A Few Things Ill Considered

Insincere, or just sincerely off-base?

So I get a lot of “sceptical” comments on the “How to Talk to a Sceptic” guide, as one might well imagine. They cover quite a range from subtly misguided to poorly informed to angry political rants. I always try to answer if it seems like there might be a point.

A recent comment, made on the main guide page (usually a bad sign), is a bit of a head scratcher in terms of assessing whether it is sincere and whether there is a point in replying.

While, as I said, it is posted on the main page, Frederick targets the “It’s cold in Wagga-Wagga” article and he is upset at me because I imply that it is an idiotic argument. He says my answer is:

similar to calling someone an idiot and walking away.

It’s true I alowed myself a little snark (“Does this even deserve an answer?”) but come on, this is one of the shallowest arguments against AGW that is out there! He doesn’t say if he finds my refutation of it correct or not and in fact he then devotes the rest of his comment to an examination of the temperature trend in Boulder, Colorado. That seems to imply he might actually think that “it is cold today in Wagga-Wagga” is a valid point to debate about.

So what’s to discuss, right? Well, the interesting thing is he precedes his comment with a personal introduction and says he’s a research scientist for a large biomedical company. Now, I’m not a biomedical researcher, but I suspect that if there were only one field of science where an understanding of statistics is essential it would be biomedical research.

I like to try to understand where people’s views come from. Is this fellow simply lying about his job? Is he shockingly ignorant about trends and averages and statistics in general? Is his political ideology so strong that he allows himself an utterly incompetent point of view on one field even while he is competent in his own? Perhaps there is some other explanation for him thinking that the temperature trend in a single city says anything, anything, about global temperature trends.

I suppose it doesn’t matter in the big picture, wrong is wrong, but as I said, I would like to know.

He finishes with a rapid fire of six things I need to do to convince people, and I did want to respond to them:

1. show data that is accurate

Hard to answer…which data? I assume he means the instrumental temperature record, that’s a really big chunk of data. But anyway, this makes the assumption that I have supplied or relied on data that is inaccurate, so again, which data?

2. explain that there have been no “corrections” made to the data

This is an interesting one. Are corrections bad? The scare quotes make it pretty clear he believes that. But once again, if he really crunches data for a living, surely he knows that data comes from an imperfect world and not correcting it based on your knowledge of that world is simply Wrong. If a station finds a systematic bias in its reading method and fixes it, shouldn’t we “correct” that data to make it consistent? If we discover urban heat islands of caused a rising trend seperate from the local climate shouldn’t we “correct” that? This is a “scare” tactic and an argument from ignorance (“why would anyone mess with the data?? What are they up to?!”)

3. explain exactly how the data was obtained

Lot’s of data, lot’s of explanation. I think if he had anything specific in mind he would have specified it. Besides, all that info is available within research papers and references and the references of references etc.

4. explain how this can be reproduced

Again, RTFM.

5. show that the world warms and cools because CO2 % rises and falls

This is an interesting one too! How do you think he would like me to do that? I took a general stab at that here, but I don’t know if that is really “showing” anything. Perhaps he would like to run a few global experiments, alternating between cranking up the CO2 levels and cranking them down. We would have to hold volcanic action and solar output steady too, and then track the temperature changes. Maybe a time machine or two would help. Sounds like a tall order!

The article I referenced above does show why we expect it, and that this expectation is consistent with past and current observations, but I can’t really say it shows it happening. Will that be enough for Frederick?

6. ask someone else to check what you did, to make sure you are not cheating

I think this is what peer review and publication in journals read by your entire field of researchers is all about. It has been going on about climate change for many decades.

That’s the best answer I can come up with at the moment. Anyway, we can only try, right? Besides, I always write my comment replies for the benefit of lurkers more than the actual participants.

Comments

  1. #1 jyyh
    January 9, 2009

    I guess the poster’s basic fail is that he doesn’t understand that reproducibility requires a controlled enviromnent, which the climate science has not. He is obviously very demanding on error limits, as is common in biomedical science, and doesn’t get that if CO2 is a GHG in 99.999999999999…% (points intended) of cases in the radiation physics, it still is a GHG, even when error in the measurement of atmospheric CO2 is somewhat larger. He does not see that when several proxies point to the same, they can be used to verify each other. But that’s only my guess. I’ve had some training in the biomedical science and the accurate reproducibility is a big, if not the largest, issue there.

  2. #2 Frederick
    January 11, 2009

    Again, you respond with random ad hominem attacks.

    I understand statistics very well, as it is my job to. I have no pollitical affiliations either, (I am a non american athiest, living in europe, and I have never voted. I have no intention of getting pulled into american agendas)

    I understand that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”. that means very little by itself. Water Vapour is also a greenhouse gas, maybe we should cover up the oceans?

    I am just pointing out gaps in your imagined bullet proof defense (my term). I am perfectly willing to be convinced, just come up with something convincing.

    Accurate reproducibility is the whole point of science.

    As far as RTFM goes, there is no FM, so I cant read it.

    You can do controlled climate experiments as here:
    http://www.risoe.dk/News_archives/News/2008/0201_RERAF.aspx?sc_lang=en

    Google is your friend.
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ned=us&q=controlled+climate+experiments&btnmeta%3Dsearch%3Dsearch=Search+the+Web

  3. #3 coby
    January 11, 2009

    Frederick, I don’t think you understand what ad hominem means. Just because I talk about you does not make my arguments ad hominem.

    The experiment you provided a link to is about controled environment greenhouses and the effects of changing that environment on plants. That is not really relevant to determining global temperature trends and the effect of rising CO2 on the global climate now is it?

    If you do understand statistics then can you please explain the point of providing the temperature record in Boulder, Colorado?

    “As far as RTFM goes, there is no FM, so I cant read it.”

    Right. NASA GISS and CRU and the rest of the climate science world simply publishes conclusions with no descriptions of research methods and references.

    Why don’t you pick something specific you would like to investigate and I will see if I can show you that there is actually a Fine Manual.

  4. #4 Bob
    January 11, 2009

    Frederick, the point is that it’s irrelevant whether Boulder, or Wagga-Wagga, was warmer or cooler in the 50s. Either may be true in a warming world because when the world warms not all areas warm. Most warm, but not all. Different regions have different temperature trends. It’s the global average that is up.

  5. #5 Lars Karlsson
    January 12, 2009

    Fredrick,
    In short: Wagga-Wagga is not global, and one day does not make a climate.

  6. #6 Crakar14
    January 12, 2009

    Jeez Coby i just read the wagga link, who would have thought a little country town in NSW could cause such a stir (do the posters actually know where wagga is).

    Anyway without trying to second guess Fred, in regards to Item 1, what is accurate data? our ground based thermometers were not designed to measure the data accurately enough to claim 0.01C changes in temp (correct me if i am wrong Coby), we have already discussed the accuracy per se of satellite/Sonde data and there are two schools of thought in the scientific community on this. Are the ground sites regularily maintained/serviced? i dont know.
    I think we measure accurately enough to see trends and that is about it. And trends are enough i beleive.

    2, Agreed corrections are a fundemental part of the process but do we correct data correctly? Not a criticism i just dont know. If a hot spot occurs do we look beyond that to see if something is wrong? Maybe Fred is questioning the process not suggesting any subterfuge although Hanson does not have the best track record.

    3 and 4, Fred do you mean from what source? Sat or surface etc

    5, Fred the AGW people produce computer models to predict such things, as Coby points out there are too many random unforeseen events that occur which would invalidate any real world results.

    If the models are 100% (or within a % of acceptable error) accurate then that could be considered as the proof you are looking for. The fact that they are not accurate could suggest many things, it is up to the individual to form their own opinion.

    6, Good point Fred, although i would refrain from using the word cheating. As Coby points out there is a review process, this process is totally transparent. However as far as AGW is concerned if you dont agree with the theory then you are not included in the process, denier and flat earther name calling usually follows. The scientist in question is then ostracised from the scientific community.

    This type of treatment has not been seen for many years, the last time was ironically when we thought the earth was indeed flat.

  7. #7 Douglas Watts
    January 19, 2009

    For me, the “What’s the temp. in Wagga Wagga?” argument comes to this:

    There is no proof that all people alive today are not immortal.

    It’s just the dead ones who aren’t.

  8. #8 Trent142
    January 19, 2009

    At December’s U.N. Global Warming conference in Poznan, Poland, 650 of the world’s top climatologists stood up and said man-made global warming is a media generated myth without basis. Said climatologist Dr. David Gee, Chairman of the International Geological Congress, “For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming?”
    I asked myself, why would such obviously smart guy say such a ridiculous thing? But it turns out he’s right.

    The earth’s temperature peaked in 1998. It’s been falling ever since; it dropped dramatically in 2007 and got worse in 2008, when temperatures touched 1980 levels.
    Meanwhile, the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center released conclusive satellite photos showing that Arctic ice is back to 1979 levels. What’s more, measurements of Antarctic ice now show that its accumulation is up 5 percent since 1980.
    In other words, during what was supposed to be massive global warming, the biggest chunks of ice on earth grew larger.

  9. #9 coby
    January 19, 2009

    Hi Trent,

    “At December’s U.N. Global Warming conference in Poznan, Poland, 650 of the world’s top climatologists stood up”

    I think this is a rather garbled reference to Senator Inhofe’s list of 650 climate sceptics, there was no such “stand up” in Poznan. That list is not of experts in the field and includes people who do not agree with being included on it. Have a look at Deltoid’s run-down on that.

    A lack of warming in Antarctica is entirely expected.

    The earth is not cooling, climate trends can not be determined with only 10 years of data.

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