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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anthropogenic Global Warming

On the one hand, people who say "man-made global warming is a fact" are really not too savvy on the nature of scientific theories. On the other hand, with consensus amongst climate scientists running at about 98% that AGW is real, I don't see how a lay person can do other than operate on the assumption that it is so. Of course scientific consensus is wrong on occasion. But as lay people, you and I are in no position to judge when this may be so. Unless you are willing to devote several years of full-time study to this topic, you just aren't going to understand the literature and the issues the way the pros do; no, in a field in which one is not an expert, and in which there is an overwhelming expert consensus, to differ from that consensus is sheer stubbornness or wishful thinking.

32 comments:

  1. You just mean because they're using "fact" too casually I assume?

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  2. "You just mean because they're using "fact" too casually I assume?"

    Exactly. AGWis a pretty strong-looking theory, but, then again, in the late 1800s some physicist said that the ether theory of light was as well-confirmed as anything in all of physics... about two decades before it was abandoned completely.

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  3. Must I defer to Keynesians as well?

    AGW has been around, well, since I have been conscious. When they predict, they fail spectacularly. When they do 'science' it turns out to be complicated computer models. Knowing Lorenz and a bit of chaos theory is enough to be skeptical of that.
    And then they predict again...

    In any case, I think more eyes on the science is a net good. I've had startling success applying an evolutionary approach to diet, which I wouldn't have if there weren't folks like Art DeVany fiddling around in fields that aren't his own. I think, eventually, there has to be a change, and it will come from innovators from outside of the field. The grant system makes innovation from inside too hard. 98% of people who get paid to work on global warming believe in global warming? That's supposed to make it more believable?

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  4. I understand your point, Gene, but when deliberate lies are uncovered, a layman is justified in being skeptical, especially when the issue has a strong political component and some of the experts have an interest in favoring one of the sides of the debate. I'm not saying this is the case of global warming. I would have to read more about it to have an opinion.

    The same happens when an issue is controversial and the most common argument in favor of one side is "You're not an expert". If an expert is right, then he must have a better argument (of course, sometimes, expertise is required in order to understand that argument).

    Also, sometimes you don't need years of study to conclude that something is wrong with what the experts say. An intelligent layman may think that the reasoning of experts is based on false assumptions, that some issues are philosophical in nature or that there are epistemological problems with the approach employed by experts. In these cases, some study is necessary, but one doesn't need to become an expert to doubt what experts say.

    Critical thinking should never be discarded, and sometimes it is quite sufficient to at least doubt what experts say.

    Of course, in many cases, people just choose to believe whatever they want to believe. In such cases, I totally agree with you.

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  5. "but when deliberate lies are uncovered"

    But, Pedro, deliberate lies werer *NOT* uncovered. All of the scientists falsely accused in "Climategate" have been exonerated in multiple investigations. You might ask yourself why your sources continue to falsely claim that they were lying!

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  6. "98% of people who get paid to work on global warming believe in global warming? That's supposed to make it more believable?"

    August, thanks for providing an example of the sheer stubbornness and wishful thinking of which I was speaking. My post did not say that 98% of those paid to work on global warming believe in global warming; it said that 98% of climate scientists think AGW is real. Many, many of those scientists are NOT paid to work on global warming issues, and yet they agree it is happening. And yet you, because of some purported results you have gotten regarding evolution and diet (published in what peer-reviewed journal, btw?), are in a position to call BS on them?

    Well, as I said, thanks for providing an example of the stubbornness and wishful thinking about which I was talking!

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  7. Why can't you call BS? Whats wrong with calling BS? I call BS on things I don't know about a whole lot of the time and it works out just fine.

    I have a lot of stories how I would have lost thousands of dollars to greedy doctors if I hadn't just said "no you're wrong I am self diagnosing" and been completely right.

    It's a calculated risk and I don't care how many journals or whatever that doctor had written in, I was right, and he wanted my money, and he didn't get it, and I got healthy at a fraction of the cost AND THAT FEELS GREAT.

    It's called thinking for yourself now stop being a snob and telling others to not think for themselves because experts with PhDs like yourself should be thinking for them. It is SNOBBY.

    Have some humility. Your extra studies and efforts have earned you ZERO, and I mean ZERO more credibility over me, or anyone else in any topic you have studied in, if no one wants to give you that credibility. Studies are a *personal* thing. If you are studying to gain POWER over someone and tell them how they should live their lives then you are being an ELITIST.

    Everyone should think for themsevles. They can think the sky is green and that bubblegum and nuts are a great combination for all I care.

    And you know what. NOTHING BAD HAPPENS when people mind their own business and think for themselves and don't let themselves become slaves to some kind of pretentious snobby academic overlords. In fact great things happen, much better than in the latter situation.

    So yeah sure you can say "in my mind when you say that AGW is not real, I think you're kidding yourself" but for no reason should you ever tell a person "submit to me and my academic brothers as your overlords, how dare you disagree with us, you idiot, how dare you, you have not done the hard yards you have no idea what we went through, moron, submit to me and AGREE with me" because that is the very root of maybe 95% of all evil and bad things that have ever happened on this earth.

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  8. "Why can't you call BS?"

    Because you have no feckin idea what you are talking about?

    "Your extra studies and efforts have earned you ZERO, and I mean ZERO more credibility over me..."

    So, you are a childish nitwit who thinks that having any old opinion is just as good as deeply studying a subject.

    "but for no reason should you ever tell a person "submit to me and my academic brothers as your overlords, how dare you disagree with us, you idiot, how dare you"

    Avram, projecting your own paranoid delusions onto others is no way to live your life. Your whole comment was like listening to a little baby whining in its crib because it didn't get the nipple it wanted on time.

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  9. Consider this, Avram:

    "But as lay people, you and I are in no position to judge when this may be so."

    THAT'S humility. I'm not an expert in the field, so I must defer to the experts. YOUR position is ego run amock: 'I feel this position is BS, so I will "call BS," even though I have spent absolutely no time studying the subject and know nothing at all about it.'

    Talk about projection!

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  10. Gene wrote:

    "But, Pedro, deliberate lies werer *NOT* uncovered. All of the scientists falsely accused in "Climategate" have been exonerated in multiple investigations."

    C'mon Gene. We don't need advanced degrees in climate science to tell if those guys were being honest or not. If you want to call what they were doing a "lie" versus "uncomfortably playing fast and loose with their positions to frame the debate" or whatever, that's fine. But we don't need to defer to a commission to tell us if they were lying or not.

    Now, if you want to say, "Did the skullduggery uncovered in those emails cast doubts upon the alleged 'consensus'?" then I agree, you and I aren't qualified to answer that question.

    But don't say it takes a climate scientist to read emails and determine if deliberate lying was going on.

    And certainly don't tell me that we should defer to a bunch of authorities--who stand to be incredibly humiliated/eviscerated with budget cuts--if it turned out their leaders were in fact deliberately lying.

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  11. "But we don't need to defer to a commission to tell us if they were lying or not."

    No, as I recall at the time, you asked a computer programmer you knew to look at the actual source code and see if there was "skulduggery" involved. And I recall he reported back to you, "No, I don't see any clear evidence of anything untoward going on here."

    But maybe I faced budget cuts if my investigation found wrongdoing?

    "And certainly don't tell me that we should defer to a bunch of authorities--who stand to be incredibly humiliated/eviscerated with budget cuts--if it turned out their leaders were in fact deliberately lying."

    The British House of Commons and the US Commerce Department were faced with budget cuts if the East Anglia scientists were lying?! Those scientists were their leaders?!

    What in the world could you possibly learn from the five investigations into that incident, none of which turned up evidence of "skulduggery"? Nothing, apparently, because continuing to believe in the skulduggery is a pleasing narrative.

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  12. Good point. I would add that when you look at scientists who are skeptical of a given consensus, what you often find is that 1) they actually accept a fair amount of the consensus, and 2) they disagree even among themselves about which parts of the consensus are wrong.
    So, for example, in the case of global warming one skeptic will say that the earth hasn’t actually been getting warmer, another will say yes it’s gotten warmer but humans aren’t the cause, a third will say yes humans are the cause but the warming isn’t harmful, and so on. You might think that the sheer number of anti-global warming arguments is impressive, but many of the arguments are incompatible with each other, and even most skeptics think each of the skeptical arguments are bunk.

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  13. Must I defer to Keynesians as well?

    Is Keynesianism the consensus among macroeconomists? That's certainly not the impression one would get from reading Paul Krugman.

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  14. "But, Pedro, deliberate lies werer *NOT* uncovered. "

    Gene, I explicitly said I didn't know whether that was the case with global warming:

    "I'm not saying this is the case of global warming."

    When news about "Climategate" appeared, I did check several sources so that I didn't read only one side of the story. I remember some claimed the phrases had been taken out of context.

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  15. The politically charged nature of these debates leads me to take that 98 percent figure with a grain of salt. And I suspect a lot of scientists are biased in favour of anthropogenic global warming theory, because it is associated with policies which they find intuitively appealing anyway. The ease with which proponents of the theory slip from explaining the facts to demanding various government policies is disturbing.

    Nonetheless, I accept your basic point: most climate scientists believe that AGW theory is true. But I don't tentatively accept it just because of that, layman or not. There are two reasons that I accept AGW theory:

    (1) I believe the institutions of climate science work tolerably enough to limit the influence of personal biases and corruption. Not perfect, hence my taking the 98 percent figure with a grain of salt, but well enough. I can explain why I think this is so, but I might be wrong.

    (2) I am not aware of (or do not understand) any alternative explanation of the facts. This is why, for me, climate science is different from, say, Keynesian economics. In the latter case, I do have alternative explanations and informed criticisms. The fact that I am a layperson really has nothing to do with it.

    One thing that bother me abut the whole debate is the "anthropogenic" part. The important thing is that the climate is warming and we need deal with that somehow. Whether or not the warming is being caused by humans is not particularly, except that it suggests additional options for dealing with the problem.

    The "anthropogenic" part of AGW theory is too often used in a dramatic fashion to demonstrate that we humans are getting our just deserts for our excesses. Whatever ways there might be of dealing with global warming, we should do pursue policies that rein in our "excesses," i.e. mostly things -- surprise, surprise -- that progressives didn't like in the first place.

    It is as though justice must be brought upon the human race for its crimes against nature.

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  16. Gene wrote:

    The British House of Commons and the US Commerce Department were faced with budget cuts if the East Anglia scientists were lying?! Those scientists were their leaders?!

    Gene, obviously I had in mind narrower groups, the ones that were employing the scientists in question and literally had funding for that work.

    But my point extends to the government entities overseeing them. Yes, the US and British governments stand to take in trillions of dollars more over the coming decades if the public continues to believe in AGW and thus tolerates a carbon tax / cap-and-trade. Not to mention anti-emission regulations will give them a ton more power over business. I hope it's still empirically sound for me to say that governments aren't the best arbiters when it comes to a question that will influence how much tax revenue / power they have.

    And as far as the deliberate lying charge: I am not even saying they were "deliberately lying." That's a strong term. What I can say with confidence is that they were scandalous in how they dealt with peer review. In particular, they were going to blackball another journal editor because he had published an article they didn't like. That is indeed an abuse of power. Since I am familiar with the academic journal process, I can look at those particular emails and say it's skullduggery in my book.

    Now with the computer programming stuff--where the exasperated guy was pulling his hair out, trying to figure out what the heck the original programmer had done--that is outside my direct realm of expertise. So that's why I asked you about it. It's because I know you know about computer programming, and I figured we had similar views as to what counts as skullduggery.

    But I don't know the people in the British House of Commons, their expertise in climate science (or ability to pick investigators with it) and their commitment to integrity. So I view your conclusion on the program with a lot more weight than theirs on the whole enterprise.

    But I don't need them, or you, to tell me that what those guys were doing to influence which papers were published was skullduggery (though not "deliberate lying").

    You may remember at the time, I was clarifying on my own blog what the deal was with the "Nature trick." I showed that it wasn't as damning as the casual reader would think, even though it was still awkward for them.

    I would like to say, "Gene, whether or not you believe in the lone gunman theory is an open question, and you can consult books etc. on it. But don't point to the Warren Commission as if that's supposed to settle it."

    Yet for some reason, I think that wouldn't hold sway with you. It would just prove how conspiratorial I am.

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  17. I suppose one of the things that troubles me about the whole climate change debate is that the stance one takes has become a way of social signaling.

    People who know next to nothing about the science or sociology of the situation nevertheless become passionate advocates of one side or the other. That combination of ignorance and passion, in my opinion, normally betrays someone who is taking a position mostly to signal something about themselves or their group loyalties.

    Most people believe in global warming the same way they wear t-shirts with Che Guevara on them.

    Are scientists immune from these kind of influences? To an extent. The institutions and ideals of science and scientists are objective in a way that individuals are not. But the more big government gets involved with big science, the less and less these institutions will continue to function correctly, e.g. think about "science" in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

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  18. A self-selected 98%.

    But that was a 'red meat' statement. It provoked a predictable response. I regret that, because if I had somehow gotten you to be a bit more inquisitive about, say, the advisability of using multivariate computer models in scientific research, well, I'd feel less troll-like, and a little more like I was contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

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  19. Another thing: sometimes, determining who the experts are requires some judgement. An extreme example: If a witch doctor performs an incantation to cure an illness, you probably will say "That won't work", and he might retort "How can you say that? You're not an expert in my art". Of course, he's no real expert. A physician would be the real expert.

    Take the case of children who are said to have "ADHD". Are psychiatrists really the experts in the field? Or maybe we should listen to educators?

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  20. Pedro, I don't think there is any question that climate scientists are the experts on climate science.

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  21. "People who know next to nothing about the science or sociology of the situation nevertheless become passionate advocates of one side or the other. That combination of ignorance and passion, in my opinion, normally betrays someone who is taking a position mostly to signal something about themselves or their group loyalties."

    Just so, somecomments! Most people form the opinion about AGW based on what they want to be true about it.

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  22. "Pedro, I don't think there is any question that climate scientists are the experts on climate science."

    I agree. My comment was about trusting experts in general.

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  23. Sorry, Pedro, I missed that. But even so, unless we have some reason to think the experts aren't really experts, I think trusting them is still the best bet. But with the knowledge that there is always a chance they are wrong.

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  24. Blogger August said...

    " AGW has been around, well, since I have been conscious. When they predict, they fail spectacularly. When they do 'science' it turns out to be complicated computer models. Knowing Lorenz and a bit of chaos theory is enough to be skeptical of that."

    Um, which predictions do they fail spectacularly at?

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  25. Gene, you said:

    "Avram, projecting your own paranoid delusions onto others is no way to live your life. Your whole comment was like listening to a little baby whining in its crib because it didn't get the nipple it wanted on time."

    This is because I am, in fact, a little baby. Waaah! Waaah! I want milk.

    Seriously however, paranoia might have something to do with the way I see things but I do not feel like a very paranoid person.

    You also said:

    "THAT'S humility. I'm not an expert in the field, so I must defer to the experts. YOUR position is ego run amock: 'I feel this position is BS, so I will "call BS," even though I have spent absolutely no time studying the subject and know nothing at all about it.'"

    My position is more like "I will call BS because I am a human, and I know the limits of human memory, intelligence and judgement, I also know when there are some economic factors (doctors wanting my money, doctors not wanting me bringing legal action against them) influencing the decision of an expert. I also know that there are lots of liars and cheats and no good people out there and my own gut feeling tells me this is wrong so I'm going against it"

    And as for what humility is humility is:

    "I have spent 20 years of my life studying a subject, now that I know everything about it, I am still unable to convince my brethren to come to the same conclusions as myself. I respect their love of truth, and will do the best I can to encourage them to learn more about this subject and engage in meaningful discussion with them"

    And as for what ego run amok is, ego run amok is:

    "I have spent a long time studying a particular field, I am now an expert. Anyone who doesn't think the way I do is a moron and idiot and should not be taken seriously. I am an expert. Only experts like me can be taken seriously"

    I didn't even get into the whole real tangible evil that comes when this attitude is mixed with policy, on the national level or on the private organizational level.

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  26. "I have spent a long time studying a particular field, I am now an expert. Anyone who doesn't think the way I do is a moron and idiot and should not be taken seriously. I am an expert. Only experts like me can be taken seriously"

    But Avram, no one (in this discussion) is saying anything remotely like that. What *I* am saying is that neither you nor I are experts in climate science, and that both of us ought to take them seriously, because we have no better option than childishly declaring "I call BS!" based on... what? "Well, I don't like their conclusions!"

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  27. "my own gut feeling tells me this is wrong so I'm going against it"

    To decades of climate science research by thousands of people who have each studied the subject for decades, Avram opposes... his own gut feeling!

    Ah, science.

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  28. I know what you are saying, August! That's why I don't trust bridge engineers to build bridges -- those guys *self-selected* to build bridges! I'd rather cross bridges built by random people who did self-select.

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  29. "But Avram, no one (in this discussion) is saying anything remotely like that. What *I* am saying is that neither you nor I are experts in climate science, and that both of us ought to take them seriously, because we have no better option than childishly declaring "I call BS!" based on... what? "Well, I don't like their conclusions!""

    Except that maybe 5 years ago if you talked to me after seeing An Inconvenient Truth, not to mention years of pro green (watermellon) policy conditioning at high school, you would be hearing that I absolutely love the conclusion.

    I have no problem with the conclusion per se even today (as in if I thought the conclusion was true I wouldn't be upset at it).

    The problem I have is that I feel I was taken for a ride.

    Example: Carbon Tax in Australia. Enacted by the labor governmenr recently in the name of the planet. It should be in the name of General Electric. From almost having no presence in Australia just four years ago except for some PR and lobbying, General Electric has really taken off with wind power. Meanwhile everyone's electrity bill has sky rocketed.

    Anyway it doesn't matter. In the end there's way way way more people who think like you than there are who think like me. In the end whatever the experts come out and say should be done will be done, so you don't have anything to worry about.

    My apologies if me saying that it's ok for a non expert to disagree with an expert has upset you.

    Waaah waaah baby avram reporting out.

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  30. For another perspective, see Richard Feynman:

    "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

    When someone says, 'Science teaches such and such,' he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, 'Science has shown such and such,' you might ask, 'How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?'

    It should not be 'science has shown' but 'this experiment, this effect, has shown.' And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments--but be patient and listen to all the evidence--to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at." (Other gems in the same speech: "The experts who are leading you may be wrong" and "there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science.")

    That being said, I personally have not "listened to all the evidence," so I make no judgment about whether climatologists arrived at a sensible conclusion. Until I do, deference to experts in the field makes good practical sense.

    Overall, I agree with the thrust of your post; expert consensus is certainly a valid prima facie argument for AGW, and one not to be dismissed lightly. (Although I think your requirement of "several years of full-time study" is overstated). Even if it is demonstrated that climatologists are horribly biased in favor of AGW, this would not debunk their claims. Libertarians who rest their case on the statist biases of scientists are doing precisely the same thing Marxists used to do when attacking pro-capitalists'; they think that merely exposing their opponents' biases is sufficient to refute them. As Mises pointed out, one must address the substance of the evidence and argument; it could be that someone who is biased in favor of capitalism is nonetheless correct in his pro-capitalist arguments! Likewise with AGW.

    At the same time, I've often encountered those on the other side who invoke scientific consensus to (1) vastly overstate their claims and (2) silence dissent. ("Science tells us that AGW is destroying the planet and we need a world carbon tax to survive; who are you to argue against SCIENCE?!"). So, while deference to experts may be sensible to the average layman, one should also carefully distinguish between the experts and those who cite them in order to further some political agenda.

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  31. Mike, you certainly have a good point, in that knowledge of climate science does not privilege the possessor's policy recommendations!

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