I had someone tell me the other day that I was inconsistent. I was on the side of science (being pro-vaccination) but against science (being pro-fossil fuel use). I have heard this or something like it come up in the vaccination debate a number of times, so a few thoughts:
- The commenter is assuming their conclusion. Most people don’t actually look at the science, so saying you are for or against science is their way of saying you are right or wrong.
- The Luddites are indeed taking a consistent position here, and both “Food babe” and RFK Jr. represent that position — they ascribe large, unproveable risks to mundane manmade items and totally discount the benefits of these items. This includes vaccines, fossil fuels, GMO foods, cell phones, etc.
- I am actually with the science on global warming, it is just what the science says is not well-portrayed in the media. The famous 97% of scientists actually agreed with two propositions: That the world has warmed over the last century and that man has contributed to that warming. The science is pretty clear on these propositions and I agree with them. What I disagree with is that temperature sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 concentrations is catastrophic, on the order of 4 or 5C or higher, as many alarmist believe, driven by absurdly high assumptions of positive feedback in the climate system. But the science is very much in dispute about these feedback assumptions and thus on the amount of warming we should expect in the future — in fact the estimates in scientific papers and the IPCC keep declining each year heading steadily for my position of 1.5C. Also, I dispute that things like recent hurricanes and the California drought can be tied to manmade CO2, and in fact the NOAA and many others have denied that these can be linked. In being skeptical of all these crazy links to global warming (e.g. Obama claims global warming caused his daughter’s asthma attack), I am totally with science. Scientists are not linking these things, talking heads in the media are.
Warren Meyer, “Inability to Evaluate Risk in A Mature and Reasoned Fashion”, Coyote Blog, 2015-04-10.
November 28, 2016
November 22, 2016
John Tierney on the President-elect’s stated views on science:
What will a Trump administration mean for scientific research and technology?
The good news is that the next president doesn’t seem all that interested in science, judging from the little he said about it during the campaign. That makes a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who cared far too much — in the wrong way. He politicized science to advance his agenda. His scientific appointees in the White House, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration were distinguished by their progressive ideology, not the quality of their research. They used junk science — or no science — to justify misbegotten crusades against dietary salt, trans fats, and electronic cigarettes. They cited phony statistics to spread myths about a gender pay gap and a rape crisis on college campuses. Ignoring mainstream climate scientists, they blamed droughts and storms on global warming and then tried to silence critics who pointed out their mistakes.
Trump has vaguely expressed support for federal funding of R&D in science, medicine, and energy, but he has stressed encouraging innovation in the private sector. His election has left the science establishment aghast. Its members were mostly behind Hillary Clinton, both because they share her politics and because she would continue the programs funded by Obama. Their fears of losing funding are probably overblown — there’s strong support in Congress for R&D — but some of the priorities could change.
Trump has vowed to ignore the Paris international climate agreement that committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. That prospect appalls environmentalists but cheers those of us who consider the agreement an enormously expensive way to achieve very little. Trump’s position poses a financial threat to wind-power producers and other green-energy companies that rely on federal subsidies to survive.
November 17, 2016
Today I saw a link to an article in Mother Jones bemoaning the fact that the general public is out of step with the consensus of science on important issues. The implication is that science is right and the general public are idiots. But my take is different.
I think science has earned its lack of credibility with the public. If you kick me in the balls for 20-years, how do you expect me to close my eyes and trust you?
If a person doesn’t believe climate change is real, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is that a case of a dumb human or a science that has not earned credibility? We humans operate on pattern recognition. The pattern science serves up, thanks to its winged monkeys in the media, is something like this:
Step One: We are totally sure the answer is X.
Step Two: Oops. X is wrong. But Y is totally right. Trust us this time.
Science isn’t about being right every time, or even most of the time. It is about being more right over time and fixing what it got wrong. So how is a common citizen supposed to know when science is “done” and when it is halfway to done which is the same as being wrong?
You can’t tell. And if any scientist says you should be able to tell when science is “done” on a topic, please show me the data indicating that people have psychic powers.
So maybe we should stop scoffing at people who don’t trust science and ask ourselves why. Ignorance might be part of the problem. But I think the bigger issue is that science is a “mostly wrong” situation by design that is intended to become more right over time. How do you make people trust a system that is designed to get wrong answers more often than right answers? And should we?
Science is an amazing thing. But it has a credibility issue that it earned. Should we fix the credibility situation by brainwashing skeptical citizens to believe in science despite its spotty track record, or is society’s current level of skepticism healthier than it looks? Maybe science is what needs to improve, not the citizens.
I’m on the side that says climate change, for example, is pretty much what science says it is because the scientific consensus is high. But I realize half of my fellow-citizens disagree, based on pattern recognition. On one hand, the views of my fellow citizens might lead humanity to inaction on climate change and result in the extinction of humans. On the other hand, would I want to live in a world in which people stopped using pattern recognition to make decisions?
Those are two bad choices.
Scott Adams, “Science’s Biggest Fail”, Scott Adams Blog, 2015-02-02.
July 10, 2016
The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it’s cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.
This is, of course, not how science works, and people who treat it this way are not showing their scientific bona fides; they are violating the very thing in which they profess such deep belief. One does not believe in “science” as an answer; science is a way of asking questions. At any given time, that method produces a lot of ideas, some of which are correct, and many of which are false, in part or in whole.
Megan McArdle, “Global-Warming Alarmists, You’re Doing It Wrong”, Bloomberg View, 2016-06-01.
January 15, 2016
As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.
I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.
In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.
Natalie Solent, “Bubbles, lies, and buttered toast”, Samizdata, 2014-11-13.
December 11, 2015
Mark Steyn writes about his appearance before the Senate sub-committee on Space, Science and Competitiveness:
On the morning of the event, Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat and Ranking Member, sent a message, warning me that I was obligated to “respect the decorum of the Senate”. I’ve been invited to Buckingham Palace, the White House and parliaments around the world, and nobody has ever felt it necessary to pre-issue such a warning. In the event, the US Senate has no “decorum” worthy of respect, as we’ll get to in a moment.
I said above that the Senate had no “decorum” to disrespect. By that I mean that, when my pal Ezra Levant and I gave evidence (as we say in the Westminster tradition) in the Canadian Parliament, members from all parties turned up and asked thoughtful and engaged questions. When we run into each other in Montreal, the representatives of the Bloc Québécois and I do not even agree on what country we’re in. But that afternoon we had a pleasant and civilized exchange, and one that had some rewardingly non-partisan after-glow in the months that followed.
In the US Senate, at least on Tuesday, senators wander in and out constantly. Their five-minute “question” sessions are generally four-minute prepared statements of generalized blather followed by a perfunctory softball to “their” witness, after which they leave the room without waiting to hear the answer – and then come back in when it’s their time to speak again at which point the staffer feeds them the four-minute blather they’re supposed to be sloughing off this time round. The video doesn’t capture the fakery of the event because under Senate rules the camera is generally just on whoever’s speaking. Whether this meets the “decorum” of the Senate, it certainly doesn’t meet the decorum of life; it’s a breach of the normal courtesies – and, frankly, Americans are the chumps of the planet for putting up with it. Since the 17th Amendment, senators have been citizen-legislators like any other, and so their contempt for the citizenry who have graciously consented, at their own time and expense to appear before them, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship.
Take this guy Brian Schatz, the Senator from Hawaii. He did his shtick, lobbed a softball at his witness, Rear Admiral Titley, and stood up to leave. I said I’d like to respond, and he demurred on the grounds that he was outta there, he had to get back to washing his hair or whatever. I said I’d still like to respond to what he said, and so I did – to an empty chair. A pseudo-parliament is a fine place in which to debate pseudo-science, but “decorum” has nothing to do with it.
There is another kind of basic rudeness, which I have never experienced in a real parliament. If you’re moderating a panel discussion on C-SPAN with five panelists, it’s generally considered polite to distribute the questions broadly. In this case, the Democrats asked no questions of anyone other than their guy – Rear Admiral Titley. For example, there was some extensive discussion of the satellite record: They have the scientist who created and developed the satellite temperature record sitting at one end of the table: John Christy. This is a remarkable scientific accomplishment. Yet they directed all their questions on the subject to the bloke down the other end – Rear Admiral Titley, who knows no more about the satellite record than I do. This is like inviting Sir Isaac Newton to a hearing on gravity and then only asking questions of Mr Timeserver sitting next to him. It may represent the “decorum” of the Senate but in any other area of life it would be regarded as insufferably ill-mannered.
December 3, 2015
In Forbes, James Conca wraps up the latest IPCC Working Group reports’ comments on the viability of biofuel production from corn:
OK, can we please stop pretending biofuel made from corn is helping the planet and the environment? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released two of its Working Group reports at the end of last month (WGI and WGIII), and their short discussion of biofuels has ignited a fierce debate as to whether they’re of any environmental benefit at all.
The IPCC was quite diplomatic in its discussion, saying “Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30-90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions — including from land use change — can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis” (IPCC 2014 Chapter 8).
The summary in the new report also states, “Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity” (WGIII).
The report lists many potential negative risks of development, such as direct conflicts between land for fuels and land for food, other land-use changes, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and nitrogen pollution through the excessive use of fertilizers (Scientific American).
The International Institute for Sustainable Development was not so diplomatic, and estimates that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero (IISD). They claim that it would be almost 100 times more effective, and much less costly, to significantly reduce vehicle emissions through more stringent standards, and to increase CAFE standards on all cars and light trucks to over 40 miles per gallon as was done in Japan just a few years ago.
October 9, 2015
A few people sent me a link to this article, which may be of interest to those following the ongoing climate debates:
It turns out the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has over-estimated future global warming by as much as 10 times, [Dr David Evans] says.
“Yes, CO2 has an effect, but it’s about a fifth or tenth of what the IPCC says it is. CO2 is not driving the climate; it caused less than 20 per cent of the global warming in the last few decades”.
Dr Evans says his discovery “ought to change the world”.
“But the political obstacles are massive,” he said.
His discovery explains why none of the climate models used by the IPCC reflect the evidence of recorded temperatures. The models have failed to predict the pause in global warming which has been going on for 18 years and counting.
“The model architecture was wrong,” he says. “Carbon dioxide causes only minor warming. The climate is largely driven by factors outside our control.”
There is another problem with the original climate model, which has been around since 1896.
While climate scientists have been predicting since the 1990s that changes in temperature would follow changes in carbon dioxide, the records over the past half million years show that not to be the case.
So, the new improved climate model shows CO2 is not the culprit in recent global warming. But what is?
Dr Evans has a theory: solar activity. What he calls “albedo modulation”, the waxing and waning of reflected radiation from the Sun, is the likely cause of global warming.
He predicts global temperatures, which have plateaued, will begin to cool significantly, beginning between 2017 and 2021. The cooling will be about 0.3C in the 2020s. Some scientists have even forecast a mini ice age in the 2030s.
October 7, 2015
Published on 18 Mar 2015
Since the passage of the Clean Air Act, SO2 emissions have decreased by 35%. Part of this is due to tradable allowances, which created a market solution to the external costs of SO2 emissions. In this video, we look at the lessons of tradable allowances for SO2 and see if a similar market-based solution could work to decrease other pollutants, such as CO2.
July 24, 2015
Matt Ridley on the danger to all scientific fields when one field is willing to subordinate fact to political expediency:
For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.
Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience — homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.
Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.
This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.
What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.
What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.
June 21, 2015
At National Review the editors’ response to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is not warm:
There is an undeniable majesty to the papacy, one that is politically useful to the Left from time to time. The same Western liberals who abominate the Catholic Church as an atavistic relic of more superstitious times, who regard its teachings on abortion and contraception as inhumane and its teachings on sexuality as a hate crime today are celebrating Pope Francis’s global-warming encyclical, Laudato Si’, as a moral mandate for their cause. So much for that seamless garment.
It may be that the carbon tax, like Paris, is worth a Mass.
The main argument of the encyclical will be no surprise to those familiar with Pope Francis’s characteristic line of thought, which combines an admirable and proper concern for the condition of the world’s poor with a crude and backward understanding of economics and politics both. Any number of straw men go up in flames in this rhetorical auto-da-fé, as the pope frames his concern in tendentious economic terms: “By itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” We are familiar with no free-market thinker, even the most extreme, who believes that “by itself, the market can guarantee integral human development.” There are any number of other players in social life — the family, civil society, the large and durable institution of which the pope is the chief executive — that contribute to human flourishing. The pope is here taking a side in a conflict that, so far as we can tell, does not exist.
March 30, 2015
Political beliefs affect what one wants to be true. People are pretty good at persuading themselves that what they want to be true is true.
That works in both directions in the context of arguments about climate change. People who share my political views are suspicious of government regulation, CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) provides an argument in favor of more government regulation and is used as such an argument at present, so we naturally want to look for arguments against CAGW.
On the other side, it’s my experience that people who think global warming is a terrible problem that must be dealt with are also, by some odd coincidence, people who think the things that need to be done to deal with it are things most of which ought to be done anyway, that the real cost is low or negative. They are likely to put that point in terms of creating a cleaner, more sustainable world. From their standpoint, CAGW provides arguments to persuade people to do things they want done, so they naturally want to look for arguments in favor of CAGW.
David D. Friedman, “Global Warming and Wishful Thinking”, Ideas, 2014-06-09.
February 5, 2015
Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.
Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.
Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).
As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening.
Nick Gillespie, “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”, Time, 2015-01-27.
February 3, 2015
Matt Ridley on the trouble with only agreeing somewhat with the “scientific” “consensus”:
I am a climate lukewarmer. That means I think recent global warming is real, mostly man-made and will continue but I no longer think it is likely to be dangerous and I think its slow and erratic progress so far is what we should expect in the future. That last year was the warmest yet, in some data sets, but only by a smidgen more than 2005, is precisely in line with such lukewarm thinking.
This view annoys some sceptics who think all climate change is natural or imaginary, but it is even more infuriating to most publicly funded scientists and politicians, who insist climate change is a big risk. My middle-of-the-road position is considered not just wrong, but disgraceful, shameful, verging on scandalous. I am subjected to torrents of online abuse for holding it, very little of it from sceptics.
I was even kept off the shortlist for a part-time, unpaid public-sector appointment in a field unrelated to climate because of having this view, or so the headhunter thought. In the climate debate, paying obeisance to climate scaremongering is about as mandatory for a public appointment, or public funding, as being a Protestant was in 18th-century England.
Kind friends send me news almost weekly of whole blog posts devoted to nothing but analysing my intellectual and personal inadequacies, always in relation to my views on climate. Writing about climate change is a small part of my life but, to judge by some of the stuff that gets written about me, writing about me is a large part of the life of some of the more obsessive climate commentators. It’s all a bit strange. Why is this debate so fractious?
Rather than attack my arguments, my critics like to attack my motives. I stand accused of “wanting” climate change to be mild because I support free markets or because I receive income indirectly from the mining of coal in Northumberland. Two surface coal mines (which I do not own), operating without subsidies, do indeed dig coal partly from land that I own. They pay me a fee, as I have repeatedly declared in speeches, books and articles.
October 31, 2014
JoNova on the newly discovered Global Placebo Effect:
Matt Ridley was questioning Baroness Sandip Verma at the House of Lords this week. He pointed out to the peers that even the IPCC admits there is “hiatus” that modelers can’t explain. Verma responded: “‘It [global warming] may have slowed down, but that is a good thing. It could well be that some of the measures we are taking today is helping that to occur.’” [Source — Dailymail]
Verma raises the intriguing possibility that windmills and solar panels that were built after 2005 have managed to keep global temperatures constant starting from ten years before they were constructed.
What’s even more remarkable is that none of these projects or activities have reduced global CO2 levels. It follows then, that the mere thought of building windmills is enough to change the weather.
Furthermore, it’s well known that more expensive placebo’s are more effective. Hence the final-final copy of the latest IPCC report — issued on Friday after the leak, the draft, and the redraft — will explain that they are 95% certain that if we spend $2 billion dollars a day on renewable energy (instead of just $1 billion) there will be no more category five storms, seas will stop rising, and goats will stop shrinking.