Carol Platt Liebau: Like Lemmings?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Like Lemmings?

For those who have long suspected that global warming alarmism is nothing more than the newest effort in some quarters to consolidate government's power over ordinary Americans' lives, this Investors Business Daily piece should be of particular interest.

The government's global warming alarmist in chief was once offering dire predictions of a pending ice age. That was, of course, the consensus -- at the time.

What the entire episode points out is the malleability -- and often, the inaccuracy -- of scientific "consensus" about the future. It also suggests that there are some people who are willing to buy into whatever cataclysmic scientific theory is in vogue during any given era.

13 Comments:

Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

This IBD piece is foolishness. Of course pollutants were causing earth to cool in 1971. But something happened since then. The Clean Air Act kicked in. Billions of tons of particulate material, which were causing the earth to cool, were no longer flying into and lingering in our skies.

Investor Business Daily is a great magazine - for business and money, but should not be used to gain a scientific understanding of the world.

If you want to talk about global warming and the science that points to it, publications like Nature and Scientific American, that have strong scientific rigor, should be your sources.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

I rejected two comments from a contributor who has much to say on this topic and needs to reconsider how to say it.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...

The study you refer to was sound. Rather early, with limited data, it computer modeled the planet Venus. It was based on a build up of fossil fuel particulates in the atmosphere that would block the Sun's energy. However, because particulate matter kills us, we reduced this by using catalytic converters, and reformulated fuels.

If Bill O'Neil seriously believes the conspiracy theory of his op-ed, he should seek medical help. But of course he is just your typical right-wingers who fabricates lies. And a good example of the dangers of lying is Bush's mess in Iraq.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

[private note to Coyote: I ask you to read this corrected version carefully before rejecting it. There is nothing rude in it whatsoever. It is devastating to Ms. Liebau's position, but makes no derogatory statements. Please do not permit your personal feelings on this matter to intrude into your editorial responsibilities.

Also, I again apologize if you get multiple copies of this, but the website is not responding to my publish requests, so I just keep trying.]

Ms. Liebau, you write, "That [the belief in a coming ice age] was, of course, the consensus -- at the time."

Your statement is completely and utterly wrong. Did you read the scientific literature on global temperature in the 1970s (or at any time since)? Which climatology textbooks from that period did you consult? What climatology, meteorology, or atmospheric science courses did you take?

I read some of the scientific literature on the subject in the 1970s. I still have notebooks from courses discussing the issue. And I can assure you that the scientific consensus back then was very clear: everybody knew that the greenhouse effect, first established 150 years ago, should be affecting global temperatures. However, at that time, the available data was insufficient to support the conjecture, and so it was left as a conjecture. Theoretically, we all knew that it should be happening -- it's basic physics. But without the data to back up the theory, nobody wanted to raise alarms.

You refer to "the malleability -- and often, the inaccuracy -- of scientific "consensus" about the future." Please name a single such case dating from anytime after 1900.

And by the way, putting scare quotes around the word 'consensus' as you did is poor English. Scare quotes are properly used only when the word in question is being applied metaphorically to such a great degree that readers might not understand your usage.

Why would you have any opinion whatever on the issue of climate change? Do you have any training in the subject? Do you understand even the most elementary physics that applies here? Have you read any of the relevant scientific reports? Have you read the NAS report on climate change? Have you read any of the IPCC reports? Do you have any rational basis whatsoever for any kind of opinion, pro or con, on the issue?

I'll offer my guess and beg you to correct me if I'm wrong. I think that you know nothing whatever about this subject. I think that you base your opinion not on an understanding of the issues, but instead on blind loyalty to the conservative movement. I think that you have mindlessly embraced the denial of climate change because other people you like and respect have embraced it.

I'm just guessing, so if I'm wrong, by all means correct me and I shall instantly retract these conjectures.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyoye here.

The following is from Chepe Noyon.

CHEPE NOYON writes:

Ms. Liebau, you write, "That [the belief in a coming ice age] was, of course, the consensus -- at the time."

Your statement is completely and utterly wrong. Did you read the scientific literature on global temperature in the 1970s (or at any time since)? Which climatology textbooks from that period did you consult? What climatology, meteorology, or atmospheric science courses did you take?

I read some of the scientific literature on the subject in the 1970s. I still have notebooks from courses discussing the issue. And I can assure you that the scientific consensus back then was very clear: everybody knew that the greenhouse effect, first established 150 years ago, should be affecting global temperatures. However, at that time, the available data was insufficient to support the conjecture, and so it was left as a conjecture. Theoretically, we all knew that it should be happening -- it's basic physics. But without the data to back up the theory, nobody wanted to raise alarms.

You refer to "the malleability -- and often, the inaccuracy -- of scientific "consensus" about the future." Please name a single such case dating from anytime after 1900.

And by the way, putting scare quotes around the word 'consensus' as you did is poor English. Scare quotes are properly used only when the word in question is being applied metaphorically to such a great degree that readers might not understand your usage.

Why would you have any opinion whatever on the issue of climate change? Do you have any training in the subject? Do you understand even the most elementary physics that applies here? Have you read any of the relevant scientific reports? Have you read the NAS report on climate change? Have you read any of the IPCC reports? Do you have any rational basis whatsoever for any kind of opinion, pro or con, on the issue?

I'll offer my guess and beg you to correct me if I'm wrong. I think that you know nothing whatever about this subject. I think that you base your opinion not on an understanding of the issues, but instead on blind loyalty to the conservative movement. I think that you have mindlessly embraced the denial of climate change because other people you like and respect have embraced it.

I'm just guessing, so if I'm wrong, by all means correct me and I shall instantly retract these conjectures.
Publish Reject

10:43 AM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

Chepe Noyon attributes Carol's positon to "blind loyalty" and "mindless" embrace of the positions of those she respects.

I leave to others to consider how to apply to this comment Chepe's previous assertion that speculating on the internal thought processes of others typically represents flights of personal fantasy.

One example since 1900 of consensus Chepe asks for would be the constancy of time to all observers. In 1906, there was one person in the world (and perhaps one person in human history) who believed that time was relative. That person was Einstein, whose theories were confirmed by experiment. For what it is worth, he was named Time's Person of the Century.

I also note, once again, Chepe's tendency to challenge the opinions of those with whom he disagrees by calling for statistics and credentials, without, in my view, applying similar standards to views with which he agrees. The fact is, there is no consensus on this issue. There may well be a majority view, but the modeling on which it is based leaves out factors such as precipitation and, in the view of some experts, does not square as well with observation as theories based on solar activity. The majority may someday take pleasure in having been right all along, but should ditch the smugness of thinking those who take a different view are blind or mindless.

To me, what is relevant in this matter is how to proceed in the face of uncertainty. Is the earth getting warmer? Will the warming be signficant? Will it be, on balance harmful? What can we do to prevent, mitigate or prepare? What are the tradeoffs of prevention/mitigation/preparation?

Without making any assumptions about the internal thought processes of individuals, I believe that the global warming movement appeals to the "end-is-near" and "capitalism-is-bad" crowds that can no longer ride the socialist bandwagon and have social lives incompatable with Islamic militantcy. I also have my doubts about forecasts extending decages hence when the weatherman can't tell me weather I really need to carry an umbrella to work this Friday.

Finally, we need not worry. Based on Sane [sic] Woman's comment, we have a quick and easy fix to the global warming problem. Repeal the Clear Air Act!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Coyote, my comments are entirely consistent with my earlier warnings about speculating on the internal thinking of others. I prefaced those comments with "I'll offer my guess and beg you to correct me if I'm wrong." I also terminated my comments with "I'm just guessing, so if I'm wrong, by all means correct me and I shall instantly retract these conjectures."

Thus, I enclosed my comments with explicit statements that they were speculations, and offered to recant them should I be incorrect. It surprises me that you failed to take notice of them.

Your comments on Einstein's special theory are incorrect, because they do not reflect what actually happened. Mr. Einstein published his paper, and the initial reaction was shock, not rejection. The scientific community was reluctant to embrace the theory until it had been digested, argued over, and poked at. Within five years, that process had taken place and the scientific community henceforth embraced the theory, despite its counterintuitive nature. This is in fact an excellent example of the care, thoroughness, and absolute integrity with which the scientific community operates. Even though the great majority of scientists found the theory very disconcerting -- after all, it pretty much upended everything they knew -- they came around in a short time. There continued to be a minority who loudly challenged the theory, but the community as a whole embraced it.

I am surprised that you cling to the belief that there is no consensus on the matter; that's why I didn't bother to explicitly cite sources. However, I did mention the IPCC reports and the NAS report on the issue.

Let me tell you about the NAS (National Academy of Sciences). It was established by Congress 150 years ago with the explicit mission of advising the government on matters of science as they pertain to public policymaking. As such, the NAS is legally analogous, in matters of science, to the Supreme Court in matters of law. Its decisions are, from the point of view of our government, the authoritative statements on scientific matters.

However, the NAS is nowhere near so arbitrary in its decision-making as the Supreme Court. In the first place, it does not rely on a mere nine persons to evaluate problems -- the NAS can bring literally hundreds of top-notch scientists to bear on a problem (although in most cases most of the work is born by a few dozen, with consultation with specialists).

In the second place, the NAS does not rely on anything so fickle as politics to determine its membership. Membership is by invitation only, and the invitations are issued to all American scientists who have truly distinguished themselves. The NAS membership is the creme de la creme of American science.

In the third place, the NAS takes its time to render decisions. They will take as much time as they think they need to come to reliable conclusions. The Supreme Court, by contrast, has to get its decisions done in a matter of months.

In the fourth place, the NAS is extremely conservative in its decision-making. Where the Supreme Court will definitively decide something on a 5-4 vote, the NAS will not render any decision that does not enjoy the support of a strong majority. If a single member objects strongly, they stop the process to hear that dissenter out and usually water down their wording to accomodate his complaints.

In the fifth place, the NAS has NEVER, in 150 years, had to retract or correct any report it has issued. Its track record is 100% perfect. Compare this with the Supreme Court's track record.

If you wish, you can review a short brochure explaining their study process at this PDF

So, what does this paragon of truth have to say about climate change?

Changes observed over the last
several decades are likely mostly
due to human activities.


In the judgment of most climate scientists, Earth’s warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

BTW, I strongly urge you to read their nontechnical explanation of their results, which you can find here.

The fact is, Coyote, there is solid agreement among climate scientists that humans are causing the earth to warm. There are lots of disagreements on details -- an indication of the intellectual integrity of the scientific progress.

You write,

modeling on which it is based leaves out factors such as precipitation

To which model are you referring? There are about a dozen major models, and each one tackles the problem differently, and the few I have looked at do in fact take precipitation into account.

in the view of some experts, does not square as well with observation as theories based on solar activity.

What theories based on solar activity? We've been measuring solar activity for thirty years now and the amount of change that we have detected is microscopic -- far too small to create the changes observed.

Is the earth getting warmer? Will the warming be signficant? Will it be, on balance harmful? What can we do to prevent, mitigate or prepare? What are the tradeoffs of prevention/mitigation/preparation?

These questions have been addressed in scientific reports in far greater detail than any of us have time to digest. Briefly, the earth is definitely getting warmer, and the warming is significant, and the overall balance will likely be harmful. The most cost-effective means of reducing the economic losses that climate change will inflict upon us is dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions.

Again, I urge you to read through any of the NAS reports or the IPCC report. There's an enormous amount of information on this problem, and anybody who reads it comes away with the realization that this really is a serious problem.

12:01 PM  
Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

Coyote,

You say there is no consensus on global warming. That is wrong. There is great consensus in the scientific community on the matter. Where did you ever get this bodaciously incorrect idea from?

12:26 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...

Sane Woman is correct. The study was based on fossil fuel particulate matter. This was reduced via catalytic converters, clean fuel technology and nox laws for industrial and truck diesel engines and factory emissions.

Bush has set us back with his "clear skies" directive that allows coal fired plants to continue to kill us with dirty emissions.

Particulate matter in our air sickens and kills us. That is why we worked at cleaning up the air we breath. And it should serve as an example of how we can address problems and make our lives more properous and healthier.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here:

From Merriam Webster online:

"Main Entry: con·sen·sus
Pronunciation: \kən-ˈsen(t)-səs\
Function: noun
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Latin, from consentire
Date: 1843
1 a: general agreement : unanimity b: the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned 2: group solidarity in sentiment and belief

There most definitely ain't unanimity on this issue. So, maybe we're just using different definitions of consensus.

I cited Einstein for the example you wanted regarding consensus being wrong. How quickly the consensus shifted is a different matter. Let's not muddy the waters.

Here's a url to a news report on solar activity theory. If you are as well read on this subject as you claim, you should not need me to point out to you sources for alternate theories. A little googling will get you there. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/07/18/wsun18.xml

Your efforts to buck up the NAS with a discussion of how wonderfully careful and esteemed they are suggests you don't have further scientific evidence to back their paper up. I cannot keep straight all the esteemed expert orgainzations that weigh in this matter, but know that their estimates have been subject to substantial revision. They still can't tell me whether to carry my umbrella on Friday.

I have also read some reports that warming may, on balance, be beneficial to human beings. Check google and pass the sunscreen.

Re ETC, I have no idea what is being discussed. How fast did the Clean Air Act stop the global cooling? How fast will it start up again if we repeal the act? Does it even matter given how much particulate matter is being produced by China and India (not limited by Kyoto)?

3:19 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

You're quite right, Coyote, that there is no unanimity among scientists about climate change. Indeed, there is no unanimity about almost anything less than 50 years old. There are still a few diehards hanging on to the nonbiological origin of petroleum, for example. Scientists don't like unanimity because it suggests that maybe they've overlooked something. But science doesn't need unanimity to make a useful recommendation -- all it needs is a strong majority. My impression from following several controversies closely is that scientists aren't comfortable with a conclusion until they get at least 75% agreement.

You don't think that it's important the scientists took their time to evaluate Einstein's paper before coming to a conclusion. Yet this is a fundamental part of the scientific process. If you had buttonholed a scientist the week after he read the paper, he would not have rejected it outright. He would most likely have said, "Let's see how other people react before we draw any conclusions." Your assumption that his theory was rejected at first is incorrect. the initial reaction was shock, dismay, and reticence.

I asked which solar theory you were referring to because there are a number of different approaches: sunspot numbers, changes in radius, and natural variability are the three most popular. The study to which you refer is a sunspot theory. I read the underlying paper and I'll point out two things about it:

1. It was a letter to Science, not a paper. That means that it wasn't peer-reviewed and is not considered "official" by the scientific community. To put it loosely, these guys were saying, "Hey everybody, look at this. It's not sure enough to hang our hats on, but it sure is interesting, isn't it?" The idea then is to wait and see if anybody punches a hole in it. Apparently the reaction of the scientific community was not sufficiently positive -- they never went ahead to full publication. They raised a trial balloon and it fizzled.

2. They themselves declare that the phenomenon they conjecture is not sufficient to explain the observed warming:

we stress that solar variability is unlikely to be the prime cause of the strong warming during the last three decades.

If you'll check the IPCC report, pages 188-193, you'll find a complete discussion of the various considerations involved in evaluating solar forcing. All in all, the net effect seems to less that 0.2%; since the Stefan-Boltzman Law relates temperature to energy flow as the fourth root, a change in energy flow of 0.2% will generate a change in temperature of 0.05%, or 0.15 degrees Kelvin -- well below the observed change.

You write that "Your efforts to buck up the NAS...suggests you don't have further scientific evidence to back their paper up."

Good lord, I gave you the link to a nontechnical brochure on the simple issues -- that's just for starters! I told you that there's a ton of information out there. You want scientific evidence? How many truckloads will you want? And do you want it supersized? Just check out the NAS website or the IPCC website and read their reports -- each of which is backed up with thousands of pages of additional information.

You complain about climatologists "They still can't tell me whether to carry my umbrella on Friday." You assumption here is that we can't make long-term predictions if we can't make short-term local predictions. That's silly. There are lots of cases where the long-term big-picture prediction is more reliable than the short-term microscopic prediction. I can reliably predict that there will be thousands of deaths next year in automobile accidents, but I can't tell you if you will die. I can tell you this medical treatment will save thousands of lives, but I can't tell you that it will save your life. That's science.

Finally, you suggest that global warming might be beneficial in toto. That depends on where "toto" is. If you're in the Maldive Islands, global warming means the end of your country. Again, check out the links I already cited to see an overall picture of how global warming will affect different people. The overall picture is most definitely NOT beneficial.

4:44 PM  
Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

Coyote,

You continue to obfuscate here. You're implying unanimous agreement with the word consensus, which is one of the (less used) connotations of the word.

We're talking about science here. Scientific consensus has never meant unanimity - yet has high standards such as peer review, verifiable repeatable results, and critical thinking that makes it more reliable than a consensus reached in another way.

So, before you believe something to be true, do you wait for complete consensus before making up your mind? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a few others say the Nazi Holocaust is a myth. There are thousands of people who believe that the US government blew up the World Trade Center. Talk to some folks and they will tell you that men never walked on the moon.

It's cheap rhetoric that you're using here. Or if you really do believe that absolute unanimous agreement must be reached before you believe something, then your thinking is held captive by madmen, charlatans, and fools.

12:18 AM  
Blogger One Salient Oversight said...

99.9% of climatologists believe that the present experience of global warming is due to man-made activity.

You guys can say up is down as much as you want.

You guys said there were WMDs in Iraq.

You guys said that the Republican party was the party of fiscal responsibility.

Sorry - but my money is with the experts. You know, the people who actually know stuff.

And the climatologists have spoken. It is consensus, not conspiracy.

7:12 AM  

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