ATTP on Lomborg’s Australian Funding

Blogger …and then there’s physics (ATTP) joins in the hullabaloo about Bjorn Lomberg’s Lomborg’s Consensus Centre is getting A$4m of funding to set up a branch at the University of Western Australia. He says

However, ignoring that Lomborg appears to have a rather tenuous grasp on the basics of climate science, my main issue with what he says is its simplicity. Take all the problems in the world, determine some kind of priority ordering, and then start at the top and work your way down – climate change, obviously, being well down the list. It’s as if Lomborg doesn’t realise that the world is a complex place and that many of the problems we face are related. We can’t necessarily solve something if we don’t also try to address many of the other issues at the same time. It’s this kind of simplistic linear thinking – and that some seem to take it seriously – that irritates me most.

The comment about climatology is just a lead in. ATTP is expressing a normative view about the interrelationship of problems, along with beliefs about the solution. What he is rejecting as simplistic is the method of identifying the interrelated issues separately, understanding the relative size of the problems along with the effectiveness and availability of possible solutions and then prioritizing them.

This errant notion is exacerbated when ATTP implies that Lomborg has received the funding. Lomborg heads up the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and it is they who have received the funding to set up a branch in Australia. This description is from their website

We work with some of the world’s top economists (including 7 Nobel Laureates) to research and publish the smartest solutions to global challenges. Through social, economic and environmental benefit-cost research, we show policymakers and philanthropists how to do the most good for each dollar spent.

It is about bringing together some of the best minds available to understand the problems of the world. It is then to persuade those who are able to do something about the issues. It is not Lomborg’s personal views that are present here, but people with different views and from different specialisms coming together to argue and debate. Anyone who has properly studied economics will soon learn that there are a whole range of different views, many of them plausible. Some glimpse that economic systems are highly interrelated in ways that cannot be remotely specified, leading to the conclusion that any attempt to create a computer model of an economic system will be a highly distorted simplification. At a more basic level they will have learnt that in the real world there are 200 separate countries, all with different priorities. In many there is a whole range of different voiced opinions about what the priorities should be at national, regional and local levels. To address all these interrelated issues together would require the modeller of be omniscient and omnipresent. To actually enact the modeller’s preferred policies over seven billion people would require a level of omnipotence that Stalin could only dream of.

This lack of understanding of economics and policy making is symptomatic of those who believe in climate science. They fail to realize that models are only an attempted abstraction of the real world. Academic economists have long recognized the abstract nature of the subject along with the presence of strong beliefs about the subject. As a result, in the last century many drew upon the rapidly developing philosophy of science to distinguish whether theories were imparting knowledge about the world or confirming beliefs. The most influential by some distance was Milton Friedman. In his seminal essay The Methodology of Positive Economics he suggested the way round this problem was to develop bold yet simple predictions from the theory that, despite being unlikely, are nevertheless come true. I would suggest that you do not need to be too dogmatic in the application. The bold predictions do not need to be right 100% of the time, but an entire research programme should be establishing a good track record over a sustained period. In climatology the bold predictions, that would show a large and increasing problem, have been almost uniformly wrong. For instance:-

  • The rate of melting of the polar ice caps has not accelerated.
  • The rate of sea level rise has not accelerated in the era of satellite measurements.
  • Arctic sea ice did not disappear in the summer of 2013.
  • Hurricanes did not get worse following Katrina. Instead there followed the quietest period on record.
  • Snow has not become a thing of the past in England, nor in Germany.

Other examples have been compiled by Pierre Gosselin at Notrickszone, as part of his list of climate scandals.

Maybe it is different in climatology. The standard response is that the reliability of the models is based on the strength of the consensus in support. This view is not proclaimed by ATTP. Instead from the name it would appear he believes the reliability can be obtained from the basic physics. I have not done any physics since high school and have forgotten most of what I learnt. So in discerning what is reality in that area I have to rely on the opinions of physicists themselves. One of the greatest physicists since Einstein was Richard Feynman. He said fifty years ago in a lecture on the Scientific Method

You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you see that the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.

Climate models, like economic models, will always be vague. This is not due to being poorly expressed (though they often are) but due to the nature of the subject. Short of rejecting climate models as utter nonsense, I would suggest the major way of evaluating whether they say something distinctive about the real world is on the predictive ability. But a consequence of theories always being vague in both economics and climate is you will not be able to use the models as a forecasting tool. As Freeman Dyson (who narrowly missed sharing a Nobel Prize with Feynman) recently said of climate models:-

These climate models are excellent tools for understanding climate, but that they are very bad tools for predicting climate. The reason is simple – that they are models which have very few of the factors that may be important, so you can vary one thing at a time ……. to see what happens – particularly carbon dioxide. But there are a whole lot of things that they leave out. ….. The real world is far more complicated than the models.

This implies that when ATTP is criticizing somebody else’s work with a simple model, or a third person’s work, he is likely criticizing them for looking at a highly complex issue in another way. Whether his way is better, worse or just different we have no way of knowing. All we can infer from his total rejection of ideas of experts in a field to which he lacks even a basic understanding, is that he has no basis of knowing either.

To be fair, I have not looked at the earlier part of ATTP’s article. For instance he says:-

If you want to read a defense of Lomborg, you could read Roger Pielke Jr’s. Roger’s article makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion that we shouldn’t demonise academics, but fails to acknowledge that Lomborg is not an academic by any standard definition…….

The place to look for a “standard definition” of a word is a dictionary. The noun definitions are


8. a student or teacher at a college or university.

9. a person who is academic in background, attitudes, methods, etc.:

He was by temperament an academic, concerned with books and the arts.

10. (initial capital letter) a person who supports or advocates the Platonic school of philosophy.

This is Bjorn Lomborg’s biography from the Copenhagen Consensus website:-

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Adjunct Professor at University of Western Australia and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.

Lomborg meets both definitions 8 & 9, which seem to be pretty standard. Like with John Cook and William Connolley defining the word sceptic, it would appear that ATTP rejects the authority of those who write the dictionary. Or more accurately does not even to bother to look. Like with rejecting the authority of those who understand economics it suggests ATTP uses the authority of his own dogmatic beliefs as the standard by which to evaluate others.

Kevin Marshall


  1. Holy mackerel, I write two paragraphs and add a video that’s meant to mock Lomborg’s simplicity, and you write all of this. This wouldn’t be the somewhat standard “I’m going to criticise what I think they meant, not what they actually said” followed by a series of generalisations about alarmists and how little they understand policy/economics, would it? I think the answer is self-evident.

    This this errant notion is exacerbated when ATTP implies that Lomborg has received the funding.

    I don’t remember actually saying this, but maybe I phrased a comment poorly.

    I have, on occasion, gone to sites to see if the host would at least try to properly represent what I wrote. So far, it’s been unsuccessful. You could break the mold and actually try and do so, but I have no great interest in holding my breath while you consider it, or that bothered if you’d rather not. It’s much easier to just write a lengthy “but alarmists blah blah blah” post.

    • manicbeancounter

       /  26/04/2015

      I write two paragraphs and add a video that’s meant to mock Lomborg’s simplicity

      You mean the simplicity of the leading experts in their field? The Copenhagen Consensus which Lomborg heads, includes 7 Nobel prize winners in economics. I am sure that you are drafting the economics paper right now that will make you the greatest economist since Adam Smith.
      After that you will be re-writing the dictionary, as those befuddled lexicographers from Samuel Johnson on down do not know what they are talking about. Or maybe I get you wrong. Maybe you meant that Lomborg is not a proper academic because he is not employed full-time in a University? On that basis we can bin the three 1905 papers by a patent clerk as they are obviously rubbish?
      Or maybe you mock because in that way you can undermine rather than confront your own lack of understanding? That would not make you inferior. It would just make you an ordinary human being (with well-above average IQ) who does not realise that factual knowledge in a particular area coupled with strong moral beliefs does not mean that you automatically have the only possible understanding possible (positive or normative). Nor does it mean that your particular field of interest is the most important to people looking at all issues objectively. By mocking or shutting down wider perspectives that conflict with limited understanding, you, in your little way, are discouraging the growth of knowledge. This even applies if in the unlikely event you are right in your beliefs about climate, as the subject has grown flabby and unquestioning by the gatekeeping.
      So I will accept you at your word the Lomborg article is a mocking one. The question is, do you mock because you have a vastly superior understanding, or the opposite? On the Lomborg post it is clearly the opposite (subject to your economics article). Similarly your deflecting tactics on temperature homogenization (my chart below) are due to your knowing deep down that the data that very loosely coheres to the climate models, is to some lesser or greater extent is skewed in towards the climate models? Or is it to you being of such superiority that your dismissal is all that is necessary? In which case I eagerly anticipate publication of the ATTP authoritative dictionary.
      PS – Nice to see that you are still looking at the secondary rather than the primary sources in your latest missive. Suggest you add Euan Mearns and Roger Andrews (with their examination of over 300 temperature stations in various parts of the world) to your accusations of being “conspiracy theorists”. After all you are about to demonstrate your omniscience, which automatically makes them in some sense delusional.

      • Look, I’m not really interested. It’s pretty clear you have no great interest in any kind of actual dialogue. I’m just pointing out that you’re doing the pretty standard “let me make up lots of things, generalise wildly, and complain about alarmists” type of post. And this

        The Copenhagen Consensus which Lomborg heads, includes 7 Nobel prize winners in economics. I am sure that you are drafting the economics paper right now that will make you the greatest economist since Adam Smith.

        Is both an appeal to authority and juvenile. If you can’t find credible critiques of Lomborg, you’re searching with your eyes closed.

        Although this is quite funny

        Maybe you meant that Lomborg is not a proper academic because he is not employed full-time in a University? On that basis we can bin the three 1905 papers by a patent clerk as they are obviously rubbish?

        Really, comparing Lomborg and Einstein. Are you trying to sound silly? And if you want to regard Lomborg as an academic, fine, it’s not something I’m going to argue about (pedantry being particularly tedious). He’s certainly not some kind of jobbing academic who we should be cautious about criticising publicly. He’s a very public figure and – as such – cannot expect to promote what he does without expecting some form of criticism.

        This is also pretty obvious

        I have not done any physics since high school and have forgotten most of what I learnt.

        Seriously if you’re going to write a long post that tries to argue that alarmist are stupid, quoting someone like Gosselin is not doing you any favours. You don’t have to have done physics since High School to understand the concept of a cherry-pick.

        Anyway, this is going as expected. I don’t really care if you want to whine about me and write lengthy, juvenile posts about stupid, economically illiterate alarmists. It’s pretty standard stuff. You could try and break the mould and actually try writing something worth responding to, but I suspect that’s a bit too much to expect. These kind of posts are probably much easier and take less effort than actually thinking a bit beforehand.

        • manicbeancounter

           /  27/04/2015

          Now you admit your statement “Lomborg is not an academic by any standard definition” is incorrect I am sure that you will correct it. You have demeaned someone that you oppose to give yourself an unearned sense of superiority. Even worse you have never learnt (or seem to have forgotten) that part of defining a noun or concept is to establish that it contains the elements you want, but excludes the elements you do not want. So I was not comparing Lomborg to Einstein, but making a definition sufficiently broad so as not to exclude Einstein.
          You continue to falsely infer that it is Bjorn Lomborg has obtained funding to do his brand of economics. That is totally untrue – unless you have evidence of a secret conspiracy. 🙂
          Try reading the statement from UWA.It includes this

          Over the next four years, it will have three main projects. One will focus on the smartest development goals for the UN post-2015 agenda, which will be adopted in New York in September. This project involves several Nobel Laureates and more than 80 of the world’s and Australia’s top economists.

          And this

          The cooperation between UWA and the Copenhagen Consensus Center will also mean that the President of Copenhagen Consensus, Dr Bjorn Lomborg, will spend time in Perth and across Australia to encourage a conversation on priorities for aid and development and the future prosperity of Australia.

          Lomborg’s role is not to impose his ideas on those who have different, and likely more advanced, ideas than his own. It is about bringing leading experts in their field together. Lomborg would not have kept the organisation going for the last ten years if he brought people in only to smuggle (what you allege to be) his inferior ideas through. So when you reject “Lomborg’s” approach you are rejecting far more than a single academic. In your ignorance you falsely state I am appealing to authority.

          On the subject of verifying whether climatology has anything meaningful to say, I set the bar pretty low, yet you have tripped up. Pierre Gosselin does say some things that you will find insulting, and I can quite understand that you will get upset. Therefore you might be right about him cherry-picking. This time I will use Wikipedia for a definition.

          Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

          So you allege that Gosselin ignores the examples that contradict his position. So where are those examples of bold predictive successes? Take your time. Email around a load of people to get examples. Then let people compare and contrast to see whether they are significant, are made in advance, and of sufficient clarity. I deliberately set the bar low, and people can debate what the standards of evaluation are. But please kick off with a few counter examples.

          • As I said, I’m not terribly interested. However, you certainly don’t get to write a post like this, then demand that I correct mine, and then help you to understand why Gosselin is cherry-picking. I’ll give you a hint though:

            The rate of sea level rise has not accelerated in the era of satellite measurements.

            If you are serious about discussions, you’re going to have to do a damn site better than this. Anyone can write a post about economically illiterate alarmists; that’s easy to do and not even worth reading. This, for example,

            This lack of understanding of economics and policy making is symptomatic of those who believe in climate science.

            is obvious nonsense – unless you happen to believe that all the economists who accept mainstream climate science also lack an unverstanding of economics and policy. Surely you can do better than this?

          • manicbeancounter

             /  29/04/2015

            ATTP. This is exasperating. You have made the allegation that Gosselin is cherry-picking. That is of choosing a few examples to support his case, and ignoring the more numerous cases that don’t. I have given you opportunity to find the more numerous cases of bold predictive successes that demonstrate that climatology can show a bit of understanding of the real world. I have even put out an appeal on a Bishop Hill Discussion Forum to get some response to help you out. I am not closing the opportunity off to you, or anyone else giving examples either, and will accept a very low hit rate on bold predictions. But so far absolutely there is nothing to say climatology is has managed to a a single significant predictive success that can demonstrate actual understanding of the climate system.
            Instead you pick a single one of my list of examples, and I assume, from your comment, mean that I am cherry-picking the relatively short period since 1993 when we have satellite measurements. But I said this in the context of bold predictions that have failed. In 1988 Michael Oppenheimer said seas would surge 83 feet inland by 2020, as a result of rising by 10 inches or 25.4cm. Tide gauges of the time were showing around 1.7 mm a year. So, cutting the rhetoric, the straight-line extrapolated prediction would be 5.4cm, which requires quite a degree of acceleration. Oppenheimer was unaware that the satellites would show a steady 3.2mm per year steady rise (University of Colorado), but even they show sea level are on track for just a 10cm rise.
            Again you have not checked. Number two on Gosselin’s list is Acceleration of sea level rise-gate, where he has two references. The second is an old reference to satellite measurements. The first reference is for the period 1900-2002 from tide gauges, showing about 1.6mm year steady rise from tide gauges. Maybe you will dig some paper that uses a computer model to splice the two together, then show an upward trending curve, without asking why the tide gauges show half the rate of sea level rise as the satellites. Two long-term predictions that would include a massive increase in the rate of sea level rise from James Hansen are:-
            In 2006 inferring seas levels could rise by up to 25 metres as a result of 3C of warming.
            In 2011 claiming that it is almost dead certain that sea levels will rise by many metres this century.

            Maybe you will dismiss this as just rhetoric and not scientific predictions?
            But there are no clear boundaries in climate between the “science” and the rhetoric, economics, ethics, policy or politics. You are a demonstration of the lack of those boundaries. This exaggerated nonsense is what enters the public arena, and anybody who provides a counter-argument is denigrated and maligned. When scientists make such statements they are reported as science, even when it is in areas where they are rank amateurs and activists.
            You final comment shows a lack of understanding of perceptions and knowledge. You know that physics has a vast area body of knowledge, can relate hypotheses and can demonstrate the validity of hypotheses by replicable experiments. As a layman I have a perception of the achievements from such demonstrations and reading about the achievements. Climatology is projected as a settled science, with answers to everything, but which is impenetrable to most people. Some academic economists perceive climatology as something greater than their subject of no settled answers, so are in awe. Or climatology concurs with their belief systems. Or they know that climatology is pseudo-science, but keep their heads down for fear of having their reputations trashed by the climate community and hangers on. But, as you are ably showing, those perceptions cannot be based on a demonstrated understanding of climate. Whether in words or in equations it just seems inexpert rhetoric. Are there really no genuine achievements that climatology can boast about?

        • Ahh, I’ve just realised something. I misread your post. I thought you were giving some examples from Gosselin. They were yours? My mistake. Anyway, I’ll repeat what I’ve been trying to get across; you don’t write a post like this and then try to insist that I satisfy your demands. Either work things out for yourself, or start making it clearer that you’re actually interested in having a genuine discussion. It really does not appear that you are, and I’m not all that bothered either way.

  2. Oh, and it’s Lomborg.

    • manicbeancounter

       /  27/04/2015

      Corrected – Now will you correct your errors?

  3. I see that ATTP is following precedent and accusing you of not wanting dialogue, while running away as fast as possible himself.

  4. Radical Rodent

     /  10/08/2015

    For one who is “…not really interested…” aTTP writes an awful lot of verbiage. How much more would he produce if he were interested? The very thought alarms me!

    BTW, nice one, KM – a thorough trouncing of an obnoxious character.

    • manicbeancounter

       /  10/08/2015

      Thanks for the comment RR.
      Although ATTP might be an extreme example (with some unique characteristics) there are elements that are found in other climate alarmists that demonstrate the subject of climatology is not just a low-grade science, but a low-grade academic discipline. Given the opportunity to boast of achievements, ATTP blew it.
      In some ways it is worse on a later post.
      In the post I have tried to understand the concept of temperature homogenisation – suggesting why it is necessary and where it can fail. Whether I have made a contribution to understanding is irrelevant to ATTP. He completely abandons anything he learnt in science and puts forward junk opinion. Like with his wottsupwiththat blog, it is aiming to shut down opposing views, like a monopolist trying to close down the competition.

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