Arnold Kling  

Scientific Consensus or Religious War?

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Mark Thoma writes,


Paul Krugman tackles the trashing of science by oil companies, Exxon in particular, to cloud research pointing to global warming.

He quotes from the Krugman piece, which appears to be a typical type M argument.

At the movies this weekend, I saw a trailer for An Inconvenient Truth, described in the review as


the gripping story of former Vice President Al Gore, who became interested in this startling issue while at college 30 years ago, and now devotes his life to reversing global warming. Traveling the world, he has built a visually mesmerizing presentation designed to disabuse doubters of the notion that climate change is debatable. The heart of Davis Guggenheim's film is this elegant multimedia lecture itself, where Gore indisputably correlates CO2 emissions with exponentially rising temperatures, already responsible for dramatic climactic shifts like ice-cap melting, drought, and rising sea levels. Interwoven with this riveting public address are intimate moments revealing the poetic, searching side of Gore as he struggles to define his purpose in the aftermath of the 2000 election. This is activist cinema at its very best, for it serves to popularize and demythologize a problem long obscured by those most threatened by the solution. With humor and searing intelligence, Gore outlines crucial steps we must take to avert impending disaster and proves that inaction is no longer an option–in fact, it's immoral.

My concern is with how "scientific consensus" is reached. In economics in the 1960's, there was a "scientific consensus," embedded in sophisticated macro-econometric models, that inflation reflected a competition over income shares, and that government policies to interfere with wage- and price-setting were the solution. Milton Friedman's contrary views were outside the "scientific consensus."

By 1985 or so, the "scientific consensus" had shifted, in part because policies based on that consensus were tried in the 1970's, leading to the worst macroeconomic performance of the post-war period.

By the 1990's, large macro-econometric models had pretty much disappeared from the economics literature. The problem with macro-econometrics is that the models continually broke down out of sample. That is, a model estimated through 1969 would work terribly in predicting the early 1970's. A model estimated through 1975 would work terribly in predicting the late 1970's, and so on.

Milton Friedman's dissenting views of 1967 are close to the consensus views today.

I wish that climate-change models did not remind me so much of macro-econometric models. I wish that the contempt that the Left expresses for dissenting views in climate science did not remind me of the contempt that the Left expressed for Milton Friedman. And I wish that the debate over climate change were being waged over substance, rather than with type M arguments and on film. Movies are a propaganda medium, not an information medium.

I worry that the environmentalists are motivating themselves to stage a religious war over global warming. My guess is that mankind will not be well served by such a religious war.


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TRACKBACKS (6 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/495
The author at Innovation Online in a related article titled A C type Discussion on Immigration writes:
    Arnold Kling is upset at the characterization of immigration as redistribution plan. I am not a passionate supporter of open immigration as an economic policy. I do not think that the gains are huge. But I am angry any time... [Tracked on April 18, 2006 2:40 PM]
The author at Muck and Mystery in a related article titled Type M Sleaze writes:
    In Scientific Consensus or Religious War? Arnold Kling posts again about the degraded nature of public discourse, in this case about climate change. He first argues for the wisdom of listening to dissenting views since in the past they have sometimes ... [Tracked on April 26, 2006 8:02 PM]
COMMENTS (52 to date)
Dave Meleney writes:

You say: "Movies are a propaganda medium, not an information medium."

Consider the possibility that movies are becoming our PRIMARY locus of information exchange... partly because they are so effective at propaganda of every sort. By denigrating the nature of their impact we seem to largely exclude ourselves from the most powerful megaphone of our day.

If your children's world is hugely governed by the information and attitudes they exchange with their peers... and their peers click into movies and video games as if their bodies were created for that very purpose....how long will you be able to hold on to the belief that propaganda and information travel in distinctly separate spheres?

Arnold Kling writes:

I disagree with the stereotype of young people as relying only on movies. I see many young people who read and who use text from the Internet.

If you are correct, and movies are the dominant medium, then we are certainly headed toward fascism.

brad writes:

I think consensus in economics is different than it is in the physical sciences.

Silas Barta writes:

brad: It's true that consensus in physical sciences is different from consensus in economics. But which physical sciences? The scientific method of arriving at truth is to take a control group and an experimental group, each with ~1000 members, test them, and run a regression. If someone wants, they can set up their own experiment and test your results. So, for something like global warming, the scientific method is to take 2000 earths, increase greenhouse gas emissions in 1000 of them, wait 100 years, and see which ones the polar ice caps melt in. Oops, that's not possible. Even if it were, the answer would take too long. So obviously, the backbone of scientific inquiry, reproducibility, isn't going to be there. That is why it is so hard to trust this supposed "consensus" which, oops, happens to support their policy recommendations.

AJ writes:

Arnold,

Global warming is a rerun of the 1970's scare/debate over running out of resources. The "Limits To Growth" is a circa @ 1973 book which should be required reading. There was no scenario in that book which permitted standards of living to remain the same for another 30 years (let alone increase). Disaster was imminent in about 10 years.

One of the deja vu aspects is that it's another general apology for blaming capitalism and requiring government programs to reduce our standard of living because it is too costly.

The conclusion always seems to be Folk-marxism -- the justification just seems to change every 35 years or so.

I suspect that underlying this is the notion of the "sinfulness" of capitalistic living standards -- which MUST be controlled. I wonder if our puritan heritage of lifestyle conformity control is the real source. There's a semi-religious aspect to all this which is beyond hope for reasonable economoic/scientific arguments.

AJ

Michael writes:

There is a fundamental difference between macro-econometrics and climate cahgne models. The former had as their constituent elements human beings who could change their behavior in part based on waht the macro-econometric models told them. For example, part fo the reason the Phillips Curve broke down was that governments began increasing inflation to increase employment. Workers soon realized this and began expecting some level of inflation which led to higher inflation etc. In other words they adjusted their expecations. It seems unlikely that facotrs impacting climates will adjust their expectations. Of course the broader caution against out of sample prediction is correct.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Am I the only one who has noticed how Kling is so much the postmodernist, more a manipulator of language, creating his own personal mythologies, whether they be about Moses, Folk psychologies, or Type M/C arguments. It's amusing, but like most analogies and rhethorical devices, not terribly accurate.

In the present case, a scientific consensus that he doesn't like (because he doesn't like the implications) is labelled "religious." It is then compared with a science that is sometimes like a religion, namely economics.

All fallacious.

Global warming is not the 1970s end-of-resources argument redux. In case anyone hasn't noticed, we've had 30 years of enormous advancement in computational physics. Yes, there are still uncertainties. But climate physics is NOT macroeconomics. The latter is the collective behavior of irrational or rational agents. Climate physics is just that: physics or natural systems.

There is a big difference. Comparing them is 100% meaningless.

The consensus right now is that global warming is occuring and that humans are contributing to it. That doesn't imply that we can or should do anything about it. It's not clear that we can or will. But it is happening.

Please don't allow an economist like Kling to mislead you. There is almost no dissent within the scientific community on global warming.

Economics has never operated under much of a consensus. It is still a very rudimentary science. It's a social science. Hence people like Caplan spend as much time looking at poll results and talking about politics and ideology as they do performing "science." In fact, I suspect neither does much in the way of hard core economics these days.

Please don't be fooled. Use your brains. Think.

Silas Barta writes:

Note: Do not respond to T. R. Elliot. As evidenced from past posts, he/she will totally ignore anything you say in response if you to respond. To respond is a total waste of time. T. R. Elliot does not like to have his/her views challeged.

Clearing the Air writes:

Motive arguments and Consequence arguments.
or maybe the "Motive component" of an argument and the "Consequence component" of the same argument.
Your concepts of type C & M arguments are useful.

Two problems with the PK article:
First, PK's lead-in paragraphs pound on Lee Raymond of Exxon for being overpaid but fail to tie him or Exxon DIRECTLY to an explicit act. Instead we get:

"A leaked memo from a 1998 meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, in which Exxon (which hadn't yet merged with Mobil) was a participant, describes a strategy of providing "logistical and moral support" to climate change dissenters, "thereby raising questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom.' " And that's just what Exxon Mobil has done: lavish grants have supported a sort of alternative intellectual universe of global warming skeptics."

So there IS something of Consequence here and LR as head of Exxon is a party to it to some degree. The notion of a deliberate effort to raise doubts and thereby slow/cripple and render ineffective the efforts of the the Global Warming adherents is very unhelpful and should be criticized.

Overall PK's use of the Mixture above left me cold.

Second, the issue of Global Warming.
IF we knew all the relevant facts and IF those facts pointed to continued warming and even the Single consequence of oceans rising by 20 feet we would stop bickering and act.

Are we being well served by the Media, the Experts and the Partisan Pundits?

PK wrote:
Over time, the accumulation of evidence removed much of that uncertainty. Climate experts still aren't sure how much hotter the world will get, and how fast. But there's now an overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is getting warmer, and that human activity is the cause.

I got 3 points out of this:
1. Certainty that the global temperature has been rising in recent years.
2. Uncertainty as to how much more rising there will be. [how high? for how long?]
3. that human activity is the cause.


Points 1 & 2 seem true enough. Point 2 seems to be the one related to most of the worries folks have. Most folks like me seem to extrapolate a short term trend with a straight line [gold 25 years ago, tech stocks in 1998, housing prices in 2004 - bad habit presuming a straight line].

The must-act-now folks are acting on this presumption.

Point 3 seems to be one where more research and scientific work needs to be done.

Agreed underlying contributors to temperature change seem to be:
A. CO2 levels rising and causing some of the increase
B. Global dimming (and now clearing). Airborne particulates are said to have contributed to a Lowering of the temperature which offset the warming effects (of CO2 and ?) through the 1960/70s. Now that many countries have cleaned their air of particulate pollution the temperature is rising. So here we have a case of human activity causing both filthy air and cooling. Then the cleanup of the airborne particulates contributes to a warming trend.

But this is not the complete story. We need to learn more and the players from both sides would help us all by aiming for pursuit of more facts.

Don writes:

I'm going to ignore Silas's wise words, just this once.

"There is a big difference. Comparing them is 100% meaningless."

You bet there's a big difference between climate physics and macroeconomics. One is a complex, multidimensional, nonlinear system with many potential feedback channels, in which large scale experimentation is impossible and causal relationships must be inferred empirically. The other is...

Hmm.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Silas: Just so you know, I don't always have the time to go back and read comments to my posts. Way it goes. Kling or Caplan make their comments. I comment. All opinions are heard once. I've not seen your responses or I would have responded to them.


Don: You are wrong about the primary issue. Macroecononmics is about the aggregate behavior of human agents. Climate physics is about the aggregate behavior of natural systems. The laws of physics upon which climate physics is based are well known and not in question. It's the aggregation that is difficult.

Climate physics is based upon a solid understanding of basic physics.

Macroeconomics is a social science. Let's not pretend that is a hard science. Kling provides us with an analogy. As Freud said, analogies aren't true, but they make people comfortable.

In this case, I think it makes the choir feel comfortable, but the analogy is not true. It's rhethorical. Not substantive.

Silas Barta writes:

T. R. Elliot: Please don't insult my intelligence (any more than you already have). You have responded to my posts in the past, but whenever I point out that your "response" is totally non-responsive, you either ignore it completely (while responding to others) or wait until people have moved on and then offer more non-responsive posts. To this day you have not answered my question about unions. That is, if unions really do work to raise wages, why don't grocery stores jack up prices before you check out? Wouldn't that make them more money? To date, your response has been "capitalism is about competition". What that means, I have no idea.

This isn't a case of you "missing" anyone's posts, but of blatantly trolling -- posting propaganda and refusing to own up when your very own statements are questioned.

Lord writes:

I don't know why people think that they are contributing to the debate by rejecting the science, but I guess denial is easier than an argument. They are only leaving themselves in the emperor's new clothes. If you wish to argue with it, by all means do so, but denial is infantile.

The real questions are how big will be the effects, what can be done about it, what should we do about it, and what are we willing to do about it. We can actually do a lot that costs little and improves our energy efficiency anyway. Failure to do so is shortsighted. Will it be enough? It may not, but sticking heads in the sand doesn't accomplish anything.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Silas: I'm sorry you are feeling so neglected. But I don't understand your question "if unions really do work to raise wages, why don't grocery stores jack up prices before you check out? Wouldn't that make them more money?"

What is the context? Was there a particular post you are referring to? I'd be glad to go back and catch up.

My point about competition with respect to unions, I suspect, is that it's all about supply and demand. I will presume you understand that. And that labor, which consists of individuals, is often at a disadvantage to capital, since capital has--well, the capital, the resource--so that labor might want to collude, e.g. join together, to form unions, which will help balance out that old supply and demand equation a bit more on the side of labor rather than capital.

But if you give me more context, I'm more than happy to answer your question.

Robert Speirs writes:

The only "rejection of science" in the global warming debate is the refusal of the high priests of Gaia to answer the question "how do you know your computer models are correct"? The best available models cannot predict accurately three days in advance, in one small column of air, whether the temperature will rise three degrees or fall four, much less why. How is one supposed to accept that such models can predict accurately for the entire earth within ten degrees a century from now? Experience shows that historic temperatures have no relationship - none - to future temperatures. I'll go further. No one even knows what the "temperature of the earth" is or how one would go about measuring such a quantity. Piffle.

Silas Barta writes:

Sure, T. R. Elliot, I would be glad to dig through the archives to find one of many instances of you ignoring me, no trouble at all!

Here is the thread (click on that link)

Here is my argument, with the context you tried to ignore:

Basically, you can't improve wages long-term by creating the mass unionization the authors propose. All that will do is *further* scare away investment. Employers (and in turn, investors) aren't stupid, you know. They will learn to *expect* that unionized areas will shut down production at critical times, and discount any wage offers they make to account for this. It's easiest to see it this way: imagine that some grocery store, in an effort to make money, jacks up prices right before customers check out, forcing them to either lose out on the time they spent gathering goods, or lose more money. (And assume this is legal for the purpose of argument.) Now, would that make them more money? Obviously not. Sure, you could squeeze a little out of the first frustrated customers, but long term, they learn to predict that and avoid it altogether. The only way to get people to keep coming would be to offer lower prices to begin with. The exact same scenario happens between unions and investors -- taking an antagonistic relationship toward your customer (employer) isn't a sustainable way to get more money out of them. It's so obvious to anyone, in every instance except within the workplace. Why is that?

When faced with the argument, you did the predictable: you ignore it. Then, after you responded to others but not me, I called you on this intellectual laziness. Your response was:

Capitalism is built on competition, and competition takes many forms, whether it be individual against individual, company against company, or organized labor against companies. ... Unionization is one form in which competition can be implemented

Note: you did not explain how this customer antagonism helps there, but hurts in other contexts. You just recited some trite folk wisdom, and then left the thread entirely. The time stamp on your post shows that you waited a long time, so that fewer people would view your inept response.

Now that I have gone through the effort to dig out the context you conveniently "forgot" (I wouldn't "forget" a worldview-altering insight, but that's just me), feel free to start ignoring this thread as well as per your usual MO.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Spiers: You are proposing a false analogy.

Here's an analogy:

E.g.: I cannot predict the path of a particular molecule in a gas but can easily predict the behavior of the gas as an aggregate of molecules.
If I apply this analogy to micro and macro climates, I would say that I cannot predict the microclimate but can predict the macroclimate. The macroclimate is much simpler to predict, as a matter of fact.

I agree that there is slop, or uncertainty, in many quantities, e.g. the amount of methane in the tundra and oceans or the reaction of plant matter to higher temperatures and increased wator vapor , but there just isn't any question at all that if humans continue to pour CO2 into the atmosphere, the temperature will continue to increase. It's established fact.

This is what I find annoying. The only reason Kling posts something on science, e.g. climate science, is that it disagrees with his ideology. He's anti-science, in this case, because he's at heart an ideologue.

I believe even the libertarian who wrote the Skeptical Environmentalist agrees that global warming is occurring and that humans are the cause. He's looked at the science. And agrees. He just doesn't think it's worth doing anything about. That's an entirely different consideration. It's a cost/benefit analysis. That's science.

But arguing that climate science is religion, throwing in loaded terms like Gaia and environmentalists as religious warriors, is pure ideological bunk.

Not worthy of deep thinkers.

pj writes:

Elliot be careful, you’re frantic hand waving might lead to injury.

You state: “we’ve had 30 years of enormous advancement in computational physics.”

True, but those advances are still inadequate to credibly model the earth’s climate system. The climate system is a chaotic, nonlinear, dynamical fluid system, which defies modeling. We think the Navier-Stokes equations are a good representation of what governs fluid motions, but as a recent paper in Surveys in Geophysics pointed out, “In practice we cannot solve for oceans, lakes or most duck ponds on the scales for which these equations apply.” Well, if we can’t solve these equations for most duck ponds, what hope have we of doing so for the climate system as a whole?

See: http://www.planetwater.ca/research/entropy/SurvGeophys.pdf

You state: “Yes, there are still uncertainties.”

True, there are uncertainties, but that isn’t the half of it. There are also unknowns, unknowns we don’t even know we don’t know, and unknowables. The problem I’ve already mentioned basically falls into the later category.

Here’s another unknown. Colorado State University just announced the launching of a satellite that will allow scientist to study the interior of clouds. Here’s what one scientist said of the project.

“Clouds are a very important part of Earth’s weather and climate, and the lack of understanding of cloud feedback is widely acknowledged in the scientific community to be a major obstacle confronting credible prediction of climate change,” said co-principal investigator Deborah Vane of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Despite the fundamental role of clouds in climate and weather, there is much that we do not know. The CloudSat mission aims to provide observations necessary to greatly advance understanding of these climate issues.”

See: http://newsinfo.colostate.edu/index.asp?url=news_item_display&news_item_id=854666175

Hmmm, “major obstacle to credible predicition,” and “ much that we don’t know.” Sounds like a little more than uncertainty.

You state: “Comparing them [macroeconomic and climate models] is 100% meaningless.”

I disagree. In climate modeling there are many aspects of the climate that are simply too complex to model, so scientists use parameters that they hope will approximate reality close enough to do the job. Econometric modeling is no different, and I suspect that is what Kling is talking about here.

Unfortunately, these parameterizations, of which there are a multitude, that can be adjusted to get the “correct” answer. Climate modeling, therefore, is little more than crude curve fitting. In fact, the introduction of aerosols, of which we know virtually nothing, into climate models is nothing more than a curve fitting knob that scientists use to fix their models which predict ridiculously high temperature rise.

You state: “Please don’t be fooled. Use your brains. Think.”

You don’t want people to think, you want them to blindly accept the so-called consensus.

T.R. Elliott writes:

PJ: I do want people to think. Two considerations for you to make: (1) you are comparing apples and oranges. Microclimates are chaotic. As is the path of a single molecule in a container of gas. Macroclimates are not chaotic in the same way. Similar to the lack of chaos in the macro-parameters of a container of gas. (2) Additional measurement of cloud behaviors is great. But the fact of the matter is that the relationship between CO2 and temperature is established.

Also, please note: I want people to think. Using scientific arguments. And you are right. There is still a great deal of uncertainty. But Kling is aruing loose analogies. And I understand. Humans largely think analogically. It's a given. But comparing climate science to macroeconomics, one a hard science, the other a social science, is largely bunk.

An analogy. Makes people comfortable. Not much truth in it.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Silas: I can answer very briefly. All you are saying is that capital will flow in a way or direction that leads towards what is commonly called the race to the bottom. You are arguing that there will always be a supply of labor that will be willing to accept lower wages. In a globalized environment, I agree. That is true. That's why I think globalization has been implemented poorly. Labor is not represented. Only capital and financial interests. Globalization is working right now. But it has been implemented so poorly, and the well-off are winning while the middle class is, in aggragate, decreasing, that it will end.

Sooner or later, it's going to end. You can see it already if you are looking at what congress is thinking and doing.

That is my larger argument.

Les Livingstone writes:

Sorry to introduce an inconvenient fact, but in the last 100 years average global temperature has risen 1 degree Centigrade. So past evidence does not support global warming.

All projections of global warming are from simulations, which are no better than their assumptions. Gargage in, garbage out.

The factual case for global warming has yet to be made.

Karl Smith writes:

Well this certainly has been colorful.

I don't know if the extrapolation of climatological models is somehow fundamentally more accurate than macroeconomic models.

I have dabbled in both. Actually, the economic impacts of climatolgical events. In particular increased hurricane frequency. It is worth nothing that chaos theory and the Sensitive Dependence on Intial Conditions which unravels many large scale models was born in meterology not the social sciences.

However, there are reasons to take the climate chnage models seriously. For one, they have performed well out of sample. Time has passed since the model was orginally proposed and unlike economics we were able to uncover lots of core sample data that wasn't there before. The models have done well with both.

Moreover, the consquences are far more extreme. We were wrong about inflation and we had a bad decade. If we right about climate change and don't act we are looking at a bad half-century.

In particular it will be worst for the poorest among us. No, all of Florida is not going to flood as some of the simulations show. If nothing else the economic value of Florida is great enough to justify building a levee around the whole state. However, there are other creative solutions.

I more concerned about increasing monsoons in South Asia or deforestation in East Africa. These people are likely to be hardest hit by climate change.

Silas Barta writes:

T. R. Elliot: what argument? You're saying that globalization is being "implemented poorly". So what would "correct implementation" involve? My argument, which so far eludes you, is that whatever answer you propose, unionization ain't it. A major factor in wage rates is not absolute productivity, but the risk factor. Remove this, and more capital flows in (or is created from saving) which drives up wages. Unionization will -- as you have left completely uncontested so far -- merely increase this risk factor and make the problem even worse. That is why the authors were wrong. Get it now?

Dezakin writes:

Why do we take such detours into questions on weather or not climate change is occuring, where everyone has opportunity to lie with statistics that bolsters one ideological side and has little to do with economics?

I feel the questions asked should be what are the policy and economic implications of climate change scenarios. In particular, what level of mitigation, if any, produces a better utilitarian outcome than simply dealing with the consequences. The ideological trap is that its often taken as a given that mitigation (say on emition curbs) is cheaper than dealing with consequences but I honestly feel its the other way around, particulary with how costly mitigations are likely to be magnified by any investment discount rate.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Silas: If capital had nowhere to go but to union labor, it would go to union labor. To make at least some modicum of return.

Your argument is as follows: Condition X creates an element of uncertainty such that capital will go to location in which condition X does not exist.

Now, I can put postulate any condition X:

* X = Law Against Child Labor
* X = Pollution regulations
* X = Uncertainty caused by unions

Your argument is "capital will go wherever X does not exist" therefore X is not a solution.

But let's take, as a case, a law that only allows product Y to be purchased if it is manufactured according to regulation X. Then you've leveled the playing field. The capital cannot run to a place in which regulation X does not exist in order to gain an advantage.

So again let's consider supply and demand. If the global labor supply is increasing (it is), then capital will not be willing to fund local (US) labor for that which can be outsourced. Thus labor loses in that case. But for those services that cannot be outsourced, labor still has an advantage. If that labor unionizes, it will be more difficult for capital to outsource (because the demand for emergency care workers or suage treatment plan maintenance, etc etc will never drop to zero).

Therefore, unionization of domestic service (that which cannot be outsource) is a means to secure a greater percentage of profits for labor.

Pretty simple once you think about it and understand the argument. See, even physicists can do economics.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Karl: There is a difference between the chaos theory associated with microclimatic events (including hurricanes, I might note) and macroclimatic events (e.g. global warming).

I think people are confusing that here. Chaos theory came out of issues associated with fluid dynamics, including microclimatic events like hurricanes.

Global warming is a macro event. Chaos theory is not an issue.

Please don't confuse the two.

conchis writes:

(1) Welcome to decision-making under uncertainty people. Hey, we don't know what might happen. As Brian says "Guess".

(2) I wish the contempt expressed by economists for those who doubt the benefits of free trade... oh, wait, hang on.

(3) Analogy Quiz: do the arguments of those who doubt the climate science consensus bear much resemblance to those of Friedman (solidly grounded theoretical model etc., well-defined alternative predictions based on said model), or do they more resemble those of the posters on this thread ("this is all very hard, and consensus has been wrong in the past")?

Barkley Rosser writes:

Clearing the Air has been the closest here. There do remain a few serious skeptics regarding whether or not global warming is happening, but their numbers are shrinking and now near zero in terms of anybody serious. Probably the last to go is Fred Singer.

While it is true that measuring global temp is not easy, and some areas can be getting cooler even in a more generally warming world, the overwhelming evidence is that warming has been occurring since the 1970s, after a cooling trend from the 1930s to the 1970s. Unquestionably CO2 ambient levels are rising, humans are emitting more and more CO2, and without question rising CO2 levels do contribute to global warming.

There are two remaining issues (aside from a lot of small ones). One is the degree to which the current warming trend is due to these human emissions of greenhouse gases (CO2 is not the only one). Is it 10% 110% or what? There are a range of estimates out there on this one, and obviously it is important for any policy discussion.

The other question is what should we do about it, if anything, assuming we have a reasonably clear answer to the previous question. This is the point where political economy, ideology, and some other factors clearly come into play. One may accept that humans are the main source of the current global warming and still argue that nothing should be done systematically at the global level or by governments on laissez faire grounds. Just let everybody adapt as things happen, buy more air conditioners, move away from the ocean shore, etc.

I note that as I am not a pure libertarian, and I worry about some distributional problems, notably that the large country most likely to be seriously hurt economically by a serious rise of the ocean level is a very poor country, Bangladesh, I am not of the view that nothing should be done. But I do consider what should be done and how much of it to be a very open question. For better or for worse, the Kyoto Accords failed to achieve sufficient support to do very much, and many of the countries that signed will not meet their obligations. So, it is very far from clear what should be done next,
although at a minimum some more scientific research on the underlying scientific issues would be helpful.

BTW, I do not know what an "M argument" is, although clearly Arnold thinks that it is something not very good.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Dezakin: That is exactly the point made by Bjorn Lomborg. He does not contest global warming last time I looked. He's even agreeing that humans are contributing. He just says we need to look at cost benefit analysis.

Personally, I'm convinced that global warming is real. I know humans won't do anything about it. I'm not sure whether we should try. But we shouldn't come up with devious pseudo-analogies in order to make global warming science into religion simply because we don't like the results.

anonymoose writes:

For explaination of Type M and Type C follow the hotlink in the first sentence of AK's post which was:

He quotes from the Krugman piece, which appears to be a typical type M argument.

Silas Barta writes:

Your argument is as follows: Condition X creates an element of uncertainty such that capital will go to location in which condition X does not exist.

That is not my argument, and your attempted refutation of it is false, right out of the gate. Referring to capital "fleeing" is a simplification. Capital can find other places to go, or it can just stop forming, i.e., instead of people investing their savings, they'll just cash it in for present consumption. With people no longer investing in things that increase the return on labor, labor productivity will go down worldwide, and the market price of labor will go down worldwide. Giving capital "nowhere to flee to" is even worse. You ignore that the amount of capital available is itself flexible.

In turn, if labor value-productivity declines, all the laws in the world won't increase their wages.

Your conclusion is, even independent of this critical flaw, a further non-sequitur:

Therefore, unionization of domestic service (that which cannot be outsource) is a means to secure a greater percentage of profits for labor.

The benefit you explained above came from regulating imports, not from unionization.

On top of this, you invoke another flawed premise about what "cannot be outsourced". But in reality, there is no such thing. Given significant enough labor costs, any rote process can be automated, in essence, outsourced to a technology. If people in the service industry try to push for even more pay not justified by market conditions, businesses will just shift toward more self-serve operations. If you look a Japan, which is reluctant to take in immigrants, they've automated the low wage job you'd like to unionize called "nail salon worker". There, machines have replaced them.

So, next time, please respond to the argument I actually made, not your distortion of it.

Don writes:

Barkley, an "M argument" is an argument about motivations, rather than consequences. To wit:

Republicans hate black people
George Bush hates Iraqis and loves Israel
Global warming skeptics are funded by the oil industry
The only reason Kling posts about science is that it disagrees with his ideology

This is what worries me most about the global warming crowd. I think I'm a reasonably smart guy. If someone who believes in anthropogenic global warming were to say "Yes, there are skeptics whose models don't show global warming. But those models assume X, Y, and Z -- and if you change those assumptions to A, B, and C, you get warming" -- and if A, B, and C seem more empirically plausible -- well, that'd be powerfully persuasive. But I don't read that, and it's not for lack of looking. What I read is a whole lot of pounding the table about Scientific Consensus and dismissal of skeptics as being on the take from the oil industry, without addressing their specific questions or objections. If you dismiss your critics, rather than address their criticisms, I'll start to wonder whether you really can address the criticisms.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Silas: In case you didn't notice, you are the one who referred to capital flows. I quote you: "more capital flows in (or is created from saving)". Since you referred to capital flows, I used the same terminology. Now, I agree, if capital does not want any return, and instead is translated into consumption, then no capital will be available to improve productivity. But let's get real. For example, I have a lot of capital. I personally don't consume very much. I'm not going to blow my nest egg on consumption instead of getting at least some return on it. I'm going to realize some return. Your argument is marginally correct but does not negate the moral and economic arguments for labor to organize against capital.

Capital will continue to form.

Another thing you don't point out: Workers are not partaking of current productivity gains. So more productivity gains won't help them. They are losing ground even as productivity increases. Maybe they should try something else.

Regarding what can and cannot be outsourced, it's all a matter of balance. True, everything can be outsource if I create a Star Trek transport machine. But I don't have one. And in fact, energy prices are increasing. Arguing for (a) less outsourcing for items that require much energy to transport and (b) more outsourcing for product derived from natural gas, which is very short in the US (and will become much more scarce in the years to come) and very available in many stranded locations around the world.

The point is that labor has more negotiating power over that which is locally provided. That's a fact, robots notwithstanding.

Finally, my argument about regulations and trade is entirely pertinent. What you don't admit is that I'm making a simple supply and demand argument. Trade regulations can restrict the supply of object Z that doesn't meet standard X. People will be willing to pay more if the supply decreases (or try to smuggle). It certinaly levels the playing field for those manufacturers of Z in the US, for example, that must meet those regulations. And similarly, if I can restrict the supply of labor (immigration laws, strikes, etc), I can increase the price for labor.

So I think I'm still treading water in this discussion. Sorry for not drowning immediately.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Don: Can you provide us with the names of the scientists who are arguing that (a) CO2 is not increasing in the atmosphere because of humans, rising beyond the levels seens since humans inhabited the planet and (b) that CO2 does not increase global temperature in models and is not associated with increased temperatures historically.

That doesn't prove global warming. There can be other complicating factors. But those are a couple important aspects of this issue.

But again, more generally, please note: Kling paints those who believe in global warming as religious. What is that nonsense? That's a kids game. Mudsling. Appropriate, I agree, for Fox News, TCS, or perhaps the opinion page of the WSJ.

Oh wait, now I get it. It's all clear. :-)

Don writes:

"Don: Can you provide us with the names of the scientists..."

No, I can't, as I seem to have misplaced my copy of ExxonMobil's employee payroll lists. To which scientists was Krugman referring?

More generally, please note: I define religion as belief in empirically unverified (and perhaps unverifiable) hypotheses, such as (for example) the existence of God. Anthropogenic global warming certainly qualifies as such now, to the best of my understanding.

Finally: You could do without the arrogance. You're not the only bloke around here with a physics degree, but your arrogant assumption that you're the smartest person in the room reminds me of just why I left that field. Frankly, your dismissal of alternative hypotheses, particularly in a field in which you have little apparent experience or training, causes me to be yet more skeptical of so-called Scientific Consensus. You may be a scientist, but you certainly don't act like one on this forum.

Silas Barta writes:

Silas: In case you didn't notice, you are the one who referred to capital flows. I quote you: "more capital flows in (or is created from saving)".

That's exactly right: or is created from savings. So whether you scare it off to another country, or just discourage the investment altogether, you're still shooting yourself in the foot by unionizing. So you're still wrong.

Capital will continue to form.

Right, but at a much lower rate and thus stop bidding up the price of labor which was the entire point I was trying to make.

Another thing you don't point out: Workers are not partaking of current productivity gains.

False. They are not partaking of physical productivity gains. They most certainly are partaking of value productivity gains. (If I double my capacity to produce bell-bottom pants while demand falls 90%, is it "unfair" if my wage drops?) The value of their production is the relevant parameter, not the physical productivity that voodoo economists -- following you -- measure.

Regarding what can and cannot be outsourced, it's all a matter of balance. True, everything can be outsource if I create a Star Trek transport machine. But I don't have one.

Good thing that wasn't the argument. You don't need a transporter to turn McDonald's into a self-serve restaurant. You don't need a transporter to automate several kinds of fruit-picking. You don't need a transporter to automate finger polish application. In Japan (see previous post you ignored).

Finally, my argument about regulations and trade is entirely pertinent. What you don't admit is that I'm making a simple supply and demand argument. Trade regulations can restrict the supply of object Z that doesn't meet standard X. People will be willing to pay more if the supply decreases (or try to smuggle). It certinaly levels the playing field for those manufacturers of Z in the US, for example, that must meet those regulations.

Your distraction about regulation avoids the topic of unionization. If your point is that you can arbitrarily change the topic when losing to gain some ground on a more defensible position, okay, I'll give you that.

And similarly, if I can restrict the supply of labor (immigration laws, strikes, etc), I can increase the price for labor.

And again, a) that's not similar, and b) strikes kill demand for that labor.

So I think I'm still treading water in this discussion. Sorry for not drowning immediately.

Okay, fine. When dragged kicking and screaming to the table to finally explain why taking an antagonistic position toward customers *tends to scare off demand*, you dodge it *again*, and present blatant distortions of the argument. Congratulations. I'm sorry if I ever implied any kind of intellectual laziness on your part.

By the way, if you have an explanation for how screwing over customers gets you more business, I'd recommend giving it sooner rather than later.

JohnJ writes:

Well, just to be argumentative, here's a graph comparing CO2 and global temperatures for the last 25 years. I don't see much correlation. As a matter of fact, it looks like temperatures really haven't changed much over the last eight years or so. (Yes, the second link leads to my blog.) The lack of temperature change in the last eight years would lead most reasonable people to conclude that maybe the warming isn't as man-made (or, for you people who aren't smart enough to understand big words like "man-made", just substitute "anthropogenic". It means the same thing, but "man-made" makes me sound so much smarter.) as we thought it was. And maybe the best way to deal with it is to find a technological solution, rather than trying to destroy the world economy (except for China and India; they're exempt, of course).

Barkley Rosser writes:

I thank folks for defining M arguments. I would agree that such arguments are weak. Arguments should be judged on their own merits, not on who is funding those making them. I would note that people on both sides of the global warming debate have used such arguments, with Richard Lindzen just a few days ago arguing in the WSJ that global warming advocates are in it just to get research funding.

A major global warming skeptic who agrees that humans are emitting CO2 and that CO2 does lead to warming is Fred Singer, Father of the US weather satellite. An emeritus prof out of the University of Virginia Environmental Sciences dept. he now lives in Northern VA and has some kind of link with George Mason University. The argument would be that there non-anthropogenic factors are sufficiently strong and going in the opposite direction to offset the impact of the human CO2 emissions. I do note that increasingly some of Singer's former allies are abandoning him, most notably his former colleague, the VA State Climatologist and a Fellow at the Cato Insitute, Patrick Michaels.

I would agree with the point of Elliot, or whomever. Arnold's discussion of the whole Friedman-Phillips Curve debate is ultimately irrelevant, aside from the issue of herd mentality among academics. The Lucas critique does not apply to physical models. Particles do not behave on expectations that vary over time.

Actually, the possible global-warming emergency does not imply we should follow the policy prescriptions of the most fanatical alleged opponents of global warming. The most obvious solution is to have environmentalists tarred and feathered followed by increased use of nuclear fission.

Denying the possible global warming emergency is not analogous to backing price controls but rather denying the seriousness of unemployment. In the 1970s, the Left wing of the time frequently accused conservatives of denying that unemployment was a problem. The Right wing of the time would claim that anybody who wanted a job could get one.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Don: I agree. I act arrogant. And I agree. Physicist and mathematicians are often arrogant. I found it challenging when I was a student in physics up against the sometimes arrogant kids of Nobel price winning physicists. I also found it challenging my first ten years in my career at BBN when I was up against a lot of arrogant technical people from MIT. And I also probably developed an arrogant edge from my ten years at QUALCOMM which has about the most compative environment I've ever come across. QUALCOMM calls CDMA the "elegant solution." Our competitors called it the "arrogant solution."

Why am I arrogant on this board? Because I've grown very bored of people who are in positions of authority, including Kling and Caplan, making arrogant statements like "non-economists don't understand that..." and implying that people who don't buy into their version of economics are tantamount to idiots.

So I figured, I can play their game and up the ante a bit.

The fact is that at a theoretical level, economics has problems. That does not mean it doesn't have an important role to play. I think monetary theory is great. There are also a lot of great financial instruments that have made the financial world work a lot smoother--many of them created by physicists by the way, quants as they call them.

And so I am annoyed at attempts to pursuade, to clothe opinions and ideology in the scientific sounding language of economics, when in fact economists should if anything be humble.

Silas: We're just not making any progress. I think you're having a problem with the whole supply demand thing. And you are quite happy and willing to write the workers out of the productivity gains by specious terminological value definitions. Fine. But my point stands. Labor and capital must be considered from a supply/demand perspective, capital is in the ascendancy right now, not labor. It's not like it's a crisis, but it's something to keep an eye on. That's all. Just like global warming. We should all look at the data honestly to understand what is going on. Not ignore the data.

As far as providing a chart with CO2 levels and temperatures and then eye-correlating it to disprove global warming: we'll be debating this forever. Wikipedia has a nice section on the global warming controversy. Also look at the recent news for an the update to weather balloon data which was used to debunk global warming by Roy Spencer. He blew it. Warming is even greater than thought.

In summary, I just find it ironic that an economist, which is the black art which should be most closely associated with religion, calling the science of global warming a religion.

Don't you see how funny that is? I guess not.

Silas Barta writes:

Ah well, it looks like once again, T. R. Elliot doesn't have an explanation why threatening to screw over your customer is a viable strategy for getting them to pay more for your services. That was to be expected. What wasn't to be expected was that he/she would deny the existence of a difference between "producing more stuff" and "producing more value". That caught even me by surprise.

Brad Hutchings writes:

"With humor and searing intelligence, Gore outlines..."

All I needed to hear!! Gotta love Al Gore. From inspiration for a CCR song to VP to planet saver in just one adult lifetime. Anyone remember the 1992 VP debates when Al Gore went toe to toe with Dan Quayle and tied (at best). Good strategy for him to target the youths who can't put his silly privileged life in context.

Rosser: "Arguments should be judged on their own merits, not on who is funding those making them."

Unfortunately, that's not possible in the real world. Because with global warming (and also evolution, epideiology, and probably a lot of sound economic theories for all I know) it's easy to make up hollow, but plausible-sounding counterarguments that take time to answer. They take longer to answer than they take to make, and those making them are often paid to churn out such arguments at an amazing rate. A lot of "Think Tanks" are really just sophisticated PR institutes.

To dispense with such noise, we have peer review systems. What peer review means is that every opinion is not equal. The person making an argument has to pass a certain reputation treshold to be listened to, and the more respect you have from your peers, the more unorthodox you can afford to be. Peer review systems can be good or bad, but compared to the peer-review system of economics, the peer review system of natural science has an immensely good track record.

And this system basically ignores the current set of global warming "critics". For anyone not fundamentally distrustful of natural science, it should stop there.

If you are skeptical, however, and are genuinely interested in finding out stuff, or even make valuable criticisim (rather than ideologically effective noise), there are some people who take the time to answer both genuinely ignorant questions and well-crafted misinformation. You find a wealth of information on for instance realclimate.org, or A Few Things Ill Considered.

Don writes:

"Unfortunately, that's not possible in the real world. Because with global warming (and also evolution, epideiology, and probably a lot of sound economic theories for all I know) it's easy to make up hollow, but plausible-sounding counterarguments that take time to answer. They take longer to answer than they take to make, and those making them are often paid to churn out such arguments at an amazing rate."

But if the 'consensus' is as strong as many claim, aren't there lots more smart folks on the 'right' side of the question? Even if a particular argument takes more time to refute than to make, the amount of available brainpower should make refutation straightforward.

"Peer review systems can be good or bad, but compared to the peer-review system of economics, the peer review system of natural science has an immensely good track record."

That, of course, is an empirical claim. Care to provide evidence to support it? How about even advancing a metric by which one can objectively measure the track record of a particular peer review system?

pj writes:

Elliot, You are simply wrong about climate not being a chaotic issue. At least half of the climate equation has to do with fluid dynamics, which we cannot model. The radiative portion of the climate equation is easy to solve, but it is the fluid dynamcial response that is important.

We are fairly certian that a doubling of CO2 would increase the global temperature by about a degree F, all else being equal. If this were the end of the story, there would be nothing to worry about. Climate alarmism arises from the fact that there is a fluid dynamical response to that radiative warming, which some believe enhances that warming to the point that we should be worried. But we simply don't know what the feedback response is. Tiny changes to some of the parameterizations in the climate models can reverse the prediction from warming to cooling. For example, small changes to the lapse rate can have this effect.

The funny thing is, manmade greenhouse warming is already about 2.7 watts per meter squared, or 73 percent of a doubling of CO2, yet it has only warmed 0.6 degrees C. This suggests one of two things. Either that all else is equal, which extraordinarily unlikley, or that all fluid dynamical feedbacks are basically canceling each other out, with the negative feedbacks having a slight edge.

Finally, if chaos were not a factor in macro climates, then we'd see a very smooth warming over the last 100 years. Instead, what we've seen is very uneven warming, which is due to chaos.

Paul N writes:

Has anyone seen/heard Gore's speech? I found it manipulative and misleading, but I've indeed seen it mesmerize very intelligent people.

Jon writes:

Actually the religion is coming from Kling and other libertarian economists, not from the climate change scientists.

The problem with climate change and many other environmental/resource issues is that the implications for the future may imply the pure "free market" libertarian religion won't work. Rather than adjust their dogma, Kling and others prefer to develop excuses to ignore the best that science can offer and focus on the uncertainties.

If resources run out or climate changes adversly then the "market" (without some intervention) may not guarantee an improved standard of living for future generations.

JohnJ writes:

Kling is not a libertarian! Have you seen his articles on health care?

Don, my assesment on the peer-review systems of economics and natural sciences is necessarily qualitative. (As would be my assesment that the peer-review system of composers in the classical music tradition has broken down, for instance)

Judging judgement is a tricky business, but I sort of hoped you would agree with it on a common-sense basis, seeing that physicists' predictions almost always agree with each other(although the theories behind them don't), while the predictions of economists vary, and they are also more often wrong. That's because it's an inexact science, but this also limits how good/useful peer-review can be.

Don writes:

Harald,

Many thanks for the response. Perhaps economists understand the difficulties of their field all too well, and account for this when reviewing a peer's paper. Thus, any variation in predictions in published papers may be simply caused by the inexact nature of the science itself (many yet-unknown stochastic processes, difficulty in controlling and replicating experiments, etc), and not a function of the quality of peer review at all.

The above hypothesis also explains the qualitative "data" you "observe." How might we distinguish empirically between this and the hypothesis you offer?

Don, you are essentially right. I'm using the term peer-review in an inaccurate way; I refer not just to moderation in journals, but the informal network used to decide what's worth examining and what's not. I have no reason to think that Econ journal editors don't do their best, and that's not what I meant.

What I meant could perhaps be better expressed as that because of the uncertainties (some which can't be treated stochastically, since widespread beliefs about the variables affect the variables themselves), there are different "schools" of economics, which vary in their predictions far more than the different "schools" of for instance physics. This splits up the peer-review networks, both formal and informal, and make them less useful for each other.

Kling has posted a followup on this thread (reading a link I gave, wow!) and I will write more in the comments section there.

hehaw writes:

"No, I can't, as I seem to have misplaced my copy of ExxonMobil's employee payroll lists. To which scientists was Krugman referring?"

Wow, you mean scientists are on payrolls? Is that how they make money? Maybe not, more often than not they are on huge government grants to perform "research" proving the end of the world hence the need for more grants. Exxon scientinsts - evil. Scientists who scare monger into getting grants for lame research to prove they need more grants - good.

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