Have Obtuse Can You Be?

Disagreements about global warming often involve people not trying very hard to understand one another. Sometimes, however, it appears they also involve people intentionally trying to misunderstand one another. Today I'm going to discuss an example. I wasn't going to, but the author of a post, David Appell, made a somewhat snide remark about how I didn't want to go through this. His post begins:

"In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the [causes of the] earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for [human caused] global warming."

– D. Ryan Brumberg and Matthew Brumberg

This is a truly hilarious statement, that could only have been made by nonscientists. (I haven't been able to identify these Brumberg chaps, but I'd bet.) That any scientist, even Curry, would agree with it is quite puzzling.

By there logic, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the existence of atoms or conservation of energy, because there's a universal consensus on both.

That sounds pretty damning. A person who believes scientists agreeing closely on a point means they are wrong would be absurd. Normally, when confronted with such an idea, a person would look again at what was said and perhaps see if they misunderstood it. Appell did not. He's not the only one; I've seen several people make this same argument. This post isn't about calling people how though, so I'm just going to focus on his post. Specifically, I'm going to focus on how his post takes this quote completely out of context and alters its content in a way which changes its meaning.

If fairness to Appell, he is not the one who altered this quote. The post he mocks was written by Judith Curry, and she altered the quote. She changed it from:

In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming. To reach their conclusions, climate scientists have to (a) uncover the (historical) drivers of climate, (b) project the future path of these inputs and others that may arise, and (c) predict how recursive feedback loops interact over multi-decadal time horizons, all without being able to test their hypotheses against reality.

This is a very simple point. Global warming involves many different things, and many projections/hypotheses cannot be tested in any direct manner. And as you can see, the authors clearly refer to a number of these issues, such as projecting the planet's climate in the future. That goes well beyond what Curry altered the quote to say. That is perhaps understandable as Curry's alterations make the quote appear closer to its intended meaning as they give some context for what the authors were saying, but the alterations to the quote are still inaccurate.

David Appell doesn't even appear to have looked at this. He uses this quote as Curry provides it at the top of her post, but there's no indication he even bothered to scroll down where he would see the original quote in full context. If he had, he would have seen the above text and:

We would, therefore, expect this limit on empirical verifiability to birth widely divergent views on the path, causes, and consequences of earth’s future climate. In other arenas, only after a theory has been empirically verified has the scientific community coalesced around it. Even then, scientists continue to subject such theories to rigorous testing and debate.

The authors of the post Curry was discussing make a simple claim. They say given the complexity and uncertainties inherent to an issue as broad as global warming, they would expect there to be many different views on many different aspects of the global warming debate which would be subject to a great deal of discussion. They then say:

Yet the expectation of a rich debate among scientists about climate change does not reconcile easily with the widely endorsed shibboleth that human activity will warm the globe dramatically and dangerously over the next one hundred years. Any discussion that doubts the fundamental premises of climate change is dismissed by the mainstream media and climate scientists as pseudo-science conducted by quacks or ideologues.

Indicating they believe such isn't happening. They hold the global warming debate is not as wide or diverse as it should be due to societal or other pressures which discourage such from happening. Whether or not one agrees this is true, the concept is logical. If societal or other pressures were pressuring people not to express a lack of agreement, or even disagreement, on certain points, that could cause the debate on global warming to not show the breadth it ought to. Based on the idea that is the case, the authors then say:

In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming. Does this mean that climate change is not happening? Not necessarily. But it does mean that we should be wary of the meretricious arguments mustered in its defense.

In their view, the "consensus" on global warming is being pressured or even forced by various pressures unconnected to the actual evidence currently available. Their view is the "consensus" on global warming is not a fair representation of the actual evidence. As such, that people are pushing the idea there is a "consensus" is evidence, to these authors at least, that those people don't have solid enough evidence for their views and are instead resorting to trying to force an agreement with societal or other pressures.

Read in context, this argument is coherent and sensible. The facts of it may be wrong. People need not agree on how severe the complexity issue is or that there are societal and other pressures trying to force a "consensus" on people. That wouldn't make the argument illogical though; it would just make the argument wrong.

It is only by stripping this altered quote of context one could present it as saying things like:

there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the existence of atoms or conservation of energy, because there's a universal consensus on both.

In fact, the authors explicitly referred to how a consensus can be reached in a manner which does not indicate a lack of evidence:

In other arenas, only after a theory has been empirically verified has the scientific community coalesced around it

Which makes it clear the authors are not saying the existence of a consensus inherently indicates a problem, but rather, are saying the existence ofa consensus in cases where a consensus is not justified indicates a problem. That's a pretty simple idea, and the context of this quote makes is abundantly clear. Yet Appell says:

I think you'd have to try very hard not to see how the context of the quote makes it clear the authors didn't mean what Appell claims they meant.

13 comments

  1. "And as you can see, the authors clearly refer to a number of these issues, such as projecting the planet's climate in the future."

    This is irrelevant to the statement of the Brumberg chaps. They gave a clear and simple conclusion:

    "In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming."

    This has nothing to do with projections -- it's about what's causing warming.

    These brothers(?) are idiots. Ignorant. Consensus is the exact *opposite* of how they're trying to paint it.

    But they aren't scientists and there's no evidence in anything they wrote that they understand the first thing about science.

    --

    Not only are they comically wrong, they are irrelevant, and I don't see the point in giving them or their hilarious ideas any more attention. They don't deserve it.

  2. David Appell, I get you may feel throwing out a bunch of insults will magically make the context of a quote disappear so the quote must only be taken at its words in the most limited and literal sense imaginable. You're wrong though. Intentionally ignoring the context of a quote doesn't make your interpretation of the quote accurate. Neither does throwing out a bunch of insults.

    I am certain I could find things you said that would sound damning if I took them out of context. I am certain you would say I was wrong because your meaning was clear if we look at the portions I didn't quote. That's all that's going on here.

  3. This statement is idiotic no matter what "context" you are trying to apply it to:

    "In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the [causes of the] earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for [human caused] global warming."

    Why, then, should anyone believe conservation of energy, the existence of atoms, or that the Earth is not flat? Because all of these have an enormous amount of evidence supporting them, and have a consensus of their truth?

  4. David Appell, this post explains how the quote you provided doesn't mean what you claim it means when taken in context. You've done nothing to challenge anything said in this post. Repeating a point ad nauseam while actively avoiding discussing points people raise in response to it is little better than trolling.

    You are contributing nothing more to the discussion than if you merely wrote, "Nuh-uh! These guys are poopyheads! I can't hear you! Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!"

  5. This post doesn't explain anything about context -- it's just a bunch of word salad that tries desperately to distract attention from what the Brumfeld Clowns wrote.

    But everyone has seen the idiocy of their statement.

  6. The Brumfeld Clowns wrote:
    "We would, therefore, expect this limit on empirical verifiability to birth widely divergent views on the path, causes, and consequences of earth’s future climate. In other arenas, only after a theory has been empirically verified has the scientific community coalesced around it. Even then, scientists continue to subject such theories to rigorous testing and debate."

    Climate science isn't an experimental science.

    The Brumfeld Boys don't understand that. Many deniers don't.

    But it's OK -- many sciences aren't experimental sciences -- such as geology, medicine, ecology, some biology, psychology, and more -- yet we still have great knowledge in these fields.

    Climate science is instead an observational science. It applies known and very well-established physical laws to the climate system. The observations we can make -- never as perfect as we'd like to make, of course -- strongly support the AGW hypothesis, from many different angles. It isn't in doubt, and it has no competitors.

    So this part of the Brumfeld Clown's "context" is wrong too. They really are pathetic know-nothing laughable amateurs, who deniers defend only out of habit and a terminal disregard for science. It makes their consensus claim even dumber.

  7. "I keep writing, and then deleting, a discussion about this. This is because it is such nonsense, actually discussing it further seems to be giving it way too much credence. If you’ve wondered why I haven’t mentioned Judith Curry’s blog recently, this is a good illustration of why. If Judith is going to promote this crap, there’s not really much point in even reading her blog, let alone wasting any time writing about what she promotes. I think I shall endeavour to continue in that vein."

    -- ATTP, https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/we-can-never-know-anything/

  8. David Appell, I think your comments speak for themselves. That you've chosen to hand-wave away anything you disagree with without making any effort to examine or challenge it should be obvious to anyone and everyone. Your unwelcome attitude and insults also speak for themselves, and I don't think there's anything I could say that would matter at this point.

    So let me just make one thing clear, your attitude and behavior are not appreciated here, nor are they approved of. You won't get moderated for this behavior, but you certainly won't get any respect, courtesy or interest. All you are doing is making everything around you, and even yourself, worse by behaving like this.

  9. "That you've chosen to hand-wave away anything you disagree...."

    Pot calling the kettle black, and you haven't replied in any meaningful way whatsover except to accuse me of name calling.

    I've laid out serious problems with their understanding of physics. All you've said is "na uh."

  10. Thanks Brandon, that's a good explanation of the thinking behind the article and why it is logical.

    I think there's a typo in your title though.

    It's amazing that you can write a piece about the dangers taking one sentence out of context, only to have a commenter do the same thing repeatedly!

  11. Thanks. I awsn't going to write this post because, as I pointed out to David Appell, I knew he's react like this. He portrayed that as bluster though, so I went ahead and wrote it. And now, here he is, doing exactly what we all knew he'd do.

    Oh well. At least I didn't write about Anders in this post. He relied on the same misrepresentations Appell relied upon, but he'd probably just ignore anything I said. At least Appell took the time to confirm his biases for everyone.

  12. I noticed a couple entries in my server logs from a blog, and it turned out to be from a link posted in a common on this blog post. I left a comment which appears to be in moderation for the moment so I'm copying it here in case it doesn't go through:

    I have to say, I find this post rather strange. Rather than list a host of objections, I'll just focus on the one which stands out the most to me. This post says:

    They also mix in some things that are plain wrong. For example this self defeating couplet:

    To reach their conclusions, climate scientists have to …[do various things] … without being able to test their hypotheses against reality.
    Failed attempts to forecast temperature changes for the 2000s.
    Which is it guys?

    But this portrayal and question only seem reasonable due to the ellision. In reality, if one reads the text removed from the quote, it's clear there is no contradiction. The authors wrote:

    In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming. To reach their conclusions, climate scientists have to (a) uncover the (historical) drivers of climate, (b) project the future path of these inputs and others that may arise, and (c) predict how recursive feedback loops interact over multi-decadal time horizons, all without being able to test their hypotheses against reality When evaluating the causes of past climate shifts, for example, scientists cannot simply re-run history to test the impact of changing different variables. Similarly, although climate scientists can make testable hypotheses about the future, their short-term predictions have an embarrassing record (think post-Katrina predictions of a massive surge in US hurricanes or the failed attempts to forecast temperature changes for the 2000s),

    The authors did not claim it was impossible for climate scientists to make projections which could be tested against reality like this post portrays. They said to make useful projections climate scientists need to come up with hypotheses regarding a variety of issues that would allow them to make projections of the future, and those hypotheses cannot be tested against reality.

    The authors directly delinate between this sort of hypothesis about causes and that of future projections about effects, yet this post conflates the two to portray the piece as contradictory and nonsensical. Which it couldn't do save that it ellided the very text which explained the authors' meaning.

    There are a number of other errors in this post, but the short version is you try hard enough, you can misunderstand almost anything as being nonsensical. That doesn't mean it is. People who put a bit more effort into trying to understand what was being said may well find there is real meaning in it.

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