Making a hash of it

by Henry on April 7, 2009

Julian Sanchez on climate change debates.

Sometimes, of course, the arguments are such that the specialists can develop and summarize them to the point that an intelligent layman can evaluate them. But often—and I feel pretty sure here—that’s just not the case. Give me a topic I know fairly intimately, and I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. Convincing, at any rate, to an ordinary educated person with only passing acquaintance with the topic. A specialist would surely see through it, but in an argument between us, the lay observer wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell which of us really had the better case on the basis of the arguments alone—at least not without putting in the time to become something of a specialist himself. Actually, I have a plausible advantage here as a peddler of horseshit: I need only worry about what sounds plausible. If my opponent is trying to explain what’s true, he may be constrained to introduce concepts that take a while to explain and are hard to follow, trying the patience (and perhaps wounding the ego) of the audience.

Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes. Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.”

This is both true and smart (as is Julian’s work more generally; in my opinion, he is by far the most consistently interesting and intelligent of the young sort-of-libertarian opinion journalist set).

{ 72 comments }

1

Russell Arben Fox 04.07.09 at 2:44 pm

This is brilliant. And obviously, while focusing on climate change, this analysis can be applied to arguments over perhaps just about any complex subject: economics, the law, medicine, etc. And moreover, I’m probably as guilty of engaging in this, at one point or another, as anyone else.

2

Barry 04.07.09 at 3:07 pm

I do have a mild snark – this is not atypical for people arguing against global warming. I don’t recall Julian or many others in the ‘sort-of-libertarian opinion journalist set’ saying this about economics. And in economics, we have much better evidence that one side (the right-wingers) are dishonest to the point where they discredit themselves, regardless of their status (evidence to be found on Brad Delong’s blog).

3

Henry 04.07.09 at 3:34 pm

I don’t think that economics is Julian’s beat – as far as I recall, he writes primarily on tech and culture issues, with some political theory thrown in.

4

tom s. 04.07.09 at 3:47 pm

[obvious type="self-referential"]Sounds convincing, but how can I be sure it’s not one of those one-way hash arguments.[/obvious]

5

Julian Sanchez 04.07.09 at 3:56 pm

If you want a concession that (1) this phenomenon happens in economic debates and (2) free-markety folks are sometimes guilty of it — sure, yours gratis. I can’t claim to have done a sufficiently detailed comparison that I can say anything about who’s *more* guilty of it, but I doubt 800 word op-eds or talking-head TV segments are good formats for illuminating economic discussion on either side.

6

chiasmus 04.07.09 at 5:27 pm

Slashdot provides a wealth of examples of the one-way-hash phenomenon. The articles posted there will often plausibly claim something shocking or terrifying (e.g., “hackers could bring down the Internet in less than 30 minutes”), but if you read through all the comments, you’ll usually find that the hype gets drained out and a less outrageous kernel of truth gets backed out of the article.

7

Leo 04.07.09 at 7:33 pm

I just wanted to second the observation that this is brilliant. You won’t be surprised to learn that this phenomenon is ubiquitous in legal argumentation.

8

Ken C. 04.07.09 at 8:29 pm

“one-way hash” =”specious”?

9

jackd 04.08.09 at 1:19 am

I’ve never heard it described quite this way before, but on a similar but much more elementary level, this is exactly how creationist arguments work. It’s also why creationists love the idea of public debates. In front of a live audience it’s much easier to trot out stuff that sounds plausible and takes a while to refute. The extreme version is called the Gish Gallop, after Duane Gish, who was famous for spitting out dozens of specious claims and more-or-less declaring victory when his opponent couldn’t refute all of them in the allotted time.

10

Michael Turner 04.08.09 at 3:09 am

Hi there, I’m better at prime factoring than you are. Now, sit still while I convince you that the ability to factor large integers is important and worthy of your respect. Wait, where are you going? Come back!

If you’ll permit a sociolinguistic perspective on this question:

The AGW denialists have enjoyed a huge advantage besides snappy rejoinders that can be factored into only a few single-digit primes at worst: their rhetorical stance is the opposite of sales talk. AGW has, after all, been a hard sell. Global warming is still largely invisible (greenhouse gases themselves are intrinsically invisible), and serious repercussions, if any, still seem like they could be a long way off, during which time lots of other events might transpire (including death from age-related causes among many of those now hearing the debate). AGW proponents are too easily cast as the pushy fly-by-night insurance salesmen in this picture, warning about the dangers of certain kinds of phlogiston. Not to mention that, being mostly scientists or policy analysts on the public payroll in one way or another, they’re from the government and they’re here to help.

Are people not naturally skeptical about such talk? I love the following exchange from Luria’s Cognitive Development (1976), in interviews with Uzbek and Kirghiz peasants:

[Q.] In the Far North, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zemlya is in the Far North and there is always snow there. What color are the bears there?

[A.] I don’t know what color the bears there are, I never saw them.

[Q.] But what do you think?

[A.] Once I saw a bear in a museum, but that’s all.

It is not that those people were incapable of coolly reasoning from hypotheses. Perhaps it was more that, in a landlocked society at the nexus of trade-routes, with lots of strangers passing through and persistently trying offload unsellable merchandise on unsophisticated locals, certain patterns of talk from outsiders got strongly correlated with trickery. Note that the interviewer got pushy about the color of arctic bears, and the subject pushed back by actually starting to hint at reasonable doubts about the very existence of living bears in the first place. You have to admire it, in a way.

11

Zamfir 04.08.09 at 7:06 am

Michael Turner, I really likedyour comment.

On another note, what does Julian Sanchez’s header picture signify? It is a guy in a black suit walking between columns of Saint-Peter magnitude looking as if he has just bought the place. I find it weirdly creepy.

12

salient 04.08.09 at 12:31 pm

“one-way hash” = “specious” ?

Yes, but with emphasis on the encoding-decoding asymmetry. I like it.

Are people not naturally skeptical about such talk?

I’m not sure they are in all cases, or in all important cases; you’re correct in this context but this can’t be generalized too far. People are not especially skeptical about warnings that a given set of lifestyle characteristics are individually damaging to themselves. It’s when one argues that such characteristics are damaging to others that people tend to get touchy, defensive, and closed-minded.

An intuitive foundational moral principle: One is free to be whimsically damaging to oneself, but one is not free to be whimsically damaging to others.

If you argue that [characteristic X] of a typical [social group Y] lifestyle is self-damaging, e.g. leads to an increased risk of heart attack, people overall will probably accept what you have to say with a low threshold for evidence demanded.

But if you argue that [characteristic X] of a typical [social group Y] lifestyle is damaging to others, e.g. damaging to the environment everyone lives in, people from social group Y will tend to resist or reject the argument, because it’s natural to resist the accusation that one is being damaging to others. This is especially true when the characteristic is indirectly and/or collectively contributing to the damage, just because that makes it less difficult to reject the argument by deferring to other factors.

“You shouldn’t eat a lot of beef because lots of red meat in your diet increases your risk of heart attack or diabetes or something.”
~shrug~ Okay. I’ll deal with it. Maybe I’ll eat chicken instead occasionally.
“You shouldn’t eat a lot of beef because the land and energy used to grow the cattle feed is taking away from uses that could be instead used to… harness solar power and reduce our dependence on oil, or something.”
~bristle~

13

Martin Wisse 04.08.09 at 1:47 pm

This fits in nicely with the socalled engineers’ disease. Take an intelligent specialist in a given field who is bright enough to see through the lies-to-children explenations of another field and arrogant enough to believe this makes him capable of judging the entire worth of said field. Ten to one he (for it’s almost always a male) will graduate to some conspiracy theory rather than the truth. Because it’s so common amongst engineers especially, it was named after them by, if I’m not mistaken, James Nicoll.

14

belle waring 04.08.09 at 1:55 pm

zamfir, that’s julian sanchez himself, walking around some big ol’ building in DC.

15

The Epicurean Dealmaker 04.08.09 at 2:30 pm

Considering the quantity and frequency of pure dreck pouring out of the commentariat and Washington, D.C. concerning the normally narrow and uninteresting topic of compensation in the finance industry, I can personally testify that Julian’s analysis applies to economics, as well. What is disheartening to me is that such “one-way hash” arguments and drive-by snipings have been eagerly adopted and casually repeated by supposedly intelligent and renowned public intellectuals, as well as the unwashed CAPS LOCK commenters from the hoi polloi. I have been surprised not only by how ignorant many famous economists are of the basic workings of finance as it occurs in the real world but also by how disingenuous they have been in adopting ill-reasoned, poorly-researched, and unhelpfully inflammatory rhetoric about the topic simply because it is the popular thing to do.

If I ever needed reminding, this period has confirmed to me that many intellectuals are just as happy to follow their audience as your average, garden-variety demagogue.

16

Tom Fuller 04.08.09 at 4:53 pm

Let’s see how this works in practice. I am unconvinced of the claims regarding anthropogenic contributions to global warming. I have been trained in physics and quantum mechanics, but that was a long time ago–I can follow the math, but only from the sidelines. Both sides make a plausible case. From the global warming side, I learn about greenhouse gases and a potential positive feedback cycle. From the skeptics, I learn (actually re-learn) about some of the frailties of computer modelling, urban heat bias and problems with the hockey stick graph.

From news and weblogs, I learn that Al Gore consistently exaggerates the claims backed by science. I learn that Richard Lindzen accepted travelling expenses 15 years ago from an oil company. I learn that both sides are really angry at each other. By reading both the IPCC reports and the Summaries for Policy Makers, I can quickly see that there are a variety of statements in the SPM that seem to be a few steps ahead of what the scientific contributors are willing to say.

Again from the news, I learn that the personal behaviour of the leaders of the global warming movement are not really consistent with their stated expectations of the rest of us. I also learn that Michael Crichton, popular novelist, Harvard grad and climate skeptic, supported cap and trade 25 years ago and that Richard Lindzen thinks a third of recent warming is caused by humans. I learn that one scientist who makes a lot of sense is Pielke the Elder, who makes a cogent case that humans are having a significant effect on climate, but through deforestation, land-use policy and the hydrologic cycle. But nobody else really wants to talk about the issue.

Remembering the late 60s, I go back to find out what happened to large scale alternative energy generating technologies such as Solar Based Satellites and Ocean Thermal Energy systems, and find that the work has advanced at a pace that can only be described as desultory. It doesn’t really appear that people are looking seriously at solutions, when the people most worried about warming refuse to look at nuclear, don’t want to site solar systems in the desert, and don’t even seem to know that SBS or OTEC exists.

This is the background with which someone who is scientifically literate and does a bit of research can find very easily. Yet when I recently began commenting on weblogs, I got called a lot of ugly names, was characterised as an ignorant idiot who obviously didn’t know anything about the issue, and was immediately classed as a Republican denialist. (I’m neither.) All of this from people evangelizing about the catastrophic effects of global warming.

My point is that the discussion gets twisted long before anybody has the chance to make plausible sounding cases on climate change before or after. I’ve had people tell me quite seriously that JSTOR is a Japanese research agency funded by oil companies and that the fact that people cannot find an explanation for Earth’s escape from Milankovitch cycles completely proves that the postulated positive feedback cycle exists and explains warming between 1976 and 1998.

There’s a lot of clutter to clear away before we even risk being hypnotized by false argumentation. Clutter is too polite a word for it, actually.

17

tom s. 04.08.09 at 5:44 pm

Thank you Tom Fuller. Not only do I share your first name and educational background/mathematical training, but if I could state my position or lack of it clearly I would say exactly what you said. Perhaps that’s what you get when you are named after a doubter.

And yes, I also love the original article.

18

a 04.08.09 at 7:23 pm

“The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. “

I don’t particularly believe this, myself.

19

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 04.08.09 at 10:23 pm

It doesn’t really appear that people are looking seriously at solutions”

Let’s tease out this logic amongst this Chewbacca argument.

Person X has lung cancer.

Person X is not using nicotine patches to quit smoking.

Therefore, person X cannot really have cancer.

For God’s sake, there was a mitigation report from both the IPCC TAR and the 4AR ; did you really read the IPCC reports, or just say you did? There have been conferences on mitigation since 1993.
If you think people aren’t looking seriously at solutions, it’s because there isn’t a price on CO2 emissions to drive work on solutions past the pilot stage.

James Lovelock (formulator of the Gaia hypothesis) has advocated nuclear, as has Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace. See also:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-03-22-nuclear-power_N.htm

“From the skeptics, I learn (actually re-learn) about some of the frailties of computer modelling,”

Like GCMs being able to model the Ordivician iceball with 12x current CO2 concentrations, over a decade ago? Not bad for “fragile” models.

“urban heat bias ”

Urban heat bias is a crock. There’s no effect of windspeed on measurements of temperature anomaly in urban weather stations versus rural stations. If the urban heat island was a factor in measured temperature trends, then higher windspeeds in urban stations would reduce the upward trend in temperature anomaly.

See http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc%5Ftar/?src=/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/052.htm and this Nature brief communication at
http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/projects/soap/pubs/papers/jones_Nature2004.pdf

If you’re getting a hostile reaction, it’s because you’re 10 years out of date on the science.

This was addressed in a Science paper

20

Tom Fuller 04.08.09 at 11:33 pm

QED

I’m extremely pleased that you are able to characterise my reading habits and my up-to-dateness so quickly. If you spent as much time analysing the subject under discussion as you have spent on learning about my predilections and behaviour, then it is no wonder that there is so much fluff coming from you and your companions-in-ink.

21

Tom Fuller 04.08.09 at 11:41 pm

Seriously, alternative energy generation is not mitigation, and I doubt very much if the esteemed Sock Puppet of the Great Satan has ever encountered either SBS or OTEC before today (Wikipedia has good articles on both). If urban heat bias is a ‘crock,’ why do they correct for it?

I confess to not being au courant regarding Ordovician iceballs. I shall endeavour to sleep soundly nonetheless.

If you start off a comment by saying my ‘argument’ (what argument? That idiots like you stop conversation long before anybody needs to use hypnotically false constructions that can confuse laypeople? ) is Chewbacca, do you really expect anybody to take you seriously? Especially with the rather non-linear example you choose to make? The sad thing is, with a little effort you could have made your diatribe an example of what Julian Sanchez was talking about–but you’re irony deficient and probably never even thought of it.

22

tom s. 04.09.09 at 1:26 am

Tom F is surely wrong this time.

Anyone who can end their comment with “This was addressed in a Science paper” is obviously irony-aware.

23

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 1:38 am

Well, if he pulled it off, he snookered me big time.

24

Eli Rabett 04.09.09 at 2:23 am

Well, as proof Eli offers that some, indeed most of those “scientists” were dentists or worse. As a matter of fact a lot of them were worse, for example

James DeMeo, Ph.D, University Of Kansas (retired).

Well the Ph.D. is for real, and it is from the University of Kansas, where James got his Ph.D. in 1986, but other than that Cato is writing science fiction. DeMeo’s CV says that while he was a graduate student at Kansas he was an instructor. Wanna bet he was a Teaching Assistant.

DeMeo is, well, unique. His day job is head of the Orgone Biophysical Research Lab. What is that you ask, something near Salem, OR. Close, but no, poor bunnies, a follower of William Reich, an around the bend psychiatrist from the last century. One of Freuds kookier successors. DeMeo himself could give Piers Corbyn a run for his money.

It goes downhill from there

25

Michael Turner 04.09.09 at 2:41 am

Shorter version of the above exchange:

Tom Fuller: “Because I express informed doubts, people call me names.”

SPGS: “You’re ten years out of date on the science” (after several direct links to the literature; Tom Fuller offers none.)

Tom Fuller: “You’re an idiot.”

Gee, this is going well, isn’t it?

By the way, Tom, it’s SPS, not SBS. Now you can add “nitpicking” to your inventory of egregious and agonizing injustices.

26

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 2:57 am

Hello Michael and Eli,

Nice to see people carrying on the same meme-chose… Solar Based Power Satellites have been known by a variety of nicknames and acronyms since what, 1978… just ask Ben Bova. Or Jerry Pournelle.

Guess it’s that nicotine gum/lung cancer thing, but unlike Satan’s Spawn or whatever his monicker is, I don’t have a saved list of links to paste in. It’s not really that tough to find either side of these arguments, and I have seen these links and spirited responses to them before. Yawn. Go tell Watts Up With That or Climate Audit about your problems.

Eli, you brought up qualifications for skeptics, not me, but how do you really feel about Freeman Dyson or Ivar Giaever? Does the fact that many of those who have found fame and fortune advocating radical action to prevent climate change have less than stellar scientific qualifications bother you? Would you care to give us your qualifications, or Al Gore’s? Does the fact that many skeptics have quite respectable sets of initials after their name impress you or depress you?

27

Walt 04.09.09 at 3:21 am

Christ, is it closing time at the drama queen bar already?

28

Righteous Bubba 04.09.09 at 3:26 am

C’mon, we gotta surpass 313 comments.

29

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 3:48 am

RB–got an opinion?

30

Righteous Bubba 04.09.09 at 4:07 am

31

Michael Turner 04.09.09 at 6:59 am

Solar Based Power Satellites have been known by a variety of nicknames and acronyms…

Yes, the concept of space-based generation of solar power for terrestrial use has gone under a variety of names and acronyms, but I’ve seen it mangled as badly as you have here only in one other place. Given that source, it’s probably just a typo. Unless of course, Tom Fuller is Always Right, in which case your version is the definitive one, all else are derivatives.

32

Barry 04.09.09 at 12:47 pm

TF: “Does the fact that many of those who have found fame and fortune advocating radical action to prevent climate change have less than stellar scientific qualifications bother you? “

Here’s a useful example of bad information, which should lead to a Bayesian reduction in the evaluation of Tom’s honesty *and* competancy.

Honesty: the trademark of global warming denialism is the document signed by miscllaneous dudes (see CATO, Heartland, etc.). Here Tom is using that against the side with the scientific consensus. It’s like a creationist accusing biologists of refusing to see the evidence for creationism, or of not paying attention to flaws and gaps in evolutionary theory. the comment term, of course, is ‘Pot. Kettle. Black’.

Competancy: any time there is a scientific consensus on an issue, one would not be surprised if this means that a large number of people agree with it. This pretty much means that a large number of whackjobs/loons/etc will agreee with it. For example the group of people who agree with a heliocentric solar system should include millions of people whose opinion on anything else is dubious. In the end, it’s a variation on pointing out the whackjobs hanging out on the fringes of a demonstration to discredit the cause of the demonstration.

33

tom s. 04.09.09 at 1:32 pm

In solidarity with the other Tom, you commenters attacking him are proving him right every time you post. You should read what he writes, not what you’d like him to write.

First off, he doesn’t claim to know for certain that climate change is not happening. Read the original post – it’s about the plausibility and complexity of arguments for either side. So attacking him as a Denier is just silly.

Second, TF says “From the skeptics, I learn (actually re-learn) about some of the frailties of computer modelling,”

And sockpuppet replies “Like GCMs being able to model the Ordivician iceball with 12x current CO2 concentrations, over a decade ago? Not bad for “fragile” models.”

Anyone who has done any serious computer modelling, and yes that includes me, takes its results with a huge grain of salt. Watch the weather forecast and see how much uncertainty is left despite very sophisticated models; or talk to someone who does computational drug design. The sarcasm in sockpuppet’s response is just stupid.

And Barry, if you are going to are going to question someone’s competency, I recommend you spell it right.

34

Michael Turner 04.09.09 at 3:53 pm

Watch the weather forecast and see how much uncertainty is left despite very sophisticated models . . .

Invoking weather modeling to imply that climate modeling get any better traction for our present purposes is a little like saying “No model can predict where the first bubble will break the surface in a pot of water being brought to a boil” (true enough) but then concluding from this that any models aimed at predicting, to within a few seconds, say, when the water will start to boil is probably an equally doomed enterprise. One requires that you accurately model turbulence (next door to impossible, still, even with our ever-more-powerful supercomputers), the other probably requires less computational power than your average 1970s-vintage minicomputer featured. As you should know, if in fact you have a lot of modeling experience. (My experience in modeling is limited to some brief experiences back in the late 80s at a company doing multiprocessor circuit simulation products, and an even briefer brush in the mid-90s with simulation systems for freeway traffic, and both performed admirably in comparison to real circuits and roads. But since neither is natural-world modeling, perhaps they don’t count in your book.)

35

tom s. 04.09.09 at 4:15 pm

Michael – I’m not saying that I know climate change modelling is crap or that it is super-weather forecasting. The original post said this:
” Give me a topic I know fairly intimately, and I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. Convincing, at any rate, to an ordinary educated person with only passing acquaintance with the topic. A specialist would surely see through it, but in an argument between us, the lay observer wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell which of us really had the better case on the basis of the arguments alone—at least not without putting in the time to become something of a specialist himself. “
To me, climate change falls in this category – the empirical side of it is deeply technical, and I could be and have been convinced by slick presenters from each side. Sarcasm and disdain (not from you perhaps, but elsewhere in the comment thread) does not make the case more convincing.

36

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 5:34 pm

Tom s, I appreciate your spirited defence of my comments–but I gotta quit making those typos on acronyms or nobody will ever believe me!

As a thought experiment, I would suggest you post comments on other blogs saying that you have doubts about one or more elements of the received wisdom on climate change (unless you’ve already done this and witnessed the weird results).

Usually you get one attempt to present their side of the story, and usually it is pasted directly from Real Climate or Gristmill. If you don’t post a Eureka! Of Course You Are Correct–How Daft Of Me Not To Have Seen The Truth, then you will be labelled a crank, ignorant of science and a denialist. [By the way, I sincerely hope that all of you ...folks... who throw around the denialist term end your existence in a hot environment with no water available. You trivialise the Holocaust and the deaths of six million innocents, and the use of the term should be considered an extension of Godwin's Law. I guess what I really mean to say is, Fuck You.]

The other thing is, here at CT, as at other blogs, there are people who are just trying to provoke, regardless of the subject.

A simple look at their responses shows that they prefer to attack their own reconstructions of my statements than to talk about anything real. The original nicotine patch/lung cancer analogy is just a bit coarser than what follows afterwards.

37

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 5:51 pm

And this is what almost always has to happen in this type of thread. You have to restate first principles repeatedly.

I believe:
1. Greenhouse warming exists
2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas
3. Doubling of CO2 considered alone can be thought to increase average global temperatures by between 1 and 1.5 degrees Centigrade
4. The postulating of positive feedback that might exacerbate this temperature rise is both interesting and important
5. Data collection efforts to date have not been adequate to prove the existence of positive feedback. Neither has data collection to date given an indication that the level of sensitivity of the climate is high
6. We are arguing over crap instead of collecting the data. If we do not collect the data we will not stop arguing over crap.
7. Those who ardently believe that global warming is potentially catastrophic are using tactics that are abhorrent. This does not disprove their case. It does make engaging with them a royal pain.
7a. If you attack the man and not the argument, it means you don’t have a response to the argument.
7b. What a scientist has done in the past and what a scientist believes about other subjects does not invalidate her or his work on a given topic.
8. Climate science today is about where anthropology was 50 years ago, a hodge-podge collection of different disciplines that require expert knowledge. Nobody can be expected (and nobody is) to be thoroughly conversant with all of this range. On the other hand, some broad principles are very accessible. For now, the pertinent accessible principle is that positive feedback is built into the inputs of computer models, guaranteeing an output that supports the politics, but not necessarily the science of the issue.

Tom s, watch what happens now…

38

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 7:43 pm

See?

39

tom s 04.09.09 at 8:00 pm

They’re just messing with you.

40

Righteous Bubba 04.09.09 at 8:03 pm

7. Those who ardently believe that global warming is potentially catastrophic are using tactics that are abhorrent. This does not disprove their case. It does make engaging with them a royal pain.
7a. If you attack the man and not the argument, it means you don’t have a response to the argument.

Sir, you have proven that Tom Fuller is not to be taken seriously.

41

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 9:30 pm

Normally, Righteous Bubba, I would accept your diktat, you being the acknowledged master (mistress?) of irrelevance. However, this time I think you’re stretching a bit.

42

onymous 04.09.09 at 9:36 pm

5. Data collection efforts to date have not been adequate to prove the existence of positive feedback. Neither has data collection to date given an indication that the level of sensitivity of the climate is high

Didn’t we just have a thread where you agreed that the CO2/temperature lag in paleoclimate data is precisely an example of how we know there is a positive feedback? Didn’t I further dig up several references purporting to show that the probability that climate sensitivity is below 1.5 K is less than 5%? Are you claiming to have found flaws in those references sufficient to believe that positive feedback is unimportant?

43

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 10:01 pm

Hello, Onymous

Thanks again for the references you supplied. Here was your preface to the citations:

“Constraints on climate sensitivity come, among other places, from the observed 20th century warming, cooling after volcanic eruptions, the climate of the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago, and the Maunder Minimum when solar activity was low around 300 years ago. In general, temperatures are more easily measured than radiative forcing, so the uncertainties tend to come from characterizing the forcings (how much CO2, how much sulfate aerosols, how to translate their concentrations to a forcing in W/m^2). Another difficulty is that the observed temperature isn’t the equilibrium temperature response, as the oceans take up heat and one has to adjust for what the eventual atmospheric temperature would be once that heat is released.”

Your first citation was Chris Forest in Science, 2002. He/She says, “On the basis of the marginal probability distributions, the 5 to 95% confidence intervals are 1.4 to 7.7 kelvin for climate sensitivity.” This is a very broad range.

Addressing this, Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker published, also in Science, 2007, a paper called Why is Climate Sensitivity So Unpredictable? From the abstract:

“Uncertainties in projections of future climate change have not lessened substantially in past decades. Both models and observations yield broad probability distributions for long-term increases in global mean temperature expected from the doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, with small but finite probabilities of very large increases. We show that the shape of these probability distributions is an inevitable and general consequence of the nature of the climate system.”

What I haven’t seen is a probability distribution curve.

I also am unclear on the area of our disagreement. I say that I don’t see evidence of a positive feedback resulting from increased CO2 and you respond regarding a high level of climate sensitivity. Obviously you need both to experience runaway global warming, but I wasn’t talking about it…

BTW, have you read Roy Spencer’s (I know, boo, hiss, yada yada) latest on climate sensitivity?

44

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 10:14 pm

Hi, er, onymous,

Just checked my previous comment and I did say I’m not convinced about sensitivity–sorry! But we’re in the duelling citation mode on this. My real opinion on this after reading your references and others (usually listed quite helpfully below the abstracts of yours) is that we don’t know enough about other factors in the distant past that may have influenced climate shifts–I am not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying we don’t have enough data yet to make the call.

45

salient 04.09.09 at 10:21 pm

you being the acknowledged master (mistress?) of irrelevance.

This is Epic-category trolling, requiring the audience to have ready familiarity with Righteous Bubba’s reign over the House of Substance.

46

Righteous Bubba 04.09.09 at 10:29 pm

Well, really, my blog is pretty much irrelevant fun time, but I appreciate Tom not assuming I am a male despite my obvious interest in heavy metal, comic books and beer.

47

onymous 04.09.09 at 10:36 pm

I say that I don’t see evidence of a positive feedback resulting from increased CO2 and you respond regarding a high level of climate sensitivity. Obviously you need both to experience runaway global warming, but I wasn’t talking about it…

Now I really don’t know what you’re trying to say, because positive feedbacks and high climate sensitivity are precisely the same issue. I thought I had explained this before (here, here, and most clearly here), but I’ll try again:

As you correctly say above, doubling of CO2 alone has a known, quantified greenhouse effect: it raises temperatures by about 1 K. Climate sensitivity is, by definition, the temperature shift resulting from doubled CO2, including fast feedbacks. That this is now bounded below by 1.5 K with high confidence is, then, by definition, evidence for positive feedbacks.

It’s true that the distributions are broad, but the lower bound is significantly above the CO2-only (no-feedback) number. Also, Roe and Baker’s argument was specifically that the upper tails are fat, though as I noted in those earlier comments, there are some papers that suggest measurements that might reduce this uncertainty.

As for “we don’t know enough about other factors in the distant past that may have influenced climate shifts“, note that the papers I cited were not based on the distant past so much as the recent past. And they seem to be honest about their uncertainties — they’re claiming a pretty broad range of answers, after all!

48

salient 04.09.09 at 10:43 pm

I appreciate Tom not assuming I am a male despite my obvious interest in heavy metal, comic books and beer.

(shrug) You do kind of give up the ambiguity when you cite family conversations as occurring between “Me / Dad / Kid” of course.

49

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 10:46 pm

Hi Onymous,

First, I only have access to the abstracts of the papers you cite. Second, it is the range of uncertainties that give me pause.

Third, my understanding of positive feedback is the tendency of one greenhouse gas, (obviously referring in the current discussion to CO2) to interact with another (again, obviously water vapor in this case), to increase the heat trapping effects of the second.

My understanding of climate sensitivity is the resilience of the natural heat balance to outside effects–the inertia that greenhouse gases must overcome to actually alter temperature.

Please let me know if my understanding does not match yours, as seems to be the case.

50

Tom Fuller 04.09.09 at 11:07 pm

This is one of the reasons I think we need more study of past climate change–I don’t think we understand enough about comparative frequency of vulcanims and other planetary processes, such as tectonic shifts, in either the creation or release of greenhouse gases, contribution of sulphates, etc.

“Tectonic controls on greenhous gas flux to the Paleogene atmosphere from the Gulf of Alaska accretionary prism
Travis Hudson, Applied Geology, 1432 Fox Hollow Road, Sequim, Washington 98382, USA, and Leslie Magoon, U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA. Pages 547-550.
Tectonic processes produced a tremendous amount of the greenhouse gas methane (8.35 x 105 kg) in the Gulf of Alaska accretionary prism during a time that overlapped the major period of global warming between 61 and 56 Ma. Much of this methane appears to have escaped to the atmosphere and, if accompanied by polar stratospheric cloud development, may have been sufficient to have forced global warming during this time. The Gulf of Alaska accretionary prism is an example of tectonic controls on greenhouse generation and the recycling of large amounts of carbon from the geosphere.”

51

politicalfootball 04.10.09 at 12:00 am

I gotta quit making those typos on acronyms or nobody will ever believe me!

TomF, the problem with having people believe you as that you’re unambiguously full of baloney. A few comments earlier, you specifically suggested that your “typo” was not an error.

52

Righteous Bubba 04.10.09 at 12:07 am

And here Tom F is going through so much effort to prove that he is ambiguously full of baloney.

53

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 12:09 am

Which is wurst?

54

Z 04.10.09 at 12:28 am

See, Tom Fuller, the difference between your experience and mine is that in the last 15 or 20 years that I have followed (from the side, and with no real interest) this business of anthropogenic global warning, I have never once learned anything from a skeptic. Everything I heard that sounded plausible coming from them turned out to be wrong, and more often that not laughably so, to the point that I can readily point to credible sources debunking most of what you claim to have learned from them (even though, to re-iterate, I have never really studied that subject closely).

55

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 12:52 am

Hi Z,

I on the other hand have learned a lot from people who are seriously concerned about climate change, its origins and its effects. Some of these things have been very useful, and I think it has made a significant contribution to the store of human knowledge, and I applaud it.

However, much more, most, a staggeringly high percentage of what I have learned from such people is that once a theorem achieves the status of religious truth that there are no rules needed regarding fair play for non-believers.

This may not be as strange (or as piously virtuous) as it sounds. Your ideas are new and require new evidence to make their case. Never mind that I don’t believe that they make their case. The point is that skeptics don’t have to introduce anything new. They are charged with refuting your claims.

I must say that I have seen what I consider good thinking from skeptics. Perhaps you should look around a bit more. And I must ask, how do you characterise the behaviour of other climate change activists? Do you think, by and large, that they play fairly? Do you think that they do not commit the same sins of commission and omission as skeptics? Because I would characterise them as far worse.

56

Consumatopia 04.10.09 at 4:45 am

Mr. Fuller’s accusation of violating Godwin’s Law is itself the first Godwin’s Law violation of the thread. If “denialist” crosses the line, what should we do with “eco-fascist”, “liberal fascist”, “totalitarian”, “communist”, and the rest of the epithets the denialist movement uses to characterize mainstream climatologists?

Regarding point 7a, you should check the addendums to Sanchez’s OP.

I’ve always been perplexed at how the denialist movement gets the asymmetry of the argument backwards. They think it’s enough to simply cast doubt on modeling. But “we need more information” is just another way of saying “climate change could be even more fat-tailed than we think”. It’s a strange world in which humility is supposed to compel us to interfere with the environment even more, in which being unable to remove your blindfold is a reason to run even faster. Gather more data, sure, but let’s take some prudent precautions in the meantime.

Climate change is kind of low on my list of priorities (I think before you ask impoverished people to sacrifice to save the world, you have an obligation to ensure they have a place in it), so I’m probably not actually that far from the denialists in carbon policy conclusions. Bad arguments piss me off, though, and the skeptics have more than their fair share. I don’t have the patience to confirm or reject the conclusions of climatologists by direct examination. But whenever the skeptic starts talking about something I’m interested in, like scientific method, economics, or rationality, they almost uniformly do a terrible job. It’s possible that climatologists have reached the wrong conclusion from incomplete data, as reasonable people will sometimes do when forced to rationally satisfice in our imperfect world. But if there’s a systematic intellectual error or dishonest conspiracy one one side or the other, I know which side it would be on.

57

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 5:12 am

I would make almost the exact same argument except I would say the positions are reversed. I don’t see how you could look at the work of Roger Pielke Sr. at Climate Science and repeat what you’ve just said with a straight face.

As for the manners of the various disputants, again I disagree completely. Funny how bias works, innit? My impression is that skeptics are far more courteous than advocates of climate change catastrophe. I guess your actual mileage may vary. I’ve been called a lot of bad things by people on your side of the fence. As for Godwin’s Law, look at the terms you put up as comparison and tell me what reference they have to putting six million people through a crematorium.

58

Michael Turner 04.10.09 at 6:46 am

7. Those who ardently believe that global warming is potentially catastrophic are using tactics that are abhorrent.

I ardently believe that global warming is potentially catastrophic, without being 100% convinced that it’s really happening, or much more than 95% convinced that it’s AGW. I’m perfectly happy to go to serious measures, right now. I’d be even happier upon eventually learning that were unnecessary, but I doubt that’s going to happen. As things stand, models show continued warming for about a century even if human GHG emissions were to stop tomorrow, just from emissions so far. Why take any further chances?

You say you’re worried about poor people? Think of all the poor people in the world who would hate the rich industrialized world, as their hillsides shanties wash away in unprecedented torrential rains following unprecedented dry spells that killed what was holding the hillside’s soil in place. That kind of thing could give progress a bad name.

Maybe it won’t happen, but policy is always a judgment call, and this is a hard one, even personally, for me, because I love the smell of gasoline in the morning. (No, really, I do — as should any red-blooded California male born in the mid-50s ,who grew up to be an engineer.)

Now, as someone who “ardently” holds this belief about global warming, what, so far, have been my “abhorrent tactics”?

(1) Pointing out that you complained about being called names in these sorts of debates and then responded to someone who didn’t call you names by calling that person an “idiot.” Is it “abhorrent” of me to point out rank hypocrisy when I see it?

(2) Pointing out that you don’t actually seem to know a proper term for a very conjectural technical fix to fossil fuel dependence (solar power satellites), whose progress you’ve described as “desultory” because of a (presumed) lack of seriousness.

Why, it’s as if Earth-to-orbit transport costs couldn’t be the real showstopper there. (The whole L5 dream was based on estimates of shuttle lift costs at around $200/lb, instead of the $10,000/lb we got.) I’ve looked pretty deeply into OTEC, too, by the way; nice trick, exploiting such inexhaustible (but, in Carnot efficiency terms, poor) temperature differentials. But it’s no panacea either.

These tactics of mine . . . . of pointing out error and hypocrisy. Abhorrent. Truly ghastly.

7a. If you attack the man and not the argument, it means you don’t have a response to the argument.

Maybe usually. At least in Barry’s case. (As I know personally from being attacked by him on absurd grounds, on a certain other issue.)

But sometimes it only means the man and his style of argument are too ridiculous to merit any other response. Complaining about being called names, then calling someone an idiot when he didn’t call you names, but only got exasperated and provided some sources, well . . . that hits my dismissal threshold. Definitely.

59

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 7:17 am

Michael, unless you also posted as the Sock Puppet of the Great Satan, I don’t think I called you an idiot, nor do I think a careful reading of this thread would suggest that I did. I also think you’re confusing some of what Consumatopia said with what I’ve said.

I think all that is natural–I often misread long threads and confuse commenters. On to the substance.

Space based power satellites, regardless of what acronym is used to describe them, can provide all the power we need. All clean. All off planet. Forever. It’s worth spending the money to get the satellites up and running, don’t you think? It would be stimulative spending, have spin-off surprises that would help other technology sectors–what’s not to like? As for OTEC, (at least I think I got that acronym right), in the 90s they had a pilot plant in Hawaii pumping out electricity–you’d need a lot of them, but again, they’re completely green, offshore, and it scales–you can put a lot of them right next to each other.

Although Consumatopia brought it up, let me endorse his point of view–the poor people need energy above all else to get out of poverty. Too many die because they cook on three stone ovens inside their homes. Too many don’t have electricity, running, or even clean water. It takes energy to solve these problems. I’d be happy to endorse nuclear, but we can’t even build enough nuclear power plants to replace dirty energy sources. We need a game changer, and I think either satellite power or OTEC could be that.

If you were to design a staged plan of action to address global warming over the course of this century, the plan for the next decade might look very much like Obama’s energy plan. And I agree with all of it–including cap and trade. Investment in alternative energy–check. Cap and trade–check. Weatherising houses–check. Improved data collection to improve our knowledge of what’s actually happening to the climate–big check.

The only thing I don’t like about Obama’s plan is that he feels constrained to tie it to global warming, when it would be just as effective coming from a Republican president who was campaigning for energy independence–a Schwarzenegger type. Senator Inhofe joined with Nancy Pelosi on an energy bill last year–because she was smart enough not to use the term global warming.

It is possible that global warming is a serious threat. In case this turns out to be the case, it is prudent to take certain actions now. It is also logical to postpone certain actions to a future date. If you want to debate that, I’m happy to.

And check out what’s happening in the private sector regarding payload costs per pound. Or dismiss whatever the hell you want.

60

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 7:42 am

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2009/01/18/musk-reduce-launch-costs-10x-payload-costs/

“With his new line of Falcon rockets, Elon Musk plans to reduce NGEO cargo transport costs from $10,000/lb to around $1000/lb. His target “Musk Factor” savings is therefore 10x. The first successful Falcon 1 launch on September 28, 2008 and an upcoming first attempt to launch a larger Falcon 9 rocket suggest Musk is once again traveling down the lucrative road to success.

“However, the Futron study raises a key question: Even if SpaceX succeeds, how will payload efficiencies affect Falcon launch costs? Even with the right technology and a string of launch successes, Musk might not achieve his 10x reduction in NGEO cost per pound… or conversely, the effective savings could actually be higher for efficiently packed payloads.”

61

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 7:47 am

And here is a company formed to exploit the possibility of Space Based Power, although they might be disqualified because they use the wrong acronym–SPSS, which is the one I first heard of back in the 70s…

http://www.spaceenergy.com/s/Projects.asp

62

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 7:47 am

Got that wrong–they use SBSP. Sigh.

63

Michael Turner 04.10.09 at 8:09 am

“Michael, unless you also posted as the Sock Puppet of the Great Satan, I don’t think I called you an idiot”

Where did I say you called me an idiot? I’ve never claimed that. Me @25, I thought I made it clear I noticed you were calling Sock Puppet an idiot (Tom Fuller @21). As you must have been doing, since Sock Pupper was the one who first applied the “Chewbacca” epithet to your argument. ( A glove that I’d say fits pretty well under the circumstances, actually.)

I think all that is natural—I often misread long threads and confuse commenters.

I can believe it. What I can’t believe is that you believe that I believed that you called me an . . . oh, screw it.

We need a game changer, and I think either satellite power or OTEC could be that.

Yeah. And global warming could be nothing to worry about, on about the same odds.

. . . check out what’s happening in the private sector regarding payload costs per pound.

Unfortunately for your argument, this is technology territory I know far better than most. At one time, I was in frequent correspondence with some of the better minds on the subject of how to reduce launch costs (particularly Sam Dinkin). I’m sorry, but it’s “multifactorial problem” with a certain stubbornness with regard to each factor; space launch is just not going to get very cheap, very soon. Russian launches are (relatively) cheap mainly because you don’t have to pay Russians very much. Launch that’s as cheap as you need to develop SPS (so that we won’t need more coal plants) isn’t something one would wisely wait around for. After all, there’s tech already in the works, like carbon sequestration, thorium as a nuclear fuel, large-scale investment new materials for energy conservation, and hybrid vehicles, that are far more likely to produce results over the next few (and presumably) crucial decades. And please understand: I say this as someone who thinks SPS and OTEC should be getting more funding right now, a lot more — so that they have at least a ghost of a chance of going into production at useful scales sometime in the late 21st century, when other energy supply approaches might run out of steam, threatening to throttle growth in living standards globally.

64

Tom Fuller 04.10.09 at 8:10 am

h, nd jst n thr thng–th tctcs cnsdr bhrrnt r nt cllng ppl lk m nms. Wht s bhrrnt s rfsng t pn p dt srcs, fdgng fgrs, nd dmttdly xggrtng pssbl tcms, s bth Hnsn nd Schndr hv dmttd t dng.

s fr s sng th trm dnr, y thnk t’s ct, lk Rpblcns sng th trm Dmcrt prty nstd f Dmcrtc. Y’r wrng. t nslts th mmry f th dd by chpnng th dsgst w ll flt whn ppl dnd th Hlcst hppnd. nd s sd bfr, fck y.

65

Henry 04.10.09 at 12:13 pm

Tom Fuller – you obviously can’t play nice. Consider yourself banned forthwith. Any further comments I see from you will be deleted.

66

Michael Turner 04.10.09 at 12:35 pm

Oh, Tom, you forgot the part about how James Hansen called subhuman. Or implied it. Sort of. See here.

I drove from Denison to Dunlap, where my parents are buried. For most of 20 miles there were trains parked, engine to caboose, half of the cars being filled with coal. If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

See? It’s not just that he invoked imagery from the Holocaust, he also substituted “irreplaceable species” for the Jews in that imagery, clearly indicating that he would have wanted to . . . uh . . . well, to save the Jews from the Holocaust — but only because they were an irreplaceable species! Anyway, the point is, he clearly called Jews subhuman, so even if he wanted to save them from the Nazis, he’s no better than the Nazis himself. Clearly.

Clearly.

OK, not so clearly. But I know what he meant. I know this because I can read his mind.

What is abhorrent is refusing to open up data sources, fudging figures, and admittedly exaggerating possible outcomes, as both Hansen and Schneider have admitted to doing.

I tried to find where, for example, Hansen admitted exaggerating possible outcomes, just to get started on your litany of charges. My doubts were sharpened when I my initial searches turned up scurrilous attacks on winger blogs, supported by links to (uh-oh) Investors Business Daily, and (double uh-oh) WorldNet Daily. With those links being dead in some cases. I guess even IBD and WND have fact-checking standards of some kind, even if they sometimes kick in a little late.

Well, Tom, I won’t say I find it “abhorrent”, but I will say I find it annoying: when making extraordinary claims, one ought to provide the appropriate extraordinary evidence. Or at least a link. And you don’t. And evidence for these offenses you’re talking about appears to be hard to find, when it obviously shouldn’t be considering (a) its inherently egregious nature and (b) how vocal and well-publicized AGW critics have been.

In this paper in Nature last year, the authors conclude that their “results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming.

Wending its way from Nature to the newspapers, to interpretations at sites like The Reg, to the blogs I found initially, it all somehow gets turned into James Hansen Big Time Fraudster, even though all I can conclude with any substantial backing is “current global cooling is just natural variation in a long-term trend warming trend” and “NASA’s GISS keeps updating its data, sometimes with difficulty when temperature stations go out of service en masse.”

So I’m still down with Richard Muller, when he wrote of the infamous (but somewhat overblown) “hockey stick” controversy:

“If you are concerned about global warming (as I am) and think that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute (as I do), then you still should agree that we are much better off having broken the hockey stick. Misinformation can do real harm, because it distorts predictions. Suppose, for example, that future measurements in the years 2005-2015 show a clear and distinct global cooling trend. (It could happen.) If we mistakenly took the hockey stick seriously–that is, if we believed that natural fluctuations in climate are small–then we might conclude (mistakenly) that the cooling could not be just a random fluctuation on top of a long-term warming trend, since according to the hockey stick, such fluctuations are negligible. And that might lead in turn to the mistaken conclusion that global warming predictions are a lot of hooey. If, on the other hand, we reject the hockey stick, and recognize that natural fluctuations can be large, then we will not be misled by a few years of random cooling.”

Try that tack, people, next time someone tries to “debunk” global warming by telling you there’s been no warming in the last decade. If they don’t get it, they aren’t smart enough to be in the debate in the first place. If they ask who the hell is Dick Muller anyway, just say, forget about it, nobody, he was just this guy who once financed a Thai restaurant in Berkeley, run by his daughter, that failed. (I once worked with her husband, at a company co-founded by Luis Alvarez, Muller’s mentor.) I mean, if you mention Muller was a MacArthur Fellow, and a U.C. Berkeley physics professor, you might get accused of arguing by reference to authority. For shame, for shame!

67

Michael Turner 04.10.09 at 3:34 pm

“called subhuman” -> “called jews subhuman” in that first line, sorry. Editing too fast.

68

Matt McIrvin 04.11.09 at 1:20 am

As reasonable as the paragraph from the Muller article sounds, I don’t actually agree with Muller, since McIntyre and McKittrick’s objections to the hockey stick are mostly exactly the kind of one-way-hash arguments we’re talking about here. Tim Lambert of Deltoid has been really good on the subject since he’s actually patient enough to go through all the arguments; I recommend looking at his old posts. M&M’s objections sound cogent in a one-paragraph summary but are actually remarkably poor.

Their most common tactics are to attempt to show that global cooling or stable temperatures can be extracted from the data by an analysis just as good as Mann et al.’s, or a hockey stick from random data by an analysis equivalent to Mann et al.’s, but when you look into M&M’s analysis it almost always involves either handwaving or embarrassing mathematical blunders: confusing degrees and radians, representing missing data as a temperature of zero degrees on some scale, missing the point of the Mann principal component analysis, arguing that some cooked-up norming procedure with an obvious bias is just as good as an average temperature because average temperature is in some sense an invalid concept, etc. They’ll correct their mistakes but come back later with different, equally unbelievable arguments. The MO seems to be a sort of shotgun approach with the hope that reasonable moderates in the debate will see all these objections and think that where there’s smoke there’s fire.

It’s true that action on climate doesn’t require the Mann hockey stick to be correct in every detail, and it’s true that paleoclimate is a hard thing to study. Nevertheless it would be a bad idea to concede ground to misleading attacks just to appear reasonable. There’s a limit to how far you have to bend over backwards.

69

a 04.11.09 at 5:02 am

“Gather more data, sure, but let’s take some prudent precautions in the meantime.”

The problem, of course, is that these precautions might be counter-productive. For instance, “Holdren confirmed the administration was looking at using a method of geo-engineering that involves the shooting of particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays.” Any unknown secondary effects there?

I have to confess, I come from a stand-point which is skeptical of technology and modeling. My conclusion is that we need simpler lives, fewer cars and more bikes, etc. Tax oil and polluters, and so forth. That is, I support what has hitherto been the same policy measures as many of those who believe ardently in global warming. I just arrive there at a different route.

Unfortunately, those who believe in global warming have set us up, not just for the right solutions, but also techno-engineering miracle solutions, because these latter are less costly.

70

Michael Turner 04.11.09 at 5:35 am

McIntyre and McKittrick’s objections to the hockey stick are mostly exactly the kind of one-way-hash arguments we’re talking about here

I think they operate on a different level. One-way-hash is “concise compound fallacy requiring much more effort to unpack than to assemble.” M&M don’t do that. They deluge the reader with data and methodology, much of it with an objective basis or bona fide usefulness. Whether this reflects good faith on their part, well . . . I notice on climateaudit.org they’ll be careful to quote Nature (or one of its referees) questioning whether the article isn’t too heavy on technical detail for Nature, but then follow that up with their own objection about the curious phenomenon of a science journal rejecting a paper for being “too technical.” Apples and oranges, guys — but the same fruit to many of their followers, I guess.

If the analogy fits, wear it: M&M aren’t offering one-way hashes, rather, they are generating new prime numbers for others to use in one-way hashes. One-way hashes don’t just use primes — they use large primes. It takes a lot of effort to come up with this stuff.

. . . it would be a bad idea to concede ground to misleading attacks just to appear reasonable. There’s a limit to how far you have to bend over backwards.

I think you can concede ground to attacks that are very likely misleading (but too effectively camouflaged as reasonable to make the charge of deception really stick), while not really bending over backwards at all, though you might strike that pose for rhetorical effect as needed.

Nature rejected the M&M submission, and M&M ended up in a journal probably more appropriate, given the technical detail the authors insisted upon. Nature argued as Nature would: its role is to report the most significant scientifc results across a whole range of sciences, not to publish virtual monographs (by dilettantes, though they were perhaps too polite to say so) about what might in the end be rather minor points of statistical methodology.

What M&M wanted to publish just didn’t fit any of Nature’s size/protocol categories for print publication. So they ended up looking like stodgy bureaucrats hung up on rules, and M&M had the basic makings of a Galileo Gambit. It might have been a brilliant move on the part of the editors of Nature to make a huge exception here, though. They could have said, “Yes, given the iconic significance of the Hockey Stick in what might be the defining environmental issue of the 21st century, that’s something Nature needs to be seen as wanting to be really careful about. So let’s give this economist and this retired mining executive the floor, in a science they are not even specialized in, and see how the fur flies. It’ll be mostly their fur on the floor in the end. If M&M know this likely outcome, they’ll just meet our special-issue offer by adding yet more special requirements, and complain about how they aren’t being met. In which case, we as the editors of Nature can say to the, world, ‘Well, look — we bent over backwards, but they just kept pushing!’ (when in fact it was a jiu-jitsu move, if anything.) If M&M were in fact arguing in good faith — well, in science, nice guys can lose and bastards can win. All it takes is for the bastards to be, you know, closer to being right?”

Every so often, a respectable pharmaceutical journal publishes a paper announcing clear evidence that homeopathic treatments work. Every time, the paper gets shredded. This kind of exercise can be very useful.

Bending over backward? It’s the right wind-up move for some nose-breaking head-butts.

71

EKR 04.12.09 at 3:48 am

“If the analogy fits, wear it: M&M aren’t offering one-way hashes, rather, they are generating new prime numbers for others to use in one-way hashes. One-way hashes don’t just use primes—they use large primes. It takes a lot of effort to come up with this stuff.”

I’m afraid you’re thinking of public key cryptography. One-way hashes generally are bit-shuffling based, not number theory based (with the exception of VSH, which is impractically slow).

72

Michael Turner 04.12.09 at 4:11 pm

Oh, sorry — I assumed Julian Sanchez knew his cryptosystems, when he wrote

Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes . . . .

I guess there’s more than one way to make a hash of something . . . .

Comments on this entry are closed.