The allure of articulate confidence.

I watched BBC One’s Saturday Morning Live, which included James Delingpole discussing the Pope’s Encyclical Letter. I think you can watch the episode here. What it seemed to illustrate, to me, was both the allure of articulate confidence and why you don’t debate science.

Delingpole was certain that climate change has played no role in the recent migrant crisis. I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t. He’s certain that climate change is simply a natural process; not partly natural, just natural. Typically scientists are not nearly as certain about such topics as Delingpole appears to be. That’s why debating science is not the norm. If your goal is to gain some understanding, how can you do so if one party is willing to make confident assertions? Especially, if this – as is the case with Delingpole – is coming from a position of obvious ignorance.

Of course, one positive to take from this is that if Delingpole is the best that the BBC can get, they really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. One suggestion I would make is that the BBC aim to ensure that those who they invite to talk about a complex topic, like climate science, at least have a modicum of actual expertise in that subject. If they did so, that would immediately eliminate the likes of Delingpole. Of course, it might make such segments less interesting, but I’d certainly favour being informative over being controversial.

This is probably an opportune time to include, again, the discussion between James Delingpole and Paul Nurse, in which Delingpole illustrated that he really isn’t a scientist, and doesn’t have a particularly good understanding of science, or the scientific method.

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87 Responses to The allure of articulate confidence.

  1. The video, however, does not show much articulation skills. That while Sir Nurse was so kind as to draw out the question and give Delingpole a lot of time to think.

  2. Victor,
    True, he wasn’t particularly articulate in that video.

  3. Nik Wycha says:

    What happened to the BBC not giving deniers air time?

  4. Saturday Morning Live can unfortunately only be seen in the UK. For such programs where the BBC has all the copy rights, that should not be necessary. I do not expect them to be able make much money on selling Delingpole abroad.

  5. Nick,
    I’ve no idea, especially given that Delingpole’s view that it’s all natural is the epitome of denial.

  6. The video is a very clear -though perhaps not confident- articulation of libertarian values, and why they are not rational, but merely employ rationalisations.

    Delingpole tries to reverse-engineer a process of reasoning about climate science. But it’s tricky because of course he started the process from his conclusion!

  7. KarSteN says:

    From the BBC website: “Start Sunday off with live ethical debates on topical issues.
    Perhaps they start discussing journalistic ethics before they start bullshitting around. Unless your ultimate goal is to dumb down the public (as if the tabloid rubbish isn’t toxic and obnoxious enough).

  8. To the person that is composing this blog. You have a quirky writing habit of always pulling your punches. Consider this statement that you wrote above:

    ” I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t. “

    You do this all the time, and I can probably find at least one instance of use of this weak-kneed idiom in every blog post you write.

    Say that I were to write “I may be a Martian but I may not be”. Repeat that kind of statement in infinite varieties and it defines your writing style. Instead of “articulate confidence” it reads more like hedging your bets.

    One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding pompous at the same time. You may be erring on the side of playing it safe so as not to sound like an arrogant jerk of the caliber of James Delingpole — “quite possibly (I saved) Western civilization from the greatest threat it has ever known”. 🙂

  9. WHT,

    You do this all the time, and I can probably find at least one instance of use of this weak-kneed idiom in every blog post you write.

    Quite possibly, and I don’t really plan to not do so.

    One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding pompous at the same time.

    This sounds more like politics, than science – to me, at least.

    I think you’re also rather missing my point. Scientists rarely say anything with absolute certainty. There may be some exceptions, but typically there is either some level of uncertainty, or the system is too complex to say anything with absolute certainty. Hence, if you are interacting with someone who is willing to say things with certainty, you’re always at a disadvantage.

  10. Joshua says:

    I disagree, WHT. I find Anders’ consistency in explicitly qualifying the difference between fact and opinion quite refreshing.

    I think that’s an attribute sorely missing in the blogosphere, and disagree completely with your implication that clarifying uncertainty suggests poor scientific writing.

  11. But you write like a jellyfish, with no backbone.

    ” I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t. “

    What is that supposed to mean? Is it simply empty words? If I were to deconstruct it, you are saying you simply don’t know in two redundant ways. But why do you always use these elliptical constructs? It reeks of bureaucratese.

    Might as well be Rumsfeld writhing this stuff.

  12. But you write like a jellyfish, with no backbone.

    Well, I can’t accuse you of the same.

    Again, I think you’re missing the point I was trying to get at. Saying “climate change has played no role in the recent migration” is as bad as saying “climate change caused the recent migration”. I was trying to stress that any form of absolute certainty is typically unscientific. Hence any debate between a scientist and someone willing to state things with certainty will always work against the scientist (well, unless they’re also willing to state things with certainty).

    Might as well be Rumsfeld writhing this stuff.

    Wow, you really going for the insults here. Did you get out of the bed on the wrong side again today?

  13. Magma says:

    Not to be critical, as I greatly enjoy this blog and your writing, but “I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t adds nothing to the paragraph. You could have left it out, or instead written “Delingpole’s unsupported and unwarranted certainty” or some such thing.

    Now, “scraping the bottom of the barrel, that’s punchy.

  14. “Delingpole’s unsupported and unwarranted certainty”

    Okay, that might have been better, but I didn’t have time to get this peer-reviewed on a Sunday 🙂

  15. dana1981 says:

    Victor says

    Saturday Morning Live can unfortunately only be seen in the UK.

    In this case, that should read “fortunately.” It frustrates me to no end that the BBC keeps bringing on deniers like Delingpole and Montford, who aren’t even scientists! Their own commissions have told them to cut out the false balance BS, yet they still continue to treat basic science as an issue open to public debate.

    If I were a UK citizen and my money were going to fund this faux journalism, I’d be pissed off.

  16. Willard says:

    > What is that supposed to mean?

    That AT does not know one way or the other.

    You’re welcome.

    ***

    > Quite possibly, and I don’t really plan to not do so.

    Which does not imply that AT plans to do so.

    ***

    Since we’re into parsomatics, in this construction:

    > Delingpole’s unsupported and unwarranted certainty

    what information does the “unwarranted” add to “unsupported”?

  17. Dana, you have a point. 🙂 That was my curious self.

    The great firewall may also protect the reputation of the UK overseas.

  18. Joshua says:

    ==> “but “I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t adds nothing to the paragraph. ”

    I disagree. My suggestion is that if it means nothing to you, just read past it. No harm done.

  19. 0^0 says:

    I was not quite sure who this Delingpole bloke was. Checked Wikipedia.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Delingpole

    Seems to head breitbart.com for UK.

    Thinking about the .. umm.. stuff one can read over there this was extremely “interesting” choice for BBC as commentator on encyclical and climate.. Perhaps they bring in Mr Rose next time.. (un)fortunately I am not able to see it..

  20. Magna says:


    Not to be critical, as I greatly enjoy this blog and your writing, but “I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t adds nothing to the paragraph.

    You have to learn how to accept some criticism if you want to get better. As you can see, I am not the only one that is seeing this wishy-washyness and lack of confidence in your writing style.

    These idioms become apparent as you read a writer over a long period. There was a columnist named Jerry Pournelle that would start at least one sentence with “Alas” in every piece he wrote. He turned into a climate change d*nier after I stopped reading him.

  21. WHT,
    Well, you seemed annoyed by my writing style and by a sense of faux humility. If so, feel free to be annoyed. Constructive criticism can be useful. What you’re doing doesn’t qualify (I almost wrote “I don’t think what you’re doing qualifies”, but I decided to seem more certain 🙂 ).

  22. O^O,
    I think they really struggle to find dissenting voices. As Dana points out, it’s mostly people like Delingpole and Montford, who are neither scientists nor particularly informed.

  23. Steven Mosher says:

    “One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding pompous at the same time.”

    kinda hard to do when your title is pompous

    http://contextearth.com/2015/04/28/climate-science-is-just-not-that-hard/

    I like ATTP’s style.

  24. Delingpole was certain that climate change has played no role in the recent migrant crisis.
    I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t.

    Maybe I am also too much a scientist, but to me that is a much better line than: “James Delingpole is obviously overconfident.” The first version makes the reader think, the second is just a statement you gloss over.

    There are moments when I have the feeling ATTP could write with a little more confidence, but this is not one of them. To have the confidence you also need to know the scientific literature quite well. If you write more confident, people may be also be intimidated more, comment less and ask less questions.

  25. Victor,

    To have the confidence you also need to know the scientific literature quite well.

    Indeed. I try not to spend too much time writing my posts (obvious, I know) but something I try to consider is whether or not I can actually defend something I’ve written. If I seem to lack confidence in some of what I write, it’s probably either because I’ve decided that I can’t actually defend anything stronger, or would rather not have to do so. In this case, I’m aware that some papers have indicated a link to climate change, but I didn’t have time to find them or go through them, so would rather write something less certain.

    However, in retrospect, it may have been better to have written something a bit more general, rather than something about my own views.

  26. That’s funny. I am working on coming up with a model for ENSO (i.e. El Nino). Right now, I am using one rather simple formulation that is currently in fashion in the climate science literature. So I take that model, which is a second-order differential equation that any engineer would recognize, and apply known forcings to the boundary conditions. The results match with the observations arguably well over a very long interval.

    I will continue to say that climate science is not that hard, but that some researchers are making it seem harder than it needs to be. Saying “climate science is not that hard” is like saying “its the economy, stupid”. Is that pompous, too?

  27. BBD says:

    Speaking only for my self, the way the radiative properties of the atmosphere has been investigated (eg. the line by line radiative equations) is rather above my pay grade. One person’s ‘not that hard’ may not be a universal fit.

    😉

  28. So a d*nier came over to the Azimuth Project forum, signed up for a log-on, and then posted a comment titled “I’ve cracked the ENSO code and an introduction on me, Per Strandberg”.

    He concluded his comment with:


    I realize that what I have, is an atomic bomb set to explode in the face of climate scientists, ENSO researchers and of course ultimately this is going to be the (beginning) of the end of the CAGW hysteria. I would also point out that the mechanisms I found is relative simple and should therefore be easy for others to confirm and to replicate. And I hope, also by you.

    The scary thing is he has a point. Machine learning techniques are getting so sophisticated that anybody can seed a problem with an algorithm and find something interesting in the results.

    The problem then is convincing somebody that you have a significant result. Showing some confidence in the results is always better than offering it up tentatively.

  29. 0^0 says:

    Looking at Per Strandberg’s site http://www.global-warming-and-the-climate.com/why-this-websites.htm I am looking forward a publication in EE or in a Chinese not-so-well-known publication later. Yes, even if the curve fitting looks gorgeous I am highly suspicious.. Will be happy if proven wrong as then I would have no nagging concerns about my way of living..

  30. Willard says:

    > He turned into a climate change d*nier after I stopped reading him.

    That’s powerful non-reading skillz you got there, Webby.

    ***

    > Saying “climate science is not that hard” is like saying “its the economy, stupid”. Is that pompous, too?

    Indeed, it is.

    It’s quite obvious that scientists can sound pompous from time to time. (I’m looking at you, Neil.) So do as Webby does, and go for pomposity. With enough condescending vehemence, people may start to believe you’re a scientist.

  31. Per’s approach likely has some potential for short term projections . He is applying a neural network, while I have applied a symbolic machine learning algorithm to scope out the parameter space.

    One thing you can’t do is bury your head in the sand. Climate scientists are not the ones that are developing the machine learning techniques, and if they don’t apply them, somebody else will.
    Is that too pompous?

  32. WHT: The problem then is convincing somebody that you have a significant result. Showing some confidence in the results is always better than offering it up tentatively.

    Being open about the weaknesses and addressing concerns of scientists who think this is not possible (wind not predictable, I think they may say) would make your case look more convincing. Overconfidence, especially from an outsider, doing something thought to be impossible, not having a publication, not so much.

    (And please do not try to get me into a technical discussion, it is not my field, I am just trying to convey you my impression in the hope that that is helpful for you. As someone once said, I paraphrase, you have to accept some criticism if you want to get better.)

  33. Climate scientists are not the ones that are developing the machine learning techniques, and if they don’t apply them, somebody else will.

    I do for downscaling and simulation. Now that I know that you used machine learning to “derive” the equations, where it is even easier to overfit the data, I would fear even more that your results are not robust. Thus addressing concerns about the physics would be even more important. Making out of sample predictions (paleo or CMIP data?) would also increase confidence.

  34. Willard says:

    > Climate scientists are not the ones that are developing the machine learning techniques, and if they don’t apply them, somebody else will. Is that too pompous?

    No, that time it’s not. Even if it were, I predict the pushback from the establishment to be even more so.

  35. Steven Mosher says:

    “Climate scientists are not the ones that are developing the machine learning techniques, and if they don’t apply them, somebody else will.
    Is that too pompous?”

    I use them. what are you talking about?

    Here is the thing about CSALT: It doesn’t answer the question.

    There is no doubt that one can take the “climate” and reduce it to one two dimensional metric:
    global SAT average versus time.
    There is no doubt that one can “explain” this simple low order metric in a variety of ways:
    we have, you have, vaughan has.

    However, the question we want answered is what will increasing co2 do the climate, not simply what will it do to a low order simple metric: what will it do regionally, what will it do to extreme weather, what will it do to Ocean pH, what is our best estimate of the global impact. Not just SAT.

    So, explaining one tiny fraction of the answer is hardly something to write home about.
    you confirm what we already know.. yes its a realy cool tiny tiny tiny part of the answer.
    But hardly the type of thing one uses to criticize and entire group of people.

  36. 0^0 says:

    It looks like Per is a man on a mission. He describes his early experience with climate science as follows

    “What I discovered was thoroughly shocking!!

    The data clearly shows that the Sun is driving changes in the Earth’s climate and that there is no evidence that changes in the amount of greenhouse gases is changing our current climate. You don’t even have to dig deep to find that! You just have to scratch the surface. Of course if you do that you are now called a global warming heretic.

    Further what I found was that severe scientific corruption are now driving climatologists to make more and more apocalyptic predictions in order to get more and more public funds and media attention. This field is now rapidly growing with more researchers joining in on this lucrative money opportunity.”

    I would be most surprised if anything of relevance to physical sciences would come out from his work.

    (If I remember it right e.g. Scafetta has got quite nice results with his models. A concern to some is that there are fairly many relatively freely tunable parameters in his models.. Rendering it into a sophisticated curve fitting problem with not so much physical relevance, some might argue.. But perhaps Per’s model is different, real and physical..)


  37. I do for downscaling and simulation. Now that I know that you used machine learning to “derive” the equations, where it is even easier to overfit the data, I would fear even more that your results are not robust. Thus addressing concerns about the physics would be even more important. ”

    I am applying the wave equation that Stein suggested in a paper from last year [1]. The machine learning is there to figure out what the ENSO forcing parameters are, given the DiffEq supplied. And the machine learning results just happen to coincide with QBO and angular momentum changes as the forcing factors, which is what some have hypothesized.

    Another recent set of papers [2][3] uses neural network techniques in what amounts to absurd amounts of over-fitting.

    [1] K. Stein, A. Timmermann, N. Schneider, F.-F. Jin, and M. F. Stuecker, “ENSO seasonal synchronization theory,” Journal of Climate, vol. 27, no. 14, pp. 5285–5310, 2014.
    [2] D. Mukhin, E. Loskutov, A. Mukhina, A. Feigin, I. Zaliapin, and M. Ghil, “Predicting critical transitions in ENSO models. Part I: Methodology and simple models with memory,” Journal of Climate, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 1940–1961, 2015.
    [3] D. Mukhin, D. Kondrashov, E. Loskutov, A. Gavrilov, A. Feigin, and M. Ghil, “Predicting critical transitions in ENSO models. Part II: Spatially dependent models,” Journal of Climate, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 1962–1976, 2015.

    The point is that the researchers are trying way too hard and they should really step back and work out the foundation before they go deep down the rabbit hole.

  38. Steven Mosher says:

    Victor

    ‘There are moments when I have the feeling ATTP could write with a little more confidence, but this is not one of them. To have the confidence you also need to know the scientific literature quite well. If you write more confident, people may be also be intimidated more, comment less and ask less questions.”

    It’s interesting. there was a post on Judiths a while back by one of Webbys friends… ( hehe)
    and he said “There is no way I can be wrong about this”

    of course that over confidence was an instant magnet for attack:

    Web of course HAS a point: expressing confidence is an important part of persuasion.
    Of course there is no way to control peoples reactions: some will respond to under confidence
    by sensing weakness and attacking. Some response to over confidence the same way.
    One can also Socratically sand bag people by pretending you know less than you do.

    Personally I find ATTP’s level of humility ( in the good sense) to be just about right. It invites
    me to reason together.. were he more wobbly I’d try to dominate, were he more confident I’d fight for the hell of it. I think its probably impossible to pick “the right” amount of confidence.
    put another way the amount of confidence you choose to express is a way of choosing your audience.

  39. The fact that Per has misguided notions about the climate science establishment may have no bearing on his work on ENSO. Many scientists had weird beliefs that didn’t apply to the veracity of the work that they pioneered.

    The basic idea is that ENSO is not as chaotic as everyone thinks and it just takes someone to figure out the combination of factors and resonance that duplicate the standing wave sloshing modes of the equatorial Pacific. Per could have found it, or more likely I think I found the key before he did.

  40. Mosher said:


    Here is the thing about CSALT: It doesn’t answer the question.

    CSALT is something else entirely. My suggestion to you is to READ HARDER 🙂 🙂

  41. BBD says:

    I’m just grateful that ATTP bothers in the first place.

  42. Steven Mosher says:

    “CSALT is something else entirely. My suggestion to you is to READ HARDER”

    I know that. Your overconfidence and shading into pomposity is the issue. I could illustrate that with the enso work, with the csalt work, with the entire project.

    You dont want me to do that.

    When you write ““One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding pompous at the same time.”

    You have actually told me that you are aware of your tendency to Pomposity. Why?
    How did I know that if I looked for pomposity I would find it? because you told me that

    I would have written

    “One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding arrogant at the same time.”

    In other words we both have the experience of feeling really confident and we know we are imperfect humans..so the flaw you see in yourself is pomposity. I see my arrogance. Its not that hard to see.

    someone else might have wriiten

    “One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding smug at the same time.”

    “One of the skills of scientific writing is to demonstrate that you possess the courage of your convictions, but without sounding like a braggart at the same time.”

    its not that hard. You can do this successfully with many peoples texts. especially self aware intelligent folks. Thats a back handed compliment.

  43. Joshua says:

    I know that this one be of interest to people who are extremely confident and don’t have anything to learn, but Anders – I thought you might find this interesting given the confidence of Shellenberger and the BTI crowd about whether there might be any limits to growth:

    http://www.npr.org/2015/06/08/412236817/as-global-population-grows-is-the-earth-reaching-the-end-of-plenty

    http://www.amazon.com/The-End-Plenty-Crowded-World/dp/0393079538

  44. Willard says:

    > One can also Socratically sand bag people by pretending you know less than you do.

    These are the worse.

    Never trust these rascals.

  45. Joshua says:

    I think that “persuasion” and “humility” are basically irrelevant.

    Your confidence should be directly proportional to your certainty. Expressing caveats and recognizing uncertainty are the hallmarks of a solid analytical approach, IMO.

    Trying to “persuade” and expressions of “humility” are about personality-politics, pseudo-science, and blogospheric food fights.

  46. Perhaps it comes across worse in writing but a conference speaker presenting research who doesn’t possess some amount of swagger looks out of place.

    Besides that, the confidence formula is simple. You just have to be more confident than your adversary/competitor. If I wasn’t more confident than Per in my approach, I might as well pack it in. That’s the way it has always been in research.

  47. Rob Nicholls says:

    Joshua ; “I find Anders’ consistency in explicitly qualifying the difference between fact and opinion quite refreshing.”
    Steven Mosher – ‘I think its probably impossible to pick “the right” amount of confidence.’
    BBD – ‘I’m just grateful that ATTP bothers in the first place.’
    Me too.

    Dana – “If I were a UK citizen and my money were going to fund this faux journalism, I’d be pissed off.” I am pissed off. I don’t know why this kind of thing happens a lot with the BBC. It seems to me that the physical science basis around climate change is pretty clear compared to a lot of things that the BBC reports on (e.g. arguments about economic policy) so it’s a shame that James Delingpole gets to say that climate change is simply natural on TV without hours and hours of air time being given to climate scientists to explain why this is nonsense.

  48. Joshua says:

    ==> “Perhaps it comes across worse in writing but a conference speaker presenting research who doesn’t possess some amount of swagger looks out of place.”

    That’s funny, because most of the time I’ve seen presenters at conferences, I’ve walked away puzzled at why the presenters were so confident in their material so as to get up in front of people and present it as if it were innovative, profound, or compelling.

    Of course, I’m not talking about scientific presentations – which might make a difference…

  49. What happens with much scientific writing is the tendency to adopt the passive voice. Unfortunately that leads to a situation where one can not always tell who is claiming what. This is also mistaken for humility.

    I am all for experimentation when it comes to writing. I wrote the book The Oil Conundrum with the intent of using the active voice everywhere. What a pain that was (700+ pages), but the active voice forced me to cite every assertion, either pointing to the fact that I made the claim based on original research or someone else made the assertion. The comments I received on the book were predictable — that I sounded too direct, too readably folksy, or that it was a tad pretentious and over-confident.

    (of course this comment is written in the passive voice, because it is the lazy way out)

  50. John Mashey says:

    Delingpole is a relative newbie at the confidence game. For confidence, watch 09:00-13:30, BBC give 4 minutes to “environmental consultant” Steve Milloy.
    Of course, he is not., but he has been at this for 20 years.

  51. David Sanger says:

    My forecast is that at the end of this year 2014, ENSO is going to be in La Niña or neutral condition.

    so back to the drawing boards for Per?

    Though as I read it he has the effect backwards. It is ENSO which affects the earth’s rotation not vice versa.

  52. Steven Mosher says:

    “These are the worse.

    Never trust these rascals.”

    this time I threw you a bone. Next time, hemlock

  53. Steven Mosher says:

    fricken sandbagger.

  54. Its foolish to make predictions based on a model that is still maturing.


    Though as I read it he has the effect backwards. It is ENSO which affects the earth’s rotation not vice versa.

    The law is of conservation of angular momentum and that can be partitioned in different ways. There is a clear wobble in the earth’s rotation that leads to cyclic momentum changes on ~6.4 year periods. The oceans will respond to inertial changes the only way they know how, which is to slosh slightly in response. And then the sloshing gets reflected back as slight shifts in the rotation speed. The total angular momentum is always conserved.

    If I don’t use a 6.4 year forcing period in the ENSO model, the fit degrades. Same deal if I don’t use a base 2.33 year period in the QBO forcing, the model is worthless. The fit is essentially binary in its applicability.

    Much of ENSO behavior is the geophysics part of climate science, which may be part of the reason that it remains an enigma.

  55. 0^0 says:

    Why did I think somebody claimed the guy (may have?) “cracked” it? I mean already? ;)..

    “Its foolish to make predictions based on a model that is still maturing.”

    I understand that the “foolish” prediction was made by Per himself.

    I think he – as the ultimate expert of his model and the guy aiming to revolutionize corrupt climate science – should precisely know what his model is capable of as he is setting new rigorous standards for the field.. 😉

    Until the model actually succeeds in making and hitting meaningful predictions (and explaining stuff better than before) there is not much more than the reputation / track record of its creator to build on ..

    His reputation probably is high on wuwt but elsewhere..? In climate science. ?

  56. 0^0 says:

    Regarding Delingpile & Co on BBC.. You need to get John Oliver back to UK to ensure truly balanced view.. 😉

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg

  57. 0^0 says:

    (obviously “Delingpile” above means “Delingpole” – sorry for failing proof reading the post properly)

  58. izen says:

    ATTP’s elegant use of equivocation is not evidence of spineless writing, but almost invariably, as in this instance, a clear indication that someone has posed, or attempted to answer, an ill-formed question.

    In this case Delignpole’s answer to the ‘question’ did AGW exacerbated drought affect the M.E crisis and migrant problem?’
    with a strong NO is even less credible than a strong YES.

    When dealing with historical events of this complexity the causation becomes distributed into so many social, political and economic factors all with historical contingencies which make them co-determinate. Disputes arise over what factors can be separated out, and to what degree they are reified metrics. As a result trying to define causation or even a percentage ‘affect’ becomes epistemologically meaningless.

    ATTP’s equivocations provide an invaluable help as a signifier of asinine answers to unanswerable questions

  59. izen says:

    Perhaps it is revealing that most of the attacks on the Pope’s climate encyclical have seemed to focus on disputing the science, rather than the basis of the ethical argument. Perhaps others have seen strong counters to the generalised,’ help-the-poors, loaves-and-fishes kumbaya theme in the statement. Links would be welcome.

    The science of the climate would seem to be more solidly based in real world evidence than a call to abandon significant features of the economic system and its enabling politics that have generated the present level of wealth and progress because ‘What would Jesus do’.

  60. aTTP’s style is perfect for this blog and I would say it’s a large part of the reason so many people read and comment. I see his approach as tongue in cheek, self deprecating, humorous but also challenging. Only a confident person could pull it off so well. Don’t change aTTP: but then there’s no chance you will, is there?

    The false confidence people like Delingpole present is just bluster, which in the face of a Paul Nurse, just falls apart.

  61. chris says:

    WebHT

    “Besides that, the confidence formula is simple. You just have to be more confident than your adversary/competitor. If I wasn’t more confident than Per in my approach, I might as well pack it in. That’s the way it has always been in research.”

    That seems a very odd statement to me. The first two sentences might refer to a debate and here a battle of apparent confidence might be important for convincing the audience.

    However in research one doesn’t need to be more confident than one’s “adversary/competitor”! One just needs to be confident in one’s abilities, methods and interpretations (and it helps if one also has the confidence that one has a properly skeptical and honest approach to doing science). One’s competitor might be supremely confident but if s/he is incompetent or not terribly honest or turns out to be barking up the wrong tree, then their confidence doesn’t account for much…

    I get the feeling that you are a little spooked by Per! Judging from the style and comments of his web pages I would be surprised if he has come up with something that is a significant advance. If I were to bet I’d bet on you over Per in fact…

    As for ENSO/rotational wobble that may or may not turn out to be true and the level of confidence one (an outsider) might have in the vaildity of that idea as a working hypothesis will depend on the quality of the data and analysis and not so much on the “confidence” of the presenter…


  62. Until the model actually succeeds in making and hitting meaningful predictions (and explaining stuff better than before) there is not much more than the reputation / track record of its creator to build on ..

    There are lots of ways to verify an ENSO model without having to rely on predictions for events that have yet to occur. What one can do is use only parts of the historical record and then try to estimate the “out-of-band” parts and see how close the model can get to those time-series. There are also hundreds of years of proxy records based on measures of coral rings to check against. I have done that myself and find striking fingerprints of the QBO (2.33 year) and Chandler Wobble (6,4 year) sinusoidal forcing over these intervals.

    The last thing I want to see is Per Strandberg succeed with his model. I know what the ingredients are — with growing confidence — and am trying to head him off at the pass. Strandberg will not say exactly what is in his model, due to his claimed intellectual property concerns, so my submitting a paper on the ENSO model and placing it on ARXIV should be sufficient to scoop him.


  63. However in research one doesn’t need to be more confident than one’s “adversary/competitor”! One just needs to be confident in one’s abilities, methods and interpretations (and it helps if one also has the confidence that one has a properly skeptical and honest approach to doing science).

    You don’t seem to understand the dynamic that is operational in a research group. When I was starting in experimental research, we knew exactly who our competitors were, and always worked via deadlines. We were always hypothesizing what our research adversaries in England and Germany (and even Madison 😉 ) were working on. The ultimate goal was to scoop them, and get our findings and theories out before they did. Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t. I remember sharing discussions with other researchers who made the same observations that we did but didn’t publish because they thought the results were either anomalies or experimental artifacts !

  64. izen says:

    ATTP’s elegant use of equivocation ”

    That’s the word I was looking for. He certainly has mastered it, FWIW.

    As a challenge, in future posts try to play the game of “Spot the Equivocation”. Here is a hypothetical example that would count “I thought this post was going to be short but now it is longer than I intended, even though it is not that long at all.”


    I see his approach as tongue in cheek, self deprecating, humorous but also challenging. Only a confident person could pull it off so well. Don’t change aTTP: but then there’s no chance you will, is there?

    A self-deprecating style is what it is alright — way too subtle for me to catch on the first go round 🙂 You got me,

  65. Willard says:

    OK. I think this was your last comment on that subject, Webby.

    Thank you for your concerns.

  66. When I was doing lots of blogging years ago, I kept hyping whut a talented mind Marc Maron possessed.
    http://www.google.com/webhp?q=maron%20site%3Amobjectivist.blogspot.com

    Talking about a neurotic comedian willing to lay it out and express his self-doubts.
    But whut do you know but today it was revealed that Marc scored an hour-long sit-down with THE #POTUS in his garage !

    #WHUT the ? is right. Here is to the underdog and the people who keep scrapping.

  67. chris says:

    “You don’t seem to understand the dynamic that is operational in a research group. When I was starting in experimental research, we knew exactly who our competitors were, and..”

    That’s not logical WebHT. You’re discussing a fairly standard dynamic of research (and specifically the element of competition) but framing this unnecessarily in a context of some sort of competition in “confidence”. I’ve been working in research groups for around 30 years and have run my own (somewhat denuded now) for the last 20. If we happen to beat our competitors to a result it’s not because we were more confident than them. it’s because we were better..or more efficient…or worked harder…or were luckier. One needs to have confidence in one’s ability to pursue a project to a useful publishable result but one doesn’t need to be more confident than one’s competitors..how does one assess that anyway? Some extremely good scientists can be quite self-deprecating outwardly…

    The thing about you and Per is that it seems quite likely to me that Per’s confidence is of a similar order to an undeserving or “articulate” confidence that ATTP discusses in his post. Per says quite a lot of stuff on his blog in a rather confident style that is obviously objectively incorrect. So he seems to have bags of “confidence” – doesn’t mean he’s any good (has he published much stuff?).

    If you and Per are in “competition” over this ENSO stuff – the “winner” (if there is one) is going to be the one that does a solid job and gets it right rather than the one that has the most confidence!

  68. Wow Chris, you don’t seem to get the psychology. Its about instilling confidence in members of your research group. When I was starting out the thesis adviser existed to convince his students that they could make a difference. Many of these students were smart but nerdy, and not always possessed of the highest levels of self-esteem. So to couch it as an US vs THEM competitive fight is one way to do encourage confidence, same as in a rah-rah team sport. Other advisers approaches were essentially sink-or-swim with respect to their students plight. That worked well if a student was already confident in his or her own abilities.

    Over at the Azimuth Project, John Carlos Baez worked to get a collaborative effort together to try and solve the ENSO puzzle. Contrary to the sometimes negative take I display elsewhere (as in who cares whut Willard thinks), I am doing my best to encourage others thinking about the problem in novel ways. Fascinating how it is playing out. Per is definitely not a team player.

  69. WHT,
    I have a feeling you’re saying something similar to what Chris is saying (or saying something that isn’t inconsistent) without realising it. Clearly, research can be competitive and groups can be conscious of what other groups may do. However, hard work, luck, efficiency, and just being better do probably play a bigger role than just being more confident.

  70. Confidence is the #1 attribute in an extended research project. If your thesis topic is to solve an unsolvable problem and there is no exit criteria in the context of a conventional engineering process time-line, you have to be able to have confidence in your own abilities as well as to display them to others when the going gets rough.

  71. Joshua says:

    What does the discussion about thesis advisers have to do with Anders’ tendency to explicitly qualify his understanding of issues?

  72. jsam says:

    Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
    http://www.jerwood-no.org.uk/pdf/Dunning%20Kruger.pdf

  73. Rachel M says:

    I’ve always loved this Bertrand Russell quote:

    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

  74. I am with Chris. Sure you need some confidence in your own skills to dare to tackle new unsolved problems. But that does not mean that you should present your work in an overconfident way. It might take some time, but scientific questions have a clear answer. If you often display confidence in things that turn out to be bad, your reputation suffers.

    A side track, but it is interesting what gets people out of their beds. If I would know that a “competitor” would otherwise do the research, I would not waste my precious short time on Earth on it, but do something interesting.


  75. If I would know that a “competitor” would otherwise do the research, I would not waste my precious short time on Earth on it, but do something interesting.

    You can not in all seriousness generalize that statement to anybody but yourself. The point is that if the research is difficult or otherwise deemed impossible, that and the fact that others are trying to tackle the same challenge are incentive enough for many scientists.

  76. John Wheeler quotes are more inspiring

    “It is my opinion that everything must be based on a simple idea. And it is my opinion that this idea, once we have finally discovered it, will be so compelling, so beautiful, that we will say to one another, yes, how could it have been any different.”

  77. Mike Pollard says:

    Not too sure how much “confidence” lends to a successful career in science. But speaking with the authority that comes from experience and a very solid grasp of the published literature certainly doesn’t hurt.

  78. Steven Mosher says:

    governing dynamics WHT?

  79. Steven Mosher says:

  80. Eli Rabett says:

    What we have here is a failure to translate from the Anglo to the American. When ATTP says

    I don’t know if it has, but I also don’t know if it hasn’t

    WHTshould hear

    Delingpole is an effing idiot and I am going to saw off the limb he is sitting on and drop him into the cesspool

    Perhaps this short glossary will help

  81. So when the Brit Delingpole says “quite possibly (I saved) Western civilization from the greatest threat it has ever known”, when Anglo-EU translated it means, “alas, ignore me, for I am but a moran” ?

  82. Eli Rabett says:

    It’s not that neural nets and machine learning techniques have not been used for climate issues, or even El Nino it’s just that all they do is predict (sometimes correctly sometimes not) without providing any information on the mechanism, so they are fairly useless.

    As somebunny told Eli way back there, neural nets have no sense of guilt.

  83. Willard says:

    > neural nets have no sense of guilt

    That’s because the mother of all neural nets is a neutral net:

  84. I don’t use neural nets. I simply applied the forcing due to the precise period of the QBO and the precise period of the Chandler wobble and was able to replicate all the quasi-periodic oscillations of the ENSO behavior over the last 130+ years.

    Machine learning techniques are not a crutch. You still have to apply the right physics to make sense of what is going on. So for example, in this case you would have to explain how the mechanisms of QBO and the Chandler wobble are not plausible forcings and that they just happen to coincidentally match exactly the periods required out of countless other possible periods.

    I am relatively sure that Per has uncovered the same behavior but I am confident that I beat him to the punch. His insistence on keeping his findings as intellectual property likely will do him in. He doesn’t understand how open science works apparently.

  85. John Hartz says:

    The following sheds some light on the issues being discussed here.

    VICE: Why do you think journalism on climate change has been ineffective in convincing the public about the urgency of the problem?

    Per Espen Stoknes: Studies have shown that over 80 percent of newspaper articles on IPCC climate change reports have used the catastrophe framing. Also, many journalists have extensively quoted active deniers to give “both” sides a voice, a practice which creates a “false balance.”

    Thus, today, global warming is the biggest story that has never been told. Recently I think we’ve seen a change in coverage, for instance in The Guardian. The main shift is to telling stories about the people making the change happen; focusing on opportunities, solutions, and true green growth. From psychology, we know that the best mix to create engagement and creativity is a [ratio] of one to three in negative to positive stories. My own research has resulted in four main groups of narratives that are and need to be told: a) green growth opportunities, b) better quality of life, i.e. what does a low-carbon society look like? c) the ethical stewardship story, and finally, d) stories on re-wilding and the resilience of nature. The more people start believing we can create a better society with lower emissions, the sooner they can start taking action.

    A Psychologist Explains Why People Don’t Give a Shit About Climate Change by Bill Kilby, Vice, June 9, 2015

    I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to read Kilby’s entire article.

  86. John Hartz says:

    Re my prior post, I thought I had correctly embedded the url of Kilby’s article into its title, but apparently not. Here’s the url:

    http://www.vice.com/read/a-psychologist-explains-why-people-dont-really-give-a-shit-about-climate-change-608

  87. This looks like a breakthrough paper on ENSO [1]. The rather confident assertion that they make is

    “The most important result of this study is that the so-called SOI anomaly corresponds to the dynamics of a nolinear oscillator having complex regularities and exhibits an acceptable level of accuracy of average non-linear predictability in the range between 2 and 4 years of time span.”

    And the eye-opener to me is the difficulty they have with the El Nino event starting in 1981. That is precisely the point in time that has been most problematic in the deterministic model of ENSO that I have been working on. I had suggested this anomaly has something to do with a discrete Pacific Ocean shift, but it may also be related to a peak in the strength of TSI activity, which is shown in the wiki page.

    [1] H. Astudillo, R. Abarca-del-Rio, and F. Borotto, “Long-term non-linear predictability of ENSO events over the 20th century,” arXiv preprint arXiv:1506.04066, 2015.

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