The new denialism

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Michael Tobis

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Oct 15, 2006, 10:28:02 AM10/15/06
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In "An Inconvenient Truth" Mr Gore alluded to the contemptible
incipient switch among the denial industry to jump from you haven't
proven that anything needs to be done" to "you haven't proven that it
isn't already too late" without passing through any position that
something must be done.

Denialism does not have as its purpose a denial of warming. It is the
denial of necessity for a policy.

Its weapon is diversion. It diverts the conversation to minutia of the
science. Its objective is to divert the scientist from summarizing the
situation effectively, to divert the casual reader from making the
effort to understand, and to leave the casual reader with the
impression of a subtle controversy even where the facts are entirely
clear and rather straightforward.

Among its tactics is a reliance on the good nature of the scientist,
who loves to make every effort to explain and explore scientific
knowledge, and in many cases believes himself or herself obligated to
do so.

These tactics can smoothly be shifted from the "no proven need" to "no
proof that it isn't too late". What is being denied isn't the science.
It's the need for a policy. Poking scientists is just a tactic.

The fossil interests have little choice in this matter; they will act
this way to defend their interests. It will be very hard to prove in
court that their intent was malicious. Seen this way, they are
protecting shareholder value. It would be good if we lived in a world
where power centers limited their tactics by making moral judgements,
but we are so far from that point that it seems a forlorn hope.

In the real world, unless we can come up with a policy that protects
the interests of the fossil fuel entities, they will continue to
actively confuse the public discussion. I think the "clean coal"
alternative is something that needs to be actively pursued and even
subsidized. It is a failure of policy when a significant constituency
is motivated to lie to the public.

Meanwhile, anyone with any sense of decency should eschew this sort of
propaganda work. A soup kitchen line has more dignity.

Of course it's always hard to prove whether any individual is
dishonest or merely misguided. A scientist always wants to give the
benefit of the doubt to the misguided. It's important, though, to
notice that this kindness of disposition toward the misguided is
consistently abused by the malicious.

mt

Michael Tobis

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Oct 24, 2006, 1:14:39 PM10/24/06
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Oog. This is coming up pretty high in Google searches for me. That
could turn out to be awkward.

Let me add, in the interests of being perceived as an honest and fair
person, that I have equally little patience for people who have made up
their mind and use science selectively to advocate the other "side" of
this question. They tend to be a little less sophisticated and less
funded on this particular issue, but they are equally unhelpful.

There is nothing wrong with skepticism about any particular scientific
point or even toward an entire discipline. What is wrong is sniping
that is dressed up as skepticism.

I am eager to meet rational and honest skeptics. It looks as if I will
have an opportunity to do so. Indeed I am every bit as skeptical about
economics as people are about climatology. Entire disciplines *should*
be called into question. The issue is whether the questioning is polite
and honest, and whether answers are honestly considered.

Advocacy isn't science. That's the problem. There are advocates who
select their evidence, and they don't help much. Their efforts to
engage scientists tend to be counterproductive.

mt

James Annan

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Oct 25, 2006, 1:15:30 AM10/25/06
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Michael Tobis wrote:
> Oog. This is coming up pretty high in Google searches for me. That
> could turn out to be awkward.
>
> Let me add, in the interests of being perceived as an honest and fair
> person, that I have equally little patience for people who have made up
> their mind and use science selectively to advocate the other "side" of
> this question. They tend to be a little less sophisticated and less
> funded on this particular issue, but they are equally unhelpful.

Do you think that this description applies to (m)any climate scientists?

> Advocacy isn't science. That's the problem.

IMO and IME plenty of scientists (in all fields) advocate their beliefs
pretty much as strongly as they can. In a perfect world perhaps they
would all spend their time looking for the weakest points in their own
theories rather than criticising their opponents, but that's not the way
the world works.

James
--
s

Alastair McDonald

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Oct 25, 2006, 5:46:18 AM10/25/06
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> Michael Tobis wrote:
>> Oog. This is coming up pretty high in Google searches for me. That
>> could turn out to be awkward.

Are you saying that you are a new denialist? What do you think
a new denialist is? Where does Google fit into this?

>> Let me add, in the interests of being perceived as an honest and fair
>> person, that I have equally little patience for people who have made up
>> their mind and use science selectively to advocate the other "side" of
>> this question. They tend to be a little less sophisticated and less
>> funded on this particular issue, but they are equally unhelpful.

It sounds like you are accusing me of having made up my mind and
of using science selectively. Why not respond with science used
unselectively rather than with oblique ad hominem attacks?

>> Advocacy isn't science. That's the problem.

Denying the evidence that the Greenland ice sheet has passed its tipping
point and that rapid climate change may be about to happen when the
Arctic sea ice disappears, because they are too horrific to contemplate
is not science either.

Cheers, Alastair.


Alastair McDonald

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Oct 25, 2006, 6:27:37 AM10/25/06
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> IMO and IME plenty of scientists (in all fields) advocate their beliefs
> pretty much as strongly as they can. In a perfect world perhaps they
> would all spend their time looking for the weakest points in their own
> theories rather than criticising their opponents, but that's not the way
> the world works.

The problem is not restricted to scientists. All men (99% to 101%)
resist being told that they are wrong. Thus when a male scientist gets
an idea he will stick with it no matter what the evidence is. He is always
hoping that new evidence will prove him right. Max Planck said
"Old Theories only die when the Old Professors die" .

But there is a corollary. It is exceedingly difficult to get new ideas
across. It is well known that everyone has there own ideas. They
can't all be right. Therefore the possibility that any arbitrary idea is
correct is very low. Therefore if an objection can be found to a new
idea, then the objection is true and the idea false. There is no
testing of the objection. An ad hominem argument is usually
sufficient. For instance my arguments have been criticised on the
grounds that I am not Albert Einstein!

I rest my case :-)

Cheers, Alastair.


Michael Tobis

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Oct 25, 2006, 9:21:07 AM10/25/06
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On 10/25/06, Alastair McDonald <a...@abmcdonald.freeserve.co.uk> wrote:

> It sounds like you are accusing me of having made up my mind and
> of using science selectively.

I wasn't thinking about you, Alastair. I was thinking about me, frankly.

> >> Advocacy isn't science. That's the problem.
>
> Denying the evidence that the Greenland ice sheet has passed its tipping
> point and that rapid climate change may be about to happen when the
> Arctic sea ice disappears, because they are too horrific to contemplate
> is not science either.

Actually, I approximately agree with that. (I would say that we don't
know whether Greenland has passed its tipping point. My intuition says
not, but at this point we are just arguing intuition.)

I am not retracting what I originally said in this thread. I am just
noticing how, if it is the first thing somebody sees about me, they
might get the wrong idea about how I think and what I thnk about. I am
trying to correct it.

This is an example of why most professionals go through life saying
nothing at all. I don't choose to do that.

I have no children, by choice, and can afford to take chances. My
position in the scientific world is tenuous as a consequence both of
my firm ethics and of my somewhat lapsed competence. These two are
connected in interesting ways, but it's not a story I care to dissect
publicly. Anyway, I seem to have some ability to frame the issues
well, and that being the case I feel it is my responsibility to try to
do that. This is not without risk or cost.

I looked over some work I did in my 20s, ca 1978, and I am frankly not
up to that standard right now, at least insofar as depth goes, and
haven't been for at least a decade now. The scientific world doesn't
much value breadth without depth. There's still some chance I can
manage to maintain the first and revive the second, and I'm eager not
to blow it.

As Kinky Friedman said recently, "truth is my religion".

I won't repeat the rest of the quotation here. It is even more
interesting and much funnier than the snippet I offer. I would point
out, though, that Kinky wasn't thinking specifically about Alastair
either.

mt

Alastair McDonald

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Oct 25, 2006, 10:54:35 AM10/25/06
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> Actually, I approximately agree with that. (I would say that we don't
> know whether Greenland has passed its tipping point. My intuition says
> not, but at this point we are just arguing intuition.)

Well here's last week's press release from NASA
GREENLAND ICE SHEET ON A DOWNWARD SLIDE
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NasaNews/2006/2006101923416.html

> I am not retracting what I originally said in this thread. I am just
> noticing how, if it is the first thing somebody sees about me, they
> might get the wrong idea about how I think and what I thnk about. I am
> trying to correct it.
>
> This is an example of why most professionals go through life saying
> nothing at all. I don't choose to do that.

> I have no children, by choice, and can afford to take chances. My
> position in the scientific world is tenuous as a consequence both of
> my firm ethics and of my somewhat lapsed competence. These two are
> connected in interesting ways, but it's not a story I care to dissect
> publicly. Anyway, I seem to have some ability to frame the issues
> well, and that being the case I feel it is my responsibility to try to
> do that. This is not without risk or cost.
>
> I looked over some work I did in my 20s, ca 1978, and I am frankly not
> up to that standard right now, at least insofar as depth goes, and
> haven't been for at least a decade now. The scientific world doesn't
> much value breadth without depth.

The problem is that the current breed of scientists do not have breadth.
They can't make the connection between fossil beetles from England,
hummocky moraines from Scotland, gravel in the sea bed off Ireland,
and the quantum effects of molecular collisions.

> As Kinky Friedman said recently, "truth is my religion".
>
> I won't repeat the rest of the quotation here. It is even more
> interesting and much funnier than the snippet I offer. I would point
> out, though, that Kinky wasn't thinking specifically about Alastair
> either.

I discovered the truth, but was quickly seduced by fame and the
prospect of money.

"Fame is the spur that clear spirit that the clear spirit doth raise,
That last infirmity of the noble mind." Milton (not Friedman :-)

So I have not explained my ideas fully here in case they are stolen.
As a result we will all go down together and I'll never get my two
Nobel prizes :-(

OTOH, I have taken a first step on a more formal route to publishing my
ideas. Watch this space!

Cheers, Alastair.


Michael Tobis

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Oct 25, 2006, 2:18:45 PM10/25/06
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On 10/25/06, James Annan <james...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Michael Tobis wrote:
> > Oog. This is coming up pretty high in Google searches for me. That
> > could turn out to be awkward.
> >
> > Let me add, in the interests of being perceived as an honest and fair
> > person, that I have equally little patience for people who have made up
> > their mind and use science selectively to advocate the other "side" of
> > this question. They tend to be a little less sophisticated and less
> > funded on this particular issue, but they are equally unhelpful.
>
> Do you think that this description applies to (m)any climate scientists?

Now that, on the other hand, is a good question.

What is it that distinguishes denialism from skepticism? Is there a
spectrum or is there a clear distinction?

I think there is. This is the distinction that John McCarthy used to
call "lawyers' science": starting from the conclusion and working back
toward the evidence.

There is a very real difference of attitude between an honest belief,
however well-informed or misguided, and cynical advocacy, however
based in fact or in misrepresentation.

Can we tell the difference? Not right away, of course. This is the
problem I was addressing at the start of this thread. It's only after
we engage with a person that we can distinguish between honest
argument and mere construction of argument-shaped objects.

The point of the irresponsible arguer is not to discover truth but to
advocate a position independent of whether it is true or not. On the
question "anthropogenic carbon dioxide: friend or foe?" the evidence
is pretty much in, so necessarily one side of the advocacy argument is
forced to manipulate the information more vigorously than the other.

The point of the skeptic is that "you guys remind me of other guys who
have burned me in the past; you're going to have to make a very strong
case." The best thing to do about those guys is to make a very strong
case. They might not be aware of the extent of the active
misrepresentation abounding in the world, though, and they are not
typically climate experts.

There are the marginal cases, e.g. great-grandpa Lindzen. I don't
think we can as easily dismiss those as, say, Oreskes claims, but they
are strikingly rare.

mt

Alastair McDonald

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Oct 25, 2006, 5:42:22 PM10/25/06
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> There are the marginal cases, e.g. great-grandpa Lindzen. I don't
> think we can as easily dismiss those as, say, Oreskes claims, but they
> are strikingly rare.

Although I once described Lindzen as a charlatan, I now see that
he is substantially correct. The climate models are completely wrong
being based on the idea that the OLR (outgoing longwave radiaition)
increases to balance changes in solar flux. In fact what happens is
that evaporation increases producing more cloud and so increases
the albedo. It is the change in albedo which leads to the TOA (top
of the atmosphere) balance, not changes in OLR.

It is not just me and Lindzen who say that! G.C. Simpson had
already worked that out in the 1930s, but Goody was convinced
by Pekeris that Emden was right and, as they say, the rest is
history, and probably no future for us :-(

There is another recruit to our flag, and that's Nicola Scafetta, PhD.
But the establishment won't admit that they are wrong. We
will have to wait for those professors to die before their ideas
die :-( See:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/10/how-not-to-attribute-climate-change/

Of course I should not leave out Ferdi, but he like Lindzen seems to
think that the models are over estimating the problem, but the effects
will be worse. The tropics will not warm by much due to AGW, but
the poles will have to reach the temperature of the tropics before they
max out, under a thick cloud cover. That is what the recent drilling
of the Eocene sediments in the Arctic are telling us.

Cheers, Alastair.


James Annan

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Oct 25, 2006, 9:44:51 PM10/25/06
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Michael Tobis wrote:
>
> What is it that distinguishes denialism from skepticism? Is there a
> spectrum or is there a clear distinction?
>

I think there's a clear distinction, but perhaps not in the way you were
hoping.

Denial is when someone doesn't accept the obvious truth of what you are
telling them. (reasonable) Skepticism is when people agree with you that
it's all a bit dodgy.

:-)

James

Alastair McDonald

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Oct 26, 2006, 4:39:20 AM10/26/06
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Climate change could tilt the world's economy into the worst global
recession in recent history, a report will warn next week.
http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1931542,00.html

So the world is catching up with me again. Why are they always too late?

Cheers, Alastair.


Coby Beck

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Oct 26, 2006, 1:30:29 PM10/26/06
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"Alastair McDonald" <a...@abmcdonald.freeserve.co.uk> wrote in message
news:<001301c6f8df$96a578a0$0302a8c0@SCALEOH>...

Alastair, please, you should stop saying things like that. Why do you think
you are the only one who thinks bad things are coming? This article is not
even outside of the spectrum around here, nor are most of your opinions,
save your theories about the greenhouse effect (which I am happy to hear you
are trying to formalize better).

The difference between a comprehensive report and gut feelings is only alot
of work. Plenty of us around here have gut feelings (and more) about how
bad things have the potential to become. A report like this gets a headline
and discussion because it is slightly more convincing than "Climate change
Big Disaster, Coby's gut says".

Coby


Michael Tobis

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Oct 28, 2006, 8:25:05 PM10/28/06
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On Oct 25, 8:44 pm, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Michael Tobis wrote:
>
> > What is it that distinguishes denialism from skepticism? Is there a
> > spectrum or is there a clear distinction?I think there's a clear distinction, but perhaps not in the way you were

> hoping.
>
> Denial is when someone doesn't accept the obvious truth of what you are
> telling them. (reasonable) Skepticism is when people agree with you that
> it's all a bit dodgy.

I see your point but I don't agree. It is a matter of intent. People
advocating what they believe in an intellectually honest way have a
different intent from people seeking to make it more difficult for
others to think clearly.

Both groups exist. It is both necessary and decent to treat the first
group with respect.

The second group takes advantage of this necessity by posing as the
first group. Their objective is not to advance their own opinions. In
extreme cases, they actually have none. Their objective is to insert
more confusion and uncertainty into the situation than is warranted. In
the present case, they challenge climate science not because they
especially have any opinion about it, certainly not because they have
any relevant expertise, but because they are motivated to avoid a
policy. Attacking the science is just a version of the stage magician's
trick of drawing the audience's eye away from the action.

It is easy to know which sort of argument you are having **if you are a
participant**, as any of us who have actually tangled with this sort of
pseudo-argument can attest. It is much harder to decide **as an
observer**, especially as an observer not well-informed in the issues
at hand, and this difficulty is the root principle that motivates the
activity of pseudo-argument.

There is no monopoly on this sort of toxic argument on the left or the
right.

The tragedy is that legal, political and journalistic cultures
celebrate this sort of clash. That science succumbs to it in the short
run is doubtless truer than it ought to be, but at least we don't
celebrate it, and in the long run our respect for truth still manages,
on the whole, to overrule our respect for power and position.

My point in starting this perhaps ill-advised thread was this. I think
we need to beware of the short run advantage that our respect for truth
gives to those antagonists who are indifferent to truth.

At some point once engaged by such an antagonist, we need to recognize
that we are not in a serious discussion but rather are falling into
traps set by people who, let's charitably say, do not share the values
of science.

Let me offer a germane quotation that came up under a very different
topic:

---
"Law, politics and commerce are based on lies. That is, the premises
giving rise to opposition are real, but the debate occurs not between
these premises but between their proxy, substitute positions. The two
parties to a legal dispute (as the opponents in an election) each
select an essentially absurd position. "I did not kill my wife and Ron
Goldman," "A rising tide raises all boats," "Tobacco does not cause
cancer." Should one be able to support this position, such that it
prevails over the nonsense of his opponent, he is awarded the decision.
...

"In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party
with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually
beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a
position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for
elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge."

David Mamet in "Bambi vs Godzilla: Why art loses in Hollywood",
Harper's, June 2005.
---

Once we are engaged in a fibbing competition, we are lost. We are out
of our depth. What we should do is disengage.

--
mt

Eli Rabett

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Oct 30, 2006, 12:05:53 AM10/30/06
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Well first of all, if you have not seen Bambi vs. Godzilla go watch it
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3634309875781837645

As I recall it was a project at the USC School of Film in the 70s(or
80s)

Second if you want a nice example of a fibbing competion, may I
recommend
http://rabett.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-denialists-argue-after-similar.html

But abandoning the field is no answer. It is tedious, it does take
time, but the start is to concede no ground. I think Judith Curry
showed how to do this recently at Climate Audit.

Eli Rabett

John McCormick

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Nov 1, 2006, 1:13:27 PM11/1/06
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Coby Beck wrote:
> "Alastair McDonald" <a...@abmcdonald.freeserve.co.uk> wrote in message
> news:<001301c6f8df$96a578a0$0302a8c0@SCALEOH>...
> >
> > Climate change could tilt the world's economy into the worst global
> > recession in recent history, a report will warn next week.
> > http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1931542,00.html
> >
> > So the world is catching up with me again. Why are they always too late?
>
Plenty of us around here have gut feelings (and more) about how
> bad things have the potential to become.


Coby, I have no difficulty with Alastair's perspective on how bad


things have the potential to become.

China and Austalia have announced multi billion dollar investments in
desalination projects (coal-fired heat sources likely) to augment
diminishing water supplies for municipalities. Seems their gut feeling
is telling them it isn't going to rain enough in the long term to end
their
droughts and near-droughts.

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