Friday, 20 September 2013

On and On and On - science by petition

Give a cat a ball of string and you keep Tiddles amused for minutes.  Give a denier a statistic they don't like, and you can keep them amused for years.  They still bang on about Michael Mann's graph from 1998 so there is little to no chance that they won't bang on about Cook & al 2013, the paper that proves the consensus amongst climate scientists is as strong as everyone else said it was.

So it was predictable that shirt salesman, Christopher Monckton, should drag it back off the shelf again and give his tedious and debunked arguments against it another airing.  One sure sign that the result must have been in the right ballpark is that the deniers have taken so much against it. 

Search "consensus" at WUWT and you get a lot of hits.  And almost all of them sound like a hysterical young man running around in a blind panic.  We learn on 27 May 2013 that the consensus paper is falling apart.  A few days later that Richard Tol (an economist, so the less said about models the better) has holed the paper below the waterline.  On 5 June, Joseph D'Aleo, himself a fully qualified meteorologist, claimed that all the "warmists" had left was the consensus idea.  And on it goes. 

At least Monckton has listened to those that pointed out that an earlier post on this subject made him look like Nigel Molesworth, illiterate, full of childish billious anger and ruled not by his head but by a toddler's temper tantrum.  And he has turned it into a letter:
asking the editor of Environmental Research Letters, which had published that gravely misleading paper, to withdraw it and to announce that he has done so.
I got my last prediction about this sort of thing wrong but I doubt very much that the editor of Environment Research Letters is going to be anything more than polite but dismissive.  After all,  Professor Kammen is a real, as opposed to pretend, scientist, who probably can detect the odour of farmyard manure when it lands on his desk.  The fact that name number 1 on top of the list of this crowdsourcing experiment will be Lord Monckton of Brenchley is hardly going to make him more likely to pay it any mind.  And that Monckton, who pretends not to believe in consensus, thinks that having a lengthy list of like minded deniers is going to ensure his arguments have more clout, is not going to make it any likelier to achieve its objective.  How amusing it is that Monckton quaintly believes that science proceeds by petition.

Of course, if the list of signatories doesn't turn Professor Kammen off, other things might.  What Monckton writes sounds like a whinge that Cook & al didn't do what Monckton wanted them to do.  They made decisions based on agreed criteria and, lo, came up with a number.  I bet Cook & al actually hoped the number was 97% because that was in line with earlier measures of the consensus.  But when it came out in agreement, they didn't second guess.  They submitted.

Deniers don't like being in the monority.  It makes them feel unimportant and one of the reason people believe in conspiracies is the feeling that they are privvy to something no one else knows.  Rubbish, of course, but belonging to a little club of like minded people gives an identity and a security blanket.  It doesn't make them right. 

Monckton must know he is clutching at a straw.  The river of truth is built on an immensity of data. That the world has warmed during the century is clear to everyone except the deniers. Even their denials have lacked conviction, no matter what they might say. The game is pretty much up because, Australia excepted, reality is not on the blink. Economic reality might have made carbon taxes and the like unpopular for the moment - they look like a luxury but from the other end of the time telescope our grand children and their children will not be thanking us too much for sitting on our hands while a bunch of people who ought to know better (yes, hands up Judith Curry, theist Roy Spencer and Dick Lindzen) noisily got it wrong.

Deniers want certainty. Science doesn't give it. When a pretty much unassailable fact comes along, deniers find they cannot accept it.  Watching deniers confronted by the truth, be it 911 truthers, creationists and climate science pseudoskeptics, is in many ways painful. The cognitive dissonance they experience looks like real physical pain. Those that just cannot accept it tie themselves into philosophical and scientific knots to get out of the trap.  They even invent new physics to try to avoid the issue. But mostly they just lie.  And, as Richard Feynman once said, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Feyman is a favourite of the deniers because of his "if it disagrees with the theory" quote.  They don't use this one so much:
There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
I don't see this in the denier postings.  They seem very sure of themselves, like Monckton with a humility problem.  I looked up Michael Mann's paper where he introduced the hockey stick graph, the one that gets him all the hassle, and we find plenty to let us know that this work is subject to the limitations of the data and the techniques. It is probably correct, but at that moment in time certainty was not guaranteed.  And the paper says so.

Monckton is dead certain he is right and sends a bullying letter to a journal editor backed by a motley bunch of the illiterati, to assert his ego's certainty.  Science does not proceed by consensus. It doesn't proceed by petition either. 



1 comment:

  1. Your best, especially the Feynman quote