Holiday reading

My now traditional annual pilgrimage to the South coast of New South Wales saw the rainiest weather I can remember. While it was nothing on the scale seen in Queensland and Victoria over recent weeks, it did take its toll on some of the wildlife: we saw dozens of dead porcupine puffers washed up on the beach, apparently the victims of an algal bloom triggered by the rains. On the plus side, the lack of sunshine did help me to catch up on a bit of overdue reading, including a review copy of a Beginner’s Guide to R which you can expect to hear more about when I manage to finish writing the review.

I also read two books about climate change, which were very different in style and content.

Merchants of Doubt

The first was Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes’ Merchants of Doubt (How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming). The book is not really about climate change per se, but rather the modus operandi of a number of key climate skeptics. In the process it sheds some interesting light on a question I considered here on the blog about a year ago: why does belief or disbelief in the reality of climate change tend to be polarised along political lines? Most of the protagonists in the Merchants of Doubt are scientists, many of whom were physicists involved in the original US nuclear weapons program. The thesis that Conway and Oreskes build is that these scientists were committed anti-Communists and as the Cold War began to thaw, they saw threats to freedom and capitalism in other places, particularly in the environmental movement. That, at least, is the explanation given as to why the same names appear in defence of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defence scheme, in defence of the tobacco industry (first arguing against claims about the health risks of smoking, later about the health risks of second-hand smoke), dismissing the idea of acid rain and finally casting doubt on claims of human-induced climate change.

While I would not expect the book to sway any climate change skeptic, it should at least encourage people to think a bit harder about messengers as well as the message. It certainly prompted me to do just that. When reading the chapter on the second-hand smoke controversy, I immediately thought of an episode of the Penn and Teller’s very entertaining pseudo-science debunking TV series Bullshit*. The episode in question, as I remembered it, did a convincing job of portraying the risks of second-hand smoke (SHS) as dubious at best. Watching it again was eye-opening. Looking past the scathing treatment of the anti-SHS activist, I focused instead on the credentials of the talking heads who were arguing that the science was not settled. The two main experts were Bob Levy from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, and Dr Elizabeth Whelan, the president of the American Council on Health and Science.

Levy’s voice immediately suggests he is a smoker, which does not, of course, disqualify him from questioning the science of SHS. More intriguing is the fact that the Cato Institute regularly appears as a company of interest in the Merchants of Doubt. Conway and Oreskes draw a number of links between the Cato Institute and both the defence of the tobacco industry and skepticism of global warming, particularly in the person of Steven Milloy who, before joining Cato, worked for a firm whose main claim to fame was to provide lobbying and public-relations support for tobacco giant Phillip Morris.

As for the American Council on Health and Science, it sounds at first like some kind of association of health professionals (which is presumably why Warren chose the name). It is in fact an industry-funded lobby group…sorry, I mean an independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt organisation. Exactly how much of their funding comes from where is now shrouded in mystery, but here are the details as of 1991.

Of course, scrutinising the backgrounds Levy and Whelan does not prove that their claims are wrong. It does, however, raise the question of why Penn and Teller did not interview anyone more independent, perhaps even a scientist, who expressed the same doubts.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

The second book on climate change that the rain helped me to read was Greg Craven’s book What’s the Worst That Could Happen?. I bought this after watching Craven’s amusing, if flawed, video “The Most Terrifying Video You Will Ever See”. Craven, a high-school science teacher in Oregon, has clearly workshopped the issue of climate change extensively with his students and the insight he wants to share in his videos and his book is essentially that the whole problem can be viewed from a game-theoretic perspective. Rather than trying to decide what is true or not (are the skeptics right or are the warmers right?), the important question is should we be acting or not.

Craven decision gridCraven’s Global Warming Decision Grid

In his video, Craven uses an action versus outcome “decision grid” to argue that the consequences of not acting in the event that global warming turns out to be true are worse than the consequences of acting (i.e. economic costs) if it turns out to be false. The argument is entertaining, but unfortunately flawed. The problem is that it can be applied to any risk, however remote. As he writes in the book:

Simply insert any wildly speculative and really dangerous-sounding threat into the grid in place of global warming, and you’ll see the grid comes to the same conclusion–that we should do everything possible to stop the threat. Even if it’s something like giant mutant space hamsters (GMSHs).

The book is an attempt to rescue his idea by developing a series of tools to help sift through the arguments for and against climate change without having to actually understand the science. Along the way, he includes an extensive discussion of confirmation bias which I enjoyed as I am fascinated by cognitive biases. Ultimately though, his conclusions rest on an argument from authority. While he makes an excellent case for the important role that authority plays in science, this approach will not win over the skeptics I know: I can already hear their riposte in the form of the establishment’s rejection of Albert Wegener’s theory of continental drift.

Skeptics aside, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is an extremely accessible book (perhaps even too folksy in its style for some) and is probably best read by those who are not already entrenched in one camp or another and are just sick of the whole shouting match.

* Long-time readers may remember that Bullshit has been mentioned on the blog before in this post about bottled water.

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28 thoughts on “Holiday reading

  1. MC

    Hi Sean
    A few points of contention:
    >The thesis that Conway and Oreskes build is that they were all committed anti-Communists and as the Cold War began to thaw, they saw threats to freedom and capitalism in other places, particularly in the environmental movement.
    1. I don’t see how this applies to highly respected meteorologists like Prof. Richard Lindzen. Or Garth Paltridge or others [#1]. If Conway and Oreskes’ thesis were a sufficient explanation, then it would need to explain these ernest climate scientists. Nor does it explain why the founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, not in the least a anti-communist crusader or pro-nuclear scientist, finds the movement now so repulsive and the science underwhelming. He was incidentally also in the P&T series.
    2. Why is anti-communism past or libertarian politics held up by some of these to be a disqualifier? Or at least a reason to question the integrity of these scientists? As any avid reader of culture would have known, a significant, intellectual vanguard of the left led a resistance to communism during the Cold War. These men and women were not libertarian Cato-ites.
    3. Even if Conway and Oreskes’ thesis is correct, it doesn’t prove that global warming scepticism is empirically unjustifiable (as I believe you point out). Of course, we all suffer from cognitive biases. But that cut both ways: for the sceptics it might be framing bias; for warmists it might be confirmation bias particularly given the massive amounts of government largesse that is being doled out. A whole swag of rent-seekers or out there.
    4. On the other hand, may it not be possible that a/ these sceptical scientists honestly think that the global warming science does not lend itself to as strong a conclusion or as marked a risk as is being made out and b/ that these sceptical scientists may be also be wary of trans-national intentions? If anything, the leaked Copenhagen agreement demonstrating some trans-national governance structure unaccountable to democratic process sunk Copenhagen.

    And on consensus science:
    1. Consider Ronald Bailey’s backtesting of consensus science [#2]. And consider a illuminating New Yorker article on statistics and the research discipline [#3]. This article poses significant questions about whether we have a sufficiently strong grasp of nature let alone the integrity of scientific research.
    2. Given your background in math and modelling, I am surprised that you don’t express greater scepticism on the largely modelling-based conclusions of the IPCC. These GCMs are highly complex simulations that make lots of assumptions and ad-hoc fiddling. And then we get given a confidence interval (see point 1 above) and are expected to believe that that’s that. I’m sorry, but complex models should be assigned higher penalties for complexity. The problem with that, is that useful complexity metrics are hard to define and explain and incorporate into modelling outcomes. [See for example #4 wrt economics]

    Sucked that it rained so much this summer.


  2. Danny Yee

    I haven’t read The Merchants of Doubt, but it’s surely only an explanation of _some_ of the opposition to climate science, not all of it.

    Having read rather a bit about this over the last six months, though, I’ve become even more sceptical about the so-called “sceptics” on climate change. There are a few of them who are actually interested in doing science, or improving the science, but the vast bulk of them aren’t. They just want to discredit climate science and to that end will mis-quote, use completely discredited arguments (to audiences where they can get away with them), and

    They behave very similarly to creationists, and are essentially in the same position. Their arguments (e.g. modelling is bad) imply the complete rejection of pretty much all climate science, but they have nothing to put in its place, just as the creationists have not even an inkling of what biology would look like without evolution

    A good blog on this area is RealClimate. One recent post, for example, looks at claims about funding biases.

  3. Stubborn Mule Post author

    MC and Danny that “they were all” was poor phrasing on my part and I have reworded it. The all I was referring to was the group of names that re-appeared chapter after chapter in the book and certainly does not include all climate change skeptics. Lindzen, for example, only rates one passing reference in the book and so does not fall into this category.

  4. Magpie

    In MC’s defense, I’d say he’s got a point when he casts doubt on the credibility of hyper-complex computer simulation models.

    I myself share those reservations and I go one step further: the empirical aspects of the problem should be stressed.

    However, Danny is right when he points out that sceptics are better known for their attempts “to [simply] discredit climate science”. They should, in my opinion, undertake their own scientific studies in support of their point of view.

    However, I do believe both sides are missing one obvious but important point: as these discussions involve specialized knowledge, they necessarily rely on specialists. The credibility of those specialists becomes a legitimate issue, that cannot be simply dismissed.

    In other words: there must be a trade-off between what’s in essence an argument on authority (from both sides!) and an ad hominem attack.

    Thus, although it is unreasonable for both parties to presume all their opponents act in bad faith (point that MC made, in relation to some renowned sceptics, like Prof. Lindzen), it is by no means unreasonable to question the links between other discussants and vested interests

    And this is where I find the sceptics’ case is weakest: other than the “Emailgate”, that at worst can be described as petty, childish and unprofessional behavior by some warmers, they haven’t come up with money trails linking environmentalists and vested interests.

    Unlike the sceptics, the warmers have managed to score some good points in this respect.

  5. Danny Yee

    Climate models are indeed complex, but that’s not a point in the denialists’ favour, in fact that’s a problem for them.

    Simple 0-dimensional or 1-dimensional radiative physics analyses produce thermal forcings from an increase in carbon dioxide. Now matters are a lot more complicated than that, but if you want to take (say) clouds (probably the biggest factor) into account then you really need to use some kind of GCM.

    So the denialist attacks on complex models are back to front. Anyone who wants to deny AGW really has to come up with a compelling climate model of their own in which there is no, or negative, thermal response to carbon dioxide increase. The default position is the simple radiative physics analysis, unless we propose to throw away the last three hundred years of physics as well as the last seventy years of climate science.

    Looking at the current science, denying carbon dioxide induced warming is a real fringe position. One can argue about the magnitude of the climate sensitivity, but the possibility that it’s zero or negative is pretty damn remote, and has been getting steadily more remote as our models and data improve.

    Note: some delusionists deny there’s a carbon dioxide increase at all, or that it’s anthropogenic. This approach really is loopy, since the errors on these measurements are really quite small.

    “No AGW” is about as plausible as the kind of claim in the other direction that’s demolished here:

  6. Magpie


    You probably don’t realize it, but you are actually giving an example of part of what I meant.

    With respect, I wouldn’t know about the “0-dimensional or 1-dimensional radioactive” thingy, if it bit me in the ass.

    And I am not being modest, nor do I believe I’m particularly ignorant or stupid. In fact, I believe most people, in this respect, are a lot like me.

    So (and this is a humorously ironic remark only) either I should feel flattered that you think I’m smart enough to understand all that stuff; or (and this is a bit more serious remark), I am forced to believe that you know what you’re talking about, that your motivations are pure and all. And I do, trust me: I have no reason to think otherwise.

    But I imagine now you get the idea: I need to accept your authority. Whether you are aware of it or not, that’s an argument from authority.

    And while I accept it, others may not. Those who don’t have every right to question your credibility: that’s an ad hominem attack.

    However, most people can understand a simple chart, with data illustrating variations of temperature, precipitation and other variables. The downside is that the data must be bullet proof.

    In fact, I tend to believe the climate change argument when it’s presented on the basis of historical statistics, a la Inconvenient Truth (as I said in another Stubborn Mule post, some time ago); but warmers lose me when they start talking about models.

    So, what do I have against models? Simple: every computer simulation model I am aware of (and I’ll admit it, they are social sciences models) includes a host of assumptions. The simulations are simply a consequence of the assumptions.

    If you check recent history, you’ll find that people who used computer simulation, like J.W. Forrester (of System Dynamics fame), the Meadows (of the Limits to Growth fame) et al faced exactly the same problems.

    And, let me move one step away from computer simulation in general and into a terrain we both are probably more familiar with: you know as much as I do that neoclassical economics is full of “reasonable” assumptions that make no sense whatsoever.

    Are the assumptions of these atmospheric models any better? Maybe, but I have no reason to believe that, and nobody seems too eager to explain in English, with no jargon, what assumptions are there.

  7. Danny Yee

    Sorry, I have a bad habit of assuming everyone studied physics and mathematics, which is probably aggravated by this being Sean’s blog.

    To put it more simply, the basic carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is relatively simple physics. Still something most people may have to take on authority, perhaps, but fairly bedrock stuff not requiring complex modelling (I won’t say it involves *no* modelling, as I think all science involves reliance on models). I don’t know what your background is, but there are plenty of explanations of the greenhouse effect around, pitched at different levels.

    So all your concerns about complex models and simulations are actually arguments for the “warmist” (*) position. It’s the denialists who have to come up with some kind of argument based on GCMs or simulation studies to justify their position, and who have singularly failed to do so.

    (*) “warmist” seems about as useful to me as “evolutionist”.

  8. Danny Yee

    That last post was addressed to MC, not Magpie. I was replying to a comment I received email about, but which may have been held for moderation.

  9. Danny Yee

    Magpie, you could try reading the Edwards book – you are what I was imagining when I referred in my review to “people with genuine concerns about the role of models in climate science”. Edwards doesn’t assume technical knowledge (of atmospheric physics or climate processes) but does get involved with some of the philosophical issues and has a fair bit of historical detail, so he’s not a breezy read. But this would give you a better understanding of how climate models work, and how climate data and models are related.

    All science ultimately rests on models, and most of it involves simulations of some kind or another. And yes, sometimes we do just have to take things on authority. I have very little grasp of what’s involved with the Large Hadron Collider, for example, and if they find a Higgs Boson I’m going to have to trust that the hideously complicated models they have for what’s going on in their collisions, and their hideously complicated data collection and analysis systems, are appropriate and have worked. I don’t see that climate science is intrinsically different in this regard.

  10. Magpie

    “All science ultimately rests on models, and most of it involves simulations of some kind or another. And yes, sometimes we do just have to take things on authority.”

    You’ve got a point there.

    I’ll see if I can buy or borrow the Edwards’ book.

  11. Stubborn Mule Post author

    The combination of the two books I discussed here is interesting, because, as mentioned in the post and in the comments, casting doubt on the motivation of skeptics does not prove that their arguments are incorrect any more than an argument from authority can prove something correct which raises the question, is the whole discussion in Merchants of Doubt of any real value? A partial answer can be found in the Craven book. As I mentioned briefly, his approach ends up being an appeal to authority, but in doing so he takes an interesting approach. The argument from authority is a logical fallacy in the sense that it can never prove something true. But this is also the case for scientific induction (the proverbial example of the black swan showing that induction never proves anything), but scientific induction still serves a very important role in science, and indeed everyday life. The fact that the sun has come up every day so far makes me confident it will come up tomorrow even though it does not prove that it will (of course, this belief is further strengthened by what I have learnt about astronomy…a but of argument from authority there though!). As Danny points out, we do sometime take thing on authority. In fact, as with induction, I think we do it far more than many people who quickly dismiss arguments from authority actually realise. The interesting approach developed by Craven is how to make an argument by authority useful. He develops the idea of a spectrum of credibility for different sources: professional scientific bodies are more credible than a random blogger, for example, and he finds someone arguing against their usual biases more plausible than sometime expressing their standard line. These are his examples, but it’s easy to come up with others: I would find Richard Dawkin’s more credible on the topic of evolution than Steve Fielding, but Paul Krugman more credible on macroeconomics than Richard Dawkins. When it comes to scientific statements about the nature of the world, a scientist in the field is a more credible authority than the ruler of your nation. Craven is the first to admit that his credibility rankings can be challenged and in fact encourages people to come up with their own general characterisations of what they would find a more or less credible source. Armed with this rankings, the different sources can then, in a rough sense, be weighted to form a view of which of the two sides of an issue is more likely to be true. Just as induction cannot prove something to be true, but can help you to think something is highly likely, so an appropriate use of arguments from authority can help you to form your own judgement of the probability that climate is real….without having to actually understand the details of the science. I think there is something to this line of thinking. It does not, of course, mean that everyone will form the same conclusions: skeptics may well find scientific bodies fundamentally lacking in credibility.

    As for the question of models…Danny has made some excellent points here, but I will mull over it a bit more before responding.

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  13. Magpie

    Stubborn and Danny,

    I’m glad you guys are taking an interest in these philosophical/logical questions.

    The first distinction logicians usually make is between formal and informal logic. In formal logic (or deductive logic, which includes mathematics) things can be proven true; not so in informal logic (or inductive logic, which includes statistics): the aim of informal logic is to develop an argument for the high likelihood of something.

    Arguments from authority and ad hominem attacks are always fallacies within formal logic; within informal logic the situation is much more complicated than that and often they are perfectly legitimate.

    An example: if one party bases its case in an expert opinion (that is, is arguing from authority), then this expert’s credibility is an issue for the other party (that is, an ad hominem attack becomes legitimate).

    Note that an argument from authority is no more capable of proving a case, than an ad hominem attack is capable of disproving it: things are proven in formal logic, and in formal logic arguments from authority and ad hominem attacks are always fallacies.

    However, neither side (say, warmers and sceptics) is trying to prove anything; they are trying to establish their cases with “high likelihood” (think of “beyond reasonable doubt” in American trial movies).


    But I’d like to broach another subject, one I suspect could become very important in the not so distant future .

    Have you guys (as a mathematician and a physicist) read the article MC linked?

    Here is the link again

    Jonah Lehner. The Truth Wears Off. The New Yorker. 13-12-2010.

    I read it and I have my opinion, but I’d rather keep it for myself right now, so as I not to influence you in any way.

    However, I do believe you’ve got to read it carefully, with open but critical mind, and meditate about it.

  14. Tim J.Benham

    So the denialist attacks on complex models are back to front. Anyone who wants to deny AGW really has to come up with a compelling climate model of their own in which there is no, or negative, thermal response to carbon dioxide increase.

    If you want to impugn the credibility of the IPCC model(s) it is sufficient to find significant defects in IPCC model(s) or generate a credible model that yields results inconsistent with the IPCC model(s). Or you could accept their model but challenge the methodology used to evaluate them. You seem to want to hold arguments against establishment AGW to a higher standard than arguments in their favor.

  15. Danny Yee

    If an error is found in one of the climate models that is used by the IPCC, that model would need updating. This would hardly discredit the IPCC, however. (I’m not sure about “defect”. All models have defects, in that they are simplifications both theoretical and computational.)

    My point is that if you claim GCMs are entirely too unreliable to be used for anything, the fallback is simpler (even more defective?) greenhouse models without GCM components – in which increasing carbon dioxide still produces warming.

  16. Danny Yee

    Magpie, I don’t see the deductive/inductive division as particularly useful here. No one I hope is arguing that climate science – or any other empirical science – is deductive! (Some of the loopier economists have claimed that for their economic theories, but I consider that a reductio ad absurdum.)

    I’ve read the Lehrer article before. Not sure what its particular relevance to climate science is, and it seems to me he’s made an awful lot out of a few examples. How much science happens without any kind of “decline effect” (over and above publication bias and other known problems)? Is it possible the few examples he’s selected are just cherry-picked statistical outliers? (ie, if 100, 000 results are published and there are 10 attempts to replicate each of them, you’d expect some number of examples of “decline” without any “effect” being at work.)

  17. Magpie

    Hi Danny,

    I’m thinking about your post, before replying. Interesting, btw.

    “No one I hope is arguing that climate science – or any other empirical science – is deductive!”

    For you or for anyone who knows something about these matters, this is obvious. However, you have no idea how many people do believe that the role of all science is to prove things. And I do mean to “prove”, from axioms to theorems.

    Which leads us to the “loopier economists”: if you are thinking of the same people I am thinking (I rather not influence Stubborn by naming names) that article appears to fit their creed pretty well (I’ve dug up a couple of quotes from their sacred book and from one of their priests that I am saving for later).

    I say it appears, because I think the whole loss of statistical significance might be explained by entirely valid means. But, as I am no statistician, it’s harder for me to argue the point. I was somewhat hoping comments around that.

  18. Magpie


    I forgot to mention this, but Deidre McCloskey has written about economists and statistics. I would guess that some of her observations could fit the situation.

  19. Danny

    Magpie, you’re right about most people having a poor understanding about how science works. I did all the science I could at school without ever being exposed to anything that challenged my naive teenage positivism, and it wasn’t until I did philosophy at uni that got a broader perspective on this. I can see an argument for some kind of epistemology + critical thinking course in schools, but I reckon in NSW that would be even more controversial than having ethics as an alternative to scripture!

  20. Magpie


    I’ve found the stuff below, and I hope it may be helpful in the present discussion.

    One can consider these “schemes” as heuristics (I mean this last word as ” as rules-of-thumbs”) to judge inductive arguments.

    You will notice that although each scheme can be considered an argument in itself, neither of them is strictly a deductive argument: they are themselves product of meta rules-of-thumbs.

    I suppose what this implies is that they are not set in stone forever and ever and only reflect the experience of the person who conceived them.

    Anyway, without further ado, I give you (tadada):

    “Scheme for Argument from Expert Opinion

    Major Premise: Source E is an expert in subject domain S containing proposition A.
    Minor Premise: E asserts that proposition A (in domain S) is true (false).

    Conclusion: A may plausibly be taken to be true (false).

    Critical Questions for Argument from Expert Opinion
    CQ1: Expertise Question: How credible is E as an expert source?
    CQ2: Field Question: Is E an expert in the field that A is in?
    CQ3: Opinion Question: What did E assert that implies A?
    CQ4: Trustworthiness Question: Is E personally reliable as a source?
    CQ5: Consistency Question: Is A consistent with what other experts assert?
    CQ6: Backup Evidence Question: Is E’s assertion based on evidence?

    Scheme for Argument from Witness Testimony

    Position to Know Premise: Witness W is in a position to know whether A is true or not.
    Truth Telling Premise: Witness W is telling the truth (as W knows it).
    Statement Premise: Witness W states that A is true (false).

    Conclusion: Therefore (defeasibility) A is true (false).

    Critical Questions for Argument from Witness Testimony
    CQ1: Is what the witness said internally consistent?
    CQ2: Is what the witness said consistent with the known facts of the case (based on evidence apart from what the witness testified to)?
    CQ3: Is what the witness said consistent with what other witnesses have (indepently) testified to?
    CQ4: Is there some kind of bias that can be attributed to the account given by the witness?
    CQ5: How plausible is the statement A asserted by the witness?”

    The above comes from Douglas N. Walton’s “Argumentation Methods for Artificial Intelligence in Law”, pages 12 and 13.

    That was a really long link!

  21. MC

    >It’s the denialists who have to come up with some kind of argument based on GCMs or simulation studies to justify their position, and who have singularly failed to do so.

    Actually, I don’t need to. Take the following data points:
    • Two GCMs at the Met Office *apparently* yield contradictory results for near forecasts [#1]
    • Repeated examples where GCMs fail basic back-tests [one scientific study is #2, there are many others that I don’t have time to dig up]. As I’ve said before, if financial risk models back test as poorly, a bank would, all other things being equal, end up blowing up. Oh, hang on…

    All I need to do is demonstrate that the GCM performance / accuracy is sufficiently poor and that should raise significant questions about the reliability of the GCM based policy prescriptions. As to CO2 forcing, as I’ve noted above, it is only one of a number of significant greenhouse gases. It isn’t as simple as saying, oh, CO2 will increase temperatures (duh!) its also a question of how far along the log curve we already are and how other massive climatic variables play out (some of which are not properly understood – partly because of the GCM obsession is forcing funding into GCM based research) and how these interact with everything else that is “better understood”.

    I’m not responsible for coming up with a more accurate story about “climate change”. That belongs to the climate scientists. Pity they are obsessed with GCMs and not data collection, scientific measurement and experimentation. I’m not holding my breath whilst governments and transnational orgs continue to sustain their rent-seeking behaviour.


  22. Danny Yee

    MC, you seem to be wilfully misunderstanding my argument.

    If you look at the basic radiative physics – if you’ve got some basic knowledge of physics there’s a nice summary here – you get a clear greenhouse effect. As it concludes “the basic radiative physics of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect is unassailable”.

    That’s without any involving any circulation model at all.

    If the denialists want to argue that there’s some kind of water vapour feedback effect, cloud feedback effect, or other climate effect that produces a forcing that counters the basic radiative physics, they are the ones who need to appeal to GCM results.

    So all your arguments that GCMs and climate models are so unreliable as to be useless are shooting yourself in the foot. You’re now committed to denying basic physics if you want to deny anthropogenic global warming.

  23. Magpie

    @Danny and Stubborn Mule

    Moving from economics and the social sciences and into climate change, I submit that this absolute opposition to the possibility of anthropogenic climate change, at a theoretical level, might have something to do with:

    “Birner then went on to examine the logical and epistemological problems that Menger encountered. (…)

    ‘For Menger (…) the logical or epistemological problem of the relation between exact and empirical theory is a problem about the justification of knowledge: (how can knowledge) be given a foundation that is TRUE BEYOND DOUBT?’

    At this point Menger encountered the problem of induction, which was a serious problem because induction was supposed to be the ‘APPROVED’ method for obtaining scientific knowledge about the world and establishing its credibility.


    Menger turned to the construction of “PURE TYPES” (IDEALIZED TYPES) as a way out of the dilemma but he never broke out of the inductivist framework.”

    (my capitalisation)

    From “Menger, Popper and Explanation in the Social Sciences”

    You guys will notice:

    (1) What they call theoretical sciences aim to provide knowledge that is true beyond doubt.

    (2) Induction is seen as an “approved” method (i.e an essentially arbitrary choice), not as the ONLY alternative factually available.

    (3) The use of pure, idealized types, dating back to Plato (this is a more economics-related observation, which Stubborn may find interesting or not).

    (1) and (2), I’d say, mean there is little point in arguing climate change with more intellectually sophisticated skeptics (i.e. those versed in Austrian ideas): first one would need to convince them that neither (1) nor (2) are true.

    Clearly, the less sophisticated probably reject anthropogenic climate change for other reasons, and one would need to address those other reasons, whatever they might be.

    Regardig (3): although not argued in the quotation, the strategy followed is to use deductive logic to deduce universal theorems applying to these idealized types.

    Curiously, the use of mathematics for the same purposes by neo-classicals is opposed, for reasons that I don’t have entirely clear at the moment.

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