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13 November, 2007

No, you can't have a go

Earlier today, Sal said that:

Personally, based on historical observations, I'm of the cautious opinion that the bulk of the observed global warming is sun-driven, or possibly core/mantle-driven.

Sorry to pick on Sal as an example of a wider trend, but it's slightly disturbing to read that people still have 'cautious opinions' about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). It's established, peer-reviewed, unequivocable, scientific fact* , not a matter of opinion. What we do about it is certainly open to debate (couldn't agree more about the Greens, Sal – I know too many 'hippies-with-mortgages', and recoil from their pseudo-religion), but not the very fact of its existence.
I'd put this issue on a par with creationism - some people insist on expressing contrary (in multiple senses) fantasies, but in essence, the subject's overwhelmingly resolved.

No, that's not entirely true. Scientific issues are never neatly resolved forever, but the central point remains: that the state of established knowledge on AGW is such that it can't be reasonably refuted as a matter of opinion – that would take hard, verified, evidence, obtained by reproducible means. Personal belief is utterly irrelevant.

Not wishing to rant, but this is one of my problems with the mass-media, which insist on superficially covering both sides of a story, setting up an 'entertaining' adversarial debate even when there aren't two credible sides, then encouraging lay readers/viewers to decide for themselves.
Sometimes 'intellectual democratisation' (or whatever one wishes to call it) just isn't compatible with specialised study, yet the media encourage the idea that a newspaper reader's view is precisely as valid as that of a professor in the corresponding subject.

Elitist? No, just rational. Should brain surgery be performed by someone with years of training, both in the specialism and wider medical/surgical considerations, or a plumber who once watched a documentary? Isn't it elitist to value one person's opinion over that of the other?

This isn't 'Person A' versus 'Person B', opinion against equally-valid opinion. It's not even 'Professor A' vs. 'Layperson B' (and certainly not 'Haughty Prof. A', pillar of the Establishment, vs. 'Plucky Underdog B' – stop thinking like a journalist chasing the saleable narrative). It's evidence collected by 'Person A' versus cherry-picked conjecture by 'Person B'.

Nothing personal, Sal, but unless you're a professional climatologist, how can you hold a meaningful opinion on the causes of global warming?

*: 'Scientific fact' isn't absolute truth, of course, but nor is it just 'best guess', nor mere 'consensus opinion'.


my major reaction to this topic-in-general (as i think i've posted before, repeatedly but a long time ago) is that i find most humans to be breathtakingly irresponsible and wilfully (almost aggressively) disregarding of the consequences of their actions. and this carries over into their behaviour towards "the environment".

a key BENEFIT of the current pseudo-green bandwagon is that it is now trendy to minimise our impact on the earth.

(This has been relatively a staple of Antipodean culture ever since I've been alive, BTW. Eg NZ gets 70% of its energy from hydro)

this means that FINALLY serious whole-country energy is being directed towards reducing our (literally) foul impact on the earth.

personally i look with grave alarm at our rates of toxic/unknown impacts (chemical and GM) on the entire ecosystem, the huge rates at which we're ripping through rare metals and earths (eg, new scientist calc'd if some low double-digit percentage of the world's energy needs went solar, the PV hardware would completely exhaust the entire ESTIMATED (not proved) reserves of a number of rare metals), the consumerist and corporate-irresponsibility culture that acceleratingly stresses an already creaking network of interrelationships with the natural world, etc etc.

so i am regretfully welcoming of a good result for a bad reason.


Posted by Saltation at November 20, 2007 11:05 PM


re "a bad reason" (vs a large majority of climatologists' opinion)


good points, all. [if you're not him and are reading this comment cross-posted on my own blog, see his blog post!] and i parTICularly agree with your opinions/conclusions re "elitist" (you're right: it's not the best word. but it's one i've used in precisely the same way for precisely the same reasons) being appropriate where quality is important. my wearily-repeated analogy for many years now is "there are times when you need a scalpel. and there are times when you need a thousand butterknives". perhaps we need a new word, something like "aptist" or "appositist".

so yeah, i'm with you.


i'm not a trained climatologist.
but i *am* a trained statistician
and i *am* a trained researcher/research-designer and hence research-interpreter/-critiquer. (i was one of 3 principal researchers managing $250bn for a while, for example; and those funds are now in the trillions using the same core models.)

and the extrapolations the PRO research is based on are so methodologically flawed, so utterly resting on unconfirmed and untested assumptions, that it makes the breath catch in the throat.
worse, a huge amount of the research I've seen merely takes as gospel the conclusions of others', and then extrapolates further, thereby compounding the errors.

this is a common human pattern, even in "science". ever wondered why women on the pill still have periods? reason: the first researchers "knew" that it was unhealthy for women not to have periods so they structured the dosages to re-create them. subsequent fact-based observation has shown this to be a false assumption, if not an inverted assumption (regular periods are associated with ill-health relative to infrequent periods). and the core of the credit derivative market originally was entirely misestimated for several years because the key modeller did not understand the full contract specification (he forgot accrued interest).

we're talking really fundamental numeric-level fcukups here. we're talking MAJOR proxy errors. we're talking people taking datapoints as simple numbers and trying to determine if a trend exists, but doing so in spectacularly braindead fashions, blindly applying techniques they presumably have been taught to be standard but which not only don't apply in their data's circumstances but which provide quite incorrect conclusions.
problem is, other people then take _their_ data work as the ground poinnt of other work and wahey off we go into the world of "so what?".

easy example, requiring no deep knowledge: have a dig around into how the first big IPCC round-up was put together, and the vituperative reactions of many involved, and read the REASONS for their vituperations, and you'll start to get a feel for my own level of misgivings.

another easy example: a chap recentlyish pointed out that ALL the fundamental input ocean temperatures being used were wrong, because of some fundamental statistical & numerical errors made in the first major preparations of same. NASA had to correct their entire universe of data, and pop goes the entire J-curve and in fact the overwhelming bulk of the "agreed" consistency of warming since WWII. that was pure numeric work. yet most of the "data" being used in this context is necessarily the result of prior extrapolations based on (currently) untestable theories about how key measurement proxies reflect time.

and the (now...)current temp histories are well within known historical variations. edinburgh used to have pineapple farms in the 1700s, and the ice/soil/fossil records show enormous variations which were sustained for all sorts of different durations, ranging from a few hundred years up to millions.

and the whole CO2 thing is just embarrassing. just... don't go there.

summary: all the studies i've seen have been fingertip grips on the very tip of a tail wagging a HUGELY extrapolated dog fed entirely on a diet of assumptions, most of which are unknown to the person pinching the tailtip.

re-read my post's point about the reason WHY this physicist conducted this particular CO2 test, for example. if that alone doesn't immediately raise your eyebrows re the current CO2 "wisdom", read it again.

less-tertiary analyses almost uniformly show far smaller impacts of man's activity on global climate.

so, yeah, i (me, personally) am cautiously of the opinion that the current herd hysteria is misdirected.

less than 50 years ago, the scientific consensus, on smaller (too small) but far better quality data than present, was that the earth's climate was being fundamentally damaged by human activity. and was plunging towards an imminent ice age.

so, with due respect to the current consensus, i will take it as no more than an expression of current herd sentiment.
and will cont inue to worry about global warming and about the huge impacts of humankind on the world's ecosystem.

if we get above the tipping point to thaw the HUGE chemicalicebeds under the california coast, for example, most of the earth's animals die shortly afterwards. the last time that happened, that's what happened.

Posted by Saltation at November 20, 2007 11:07 PM
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