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Archive for July, 2009

BBC Wakes Up To Benefits Of Warming (And To AGW Skepticism)

2009/07/29 7 comments

It’s an early Christmas for AGW skeptics in the UK with the BBC all of a sudden abandoning it’s monolithic “the world will turn into cinder” orthodoxy.

Step forward Stephen Sackur, broadcasting a series of programmes about Greenland (with one article saying that scientific studies of the Greenland Ice Sheet” may not necessarily “indicate that catastrophe is around the corner; and a video with a very optimistic Greenlander (at around 1m30s) who should be made to tour all Greenpeace and WWF meetings).

And step forward…Roger Harrabin (!!!), finally fed up alongside millions of fellow citizens with the baseless climatic forecasts by the MetOffice, demonstrably wrong for three years in a row. So fed up, Mr Harrabin, that he’s given some  BBC space to Piers Corbyn (!!!!!).

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Deimocracy, Or Why The UK Government Is So Pumped Up On AGW

2009/07/23 4 comments
“The point is this: as the pandemic develops the onus is on officialdom to flag fact, prediction and possibility accordingly, and the media, charities, professional bodies, scientists and academics to keep these distinctions as sharp as possible at all times.”
Sam Lister

Perhaps it started with the Mad Cow disease scare. Perhaps it was a phenomenon associated with Tony Blair’s “leftists” policies becoming almost indistinguishable from good old Tory “rightist” policies, resulting in an emptiness of political argument.

For whatever reason, at least since 1997 the United Kingdom has been governed by a succession of states of fear, a veritable deimocracy (from “deimos“, ancient Greek for “dread”, i.e. “extreme fear”). In the UK, we have had innumerable scare stories about Y2K, child abuse, droughts, bird and swine flu, Iraq being capable of launching a missile attack within 45 minutes, terrorists ready to blow themselves up all over the country, and of course anthropogenic global warming (AGW) (I have already explored the link between deimocracy and AGW several months ago).

Given how almost each and every past scare has ended (disappeared into nothingness, all of them apart from the single episode of 7/7 terrorist bombings), one would expect a healthy skepticism about present and future scares on the part of the public. That is happening indeed, both about swine flu and AGW.

What is much more difficult to understand, is why the Government would want to appear confused and on the edge of panic as each new scare pops up: unless of course one understands how important deimocracy has become. As argued by Frank Furedi in “The Politics of Fear”:

With [the Left and Right] sides of the political spectrum practicing the politics of fear, we are left with neither an orientation towards the future nor a defense of society’s historic gains. Instead, we have presentism – a conformist sensibility that seeks to manage society in the here and now, against a backdrop of fear about the future and discomfort with the past. […] The political elite, disengaged from society and focused entirely on the present, pushes a misanthropic agenda that emphasises people’s vulnerability and sees individual behaviour as a problem to be managed. The elite demonstrates a strong element of paternalistic contempt, although, says Furedi, ‘they don’t recognise it in that form – it’s more a sense that there are all these dark savages out there, who need to be told what to do’.

Dark savages? Cue the recent drift towards theatrocracy

=================

As already mentioned, the behavior of the UK Government about the swine flu epidemics does not bode well for the future. Has anybody realized that for mysterious reasons the H1N1 virus looks like preferring to infect people in the old island of Albion? How can that be possible? Is there really no indication of an epidemics of overreaction and hyper-diagnoses, where every throat ache is immediately classified as “another swine flu victim”?

Of one thing there are all sorts of indications indeed: the UK Government’s communications and information management strategy has been a total failure. Writes Sam Lister in The Times of London:

“The importance of filtering the reasoned calculation from the increasingly wild speculation – and the importance for the media to report on the basis of robust evidence and credible opinion – will become ever more central as the pandemic evolves…Likewise official figures need to carry all their necessary caveats”

That is exactly what the UK Government has not been doing, all too ready to pass “wild speculation” as “established fact”. Yes, exactly as concerning AGW.

And who would have guessed? The grand total of purely swine-flu-related deaths in the UK as of today is…one!

“Another issue worth reiterating is the difference between a death from swine flu and the death of a person who had contracted the virus. The former sounds like a causative link, but to date has been inaccurate in most cases (a man from Basildon is the only person confirmed to have died after contracting swine flu with no other underlying health problems).”

Lister concludes with what might as well be the AGW Quote of the Week: it’s up to a society’s institutions, from the State to the media to scientis, to become able to accurately and intelligently inform the public, and all the more so when one has to deal with a topic of much uncertainty:

“The point is this: as the pandemic develops the onus is on officialdom to flag fact, prediction and possibility accordingly, and the media, charities, professional bodies, scientists and academics to keep these distinctions as sharp as possible at all times.”

How Much Wrong Can Joe Romm Be? That Moon Hoax Again…

2009/07/22 8 comments

I have already blogged some time ago about the flawed comparison between AGW skeptics and people believing in the Moon landing hoax. It takes just a sentence: the Apollo mission are historical events (i.e.: they belong to the past, they have already happened), global warming is a forecast projection (i.e.: it is about the future, it has not happened as yet).

Or to explain it the way of Donald Rumsfeld: arguing if an apple that is already on the ground, is on the ground, is absolutely different than arguing if apple that is still on the tree, will or will not eventually be on the ground.

With the usual bottom scraping and blatant headline-following that characterizes his blog, it is now Joe Romm’s turn to recycle the same logic-free pontificating, on the back of the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo lunar landing. Only this time, the point appears to be about an “overall conspiracy“.

According to Romm in fact, claims for a “large conspiracy” would be needed to keep AGW skeptical arguments alive, just as they are fundamental to all Moon-hoax accusations. Citing Harold Ambler by way of Anthony Watts, Romm writes:

Watts approvingly reprints denier manifestos that claim global warming “is the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind” — see here. As I’ve written, such a statement is anti-scientific and anti-science in the most extreme sense. It accuses the scientific community broadly defined of conspiring in deliberate fraud

But that is simply not true: it is just a form of reductio ad absurdum (as if one needed any more evidence of Romm’s inability to properly argue a point without infantile rhetorical attempts).

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In general, the fact that people sell a “whopper” does not necessarily mean they are knowingly participating in a conspiracy and/or committing fraud: otherwise, jails the world over would be full of astrologers, wizards, sorcerers, and most probably experts in homeopathy and chiropractic practitioners.

And very pertinent to the AGW skepticism case is that the history of Science is full of examples where quite large “whoppers” have been “sold to the public” by scientists building up and then defending a flawed consensus. Perfectly honest scientists, one can safely assume, with a deeply-held belief that their consensual understanding of the world was the right one.

We know now that such a “consensus” attitude has hindered the scientific careers of scientists, among them Galileo Galilei, Alfred L Wegener, J Harlan Bretz, Sir Gilbert WalkerJohann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum, Reg Sprigg. Recent Nobel Prize winners Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren may have been just lucky to see their consensus-busting findings recognized whilst still alive.

Still, the fact that scientists fall repeatedly and across the centuries in the trap of “consensus” needs no conspiracy. It cannot be interpreted in any other way than as demonstration that scientists are human beings and that like all other human beings they introduce their subjective feelings, emotions, tribal drive, and who knows what else in the purportedly objective scientific process.

Nobody needs a “large conspiracy” to explain why it is so difficult to publish anything that does not include the customary “this may be caused by global warming” statement. All it takes is a large enough amount of scientists and science-related people convinced of the “truth” of Anthropogenic Global Warming, determined to read and to support only whatever confirms their prejudices.

The “consensus” behavior in AGW is exacerbated further by so many AGWers living under the impression that they are saving the planet. Under those circumstances, the esprit de corps is understandably as strong as it can be (this explains the existence of anti-skeptic rants such as Romm’s).

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All in all, it is deeply ironical to find that it is Romm’s statement the one “anti-scientific and anti-science in the most extreme sense“, deep in its core. Because if there is one thing everybody in the scientific community should be well aware of, it is that whatever they will tell the public, it is likely to be wrong one way or another. As per this Bertrand Russell quote:

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man. Every careful measurement in science is always given with the probable error… every observer admits that he is likely wrong, and knows about how much wrong he is likely to be.

Another Example Of A Bankrupt Scientific Consensus

2009/07/21 1 comment

Scientific work, unless accurately done, had better not be done at all
Preconceived opinion is the pretended assumption by man of godly attributes which he does not possess
JLW Thudichum

As synchronicity has it…

Days ago, the BBC mentioned the controversy that prevented scientists from recognizing pre-Cambrian complex lifeforms for some 93 years.

Now it’s The Scientist dedicating an article to Oscar Liebrich and Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum and five lost decades in Science, on the basis of Theodore Sourkes’s book titled The Life and Work of J.L.W. Thudichum (click here for an alternative review).

Liebrich was the first to propose “that brain tissue was composed of a single giant molecule called ‘protagon’” (an idea destined quickly to become the “Protagon Consensus”). Thudichum was instead the brilliant scientist, “disenchanted with Liebrich’s theory“, able to “carefully [detail] the chemical constitution of the brain” decades ahead of his time, and of course victim of the consensus: dismissed by his colleagues as a “liar“.

The same concepts are reported by Daniel D. Christensen, M.D. in the Am J Psychiatry 160:459, March 2003:  (here another version of the same article):

[Thudichum’s] attempts to understand the chemistry of the brain were often hotly debated and mocked. At times, even his personal character was attacked, as well as his honesty and motives. In the scientific press, he was called a “liar” and accused of “patent falsification.”

Thudichum’s main book on the topic dates 1884, some twenty years after the establishment of the Protagon Consensus and more or less the same span of time before its final demise. But Liebrich had started from a very strong position, being “a pupil of Hoppe-Seyler, one of the founders of biochemistry“. Dr. A Gamgee, Professor of Physiology in Manchester, didn’t waste much time to think about “protagon” before jumping in it with both his feet.

And so as late as 1909, somebody like W. Cramer could still be arguing for protagon, with M Steel and William J Geis spending twenty pages on the topic .

Another of Cramer’s Protagon Consensus articles shows characteristics that will not be unfamiliar to the AGW skeptic: interminable arguments deeply buried underneath layers of apparently scholarly reasoning (something we now know as utterly baseless); a pro-protagon explanation always at hand; and the wholesale dismissal of non-consensus ideas.

In an ironic twist, there is no space any longer for Liebrich in the history of biochemistry. And Thudichum is nowadays perhaps excessively celebrated, with a Medal Lecture in his honour. Still, his words are as true as ever: “Preconceived opinion is the pretended assumption by man of godly attributes which he does not possess“.

Swanson’s AGW Song, or How At RealClimate, It’s Always Naivety Time…

2009/07/15 5 comments

Sometimes I ask myself if the RealClimate guys understand the implications of everything they publish on their site.

For example some time ago Gavin Schmidt more or less told the whole world that to him observations were of little interest apart than as a way to improve climate models (thereby denying the very possibility that climate models could be demonstrated false, under any circumstance).

Now it’s the turn of a guest blog by Kyle Swanson, encouraged and published by Raymond T. “Raypierre” Pierrehumbert. The stated intent of the blog is to show that Swanson and Tsonis’ recent paper about “Has the climate recently shifted?” has “very little” to do with Global Warming, of the anthropogenic variety obviously. But its actual practical consequences are more interesting.

(1) Andy Revkin through Roger Pielke Jr.’s blog notes that Swanson and Tsonis take off the steam yet again from anybody and everybody that tries to “portray global warming as an unfolding catastrophe here and now“.

That is, with RealClimate in tow, and after Swanson and Tsonis, we can yell out loud and clear that the scientific consensus says that all AGW-related troubles that we could be concerned about, they belong to the future.

Repeat with me: AGW as a matter of grave concern for the whole of humanity, is not happening. That is, there is no scientific justification at all to discuss AGW as an issue for the present instead of properly, as a risk management question involving some decades in the future.

(2) All this discussions about the recent “pause in warming” (in Swanson’s words…as if it had any meaning given the above) are ammunitions that will be used to argue against AGW once the warming resumes (eventually, it will…). If 10 years can’t say much in a direction, they cannot say much in the other direction either.

(3) In other words, all scientific discussions in climatology should confine themselves to the climate of the end of the 1970’s. Anything that has happened after that, it’s by definition too early to talk about.

(3) Raypierre tries at length to justify Tsonis’s words published in an interview. Among those:

if we don’t understand what is natural, I don’t think we can say much about what the humans are doing. So our interest is to understand — first the natural variability of climate — and then take it from there. So we were very excited when we realized a lot of changes in the past century from warmer to cooler and then back to warmer were all natural

I am afraid all “comments were taken out of context” (Raypierre’s defense) are excuses simply demolished by Swanson’s writing that:

humanity is poking a complex, nonlinear system with GHG forcing – and […] there are no guarantees to how the climate may respond

Repeat with me: We have little clue about the Earth’s climate will respond to anything, be it natural or man-made. The final result might be a cooling, a warming, or no much change at all.

And so about AGW, we should be spending time reflecting about the opportunity of reducing that “poking”, not on idiotic multidecadal projections of various degrees of warming.

=======

Let me finish by noticing two details. First of all, in Swanson’s words presumably approved by Raypierre/RC, Global Warming (AGW) is now “the century-scale response to greenhouse gas emissions“. And I thought it was multidecadal? Not any longer: even 50 years of global cooling will be compatible with AGW.

But to conclude on a high note: the anti-skeptic RC filters of old don’t appear to have been heavily used this time. Who knows, it might even be a way to show that the RC folks are thinking of getting rid of their aburd fear for debating.

But don’t hold your breath about that…especially when they will realize what the stuff they publish actually means.

How Science Will Get Rid Of The AGW Dogma

2009/07/14 18 comments

(thanks to BBC’s In Our Time for inspiring this blog)

Will Science ever get rid of the silly “It’s all CO2/It’s all global warming” dogma that AGW has degraded into? Yes it will, as a matter of course (“you can fool all of the people some of the time…” and all that). But when? And can we draw down a likely process that will make that happen?

Yes we can.

It’s rather straightforward, and on past performance suggests any date between 2018 and 2091 as the year CO2-based AGW (or CO2-AGW) went the way of the dodo (using a quasi-arbitrary baseline of 1988 as when AGW became mainstream, with Hansen’s testimony to the US Senate).

Here’s the outline then for how Science will reject CO2-AGW:

  1. Wait a suitable number of years (could be 30, could be 93)
  2. Present yet more irrefutable evidence and improved measurement techniques to a recognized expert in the field

How can we know? What we need is an example from the history of Science, showing:

  1. how for decades all evidence contrary to an established, multi-disciplinary consensus had been there for all to see
  2. how that evidence went repetitively rejected, for years and years again and again even when yet new evidence of the same sort kept surfacing (thereby showing how the consensus had turned into a dogma)
  3. how peer-review failed miserably because of the dogma
  4. and finally how a new consensus supplanted the old dogma mostly because:
  • a new generation of established scientists became available, with nothing personal at stake in defending the established consensus/dogma;
  • the newest new evidence was recognized as incontrovertible (together with the old one, with the wisdom of hindsight) also thanks to the development of new measurement techniques

And here’s the example. It involves the Ediacaran animals (let’s call them “animals” shall we), at least 3 scientists either wholly diregarded or actively isolated by the consensus/dogma crowd, a few rejected scientific papers, for example by Nature magazine, and a consensus/dogma in the shape of the rather odd theory that complex animals popped up on this planet all of a sudden in the Cambrian era (around 540 million years ago).

To us it might as well appear quite obvious that Earth has been populated by something larger than bacteria before the “Cambrian explosion” (the Ediacarans being our “lucky strike” in finding something across such an enormous span of time, somehow imprinted as a fossil). But that was not the consensus until around 50 years ago, and it is actually still being used to nag poor Darwin, of all people the one more at pain in understanding why nobody could find complex lifeforms before the Cambrian geological strata.

But that was not the case. Such lifeforms’ fossils were found as early as 1868:

The first Ediacaran fossils discovered were the disc-shaped Aspidella terranovica, in 1868.

At least one scientist understood they were fossils, as early as 1872 (note how others had been blinded by…the established consensus!!):

However, since they lay below the “Primordial Strata”, the Cambrian strata that were then thought to contain the very first signs of life, it took four years for anybody to dare propose they could be fossils.

Alas, consensus won the day, and buried the fossils into the forgetfulness of history:

Elkanah Billings’ proposal (see here) was dismissed by his peers […] the one-sided debate soon fell into obscurity.

Six decades on, more pre-Cambrian stuff is found. Guess how it all ends:

In 1933, Georg Gürich discovered specimens in Namibia, but the firm belief that life originated in the Cambrian led to them being assigned to the Cambrian Period, and no link to Aspidella was made.

Thirteen more years pass, and a strong-willed Australian paleontologists gets involved. Consensus still (barely) wins, although against the first signs of a breakdown:

In 1946, Reg Sprigg noticed “jellyfishes” in the Ediacara Hills of Australia’s Flinders Ranges but these rocks were believed to be Early Cambrian, so while the discovery sparked some interest, little serious attention was garnered.

And here’s how the story ends, and the dogma, with an already well-respected scientist called Martin Glaessner and yet more evidence:

It was not until the British discovery of the iconic Charnia in 1957 that the pre-Cambrian was seriously considered as containing life. This frond-shaped fossil was found in England’s Charnwood Forest, and due to the detailed geologic mapping of the British Geological Survey there was no doubt that these fossils sat in Precambrian rocks. Palæontologist Martin Glaessner finally made the connection between this and the earlier finds, and with a combination of improved dating of existing specimens and an injection of vigour into the search, many more instances were recognised.

Of course, some things never change: Nature rejected Sprigg’s original article, then published Glaessner’s letter.

So much for “peer review”.

Reg Sprigg switched to the Energy&Environment equivalent of the time, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. Glaessner’s appeared on International Journal of Earth Sciences Volume 47, Number 2 / June, 1959.

The partner of Sprigg’s son is his biographer and has more about that:

If you look at them now I find it very hard [to think] that anybody could doubt them: they are about the size of the palm of your hand and you can quite clearly see they are circular, they look as you’d expect a jellyfish to look if it had dried out, or some kind of worm or something. But back then, yeah, he wrote a paper and submitted it to Nature, which is one of the most prestigious journals in the world, and they rejected it, they didn’t believe either in what he’d found. And it was about another 10 years before some amateur naturalists went back to Reg’s site and found some more specimens, different ones again, and took them again to the museum. And by then the museum was a little bit more interested and they organised their own expedition and brought back two truckloads of material and from then, the momentum grew.

What rules can we identify for the AGW debate? Nothing to be too proud of:

  • You might as well present irrefutable evidence against the dogma. Yet, it may be too early, in other words no recognized expert will be available to pick it up, so your efforts will only be good as backup material to future, post-dogma researchers (think Steve McIntyre)
  • Without improvements in the measurement techniques, we would still be discussing the possibility of exiting the old “Cambrian” dogma. (think Anthony Watts…it means “keep up the good work on the surface stations, don’t expect too much coming out of the rest of the WUWT blog for the time being” (see rule (a))
  • If the irrefutable evidence and improved measurement techniques meet a budding or rather unknown scientist (Sprigg) rather than an authority (Glaessner), well, it will be up to the authorities (Glaessner) to have the courage to follow up (see rule (a)).

Let’s be pragmatic and accept that’s just the way things are: CO2-AGW is a “conspiracy” where most of the “conjurors” have little idea they are actively practising it. Still, they are.

There Is No Evidence

2009/07/13 1 comment

From Icecap why Global Warming Clearinghouse, here’s an intro to “There is no evidence” by Dr David Evans:

Let’s break down the case for human-caused global warming logically:

1) There is plenty of evidence that global warming has been occurring recently.
2) There is ample evidence that carbon emissions causes warming and that the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing.
3) But there is no evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause of the recent global warming.

The alarmists focus you entirely on the first two points, to distract you from the third. The public is increasingly aware of this misdirection. Yes, every emitted molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) causes some warming – but the crucial question is how much warming do the CO2 emissions cause? If atmospheric CO2 levels doubled, would temperatures rise by 0.1, 1.0, or by 10.0C?

We go through the usual “evidence” offered by alarmists, and show that in each case either it:

• Is not evidence about what causes global warming. Proof that global warming occurred is not proof that CO2 was mainly responsible.
• Is not empirical evidence; that is, it is not independent of theory. In particular models are theory, not evidence.
• Says nothing about how much the temperature would rise for a given rise in CO2 levels.

[…]  If they just had some evidence of (3) they could just tell us what it was and end the debate.

[…] Typical Alarmist Offerings of “Evidence”: Polar Bears, Glaciers, Arctic Melt, Antarctic Ice Shelves, Storms, Droughts, Fires, Malaria, Snow Melt on Mt Kilimanjaro, Rising Sea Levels, Ocean Warming, Urban Heat Island Effect. Although each of these issues may say something about whether or not global warming is or was occurring, none of them say anything about the causes of global warming. It would make no difference to these issues if the recent global warming was caused by CO2 or by aliens heating the planet with ray guns.[…] Often the assumption takes the form that nearly all the temperature rises since the start of industrialization are due to CO2 rises, or that there are no other possible significant causes of global warming.

Computer Models are Evidence
Computer models consist solely of a large number of calculations that, individually, you could do on a hand-held calculator. So models are theoretical, and cannot form part of any evidence.

Computer Models Incorporate a Lot of Sound Empirical Science
Yes they do. The climate models contain some well-established science that has been verified by empirical observations. But they also contain a myriad of:
• implicit and explicit assumptions
• omissions
• guesses
• gross approximations.

A single mistake in any one of these can invalidate the climate models. Typical engineering models that mimic reality closely contain no untested assumptions, material omissions, guesses, or gross approximations. They are the result of mature understanding of the reality being modelled, and have been tested ad nauseum in a wide range of circumstances. On the other hand, climate science is in its infancy, individual models routinely fail most tests, the climate models are riddled with untested assumptions and guesses, they approximate the atmosphere with cells a hundred kilometres square and hundreds of meters high, and they do not even attempt to model individual cloud formations or any feature smaller than the cell size. Don’t let the word “model” fool you into thinking climate models are better than they are.

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