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Media Miscoverage of Global Climate Change:

That's the topic of my latest media analysis column for the Rocky Mountain News. Plus a short item on the Denver papers failing to report on Governor Bill Owens' support for illegal aliens.

Tom952 (mail):
Nice article.

I felt Michael Crichton also made a strong case for alarmist and unbalanced reporting of global warming in his novel "State of Fear", which was salted with facts and cites. It seems to be ignored.
6.3.2006 1:59pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
This is gratuitously misleading! The fact that journalists have a poor track record with global climate issues provides no reason to doubt the unprecedented agreement among climate scientists on global warming.

Additionally any evidence that journalists are very bad at reporting climate issues should apply just as much to this article as it does to the other articles. While the poor record of journalists gives us no reason to doubt the consensus of scientists it does give us reason to be suspicious of the entirely unsupported claim of significant evidence against global warming.

As with all complicated scientific issues there are going to be certain facts and phenomena that at first glance may seem to suggest the theory is wrong. People advocating intelligent design can present examples that look to an unsophisticated audience as if they discredit evolution though properly understood by an expert (or explained at length) can be rightly seen to do nothing of the kind. The same is true of climate research. Just as it would be totally irresponsible for journalists to trumpet examples from the ID crowd as if they cast doubt on evolution just because a proper explanation was above the heads of the newspaper readers it would be similarly irresponsible for journalists to suggest that there are serious reasons to doubt global warming because there are a few misleading data points.

Several years ago there were valid reasons to be skeptical of human driven climate change and some of these concerns were valid. However, most of the serious scientists who were skeptical have been convinced by new data and now are firmly convinced of global warming. If you are not yet convinced then rather than reaching your decision based on the poor journalism on science change I recommend trying to read through some of the more detailed descriptions of the climate change research. realclimate.org is a good place to find some summaries that are much better than what you find in the paper.
6.3.2006 2:27pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
That's because it was based on bunk science.
6.3.2006 2:28pm
frankcross (mail):
Actually, there is now statistical evidence that:

a) virtually every peer-reviewed scientific paper in the discipline supports claims of global warming and

b) the mass media frequently gives equal time to people saying there is no global warming.

The media bias runs counter to that professed
6.3.2006 2:31pm
Scotty:
This is a poorly reasoned article. Just because journalists were wrong in the past doesn't mean scientists are wrong now. Those articles you cited are from a time when we knew very little about the earth's history and about our climate. This article is appalling for two reasons: bad logic and attempt to delay action on this problem of great importance to all of us.
6.3.2006 3:06pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Instead of using the MSM to learn anything about global warming you need to read articles written by scientists who know something about this subject. Remember atmospheric modelers are only one group. They have been pushing global warming for a long time. My reading on this subject is out of date, but until further study (starting today) I am skeptical anthropomorphic emission being a big driver of global temperature. My skepticism was reinforced many years ago when I was at an in-house meeting of modelers listening to their discussion on how to modify the code to give more politically acceptable results—more global warming. There was one very smart atmospheric physicist who had a lot to say about why GCM models weren't right. His division leader refused to sign off on his papers, so he had to publish on his own and did—in referred journals. There was tremendous political pressure at this laboratory not to say anything negative about global warming, lest it threaten future funding. It was like experiencing the Mafia. A friend of mine did an extensive study of all the temperature data and told me that you can't reach any conclusions because most of it was either missing or unrealizable. But all that was about 14 years ago, and a lot has happened since then. But consensus among scientists does not impress me as many are under political or funding pressure not to rock the boat. Science is not an honest business anymore, like everything else it's money driven, and that's why you see so much fraud these days.

Nevertheless all that proves nothing each of us has to evaluate the evidence on his own.
6.3.2006 3:12pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
"the unprecedented agreement among climate scientists on global warming."

They used to run ads saying 9 out of 10 Doctors prefer Camels*.

For those of you too young to remember, Camels was (and perhaps, "still is") a brand of cigarette.
6.3.2006 3:14pm
frankcross (mail):
Interesting theory, Mr. Schwartz. Do you reject all doctors' advice today?

But my point was not necessarily that global warming is correct but that the mass media coverage has generally played down global warming, relative to the science, much more than it has played it up.
6.3.2006 3:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
Well to be fair to the governor, supporting amnesty for 10 or 20 thousand, all of whom already speak English, isn't quite the same thing as supporting amnesty for 10 or 20 million, many of whom do not.
6.3.2006 3:27pm
JohnAnnArbor:
This is a poorly reasoned article. Just because journalists were wrong in the past doesn't mean scientists are wrong now.

How about scientists being wrong in the past? In the 1970s, these same scientists were going around claiming that we had to prepare, a new Ice Age was starting!

In grad school, I got a job shelving books in the campus science library to unwind. I'd stop to read a bit here and there. The 1970s ecological books are a laugh riot. Dire predictions abound, like that almost all mammals in North Americal would be extinct by 2000.

I'll start taking climate modelers seriously when they can take their model, input data from 50 years ago, and get today's climate. They can't even do that! So why should I believe their predictive value is any good for 50 years into the future? Just because they use a lot of computer time?
6.3.2006 3:44pm
Humble Law Student:
Even more important, the computer models used to project global warming show that it is practically impossible for humans to reverse the warming trend in any meaningful way over the next 100-200 years - unless we all revert to the stone age. (We can reduce the rate of increase somewhat, but not substantially and we cannot reverse it) That is something they never tell you.
6.3.2006 5:18pm
Humble Law Student:
Eat, drink, and pollute because tomorrow we WILL die...
6.3.2006 5:22pm
Tom952 (mail):
Skeptics of global warming do not dispute that it may be occurring. They merely say that more study is required to make the case. Contrary evidence exists.

For example, although the last two years of hurricane activity have certainly been extraordinary, hurricane activity for the prior 30 years was below normal at a time when there were increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Daily temperature data recorded over the last 100 years shows no consistent temperature rise outside of urban areas.

This complicated issue has unfortunately become politicized, clouding free exchange of information.
6.3.2006 5:26pm
DSwarts:
So, let me get this straight--

The problem with anthropogenic driving of climate is that the atmosphere is too big for us to cause any changes in its behavior. My comment to this is two fold. Do you know of any species on earth with a body size as large as ours (energy demand) with populations as large as ours (total demand) able to modify the environment as much as we do (eg. farming--something seen as benign)? Second contemplate the satellite pictures of the earth's night side. After pondering these two points then tell me anthropogenic driving is not possible.

Secondly, judging today's science by what was said or written 40 or more years ago is imprudent. I remember the 1970's, I am old. Most engineers were still using slide rules! Why, sonny I remember the first Radio Shack personal computer we had in our lab. 1 GB of RAM ha--we only had 10 MB of disk space on our third generation computer an IBM AT. Computer modelling-ha! What data were available to input into the models--satellite temperature data--hell there probably wasn't very good land based coverage of temperature, satellite observed cloud cover, water temperature, deep ocean current speeds...... Find the data I'm sure they would love to input it into their models.

The scientists you are doubting also begin by doubting. The good ones are constantly examining there own assumptions which is why the models get better and better. If you doubt they are better try meteorologic predictions--compare the accuracy of weather forecasts from the 1970s to those you see every night. The models are better, gee I wonder why?
6.3.2006 5:40pm
aslanfan (mail):
Professor Cross nailed it. The media bias is in the other direction. The present the situation as a genuine , hotly disputed controversy. But the near universal scientific consensus is that the climate is significantly warming due to human-produced greenhouse gases, this warming is already harming the planet, the harm will be significantly worse (perhaps much worse) if we do nothing, and the window of opportunity is closing. Rather than focusing on the facts, the state of the science, Kopel, Adler, et al. constantly change the subject to how some predicted global cooling and other irrelevancies. Intelligent design advocates operate the same way. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people are already dying from global warming each year due to malnutrition, malaria, etc. Deplorable.
6.3.2006 5:59pm
Bottomfish (mail):
I think there is good evidence of global warming over the last 30 years, based on the temperature readings of the Microwave Sounding Units of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric polar orbiting weather satellites. These are published here:

vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/public/n\msu/t2lt/tltglhmam_5.2.

(The third leftmost column of figures is the average deviation from the 1979-1998 temperature average in degrees Centigrade.)

The media can't handle the gloval warming issue because they confuse correlation with causation. I'm sure temperatures are higher than they would be without anthropogenic CO2, but how much higher is impossible to determine unless we can observe temperatures on two planet Earths, one with the CO2 and one just the same as the first but without the CO2. Some of the warming could be caused by changes in solar luminosity, some by changing patterns of human land use, and some by other factors of which we have no knowledge. The attribution of all warming to CO2 is based on global climatologic models, but there is a lot involved in climate that the models don't even consider. One important factor is the role of clouds, which can exert both a warming and a cooling effect depending on what kind of clouds. There is also the question of cyclical climate change due to Milankovich cycles, i.e., periodic variation is the eccentricity of the earth's orbit, the precession of the equinoxes, and the tilt of the earth's orbit. Nothing much Al Gore can do about this.
6.3.2006 6:09pm
Bottomfish (mail):
In the above I meant "tilt of the earth's axis", not "earth's orbit". Also the n\ in the URL should be deleted.
6.3.2006 6:30pm
Angus:
I must admit, it is interesting that some people will believe a second-rate science fiction author instead of leading scientists.
6.3.2006 7:23pm
Bobbie:
Lehuster, you're missing the point: no one claims that consensus means a proposition is true. History is replete with examples of scientists being wrong. But the fact that scientists do nearly universally agree with something means that laypeople are quite justified in believing it to be true.
6.3.2006 7:47pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Whats the weather going to be like on July 4,2006 at Wrigley Field in Chicago?? I know its going to be hot because of the global warming but I'd like to know if its going to rain or anything interesting. I'd also like to know exactly when the hurricanes are going to hit this year as I have some vacations to plan.
6.3.2006 7:49pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
They used to run ads saying 9 out of 10 Doctors prefer Camels*.

I also remember hearing that 9 out 10 doctors who tried camels went back to their wives.
6.3.2006 7:59pm
Bottomfish (mail):
I must admit, it is interesting that so many people will parrot "leading scientists" without showing any interest in how the scientists arrive at their conclusions.
6.3.2006 8:00pm
Mark F. (mail):
"The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people are already dying from global warming each year due to malnutrition, malaria, etc. Deplorable."

Wrong, most of these people are dying because they are poor and can't afford proper food and medical care.
6.3.2006 8:11pm
Bret (mail):

I must admit, it is interesting that some people will believe a second-rate science fiction author instead of leading scientists.


He's got an MD from Harvard.

Regardless of who said it, or his qualifications, it's hard to dispute: Consensus has nothing to do with Science. It only takes one scientist who is right and has independently verifiable results. Will such a scientist please step forward ...
6.3.2006 8:19pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Colorado State University professor of atmospheric science William Gray, who has directly harmed his own financial interests by speaking out.

Your faith in William Gray is nothing more than that. You have found a once respectable scientist who in old age has found a cause to fight against where he can beat up on the young whippersnappers who understand the technology and are getting all the glory William Gray is nothing but a bitter old man and a sour old fart. He is old school to the extreme and just doesn't believe in any of this new-fangled computer modeling. At 76 years old he is being contrary just to be contrary. He constantly complains about how wrong all the new theories are and that he can demonstrate that he can prove it but still has not presented any alternative explanation as to why the global warming proponents are wrong. Calling them nazis is not a scientific argument.

In fact all of the arguments against global warming amount to either "it's not happening (a less tenable position with each passing year)", distortion or outright lying about the data (e.g., claiming that the fact that the ice sheet in some areas in Antartica is growing is evidence global is not occuring when it proves exactly the opposite), saying that global warming is not caused by man or if it is we can't do anything about it.
6.3.2006 8:20pm
Mark F. (mail):
As one writer pointed out, even if there is some human caused global warming, there is not a great deal that can be done about it. There is alot of CO2 in the air that is going to stay there for a long, long time. And the Kyoto treaty only calls for a reductuion of about 5% in CO2 emissions. Pretty trivial. I suggest we try to adapt to warmer weather if necessary and ignore the "end of the world" doomsayers. If Manhattan is going to flood, well, there will be plenty of time to move to, say, Denver.
6.3.2006 8:21pm
JonBuck (mail):
A good skeptic web site: Junk Science. He frequently has links to peer-reviewed papers that dispute manmade global warming. Two such papers are (PDF format):

Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere.

Industrial CO2 emissions as a proxy for anthropogenic influence on lower tropospheric temperature trends
6.3.2006 8:23pm
mike (mail) (www):
It is pretty immature to blame global warming on the "vast liberal media conspiracy" of the MSM... I'd expect this from Sean Hannity but not the Volokh Conspiracy.
6.3.2006 8:30pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Regardless of who said it, or his qualifications, it's hard to dispute: Consensus has nothing to do with Science. It only takes one scientist who is right and has independently verifiable results. Will such a scientist please step forward ...

This is one of the silliest things I have ever heard in my life. I doubt there is one instance in the entire history of modern science where "once scientist who is right and has independently verifiable results" suddenly changed the world of science. Maybe Darwin or Einstein came close. But even their assertions were mere bases for years of follow-up research and verification before their theories became widely accepted.

Global Warming theory rests on an undeniable chemical fact. CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap reflected radiation from the sun. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 30% in the last 100 years and this rise is mostly due to human activity. All other things being equal, the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the more reflected radiation will be trapped and the warmer the earth will be. This can be demonstrated theoretically and experimentally using classic thermodynamic principles that have been well understood for 150 years.
6.3.2006 8:35pm
Bret (mail):

This is one of the silliest things I have ever heard in my life. I doubt there is one instance in the entire history of modern science where "once scientist who is right and has independently verifiable results" suddenly changed the world of science.


Jonas Salk
Joseph Goldberger
Louis Pasteur
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Einstein

The list goes on and on.


But even their assertions were mere bases for years of follow-up research and verification before their theories became widely accepted.


What do you think the process of Independent Verification is? What you argued doesn't refute what I said.

Current AGW studies and models are seldomly put up for peer scrutiny. The few that were have been found to have quite a few holes and leave many unanswered questions.

When there is a real breakthrough in the subject you won't have to use the word "consensus".
6.3.2006 8:44pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
What do you think the process of Independent Verification is? What you argued doesn't refute what I said.

Yes it does. All the people on your list were pioneers, no doubt, but they relied on years of science before and follow-up on their work after. Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine for one of our most debilitating diseases at a time when many important vaccines were reaching the market. Heisenberg was one of many scientists who advanced quantum physics in the years before World War II (and if our physicists weren't better than Heisenberg, we would have never built the bomb). There is no modern scientific discovery that occurs in isolation, not one.
6.3.2006 8:54pm
Bret (mail):

There is no modern scientific discovery that occurs in isolation, not one.


I would think that independent verification would imply not being in isolation, but I guess not. Regardless of how you want to define the process, it still holds that consensus has nothing do with science.

As an aside Heisenberg intentionally stalled Hitler, and have Niels Bohr a critical piece to the nuclear puzzle.
6.3.2006 9:06pm
Tom952 (mail):
Any theory must withstand be tests with all contrary evidence. Scientists still devise challenges to relativity and quantum theory, and it is not heresy to do so. An untested theory is only interesting, at best. The more a theory withstands challenges, the more credible it becomes, and the more it is proven of study and consideration.

Einstein did not issue his papers and nurture a coterie to attack anyone who disagreed. Skepticism is a required component of the scientific process of finding the truth.

These attacks here, comparisons to intelligent design, labeling Crichton, a brilliant scholar and a superb author as a "second-rate science fiction author", and degrading Grey as "nothing but a bitter old man and a sour old fart" are uninformed, emotional, and doctrinal. The popular movement to choke off debate on this topic is as dangerous and contemptible as the action by The Church to silence Galileo and his peers.
6.3.2006 9:09pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
JohnAnnArbor said,


How about scientists being wrong in the past? In the 1970s, these same scientists were going around claiming that we had to prepare, a new Ice Age was starting!


Can you point me to a large scientific consensus that believed with great certainty there was a coming Ice Age? No, you can't because there was no such thing. This is the perfect example of why journalists are bad at reporting on climate and other scientific subjects.

At some time in the 70s and perhaps 80s there was a bit of evidence suggestive of a coming Ice Age. This of course made for interesting headlines so the journalists splattered this all over the news but that didn't mean the scientific community was strongly convinced this was going to occur.

Saying that we shouldn't trust the strong scientific consensus over global warming because scientists at one point had some data that might suggest the earth is cooling is to totally ignore the difference between saying something might be the case and saying we have strong evidence to back it up. Refusing to believe the strong scientific consensus now because their speculation in the past has been wrong makes about as much sense as refusing to believe the mechanic who just took apart your care and carefully examined when he says your problem is the distributor cap because when he heard the car roll into the shop he said 'sounds like a loss spark plug wire'

Also to the person who commented on the climate modelling community and the pressure not to publish reports critical of global warming. Yes, there were plenty of good reasons to be skeptical of global warming years ago and science suffers from social influence as does law. However, at this point we have had independent confirmation of human driven climate change from several sources, there are pretty good climate records and the valid criticisms of the evidence for global warming seem to have been thoroughly rebutted by further evidence.
6.3.2006 9:09pm
dwillo:
Consensus has nothing to do with science? Good lord, is philosophy of science not taught anymore?

One need not even subscribe to the view that scientific truth is entirely based on consensus to recognize that it is, and always has been, heavily dependent on it. A scientist will get absolutely nowhere unless others can reproduce his results and validate the methods used. The public, social nature of science is exactly what makes it superior to other forms of knowledge.

Yes, consensus opionion is often proven wrong (sometimes spectacularly wrong). But how is it proven wrong, if not by replacing one consensus with another? Change in consensus is what drives progress in science. It's a feature, not a bug.

The idea of a lone scientist in his basement refuting the prevailing theories of the day is so mistaken that it could only come from--well, from second-rate science fiction writers, I guess. Anyone who, like Mr. Crichton, believes it self-evident that consensus is more important to politics than science clearly understands very little about either.

It's sad enough that a prominent fiction writer believes (whether earnestly or not, it is hard to tell) and expounds this fantasy in public; but much more sad that so many gullible people are eager to accept this nonsense simply to buttress their fragile political ideology.
6.3.2006 9:10pm
Shangui (mail):
I must admit, it is interesting that some people will believe a second-rate science fiction author instead of leading scientists.

I think what's really going on is that people will "believe" other people who say what they already believe to be true, regardless of that person's qualifications. If Michael Crichton wrote a book attacking creationists he would be lambasted as a writer of popular but mindless fiction by the right (cf. Dan Brown). Since he happened to attack the idea of global warming in an utterly idiotic book (and NOT because of its "ideas"), he's the voice of reason.
6.3.2006 9:16pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
degrading Grey as "nothing but a bitter old man and a sour old fart" are uninformed, emotional, and doctrinal.

Gray is a bitter old man and a sour old fart. Have you ever seen him speak or an interview with him. He gets whipped up into a righteous rage and ends up calling the proponents of global warming Nazis and Goering like propagandists.

And you accuse my side of trying to choke off debate? The problem with the "debate" on the issue is that there are very few facts to support one side as demonstrated by the very lame editorial that is the subject of this post. Journalists and the media have played up bad theories in the past so they shouldn't give much credence to global warming now. Although, in fact the opposite is true, the MSM gives a lot more credence to the very small number of scientists and groups (most of which are funded by right wing groups or other groups that have vested interests in the continued consumption of fossil fuels) that disagree with the overwhelming consensus on global warming, giving the false impression that there is a serious debate on the issue.
6.3.2006 9:23pm
o' connuh j.:
Since when was consensus = truth?
6.3.2006 9:24pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
Maybe someone has already linked to a study in Science which states that there is clear consensus about "the reality of anthropogenic climate change." If not here it is:
Science Magazine Article

It seems to me that whether the journalists have it right or not is irrelevant. Would you rely on the opinions of journalists for a legal opinion?

It's the scientists that count and while there may be some legitimate scientific dissenters, the consensus seems to be that climate change is both happening and humans have had a large part to do with it. Am I saying that sheer consensus makes the majority correct? No. But I can't see any reason for non-scientists to have more faith in the minority than in the majority opinion, except for wishful thinking. Hey! Do I like the idea of having to change my habits? No way!

Moreover, even accepting the majority view (that human activities have influenced climate change,) there is still plenty of opportunity for disagreement over what policies to adopt.

So I guess I am puzzled by the op-ed's premise. The media is not the source but, by definition, the medium and it is not, by the preponderance of the scientific evidence, distorting things. The majority of scientists agree and that is what the media is saying. No?
6.3.2006 9:27pm
o' connuh j.:
The idea of a lone scientist in his basement refuting the prevailing theories of the day is so mistaken that it could only come from--well, from second-rate science fiction writers, I guess.


The Geiger-Marsden experiment refuting Thomson's model of the atom? Einstein refuting the Newtonian world-view? Kepler refuting Ptolemiac-Aristotelian cosmology?

Wake up.
6.3.2006 9:31pm
Tom952 (mail):
Crichton does not attack global warming or put forth any theories on his own. He is highly critical of bad science and those who report it without reservation. Read his speech to the Commonwealth Club here.
6.3.2006 9:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Can you point me to a large scientific consensus that believed with great certainty there was a coming Ice Age? No, you can't because there was no such thing. This is the perfect example of why journalists are bad at reporting on climate and other scientific subjects.

Everytime people point out this coming Ice Age theory in the '70s I remember an exchange between one of the weathermen in Chicago and the news anchor. It was a particularly bitter winter and the anchor asked the weatherman if the weather was an indication of an new Ice Age, the weatherman said he had talked to a climatologist at one of the universities. The Climatologists said, "no, the only way you can tell you're in an Ice Age is in July. If there's snow on the ground in July, you might want to start worrying about an Ice Age.
6.3.2006 9:34pm
o' connuh j.:
Wow. So much bullshit here it's unbelievable. Especially from Freder Frederson.

There is no modern scientific discovery that occurs in isolation, not one.


Laughable.

Did anyone say that bold new scientific hypotheses occur in an intellectual vacuum?

No one.
6.3.2006 9:37pm
Humble Law Student:
Here is some much needed sanity from someone who is undeniably an expert in his field.

"There have been repeated claims that this past year's hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?

The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism. Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science--whether for AIDS, or space, or climate--where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.

But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis."

Here

His bio
here
6.3.2006 9:42pm
TheSaint517:
Crichton was on a panel that spoke in front of the Senate Commitee on Environment and Public Works back in September. Here's a link to the video (Real Player needed.)

He mostly talks about how scientific studies are carried out and ways to improve them.
6.3.2006 9:44pm
Lehuster:
Your faith in William Gray is nothing more than that. You have found a once respectable scientist who in old age has found a cause to fight against where he can beat up on the young whippersnappers who understand the technology and are getting all the glory William Gray is nothing but a bitter old man and a sour old fart. He is old school to the extreme and just doesn't believe in any of this new-fangled computer modeling. At 76 years old he is being contrary just to be contrary. He constantly complains about how wrong all the new theories are and that he can demonstrate that he can prove it but still has not presented any alternative explanation as to why the global warming proponents are wrong. Calling them nazis is not a scientific argument.

Wow, what a decisive, fact-based refutation of Gray's claims (whatever they are). Is calling him a sour old fart who hates computers an example of a "scientific argument"?
6.3.2006 9:51pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also the consensus of scientists is of course no substitute for actual evidence and justified inference. Of course the best way to decide if global warming is in fact true is to go read the scientific papers yourself. If you aren't going to do that the second best way is to go read the in depth summary of the arguments about global warming at some place like realclimate where they have thoroughly discussed both the satellite data dispute as well as some general criticism of gray's (the guy who wrote one of the papers linked above) various arguments about the climate.

Unfortunately rather than trying to read through the debate at even a slightly technical level most of the global warming skeptics in the public at large latch on to a few facts/papers which seem to contradict global warming. However, the correct data analysis makes a huge difference in climate research so it is quite easy to find what appears to be strong evidence against global warming that disappears once a confounding factor is taken into account. For instance it turned out that some seemingly contradictory data about changes in the temperature of the troposphere disappeared once the correct compensation for orbital factors was applied. Frequently (as in this case) the serious scientists who (appropriately) raise these concerns agree with the correction in the data interpretation but this sort of deep technical discussion never gets played out in the news media or most internet discussions of the issue.

However, for many people even this level of analysis of the real arguments and data for climate change is either above their heads or simply takes too much time. How should these people form judgments about the validity of climate change? Rather than merely relying on non-experts like journalists who all too frequently trumpet one contradictory piece of evidence as if it counterbalances the many mutually supporting observations that confirm human driven global warming they should base their opinions on what experts in the field think. If the huge majority of experts in the field conclude that human driven global warming is real then apart from going and reading the arguments themselves this is the best evidence they will get.

Look, it's no different than the situation with doctors. If you have some ailment it doesn't become cancer just because the doctor says so. The best method to form an opinion about whether it is cancer is to get the results of all your tests, go to med school for a couple years and read all the latest research results about the subject and then make up your mind. However, short of doing this your best bet is to trust what a sample of competent doctors tell you. Sure the medical profession has been majorly mistaken in the past as has the scientific profession but this no more establishes that trusting the scientific consensus isn't the best thing to do for a lay person any more than it urges you to throw out the drugs your doctor gives you and trust some quack with a crystal.
6.3.2006 9:51pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
It only takes one scientist who is right and has independently verifiable results. Will such a scientist please step forward

It seems like Bret has some romantic notion of a scientist working in his basement--or perhaps in a castle on a lonely, craggy mountaintop--all by his lonesome, or maybe with his trusty assistant and graverobber, Igor, working against all scientific consensus until, by stitching a few odd parts together and a fortuitous thunderstorm he creates life from lifeless flesh.

But then of course the MSM distorts his discoveries after one unfortunate incident with a little girl and a well and all liberal environmentalist weenies burn down his house.
6.3.2006 9:51pm
o' connuh j.:
Crichton sounds like a good Popperian.

Or is the Kuhnian paradigmatic consensus shift de rigueur nowadays and worth a punt even if it has nothing to do with the _truth_ of the scientific hypothesis in question?

OMG is philosophy of science not taught nowadays??

Dwillo answers his own question, oblivious to irony.
6.3.2006 9:53pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Wow, what a decisive, fact-based refutation of Gray's claims (whatever they are). Is calling him a sour old fart who hates computers an example of a "scientific argument"?

Well, if he had any real counter-arguments (he has an explanation for the alarming melting of ice at the poles and glaciers world wide but has yet to provide any evidence of the mechanism that would explain the warming cyle).

So Gray has a theory but no evidence while the proponents have a theory and evidence, yet you choose to defend the scientist with no evidence and deride the scientists with evidence.

What a truly bizarre world we live in. Don't you realize you are arguing exactly the opposite of what you claim to be arguing?
6.3.2006 10:05pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Lehuster said,


Wow, what a decisive, fact-based refutation of Gray's claims (whatever they are). Is calling him a sour old fart who hates computers an example of a "scientific argument"


In my last post I did include a link to a decisive fact based refutation of many of Gray's points. Now while I'm not signing on to the way in which he was critisized here details about his psychological state are relevant to whether we should trust him as an expert.

If all we were concerned about was the content of Gray's arguments it would be irrelevant whether he was a crazy cult leader who also advocated healing with crystals. The arguments would be right or wrong regardless of who made them. However, the global warming skeptics clearly are not relying on the actual content of the argument but the fact that an apparently respectable 'expert' has made them to lend them credibility. Thus if we have information that might explain why he is not being objective in this case or is being unduly influenced by personal factors it is relevant to how much weight we should put behind his expert opinion.

The situation here is really no different than it is in the law. If you are a criminal defendent in a complex case and someone gives you a complex legal argument as to why you will likely prevail at trial and shouldn't accept a plea bargain then if the argument is valid you should accept it no matter who made it and if it is invalid reject it. However, if you do not have the time or expertise to really evaluate that argument it is going to make a great deal of difference to you whether this was a position taken by your compotent lawyer or your friend Joe who watches lots of law and order.

However, should you discover that your lawyer has some strong psychological reason to prefer you go to trial you should put less weight in his opinion. If, for instance, you discover that he has always wanted to try a case of this kind and that going to trial with this case would be of significant benefit to his career it is rational to put less confidence in his expert opinion (even if you believe he is honest and ethical people unconciously tend to believe what they want to believe). The criticisms of Gray are similar. They are pointing out reasons we shouldn't give his opinion the full weight we would give to an expert we thought was unbiased and objective.

Just as a random comment while reading the various back and forth arguments about human caused global warming did ultimately convince me it was real (plus the expert opinions of course) I am still quite skeptical of the hurricane claims. I understand a new study just came out but I haven't had time to read the data or arguments.
6.3.2006 10:10pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
There is no good reason to think the number of hurricanes is linked to global warming. The intenisty of the storms, however may be due to global warming. The water temparatures in the Gulf were very high last year (and the high water temps have affected the environment in other ways such as the bleaching of coral reefs). Surface water temps are the fuel that feeds hurricanes and makes them stronger.
6.3.2006 10:19pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
The consensus of geneticists until the 1950s was that the human genome contained 48 chromosomes, not the 46 that we accept today. For years students and researchers dutifully recorded the 48 chromosomes they saw when constructing a human karyotype. The researcher who reported his findings of 46 being the correct number was met with alot of criticism and ad hominem attacks but eventually was proved true. High temperature at Thule Air Base Greenland today 39F, maybe Al Gore is onto something.
6.3.2006 10:26pm
Mark H.:
Dave Sucher said:

It seems to me that whether the journalists have it right or not is irrelevant. Would you rely on the opinions of journalists for a legal opinion?



I wouldn't, you wouldn't, but tune in C-SPAN on any given day and you'll be sure to see multiple Senators waving around copies of this newspaper or that and making impassioned pleas for spending billions on this project or that, because "it's right here in the ______."

So I don't mind the "consensus" people crowing about how we're all going to die unless we start riding bicycles and turning our thermostats down to 50 degrees, but when the media pick this stuff up, we get the above scenario. That's not good, that's when incomplete theory ends up costing us real money.
6.3.2006 10:28pm
Tom952 (mail):
William M. Gray's c.v. Here

The facts on the global warming issue will not be found by deriding and insulting those who suggest a theory contrary to your own.
6.3.2006 10:28pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Dwillo said,


One need not even subscribe to the view that scientific truth is entirely based on consensus to recognize that it is, and always has been, heavily dependent on it. A scientist will get absolutely nowhere unless others can reproduce his results and validate the methods used. The public, social nature of science is exactly what makes it superior to other forms of knowledge.


Well as someone who just TAed a phil of science course this term I couldn't resist disagreeing/nitpicking.

Surely you don't mean to say that scientific truth is dependent on scientific consensus. Sure maybe if you take a hardcore reading of Kuhn or adopt some coherence theory of truth you could defend this position but on any theory which accepts that scientific statements should be right/accepted insofar as they agree/predict with a preexisting reality this will be false. Sure our best guess at scientific truth might depend on consensus but the actual truth was the same all along.

Moreover, I think you may be confusing a descriptive fact with a epistemic fact. Yes it is certainly true that scientific consensus plays a very important role in the actual practice of science but this is different than saying that the consensus is epistemically relevant over and above the observations and experiments that it is based upon. In particular if one was perfectly rational and knew the results of all the experiments it is quite reasonable to assume that you should not be influenced by scientific consensus. Of course as an outside observer who does not have the time to delve into all the arguments it is of course appropriate to use consensus as a proxy for the evidence which is what is relevant to this discussion.

Additionally all those scientific revolutions supposedly started by loners were nevertheless almost always greatly informed by current scientific thinking, just not through formal education. However, the fact that scientists often need to see previous theories and know what worked and didn't work is a very different claim than the fact that the consensus that a given theory is correct should be epistemically relevant to them.

For example it was certainly very important for Einstein to know about Maxwell's equations and the previous ether theories to develop speical relativity. However, this doesn't imply that this would have been necessery if he was fully rational nor does it imply that the real Einstein could not have developed special relativity if 5 years before all the physicists had mysteriously given up on ether theories and now all believed that light was carried by magic gnomes.
6.3.2006 10:37pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
William M. Gray's c.v. Here

Well, good for him. Linus Pauling was one of the most brilliant chemists of his day and I believe is the only person to ever win both the Nobel Peace Prize and a Technical Nobel Prize (Chemistry). Yet in his later years (by the late '60s) he was a certified crackpot, pushing megadoses of Vitamin C and all other kinds weird theories.

Like I said Dr. Gray has lots of theories to explain recent climate changes but absolutely no evidence that backs up his theories, unlike the scientists who have evidence to back up global warming theories.
6.3.2006 10:53pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Besides, even if we had absolutely no reason to doubt Gray's objectivity he is just one guy and there are thousands of scientists with similarly compelling resumes who are convinced of human caused global warming. In fact I believe there are far more respected scientists who were formerly global warming skeptics despite any pressure to conform who are now convinced (i.e. we have reason to believe they did not just agree for social reasons so they count as independent expert judgement).

If you have some disease and 99% of the emminent doctors you consult say one thing and one (or a couple) of emminent doctors disagree it makes sense to take the treatment recommended by the 99%.

Not to mention the actual fact based refutation I linked to.
6.4.2006 12:32am
frankcross (mail):
some of these are just bad arguments. Scientific consensus is not always right. You don't need examples to prove this. However, given our current information, it is the best we have to go on. It is right far more often than wrong. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots but he was still a fine basketball player.

The scientific consensus on global warming includes the IPCC, the NRC, the NAS of multiple foreign countries, the American Meteorological Society, NOAA, the American Geophysical Union, the Federal Climate Change Science Program commissioned in 2002 by the Bush Administration, and lots of others. William Gray may be a fine man but he doesn't sell me. My favorite is Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote the fabulous anti-environmentalist scare book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, but who concluded that manmade global warming was occurring.

Now, as a policy matter, I'm mostly on the side of the antis. I don't think there's much for the US to do that will do much good, and some things like Kyoto could do great harm. But it annoys me to see people on "my side" of the policy issue lose integrity on the science. And by putting their chips on the science, rather than the economics, they're playing a losing hand.
6.4.2006 12:33am
Tom952 (mail):
I'm not saying Gray is right on this. I don't know.

The point of my earlier post is that there is no place for personal attacks, derision and insults in a debate on a complex subject. Gray has a long and distinguished career, and deriding him or anyone else as "an old fart" because you disagree with his position is outrageous.

Some want to choke off debate on this subject and get on with ...something, but that is doctrine, not science. The scientific process requires debate and fair consideration of different viewpoints on the journey to discover the truth. Debate stops when the facts are known and the questions are answered.

Perhaps at some point in the future the climate situation will become fully understood, and looking back, we may say that Gray missed the boat on this one. Or, maybe we will say he was right. Time will tell. In the meantime, all sides deserve to be heard without being demeaned and derided. It sounded like a Holy Inquisition here for a while.
6.4.2006 12:55am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Perhaps at some point in the future the climate situation will become fully understood, and looking back, we may say that Gray missed the boat on this one. Or, maybe we will say he was right. Time will tell. In the meantime, all sides deserve to be heard without being demeaned and derided.

But what is the endgame to this debate? Is everyone supposed to agree that yes, global warming is indeed occurring for any action to be taken? Do you think that a scientific consensus has to be reached first?

If so, this has already happened!
6.4.2006 1:05am
Ken Arromdee:
However, should you discover that your lawyer has some strong psychological reason to prefer you go to trial you should put less weight in his opinion.

This is true in a sense, but then you have to actually *discover* that the guy has some psychological reason. "He's a bitter old fart who wants you to go trial so that he can show superiority to other lawyers" isn't a reason you'd use to mistrust a lawyer unless you actually had a specific reason to believe he's a bitter old fart.

Any psychological evaluation made about one's opponents in a public policy issue will almost never be be valid. I find that these are usually used to make unfalsifiable claims about the source of a person's beliefs, to poison the well, and/or to imply that the person in question must obviously have some psychological troubles since all people who don't have such troubles would come up with the right answer.

(And remember that the same psychological analysis can apply to other people. Most people who claim that someone is a bad expert because he has psychological reasons for his beliefs, will themselves have psychological reasons for wanting to think the guy is a bad expert.)
6.4.2006 1:05am
Katherine (mail):
The other thing about the scientists is: not only do they agree, but they noticeably agree more and more with each passing year.

I'm familiar with the stories of the lone scientist upsetting received wisdom, but the stories of how credible scientists' repeated studies and experiments just making them more and more wrong--less so.

Anyway, no one's addressing logicnazi's point at all. Yes, it could be true that all the scientists are wrong and you are Michael Crichton is right, but is it likely? Do you have any evidence for it? No. You believe it because you want to believe it. Always sad to see that from a professor.
6.4.2006 2:06am
Tom952 (mail):
Do you think that a scientific consensus has to be reached first?

If so, this has already happened!


Consensus sounds too democratic. "The majority won, so shut up." If the answers were known, there would be universal agreement and it would be settled, in the same way that we no longer debate the constant speed of light or the atomic nature of matter.

Climate is incredibly complex. There is still disagreement among highly qualified scientists on the matter. Attempts to quell debate by declaring victory and demeaning any dissent isn't the way to end it. Try to avoid the attitude that "I know I'm right, so the debate is over, this is the way it is, and you suck if you say otherwise."

When will debate end? When the facts are known, there will be no more debate. That may take a long time.

With more information twenty years from now, the conventional wisdom may be that extra CO2 helps rain forests and coral to grow, shifting ocean currents caused the hurricane spike, and everyone fears the coming ice age. It pays to keep an open mind until the facts are known.

Have you examined your own conclusions? Did hot spells every occur on earth before people started pouring CO2 into the atmosphere? For that matter, have atmospheric CO2 levels risen in the past? Are ice bergs calving any faster than they did 200 years ago? Did we have fewer and weaker hurricanes before the industrial age?

You may be surprised what you find.
6.4.2006 2:09am
JonBuck (mail):
The source of climate change is a scientific question.

What to do about it is a political one.

Aye, there's the rub. You may not have to convince scientists. But you do have to convince the general public and their representatives, who more often than not have a poor understanding of the science involved. Condescending documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth probably isn't the best way to go about this.

What's unfortunate is how the Left has become synonymous with the environmentalist movement. I've seen these organizations referred to as "watermelons". Green on the outside, red (communist) on the inside.

Consider Greenpeace's latest public relationship gaffe:


"In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."


In this kind of situation, conservatives will oppose any action against global warming on principle, regardless of the science. The motives and proposed solutions of organizations like Greenpeace are suspect.
6.4.2006 2:50am
pallen:
frankcross wrote "a) virtually every peer-reviewed scientific paper in the discipline supports claims of global warming and"

interesting statement to make while we're on the topic of logical reasoning. Perhaps you'd like to restate your position after reviewing "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"

The fact is that at any given time it is _unusual_ for conflicting positions to appear in the literature together. It's true that when a _field_ is new and the ideas novel there is some genuine wrestling at the beginning, but thereafter publications become very conformist.

This is not indicative of correctness but rather of an inherient stabilizing force in science: acquisition of funding + publication, both of which favor extending the presumptions that prevail already.

Geology, and to a lesser extend Earth Sciences have particularly been prone to bouts of conformity followed decades later by repudiation and a new bout of conformity. The famous example of course being theory of plate tectonics.
6.4.2006 3:27am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ken Aromdee wrote,


This is true in a sense, but then you have to actually *discover* that the guy has some psychological reason. "He's a bitter old fart who wants you to go trial so that he can show superiority to other lawyers" isn't a reason you'd use to mistrust a lawyer unless you actually had a specific reason to believe he's a bitter old fart.


I agree with you that often these sort of personal or psychological attacks are inappropriately used to distract attention from the real issue and should be treated with suspicioning. I also agree that calling him an "old fart" does nothing to further the discussion which is why I tried to distance myself from the manner in which the previous commentators criticized Gray.

However, the link I posted above gives some good reasons to believe Gray has decided what conclusion he wants his theory to reach before he develops it. In particular when the primary assumption underlying his prior reason for doubting global warming was shown to be false rather than change his conclusions about global warming he revamped his theory so the new facts would still yield the same result. I think this combined with a plausible story about why a man like Gray might like viewing himself as the lone maverick who sees the real story (hell I sometimes find this attractive) is good reason to give Gray's disagreement less weight than we otherwise would.

Tom952,

No one is saying that scientific consensus should end debate in the scientific community or that it is appropriate to silence scientific skeptics. The credibility issues I mention with Grey are only reasons for the public not to give his conclusions great weight not reasons for the scientific community to ignore the arguments he makes. However, from what I have seen the scientific community has quite convincingly dealt with the objections that Gray has raised.

Basically the idea is this. There should be nothing democratic at all about climate science itself. Experts in climate change should come to their conclusions based on their own analysis of the arguments and evidence. However, if you are someone who doesn't know enough to competently evaluate the arguments yourself then you should look to the experts to evaluate the arguments for you. If almost all the experts come to the same conclusion (including many who came to it despite prior skepticism) this should give you great confidence that this conclusion is what the evidence supports.

Ohh and of course the earth has gone through very warm periods and quite cold periods in the past. In fact it is the correlation between records of greenhouse gases and past temperature that gives us some of the best evidence for the role of CO2 in climate change. Since we have extremely strong evidence that the current rise in CO2 levels is caused by human activity this (combined with other evidence) gives us good reason to believe the current increase in temperature is being driven by human emissions.

JonBuck,

I agree completely about the harm the association of climate change with liberals is doing. While groups like Greenpeace and other environmental organizations were quite important in bringing environmental issues into the public debate I think now they are doing more harm then good by reinforcing the association of environmentalism with liberalism and a anti-technology, anti-progress, touchy-feely agenda.

Even worse the failure of the various environmental groups to prioritize global warming over other less serious environmental concerns ensures that many conservatives are going to be very suspicious about global warming claims. Heck, the fact that all these groups publish articles warning about the great harm if the such and such owl goes extinct in the same breathless tone that they do about global warming made me very skeptical of global warming for some time. Furthermore the failure to prioritize means these groups often stand in the way of doing something about global warming. In the bay area some of them are lobbying to tear down hydroelectric dams to free up habitat for animals not to mention the resistance to nuclear power.

Someone credible and hard headed needs to come on the seen who is clearly only concerned about the welfare of people (not trees, birds or furry creatures) and can educate people about the dangers of global warming. Preferably someone who is at least somewhat conservative.
6.4.2006 4:11am
Gordo:
Does anyone else find this juxtaposition between the two aspects of the Kopel article to be be more than a bit jarring?

On the one hand, the author points to well over 100 years of unfounded alarmism to attack those who say the sky is falling on global warming.

And yet, on the other hand, the author ignores more than 100 years of American history and the positive impact immigration has had on our society in order to join those who say the sky is falling on immigration.
6.4.2006 4:50am
Mark F. (mail):
The term "illegal aliens" is interesting. First off, a person cannot be illegal. Only actions can be illegal. Secondly, the word "alien" implies something from another planet. But all the easier to dehumanize people, right?
6.4.2006 5:05am
o' connuh j.:
logicnazi,

Tom952 is quite right on the money re: scientific progress and you probably agree with him on him on most substantive points. Except for this quibble:

No one is saying that scientific consensus should end debate in the scientific community or that it is appropriate to silence scientific skeptics.


Freder Frederson is surely trying that tactic. That, plus his strident denials of the role that consensus-shattering refutation plays in science is just retarded.
6.4.2006 5:55am
The Outlander (www):
It comes as no surprise the Denver media, generally speaking, downplays Owen's support of illegal immigrants in the State of Colorado. For more than a decade the Denver media ignored the dirty old man, Roy Romer and his whore, B.J. Thornberry, all the while claiming he was the family governor.

There are many reasons for why the Denver media is failing, and trapped in a cycle of diminishing returns. One is because they are inherently corrupt, immoral, and dishonest. This latest failure and cover-up on their collective part is evidence of that.
6.4.2006 10:06am
Frank Drackman (mail):
Hey Dudes,when the billion plus Chineese trade in their rick shaws and HoChiMinn sandals for Nissans we'll see if global warming is really happening.
6.4.2006 10:15am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
This is gratuitously misleading! The fact that journalists have a poor track record with global climate issues provides no reason to doubt the unprecedented agreement among climate scientists on global warming.

The common cause leading to unprecedented agreement is unprecedented funding.

Science has nothing to do with agreement. It has to do with curiosity, which is what made peer review work, when it worked.

It's hardly agreement. It's a single guy who thinks, ``Well, this is odd,'' and starts following this new interest he's discovered in a strange claim.

Scientists on the management track act the opposite.

Side effect : everything you read on global warming is written to defeat curiosity. Check it out.

Incidentally, scientific computer modelling sucks and always has.
6.4.2006 10:25am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Crichton, a brilliant scholar and a superb author

Jesus H. Christ.
6.4.2006 10:30am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Freder Frederson is surely trying that tactic. That, plus his strident denials of the role that consensus-shattering refutation plays in science is just retarded.

No I'm not. If Dr. Gray has evidence to back his theories, let him present it. He simply hasn't. He says his theories are correct, but when asked to present evidence to back up his assertions he states they "are natural cycles" and he is working on the evidence. He simply doesn't have a consensus-shattering refutation. The science behind Global Warming is just too solid.

On the other hand, every opportunity he gets, in interviews and public appearances, he gets whipped up into a frenzy (sometimes literally screaming at his opponents) and accuses the proponents of Global Warming of all kinds of nefarious purposes, conspiracies and tactics and calls them names up to and including "Nazi". I call him a "sour old fart", and you get all bent out of shape. Considering his public behaviour, I think the description is accurate.

And while there may have been some consensus-shattering refutations in the past (Darwin's theories were certainly one of them), in modern science, they are an extraordinarily rare thing indeed. Because we know so much more about the natural world, have much better analytical equipment and mathematical tools, the rigorous process of peer review and verification and science is able to explore free of the restraints of religion, plus the sheer cost of making truly revolutionary new discoveries, the chance of any one person discovering that everyone else is wrong is almost unheard of (remember how quickly Cold Fusion fizzled).
6.4.2006 10:48am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I really hate it when a bunch of lawyers and laymen try to pretend they know anything about how the science community works. No wonder there is such willingness to believe all the nonsense, pseudoscience, false controversies and "debates" that are constantly trotted out by the press.
6.4.2006 10:59am
Lehuster:
So Gray has a theory but no evidence while the proponents have a theory and evidence, yet you choose to defend the scientist with no evidence and deride the scientists with evidence.

I wasn't defending him. I don't know a thing about the guy. I was mocking you for doing exactly the thing you sneered at Gray for (name calling).

I really hate it when a bunch of lawyers and laymen try to pretend they know anything about how the science community works.

So which group are you in - professional scientist, or ignorant prating layman / lawyer?
6.4.2006 12:16pm
Ken Arromdee:
And yet, on the other hand, the author ignores more than 100 years of American history and the positive impact immigration has had on our society in order to join those who say the sky is falling on immigration.

In order to both hold that 100 years of bad climate warnings makes current warnings suspicious, but 100 years of good immigration doesn't make current immigration good, one need only believe that the differences between past and present alarmism are not as significant as the differences between past and present immigration. This is by no means a hopelessly inconsistent belief.
6.4.2006 12:32pm
Ken Arromdee:
The term "illegal aliens" is interesting. First off, a person cannot be illegal. Only actions can be illegal.

Funny, I'm reading this on my computer monitor and it never occurred to me that monitors cannot be computers.

Secondly, the word "alien" implies something from another planet. But all the easier to dehumanize people, right?

Do I really need to post "this guy gives sci-fi geeks a bad name"?

Are we now to avoid the word "Jihad" because that was the name of an animated Star Trek episode?
6.4.2006 12:41pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I was mocking you for doing exactly the thing you sneered at Gray for (name calling).

I was calling Gray names because that is all he does--get up in front of meetings and the press and call global warming proponents names while claiming he is right. He has no evidence to support his claims yet he is held up by the global warming skeptics as "prominent" scientist who doesn't believe in global warming. This may be true, but he doesn't have any evidence to back up his alternative theories other than to say the computer models are wrong and the atmosphere is too complex to model. That is not an argument, it is merely naysaying.

And I am a very dangerous combination--I am a scientist and I used to be a lawyer. One of the things I really hated about lawyers when I practiced law (and the reason I only practiced for a year) was their absolute disinterest in, and actual hostility to, facts that contradict their point of view (I went to law school after getting a BS in Chemistry and five years of working as a chemist).
6.4.2006 12:45pm
frankcross (mail):
Pallen, I've reviewed the book, and this is just another example of a bad argument. The scientific consensus is the best tool to go one. Kuhn actually agrees. The alternative is epistemological nihilism. And people do go on it all the time. They employ our best current understanding of diagnostic tools, of medical treatments. They don't breathe in asbestos on the theory that the scientific consensus is probably wrong. Would you look for some asbestos to breathe, figuring it is healthy because the scientific consensus says it is unhealthy.

Conservatives have very effectively invoked scientific evidence to dispel past alarmism and junk science. If they throw over scientific evidence on global warming, it just shows a lack of integrity.
6.4.2006 1:05pm
twwren:
Why is global warming framed as a liberal- conservative issue? Why is it so important to liberals that there is a global warming problem? If global warming turns out to be a hoax, another calamity in the parade of horribles will need to be invented and this takes time. See, e.g., Dr. Paul Erlich, "The Population Bomb" (those of you who haven't alrady starved to death).
6.4.2006 1:51pm
pallen:
frankcross:

I just dispute that consensus means everything that has been implied by this thread. Opposing the consesus is not equivalent to rejecting science; it is in Kuhn's words "rejecting normal science", which he does make the argument, is not a bad thing in itself.

Therefore, it does not follow that if there is any dissent from a near universal consensus that we should conclude on that basis alone that the dissent is wrong. The dissent should be judged on its merits (or lack thereof).
6.4.2006 1:52pm
abb3w:
First, I will chime in with those pointing out that newspaper science coverage stinks, and always has. EG: "Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react." That the newspapers have swung one way and another is largely irrelevant... as is whatever their current percieved stance on the consensus or controversy may be. Attacking the scientific consensus on global warming based on the fickle nature of media coverage is an example of the logical fallacy of Guilt By Association. Even if journalists who believe in global warming are fickle idiots, climatologists who hold the posistion are not necessarily cut from the same cloth.

Second, it is also true that the scientific consensus is not necessarily the "truth". As such, research should always be an ongoing process. However, a widespread scientific consensus is the best approximation to the "truth" available for policy and planning purposes. While some consideration should be given to the possibility of error, that should not be the primary assumption.

Third: I'll admit that using Wikipedia for research is sloppy; however, it's a useful quick-and-dirty shortcut that although utterly inadequate for peer review, remains a suitable first pass in blog and Usenet discussions. Kopel's article includes as skeptics Balling ("The buildup of greenhouse gases and/or some other global-scale feedback, such as widespread changes in atmospheric water vapor, emerge as potential explanations for the recent residual warming found in all latitudinal bands") and Michaels ("The effect of increasing the rate of carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with the fact that more and more carbon dioxide produces less and less warming compels our climate projections for the future warming to be pretty much a straight line"). These two appear at present to be debating the amount of impact, as opposed to the existance. Since I'm in Charlottesville, perhaps I'll see if professor Michaels is in town this summer and ask if this is an accurate characterization.

Which brings me to my fourth, and concluding point: while the exact extent of the problem is still debated in the scientific community, "there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change."
6.4.2006 1:55pm
Dick King:
Use the principle of revealed preferences.

Since the environmentalists continue to oppose increasing nuclear electricity generation in the US, we must assume that they think that the consequences of nuclear power are more severe than the consequences of continuing to depend on coal for electricity generation. Therefore I would have to conclude that Greenpeace et al do not believe that the consequnces of global warming are as bad as, say, a Three Mile Island per decade.

-dk
6.4.2006 1:56pm
frankcross (mail):
Pallen, fair enough. But here's what I see. Say there is a scientific consensus. If that were your only knowledge, it would be wise to act on that. However, if you want to examine the merits of the arguments of dissenters, that makes sense. But nobody's doing that. They are just saying "consensus can be wrong." Until the dissenters can make a good case for why the consensus is wrong, which has not been made to my knowledge, the consensus is a sound basis for holding a belief.

Once scientists who are experts in a field have come to a consensus, I think the burden of proof falls on the other side to demonstrate why the consensus is wrong, through logic or data, of which I see none, at least so far. Not even an attempt.

Scientific issues should not be liberal/conservative, but they often are. People love scientific findings that support their ideology but dismiss those that do not, with arguments like the "9 out of 10 doctors" argument.
6.4.2006 3:00pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Since the environmentalists continue to oppose increasing nuclear electricity generation in the US

There are numerous reasons to oppose nuclear energy besides the obvious waste disposal and safety issues. It is extraordinarily expensive and has never lived up to its promise of "too cheap to meter" even after the government pays for almost every aspect of it besides the generation. The government manufactures the fuel, insures and indemnifies the plants against catastrophic failure, does or pays for most of the research, trains most of the operators, is responsible for all waste disposal and will be the operator of the eventual high level waste disposal facility and operates the only mid-level facility and is responsible for taking care of all the decommissioned plants--which themselves will be massive high-level radioactive waste sites.

With all that government help, nuclear power is still among the most expensive ways to generate electricity, sixty years after we were promised it was the cheap, abundant energy source of the future. Perhaps it is time to stop throwing good money after bad and start looking at more viable sources of electricity. Once you break away from the large central generating plant model that we have used since the dawn of the electrical age and start considering micro generation the future is a whole lot brighter (although not for the Commonwealth Edisons and other large utility companies and fossil fuel companies of the world). But those are the breaks.
6.4.2006 3:46pm
Shangui (mail):
Hey Dudes,when the billion plus Chineese trade in their rick shaws and HoChiMinn sandals for Nissans we'll see if global warming is really happening.

Mature. Any other absurd racist stereotypes up your sleeve you haven't played yet? Maybe when Jews stop controlling the world banking system we'll see if the free market really works? Or if African Americans and Mexicans get less lazy we'll see what the optimal employment rate is?

In terms of actual "substance," Chinese are buying cars as quickly as they possibly can and the polution problem in China has gotten far worse as a result.
6.4.2006 3:47pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Why is global warming framed as a liberal- conservative issue? Why is it so important to liberals that there is a global warming problem?

I think you've got it backwards. It is the conservatives who have made it a liberal-conservative issue. It is the conservatives who have literally made it an issue of faith that global warming is some elaborate plot cooked up by some evil cabal (probably led by the French) who, apparently because they are jealous of the American way of life, want to destroy our economy by forcing us to use less fossil fuels so the namby-pamby pussy Europeans, with their socialized medicine, smart cars, well-insulated houses, willingness to walk or ride bicycles to work and public transportation will laugh at us while they eat cheese and take their six week vacations while we fume because we can't get gas for our 50 mile commutes in our Hummers as God intended.
6.4.2006 3:58pm
JonBuck:
I think you've got it backwards. It is the conservatives who have made it a liberal-conservative issue.

The problem, Freder, is that for the past 30+ years the environmental movement has been synonymous with Leftist economic and social politics. Greenpeace's latest gaffe that I also cited does not lend credibility to the anti-global warming cause. Conservatives will not support any solution that reeks of socialism, science or no science. Until you realize that and try to speak their language instead, you will make no headway.

Face it. At minimum, you're going to have to compromise on what actions should be taken. Kyoto-style emissions targest just aren't working. Spain is over 50% above their 1990 emissions, Canada is 34%. Neither country has a hope of meeting their obligations without energy rationing, which would crush their economies.

What we need are strong economies wealthy enough to invest in new technologies--even those environmentalists don't like. IE: Genetically engineered organisms able to produce liquid fuels. And the potential of actually turning a profit on those investments.
6.4.2006 6:02pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Conservatives will not support any solution that reeks of socialism, science or no science. Until you realize that and try to speak their language instead, you will make no headway.

What conservatives refuse to admit is that since the invention of the steam engine, there has not been one major societal advance that has not relied, wholly or partially, on massive government backing. Not telecommunications, computers, transportation (even the railroads and especially commercial aviation, and although most automobile companies are successful private entities the vast majority of roads are owned and maintained by the evil government), especially nuclear power and the space program. Like every great advance, ending our dependence on fossil fuels is going to take the active participation of government. If you call that "socialism", so be it, but it is the only way it is going to get done.
6.4.2006 7:11pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Freder,

It is true that current nuclear power plants receive many kinds of government subsidies. It is also true that there are many additional dangers from nuclear power. However, there are various kinds of fuel cycles that have been developed to alleviate some of these problems. Additionally being allowed to freely release CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere is a subsidy of fossil fuel based power that is not taken into consideration either.

Taking all these factors in to consideration the MIT study on nuclear power found that nuclear power generation would still be competitive with coal power generation and that new nuclear plants should be considered to meet future power demands. I actually thought their analysis overestimated some of the harms of nuclear power and underestimated the cost of CO2 pollution by fossil fuel emission. In particular the study rejects several more efficient and less polluting fuel cycles out of nuclear proliferation concerns. While these are certainly good reasons not to export these type of reactors to non-nuclear states it provides no reason not to deploy these technologies in China or the United States. This isn't really a flaw in their analysis since they are talking about the worldwide situation but it does mean that here in the States we have even more reason to consider nuclear power. Additionally, given that many renewable sources of power are only really efficient in a limited number of places I think any successful regime of greenhouse gas controls may need to increase the cost of CO2 emissions beyond what the MIT study assumes.

In any case you are right that there are complex issues involved with nuclear power. However, it is clear that the organizations like Greenpeace are reflexively anti-nuclear and are not seriously trying to balance these issues. This is easily seen from their opposition to fusion research and the ITER. Even though fusion lacks many of the dangers of fission they seem to be frightened just because it is 'nuclear' and solves the problem through technical mastery rather than conservation, sacrifice and natural sounding methods. Sure we shouldn't rely on the unproven technology of fusion to save us but this is no reason to oppose the research.

Also micro generation has always struck me as an amazingly expensive way to generate energy. The very reason we built large power plants in the first place is that they are way more efficient at extracting energy from fuel than many small generators. Perhaps you think some other kind of generation (e.g. solar) will turn out to work the other way. However I suspect the cost of repairing everyone's individual generator and the efficiencies of scale that will lost will make it way more expensive.

At best though your argument establishes that nuclear power is expensive. However, coal power plants and the greenhouse gases they produce are even more expensive and dangerous. We know nuclear power works on a large scale and doesn't produce greenhouse gases so if we want to deal with global warming we should implement something we know will work now even if it is a bit expensive.

Sure I'm all for researching and subsidizing these other areas. However, there are always problems when you try and implement a new technology and unforseen costs. Yes we have some wind farms and things like this and more should be funded but they often are only workable in special locations. If we have a choice between building a nuclear plant and a geothermal plant sure go ahead and build the geothermal one but in many cases it is a choice between building nuclear plants now and waiting for renewable energy sources to be developed and when that happens we should act now.

--

Yes, the conservatives are also to blame for making environmentalism a political fault line. However, you can't deny that most environmental groups frame global warming as part of a larger issue about respect for nature and the environment. Everyone should acknowledge global warming is a problem because it will cause real economic and human harm. However phrasing the discussion as being about respect for nature or mother earth is obviously going to alienate people who think it is perfectly acceptable to exploit nature and conservation is only justified in so far as it makes life better for people. Additionally many of these groups use the specter of global warming as one prong of an attack on corporations, capitalism and consumption.

I think it is pretty obvious that many (not all) of the people in the environmental movement feel consumption and modernization are somehow wrong and to be viewed with suspicion. They feel that living more simply and conserving is somehow a moral virtue and don't want to even consider technological solutions that could alleviate global warming without requiring us to give up our easy and consumer oriented lifestyle. Whatever the merits of this view this association definitely serves to give many conservatives an instinctive distaste for anything smacking of environmentalism. Heck I consider myself a liberal and it did that for me.
6.4.2006 7:21pm
Salaryman (mail):
What I really want to know is, is this global warming thing going to be as disastrous as the Y2K problem was? 'Cause if it's going to be THAT bad, we'd better start spending lotsa money fast.
6.4.2006 7:57pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Also micro generation has always struck me as an amazingly expensive way to generate energy. The very reason we built large power plants in the first place is that they are way more efficient at extracting energy from fuel than many small generators.

Why on earth should it be? It is a question of initial vs. maintenance costs. micro generation are generally going to be things that are relatively expensive to build (solar panels, fuel cells, small wind generators) but have low maintenance and operation costs. It all depends on where in the life cycle your expenses are.
6.4.2006 7:58pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
What I really want to know is, is this global warming thing going to be as disastrous as the Y2K problem was? 'Cause if it's going to be THAT bad, we'd better start spending lotsa money fast.

We spent lots of money to avert a lot of problems at Y2K (although the press did exaggerate the extent of the problems that would have occurred, they were real), and we avoided the problem.
6.4.2006 8:20pm
Mark H.:
DK concluded:


Therefore I would have to conclude that Greenpeace et al do not believe that the consequnces of global warming are as bad as, say, a Three Mile Island per decade.


That TMI, "you should be afraid, very afraid," fear mongering is yet another odd talking point the alarmists use to excess, to ends that they don't even have a clue of.

Hell, TMI was a successful suppression of an accident with no consequences, I'll take 3 or shall we say 30? of those a year let alone 1 a decade, it's safer for us and for the birds (and the views off Cape Cod) than windmill farms are...
6.4.2006 10:41pm
abb3w:
Dick King: the principle of revealed preferences presupposes the perfect information idealization of a market.

Most environmentalists don't understand energy infrastructure economics, including in particular the underlying science and drawbacks of any energy generation/transformation method (such as but not limited to nuclear electric), nor the economics of opportunity costs (EG: you can't have your cake and eat it, too).

In short: most Greens are too ignorant to make an informed market choice.
6.5.2006 12:20am
Mr L (mail):
logicnazi: I don't think the enviro groups' stigma is due to 'Mother Earth' theology or anything of the sort. Rather, it's the more common problem of hypocrisy -- SUVs at Nader rallies, Kyoto-style rationing for us but not for the Chinese or third world, etc. -- that strongly implies that the gloom-and-doom isn't genuine.

I think it bleeds into the current debate, too. There's gloom-and-doom scenarios that put the point of no return in ten years, but the only people that act like they believe that are the eco-terrorists who torch cars and such. If it's the end of life as we know it, why would one own a car or a power-hungry PC? That, and the arrogant attitude of the GW partisans more than amply demostrated in the comments above, capsize the GW position.
6.5.2006 12:54am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder,

Suppose some of the wavelengths CO2 reflects have gone from 60% to 100% reflectivity due to added CO2. Adding more CO2 will change nothing.

Water vapor is the gas with the largest greenhouse effect. Climate models show CO2 synergystic with water vapor. What if due to cloud effects it is antagonistic?

And then we have solar output increasing .05% per decade for at least 100 years.

Top it all off with a Scientific American article saying man burning stuff for the last 9,000 or so years has prevented a return to an ice age and what have you got?

A lot of uncertainty.

BTW more CO2 in the atmosphere causes faster plant growth.
6.5.2006 3:02am
JonBuck (mail):
Additionally many of these groups use the specter of global warming as one prong of an attack on corporations, capitalism and consumption.

Logicnazi nailed it right here.

Both sides must find a way to compromise. It's the only way to get any sort of meaningful action on this issue.
6.5.2006 3:26am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Mark H,

Very large wind turbines kill between one and two birds a year.

Want to really do something for birds? Take down all the tall buildings. Better yeat kill all the cats.

The latest fear is that wind turbines kill bats.

What worries me about nuke is plutonium. I speak as a former Naval Nuke so I have a fair insight into the technology. Itf it was up to me we would be phasing nuclear out for wind. Which we will be doing in any case due to economics.

Wind is cheaper than natural gas for electricity. Wind is also stronger in the winter when you would prefer using natural gas for heating.

In addition as turbine sized doubles costs of generated electricity declines about 30%. A couple more doublings and wind will be cheaper than nukes.

Plus if you have enough turbines distributed over an area you can count on 20% of name plate rating for base load.

Wind has a lot going for it.

All we need to take wind above 20% of grid load is storage. I have some ideas. Contact me. (I'm a retired aerospace engr.).
6.5.2006 3:41am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder 0658pm,

You are unaware of the scaling laws of generating machinery.

From about 1890 to 1950 every doubling of generating eqpt size lowered the cost by 30%. The same scaling law we see in wind turbines. Coincidence? I don't think so.

BTW we do not build plants larger than about 1,000MW these days. Diseconomy of scale sets in.
6.5.2006 5:11am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
For concensus to mean anything it must match all the evidence.

That was the brilliance of Einstein. He turned a few anomalies into a theory of the universe.

So far we have a few anomalies. The Maunder minimum and the Little Ice Age. CO2 seemingly following warming rather than preceeding it (data from ice cores).

Regular cycles for the last few million years of about 80,000 years of ice age followed by about 20,000 years of warm age. Last I heard it is very difficult to grow crops under ice.

The solar constant. Which isn't constant.

Add in volcanos which cool and are unpredictable.

Computer codes which are not public or complete or detailed (small grid squares).

A way to predict El Nino cycles.

The actual coupling between CO2 and H2O vapor.

The dependence on initial data. The sensitvity to rounding errors.

The uncertainties are large.

The fact that there is a big carbon sink that seems to absorb about 1/2 the emitted CO2 and no one knows what it is.

The effect of areosols like SO2. i.e. if we stop burning coal will we warm up due to fewer aerosols?

etc.

With computer power doubling every year there may come a time when the models are good enough. We aren't there yet.
6.5.2006 5:34am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Roy Hardin,

Computer models do not suck for simple systems where all the constants for the transfer equation are known and the system is well understood.

Servo systems for instance.

Where you get into trouble are systems like climate where the inputs are very numerous and transfer functions are not well understood.

BTW even in servo modling getting within 10% of the real world is considered a very good aproximation. And that is for low frequency changes (relative to system ability). At high frequencies the results are worse. Or when you get near 100% output (rounding error effects get larger).

So you have to know the limits of the model. Considering the ability to predict next weeks weather you can say the models do not do well with high frequency projections. The deviations are quite large beyond two weeks.

So how good are they for 100 year projections? Where the frequencies are on the order of months. And the grid squares are 100 miles on a side. And all the inputs and transfer functions are not well understood. Probably not so hot.
6.5.2006 6:26am
Ken Arromdee:
What conservatives refuse to admit is that since the invention of the steam engine, there has not been one major societal advance that has not relied, wholly or partially, on massive government backing.

I'm sure that in Soviet Russia there hadn't been a major societal advance that didn't rely on the Communist Party. So what?

If government is involved in *everything*, then of course government is going to be involved in the good things too. There hasn't been a major societal advance that hasn't relied on people who eat tomatoes, either.
6.5.2006 10:34am
Anderson (mail) (www):
The best thing to be said for this thread is that it's not *quite* so embarrassing to the VC's readers as was the thread to Tyler Cowen's post at Marginal Revolution in which Tyler announced his belief in anthropogenic climate change.

Next up: David Kopel on all those exceptions to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that you don't hear about in the mainstream liberal media?
6.5.2006 11:41am
Freder Frederson (mail):
You are unaware of the scaling laws of generating machinery.

Well, of course I am aware of the scaling laws of generating machinery. But they only apply when you are talking about mechanical generation of electricity (turbines and boilers) of which all traditional generators of electricity and even wind power are (fossil fuel plants and even nuclear are just ways to boil water to create steam to drive turbines while wind and hydropower drive the turbines directly). Photovoltaics and fuelcells (or passive solar or simple conservation for that matter) and other direct forms of energy conversion are a completely different kettle of fish and can't be compared to generation that is achieved by mechanical means.
6.5.2006 12:11pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
From about 1890 to 1950 every doubling of generating eqpt size lowered the cost by 30%. The same scaling law we see in wind turbines. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Same goes for computers. The idea that computers will ever be small and cheap enough for people to have one in their homes that is anything more than a very expensive toy is just insane. With computers, bigger is better. Computing efficiency increases with bigger and faster processors, but then you have to have expensive cooling mechanisms and specially air conditioned rooms. A time will come when the entire computing needs of the world will be handled by a handful of supercomputers. . . .

Uhh, never mind.
6.5.2006 2:19pm
Salaryman (mail):
We spent lots of money to avert a lot of problems at Y2K (although the press did exaggerate the extent of the problems that would have occurred, they were real), and we avoided the problem.

While it's true that we spent lots of money purportedly to "avert a lot of problems" with Y2K and that no problems ensued, it's also true that countries that did not spend lots (or much, or virtually any) money on "Y2K remediation" (and who for that reason were touted by Y2K alarmists as being "most at risk") didn't have any problems either.

Similarly, on a personal level it's true that the spiffy new Y2K compliant computer I bought in late 1999 worked perfectly on January 1, 2000. Money well spent then, right? Not so fast, because it's also true that my old non-Y2K compliant 1995 vintage computer worked perfectly on January 1, 2000 also. Likewise, my midsized lawfirm, which did virtually no Y2K "remediation" other than buying new puters (i.e., no re-writing of stored data to conform to 4-digit dating conventions) had as few Y2K problems (none) as any mega-firm that spent hundreds of thousands on rewriting code (and the same could be said with respect to businesses and institutions other than law firms).
6.5.2006 3:05pm
Fub:
Anderson wrote:
Next up: David Kopel on all those exceptions to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that you don't hear about in the mainstream liberal media?


I doubt it. Maxwell's demon is soooo 19th century.
6.5.2006 4:07pm
Mark F. (mail):
The term "illegal aliens" is interesting. First off, a person cannot be illegal. Only actions can be illegal.

Funny, I'm reading this on my computer monitor and it never occurred to me that monitors cannot be computers.

Secondly, the word "alien" implies something from another planet. But all the easier to dehumanize people, right?

Do I really need to post "this guy gives sci-fi geeks a bad name"?

Are we now to avoid the word "Jihad" because that was the name of an animated Star Trek episode?


Well, I think the choice of words a person uses can give you some insight into his thinking.

Would you say a person who calls gay people "sodomites" has a negative view of homosexuals?
6.5.2006 5:04pm
twwren:
"Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change. ... The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality."

Newsweek Article on the coming of the new ice age, 1975.
6.5.2006 6:23pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Likewise, my midsized lawfirm, which did virtually no Y2K "remediation" other than buying new puters (i.e., no re-writing of stored data to conform to 4-digit dating conventions) had as few Y2K problems (none) as any mega-firm that spent hundreds of thousands on rewriting code (and the same could be said with respect to businesses and institutions other than law firms).

Well, a law firm is hardly a phone or electric company that bills based on the date, is it? If your computer calculated electric bills based on say subtracting energy usage in a yymmdd - yymmdd format or your billing for any time period was based on any such date format, you would be in real trouble when that computer tried to figure out what to bill for the period 000115 - 991215. Depending how your code was written your computer might simply crash or think that -100 years had passed. That was the problem with Y2K (the chance of planes falling out of the sky or the power grid grinding to a halt was overstated), that billing and financial systems would be completely screwed up as computer code wouldn't be able to handle the passage of what the computers would perceive as negative 100 years. Imagine how a phone call tracked with a two year date that spanned the new year would be billed if the computer registered it as lasting -100 years. Since a call of negative duration is impossible the system, if not fixed, would probably just bill you for a 100 year long call.
6.5.2006 7:52pm
dwillo:

Surely you don't mean to say that scientific truth is dependent on scientific consensus. Sure maybe if you take a hardcore reading of Kuhn or adopt some coherence theory of truth you could defend this position but on any theory which accepts that scientific statements should be right/accepted insofar as they agree/predict with a preexisting reality this will be false. Sure our best guess at scientific truth might depend on consensus but the actual truth was the same all along.


Fair enough. It was imprecise to say that "scientific truth" depends on consensus. "Scientific truth" is itself a poor term, since truth is truth, and science is just the way of getting to it. My point is that, as a practical matter, consensus is really indispensible to science. Not only is some consensus required to establish the validity of a conclusion, but also of all of the methods and principles that lead to the conclusion as well. (Arguably it is the relative lack of consensus on basic methods and principles that largely distinguishes the so-called "soft" sciences from the "hard" ones.)

Whether you see consensus as merely an epistemic proxy or as a real precondition of knowledge is a theoretical matter. It is enough to point out that science does, and has always relied on consensus at every level. It just wouldn't work otherwise. Lacking the ability of checking their results with God himself, scientists have to rely on checking them with each other. Even the great contrarians trotted out above--Einstein, Kepler, etc.--are famous not merely for contradicting existing consensus (which would put them in the company of innumerable cranks and crackpots), but for transforming it, for prevailing in the end.

This is why Crichton and his acolytes are just being loopy. Having seemingly lost the scientific debate, they would rather assault science itself and concoct wild conspiracy theories than concede any ground. Sad.
6.5.2006 8:33pm
Ken Arromdee:
Would you say a person who calls gay people "sodomites" has a negative view of homosexuals?

The typical use of the word "sodomite" is by a person who hates homosexuals. I dare say the typical use of the word "alien" in "illegal alien" is *not* to compare them to space aliens.

I believe this is the first time I've quoted a comic book here:

"He was a candidate for a Midwestern congressional seat, and he hired me to manage his campaign advertising. Unfortunately, his opponent turned up something in his past with which we could not cope."

"Let me guess: he was secretly a liberal."

"Worse. An alien."

"You're kidding?! An undocumented alien running for--"

"No. A space alien, Ms. Walters. According to his birth certificate, he's the son of "Zag-Nu" and "Ziapadora"--of the long lost planet "Veegwal". You can imagine what the opposition did with that."

"Surely you don't think he's really--?"

"No, more likely his parents were 60's acid casualties. But in the current political climate, that may be worse than coming from outer space."

"Gotcha."

(Sensational She-Hulk #11, Jan. 1990)
6.6.2006 1:55am
Salaryman (mail):
Freder: you're a smart guy, but at this point you're veering off into crank territory. To my knowledge, there were no reported Y2K problems. None in countries that used computers and could afford to spend millions of dollars on Y2K "remediation." None in countries that used computers and could afford to spend little or nothing on Y2K remediation. None at companies that spent big bucks on remediation, and none at companies that spent small or no bucks on remediation.

Not only is the lack of differential results for different levels of Y2K remediation telling, but the virtual absence of any reported Y2K problems generally ought to be pretty convincing. Not only were there not gazillions of 100 year phone bills sent out in early 2000, I don't remember reports of ANY being sent out (and believe me, people -- especially lawyers and journalists -- were looking for evidence of the dreaded Y2K problem at the time). Either Y2K remediation was the only computer programming project ever that was completed without a noticeable glitch (highly unlikely), or there was pretty much nothing to it all along (my pick).

Arguing that Y2K flopped as a catastrophe only because it didn't live up to the hype (i.e., planes didn't fall out of the sky) ignores the fact that none of the less dramatic predicted consequences ensued either, even in places where they didn't take the Y2K "threat" as seriously as it allegedly deserved.
6.6.2006 10:23am
Freder Frederson (mail):
None in countries that used computers and could afford to spend millions of dollars on Y2K "remediation." None in countries that used computers and could afford to spend little or nothing on Y2K remediation. None at companies that spent big bucks on remediation, and none at companies that spent small or no bucks on remediation.

I worked for Sprint in 1999 programming computers, and spent New Years Eve 1999--2000 in a hotel ballroom the company had rented full of monitors to make sure that nothing went wrong with all the code we spent millions of dollars fixing. We ended up with almost no Y2K problems and nothing that was "mission critical", but we were still fixing an occaisional odd glitch that showed up as much as two years later. (BTW one of the fixes was to take any year less than '60' and assume it was in the 21st century, so there is an impending Y2060 crisis.) Companies didn't spend all that money because they were scared to death by a bunch of alarmists and chicken littles selling them a bill of goods. It was a real problem and believe it or not, it was solved in time.

The problems were real, overstated by the MSM, yes, but they were real, and were just as I described above. A lot of computer code references date, and back when memory was expensive (in the seventies and eighties) programmers dropped the century to save memory. Everyone knew it would cause problems in the year 2000 but everybody also assumed their code would be long gone by 2000, replaced by speedier new distributed systems. But guess what, big corporations don't like messing with things that are working just fine and when you have to send out a couple million phone or electric bills a mainframe computer running COBOL works just fine, thank you.

Now most of the time it didn't matter that the date didn't include the year (e.g., if you are just printing the date of the bill, it really doesn't matter), but somebody still had to go in and check the code just to make sure. It took a hell of a lot of time and effort.

The reason you didn't see the disruption, is that the critical systems were dealt with first, then the less important ones. And finally fail-safes were put in to simply stop systems if there were date anomalies so they could be fixed on the fly.

You really need to have faith in the ability of people to fix a problem when it is presented.
6.6.2006 1:03pm
Salaryman (mail):
Freder: Thanks for the measured response to what in retrospect may have been an excessively provocative post, but I'm still puzzled about why there were no Y2K problems of any consequence anywhere, even in those places that were generally acknowledged to have prepared inadequately or virtually not at all (Eastern Europe, much of the Third World).

The fact that you and others worked your butts off on behalf of corporations that had virtually no problems on or after 1/1/2000 doesn't really address why no one else had problems. To use an analogy, the fact that a population undergoing a particular treatment never contracted a certain disease doesn't prove the efficacy of the treatment if no one else contracted the disease either. More to the point, if a purported disease is asymptomatic -- i.e., it causes no identifiable problems in anyone, even those who go "untreated" -- some skepticism is warranted about those who say the lack of problems was due only to their treatment.

Again, I don't wish to bust your chops unduly, but I'm still unconvinced.
6.6.2006 3:13pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Again, I don't wish to bust your chops unduly, but I'm still unconvinced.

The real issue is, why the hysteria? The bosses knew the world wouldn't grind to a halt. The problem was mostly was mostly with non-sexy things like billing and tracking systems. Things would get really get screwed up that would effect the bottom line--people would get wildly inaccuarate bills or the credit on their accounts would be calculated with -100 years, but power plants wouldn't stop working. If they had started working on the problem in 1990 instead of 1995 it would have been a lot cheaper to fix, so maybe they just exaggerated the problem to justify the extreme costs of the fix. Less developed countries didn't have a problem because they simply didn't do things by computer.
6.6.2006 8:27pm