Obama as the New Gorbachev

A bit off topic:

I ought to know better than to wave red handkerchiefs in front of raging bulls. I’m not that kind of bullfighter.

But I stupidly blurted this out on Kloor’s: “We may already be doomed; sometimes I think Obama is the Gorbachev of America, heart in the right place, but far too late to save the system.”

It’s not the sort of thing you can un-say. So I might as well defend it.

What I mean by this is not that Obama’s policies for America bear any resemblance to Gorbachev’s for the USSR. What I mean is that Gorbachev was a decent person with the aim of reducing the most extreme, malign and destabilizing aspects of his nation, who attained a limited amount of power in the face of hidebound reactionary opposition too late to save the system.

If the analogy works out (and I really hope it doesn’t) Obama will be stymied by reactionary elements in the US, and the whole structure of corporate capitalism will crumble.

To some extent, Obama has the worse of the deal. Things were very close to collapse when he came in. That he and Geithner managed to patch things together as well as they did is little short of miraculous. It’s truly baffling and tragic how little credit he gets for this. Yet again, the press choosing neutrality over objectivity, I guess.

But we see the patience for deficit spending and government intervention failing, even though by all indications it has been exactly the right thing to do to avoid complete destabilization.

What happens when America fails? Everybody seems to have forgotten how close we were, 18 months ago, to finding out. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Obama’s opposition may yet trigger an absolute and spectacular failure of Gorbachevian proportions. The idea that what will be left to that opposition to control would be any recognizable vestige of what they think Obama is attacking (and of what he is actually doing an amazing job of defending) is unlikely to pan out very well.

We see now a diminished, still authoritarian Russia, at last, after 20 years, recovering some semblance of prosperity, largely by virtue of selling untapped natural resources to others: a sort of gigantic and brutal Canada. What happens to America in the event of a collapse is anybody’s guess.

All of this turf is much trodden by Dmitri Orlov.

There are more than two camps

When I foolishly wandered over to Climate Audit to see the polite and open-minded reception I was promised there (hint: nope) I made the comment that there are “more than two camps”, one of the few comments that met with any approval. I call them “camps” rather than “sides” to avoid this oversimplification.

Hilariously, (I laughed out loud) somebody proposed “alarmists, lukewarmers, skeptics and deniers” as the four camps. Well, no, that’s not what I meant.

I propose to think about this for a while; it seems to tie into the varieties of advice we are getting from various, um, camps. The key insight, for me, was in this entry, wherein it became clear to me that I and Joe Romm are not in the same camp at all.

At that time, I envisioned the conversation as

1) advocates for green power
2) advocates for “no” government intervention in the market (*)
3) journalist/referees (including RP Jr.) who are studiously neutral on everything
4) people who think scientifically, who will go where the evidence leads

The things about groups 1 and 2 is that they will play up scientific evidence which suits them, downplay evidence which doesn’t, defend dubious actions by their allies, and blow them out of proportion when undertaken by their opposition.

(Note: Not all scientists by job title fit in group 4, and not all people in group 4 are scientists.)

If I have one point in everything I write it is that group 4 is underrepresented in the public conversation. This may be because group 3 controls the conversation, and there is a natural competition between groups 3 and 4 vying for the middle ground.

One reason to think about these encampments is to imagine how to design it so it’s more healthy. Which groups are really needed? What motivational structures can we set up so the motivations of the various camps are more benign and less hidebound and destructive?

Of course, it’s possible to refine these groups, and add others. (Politicians, regulators, pundits, energy solution vendors…) One refinement that occurs to me now is among the scientific group: there are definitely shades of engagement:

a) Leave me alone! I am a scientist. Figuring out what to do with the information is somebody else’s job.
b) Lip service to outreach, but avoiding anything important. Spend a little effort teaching junior high kids about cloud formations, etc.
c) Occasionally willing to talk to a church group or the optimists’ club about policy-relevant science but generally reticent and controversy-averse.
d) Engaged in science and policy debates and willing to take whatever lumps that entails.
e) Let other people do the science; I’ll try to stay in touch but this policy debate is too important and interesting for me to leave it alone.

The denial camp perceives only subgroups d and e! So one of the ways they fail to be realistic is to treat people like Steven Schneider as representative. Really the first three camps are dominant; a little less so than previously, though, as the (d) group has been much energized in the last few months due to the excesses of the malicious trumped-up allegations related to the CRU emails.

Anyway, everybody has a hand in the present mess, but journalism and other compulsive difference-splitters are not outside the dynamic. Until the journalists are willing to put themselves under the same lens they focus on the other groups, I think we will have a lot of trouble making progress.


(*) As if the “market” weren’t a government artifact.


Image: vubx.com

Godwin’s Law, Humor, and Fun

Speaking as someone who was raised by, and raised surrounded by, survivors of Nazi atrocities, I would request at least another couple of generations’ extension on Godwin’s law. I mean, I think it’s OK by now to make jokes about the Spanish Inquisition or Atilla the Hun. Yellow badge jokes? Maybe someday, maybe, but not yet. So I don’t think the “yellow badges for greenhouse denial” campaign reflects very positively on its participants.

This comment says: “Humor and fun are natural byproducts of curiosity and learning.” Yeah, well human decency is a bit of a precursor to learning, don’t you think?

As for “our friends on the other side of the argument always seem to be such sourpusses”, well, yeah. Duh.

In my case this bit of “humor and fun” hasn’t helped any.

Fuller’s complaints w/ Anderegg, Prall et al.

Tom Fuller continues to be ambivalent about posting here. As I’ve said, he’s welcome as long as he’s reasonably polite and non-redundant, just like anyone else.

This doesn’t mean he’s going to win me over to his point of view, of course.

Given that he has been so harsh on others, I think he ought to develop a thick skin. Still, please, let’s take care to argue the arguments and avoid ad hominem, and avoid the whole CRU business which is happily quite tangential here. Frankly I think that leaves plenty of room for disagreement, since in this matter I disagree with everything Fuller says.

So, Tom Fuller, with regard to Anderegg, Prall et al writes:

Regardless of my opinion about the motives and eventual use of the defacto list that has been created (and time will tell, certainly), this is garbage science created by an amateur blogger and a grad student with Schneider’s name tacked on top of it.

In reverse order:

The findings are incorrect. It incorrectly labels ACC experts as either CE or UE.

The analysis scheme is incorrect. It fails to account for confounding factors such as change of opinion over time, venue and approach for presenting petitions, comparative content of petitions, etc.

The data collection is incorrect. They have wrong names, wrong specializations, wrong counts of publications and wrong citation numbers.

The methodology is inappropriate. They searched with only one database, did not search in other languages, did not crosscheck their data.

Their hypothesis is flawed. There are many factors that could equally explain differences in publication and citation by UE and CE scientists, including publication bias, confirmation bias, fear of retribution or erosion of career potential, etc.

Spencer Weart said it best–the paper should not have been published in its present form. It does not survive the first casual reading.

And yet you’ve got it up there as if it’s the Magna Carta.

I am pressed for time; need to prepare my laptop for SciPy tutorials (in Austin! Huzzah!) tomorrow. But I can address these briefly:

1) The findings are incorrect. It incorrectly labels ACC experts as either CE or UE.

This is simply not true. The paper is clear that not all scientists are categorized by this method.

2, 3, 4) The analysis scheme is incorrect. It fails to account for confounding factors such as change of opinion over time, venue and approach for presenting petitions, comparative content of petitions, etc.

The data collection is incorrect. They have wrong names, wrong specializations, wrong counts of publications and wrong citation numbers.

The methodology is inappropriate. They searched with only one database, did not search in other languages, did not crosscheck their data.

These complaints introduce error but they do not introduce any obvious bias. Therefore they cast only modest doubt on the very robust result.

5) Their hypothesis is flawed. There are many factors that could equally explain differences in publication and citation by UE and CE scientists, including publication bias, confirmation bias, fear of retribution or erosion of career potential, etc.

I don’t see how this is a flawed “hypothesis”, indeed, these cannot affect the resutls. However, it would be foolish to say they don’t affect the interpretation of the results. Note, though, that these can be argued both ways. Herd mentality is indeed a risk, but it is as applicable to systematic understatement of problems as to systematic overstatement of problems.

6) Spencer Weart said it best–the paper should not have been published in its present form. It does not survive the first casual reading.

I disagree with Spencer Weart. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve been aware of Jim’s serious efforts to collect these data over the past couple of years, but it is what it is. Perhaps more resources can be obtained for a more thorough study. A groundbreaking result which has been done without any funding should not be expected to be flawless. More to the point, the editors of PNAS disagreed with him, and here we are.

7) And yet you’ve got it up there as if it’s the Magna Carta.

Well, I’m not the one who needs the existence of a robust consensus proven. I think it’s interesting for what it is, and doubly interesting for how many people rushed to criticize it without reading it carefully.

8) The “black list” yadda yadda…

Oh, give us a break. That’s just silly.


Update: Here’s the Stanford press release. Notable quote from Steve Schneider:

“It is sad that we even have to do this,” said Schneider. “[Too much of] the media world has just folded up and fired its reporters with expertise in science.”


Image: The Magna Carta, naturally.