Michael Mann’s narrow definition of “Skepticism”

Climate Scientist MM continues his dogged defence of the climate consensus at Thinkprogress.

Consider the following statement

Make no mistake: Skepticism is fundamental to good science. Whenever a conclusion is drawn or a proposition is made, the demand that it stand up to scrutiny is the self-correcting machinery that drives us towards a better understanding of the way the world works. In this sense, every scientist should be a skeptic. Good science responds to good faith challenges, and to contradictory evidence that is presented, and climate-change science should be no different.

The spirit of the following statement is at first beguiling, and the spirit is something that many would agree with, although “good faith challenges” allows for discrimination against people you disagree with. However, it is his meaning of “scepticism” that I want to take issue with here.

Mann’s definition is most clearly expressed by John Cook of “Skeptical Science“, but also supported by (amongst others) Tamino of “Open Mind” blog. The clearest expression is in the article “Are you a genuine skeptic or a climate denier?

Genuine skeptics consider all the evidence in their search for the truth. Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their pre-determined views.

Compare this with a more established source of word definitions – the Oxford English Dictionary. I don’t have the full 20 volume edition, but I think my 1983 book club edition of the Shorter OED will do well enough. There are a number of definitions of “sceptic” on page 1900.

Definition 1 pertains to a school of philosophy after the Greek Pyrrho, which doubts the possibility of knowledge of any kind.

Definition 2 is someone who doubts the validity of knowledge claims in a particular area of inquiry. This includes, but is not confined to the natural sciences. In the area of climate is the Climate Realists like Tallbloke, who doubt the greenhouse gas theory.

Definition 2.1 “one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to a particular question or statement“. The OED has this as the popular definition.

Definition 3 is one who doubts the truth of Christianity. An older definition, not applicable here.

Definition 4 is one who is seeking the truth. That is “an inquirer who has not arrived at definite convictions“. This is only occasionally used, at least in the late 20th century.

Cook’s definition is at odds with all the definitions in the dictionary. There is nothing there about how much evidence a genuine skeptic must consider. Indeed, it by his own definition Cook is not a skeptic. More seriously, Cook is disagreeing with the experts in their field. According to Cook’s definition, a skeptic is someone who formerly had a doubting attitude as in 2.1, but now has fallen into line. The philosophers are a school of deniers. (Desmogblog will no doubt now unearth evidence that they were in the pay of big olive oil producers.) Some who still doubts the truth of climate change will not have “considered all the evidence” yet. For those who have read the evidence, this category ceases to exist. The doubter of Christianity is irrelevant, whilst the seeker of truth is someone who is behind the curve.

But then who do you believe on the definition of “skeptic / sceptic”. A consensus of the world’s leading experts, or a group of dogmatic people using language for partisan purposes?

NB. I use sceptic with a “c” to denote the expert definition, and with a “k” to define the partisan definition. However, I quite realise the use of “c” was probably as a result of King George III trying the separate Britain from the revolting colonies by means of a common language.

With respect to Dr Mann, I may have got him totally wrong. Maybe he does not realise that skepticalscience.com is based on a misrepresentation. If Dr Mann (or a nominated associate) would like to clarify that he follows expert opinion, I will be more than happy to distance him from the polemicists who allegedly support him.

Heartland Leak – The Implications

The stolen documents from the Heartland Institute have caused a lot of comment on the blogs. There are a number of things that will come out of this.

1. The consensus climate scientists and their cohorts cannot deal with numbers. Just as they have no sense of proportion with financial values (see Jo Nova on this), they likewise have no sense of proportion with sea level rise, temperature rise, or extreme weather events.

2. A better antonym of “sceptical” than “undoubting” or “believer” is “gullible”. Seems DeSmogBlog did not think to check out the authenticity of the damming 2012 strategy document, neither do they accept the Heartland rebuttal. It fitted the narrative, so they published within an hour of receiving the mail. Similarly The Guardian posted a number of one-sided reports (here, here, here), as did Roger Black of the BBC, without waiting to verify the facts. The most alarming 2012 strategy document is a fax (Judith Curry has other references)

3. A number of people, like me, will visit Heartland.org for the first time. They will find they have 7 policy areas employing 20 people, of which “Environment & Energy” employs 3. They specialise in providing cogent summaries of these issues to policy-makers. Whatever you think of their political stance, they are hardly the secretive, rabid backwoodsmen right-wingers that the alarmists project.

4. This support for spreading information in a concise, intelligible form also comes out in the sceptic-funding “exposes”. There is one-off support for Antony Watts who

proposes to create a new Web site devoted to accessing the new temperature data from NOAA’s web site and converting them into easy-to-understand graphs that can be easily found and understood by weathermen and the general interested public.” 

The, alleged, biggest recipient by far of monthly funding is Craig D Idso, who founded the co2science.org website. This provides summaries of climate science papers, collating their results to help give an overall picture of such as the medieval warm period, ocean acidification and the effect of CO2 on plant growth. For instance, I like this graphic summarising the proxy studies of the MWP showing that the Mannian Hockey Stick studies need to at least reconcile their claim that average global temperatures are warmer than in the last 1000 years.

5. It illustrates the upside-down nature of climatology, compared with conventional science. Conventional science is based on making bold statements and predictions that are substantiated by the evidence, with very clear and replicable methods. Over time it refines its techniques, strengthens its methods of analysis and sees its predictions confirmed. It does not need to denigrate, or attempt to silence its detractors. Like the historians of the holocaust, conventional science just points to the evidence and enlightens those who seek the truth. The real deniers of truth in history have been those who silence their opponents and fabricate distortions.

Overall, the leak exposes why the little Heartland Institute is so evil and dangerous to many. They threaten the jobs and reputations of tens of thousands of climate scientists, “policy-makers”, regulators, and powerful business interests in the alternatives to reliable energy. On the other hand, they are on the side of those made hungry by fuel crops competing with food, and of future generations globally, who will be worse-off by growth-sapping mitigation policies.

Another example of Censorship of Skeptics

The blog Zone5 (written by an environmentalist who is thoughtfully sceptical of global warming) has had an article taken down from what has been one of the more moderate pro-CAGW blogs. I left the following comment

The removal of your article is another small example of what you were writing about. Any attempt to offer counter arguments, or to criticize, is being shut down. This is true of blog comments or of peer-reviewed papers. But enough of the negative. Your article made some excellent points, particularly on Al Gore’s movie

First he misrepresents the science by claiming we are facing near certain doom, then he completely downplays the kind of changes we would have to make to prevent catastrophe if we accept the worst case scenario.

It is the crux of what I consider to be the problem of the climate change agenda. I believe there is quite strong science to back up the claim that a doubling of CO2 will cause about one degree of warming. Maybe the climate models are right, and this effect will be doubled or more by clouds feedbacks (though the virulence with which scientific papers that suggest otherwise have been attacked, and a similarly weak rebuttal suggesting the opposite praised greatly, suggests this is an Achilles heel). However, your comment on Al Gore’s film neatly summarises the issue in general. The potential effects of climate change are over-estimated in two ways – of magnitude and likelihood. The most important magnitude is time. For instance, the potential sea level rise is treated as if it would be in metres per year. So fast that large areas of land would be swamped before the harvest could be brought in. But even if global temperatures rose by five degrees in a generation (very unlikely), the resultant sea level rise would be sufficiently slow to relocate homes and agriculture, or to build dykes. People’s ability to adapt to rapidly to changes are remarkable, as emigrants from Britain to Australia (or from Asia to Britain) can testify, yet this is vastly underplayed.

The downplaying of effective policy issues is, if anything, even worse. It is assumed that with a little extra tax, everybody will switch to electric cars or bicycles, and plug a few drafts to cut heating bills by 90%. All this until we get a technological breakthrough in a few years to allow super-abundant carbon free power and near costless power. If Britain (or the EU) takes the lead, then everybody else will follow. No problem about over-running on costs, or pursuing the wrong type of green energy. No concern that a million or more families will enter fuel poverty every year, whilst still failing far behind on emissions reduction targets.

The overplay of risks / underplay of policy costs was put in a more sophisticated way in the Stern Review. I have attempted to analyse this at

https://manicbeancounter.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/climate-change-policy-in-perspective-%E2%80%93-part-1-of-4/

Please continue to encourage people to think for themselves and compare the various perspectives.

Is this another example of shutting down any sort of dissent, like the increasing dogmatism & extremism of sceptical science? (see here
here
here).

Name-Calling in Climate Change may harm Our Future

The Economist blog has a posting about the name calling from both sides of the Global Warming / Climate Change divide. Here is my comment, complete with links.

The name calling will lead to polarized views and more extreme policy. This is why.

 

There is no balance to all this name-calling. There is abundant evidence that anyone who doubts the Consensus, whether the science or the policy, is vilified. For sceptics, research grants are not nearly as available and sceptical views are more difficult to publish. Any public figure who doubts orthodoxy, or any business which funds scepticism, are targeted by pressure groups. Similarly, scientific groups who do not make strong position statements in favour are targeted by pressure groups and bloggers.

Even if the evidence is over-whelming in favour of there being significant anthropogenic climate change, consider the incentives for a scientist or policy-maker working in the field. The prerequisite for acceptance is singing-up to the main conclusion that mitigation policies are needed to combat likely and severe climate change. To pour doubt on that conclusion risks standing accused of being in the other camp. Novelty comes from restatement of this position in an original way, or from original, and more alarmist research.

 

It is in the area of policy this bias is most skewed. To check, the Economist should do a benefit-cost analysis, using as a starting point the Stern Review. Stern estimated the likely costs of climate change at 5 to 20 times the mitigation costs*. Then adjust for the more moderate view of climate change outlined in the Economist article in hyperlinked in the article, including a modicum of uncertainty. Then allow for some of the worst impacts (hurricanes, droughts, floods, etc.) are largely speculative. Then allow that some consequences, like sea level rise, will occur over generations. Therefore slow and low-cost adaptation is possible. Then allow for the benefits of temperature and CO2 rise in extending the margins and intensity of agriculture in many areas. Then allow that any politically feasible mitigation policy will be far less comprehensive (on a global scale) than Stern assumed. Then allow that policy choices will be constrained by political realities and that large ill-defined and complex government projects have a tendency to massively over-run on costs and underachieve on benefits – the Economist archive is a good place to verify this supposition.

 

Well before crunching the final numbers, there will an irreversible tipping-point reached on the benefit-cost analysis. Current mitigation policies will leave future generations worse off than if nothing were done at all. We reach the wrong policy conclusion by letting the issue become polarized.

 

 

*The Stern review has some ambiguous statements. The directgov site hyperlinked above says

If we take no action to control emissions, each tonne of CO2 that we emit now is causing damage worth at least $85 – but these costs are not included when investors and consumers make decisions about how to spend their money.  Emerging schemes that allow people to trade reductions in CO2 have demonstrated that there are many opportunities to cut emissions for less than $25 a tonne.   In other words, reducing emissions will make us better off.

 

But what is clear is that the costs of climate change have been overstated and an extremely naïve assumptions about the efficacy of policy is included.

Climate Change Impacts – UNIPCC and the Skeptics

Climate feedbacks are crucial to climate change forecasts. As Richard Lindzen1 said in his congressional testimony last year

  1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.
  2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.

As Roy Spencer has recently claimed2,

In fact, NO ONE HAS YET FOUND A WAY WITH OBSERVATIONAL DATA TO TEST CLIMATE MODEL SENSITIVITY. This means we have no idea which of the climate models projections are more likely to come true.

Warren Meyer3 comments that

70-80% or more of the warming in catastrophic warming forecasts comes from feedback, not CO2 acting.

The impact is worse than that. It is not predicted temperature rise that is important. It is the catastrophic consequences that follow. These rise exponentially with temperature, so without the feedbacks more than 95% of the catastrophe does not happen. This is illustrated by the Climate Impacts table on page 10 of the UNIPCC Summary for policy makers4, where most of the impacts dramatically – almost exponentially – increase with temperature.

To illustrate this simply, the consequences of global warming will create costs. The reduced water availability, or crop failures will lead to increased hunger and in the extreme lead to deaths. The costs could also include the loss of species, both plant and animal.

To illustrate this graphically, plotting temperature increase against climate change costs, gives a Climate Change Impact curve as illustrated below.


There is no scale. There is no firm forecast of how high temperatures could go. The Stern review (Page 12) even saw fit to include a study with an upper estimate of 17.1oC maximum increase, and the UNIPCC AR4 has outlier estimates of 10oC. Neither do we know the costs. However, without the feedbacks, there is a temperature increase of around 1oC and so no hardly any noticeable costs. It is the pink line CCIS (S for skeptic) below.


 

References

  1. Quoted by Warren Meyer at http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/11/lindzen-testimony.html.

  2. Roy Spencer on 28th January 2011 http://www.drroyspencer.com/2011/01/update-further-evidence-of-low-climate-sensitivity-from-nasas-aqua-satellite/.
  3. http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2011/01/my-favorite-topic-feedback.html
  4. UNIPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) reached from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spms1.html

A (weak) case against the Sceptics weakens the AGW Case

Deutsche Bank tries to answer the sceptics by attempting to demonstrate the the AGW is not completely refuted.

The sceptics arguments do indeed fail to amount to a complete refutation of the AGW case. Most of the “sceptic” arguments are against the idea that there has been no anthropogenic warming at all and that there is no evidence at all for the case. This would be hard to establish, and most “sceptic” scientists would never make this case. But almost equally hard to establish is the case that there will be extreme warming in the future, with likely catestrophic and irreversible consequences. At the very least there must be a clear demonstration that the likely economic impact (valuing the flaura and fauna as well), will be greater than the economic impact on human society of reducing CO2 emissions. Being able to demonstrate that the extreme opposite is implausible (in the vaguest terms) does not establish a position without unambiguous evidence and relying on unstated assumptions. There are some analogies that might highlight my perspective.
1. In medicine to have a reasonable expectation that the “treatment” will leave the patient better off than the cure. Simply showing that a few patients survived the treatment and recovered from the illness does not mean that the treatment worked. Nor does showing that some patients suffered adverse (non-fatal, but painful) side effects from a generally successful treatment to a condition that is 100% fatal without this treatment mean, that the treatment should not be used.

2. In considering a loan to finance a new business venture, the lending bank would want to see more in the plan tham that revenues will be generated. It would want to see a reasonable expectation that even with some set-backs, it could both deliver an income to the borrowers and sufficient surplus to repay the loan.
3. In a criminal case, if all the prosecution had to do was
   (a) present a case, that could not be challanged by the defence no matter how weak.
   (b) demonstrate that the defence had not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, whilst being able to dismiss any evidence they presented on the flimsiest of evidence, including that defence counsel are paid to be biased.

4. A child caught smoking behind the bike-sheds is told that they have shortened their life by up to a decade. This will happen on average if they smoke heavily throughout their adult lives, but will not happen, on average, if it is ten cigarettes a week for five teenage years. They may have minor health issues, such as less ability to fight off the common cold.

What they have missing here is the huge middle ground – not of some truth on either side – but the middle ground where there is a an insufficient case established and / or, an insuffiently coherant plan, and demonstrated capability to carry out the plan, to gain a signficantly positive outcome. That is to give a reasonable expectation that the solution will leave the planet and the human race the better off for having acted.

Put another way, without a clear-cut case that an imminent, catestrophic disaster can be averted with a clear-cut plan, that has little adverse consequences, then there is ground to be made in actively trying to clarifying the extent of our collective scientific knowledge and the improving on the solutions.

Hatip BishopHill