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A vivid demonstration of knee-jerk science rejection

Posted on 8 September 2012 by John Cook

This week, I decided to test the hypothesis that the rejection of climate science is an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction. It was inspired in part by recent events. Just before Arctic sea ice fell to record low levels, Steven Mosher predicted five ways that people would avoid the inevitable implications of the precipitous drop in Arctic sea ice. Anthony Watts promptly fulfilled all five predictions. In another ironic twist, the reaction to recent research linking climate denial to conspiracy ideation has been a gush of conspiracy theories.

So I wrote an article for The Conversation listing the various methods employed to reject climate science where I discussed the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias and how it leads to these specific methods. In the conclusion, I predicted that the tell-tale signs of confirmation bias would appear in the comment threads:

Look for cherry picking, conspiracy theories, comments magnifying the significance of dissenters (or non-experts) and logical fallacies such as non sequiturs.

Now you might think, with prior warning, that those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change would seek to make a liar out of me and thwart my predictions. However, my expectation was they wouldn't be able to help themselves. Ideologically driven science rejection is a knee-jerk, instinctive reaction. How did my prediction pan out? Let's go through the list:

Cherry Picking

I first explained how we identify cherry picking, providing the example of global cooling (with a link to Dana's celebrated Escalator):

The most common manifestation of confirmation bias is cherry picking, where one carefully selects a small piece of data that paints a friendly picture and overlooks any inconvenient evidence. How do we spot cherry picking? It’s important to remember that there is no “their evidence” versus “our evidence”. There is only the full body of evidence. If someone arrives at a conclusion from carefully selected evidence that contradicts the conclusion drawn from the full body of evidence, that’s cherry picking.

Cherry pickers ignore the fact that our planet is currently building up heat at the stunning rate of around 3 Hiroshima bombs per second. Instead, they focus on short periods of the surface temperature record. This record bounces up and down from year to year as the ocean exchanges heat with the atmosphere, meaning that it’s possible to find any short period during a long-term warming trend where temperatures fall briefly. Meanwhile the planet continues to build up heat – around 250 Hiroshima bombs worth since you started reading this article.

Almost immediately, examples of cherry picking began to appear. Amazingly, the same cherry picking example I highlighted in my article appeared frequently (familiarity backfire effect?):

"The atmosphere seems not to have warmed for 15 years... The ocean temperature seems also to have stabilised "

"Its is interesting given that planet has been cooling since 2001, yet a rise in CO2."

"...global temps have not not risen significantly for some years now."

Conspiracy theories

When you disagree with a consensus of scientists based upon a preponderance of evidence, the inevitable destination is conspiracy theory. I discussed different types of conspiracy theories, from one-world goverment plans to scientists who are in it for the money:

So how can ignoring the 97% be justified? Two words: conspiracy theory. There are a range of conspiracy theories out there, from sinister attempts to control the planet with a one world government to claims that virtually every climate scientist on the planet is falsifying their data for financial reasons, a form of global groupthink.

True to form, these exact conspiracy theories were proposed, as well as a number of others:

"On the alleged nuttiness of 'conspiracy theorists', you are on even shakier ground, as Australia's eminence grise of Climate Action Now! advocacy IS a one-world government plotter. His name is Bob Brown."

"Alarmism is great, if you are on the payroll, eh?"

"...peer review is somewhat overrated. All you need is a editor who is an AGW symphatiser and you can get almost anything published."

" There are prominent scientists who are outraged at those scientists manipulating the data and creating the hockey stick."

Magnifying dissenters and non-experts

Another sign of confirmation bias is magnifying the importance of fake experts or the small minority of dissenters whom you agree with:

Confirmation bias also influences which sources of information we put our trust in. People tend to attribute greater expertise to people who share their values and beliefs. We’re drawn to those who tell us what we want to hear. So what happens when 97 out of 100 of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming? Those who reject the scientific consensus lavish their attention on the 3% minority, magnifying their significance and turning a blind eye to the 97% of scientific experts.

Consequently we saw appeals to those handful of dissenting climate scientists and  scientists with no actual published climate research:

"Moreover, the following IPCC recognised panel scientists, all oppose the mainstream accuracy of the IPCC climate projections, namely Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus of the School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study; Fellow of the Royal Society, Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Nils-Axel Mörner, retired head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University, former Chairman of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution (1999–2003), and author of books supporting the validity of dowsing, Garth Paltridge, retired Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research and retired Director of the Institute of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre, Visiting Fellow ANU, Philip Stott, professor emeritus of biogeography at the University of London, Hendrik Tennekes, retired Director of Research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, among others."

"I think the views of Ian Plimer, John Christie and Richard Linzden should be validated by those who believe in true scientific study."

"Freeman Dyson arguably the world's greatest living scientist"

Logical Fallacies

I discussed logical fallacies, concentrating on the non sequitur fallacy, where the conclusion is not supported by the premise. I used two examples of this fallacy: past climate change and Arctic sea ice:

A common logical fallacy employed by climate contrarians is the “non sequitur”, Latin for “it does not follow”. This applies to arguments where the stated conclusion is not supported by its premise.

The most cited example is “climate has changed naturally in the past therefore current warming must be natural”.

A recent variant argues, in response to this year’s record low in Arctic sea ice, that ice has been low in the past. This is logically equivalent to investigating a corpse with a gunshot wound and ruling out murder because people have died from natural causes before.

What followed were non sequiturs on these very two topics:

"Decreasing Arctic pack ice might indeed be a symptom of AGW, but if this event has regularly occurred in the last 2000 years then until we are certain that we understand what was driving the previous cyclical disappearance of pack ice, how can we rule out that the same factors are not driving it now?"

"In fact the planet has been warming since the mini ice age, and there were no SUVs back then!"

Why bother doing this? Not for fun (that was just a bonus). To effectively reduce the influence of misinformation, you need to provide an alternate explanation. Explaining why and how people reject the science can be an important part of this alternative narrative. To achieve this, we need to understand both the techniques of denial and the psychology of confirmation bias that drives the denial.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 149:

  1. Well done John. I felt like I needed popcorn to read the comments to your article.
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  2. John, while you made a lot of good points such as pointing out the use of cherry picking, I believe the 97% statistic is being used as a red herring. Briefly, a large majority of skeptics agree with the 97% of climate scientists on AGW. There are some very vocal exceptions, but their "alternative physics" is countered on almost every thread where it is brought up. The worst offenders have disappeared. We (skeptics) can do better, but it does not mean we haven't tried.
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  3. Eric, can you explain your point a bit better please ...
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  4. I think there is a huge hole in the reasoning here. It is all focussed on the way people respond as individuals, which is inevitable since it is being studied using the tools of psychology.

    However, that completely ignores the other aspect of what is going on, which is how people are responding socially. And since the responses we are seeing are not the responses of people in isolated conditions but rather people who are interacting within and across social boundaries, psychology is inadequate to investigating those responses. You need social anthropology.

    I know only a smattering of social anthropology, and that primarily from single school. But from the little that I know, the response of both the skeptic and particularly the consensus communities to "the recent research linking climate denial to conspiracy ideation" is far more interesting than the research which spawned it.

    But no-one is talking about it. If I attempt a half-arsed attempt at an analysis I'll only D-K myself, but I don't see anyone else attempting it.
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  5. @Kevin, my two cents on ...
    "How are people responding socially?"
    1.a they look for expert opinion --> fake experts and their enablers try at all expense to keep the evidence murky
    1.b they look for consensus opinions as transported by the media --> failure by the (US) media leaves them in the cold
    2. they look for leadership --> it is not provided for various reasons (e.g. short election cycles)

    suggest looking at the "Global Warmings Six Americas";it probably does not look hugely different in Europe
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  6. gws, there are some examples on this forum. I tried to make that case on another thread although I would ask that you not bring the particulars of my argument over to this thread. If you disagree with what I say there, please do so there and I will respond there.
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  7. @Eric
    Quick question: Is your argument that people who think CS is low are lumped in with the "real" deniers?
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  8. It is worse thn you think John Cook! There are now conspiracy theories about research into conspiracy theories. here
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/09/07/recursive_denail_fury/
    Just check out the comments. wuwt would love to have them on board or do they already? Bert
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  9. gws, that is one example, yes.
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  10. @Eric
    Ok, Thanks, yes I am aware of the argument, something like "there are serious scientists who accept GW but have shown that CS is low. They should not be called (GW) 'deniers'". My next questions for you then are
    - are you a scientist? or better: are you aware of teh scientific method and how (scientific) knowledge develops and evolves?
    - has your skepticism always hinged on (low) CS or has it evolved or developed over time?
    - have you observed people like Lindzen and other proponents of low CS give presentations?
    Thanks, gws
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  11. gws, no, I'm an engineer. But I understand modeling, I perform statistical analysis and am familiar with the science of weather. My skepticism started with models and will end in a decade or two when models are able to model 100 years at 10 minute and 1 square mile resolution to capture convective precipitation processes. Here's some of my posts about it (scroll to comments): http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/08/the-missing-repertoire/ I can honestly say that I was not influenced unduly by Lindzen or others like him. When I started looking at this issue I read Al Gore's book and more material like it. I used my own knowledge to dissect Gore. I still like to read early Lindzen papers along with early Trenberth (they are very similar).
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  12. Eric, since no one will ever be able to predict forcings accurately, you are not going to be able to EVER get global scale predictions much better than what we have today. It's the Arrhenius Dilemma
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  13. Eli, as we often discuss here, there is no need for prediction, only modeling with fidelity for accurate projections. As increasing CO2 traps more heat the world will get warmer on average. How much positive feedback we get from increasing water vapor depends on how that water vapor is spread out (and really not much more than that). Weather spreads the water vapor out and concentrates it. Concentrated water vapor (e.g. concentrated convection) is essentially a negative feedback while less concentration implies greater positive feedback.

    For support for this, please read the thesis abstracts in my link in post #2 in the RC link above.

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    Moderator Response: [Sph]. This is OT. Please take it to an appropriate thread.
  14. Erick I read Alice in Wonderland and dissected the untruths methodically before I turned ten. It was all a fabrication! How could a mere girl do all that without help from one of us boys? Could not even handle a rabbit or cat let alone a red queen! What part of fantasy do you inhabit. What is your next trick? Dissassemble quantum mechanics because it is beyond logic! Bert
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  15. Eric brings up an interesting point, although his class of skeptic is by my observation exceedingly rare. Is this because there are few of them, or simply that they tend to be quiet in comparison to the loud, obnoxious, and downright boisterous "true deniers"?

    I don't know, but that fact that we "sense" so few of them is probably why they are not included in John's analysis.

    I would define his class of skeptic as "focused deniers." They can't bring themselves to be so silly as to refute all of the science, especially when so much of it is so obvious.

    What they do instead is to cherry-pick one foothold (low climate sensitivity, or only partial attribution to CO2, or the slow rate of warming and "we don't entirely know," or "let's wait a while and see how it plays out, just to be safe," or "the cure is worse than the disease," or whatever). They then cling tenaciously to that, despite the mounds of evidence against their particular position.

    They feel bolstered in maintaining that position, though, because they can be so reasonable about everything else. The GHG effect is real, there is warming detected, etc., etc.... but...

    In Eric's case, his entire position is based on suspicion of the quality of climate models, even though there are multiple studies of paleoclimate, observations, and other factors that agree completely with the estimate of a climate sensitivity between 2.0 and 4.5 C. He maintains his position even though some feedbacks (albedo, methane) are unfolding right before his very eyes as we speak (look north).

    Then there's basic risk aversion... the idea that if there's even a fraction of a chance that the models are right, the intelligent course is to take action... but no, no, lets wait two whole decades to see if the models can get better.

    After that there's the obvious... the fact that even 0.6 to 0.8 C of warming seems to be pretty darn bad right now (given two monster heat waves, multiple monster droughts, increasing storms, etc., etc.). But no, we can't be sure that's just a spate of natural events, because we don't yet trust the models.

    There are so many ways to look at this, to say "yes, well, I doubt the models, but the evidence is so strong otherwise"... but Eric's form of focused denial gets to have the best of both worlds. Agree with most of the evidence. Agree with the science. Laugh at the conspiracy theories. Laugh at the faux-skeptics.

    But cling tenaciously to one argument, blind to reason, and steadfastly claim to be a reasonable, true skeptic untainted by the symptoms of denial.

    A focused skeptic is not like "them." They're different. They're rational.
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  16. It is a great article John - and it is like a denialist honey trap - they came in droves and provided a real life demonstration of exactly what you described as the "How".

    It's notable that they also studiously avoided entering into any serious discussion that provided multiple lines of evidence - instead indulging in the usual gish gallop.

    Worth analysing when it's done and writing up in a journal almost I reckon :)
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  17. 11, 13, Eric,

    And yet there is a response to you in the very comment thread to which you linked (at RC, 2006).
    Eric, your obsession with resolution is not reflected in reality and seems to be tunnelvision. Worse yet is that it appears to strengthen your skepticsm without foundation. Look at the model results. They speak for themselves. Models of all types (not just climate) do not inevitably improve with continually greater resolution. In fact, it has been shown that there are limits to the benefits of higher resolution. Weather and air quality models clearly show that there is a benefit limit. Air quality model’s performance does not necessarily improve and can degrade significantly when finer resolution is applied. Futhermore, it has been shown in certain applications that a single parameter can more than adequately represent long term trends or patterns depending on the significance. Climate is long term; weather is short term. It is pretty basic.


    I point this out because your form of denial does not entirely demonstrate any of John's tendencies: Cherry-picking, Conspiracy Theories, Magnifying Dissenters and Non-experts, and Logical Fallacies.

    I say "not entirely" because in fact, as the appended comment demonstrates:

    1) You do cherry-pick, by ignoring the evidence that your position on resolution is wrong.

    2) You do magnify dissenters, by elevating your own opinion of models and dismissing the actual experts. [Please show qualified citations that support your position that the models are totally inadequate for forecasting climate sensitivity.]

    3) No conspiracy theories. Good.

    4) Logical fallacies. Well, your entire position is IMO a double non-sequitur, equivalent to "Climate models do not model weather well, therefore all estimates of climate sensitivity are invalid" and "all estimates of climate sensitivity are invalid, therefore we need to ignore all other evidence and wait until the models get better."
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  18. 'gws, no, I'm an engineer. But I understand modeling, I perform statistical analysis and am familiar with the science of weather.'

    See this discussion.

    Some technically-trained people over-generalize from the sorts of models they know about into thinking they necessarily understand other kinds. I examined some examples of the *different* ways in which different disciplines tend to over-generalize, if they do.

    Classical skeptics who do this, when given the right examples, change their minds. One of the examples was of a research chemist, and it turned out his skepticism came from problems with protein folding, although that took a while to figure out, as I'd guess rather few people have any serious exposure to that and climate models.

    In the extreme skeptic case, this can be "I do Java, therefore I know about climate software :-)"
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  19. Kevin C: "It is all focussed on the way people respond as individuals, which is inevitable since it is being studied using the tools of psychology."

    Psychology is not limited to a focus on individuals. "The tools of psychology" are regularly applied to group dynamics.
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  20. The psychology of science denial is pretty fascinating. It's interesting how entirely predictable they are, and how they simply can't help themselves even when their behavior is predicted right to their faces. Just goes to show that there's no sense in arguing with a science denier, because his behavior is not going to change.
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  21. Geoff: Would someone like to ask Stephan whether he can identify the source blogs for individual respondents?

    Perhaps, if you're lucky. As you've burned your bridges by spewing inane questions about chronology at Lewandowsky guaranteed to eliminate any chance he'll take you seriously, it seems you'll now have to depend on charity.

    Treat it as an object lesson.
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  22. Sphaerica, Your last 4 points have some validity, particularly #2 and of course #3 :) On #1 (and therefore #4) I have to disagree. I've gone into that before here As for paleo evidence supporting the models, that requires models, see my response to Bernard here

    JohnMashey, your point is valid. I do know about weather models although I am nowhere near an expert. I know somewhat how the weather must be parameterized in coarser climate models, but not the details.
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  23. this is unfair, people have taken over my thread with Eric just because I was offline for a while ... ;-)

    anyway, just a few more comments:
    - there are many people like Eric I think; I have argued on forums with at least one more
    - the basic idea is to hang on to something that gives hope, or that allows continued denial, depending on your ideology; it does not necessarily make you an active denier
    - you are better at this if you are smart/educated
    - we all, scientists included, suffer every once form this until we allow ourselves to step back a moment and analyze our own behavior for confirmation bias
    - if you keep doing it, it does belong to the "five ways" and is known as "moving the goalpost", another favorite denialist tactic. the latest goalpost move in fashion is the "it's not so bad because CS is low argument"
    - Lindzen and others have focused on low CS as 'the last holdout' as they cannot credibly argue anything else any more, but the weight of the evidence is closing on them as one can find out by surfing SkS on a CS quest, or by being a climate science nerd
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  24. gws, regarding your fourth dash above, you could answer the equivalent of the questions you asked me in #10. Although CS seems to be the focus here, I should also point out arguments about attribution here and the WashPost weather blog I've also argued about accounting. But the most scientifically narrow (and therefore potentially resolvable) argument is CS. But it's not a new goalpost, nor one that has been moved around a lot.
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  25. actually, I just read through the last fall argument of yours you had linked to (Dessler vs. Spencer), and it is obvious that you moved the goalpost within the discussion until you finally stayed away
    I will have to go offline again soon, so no time to read teh linked pages
    answers:
    - I am a scientist also have also taught about denialism
    - I am not a skeptic
    - I have observed Lindzen particularly, and found that his demeanor is very reassuring, but that he uses denialist tactics (to spread doubt) in his talks when you look carefully
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  26. JohnMashey@18: Just slightly OT, but I hope the point is allowed to be made; I spent more than half my life as a professional auto mechanic, specializing in nifty little LBCs (Little British Cars), and of those, E type Jaguars were high on the list. Most that I worked on were owned by engineers, and they provided me a decent living, by attempting to *fix* the cars themselves, especiually the "simple SU carburettors. I cannot tell you the times I was told, "Oh, *I'm* a _____________ (anything BUT related to cars) engineer, so these "simple" carbs can't be that hard to adjust."

    Whereupon I charged them $50 to reset them, so that the car would run. *Again.* Like it had, the last time before they'd monkeyed with the SUs.

    None learned. I made money...;)

    Back OnT, I see the same thing with all the denialati, and because of my previous experience, recognized it right off the bat. Thanks to you, and others, who've put a finer point on the whole topic for me, as a geologist, who definitely is NOT an expert in climatology, but who certainly has a decent understanding of how to operate the game called Planet Earth, it is really valuable to read these opinions and dissections of positions similar to Eric T.S.

    Sowwy, gws@23....{:=P
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  27. Some of these comments are ingenuous in a Quixotic way that's almost charming even as they surely must be extraordinarily irritating to others sharing the same space. A comment quoted by John Cook rattles off a list of idiosyncratic scientists, including:

    Nils-Axel Mörner, retired head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University, former Chairman of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution (1999–2003), and author of books supporting the validity of dowsing...

    I wonder how Prof. Lindzen feels about being lumped in with dowsers?
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  28. 22, Eric,

    I did not say that paleo evidence supports the models, I said that it supports the same estimates of climate sensitivity given by the models.

    Forget the models.

    And so you also missed my point in #4. The fact that you missed the point clearly demonstrates it!

    You are in the mode that everything hinges on the climate models, you don't trust them, and you cannot in any way separate from those two facts, so all of your thought processes stop there.

    I would strongly recommend that you ignore the models completely and begin to study and learn the other aspects of the science. You are trapped in a set of "I don't trust models" blinders. You don't argue against the rest of the science. You simply ignore it (unless it has something to do with the models).
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  29. The paleo evidence gives a wide range, about 1C to 5C, for sensitivity due to uncertainties in feedbacks. The only way to narrow the range is with a model. KR points out here that "paleo evidence is a very strong indicator of total feedback". But CO2 is not the only feedback and the feedbacks that are not applicable to today's climate (dust, jet stream shifts, etc) must be subtracted out using a model.
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  30. 29, Eric,

    So 1C to 5C for you translates into "let's assume 1C"?

    Also, your CO2 comment is nonsensical. Normally, CO2 is a feedback, but in our case it is a driver. Yes, every system is different so the feedbacks from one case to another vary, but your silent hope that the same feedbacks or degree of feedbacks suddenly won't apply, just in this one special case smacks of desperate denial to me.

    Your further statement -- that you need models to estimate the actual feedbacks -- goes back to your own particular tic. You cannot get past the models as your single-minded focus. Everything comes back to the models.

    And this is your own personal non-sequitur.

    1) You don't trust the models.
    2) Therefore global warming is not happening.
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  31. Eric (skeptic) - I went back and re-read the thread you referred to; in that thread you repeatedly dismissed observations (including claims that the observations don't make sense without models!), focused entirely on models, and claimed uncertainty regarding those. Followed by (in several threads) suggestions that we wait a few decades until our models improve - while not giving a solid criteria for such improvement, which leaves Moving the goalposts, or Argument by demanding impossible perfection wide open.

    Sphaerica is (IMO) entirely correct in his assessment that you are overly focused on models, which is itself a form of cherry-picking, an argument from fallacy. You seem to be assuming that if you can, or have, disproven something about one line of evidence, that the entire house of cards falls down - and to support that argument, you refer everything to your focus, 'models'. You are, as John Cook discussed, not looking at the full body of evidence.

    Now, as to uncertainties regarding dust, jet streams, etc. - you have implied (although not explicitly stated) a different fallacious argument: that such uncertainties go only in one direction. Any uncertainties regarding glacial or interglacial era feedbacks WRT current conditions could just as well mean that we will see worse feedbacks now. There's no reassurance in that kind of uncertainty.
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  32. KR, you'll have to be more specific in those threads. Sphaerica, we are at the low end of paleo only because, contrary to KR, all the uncertainty points to lower sensitivity. To give a very simple example, there are layers of dust in ice cores during ice ages. The more positive feedback there was from lower dust levels, the lower the sensitivity to rising CO2. A model incorporating dust is the only way to find out. That is why my focus is on the models.
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  33. I don't think Lindzen's early stuff (and this one too) had any more legs than his current nonsense.
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  34. Ari, if you go back a few decades it's easy to see that Lindzen actually did earn his AGU Fellow badge. That was before he converted his reputation and scientific capital into a simple machine for applying political force. His AGU Fellow status is key part of the little mechanism, might be likened to a fulcrum, with the MIT gig being the long end of a lever.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle, one might say, with emphasis on "reduce." Using MIT and AGU in this way necessarily reduces them while lifting Lindzen's cause.

    Being associated w/dousing is bad for efficient functioning of Lindzen's device, akin to the same problem AGU and MIT face.
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  35. Eric (skeptic) - Regarding ice-age dusts, it's not clear whether they provided negative or positive forcings, so again you are assuming ("positive feedback") a one-sided uncertainty. And you're back on the models, which (IMO) represents a cherry-picking of the evidence.
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  36. 32, Eric,
    ...all the uncertainty points to lower sensitivity.
    This statement is direct contradiction of the science and utterly without support.

    Please supply a single, published citation that supports this presumption of yours.

    Looking at the range 1C to 5C and picking 1C because you personally think, in your own thought-experiments, that the "more positive feedback there was from lower dust levels, the lower the sensitivity to rising CO2" is true...

    ... is just plain insanity.

    How can you possibly separate yourself from the deniers?

    You began this thread by claiming "a large majority of skeptics agree with the 97% of climate scientists on AGW."

    I call "B.S.". You yourself are in complete denial. How can you speak for this large majority (that I have never seen)?
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  37. OK, I'll have a go at the sociology. Huge D-K caveats over all of this. My principle source is Girard, although there probably bits of Derrida and others mixed in here too.

    When communities face problems they tend to find outlets for that pressure, in the form of a response which is some modified form of violence. Often this involves the creation of a victim or class of victims (the scapegoat) on which the problems can be blamed. To avoid compromising our own humanity, dehumanisation of the victims is usually a part of the process. The victimisation process release the tension and builds common cause within the community. We all do this, it's our anthropology.

    Lots of illustrations: Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984, the skeptic community's demonisation of Micheal Mann, immigrants. Is US politics more polarised this year? Related to recession?

    The conspiracy paper is not about climate. So of little interest to many of us here. However the response is interesting to me, because of the social anthropology. The skeptic community reacted very strongly against it. Elsewhere in the consensus community the paper also got quite a lot of play (e.g. it made the Guardian). Once it attracted criticism, many leapt to its defence (again fewer here), despite it's irrelevance to climate science. What is going on?

    The paper is very easy to play as a tool for dehumanising skeptics: 'They can't help being skeptics, it is because they are psychologically predisposed to conspiracy theories'. Put like that you can see why it would go down badly. Worse, the more insecure members of our community can use it to reason 'we are rational thinking individuals, they are controlled by their psychology'. That the 'controlled by their psychology' argument cuts both ways is no doubt obvious to a psychologist like Lewandowsky, but it is a common mistake.

    As a result, I think the paper unintentionally played to and was exploited by the less science-focussed elements of the consensus community and it's followers, and was used to dehumanise the image of the skeptic. The title of the paper certainly didn't help in preventing it from being abused in this way.

    That's my impression as to what is going on. Biggest caveats: None of my observations are objective and they are all suspect. The patchiness of my social anthropology no doubt biases me to interpret things in the light of the bits I know.

    On a personal note, the creation and dehumanisation of victims is part of our anthropology, and certainly it comes very naturally to me, yet at the same time I find it abhorrent. I can't stop others doing it to me, but neither can I participate in a community in which doing it to others is normative. Fortunately, SkS has on the whole managed to avoid this.
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  38. Interesting comment from Kevin, thought-provoking.

    Funny thing is (and it perhaps illustrates Kevin's thoughts in terms of mirroring) last night I paid a visit to Lewandowsky's blog and the comment stream immediately led me to think of "mobbing." Later on I realized that by sheer numbers there was not much of a mob there, really, just a few shouters.
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  39. Eric (skeptic) - "...all the uncertainty points to lower sensitivity."

    And now you have explicitly stated a fallacious argument - that all the uncertainty favors your point of view. This is completely contrary to the evidence, wherein the bounds on low sensitivity are quite strong, and the bounds on a much higher sensitivity are in fact less constrictive. The uncertainty actually favors a higher sensitivity, not a lower one.

    As with Sphaerica - I'm going to have take your position as nonsense (a mix of cherry-picking and confirmation bias) unless you can provide some citations, some evidence, supporting your point of view.
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  40. Great comment, Kevin@37.

    I think that we need to be careful with all of these psychological explanations of why climate change "skeptics" think and reason the way they do. Firstly, as you said, it's all too easy to misuse these studies to categorize "skeptics" as somehow deficient in reasoning, which can be, at best, patronizing and at worst, dehumanizing. Secondly, it's all too easy to forget that our thinking processes, which are often driven by emotion first and reason second, are common characteristics of all of us, not just of people we disagree with.

    It's great fun to see "skeptic" commentators say things in responses to Stephan Lewandowsky's and John Cook's articles that seem to make the original authors' case for them. We must remember, though, that the problem with our, so far, inadequate response to climate change is not because a handful of internet pundits behave irrationally, but rather because of the deeper failure of all of us to respond rationally to a novel, slow-motion, global, invisible threat. We have not evolved the instincts nor developed the social frameworks to address a problem of this nature adequately.
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  41. Andy S

    Guilty as charged and +1.
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  42. Eric (skeptic) @ 32, Sphaerica @ 36, KR @ 39

    Yes. Isn't it odd that Eric is so certain about which portion of the uncertainty range contains the correct answer.

    Add me to the list of people that would love to hear Eric's explanation, justification, and support for his claim that the range of uncertainty is actually much, much smaller than that seen in the scientific literature.

    ...because that is basically what Eric has claimed: that the scientifically-indicated range of uncertainty is wrong - that he knows better and that he knows the correct answer is down at one end.
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  43. Even if using the same code, weather and climate models are *different*, in some sense analogous to the difference between old-style protein-folding and climate models.

    Steve Easterbrook gives a good explanation of the difference between models for weather (Initial Value Problem) and climate (Boundary Value Problem). They are different, and knowing something about weather models does not automagically generalize to climate models.

    See RC's FAQ #1 and FAQ #2.
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  44. JohnMashey@43,

    Well said. I especially like the distinction beetween weather and climate as "Initial Value Problem" vs. "Boundary Value Problem". Eric (skeptic) clearly ignores this distinction.

    The evidence supporting my claim here, is that Eric expressed so much concern about the resolution and accuracy of local processes in climate models, i.e. he's concerned that climate models are "unable to model 100 years at 10 minute and 1 square mile resolution to capture convective precipitation processes". Apart from obvious fact that the accuracy of results does not depend on how long the models runs; we all know, that boundary value problem is not resolved by increasing model's accuracy. That's nonsense, a common fallacy of those "researchers" who "look at the tree & don't see the forest". Eric is also concerned about the cloud formation dynamics: very localised processes. They have nothing to do with the actual science of water vapour feedback which is large scale (global) process. To fine tune the boundary value problem models, such as AOGCM, a well mixed system, you must seek to better understand global processes.

    A good way to do fine-tune a complex, turbulent system such as climate, is by careful observation and correction of parameters. E.g. latest observations in the arctic strongly suggests that our models underestimate the current AGW. The much faster than expected sea ice melt means the arctic ice albedo positive feedback (eqiv. to 20y of emisions at current levels see here) be indicative of higher than expected CO2 sensitivity, or faster than expected eqilibrium earth system response. Eric simply ignores that observation and blatently states that "climate sensitivity is low" against it. That's a classic cherry-picking.

    There might be other aspects of the denialist attitude represented by Eric, people like Steve Lewandowski might be able to point. I just pointed those aspects that I'm sure about.
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  45. I have hit one of the hazards of being off topic for which I apologize. My comment on uncertainty is narrow, only applying to the last paragraph in #31 by KR. There absolutely uncertainty in the realm of positive feedbacks, for example methane from permafrost, etc. Those are not what I was considering paleo evidence, namely the changes in conditions from glacial to present.

    I realize my narrower claim of uncertainty still needs support. Here's a post on that topic

    chriskoz, since we are trying to project for 100 years, we need to run for 100 simulated years and accuracy of the results does depend on the temporal granularity of the model. If the model cannot depict the evolution of convection then it can't determine the climate effects of convection. It must instead rely on parameterizations that can only be derived from the current (mostly inapplicable) climate. The faster sea ice melt should be expected following a positive AO winter (similar to 2007) and mostly represents a natural fluctuation. The models do poorly precisely for that reason.
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  46. Sorry about the first paragraph, a little garbled. There is absolutely more uncertainty about potential positive feedbacks such as melting methane deposits. I am only claiming that the uncertainty about climate sensitivity calculated from paleo evidence is towards the low side of sensitivity.
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  47. Back to the topic. I am a regular at The Conversation. John's article attracted all the usual deniers who troll the climate science articles there plus a few new names including a fake "anthropologist" and a fake "climate scientist". Reading the comments, it is pretty clear that they are hardcore deniers and would not be persuaded if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melted tomorrow.

    Any communication strategy needs to be directed at the bulk of the population who are still open to the science.

    To that end, I am bemused by sites like The Conversation which has a large readership and this charter
    http://theconversation.edu.au/our_charter
    but also allows the climate science denier trolls free rein. They have some great articles from actual climate scientists which are impossible to have a sensible discussion about because of the organised and intensive trolling. In my opinion that is insane. It is like going to a public meeting where a few loud and aggressive voices are allowed to shout from the back of the room to prevent any discussion - there is nothing democratic about it. I like the "put up or shut up" moderation policy which is generally implemented here because to quite frank, I am no longer interested in reading the same recycled denier arguments for the umpteenth time. And as a communication strategy, allowing deniers to post their anti-science rubbish on a university/science site sucks.
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  48. Andy@40 "because of the deeper failure of all of us to respond rationally to a novel, slow-motion, global, invisible threat. We have not evolved the instincts nor developed the social frameworks to address a problem of this nature adequately."

    I'm not entirely convinced. The threats posed by acid rain and the ozone hole were equally 'novel, slow-motion, global, invisible' threats to the populace at large, but governments listened to scientists and enacted sensible provisions to deal with those threats.

    I'm guilty of never having doubted climate science right from the beginning but mainly of presuming that the response would take the same course as it did for CFCs and acid rain. When we installed our solar hot water service in the 80s, I really thought that they would be the only kind of basic residential hot water services newly installed in Australia by say, 2000. When the first Rio conference came out with its vaguely worded objectives I was still certain that it was merely the first step in a diplomatic process to pin down the specifics - just like CFCs.

    I turned out to be wrong. But I'm pretty sure that that is because the diplomatic, political and business environment changed. I'm very glad that we identified the ozone hole problem when we did. If we were trying to deal with it now, I very much fear we wouldn't succeed.
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  49. @47 mikeh1 said,

    "Any communication strategy needs to be directed at the bulk of the population who are still open to the science."

    Relevant to action in the States, the Leiserowitz et al paper, Global Warming's The Six Americas shows that the hard-core denial community stands at 10% of the US population. At least if you can put the deniers and fake skeptics in the "dismissive" category. Another 15% are in the "doubtful" category and are mostly influenced by the dismissive.

    In the segment that accepts the scientific consensus, we have 39% (13% alarmed + 26% concerned). In the middle are the cautious (29%) and the disengaged (6%).

    Since we observe denialism is resistant to reasoning and observations, shouldn't we be focusing efforts on educating the Cautious?

    While it is interesting to understand the psychology of denial, it seems that a lot of the effort that goes into direct rebuttal may be better focused on educating those Cautious Americans who haven't tipped into outright support of opposition of a national response to climate change.

    I'd like to see thoughts and research on how best to reach, teach, and motivate the Cautious segment to support reasonable action to mitigate and adapt.

    Also, don't these numbers show that the elected policy makers shouldn't have that much to fear from the denial community (25%) when there is so much support for the scientific consensus among the 39%? But then, there are the trillions of dollars in proven reserves of fossil fuels that must be written off at some point. I'd rather write off the profits than our descendants.
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  50. re: 44 chriskoz
    Thanks. This reminds me of a long discussion I had during a working lunch with folks at NCAR, after I'd done a lecture in mid-1990s:

    I'd asked them to assess the various impediments to progress. Someone categorized them as follows:

    1) Data
    2) Science
    3) Compute power

    1) DATA. the necessary data might not exist. Scientists might like satellite records going back 2000 years, including solar insolation and volcanoes. Such would be really useful in better calibrating climate sensitivity, which after all, is one of the reasons for doing paleoclimate reconstructions.


    Of course, and I forget who said this, but the idea was that people would love to have data from the future, but unfortunately it was not available. Even ignoring emissions choices, no one can possibly predict an exact path given ENSO transitions. Even if someone could, there are still volcanoes.

    2) SCIENCE. In some cases, there weren't practical science models. Clouds were difficult. Inflection points / nonlinearities are tricky to model, etc.

    3) COMPUTE POWER. And finally, some effects simply could not be seen without getting grid elements small enough or intervals short enough. Since I was helping sell supercomputers, I was always pleased to hear this. But as usual, for some kinds of problems, resolution might already be adequate, or could be known to become adequate, but the barrier might be in data or science. They were of course always making tradeoffs of resolution versus run-time, with bounds on CPU performance, memory footprint, disk storage, I/O bandwidth.
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