Warmist Bait and Switch

September 2, 2009

I had thought I was going to use this blog to just to lay out my position on the global warming controversy and not to make additional posts as with a normal blog.  However in recent weeks I have felt a little frustrated by the fact that I have attempted to make reasonable points on pro-CAGW blogs but the people running those blogs have failed to publish my comments.  So I have decided to start posting thoughts here.

This post arises from an exchange I had with a warmist blogger.  This blogger essentially claimed that “global cooling since 1998” was a “myth.”

To me, stating that a claim is a “myth” means you are saying, in essence, that there is essentially no factual basis for the claim.  Is that the case with “global cooling since 1998”?  It does not seem so:

http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1998/to:2009

According to the “HadCRUT” data series (which I understand to be one of the leading temperature data series), it does appear that global surface temperatures are generally trending downwards between 1998 and the present.  I pointed this out to the blogger, who responded as follows:

[If you pick a different start year and/or a different temperature series, you might have a different impression. For instance try Gistemp from 1999.

Of course 10 years is way too short to draw any conclusions, especially when a record year is cherrypicked as the starting point. A more compelling analysis would note that long term linear trend are as high or higher compared to the period ending in 1998, or that the 2000s are significantly warmer than the 1990s, on average. In all data sets, including HadCRU.]

It seems to me that this blogger is engaging in bait and switch tactics.  The claim was that global cooling since 1998 is a “myth.”  But this is not the claim that this blogger is defending.  Instead, he is arguing that by some other measures, global surface temperatures have not been trending downwards.  And that any cooling does not invalidate his basic position.

I am happy to discuss these other issues, but first let’s face facts:  Global cooling since 1998 is not a myth.

I debate with warmists a lot, and these sorts of bait and switch tactics are pretty common.

Update:  I edited this post to take out the name of the blog in question.

7.0 Conclusion?

September 13, 2008

The foregoing posts summarize why I believe that the CAGW Hypothesis is wrong.  However, I am willing to consider in good faith arguments, evidence, or ideas I may have missed.  Please feel free to share them, keeping in mind the Rules I laid out in Section 1.  Thank you.

6.0(c) Authority

September 13, 2008

The last argument I see commonly made in support of CAGW is the argument that some authority has accepted the CAGW hypothesis.

However, on closer inspection, it seems that most of these statements contain equivocal language and/or employ the same bait and switch mentioned in Rule 1.1 below.  For example, according to Wikipedia, here’s what the American Meteorological Society said:

There is now clear evidence that the mean annual temperature at the Earth’s surface, averaged over the entire globe, has been increasing in the past 200 years. There is also clear evidence that the abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased over the same period. In the past decade, significant progress has been made toward a better understanding of the climate system and toward improved projections of long-term climate change… Human activities have become a major source of environmental change. Of great urgency are the climate consequences of the increasing atmospheric abundance of greenhouse gases… Because greenhouse gases continue to increase, we are, in effect, conducting a global climate experiment, neither planned nor controlled, the results of which may present unprecedented challenges to our wisdom and foresight as well as have significant impacts on our natural and societal systems

Sorry, but that is NOT an acceptance of CAGW.  Read it carefully, and here’s the test:  Assume for the moment that CAGW is incorrect.  Does it necessarily follow that the statement was wrong?  No!.

In any event, situations can and do arise where the “experts” are wrong.  So even if lots of experts unequivocally endorsed the CAGW hypothesis, it would be interesting, but not necessarily determinative of anything. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that the statements and actions of an organization do not necessarily represent the views of the organization’s membership.  Situations can and do arise where a representative group or committee decides issues differently than would be decided by the people it represents.  For example, one might ask why Switzerland did not join the European Union.  It seems that unlike other European nations, the issue of Swiss membership in the European Union was put to a vote of individual citizens.  As opposed to a vote of the Swiss legislature.  The kind of person who goes through the trouble of ending up on a legislature or executive committee is not your average person.

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Objections / FAQ

6.1 How dare you — a non-scientist — challenge the authority of actual scientists?

Very easily.  For one thing, it’s a lot easier to have the knowledege and thinking ability to see serious problems with a hypothesis than to be reasonably satisfied that the hypothesis is correct.  The former requires you to break only one link in the chain.

Indeed, I suspect that a lot of these climate scientists probably have backgrounds in statistics and modeling which are not too different from mine.  (I took numerous advanced classes in statistics and modeling as an undergraduate.)

In any event, you (the person reading this and objecting) are probably not a scientist either.  Do you feel you are qualified to go against such scientists as Richard Lindzen and Bob Carter? 

Ultimately, anybody’s arguments must stand or fall on their own merits  – regardless of the person’s credentials.  But in any event, if you believe (as a non-scientist) that non-scientists are not qualified to evaluate the CAGW hypothesis, then there is no need for you to debate the issue with me.

5.0(b) Unprecedented

September 13, 2008

The next set of evidence frequently cited in support of CAGW is that some aspect of weather, climate, or whatever is unprecedented.  Essentially, the argument is that if something significant happens with the weather which has not happened before, then that thing is likely to be a result of mankind’s activities.

However, on closer inspection, these “unprecedented” claims usually turn out to be either (1) false; (2) unsupported by the evidence; or (3) not based on a sufficiently long time period to mean much, if anything.

For example, it is often said that temperatures in the 1990s were the highest since instrumental temperature monitoring began in the 19th century.   Assuming this is true, the time period in question does not seem long enough to mean much, since we have been coming out of the Little Ice Age.

Similarly, it has been claimed that the 1990s were the warmest decade in 1000 years.  However, the evidentiary support for this is rather weak.  Since temperatures were not measured with thermometers 1000 years ago, you have to guesstimate temperatures using “proxies,” like tree rings.  How do we know that we are interpreting these proxies correctly?  Or even that they can be used to measure past temperatures at all?

The obvious way to check these proxy methods is to use the same methods to estimate recent temperatures, and then to compare the results to intstrumental records.  As far as I know, proxies have not done so well when checked this way.  This is the so-called “divergence problem.”  So any claim that current temperatures are unprecedentedly warm is at best a guess.

At the same time, there does exist evidence of warm temperatures in the past.  The classic example of this is the VIking colonization of Greenland during the Medieval Warm Period.  Of course, one can debate the significance of this and similar evidence.  But the bottom line is that there is not a good case at this point that recent temperatures are unprecedentedly warm.

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Objections / FAQ

5.1 Even if one proxy study is flawed, we can overcome this problem by averaging the results of many studies.

We cannot for the same reason as that set forth in 4.4.

5.2 Ok, so maybe recent temperatures are not unprecedentedly warm — what matters is the rate of change.  Recent temperatures are rising at an unprecedentedly high rate.

Show me proof.  And don’t compare proxy measures with instrumental measures.  That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.  If proxy measures are understating the magnitude of recent temperature increases, it’s likely that they are understating the magnitude of past increases.  Indeed, this would make sense as proxy measures – such as tree rings – are based on biological systems, subject to homeostasis.

5.3 Well, but what about X, which has never happened before?

By all means, show me proof.  I would be fascinated to look at it.

4.0(a) Simulations

September 12, 2008

The main “evidence” for the CAGW hypothesis is that there exist climate simulations which (1) assume great sensitivity to CO2; and (2) are consistent with past temperatures.  The problem with this is that in the universe of possible climate simulations, there must exist “false simulations,” i.e. simulations which are consistent with temperatures of the past 50 to 100 years, but do so by coincidence and are not accurate climate simulations.  Such “false simulations” can be expected to diverge from reality and cannot be relied upon to accurately predict the future.

One can see that this is true by observing that there are many climate simulations in use out there with very different assumptions about climate sensitivity, and yet they all track past temperatures pretty well.  Clearly at least some of these simulations are “false simulations.”

The fact is that it’s very difficult to simulate complex systems accurately.  This is true because different elements of the system interact in many different ways, building up uncertainty at each step and making it increasingly difficult to accurately simulate the system over longer amounts of time.  The classic example of this is predicting weather, which is very difficult to do more than a week or so in advance.   So the default assumption should be that a simulation is unreliable.

Ok, so how do you know whether you have a false simulation or a good simulation?  The answer is very simple:  You test it.  You have the simulation make predictions.  If most of those predictions come true, then you can start having some confidence in the simulation.

Unfortunately, the simulations which have been used to predict CAGW have not been tested in this way.  Instead they are tested by seeing how well they compare to past data.  But this is silly.  It’s very easy to make “predictions” with the benefit of hindsight.

So it turns out that the CAGW hypothesis is mainly based on simulations which are unreliable and untested.  This is weak evidence at best.

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Objections / FAQ

4.1 But the Simulations used to Predict CAGW are Based on Real Physical Principles

This is a bit like saying that Sunny Delight is “made with real juice,” or that the boardgame Risk is based on real geographical principles.  In other words, all of the simulations necessarily contain simplifying assumptions which can lead to incorrect results.  Even if the simulations are also based — in part — on undisputed physical laws.

The “physical principles” argument essentially implies that we can trust the simulations because their results follow more or less inexorably from basic first principles.  But if this were true, then all of the simulations would give the same results, which they certainly do not.  Again, the simulations also contain simplifying assumptions.

4.2 But Some Simulations Have Been Tested – Just Look at Hansen’s Simulation from the 80s

Sure, and Hansen’s simulation has been diverging from reality for some time now.  Current temperatures are closest to Hansen’s scenario which assumed that CO2 levels would stabilize, which they have not.  Of course it is possible that this result is not statistically significant.  But in that case, it only shows that Hansen’s simulation has not been put to the test — if the results really are not significant.

4.3 But Skeptics Have Not Done any Better at Predicting Temperatures

That may very well be true, but this argument is attacking a bit of a strawman.  I’m not claiming that I can accurately predict future temperatures — I’m claiming that Jim Hansen cannot.  At least not as well as he thinks he can.  Put another way, it’s not necessary for me to accurately predict the future to win this debate. 

4.4 Perhaps Any One Simulation is Unreliable, But We Can Get Reliable Results by Averaging the Results of Many Simulations

This argument rests on the mistaken assumption that errors and mistakes will always cancel out.  The assumption is incorrect because there may be “systematic error.”  If most or all of the simulations miss the mark in a similar direction, then the average will be off.  And there is no way to know that there does not exist such systematic error.  The great Richard Feynman touched on this issue with the following parable:

Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China’s nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China’s nose is, and you average it. And that would be very “accurate” because you averaged so many people. But it’s no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don’t improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.

The fact is that there are a lot of aspects of the climate which are still not understood very well by anyone.  So averaging different simulations is a lot like the situation in Feynman’s parable.

4.5  Perhaps It’s Impossible to Simulate and Predict Weather over Periods of a Few Years, But It Is Possible over Long Time Periods Like 50 – 100 Years.  It is Like the Difference Between Predicting the Percentage of Heads in 10 Coin Flips Versus Predicting the Percentage of Heads in 10,000 Coin Flips

It’s also possible that weather is chaotic over short AND long time periods.  There is no a priori reason to believe that weather “evens out” over periods from 50 to 100 years.  Indeed, during the Little Ice Age, temperatures were quite cold for well over 100 years.  Could anyone have predicted the Little Ice Age beforehand?  If the Little Ice Age was predictable, then what caused it?  If you cannot answer that question, you must consider the possibility that weather is chaotic and unpredictable even over periods of 50 – 100 years. 

At a minimum, nobody has shown me proof, or even compelling evidence, that climate is predictable on 50 – 100 year time periods.  So it seems to me that if a butterfly in China can cause a storm in New York, it’s also possible that the same butterfly could cause a little ice age.

3.0: The Case for CAGW is Weak

August 19, 2008

As far as I can tell, there are only 3 categories of evidence which support the CAGW Hypothesis:

(a)  It is possible to construct a simulation which is consistent with many historic aspects of the climate and which also predicts a lot of warming in response to increases in atmospheric CO2;

(b) Certain aspects of modern weather/climate are unprecedented; and

(c) Many prominent scientific bodies have endorsed and accepted the CAGW Hypothesis.

I will deal with each of these in turn.

2.0: CAGW Has the Red Flags of a Hoax

August 19, 2008

At the outset, it must be emphasized that CAGW has many indicia of being a hoax.  This alone is not a sufficient reason to dismiss the hypothesis, but it certainly shows that the hypothesis deserves careful scrutiny.

First, telling people that some horrible thing will happen unless they take action now (said action conveniently serving the interests of the person making the prediction) is one of the oldest scams in the book.

Second, CAGW fits the “metanarrative.”  In other words, the CAGW hypothesis satisfies the psychological need of many people to paint wealthy, westernized people as villains who victimize poor innocent people in the third world.

Third, the CAGW Hypothesis is largely self-serving.  In other words, if the public believes in the CAGW Hypothesis, it advances the interests of the researchers and politicians who push the CAGW Hypothesis.

Fourth, alarmists seem to claim that just about every weather event is consistent with CAGW.   If there is a drought, they say “aha! global warming!”  If there is a flood, they say “aha global warming!”  If there is a heat wave, they say “aha! global warming!” If there is a cold snap, they say “that’s weather, not climate” etc. etc.  In short, just about everything confirms their beliefs and nothing undermines those beliefs. 

In my experience, an honest hypothesis is wide open to being disproven.  A crank or BS hypothesis is not open to being disproven.

Let me put it another way:  Karl Popper pointed out that a valid hypothesis should tell us that something will NOT happen in the world.  Otherwise, it’s meaningless.  The CAGW Hypothesis doesn’t seem to rule anything out.  Certainly not in the near future, and not really in the distant future either.

CAGW is like the vague prophecies of Nostradamus.  Everything can be spun to be “consistent with” the predictions. 

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Objections/FAQ

2.1 But skeptics’ claims are often self-serving too.

To be sure, observations similar to 2 and 3 could be made about many persons skeptical of CAGW.  However, that is a reason to be more skeptical and cautious about such persons’ statements.  It is not a reason to be less skeptical and cautious about the CAGW Hypothesis itself.

2.2 How does it serve a scientist’s interest to promote fraud?  He or she would be risking his career. 

Yes, a scientist would be risking his or her career by out and out lying about results.  However, it’s not necessary to engage in blatant fraud to promote CAGW.  In the course of doing and publishing research, a researcher must make many judgments about what data to collect, which results to discard, how to analyze the data, etc.  If a researcher spins things a bit here and there in such a way as to support the CAGW Hypothesis, it’s highly unlikely that his or her career would be at risk. 

2.3  But if a researcher published convincing proof that CAGW is false, he would win the Nobel Prize.

Honestly, I doubt it.  Julian Simon made a pretty convincing case against Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” scare.  It doesn’t seem that Julian Simon has gotten the accolades he deserves.  Anyway, it’s always possible to explain away evidence and arguments against CAGW.  So if a researcher publishes results which contradict the CAGW Hypothesis, it’s not necessarily the case that he will be immediately acknowledged as some kind of hero.  More likely he will be castigated.

History shows that’s what frequently happens to people who go against the dominant view, whether they are right or wrong.

2.4 Are you claiming that there is some sort of conspiracy going on?

Absolutely not.  There is no need for a traditional conspiracy in which the participants get together and agree upon a course of conduct.  What’s going on is more akin to “groupthink” where each participant goes along (or more likely, keeps his or her mouth shut) for his or her own reasons.  By analogy, think back to the internet stock bubble where certain stock prices went to ridiculous levels.  There was no conspiracy, just self-propogating hysteria.

1.0 Rules of Engagement

August 18, 2008

I created this weblog to lay out my reasons and arguments for believing that CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) is a hoax.  I have debated this and related issues many times on the internet and I frequently find the same arguments coming up again and again.  So this blog is something of  FAQ.s

Anyway, I am happy to and interested in debating CAGW here, but I do want to lay out some ground rules:

Rule 1.1  The issue to be debated is Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.  Specifically, the hypothesis that mankind’s CO2 emissions will, if unchecked, result in amplified warming resulting in serious negative consequences to mankind and/or the rest of the environment.

I am not interested in debating whether the climate has warmed in recent years.  Clearly by some measures it has.  Nor am I interested in debating whether CO2 emissions have the potential to increase global temperatures.  Clearly they do.

The hypothesis being advanced by global warming alarmists is that CO2 emissions will cause temperatures to increase, which will increase levels of water vapor, which will cause further temperature increases, etc. etc., until a point where there are serious negative consequences to mankind.  That’s the CAGW hypothesis.

If the CAGW hypothesis is correct, then mankind must take significant measures to limit CO2 emissions.

I have found that many alarmists try to shift the debate from CAGW to some other hypothesis, for example the much weaker hypothesis that mankind’s activities will have some effect on the Earth’s climate — which I refer to as the AGCC Hypothesis.  The distinction is as follows:  If the AGCC Hypothesis is correct, it does not necessarily follow that mankind must take significant measures to limit CO2 emissions.

Anyway, if you try to pretend that we are debating something besides CAGW, I will treat it as dishonest debate and ban you if you won’t own up to it.

Rule 1.2  No strawmen.  While debating CAGW, you are not allowed to misrepresent what I say.  Similarly, I will not misrepresent your position.  If you state or imply that my position is different from what I have actually said, I will call on you to ‘show me where I said it.’  You must either do so or own up and apologize.  Otherwise I will ban you.

Rule 1.3.  No weaseling.  While debating CAGW, you are not allowed to misrepresent your own claims or pretend to have said something different from what you actually said.  Similarly, I will not misrepresent my own statements.  If I point out that you are weaseling, you must own up to it or be banned.

Rule 1.4  Coherency.  While debating CAGW, I must be able to understand your points if I am to consider them and respond to them.  This is not a classroom and you are not my teacher.  Nor am I your teacher.  Thus, you are not allowed to leave points ambiguous for some claimed pedagogical purpose (or any other reason).  Similarly, I will make points as clearly as I reasonably can.  You must answer reasonable questions to help me understand your position.  If you evade or ignore those questions, I will ban you.  Similarly, I will answer reasonable questions about my position.

Further, if your posts are consistently incoherent, I will ban you.  If you feel that my posts are consistently incoherent, you are free to stop reading this blog.

Rule 1.5 Citations. 

(a) You are free to ask me for a citation for a point I have made, but it must be on a point you are seriously skeptical about.  For example, if I claim that men are on average taller than women and you demand a cite, you must first represent to me that you are seriously skeptical that men are on average taller than women.

(b) If you are providing a cite that a particular person or entity made a particular claim, you must quote the actual language in question.  I will try to do the same.

Rule 1.6 Personal insults.  No personal insults or intemperate language.

Rule 1.7 Spelling flames.  If you start flaming my spelling, grammar, or the like, I will probably conclude that you are conceding. 

 Rule 1.8 Examples.  If you make a general statement or observation, I may require you to provide examples.  For example, if you claim that numerous species have gone extinct due to global warming, I may require you to name or 3 examples of such species.  Similarly, upon request, I will provide examples of general statements I make.

Rule 1.9 Meta-Debate.  I’m not going to waste a lot of time arguing over peoples’ debate tactics.  If I sense things are headed that way, I will probably cut things off.

I may add other rules as time goes by, but that’s it for now.

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August 18, 2008

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