Thirty Years of Nonsense

I have always found the global warming debate weird. I am not a "denier" or "skeptic" in terms of viewpoint. I'm not even a "warmist" or "alarmist." I've been called all these things, but the truth is I just don't care. My view regarding global warming has always been very simple - the people who claim it is a serious threat act in such a bizarre way, I don't believe them.

Think about the Hollywood movies where an alien invasion is coming to earth Think about the movies where an asteroid is heading to Earth to doom us all. Think about the movies where the Earth's magnetic core is going to... I can't even pretend to follow the plot of those ones. The point is, think about how the scientists in those movies behave. Sure, they do "crazy" things, but they have this air of sincerity and absolute honesty which makes it clear the audience really should listen to them. They risk everything, with no possible benefit to themselves, to try to help humanity.

Now look at the global warming debate. It's filled with people who routinely refuse to do something even so simple as say, "Yeah, sorry, I was a bit unclear there." Getting even the simplest of errors corrected in the global warming debate is like pulling teeth. Time and time again, I've experienced a reaction where pointing out even the simplest of errors is met with the attitude of, "How dare you?!"

It's crazy. If you believed global warming is a serious threat we must all band together to combat, would you act like a political pundit aiming to score points, or would you act like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day and risk every aspect of yourself to try to make people believe there was a genuine threat?

Your answer to that says everything. And now, with the 30th anniversary of the (in)famous testimony by James Hansen to the United States Congress in 1988, we get a perfect encapsulation of what that answer is. I'd like to discuss it.

Before I continue, I want to point out I am not a climate scientist. I am not any kind of scientist. I don't intend to claim I am some sort of expert. I don't need to be one though. The issues I want to discuss today don't require any sort of scientific training or expertise to understand. All they require is one be able to recognize the difference between the complete and unadulterated truth and bald-faced lies. It's not too hard.

Forinstance, consider this tweet by Zeke Hausfather:

His point is a climate scientist, James Hansen, made projections of the future back in 1988 which were inaccurate for reasons his critics weren't adequately accounting for. Notably, Hansen thought there would be certain economic changes which didn't happen. That's a fair point. A person's view of on how the Earth's climate reacts to human behavior shouldn't be judged based upon that person's failure to accurate predict what human behavior would be over the next 30 years.

Things begin to go downhill after that tweet though. For instance, consider what Zeke says three tweets later:

The problem with this tweet is Zeke doesn't bother to inform readers that he's no longer considering Hansen's actual model. What Zeke is doing is re-analyzing Hansen's results to come up with new metrics he can use to judge the model. This might be fine, but it's the sort of thing a person ought to be clear about. Instead, Zeke then says:

Now, any curious reader would naturally wonder, "Why is Zeke talking about what Hansen's model could have projected from 1958 to 2018 when the model was made/used in 1988?" Zeke doesn't offer an answer. In fact, he doesn't even bother to refer to the issue, not even obliquely.

Zeke tells people we shouldn't judge Hansen's model by what he guessed would happen in the future because Hansen had to try to predict things about human behavior which he couldn't possibly hope to predict, but then, Zeke silently changes the the topic. Instead of looking at what Hansen's model might say about the future (as of 1988), Zeke says we ought to look at what Hansen's model says would happen from 1958 to 2018. That's a huge change in topic, one Zeke not only fails to discuss but completely glosses over.

Is it possible Zeke doesn't understand the difference between judging a person's projections about the future on what happens in the future and judging those projections on what happened in the past? No. That'd be stupid. Zeke clearly knows better than that. He knows fully well that including 30 years of what a model says about what has already happened along with 30 years of what will happen is misleading. He does it anyway.

Similarly, Zeke knows fully well how misleading he is being when he tweets:

The image he tweets is from an article by climate scientist Gavin Schmidt which claims:

Predictive skill is defined as the whether the model projection is better than you would have got assuming some reasonable null hypothesis. With respect to these projections, this was looked at by Hargreaves (2010) and can be updated here. The appropriate null hypothesis (which at the time would have been the most skillful over the historical record) would be a prediction of persistence of the 20 year mean, ie. the 1964-1983 mean anomaly. Whether you look at the trends or annual mean data, this gives positive skill for all the model projections regardless of the observational dataset used. i.e. all scenarios gave better predictions than a forecast based on persistence.

This is utter nonsense. What Schmidt claims is in 1988, a person with no knowledge of what would come in the future should have predicted the planet's average temperature wouldn't change over the next few decades. Based upon that claim, Schmidt says any model which predicted the planet would warm in the fut5ure would necessarily be skillful, and thus, "good."

Gavin Schmidt is a liar. There's no other explanation for this. Schmidt knows fully well climate scientists wouldn't expect the planet's temperatures to stay constant at any point. They certainly didn't expect such back in 1988. The fact a climate model predicted there would be warming in no way indicates that model was "skillful." Plenty of people in 1988 would have predicted the planet would continue warming as it had for the last 30 years because... after 30 years of warming, it's easy to guess there would continue to be more warming. Also, the planet has been coming out of an ice age so warming is sort of what you'd expect because "warmer than an ice age" is not a difficult thing to predict.

Zeke knows this too. He understood the same problems I understood when I saw the article by Schmidt. Zeke knows far more about this topic than I do so if something was obvious to me, it was certainly obvious to him. But... he apparently didn't care. In the same way, he apparently didn't care about how misleading the graph he tweeted out here was:

Let's leave aside the outright dishonesty of including data for 1958-1988 in one's analysis of the accuracy of a 1988 model's ability to predict/project the future. That's obvious and damning enough on its end. Instead, let's consider the graph Zeke shared. What does it show? To a naive viewer, it shows two trend lines and finds they are very similar. To a person who understands it, it shows Zeke is a deceitful prick.

I don't like accusing people of dishonesty, but let's be clear about this. The lines Zeke shows are meaningless. What he did was create two linear models over data and generate the slope of the line created by those models. That slope was in the form of Ax + By, with A being the slope and B being some constant value added to it (thus setting the baseline for the model).

Each model had its own A and B. Zeke decided he wanted to show what each model's A value was. However, he knew showing a single numerical value for each A would be uninteresting to most. So instead, he decided not to show what A's value was. Instead, he decided to create a graph with a line whose slope was A for each model. That is, to compare single numerical values, Zeke decided to show a graph whose results relied upon multiple parameters... and pretend that was the same thing. The most immediate impact is showing lines like this makes the visual impact far greater than just showing numerical values (e.g. .44 and .48 seem nowhere near as similar as lines in that graph). Another impact, however, is the B parameter in Zeke's models. He simply ignored it. He calculated that parameter, then he... just threw it away because accurately showing his results would not create as compelling an image as what he could create via deceit.

Does any of this mean Hansen's model was wrong? No. I'm not attempting to judge that. Why would I bother? Climate communicators have demonstrated time and time again the truth doesn't matter. Even on the most basic of factual matters, they don't care about getting things correct. Consider this tweet by Roz Pidcock, an official spokesperson for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

Here, she says the IPCC won't comment on draft versions of its reports. This was a response to media articles about leaked versions of an upcoming IPCC report. She links to a press release by the IPCC on this issue, a release she helped author, which says:

Draft reports are provided to governments and reviewers as confidential working documents and must not be publicly distributed, quoted or cited. This is out of respect for the authors and to give them the time and space to finish writing before making the work public.

For these reasons, the IPCC does not comment on the contents of draft reports while work is still ongoing. Journalists or others seeking context or background information can contact Jonathan Lynn, Head of Communications, IPCC, or Roz Pidcock, Head of Communications, IPCC Working Group I Technical Support Unit.

This is utter BS. For the last major IPCC report, the IPCC released a draft version of its report to the public while (falsely) claiming it was the final version of the report. The IPCC engaged in a publicity campaign based upon the draft version of its report, holding numerous press conferences and hosting many public events based upon it. As a result, most people took the draft version as the genuine, final report. Indeed, later on I was forced into a strange discussion with a climate scientist Richard Betts based upon that false narrative, as documented here.

I contacted the IPCC about this false statement in their official press release. They gave me the response I expected, which was basically they didn't "really mean" draft versions of their reports when they said that, but rather. What they really meant is certain draft versions couldn't be shared with the public or commented upon, but other draft versions could be. Their press release was factually untrue, but... it just doesn't matter. The IPCC knows the press release they gave says untrue things, but they don't care.

And that is the constant theme of climate communication. It's not that any given error, untruth or misleading statement a climate communicator makes is of crucial importance. They probably aren 't. Some might be though. Nobody can know. How would we? Are we supposed to spend time every time anyone says anything about climate science to check to what extent it is misleading/inaccurate/dishonest? Of course not. NObody will do that. Not even climate communicators know to what extent the inaccuracies and deceptions extend. Nobody does.

In the end, nobody knows what the truth actually is. The reason for that is nobody really cares. The scientists and communicators claiming global warming is a threat humanity must band together to combat have decided absolute integrity and honesty isn't something they're interested in. Everyone else has decided they aren't interested in parsing the half-truths and lies to try to get at the truth. What is "real" and "true" just doesn't matter. To anyone.

And that's why I don't care about global warming. Why would I? If Jeff Goldblum ran up to me panting and panicking telling me the world would end soon, I'd listen. If a person postures on the internet with half-truths and outright lies to tell me the world might end, I won't listen. Why would I?

As a final thought, back in 1988 James Hansen said:

The climate model we employ has a global mean surface air equilibrium sensitivity of 4.2C for doubled CO2. Other recent GCMs yield equilibrium sensitivities of 2.5-5.5C, and we hav prsented empirical evidence favoring the range 2.5-5C (paper 2). Reviews by the National Academy of Sciences [Charney, 1979; Smagorinksy, 1982] recommended the range 1.5-4.5C, while a more recent review by Dickison [1986] recommended 1.5-5.5C.

The latest IPCC report said the planet's climate sensitivity is 1.5-4.5C. That means in the last 30 years, we have made exactly no progress on the central issue of how much will the planet's temperatures change based upon human activity. After 30 years, we are at the exact same point as we were before on this most crucial of issues. I think that does a lot to show why people just shouldn't care about the global warming debate.

71 comments

  1. Seconded. The whole thing is just tiresome and frustrating. It's actually
    amazing that I can still be appalled at the lack of analytical thinking
    displayed in public by climate scientists (and often so called skeptics too).

    Imagine if all this effort and money had been expended on energy
    research and/or education?

  2. JonA, what, you want us to imagine how much people could have screwed up those fields if they had tried? 😛

  3. Yeah, you're probably right. Although I'm not from the USA I'm
    starting to see Libertarianism as not so crazy after all 🙂

  4. Brandon, not only should this post be used by high school and college classes in critical analysis, it's also profound on the topic of global warming. Indeed, would Jeff Goldblum risk making deceitfully exaggerated presentations or be as earnest and non-personally invested as possible if he needed to warn the world?

    Actually, it would be interesting to audit a course in critical thinking and see what that means on today's campus.

  5. My view regarding global warming has always been very simple - the people who claim it is a serious threat act in such a bizarre way, I don't believe them.

    How is NASA and every single scientific community on the planet behaving in a bad way?

    Now look at the global warming debate.

    There isn't one. For bonus points, there is no debate on the moon landings either. Nor the link between smoking and cancer. Or evolution.

    ….would you act like a political pundit aiming...

    NASA doesn't act like a pundit. Nor does any other scientific community on the planet. Problem solved.

    Before I continue, I want to point out I am not a climate scientist. I am not any kind of scientist. I don't intend to claim I am some sort of expert.

    Probably you are not a medical researcher or oncologist either. Maybe you know nothing about the moon or rockets. The underpinnings of modern biology? Maybe not.
    That's not a criticism. The vast majority of people would be in the same category too.
    However, there are scientific communities out there that do the work. They claim expertise because...they really are experts and have the work to prove it.

    If a person postures on the internet with half-truths and outright lies to tell me the world might end, I won't listen. Why would I?

    Well, some 'person' on the internet may well be feeding you half-truths. Who knows?
    Even lying to you? Sure. The internet can be a bad place.
    But if you think about it, getting your scientific information from some person is maybe not a good move in the first place.
    You can do much, much better for all kinds of scientific 'debates' out there.
    NASA.
    NASA and every scientific community on the internet.

    Thirty Years of Nonsense

    NASA has not been involved with nonsense for thirty years. All those other scientific communities would have noticed.

  6. Oh god, it's Cedric Katesby again. I'm not sure he has ever written anything in his life without saying "NASA" in it. It's weird. He goes to post after post saying, "But NASA! But NASA! But NASA!" But hey, at least he makes no attempts to hide his true colors and just goes right for the propaganda. Debate over global warming? "There isn't one." Anyone who says there is no debate over global warming is either delusional or dishonest. No genuine scientist would ever say that. They wouldn't because scientists have tons of debates over global warming all the time.

    On the upside, he links to a video that shows just how little people telling everyone else about science tend to know about science. That video claims Galileo was not challenging the scientific consensus of his times, but rather, represented the scientific consensus and merely challenge the religious dogma of the time. That's complete nonsense. Galileo was popular with the church, to the point the pope was a fan of his. When he made claims about planetary movement, the church did not say it was unacceptable. The church challenged him to prove his claims were true.

    Galileo couldn't do so. At the time, the available evidence was too murky to prove any view of planetary movements was correct. Given that Galileo couldn't prove his theories true, the church told Galileo he would be allowed to teach his theories as theories but not teach them as fact. Galileo balked at this, insisting his theories were fact even though there was no proof for them. He then spat in the face of the pope who had been a supporter of his by publishing a book teaching his theories as fact and repeatedly insulting the pope. That is what got him in trouble, being placed in indefinite house arrest in what were quite lavish homes. But of course, knowing any of this would require actually looking at history not just repeating the memes you hear from your friends.

    On an administrative note, Cedric Katesby, it is a standing rule of this site people are not allowed to post links without providing input of their own as to what people are supposed to get from those links. If you want to link to something, that's fine, but you need to say something about why people should bother clicking on it/what you think they should glean from it.

  7. ..for the propaganda.

    NASA doesn't do propaganda. Global scientific conspiracy theories are unworkable. They're simply silly.

    "Anyone who says there is no debate over the moon landings is either delusional or dishonest. No genuine scientist would ever say that. They wouldn't because scientists have tons of debates over the moon landings all the time."
    Not really.
    There's a scientific consensus that we really did go to the moon. Any debate happens in the scientific world and it's related to details. The overall scientific consensus doesn't change.

    "Anyone who says there is no debate over evolution is either delusional or dishonest. No genuine scientist would ever say that. They wouldn't because scientists have tons of debates over evolution all the time."
    Not really.
    There's a scientific consensus that evolution is real. Any debate happens in the scientific world and it's related to details. The overall scientific consensus doesn't change.

    Rinse and repeat for the link between tobacco and cancer.
    In fact, rinse and repeat for the scientific consensus on pretty much any topic out there.

    Before I continue, I want to point out I am not a climate scientist. I am not any kind of scientist. I don't intend to claim I am some sort of expert.

    Yep.
    That's why I pointed out NASA and the work they do. They really are experts.
    So are all the other scientific communities out there.

    I am not a "denier" or "skeptic" in terms of viewpoint.

    Science deniers do exist. They go to extraordinary lengths to rationalize their position. There are science deniers on evolution. On vaccines. The shape of the earth. Germ theory. And climate change.
    On a practical level, what are you doing or saying that a science denier would not do or say?

    ..for the propaganda.

    Hmm.

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