In Case You Think We’re Making Progress

Lubos Motl may not be correct about earth science but as for the politics around it he has a point. Intelligent lay people are not buying what we are selling. Lubos points to the technorati discussion about Vaclav Klaus’s recent Motlesque writings on climate change. It’s sobering indeed.

Update: Lubos comments that I must be a propagandist because I linked to an obscure environmentalist website (which he characterizes rather harshly) to illustrate what Klaus has been saying. Fair enough, here’s a link to more of what Klaus has to say from Lubos’ own blog, to balance that. The point is not just that the president of a small country has bizarre opinions. That’s bad enough but I have posted on that already. The point is that non-specialists who are interested enough to post a position on the subject increasingly tend to line up behind those bizarre opinions, which is very disconcerting.

Why is science losing to propaganda? Remember Mamet’s Law:

“Law, politics and commerce are based on lies. That is, the premises giving rise to opposition are real, but the debate occurs not between these premises but between their proxy, substitute positions. The two parties to a legal dispute (as the opponents in an election) each select an essentially absurd position. “I did not kill my wife and Ron Goldman,” “A rising tide raises all boats,” “Tobacco does not cause cancer.” Should one be able to support this position, such that it prevails over the nonsense of his opponent, he is awarded the decision. …

“In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge.”

— David Mamet in “Bambi vs Godzilla: Why art loses in Hollywood“, Harper’s, June 2005.

Also, it looks like I won’t be making any money of Google AdSense. (See the sidebar on the right.) So far in just one day my page has been polluted both by GGW Swindling and by tasteless Gore-baiting. I’ll let it run for a bit but I’m guessing I won’t be able to stomach it. Update: It’s gone. I would need much more traffic to make it worth considering. Definitely not worth the space for a few cents a day.

Who pays for this stuff? When will they have the decency to stop?

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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…]