  15. Dan,

    I dislike arguing by analogy, I find it not very useful. So…….I’m going to argue by analogy of course.

    A related analogy to your seat belts is other auto safety issues and road design.

    In the US approx. 30,000 or so people died in car wrecks last year. Many of these deaths would be preventable with better car design and improved roads.

    Ever wondered how good of an idea a two lane road is? Let’s get inexperienced and distracted drivers, put them in two ton vehicles, and have them pass within 10 feet of each other at closing speeds greater than 100 mph. Let’s do that over a billion times a year. A large number of deaths are an absolute statistical certainty. Is this smart?

    Is it preventable? Yes. All roads should be one way and have safety guardrails on both sides.

    How many kids where run over by their parents in their driveways last year? Back up cameras have been available for at least 10 years. They are required next year.

    The truth nobody wants to look at is that we routinely trade off death for economics. Property and fuel taxes to convert our entire infrastructure to one way roads is deemed not worth it. Backup cameras were too expensive to install in every car 10 years ago, but it is economically feasible now and is worth it. Making all cars super safe, but >$100K puts cars out of reach for millions of people. Unacceptable.

    Is it a “good idea” to do something about global warming? Yes. But…how much is that going to cost me and how effective will it be in solving the problem?

    Quite frankly I’m not even clear on what the proposed solutions are which this trade off would be based on.

    Carbon tax? It would need to be global. If we had tax reform and replaced income taxes with carbon taxes, it might be worth considering. but remember that a carbon tax is very regressive, hitting the poor the hardest. My guess is the left would want to turn this into a vehicle for income redistribution and that would kill support for it.

    Convert the grid to solar and wind power? Not worth it today IMO.

    Global climate treaty that has the US bear the brunt of the costs, has us legally answerable to the UN, and sends $100B/year to the 3rd world for climate justice? Try getting that through a 2/3rd majority treaty ratification in the Senate. Try getting even 2/3rd of Senate Democrats to support it. Kyoto never even got to a vote.

  16. Aristotle was the Authority when Galileo claimed that the planets circled the sun.

    The academics were often clergy because higher education was begun by the clergy. There was a whole way of academic life at risk

    They had a beautiful scheme of spheres where planets circled in strange ways to appear at the proper seasons but there were fixed stars. outside the spheres. They knew however that the earth was a sphere of very small size becuase that was known in “Ancient Times” and was therefore “True”
    The academics spent many happy years developing their spheres within spheres and had long academic debates.
    At medieval universities they learned Logic, Rhetoric, Metaphysics and Music normally. all based on such Classics of Greece and Rome as had survived the barbarian burning of the monasteries.

    Debate ( Rhetoric) was their life blood.

    This Galileo fellow would cause a disruption to a settled science. and couldn’t be allowed.

    This thinking continued into the Renaissance period.

  17. Briggs

    May 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    All,

    Where Did ’97 Percent’ Global Warming Consensus Figure Come From?

    http://dailycaller.com/2014/05/16/where-did-97-percent-global-warming-consensus-figure-come-from/

  18. This whole mess is interesting. I believe Lewendosky had a paper retracted due, according to the journal, to not protecting the identity of the participants. That is what Univ of Queensland is claiming here (I think)—that the data not released would compromise participants. Except the only participants were “judges” reading abstracts and “assigning” values of agrees or disagrees with AGW. The whole study was so incredibly flawed that anyone published it was amazing.
    Also, those folks at SkS really need to get better advice on putting items out there on the net and not making them available to the whole world. Maybe we need a study on how many people naively believe you can actually hide data on the internet—without using a password protected site. Then send threatening letters because they were incompetent and didn’t properly protect their data. What a crazy, insane mess. And these are the “experts”? No wonder climate change science is desperate to shut down opposition—before the whole disasterous mess is laid open for all to see.

  19. Briggs

    May 17, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    MthTchr87,

    Right on the money.

  20. Reasonable Guy

    May 17, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Where did the ‘primary cause” part come from? The Cook et al paper includes papers that would fall outside of “primary cause” as being part of the 97% Consensus.

    http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article

  21. If you quite rightly say that anthropogenic global warming is happening along with anthropogenic global cooling; meaning there’s some effect we just don’t know to what degree – does that count as a vote for consensus? It’s a qualified admission that could be categorized as agreement when it really should be in the “no position” category.

  22. This is anecdotal rather than scientific, but it sheds light on AGW-AGCCâ„¢.

    I’m an environmental scientist, an engineer actually, one of the very first graduate degrees in that field. My job is to make the ‘Bad Guys’ go away, no matter how heinous, both rigorously, technically, on schedule and under budget, you know, oil spills, belching smokestacks, rivers of sewage, …we’re the Dirt Busters.

    I was hired by the largest State environmental engineering agency in North America, beginning in 2000, when they had a mandate to re-engineer and renovate their old and crumbling facilities. For a visual, this would be fish hatcheries, water intakes, fish passage culverts, LWD, all the Good Clean Stuff of making civilization ‘friendly’ to native salmon and the lurking tree huggers.

    Then something very strange happened. All our design work, all the studies we did, 100s of projects, were carefully put on a shelf, and our 100,000s of hours debited from the Capital Budget, rather than the Operations side. Then we were all given COLAs, and had to join the State union. What happened to ‘re-engineer and renovate’? We’re talking MILLIONS of dollars looted from the Capital side, so the Operations budget could be diverted to higher salaries and PERS pensions. We were making 10% guaranteed on set-aside savings!

    Then the shit went sideways when Al Gore discovered Allah, err, AGW. This agency of nearly 80 years, full of expert biological scientists and environmental engineers, was left sitting on their hands, with the Capital Budget unspent.

    See the Governor had a stealth Carbon Tithe in the wings, all written, all ready to go, to double and then triple vehicle relicensing fees, (equally for semi-trailers to electric bikes, because the Teamsters objected to higher fees, and now we were part of the National I Forget Union too). They had already hired all these ‘energy technicians’, and were going to make them go around sniffing people’s water, garbage and electricity usage, then fining them. One came to my house and ratted me out for having a renewable energy wood stove. A brother in the same union!!

    Those of us ‘old school’ trying to actually build something were told to keep doing our engineering designs and studies, but they were not going to be built, because the Capital Fund would be diverted into Operations for ‘energy investigations’.

    Then Climate Gate blew the doors off the hinges, and that Carbon Tithe revenue stream died stillborn. But rather than go back to basics, the State laid off all the engineers (!), and started madly hiring any ‘environmental’ graduate and making them a ‘habitat specialist’. Now their job was to go around to all the booming real estate projects, and find 50 reasons why the developers needed to pay $100,000 to the State in mitigation fees. At one point, there was a ‘habitat specialist’ for every 20 miles of named river or creek throughout the State, and construction costs more than doubled!

    And so it continued past the 2008 real estate collapse, (which I knew intimately because that’s where I went after they laid me off), and now the agency had an existential crisis. With real estate gone, where would new tax or fines revenues come from, now that all these new ‘energy technicians’, errr, ‘habitat specialists’ were tenured and vested in the union? They were Bonafide.

    So in 2013, the Governor looted the State Gas Tax, meant for roads and bridges and transportation planning, and put it in the General Fund for agency salaries and another COLA bump to PERS pensions!! When a flabbergasted business journalist asked the Governor how they could do that, the Governor said, “There is nothing in the (Gas Tax) law that says we can’t (loot the citizens of the State).”

    Shortly after that, a major interstate bridge collapsed in the State, ha,ha,ha.

    And that, my friends, is a microcosm of the Federal/State Public Climate Mafia. And if you believe they won’t inaugurate brutal Carbon Taxes in 2015, after the Mid-Term elections, you’re dreaming. Australia tried this Carbon Tax, and it cost them $34 B a year in lost economic activity. Scaled to the US economy, the New American Energy Patriot Freedom Liberty Tithe will cost Americans $284B a year in lost personal income, while hitting the poorest and least able with the most regressive tax regime possible, at a time when social services are crumbling.
    And you know what, Mil.Gov.Sci.Edu gets their salary and PERS pension COLA right on schedule, in fact, they’ll get a COLA to exactly match any tax increase!

    Your income and savings have been draining since 1970, and washing out since 2008, get ready for a Nantucket Sleigh ride they will talk about in the year 2100.

    Because there is no problem too big for Mil.Gov.Sci.Edu to solve, as long as we throw another TRILLION of our last life savings, that are never coming back, at their satin-and-ermine-lined feet.

    “E pluribus what difference does it make?”
    Good Queen Hillary

  23. Brandon Gates

    May 18, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Briggs:

    I am one of the climate researchers who disputes the proposition.

    Say it isn’t so!

    Again, therefore, the proposition is not “beyond” dispute. Dispute is not only a live option, it is a respectable scientific position to take. It is not, of course, a politically correct position; no small point.

    All snarking aside, I fully agree. I emphasize: both sides of the political debate use the (lack of) consensus tactic.

    In short, a vote taken of qualified climate scientists, even if such a vote be unanimous, which it is not, would not settle the proposition. Such a vote would not settle any scientific question “beyond dispute.”

    As it is Sunday, I preach to the choir: No non-trivial scientific question is ever settled beyond dispute. The only proper way to evaluate empirical claims is to evaluate empirical evidence.

    However, where the bandwagon fallacy begins to lose its wheels is when ones own expertise is not sufficient to interpret the evidence and/or when the scope of the research is sufficiently non-trival so that no one researcher could ever hope to have enough expertise and time resources to comprehend the entire body of data.

    Sheri:

    And the science is failing badly and all that redistribution of wealth to solve a physical problem like climate change will be lost if the faithful do not believe horrible death is imminent and their money must be taken to save the planet.

    Where do you think the science is failing badly?

    I’m struggling to understand why someone would so concisely, in one sentence, conflate science and politics responding to a blog post that explicitly cautions against doing it.

    Scotian:

    … I’ve been reading Briggs’ posts long enough to read between the lines.

    I’ve been reading Briggs long enough to understand that it’s constantly necessary to read between the lines. In many debates, I intentionally create ambiguities as a way to get my opponent to reveal biases or prejudices. I don’t know whether Briggs does this intentionally or not, and if intentionally, for what purpose.

    Katie:

    What is often overlooked by the the pro-warmers is that there is a fantastically powerful flaming orb that heats the earth. If the sun is taken from the equation, how much warming would people produce?

    Climatologists do not often overlook the sun.

    If I have grabbed accurate numbers (please feel free to check me) the earth absorbs ~3.8 million exajoules of solar energy per year. It of course radiates nearly all of that back out into space, or (I’m guesstimating) the entire earth (not just the atmosphere and oceans) would have long since boiled away completely. I daresay it never would have formed to begin with.

    By comparison, people consume 474 exajoules per year (2008 estimate), or approx. 1/8000th of what the earth absorbs from the sun.

    Tom Scharf:

    I think you need to better understand the skeptic position. There are a wide range of views of course, but most skeptics agree that the temperatures have risen, and CO2 is partially responsible. Technically most skeptics are in this 97%. My view isn’t that climate science is wrong, it is that they do not currently understand it well enough to provide actionable intelligence through their modelling projections. Bottom line, I don’t trust their models. You may disagree, but this is a technically defendable position.

    I don’t accept that most skeptics are lukewarmists. But my irony meter is climbing. This is a blog post about science by committee as a Bad Thing. Many prominent skeptics with domain expertise are lukewarmists.

    Where specifically do you think climate models are unreliable and why? What methods would you propose to falsify AGW other than simply saying the existing science and/or modeling are erroneous?

  24. daddy warbucks

    May 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    “The Establishment Academics are becoming just fascist Marxists hell-bent on manipulating society for personal gain and power.”

    “Global Warming is another hidden agenda. The politicians are eager to climb on board not to save the world, but to raise taxes. The academics are driven by the money so they can sit in their rooms collect welfare checks for totally worthless nonsense.”

    Google:

    Global Warming Fascist Movement & Academic Welfare

    Obama killed the ‘Constellation’ program and has NASA budget concentrated on proving that AGW exists and ‘Muslim Outreach’.

  25. Brandon: Maybe because it is?
    I am not conflating politics and science–it was done by the climate scientists. Personally, I would have been ecstatic if Al Gore and his ilk had stayed out of this. It didn’t happen, and now there’s no separating the two, it seems. If we remove the politics, we have a theory that is based on models and does not accurately predict much of anything.
    Temperatures have been pretty much level for the last 15 plus years. The ocean may be warming but we have far too little data to make predictions on what that means. The Arctic ice was reported melting faster than expected (yes, that makes the model wrong), the hot spot in the troposphere was no where to be found, etc. I can’t think of any predictions that actually did come true, short of a temperature rise for a while. All we get now is “it’s coming”, etc. The use of extreme weather as an indicator is completely dishonest–weather is not getting worse, only in the minds of the media.
    Perhaps I missed a prediction that actually came true?
    Also, I believe that your comment “it radiates nearly all of that back out into space” is not accurate. I have not seen any energy budget that shows “nearly all” going back into space. In fact, with just the sun alone, without the atmosphere, the earth would be 35K colder than it is now. It is only that 35K that the greenhouse gases are used to explain. The sun accounts for the rest, along with land/water ratios and several other things. The sun is major player here. Yes, MIT makes the questionable claim that the earth gets twice as much energy from the atmosphere as from the sun, but they use energy flux, not net energy, so far as I can tell.
    One cannot falsify AGW short of shutting down every source of manmade CO2 immediately and then waiting up to 100 years or more to see if it makes a difference. That CO2 that is so feared has a life of 20 to 100 years in the atmosphere.
    Another problem with falsification is AGW just moves the goal posts–didn’t get as hot as predicted, blame El Nina. Fewer tornadoes? Just wait, they ARE coming. You get the idea.

  26. Brandon: http://science-edu.larc.nasa.gov/energy_budget/pdf/Energy_Budget_Litho_10year.pdf

    This shows about half of the incoming radiation absorbed, I think. This is energy flux shown.

  27. Brandon Gates

    May 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Sheri:

    Maybe because it is?

    I assume you mean maybe the science is failing? Maybe so. Quite plausibly so … I’ve read a lot of other peoples’ emails ya know. But that’s politics in an unholy matrimony with science. It is’t science. My decision was to become significantly wary of dendroclimatology from the U. of E. Anglia coinciding with a slight uptick in skeptical questions about AGW theory in general. And a BIG uptick in skepticism about AGW politics.

    I am not conflating politics and science–it was done by the climate scientists. Personally, I would have been ecstatic if Al Gore and his ilk had stayed out of this. It didn’t happen, and now there’s no separating the two, it seems.

    I did not mean to suggest that you started the conflation. Far from it. It’s extraordinarily difficult for me to tease the two apart, and I am often guilty of it myself despite deliberate effort to not do it.

    Though, by trying my hardest to evaluate the science of AGW independently of the politics of AGW, I have learned a great deal about science and politics in general — albeit mostly politics.

    If we remove the politics, we have a theory that is based on models and does not accurately predict much of anything.

    You give the 15 year flat surface temperature trend and unexpected increase in arctic (sea) ice melt as examples. I’m not up on the troposphere issue. Those are three data series in an ocean (if you’ll pardon the intentional pun) of global observations. What you are implying is that those “failed” predictions therefore sully any other theories or (many many many) observations and predictions. If that is your argument, it’s not a strong one.

    Now, at the risk of oversimplifying just after I made an appeal to you not to do so, what might we reasonably hypothesize when we see flatter surface temperature trends in conjunction with increasingly rapid arctic sea ice loss?

    I can’t think of any predictions that actually did come true, short of a temperature rise for a while.

    We’re dipping into ambiguity in a seriously argument nullifying way here. What is your definition of a true prediction? How do you define “a while”?

    The use of extreme weather as an indicator is completely dishonest–weather is not getting worse, only in the minds of the media.

    Agree, it’s dishonest, harmful and outright disingenuous. In some cases simply ignorant. When I’m not hopping mad about this, I derive much amusement when when winter rolls around and I see this conversation …

    Righttard wacko: It’s soooo cold today, where’s global warming when you need it!
    Leftard wacko: You idiot, weather is not climate.

    … only to see this conversation six months later …

    Leftard whacko: OMG, today is the hottest day on record evar!!!
    Righttard whacko: You idiot, weather is not climate.

    It’s a giggle-fest. I single-handedly keep the popcorn industry in the black. You have no idea.

    Perhaps I missed a prediction that actually came true?

    Madame Sheri, I consider that a properly excellent skeptical question. I feel it better for your own edification (and perhaps my blood pressure) if you do as I did and look for them youself. While doing so, ponder what a “true” prediction entails in the context of a risk-mitigation problem.

    Also, I believe that your comment “it radiates nearly all of that back out into space” is not accurate. I have not seen any energy budget that shows “nearly all” going back into space. In fact, with just the sun alone, without the atmosphere, the earth would be 35K colder than it is now..

    Loving the last sentence in that block.

    Ahhhh energy budgets. Going from memory, Trenberth’s calc some 5 (or is it 10 now?) years back was ~1 W/m^2 imbalance on the warming side. I believe that’s the net of all radiative forcings. I looked at your link, and see nothing significantly different from the one I first remember seeing … but … oh and there it is, bottom left corner: 0.6 W/m^2 net absorbed.

    That’s “most” radiating back into space in my book.

    The sun accounts for the rest, along with land/water ratios and several other things.

    Yah, lots of other things. This being a really large and complex system, we couldn’t possibly tally up *everything* … we’re always going to have residuals. But for sake of argument, if we tally up all those other things except the sun, then yes, the sun accounts for the rest of the observations.

    As a skeptical truth-seeker, I must rely on considered arguments from both sides of any given debate. An isolated insolation argument doesn’t meet my personal criteria for a considered argument. That’s not a slam, it’s my way of nudging you to ask more questions and look for your own answers.

    One cannot falsify AGW short of shutting down every source of manmade CO2 immediately and then waiting up to 100 years or more to see if it makes a difference. That CO2 that is so feared has a life of 20 to 100 years in the atmosphere.

    I personally don’t care about falisifying AGW or not. No, that’s not quite right, falsification is not high on the list of my priorities. Mitigation of potentially negative economic effects and human suffering is a much higher priority.

    Another problem with falsification is AGW just moves the goal posts–didn’t get as hot as predicted, blame El Nina. Fewer tornadoes? Just wait, they ARE coming. You get the idea.

    The planet moved the goalposts. It has a way of not cooperating with politics in nasty ways. Insert Feynman’s delicious “nature cannot be fooled” quote here.

    Nature can benefit politics in good ways, depending on politics in question. They’re called windfalls for a reason ….. amirite?

    “Good” scientists take this sort of thing in stride. In fact they welcome it. Being wrong is one of the best things that can happen to a researcher if they’re an intellectually honest and diligent truth-seeker.

    Oh, and tornadoes are a crap indicator of climate change. Many better ones exist.

    Enjoyed the chat. I like the questions you’re asking.

  28. I am curious – is there ANY other branch of science that typically needs 30-50 years to be shown to be correct or in error? Not that all science doesn’t self correct haphazardly but constantly over time, of course, but I can’t think of any other branch that can commonly dismiss criticisms by saying, “Wait.”

    To be clear, I am not talking about individual studies, I am talking about the entirety of the science. Geology, for instance, has aspects that cover everything from milliseconds to the entirety of the earth’s history, the SAME as Climatology, however, how many studies in Geology say, ‘Just wait. In 50 years, after I am long dead and cannot suffer any repercussions from my predictions, you will see that I was correct.’?

    It seems to me that the amount of wiggle-room, error estimates and “anything goes” in Climatology really speaks volumes of just how poor our understanding is of our planet’s climate system and its myriads of interacting systems…

  29. Brandon: Yes, the answer was to science failing. I agree with your assertions on skeptics and advocates often behaving the same way and have pointed it out when it comes up in discussions.
    Okay, let’s try a different link on the energy absorbed: “Thus, about 71 percent of the total incoming solar energy is absorbed by the Earth system.” http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/EnergyBalance/page4.php
    Maybe that helps. I actually did a blog write-up on the various diagrams. It can certainly give you a headache trying to figure out what is what.

    If you can’t falsify a theory, it’s pretty much the same as religion–it’s not science. Now, I do understand that we are dealing with probability here so the actual falsification is not the same as say the doctor/heart surgery example that comes up a lot. There’s just calculus, statistics, rules of physics and computer models. Climate, as defined by climate class (Yes, I took one–actually not quite done yet) is the statistics of weather. If I understand this correctly, that kind of makes climate nothing more than numbers and math, devoid of reality. I didn’t really like the definition, but that’s the one I was presented with. It does address the problem, though. It’s not real in the usual sense. It’s not even real in the quantum mechanics sense, since it’s more difficult to test than many of the theories there.

    You and I are in agreement on much—which is always curious to me as I have met others who seem to be in agreement on many things, yet we have reached opposite conclusions. It fascinates me and perhaps one day I will find someone who can articulate their reasons and I mine and see where the differences lie.

    As for studying, as noted, I am taking a class. The kind with calculus and the explanation of where the ideas came from, the equations and calculations used, etc. I deliberately chose a class like that to separate politics from the science. It’s about 95% science, which is not bad for climate class. So I am learning very much for myself.

  30. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 18, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    There is overwhelming statistical evidence that seat belts reduce the likelihood of injury in a car accident.

    Actually, auto fatalities had been steadily decreasing for decades even before seat belts, and the phase-in of seat belts coincided with two other innovations: collapsible steering columns and crumple zones. Previously, the biggest cause of death in collision was the driver’s chest being punctured by the steel rod on which the steering wheel was mounted. There is also statistical evidence that the presence of seat belts increased the accident rates and the average speed on the streets. Basically, people felt safer in the belts and so drove faster. (This is called the “risk thermostat” in Risk Analysis.) All the seat belts in the world won’t help when you are T-boned by a speeder at an intersection. (Crumple zones and steering columns are “invisible” to the drive, and so behaviorally inert.) The point is that inference from an effect to a cause is not that easy, even in a controlled situation, let alone an uncontrolled one.

  31. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Argh.

    Aristotle was the Authority when Galileo claimed that the planets circled the sun.

    By Galileo’s time Ptolemaic astronomy rivaled Aristotelian physics. There was also the Heraclidean, Tychonic, and Ursine models, Gilbert’s model, Copernicus’ model, and Kepler’s model. Empirically, it was not clear at all which (if any) was true; and the standard opinion (given the conflict between Ptolemy and Aristotle) was that no astronomical model could even be proven true. At the time, astronomy was mathematics, not physics.

    The academics were often clergy because higher education was begun by the clergy.

    No, actually they weren’t, not even in the Middle Ages. The overwhelming majority (outside the faculty of theology) were laymen.

    Further details start here:
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html

  32. Brandon Gates

    May 19, 2014 at 5:44 am

    Sheri:

    Okay, let’s try a different link on the energy absorbed: “Thus, about 71 percent of the total incoming solar energy is absorbed by the Earth system.”

    Ok, I understand the confusion here. Basically 29% of incoming solar energy reflects right back out. This is visible spectrum radiation, going out the same way it came in, so GHGs aren’t as much a factor.

    What matters for greenhouse effect is IR radiation. The way we get IR is when visible light absorbed by the atmosphere or suface heats them up. So, going back to your first energy budget graph we get:

    (all values W/m^2)

    77.1 absorbed by atmosphere
    163.3 absorbed by surface
    —–
    240.4 total absorbed solar radiation

    As I mentioned before, earth needs to dissipate that absorbed energy or else it will just get hotter and hotter. The only way the earth can dump that energy into space and not lose mass is another radiative transfer. On the diagram that number is:

    239.9 total outgoing infrared radiation

    So: 240.4 incoming – 239.9 outgoing = 0.5 net absorbed

    Annoyingly, it’s 0.6 in the diagram, they gained tenth to rounding somewhere. Anyway, that’s the “energy imbalance” attributed to rising GHG levels.

    If you can’t falsify a theory, it’s pretty much the same as religion–it’s not science.

    Yep. But as you point out, this is complex stuff and not easily falsifiable.

    Falsification is NOT “aw shucks, this is too hard to figure out, so we shouldn’t even be trying.”

    There’s just calculus, statistics, rules of physics and computer models. Climate, as defined by climate class is the statistics of weather. If I understand this correctly, that kind of makes climate nothing more than numbers and math, devoid of reality.

    How I’d put it is that the collection of numbers that describe climate aren’t inherently tangible. We don’t experience statistical patterns, we experience our local reality, one day at a time, seasonally, anually. So we do say things like, “it’s been a cool summer so far,” or “spring is really late this year.”

    An intuitive way I think of it is this: would I try to grow orange trees in Toronto? I wouldn’t expect to find a bunch of conifers in the middle of the Amazon rain forest would I? But why?

    Drat, guess I need some numbers: average rainfall, average temperature, min/max temperature, number of days above or below some temperature, whether rain falls year round or only during one part of the year, etc ….

    How to define what “climate” means with statistics is necessary, but essentially arbitrary. There is no one way to define it. That’s where the debate about models turns into a bugaboo. There are a lot of arguments that say “models aren’t science,” and leave it at that. Which is not a good argument. Actually, I think it’s a crap argument.

    Briggs makes a better argument: models are necessary, but a given researcher can put whatever he or she wants into a model to achieve the desired result. That’s a properly skeptical approach to the problem.

    You and I are in agreement on much—which is always curious to me as I have met others who seem to be in agreement on many things, yet we have reached opposite conclusions.

    Ohhh, I’m not so sure we have totally opposite conclusions. I’m pretty sure I don’t like the enviromental left’s politics on AGW as much as many here might think. But yeah, how two people can look at the same set of evidence and come to different conclusions is fascinating.

    I deliberately chose a class like that to separate politics from the science. It’s about 95% science, which is not bad for climate class. So I am learning very much for myself.

    Awesome, only way to be.

  33. Brandon:
    I understand, I think, what you are saying with the “net energy”. This is a problem with AGW because if you use net energy, I believe you remove “back radiation” which is based on energy flux, not net energy. This is very unpopular with most of the AGW scientists I have read. It’s also why the theory is so difficult to pin down. (I do understand the IR radiation and convection and the spectrums of visible light, IR and UV and how they apply here, absorption bands of atmospheric gases, etc. Sometimes I’m not very good at explaining them fully so discussions like this help.)

    On models: What I am saying is models can be useful, but without any way to verify the model, it remains just a model. (This is true in quantum mechanics, where indirect proof is all we get, but the model/mathematical prediction still needs to be verified in some way). If it cannot predict accurately, a model’s usefulness is very, very limited. Models may be part of science, but there still has to be some empirical evidence involved, I think. Mathematics and statistics need some physical verification of their accuracy if they are to be of practical value. Otherwise the math and models look very much like philosophy. (Figuring out climate for Toronto so you can figure out what might grow well there is very different than trying to figure out how the climate system for the entire planet works. The climate in Toronto also changes over time, so what you calculate today may not be accurate 10 years from now. Limited usefulness, though a necessary model.)

    My hope is as I learn more, my ability to properly explain my beliefs will become easier. I have learned a great deal about climate and where the theories came from. I enjoy learning the underlying math and physics–it makes things much clearer (sometimes after the initial fog, of course!).

  34. “A comprehensive survey has been conducted of the American Meteorological Society membership to elicit their views on global warming.”…

    “Look at the views in column 1, then look at the % in the rightmost column: 52% state the the warming since 1850 is mostly anthropogenic. One common categorization would categorize the other 48% as ‘deniers’.”

    http://judithcurry.com/2013/11/10/the-52-consensus/

  35. Brandon Gates

    May 19, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Sheri:

    I understand, I think, what you are saying with the “net energy”. This is a problem with AGW because if you use net energy, I believe you remove “back radiation” which is based on energy flux, not net energy.

    These are two separate physical mechanisms which need to be teased apart. I didn’t discuss “back radiation” because we hadn’t gotten to it yet.

    Net energy is short for net energy flux. We have flux coming in from the sun, and flux going out from the earth. If incoming solar energy is greater than outgoing solar radiation, the earth will heat up. If incoming is less than outgoing, the earth will cool down.

    I’m speaking in averages here, the dynamics of the system are such that any point on the planet surface is either heating or cooling. Go outdoors at noon, and it’s almost always the case (where I live anyway) that the same spot will be cooler 12 hours later at midnight.

    That net flux, if I’ve understood correctly, is calculated at the top of atmosphere (TOA); the boundary between air and vacuum. The boundary is quite diffuse, so it’s been somewhat arbitrarily defined as a fixed altitude above the surface as a standard convention when doing physics calcs.

    What goes on below TOA is where “back radiation” comes into play. It’s an unpopular term among physicists of any stripe because it’s a term Trenberth (I think) coined as a shorthand to avoid ambituity between upward IR from the surface, and downward IR from GHG gasses and clouds. I forget the proper term, but there is one, and Trenberth’s inventive jargon ran afoul of some outspoken purists. It also lent rhetorical weight to the thoroughly ridiculous assertion that the greenhouse effect violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics — essentially, that a cooler mass cannot transfer heat to a warmer one.

    But I ramble into digression. Bottom line is:

    1) “Net energy” is a TOA calculation that indicates whether the planet is heading toward warming or cooling. If net energy were zero, we’d expect temperatures on average to remain stable over time because at that point the earth system would be, on average, at equilibrium. The average surface temperature of the planet would then be at its so-called equilibrium temperature.

    2) “Back radiation” affects the rate at which the earth is able to dissipate solar energy from the planet surface through the atmosphere. GHGs decrease the rate of radiative heat loss from the surface on balance because of their “back radiation”; the downward IR from the atmosphere that otherwise would have gone straight back out into space.

    Two separate concepts. They’re actually listed here in backward order because that’s how we entered the discussion. (2) actually drives (1) all else being equal. Which things never are, hence the very challenging situation we find when trying to figure it all out.

    On models: What I am saying is models can be useful, but without any way to verify the model, it remains just a model.

    Of course not. But you imply that models aren’t being verified. That’s a broad and bold assumption. As there are elebentyzillion models out there, it’s also tough to investigate as an independent skeptical truth-seeker.

    Figuring out climate for Toronto so you can figure out what might grow well there is very different than trying to figure out how the climate system for the entire planet works.

    Yeah, no kidding. It’s not a hugely expensive, highly unweildy, cumbersome to the point of bumbling process for bad reasons! 🙂

    The climate in Toronto also changes over time, so what you calculate today may not be accurate 10 years from now. Limited usefulness, though a necessary model.

    Right. So something with limited but necessary utility should be regarded as such, and held to a reasonable standard of performance. If the cost of producing the model(s) exceeds the expected utility of using them, don’t do the model, eh?

    10 years is basically within the realm of seasonal variation; which we’re already dealing with and have been managing for decades before AGW became a “hot” topic. We have been doing it purposes of industrialized agriculture. With models, albeit ones that only look one or several years ahead.

    Think risk assessment and mitigation, Sheri. That discipline doesn’t involve trying to figure out what the high temperature and chance of precipitation in Toronto is going to be on your birthday in 2050. I know you know this, I only hyperbolize for emphasis. Cheers.

    PS: you mentioned your blog in an earlier post? Gotta link?

  36. Brandon:
    You’ve given me much to consider. I need to get back to my other work, so for now, I will keep your comments and further ponder them.

    My blog is http://watchingthewatchersofdeniers.wordpress.com

  37. Brandon Gates

    May 19, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Sheri: but of course. Thanks again for your questions, several of them made me think about things in different ways than I had before. Thanks for the blog link.

  38. So Dan Watson have you poured over the temperature data over the last 15 years or so that shows no warming at all?

  39. Brandon Gates

    May 21, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen some graphs that show a flat trend in surface temperatures for the past fifteenish years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑