Tone

The only response, so far, to our article climate change is real, and important is here, on a site I suspect many regard as having a title that is slightly disingenuous. The main crticism of our article was simply the tone; we used denier, denialist, deny. Okay, anyone’s free to judge something on tone if they wish, but it doesn’t make the content wrong. Also, as I pointed out to the author of that post on Twitter, his criticism seemed a little selective, given that the tone of the article we were criticising, wasn’t great either.

I thought, however, that I might make some general comments about tone; Joshua will probably disagree 🙂 I get the impression that some regard scientists as public figures who are fair game; that it’s okay to vitriolically criticise them if they present research, or say something, with which you might disagree. Well, they aren’t really. Most are simply people who have jobs in which they teach and do research. Most are simply trying to do research in an unbiased and an objective way. They don’t always get it right (in fact, in some sense, it’s probably never right) but getting things wrong – and learning from it – is a normal part of the scientific process; it’s not a reason to make accusations of fraud and malpractice. So, if someone wants to write an article that makes – explicitly, or implicitly – such accusations, I don’t think they can expect some kind of mild-mannered response. If they think they have the knowledge to write such an article in the first place, I don’t think it’s reasonable to then expect to be treated with kid’s gloves.

Of course, one could argue that even if a certain tone is justified, a different tone may be more effective. There may well be some truth to this, but I’m not always that convinced that there is. It also depends on the intent. A more conciliatory tone may help to influence the undecided. A blunter tone may convince others to be more careful if they are thinking of writing an article of their own. However, there is another reason why I have little interest in tone specifically. Science is a method. We start to trust some scientific idea when it has been reproduced and replicated; not because those involved appear trustworthy and honest. Of course, you can choose to dismiss something if it is from someone you regard as untrustworth, or dishonest, but in such cases one should ideally talk to many more people, not simply accept some kind of alternative.

Essentially, I think we should be careful of trying to impose some kind of ideal public behaviour on scientists. Those who choose to engage publicly, largely do so because they think they’re involved in an interesting topic that is worth discussing with others. They’re not, however, trying to sell the public anything; they’re simply trying to explain their research to those who might be interested (as an aside, this is why I find the “deficit model has failed” argument annoying). If anything, seeing scientists getting frustrated and annoyed is – IMO – much more honest than a scenario where they learn to behave more like salespeople, than like people who feel passionately about some topic.

To be clear, though, I’m not encouraging, or condoning, incivility. In a sense, I’m largely suggesting that saying what you actually believe is more honest than trying to develop some kind of style that you think might be effective, but doesn’t really reflect what you really think. I’m also definitely not condoning, or excusing, actual scientific fraud or malpractice. If someone has actual evidence of that, go ahead and point it out. It’s a serious accusation, though, so you’d better be right. In essence, I’m really arguing in favour of honesty. I realise that some people may be put off by tone, and that’s entirely their right. Ideally, though, they should simply investigate further, not assume that the tone somehow invalidates what’s being said.

Feel free to disagree through the comments, though. The more I engage in this topic, the less I think I understand what works and what doesn’t.

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100 Responses to Tone

  1. izen says:

    Tone, incivility and denial…

    In some places denial is not denied, it is celebrated. Try the comment thread on this report –

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/10/29/rep-calls-on-noaa-to-come-clean-about-climate-study-info/

  2. Magma says:

    I thought your co-authored post (or article, whichever you prefer) was excellent. But as I wrote on Greg Laden’s blog, in my view it was too bad that it was written in response to, and structured as a reply to a post that simply recycled worn-out denier memes and may well be forgotten in a few weeks.

    As for tone, I think that anyone who is going to accuse individual professional scientists of malfeasance, fraud or gross incompetence had better be prepared for a sharp response, mockery and legal action where appropriate… the same thing (less the legal action) when the claims are made against them as a group. Sometimes you just have to call a fool a fool, and not worry about dressing it up in polite words. That some of them seem to expect a measure of polite respect while earning and displaying none is another one of those odd things you come across in the deniosphere.

  3. Joseph says:

    To me I see “skepticism” leading to distrust of scientists which leads to conspiracies, questioning motives with outlandish and insulting accusations. It’s difficult to deal with what seems to me irrational thinking.

  4. Magma,
    We did discuss whether or not it wa worth doing, and decided to go ahead. It may not have had the effect we would have liked, but it seemed worth it. He is apparently writing a response to our post. This could be interesting as it will probably illustrate that he’s gone completely down the rabbit hole.

    Joseph,
    I agree, that does seem to be the trend, and I too have no idea how to deal with that kind of thinking. There’s not much point in writing some kind of measured response and hoping for some kind of sensible dialogue when you’re dealing with someone who is probably not thinking rationally.

  5. verytallguy says:

    Blimey, I thought from the title it was about him; didn’t realise you were on first name terms:

    Back on topic, tone does matter.

    If you want to be seen as an obsessive nutter, WRITE IN THE TONE OF A NUTTER.

    If you want to be seen as a serious commentator, likewise.

    If you want to convince others, Tone has a playbook it would be worth studying.

    The use of the D word has little or no bearing on any of this.

  6. For a moment I thought you meant Anthony Watts. In fact, that might have been preferable.

    If you want to be seen as an obsessive nutter, WRITE IN THE TONE OF A NUTTER.

    If you want to be seen as a serious commentator, likewise.

    Indeed. The more salient issue, though, is how does someone who is trying to be serious, respond to someone who is probably an obsessive nutter?

  7. Richard says:

    I think it is important to be specific about who is doing the thinking. Apparently the general public “really do quite like scientists” in general in the UK (and I suspect more generally) …

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2014/mar/14/how-to-read-the-latest-data-on-public-attitudes-to-science

    The denigrators of science really are not representative of anyone except themselves.

  8. The denigrators of science really are not representative of anyone except themselves.

    Yes, a good point.

  9. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP: ‘Those [scientists] who choose to engage publicly, largely do so because they think they’re involved in an interesting topic that is worth discussing with others. They’re not, however, trying to sell the public anything…’

    It’s about time someone mentioned puffins and puffin scientists.

  10. It’s about time someone mentioned puffins and puffin scientists.

    Is this some topical reference that I’m simply not getting?

  11. verytallguy says:

    The more salient issue, though, is how does someone who is trying to be serious, respond to someone who is probably an obsessive nutter?

    In that case, you’re asking the wrong question. Perhaps askwhy you’re responding?

    If it’s in the expectation of influencing an obsessive nutter, (might I suggest that it is, at least in part) expect disappointment!

    If it’s for some other purpose, use a tone appropriate to that purpose. Regardless of how obsessive or nutty the originator was.

  12. Yes, that does seem rather self-evident, not that you put it that way 🙂

  13. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    “Is this some topical reference that I’m simply not getting?”

    This perhaps ?
    http://www.utahpeoplespost.com/2015/11/puffin-turtle-dove-extinct-species/

    Clearly alarmism, there are still millions of them around…

  14. lerpo says:

    @Badgerbod appears to have been more interested in tone than truth for some time now: https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/puerto-casado/#comment-45142

  15. Ethan Allen says:

    We’ve been at this awhile, climate science discussions via social media since blogging really got going.

    I didn’t (or don’t think I did) get into the whole denier meme until, you know, reading a lot of contrarian stuff circa 2004-7. It didn’t help my POV that Trutherism was a raging thing back in those days either (that’s where I was exposed to much conspiratorial thinking that I tried to knock down, btw good luck on that one, knocking down conspiratorial thinking).

    So anyways, my 1st few times visiting WUWT in late 2006 and into 2007, I really didn’t know what to make of it, WUWT had plots and graphs and what appeared to be a somewhat critical-to-neutral tone at that time. After about my 3rd visit I was pretty sure what the WUWT message was (or rather wasn’t).

    I think I’m a research ‘sciency’ person, I think I understand the scientific method, I did do laboratory, numerical and field experiments.

    Long story short? How you come into the ‘debate’ matters, how long you been there matters, someone new to the ‘debate’ might initially be put off by the denier meme, particularly if they lack some scientific training. But who uses the denier meme more effectively? Those whom throw it or those whom throw it back? I’m kind of thinking those whom throw it back, not as a defensive tactic but as an offensive tactic At this point, it would be kind of very hard to take the denier out of the debate

  16. semyorka says:

    People can call me what they like. Its no skin of my nose, my arguments stand and fall by themselves not me whining about being a victim. To me it speaks volume about the person moaning that they are wasting valuable time on such a side issue rather than wading knee deep into the technical details.
    Also naming groups and positions has a long long history in science. The Big Bang was originally conceived as a pejorative term for those who opposed steady state. Catastrophism became very prejorative after the acedency of Lyellian Uniformatism.
    Scientists love a good old fashion taxonomy and creating taxa for scientific positions is pretty natural to them.

  17. Steve Marshall says:

    Efforts should be directed to convincing the undecided majority rather than changing the minds of deniers. Such efforts should explain the science, explain why deniers deny and emphasise the positive aspects of moving to a carbon neutral economy.

    The effect of labelling others as “others” is riven with pros and cons. A convenient name as used by the British in the North American Rebellion for rebels was “Yank”, it was a pejorative that the Rebels turned around and the rebellion eventually became a successful War of Independence (not just because of the nomenclature). “Yank” became a perjoritive again in the Confederate South during the American Civil War and the “Yankees” referred to the Confederates as simply “Rebels”. To this day, I believe, the French refer to the English as “Rosbif” which ain’t so bad. We used to refer to them as “Crapauds” (toads) but that changed to “Frogs” based on a rare culinary dish which, to my taste buds, is like chicken. There are hundreds of words used in such ways; I wouldn’t be insulted if I was called a “Limey” by a Yank but am very annoyed when called a “Warmist” by a “Denier” when all I am is a person who accepts the scientific consensus. But he is unlikely to call me something which has any credibility.

    So, if you want to annoy your opponent then use the perjoritive, but don’t expect them to read what you have written or listen to what you say. If you want to indulge in discourse with them then refrain from such nouns. If you want to engage with somebody who is unconvinced, then be careful with name calling the other as it may make you look too desperate. A useful technique is to mentally replace the perjoritive with “Jew”, “Black”, “Woman” or any other noun which, though not in itself a perjoritive, can be taken as one given the context. If the sentence becomes unacceptable then it might be time to rephrase it. But if I was to meet, say, Christopher Booker, James Dellingpole or the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, then I’m afraid at some stage, and despite my best efforts, I’d call them the dangerous deniers that they truly are.

  18. Steve,

    Efforts should be directed to convincing the undecided majority rather than changing the minds of deniers. Such efforts should explain the science, explain why deniers deny

    Essentially, that’s what we did in our article, so the tone issue related to the use of terms like denier, deny, denial.

  19. @aTTP

    “Essentially, that’s what we did in our article, so the tone issue related to the use of terms like denier, deny, denial.”

    If the only people complaining about use of those terms are those in denial, and the great majority of uninformed don’t react to your tone negatively, then I think you’ve nothing to be concerned about. Those in denial are beyond persuasion. Only the uninformed—who we must believe are open to persuasion—matter.

  20. Richard says:

    It is odd that a scientific debate has transitioned into a belief system in which being agnostic (coming to the conclusion that the science is infinitely more complicated than that supposed by either side) means one has somehow taken sides.

  21. coming to the conclusion that the science is infinitely more complicated than that supposed by either side

    Except this view is often held by those who confuse that it is too complicated for them to understand, with it being too complicated for anyone to understand.

  22. izen says:

    Went and had a look at the climate scepticism site that ‘reviewed’ your collaborative article.
    ‘Tone’ is a matter of perception of course, but I do have some sympathy with the complaint that it is ‘preaching to the choir’ or structured to garner the agreement of those already converted to the AGW cause. And as a sermon is far too long!

    However one poster made a long post addressing the issue from the underlying epistemological viewpoint. Using entity realism to raise rhetorical questions about the status of our knowledge of climate processes.
    A temptation I found irresistible.

    Somewhat to my surprise after languishing for some time in moderation my response has apparently appeared in the thread. I guess I got the ‘tone’ right!

  23. dikranmarsupial says:

    “In that case, you’re asking the wrong question. Perhaps ask why you’re responding?”

    To explain to the lurkers why the nutty argument is nutty is a pretty good reason, so adopting the tone that is best for reaching the lurkers is a good idea. However, exactly what that tone is, is not a straightforward question. I suspect having a variety of people adopting a variety of tones is probably best.

    Personally I like discussing science, and I feel I have the best chance of making some progress with the discussion by sticking to the science and don’t want to give my interlocutor the opportunity to evade the science and discuss something less interesting. I generally find if my interlocutor stoops to mere insult and/or refuses to discuss the science and just wants to engage in rhetoric, there is little point in continuing the discussion.

  24. Badgerbod says:

    Thanks Ken for the response. The focus on tone is only a partial part of the piece I wrote and I did not at any point dispute the science in either article, I leave that to others. It’s interesting that I have been labelled a denier by Miriam and others which really proves the point I was making because none of them know me from Adam. Ken and I often debate on twitter, I’m sure I’m annoying for him but I greatly appreciate he is prepared to engage with me and sometimes explore ideas. I explore ideas with many bloggers and scientists on twitter, and I find a great deal of the “sceptical” side are blocked by Ken on twitter and on this site. I am not. Why? I hope it is because I have always tried to remain respectful and polite and Ken with I. This is partly why I was shocked and disappointed by his article but everyone is free to use whatever language they wish within the law. I think Steve Marshall’s point is very valid, substitute “denier” with “Jew” or “Black” or “woman” and you may find you think a little bit more about what you are saying.
    If you’re happy to exclude yourself and lock yourself in a room of the righteous “non-deniers” that’s up to you. Personally, I would prefer to explore all ideas even those who chastise me for suggesting that respect for a fellow man/thinker/professional is due.
    Over the last 2 days since my response went live, I have experienced a degree of spitefulness and rather ugly bloody mindedness. If you feel vindicated by siding with the bully that also is up to you if this is the company you wish to keep. That goes all ways. If you think sceptism is denigrating to scientists then you probably don’t understand science. If you want to reach the public to your point of view, rather than your existing audience, do so on the validity of your argument not by slagging those off with an alternate view. Do it on the strength of the evidence and not on your opinion of your opponent.
    Finally, I fully expect a basket of vitriol to come my way for daring to respond on Ken’s site (should he allow it through moderation) but before you start tapping away bear in mind I again haven’t disputed the arguments in either article, I have made 3 points about the 1st dozen paragraphs of Ken et al’s article that relate directly to me as tax paying member of the public yet still recommended this site and others to explore the science of climate change.

  25. I find a great deal of the “sceptical” side are blocked by Ken on twitter and on this site. I am not. Why? I hope it is because I have always tried to remain respectful and polite and Ken with I.

    It’s because you indeed appear to be polite. You haven’t yet called me a twat, for example. I mostly block people who do that kind of thing, not simply those with whom I happen to disagree – despite what those who’ve been blocked might claim. (Edit : Actually, most of those I’ve blocked I think I blocked before “mute” was an option. I should also add that it isn’t really “a great deal”, it’s a vocal minority.)

    I have made 3 points about the 1st dozen paragraphs of Ken et al’s article that relate directly to me as tax paying member of the public yet still recommended this site and others to explore the science of climate change.

    I’m not sure why you being a tax paying member of the public matters? I am too. Those who wrote that article did so in their own free time. None are public servants, and none have submitted some kind of manifesto promising anything to the general public. They’re simply people expressing their views, and a number of us have expertise in a relevant area.

  26. verytallguy says:

    It is odd that a scientific debate has transitioned into a belief system in which being agnostic (coming to the conclusion that the science is infinitely more complicated than that supposed by either side) means one has somehow taken sides.

    An alternative perspective… …it is odd that in this political debate denying scientific facts is pretended.as being an agnostic position.

  27. dikranmarsupial says:

    Badgerbod I’d say your mistake is not to question the science from both sides and not to accept the bits of science on both sides and explicitly say so. Standing on the sidelines trying to judge the scientific discussion by its tone won’t get you very far, and I would suggest it does little to shed light on the discussion. Do dispute, that is the way progress is made in a scientific discussion.

  28. BBD says:

    Do it on the strength of the evidence and not on your opinion of your opponent.

    Game over for ‘sceptics’, then.

  29. verytallguy says:

    Badgerbod,

    denial is a perfectly respectable word, widely used in discourse (eg “jeremy Corbyn is a deficit denier” – George Osborne)

    The original article says the following

    Most of what people call “global warming” is natural, not man-made. The earth is warming, but not quickly, not much, and not lately

    That is, quite simply denial. Of the facts – that roughly all of the warming is man-made, it is at a very rapid rate geologically, it is already significant geologically, and it is continuing.

    People who deny facts will get called deniers.

  30. There’s also this one

    CO2 has very little to do with it. All the decarbonization we can do isn’t going to change the climate much.

    IMO, you can’t say something like this and then complain when people use terms like “denier” and “denial” to describe what you’ve written.

  31. BBD says:

    Paging Joshua.

    FWIW, this really, really gets on my tits. Denial is as denial does, and if you don’t like the word, don’t indulge in denialism.

    Crypto-denialism is still denialism, just with a shot of intellectual dishonesty added.

  32. Willard says:

    Thanks to you, lerpo, because I can simply cut and paste what I already told badgerbod:

    I agree that personal attacks, name calling, and overall incivilities are unwelcome. On the other hand, you must understand that [a broker B]’s accusations may worsen the quality of a discussion faster than any kind of remark that are usually accepted in a collegial setting. This means, and this was my main point, that [B] should not be judged by the number of personal attacks he made, but by the number of serious accusations he proffered regarding an overall field of study.

    Besides, I also agree that remaining polite gets you bonus points in RHETORICS ™. Not only it increases likeability over the audience, but it also helps being even more insulting. I think you can agree with me that one can be insulting while remaining polite. Finally, please understand that natural scientists are used to more collegial settings, and should not be penalized for their forthrightness whence they already playing visitor on the field where good rhetoricians shine, like we can find in law, econometrics or, God may have mercy upon our souls, philosophy.

    ***

    Also note that what you’re doing right now is usually called concern trolling:

    A concern troll visits sites of an opposing ideology and offers advice on how they could “improve” things, either in their tactical use of rhetoric, site rules, or with more philosophical consistency.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Concern_troll

    The best advice I can give you is never to give any advice.

    Thank you for your concerns,

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/puerto-casado/#comment-45174

    Tone is just one of the concerns one may be able to raise.

  33. Richard says:

    When one looks into the detail of the last IPCC report (see a few excerpts below) the experts recognise the complexity of the system. In addition, as the GCM grids get more refined the uncertainty will increase. This is because the stochastical nature of the Navier-Stokes equations will enter more and more into the solution (and the solutions will also become even more dependent on initial conditions).

    WG1 AR5

    pp257
    Warming of the ocean between 700 and 2000 m likely contributed about 30% of the total increase in global ocean heat content (0 to 2000 m) between 1957 and 2009.
    Although globally integrated ocean heat content in some of the 0 to 700 m estimates increased more slowly from 2003 to 2010 than over the previous decade, ocean heat uptake from 700 to 2000 m likely continued unabated during this period.

    pp 986
    Preciptation
    Overall, zonal mean precipitation will very likely increase in high and some of the mid latitudes, and will more likely than not decrease in the subtro pics. At more regional scales precipitation changes may be influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions and will be strongly influenced by natural internal variability.

    pp 994-995
    Circulation
    In addition, the natural variability of the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC) on decadal time scales is poorly known and poorly understood, and could dominate any anthropogenic response in the near term (Drijfhout and Hazeleger, 2007). The AMOC is known to play an important role in the decadal variability of the North Atlantic Ocean, but climate models show large differences in their simulation of both the amplitude and spectrum of AMOC variability (e.g., Bryan et al., 2006; Msadek et al., 2010).

    Overall, it is likely that there will be some decline in the AMOC by 2050, but decades during which the AMOC increases are also to be expected. There is low confidence in projections of when an anthropogenic influence on the AMOC might be detected (Baehr et al., 2008; Roberts and Palmer, 2012).

    pp 1000-1001
    Aerosols
    Evaluations as to whether climate change will worsen or improve aerosol pollution are model-dependent. Assessments are confounded by opposing influences on the individual species contributing to total PM2.5 and large interannual variability caused by the small-scale meteorology (e.g., convection and precipitation) that controls aerosol concentrations (Mahmud et al., 2010).

    While PM2.5 is expected to decrease in regions where precipitation increases, the climate variability at these scales results in only low confidence for projections at best. Further, consensus is lacking on the other factors including climate-driven changes in biogenic and mineral
    dust aerosols, leading to no confidence level being attached to the overall impact of climate change on PM 2.5 distributions.
    .
    pp 1014
    The CMIP5 patterns seem to reproduce the observed patterns somewhat better than the CMIP3 patterns (Bhend and Whetton, 2012), but the remaining discrepancies imply that CMIP5 projections cannot be used as reliable precipitation forecasts.
    .

  34. Richard,

    When one looks into the detail of the last IPCC report (see a few excerpts below) the experts recognise the complexity of the system.

    Yes, but complexity doesn’t mean that we don’t understand it at some kind of reasonable level. It’s actually quite remarkable how well basic models can do when trying to understand the response of the system to changes in forcing.

    In addition, as the GCM grids get more refined the uncertainty will increase. This is because the stochastical nature of the Navier-Stokes equations will enter more and more into the solution (and the solutions will also become even more dependent on initial conditions).

    Not this old chestnut. It is NOT self-evidently true that uncertainty will increase as the GCM grids get more refined. The Navier Stokes equations are indeed non-linear and the system is indeed chaotic. However, this does NOT mean that higher resolution will lead to a stronger dependence on initial conditions. We’re NOT trying to determine the weather in 2100, we’re trying to understand how the climate will change in response to changes in external forcings. These are not the same. That we cannot predict with certainty if it will rain in Kansas on 22 July 2088, does not mean that we can’t estimate how typical rainfall will change in Kansas in July 2088 if anthropogenic forcings were to increase by some amount.

  35. verytallguy says:

    Richard

    the experts recognise the complexity of the system

    Yes. No-one I’m aware of disputes that the climate system is [complex].

    What’s your point in highlighting this – I don’t understand.

  36. Willard says:

    Last thread was about Greenland and it meandered into tone. This thread is about tone and it meanders into chaos lordship. Sometimes I think concerns are mere “look! squirrel!”

    ***

    The converse to “but, the D word” is the “put your big boys pants” trope:

  37. Richard says:

    I have difficulty in understanding how one can apply a non-linear forcing to a non-linear system and then expect some kind of linearity between the forcing and the system. We have diurnal cycles, seasonal cycles, lunar cycles, Milankovic cycles etc… These give us clear forcings which show up in the climate system. Anthropogenic forcings are non-linear and their affect on the non-linear climate system is correspondingly non-linear. There is transfer of energy from small scales to large scales so the so called turbulent “noise” really can change the mean field. Decreasing the grid size makes it possible for smaller scales to have an influence where they were previously modelled. It is the same for time scales.

  38. verytallguy says:

    Richard,

    I’m still not with you. You seem to be arguing
    (1) that the climate system is complex
    (2) that you have difficulty understanding it
    (3) therefore a position between those who reject the science and those who accept it is “agnostic”

    This doesn’t seem very coherent.

    I might for instance posit
    (1) that Quantum Chromodynamics is complex
    (2) that I have difficulty understanding it
    (3) therefore it’s equally likely that a luminiferous aether explains our observations of the world.

    Interestingly, (3) is a position supported by some climate science deniers…

  39. Richard,

    I have difficulty in understanding how one can apply a non-linear forcing to a non-linear system and then expect some kind of linearity between the forcing and the system.

    In terms of magnitude, it’s not really going to be non-linear. It might not be linear in time, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be – initially at least – expected to behave as a relatively small perturbation on the system. Of course, if we do follow a high emission pathway, that may well turn out not to be true. See this, for example. Also, this post, contains a very good explanation by Isaac Held why we would expect it to be roughly linear.

    In one sense, if it were highly non-linear we would probably expect to see more variation across the solar cyle than we do.

  40. BBD says:

    Richard

    Bearing in mind what ATTP has just said, consider the last ~800ka of orbitally-paced deglaciations. These represent a remarkably consistent response by the climate system to orbital forcing. Complex and chaotic, yes. Inherently unpredictable, no.

  41. wheelism says:

    One need not open this box to know that Richard’s agnosticism will collapse and reveal a dead cat.

  42. Willard says:

    > I have difficulty in understanding how one can apply a non-linear forcing to a non-linear system and then expect some kind of linearity between the forcing and the system.

    Do you believe in seasons, Richard?

  43. Steve Marshall says:

    ….and Then There’s Physics,

    Re your “Essentially, that’s what we did in our article, so the tone issue related to the use of terms like denier, deny, denial.”

    Having re-read the article (which I think is really rather good) even if I was a denier, I’d be hard pushed to take offence but if I did, in the words of Stephen Fry previously mentioned “So Fucking What?”. Well it is only important if I was persuadable. So is David Segal open to the evidence and scientific argument? Time will tell.

    I think I may have stumbled onto something which, I’m sure, has been mentioned before. To use the words deny and denial is probably less offensive than calling someone a denier. Rather like, on their side the process of agreeing with the consensus is less intentially offending than calling someone a Warmist or Alarmist. However, the fact that they do constantly deny the science makes them, as far as I’m concerned, deniers. I’d just try and not call them that.

  44. Richard says:

    BBD I not sure I understand you. Yes I thought I indicated that the climate picks up strong linear forcings? I’m not sure that makes the climate inherently predictable? Surely it just means that the system responds linearly when the forcing is linear and strong enough? Even then we cannot be certain whether we will have a wet summer or a snowless winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

    ATTP There is a weak correlation between global measured temperature and measured CO2 in the satellite era. I’m not sure that it is a conclusive proof of CO2 as a control knob for global temperature. This is why we have Skeptical science and others proposing the “heat in the ocean theory”:

    The way heat moves in the deep oceans is not well understood. Improvements in measurement techniques have allowed scientists to more accurately gauge the amount of energy the oceans are absorbing.

    The Earth’s climate is a complex system, acting in ways we can’t always predict. The energy that man-made CO2 is adding to the climate is not currently showing up as surface warming, because most of the heat is going into the oceans. Currently, the heat is moving downwards from the ocean surface to deeper waters. The surface gets cooler, humidity reduces (water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas), and air temperatures go down.

    However one could equally use this theory in reverse to explain warming.

  45. Richard,

    I’m not sure that it is a conclusive proof of CO2 as a control knob for global temperature. This is why we have Skeptical science and others proposing the “heat in the ocean theory”:

    No, that’s wrong. It’s been known for a very long time that a majority of the excess energy would go into the ocean. The only relevance to the ocean currently is what kind of role it is playing in variability of the surface temperature.

  46. Marco says:

    “However one could equally use this theory in reverse to explain warming”

    Errr….no. Measurements show the oceans are warming at the moment, and have done so for the past century.

  47. BBD says:

    Richard

    BBD I not sure I understand you. Yes I thought I indicated that the climate picks up strong linear forcings? I’m not sure that makes the climate inherently predictable? Surely it just means that the system responds linearly when the forcing is linear and strong enough? Even then we cannot be certain whether we will have a wet summer or a snowless winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

    You seem to be confusing climate and weather. Deglaciation under orbital forcing is predictable and happens in much the same way every time. It’s not weather though. It is climate change in response to forcing change.

  48. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard wrote “We have diurnal cycles, seasonal cycles, lunar cycles, Milankovic cycles etc… These give us clear forcings which show up in the climate system. Anthropogenic forcings are non-linear and their affect on the non-linear climate system is correspondingly non-linear.”

    So in excatly what sense are these cyclical forcings linear while anthropogenic forcings are non-linear?

  49. andrew adams says:

    Of course tone matters to an extent. Being overly aggressive or snarky, or unfairly attacking the motives or honesty of your opponents is obviously not likely to make people sympathetic to your argument. But then personally I don’t find excessive wingeing and victim-playing much more endearing either, and I certainly agree with Willard’s point about about tone-trolling.
    And it would also be wrong to fall into the trap of believing that someone adopting a perfectly reasonable tone means they must have a reasonable argument. I can certainly think of some people who make perfectly polite and entirely unreasonable, sometimes totally mendacious, arguments.
    So yes, adopting the appropriate tone is one part of having a meaningful discussion, but it’s only one. Being honest and careful with your facts, arguing in good faith and not wilfully misrepresenting or misunderstanding others’ arguments are only some of the other factors. And strong words and/or snark aren’t always out of place, sometimes they are perfectly justified. To be honest, I think a lot of the time it just comes down to not, as we used to say on another blog, BACAI (being a c**t about it).

  50. wheelism says:

    [Mod : ummm, no you can’t 🙂 ] your objections to the current state of climate science appear to be misunderstandings on your part. Might I suggest placing a bit more faith in what scientists know and pursuing your own enlightenment with greater humility?

  51. Richard says:

    Marco yes although we only have argo measurements post 2000 and it seems that the intention is to rely on the argo buoy measurements in future rather than the ocean profile-plankton database which was used for the pre 2000 measurements.

  52. Jim Eager says:

    “The energy that man-made CO2 is adding to the climate is not currently showing up as surface warming, because most of the heat is going into the oceans.”

    Currently? Seriously? Surely you jest.

    Newsflash for you, Richard: its currently coming *out* of the oceans.

    If you don’t want to be labeled a denier or “in denial” then don’t deny physical reality.

  53. Richard says:

    BBD does that mean one should consider CO2 forcing at the same level of importance as the orbital forcing that causes deglaciation?

  54. Richard says:

    Jim Re: The energy that man-made CO2 is adding to the climate is not currently showing up as surface warming, because most of the heat is going into the oceans.

    Not my words. This is a direct quote from Skeptical science.

  55. Richard,
    Yes, but that’s almost always true. About 93% of the excess energy goes into the oceans. Only a few percent is associated with warming of the surface. Hence a small change in the fraction going into the oceans, can produce a large change in the rate of surface warming. This is not new, or even that surprising.

  56. wheelism says:

    😉 The best wordplay is always too blue.

  57. BBD says:

    BBD does that mean one should consider CO2 forcing at the same level of importance as the orbital forcing that causes deglaciation?

    1 W/m^2 is 1 W/m^2, so to a first approximation, yes.

  58. Jim Eager says:

    Richard: “However one could equally use this theory in reverse to explain warming.”

    It certainly explains the current el Nino warming (and that of 1997-98), but anyone who proposes that ENSO can explain the sustained warming of the past 35 years is very much in denial of physical reality.

  59. Richard says:

    dikranmarsupial

    I think Roger Pielke Sr hits the nail on the head rather well:

    1. Atmosphere and ocean circulations respond to regional forcings not a global average.

    2. The other human climate forcings include

    – the diverse influence of human-caused aerosols on regional (and global) radiative heating.
    – the effect of aerosols on cloud and precipitation processes.
    – the influence of aerosol deposition on climate.
    – the effect of land cover/land use on climate.
    – the biogeochemical effect of added atmosopheric CO2 has a greater effect on the climate system than the radiative effect of added CO2.

    Natural climate variations and change, have also been underestimated (and are only poorly understood) based on examination of the historical and paleo-climate record.

    Human climate forcings have a more significant role in altering the weather than does a global average increase in the radiative effect of an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. This does not mean that we should not work to limit the increase of this gas in the atmosphere, but it is not the dominant climate forcing that affects society and the environment.

  60. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard, I notice you didn’t actually answer my question, EXACTLY what do you mean by non-linear?

  61. Richard says:

    wheelism I’m sorry if you have found any of my comments arrogant.

  62. dikranmarsupial says:

    And in what way are anthropogenic forcings non-linear in contrast to cyclical natural forcings?

  63. Vinny Burgoo says:

    That’s the one, Izen. I confess that most of the alarmism was in the press coverage but the puffin scientists at IUCN/Birdlife did a couple of odd things and their classification scheme is misleading – or it misled the press, anyway.

    The puffin scientists have, on very little evidence, upgraded the threat status of UK puffins to Near Threatened (one down from Vulnerable) but because the UK is part of Europe, whose puffin populations are numerically dominated by Iceland’s and Norway’s, which on better evidence are thought to be doing badly, UK puffins have also been reclassified as Endangered (one up from Vulnerable); and because the UK is also part of the world, UK puffins are now also Vulnerable, because that’s the new global classification (probably arrived at by averaging Near Threatened and Endangered).

    The evidence for an AGW influence on Atlantic Puffin numbers, such as it is, swings both ways but you wouldn’t know that from the IUCN/Birdlife assessment. This cites two papers and implies that both support the notion that climate change is bad for puffins, but one says that warmer seas mean less food for young puffins and the other says that it means more food – it depends which food you are talking about: sandeels or herrings.

    Then there’s the timescale. The new classifications relate to guesstimated numerical declines between 2000 and 2065. They are based on very little hard info extrapolated over a very long time. Not very scientific and scant basis for headlines like ‘Puffin and turtle dove at risk of extinction due to climate change’ (aside: note the bizarre use of the hunter’s singular there; and the wholly spurious claim about the turtle dove), ‘Puffins “gone from Yorkshire coast in 10 years”‘ or ‘British puffins are as endangered as African elephants’.

    But I shouldn’t have peddled puffins. Off-topic. I apologise.

    He says, having said everything he wanted to say about puffins.

    (How’s my tone?)

  64. Richard says:

    non-linear means that a given forcing can produce either warming or cooling e.g. clouds

  65. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard, you have just demonstrated that you don’t know what non-linear means.

  66. Richard says:

    dikranmarsupial

    An example of anthropogenic forcing is land use which has an effect on both the water cycle and the carbon cycle.

    The water cycle can both create and slow warming. Different types of vegetation have different effects on the carbon cycle, albedo, surface roughness etc…

  67. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard, sorry, you ought to stop digging. It is clear that you don’t really know what non-linear means, but at the same time are unwilling to admit it. This is not a good basis for scientific discussion.

    I rather suspect that both anthropogenic forcing and natural forcings are non-linear, and the distinction you are trying to create is entirely specious.

    Note that solar forcing (and you can’t get much more natural than that) also affects both the water cycle and the carbon cycle, so EXACTLY how is land use change more “non-linear” than solar forcing?

  68. Endlessly scrolling through oceans of illogic in comment sections can be boring, but there are always a few gems.

    I’ve spent the last decade trying to remain polite and speak to lurkers past continuous assault by the most devious and plausible of liars, backed up by carefully jiggered links to legitimate sources, and all it adds up to is a lot of hot air. While I think it needs doing, it is so much easier to continue promoting doubt and delay than stimulate people into action. Said people are also too hooked on 2-D entertainment and infotainment, trending madly, to notice that they depend on the 3-D world for it all.

    Personally, I’m proud to be a “warmist” and am alarmed because I think I have reason to be alarmed.

    Evaluating material that is above one’s head is quite possible, but perhaps my unusually high-level lifetime exposure to high quality science advantages me there. My bullshit meter goes into high gear as soon as the oily plausible takes over, and I deploy my old lady kicking the tires armory.

    Seems to me one of the biggest problems is acknowledging one’s own ignorance. Any process of learning involves that vertiginous feeling of having to admit not only to others but to oneself that starting at the beginning is the only way through. The universal desire for magic wands enables purveyors of falsehood as the virtual universe continues to provide a world of illusion.

    I’m a bit jaded, bear in mind I’m in the US, where it is finally only a year until our elections and the Republican circus still dominates. They’re not even proper Republicans, amongst whom I used to count a few friends (and Jim Hansen, Richard Alley, Kerry Emanuel, for example). Conservation is conservative.

    (comment vanished without a trace, trying again, hope it’s not a duplicate)

  69. Marco says:

    “Marco yes although we only have argo measurements post 2000 and it seems that the intention is to rely on the argo buoy measurements in future rather than the ocean profile-plankton database which was used for the pre 2000 measurements.”

    Ah, a tacit admission that you indeed suggested something for which there is no evidence (or rather, evidence to the contrary). Thanks!

  70. verytallguy says:

    Richard, you have just demonstrated that you don’t know what non-linear means.

    Or what forcing means…

  71. whimcycle says:

    Richard, your tone has been fine. My point was that your disagreements with the consensus are much more likely due to your ignorance (in the most neutral sense of the word) than you seem willing to admit.

    “It is odd that a scientific debate has transitioned into a belief system in which being agnostic (coming to the conclusion that the science is infinitely more complicated than that supposed by either side) means one has somehow taken sides.”

    I hope that you are willing to re-examine your conclusion in light of what our betters are taking the time to teach you here..

  72. Willard says:

    > I think [Senior] hits the nail on the head rather well […]

    Which nail, which head, and do you think Senior endorses the various IPCC’s attribution claims, Richard?

  73. Richard says:

    Speaking as a different Richard, can I say …

    Richard @ 2:33pm and thereabout. I think its time to stop digging.

    Not sure what your motivation is but I suspect you are wanting to convey the plausible but naive view that complex systems imply an inability to make predictions. This is not true.

    Aircraft manufacturers hardly need wind tunnels these days, because they can simulate the aerodynamics of new designs despite the turbulent nature of some aspects of the flow (it is not always laminar). Planetary system can behave chaotically, as indeed any non-linear system can.

    In these and numerous other cases this does [not] eliminate our ability to make predictions. In fact, the whole field of complexity science can be characterized as an endeavor to understand the self-evident order that emerges in natural systems, despite of and in many senses because of the chaos or complexity the exhibit.

    As you are clearly interested in this area, can I suggest you sign up to a course which will make things clear. The Santa Fe institute provides a wide range of MOOCs for different levels (the basic ones requiring minimal calculus and minimal programming skills) … Enjoy! …
    https://www.mooc-list.com/university-entity/santa-fe-institute?static=true

    Richard ( @EssaysConcern )

  74. Richard,

    non-linear means that a given forcing can produce either warming or cooling e.g. clouds

    Ummm, no, linear [Edit: I initially said non-linear here] really just means that the response to some perturbation depends linearly on that perturbation (i.e., if the perturbation is twice as big, the response is twice as big). Systems are typically linear when the perturbation is small relative to whatever the background values are. If the perturbations are large, then the response can be non-linear (i.e., doubling the perturbation doesn’t simply double the response).

  75. NWycha says:

    The reaction over the words “denier” and “denial” have always seemed rather absurd to me. First, many people who reject one or more aspects of human caused global warming and the associated climate change often refer to themselves as deniers (This was shown in my content analysis of comments on Climate Etc.), while those who do not explicitly state their “denier” position exhibit the same social constructions of science rejection as those who do. Second, there exists a real difference between “skeptics”-those who may legitimately question some aspect of AGW, and who seem to be seeking clarification- and those who outright reject the science. This distinction must be acknowledged somehow. So far the easiest way to recognize this distinction is the term “denial” as it represents the base idea at its core, an immovable rejection of science of which no amount of evidence can sway.

  76. NWycha,
    Yes, that’s essentially my view too. I still maintain that if people don’t like how they think they’re being labelled, they can either change their behaviour, own it, or ignore it. Of course, I’m not talking about derogatory labels based on someone’s origin, I’m simply referring to labels associated with someone’s chosen behaviour.

  77. Mal Adapted says:

    wheelism:

    Might I suggest placing a bit more faith in what scientists know and pursuing your own enlightenment with greater humility?

    Too great a faith in one’s own competence, and an inability to acknowledge genuine expertise in others, is the basis of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I predict wheelism’s suggestion will have no effect on Richard.

  78. Testing my change to Gravitar handle. I am concerned about the proliferation of Richards!

  79. 0^0 says:

    Attp: was there a proofreading snafu in your explanation ?

    “Ummm, no, non-linear really just means that the response to some perturbation depends linearly on that perturbation “

  80. o^o,
    Indeed, and I read that over and over again. Thanks.

  81. Richard says:

    Surely the definition is that the output of a non-linear system is not proportional to the input?
    We can linearize but this would only be valid as you say for very small perturbations. I think we can agree that weather cannot be predicted by linearizing the Navier-Stokes equations?
    Linearizing the Navier-Stokes equations leads to the Orr-Sommerfeld equations which are used to study linear stability theory and the onset of transition. They are only valid while the perturbations remain very small.

    I’m not sure that one can disassociate weather from climate (what is the cut off scale for example?). If I have understood correctly one is to supose that linearizing is somehow valid for large perturbations (climate) while rests invalid for smaller perturbations (weather).

  82. I think we can agree that weather cannot be predicted by linearizing the Navier-Stokes equations?

    Sure, of course. This is not what’s being suggested.

    I’m not sure that one can disassociate weather from climate (what is the cut off scale for example?). If I have understood correctly one is to supose that linearizing is somehow valid for large perturbations (climate) while rests invalid for smaller perturbations (weather).

    The point is that weather is very local, both temporally and spatially. Climate is some suitable average over both time and space. What time and space interval is not necessarily specifically defined, but for GCMs I would expect the spatial scale to be a significant fraction of a continent, and the temporal scale to be decades.

    As far as linearizing is concerned, it’s not that climate models (complex ones) somehow linearise the equations. The point is that the system (our climate) appears to respond linearly to changes in external forcings. You really should read what Isaac Held says here. If it didn’t, we’d probably have noticed by now.

  83. Richard: “If I have understood correctly”. You haven’t, and I am embarrassed for you. Try finding a MOOC or few to help understand this stuff. ATTPs blog is not intended to provide you with course material you can easily find yourself.

  84. Eli Rabett says:

    Linear and non-linear are mathematical statements, not ideological ones.

    Linear simply means that given an independent (x) and a dependent variable (y) the dependent variable can be calculated from the independent one by the equation y = ax +b, where a and b are constants and can be positive or negative. b can also equal 0, a not because then y would be a constant and not a variable.

    Non-linear simply means that this is not true. In that case y can grow either faster or slower than linear as x increases.

  85. matt says:

    > I am concerned about the proliferation of Richards!

    I count at least 3 on this thread. You and these two 😉

    > non-linear means that a given forcing can produce either warming or cooling e.g. clouds

    > Surely the definition is that the output of a non-linear system is not proportional to the input?

  86. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard wrote “Surely the definition is that the output of a non-linear system is not proportional to the input?”

    Now that is just being disingenuous as it is not the definition of non-linear that you gave originally! At least you appear to have looked up what “non-linear” means now, although you haven’t fully understood it.

  87. dikranmarsupial says:

    BTW, it is amusing that Richard demonstrates that he doesn’t know what non-linear means and then types a sentence like “Linearizing the Navier-Stokes equations leads to the Orr-Sommerfeld equations”! Yeah, right! ;o)

  88. Richard says:

    Dr Held: Well, it’s conceivable. But I am not convinced.
    So he accepts that the science is not clear cut and then expresses his opinion.

  89. dikranmarsupial says:

    And now quote mining, ignoring the fact that the substance of what Prof. Held said directly refuted what Richard wrote about anthropogenic forcings being somehow “non-linear”. It is very ironic to see this kind of behavior on this of all threads! 😦

  90. dikranmarsupial says:

    A fuller version of the quote from Prof. Held would be:

    “DR. HELD: The models look pretty linear. The observed seasonal cycle, that looks linear. Even if in the Ice Age times, things look pretty linear. We don’t know that much about it. So, why should I assume that things are, gee, the anthropogenic CO2 pulse is going to interact in some exotic way with internal modes of variability? Well, it’s conceivable. But I am not convinced. I don’t think that is particularly relevant. ”

    It is quite possible that the “Well its conceivable…” was essentially mild sarcasm, highlighting the fact that Prof. Held would listen if some evidence were supplied, but that there is no reason whatsoever to believe it on the evidence currently available.

  91. So he accepts that the science is not clear cut and then expresses his opinion.

    What Dikran already said, but if you really think that a scientists accepting that something might be plausible and then explaining why it probably isn’t means anything other than “no, what you suggest is really, really, unlikely”, then you don’t understand how scientists think.

    One fundamental issue is that science is not typically about proving something is right, or wrong, it’s typically about showing that things are not plausible, and eliminating alternatives. However, even here, you can’t show that something is impossible, you can typically only show that it is unlikely, with some amount of confidence. Of course, there will be some level of confidence that we would typically take to imply that something is impossible, and another that might indicate that something is extremely likely. However, scientists will rarely claim that something is definitely wrong, or definitely right. Held – who is a recognised expert – clearly thinks that the response is typically linear.

  92. dikranmarsupial says:

    Update, the response from Koonin is interesting:

    DR. KOONIN:
    But to come back to my earlier hobbyhorse, that means that the sensitivity you determined to, let’s say, CO from the last 30 years, you should use in extrapolating out of next century?

    Did he provide some reason for Prof. Held to accept that ” the anthropogenic CO2 pulse is going to interact in some exotic way with internal modes of variability?”? No, which is pretty much a tacit admission that there is none.

    http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/upload/climate-seminar-transcript.pdf

  93. Dikran,
    Of course the irony in that response, is that people want to argue for large contributions due to internal variability, while also arguing that we should extrapolate the forced response on the basis of 30 years worth of information.

  94. dikranmarsupial says:

    BTW, I very much doubt that the climate system is exactly linear, in the same way that no real random process (that I am aware of) has an exactly Gaussian distribution, or that nobody can draw and exactly straight line. The point is that while it is conceivable (and IMHO rather likely) that the climate system has some non-linearities in its behavior, it is sufficiently close to linearity for that to be a reasonable assumption for practical purposes (which does not imply that climate models are built on that assumption – rather than it being an emergent behavior).

  95. dikranmarsupial says:

    ATTP indeed. It is also ironic in a discussion about how to conduct a scientific debate. What Prof. Koonin should have done is explicitly admitted that he could provide no reason, rather than just evade the question. There is nothing wrong with a scientist having an unsupported belief, provided that he/she knows it is unsupported and is willing to admit that when asked.

  96. verytallguy says:

    On the APS statement, Judith Curry collected a truly hilarious set of comments from august APS members objecting to it, “so that it would be more difficult for the APS to ignore these comments.”

    eg

    The APS has been fooled by climate astrology and bribed to abandon the Second Law of Thermodynamics in favor of environmental alchemy

    Weird how these folk get ignored, isn’t it?

    http://judithcurry.com/2015/04/20/aps-members-comment-on-climate-change-statement/

  97. Pingback: Honesty and hypocrisy | …and Then There's Physics

  98. Pingback: Crash - Ocasapiens - Blog - Repubblica.it

  99. Joshua says:

    NWycha –

    ==> “This was shown in my content analysis of comments on Climate Etc.”

    Do you have a link to that?

  100. wheelism says:

    (Are we quite finished with our Lyin’-hearted Richard I?)

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