Climate Change and Flat Earthers

“There has been no universal trend in the overall extent of drought across the Unites States since 1900.”

“Trends in severe storms, including the intensity and frequency….are uncertain and being studied intensively.”

Both quotes are from the fine lines in the 829-page quadrennial National Climate Assessment. That’s the report Pres. Obama flogged on national television recently for nearly an hour. The president insisted something had to be done right now.

I have not read the report, of course, why should I ? (See below.)

(The first quote is in the report according to a Wall Street Journal editorial on 5/9/14. The second is in the report according to my frequent reader and commenter McHenry. He is a young man who does, or used to, believe in the threat of man-made climate change. He has good scientific training.)

A few months ago, when the Great Lakes were 90% frozen, that great scientist, Secretary of State Kerry relegated me to the ranks of “Flat Earthers.” He did this because I am very skeptical (and growing) of the climate change thesis. (See definition below.)

Of course, anyone who has been observing him from his political beginnings knows that John Kerry has no scientific competences, no competences about anything at all, except windsurfing and marrying rich widows. (I don’t knock either, no sir!) It’s also possible that he knows some French. That would tend to contribute to his misinformation, I think.

I suspect, in fact, I am almost sure, that Mr Kerry’s self-assurance is based on the belief that 97% of scientists, blah, blah, blah…

The climate change thesis deconstructs as follows:

1 There is a global rise in temperature.

That’s from some undetermined date. Hasn’t been any for the last fifteen years according to federal government’s own reports.

2 It’s caused by human activity.

This includes the burning of fossil fuels, of course but yet, there is no call for an increase in nuclear energy production which is a reliable and lasting way to relieve worldwide reliance on fossil fuels. No reason is ever given for this absence. Sometimes, perfectly serious climate change partisans also include among the causes of man-made global warming belching and flatulence by the large worldwide cattle population. The latter “cause,” of course, calls for a quick conversion to vegetarianism. (That is where secret evangelists show their hand.)

3 The world, or parts of it, or us, or some of us, are in imminent danger of a variety of catastrophes that will be caused by climate change.

Note that the three propositions are logically linked: If there is no global rise in temperature, we don’t care about human activity. If human activity does nothing to the globe ( to what, exactly?) there is no emergency. If there is a global rise in temperature and it’s not man-made, there is not much we can do. If there is global warming and it is the result of human activities and it does no harm, there is nothing we should do. If it does both harm and good (longer growing seasons in the north, access to minerals near the North Pole) then, there is something important to discuss internationally.

As the evidence in support of the thesis becomes more complicated and contradictory, the alarmist cries are becoming shriller. This makes a sort of macabre sense. Simple rationality is getting lost along the way. What we are told about urgent policy requirements does not fit with the evidence that is presented by the same people who demand urgently a new policy of de-industrialization. The climate change book is like a novel whose cover would proclaim “Joe Is the Killer” while the inside pages would sow doubt on the idea that Joe has ever killed, or even harmed anyone, has ever so much as spat on the sidewalk.

Sometimes, downright fraud is also prominently involved. That’s the case for the “97% of scientists” that I think certified incompetents like Sec. Kerry rely on. Personally, I have always known and said that there was nothing to the number. There is no 97% of anything anywhere, except in some banana republics and in North Korea. Now, we have good evidence of fraud on this matter.

In past postings on the climate change or global warming, I have been at great pains to declare, even to prove my ignorance in matters of climate science. I did this because I wanted to step resolutely away from jargon-filled experts’ and pseudo-experts’ discussions that can only befuddle people who have to make a living, rear children, prepare their taxes, pay a mortgage, go to the gym.

In fact, I have fair general scientific training: I easily recognize a good study design. (They don’t grow on trees!) I can spot bad measurements from a mile away, like a jealous wife a single long hair of the wrong color on her husband’s lapel. I also possess a skill that is rare in the general literate population but common among those who have acted as referees for scholarly journals: a keen sense of studies’ formal conclusions that shout when the findings would only merit whispering.

Note that I don’t claim I have ever committed this last little sin myself when I was a scholar. It’s damned tempting though. How can you admit, “Yes, I and two colleagues worked hard on this study for three years and, frankly, what we found does not amount to a hill of beans.”

And then, there is the vertiginous, nightmarish situation where you would have to report, “The consensus is that X causes Y. Our study, carefully conceived in every way – go ahead and check everything – suggests that X does not cause Y.” This is like yelling, “Go ahead, don’t publish my study!” (I actually published two such studies in my time, one at the beginning of my career, one at the end. The last one took twenty years! See on my vita linked to this blog: Delacroix, Jacques. “The export of raw materials and economic growth: a cross-national study.” American Sociological Review. 42:795-808. 1977. Delacroix, Jacques and François Nielsen. “The beloved myth: Protestantism and the rise of industrial capitalism in 19th century Europe.” Social Forces 80-2:509-553. 2001.)

There is also a general, well known anti “negative findings” bias in all scientific disciplines. Few journals have the intestinal fortitude to publish articles that proclaim: “We did not find anything.” I doubt that the climate sciences constitute an exception. Do you?

Here is a fictitious but realistic example of such a conclusion:

“Humans have been pumping ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere with increasing intensity* for one hundred and ten years and yet, there is no rise in the frequency of droughts.”

How does this work for your career, do you think?

Here is an example of bad design, specifically.

Several years ago in one of the respected American scientific magazines there appeared an article authored by three Australian professors with impeccable scientific credentials. (I am very sorry I don’t have the reference. However, my memory forgets but it does not make up stuff.) The article purported to tackle the issue of long term global warming. It was an attempt to recoup after the disaster of the “hockey stick scandal”** which involved downright cheating.

The issue is this: If it was warmer in 1000 that it is today, it’s hard to argue that gases specific to industrial societies are an exclusive or even a primary cause of global warming. (It’s difficult but not impossible; it would involve heavy scientific lifting.)

Anyway, that article relied on one form of measurement of temperature, tree rings, I think, for the longest period, extending from about year 1000, to about year 1800. Then the authors switched to other, probably better, more sensitive measurements, based on other than tree rings, for the period extending from about 1800 to the present.

That’s impossibly bad scientific design, of course. Here are the reasons. If the first measurement somehow underestimates temperature then, it’s necessarily true that temperatures in the other period from 1800, will appear higher. If the second type of measures somehow overstates or simply detects more accurately high temperatures, the years 1800 to present will necessarily seem warmer. Both false effects would tend to be seem true irrespective of the real temperatures in both periods .

It tuns out that 1800 to present is the period of interest. If you are going to prove a sharp rise of temperature coinciding with industrialization, you have to demonstrate a big uptick for that period . The design is thus not neutral with respect to results. It favors some rather than others.

It’s such breathtakingly bad design that I had to read the article twice to believe it. (That’s what caused me to check the authors’ academic credentials. As I said, they were excellent.)

The alert reader will have noticed that the potential bias I describe above can work either way: If the measurements to 1800 overestimate temperatures while the measurements from 1800 to present happen to underestimate temperatures, you may find that you have demonstrated that there is no warming that corresponds to the industrializing period although one exists. You might even show that temperature has declined on the whole although it has actually risen.

Now, suppose that the study of reference showed precisely either no change or change in the “wrong” direction. That would be no change in global temperatures, 1000 to 2000, or a slight decline of temperatures beginning, say, in 1810.

My educated first guess is that, in the intellectual climate of the past fifteen years, the authors would not then have presented their research for publication. My second, also well informed guess, is that if they had presented it, the journal editor would have turned them down. He would have turned them down irrespective of his religion toward climate change. That’s because, journals don’t like negative results of the form: “Nothing happened.” See above.

That’s in addition to the fact that many editors are members of the same intellectual class that has lost its way on climate as it lost its way previously on communism and on Third World revolutions (another story I plan to tell soon on this blog).

In conclusion: Our current system of scholarly publication almost guarantees that there is little chance that scientific findings of high quality that contradict the belief in the thesis described above will see the light of day. It does not take a real conspiracy to arrive at such a situation, just the perpetuation of well-established bad habits.

How about the three credentialed Australian professors who committed the dramatically faulty research design? Are they scum? That’s were religion comes in. It’s helpful in pretending that the bad actions you commit are not really sinful. Did you know that the crusaders who captured Jerusalem in 1099 put all its inhabitants to the sword while shouting “God wants it”?

So, OK, I am a Flat Earther. It’s not so bad, really. One of these days, I will figure out the truth by noticing that no one ever falls off the earth, no matter how far he travels. I might even figure out why some get back home simply by moving in a straight line. Paying attention to negative evidence like this pays off. On the other hand, those who live inside a square box will never learn anything. Their blindness is dangerous for everyone.

* I don’t know the actual numbers but I would be surprised if we did not, collectively, burn one hundred times more than we did in 1800. One thousand times would not surprise me, not even 10,000 times.

**Look it up. Great story!

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16 thoughts on “Climate Change and Flat Earthers

  1. Excellent post, Jacques. You saved me the trouble of writing something similar and you did it better.

    To underscore one of your key points: no sane academic, especially not an untenured academic, will publish a study saying “things are fairly good and there really isn’t much to worry about and don’t bother sending us more funding.”

  2. Terry: Sarcasm that does not even bring a smile to your own face does not count as a rebuttal. I make claims in this essay about matters with which you have to be familiar. One of them is the academic horror of negative results. What do you say?

    You are welcome, Warren.

  3. Global warming alarmists are getting more and more desperate as evidenced by their increasing resort to name-calling.

    • A great point Warren.

      Personally I think that there is a good chance that the earth is warming. It could be a natural cycle that humans have nothing to do with, but it could also be caused by industrialization (it seems to me that property rights concerning stuff like pollution are horribly created and enforced because they tend to come from a central planning authority – legislation – rather than from a decentralized process – judge-made law – and that therefore the potential for industrial pollution to wreck havoc is fairly good at this point).

      On the other hand, the global warming/climate change camp has been extremely dishonest and condescending to those who would try to debate the strengths and weaknesses of its arguments. This attitude, I think, is extremely telling.

  4. “On the other hand, the global warming/climate change camp has been extremely dishonest and condescending to those who would try to debate the strengths and weaknesses of its arguments. This attitude, I think, is extremely telling.”

    Not condescending enough in my opinion. I don’t bother to ‘debate’ with climate change deniers any more than I would deign to ‘debate’ with creationists.

  5. An excellent rebuttal, Brandon, good presence of mind!

    OK, Terry, You don’t bother to debate with your intellectual inferiors who are skeptical of claims that would lead to de-industrialization if believed Since we come from the same mold, I am still curious: How about the “97% of scientists…”? Is this part of the package? Not an invitation to debate, just a question. It can be answered tersely, even dismissively.

  6. I don’t know about everyone that might use that number. NASA does on its website and it references these sources.

    W. R. L. Anderegg, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 107 No. 27, 12107-12109 (21 June 2010); DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003187107.

    P. T. Doran & M. K. Zimmerman, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Eos Transactions American Geophysical Union Vol. 90 Issue 3 (2009), 22; DOI: 10.1029/2009EO030002.

    N. Oreskes, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science Vol. 306 no. 5702, p. 1686 (3 December 2004); DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618.

    Now the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is not a double-blind peer reviewed journal but it certainly has credibility and gravitas [well except for teapublicans, internet cranks, creationists, and other wingnuts]. The other two fit your [when convenient] criteria and Science is one of the premier journals in the world.

    If you had better work habits you could look over the cites above, they’re not very long. You could examine their methodology and look for flaws.
    Alternatively, you could cite other published work showing different results.

    Oh wait. You and Warren believe that scientific publications are all fraudulent, the result of greedy scientists grifting money from the public teat. What about that Higg’s boson scam, what a hoot eh?

    • Terry: I don’t know what Warren thinks. I (JD) don’t think that real scientific publications are “all fraudulent.” In fact, I think that they are rarely fraudulent. The fact that you throw this gratuitous insult at me adds to my Flat Earther skepticism. Why would he do something so unseemly, I ask myself? Why is he so scared?

      Thanks for the references. You could have given me one thousand others, or two. That saved you from answering my straight question. Here it is, again:

      Do you (YOU) Prof. Terry Amburgey believe that 97% of scientists believe anything at all related to climate change, climate disruption, or global warming?

      Man up, please.

    • Man up, please.

      I second this motion. I’m sure Dr A will have no problem whatsoever doing this.

      I think that the 97% number is bogus. It’s trash. I don’t think the fact that some members of the scientific community (along with politicians who stand to benefit from “green” legislation) are blatant liars implies that there is no global warming. Again, property rights in the area of industrial pollution are shoddy due to the fact that they are centrally planned (legislated) these days and could be much better.

      To make the decision harder for Dr Amburgey, I would say that roughly 97% of economists think that the Law of Comparative Advantage is sound. I believe them.

      The difference between the consensus of economists and the consensus of climate scientists is, I think, that economists are actually in agreement on the Law of Comparative Advantage. Can you imagine an Economics journal publishing something that claims 97% of all economists are in agreement on the Law of Comparative Advantage? It’s ludicrous. One wonders why so many people in the fields of the hard sciences have to reiterate this number in so many different journals…

  7. I think it implies just this.

    If your cause is good, you don’t have to lie in its service.

    I repeat that the global warming myth (story) involves three parts: Global warming for some significant duration (Can’t change the goalposts every five minutes); caused primarily by human activity; that we have to worry about right now.

    Prof Amburgey remains silent.

  8. “Do you (YOU) Prof. Terry Amburgey believe that 97% of scientists believe anything at all related to climate change, climate disruption, or global warming?”

    I believe that 97% of climate scientists believe in global warming.

  9. Thank you Prof. Terry.

    I take it that you mean that 97% of climate scientists believe that:

    • there is significant warming on a global scale since_______________ (no need for precisions, order of magnitude is fine.)
    • that it’s caused primarily by human activity;
    • that it needs amelioration urgently.

    And, if pressed, I assume that you could explain (roughly) the procedure that got you to arrive at a belief with this exquisite precision: 97%

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