Climate change is real, and important

I thought I would briefly advertise an article that a group of us have written called Climate change is real, and important. Most of the credit should probably go to Sou, who put a lot of it together. It’s primarily a response to an article by someone who is – I think – primarily a web designer, and who has concluded that climate science isn’t really much of an issue. This appears to be after spending something like 400 hours researching this topic. I imagine all the actual climate scientists must be pretty ticked off that after 8-10 years of studying, and many more years undertaking painstaking research, that some polymath has come along and thrown all their work out after only a few months work.

Okay, for clarity, he’s done no such thing. He’s really just shown that 400 hours work is way too little to draw the kind of conclusions that he has. The reason I find this kind of thing frustrating is that it is clearly someone with little actual expertise, or understanding, who is simply spouting various climate denial talking points and claiming to be trying to be skeptical. I completely understand that appeals to authority are weak; just because someone has some kind of authority, doesn’t mean that they’re always right. However, this doesn’t suddenly mean that someone who has no authority, is in some kind of position to challenge those that do. If you don’t trust a particular expert, find another one. If you don’t trust that one, go to someone else. An individual should probably avoid appealing to their own authority, but an entire discipline can. In a sense, that’s why consensus studies can be useful; they provide an indication of the currently accepted scientific position. It doesn’t make it right, but it is an indication.

I should probably clarify something, though. Citizen science can be a very powerful tool and science is inherently democratic. Anyone is free to get involved and to try and contribute. However, if someone wants to get involved in a scientific topic, the typical way to do so is to try and develop some understanding and to then try to address something quite specific. In fact, there are numerous examples of people who’ve done this and have made positive contributions. It is, however, extremely unlikely that a layperson is going to overthrow decades of research after scouring the internet for 400 hours or so. Anyone who thinks that they’ve done so is almost certainly kidding themselves and misleading anyone else who thinks that they have. In fact, it constantly amazes me that people actually take this kind of stuff seriously; do they not realise how much time professional scientists spend trying to get to grips with the complexities of a topic like climate science, and that 400 hours is clearly not enough? I suspect that most people do, but that sometimes it’s easier to simply accept this kind of nonsense than recognise what climate science is really telling us.

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28 Responses to Climate change is real, and important

  1. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I completely understand that appeals to authority are weak; just because someone has some kind of authority, doesn’t mean that they’re always right.”

    It does however mean they are very probably right.

  2. Indeed, when compared to those who have none, or very little.

  3. dikranmarsupial says:

    I’m sure there is a way to get Bayes rule in there somewhere! ;o)

    It is a bit like Poptech’s famous list of papers that justify his skepticism, you also need to consider the denominator.

    I have no problem with people that don’t trust scientists, as long as the they trust themselves (and those that agree with them) even less. The two things that scientists really need is imagination and self-skepticism; too much imagination leads to Dunning-Kruger, too much self-skepticism and you end up never achieving anything. You can bet, however, that the “authorities” have got where they are by having plenty of both, and have questioned and thoroughly tested their beliefs/theories/position.

    Good article, well worth reading.

  4. Good article, well worth reading.

    Thanks. Possibly a bit long, but at least it’s almost all there.

  5. dikranmarsupial says:

    How someone responds to a Fisking, if you can’t address the specific criticisms, but can’t change your mind either, then the odds on the experts being wrong lengthen considerably. The ball (scientific rather than Willard’s trademarked one) is back in Siegel’s court, it will be interesting to see it returned.

  6. dikranmarsupial says:

    Oops, should have started “How someone responds to a Fisking is often informative,”

  7. The ball (scientific rather than Willard’s trademarked one) is back in Siegel’s court, it will be interesting to see it returned.

    Well, he’s added a paragraph to the end of his article where he thanks us, but also calls us decarbonistas and suggested that he is up for a formal debate (really doesn’t understand science, does he). My guess – along I’m happy to be proven wrong – is that he’ll stick with the “science isn’t settled”, “let’s wait and see” line.

  8. dikranmarsupial says:

    Sounds like the ball barely made it to the net ;o)

    If “debates” were won by being right, rather than by rhetoric, then science would still use them instead of all this tedious peer-reviewed journal business. Asking question, listening to the answers and giving direct, unequivocal answers to the questions that you are asked tends to be rather more productive.

  9. Tom Dayton says:

    A clue to Siegel’s motivation is his prominent plugging of his consulting service, along with a link to his LinkedIn profile, even at the bottom of that article.

  10. OPatrick says:

    What a contrast to this, superficially similar, debunking article at Fabius Maximus, which I came across through your previous post (I note that Climate Scepticism appears to be on a rapidly accelerating downward slope with the most recent contribution from Jaime Jessop, ‘climate contrarian’). The Editor at Fabius Maximus seems to do little more than repeat the original claims of Roger Pielke. I know it must be exhausting (although Sou in particular appears to have inexhaustible reserves of time and energy) to go through this process, but doing so in these general interest forums is invaluable.

    Incidentally, I’m sure I originally read you as saying that Siegel was sprouting climate denial talking points, which seemed most apt – not just throwing out seeds of denial, but carefully nurturing them first to give the best chance of taking root.

  11. Windchasers says:

    The two things that scientists really need is imagination and self-skepticism; too much imagination leads to Dunning-Kruger, too much self-skepticism and you end up never achieving anything.

    An interesting way of looking at it.

    I’d say that you can’t have too much skepticism or imagination, only too little. Too little skepticism leads to Dunning-Krueger, too little imagination leads to getting stuck. But as long as you have enough skepticism, there’s no such thing as too much imagination.

    And there’s no such thing as too much skepticism. If you’re really skeptical, then you just test your hypotheses thoroughly and are very aware of which parts of them have not yet been tested. In short: more skepticism doesn’t mean more doubt, but careful doubt of the weaker areas of a hypothesis, with a recognition of how relevant or important those doubted areas are likely to be. More skepticism means being the right amount of certain; not too certain or too doubtful.

  12. dikranmarsupial says:

    “And there’s no such thing as too much skepticism. ”

    je pense, donc je suis? ;o)

  13. I commented at the end of the rebuttal, though with hindsight I could have expressed myself better. I said that Siegel that had carried out his research by typing, for instance, “global temperatures are fiddled” into his search engine of choice and then believing whatever the results said. I then wrote that if he was even moderately open-minded, he’d have also searched “global temperatures are correct”. What I should have written was that he should have searched, “global temperature are corrected”.

    The point I was making is that just one word variation (perhaps reflecting unconscious bias), can make a huge difference to the ‘research’ turned up. Seigel just looked for denial blog material to feed his conspiracy mentality. People like him are doing the world a major disservice.

  14. OPatrick says:

    je pense, donc je suis?

    I’m sceptical of the ‘je’. It assumes a subject, and implicitly a cohesive one.

  15. Jim Eager says:

    Tim Ball is there, too, flogging his latest in the comments. One would have thought Ball would be too embarrassed to ever show his face in public again without being back-lit, but then DK fake-skeptics lack sufficient self-awareness to feel embarrassment.

  16. Michael Hauber says:

    Its been a while since I’ve read such nonsense, but the claim of 400 hours of study sounded impressive enough for me to be curious. 400 hours may be very little compared to what a researcher who has spent most of their career doing, but its a lot to someone from outside the field who is curious.

    And what caught my eye is his claim that ‘metastudies are important’. Which I agree with. And which follows the claim that ‘consensus is not an argument’. Personally I’d say that metastudies are the best way to establish consensus.

    And what does he say about metastudies? That only two have been done. Perhaps a creatively worded enough definition of metastudy could make that true. One of them says that climate sensitivity is between 1.4 and 2.3. And the other that sea organisms may adapt better to ocean acidification than expected. I guess if those really were true we can all relax and not do anything about climate change? Did that 400 hours of study time actually include any time for thinking?

  17. Marco says:

    According to Sou, Siegel has also promoted Steve Goreham’s nonsense about CFC’s and the ozone layer. Crank magnet.

  18. Yes, I pointed him to Richard Telford’s post and then to Zeke Hausfather’s comment on WUWT. Siegel concluded that because some of the other commenters on WUWT were not convinced, the science was still not settled.

  19. dikranmarsupial says:

    OPatrick Indeed, an infinite regression into skepticism is always possible. We can have no certain knowledge regarding the nature of reality, and in order to make practical progress we need to adopt the lower standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

  20. Marco says:

    “Siegel concluded that because some of the other commenters on WUWT were not convinced, the science was still not settled.”

  21. Richard says:

    ATTP – you say, people like David Siegel allegedly becoming instant expertz is frustrating for those who have spent a lifetime in all the diverse areas that come together to form our understanding of the planetary system. This has been a disease in the IT industry for a while but is now (and contributes to their frequent disasters). Now, with the advent of social media, it is endemic.

    The nuances and subtleties of a subject (any subject) are lost in this attention-deficit style of knowledge acquisition. As an ex-scientist with a PhD from Cambridge, I decided 18 months ago to educate myself on climate change. Despite great teachers like Weart, Alley, Archer, etc., I was surprised how difficult it was to answer all my questions, and in my job I am used to grappling with complexity.

    I covered a large wall in sticky notes; built a long list of things I didn’t understand; read lots; and … crucially … asked questions of those who know their subject. I contacted a glaciologist to point me somewhere to understand better the methods used in ice cores; …

    Understanding just one topic amongst many – the carbon cycle in the oceans – took me a while. Revel, and all, had done the work, but I was struggling to digest it all. I wondered how someone without a scientific background would cope? Would they even bother?

    If one starts from the point of view that scientists are crooks, or from a psychological predisposition to narcissism, or from a naive view that becoming an instant expert is easy with google and wikipedia – cannot comment on David Siegel’s starting point – then that leads you inexorably to the his ill conceived, and ill informed writing on this subject.

    I one starts from the position of the intelligent child: why? why? why? and is prepared to listen to and digest the answers … then, you never know, you might learn something.

    My goal was to (a) confront my denial (and I am using the standard sense, like denying one needs to fix the roof … not denying the holocaust kind), (b) feel I had at least a good (albeit not expert) understanding of the end-to-end science on global warming (and its implications) and (c) be able to articulate in plain English, and laying out a logical sequence.

    The following was the product of over 1 year of attempting to do this. It seems to go down well as I have now given the task a few times to lay audiences based on the essay.

    It is such a large subject that for every answer, more questions arise: What do we know about the Greenland ice sheet? How important is methane now and in the future? Is 2C really achievable? … which is the right way to deal with any subject. To keep learning. Not building walls of ignorance to insulate oneself from the reality of the world.

  22. Marco,
    Ed Wiebe – on Twitter – scored David Siegel on the crackpot index. He did quite well 🙂 There was also this amusing exchange.

    That’s a great essay, thanks. I agree that this is a very complex topic and that gaining a solid understanding takes a good deal of time. I continually realise that something I thought was right 6 months ago, isn’t quite. I’m sure I’ll discover in 6 months time that something else I thought I understood quite well, I didn’t. It’s a continual learning experience.

  23. @Richard
    That’s an excellent teaching tool: very logical and straightforward. If only others had such open minds and such a sensible approach to understanding the subject, we’d not have the current problems of acceptance by the unthinking masses and their elected representatives.

    The problem though is simple denial: too many people don’t want it to be true—they fear mitigation will impact on life as they know it—so they’re full of ‘but’s, ‘if’s and a refusal to accept; which at its most extreme produces the David Siegels of the world. For many adults the problem and solution is of a psychological nature, rather than one of education. How to deal with that?

  24. Richard says:

    John – I agree it is hard. It should work as follows: the science is value neutral – let’s start by agreeing on the problem statement – then move on to declaring our values and then debating solutions.

    By all means let’s have a debate between those that believe in zero carbon UK using renewables; a nuclear advocate (is that Amber Rudd, whose ‘Solar Revolution’ is now a distant memory?); and an ecomodernist … bring it on …

    But for many people, they almost approach the subject in reverse (and this is not merely the ‘right’ – the ‘left’ is also guilty of this), by trying to make sense of the science through the lens of pre-conceived solutions and often unstated values.

    I think another huge part of the problem is polarisation that leads to simplistic caricatures: environmentalists are wanting a low-energy ‘back to nature’ social model, and are wanting to wreck our high energy (fun) world – how dare they? Whereas the ‘deniers’ are all right-wing nutters in hock with the Koch brothers. It is easier to throw stones at people when neatly packaged into boxes – the them, the ‘other’. We can all be guilty of that.

    I still hold fast to the Enlightenment, believing I can have a civil discussion with anyone. Being a information strategy consultant I have learned to speak to CEOs and those on the shop floor, in whatever language is most appropriate. I prefer face-to-face, and the Socratic approach, with more open questions than closed ones. Getting people to think effectively is much more important than simply giving them the answers.

    Sou and team – your energies were well worth the obvious effort in responding to David Siegel, because he did the courtesy of laying out many if the common misunderstandings, and there was space to respond to these fully.

    What a great job you did: a new resource to bookmark and reference/ link to.

  25. To cover some of the points missed in the original post, Sou has a follow up today…

  26. BBD says:

    Just to put our autodidact’s achievement into perspective, in the UK the typical university term is 10 weeks and there are three terms in an academic year.

    If we assume 5 hours of study per week day, no study at weekends and no study during holidays that is 750 hours study during the first year of a BSc.

    A BSc is usually 3 years, so 2,250 hours study in all.

    Then the real work starts: MSc, PhD, post-doc research…

    It’s a lot more than 400 hours of reading stuff on the internet.

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  28. mt says:

    I think he counted writing time too. I’m not sure he is a quick writer, either.

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