follow CCP

Recent blog entries
« Chewing the fat, so to speak... | Main | Nature Climate Change study on science literacy & cultural polarization can now be downloaded from CCP site »
Monday
Dec312012

Wisdom from Silver’s Signal & Noise, part 2: Climate change & the political perils of forecasting maturation

This is post 2 in my three part series on Silver’s Signal & Noise, which tied for first (with  Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s The Theory That Would Not Die) in my “personal book of the year” contest (I’ve already mailed them both the quantity of gold bullion that I always award to the winner—I didn’t even divide it in half; or maybe I did, or possibly I even doubled or tripled it).

It turns out that Silver is not only amazingly good at statistical modeling & pretty decent at story telling. He also happens to be pretty wise (obviously this is a limited sample & I’ll update based on new information etc).

The nugget of wisdom I mined out of the book in the first post had to do with Silver’s idea that we should treat terrorist attacks a bit more like earthquakes.

This time I want to make a report on what Silver had to say about climate-change forecasting. One way to understand his assessment is that the practitioners of it are being punished for their methodological virtue. 

Silver essentially structures the book around prototypes. There’s baseball, which is to forecasting what Saudi Arabia is to oil drilling. There are elections, another data-rich field but one that gets screwed up by a combination of bad traits in those who prognosticate (they are full of themselves) and those who are consuming their prognostications (too many of them want to be told only what they want to hear).

And earthquakes—can’t be forecast, but can still yield lots of info.

And economics--a bastion of bad statistics hygiene.

Then there’s meteorology, which is the archetype prototype of forecasting excellence because it is super hard and yet has made measureable progress (that’s much higher praise than “immeasurable,” in this context) due to the purity and discipline of its practitioners. (I’m eager to see who gets to play Richard Loft, the director of Technology Development at NCAR in the upcoming movie adaptation of Signal; I’m guessing Pierce Brosnan, unless he is cast as Silver himself).

In Silver’s account, climate forecasting is traveling the path of meteorology. The problem is that emulating the meteorologists obliges climate forecasters to become unwitting manufacturers of the ammunition being directed against them in the political flack storm surrounding climate change.

One of the things that meteorology forecasters did that makes them the superheroes of Signal was calibration. They not only made prodigious predictions but then revisited and retooled their models in light of how close they came to their targets, thereby progressively improving their aim.

When climate forecasters do this—as they must—they leave themselves wide open to guerilla attack by those seeking to repel the advance of science. The reason is that error is an inevitable and indeed vitally productive element of the Bayesian-evolutionary process that characterizes the maturation of valid forecasting.

Gaps between prediction and reality are not evidence of a deficiency in method. They are just evidence, information that is reprocessed as part of the method of generating increasingly precise and accurate probabilistic estimates.

This is a subtle point to get across even if one is trying to help someone to actually understand how science works. But for those who are trying to confuse, the foreseeable generation of incorrect predictions furnishes a steady supply of resources with which to harass and embarrass and discredit earnest scientists.

Silver recounts this dilemma in explicating the plight of James Hansen, whose forecasts from 30 and 25 years were in many respects impressively good but just as importantly instructively wrong. Ditto for the IPCC’s 1990 predictions.

Another thing that the superhero meteorologists did right was, in effect, theorize. They enriched their data with scientific knowledge that enabled them to do things like create amazing simulations of the dynamics they were trying to make predictive sense of. As a result, they got a lot further than they would have if they had used brute statistical force alone.

Climate forecasters are doing this too, and as a result necessarily enlarging the target that they offer for political sniping.  The reason is that theory-informed modeling of dynamic systems is hard work, the payoffs of which are unlikely to accumulate steadily in a linear fashion but rather to accrue in incremental breakthroughs punctuated by periods of nothing.

Indeed, those who travel this path might well seem to be make slower progress at least temporarily than those who settle for simpler, undertheorized number-crunching strategies, which make fewer assumptions and thus expose themselves to fewer sources of error, which tend to compound within dynamic models. Silver notes, for example, that some of Hansen’s earlier predictions—which were in the nature of simple multivariate regressions—in some respects outperformed some of his subsequent, dynamic-simulation driven ones.

Again, then, the virtuous forecaster will, precisely as a result of being virtuous, find him- or herself vulnerable to opportunistic hectoring, particularly by anti-science, lawyerly critics who will adroitly collect and construct number-crunching models that generated more conservative predictions and thereby outperformed the more theoretically dynamic ones over particular periods of time (including ones defined by happenstance or design to capitalize on inevitable and inevitably noisy short-term fluctuations in things like global temperatures).

Silver mentions the work of Scott Armstrong, a serious forecaster who nevertheless confines himself to simple number-crunching and consciously eschews the sort of theory-driven enrichment that was the signature of meteorology’s advancement. “I actually try not to learn a lot about climate change,” Armstrong, who is famous for his “no change” forecast with respect to global temperatures, boasts. “I am a forecasting guy” (Signal, p. 403).

“This book advises you to be wary of forecasters who say that science is not very important to their jobs,” Silver writes, just as it advises us to be skeptical toward “scientists who say that forecasting is not important to their[s] . . . . What distinguishes science, and what makes a forecast scientific, is that it is concerned with the objective world. What makes forecasts fail is when our concern only extends as far as the method, maxim, or model” (p. 403).

For Silver, the basic reason to “believe” in—and be plenty concerned about—climate change is the basic scientific fact, disputed by no one of any seriousness, that increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 (also not doubted by anyone) conduce to increasing global temperatures, which in turn have a significant impact on the environment. Forecasting is less a test of that than a vital tool to help us understand the consequences of this fact, and to gauge the efficacy (including costs and benefits) of potential responses.

Seems right to me. Indeed, seems wise.

* * * *

Okay, here’s something else that I feel I ought to say.

One reason I was actually pretty excited to get to the climate forecasting chapter was to verify an extremely critical review of the book (issued well before the release date of it) by Michael Mann, climate scientist of “hockey stick” fame.

Frankly, I find the gap between Mann’s depiction and the reality of what Silver said disturbing. You’d get the impression from reading Mann’s review that Silver is a “Chicago School” “free market fundamentalist” who dogmatically attacks the assumptions and methods of climate forecasters.

Just not so. I’m mean really really really untrue.

Mann figures very briefly at the end of the chapter, where Silver reports Mann’s reaction to what is in fact the chapter's central theme—that climate forecasting is exposed to political perils precisely because those engaged in it are taking an uncompromisingly scientific approach.

Mann is obviously—understandably and justifiably!—frustrated and filled with anger.

He describes climate scientists themselves as being involved in a “street fight with these people”—i.e., the professional “skeptics” who hector and harass, distort and mislead (p. 409).

Of course, that’s a response that sees fighting as something climate scientists ought to be doing.

“It would be irresponsible for us as a community to not be speaking out,” Mann explains.

“Where you have to draw the line is to be very clear about where the uncertainties are,” he allows, but it would be a mistake to “have our statements so laden in uncertainty that no one even listens to what we’re saying.”

Silver doesn’t say this—indeed, had no reason to at the time he wrote the book—but I have to wonder whether Mann’s savage reaction to Silver is part of Mann’s “street fighting” posture, which apparently includes attacking even intellectually and emotionally sympathetic commentators whose excessive reflection on climate forecasting “uncertainty”  threatens to prevent the public from even “listen[ing] to what we’re saying.”

Mann is a great climate scientist. He is not a scientist of science communication.

For those who do study and reflect on science communication, whether simplifying things or dispensing with qualifications (not to mention outright effacing of complexity) will promote open-minded public engagement with climate science are matters characterized by uncertainties analogous to the ones that climate change forecasters deal with.

But I think one thing that admits of no uncertainty is that neither climate scientists nor scientists of science communication nor any other scientifically minded person should resort to simplification, effacement of complexity, and disregard for intellectual subtlety in describing the thoughtful reflections of a scholarly minded person who is trying to engage openly and candidly with complicated issues for the benefit of curious people.

That’s a moral issue, not an empirical one, and it goes to the nature of what the enterprise of scholarly discussion is all about.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (46)

I'm a bit puzzled by this sentence: "Gaps between prediction and reality are not evidence of a deficiency in method." I understand that such gaps might not be evidence of a deficiency in method, but I would think that they also might. And if not, what would ever constitute such evidence? Or is the "method" here unfalsifiable?

And I was amused by this: "There are elections, another data-rich field but one that gets screwed up by a combination of bad traits in those who prognosticate (they are full of themselves) and those who are consuming their prognostications (too many of them want to be told only what they want to hear)." Do you think there's a chance that this might apply to any data-rich field that has become politicized?

December 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Larry: I agree that that sentence doesn't carry the weight that it should. I think it wouldn't be so hard to make the point in, say, 3 or 4 paragraphs. But I think it would be admirable to do it in 2 sentences, as I tried. Obviously, how many sentences -- how much information -- it takes depends on how much is already in the mind of the person to whom the information is being conveyed. So I'd like 2 sentences for you, since I think you are the person I am communicating with (is that obvious? Not really.).

To gesture at the idea: I am playing poker with you; have been for about 6 hrs. I have formed a sense of your starting-hand range in various positions. I did that by assuming before I had any information that you'd play exactly as I would, and then adjusting my expectation in light of what you did in every hand in which it was possible to assess whether you played as I would have or not. In the next hand, I call a large bet from you on the river believing (based on my current assessment of what you likely started with) that there is a 90% you are bluffing, but you aren't and win the pot. I adjust my assessment of how you play.

Assume I am an outstanding poker player. In 2 sentences, tell someone else who has just wandered over & observed only this single hand why in fact I'm doing a good job "forecasting" your play.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Yes, I understand (more or less) the sort of Bayesian inference and adjustments I believe you're talking about. But I think, in situations a little more complex than poker, that Bayesian inference may not always be enough. To give an example from the history of science, consider the once dominant model of solar system, in which the earth was at the center. This produced a gap between prediction and observational reality that for some time was plugged by Bayesian-type tweaks of the dominant model, adding epicycles, and then epicycles to epicycles. But finally none of that really worked, in that annoying gaps always reappeared, and it took instead a willingness to abandon the dominant model rather than continuing to refine it. More recently, as I understand, something similar might have happened in physics had not the Higgs particle been found, though no doubt only after attempts to refine the Standard Model. But it's this sort of wholesale change in model or way of thinking that I'm thinking of when I suggested that at some point the gap between prediction and reality may be evidence of a deficiency.

Of course, if by "method" you're referring to the scientific method generally, which simply involves the willingness to let observational or experimental reality guide one's models of that reality, then certainly you're right to say that that method isn't invalidated by gaps between reality and prediction -- but I don't think it's really the scientific method as such that's at the basis of the issue here.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Larry -- yes I agree. That's a very admirable job in 2 paragraphs. But is the 2-sentence-challenge not worth a try?

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Since this topic is on the models, one should look at how reliable the models are. NOAA said in 2008 that zero trends longer than 15 yrs are an issue for reliability . The IPCC says there has been a zero trend since 1998. Both taken together show that the models are, at the 95% confidence level, wrong. As such, using invalidated models to drive policy is worrisome.

NOAA: Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Vol. 90, No. 8, August 2009
Pg 24 “..Near-zero and even negative trends are common for intervals of a decade or less in the simulations, due to the model’s internal climate variability. The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate…”


IPCC WGI Fifth Assessment Report
10-21:44 “..In summary, while the trend in global mean temperature since 1998 is not significantly different from zero..”

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

My concern re: the two sentence challenge in the poker context is that it makes the issue look somewhat trivial. Nevertheless:

You, as an outstanding poker player, have formed an internal model of the kind of poker player I am -- e.g., amateurish, impulsive, etc. -- and over the last number of hands have been refining that model by adjusting it in light of discrepancies between its predictions and the play's reality, looking for revealing patterns in my play. But, with the last hand, you suddenly realize that your model itself may be in error, and that you now have to reassess the whole game in light of a new model (e.g., that I'm actually a pro mimicking an amateur). Of course (sorry, third sentence I know), if you're not actually an outstanding player yourself, you might continue to cling to the model in which you've already invested so much, and bust.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

"When climate forecasters do this—as they must—they leave themselves wide open to guerilla attack by those seeking to repel the advance of science."

Dr Kahan, I doubt you could point to a single example of anyone "seeking to repel the advance" of climate science.

But I can. Phil Jones, the leading British alarmist, for instance. Professor Jones is absolutely explicit in his opposition to scientific progress. This is what he wrote to the Australian scientist Warwick Hughes:

"Why should I make the data available to you, when your objective is to try and find something wrong with it?"

It's the believalists, not the denialists, who are anti-science.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

@Brad:

I don't want to have people get into a a debate about Phil Jones here -- people can go here to learn more -- for the same reason that I don't want to have this site become a location for debating Mann's work.

But you have a point -- a good one -- about "... repel the advance ...." Likely I *could* find a "single example," but my tone/locution definitely conveys a claim that I think is false, which is that hostility to science plays a significant role in public controversy surrounding climate change. That notion, which is very widespread, not only fails to diagnose the antagonisms that are the real source of such conflict but actually helps to compound them. I should have found a better way to express the point -- one that didn't imply that everyone who disagrees with the position I find most persuasive must be motivated by either ignorance or bad faith.

Thanks for reminding me to steer clear of the "I-am-rubber-you-are-glue ..." anti-science trope!

January 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Larry:

You are right that I am at risk of trivializing something intersting & difficult. Maybe my intuition that there was a 2-sentence way to make the point in the context of my post is simply wrong.

Consider Ed Forbes's comment. Let's just accept that Ed is getting the details right (I don't have any reason to think he isn't; Silver, it turns out, calls attention to "the inconvenient truth ... that global temperatures did not increase at all between 2001 & 2011" but also describes "set[ting] the year 1998 as your starting point" to be an example of "framing ... made in bad faith" given "record-high temperatures" that year "associated with the ENSO cycle...." (Signal, p. 403)).

I'd say something like, global temperatures in the last 15 yrs could easily supply a basis for saying the "forecasts" generated by NOAA or IPCC models were wrong; that would be evidence that the models aren't that good & need to be improved. That's presumably what NOAA & IPCC scientists would say -- & they would *use* the discrepancies between the forecasts & the actual temperatures to improve the model.

But it would be a mistake to conclude from the poor performance of the models that climate change isn't occurring. The reason to think it is is grounded in the scientific knowledge of how CO2 concentrations affect temperatures, as well as lots of observational data of various kinds that corroborates the impact of this effect on the climate since 1998 (it would be an obvious mistake to think that changes in "global temperatures" are the only indicator of climate change or even of consequential increases in regional temperatures, etc.).

The relatively poor performance of the models would just be evidence that the tool we are using to forecast this element of climate change can be improved a lot. Indeed, it would be useful information to help make the improvements.

I suspect you agree with all of this. But then there is still your question about whether this way of dealing with the performance of the models is consistent w/ the inference strategies that science is supposed to involve. Is there something in the argument that evades "falsification"; or does the view "oh -- models gave wrong answer; must be bad model" some sort of confirmatory bias, etc.

Why exactly am I (are we) not in that position? I think the answer is that our (my) basis for seeing "climate change" as real, as caused by (among other things) human CO2 production, and as a source of negative enviromental consequences (but likely some positive ones too) consists of evidence independent of the models. Those propositions & the evidence they rest on remain open to falsification, etc. But the models are not *testing* those propositions; they are testing our ability to predict what sorts of things will happen & when as a result of those broader dynamics. We want tools of that sort b/c they will help us to make decisions about what to do .... But it's *that* sort of distinction that is hard to get across & the difficulty of getting it across is what makes the *valid process* of constructing bad models in the service of constructing progressively less bad a constant source of political difficulty for the climate forecasters....

I think we should approach the puzzle this way, which is really internal to "normal science" way of looking at things 1st before bringing Kuhn into picture. I think my reaction is, "this isn't even in the class of normal science discrepancy 'tremors' that portend a seismic paradigm shift " etc etc. I'm pretty sure I'm thinking about this in a way that is consistent w/ orthodox-- Popperian even -- view of how science knows what it knows, although am very open to the possibility I'm wrong (and that others whose thinking I believe I'm reflecting are wrong too!). But if I'm right, how to get the point across economically, effectively, accurately?

Now another intresting thing: Ed says we shoudl be "worried" that bad models are "driving policy." I don't think they are driving policy; what policy?! But his basic point is still valid.

As I'm describing things -- and as I think the forecasters themsleves would (assuming they weren't trying to follow a rhetorical strategy of "simplifying" to make sure people "listen to what they say") -- it is understood, assumed, stipulated, expected that the models will be wrong, and that observing how & adjusting are just parts of the managed Bayesian evolutionary process that leads to really useful & effective forecasting.

But gee, well before the organism has been evolutionary engineered to a state of even tolerable perfection, we face the question: what to do?! Doing nothing is donig something, and we have reason to think that that's a bad thing to do. But how bad really -- and how much better or worse can we make tings by doing *something* -- we need models for that. The models we have are imperfect, sure. But it's just a logical fallacy to say "therefore nothing is the best course of action." We aren't publishing articles here; we are deciding how to govern ourselves, and we must use the best evidence & understanding available, which might well be products of models that we know aren't as good as we need them to be! But then I have to admit to Ed or anyone else that *yes* I am proposing action in the face of uncertainty, and of course I'm *worried* about that b/c only someone who doesn't get what's going is unworried about the imprecision of our existing knowledge when proposing a response (including "do nothing").

I suspect talking *this* way puts me *way* over Mann et. al's "practical simplification" line. If it does -- if I'm not "supposed to talk this way," lest I confuse the public into "not listening to what we say" -- then I have a moral objection to the simplification strategy: it is failing to treat democratic citizens as reasoning individuals.

I also *suspect* that the idea that one can't talk the way I am about the dilemma Ed adverts to w/o risking the public being confused into a state of paralysis or inaction is wrong, as an empirical matter, and reflects a naive view of how scientific knowledge is transmitted & collective action based on it organized within a democratic society.

Might this be "motivated reasoning" at work?...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Thank you for an interesting post. I think that your post misses something that (it seemed to me) Silver missed as well in his really fascinating book:
"For Silver, the basic reason to “believe” in—and be plenty concerned about—climate change is the basic scientific fact, disputed by no one of any seriousness, that increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 (also not doubted by anyone) conduce to increasing global temperatures, which in turn have a significant impact on the environment."
This is a mistake, and Silver made it as well. It puts the goalposts in the wrong place. Though there are partisans on the denialist side who claim that increasing CO2 doesn't lead to higher temperatures, that isn't the main point of issue between believers in CAGW and deniers. The main issue is, How bad a problem is it? Will temperatures go up one degree, or two, or six? Are methods of adaptation wiser and more cost-effective than mitigation (preventing the problem), or less?
These questions aren't answered by the basic physics, and in fact you need some additional complicated feedbacks to get to the IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling.
Mann is upset for a very good reason: Silver pretty much suggested in his book that the sensitivity to CO2 _may_ have been shown by the evidence to be half as big as the IPCC estimates. As he points out, that's what the simplest estimate would have been without all the models and feedbacks. But he doesn't understand what that implies: We wouldn't need to do anything about it. Indeed, the entire process of the Kyoto Accords etc. is designed to limit temperature rise to where this result would say it's going to be without doing a thing. This is exactly the fight between the sides (ignoring the real fringes) and Silver - a very well respected non-climate scientist with a lot of liberals listening to him - unwittingly came out on the side of the skeptics.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeR

Professor Kahan, thanks for your reply.

Thanks especially for recognising your mistake in characterising critics/skeptics/deniers of alarmist climatology as "seeking to repel the advance of science." I have no problem with your insulting any credal group you want, of course. I raised this, not because of how offensive the trope is but because it's incorrect.

I notice, however, that you haven't corrected the sentence.

You do say that you could probably come up with 1 example of someone on my "side" who opposes the advance of science. Please let me know—such people, whatever "side" they're on, are inimici humani generis and must be be named and shamed.

But in the meantime, absent any evidence that *any* CAGW denier is anti-scientific, it's rather silly to imagine that we *all* are.

I respect your work, Professor Kahan, because your motive is a genuine curiosity about what makes the CAGW-denying mind tick. (Regrettably the same can't be said of all of your climate psych peers!) As someone who knows the answer first-hand as it were, I'd be happy to chat with you about what you're getting right and what you're overlooking, if you're interested. (And no, you haven't quiiite cracked the code yet!)

Others on my "side" would echo the offer, I'm sure. We could probably save you years of theoretical wrong turns. More importantly, anything we can do to close the tragic societal wound of mutual recrimination and incomprehension on climate is well worth attempting, don't you think?

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

A major point over looked here is the "model iteration time".

Weather forecasters are blessed by the fact they get to see if their results are good or bad in a matter of days. Their models are implemented, tested, and revised rather quickly. They have probably had thousands of iterations and tuning cycles at this point over the last 50 years.

Climate models must wait DECADES to evaluate their performance. This matters. A lot. Climate modelers are crippled by not knowing how well their models really work. Even twenty years is inadequate. If you could give a gift to climate modelers, it would be for 200 years of robust global climate measurements. They currently have less than 20 years of good measurements, and are designing new sensors for that task today.

Do we know how good these models are? All indicators are they are almost uniformly over estimating temperature increases to this point. Only time will tell.

Critics are correct to point out flaws in the models, nobody is against making them more accurate.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom Scharf

The models require feedbacks to show more than a 1d change in temp due to a doubling of CO2, which is still quite a ways away at current levels of production. If a positive feedback to CO2 cannot be shown, then the models have no use in predicting catastrophic climate change due to CO2. With the assumption that all things being equal, a double of CO2 increases average world temps by 1d, CO2 would have to double again to achieve an additional 1d increase.

The science does not support major changes and costs to the world’s economy to reduce the CO2 below current levels, or levels projected over the next 50 yrs, for such a minor affect. Yet I am considered by many to "deny science" for opposing many of the schemes put forward to reduce CO2 emissions.


NOAA: Current CO2 levels are about 390ppm.

1880 CO2 levels were about 290ppm, so we have to get to about 580ppm to double the CO2 for the 1d increase in temps recognized by the IPCC for a doubling of CO2, and double again to about 1160ppm for and additional 1d increase.

IPCC Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis
1.5.2 Model Clouds and Climate Sensitivity

“…the amplitude and even the sign of cloud feedbacks was noted in the TAR as highly uncertain..”

“1°C, a highly significant value, roughly equivalent to the direct radiative effect of a doubling of the atmospheric CO2..”

“..Clouds, which cover about 60% of the Earth’s surface, are responsible for up to two-thirds of the planetary albedo, which is about 30%. An albedo decrease of only 1%, bringing the Earth’s albedo from 30% to 29%, would cause an increase in the black-body radiative equilibrium temperature of about 1°C, a highly significant value, roughly equivalent to the direct radiative effect of a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Simultaneously, clouds make an important contribution to the planetary greenhouse effect. In addition, changes in cloud cover constitute only one of the many parameters that affect cloud radiative interactions: cloud optical thickness, cloud height and cloud microphysical properties can also be modified by atmospheric temperature changes, which adds to the complexity of feedbacks, as evidenced, for example, through satellite observations analysed by Tselioudis and Rossow (1994)…”

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

January 2, 2013 | dmk38

"..Consider Ed Forbes's comment. Let's just accept that Ed is getting the details right (I don't have any reason to think he isn't; Silver, it turns out, calls attention to "the inconvenient truth ... that global temperatures did not increase at all between 2001 & 2011" but also describes "set[ting] the year 1998 as your starting point" to be an example of "framing ... made in bad faith" given "record-high temperatures" that year "associated with the ENSO cycle...." (Signal, p. 403))..."

I find it odd that setting 1998 as your starting point shows "bad faith" considering that the IPCC uses the 1998 date ( see the IPCC WGI Fifth Assessment Report ).

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Thanks, Dan,for a very interesting and substantive reply. There's much in it I'd agree with, as you say, but let me pick up on one question you ask rhetorically: why are we in this position, and by "this position" I mean the political clamor around climate science? Why isn't there a similar street fight, so to speak, around the Higgs boson, say, or plate tectonics? I think the answer is obvious, but I also think it points to a possible flaw in the model you yourself are using here, explicitly or not, and so I thought I'd try to spell out a simplified version of that model as I understand it (but please excuse and correct any misunderstandings):

You divide the populace into scientists and non-scientists, the scientists being those people with advanced degrees in a scientific field and working in that field, and the non-scientists being everyone else. So far, fine. Then you note that the non-scientists are influenced by various political/ideological values, wishes, hopes, fears, etc., which are clumped into what we might call political paradigms. Also fine. But then you appear to ignore the influence of those same paradigms on the scientists, and on the people staffing the whole institutional apparatus that supports the scientists (though I think you do give some attention to the possible political bias of those communicating science to the non-scientists). And this seems to me to be a flaw -- with some consequence since it seems to leave your model blind to the possibility that scientists too are political animals, with political values, wishes, hopes, fears, etc., just as are non-scientists, all of which may bias their science, as unfortunate as that may be. In other words, the model you appear to be using here seems to assume either that scientists are disinterested in politics, or that they are somehow able to compartmentalize their politics from their politically-implicated science, which seems at least questionable to me. And that in turn makes it all the more difficult to really understand the nature of disputes in areas where a dominant political paradigm is deriving support from a particular scientific one -- instead, the temptation is to ascribe ignorance or malice or one-sided ideological hostility only to those skeptical of the scientists supporting the paradigm (which, of course, may be the bulk of them).

I understand not wanting to get too involved in the whole climate-change issue itself here, but I thought this flaw pertains especially to your notion that climate science is "normal science", and not at present at least caught in some Kuhnian trap of attempting to make the wrong model fit the data. That may well be true. But the point is that in areas where political values and passions are involved, it can be inherently difficult to tell -- that is, to recognize when a scientific paradigm is being kept alive more by the politics of it than by the reality. And it behooves all human beings -- good scientists as well as an attentive and critically intelligent public -- to take that into account.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

dmk38, "Doing nothing" I find is one of those (over) simplification strategies. Humans are as a group doing something(s) all the time. Rather than following a rhetorical strategy for policy, I would like a more comprehensive risk management strategy. In such a strategy, "doing nothing" about A, but concentrating on B,C, and D, would be acceptable. Other items of human concern, not just climate change would be there.

Due to costs and missed opportunities, an incorrect implementation of action in the face of uncertainty is not cost neutral, and is not policy neutral.

There should be concerns about motivated reasoning on all parties part, I would think. And if not bad enough, we have yet to bring in some of the economic analyses for impact. An example of which is TCS, transient climate sensitivity, where at 0.2 C/decade means the changeover point from mainly adaptation to mainly mitigation occurs about 2050 per AR4 (IPCC); but at 0.15 it occurs between 2075 to 2100 depending on assumptions. The difference in timelines may and should make a difference in successful policy(ies).

To me, the correct empirical question is, are the models a good enough tool for their intended, or as used, purpose, and to what degree of usefulness. This will bring in another complex level of interaction. One set of motivated reasoning or professional will be capital conservation, which means "wait and see" is not "do nothing."

I do not believe that the public is being confused into a state of paralysis or inaction. I have not seen a study of such, and would be critical of what the definition of "confused" meant. I would say that there is a lot of disagreement of what we should spend our time, money, and resources on. But I like to remember one runs out of money long before one runs out of work that needs to be done.

I am familar with many of the arguments and comments at the sites Dan listed above. As Silver pointed out, we should expect models to need improvement. There is a broad range of how different persons react to uncertainty or error in models. This is often a topic at these sites. The reasoning is not always the same, nor always obstructionist, nor always uninformed. I would suspect that if there is confusion, it may be those who are claiming the confusion on the public's part. One thing is certain, if it involves policy, one should expect the political war to start. I don't think that that is confusion.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnfpittman

"Mann is a great climate scientist."

Well, opinions differ on this. He can't do statistics, and he never, never admits to even obvious mistakes. His work is often sloppy, and his abrasive personality annoys even his allies.

Peter D. Tillman
Professional geologist, advanced-amateur paleoclimatologist

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter D. Tillman

@Ed:

Having looked up what Silver said -- so I could point out that he backs up the point that global temperature projection in IPCC was off for a decade, I thought I couldn't leave out the part where he said, in effect, one shouldn't start in 1998. I don't know why Silver says 1998 is bad faith; do people tussle about starting there?

In any case, I see no bad faith in your post, which in fact sets up the interesting point that I see Larry & others are addressing about (a) how to think about "Bayesian works in progress" style modeling in policymaking particular in early iterations & (b) the point Larry called me on & that I think you are interested in too on how to tell when a model that's missing the target should be treated as going about its "upadating business" or questioned more fundamentally.

January 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Brad:

The "my side"/"your side" -- that's not from me, right? I mean we might well be on different "sides" on some issue but I don't want to address you as a representative of a "side" or purport to speak as a represenative of another one. You've already made me recognize that I was painting w/ too broad a brush in the post; I've learned my lesson!

I prefer not to remove the language from the post. I do in fact tidy things up etc. But in general, I think I'd be letting myself off too easy if everytime I said something I regretted I erased it. Better to leave it there and then say & do things that on reflection I am endorse & let others see it all in context .. So rather than eraase that, I will make a point to write a blog in the near future on the "anti-science" trope -- I thnk you ralize it won't be my first. I do find "anti-science" chanrge very bothersome, b/c as an account of why people are divided on this issue is is wrong, and b/c as a trope it conveys disrespect. Calling those who disagree with you "anti-science" is in the Liberal Republic of Science what calling someone a "communist" or "fascist" was at one point in US history, or calling him or her a "terrorist sympathsizer" today etc. It shouldn't be done-- unless someone really is antiscience!

I could identify people on both sides of the climate debate who I think are hostile to science. After all, *some* people really are & are proud of it.

But showing -- "a ha! Someone you have to admit is an idiot agrees with *you*, not me!"-- that wouldn't show anything you are saying is wrong. It would be a sensible way to proceed only if we were under the shared delusion that the way to resolve factual disputes is to gather evidence relating to the character of those who believe one thing or another about it rather than evidence about how the world works.

The offer to enlarge my exposure to the reflections of people who are "skeptical" about how they themselves make sense of the phenomenon I'm trying to understand --how it comes to be that people w/ different values (but who are all patriotic citizens of the Liberal Republic of Science) can end up systematically divided on issues that admit of scientific investigation -- is extremely generous. I'm interested.

BTW, do you think I'm right -- or out of my mind naive -- to think that if we could abstract from the particulars of what is we happen to be disagreeing about those on both "sides" would *agree* that it sucks to find ourselves in this situation? That we have a common interest in avoiding having factual issues (climate change isn't the only one & everyone's been burned on something) get entangled w/ group identities? That that situation tends to disorient everyone & make it less likely they'll reliably & w/ reasonable speed figure out what the state of the evidnece is (whether conclusive or not) on facts of consequence? At that point, the "sides" would still have a *lot* to argue about b/c in fact they have different values & thus different views about what to do conditional on facts. But those are the sorts of disagreements that democracy is all about!

January 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

January 2, 2013 | Dan Kahan
"..I don't know why Silver says 1998 is bad faith; do people tussle about starting there? .."
And
January 2, 2013 | dmk38
" given "record-high temperatures" that year [1998] "associated with the ENSO cycle...." (Signal, p. 403)).

1998 is an interesting data point. One should either toss it out as an outlier or accept as is. As a skeptic of the notion that increasing CO2 will lead to runaway warming, I would accept either position. If one accepts 1998, then the warming from 1980, a common start point, to 1998 show a very worrisome increase in temp. On the other hand, if one accepts 1998, starting at 1998 to date sees a zero temp trend. If one throws out 1998, the trend from 1980 to date no longer looks worrisome.

The remark attributed to Disraeli 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” applies to the climate debates. Where one choses the start and endpoints to compute a trend can give quite different answers.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Another point you may want to consider is that different people have different aims for science communication. For some people the aim is to communicate an understanding of the science. For others, it is to persuade regarding a particular scientific conclusion. From the latter point of view, Mike Mann is a brilliant scientific communicator, in that he has successfully sold the story told by the Hockeystick to half the world. As a piece of scientific communication, the Hockeystick graph itself has been fantastically influential, and incredibly persuasive for many people.

For an excellent summary of this point of view, consider the late Stephen Schneider: "On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both." The effort to capture the public imagination is something climate scientists devote considerable care and attention to, and judging by the results, rather successfully, too.

In any case, I don't think the reasons people are sceptical (or supportive) of Mann's science are anything to do with his abrasive personal style (which wasn't seen publicly until much later), or the way the graph was presented. It depends a lot more on how much you know about how it was generated, and on whether you like the conclusion. A large part of the reason people cared about the Hockeystick enough to make it an issue (on both sides) was precisely that is was such an effective bit of communication.

Science makes no value judgements. It tells you what works, whether as poison or cure, and leaves it to the philosophers to debate whether and what you should use it for. The science of science communication tells you how to persuade, and leaves it to the individual to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NIV, you hit the nail on the head.

"For some people the aim is to communicate an understanding of the science."

These people are right. (Minor quibble: if you understood science, you would realise that the definite article doesn't belong in front of it—"the science" is a deeply antiscientific syntax.)

"For others, it is to persuade regarding a particular scientific conclusion."

These people (and I think I know who you mean) are not only mistaken but dangerous.

Science is NOT rhetorical.

"The science of science communication tells you how to persuade, and leaves it to the individual to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

If you're right, then "the science of science communication" is a threat to everything scientists stand for.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Though there are partisans on the denialist side who claim that increasing CO2 doesn't lead to higher temperatures, that isn't the main point of issue between believers in CAGW and deniers. The main issue is, How bad a problem is it?

Not from what I've seen - although the claim is 'oft made.

What I see is "skeptics" saying, in almost complete uniformity, is that global warming has "stopped," or "paused." Such a view is logically inconsistent with the view that increasing ACO2 leads to higher temperatures (as we are increasing ACO2).

It is also quite interesting that, ironically, "skeptics" use the very same measurements of global temperatures to claim that global warming has "stopped" or "pause" that they almost uniformly argue are scientifically invalidated my methodological problems. Also interesting and ironic is that many of those very same "skeptics" (perhaps not as uniformly) also argue that the very notion of global temperatures is not scientifically valid.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Professor Kahan, I'm very encouraged by your replies. Thank you for the thought you've put into them.

"BTW, do you think I'm right -- or out of my mind naive -- to think that if we could abstract from the particulars of what is we happen to be disagreeing about those on both "sides" would *agree* that it sucks to find ourselves in this situation?"

I think you're right, and you'd be surprised how many of "us" have wanted to say that for a long time. The tragic farce of the societal deadlock on climate stopped being amusing about ten years ago. Now it just sucks. It sucks money, intellectual energy, careers and science into a vortex of fiery turd.

People have lost friends over a climate argument. That sucks.

The public is getting disillusioned with "science." That sucks.

"But showing -- "a ha! Someone you have to admit is an idiot agrees with *you*, not me!"-- that wouldn't show anything you are saying is wrong."

No, of course not. On the other hand, if—a-ha!—someone whose scientific work informed your view of nature was a pseudoscientist all along, that's the kind of revelation that ought to help to move a discussion forward. Don't you think Professor Phil Jones' total lack of interest in the advancement of science, articulated in that email, is grounds for at least a slight pause among those who have for years assumed that these were "the world's leading climate scientists?"

Actually, I think we can probably do even better than understanding "how it comes to be that people w/ different values (but who are all patriotic citizens of the Liberal Republic of Science) can end up systematically divided on issues that admit of scientific investigation," because I've been working on an even more baffling phenomenon: how it comes to be that perfectly sane, intelligent, sensible, conscientious people with the *SAME* values can still manage to arrive at mutually alien conclusions on climate change. Since it's manifestly obvious that this does happen—for example there's no apparent difference between your politics and mine; plenty of leftists, socialists and greenies aren't worried about climate change; etc.—any explanatory line that rests on differences in politics is doomed to be (at best) incomplete.

I look forward to communicating further on this. For now, I'd better refresh my memory on your recent papers and blog posts just to be sure of what you do/don't understand already. I hope you don't think I've been too critical, because I know that notwithstanding the inevitable red herrings, you've also reached some important insights about my "side" which certain of your colleagues—like Professor "Engagement, in my view, is not a solution but just an enormous waste of time" Lewandowsky—can never attain because they're publicly committed to viewing us as "nutters" beneath reason. As NIV commented a few pages ago, be civil to "deniers" and they'll be happy to share their insights with you.

Thank you again for your honest and friendly engagement!

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

@Joshua "What I see is "skeptics" saying, in almost complete uniformity, is that global warming has "stopped," or "paused." Such a view is logically inconsistent with the view that increasing ACO2 leads to higher temperatures (as we are increasing ACO2)."
I do not think so. Don't know which skeptics you are referring to, that you claim "almost complete uniformity". Every skeptic site I see frequently (McIntyre, wattsupwiththat, Lucia) believes that CO2 causes warming, and all of them say so consistently. Same with my "lukewarmer" sites (Judith Curry). When they talk about a "pause" they all mean what I said: That high climate sensitivity is probably ruled out by a long stretch of no warming. As a corollary, _some_ of them may believe that other factors may be more important than the models currently admit, and as a result, one might actually get net lack of warming or even cooling with CO2 increase, if something else (solar effects, ENSO, whatever) is even bigger. That also would not contradict the laws of physics, though again it's open to test.

But say that I am wrong: All skeptics (I noticed that you put that in quotes) believe that there is no warming. So they're wrong, and very foolish. So what? High climate sensitivity is still ruled out by a long stretch of no warming. I don't think there is unanimity on how long, but there have been studies showing that a decade is definitely not long enough, but 15 years might be. Get to twenty years and everybody will probably admit that the models are running way hot. And we're somewhere around 16 or 17 years now, and are somewhere around two standard deviations below the model means. [http://rankexploits.com/musings/2012/things-i-can-see-in-figure-9-8-of-the-ar5-sod/]
So forget about the skeptics and your angry political wars with them. The rest of us should be willing to scrap the models, and the Kyoto Accords, and mitigation if there are a few more years without significant warming. Dr. Mann is still going to try to destroy anyone who points this out.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeR

Joshua, technically those who complain of using global temperature as a metric are correct. In science, it is a mass and energy balance, not a mass and temperature balance. The problem with using temperature as a metric is that to do so, makes an assumption of equilibrium and measurement, that is known NOT to be true. It is also why those who point this out usually post about our lack of knowledge of clouds, water vapor, and precipitation to challenge the Bayesian conclusion of very likely wrt CO2 driving temperature. Their point about the large amount of latent heat difference in the water vapor range compared to incremental increases in heat from CO2 are also correct. This is a methodological problem with the communication that has been chosen.

Your comment has a methodological error. Global temperatures in the sense you use, can neither tell us whether it is warming or cooling, as any trend is worthless without assumptions. Assumptions in science are arguable. With energy (heat), we are just now for a few years able to get a handle on an energy balance. It is not the "skeptics" fault a poor scientific metric was chosen. That was the data available, so it was used. But as pointed out above and in this papragraph, there is a problem: if the assumptions were so good in the past, why are they poor now?

I would say that last question highlights the problem of motivated reasoning that has gone on in climate sceince communication. Just as the argument about start and end dates has. The IPCC did this with choosing an endpoint of 1998 and shortening the start date to show accellerated increase in warming. "Skeptics" are doing the same. Note your negative response and those from from scientists when the "skeptics" use this method. Note the lack of negative response from the science communicators and reporters who proclaimed it in the media when the IPCC did it.

You should argue and agree both uses are wrong. Choosing one side or the other is indicates motivated reasoning or lack of undersanding, or some other problem. I don't know if Silver pointed this out, but one has to be careful that "communication" can give a short term benefit, but gives the opposition more useful counters in a science discussion.

Because temperature data was the data available, it was the metric that could be used. But the problems using it as a metric are real; and not understanding or communicating the limits of such a metric, IMO serve the obstructionists better than the science communicators. The recent slowing down of apparent heat, by using the metric of temperature, with increasing CO2 illustrates the weakness of the metric better than it illustrates motivated reasoning by the "skeptics", IMO.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohnfpittman

Re: "What I see is "skeptics" saying, in almost complete uniformity, is that global warming has "stopped," or "paused." Such a view is logically inconsistent with the view that increasing ACO2 leads to higher temperatures (as we are increasing ACO2)."

I'm a skeptic and happy to admit it, but only in the sense that it seems to me that climate sensitivity is likely at the low end of the IPCC range, or possibly lower. Certainly not zero, temps are going up, in large part because of human emissions, but the issues of "how much" and "how quickly" are not irrelevant for policy.

A major reason I've come to the conclusion of low climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2, a conclusion that could change as facts on the ground change, is that actual temperature trends for 15 years -- and for that matter, for the entire life of the satellite temperature record -- have been considerably below virtually all modeled forecasts from the IPCC and contributors. (Other reasons for informed skepticism include topics that are off-bounds for this discussion, e.g., truth telling and stonewalling by people on the IPCC with initials like ......, but my prior attempts to explain how such reasons feed skepticism have not been posted.)

I'm not a denier, but I do try to see how facts on the ground relate to the models that are telling use that armageddon is near.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

@MikeR,

They put "skeptics" in quotes in order to deny us the unmerited compliment of calling us skeptics.* They resent our adoption of the term and they think it's strategic.

Of course it wasn't, it was just a happy accident (since we have no organisation, leadership or secret handshake—but don't tell them that!).

But it's fair enough that they don't like it—one isn't necessarily a skeptic just because one rejects a particular belief. I'm sure there are non-skeptical climate calmists, just as there are skeptical climate alarmists.

I find a good way to break the ice with a hostile believer is to show a willingness to use a more neutral designation. As far as I'm concerned our "side" can simply be called unbelievers, doubters, dissenters (or what have you) of a particular [named] theory. I don't even have a great problem with "deniers"—deniers of CAGW, that is. (Not of climate, climate change, climate science, science or any of the other abstract entities they accuse us of denying.)

As a fascinating aside, have you noticed how the hardcore believers, e.g. the SkS kids, will not tolerate any credal designation? They'll call us the "denialist," "confusionist" or "pro-pollution" camp without a second thought. But heaven forbid someone call them... well, anything at all. As far as I know, no word is sufficiently deferential. You can't say "warmist" at SkS—it's considered far worse than "denier" on a scale of offensiveness. If you use "alarmist" they'll say you're making fun of them. Fine then, how about "believer"? No, that's inflammatory because what you're really saying is that The Science(tm) they follow is no better than a religion.

Seriously, try it next time you're at SkS, it's hilarious.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

MikeR -

I don't want to clutter up Dan's blog with climate bickering (it has too much value in offering a climate-bickering free venue), so I'll offer this additional (sorry, long) response and then let it lie.

Every skeptic site I see frequently (McIntyre, wattsupwiththat, Lucia) believes that CO2 causes warming, and all of them say so consistently.

I have read opinions at those sites many times, and I can't speak to what people "believe" (without further discussion) but my point is that an opinion that adding ACO2 definitively warms the climate is logically inconsistent with the opinion that the warming has "stopped" or "paused" despite significantly increased ACO2. I have seen entire threads at "skeptical" climate blogs full of opinions that the warming has "paused" or "stopped."

Now let's look at that sentence of yours again, with the end of the previous sentence added:

Don't know which skeptics you are referring to, that you claim "almost complete uniformity". Every skeptic site I see frequently (McIntyre, wattsupwiththat, Lucia) believes that CO2 causes warming, and all of them say so consistently.

Now from that sentence it seems that you are forming an opinion about the opinions of "skeptics" based on what you see at those blogs that you mentioned. You must realize, certainly, that by their very nature, blogs such as those attract just a tiny fraction of the American public. They attract, for the most part, climate warriors who are highly invested in the debate about climate change, and highly opinionated about the subject. The views found on those sites are by definition those of outliers by virtue of their orientation in the debate, even if their opinions per se don't register at outliers. But we do have data on public opinion generally w/r/t climate change opinions, and so we can infer some attributes of the beliefs of "skeptics" as a group beyond a small and unrepresentative sample. Here is one example:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q47.jpg

Another:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q50.jpg

And that doesn't even account for the opinions I often read at "skeptical" blogs as well as beyond the "skept-o-sphere" about how AGW is a "hoax" perpetrated by "frauds," and "eco-Nazis" - a "cabal" of capitalist-hating "socialists" who want to install a "one-world government," etc., etc. I also, often, read the opinions of "Sky-dragon" types or others who question the basic physics of AGW, or those who agree with Salby that rises in atmospheric CO2 is not anthropogenically caused, or those who are completely confident about low-levels of sensitivity (not merely questioning the certainty of the range estimated by the IPCC), or those who say that all the changes in the global temperature are attributable to solar radiation, or those who say that the earth is cooling, or those who fail, even, to recognize that the IPCC provides a range with error bars in estimating sensitivity.

When they talk about a "pause" they all mean what I said: That high climate sensitivity is probably ruled out by a long stretch of no warming.

If they meant what you said, then IMO, they should say what you said - and they shouldn't say that global warming has "paused" or "stopped." Further, you are creating a construction there that doesn't follow logically. A period with no measurable rise in global land surface temperatures does not logically imply, necessarily, that the range of sensitivity estimated by the IPCC is wrong. It could mean that there are other temporary variables in play, such as natural cycles, or mitigating effects of aerosols, or dispersal of heat into deeper ocean water, etc.

But say that I am wrong: All skeptics (I noticed that you put that in quotes) believe that there is no warming.

I put "skeptics" in quotes in the same way that I put "realists" in quotes. I use the term of skeptic and
realist because those are terms that (at least some) use to refer to themselves. I put it in quotes because I see "skeptics" who do not display skeptical reasoning (and "realists" who don't display realistic thinking). I also see participants on both sides of the debate who display skeptical thinking (and realistic thinking) (so skeptic (and realist) doesn't accurately describe the contrasts found in the debate. Using terms to describe the sides in this debate is inherently difficult.

Anyway,I did not say that all "skeptics" believe that there is no warming.

High climate sensitivity is still ruled out by a long stretch of no warming.

My comment above addresses this binary thinking. Of course, at some level, a long stretch of "no warming" of land surface temperatures would make high sensitivity very unlikely, but even if a 15-, or 20-year stretch of that type fell into the 95% CI - we would still expect such an occurrence 1 out of 20 times. You cannot logically say that it would "rule out" a high sensitivity. And further, we would have to examine whether accompanying that lack of change in land surface temperature there was, say, a dramatic increase in sea surface temperatures, or a strong blocking effect from increased introduction of aerosols into the atmosphere, or mitigating cyclical weather patterns, or changes in solar radiation, etc. What would be needed to "rule out" a high sensitivity, IMO, on a time scale within something like 20 years, (as opposed to maybe 150 years, or as opposed to simply making a high sensitivity very unlikely) would be solid scientific evidence of negative feedback from clouds or other empirical evidence that counteracted the evidence of the positive feedbacks that enlarge the basic sensitivity that underlie the reasoning that concludes with a sensitivity in the range of that estimated by the IPCC.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua. I agree with most of what you said. The average respondent on survey who calls himself a skeptic about AGW is a loon. However, the average respondent who calls himself a believer in AGW is a loon as well. You found loads of ridiculous comments from skeptics; do you notice ridiculous comments by believers? "Paid off by Big Oil, knuckle-dragging assault-rifle toting worshippers of Beejus who can't read, don't know the basic physics that proves that the AGW scientists are right." [That last point to me is the most frustrating, given that basic physics predicts a pretty low sensitivity and you need a lot of sophisticated modeling to demonstrate that it is higher.] ... Most comments on the web, on any subject at all, are ridiculous. Do you really build your picture of climate skepticism from its dumbest people? What about for believers in AGW?

Grr. This is a scientific question. Only one type of opinion counts: Someone who has spent the time and effort to work through the math of the relevant research papers. That does not include me, though I have the background to do it - I don't have the time. My opinion on the science, therefore, doesn't count. Neither does yours, unless you did that - I don't care how many blogs someone read, and how totally convincing they were. Neither does the opinion of the vast numbers of loons commenting everywhere on the web. McIntyre counts. Mann counts. Lucia counts. Judith Curry counts. Tamino counts. The rest of us are basically cheerleaders, and we should be humble.

"You cannot logically say that it would "rule out" a high sensitivity." Sorry, on this I can't agree at all. Maybe 5% isn't the right percentage, though it is (more-or-less) the industry standard. But this is how science is done. If experiment doesn't agree with the model, the model is discarded. We don't get to say, as you did, that we'll keep the model until you can explain things better.
On the contrary, this attacks something that you said before: "A period with no measurable rise in global land surface temperatures does not logically imply, necessarily, that the range of sensitivity estimated by the IPCC is wrong. It could mean that there are other temporary variables in play, such as natural cycles, or mitigating effects of aerosols, or dispersal of heat into deeper ocean water, etc." In other words, there are important effects at play which the models did not anticipate. You happen to have listed ones that (temporarily) lower the temperature, because you're trying to deal with a decade of (little) warming. But you should be willing to admit the additional possibility of other effects that the model did not anticipate that lower the temperature more than temporarily. Or effects that _raise_ the temperature, again not anticipated by the models, but this time in the pre-2000 period, causing a false estimate of high sensitivity.
In other words, the models are being proven - by experiment - to be missing critical pieces that may effect the sensitivity. The current models do not allow such a long plateau.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeR

The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks:
“..Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This result suggests that public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare…”
http://www.culturalcognition.net/browse-papers/the-polarizing-impact-of-science-literacy-and-numeracy-on-pe.html

The paper leads to the obvious conclusion that the higher the degree of science literacy and technical reasoning, the more one is likely to reject the conclusion that increased CO2 will lead to runaway warming. This leads to the question: “If a large portion of the scientific and technically trained people do not accept that increased CO2 will lead to runaway warming, why is the science on the subject considered “settled”?..”

The above paper starts with the obvious assumption that the science is settled, so there must be some underlying conflict of interest that overrides the thought process. No foundation is laid to support this underlying assumption.

I find it amusing that one can find a positive correlation between a lack of science literacy and technical reasoning and the belief in CAGW, yet these are the same people who who shout “science denier” the loudest against those who reject such a belief.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

MikeR -

I guess if it doesn't qualify as climate-bickering, I can continue to exchange...

You found loads of ridiculous comments from skeptics; do you notice ridiculous comments by believers?

Please note that what I notice about "realists" does not have any direct relationship to what I notice about "skeptics."

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Ed:

1. I don't think the paper makes any assumptions about what aspects of climate are or are not settled (indeed, I think talking about matters being "settled" is sort of embarrassing for anyone who gets how science works!). It tests a hypothesis -- that division in public opinion is a consequence of incomprehension of science, and finds, "nope, that's not it."

2. As for "the obvious conclusion that the higher the degree of science literacy and technical reasoning, the more one is likely to reject the conclusion that increased CO2 will lead to runaway warming," it's actually not that obvious that that that's the conclusion. Indeed, there is a (small) negative correlation between science comprehension (let's call the aggregate science literacy/technical reasoning scale that) & less concern about climate change risks when one looks at the population as a whole. But as the paper shows science comprehension in fact has a reasonably *big* impact on climate change risk perception -- positive for one group of people (egalitarians) and negative for another (individualists). The two big effects more or less cancel out, leaving the population effect close to zero. But as I've explained before, , when there is an interaction of that sort -- when group A responds one way & B another -- its misleading (sort of meaningless) to talk about what the "overall effect."

3. Having said all this, *if* you like the findings but disagree w/ my interpreations -- that's really great!! Nothing would give me more assurance that I'm doing my job right than to learn that people who disagree about what the significance of my findings are still agree that the findings are valid. .... If only that were true about things like climate science (after all, no one's view of what the scientific "facts" are uniquely determine a policy responses)

January 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Ed -

Again, trying not to bicker...

Please not what was the relatively less significant trend found in that study as compared to the finding of a that was relatively more significant (that the more information someone gets, the more likely they are to confirm their original viewpoint - and their original viewpoint significantly correlates to what might be predicted by social, cultural, or political orientation).

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

HEY-- how come no one is reading today's blog? Is it because it isn't about climate change? are you sure?

January 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

Wr/t the similarity points you and I just made - what do you think about the widespread tendency amongst "skeptics" to focus on the relatively less significant findings of your study?

I have been pointing that out for a while now. Judith Curry posted on the study w/o even mentioning the more significant finding. I have pointed that out numerous times to her and her "skeptical" "denizens".

Crickets.

Couldn't have anything to do with motivated reasoning, could it? :-)

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

Our studies get misread across the political spectrum.

We use scientific methods to study how people's values influence their understanding of scientific evidence -- how could we not expect people's values to influence how they understand the evidence we present?...

I don't think, btw, that Ed emphasized an unimportant or minor part! If it helps people to figure out that it's wrong to view those who disagree as "scientifically illiterate," that's pretty good. But I do agree, of course, that to view the finding as showing that climate skeptics are "smarter" or "more science literate" -- both for the reason we both mentioned & b/c avg person on both sides doesn't know much science (you shouldn't have to to be a scientistis to be able to figure out what scientists know!)

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Joshua:

Our studies get misread across the political spectrum.

We use scientific methods to study how people's values influence their understanding of scientific evidence -- how could we not expect people's values to influence how they understand the evidence we present?...

I don't think, btw, that Ed emphasized an unimportant or minor part! If it helps people to figure out that it's wrong to view those who disagree as "scientifically illiterate," that's pretty good. But I do agree, of course, that to view the finding as showing that climate skeptics are "smarter" or "more science literate" -- both for the reason we both mentioned & b/c avg person on both sides doesn't know much science (you shouldn't have to to be a scientistis to be able to figure out what scientists know!)

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Dan -

When I spoke of one finding being relatively less significant, I meant in a statistical sense. Yes, the finding that "skeptics" are not less informed about climate change is an important finding - given the common rhetoric among "realists" that a lack of information is the basis of "skepticism."Afterall - such a view among "realists" detracts from the more important understanding of motivated reasoning. :-)

(That said, I have some problems with drawing that conclusion from your definitions of "literacy" as used in the study - but it may be close enough for jazz).

Do you have an example of "realists" misreading your Nature study on opinions about climate change? I have seen that study referred to many times by "skeptics," and as I said, I have yet to see any of them mention, let alone respond to comments that point out, that the finding they focus on had a less significant correlation than the finding that points to motivated reasoning. I haven't spent much time talking about motivated reasoning on "realist" blogs, but I have spent a lot of time talking about it on "skeptic" blogs - and speaking about the findings of your study in particular - and found the resistance to be monolithic. It would be interesting to find if there'd be the same level of resistance on "realist" blogs. My guess?: There wouldn't be much support or interest in the discussion at those blogs, but it wouldn't meet with the same level of hostility. (That shouldn't be construed to mean that I think that a tendency towards motivated reasoning is correlated with political or climate change orientation - but that I do think that openness to the concept of motivated reasoning affecting views is probably more objectionable to "conservatives" and "skeptics" than "libz" and "realists." By it's very nature, it is an "academic" "soft-science" "mushy" "pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo" kind of concept to many - which inevitably raises the hackles of many "conservatives" and hence most "skeptics."

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus
“…Disagreement was sharp among individuals identified (through median splits along both dimensions of cultural worldview) as “hierarchical individualists,” on the one hand, and “egalitarian communitarians,” on the other. Solid majorities of egalitarian communitarians perceived that most expert scientists agree that global warming is occurring (78%) and that it has an anthropogenic source (68%). In contrast, 56% of hierarchical individualists believe that scientists are divided, and another 25% (as opposed to 2% for egalitarian communitarians) that most expert scientists disagree that global temperatures are increasing. Likewise, a majority of hierarchical individualists, 55%, believed that most expert scientists are divided on whether humans are causing global warming, with another 32% perceiving that most expert scientists disagree with this conclusion. These patterns conformed to the study hypotheses….”

IPCC WGI Fifth Assessment Report
10-21:44 “..In summary, while the trend in global mean temperature since 1998 is not significantly different from zero..”

So…. “hierarchical individualists” seem to better review the actual data where “egalitarian communitarians” seem to relay more on pronouncements by “experts” who agree with their existing position. Just goes to show that “my experts” are better than “your experts”. :-)

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Joshua,

Your smarmy and purely speculative insinuations about the inner thoughts of us climate realists suggest a strange confidence on your part that climate realism is a result of motivated reasoning. While motivated reasoning is apparently rife in the climate debate, no research to date, including Professor Kahan's, as far as I know, is able to tell us which "side" is more guilty of it—realists (calmists) or non-skeptics (alarmists).

By the way, I wish we all—realists and gullibilists alike—would stop using value-laden terms for each other.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Brad -

I have written nothing that I intended to indicate an opinion that motivated reasoning is more prevalent on one side of the debate relative to the other. I don't think that motivated reasoning is associated with partisanship in any issue, let alone climate change. Motivated reasoning, as I view it, stems from fundamental psychological and cognitive features in how humans reason, all humans, particularly w/r/t controversial issues. Some people do a better job of controlling for motivated reasoning than others - but in order to do that, IMO, they have to be open to the concept (not that they need to focus on the specific terminology of "motivated reasoning," but they need to be accept in themselves, an inherent tendency for confirmation bias within their own reasoning processes).

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who contends a higher prevalence of motivated reasoning on one side of an issue compared to another does not, in fact, understand the concept.

Hope that clears things up a bit.

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua—

thanks, it clears things up a bit.

I think you are proposing that motivated reasoning, which is universal in the climate debate, is kept in check on your "side" by a recognition that it exists, whereas on the other "side" it goes unchecked because deniers are in denial that it exists.

So it amounts to the same thing. One "side" is a slave to motivated reasoning; the other "side" isn't, because they acknowledge its existence, and by acknowledging, take the first step towards overcoming.

But I'm yet to hear of any evidence for this.

Fascinatingly, believers in CAGW often tell me that The Scientists (the ones who are Telling Us there's a big climate problem) would like nothing more than to find out that it was a false alarm and that there is no problem.

Do you agree with that?

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Oops—I phrased it ambiguously; let me try again:

In your opinion, Joshua, to the extent that The Scientists (the ones who are Telling Us that there is a big problem) are subject to motivated reasoning along with the rest of the human race, what is it that they want / hope / prefer / desire / feel motivated to discover: evidence that there is a big problem? Evidence that there is no problem and it was all a false alarm? "The truth"? Or what?

(Hint: this is not an exercise in mind-reading; they have demonstrated the answer, time and time again, in writing.)

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Thanks for the links about climate science Mr. Kahan .
What's more interesting on this blog is on what people think about climate change and how they deal with it.

Joshua,

Oops. On closer inspection I think I was just putting words in your mouth when I wrote this:

I think you are proposing that motivated reasoning, which is universal in the climate debate, is kept in check on your "side" by a recognition that it exists, whereas on the other "side" it goes unchecked because deniers are in denial that it exists.
It annoys and bores me when people try to explain to me what my real position is. So I shouldn't have done such an annoying and boring thing to you. Sorry.

Brad

April 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>