William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

For The Love Of Models: A Global Warming Allegory

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A very odd thing happened in Science. Turns out a famous weatherman has been forecasting highs in the 60s then 70s for New York City all winter long. But the temperature never rose above the single digits, teens, twenties, and thirties.

One day a writer at the New York Post wrote an article telling people not to trust the weatherman, who, it turned out, had issued a prediction for the following day for a “High of 80!”

Climatologists stationed at NASA on the Upper West Side were incensed that a non-scientist would interfere with Science. So the climatologists spoke with the weatherman, who said he was basing his predictions on a sophisticated computer model. The weatherman admitted his difficulties, but said his model would have performed great if only he had better measures of surface snow cover.

This reasoning wholly convinced the climatologists who held a press conference at which they insisted, “Whoever disagrees with this weatherman is a science denier. The weatherman is using a sophisticated computer model, which can only get better since we have provided the weatherman with New & Improved! measures of surface snow cover.”

Cowed, the press skittered away, went home and put on their shorts to await the promised warmth. But the next day the high was only 16oF. And for the next week it was bitterly cold, yet the weatherman went on predicting a heatwave. This raised eyebrows, but since nobody wanted to be called a denier, they didn’t insist the weatherman was wrong.

The climatologists suspected, however, that something wasn’t quite right. So they called another meeting with the weatherman. He admitted he had incorporated the New & Improved! surface snow cover measurements, but that hadn’t helped much. And besides, there wasn’t anything wrong after all. The model was still great—better than great—but it was natural variability that was to blame for the wayward observations. “Nobody,” he said, “Can anticipate natural variability.”

Again, the climatologists were convinced by this argument and they called another press conference. “The model this weatherman is using is correct,” they said. “It is really a quite excellent model. But natural variability interfered with observations.”

A man in the audience, a non-tenured engineering professor, was perplexed. He was bold enough to ask, “But that doesn’t make any sense. Natural variability is what the weather is. What you’re really saying is that the model does a poor job of representing the weather.”

“That is false,” the climatologists said. “The model is terrific. From whom do you receive your funding?”

The engineering professor said, “Well, partly from a company that manufactures a specialized product. But what does that matter? Your model said the temperature would be high and instead it was low. That can only mean the model is wrong.”

Now the engineering professor didn’t know it, but his Dean was watching the press conference. The Dean was embarrassed that he had a science denier in his department and the next day he moved to have the young professor terminated. A reporter (shivering like mad and dressed in a t-shirt) heard about the firing and asked the climatologists for their opinion.

“That this man was fired is proof of his incompetence. He wasn’t even a meteorologist. He obviously had a conflict of interest by receiving money from companies that might benefit from his work. This proves the model the weatherman is using is a good one.” And the reporter believed.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists argued that the model didn’t work and they offered a suggestion why it might be busted. They published their thoughts in a science journal, which caught the attention of the small fraction of the public who were tired of having to wear skimpy clothes in frigid temperatures merely to prove they were not science deniers.

The climatologists quickly called another conference to assure the public that all was well in hand. “The team’s suggestion of why the weatherman’s model is broken can’t possibly be right. Therefore the weatherman’s model must be a good one. Only science deniers can deny this.”

The weatherman continued predicting hot air, but only cold air was to be seen. Some in the public grumbled louder. So the climatologists contacted the state authorities. The governor and state legislature were brought in, as were educational, union, and business leaders. All begin promoting the climatologists’ message that the weatherman was right and the weather wrong. The president of the United States eventually came to the rescue with an official list of Science Deniers. He said that those who love Science should “go after” the deniers.

Which they did. And then everybody died of pneumonia.

33 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    February 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Think of the last sentence as “Evolution in action”. Therefore, another win for Science.

  2. A happy ending! The deniers, obviously, continued to wear gloves and jackets.

  3. Even “Believers” find themselves accused of “Denialism”

    https://theclimatefix.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/i-am-under-investigation/

  4. This whole situation is ridiculous. Whenever someone hands the AGW folks a scientifically valid reason to think that maybe we aren’t super doomed, everyone gets so mad. They get mad that they might be wrong about how doomed we are . The governor has given them stay of execution, to which they throw a tantrum!

    This succinctly illustrates that they love theory more than anything else. They love the position, influence, and pride that the theory gives. “Do you love the theory?” they ask each other, and when they answered “yes”, they pat themselves on the back and travel for conferences and sneer at everyone else. When anyone dares to come along and say “I do not love the theory”, they screech and yell and try to kick the very bad and mean and evil person out of all the places that they might see him to avoid being reminded of things they do not like.

    This behavior is at the root of most of the ills in the world. It is the explanation for why “tolerance” is so intolerant, among other things.

    Chesteron, in Orthodoxy explains this idea thus. He reminds us that it is not only possible to be able to simultaneously love something and want to see it changed, but it is in fact required to love something to want to see it changed. Otherwise, there is either simply infatuation, or a lie (the lie being that the thing claimed to be loved is not loved, it is something else hidden that is loved. That hidden thing, in my view, is the self).

    Applying this to science, you can tell when science is not loved when it is not allowed to grow or change according to the methods of science (iterative observation and comparison to models, for example). It is actually more true to label AGW proponents of the sort who ignore evidence as science ‘deniers’, because they deny the methods and conclusions that should be reached after plain observation and right thinking.

  5. Find an illustrator and you have the makings of a nice subversive children’s book. It will, of course, need a samizdat publisher and distribution through the home schooling network, but that’s where the only hope of civilization lies. Do it for the children.

  6. Basically, what this essay seems to be saying, is that the sophisticated computer model was doing an exquisitly wonderous job of taking the inputs fed into it and producing the appropriate ‘just right’ outputs. Nevermind that the outputs don’t match reality–the inputs just aren’t quite good enough. But the model itself is doing just fine.

    Which can be further summed up as,

    Garbage in-Garbage Out (GIGO)*.

    * “Garbage” in such situations includes inviolate facts when those facts are sufficiently incomplete to present a misleading/significantly incomplete rendition of the reality they purport to represent. A part-truth is a part-falsehood.

  7. MANN OH MANN

    Here is the letter to Judith Curry’s school:
    http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/sites/democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/files/Judith%20Curry%2C%20Georgia%20Tech_0.pdf

    Here is the letter to Pielke’s school:
    http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/sites/democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/files/Roger%20Pielke%2C%20Colorado.pdf

    I HOPE these presidents have the temerity to reject this idiot and any other colleague that supported this “investigation”.

  8. Here’s the story from “the source” itself:

    http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/documents/letters-seven-universities-asking-documents-climate-change-research

    At least he’s honest in his signature about being the RANKing member because this really stinks

  9. I used to do lots of computer programming and we joked that GIGO meant garbage in gospel out. If your results were on a computer print out it was like they came off the mountain on stone tablets.

  10. Indeed, a thought provoking allegory. Some, have this farcical belief that science is perfect. It must indeed follow logically, at least for politicians, that scientists are perfect. Mathematics is the most exact scientific discipline. It follows, we must have a perfect answer for all things mathematic. So 1/0 is? And, the underpinnings of a climate model are mathematical algorithms.

  11. Well, the good news is that though the new industrial advancement in the East is growing faster everyday, their reaction to the consequences is growing faster as well.

    We here in the US suffered terrible consequences from pollution until we cleaned up our act, the East seems to be realizing all the sooner that they must too.

    The argument you guys make is pretty much just useless. It may be true, but it wouldn’t help anything. Even if false, if we reduce pollution it is still de facto a good thing.

    JMJ

  12. This post is about CO2. How did the subject get changed to pollution? Maybe it would help to actually read the post. Last I knew plants don’t need pollution to grow.

  13. Paul W:

    You must be new.

    JMJ believes Obama and the EPA who have categorized CO2 as pollution and generally call it “Carbon Pollution”. But feel free to add your name to the list of people who tell JMJ about CO2, his source is the POTUS and that source is unimpeachable.

  14. Too good Mr. Briggs.
    I love cautionary tales.
    Thanks.

  15. Since JMJ seems to be in the “ends justify the means” camp, and since no doubt he’s anti-cigarette smoking, I presume he’s all for applying deadly choke holds to people selling cigarettes illegally.

  16. unimpeachable

    Sadly true, that.

  17. This is somewhat more grim than the story of Chicken Little, where only Chicken Little and his devotees got eaten by the Wolf at the end. *

    Original, not Disney version.

  18. Still waiting for a daily time series of the volcanic eruptions for the next 20 years, to feed into the models. Are you working on that?

  19. Briggs

    February 26, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    All,

    Can somebody help me? I haven’t the time. Change “snow cover” to “volcanic eruptions” above.

    There. The models were good after all.

    You denier.

  20. It seems the current trend in alarmist apologetic circles is to try to conflate the question of whether a model is “good” in some abstract theoretical sense, with whether it’s “good” at predictions.

    I can build a model to predict where a feather will land when I toss it off my roof using state of the art Newtonian equations. My maths and physics can be 100% correct but the model will always be useless because I can’t predict when and where the wind will blow. It’s physically impossible to incorporate that critical information into the model.

    So anyway, it seems the current “alarmist science denier” tactic is to try to bate and switch. Is this the best model we can produce given what’s physically possible? Versus, is this model useful for its expected or publicized purpose? One question is of no public policy interest, the other is.

    It’s kind of a dumb ploy, but I can’t think of what else “alarmist science deniers” could do given their current dilemma.

  21. Briggs

    February 26, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Will,

    Or in other words, “Of course we can’t model the atmosphere! It’s too complicated. That’s why you must trust our models which say the atmosphere is a gonna do some heatin’ up!”

    Yeah. Yeah. I get it.

  22. I suspect that an actual working model of the climate would not show warming, and perhaps the climate modelers know that and are in panic mode, their futures uncertain.

  23. Still waiting for a daily time series of the volcanic eruptions for the next 20 years, to feed into the models. Are you working on that?

    Perhaps the climate modelers might incorporate their uncertainty of the effects of volcanic eruptions in the next 20 years into their estimates of their models’ uncertainty.

  24. I love any variation of the term “science denier.” Wonderful, just wonderful.

  25. John D, please don’t feed the troll

    Edited

  26. @ John B()

    “…………. his source is the POTUS and that source is unimpeachable.”

    Literally.

  27. If you ever revise this tale, consider expanding the funding angle.

    It looks like the most vocal AGW promoters are funded by various government agencies either directly or indirectly. When a scientist employed directly or indirectly government goes AGW skeptical, they seem to be about the only government employees who can get fired.

    This goes back to the days when AlGore(tm) was in power.

    Isn’t that interesting?

  28. Hmm, this article must have really hit a nerve with the Alarmist regime, as CAGW attack-dog David Appel shows up to throw a salvo. I’m always quite curious how David earns a living these days, and who funds his bank account.

  29. Appell is more like a confused poodle than an attack dog.

  30. But not everyone would die of pneumonia at the end. Therefore, everything that William Briggs said in the article is false and must be dismissed.

    /fake skeptic mode off

  31. Thanks, Dr. Briggs.
    Very humorous way of showing the sad situation we are in.

  32. That was so good, I am leaving a comment. Can I reblog it?

    It is that good.

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