Lewandowsky Nails his Faeces to the Door

Posted by Ben Pile on February 21, 2014
Feb 212014

Over at Lewandowsky’s lair, Shaping Tomorrow’s World, the academic-psychologist-turned-propagandist has set out his values…

Part of my research is considered controversial by some people because I examine why individuals choose to reject well-established scientific findings, such as the fact that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a bad opening shot from the professor. Lewandowsky does not ‘examine why individuals choose to reject well-established scientific findings’. Few that Lewandowsky has claimed ‘reject’ the claim that ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’ in fact reject the claim at all. Lewandowsky’s research invariably depends on the idea that any criticism of any aspect of climate change, from science through to policy, is a rejection of the claim. But this is misleading. Moreover, and has been observed here many times, the claims that ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’, is not scientific. It lacks any precision. It can mean anything from an inconsequential amount of warming, through to changes that will bring about the end of civilisation. Lewandowsky’s propagandising has to omit any sense of proportion, because admitting that climate change is not just a matter of degree, but matters of degree on matters of degree precludes the possibility of making polarising statements and moralistic claims, which are his intentions.

I believe that science has served us well during the last century or so. For example, the number of lives that were saved through research into HIV/AIDS is staggering—a fact tragically highlighted by the unnecessary death toll in South Africa when the government of then-President Mbeki rejected scientific medicine and preferred to treat AIDS with beetroot and garlic.

And here we already see the problem emerge. What role can psychology play, in trying to understand why Mbeki would make such a statement? I don’t believe it can shed any light on it at all. And Lewandowsky sheds not one single photon on this, or any other question he seems to have tasked himself with. What does Lewandowsky know about Mbeki, and the complex politics and history of South Africa? For that matter, what does Lewadowsky know about climate change sceptics? He won’t respond to their criticisms, and it is evident from his work that he doesn’t even read them. His refusal to understand the debate he comments on even leads him to put mainstream climate scientists into the same category as ‘deniers’.

Nonetheless, science takes place in a social context and is not value neutral. For example, I do not share the values of the late Dr. Edward Teller, an advocate of using nuclear devices to build harbours in Alaska (among other things), who possibly inspired the movie character Dr. Strangelove.

Congratulations to Lewandowsky for recognising the fact that ‘science takes place in a social context’. Might climate sceptics, and Mbeki not also exist in a social context? And might climate science, which is, after all, a very soft science, also exist in a social context?

He doesn’t say. But what are Lewandowsky’s ‘values’?

I value freedom of speech. In most instances, “bad” speech should be countered by good or better speech rather than being suppressed. It is for this reason that I have not taken action, thus far, against the clearly defamatory content of various internet blogs.

‘Thus far’, sounds like a threat. But it is as empty as his claim that ‘”bad” speech should be countered by good or better speech rather than being suppressed’. Lewandowsky has not responded to criticism of his work, and refuses to.

His second ‘value’ is:

I value academic freedom. This entails the freedom to publish research that some people find controversial or inconvenient. It is the responsibility of scientists to be rigorous in publishing and attempt to eliminate all errors and identify weaknesses in their work. Where these persist in published articles, it is the job of peer-review to correct those via published rejoinders.

Academic freedom is not damaged in any way by members of the public calling ‘bullshit’ on Lewandowsky’s claims. Academic freedom does not suffer when members of the public can see the work better than the peer-reviewers and the editors of a journal. And academic freedom is not undermined when people suggest that the paper be retracted. It is the point of peer review that poorly conceived and poorly executed research should not make it to publication.

Lewandowsky is complaining here about the attempts to obtain the raw data from his research, and about the questions raised about his method in recent papers. These problems have not been answered by Lewandowsky, nor by his publishers. Yet they are aware of the problems with his research. They have been told, but have ignored the criticism.

Lewandowsky’s statement of his ‘values’, then, amount to nothing more than an excuse.

Science is debate, and I have been participating in this debate for 30 years. I therefore welcome any critique of my work that survives peer review or is cogent in other ways or addressed through proper channels.

Here, Lewandowsky says that the only legitimate way of challenging his work is publishing criticism in academic journals, or some other ‘proper channel’ not explained. It is as if criticism of the claim that 2+2=5 could only come from another journal, not by anybody with a rudimentary grasp of arithmetic.

Lewandowsky wants to influence the public debate, both with his research and in his blog posts and other non-academic articles. Yet he then wants to hide behind the walls of the Academy when any of that work is criticised.

Because I value freedom of speech and academic freedom, I oppose and resist the bullying and intimidation employed by some opponents who refuse to engage in scientific debate by avoiding peer review. My thoughts and experiences are summarized in an article on the Subterranean War on Science.

Lewandowsky is not in a position to complain about bullying and intimidation. Many of Lewandowsky’s able critics do not have access to journals, nor to the academic resources usually necessary to publish in them, and much less the time. Lewandowsky’s argument is that only academics may criticise him — that the masses outside the academy have no legitimate argument to make. That is bullying in its simplest form, made worse by the fact that it is these individuals that Lewandowsky has made objects of his ‘research’. When they complain, he says ‘you’re not an academic, **** off’. The philosopher king holds himself in high esteem.

Inspired by some philosophers of ethics, I consider the rejection of climate science to be at least morally negligent and sometimes actively immoral. There is a crucial distinction between skepticism, which expresses itself in the peer-reviewed literature, and active rejection of scientific facts, which expresses itself in other fora and which does not seek peer review. People are entitled to question everything in good faith, but I do not believe they are entitled to spread disinformation or intentionally mislead the public. Opinions have ethical consequences.

‘Opinions’ having ‘ethical consequences’, only the privileged may possess them. Rank elitism hides behind scientific objectivity. It can’t be the case, on Lewandowsky’s view, that people who criticise him or the courses of action he wants to advance, do so in good faith, because they have a different understanding of The Science.

But as we have already seen, Lewandowsky does not have a sufficient grasp of climate science, or counter-positions to mainstream climate science, to say that others have an inadequate grasp. Hence, he has to reduce the scientific consensus to something meaningless — like ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’ — which is not even a contested claim.

Lewandowsky’s argument is not ‘ethics’, but is on the contrary, the total absence of ethics. ‘Science’ is a fig leaf.

I therefore perceive a moral obligation to conduct research into why people reject well-established scientific facts, be it climate change or the utility of vaccinations. This is my personal conviction, which other scholars are free to share or disagree with. To illustrate my position, Dr. Lawrence Torcello, a philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology, put it succinctly: “… Some issues are of such ethical magnitude that being on the correct side of history becomes a cipher of moral character for generations to come. Global warming is such an issue. History inevitably recognizes the moral astuteness of those loudly intolerant of ignorance and corruption. Those who offer polite hospitality to injustice must learn from history that they are complicit to the harms they enable.‎”

Only scholars are free to take issue with Lewandowsky, of course. Trying to find out why people do take a different view on all kinds of things, including science, is a worthwhile end. But that is not what Lewandowsky does. Instead, his work attempts to belittle people who take a different view to him, to say they are mad, or ‘conspiracy theorists’, without a full set of faculties, or are contaminated by ‘motivated reasoning’.

That is the opposite of finding out what people disagree about things. It’s just shouting at people who do disagree, albeit from the high walls of the academy.

If Lewandowsky was genuinely interested in why people take a different view on climate change, he wouldn’t attempt to understand them through bullshit and easily manipulated surveys on the internet, on sites hosted by his colleagues and comrades. He would instead ask them: ‘here’s what I think, why do you disagree?’

It’s called debate. Through he course of debate, the points of disagreement are discovered. That is the point of debate. There is no need for psychologists here.

In no way do my values suggest that debate should be curtailed: I merely insist that a scientific debate should take place in the scientific literature and that the public be put in a position where it can make an informed judgment about the voices that are opposing mainstream science on crucial issues ranging from climate change to vaccination.

Let us see more closely what Lewandowsky has said:

1) “In no way do my values suggest that debate should be curtailed…”

And then…

2) “I merely insist that a scientific debate should take place in the scientific literature…”

… and…

3) “and that the public be put in a position…”

curtail
kəːˈteɪl
verb
verb: curtail; 3rd person present: curtails; past tense: curtailed; past participle: curtailed; gerund or present participle: curtailing
1.
reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on.
“civil liberties were further curtailed”

Arguments 2 and 3 are explicitly for a curtailing of debate absolutely, viz. the debate should only be between the anointed, and that a passive public only be exposed to its outcome- NOT allowed to take part in it.

All that remains to be said about Lewandowsky is that, if he isn’t liar, he is master of self-deception.

Either way, it is bad faith that motivates his ‘reasoning’.

The video of the debate at last year’s Battle of Ideas festival on the question “What is new environmentalism?” is online.

I’m not sure that between Mark Lynas, Joe Smith, and Casper Hewitt and me, we got to an answer. But some interesting things were discussed on the way. I had a good chat with Joe afterwards over a couple of beers. However, I sense that neither he nor Mark still have any idea about why people might object to environmentalism in a broader sense, or might be critical of the claims made about climate change. This is odd, because Lynas is a fairly able critic of old environmentalism, especially the attitude to GMOs and to nuclear power. And Joe Smith, at least seems to understand that the climate debate is about more than climate science.

Kudos to them, however, for agreeing to the challenge of debate with people of a different perspective, unlike their erstwhile comrades in the dinosaur environmental movement, like this mad woman.

Missing Heat – Spiked

Posted by Ben Pile on February 13, 2014
Feb 132014

I have a very short (even by my standards) piece up on Spiked about the claims that the missing heat has been found:

A mainstay of environmentalists’ arguments for climate policies is that science can explain the past and present temperature of the planet, and, using computer models, project its likely future temperature. But, since the late 1990s, observations of temperature have deviated from models. The Earth is not as warm as it was expected to be. For many years, this deviation was denied, but it has recently been accepted by mainstream science. This is progress. But it has proven to be inconvenient to the political agendas attached to the climate-change narrative. In response, many theories have been proposed to explain where the ‘missing heat’ may be hiding out.

Read more at Spiked.

I remain mostly agnostic about climate change science. But it seems obvious that this new research is, to use the climate change communicator’s vernacular, ‘motivated’ by political need. That’s not to say that Matthew England is wrong. He might be right. But it does show in fact, that climate scepticism — even if it is ‘motivated’ (and only motivated to the same extent as its counterpart) — does contribute to the production of good climate science. This is a point I made, but which didn’t make it to the final article…

After all, if sceptics hadn’t made such an issue of the lack of warming, perhaps England would not have been moved to find a way to wrong-foot them. Maybe climate science needs climate sceptics, and climate researchers, like England, should welcome their criticisms.

Feb 092014

I doubt that Donna Laframboise needs much of an introduction here. She was in London recently to give evidence to the UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee, and while here, generously agreed to meet me for a quick chat about some of the things we’re both particularly interested in about the climate debate. Especially her experience at the recent COP meeting in Warsaw.

This video is a bit of an experiment for this blog, but if it goes well, I hope I’ll be producing some more. Please share, link and comment.

Climate Sceptics: The Phantom Menace

Posted by Ben Pile on February 8, 2014
Feb 082014

At the Guardian this week (yes there, again), David Robert Grimes claimed,

Denying climate change isn’t scepticism – it’s ‘motivated reasoning’
True sceptics test a hypothesis against the evidence, but climate sceptics refuse to accept anything that contradicts their beliefs

Grimes, a medical physics researcher at Oxford channels a lot of the guff that is passed off as ‘research’ into the phenomenon of climate scepticism. In particular, Grimes cites Stephan Lewandowsky’s ridiculous, unscientific and poorly-executed magnum opus:

The problem is that the well-meaning and considered approach hinges on the presupposition that the intended audience is always rational, willing to base or change its position on the balance of evidence. However, recent investigations suggests this might be a supposition too far. A study in 2011 found that conservative white males in the US were far more likely than other Americans to deny climate change. Another study found denialism in the UK was more common among politically conservative individuals with traditional values. A series of investigations published last year by Prof Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues – including one with the fantastic title, Nasa Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science – found that while subjects subscribing to conspiracist thought tended to reject all scientific propositions they encountered, those with strong traits of conservatism or pronounced free-market world views only tended to reject scientific findings with regulatory implications.

Well, if white, male, American conservatives believe something, it must be wrong. Meanwhile, of course, as I and many others have demonstrated, there was a great deal wrong with Lewandowsky’s work. No matter though, because as long as a bullsh*t survey can be turned into an article to be published in a journal, it must be true, no matter the criticism of it… Probably from white, conservative males. The scientific consensus on climate change soon reveals itself to in fact be little more than a social prejudice.

Grimes continues…

It should be no surprise that the voters and politicians opposed to climate change tend to be of a conservative bent, keen to support free-market ideology. This is part of a phenomenon known as motivated reasoning, where instead of evidence being evaluated critically, it is deliberately interpreted in such a way as to reaffirm a pre-existing belief, demanding impossibly stringent examination of unwelcome evidence while accepting uncritically even the flimsiest information that suits one’s needs.

This, of course, is an argument that, in lieu of a perfectly-calibrated mind-reading machine, is unscientific, through and through. Although we might notice that people’s arguments tend to coincide with their preferences, the hypothesis that the preference exists before the reasoning is untestable bunk. Moreover, although it appears to privilege reason, by denying that the objects of the hypothesis are capable of it, in turn deny the value of reason. Even more moreover, positing that one putative side of a debate lacks the necessary faculty to make rational choices forgets the influence of ideology over the counter-position. As I have argued before, if one takes a robust view of individuals faculties, and of course in wider society, one might well take a different view of the scientific evidence. For example, environmental ideologues evince a view of the world which holds that: i) the world is fragile; ii) the world provides; iii) the relationship between the world and people is delicately balanced. Those claims are not scientific. They are presuppositions. They are also, in large part, mystical in origin. And they are categorically anti-human, in the sense that they do not necessarily privilege human experience in their reasoning and in their deeper philosophical ideas (such as they are). It follows that one or two degrees warming is, on one view, fatal, catastrophic. And on the other view, perhaps a problem in particular times and places.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that a low-rent activist-journalist writes about the other side of the debate in such a way. However, his Guardian profile claims ‘He has a keen interest in the public understanding of science’. No he doesn’t. He wants to use science to achieve a particular political end, and he doesn’t care if he — in the amateur PUS/STS vernacular — ‘abuses science’ and confuses the public in the process. Science is a weapon — a point I will return to later.

Debates, like consensuses, have an ‘object’. Let’s say there is a debate about the proposition ‘all apples are green’. The proposition is the ‘object’. Let’s imagine that all the apples studied thus far are green. Thus, the consensus is that all apples are green’. But some scientists and interested folk take the view that, although all apples are green, there’s nothing about apples that means they have to be green. Carrots used to be purple (I am told). We might one day see a red apple, say the sceptics of the consensus. If you shut your eyes, you wouldn’t notice the difference. The debate, although it is dominated by the consensus view, now divides on a very particular grounds, about which it is very hard indeed to get excited about.

Granted, it is an absurd example. But let’s stick with it. It tells us something about consensuses and debates. They are about something. They are about the colours of apples, or they are about the value of X, or they are about the best way to organise society.

Grimes’s account of the debate, however, does NOT give us any information about the object of the debate. It says this, of course…

The grim findings of the IPCC last year reiterated what climatologists have long been telling us: the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and we’re to blame. Despite the clear scientific consensus, a veritable brigade of self-proclaimed, underinformed armchair experts lurk on comment threads the world over, eager to pour scorn on climate science. Barrages of ad hominem attacks all too often await both the scientists working in climate research and journalists who communicate the research findings.

… But to what extent is the debate defined by the claim that ‘the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate’? Is this even the object of the consensus? But worse, what is the counter-position — the claim that sceptics make in response?

The IPCC, of course, do not make quite such a claim. Grimes produces a grotesque and value-laden over-simplification. Of the thousands of lines of evidence evaluated by the IPCC, the response from the sceptics is not, as Grimes would have it, a simple negation of a single proposition, but instead consists of a range of criticisms and questions, about each of them.

Even if Grimes accurately presented the scientific consensus, he still doesn’t explain the debate, because he does not even attempt to explain the sceptic’s counter-position. There is no scientific debate in the world where this would be acceptable to the academic community. Yet this mythology persists, and is sustained, in large part by academics.

Grimes offers a crude, and entirely partial approximation of the consensus, because the extent of the consensus diminishes as it becomes specific. The broad consensus on climate change is inconsequential, thus activists like Grimes need to play fast and loose with it. Notice, for instance, that one account of the consensus (more accurate than Grimes’s) holds that ‘most of the warming in the second half of the twentieth century has been caused by man’, and does not exclude the majority of climate sceptics, who typically argue that the IPCC over estimates climate sensitivity. Moreover, notice that many sceptics do not take issue with the propositions that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, much of the increase in atmospheric CO2 can be attributed to industry, that this warming will likely cause a change in the climate, and that this may well cause problems. One of the biggest debates between sceptics and their counterparts is in fact the role played by feedback mechanisms — a response in part to claims by environmentalists such as Mark Lynas in ‘Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet’ that a relatively small increase in CO2 could cause ‘runaway climate change’ by triggering (unknown and possibly non-existent) feedback mechanisms to form.

The approximate consensus seems to serve, not inform the debate with science, but to supply it with moral coordinates in the environmental activists favour: you don’t need to know about the mechanics of CO2 or the climate; you only need to know that there are good guys and there are bad guys. To supply the debate with the actual consensus position and counter-position would deprive the moral argument of the utility that ambiguity offers. While it can be claimed that there is an other — an irrational, malign force — acting to subvert the debate, scientists and activists can seem to be on the same team. The moment the debate is deprived of its ambiguity, and supplied with actual data, it turns out that many activists, and indeed, scientists-cum-activists, are far further away from consensus position represented by the IPCC than are the putative ‘deniers’.

So, the ‘consensus without an object’ is a cohesive force. The environmentalists argument does not depend on science as much as it depends on depriving the debate — denying — of science.

This is to say that the ‘consensus’ has political, rather than practical utility: it is more useful to the task of mobilising towards ‘action on climate change’ than it is informing the debate about what kind of problem climate change is, and what the options for dealing with it are.

I have observed this before. In Naomi Oreskes’ work attempting to identify relationships between the ‘tobacco lobby’ and climate sceptics, she proposed that key individuals were ‘Merchants of Doubt’, and employed the same strategy — ‘the tobacco strategy’. As I wrote, back in 2008:

What Oreskes seems to forget is that doubt, rather than being generated by the “denialists”, has long been at the very core of environmental politics. Consider the following statement, which is part of the 1992 Rio Declaration, agreed at the Earth Summit…

Doubt is the very essence of the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle is at the heart of international agreements and domestic policies on the environment. It was not scientific certainty that drove efforts to mitigate climate change, but the same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. In claiming that denialists were generating doubt where there was certainty, Oreskes – a professor of the history of science – re-writes scientific history. More interesting still, Oreskes seems to agree with the “deniers” that scientific certainty – rather than doubt – should drive action.

[...]What matters to Oreskes is not the substance of scientific understanding, but an isolated, binary fact that “climate change is happening”. From here, “climate change” can mean anything. Once it has been established as a “fact”, it doesn’t matter what science says, because the doubt incubates the imagination better than certainty, and prohibits scientific expertise from undermining the power of the nightmare.

The Precautionary Principle operates just as the ‘consensus without an object’. It is not the facts of the matter that count. To define the problem of climate change means turning climate change into a merely technical problem, rather than a problem in which the parameters can be constantly shifted, for political ends. Oreskes epitomises the phenomenon of mobile goalposts by claiming that the movement which had for so long been grounded in the precautionary principle had instead been formulated on the basis of certainty. Perhaps more fatal for Oreskes is that any debate that seems to proceed from a scientific claim is going to take the form that she describes, of a proposition and doubts about its soundness.

Coincidentally, Lewandowsky and Cook have been channelling Oreskes 2008 work this week, at The Conversation:

So why are tobacco control measures now in place in many countries around the world? Why has the rate of smoking in California declined from 44% to less than 10% over the last few decades? Why can we now debate the policy options for a further reduction in public harm, such as plain packaging or tax increases?

It is because the public demanded action. This happened once the public realised that there was a scientific consensus that tobacco was harmful to health. The public wants action when they perceive that there is a widespread scientific agreement.

The argument defeats itself, of course. The public neither demanded action to stop smoking, and it didn’t demand action on the basis of ‘widespread scientific agreement’. If the public really hated smoking so much, it wouldn’t need the intervention. There is widespread scientific agreement that hitting yours head with a hammer is a bad idea. But curiously, there is no law banning people from hitting themselves with hammers. It is understood, widely, that people’s own sense of self prevents them from hitting themselves with hammers, and that where this faculty fails, there are bigger problems at play. There also existed, for a long time, that even in spite of the known risks caused by smoking, that it was a pleasurable thing for the smoker, and that he or she was capable of taking his own risks. If there was a shift in public mood, it had much less to do with ‘science’ than it had to do with the fact that smoking can be an nuisance to others, and possibly a fire risk in certain environments, and a health risk to people with certain conditions. Lewandowsky and Cook, like Oreskes, re-write history to make a political argument in the present…

A scientific consensus is necessary to understand and address problems that have a scientific origin and require a scientific solution. The public’s perception of that scientific consensus is necessary to stimulate political debate about solutions. When the public comes to understand the overwhelming agreement among climate scientists on human-caused global warming, acceptance of the science and support for climate action increase.

[...]

In a recent article, Mike Hulme argued that the debate “needs to become more political, and less scientific”. We agree, because the scientific debate has moved on from the fundamentals – there is no scientific debate about the fact that the globe is warming from human greenhouse gas emissions. So we need to hammer out political solutions rather than “debating” well-established scientific facts.

Hulme also suggested that, in reference to a paper by John Cook, “merely enumerating the strength of consensus around the fact that humans cause climate change is largely irrelevant to the more important business of deciding what to do about it.”

[...]

When Hulme queries the value of consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature, he has it backwards in two important ways.

Closing the consensus gap is an important step towards the public debate about climate policy which he rightly calls for. The problem is the attack on climate science and the overwhelming consensus, not the research supporting it.

Straight from the horses mouth… the ‘consensus’ has political, rather than practical utility: The public’s perception of that scientific consensus is necessary to stimulate political debate about solutions.

Lewandowsky and Cook were responding to Mike Hulme’s essay on the same website, ‘Science can’t settle what should be done about climate change’. Hulme was clear about his view of Cook’s attempt to measure the extent of the consensus,

A paper by John Cook and colleagues published in May 2013 claimed that of the 4,000 peer-reviewed papers they surveyed expressing a position on anthropogenic global warming, “97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming”. But merely enumerating the strength of consensus around the fact that humans cause climate change is largely irrelevant to the more important business of deciding what to do about it. By putting climate science in the dock, politicians are missing the point.

[...]

In the end, the only question that matters is, what are we going to do about it? Scientific consensus is not much help here. Even if one takes the Cook study at face value, then how does a scientific consensus of 97.1% about a fact make policy-making any easier?

Lewandowsky and Cook believe that it will make it easier because the more people who ‘believe in climate change’, the more there is apparent pressure on government to act on it. But this is naive.

First, at least as far as the UK public is concerned, policy action has proceeded not just in spite of the public’s indifference to the climate issue, but perhaps because of its general indifference to politics. Climate change has risen up the political agenda as politics has become professionalised, and managerial in character, leaving the public with less democratic choice, and public debate deprived with contested values. The political crisis that this disinterest might cause has been largely offset by borrowing the cultural authority of science — science as a weapon. The idea of managing public affairs according to the ‘best available evidence’ always sounds good. Like ‘motherhood and apple pie’. But politics isn’t about responding to the ‘evidence’. It is about contested values about how society should be organised. A dearth of ideas to contest leaves a bloated public sector in dire straits, and so scientists are recruited to give just one message: do as they say or your children will die. Arguments for ‘action on climate change’ are invariably arguments for the accretion of power away from the demos. Lewandowsky and Cook do not argue for the ‘consensus gap’ to be closed in order that the public demand their politicians take notice; they make the argument for the consensus in order to deprive the public of democracy, whether or not Lewandowsky are aware of it.

Second, Lewandowsky and Cook miss the point that there is a difference between knowing there’s a consensus and knowing what the consensus consists of. I say they miss the point. But they do know that explaining what the consensus is, and what sceptics’ arguments are, would be to give a hostage to fortune. The political argument is invested too heavily in the science, the object of which — the natural world — has a habit of confounding expectations. Especially environmentalists’ expectations, who, throughout the second half of the 20th century, prophesied civilisation’s immanent collapse in a new way every five or ten years… Silent springs, overpopulation, resource depletion, ozone depletion, acid rain… climate change. There is still political utility in these scare stories, but there is less inclination to express a view about when they will become reality. To admit to shades of grey would be to limit the political utility.

So, sceptics, in the arguments from the likes of Lewandowsky and Cook in the debate about the consensus without an object take the form of objectless consensuses. Climate sceptics are, in the arguments of Lewandowsky and Cook, like ghosts: they are the subject of lots of stories, but they do not exist. They do not have names. They do not have ideas or arguments. They are intended only to haunt the imaginations of climate activists… To fill them with horror, rather than to face reality. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

Walport, Spiked

Posted by Ben Pile on January 31, 2014
Jan 312014

I have a short piece over at Spiked Online on UK Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport’s injunction that climate sceptics should ‘grow up’.

According to an article in The Times (London) earlier this week, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, is about to start a lecture tour, which ‘will put climate change back on the political agenda’. With the global effort to reduce CO2 emissions in tatters, with the EU doing a volte-face on its own green energy targets, with the UK examining its own commitment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to green legislation, and with scientists scratching their heads about the absence of warming over the past 17 years, Walport’s words seem incautious, possibly foolish.

Read it there.

The Sleeping Dragon… Sleeps

Posted by Ben Pile on January 23, 2014
Jan 232014

“The sleeping dragon has awoken”, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

CHINA’S 12GW SOLAR MARKET OUTSTRIPPED ALL EXPECTATIONS IN 2013
23 January 2014

Last year was a record year for PV installation worldwide, with a rush of activity in China on the back of a national feed-in tariff one of the main drivers

Beijing and Zurich, 23 January 2014 – China’s solar developers installed a record 12GW of photovoltaic projects in 2013, and a booming market at the very end of the year may even have pushed installations up to 14GW. No country has ever added more than 8GW of solar power in a single year prior to 2013, and China’s record outstripped even the most optimistic forecasts of 12 months ago.

But then, China is no ordinary country. It’s massive — home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population. And the capacity of solar PV is dismal. 10%, on average. And of course, the ‘boom’ in China’s PV sector is driven by subsidy:

A CNY 1 (16 US cents) per kWh feed-in tariff for large PV projects connecting to the transmission grid ended on 1 January, creating the year-end rush. China’s National Energy Administration announced earlier this month that there were 12GW of 2013 installations, but this preliminary estimate may be exceeded.

According to this infographic, the price of electricity in China is 8 US cents per kwH. So electricity from solar PV in China costs three times as much as electricity produced conventionally. But how much is it really, anyway?

12 Gigawatts of capacity is a lot.

It is 12,000 megawatts…

or 12,000,000 kilowatts…

or 12,000,000,000 watts

But solar PV cells are only about 10% efficient. So that’s

1,200,000,000 watts.

And there are 1.351 billion people in China. So that’s a whopping…

0.89 watts of net capacity per person. And yet…

“The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.”

The focus on “the scale of the Chinese Market” forgets the scale of China. The Dragon doesn’t even have enough power to sit on standby mode, much less wake itself.

China, however, is, by contrast powering itself. But much debate exists about how.

Founder & CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance — which is part news agency, part green energy lobbying organisation, and part environmental NGO — tweeted a challenge to Bjorn Lomborg, who has criticised claims that China is leading the clean energy ‘revolution’.

Michael Liebreich ‏@MLiebreich 2h
@Sustainable2050 And it’s only 16c/kWh. I want to see @BjornLomborg claim the Chinese should burn more coal and eat more smog instead of PV.

Lord Deben — or John Gummer, as he is affectionately known by his critics — joined in the tweeting…

John Deben ‏@lorddeben 1h
@MLiebreich @KeithAllott @Sustainable2050 @BjornLomborg Happily they wouldn’t listen as the Chinese are following the science!

The Chinese are following the science… Says Gummer. Never mind sleeping dragons, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

However, a more sober news agency — Reuters — reported recently that,

China approves massive new coal capacity despite pollution fears

BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) – China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage – flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.

The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing’s aim to put 860 million tonnes of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015, more than the entire annual output of India.

[...]

Chinese coal production of 3.66 billion tonnes at the end of 2012 already accounts for nearly half the global total, according to official data. The figure dwarves production rates of just over 1 billion tonnes each in Europe and the United States.

A tonne of coal can produce about 2000 kilowatt hours of electricity. 3.66 billion tonnes can produce 7,320,000,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity — or seven hundred times as much as China’s solar PV output. In other words and numbers, the 12GW of solar PV capacity added to China’s grid in 2013 was equivalent to 5.2 million tonnes of coal — around a twentieth of the coal producing capacity it added in the same year.

China’s coal use is projected to increase to nearly 5 billion tonnes by 2020.

The ‘sleeping dragon’ is not going to even open its eyes until the cost of solar PV has been reduced by at least a third, and that’s not even taken into account the costs of intermittent nature of solar power.

As I’ve argued previously on these pages, what environmentalists in general, and green energy evangelists in particular have missing is a sense of proportion.

Science and Anti-Science. Again.

Posted by Ben Pile on January 20, 2014
Jan 202014

Michael Mann is denying the debate again, arguing in the New York Times, ‘If You See Something, Say Something‘.

THE overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.

Judith Curry has responded to the article, and other of Mann’s statements:

Well, I do like the title of Mann’s op-ed. Here is what I see. I see a scientist (Michael Mann) making an accusation against another scientist (me) that I am ‘anti-science,’ with respect to my EPW testimony. This is a serious accusation, particularly since my testimony is part of the Congressional record.
If Mann is a responsible scientist, he will respond to my challenge:
.
JC challenge to MM: Since you have publicly accused my Congressional testimony of being ‘anti-science,’ I expect you to (publicly) document and rebut any statement in my testimony that is factually inaccurate or where my conclusions are not supported by the evidence that I provide.

Scientist and non-scientist alike have, throughout the climate debate, struggled to identify precisely what it is they object to about counter-positions. This, it seems obvious to say, is because of the incoherence of their own proposition.

As I point out, the ‘scientific consensus on climate change’ turns out, in most instances to be a ‘consensus without an object’. Which is to say that most arguments for political action to mitigate climate don’t actually proceed from the science at all, and in many cases make up the content — i.e. ‘object’ — of the consensus to suit the argument. The claim, which Mann himself uses in the NYT, for example, that 97% of scientists agree that ‘climate change is real’ and that ‘we must respond to the dangers of a warming planet’ isn’t borne out by a reading of the survey, which was itself imprecise about its own definitions, and captures the perspectives Mann has himself dismissed as ‘anti-science’: sceptics are part of the putative ’97 per cent’. Few sceptics argue that ‘climate change is not real’.

It follows then, that their own argument being incoherent, the likes of Mann will misconceive challenges to it. Unless, that is, Mann’s rhetoric is strategic: to not let out of the bag the ‘it’s more complicated than it-is-or-it-is-not-happening’ cat. It might well be true that ‘climate change is real’. But it might not be a problem. It might well be a problem, but it might not be a problem, as it is framed, of survival vs apocalypse. It might not even be a problem that necessarily leads even to a single mortality. It might just be a big inconvenience, that drags on for centuries, but which takes nobody by surprise.

The refusal to admit questions of degree into the climate debate is a sure sign that the debate is neither as clearly divided as Mann claims, nor that science can resolve it simply. The division of the debate into binary, opposing categories is strategic, political. He might as well say it divides between goodies and baddies. He fails to accurately describe the debate he is taking a position in. And that is an even more interesting phenomenon than the discussion about who is taking which position with respect to the question ‘is climate change happening’.

Mann divides the debate into ‘science’ and ‘anti-science’. This has been tried many times. But the debate is not so easily characterised. And here’s why.

This is an ‘anti-science’ argument:

Knowledge about the world cannot be achieved through the systematic formulation and testing of hypotheses through observation and experimentation.

Here’s another:

All scientific enquiry is a sin against God.

This argument is wrong, but not anti-science:

There is no such thing as cancer.

The object of the claim is cancer, not the science which determined its existence. Taking issue with the object or finding of a scientific investigation is not the same thing as taking issue with science.

Even if someone were to claim, as Mann seems to believe is being claimed…

There is no such thing as climate change.

… it would not be ‘anti-science’. It’s not a denial of the scientific method, even if it seems to be a denial of what the scientific method has produced. Most sceptic positions in fact attempt to use, not deny, the value of science.

The mis-characterisation of the argument, however, is a denial of the scientific method. Mann believes he can rule out any objection to his argument, not by reference to either his own scientific argument, or to the argument which seemingly contradicts it, but by reference to the weight of opinion that seemingly supports it.

The argument is about authority, not about facts pertaining to the material world. If the argument were about facts about the material world — i.e. objects — the scientific consensus invoked by Mann, would have an object. Mann and his detractors would be divided over a proposition. They aren’t. Many sceptics agree that ‘climate change is real’. And many of them, and other people who have attracted the epithet ‘denier’ are scientists, doing science. Hence, Mann pretends first that the debate divides on the meaningless proposition, ‘climate change is real’, and then that it is a matter of science vs anti science.

What Mann and many others confuse is the difference between science as a process, and science as an institution.

As Curry explained recently, “Skepticism is one of the norms of science”. To deny criticism, and to refuse even to admit to the debate parameters that might let debate occur is to deny the scientific method. Mann, in attacking his detractors not through argument about the science, but by questioning their obedience to the orthodoxy, makes science a religion, like clerics accusing lesser holy men of heresy or infidelity — the claim only has gravity by virtue of science as an institution — the weight of numbers, and their affiliations — not by virtue of the claims and counter-claims having been tested.

Curry calls Mann’s bluff — he should make plain what is the scientific claim which is in dispute, but which shouldn’t be, and which are the claims in general that sceptics seemingly deny.

He won’t ever commit, however, because he can only commit to hollow propositions like ‘climate change is real’.

Countless arguments across the web and in public life fail ever to make it plain what it is they are actually about, precisely because such esteemed scientists as Mann — who want to influence politics — have not made any progress in identifying their own argument, either. More than 20 years of effort have not led to presidents or prime ministers — nor even their climate change ministers — making factually accurate statements about climate change, and especially the link between climate change and extreme weather events. The misrepresentation of the debate continues, repeated by the media, politicians, and scientists, each hiding behind the authority of institutional science.

Away from the debate that only exists in Mann et al’s heads — of one side representing the proposition ‘climate change is real’, and the other side denying it — it seems that there is a widespread view that planet has warmed, slightly. But that warmth is not as much as was expected, and a hunt has begun to find the ‘missing heat’ in the deep oceans. Moreover, attributing that warmth to human society has been harder than was expected. Furthermore, the consequences of that warmth for natural processes have been harder to establish than was expected. Even worse, the effect of those consequences on human society have not been identified at all, in spite of claims to the contrary. And finally, the effectiveness of policies intended to mitigate those non-existent effects has not been established, nor survived a robust cost-benefit analysis, much less won democratic support. Even in this very (over-) simplified view of the climate debate, these are at least five questions of degree, each of which contingent on the magnitude of the previous, but which are routinely waved away by claims that ‘climate change is real’, and that ‘the majority of scientists’ agree with the proposition, and that those who disagree are ‘anti-science’. Anyone invoking the consensus in debates about climate change are thus separated from reality by at least five degrees.

Mann urges us ‘if you see something, say something’. So we say what it is we have seen, and the reply is that what we have seen is the result of being anti-science. But science is about reconciling different perspectives, not excluding those perspectives which do not fit the political agenda that institutional science has attached itself to. If ‘seeing something’ obliges the seer to ‘say something’, it must oblige the seer to discuss it with those who see it differently, not to merely shout louder in an attempt to drown out the other perspective. Any failure to do so reveals that what the seer sees is not the product of science.

What the other perspectives variously urge, either directly or by implication, is a more thorough interrogation of the perspective that Mann et al offer. Mann wants to argue that what he sees is hard, cold, objective fact — a reading of the world as it is, uncontaminated by the fragility of the human perspective. But it’s not enough to say ‘climate change is real’. We have to agree on what climate change is, and what its consequences are. But as this blog argues, ‘climate change ‘ means many different things to many different people.

For some climate change means only some form of socialism can rescue the human race from extinction. For others it means the construction of supranational institutions to monitor and regulate global productive activity. For some it means opportunities for ‘clean tech’ venture capitalists. Whatever the material basis of Mann’s claims is, a look at the human world and the arguments about climate change should demonstrate that there is nothing simple about the ideas about society’s relationship with the natural world that are in currency, and that thus a great deal is expected of science, and is presupposed in scientific investigations of the natural world. Mann is saying more than that we can observe a rise in temperature and attribute it to anthropogenic CO2; like many others, he’s saying that there are consequences for other natural processes and for human society.

A cascade of presuppositions emerges when we try to unpack claims like Mann’s about the urgency of what they have ‘seen’. He resists criticism of those claims by lumping them in with the — uncontested, unquantified — claim that ‘climate change is real’, and by belittling his critics. The presuppositions of the claims he makes need unpacking, and they need debate as much as they need to be taken seriously by science.

By excluding other perspectives, Mann is left only with his own. If science is the process of reconciling different perspectives, such that the fragility of perspective is excluded, then by excluding perspectives, the product of Mann’s science — what the likes of Mann see — is an image of himself, passed off as a picture of the world. An angry, censorious and arrogant scientist reveals much about the prejudices that form the environmental perspective, and just as much about the politics that has invested so much in him.

Buy a Newspaper, or the Planet Dies…

Posted by Ben Pile on January 18, 2014
Jan 182014

Over at the Guardian, Professor of Journalism and former editor of the Daily Mirror, Roy Greenslade observes that…

The Independent is up for sale. The paper’s founder, and current chairman of its publishing company, Andreas Whittam Smith, has been authorised to seek out a buyer.

The owners, Alexander Lebedev and his son, Evgeny, have been indicating for some time that they would be happy to dispose of the paper and its sister titles, i, and the Independent on Sunday.

They have made various cryptic statements over the last six months about their willingness to offload loss-making papers that they see no prospect of turning into profit.

The decline of the Independent’s circulation was something observed on this blog back in 2009.

The post was moved by comments around this particularly alarmist headline, which epitomised the Independent’s coverage of the climate story. (With a couple of exceptions).

As alluded to in the blog post, three years earlier an article on the BBC about ‘climate porn’ by none other than Richard Black, had interrogated, albeit sympathetically, the Independent’s deputy editor on the noisy line the newspaper had taken with respect to climate change. The answers were candid, to say the least:

No British newspaper has taken climate change to its core agenda quite like the Independent, which regularly publishes graphic-laden front pages threatening global meltdown, with articles inside continuing the theme.

A recent leader, commenting on the heatwave then affecting Britain, said: “Climate change is an 18-rated horror film. This is its PG-rated trailer.

“The awesome truth is that we are the last generation to enjoy the kind of climate that allowed civilisation to germinate, grow and flourish since the start of settled agriculture 11,000 years ago.”

Ian Birrell, the newspaper’s deputy editor, said climate change was serious enough to merit this kind of linguistic treatment.

“The Independent led the way on campaigning on climate change and global warming because clearly it’s a crucial issue facing the world,” he said.

“You can see the success of our campaign in the way that the issue has risen up the political agenda.”

“If our readers thought we put climate change on our front pages for the same reason that porn mags put naked women on their front pages, they would stop reading us.

“And I disagree that there’s an implicit ‘counsel of despair’, because while we’re campaigning on big issues such as ice caps, we also do a large amount on how people can change their own lives, through cycling, installing energy-efficient lighting, recycling, food miles; we’ve been equally committed on these issues.”

But it seemed, even then, that the Independent’s readers really did think that the editors were using catastrophic images to titillate an audience. Hence, I argued, the decline in the newspaper’s readership figures, 2006 to 2009.

Thus, the newspaper would go into ‘negative circulation in Summer 2018′:

I thought I’d update my graphs. It seems things haven’t got any better for the poor old Independent.

And things aren’t getting any better for the Guardian, either.

There are of course a number of reasons for the decline of ‘dead tree media’, one of which is the rise of Internet-based media. However, the internet had been around for a decade before the series above begins, during which time sales were stable, or possibly even showed an improvement.

However, I prefer a different explanation. All newspapers have lost sales. But the Independent and Guardian have suffered more than average, and I don’t believe their catastrophism is coincidental.

This blog has long observed that the more an institution embraces the climate issue, the surer we can be that the embrace signifies a crisis of some kind, analogous to an existential or identity crisis. Political parties, trade unions, and even giant corporations have sought to attach themselves to the image of planet-saving.  The newspaper resorts to climate catastrophism, not simply as some kind of pornography in order to sell copies, but to attempt to identify itself in a world it has trouble making sense of. (That’s why people buy newspapers, after all.)

This is demonstrated by taking a look back at Ian Birrell’s words. In 2006, his brief history of… erm… history was that a benign climate had ‘allowed civilisation to germinate, grow and flourish since the start of settled agriculture 11,000 years ago’, which we would be the last generation to enjoy. Equally blandly, the world might be repaired by ‘cycling, installing energy-efficient lighting, recycling’. The allusion to Nature’s Providence rules out humans as the agents in their own development: civilisation only exists because the weather was nice. The reality, of course, is precisely the opposite: civilisation exists because nature is indifferent to our discomfort, thus humans worked together to improve their condition.

Vapid accounts of human history and the forces which shape it underpin vapid accounts of the contemporary world. Such analyses become less convincing. Hence the newspapers remain on the shelf.

The shrill histrionics that pass as ‘journalism’ today reflect the authors’ own inner experiences, not a sharp focus on the world. Birrel’s naturalistic account of the world is an internal monologue, shared only by a small number of people, most of whom work in institutions that suffer the same kind of crisis. The newspaper epitomises that ideology. It is read by an increasing narrow class of people, whose ideas are shared by fewer and fewer people. The crises this causes appears to them as the End of the World, not as their own inability to make sense of it.


UPDATE

Environmentalists are keen on projections and predictions based on existing trends. In 2009, I ‘projected’ that, on the basis of the trend seen in the decline of the Independent’s circulation, it would reach only a negative number of people by 2018. What does the new data say about when the Independent and Guardian will close?

According to the linear trend, I may have been a little pessimistic about the Independent’s future.

However, the fit isn’t very neat. The polynomial trend suggests a different future…

Of course, this is fun, not science. The Guardian and Independent are no more obliged to projections based on polynomial trend lines than they are obliged to follow the Climate Resistance blog’s advice that they should relax their alarmist outlooks.

Re-Writing Mission History?

Posted by Ben Pile on January 7, 2014
Jan 072014

Stephan Lewnadowsky has an article at The Conversation, saying that sceptics are wrong, in their pointing and mocking of the failed Spirit of Mawson expedition.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and by now you might have seen dramatic images of passengers on stranded icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy being rescued by helicopter last Friday after becoming lodged in Antarctica sea ice on Christmas Eve.

Lewandowsky is, of course, the defender of the environmental narrative. Key to his argument that the sceptics are wrong is a page on the expedition’s website, which seems to claim that the mission anticipated the ‘fast ice’ which came to surround them:

If one goes to the expedition’s website, their first three scientific goals (there are nine altogether) are as follows:

  • gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
  • explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
  • use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past

Says Lewandowsky:

In other words, the expedition is experiencing the very conditions it set out to study — namely the various kinds of sea ice that scientists know are increasing around Antarctica, while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.

However, there is no mention of ‘fast ice’ on the site’s ‘expeidtion aims’ page in July last year, according the Archive.org wayback machine.

Now the expedition’s aims are outlined under a page called ‘Science Case‘, which indeed contains the reference to ‘fast ice’. But according to the Wayback machine, this didn’t appear until November, but the page in question wasn’t captured until January 2.

A Google search for the passage ‘explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice’ in November yields zero results:

A search for the same expression in December 2013 reveals no links that contain the passage before the vessel got trapped in said ‘fast ice’.

Lewandowsky would no doubt reject this as a ‘conspiracy theory’, but it seems to me that there is no evidence that the reference to ‘fast ice’ on which his argument rests existed before the fast ice engulfed the expedition. It is possible, of course, that my limited web-detective skills and the tools available aren’t equal to the task of proving it, one way or another.

However, further searches in various time-frames for ‘Spirit of Mawson” and “fast ice” reveal very little discussion along the lines of Lewandowsky’s claims. What little there is, contradicts it…

Days 10-18 – 17 to 24 December 2013
Commonwealth Bay And East Antarctic Coastline

We hope to arrive at the fast ice edge in Commonwealth Bay on 17 December and commence our science work and over-ice approach to Mawsons Huts in earnest. Of course our progress will be dominated by weather considerations, but ideally we would moor the vessel against the fast ice edge so that ice and ocean studies can begin and we can send our airborne drone out to view the route towards Cape Dennison and Mawsons Huts. Once a route is determined we believe we will need to use our over-ice vehicles ( Argos) to mark a route then commence transporting scientists and passengers to the coastline as weather and ice conditions allow and the route is safe.

We also expect to move the vessel along the coast to other sites in the region such as Cape Jules, Port Martin and perhaps the French station of Dumont D’Urville.

The Spirit of Mawson’s expedition aims didn’t make the fast ice an object of study as much as it made it a mere port. Who knew that the port would become the storm? Not the Spirit of Mawson team.

Lewandowsky seems to be making stuff up again.

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