Arnold Kling  

Are My Days of Freedom Numbered?

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The Guardian reports


James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Thus, the sainted "whistle-blower" wants those of us who disagree with him put in prison. If the oil executives belong there, then so do I.

Remember the lawyer's maxim that if the facts are with you, then argue the facts. If the law is with you, then argue the law. If neither is with you, pound the table.

Hansen sounds to me like a table-pounder. Instead, he should be trying to explain how a scientifically literate person can form a confidence interval for the feedback parameters in climate models.


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COMMENTS (27 to date)
Al T writes:

Climate Audit has been going over the source code that Hansen released. Needless to say there seems to be issues with his code.

http://www.climateaudit.org/

Also, you'd think the fact that our freedoms are going to be taken away by a computer model plus data would mean that said computer model and data would be publicly available, but the guys at Climate Audit have had to fight a long time to get this info.

Peter Twieg writes:

Is this post meant to imply that the decisions against the tobacco companies were based neither in fact nor law? Because it's my understanding that, as the article says, the rationale of these climate lawsuits are of the same essential nature (proving a conspiracy recklessly tried to deceive the public), and thus strictly speaking if they can do so the law is probably on their side.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200806/conspiracy

B.H. writes:

First, they came for the oil executives, but not being an oil executive, I did not stand up for them.

Then they came for the energy market speculators, but not being a speculator, I did not stand up for them.

Then they came for the climate change skeptics, but not being a skeptic, I did not stand up for them.

Finally, when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.

Constant writes:

the rationale of these climate lawsuits are of the same essential nature

Reminding us of a fundamental political lesson.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Socialist.

[etc]

megapolisomancy writes:

What is truly disturbing is that James Hansen does not seem to realize that you can disagree with him without being dishonest.

He also reinforces the myth that scientists do not have any vested interests.

Matt writes:

The Supreme Court will not allow prosecution because of a Clean Air act claim of eminent domain over the GHG issue. Hence, unless the Congress released its claim no such trial can go forward.

However, his point remains that only a civil tort system can solve this riddle.

Arnold Kling writes:

On tobacco, I think that the scientific case that cigarettes cause cancer was very well proven. Whether the company executives successfully conspired to convince people otherwise is doubtful--they may have tried, but I doubt they succeeded.

I'm reminded of No. 36 on the Crackpot Index:

40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

Ben Kalafut writes:

I find myself wondering two things

(1) Has Arnold Kling bothered to read the 4th Assessment Report or any climatology papers in refereed journals. A week and a half ago, he called a very strong scientific consensus a "religion", which to someone who has read reports and papers sounds like nothing but a manifestation of ignorance.

(2) Given the way feedbacks are estimated in climate models, the reasons physical scientists are confident in current GCMs, and the relative magnitudes of the various contributions to uncertainty (in other words, given a reading of the IPCC report and technical papers) why is the issue of confidence intervals for feedbacks so important to Arnold Kling? Has he attempted to read papers, following the references, to learn how climatologists treat feedbacks, or what the sources of uncertainty are in general? If so, what has he found that puts the AGW thesis into categorical doubt even though the experts who work on this eight+ hours per day for years are in agreement that right now they're working out details?

(3) If Arnold Kling has a scientifically sound objection to the anthropogenic global warming thesis, why is he not publishing in Science or at least JGR-Atmospheres?

(4) Has Kling discussed this matter with working climatologists? (Lindzen and Balling don't count as they're not approaching it as scientists but rather as individuals with a pre-determined and, from their statements, largely ideologically motivated conclusion.)

(5) Does Kling feel that he understands the arguments for AGW? If not, why does he feel himself entitled to an opinion other than "I don't know?" and why did he feel that slandering virtually the entire climatology profession and, to a lesser extent, physical scientists in general with the "religion" remark to be proper?

Ben Kalafut writes:

Megapolisomancy:

There are very few who disagree with Hansen on the categorical question who are being honest.

By "honest" I mean who
(1) Object to the AGW thesis on scientific grounds, not because they object to the proposed policy solutions.

(2) Sought out the answers to their questions in the technical literature, and who are not attempting to parlay "I don't know" into "They're wrong".

(3) Base their objections on the state of the science and not on imagined mistakes that would be downright sloppy.

(4) Don't treat concerns about hockey sticks or shuttlecocks or tiddly-winks or other sporting equipment as though they are anything but tangentially related to the problem of detection and attribution.

and

(5) Do not combine bona fide objections with obviously nonsensical ones, a la Ross McKitrick's cynical gripe about lack of an existence proof for solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations under general boundary conditions.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Hey Ben,

If you've read Kling's stuff on this issue, you'd know that his doubts about the models can be summed up by inviting climatologists who are so confident in their models to divert a little bit of their genius skills to modeling markets for a few months, make a killing exploiting information that nobody else can glean from models, and then go back to being (über-rich) climatologists. The world of finance, money, and economics has some pretty good modelers too, and they can't seem to conquer a system that is much, much simpler than the climate of the planet. "Put up or shut up" is the less polite summary of Kling's gambit.

I hope with AGW, we can achieve a better societal bargain about the influence that scientists have on policy. By that, I mean that their influence should end at their observations and provable theories. Then, let the economists take over. Is it acceptable, for example, that poor people in wealthy countries (think elderly people in France during summer) die prematurely because air conditioning systems became too expense for them to maintain and repair in years following the ban on CFCs? Should more people die on the highway by switching to lighter vehicles and motorcycles when cap & trade or carbon credits effectively double today's cost of gasoline? These are not questions best left to the scientists who are hot and bothered about different things.

TGGP writes:

The difference between oil executives and Kling is that Kling doesn't matter. Also, he has less money.

John Turner writes:

Ben Kalafut, you state, “Lindzen and Balling don't count as they're not approaching it as scientists but rather as individuals with a pre-determined and, from their statements, largely ideologically motivated conclusion.”

James Hanson is doing the same thing you accuse Lindzen and Balling of doing, but Hanson goes a step further and uses his politicization of science to manipulate and control others. I don’t see Lindzen or Balling doing this, do you?

Ben Kalafut writes:

The only trouble with this "put up or shut up" gambit is that physical scientists are able to use the science underlying GCMs to quite accurately model other things, too. The models are based, ultimately, on physics, with a few parametrizations thrown in.

To not trust the models--themselves "verified", so to speak using the extant data set--until those atmospheric and oceanic physicists also spend a few years modeling the economy is to adopt an "unreasonable doubt" standard. The problems are not equivalent.

I'd love to see a better societal bargain, one in which economists know their place! Normative economics should be the domain of the economist and physical science should be the domain of the physical scientist. For an economist to slander physical science he doesn't understand as being "religion"--and to persist in slander and disinformation until the physical scientists all do economics for a few years--is simply beyond the pale!

I challenge Kling to find the religion term in any equation in any supporting reference to the modeling section of the IPCC 4AR, or to point out the exact spot in any such paper or in the modeling section of the 4AR itself where a mystery-of-faith enters. What did the economist, without doing the requisite intellectual heavy lifting, see that the physical scientists didn't? Come on, don't keep it a secret!

manuelg writes:

> If you've read Kling's stuff on this issue, you'd know that his doubts about the models can be summed up by inviting climatologists who are so confident in their models to divert a little bit of their genius skills to modeling markets for a few months, make a killing exploiting information that nobody else can glean from models, and then go back to being (über-rich) climatologists.

This works the other way too. If climate-models consistent with global cooling or global warming not caused by human activity led to success in pricing commodity futures affected by weather, that would be a significant result against "global warming by humans burning fossil fuels".

Dan Weber writes:

I trust scientists in fields that I'm not an expert in all the time, and there's no problem with that.

When astronomers tell me that Io has volcanoes, I take their word for it.

When geologists tell me that the ocean floor is made of basalt, I take their word for it.

When cosmologists tell me that black holes can evaporate over time, I take their word for it.

When climate scientists tell me that mankind has caused global warming, I take their word for it.

There's no real reason to think I know better, and the stakes aren't really that high.

But what if geologists are telling us we need to go to war because of what the ocean's floor is composed of? What if cosmologists say we need to defend against blackbody radiation by giving them trillions of dollars?

Well, then I'm going to ask more questions. If the answers are always "trust us" or "you have to be a cosmologist to understand" or "you must be funded by the enemy," I'm going to stop trusting them. And vote accordingly.

If the disaster they are predicted is really that immense, they ought to be able to deal with the indignity of having to deal with questions from non-cosmologists/non-geologists/non-climate-scientists.
I mean, this is to save the planet, right?

I'm sure it gets tiring putting up with all the real idiots who ask stupid questions. And the obvious trolls who cannot even form a coherent sentence. But, really, to save the planet, is that too much to ask?

bee writes:

Ben-

A number of articles are regularly published that question the dogmatic assertions that Hansen makes (as well as you). Lubos and ClimateAudit do an excellent raising material issues that cannot be discounted. Thus you assertion that journals and experts do not question AGW is false.

Further, you fail to address the fact that Hansen himself is caught in what decision theorists would call escalating commitment. He and other alarmist just keep pounding the table harder when asked for facts.

mjh writes:
To not trust the models--themselves "verified", so to speak using the extant data set
Hmmm... past performance...

Anyway, it's interesting to look at what Hansen himself predicted 20 years ago and to note that he now predicts this exact thing will happen in the next 20 years. My instinct when reading his future prediction is to discount it based on his bad past predictions.

In any case, to your point, tweaking models to match previous data really doesn't tell you anything about the future. In 1997, 28 of the previous 31 years, an NFC team winning the Superbowl was strongly correlated with a bull market. That (very simple) model matched the extent data, too. Of course, in the next 4 years you'd have lost your shirt going with that plan.

Ben Kalafut writes:

"Bee:"

I don't know what "dogmatic" anything to which you're referring. I base my opinions on the IPCC 4AR and a smattering of technical papers.

Could you refer me to recent work in the refereed technical literature which calls the AGW thesis into categorical doubt? I've been "keeping my eyes peeled", so to speak, and haven't found any. ClimateAudit is not the refereed technical literature and I have no time for people who will circumvent the usual BS checks to demagogue an issue.

Mr. Weber:

I'm sure a climatologist (I am not one!) could tell you more about how tiresome it gets to answer the questions of obvious ideologues and trolls. It's no bother to me because this is not my field; I'm just doing my civic duty as a scientist. If people who refused to do the requisite intellectual heavy lifting were constantly not only telling me I'm wrong, but also slandered me as sloppy and evil too, I'd surely be irate. Fortunately, there are no ideologues afraid of the public policy implications of optical tweezers experiments or new changepoint-analysis methodologies! I know a climatologist who has had right-wing bozos who believe "green=pink" call him up, threaten his kids, etc. I couldn't deal with that. There's be several dead right-wing bozos and one scientist in prison.

The "catch" regarding fielding questions from the general public is two-fold. The first is that there are over six billion people, and out of these, only 1000 are truly conversational in climate change detection and attribution. Their task is made more difficult because people like Balling and Michaels have poisoned the water with so many mal fide arguments, and furthermore because they do not have to deal merely with "questions" but with "attacks". There's quite a difference, and it takes more time and energy to deal with naivete than with malicious nonsense.

Secondly, climatologists devoted a huge amount of time to producing a review article that can answer the public's questions and steer them toward relevant papers in the (refereed) literature better than any verbal Q and A, as modern science is complicated enough to almost necessitate writing. It's called the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

Those who attack the climatological consensus without reference to the literature, and most of the bona fide "questioners" (meaning people who ask questions), too, haven't bothered to read this or use it (plus Google Scholar) to seek out the relevant articles in the refereed literature. How much patience should climatologists or even those of us in other fields who would like to see the market adjusted to slow and halt humanity's fouling of its own nest have for people who refuse to read even this IPCC report written for the lay audience?

mjh writes:
how tiresome it gets to answer the questions of obvious ideologues and trolls
To a certain extent, I can understand the frustration of having to deal with criticism. But, frankly, that's the job. The scientific method is to put out a hypothesis and test it. Part of that process is involved in answering the questions of others.

I have absolutely no problem ceding total authority of the scientific facts to the the climate scientists. But they don't want just authority over the facts. They also want authority over the solution. They are asking the government to spend other people's money to solve this. If they wish to do that, they should expect people to ask questions about whether it's necessary, or if it's simply self serving, or anything. If Hansen (et al) wish to spend the money of those 6 billion people, they ought to have the courtesy of explaining their positions and answering their questions - even the stupid ones.

I'm sorry if that's frustrating. But that's the reality. There is no use complaining about it. If climate scientists are right, they're right. They should get on with the job of convincing people, and get out of the job of trying to extract other people's money w/out having to answer the questions of the very same people.

Dan Weber writes:

How much patience should climatologists ... have for people who refuse to read even this IPCC report written for the lay audience?

In order to save the planet? Infinite.

I've asked a climate scientist with whom I am generally on friendly terms about the data involved in the historic temperature records. Specifically, what was the granularity of the temperature records at the peaks? If temperature spiked for a few decades, would we have recorded it?

His response. "I don't know. Why don't you email the people who recorded it and ask?"

This is fundamental; one of the biggest arguments for global warming is that we've never seen temperatures this high. It's a fairly obvious question to have about our historical record, yet apparently he had never wondered about it. And after the point was raised, he wasn't even curious about it.

If I had to bet on global warming, I'd still say there's at least a 50/50 chance of it. But the chances that it's going to turn out to be a massive cluster-fudge that is concluded with a huge finger-pointing-fest is rising.

mjh writes:
If I had to bet on global warming, I'd still say there's at least a 50/50 chance of it.
If the question is whether global warming is occurring or not, I am fairly convinced that it is. But I remain skeptical of massive government intervention for lack of sufficient answer to the following questions:

1) How catastrophic will anthropogenic global warming (AGW) be?
2) How catastrophic will the cost of abating AGW be?
3) How much GW is not anthropogenic?

Have these questions been answered? Certainly. Are the answers sufficient? I don't think so.

The impact of C02 on global warming is fairly settled science, but climate scientists seem to rely too much on unsettled science (runaway positive feedback) for predicting catastrophes in #1. The extent of the impact is important and seems unsettled to me, especially when you read comments by climate scientists admitting that they have to exaggerate their findings in order to ensure they receive attention.

Climate scientists are not very good at answering #2. And this is a pretty important question. What if the cost of abatement (in human lives, or lost wealth) is greater than the cost of AGW? What if we're better off rich with technology to deal with a warmer planet than we are being poor in a cooler planet?

There are conflicting reports from other scientific disciplines which indicate increased solar activity in #3. If this is true, then how much does this impact the cost question in #2? Do we have sufficient technology to be a cooler

mjh writes:

(Oops. Pressed post too soon. Continuing on with my last question...)

Do we have sufficient technology to be a cooler planet if most of GW comes from the sun? This impacts the cost question as well.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I just caught a preview for "The Sneak Preview Show" on HDNet. There going to preview "The Smartest Guys in the Room" (2005) about the Enron debacle. A theme appears to be that the former nerds ended up in charge and screwed everything up. I haven't seen the film, and I doubt I'll agree with it much from what I heard and what I know about the success of telecom deregulation, but that little theme best describes how I feel about the climatologists right now.

As I've mentioned in these pages before, I had a class in college (1992) taught by Rowland and Cicerone (think CFCs). Both seemed very proud about raising the alarm, advising Reagan and Thatcher, getting the Iron Lady's panties in a bunch, and pushing through the Montreal Protocol, effectively banning these substances that had widespread commercial, industrial, convenience, and comfort applications. There was no regard to cost since it was saving the planet. It appears to be "settled science", but there is no way that the state of things today comes anywhere close to the doom and gloom these guys were predicting back then. Even though we did everything they said, we'd still all have skin cancer to go with our cold hamburgers and pricey air conditioner service bills. Oh, and our skin cancers wouldn't even compare to the poor penguins...

Michael Crichton compares this apparently predominant environmental science attitude with eugenics to show the dangers of scientism. We've got to have our guard up against a repeat of that, but I'd say the climatologists lean more to the naive side than the evil side. They are the nerds who think they run the show now. There's no recourse for us if we follow their instincts and they turn out to be wrong. Sure, Hansen would love to hang the oil execs for treason, but does anyone think there will be the will to round up the climatologists for economic crimes against humanity if they have it wrong or overstated? I want to see debate. I want to see trolls and "deniers". And I want to see how the nerds react. Because if they react by throwing tantrums and pointing fingers ala Hansen, my confidence that they have things right is reduced. If they can find a way to give us confidence in their models, then my confidence is increased. There's a lot of the former, and not much of the latter. If the planet is really at stake, the facts can be packaged for the influential segment of the public that is skeptical of all the hype.

Ben Kalafut writes:
To a certain extent, I can understand the frustration of having to deal with criticism. But, frankly, that's the job. The scientific method is to put out a hypothesis and test it. Part of that process is involved in answering the questions of others.

Yes. It's called "publishing". In addition to that, climatologists have also put out the IPCC report. They've done their part.

I have absolutely no problem ceding total authority of the scientific facts to the the climate scientists. But they don't want just authority over the facts. They also want authority over the solution.

I wouldn't call recognizing that a harm will come to people and calling for the harm to stop to be the same as wanting authority over the solution. I'd be willing to wager that your average climatologist would acknowledge that economists would know better how to fine-tune public policy.

The trouble we run into is that many economists tend to think that, from their armchairs, they can outwit the physical scientists on the physical science question. Lies and slander ensue, and the economists come off looking dishonest.

Jason Malloy writes:

Let us tilt our heads in silence:

"Banned permanently from EconLog"

Jim writes:

I really think Arnold should take advantage of Ben's kind offer to help him clarify his rather nebulous views on this subject, in place of any more posts he may have been planning consisting only of innuendo and snarks.

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