Pious Fraud and Climate Skepticism

Pious fraud is the idea that sometimes it’s a good idea to lie to serve a higher good. In religion, it may mean lying about the origins of a sacred text or witnessing a miracle. In science, it may mean lying about a useless medical treatment to try and strengthen the  placebo effect. In Disney movies, it means giving an ordinary feather to Dumbo and telling him that it will magically help him to fly.  The ethics of pious fraud are therefore hotly contested.

The most recent entrant in the long and checkered history of pious fraud is the exaggerated claim that 97% of climate scientists all agree on climate change. The claim started out as a paper (not peer reviewed, btw) and then went on to get lots of airtime. Even President Obama tweeted it:

2014-02-27 Obama Consensus Tweet

There are lots of problems with the original paper and with the way that the paper has been used by others. Before we dig in, however, it’s important to carefully define the terms. The issue that is really at stake is not just a science issue, but a policy issue as well. It has 5 core components. They are:

  1. Climate change is really happening, and will continue to happen. (Implied: human forecasts are accurate.)
  2. The principle cause of climate change is human behavior (e.g. carbon emissions).
  3. The effects of climate change will, on balance, do much more harm than good.
  4. Climate change is largely reversible (e.g. we can do something about it).
  5. The costs of reversing climate change (e.g. with slower economic development for impoverished nations) are outweighed by the benefits.

As it turns out, however, the 97% paper successfully establishes near-universal scientific consensus on exactly none of these issues. Well, maybe on point #1, if you want to be generous. There are several articles out there castigating the authors of the paper for dishonesty and other shenanigans, but by far the strongest evidence of just how fraudulent the paper is comes from Popular Technology.

First, let’s explain how the 97% paper worked. Bjørn Lomborg (as reported in WattsUpWithThat) writes that:

The paper looks at 12,000 papers written in the last 25 years (see here, the paper doesn’t actually specify the numbers, http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/watch-the-pea/). It ditches about 8,000 papers because they don’t take a position.

They put people who agree into three different bins — 1.6% that explicitly endorse global warming with numbers, 23% that explicitly endorse global warming without numbers and then 74% that “implicitly endorse” because they’re looking at other issues with global warming that must mean they agree with human-caused global warming.

Voila, you got about 97% (actually here 98%, but because the authors haven’t released the numbers themselves, we have to rely on other quantitative assessments).

In other words, the 97% paper is based on interpreting the papers of various other climate scientists. So what Popular Technology did is actually quite simple, they asked the original authors if they agreed with how the 97% paper had characterized their articles. As it turns out: they did not. The 97% paper effectively drafted many of the most vocal and outspoken critics into the consensus regardless of their actual feelings. That would be bad enough. But, as the scientists described, the problems only get worse from there.

Let’s start with issue #2. Ostensibly, this should be the most reliable claim of the paper because it’s the whole point of the paper. Other folks, like President Obama, may have subsequently added on points 3-5 (which the paper itself didn’t claim), but surely the paper at least had some accuracy about the main issue it claimed to study? Not really. The problem is that the consensus being defended is what’s called the IPCC consensus (after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), but the IPCC defined anthropic global warming as global warming that is caused 90%-100% by humans. That’s a pretty high bar. The 97% paper, on the other hand, lowered that bar to just 50% and it did so without explaining what they were doing or why. Dr. Scaffeta, who has a PhD in physics and whose paper was used by the 97% paper as evidence of the consensus, explains:

Cook et al. (2013) [the 97% paper] is based on a strawman argument because it does not correctly define the IPCC AGW theory, which is NOT that human emissions have contributed 50%+ of the global warming since 1900 but that almost 90-100% of the observed global warming was induced by human emission.

What my papers say is that the IPCC view is erroneous because about 40-70% of the global warming observed from 1900 to 2000 was induced by the sun. [emphasis added]

Please note that it is very important to clarify that the AGW advocated by the IPCC has always claimed that 90-100% of the warming observed since 1900 is due to anthropogenic emissions. While critics like me have always claimed that the data would approximately indicate a 50-50 natural-anthropogenic contribution at most. [emphasis added]

What it is observed right now is utter dishonesty by the IPCC advocates. Instead of apologizing and honestly acknowledging that the AGW theory as advocated by the IPCC is wrong because based on climate models that poorly reconstruct the solar signature and do not reproduce the natural oscillations of the climate (AMO, PDO, NAO etc.) and honestly acknowledging that the truth, as it is emerging, is closer to what claimed by IPCC critics like me since 2005, these people are trying to get the credit.

They are gradually engaging into a metamorphosis process to save face.[emphasis added]

This is why I say that none of the 5 points above are actually substantiated by the 97% paper. Not only do Scaffeta (and many more) reject the characterization of their papers, but they in fact have dissenting views about the causes of global warming. This has profound implications. If (to use Scafetta’s high estimate), 70% of the global warming from 1990 – 2000 is caused by the sun, then this means that the models used by the IPCC consensus are wrong and we can’t trust their forecasts (so much for points 1 and 3). It also means that we have significant reason to doubt whether or not there’s much humans can do about climate change (points 4 and 5).

This is far from the only explosive comment to come from these scientists, however. Dr. Nir J. Shaviv (PhD in astrophysics) was also cited as being a part of the 97% consensus, and also completely rejected that categorization. He wrote:

Nope… it [that the paper was part of the 97% consensus] is not an accurate representation. The paper shows that if cosmic rays are included in empirical climate sensitivity analyses, then one finds that different time scales consistently give a low climate sensitiviity. i.e., it supports the idea that cosmic rays affect the climate and that climate sensitivity is low. This means that part of the 20th century should be attributed to the increased solar activity and that 21st century warming under a business as usual scenario should be low (about 1°C).

I couldn’t write these things more explicitly in the paper because of the refereeing, however, you don’t have to be a genius to reach these conclusions from the paper. [emphasis added]

So, not only does he also find that cosmic rays must factor into some of the warming (and therefore also criticize the forecasts), he also points out that he was unable to express his true opinion because of the peer review process, which was basically censoring (albeit not very well) his true belief. Just as a quick summary of the rest of the findings, here are some additional comments from the scientists who spoke with Popular Technology about how they felt the 97% paper characterized their own work:

  • “It would be incorrect to claim that our paper was an endorsement of CO2-induced global warming.” (Dr. Craig D. Idso, Geography)
  • I think your data are a load of crap. Why is that a lie? I really think so.” and “I think your sampling strategy is a load of nonsense. How is that a misrepresentation? Did I falsely describe your sample?” (Dr. S. J. Tol, Economics, in a series of tweets to one of the authors of the 97% paper.) [emphasis original to the Popular Technology article]
  • “The paper is strongly against AGW, and documents its absence in the sea level observational facts. Also, it invalidates the mode of sea level handling by the IPCC.” (Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, Quaternary Geography, describing how his own paper is actually against the consensus.)
  • “I am sure that this rating of no position on AGW by CO2 is nowhere accurate nor correct…. I hope my scientific views and conclusions are clear to anyone that will spend time reading our papers. Cook et al. (2013) is not the study to read if you want to find out about what we say and conclude in our own scientific works.” (Dr. Willie Soon, Rocket Science, describing why the categorization of his paper as having “no position” on anthropic global warming was false. He added: “No extra comment on Cook et al. (2013) is necessary as it is not a paper aiming to help anyone understand the science.” [emphasis added])
  • “If Cook et al’s paper classifies my paper, ‘A Multidisciplinary, Science-Based Approach to the Economics of Climate Change’ as “explicitly endorses AGW but does not quantify or minimize,” nothing could be further from either my intent or the contents of my paper… I would classify my paper in Cook et al’s category (7): Explicit rejection with quantification.” (Dr. Alan Carlin, Economics) [emphasis original to Popular Technology piece]

The Popular Technology article concluded: “The Cook et al. (2013) study is obviously littered with falsely classified papers making its conclusions baseless and its promotion by those in the media misleading.” and added two followup analyses: Cook’s 97% Consensus Study Game Plan Revealed and The Statistical Destruction of the 97% Consensus.

Where does that leave us? The most charitable possible interpretation is that the 97% paper deliberately or negligently inflated consensus on this issue. The reason for doing this is obvious: it’s a policy paper rather than a scientific paper. It is designed to get people to support policies intended to curb global warming without actually proving that these policies are the right decisions to make. It is a pious fraud. When the paper is used by others who tack on issues 3-5 (harm, reversibility, and net-benefit of opposing global warming) they are compounding the same fraud which the paper was deliberately designed to initiate.

This is a very, very bad idea. It is a bad idea because it poisons the entire debate. If scientists are willing to blatantly lie and fabricate to try and win a policy war, how can we (especially we who are non-experts) trust the scientific “consensus”? If the consensus were as low as 33% of scientists but it was transparent and honest and included all 5 points, that would be enough to make the issue quite serious. If it was as high as 67% (with the same conditions) that would be enough to make me seriously consider supporting drastic policies. But to try and trick people into believing there is consensus on all 5 points when there is, at best, exaggerated consensus on just 1 or 2 points throws the entire policy argument into question. Now I know that people are lying to me, and I also know that I have no realistic way of estimating the extent of the fabrications. I have to weigh the uncertain efficacy and uncertain benefits of climate change remedies against their certain costs.

This is not a good position for someone to be in if they are truly worried about climate change. And it’s not a reasonable position to be in if you’re actually confident of the facts. The fact that we are in this position at all is the reason that I, like many other open-minded skeptics, look for other possible explanations to explain the absolutist rhetoric of the climate change alarmists.

My Days of Not Taking Slate Seriously Are Coming to a Middle

There was an initial wave of angry condemnation when The Triple Package was first released, and my problem with that reactionary wave was just that: It was reactionary. It’s been over a month since those first-pass criticisms were unleashed, and over at Slate Daria Roithmayr has had time to formulate a more nuanced and sophisticated response. Or, as turns out to be the case, not. Instead, her response shows the twin perils of (A) putting politics ahead of reality and (B) espousing historical theories without consulting Wikipedia first.

According to Roithmayr, the real reason that different cultural groups perform differently is that they start out with unequal resources. Otherwise: we are all exactly the same. The problem is that Roithmayr pretends it’s a conclusion of her research when quite obviously it is pure political dogma. She explains the success of each of the seven cultural groups identified by Chua in their turn. I’m not a historian, so I’m not qualified to analyze all of them, but in the case of her hypothesis about what makes Mormons successful, her explanation is so bad that you don’t have to be. Even the most superficial familiarity with our history shows that she has no idea what she’s writing about. Consider:

It’s not just that Mormons have developed a “pioneer spirit” or that they believe that they can receive divine revelations, as Triple Package would have us believe. It’s more that the first Mormons started with enough money to buy a great deal of land in Missouri and Illinois. They then migrated to Utah, where Brigham Young and his followers essentially stole land from the Shoshone and Ute tribes, refusing to pay what the tribes demanded, and petitioning for the government to remove them. Beyond thousands of acres of free land, early political control over Utah was helpful.

So here’s the true story of Mormonism: a bunch of really wealthy families just decided to buy a bunch of land in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and so forth. Why did they keep moving around and buying new land? Oh, you know, just because. They were fickle like that. Then they thought it would be fun to move to Utah because, you know, the land by the Great Salt Lake is legendary for being so fertile. That’s what everyone says when they drive through Utah, right? 

The Desert
Look how green everything is!

In case you can’t detect all the sarcasm, the reality is that the Mormons were poor and marginalized from the start and that they moved from one state to the other at the point of a gun, suffering murders, rapes, and theft along the way. When they managed to build the city of Nauvoo up to one of the largest American cities at the time, well, that was about the time Joseph Smith was murdered and they were surrounded by thousands of armed men with, you know, cannons and then forced out of their homes without compensation in the middle of winter. The land they stole in Utah was only marginally fit for agriculture and the reason they were there in the first place was simply to get away from constant oppression, but that ended up not working so well when the United States sent the largest federal expeditionary force of its history (to that point) to subjugate those wacky religious nuts, resulting in the low-grade Utah War of 1857

Since Roithmayr says “For many groups, like Cubans and Mormons, the early wave was a select group endowed with some significant material or nonmaterial resources—wealth, education, or maybe a government resettlement package,” and since Mormons were by and large quite poor the only reasonable conclusion is that she can’t tell the difference between a resettlement package and an armed invasion.

A painting of the Haun's Mill Massacre. Or, as Roithmayr describes it, the Haun's Mill Polite Conversation.
The Haun’s Mill Massacre where a mob of over 200 killed about 20 Mormon men and boys and were never prosecuted. Or, as Roithmayr describes it, the “Haun’s Mill Polite Conversation.”

She mentions Mormons one more time, writing:

The most recent (newly converted) Mormons hail from Africa and Latin America, and many of them have migrated to the U.S. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also begun outreach to U.S.-born blacks (African-Americans have only been allowed in the Mormon church priesthood since 1978). Black Mormon trajectories look nothing like the white Mormons at the center of The Triple Package’s argument.

Keen observers might point out the obvious fact that “recent” converts are probably not the best indication of the long-run effects of a culture.

Again: I’m still skeptical of Chua’s points. I haven’t read the book and I don’t subscribe to the thesis. I’m also not nearly as familiar with the history of the other cultures described. I do know that in general there’s a serious selection problem when you’re comparing immigrants (often those with the wealth and education to be mobile) with their home population (sometimes slanted towards those unable to get away). I think Roithmayr could probably have made a serious, convincing counter-argument if she’d been willing to put history ahead of ideological wish-fulfillment. As it stands, she’s making the case against Triple Package look worse, and she’s not doing much for the either the credibility of either Slate or the discipline of critical race theory.

Scientifically Literate Tea Partiers?

2013-10-17 Tea Party Scientific Literacy

That’s the conclusion, according to a Yale professor. It’s really not big news, honestly. The Tea Party is already known to be slightly wealthier and more college educated than the average public, so it’s no surprise to find that they are also slightly more scientifically literate.

But it’s still a sharp contrast with the way they are portrayed in the media. As Professor Kahan put it:

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

The large difference between the image universally presented by the media and the reality is much more interesting than the small difference between scientific literacy for the Tea Party and the public at large.

Is American Journalism Dead?

2013-09-27 Carney
Jay Carney: Just one of many journalists to decide it’s more liberating to cast aside the pretext of impartiality and work for The Man directly.

I think I might be fading into that fabled silent majority of American conservatives. Where I used to get into heated debates with folks in my cohort about their liberal beliefs, I mostly now just shake my head and try to get back to earning a living. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But I still see stories, now and then, that just irritate me to no end. Here’s a collection. First, there’s all the journalists who jump back and forth between journalism and working for the Obama administration. The Washington Times gives us some numbers: “The current count of press turncoats varies from a low of 15 reported by The Daily Beast to a high of 24 as reported by The Atlantic.” Then there’s old battlehorses like Bob Woodward or, more recently, Seymour Hersh showing up as the only guys willing to go to bad against the Obama administration (short of conservative pundits, of course). Woodward is famous for covering Watergate and Hersh is famous for covering My Lai and Abu Ghraib. Now Hersh says Obama is worse than Bush and castigates the NYT for “carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.”

Seymour Hersh
Ordinarily truth tellers who uncover not one but *two* major cover ups of military crimes are lionized by the left, but Seymour Hersh is another one of those erstwhile heroes relegated to “crazy uncle” status for turning on President Obama.

And then, to give a specific example, here’s an obscenely bad story from CNN purporting to do some “mythbusting” about the impact of Obamacare.

Read more

The Mainstream Media and Obama

2013-06-10 Obama

There has definitely been a different tone in mainstream media coverage of the Obama administration since the current wave of scandals hit the headlines. Has the news media finally decided to vet President Obama?

To some extent: yes. I think that the news of the Department of Justice’s monitoring of the AP press pool in particular had an impact in how the press views the White House. And there are only but so many times you can listen to Jay Carney blatantly and obviously lie to you before that starts to get annoying, I would think.

On the other hand, Breitbart is quick to point out that not a single one of the scandals was actually broken by the American press. Now, Breitbart being Breitbart, the site has a definite bias and really reaches to actually make their case, but I think the fundamental reality–that the press doesn’t really pursue the Obama administration they way it has others–is true. The Daily Caller points out that the initial New York Times opinion piece critical of the Obama administration (President Obama’s Dragnet) was quietly edited to dampen the initial criticism of President Obama. Initially, it stated that the Obama administration “has lost all credibility”, but within a few hours this had been qualified to read “administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.” (emphasis added by Daily Caller).

From where I’m standing, it looks like the American journalistic establishment feels a lot less obligated to carry President Obama now that he has secured a second term. Their work, in a sense, is done. There’s therefore a lot more freedom to criticize the President, but not much appetite for it. All the criticism to date is indirect if it refers to President Obama at all. If it were not for international press and the right-wing alternative media, I don’t think we would know as much today as we currently do.

Just Because You’re Paranoid…

As the old saying goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Last week has not been kind to the Obama administration in that regard. I watched a lot of the Benghazi hearings on C-SPAN while I was working, and to me it seemed clear that the most explosive accusation the GOP has been making is still completely unsubstantiated. There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen) that President Obama or anyone else refused to send military aid that could have arrived on time and would have made the difference. On the other hand, there seems to be pretty overwhelming evidence that the Administration willfully and knowingly lied to the American people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and then doubled-down on the first set of lies. And it looks like even the non-paranoid, mainstream media outlets are taking notice.

2013-05-13 Benghazi Hearing

The New Yorker, for example, has a piece with the headline Spinning Benghazi. And it gets right to the main evidence of deception: 

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Homegrown American Terrorism: Liberal Edition

The blind eye the media largely turned to the Gosnell story is only one example of the subtle but pervasive media bias in the traditional media establishment. This isn’t a  conspiracy, it’s merely a reflection of homogeneous politics. Journalists and their editors are overwhelmingly from the left of American politics, and they see the world through a center-left lens. So when a someone who claims affiliation with the pro-life movement shoots an abortionists, this is head-line news. It fits a pre-existing narrative. But when someone who claims affiliation with the pro-choice movement shoots a non-violent pro-life protester that gets much less coverage because it doesn’t fit a pre-existing narrative.

In a center-left view of American politics: the right wing is associated with violence, authoritarianism, and oppression.

Flord Corkins II - Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.
Flord Corkins II – Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.

So here’s another story that will get limited coverage because it doesn’t fit that mold. Anyone remember the shooting spree at the Family Research Center that wasn’t? I say “that wasn’t” because an armed security guard managed to stop the attacker (Floyd Corkins II) immediately, but the HuffPo (hat tip for going against the political grain) has some information on what the shooter’s objective was:

A security guard subdued Corkins in the lobby of the Family Research Council in August after he pointed a pistol at the man. Corkins fired three shots, and the guard was the only one wounded. Corkins, who was carrying nearly 100 rounds of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, later told authorities that he had planned to kill as many people as possible and then to smear the sandwiches on their faces as a political statement.

According to the government’s case against Corkins, if he had not been defeated by the security guard he “would have almost certainly succeeded in committing a massacre of epic portions.” And smearing each corpse with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Why a Chick-Fil-A sandwich? Well here’s some video of Corkins being interrogated by FBI agents in which he discusses why he targeted the Family Research Center.

So, a would-be mass shooter picked the FRC by looking at the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s list of anti-gay organizations (the FRC opposes gay marriage). Now the Chick-Fil-A thing makes sense, since the attack happened around the time that some people were boycotting Chick-Fil-A because the CEO gives money to socially conservative causes that opposed gay marriage. So Corkins thought a good, pro-gay marriage response would be to kill a few dozen people and rub it in their faces, so to speak.

Does Corkins represent the pro-gay marriage side of the debate? Absolutely not. I’m not interested in trying to tar an entire half of the political spectrum with this man’s craziness. I just think it’s instructive how much the news cycle depends on pre-existing stereotypes to news coverage. And this isn’t always friendly to liberals, either. There is absolutely no doubt that if you’re a pretty, young, blonde girl who gets kidnapped you’re going to get wall-to-wall coverage, but if you’re a black girl from an inner city forget it. The center-left political lens of American journalists is, after all, also calibrated to a mostly white, college-educated cohort.

I just think it’s useful to keep in mind that violent people come from all parts of the political spectrum, and I can’t help but wonder what some of the national debate on political issues would look like if the violence of conservatism wasn’t taken as axiomatic…