Lindzen Diatribe

It looks like Lubos Motl gets credit for the first notice in the blogosphere of Lindzen’s astonishing new rant about the state of climate science.

As is often the case with people who are too sure of themselves, he turns out guilty of some of the things he accuses his opponents of. He politicizes and conspiratorializes rather than simply addressing the problem dispassionately. His personal characterization of other scientists is grossly excessive in at least one occasion. I am inclined to extrapolate that his understanding of specific events is similarly skewed.

It’s important to acknowledge that there is a legitimate point underneath all this bile. While scientists may be obligated to be advocates in extreme situations, science itself must remain distinct from advocacy if it is to be of any use at all. This is absolutely crucial in matters of public import.

There are definitely signs that the capacity of science to absorb new information is in decline. This may indeed bias the perception in client sciences (which use the output of climate science) of the extent and timing of anticipated climate disruption.

It’s essential, for example, that the IPCC not overstate the certainty of its conclusions and that the community remain open to reasonably well-formed criticism. Any evidence that anything else has been happening in the past should be met with something other than emotive defensiveness. This may be hard given the confrontational tone adopted by some of the critics, including Lindzen here.

Science must make judgments, and some of those it finds wanting will always be offended. I am reasonably convinced that Lindzen’s “iris effect” is refuted; Lindzen apparently is not. It is hard to know when to close such a debate, especially with a person who has made real contributions in the past.

I’m not softening on Lindzen. Indeed think this particular contribution is rather toxic. Still, it’s obvious that (to the extent that he wrote this) he isn’t so far gone as to be considered stupid.

I actually think the community has been extremely tolerant of Lindzen, going quite some way to allow his theories into print. It’s the unestablished outsider that has a real complaint, as far as I can see.

Any evidence that the publication selection method is based on something other than science is a cause for concern; alas, there is evidence for such. It’s not about “politics” in the usual sense though. It’s basically that many scientists can’t write, many scientists have no time to read, and the entire publication mechanism that is the metric of performance is consequently flawed. The bias is toward papers emerging from established research groups. If this becomes excessive science becomes “academic” in the worst sense.

Which brings us back to Lindzen’s diatribe. I am hoping the bizarre snipe at Ray P was ghostwritten. It’s inexcusable. I am confident that Ray has never publicly addressed scientific matters other than scientifically, and is in no reasonable sense fanatical. At best, Lindzen “approved the message”. As such he is very clearly participating in the degradation of scientific conversation he claims to be bemoaning. As far as I am concerned, this one gross misstatement colors the credibility of the entire article. Perhaps others will find other similarly grotesque mischaracterizations elsewhere.

Crude swipes at the few people with the talent to both read and write effectively at the highest levels hardly seem designed to improve matters.

Likely this paper will be a Palinesque effort, energizing the “base” who have preconceived notions along these lines, and having little effect elsewhere.

It’s a shame. We do need to rethink how science is done. This sort of injured and injurious argumentation will do little to advance that prospect.

Annan vs Hegerl goes Nuclear in a Hurry

Strange day.

I just returned from a day that included a talk by Gabrielle Hegerl to discover that James Annan has a poster criticizing an aspect of her work.

In fact, the point that James makes, was, in essence, covered in her talk. She said the data alone was insufficient to remove the long tail, but she was clear that the long tail was almost certainly an artifact of
the way the problem was set up. I believe that James’ approach amounts to begging the question: if you assert a prior where there are no tails, you can’t say the data has constrained the tail. This seems to me like hair-splitting, though I expect James will disagree.

OK, fine, here I am at Bayesian central, I suppose seeing some technical battles between my virtual friends and my real-world acquaintances is to be expected in the rough and tumble world of science, but it’s a bit of an odd coincidence.

So to see if there is some ongoing longer feud between these two, I googled “Annan Hegerl”, and who should pop up but Lubos Motl! My God, this article was uploaded tomorrow (dateline artifacts). It appears negativeland is already all abuzz with the fact that a climate scientist would dare to criticize another!

(We are damned if we criticize each other and dmaned if we don’t, but still, this is ridiculous.)

And see this on the SEPP site (with similar comments from Motl):

Three weeks ago, Hegerl et al. published a text in Nature that claims that the 95 percent confidence interval for the climate sensitivity is between 1.5 and 6.2 Celsius degrees. James Annan decided to publish a reply (with J.C. Hargreaves). As you might know, James Annan – who likes to gamble and to make bets about global warming – is

an alarmist who believes all kinds of crazy things about the dangerous global warming;

a weird advocate of the Bayesian probabilistic reasoning”.

However, he decided to publish a reply that

the actual sensitivity is about 5 times smaller than the Hegerl et al. upper bound which means that the warming from the carbon dioxide won’t be too interesting;

Now, leaving aside how weird it is for anyone, let alone the ever-rigorous James, to be called “a weird advocate of the Bayesian probabilistic reasoning” (!!!!) doesn’t this read like weird Bayesian James has become almost Lindzenite, putting an upper bound on the sensitivity at 6.2/5 or about 1.25 C?

No. Weird Bayesian James advocates using 20/5 or 4 C as an upper bound. Elsewhere he comes up with 3 C as a best estimate. Which is higher than Gabi’s!!!

I assure you Hegerl knows the long tail is an artifact; that the higher the cutoff the longer the tail; that it tells us nothing.

The only question is how to handle it. It can easily be misinterpreted either way you approach it. James’ approach can be seen as begging the question. Can you really put your hypothesis in as your prior?

And how (to get back to my blog theme) do we go about explaining any of this to the general public now that the engines of apoplectic confusion are gearing up to make a case out of this?

Note to the lay reader; James will correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure he does not claim that the sensitivity is certain to be less than 1.3 C.

Anyone care to make a bet?

[Update: apparently all this denialist noise was from last year. Still…]


Dr. Lubos links to an amazingly painful Larry King snippet and scores some easy points. Brace yourself.

In short, Bill Nye the science guy sputters a bit and then makes the usual blunder about the “Gulf Stream shutting down”, and Lindzen makes plenty of hay from it.

If this is the story people are seeing, is it any wonder they are getting it jumbled up?

Larry King’s people deserve some of the blame for this disaster, but Bill Nye should have just demurred. We don’t need some bowtied Mr Rogers clone defending us, for God’s sake. It may not be “a hundred thousand to one” as Nye idiotically suggests but it’s pretty much “ten thousand to ten”. Where were the ten thousand? Couldn’t King’s people have found even one competent member of the IPCC?

It’s bad enough to have to debate on these terms, but it seems we have to. If we don’t, they will put up the likes of Bill Nye to argue our case!