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Bogus quote yet again

November 14th, 2005

Via Jennifer Marohasy, I found this recycling of the infamous doctored Schneider quote, this time by Frank Furedi who writes in the Times Higher Education Supplement

Appeals to a “greater truth” are also prominent in debates about the environment. It is claimed that problems such as global warming are so important that a campaign of fear is justified. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University, justified the distortion of evidence in the following terms: “Because we are not just scientists but human beings… as well… we need to capture the public imagination.” He added that “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts that we have”.

Schneider’s statement was originally quoted in an article in Discover magazine (not available online as far as I can tell). Reading it in full and in context, it’s an unexceptional statement about the difficulties of dealing with the media and their penchant for oversimplication and overdramatisation. However, the history of the quote, and its use by anti-environmentalists is fascinating and, in many ways, a demonstration of Schneider’s point.

The first hostile use of the quote was by the late Julian Simon, who not only omitted crucial sentences but inserted some fabricated ones. Although Schneider forced him to retract the fabrication, Simon continued to use doctored versions in which crucial phrases and sentences were omitted, and these have proliferated throughout the rightwing blogosphere.

Thanks to the marvel of forensic Googling it’s possible to trace the evolution of the quote as it is passed from one propagandist to another, with hardly any of them ever bothering to check the original. Furedi’s version with the exact pattern of misquotes, omissions and ellipses can be traced back to Dick Taverne in the Guardian in February 2005, who also recycles the standard farrago of lies about Rachel Carson and DDT. I’d guess Taverne derived his version from The Economist which in turn took it from Bjorn Lomborg (who used the doctored version but was careful enough to print the full version in a footnote).

Having raised this before, I know I’m sure to get at least someone who thinkgs that this kind of doctoring of evidence doesn’t matter as long as the person doing the doctoring believes that they are getting the basic message right (WMD’s anyone?). I’ll refer them here, and ask them not to bother with this point.

The interesting point about all this is that Schneider’s opponents are committing exactly the offence of which they accuse him. They are convinced he is a dangerous scaremonger who needs to be exposed in the interest of “making the world a better place�. Unfortunately, their best piece of evidence has a lot of “ifs, ands and buts�. So rather than “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but�, they extract the “simplified dramatic statements� and serve them up to “capture the public imagination�. Indeed, “each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest�, and for not of all us does it mean being both.

Here’s the full statement

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

fn1. Schell, J. (1989). ‘Our fragile earth’, in “Discover� 10(10):44-50, October. (thanks to reader Greg Bauer for the exact reference).

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  1. Terje Petersen
    November 14th, 2005 at 22:34 | #1

    I suppose that those that misquote Schneider might defend themselves thus:-


    So we have to offer up scary quotations, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

    One mans promotional campaign is another mans propoganda. With my apologies to women everywhere. Luckily we have good people like doctor Quiggin to straighten out the record.

    My favourite out of context quote to get annoyed at is the one where Thatcher says “there is no such thing as society”. She is mischaracterised as being indifferent to public well being. When in fact her full statement was merely making a concise comment on the fact that positive rights imply obligations and you can’t have one without the other. Her full comment is here:-

    http://briandeer.com/social/thatcher-society.htm

  2. zoot
    November 15th, 2005 at 01:26 | #2

    Thankyou Terge. I followed the link, and no matter how you spin it, the Iron Maiden did say “… there is no such thing as society”. The context may amplify the statement, but doesn’t modify it at all. Essentially she is not being misquoted.
    On the other hand, the critics of Schneider are cherry picking phrases which, out of context, distort the essence of his statement.

  3. November 15th, 2005 at 01:56 | #3

    Yes zoot — and Schneider really did say: we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have

    So do you like context or not?

    JQ — to be honest I can’t see a lot redeaming about the full Schneider quote. People shorten quotes all the time, and in this instance the shorter quote doesn’t seem to change the meaning.

    The caveat: I hope that means being both. is not sufficient to undo the imlpications of the preceeding sentences… which are obviously that truth can be stretched by scientists in the name of their political agenda.

  4. Sinclair Davidson
    November 15th, 2005 at 06:10 | #4

    ‘Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.’

    There’s a trade-off between being effective and honest? Goodness me! Here I thought honesty was the best policy.

  5. jquiggin
    November 15th, 2005 at 06:13 | #5

    So, John, you’re happy for me to quote Hayek as saying

    “as between democracy and dictatorship … I prefer a dictatorship”

    and impute that view to libertarians generally, as long as I think it’s an accurate summary of his meaning. He certainly said all those words. You can find the full quote if you like.

  6. November 15th, 2005 at 08:03 | #6

    One of the things that’s clear from the original Schneider statement, but not particularly from any of the “paraphrases”, is that he doesn’t recommend saying anything that the scientist thinks is false. The thing he is most worried about is suppressing doubts and caveats, not saying something that appears to be untrue.

    The kind of tradeoff he is considering is between saying We think there’s about a 98% chance that X will happen if we continue to do Y, although if Z happens (which is unlikely) that number might go up or down because we don’t really know how to model that and saying X will happen if we continue to do Y. Ordinary, well-intentioned, speakers always face tradeoffs between epistemic precision, as illustrated in the first option, and concision, as in the second, and it is perfectly normal, indeed in most cases preferable, to choose concision. There might even be a good evolutionary reason for this – That’s a lion is probably better to say than That rustling in the bushes could be many things; most probably a lion, maybe something else that’s dangerous, maybe something not a threat, but I think we should probably take precautionary measures anyway. No one would accuse the first speaker of dishonesty, indeed we prefer such speakers.

    It’s part of training to be a scientist that this innate preference for concision is drummed out in favour of a preference for precision. That’s part of why science is as successful as it is. But it’s no harm to remind scientists that these epistemic tradeoffs are permissible. That’s all Schneider’s doing, but you wouldn’t know it from the bogus quotation.

  7. harry clarke
    November 15th, 2005 at 09:12 | #7

    Last week I attended the Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs annual meetings in Melbourne. In 2001 there was a marked increase in the price of heroin in Australia and consequently dramatically reduced levels of heroin use and overdose deaths. Property crime fell. There was some substitution into use of other illicit drugs but harm associated with this was low relative to the hundreds of heroin overdose deaths avoided.

    The economics of this are trite: the demand for heroin use is elastic so use fell when price rose as did the needs to steal to support an illicit drug habit. While there are other possible explanations these all seem far-fetched.

    Prominent speakers from the medical profession argued that these facts should not be presented to the public because of their potential use by politicians arguing for increased levels of enforcement to limit the supply of heroin. They argued that the facts should be presented in a way that excluded drawing this conclusion and which, instead, favoured a continued emphasis on treatment and harm-minimisation.

    I was stunned by this line of argument. Its related to the fake claims case discussed above. In essence it states that evidence should be presented in a way that avoids making politically incorrect deductions. The claims of the doctors for continued emphasis on harm minimisation were not necessarily wrong but the attempt to distort the presentation of evidence to support their claim was.

  8. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:10 | #8

    Like John Humphrey’s, I don’t see that the truncated version of the quotation greatly misrepresents Schneider’s views.

    Presumably you have no problem with the omission of:

    “And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, ”

    or

    “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage.”

    So you’re simply arguing that:

    “This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

    Is sufficiently exculpatory to make it’s omission from any rendering of the quote unreasonable. Certaintly the truncated quote puts a lot more emphasis on one of the constraints Schneider says he seeks to satisfy, but that’s nothing more than a question of focus – chosing the bit you disagree with is a fairly common basis for deciding how to cut a quote down to a manageable size. I suspect he said a great deal of other things in that interview, none of which anyone has felt the need to reproduce.

    As for “I hope that means being both” – that’s a motherhood statement that does absolutely nothing to change his stated intentions in the previous lines. It’s the kind of closer you throw in when you’re unwilling to resolve an obvious contradiction.

    Me, I’m opposed to distorting quotes, but in favour of summarising people’s views. Ultimately, I’m in favour of making the right decision.

  9. scufffs
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:25 | #9

    Paul, you criticize Schneider for being “unwilling to resolve an obvious contradiction”, then throw out a meaningless statement like “I’m in favour of making the right decision”? I’m guessing there aren’t many who would argue with that sentiment, but it hardly helps resolve the question of how to conduct the debate leading up to that decision (which is essentially the issue at stake here).

  10. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:30 | #10

    That’s satire scuffs, or at least it’s intended to be. However, I note I’ve put an errant apostrophe in John Humphreys’ name, so I won’t feel too impressed with myself just yet.

  11. jquiggin
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:30 | #11

    On the contrary, the omission of “to get media coverage” is crucial. Schneider is saying that, if you want media coverage you can’t put in lots of qualifications and caveats because they won’t print them.

    Furedi wants to read him as saying that scientists should undertake a “campaign of fear” to convince the public to adopt their preferred policies. These are two totally different things.

    I’d be interested to know if either you or JH has read the complete interview, as I have, or even Schneider’s response to Simon, linked above. If not, I think you’re on shaky ground in asserting the reasonableness of your reading of the quote against mine, backed up by Schneider’s own statements.

    But the basic point is simple. If the speaker doesn’t accept that an alteration or paraphrase preserves the meaning of their views then it doesn’t. Any attempt to get around this leads straight to fabrications like those of Simon and Furedi.

  12. November 15th, 2005 at 10:37 | #12

    JQ — I didn’t say I think all quotes should be shortened. I said that I didn’t see how the above shortening changed the meaning of the quote.

    I’m sure you can answer for yourself whether your modified Hayek quote changed the meaning from his full quote.

    Further, I can’t see where I defended extrapolating from one persons views to others in their political philosophy. I don’t hold you responsible for everything Clive Hamilton or Phillip Adams says.

    Brian — I think you are being far to kind. When I read the full quote I still get the impression that Schneider is justifying deceit for political purposes. Why else say “we have to offer up scary scenarios”? Quite simply, no. You don’t have to. You do it iff there are scary scenarios.

  13. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:40 | #13

    John,

    I think you’re setting the bar a little high as far as procedure goes. Are you firstly asserting that the quote you reproduce above does not accurately summarise the speaker’s views, and secondly that every quote that is not cited verbatim requires the approval of the speaker?

    The suggestion to review the full text is well made, I’ll try to take a look later today, but it’s incredibly out of place in a meta-argument in which you claim to have corrected the record by reproducing the quote in full.

    I’ll also explicitly reject the idea that a speaker has a power of veto over the interpretation of their past statements. Presumably you’re familiar with the concept of back-pedalling?

  14. November 15th, 2005 at 10:52 | #14

    sorry to go a bit off topic.

    Harry: If supply decreased and price went up, “addicts” (as opposed to users who usually just stop), would presumably take smaller doses and have less risk of OD. Might it also be possible that the smallish number “at risk of OD” users (not all or most by any means) might be in rehab or prison.

    Not all or even most heroin users commit crimes (other than purchase and use) to support their usage. It would be possible that there are other causes or correlations of deaths to heroin OD than price or scarcity.

    I’d be keen to read any info on the economics or correlations around 2001 figures.

  15. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 10:58 | #15

    JQ,

    It’s not all that clear what your “reading of the quote” is, other than the value judgement that it’s “unexceptional” – he certainty doesn’t seem to be pointing to the tempation to over-simplify and dramatise crises (which is what the truncated quotes accuse him of) as something dangerous or something to be on guard against – if anything he seems to recognise it as a competing claim to be weighed against scientific accuracy – though there’s not enough evidence to conlcude that he puts them on an equal footing. Does any of that strike you as innacurate?

    As for the “to get media coverageâ€? part of his claim, I don’t see that it’s at all critical. The first problem is that your assuming that the remainder of the (truncated quote) is explicitly conditioned on the “media coverage” phrase, rather than some combination of the media coverage and capture of the public’s imagination concepts taken together. You are suggesting that one simplifies only in order to get media coverage, but once one has obtained media coverage simplification or exaggeration are irrelevant to the public appeal of a message.
    The second problem is that the link between capturing the publics’ imagination and obtaining media coverage is a pretty easy one for the average reader to fill in. You seem to suggest that, following the removal of the “media” phrase, the reader will conclude the Schneider was planning to go door to door delivering his simplified message of impending doom. That is not the conclusion I would think the average reader would reach and so the omitted material, even if relevant, is obvious from the context.

  16. Terje Petersen
    November 15th, 2005 at 11:26 | #16

    QUOTE: If the speaker doesn’t accept that an alteration or paraphrase preserves the meaning of their views then it doesn’t. Any attempt to get around this leads straight to fabrications like those of Simon and Furedi.

    RESPONSE: I can’t cite the date and place but I recall seeing an interview with Margaret Thatcher in which she was asked about her quote. She said that the summary form misrepresented what she was saying. So I hope JQ or those that support his assersion above will never choose to misuse the Thatcher quote.

    Often more important than the lack of original context is the nature of the new context in which an extract is used. For instance if I say “Thatcher hates workers. She said that there is no such thing as society” then it kind of distorts the original meaning even more than the removal of original context.

    So removal of content can be as distortionary as addition of context.

    Also of importance is the inclination of the audience. If you already hate Thatcher then the above misquote will resonate and the original context will probably not mollifier your intitial reaction, where as if you love Thatcher then the original context will make you feel that the lie has been revealed.

  17. November 15th, 2005 at 11:46 | #17

    The “get media coverage” line is critical. These are people used to communicating between scientists, in which the details pile up and the skill lies in absorbing them. The kind of proliferation that occurs on this post.

    If you were a journalist, how would you report the discussion on this thread? With my journalist’s hat on I can tell you that the above approach makes the thread unreportable. You of course would say “If we wanted it to be reportable, we would have conducted it differently.”

    Which is precisely the point.

    There is a common rhetorical trick at work here, which cuts to the psychology of language. If you drill down to the individual words and phrases, chopping logic and picking nits, then the debate falls apart. We have to ask “what is the sense of the statement” and has the sense of the whole changed.

    In any editing job, the ethics of the thing lies in that point. We have to simplify while keeping the sense. And the sense of Schneider’s remark is that dealing with the media, entering the public debate, is about avoiding debate about the details, and finding the events, scenarios and stories – the metaphors – which stick in the public mind.

    I am sure you have all noticed how consistently the climate and evolution denialists use the tactic of attacking the details and not the whole. Usually by inserting some irrelevant fact which can be used to imply that it brings the whole structure down. It is just a sick form of theatre.

  18. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 11:48 | #18

    As a scientist myself, I find Schneider’s full quote shocking. The relevant piece

    “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”

    When I read that, I immediately think I can’t trust the guy to give me all the facts so I can make up my own mind. And if he is representative of his profession, then it makes me doubt the veracity of all their claims.

    Schneider’s attitude is antithetical to the scientist’s credo. It is not the scientist’s job to manipulate public opinion. It is his job to discover and report the truth; doubts, caveats, warts and all.

    He betrayed the public trust. The guy was rightly pilloried.

  19. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 11:59 | #19

    David,

    Having now read Schneider’s response to Simon, I can see you point. He certainly represents himself as having been involved in a more general discussion about how to publicise scientific findings in the media, and having offered suggestions to that effect. Without the original article it’s difficult to know whether that’s an accurate summary.

    That said, you seem to be arguing that Schneider is being misrepresented because of the “vibe” of what he was saying, and that we can’t go looking at the individual phrases he uttered to see if the truncation omitted elements essential to his meaning. That’s an interesting position, but deeply out of place in a “gotcha” post about how a bunch of bad people are misquoting a good one. If language doesn’t stand up to the kind of analysis above (ie a demostration that the omitted words are or should be obvious to the reader) then discussions of misquoting necessarily become a good deal more complex than the one Prof Q engages in above.

  20. Geoff R
    November 15th, 2005 at 12:39 | #20

    In S King & P Lloyd, eds., Economic Rationalism: Dead end or way forward?, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1993 there are statements by supporters of economic liberalisation that good policy advice has to be simplified. Are they to be condemned?

  21. November 15th, 2005 at 13:37 | #21

    Geoff — hard to answer without the quote, but I would suggest there is a difference between (1) simplifying an issue and (2) offering up scary scenarios, making simlified, dramatic statements and making little mention of any doubts.

    Let my simplify what I’m trying to say — if you disagree with me the world will explode, 100% guaranteed.

  22. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 13:40 | #22

    It seems to me that the undoctored Schneider quote can be read either as statement on effective scientific communication which hasn’t been worded particularly well or as call for dishonestly. As such, I would prefer to judge Schneider on his actions, rather than a single quotation.

    Can any of Schneider’s detractors give an example of Schneider offering up a scary scenarios or other such injustice which doesn’t have support in the scientific literature?

  23. Terje Petersen
    November 15th, 2005 at 13:48 | #23

    Saying something is a type of action. Otherwise we could not judge people who lie.

    You are right that in general terms people should be judged by their actions. And statements should be judged by their meaning. I thought we were judging Shneiders specific statement not him as a person.

    At some times we can forgive people their actions if their intentions were good. I forgive JQ and much of my extended family for being Socialists. Even though I loath Socialism with a deep passion. Of course people with good intentions can cause hell on earth.

  24. Terje Petersen
    November 15th, 2005 at 13:51 | #24

    P.S. I don’t mean to single out JQ as a Socialist. Even that is a bit rude. It is just that he is famous in this corner of the Internet so it was expedient.

    “Must be nicer. Must be nicer. Must be nicer. Must be nicer.”

  25. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 14:14 | #25

    If Schneider advocates making “little mention of any doubts we may have”, then he is advocating distorting the scientific literature.

    Pharmaceutical companies that adopted Schneider’s ethics would get sued for billions and their executives/scientists would end up in jail.

  26. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 14:17 | #26

    Terje, I find the Schneider quote annoying because it comes up all of the time as “evidence” that there is something wrong with environmental sciences. It seems to have become a substitute for real evidence.

    The content of quote doesn’t worry me, because I know that I’ve made statements in the past which weren’t totally clear and can be misinterpreted. As such in the absence of a real abuse of science by Schneider, it seems reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  27. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 14:19 | #27

    Dogz, do you have an example of Schneider doing this?

  28. Stephen L
    November 15th, 2005 at 15:05 | #28

    I suggest that anyone who thinks Schneider advocates leaving out crucial details should read his web page. Over and over again he gives space to evidence that does not support his conclusions – while explaining why he thinks this evidence is overwhelmed by much larger bodies of competing evidence.

    He is also remarkably charitable to those who not only have a record of very bad science, but of vicious personal attacks against him.

    In this context (along with the wider interview) it is absolutely clear that he is talking about the difficulties of dealing with the media – wanting to put out the full scientific detail, but knowing that won’t get run unless he simplifies things more than his scientific training tells him he should. His phrasing was unfortunate, but this was a verbal statement, not a carefully rewritten submission.

    He could have added that he is constantly competing with others, both scientists and politicians, who have no problems at all about distorting the science and even straight out faking evidence in order to claim that climate change does not exist.

    I had a federal MP tell me once “The scientists who believe in global warming lie all the time. Schneider straight-out advocates it”. The exact wording of this is probably not correct, but it is as near as I could get given that I was not taping the interview and do not do shorthand. There is no way anyone reading the full quote, let alone looking at Schneider’s record, could say he advocates lying.

    Then again, this was an MP who not only had four blatantly false statements about climate change in his Maiden speech, when I challenged him on some of these he sent me a link from a Lyndon La Rouche site as “evidence”.

  29. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 15:19 | #29

    Ken Miles, I don’t have an example. Which is not to say there isn’t one – I just haven’t looked hard.

    Whether he has followed through or not, the onus is on Schneider to distance himself from his remarks. Maybe he has, I don’t know.

    The problem with the climate debate is that there are far too many prominent advocates on both sides with an alternative agenda. Schneider’s statements are controversial precisely because they are made against that backdrop. If any field is in need of scientists who don’t operate as Schneider advocates, it is climatology.

    BTW, this is the same Schneider who in the 1970s was warning of an impending ice age. Luckily we avoided that one!

  30. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 15:52 | #30

    Dogz, Schneider has gone into more detail on the quote here.

    The important point reads:

    Vested interests have repeatedly claimed I advocate exaggerating threats. Their “evidence” comes from partially quoting my Discover interview, almost always -like Simon – omitting the last line and the phrase “double ethical bind.” They also omit my solutions to the double ethical bind: (1) use metaphors that succinctly convey both urgency and uncertainty… and (2) produce an inventory of written products from editorials to articles to books, so that those who want to know more about an author’s views on both the caveats and the risks have a hierarchy of detailed written sources to which they can turn… What I was telling the Discover interviewer, of course, was my disdain for a soundbite-communications process that imposes the double ethical bind on all who venture into the popular media. To twist my openly stated and serious objections to the soundbite process into some kind of advocacy of exaggeration is a clear distortion. Moreover, not only do I disapprove of the “ends justify the means” philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings. Instead, I repeatedly advocate that scientists explicitly warn their audiences that “what to do” is a value choice as opposed to “what can happen” and “what are the odds,” which are scientific issues… I also urge that scientists, when they offer probabilities, work hard to distinguish which are objective and which are subjective, as well as what is the scientific basis for any probability offered.

    Did Schneider really warn of an impedding ice age? As far as I was aware, he did some research into what-if scenarios regarding aerosol cooling. But it’s drawing a pretty long bow to suggest that this study warned of a ice age. Do you have anything else?

  31. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 15:59 | #31

    The formatting of my quote has been distorted (it looked ok in the preview). “like Simon” shouldn’t have a strikethrough and the last paragraph is mine, not Schneiders.

  32. Paul
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:05 | #32

    Ken,

    Here’s a cut and paste from an anti greenhouse site on Schneider’s ice age stuff – given the context it’s worth noting that its accuracy has not been independently checked:

    “During the Ice Age Scare of the 1970s, Schneider was one of it’s foremost advocates. He published a book titled “The Genesis Strategy” at this time, warning of the coming glaciation, and wrote glowing a testimonial on the back cover of a popular `Ice Age’ book of the time – (Ponte, Lowell. “The Cooling”, Prentice Hall, N.J., USA, 1976), in which the author claimed that the climatic cooling from 1940 to the 1970s was but the precursor to the main event – the coming Ice Age.”

    and, form the same source, the abstract of his aerosols paper:

    “ATMOSPHERIC CARBON DIOXIDE AND AEROSOLS:
    Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate.

    Abstract. Effects on the global temperature of large increases in carbon dioxide and aerosol densities in the atmosphere of Earth have been computed. It is found that, although the addition of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does increase the surface temperature, the rate of temperature increase diminishes with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For aerosols, however, the net effect of increase in density is to reduce the surface temperature of Earth. Becuase of the exponential dependence of the backscattering, the rate of temperature decrease is augmented with increasing aerosol content. An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg.K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age.

    The rate at which human activities may be inadvertently modifying the climate of Earth has become a problem of serious concern 1 . In the last few decades the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere appears to have increased by 7 percent 2 . During the same period, the aerosol content of the lower atmosphere may have been augmented by as much as 100 percent 3 .

    How have these changes in the composition of the atmosphere affected the climate of the globe? More importantly, is it possible that a continued increase in the CO2 and dust content of the atmosphere at the present rate will produce such large-scale effects on the global temperature that the process may run away, with the planet Earth eventually becoming as hot as Venus (700 deg. K.) or as cold as Mars (230 deg. K.)?

    We report here on the first results of a calculation in which separate estimates were made of the effects on global temperature of large increases in the amount of CO2 and dust in the atmosphere. It is found that even an increase by a factor of 8 in the amount of CO2, which is highly unlikely in the next several thousand years, will produce an increase in the surface temperature of less than 2 deg. K.

    However, the effect on surface temperature of an increase in the aerosol content of the atmosphere is found to be quite significant. An increase by a factor of 4 in the equilibrium dust concentration in the global atmosphere, which cannot be ruled out as a possibility within the next century, could decrease the mean surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!”

    I’d say we have evidence of ice age predictions, and circumstancial evidence of a prediliction towards doomsaying.

  33. jquiggin
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:29 | #33

    The abstract suggests that Schneider backed the wrong horse in the 1970s, predicting that the cooling effect of aerosols would outweigh the warming effect of CO2, and that this might lead to an Ice Age. Obviously he has since changed his mind, though the cooling effect of aerosols is still important.

    I agree that he is “alarmist” in the sense that he tends to put more probability weight on extreme outcomes than most climate scientists, and correspondingly less weight on homeostatic mechanisms (negative feedbacks). So, if you wanted the average view of climate scientists you probably wouldn’t go to Schneider.

    But that’s not what’s being asked for here. What’s needed is evidence that he distorted the evidence to support particular policy proposals. The quotes above do nothing to establish this.

  34. Jim Birch
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:31 | #34

    “Pharmaceutical companies that adopted Schneider’s ethics would get sued for billions and their executives/scientists would end up in jail.”

    I think you might like to review a few pharmaceutical company ads, even the versions they give to doctors. They do list contraindications, ie conditions when the drug has been proven to be harmful, but they won’t mention studies that show an alternative therapy like a daily run around the block is as good as their drug, and safer. Not a good example.

  35. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:32 | #35

    If nothing else, it seems this guy is not consistent:

    “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.�

    is not consistent, even on a pretty generous interpretation, with:

    “I repeatedly advocate that scientists explicitly warn their audiences that “what to doâ€? is a value choice as opposed to “what can happenâ€? and “what are the odds,â€? which are scientific issues… I also urge that scientists, when they offer probabilities, work hard to distinguish which are objective and which are subjective, as well as what is the scientific basis for any probability offered.”

    Orthogonally, he makes a nonconventional distinction between “subjective” and “objective” probabilities. A Bayesian would say there is no bright line; at some point we all start with a subjective prior and it’s just a matter of the extent to which the evidence overwhelms the prior in the posterior.

  36. Harry Clarke
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:35 | #36

    Francis.

    You can get data on heroin use in Australia in the recently published Australian Institute of Health and Welfare drug use survey 2004 and from the NDARC website and publications. Also Goggle on ‘heroin drought Australia’. New use virtually ceased after the 2001 heroin drought and numbers going into rehab did not increase much. More people went crazy using cocaine and amphetamines but social damage was overall less because of markedly reduced heroin overdose rate. ( The problem with making claims about the total population of heroin users is that it is hard to identify — mainly observe a biased sample who intersect with the health and criminal justice system).

    This is off-topic — my point was the way this information was treated by medical scientists in Australia. They argued it should not be reported because of its adverse implications for their priors regarding the case for harm minimisation.

  37. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:07 | #37

    Hi Paul,

    As far as I’m aware, the Genesis Strategy doesn’t predict an ice age. I haven’t read it myself, but William Connelly takes it apart here: http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/schneider-genesis.html

    As for the Rasool and Schneider paper, it presents a possible scenario for global cooling. However, there is big difference between presenting a scenario (indeed the authors state at the end of the paper that their results are dependent on their model, aerosol and making a prediction.
    There are some big flaws in this paper (the climate model is too simple, there are errors in the estimation of the future aerosol emissions and the estimate of climate sensitivity towards CO2 is too low) but it hardly fits into the scaremongering category (the authors even note that nuclear power could prevent this).

    And as an aside, the basic theme of the paper is still correct. If we introduced sufficient aerosols into the atmosphere, we could induce an ice age. The authors numbers are wrong so it would be considerably harder, but it isn’t impossible.

  38. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:12 | #38

    “The abstract suggests that Schneider backed the wrong horse in the 1970s, predicting that the cooling effect of aerosols would outweigh the warming effect of CO2, and that this might lead to an Ice Age. Obviously he has since changed his mind, though the cooling effect of aerosols is still important.”

    The paper (which incidently is Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate by S. I. Rasool and S. H. Schneider Science, Vol. 173, 1971 pp. 138-141) even notes that other researchers estimate the climate response to CO2 to be ~3 times higher than what they used. Shortly after this was published a reply pointed out that aerosol emissions were unlikely to as high as what they projected.

    When Schneider saw that his initial assumptions were wrong, he changed this point of view – this is good science in action.

  39. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:28 | #39

    “When Schneider saw that his initial assumptions were wrong, he changed this point of view – this is good science in action.”

    except that he changed his point of view from humanity freezing its proverbial tits off to one in which we all either cook or drown under global-warming-induced sea-level rises.

    I wonder how much probability mass he assigned to each outcome, and whether he adequately identified the contribution of his subjective prior to those probabilities, as he so advocates? The point is, he can only believe in such contrasting outcomes with high probability if the earth’s climate is inherently unstable, or if there is a strong subjective component to his belief in at least one of the outcomes.

  40. Ken Miles
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:39 | #40

    “except that he changed his point of view from humanity freezing its proverbial tits off to one in which we all either cook or drown under global-warming-induced sea-level rises.”

    Given that Schneider has advocated neither scenario and the theme of this thread, that’s really ironic.

    As for probabilities, Schneider has been advocating (in editorials for the journal Climatic Change) for quite a while for more research into the probability of different climate change scenarios. So he probably doesn’t know himself.

    Also, you really should read Schneider’s paper before you make up stuff on what he believes (didn’t you say that your a scientist?). One of the theme’s of the paper is that heating due to CO2 scale levels off with increasing CO2 concentration which is pretty much the opposite of “earth’s climate is inherently unstable”.

  41. November 15th, 2005 at 19:26 | #41

    The reason I think Schneider’s quote get picked up on is because of the widespread silly scare stories on global warming.

    That is not to say that scientists are starting the scare stories… but they aren’t always the loudest in correcting them. Greenpeace gets a relatively easy run through the scientific community despite their bullshit. When you then hear the Schneider quote it doesn’t leave you confident of scientific objectivity.

  42. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 19:32 | #42

    “One of the theme’s of the paper is that heating due to CO2 scale levels off with increasing CO2 concentration which is pretty much the opposite of “earth’s climate is inherently unstableâ€?.”

    That’s fine, I was only pointing out that, at least within Bayesian reasoning, anyone who believes with significant probability that global _cooling_ is likely, and then subsequently believes with significant probability that global _warming_ is likely must either:

    A) have a reasonably subjective component to at least one of those beliefs, so that it can be swayed to the other by the addition of a relatively small amount of evidence; or

    B) hold that both beliefs are well supported by the available evidence, which would require the climate dynamics to be highly unstable (tiny changes in boundary conditions yielding widely different outcomes).

    I don’t need to read his papers to make this observation; they are the only possibilities. But the observation was not meant to be pejorative, holding either A) or B) is fine. I make the point only to illustrate that perhaps Schneider does not always follow his own advice that scientists should distinguish the subjective and objective when they offer probabilities:

    “I also urge that scientists, when they offer probabilities, work hard to distinguish which are objective and which are subjective, as well as what is the scientific basis for any probability offered.”

  43. Simon Moffitt
    November 15th, 2005 at 19:39 | #43

    Given that it now appears the IPCC has been underestimating the changes those scare tactics might actually come out to be true.

    I wonder though which is worse sexing up things when there is a need to get attention when there is a need for change or the denial of a consensus postion so that business can keep their profits?

  44. Alan
    November 15th, 2005 at 20:29 | #44

    One common problem is the statement that average temperatures will rise by 2 degrees in the next (whatever number) years. Many people see that as equivalent to raising the thermostat on their central heating by 2 degrees – maybe not as comfortable as they would like, but no big deal. Scientists, who are often intuitive and can immeditaely see the implications of the simplified summary of global warming, immediately grasp that a 2 degree rise in the global average means that some areas, for some parts of the year, would experience far greater temperature increases. And, of course, some much less. But what, for example, would be the effect on the Australian wine industry if, just before picking, the Riverland experienced 5 successive summer days of 50 degrees? Sometimes scientists are justified in mentioning the extremes, because nobody pays much attention to the usual story.

  45. Dogz
    November 15th, 2005 at 21:35 | #45

    “Scientists, who are often intuitive and can immeditaely see the implications of the simplified summary of global warming, immediately grasp that a 2 degree rise in the global average means that some areas, for some parts of the year, would experience far greater temperature increases.”

    That doesn’t follow at all. An increasing mean temperature is consistent with an increased temperature variance, a decreased variance, or no change in variance. Eg, the climate could change so that the global temperature is constant, always, at 2 degrees higher than the current mean (of course that’s not going to happen, but it illustrates that just knowing the mean will rise by 2 degrees doesn’t tell you anything about the variance).

  46. Terje Petersen
    November 15th, 2005 at 22:22 | #46

    QUOTE: Greenpeace gets a relatively easy run through the scientific community despite their bullshit.

    RESPONSE: Well scientists go pretty gentle on Snap, Crackle and Pop also. You and I know that rice bubbles don’t really contain funny little men but try telling the kids that!!! Greenpeace is a global marketing corporation. Nobody expects them to be intellectal or honest. They just exist to make you feel good as you hand over the money. They are just selling cotton candy to the kids so go easy.

  47. ml
    November 16th, 2005 at 05:25 | #47

    As people have mentioned, a key aspect of this seems to revolve around whether one is seeking a fair assessment of the statement, as opposed to a partisan one. Fairness would seem to require a spirit, not letter, of the law approach, and again as people have mentioned, reading the thing whole, not seizing on convenient (spun) interpretation of phrases in isolation.

    My point is, what is the real whole of Schneider’s statement? I suggest it starts with:
    ” working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. ”

    So the premise is that potentially disastrous climatic change is real.

    With that as the given, the “scary scenarios” are simply that subset of the real evidence which is likely to be compelling to the audience – which will create the “this is serious, Mom (Mum?)” moment. Likewise for the “simplified, dramatic statements”.

    The making “little mention of any doubts we might have” to my mind could have been worded more clearly by Schneider but haven’t we all been in that position? To my mind, as Brian Weatherson put it, the doubts Schneider meant were caveats. My sense is that the hostile readers of Schneider wish to leave the erroneous impression that his doubts were of the type of really believing that the opposite was more likely to be the case (in this case this would not be the ethical bind that Schneider referred to, but an ethical transgression, such as made by a hired gun expressing views he or she does not hold).

    As always, when your opponents have to use erroneous argumentation – even in part – to oppose you, it tells you volumes!

  48. Ian Gould
    November 16th, 2005 at 08:58 | #48

    >They just exist to make you feel good as you hand over the money. They are just selling cotton candy to the kids so go easy.

    So over the years how many people have died or gone to jail for selling cotton candy?

    There are some serious questions about how Greenpeace codncut themselves but your comments are unfair and overly dismissive.

  49. Ian Gould
    November 16th, 2005 at 09:00 | #49

    Has anyone here had much experience in dealign with the media?

    Give a two hour interview and they’ll condense it into a two paragraph article containing five factual errors and a dozen misquotations.

    If you talk to the media (print or broadcast) it is a given that your comments will be distorted, simplified, misrepresented and cast in either the most alarmist or the most Panglossian way possible.

  50. November 16th, 2005 at 09:52 | #50

    Simon — “I wonder though which is worse sexing up things when there is a need to get attention when there is a need for change or the denial of a consensus postion so that business can keep their profits?”

    It is not clear at all from a public policy standpoint that there is a need for change. You are starting with a political position (need for government action) to justify “sexing up” the facts.

    I’m not advocating denying the facts. You have painted a false dichotomy that people must either “sex-up” or “deny” the facts. What about just reporting them?’

    Terje — I don’t think the lies from Rice Bubbles cause any fundamental and widespread misunderstandings of a potentially vital public policy issue. If they did, it would be appropriate for the people in the know to set the record straight.

    Ian: “Give a two hour interview and [the media will] condense it into a two paragraph article containing five factual errors and a dozen misquotations.”

    I like that… :)

  51. Terje Petersen
    November 16th, 2005 at 11:23 | #51

    QUOTE: There are some serious questions about how Greenpeace codncut themselves but your comments are unfair and overly dismissive.

    RESPONSE: The problem is not with Greenpeace, it is with the people that buy the product. The Greenpeace marketing machine is no better or worse than MacDonalds. If people want to ingest a product that is bad for their health then they should be the ones responsible for the consequences.

    I have a friend who is very green. He thinks Greenpeace sprout loads of bullshit. But he says every major organisation has a marketing department that uses emotive fluff to promote their product.

    When you buy a luxury car sold through green marketing and the notion of prestige you are not buying just a car. You are buying an aspiration. Those that buy the Greenpeace product are also buying an aspiration. The fact that the actual product spews gunk out the tailpipe is certainly relevant but hardly unique to Greenpeace.

  52. Ken Miles
    November 16th, 2005 at 12:23 | #52

    If Greenpeace are getting things wrong, then they should be pulled up on it. While it’s fair enough for an advocacy organisation to spin things, they should try to remain grounded in reality. If not, then they are as bad as the global warming skeptics.

    Terje, Greenpeace have described their mission as:

    “Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action.” http://www.greenpeace.org/international/about

    If they want to remain true this, then a solid grounding in reality would be a good start.

  53. zoot
    November 16th, 2005 at 13:04 | #53

    Ian: “Give a two hour interview and [the media will] condense it into a two paragraph article containing five factual errors and a dozen misquotations.�
    I can vouch for that from personal experience.

  54. Simon moffitt
    November 16th, 2005 at 16:00 | #54

    John H
    “It is not clear at all from a public policy standpoint that there is a need for change. You are starting with a political position (need for government action) to justify “sexing up� the facts. “

    I know maybe a dull person who finds listening to the Science Show, Catalyst reading New Scientist , Scientific American and reading online sci news sites but it gives me a pretty good idea that those ‘silly scare’ stories have a firm foundation. Better still with the net you have the chance to get the studies first hand. With due respect do you even bother to look into these matters in any depth it would appear from your statement that you don’t.

    Throw in a strong interest in the natural sciences and environmental science I also know unlike anti-environmentalists that even without Global warming humans are degrading many natural habitats and resources and that many animals and plants species and humans societies are living on a knifes edge and that don’t have the resources or ability to adapt or to migrate away from extreme weather events, shifts in temperature zones, changes in precipitation levels or sea level rises.

    JH
    “I’m not advocating denying the facts. You have painted a false dichotomy that people must either “sex-up� or “deny� the facts. What about just reporting them?’�

    JH that’s just it the anti-environment lobby like Jennifer don’t just refuse to report the work of qualified scientists but cheery pick, misrepresent and look fringe scientists or those outside the fields when sourcing their info. Jennifer claims to want science based environmental policy but then denies the work of CSIRO scientists when it goes against her pro-business ideology.

    There are many quality science journalism sources out there John who are just reporting the facts, but it is another thing for those with extreme confirmation bias to acknowledge this or to be open to what they are saying and not tar those science journalists or scientists with the same brush as the extreme environmentalist groups.

  55. November 16th, 2005 at 16:05 | #55

    “The Left would see Ian Gould as a hero, but the Right points to the large number of objections to his ideas, many by trained scientists, across the internet.”

    Need I go on? Mind you, this is op-ed I am faking, not the unadorned brutalisation of the facts that we find in the news pages. I am just taking a moment’s relief from doing that very thing.

  56. Ken Miles
    November 16th, 2005 at 17:03 | #56

    Dogz, I would suspect that Schneider would fit into category B more than category A.

    Paleoclimate studies have indicated that the earth’s climate can undergo significant changes when a small forcing is applied for a long period of time. For example, ice ages come and go with a frequency which is very close to changes in the earth’s orbit. However, these orbital changes only produce small changes in the amount or distribution of solar energy reaching earth. Or as James Hanson has put it:

    “small forces, maintained long enough, can cause large climate change.�

    Human activities can heat or cool the earth. Schneider’s initial calculations suggested that the cooling was likely to dominant in the future. Later when it was shown that his estimates of the future cooling were too high and his estimates of future heating were too low, he changed his mind. A perfectly reasonable thing to do.

  57. Ian Gould
    November 16th, 2005 at 19:06 | #57

    “If Greenpeace are getting things wrong, then they should be pulled up on it. ”

    I agree however this is a quite different proposition from dismissing the entire organisation as a cynical money-making scam.

    Greenpeace’s original support for a ban on DDT (even moderated by their position that there should be a gradual phase-out once suitable alternatives were foudn and subject to additional funding being provided to developing countries to fund other malaria control strategies) was an example of Greenpeace getting their facts wrong.

    If they were as cynical as Terje implies they wouldn;t have acknowledged that and reversed their position.

  58. Terje Petersen
    November 16th, 2005 at 22:09 | #58

    QUOTE: If they want to remain true this, then a solid grounding in reality would be a good start.

    RESPONSE: Yes I agree. The question is do they want to remain true to their stated mission. Which is something that lots of organisations struggle with.

  59. StephenL
    November 17th, 2005 at 11:20 | #59

    I interview scientists across a range of fields for my work. Sometimes the activities of the major environment groups, particularly Greenpeace, come up. Scientists in some fields hate them and claim they distort the truth. Those working on GM crops are an obvious example, but industrial chemists have said the same thing.

    But on climate change? Well I’ve spoken to many of the top people in the field in Australia and their general response is “Thank God they are out there. They’re talking about the sort of things we think are quite likely, but can’t say explicitly because we haven’t got a 0.05 confidence level.”

    In my experience there are very few climatologists in Australia who are not scared as hell about Greenhouse, and they think the public needs some scaring too, but find it difficult to do because of their training to cover all the detail in such a way that the key message gets lost.

  60. John Humphreys
    November 17th, 2005 at 16:56 | #60

    Simon moffit — the politics of global warming isn’t as simple as you think it is. You seem to think that public policy is (1) find problem (2) do anything even if it creates a net cost to society.

    With all due respect, if you want to have a respectable opinion on public policy issues you should at least have a passing knowledge of policy analysis.

    And we’re not talking about Jennifer here… we’re talking about whether it is appropriate to “massage” the truth in science to progress a political agenda.

  61. Hal9000
    November 17th, 2005 at 17:37 | #61

    “And we’re not talking about Jennifer here… we’re talking about whether it is appropriate to “massageâ€? the truth in science to progress a political agenda.”

    Well, no, we’re not. We’re talking about whether it’s appropriate to change the sense of what someone is saying in order to impugn their integrity.

    In what passes for a public debate about climate change, the deniers’ game is to seize on any shred of information (however dubious the source) casting doubt on any aspect of the case, and on the motives/honesty of anyone making the case in the public eye. The intention is to create a fog in the public mind, in order that nothing be done in the way of mitigating public policy, in order to preserve profit streams from existing practice for the short term. If it were a genuine scientific debate, the deniers would produce sound research showing that there is no global warming, and that human activity had no effect whatever on climate. Consider the example of a genuine scientific debate – big bang vs steady state. Steady state collapsed because the data in the end wouldn’t support it while big bang data just kept on accumulating. Well, anthropogenic climate change data keeps on accumulating and contrary evidence doesn’t. So we need to look outside the science to see what’s going on here.

    Analogies with the tobacco and asbestos ‘debates’ of the past spring to mind. Public confusion about degrees of certainty in matters statistical is gleefully seized upon by the sophists running the denial line to indicate doubt that isn’t there. Vast complex systems like the climate operate within a wide distribution of data – global warming does not mean that somewhere on the planet might not experience a record cold snap on any given day; regional climates are affected by systems like ocean currents that may perversely deliver counter-trending conditions. Global warming may deliver balmy conditions for some who have historically experienced extermes, and so on and so on. The media demand a simple story – on the one hand they have climate science with all its complexities and nuances and on the other they have the deniers, with their simple stories ‘what, me worry?’ and ‘that lot are all liars, fanatics and their data are riddled with inconsistencies’. Which brings us back to Schneider. His remarks are surely about the media and not about the science.

  62. Simon Moffitt
    November 17th, 2005 at 23:02 | #62

    John Humphreys- the politics of global warming isn’t as simple as you think it is. You seem to think that public policy is (1) find problem (2) do anything even if it creates a net cost to society.

    Actually a bit more sophisticated than that, rather than your wait until you know the patient is inoperable before your decide it may be time to do something about their cancer. :)

    Let’s see, I take onboard the recommendations from not only the most qualified in climatology but the worlds most prestigious scientific institutions that not only Global warming is happening, that this is human induced and we should be looking seriously at doing what we can to deal with this.

    Now we come to the rules of thumb and who do believe when it comes to economic modeling and the costs resulting from cutting CO2 emissions on the world or local economies.

    Do I believe the sort of economic modeling that not only doesn’t include pollution externalities in the first place but doesn’t look at the sort of costs that would be factored in if some of the environmental changes forecasted -with some likelihood- oh say the SE Asian monsoon either shifting or changing enough to effect the feeding some of the most populous regions in the world. Or would you like to put a cost in $ on the migration of 120 million people from Bangladesh to the surrounding countries? They are already feeling the impact of seal level rising now.

    Maybe JQ could tell me but did ABARE or similar studies include risk management analysis scenarios looking at the cost if some of the more likely climate changes occurred let alone the more extreme ones like the Atlantic Conveyor shutting down?

    Shall we make a guess John?

    Also JQ do they even look at win/win scenarios like energy efficiency drives or a redirection of business subsidies or new business opportunities created by looking to boost energy efficiency & new energy sources to the economy?

    Or should I listen to the sort of people who take this into consideration? The sort of people who also realize that this isn’t just about dollars and economies its about a threat to human life on scale that makes the recent Tsunami and earthquake look like a sore pinkie.

    BTW the international insurance industry may have some skills in policy analysis, even these business establishment types seem to get the picture that waiting around until we dot the i’s and cross the t’s that this may cost them enough to put them out of business.

    A cost is always outweighed if the is a reasonable chance that a even higher cost will be encountered if nothing is done. That is even if I accepted that the cost would be as big as is promoted by the Anti-GW lobby which I don’t

    John H-With all due respect, if you want to have a respectable opinion on public policy issues you should at least have a passing knowledge of policy analysis.

    Oh really! Ok do you have some sort of knowledge in social economic energy etc cost benefit analysis/modeling combined with risk management expertise plus climatic expertise, and that also takes into consideration environmental sciences knowledge on those natural capital inputs/services and how they may be effected by climate change and the flow on to the economy? When you and they have factored in parameters let me know.

    If a ship is sailing into sea full of icebergs you can bitch about the cost of having the radar and search light on but when my lives at sake I don’t give a shit how much it costs if the likely alternative is a good chance of losing the whole ship.

    John H- And we’re not talking about Jennifer here… we’re talking about whether it is appropriate to “massage� the truth in science to progress a political agenda.

    Short answer to this one no. : ) I’ve condemned what Schneider’s said –if that is indeed what he meant -in earlier threads and condemned instances like when Greenpeace lied about the toxicity of decommissioned North Sea oil rigs. The truth is scary enough with resorting to lies.

  63. Jeff Harvey
    November 18th, 2005 at 01:23 | #63

    Dogz,

    You are scoring an own goal. What annoys me about attacks like this on the integrity of Steve Schenider (one of the world’s most respected scientists, and a lead author on the IPCC 2001 report) is that you aim your virtriol in the wrong direction. How about some criticism the anti-environmental crowd who use the same strategy, but do so without ‘caveats’. In other words, they are a heck of a lot worse.

    Bjorn Lomborg (BL), for instance, perfects the art. In his book ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ he does this several times. In the notoriously bad chapter on biodiversity, for example, he writes:

    “Even Colinvaux admits the rate is incalculable”.

    Here, he is referring to an article by biologist Paul Colinvaux in a 1989 issue of Science in which the author discusses extinction rates in tropical forests. Clearly, BL’s aim is to make it look as if Colinvaux is throwing his arms in the air and admitting that its almost impossible to calculate extinction rates accurately, hence to make it look as if Colinvaux is downplaying it. But when Colinvaux’s entire quote is printed, it changes the entire gist of what he was saying:

    “As human beings lay waste to massive tracts of vegetation, an incalculable and unprecedented number of species are rapidly becoming extinct”.

    Thus, Colinvaux isn’t actually admitting anything, but he’s arguing that the extinction rate is large! You can see how Lomborg, by taking out a single word (incalculable) from the original quote, uses it to distort what Colinvaux meant. I presented this example to an audience in a debate I had with BL in 2002, and he was utterly speechless – he made no attempt to defend himself when given the opportunity.

  64. Terje Petersen
    November 18th, 2005 at 21:51 | #64

    I actually thought that Bjorn Lomborg chapter on biodiversity was very good (just like the rest of the book). And in terms of context the way that Lomborg quotes Colinvaux makes perfect sence. Lomborg is making the point in this chapter that arguments about extinction are too often sensationalised with alarmist sweeping generalisations such as “an incalculable and unprecedented number of species are rapidly becoming extinct” which get made without supportive evidence.

    Since Lomborg published his book the alarmists seemed to have gone quite on the previous claim that due to humans 40000 species every year perish from the earth.

    Lomborg goes to some trouble to explain that the best evidence is that we do have an extinction rate that is significantly higher than the normal background rate. However as he points out some people are not satisfied with how bad things actually are, they feel the need to suppose a catestrophic scenerio.

    As far as I can see Colinvaux gets quoted once only in the chapter. And it is only that one reference to the notion of “incalculable”. So its hardly a hatchet job focused on Calinvaux.

    The chapter primarily attacks extremist positions argued (or created) by people like Paul Ehrlich, Myers and E.O.Wilson. And it is extremist environmentalism that is the target of Lomborgs entire book.

  65. Simon Moffitt
    November 19th, 2005 at 08:04 | #65

    Terje whenever Lomborg is mentioned in mainstream science journalism quoting mainstream scientists Lomborg is univerally pilloried. It doesn’t mean that he may in fact have some vadid points against the more extreme environmentalists but the mainstream scientists aren’t impressed by his work.

  66. Terje Petersen
    November 19th, 2005 at 11:12 | #66

    Simon,

    Perhaps. However I was highly impressed by his book. And I am impressed by scientists like Patrick Moore (joint Greenpeace founder and forest ecologist) who was impressed by Lomborg and outraged by the campaign to silence him.

    Which mainstream scientists think that over 40,000 extincitions occur on Earth each year? Do you personally find that claim credible? I would challenge you to find the name of even a half dozen species (plant or animal) that are believed to have become extinct in the last decade. A half dozen over a decade is a worry but its well short of 40,000 every year.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  67. Simon Moffitt
    November 19th, 2005 at 20:56 | #67

    Terje, how about we get the 40 000 in the context from the man who raised it Norman Myers and see what he had to say?

    As I expected an old figure without the context and misrepresented.

    Seems to be the typical ploy by Lomborg and other anti-environmentalists.

    As far as Patrick Moore I bet there would be a few right wing business types that have changed sides, do you think that by itself means anything?

    & you are happy with one scientist that is in the extreme minority and discount the majority -who are trained in that field- who agree humans are having and adverse impact on the global environment?

    Easy for me even -while not trained- if you keep in interest in science over many years, through quality science journalism to keep up to date you are able to have an idea about who has credibility and who are the bullshitters.
    Lomborg is simply full of it.

    BTW this is from a environmental rationalist who changed his mind that recycling isn’t always the best option, that in a debate about GW that the nuclear option should at least be on the table for examination, sustainable whaling could be allowed, that maybe some GM plants could be grown under the right circumstances and certain forest areas could be sustainably logged if done the right way. So I’m certainly no Tree hugger.

  68. Simon Moffitt
    November 19th, 2005 at 20:59 | #68

    Sorry the link html didn’t work and I cannot be bother to work out why so use this:
    http://www.grist.org/advice/books/2001/12/12/specious/

  69. Terje Petersen
    November 20th, 2005 at 06:47 | #69

    Simon,

    I think you will find that Patrick Moore, Bjorn Lomborg and Terje Petersen all believe that the world is being warmed by human activity. I don’t think any of them have ever stated otherwise.

    Thanks for the Norman Myers link.

    EXTRACT:-


    In this respect as well as others, Lomborg seems to be exceptionally selective. As my 1979 book emphasizes, the estimate of 40,000 extinctions per year was strictly a first-cut assessment, preliminary and exploratory, and advanced primarily to get the issue of extinction onto scientific and political agendas. If Lomborg had checked my many subsequent analyses (totaling one quarter of a million words) in the professional literature instead of taking me to task for providing “no other references or argumentation,” he would have found more documented, modified, refined, and generally substantiated estimates.

    Myers makes a reasonable effort in defending his character. It would add weight to the article if Normal Myers actually cited some of his own later work to demonstrate what his new revised estimate is and how Lomborg failed to mention it.

    It would seem that in this article Myers is not defending the 40,000 figure and has moved on. I know that WWF was at the time of Lomborgs book still spouting the 40,000 figure in press releases. I am glad people have moved on because the figure seems quite indefensible.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  70. Ian Gould
    November 20th, 2005 at 12:07 | #70

    “Myers makes a reasonable effort in defending his character. It would add weight to the article if Normal Myers actually cited some of his own later work to demonstrate what his new revised estimate is and how Lomborg failed to mention it.

    It would seem that in this article Myers is not defending the 40,000 figure and has moved on. I know that WWF was at the time of Lomborgs book still spouting the 40,000 figure in press releases. I am glad people have moved on because the figure seems quite indefensible.”

    A five minute google search turns up this 1999 popular press article from Myers in which he gives an estiamte of 50-150 species becoming extinct per DAY.

    This provides an annual figure of 18-54,000 extinctiosn per year with a median value of 45,000.

    So yes, the original estimate has been revised – upwards.

  71. November 20th, 2005 at 17:36 | #71

    Simon: “Actually a bit more sophisticated than that, rather than your wait until you know the patient is inoperable before your decide it may be time to do something about their cancer.”

    That is totally off the mark. I am not arguing that the government should never act if there is a problem. I am arguing that they should act if and only if the benefits of their actions exceed the costs. In working that out — the cost of global warming (whether man-made or not) is only one part of the equation. I’m amazed I actually have to spell this out.

    After reading your above quote, I didn’t read the rest of your post. If you refuse to even try to understand your philosophical opponents it is unlikely that we can really get far in a conversation.

  72. Simon Moffitt
    November 21st, 2005 at 09:28 | #72

    Tegre given that we might actually lose the whole Amazon as it dries out from GW 40 000 might have looked good. Past a certain point these type of forests give out more CO2 than they take up, not to mention the amount of Co2 released if the peatbogs in places like Indonesia dry out and burn goggle that one.

    John H maybe I should have used a wink instead of a smile icon, but I had thought a smile was enough to indicate humor intended.

    & again I maintain that if there is a good chance of doing nothing exceeds greatly the cost of doing something-much of which isn’t a cost but a benefit eg energy effiecency drive- then you do it esp when their are many lives at stake.

    That’s what gets me about you guys there are many things that could be done to cut emissions that would actually benifit business and the economy but instead most of the pro-business want to wither run with GW isn’t happening or pull out an exaggerated costs card.

    I would say John avoiding millions of people dying and the world economy being greatly disrupted is a pretty big benefit.

    Maybe you could think of the cost as insurance maybe that would help. ;)

  73. Terje
    November 21st, 2005 at 09:44 | #73

    Simon,

    Am I to take it that you believe that the earth is currently experiencing 40,000 extinctions per annum?

    If forced to name the species involved I feel quite sure you would have great difficulty naming even a half dozen from the last decade.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  74. Andrew Reynolds
    November 21st, 2005 at 12:20 | #74

    Terje,
    The 40,000 figure (and several others being bandied about) rely on a few estimates – including estimates of the total number of species on Earth, past rates of extinction, current rates of extinction of known species etc.
    In essence, these estimates are saying that we guess we are losing species that we do not know about and have never really found and now will never know anything about.
    I am not saying they are invalid, in fact they may understate the rate of species lost, but we do not know and cannot prove that they are right. Huge amounts of resourses would be needed to verify the numbers and, really, those resourses could probably be better used in working why it is happening (if it is happening) and solving the problem rather than trying to find a particular species of beetle that no-one knows about somewhere in the Amazon rain forest.

  75. Simon Moffitt
    November 21st, 2005 at 13:07 | #75

    Terje well lets put it this way do you or I have any knowledge that would allow us to even make a educated guess if the 40 000 is near or totally off the mark?

    Don’t you think it is best left up to those best qualified to give us their educated estimates?

    I would say from my lay knowledge of biodiverity esp in biological hotspots like rainforests I would guess that a large part of the figure would be made up of insects & other creepy crawlies then 40 000 isn’t such an outlandish figure. I suppose they don’t count unless they are photogenic and give us warm fuzzy feelings like whales and Panda’s.

    BTW I couldn’t probably name many of the species that have gone extinct in Australia since white settlement, but that doesn’t change the large number or the fact that we have one of the worst records for species extinction in the modern world.

  76. Terje
    November 21st, 2005 at 14:04 | #76

    Most of the species that have disappeared in the last 200 years did so due to direct hunting or else competition/attack with/by introduced species. I could name lots of examples also. The Tasmanian Tiger being an easy example.

    However in modern times such occurances are very rare. We are more senstive to the effects of introduced species and we don’t hunt species to the brink in the way we once did. We invest a lot in pest erradication and in wealthy countries we set aside large areas of land in national parks. We also try and ensure that our forestry areas are pest free.

    My challenge to was to name a few from the last decade. Even if its merely as an exercise.

    20,000 years ago large parts of the world were covered by sheet ice. Animals and plants that survived that event did so due to an ability to migrate. Whilst large parts of the Amazon have been cleared other large parts remain.

    I am all for educated estimates so long as the logic behind them holds up. So far I have not encountered any such estimates. That may just mean that I am not widely read enough. However I have sought well laid out logical arguments to support figures like 40,000 and to date they appear to me to be nothing more than supposition based on highly speculative mathematical models.

    QUOTE: Huge amounts of resourses would be needed to verify the numbers and, really, those resourses could probably be better used in working why it is happening (if it is happening) and solving the problem rather than trying to find a particular species of beetle that no-one knows about somewhere in the Amazon rain forest.

    RESPONSE: If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. You are suggesting that we expend resources on fixing a problem when there will be absolutely no accountability as to whether our efforts are working or making things worse.

    I am all for fixing individual problems on a local level. If the local wetland is under threat due to nutrients in the runoff then I can see good reason to address the problem, because progress is measureable. However global scare mongering serves no purpose other than to distract us from what we can fix.

  77. Ian Gould
    November 21st, 2005 at 14:34 | #77

    >Most of the species that have disappeared in the last 200 years did so due to direct hunting or else competition/attack with/by introduced species.

    You are incorrect, most species which become extinct and plants and invertebrates and becoem extinct as a result of habitat destruction.

    I can document tihs for you if you like.

  78. Simon Moffitt
    November 21st, 2005 at 20:49 | #78

    Ian is right Terge and anyway are you making the mistake of thinking of extiction rates in places like Australia and trying to make this the context for a figure like 40 000?

    I would imagine that a figure like 40 000 would be talking about world wide and would taking into account biodiversity hotspots from places like tropical rain forests and what is lost if places like this are destroyed.

    So the logic holds out as these places are exceptionly species rich so you only have destroy a small about of land to wipe out large numbers of species.

    You may not be aware either that studies show that for many species they need a certain critical amount of land just to be viable as a species and someting as simple as putting a road through and clearing areas that don’t allow species migration can wipe them out.

  79. Jeff Harvey
    November 21st, 2005 at 21:25 | #79

    Terje,

    I would like to know what qualifications you have to be able to conclude that Lomborg’s chapter on biodiversity is ‘good’. The fact, is, I can assure you as a biologist who knows a little bit about the subject that its pretty appalling (I co-reviewed the chapter for Nature and Union of Concerned Scientists). Its so abominable in my opinion that it would qualify as of high school calibre (or below). Having a PhD in the subject and having published more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals, I think I am qualified to comment on a chapter by someone who mistakes earthworms for insects and cherry picks to make his points (BTW, Lomborg has a single peer-revewed paper in his career – in “Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma” in a Danish jail!!!. Utterly irrelevant with any of the chapters in his book).

    Where do I start countering such a thin pece that covers such a complex field? Where is a discussion between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning? Where is a discussion on such relevant areas as wetland loss and eutophication, simplified food webs, trophic cascades in terrestrial and marine ecosystems caused by overharvesting, and a wealth of related areas?

    First of all, and to answer your first point, Lomborg DID misquote Colinvaux. What if he had instead written, “Even Colinvaux admits that the rate of extinctions is unprecedented”. This would have totally changed the gist of what Colinvaux was saying, and more along the lines of what he really meant. It is amazing what one can do with a single word taken out of context. Lomborg’s partial quote was an intentional distortion and is unacceptable.

    Extinction rates: Lomborg admits in his xchapter that extinction rates are “1,500 times higher than the natural background rate” (in line with the predictions of scientists like Wilson, Raven etc.). But he then comes up with a palpably absurd estimate of 0.7% over 50 years (and he says nothing about which species may become extinct and how this will affect the way ecosystems function and if this will have a negative impact on the services they generate that ‘permit human existence’, to quote Simon Levin). If keystones are lost, then then even 0.7% would be a huge disaster.

    But onto measuring extinction rates: one surefire method is to base current extinction rates on the natural background rate. This can be done by estimating the life span of speces. Paleoecologists like Raup and Jablonski estimate 1 million years as a good baseline average – some live longer, but many (such as rodents) probably exist onlya few hndred thousand years. Thus, if extinction rates are natural, we should lose 1 sp/million sp/yr. If it is 1,500 time higher than the natural rate, we should lose 1,500 sp/million sp.yr. Now, estimates of species diversity on arth range from 5 million (very conservatively) to as high as 80 million e.g. see tropical research by Terry L. Irwin). Thus, this means that we can broadly estimate that we are losing between 7,500 and 120,000 species per year – which further means that if there are 30 million extant species (a very realistic estimate to many scientists) then Norman Myer’s estimate of 40,000 extinction per year holds. So much for Lomborg doing the math correctly. When I presented this to him in our famous 2002 debate he could only mutter that some species might live longer than 1 million years. Fair enough – but one million years is a very good baseline estimate based on current knowledge.

    Second distortion. So how does Lomborg calculate his 0.7% figure? It has taken a number of us to figure out at least partially what he does. He apparently uses one model from ecologist Nigel Stork that predcted insect extinctions in Britain and somehow extrapolates this across the planet. Moreover, the model is only one of eleven Stork postulates in his 1997 book, but is is the one that predicts the LOWEST rate. Why ignore the other ten which would produce higher extinction rates?

    Lomborg’s third attempt to dispute estimates of extinctions is by repudiating area-extinction models, based on the Soule-Terborgh-Wilson models of exponential decay. These models broadly predict that 10% of habitat loss leads to 1% loss of species in the habitat; 50% of habitat loss leads to 10% species loss, and 90% of habitat loss leads to 50% loss of species (if the remaining 10% of habitat is lost then all of the species disappear). Lomborg uses two examples to downplay the models: avian extinctions in North America and total extinctions in the Mata Atlantica Forests of Brazil. But both his examples are completely wrong. Lomborg’s example (1) argues that 99% of North American eastern deciduous forests were lost and only one bird became extinct. The true number is 52% of forest loss (at any one time, at about 1872) and three species went extinct, with three more teetering on the edge. This example conforms to the model perfectly – as spelled out in a paper by Pimm and Askins in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1995) that Lomborg does not cite in his book. Similarly, a paper by Brooks and Balmford (1997) in Nature shows that the number of birds teertering on the edge of extinction in coastal Brazilian forests is exactly as depicted by the models. Again, Lomborg does not cite this paper. These are hardy obscure journals! In fact, found some 30 papers published since 1990 that show area-extinction models to be rigorous and in many cases to underestimate extinction rates because they only measure habitiat loss (and not other processes such as invasive species and pollution which also affect biodiversity). Lomborg does not cite any of them. His Puerto Rico example is also fatally flawed (see our UCS piece on this).

    In the final chapter he states that “I have tried to present all the facts”, so how can he ignore many studies that produce dfferent conclusions from the few studies he cherry-picks? The fact is, if he was to include the studies I mentioned then he would have to change his conclusions. And this would undermine his thesis completely.

    Lastly, Terje states that Lomborg sets out to debunk scientists like Edward O. Wilson and Paul Ehrlich. His flawed analyses certainly cannot achieve this, except in the minds of those who want to believe what he writes and are not informed about the state-of-the-art empirical studies. But Lomborg has an ace up is sleeve. Like many other academically obscure anti-environmentalists, he knows that one way to deligitimize esteemed researchers is to make them seem like a bunch of idiots. if this is achieved, then by default his position becomes much more credible. So, in the closing paragraphs of the biodiversity chapter, he writes some utter nonsense about Wilson and Ehrlich which has nothing to do with our understanding of the rate and consequences of biodiversity loss. These two scholars have written between them more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and many books; both have wo the Crafoord Prize, given in lieu of the Nobel Prize to eminent researchers in environmental science. It s therefore imperative for Lomborg to at least attempt to deliver the coup-de grace.

    He wrotes that scientific luminaries such as Wilson and Ehrlich support a plan (the Wildlands Project, or WP) which aims to relocate the entire US populaton to small isolated island bubbles so as to create a vast wilderness. Now, anybody uninitiated wit the WP would think that anyone supporting such a lan is nuts, crazy, deluded. And I would agree, except that nowhere in the WP is this absurd proposition forwarded. I support the WP, and have read much about it, especially in the book, “Continental Conservation”, edited by the two eminent ecologists who founded it, Michael Soule and John Terborgh. The WP actually aims to reintroduce top-level predators (e.g. grizzly bears, gray wolves) into ecosystems from which they disappeared by having federal agencies work in co-operation with private landowners. The aim is to re-establish these predators which play a critical role in regulating the system via top-down processes (trophic cascades). The WP also wants to see more federal and private co-operation to restore wetlands and maintain healthy populations of endemic wildlife. But nowhere in the plan is there a ridiculous notion to move everyone to urban island bubbles! This is utter nonsense.

    So where did Lomborg get this absurd information? From a 1991 commentary in Science written by two known anti-environmental writers (Mann and Plummer) who have had links with “Wise Use” groups. One of them later worked for a think tank in Seattle (The ‘Discovery Institute’). if Lomborg had sought the truth, he could have written to Soule, Wilson, or Ehrlich personally before writing such an outrageous smear. But, of course, this would have undermined his aim, which was to marginalize Wilson and Ehrlich in a further attempt to legitimize his own postion. Its a classic ploy, known as the ‘paradigm shift’.

    I am only getting started! The chapter is only seven pages long and its full of gobbledegook.

  80. Ian Gould
    November 21st, 2005 at 21:34 | #80

    “Lomborg’s example (1) argues that 99% of North American eastern deciduous forests were lost and only one bird became extinct. The true number is 52% of forest loss (at any one time, at about 1872) and three species went extinct, with three more teetering on the edge.”

    Didn’t he also include species that weren’t endemic to the Eastern US and argue that because they had survived in other areas this meant they hadn’t become extinct even though the Eastern North American population had been wiped out?

  81. Jeff Harvey
    November 21st, 2005 at 22:40 | #81

    Ian,

    Yes, he did – because he based the chapter on a similar piece of nonsense written by two business economists (Aaron Wildavsky and Julian Simon in “The State of Humanity”) who knew nothing about ecology either. In their chapter, they include all bird species found in eastern North American forests and adjacent biomes which thus includes a lot of habitat generalists (about 225 species). Pimm and Askins correctly argued that habitat specialists (about 24 species) must only be included in the analyses, because generalists can repopulate ranges from adjoining habitats when the original habitat regenerates itself. The species that did beome extinct were: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet and Bachman’s Warbler, with the recently rediscovered Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Red Cockaded Woodpecker and Kirtland’s Warbler all reduced to small remnants of their earlier numbers (

  82. Jeff Harvey
    November 21st, 2005 at 22:41 | #82

    Ian,

    Yes, he did – because he based the chapter on a similar piece of nonsense written by two business economists (Aaron Wildavsky and Julian Simon in “The State of Humanity”) who knew nothing about ecology either. In their chapter, they include all bird species found in eastern North American forests and adjacent biomes which thus includes a lot of habitat generalists (about 225 species). Pimm and Askins correctly argued that habitat specialists (about 24 species) must only be included in the analyses, because generalists can repopulate ranges from adjoining habitats when the original habitat regenerates itself. The species that did beome extinct were: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet and Bachman’s Warbler, with the recently rediscovered Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Red Cockaded Woodpecker and Kirtland’s Warbler all reduced to small remnants of their earlier numbers (less than 2%). As Lomborg has probably never heard of any of these species, its easy to see why he’d make such a hash of the example. But it is in keeping with the inept quality of the chapter. On Puerto Rico, for example, 8 of 19 endemic bird species are extinct, and 90% of the forest has been lost. Three more species are hanging on by a thread and would certainly be extinct were it not for depserate efforts to protect the relic populatons. The area-extinction model predicts 50% of species loss which is approximately what is recorded. Lombrg ignorantly argues that there are more species in Puerto Rico now than originally, but fails to understand that most of these are exotics from abroad that were introduced to the island (as in Hawaii). Many, such as the house sparrow, are extreme habitat generalists.

    Lastly, Terje, lke Lomborg, does what all of the anti-environmentalists do so well – ignores the huge range of ‘unknowns’ in estimating extinction rates. We do know that a very small fraction of species have been properly classified (

  83. Terje Petersen
    November 21st, 2005 at 23:41 | #83

    QUOTE: I would like to know what qualifications you have to be able to conclude that Lomborg’s chapter on biodiversity is ‘good’.

    RESPONSE: I have no qualification in book review. I found the chapter to be well written in so far as it laid out his basic case. Whether it is factually accurate seems to have become the point of this discussion. Thanks for weighing in.

    At a guess I take if from what you have written that the subsection of Lomborgs chapter titled “How Many Species Are There?” is okay. It states that “Both the Erwin extrapolations and the size-number extrapolations give us the currently best estimates of 10-80 million species.”

    In the “How many go extinct?” section of the chapter he states “A species typically survives 1-10 million years.” So your figure of 1 million years is at the lower end of the range suggested by Lomborg but still in the same ball park.

    Using Lomborgs range (which includes your figures) we would arrive at a couple of scenerios:-

    NATURAL EXTINCTION RATE RANGES FROM: 1 sp/million sp/yr – 0.1 sp/million sp/yr.

    CHANGING UNITS: 0.000001 extinctions per species per annum, ranging down to 0.0000001 extinctions per species per annum.

    NUMBER OF SPECIES RANGES FROM: 10 million to 80 million.

    NATURAL BACKGROUND EXTINCTION RATE IS HENCE: 1 per annum to 80 per annum (using the extremities of each range).

    At 1500 times the background rate we would have an extinction rate ranging from 1500 per annum to 120000 per annum.

    So mathematics would suggest that Lomborg is in an awkward spot. The 40,000 figure is inside that range.

    QUOTE: But he {Lomborg} then comes up with a palpably absurd estimate of 0.7% over 50 years

    RESPONSE: This figure seems to be a logical derivative of the numbers above. As such its not so absurd.

    Take the lower natural extinction rate in the Lomborg range. ie 0.0000001 per species per annum. Multiply by 1500 to get 0.00015 per species per annum. Then compount this over 50 years:-

    [(1 + x) ^ 50] – 1 = 0.00778

    Or 0.778% per 50 years.

    Of course if we take the higher extinction rate (which you suggest we should) then we get a figure of 7.78% which is tragically high.

    CONCLUSION: On the face of it the maths above would suggest that Lomborg has done an injustice to Myers even if his concluding argument (0.7% per 50 years) is defendible. Certainly your basic maths does more to convince than the argument he was up against in the Scientific America article:-

    http://www.greenspirit.com/lomborg/

  84. Jeff Harvey
    November 22nd, 2005 at 01:13 | #84

    Terje,

    Thanks for the reply. have a few more points to make. Also, how about responding to my other points on Lomborg’s incompetent biodiversity chapter? I don’t want to seem arrogant (please accept my apologies if I do) but Lomborg is cunning. He knows full well that the vast majority of his reading audience are not equipped with the scientific knwledge to validate or invalidate his claims. Many people want to beliee what he says, but his strategy is to know just a little bit more than the vast majority of his audience. Researchers like me who can undermine his nonsense are viewed negatively, as ‘spoiling the party’. I gave Lomborg a pretty hard time in our 2002 debate because he refuses to amend many errors that were pointed out to him six years ago when the Danish edition of his book was published. FYI, he avoids me like the plague now – at three venues where I spoke he was invited but he backed out. He knows that the next time we meet I will undermine his shoddy arguments even more than I did in 2002.

    I won’t go into detailing all of the distortions by Patrick Moore over at Green Spirit over the years since he became head of the British Columbia Forestry Alliance (set up as a lobbying group by the PR giant Burson Marstellar as a front for the logging industry in Canada).

    But let’s look at one statement he allegedly made in an interview with Anthony Brown at the Observer (UK) a few years ago (The article, in case you are interested, is entitled “Judas of the eco-warriors spreads his gospel of doubt”). In the interview, Moore states that “Not a single family of birds, beetles or mammals has bvecome extinct because of human actions (logging)”. This sounds pretty impressive, but its a statement aimed at those who can’t tell a species from a genus from a phylum from a class from a family. To the layman, a family is liable to be interpreted as a ‘sort’, ‘type’, ‘breed’ or ‘species’. Extinction, of course, is not measured at the family level: as an example, its like saying that the entire family Felidae (cats) is wiped out except for the domestic tabby (Felis domesticus) and that there would not be a crisis. Thus, we’d have lost everything from leopards to jaguars to ocelots to tigers to lions to cheetahs and many more (35 species in all) but the family would still be technically extant because we still have the good old moggie. As a second example, we might lose all of the beetles in the family Carabidae (several tens of thousands of species) except for a few relics, and the family would still technically exist. The bottom line is that we don’t measure extinctions at the levels of families but as genetically distinct populations or species (at the very highest level). Moore is being blatantly cavalier by using families as a guideline.

    As for Lomborg, when we debated I really wanted to know what he knew about the realtionship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Of course, as I expected, the answer was: not much at all (e.g. virtually nil, because he has no formal training in population ecology). This is important because a species loses its economic and ecological value long before it becomes extinct. If he was to give an honest interpretarion of the ‘state of the world’, he’d have to spend a lot of time covering the natural economy, and how human consumption patterns are undermining many critical ecological services that emerge over variable spatial and temporal scales and that sustain us. But he dispenses with the natural economy entirely, because he somehow must believe that humans are exempt from the laws of nature. He is a linear optimist, who believes that the global economy will forever grow linearly, and if apparent limits are approached, then human ingenuity will intervene to forever increase carrying capacity. This wishful thinking is juxtaposed against ecological systems which are showing severe signs of wear and tear from human actions. There are plenty of examples where local ecosystems are being seriously impaired by unsustainable oversuse. Wetlands, for example are being drained rapidly over many parts of the world. They provide critical services as watersheds and in purifying terrestrial wastes. The overharvesting of top level predators in marine ecosystems is threatening their functioning by affecting trophic cascades and altering the structure of food webs. But Lomborg says very little about these and related effects of simplifying systems of immense complexity because he does not understand them. Of course, its therefore hardly surprising that he does not discuss population genetics and the effects of losing genetic variability on the ability of a species to respond to rapid anthropogenic changes. But to claim his view of the world – based alost exclusively on the material economy – is realistic, is an illusion.

  85. Rod Pinna
    November 22nd, 2005 at 02:33 | #85

    Terje: On the Thatcher quote, the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website (www.margaretthatcher.org) seems to have no arguement with the original article where the “no such thing as society” quote comes from. Having read the extract there, I can’t see how the “left” are mis-characterising it.

    Editorial comments: Extract only. 1600-1720. The interview was published on 31 October 1987 (under the title “Aids, education and the year 2000!”), pp8-10. Douglas Keay faithfully reproduced MT’s reflections on society, although in the transcript the phrase “There is no such thing as society” occurs a few paragraphs below its position in the published text. A statement elucidating the remark was issued by No.10 in July 1988 at the request of the Sunday Times. The statement is reproduced after the interview as an appendix (see Sunday Times, 10 July 1988, “Atticus” column).

  86. Dogz
    November 22nd, 2005 at 06:58 | #86

    Jeff Harvey,

    I am not kicking an own goal. Schneider’s claims stand or fall on their own merits regardless of what you think of Lomborg.

    “But he dispenses with the natural economy entirely, because he somehow must believe that humans are exempt from the laws of nature. He is a linear optimist, who believes that the global economy will forever grow linearly, and if apparent limits are approached, then human ingenuity will intervene to forever increase carrying capacity.”

    He doesn’t dispense with the natural economy entirely, he’s just not willing to endorse the black-armband view of human progress adopted by the leftie/greenie/whinging anti-development brigade.

    And yes – I also believe humans will likely overcome all obstacles to our progress. No evidence to the contrary yet. Humans are the most interesting thing to happen to this planet in its entire history. While we should ensure that we don’t blow ourselves up or pollute our bed too much, I think human progress is far too important to put the brakes on for a few thousand bug species.

    And that’s the crux of the outrageous con pulled by the environmentalists: they know full-well when they say “40,000 species go extinct from human activity each year” that joe public is thinking 40,000 pandas or dolphin species. What the environmentalists are careful not to add is that almost all the species are actually bugs. Wouldn’t have quite the same impact, would it Jeff?

    With this kind of crap are you surprised that a lot of people just don’t trust you? The public are not as stupid as you treat them. You’re the ones scoring own goals.

  87. Ian Gould
    November 22nd, 2005 at 08:13 | #87

    >In the “How many go extinct?� section of the chapter he states “A species typically survives 1-10 million years.� So your figure of 1 million years is at the lower end of the range suggested by Lomborg but still in the same ball park.

    Terje, the 1,000,000 year figure is generally accepted by ecologists. I’ve never encountered a figure even close to 10,000,000 years anywhere else.

    Does Lomborg source this claim?

  88. Simon Moffitt
    November 22nd, 2005 at 09:48 | #88

    Trouble is Dogz we actually do have to worry about insects and birds species if we want to be totally selfish about as they provide a invaluable service to the worlds economy as pollinators. Lose them and a lot of agriculture is screwed.

    The other thing to factor is is keystone species both in the foodchain and for the health & existence of many ecosystems, take them out and either the food chain collapses or is severely weakened.

    We have yet to see what the increased acidity in the sea will do to the smaller organisms that make up the base of the foofchain.

    So this ‘outrageous con’ stems from a greater understanding of the importance of diverse species rich ecoystems not only as something valuable in themselves but in the services they provide humanity for free and for the potential drug and health benifits.

    No the public aren’t stupid but neithr have they been impacted on and will start to react when things start to impact on them directly which can be seen by the increased awarness of Global warming by non-environmentalists after those hurricanes.

    This will followon for things like biodiversity, as the credibility of the anti-environmentalists line ‘no humans aren’t having an adverse impact on the planet’ starts to be shown to be the lie it is.

  89. Dogz
    November 22nd, 2005 at 10:17 | #89

    Of course humans are having an adverse impact on the planet. But is it going to end in catastrophe? Almost certainly not. Our technology is now sufficiently advanced that we’ll overcome any adverse impacts of our own creation. Soon we’ll be able to genetically engineer supercrops and grow meat in vats far more efficiently than by grazing animals in fields. The future is bright for the human race.

  90. Simon Moffitt
    November 22nd, 2005 at 10:32 | #90

    Dogz depend on whether on whether the GW impacts are as bad as predicted and while it may not be enough to end the human race something like the Asian monsoons shifting or being disrupted will effect millions. 1st world countries have the resources to adapt but then you have decide how much is spent on arm and security to keep the millions out who will try to get into those 1st world havens.

    It will make today’s refugee problems look like a picnic.

    I do believe the technology is there but by the time the environmental problem naysayers get behind a push to change it may be too late.

    I’ve always found it strange the idea to us e technology to adapt to environmental damage like a GM crop that is salt tolerant rather than avoiding degrading the land in the first place.

    BTW looking forward to see how the green and vegetarian movements react to the vat meat developments.

  91. Ian Gould
    November 22nd, 2005 at 10:38 | #91

    >Soon we’ll be able to genetically engineer supercrops and grow meat in vats far more efficiently than by grazing animals in fields

    And we’ll fly our rocket-cars to bubble cities on the moon.

  92. Simon Moffitt
    November 22nd, 2005 at 10:47 | #92
  93. Dogz
    November 22nd, 2005 at 11:06 | #93

    SM, I don’t advocate indiscriminate rape and pillage of the environment. But I get sick of hearing the doomsayers. Somehow in the west we’ve succeeded in institutionalizing the people who used to wander the streets with their sandwich boards screaming “the end of the world is nigh!”. A mixture of that and puritanical Baptist morality.

    They certainly have history and statistics on their side; something really crappy is bound to happen eventually, at which point they’ll all gleefully squeal “I told you so”. But if we’d followed their advice for the last 50 years we’d all be living in mud huts feeding off witchety grubs.

    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

  94. Simon Moffitt
    November 22nd, 2005 at 11:53 | #94

    Dogz that’s why by-in-large I don’t listen to green groups like Greenpeace but to the scientists. Also there has been a lot of work done in sustainable development ‘Natural Capital’ etc where you get to have your cake an eat it.

    The old its the environment or jobs is obsolete.

    Sorry the moon isn’t my scene working on affording a floating home though :)
    http://www.gizmag.com.au/go/2036/

  95. Terje Petersen
    November 22nd, 2005 at 20:34 | #95

    QUOTE: Also, how about responding to my other points on Lomborg’s incompetent biodiversity chapter?

    RESPONSE: On point one you win a major victory and I have already conceded defeat. Predominantly because I am not going to even attempt to argue against an obvious (in hindsight) mathematical consequence from a given data set. On point two I think Lomborg can defend his case but he is probably stretching things a little by supposing that species natural endure for 10 million years. On your points two and three I respond below.

    QUOTE: Lomborg’s third attempt to dispute estimates of extinctions is by repudiating area-extinction models, based on the Soule-Terborgh-Wilson models of exponential decay.

    RESPONSE: I have nothing much to say on this matter. However I will observe that 20000 years ago a lot of current habitat was covered by ice and snow so todays species must have either coped with that extreme event or else evolved since then.

    QUOTE: Like many other academically obscure anti-environmentalists, he knows that one way to deligitimize esteemed researchers is to make them seem like a bunch of idiots.

    RESPONSE: A common debating tool. And of course a very weak one. It is as bad as arguing from authority which is of course what you did in part when you weighted into this discussion with a list of your credentials. And I am sure that when you describe Lomborg as cunning you impute motive and seek to tarnish his work in the process. We should all work hard to separate personalities from the strength or weakness of an argument. Of course that is not always easy.

  96. Jeff Harvey
    November 22nd, 2005 at 21:51 | #96

    Dogz,

    Sadly, you don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Your refrain is that humanity should continue to pillage nature and cross our fingers and pray in technologies to save us. How much of the current empirical data on human impacts on the biosphere do you actually read? Or at least perused?

    I suggest you read the Atlantic Mothly article by Paul Ehrich and colleagues (No middle way on the environment). http://www.chem.brown.edu/chem12/readings/atlantic/Ehrlich/Ehrlich.html

    It puts away pretty well all of the nonsense that you and the technoptimist finger-crossing cornucopians have been saying. The bottom line is that nature generates a range of indirect services that, to reiterate what Simon Levin said in his book, Fragile Dominion, “Permit human existence”. These services have few, if any, technological substitutes, and function by acting to regulate atmospheric composition, biogeochemical cycles, nutrient cycling, stabilizing watersheds, generating and maintaining soils, and purifying water. Evidence from the joint UN/World Bank Livig Planet Index, initiated in 1970 to monitor the health of freshwater, coastal marine and forest ecosytems, reveals that by 2000 humanity had depleted nature of capital by more than 30%. Further, global eco-footprinting analyses, measuring per capita impacts of humanity on the planet’s ecological life support systems reveals that we surpassed the planet’s sustainable carrying capacity in about 1980 – and earlier if we set aside 10% of the world’s land for nature reserves. The developed world alone, making up only 16% of the world’s population, consumes 105% of natural capital, meaning that we alone run a global ecological deficit. Thus, humanity inherited a wealth of biotic and abiotic resources from nature and we are spending it like there is no tomorrow. We are effectively living off of capital rather than income, and the debt will have to be paid one day.

    Your total inability to grasp ecological economics and the effects of the hair-trigger global economy is summed up in your phrase:
    “And that’s the crux of the outrageous con pulled by the environmentalists: they know full-well when they say “40,000 species go extinct from human activity each yearâ€? that joe public is thinking 40,000 pandas or dolphin species. What the environmentalists are careful not to add is that almost all the species are actually bugs”.

    The fact is that empirical research demonstraes that “bugs” and “bacteria” and other invertebrates and micro-organisms are the keystones that drive ecosystem processes and help to maintain stable, healthy systems. If we were to eliminate nitrogen fixing bacteria, for example, we’d be in deep, deep trouble. Ditto for insects, in particular higher trophic levels (predators, parasitoids) and especially pollinators. There are no technological subsitutes for many of these services, which we freely obtain from nature (they do not carry prices, which means we only appreciate their importance when they are added, or, more usually, lost). But there is no way yet of knowing how far humans can assault natural systems beyond a point which they can sustain themselves, and ultimately, us. I read in one of your posts that you claimed to be a scientist. In what field? You know nothing aout environmental science, as your posts amply illustrate.

  97. Jeff Harvey
    November 22nd, 2005 at 22:05 | #97

    Terje,

    I don’t wish to argue over minute details with you. But if a accountant wrote a book arguing that the Sun orbits the Earth (rather than the opposite), it was published by a major imprimatur, and was greeted by the lay media as a stunning revelation, would you not expect astro-physicists to be a little bit annoyed? This explains the hostility toward’s Lomborg’s book by many in the scientific community. He’s oversimplified and misrepresented their fields. He wrote his book in less than 2 years, by superficially covering a range of exceedingly complex fields that would take experts in any one of them decades to fully understand. Heck, the importance of biodiversity is dispensed with in a mere 7 pages! Yet ecology is the most complex of the life-sciences because of the significantly non-linear relationship between cause and effect. Lomborg’s book is riddled with elementary errors and misunderstandings (his discussion of ecosystem services is appalling), it cherry picks studies supporting his point of view while ignoring dozens with opposite conclusions, it misquotes scientists, it feebly attempts to impugn scientists with smears that are plainly false in order to legimitimize Lomborg’s status, and it bases its conclusions more on wishes and desires than on empirical facts. I’ve spent the better part of 15 years as a researcher in my field – and this pales besides the experise of researchers like Paul Ehrlich and Edward O. Wilson. By contrast, Lomborg has no formal scientific expertise, and yet we are expected as a society to ignore the views of people with years of experience for an obscure academic? Please!

  98. Dogz
    November 23rd, 2005 at 04:05 | #98

    Jeff Harvey,

    We’ve heard the same thing from you lot for 50 years or more. It is getting very old. I reiterate my point: human progress has been spectacular in that period and will continue to be spectacular. But if we had listened to the environmentalists all along we’d be back in the caves. I have never met an environmentalist that did not have a fundamentally anti-human, anti-development outlook.

    From your link:

    “it is our collective judgment that continuing population growth poses a great risk to humanity”

    Ah yes, the old population growth chestnut. Neither you nor those scientists quoted in that article have any idea what a sustainable population for the planet is. With technology, it could easily be 50B people. But I tell you what, if you’re that worried about it, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and remove yourself from the equation?

    “Yet ecology is the most complex of the life-sciences because of the significantly non-linear relationship between cause and effect.”

    BS. Name one science that is governed only by a linear relationship between cause and effect. I’ll give you a hint: linearity breaks down once you get beyond the quantum-mechanical level. Ecologists don’t have a monopoly on complexity via nonlinearity. But by claiming that you do, you justify your “high priesthood” status and can claim that anyone outside the field has no credibility when criticizing you.

    BTW, the expression “significantly non-linear” is like “significantly non-unique” or “significantly non-virgin”. Something is either linear or it is not. Chaos theory teaches us that once a system is nonlinear, even by only a little bit, all bets are off in respect of predictability.

    Your position is neatly summed up by the following:

    “But there is no way yet of knowing how far humans can assault natural systems beyond a point which they can sustain themselves, and ultimately, us.”

    Exactly. You don’t know. Please let me know when you do. But in the meantime, please don’t use ignorance as an excuse for pushing your anti-development/anti-consumption agenda.

  99. November 23rd, 2005 at 04:38 | #99

    Dogz, you can’t make sense of which way to act when you don’t have enough information unless you make some guiding assumptions, heuristics or rules of thumb. It helps if you have good ones and know what they are, rather than just using them unquestioned. You seem to be using “he who hesitates is lost”, Jeff Harvey seems to be using “don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose”.

  100. Jeff Harvey
    November 23rd, 2005 at 19:25 | #100

    Thanks PM,

    Dogz is a linear optimist who somewho believes that humans are exempt from the laws of nature. He thinks we can manage systems of stupendous complexity whose functioning we barely understand but which we do know generate a range of services over variable spatial and temporal scales that make life possible. And yes, ecology IS the most complex of the life sciences simply because the inherent complexity covers so many different scales. In the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning debate, we’ve barely gotten out of the starting gate. I gave a lecture a few weeks ago in Helsinki in which I described experiments we’d done here that examine the effects of belowground herbivory on above-ground processes as mediated through a common plant species. We showed that changes in plant chemistry due to herbivore attack indirectly affects organims associated with the plant in another domain (e.g. in the opposite ‘compartment’). In giving this and similar lectures, I am often asked how we manage to incorporate such compexity into the experiments. My response: this is utterly simple and straightforward compared to the spatial dynamics of real systems. We’ve only studied mechanisms over several trophic levels of a linear (vertical) food chain and haven’t even expanded this horizontally to the community level. But of course, organisms interact in nature and communities are embedded in ecosytems that are embedded in biomes that are embedded in the biosphere. Throw in the different scales by which above- and below ground communities interact and t gets that much more complicated. At what point local stochastic processes become determinant is still a mystery, and the role played by thousands of species and literally billions of individual organisms interacting is what makes these systems so complicated to study, and perhaps forever beyond the intelligence of humanity to fully comprehend. These are truly complex adaptive systems in which the combined biological actvites of myriads of organisms generate conditions that regulate the composition and renewal of the atmosphere, and facilitate the cycling of nutrients, the decomposition of wastes, and the generation of deep, rich soils. Because most have no technological subsitutes, the current non-replicatible global experiment humanity is conducting on them will have potentially severe consequences for civilization.

    But since many people, like Dogz, utterly fail to comprehend the significance and importance of our ecological life support systems, they belittle or ridicule them. His/her arguments are based on a complete inability to grasp ecology, so it is dispensed with in favor of gobbledegook arguments suggesting that humanity can continue to nickel and dime the environment to death and that there will be no severe consequences for humanity.

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