A Few Things Ill Considered

Making Lemonade

I poke into Jennifer Marohasy’s blog from time to time, though I am no longer a regular commenter. I gave that up a couple of years ago but still take any special cases as opportunities to chime in again. She’s one of those standard types of sceptics, the “scientist” from another discipline just “honestly” investigating an important issue about which she has no preconceptions.

Well, a recent post prompted Deltoid’s Tim Lambert to shake his head in consternation as Jennifer gives a soapbox to yet another crackpot pseudo-science post where we are told that the concept of radiative equilibrium is “only a rather archaic and untested supposition found in climatology textbooks alone” and in fact you can feed energy into a closed system forever and it will never acheive a temperature higher than X given some input in Watts Y.

Though it left Tim speechless, it has prompted a very long and rather enertaining thread. Let’s take a look and see if we can’t make some lemonade out of Marohasy’s lemons and actually learn something.

The first thing we learn is that Marohasy is not an intellectually honest player in the climate change debate. This is clear from the fact that she is intelligent enough to know this is total bunk yet she lends it her reasonably large soapbox. It is not the first crackpottery she has allowed to be trumpeted from her site. Here is a post claiming humans are not causing the current rise in CO2. The evidence is as overwhelming as it is common sense. This post makes the usual vapid claims that the “religion of global warming”, is convenient to politicians. But global warming is no hoax and the politicians really show all the signs of working for the oil industry. She trumpets a study showing increased erosion in rivers upstream of Bangledesh is adding land area as some kind of refutation of predicted sea level rise. (BTW, I saw that one coming!). She has even posted that the Greenhouse Effect itself is a myth! I guess she has never heard of Venus.

Her bias is also crystal clear in other kinds of posts, like one trying to claim that because this year’s sea ice melt did not surpass last year’s dramatic record breaker that the scientists are again shown to be exagerating alarmists. I suppose she wants her readers to think it is not melting at all. Oh, and by the way, it is not over yet and is already way below the 1979-2000 mean. Bias is clear in posting so many “what evidence” posts that simply deny the existence of years and mountains of scientific work:

there does not appear to be a body of work establishing the basic criteria for a claimed causal relationship between the purported pollutant, anthropogenic carbon dioxide, and the claimed effect, global warming; atleast not outside of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. In particular there does not appear to be a body of work published in reputable scientific journals.

(Wait a minute! The entire IPCC report is based on work published in reputable journals!)

But I think for me the most damning evidence of all is in the fact that she promotes, and even espouses herself, arguments that she has openly admitted are not sound. I am speaking of the standard talking point that global warming stopped in 1998. You see, some time ago, when I was still trying to charitably take Marohasy at her word (you know, the “who me? I’m just asking…” posture) I spent some time presenting reason and data to correct her misinformation and distortions. In the course of one such long exchange, I said:

So how about either a defense of Bob Carter’s “warming stopped” argument, refuting the lengthy rebuttal I gave or an acknowledgment that it is not a reasonable point?

(see the comment “Posted by: coby at April 26, 2006 02:11 PM”)

to which she replies:

I disagree with Bob on the issue of warming. I see a general and continual increase in temperature in the global and Australian data – and I have also noted that James Hansen’s predictions are more-or-less on track.

(see the comment “Posted by: jennifer at April 26, 2006 02:54 PM”)

So, she promotes and speaks on radio and TV ideas that she herself knows are not correct (this would include her attacks on Hansen’s predictions). That is pretty damning evidence that the smell over there really was bull manure and not just poor hygiene.

Some other interesting things in that thread include Chris Crawford’s heroically patient and careful refutations of endless non-sensical arguments from the post’s author and other commenters supporting him against 100 years of well established physics. Here is one of my favorites from “cohenite”

the idiocy is that AGW is built on a similar analogy to your’s; you confuse a shield with storage, and a constant supply of energy with an increasing rate of supply; as a thought experiment there’s no doubt the concept needs some further information, such as; is the surround a non-quantum unit of space; is it in a non-vacuum; if so then it becomes similar to, but not identical with a greenhouse, because the photons cannot escape; heating of the space will be subject to entropy with that forming a balance with the constant rate of energy coming in; since the energy supply is constant, as is the enthropic response, per unit of planck time there cannot be an overall increase in accessible microstates, and therefore temperature.

This line was worth the price of admission!

I just totally disagree with the AGW model of forcing for the absorption which occurs; and I probably disagree with the AGW mechanism of absorption, including the capacity, whatever that is; and I disagree with the EG theory of positive feedbacks, whatever they are. Got it?

Yeah, got it. Whatever they say, you will disagree. Nice chatting with you!

Michael Tobis popped in to demonstrate another fascinating phenomenon, everything can be taken as evidence of anything when you try hard enough! Specifically, he pointed out that NASA has a satellite designed, built and sitting in a box that is meant to empirically test the prediction that more radiation is entering the earth-atmosphere system than is leaving it, which would be Really Convincing(tm) evidence that the globe is in fact gaining energy. This was jumped on as evidence NASA is delibrately covering its own eyes to avoid facing the “fact” that AGW is not real. Sorry, sign error! The Bushies killed that one, and they are trying to cover all of our eyes, not just their own.

Anyway, the fun may be over for now, but thanks to the internets we can relive it whenever we want! [-choke-]

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Murray
    August 19, 2008

    “She has even posted that the Greenhouse Effect itself is a myth! I guess she has never heard of Venus.”

    Or, for that matter, of greenhouses.

    “per unit of planck time there cannot be an overall increase in accessible microstates”

    Why planck time? If this is true, will it not also apply on the scale of – say – seconds? Why then mention Max at all? Becauyse the author is name-dropping, that’s why.

  2. #2 thingsbreak
    August 20, 2008

    That is pretty damning evidence that the smell over there really was bull manure and not just poor hygiene.

    That elicited from me what I believe is called a “ROFL”. Possibly with a bit of “MAO”.

  3. #3 Chris Crawford
    August 20, 2008

    Thanks for the kind comment. I finally gave up over there — despite my best efforts, it seemed that everybody was determined to be nasty. I seek out places where I can have a constructive disagreement with others, because you never learn from those who agree with you. I also continue in my naive belief that, if you maintain a civil tongue and concentrate on the issues, you can get through to people. I keep disproving it to myself, waiting a few weeks, then telling myself, “Gee, maybe if I were a little more tactful…” and off I go again, on another futile exercise.

  4. #4 coby
    August 20, 2008

    Keep it up! It needs to be there for the record and for the lurkers, the ones who don’t say anything but do read. You also admirably demostrated the required tactic of sticking to the point. These arguments get completely fruitless when all kinds of irrelevant tangents are introduced, drowning out any hope of real discourse.

  5. #5 Bernard J.
    August 20, 2008

    Chris, I second Coby’s comments – it’s for the lurkers trying to figure out the truth, and also for posterity, that we should not drop off the radar…

    It’s a scary thought, but some people do enter the fray through the S&E portal. Also, even though they may not concede on Marohasy’s blog that they have been exposed as incapable of scientific analysis in public, I like to nurture deep down a thought that maybe the humiliation of rebuttal might keep them from spreading their rubbish to too many other fora on the intertubes.

    And I think that I have detected a strain in the denialist timbre, so don’t give up entirely. From my own corner, I’m waiting for some more HIV comspiracy theory to be trotted out, but I think that Robertson et al have realised that they were sinking through the very thin ice on this one.

    At the very least, having to suffer the repeated corrections results in Marohasy having to wear a severe reduction of her already tenuous credibility. And it is Marohasy who is the biggest turkey on this manure heap, so there is a worthy reason to connect head with brick wall.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. #6 Chris Crawford
    August 20, 2008

    As to the merits of continuing the struggle, let me point out a few tidbits discovered from Google: here are the number of page hits for various phrases:

    “global warming hoax”: 227,000
    “global warming alarmists”: 80,200
    “global warming lies”: 50,400
    “global warming conspiracy”: 11,100
    “global warming” + lies: 4,980,000 (would you believe there’s a http://www.globalwarminglies.com?
    “global warming” + hoax: 1,320,000

    We’ve had this huge movement spring up dedicated to proving that AGW is a hoax; Ms. Marohasy’s site is just one in a huge pile. This leads me to wonder, why are these people so exercised about AGW? I suspect that it is, in some ways, a right-wing version of the old left-wing attitude towards nuclear power in the 1970s. I’ve long felt that the antagonism towards nuclear power back then arose from the symbolism of it. The left has always been rightly suspicious of the concentration of power in the hands of a few big institutions, and in nuclear power we had the perfect confluence of big government, big corporations, and big technology. It was an overwhelmingly powerful symbol. In much the same way, I think that the right wing sees climate change as the confluence of three forces that it is deeply opposed to: environmentalism, internationalism (“the IPCC is a UN front!”), and intellectuals.

    The other thing that really surprises me about the movement is its faux-scientific approach. These guys have really delved deeply into the material, and they can spout acronyms and scientific terminology like a pro — except that they seldom understand how science actually works. There’s sort of an “idiot savant” aspect to their writings: they put forth some pretty sophisticated arguments, and then forget that energy is conserved.

    I still don’t know what to make of it.

  7. #7 Grendel
    August 20, 2008

    I too have been an occasional commenter on Marohasy’s blog, and although I attempe to point out the illogic in their arguments rather than their errors in science, I am now nearing the point where I consider it a futile exercise. Much has been stated in threads about the site being a place for discussion and debate, but little debate of genuinely raised points ever occurs and it generally devolves into tub-thumping of the most monotonous kind.

  8. #8 MarkG
    August 21, 2008

    About engaging at places like Marohasy’s blog, consider this: these guys continuously assert that there is a debate on the merits of AGW theory. We quite rightly point out that there is no real debate, and then wade into the local comment debates that break out in the blog comments hoping to correct fairly egregious science mis-statements. To a 3rd party observer with no background in the science this probably looks like a debate on the science. I think it may not matter particularly if you win the argument, by engaging in debate you may have indirectly supported the general denialist position in helping create the illusion of a debate on the science.

    Chris, I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m belittling your efforts; that’s not my intent. But I do think we all need to consider where our efforts are best directed (In my case, definitely towards completing my PhD, and I think my committee would agree, haha).

    Like Chris I find the denialist movement genuinely interesting. It seems to me that they adopted much of the tactics of the creationist movement; they’ve co-opted the language of science and prominently use the opinions of a few educated people (who should know better) to give their opinions an air of authority. At least in the case of the creationists I think I understand the motivation driving the whole thing, in the case of the AGW denialists it’s not so easy to understand.

  9. #9 BAllanJ
    August 21, 2008

    There also has to be as complete and varied record as possible of the idiot arguments. These may need to be used in 20 to 30 years to help keep her and her ilk out of the bunkers we’ve had to make to retreat into because these idiots kept us from cutting emissions.

  10. #10 coby
    August 21, 2008

    To engage or not to engage, that is the question! I think the answer hinges on how you engage those debates. I have no doubt that Chris’ tactics (patience, civility, focus) make it a useful exercise. It is only when it devolves into the typical “partisan” bickering that the denialists win. That kind of discourse will only further entrench people on whichever side they are already leaning.

  11. #11 John Mashey
    August 21, 2008

    As for understanding where this comes from:

    1) Chapter 18 of Bill Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum” is very good, as he describes encountering the “alternate universe” whose physics are different.

    2) Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science” is very useful, bu one might also want to read Jeff Goodell’s “Big Coal”.

    3) In two of Naomi Oreskes’ talk, the last 30 minutes of each covers organized denialist efforts, specifically:

    The American denial of Global Warming, on George C. Marshall Institute, i.e., for ideology.

    You CAN argue with the facts, Western Fuels Association, i.e., economic interests.

    SO, we have: PROFESSIONAL ($$)
    a) Ideology, often from free-market extremes

    b) Obvious economics, from (a) coal, (b) oil, and maybe others, all

    c) Less obvious, especially where a) and b) combine in large family foundations who end up funding a lot of efforts, i.e., Scaife, etc. As best as I can tell, there’s more $$ from that direction than from ExxonMobil.

    d) Political, with funding: Marc Morano, EPW.

    4) Then one has: SEMIPROFESSIONAL

    a) Scientists at end of careers discovering new ones.
    Ex: William Shockley, Linus Pauling

    b) Not-particularly-successful ones getting press.
    (many)

    c) Non-scientists getting press by becoming climate experts.
    David Evans, etc.

    d) Scientists in love with an idea and persisting with it long after the evidence is overpoweringly against it. One thinks of Halton Arp or Fred Hoyle, for example. For AGW, Svensmark might fit.

    5) And then, the AMATEUR side:

    a) It’s hard work to understand science, and it’s hard on some egos to realize how much there is to learn. It is much more fulfilling to be part of that small band of stalwarts who show that mainstream science is all wrong, and support each other well. I.e., ClimateAudit is nice, RealClimate is “snarly”, so the former carries more weight.

    Lest one think this unimportant, consider:
    - astrology
    - homeopathy
    - belief in paranormal abilities
    - UFO abductions
    - cerealogists, some of whom persisted even after “Doug and Dave” spilled the beans on crop circles

    b) Some people are pretty good at ambiguity-tolerance and dealing with uncertainty. Those who lean towards “all-or-none” behaviors are not, and such often have a strong need to be “sure”.

  12. #12 Chris Crawford
    August 21, 2008

    John, thanks for the detailed explanation of where these people come from; I’m definitely going to follow up on some of your suggestions.

    BAllenJ, I have long wondered, what’s going to happen when climate change becomes undeniable? Right now these people leap upon every weather item that they can find. The melting of the Arctic sea ice is a particularly good example. They are hopping up and down, proclaiming victory, because so far the Arctic sea ice will likely not retreat as far as it did last year. The fact that it’s still retreating far past historical norms is lost on them. Will they continue to engage in this kind of deception? Will they EVER admit that climate change is real? And if they do, will they accept responsibility for slowing down the response to it? I doubt it. Of course, would I be willing to accept responsibility for wasting a lot of money if climate change turns out to be nothing? Yes, I definitely would.

    MarkG, I flip and flop on the issue of engaging them. On the one hand, I have *never* had a gentlemanly discussion on a denier board; these people *always* spew venom, no matter how courteous you are. It really is tiresome putting up with all that crap. On the other hand, there might be some value in terms of convincing lurkers.

    Here’s a really crazy idea that just popped into my head: what if I did a reverse Turing Test? This is really preposterous, but it just might work with these fools. That is, what if I pretended to be a spider that randomly visits denialist websites and corrects scientific fallacies? I would use a standard format for all answers, and never engage in any kind of personal comment. Act as if I’m some sort of expert system about physics and climatology. Perhaps the pose would deter the slime throwers and put them all off guard. I don’t know, this is a really kooky idea…

  13. #13 coby
    August 21, 2008

    Chris, that’s what I originally wrote http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/07/how_to_talk_to_a_sceptic.php for, just as a repository of material to cut and paste as required, with minimal revisions to fit it in a dialogue. It actually does work pretty well, especially if you remain focused on one issue at a time. It needs updating… :( Writing a webbot to do that would be quite a fabulous thing, easier than pretending to be one (er..easier after it has been written!)

    As for what they will do when it becomes undeniable (as if it is not at the moment) they will seamlessly and simultaneously slip into “we can’t stop it” and “it is not so bad” modes, something we already see now.

    But I personally detect a bit of desperation in the nature and tone of their arguments over the last year or so, I think we are making progress. I just hope it will lead to timely enough action.

  14. #14 Chris Crawford
    August 21, 2008

    You wrote “How to talk to a Climate Skeptic”? Well, shut mah mouf! I’ve been using that for quite some time for a variety of purposes. The topic “They predicted global cooling in the 1970s” has been especially useful.

    Maybe that could become the database for use by the 1/Turing spider… very interesting. If only I had the time… I’ll take some time to go over it, and if I see anything I can add to, I’ll let you know.

    Thanks for writing that!

  15. #15 Beowulff
    August 21, 2008

    Chris, don’t give up, you’re not alone :)

    By the way, these blogs clearly have educational value on another level: they are perfect examples to explain to internet newbies that trolling is not the same as disagreeing with the blog owner.

    The people commenting on Marohasy’s blog who agree with the OP are the ones showing all the troll tactics. Most obvious: the change of subject. Whatever the topic is about, they’ll start discussing CO2. They’ll bring up their favorite papers. Sooner or later Hansen will come up.

    Of course, conspiracy theories are rampant too: it’s all socialist propaganda, Wikipedia is biased because of the liberals, the UN is in on it, etc. etc.

    It’s a bit of an odd experience when for the first time you follow a blog where the OPs appear to be trolling along.

  16. #16 bi -- IJI
    August 21, 2008

    That is, what if I pretended to be a spider that randomly visits denialist websites and corrects scientific fallacies? I would use a standard format for all answers, and never engage in any kind of personal comment. Act as if I’m some sort of expert system about physics and climatology. Perhaps the pose would deter the slime throwers and put them all off guard.

    I think the trolls will just respond by cutting-and-pasting newspaper articles. And after a while, the blog owners (Marohasy, Watts, etc.) will simply delete^H^H^H^H^H^Hfreedom-away your comments. And that’ll be it.

    And the folks will still have the temerity to complain about “Censorship” by the “Warmist Inquisition”.

    I still remember how I quickly got banned from Free Republic just for posting facts. w00t!

    – - -

    Also… much has been written and said on climate inactivist tactics: e.g. John Mashey just linked above to Oreskes’s talks. Is there any reason why we can’t use this knowledge, and have to resort to armchair speculation on how inactivists will respond to various things we say?

    – bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  17. #17 John Kdrew
    August 21, 2008

    From “Eighties” to “Noughties” anthropogenic climate change has transitioned from a scientific possibility to being termed ‘unequivocal’. Throughout the quarter of century development, weather services, UN agencies and, most importantly, the world’s media have sought for ‘balance’ giving a voice to greenhouse dissenters. Early in evolution this was very valuable e.g. IPCC dealing with negative feedback possibilities from (i) high tropospheric water vapour (Lindzen) and (ii) the apparently decreasing upper tropospheric temperatures sensed from satellites. More recently, challenges such as solar variability as a prime cause of warming (The Great Global Warming Swindle) has been less useful but helped hone the science case. But, throughout this 25 years, while greenhouse non-believers have been given public and scientific platforms there has been vigorous refusal to allow air time to people offering greenhouse fervent believers.
    As the IPCC has become mainstream, it has scrupulously refrained from policy prescription and rigorously enforced consensus. Allowing, often even encouraging, dissenters while denying precautionary principles based warnings is equivalent to upholding freedom of speech for all neo-conservatives at the same time as denying expression of views of seriously wet liberals.
    There are MANY tough decisions ahead relating to climate changes to come… why not let some people pay more to consume solar-based super vehicles… surely we can discuss this. Try thinking in triage terms- save, leave to manage or allow to die – ActonClimate How do we (can you?) get scientists hwo think the climate change issue is now about TRIAGE air time please?
    Cheers
    John

  18. #18 David
    August 22, 2008

    We had some snow (quite unusual) in the Adelaide Hills a couple of nights ago. I’m just waiting for the usual crowd to start the idiot chorus of “See! Global Warming has stopped!!!!1!”

    As an aside, the fact that this winter has been colder than last has enabled me to brew (and keg) well over 100 l of lager.

  19. #19 TokyoTom
    August 23, 2008

    Chris, I only saw your arguments at Marohasy`s on the Caspar Ammann post (http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/003324.html), but it seemed to me that you effectively silenced them.

    You might think of going back through those posts and summarizing a number of points on your blog. I for one would love to see them without having to wade hip-deep through all the mud at Jennifer`s.

    FWIW, it also seems to me that much of the opposition on science is fuelled by opposition to big government, just like the over-reaction by enviros on nuclear power. You might consider whether this presents more strategic ground on which to engage the false skeptics.

    As I noted at the end of that comment thread:

    “But of course the warning from science doesn’t dictate what our policies should be, and I agree that it is really interesting that so many prefer to fight a battle over science rather than one over policy.”

    Another interesting aspect of the focus on the science (and on the motives of scientists and the evil enviro-nazi manhaters and koolaid drinkers – but ignoring business, etc.) is that conservatives and libertarians all understand that while markets are wealth-creation engines with respect to resources that are clearly owned and protected, we end up with serious degradation of resources that are NOT owned, are difficult to defend or are “owned” but poorly managed by governments. As a result any market capitalist worth his salt can see the writing on the wall – and the need for some type of property rights and/or regulation – with respect to significant environmental issues like ocean fisheries, tropical forests and the atmosphere. They may have very good arguments about the costs of creating property rights or regulatory systems, but they know that at some point, the discounted long-term costs of doing nothing will merit the present costs of action.

    “These folks also know that politicians are very good at using government to take resources from citizens (more or less widely) and bestowing favors on insider friends – that’s one of the main reasons that they’re chary of giving governments authority to regulate GHGs. But they also can’t deny that the fossil fuel industries have been very effective at buying favors – in the form of inaction – from government, while GHGs create risks for everyone.”

    Regards,

    Tom

  20. #20 Beowulff
    August 25, 2008

    Argh, that blog needs a warning label:

    “SIWOTI syndrome warning: this blog may cause deep frustration for people with SIWOTI syndrome. Visiting this blog may lead to spending inordinate amounts of time correcting all the basic science mistakes of the regulars.”

    Even more kudos for Chris Crawford for keeping it up for so long.

    Good thing I’m going on vacation soon. I need it.

  21. #21 GMB
    August 29, 2008

    “there does not appear to be a body of work establishing the basic criteria for a claimed causal relationship between the purported pollutant, anthropogenic carbon dioxide, and the claimed effect, global warming; atleast not outside of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. In particular there does not appear to be a body of work published in reputable scientific journals.”

    You fingers are typing cheques that your brain cannot cash Coby.

    Lets have one study that successfully makes the link on a global level. Actual empirical evidence. GO!!!!!

    You must know that Michael Duffy had a $1000 reward. What would have been your entry. One study. Lets have it.

  22. #22 GMB
    August 29, 2008

    The rest of you too. Coby reckons he’s in a position to rubbish the Doctors quote. So lets have that evidence.

  23. #23 GMB
    August 29, 2008

    “She has even posted that the Greenhouse Effect itself is a myth! I guess she has never heard of Venus.”

    No she hasn’t Coby. You are lying. That is someone elses post.