Archive for February, 2010

Pointy-haired Climate Modeling (feat. Bonus Vintage Fred Pearce)

2010/02/26 1 comment

From Real Climate’s “FAQ on climate models“:

Multi-model Ensemble – a set of simulations from multiple models. Surprisingly, an average over these simulations gives a better match to climatological observations than any single model

And here’s the Dilbert strip of May 7, 2008:

Of course.


Here’s another attempt at linking Dilbert to the climate change debate. And of course Scott Adams is not exactly your average RC fan.


And now for the “Bonus Vintage Fred Pearce”, from a May 16, 2007 New Scientist article linked by Adams and penned by…Fred Pearce: “Climate myths: We can’t trust computer models

Finally, the claim is sometimes made that if computer models were any good, people would be using them to predict the stock market. Well, they are!

A lot of trading in the financial markets is already carried out by computers. Many base their decisions on fairly simple algorithms designed to exploit tiny profit margins, but others rely on more sophisticated long-term models.

Major financial institutions are investing huge amounts in automated trading systems, the proportion of trading carried out by computers is growing rapidly and a few individuals have made a fortune from them. The smart money is being bet on computer models.

Smart money indeed.

Support Judith Curry As Head Of (Reformed) IPCC

2010/02/25 5 comments

A veritable goldmine of quotes, and surely the best hope for the progress of science this side of Murray Gell-Mann. Let’s celebrate this essay by Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry: “On the Credibility of Climate Research, Part II: Towards Rebuilding Trust“.

I have a strong feeling that anybody else selected to carry forward the (reformed) IPCC will look far lesser capable than Prof Curry.

(Pachauri who?)

Some extracts:

Losing the Public’s Trust

  • In responding to climategate, the climate research establishment has appealed to its own authority and failed to understand that climategate is primarily a crisis of trust.
  • expertise itself is not a sufficient basis for public trust.
  • host of concerns about the IPCC […]: involvement of IPCC scientists in explicit climate policy advocacy; tribalism that excluded skeptics; hubris of scientists with regards to a noble (Nobel) cause; alarmism; and inadequate attention to the statistics of uncertainty and the complexity of alternative interpretations.
  • The jury is still out on the specific fallout from climategate in terms of the historical and paleo temperature records.
  • concerns […] with Working Group II:  has a combination of groupthink, political advocacy and a noble cause syndrome stifled scientific debate, slowed down scientific progress and corrupted the assessment process?
  • when your science receives this kind of attention, it means that the science is really important to the public.  Therefore scientists need to do everything possible to make sure that they effectively communicate uncertainty, risk, probability and complexity, and provide a context that includes alternative and competing scientific viewpoints.

The Changing Nature of Skepticism about Global Warming

  • I have come to understand that global warming skepticism is very different now than it was five years ago.
  • [After the IPCC 4th Assessment Report] big oil funding for contrary views mostly dried up and the mainstream media supported the IPCC consensus. But there was a new movement in the blogosphere, which I refer to as the “climate auditors”, started by Steve McIntyre.  The climate change establishment failed to understand this changing dynamic, and continued to blame skepticism on the denial machine funded by big oil.

Climate Auditors and the Blogosphere

  • So who are the climate auditors?  They are technically educated people, mostly outside of academia.  Several individuals have developed substantial expertise in aspects of climate science, although they mainly audit rather than produce original scientific research. They tend to be watchdogs rather than deniers; many of them classify themselves as “lukewarmers”. They are independent of oil industry influence.  They have found a collective voice in the blogosphere and their posts are often picked up by the mainstream media. They are demanding greater accountability and transparency of climate research and assessment reports.
  • So how did this group of bloggers succeed in bringing the climate establishment to its knees (whether or not the climate establishment realizes yet that this has happened)?  Again, trust plays a big role […] the climate auditors have no apparent political agenda, are doing this work for free, and have been playing a watchdog role, which has engendered the trust of a large segment of the population.

Towards Rebuilding Trust

  • People have heard the alarm, but they remain unconvinced because of a perceived political agenda and lack of trust of the message and the messengers. At the same time, there is a large group of educated and evidence driven people (e.g. the libertarians, people that read the technical skeptic blogs, not to mention policy makers) who want to understand the risk and uncertainties associated with climate change, without being told what kinds of policies they should be supporting.
  • building trust through public communication on this topic requires that uncertainty be acknowledged.
  • discussing the uncertainties increases the public trust in what scientists are trying to convey and doesn’t detract from the receptivity to understanding climate change risks
  • Trust can also be rebuilt by discussing broad choices rather than focusing on specific policies.
  • And finally, the blogosphere can be a very powerful tool for increasing the credibility of climate research.  “Dueling blogs”  (e.g. versus and versus can actually enhance public trust in the science as they see both sides of the arguments being discussed.  Debating science with skeptics should be the spice of academic life
  • I have certainly learned a lot by participating in the blogospheric debate including how to sharpen my thinking and improve the rhetoric of my arguments.
  • we need to acknowledge the emerging auditing and open source movements in the in the internet-enabled world, and put them to productive use.  The openness and democratization of knowledge enabled by the internet can be a tremendous tool for building public understanding of climate science and also trust in climate research.
  • No one really believes that the “science is settled” or that “the debate is over.”  Scientists and others that say this seem to want to advance a particular agenda.  There is nothing more detrimental to public trust than such statements.

Stop Global Warming, Or Else…

2010/02/24 2 comments

Scientific Journalism Is Moribund, Dead, Perhaps Alive

2010/02/24 6 comments

(thanks to Bill Clement for inspiring the gist of this blog)

In hindsight, it should have been clear long ago. It wasn’t going to be pretty, nor it could have been. On one side, journalists with the vaguest notions of the scientific method, mostly convinced that science is what a scientist does (need to remember Piero Manzoni, anybody?).

On the other side, a number of determined bloggers “that have made themselves experts in general climate science (in the words of Roger Harrabin), “ordinary people [who] can say [to scientists] ‘look, you said this, you said that, the two don’t match, explain yourself’” (in the words of Richard North).

Of course, it was going to be carnage. The journalists would not and could not survive the confrontation by any stretch of imagination. And so they didn’t. As noted by Matt Ridley in The Spectator:

It was not Private Eye, or the BBC or the News of the World, but a retired electrical engineer in Northampton, David Holland, whose freedom-of-information requests caused the Climategate scientists to break the law, according to the Information Commissioner. By contrast, it has so far attracted little attention that the leaked emails of Climategate include messages from reporters obsequiously seeking ammunition against the sceptics. Other emails have shown reporters meekly changing headlines to suit green activists, or being threatened with ostracism for even reporting the existence of a sceptical angle

As far as the average skeptical blogger is concerned, scientific journalism in matters of climate should be considered dying if not dead, only a place where to find nice but wholly un-necessary confirmation of one’s doubts. Or should it?

The underlying problem is suggested by Roger Harrabin in the same radio debate mentioned above:

What’s been difficult for people reporting mainstream debate in the past has been that what we would call our trusted sources of science, people like the Royal Society and the various other corollary bodies in different countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to be the touchstone of probity on this issue, they have been the providers of news and the people who have been doubting these news have generally speaking not been academics, I am on the trawl for academics at the moment in British universities there are hardly any and there have been doubters from other quarters and it’s been very difficult for us to tell what are the credentials when all these establishment voices are lined up on one side, how can we put them against a blogger on the other side that might happen to be a blogger who has for the past 15 years spent 100 hundred hours on the Internet reading climate science and has a good knowledge but we don’t know how to test this

Note the choice of words…”our trusted sources of science“, “the providers of news“…these are the words of somebody with the mindset of being an information broker between “the scientists” and “the general public”. It is a way of seeing “scientific journalism” as some kind of translation service, from the high-brow vocabulary of the scientists to the simpleton’s expressions even the most empty-headed Joe Public might understand.

Obviously, such a mindset leaves no space at all to a critical analysis of what the scientists say: because “how can we put them against a blogger [whose knowledge] we don’t know how to test“. Harrabin might be more right on this than he is ever likely to wish: after all, as commented by Bill:

The Press, too, have few within their ranks with a genuine science background. The result – regurgitation (syndication) of the few articles written

Mind you, journalists might not see that as an issue. It all depends on what “journalism” is meant to be. Here’s how award-winning science writer Ed Yong recommends scientists to approach interviews:

[The journalists’] job is not to grill you with hard questions – it’s to find The Story and get you to say something interesting. Your job, interestingly enough, is not to answer their questions to the letter, but to get your message across and to do so in an interesting way. Note the compatibility between these two goals.

The easiest way to mutually assured victory is to get your message across in a way that’s interesting enough that you practically hand them The Story on a plate. Journalism is a game but it’s not a zero-sum one. You and the journalist are not vicious gladiatorial opponents; you are engaging in a collaborative venture and treating it as such will help you get more out of it.

The (skeptical) bloggers write about their quest for Truth. The journalists write instead about…”The Story“. Has “The Story” got any relationship with Truth? Who knows, and does anybody care? (hey…some editors go all the way and get rid of reporters trying to find out what the Truth is…).

Just as “The Story” on climate was the overwhelming consensus in 2009, it is now the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating the IPCC documents have been biased in a miriad of ways towards reporting exactly what the paymasters/Governments wanted them to report.

Kudos to all journalists following the new “Story” but don’t expect their articles to become the new WUWT or EU Referendum. They can not: check the somehow inadvertently comical situation described by Ivan Oranski, executive editor of Reuters Health, on how to choose one’s sources. It looks like Mr Oranski has been around the block quite a few times, so to speak. He even recommends “to always read papers you’re reporting on, instead of relying solely on press releases” (no sh*t!). But not even once Mr Oranski dares thinking he could use himself, his ongoing knowledge of the topic, his ability to cross-reference findings throughout the mountains of scientific papers he has read.

The above suggests “scientific journalism” is still a long, long way from getting in the same league as, say, political journalistic analysis of internal or foreign affairs, where a healthy skepticism of politicians’ statements is nowadays a matter of course. One suspects, too many “scientific journalists” haven’t had their Cronkite moment as yet. But there is hope. Here’s an example of a scientific journalist actually using his brains, however briefly (Nicholas Wade, “Ancient Man in Greenland Has Genome Decoded“, The New York Times Feb 10, 2010):

Perhaps reflecting the so far somewhat limited reach of personal genomics, the researchers note that the ancient Greenlander was at risk for baldness, a surprising assessment given that all that remains of him is his hair

Ed Yong seems also more open than most to the new challenges of the present:

There is rampant churnalism, a dearth of fact-checking, misguided attempts at balance at the cost of accuracy. On the other hand, there is plenty of work from non-traditional sources that does espouse these values, including the writings of many freelance science writers and working scientists (and many of the so-called elements of journalism are elements of good scientific practice too).

If you play out this taxonomic game, you quickly see that many people who ostensibly work in science journalism produce work that is nothing of the sort. Likewise, amateurs who wouldn’t classify themselves as science journalists, actually ought to count.

Journalists are even waking up to the extraordinary amount of news they can produce from “inspirations” found in blogs and other forms of online social media. One interesting lead fresh out of the AAAS 2010 meeting: some scientists still don’t get it (will they ever), others understand they need new ways of thinking in order to explain themselves to the outside world.

And of course there is one reliable anchor that hasn’t been much affected by all of this: the minute group of scientific journalists that have actually been scientists themselves, know how scientific publications work, and can read and critique a scientific article on their own, if need be. I am talking about people like journalism-award-winning academic David Whitehouse.

No prize to guess what Dr Whitehouse thinks of climate alarmism.

(many thanks to @TheGreenDemon and @ThisIsTrue for sharing some of the links above)

‘Let Us Breathe’: French Book Against Censorship By The Self-Righteous

2010/02/22 3 comments

Jacques Rougeot, Professor of French Language at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne, has just published a book (in French) denouncing how environmentalism has been hijacked by people mainly bent on “stifling freedom of thought and expression“. And that’s something that would go a long way explaining why so many have been convinced to use idiotic words such as “denialism”…

Ah ! Laissez-nous respirer ! Contre la censure des bien-pensants.

Ah! Let us breathe! Against censorship by the self-righteous
by Jacques Rougeot

If you eat steak and get around by car, you must know that reading this little book is not without risk. You will risk seeing your moral sense affected. You will learn that in fact, by your irresponsible behavior, you are endangering the planet. You will know that, as a consumer of steak (or beef stew), you are encouraging the breeding of cattle, which in turn, by virtue of their burps and farts, emit an abundance of methane, a gas even more harmful than CO2 . You are guilty of crimes against ecology.

In this way, pleasant and just a caricature, and through many other more serious examples, Jacques Rougeot questions the tight network of taboos spun by a new caste of self-righteous people who claim the right to censor [the rest of humanity]. Thanks to their influence on the media, they have managed to ostracize many words and opinions traditionally regarded as innocent.

This business of stifling freedom of thought and expression […] pivots mainly around fear and bad conscience. The need is for the French to constantly feel guilty and threatened, so that the people, weakened and neutralized, no longer have the moral strength to defend what the essence of a country’s identity, its civilization.

‘Brain Farts’ And Other Tweets

2010/02/22 3 comments

(another collection of links from Twitter – this time not from my @omnologos account)

(this is for my reference as well as I have not read yet many of these links) Read more…

Plait, Plait, Tu Quoque Plait…

2010/02/22 7 comments

(in reply to the Bad Astronomer’s “You can’t resolve away climate change“)

Phil’s and all the warmists’ stance would be greatly helped if you people would stop calling “deniers” everybody and anybody that questions even the slightest AGW claim, instead of trying to push together creationists alongside those simply asking for evidence that catastrophes be upon us.

In fact, to anybody not ready to denounce all the attempts to hide data, avoid compliance to FOI legislation, and try to shut perfectly legitimate scientific papers off peer-reviewed publication, I just ask: what makes you any better than the chiropractors that have tried to ruin Simon Singh??

There’s so much we could all do if we would work together but no, the mere mention of the slightest doubt is nowadays sufficient to be labeled a rabid right-wing creationist conspiracy-monger on the pay of Exxon. And that can’t be a serious way to deal with climate risks.

%d bloggers like this: