Friday, December 18, 2009

Climate Change: The Unreliable Argument

Climate models a re complex and unreliable and are ultimately trying to model a system that is beyond human comprehension. We ought not to trust their results, which means that we should go ahead and proceed with business as usual.

This is another utterly irrational and irresponsible argument that global warming deniers often made.

Hearing or reading this argument in the statements made by a global warming denier is like hearing somebody say, "I do not know if the price is more than or less than $100; therefore, it must be less than $100." Or, "I do not know if John is taller or shorter than Jim so he must be shorter."

The only sane and sensible conclusion to draw from 'I don't know . . . " is "I don't know."

In this case, the foolishness of this reasoning is made morally objectionable by the fact that this careless is being used in discussing an issue where the lives and well-being of others are at stake. It's quite permissible to be this careless in one's thinking when an agent only harms himself or herself as a result. When they are debating policies that affect the lives and well-being of others, they have an obligation to say, "Okay, this is not the time for foolish games. To claim that ignorance of whether A is larger than or smaller than B implies that it is smaller than B is a type of foolishness that we don't need in this discussion."

It's moral irresponsibility is easily captured using the two paradigm examples of irresponsibility that I have been using throughout this series.

(1) The factors determining whether or not a drunk driver will or will not actually make it home from the party are too complex to figure it. It depends on traffic, on the route the driver will take, on facts about the other drivers on the road and a host of variables that we cannot even begin to figure in. Therefore, we should go ahead and let the drunk driver try to make his way home.

(2) We have no way of knowing whether the found gun that the guy has picked up in the park and pointed at the child is loaded or not. We have no way of knowing. Perhaps the gun is loaded, perhaps it is not. In our ignorance, it is perfectly within that agent's right to go ahead and treat the gun as if it is not loaded - to go ahead and aim it at somebody and pull the trigger.

In both of these cases, following The Unreliable Argument would lead to acts of reckless endangerment and, perhaps, negligent homicide.

Imagine logging into your computer and reading a story of a drunk driver who has killed family of four, or a college student who found a gun on the beach, pointed it at some random individual, and pulled the trigger. Hold that thought in your mind for a moment.

Now, imagine to a news commentator on a cable news network say that climate change models are unreliable and, therefore, they ought to be ignored. The drunk driver and the shootists are the paradigms of virtue compared to the commentator who uses The Unreliable Argument in discussing climate change. The drunk driver and the shootist simply does not care about the harm they do to one family or one person. The global warming denier who uses The Unreliable Argument is willing to put whole cities and whole populations at risk.

One of the facts that these irresponsible people fail to consider is that if these climate change models are unreliable, they are as likely to under-estimate the risk as they are to over-estimate the risk.

One of the areas in which these climate change models seem to have gone wrong is in estimating the melting of the polar ice. The ice cap is melting far more quickly than these models predicted. In the case of the melting of land-based ice, this suggests that sea level will rise far more quickly than expected.

In a display of recklessly selective use of data among global warming deniers, there are some who are quick to point out that the average global temperatures over the past 10 years has not risen. "Therefore, the climate models cannot be trusted. Therefore, we are free to continue business as usual." They love to grab onto and broadcast deviations that go in the direction that they like - that suggest less global warming rather than more.

And then, because they really have no interest either in truth or the potential destruction that might result from global warming - they completely ignore any evidence (such as the faster-than-predicted melting of the ice caps) that threaten more and sooner destruction than the models once predicted.

In this case, the argument that, "We don't know whether the climate models are accurate predictors of the rate at which the ice caps will melt; therefore, they will melt more slowly than the models predict" proved to be wrong. Furthermore, it is the type of error that will result in destruction that could have otherwise been prevented if only people had not embraced such a foolish argument.

When you see these types of patterns in somebody's postings or writings, you know that you have encountered somebody who is fixated on defending a conclusion (and is cherry-picking his evidence accordingly) and is indifferent to the potential to destruction. Another type of person - one interested in preventing destruction and, therefore, wants to know the truth of the matter, will not cherry-pick evidence in this way.

Once again, I would like to remind the reader that we are talking about people exhibiting callous indifference to the destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations. Only a horrendously reckless person would allow a drunk person to drive home because he is ignorant as to what the precise results would be - or pick up a gun, aim it, and pull the trigger because he does not know whether or not it is loaded.

He is orders of magnitude more reckless if he peppers his anti-global-warming texts and speeches with the claim that, because climate change models are not perfectly reliable, that it is perfectly legitimate to engage in activities that may end up doing considerably more harm than those models predict.

16 comments:

NAL said...

Excellent post. Well reasoned and timely considering the recent James Randi brouhaha.

John Doe said...

You really haven't been reading the news lately, have you? The sickos of ClimateGate illegally hiding information from Freedom of Information Act requests, and "losing" their raw data. Scientists using computer programs who codes are amateurishly programmed to give them the desired results. A station down in Australia which disregarded "inhomogenous" temperature readings to manipulate the temperatures always higher than was warranted by the raw data.

DAMN STRAIGHT! With all these problems with the data being unreliable and with the computer program being faulty this is a good argument. To call the argument "irrational and irresponsible" is showing your true colors as a fanatic who cares not about the truth and who will say and do anything to win the debate. I don't question your motives, I'm sure you believe that you are doing the right thing, but you have lost any perspective and reason. Unless and until the global warming alarmists clean up their act, don't ask us to buy a pig in a poke from shysters on your side.

You should be spending your time addressing the fraudulent arguments on your side. Assuming your goal is to persuade people rather than just preach to the choir, it would really help your arguments in favor of AGW. Here's why. The frauds hurt your case, if you are on the side of the truth. (If you aren't on the side of the truth, then the frauds are the best you've got, so disregard this entire comment.) It would gain you credibility, so you wouldn't appear to be such a hack for the global warming alarmists, if you acknowledge the problem and attack it, instead of always attacking skeptics.

It is human nature to be skeptical of frothing at the mouth, wild-eyed proponents of any idea when they act so biased.

John Doe said...

As a further critique of your article, it also is logically incorrect. Your post assumes that global warming alarmists are correct, in order to picture deniers as drunk drivers and reckless gun handlers. You put the cart before the horse. Before deniers are drunk driving or pointing guns at children, warming alarmists have to prove their case. They certainly don't do it with faulty data, with amateurish computer programs, and with criminal attempts to hide data.

Unless and until warming believers clean up their act and prove their case is legitimate, I'd say the drunk drivers are the ones who want us to spend trillions for no reason.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

John Doe

Your conclusions are rational and morally responsible only if you already know in advance that the inaction you advocate is harmless. Otherwise, the best that you can argue is, "We are ignorant; therefore, we have nothing to worry about."

That is simply irresponsible.

I do not need to assume that the global warming alarmists are right because I am not advocating the spending of trillions of dollars. You think you know my position on climate change. I can guarantee that you do not know my position.

However, I do not base my conclusions on irrational and irresponsible arguments grounded on a selective view of the available evidence. I draw my conclusions after throwing out the garbage arguments, groundless accusations, and self-serving interpretations.

You think . . . you assume . . . that you know what that conclusion is. Well, your posts here show that you assume a lot of things based on very little or no evidence.

My "side" in this debate is to have the debate without the garbage arguments that I have identified in these posts. These arguments are - and will always remain - garbage arguments regardless of what conclusion turns out to be correct.

John Doe said...

Dude, don't kid yourself; your bias is shown in how hard you fight against the skeptics, and the blind eye that you turn towards the global warming crowd. EVEN if I am dead wrong, and you really are a skeptic who wants to do nothing, you exhibit such bias in favor of the global warming crowd that you still lose credibility. I'm just talking credibility. The more bias a person has, the less credibility they have, whether in court, on a blog, or kibitzing with friends.

And one need not "know in advance that doing nothing is harmless." The burden of proof is on those who advocate for changing the status quo. To view the issue differently is to give into every chicken little who screams that the sky is falling. How do we KNOW the sky isn't falling? It would be a catastrophe if we "do nothing" and it really happens. What if there is a "1%" chance of it happening. That argument sound familiar?

Right now, it the court of public opinion, the global warmicists have been dealt several body blows. That side is reeling and public opinion is turning against them. I'm just saying that their side needs alot more cleaning up of garbage arguments. While they are getting creamed, you are worrying about the skeptics.

Show me where the skeptics made up temperature readings bu throwing out temperature readings that they didn't like, or where they doctored computer programs to produce results that they wanted in advance, or where they illegally tried to keep information from the public, or where they tried to keep authors from getting published by peer review magazines, or where they spoke of boycotting magazines who dared to publish the work of those on the other side. THEN I'll buy this "I'm just trying to clean up all the garbage arguments" line.

Just today Michael Mann had a WaPost article lying about those e-mails in "Climate Gate", trying to deny how devastating they are to his side, and lying about what they really mean. Now THAT'S a garbage argument.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

EVEN if I am dead wrong, and you really are a skeptic who wants to do nothing, you exhibit such bias in favor of the global warming crowd that you still lose credibility.

Apparently, you think that the only two options. Black versus white. Us versus them.

The more bias a person has, the less credibility they have, whether in court, on a blog, or kibitzing with friends.

If I were to do anything but agree totally with everything you say, you would accuse me of bias. It's easy to make accusations. But when I make an accusation, I present an argument backing it up. And that argument is not, "He does not bow to my perfect wisdom, so he must be biased."

And one need not "know in advance that doing nothing is harmless." The burden of proof is on those who advocate for changing the status quo.

I have already refuted that argument and demonstrated that its use signifies moral recklessness. We know that 2xCO2 will result in 1 degree C of radiative forcing. We know that this is under human control (see the tub of water analogy). We know about potential risks of additional methane release, albedo reduction due to the melting of ice, and the increase in H20 in the atmosphere that results from more evaporation. We see the train. We do not know if it will hit us or not. The driver who says, "The burden of proof is on those who say that the train will hit us" is morally contemptable.

Right now, it the court of public opinion, the global warmicists have been dealt several body blows.

I do not care about the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion is built in part on the garbage arguments I have identified. I want to know what the court of opinion would be if the garbage arguments are removed.

Show me where the skeptics made up temperature readings bu throwing out temperature readings that they didn't like...

I have shown you where skeptics have embraced garbage arguments that lack even the pretense of logical validity solely because they support a desired conclusion.

I do not render a verdict on the items you mentioned because I insist that my verdicts be based on the evidence. Unlike you, I am averse to judging the evidence based on whether or not it supports a desired conclusion. This is shown by the fact that you have not yet found a hole in any one of my arguments. Instead, you jump up and down and wave your arms and shout, "Look over there!" . . . because you are in despirate need of creating a diversion.

John Doe said...

"We know that 2xCO2 will result in 1 degree C of radiative forcing." Trust me, I'm a scientist. Bunk. The only proof you offered was Wikipedia. Did you write the article that you refered us to? Who is "we"? Where is your proof?

http://nov55.com/equations.html

You speak of "proof" yet all you've offered so far is arguments against those who are skeptical about AGW. You hide behind this veil of being one who wants to get rid of "garbage arguments", all the while enabling the garbage argumenters on the side of the global warming alarmists.

Sure, you'd like me to go away so that you could keep pulling the wool over your usual followers (what, 10 readers?). Sorry, I'm your intellectual superiour, and I have the time and the resources to keep you honest (which you most assuredly have not been lately).

NAL said...

John Doe:

http://nov55.com/equations.html

Where's your proof? The web site cites the work of Norm Kalmanovitch, a geophysicist retired from Penn West, a Canadian oil and natural gas company.

That should raise alarm bells in any sincere skeptic.

John Doe said...

Yeah, well it is pretty sad when I ask for "proof" here I get referred to Wikipedia, or to the IPCC, which is equally as biased in the opposite direction. Alonzo is the one who claims "We know" blah blah blah. I don't claim "We know" (or that I know) anything."

Sure, I look at what anybody says skeptically, especially when they have such an obvious bias as Alphonzo does, and when they refer to Wikipedia for their "proof."

Jim Lippard said...

John Doe:

I asked climate change skeptic Robert Balling where the layman can get reliable scientific information about climate change, and he told me the IPCC WG1 physical science basis report. And I think that's correct--the climate skeptics with relevant expertise are participants in the IPCC process.

Certainly the IPCC is a more reliable source of information than the organizations which are the major advocates of climate skepticism.

Bill said...

Who's to say that pumping money, political and intellectual resources into fighting AGW is the path of least risk for the planet? What about all the other, more pressing issues, like AIDS, famine, nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, water security etc etc? You seem to be basing your stance on Pascal's wager, as though there are no negative consequences if you happen to be wrong. What if AGW does not exist in any meaningful sense, yet we have realigned global economies and pushed all our efforts into fighting it, at the expense of these other issues?

Labelling climate change skeptics as 'deniers' is a particularly mischievous tactic, and I would expect more from a fellow atheist - you should be applauding those that choose not to place their blind faith in the IPCC, especially given that we now know they have played loose and easy with scientific ethics.

I don't know what the scientific truth is, but I am not convinced that throwing all our eggs in the 'fight AGW' basket is the most sensible thing to do for the future of the Earth. I'm amazed that some people are so convinced by the whole thing that they would ignore, disregard or seek to discredit all the contradictory data. That's not science.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

John Doe

What reason to you have to believe that the contents of that page you linked to are true, or that it even makes sense?

The only reason you have is because the page supports a conclusion that you like. You needed an example of somebody saying what you want to hear, you found it, and then you tacked on the assumption, "Since this person is saying what I want said, it must be true."

Why do I believe the sources that I cite?

Because science is built on the practice of making successful predictions. It is an institution that has been able to tell me the composition of a water molecule, then used that to explain why the volume of water shrinks until the temperature reaches 39 degrees F, then expands, then freezes at 32 degrees F.

It builds the pacemaker that keeps my wife alive, tells us when and where hurricanes will land, creates cell phones that allow me to talk to my mother half a continent away, and creates a shot that significantly reduce my nieces' chance of getting cervical cancer.

That system of successful predictions that have saved the lives of countless people and significantly improved the quality of life for the rest of us, has a formula that says that increased CO2 concentrations result in increased radiative forcing that translates into a 1 degree C temperature increase that, in turn, feeds into a complex system that might destroy whole cities and cause the suffering of whole populations.

You insist on throwing all of that out for the sake of an internet page in which the author is telling you exactly what you want to hear - a page that is backed, not by a huge history of providing life-enhancing and life-improving changes, but one that happens to stack up favorably to your own ego.

You claim to be a 'skeptic'. However, you seem to reserve your skepticism to those on one side of the debate. On the other side, anything that is written or appears in the press is automatically assumed to be true.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Bill

Labelling climate change skeptics as 'deniers' is a particularly mischievous tactic...

I reserve the term 'deniers' to those who use flawed reasoning of the type that I have identified in my posts.

You will not that in each post I have addressed my condemnation specifically, not to those who deny that climate change is real or a legitimate concern, but to negligently use flawed arguments that no responsible person would use.

John Doe said...

Alonzo, I am skeptical of anything written in Wikipedia. It's almost like citing as a reference an old Archie's comic book. Sure, it is a place to start, and some of the links from Wiki might be authoritative, but NOTHING in Wiki is authoritative.

I didn't cite the link as authoritative, nor say that I believed it. I cited it because the guy claimed that he tried to track down the very thing that I am currently interested in: What proof is there that doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the temp approx 1 deg C.

I am currently a skeptic. I've not studied much in the past, but have taken hours in the last couple of weeks. One thing that really pisses me off is when warming alarmists act all high and mighty, and impugn the integrity of any who don't drink the kool aid without any questions.

YES, I admit it. It is extremely difficult for me to believe that increasing anything by a scale of PARTS PER MILLION could cause a Watt increase per square meter, or whatever the claim is (I'm not trying to be accurate, I am referring back to one of your previous posts.) That sounds EXTREMELY incredible to me. But I am open to being shown the proof. That's all I asked for.

Another point especially sticking in my craw is how, looking at the ice core samples, CO2 lags temp increases by as much 800-1000 years. I know, that proves nothing. And CO2 supposedly piles on once the temps are already higher. I get that. What I don't get is how the cores show that when CO2 is at its highest point, suddenly the temperatures fall dramatically as if off the side of a precipice. Obviously, even if CO2 effects the atmosphere and causes warming, something much stronger came along and caused the dramatic drop in temperature despite the high level of CO2. What is it? I know about the theory of the Milankovich Cycles, but those supposedly are minor and slow causes of change. You don't have to respond, and you can continue to be a prick when I ask honest questions, but I thought a purpose of this blog was to persuade people...

Jim Lippard, thanks I will give the IPCC a second look.

Eneasz said...

It is extremely difficult for me to believe that increasing anything by a scale of PARTS PER MILLION could cause a Watt increase per square meter, or whatever the claim is.

Then you fail at chemistry. The "omg, parts per MILLION!!" argument is just dumb. The other, more coherent, objections you raised have been answered in other formats.

FYI, on science matters Wikipedia is roughly as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica.


I thought a purpose of this blog was to persuade people...

It's actually to point out garbage arguments and discourage people from making garbage arguments. If global warming is a fiction than it shouldn't be a problem to show that without resorting to such bankrupt arguments.

John Doe said...

SEEEEEEEEEEEE???? Eneazs post is Exhibit A why you arogant pricks alienate average people. You are just a creep. Your mother probably hates you. It is impossible to carry on a conversation with dumbphucks such as you. And what lame "arguments" you raise. The "other arguments" have been answered elsewhere. Yeah? WHERE? That was my question. I googled trying to find the answers and only found answers from skeptics.

Any--ANY--doubt or skepticism or lack of understanding or lack of knowledge is met with hate and spite and snide remarks. Sorry you have a puny dick, no life and no friends, but don't take it out on the rest of us.