William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Bill Nye Says, “Let’s Talk” About Global Warming. Okay, Let’s.

Nye demonstrates how to protect yourself against global warming heat rays.

Nye demonstrates how to protect yourself against global warming heat rays.

This article was co-authored by Willie Soon. If anybody has a way to contact Bill Nye, make sure he sees this.

Bill “The Science Guy” Nye went on CNN recently and pleaded for a serious national discussion on global warming. This is an odd request because it appears we’ve been talking about nothing else but global warming for thirty years.

Evidently, Nye doesn’t think this non-stop chatter was sufficient. He said that if we talked about global warming in the same way we talk about “stuff” like “Ferguson or Baltimore” then “we would be doing something about” global warming.

Neither of us are sure precisely what Nye meant—was he asking how the mainstream media often gin ups controversy?—but in the proper spirit of amity and cooperation, we accept Nye’s offer to talk.

Let’s talk about how for about the past two decades people like Nye have been promising the global temperature would increase, yet it hasn’t. Let’s try and figure out why knowledge this like isn’t more generally known. Let’s especially discuss why Nye, who purports to be an expert on climatology, doesn’t know this amazing fact.

We also need to consider why Nye and others blame every routine storm on global warming. Nye in his interview said “it’s very reasonable that the floods in Texas, the strengthening storms…are a result of human activity making things worse.” We really need to talk about this, because it’s false. It isn’t at all reasonable to believe storms are strengthening when, as we just mentioned, temperatures have not been increasing.  Indeed, it’s unreasonable, incompetent, and irresponsible to make a claim that has been repeatedly debunked: storms are not growing stronger.

Let’s chat, too, about how global sea ice has been growing, which is another way to say it is not melting rapidly, as was predicted many, many times. We can even talk about the many other failed predictions, like polar bear extinctions. Isn’t it odd that predictive failure never hurts global warming proponents?

That this failure doesn’t hurt is why scientists need to talk about why one of the fundamental tenets of science has been forgotten. It used to be, Bill, that when a model made failed predictions, the model was no longer believed. Can you remember that time? But now scientists appear to believe models because the predictions they make are politically and culturally pleasing! Being correct no longer seems to matter. Why? We ask, because this a subject with which you have some familiarity.

Mr Nye, why is it that so many politicians and your journalist friends can only imagine global warming will cause harm? Stick with us, because this is actually a great question. Why can’t, for instance, global warming be responsible for an increase in clement summer afternoons or in less harsh and deadly winters? Why can’t the increased carbon dioxide, a necessary plant food, result in larger crops? Why is it, in short, that global warming stories always sounds like bad science fiction?

Can we also speak about why “global warming” is now “climate change”?

Let’s have a sober dialogue about why every “solution” to global warming involves increasing the reach and power of government. Doesn’t it sound suspicious that the way to “save the planet” is always cede more power to the UN and to regulatory agencies?

And while we’re on the subject of politics, let’s talk about “hate” speech. Did you know, Bill, that many people who express uncertainty in global warming are called “deniers”? Does that sound scientific to you? Worse, some people foolishly call skeptics “unpatriotic”.

That was your word, Bill. Can we talk about how you, an engineer, untrained in atmospheric sciences, can call people like us, who are climate scientists, “unpatriotic”? Do you think this is helpful? If so, how does calling us preposterous untrue names advance science? We really need to chat about this, Bill, because it sounds as if you’re trying to stifle the truth.

Still, in the end we agree with you, Bill. Something should be done. What? Like, for instance, moving on to more important and interesting problems.

Update I have no idea how that repeated paragraph got there. My enemies are more powerful than I imagined!

40 Comments

  1. La Longue Carabine

    June 3, 2015 at 8:48 am

    It’s not science, it’s a pitch for a disaster movie.

    Perhaps you, being a real climate scientist, could ask an other authority these questions:

    What is the right global temperature?

    How can mankind force the Earth to stay at that temperature?

    What kind of sacrifices are you, personally, willing to make to keep it there?

    When we are (inevitably) gone, who or what will regulate the temperature?

  2. steve davison

    June 3, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Great article asking very reasonable questions.

    (There is a repeated paragraph towards the end.)

  3. OK, we’re waiting for him to organize the conference. My bet is on crickets. It’s his side that refuses to talk to anybody outside the echo-chamber.

    BTW, your enemies apparently doubled-printed the fourth to last (hate speech) paragraph, or were you stressing the point by repetition?

  4. Can we not just appease his request and arrange for a showdown between Dr Briggs and Mr Nye?

    I would tune in.

  5. Writing letters to university administrators demanding funding details for affiliated scientists who are skeptical of AGW is not enough?

    The leader of the free world proclaiming that there is no greater threat to future generations than climate change (he means AGW) is not enough?

    California greenhouse gas emission targets being 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030 not enough?

    The Vatican throwing in to the AGW fray is not enough?

    Like the Episcopal Church in the United States, when it made its “conciliatory” moves towards the LGBT community, in the beginning there was a call for tolerance, then a demand for power, then after acquisition of power the punishment of those who disagreed, followed by complete intolerance of dissent. It’s a fascinating journey the PECUSA has made, check out the archives for the Lambeth Conference for the evolution of the various cover stories. Bill Nye must be waiting for something, maybe it’s the re-education camps.

  6. Odd request unless you consider it’s coming from a comedian and entertainer. (Wiki lists him as a “science educator”, which says something about Wiki and about science and it’s not good. Ever notice how many “science educators” are not scientists at all?)

    I think we are talking about global warming like Ferguson–totally politicized and devoid of most fact. He has what he wants.

    Failure never hurts psychics either. Just saying.

    LaLongueCarabinee: “What kind of sacrifices are you, personally, willing to make to keep it there?” I would ask “What kind of sacrifices are you, personally, NOW making to keep the temperature there?”

  7. “Carabine” Brigg’s enemies are branching out!

  8. Good post.

    One reservation, though: ” Can we talk about how you, an engineer, untrained in atmospheric sciences, can call people like us, who are climate scientists, ‘unpatriotic’?” I certainly can understand objecting to the “unpatriotic” part, but the credentials thing doesn’t impress me much.

    Objective data, such as the raw temperature measurements, do enter into the debate, but the major portion is really inferences to be drawn from those facts, and that’s usually just logic, critical thinking, and math, which are not the particular province of the scientist. For example, my experience is that as a group engineers are probably superior in mathematical reasoning to scientists.

  9. Can we also speak about why “global warming” is now “climate change”?

    We can.

    I refer you to the 2004 paper, titled “The Social Simulation of the Public Perception of Weather Events and their Effect upon
    the Development of Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change” published under auspices of the Tyndall Centre (UK) “present[ing] a quantitative dynamic simulation model of the social construction of a quasi-reality”

    Proposition 1. a. Only the experience of positive temperature anomalies will be registered as indication of change if the issue is framed as global warming.
    Proposition 1. a. Both positive and negative temperature anomalies will be registered in experience as indication of change if the issue is framed as climate change.
    (p.11)

    Fig. 25 is interesting as well.

    This was published about the time global warming became climate change.

  10. Let’s try and not give Bill Nye any more press than he deserves. As you point out, the man has an engineering degree, and used to present a children’s TV show. He has absolutely zero qualifications to talk about the subject of ‘global warming’. And it’s pretty clear the man is ideologically abhorrent, much like Richard Dawkins (someone else who likes to wax intellectual on subjects they haven’t studied). If I had to describe Nye in one word, it would be ‘clown’.

    “I think we are talking about global warming like Ferguson–totally politicized and devoid of most fact. He has what he wants.”

    BINGO

  11. Some possible solecisms discovered.

    “Let’s try and figure out why knowledge this like isn’t more generally known.”

    Suggest you switch “this” & “like” around.

    “Why is it, in short, that global warming stories always sounds like bad science fiction?”

    Suggest “s” be removed from end of “sounds”.

    “Doesn’t it sound suspicious that the way to “save the planet” is always cede more power to the UN and to regulatory agencies?”

    Suggest change “always cede” to “always to cede”.

  12. @Joe Born
    “For example, my experience is that as a group engineers are probably superior in mathematical reasoning to scientists.”

    Scientist is too broad a term for comparison with a range from physicist to geologist to psychologist. I suspect that you have never had to teach engineering students who because of their course load are experts in finding ways to pass courses without the indignity of learning the material. 😉 Engineering departments also demand their own math courses that teach only “engineering math” without contamination by exposure to other students. At least this is true at some universities.

  13. Scotian: “Scientist is too broad a term for comparison with a range from physicist to geologist to psychologist.”

    Yet climate science encompasses both physicists and lepidopterists.

    Scotian: “I suspect that you have never had to teach engineering students who because of their course load are experts in finding ways to pass courses without the indignity of learning the material.”

    Guilty as charged. Yet I have had to deal with both breeds in depth, so I’m quite aware that some engineers, like some scientists, can regurgitate the formulas without really knowing how to apply them. Let’s face it, both groups are made up of humans, and we humans as a group are pretty mediocre.

    Still, my experience leads me to believe that the average engineer would be more likely than the average scientist to, for example, detect the fundamental error in that appalling bit of pseudo-math the head post’s authors recently perpetrated.

    But that this old lawyer’s experience. As they say, your mileage may vary.

  14. This Nye chap is one of the Clown Princes of the CO2 Frightfulness Fantasising we have been enduring for some decades. He has a self-assigned part in this tragic pantomime, and he is determined to make the most of it. The chances of his screenplay every stretching to include discussion with your good selves must be low since he must surely sense, if not ‘know’, that his part would thereby come across as somewhat less heroic/admirable than he would presumably prefer it to be.

  15. Nye is nigh on nuts!

  16. @joeBorn
    …my experience is that as a group engineers are probably superior in mathematical reasoning to scientists … ha ha ha. Good one. I snorted my coffee on the screen. But you are a lawyer, so one must make allowances. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both groups, who are excellent at rote-memorization of formulae, but not as good at understanding, interpreting, or deriving them.

    A favorite memory is the engineer in calculus class asking why we had to learn proofs.

  17. “I have no idea how that repeated paragraph got there. My enemies are more powerful than I imagined!”

    Be very careful. They are hiding in your mirror. 🙂

  18. C Boggs,

    The stated reason for broadening the term is understandable but the issue really is human influence which would produce warming. The REAL reason for the terminology switch was to remove the possibility of falsification through observation. Even that wasn’t scary enough so it has been replaced by climate disruption.

    But there are still those pesky failing models which can’t be swept under the rug. The Global Warming/Change/Disruption bandwagon will soon need to be traded for a better (i.e., impossible to falsify) campaign focus for gaining political control.

  19. G Boggs: I have read that Frank Luntz, under Bush, changed the name on the advise of a Republican political consultant in 2002.

    I have also had someone tell me the name came from Gilbert Plass’ 1956 study which was called ‘The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change’ and that no one changed the name. It was there since 1956.

    I have no idea where the change really occurred.

  20. Sheri:
    Frank Luntz is a political consultant.

    DAV:

    I assume the concatenation “climate change” has been around ever since folks noticed that climate changed. However, the first instance of specifically modeling the comparative impact of terminology for the express political purpose of “socially constructing a quasi-reality” around climate, i.e., propaganda, is the paper I cited.

  21. Bill,

    As an engineer, I have seen many scientists (and mathematicians) not understand what modeling is, and how one must approach it w.r.t. hypotheses and logic.

    The thing is, lots of scientists, engineers, other disciplines are good at that, and lots are not. This shouldn’t be a “my group is better than your group” debate. Nye has every right to, as an engineer, comment on climate change. So do we, as engineers and scientists.

    This is especially true when the comments are related to fundamental scientific and engineering logic and methods that apply to modeling and predicting! An engineer need not understand ocean thermo-mechanics or CO2 absorption spectra to understand that models that do not predict are not to be believed.

  22. Hey!

    I like my engineering degree … I may not use it much. It did give me a decent background in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, computational methods, chemistry, physics, etc to have a grasp of the idiocy being portrayed in science. The idiocy is not limited to climate change as our host so eloquently exposes.

    The idiocy is everywhere. Marketing trumps science all the time. There is a reason that Gore et al don’t want “debates”. They aren’t so much afraid of losing the debates. They are just abreast of how little debates do. You have to appeal to the emotion of the crowd.

    The was a line in a made for Showtime (or was it HBO) series called “Dream On”. The main character has an affair with a politicians wife. The main character attempts to bring an end to the resultant tabloid stories by talking the politician. The politician responds “I want to be the politician who wants to get back to the issues, I don’t want to be the one that actually does!”

  23. 2 of my favorite people putting together an outstanding piece that exposes a Cornell engineer ( i hold that in high regard) turned actor ( not so much) for what he is. So tell us Bill what is the perfect temperature and co2 for the planet for the maximum benefit of all life? Do you really believe the increase in 1 molecule of co2 out of 10k molecules of air over a 100 year period is the climate control knob over the sun, oceans, stochastic events and the very design of the system. Just when did the co2 fairy wave its magic wand… 350, 375, 400 ppm when we have had ice ages at 7k ppm, warmer times at 250 ppm and plants grow best at around 1500 ppm. What is the temperature of the planet sans co2? And one more , if you reduced the pressure of Venus to that of earth, what would its temperature be, even with 96% co2. I rather doubt he can answer this, its beyond what actors can do

  24. Failure doesn’t bother the AGW zealots. Paul Ehrlich never made a prediction that came true but he is still highly respected by environmentalist instead of being an object of ridicule.

  25. Sander van der Wal

    June 3, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    A year ago climate wasn’t mentioned as often in a month as it is now during a day. What happened? Not a lot of new science. A new media campaign by the warmers?

  26. People like Ehrlich are still taken seriously because their hearts are in the right place or they have the best of intentions or they speak for the planet or the whales or the bears or etc.

    Predictive results don’t matter–only their intention to lessen mans affect on the planet–even at the expense of mankind.

  27. Nye has every right to, as an engineer, comment on climate change.

    Whoa! That infinitive’s split, baby! And he ain’t never comin’ back.

  28. James: “The thing is, lots of scientists, engineers, other disciplines are good at that, and lots are not. This shouldn’t be a ‘my group is better than your group’ debate. ”

    Indeed; I was perhaps less careful in expressing myself than I should have been. For one thing, it depends on which branch of mathematics is involved. I have no reason not to believe, for instance, that our host knows what he’s talking about when it comes to statistics, whereas most engineers’ (and, if I’m any indication, most lawyers’) purchase on that discipline is likely more tenuous.

    But a logical (and obviously preposterous) implication of the Monckton et al. 2015 paper, of which our host and Dr. Soon were co-authors, would be that a leaky bathtub empties instantly when the faucet is closed, no matter how much water it has contained up to that instant and no matter how minor the leak is. This is something about that equation that the control-systems engineers I dealt with back in the day would have had no difficulty in recognizing.

    Yet, even after I explained the Monckton et al. equation’s implications, the authors with all their PhDs betrayed no appreciation of their error. They contended that any error was de minimis, when even a perfunctory review their own calculations would have demonstrated just the opposite.

    The point is not whether scientists or engineers are smarter; although my experience may indicate one thing, I recognize that the universe I dealt with was somewhat rarefied. The point is that, although credentials may mean something on average, they carry little weight in specific cases with those of us whose livelihoods depended to an extent on judging technical competence.

  29. G Boggs: Yes. I should have said that Frank Luntz, Republican political consultant in 2002 under Bush, changed the name. Thank you for the correction.

  30. It’s curious that popular “science educators” these days seem to be gullible jesters. On the other hand, I suspect if a science educator expressed skepticism on a topic popular with the media and some segments of the public, he wouldn’t be popular. There is an Australian science educator, who targets “youth audiences” — Karl Kruszelnicki. He seems poorly educated in science (when I’ve listened to him he seldom seems able to answer the science questions of people who call in, but answers a different question instead, and while listening I can usually answer more science questions (correctly) than he can. But I’m not employed as a science educator). Karl launched a global warming political party and in a previous election, but in his own words, garnered fewer votes than the local Marijuana Party.

  31. The meaning of discussion or debate has been redefined by Mr Nye’s buddies.
    Michael Mann discusses with people by blocking them from Facebook or Twitter should they suggest even the slightest digression from the holy warming scriptures.
    Gavin Schmidt runs from a live tv discussion with Roy Spencer and refuses to reply to important questions about his methods.
    Given Nye’s recent performances, I imagine a discussion on climate would be the last thing he would hope for.

  32. Debunking nonsense can be challenging. A skeptic may find the task difficult so might not wish to engage a crank by giving the crank equal standing on the same platform. For example, if a biologist is debating a Young Earth Creationist, the Young Earth Creationist might try a ‘Gish Gallop’ strategy, which can be highly effective when there is limited time to respond. Hence you may refuse to debate on those grounds. That’s fine as far as it goes. But obviously, if your case is actually weak, an effective tactic would be to try to disenfranchise your opponent, pleading that you’re taken on the role of the biologist and that your opponents are the equivalent of the Young Earthers. It’s not an ideal strategy but a very common one. Consider someone like Rodrigues who regularly writes comments here. When called upon to defend his scholastic nonsense, his response is to indulge in name calling. Realistically though, what other options does he have?

  33. I’d like to check Nye’s degree. Most fellow engineers I know are skeptical of the AGW nonsense. I’ve read peer reviewed reports, analyzed NCDC data, read IPCC chapters (and policy makers summaries) for probably 20+ years. This nonsense does not resemble science….it resembles religion. Maybe the difference between Nye and me is that I actually had to apply physics in the REAL world as an engineer….I didn’t make a career of completing magic tricks for children. Engineers generally have a pretty decent understanding of the physical sciences. Nye is clearly the exception in that regard.

  34. “Let’s chat, too, about how global sea ice has been growing, which is another way to say it is not melting rapidly”

    LOL! I wouldn’t send this to Nye until you two reread this line a few more times. Wow.

    JMJ

  35. Global sea ice has been above the global average for the last couple of years. Doesn’t mesh with the narrative that the ice caps are melting. You’d hope the sea ice would at least be a little below normal, instead of the opposite.

  36. C. Boggs: I assume the concatenation “climate change” has been around ever since folks noticed that climate changed. However, the first instance of specifically modeling the comparative impact of terminology for the express political purpose of “socially constructing a quasi-reality” around climate, i.e., propaganda, is the paper I cited.

    The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has been around since 1988. But at the time the temperature was rising so all of the change was warming so we got “Global Warming”. It wasn’t until it became apparent the temperatures weren’t going to continue to rise forever that the more general “change” replaced “warming”.

    It may be nice to know there was an actual study of the impact of this term modification but I think its existence is entirely irrelevant. Besides the study was done in hindsight as “warming” was already morphing into “change” and it really doesn’t matter who should get credit. One only needs to look at media releases over time to see how the description had changed.

  37. I’m not too impressed with credentials. I have learned that they are sometimes easy to come by. I taught a lot of engineers during my stints in academia, and worked with quite a few during stints in industry. There are a lot of mediocre engineers, but even they did valuable service babysitting very important processes. I have never met an engineering educator, but i have known a few who quit engineering to become educators, ag economists, and business administrators. On the other hand I know that one needs to take the opinions of highly trained professionals with care–very competent lawyers and doctors can get clients into real trouble.

    I have grown tired of Bill Nye for one reason only. He takes his own press too seriously–being a celebrity has ruined him. I don’t know who was responsible for the widely disseminated “experiment” purporting to demonstrate global warming with CO2 in a liter bottle, but among its promoters were Bill Nye, Al Gore, the BBC, NOAA, a British “space scientist”, and a British Minister for Science and Technology. What a disaster. Not a competent scientist anywhere in sight. So when Steve, above, says that Nye made a career out of completing children’s magic tricks, I would add only those carefully prepared by someone else to boot.

  38. K.Kilty: This seems to happen to anyone on television. I really think that to be any kind of television personality, you should have to renounce your degree and declare yourself an actor/actress. Otherwise, we get people like Dr. Oz hosting mediums who supposedly contact the dead, pushing fad diet and nutrition products and because he has the Dr. in front of his name, people listen. Same for Dr. Phil, TV judges, etc. I do realize people listen to actors/actresses simply because they’re famous, but add a degree to that, and it becomes as if God himself uttered the words. All science spokespersons, including Bill Nye, should be known as “science spokesperson, not a real scientist”. So we get Bill Nye, the science spokesperson. Kind of loses that cute ring, don’t you think!

  39. Karl Kruszelnicki and I exchanged many emails for awhile. I called him out on the 400,000 smoking related deaths per year quote. I pointed to a discussion of how if this is true, 200,000 people/year were saved by smoking. Both numbers are “accurate”.

    He is very well intentioned as I suspect Mr Nye is. That doesn’t mean he is going to appear to change his mind. The ability to change ones mind is important. The appearance of changing ones mind isn’t always good. I have friends that refer to John Kerry as “shower shoes” (aka flip flops, which can be connected to waffling on a subject).

    In the area of climate science, it is really damn easy to start flip flopping. One thing you don’t want to do is appear to constantly be moving back and forth from one view point to another. Better to just be wrong and appear consistent.

    Getting away from the consequences of appearances is not easy.

  40. “gin ups controversy”???gins up controversy.
    gin is the verb, up is an adverb.

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