William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Global Warming Non-Expert Expert

Psychiatrists testing a cat's reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Psychiatrists testing a cat’s reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Reporteritis is the disease, or rather psychiatric condition, common among journalists, brought on by exposure to important people and events. The exposure causes the journalist to feel that he too is as important and as knowledgeable as the people on whom he is reporting.

It is a terrible, wracking malady, awful to see. Meet the Press’s ex David Gregory is perhaps the most prominent sufferer and awareness-raising poster boy for the disease. (The poor fellow has been observed at restaurants haranguing staff “Do you know who I am?” He may have reached the fatal stages.)

Journalists, opinion-page editors, and reporters are only the public face of the condition. It strikes, perhaps even more mercilessly, the bien pensant, too. The closer a person believes he is, or desires to be, part of the “in” crowd, the more susceptible he is. (When it infests non-reporters, the disease is called the same name.)

Take global warming as an example. For decades, climatologists have told us that temperature would be high, yet temperatures were always low. This discrepancy infallibly (as in infallibly) indicates that the climatologists have done something, we know not what, wrong.

Now a climatologist dedicated to the belief that temperatures are rising will, it is true, seek to evade the evidence of actual observations, by inventing for himself all sorts of besides-the-point explanations, such as the warming he promised is on “hiatus”. He will refuse to see that he originally promised a lack of “hiatus”, and was therefore at fault.

But this is excuse-finding, the standard reaction of people who cannot admit error, a common human failing. Most climatologists will eventually come to see their error (as long as their careers do not hinge on perpetuating that error).

No, what is of interest are the civilians who latch onto global warming with even stronger conviction than climatologists. First a clarification: Global Warming is ambiguous, and easy to equivocate. To a physicist it means warming caused by mankind, a strictly scientific matter. But to most others, it means why the government should take over.

So that when a non-climatologist hears “global warming” and expresses warm interest or visceral hatred for it, it is not the banal science of cloud-model parameterizations he has in mind, but how the government will benignly and beneficently, or brutishly and blindly, intrude on citizens’ lives. The science to these people is largely besides the point, and is anyway too difficult to master.

Still there is no disease. That only comes when the equivocation occurs, when people think they know as much science as climatologists because they desire or despise government excess. Thus there are a minority of folks who loathe massive state control who claim global warming is a “hoax”. Yet these folks, small in number and without power, forget that hoaxes are not easy to perpetuate and that sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance.

The real trouble comes from those in power. Take psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton who wrote an article for the far-left New York Times entitled “The Climate Swerve”. Now, nowhere in his resume does Lifton show any background in physics, and though like anybody he might have picked some up along the way, he has nowhere indicated that he has a systematic understanding of the subject.

Yet his ignorance does not stop him from writing, “Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.” And “Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth.” And much more along the same lines.

The reason I say Lifton, who is not intellectually challenged, might suffer from reporteritis is that he feels he is part of climate science merely because he has written about it. The equivocation is there. But he must be as aware of the trivial criterion of scientific success and failure as anybody. That climate models have failed consistently can only mean they are faulty, and therefore their implied threat of doom is improbable at best.

Still, there is sits, his glasses slumped on his nose and he lectures us sadly on why aren’t “doing something.”

Since the disease is contagious, Lifton is only one of many, those who “believe” in global warming, not because they understand the science, but because they desire its “solution.”

15 Comments

  1. Does reporteritis apply to congressmen who have famous people testify on things they know nothing about but feel passionate about?

    Funny he doesn’t mention that oil companies taking advantage of tax benefits are the ones installing the bird choppers and vaporizers. I suppose it’s okay to take tax money and “save the planet” as an oil company, though it seems the Kock brothers can’t do anything whatsoever and be noble so perhaps this is limited to oil companies that donate millions to the DNC?

    One would never have thought that “Double think” could be so very, very pervasive. It’s amazing—and terrifying. Actually, maybe “think” isn’t a part of this at all.

  2. RE: “…a climatologist dedicated to the belief that temperatures are rising will, it is true, seek to evade the evidence of actual observations, by inventing for himself all sorts of besides-the-point explanations, such as the warming he promised is on “hiatus”. He will refuse to see that he originally promised a lack of “hiatus”, and was therefore at fault. … But this is excuse-finding, the standard reaction of people who cannot admit error, a common human failing.”

    IT IS WORSE THAN THAT.

    Monitor any of a number of blogs, news articles, etc. and what you will observe, repeatedly, are assertions devoid of real substance that when analyzed in blunt form amount to:

    – “Global Warming is Real,” and,
    – “I believe in Global Warming.”
    – and so forth…

    As an example read pretty much any blog essay by Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy @ Slate) over the past several years.

    These are examples of what are called “thought stopping techniques” most insidiously associated with cult mind control techniques indoctrinated in cult adherents; these same behaviors & tactics also manifest in a variety of groups (including some business organizations) that work very hard to hone to a very particular belief system.

    REFERENCE:

    “Combatting Cult Mind Control,” by Steven Hassan.
    He explains their tactics & how they work. While many readers here hold a skeptical view of psychology there’s no uncertainty about the fact that cults employing toxic mind control exist & persist (e.g. Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, some very well-known religions in the U.S. qualify, etc.). As Bret Stephens noted independently (see below), the core apostles of the “global warming movement” behave consistently within the cult mind-control pattern.

    “Groupthink” — any search will reveal psychology & organizational behavioral examples.

    “Why Politicized Science is Dangerous,” by Michael Crichton — http://www.crichton-official.com/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html

    “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis,” by Bret Stephens — http://www.nevilleawards.com/gw.shtml

    BOTTOM LINE: Once one recognizes that “Global Warming” is a ‘movement’ as much as [I’d say much more so than] an academic/scientific assessment, arguing about & rebutting the science addresses only part of the activity–leaving the much more powerful & tenacious psychological/emotional facet alone ensures there’s little change in behavior.

    ALSO RECALL/SEE:

    http://www.libertymind.com for “The Liberal Mind; The Psychological Causes of Political Madness.” This addresses similar psycho-dynamics.

    The following can, usually, be found on-line with suitable keywords:

    “Delusions of Success,” by Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman, Harvard Business Review, 2003. Subtitled: “In planning major initiatives, executives routinely exaggerate the benefits and discount the costs, setting themselves up for failure. Here’s how to inject more reality into forecasting.”
    [as any reader involved in business will recognize immediately, the suggested injections are not being injected out in the real world]

    “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessment,” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6, 1121-1134.

  3. This is one of your best quotables yet:

    “sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance.”

  4. RE Great Quotable: “sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance.”

    SOMEONE(s) noted: ‘Ignorance & stupidity & laziness don’t get the credit they deserve.’

  5. Dr. Douglas Hoyt kept a scorecard on global warming. None of the AGW zealots predictions have come true.
    http://www.warwickhughes.com/hoyt/climate-change.htm

  6. RE: “…his ignorance does not stop him from writing, “….We are all vulnerable.” … “Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth.”

    PUZZLING: The recurring ‘oil companies are evil’ critique [such as the above] is always raised by the anthropogenic global warming alarmists…but…one never hears/reads a peep about them simply depriving these companies of their power by not consuming oil or products made using oil. Wonder why…[rhetorical question — that can’t be done].

    It’s always fun, or at least the first time or two, to engage one of those alarmists in a friendly conversation & when the inevitable anti-oil-company spiel comes out innocently ask them why they’re being such a hypocrite given their obvious support to oil companies–then point out all the stuff they’re wearing, owning made from oil or made solely possible by the consumption of oil by others. Ask’m if they’re willing to forgo all that stuff for the benefit of Mother Earth’s temperature…and if not to shut up about the oil companies whose activities are only in response to their hypocritical demand.

    Theoretically, that recognition of their hypocrisy, their total dependence [in part] on oil companies to survive, could drive them insane…though their ability to self-delude prevents that.

  7. Ken: I like your “someone(s) noted”! It’s certainly appropriate in this discussion.

  8. There are a lot more stupid people out there than you would think.

  9. Ken,

    I’m interested in your friendly conversational tactic pointing out the hypocrisies of the AGW believer. Give us some examples. I can’t make any headway with persons in the Peoples Republic of Ann Arbor.

  10. Boo Hoo, no JMJ up till now to provide comic relief.

  11. “…forget that hoaxes are not easy to perpetuate and that sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance…”

    Neither description is correct.

    What is correct is this:
    1) most scientists are atheists, and
    2) the vast majority of atheists have utterly no regard for truth – which is to say that which is ultimately correct.

    That is why atheists are such rapid fanatics when it come to AGW, the total ban on DDT, evolution (which is just utterly stupid given how it violates the hard cold reality that is entropy), abortion (which is clearly murder – at the very least some of the time) etc etc.

    In short, atheists are retarded, blinded by a form of ideological fanaticism that makes a Jesuit seem sane by comparison.

    Citing “sincere self-deception” is a whore-ish cop-out. Sorry, but it is.

  12. RE from checkum — “…conversational tactic pointing out the hypocrisies of the AGW believer. Give us some examples…”

    First, know some facts & then only comment on facts you know.
    Second, find data sources the AGW Alarmist is likely to accept.
    Third, Don’t expect a conversion…plant ideas (‘seeds’) that can take root over time.

    Example: When an AGW alarmist type mentions the Arctic is melting, I’ll often point out that the Antarctic ice is expanding. That’s usually a shock & the data is incontrovertible.

    Example: IF they’re willing to spend some time & listen/watch & read I’ll steer them to:
    – Burt Rutan’s presentation/analysis (easily found on-line)
    – Dr. Jasper Kirkby’s lecture on solar cosmic ray & cloud interactions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ygk98kEQfk (the CLOUD experiment at CERN has produced some tantalizing findings, but the objective research has a very long way to go).
    – Review Kirkby’s CERN CLOUD experiment info & results, which at this point are only tantalizing with a long way to go
    – Ask the AGW Alarmist why, if the “science is settled” so many “climate researchers” opposed & obstructed Kirkby’s research for so long?
    – Point out that even NASA concedes there’s some apparent unknown interaction with the Sun at the center: http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/SunspotCycle.shtml
    – Note that other parts of NASA have “drunk the kool aide”: http://climate.nasa.gov/key_websites/ — If you can find the older (pre-CERN CLOUD experiment period) copy of this website you’ll find that NASA, even that subset that’s bought into the AGW mindset still conceded some major uncertainties, with the top three including the Sun AND Clouds. (I had a copy but somehow lost it…maybe someone can find that in the internet’s way-back-machine archive).

    Example: Ask them at what point additions to atmospheric CO2 concentration make no difference. This is almost certain to elicit a blank stare as the “consensus impression” is that more is always bad (Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy blog, for example, has perpetuated this myth by on occasion pointing out, wrongly, that more could ultimately lead to Earth becoming like Venus… which is impossible from CO2, but many/most implicitly hold this view). Then switch topics, slightly, to a familiar example—a typical microwave. Note how some energy, visible light, is exiting the device while the holes in the screen, while the same holes are stopping the microwave wavelengths because those holes are sized specifically to stop the harmful microwave wavelengths. CO2 is very similar—it only stops certain wavelengths and not others…most pass right on by…so increasing CO2 concentrations beyond a certain point makes no difference as once there’s enough CO2 to stop all energy at the wavelengths it can stop, adding more CO2 cannot have any additional effect. This physical fact usually catches everybody by surprise. Burt Rutan’s material quantitatively shows just how little, in the grand scheme of things, CO2 actually contributes.

    Don’t expect converts on the spot. Don’t even try. It’s more like Johnny Appleseed–seeding thoughts & concepts that might take root & later blossom. Direct confrontation is almost certain to be futile and be worse as it creates emotional (not logical) barricades making subsequent introduction of logic & fact even harder. One tactic that works, to “seed” ideas past emotional defenses, is to make a remark then jump to another topic before that remark can be opposed. Skip around disjointedly on topics and ideas will seep thru. Also, agree wherever possible. One can be agreeable & slip some “interesting” facts in past their defenses much more easily if they think, because you agree with true generalities (e.g. the Arctic is warming & humans are contributing to global warming—both factually true) they’ll assume you’re not a “denier” (not realizing you know that the human contribution is trivial and the long-term impacts of warming, from whatever sources, are almost certainly within the limits of natural variation). When they assume you’re not a “denier” they’ll listen and might even think a little.

    The AGW alarmist “echo chamber” is surprisingly consistent with cult-like thinking (for an uninformed layman, Bret Stephen’s essay, Global Warming as Mass Neurosis [‘sick souled religion] was pretty much right on). Again, read S. Hassan’s book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, or read up on some cult de-programming info on-line. A recurring pattern is some threating but innocuous comment or interaction “planted” a “thought seed” in someone such that that thought was later instrumental in breaking the mindset that imprisoned them into the cult’s thinking. Bear in mind that any discussion with that ilk is a process, not a summary closing argument meant to sway a jury to an immediate particular verdict. Once you’ve planted such a seed and seen even a momentary flicker of objective thought, move on & let that percolate & work its magic.

  13. Umm..

    Agreed, except..

    1 – It’s a trival matter but when you write ” That climate models have failed consistently can only mean they are faulty, and therefore their implied threat of doom is improbable at best.” I, ah, ah, umm, gag.

    In reality the fact that the models consistently fail to match reality says nothing about the validity of the warmist thesis. It just says (a) that the models suck and (b) that predictions made on the basis of these models have no sensible basis.

    2 – if you want to understand what’s really going on with the warmists try my entry (non winning, duh) in last year’s ridley stakes:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/04/warmism-credible-politics-incredible-science/

    (FYI: most of the criticism, all of which is wrong, in the comments came from the guy I think responsible for picking the “winner”.)

  14. Ken,
    Thanks, I like the ‘plant a seed of doubt’ approach and will give it a try!

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