I may think the world is insane, but one thing that really bugs me is how a lot of people seem almost eager to call anyone they disagree with crazy. I don't get it. It's distasteful, rude and really quite pathetic. I don't have a problem with calling people crazy if they earn it, but it should never be the label of first resort.
For instance, a recent post of mine involved the issue of tribalism in science. One user, Victor Venema, commented to say he had never experienced it. Another user, MikeR, responded:
“I am not afraid that holding the “wrong views” would hurt my career.” Uh, yeah. Because Victor Venema’s views aren’t the type for which people’s careers get hurt. Those people are the ones who doubt AGW alarm. So it’s nice that you aren’t afraid, but it would be nicer if you would take seriously the concerns of people who aren’t just like you.
A white man in the United States in the 1950s says that he isn’t afraid of being a victim of racism, so he doubts that black people are either. Could be he’s oblivious. Could be he just doesn’t like them. Neither choice reflects credit on him.
That's a pretty harsh criticism. I would expect being even potentially compared to a racist to evoke some negative emotions. However, that's apparently not what upset Victor Venema. After I pointed out the rhetoric of his response to MikeR was... not good, he said:
Maybe that was an overreaction, but MikeR basically said that I did not do my job. If I were to defend AGW rather than follow the evidence, I would be a lobbyist, not a scientist. Thus this was also not a nice thing to say. Being a scientist is not just a job; like for most scientists it is part of my identity. Thus this was a personal attack in my eyes.
Which was simply wrong. While MikeR's criticism was harsh, his comment hadn't said anything about why Victor Venema held the views he held. I pointed this out to no avail. Victor Venema continued to stand by his incorrect interpretation, though he offered no justification for it. I think that's pretty bad. You don't see me calling him delusional though.
You might wonder why I bring this up. A little disagreement like that in the comments here wouldn't merit a post, but I happened to see this tweet in my Twitter feed today:
— Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) December 1, 2015
I'm always curious when I see a person called delusional. I find it interesting to see how much or how little it takes, as that tends to tell you more about the person making the accusation than whatever they might be saying about the accused. So imagine my amusement when I followed the link and saw:
Victor Venema Says:
December 1, 2015 at 3:38 pm
Lamar Smith had a busy day, he also wrote another NOAA letter.
Victor Venema, a person who I had just seen make derogatory remarks about a user here based upon what quick-to-the-gun people might call his personal delusions, turns up right after on helping accuse a person of being delusional. That's kind of funny. I don't think he's actually delusional, but I don't think the person he's helping accuse of being delusional is actually delusional either. So it balances out.
And it gives me a somewhat interesting lead-in for today's post. You see, United States Congressman Lamar Smith has upset a significant number of people with his actions taken in regard to the global warming debate. The details don't matter for this post, but I understand it's a hot topic so I'll take a moment to make my position on it clear: I don't support his actions, and I don't see what good could come from them, but I think he is using his authority in a legal manner. As long as that is true, I don't understand how anyone can argue for resisting his requests for materials. Unless or until some legal argument is offered to justify not following what appears to be clear and binding law, I think people should follow the law as has been expressed.
But that subject bores me. What interests me is while people upset with Smith don't seem to be offering any legal basis for scientists refusing to comply with the law, they are trying to smear him with labels like "delusional." That interests me because, well, I want to know. Is the guy crazy? Today's post will look at that issue.
The first paragraph of the piece linked to in the tweet which asks, "How Delusional is Lamar Smith?" reads:
Citing unnamed, (ie nonexistent) “experts”, Inquisitor Lamar Smith of the House Science Committee engages in hallucinatory arm waving in attempting to convince Miami residents that the water around their ankles is completely normal.
Which tells me this is probably not the piece I should be examining to look at criticisms of Lamar Smith. It would be wrong of me to only look at the most extreme of his critics, as the extremes of any group can look... bad. For instance, after quoting from Congressman Smith's press statement saying Miami'a flooding isn't linked to climate change, the author of the piece decided to show this image:
Why did they pick this image? I don't know. They don't say. When we go to the page they got the image from, we see:
Since 1993, measurements from the TOPEX and Jason series of satellite radar altimeters have allowed estimates of global mean sea level. These measurements are continuously monitored against a network of tide gauges. When seasonal variations are subtracted, they allow estimation of the global mean sea level rate.
This means the image tells us global sea levels have risen. Does that prove sea level rise is responsible for Mimai's flooding? Of course not. In fact, it doesn't even prove sea levels around Miami have risen. Sea levels haven't risen for every part of every coast. They have risen around Miami, but you would need to look at data for Miami, not the entire planet, to know that.
So I looked around for a better piece. I'll tell you, it was difficult. As much as people mocked Representative Smith, they just seemed to fail to make anything resembling a good argument. One of the better ones was from the blogger Tamino. He wrote a post titled, "Lamar Smith Keeps Getting Dumber." It begins:
Greater flooding in Miami is because of climate change. That’s a fact. So of course, congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) denies it.
Man-made climate change has caused sea level rise, which has now reached such heights that Miami can flood (as can Boston, and Charleston, and many many other coastal regions) just from high tide — even without storms or wind or rain. It’s another scientific fact that Lamar Smith doesn’t like. There are a lot of those.
That's not a promising start, but he does go on to say:
Of course the lunar cycle (and solar as well) drives the tides. It always has. But all by itself that didn’t cause flooding, until now. It does now, because the sea itself has risen.
I’ve looked at this issue in detail, for the city of Boston. It’s happening there too.
Which is better. And he does go on to give some more detail before resuming the rhetoric, so there is some substance to his post. I don't agree with some aspects of the analysis involved, but it's real work. And it reaches a rather obvious general conclusion - as sea levels rise, it is easier for areas to flood.
But there's a rather significant issue Tamino fails to mention. And it's one President Obama failed to mention in his speech which Representative Smith criticized. And no, I'm not talking about land subsidence or the loss of natural borders, both of which have contributed to the rise in flooding. I'm talking about the fact humans aren't causing sea levels to rise.
Yeah, I said it. The reality is sea levels would be rising without human influence. What humans are doing is causing sea levels to rise faster than they would be rising otherwise. I don't point this out to try to minimize the role of humans, but rather, to clarify people like Tamino are being misleading when they say things like "Man-made climate change has caused sea level rise, which has now reached such heights that Miami can flood." The IPCC AR4 report said:
Anthropogenic forcing, resulting in thermal expansion from ocean warming and glacier mass loss, has very likely contributed to sea level rise during the latter half of the 20th century. It is difficult to quantify the contribution of anthropogenic forcing to ocean heat content increase and glacier melting with presently available detection and attribution studies.
That report is a bit outdated, but I quote it because it's the one I'm most familiar with. The updated report which was published not too long ago doesn't appear to have changed those findings in a way which affects my point. Sea levels had begun rising before humans had any role in it, largely due to the Little Ice Age ending. After some time, humans started contributing to the rise in sea levels. Eventually, humans' contribution became the dominant one. So with this clarity in mind, let's revisit Tamino's post where he says:
Man-made climate change has caused sea level rise, which has now reached such heights that Miami can flood (as can Boston, and Charleston, and many many other coastal regions) just from high tide — even without storms or wind or rain.
Now ask yourself, exactly how much of that sea level rise has been caused by man? Tamino can't answer that question. Neither can anyone else. They could say, "Well, without man's contribution, sea levels wouldn't have risen enough that we'd be in this situation." That's true. But the converse is true as well: "Without nature's contribution, sea level's wouldn't have risen enough that we'd be in this situation."
Despite that, Tamino says man-made climate change is entirely to blame. He then goes on to say:
No storm required, no wind required, no rain required. High tide alone is enough to cause flooding, because high tide now is higher than it used to be. Because of climate change.
I guess Lamar Smith doesn’t get that.
Having successfully conflated all "climate change" with "Man-made climate change" so he can blame all of this flooding on man, Tamino claims "Lamar Smith doesn't get that" humans are solely responsible for all of this flooding. But of course, humans aren't solely responsible. As anyone who has any understanding of the subject knows, humans are responsible for a not insignificant portion of the rise in sea levels, but it's well less than 100%.
Apparently Tamino doesn't get that. But then, as he goes on to say:
A lot of people don’t, but most of them don’t run off at the mouth about it, because they’re smart enough not to pontificate about subjects on which they are astoundingly ignorant. Lamar Smith isn’t smart enough; he’s dumb enough to spout his ignorance for all to hear. Even on his own congressional website.
Way to go, Lamar!
Way to go, Tamino!
But anyway, this post isn't about Tamino. It's about Representative Smith. Tamino only matters because his criticisms of Smith were some of the more coherent ones I could find. That says something. Namely, Smith's critics suck. They don't even seem to understand, or at least realize, what Smith said.
That's not me defending him. He was definitely wrong when he said:
Chairman Smith: “The president’s statement that Miami flooding is linked to climate change is entirely false and in fact disputed by meteorologists at the National Weather Service. The experts have reported that the lunar cycle and wind patterns are to blame for unusually high floods in Miami, not climate change.
President Obama did link the recent rise in flooding in Miami to man made climate change. He was right to. He didn't point out a number of other contributing factors as caveats to his statement, such as the natural rise in sea levels, the lunar and solar effect on tides or the effect of wind. He was wrong not to.
Representative Smith went too far in saying the statement was "entirely false." That was wrong of him. He was on the money when he pointed out other major factors which Obama had failed to mention. That was right of him.
Both men took a relatively complicated situation and over-simplified it to present a tidy story to their constituents. In the process, they both made correct and incorrect points. Neither of them was "delusional." Both were just practicing politics in a normal fashion. Overstating one's case in a somewhat justifiable manner is exactly what politicians do on a regular basis.
What makes this especially interesting is none of Representative Smith's critics that I found seemed to have noticed he screwed up in a big way. They all went with the obvious talking point of, "He disagreed with President Obama, and he's wrong." Okay, sure. Attacking a politician for acting like a politician is not an effective approach, but go ahead, pander to your audiences. Whatever. Don't pay attention to the fact Smith's press release said:
The fact is there is little evidence that climate change causes extreme weather events. The president is ignoring the facts and misleading the American people in order to advance his extreme climate change agenda.”
Witnesses testified before the Committee that there is little scientific evidence linking human-made climate change and extreme weather. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is “high agreement” among leading experts that long-term trends in weather disasters are not due to human-caused climate change.
This is idiotic. As in, it's so stupid people should be falling out of their chairs laughing at him. Instead, nobody is saying a word about it.
You see, the flooding that happened in Miami was what is known as "nuisance flooding." It's the type of flooding where enough water comes in roads get closed, storm drains overflow and other nuisances like that happen. As the word "nuisance" indicates, it's annoying, but there's nothing extreme about it. It's certainly not a "weather disaster." It's not even close. A weather disaster might happen to cause some nuisance flooding, but that's about as close as the two things get to one another.
That Representative Smith associated nuisance flooding and extreme weather is ludicrous. It suggests he must have had no idea what President Obama was talking about. He referred to testimony by people about things like hurricanes as though it proved sea level rise couldn't cause water to rise up to your knees. It's completely and utterly idiotic.
So yeah, Obama overstated human's role in causing the flooding in Miami by not properly stating the natural factors that played a role (both in the short term and the long term). Smith overstated his case when he criticized Obama for it. Neither made accurate statements. People who call one "delusional" or "dumb" and let the other off the hook are just being partisan hacks.
But only Smith made a statement which suggests he had no idea what he was talking about. Conflating nuisance flooding with extreme weather disasters is about as bad as it gets. I'm sure it was just a mistake, but it was a really bad one.