Friday, December 02, 2011

Let us.. Let us.. = Lettuce! Lettuce!

or, Not Bloody AGW Again!?

Debating climate change may be considered a futile cause by many. I find that, so long as you're addressing the fourth wall (ie the 'open minded' audience: Yes! You! At the back!) rather than the proponent (who is as unlikely to be persuaded of your argument as you are of theirs), then you might find you can at least put a point down.

Of late, I have been making use of a useful set of one-liner retorts to the most common arguments, referring to them as the 'Romm Swat', for Joe Romm of Climate Progress, who has them listed here. They're extensive. They're backed up. They were recently knocked back by this comment:


I have no idea what the 'Romm swat' is. You seem to be referring to the discredited Skeptical Science catechism.
You may be interested in some more details on the collection of errors.

First of all, Marcus is quite right to wonder what a 'Romm swat' is (although I did give a link...). The original list of rebuttals was created and is maintained by John Cook, who maintains the Skeptical Science website. While he annotates them with his own clarifications, Romm makes it quite clear who the original source is. So, mea culpa: the confusion is down to me.

Second, Marcus' comment is in response to one in which I said the arguments I was 'swatting' seemed to be trotted out again and again, without regard for whether or not they were still valid. Marcus was good enough to provide a link to a post by one Lubos Motl, responding to each of Cook's 'catechisms', as Marcus describes them.

Strike two! Fair call!

Third, the comments had closed by the time I had read Marcus' response, so I felt obliged to address it, in depth, here.

Because that's about as much ground as I'm willing to yield.

So, let us check out what Motl says about Cook's rebuttals... Oh, dear!

I recently observed that I found statements that began with 'let us...' often ended with euphemisms for '...lead you down the garden path.'. I suppose this is the intention of every polemicist: to persuade. I suppose I'm no different in this, but at least I try only to point out where I think the garden path is and where it might go. I have no wish to put a ring through your nose. That is called 'framing'.

Motl's premise begins with 'So let us look at his [Cook's] points and [Motl's] counter-points.'

Okayy! Forewarned of the possibility of fairies ahead, I proceeded cautiously.

First of all, it is to be noted that Motl modestly declined to post a photo of John Cook, as it might invite a negative reaction. It *is* a little in your face, to the point of appearing doctored! Such is the sorry state of public AGW debates, that I initially suspected a bit of weak satire. It appears not, as a favourable review of Sceptical Science by Andrew Revkin uses the same image. A more composed image is now available (see above).

Now, getting to the crux, and looking through the first of the 104 points that Motl addresses (Cook now has 173 listed.):

Argument 1. "It's the sun"

Cook: "In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions"

Romm adds: "In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. Sun and climate have been going in opposite directions."

Motl: "I agree with Richard Lindzen [source of argument] that it's silly to try to find "one reason behind all climate change", because the climate is pretty complex and clearly has lots of drivers, and this applies to the opinion that "everything is in the Sun", too. Cook shows that the solar irradiance is too small and largely uncorrelated to the observed changes of temperatures. I agree with that: a typical 0.1% change of the output is enough for a 0.025% change of the temperature in Kelvins which is less than 0.1 °C and unlikely to matter much. But I find it embarrassing for a student of solar physics such as himself to be so narrow-minded. The Sun influences the Earth's atmosphere not only directly by the output but also indirectly, by its magnetic field and its impact on the cosmic rays (via solar wind etc.) and other things. He has completely ignored all these things. Of course, I am actually not certain that these effects are very important for the climate but the evidence - including peer-reviewed articles - is as diverse as the evidence supporting CO2 as an important driver."

my take: Motl seems to be agreeing, although is doing so via Lindzen, and is suggesting that Cook is being 'narrow minded' in not looking at other solar influences (actually, those are covered extensively in the backing material and commentary)
Whatever, possible ad homs aside, this point seems to be ceded by Motl.

Argument 2. "Climate's changed before"

Cook: "Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing."

Romm adds: "Natural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate’s sensitivity to CO2."

Motl: "Cook says that the previous history of the climate shows that the climate is sensitive to imbalances. Indeed, it is and it has always been. And he says that the past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2. Well, it virtually doesn't. CO2, much like other effects, adds imbalances and pushes the temperature around. But there exists no way to disentangle CO2 from many other effects or argue that it has become the most important driver. So the climate continues to change in the same way as it did in the past, by the typical changes per year, decade, and century, and Cook has offered no evidence whatsoever that something has changed about the very fact that the climate is changing."

My take: Where does Cook say that 'past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2'? He doesn't (although Romm is happy to). Nor is it mentioned in the expanded version. Motl has set up a straw man argument.

Argument 3. "There is no consensus"

Cook: "97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming."

Romm adds: "That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 19 countries plus many scientific organizations that study climate science. More specifically, around 95% of active climate researchers actively publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position."

Motl: "This counter-point #3 is clearly obsolete: Cook tries to argue that 97% climate scientists endorse something - it sounds like a TV commercial. Most of his graphs are obsolete, too - the current support for various AGW-related statements is close to 1/2 of the figures he copied in an "optimistic" moment for his favorite political movement. The reality is that most scientists disagree with the basic tenets of the AGW orthodoxy - and even people like Phil Jones now agree that nothing unprecedented is going on with the climate right now (including no statistically significant warming in 15 years, and the existence of a medieval warm period), while Kevin Trenberth has agreed that the climate hasn't warmed and the popular models are inconsistent with this fact - what a travesty. There still exist large bodies of climate scientists who prefer to promote the panic - because they've been hired to do so or because it results from their political biases (which are mostly leftist in the Academia). The funding for climate science has increased 10-fold in the last 10-20 years - purely because of the possible threat - which means that 90% of the people (or 90% of the funding) is working on proofs of this pre-determined conclusion. At any rate, these discussions provide us with no evidence for the actual science - they're just about an attempt of the largely political movements to intimidate the scientists in the very same way in which Nazis wanted to intimidate the "Jewish science" by the consensus of the "Aryan scientists". Einstein would tell them that it's enough to find one scientist to prove Einstein wrong."

My take: Motl does not clarify what he means by 'clearly obsolete' and how he can claim it. Indeed, he does not attempt to validate any of the claims made here. The expanded version of Cook's point starts with 'Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing.'. It has been stated elsewhere that scientists aren't just sceptics, they're trained sceptics. The debate we're seeing now isn't scientist vs scientist. It's entrenched interest vs. reality. It has also been pointed out that hungry PhD students would be looking to make a killing to topple dominant theories such as AGW if they were showing signs of dodginess. Where are they all?

Motl does go on to argue 101 points in total. But, since he too pauses for a commercial ad break at this point, it seems a good place for me to stop as well.

In keeping with earlier remarks about 'Let us...', you now know where the garden path is. Follow the remaining 98 flagstones if you will. I said earlier that I would not put a ring through your nose and lead you down it. Form your own opinion. I will only note that, unlike Cook, Motl offers his own views only, without any backing material.

Cook's points are intended as simple rebuttals, As such, they require regular maintenance lest they *do* become simplistic 'catechisms', as Marcus puts them. Motl's post provided an opportunity to do so, even if I found his arguments to be not in the least bit persuasive. I consider Cook's rebuttals to be unscathed and I will continue to use them (although, perhaps, with a more accurate accreditation!)