Two kinds of ignorance

Also, in yesterday’s Fin, Geoffrey Barker accused Abbott of going for the bogan vote (paywalled), where bogan is taken to mean ignorant. Leaving aside the class/cultural analysis implicit in the term “bogan”, which I think is wrong, the argument is the same as I made in my post on agnotology, as his characterization of Rudd as a technocrat, not really at ease with the kind of politics that includes demands for authenticity and so on. Coming back to “bogan”, the big issue in agnotology is not ignorance in the ordinary sense of the term (people who don’t know much about political issues, and don’t care to learn – that is certainly part of the stereotypical bogan image, and may perhaps be descriptive of the actual demographic groups commonly associated with the term, though I don’t know of any evidence of this).

The ignorance associated with climate change delusionism and other rightwing factoids is metacognitive and has much more to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect of overestimating one’s own competence. The classic example is the kind of person who eagerly circulates reports that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995. The only information content in such a report is that the person doing the reporting doesn’t understand the concept of statistical significance[1], and therefore is incapable of assessing any issue involving statistical analysis, of which climate change is a prime example.

The stereotypical candidate, in relation to climate change, is that of a 50+ male[2] with a business background in engineering or some similar field where practical judgement is accorded more value than theoretical expertise, and where a willingness to push on regardless is an important element of success. Journalists and opinion columnists[3], accustomed to “mastering a brief” at short notice are also highly susceptible – lawyers who may actually have to master briefs involving technical issues seem mostly to recognise that this is the kind of problem where expert judgement is required, as does the more sensible kind of economist[4]

fn1. Note for pedants. A Bayesian statistician would say that confusion over the concept of significance reflects the logical problems of the concept and the underlying classical theory of statistics. But that only makes sloppy misuse of the concept even worse. I’ll have more to say on this soon, I hope.

fn2. A demographic group to which I belong

fn3. This one, too.

fn4. This one, too, I hope.

99 thoughts on “Two kinds of ignorance

  1. @Tony G

    people like the IPCC’s co-chair Susan Solomon admit “there are climate scientists round the world who are TRYING VERY HARD TO UNDERSTAND and to explain to people openly and honestly what has happened over the last decade”.

    In that case they’re trying to explain the weather because that’s the only thing we can detect a change in within a decade.

    Can you please elaborate on what you mean by this?;

    “And what, pray tell, determines the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere? Wouldn’t have anything to do with temperature, would it?”

    Pretty simple, the warmer the oceans and the atmosphere, the faster water evaporates from the oceans and the more water vapor the atmosphere can hold => more greenhouse effect from water vapor in the atmosphere. This feeds back into ocean and atmosphere temperatures so a positive feedback loop occurs. Fortunately that feedback loop is stable at existing temperatures but if the ocean ever exceeded 60°C then that loop is expected to go unstable.

  2. Chris O’ Said;

    “from water vapor IN the atmosphere.”

    Chris, it is a misconception that the air holds water; air simply acts as a transporter of water vapour and is not a holder of it.

    “The thermophysical properties of water-air mixtures encountered at atmospheric conditions are reasonably approximated by assuming they behave as a mixture of ideal gases. For many practical purposes the assumption that both components (air and water) behave independently of each other is reasonable. Therefore the physical properties of an air-water mixture can be estimated by considering the physical properties of each component separately.”

    CHris O’
    What you are saying put “pretty simpl[y]” is “the warmer the oceans and the atmosphere [get] the more water vapor [the] more greenhouse effect from water vapor in the atmosphere.”
    You seem to be implying that if it gets hotter the more water vapor IN the atmosphere. I disagree with this assertion.

    In an air-water vapour mixture the amount of water vapour can fall with rising temperatures. The amount of water vapour can also go up with a falling temperature. The amount of water vapour can stay the same or on some occasions, rise with increasing temperatures.
    What drives the amount of water vapour in air is the absolute pressure. i.e.
    Pressure 101.325kpa; T 70C = 50%
    Pressure 101.325kpa; T 80c = 32.9%

    Warmer temperatures do not necessarily translate to more water vapour in an air-water vapour mixture, Chris please explain how “warmer the oceans and the atmosphere” equate to “more greenhouse effect from water vapour in the atmosphere.” Considering warmer temperatures do not automatically equate to more water vapour in the atmosphere?

  3. @Tony G

    “The thermophysical properties of water-air mixtures encountered at atmospheric conditions are reasonably approximated by assuming they behave as a mixture of ideal gases. For many practical purposes the assumption that both components (air and water) behave independently of each other is reasonable. Therefore the physical properties of an air-water mixture can be estimated by considering the physical properties of each component separately.”

    And how, pray tell, is that inconsistent with saying water vapor that water vapor is in the atmosphere?

    You seem to be implying that if it gets hotter the more water vapor IN the atmosphere. I disagree with this assertion.

    It’s not an assertion, it’s an observed fact.

    Warmer temperatures do not necessarily translate to more water vapour in an air-water vapour mixture

    We’d be rather unlucky if it didn’t. Otherwise rainfall would take a major hit with a less humid atmosphere. It normally doesn’t start raining until humidity reaches 100%.

  4. Chris O’Neill

    It would be interesting to see your observed fact, but I can’t your link to work.

  5. “You’ll have to look in Jones et al. (2001).”

    This simple quote underlines many things wrong with the current debate.

    1) The discussion started with the Chris asserting: “there are still some clowns claiming it’s been cooling for the past decade”.
    And the proof was a link to a graph that uses a “variance adjusted mean”. I asked for details of what variance was used to adjust the mean ( I assume generalised least squares is being used in some way, I am curious as to how). Instead of an explanation I got from the person willing to call others clowns a link to a paper. A a paper that looks very interesting (based on the snippets I can find on the web); but:

    2)The paper is behind a paywall, normally this wouldn’t be an issue as I would be studing something and be able to get at it through the library, but this year I am a normal joe. Interested or not I have to pay to find out why Chris feels he can assert that those using the raw value are fools ( given I got a link and not an explanation I suspect Chris is using blind faith in the hope that the faith is well placed), or, without reading the paper believe or dismiss Chris’s claim.

    I’m not willing to pay, dismiss the claim or accept it, I am left ignorant and once again cursing the mess that scientific publishing has got itself into. Expecting people to have blind faith in journals ( peer reviewed or not) is not the way forward. Nor is calling people clowns because they are a little sceptical. Using sophisticated statistical methods does not make the answer right. To make a judgement you need more than the assertion that your a clown.

  6. @charles
    Sarcasm entirely warranted Michael when faced with comments like this one

    “Nor is calling people clowns because they are a little sceptical. ”

    If they would like to wait a while longer they will be called things far worse than clowns. Try imbeciles for example. Clowns is fairly mild I would suggest.

  7. Tony G:

    You seem to be implying that if it gets hotter the more water vapor IN the atmosphere. I disagree with this assertion.

    I should point out before citing the observed relationship between variations in atmospheric temperature and water vapor that it is a simple physical property of water that it’s vapor pressure above water in a confined space increases with temperature. There would have to be something pretty strange going on for the atmosphere not to follow this to some degree. Anyway here is the observed relationship between variations in atmospheric temperature and water vapor.

    BTW, Tony G, how, pray tell, is saying that water vapor is in the atmosphere inconsistent with your following quote?

    “The thermophysical properties of water-air mixtures encountered at atmospheric conditions are reasonably approximated by assuming they behave as a mixture of ideal gases. For many practical purposes the assumption that both components (air and water) behave independently of each other is reasonable. Therefore the physical properties of an air-water mixture can be estimated by considering the physical properties of each component separately.”

  8. charles:

    “You’ll have to look in Jones et al. (2001).”
    This simple quote underlines many things wrong with the current debate.
    1) The discussion started with the Chris asserting: “there are still some clowns claiming it’s been cooling for the past decade”.
    And the proof was a link to a graph that uses a “variance adjusted mean”.

    No, the linked graph was for the trend since 1998, not the last decade which is where the clown reference was made. If you check the graph for the last decade, you’ll find the unajusted mean has a clear positive trend. This is why I call people who still say it’s been cooling for the past decade, clowns. I think your misunderstanding underlines one thing wrong with the current debate. People are not careful to get their facts right.

  9. @charles

    Presumably, if you look at the paper you will find the answer or a reference to the technique used. If I was Jones, I too would, by this stage, be labeling these people clowns – an entirely appropriate appellation that could only be faulted for its charity.

  10. Chris ‘O @ 36;

    “it is a simple physical property of water that it’s vapor pressure above water in a CONFINED SPACE increases with temperature.”

    Chris, are you classifying the atmosphere as a confined space?

  11. “it is a simple physical property of water that it’s vapor pressure above water in a CONFINED SPACE increases with temperature.”

    Tony G:

    are you classifying the atmosphere as a confined space?

    Anyone with at least normal intelligence might have guessed what I was implying from my sentence that followed the above:

    “There would have to be something pretty strange going on for the atmosphere not to follow this to some degree.”

  12. “something pretty strange going on for the atmosphere not to follow this to some degree.”

    So explain to me Chris, “how, pray tell,” YOU can have our atmosphere behaving with”some degree” of a confined space?

    Here is a question that someone with at least normal intelligence could answer with a simple yes or no;

    Do you classify the atmosphere as a “confined space’? Yes or No.

  13. Tony G:

    Here is a question that someone with at least normal intelligence could answer with a simple yes or no;

    Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or No.

  14. Paranoia, I’m afraid, TG. I haven’t changed anything, and you’re not in the moderation queue, so you’ve probably used one of the Forbidden Words, like c@sino, or soCI@LISm.

  15. Chris, just because you’re into “confined spaces” and “beating” doesn’t mean others share your passionate enthusiasm for such solitary endeavours.

    It is understandable you need to change the subject, considering you are wrong to assert that warming simply equates to more water vapour in the atmosphere. You neglect the fundamental fact that the relative humidity is “pressure dependent” and so relative humidity can also rise or fall independent of temperature fluctuations.

    See wiki relative humidity ‘pressure dependence’.

    Are you also still trumpeting the success of the solar panel scheme? I’m still LoL on that one.

  16. For the record Tony, on of my posts, — a response to Strocchi — went into moderation for 24 hours so I doubt it has anything to do with you. PrQ always says when he is moderating someone, so I assume it is technical.

  17. @Tony G
    The article you link to is over a month old and is mainly cheap shots rather than a sober analysis of the scheme. The interesting thing to note about all these green schemes is that there is a lot of unmet demand for these services. I had a house assessment done and it was very useful. The assessor was able to point out a few things I had over-looked, some of which I can do without spending much money. I didn’t apply for the loan because most of the other things that remain to be done are large projects I’m not ready to start yet.

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