What happens if each of those experts feels entitled, even obligated, to lie just a little, to shade his conclusions to strengthen the support they provide for what he believes is the right conclusion? Each of them then interprets the work of all the others as providing more support for that conclusion than it really does. The result might be that they end up biasing their results in support of the wrong conclusion—which each of them believes is right on the basis of the lies of all the others.
That is one of the reasons I am not greatly impressed by the supposed scientific consensus in favor of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.
– David Friedman
As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.
I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.
In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.
ADDED LATER: Fraser Orr comments:
“The answer to the CAGW people is simple: make a prediction that is falsifiable and can be measured in a reasonable length of time. Give me an example of a significant result where you predicted the future and it came true. Explain why your last fifteen years of prediction have been completely wrong, and if you have a wild ass explanation of something you didn’t factor in, give us a reason to believe that you didn’t forget something else.”
Bishop Hill has linked to what he calls a “magnificent” polemical book review by a man from the other camp, Martin W. Lewis, who speaks from the conviction that “anthropogenic climate change is a huge problem that demands determined action.”
Magnificent it is. Magnificently funny, as in the bit about the pussycat apocalypse; and magnificently right about what is wrong with The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.
Oreskes and Conway’s authoritarian inclinations are seemingly linked to their contempt for the West, which they identify with a dangerous devotion to personal freedom. The most telling passage to this effect is found in the authors’ interview, where Erik Conway states:
To me, [The Collapse of Western Civilization] is hopeful. There will be a future for humanity, even if one no longer dominated by “Western Culture.”
No matter that Oreskes and Conway see every last person in Africa perishing, they still apparently find such a scenario promising as long as Western Culture perishes in the process.
As noted at the beginning of this essay, tens of millions of people have reached the conclusion that anthropogenic climate change is a giant hoax perpetuated by corrupt scientific and journalistic establishments. In their previous book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway attribute such benighted views to the money and machinations of oil companies and other organizations with financial interests in the status quo. While I would not deny that such factors play a role, they do not provide a full account. Of particular significance are the writings of green extremists such as Oreskes and Conway themselves. By putting forth grotesque exaggerations, by engaging in misleading reportage, and by embracing authoritarian if not totalitarian politics, they discredit their own cause. The Collapse of Western Civilization, in short, reads as if it were part of a great conspiracy, one that that seemingly rests on an insincere approach to evidence and argumentation.
Martin Lewis also highlights an area of particular interest to me. Apparently Oreskes and Conway disapprove of those “overwhelmingly male” * physical scientists who concentrate on narrow “physical constituents and processes”, “to the neglect of biological and social realms.” Lewis quotes Oreskes and Conway as going so far as to regard statistical significance as an outmoded concept. Lewis writes further,
Although many of the key scientific questions of the day do indeed demand, as Oreskes and Conway write, an “understanding of the crucial interactions between physical, biological, and social realms,” it is equally imperative to recognize that most do not. Most of the issues addressed by chemists, physicists, and geologists have nothing to do with the social realm, and must be examined through a “reductionistic” lens if they are to be approached scientifically. To insist instead that they must be framed in a socio-biological context is to reject the methods of science at a fundamental level. Such a tactic risks reviving the intellectual atmosphere that led the Soviet Union to the disaster of ideologically contaminated research known as Lysenkoism. In the final analysis, the denial of science encountered in The Collapse of Western Civilization thus runs much deeper than that found among even the most determined climate-change skeptics, as it pivots on much more basic epistemological and methodological issues.
This passage describes one type of catastrophist error about science very well. I would like to point out, however, that it is not the only type. There are also catastrophists who propagate, some knowingly, some not, the opposite error. I refer to those who, rather than dismissing the Gradgrind-like definiteness of physics and chemistry, seek to borrow their reputation for precision and certainty in order to cloak the naked fact that no such certainty is even close to being achieved in the study and modelling of of climate systems.
*And boy, or rather girl, does that irrelevant slighting reference to the scientists’ presumed gender tell you nearly everything you need to know about Oreskes and Conway’s attitude to science.
The words “climate change” have taken on occult significance.
Chant “the science is settled, the science is settled, the science is settled” over and over again, whilst arranging an arcane pattern on the ground with a ritually blessed hockey stick inscribed with the words “Gaia” and “Al Gore”, and if you do that on a solstice, the spirit of Karl Marx will appear!
There is no other explanation for some of the gonzo articles that get written.
Bishop Hill has a posting up today about the gigantic folly that is the D(epartment) of E(nergy) and C(limate) C(hange).
Says the Bishop:
As we look at UK energy policy now, DECC has had the country make a massive financial gamble on the back of a prediction that was wholly unfounded and which has been obviously so for many years. We now learn that DECC has also distributed this astonishing wave of public money in a manner that can only be described as monstrously incompetent, and which many will assume to be monstrously corrupt…
Comment (Oct 3 9.32am) from “fen tiger”:
I have a relative who works at DECC, and has done since getting his masters. He’s an environmental economist (one of many in DECC, I imagine), briefing the likes of Huhne, Davey, and Gummer. He appears to know nothing whatever about the climate question, but is fully invested in the warming scare (condition of employment, I guess).
Closing DECC would obviously benefit the country: but it would also benefit many of those who work there. My relative is not an untruthful man, but he has worked since leaving university in an environment where systematic untruthfulness and wishful thinking are the norm; an environment where the taxpayer would get better value if he were paid to stay at home and do nothing. He desperately needs to get out and find a real job (although his qualifications won’t help with that).
This comment is anonymous partly because I don’t want to foment a family rift, and partly because I am ashamed of having a family member employed in this way.
But how to close DECC?
“Roger Tallbloke” (Oct 3 9.08am) had already commented earlier, thus:
Strategic action on the part of the consumer could actually make a difference and help get rid of DECC. This action is quite simple, and won’t take long or cost the consumer anything. Here’s what they need to do.
Would that work? Is this a case where your vote might actually make a difference?
UKIP has turned into a me-too operation on most of the big items of state spending, as Ben Kelly writes in this Libertarian Home report of the recent UKIP conference. But on UKIP’s energy policies, Kelly writes this:
Energy – Ah, Roger Helmer; an intelligent and articulate man, an asset until you get him on the subject of gays or the finer details of rape. Then it’s hide behind your hands time. Luckily he was simply talking about energy policy today. He wants to scrap the Climate Change Act, cut all green taxes, end subsidies for wind farms and get fracking, creating a sovereign wealth fund with the tax income. It is the Guardian’s worst nightmare, and I like it.
Me too. It would be a worse Guardian nightmare if there wasn’t that bit there about “creating a sovereign wealth fund with the tax income”. But when it comes to voting, the question is not: What gets me everything? It is: Does anything get me anything?
I am in the midst of cleaning my home in advance of a meeting this evening. That is a big task, still not nearly done, so I will be brief. Read all of this, if not now then very soon. It’s about climate scientists and the immoral fools that they are almost all now making of themselves.
It is by “Katabasis” (and yes it is indeed disgusting that he has to use a pseudonym for saying it so like it is (he explains why)), and it deserves to go viral.
I have spent years cheering on the efforts of those who have unmasked those political activists dressed as scientists who, still, peddle the CAGW line (on second thoughts: skip that n). What Katabasis does is nail what you might call the anti-anti-CAGW peddlers for the immoral fence-sitting cowards that they are. This is an absolute masterpiece of the polemicist’s art, and I am very, very envious. Not being any sort of climate scientist, I could not possibly have written it myself but I still wish I had. Go read.
I see that government ministers have authorised an expansion of fracking in the UK. In general anything that riles up the Greens pleases me. But only in general.
As I understand it – OK, make that “I think I remember reading somewhere” – it has hitherto been the case in the UK that if you own a property you also own what lies below, not just immediately below such that you can prevent someone excavating their bomb shelter under your house, but all the way down in a long thin cone to the Earth’s core. So a property owner can forbid fracking beneath their land however deep the drilling. Anyone know, is this right? And whether it is or not, should it be?
I really do remember reading somewhere a science fiction story in which the entire universe had been assigned to various Earthly nations based on what cone of sky was above the territory of each country at midnight on a particular date. I cannot recall how or if that story dealt with either the effects of terrestrial boundary disputes, possible objections from as yet undiscovered alien species at their involuntary inclusion in one of these thin but infinite empires, or the curvature of spacetime. Granted that “to the edge, if such exists, of the universe” is taking property rights a tad too far, how far above your house should your property rights go?
As Michael Jennings of this parish often points out, Australian political culture is as corrupt and nasty as pretty much anywhere else in the First World. But nevertheless, this is rather good news:
Tony Abbott, Australia’s centre-right Prime Minister, finally made good on his pre-election pledge after his government repealed the measure introduced by his Labor predecessor Julia Gillard. Poorly thought out and highly unpopular, the tax is almost unique in that it generated virtually no revenue for the Australian Treasury, contributed to the rising costs that have taken the gloss off the country’s resources boom and essentially brought down Ms Gillard’s former Government.
Of course it is not nearly enough, but it is a good start. The important thing is this destroys the aura of invincible inevitability that the Cult of Anthropogenic Climate Change has built up, tearing it off like the vestments of an unchallengeable priesthood to reveal what truly lies beneath. Now drive a stake through the evil beast’s green heart.
There are some libertarians who believe there may be something to AGW, and see using markets the way to mitigate the consequences. There are also libertarians (and conservatives and lefties) who think AGW is a preposterous fraud, and who naturally have no interest in finding solutions to a non-existent problem. But AGW per se is not a ‘libertarians vs. non-libertarians’ issue. You can still be a libertarian and think there is something to AGW, you are just going to see the ways of dealing with it very differently to command-and-control statists.
– Perry de Havilland
Bonus SQOTD, also from the same raucous beer and grappa fuelled discussion the other night…
Let me answer by rephrasing your question: “Do I trust a bunch of lay observers more than I trust a bunch of academics… academics whose professional acceptance and funding will be put at risk if they commit heresy against the True Faith and suggest AGW might not in fact be the indisputable truth?”
It is amazing the establishment is still peddling the whole nonsensical ‘climate change’ fraud. I guess they did not get the memo that people outside the BBC/Guardian bubble have noticed that the Emperor has no clothes.
The travails of Greenpeace continue to entertain.
If ever John Vidal tires of being the Guardian‘s Environment editor, he will be well placed to audition for the role of David Brent. How about this for an attempt to see the silver lining behind a very dark cloud: “Greenpeace’s £3m gamble could yet reap dividends in the fight against climate change”. What? How? Oh yes, of course:
If it only costs £3m for Greenpeace to prove to the world that speculation on risky markets to raise money is madness, then it may be money well spent.
Meanwhile, and though I often mock the Guardian I must concede that it has diligently reported all this, it has also emerged that in an effort to prove to the world that the question “What kind of compromises do you make in your efforts to try to make the world a better place?” can be a bit of a toughie for a sought-after young Third Sector exec with a work-life balance to maintain, Greenpeace’s International Programme Director has over the last couple of years been flying from home to work several times a month.
Greenpeace loses £3m in currency speculation
I liked the first comment, from a merry soul called ‘casaleiro':
“Shoulda put the money in armaments and petroleum.”
When it comes to “climate science”, I have for quite a few years now, as my sneer quotes make clear, been inhabiting the land of confirmation bias. So, I will not say that this proves me right. It merely confirms me in my state of ever more glacially advancing contempt for the “science” here described:
Several months afterwards, the society’s ‘newsletter’ was published. It contained a special section on the conference at which I had spoken, with a brief description of each talk, the work behind it, and with thanks offered to each speaker. I searched for my name – nothing. My presentation was ignored in its entirety.
“Disheartening” isn’t the term I would use, and I seriously considered giving up on the entire idea of academia, and getting a nice little 9-5 job. But, I am still here, still working on the problem, still uncovering, lets call them ‘anomalies’, in many areas, which the scientists involved have no clue how to explain, but about which they will hear no view other than their own.
Biases being confirmed all round, it would seem.