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A taxonomy of delusion

May 27th, 2009

At this point in the debate over climate change, I doubt that any standard process of argument (reference to scientific research, analysis of data, refutation on Internet-derived talking points and so on) is likely to shift the views of those who accept some version of the anti-science position on this topic. Certainly, I don’t intend to try any further.

But, it seems useful for a number of reasons to try to understand why people take and hold such positions. In some cases, it may be that, where rational debate on the scientific merits has failed, some other mode of argument or persuasion might work. More generally, in any political process, it’s useful to understand the opposition.

Here’s a first attempt at a taxonomy, which I started in this Tim Lambert thread

. Looking at those who have either propounded or accepted anti-science views on this topic, nearly all appear to fit into one or more of the following categories

* Tribalists
* Ideologists
* Hacks
* Irresponsible contrarian
* Emeritus disease

Update John Mashey has a related taxonomy here

Further update The discussion has convinced me that I need to add a further category, that of irresponsible contrarian. I’d previously applied this to Richard Lindzen, see below, so it was a mistake not to have this category.

Tribalists are probably the biggest group, with two main subcategories.

First, there’s a group of people who really dislike environmentalists and can’t bear the thought that they could be right about something as important as climate change. This group is strongly represented among (though still a minority of) engineers and mining geologists, groups that appear to make up most of the rank-and-file membership of the Lavoisier Group, for example.

Second, there are rightwingers in the US and other countries (including Australia) where the political right derives most of its thinking from the US. The basic motivation is the same, except the animus is directed towards liberals (in the US sense) and leftists in general, rather than environmentalists specifically. Members of this group are notable for an obsessive focus on Al Gore: some seem to think that an An Inconvenient Truth and not, say, the thousands of pages of IPCC reports, is the primary document in the case for action on climate change.

There’s nothing much that can be done about the political right, which is wrapped in impenetrable layers of delusion, but there’s a lot that can be done (and is being done, to some extent) to bridge cultural gaps between environmentalism and professions like engineering and geology. Younger members of these professions tend to be lot more concerned about sustainability, while the spread of suits, haircuts and a generally pragmatic approach among environmentalists has done its bit also.

Ideologists overlap significantly with tribal rightwingers, but are potentially more amenable to argument. These are people with a libertarian, or more generally pro-market outlook, who have convince themselves that doing something serious about climate change involves a major step towards socialism (a view shared by a few hopeful socialists). Given this conviction, wishful thinking inclines members of this group towards scientific delusionism. For most of these people, the fears they have are groundless. The standard measures proposed to deal with climate change, emissions trading and carbon taxes, are minimally interventionist, both in scale (maybe $10 billion a year for Australia to start with, and not much more even in the long run) and form (these are market-based methods of correcting externalities).

There are, I guess, a handful of extreme libertarians whose ideological position depends on the non-existence of global public goods requiring global policy solutions. To this group, I can only say that if your political views are inconsistent with the existence of the atmosphere, perhaps you should revise those views rather than trying to adjust reality to fit them.

The third group, not large in number, but important as opinion leaders, are hacks, who argue against science for a living. This group can easily be recognised by their past track record. Since there aren’t many people prepared to do this kind of thing, the same individuals and institutions have pushed the corporate line on tobacco and passive smoking, the ozone layer, DDT and climate change, among many others. In Australia, the IPA has played the leading role in this respect, running hard on passive smoking before shifting to climate delusionism.

The individual who most exemplifies this group globally is Steve Milloy, an all-purpose compendium of hackery, who spent years presenting himself as a scourge of “junk science” while secretly on the payroll of tobacco and oil companies. He’s now the official Science expert for Fox News, which says it all I guess. People who have paid little attention to th issue and have accepted Internet factoids as trustworthy can often by persuaded by pointing out their origin with people like Milloy. But at this point the majority of delusionists have well-established mental defences for their own delusions; many have convinced themselves that it’s the real scientists who are spouting lies for money and that corporate funding for the likes of Milloy is just self-defence.

The best hope of dealing with this group has been making life hard for their paymasters. After being outed as the money pump for a string of front groups, Exxon has largely given up paying. For anyone old enough to have been in the game before the mid-1990s, it’s always useful to check the Tobacco Archives, which document every corrupt payment made by the tobacco industry to its legion of hired guns.

Fourth, there are irresponsible contrarians, exemplified by Richard Lindzen. The typical contrarian is skilled enough in argument to maintain a weak position, and successful enough in their own field (often tangentially relevant to the issue at hand) to have an inflated view of their own intelligence. And they prefer confuting the conventional wisdom (to their own satisfaction) to giving serious consideration to the views of experts on subjects where there own knowledge is limited. The type is most clearly illustrated by a 2001 Newsweek interview of Lindzen that I’ve quoted before

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Anyone who could draw this conclusion in the light of the evidence, and act on it as Lindzen has done, is clearly useless as a source of advice on any issue involving the analysis of statistical evidence. But, I imagine, he could hold up his side of this argument just as well as he does on climate change.

Finally, and most unfortunately, there is Emeritus disease, a problem that is found in every area of academic controversy. The typical sufferer is an older male, with the archetypal case being the holder of an emeritus position. Unfortunately, aging tends to go along with both a hardening of intellectual arteries and an unwillingness or inability to keep abreast of recent developments in the field in question, with the effect of dogmatic attachment to views formed long ago. Having taken a view of an issue on the basis of very limited consideration, they remain dogmatically attached to it until the end of their days.
(Looking at the description, I’m obviously a high-risk candidate for going emeritus myself. That’s one reason I try to engage in discussion with people holding a range of views from which I might learn something, most recently economists of the Austrian school).

Unfortunately, Emeritus disease has a bad prognosis. As Max Planck observed long ago

a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

I’ll lay down a few rules for discussion on this post. I’m not interest in rehashing delusionist talking points (GW stopped in 1998, Al Gore is fat and so on) and comments containing such points will in general be deleted. On the other hand, I’d be interested in anyone claiming to have reached a sceptical position who doesn’t fit into one or other of the categories I’ve mentioned (to be credible, you may have to forgo anonymity). And, obviously, I’m interested in refinements of the classification, better targeted counterarguments and so on.

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  1. Alan
    May 27th, 2009 at 22:29 | #1

    I frequently encounter a group that is a little different from your four categories. These are people who are mostly over 40, have seen material standards of living improve throughout their lives and who make or build things. They have have always believed that their whole working life has helped contribute to a better world. Whether that was their purpose is irrelevant – even if they see it only as a side effect, they have always seen progress. Now they are confronted with people who they have always accepted were smarter than them telling them that the trajectory of their lives is probably leading to catastrophe for them and their children. They don’t want to know and they clutch at any simple idea that seems to refute global warming.

    I feel very sorry for them and I have no idea what to say to them.

  2. Ikonoclast
    May 27th, 2009 at 22:47 | #2

    Where extensive empirical evidence on the clear scientific merits of a case fails to convince, the main reasons are;

    (a) general scientific illiteracy;

    (b) lack of understanding of what constitutes logical argument per se; and

    (c) a vested or perceived self-interest in denial.

    These three conditions may overlap.

    People need to receive an education which makes them scientifically and logically literate (for which basic literacy and numeracy are necessary but not sufficient conditions). Without this early advantage, they will only rarely be able to garner such an education from the media, libraries and public debate.

    The long term solution is a better educated citizenry. Education in late stage capitalism has been hijacked to provide a narrow preparation for consuming and working within the current system. This education does not provide people with the capacity to confront new problems nor to discern when the system itself needs changing.

  3. Donald Oats
    May 27th, 2009 at 22:48 | #3

    I won’t try to improve upon your classification, but I can present one line of argument against professional scientists (whether currently employed as such, or not) who use the excuse that their new book – nearly all of the “sceptics” who have been or are professional scientists have a new book out – is written for people who “have an open mind”, and who wish to “learn the truth” about global warming, climate change, etc.

    In brief, consider a professional scientist who has been paid at least in part by the taxes of the public, and who has previously published research articles that met the scientific standards of the day for accuracy and principled analysis of all evidence – both for and against – relevant to their articles. Their scientific integrity and reputation depend upon the quality of their scientific work, and that in turn implies that they are scrupulously careful to treat the facts, and other scientists’ prior work, with intellectual integrity.

    Now this professional scientist chooses to write a book on their favourite hobby-horse, one on which they have a fixed but contrary opinion to the majority of scientists in the relevent discipline. In this case the professional scientist, of which Ian Plimer is an example, holds a contrary position on anthropogenic global warming and believes that the experts in the discipline fail to make use of the findings of experts in other relevant fields (eg geology). This professional scientist proclaims far and wide that his book is not written for scientists, it is for the public, the layperson, who wishes to understand the arguments and to see the evidence.

    This professional scientist’s book is not a scientific discussion, but rather a detailed polemic against greenies, social democrats, and any number of political groups, who in the opinion of the author are against change and consequently against progress (eg mining). The editing is missing with such simple errors as mis-spelling “Callendar” as “Challendar”, both in the reference and in the body of the book; and graphs are not up to the standard that any other scientist would expect if this was a book of (in this case) geological facts and theories.

    When such a professional scientist is out proclaiming that their new book is not written for scientists, but for the layperson, challenge them on it. Make them explain why in their career they were meticulous in meeting the standards of fellow scientists because that is what allows science to advance; and yet they are quite happy to treat the public to a lower standard in their book. Shouldn’t the public be entitled to the standards any scientist must meet? Why should the public be subject to lowere standards of scholarship (and editing) just because they aren’t scientists?

    Bit of a ramble but the real point is the emeritus prof sees no problem in giving the public a book on a scientific topic, in which the scholarship is far short of that required of a working scientist in their field. Do the public get a discount for that?

  4. philip travers
    May 27th, 2009 at 23:48 | #4

    I object.This is a humorless attack on those people you will claim show no essential qualities of thinking that can determine matters of a predictive type.I keep on finding sites with physicists and other scientific credentials.I have read matters on the Internet that would surely show Australian Scientific pursuits are not that good. A site like this one, will one day very soon be whacked,for its pretence outside the global domain of the same sets of insistences and counter ones. I have known about sunspot activity etc. since the age of eight.Can anyone,as a function of their memory using, determine when the sun as a only energy source for this Planet crept into the abilities of being conscious!? And then as a fair exercise in just looking at the planets and stars found something insignificant about human life,then backed up by mathematical similarities!? Newtonian physics, a rip off of Hooke and others gave us, amongst other matters the understandings,in a modern sense of hydraulics, and thus the powerful forces at work in the majesty of very tall trees from very small seed.Is it wise to say that the complete biological existences of the Planet and humanity are completely dependent on carbon dioxide lockup of earth plant life, and sea, when electrical storms come and go in patterns and strike down the tallest of the species of carbon encapturers,and the oceans shake with a violence that only the capacity of whales and their bouyancy only just can handle it!? Wherein lies the satisfaction of the Earth concerned, to reduce all matters to fit the impossibility of mathematical modelling for their modellers!? What you are failing to grasp,is the potential for another group of your critics,those who don’t display the academic mortar board on their heads, either because to them it isn’t that important.Or, they have noticed you people up close and distant for years..and found your weakness,whilst you find fault with those who have failed your tests. You cannot argue against me,because I am a vegetarian,when you ask me about my diet,I swing my arms around and get hot under the collar.And seemingly worship the cow.

  5. Ikonoclast
    May 27th, 2009 at 23:48 | #5

    Donald Oats, you might have missed capitalising on your best inherent point!

    Ask them why they are addressing a book of unestablished work to the general public when in the rest of their career they established their hypotheses (hopefully) by addressing their work to scientific peers who could check their findings by repeated experiments and observations.

  6. Ikonoclast
    May 28th, 2009 at 00:22 | #6

    I feel Philip is thinking in some inimitable language of his own and then translating it into English. It has echoes of Blakean thunder and a kind of prophetic poetic logic to it. Even his colloquialisms have a certain archness in context.

    If Philip is warning that the entirety of reality is beyond all of us… then he has a point.

  7. May 28th, 2009 at 00:30 | #7

    I wonder what this taxonomy would look like overlayed or integrated with Dryzek’s environmental discourses. A lot of the tribalists seem as if they are Prometheans, whereas others (the bushies) look like (shock and horror!) green romanticists.

    And what’s the odds that Emeritus disease involves a degree of Dunning-Kruger bias?

  8. Mark Picton
    May 28th, 2009 at 00:43 | #8

    There’s “skepticism” as cover for inertia, too:

    Bernard Woolley: What if the Prime Minister insists we help them?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Then we follow the four-stage strategy.
    Bernard : What’s that?
    Sir Richard Wharton: Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis. In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
    Sir Humphrey : Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
    Sir Richard : In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we *can* do.
    Sir Humphrey : Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.

  9. May 28th, 2009 at 00:53 | #9

    Mark, I love a bit of Yes Minister. I reckon Dryzek would have Sir Humphrey down as an Administrative Rationalist. 😉

  10. Dick Veldkamp
    May 28th, 2009 at 01:50 | #10

    Re: Extra class of deluded people

    I tend to agree with Alen (1) and Iconoclast (no 2). I have met quite a few people who are just not interested in the issue, not willing to reconsider their way of life, or too lazy to find out what the real state of affairs is. The arguments they use are typically ‘But the scientists do not even agree, do they’ and ‘AIT is just propaganda isn’t it?’. (Also, some of them are taken in by the ‘reasonable arguments’ of Lomborg).

    The trouble is, it is not easy to show the facts in a casual conversation. While the principle is easy enough, there are many tricky details. I now wrote a summary of the issues of a few pages for some people I know in this category – we’ll see if that will do any good.

    I want to point out an symmetry here: if somebody publishes a rubbish letter in a newspaper, it is disproportionately difficult to refute it! The truth is always more complicated, and sometimes tedious; at the same time letters to the editor must be short and witty.

  11. John Mashey
    May 28th, 2009 at 03:16 | #11

    See Reasons for Anti-Science over at Deltoid last December, and I’ve got several additional types beyond that.

    Here are some more cases:

    A small subset of meteorologists and weather presenters really disbelieve climate science. This is somewhat like Tribalism-1, but seems more related to the psychology of being whacked for not predicting weather a week of, then compared to people who make (different kinds of) predictions for climate 30 years off. This may be a discipline jealousy thing, or include psychology issues as well, like anchoring on older methodologies.

    Ex: William Gray, Anthony Watts

    I think that’s slightly different from mining geologists, who after all, may have ECON-1 and ECON-3 as direct economic interests.

    (This is slightly odd, that JQ didn’t address more of the economic interests 🙂

    Note of course that mining geologists are not hopeless: Naomi Oreskes started as one, even worked in Australia a while.

    Tribalism-2 POL-2

    Somewhat missing was my POl-1: politicians (who may or may not actually be deluded), but who have constituencies where they will gain votes by attacking environmentalists or Al Gore.

    Ideologists: IDEOL-1, IDEOL-2

    Hacks: ECON-2, ECON-3, (POL-1), but sometimes PSYCH-1, PSYCH-2, PSYCH-3, i.e., someone starts ina direction for other reasons, then finds they can get paid for it.

    See also Cato & Pat Michaels, just yesterday.

    Emeritus: PSYCH-5

    However, there is another variant, related to some of the PSYCH reasons, which is “took an early position” and won’t change”.

    See my my comment on JQ’s Deltoid post, as Richard Lindzen is in a different category than Ian Plimer, for example.

    Another grouping is the existence of a small set of physicsts who attempt (for a plethora of reasons) to disprove the physics behind AGW. I’m not sure if this a tribalist thing, or some combination of the other reasons. At least some are not far along enough to be emeritus…

    (more later)

  12. Hermit
    May 28th, 2009 at 05:11 | #12

    It seems to me the impediment to action is political short-termism rather than GW denial. We demonise deniers for sabotaging the process when it is really the lawmakers who have lost their nerve. Very few politicians (eg Sen. Joyce) actively dispute GW. Yet it is the Rudd government that is hypocritically building more coal infrastructure like railroads and loading terminals.

    I fear we will see this yet again after the Copenhagen conference. There will be the usual heartfelt resolutions but subsequent concrete action will almost certainly be feeble. The press will interview prominent deniers and we will seethe with indignation against them. I suggest next time we demonise politicians.

  13. charles
    May 28th, 2009 at 05:18 | #13

    First off the science is complicated, and it is science so you are allowed to argue an alternate point of view. The problem is how the alternate view is argued.

    I see a lot of farmers, they have all seen droughts before, that is the weather varying. Whats the big deal they ask? Farming does required a lot of faith that things will be better next year.

    We are being asked to believe in something not backed up by personal experience. I haven’t traveled to the North pole, I haven’t stood on Greenland’s ice sheet, but I was convinced when I saw an article in Scientific America describing how fast the North pole and Greenland ice were melting. It wasn’t Al Gore or the IPCC report ( like 99.9999% of the population and probable most of the people commenting here, I haven’t read it)

    I have visited Cities in China, I have seen in the 80’s European forests that were being destroyed by acid rain, and I have seen life in Europe improve as they cleaned up their act.

    I was convinced long before I believed in climate change that technology needed to be used to generate clean power, we need big projects to keep our economies humming, whats wrong with using spare capacity to make stuff to clean up our act, and whats wrong with putting a price on the stuff that messes of a cities air. It’s better than another war.

  14. May 28th, 2009 at 05:54 | #14

    I don’t think that my position is anti-science. I just don’t share the widespread confidence of many that say the science is all done an dusted and we are cooking the planet. Which is not to say that they have it wrong. I won’t be confident that we are cooking the planet for many, many decades simple because of the nature and scale of the topic. Although if we stop CO2 emissions tomorrow I think our knowledge will still evolve so I’m not merely stating that we wait for the outcome. I remain open to contrary evidence and I’m happy that people willingly expend time dismissing contrary evidence that does not stack up.

    Assuming that my position actually is anti-science then do I fit the bill?

    * Tribalists

    An easy charge because aren’t we all to some extent. In fact a lot of people that support the warming side of the debate are doing so not because of science but because of tribal loyalty. Only a small number of people are doing it because they have done the math. So perhaps I’m part tribablist. Although I’m not wedded to any of the mainstream tribes.

    * Ideologists

    A revenue neutral carbon tax that reduced payroll tax or income tax will not make socialism any worse than it already is. An ETS will because it will create yet another class of permanent rent seekers. It is repulsive in the same way that the NSW taxi licenses system is repulsive far beyond what an equivalent tax would be. So maybe this one is me.

    * Hacks

    Not me.

    * Emeritus disease


  15. AnonOne
    May 28th, 2009 at 07:02 | #15

    On the other hand, I’d be interested in anyone claiming to have reached a sceptical position who doesn’t fit into one or other of the categories I’ve mentioned (to be credible, you may have to forgo anonymity)

    Ok, I’ll take you at your word.

    I am a (former) scientist, but don’t fit any of the categories: I am 42 years old, so rather too young to qualify for an Emeritus pension; I am no ideologue: hard evidence is enough to convince me; I identify with no tribe, and I make no money from questioning the case for global warming alarm.

    I am sceptical primarily because:

    A) The science is dodgy, and not nearly as well understood as we are led to believe.

    When you dig deep and look at a lot of the more trumpeted papers they do not stand up to scrutiny. Of course you have the whole hockeystick fiasco, but that’s almost old-hat now. More recently there’s the oft-repeated claims of diminishing sea-ice (fact check: global ice is growing or static, and even Arctic ice coverage is more-or-less back to normal). Or the latest from Steig et al on Antarctic warming (turns out his technique is highly sensitive to basic parameter choices). Or the claims that computer models accurately model the real climate when their parameterizations of clouds and other water vapor effects are so far off. Or the claim that hurricane Katrina was a result of global warming. Or the refusal by many leading lights in the climate science community to release their data so that their studies may be replicated (eg Lonnie Thompson, Gore’s chief advisor). The list goes on and on.

    B) In view of A), I am not convinced that a wait-and-see and adapt-if-necessary approach is not more sensible. Additionally, I have a lot more faith in people to change their behavior when it is clearly in their economic interest to do so. For example, why force better mileage on automakers when the market will do that as soon as oil prices climb high enough? (SUV sales almost ended overnight when gas hit $4 a gallon in the US).

    C) Human impact on the environment is already enormous. Take a window seat next time you fly and estimate the area of the Earth that has not been drastically modified by humans. Outside of oceans, deserts, and mountains, there’s almost none left. Will a couple of degrees (if that) of warming really make that much difference on top of everything else we’ve already done?

  16. John Mashey
    May 28th, 2009 at 07:58 | #16


    Sorry, your position is anti-science, but maybe further discussion will generate some more insight. JQ has some useful overall categories, but there are more detailed characteristics that fall through the cracks.

    “I won’t be confident that we are cooking the planet for many, many decades simple because of the nature and scale of the topic.”

    That is usually called “argument from ignorance” (no insult intended, it’s just what it’s called). Basically, you are saying you don’t understand the problem, because it’s big.
    There are much larger problems.

    Are you confident that:
    – Earth will still orbit the Sun as usual in 2050.
    – The Sun will not have blown up before then?

    Why? (Basic orbital physics, and astrophysicists who study solar evolution say we’re safe for a while.)

    Unless you have a disproof of:
    – Conservation of Energy
    – greenhouse gas behavior

    Earth as a whole, with jiggles, will be getting warmer. A little basic physics goes a long way.

    (If you do have a disproof, it’s Nobel time, and I’d be ecstatic. We already have enough problems with energy and agriculture, that it would be awfully nice if the planet’s temperature flattened right now. Would save some ski resorts, as well.)

    Have you read any books by real climate scientists?
    Do you know any real climate scientists?
    Do you attend any lectures by them?

    You might try How to learn about science, although I’d add as the first book to read:

    David Archer, The Long Thaw, 2008, which appeared after that piece I wrote.

    However, JQ’s groups are top-level categories,and as I noted, I think there exist more attributes.

    Does any of the following apply:

    1) Some people think in terms of *distributions* of likelihood, not just single numbers like averages (or forecast temperatures). They tend to think in terms of values with error bars. Most scientists think this way, by nature or by training.

    “I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything…” — Richard Feynman

    For others (see PSYCH-4 in my list – ambiguity-intolerant personality), this is a terrifying worldview. In the extreme case, such would think that if scientists can’t predict the average world temperature for 2050 and 2100, to within .1C, then they aren’t certain, and hence don’t know. They do *not* feel comfortable with models that say: under A1F1 scenario, we most like get +4C, with a likely range of 2.4-6.4C

    Are you comfortable with probabilistic projections, or very uncomfortable with them?

    Do you believe that cigarette smoking increases chance of disease? If so, why? Is it OK if some younger relative of yours starts smoking at 12? Not everyone who does, dies of lung cancer.

    {For what its’ worth, the scientific understanding for climate change is probably as good as it is for cigarette smoking, and better in some ways.)

    2) There’s another psychology effect, which wasn’t called out explicitly in my older list, although I mentioned the related topic, the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    One always has to be careful with experts, as not all who claim to be are, sometimes experts are wrong. At least, scientists are generally careful to say what they know and what they don’t, sometimes with enough caveats to put people to sleep.

    But, some people seem to have a reflexive distrust of science and scientists, and basically assume they are incompetent. On blogs, I can’t count the times I’ve seen:

    Aha! these scientists haven’t thought of *this*!

    Of course, it usually turns out that they had, long ago, and rather than just thinking about it, had gathered data, analyzed it, quantified it, modeled it, and wrote papers about it, in some cases predicting effects not yet seen, that were seen later. [A good example of this would be the continued refrain that temperature rise precedes CO2 rise in ice-age termination, and that scientists seem ignorant about this. Wrong: famous paper: Lorius, et al, 1990.]

    So, the question is: do you discount the expertise of:

    a) scientists in general
    b) certain categories of scientists, including climate scientists
    c) only climate scientists

    (It is clear that you’ve dismissed the work of most climate scientists, so the question is whether that’s specific to climate science, or more general.)

    3) Physics does not *care* about ETS schemes or political alignments or economics. Basic physics is really pretty brutal, and postmodernist arguments don’t make it go away.

    No matter who tells you it’s fine to jump out of a 20th-story window with no parachute, or that you think someone is infringing on your rights by putting up a guardrail, the Law of Gravity will have its way with you. 🙂

  17. jquiggin
    May 28th, 2009 at 08:16 | #17

    Terje, while you may not be a member of one of the main tribes, as a member of (and IIRC, Parliamentary candidate, for) the Liberal Democratic Party, which presented as its policy the standard delusionist position

    The LDP acknowledges that there is scientific evidence to indicate a trend towards global warming. However, the degree of human influence, likely consequences and what we can effectively do about it are uncertain.

    I think you fall into the tribalist category on this issue.

    AnonOne, your list of examples certainly makes you sound like an anti-environmental tribalist, sourcing your talking points from ClimateAudit or somewhere similar. As I said, it’s hard to make a convincing claim to the contrary while preserving anonymity.

  18. James of FNQ
    May 28th, 2009 at 08:17 | #18

    The assumption that man can change the environment of the Earth to such an extent that it threatens the very existence of much of the present life on the planet, is what needs to be accepted and reinforced. Life will continue to exist just not what we have at this moment in time.
    Personal views are a response to the perceived threat to lifestyle and in many cases this perception is the basis for scepticism. I find a scientifically logical process is difficult to establish these days because the majority of the population I associate with, no longer have the mindset of logic based on fact but is dominated by perception based on the interpretation of others. The consequencees are that anything that influences a personal situation detrementally is opposed. This is possibly the root of the tribalism of both sides of the arguement not the complexity of the data.

  19. Kevin Cox
    May 28th, 2009 at 08:30 | #19

    I’m with Hermit and Mark Picton. The problem is not with those that deny. The problem is that people think it will cost too much to fix, do not want to compromise their comfortable way of life and believe if we simply close our eyes it will go away or that something will turn up to fix it for us.

    One way to get these people to move (and very likely most people fit this category) is to work out ways that we can become wealthier while fixing the problem.

    One way to do that is to use mechanisms other than price manipulation to direct investment. Increasing the price of energy will always meet resistance. Reducing the cost of investment does not meet the same resistance.

  20. AnonTwo
    May 28th, 2009 at 08:33 | #20

    AnonOne (15),

    I am exactly like you (I am scientist still).

    I do think that the “science argument” is actually an authoritarian argument.

    Most of the “science” is actually mumbo jumbo that supposedly rational people (like our blogger) accept without any criticism (the exact opposite of one would expect of rational people).

    I work in computational science (simulating natural processes, in my case epidemiology and genetics related). I have 2 arguments to offer.

    1. One of the most widely known and cited climate simulators (from one of the top 5 universities in the world) gives completely different results if you change compilation flags. We are talking about a gigantic Fortran simulator which some of the authors have died and nobody knows what some parts of the code do (like developed in the 70s)

    2. If you believe in the ability to predict the future by computational terms (other the the behaviour of proteins in the next few seconds), I have a bridge to sell you. Just think about quantitative finance if you want an example.

    The big problem about predicting the future with computational models, is that the scientists that do it are not there to suffer the consequences (strictly speaking is not science as it is very difficult to create a refutation), they are just there to reap the benefits (get the publications and associated tenures).

    Regarding more empirical (hard) evidence, I have not much to say and I would guess that that part is probably the sound part of the argument. But forecasting the future is as honest as astrology.

  21. nanks
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:26 | #21

    @#20 AnonTwo – I agree with you – you are exactly like AnonOne

  22. Uncle Milton
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:29 | #22

    John, where in your classification would you place George Pell, who I notice the other day was praising Plimer’s book (evidently Pell doesn’t read the Weekend Australian?

    No doubt Pell has no love for environmentalists, so perhaps he is a tribalist, but in my view he belongs to a different sub-tribe from the Lavoisier crowd – I doubt Pell and Peter Walsh would agree on much at all.

    With Pell, I think his motivation is straight out of the pre-Enlightenment anti-science playbook. If you are a religious leader of a certain type, the idea that the great decisions on the future of how we will live should be led by scientific evidence, gathered by the class of people (scientists) who the Church has been at war against, on and off, for hundreds of years, must be galling.

  23. Ikonoclast
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:38 | #23

    A few posters in this thread make the claim “I am a scientist yet I am sceptical about AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming).”

    The general tenor of their unsubstantiated claims makes it clear that either they are not scientists or they are very poor scientists with no understanding of basic scientific method.

    The claim by AnonTwo in his point 1 certainly smacks of a factoid drawn from a denialist site. Can anyone with some real knowledge in this area clear this up for us?

    The next claim is even more absurd (because it is so broad); “If you believe in the ability to predict the future by computational terms (other than the behaviour of proteins in the next few seconds), I have a bridge to sell you.”

    Science (in established fields) predicts aspects of the future by computational means ALL THE TIME. It is the very reason that science works and has been generally adopted in preference to magic and wishful thinking. In fact, the engineers and quantity surveyors who design that bridge use calculations to predict what loads and stresses that bridge must cope with and what materials and structural design will bear that load, be of feasible construction and also be cost effective.

    How people can claim to be scientists without understanding the basics of scientific method (pure and applied) is beyond me. In a nustshell scientific method comprises (where an hypothesis is ultimately successfully tested) a process of development of a testable hypothesis, tests by experiment, observations, confirmation and finally further tests of the predictive power of the theory.

    Where the hypothesis fails, the expected confirmation stage and any attempts to make predictions based on the theory instead deliver a refutation of the theory. To date, empirical observations are confirming the general theory of AGW.

    If people want to accept anecdotal evidence, I suggest they do not do it by going to anti-AGW web sites. Rather they should go and travel in the far northern parts of Canada and talk to the indiginous people with their long standing cultural-historical understanding of that environment. Ask them if they think global warming is happening. You will get a resounding yes and many examples of local knowledge to support it.

  24. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:49 | #24


  25. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:51 | #25

    This may appear twice – looks like a spam filter is objecting to something below.

    AnonOne, your list of examples certainly makes you sound like an anti-environmental tribalist, sourcing your talking points from ClimateAudit or somewhere similar.

    These problems are well known and discussed in several places on the web. climateaudit is one of the best. If you have refutations of any of the issues raised at climateaudit, you would be well treated if you were to raise them over there: the climateaudit crowd is honest and throough.

    As I said, it’s hard to make a convincing claim to the contrary while preserving anonymity.

    Ok. I am AnonOne. You can google me. FWIW All but two of the references on that first page of hits are me (I haven’t looked further). Obviously I wasn’t a climate scientist but I have a strong numerical background.

  26. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:53 | #26

    I am AnonOne. I posted a comment but it looks like the spam filter ate it.

  27. Ben
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:55 | #27

    AnonOne and AnonTwo, there is an excellent thread over at realclimate.org explaining the differences between protein folding models and climate models.

    Essentially the difference, so I understand, is that the output from protein models is digital; it’s either correct or it’s not. On the other hand, climate models give an analogue result i.e. a probability distribution.

  28. jquiggin
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:55 | #28

    Indeed, Ikonoklast, I have $100 that says that the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be standing tomorrow, based on a computational prediction I have made. To sweeten the deal for AnonTwo, I’m prepared to give odds of five to one.

  29. James Haughton
    May 28th, 2009 at 09:57 | #29


    Interestingly, I have heard that there tends to be a fair amount of skepticism of climate simulations among people whose principal experience with computer modelling is protein folding simulations.
    Climate models are a bit different because (as I understand it) a) they are much more bounded systems due to basic conservation of energy issues and b) the results that are reported are the average of a large number of runs of the model assembled into a probability distribution of outcomes from different initial conditions, rather than a single specific protein configuration (not my field, so maybe I have this wrong).
    To address your complaints, which are rather abusive in nature towards climate scientists.
    I have a BSc in physics and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology – in other words, I know very little about epidemiology and genetics. How would you feel if I came up to you and said “I think computational epidemiology and genetics is all a load of authoritarian mumbo-jumbo! after all, the NAZIS believed in genetics and they got lots of supposedly rational people (e.g. Starck) to accept their genetic science without any criticism!”? Because that is about the level of the argument you have put here.
    1) This is unsourced gossip. Names. Places. Facts. References. Does this alleged simulation in fact have any contribution to the IPCC reports?
    2) I believe, based on having programmed an astronomical simulation as an undergraduate, that I can predict the position of Jupiter’s moons in 100 years. Bridge, please.
    2a) What sort of scientist are you if you think that quantitative finance is a science and climatology is not?
    3) The big problem with computational genetics is that the people who run the simulators don’t suffer the consequences. After all, they aren’t made to be the test subjects of the pharmaceutical compounds they design. They are just there to reap the benefits of money from the pharmaceutical companies. Forecasting the spread of disease is as honest as astrology.

  30. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:03 | #30

    jquiggin, can you retrieve my post from the spam bucket? I tried a couple of variants but it got swallowed both times.

  31. James Haughton
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:08 | #31

    correction: Stark (Johannes) not Starck.

  32. Kevin Cox
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:08 | #32

    #anon 2

    Your example number 1 is a misinterpretation of what was one of the great “discoveries” of our time. It gave rise to what has been called the butterfly effect. That is, you make a small change in the underlying assumptions (in this case the precision of rounding of a number in a calculation) and you can get a big difference in outcomes. This is a characteristic of many dynamic systems with positive feedback characteristics. .

    On point number 2. Dynamic systems modeling using computational methods such as weather forecasting and financial modeling can only predict a certain length of time because the results of the interactions with interacting components display emergent behaviour that is “unpredictable”. To get a better understanding of the power and limitations of computational modelling please look at “Complex adaptive systems” by Miller and Page.

    When we find systems that are difficult to predict we know that there are positive feedback loops inside the systems – hence we know the financial system has such mechanisms – because it is unpredictable. If however we remove the positive feedback mechanisms we can make the systems more predictable. We can do this with financial systems but we have difficulty with weather and climate systems.

    Financial systems positive feedback comes mainly from the way we increase the money supply.

    Climate change models are going to be wrong (and are almost certainly worse than the worst predictions being made public) because of positive feedback loops within the system. For example increase the temperature and that increases the release of methane from the tundra areas and that increases temperature etc. These effects are unpredictable in magnitude because they are positive feedbacks but they are real.

  33. charles
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:15 | #33

    AnonTwo is actually quite funny.

    The general acceptance of the the scientific method comes about because of it’s success in predicting the future, not because of tablets sent down from the mount or because the results are ordained truth.

    Obviously Anontwo is no scientist. I suppose that is the problem with the internet, you can claim to be what you want.


  34. Steve
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:23 | #34

    I think that this exercise runs the risk of being perceived as petty point scoring.

    So I propose to generalise it away from climate change debate all together.

    Even though collective human knowledge might be increasingly ordered along rational lines, individual people frequently behave irrationally, or believe irrational things.

    Situations range from the everyday and mundane (arguing rationally with a partner, knowing you are right, even though the act of arguing and ‘being right’ is just going to make partner more angry)
    to the large scale e.g. vaccination versus anti-vaccination, 9-11 conspiracies, global warming etc.

    We all have emotions, weaknesses, weak moments, bumpy psychological histories, drives, fears, passions etc which frequently mean that we don’t act rationally.

    Being smart is being able to think rationally, quickly, effortlessly. But being wise is to be able to grapple with the irrationality of others in the best possible way.

    A wise person knows when not to argue with their partner, even though they know that their argument is correct and the partner is at fault.

    A wise person knows when the person who they are debating is immune to rational argument.

    A very wise person knows what to say/do to bring a person to sense when they are straying into the untenable/absurd/unsupported.

    The kinds of mental processes and emotional histories that bring people to be climate delusionists are often quite human, and quite understandable I think (except perhaps for hacks), even if not rational or informed.

    I guess what I’m saying is that irrationality isn’t limited to climate delusionists, and our methods of engaging with the irrational have to become markedly more advanced if we are to get anywhere.

  35. billie
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:07 | #35

    Its not a balanced debate when the climate scientists share equal or less media space with climate deniers.
    All climate scientists are confident that global warming is occurring, they are unsure how fast its occurring.
    So when Queenslanders want government handouts to rescue their collapsed tourist economy because global warming has acidified and bleached the reef, I will point out they chose the coal industry.

  36. Ben
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:26 | #36

    Steve @34 – being smart doesn’t neceesarily immunise you against being irrational, it just makes you better at justifying your irrational position 🙂

  37. Sam
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:32 | #37

    John, I fear you have laid another trap for yourself that will be exploited by more “quote miners” from the Australian. Expect to see a piece by William Kininmonth tomorrow:-“Even former left wing crusaders like John Quiggin now admit that ‘GW stopped in 1998.'”

  38. GC
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:41 | #38

    #6 “I feel Philip is thinking in some inimitable language of his own and then translating it into English. It has echoes of Blakean thunder..”

    I think Philip is inspired by James Joyce. There’s a kind of rhythm to it that could have come straight out of Finnegan’s Wake. I thought the following passage particularly moving:

    “Or, they have noticed you people up close and distant for years..and found your weakness,whilst you find fault with those who have failed your tests. You cannot argue against me,because I am a vegetarian…”

  39. GC
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:45 | #39

    Of course in post #38 “Finnegan’s Wake” should be “Finnegans Wake”. (Sorry about the off-topic. I’ll go now.)

  40. John Mashey
    May 28th, 2009 at 12:26 | #40

    AnonTwo(20), James Haughton (29)

    It is a *common* error for people familiar with one flavor of simulation to over-generalize their knowledge to that of other simulations, rather than *asking*:

    “I’m familiar with X. Is Y like X, or different?”

    See psot at RealClimate in which I gave somewhat of specific examples (protein folding, software configuration, some forms of financial modeling), and discussed some of the cases from disciplines like (EE, software engineering, mechanical engineer, petroleum engineering, financial engineering).

    As for worrying whether compilation flags change results, or that’ there’s old code:

    a) That’s why people use more than one model.

    b) And, computers’ floating point hardware is only an approximation to real numbers, and sometimes it matters. This is the wrong place to discuss the tradeoffs between performance, precision, and compiler optimization …
    but if the term “SPEC benchmarks” means anything to you, we had to work very hard to compare the results of floating point benchmarks from different computers to see if they were within range. They certainly weren’t bit-for-bit identical, and that was no surprise to any of us, and that was 20 years ago. 🙂

    In any case, the key quote is that of (famous statistician) George Box:

    “all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

    Climate models are all physics-based approximations (like the models used for car crashes or fluid dynamics, or even Barbie Doll simulations). Still, they were useful 20 years ago, and the current ones are more useful.

  41. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 12:53 | #41

    John Mashey (40):

    It is a *common* error for people familiar with one flavor of simulation to over-generalize their knowledge to that of other simulations, rather than *asking*.

    Maybe so, but it is not an error to conclude on the basis of the published climate science literature that many practitioners (or at least the ones that seem to receive the most press) do not understand what it means for conclusions drawn from modeling to be statistically robust.

    The hockeystick is the most famous example but the trend continues with the recent Nature paper by Steig et. al.

  42. nanks
    May 28th, 2009 at 14:01 | #42

    @41 This really is snooze-able, but just what is the relevence of the ‘hockeystick’ to the science? One paper with methodological errors that may or may not be substantive with respect to the conclusions. So what. There wouldn’t be a single field in science where there aren’t papers published that have flaws. It’s scarcely the point when other researchers using different data and methods uncover much the same result.

  43. John Mashey
    May 28th, 2009 at 14:29 | #43

    re: 41 Jonathan

    This is silly: why do you want to debate statistical issues in *this* blog?

    But, even better, let’s forget blogs:

    Assuming you are indeed the Jonathan Baxter in the Medical Faculty @ Imperial College, you are in the lucky position of working at a world-class institution that employs world-class climate scientists and has frequent seminars by others.

    There aren’t that many places in the world where that’s so easy to get.

    You might try:

    1) Sir Brian Hoskins, who heads the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, which runs regular seminars and other events. I see Wally Broecker will be there June 11, and several other events will be held in June. I’d guess there are several interesting events per month, and there is no better way to learn.

    To have such a strong opinion on climate scientists’ incompetence, you must surely attend such things regularly? And ask questions? And talk to climate scientists live?

    2) Jo Haigh, who heads the Physics Department these days, and has done a lot of research in atmospheric physics.

    Both have done participated in IPCC,work.
    I’ve never met Sir Brian. I’ve heard Jo talk on climate science and spent some time talking to her. Unsurprisingly, she is a very sharp lady.

    Is it conceivable that these folks *might* know a little more climate science than a Candain mining/minerals guy?

    [yes, I know you trust ClimateAudit strongly. *Please* go talk to some real climate scientists. I’m fond of Imperial, and I hate to see people there doing silly things like this.]

  44. jquiggin
    May 28th, 2009 at 14:41 | #44

    Jonathan, you seem like a potential target for the kind of persuasion I’m interested in.

    Would it make a difference to your thinking if I could show you that, far from being the trustworthy and disinterested group you take them to be, the main critics of the hockey stick are (with no exceptions of which I’m aware) Tribalists, Ideologists or Hacks?

  45. Andrew T
    May 28th, 2009 at 15:48 | #45

    I suspect many hold anti-science positions only lightly. For example, Jonathon Baxter tells us “Arctic ice coverage is more-or-less back to normal” There are many people, me included, who would give him very-very-good odds against this September’s Arctic ice being at 1950s levels and for that matter good odds against it even getting to the levels seen in the 1980s. But I doubt he’ll back his assertion.

  46. philip travers
    May 28th, 2009 at 16:41 | #46

    I feel I have travelled the Blakean matter more than once,so I wont rehash that as a smart potato.And my fine motor skills at typing means,at large, I simply cannot fit into any of the categories.I am limited therefore by the evident and real problem,of how I assess matters when I come across them as positions,understandings,acceptances, qualities ranges and their errors…and whatever is momentarily defineable to my mind as I try to process the information for my own sense,of accepting that information for its attempts at validity.This isn’t a graduate response,but a everyday matter,unless Iam so pissed off I assert in the darkness of not being interested in wether or not there are vast fault lines in the assertion.I therefore claim a pyscho-philosophical strata to my thinking on the matter.I am firstly aware I am a limited physical chap of a person,to underline the very existence of the politeness,rather than the English of this attempt.So like the bodyliner of ancient cricket lore,in this game of categorising,has not the history of the IPCC and major batsmen like Hansen of NASA,as a guest of the IPCC side,duly been undermined by his cricket box ,and undies supplier by the name of Theon,who has recently retired as his number one cleaner of his sports’ showerhead and chief polly-sock wearing of said Hansen!?That is, upon retiring from cleaning up his mess as a sort of NASA rib for the Man,Theon did his nana and basically said Hansen has been talking non-science for more moons in a year than you would find in a Mayan Calendar.And if the highly thought of Prof.Quiggins hadn’t come across this about Hansen, then smirking and amusement about global warmers will increase with a predictive quality, that, will not be unfathomable.The Abominable Snowman has thus duly arrived.

  47. Mark Byrne
    May 28th, 2009 at 18:17 | #47

    Jonathan Baxter @ 25 Says:

    These problems are well known and discussed in several places on the web. climateaudit is one of the best. If you have refutations of any of the issues raised at climateaudit, you would be well treated if you were to raise them over there: the climateaudit crowd is honest and throough.

    Jonathon, others have had the opposite experience at climateaudit. It appears the blog keepers at CA are keeping you from knowing what everyone’s treatment is like .

  48. May 28th, 2009 at 18:31 | #48

    There have been some attempts elsewhere to break down the “denial” crowd, esp. here in the States. Yours makes better sense though.

    The anti Al Gore crowd is the one I run into most often here in the SE USA. They seem to hate him with a passion I cannot fathom. Many of these also add in Hansen in their half page long paragraphs (I’ve read many as we all have).

    As a Meteorologist who works in TV, I do think the tide is really turning there. Most of the ones that in the denial camp, (but not all) are those with very minimal science backgrounds.
    John Coleman is actually in this camp, and perhaps the fringe of the emeritus camp simultaneously.

    The first comment by Alan (about the over 40 hard workers) hit home- I see these too and they are easier to convince with real science, on a one to one basis.

  49. philip travers
    May 28th, 2009 at 19:41 | #49

    Dan Satterfield.As a reasonable polite person,who often as not goes to DavidIcke.com and AlexJones’ PrisonPlanet.com Infowars.com, Rense, and then onto other fields of sites including a man with the name of Goddard,who lifted a few eyebrows and eyelashes for me on matters Artic..the matter of Al Gore is simple,straight forward and precise.And you must of read it or scanned so to come to matters legend of the sea. And that is Temperature is following Carbon Dioxide counts,and not as Al Gore presents the other way round.There is much about Al Gore,I have backgrounded ,via the Net, that suggests,when it comes to Gore,don’t accept what seems to be presented at face value.And Americans who are on his silvertail will probably go about being on the shallow end of that,simply because it would seem quite easy to hate him a lot,thus, hating oneself beyond a needed self capacity in doing so.So whatever reason you are here,I guess it could be found somehow,in the origins and meaning of your name and those of immediate family members.Doing thus, what Australians know about U.S.A. singers and movie stars ..going to Sydney to attract a lot of attention back home to restart their careers.Goddard’s approach was one of the finest responsive and clear headed matters under constant blog activity I have come across so far.Perhaps, you and another here are typing in code.Because,frankly,unless it was the hour from where you sent your posts from,they don’t seem fiesty enough.

  50. djm
    May 28th, 2009 at 21:26 | #50

    #49, are you generating your posts with Markov Chains?

  51. philip travers
    May 28th, 2009 at 21:27 | #51

    An earthquake off Honduras, and at this time a Tsunami warning,although some reserve of opinion that it will be full gloater.Being not perfect,and, not going back over things I have seen on the Net. the summary above of temperature is following Carbon dioxide counts really depends how you see the graphical presentation that Al Gore was applauded for.From above his lines at his height cross-eyed and squinting, or standing on your head, wearing bi-focals doing a high five and losing your balance,right at the moment there is a peak in one of the lines.So what is the prospect that these earthquake scenarios raise or lower Whole of Earth temperatures or a greenhouse gas of unnamed type.After all someone above was going on about physics and what it really means…So can the same person be totally predictive or source a weather modeller to outline the whatevers..as a process of testing and showing some skills that can determine them,as well as basic decency in the form of elaborating for the sake of honesty!?

  52. Magpie
    May 28th, 2009 at 21:38 | #52

    I realise you’re mostly dealing with the high profile people, but the folk I generally speak to are what I call “gleeful minions”. Basically, they’ve swallowed some of the talking points, and are delighted to know something that “the scientists” apparently don’t. They’re the type who think scientists are elites in ivory towers who can’t see the wood for the trees.

    They feel powerless, as important events are beyond their comprehension. It is comforting to them to think that science is arrogantly making claims that it can’t back up, that science is just an overcomplicated game with rules that aren’t based in reality.

    …like postmodernism…

    Anyway, it’s this sort of thing that, I think, sells newspaper headlines about scientists flip-flopping on a range of issues. Science is vast and scary, and they like to think it’s all ultimately just fire and noise.

  53. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 21:40 | #53

    This is silly: why do you want to debate statistical issues in *this* blog?

    The blog host asked for examples of sceptics that don’t fit his categories. I believe I am one of those, primarily because I find the statistics underlying a lot of the science that forms the basis for the alarmist position on global warming to be, shall we say, less than robust?

    Assuming you are indeed the Jonathan Baxter in the Medical Faculty @ Imperial College

    No, I am the other one: former researcher in Machine Learning at the Australian National University. If you click on the google scholar link in #25, my papers are the ones like this.

    I spent a lot of time looking into questions of statistical significance, albeit more from a computer-science perspective (“what are good ways to reliably teach computers”) than from a classical statistics perspective, but the math is the same. Eg, I am quite familiar with algorithms like RegEm that are used in climate science.

  54. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 21:46 | #54

    jquiggin #44:

    Would it make a difference to your thinking if I could show you that, far from being the trustworthy and disinterested group you take them to be, the main critics of the hockey stick are (with no exceptions of which I’m aware) Tribalists, Ideologists or Hacks?

    No, because that’s not an argument about the science.

    I’ve read the hockeystick papers (and many others). I’ve read Steve McIntyre and others objections, the Wegman report, etc. The problems are real, regardless of how you categorize the various participants in the debate.

  55. Chris G.
    May 28th, 2009 at 22:17 | #55

    I think that there’s at least one other category, which I’ll call the Incompetents. These are the people who have decided that the workers in the field they are criticizing are all (or almost all) incompetent, and that the science that they are expounding is junk. Both J. Baxter and AnonTwo would fall in this category, I think, as would Freeman Dyson and Michael Crichton. These people usually have a good deal of technical knowledge themselves, though it is almost always outside the field under discussion. They often point to elementary errors that they think researchers are making, or that the researchers don’t really understand what they are doing.

    If you poke around the anti-relativity literature, you’ll find many Incompetents there. I also think that a lot of anti-evolutionists who fall under the Salem Hypothesis fall into this category as well.

  56. Mark Milankovitch
    May 28th, 2009 at 22:26 | #56

    There are problems, which JQ’s taxonomy doesn’t get:

    1. ‘Climate science’ is not a legitimate science like physics or biochemistry. It is a hodgepodge of dozens of bits and pieces of other actual sciences.

    2. The orthodoxy treats astronomical cycles and the medieval warming period like an embarrassimng relative; in fact, silences both.

    3. As has been noted above, being able to wax lyrical about the carbon cycle, does not a credible advocate of AGW make.

    4. Given that nearly all the action is surrounding “what to do about if it is true” and that this is not ‘science’ in any conventional sense. In fact, it has been overwhelmingly turned over to economists, whose forecasting and simulation abilities leave a lot to be desired.

    5. The tragic reality that far too many ordinary folks see the most rabid spruikers for AGW as being the same guys were most passionately spruiking for Marxist Leninism/Trotskyism less a generation ago. Their presence in this crisis saps its credibility immeasurably.

  57. nanks
    May 28th, 2009 at 22:27 | #57

    regardless of your expertise in CS I struggle to see why you’d claim the following is pertinent “More recently there’s the oft-repeated claims of diminishing sea-ice (fact check: global ice is growing or static, and even Arctic ice coverage is more-or-less back to normal)”
    Why do you not agree with NSDIC(The National Snow and Ice Data Center)who say with reference to recent ice extent
    “However this summer unfolds, scientists expect to see high year-to-year variability in ice extent embedded within the long-term decline.”
    and much more.
    Which of their algorithms – or class of algorithms – do you think misleads them with respect to trends? Is this a dislike for the methods in general or just in their application at NSDIC.

  58. nanks
    May 28th, 2009 at 22:33 | #58

    apologies, my post at #57 is directed to Jonathan Baxter

  59. Jonathan Baxter
    May 28th, 2009 at 23:03 | #59

    RE nanks #57:

    Which of their algorithms – or class of algorithms – do you think misleads them with respect to trends? Is this a dislike for the methods in general or just in their application at NSDIC.

    Global sea ice extent is fairly static (graph at link).

    I believe the NSDIC quote is referring to Northern Hemisphere extent. Yes, there is a trend. But nothing like the catastrophe we have been led to believe, with many alarmists claiming there would be an ice-free arctic last summer due to global warming (in fact, much of the big decline in 2007 was due to changes in wind patterns, not temperature).

    There is no doubt the Earth has warmed over the last century. I have little doubt some of the warming is caused by increased CO2 emissions. But beyond that, the case for alarm seems quite weak to me.

    Anyway, we don’t really need to continue debating this here. My point of commenting was to establish that there are some sceptics who don’t fit into the categories listed, although I know I won’t convince some people of that. I believe my scepticism is simply of the common-or-garden scientific variety, but you can judge for yourself.

  60. MarkHC
    May 28th, 2009 at 23:03 | #60

    Dan @48,

    You should thank philip travers @49 for illustrating your point.

    Philip, I don’t suppose you would be able to quote The words you say Al Gore spoke that you say were so wrong in relation to CO2 leading vs lagging?

  61. lenny
    May 29th, 2009 at 00:11 | #61

    “with many alarmists claiming there would be an ice-free arctic last summer due to global warming”

    Name one.

  62. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 00:38 | #62

    How about this:

    “Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007,” the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School [Professor Wieslaw Maslowsk], Monterey, California, explained to the BBC.
    “So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative.”

    So sometime before 2013. Maybe not 2008, but 2011? 2010? This guy – a Professor – was quoted by Al Gore.

    This kind of blatant propaganda doesn’t have much to do with science.

  63. barry
    May 29th, 2009 at 01:40 | #63

    Hi J Baxter. You present yourself as a scientist who brings scientific rigour to your analysis of this issue.

    When asked about your opinion on the algorithms at the NSIDC, you digressed sharply.

    You’ve mixed up a bet amongst Arctic ice scientists that the North Pole would melt out in summer 2008 (not the whole Arctic), with a quote in a news article about the possibility of an ice-free Arctic in summer 2013 (rather than examining the science behind it).


    Further, you’ve singled out the shortest interval rather than the range in the news article: 2013 – 2030. Here’s another quote from that article.

    “I think Wieslaw is probably a little aggressive in his projections, simply because the luck of the draw means natural variability can kick in to give you a few years in which the ice loss is a little less than you’ve had in previous years. But Wieslaw is a smart guy and it would not surprise me if his projections came out.”

    Perhaps you did not read the original article, instead finding the quote isolated in a blog. In either event, where is your rigour, even with something a basic as a one-page news item? Never mind that you did not answer the query on the maths

    You’ve now used the words ‘alarmists’ and ‘propaganda’, propogating more by omission (witlessly or otherwise).

    This is not the best way to demonstrate your academic credentials, and suggests you may yet fit into the first category. Your rhetoric is the big give-away.

  64. barry
    May 29th, 2009 at 01:56 | #64

    If that wasn’t enough, you introduce Gore into the discussion, fulfilling another category one requirement. So far that’s is a pretty good validation of Quiggin’s taxonomy.

  65. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:09 | #65

    RE barry #63:

    When asked about your opinion on the algorithms at the NSIDC, you digressed sharply.

    I did not intend to. I understood the question of the algorithms to be based on a false assumption: that global sea ice is diminishing, which it is not (at least not particularly significantly). I do not have any reason to doubt the algorithms they use at NSDIC.

    You’ve mixed up a bet amongst Arctic ice scientists that the North Pole would melt out in summer 2008 (not the whole Arctic), with a quote in a news article about the possibility of an ice-free Arctic in summer 2013 (rather than examining the science behind it).

    Either way the alarmist claims are way off.

    My area of expertise is statistical modeling. Several of the more significant papers in the climate science literature rely on very complex statistical modeling techniques that are easy to overfit if you are not very careful. Often, when people have managed to reproduce those studies (eg hockeystick and the recent Antarctic warming nature paper), they are found not to be robust to fairly trivial changes in model parameters.

    An oft-used argument against people like me opining on climate science is that we are unqualified. Well, that argument can be applied back to climate science itself: are ecologists, environmentalists, biologists, dendrochronologists, etc qualified to wield the complex statistical tools they use? With the more advanced algorithms behind a lot of temperature reconstruction work, I would have to say the answer is generally “no”.

    I don’t pretend to have a deep understanding of the thermodynamics of the atmosphere and ocean, but I do understand when statistical algorithms are bing misused.

  66. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:17 | #66

    If that wasn’t enough, you introduce Gore into the discussion, fulfilling another category one requirement. So far that’s is a pretty good validation of Quiggin’s taxonomy.

    Gore quoted Wieslaw’s research in his Nobel acceptance speech, showing that Wieslaw’s claims received significant attention. That’s all.

    Anyway, as I said above, you’re free to draw your own conclusions about me.

  67. dhogaza
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:17 | #67

    So sometime before 2013. Maybe not 2008, but 2011? 2010? This guy – a Professor – was quoted by Al Gore.

    Moving the goalposts is classic denialism, whether or not you like the label.

    Blind acceptance of the tripe at CA coupled with a belief that climate scientists are incompetent is classic denialism, whether or not you like the label. True skepticism would include being skeptical of claims made at CA.

  68. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:28 | #68

    Blind acceptance of the tripe at CA coupled with a belief that climate scientists are incompetent is classic denialism, whether or not you like the label.

    Where have I indicated blind acceptance of anything? And where have I said climate scientists are incompetent? I am sure most climate science is solid. Just not a lot of the more prominent papers that rely on complex statistical modeling to perform temperature reconstructions or projections.

    I have the background to read this stuff for myself and draw my own conclusions. I tried to show that with the google scholar link- there’s really no other way for me to convince you.

    True skepticism would include being skeptical of claims made at CA.

    Indeed. But very few claims made at CA turn out to be wrong. Take that from a natural skeptic. But I agree that many “denialist” claims are complete baloney.

  69. Martin
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:40 | #69

    From looking at the evolutionist/creationist debate (from a safe distance), I would suggest that one group is non-scientists. Those of us who have been to university and worked our way through some evidence-based discipline (which includes history as well as the sciences) may forget that the majority have not been inculcated into this way of thinking. That is, most people form their opinions on the basis of what they think the majority of their peers are saying, or what supposed opinion leaders think, or whatever but not by excluding everything except the actual evidence. so rather than wondering why most people do not accept the scientific consensus, we might be asking how people do form their opinions (and how to influence this).

  70. charles
    May 29th, 2009 at 02:44 | #70

    climate scientists are incompetent is classic denialism

    What an argument. It really is sad.

  71. May 29th, 2009 at 04:12 | #71

    From back at #10:

    I want to point out an [a]symmetry here: if somebody publishes a rubbish letter in a newspaper, it is disproportionately difficult to refute it!

    True, and a brilliant short post on just this phenomenon may be found over at Julian Sanchez’.

  72. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 05:54 | #72

    JB, I’m not holding out much hope, but you might want to read these observations on the Wegman report on the hockey stick debate which supposedly counters the NAS report that endorsed MBH


    Wegman, the lead author, presented himself as an objective and independent statistical analyst, but later outed himself as a delusionist.

  73. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:08 | #73

    jquiggin, I agree that the social network analysis in Wegman’s report is fairly light. So academics form cliques – what’s new? However, I don’t see how that makes him a “delusionist”.

  74. lenny
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:09 | #74

    As I thought, you can’t name a single scientist who predicted an ice-free arctic last summer, because there likely wasn’t a single one who did so. However, many denialists made the claim that scientists were predicting an ice-free arctic and more likely than you having “mixed up” bets on an ice-free pole, is you having credulously adopted this claim from another denialist.
    Hardly, the stuff of “skepticism”.

  75. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:13 | #75

    Come on lenny, the media was ablaze with prophecies of doom from receding ice. You don’t need to be a denialist to know it was overblown.

  76. Jeff Johnson
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:23 | #76

    How about Mark Serreze, the new director of the NSIDC saying the Arctic could be ice-free in 2008.


  77. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:29 | #77

    #76 JJ Read the last fifteen comments on the thread, and you’ll see where you got this wrong.

  78. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:32 | #78

    #73 JB, I meant that he later signed a public statement rejecting AGW, having failed to mention his views on the topic when holding holding himself out as an independent expert focusing on the statistical issues in a single paper.

  79. Jonathan Baxter
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:42 | #79

    #78 jquiggin: Maybe he formed his views on AGW as a result of the work he did for the Wegman report? Besides, even if he was skeptical before working on the report, that does not imply his analysis was false.

    On a general note, isn’t all this debate about motives or character rather beside the point? You could produce incontrovertible evidence that Wegman strangles puppies for fun, but it wouldn’t make any difference to the veracity of his analysis.

  80. dhogaza
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:51 | #80

    Come on lenny, the media was ablaze with prophecies of doom from receding ice. You don’t need to be a denialist to know it was overblown.

    Another goalpost move.

    Denialist. Not skeptic.

  81. dhogaza
    May 29th, 2009 at 06:57 | #81

    Maybe he formed his views on AGW as a result of the work he did for the Wegman report?

    The “hockey stick” is actually irrelevant to AGW theory. It is only relevant to discussions about the possible impact of an unprecedented rate of change due to AGW. Denialists like yourself are eager to “disprove” the “hockey stick” because if recent, and future, warming due to AGW is not unprecedented over human history then one can more plausibly argue that there’s nothing to worry about.

    So if his work on the “hockey stick” convinced him that AGW theory is wrong, he’s a fool. The basic physics aren’t refuted.

    Besides which, the supposedly debunked “hockey stick” has not been debunked, and denialists like yourself are forced to misrepresent the NAS report, the (in)significance of Wegman’s analysis, etc etc.

    You’re no skeptic. You’re a denialist.

  82. dhogaza
    May 29th, 2009 at 07:02 | #82

    How about Mark Serreze, the new director of the NSIDC saying the Arctic could be ice-free in 2008.

    How about the NORTH POLE is not THE ARCTIC.

    You can look that up on a map if you don’t believe me.

  83. Jeff Johnson
    May 29th, 2009 at 07:22 | #83

    Okay, all you non-delusionists.

    Fill in this equation which is the most important equation in global warming theory and the basis of the climate models.

    The Temperature C impact from rising CO2.

    TempC Increase = [ X Watt/metre^2 * Ln (CO2-Future / CO2-280)] * [ Y Celcius / Watt/metre^2]

    Please fill-in

    … X
    … Y
    … CO2-future at 387 ppm and then 700 ppm (a good estimate for CO2 in the year 2100).

    (Note this is only for CO2 and there are different formulae for the other GHGs. You can bump up the numbers by 25% or so if you want to simulate all the GHGs.)

    I think you’ll find the math doesn’t work.

  84. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 07:50 | #84

    Wow, the basic physics of climate science disproved in a blog post, and, I can’t forbear from observing, by someone who can’t even spell “Celsius”, and doesn’t know the difference between the North Pole and the entire Arctic.

    JB, you must be aware that the vast majority of the delusionist case is like this, even when it’s done by people who ought to know better, like Wegman. The argument being trotted out here is a standard one from the CA crew, IIRC, which says a lot.

  85. nanks
    May 29th, 2009 at 07:51 | #85

    @Jeff – that’s right, all those scientists can’t do simple maths. lol. Which part of ‘hasn’t got the maths smarts’ does Barry Brook suffer from?

  86. SimonS
    May 29th, 2009 at 08:02 | #86

    The reductionist qualities of the proposed Taxonomy of climate delusionist, carries an undercurrent of sarcasm and ridicule for those “contrarian” thinkers. OTOH if you are serious about this Taxonomic classification of climate delusionist I assume it is just a hypothesis in which case other than the “physics savy’ John Masheys attempt to further breakdown the classifications, has no further supporting evidence amongst the wide spread scientific community. In which case I would like to invoke the “precautionary principle”. The taxonomic hypothesis proposed may cause tremendous hardship for those delusionist who have taken a position contrary to the one expressed by most on this blog. The Taxonomy must be abandoned.

    This brings me to JQ question

    “I’d be interested in anyone claiming to have reached a sceptical position who doesn’t fit into one or other of the categories I’ve mentioned”

    It is the underlying fundamental assumptions of the “precautionary principle” and how it is invoked by the pro-climate lobby that has resulted in my sceptical position. The precautionary principle is not in my opinion, science, as some claim:


    The major problem is this principle is open to misuse and abuse.


    Eric Englund is a bit “doomsdayish” but I will invoke the precautionary principle again.

    And Ronald Bailey asks some worthwhile questions as well:


    and Andrew Michael Baker @ the QU of technology provides an interesting opinion on this matter as well:


    It is hard to ignore stuff like this and dismiss it as irrelevant and delusional but I suppose there is not much the pro-climate guys can do other than maintain the rage after Mr Plimer controversial stunt threatens to derail the political motives of the pro-climate lobby.

    In regard to who I am for the purpose of this hypothesis. We’ll I am in my fourth decade, have a family, I work in health care and finance, I have a couple of university degrees, my name is of no importance or significance to anyone in politics or climate science. I have no influential academic peers. The question is can you save me from my delusional plight and if so how would you approach this mammoth task of rewiring my delusional brain. PS. Perhaps a genecentric approach is best. Wait for guys like me to die and selectively breed pre-programmed proclimate persons.

  87. Jeff Johnson
    May 29th, 2009 at 08:11 | #87

    It is the most important equation in the field and it has never been explained to you.

    Where does X come from?

    What is the value of Y? Does it vary over time?

    (Sorry for misspelling Celsius. I’m used to just writing C but it might have been confusing in an equation. Arguing the North Pole is not the Arctic in terms of sea ice is frankly ridiculous.)

  88. Doug Mackie
    May 29th, 2009 at 08:11 | #88

    Not sure if this fits in with the other classes.
    (Sorry for vagueness about details but I want to try doing this again).

    An unspecified time ago (but during Bush Jr) I spoofed a high profile US denialist whom I was almost certain was an emeritus hack. But when I asked about motivations…

    Turns out he was unpopular in college and was “ha! they laughed at me but I’ll show them! I’ll kick over their sandcastle and make them sorry”.

    I just left quietly then. Wasn’t a lot I could say. Maybe he was messing with me. But I don’t think so as it would have required more intelligence than his public writings would have suggested. (a la Bush Jr mayhap?).

    Is this a new class?

  89. Adolfo Salazar
    May 29th, 2009 at 08:15 | #89

    What a wide ranging debate that seemed to have digressed a bit from the original intent. However #1 and quite a few others seem to support the following statement:

    “These are people who are mostly over 40, have seen material standards of living improve throughout their lives and who make or build things. They have have always believed that their whole working life has helped contribute to a better world. Whether that was their purpose is irrelevant”

    Well I almost fit into that category. I do accept AGW and have done so for about four/five years. As an atheist who is currently living in Tokyo, grew up in Melbourne after my parent’s fled Pinochet’s regime in Chile in the early 70s, I hold the view that progres is taming the environment to fit people’s lives – no advance in technology, no advance in humanity. I care not one whit about saving the planet, or biodiversity or so many of the things that environmentalist hold dear. Instead I care about saving people and I shall remain eternally grateful to Australia for providing refuge to a young boy.

    Did I mention that I build things? Well I have built four houses in Melbourne, I have worked in the mines in WA and I now live and work in Tokyo. That means that there are three families that have a roof over their head – protects them from cold weather which reduces lifespan. My income over the years has meant that I have been able to provide employment to bricklayers, electricians, sales staff, etc. You get the picture. However I think that my most important hire was a domestic maid in Chile – thin and emaciated (her children ate first)she did not want charity, she wanted a job and I obliged. I still get moved when she politely asked me whether I could give her half a days pay in advance because she hadn’t eaten for at least 24 hours. That was easy because I build things for a living and I am handsomely rewarded for it.

    I have met many tradies who are indeed concerned over the drought and the environment but their vote, like mine, also takes into account the consequences of action. BTW I do support increasing carbon taxes or ETS which will inevitably lead to an increase in the cost of living. but I can afford that. Others? some may not.

    And there is one other thing – in the isolation of the ballot booth votes are cast on jobs and taxes. Robert Maclellan, Victoria’s best planning minister ever, approved many a construction site which lead to the creation of Save Our Suburbs (SOS) and other community groups which eventually lead to the ejection of Jeff Kennet’s government. The Bracks government created the policy of 2030 which now more or less lies in tatters because of the strong community opposition (the fact that it needed more work also contributed). Yet here in Tokyo the policy works – train stations with entire shopping complexes (at ikkebukuro the subterranean complex means that there is no need to come up to the surface for anything!) then surrounded by office blocks and then residential. 10 to 12 storey buildings are common and most people live very close to a train station and a park. And because most people work near a train station there is no need to drive. Yet the Australian electorate continually rejects this option. Instead they have polls where they continually tell each other how worried they are about saving the planet, go to the beach and hold hands, and participate in Earth hour. they complain about the number of people who live in Melbourne (I wonder if the little boy of yester year would be welcomed today) and the planet.

    Aside from the ETS/carbon tax (policy issue discussed elsewhere on this blog) the real issue for the environmental cause is to convince the electorate that an enhanced 2030 plan would indeed be best. Alternatively, economic theory would need to be developed so as to explain how the standard of living can be improved (or at least maintained) with an ageing population and decreasing numbers. But both these issues are hard yakka, aren’t they? Much better to sneer at those who feed others.

  90. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 08:42 | #90

    I forgot to mention that, for a handy directory of responses to most of the talking points discussed, you should go to


    The stuff about chaos and forecasting is well covered, as is Arctic ice.

    For the details on forcings, feedbacks and so on, go to Barry Brooks here


  91. charles
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:14 | #91


    TempC Increase = [ X Watt/metre^2 * Ln (CO2-Future / CO2-280)] * [ Y Celcius / Watt/metre^2]

    It’s a loverly formula, why it’s even got a natural log in it. Before one discusses what it means one does sort of need to know where it comes from, what the magic number (280) represents and what assumptions where made. Oh and it would help if you told me what X and Y are and how you measure or calculate them. Then we could look at the * / and ln arrangement and decide if they make sense.

    As the weather is a complex dynamic system I doubt it represents anything very much, but I know I am ignorant and am happy to be educated.

    I am also interested to know why people in denial debate hockey sticks and simulations when we know how the heat is trapped. I would have though proving that CO2 didn’t stop heat radiating back out to space would be the focus. But hay what do I know about proving all those dumb scientists wrong I’m only an engineer.

    If your in Australia how about hopping on a plane and having a look at a New Zealand Glacier or two, (nice place) and report back on why they are receding? I took the easy path and blamed Global warming, but obviously you as a hot shot scientist who is so much smarter than the dumb scientists who think it’s getting warmer and this mediocre engineer will be able to enlighten me.


  92. charles
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:20 | #92

    Oh and PS, normally you use ln not Ln to represent natural logs. I know your a hot shot scientist and convention doesn’t matter that much, it does however make information transfer difficult if you don’t stick to them.


  93. Paul Norton
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:26 | #93

    Mark Milankovitch #56 wrote:

    “The tragic reality that far too many ordinary folks see the most rabid spruikers for AGW as being the same guys were most passionately spruiking for Marxist Leninism/Trotskyism less a generation ago.”

    As Menzies said of H. V. Evatt during the Petrov Affair, the Lord hath delivered him into my hands.

    As I explained in 2002 at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=1110

    “One of the curious features of public intellectual life in the English-speaking world is that many leading voices of the Right began their political and intellectual engagement on the Left. David Horowitz in the US and Paul Johnson in the UK are perhaps the two best known, but Australia seems particularly generously endowed with this type. Names like Padraic P. McGuinness, Keith Windschuttle, Piers Akerman, Ross Terrill, Bob Catley, Bettina Arndt, Michael Thompson, Christopher Pearson, Michael Duffy and Max Teichmann come readily to mind.”

    Of those named, Windschuttle, Akerman, Pearson and Duffy are all obsessive greenhouse denialists, as are Michael Thompson’s co-ideologues at The New City blog.

    Even more ruinously for Mark, some of the most vociferous denialists in the blogosphere are the people at Strange Times (a.k.a. The Last Superpower) who are STILL “passionately spruiking for Marxist Leninism” in its most odious form, namely Maoism.

    A question for JQ: where would you place the Maoist denialists in your taxonomy?

  94. Paul Norton
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:28 | #94

    I should have added that Windschuttle was once a spruiker for Trotskyism along with Hall Greenland and Bob Gould, Akerman was once a signatory to a communist newpaper advertisement, Pearson was once a Maoist, Duffy was once an anarchist and Thompson was an activist in a Maoist union.

  95. Andrew T
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:31 | #95

    I suspect Jonathan Baxter (and others) fit John Mashey’s psych-2 category better than any of JQ’s categories. His motivation seems to be the intellectual enjoyment of adopting a contrary position but he has little confidence in this position.

    Jonathan Baxter told us Arctic sea ice was more-or-less back to normal – a vastly contrary position to the bevy of scientists telling us Arctic sea ice has been declining for decades and will change from perennial to seasonal.

    Jonathon then abandoned this remarkable position with no explanation, moving to claiming a particular scientist, Maslowski, is predicting this change to seasonal ice too soon. This huge change in position is delineated not by nominating the large body of scientific work Jonathon now apparently agrees with, but by finding a scientist he still disagrees with. Its contrariness just for the sake of it

  96. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:36 | #96

    I agree that we need a category of irresponsible contrarians, which is commonly a precursor of emeritus disease. Lindzen is the exemplar of this group.

    I see the Trots turned Culture Warriors as essentially Tribalist in their motivation, though this is expressed in the adoption of a series of sectarian ideological positions.

  97. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2009 at 09:50 | #97

    BTW, Paul, I hadn’t even noticed that Ross Terrill had changed sides, though in his case, and that of Bob Catley, I’d say the Hack category is closer to the mark. Whoever appears to hold the Mandate of Heaven, these two can be found on their side.

    It will be interesting to see whether Terrill can scramble back to the left now that Rudd is in (or maybe he has already done so).

  98. Alice
    May 29th, 2009 at 10:08 | #98

    93# Paul says
    “I should have added that Windschuttle was once a spruiker for Trotskyism along with Hall Greenland and Bob Gould, Akerman was once a signatory to a communist newpaper advertisement, Pearson was once a Maoist, Duffy was once an anarchist and Thompson was an activist in a Maoist union.”

    This would be hugely funny if these people didnt get published in the mainstream media so often… its a tragi-comedy of epically garrulous dimensions!!

  99. Crispin Bennett
    May 29th, 2009 at 11:49 | #99

    Adolfo @89:

    I care not one whit about saving the planet, or biodiversity or so many of the things that environmentalist hold dear

    This highlights what concerns me most about the whole GW focus. We could put in vast efforts, yet while this kind of attitude prevails (and any other is still marginal), they’ll be wasted because further and worse results of permanently soiling our nest will just come back to bite us, again and again.

    As long as we insist on a permanent War On Nonhumans, crises will redouble every few decades.

  100. Vern Topp
    May 29th, 2009 at 12:15 | #100

    John, I wrote this comment(but did not submit) some time ago after reading through one of your AGW blogs. After reading some of the current blog, I was finally compelled to have my say:

    Dear JQ,

    Whether or not AGW will ultimately lead to catastrophic effects on the natural environment and our lives and lifestyles, it seems to me that there is a fundamental unwillingness on the part of the ‘believers’ to do anything substantial about it. When petrol prices soared to around $2 per litre in 2008, I expected a deluge of articles in favour of this turn of events, as the rise in oil prices was a good simulation of the precise type of policy response required to reduce emissions – that is, a large (and almost overnight) tax on fossil fuel use. Instead, we were inundated with calls to reduce existing taxes on fuel because the high prices at the bowser were ‘hurting’ people, particularly the poor. The case can be made that, while the majority of people want to save the planet, a majority of the majority either don’t understand what is needed to do this, or they simply want somebody else to pay for it.

    Personally, I’m agnostic about the extent of any harmful effects from increasing global CO2 emissions, but I’m more than happy to accept a no-regrets emissions-reduction strategy based on carbon taxes or an emissions-trading model. The costs of reducing emissions are likely to be grossly overstated (vested interests always overstate the costs of adjustment in response to either the removal of subsidies, or the implementation of taxes or regulations to internalise externalities), and would have minimal adverse impact on our standard of living, particularly over the longer term. But let’s not kid anyone – the price of fossil fuel based energy has to rise dramatically in order to encourage people to use less of it. Education, regulation and suasion have only a bit-part role to play in reducing emissions – the price of energy derived from coal, oil and gas must rise first, and probably substantially. Use tax revenue to deal with equity issues by all means, but let price signals be the main mechanism to direct the behaviour and responses of both consumers and producers of energy (including producers of alternative energy). If we try to (socially) engineer a solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions we are doomed to the sort of non-ending and pointless philosophical and ideological debates that your blogs on this subject generally degrade into.

    To sum up, I think you should stop wasting energy trying to convince everyone that catastrophic AGW is indisputable, and start trying to convince everyone (including your own team-mates) about what is actually needed in order to fundamentally change people’s behaviour, and reduce aggregate greenhouse gas emissions.

    Yours respectfully,
    Agnostic but willing to help out.

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