Critically analysing horse shit

I commented recently that a potential issue with the new Climate Change National Forum (CCNF) Fact Checker is that some articles are such nonsense that it would be not unlike trying to critically analyse a pile of horse shit. The CCNF could, of course, avoid this by choosing not to highlight such articles. However, by chance, I came across exactly such an article today, so I thought I might just illustrate that they do indeed exist.

The article is in Breitbart, is written by Nick Hallet, and if you really want to read it, it’s archived here. I did consider if it was simply very subtle satire, but this is the same organisation that hired James Delingpole, so it’s probably not (unless it’s all just a massive joke). It’s the age-old story : Professor with distinguished career (could be used to describe most probably), who has an association with NASA (so you can say Former NASA scientist) thinks Global Warming is nonsense and supposedly has said

there is “no reproducible evidence” that carbon dioxide levels have increased over the past century, and blamed the green movement for inflicting economic damage on ordinary people.

followed by

“The term ‘climate change’ is meaningless. The Earth’s climate has been changing since time immemorial, that is since the Earth was formed 1,000 million years ago.

So, it’s just complete nonsense. I guess one could fact check it and point out all the errors, but it might just be easier to have some kind of simple indicator to show that some articles are just entirely nonsensical. Something like this might be apt.

horse-shit
If that’s a bit too blunt for some, maybe this would be a suitable alternative.

triple-facepalm-picard-812

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82 Responses to Critically analysing horse shit

  1. Dan L. says:

    Count me among those who think CCNF is wasting space trying to debunk denier horseshit. SkS does that job just fine, and deniers don’t care what the facts are, anyway.

    Hosting [Mod: Judith’s] more nuanced horseshit is not helping, either.

  2. Dan,
    Yes, I was surprised when I noticed Judith Curry had become involved. According to Judith, she was invited by John Nielsen-Gammon. She has s recent post that seems to be a response to Victor Venema’s comment that you need 30 mainstream scientists to counter Judith. A response to a comment from Victor, Judith says

    The fact that the public and the policy makers and media are interested in alternative interpretations is endlessly frustrating to those of you that are trying to push a manufactured consensus as gospel.

    which, I think, speaks volume. Firstly, why does what the public and policy makers want matter? Also, manufactured consensus? Makes me think Judith doesn’t read the literature or the IPCC reports. She doesn’t have to agree with it, but denying its existence just seems odd.

  3. guthrie says:

    What, does he really think the earth is a billion years old?????
    Well blow me down, so he did. That in itself is enough to disqualify him from speaking on the topic at hand, because he’s got the scientific knowledge of a 5 year old child.
    The earth is around 4.54 billion years old, and there’s been life on it for at least 2 billion years, probably much longer.
    If only people applauding him would actually try and think coherently, they’d realise that he’s a lunatic.

  4. Guthrie,
    I did consider actually pointing that out, but given that the point of my post was that it was that fact checking such articles was a waste of time, I didn’t bother 🙂

    It’s actually quite amazing how well we know the age of the Earth/Solar system. I think we’ve now aged it to within a few million years using radiometric dating.

  5. Marco says:

    Looking at that piece about Les Woodcock, my conclusion is, to quote Judith Curry, “brain fossilization”.

    His comments can be summarized as follows: “I have only the faintest idea of what knowledge has been obtained within the climate sciences and will therefore throw out a number of strawmen and false claims, and do so with such utter confidence because my title of “professor” will bring awe to those who know even less about climate science than I do and who don’t like the implications either”.

    It’s the same schtick that those “scholars for 911 truth” and similar use. An Appeal to Authority in its most obvious example.

    ATTP, the frustrating thing is that many of the public and politicians (not necessarily the same as the policy makers) and media give alternative interpretations much more credit than they deserve, simply because they are alternative interpretations that allow one to put their heads in the sand (or blame something else). Alternative explanations/interpretations are fine, but they should be put in the proper context. And that simply does not happen in many cases, with this particular case a very good example.

  6. Rachel M says:

    I’m going to disagree with you a bit here, and not on the horse shit aspect – the article is – but on whether it’s worthwhile having scientists debunk it. It absolutely is worthwhile! People fall for that horse shit all the time. That’s exactly the sort of article that has a huge influence. The number of people who say to me that the climate has changed before and therefore we needn’t worry is extraordinary. And so it needs to be explained over and over again.

    Yes, Skeptical Science do a good job but the more independent groups there are debunking this stuff the better and Skeptical Science gets a fair bit of flak from contrarian sites so people might question whether they can trust them. I’m not saying you can’t, but if you’re new and you’re trying to sift through all the information, it’s not always easy to work out what is credible and what is not.

    A site like this with a list of climate scientists all giving their views on an article is invaluable in my view. I really think it’s a great idea.

  7. Rachel,
    Sure, I kind of agree. If they were actually willing to say “this is utter nonsense” that might be fine, which is partly what I was suggesting. Giving it a veneer of respectability – by suggesting that it’s worthy of serious discussion – could, though, do more harm than good.

  8. jsam says:

    As the layest of lay persons, and having had a glass of wine over dinner, I’ve pitched in elsewhere on CCNF. I’m so far out of my specialisation it’s untrue. But that doesn’t seem to deter anyone else. Wish me luck, scroll down to the FB comments. http://climatechangenationalforum.org/dr-garth-paltridge-on-judithcurry-com-reluctance-on-part-of-ipcc-us-nas-royal-society-and-others-to-reduce-confidence-levels-in-light-of-hiatus-and-misunderstood-mechanisms-in-climate-system-show/

  9. skylanetc says:

    ATTP:

    Judy has marked out a corner of the climate debate stage where she reckons she can troll subtly enough to be taken seriously by both sides. Most on the reality side see her for what she is, but the Don Quixote of climate science, J N-G, has been taken in.

    J N-G is a concern troll of the basically-a-good-guy sort, but concern trolling is obfuscation, no matter how well intentioned. As much as he wishes we could all just get along, he isn’t going snap Judy out of it. I wish he would stop trying; all he’s doing is granting her credibility she has rightfully lost.

  10. Joshua says:

    Rachel –

    “That’s exactly the sort of article that has a huge influence.”

    How do you measure influence? Do you think that people’s minds are changed from articles like that?

    I doubt it. Seems to me that the data show that overwhelmingly, people filter information about climate change so as to confirm their preexisting biases (that align with political and other identifications). That doesn’t really seem to me like what I would call influence.

  11. Rachel M says:

    How do you measure influence? Do you think that people’s minds are changed from articles like that?

    Yes, well, I don’t measure it. It’s just my opinion based on purely anecdotal evidence. This is something that crops up in conversations I have with people I know. They always, always say, “but the climate has changed before”. And so I assume they get it from articles they’ve read. These are also not people who would conform to one political orientation either. I’ve heard it from left-wing University academics.

  12. First people filter what they even start to read or continue beyond first sentences, and then they filter the content. Concerning this kind of article a big question is, how many such people read it, who might be influenced by it.

    At the time, when some extreme weather has the strongest effect, the number of people reading related articles goes surely up, but after a month or two the interest wanes. This kind of articles are then probably read only by people who wish to agree or wish to see how stupid the article is.

  13. uknowispeaksense says:

    As someone who has researched horseshit as part of a population and behavioural ecology project I find this blogpost offensive.

  14. hvw says:

    I want to submit to use the term “bullshit” for such cases, and refer to the characterization given of that term by Harry Frankfurt here:
    http://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf

    Not only justifies such classification a content-oriented reply (debunk again, again, again, …), it also works against bullshitters who are cautious not to get caught with bland lies, because the definition doesn’t rest on incorrectness of statements but on the intention and mindset of the author.

  15. hvw says:

    make that “non-content-oriented reply”, tnx.

  16. Joshua says:

    Rachel –

    There are very few people, I would say, who go to Breitbart to evaluate evidence related to climate change with an open mind.

    Now you said that it was hugely influential. Seems to me that to make that sort of strong statement, there should be support with more evidence than anecdotal evidence. But further, I would argue that not only is it not hugely influential, I’d say that it is probably not substantially influential at all. I would guess that hardly anyone had their opinion influenced by that article. And I think that is empirical evidence to support my perspective – in Kahan’s research related to how people filter information related to climate change.

    As for running into people saying something like “What evidence is there of anthropogenic climate change, the climate has always changed?” – I have never run across someone asking that question in an open-minded fashion. I have only seen it asked as a rhetorical question, by self-identified “skeptics.” It seems to me that even a cursory investigation, which is what you would expect from someone who is open-minded in seeking an answer to that question, would find an answer easily. But I have certainly seen many, many examples of “skeptics” using that question as a rhetorical device to advance their argument. So I would weigh my anecdotal experience against yours.

  17. Rachel M says:

    Joshua,

    Now you said that it was hugely influential.

    I’m not talking about Breitbart. I don’t know anyone who reads that. I was just referring to those sorts of arguments: the climate has changed before therefore we don’t have to worry about it changing again. Lots of people I know, from all ends of the political spectrum have said this to me. It’s one of the most common arguments against doing anything about climate change in my view. I hear it often from people who do not define themselves as climate change “skeptics”. These are people I know personally, not commenters on blogs.

  18. Some think “it’s obvious that Prof. Woodcock wasn’t challenging the co2 figures but their effect on global temperatures.” Even if Prof. Woodcock really were denying the CO2 increase over the past century, he wouldn’t be alone. Beck’s similar claims are often repeated.

    I’m with Rachel: the number of people who say to me that the climate has changed before and therefore we needn’t worry is extraordinary. Even my own family members tell me that, and they know what I do for a living. If I were a plumber, would they sagely advise me of a new invention called a “sink”? I’m skeptical of that, but I literally have to assume they’re asking the question in an open-minded fashion.

    The merchants of doubt have been extraordinarily effective. I’ve tried to point out that the scientific community who’s warning about human-caused climate change is the same scientific community who discovered and named many of these modes of natural variability.

    I’ve tried to point out that NASA’s been measuring the Sun’s brightness (etc.) for decades and concluded that natural variation can’t explain the warming since 1950.

    I’ve tried to point out that if the natural climate hadn’t changed before, that would imply that it hadn’t ever changed so we couldn’t possibly change it now.

    I’ve tried to point out that 420 million years of natural climate change support the idea that we are changing the climate, precisely because it has varied before.

    I’ve tried to point out that some of the closest natural analogues to modern human-caused climate change, like the PETM and end-Permian, just reinforce my concern about treating the atmosphere like a free sewer.

    I’ve repeatedly failed to communicate, and considering the stakes involved the weight of all these failures is becoming unbearable. I wish I could effectively counter the asymmetric strategies of the merchants of doubt.

  19. BBD says:

    DS

    I wish I could effectively counter the asymmetric strategies of the merchants of doubt.

    As do we all.

    But if our interlocutors refuse to engage in good faith (eg. accept the scientific evidence as presented unless they can produce a coherent, physically-grounded counter-argument), then what to do?

    Give up?

    I don’t really think that option is open to anyone who knows what is going on. And so we are forced to continue even as the misery increases.

  20. Ignorance really is bliss. The Dunning-Kruger effect might explain the Fermi paradox, so preventing misinformation from influencing elections seems crucial. Bad faith arguments are simply being refined, so even if civilization survives, misinformation about the next crisis (water, phosphorus, etc.) will just be more insidious.

  21. BBD says:

    DS

    You are bleak tonight. Can vested interest (and therefore misinformation) kill every civilisation in a galaxy?

    I just hope that stellar engineering is effectively impossible (so we don’t see it) and that listening to the radio spectrum might be the wrong place to look for advanced civilisations’ interstellar comms.

  22. Tom Curtis says:

    Joshua, the article in question was originally published in Quadrant magazine, the most influential conservative magazine published in Australia. That lends support to Rachel original contention. It is not clear, however, that she has retained that contention. Rather, she now seems to be arguing that memes such as those espoused in the article are very influential. On that point it is significant that the meme she picks out is number 1 on the list of denier myths as ranked by frequency of consultation at SkS. That strongly suggests it is both pervasive and influential.

  23. Rachel M says:

    It is not clear, however, that she has retained that contention.

    This has made me go back and read my original comment which seems to have caused a bit of confusion. I was not very clear, I am sorry.

    I said “That’s exactly the sort of article that has a huge influence.”. I did not mean that Breitbart is hugely influential. It might be. I really have no idea. I meant that articles which say “the climate is always changing” seem to be hugely influential because so many people believe this meme.

  24. BBD, a single sample is difficult to generalize from, but our failures probably aren’t unique. The Milky Way’s ~100,000 light year diameter is much shorter than its ~10 billion year age, so it’s confusing that our solar system wasn’t already colonized before humanity evolved. This wouldn’t require stellar engineering or radio spectrum eavesdropping like SETI. Not all civilizations would expand, but it would only take one.

    As guthrie noted, life on Earth appeared billions of years ago. Some estimates place the origin of single-celled life very close to the end of the late heavy bombardment which suggests the Drake equation isn’t dominated by the unlikelihood of life evolving. But evidence (Easter Island, etc.) suggests civilizations are short lived. Maybe because democracies are stable in the short term, but vulnerable to misinformation in the long run?

  25. Tom Curtis says:

    Apologies, the article was not initially published in Quadrant. I accidentally referred to the wrong article.

  26. izen says:

    The reason people are so willing to shovel up mounds of undigestable waste product is that it fertilises the viewpoint they already hold. It is a fundamental aspect of human cognition that we are certain that the opinions we have are inherently correct. When faced with evidence that contradicts that intrinsic property of our opinions the automatic response is to exclude that evidence and find some material that reinforces our existing viewpoint.

    That is why the ‘deficit model’ that more information will alter opinion is so often wrong. It only works when the issue is one on which we have not formed a strong personal viewpoint.
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/02/25/peds.2013-2365

    The construction that is so often heard, that “climate has changed before, therefore the present changes cannot be unequivocally ascribed to human influence” or “therefore is not a serious new problem requiring a response” is a case in point.
    As Dumb Scientist has found pointing out the logical errors of this viewpoint or its factual flaws has little influence because the idea was not adopted for its rational strength, but for its nourishing effect on the pre-existing beliefs.

    Fact checking and exposing the logical errors of the assertions deposited around any issue about which people hold strong opinions is ineffective and possibly counter-productive. Unless there is first a method of persuading people to at least consider the possibility they could be wrong. An extremely difficult proposition, especially with those who have an authoritarian bias.

    This why there has been such opposition to the 97% consensus argument and the official statements of the leading scientific institutions. Showing people that they occupy a minority position on any issue uses the leverage of peer pressure to at least encourage them to re-examine their dogma.

    Another useful method is to describe what evidence would cause you to change your mind about (or at least doubt and re-examine) the issue and ask them what evidence would cause them to change their current opinions. It is important to show your own willingness to alter your views otherwise it just becomes a conflict between dogmas.

    Only after some grounds for altering strongly held views, or the possibility that the views could be in error has been established, can evidence increasing a person’s knowledge and rational refutation of existing errors have any chance of cleaning out the manure they are using to feed their assumptions.

    In the evolution/creation debates opinions are even more entrenched. Asking what evidence might cause a creationist to doubt their views would often elicit the response that NOTHING could change their mind as they had the ultimate and absolute TRUTH of religion surpporting their worldview. The best that you can do in such circumstances is suggest that a mind so closed to the possibility of error is not in accordance with the personal humility their dogma expouses as a virtue.

    This human tendency to convert our personal viewpoint into a dogma affects both sides of course. I think John N-G is probably seen as a tone troll because he is pointing out the dangers and tendency of the ‘alarmists to succumb to dogma, but he seems to be someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and modify his own views. Curry may also be seen as a voice cautioning the ‘AGW is a danger’ crowd to approach the subject with humility. But when it comes to self-applying that exhortation to open-mindedness… I have my doubts.
    (grin)

  27. Joshua says:

    Tom –

    Rather, she now seems to be arguing that memes such as those espoused in the article are very influential.

    The meme is commonly used by “skeptics,” of course. No doubt. And I would say that they use it to confirm their biases. As Rachel says:

    It’s one of the most common arguments against doing anything about climate change in my view.

    And I agree with that also. It is an argument used by those whose minds are already made up. Anyone who is open-minded about climate change, and interested in finding out answers, can easily do enough investigation to see how shallow the argument is.

    That it was an article published in Quadrant reinforces the same point that I made by noting that it was published at Breitbart. Those reading have already formulated their opinion, and are merely looking (in a shallow manner) to confirm their biases. The logical fallacy embedded in the argument that “Climate has always changed so therefore there is no reason to be concerned by ACO2” is so blatant and obvious that only a partisan would be willing to look past it.

    You say: “That strongly suggests it is both pervasive and influential.”

    I have no question that it is pervasive. I see it very, very often. But pervasive does not equate with influential. My contention is about whether it is influential. I don’t consider an argument that is used by partisans to be an influential argument just because it is used frequently. I consider such an argument to be a reflection of their partisanship. When I think of influence, I think of something that makes a difference in someone’s opinion. Something that is significant in affecting the conclusions someone draws. If their mind is already made up, and they are using a shallow argument as a rhetorical device, is that influence? Not in my view.

    And that is why I don’t think that it is: (a) important that such an argument gets published and, (2) important that such an argument gets refuted. I think that very few people’s opinions are influenced by either event.

    I don’t know how to account for the difference in my anecdotal experiences and those of Rachel. I have never encountered the argument being made by anyone who was actually interested in evaluating the influence of ACO2 on our climate. I have only encountered the argument, as Rachel said, by those “…against doing anything about climate change…”

  28. > I think John N-G is probably seen as a tone troll because he is pointing out the dangers and tendency of the ‘alarmists to succumb to dogma, but he seems to be someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and modify his own views.

    NG’s the Bobby Orr of my fantasy draft:

    http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/tagged/johnnielsengammon

    NG can defend himself, but only when nobody’s backbiting.

  29. AnOilMan says:

    I would like to go down as disliking the horse shit analogy as well. Horse shit can be used to promote plant growth, which clearly none of this material does. (Truthful or not.)

    Clearly a unit of measure is needed that scales from ‘truthful’ to ‘weapon of mass distortion’. ‘Useless, meaningless, and entertaining’ would be somewhere in the middle. Much denier material is politically motivated weaponized misinformation.

    The whole problem with asking a bunch of real scientists to comment on randomly provided articles, is that any moron can type. If there is any real technical content it will take a huge amount of time to double check. So it’s a pretty supreme waste of a scientist’s time. Furthermore it parades this garbage in front of people to see reinforcing myths which is a shameful thing to do.

  30. izen says:

    @- Dumb Scientist
    “Some estimates place the origin of single-celled life very close to the end of the late heavy bombardment which suggests the Drake equation isn’t dominated by the unlikelihood of life evolving. But evidence (Easter Island, etc.) suggests civilizations are short lived. ”

    A more optimistic view might be that when intelligence and collective development of science and technology DO evolve that could be detectable by other civilisations it also rapidly reaches the Singularity.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
    At which point all this messing around in the material plane to try and manage resource scarcity becomes a jejune irrelevance.

  31. Joe Kernen and Eric Worrall seem so convinced by the (supposedly) impending singularity that they’re completely unconcerned about resource scarcity or waste surplus.

    I’m skeptical of the singularity because of negative feedbacks like the fact that each generation of scientists needs to learn an increasing amount of increasingly inter-disciplinary background material in order to reach the frontiers of knowledge.

    Even still, I’m skeptical that every technological singularity in a ~10 billion year old galaxy of ~400 billion stars would fail to leave behind some faction that still values resources in the material plane. That seems to require a uniformity of opinion that clashes with my single anecdotal sample: humanity.

  32. izen says:

    @- Dumb Scientist
    I share your scepticism of the idea of an impending singularity. Especially when it is used as a ‘horseshit’ argument by cornocopians to ignore current problems. It then becomes a version wonderfully satirised by (sorry forgot who did it) the idea that JFK would have said,
    “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, so we will wait for the invention of anti-gravity.”

    I would also agree that it seems unlikely that other technological intelligences would abandon the physical plane to the extent they would leave no trace when we can see obvious methods to leave our mark at the galactic scale. Von Neumann machines would overrun the local area at least in a fraction of the galactic lifespan.

    However, much of the early universe was inherently inimical to the evolution of organic life given the shortage of heavy elements until supernova synthesis had provided them. And the rate of supernovas would be a sterilising constraint on nearby life.

    How easy would it be for us to detect a civilisation at the same stage as the Earth is in at present if the light cone was now reaching us ? Could we detect an equivalent ‘us’ if it was 10 lightyears away, a 100 or a 1000?

    But for a really radical view of how to explain the Fermi paradox, have you read Stanislaw Lem’s ‘The New Cosmogony’ in the collection ‘A perfect Vacuum’ ?
    {sorry for the totally off topic digression ATTP!}

  33. Tom Curtis says:

    Joshua, if deniers use the argument frequently, it is probably because either, they themselves find it persuasive, or they have found it persuasive to their peers, ie, the vast majority of people who gain information primarily around the water fountain, and would not know how to find a scientific paper, let alone become familiar with the literature. Perhaps those people are only persuaded because rejecting climate science panders to their political inclinations, yet still they are persuaded. Further, on average 50% of people (excluding the apathetic) have political inclinations that lead them that way. So even if persuasive only to some, it is still persuasive.

    The anti-climate science brigade have had remarkable success in marshaling political opposition to mitigating climate change. They have done so despite the fact that they have been firing scientific blanks. You want us to adopt the working assumption that they are firing rhetorical blanks as well, and that simply does not wash. Further, you want us to do so on grounds no more substantial than those for claims of an end to global warming. That is, your base argument is that if we cannot produce statistically significant evidence that the argument is effective, we have to operate on the assumption that it is not.

  34. Thanks izen, I hadn’t read A Perfect Vacuum but tried to read an excpert despite the missing pages in Google books. I found it intriguing but have to note p217: “… the Universe expands: since it is only in such a Universe, despite the fact that new Civilizations are emerging in it, that the distance separating them remains permanently vast.”

    This applies to civilizations in different galaxies, but even the 1998 discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe (~27 years after A Perfect Vacuum’s publication) wouldn’t affect the distances between civilizations in the same galaxy. The gravity of each galaxy keeps it together in spite of the accelerating expansion of the universe for much the same reason that the solar system isn’t being ripped apart.

    You’re right to note that the early galaxy wasn’t friendly to life, but note that Earth has had heavy elements and life for billions of years and experienced many millions of years of setbacks due to extinctions which aren’t necessarily universal. Since the Milky Way is only ~100,000 light years across, even an expansion spreading at a measly 1% light speed would colonize the galaxy in ~10 million years. That’s roughly comparable to one Snowball Earth, and other planets might not have had as many as us.

    Detecting radio emissions from Earth-like civilizations more than 100 light years away seems difficult. David Brin’s Existence argued that physical messages are more effective than radio signals. Diffraction limits detectable radio power at galactic distances, but large physical objects don’t diffract. Also, a radio signal needs to be powered continuously until a civilization develops a receiver in the target solar systems, which could take millions of years. But a physical object could be sent using less energy and simply wait until a technological civilization emerges.

  35. izen says:

    @- Tom Curtis
    “The anti-climate science brigade have had remarkable success in marshaling political opposition to mitigating climate change.”

    I think you have this backwards, I agree with Joshua on this one, the scientific and rhetorical blanks are a symptom of partisanship not its cause. The above is more accurately;

    The political brigade have had remarkable success in marshalling the anti-climate science opposition to mitigating climate change.

  36. OPatrick says:

    Joshua:

    I don’t know how to account for the difference in my anecdotal experiences and those of Rachel. I have never encountered the argument being made by anyone who was actually interested in evaluating the influence of ACO2 on our climate. I have only encountered the argument, as Rachel said, by those “…against doing anything about climate change…”

    I think you more or less answer your own question there. You’ve not accounted for what is, in my experience, by far the largest group of people. Not those who are actively looking for reasons to deny the significance of anthropogenic climate change, but the people with busy lives and many cares who just need enough reason to avoid engaging. It only takes one or two snippets of misinformation to justify to themselves, probably subconsciously, not thinking about it in any depth. This is a passive ignorance, not the burning, active ignorance we encounter on the Internet all the time.

    As an example, I was watching a debate on the energy bill in the House of Lords a while back and there was the obvious, well crafted misinformation of people like Ridley and Lawson, but also several superficially neutral speakers who dropped in things like equivalences between the IPCC and the NIPCC. My impression was that these were people who genuinely thought they were being balanced. It was clear they weren’t deeply informed on the debate, yet they were in a position to affect legislation. Given the voting it’s clear that the way they were affecting it was towards a passive downgrading of the significance of the problem. Drips are enough to achieve this.

    And that is why I don’t think that it is: (a) important that such an argument gets published and, (2) important that such an argument gets refuted. I think that very few people’s opinions are influenced by either event.

    I disagree.

  37. Rachel M says:

    OPatrick,

    You’ve not accounted for what is, in my experience, by far the largest group of people. Not those who are actively looking for reasons to deny the significance of anthropogenic climate change, but the people with busy lives and many cares who just need enough reason to avoid engaging.

    Yes! These are exactly the people I mean. This is the group that Rowson calls – in a a new agenda on climate change – the unmoved and they make up almost 64% of the population.

    image

    These are the people I socialise with and they quite simply don’t care. When the topic comes up, the first thing they say is that the climate has changed before because that’s what they’ve read in an article just like the one in Breitbart.

    We need more than just one website – Skeptical Science – pointing out why it’s wrong to take comfort from this. And a website which has real climate scientists responding to these things is in my view, invaluable. I am quite frankly amazed that so many people here dislike CCNF so much. I think it’s wonderful and next time someone shoves one of those articles in my face I’ll direct them to it.

  38. OPatrick says:

    Rachel – that looks like a fascinating article (the link didn’t work for me – I found it here)

    I should add that I see CCNF as a positive initiative. I think most here are in agreement that we need more scientists engaging in the debate, but not all have the tenacity to start their own blogs to do so. CCNF seems to provide a way for the ‘unmoved’ experts to start that engagement – discrete blocks of fact-checking may well be appealing to some who will otherwise shrug it off.

  39. Rachel M says:

    Yes, that’s the one thanks, OPatrick. I’ve fixed my link which goes directly to the pdf but yours goes to the webpage with the pdf which is perhaps better.

  40. uknowiss

    As someone who has researched horseshit as part of a population and behavioural ecology project I find this blogpost offensive.

    I did consider that this post my be offensive, but didn’t consider it from that perspective. Apologies 🙂

  41. OPatrick says:

    Something from the introduction to the New Agenda on Climate Change report that struck a chord:

    When asked, most British people do care about climate change to some extent, but as long as the issue remains relatively unimportant in terms of daily concerns, competing political commitments (eg to energy prices and energy security, and to particular forms of economic growth) it will make it very difficult to create the political will necessary to decarbonise at scale and speed.

    On Any Questions the other day there was a question about wind turbines. One of the panel was quite clear that climate change was a serious threat and said it was probably going to be the issue that dominated the lives of his children. It’s difficult to imagine a more forceful statement about the primacy of the issue. Yet even then he then went on to imply an equivalence between this and the problem of keeping people’s energy bills down.

  42. Rachel,

    And a website which has real climate scientists responding to these things is in my view, invaluable. I am quite frankly amazed that so many people here dislike CCNF so much. I think it’s wonderful and next time someone shoves one of those articles in my face I’ll direct them to it.

    I certainly don’t dislike CCNF. My concern is that they won’t really distinguish between this article and the one I mentioned by David Roberts a few days ago. They’ll try, I think, to be balanced and that can end up – in my view – giving articles like this undue credence. If they were to characterise the articles and separate them in some way (V. Good, Good, Okay, Flawed, Nonsense) I would be less concerned.

  43. Rachel M says:

    AndThen,

    Ok, that sounds fair enough. I’m sure there’s room for improvement. I can’t say I like the Facebook login requirement – I’ll never comment there because of that – and I also don’t like the site design. It’s too cluttered and hard to navigate.

  44. Rachel,
    I’m also not sure that I like the scientists versus everyone else style. I can see the value in it, but – personally – it rather puts me off commenting.

  45. Rachel M says:

    If everyone comments together then doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the site given that it’s supposed to be the response of climate scientists?

    I think it might be better with a forum style layout rather than a blog.

  46. JasonB says:

    I followed jsam’s link to the CCNF post that he commented on, and read Michael Quirke’s justification for posting nonsense so it could be “fact checked” by the CCNF scientist community.

    Unfortunately, his justification for posting that nonsense loses a lot of credibility when Judith Curry is one of the aforementioned CCNF scientists, and she weighs in in support of the article, firstly with an appeal to authority (Paltridge is “a distinguished Australian atmospheric physicist”), a statement that she didn’t “find much to disagree with” (no idea what it was that she did disagree with), a criticism of the other scientists for simply complaining about the article having been posted while failing to “critique the disputed points and provide evidence refuting Paltridge’s arguments” (apparently ignoring the very first comment by Schmittner), and finally, claiming that there’s too much uncertainty to know anything anyway.

    When challenged by Schmittner, she refuses to answer and instead changes topic to the 97% consensus.

    Given that the post originally appeared on her own website, are we surprised?

    The problem is not the posting of bullshit to be fact-checked; it’s the “fact checking” that’s reinforcing the bullshit that’s the problem. The take-home message for an impartial observer reading the squabbling by the scientists at the end is likely going to be that The Science Isn’t Settled.

    IOW, Mission Accomplished — for Judith, anyway.

  47. JasonB,
    Yes, Judith’s unwillingness to answer Schmittner’s question is quite remarkable. It’s not a complicated question and the answer should be fairly obvious.

  48. The problem with Paltridge’s views is closely related to the issue I discussed at the end of the thread on being alarmed. A part of scientists seem to miss the logic of Bayesian inference. They argue that internal variability may produce similar variability, or that we at least don’t know that it cannot. That’s probably true, but that’s not enough for concluding that the 95% certainty of at least half of the warming being anthropogenic would not be justified.

    In Bayesian inference a well defined alternative that agrees with the data gets strong support over totally undefined alternatives even when these cannot be excluded as impossible. Most climate scientists have certainly this correct argument as an intuitive support for their subjective belief in the IPCC type conclusions. That reasoning made Richard Muller present his statement where he declared his trust in the conclusion. Shaun Lovejoy has made an attempt to make this approach in a more formal way.

    I have some doubts on details of the formalization of the argument, but basically this argument is valid. Intuitively I’m convinced that 95% is not exaggerated, That could apply even to a somewhat higher upper limit than half of the observed warming, but as always in a science where controlled experiments cannot be done, making the arguments formally strong or fully objective is virtually impossible. We are always left with the need of some subjective judgment.

  49. MikeH says:

    Andreas Schmittner is currently being insulted by a Dunning Kruger type who identifies himself as being from “University of Wollongong”. According to his Facebook page he once studied there.

    I would lend a hand but the public comments section is so broken my posts do not appear.

    That site is going to become a crank magnet fairly quickly given the non existent moderation. The broken comments section is probably a blessing in disguise.

  50. BBD says:

    Pekka

    What you just said is very important, frequently misunderstood and so well worth repeating:

    In Bayesian inference a well defined alternative that agrees with the data gets strong support over totally undefined alternatives even when these cannot be excluded as impossible.

  51. MikeH,
    Just noticed that. Good post by Schmittner about Deep Ocean Warming. Fairly simple and straightforward – how can the deep oceans both be warming the surface and gaining energy without violating the conservation of energy?

  52. BBD and Pekka,
    I agree that is something worth repeating. I also find it interesting that many who should understand Bayesian inference seem to stick rigidly to a frequentist approach when it comes to trying identify possible anthropogenicially-influenced trends.

  53. Rob Nicholls says:

    I just love the title of your article, it’s what any newcomer has to learn to do if they are searching the internet wanting to get to the truth about climate change. I agree with Rachel that critically analysing horseshit (including the more nuanced varieties available, which on closer examination turn out to be of no better quality) is a very important task. As a lay person who has only been reading about climate change for a few years, I remember not knowing which side of the “debate” to trust when I first came across articles on WUWT. Even the most stupid articles can look quite convincing to an unqualified newcomer. (It’s easy to forget that when one has more experience or has a relevant qualification). It took me a lot of reading of both sides to work out what I thought of it all. The IPCC’s reports are excellent but they aren’t designed to target and debunk the nonsense sprayed around by those who deny that climate change is a serious problem. It’s only because of websites such as Realclimate, Skeptical Science and Tamino’s OpenMind that I was able to see climate change denial for what it really is. As long as Watts, Curry, Lawson and many similar others are confusing people with their denial of the very serious risks posed by climate change, there will be a need for websites which debunk them. These people do have real influence (e.g. some of them get interviewed on TV / radio programmes and submit evidence to government hearings.) The more websites there are that are combating climate change denial, the better, in my opinon.

  54. BBD says:

    ATTP

    how can the deep oceans both be warming the surface and gaining energy without violating the conservation of energy?

    How indeed? I’ve made this argument for at least two years now.

    (Yeeees buuut uuuuncertainty, bleat the contrarians – see Curry trying to undermine the OHC data).

  55. People who have been following Climate Etc. should recognize Robert Ellison. He has been writing there hundreds of similar comments using many pseudonyms (and making it perfectly clear that the same person is writing the comments). Sometimes he has used also this name, which is probably his real name.

  56. Rob,
    Thanks. I agree that the more the merrier, but it still seems remarkably hard to get people to recognise what is demonstrably nonsense, and what is worthy of true skepticism. That this Breitbart article can be taken seriously by so many, is quite concerning.

  57. BBD says:

    Sorry, Pekka, to be clear, are you saying that Prof. Woodcock is Robert Ellison (The King of Socks™) aka the Chief Hydrologist, aka Captain Kangaroo etc?

  58. Joshua says:

    OPatrick –

    I look at my opinions vis–à–vis this discussion as more or less the flip side of my reactions to arguments such as those made by Nordhaus and Shellenberger in the recent NYT op-ed.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/opinion/global-warming-scare-tactics.html

    IMO – they make a fundamentally unscientific argument where they conflate correlation and causation to determine that “scare tactics” is increasing “skepticism” about climate change. In fact, they don’t really examine what the causal mechanism might be for changes reflected in public opinion polling, and impose a subjective determination that “conservatives” are pushed towards “skepticism” because of what climate scientists do or don’t say. IMO, they ignore important causal factors such as economic conditions and short-term weather phenomena, and they get the direction of causality backwards when the look at the inter-relationship between political ideology and views on climate change.

    What they don’t address, IMO, is the possibility that those inclined to reject concerns about ACO2 will trust their “experts” and discount any “experts” not aligned with their own identification group irrespective of how those other “experts” frame their messaging.

    You’ve not accounted for what is, in my experience, by far the largest group of people. Not those who are actively looking for reasons to deny the significance of anthropogenic climate change, but the people with busy lives and many cares who just need enough reason to avoid engaging.

    Sure, there are different degrees of alignment, and climate change is very likely not at the top of list of concerns for many people (unless there is a spate of extreme weather that happens to affect them directly)…but IMO, there are relatively few people who are not culturally identified with camps in the climate change wars. In the States, pretty much anyone reading Breitbart, or listening to Limbaugh or Hannity or Beck or O’Reily, or watching Fox News, or watching MSNBC, or even reading the NYT is oriented in one direction or the other, and using additional information to confirm their biases. If they hear from a non-aligned “expert” it confirms their biases against that “expert’s” position, no matter what that “expert” says. If they hear from an aligned “expert,” it confirms their biases in resonance with that “expert’s” position, no matter what that “expert” says.

    I know that people get fatigued hearing this kind of argument from me, and as BBD likes to point out, I am uniquely dense when it comes to understanding the real world – so I suggest going back and reading Izen’s comment from April 28, 2014 at 12:15 am. I think that he (is Izen a he?) is saying something similar, in perhaps a more palatable and well-articulate form.

  59. BBD says:

    Joshua

    I know that people get fatigued hearing this kind of argument from me

    Regrettably true, but it is your right to repeat yourself.

    and as BBD likes to point out, I am uniquely dense when it comes to understanding the real world

    I was irritated by BK at the time and over-harsh. This was unfair and untrue. My apologies.

  60. JCH says:

    ATTP: on ocean heat transport – by altering the energy balance: more E in than E out.

    Rind and Chandler – 2012

    The large high-latitude amplification associated with ocean heat transport and sea ice changes differs significantly from that forecast for increased trace gases, for which water vapor increase is the primary feedback mechanism. The different signatures might allow for discrimination of these different forcings; e.g., the warming of the 1930s looks more like the altered ocean heat transport signal, while the warming of the 1980s is more like the trace gas effect. The actual change of ocean heat transport and deep water circulation both in the past and in the future represents a great uncertainty.

  61. I have no observation about Prof. Woodcock thus I don’t comment on that, but RE, CH, CK and several other names including the recent Generalissimo Skippy have openly been used by the same person.

  62. JCH,
    I’ve only managed to read the abstract. Very interesting, and I had wondered about that. Presumably, the associated forcing is the change in albedo due to the melting of sea ice which then leads to an energy imbalance and warming. Certainly plausible. I guess the only comment I would make about the 1930s is that you can match the observed warming reasonably well by considering the GHG forcings plus the solar forcing. So, it would seem unlikely that this could be particularly dominant unless the GHG and solar forcing estimates for that period are wrong (or I’m missing something here). If I get a chance, I’ll read the paper in more detail.

  63. Joshua says:

    Can someone link to the thread with comments from Woodcock. If the comments are written by the Chief of Unintentional Irony, it will be quite obvious.

  64. Ian Forrester says:

    Anders, just to clarify things a bit, the original article was written by a journalist for the Yorkshire Evening Post called Neil Hudson on April 3rd:

    http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/global-warming-is-rubbish-says-top-professor-1-6536732

    It was picked up immediately by Mark Morano’s climatedepot then it went viral.

    I can find nothing to link Woodcock to NASA but he was a senior research consultant at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Laboratory. I don’t know if that had anything to do with NASA or not.

  65. That paper of Rind and Chandler seems to be pretty old, from 1991. 2012 is the year it was made available on the net (but not to my university, because my access starts in 1997).

  66. Thanks, Pekka. I missed that.

  67. JCH says:

    Yikes, missed that. Warming of the 1980’s was a clue!

  68. toby52 says:

    Global Warming is Rubbish … says Top Professor in the …. er, ahem, the Yorkshire Evening Post?

    Woodcock may even have been taking the p1ss, I suspect he may have been when you see his picture, and when he gets on to this “revolutionary theory of matter”. Its seems an obvious wind-up of a credulous reporter.

    But I fear otherwise.

    http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/global-warming-is-rubbish-says-top-professor-1-6536732

  69. AnOilMan says:

    As entertaining as I find the tripe put out by pseudosceptics, you need to be worried about how it plays with the average Joe Public.

    They don’t know any better. They don’t know how many 100’s of thousands of man years has gone into the physics, science and chemistry which makes up our understanding of climate change.

    There otta be a law… And newspapers should know better than to fall for a crank.

  70. izen says:

    @- Joshua
    – so I suggest going back and reading Izen’s comment from April 28, 2014 at 12:15 am. I think that he (is Izen a he?) is saying something similar, in perhaps a more palatable and well-articulate form.

    Ha, I am most flattered!
    The climate change debate is not unique in its structure or process. The same issues of persuasion, rhetoric and understanding emerge in evo/creation, anti-vax, anti-fluoride and a good deal of the political disputes. And where there may be a need to change a persons personal habits for health reasons. Often you encounter a poster, patient or blog where you know that, ‘the Morton’s daemon is strong in this one!’
    In those cases it is necessary, but not sufficient, to establish the possibility of error. To find some way of relaxing the filters that we all erect in the face of information, knowledge or wisdom that contradicts our own viewpoint.

    Yes I will admit to being ‘he’. When I first started engaging in net discussion groups, forums and blogs I innocently filled in all the ; gender, age nationality, education, profession/work questions, and quickly found that any and all personal details would be used as a basis for ad hom attacks and to justify the arbitrary rejection of any argument I might advance.
    As a result I found it expedient to adopt an ambiguous, non-specific anonym and remove as many personal details from public view as possible. That at least prevented the easy rejection of anything I posted as being from someone with the ‘wrong’ attributes and help focus the responses on the content, not the messenger.

    One response that can sometimes work when faced with the type of argument ‘climate has changed in the past…’ is NOT to attack the scientific flaws or logical errors but to ask a person why they find that argument convincing.
    Explain that it does not seem very convincing to you for reasons you will explain if they want, but you are really curious why they find it a strong argument that supports their position.
    Peoples’ egotism will often tempt them into trying to justify their sense of holding the absolute truth in their beliefs!

  71. Nobodyknows says:

    Message: CCNF is spreading horse shit. It stinks. Don`t visit this website. Don`t we all agree?
    Or have I misunderstood the intention with this posting?

  72. Nobodyknows,

    Or have I misunderstood the intention with this posting?

    My guess is that you haven’t misunderstood the intention of this posting, but are just pretending to. Is that about right?

  73. Nobodyknows says:

    What I think is unfair is to make this link and assosiation between serious scientists and some bloggers who spread their misinformation. I think Judith Curry an some other people have important voices in the climate discurse, and that dialogue is important.

  74. Nobodyknow,
    Maybe you can clarify what you mean. I don’t think I’ve made the link you suggest I have.

  75. guthrie says:

    Dialogue about what, Nobodyknows?

  76. BBD says:

    Dialogue about the debate of course, guthrie!

    🙂

  77. Nobodyknows says:

    I don`t think that the CCNF will promote this article in Breitbart.

  78. Nobodyknows,
    Indeed. I don’t think I suggested that they would. In fact, I think I suggested that they would be best to ignore such articles. I was simply illustrating how there are indeed some articles that are so nonsensical that attempting to fact check them would be a complete waste of time.

  79. Rachel M says:

    Woodcock reminds me a bit of David Bellamy in this debate with George Monbiot:

  80. AnOilMan says:

    Rachel: Very good video. George Monbiot is awesome. “Bullshit!”

    Its very obvious David Bellamy hasn’t read anything from scientific journals. George Monbiot, is quite literally calmly handling a troll. I couldn’t do that.

    George, “Shouldn’t you have checked your data before your published?”

    To David Bellamy… Yes. You should check data before you talk about it. And as a matter of course… convicts aren’t considered good sources.

  81. BBD says:

    I find Bellamy’s denialism rather saddening. I used to admire the man when I was young. I wonder if his very obviously real love of the natural world simply will not allow him to contemplate what might well be about to happen to much of it.

  82. Rachel M says:

    OilMan,

    It is very funny that video and sad too. David Bellamy obviously dislikes wind farms and so he’s decided on that basis, to reject climate science.

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