Epistemology of Disagreement

by Judith Curry

For the paper that I am writing on uncertainty and the IPCC, I am including a section on “Consensus, Disagreement, and Argument Justification.”  While googling around on this this topic, I encountered a fascinating body of work by Princeton philosopher Thomas Kelly, which I find mind-blowingly relevant to the climate conflict.  Here are some excerpts from a few of his papers that I found to be particularly provocative.

Disagreement, Dogmatism, and Belief Polarization

Authors summary: Suppose that you and I disagree about some non-straightforward matter of fact. Psychologists have demonstrated the following striking phenomenon: if you and I are subsequently exposed to a mixed body of evidence that bears on the question, doing so tends to increase the extent of our initial disagreement. That is, in response to exactly the same evidence, each of us grows increasingly confident of his or her original view; we thus become increasingly polarized as our common evidence increases. I consider several alternative models of how people reason about newly-acquired evidence which seems to disconfirm their prior beliefs. I then explore the normative implications of these models for the phenomenon in question.

The first set consists of purely descriptive, psychological questions about how exactly You and I are responding to our evidence so as to generate the relevant phenomenon. The second set consists of normative questions. Given that You and I are responding to our evidence in such-and-such a way, is there any chance that our doing so is anything other than blatantly unreasonable? What is the epistemic status of the views at which we ultimately arrive by responding to our evidence in this way? How (if at all) should we attempt to counteract or correct for the relevant psychological tendency? As we will see, these normative questions are less straightforward than one might expect; pursuing them raises a number of rather subtle and delicate issues about what is to be objective or open-minded (on the one hand) as opposed to dogmatic or biased (on the other), as well as questions about the role that one’s background beliefs should and should not play in the assessment of new evidence.

All else being equal, individuals tend to be significantly better at detecting fallacies when the fallacy occurs in an argument for a conclusion which they disbelieve, than when the same fallacy occurs in an argument for a conclusion which they believe.

Light bulb: How many hundreds of examples have we seen of this?

Suppose that one is presented with an argument for a conclusion which contradicts something that one believes. One examines the argument, judges that it is not a good one, and so retains one’s original view. Suppose, moreover, that the fact that one judges that the argument is not a good one is contingent on the fact that one already disbelieved its conclusion prior to having been presented with the argument: if one had not already disbelieved the conclusion—if, say, one had been an agnostic or had not yet formed an opinion about the relevant issue—then one would have been persuaded by the argument. This might look extremely suspicious. After all, if an argument is sufficiently attractive that it would have convinced one if one had initially examined it from a standpoint of neutrality, how can it be legitimate for the crucial difference to be made by the fact that one already had an opinion about the issue in question, an opinion that, ex hypothesi, one arrived at in ignorance of the argument?

Of course, all of this might lead one to think that You and and I are guilty, not of giving too much scrutiny to evidence that seems to tell against our beliefs, but rather of giving too little scrutiny to evidence that seems to tell in their favor. Or better: perhaps our fault lies in the fact that we subject such evidence to different levels of scrutiny. That is, perhaps whatever absolute level of scrutiny we ought to devote to newly encountered evidence—indeed, even if no absolute level of scrutiny is rationally required of us—in any case, the one thing that we are rationally required not to do is to devote different levels of scrutiny to evidence depending on how well it coheres with our prior beliefs.

And, all else being equal, the more cognitive resources one devotes to the task of searching for alternative explanations, the more likely one is hit upon such an explanation, if in fact there is an alternative to be found.

Light bulb: personal insight – the climategate emails made me concerned that I had been duped by the IPCC, and I started questioning the stuff that I used to agree with, without having given it adequate scrutiny.  Hence, Climate Etc.

The Key Epistemological Fact: For a given body of evidence and a given hypothesis that purports to explain that evidence, how confident one should be that the hypothesis is true on the basis of the evidence depends on the space of alternative hypotheses of which one is aware.

In general, how strongly a given body of evidence confirms a hypothesis is not solely a matter of the intrinsic character of the evidence and the hypothesis. Rather, it also depends on the presence or absence of plausible competitors in the field. It is because of this that the mere articulation of a plausible alternative hypothesis can dramatically reduce how likely the original hypothesis is on one’s present evidence.

Light bulb: Big implications for the “convergence of multiple lines of evidence” argument, when only one side of the argument is presented.

For the sake of explicitness, let’s bring the psychological and normative considerations together. As a psychological matter, when we encounter data that seem to go against what we believe, we are disposed to devote resources to the project of generating rival hypotheses to account for that data. To the extent that we are successful in generating plausible rivals, apparent counterevidence gets considered against a relatively rich space of alternative explanatory hypotheses. This fact tends to diminish the extent to which any particular hypothesis in the field gets confirmed or disconfirmed by the original evidence, inasmuch as the competitors tend to divide up the support conferred by the novel evidence among them. That is, the support which any one of the hypotheses receives is diluted by the presence of the others. (This last fact is a normative consequence of the operation of the relevant psychological process.) On the other hand, when we encounter evidence that is plausibly explained by things that we already believe, we typically do not devote additional resources attempting to generate alternatives. Data that seem to support hypotheses that are already believed thus tend to get considered against a comparatively impoverished or sparse background of alternative hypotheses. As a result of the less competitive milieu, the support conferred by the new evidence is not siphoned away, and thus tends to go in relatively undiluted form to the already accepted hypothesis. Over time, this invisible hand process tends to bestow a certain competitive advantage to our prior beliefs with respect to confirmation and disconfirmation.

There is an important asymmetry in the way that we respond to evidence that seems to tell against our prior beliefs and evidence that seems to tell in favor of those beliefs.

Light bulb: explains confirmation bias

On what I take to be the correct view of these matters, questions about (e.g.) how much time or effort one should devote to scrutinizing a given argument or piece of evidence are practical questions.  Typically, the reasons that one has to devote further thought to a given argument or piece of evidence (if any) compete with other practical considerations. In such cases, rationality is always in part a matter of opportunity cost, in the economists’ sense.

Note to John O’Sullivan: I viewed spending too much time on Sky Dragon would result in an opportunity cost.  But I spent enough time on it to refute it in my own mind based upon my background understanding of physics and my decades of research on this topic.  To provide an adequate hearing for Sky Dragon, I opened it up to discussion at Climate Etc. for those who did not view spending time on this this to be an opportunity loss.

On the contrary, the tendency to devote more thought to that which seems to violate or run counter to one’s expectations would seem to be the natural or default state, which prevails unless one deliberately makes a conscious effort to devote equal thought to those considerations which seem to support what one already believes.

As we’ve seen, one manifestation of our lack of even-handedness in responding to new evidence is our tendency to devote fewer cognitive resources to searching for alternative explanations of a given fact when we already believe some hypothesis that is contrary.  Scientists do not treat the anomalous phenomena and the non-anomalous phenomena on a par. On the one hand, scientists devote relatively little attention and effort to attempting to devise plausible alternative explanations of phenomena for which the accepted theory already offers a plausible explanation. On the other hand, scientists devote a great deal of attention and effort attempting to generate hypotheses that allow the existence of the anomalies to be reconciled with the presently accepted theory (to the extent that such is possible).   Is this rational behaviour?

Indeed, Lord, Ross, and Lepper suggest that You and I are properly subject to criticism only insofar as our initial convictions are held more strongly than is warranted by our original evidence.

Light bulb: the “overconfidence” thing

The suspiciousness of this is perhaps even greater when we focus once again on the interpersonal case of two individuals who have been exposed to both pieces of evidence, differing only in the order in which they encountered that evidence. If they both reason in the way described, the model predicts that they might very well end up with different levels of confidence towards the proposition that capital punishment is a deterrent, despite apparently having the same total evidence. In that case, it looks as though two individuals who share the same total evidence end up believing different things because of historical facts about the relative order in which they encountered the elements that comprise that total evidence. This is because, when individuals reason in the envisaged way, they do not in fact end up with the same total evidence in the relevant sense. Here it’s important to distinguish between two different senses of ‘evidence’, a broad sense and a narrow sense. Evidence in the narrow sense consists of relevant information about the world. Statistical information about crime rates is, perhaps, a paradigm of evidence in the narrow sense. As a rough rule of thumb: evidence in the narrow sense consists of things that it would be natural to call ‘data’. In the narrow sense of evidence, the individuals in the scenario described above have the same total evidence. On the other hand, we can also speak about evidence in the broad sense. Evidence in the broad sense includes everything of which one is aware that makes a difference to what one is justified in believing. Clearly, evidence in the broad sense includes evidence in the narrow sense, inasmuch as relevant data or information of which one is aware typically does make a difference to what one is justified believing. But one’s evidence in the broad sense will include, not only evidence in the narrow sense of data, but also things such as the space of alternative hypotheses of which one is aware. For (by the Key Epistemic Fact) which hypotheses one is aware of can make a difference to what one is justified in believing. Now, even if two individuals have exactly the same evidence in the narrow sense, they might have different evidence in broad sense, in virtue of differing with respect to the set of hypotheses of which they are aware. But if they have different evidence in the broad sense, then they might differ in what they are justified in believing, despite having exactly the same evidence in the sense of data. (Again, this will be admitted by anyone who accepts the Key Epistemic Fact.)

Light bulb: this explains the different perspectives on the climate change issue between climate researchers versus weather forecasters, and versus other people that might have just started looking at this motivated by the climategate emails.

Historical facts about when one acquires a given piece of evidence might make a causal difference to which body of total evidence one ultimately ends up with. One acquires a given piece of evidence at an early stage of inquiry; this might very well influence the subsequent course of inquiry in various ways, by way of making a difference to how one subsequently thinks and acts (which possibilities one considers, which routes get explored as the most promising and fruitful, and so on.) And this in turn can make a difference to what evidence one ends up with. In such cases, there is an undeniable element of path-dependence.

The following is, I believe, a not uncommon pattern. Relatively early on, one picks up a view about some controversial matter, a view that is not shared—and indeed, is explicitly rejected–by some who have considered the question. Perhaps one even picks up the view at One’s Parent’s Knee. Once one first begins to hold the view, one retains it thereafter. Perhaps at various times one is somewhat more confident than at other times, but after one first comes to hold the view, one can from then on be correctly described as believing the relevant proposition. Over time, however, the reasons for which one holds the view evolve. That is, the reasons for which one believes that [EXAMPLES] are not identical to the reasons for which one held this belief, when one first began to hold it.

For as we have seen, the fact that a belief is held at earlier times can skew the total evidence that is available at later times, via characteristic biasing mechanisms, in a direction that is favorable to itself. The concern is not (simply) the banal point that an individual who has long held a given view might easily fall into overestimating how well-supported it is by the considerations available to him; rather, the very fact that he has this particular body of considerations available, rather than one that is significantly less favorable, might very well be due to the fact that he has long been a believer.

In deciding what level of confidence is appropriate, we should taken into account the tendency of beliefs to serve as agents in their own confirmation.

Light bulb: perfect one sentence summary of the problem with the IPCC.

Peer Disagreement and Higher Order Evidence

It is a striking fact that almost everyone holds at least some beliefs that are explicitly rejected by others who have been exposed to all of the same evidence and arguments. When a belief that one holds is explicitly rejected by individuals over whom one possesses no discernible epistemic advantage, does this give one a reason for skepticism about that belief? In deciding what to believe about some controversial question, how (if at all) should one take into account the considered judgements of one’s epistemic peers? I explore these and related questions. I argue that an awareness of the relevant kind of disagreement need not undermine the rationality of maintaining one’s original views.

Let us say that two individuals are epistemic peers with respect to some question if and only if they satisfy the following two conditions:

(i)   they are equals with respect to their familiarity with the evidence and arguments which bear on that question, and

(ii)    they are equals with respect to general epistemic virtues such as intelligenc thoughtfulness, and freedom from bias.

Light bulb: the PNAS paper was an attempt to dismiss skeptics as not being at the same epistemic level as the consensus group.

The beliefs of a reasonable individual will thus constitute higher-order evidence, evidence about the character of her first-order evidence.  Given the general reasonableness of one’s epistemic peers, what they believe on the basis of one’s shared evidence will thus constitute evidence about what it is reasonable to believe on the basis of that evidence. There are subtle questions, I think, about how one should integrate such higher-order considerations into one’s own deliberations and what difference such considerations make to what it is reasonable for one to believe.

The question at issue then, is whether known disagreement among those who are epistemic peers in this sense must inevitably undermine the rationality of their maintaining their respective views.

Disagreement among epistemic peers then, is disagreement among those who disagree despite having been exposed to the same evidence. According to this line of thought, the only thing that would justify one in maintaining views that are rejected by one’s epistemic peers would be if one had some positive reason to privilege one’s own views over the views of those with whom one disagrees.

On the present view, the rationality of the parties engaged in such a dispute will typically depend on who has in fact correctly evaluated the available evidence and who has not. If you and I have access to the same body of evidence but draw different conclusions, which one of us is being more reasonable (if either) will typically depend on which of the different conclusions (if either) is in fact better supported by that body of evidence. Therefore, the question of which one of us is doing a better job evaluating the evidence will often be a non-trivial, substantive intellectual question.

Given that reasonable individuals are disposed to respond correctly to their evidence, the fact that a reasonable individual responds to her evidence in one way rather than another is itself evidence: it is evidence about evidence.

Light bulb: the “quality of evidence” thing.

The beliefs of a reasonable individual will thus constitute higher-order evidence, evidence about the character of her first-order evidence.  Of course, an awareness of disagreement can serve to call one’s attention to arguments that one might never have considered or to evidence of which one might have been unaware.

As more and more peers weigh in on a given issue, the proportion of the total evidence which consists of higher order psychological evidence [of what other people believe] increases, and the proportion of the total evidence which consists of first order evidence decreases. As the number of peers increases, peer opinion counts for progressively more in determining what it is reasonable for the peers to believe, and first order considerations count for less and less. At some point, when the number of peers grows large enough, the higher order psychological evidence will swamp the first order evidence into virtual insignificance.

Light bulb explodes from high voltage of the argument

Throughout, we have been concerned with the probative force of peer opinion in cases in which the peers arrive at their opinions independently of one another. This assumption of independence tends to maximize the probative force of peer opinion relative to the probative force of first-order evidence. Impressive evidence that a given answer to a question is the correct answer is afforded when a large number of generally reliable peers independently converge on that answer. On the other hand, the less their convergence is an independent matter, the less weight such convergence possesses as evidence.

The general moral: even in cases in which opinion is sharply divided among a large number of generally reliable individuals, it would be a mistake to be impressed by the sheer number of such individuals on both sides of the issue. For numbers mean little in the absence of independence.  If one uncritically assumes that the members of the contending factions have arrived at their views independently, then one will tend to overestimate the importance of other people’s opinions as evidence and underestimate the importance of the first order evidence and arguments. One will be too quick to conclude that agnosticism is the reasonable stance in cases in which opinion is sharply divided, and too quick to conclude that deference to the majority is the reasonable course in cases in which opinion is not sharply divided.

Memo to the NAS, NIPCC, Gang of 18, etc.: you can stop signing all those petitions.

A few other papers of potential interest:

Sunk Costs, Rationality, and Acting for the Sake of the Past

Author summary: If you are more likely to continue a course of action in virtue of having previously invested in that course of action, then you tend to honor sunk costs. It is widely thought both that (i) individuals often do give some weight to sunk costs in their decision-making and that (ii) it is irrational for them to do so. In this paper I attempt to cast doubt on the conventional wisdom about sunk costs, understood as the conjunction of these two claims.

Moorean Facts and Belief Revision, or Can the Skeptic Win?

284 responses to “Epistemology of Disagreement

  1. David L. Hagen

    Excellent extracts. Much to digest.
    An example of such IPCC mindset or bias is in “projecting” future scenarios without any reference to possible geological constraints on fossil fuel availability, or to the possible rates of transitioning to renewable fuels, or the severe declines in GDP and CO2 emissions, for failing to provide for timely alternative fuels. e.g.

    Abstract
    Anthropogenic global warming caused by CO2 emissions is strongly and fundamentally linked to future energy production. The Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) from 2000 contains 40 scenarios for future fossil fuel production and is used by the IPCC to assess future climate change. Previous scenarios were withdrawn after exaggerating one or several trends. This study investigates underlying assumptions on resource availability and future production expectations to determine whether exaggerations can be found in the present set of emission scenarios as well.
    It is found that the SRES unnecessarily takes an overoptimistic stance and that future production expectations are leaning towards spectacular increases from present output levels. In summary, we can only encourage the IPCC to involve more resource experts and natural science in future emission scenarios. The current set, SRES, is biased toward exaggerated resource availability and unrealistic expectations on future production outputs from fossil fuels. . . .
    perpetual growth is often held as a pious belief and fundamental assumption for economists. Perpetual growth cannot be used as an underlying assumption for non-renewable energy sources, such as fossil fuels.

    Validity of the fossil fuel production outlooks in the IPCC Emission Scenarios, Mikael Höök1, Anders Sivertsson, Kjell Aleklett
    http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/IPCC_article.pdf

    Similarly see: Predictions of Coal, CO2 Production Flawed

  2. Thanks, Professor Curry.

    Anonymous reviews of grant proposals and research papers have stymied progress and prevented open consideration of new ideas across the board, not just in climatology.

    It is frankly absurd to think that the IPCC could predict long-term climate changes based on lock-step, consensus misinformation about Earth’s heat source – the Sun.

  3. Wow!

    An article that commenters turn immediately to provide additional evidence is amply applicable .. to we ourselves! ;)

    How cool is that?

    *ahem*

    Hint. That means look to the beam in thine own eye folks. Have a little eyebeam inspection of my own to do, perhaps.

    Anyone notice, for example, how I keep getting called a warmist, even though I don’t have sufficient clue about ultimate warm, cold, or just right and know mathematically I’m not likely to ever be able to say?

    I’m a strict market capitalist, who sees ample proof of a CO2 budget, and doesn’t care what happens after an unpriced scarce resource is discovered, so long as a price mechanism is speedily applied to it to avoid distortions in the marketplace.

    Gotta be something in the above to explain how I fail to get that message across.

    Maybe I dabble too much in entertaining invalid or trivial arguments instead of dismissing them with, “why do we need to know that?”

    Maybe I’m too enamored of scientific research and data collection to stop myself peeking into the petrie dish when I know if I do, I’ll only confuse people by mixing business with pleasure.

    Maybe Judy was right, and people who talk about real things like money and human misery, fair markets and just distribution of shared common resources should never talk about science, just as scientists should keep out of real things like policy discussions, because this only confuses us all.

    • Not only should scientists keep out of real things, but they should all wear lab coats. Ideally, not the same one.

      We could also offer monetary incentives to make them dye their hair white and madly brushed upward.

      • Hrm.

        While I admire your objective, I’m philosophically opposed to subsidies in markets, so monetary incentives rings an alarm bell with me.

        Does this make me an alarmist, too?

        Perhaps if we increased the conditions of market transparency, so scientists could adequately judge for themselves the benefits of lab coats, bleached white hair brushed in a spikey tangle, and an air of absentminded befuddlement about car keys while anachronistically carrying a beaker and a sliderule?

        There is no moral issue that is not extinguished by an efficient democracy so long as the inherent rights of the individual are vouchsafed.

        What could be more moral than fashion?

    • ‘Maybe I dabble too much in entertaining invalid or trivial arguments’

      Sorry buddy, hate to rain on your parade and all that. But you may be in a minority of one if you think your arguments are entertaining. Invalid and trivial does just fine.

    • No I find you entertaining – although others who shall remain nameless are boring as batshit. I was especially entertained by the elephants footprints – but only because that’s how Tarzan knew he had elephants in the refrigerator – footprints in the butter – RAOTFLOL

      After such a preamble – where could I possibly be going? ‘I’m a strict market capitalist, who sees ample proof of a CO2 budget, and doesn’t care what happens after an unpriced scarce resource is discovered, so long as a price mechanism is speedily applied to it to avoid distortions in the marketplace.’

      I fear your economics my be as limited as your spelling. Carbon should more properly be viewed as an externality – where there is an external cost that is not factored into the price of the commodity by the market. I doubt very much that there are real external costs of any significance as yet.

      The problem with cap and trade is that an artificial scarcity is imposed. Prices increase until some less efficient means of production come into play. This necessarily results in lower production, lower growth and lower GDP. In a linked global economy this results in unintended consequences for the poorest. One billion hungry people is a doozy of an externality. Seriously, 5 million kids dying of malnutition every year. This is a great evil. It is not helped for instance by turning corn into fuel – a consequence of pricing carbon distorting markets.

      Now if I had a choice between 146,000,000 hungry kids and some theoretical risk – well no choice really. But it is not one or the other. There are many things that could sensibly be done globally – but pricing carbon is not one of them.

      • “Anyone who can only think of only one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination” Was that Twain? Must apply to ways to quote Twain too.

        Externality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality) is an overly vague term, though I’m perfectly happy to use it too; when applied to something proven as a scarce resource, the apt term ‘unpriced’ is more precise, though it is included in the term Externality and the same general arguments stand.

        To an economist, there is absolutely nothing more proper about an Externality — they are very ill-thought, and for ample reason.

        Microeconomics shows Externalities to lead to inefficiencies in distribution of benefits of the market, inequities, and weakening of markets overall.

        There is no condition of Externality that produces more wealth or less suffering than when that condition is priced in the market under an administratively feasible measure.

        You should have learned this when you studied Economics in high school, Chief. As it’s been so long, and you so busy with your hydraulics and such ;) it’s understandable if you don’t remember. There have been many advances in thinking on the topic since then too, so you may want to pick up a book on the topic, or read a magazine, or browse the web.

        Now, you speak of ‘real external costs of any significance’ as if Externality equates with cost-benefit analysis. A competent civil engineer could advise you when CBA is and isn’t applicable.

        Many other types of engineers make this elementary error.

        It’s not up to self-appointed experts to decide the price of a resource in a market economy; it’s up to the market to determine the price.

        Substituting your individual judgment for that of the market is simply anti-democratic, and again weakens the market to no benefit.

        Don’t feel too bad; many others have fallen into the same trap, some of them almost as smart as you: countless political generations have built intrinsic and explicit subsidies into the fossil industries, from grants of land and transmission rights to unbid contracts to inefficient government use and stockpiling measures to trade measures and quotas.

        It’s all Externalities all the way down, supporting this very, very skewed fossil market.

        You discuss the inferior cap and trade mechanism (as a generality, since you don’t cite a specific case) as if it were the only mechanism, and assume artificial scarcity is axiomatic with all mechanisms by this gloss.

        You sound just like the engineer who once told me there would never be more than 140 cell phones operating in any five mile diameter area, as an axiomatic fact of physics.

        And just as with cell phones, where so many ‘informed experts’ argued against regulating bandwidth and pricing it and allowing competing bidders to put it to use, we can see that the market mechanism shows us far more benefits than expert opinion of engineers.

        Or do you think the cell phone industry a flop?

        Do you think the world worse off for the cell phone industry?

        Do you think the cell phone market has lowered the GDP?

        Further, there are working, plausible, inexpensive, reliable, competent schemes for putting a price on CO2 emissions that do not succumb to the faults of cap and trade and do not create any of the market signals of artificial scarcity. Where is the black market for coal in (http://www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2008/backgrounders/backgrounder_carbon_tax.htm)?

        Your arguments about prices increasing until some less efficient means of production coming into play demonstrate enormous ignorance of how market mechanisms work, but I point you to the phrases ‘economies of scale’ and ‘near substitutes’ as a starting point on your education in Economics beyond high school.

        To avoid sounding like some boor making an argument from authority, I suggest this line of reasoning: figure it out for yourself.

        Your 146,000,000 hungry kids must be hungrier and their number larger where you allow Carbon to remain an Externality.

        And that’d make you the one starving them.

      • It has been a long time but I am sure there was Economics 101, 102 and Environmental Economics (several subjects in my Masters program) – not very impressive but I’m such a renaissance man that I need to know a little about everything. It’s a multi-disciplinary environmental science thing. Problems are so complex you need to work between a whole bunch of disciplines.

        I’m sure there were several ways we were taught of pricing externalities – and externalities most certainly should be included in cost benefit analysis. Either priced in some unsatisfactory way – or included in a qualitative way. Strictly in accordance with Dept. of Finance guidelines of course. I always do this very diligently. In Australia practice – it is always triple bottom line.

        Now in the middle you sort of wander off into an incoherency that I won’t – out of respect for your delicate sensibilities – characterise as twaddle. But a tax is a tax and not a market. Having said that I have no problem with a revenue neutral tax provided the money is used wisely. Something that remains conspicuously absent from Australian programs. These have most commonly resulted in the deaths of teenage workers, houses burning down, rorts of billions of dollars and abatements costs of $300 to infinity/tonne – warning SI unit and division over 0.

        I was speaking more of a cap and trade system – complex, full of rorts, windfall profits, ineffective, anti-competitive – if we can dispense with such nonsense all well and good.

        There is only one way global poverty will be addressed – through well regulated international markets. High growth is an essential element of human cultural development for the foreseeable future. It is not even a question we need to address – the world will continue to use the most productive capital regardless of almost anything to achieve high growth and development. It is the real world – get used to it. Just take 10 deep breaths and have a look outside.

        There are ultimately two ways to bring down carbon emissions more quickly in most of the world – technological and through the things neatly encapsulated in the millennium development goals.

        So to summarise – we have a modest tax and put the money into technological development and cost effective abatement. Overseas there is support for health, education, sustainable agriculture (the new evergreen revolution), local market regulation and open international markets.

        But if you support one more ear of corn being turned into biofuel – you are Enemy No. 1 and God may forgive but I won’t.

      • Chief

        In the best tradition of backwards induction, we agree on biofuel, yay!

        What a fiasco of subsidies the whole corn shambles is, and the vast majority of the biofuel mess too, and their intersection is .. on the whole, I think you’re too generous about it, Chief.

        However.. your tax proposal is a bit like Ross McKitrick’s tax proposal, and I regard it as theft, and also as extremely sub-optimal.

        As theft, because the implicit assumption is that air belongs to governments. That.. just leaves me cold. Can you imagine any reason why? Just take 10 deep breaths and have a look at how governments treat people now outside your comfort zone.

        We’re agreed on global poverty, in general terms and with a bit of handwaving. I suspect we’re in far more agreement than makes being so vague and handwavy necessary or productive.

        We’re mostly agreed on cap and trade, with the difference that I could see there may be some small niche applications that in theory could benefit with a tightly administered cap and trade system.

        I don’t know of any such proposals that are in practice today or likely to see the light of day any time soon.

        Now, while a tax is a tax is a tax, the word tax is a loaded one; moreso one suspects in America, where it means to most something like, “money the government takes away that you won’t see again except being spent on something you can’t stand.”

        In Europe, it mostly appears to mean something akin to, “wages we pay greedy Nanny State to take care of us, since we can’t be trusted to take care of ourselves,” so far as I can see.

        In some places, ‘tax’ means “honorable obligation though it is hurtful.”

        How are any of the above perjorative devil’s definitions the same as, “money you take from people who willingly pay it for the benefit they obtain from the resource they use — as they always have alternatives and choices under their own individual control — to pay to the owners of that resource directly per capita,” in any way?

        Sure, a tax would be a tax if the government gets it, which is one of the things I’m certainly opposed to.

        Why would I seek to be any more confusing to people than I already am, but employing such a loaded and misleading word?

        And again, you speak of pricing Externalities, which is fine, if you lack the means, ambition or ethics to turn them from Externalities to actual priced goods.

        Which do you prefer, to let the democracy of the well-regulated open market determine the price, or an arbitrary small body of well-meaning experts in something, whose decisions will last long decades after the conditions they used for their formula cease?

      • You’ve lost me – I am a little hungry and I want to go make pepperoni pizza.

        But who owns this resource you speak – that I consume down the tailpipe of my Mustang? Where is the market place where it is sold? The situation is akin to the tragedy of the commons – which I am too hungry to go into. Please enlighten me.

      • Chief

        Go make your pizza.

        Who owns a common shared resource never yet surrendered by consent?

        I believe the very long ontological discussion of this summarizes down to everyone, where it has resolution at all.

        The market?

        Do as (http://www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2008/backgrounders/backgrounder_carbon_tax.htm) says it does more or less, and turn the tax system on its head, make it a market system, and pay we the owners for rent on our air.

        Directly.

        Per capita.

        Which will result in 70% of all people, per capita, getting more back than they spend for the CO2 they emit.

        As so much of the CO2 emitting world is already taxed, there’s almost no additional administrative cost.

        How cool is that?

      • Bart R,
        You present your statements on externalities as if there would be a convergence among economists to support your view. That presents a highly selective pick of economics and is only wishful thinking from your point of view.

        Market failures have not disappeared and there is no evidence that they would ever disappear through the workings of free market. Externalities do exist and some of them are so serious that all real societies have acted on them. Only in the dreams of libertarians do we societies where this is not necessary and reality.

        Accepting that there are externalities and that some of them must be acted on, doesn’t tell, when and how to do it. You are perfectly right that wrong actions are commonplace and that it would have in many cases wiser to wait than to rush, but again this observation doesn’t tell what is the right choice next time.

        Living in EU I consider many decisions of EU illadviced. Here the political will to act has exceeded the ability to choose wisely what to do. The right question on acting on the climate issue is, however, not a simple yes or no, but a more nuanced when and how. The best answer may or may not include carbon tax or something similar (personally I dislike cap and trade).

      • Pekka Pirilä

        I cannot disagree with you, though I ask leave to clarify.

        As I assert earlier a disagreement with the prominent environmental economist Dr. Ross McKitrick, I presume one might find it easy to believe I recognize many economists disagree with me on many, many things.

        I’d be frightened out of my skin to be agreed with by some economists.

        Market failures can happen, however market failures can be reduced by scrupulous adherence to straightforward and stringent administrative principles.

        Though in most things I am a minarchist (and agree with what you say of libertarians), in the vigorous defense of free and open markets through assurance of the integrity of market actors, I admit I am of very aggressive opinion.

        The lives and rights of the human beings who act in and are influenced by markets are too important to pretend the market or any corporation in it itself has rights or is alive.

        The market is a tool, it’s to be used with absolute care and regulated deliberation.

        One imagines you may guess my view of what caused most market failures, from the above?

        However, even the closest regulation will not prevent market failure.

        The larger the market, and more diverse, the lower the likelihood of collapse and the faster the recovery (all other things being held to be equal).

        So, what is there in that argument against moving the currently unrecognized unpriced scarce resource from outside the market (as Externality) to inside the market, as Good? Pricing the Carbon Budget is the sensible approach.

        Externalities are generally present were there is not the means to practically administer the resource within the market, or the ambition to take on the project, or the moral strength to see it through.

        Mobile telephone technology could have been ramped up starting the day the first transister hit the open market. Very few original patents or ideas were needed to make it run, from a strict technology development point of view.

        It was a failure of ambition that held cell phones back for so long from becoming what they are today, a failure of moral strength to face down the existing land-line giants who blocked this development repeatedly until they themselves became major players in the industry.

        All the administrators needed do was set a price on bandwidth and let entrepreneurs make money by providing desired service.

        The same is true of CO2 pricing today.

        Your view as expressed of the EU is very similar to my view, I think, and one suspects largely for similar reasons.

        However, as you are a denizen of the EU, it would be poor form of me to comment (negatively) much or to pretend greater familiarity with your continental issues than your own clearly well-considered knowledge of it first hand.

        You live there, I’m way over here, and cannot speak so eloquently nor a fraction so knowledgeably about your situation.

      • Bart R,
        The dilemma is difficult for me. I see serious weaknesses both in the workings of the market and in the capabilities of political decision makers to define and implement better solutions.

        Concerning the markets some externalities and other market failures are both large and such that it is impossible to see how they would be ever taken care by the markets without some regulation or other non-market action. The markets follow their logic and are highly predictable in many respects (while unpredictable in others).

        Concerning political decision making the predictability is not good. The decisions may be very good or terrible, there is always hope that the next decision can be influenced to make it better, but the success is never guaranteed. When the market fails too seriously, the only alternative that I see is, however, setting the hope on the political processes.

        Unfortunately the situations that cannot be taken care by the market are mostly very difficult also for the political mechanisms. The direction of the required action is known, but it size is not. This may lead to an overreaction, which leads further in the other direction from the optimum than the starting point was in the other.

        Concerning carbon tax. I am pretty sure that a modest tax would have a positive net effect, but it might be small. Raising the level of the tax to strongly influencing level brings unavoidably the risk that the overall consequences are not even positive.

        Is some carbon taxation part of the best policy the political processes can formulate, is an open question. I consider it likely, but am not certain about it.

      • Pekka Pirilä

        I will leave the topic of market failures and political failures for the moment; my confidence clearly is with markets over politics to what most would regard as an extreme extent.

        Yours appears to differ from mine.

        This doesn’t mean we cannot productively discuss single market elements.

        I prefer not to call my proposal ‘carbon tax’ for two reasons.

        Firstly, the word tax is inaccurate as tax implies an obligatory amount extracted by government for the use of government, and not a rent charged by the shareholders in a common shared resource to those who freely choose to purchase the use of that resource and gain benefit of that use by their free choice.

        Secondly, the word tax is a loaded term, which appears to confuse people as to its meaning in this case. The last thing I need do is confuse the people persistent enough to wade through my verbose stylings even more.

        So I call it a carbon rent.

        My proposal is that the rents collected go directly to the people per capita.

        This pays the people compensation for consent to use the provably scarce carbon budget of the very air we all share ownership of and responsibility for.

        This is not an environmentalist argument, but a strict capitalist one. I would make the same argument about slices of the moon or pieces of the asteroid belt, where the situations comparable.

        In every energy application where fossil fuel is an option there is always a technically feasible alternative not using carbon as intensively.

        Thus, the presence of alternatives informs us that the choice of paying the carbon rent or not remains a freedom of the consumer and not a mandatory obligation.

        We do not need to know beforehand what the relative prices of goods will be under carbon rent, only to trust that the market will make the democratic decision, which must in any case be better than the decision of a few substituted through some inferior mechanism.

        We do know beforehand that the fossil market is highly distorted by government policies and government subsidies.

        This is far moreso true in the USA and some other nations than in Europe, but it does remain true.

        Much of the reason for America’s embarrassingly high tax rates compared to what service the people of America purchase for so steep a price of its government is that the government pays the fossil (and now corn) industry so much directly, and lets fossil off the hook for so much of what any reasonable person would conclude is fossil’s obligation.

        That this shameful spending on corporate charity is buried and hidden in the language of politics and the subterfuge of budget bafflegab does not make it any less true or more right.

        So distorted is the fossil (and corn) market that we can be certain by the arguments of economies of scale that uneconomic use of the fossil and corn resources are being made, driving up prices overall in the economy and impoverishing all slightly for the sake of few.

        Likewise, this skewed subsidised market is suppressing the alternative goods from reaching their optimal price scale, again raising the price of alternatives now which would without the subsidies drop trebly — once by removal of the tax used to pay the subsidy, once by removal of the burden on all of the overheated fossil and corn products as discussed last paragraph, and once as the natural optimum scale for the alternatives is achieved.

        Thus it is easily seen that any argument about cheap energy for the poor supports kicking the corporate charity bums out, ending their subsidies, and charging a fair rent for fair use of the common shared carbon budget.

        Additionally, Dr. Ross McKitrick is clearly right about one thing, namely that an end to distortions and the relief brought to the economy by a price on CO2 emission will also reduce other distortions of the tax system immediately, and lower tax rates overall.

        He’s wrong that this CO2 rent need go to the general revenues of government, and it is chilling that anyone could even suggest such a thing, as it implies that the government owns the air, which is morally repugnant.

        Dr. McKitrick is further wrong about another thing that Pekka quite wisely mentions, returning us to the question of price level for this rent.

        What is the right level of rent? I say let the owner decide. Which would be all of us. Sadly, the only administratively practical measure I yet can see in the short term for this is to allow government to set price levels in response to market conditions.

        This is an inelegant portion of an otherwise elegant remedy, in the short term.

        In the long term, as administration of CO2 rent price becomes better understood and evolves, a fulsom and balanced approach to the problem will develop as negotiated between interested players.

        It is again not for us to substitute our judgement beforehand for the judgement in the future of those with stake in the negotiations.

        We can observe, however, that there is danger in pricing CO2 rent too low, not just of the price signal having too little effect to merit the very low administrative cost, but also of inverse results if the elasticity of demand for fossil (no one believes corn energy is so addictive) is net negative or too low.

        My opinion is that we ought start low as a simple matter of practical marketing, and move high very rapidly over the course of a decade, in most cases, with the price of this rent.

        The higher the CO2 rent, the more wealth is delivered per capita to all of us.

        About 70% of North Americans would on balance get more money from the rent than they would pay for CO2 emissions as things stand now.

        Two thirds of the remaining group would reap the same net benefit but for wasted, inefficient use. Only ten percent of the market in the long run would pay more for the very great benefit they currently derive at the expense of the other 90% of us.

        Right now one steals from seven, and brings along two more by sloth and stupidity as accomplices.

        With CO2 rents, nine are paid out by the one who chooses to benefit from what they freely elect to use.

      • So – resource rent rather than tax. To a practical man – a difference of semantics only.

        I see a practical problem in channeling rents through some governments. It is the problem of Nigeria for instance – a corrupt government using oil revenues to buy arms.

        As problematical as it is – I feel marginally on balance that the money is better spent directly on health, school, roads, water and sanitation. The sort of things government has traditionally done. And perhaps a little guidance on market regulation along with opening up international markets.

      • Chief

        As a practical man, take your income from the rent and give it to a school.

        Problem solved.

        As for putting government money into roads, would these be roads to the standard of bicycle riders, or to the standards of fossil-fuel using vehicles, and to whose direct benefit?

        As to Nigeria, hard to argue to promote a form of theft to 95% of the wealth of the world based on another form of theft in 5% of the world, but I see you’re bold enough to repeat this reaction.

        This sympathy for the thief.. is that part of the Australian stereotype?

      • If we are looking for better words than ‘tax’ I would suggest ‘premium’, which is to consider it as a kind of insurance against bad things happening. The analogy to insurance is not perfect, but conveys the idea of the transfer of funds towards a mitigation of future problems, and that the funds are only used for relevant purposes.
        I agree a phased in carbon premium is a way to go. It could target the difference in cost between bio and fossil fuels, for example, making renewable fuels more economical.

      • Wait a minute. Externalities can be positive as well as negative. And, interestingly, we have all sorts of solid evidence for the positive externalities of CO2 in the important area of encouraging plant growth and efficiency of water usage in plants, and zero evidence of any negative externalities, since all the IPCC’s horror stories remain at this point simply wild speculation.

        Is it possible that nomads in the greening Sahel and mid-latitude farmers enjoying increased crops should pay the coal plants and oil refineries for the increased productivity of their lands?

      • Craig Goodrich

        So, here’s a minute of reading while we wait:

        Externalities can be positive.

        Sure.

        The sunrise and sunset and the sun itself are externalities. Nitrogen and Oxygen in air, provably so unaffected by human activity as to be practically unlimited (and thus not scarce), also externalities.

        We’re running out of these positive Externalities at a remarkable rate.

        Fish in the sea? How many fish stocks have been too depleted to harvest already?

        Fresh water?

        Wilderness to pioneer and settle?

        This is why in part I preferred the more precise term “unpriced scarce resource” over Externality. It’s because positive Externalities confuse the discussion. In net, the topic of Externalities remains extremely adverse to markets, once those Externalities without practical limit (scarcity) are removed from consideration.

        Now, as to, “..we have all sorts of solid evidence for the positive externalities of CO2 in the important area of encouraging plant growth and efficiency of water usage in plants, and zero evidence of any negative externalities, since all the IPCC’s horror stories remain at this point simply wild speculation.”

        As alluded to here
        (http://judithcurry.com/2011/02/10/spatio-temporal-chaos/#comment-42174) and expanded here (http://judithcurry.com/2011/02/15/the-principles-of-reasoning-part-iii-logic-and-climatology/#comment-43387), we know CO2 is a plant hormone.

        What extraordinary evidence do you offer that is so solid that spreading unlimited and uncontrolled new levels of hormone is positive?

        Try that argument with testosterone in humans of every age and circumstance, or estrogen, and see how long before you find yourself tarred and feathered by parents and religious groups.

        Your claims of greening by CO2 emission are unsupported, and as you do not link to your source one supposes it is among the usual biased and speculative suspects. Is it the wildly unskeptical http://www.co2science.org/?

      • Hi Bart,
        Biomass worldwide is estimated to have increased by ~7% over the last 30 years.

        In the Amazon:
        “We estimate a net biomass increase in trees >10 cm diameter of 0.62 ± 0.23 t C ha through the late twentieth century.”
        -Simon Lewis-

      • tallbloke

        That’s hilarious! In such a sad way.

        Both times I’ve been to the Amazon region to trek to Tepui El Diablo, I witnessed it burning from horizon to horizon as ranchers cleared the land to create grazing for their cattle.

        Of course, many of those trees would be 10 cm, as those would be trees in their slowest phase both of biomass increase and of associated CO2 exchange and carbon fixing.

        In short, the figure you cite is itself bad news for the message you claim.

        It means the opposite of what you appear to be trying to say.

        I’m aware of plantations the size of some US states to grow softwood, however, replacing Amazon indigenous biomass with white pine, so perhaps there is a net increase in the balance of human activity on plant mass above 10 cm for the purposes of pulp paper production. How great do you suppose that is for overall CO2 fixing, as a trade-off for Amazon diversity?

        In oceans, I’d expect the broadly reported increasing clarity of the seas in general corresponds to a drop in oceanic biomass.

        So, please, if you’re going to believe everything you say, can you say it, I dunno, with links to sources?

        Like, say http://www.jstor.org/pss/2388588

        or

        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16018097

        or

        http://www.mongabay.com/brazil.html

        Because whoever your source is, it’s not helping your cause.

      • Silly me. Less than and greater than signs are html…

        “Of course, many of those trees would be less than 10 cm, as this is most representative of Amazon rainforest in its primary growth stage, which is the target of most burning, where it most rapidly absorbs CO2 and fixes carbon, leaving more in proportion of trees greater than 10 cm, as those would be trees in their …

      • tallbloke

        Took a moment to track the sleight-of-hand performed by whomever tried to pull the wool over your eyes with that Simon Lewis quote.

        It’s from, I think, something related to this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693327/

        Which as we clearly see is about the mass of trees in protected, selected, optimal plots.

        Here (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2374914/?report=abstract), the same Simon Lewis co-authors the explanatory note (emphasis mine):

        If other biomass and necromass components are also increased proportionally, then the old-growth forest sink here has been 0.79±0.29PgCyr−1, even before allowing for any gains in soil carbon stocks. This is approximately equal to the carbon emissions to the atmosphere by Amazon deforestation. There is also evidence for recent changes in Amazon biodiversity. In the future, the growth response of remaining old-growth mature Amazon forests will saturate, and these ecosystems may switch from sink to source driven by higher respiration (temperature), higher mortality (as outputs equilibrate to the growth inputs and periodic drought) or compositional change (disturbances). Any switch from carbon sink to source would have profound implications for global climate, biodiversity and human welfare, while the documented acceleration of tree growth and mortality may already be affecting the interactions among millions of species.

        So what you claim is in fact not the case, even by the interpretation of the man you quote and in the source you cite.

        You’ve been lied to, tallbloke.

  4. The information regarding the psychologic pshenanigans that we tend to play when doing non-science activities like ‘confirmation’ is important. It really drives home the point that instead of doing things like ‘confirmation’ and pretending it is science, we should be doing actual science instead.

    Science is not immune to poor practice and bad actors, but it has self correcting mechanisms. And it does eliminate a lot of opportunity for psychologic misadventure. It is difficult to fall prey to ‘confirmation bias’, for example, if one refrains from doing ‘confirmation’ in the first place, and instead does science.

    • Self correcting comes from sceptics and dissidents, never from established science.
      Establishment science only self-correct when they are forced to, just like they are doing now.

  5. I found this quote in the book, “A Revolution in the Earth Sciences”
    by A. Hallam
    “We only see what we know”

  6. “Light bulb: How many hundreds of examples have we seen of this?”

    On this blog alone or in general?

    • My guess is you didn’t get to the bit where your lightbulb exploded. It’s all over the blogosphere, it’s all over the peer reviewed science, it’s all over the IPCC, it’s all over the media reports.

      What a great find Judith. I will read more carefully. On this blog and in general.

  7. Clear enough to me.

    We all have survival instinct.
    It is not possible to endlessly re- evaluate fully each fact in order to survive.
    Once something has been categorized as a ‘survival threat’ it takes an enormous amount of effort to change the categorization. The same is true for something we have categorized as a non threat.

    If the first canine one encounters in life is a wolf ones view of canines in general are different then if the first encounter is a golden retriever.

  8. At a first look, I’d suggest to followers of this debate that it might be worthwhile to go directly to the paper: Disagreement, Dogmatism, and Belief Polarization (see link near the beginning of Judith’s posting. It seems to me that in the interest of brevity, in the excerpts, examples have been stripped out which make it seem to me at least easier to connect the reasoning with reality which is part of how I, at least, understand things.

    I haven’t gotten too far into it, but it appears very interesting, and likely to shed some light on an idea of mine which might or might not represent an existing discipline, namely “economics of ideas”. When a concept pops into my mind and I wonder what if anything, people have thought and written about it, I google the phrase. When I did this with “economics of ideas”, as far as I could tell, it was all or almost all about economics of intellectual property, which is not at all what I had in mind. At a glance, I think maybe this work comes closest of anything I’ve seen to it though.

    I have a blog, where I’ve tried to explore the idea of “practical epistemology” with limited success (click on my name above).

  9. Yes, this is a very interesting article and very relevant to the climate debate and to the behaviour of individuals on this blog.
    It is a bit surprising that he does not use the term ‘confirmation bias’ – perhaps it is not commonly used by philosophers?
    If ‘you’ and ‘I’ are given a pile of information, ‘you’ will pick out the info that supports your opinion and ignore or try to discredit that which does not, while ‘I’ will do the same the other way round, so our disagreement will naturally be increased.
    Roger Pielke Jr has written lots of good stuff about this on his blog.

  10. ” It is because of this that the mere articulation of a plausible alternative hypothesis can dramatically reduce how likely the original hypothesis is on one’s present evidence.”

    He hits “plausible” too hard. It sounds like wants belief to be an element of proof. Which is to say, he wants to deny primacy to the physical world. It’s worse, actually, since merely articulating the hypothesis does the trick.

    Yet Another Academic Nihilist.

    • Which is to say, he wants to deny primacy to the physical world.

      I don’t get that from the text. In fact, the opening “Suppose that you and I disagree about some non-straightforward matter of fact.” seems to say just the opposite.

      • Unless Kelly imagines us dealing with elements at the quantum scale, our attention to their state is not going to have an outcome on their reality. I don’t know how an articulation of a “plausible” hypothesis (note: not even “true”) is supposed to “dramatically” (his word) reduce the likelihood of an earlier hypothesis. According to him, the world is a constant race to the patent office.

        Of course, there’s always the possibility that Kelly isn’t presenting a coherent argument and that parts of his position are poorly thought through.

      • Let’s try this: You have room with a cat and a bowl of milk that has been spilled. You don’t have a video to prove it, but it’s plausible that the cat is the culprit. Much later, you discover a second cat in the room. The original hypothesis is now less likely.

      • His thesis leads to this paradox:

        Original Hypothesis: His thesis is true.
        Second Hypothesis: His thesis is false.
        Subsequent Hypotheses simply contradict the previous ones.

        Each contradiction dramatically reduces the likelihood that the prior one was true.

      • If the third hypothesis is “His thesis is true.”, then you’ve merely restated the original, not put forward a third.

      • Well, they’re not the same because they each refer to the prior but 1. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. A bit hurried composition.

        Another problem with his thesis is “plausible”. If a subsequent theory can diminish the likelihood of a thesis being true simply by being articulated, there’s no real meaning to “plausible” and the dynamic of the dialectic collapses. The investigator is left with only a damp squib of a hypothesis whose likelihood isn’t dependent upon a relationship to facts, only to rhetoric.

      • He’s using “likelihood” in the cognitive sense: the odds we assign to an outcome. Not the physical reality “probability”, assuming such a beast exists.

      • “assuming such a beast exists.”

        Well, that makes a science blog kind of a drollery for you, doesn’t it?

  11. Pooh is not a philosopher of science (obviously). :-) Professor Kelly’s exposition gave me a merry chase through the dictionary and Google. For example:

    Epistemology

    Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. This article will provide a systematic overview of the problems that the questions above raise and focus in some depth on issues relating to the structure and the limits of knowledge and justification.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

    But in the quotes from Professor Kelly, I find no discussion of the integrity of the evidence, other than needing freedom from “bias” on the part of the scientists and the evaluators.

    “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” — variously attributed to Albert Einstein and/or Richard Feynman. By this yardstick, “Light Bulb” succeeds.

    • “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” — is one of those thought provoking comments that isn’t literally true.

      In graduate and postgraduate level mathematics, it is sometimes said that the 1st third of your (seminar or conference) lecture should be understandable your high school math teacher; the 2nd third is for 1st and 2nd year graduate students, and the last third is for the specialists in your field. No mention of six year olds.

      Aiming for something like that can be a good exercize though. A famous (among the barns) political theorist was known for his lectures that almost nobody could understand. One day someone pulled a prank on him, telling him that there was a delegation of visiting lumberjacks in the back of the hall, and he should try to say something that they could understand. He proceeded to give a crystal clear lecture than any 2nd year graduate student could understand.

      On the other hand, books on quantum physics that “anyone can understand” do not tell “anyone” how a radio works, but they do encourage a lot of New Age gurus to claim quantum physics as evidence for their claims.

  12. Dr Curry, I think that this is by far your most important post thus far. It goes to the nature of human discourse which is, of course, at the very root of the way we perceive, investigate and discover the world around us.

    To read such an incisive examination of the way we, homo Sapiens, process information and conduct inquiries and debate as a result, is revelatory and actually quite exciting: it’s an interesting take on Epistemology and one which should inform the vigorous debate here perhaps.

    For me personally, it’s the best articulation I’ve read of the psychology behind confirmation bias.

  13. Moorean facts.

    Lovely find Judith

    • Mosh– can you steer me to what you use/believe demonstrates that a warmer planet is actually bad for humans?

      • Key elements missing in your question.

        1. How much warmer
        2. which humans.

        But generally I would not focus so much on the warmth as I would focus on the changes in sea level and the frequency of extreme events. The latter is more problematic, so I have always focused on the former. If you find, as I do, that a rise in sea level of 1 meter is “on the table” (even at a low probability) then it’s clear from current population locations that a substantial portion of humanity will be adversely impacted. Open question is how best to handle that. I think 20 years of trying to handle that problem via global treaties is a demonstrable failure.

      • You’re quite right about treaties being a demonstrable failure, but there is another point about sea level: just as climate doesn’t kill people, weather kills people, a rise in “global average sea level” will have radically different effects in, say, Europe (where several-meter tides and even greater storm surges are common) than in the tropics, and particular areas of the tropics will be affected more than others due to subsidence, sediment deposit vs coral growth, and so on.

        Based on historical data, the probability of “global average sea level rise” over the next century equal or greater than about 150mm is close to 1, and greater than 1 meter is close to zero. In either case, local adaptation to particular, direct local challenges would seem to make more sense than trying to indirectly affect sea level by reducing CO2 emissions — which might not work even if the connection between sea level and CO2 was as hypothesized; there could be unknown lags and other complicating factors.

        But of course we’re wandering off-topic here…

  14. Mike Kelly’s analysis strikes me as highly insightful, capturing as it does essential features of how we process information relative to our underlying belief systems and in the context of the opinions of others. At the same time, it should not be overinterpreted by conflating opinions with data. As he points out, the number of individuals endorsing an opinion is not an accurate measure of its validity – consensus views even of experts often prove wrong in the short run. On the other hand, evidence in science is the ultimate arbiter, and the history of science tells us that in an area of active investigation characterized by a large variety of conflicting expectations, an invalid consensus almost never survives intact over the course of many decades. If it is basically correct but requires modification, it will undergo that modification in the light of new data, sometimes gradually and sometimes promptly. If it is wrong, it will succumb to the weight of new evidence. This principle does not apply to long held beliefs not subjected to scrutiny – these can persist for centuries.

    I expect that the current consensus in climate science will undergo modifications over time in the face of constant challenge. The greenhouse effect was first well described in 1824, and well characterized in 1896. These are not dates signifying the start of active investigation and challenge, however, which started about 60 years ago and has generated an enormous body of evidence, most of which supports the main points of the consensus, with no obvious reason to suspect that contrary evidence has remained untapped (nor underreported, given the blogosphere). This 60 year interval is short enough for us to expect continuing refinement. It is nevertheless sufficient to render an overturn highly unlikely in the light of historical precedents that include Newtonian mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Evolution, Plate Tectonics, Prion Diseases, and Peptic Ulcers. Some of these took hold quickly, while others gradually but progressively dissipated a consensus over the course of decades, so that the scientific literature reflected an increasing level of agreement over time with the new paradigm.

    • My impression is that the current “consensus” is not based on honest, independent evaluation of the evidence. As Judy has carefully explained before, she assumed that the evidence behind the so-called consensus was solid because she had been told repeatedly that it was. Most scientists have followed a path like hers — they started from the view that the science was settled. Everything they have ever learned re: climate was viewed from that starting perspective. And as this post discusses, that can make all the difference.

      This is particularly true in climate science where the relevant fields are so diverse that no one is an expert on all of it. The story behind Lawrence Solomon’s “The Deniers” is applicable. Each of the scientists was certain that the IPCC was badly wrong about their own field, but simply assumed it must be correct as to the rest.

      • Stan – I believe biased evaluation is the norm within science, but ultimately, it gives way to the weight of evidence. That is why I cited historical precedents. The same resistance to relinquishing opinions operated then, but science is self-correcting enough for a paradigm to change when the evidence demands it.

        Certainly, it’s important for anyone with a strong scientific background in the field to try to put aside bias and evaluate evidence without regard to what others conclude from it. Although not a climate scientist, my background is sufficient for me to arrive at conclusions, at least tentatively, that come from the data rather than from what others say about it.

      • I believe biased evaluation is the norm within science, but ultimately, it gives way to the weight of evidence.

        Fred M.: I’m sure that global warming will be settled in a few decades or so depending on the evidence and that’s fine with me.

        The problem is that climate changers demand that we proceed with a huge, expensive agenda right now.

      • … biased evaluation is the norm within science, but ultimately, it gives way to the weight of evidence.

        … and the rate at which it gives way will apparently be inversely related to the amount of money and other resources dedicated to promoting the biased view, which accounts for the otherwise inexplicable fact that the CO2-driven cAGW hypothesis was not laughed out of climatology a decade ago.

        There is no “weight of evidence” on the cAGW side of the debate. None. This is an assertion that I (and many others) have made repeatedly; it should — under the usual canons of scientific (as opposed to psychological) epistemology — be easy to refute, since it is (deliberately) a very strong claim. It has not been refuted; rather it has met only with the sort of armwaving discussed in the consilience thread.

        All of the purported evidence shows either that global temperatures rose from the mid-70s to the mid-90s (which nobody disputes), that CO2 levels rose from the mid-70s to the mid-90s (which nobody disputes), or that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (which hardly anybody disputes; see the Dragon thread). No new evidence for any causal connection between CO2 and measurable surface temperature rise has been uncovered in more than two decades after spending tens of billions on research. To the contrary, it has been shown that a straightforward combination of the PDO and a gradual recovery from the Little Ice Age, the coldest period in the entire Holocene, completely accounts for the ’70s-’90s temperature rise.

        So the CO2 hypothesis is left without any phenomenon to explain. In other words, it is a solution in search of a problem. So I’m somewhat mystified by what you are asserting here; please explain.

      • Temperatures don’t rise by themselves. (” gradual recovery from the Little Ice Age”) If temperatures rose there had to be a source of energy for that rise. The increase in GHGs provided that energy.

        If you think a different source of energy was responsible for the rise in temps, you should name it and show why it and not the energy from the increase in GHGs was responsible.

      • David L. Hagen

        Jeffrey Davis
        “The increase in GHGs provided that energy.”
        Please try to be more accurate in your comments.
        GHG’s provide NO energy at all. They are neither a fuel nor radioactive. Almost all energy comes from the sun. We are addressing increases/decreases in albedo reflecting shortwave solar and differences in long wave radiation/reradiation.
        You might note that GHG’s absorb and reradiate long wave energy.
        However, water vapor is the strongest GHG. Increasing water vapor may / may not also increase/decrease clouds – we don’t know.
        Galactic cosmic rays impact cloud formation, increasing with increasing H2O?

      • As they’d say on Fark, “Pedantic distinctions are pedantic.”

        As for the rest of your point, you used odd words to admit that you don’t have a source of energy other than the from the increase in GHGs.

      • JD, your challenge to Hagen to name the other source of warming (not energy) is a common fallacy. Skeptics do not claim to be able to explain climate change. Skeptics merely point out that since change is natural it is necessary to rule out natural change before accepting AGW. There are numerous candidates for the cause of the warming, other than CO2. Moreover, since we do not really know why temperatures rise and fall naturally, only that they do, we do not even know if these candidate include the real reasons.

      • We do know the amount of energy derived from a given increase in GHGs. If that energy is sufficient to the task of having warmed the atmosphere by the observed amount, a skeptic has the unenviable task of proving several things: that there’s an alternate source of energy responsible, that it’s sufficient to the task, that the calculable amount of energy from the increase in GHGs didn’t warm the atmosphere and that there is a mechanism for that failure.

        It’s like one of those locked room mystery stories from the 30s. Inside a locked room there’s a dead body in bed with a bullet hole in it and a bullet in the headboard from the gun. Here comes Inspector Danvers and he’s going to show that Col. Mustard did it with a candle stick, a ball of twine, some creosote, and 2 copies of Grit: The Boy’s Magazine.

        Happy sleuthing.

      • David L. Hagen

        JD
        Reread David Wojick’s observations.
        In the geological record, temperature and CO2 rose and fell much more than recently, with temperature leading, and CO2 not always tracking with temperature.
        Skeptics stick with science that holds you have to understand the null hypothesis that natural drivers will continue to drive climate.
        Then you have to not just project scenarios of anthropogenic warming, but validate models with cause and effect sufficient to make valid predictions.
        Then you might begin to quantify the relative magnitudes of anthropogenic and natural climate changes – BOTH warming and cooling.

        The current solar cycle is exceptionally low, suggesting we may be entering another Dalton minimum, similar to that during the Little Ice Age. Besides we are half way through the interglacial period, and will begin trending towards a new glacial period.
        If so, we should not at all be surprised at major natural cooling. In which case, we would want all the warming we can get.

        Note:
        Jeffrey J. Brown & Samuel Foucher just made the astounding finding:
        “Note that in four years Chindia’s net oil imports as a percentage of GNE (Gross Net Oil Exports) rose
        from 11.3 percent to 17.1. If we extrapolate this rate of increase, it suggests that
        Chindia will be consuming 100 percent of GNE around 2025.”

        That forces US imports of 65% of oil consumption to ZERO in fourteen years.
        OR US & Chindia skyrocket prices as they scramble for the little that is left.

        Our critical issue is to rapidly transition to alternative fuels NOW.

        See: Egypt, a classic case of rapid net-export decline and a look at global net exports
        http://www.energybulletin.net/print/56193

        This follows up on their 2010 presentation:
        Peak Oil Versus Peak Net Exports–Which Should We Be More Concerned About?
        Jeffrey J. Brown, Samuel Foucher, PhD, Jorge Silveus
        http://www.aspousa.org/2010presentationfiles/10-7-2010_aspousa_TrackBNetExports_Brown_J.pdf

        Welcome to the real world.

      • Therefore you support the construction of large numbers of nuclear power plants in the USA immediately???

      • David L. Hagen

        Rob
        No. Takes too long & currently too expensive.

        Push all cost effective methods of enhancing oil recovery & alternative fuels
        Then solar thermochemical fuels after a game changer reduction in the cost of solar dishes.

      • This is simply silly. We know the temperature rose during the Roman Warm Period without help from CO2, dropped during the Dark Ages without help from CO2, rose during the MWP without help from CO2, fell to the depths of the LIA without help from CO2, rose during the early 19th century without help from CO2, fell during the late 19th century without help from CO2, rose during the early 20th century without help from CO2, and fell following WW2 in spite of CO2 (eek! aerosols!).

        So of course the late 20th-century warming was due to CO2. Now, I have some lovely swampland in Florida here to show you…

      • re: both Goodrich and Hagen

        Sorry. We have a known energy source. A given increase in greenhouse gases produces a calculable amount of energy. That energy has to have done something.

        Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus but that doesn’t mean every politician since then was assassinated by Brutus. We have now an observed source of energy: the energy from the increase in greenhouse gases. You can’t wish that away. That energy has to do something. (Conservation of energy. ) It doesn’t disappear. If it didn’t warm the atmosphere, why didn’t it and what did? It does no good for our present state to note that something else happened in the past. There isn’t a conservation of scapegoats.

      • Now, I know you may have heard bad things about other swampland in Florida, this is completely different. Hardly any alligators. Not far from here. I’ll be happy to show you …

      • er, you might want to get your facts straight before posting.

      • But we do not know the amount of energy derived from the CO2 increase, not in the actual climate system. You are confusing conjecture with knowledge. How much, if any, energy the CO2 increase adds to the climate system is the core scientific debate. It sounds like you are making the fallacious (yet familiar) argument that just because CO2 is a GHG, the temperature must go up when the CO2 goes up. That is the starting point for the scientific debate, not the conclusion.

      • Please. There’s a very good estimate. Even Lindzen accepts it. For a given amount of greenhouse gases the amount of energy that falls on the surface of the planet can be calculated from quantum mechanical principles.

        Unless your skepticism is simply automatic gainsaying (Monty Python style) or unless you are promoting solipsism, to contribute to the scientific discussion you’ll need to provide an alternative.

        Critics of “skeptics” say that you don’t have a purpose to your skepticism other than to delay political activity. Without an actual participation in the science, that’s a reasonable response, yes?

      • Have you read the no-feedback sensitivity message traffic here? The physics you refer to does not exist.

      • David, you’ll pardon me if that gets a horse laugh.

      • “… you’ll pardon me if that gets a horse laugh.”

        The amount of attention paid to a horse laugh depends largely on which end of the horse it is coming from.

  15. The observations of Thomas Kelly are true and important to remember. Observing the problems is unfortunately the easy part, the difficult part is deciding, what we can conclude in spite of these problems. These issues have already come up in many recent messages previous threads, in particular in some comments of the latest one on the consilience of evidence. (That these two threads are so close in succession can hardly be pure accident even though the contents of the opening postings are quite different.)

    On my own part I have written my thoughts on the subject in the previous thread to the extent that I have right now little to add.

  16. He’s quite right Judith, but this is intuitive even without a Professorship at Princeton: it’s called Cognitive Dissonance. People will seek out information that confirms their already strongly held convictions and dismiss or ignore information that disagrees with their opinions. This is why Creationists are impervious to scientific arguments about Evolution, for example. The reason for this (in Psychological theory) is simple: people have a motivational drive to diminish dissonance.

    As a sceptic (catastrophic AGW) I’m also somewhat impervious to pro arguments too, as I will freely admit. If I am confronted with an uncomfortable fact, I will go out of my way to find something that contradicts it. In fact I suspect none of us are as open-minded as we like to think we are.

    • You mention the classic interpretation, the one Kelly called “dogmatist” attitude, and which is encountered many time with creationists, and sometimes with climate skeptics.

      However, Kelly have a more subtle interpretation: Facts that go against preconception are not rejected, but examined it much more in depth, and any flaw, innacuracy or logical fault is used to dismiss them (rightly, because they are not so factual after all). On the other hand, confirming facts are accepted after a a quick formal evaluation.
      Except with perfect fact devoid of any uncertainty and ambiguity, the polarization is almost as effective as with dogmatist approach.

      I suspect Keely interpretation is the mostly correct one in the climate debate, but is also present evolution debate (once you have removed the young earth creationists and keep only those who try to use micro/macro evolution, evolution with divine guidance or more subtle attacks, I suspect selectivity is more common than pure dogmatism).
      Mainstream view (evolution and AGW) is mostly devoid of dogmatism.
      But it is far from immune to Kelly selective investigation.

      And the distinction is imho important: Evolution debate and climate debate have both vocal skeptics motivated partly because the mainstream view collide with previous philosophical belief.
      However, they are also different: climate debate have more clear policy consequence, so conflict of interest are more clear (the evolution debate have some political power at stakes too, but I think monetary stakes are more clearly associated with climate debate)
      But the main difference is imho the prevalence of dogmatists in the creationist camp, which is not true in CAGW-skeptics.
      Simply because the facts supporting evolution are of a much higher quality, and thus do not support Kelly-type polarization. Facts behind CAGW are not of the same caliber, so polarization is not only a dogmatist-affair, and it is much more difficult to label a camp as wrong and anti-science.

  17. What is amazing and distressing about that post and the comments, is the number of people who seem to have missed the point that it cuts both ways. It’s not all about attacking the IPCC.

    • I don’t think it’s amazing or distressing. If anything it reinforces much of Kelly’s argument. After all, if you’ve made a rational evaluation of the evidence, then it must be the other side that suffers from dogmatism. But a close reading of Kelly, combined with a bit of critical introspection, should cast some doubt on this. None of us have a monopoly on objectivity, but as Kelly says: “we ought not to despise the Cartesian aspiration to attain a kind of strong neutrality and objectivity, a position from which future inquiry might be conducted in such a way as to be maximally safe from being compromised by the seemingly inevitable weight of past opinion.”
      Previously-formed opinion can be a reasonable guide, but it can also turn into an immovable weight.

    • But those who are lobbying for us to ‘do something’ about CAGW have to believe more things than sceptics do.

      As someone who’s sceptical of the need to ‘act now!’, I could be any one of the following:
      (a) Not convinced that there’s warming at all (it may have stopped)
      (b) Not convinced that there’s an anthropogenic component to warming
      (c) Not convinced that the warming is dangerous to anyone
      (d) Not convinced that it is practical in principle to modify our behavior to diminish warming
      (e) Not convinced that it is practical politically to modify our behavior to diminish warming
      (f) Not convinced that the trade-off of reducing warming is worth the sacrifice of living standards in the developing world
      (g) …. etc….

      However, someone who demands that we ‘Act Now!’ is required to disbelieve all of these. And they have to be right about every one, or they’re condemning us to unnecessary deaths, costs, reduction in living standards, etc.

      As far as bias goes, I personally am convinced of several points in all of (a) to (f), unsure about a couple, and completely unconvinced about a couple [(d), (e)]. If I fervently believed all of them, I would be more concerned about my own bias. I happen to think that the science is at a very early stage and am stunned at the way the large uncertainty in the science has come to be ignored by the media, politicians and some of the scientists themselves.

      Someone who believes we should ‘Act Now!’ must fervently believe in all of the propositions above. To me, that makes it much more likely that bias of some sort is involved. Few people have the expertise to evaluate all of those propositions independently and reach certainty about them.

  18. Wow, this is really an excellent post. Confirmation bias is of course well known, but it is the clearest explanation/definition of it I have encountered.

    I will read the originals articles, should be great if excerpts are so clear already.

    The first conclusion that jump to my mind (and now it will get difficult to change, even if contrary evidence appear ;-) ) is that, in case of strong opposing factions exist on a scientific/technical matter exist, it can be because of 3 non exclusive causes:
    (1) the evidence are in fact not enough to draw any conclusion to an ideally objective observer (if such a being could be found), either because the factions
    (a) have quasi-equivalent theories that predict the same outcome, but only differ in interpretation. It is then intellectual fight that is of no importance outside the small circle of specialists
    (b) have theories that offer no predictions but only ad-hoc interpretations. It is then a non-scientific dispute between competing dogmas, akin religious wars. However, like religious wars, the apparent futility is often a smoke screen for the much more concrete (3)
    (c)the facts themselves are so complex, contradictory and in dispute that both theories are very incomplete and early attempt at a scientific explanation

    (2) the competing factions have theories that have very profound impacts on central human values (religion, political system, philosophy) that are themselves highly polarized. This particular dispute is thus just a small battle in a much larger war.

    (3) the competing factions do not compete on theories, but are promoting the adoption of competing policy/regulation in front of bystanders, policies that will have a lot of impact on future money/power/reputation of the competing factions.

    Regarding the climate dispute, I think we have both (1c), (2) and (3).

    If it was just (1c), normal scientific course should settle the problem sooner or later, either by accumulation of facts, usually of new nature of better quality.
    However, we have (3) that add a lot of urgency, and (2) that garantee the bias will be unusually strong and thus that scientific self-correction may take a lot to kick in. Urgency on one side, and a unusually slow scientific convergence. Very very bad mix….

    • Yes, at some point, a kind of KISS principle kicks in, too. Psychoanalyzing every exponent of every view is prohibitively expensive in time and effort, with very low confidence in the outcome(s).

      So I think what we actually do, and must do in the end, is give priority to one (or a few) key observations (or ‘facts’, or considerations) and more or less consciously adopt that bias in the absence of strong dis-confirmation of those items in particular.

      (It’s no good implicitly or explicitly appealing to some hypothetical Super AI in the Sky that would take in all evidence and evaluate it properly and come to a perfect conclusion.)

      All that said, we’re still going to be left with muddling-through, using tests and arguments and re-phrasings of what is available of real world data and information. As a Denier, however, I demand REAL strong muddling before embarking on “the rollback of industrial civilization”.

  19. Light bulb: personal insight – the climategate emails made me concerned that I had been duped by the IPCC, and I started questioning the stuff that I used to agree with, without having given it adequate scrutiny. Hence, Climate Etc.

    Yes, we were all duped big time!

    1) I think we have been too readily explaining the slow changes over past decade as a result of variability–that explanation is wearing thin. I would just suggest, as a backup to your prediction, that you also do some checking on the sulfate issue, just so you might have a quantified explanation in case the prediction is wrong. Otherwise, the Skeptics will be all over us–the world is really cooling, the models are no good, etc. And all this just as the US is about ready to get serious on the issue.

    We all, and you all in particular, need to be prepared.

    http://bit.ly/eIf8M5

    2) Yeah, it wasn’t so much 1998 and all that that I was concerned about, used to dealing with that, but the possibility that we might be going through a longer – 10 year – period [IT IS 13 YEARS NOW!]of relatively stable temperatures beyond what you might expect from La Nina etc.

    Speculation, but if I see this as a possibility then others might also. Anyway, I’ll maybe cut the last few points off the filtered curve before I give the talk again as that’s trending down as a result of the end effects and the recent cold-ish years.

    http://bit.ly/ajuqdN

    3) Flowed interpretation of data by the IPCC that even a high school does not make (Note that for shorter recent periods, the slope is smaller, indicating decelerated warming.)
    http://bit.ly/b9eKXz

  20. Nice post, Judy. You have a typo. You mean “Prall” et al. (or possibly Anderegg et all).

  21. So, in summary, confirmation bias is huge and it’s no wonder amateur gamblers throw good money after bad?

  22. I am curious as to how my own case fits into this theory. I had spent some 12 years doing post graduate work in Social Psychology and do to my fathers death was forced to take on the family oil business, this being in 1979. Though long before Hanson’s speech in congress or Al Gore, I was familiar with the theory of global warming and gave it enough credence that I thought going into the oil business I was a bit uncomfortable with its implications. I felt I needed to be familiar with its findings. After some consideration, I deemed that “Science” was the journal that was presenting the best and most varied publication of articles of interest. This was during the era of Philip Abelson’s editorship. There were quite a few articles in “Science” at that time concerning global warming and, while some assumed it to be a fact and extrapolated as to its effects, many were attempting to refine the theory. It seemed that while the preponderance of most articles were accepting of global warming many were not. In fact of those examining the basic science, while most were arguments for, a healthy number were critical. Moreover the ones that were critical tended to be more empirically based while the others theoretical. My conclusion during those years was that there was definitely something going on here that warranted any concerned citizens attention, but the basic definition of variables, their weighting and the interaction was far from settled. In fact it looked like science was doing a good job of what science does best, namely carefully examining the logical and the empirical basis of the theory. It was obviously an extremely complex subject and judiciously would take many years, probably decades to get a firm grasp of the problem. I felt comfortable that things were moving along as they should. Suddenly “Science” took a screeching right turn and the articles being published were all supportive of global warming. What to a social science trained mind had seemed to be a realistic and rational progress normal to the development of any discipline, in particularly a scientific one, had been short circuited in an unnatural and disturbing way. A few months after I witnessed the change in “Science” I found that Abelson was no longer the editor. I read a report that he had claimed his lack of unquestioning support for the theories of global warming had much to do with his stepping down. Remember this was in 1984 long before global warming was more that a very occasional curiosity in the medium. I found this quite disturbing and it certainly encouraged me to look for other examples of bias in scientific reporting and in the main stream media over the years. An important example for me was the disconnect between the first IPCC report for scientists and the one for policy makers. Climate gate was only the latest in a long string. I wonder how many others have had this experience.
    The questioning here initially arose out of noticing that the process itself seemed askew and was not such that would support the development of a fair hearing and balanced discussion of the theory. Such a discussion would, at least in my case, necessitate its acceptance whatever the outcome. My questioning most definitely was not the feeling that my knowledge was sufficient to question the conclusions. I continue to read articles, listen to reasonable voices such as Dr. Curry’s, and hope.

  23. Stephen Singer

    Here’s an article Dr. Pielke is commenting on on his website.

    Andreas Bjurström and Merritt Polk, 2011: Physical and economic bias in climate change research: a scientometric study of IPCC Third Assessment Report. Climatic Change DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0018-8

    The abstract reads

    “This study demonstrates that IPCC Third Assessment Report is strongly dominated by Natural sciences, especially the Earth sciences. The Social sciences are dominated by Economics. The IPCC assessment also results in the separation of the Earth, Biological and Social sciences. The integration that occurs is mainly between closely related scientific fields. The research community consequently imposes a physical and economic bias and a separation of scientific fields that the IPCC reproduces in the policy sphere. It is argued that this physical and economic bias distorts a comprehensive understanding of climate change and that the weak integration of scientific fields hinders climate change from being fully addressed as an integral environmental and social problem. If climate change is to be understood, evaluated and responded to in its fullness, the IPCC must broaden its knowledge base and challenge the anthropocentric worldview that places humans outside of nature.”

  24. A characteristic of some of the key sceptics is that they were either not much aware of or didn’t care much about the large number of people who had made up their minds. For them, certain statistics or analyses that had been done were simply so wrong as to be blindingly obvious, and this was annoying enough to do something about. So the weight that people give prior “voting” on an issue varies.

  25. Let’s see if I remember how this was taught me, many moons ago when in a moment of weakness I feigned an interest in psychology.

    Biology (cognition, awareness, ..) precedes pathology, pathology (panic, phobia, ..) precedes belief, belief precedes attitudes and values; attitudes precede perception and delineation; values precede judgment and morals.

    Collapsing biology, pathology and belief into belief, there are seven relevant individual qualities applicable to disagreements: beliefs, values, attitudes, perception, delineation, judgment and morals.

    A scientist may be defined as a person who believes in the primacy of the scientific method.

    We can observe almost no scientists on this basis, as we see other beliefs determine the perception, delineation and judgment applied even to scientific investigations time and again, and run into the problem of pious fraud within the moral framework of the investigator. Thus even peers may differ sharply for reasons unconnected to correctness.

    Still, scientists practice at it as epistemic peers, and as a peer community self-enforce the value-system through indoctrination and other social mechanisms.

    Not all light bulbs explode in science, as science often credibly creates frameworks for evaluating high order evidence in ways that do not create consensus, but rather clarity.

    This of course must be trusted rather than demonstrated, as we almost never know whether we are more dominantly perceiving through the consensus attidudes or judging through valued clarity. If the ultimate test is application to everyday life, it’s likely value trumps attitude in the long run.

    Bloggers, we can plainly see, do not self-enforce such values. Heck, we can’t even self-enforce little niceties like courtesy, capacity for rational processing, or truthfulness. We’re almost all attitude, all the time.

    However, if we admit a supremacy of scientist over we everymen, then the problem of Argument from Authority dooms our discourse as we interpret a white lab coat, tangled white hair and a beaker to substitute for Reason, and we are doing consensus not conclusion.

    So our discourse must allow for a wide purview of beliefs, attitudes, values and what follows from them, even though it means we get to very great differences of perception, dilineation and judgment, and very difficult moral questions.

    The appropriate logic structure, if any, for resolving such a discourse is a distributed tree, such as a Bayesian weighted binary network. Such an approach decomposes arguments to the most elementary propositions, and the more elementary the proposition, as our study itself concludes, the less dispute there will be, all other information ignored.

    At each level of combining subordinate weighted ‘agreements’ let’s call them, the binary tree reduces to two options in their simpler, previously agreed form, in the ideal.

    This harkens to other schemes previously mentioned on this blog, some widely published and discussed decades ago as issue trees, or the like.

    Although very efficient (provably of optimal efficiency), such structures do grow very large and somewhat slower as additional data is added, as the logical decomposition of new data, refreshing connections within the network to rebalance the structure, and other necessary functions to absorb the new condition of knowledge in the community are process intensive.

    That is to say, it makes sense for us to disagree and argue more, the more data we have. Or it may be a pointless feud without resolution.

    This argumentation, or frictional disagreement, even if the minimum disagreement possible in a discussion moving from positions of lesser to greater knowledge, is simply discourse doing its job. Or, it’s a doomed shouting match.

    Order, rigor and disciplined logic are likeliest to resolve such a situation most speedily and correctly, but as we’ve seen before, handing over the decision to those with such traits will slide into Argument from Authority, thence consensus and exploding light bulbs.

    Which means people who want to see answers themselves have to put order, rigor and disciplined logic above all their other beliefs to have a hope.

    Good luck with that.

  26. If confirmation bias and peer pressure are so pervasive, how do we make progress in science? I believe it is often due to new methods/instruments, which often forcefully sweep away prior concepts, even if cherished. There are also incentives to come up with something new and better, and if it truly is better, people often jump on it. When new methods are not available, we can be stuck in ambiguity for ages, as in the question of whether eggs and coffee are good or bad for you.

    • Craig, you write:

      ”If confirmation bias and peer pressure are so pervasive, how do we make progress in science? ”

      I read the post, and it was a well-expressed structural description of psychological bias in science. But I wonder whether, if it were recast in 16th century English and shown to Bacon or Boyle, either would have raised an eyebrow, except to welcome it as persuasive argument for the sort of concepts and practices they were instrumental in instilling in science, and which today we call the Scientific Method. And surely that’s the answer to your question?

  27. Tomas Milanovic

    Amusing exercice which demonstrates many points of the text posted by Judith .

    Somebody has written :

    I expect that the current consensus in climate science will undergo modifications over time in the face of constant challenge. The greenhouse effect was first well described in 1824, and well characterized in 1896. These are not dates signifying the start of active investigation and challenge, however, which started about 60 years ago and has generated an enormous body of evidence, most of which supports the main points of the consensus, with no obvious reason to suspect that contrary evidence has remained untapped (nor underreported, given the blogosphere). This 60 year interval is short enough for us to expect continuing refinement. It is nevertheless sufficient to render an overturn highly unlikely in the light of historical precedents that include Newtonian mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Evolution, Plate Tectonics, Prion Diseases, and Peptic Ulcers. Some of these took hold quickly, while others gradually but progressively dissipated a consensus over the course of decades, so that the scientific literature reflected an increasing level of agreement over time with the new paradigm.

    I only need to change a few words to obtain something I fully agree with.
    Yet the same arguments with negligible differences correspond to very different beliefs :)
    And here is my version :

    I expect that the current consensus in climate science will undergo modifications over time in the face of constant challenge. The greenhouse effect was first badly described in 1824, and then corrected in 1896. These are not dates signifying the start of active investigation and challenge, however, which started about 60 years ago and has generated much speculation and little measurable evidence, some of which supports the main points of the consensus, with no obvious reason but perhaps lack of funding to suspect that contrary evidence has remained untapped (nor underreported during the last decade thanks to the blogosphere). This 60 year interval is long enough for us to notice the lack of progress and of predictive skills in the current consensus theory. It is nevertheless too short to render an overturn likely in the light of historical precedents that include Newtonian mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Evolution, Plate Tectonics, Prion Diseases, and Peptic Ulcers. Some of these took hold quickly, while others gradually but progressively dissipated a consensus over the course of decades, so that the scientific literature reflected an increasing level of agreement over time with the new paradigm. In the face of increasing evidence and development of new paradigms it can be expected that the current consensus theory will disappear within a few decades like the luminiferous ether theory eventually had to disappear within a few decades too.

    • One almost detects period doubling in the pattern of those few words and their initially (negligible?) differences as the word count increases.

      Perhaps I have Lorenz ztuck in my perceptions.

    • I’d accept Fred’s statement (to which you’re referring) wholesale, although I’m pretty sceptical about the whole CAGW thing.

      In 50 years’ or 100 years’ time, the question of the sign and magnitude of the feedbacks to CO2 forcing (for example) will be well known, and Climate Science will have seamlessly and painlessly integrated that information. The science will (or will not) predict doom based much more accurate knowledge than is available to us now.

      The point is, we don’t need there to be a breakdown in Fred’s consensus for the conclusions (about CAGW) to be completely reversed.

  28. ‘For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios.’ AR4

    A negative tendency of the predicted PDO phase (cool Pacific multi-decadal pattern- my addition) in the coming decade will enhance the rising trend in surface air-temperature (SAT) over east Asia and over the KOE region, and suppress it along the west coasts of North and South America and over the equatorial Pacific. This suppression will contribute to a slowing down of the global-mean SAT rise…A near-term climate prediction covering the period up to 2030 is a major issue to be addressed in the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.’ http://www.pnas.org/content/107/5/1833.full

    This seems a fairly fundamental change – and it will have significant political implications as planetary non warming proceeds. This is a practical concern in the nearer term as there remain risks of abrupt climate change – but continues to be undermined by an insistence on a truth that cannot be applied across the board in such a broad field as climate science.

    A quick note on analysis and synthesis might be appropriate. Each of these thousands of – which I might add we can’t possibly devote enough time to understand even a fraction of these – scientific papers is an example (for the most part) of more or less rigorous analysis. This is the realm of data. The AR4 is an example of synthesis – it is a product of politics and psychology. It is evident from the above that the the synthesis is wrong. It is evident from first principles that have nowhere near enough knowledge to complete the synthesis.

    In the meantime – we have everyone but Fred backpedaling furiously form the science is settled meme. Unless the wombats change their narrative – the world will move on. In a way – that would be a good thing.

    • Chief,
      The current physics and science “LAWS” are science settled.
      They also need to be revisited.

  29. Freeman Dyson: No doubt that warming is happening. I don’t think it is correct to say “global,” but certainly warming is happening. I have been to Greenland a year ago and saw it for myself. And that’s where the warming is most extreme. And it’s spectacular, no doubt about it. And glaciers are shrinking and so on.

    But, there are all sorts of things that are not said, which decreases my feeling of alarm. First of all, the people in Greenland love it. They tell you it’s made their lives a lot easier. They hope it continues. I am not saying none of these consequences are happening. I am just questioning whether they are harmful.

    There’s a lot made out of the people who died in heat waves. And there is no doubt that we have heat waves and people die. What they don’t say is actually five times as many people die of cold in winters as die of heat in summer. And it is also true that more of the warming happens in winter than in summer. So, if anything, it’s heavily favorable as far as that goes. It certainly saves more lives in winter than it costs in summer.

    So that kind of argument is never made. And I see a systematic bias in the way things are reported. Anything that looks bad is reported, and anything that looks good is not reported.

    A lot of these things are not anything to do with human activities. Take the shrinking of glaciers, which certainly has been going on for 300 years and has been well documented. So it certainly wasn’t due to human activities, most of the time. There’s been a very strong warming, in fact, ever since the Little Ice Age, which was most intense in the 17th century. That certainly was not due to human activity.

    And the most serious of almost all the problems is the rising sea level. But there again, we have no evidence that this is due to climate change. A good deal of evidence says it’s not. I mean, we know that that’s been going on for
    12,000 years, and there’s very doubtful arguments as to what’s been happening in the last 50 years and (whether) human activities have been important. It’s not clear whether it’s been accelerating or not. But certainly, most of it is not due to human activities. So it would be a shame if we’ve made huge efforts to stop global warming and the sea continued to rise. That would be a tragedy. Sea level is a real problem, but we should be attacking it directly and not attacking the wrong problem.

    http://bit.ly/fMX5nQ

  30. Professor Curry, this is one great post and drills down to the very core of the problem, thank you.

    It is becoming apparent that it is not the common who are having trouble understanding but the pride, hubris, and sunken costs of the members of the academia. The more letters one has behind his/her name, the thicker their blinders tend to be. What should concern all is that theses same people are the ones who are in a position to shape growing minds of the young and, that is a big problem that must be addressed. The shake up at the university level must occur, and soon.

  31. Judith

    Thanks so much for the post.

    Lots of food for thought.

    I will be spending hours and hours here.

  32. So many light bulbs, so little wattage…

    While our philosophical Nero’s keep fiddling, the evidence (actual facts not sophistry presented here) of AGW keeps growing and growing and growing.

    Judith Curry is morphing into Jo Nova.

    • And you my sir are made of the very hubris of which I spoke.

    • In science, if recent observation is nearly identical to past observation, no new theory is required to explain the recent observation.

      This axiom applies to man-made global warming:

      Recent observation: Global warming of 0.48 deg C in a 30-year period from 1970 to 2000
      Past observation: Global warming of 0.45 deg C in the a 30-year period from 1910 to 1940
      http://bit.ly/eUXTX2

      As the recent observation is nearly identical to the past one, man-made global warming is not supported by the observed data.

      Note that from 1940 to 2000, human carbon emission increased by 235 Billion metric tons (current annual human carbon emission is about 8 Billion metric tones).
      http://bit.ly/gIkojx

      Also
      Recent observation: global warming plateau since 2000
      http://bit.ly/e4Nk93

      ianash, yours is just claims of evidence, not supported by the data like the above.

      • Recent observation: Global warming of 0.48 deg C in a 30-year period from 1970 to 2000
        Past observation: Global warming of 0.45 deg C in the a 30-year period from 1910 to 1940.

        ianash, yours is just claims of evidence, not supported by the data like the above.

        The “data like the above” (0.45 °C then 0.48 °C) is subject to the caveat of WoodForTrees’ creator Paul Jones, who wrote “Depending on your preconceptions, by picking your start and end times carefully, you can now ‘prove’ that:
        Temperature is falling!
        Temperature is static!
        Temperature is rising!
        Temperature is rising really fast!”

        In this case Girma has exploited the 65.5 year period of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) by centering the earlier period of 1910-1940 on its zero crossing in 1925 while centering the later period of 1970-2000 on 1985, only 60 years later. This is comparing apples to oranges.

        A fairer comparison is with both periods centered on zero crossings of the AMO. When you do this the later period becomes 1975.5 to 2005.5.

        This might seem like an insignificant change until you actually try it and find that it increases the 0.48 °C rise to 0.57 °C.

        But all this is just mindless “claims of data,” with no insight into what’s actually causing the global temperature to fluctuate up and down. Looking at this graph, we see that the rises of both 30-year periods are combinations of the upward half of the AMO plus the increasing slope of the CO2 contribution (labeled AHL for Arrhenius-Hofmann Law).

        The two principal components of the AMO, with respective periods of 56 and 75 years, were in phase in 1925 and are gradually drifting out of phase, thereby weakening the AMO’s contribution. This weakening is offset by a rising AHL (CO2) contribution.

        Taking the respective slopes (derivatives) of the AMO and the AHL for 1925 and 1925+65.5 = 1990.5, expressed as the rise in 30 years, we obtain the following figures.

        YEAR 1925 . 1990.5
        AMO 0.388 0.223
        AHL 0.101 0.346
        ————————
        TOT 0.489 0.569

        The take-away message here is that while the total slopes at 1925 and 1990.5 are fairly close, even if not as close as Girma observed for the trend lines centered on 1925 and 1985, they are divided between the AMO and the AHL very differently. In 1925 the AMO had the upper hand by almost a factor of four over the AHL. 65.5 years later this had reversed, with the AMO weakening to a little more than half its previous slope (due to drifting out of phase) while the AHL had almost tripled its previous slope (due to a 53 ppmv rise in CO2 in the intervening 65.5 years).

        Looking at data alone without considering the causes of the data does not give the full picture. This is true in general but it’s particularly true in this case.

      • Vaughan Pratt

        I picked the start and end points from the data itself, after detrending the global mean temperature anomaly (GTMA) as shown bellow:

        http://bit.ly/ePQnJj
        The above result gives the following GMTA turning points years:

        [1880,1910,1940,1970, & 2000]

        I have not picked these years. You can directly read them from the above chart.

        I then calculated the global warming rates for the two 30-years warming phases of the 20th century to get a nearly identical warming of about 0.45 deg C.

        http://bit.ly/eUXTX2

      • [1880,1910,1940,1970, & 2000].

        Proof positive that Nature consistently prefers the Christian calendar over the Jewish, Chinese, Indian and other calendars. Every 30 years, exactly on the turn of the Christian decade, she reverses the global HADCRUT3 variance-adjusted temperature trend. ;)

        I have not picked these years. You can directly read them from the above chart.

        Then you may be unfamiliar with the meaning of “Compress (series).” By setting it to 60 in Series 3 you picked January of those years that are multiples of 5, namely 1850, 1855, 1890, up to 2010, a total of 32 samples out of the 1932 HADCRUT3 samples. By further restricting the range to 1880-2010 you further reduced the number of samples to 26. This explains why Nature appears to put the turning points at exact multiples of 5 years. You give her little choice in the matter.

        Given how strenuously climate skeptics object whenever a few temperature samples go missing, I’m surprised you have no qualms about deleting 59 of every 60 samples.

        It is also not correct to say that 1970 can be read from the chart. There are two turning points there, at January 1965 and January 1975, it was you who picked 1970 to represent them.

        And while it is true that your choice of parameters in Series 3 (the blue curve) creates a turning point at 2000, if you change “Compress (series)” in Series 3 by even just one month (to 59 or 61), or by one year (to 48 or 72), that turning point disappears completely. The turning points in your finely tuned chart depend critically on your choice of parameters.

        You are merely playing with numbers while making no attempt to investigate the physical mechanisms underlying those numbers. This is nothing but unscientific numerology. In science one looks for causes and explanations, preferably ones that leave all but a small residue unexplained. In this analysis for example, the r-squared of the unexplained residue is 0.0177 when temperature is analyzed as a pair of ocean oscillations of respective periods 56 and 75 years along with CO2 modeled by the laws of Arrhenius and Hofmann. Moreover the unexplained residue is smaller these days than it was in 1900, 1940, or 1950, notwithstanding the skeptic claims that we are now entering a cooling period. This analysis uses all 1932 samples of the HADCRUT3 record, 60 times what you use. Furthermore all parameters of the model are based strictly on least-squares fitting of the model to the data, whereas you offer no physical justification for the numbers in your plot such as 60, 0.75, 0.396, and 0.518.

      • Vaughan Pratt

        Thanks for your considered reply.

        By taking compress=60, I removed noise by taking five year (5×12=60) averages.

        What I can only say is state Feynam’s advice:

        Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
        given, if you know them

      • Vaughan Pratt

        … whereas you offer no physical justification for the numbers in your plot such as 60, 0.75, 0.396, and 0.518.

        60 (=5×12) is used to remove noise by taking five year averages of global mean temperature anomaly (GMTA).

        0.75 is the parameter for GISTEMP to remove the overall warming (0.576 deg C per century) trend line from 1880 to 2010 so that we only see the oscillations.

        -0.396 is the y-intercept of the overall warming trend line for the year 1880 for the GISTEMP as shown in the chart below

        -0.518 is the y-intercept of the overall warming trend line for the year 1880 for the HADCRUT as shown in the chart below

        http://bit.ly/hTpIzE

      • Vaughan Pratt

        Here are the overall warming trend lines made horizontal

        http://bit.ly/i34zXA

      • Vaughan Pratt

        The difference 0.518-0.396 = 0.122 deg C gives the shift between GISTEMP and HADCRUT

        GISTEMP = 0.122 + HADCRUT

      • Fair enough, that justifies your choice of detrend values.

      • 60 (=5×12) is used to remove noise by taking five year averages of global mean temperature anomaly (GMTA).

        Why are you using compress:60 when mean:60 does a better job in several respects?

        (i) Even though compress:60 uses the same arithmetic as mean:60 (average of 60 months) the result is less smooth.

        (ii) Compress:60 only plots every 60th sample of mean:60, whence any turning points are artificially forced to be at multiples of 5 years.

        (iii) Whereas mean:60 is correctly centered, there is a bug in Jones’ code that results in compress:60 being plotted 30 months early. Hence a turning point that is plotted at January 1940 for example is actually at July 1942. You can see this here for example, where the values of the red curve at 1887.5 and 1892.5 are plotted by the green curve at respectively 1885 and 1890.

        So all these dates you’ve been citing are not real turning points because only multiples of 5 years are plotted. Furthermore they’re off (too early) by 2.5 years.

        When smoothing to a 60-month average, only mean:60 gives an accurate idea of where the turning point really is.

        Numerology is meaningless even when the arithmetic is correct. Inaccurate numerology only compounds its meaninglessness.

        Even if you use mean:60 however it’s still meaningless because you’re inferring from the fact that the sum of the natural and anthropogenic components of the rise is roughly the same for 1910-1940 and for 1970-2000, therefore both components are unchanged. That is, you’re inferring from n + a = n’ + a’ that therefore n = n’ and a = a’.

        As it happens the natural component is several times the anthropogenic component in the former period but only a small fraction of it in the latter.

      • Vaughan Pratt

        That is, you’re inferring from n + a = n’ + a’ that therefore n = n’ and a = a’.

        As it happens the natural component is several times the anthropogenic component in the former period but only a small fraction of it in the latter.

        I don’t infer n = n’ and a = a’

        What I infer is n + a = n’ + a’ = A constant, K

        The globe experienced a global warming rate of n + a = K for the period from 1910 to 1940, and the globe also experienced the same warming rate of K for the period from 1970 to 2000. There is nothing anomalous about a global warming rate of K, as the same warming rate of K had occurred before. You only start to worry when you see a shift in the value of K.

        Fortunately, the value of K had reduced from 0.25 deg C per decade for the period from 1990 to 2000 to only 0.03 deg C per decade in the last decade as shown in the following chart.

        http://bit.ly/d29orm

        Man made global warming will not be supported by the data until the previous warming of about 0.45 deg C in 30 years from 1910 to 1940 is exceeded.

      • Vaughan Pratt

        I thank you for taking the time to discuss with a committed “man-made global warming denier”

        Hat tip!

      • Thank you too. Always happy to compare notes in case either of us has an error somewhere (I know I make plenty of mistakes).

    • Gawd, if you are more interested in blather than outcomes at least have a look at some work that is far more relevant to the issue – denial.

      Robert Trivers work is good – there’s a few of his papers worth looking at but start with “The Elements of a Scientific Theory of Self Deception”.Read the section on “Fictitious Narratives of Intention”.

      Ramachandran’s work also explains how denial works. “The Evolutionary Biology of Self-Deception, Laughter, Dreaming and Depression: Some. Clues from Anosognosia” is a good place to start (read from page 351).

      • ianash, generally speaking there is no issue of psychological denial in the climate debate. Psychological denial refers to denying obvious truths, such as a terminal illness. This is part of what makes the label “denier” so insulting to skeptics.

      • Mind you people on both sides of the debate accuse each other of being in psychological denial. This is the rhetorical frustration of people who are so self centered that they cannot understand how others can honestly and rationally disagree with them. It is quite widespread. You may be an instance.

    • Ianash, the evidence for AGW may be growing in the simple sense that more papers are published every day, but the evidence against AGW grows with it.

    • evidence … of AGW keeps growing and growing and growing.

      … secretly, secretly, in dark evil caves. The very worst kind of evidence, that never ever sees the light of day …

  33. Interesting and articulate expansion on something that is “common sense” to many people.

    A few thoughts, worth what you’re paying for them ;) …
    1) This lesson was thrown in my face in a huge way during Y2k. The way I finally articulated it: “it’s exceedingly difficult for someone to change their mind, once they have taken any action in support of a belief.” [Tasked with discovering what would actually happen on 1/1/00, I did some original research. And was shocked that important issues had never been researched. (e.g. I was the first person ever to contact the engineer responsible for design of the most common embedded timing chip used in myriad appliances, etc.)
    2) I have found the best way to avoid this problem personally is to cultivate humility about what I know, an openness to learning radically new things, a skill at adopting the perspective that I know nothing at all (even if I think I’m quite the expert), and a wide-eyed childlike curiosity that leads me into unfamiliar territory frequently enough that I feel I know less the longer I live (because I’m ever more aware of the infinite opportunity to learn more.) International travel to radically unfamiliar places and cultures is particularly helpful.
    Bottom line: people tend to be overconfident; if we all could learn to adjust for that a bit, we’d be much better off.
    (My current research involves better ways to store, analyze and represent data with “humility.” E.g. how to draw a pie chart without implying overconfidence in the data. The very fact that most data is represented numerically, and is stored/analyzed with “perfect” computers, communicates to ourselves and our audiences that we Really Do Have The Right Answers. Draw all the error bars you like; the average person still looks at it all and says: “Wow, those rocket scientists must have this completely figgered out!”
    Another example: it has been shown that highly repetitive computer calculations involving small changes can easily be continually biased in a non-random direction, due to the very nature of expressing mathematical formulae in discrete bits. I first learned of this the hard way (see this paper) when designing early GIS systems. I suspect this is one of those things GCM scientists would not have taken time to explore, even though to me on the surface it appears to be a probable fruitful area of research for improving our work.
    Final famous example: Electron charge measurements. Took a long time to get it right because we tend to believe that we already know the correct answer.)

  34. (The link is to Thomas Kelly, not Michael Kelly. Michael Kelly is a planner involved in sustainable and green development projects.) :-)

    Hello Judith,

    The thing is to objectively apply this to one’s own understanding of why one disagrees with other rational people. It is a check on one’s own thought processes. A self-assessment. The result of your application of this epistemic approach to yourself is that you are more confident, not less, that you have more insight than the majority of the world’s climate scientists.

    So… using Thomas Kelly’s approach, why do you think it is more reasonable to believe that your climate scientist peers have made a mistake – rather than you? After all, using the total of Kelly’s insights, the rational disagreement of the majority of climate scientists (your equals in access to evidence and capacity to respond to scientific evidence) with your current opinions actually suggests that it is you who would be wrong.

    In other words, what do you see as your special insight (independently of any beliefs about secrets, conspiracies, funding, or other political contrivances)? Why exactly are the majority of the world’s climate scientists not reacting correctly to the available data?

    Most of your peers do not agree with you, so it is not about ‘mixed evidence’ or ‘mixed response’ to the evidence. Contrary to what you have drawn out of it, then, Kelly’s insights about the force of disagreement would actually help better explain why you still believe your response is the more rational, despite the response of your ‘epistemic peers’ who overwhelmingly disagree with you.

    Similarly, I’m afraid that Kelly’s insights cannot really give much support to why you have revised your previous beliefs. Changing your beliefs says nothing in and of itself about why you changed your beliefs, and whether that process of chance (and even your previous support for the science) was based on errors, a lack of understanding of important evidence, political influences, groupthink, or whatever. One needs to demonstrate that the belief is based on an appreciation of the current evidence and an objective ability to self-assess. Indeed, many other scientists have pointed out that in your current discussions of the science you reveal a surprising lack of some foundational knowledge in key areas, and you make unusual or simple errors – so that even when you shared a view, you may not have appreciated the evidence correctly.

    Your belief could be explained in terms of knowledge errors. What’s more, if we extend things into the political sphere, your current beliefs are in line with politics and legislators and the majority of public opinion and industry’s representation of climate change, in the United States. There may be a problem with self-assessment, or social and political analysis. You need to consider this type of influence on your thought and learning processes, using Kelly’s approach — especially if you have no rational explanation for why the majority of your peers i.e., your equals with similar access to the evidence and no apparent cognitive impairment, say you are wrong.

    It is suprising that Kelly’s approach has not led you to an experience of reduced confidence in your beliefs, Judy. I’m curious what would cause you to revise your beliefs, and how you see the special nature of your insight and capacity to respond to the evidence. These are the kinds of questions posed, using Kelly’s approach.

    • I dunno, Martha. You add in a couple of Nobel prize winners in physics, the odd MIT guy, Freeman Dyson, et al, and Judith seems to be in pretty good company.

    • Martha,
      You are wrong. Deal with it.

      • Hunter, when you have read one scientific paper, you can comment. Until then, back into the hill country with the other hillbillys…

      • Well, ianash, it looks like you just single-handedly lost the hillbilly vote for the “cause.” Do you really think the bunny-muffin and zit-popper portion of the electorate is all you need to push your lefty agenda over the top? I hope that’s what you think.

      • Well mike I guess I cant count out the right wing baby boomer portion as well. So long as you are comfortable in your middle class existence, that’s all that matters. I’ll tell the folks in Kirribati you say hi. And the folks in Sri Lanka, currently under water. Gee it must be great to know everything about the world – when you almost certainly haven’t traveled out of the US. Your kids must be so proud of your denial…

      • “And the folks in Sri Lanka, currently under water…”

        You really know people, “currently under water”, ianash? Your visitations to the far corners of the globe have certainly exposed you to some “folks” with unique amphibian adaptations to putative rise in ocean levels. On the other hand, if Sri Lankans can live successfully underwater then I expect the rest of us “folks” can, as well–so nothing to worry about with the rising ocean levels business, it seems. I was a little concerned until you relieved my worry.

        Incidentally, are the “folks” in Kirrabati [sic] living underwater too? Maybe that’s why my old Kirabati pals sound like they’re blowing bubbles when we chat on the phone.

        Baby-boomer and proud, ianash.

      • When I was a kid, I heard the word ‘flood’ so often on the news that it was part of my vocabulary long before I knew what it meant.

    • Martha, I assume you’re posting in good faith, not just trolling because you disagree with Judith.

      You do realize that your whole, long, comment is just an Argument from Authority, don’t you?

      I agree with you (and with Judith’s post) that every scientist involved in all of this climate stuff should examine their own conscience and reason for their beliefs closely. Do you honestly believe that the bulk of the consensus have actually done this? (Please don’t bother answering, I’m being rhetorical, I know you’ll just say ‘Yes’. I want you to think about it, though).

      My view is that it takes much more courage to reverse oneself and place oneself outside the tent, than it does to remain inside it huddled for warmth and protection. Even if Judith turns out to be wrong, I think she’ll be wrong for the right reasons – thinking independently, making her own assessment of the evidence, acting according to conscience.

      • “Martha, I assume you’re posting in good faith, not just trolling because you disagree with Judith.”

        Beats a sycophantic echo chamber, don’t you think?

    • Martha,

      It is interesting that you spend most of your time here trying to undermine our host. This makes me wonder if you feel slightly threatened by her. What’s the problem, is it Judith’s enlightened approach and willingness to challenge the scientific orthodoxy? What is it that threatens you, Martha? Are you a little frightened? Perhaps you perceive Judith to be a challenge to the foundations of your political beliefs in which case your point of view is tainted by bias and little you say on her scientific opinions can have much merit.

      When I mentioned Judith’s challenges to the scientific orthodoxy, we should not over-reach ourselves. You make many assertions about her opinions that are not justified by what she has said. By my reckoning, Judith does not deny most of the scientific basis of AGW. In reality, all she has done is question the ‘certainty’ of some of the IPCC’s pronouncements concerning the magnitude of AGW. She has also highlighted certain weaknesses in the IPCC’s analysis and methodology by pointing to areas that are poorly understood. This is a scientific approach and hardly bucks the consensus does it? But it does make you uncomfortable doesn’t it? Are the foundations of your political beliefs shaking a little, perhaps? Or is it that Judith discusses these matters with people that don’t share your view of the world? If so, that is disappointingly narrow minded.

      I think the point of this post is to encourage a little self reflection. Rather than practising your psychology on other people, perhaps you might consider a little navel gazing yourself rather than boring us with your inane psycho babble.

      • You have such a frail grasp of reality that you criticize Martha when all she is doing is showing you the massive holes in the denialist mantra?

    • Thank you for your comments, Martha.

      I’m looking for the missing Tropical Tropospheric Hot Spot.

      Might you know where it is?

      Is it near Dr Trenberth’s missing heat?

      Any help appreciated.

      • ‘How Jo Nova doesn’t get the tropospheric hot spot':
        http://www.skepticalscience.com/How-Jo-Nova-doesnt-get-the-tropospheric-hot-spot.html

        Detecting the tropospheric hot spot is not a test of the greenhouse effect but of the moist adiabatic lapse rate. Data uncertainty and long-term biases mean detection of the hot spot has been difficult. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the hot spot exists. But if you cannot accept this evidence, to be strictly correct, what you are is a moist adiabatic lapse rate skeptic.

      • How skepticalscience doesn’t get the tropospheric hot spot-

        Detecting the tropospheric hot spot is not a test of the greenhouse effect, but of the accuracy and believeability of the IPCC models. Lack of evidence after millions of radiosonde runs from hundreds of sites globally over 5 decades means that the hot spot is likely not there. That means the IPCC models are not correct or that the earth is not warming as much as IPCC claims, or both.

    • Martha,

      How dare you!

      As the team members above have indicated, all right-thinking people understand that this article confirms what we already knew – that Judith is right.

    • Martha, the answer to your question is that I have stopped using the “higher order evidence” of what my peers thought, and started taking a deep look at the evidence and arguments for myself. Being a fan of Feynman, I certainly had these words in mind:

      “…there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in ‘cargo cult science’… It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards… For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it… Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.”

      Am I smarter than anyone else? No. Is my scientific judgment better than anyone else? No. But it is MY scientific judgment. The specific content of my scientific judgment shouldn’t be of any particular import to anyone other than me, but I am hoping that my arguments are of some relevance and the process that I am going through is instructive and challenges people to think through these issues for themselves.

      Another Feynman quote:

      “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.”

      • Of interest, with regards to climate science, Feynman went on,

        “…I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things.”

      • “utter honesty” passage of Feynman makes me teary eyed. That is what I love about studying and working in science and engineering – be true to the observation.

        Unfortunately, the “scientific community” is completely compromised regarding man-made global warming theory.

        For example, look at the worry of Phil of what he would cope from the “scientific community” if he spoke the truth:

        The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.

        http://bit.ly/6qYf9a

        That was no warming for 7 years.

        Now, it is no warming for 13 years.!

        http://bit.ly/fMwWl1

        Extremely sad.

        Where are the Feynmans of the 21st century?

      • Invoking Feynman – now I gotta get a beer.

    • Martha

      Most of your peers do not agree with you

      Martha, your question has been answered in the following paragraph of the above post.

      The general moral: even in cases in which opinion is sharply divided among a large number of generally reliable individuals, it would be a mistake to be impressed by the sheer number of such individuals on both sides of the issue. For numbers mean little in the absence of independence. 

  35. Martha,

    I have no doubt you are well intentioned. But as I have posted here – http://judithcurry.com/2011/02/18/epistemology-of-disagreement/#comment-44238 – I keep asking the question of what happens to carbon reduction politics if the IPCC are wrong about the warming trend in these next few decades. As they would seem to be from this peer reviewed study cited – and many others I might add.

    I would like people to move on to what we do about carbon emissions. To my mind it involves a host of direct measures – and importantly – stepping up to and going beyond the millennium development goals.

    Simply asking loaded questions is not going to help. I want you to change your mind – have a look at the paper cited and ask yourself a what if. What if the planet doesn’t warm for another decade or three?

  36. “The link is to Thomas Kelly, not Michael Kelly…”

    LOL…maybe she means Dr Michael Kelly from UEA CRU. At least he is worth listening to.

    • Indeed he is. It was Michael Kelly who as a member of the Oxburgh enquiry wrote notes which included:

      “(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least
      the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real
      experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a
      very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply
      because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.”

      He concludes with

      “My overall sympathy is with Ernest Rutherford: “If your experiment needs statistics, you
      ought to have done a better experiment.””

      I leave it to others to reconcile the Oxburgh Report as published with Kelly’s contribution to it as best they can.

      Kelly’s full text is here
      http://bishophill.squarespace.com/storage/kelly%20paper.pdf

  37. Thank you for posting the extended excerpts, Judith. They point in a good direction. And they remind me of Pascal, the 17th century Catholic seeker and mathematician, whose works are pervaded with the realization that there is evidence both for and against his deepest beliefs. This awareness profoundly informs his observations about individual and social psychology.

    Pascal recognized that the will plays a huge role in epistemology. Unfortunately, the mechanistic, Cartesian science against which he struggled had little room for this realization. The mechanistic world view seems to have largely won, leaving much of modern science (and much of modern religion also) with what might be described as a crippled epistemology.

    It is true that, in relation to the CAGW thesis, that semi-Pascalian “wager” concepts have been introduced in the last few years. But I tend to read them as more a rhetorical strategy for persuading the unconvinced than as describing fundamental uncertainties. Pascal, on the other hand, seems to have accepted uncertainty as a much more profound reality.

    Here is a sample of Pascal’s thinking on epistemology, with emphasis on the will:

    “The will is one of the chief factors in belief, not that it creates belief, but because things are true or false according to the aspect in which we look at them. The will, which prefers one aspect to another, turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does not like to see; and thus the mind, moving in accord with the will, stops to consider the aspect which it likes, and so judges by what it sees.” Pascal, Pensees, #99

  38. “The biggest tragedy is to believe that the limit of our perception is the limit of all there is to perceive”. Leadbetter
    Whereas we might usually apply this aphorism to the universal collective, it is useful also to reflect and apply it to ourselves as individuals.
    For some, Thomas Kelly’s work is confirmation of common sense: the maxim being of course that good sense is, indeed, not that common. For others, Kelly’s ideas are a reformulation and application of cognitive dissonance theory. And for a couple of frequent posters, the ideas apply to the rest of us but not to them.
    Personally, I think that for many invested in the art and politics of climate science, the blogosphere and associated fields, Kelly’s ideas are indeed an invitation to their own “light-bulb” moments and a realization as to the intransigence of the dialogue.
    Now the challenge: are we sufficiently trusting and collaborative to create a forum where we can rise above our respective programming, our ideological narratives and presuppositions, and actually learn from each other? Judith’s might be the first and only blog that offers that opportunity: are we denizens up for the task?

  39. Wow, excellent excerpts. I found that his analysis, while stated more clearly than I could have done, was on the whole quite consistent with how I perceived the way people analyze competing bits of inconclusive information.

    We try to train our graduate students to think objectively and critically about their data, even the parts that seem to make perfect sense. It would be good to actually educate them (and us) on the social basis for why this is necessary (and hard) to do.

    But you’ve ruined me. Because I already believed what Kelly wrote, he has only served to reinforce my beliefs. You have made it much more likely that I will fail to properly consider future evidence that my beliefs are incorrect. Thus, I have gained little or no new knowledge, but have become less logical and rational in the process. Your post is a disservice to all those who agree with Kelly.

    Furthermore, those who disagree with Kelly will probably consider themselves to have wasted quite a bit of time plowing through the extended excerpts.

    Face it, this blog posting was so good that it should never have been written.

    P.S. I hope those were LED bulbs, or at the very least compact fluorescents.

    • *snicker*

    • John N-G

      “Face it, this blog posting was so good that it should never have been written.”

      On the other hand, your post here and some others on CA have actually minutely changed one of my own biases. I had believed that US citizens were culturally incapable of genuine satire or irony – way too literal – and this may still be true of most … I have been in the US on work projects quite a few times, btw

      But now I’m a teensy-weensy bit lukewarm on this. So perhaps Kelly is wrong – hard but inconclusive evidence may change one’s views, despite preconceptions. Even so, in order to prevent confirmation bias we shall have to burn all his books and dematerialise his courses. Only then can we feel safe

    • John N-G,
      You present a valid point. Finding the right balance of trust and mistrust on any difficult issue is not solved by recognizing that finding the right balance is difficult. One must continuously fight against the preference of accepting confirmatory evidence, but avoid turning this fight to unjustified rejection.

      What can one do? I think the only solution is in searching for better understanding of the real issue, going once more through the earlier evidence as well to reduce prior bias.

      The worst solution is choosing a dogmatic attitude to the whole science and to it’s capability to produce evidence.

      • I think that fighting confirmation bias, especially the subtler form described by Kelly, is a lost cause. Because the only way to fight it is to abandon human pattern matching and narative way to consider new evidence, to replace it by a some sort of global probabilistic fact assessment system. But the human brain is so much more efficient using the “traditional” biased way that advertising something more “brute force” is counterproductive.

        So the imho the bias is natural and even desirable for building scientific theories and explanations (at least until computers have a go at it ;-) ).

        But in the climate debate, imho, it has gone too far and has become a hindrance instead of a good heuristic to prune dead-end theories.

        What should improve things somewhat is to:
        -shake large normative bodies, which solidify bias through peer pressure
        -separate as much as possible science from activism and policy making. Those other process have accumulated a prodidious amount of bias through competing world view, and by framing the science inside those external pressure (using newly published science almost immediately in policy making decision, direct funding of studies by organisation defending particular policies), one is garanteed to maintain polarization.

        But, above all, focus on data gathering. I think at this stage the accumulated bias is so large that there is not much hope of going back.
        The model/prediction part of climatology is the spear of one of the polarized pole (the alarmist one), so far engaged that redeption will not come from there (and italmost never do in science).

        On the other hand, new experimental evidence has historically allowed to shake established school of though. Slowly, not perfectly, but if new facts are numerous enough, but especially solid and unambiguous enough to stand the scalding attention given to stuff that do not fit, consensus can be shifted and polarization reduced. So I think that trying to build as numerous datasets as possible, of the highest quality, is the only thing that can heal climatology.
        It means either a new technique for much better paleoclimatology…Or waiting enough to have reliable global climate data (more than just sparsely gridded T) on a timescale representative to the identified oscillations.

      • Trust? I trust everyone to act in their own perceived self interest. As for scientific work, I evaluate that first on how carefully it was done, to the point of being almost pathologically critical. After all the media coverage, I read AR(?), and concluded it didn’t meet my standards for being considered as an information source. So I went to some of the published papers. Here again, same conclusion. So I find it interesting, but not conclusive.

        Which leads to another cause of disagreement – stronger or weaker gatekeeper functions .

    • I would put John N-G’s comments less subtly. In effect this whole idea about confirmation bias, itself suffers from confirmation bias. It could be nothing, but how would we know that? I would leave meta-thinking for the philosophers and prefer to debate the core science point by point.

  40. I haven’t read this article, but I know it’s wrong.

  41. Imagine, if you will, an academic.

    Not a great academic but a good one. Who does good work in a reasonably good academic institute.

    Imagine, that this person is married to another academic in the same institution.

    Both do good work in the field of atmospheric science. Both make a reasonable living but…academia wont make you rich. So what to do?

    “We have knowledge and we can sell it. Why not sell it?”
    “Sell it to who?”
    “Industry.”
    ” Which industry?”
    “Fossil fuel – oil, coal, you know…”
    “So, we work with the industries which have the most to lose from climate change?”
    “Yep.”
    “How do we sell it to them? They think we are against them?”
    “Uncertainty.”
    “Huh?”
    ” If we play up the uncertainty and that they have to prepare for uncertainty we can make money – easy!”
    “And our reputations?”
    “Well, we might need to ‘reposition’ ourselves…”
    “Reposition?”
    “Move from explaining the urgency of the problems of global warming to supporting anyone who expresses concern about uncertainty”
    “Hmmm…”
    “It’s easy. Set up a consultancy business. Sell reports to industry. .”
    ” How do we build credibility? We’ve been against these morons for years?”
    “Uncertainty.”
    “huh?”
    “Set up a blog. Pretend that we want to hear their views. Get the rubes to post and post and post…We can use this as our cred for the oil and gas industries. The neocons will hail us as heroes – we jumped from ‘them’ to ‘us’!”
    ….
    “Nobody would fall for that!”
    “You’d be surprised…”

    • Fabulous insights Ianash. My goal in life is to be a hero to the neocons. As for the fossil fuel industry guys, please tell them how to find me. Right now, this blog is operating at a loss: in terms of $$ to pay wordpress and godaddy, not to mention the $$ opportunity loss of my time.

      • You can explain how much your consultancy has made from fossil fuel organisations – even order of magnitude – tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands.

        Don’t play dumb – the website is a lead-loss for the consultancy…

      • My company forecasts hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico for an oil company, which is actually quite expensive in terms of purchasing data and paying forecasters (a lot of work and not much profit margin). The website for Climate Etc. is paid for by overhead from the company (which has other clients besides the oil company), with funds that would have otherwise landed in my pocket. Your point?

      • That you speak with a forked tongue.

        That you compromise your ethics on this website.

      • You seem to not understand the difference between a contract to do forecasting, versus consulting, which you seem to think amounts to spouting off opinions for or against AGW, depending on who is paying you. Nobody that I know of gets paid consulting funds for this sort of thing (7 years ago, maybe); Joe Romm and Pat Michaels receive salaries from their respective employees (Center for American Progress, Cato), the funds for each of these institutions being derived from a range of sources (see previous thread on Heartland, Cato). Fred Singer pointed out that the entire annual budget for SPPI is $100K/yr, which he says does not pay any salaries. The bottom line is that very few people get paid just for spouting off their opinions (and they aren’t scientists). The fossil fuel companies spend their $$ on lobbyists, not on bloggers spouting off their opinions.

      • The website for Climate Etc. is paid for by overhead from the company (which has other clients besides the oil company), with funds that would have otherwise landed in my pocket. Your point?

        Well, if there’s no legitimate business reason for your business funding this site, I do hope you’re not counting it as a business expense on your taxes.

        The IRS tends to frown on using one’s business to fund one’s hobbies.

      • worry not dhogaza, this website generates information used in reports for funded activities that are well worth the $100 per year or so that gets spent on this site.

      • OK, Dhogaza and Iannash, that’s enough nonsense from the both of you. Judy should feel no need to reply.

        My reasons for saying that:

        First, accusing her of ulterior motives, or implying such motives without evidence is scurrilous.

        Second, regarding much in the way of mainstream climate science views, she, you, and I all agree.

        Third, I have found her performance here and elsewhere always honorable, with no hint that she is driven by a hidden profit motive.

        Fourth, I feel qualified further to judge fairly because I don’t always agree with her. In particular, I tend to disagree with her on the level of uncertainty she appears to deem warranted in this thread and the consilience thread. Those views are subject for legitimate exchange of views in a civil manner- meaning one not poisoned by inuendo or insult.

      • Thank you Fred. Unfortunately I feel I need to respond to such silly accusations to kill further conspiracy style investigations to my motives, my company, etc.

      • Well said, Fred!

      • Well said indeed.

      • No Fred let them continue. It makes a good point.
        about them.

      • Agreed … it’s interesting to see just how much Judith C scares them

      • Recall when the first skeptics published. Mann’s response was to hunt down the bad guys inside the bunker. Anytime you have a bunker mentality its easy to turn those inside the bunker against each other.

        Going forward the message control inside the bunker becomes firmer and firmer.. till you hit the breaking point. That’s coming

      • +1 Fred.

        Ianash, that’s no more credible an argument than the oft-heard ‘they are doing it for the research grants’.

        There are more than enough legitimate grounds to disagree on.

      • Fred,
        Well said but it misses the point.

        You have someone who was considered a mainstream scientist now acting as a defacto poster girl for the denial movement. Sure the debate here is at a higher level than the feral ramblings on WUWT and similar sites but the end effect is the same – it promotes further denial and inaction.

        All the guff about uncertainty is just a feeble screen – the denialists hear the dog whistle (uncertainty = no AGW). It makes them salivate. (And I pretty sure you know that no amount of civil discourse will change their minds if the vast amount of evidence has failed to do so. )

        So what to do? Well I think questioning the motives of the blogger is a legitimate activity. Find out whether the blogger has financial motives for presenting certain views in certain ways. It’s easy for the blogger to overcome this criticism – practice what she preaches. Openness. Transparency. List all the direct and indirect funding she receives on her website. Kills the debate instantly.

      • All that may well be true , but I don’t think there’s any need to suggest that Judith’s forecasting work is the reason for the position’s she takes. AFAIK, that work predates this blog by some considerable time.

        As I said above, there are more than enough grounds to critique the views here , without wild speculation on personal gain as a motive.

        Just remember, that’s the denialists game. Do you really want to sink to their level?

      • odd request from an anonymous set of pixels. Do you see how silly that request is coming from you?

        Many of us have been calling for openness and transparency for about 4 years. In fact, its part of the Lukewarmer way.
        We ask for openness and transparency in Data and Code.

        Why? because then motives dont matter. Motive hunting always worsens the debate since no one is motiveless. Thats WHY we focused on data sharing and code sharing, which is really POWER sharing.

        And we use our names when we make these requests.

      • Ianash
        “All the guff about uncertainty is just a feeble screen”

        It’s a realistic appraisal of the current state of scientific knowledge.

        “the denialists …. no amount of civil discourse”

        Civil discourse? Ever actually try it?

        Who did you address your complaint to at my place of work? No-one seems to be able to find the letter you sent. Was it email or surface mail?

      • Indeed.

      • ianash: “Kills the debate instantly.”

        And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Stopping any discussion because the answers are too painful for you to bear. It certainly shows the weakness of your position. No wonder you are frightened.

      • Still waiting to see an open list of funding sources form Dr Curry.

      • NSF, NASA, NOAA, DOD, (unnamed energy company), World Bank, (unnamed private sector companies that have nothing to do with energy, coal, etc), also an unnamed NGO in Asia

      • Still waiting for an answer to this question:

        Who did you address your complaint to at my place of work? No-one seems to be able to find the letter you sent. Was it email or surface mail?

      • ianash, you promised tallbloke a pathetic little letter of complaint to his employer. He in turn has, understandably, and thinking you a man of your word, promised his mates that any day their drab existence will be leavened by a burst of mirth at a choice piece of juvenile drivel dropping through the letter-box in their Big House where they all live. He is obviously losing face every day that passes without the arrival of the promised billet-doux. His mates are shuffling desperately through the gas bills and the final demands, looking for the envelope with the un-joined-up writing in green ballpoint, but in vain. This is obviously an ugly situation for tallbloke, and could get worse. Do the decent thing. Honour your promise. Send your complaint.

      • “desperately going through the gas bills and the final demands, looking for the envelope”

        Lol. With all the cutbacks going on in the UK education sector, this is uncomfortably close to the truth.

      • David L. Hagen

        ianash
        And we are waiting to see if one “ianash” has the guts to provide a full disclosure of his funding to try to understand why he is making such a fool of himself. I won’t hold my breath.

      • Check with the Vice-Chancellor’s Office. Copy also sent to David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.

      • Dr. Curry,
        You are experiencing what skeptics have been experiencing for years.
        I am sorry that you are having to see it so raw and personally. You will never convince the true believer you are anything other than a schill or front.

    • What a truly pathetic effort, ianash. I see you have joined Martha in attacking the blog host rather than addressing the arguments. You obviously feel as threatened as Martha. What’s up fella? Can you feel the shifting winds of change? It hurts doesn’t it?

      • Rob,
        Their postings (almost wrote, ‘posings’ – might have been a Freudian slip ;-) ) strongly support my contention that beliefs trump everything else – including common sense.

    • Uh-oh, looks like a level 5 Romm-ulan. Shields up!

    • Imagine instead being an academic and reading that the federal govt is forking out $60 million to a rural sociologist to study farmers’ attitudes about global warming. And knowing that 60 million is but a speck out of the tens of billions being spent to promote global warming, I think it far more likely that an intelligent academic would be smart enough to see where all the money really is.

    • The problem is that over reliance on faith, as we see so often on the believer side, leads to inability to realize the believer could possibly be wrong or that the heretic or skeptic could be anything other than cynical and wicked.

    • Ianash, how dare you exact an ad hominem on Dr. Curry, you pinko-commy, red-bellied, martini-sipping marxist, Gucchi-socialist, anti-true science progressive liberal pile of dog-manure.

  42. A very thought-provoking and interesting long excerpt, thanks.
    Dr Kelly’s observations are supported by many ‘real life’ experiences of situations one has found oneself in.
    There is just one quibble I have, and that is the use of ‘belief, believe’ in regard to science.

    I’m certainly no spring chicken, so attitudes may well have changed in science faculties, so is it no longer taught that science generally, and especially in its expression through experiments, has got nothing at all to do with ‘belief’?
    Isn’t it rather the case that one accepts an experiment-based discovery or theory – until a new and better explanation is found, again through experiment and observation?
    Surely a mathematician doesn’t ‘believe’ that 2 + 2 = 4, but knows and can prove why that is the case.
    Surely a biologist doesn’t ‘believe’ in evolution, but knows that so far this is the best explanation of the phenomena seen in nature, supported by evidence from geology.
    Surely the point of ‘belief’ is that one doesn’t or cannot question this belief.
    Surely scientists know, or ought to have been taught that questioning is what their profession is all about – questioning the explanations for phenomena observed in nature; questioning the explanations of other scientists to see if these explanations are congruent with what actually is the case.
    So – why are we exhorted to ‘believe’ when it is about climate science? Why has questioning suddenly become something to beware of, when in should be applauded?
    Strong arguments, strong experimental evidence withstands questionings. Weak evidence seems to be in need of defense by insisting on blind belief. And isn’t that something to do with religion, which – or so I’ve been taught – has no place in science?

  43. Actually belief is a fairly fundamental word in epistemology. There is evidence-based belief (developed through the scientific process) and faith-based belief (religious). Too much attention to higher order evidence from other people’s scientific opinion starts to become faith-based belief (faith in other people’s ability to draw the correct conclusions from scientific evidence.)

    • The crux is in the word “too”.

      Too much attention to the stated opinions of others stops criticism necessary for the development of science, perpetuates bias and may misrepresent science for decision makers.

      Too little trust in the others leads to excessive repetition, fruitless formal checks and slowdown of the progress. It may also misrepresent the science for decision makers.

      How to find the right balance, or how to know that it has been found?

    • It’s a serious error to equate religious belief with scientific belief that, in epistemological terms, is a different beast entirely – justified belief.

    • One of the standard definitions of knowledge used in epistemology is “justified, true belief.” (Coined originally by Rod Chisholm (sp?) in the 1960’s I believe.) Thus knowledge is a subset of belief (and scientific knowledge is a subset of that). People confuse this with another ordinary concept of belief which stands over against knowledge. Natural languages are messy this way and much confusion follows. In epistemology belief is basically everything everyone thinks, so it is all there is as far as the people side of the issue of truth and knowledge goes.

      David the epistemologist

    • Judith,

      That is funny! :-)

      I try to have faith in my politicians that they will do the right thing until I read their platform. They seem to always throw in the AGW card and how we need environmental changes while backing the automotive industry.

    • Judith,
      I don’t think that beliefs are really based on anything.
      We don’t make conscious decisions on whether or not to believe something, we just do. It’s just like we can’t really say why we love someone or what caused us to love them. We may think we do, but do we really?
      Whether we describe our beliefs as evidence-based or faith-based is probably more to do with which they happen to coincide more closely with than which they’re based on.

      • Peter,

        That is only to what you have interests in.
        I talk to my wife on science and the blinders come up.
        She talks to me on cooking and my blinders come up.

      • Joe,

        What makes you interested in science? What makes your wife interested in cookery?
        Can you remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news about your interest in science?
        Beliefs are much the same.

      • Peter,
        I was never interested in science until about 6 years ago. I have a unique talent and challenge myself to answer questions in science and physics that made very little sense with the theories incorporated. Totally foreign to my comforted knowledge base.

      • Peter, it is true that we do not decide what to believe, not in the sense that we decide where to sit. It does not follow that our beliefs are not based on reasons and reasoning. You are sneaking up on the issue of free will and determinism, which is where the distinction between epistemology and psychology lies.

      • David,
        (some of) Our beliefs may be based on reasons and reasoning (i prefer to think that they ‘agree with’ rather than ‘are based on’).
        My point is, without knowing how or why any particular belief comes about, we have no real way of knowing whether or not it’s borne out of reason.
        An alternative explanation might be that our reasoning is coloured by our beliefs – that we tend to look for evidence which supports our belief, and ignore evidence which goes against it.
        Sometimes, the only real basis for our belief(s) is that we’ve not (yet)encountered any compelling reason not to believe. All the people whose views we respect believe, so why shouldn’t we?
        Until one day we come across some hard evidence which contradicts our belief, at which point we are forced to re-examine our belief – and it can then dissolve like a puff of smoke.

  44. It is “generally” thought that disagreements between “scientists” are overcome by evidence, time, and reflection. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that everyone on the planet is a board certified, PhD, Climatoligist with 40 years of meaningful experience. Now, let’s say that we all agree on the “science” of Global Warming caused by CO2 (and every other contributing factor). Now, let’s say that the only thing we have to do now is answer the question “How do we solve the problems and save the planet?” Did a light bulb just come on? Do you see the problem? It’s a VERY BIG PROBLEM.

    EVEN IF EVERYONE ON PLANET EARTH AGREES ON THE SCIENCE IT REALLY ISN’T GOING TO SOLVE ANYTHING OF ANY SIGNIFICANCE REGARDING ANTHROPROGENIC GLOBAL WARMING CAUSED BY CO2 (or anything else). Once you leave the lab, the classroom, the library, or turn off your computer, you’re right back in the real world of real people with real problems and real politics, and the cuberoot of all real politics is real money — My money, Your money, and Everyone else’s Money. It would be like discovering how to build a Warp Drive engine and then being told you have to sell yourself and family into slavery for the next thousand years to build it so Al Gore & Co. can take a ride into the history books. (Well that’s one way to look at it;-)

    There are essentially only a few ways for humans to handle “disagreement” –
    a. Agree to Disagree
    b. Ignore the Problem
    c. Talk Forever
    d. Call Each Other Names
    e. Total War

    • pascvaks,

      Problem is that when making a prediction on an insignificant part of science such as temperatures to the exclusion of about 12 processes on the go that are not investigated, will make the whole area of science look incompetent.

      • So true! Real Science is a real itch spelled with a Big B. I understand that perfection, and some place called Utopia, doesn’t exist; well that’s what I learned at my Mommy and Daddy’s knees. (I think;-)

      • Hmmm…Smart parents and good upbringing.

        Too bad scientists didn’t learn that lesson as well. :-)

  45. Wonderful post.

    Judith, are you compiling a Summary of it for Policymakers?

  46. Kelly’s description of polarity is the most articulate I have ever seen. This issue is certainly central to the debate over the climate debate (which is a big part of the climate debate). Who is biased and what does that mean, for example. Unfortunately Kelly’s attempted explanations repeatedly combine epistemological and psychological elements. These are fundamentally different sorts of explanation so the result is simply garbled.

    He also makes some strong empirical claims, for which we need to see a lot of evidence. For example he claims that people frequently see fallacies in their opponent’s arguments that they do not see in their own arguments. While this certainly happens, I have not observed this as a general pattern in the climate debate, in my 19 years of study.

    • David,
      If you have a closed mind, you would not be able to see.
      As I keep planting my seeds, the slow wake up is inevitable.

    • That’s very bad news for the British taxpayer, as the government here will almost certainly step in to make up the shortfall :-(

    • Tallbloke,

      And the perfect excuse is born…

      Funding cuts cut off vital research into the current climate conditions that could have predicted what is to come.

      • The US isn’t cutting funding research, the IPCC does no research. They are cutting funding to a political organization. We can only hope more countries do the same.

    • They are not trying to defund EPA per se, just stopping them from enacting CO2 controls on the grounds that this is a legislative issue. Their argument is that Congress did not intend the Clean Air Act as written so far to apply to greenhouse gases and climate change, so EPA is trying to do “back door legislation” in regulating CO2. When the Democrats were trying to pass cap and trade legislation the greens invoked the threat of EPA action, so now the Republicans are trying to remove that threat. Threatening Congress with Executive branch action is a bad plan, because Congress is in charge.

      However, it is unlikely that this budget law will pass in any case. EPA will probably be stopped by other legislative means, if it can be stopped. Enjoy the show.

  47. THe Carbon Brief twittered about the New surae temp project (berkley) being funded by the Koch brothers…

    Does this mean that the activist now think JUdith has completed her journy – consensus scientist – silly to talk to sceptics – bad science – heretic – deniar
    (oil funded of course)

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/18/the-carbon-brief-the-european-rapid-response-team/

    An example of a big green very well funded EU propaganda machine ? (very good political connections as well..)

  48. Surely there is only so far you can take this sort of argument before any sense of objective scientific truth goes flying out of the window.

    Your job Judith is to do the experiments that get us closer to the truth rather than find ways of undermining the whole adventure?

  49. I need an edit function!!!!

    Carbon Brief
    http//twitter.com/carbonbrief:

    Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, according to Joe Romm, is flawed. Because Koch Industries part-funded it? See http://bit.ly/ibdBGy
    12:24 PM Feb 16th via CoTweet

    AndrewSimms_nef Thanks to @carbonbrief for producing the one-stop rebut shop on all your favourite climate change deniers: http://t.co/ro50HS6
    1:39 PM Feb 16th via web
    Retweeted by carbonbrief

  50. The idea that scientists have blinders to alternative hypotheses is incorrect in my view. They always want to challenge their own understanding, otherwise they wouldn’t be scientists, but dogmatists. Some alternative hypotheses are non-starters (e.g. zero back radiation, CO2 outgassing by oceans), while others have not yet led to a coherent idea that explains observations as well as AGW does. Skeptics devote a lot of time trying to attack individual bricks of the AGW argument, so a large part of the blogosphere is not related to alternative hypotheses at all, but just to understanding the science in the first place, which is important too. As we see here, a lot of attacks come from misunderstanding or misconceptions of some fairly complicated scientific points. Unfortunately this is what gets translated to politicians as uncertainty.
    I reiterate, the main point is that scientists always look to test their own views, not just confirm them. You don’t get published if you just repeat what others have done or said. A good paper comes up with alternative hypotheses and tests them to see which stands up. These are the ones by which science is advanced.

    • “They always want to challenge their own understanding”

      Jim D,

      Except for when they don’t.

      Andrew

      • …in which case they would be condemned as dogmatists and lose respect in the scientific community. This has probably happened with a few people.

      • Or, they would actually gain respect. If they play the politics right, they might even find the ‘scientific community’ circling wagons around them, and forming even stronger belief about the dogma.

        Your post is correct wrt the scientific ideal. It is woefully naive of actual ‘scientific’ practice.

    • And we can see this in the work of Michael Mann, Rahmstorf, Steig, Jones …

      Oh wait! Never mind.

  51. “…in which case they would be condemned as dogmatists and lose respect in the scientific community.”

    Jim D,

    Except for when they aren’t. Consider why this blog exists and you and I are having this discussion.

    Andrew

  52. Bad Andrew,
    Your view would only be supported if you could show good science has been suppressed. These days, with the blogosphere, complete suppression is impossible, and there is no evidence of that happening.

  53. “Your view would only be supported if you could show good science has been suppressed.”

    Jim D,

    Not so. My view is supported by the fact that Dogmatic Scientists assign the label Denier to describe people who don’t agree with them.

    Andrew

    • This is not science that you are talking about. It is commentary.

      • “This is not science that you are talking about. It is commentary.”

        You are darned tootin’ it’s not science.

        Now why would a scientist turn to non-scientific commentary, in a question about a scientific disagreement?

        Andrew

      • The commentary world is not the science world. Scientists are allowed to have opinions based on how they see other people commenting on their science. Some of those opinions are understandably strong. This is completely off topic now, so I will stop.

      • But how should we know when they are commenting on their opinions and when they are discussing scince. Shoudl they have a little flag in each hand, raised when they swap from one to the other?

        Because otherwise the public might be confused if somebody said

        ‘I am a very important scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize and in my scientific opinion anyone who disagrees with me is an evil denialist scumbag who should be roasted in hell, especially if they question my abilities’ or something much like it.

        Because its sometimes difficult to separate the two.

  54. “Scientists are allowed to have opinions based on how they see other people commenting on their science.”

    Of course they are. Heck, they are allowed to wear pigs on their ears if they want to.

    Anyway, I’m glad you are able to recognize there is a distinction between science and non-scientific behavior.

    Hopefully you also realize that scientists should be doing more science than non-science when they have the opportunity. Their name kind of implies that’s what they should be doing.

    Andrew

  55. The problematical aspect is the certainty of the adherents. They take for instance a million year old proxy and advance that as certain support of some idea or other. The reality of paleo-climatic data is that it is the equivalent of groping about in a dark room looking for answers – according to the NAS report: Abrupt climate change: inevitable changes. If we look at the level of scientific understanding of various forcings in AR4 – well it speaks for itself. If we look at data from the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument on the Terra satellite – it shows large changes in radiant flux that is cloud change associated with ENSO. Something that is very poorly understood indeed. If we look at decadal changes in the Pacific the potential exists for cooling for a decade or three more. If we look at abrupt climate change – it suggests that climate is a ‘spatio-temporal chaotic system’ – there is uncertainty at the core of climate processes which establishes theoretical limits on predictability.

    There abounds theories sans evidence and simple qualitative narratives and these dominate the soap box in a cac0phony of ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’. The simplistic conclusion of argument (my science is certain) on both sides stems from a psychological need for closure. ‘The need for assured knowledge labeled more technically as the Need for Closure constitutes a fundamental mechanism whereby the potentially interminable epistemic sequence of hypothesis generation and testing comes to an end, affording one a sense of firm knowledge. Arousal of such a need (e.g. by uncertainty evoking events) is shown to induce a state of close mindedness in which individuals are (1) less able to empathize with others, (2) intolerant of diversity, (3) centered on their in-group, and (4) hostile to out-groups. Thus, a psychological, individual-level, mechanism of knowledge formation is shown to be relevant to major societal phenomena, and to play a potentially significant role in the shaping of politics and history in the world at large.’

    http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/lap&CISOPTR=52

    The scientific antidote as always comes from Richard Feynman.

    “I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.”
    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts”
    “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.”
    “We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.”
    “Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong.”
    “When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”
    “no respect whatsoever for authority.”

    A few more jokers like Feynman in the pack might help. I always suggest opening up to possibilities again on both sides. I remain uncertain but amused and neither is a prescription for complacency.

  56. Interesting

    Mann: This graph proves global temperature is greater that any time in the past two millennia.

    MM: the methods used are not optimal, the result spurious.

    Team: The methods may be wrong but the results correct.

    Steig: This graph proves unprecedented antarctic warming.

    Hu: The Steig confidence intervals are incorrect.

    Steig: After correcting the confidence intervals the Antarctic warming is unprecedented, though it may not be warming much at all.

    O’D: The methods used are not optimal, the results spurious.

    Steig: O’D proves that Antarctica is warming even though my method was wrong.

    Steig: O’D’s methods were not optimal, they are wrong so I must be right.

    O’D: In what world does three wrongs make a right!?

    Steig: your arguments are invalid because your behavior is rude.

    Team: Yeah! Phhht!

    Monty Python summarizes situation well.

    Rasmus: Lack of understanding of Meta data leads to incorrect conclusions.

    Mann (privately): Meta data?

  57. ” ‘In deciding what level of confidence is appropriate, we should taken into account the tendency of beliefs to serve as agents in their own confirmation.’

    Light bulb: perfect one sentence summary of the problem with the IPCC.”

    I found this quite interesting, and Judith’s brief response even more so, so I had a look at the orginal.

    The very next sentance after the one Judith quotes was even more interesting;
    “Moreover, inasmuch as the possibility that the relevant biasing mechanisms played a role in skewing one’s total evidence is a cause for concern even when one’s original belief was initially based on adequate evidence, the reasons for concern would seem to be even stronger in a case in which one now judges that one’s earlier reasons were not particularly strong.”

    So, having decicded that previous confidence in something (say, the IPCC) was misplaced, “the tendency of beliefs to serve as agents in their own confirmation” becomes even stronger. Interesting.

    Light bulb: a perfect one sentance summary of the problem with Judith?

  58. Every major national academy of sciences in the world, and virtually all of the major professional societies that deal with the relevant disciplines have issued statements saying that the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming, that we have very strong reason to believe that human activity is responsible for a large part of this change, that harm is already occurring from these changes and that the harm will grow unless and until we stabilize and begin to reduce our emissions.

    John Holdren, Director of White House Science and Technology Policy
    http://bbc.in/fYHDjv

    Dr Holdren, not true according to the data.

    In science, if recent observation is nearly identical to past observation, no new theory is required to explain the recent observation.

    This axiom applies to man-made global warming:

    Recent observation: Global warming of 0.48 deg C in a 30-year period from 1970 to 2000
    Past observation: Global warming of 0.45 deg C in the a 30-year period from 1910 to 1940
    http://bit.ly/eUXTX2

    As the recent observation is nearly identical to the past one, it is not correct to state the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming

    • As the recent observation is nearly identical to the past one, it is not correct to state the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming.

      All observations are a sum of natural and anthropogenic components. Girma is arguing here that because their sum averaged over 1970-2000 is the same as over 1910-1940, therefore the natural component has not changed and neither has the anthropogenic component. Formally, if n + a = n’ + a’, therefore n = n’ and a = a’.

      While I can’t predict next month’s weather, I can safely predict that next month Girma will still be inferring n = n’ and a = a’ from n + a = n’ + a’.

      Arfur Bryant is just the same: no matter how often you point out the basic fallacy in his argument, he sticks to it month after month, secure in the knowledge that well over half his audience lacks the ability to detect fallacies in reasoning. In his case he insists on modeling the whole of Mann’s hockey stick by fitting a trend line between its two end points (from 1850 to 2010) and extrapolating that instead of the blade (from 1980 to 2010).

      In footnote 5 on page 4 of Kelly’s article on which this thread is based, Kelly cites Charles Saunders Peirce as follows:

      “…I remember once being entreated not to read a certain newspaper lest it might change my opinion upon free-trade. ‘Lest I might be entrapped by its fallacies and misstatements,’ was the form of expression. ‘You are not’, my friend said, ‘a special student of political economy. You might, therefore, easily be deceived by fallacious arguments upon the subject. You might, then, if you read this paper, be led to believe in protection. But you admit that free-trade is the true doctrine; and you do not wish to believe what is not true.”

      Peirce taught logic at Johns Hopkins, so one can easily imagine his taking umbrage at the thought that he, Peirce, might “easily be deceived by fallacious arguments.”

      Yet most are easily deceived by fallacy, lacking both the training and experience in accurate reasoning that qualified Peirce for his job. This makes it easy for Girma and Bryant to pull the wool over the eyes of those not in the habit of keeping a weather eye out for fallacies in arguments. All they need to do is to continue offering their fallacious arguments while turning a blind eye to those pointing out the fallacies.

      • Vaughan Pratt

        All observations are a sum of natural and anthropogenic components. Girma is arguing here that because their sum averaged over 1970-2000 is the same as over 1910-1940, therefore the natural component has not changed and neither has the anthropogenic component. Formally, if n + a = n’ + a’, therefore n = n’ and a = a’.

        I am not saying if n + a = n’ + a’, therefore n = n’ and a = a’. What I am saying is n + a = n’ + a’ = A constant, K

        The globe experienced a global warming rate of n + a = K for the period from 1910 to 1940, and the globe also experienced the same warming rate of K for the period from 1970 to 2000. There is nothing anomalous about a global warming rate of K, as the same warming rate of K had occurred before. You only start to worry about man-made global warming when you see an increase in the value of K compared to the previous maximum. Knowledge of the different factors that add up to K is not required. What is important is the value of K.

        Fortunately, the value of K has reduced from 0.25 deg C per decade for the period from 1990 to 2000 to only 0.03 deg C per decade in the last decade as shown in the following chart.
        http://bit.ly/d29orm

        Man made global warming will not be supported by the data until the previous warming of about 0.45 deg C in 30 years (K=0.15) from 1910 to 1940 is exceeded.

        Vaughan, there is no fallacy in my argument.

        I let others judge my argument.

      • Fortunately, there is also signs of the beginning of global cooling:

        The January global mean temperature dropped from its maximum value of 0.6 deg C for 2007 to only 0.2 deg C for 2011.

        A drop of 0.4 deg C!

        Where are some going to hide?

        http://bit.ly/gWkyz5

      • The January global mean temperature dropped from its maximum value of 0.6 deg C for 2007 to only 0.2 deg C for 2011.

        The January global mean temperature rose from its minimum value of 0.074 deg C for 2008 to 0.479 deg C for 2010.

        Your drop of 0.4 deg C January-to-January averages 0.1 deg C per year. My rise of 0.4 deg C January-to-January averages 0.2 deg C per year.

        Your turn. ;)

      • I only said there is a “sign” of global cooling. Let us wait for the coming monthly averages for 2011.

      • What I am saying is n + a = n’ + a’ = A constant, K. … There is nothing anomalous about a global warming rate of K, as the same warming rate of K had occurred before. You only start to worry about man-made global warming when you see an increase in the value of K compared to the previous maximum.

        I would put it slightly differently. First I wouldn’t say “worry” which is a nonscientific value judgment (“what, me worry?”). Second I’d say there had been an increase in man-made global warming when you see an increase in the value of a, which is the man-made or anthropogenic portion of K. Had n increased and a decreased (while keeping K the same) I’d say there had been a decrease in man-made global warming.

        In this case I would estimate a in 1925 (center of 1910-1940) to be a slope of 0.1 °C over 30 years, and in 1990 (center of 1975-2005) to be a’ = 0.35 °C over the same length of time. I would also estimate the natural component n to be respectively n = 0.39 °C and n’ = 0.22 °C over the corresponding 30 year periods. In that case K = n + a = .1 + .39 = .49 while K’ = n’ + a’ = .35 + .22 = .57. (This is slightly larger than what you get for K’ because I’m using mean:60 instead of compress:60, i.e. 60 times as much data as you use while also avoiding the bug in compress that shifts the curve 2.5 years to the left, to find the turning points. There is a clear turning point at 2005 in this plot while the “big rise” only starts at 1975, with everything before then having no obvious choice of turning point.)

        So while K hasn’t increased a lot (though by using compress:60 you’ve artificially reduced K’ to much closer to K), the man-made part of K has gone from 0.1 to 0.35, which I would call a considerable increase. More details here.

        there is no fallacy in my argument.

        I would say that calling K man-made is a fallacy, which is what you implied when you said “You only start to worry about man-made global warming when you see an increase in the value of K.” Only the a part is man-made, the n part of K = n + a is natural.

      • In that case K = n + a = .1 + .39 = .49 while K’ = n’ + a’ = .35 + .22 = .57.

        Oops, inadvertently transposed the values of n and a. It should read K = .39 + .1 and K’ = .22 + .35. What I wrote later, the man-made part of K has gone from 0.1 to 0.35, gets it the right way round.

      • Who organized the effects of nature (n) and anthrop (a) to swap places by the same amount, exactly after 60-years, to produce the same effect (K) on the global mean temperature?

        n + a = n’ + a’ = K

        May be, AGW is just a belief.

      • Vaughan

        In your equation, n + a = n’ + a’ = K

        Who organized the effects of nature (n) and anthrop (a) to swap places by the same amount, exactly after 60-years, to produce the same effect (K) on the global mean temperature?

        AGW advocates?

      • Good question, Girma. There seem to be two ocean oscillations, of respective periods 56 and 75 years, that were in phase around 1925 and have been drifting apart since then, resulting in their sum decreasing between 1925 and 1980. The slopes at those two times decreased from .39 to 0.22 °C per 30-year period.

        In 1925 fossil fuel emissions according to this source were 0.975 GtC (gigatonnes of carbon). By 1990 this had risen to 6.149 GtC a year. That’s a 6.3 factor increase in anthropogenic CO2 due to fossil fuel, reflected in the temperature record by increasing the slope of that contribution from 0.1 to 0.35 °C per 30-year period. (The increase in total anthropogenic CO2 is likely a bit less than a factor of 6.3 because human breath was certainly a bigger component of anthropogenic CO2 in 1925 than now, and slash-and-burn may have been too.)

        Are you claiming that this increase in atmospheric CO2 did not occur, or that increasing CO2 has no effect on global temperature?

      • What I am saying is Man-made global warming will not be supported by the data until the previous warming of about 0.45 deg C in 30 years (K=0.15) from 1910 to 1940 is exceeded.

        There is evidence for the top AGW advocates doubting their theory in private because of the current lack of warming in those emails:

        I think we have been too readily explaining the slow changes over past decade as a result of variability–that explanation is wearing thin. I would just suggest, as a backup to your prediction, that you also do some checking on the sulfate issue, just so you might have a quantified explanation in case the prediction is wrong. Otherwise, the Skeptics will be all over us–the world is really cooling, the models are no good, etc. And all this just as the US is about ready to get serious on the issue.
…
We all, and you all in particular, need to be prepared.
        http://bit.ly/eIf8M5

        2) Yeah, it wasn’t so much 1998 and all that that I was concerned about, used to dealing with that, but the possibility that we might be going through a longer – 10 year – period [IT IS 13 YEARS NOW!] of relatively stable temperatures beyond what you might expect from La Nina etc.
        Speculation, but if I see this as a possibility then others might also. Anyway, I’ll maybe cut the last few points off the filtered curve before I give the talk again as that’s trending down as a result of the end effects and the recent cold-ish years.
        http://bit.ly/ajuqdN

        3) The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years [it is now 13 years!] of data and it isn’t statistically significant.
        http://bit.ly/6qYf9a

        IPCC projections are also all above observation as shown in the following chart:

        http://bit.ly/cIeBz0

        It is not if but when AGW will be established to be a baseless theory.

        AGW is just a money grabbing exercise. If it was not, why not just legislate so that energy companies are permitted to use coal at a falling rate every year to be coal free say in 2050? Governments can do that now.

        They should also not say human emission of CO2 causes global warming, as there is no evidence for that. They could just say carbon is a finite resource and we should start moving into other energy sources. They would not do that. The main issue is to raise a new source of revenue.

      • There is evidence for the top AGW advocates doubting their theory in private because of the current lack of warming in those emails:

        Since I haven’t taken their word for AGW, it’s of no concern to me what position they take. Even if they were to totally renounce AGW I would pay no attention because the data and theory reinforce each other and say clearly that there is global warming. I don’t need experts to tell me global warming is happening, it’s obvious from the data in combination with the underlying theory.

        AGW is just a money grabbing exercise.

        I have no expectation of ever earning a penny from AGW. As far as I’m concerned, deciding whether or not AGW is happening is a purely intellectual exercise, like solving crossword puzzles, only more relevant and very interesting.

        They should also not say human emission of CO2 causes global warming, as there is no evidence for that.

        We wouldn’t be having this discussion if you didn’t believe that. ;)

        They could just say carbon is a finite resource.

        Biofuel as a renewable carbon-based fuel makes this false.

      • Vaughan

        This makes it easy for Girma and Bryant to pull the wool over the eyes of those not in the habit of keeping a weather eye out for fallacies in arguments. All they need to do is to continue offering their fallacious arguments while turning a blind eye to those pointing out the fallacies.

        In your equation n + a = n’ + a’ = K, living organisms experience K, not either of its components. As a result, according to the data so far, the effect of man-made global warming on living organisms is NIL.

        Vaughan, where is the fallacy in that?

      • In your equation n + a = n’ + a’ = K, living organisms experience K, not either of its components. As a result, according to the data so far, the effect of man-made global warming on living organisms is NIL. Vaughan, where is the fallacy in that?

        Suppose you and I are two lobsters in a saucepan of water on the stove. You point out that the temperature just rose from 30 C to 40 C. Then a while later you point out that it rose from 70 C to 80 C. According to you, because the rises are 10 C in both cases, the effect of these rises on us two lobsters is the same.

        Maybe lobsters reason that way, but those who consume them don’t.

        In the case of your plot, the first rise is from −0.515 to −0.057 while the second is from −0.163 to 0.318. Then the temperature might fall as before and the next rise be from 0.19 to 0.65. Repeating the cycle, we see a rise from 0.54 to 1.00, then from 0.89 to 1.35. Ten of these later we see a rise from 4.39 to 4.85.

        Now according to you, because all these rises are the same, namely 0.46 C, their effect on living organisms will be nil.

        This seems fallacious to me.

      • What you have to note is in the second warming period, human emission of carbon increased five-times while there was no change in the rate of global warming, showing the effect of increase in human emission of CO2 on the global warming rate is NIL!

      • That’s fallacious because it assumes that CO2 is the only contributor to global climate change.

        I find it strange that some skeptics object to this assumption while others assume it themselves.

      • A 40degC difference = profound effect
        A 0.5degC difference = what effect?

      • A 40degC difference = profound effect
        A 0.5degC difference = what effect?

        Are you suggesting that an organism that could survive a rise from 30 to 30.5 °C could therefore survive a rise from 70 to 70.5 °C? That’s the logic (if not the exact same values) underlying Girma’s argument.

      • I accept the following as an axiom:

        If recent observation of a given variable (K) is identical to past observation of the same variable (K), no new theory is required to explain the current observation

        I assume you don’t accept this statement as an axiom and this is the source of our disagreement. Let future observation be our judge.

        If we have global warming of 0.2 deg C per decade for the period from 2000 to 2030, the AGW side wins. If we have have no warming or global cooling for the same period, the skeptic sides win.

        Let us wait and see.

        Thank you for the discussion.

      • If recent observation of a given variable (K) is identical to past observation of the same variable (K), no new theory is required to explain the current observation

        There are at least three fallacies in your proposed axiom.

        1. The observed variable is temperature T smoothed with 5-year averaging. What you’ve called K is not the observed variable itself but its derivative. (More precisely, it is the finite difference where the time increment is 30 years, but this is pretty close to the derivative at the midpoint of the intervals 1910-1940 and 1970-2000 when time is measured in multiples of 30 years, with t = 0,1,2,… denoting 1910,1940,1970,… .)

        If temperature T is a function T(t) of time t, with derivative T'(t), then even if you have T'(t+2) = T'(t) for all t (where 2 means 60 years in these time units), you cannot deduce that T(t+2) = T(t) since it may be that T(t+2) = T(t) + 0.5, or T(t+2) = T(t) + 1000, you can’t tell which.

        Looking at the actual values of T we see that T(t+2) is approximately T(t) + 0.46 for t in the range 0 to 1. This should tell you that T(t) is rising, yet you choose to ignore this rise by ignoring T itself and looking only at T’, which is guaranteed to wipe out any steady rise however large or small. That’s hiding your head in the sand.

        2. You aren’t even claiming that T'(t+2) = T'(t) for all t, but just for t in the range from 0 to 1 (1910 to 1940) (so t+2 is in the range from 2 to 3 or 1970 to 2000). Your axiom seems to be saying that therefore T'(t+2) = T'(t) for other t, e.g. t = 2 or t = 4. That’s a bit like arguing that because odd numbers are prime in the range 3 to 7 they must be prime outside that range as well.

        3. Even if you could prove that T(t+2) = T(t) for all t, you still can’t infer that this holds for the man-made part of T because you don’t know how the natural part of T is varying. Instead your axiom seems to assume that the natural part does not change, i.e. without humans there would be no variation in climate! No one believes that, although skeptics like to claim that AGW proponents believe it.

        It’s impossible to separate the natural and man-made parts just by watching the temperature vary. You need something more that lets you distinguish man-made and natural warming.

        One approach would be to observe the level of man-made CO2 itself in combination with a theory of how CO2 can influence temperature, which would let you infer how the man-made part should vary.

        Another approach would be to back up to a time when man-made CO2 was so tiny that T was purely natural. If T showed some systematic behavior over say 1850-1930, it would be plausible to estimate the natural component of T by extrapolating that behavior.

        It would be particularly convincing if both approaches gave the same result. As in fact they do. In this plot, CO2 warming based on Arrhenius’s theory of the influence of CO2 (the green curve) is flat enough on the left that the observed temperature (the red curve) can be seen to be sinusoidal (not so clear on the right because CO2 is distorting it so much). When the CO2 model (green curve) is subtracted from the data (red curve), what remains is the cyan (light blue) curve. The sinusoidal part on the left is now clearly visible on the right as well, and is reasonably well modeled over all 1,920 samples by the dark blue curve. What’s left is the black curve, which is closer to zero between 1970 and now than earlier, indicating that the model has gotten more accurate with increasing CO2 rather than less.

        Returning to your axiom, the above three fallacies are those inherent in your axiom itself. In addition to those, there are three more problems with your methodology.

        4. You are using compress:60 instead of mean:60. Since compress:60 is simply every 60-th value of mean:60, why are you deleting 59/60 of these smoothed samples? What are you trying to hide by sweeping almost all of them under a rug in this way? It distorts the data while giving meaningless turning points, as can be seen by making a tiny change such as compress:59 or compress:61.

        5. Compress:60 has a bug which shifts it 2.5 years to the left of where it should be when properly centered, which you haven’t taken into account.

        6. Exactly like Arfur Bryant, you’ve come up with a fallacious argument that you stick to even when the fallacies are pointed out to you. Like Bryant you simply close your eyes and deny that they’re fallacies without taking the trouble to investigate them more closely.

        7. A single fallacy suffices to prove anything you want. Three is overkill.

      • Exactly like Arfur Bryant, you’ve come up with a fallacious argument that you stick to even when the fallacies are pointed out to you. Like Bryant you simply close your eyes and deny that they’re fallacies without taking the trouble to investigate them more closely.

        Let observation be our judge, as I believe I am right.

      • I believe I am right because ALL who see the following data will conclude that we will have global cooling until 2030.

        http://bit.ly/ePQnJj

      • If we have global warming of 0.2 deg C per decade for the period from 2000 to 2030, the AGW side wins

        Who’s predicting a rise of 0.4 °C over the next 20 years? 0.32 °C (0.16 °C/decade) would be more like it. The AMO was on its upswing back when the temperature was rising by 0.2 °C per decade in 1988. Although the CO2 rise will be strong enough to prevent the AMO from flattening the temperature the way it did between 1950 and 1975 when it was on its last downswing, the next downswing of the AMO, which is starting just now, will still drag the temperature down so that the rise won’t be as steep as in 1988.

        Here by the way are the slopes, in degrees per decade, of the purple curve in this model, at the 5-year points.

        1980: .164
        1985: .189
        1990: .191
        1995: .175
        2000: .151
        2005: .130
        2010: .122
        2015: .130
        2020: .153
        2025: .186
        2030: .219

        Note how the model estimates that 2010 is the year in which the temperature rises most slowly. This is the year when skeptics are in the best position to cry “cooling” whenever they see a downtick, since downticks will be most frequent in this year. 2011 will be much the same, but by 2020 the rise will be noticeably steeper.

        Caveat: these are projections for the 12-year running average, not for the raw data, whose large swings will swamp these fine distinctions. We won’t be able to calculate the running average for 2010 until 2016 because we need 6 years of data on either side to get a 12-year average. And it will be more or less than the projected 0.122 °C/decade depending respectively on whether the black curve rises or falls over the next 5 years. (It fell recently, corresponding to the actual rise being less than the projected rise of 0.130 for 2005.)

        Also note that although the black curve fluctuates in the short term, in the long run (160 years) it hugs the axis, showing that the model is an excellent long-term forecaster even if it isn’t precise for projections out a decade or so. The fact that the black curve fell recently has no significance for long-term climate projection, as is obvious from its behavior over the past 20 years.

      • “Note how the model estimates that 2010 is the year in which the temperature rises most slowly. ”

        You must be kidding, right?

      • Who’s predicting a rise of 0.4 °C over the next 20 years?

        The IPCC:
        http://bit.ly/cIeBz0
        2005=>0.5 deg C
        2025=>0.9 deg C

        For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios.
        http://bit.ly/caEC9b

      • Here are IPCC projections for hadcrut in deg C:
        2005=>0.5
        2010=>0.6
        2015=>0.7
        2020=>0.8
        2025=>0.9
        Here is IPCC prediction chart:
        http://bit.ly/cIeBz0

        Just in five-years IPCC’s prediction of 0.2 deg C per decade trend line is off compared to flat observed trends as shown in the following chart.
        http://bit.ly/e4Nk93

      • No. Girma is talking about two temperature increases separated in absolute terms by something like half a degree.
        You are talking about two temperature increases separated in absolute terms by 40 degrees, and suggesting that this somehow invalidates Girma’s statement.

      • A separation of half a degree is quite enough to invalidate Girma’s statement. If her statement was true then the next rise, and the next, and the next, would all be the same according to her. Yet at each one the temperature rises another half a degree. I don’t consider these to be all the same.

  59. Although Fred and Pekka are ostensibly on the same side of the AGW debate as Martha and ianash, the arguments of the former tend to have actual technical content. In contrast those of Martha and ianash appear to be simply echoing the establishment’s unalloyed contempt of her (Greenfyre being an extreme case in point and Gavin Schmidt only somewhat less so) without offering any specific criticisms other than that she is not correctly aligned with the establishment’s understanding of AGW.

    Furthermore they do not acknowledge that she is largely on the same side of the debate as Fred and Pekka, and that her disagreements with the establishment are merely second order. Instead they characterize her position as simply being opposed to the AGW hypothesis, claiming without supporting arguments that her “current beliefs are in line with politics and legislators and the majority of public opinion and industry’s representation of climate change in the United States” and calling her “a defacto poster girl for the denial movement.”

    Without more specific criticisms of exactly what they find wrong in JC’s position, why should any of us here take either Martha or ianash seriously?

    • I can’t speak for for either if the two you address, but I mostly agree with you.

      And that is the thing that I find most odd. On the science, Judith Curry sits pretty much in the mainstream, and from what I can understand of her scientific output, it’s the same. As you pointed out above in response to Girma re: Pierce, expert opinion is a particular and tangible thing, and I’d never argue with Judith on the specifics of her area of expertise – I’d get my arse kicked.

      It’s all the other stuff that she weighs into, outside of her expertise, where she gets into real trouble and where the criticisms are quite appropriate.

      • Michael,
        I have had at times similar thoughts and there are certainly some sentences of Judith Curry that I do not like, perhaps mostly on points which relate to specific persons or to the extent of mistrust to IPCC (although I my own objections to its operations and even to the reasoning behind some of its basic structural solutions and its ). Many of the threads are on issues, whose relevance is in my opinion at a lower level than their appearance here may be interpreted to imply, but when she has formulated explicitly her views they do not necessarily follow those interpretations. Bringing up issues that are perhaps not as essential as their proponents think but giving these proponents a change of defending their points of view is in my interpretation a basic starting point of Climate Etc., emphasizing also “Etc.”.

        It is not possible to provide a fully balanced discussion. There are many ways to search some extra value to that provided by other forums. We see here one approach, some other sites have similarities, others offer more different choices. The weaknesses and strengths of each approach can be judged from their results. For me it is clear that Judith’s approach is perfectly legitimate. The personal attacks against her or her motives are worthless. They present lack of capability or will to understand, what these pages are about.

      • I’m all for a wide ranging discussion, I just think that the way Judith has worded them has, on quite a few occasions, been unnecessarily provocative and inflammatory.

        The all too predictable ‘flame war’ ensues. Do we really need more of that kind of ‘debate’ on blogs?

  60. Judith – you do realize that your “Light Bulbs” need to be applied both ways. This is all well known phenomena in the “Skeptics” community – it’s called confirmation bias – as you noted. From my perspective I see the denialist community applying exactly this type of bias, while you and your fans see it exactly the opposite way – hence the need for the scientific method and peer review – in other words, legitimate science to counteract confirmation bias in both camps.

    What I have yet to see is a persuasive argument that either the Globe (including the oceans) is not warming, nor an argument that explains the warming as purely natural and names a plausible natural cause or process. To be fair – I’ll keep looking. I’d like nothing better than to find out that the melting Arctic and crazy weather patterns are just a temporary blip on the climate screen…really…I don’t envy our children if GW is real… as all the evidence points to.

    Did you see that the Arctic was 38F warmer than average for 30 days this winter? Did you see that the North Atlantic flow into the North Atlantic flow into the Arctic is warmer than it’s been for the last 2,000 years? Is Ocean Acidification a myth? It’s been measured and confirmed and the effects have been duly noted. Why is this so hard to believe?? Why are you trying to cast a dark shadow on most of your colleagues? How can you truly believe it’s a big scam, a hoax or a conspiracy? 96% – 98% of your colleagues are blinded by confirmation bias or in on a conspiracy? Does that seem plausible?

  61. Re: Memo to the NAS, NIPCC,…
    While those petitions are ultimately of little value, and certainly no epistemic value, I am sure they must be satisfying to honest skeptics in the U.S. who continue to see the “consensus of all climate scientists” or “consensus of all scientists” bandied about by the press and politicians here in the States in support of AGW (as though such statements had any epistemic value or validity).

  62. Only 2 types of people in the world.

    1) Those who are autistic.
    2) Those who are irrational.

    So when is Kelly coming out with a Theory of Stupidity ?

  63. An excellent article with some correspondingly good responses. However one element is missing. What is your support for a theory if the consequences are mainly financial – when do you let go then ?