Home > Economics - General > The significance of agnotology

The significance of agnotology

January 7th, 2011

A year or so ago, there was a lot of fuss around the talking point, originating with Richard Lindzen of MIT that “There has been no statistically significant warming since 1995?”At the time, I observed that this meant nothing more than “given the variability in the data, we need at least 15 observations to reject the null hypothesis at 95 per cent confidence”. Thus, it was totally unwarranted to slide, as Lindzen and others did, from “no statistically significant warming” to “no significant warming” or even, in Lindzen’s case “warming has ceased for the past fourteen years”. Sad to say, most of the “sceptics” who profess to “make up their own mind” on the issues, are either too lazy or lack the mental equipment to learn the basic statistics needed to understand this point, and therefore unthinkingly repeated Lindzen’s claim. But, to anyone who understood the issues, it was obvious that a couple more observations in line with the observed warming of recent decades would be enough to bring the trend to statistical significance.

With 2010 over, we now have 16 observations starting in 1995, and (unsurprisingly to anyone who followed the argument thus far) the upward trend is now statistically significant at the 5 per cent level[1] That is, if climate change since 1995 (the time of the first IPCC report, and well after Lindzen announced himself as a sceptic) had been purely random, the odds against such an upward trend would be better than 20 to 1 against.

The obvious question is whether Lindzen will now concede that his claim, and the inference he drew from it, has been falsified, and that warming has not in fact ceased as he suggested. I’m willing to bet that what we see is evasion, obfuscation of or outright silence, not only from Lindzen, but from all of those who parroted his claim.

fn1. My estimates based on the Hadley data used by Lindzen gives an estimated trend of 0.012 degrees a year, with a t-value of 2.45.

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  1. Michael of Summerhill
    January 17th, 2011 at 18:05 | #1

    Alan, more to the point NSW has led the world in innovative market-based environmental solutions, including the instalment of one of the world’s first emissions trading schemes, and a new system of biodiversity credits. As a result, our air and beaches are the cleanest they have been in decades. Controlling illegal land clearing in NSW will also ensure Australia meets its Kyoto protocol targets. Just some of the facts.

  2. Alan
    January 17th, 2011 at 19:29 | #2

    MoSH

    I am fascinated. I look forward to you identifying each of these programs by name so we can all share your obvious delight.

  3. Alan
    January 17th, 2011 at 19:38 | #3

    NSW Labor Pr Blurb:

    NSW has led the world in innovative market-based environmental solutions, including the instalment of one of the world’s first emissions trading schemes, and a new system of biodiversity credits. As a result, our air and beaches are the cleanest they have been in decades. Controlling illegal land clearing in NSW will also ensure Australia meets its Kyoto protocol targets.

    Just exercising the transformative power of education.

  4. Michael of Summerhill
    January 17th, 2011 at 20:01 | #4

    Alan, I am glad you are learning something about NSW Labor instead of raving on.

  5. Alan
    January 17th, 2011 at 20:02 | #5

    MoSH, we are all waiting breathlessly for the list of innovative market-based environmental solutions.

  6. Michael of Summerhill
    January 17th, 2011 at 21:07 | #6

    Alan, basically ‘Government’s roles include: providing policy and leadership, as a researcher, a regulator, and a funder of environmental improvement, whilst at the same time being heavily engaged in operational matters on large spatial and environmental impact scales. These different roles have resulted in some very positive impacts in early stage development of innovative solutions eg developing Sydney Olympic Park: building materials and energy efficiency design, waste and wastewater recycling, and contaminated soil remediation’. Need I say more?

  7. Monkey’s Uncle
    January 17th, 2011 at 21:17 | #7

    Alan :

    In particular the association of radical Islam as leftwing is more than merely faintly ridiculous.

    Well, let’s see. Radical Islamic terrorists are largely driven by hostility towards US foreign policy, hostility towards Western values and resentment towards Western economic success. And according to many leftist commentators, terrorism is exacerbated by poverty and inequality. These are normally ideas one associates with the far left of the political spectrum. Moreover, the most outspoken critics of the growth of radical Islam tend to be on the right (Andrew Bolt, Mark Steyn, Ann Coulter to name but a few). While there are some leftists who fit into the same category (like Christopher Hitchens), they are fewer in number.

    To say that radical Islam is largely on the far left is hardly a cheap partisan point-score. It is merely an issue of basic political taxonomy. It is like saying the Greens are on the left and Family First are on the right. Or saying communism is on the far left. This has little to do with smears by association. Rather, it is merely about orderly categorizing of ideas and movements in order to make some coherent sense of things.

    I’m sorry Alan, but simply offering a dismissive ipse dixit in favour of some alternative parallel universe reality doth not an argument maketh.

  8. Tony G
    January 17th, 2011 at 21:36 | #8

    Alan said @ 32 page 2

    “NASA and NOAA seem to disagree with Tony G.”

    The link doesn’t work Alan

    “The question is not the actual value but how you, on your own statement, know the value of a quantity you say cannot be measured”.

    Alan it is like putting your head in a bucket of iced water and not knowing thw actual temperature but sensing it is cold. (something you should try)

    Deriving a reliable global temperature from the instrument data is not easy because the instruments are not evenly distributed across the planet, the hardware and observing locations have changed over the years, and there has been extensive land use change (such as urbanization) around some of the sites.

    The calculation needs to filter out the changes that have occurred over time that are not climate related (e.g. urban heat islands), then interpolate across regions where instrument data has historically been sparse (e.g. in the southern hemisphere and at sea), before an average can be taken.

    Alan is ‘deriving’ and ‘interpolating’ (guessing) a measurement?

    I ask you and the other proponents of excessive government again please front up with the actual temperature. Not some doctored guess.

  9. jquiggin
    January 17th, 2011 at 21:58 | #9

    MoSh, I really don’t want comments that are reprints of Labor talking points. Please take a week off commenting, and when you return, nothing similar please.

  10. Michael of Summerhill
    January 17th, 2011 at 22:04 | #10

    Thank you John and goodbye.

  11. jquiggin
    January 17th, 2011 at 22:04 | #11

    Tony G, you show yourself as more and more ignorant, with every comment you make. That’s true both with respect to the amount you don’t know and with respect to your attitude, which is that you already know everything you need to and that any facts that contradict what you know need to be wished away with silly talking points taken from members of your tribe who make a business of producing them.

    I recommend Tony’s posts to all those interested in the experimental study of agnotology.

  12. Tony G
    January 17th, 2011 at 22:50 | #12

    If you bother studying the term and find out that it was made up as a joke by Dr. Proctor in 2001, you might also find a few other fictitious jokes that are put forward as facts by the proponents of excessive government.

    Like AGW or making out it is getting warmer by interpolating it across cooler regions where instrument data has historically been sparse (e.g. in the southern hemisphere and at sea), before an average can be taken.

    The next big fiction is doing the impossible, stopping the climate from changing by introducing a carbon tax. What is the next fiction, that the motivation behind a carbon tax isn’t to redistribute the wealth? Neo-communism is alive and well.

  13. paul of albury
    January 17th, 2011 at 23:25 | #13

    Monkey’s Uncle, the thing that makes Islamists and many Western rightists hate each other is their different religions, at least as much as their policies. If you had two racial supremacist parties with identical policies but preferring different races would you say one was left and one was right because they were against each other?

    At the moment Christian fundamentalists work happily with right wing political parties. Their policies look similar to those of the Islamists (women’s rights, social policies, law and order, prayer in schools and parliaments, etc). Maybe these aren’t the policies that make them right wing but the right wingers appear to happily agree with them.

    You certainly couldn’t accuse the Islamists of being liberals which seems to be the US definition of leftism. These days it seems left wing = liberal, right wing = authoritarian. If so, libertarians are probably supporting their real enemies ;)

  14. Monkey’s Uncle
    January 18th, 2011 at 09:10 | #14

    @paul of albury

    Paul, interesting perspective.

    “If you had two racial supremacist parties with identical policies but preferring different races would you say one was left and one was right because they were against each other?”

    That depends. If one of them was seeking to overturn the traditionally dominant race, they would probably be classed as left, while the one that seeks to preserve the power of the traditionally dominant race would be seen as right. For example, white supremacism is usually seen as right wing, while radical black nationalism/racialism is usually seen as left wing.

    I agree completely that strict religious fundamentalism is not, in and of itself, generally part of the left. Indeed, in many contexts it could be classed as a far-right (fascist) position. For example, a strict Islamic regime in power in a Muslim country could be seen as a far right regime.

    What makes radical Islam (at least in the context of Western societies), part of the far left is that it seeks a revolutionary overthrow of the established society, order and values. Generally what separates the left and right is that the right favour preserving the existing order and tradition of society, and usually only support modest reforms in line with their goals. The left are more inclined to support radical, utopian plans for a more perfect (in their eyes) society.

  15. Alan
    January 18th, 2011 at 10:23 | #15

    Radical Islam does not seek an overthrow of the existing order. What they actually propose is reverting to the time of the first four caliphs, or more correctly to a fantasy version of the early caliphate, just as the Tea Party seeks a primordial USA purified of any later devolutions like elected senators or the Fourteenth Amendment. Both movements actually fit quite closely to the millenarian movements described in Pursuit of the Millennium. Similar movements flourished in medieval Islam, although I cannot point you to an overview as I can for Christendom.

    Identifying radical Islam as leftwing also requires you to disregard the fact that their funding is almost exclusively from dissident, if hyper-rich, members of the Saudi elite and their popular support is minimal.

  16. jquiggin
    January 18th, 2011 at 13:06 | #16

    @Tony G
    Umm, I think the joke is on you.

  17. paul walter
    January 18th, 2011 at 13:32 | #17

    Alan, much closer than your opponents would like, your statement. It suits imperialist powers to have feudalists in power, or challenging attempts at soc democratic regimes in developing world countries, for their own reasons.
    Think Mossadeque and start counting the ways…

  18. gerard
    January 18th, 2011 at 13:58 | #18

    It beggars belief that some people need this pointed out, but if your “revolutionary overthrow” aims to establish a medieval theocracy complete with sexual segregation and the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality, then you’re not left-wing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-wing_politics

    As for Strocchi’s “logic”, I expect he’s gotten the point by now, but it’s fun to construct examples…

    -> Giraffes have legs

    -> Radical Islamists have legs

    -> Fort Hood shooter was a radical Islamist

    -> Fort Hood shooter was a giraffe

  19. gerard
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