Some thoughts, or not

I haven’t really had a chance, or much desire, to write anything for the last few days. My previous post took a fair amount of effort, I’ve been rather busy with other things, and although there have been some interesting developments in the climate debate, it all seems so polarising that it’s hard to know what to say that wouldn’t just simply add to that.

Roger Pielke Jr’s recent 538 article, has been both heavily criticised and defended. I will admit that I’ve found some of the defense arguments a little weak. Many seem to accept that Roger doesn’t always get things right, but seem to be suggesting that the criticisms are “attacks” and hence are unjustified. There may be some merit to that, but surely one can still address the criticisms even if those being critical are being more robust than maybe they should be. I might also be more sympathetic if Roger himself was a little more careful in how he chose to criticise those with whom he disagrees. Suggesting that the science advisor to the US President is presenting “Zombie Science” doesn’t seem particularly restrained.

One of the reasons I wrote my previous post about emergent trends in Tropical Cyclone loss data was to try and illustrate that this whole topic is much more nuanced than maybe some are willing to admit, or realise. It’s not a black and white issue, and there are many shades of grey. In some sense, that’s the whole point of uncertainties. The make it difficult to say anything absolutely definitive. That doesn’t, it seems, appear to stop some for doing exactly that though. I was therefore somewhat dissapointed that Roger chose to quote-mine a single sentence from my post to make it seem that I was suggesting that he was right

To be clear, I wasn’t trying to suggest that he was either right or wrong. I was trying to suggest that it’s not quite that simple.

We’ve also had Bob Ward pointing out errors in some of Richard Tol’s work. I’m certainly aware of at least one error. I also think that pointing out that the result in Tol (2009) is strongly dependent on one study (Tol’s own 2002 work) is relevant. It doesn’t mean that there is necessarily an issue with Tol (2002), but understanding the impact of outliers is a perfectly reasonable and sensible thing to do. However, even the discussion about this hasn’t gone particularly well.

The controversy over Richard Tol’s work and the recent announcement that he wasn’t willing to sign the WGII SPM because it was “too alarmist” has, however, meant that Tol has been quite heavily represented in the media recently. This article makes some interesting points about whether or not we (the audience) have benefited from the recent media coverage of climate change (hint : not really). One advantage, though, is that it appears that Tol has been too busy doing media interviews to comment here; a good thing as I’ve used up my tolerance for accusations of promoting totalitarianism for this month.

Essentially I’m once again disappointed that it seems that serious discussions about these topics are largely impossible. I can understand why some want to defend their work against criticism, but that doesn’t necessarily justifying doing so. It’s a perfectly natural response, but academically we should be willing to discuss these issues, acknowledge errors, and accept uncertainties. It may well be true that some of the criticisms are sufficiently vitriolic that it’s best to simply avoid engaging with those people. But that’s not universally true and there must be a way to respond that doesn’t involve it all turning into a tit-for-tat type of exchange.

Anyway, those are some thoughts, for what it’s worth. If anyone has any thoughts, feel free to share them below, but let’s try and keep it light and thoughtful. I know people have strong views, and I certainly share some of the frustrations, but let’s try and express them in ways that are acceptable to most and that minimise the need for any kind of moderation.

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128 Responses to Some thoughts, or not

  1. Rachel says:

    There’s barely a need for moderation anymore as everyone seems to be doing their own moderating. 🙂

  2. Yes, I noticed that, but they probably need to be continually reminded or else they might forget 🙂

  3. Bwana_Mrefu says:

    It is becoming very polarized. I am particularly depressed as to how WG2 is being spun. Witness this article in The Speccy, which of course is also on the GWPF webpage:

    http://www.thegwpf.org/matt-ridley-the-ipcc-just-agreed-with-nigel-lawson/

    Apparently, the IPCC agree with Lord Lawson. Who’d have thunk it, eh? How can anyone say this with a straight face? I am afraid that instead of engaging in a conversation, it’s all about who can shout loudest or score the most cheap points.
    And on that last issue can I suggest that if there is an El Niño event in the next year, then maybe The GWPF should think about changing their logo. 🙂

  4. Bwana_Mrefu,
    I agree that it has become very polarised. I haven’t read the article, but did see a tweet from Matt Ridley pointing this out. It does seem to be about point scoring and is disappointing. I don’t see how “see, we’re right” type of rhetoric promotes better dialogue. It doesn’t, I guess, which makes me think that that may essentially be the point. It’s seems to be an attempt to control the narrative.

  5. OPatrick says:

    For all my frustrations with the over-representation of Tol, and his stunt, and others like hiim, what I find even more depressing is the speed at which the issue has dropped off the media’s radar. There seemed to be a genuine sense of ah-this-really-is-a-problemness, but less than a week later I can’t think that I’ve heard a mention of it again in the news for two or three days now.

  6. OPatrick,
    Indeed and I suspect that’s because the main reason for focusing on Tol (for example) is that it was controversial, not because it presented some kind of balanced view of the overall position. Once the controversy been milked, the media moves on. That’s essentially – I think – the argument being made in the article that I linked to in the post.

  7. John says:

    I’m fairly new to following this issue, ashamed to say, but I’ve noticed a couple things as I’ve gone back through the Internet Time Machine to get caught up on the proceedings. It seems the skeptics used to deny there was warming (they blamed Urban Heat Island); then they grudgingly admitted there was warming, but it wasn’t caused by humans; then they grudgingly admitted that there was warming, and that humans were causing a LITTLE of it, but it was insignificant, and would probably be good (LOL). Most popular skeptics nowadays recognize AGW is real, they just believe that negative feedbacks are cancelling it out, mainly clouds. And the closer they get to the full truth, the louder and more vitriolic they get about their opposition. I suspect this is a sign that they know they are losing. No one who is right loses their composure as much as the skeptics do. They are [Mod : redacted], and I suspect they will become even more so as time goes on, and the evidence stacks against them.

    Thanks for a great blog – I’ve really enjoyed the discourse here.

  8. John,
    I’ve slightly moderated your comment as I’m trying to keep things civil (it wasn’t that bad, but I’m trying to be even-handed). Broadly speaking, that’s probably a fair assessment of how things have progressed. I haven’t been involved in this debate for very long myself, and am continually surprised by how the narrative does seem to have changed. It certainly seems now as if the current message being sent by some is that AGW is real, is a risk, but that adaptation is the best/only option. It clearly has to play some role but it’s remarkable that people who largely turned out to be wrong (about the basic science at least) are still trying to control the dialogue and yet complain about the lack of dialogue at the same time. It’s almost as if they’re saying “we must talk about climate change, but it’s stupid to consider any form of mitigation”.

  9. Magma says:

    “It’s a perfectly natural response, but academically we should be willing to discuss these issues, acknowledge errors, and accept uncertainties.”

    In a normal academic or research environment this wouldn’t even be a question. It does become problematic when those on one side of a ‘debate’ are held (and hold themselves) to a generally rigorous standard of accuracy and verifiability and those on the other side are not. The asymmetry is just as stark when it comes to the past: statements made by particular researchers years and even decades previously are closely parsed for remarks that can be taken (in or out of context) and used against them, whereas the other side has a kind of mental eraser that magically removes false, misleading, contradictory or just plain idiotic statements from the record as if they had never existed.

    Crudely put, “bullsh*t beats brains,” at least temporarily. Although it doesn’t come easy to many, scientists need to be cautious and painstaking in their research and open to all forms of legitimate criticism, but aggressive and even combative when that criticism is malicious and designed to obscure rather than enlighten.

    If the reaction from the denialsphere can be taken as a guide, the rage directed at Michael Mann and James Hansen suggests that this two-pronged approach is an effective strategy.

  10. AnOilMan says:

    Magma… they are intentionally sewing the seeds of FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt). If the population begins to trust the science, then its all over for oil and gas.

    That also explains the techniques of argument being used. Invent garbage, squawk and act indignant all over the place, fill the web with garbage, and make it look like there is some sort of argument occurring. Anyone tuning in half way is just seeing the middle half of Monty Python’s Argument Sketch, and may even think its a real argument.

    John… having gone through those ‘dabates’ myself, I have to say that it felt bit different. Its like in a very very amazingly short time frame they all on mass change their minds. And I was debating in the States and in strictly local forums. Yet none of them can explain why they changed their minds. It just happened. This leaves you to question whether some ‘deus ex machina’ was involved in their behavior change. Clearly the thinking and mode of argument had not changed nor had their understanding of the science involved.

  11. AOM,

    Yet none of them can explain why they changed their minds. It just happened.

    And there’s this attempt (quite successful) to assert that it’s all consistent. We’ve now got various people going on about adaptation and how it’s what they’ve always being saying and that they’re now being proven right.

  12. BBD says:

    Anything rather than actually deal with the problem by reducing CO2 emissions…

  13. Paul S says:

    Patrick Michaels gave a talk at Heartland in 2008 which I think captures the zeitgeist of the “skeptic” shift. A few relevant highlights:

    ‘Make an argument that you can get killed on [global warming has stopped, there hasn’t been any warming] and you will kill us all.’

    ‘If you lose credibility on this issue you lose the issue.’

    ‘What’s happened, and this is why this argument is so very, very dangerous, is that the solar activity and the El Niño, and the La Niña we’re in now, have conspired to add up to produce very little temperature change in the last few years. What’s going to happen is, one of these years that’s going to turn around. And if you make that argument now [that global warming has stopped] you’re going to have a very very difficult time defending the future.’

    Of course the reality is that the “global warming has stopped” and “historical warming faked through adjustments” stories have continued, but now under the guise of “just asking questions”.

  14. ATTP: “… and the recent announcement that he [Tol] wasn’t willing to sign the WGII SPM because it was `too alarmist’…”

    This despite the fact he apparently made that decision last Autumn. But he waits to accounce it and do all this media stuff until the report actually comes out? Doesn’t anyone else find that just a little hard to stomach? To me it looks clearly timed to cause as much damage to the IPCC as possible – in much the same way all that `climategate’ gibberish was timed for Copenhagen – not leaving long enough for the dust to settle, just triggering the flying monkeys long enough to distract the media from the central message of WGII.

    Or the simpler explanation being Tol timed when he knew he’d attract the most attention to himself.

    Well: there’s clearly still a role for open discussion but the more I see, the more it seems important to work on building solid channels of communication between people who’ve been proven to be acting in good faith and that one can trust.

    I’ve been in enough meetings where one person has consistently derailed the process – that’s all it ever took, just that one person repeatedly throwing a hissy fit and the whole thing would cease to function effectively. It’s easy to throw a spanner in the works. We have to work on tools that allow us to avoid that happening.

  15. Dan,
    Indeed, all rather odd, and he has a book to sell.

  16. Magma says:

    Paul S’s transcript of Patrick Michaels’ talk is accurate. Off-topic, the Heartland Institute’s actual interest in the science of climate change is demonstrated by the way the camera follows the speaker throughout the presentation and never shows the slides he is describing.

    But last year (if not earlier) Michaels dropped the caution and went for broke.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/17/global-warming-apocalypse-canceled/

  17. BBD says:

    Dan Olner

    Doesn’t anyone else find that just a little hard to stomach?

    Yes.

  18. BBD says:

    More Tol misrepresentations and errors discussed here.

  19. Marlowe Johnson says:

    maybe it’s just me, but why is richard tol — who is an ECONOMIST — given any air time on WG II which deals with impacts and adaptation?

  20. AnOilMan says:

    I find all their activity offensive, and sleazy in the extreme. And worse, they are preying on people who don’t know better. That is the purpose of their disinformation campaign.

    What does that say about their morals and ethics? The stuff they aren’t saying is that they believe it is OK if millions suffer and die, and we bring war and famine to the world. All in the name of profit.

    On one hand many people really don’t care about that kind of stuff. But Climate Change brings this to a whole new level.

    I’m no green, and I’m no enviro… but I still want to leave a better place for my children.

  21. BBD says:

    I should thank Marco for posting that up at Stoat and Hot Whopper btw. Information may want to be free, but someone has to post the links 😉

  22. Marlowe,
    As I understand it WGII does include chapters about the economic impact of climate change, so it is quite reasonable for Tol to be expressing his views. Whether his views should get more airtime than the roughly 70 others who worked on his chapter is probably the question that one should be asking.

  23. BBD says:

    Marlowe

    Because it all costs money, I presume, so economists get to play too.

    AnOilMan

    I’m slowly coming to think that the Tols and Lawsons and Lewises of this world are so convinced of their fundamental rightness that they don’t really trouble themselves about the problems with their own analyses. They aren’t (as they see it) engaged in misrepresentation as such. They are simply doing what they have to do to get the message across. Their message, based on their very strong beliefs, starting with self-belief.

  24. BBD says:

    ATTP

    Whether his views should get more airtime than the roughly 70 others who worked on his chapter is probably the question that one should be asking.

    Yup. And once again, we are treated to the sight of the contrarians directing the conversation.

  25. Rachel says:

    We have to hand it to Richard Tol. He’s clever. He timed it well and he created controversy at exactly the right moment which is exactly what the media wanted. He’s also got strange hair. Maybe that helps. 🙂

  26. BBD says:

    This is purely my own speculation, but perhaps the hair and beard are a good disguise? People think ‘leftie academic hairball’ so why is he saying all this stuff? Perhaps there’s something in it? After all, he doesn’t look the sort to be pooh-poohing all the other leftie academic beards’ doom and gloom about climate change…

  27. BBD says:

    Alternatively, RT may simply believe that he looks cool. This would tie in with my earlier remarks about unusually powerful self-belief and the unfortunate effects that can have on one’s powers of judgement, professionally and sartorially.

  28. Marlowe Johnson says:

    ATTP,

    my question of course was tongue in cheek but highlights a basic problem with the setup of the 3 working groups. if i had my way WG 2 would strictly focus on physical impacts and WG 3 would focus on economic issues including adaptation as well as mitigation.

  29. Marlowe,
    Yes, I should have worked that out 🙂

  30. Tol is one of the two coordinating lead authors of WG2 Chapter 10 Key Economic Sectors and Services. I have got the impression that he would have preferred some other part of the AR5, perhaps something in WG3, but I have no confirmation for this.

    WG3 is only about mitigation, while all economic impacts belong to WG2. I find this division problematic as WG2 discusses also proactive adaptation, and in my view proactive adaptation and mitigation should be discussed together.

  31. Marlowe Johnson says:

    BBD,

    I think he saw Encino man and simply decided that was going to be his ‘look’ 😉

  32. Steve Bloom says:

    Based on the past performance of both Tol and the media, I think the people who appointed him knew exactly what they were going to get. The alternative was to have him engaged in the same behavior over a more extended period of time, perhaps doing even more damage. I would suggest that were other possible approaches involving taking the gloves off in various ways, but academics seem to dislike that sort of thing. People talk all the time, as above, about media culture being a problem relative to the needed strong action on climate, but is academic culture even more of one? When it comes to the likes of Tol, studying the fish without considering the sea it swims in is necessarily going to lead to a defective understanding.

  33. “why is richard tol — who is an ECONOMIST — given any air time on WG II which deals with impacts and adaptation?”

    Given that Tol is one of the top economists in the world and happens to have been working on exactly this stuff for decades, he’s one of the most obvious people to ask about such things.

    “He timed it well and he created controversy at exactly the right moment which is exactly what the media wanted.”

    As far as I can tell, it is the media that created the controversy (specifically the BBC in this case, IIRC) and Tol didn’t make any announcement.

    “I’m slowly coming to think that the Tols and Lawsons and Lewises of this world are so convinced of their fundamental rightness that they don’t really trouble themselves about the problems with their own analyses.”

    Lawson and Lewis maybe but comments like this suggest you haven’t actually read any of Tol’s work. For example this from his Climate Economics book:

    “An individual researcher must develop the understanding that her world views are not self-evidently true, probably not shared by everyone else and perhaps even repugnant to some. For a policy maker seeking advice, it is important to seek input from a number of experts with different perspectives.”

    I think if people spent less time trying to prove Tol wrong and more time trying to understand what he is saying, or asking what he thinks should be done (hint: he argues for a carbon tax) that would be a big improvement.

    I for one am glad Tol does work on this stuff. Climate change is not an easy problem, to say the least, and the more intellectual horsepower brought to bear on it the better.

    Especially lately I wouldn’t be surprised if he often wonders why he bothers.

  34. Steve Bloom says:

    “Given that Tol is one of the top economists in the world and happens to have been working on exactly this stuff for decades.” No on both counts. He is by no measure “top” and is still fairly young. Why overstate his credentials?

    You can try to focus the blame on the media for stirring things up, but Tol has a long history of being happy to attack colleagues in public. They certainly knew who to call, but he could have declined comment and did not. Google is your friend re that history.

  35. jsam says:

    One can only imagine the disappointment his colleagues on the IPCC must feel over Tol’s resignation. If ever a moment called for champagne that must have been it.

  36. BBD says:

    Frank

    Richard Tol has exhibited bad faith in exchanges with me. He has done it with other commenters here and elsewhere. He has severely damaged his credibility by doing so. That’s all I can say.

  37. Steve Bloom says:

    Careful with that methodology, Frank. Just for starters, why all the missing names? See, if you want to have any credibility you need to engage in a little due diligence before putting forward something like this as evidence. If others have to do it for you, they’ll assume you’re just making stuff up.

  38. Steve Bloom says:

    I should clarify I meant names missing from the top of the list, in particular relative to Tol, although some may well be missing entirely. But among people doing work similar to Tol, note Nordhaus at 188 and Stern at 629! Both are much senior to him and have many professional awards.

    I idly checked a couple other names and noted Janet Yellen at 858. I rest my case.

  39. Rachel says:

    I’d have thought that if you want to know whether someone is a top performer in their field then you probably need to ask other top performers in that field. How does that RePEc ranking work? If it’s based on citations alone then this probably isn’t that accurate on its own. Other indicators might be where they work (and I note that UofSussex isn’t top for economics), awards they’ve won, invitations to speak at conferences maybe and there’s probably lots more.

  40. AnOilMan says:

    BBD I actually worked with an incompetent engineer once.

    He did seem to believe he was an effective problem solver. But he never located root causes, he simply stopped looking when he located the symptom of a problem, and then band aided the symptom. Imagine a car missing its muffler so to keep the noise down he’d wrap the entire car in duct tape. Now it’s not noisy.

    He was eventually turfed, and that was because his work was starting to hold up a multibillion dollar project and everyone from the CEO down was taking notice. Once he was turfed, it only took a month for those of us who did know how to solve problems to replace all of his work.

    These kinds of people can cause incredible damage for everyone’s reputations and livelihoods, and they can seriously set back efforts to understand and solve problems.

    The thing is how these people can land jobs. Obviously bad hires happen at all levels in all organizations. Most people don’t understand how that can happen, but it does happen. And quacks strut about walk about and spin a tale that everyone else accepts until it’s too late. Then management has to grow a spine (very rare) and deal with the situation.

  41. Steve,

    “if you want to have any credibility you need to engage in a little due diligence before putting forward something like this as evidence. If others have to do it for you, they’ll assume you’re just making stuff up.”

    You said ‘he is by no measure top’. I produce an actual measure which would seem to indicate that he is in fact among the top economists. Given that this would appear to be a complete rebuttal of your statement (based on what words mean), I admire your chutzpah to raise issues such as due diligence and making stuff up in your response.

    “among people doing work similar to Tol, note Nordhaus at 188 and Stern at 629!”

    So what. The fact that he’s on the list at all, and in such company, is enough to make the point and it certainly answers Marlowe’s surprise at his being involved. It’s not like the IPCC invited Bjorn Borg or Marie Osmond to give their opinion on climate change impacts.

    I’ll note also that Nordhaus and Stern consider Tol good enough to cite, and Nordhaus thinks he has important stuff to say. (e.g. “There is an important difference here among these many potentially catastrophic outcomes in the potential for learning. (Richard Tol and Gary Yohe have made this general point in an important article.14) ” – AN ANALYSIS OF THE DISMAL THEOREM William D. Nordhaus January 2009).

    Since you at least concede these as experts, maybe they know something you don’t?

  42. AnOilMan says:

    Frank O’Dwyer: If Tol is reversing numbers in his citations. He is not credible. At all. That speaks volumes about the measurement system you used. (Its not useful or accurate.) Perhaps Tol does have something useful to say, but frankly, I find his work wanting.

  43. BBD says:

    Dan

    We can see that there are errors in Tol’s work. We can see that he is affiliated with partisan organisations like De Groene Rekenkamer and the GWPF. We can see bad faith in his online exchanges. For many commenters here, that’s enough to raise eyebrows and diminish trust.

  44. Steve Bloom says:

    Maybe I know something you don’t, Frank, since I did a little due diligence on that source before commenting.

    If you look carefully, you’ll see that Tol managed that ranking by publishing a high volume of papers with lots of-co-authors and by being controversial enough to get them (the abstracts anyway) looked at. The last week will have enhanced his ranking nicely. But it’s not “top” in any qualitative sense.

    A quote from Nordhaus about Tol’s body of work would have rather more value.

    I would suggest that Tol’s relative prominence has more to do with the minuscule size of his field than anything else.

  45. “A quote from Nordhaus about Tol’s body of work would have rather more value.”

    You mean if Nordhaus were to refer to Tol as “the leading scholar in this field”?

    Something like that, maybe?

    ” The question here is whether emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases will cause net damages, now and in the future. This question has been studied extensively. The most recent thorough survey by the leading scholar in this field, Richard Tol, finds a wide range of damages, particularly if warming is greater than 2 degrees Centigrade.”

    – William Nordhaus.

  46. BBD,

    “We can see that there are errors in Tol’s work. We can see that he is affiliated with partisan organisations like De Groene Rekenkamer and the GWPF. We can see bad faith in his online exchanges. For many commenters here, that’s enough to raise eyebrows and diminish trust..”

    A raised eyebrow is never much of an argument. Can you point to any credible source that says Tol’s work is batshit crazy and he has the headline results backwards? I don’t think you can.

    I don’t see bad faith in his online exchanges. I see a lot of cryptic comments and a lot of people being wound up. All of which is entirely irrelevant to whether he’s right or not anyway.

    As for the rest, it is straight out of the WUWT and BH playbook.

    “We can see that there are errors in the IPCC’s work. We can see that they are affiliated with partisan organisations like WWF and Greenpeace…..”….therefore space aliens.

  47. dana1981 says:

    “I will admit that I’ve found some of the defense arguments a little weak.”

    I think you’re being rather generous there ATTP.

    It’s worth categorizing the criticisms of 538/Pielke. There were some who basically attacked 538 for hiring Pielke at all, characterizing him as a ‘skeptic’ or what have you. Frankly I think those criticisms have some validity, but they weren’t substantive criticisms of his 538 posts. Then there were the substantive criticisms of his post, for example by Emanuel (on 538) and by myself.
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/mar/25/fivethirtyeight-misrepresents-climate-change-research

    Frankly hardly anyone has even attempted to respond to the latter. Pielke emailed my editor claiming I had made various errors – my editor looked carefully at each criticism and found that in every case Pielke was either wrong or was engaging in bait and switch rather than criticizing what I had actually written.

    Most of the Pielke defenses have been of the first category. The Breakthrough Boys (Pielke is a contributor to the Breakthrough Institute) launched a coordinated Twitter campaign to try and defend Pielke using a blog post they’d written. The problem is the blog post simply argued that the IPCC report is consistent with and cites Pielke’s research. It didn’t address the problem that Pielke’s comments at 538 overreached and misrepresented that research. They were defending Pielke the researcher, not Pielke the 538 blogger. The latter is who was being criticized.

    All the other Pielke defenses I read were basically just upset that so many people had piled on Pielke, particularly in the first category. When asked about the substantive critiques, those people tended to state that they didn’t have a problem with the second category of Pielke criticisms (the substantive ones), just the first category.

    So ultimately all the defenses have been of Pielke the researcher, and nobody has successfully defended Pielke the 538 blogger. In fact I don’t think anyone’s even tried, other than Pielke himself, and he failed to do so. The reason is quite simple – Pielke the 538 blogger made several statements that were just plain factually wrong. His post wasn’t defensible, which is why 538 smartly commissioned a rebuttal from an expert on the subject.

  48. dana1981 says:

    As for Tol’s usual bomb throwing, it’s been rather frustrating to see so many in the media assist him. Unfortunately there’s this tendency towards false balance in climate reporting, something that I’ve written about many times. Tol appeals to that desire for false balance in stories on the IPCC report.

    Tol is certainly an expert, and his body of work is suitable for an IPCC lead author. But he’s also an outlier – his is the only climate economics research that finds climate change could create a significant net economic benefit. He’s also a GWPF advisor, a known bomb-thrower, and he’s harshly criticized the IPCC in the past. So frankly I think they were dumb to choose him as a lead author, and this sort of outcome is exactly what many people would have predicted would result from that decision. As soon as I heard he was chosen as an IPCC lead author, my reaction was “well that was a stupid decision.” Again not because he lacks expertise, but because his research is an outlier and he’s a disruptive personality, to put it as nicely as I can. And as Ward has shown, it turns out his research is sloppy too. Which is incredibly ironic, given his incessant attacks on others’ research. He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw bombs.

  49. idunno says:

    http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2014/March/Errors-in-estimates-of-the-aggregate-economic-impacts-of-climate-change.aspx

    Ward writes, inter alia,

    “Disappointingly, none of the journals have so far secured an agreement from Professor Tol to make his calculations available, which means that a number of the data included in Chapter 10 of the IPCC report remain unverifiable.

    For this reason, I remain concerned about the following statement from the Summary for Policymakers from the report: “the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2% of income (±1 standard deviation around the mean)”. These figures are drawn entirely from Professor Tol’s 2013 paper, and without independent verification of the data currently being possible, I do not regard them to have been proven robust.”

    The sentence that he quotes formed the entire basis of the reaction to the WGII report from Lillicoe in the Telegraph, cited also by Curry, from Delingpole, and from Ridley in the WSJ and the Spectator.

    Given these folks concern about a typo relating to Himalayan glaciers in a previous report, one might have thought…

  50. Steve Bloom says:

    Good find re Nordhaus, Frank. But note Tol’s article prominently cites him, so what can we expect? In any event, Nordhaus, while more respectable by far than Tol, is prone to the same basic errors, albeit of lesser magnitude. See here for a good exposition:

    But I want to focus on something else, which is the poor physical intuition exhibited by many economists working in this area, not just Tol,. From Tol’s 2009 review:

    Research in this area has reached the point that we can now identify our areas of ignorance; I believe that there are no more unknown unknowns, or at least no sizeable ones. But my belief here may suffer from overconfidence. In a survey article I co-authored more than a decade ago on the social costs of climate change, we suggested that all aspects of the problem were roughly known, and that research would be complete within a few years (Pearce et al., 1996). This view turned out to be so overoptimistic as to be entirely mistaken.

    Let me know if you can’t think of any unknown unknowns that have become apparent since 2009. I sure can.

    So yep, still crazy after all these years, and as we just saw he isn’t able to keep even WG2 colleagues on board and instead throws a public hissy fit. If he’s so credible why did no one join with him?

    Sidenote: The “survey article” he refers to is actually the AR2 WG3 report. You’d think he’d be more proud of having had such a prominent venue to screw up in so early in his career. Then, as now, physical scientists could only shake their heads.

  51. Dana,

    I think you’re being rather generous there ATTP.

    Quite possibly.

    Frank,

    I think if people spent less time trying to prove Tol wrong and more time trying to understand what he is saying, or asking what he thinks should be done (hint: he argues for a carbon tax) that would be a big improvement.

    Sure, I’ve read some of his work. It seems, to my untrained economic eye, to be quite good. However, what his academic works says and what he says publicly seems quite different (or, at least, how it’s perceived is different). You may have had more success trying to have a serious discussion with Tol than me, but – AFAICT – trying to get Tol to have a serious discussion is virtually impossible. Maybe that’s only true if he perceives the other person as an “alarmist” but that speaks poorly of him, in my opinion. And, if he really thinks that climate change is not an existential threat to humankind (as some are suggesting) then I think he is demonstrably incorrect.

  52. Frank,

    I don’t see bad faith in his online exchanges. I see a lot of cryptic comments and a lot of people being wound up. All of which is entirely irrelevant to whether he’s right or not anyway.

    In my opinion, you’ve just you said you don’t see bad faith in his online exchanges and then defined a bad faith exchange. In my opinion, Tol’s online style virtually defines bad faith exchanges.

  53. The number of active scientists in the field Tol, Nordhaus and Hope represent is not very large. I picked only these three, because they are present first names behind the three best known models (others have contributed to the models, Hope, in particular, has connections to Stern and his collaborators). The total number of scientists working on full time or part time with economics and related modeling is certainly much larger than three, but still limited (I cannot give numbers, but I have personally met perhaps twenty or thirty at various conferences and workshops.)

    The three models give significantly different results, Nordhaus is in the middle and my impression is that his conclusions may have widest support, Tol and Hope deviate to opposite directions, Hope more than Tol in my judgment.

    Results from the models depend very much on assumptions and choices that cannot be justified objectively. The recent book of Nordhaus The Climate Casino is written for a wider audience and should make the extent of judgement clear to a thinking reader.

    What I certainly don’t like about Tol is his aggressive style in public discussion. I don’t agree, either, on the way he used results of model runs in concluding that the first changes from adding CO2 are beneficial. If he has misrepresented results of others, that’s serious (I haven’t made independent checks of that), but even without that I don’t give much weight on his curve. On the other hand I don’t consider his conclusion unreasonable as a subjective judgment. It’s plausible, but it’s not supported by good scientific evidence. The new AR5 WG2 starts finally to have enough basic data to allow analyzing that question more objectively than has been possible previously. It may still be impossible to present conclusions at a level WG2 would describe robust evidence or on which there would be high confidence.

    I consider this a very important field that should attract more competent people, but then I have been working on similar questions since 1980, and may be biased. It’s a pity that the discussion has not developed more and gone deeper to the role subjective choices have for the outcome. Some points of strong disagreement seem to make constructive cooperation difficult.

  54. Pekka,

    If he has misrepresented results of others, that’s serious (I haven’t made independent checks of that), but even without that I don’t give much weight on his curve.

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that Tol his mis-represented anyone. It’s simply that there appear to be a number of errors in his meta-analysis papers (I’ve confirmed one). It’s disappointing that this couldn’t have been sorted out in a matter of minutes : “yes, there are some errors. Thanks for pointing them out. I’ll work on a correction.”

    Ultimately, I agree with you about the curve though. It’s strongly influence by one study and has fairly large uncertainties which are rather trivially determined (if I remember correctly). Again, acknowledging these issues would also help the discussion. Using that curve to state that benefits will positive till 2 degrees of warming ignores both these issues.

  55. BBD says:

    Frank

    A raised eyebrow is never much of an argument. Can you point to any credible source that says Tol’s work is batshit crazy and he has the headline results backwards? I don’t think you can.

    Your framing is unhelpful, but there’s plenty of evidence that Tol’s work is error-riddled and self-referential. Read it closely:

    http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2014/March/Errors-in-estimates-of-the-aggregate-economic-impacts-of-climate-change.aspx

    And:

    http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2014/April/A-flawed-conversation-about-the-Stern-Review.aspx

    As for your laughing off the links Tol has to GWPF and DGR – do you actually have a clue what these organisations are and do? You can’t just wave this shit away because it spoils your apologism for Tol.

    His work is problematic. His associations more so. These are matters of fact and you are denying them. And then you tell me I’m working from the WUWT/BH playbook. Not your finest hour.

  56. BBD says:

    I don’t see bad faith in his online exchanges.

    Then you aren’t very perceptive.

  57. On most objective measures, I am indeed somewhere among the top 100 economists in the world. And many others in the top 100 are a good bit older than I am.

    [Mod : You may have forgotten that there were certain requirements that your next comment was meant to satisfy. Given that I don’t really feel like playing ClimateballTM at the moment, I no longer really care, and since you’re being discussed in the comments here, I’ll let that pass. You will, of course, remain on moderation and I reserve the right to simply delete comments of yours that are neither constructive, nor add to the general discussion (i.e., in my opinion, your normal style of commentary). If you don’t like that, feel free not to comment. 🙂 ]

  58. AnOilMan says:

    I find it very disturbing that guys like Pielke, and Tol, go to blogs and therefore the public, rather than to other scientists as is normal.

    Frank, it’s bat shit crazy to bring science to an uneducated population. It makes no sense unless you have an ulterior motive. People who are less educated are easily misled snowed and stumped by technical discussion. Indeed I find it hard enough to keep things straight in an office where everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Imagine grabbing some random person off the street and demanding their opinion. “I dunno man, looks good to me.”

    Science belongs in the hallowed halls of academia and in journals.

    I believe these guys are simply following in the foot steps of Fred “I think it’s safe to smoke” Singer, and Anthony “I only graduated from high school” Watts. And I don’t think much of them.

  59. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Wotts, do you really think that climate change is a threat to mankind’s survival? (Your comment at 7.21 am.) I was very surprised to read that.

    Also, you say that such a view is demonstrably correct – or, to be precise, demonstrably not incorrect. Care to demonstrate its correctness or not-incorrectness?

    I collect quotes about climate change threatening (or promising) to wipe humans off the face of the planet. Very few have been from scientists so far (it’s mostly muddle-headed opportunists who use climate change to push an existing agenda: vicars, anti-capitalists, homosexuals, politicians) so I would welcome an unambiguous and resoundingly scary quote from you on the matter.

  60. Vinny,

    Wotts, do you really think that climate change is a threat to mankind’s survival?

    No, not really. Given that we are more than capable of doing something about it, and almost certainly will, it is unlikely that we will follow a scenario in which our survival is under threat. That, however, doesn’t mean that it’s not an existential threat. As I understand it, there are scenarios in which mass extinctions events become a possible outcome. That would seem, as I understand it, to present a threat to our survival. Similarly, I would argue that an all-out nuclear war in the second-half of the 20th century, was an existential threat even though MAD almost certainly meant that it would not occur.

  61. Vinny Burgoo says:

    So it’s an existential threat that doesn’t threaten mankind’s survival. Hmmm.

    I can’t see any mechanism whereby mass extinctions could cause the total extinction of mankind. Even if we lost all the bees and other pollinators, there are crops that don’t need pollinating or we could do the pollinating ourselves or we could live on fish or maggots or something. The ‘we’ might be a lot smaller than it is now but I can’t see it vanishing entirely.

    (I was hoping that someone would ask for my quote tying climageddon to gay rights. Ho hum. Even better, I think I have one somewhere tying it to the marketing of dental practices.)

  62. Marco says:

    Homosexuals pushing climate change to push an existing agenda?!?

  63. Steve Bloom says:

    Vinny, I suggest you bear in mind the sorts of changes of which the climate system has been capable in the past, that we are now forcing it in an unprecedented way, and that the impacts of doing so are already quite likely to be disruptive enough to trigger extensive warfare as a means of competing for shrinking resources. (And note that it’s no longer just dirty hippies like me saying this.) Add that last factor and our extinction becomes more plausible. A collapse of some sort seems almost unavoidable at this point.

    Re those past changes, ICYMI note that the mechanism for the PETM seems to have been identified and that we have enough permafrost for a repeat. Just in the last few days a paper (press release) doing the same for the much-worse PT extinction came out. (This particular one at least we don’t have to worry about seeing again unless another large magmatic province pops up, but it demonstrates nicely the climate system’s potential for nasty surprises if it gets pushed in a novel way as it is presently.)

    Or, like our friend Richard, you can just select a sufficiently high discount rate, formal or informal, and not worry about any of this.

  64. BBD says:

    (I was hoping that someone would ask for my quote tying climageddon to gay rights. Ho hum.

    I assumed you were baiting.

    A threat can be extremely dangerous without being existential. I hope we aren’t going to play another one of those definitional nit-pick & gotcha games.

  65. Rachel says:

    There’s a debate between Bob Ward and Richard Tol on channel four: http://www.channel4.com/news/scientists-challenge-work-of-climate-change-dissenter

  66. OPatrick says:

    Thanks for the link to the Channel 4 piece Rachel. And I think well done to Cathy Newman for her interviewing:

    If Bob Ward is making it up, why don’t you just sue him for reputational damage?

    Not much of a response to that one from Richard Tol.

    You’ve got an agenda here, haven’t you. You’re working alongside climate ‘sceptics’.

    Apparently Richard is working alongside lots of people, so why would he have an agenda?

  67. OPatrick says:

    With respect to existential threat I usually assume this is talking about the existence of a reasonably stable civilisation rather than the existence of mankind itself. I have little interest in whether mankind will survive in some form or not – what matters is that a society that can support the values, ideas and ideals that are central to my self survives. I believe climate change poses a genuine existential threat.

  68. Vinny,

    I can’t see any mechanism whereby mass extinctions could cause the total extinction of mankind. Even if we lost all the bees and other pollinators, there are crops that don’t need pollinating or we could do the pollinating ourselves or we could live on fish or maggots or something. The ‘we’ might be a lot smaller than it is now but I can’t see it vanishing entirely.

    Quite possibly, but I would suggest that that qualifies as an existential threat. I agree that the total extinction of the species is extremely unlikely, but it seems clear that there are a scenarios that threaten our existence as a technologically advanced species. To be honest, I don’t really want to get into a debate about catastrophic future scenarios. It seems clear to me that they are possible (hence they exist), but we are quite capable of making decisions that would likely prevent them from actually occurring. I have no doubt that we are quite capable of making policy decisions that make such outcomes extremely unlikely. Hence, one can quite rightly argue that they are not particularly likely. My point was simply that that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

    As BBD says, there’s much not much point in nit-picking as to whether or not “extremely dangerous” implies existential or not.

  69. OPatrick,
    We crossed there, but that would be my interpretation of “existential threat”.

  70. Vinny Burgoo says:

    @BBD I wasn’t baiting. I was coat-trailing.

    Just as well. If I had been baiting, the prey would have got away because the quote isn’t quite as I remembered it. I got it arsy-versy. Not ‘we’re all going to die’ climate change enlisted to promote homosexuality but homosexuality enlisted to promote ‘we’re all going to die’ climate change.

    “There is not much point campaigning for LGBT human rights unless we have a habitable planet on which to enjoy these rights. If global warming results in climate destruction and economic downturn, our quality of queer life will be seriously diminished. In the worst case scenario, human survival might be threatened. That’s why LGBT people need to support 10:10.”
    — Peter Tatchell, 2009

    (Er, Pete, humansurvivalwise you are talking about generations hence. Generations. Gen-er-a-shuns. No? OK. Sorry I mentioned it.)

    I might have been wrong about the dentists, too. So far I have only been able to find a dentist trying to boost his earnings by enlisting climate change in the abstract rather than a scary ‘we’re all going to die’ climageddon. Also some dentists talking about dentistry and Peak Oil: amusing, but the wrong sort of doomwankish dentistry, or perhaps dentwankish doomistry.

    I can still promise some fruity quotes from vicars, anarchists and Michael Meacher, though. Probably.

  71. BBD says:

    Glad you got that off your chest, Vinny.

  72. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Wotts, OPatrick and BBD: OK. Let’s not quibble about terms. Let’s just accept that ‘existential threat’ and ‘mankind’s survival’ encompasses ‘civilisational collapse’.

    Is there evidence for that lesser-but-still-horrible threat in the latest IPCC report? Or are you all just trusting your instincts that unless we do more than we’re currently doing then we’re all doomed? (Let’s not argue about the meaning of ‘we’, ‘do’ and ‘more’. Let’s keep it abstract.)

  73. OPatrick says:

    Vinny, what would any such evidence look like? The lack of objective evidence does not mean it isn’t a realistic possibility. Do you think that collapses in civilisation don’t happen?

  74. Steve Bloom says:

    Generally the first report is the place to look for that sort of thing, Vinny. But oddly enough, I just gave you some specific citations of things along those lines. Apparently you’re only interested in evidence if it’s from a venue less likely than others to include it to begin with.

  75. AnOilMan says:

    I don’t see world ending events coming from climate change. But I don’t condone trashing the place simply because it’s easy and expedient to do so.

    Vinny do you keep Moncton’s statement that he’s cured aids, cancer and everything else handy? I can’t quite remember it…

  76. Vinny,
    I haven’t had a chance to read AR5 WGII in any detail, and – of course – all we have now is the summary for policy makers, but it’s my understanding that AR4 included Many species face extinction (20% – 50% in one study).

    Let me try to clarify my issue. It always seems that there is an insistence that one side of this debate remain strictly correct. We can’t say something will happen (or maybe, has happened is more correct) unless we have some kind of statistically significant measurement. I don’t have an issue with this, because I think we should be careful about how we discuss this topic. However, we should then be careful about saying that something can’t happen. My point was simply that it appears that there is evidence that climate change presents an existential threat. Therefore stating that it doesn’t present an existential threat seems as statistically incorrect as stating that tropical cyclones will increase in intensity (not that I’m stating that, to be clear).

  77. AnOilMan says:

    Vinny, most military think tanks are calling for war and the tearing up of nations over climate change. Resource conflicts are a serious concern now, and that will get much worse. Canada and the US are already squabbling over cross border water. Lake Superior’s shores are receding slowly. With the coming mega droughts.do you think the US will demand more water?

  78. Vinny Burgoo says:

    OPatrick: Sure they do. But climate change is, and will be for longer than it’s worth making forecasts about such stuff, a very minor factor in civilisational instabilities. (Pre-emption: Egypt didn’t implode because of climate change. Syria neither.)

    As for the evidence – well, here at andthentheresphysics and like-minded blogs we tend to rely on what the science says.

  79. Vinny,

    But climate change is, and will be for longer than it’s worth making forecasts about such stuff, a very minor factor in civilisational instabilities.

    I don’t agree that it is – and will be – a minor factor but, even if true, this doesn’t mean it’s not an existential threat, which was the point I was trying to make.

  80. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Wotts: Then I don’t understand your point. Does your definition (sorry!) of ‘existential threat’ now encompass…

    What *is* your definition of ‘existential threat’? (Sorry.)

  81. Steve Bloom says:

    That’s circular reasoning, Vinny. Your physical intuition based on recent history tells you such things won’t happen, and you’re not going to question that. I really, really hope you’re right, but I think the evidence says otherwise. Good luck to us all. We’ll need it.

  82. Vinny,
    I think my definition is as we largely as we agreed earlier. My point was simply that it is not correct to state that climate change does not present an existential threat. There is evidence to suggest that it does.

  83. BBD says:

    Perhaps we might negate further and future nit-pickery by avoiding the use of “existential” and using “serious” instead.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I find these definitional quibbles really irritating these days. That sense that you are being manipulated into talking about irrelevancies and not the elephant is maddening.

  84. BBD,
    Indeed. I should probably have not brought it up in the first place. It just irritates me that noone objects to people saying somethings isn’t possible, while getting on their high horses if anyone says something will happen. IMO, if you’re going to be a stickler for statistical accuracy, you have to be consistent.

  85. ­> Anyway, those are some thoughts […]

    Or not.

  86. > Then I don’t understand your point.

    What’s your definition of point?

  87. Vinny Burgoo says:

    BBD: Not as maddening as endlessly discussing objects that are assumed to be elephants but can’t be described or defined because that would get in the way of foo.

    If you lot want to get all eschatological, that’s fine. But wibbling on and on without insisting that common words be used in their common way and that more recherché terms be clearly defined makes you… [self-mod redacted]

    Good night all!

  88. Vinny,

    If you lot want to get all eschatological, that’s fine. But wibbling on and on without insisting that common words be used in their common way

    Were we involved in the same conversation?

    Climate change present a serious threat. How’s that? To be clear, though, this doesn’t mean that this will actually materialise, but it is a possible outcome. Essentially all I was suggesting was that stating that this is not true, is not correct. How’s that?

  89. BBD says:

    Bloody hell, Vinny.

  90. OPatrick says:

    climate change is, and will be for longer than it’s worth making forecasts about such stuff, a very minor factor in civilisational instabilities

    I find your confidence on this disturbing. What evidence do you have for your seeming certainty on this issue (as I think Anders is asking)? Whilst for any individual conflict or crisis there is likely to be a more obvious proximate cause than climate change, globally climate change is likely to be a contributory factor in almost any such conflict or crisis. Cumulatively climate change is contributing to destabilisation more than any other issue, indeed most other causes are, or are projected to be, reducing cumulatively over time. The existential threat, as I’ve said I conceive it above, is only one, hopefully outlying, cause for concern. The undermining of the developmental gains is almost beyond reasonable dispute.

  91. Climate change changes.

  92. Apologies if I’ve said this before, but Peter Sinclair’s excellent coverage of opposing arguments about the effect of changes in the arctic (most recent example) shows what scientific difference looks like when all parties are taking part in good faith. To me, the contrast seems really clear and helps to highlight when some participants are obviously… Um. I’m not sure what word to pick next. Choose your own.

  93. AnOilMan says:

    And Richard Tol is a very naughty boy…

  94. Steve Bloom says:

    I’vebeen involved in several such interactions with Vinny starting at least 5 years ago and maybe as much as 10. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  95. idunno says:

    I can see a lot of potential for the new Tolian school of economics.

    Next time I get the leccy bill, I might write back to them, saying that while I agree that an economic transaction has occured between us, using Tol’s methodology, I have reversed the sign, so I look forward to their prompt payment to me of the above noted amount.

    Costs are the new benefits, after all.

    P.S. Does anybody have a good link for a reputable Lambourgini dealer?

  96. MikeH says:

    The first video in Rachel’s link is well worth a watch.

    Tol essentially concedes Ward’s point but then starts prattling on about how there is “unpublished work” that will prove him correct. The “dog ate my homework” excuse.

    The article summarises some of the exchange but there is more in the video.
    “When asked by Mr Ward “how many of those 20 show significant net positive impacts?”, Professor Tol replied: “actually that is not something the IPCC can pronounce about, because that is information that is yet to be published in the peer-reviewed literature”

    Imagine how the [Mod edit] who form Tol’s twitter entourage would react if a mainstream climate scientist IPCC author referred to “unpublished work”.

    It is also noticeable how Tol tries to downplay his GWPF involvement.

    In his profile at The Conversation, he omits to mention the GWPF entirely.
    http://theconversation.com/profiles/richard-tol-122067/profile_bio

    It is now in the disclosure statement on his article – see update at the end.
    http://theconversation.com/ipcc-report-shows-stern-inflated-climate-change-costs-25160

  97. To me the basic issue is that

    1) Every policy decision should be based on some specific arguments
    2) That means in practice the available alternatives must be compared
    3) For that we need some measures, which ultimately lead to ordering of the alternatives
    4) In practice it turns out that we have a multiple criteria situation, where it’s exceptional that the same alternative wins on all criteria
    5) The multiple criteria are usually not directly comparable, and there’s no general rule to combine them to one overall criterion.
    6) Making the final selection implies that we have made an overall judgement, i.e. we have in some way developed an overall criterion.
    7) The step (6) is almost certainly subjective. Several people will in most cases reach different conclusions, i.e. they have apply different overall criteria.
    8) To improve decision-making people must be able to communicate on the step (6) in a way that’s understandable to many.

    What people like Nordhaus, Hope and Tol are doing, is creating tools for the step (8). As in physics, also here statements presented by formulas and models are more precise than statements presented only by words. When the statements are precise, they can be studied and argued upon constructively. That applies both to their justification and to their implications.

    To me much of the discussion of this thread is just proof of the difficulty of communicating with words only. Each of us has different connotations to the sentences and expressions. What does it imply, when someone says that climate change is (or is not) an existential question? How can the truthfulness of that statement be discussed? What are the implications of accepting that statement?

    What we really need are concrete actions, not generic statements on the urgent need of stringent actions. To decide on concrete actions we (meaning everyone involved as a group) must specify them fully, and we must justify that exactly that action is appropriate. By that I don’t mean that we must be able to foresee all the consequences of the action or that a full cost/benefit-analysis would be required. Policy decisions are done all the time on uncertain basis, but still each action should be compared to alternatives and found justified in some way.

    Climate policy issues are so difficult, because they have very long term implications. Few policy decisions are really that long term, and no-one has direct experience of both doing so long-term decisions and observing the actual long term outcome. Actually I think that most of the concrete decisions do not actually have as much long term influence as commonly thought, because later decisions will adapt to the situation created by the earlier ones in the way that dampens the effects. That’s an effect similar to discounting, but not exactly the same and largely for a different reason.

  98. OPatrick says:

    Pekka:

    3) For that we need some measures, which ultimately lead to ordering of the alternatives

    Should we ignore something if it can’t be measured? I’m not sure what measures we could usefully use to model the worst case scenarios that we might be facing, as a global society, from climate change. Does this not just chop off the upper tail?

  99. OPatrick,

    We should not ignore any important issues, but we must search for some way to determine their relative importance. This is often very difficult, but ultimately a choice is implied by the final decision. That choice may be severely erroneous, if the issue is not considered carefully enough,

    in decision making on much lower level it’s all too common that measurable factors win over much more important ones that are not measured (are not measurable without further effort including possibly research). I have seen that in all organizations, where I have worked. Many people have realized that, but the error is still done repeatedly.

  100. I have participated in the big EU project ExternE. Participating in many project workshops made it very clear that the problems of making different factors co-measurable are huge. As I wrote above, that’s, however, done anyway, when decisions are made. If that’s not done explicitly and carefully, then it’s done more randomly. The problem cannot be avoided, but it can be handled better or worse.

  101. @MikeH
    IPCC WG2 AR5 Ch10 does not use the word “significant”, and it is indeed avoided in the underlying literature. The notion of “significant impact” is problematic. Standard statistical theory will tell you about the significance of parameter estimates. The impact of climate change is a conditional forecast. Sampling is non standard. Ward’s use of the word significance is therefore entirely inappropriate. This is an area of active research.

  102. Richard,
    If I remember correctly, the two positive values were +2.3 for 1 degree of warming (Tol 2002) and +0.1 for 2.5 degrees of warming. You didn’t consider the possibility that Bob Ward was using the term significant in a sense that most who read a blog post would understand, rather than in the strictest statistical sense, and that maybe you’re simply being incredibly pedantic?

    By the way, how do you feel about David Rose’s article in the Daily Mail? If I was a world-leading economist, I think I might be quite annoyed by an article like that.

  103. @Wotts
    The discussion was about numbers in an academic tract, and Mr Ward had just emphasized his academic credentials. So I assumed he meant “significant” in the proper use of that word.

  104. Richard,
    And you didn’t consider simply having a serious discussion about it? Let’s consider what he actually said

    there was only one study that showed significant positive effects from global warming. That single analysis had been published by Professor Tol himself in 2002 in the journal ‘Environmental and Resource Economics’, which concluded that warming of 1°C would lead to benefits equivalent to 2.3 per cent of global wealth.

    So, that would seem to imply that there was more than one (otherwise he might have simply said “only one study showed positive effects”, rather than “only one study showed significant positive effects”). Of course, that alone doesn’t tell you how many. There could be 20 or 2. It turns out that there were two, yours (Tol 2002) with +2.3 for 1 degree and another with +0.1 for 2.5 degrees.

    So, you’re going to suggest that he’s wrong because he didn’t define significant, or used it a manner that is not consistent with statistical rigour. Do you really think anyone else reading this exchange is going to think “quite right. Bob Ward is wrong because he used the word significant incorrectly, despite using it in a way that most laypeople would most likely understand it”. Hmmm, given that I don’t really feel like playing ClimateballTM at the moment, I’ll leave it at that. Although, I will note that you didn’t answer my question about David Rose’s article.

  105. Eli Rabett says:

    ATTP, you have to realize that to Richard only his papers are signficant

  106. Steve Bloom says:

    All publicity is good publicity, from a certain perspective.

  107. Eli,
    Well, that would seem to suggest that Bob Ward was right then 🙂

    Steve,
    Indeed. That reminds me, I meant to ask Richard how well his book was selling.

  108. Bobby says:

    hilarious, is that our [Mod edit] Tol is willing to go to win at Climateball? Misinterpreting Ward’s use of the word significant? I was wondering why he kept saying Ward was wrong and that there were two studies. Now I finally know. Jeez.

  109. Marco says:

    Tol says:
    “IPCC WG2 AR5 Ch10 does not use the word “significant”, and it is indeed avoided in the underlying literature.”

    Marco quotes from chapter 10:
    “Roughly consistent with each other, (Aaheim et al., 2009; Eboli et al., 2010a; Eboli et al.,
    2010b) find GDP impacts for the predominantly cooler regions of Japan, the EU, EEFSU, and Rest of Annex I as having a “significant positive impact”, while the predominantly warmer regions of the USA, EEx (China/India, Middle East/Most of Africa/Mexico/parts of Latin America), and the Rest of the World have a “significantly negative impact.” (Jorgenson et al., 2004) find that overall GDP impacts are -0.6% to 0.7% in 2050 for the United States, which stands in contrast to (Eboli et al., 2010a; Eboli et al., 2010b) with a “significantly negative impact” in the United States.”

    “Similarly, the interior building systems that allow for proper airflow in a facility face significant issues with climate change. For example, the increases in temperature and precipitation will lead to increased humidity as well as indoor temperatures. This requires increased airflow in facilities such as hospitals, schools, and office buildings; that is, upgrades to air conditioning and fan units and perhaps further renovations that may be significant in scope and cost.”

    “It is difficult to quantify how significant the impact of climate change will be for the industry”

    “Although the proportion of individuals seeking medical treatment during a disaster is typically a small subset of the total number of those affected, the additional burden on health care facilities can be significant (Hess et al., 2009).”

    “Alternate workpractices may offer some relief from a health perspective, but would likely lead to significantly decreased productivity (Chapter 11).”

    All cases where it appears to me the word “significant” is not used in the statistical meaning.

  110. @Marco
    The last four examples do not refer to the discussion at hand. The first example does, and as you see we placed it in quotation marks. It is beyond me how someone can describe the outcome of a CGE run as significant.

  111. Richard,
    I’ll let others read your earlier comment and Marco’s response. I no longer have the energy for these types of discussions.

  112. jsam says:

    Marco’s win is significant.

  113. verytallguy says:

    Definition (per wiki)

    Obfuscation

    the hiding of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret

  114. OPatrick says:

    I distinctly heard quotation marks around Bob Wards use of “statistical” in his television interview.

    Does that help?

  115. Marco says:

    I admit not being an expert in the field, but the following article:
    From Bosello, Roson & Tol, Environmental & Resource Economics (2007) 37:549–571.
    seems to use a CGE model with outcomes shown in (among others) figure 1. Comment to figure 1 in the text:
    “From this perspective, there are significant differences in both aggregate and distributional effects. See Figure 1.”

    There’s another paper by the same authors in Ecological Economics 58 (2006) 579– 591.
    Again it appears that the word “significant” is used to describe the outcome of a CGE:
    “Higher (lower) incidence of illnesses is associated with more (less) demand for health care by the household and the public sector. The increase is particularly significant in Eex and RoW (see Table 2).”

    Or how about Strzepek, Yoho, Tol and Rosegrant, Ecological Economics 66 (2008) 117–126, where the impact of a built dam is determined using a CGE and various simulations. The conclusion:
    “Table 5 shows that the difference in expected values of real GDP with and without High Aswan Dam across our simulations is 4.9 EGP Billion. This amounts to 2% of 1997 GDP. Overall, the dam generates significant gains.”

  116. @Marco
    When discussing the output from a CGE model, it is obvious that the word “significance” can only be used in the colloquial sense of the word.

    The discussion with Mr Ward was about the interpretation of a set of estimates, which is a statistical problem, so that the word “significance” acquires a different meaning.

  117. Pingback: The Tolgate saga | And Then There's Physics

  118. Marco says:

    “It is beyond me how someone can describe the outcome of a CGE run as significant.”

    “When discussing the output from a CGE model, it is obvious that the word “significance” can only be used in the colloquial sense of the word.”

  119. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, April 6, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  120. BBD says:

    Oops!

    😉

  121. Ian Forrester says:

    I see that Richard Tol is using the “Humpty Dumpty defense”:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

  122. Ian,
    Yes, I think I may have commented on this before.

  123. AnOilMan says:

    Its harder to hit a moving target.

  124. Rachel says:

    I just saw this article on Global thought leaders 2013 which is probably not really relevant here, sorry, but I’m going to post it anyway since we were discussing people who are top in the field. This ranking is slightly different though as it takes people from a range of fields “to identify the thinkers and ideas that resonate with the global infosphere as a whole. “ What is quite interesting is the number of philosophers in the top 100. Also note that Nicholas Stern is number 10.

  125. Rachel says:

    Sorry, I meant to say the number of philosophers in the top 5 as apparently even Jürgen Habermas can be classified as one, even though the article lists him as a sociologist.

  126. Al Gore and number 1 and James Hansen at 24. That’ll ruffle some feathers 🙂

  127. Rachel says:

    Yes, Al Gore is interesting because he’s way out in front but as they say in the article, this isn’t really so much for the originality of his ideas but for his ability to build bridges between disciplines and popularise ideas.

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