Eric Winsberg teaches philosophy at the University of South Florida. He specializes in philosophy of science, in particular computer simulations in science. He wrote a book that may interest AT’s readers, called Philosophy and Climate Science. We met over teh tweeter a while ago. What follows is an edited transcript (Eric being disgraphic, English not being my first language) of our chat about Montréal, memes, and music.
[Willard, hereinafter W]
hello, good sir
an update – i have an article to write on the spark joy meme before our interview
if it’s still in the cards
[Eric Winsberg, thereafter E]
hey. what did you want to interview about? what format, etc?
[W] it is for a climate blog
readers may want to buy your book
[E] yeah yeah, sure. anything to pimp the book. 🙂
[W] since we both like memes, i think running through your meme presentation would work like a charm – you have it in pdf?
[E] i think so. were you there?
[W] no, i only saw some tweets, and compliments about your meme game
[E] ah, ok. it was mostly on a dare. i dont know how to send files on twitter. whats your email?
[E] do you do the interviews over skype or by text.
[W] we do it here, simpler
ok, watched your slides
saw you made a point about emergent ECS
but why, what did you want to say to a bunch of philosophers listening to the talk
[E] is this the interview??
I thought the idea of emergent constaint reasoning was interesting.
but that it is easy to misuse.
and I thought I could use it to draw an interesting connection between two points people had been making about the epistemology of climate modeling:
stufff about robustness, and stuff about process understanding.
[W] what is this stuff about robustness, and process understanding, is it in your book?
[E] yeah, chapters 11 and 12.
[W] i guess i have no excuse anymore
[reading aloud the introduction] ok, jessica williams and chora – spouse and dog?
[E] girlfriend and late dog.
(died between when the book went to press and when it came out)
[W] i like that you thank feminist philosophers in the introduction for…
[E] pushing philosophy of science to be more focused on being in the service of social good
[W] i like the book structure – data, models, simulations, chaos, probability, confidence, decision, values, skill, robustness, diversity, social epistemology
looks like a book i could use to teach a course on philosophy of climate science
[E] that was the idea!!!
[W] you are transparent, it’s a Good Thing
your presentation is about the last section: “the fact that some climate hypotheses are supported by a variety of lines of evidence, and of the fact that some hypotheses are jointly predicted by a whole ensemble of different models.”
so, your robustness is what climateball players call consilience
[E] yeah, consilience in philosophy of science was kinda taken by theory confirmation lit. robustness has been more common for talking about agreement of models.
[more reading aloud]
[E] by the way: do I get to find out who you are? 🙂
[W] it’d be easy to find me out [inaudible]
never thought i’d meet philosophers when i started in 2009
otherwise i’d have chosen an even more obscure nick, like wilfrid or wilfred
[E] hahaha. i didnt even realize it was quine. quine is way better than sellars or tupac
[W] more so that if i get the point of your book right, in the end, holism wins
“in the end, holism wins” is something my character says a lot
[E] haha, dunno. maybe
didn’t think of it that way. but holism is good
[W] it may improve diversity – the more ways you can attack a problem, the better
[W] let’s connect with what you want to say with other slides
were you following your book closely?
there is “model robustness” and “instrument robustness” – what was your point?
[E] the main point was: if you want model robustness, you need emergent constraint reasoning, and once you see that you see that what knutti calls process understanding, and contrasts with robustness, is actually what you need *for* robustness.
they in fact go hand in hand
[W] robustness and process understanding, alright
always great to talk to a montrealer, especially a french-speaking one
[W] hello again, if you have time, i have a clarification to ask
Andrew ranted about emergence a few days ago
i sense an equivocation needs to be clarified
[E] Emergent Constraint [EC] reasoning is great, but its also had to do well.
I actually wrote a piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung criticizing an EC paper in nature. I’ll email you the real article and also the english version.
dessler is absolutely right that you can’t use EC reasoning to get right at climate sensitivity
[W] i like that
If the degree to which they cancel out changes as the climate does, the apparent emergent constraint could be spurious, and provide false confidence. What does this mean for the new uncertainty estimate in the Nature letter? The IPCC gives about a 20% probability of ECS falling above 4.5C. The Nature letter says 1%. To really be confident in this, we need to be at least 99% sure that the alleged emergent constraint is not founded on compensating errors. Given the vast number of processes and feedbacks that contribute to ECS, it is hard to see why we should think the likelihood of this is anywhere near that low.
[E] so the idea that from consilient lines of evidence emerges robustness does not imply we go all in in emergent constraint analyses
yeah, so this last point is complicated and might be hard to make in a pithy line or two.
but the idea is: consilience, properly understood, isn’t cheap.
you need a lot of background knowledge to understand when you are accumulating more and more evidence and when you are looking at multiple copies of the same newspaper. and EC reasoning is similar.
[W] that meme is my favorite
if we could rule out alternative explanations, that’d be great
rule out alternative explanations with RA, i.e. Robustness Analysis ?
[E] right. that’s the schupbach account of RA, that each new addition to the set, in order to add to robustness, should rule out a possible explanation of why the old set might have erroneously indicated that the hypothesis was true.
[W] you believe in that?
[E] ben ouais
[W, flipping] i see that you do on p. 205
oh, you rule out ECS under 1.5C because of volcanos, solar cycles, and paleo
(and i know at least one reader who will like this)
but we can’t rule out >6C
and you have no confidence that we can constrain these results more than we already do
[E] not right now, no
i think >6 is unlikely, but can’t be ruled out
[W] it’d be foolish not to allow the possibility as a swan-like event
the other end requires we revise physics, or we get really strange cloud effects
[E, in a more professoral tone] The main difference between the left tail and the right tail is that we know that low ECS correlates with long equilibration time. So if it were below 1.5, we would have seen it equilibrate at a low value. But if it’s over 6, there are reasons we might not have seen it good. What the Schupbach account shows us, is why we can’t rule out >6 we don’t have a set of detection methods that each collective rule out something the other don’t have, because the main way to rule out >6 is with really long data, and really long data is also full of errors. So nothing will rule out the possible explanation that it takes a really long time to see the >6, and that’s just being hidden in the messy really old data. The good news is ecs is probably not >6 and if it is, it will almost certainly take centuries to get there.
[W] ok, i think we got everything, but we can’t end like this
we got Eric, the montrealer and the memes, we need the music
why tupac, like here for instance
[E] I don’t like tupac a) because he got biggie killed and b) he has no flow
[W] flow, who has flow
[E] best flow: biggie. other contenders: method man (he’s lazy though and not many great verses–try his verse on “shame on a n..”), Big L, and Snoop Dogg, Ghostface Killah on “Ice cream” is also great flow.
[W] wow, so much to listen to now
alright, that’s a rap
thanks for your time
nice to see that philosophers are stepping in
[E] ok, ttyl