Episode 2: show notes

On this week’s show: More skeptisim vs Denialism, Attribution, Denialism in the Chicago Tribune, The Skeptic debunk of the week.

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The Lomborg Deception was not written by  Thomas Lovejoy as mentioned, but by Howard Friel. Lovejoy wrote the foreword of the book.

Peter H. Gleick’s response to my question was open letter signed by 255 members of the US National Academies of Science a direct response to Cuccinelli:

Lat week a listener asked me about the open letter signed by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences condemning the political attacks against climate science that have intensified of late. I mentioned that I didn’t think this was a direct response to Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli’s suite against Michael Mann, since the suit was announced shorty after the letter was published. So I asked the author of the letter Peter Gleick and this is his responce: The letter was written long before Cuccinelli — in March. I spent the end of March and much of April collecting and verifying signatures. At the end of April, we sent it to publications for release, and Science agreed to publish it. Cuccinelli came after the letter was written and all the signatures gathered. But it is precisely the kind of attack the letter addressed. Peter Gleick

More Skepticism vs Denialism

Why Sensible people reject the truth:

By Debora MacKenzie

Whatever they are denying, denial movements have much in common with one another, not least the use of similar tactics (see “How to be a denialist”). All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism. … All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

How Corporations Manufacture doubt:

By Richard Littlemore

The doubt industry has ballooned in the past two decades. There are now scores of think tanks pushing dubious and confusing policy positions, and dozens of phoney grass-roots organisations created to make those positions appear to have legitimate following.

When a sceptic isn’t a sceptic:

By Michael Shermer

WHAT is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. A climate sceptic, for example, examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.

A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing “confirmation bias” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.

Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false. Weeding out the few kernels of wheat from the large pile of chaff requires extensive observation, careful experimentation and cautious inference. Science is scepticism and good scientists are sceptical.

Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it – sometimes even in the teeth of evidence. Denialism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence. Belief comes first, reasons for belief follow, and those reasons are winnowed to ensure that the belief survives intact.

Mark Hoofnagle from the Denialism blog responds to Shermer:

While I think it’s wonderful that he’s came [sic]  around about 40 years after the science, I think he still has to own up to the fact that his rejection of the science, perfectly strong science in the 1990s and 2000s, was due to anything but his ideology. There wasn’t a new piece of data that arrived in 2006 to change him, just, according to him, Al Gore’s presentation of it that finally worked to change him. Why would a true skeptic reject the scientists and the IPCC only to convert after seeing the Vice President give a TED talk? I think it likely was easy to be skeptic given his distaste for the environmental movement and the perceived infringement on individual liberties that environmental regulation entails. It is also still questionable if his support for Lomborg and the other libertarian minimizers doesn’t represent that he hasn’t just morphed his denial into a new strategy that admits the science is real then happily undermines any of its significance…

[The Lomborg strategy]… is the well-known minimalization approach common to libertarians who “accept” the science. This is the strategy of the Lomborgians and the scam of the Copenhagen consensus, admit the problem exists, just minimize its significance, blow the costs out of proportion and create a consensus from a minority of like-thinkers…

We’re not shutting down debate, or censoring anyone, or even insinuating moral deficiency. Quite the opposite, we’re showing how even well-meaning smart people fall for irrational arguments and try to describe which arguments aren’t worth listening to or accepting as legitimate. Denialism is not actual healthy debate, it’s the art of creating the appearance of a debate when facts are settled. Recognizing denialism is just recognizing that some tactics are flawed, and that their use does not represent actual healthy debate. Clearly some denialists aren’t honest brokers in a debate, but the fact is a lot of people fall for and use these arguments simply because they don’t know better. And until everyone understands what represents healthy debate and logical arguments, little progress will be made in advancing legitimate scientific views against the nonsense being peddled by the HIV/AIDS denialists, the autism/vaccine cranks, and AGW denialism.


or how do we know the warming is caused by humans:

First off, think about the difference between attribution in an observational science like climatology (or cosmology etc.) compared to a lab-based science (microbiology or materials science). In a laboratory, it’s relatively easy to demonstrate cause and effect: you set up the experiments – and if what you expect is a real phenomenon, you should be able to replicate it over and over again and get enough examples to demonstrate convincingly that a particular cause has a particular effect. Note that you can’t demonstrate that a particular effect can have only that cause, but should you see that effect in the real world and suspect that your cause is also present, then you can make a pretty good (though not 100%) case that a specific cause is to blame…

The key to this kind of attribution is repetition, and this is where it should become obvious that for observational sciences, you are generally going to have to find a different way forward, since we don’t generally get to rerun the Holocene, or the Big Bang or the 20th Century (thankfully).

In the real world we attribute singular events all the time – in court cases for instance – and so we do have practical experience of this. If the evidence linking specific bank-robbers to a robbery is strong, prosecutors can get a conviction without the crimes needing to have been ‘unprecedented’, and without having to specifically prove that everyone else was innocent.

What is a required is a model of some sort that makes predictions for what should and should not have happened depending on some specific cause, combined with ‘out of sample’ validation of the model of events or phenomena that were not known about or used in the construction of the model.

So what can you do? The first thing to do is to get away from the idea that you can only be using single-valued metrics like the global temperature. We have much more information than that – patterns of changes across the surface, through the vertical extent of the atmosphere, and in the oceans. Complex spatial fingerprints of change can do a much better job at discriminating between competing hypotheses than simple multiple linear regression with a single time-series. For instance, a big difference between solar forced changes compared to those driven by CO2 is that the stratosphere changes in tandem with the lower atmosphere for solar changes, but they are opposed for CO2-driven change. Aerosol changes often have specific regional patterns change that can be distinguished from changes from well-mixed greenhouse gases…

The expected patterns for any particular driver (the ‘fingerprints’) can be estimated from a climate model, or even a suite of climate models with the differences between them serving as an estimate of the structural uncertainty. If these patterns are robust, then one can have confidence that they are a good reflection of the underlying assumptions that went into building the models. Given these fingerprints for multiple hypothesised drivers (solar, aerosols, land-use/land cover change, greenhouse gases etc.), we can than examine the real world to see if the changes we see can be explained by a combination of them.

Denialism in the Chicago Tribune:

Lets have an Honest debate on global warming:

I cringe every time I hear someone invoke “settled science.” And when a scientist does it, I smell a rat.

Gravity is settled science. But how gravity works is not. Not much of science is all that settled. Especially assertions that global warming is man-made. Claims of settled science have such a tattered history of being wrong, you’d think global warming partisans would be afraid to trot out that old canard.

And it gets worse from there.

The National Research Council report: America’s climate choices

Roy Spencer’s defence of Phil Jones (h/t Coby Beck):

“Phil Jones has been looking at climate records for a very long time. Frankly our data set agrees with his, so unless we are all making the same mistake we’re not likely to find out anything new from the data anyway.”

Phil Jones BBC interview, on warming since 1995:

Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

My post on the topic, and an excellent video explaining statistical significance:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PWDFzWt-Ag&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Skeptic debunk of the week:

Human emissions vs Natural emissions, by John Cook

The CO2 that nature emits (from the ocean and vegetation) is balanced by natural absorptions (again by the ocean and vegetation). Therefore human emissions upset the natural balance, rising CO2 to levels not seen in at least 800,000 years. In fact, human emit 26 gigatonnes of CO2 per year while CO2 in the atmosphere is rising by only 15 gigatonnes per year – much of human CO2 emissions is being absorbed by natural sinks.

Canadians want action on climate change:

From Steve Easterbook:

Take a look at this recent poll from Nanos on priorities for the upcoming G8/G20 meetings. Canadians ranked Global Warming and Economic Recovery as the top two priorities for the meetings, but note that global warming beats economic recovery for the top response across nearly all categories of Canadians (with the exception of the old fogeys, in the 50+ age group, and westerners, who I guess are busy getting rich from the oil sands). Overall, 33.7% of Canadians ranked Global Warming as the top priority, while 27.2% named Economic Recovery.

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