Climate Change Science is Biased

Scientists have been vastly understating the degree of global warming for decades.

Scholars Naomi Oreskes, Michael Oppenheimer, and Dale Jamieson promote their new book about the history of the study of climate change at Scientific American. They start off on the results, which are rather shocking:

Recently, the U.K. Met Office announced a revision to the Hadley Center historical analysis of sea surface temperatures (SST), suggesting that the oceans have warmed about 0.1 degree Celsius more than previously thought. The need for revision arises from the long-recognized problem that in the past sea surface temperatures were measured using a variety of error-prone methods such as using open buckets, lamb’s wool-wrapped thermometers, and canvas bags. It was not until the 1990s that oceanographers developed a network of consistent and reliable measurement buoys.

Then, to develop a consistent picture of long-term trends, techniques had to be developed to compensate for the errors in the older measurements and reconcile them with the newer ones. The Hadley Centre has led this effort, and the new data set—dubbed HadSST4—is a welcome advance in our understanding of global climate change.

From a layman’s point of view, it’s rather remarkable that we were only off by “about 0.1 degree Celsius” using decades-old measuring techniques on something that would seem rather obviously challenging to measure. Then again, from a layman’s point of view, “about 0.1 degree Celsius” is literally a rounding error. Not so much, it seems.

Because the oceans cover three fifths of the globe, this correction implies that previous estimates of overall global warming have been too low. Moreover it was reported recently that in the one place where it was carefully measured, the underwater melting that is driving disintegration of ice sheets and glaciers is occurring far faster than predicted by theory—as much as two orders of magnitude faster—throwing current model projections of sea level rise further in doubt.

A hundred times faster?! How could they be off by that much?

To me, that’s the more fascinating part of the essay. It turns out, science—particularly on a topic as controversial as this—is rather political.

These recent updates, suggesting that climate change and its impacts are emerging faster than scientists previously thought, are consistent with observations that we and other colleagues have made identifying a pattern in assessments of climate research of underestimation of certain key climate indicators, and therefore underestimation of the threat of climate disruption. When new observations of the climate system have provided more or better data, or permitted us to reevaluate old ones, the findings for ice extent, sea level rise and ocean temperature have generally been worse than earlier prevailing views.

Consistent underestimation is a form of bias—in the literal meaning of a systematic tendency to lean in one direction or another—which raises the question: what is causing this bias in scientific analyses of the climate system?

The question is significant for two reasons. First, climate skeptics and deniers have often accused scientists of exaggerating the threat of climate change, but the evidence shows that not only have they not exaggerated, they have underestimated. This is important for the interpretation of the scientific evidence, for the defense of the integrity of climate science, and for public comprehension of the urgency of the climate issue. Second, objectivity is an essential ideal in scientific work, so if we have evidence that findings are biased in any direction—towards alarmism or complacency—this should concern us. We should seek to identify the sources of that bias and correct them if we can.

In our new book, Discerning Experts, we explored the workings of scientific assessments for policy, with particular attention to their internal dynamics, as we attempted to illuminate how the scientists working in assessments make the judgments they do. Among other things, we wanted to know how scientists respond to the pressures—sometimes subtle, sometimes overt—that arise when they know that their conclusions will be disseminated beyond the research community—in short, when they know that the world is watching. The view that scientific evidence should guide public policy presumes that the evidence is of high quality, and that scientists’ interpretations of it are broadly correct. But, until now, those assumptions have rarely been closely examined.

We found little reason to doubt the results of scientific assessments, overall. We found no evidence of fraud, malfeasance or deliberate deception or manipulation. Nor did we find any reason to doubt that scientific assessments accurately reflect the views of their expert communities. But we did find that scientists tend to underestimate the severity of threats and the rapidity with which they might unfold.

Among the factors that appear to contribute to underestimation is the perceived need for consensus, or what we label univocality: the felt need to speak in a single voice. Many scientists worry that if disagreement is publicly aired, government officials will conflate differences of opinion with ignorance and use this as justification for inaction. Others worry that even if policy makers want to act, they will find it difficult to do so if scientists fail to send an unambiguous message. Therefore, they will actively seek to find their common ground and focus on areas of agreement; in some cases, they will only put forward conclusions on which they can all agree.

How does this lead to underestimation? Consider a case in which most scientists think that the correct answer to a question is in the range 1-10, but some believe that it could be as high as 100. In such a case, everyone will agree that it is at least 1-10, but not everyone will agree that it could be as high as 100. Therefore, the area of agreement is 1-10, and this is reported as the consensus view. Wherever there is a range of possible outcomes that includes a long, high-end tail of probability, the area of overlap will necessarily lie at or near the low end. Error bars can be (and generally are) used to express the range of possible outcomes, but it may be difficult to achieve consensus on the high end of the error estimate.

The push toward agreement may also be driven by a mental model that sees facts as matters about which all reasonable people should be able to agree versus differences of opinion or judgment that are potentially irresolvable. If the conclusions of an assessment report are not univocal, then (it may be thought that) they will be viewed as opinions rather than facts and dismissed not only by hostile critics but even by friendly forces. The drive toward consensus may therefore be an attempt to present the findings of the assessment as matters of fact rather than judgment. [emphases all mine—jj]

I spend a lot of time over the course of the academic year talking to my students about various forms of bias in research, in organizations, bureaucracies, military planning, etc. Many of them are well-known to those who study the phenomena but nonetheless persist.

None of what the authors here say is the least bit surprising to me given what I know about how groups of people work. And, yet, because I don’t study this particular group, I naturally revert back to a “rational actor model” assumption. That is, I tend to think of those in the physical sciences are simply reporting their findings without bias and never consider that they’re under political pressure to bias their estimates low to present the image of consensus. But, upon a moment’s reflection, of course they are.

Indeed, this is likely an intractable problem. Even if this book vaults to the top of the bestseller list and makes an impact on the public discourse, the underlying pressures will remain. Lay people simply don’t understand how science works and will naturally interpret uncertainly in the form of “It’s probably somewhere between 7 and 12 but could be as high as 27” as “We have no idea what the number is.”

FILED UNDER: Global Climate Change, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Many scientists worry that if disagreement is publicly aired, government officials will conflate differences of opinion with ignorance and use this as justification for inaction. Others worry that even if policy makers want to act, they will find it difficult to do so if scientists fail to send an unambiguous message. Therefore, they will actively seek to find their common ground and focus on areas of agreement; in some cases, they will only put forward conclusions on which they can all agree.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA [deep breath] HAHAHAHAHA

    Golly, I wonder why scientists “worry” about this. Could it be that people have stolen and misrepresented their emails? Could it be that members of Congress have brought snowballs onto the floor to “disprove” global warming? Could it be that any “scientist” who a MOC finds agreeable is cited in support of whatever whacky thing a MOC wants to support?

    ‘Tis indeed a mystery. SOB

    There is another reason, too, why scientists feel they need to reach a consensus. It’s because that’s how science is done. A scientist develops a model or does an experiment or measures a natural process. Then they share the methods and thinking behind that with other scientists. Does it agree with your findings? Is the thinking reasonable? Other intellectual professions do this too – it’s called peer review. Climate science rests on a great many disciplines and therefore needs a great many of these checks.

    Do the authors of that book recommend another way of doing this?

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  2. Kit says:

    I suspect that you could find many individual reports which present findings straight up. But, as Cheryl noted, scientists need to reach consensus, especially in the comprehensive multidisciplinary reports that reach the public.

    Furthermore, these comprehensive reports are not simply blue-sky theorising but include recommendations for current action. Of course some consideration must be made of how best to effectively convey that message. This is not simply getting back the results of a blood test, but involves a battery of doctors deciding whether to tell the patient to improve his diet, or to get his affairs in order.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: You mean scientists aren’t Klingons?

    @Kit: We better get our affairs in order.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    It’s because that’s how science is done. A scientist develops a model or does an experiment or measures a natural process. Then they share the methods and thinking behind that with other scientists. Does it agree with your findings? Is the thinking reasonable? Other intellectual professions do this too – it’s called peer review. Climate science rests on a great many disciplines and therefore needs a great many of these checks.

    Do the authors of that book recommend another way of doing this?

    I don’t think the authors, who come from multidisciplinary backgrounds at elite universities, are suggesting that we do away with peer review or the seeking of consensus. Rather, they’re arguing that the bullying phenomenon you mention is pressuring them to seek consensus at the bottom of the range rather than report on the range. That it’s created a systemic bias toward under-reporting.

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  5. Teve says:

    Side note: this is a good resource
    197 myths and lies climate deniers tell

    it’s not going to be entertaining reading for most people, but it’s really good if you are a layman and some climate denier on Facebook tells you some nonsense that sounds pretty obscure and sophisticated and you want to know what’s up with that particular claim.

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  6. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner: That’s a different frame than you used in the OP, and perhaps than the authors used in the book. That sounded like it’s all on scientists to find another way to make people understand how science works.

    I’m all for people understanding that scientists have a lot of back and forth, get things partly wrong and partly right, correct and backtrack in what we do. But it’s been weaponized in favor of oil, gas, and coal and against the prospect of human survival. Maybe a diatribe against the folks who did that is in order.

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  7. mattbernius says:

    It turns out, science—particularly on a topic as controversial as this—is rather political.

    James, this was you being sarcastic, right? Please tell me this isn’t a new revelation?

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Yes, as noted later in the post, it’s obvious when framed that way but probably not how most of us instinctively think of the process.

    @Cheryl Rofer: I’m quoting an article by the book authors from Scientific American in which I put in boldface what I thought were there key arguments. This isn’t me trying to blame scientists for their failings. At all. Rather, I’m reporting the findings of the authors that cultural and political pressures have actually led to a practice that’s the exact opposite of what climate change deniers charge: a bias towards under-reporting the effects to avoid being seen as ideological.

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  9. Paul L. says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Could it be that people have stolen and misrepresented their emails?

    So much for transparency. No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.
    If the climate deniers and energy companies wanted to undermine the catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. consensus, They would create a parallel network of 10,000 to 50,000 temperature sensors to measure the 197 million square miles of surface atmosphere and fully release the data.
    I would bet that the climate alarmists would call for laws to ban violating their intellectual property.

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  10. mattbernius says:

    Ok, I got so stopped at that section I totally missed:

    That is, I tend to think of those in the physical sciences are simply reporting their findings without bias and never consider that they’re under political pressure to bias their estimates low to present the image of consensus. But, upon a moment’s reflection, of course they are.

    This is exactly what people in Science and Technology Studies (not to mention Historians of Science) have been writing about for decades. That’s what many of us find so scary about the way that politicians and pundits use science and concepts of it’s supposedly objective nature to justify certain policies.

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    That sounded like it’s all on scientists to find another way to make people understand how science works.

    FWIW, some of my associates in STS have been documenting deal deep debates with in the climate science community about the topic of education. While it isn’t “all on scientists” there are really deep divisions about how “public” they should be and how to perform the line between “objective science” and “activism.”

    And yes, a lot of that has to do with the issues you listed up @here. But the reasons that are listed in the article have also come up in the research over and over again too.

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  11. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:

    No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.

    Umm, just google it and the Real Climate listing comes up as result two. First thing on the page — “Raw Climate Data Sources”:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/

    Here’s the listing of Raw data source from Berkley Earth:
    http://berkeleyearth.org/data/

    Here are links to other sets:
    https://www.quora.com/Where-is-it-possible-to-find-raw-climate-data

    So um, what are you talking about?

    BTW, the work to publish raw data sets has been happening since the early teens: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20739-ok-climate-sceptics-heres-the-raw-data-you-wanted/

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yes, as noted later in the post, it’s obvious when framed that way but probably not how most of us instinctively think of the process.

    Agreed. This is a failure of science education.

    Unfortunately, it’s also the exact thing that ultimately leads to distrust in experts when people discover it and Nichols’ “Death of Expertise” problems.

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  13. Tim D. says:

    Our political system is also biased against government action that might inconvenience the wealthy and powerful. It’s interesting that the burden of proof is placed on the scientists here. There’s no current decision point that says the next ton of coal that is mined must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it won’t destroy the climate. But any law or regulation to protect the climate has to pass through the gauntlet where any uncertainty is amplified by bad faith actors.

    We’ve had enough information to act on the climate threat for over 30 years, and there is a truly amazing amount of data and information on climate change out there for anyone who is interested in taking a look. The scientific community has more than done their job here. It’s our political leaders who have failed us.

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  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.

    Paul, are you off your meds? Or have you been getting your ‘information’ from liars again?

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  15. mattbernius says:

    Oops, my detailed post just popped into moderation for too many links. So here’s the short version… @Paul L.’s claim that “No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.” is full of shit.

    The data are publicly available: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/

    As far as the “programs” if you read the research papers, the software, methodologies, and mathematical modeling should typically be available in the paper’s methods sections.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @mattbernius:

    Reading, never mind understanding, scientific data requires knowledge and training. People who don’t know this tend to be disappointed by the raw data, often concluding it’s nothing. Have you ever seen the famous WOW Signal? Even with some portions circled, it means nothing to most people.

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  17. DrDaveT says:

    It’s interesting that the burden of proof is placed on the scientists here.

    Yes. Compare the standard of evidence required from climate scientists to that applied to economists who claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy will boost revenues and stimulate the economy.

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  18. Tim D. says:

    @DrDaveT: Exactly. I’d wager that we have more and better information on climate change than almost economic or foreign policy decision the government makes on a regular basis. But industry lobbyists and the right-wing media will keep moving the goalposts.

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  19. mattbernius says:

    @Kathy:

    Reading, never mind understanding, scientific data requires knowledge and training.

    Yup. Which gets to the problem of expertise in the age of the death of expertise.

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  20. Michael Cain says:

    No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.

    My son’s girlfriend, who does climate model work at NOAA and NCAR, will be delighted to hear that she no longer has to worry about making the source code available and supervising the support documentation so that anyone can compile and run the models.

    Granted, the general public lacks access to the kind of supercomputer that lets you do runs at anything like full resolution in a reasonable time… :^)

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    The Koch Bros aren’t putting tons of money into politics because they want good government. They make a lot of money buying, refining, and selling oil. They’re supporting the ancient Republican principle that every current revenue stream is sacred. We like to think the truth will out, and in the long run it will, but long after temperatures have risen too far. As long as a majority of the Supremes believe massive money = speech, truth faces an uphill fight.

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  22. Paul L. says:

    @mattbernius:

    As far as the “programs” if you read the research papers, the software, methodologies, and mathematical modeling should typically be available in the paper’s methods sections.

    Why do the programs have to be recreated?
    @Michael Cain:

    Granted, the general public lacks access to the kind of supercomputer that lets you do runs at anything like full resolution in a reasonable time… :^)

    Compare processing power of a supercomputer for 2000 to today.
    Where is this NOAA and NCAR climate model source code?

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  23. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:

    Where is this NOAA and NCAR climate model source code?

    Um, git hub for NOAA?
    https://github.com/NOAA-GFDL/AM4

    NCAR: http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/models/ccsm4.0/

    Man, you really are not interested in ever searching for anything that disproves your position are you?

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  24. Keeven Lex says:

    @Paul L.: speaking as someone who works in the intellectual property office of an elite university, I can tell you that’s not how things work. The data are published. So are the methodologies.

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  25. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:
    Actually, my NCAR link was to only one of their models. Since you’re really interested in diving into the source code, the code for all four of their models, with full documentation is available from here:

    https://ncar.ucar.edu/what-we-offer/models

    Just click through to each of those pages and you can find links to documentation and source code right there.

    Unfortunately they don’t actually provide people to come to your bunker and install the code on your machines (or bring machines with them in case you don’t have them to run the code). Clearly that’s a sign that they’re part of a globalist conspiracy to prevent people like you from getting the truth out about how all climate science is fake…

    Looking forward to the next moving of goalposts…

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  26. mattbernius says:

    @Keeven Lex:
    Depending on the field (and the grant requirements), the data sets used to generate the research are required to be published (by most NSF grants). *Raw* data (i.e. raw sensor data in this case) historically were not. And that’s historically pretty standard (or at least it was when I got out of the academic business about a decade ago).

    However, that started to change with climate science around 2010/2011 due to the “Climate Gate” controversy. Here’s some coverage on it:

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20739-ok-climate-sceptics-heres-the-raw-data-you-wanted/

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  27. Michael Cain says:

    Just click through to each of those pages and you can find links to documentation and source code right there.

    There is, of course, a learning curve. My son’s girlfriend once asked if I was interested in unretiring to take an intern’s position. She said that people who knew Linux, Python, some Fortran, had a strong math background, and were willing to learn a new scripting language (NCL, the NCAR Command Language) were rare. (NCL is intended to eventually disappear, replaced by Python modules.)

    I think she was joking, but am not completely sure.

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  28. Teve says:

    The idea that Paul L’s problem is he’s personally redoing the ANOVA tests and doesn’t like the r² numbers he’s seeing is good for a laugh 😀

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  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Just curious: do you get some kind of erotic charge out of being humiliated? Are you wrapped in Saran Wrap and choking yourself as you watch your latest idiot comment be torn apart within seconds?

    I’m not judging, your kinks are your kinks. I’m just curious about the mindset of someone who is never, ever right about anything, ever who insists on repeated beatings and humiliation. Dude. What are you thinking?

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: (Disclosure: I am not a scientist but have portrayed an academic upon occasion in previous lives.) I have to admit that I don’t find that the consensus being representative of the lower range the research will allow to be all that unusual. When what you think you know covers a large range of possibilities, it’s probably wiser to select the range in which the possibilities are most likely to be accurate.

    That politics plays a role in this sort of evaluative process also doesn’t surprise me, but my natural cynicism informs that part of my response. A story from my past: When I was an undergrad, my acoustics teacher also taught the astronomy courses offered at my college. I one day asked him if he’d ever seen a UFO while doing observations out in Goldendale, WA (where the regional telescope was located at the time, IIRC). As a preface to answering, he noted that he had received several NSF grants over the years and that the NSF does not generally give grants to people who claim to have seen UFOs. He then answered that no, he had never seen a UFO, but he had seen things that were outside the scope of his ability to explain based on his knowledge of physics and astronomy.

    So no, I would not be surprised to find that politics shapes the outcomes of these discussions.

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paul L.: Transparency is not likely to assist one looking at data that they don’t understand. Just as in scuba diving, it’s important to know when you are out of your depth. Do you?

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  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius:

    Man, you really are not interested in ever searching for anything that disproves your position are you?

    Wa! What would be the point of THAT?

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  33. Paul L. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m just curious about the mindset of someone who is never, ever right about anything, ever who insists on repeated beatings and humiliation. Dude. What are you thinking?

    So when will Mueller convict Trump of collusion and treason? Before or after Trump’s Impeachment?

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  34. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:
    So I guess that’s your way of saying that “every ‘fact’ I posted about the lack of transparency in climate change research to justify my denialist position was 100% wrong (and easily proven wrong with simple web searches).”

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  35. Paul L. says:

    @mattbernius:
    Most of the code on your Github link is 2 years old.
    So you believe that 10,000 to 50,000 temperature sensors can accurately monitor the entire 197 million square miles of surface atmosphere?

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  36. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Paul L.:

    Most of the code on your Github link is 2 years old.

    And climate scientists have been studying this for several decades. Also the last commit to the NOAA hub was 16 days ago. So, this is what we call mature software.

    So you believe that 10,000 to 50,000 temperature sensors can accurately monitor the entire 197 million square miles of surface atmosphere?

    Yeah, I do. Don’t you? Do you think doubling the number of sensors would yield a different result? By how much?

    I ask these questions not expecting an answer, because you aren’t interesting in learning anything. You appear to be reasonably smart, but change ground at each rebuttal, never responding. I wonder if that just developed organically, or if someone taught you that.

    I wonder why you are even here. One of the places my mind goes to is a notion called “consensus breaking”. Research shows that even one person going against consensus can give many other observers enough of a sense of freedom that they too will go against the consensus, which is shattered. It’s a damn useful idea if you are a petroleum industry company or a petro state.

    Your hosts could shut you down by deleting your comments, or by not allowing comments. They don’t do that because of their personal beliefs and commitment to free speech in an open exchange.

    But you use that against them. You aren’t engaging in a dialog at all, which is what this comment section is for. You are just dropping random stuff here that’s wrong, but sounds good, and polluting the stream. I’ve seen this before. I’ve had communities wrecked by it before, so I’m a bit, umm, tetchy about it.

    You can do better with your life than serving the needs of oil oligarchs, because that’s what you are doing, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

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  37. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:
    So you looked at a single repo, huh? And also “most of the code” kinda ignores the fact that much of that code is being updated (last commit was 16 days ago). Clearly you know as much about software dev as you do about climate science… which is jack shit.

    And all of the published work will always list what version of the software they are using so you can actually track the transparency… Which was your inital full of shit claim

    Again, let’s remember what you wrote:

    No one can see the raw data and programs used on the data because of intellectual property even when funded by the Government.

    That was proven to be completely wrong.

    So now your epic goal post move is “why can’t the public have access to live data sets? And not enough sensors?

    So you believe that 10,000 to 50,000 temperature sensors can accurately monitor the entire 197 million square miles of surface atmosphere?

    Yes.

    Remind me, what are your credentials to question all the experts who have reached that decision? What is your educational background?

    And why should we trust someone who posts claims that are as easily disproven as the ones you posted above? Especially given how easily you ignore facts that don’t fit your beliefs.

    Seriously, just admit you were wrong.

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  38. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Well, given that anyone who has been conscious the last two years understands that Mueller was not able under DOJ policy to charge a sitting POTUS, I’d say never. But impeachment is in a race with the 25th amendment.

    So, gee, another bit of brilliance from you disposed of. Whack! Whack! Are you secretly digging that?

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  39. Jim Satterfield says:

    @Paul L.: Sorry, but that’s not true. The raw data in that instance, and in most instances, is freely available. The researchers even pointed out where they got it but the faux skeptics still made their false claims.

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  40. Paul L. says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I was under the impression this person was very busy.

    My son’s girlfriend, who does climate model work at NOAA and NCAR, will be delighted to hear that she no longer has to worry about making the source code available and supervising the support documentation so that anyone can compile and run the models.

    My mistake, Government Job.

    Remind me, what are your credentials to question all the experts who have reached that decision?

    Appeal to Authority.

    What is your educational background?

    Bachelor in Computer Science.

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  41. mattbernius says:

    @Paul L.:

    Appeal to Authority.

    Correct. And that isn’t a fallacy when dealing with an expert domain knowledge issues.

    “Be very careful not to confuse “deferring to an authority on the issue” with the appeal to authority fallacy”

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/21/Appeal-to-Authority

    And given the fact you already made demonstratively false claims about said knowledge area, I asked you to demonstrate your authority to speak on the issue. You demonstrated you cannot.

    You you don’t know climate or rhetoric either.

    All you have is denialist opinion that doesn’t mean shit.

    And you change the subject every time you are caught in a falsehhod.

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  42. Teve says:

    @mattbernius: I didn’t see any Appeal to Authority fallacy against him though. As you mentioned, pointing out domain expertise is not such an argument.

    There’s a creationist discussion board where one of the lead morons loves, everyday, banging on and on about how Quantum physics and Quantum entanglement and the Copenhagen interpretation, etc prove Jesus. He thinks it makes him sound smart and the other creationists praise his babblings. And he has no idea what he’s talking about. So one day I asked him a simple question about eigenstates and he got all angry, and I followed it up with a question about spin states, and he got all pissy about that too, so I asked him something about clebsch gordan coefficients, and he got even angrier, and at some point I asked him, “could you even work a single undergrad quantum mechanics problem if I gave one to you?” and I was banned for Argument From Authority even though I’d never made one.

    An argument from authority fallacy would have been “your advanced quantum mechanics points are wrong *because* you don’t understand the basics”. My message was, “your advanced quantum mechanics points are gibberish, which is understandable because you demonstrably don’t understand the basics.”

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  43. mattbernius says:

    @Teve:
    I think it depends on whether or not you are subscribing to the idea that an argument from authority can be non-fallacious. I had been taught it could be a la:

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

    However my education on classical rhetoric is far from complete.

    My point still stands. My stance on the sensor question is based on reading the expert consensus research (it rather meta studies of it).

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  44. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Paul L.: That wasn’t me. I didn’t say those things you’re responding to. Get things right, like I know you can, or go home.

    Using my name with someone else’s quotes and then rebutting them is either a mistake that fits a pattern with thinking the average age of a file in a repository is meaningful, and shows you to be someone who isn’t very good at putting forth relevant facts, OR it is a deliberate act meant to discredit me without addressing anything at all I said. I’m leaning toward the former, but feel free to clarify.

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  45. Blue Galangal says:

    @Teve:

    The idea that Paul L’s problem is he’s personally redoing the ANOVA tests and doesn’t like the r² numbers he’s seeing is good for a laugh

    ROFLMAO!

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  46. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.:

    Waaah! I know nothing! Debate me!

    No.

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  47. PJ says:

    We’re f***ed.

    I’ve been think about a certain point in history. In 1979 President Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House. Next year Reagan got elected and he ordered them to be torn down.

    Maybe a lot of things would have been different if the world had tried to ween it self off oil in the 80’s and instead had focused on renewable energy.

    Less pollution. Less CO2. Less money to certain countries in the Middle East. And so on.

    Sadly we won’t get a do-over.

    I hope the cockroaches will better at this.

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  48. DrDaveT says:

    [Reposted from earlier attempt]

    @Kit:

    I suspect that you could find many individual reports which present findings straight up. But, as Cheryl noted, scientists need to reach consensus, especially in the comprehensive multidisciplinary reports that reach the public.

    This.

    James, you are conflating two separate phenomena. The biggest one in play here is “what’s the difference between what individual climate scientists believe and what gets into the giant periodic IPCC reports?”. The IPCC reports only include models and forcing factors that have near-universal consensus. This means that they do NOT include any of the real worst-case scenarios that various scientists have published, or any of the hypothesized positive feedbacks that don’t have a rock solid consensus yet. I have commented on this before.

    The second one is the peer pressure effect you seem to be focusing on. I think that one is much less of an issue here. There are still people publishing their unbiased estimates and potential doom scenarios (e.g. the Gulf Stream shutting down); those just aren’t part of what climate scientists talk about when journalists or politicians ask them what we know at this point.

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  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    Why do the programs have to be recreated?

    Because real scientists independently verify the findings, rather than blindly reusing code from other people that might be buggy. The algorithm is fully public; having other people recoding it ensures that the algorithm published is the one that’s actually being used.

    That said, Paul, you’re in a bind. You either have to be good enough to do the independent verification for yourself, or knowledgeable enough to be able to tell good science from bad on the basis of publications. If you can’t do either, then you’re going to have to take someone else’s word for it about whether the science is solid. That’s where you have to choose between believing actual scientists about science, or believing politicians and billionaires.

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  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Paul L.: I really should try to be above this, but… That is the position of a f*cking moron. No, a parody of a f*cking moron’s position.

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  51. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: exactly. There are sincere, well-informed, honestly curious people who are worth discussing complicated things with, then there are people like Paul L.

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  52. Teve says:

    there’s a climate change discussion group on Facebook I hang out on, largely because it’s a small closed group and half a dozen of my scientist friends are in it. And there’s a lot of interesting discussion that happens in that group. There are also a couple of rando idiots who just post like YouTube videos from the heartland institute with captions like “OMG expert DESTROYS “Global Warming” Lies!!!” And everyone just laughs at them and goes back to the discussion about albedo or forcing functions or whatever.

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  53. Tyrell says:

    @Teve: When I was down at the beach in June there was a lot of new construction in some areas. As far as beach front property values, I did not see any 80% off signs on the properties that were for sale. Much as demand as ever.

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  54. Gustopher says:

    @PJ:

    Maybe a lot of things would have been different if the world had tried to ween it self off oil in the 80’s and instead had focused on renewable energy.

    Fun Fact: Half of the carbon burned in human history has been after Al Gore’s “Earth In The Balance” was published.

    We’ve seen this problem coming for most of my lifetime, and we haven’t given a shit. I hope to be dead before the shit hits the fan.

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  55. PJ says:

    @Gustopher:

    Fun Fact: Half of the carbon burned in human history has been after Al Gore’s “Earth In The Balance” was published.

    Yeah, read about it earlier, was going to add it, but couldn’t find it.

    Just depressing.

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  56. rachel says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Transparency is not likely to assist one looking at data that they don’t understand

    And don’t want to understand.

    Paul L. is in the position of a horse that’s been lead to water but has decided that thirst is a mere illusion proposed by Liberals.

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  57. Kari Q says:

    Anyone paying attention to climate change has known for some time that things are worse than the predictions said they would be. The planet is changing faster than expected and we have less time to respond than we thought. Not that we are even trying, but if we were, we’d have to act much more quickly and dramatically than we had calculated.

    We won’t, of course. We are going to destroy the planet. Because stopping it would require some people to admit they were wrong and others to give up a little of their wealth. Sure, future generations will curse, but it’s a small price to pay to own the libs.

    @Gustopher:

    We’ve seen this problem coming for most of my lifetime, and we haven’t given a shit. I hope to be dead before the shit hits the fan.

    My husband and I just commented today that all those articles on extending your life always just assume that it’s a good thing to live long. The way the future is looking, we aren’t sure we want to be here for it. Maybe we should start smoking, just to help make sure we’re gone before things get really bad.

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  58. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: This probably doesn’t help, but when I was teaching such thing as part of an argumentative essay course a while ago, we used the term “appeal to authority” to describe the fallacious one as all of our data and discourse was either arguments from authority or commentary on them.

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  59. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @rachel: Yes, that’s certainly another factor. Those people tend to be “nah, I swim just fine” types, too.

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  60. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kari Q: Alzheimer’s hasn’t skipped a male in my family over 70 so far for at least 2 previous generations and my mom is the first person in her family to live long enough to suffer from it. I spend a lot of time considering whether I smoke and drink enough.

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  61. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: One of the authors is a science historian. What’s interesting about bias is the it often requires an interdisciplinary approach to discover it. It took Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists, the radically revolutionize the study of economics. My own field of international relations has been revolutionized by applying decades-old concepts from other fields, especially sociology and economics. We’re not well organized as specialized to question our founding assumptions.

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  62. Tyrell says:

    @PJ: In 1973 the so-called “gas shortage” crisis* hit. Gas was rationed. People waited in long lines for five gallons of gas. The country was held hostage by the big oil companies. The leaders did not have a clue. But there was no gas shortage. Storage tanks were filled to overflowing. The distribution was being restricted. Once the price doubled, there was plenty of gas.
    The big three car manufacturers tried smaller cars that got better gas mileage. They were disasters: shabby, unsafe, and unreliable. The technology was just not there for a change in the energy structure and platform. There were some innovations, but were not put into general use: 50 mpg V6 engine. The oil/government complex was in control.
    There was a lot of talk about energy conservation. President Carter talked it up, but the country was in a weak economic situation. “Drive 55” Turn down the thermostat and wear sweaters.
    *Gas shortage of the ’70’s: the biggest hoax ever pulled on the American people.

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  63. Kari Q says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I can understand that. I’m in my 50s and both of my grandmothers are still alive. Up to about 85 they were doing fine. They’re both approaching 100 now and I don’t think I want the lives they have now. With those genes, though, I figure I need to start taking strong steps if I want to avoid seeing the future.

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  64. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius:

    Man, you really are not interested in ever searching for anything that disproves your position are you?

    Trumper. ‘Nuff said.

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  65. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    do you get some kind of erotic charge out of being humiliated?

    FWIW, I don’t it works like that in a Trumper’s brain. I suspect it goes like this: visit a Trumper fanatic site and stumble across a quote that revs up his fellow mutton heads. Rush over here to post it. Rush back to crow about owning the libtards. On the few occasions that he reads responses here I imagine they come across as those muted trumpet sounds they use for adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons.

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  66. MarkedMan says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    You appear to be reasonably smart

    Objection! Statement assumes facts not in evidence.

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  67. MarkedMan says:

    As to Paul’s claim,

    Bachelor in Computer Science.

    I call total BS. Anyone who has ever developed code would be incapable of uttering the innanity that code can’t be up to date because most of the modules are more than two years old.

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  68. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: Several things he said were suspiciously dumb, the code thing, and the idiotic idea that comparing temperature measurements at tens of thousands of locations over the globe wouldn’t give you a reliable picture, and/or the idea that tens of thousands of climate scientists would be oblivious to the basic idea of systemic sampling error. A real BS in CS would have taken a stat/prob class and understood the basic math of sampling better than that.

    On the other hand, there’s the Salem Hypothesis:

    The Salem Hypothesis is the observation of an apparent correlation between the engineering trade and creationist beliefs (possibly due to crank magnetism, this can also include climate-change denial and other crackpot beliefs).

    The hypothesis suggests that people who claim science expertise, whilst advocating creationism, tend to be formally trained as engineers.

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  69. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    One of the authors is a science historian.

    Yes. Naomi Oreskes is great. I read a few of her papers as part of my STS training.

    What’s interesting about bias is the it often requires an interdisciplinary approach to discover it. […] We’re not well organized as specialized to question our founding assumptions.

    Agreed — though the reality is that this general argument has been around for decades in STS and science studies (since at a minimum 1962 and Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”). The challenge is that while it’s widely accepted in science studies, it’s not particularly well accepted with STEM and the sciences themselves.

    In part that’s because of disagreements about the terms “bias.” The debate — really fight — about to what degree social factors and relativism impact scientific discovery came to a head in the 90’s with the Science War.

    Generally speaking the STEM side won the battle (and without a doubt many post modernists were arguing crap that made no sense) and so the ways that politics (not to mention culture) influences the trajectory of scientific discovery is still something that most STEM education programs don’t want to address in any substantive way.

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  70. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Anyone who has ever developed code would be incapable of uttering the innanity that code can’t be up to date because most of the modules are more than two years old.

    Kinda depends on the environment they are developing in. I also find that this knowledge or understanding of development varies differently between CS and SE people.

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  71. Teve says:

    Old code is all over the place. And I mean Real Old, not some numpy script from a climate dissertation in 2014. I can go find you, live and in person, ATMs in operation running on Windows NT. NYC’s subway system still uses OS/2.

    This Old-Ass Commodore 64 Is Still Being Used to Run an Auto Shop in Poland

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  72. Teve says:

    Arguably the most common OS in use in the world right now is MINIX! Fucking MINIX!

    MINIX: ​Intel’s hidden in-chip operating system

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  73. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius: I would think it has more to do with the Lone-Spaghetti-Coder vs. Part-0f-a-Team kind of programmer.

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  74. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: Not to mention all the financial transactions still running COBOL. Admittedly, it is now run on untold numbers of virtual machines that get stood up and release by the second, hosted on mainframes. (OK, not sure if the mainframe part is still true, but it was ten years ago…)

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  75. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: I’d guess they’re running on VMs on hypervisors on Xeons in some cloud warehouse somewhere.

    ReplyReply
  76. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Good point. That’s one of the reasons why the industry is finally moving away from prizing the notion of the “ninja/rockstar” coder concepts. Part of that is getting coding programs at schools to teach team coding from the start..

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  77. Tyrell says:

    I have not met anyone in person who buys these climate change scenarios.
    But let’s think about this point. Most people agree with energy efficiency and clean air from an economic. Many have spent a lot of money and time to make their homes energy efficient and now own vehicles that are far superior to what we had ten – fifteen years ago. Coal is out. Other sources are being developed and hold great promise: hydrogen, natural gas, fusion energy, ion engines and others. A lot of politicians and candidates talk climate issues, but do not offer any clear ideas or sensible proposals. A few have, but they are ridiculous: stop flying, stop eating meat, and everyone pack up and move to the mountains. Anyone who wants to ban natural gas – is full of gas. Joe Biden wants to end “emissions” by 2050, but doesn’t say how to do that. Governor Cuomo’s plan is to have a bunch of committees thinking up regulations, controls, and taxes.
    Problems are solved through the free market, ingenuity, inventiveness, and imagination; not big government.

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  78. Tim D. says:

    @Tyrell: Wow, a lot of religious dogma in one post!

    > Problems are solved through the free market
    Climate change is a problem created by the free market, because — absent government intervention — externalities are not priced. Something that even Friedman and Hayek understood.

    > A lot of politicians and candidates talk climate issues, but do not offer any clear ideas or sensible proposals.
    You should read more widely. We are literally drowning in actionable climate solutions that are not currently being deployed at scale because of lack of policy leadership, and opposition by Republicans and fossil fuel interests. For starters take a look at https://www.drawdown.org/

    If you want to look at a politician who offers clear, ambitious and detailed climate policies, read Jay Inslee’s full plan. It’s extremely impressive, and serves as a blueprint for the next president, should she want to do something effective.

    Finally I would just say this: If we don’t reduce net GHG emissions to zero, then GHG concentrations will continue to rise in the atmosphere, and will continue to drive temperature increases and a plethora of knock on impacts. That’s the main takeaway. Globally we should strive to reach net-zero by 2050, and the U.S. should aim to do that sooner.

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