Michael Mann in the News

Intrepid journalism at work, presented without comment:

Megyn Kelly, Fox News: His [Mann’s] emails, or, there were emails from a University in England were released online, that’s what really got this whole thing started, because they reflected that, you know, this whole climategate and so on was being invented, or, at least, seriously question the science behind it, and suggested that he has been manipulating it, and then, but then, in Mr. Mann’s defense, apparently, he has faced investigations both by Penn State and in England, and (incredulously) both found his work to be acceptable, so, does Mr. Mann have a case?

Marc Morano
: No.


Moe’s Catch 22

The following are excerpted from a rather impenetrable article by Moe G. I think they work better standing alone.

I would call it “The Art of Controversy: Denialist Rules of Engagement” or “The Requirement of Perfect Nihilism”.

1) Rollicking dialogue [is] favored over disciplined argumentation

2) Scientists must be held to a higher standard than their critics. The critics of scientists can sink to impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation. It is off limits to point out in the critics their impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation.

3) With the critics of scientists, you must never consider the motivation of those critics (strangely, scrutinizing the motivation of the scientists themselves is encouraged).

4) Scientific facts can be contaminated by a scientist with an outcome preference or a policy preference, and the critics of scientists are under no burden to speculate on the mode of contamination. And demonstrating contamination can be a substitute for demonstrating falsehood.

5) Only certainty can motivate action, and uncertainty can never motivate action. That is why nobody ever buys homeowners insurance without getting a statement of intent from an arsonist that your home is scheduled for a fire.

4 + 5) Scientists must behave as perfect nihilists. A policy or outcome preference from a scientist, even if the logical consequence of a common humane morality of care-taking for the benefit of future generations, is disallowed. (Strangely, this requirement to be perfect nihilists only applies to scientists.) If imperfect nihilism is demonstrated, the publications affected can be discarded.

6) Scientists writing in casual forums always risk their reputation, for a certain group of scientists. Scientists writing in casual forums always have their casual statements enhanced by their reputation from scientific publication, for a certain *different* group of scientists.

7) You are not to notice that delay serves privileged groups well. So the Art of Controversy must be only seen as a Quest for Truth.

Climate Confusion Bugspotter #4

Watts and the Volcano:

Although there have been amusing comparisons between the volcano and the air traffic it displaced, let’s stipulate Steven Goddard’s calculation for the purposes of argument in “Is Fossil Fuel CO2 Different from Volcanic CO2?”:

Volcano CO2 budget (CO2 is emitted independent of ash) ~200,000 tons per day X 30 days of eruption = 6,000,000 tons of CO2.

Plane CO2 Budget – assumes half of EU planes haven’t flown for the past six days 340,000 EU tons per day X 0.5 EU shutdown X 6 days = ~1,000,000 tons of savings.

People using alternative transportation (as Anthony and the BBC pointed out) as a replacement for aircraft – cars, trains, battleships , etc. ~1,000,000 tons of extra CO2 Is a battleship more “green” than a jumbo jet?

The total gain is 6,000,000 – 1,000,000 + 1,000,000 = 6,000,000 tons of excess CO2 from the volcano. The temporary aircraft shutdown has little or no net impact on CO2 emissions, but the volcano has a large impact.

That actually seems reasonable. And as a benefit for going over there and using up Watts’s bandwidth there are some very cool videos of Ejfjljkl. But Goddard takes issue with the Guardian’s “The eruption started one month ago, and as the Guardian reports, The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is unlikely to have any significant impact on climate but has caused a small fall in carbon emissions, experts say.”

So let’s grant for the sake of argument that whatever CO2 emissions were suppressed by the air traffic shutdown will be made up for in the end. Consider, though, the more important question of whether the eruption will have any significant impact on climate.

Goddard plaintively asks us

“Should climate modelers start differentiating between man made CO2 and “organic” natural CO2?”

How he got to this piece of snark is pretty roundabout. But is the eruption likely to have any significant effect on climate, according to consensus science? What’s wrong with the argument?

Answer on Monday along with a new episode of Climate Confusion Bugspotter!

Answer to the Previous Bugspotter Puzzle

My answer to #3 agrees basically with jg’s but goes a little further.

The traditional way of studying releases of toxins into the environment takes the output of the weather model, embeds a model of the source event, and tracks the “tracer” particles through the prescribed large-scale velocity field. So, although a weather model is involved, it is a completely different sort of modeling that goes from weather model output to plume prediction.

And as Atmoz pointed out, the plume prediction was correct.

Arguably incorrect was the threshhold of how much volcanic dust would cause dangerous damage to airplanes. Personally, I am not convinced that the decision to fly has even been justified. But the idea that the caution not only was excessive but also was the fault of atmospheric modelers is ridiculous. Both parts of the atmosphere modeling returned correct results.

And in neither case was a climate prediction involved. This was an initial value (weather) problem; dynamic rather than statistical prediction was involved. Nobody asked what sorts of Icelandic plumes would likely be seen at this time of year (a legitimate climate problem) but rather what exact plume might be expected on this particular Wednesday of this particular week (a weather problem).

In short, it makes no rational sense to blame climate scientists, never mind “climate scientists” in scare quotes, for every scientific result you don’t like. It’s just cheap snarking, not reason.

I’ve even seen us blamed for the banking scandal, since after all a computer was involved in there somehow, wasn’t it, just like in the IPCC?

The Economist has a fine article explaining how the decisions were made, though alas it doesn’t say much about the science.

Weird Events and Social Fragility

We like to have backups for systems that we have some expectation of failing. We have RAID drives for our data, fire insurance for our houses.

Things that we consider highly unlikely, we ignore. Suppose, for instance, that all air travel in Europe were to be shut down for an extended time. Well, surely we’d travel by rail and by boat.

Well, it turns out that it hasn’t been cost effective to maintain enough boats to handle the overflow from shut-down airports. We expect air travel to be continuous. A sudden and unexpected failure of air traffic turns out to be a real blow to the system because insufficient backups are in place.

We don’t know these brittlenesses until they are unexpectedly exposed. A few years ago the Chicago River found its way into the basements of many buildings in the Loop, a risk nobody had ever considered.

I would even consider ClimateGate a brittleness. The explosion of totally unfounded accusations had a significant impact because of vulnerabilities in the press as well as within scientific institutions. The main consequences of this particular weird failure remain in the future and may yet be avoided, but the risk that a thousand generations will suffer as a consequence of some easliy misinterpreted grumbling about trash science remains real.

What can we learn from finding ourselves in a science fiction world, where we are plagued by failure modes we never even imagined? It seems to me that we are living closer to the edge than we imagined. As complexity increases, the potential for disastrous coupling between systems that aren’t conceptually linked (Icelandic vulcanism, German automobile production; coal delivery in 1906 and bridge repair in 1992) increases. How many other things will butt up against other things their users never considered?

This is what makes climate change special. To be honest, we don’t know what will go awry when and how much and how under anticipated climate change. But climate butts up against almost everything pretty much everywhere. Building practices that have never been exposed to termites will see termites. Rivers that have never had flash floods will get flash floods. Countries that have never seen hurricanes will get hurricanes. Who knows what all else will happen?

As the T-shirt says, there is no Planet B. If air traffic shuts down forever, we’ll get boats quickly and fast boats before you know it. But we have no backup plan for the atmosphere.

Spot the Error #3

Another easy one, via the anti-Gore site Planet Gore. There are several very debatable points in this brief article, but there’s a standout mistake. Can you spot it?

What Would an Economy Run by ‘Climate Scientists’ Look Like? [Daniel Foster]

“For an industry that lost $9.4bn last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8bn in 2010, this crisis is devastating,” said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association.

Bisignani also blamed the governments for overhaste in closing airspace, and costing the airline industry over $100 million a day, as a result of climate change models that proved to be flawed.

Addendum: Shall I continue this series? Should it go by its original name “Spot the Denialist Bug”?