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Friday, July 31, 2009

Priests of Warmenism

In a comment on a totally unrelated topic, Peter Burnet wrote:
Hardly anybody is qualified to build or interpret climate models. We are all beholden to what the experts say. Even if a layman sets out to study the competing claims of climate scientists carefully, he still is pretty much restricted to comparing theories/conclusions and has a hard time critiquing their underlying methodologies systematically by measuring them against experience.
The "experts" want you to be beholden to what they say and Peter has closed his eyes and walked blindly into their trap.

Virtually all of climate science is based on typical everyday experience and a few minor and easily understood bits of physics. We've all noticed that sunlight (also called visible radiation) makes objects warmer when it strikes them and that when those heated objects are moved out of the sun they begin to cool but we can't visibly see the warmth emanating from them. We've all noticed that hot air rises (in a hot-air balloon, thermal, etc.) and that when the hot air is also moist (humid) that clouds form when it cools sufficiently as it rises. Etc., etc.

The climate is difficult to predict not because the physics is difficult, but because it is so chaotic. All the bits of earth, ocean, and atmosphere heating and mixing at different rates and interacting with each other produces really, really complex responses that are impossible to characterize analytically. So scientists make statistical climate models to try and mimic the past and predict the future. They are really little more than software hackers and statisticians and know little more science (physics) of relevance to their task than the average layman.

So no, we aren't beholden to the priests of warmenism unless we want to be.

33 comments:

erp said...

On another string Harry noted that he could predict where people on the right come down on seemingly unrelated issues. He was absolutely right about that and the same is true for people on the left.

Climate change is just another spoke on the wheel of moonbat issues designed to pull in people with diverse interests, i.e., PETA for animal lovers.

"Scientists" can be found to prove whatever grant money is funding.

Harry Eagar said...

Correct up to a point. However, to take one area of climate research, the people who try to reconstruct past temperatures from isotope ratios in ice or stalagmites know quite a bit more chemistry than Joe Sixpack.

You're talking about integration of results. Some of the results are pretty easy to understand, some not to easy.

Bret said...

Harry,

It is a good point that the science and technology behind trying to tease out temperature and CO2 measurements from ice cores, or a history of global temperatures from measuring the thickness of tree rings of bristlecone pines, and other such things are probably beyond many people.

On the other hand, from what I've studied, this historical data is extremely suspect and not particularly relevant.

We have a real, live experiment happening now with the concentration of CO2 increasing by more 35% since 1700. We should be able to model it and verify it with sensors. This part is just not rocket science.

Peter Burnet said...

Bret, I think you may have misunderstood what I was getting at and I don't think I've fallen into a trap. I'm a climate change skeptic, but not because I rush out to do my own observations, record them with systematic precision and then build a sophisticated software programme that will handle my even more sophisticated model of the future projections. I'm a skeptic because I listen to the competing claims and arguments and measure them for plausibility against history, experience, persuasiveness and coherence. I may do this casually or devote half my waking hours to it, but without a Ph.d and a huge grant I'm not in a position to challenge the methodological underpinnings or baseline physical findings. And one of the reasons I am not is because my day-to-day life doesn't offer much experience that would give me a first hand ability to do so beyond "cold summer we're having--yeah, that global warming sure is moving fast". Obviously people with different educations than me like Skipper, AOG and you can get a lot closer, but I am assuming even you would be hard-pressed to build a model that competes with the IPCC for faithfulness to the scientific method.

All this is simply a fact of modern life, but the science of global warming has become politicized and prescriptive. They don't make all these alarmist predictions in a spirit of free inquiry and "just thought you would all like to know." So a layman opposing their wild calls for action is by definition behind the eight ball in responding. It's hardly a surprise so much of the public accepts the party line even after you discount the predilictions of doomsday progressives. Note that erp's response is to question the overall intergity of scientists, not to point out where the models are faulty.

Skipper's post was on cell-phone use in cars and I was just simply saying that a layman is in a much better position to challenge the findings of expert studies on the basis of first-hand knowledge and experience, because we all drive. Skipper's response is familiar and always puzzles me. He seems to discount the first hand experience of drivers as unreliable. He critiques the study on its own scientific terms without doubting that kind of systematic approach is the right way to go and should be accepted as the ultimate authority, but then calls the results he disputes a "religion", which seems for him to be a synonym for bad science. Likewise with climate change, which he calls the religion of "warmenism". That might be ok to describe the unscientific Gaia crowd (actually it's not, but that's for another day), but it won't work for the scientists simply because they are wrong. A very loose analogy to the religious is not scientists whose observations are incomplete or who gets their sums wrong. It would be better saved for the old-style farmer who says "Ma's corns sure are a-throbbing--something big is happening to the climate."

Just to stir the pot, another good example is the perennial war between chiropractors and the medical profession that despises them (aided by Harry) and would do almost anything to ban them. The reason why chiropractic succeeds is not because the general public has analysed all those studies 'proving" there is no scientific or medical basis for it and found them wanting. It's because chiropractors have a higher rate of patient satisfaction and testimonials of success than doctors do. Unfortunately we don't yet have any customer satisfaction surveys for climatologists.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Skipper's response [to cellphone risk studies] is familiar and always puzzles me. He seems to discount the first hand experience of drivers as unreliable ...

I probably was a bit jet lagged when I wrote that post, so I might have been unclear.

It is intuitively obvious that cellphone usage while driving is riskier than leaving the thing on the hook. Studiers have assigned a risk value that presumably means per mile driven, a cell-using driver is [fill in the blank] times more likely to have an accident than that same driver driving the same mile, but without the cellphone.

That is not a conclusion, that is a hypothesis: that assigned risk value does not exist unless drivers using cellphones actually have a higher accident rate than non-users. Indeed, it could turn out that the actual risk is higher than the hypothesized risk.

So, my critique of the study was that it wasn't really scientific at all. It posited a hypothesis, but did not check it against reality. Accepting the hypothesis at face value is not science.

Had accident rates increase over time in a way that paralleled the increase in cellphone usage, reality would be confirming the hypothesis.

However, as it happens, accident rates have been going down during the entire time cellphone usage has been skyrocketing. Obviously, there are confounding factors: graduated licensing, aging demographics, better cars. While the interplay of those might be a challenge to determine, the number of factors isn't particularly large, and some of them (aging in particular) are pretty well known.

SFAIK, no cellphone study has even made a stab at closing the circle. Therefore, their claims, even if intuitively appealing, are simply not scientific.

Just so with the Church of Catastrophic Warmenism. No one disputes that the atmosphere is warmer with CO2 than without; rather, the question is whether the degree of warming is proportional to the increase in CO2 concentration as a proportion of greenhouse gases, or has some included positive multiplier (aka, positive feedback). If there is no positive feedback, then the Church collapses. As it happens, though, the signs of feedback are in weather, and, as we all know, the Church of Catastrophic Warmenism is all about climate.

As with the risk attending cellphone usage, CO2 warming is intuitively obvious, and studies purport to predict all manner of consequential climate mayhem, or grasp all confirmatory weather tightly to their theological bosom as climate, while reject contradictory weather as mere weather.

The Church's problem is that it has a plausible hypothesis, but confirmatory real-world data is very hard to come by, particularly of the catastrophic kind.

So they do the same thing cellphonists have done: promote the hypothesis itself to confirmatory fact.

(Full disclosure: I have talked on a hand held cellphone while driving. Didn't like it; compensated by adopting greater following distance, and not changing lanes because I couldn't use the turn signal. Because of that, I recently added hands-free capability to one of our cars; the other already had it. This, despite using the phone all told about 10 minutes a month. I think "studies" "showing" using hands-free cell phones adds the same risk of a regular cell phone are a steaming load of dreck.)

Just to stir the pot, another good example is the perennial war between chiropractors and the medical profession ...

I don't know many people who use chiropractors, but the ones I do know are satisfied with their outcomes.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

BTW, I have an excuse for having a posting time stamp at an apparently ungodly hour: I am 11 time zones away from home.

What's yours?

erp said...

Take it from whence it comes was a saying I used to hear all the time when I was a kid. It makes a lot of sense. Warmenists like the fear mongers before them like the ice age returnists, the imminent global faminists, depletion of mineral resourcists, etc. have a very bad track record.

A lot of states have laws against using hand held cell phones while driving. I'm not on the road that much, but I think I've noticed that there aren't as many people with a cell phone in their hands as previously.

As for talking on a hands free phone. How is that different from talking to people inside the car with the driver?

Peter Burnet said...

I'm 2-3 hours ahead of Bret's time stamps. Besides, you have to get up early to fight for truth and justice in the blogosphere.

Sure, critique the study all you want, but I still don't see how your critique adds up to anything more than a charge of bad science. If you were a chemistry teacher and a student skipped an important step in an experiment or failed to distinguish between causation and correlation, would you accuse him of being religious?

It is intuitively obvious that cellphone usage while driving is riskier than leaving the thing on the hook.

If that is so, why do we even need to look to science before deciding whether to restrict or ban it? If I am vexed or endangered by young teens crossing lanes or losing a sense of other traffic on a fairly frequent basis and my friends have similar experiences, what do I care about national accident stats or what may be the prevailing wisdom in Arizona?

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Sure, critique the study all you want, but I still don't see how your critique adds up to anything more than a charge of bad science.

To avoid skewing by perception, how about I used the term "rational inquiry" in the place of "science".

What these studies do is not bad rational inquiry, it isn't rational inquiry at all. What chemistry students do is follow a process to confirm a hypothesized result. (Hypothesis: adding salt causes freezing point depression. Experiment: add known quantities of salt to distilled water, and measure temperature at freezing. Confirmation: does the freezing point change?) These "studies" stop at step at somewhere around step one and a half. They make observations that they define as driving behavior while on a cell phone that increases risk.

Fine.

But unless the accident rate actually increases as a result -- this requires the confirmation step -- then they have concluded from intuition, not reality.

It is that belief in intuition alone that makes it, in essence, religious. Put another way, what possible combination of facts would it take to contradict the "studies"? What possible combination of facts would it take to contradict Hinduism? How about The Church of Catastrophic Warming?

Since the answer to each is none, then why are they not all essentially religious in nature?

If [It is intuitively obvious that cellphone usage while driving is riskier than leaving the thing on the hook] is so, why do we even need to look to science before deciding whether to restrict or ban it?

Because what is intuitively obvious is not always true, for starters.

Second, and, as a lawyer, I would have thought you might suss this yourself: Passing a plethora of laws against any act of marginal impact leads to loss of respect for law itself. I'd guess that soft drink consumption causes more harm than cell phone usage in cars. Presuming that is so, banning the latter would certainly demand banning the former. Particularly when the ban is nearly unenforceable.

Finally, I should note that I don't disagree with the assertion that cellphone usage (excluding hands free, which, as erp notes, is hard to intuitively separate from any conversation in a car) causes an increased accident risk.

What I find appalling is that it isn't that hard to work through the process of rational inquiry to determine what the accident rate should be in the absence of cell phones, and compare to what it is.

No study I have heard of has done that.

Harry Eagar said...

'On the other hand, from what I've studied, this historical data is extremely suspect and not particularly relevant.'

Yes.

One way to reduce the suspicion would be to use those proxies today to determine temperature today.

That this isn't done tells bundles about the mindset of the alarmists.

The arguments of the anti-warmers are often no better, though. 'Mars is warming, too' cuts little ice, so to speak, with me.

What puzzles me is why so many well-informed people fall for it. Perhaps it is an example of reinfication: Obviously, carbon dioxide can trap heat and re-radiate it at a different frequency, which, in our atmosphere, would be trapped.

Ergo, add carbon dioxide and raise temperature.

Aside from the fact that historical experience demonstrates that this has not been so (at least not in a simple, linear fashion), it assumes nothing else is going on.

That's a really bizarre assumption because all experimental scientists are trained to always assume that something else is going on.

Wny are these men and women forgetting that in this case?

Bret said...

Peter Burnet wrote: "I'm not in a position to challenge the methodological underpinnings or baseline physical findings ... even you would be hard-pressed to build a model that competes with the IPCC for faithfulness to the scientific method ... a layman opposing their wild calls for action is by definition behind the eight ball ... a layman is in a much better position to challenge the findings of expert studies [about driving] ..."

By making the above statements, I think you're in their trap. The science is far more straightforward than you seem to think. It's just a bunch of molecules with energy bouncing around those molecules and there's one energy source (the sun) and one ultimate energy sink (space). That's it. There's nothing more.

What the scientists have done is to try and make the science sound impossibly difficult to understand for everybody but themselves.

You seem to believe them.

Human behavioural studies (such as the impact of cell-phone usage on accident rates) is just as hard.

Peter Burnet said...

The science is far more straightforward than you seem to think. It's just a bunch of molecules with energy bouncing around those molecules and there's one energy source (the sun) and one ultimate energy sink (space). That's it. There's nothing more.

If it is all so simple, why is one of the main objections of the skeptics that climate and weather are far more complex, chaotic and difficult to predict and measure than the establishment says? Perhaps the kind of simplicity you see is revealed only to those who have invested the time and grey matter necessary to fight through the underlying complexities. Nobody is keener to battle politically correct scientism than I, and I'm grateful for guys like you, AOG and Skipper to lead the battle, but I simply don't see the average citizen challenging the arguments from authority that flood us daily by arguing that his/her viewpoint is every bit as authoritative scientifically. We're not trapped, Bret, we're busy.

Bret said...

Peter Burnet wrote: "If it is all so simple, why is one of the main objections of the skeptics that climate and weather are far more complex, chaotic and difficult to predict and measure than the establishment says?"

The science is simple.

On the other hand, prediction is impossible because there are approximately 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 molecules in the atmosphere alone, and yeah, you can treat each few quintillion molecules as more or less a group, but the models' resolutions are many orders of magnitude lower than that. Basically, computers are no where near fast enough to support any sort of accurate modeling.

So it's simple, yet complex! I once had a wine like that!

It's so simple that virtually anyone can understand the basic science.

It's so complex that no one, no matter how brilliant, can accurately model it and predict the temperature change over the next 100 years.

The scientist try to tell you otherwise, but they're spouting BS. They're suffering from a version of Hayek's Fatal Conceit.

Harry Eagar said...

But if, as the solar scientists up the road think, it's a matter of orbital geometry, then that could be calculated easily -- if our measurements were subtle enough to identify the perturbations. Which they're not.

There is another way in, though, and it's the one I use.

25 years ago, when I first heard the alarm my first thought was, yes, obviously, and why didn't I realize that?

But my second thought, as soon as I read claims that the globe was X degrees warmer than it had been 100 years ago, was, how do they know how warm the globe was 100 years ago?

Since I have read a lot about exploration and maritime matters, I knew that nobody had been taking the globe's temperature in any except a tiny fraction of it back then.

They were claiming to have knowledge they couldn't possibly have, and I wrote them off.

Argument for lack of authority, I suppose.

Bret said...

"But if, as the solar scientists up the road think, it's a matter of orbital geometry, then that could be calculated easily."

That's no longer needed. We've had for a few decades satellites that measure incoming radiation, outgoing radiation, temperatures from the surface to outer space and a whole lot more. If there's a perturbation in the orbit, we'll detect an increase is incoming radiation.

Some of the warmenists are starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. Not from the heat, mind you, but from the fact that those measurements aren't fitting their models so well.

Peter Burnet said...

Bret, I think you may have found a new slogan for us skeptics:

"Climatology--So Simple Anybody Can See It's Too Complicated To Predict Anything"

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

If it is all so simple, why is one of the main objections of the skeptics that climate and weather are far more complex, chaotic and difficult to predict and measure than the establishment says?

It is time to put in a few words for the warmenists.

If global warming was about nothing more than the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, not even Chicken Little would find anything to worry about.

However, if the atmosphere gets a little warmer, then there will be, through evaporation, more water in the atmosphere. Water vapor is by far the most important GHG. Also, less of the earth's surface will be covered by snow more of the time, decreasing albedo.

So adherents of the COCW believe that the increase in CO2 contains positive feedback amplifying the original change.

It is at this point where things get complex, because climatologists of whatever stripe are trying to find the climate signal embedded in a whole lot of weather noise. To do that requires a bunch of complex statistics. It also requires models to predict the interactions between each of the elements of climate at a granularity small enough to be useful, yet not so small as to swamp the computers doing the work.

The modelers believe they understand the physics and interactions well enough to conclusively demonstrate future warming.

Strictly speaking, that is true; that is, IF the models sufficiently encompass the climate system, then their predictions are likely to be correct.

There are several reasons I remain skeptical.

First and foremost, I deeply want the climate models to wildly exaggerate CO2 induced warming. Why? Because if they are right, then we must end modern civilization as we know it, in ways that most people will not agree to. That in turn leads to one of two Real Bad outcomes: climate does the work for us; or, dictatorial government gets there before climate does.

That is the Hobbes choice the UN, Gore, et al present to us. Since I don't like that choice, I reject the premise.

Second, I track record of models far less complex than GCMs is not particularly encouraging. For instance, in the 1960s (IIRC) aerodynamic engineers proved bumble bees can't fly. Their understanding of mass, power, drag, wing area, etc were far better than what climate modelers can claim. Yet despite that, their models ran head on into bees flying nonetheless.

As it happened, the engineers precise knowledge of physics did not lead them to some elemental physics of bee flight: their models depended upon laminar air flow, but bees don't.

If models for very simple things are wrong, why should a climate model be right?

Third, as Harry mentioned, our detailed notion of global temperatures doesn't go very far back. I have heard COCW adherents insist that instrumented records go back 150 years.

Rubbish.

Even a century ago, what is most glaring is how little of the Earth had reliable temperature records. Using the word "reliable" advisedly, of course.

To put an end to this word wall, SFAIK, the more detailed and consistent the temperature measurements, the less warming there is to be seen.

Since the COCW is, like communism was, a materialist religion, it makes material assertions.

I think most of those assertions will be in for an increasingly rough ride from reality.

Bret said...

"Because if they are right, then we must end modern civilization as we know it....

I strongly disagree. Civilization simply needs to move north at about 100 miles per decade. Siberia, Northern Canada, and Greenland becoming garden spots won't be a bad thing.

Hey Skipper also wrote: "Strictly speaking, that is true; that is, IF the models sufficiently encompass the climate system, then their predictions are likely to be correct."

What's guaranteed is that nobody can prove that the models sufficiently encompass the climate system. So we just have to believe them.

Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

Civilization simply needs to move north at about 100 miles per decade. Siberia, Northern Canada, and Greenland becoming garden spots won't be a bad thing.

Distilled, that sentence says "Let the Devil take the hindmost."

IF climate models are correct, then there will be parts of the world where lots of people live that will become a lot less friendly towards human habitation. For them, moving a 100 miles north every decade simply isn't an option.

That is why I say it is a Hobbes choice. Those who aren't the hindmost will, by and large, not voluntarily reduce their energy consumption to 19th century levels.

Which means, IF climate models are right, the only alternative is a massive involuntary loss of freedom.

Acolytes of the COCW are astonishingly silent on the consequences of their beliefs.

What's guaranteed is that nobody can prove that the models sufficiently encompass the climate system.

That's not true. It is possible that a climate model could have sufficient resolution and treat all the relevant aspects well enough so that it will predict climate, and we will be able to verify that through observation.

I bet that within 5 years, 10 at the most, the COCW will either on the same ash heap of history as communism, or it will be vindicated in all its glory.

My bet is on the former.

Bret said...

"Distilled, that sentence says "Let the Devil take the hindmost.""

No. It doesn't. Humans move a lot. Rich humans like Americans move every few years. Many poor humans are nomadic anyway (hunters/gatherers/slash-and-burn-agriculture). Indeed, poor humans have little to lose from moving.

People move all of the time and it's no big deal over the decades and centuries we're talking about. My ancestors moved from eastern Europe to North America with pretty much nothing but the shirts on their backs. And transportation is much better now.

Peter Burnet said...

OK, Bret, but Skipper and I insist you be the one to tell erp she has to move to Northern Canada.

Hey Skipper said...

My ancestors moved from eastern Europe to North America ...

What percentage of eastern Europeans moved, 2% or 100%?

erp said...

Peter, Not to worry. I plan to take the blue pill as soon as it's available. You can't imagine what a relief it'll be to only see blue skies and then slowly slip into oblivion.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper asks: "What percentage of eastern Europeans moved, 2% or 100%?"

In the case of my ancestors, it was often the entire village that would be abandoned. While obviously a caricature, the movie Fiddler on the Roof sorta coulda almost been a documentary for my ancestors.

I'm not sure what the percentage has to do with anything. It's not like they'll generally all be forced to move at the same time. 0.05 degrees per year and 5 mm increase in ocean height won't like cause the evacuation of, say, Bangladesh overnight.

Harry Eagar said...

Historically, the response has been less to move than to die in place.

Over long periods you could imagine the spruce forests of Canada being replaced by wheat, but in a human lifetime, if you had to leave your farm for a more northerly farm, there'd already be a farmer farming it, and he would resist.

Peter Burnet said...

You bet we'd resist. If you think we've forgotten about when we were driven up to this godforsaken blight of tundra and granite with tar and feathers in our hair while you kept all those fertile, rolling green hills, we haven't. And now you think it would just be downright neighbourly of us to make room for you all because you're getting a tad warm? In your dreams.

What goes around comes around.

erp said...

But you'd be toast just like the Indians.

Harry Eagar said...

Here is an example of a non-simple mechanism for a global climate driver.

Bret said...

Harry,

That's a good point. I should've been more restrictive in what I wrote. It's not that all possible physics, chemistry, and other science that might possibly be associated with climate is simple. Rather, it's specifically the physics associated with green house warming from human CO2 emissions that is simple. If it doesn't have anything to do with CO2 green house warming, it might be more complicated.

Harry Eagar said...

I took your original point, and it's a good one. But, oddly, the warmers both overcomplexify and oversimplify at the same time.

Even on the terms of the warmers, their obsession with carbon dioxide is weird.

Although the discussion is really about greenhouse gas equivalents, the equivalents are totally ignored in, eg, cap and trade.

Water vapor makes about six-sevenths of GHG. Carbon dioxide one-fourteenth, and other molecules (like methane) one-fourteenth.

Therefore, ameliorations that deal only with carbon dioxide will necessarily be, at best, half as effective as ameliorations that deal with non-water GHG.

Where is the urgency?

I am sometimes (including by my boss) taken to task for calling alarmism a hoax, but considering the sophistication of the people shopping this idea, it's hard to come to any other conclusion.

Besides, I have gotten climate alarmists to admit that they are pushing remedies despite order of magnitude uncertainties in the data because "it's something (cleaning up the environment) we should be doing anyway."

I support a clean environment. I don't support con artists.

David said...

To get back to Peter's point, the "hockey stick" is a good example of the problem. I've tried to understand the controversy and come to my own conclusions, and I'm pretty good at statistics, but I have to just throw up my hands. The math is beyond me, and (tellingly) the proponents of the hockey stick won't release enough information to allow the critics to rerun their calculations. But, in the end of the day, I have to decide based on other factors whether to accept the hockey stick and, thus, except that the last 20 years have been the warmest in the past thousand.

Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

I'm not sure what the percentage has to do with anything. It's not like they'll generally all be forced to move at the same time. 0.05 degrees per year and 5 mm increase in ocean height won't like cause the evacuation of, say, Bangladesh overnight.

I should have made more clear that I was reciting COCW liturgy, not something I personally find persuasive.

Of course, Bangladesh will never have to evacuate, nor will the Maldives. As a flood plain on one hand, and coral on the other, both will naturally adapt to sea level changes.

Bret said...

David wrote: "I'm pretty good at statistics, but I have to just throw up my hands."

They've bamboozled you to. It's simply not true that if a scientist is super-ultra-brilliant with math and statistics that there suddenly is a statistical solution to the overall assessment of the impact of green-house-gasses on the climate.

There is no statistical solution at the level the modelers are going for.

In 30 years, supercomputers may be so fast that there may be a numerical solution.