Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rules of Denialism

How does a denialist think? In my opinion, it's indisputable that the most vocal denialists begin with a conclusion. However, pinning down that conclusion is difficult. Do they believe that the earth isn't warming? If it is demonstrated that it is, do they then shift to the claim that the warming isn't anthropogenic? That it's solar forcing, and nothing more? That it's cosmic rays?

Even in the unlikely event that a denialist will admit that warming is happening, and that it is human-caused, they have prepared further lines of defense: Global Warming is good for you! Of course, this completely ignores that massive economic and social disruptions are hardly ever good for anyone.

Or, the denier can skip all of these, and accuse you of holding an irrational "religious" belief in anthropogenic global warming.

I'm finding that my instincts toward civility are being eroded quickly by these interactions with denialists. Of course, I almost always return insults in kind, though I do know that is rarely a productive tactic. As I saw in my argument with H.H, a denier can open a discussion with a pointed personal insult:

That there is a strong correlation between easily managed subjects and the same constituency being liberal and increasingly dependent upon society for their sustenance seems to be more than a coincidence;
and yet be completely oblivious to the fact that this may be offensive. When the insult is returned, rather mildly in my opinion, the denier has a hissy fit:

i do find it interesting how you immediately try to disparage and otherize one who presents you with critical, contrary thought. objective scientists don't rely on such pathetic personal attacks; only those without substantive arguments.

Would it be too much to conclude from this that denialism is often associated with narcissism? I'm not a psychologist- however, it seems to me that this is the product of a psyche with an outsized, yet extremely fragile, ego.

Hometown Smackdown!

Being snowed in and short of hours at work, I've taken to haunting the comments section of my local paper. It is a reliable source for all sorts of right-wing lunacy. And, as anyone interested in the popularization of climate change science knows, where you have right-wing lunacy, you have climate change denial.

The discussion there is complex and ongoing, and extremely difficult to summarize. However, it appears to contain all of the classic denier elements. I offer now my latest post there in the belief that anyone familiar with denialism can deduce what is going on here:

Well I'm sorry to have confused you with my writings. When I wrote "all of these save one" I was talking about your claims that Gore's statements were inaccurate. If you re-read my post, you may find it makes more sense in that light. The fact that you apparently couldn't deduce that from the context doesn't speak well for our ability to communicate on this issue.

I'm not trying to be arrogant, but as I've indicated before, I've studied this issue in academia. It is, without a doubt, a complicated one. I'm starting to wonder if a lot of people have the necessary background in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and logic to comprehend it. That's why Al Gore is a two-edged sword for the climate science community. He simplifies things sufficiently for people who don't have that background to have an illusion of comprehension. At least I assume that to be so, based on the various commentaries and reactions to his books and documentary, as I've never read nor seen them.

The second edge cuts backward, however. His simplification open him up to charges of oversimplification. Some of his examples are poorly chosen, as we've discussed above. There is also a lot of animus in the conservative community toward him, due to his political activities in the '90s and the 2000 election. When you, and these others, develop their own illusion of comprehension, it forms in reaction to these things and is resistant to reputable science, and insists that up is down, black is white, and hot is cold.

Unfortunately, climate change is a very serious political and economic issue. It absolutely needs a "popular information component." Why deniers continue to deny themselves a seat at the table through arguments from ignorance and insane conspiracy theories is beyond me. It seems to show that some people will indeed cut off their nose to spite their face.

As I tried to demonstrate to you by linking to RealClimate's data dump, the work involved in developing a thorough understanding the issue is daunting. It is difficult to imagine that many people could have the time and energy to truly understand the issue. However, when you need a coronary bypass, you don't go and get an MD and do it yourself. You go to someone who has an MD and certificates as a cardiac surgeon, because that is proof that they know what they're doing.

It's also nice for you that you can look at a post, and conclude that it's overlong, and therefore "crud." I was giving you the benefit of the doubt- your apparent passion for the issue might be the result of genuine curiosity. However, your positions are hardened, and when you cannot deny my detailed replies, we see what you do as a last ditch effort to shield your fragile beliefs- you make yourself believe that I, and the thousands of climate scientists devoting their lives to this problem, are part of a "religion," and that making this argument is some sort of auto da fe where we burn heretics at the rhetorical stake. That just reveals the limitations of your perspective.

Now it is probably apparent that I'm coming to the end of my rope with these particular interlocutors. One can only explain the same issue so many times, only be accused of belonging to an irrational religious faith, without either giving up or snapping. And I have to admit, I enjoy a good verbal takedown. For instance, this exchange, between "B" and me (PG):

B: What amazes me is that Gore, a self proclaimed wizard of global warming science, has any credibility at all when he and his "followers" accept every and any cause of global warming except the most obvious - THE SUN!

PG: You know, if the large majority of your income was spent on necessities- housing, utilities, groceries, etc., leaving , say, $100 per month for elective expenses, and you regularly spent $200, does that mean you're going broke because of the necessities?

B: No, according to your analagy, it means you're going broke because of 'the most obvious reason', THE SUN or as you put it, your "elective expenses". Thanks for your help.

PG: lol. Okay, in the earth-sun system, the sun is the necessity. It is the largest factor. Can you decipher the rest now, or do I have to hold your hand some more?

B: The only thing more unattractive than condescending arrogance is
unjustified condescending arrogance

PG: If you would stop trying to justify your irrational beliefs by being purposefully disingenuous, you wouldn't have to feel so put upon by people pointing it out. Or you could stop being so vocal on a subject where you disagree with a very large majority of the experts, and use your eyes and ears instead of your mouth and fingers.

Now I have to admit here I'm channeling what I call my "internal drill instructor." These highly dedicated and skilled Marines were never ones to mince words, and could sting one's pride to the core with a half-second glance. The denier here, however, appears to have a strong reaction, expressed in their "unjustified condescending arrogance" remark. So be it, I should know by now that people don't respond well to criticism from anonymous strangers on the internet. However, I do think that in many cases, a rhetorical slap to the face is the best policy. It's times like this when I think about what my ultimate goal is here- is it to educate these people? Difficult, to say the least (Socrates' friends on the road to Piraeus demonstrated conclusively how to avoid convincing , and I'm no Socrates). Is it to discredit them so that they'll think twice before posting the same crap again? Also an unlikely outcome, as denialism seems to be endemic to verbal masochists. Getting short with them seems simply to reinforce their victimization complexes.

What are the sources of these, and how best to sidestep them?

This remains the open question.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Often Wrong, Never In Doubt

I once heard someone describe a person as "Often wrong, never in doubt." I was a Lance Corporal in the USMC at the time and was tickled by the description. USMC doctrine and tradition demanded that a Marine be ready for action at all times. To hesitate when faced with an ambiguous situation was to invite failure into your house for a good sit-down, a big dinner, and an eternal stay. "It is better to act inappropriately," in effect, "and be wrong, than to do nothing at all." This is useful in combat, where it's better to stay on the move and handle potentially lethal situations as they come. When it comes to collaborative efforts to determine truth, it may be less useful. With the aid of the internet, you can resolve your ambiguity quickly, and armed with numerous citations, you can fortify your rhetorical position so well that you never have to think again.

Thus, many people, military and non-, have become adherents of this view. The internet has allowed everyone to become an "instant expert" on practically any field of endeavor. Don't know much about autocatalytic reactions? Google will sort you out in 0.24 seconds!

The main barrier to education today, it seems, is not being able to find information. It's how to judge how reliable the vast masses of information you find are. In a contentious issue such as climate change, this is a real problem. The always cogent Roy Edroso sums the issue up in this way:

We were once promised a consortium of great minds cooperating to unravel current events, and wound up with a cottage industry of propaganda mills extracting partisan advantage out of every news item that comes down the pike and churning it into outrage.
This isn't exactly new- theological historians will recall the acrimony over minute disputes in Christian dogma in the late Roman period:

The classic argument of the time was based on one iota of difference, the small letter ‘i’ in the Greek alphabet. The Nicene Creed used the term homoousia, God and Jesus being of one and the same substance. The Arians preferred the term homoiousia, God and Jesus being of like or similar substance.

Espousing the incorrect belief then could result in condemnation as a heretic, a meaningful punishment for clergy at the time, but not for the general population. The rarefied air of Church Councils has now given way to the office water cooler, the corner bar, and the echo chambers of the internet.

Thus, the issue has reached epidemic proportions today and affects anyone who seeks to be well-informed. In his novel Anathem, Neal Stephenson explains the problem and envisions a solution and implements it on an alien, though still human, world:

"Anyone can post information on any topic. The vast majority of what's on the [Internet] is, therefore, crap. It has to be filtered... When I look at [an esoteric topic] I don't just see information about that topic. I see meta-information ... the filtering system tells me that only a few sources have provided information about this and that they are mostly of high repute... If I look up the name of a popular music star who just broke up with her boyfriend... the filtering system tells me that a vast amount of data has been posted on this topic recently, mostly of very low repute"

- Neal Stephenson, Anathem, p. 407
Getting back to climate change, the amount of information available is staggering. Google returns 37,600,000 hits for the search "global warming" and suggests several further refinements, most neutral constructions such as "facts on global warming," but also "global warming hoax," which returns 2,740,000 hits, the majority of which I think we can safely assume are crap.
Given the voluminous and calamnous nature of the denialist industry, it is easy to see why people such as my interlocutor yesterday can feel self-righteous and assume that I'm the misinformed one. Mentioning that I have a degree in Geoscience simply verifies in their minds that I have been indoctrinated. Questioning their claims, and rebutting them with reputable science just shows what a close-minded bastard I am.

This is clearly a problem which cannot be solved overnight. However, the alternative is to live in a world where science is done by democratic vote, regardless of qualification. As science is the best method the human race has found to guide its decisions regarding the natural world which we all must live in regardless of personal philosophy, this may be a question of the survival of our species.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Losing Your Head: Libertarian Post-Mortem

On second thought, I believe that it will be best to link to the pages where my original conversations take place, to avoid any possible charges of misrepresentation that may come up. Take for example this post I found on the Long Island Libertarian Examiner, titled "Climate Delusion" by Michael Schmitt. In it, Schmitt repeats several old canards, beginning with "It snowed in Texas!" Well, global warming doesn't say it will be warmer, everywhere, all the time.

He then goes on to repeat the old line about how "scientists predicted cooling in the 1970's." I get tired of rebutting this- do people really not understand the difference between science reporting and science? Apparently not, because Schmitt relies on a Newsweek article from 1975 to do his work for him, setting up a current Newsweek article to fall.

In 1975 "Global Cooling" was a "fact" according to Newsweek, and now "Global Warming" is "unequivocal". This would be a joke if it wasn't so serious.

I couldn't have said it better myself. I'd advise against laughter, because by his logic, if anyone is ever once wrong, they can never be right again. Hope you never have to testify under oath after all the doozies in your piece then, Mike. Perjury charges can be a bitch.

I'll ignore the rest of Mike's piece for the time being. I think that an issue such as climate change is the worst nightmare of libertarianism, being the tragedy of the commons writ across the face of the planet. If everyone acting in his own self interest can destroy everything worth having for everyone, doesn't that invalidate it utterly as a political and economic philosophy? Aren't philosophies supposed to serve us, and not the other way around?

So here I cut out and issue my challenge in his comments section:

When referencing the "global cooling" scare in the '70's, it's important to realize that it was a media-driven frenzy with little scientific support. Even then predictions of global warming in peer-reviewed scientific papers outnumbered predictions of cooling by a factor of 5 to 1.

I got this data from a study done by New Scientist, unfortunately now hidden behind their subscription wall. Well, they have a right to make money, and I'll just have to find another way to support my claims. To continue:

At this time, approximately 80% of actively publishing Earth Scientists agree that human industrial emissions contribute to harmful warming.

Source: This January 2009 study. (pdf)

The results of their research have been independently reproduced multiple times.

As a species, we have a marvelous capacity for self-deception. I am preparing for a worldwide panic sometime in the next two to three decades when the effects of warming become unmistakable to even the most dedicated of denialists. You should too.

Okay, simple, straightforward. His ridiculously limited comments section didn't allow links, however, so the assertions just hang there.

Checking back later, I find this response:

H.H.: I'd like to learn more about people like commentator stogie, such as what plans she/he intends to carry out per her preparations, how she/he selects narratives to believe, whether she/he is open minded to challenging criticism (such as the fact that most of the "scientists" who support the global warming narrative are statisticians, geographers and social scientists, not natural scientists who overwhelmingly declare it as a myth) and other information to help understand this malleable human perspective.

Just wrong here. 90 degrees from reality wrong.

Continental philosopher Michel Foucault correctly identified the remarkable capacity for society to control its citizenry through fear, managed perspective and myth.

Okay, first off I'm irritated by the introduction of Michel Foucault into what I consider a science discussion. It has become common, in my experience, for people to regard the debate over global warming as one of politics, theology and philosophy. I believe this is because many people consider the issue in this way: First, will my worldview allow it? Second, what does the science say? This makes a fruitful debate difficult, to say the least, when the answer to the first question is so often "no".

That there is a strong correlation between easily managed subjects and the same constituency being liberal and increasingly dependent upon society for their sustenance seems to be more than a coincidence.

stogie, tell me: what would it take for you to conclude the global warming story was a myth?

Secondly, the political dig immediately following just pisses me off. Such is our world today, however. We live in a world of small men who imagine themselves giants because their philosophy tells them they're 20 feet tall. Oddly enough, these are, in my experience, the most likely ones to rail against the "self-esteem" teachings. And if he considers me "easily managed" he'd probably love to have a long talk with any single one of my Marine Corps NCO's, whose opinions were completely opposite.

Also, he's just plain wrong through all of this. I endeavor to ignore it (unsuccessfully, it turns out) and explain it:

Me: You sound very pomo, like an English or Philosophy major- you're probably in over your head when talking about Climate Science. But to answer your question, I have "selected to believe in the narrative" of Anthropogenic Climate Change by obtaining a degree in Geoscience at a major university. My preparations are a matter of keeping up my physical and mental health, including well as the skills I learned in the US Marine Corps, 8 years of service in which funded my study.

In return for the information I have provided you with, I would like you to provide me with your source for the provably false assertion that natural scientists have overwhelmingly declared global warming a myth. Please carefully review the link below:

Here I split the http address up to the point that it will post, linking to the study from January 2009. I think I have answered old Hatless's questions fairly and rebutted his baseless claim that natural scientists don't support global warming. I continue in a second post, to answer his final question:

ME: To continue, for me to conclude that global warming is a myth would require the invalidation of an enormous amount of experimental evidence, including, but not limited to:

1) The observed fact that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation (IR) in 2.7, 4.3 and 15 micrometer bands, which would otherwise escape from Earth's atmosphere during the nighttime, and that enhanced CO2 content absorbs more IR;

2) The observed fact that burning fossil fuels has reintroduced 500 billion metric tonnes of the stuff the carbon cycle;

3) That the additional CO2 will tip some very sensitive systems out of equilibrium, causing a very high risk of feedback loops reducing the planet's albedo, liberating methane (a stronger greenhouse gas) acidifing the oceans and reducing their ability to absorb CO2, causing sea level rise which will absorb more solar radiation, etc.

Well done, I thought, a succinct overview of my qualifications and the basic arguments behind Global Warming science. A few grammatical errors aside, I think I have made my point clearly and concisely. However, he doesn't like it at all:

H. H.: stogie, your answer that you're both indoctrinated within the AGW fiction-producing institution through its educational programme and your indication that you receive funding through its continuance is illustrative. i do find it interesting how you immediately try to disparage and otherize one who presents you with critical, contrary thought. objective scientists don't rely on such pathetic personal attacks; only those without substantive arguments.

Now, where did I write that I recieve funding through its continuance? Hatless has a reading comprehension problem, as we will see several times. As well, this paragraph doesn't bode well for the conversation. He appears to totally lack the open-mindedness that he demands in me, and doesn't even acknowledge that he's been pwned on his disinformation. The hypocrisy of his final two sentences is also glaring- does he not recognize the fact that I may have been offended by his characterizations in his first post?

H.H.: there are countless and extensive criticisms exposing this "scientific" fraud (that the carbon trading scheme was invented by Enron is a precious irony). since you're apparently in the scientific field, i'd encourage you to consult the highly regarded former AGW-believer Dr. Allegre, or geologist Bruno Wiskel, Dr. Tad Murty or Chris Freitas or countless other natural scientists. You're certainly aware that the majority of the physicists in the APS also have demanded withdrawal from their association with this fraud.

I've know full well what I'm dealing with now: a highly misinformed cherry-picker. So a few scientists have recanted their support for the Anthropogenic explanation? What about the tens of thousands who support it? I'll probably check out the names he dropped, to see if I can spot their issues myself. And the APS claim- I couldn't let him get away with it. However, there is more:

H.H: As my profession is in several decades in quantitative risk management, with degrees in finance, banking, and postsecondary in econometrics and statistics, i find it remarkable that statements by alleged "scientists" such as these are made:

> the invalidation of an enormous amount of experimental evidence

There's that reading comprehension problem again. Does he not understand the scientific method? His next sentence (a quote from a textbook?) would support this thought:

An undergraduate student in business statistics should at least take away the understanding that scientific verification works in the inverse. We cannot prove hypothesis; we can only fail to disprove it. The extensive exposure of the manipulated evidence by IPCC and others, plus the refusal to release data and models, allows any marginal statistician to conclude that we can reject. The case for AGW cannot be made with the data and models provided.

I'm amazed he has all of the degrees he claims to, with his abysmal reading comprehension skills. He also has an extremely biased view. Like Socrates' friends said on the road to Piraeus, it doesn't matter what you say, because we won't listen to you.

Here's where he completely loses his head:

H.H: Your burden of proof cannot be met with objective science. You are as objective as an inquisition-era Roman priest, advocating a faith that masquerades as science. That you apparently profit from it says all about your ethics.

The name of the game is projection, folks.

Me: Isn't it nice for you that you can disregard expertise as "indoctrination?" That way you never have to listen to anyone who disagrees with you, or confront hard evidence.

I laughed hard when you claimed that the APS membership had rejected Climate Change Theory- half of a percent signed a petition to that effect , and their position was repudiated by the society as a body. Google " aps statement on climate change ". Here is an excerpt:

"The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now."

And why so touchy? You attempted to link my beliefs to dependence on government- I made the reasonable leap on your education based on your quoting of Foucault, someone I've only ever heard referred to by English majors.

Please clarify how this criticism is pertinent:

"An undergraduate student in business statistics should at least take away the understanding that scientific verification works in the inverse. We cannot prove hypothesis; we can only fail to disprove it."

I listed experimental evidence which supports Climate Change Theory. I stated that to convince me to discard my support for said theory, that evidence would have to be invalidated. Your comment would seem to support my position- that Climate Change Theory has not been disproven by any evidence, and is therefore supportable.

Then you had to bring up the hacking and theft of the CRU's e-mails. A careful review of the stolen data indicates no improper data manipulation. Some ethical lapses are evidenced, and some quotes look bad when lifted from their context and viewed in a hostile light.

All in all, not so bad, I'm thinking. I need to remember to keep cooler when they bring up the silliness about how Global Warming is a religion. I think I did quite well for having such a hostile and unstable interlocutor.

First Post

"If you have to do something, do something you're passionate about." This is the soundest advice I can come up for myself as I near nine months of unemployment. My friends have mostly fled this ravaged city, save for a few who have holed up and play World of Warcraft . I try to keep myself occupied, trying to find the magic combination of things which will keep me interested and active, healthy and sharp.

It's not easy.

So I asked myself, what do I like to do? Writing is a good thing; I have been working on a novel for over 5 years now (possibly more on that later). Science is one of my loves from as far back as I can remember. Writing about science therefore seems like a natural.

But how to best do so? There are a lot of science blogs out there. There are a lot of issues to blog about as well. So what issues in science am I passionate about? Again I return to my childhood passions. When I was young, I nearly filled my mom's basement with rocks, most of which I had picked out of the alleyway behind our house. I recently got a degree in Geoscience. I have always been curious about paleontology, paleoclimates, etc. I happen to believe that Climate Change is the greatest issue facing humankind on this blue marble. But I'm not an expert.

However, I do continuously expand my knowledge base, mainly by debating others on blogs and in comments sections of publications. I am a natural debator, though not without my flaws. My plan, therefore, is to record my interactions with other internet users and use them to improve my practices. After all, it may feel good to unload on someone for being a douchbag or whatever the term du jour is, but it is never profitable.

So there you have it. I will copy the conversations and critique them here, and perhaps add in some other things as well. I think it would be best to use pseudonyms for my interlocutors, other than the ones they have selected themselves. I hope this offends no one, but I am always open to comments and criticisms.