The Mail on Sunday's own goal for delusionism

I’ve been struck by the fairly straight reporting of the IPCC Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. Even Graham Lloyd at the Oz could find only one para for delusionist Benny Peiser[1] in his report, headlined “Science solid on global warming, IPCC declares“. What happened to the much anticipated delusionist counterattack?

I think we have the Daily Mail to thank for the no-show. As readers will recall, the Mail ran a story by David Rose under the headline “‘World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said”. This was obviously absurd, and the Mail was forced to retract, but not before the story had been circulated throughout the denialosphere, notably including Bolt, the Oz, and the Torygraphs (both UK and Oz). The Oz eventually retracted, but Bolt didn’t bother. This misfire made it pretty much impossible to get much traction out of the modest adjustments that were actually contained in the report, such as reducing the lower bound estimate of climate sensitivity to 1.5 degrees (it was increased from 1.5 degrees to 2.0 degrees in the Fourth Assessment Report0

What’s interesting here is the fact that such obvious nonsense as Rose’s article got such a credulous reception. The idea that estimates of warming since 1950 could be out by a factor of two, or that a few years of additional data could change them substantial is entirely implausible, and a “confession of error” unsupported by a quote ought to raise alarm bells. Multiple levels of stupidity are needed to explain this. First, the majority of delusionists are simply innumerate, and ignorant of the most basic facts about data (we saw this with the claims about “no significant warming” since 1993). Second, the confirmation bias that affects everyone is magnified to a pathological extent in the parallel universe created by the right. Third, the tribal character of the movement means that there are no incentives to correct error. Presumably there are at least some delusionists who must have thought the “confession of error” story too good to be true. But no one would have thanked them for raising doubts. Whereas real climate scientists disagree vigorously among themselves (though all but a handful agree that the evidence for the basic fact of human-caused climate change is overwhelming), “sceptics” never criticise any claim on their own side, however absurd.

Most obviously, Judith Curry who was quoted in Rose’s article (not as a source for the bogus claims) must have realised it was nonsense. But she implicitly endorsed it, after its publication, but before its retraction. Note that, while saying the article quoted her accurately and would not be welcomed by the IPCC, Curry carefully avoids mentioning taking a position on its main claim, which she must have known to be false (she mentions the dispute briefly, at the bottom of here post, but offers no opinion). This is fairly typical of her, and her role-model Richard Lindzen.

But in this case, it was too clever by half. A smart delusionist if one existed would have jumped on Rose’s error and used it to build up some credibility for the future.

fn1. Peiser is, or was, a social anthropologist, and, according to Wikipedia, is currently a visiting fellow (not a real job, I suspect) at the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university[2]). He’s therefore eminently qualified to represent the delusionist viewpoint on issues of physical science and the interpretation of statistical evidence.

fn2. To be boringly clear, I’m fully aware that Buckingham is an accredited institution with lecturers, degrees and so on, legally entitled to call itself a university. It’s still not a real university.

75 thoughts on “The Mail on Sunday's own goal for delusionism

  1. Perhaps they may now consider it “misson accomplished” in the Lomborgian sense that humans have now delayed action to the point that the trajectory of effects from climate change have indeed reached irreversible momentum.

  2. Nice reference to Benny’s institution 🙂

    ps typo above where you should have sensitivity in degrees

  3. “the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university)”

    With you in general, but for the record, the University of Buckingham is definitely a real university, and is an entirely legitimate academic institution. It does have an unusual-for-the-UK funding model: no state funding at all. (Though this is hardly unknown outside the UK.) It is very small: about 1000 undergraduates, 500 postgrads, 100 academics/faculty. It does seem to relish controversial appointments. But it is officially recognised by the UK government as a body that awards genuine degrees. It even has an entirely pukka Royal Charter as a university and everything!

    I’m not a fan of it, overall, and disagree with many of its members and affiliates quite vigorously on occasion, but I do like to keep criticism to a reasonable basis.

  4. “Confess”. “Confession”.

    Seems a bit overwrought for a discussion of scientific data, until you realise that it’s written for an audience which thinks there’ll eventually be a grand gotcha moment, when climate scientists break down in tears and admit they’ve been communist conspirators the whole time.

  5. My father spoke to me:: “Do the right thing at all times – even when you feels no one is observing.” So I expect it of myself and I seek it in others.

  6. Too much climate change damage has been done already; including meaning it is already built into the climate system even if not yet manifest. The campaign of denialism and confusion from about 1990 to the present, combined with some other important factors, has been successful in preventing any substantial progress on addressing climate change. The other factors are general complacency, system momentum and vested interests. Of course, denialism and confusion make complacency and BAU an easier position to maintain.

    When will it become glaringly obvious to the great majority of the population that climate change is real, resource depletion is real and major economic disruptions are imminent? I wonder how people will react at the general crisis juncture? Nothing is less credible than the prediction that man has tamed the forces of nature and history and faces no more crises.

  7. Curry didn’t go public on the under-estimation of uncertainty issue with respect to articles written about (alleged) factor of two errors, such as claimed by Rose, then? Oh…asymmetric uncertainty principle, I get it now; it only applies to climate scientists who have found evidence of AGW, and not to their vociferous, vocal, belligerently and repeatedly wrong “crtics.”

    Gotta luv the denioverse.

    On a more or less serious note, I don’t really think the reduction in sentivity range to 1.5C actually carries any great significance: to have a low sensitivity like that is very much like saying we could roll ten sixes in a row, given that we’ve witnessed people rolling seven in a row: sure we could roll ten in a row, but there is a big difference between evidence that people have managed seven in a row, and actually making it all the way to ten of the suckers in a row.

  8. John, as you are now a regular daily mail reader, you might have picked up that it is not pitching at a high level.

    no page 3 girl, but lots of other salacious material befitting a middle-market tabloid.

  9. According to ABC Rural 2014 could be an El Nino year with heat and dryness like 1998. The middle of next year is also when the minor party senators may join ranks with the LNP to ‘axe the tax’. If the public thinks something is amiss with the weather at the time the whole thing is going to seem slightly deranged. As if US politics wasn’t enough.

  10. “as you are now a regular daily mail reader, you might have picked up that it is not pitching at a high level. ” I assume you mean *not*

    I understand this – the problem is that Andrew Bolt, Graeme Lloyd, Chris Mitchell, Judith Sloan, Piers Akerman and the Australian right in general do not. So, the nonsense printed in the Daily Mail is reproduced here with the claim that it is derived from a credible source.

  11. What really puzzles me about deniers, apart from the certainty of their position in the face of all the evidence, is that they are so willing to risk the health of the planet and future generations.

    Surely with something so potentially serious, you’d think they’d err on the side of caution. After all, adopting measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, even if you don’t believe it, will not ruin people’s lives or the planet’s health.

    However, doing nothing or ramping up the behaviours that are claimed to be likely to damage us & the planet is not only short sighted, but criminal, imo.

    Seems as bad as puffing cigarette smoke over children, or risking their health by refusing to vaccinate against diseases like polio, measles, mumps & rubella etc. Off topic slightly, I wonder how many anti-vaxxers would knowingly expose their unborn child to rubella?

  12. The opinion piece writers here in Australia, generally come from journalist backgrounds, and certainly are usually working from within print-media or radio and TV media, companies. If anyone is in a position to be aware of the impoverished nature of what passes for knowledge in articles in the Daily Mail, it would be these opinion writers who have the advantage of being inside the tent.

    All of which means it is hard not to conclude that they know full well that they are quoting and citing big steaming loads of cat’s piss in their opinion pieces, articles with far less credibility than the vast bulk of peer-reviewed literature on AGW and climate science. They know it; we know it.

  13. Muted response from the delusionists, maybe. But I don’t see any good news either – our new government is still going to repeal the carbon “tax” (and building up a tissue of lies misleadings in the process). From my (limited) conversations on the issue, I think most people are “over” climate change (ie, drifting into a sort-of apathetic denialism).

  14. @jane

    The deniers are committed to their position because they suffer the delusion of being rugged individuals whose lives would be heaven on earth if only governments would get out of their way. That is, unable to accept that their own limitations are holding them back, they project their failings onto the government. To them, global warming is the ultimate excuse for increased government control, and as such it is a “line in the sand” issue for them.

    Having said this, the deniers are not alone in projecting their failures onto others 🙂

  15. @Ikonoclast

    I am not sure deniers think.

    The class “deniers” is a very large and somewhat heterogenous one. Undoubtedly, some do “think” — it’s just that their “thinking” is radically at odds with notions to which most at least pay lip service, such as authentic community, human solidarity, social justice, intergenerational equity, ecological and resource sustainability, evidence-based policy etc …

    Some are ignorant and deluded or possessed with an exaggerated sense of their own perspicacity, some gullible, some recklessly self-serving or malign or misanthropic or tied to some dogma about the virtue of the rule of the privileged. The class “deniers” is a cultural biome in which sharply diverse elements, some of which are in incipient opposition cohabit, feeding from the unmet needs of the others.

    What’s interesting about their “thinking” when it occurs, is the relationship between its shape and the rest of the denier “biome” and in turn, the relationship between the biome and the greater cultural environment.

  16. John Brookes, deniers think their cause is noble because they want to think of themselves as noble. It’s a common human failing that I’m not immune to myself. (And this is despite me having four cladists and a Magistrate disagree about the human part.) It’s a commonly repeated pattern. People look around for monsters to slay and become monsters themselves. Personally I think it’s definitely worth taking the time to discover a cause that actually is nobel, such as helping the poor, treating sick children, or protecting the world from global warming. But it seems that many people don’t perform this basic dilligence and insist they are acting nobly when they hurt the poor, deny sick children treatment, and exacerbate global warming.

  17. @Ronald Brak

    I’ll quote myself from a 2012 sandpit:

    With the (barely reported) news of the all-time record Arctic sea ice melt, I came across a great essay from Alex Carey from 1976 about “Pragmatism & Propaganda”.

    It’s a few thousand words but I found it nailed some key reasons for so many of the world’s problems today. Highly recommend it.

    This part about the concept of “truth”:

    “Dewey similarly holds that beliefs should be distinguished as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, not as `true’ and ‘false’. Beliefs are good if believing them has beneficial consequences.[5] ‘Facts’ do not exist for Dewey, Bertrand Russell observes, ‘in the sense that “facts” are stubborn and cannot be manipulated’.[6] For Dewey proposed to replace the notion of truth with the notion of ‘warranted assertibility’.[7] Any belief which can be claimed to bring useful consequences may acquire ‘warranted assertibility’ on that ground alone.”

    People often question/argue whether climate change deniers with megaphones (eg: Bolt) are ‘dishonest’ or ‘stupid’, but reading this essay I reckon that is the wrong way to look at what they are doing:

    “There is a remarkable correspondence in attitude to truth between pragmatists and propagandists. Both justify the promotion of false beliefs wherever it is supposed that false beliefs have socially useful consequences. Indeed the principal difference between them consists perhaps in this: the ordinary propagandist may know that he is telling lies, but the pragmatist-propagandist, having redefined truth to make it indistinguishable from propaganda, is likely to become inescapably trapped in the supposedly ‘useful’ deceptions and illusions he approves as ‘warranted assertibilities’.”

    So these people are much better described as “pragmatist-propagandists” in the sense Carey uses it.

  18. Taking a break from working my way through the IPCC report, as much as I can do this, I’ve reached one conclusion. We need a lot more politicians with a science background, everywhere.

  19. Megan, it seems that people always end up believing their own propaganda. Or perhaps the most effective way to be a propagandist is to believe what you are peddling yourself. Either way, it’s plain to see from a multitude of online commentators who to me seem nuttier than lumpy chocolate bars that there are plenty of people who have no interest in what is conventionally known as the truth. There are people who will quite happily say that NASA temperature data supports their contention that the earth is cooling and then with their next breath will say that NASA is faking their data. Generally I consider these people to be dishonest and liars even if they are incapable of sustaining a coherent internal monologue. This is because they are lying through negligence. If someone states that the earth is cooling they have to actually put some effort into finding out whether or not that is the case. It’s not good enough to simply rely on what one’s limbic system tells one. Just as a person has to perform some basic hygiene to interact with people face to face, in online discussions about real world phenomena people need to use some basic mental hygiene. Some people online really need to wipe their medial longitudianal fissure, scrub their paranoid reactions out of their brainstems, and apply some debigotryant.

  20. @Jim Rose

    do any jobs depend on climate alarmism?

    Classically silly.

    Sounding the alarm when there is cause and a means of mitigating harm ready to hand is a worthy thing. Whether this leads to a job as an alarm sounder or mitigator of harm is moot.

  21. @Fran Barlow Sounding the alarm is a prequel to war eg invading Iraq. It also seems to have influenced our attitudes to “border protection” and the economy. Now that the conservatives have achieved their goal we are less alarmed by boats and govt spending/debt.

  22. Hmm … wondering which word triggered my post into moderation from 8:42 … “death panels”? terror? capitalism?

  23. @Jim Rose
    Quite a lot of jobs depend on the allegation of climate alarmism, from speaking fees on the conservative talk circuit, to paid consultancies for the Kochtopus, to plain old hacks working for belief tanks like the Heartland Institute. Since it can be presumed from your post that you disapprove of people making a living from advocacy, will you be denouncing the various climate change denial shills who make a living from their dishonesty?

  24. Donald Oats :The opinion piece writers here in Australia, generally come from journalist backgrounds, and certainly are usually working from within print-media or radio and TV media, companies. If anyone is in a position to be aware of the impoverished nature of what passes for knowledge in articles in the Daily Mail, it would be these opinion writers who have the advantage of being inside the tent.
    All of which means it is hard not to conclude that they know full well that they are quoting and citing big steaming loads of cat’s piss in their opinion pieces, articles with far less credibility than the vast bulk of peer-reviewed literature on AGW and climate science. They know it; we know it.

    but they are not writing for the ones who “know it”.

    they are writing for the ones who trust and do not verify( quote-raygun had to be good for something).

    the same ones who still believe the previous govt were stealing peoples hard earned super and the same ones who believe howard got us through the GFC by leaving a huge surplus that could be and was squandered.

    these and many other beliefs are what caused the believers to vote against their own interests.

  25. @John Brookes
    John, I don’t think deniers see global warming as “the ultimate excuse for increased government control”, rather that admitting it’s happening leads to the realisation that the only thing that can address it is increased government.

  26. @Jim Rose

    I’ve already listed some of them in my modded post above, Defence and National Security are obvious ones.

    The idea that the economy would shut down if we didn’t keep the dirtiest coal plants open means that those jobs are also based on “alarmism”.

  27. @Jim Rose

    The problem, Jim, is that there is no alarmism. We spend quote a lot on defence, considerably more than most comparable countries. Australia has not been invaded since 1787. I ask you how many government jobs depend on invasion alarmism? has your house ever burned down? How many government jobs depend on fire alarmism? I can think of at least one government job that depends directly on carbon tax alarmism, waste alarmism, fiscal alarmism, and boat alarmism, but I suspect you don’t object too much to that one.

  28. @Alan Speaking of fiscal alarmism we had the new QLD govt commission a non-economist ex-politician to conduct an economic audit, an audit which recommended the political solution of austerity.

    God knows how much all this has cost but it is alarming and if little nett benefit.

  29. @rog

    At least we are beginning to understand gay wedding alarmism. Clearly conservative weddings are not about the union of a man and woman for life. Barnaby, George and Tony all seem to be insisting marriage is about political networking.

  30. @Alan
    Indeed. And it seems the main problem with gay weddings for the conservatives is that, because they won’t be invited to them, they won’t be able to claim them on expenses. Anything George Brandis can’t claim on expenses is clearly unacceptable!

  31. Hmmm let’s try without the link

    @rog
    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.

    In any event, it seems to me that the right least of all has standing to object to the kind of alarm-sounding that they assert against climate science. These are, after all, folk who sound alarms without sound cause as a matter of their political paradigm on virtually a daily basis.

    Even if we move away from climate science and climate policy — where they assert that the harm is non-existent or radically overstated and the resultant policy settings likely to lead to anything between economic collpase and a return to pleistocene era usages — there is everything else.

    In the USA, the Affordable Care Act — a modest measure aimed at both controlling health costs and giving a measure of protection from the costs of maintaining health for non-priviliged folk – has been dubbed “Obamacare” — a “job-killer” in which “death panels” will snuff out the lives of silver-haired grandmothers. So grave is the threat according to the right that funding for the US government must be obstructed, on the basis that the majority of congress is conniving at the collapse of the US economy. If that’s not “alarmism” with prejudice on behalf of privileged elites, it’s hard to know what would be.

    And we can add the case for massive military expenditure, which by their own reckoning in every capitalist state is the foundation for huge numbers of astonishingly well paid jobs. The armed forces are there, it is nebulously said “to protect the interests of {fill in your capitalist country of choice}. This is said more than two decades after the end of the “Cold War” which was supposed to be followed by “a peace dividend”. Apparently not, because there are new threats which nothing short of enormous expenditures and a dreadful toll in human casualties — prices that utterly dwarf anything being done in the hope of mitigating CO2 emissions — must be undertaken. Ironically, the US military may actually have bodies that could be called “death panels” — since they control the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan — literally deciding who must die by their hand. The right is silent on this but keen to sound the alarm in the ongoing “war on terror”. Few if any on the right in this country are less enthusiastic about this source of threat.

    And so it goes. We have had here assertions of “budget emergency” “boats crisis” “debt crisis” “Whyalla (and several other places) wipeout” “Government chaos” none of which have had any substance at all and which, post-election have produced no crisis abatement measures or even further comment — except to backpedal and duplicate what the last regime did. Clearly, when the right speaks of “alarmism” it is merely projecting its own willingness to tell self-serving lies onto us.

  32. Ok let’s narrow this down (PrQ please delete these tests):

    para 1

    @rog

    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.

  33. para 1,2

    @rog

    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.

    In any event, it seems to me that the right least of all has standing to object to the kind of alarm-sounding that they assert against climate science. These are, after all, folk who sound alarms without sound cause as a matter of their political paradigm on virtually a daily basis.

  34. @rog

    para 1,2,3

    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.

    In any event, it seems to me that the right least of all has standing to object to the kind of alarm-sounding that they assert against climate science. These are, after all, folk who sound alarms without sound cause as a matter of their political paradigm on virtually a daily basis.

    Even if we move away from climate science and climate policy — where they assert that the harm is non-existent or radically overstated and the resultant policy settings likely to lead to anything between economic collpase and a return to pleistocene era usages — there is everything else.

  35. Para 4
    In the USA, the Affordable Care Act — a modest measure aimed at both controlling health costs and giving a measure of protection from the costs of maintaining health for non-priviliged folk – has been dubbed “Obamacare” — a “job-killer” in which “death panels” will snuff out the lives of silver-haired grandmothers. So grave is the threat according to the right that funding for the US government must be obstructed, on the basis that the majority of congress is conniving at the collapse of the US economy. If that’s not “alarmism” with prejudice on behalf of privileged elites, it’s hard to know what would be.

  36. Para 5

    And we can add the case for massive military expenditure, which by their own reckoning in every capitalist state is the foundation for huge numbers of astonishingly well paid jobs. The armed forces are there, it is nebulously said “to protect the interests of {fill in your capitalist country of choice}. This is said more than two decades after the end of the “Cold War” which was supposed to be followed by “a peace dividend”. Apparently not, because there are new threats which nothing short of enormous expenditures and a dreadful toll in human casualties — prices that utterly dwarf anything being done in the hope of mitigating CO2 emissions — must be undertaken. Ironically, the US military may actually have bodies that could be called “death panels” — since they control the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan — literally deciding who must die by their hand. The right is silent on this but keen to sound the alarm in the ongoing “war on terror”. Few if any on the right in this country are less enthusiastic about this source of threat.

  37. OK it seems to be in para 5

    First half …

    And we can add the case for massive military expenditure, which by their own reckoning in every capitalist state is the foundation for huge numbers of astonishingly well paid jobs. The armed forces are there, it is nebulously said “to protect the interests of {fill in your capitalist country of choice}. This is said more than two decades after the end of the “Cold War” which was supposed to be followed by “a peace dividend”. Apparently not, because there are new threats which nothing short of enormous expenditures and a dreadful toll in human casualties — prices that utterly dwarf anything being done in the hope of mitigating CO2 emissions — must be undertaken.

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