January 08, 2006

Global Warming still in doubt, part 2

So the next day, I checked for a reply. There was one and I responded to as follows:


Re 140: (Hockey stick beaten again, skip if bored with it:)

I did not claim scientists have not considered the problems I mentioned. I specifically mentioned that those problems were just starter points to think about “in case you have trouble seeing the problems revealed in the disclaimer for the graph on your own.” I almost put the paragraphs containing those obviously non-expert common sense observations into parentheses to link them to that purpose, and I’m sorry that I didn’t. I was trying to point out that no one should be fooled by the hockey stick, because what it’s based on raises questions for anyone thinking skeptically or even critically that would lead to looking for explanations and critical reviews of it before accepting it, and that leads to learning that it has been discredited by scientists. The tree ring studies included WERE better proxies for rainfall than temperature. The statistical method DID lose the absolute temperature signal, by which I mean obviously the information about whether temperatures were generally high or low several centuries ago, not the relative information about when shorter term global highs and lows were.

No, I do not work for the petro industry. Another study by Mann et al. in 1999 doesn’t count to me as replication. You see, I am in fact a rank amateur rather than a professional shill, and as such I have the right and the pleasure of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes when you try to pull that self-replicating study business that is so beloved in professional circles.

Yes, anthropogenic global warming is probably true. I didn’t claim otherwise. The subject I was keeping track of when you brought up the dreaded hockey stick was what world temperature or conditions should be gone back to as a preanthropogenic ideal. The hockey stick shape has the political potential of justifying any amount of global regulation to return nature to a narrow ideal range and to hold it there. It’s not that I’m worried about the specific hockey stick graph. I know science has passed that by. What had me reacting was just the idea of anyone taking such an obvious fudge seriously, and with its huge error margins, as setting a goal everyone should aim for, as if it was the scientific clarion call to a new millennium that has been vindicated. You may not be a socialist personally, and I apologize for the casual way I write implying that, but the pushing of a scientific consensus that dogmatically includes things like the hockey stick serves that sort of ridiculous socialist political movement.

Thank you for a stimulating and honest response to my post. To be perfectly frank, I’m checking whether I was right, because you seemed to have great self-confidence and to be saying that I shouldn’t have so much. Verification of devastating criticism of the hockey stick: McIntyre and McKitrick, in Geophysical Research Letters and in Energy and Environment, 2005. (I’m referring to the abstracts and comments because I’m not a professional subscriber.)

(Re 142: Thank you Philip for your defense against ad hominem on my behalf.)

Posted by sonny · January 7th, 2006 at 3:29 am

[I should have corrected the statement about tree ring studies to say: The tree ring studies of bristlecone pines included WERE found to be better proxies for CO2 than for temperature.]

What does this all mean?

The essay starting that thread at Crooked Timber was saying the debate has been settled, and that Ross McKitrick has no credibility (with a link to a page of criticisms of his past comments on climate science) as if that ad hominem can stand in place of referring or linking to an answer to the scientific arguments raised in reviewed, published articles where he was a coauthor.

Some humans act like finding the truth is all about producing a hierarchy of credibility, a way of socially rating others to decide whether they believe them and allow them to dictate truth or they disbelieve them and, regardless of their arguments, insult them as discredited, ignorant, and so on. To those, the global warming debate is settled in one camp or another.

The history of religions and governments demonstrates that the credibility method alone does not work. However, some degree of rating and sensing credibility is necessary, such as having scientific journals that have a reputation for accurate information. It doesn't matter to current scientists how crankish they think Newton's interest in alchemy was, they know that his published work in physics, optics, and astronomy has been reviewed by many scientists and was the source of many discoveries and formulae they learned in school, so current scientists count Newton one of the greatest scientists in history. He was doing the equivalent of calculus his own way, genius that he was, with his own notation that didn't catch on, while Leibniz founded calculus mathematically.

The religions and politics of individual scientists shouldn't matter to arguing the truth or falsity of the best work they've published. What should be cultivated to find truth is a skeptical attitude that nothing is absolutely sure and an ability to take arguments for what they say, apart from who says them. (Looking back at the last paragraphs of the essay by John Quiggin on Crooked Timber that started the debate, it's a good example of the opposite of this point of view. "Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking.")

That's all being optimistic about science though. I can feel moderately pessimistic too, and think it's the End of Science, as in the John Horgan book of that title. All science that attempts to move beyond the level of what an individual has time to learn from the ground up and beyond applied science that proves itself in technology every day becomes post-modern science. In post-modern science, complications allow adjusting and correcting data and methods and analyses to produce only result that the consensus calls for, and individual researchers depend on products of that consensus for what they work on in turn.

A gambit of stronger criticism of science as post-modern would be to think science has never really gotten anywhere except to provide a rationalization for technology, and the methods used in technology are self-evident mathematics not really discoveries from natural science, and techniques and working knowledge of materials that are always somewhat separate from what scientists explain you should be able to do with those materials. In this view, those who build particle accelerators are technologists, and the scientists who want them and use them have always been post-modern fantasizers.

Stronger pessimism would be to think humans don't even see the real dangers or problems, while science makes no progress on what we are worried about.

Related links to this post: Philip Stott at A Parliament of Things and EnviroSpin Watch. The site given by the critic of my earlier post, ecolanguage.net. The opposing scientists' websites: more established climatologists, including Michael Mann, RealClimate, more skeptical outsider climatologists, mostly Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit. An apparently not vandalized Wikipedia article that shows the main estimates from several recent major studies in one graph, demonstrating a tendency to show a "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" not the flattened past of the original 1998 hockey stick: Image:1000 Year Temperature Comparison.png.

1 comment:

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