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Tuesday
Apr022013

"A sensitive matter" indeed! The science communication risks of climate model recalibration

An article from The Economist reports on ferment within the climate-modeling community over how to account for the failure of rising global temperatures to keep pace with increasing carbon emissions.

"Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s ssurface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar," the article states.

The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

 "[S]urface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models," the article continues. "If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years."

Naturally, "the mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now." Professional discourse among climate scientists is abuzz with competing conjectures: from the existing models' uniform underestimation of historical temperature variability to the greater heat-absorptive capacity of the oceans to the still poorly understood heat-reflective properties of clouds

There are lots of things one could say. But here are three.

First, this kind of collective reassessment is not a sign that there's any sort of defect or flaw in mainstream climate science.  What the article is describing is not a crisis of any sort; it is "normal" -- as in perfectly consistent with the sort of backing and filling that characterizes the "normal science" mission of identifying, interrogating, and resolving anomalies on terms that conserve the prevailing best understanding of how the world works.

It is perfectly unremarkable in particular for the project of statistical modeling of dynamic processes to encounter forecasting shortfalls of this kind and magnitude. Model building is inherently iterative. Modelers greet incorrect predictions not as "disconfirming" evidence of their basic theory -- as might, say, an experimenter who is testing competing conjectures about the how world works--but as informative feedback episodes that enable progressively more accurate discernment and calibration of the parameters of an equation (in effect) that can be used to make the implications of that theory discernable and controllable.

Or in any case, this is how things work when things are working. One expects, tolerates, and indeed exploits erroneous forecasts so long as one is making progress and doesn't "give up" unless and until the persistence or nature of such errors furnishes a basis for questioning the fundamental tenets of the model-- the basic picture or theory of reality that it presupposes--at which point the business of modeling must be largely suspended pending discernment by empirical means of a more satisfactory account of the basic mechanisms of the process to be modeled.

Which gets me to my second point: the sorts of difficulties that climate modelers are encountering aren't anywhere close to the kinds of difficulties that would warrant the conclusion that their underlying sense of how the climate works is unsound. Indeed, nothing in the discrepancy between modeling forecasts and the temperature record of the last decade suggests reason to revise the assessment that the impact of human carbon emissions poses a serious danger to human wellbeing that it is essential to address--a point the Economist article (an outstanding piece of science journalism, in my estimation) is perfectly clear about.  

Indeed, if anything, one might view the apparent need to revise downward slightly the range of likely global temperature increases associated with past and anticipated CO₂ emissions as reason to believe that there might be more profit to be had in investing in mitigation, which recent work, based on existing models about the expected warming impact of previous and likely emissions, suggested would be unlikely to avert catastrophic impacts in any case.

Yet here is the third & most troubling point: communicating the significance of these unremarkable shortingcomings will pose a tremendous political challenge. 

The Economist article--which in my view is an excellent piece of science journalism--doesn't address this particular issue. But Nate Silver insightfully does in his book The Signal and the Noise.  

Like much about Bayesian inference, the idea that being wrong can be as informative as (and often even more informative than) being right doesn't jibe well with normal intuitions.

But for climate change in particular, this difficulty is aggravated by a communication strategy that renders the admission of erroneous prediction extremely perilous.  Climate change poses urgent risks. But as Sliver points out,  the urgent attention it warrants has been purchased in significant part with the currency of emphatic denunciation and ridicule of those who have questioned the existing generation of forecasting models.

No doubt this element of the climate risk communication strategy was adopted in part out of a perception of perceived political necessity. By no means all who have raised questions about those models have done so in bad faith; indeed, because it is only through the competitive interplay of competing conjecture that anything is ever learned in science, those who doubt successful theories make a necessary contribution to their vindication.  

But still, many of those actors--mainly nonscientists--who have been most conspicuous in questioning the past generation of models clearly were intent on sowing confusion and division.  They were acting on bad faith motivations. To discredit them, climate risk communicators have repeatedly pointed out that the models these actors were attacking were supported by scientific consensus.

Yet now these critics stand to reap a huge political, rhetorical windfall as climate scientists appropriately take stock of the shortcomings in the last generation of models.

Again, such reappraisal doesn't mean that the theory underlying those models was incorrect or that there isn't an urgent need to act to protect ourselves from cliamte change risks. Modeling errors are inevitable, foreseeable, and indeed informative.  

But because the case for crediting that theory and taking account of those risks was staked on the inappropriateness of challenging the accuracy of scientific consensus, climate advocates will find themselves on the defensive.

What to do?

The answer is not simple, of course.

But at least part of it is to avoid unjustified simplification.  

Members of the pulbic, it's true, aren't scientists; that's what makes science communication so challenging.

But they aren't stupid, either. That's what makes resorting to "simplified" claims that aren't scientifically defensible or realistic a bad strategy for science communication. 

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Reader Comments (30)

But for climate change in particular, this difficulty is aggravated by a communication strategy that renders the admission of erroneous prediction extremely perilous.....

Yes, the communication strategy aggravates the problem, but I believe that you're not focusing deep enough here. Do you not read the ubiquitous "analyses" (in the blogosphere in this case but through the politicized context in similar situations) that any change in the "consensus" "best estimate" of sensitivity proves the "AGW hoax" being perpetuated by the capitalism-hating cabal?

Read the reactions in the "skept-o-sphere" that flat-out ignore the thesis of the Economist article: that the potential shift to a lower sensitivity consensus does not obviate the potential risks of AGW.


Consider what happened when Mojib ("if my name wasn't Mojib Latif my name would be global warming") Latif made his statements about uncertainty in short-term trends, and it was trumpeted by "skeptics" as "Climate Scientist predicts global cooling."

This is a bi-lateral dynamic - as I'm quite sure you know. IMO, as I said before, trying to prescribe medicine for the "science communicators" is like combining herding cats with closing the doors after the cows have gone out. It is an impossible task because of the motivated reasoning on both sides of the debate.

IMO, this is a matter of creating a better communication environment, not being better communicators. It is a matter of, meta-cognitively, addressing the very phenomenon of motivated reasoning. There are "reasons" why "realists" protect against highlighting uncertainty, just as there are "reasons" why "skeptics" focus in on uncertainty.

Tell me to stop repeating this and I'll stop repeating it. As you may have surmised, I feel rather strongly about this point. :-)

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:
Don't stop repeating.
But (a) how should this journalist cover this story, if at all; and (b) what if anything should risk communicators say about "normal science" calibration of forecasting models, given the conditions you describe & pending impelmentingation of your solution to detoxify the communication environment

April 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

This is old news, of course, but it's stirring up some added anxiety, even consternation, within what I'd call the "believer" community simply because it's starting to get picked up by main stream media outlets like the Economist. By "believer" community, I'm referring to those who have made climate change a cause of major importance to their larger cultural beliefs, involving the "consumer society", wasteful lifestyles, environmental changes, etc. As you say of some skeptics, some of these believers also are engaged in a bad faith exercise of spreading alarm and suppressing dissent in order to advance their own political and cultural (and too often financial) goals. The problem here isn't so much with the science itself -- though I think it's important to realize that scientific developments always appear as "normal science" to its orthodox defenders long after the point that a less invested reason would have started to question the underlying paradigm. But the major problem is with the house of cards that has been erected on the basis of the obviously still shaky models and dating techniques of the science itself -- there is a truly vast investment by now of political, cultural, intellectual, emotional, moral, bureaucratic, fiscal, and outright financial capital in the message of climate change, and much of that will collapse if the risk is ever allowed to seem less than "urgent". And so we're all left in this confusing, embarrassing, and finally rather sad state of affairs.

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

E: "..For each doubling of CO₂ levels you get roughly 1°C of warming. A rise in concentrations from preindustrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 560ppm would thus warm the Earth by 1°C..."

This 1dC plus/minus feedbacks is where the entire argument resides. If there are no large net positive feedbacks to increases in CO2, then there is no problem. With temps flat lining over the last decade and a half, and with CO2 levels climbing, it is real hard on the models that postulate a high positive feedback effect.

Current CO2 levels are about 390ppm. With about an annual 2ppm increase in CO2, it will be most of an entire century from now to double CO2 to get the first 1dC at 560ppm. CO2 has a log effect on temps, so CO2 has to double again and reach 1120ppm to get to a 2dC rise. Or about 3 centuries from now.

"...Again, such reappraisal doesn't mean that the theory underlying those models was incorrect or that there isn't an urgent need to act to protect ourselves from climate change risks. Modeling errors are inevitable, foreseeable, and indeed informative..."
Well...if you consider a gas whose effect on world temps is likely a rounding error as an "urgent need", Ok I guess, but it would be nice to have some direct, and real world, evidence of a problem before the entire world’s economy is turned upside down to "fix it".

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Dan -

But (a) how should this journalist cover this story, if at all;

The journalist from the Economist? I thought he did a pretty good job. The article seemed authentically balanced, IMO. Although perhaps he should have discussed similar past trends in temperature data in more detail..

b) what if anything should risk communicators say about "normal science" calibration of forecasting models, given the conditions you describe & pending impelmentingation of your solution to detoxify the communication environment

Which risk communicators? In general, I think that article does a good job of risk communication given our understanding about forecasting models. It could serve as a model, IMO. It does a nice job of placing the potential shift in sensitivity estimation into context by explicitly discussing the risk implications of the higher ranges of sensitivity. In other words, it seems that the author has some understanding of the mechanics of risk perception.

It is not coincidental that I have seen relatively tame reactions to that article, per se, from both sides of the climate change divide. But it is also not lost on me that although both sides seem to have a relatively positive reaction to the article, both sides have also not slowed their pace one iota as they clamor use that article as a repository for all their unsatisfied grievances with the other side. Victim mentality is a powerful force, and the reaction to this article reinforces for me that there is a certain futility to trying to communicate about climate change without dramatically remodeling the context: even an article that is basically accepted by both sides becomes a weapon in the climate change war.

And so, more generally, I fear that the communication environment is so polluted that no "in the meantime" actions will have much positive impact. If, in the future, that type of article swamped the more shallow coverage of climate change, then perhaps the environment would move more towards being sufficiently defused, politically, for "in the meantime measures" to have impact. But that won't happen because the media cannot exist in some kind of isolation from the political loyalties that underlie these debates. The media is, by definition, political as a reflection of the tribalism of our society, and it is a given that outside of extremists, most folks don't have the time or inclination to get their information from in-depth news sources.

So, I think that the train has left the station. Is there something to learn so that with the next issue that comes down the pike, scientist won't actively contribute to exacerbating the problems? Maybe, but I just think there are too many variables in play: the partisan tendency towards tribalism is too hard-wired to be effectively mitigated in an environment with so many variables. Scientists will never be immune or removed from the "motivated" context. How could we expect otherwise? They are motivated reasoners, and their society sees them and pigeon-holes them through a lens of motivated reasoning.

You point to the greater effectiveness of work on localized adaptation- and that pattern is consistent with my perception of the prerequisites for effective communication to take place.

I wonder if just the notion of "risk" in itself starts the inevitable slide. Where is there communication about risk on issues that have significant societal impact, that doesn't trigger tribal reflexes?

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I love the way some articles throw around "big scarry numbers" such as "The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010." Or between 1 to 2E14 pounds

The total weight of Earth's atmosphere is about 1.2 E19 pounds, for a difference of about 1E5 in round numbers.

So we added about 1 part in 100,000 to the total. Always a good idea to get the numbers in perspective.

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@Ed: I think you wrote that Economist article, didn't you? Actually, this is a point you make often -- that the models have missed their mark. But the scientists who fired the missiles aren't bothered. They are just taking their bearings & reloading. Why not? The models weren't meant to be tests of the hypothesis that climate change is occurring or will result in catastrophic impacts in the medium term future; the models are meant to be tools for trying to make more precise estimates about the size & timing of the impacts and the effects of choosing to burn or forgo burning fossil fuels etc as we sort through options. The models will have to make no incremental imrprovemnts for 50-100 yrs or more before their failure, *alone*, beomces reason to reconsider anaything. Until then, their failure will be more consitent that we suck a forecasting than that "climate change isn't happening" (won't cause catatrophic impacts, etc.).

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@ Larry & Joshua: Yeah, you are right! There is all this hair puling (there really is, as @Larry points out) about the article from climate advocates, but the article actually *does* communicate that "this is how scientitsts figure things out" w/o giving anyone reason to think that what it is describing is cause for adjusting one's level of concern (one way or other). Denouncing the article is just weird -- or isn't, if one accepts Larry's account of what the motivation is for the denunciation. It would be simply interesting if it weren't also a sad mess. As for normality, you see any candidate paradigm shift relating to any of the science at isshe here, @Larry? I don't thikn the science qua sciednce is nearly that fraught; this is a crisis of self-government, not a crisis for how or what science knows

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

".. the models are meant to be tools for trying to make more precise estimates about the size & timing of the impacts and the effects of choosing to burn or forgo burning fossil fuels etc as we sort through options..."

Yeaaa......the models worked as they are supposed to ! !

The models were loaded with high sensitivity climate responses to CO2 and time has shown that high sensitivity is in error. Without high sensitivity there is no problem as has been noted before.

Let's give a cheer for the models for a job well done !

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

... but the article actually *does* communicate that "this is how scientitsts figure things out" w/o giving anyone reason to think that what it is describing is cause for adjusting one's level of concern (one way or other)

Dan, that's the kind of assertion that really starts to seem increasingly odd -- it has a "nothing to see here folks, move along" quality about it, joined to a "but don't worry because the risks remain as urgent as ever, and so we still Must Do Something Now" assurance. I would think that anybody, standing back from that, would start to get an uncomfortable feeling that something seems not quite right with it. If a sense that possibly climate is not as sensitive to changes in CO2 levels as previously modelled is not a cause for adjusting one's level of concern, what on earth ever could be? Doesn't that start to look like the level of concern has become something more resembling an article of faith, that no amount of counter evidence -- until, perhaps, we're 50 to 100 years down the road -- could touch?

I'm not a climate scientist myself, and I can't even play one on a blog, so I can't tell you about any looming paradigm shifts in the field. My point is simply that such shifts are invisible to the orthodox in any case, and to those who for religious or ideological reasons are invested in the currently orthodox position, until finally, and often quite suddenly, the orthodox position collapses, and everyone moves on. Much more to the point, however, is what I referred to as the house of cards built on top of the science, however "normal" that may appear to be -- it's this effort to herd electorates into making the very large changes to economies that significant reductions in GHG would require that arouses the most suspicion and outright hostility, both because it so obviously aligns with certain political goals that long preceded climate change concerns, and because it seems a reckless experiment of another kind, with its own potential for catastrophic results. So this is not a crisis for science qua science -- it is a crisis, however, for attempts to harness science to one's political ends (as you yourself have indicated in your comments on the Lewandowsky paper, for example).

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Dan -

I rest my case.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"The models weren't meant to be tests of the hypothesis that climate change is occurring or will result in catastrophic impacts in the medium term future; the models are meant to be tools for trying to make more precise estimates about the size & timing of the impacts and the effects of choosing to burn or forgo burning fossil fuels etc as we sort through options."

Yes, that's the problem.

The normal scientific model-building process has a number of distinct stages. We have to be clear about what stage we're in, for the particular purpose we're using them for.

The stages may be loosely defined:
1. Hypothesis formation and exploration.
2. Confirmation of basic principles.
3. Parameter measurement and tuning.
4. Verification and validation.
5. Validated prediction for planning, engineering and policymaking.

These stages have to be gone through in sequence. You can't figure out what's going on without exploration. You can't measure parameters until you've nailed down all the important effects and confirmed them experimentally. You can't verify and validate a model - document the model's accuracy and the domain in which it can be achieved - until you've tuned the model. And you can't use a model for planning until you've confirmed that it is sufficiently accurate for the purpose, or indeed that it is any better than guesswork, or rival proposals.

A model doesn't have to be perfect to reach stage 5, but you have to have quantified just how imperfect it is. You have to know, in advance, what the range of possibilities is.

The problem is that even if you believe the mainstream official science, the climate models are at most at stage 3, and I'd argue that in many important regards they're still at stage 1 or 2. They are *not* at stage 5.

but that's how they're being used, and what you say their purpose here is.

--

"The models will have to make no incremental imrprovemnts for 50-100 yrs or more before their failure, *alone*, beomces reason to reconsider anaything. Until then, their failure will be more consitent that we suck a forecasting than that "climate change isn't happening" (won't cause catatrophic impacts, etc.)."

First, are the claims being made for/by the models falsifiable? If it is true that they cannot be falsified for 50-100 years, then that means we will have no evidence for their validity for 50-100 years. The two go together. It is by being falsifiable and not being falsified that we gain scientific confidence.

I'm not sure - you might have meant simply that we're at stage 3, and it will take 50-100 years of counter-evidence before we decide we got the basic principles wrong after all and go back to stage 1. I suspect that's more a matter of faith/trust for non-climate-scientists, but it is an arguable position. I won't ask you why you think so.

Second, the statement that "we suck at forecasting" is an acknowledgement that we're not ready for stage 4 yet. That's a start. It's what we've been trying to communicate for a while. And it's a reason why sceptics were generally quite positive about this particular Economist article.

Yes, it's politically very difficult now to explain why divergence between models and reality doesn't prove anything. But this is only the case because for so long it was claimed that agreement between models and reality did prove something. The difficulty now is in contradicting the connection without disturbing the public belief in the conclusions built on their foundation. I will be really interested to see how they manage that.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Joshua stated: "And so, more generally, I fear that the communication environment is so polluted that no "in the meantime" actions will have much positive impact." This conclusion by Joshua is considered incorrect and the most studied at the time of my risk management training was the Tylenol cyanide case that I have linked to previously. I do understand the political fallout if the parties have to address the UN-IPCC political confederacy and institutionalized bias. But this is not the same as saying there is no actions that can have a positive impact. it means that there will be a difficult and large political adjustment that may well would mean several governments would have an extremely embarrassing public backlash. But once again, that does not mean a correct application would not work.

Dan you state correctly : "It is perfectly unremarkable in particular for the project of statistical modeling of dynamic processes to encounter forecasting shortfalls of this kind and magnitude" and then drop the ball. In fact, if I understand Joshua's brief "I rest my case" you both err in the following respect.

In AR-4, the high sensitivity means that the changeover from mostly adaptation to mostly mitigation occurs in 2050. So, the implication of the models at this point is that the changeover should occur in about 2100. The economic implication is that we should now concentrate on adaptation and making wealth so that the changeover will occur when the world is richer, making it relatively more affordable.

One of the assumptions of AR-4 was that they had the natural variability correctly estimated so that they could come up with that 2050 date. At present, we already lie outside of the total natural variability that AR-4 said would occur post 2030. This is in respect to that 2050 date. This discussion is in Chapter 10. So, this is not a minor issue, nor a small amount of error.

Finally in terms of risk, we do not risk more if we use the argument above. We may change time versus money or some other trade-off risks, but if the improved models indicate a lesser sensitivity and are true, then we should match policy to the science.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

JFP -

This conclusion by Joshua is considered incorrect and the most studied at the time of my risk management training was the Tylenol cyanide case that I have linked to previously. I do understand the political fallout if the parties have to address the UN-IPCC political confederacy and institutionalized bias. But this is not the same as saying there is no actions that can have a positive impact. it means that there will be a difficult and large political adjustment that may well would mean several governments would have an extremely embarrassing public backlash. But once again, that does not mean a correct application would not work.

How is the Tylenol case parallel? Can you link to it again? Does it involve highly politicized perceptions of risk? What kind of communication act could you envision, coming from scientists who for the most part believe that ACO2 is most likely the cause of more than 50% of recent warming, and who believe that even with a shift downward in the "best estimate" sensitivities there is enough risk of climate change to merit policies aimed at mitigation, that could be effective given the existing partisan loyalties?

The economic implication is that we should now concentrate on adaptation and making wealth so that the changeover will occur when the world is richer, making it relatively more affordable.

That is opinion, IMO - stated as a factual conclusion that pertains to questions that involve much uncertainty. Even if it is more or less what the IPCC says verbatim, there are plenty on both sides who will readily line up to express different opinions. You and I could get into how and to what degree our opinions might differ there (it might be interesting), but we can't just gloss over the political resonances of the related issues.

My "I rest my case," was referencing Larry's and Ed's comments. Cruising through the "skept-o-sphere," I saw relatively mild reactions to the Economist article - if not mostly outright approval of the article. But relatively is a very important caveat there, and I said above, "skeptics" (and "realists" alike) immediately fell in line to turn the article into a repository for their grievances. Along those lines, IMO, the combatants are so invested in this war that nothing short of complete vindication will be accepted by either side. This is a scorched earth operation (h/t Kloor).

Now of course, blogosphere participants in this war are rather extreme outliers - and it is always dangerous to extrapolate from outliers - but I see no evidence in observing the climate wars of any communicative efforts that haven't become a target for marginalization from at least one side of the debate if not both. None. Nada. Zilch. Niente. Bupkis. Can you think of any? That simply can't be coincidental.

By any objective standard (heh - but of course, I am subjectively defining objective), that article was middle-of-the road. IMO, it was also organized in a manner consistent with criteria of good communication (faithfully trying to portray both sides fairly) - yet the extremes still want to springboard from that article to air their grievances.. What do you suppose the impact of that article was for those who are not invested combatants? It is an interesting question - but what I know is that invested combatants on both sides will hand-wring and kvetch about how the article is dangerously misleading the public and furthering the cause of the mortal enemy. Romm has a response up that parallels what we saw here from Ed and Larry.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:


... I see no evidence in observing the climate wars of any communicative efforts that haven't become a target for marginalization from at least one side of the debate if not both. None. Nada. Zilch. Niente. Bupkis. Can you think of any?
This blog.


... what I know is that invested combatants on both sides will hand-wring and kvetch about how the article is dangerously misleading the public and furthering the cause of the mortal enemy.

But you're not doing that, and you're an "invested combatant" yourself, aren't you? You seem to assume, in any case, that I'm one, and yet, far from complaining about the article, I said simply that it was reporting old news.

You may have rested your case prematurely.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

"Along those lines, IMO, the combatants are so invested in this war that nothing short of complete vindication will be accepted by either side."

What other alternative outcome were you thinking of? The two sides disagree about the facts, after all. Do you mean that one side has to change its mind? Or that they continue to disagree but pretend not to? Or that they stop talking/arguing about it? Or that they switch their support to solutions they believe to be wrong?

There are two possible aims here - that we should agree on a solution, or that we should implement the right solution. Personally, I prefer that we keep arguing, because it means everyone is still focused on demonstrating the truth (which if not quite the same as aiming to find it does tend to have that effect). When consensus becomes an end in itself, people cast aside their own principles in its pursuit. I would much rather that people like Romm keep on arguing, than that we abandon the race unfinished for the sake of a little dust and heat. (h/t Milton.)

I suspect that most people are no longer interested, and don't care. They know what answers are expected of them socially, but they're not even listening to the details. They don't know or care about climate sensitivity, or the Marcott and Lewandowsky dramas, or AR5. It's a lot less interesting than celebrity gossip and soap opera. The only things that arouse them are when they're told the miserable weather they're facing is somehow somebody's fault, or when they're told the same about the high taxes and bills they're paying. And what they think is irrelevant anyway. It has fallen off the agenda.

And I suspect that in a few years time, it will fall down the memory hole completely and nobody will even remember it - the same as all the others. The media just stop talking about it, and it fades into the cultural background. Not that we'll get any peace - there will be a new argument by then.

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Joshua

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/472896_5 I like this one because it supports my argument and has an author my training was based on: 12.Fischhoff B. Assessing and communicating the risks of terrorism. In: Teich AH, Nelson SD, Lita SJ, eds. Science and technology in a vulnerable world. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science; 2002:51-64. And with such references as "67.Sandman PM, Lanard J. Fear of fear: The role of fear in preparedness . . . and why it terrifies officials. Available at: http://www.psandman.com/col/fear.htm. Accessed November 22, 2003." what is not to love except it would take me years to do more than a light skimming of this.

All the answers to the questions you asked and more with references. It does have answers also for what I envision. Some examples, the first thing to do is change the title to Leading During Climate Change and the Iterative Science Conundrum With the Public's Trust and Help (h/t S$F and Dan' vision of the SoSC).

Next an example wrt the IPCC using the Tylenol studies " If leaders subordinate economic concerns, however, in the interest of other strategic goals like reducing morbidity and mortality and preserving public confidence, their actions may well help revive financial conditions more quickly.[58] In the fall of 1982, Johnson & Johnson executives faced a terrifying scenario: seven people in the Chicago area had died after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules that an extortionist had laced with cyanide. Setting consumer safety as the company's priority, managers promptly halted Tylenol manufacture, withdrew the product from shelves worldwide, and invited customers to return their product for refund or replacement. The company destroyed $100 million in inventory, saw an 87% drop in market share of painkillers, and faced expert predictions of the brand's demise. After a brief period and with an advertising and media blitz, Johnson & Johnson reintroduced Tylenol products with tamper-resistant packaging. In response to the company's civic-minded behavior, consumer confidence rebounded, quickly returning market share to pre-crisis levels." Just replace consumer safety with consumer concern and J&J with IPCC, etc. to get a feel for what I am saying.

Or read the numerous examples in the article where leadership failure led to loss of trust, and how to correct it.

Joshua I do not know if you understand that I was taking the IPCC claims and methodology and applying what recent numbers indicate. It is not opinion. The numbers for the flatness of temperature are real. The methodology used by the IPCC is plainly stated, as was the basis. I did not change these; not even to make it more realistic with discounts the future should be much wealthier than my estimate based on their methodology with an increased timeline. That uncertainty is just as real for me as the IPCC because it was their claim of natural variability and its effects in chapters 9 and 10.

Since all I really did was reverse the falsification to make a point, I find your claims to be unsupported. They also seem to be a bit lacking in civility of conversation. But perhaps it simply the fever and sickness that is making me cranky. I have stated to you previously, I am not trying to gloss over the political resonances of the related issues. I think they have a cause and I offer this link to explain where my opinion comes from. I know you and I disagree as to why the institutional bias is important.

You state "Along those lines, IMO, the combatants are so invested in this war that nothing short of complete vindication will be accepted by either side." If you include those whom you call your climate realists in this group, I will agree with you. But then that would be why I would disagree with this statement you made "coming from scientists who for the most part believe that ACO2 is most likely the cause of more than 50% of recent warming, and who believe that even with a shift downward in the "best estimate" sensitivities there is enough risk of climate change to merit policies aimed at mitigation" as being believable when you have shown them to be advocates. MY point is that they are advocates and we need to use the risk management strategies outlined in the article so we can come to a reasoned decision including the iterative nature of models that Dan's well directed remarks discussed.

You state "but I see no evidence in observing the climate wars of any communicative efforts that haven't become a target for marginalization from at least one side of the debate if not both" which with your other comments I take to mean it is so poisoned we cannot make progress or be successful. I do not find support for your contention as presented. The link I provide has numerous examples how to get out of this cycle, as did the training I had based on S&F. So I guess unless I can determine what in their work and works in this article have been invalidated, I won't accept it because of my training. No other reason, but I have given you an opening as to how to discuss in what way they err. That could convince me, though it may take while since I will probably be stubborn about it.

You state: "What do you suppose the impact of that article was for those who are not invested combatants? It is an interesting question." I agree it is interesting. I gave you what I think the conclusions should be based on AR4. So that is what I would hope the impact to be. But I agree with NIV most people will not care. But that does not mean that those who do care are not the correct audience. Several cases of this or similar are found in the references of the article. I do not know if the references will pass in depth scrutiny; still reading.

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

@All:

I agree basically w/ NiV's scheme, on which climate science, I think, is at 3. To say, "at least 50-100 yrs..." is to say that at some point sustained failure in making progress what ought to be attainable progress in forecasting suggests you probably got it wrong in 1 & 2 but that we aren't even close to that point yet (in my view).

But I mainly am interested in just being sure that I have the right impressin of the nature of the debate that is being reported in the Economist.

Forget (momentarily, at least!) whether the following claims are in fact worthy of being believed. Do you guys agree that *neither side* in the *particular debate* about performance of surface-temperature forecasting models over last 10 or 15 yrs (the specific debate being described in Economist article) would disagree that--

(1) increasing atmospheric CO2 increases temperature
(2) anthropogenic CO2 releases have raised global temperature over last several decades
(3) existing increases have had and will cointinue to have irreversible climate impacts (including rising sea levels & droughts in certain parts of the world);
& (4) continued CO2 can be expected to increase the temperature still further resulting in additional advderse impacts?

That's my impression. That is, those particular scientists don't think the performance of the models is a test of any of these propositions, which in their view (rightly or wrongly!) rests on independent evidence.

If this is an accurate view of what the *scientists involved the particualr debate* featured in the Economist story believe, then I find it a bit mystifying why climate-change advocates are so upset about the article.

April 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

The reason people would be upset about the article could only be if they feel it threatens something they think to be important. What could that be? It can't be that the assertions you've numbered are threatened since, as you say, the article doesn't portray anybody as disagreeing with them*. What's missing, however, are two things -- one is the scale or cost of the "adverse impacts", and the other is the "urgency" of the time frame involved. I think it's as clear to the advocates as it was clear to me that if climate sensitivity to increased CO2 is in any way reduced, as the article indicated, then so will be the general level of concern about such sensitivity -- in Bayesian terms, we could say that people will "adjust their priors". And for climate change advocates, that's the problem, not whether or not the basic science itself is accepted -- they want the level of concern to be increased if anything, but certainly not reduced, in order to stimulate the political policy decisions that they're after. I'm just not clear why that isn't obvious rather than mysterious.

*A small aside: I didn't think the word "irreversible" appeared in the article's summary of the scientists' positions, and I don't think it's implied, either, but that's beside the point here.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

"Do you guys agree that *neither side* in the *particular debate* about performance of surface-temperature forecasting models over last 10 or 15 yrs (the specific debate being described in Economist article) would disagree that..."

I agree that the questions are not directly connected, so holding either position on one doesn't make any statement on the other. Knowing some of the scientists involved, I think some of them probably would quibble with your four points, but I agree that's not relevant to this particular debate.

However, your four points don't cover the quantification of the future impacts, which does rely upon the quantified accuracy of the models (and on our estimates of the climate sensitivity, which the article also discusses), and which is essential to the case for action. That's why they're upset.

Or to put it another way, the reason why climate-change advocates are upset is that your four points are not a complete description of what they believe. This debate is one link in the chain of the larger debate.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

JFP -

I'm having some trouble following you. I'll try to find the time to look at your links - maybe then I'll understand.
=============

NiV -

Do you mean that one side has to change its mind? Or that they continue to disagree but pretend not to? Or that they stop talking/arguing about it? Or that they switch their support to solutions they believe to be wrong?

No. To each of your questions.

The two sides disagree about the facts, after all.

That isn't the starting point, IMO, but the mid-point. What is the interesting question for me is why they disagree on the facts, particularly when so many have opinions about the facts when they don't even know what the facts are. We can both think of myriad issues where the very definition of what is or isn't a "fact" is not the starting point, say where one side magically changes their determination of what is or isn't "factual" depending on political winds - and I think this issue is yet another example. You and I reach this fork in the road quite regularly - and I certainly can't say that for any particular individual the problem isn't that they looked at the analysis of the other side and disagreed, analytically, with their conclusions - but when you look at the phenomenon in aggregate, and you see that the determination of what is or isn't "fact" aligns with ideological, personal, social, psychological, cultural identifications, it seems to me to more than just coincidental.. Sure, sure, correlation vs. causation. And certainly for any one individual, it may be a difference in scientific analysis of facts....

There are two possible aims here - that we should agree on a solution, or that we should implement the right solution.

I'm suggesting a different aim: that we agree to be invested in an open discussion, that we agree to resolve the conflict. That we agree that our counterpart is engaging in good faith (although they, us, are inevitably influenced by motivated reasoning). As it is, both sides are invested in maintaining the conflict, not resolving it - because their very identity is at stake with the outcome. No one can see a resolution as anything other than a loss, because it is zero sum gain/game, it a scorched earth battle. The believe: "Our counterparts are our enemies: they have different "world views," they have different moral constructs."

Larry -

Fair enough. I got a bit hyperbolic. I will disagree, however, as to whether the article was "old news." I see such a characterization as reflecting investment - but as you say, I'm invested also.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

1. Change temperature to enthalpy.
2. Increased enthalpy from anthropogenic releases of CO2 and other GHG's are likely the cause of increased near surface temperatures over periods of decades. etc....

What is it about being sick and cranky makes one a nit picker?

#3. is the one that has the most assumptions and uncertainty. We are not there yet in NiV's model building process to maintain such other than as a legitimate worry. I would argue for earth's system there is little support for irreversible. Long-term impacts would be more correct. These changes or impacts may exist on geologic scaled time which is worrisome for a phenomena generated on a generational scale.

And I think you left out 5. There will be some positive impacts from anthropogenic GHG's but the likelihood of adverse effects will increase as the amounts of emissions increase.

Yes, it is the present invalidation of the quantified amount that has many of the scientists upset as NIV points out. A sidelight to this is that many of the luke-warm skeptics pointed this out after examining the assumptions and methodology of the IPCC. Lindzen published this back in 2001 when the near term trends were being generated by the IPCC to show on shorter and shorter time segments an increase in the apparent sensitivity or magnitude of the sensitivity.

This has been a debate for awhile. The humor of it is that now the obstructionists can call the "realists", as Joshua likes to call them, deniers when they get hot and bothered by the obstructionists using shorter and shorter time segments. So this puts us at 3 testing 4 in NiV's list.

Thus one can conclude that much of the argument is based on the differences and iterative process of going from a Bayesian to Frequentist paradigm, at step 4. Judith Curry posted on this at her blog that one would expect the uncertainty to go up at least temporarily as one progresses through this. As such is normal to the iterative process of science.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

And Larry -

Now that I've gone back to re-read your earlier post...

I said simply that it was reporting old news.

I think I may not be the only one with a tinge of hyperbole (if the inverse of exaggeration can be considered hyperbolic). I think you said much more than "simply" that in your comment. My quip that your comment helped me to rest my case was not so much because of your reaction to the article itself, but your reaction to the reaction. Not to say that you're qualifier of "some" was lost on me (it is a very important qualifier, IMO),

To elaborate (please not the bold):

But the major problem is with the house of cards that has been erected on the basis of the obviously still shaky models and dating techniques of the science itself -- there is a truly vast investment by now of political, cultural, intellectual, emotional, moral, bureaucratic, fiscal, and outright financial capital in the message of climate change, and much of that will collapse if the risk is ever allowed to seem less than "urgent".

I'm a stickler about the use of the definite vs. indefinite article. I see A parallel problem at the same level of the hierarchy (of problems). I see "A" problem further up on the hierarchy as well: That being "motivated reasoning" - which manifests as the lower-order, parallel problems so mentioned.

I suspect that motivated reasoning may well be "the" problem to the extent that any problem may be "the" problem, but....well... I'm not confident that there is a "the" problem, and in fact, I am deeply distrustful of our "motivation" to find "the" problem. Perhaps the biggest influence of motivated reasoning is to make us believe that "the" problem exists as anything other than a collection of problems.

Hope that makes some sense.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Let us not forget one of the more famous quotes from the AGW proponents on "selling the product"

“On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means 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. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@NiV: I agree that the performance of the models-- the need for ones that are as good as they can be-- has to do with decisions about how to act. My sense is that no one n the debate being featured in the Economist article would think that what they are discussing gives anyone more or less reason to believe that there is a *need* for action to reduce the costs of climate-change impacts. But I think it is plain that what is at stake does bear on how to apportion such efforts in the near term between further reductions of CO2 & investments in adaptation; that is a question that I think lurks in the background of what @Larry is adverting to....

@Larry: on "irreversible:

compare

Solomon, S., Plattner, G.-K., Knutti, R. & Friedlingstein, P. Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 1704-1709 (2009).

with

Matthews, H.D. & Solomon, S. Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable. Science (2013), Published online 28 March 2013 [DOI:10.1126/science.1236372].

Do you find these fascinating? I do!

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Dan: Thanks for the citations -- I do find them fascinating, but perhaps for a different reason than you do. My concern about the word "irreversible" wasn't that I thought it meant "unavoidable", and it seemed odd to me that another paper was thought necessary to spell out that obvious distinction. After finding the papers, the reason for the second one now seems both understandable and ironic. My first thought, simply, was that if climate could be changed in one direction then why could it not also be changed in the other -- i.e, if we look upon carbon emissions as a form of inadvertent geoengineering, then why would not advertent geoengineering be able to reverse the first? Alas, this question is unaddressed by the first paper, which refers to "irreversibility" only in the context of a reduction or halt to carbon emissions (the so-called "mitigation" strategy): "note that we do not consider geo-engineering measures that might be able to remove gases already in the atmosphere or to introduce active cooling to counteract warming". But here's where the irony comes in: their irreversibility argument, by showing that even an immediate (and impossible) halt to carbon emissions won't stop "irreversible" climate change, seemed to give support to "adaptation" as the only viable response, an implication that is anathema to the many climate change advocates for whom carbon emission reduction is the primary goal. Hence the need to reassure, by issuing the "clarification" of the second short article.

It might not hurt at this point to try to be a little clearer about strategies to handle climate change, given its reality. Mitigation is just one; adaptation of course is another. But there are also a number of geoengineering proposals, which may need -- and should get -- more study, but show real promise of climate control, esp. given the long time frames involved. There are also increasing numbers of proposals for carbon capture and sequestration, most of which seem costly now, but may certainly get cheaper in the future and in any case seem cheaper than the costs involved in large forced emission reductions now. And there are serious alternative energy proposals (i.e., not covering the globe in wind farms) that, again given the time frames here, can get us beyond a carbon economy without crippling the economy. Five distinct strategies, in other words, not just two, and of all of them, mitigation is the one with the least potential even for long-term viability much less effectiveness, but the most potential for immediate damage.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Dan:
(1) increasing atmospheric CO2 increases temperature
(2) anthropogenic CO2 releases have raised global temperature over last several decades
(3) existing increases have had and will cointinue to have irreversible climate impacts (including rising sea levels & droughts in certain parts of the world);
& (4) continued CO2 can be expected to increase the temperature still further resulting in additional advderse impacts?

1. It does in the "test tube". About 1dC per double of CO2. But there is overlap on the IR frequency of the atmo mix, so this is likely diluted. At the current rate of CO2 increase, given a 1dC per double, we are about 3 centuries away from a 2dC increase in temp.

2. Not proven. The rate of temp increase 1910 to 1940 matches the rate of increase between 1970 to 2000. All agree that CO2 played no part in the 1910-1940 temps and was natural. Natural variability has to be considered the default cause unless proven otherwise. see http://tinyurl.com/csk5ybq for the history.

3. No increase in storms, rate of sea level increase, or droughts. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest absence of severe landfall hurricanes in over a century. Wilma, the last Category 3 or stronger storm, occurred more than seven years ago. Regarding wildfires, their numbers since 1950 have decreased globally by 15%. According to the National Academy of Sciences, they will likely continue to decline until around mid century. A recent study published in the journal Nature indicates that globally, “…there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years

4. Temps have flat lined over the last decade and a half while CO2 continues to increase. CO2 therefore has not shown any apparent major affect on the worlds avg temps.

Climate has changed in the past and will change in the future, but CO2 has not been shown to affect any of the changes currently seen.

April 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@JohnPittman: I am sorry to hear you are sick. Are you sure that is what makes you cranky & a nitpicker? Were you not those thigns at some point in the past? In any case, I hope you get better soon whether or not that has any effect on your disposition

April 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Ditto, JFP. Cranky or not, your input is appreciated. And if it might help you to feel any better, I certainly can't blame my crankiness of being ill. Feel better.

April 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Thanks for the kindness, gentlemen.

I do have to admit that I am a nit picker. But I tend to specialize. ;)

With temperatures of March about as February, I expect that some of the graphs that show how the IPCC model mean is doing will go out the 95% this time.

This is to be expected, since it matters not which position one sees as being invalidated, one should expect it to go back and forth for awhile.

If it doesn't it is almost guaranteed to be something interesting as to why.

April 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

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