Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warming?

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Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warming?

Postby Jumble » Fri Jul 13, 2012 5:57 am UTC

I thought long and hard about posting this as I don’t wish to troll. However, I have searched the internet in vain for meaningful debate on this. I’ve even spoken to friends of mine who are senior researches at the UK Meteorological Office and the Royal Society, who agree that the scientific debate is so polarised as to have descended to name calling.

The IPCC provides world temperature prediction graphs
Spoiler:
IPCC_chart_temp_lg.jpg

accumulating the models of many climate researches around the world. The weight of scientific opinion appears to back these models.

As these are theoretical models the vital next step will be to confirm these models against prediction. I have been able to find papers claiming that they have confirmed these models against observational evidence (e.g. Pielke et al)
Spoiler:
Pielke verification.png
and papers claming that observational evidence confirms that the IPCC predictions over exaggerate global warming (e.g. Best, C)
Spoiler:
best normalised.png

My problem is that I can not find rational debate or research addressing these apparently contradictory findings. To my mind, either:
• The data that Best and others quote is incorrect or has been adjusted to suit requirements,
• The data that Pielke and others quote is incorrect or has been adjusted to suit requirements,
• The IPCC models are incorrect and don’t concur with observational data, or
• The situation is more complex than that, and ‘global temperature’ is an unhelpful indicator of a complex global phenomenon

I’m a scientist but not a climatologist (afraid the brief meteorology course I did at uni left me bored and I did cosmology instead). However, as a parent and an inhabitant of this planet I’m interested in the accuracy of the IPCCs predictions. I don’t subscribe to peer reviewed journals on climate prediction, but all I can find on the internet is polarised debate and name calling (‘warmers’ and ‘deniers’ – honestly, grow up people! This stuff is important.).

So, I look to the calm bastion of balanced debate that is the XKCD forum for advice. What’s going on here people?
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Fri Jul 13, 2012 11:01 am UTC

Firstly we have a climate change thread, I suggest you post your reply there. But briefly on your third problem.

The IPCC models are incorrect and don’t concur with observational data, or


The models certainly don't capture all the complexities of climate change thats for sure. We just don't have the computer power for it. But to call them incorrect is a hell of a statement and requires a lot of backing up evidence. And they do for the most part concur with observational data. I would suggest looking at the IPCC report on models and their evaluation if you want to know more. Also evaluation of climate models and even just weather forecasts is a non-trivial task and the subject of much discussion and research and there are many methodologies.

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-repor ... apter8.pdf

Image

From where I am sitting, they are doing pretty damn well.

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No.

Postby wumpus » Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:07 pm UTC

Having a rational debate on global warming is about as possible as having a rational debate on creationism vs. evolution via natural selection. See todays http://xkcd.com/1081/ comic as an example.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Iceman » Fri Jul 13, 2012 7:21 pm UTC

I've found that it isn't.

You've got 2 Valid potential sides:

A) Global warming is occuring slowly and may lead to temperature increase of over 1 full degree in the next several centuries.

and B) The historical Variance of temperture exceeds +/- 12 degrees in the past 500 million years, and we are basing our beliefs on a 0.7 degree increase in 100 years, which is well within statistical norms.

But then the think very very quickly devolves into counting the number of scientists, claiming things will happen in the next 10 years, citing the current daily temperature as evidence, questioning who paid for studies, pointing out the hundreds of things omitted from models, pitting physicists vs. environmental scientists, debating surface temperatures vs. global ones.
After a few miutes, people who believe in it are treehuggers, and people who don't are holocaust deniers.

The population at large literally does not understand recency bias, and its been shown to literally vary its belief of Global Warming during recessions, and during the winter. (Cause like, of course there's no global warming...look, Snow)

It's just become a political thing, 'They don't like the Earth!'

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Bad Kitty » Fri Jul 13, 2012 7:57 pm UTC

I think the problem here lies squarely with the media. Simplifying the subject of Global Climate Change to a "yes / no" question is a distraction from many other questions about climate change and the environment in general. There is lots of research going on about so many different aspects of how human activity affects the planet, which will help us to understand global and local environmental changes. Most of this goes unreported in the mainstream media, and the public are usually only made aware of research that appears to prove / disprove global warming. I think it's possible to have a rational debate with people who are more informed and have viewed less biased and selective media (i.e. xkcd-ers and similar, I would hope); but until the mass media improves (when's that going to happen?), or the public choose to educate themselves better on scientific issues (equally unlikely), or politicians stop hijacking science to gain votes, it's not possible to have a rational discussion with all people on this matter.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby DSenette » Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:57 pm UTC

do you mean a rational debate on whether the earth is warming? or a rational debate on weather we are/aren't the cause of that?

because....if you mean the first one, the answer is yes, as long as the debate is:

person1:"is global warming happening"
person2:"sure is"
person1:"cool"

if you're asking about the second one...then not with the current data (apparently......)
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Jul 14, 2012 7:24 am UTC

Bad Kitty wrote:I think the problem here lies squarely with the media. Simplifying the subject of Global Climate Change to a "yes / no" question is a distraction from many other questions about climate change and the environment in general.


It's not just the media, but also politicians who want the issue simplified to the point where they can 'take a stand' against it or be seen 'doing something' about it. Turning climate change into a political debate was the worst thing that could have happened to rational discourse on the subject.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby EMTP » Sat Jul 14, 2012 2:55 pm UTC

Very briefly, to fully test climatologists' various models of global warming (the IPCC basically collects the best science available, "the IPCC projections" are basically a review of the well-regarded papers on climate change) you would need decades of observation, maybe centuries. We want to test models against the real world, but lacking a "fast forward" for the real climate, that's a time-consuming proposition.

Note, however, climate change projections are not all based on computer models. They use instrumental records and paleoclimate data (ice cores, tree rings, lake sediments) to look at how climate change has unfolded in the past and the present.

Insofar as there is an actual (as opposed to staged) scientific debate, it is about the things scientific debates are usually about: more or less; faster or slower; how will oceans and forests and crops respond.

This rational debate is happening; it's happening just where it usually happens, in the scientific literature. This debate is lively and ongoing. The problem for some is that even the most optimistic rational position implies that climate change will be a significant, expensive, destructive problem.

Hence the irrational debate, started and maintained by people who don't want to do anything differently. The irrationality of the debate is a feature, not a bug. The that we are in the act of shooting over civilization in the head is not rationally debatable; the exactly rate of warming and the consequences that follow, while very interesting, are the equivalent of deducing the caliber of the bullet.
Last edited by EMTP on Sat Jul 14, 2012 5:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby jules.LT » Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:55 pm UTC

So in short no because someone who argues that there is no global warming just isn't being rational.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby EMTP » Sat Jul 14, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:So in short no because someone who argues that there is no global warming just isn't being rational.


There's not much you can do for them but go down the waterslide.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby sam_i_am » Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:06 am UTC

Global warming has become too politically charged to be debated rationally. It is such that one side is considered to be so ridiculous that any argument that they make is dismissed before they even begin to make the argument.

edit: curse you auto-correct!!!
Last edited by sam_i_am on Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:11 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Sun Jul 15, 2012 6:31 am UTC

sam_i_am wrote:Global warming has become too politically charged to be debated rationally. It is such that one side is considered to be so ridiculous that any enlargement that they make is dismissed before they even begin to make the argument.


Or we could talk about the science behind it in a rational way and leave the politics behind. This seems like a perfectly reasonable and rational thing to do.

The issue is largely its an incredibly complex problem and the science behind it is also complicated and for the most part out of the reach of the average lay person. So people generally listen to and believe pretty much anyone who says things that they would like to believe.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby EMTP » Sun Jul 15, 2012 3:09 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:Or we could talk about the science behind it in a rational way and leave the politics behind. This seems like a perfectly reasonable and rational thing to do.

The issue is largely its an incredibly complex problem and the science behind it is also complicated and for the most part out of the reach of the average lay person. So people generally listen to and believe pretty much anyone who says things that they would like to believe.


Talking about the science in a rational way is of course what the scientists do, through the scientific literature.

You can also find rational discussions of the science among lay people who accept the science and have an interest in this issue, although there of course some people will tend to be hyperbolic. A good example is Neven's Arctic Sea Ice blog: http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/.

The science, I would argue, is like any science: you can begin at a basic level which is not too difficult, and it of course gets more complicated as you go on.

I think it is controversial not because the science is out of reach of the average person -- so is most of medical science, for that matter, but people get on OK with that, for the most part -- but because denial of global warming has become an ideological tentpole and a cultural signifier.

I agree with you that many people set out to confirm the story they already believe, and those lacking a strong science background find it easy to elevate various crackpot theories.

My problem is that I can not find rational debate or research addressing these apparently contradictory findings. To my mind, either:
• The data that Best and others quote is incorrect or has been adjusted to suit requirements,
• The data that Pielke and others quote is incorrect or has been adjusted to suit requirements,
• The IPCC models are incorrect and don’t concur with observational data, or
• The situation is more complex than that, and ‘global temperature’ is an unhelpful indicator of a complex global phenomenon


Let me say one or two little things about this.

* I think you will find it enlightening to read about the various choices and compromises made by the five major global temperature indices: RSS, UAH, NCDC, GISTEMP, and HADCRUT. Particularly the coverage maps. In brief, if you don't cover the poles, where some of the strongest warming trends are, you get a lower trend: http://www.skepticalscience.com/gistemp ... ncool.html.

* The time frame you are looking at is too short to really validate/invalidate the models. The last ten years have seen an extremely long and deep solar minimum and a couple of significant La Nina events, which may be the reason that the last few years of temperature data is running a mite cooler than most of the models predicted.

* If you want to talk validation, you should look at the individual models in the papers cited. There aren't really "IPCC models" any more than there are "Google Images photographs." The IPCC does calculate multi-modal averages among a lot of estimates, but that's not a model but more like a democratic compromise -- more Intrade, less fivethirtyeight. But in the end we will find some approaches work better or worse.

* Warming may turn out to be faster or slower the multi-modal projection, but the practical importance of this is questionable. Say on a business-as-usual path we estimate 4-5C of warming this century and 2-3C more by 2300. That's a disaster. What if it were faster? That would of course be a disaster. What if it were only half as fast? (That would be comparable to warming continuing at the rate of the last thirty years with little or no acceleration.) That would leave us with 3-4C over the next few centuries. That would still be a disaster, just a slightly slower one.

Not that it isn't interesting if climate sensitivity turns out to be 2C/doubling instead of 3C or 4C/doubling. It's very interesting and very important. It's just not particularly relevant to whether it is safe to burn fossil fuels in the way we have since the start of the Industrial Revolution. So it's perfectly possible that "the models are wrong" (more correctly, that the multi-modal average of the modals is wrong) and we will have more or less warming than predicted. But it doesn't change the overall reality that burning fossil fuels in the way we have up to now will result in disaster. That conclusion is robust to a wide range of climate sensitivities.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:09 pm UTC

EMTP wrote:I think it is controversial not because the science is out of reach of the average person -- so is most of medical science, for that matter, but people get on OK with that, for the most part -- but because denial of global warming has become an ideological tentpole and a cultural signifier.

I agree with you that many people set out to confirm the story they already believe, and those lacking a strong science background find it easy to elevate various crackpot theories.


There is, or rather was, a concerted effort by those with vested interests in, quieting the concern over climate change. Even NASA changed its mission statement to, quieten James Hansen and possibly even to limit climate research. And other organisations directly funding groups or people to sow doubt with respect to climate change. A lay person now has groups that are describing the science and groups that are deliberately trying to deceive them. Going into the science is essentially the only way to sort between the two groups. This strategy has been highly effective.

It is/was essentially the same strategy used by the tobacco industry to sow doubt regarding the health risks regarding smoking, it was highly effective then too.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:06 pm UTC

Yeah, before you mentioned the tobacco industry, I was thinking of bringing it up. You have a lot of hyperbole that the public sees and often ignores, real scientific discussion of the actual (and considerable) damage, and people with vested interests claiming that there's no damage at all. (Obviously, the most dangerous and damaging position.) So it's possible to have a rational debate on what the effects are, but there is no rational "both sides" argument to the question of whether smoking, or climate change, causes any damage at all. How could there be?
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby MarkVonShief » Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:56 pm UTC

Like so many other things in life, just follow the money trail. Donations are made to political parties, money is "had" from the government - it all depends on which side of the question you pursue. There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate. That is why the polarization exists.

We can debate here, but every piece of data and every conclusion has to be called into question (as it should).

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Jul 16, 2012 1:50 am UTC

MarkVonShief wrote: There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate. That is why the polarization exists.


Just to be clear, scientists at universities get a fixed salary, regardless of what they are researching, and considering their skills and experience, its not very much when compared to private industry.
The same goes for scientists at government research organizations. There isn't an avenue for scientists researching climate science to make lots of money, certainly not more than studying anything else. Scientists don't get rich and there isn't a financial motivation here for them either.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby EMTP » Mon Jul 16, 2012 1:53 am UTC

MarkVonShief wrote:Like so many other things in life, just follow the money trail. Donations are made to political parties, money is "had" from the government - it all depends on which side of the question you pursue. There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate. That is why the polarization exists.

We can debate here, but every piece of data and every conclusion has to be called into question (as it should).


Scientists don't make money by confirming or exploring global warming. If money is the goal, denial opens up far more lucrative career options -- Heartland subsidized certain "scientists" to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A university paycheck does not grow or shrink based on finding evidence of global warming. On the contrary, finding solid evidence which undermined a long-established theory would make a climatologist's career and have his or her department in raptures.

The "money trail" in climate science leads straight to the Koch brothers et al. The notion that scientists are being bribed by a government that wants to find evidence of global warming is silly and full of logical and factual holes. It's pure projection by "skeptics."
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jul 16, 2012 5:06 pm UTC

Even if scientists are rarely in it for large personal monetary gains, they still care a lot about money. With ample funding, you get more options to study what you want to study, you can expand you department, set up more studies, attract more of the smart and ambitious PhDs for your field. With decreasing funding, a field becomes less attractive. Less to do, less chances for career advancement, more likely to get reorganization orders from above.

For young scientists at the start of their career, a well-funded field is the difference between a good shot at tenure, and a grinding competition that most likely ends in you leaving the field. And leaving science after a PhD and some post-doc work really hurts. It won't make you poor, but it still often means that after many years of hard work, your career is now back to square one.

Some time ago, I was talking with a few ecologists. Out of necessity, they now rebrand most of their studies from "the ecology of X in area Y" to "the effects of climate change on X in area Y". The correct answer to that question is pretty much always "we don't know enough to draw meaningful conclusions about the effects of climate change", but you can bury that conclusion deep enough and offer some speculation on top. Other ecologists won't call you out, because they understand the necessity.

That's not some evil pursuit of riches. It's just some people who want to be scientists, and the money to be a scientist is easier to get if your field is considred socially relevant.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby sam_i_am » Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:08 pm UTC

EMTP wrote:
MarkVonShief wrote:Like so many other things in life, just follow the money trail. Donations are made to political parties, money is "had" from the government - it all depends on which side of the question you pursue. There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate. That is why the polarization exists.

We can debate here, but every piece of data and every conclusion has to be called into question (as it should).


Scientists don't make money by confirming or exploring global warming. If money is the goal, denial opens up far more lucrative career options -- Heartland subsidized certain "scientists" to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A university paycheck does not grow or shrink based on finding evidence of global warming. On the contrary, finding solid evidence which undermined a long-established theory would make a climatologist's career and have his or her department in raptures.

The "money trail" in climate science leads straight to the Koch brothers et al. The notion that scientists are being bribed by a government that wants to find evidence of global warming is silly and full of logical and factual holes. It's pure projection by "skeptics."


Let's say you were someone who's opinion mattered at a research university, and none of the researchers told you that they found something which undermined global warming, how would you react?

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby morriswalters » Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:37 pm UTC

Maybe the question posed is a little off the mark. The problem with the nature of the debate turns on the fact that the debate is not over the science, it's over who you can trust. Science is never settled. The debate gets framed that way because most people don't understand the science. The people who produce the science then become important, which leads to noticing something that shouldn't be surprising, the people who do the science are human. Then all the human agendas that everyone has, gets in the way of talking about it. Then people do what they shouldn't do, which is to think that the weather happening outside their windows represents climate, rather than weather. Which means that when it's hot they start to believe and when it's not........?

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:34 am UTC

@Zamfir

The assertion that was made and that is being challenged was,

There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate.


The potential for acquisition of personal wealth on the different extremes of the debate is very different. While on the one side people literally get paid to present a certain viewpoint while on the other side people get paid fixed salaries and have to write proposals to get funding in order to do their research.

On ecologists:

It happens. I've also seen it happen too. It also in no way discredits or casts any doubt on the work of climate scientists. If anything it potentially draws funding away from climate science.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby sigsfried » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:12 pm UTC

Let's say you were someone who's opinion mattered at a research university, and none of the researchers told you that they found something which undermined global warming, how would you react?

React to what? Not being told, presumably not very strongly on account of not knowing. That said if I was in a research group and someone was covering up something that undermined global warming I would be telling them they were very stupid, after all conclusive proof would be Nobel worthy or damn close to it. Also it would probably be academic misconduct and cost them their job, depending on severity.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:16 pm UTC

sigsfried wrote:React to what? Not being told, presumably not very strongly on account of not knowing. That said if I was in a research group and someone was covering up something that undermined global warming I would be telling them they were very stupid, after all conclusive proof would be Nobel worthy or damn close to it. Also it would probably be academic misconduct and cost them their job, depending on severity.
'Undermined', not 'conclusive proof'. While conclusive proof would be Nobel worthy, facts--actual facts--which pointed away from global warming would probably be largely resisted and, if pressed, could even lead to the end of someone's career. The notion that anything that challenges the status quo is welcome by the scientific community is silly--it's a community. Made of people. People don't like it when your data makes them look wrong (even when they're still right).

In essence, you have a lot of potential for 'shoot the messenger' type scenarios.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Zamfir » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:33 pm UTC

What Hippo said. Most likely, there is no magic single piece of evidence that would suddenly turn the status quo around. But lots and lots of little things might nudge the consensus somewhat. Doing a share of that nudging will not get you a Nobel prize, but it might still piss off the community that you depend on for your work as a scientist.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby sam_i_am » Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:06 pm UTC

sigsfried wrote:
Let's say you were someone who's opinion mattered at a research university, and none of the researchers told you that they found something which undermined global warming, how would you react?

React to what? Not being told, presumably not very strongly on account of not knowing. That said if I was in a research group and someone was covering up something that undermined global warming I would be telling them they were very stupid, after all conclusive proof would be Nobel worthy or damn close to it. Also it would probably be academic misconduct and cost them their job, depending on severity.



Forget what I wrote here before.

I thought I wrote:

Let's say you were someone who's opinion mattered at a research university, and one of the researchers told you that they found something which undermined global warming, how would you react?

again, I blame auto-correct.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Bsob » Wed Jul 18, 2012 11:01 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:
MarkVonShief wrote: There is money to be made on either extrema of the debate. That is why the polarization exists.


Just to be clear, scientists at universities get a fixed salary, regardless of what they are researching, and considering their skills and experience, its not very much when compared to private industry.
The same goes for scientists at government research organizations. There isn't an avenue for scientists researching climate science to make lots of money, certainly not more than studying anything else. Scientists don't get rich and there isn't a financial motivation here for them either.


Currency in academia is published papers. Journals have a very large (9 to 1 iirc) bias to publish studies that confirm a connection between two things over something that finds no connection. There is a motivation for academics to find global warming.

It's silly to think otherwise.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:20 am UTC

There is so much speculation in this thread. Particularly with regards to how the scientific community would react to actual evidence.

Its worth noting that complete nonsensical papers dismissing global warming do get published.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Jul 19, 2012 1:00 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:There is so much speculation in this thread. Particularly with regards to how the scientific community would react to actual evidence.

Its worth noting that complete nonsensical papers dismissing global warming do get published.
I'm not intimately familiar with the scientific community--nor the climate debate!--but I would assume that, on the 'good science' level, it isn't a matter of evidence for or against climate change--but rather evidence that hints at one type of model for climate change over another. That is to say, a piece of evidence may indicate that we need to adjust our current models, or that certain aspects of models are more relevant (or less relevant) than others. I'd wager a guess it's more about refining models than anything else.

With that in mind, I assume the concern being expressed here is that some attempts at refinement might be dismissed, trivialized, or even outright ignored--at least in cases where those refinements lead to a potential reduction in the threat or impact of man-made climate change. In other words, you have the potential for a fortress mentality where any attempt to adjust the models to reflect reality more accurately must not do so in a way that makes climate change look any less obvious or important.

I'm not a scientist. From what little my non-scientist mind understands, it looks like climate change is definitely a very big, very important thing--and thinking it's not a thing strikes me as unreasonable. That being said, it's very easy for me to imagine a community resisting any update to their current model of the world that makes things look even slightly less desperate. Because desperation generates money, and scientists need to eat too.

(On top of that, I'd expect there's a fear that any piece of data that makes climate change models look even a little more vague would be used as ammo by morons to claim that climate change is a lie. See that whole fiasco with the climatic research email scandal)

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jul 19, 2012 1:43 am UTC

Bsob wrote:Journals have a very large (9 to 1 iirc) bias to publish studies that confirm a connection between two things over something that finds no connection.


I've never heard this stat before, but it makes perfect sense to me. Frankly, I'd be shocked if it were any other way.

For a study failing to find a connection between two things to be newsworthy, it has to be refuting a connection that a sizable number of people believe to be connected. If I conduct a study that fails to find a connection between eating poultry and being better suited to learn foreign languages as an adult, who cares? There's nobody out there claiming such a connection exists. Whereas if I conduct a study that DOES find such a connection, that is new and different and worth publishing.

So in other words, for a study failing to find some connection to be newsworthy, its scope is basically limited to the volume of scientific material already in existence. For a study that DOES find some connection to be newsworthy, no such limitation exists.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Jul 19, 2012 2:40 am UTC

@Hippo
Well its certainly true that the research on climate change is about the finer details of that change. There are still a lot of uncertainties and theres a lot of work still to be done. And on the topic of models, the work being done on them, is without question to increase their accuracy when compared to observational data and to make them computationally less expensive. The ultimate goal is to produce a very accurate and inexpensive model and that would be a major achievement. This is how the quality of models are judged, compared to observational data.

On the financial incentives of climate scientists:
1. People who are primarily motivated by money don't do PhDs.
2. People who are primarily motivated by money certainly don't do research.
3. People who do research in climate science have an incredibly valuable skill set in maths, science, modeling, programming and other IT skills and are consequently highly employable not limited to climate science.
4. Unemployment in atmospheric science and meteorology is incredibly low compared to other degrees, http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=
5. The funding for climate science is incredibly robust with even a UN sanctioned body to summarize our collective knowledge on the subject, its hard to imagine that even a substantial decrease in the expected consequences of climate change could pose a serious threat to those already employed.
6. The idea that consequences of climate change being less severe may actually be very welcomed, climate scientists also living in this world.
7. If hypothetically funding severely dried up, most likely climate scientists will become some other subset of scientist, doing science.

I just don't see unemployment as a realistic outcome for this group of people.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Jul 19, 2012 3:48 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:On the financial incentives of climate scientists:
1. People who are primarily motivated by money don't do PhDs.
2. People who are primarily motivated by money certainly don't do research.
3. People who do research in climate science have an incredibly valuable skill set in maths, science, modeling, programming and other IT skills and are consequently highly employable not limited to climate science.
4. Unemployment in atmospheric science and meteorology is incredibly low compared to other degrees, http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=
5. The funding for climate science is incredibly robust with even a UN sanctioned body to summarize our collective knowledge on the subject, its hard to imagine that even a substantial decrease in the expected consequences of climate change could pose a serious threat to those already employed.
6. The idea that consequences of climate change being less severe may actually be very welcomed, climate scientists also living in this world.
7. If hypothetically funding severely dried up, most likely climate scientists will become some other subset of scientist, doing science.

I just don't see unemployment as a realistic outcome for this group of people.
My mention of 'scientists need to eat too' was more metaphorical than literal. I wasn't thinking of climatologists finding themselves unemployed; I was thinking of climatologists getting funding for their work, and worrying that they'd get substantially less funding if they concentrated on data that reduced the obviousness of climate change. There's also the concern of losing credibility in the eyes of other members of their field--not to mention the future of their career!

Wanting more money in your field doesn't mean you are primarily motivated by money. I love history; I love studying history. I'd love to see more money in the field--and while I'd try to resist the temptation, I can understand why some historians 'give in' and try to make their field 'marketable'--sometimes even sacrificing a bit of accuracy on the way. Because if it's more marketable, it means there'll be more money in your field--and more money means you can do more of what you love.

Not just that--but just like anyone else, historians want people to care about history. So sometimes they'll talk about history selectively, emphasizing the 'sexy' bits to try and engage you long enough to get through the important bits. Or glossing over important details that obscure or otherwise defy a particularly 'sexy' perspective on a historical event.

What I'm saying here is: Why don't these basic concerns not apply to the scientific community? To the field of climatology? To think otherwise, to me, implies that scientists are magically immune to pressures like this. But from what I've seen, pressures like this are in every field, everywhere.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Jul 19, 2012 4:28 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:What I'm saying here is: Why don't these basic concerns not apply to the scientific community? To the field of climatology? To think otherwise, to me, implies that scientists are magically immune to pressures like this. But from what I've seen, pressures like this are in every field, everywhere.


In so far that they are human, absolutely. But in the absence of evidence of fraudulent behavior I am disinclined to think theres a problem.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Jul 19, 2012 1:03 pm UTC

Fair enough, but I'm talking more about reasonable expectations ("I would reasonably expect this would be a problem"), and the thing I'm talking about isn't so much fraudulent behavior as it is protecting the status quo and resisting challenges to it (there's a point where doing such constitutes fraudulent behavior; I'd argue that shifting your focus away from data that makes climate change 'less obvious' probably wouldn't often fall under 'fraud'). I don't know if this is a serious problem in the climate research community--I'd expect to find that it's a problem that exists on some level, but as an outsider with little insider information, I can't make any relevant projections as to the extent of it. Rather, I'd just assert that this behavior is something scientists should keep an eye out for.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Arrian » Thu Jul 19, 2012 4:49 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:
Bsob wrote:Journals have a very large (9 to 1 iirc) bias to publish studies that confirm a connection between two things over something that finds no connection.


I've never heard this stat before, but it makes perfect sense to me. Frankly, I'd be shocked if it were any other way.

For a study failing to find a connection between two things to be newsworthy, it has to be refuting a connection that a sizable number of people believe to be connected. If I conduct a study that fails to find a connection between eating poultry and being better suited to learn foreign languages as an adult, who cares? There's nobody out there claiming such a connection exists. Whereas if I conduct a study that DOES find such a connection, that is new and different and worth publishing.

So in other words, for a study failing to find some connection to be newsworthy, its scope is basically limited to the volume of scientific material already in existence. For a study that DOES find some connection to be newsworthy, no such limitation exists.


The problem with journals not publishing null results is that they lead to the canonization of Type I errors. Suppose a study about, I don't know, priming is done in psychology which finds an interesting phenomenon. Follow up studies are conducted, but many journals only accept papers with statistically significant results (and many don't accept direct replications at all,) so the only papers published are the ones that confirmed the result. Thus, when doing a literature survey for future research, future scholars only find strong support for the effect, even if only 1 in 20 follow up studies actually found that result. Bang, wrong science. For a harder science, medicine has a problem, too. (It's less of a problem in physics, where replications do get published, not sure about other physical sciences. I haven't heard of any replications in climate science, but I have heard about data sets not being shared.) Type I errors get propagated in any field where null results have a problem getting published. I'm no expert on the field, but I from what I've heard, climate sciences are closer to social sciences than physics for this.

BattleMose wrote:In so far that they are human, absolutely. But in the absence of evidence of fraudulent behavior I am disinclined to think theres a problem.


You don't need anything so insidious as fraud to bias outcomes. Like you said, people don't become scientists for the money, they do so because they are passionate about what they're studying. This means that they'll focus on what interests them more than what doesn't, leading to selection bias and asymmetric effort in areas studied: If you spent years of your life working on a model to describe some feature of life, the universe and everything, when it comes to comparing predictions, you're not going to spend the same amount of time and care and effort on the alternative off the shelf models. This will lead to more favorable statistical significance from naive statistical tests regardless of which model better reflects the real world, strengthening your case for publication but not actually improving the science. (Not to imply that caring about your model will make it statistically significant on its own, it may be the case that yours still works worse than the alternative, or more likely, yours works better but the difference between the two is exaggerated.) An aggressive reviewer might catch this, or might not, the difference could be obfuscated even to yourself. The end result being you're not necessarily wrong, but you're more sure of yourself than you should be.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby BattleMoose » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:30 am UTC

Arrian wrote:You don't need anything so insidious as fraud to bias outcomes. Like you said, people don't become scientists for the money, they do so because they are passionate about what they're studying. This means that they'll focus on what interests them more than what doesn't, leading to selection bias and asymmetric effort in areas studied: If you spent years of your life working on a model to describe some feature of life, the universe and everything, when it comes to comparing predictions, you're not going to spend the same amount of time and care and effort on the alternative off the shelf models. This will lead to more favorable statistical significance from naive statistical tests regardless of which model better reflects the real world, strengthening your case for publication but not actually improving the science. (Not to imply that caring about your model will make it statistically significant on its own, it may be the case that yours still works worse than the alternative, or more likely, yours works better but the difference between the two is exaggerated.) An aggressive reviewer might catch this, or might not, the difference could be obfuscated even to yourself. The end result being you're not necessarily wrong, but you're more sure of yourself than you should be.


Yeah. There's nothing here that I actually disagree with. The questions I have are:

1. Is this actually a problem?
2. Is there anyway to actually fix it if we do recognise these inherent human biases as a problem?

Also its not like the scientific community is unaware that inherent human biases exist and I think much is done to limit ones own biases and those of others. And if a paper is published that is inherently and obviously biased it is very likely some other scientist will publish a rebuttal.

Basically as long as work being done is honest and is adding to our knowledge of the universe and everything then I am satisfied even if it wasn't done in the most efficient or rigorous manner. Not that rigor isn't important, it is important but I am drawing distinction between perfectly rigorous and just plain due diligence rigorous. Additionally, the way science is being conducted, may not be perfect but certainly is highly functional which can easily be observed by the results in what we have learned about the universe and everything.

Also, this is a problem inherent to all fields of science not just climate science, well actually, all fields of human endeavor.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Max™ » Fri Jul 20, 2012 10:57 am UTC

Yes it is possible, there was a long rational AGW discussion here: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=87198

Also, for those interested in updated data: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2012/6

For the record, the money isn't in climate science, it's in carbon taxes/credits/trading.
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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Bsob » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:04 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:On the financial incentives of climate scientists:
1. People who are primarily motivated by money don't do PhDs.
2. People who are primarily motivated by money certainly don't do research.
3. People who do research in climate science have an incredibly valuable skill set in maths, science, modeling, programming and other IT skills and are consequently highly employable not limited to climate science.
4. Unemployment in atmospheric science and meteorology is incredibly low compared to other degrees, http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=
5. The funding for climate science is incredibly robust with even a UN sanctioned body to summarize our collective knowledge on the subject, its hard to imagine that even a substantial decrease in the expected consequences of climate change could pose a serious threat to those already employed.
6. The idea that consequences of climate change being less severe may actually be very welcomed, climate scientists also living in this world.
7. If hypothetically funding severely dried up, most likely climate scientists will become some other subset of scientist, doing science.

I just don't see unemployment as a realistic outcome for this group of people.

So, you've never heard the term "publish or perish" before?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publish_or_perish


@blowfish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publication_bias, wiki has publication bias at 3 to 1. I remember seeing a 9 to 1 study somewhere but i don't remember where, so i'll just say i'm wrong, and it's 3 to 1. Science should not be about what is "newsworthy" it should be about what is true and provable.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby Tirian » Fri Jul 20, 2012 5:36 pm UTC

Bsob wrote:@blowfish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publication_bias, wiki has publication bias at 3 to 1. I remember seeing a 9 to 1 study somewhere but i don't remember where, so i'll just say i'm wrong, and it's 3 to 1. Science should not be about what is "newsworthy" it should be about what is true and provable.


It seems to me that you'd really have to break this down by discipline to have useful statistics. Frex, anecdotal evidence would lead me to believe that null results in immunology and particle physics are welcome, but are far rarer in the social sciences unless you're taking down an "unquestioned truth" like extrinsic motivation or stereotype threat.

To answer the question -- yes, but you've got to find the venue for it. Go to an insurance company and talk to the actuaries who need to set the rates for flood insurance on a house that is believed to be on a hundred year flood plain, and you'll be talking to people who can't afford an ideological balance. Talk to farmers who have to make a decision about whether they need to plant drought-resistant strains of their usual crops or whether they need to switch crops altogether because their land won't produce the same yields that it did for their father and grandfather. If you talk to Rush Limbaugh or a similar ideologue on the other side who don't have skin in the game (or people who are invested in a perception rather than in the reality), then you shouldn't be surprised when it sounds like a debate between the Yankees and the Red Sox where there is no agreement on the facts.

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Re: Is it possible to have a rational debate on global warmi

Postby blowfishhootie » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:10 pm UTC

Bsob wrote: Science should not be about what is "newsworthy" it should be about what is true and provable.


This is ridiculous. Space in an academic journal, like any other resource, is a limited commodity. How do you decide what to print and what not to print? By deciding what has the most impact, what is the most interesting, what is the most newsworthy. Like I said, an article claiming that there is no connection between two things that nobody has ever claimed were connected is not worth printing, if there are other things available. It's not rocket science.

A study claiming to not display a link between two things is only relevant at all if there is anybody who actually thinks the link does really exist. On my made up issue of a connection between eating chicken and the ability to learn foreign languages, a study claiming a connection exists would be newsworthy. A study claiming there is no connection would not be newsworthy. Do you disagree? On a totally new issue, one where nobody has proposed a connection before, usually only a study suggesting a connection really does exist would be worthwhile. Otherwise ... what's the point?

I'm not saying there's no such thing as publication bias. Arrian's post earlier about this was interesting. Your claim that every single academic study is equally worth printing regardless of its content or conclusions is not. It is entirely logical that there are more studies claiming to show a connection between two things than there are studies that claim not to show a connection.

EDIT: Also, regarding the line I quoted, "science" and "academic journals" are not the same thing. Newsworthiness is absolutely a concern for academic journals. It is why they exist.


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