Saturday, December 25, 2004

A comparison of "scientists" and a journalist

The global warming evangelists at

published an attack against George Will who reviewed Crichton's book State of Fear in The Washington Post three days ago in his text

I am amazed by the comparison of the quality of Will's text and the text of the evangelists. Most of the evangelists are being demonstrably paid as global climate "experts". However, in the two articles of comparable length, these nine "scientists" are only able to collect a couple of insults, while Will offers a plenty of rational arguments with detailed references.

Will describes Crichton's book and its main story: the environmentalists' lawyers suddenly find out that the theory was a lie, so they must manufacture artificial tsunamis, floods, and other disasters. Will compares Crichton's book to other books, and says a couple of words about the political background and why the "red states" are more likely to enjoy the book. His language sounds good and there are several "powerful" sentences such as

  • Crichton's villains are environmental hysterics who are innocent of information but overflowing with certitudes and moral vanity.

The nine evangelists were only able to copy the second part of this sentence and use it against Will himself. Unimpressive.

But it is even more obvious if one compares how Will vs. the nine evangelists discuss some more particular topics, for example the observed decrease of the temperature at various places. Will (with Crichton) explains that the skeptics have identified that glaciers in Iceland have been advancing and Antarctica is cooling down. The evangelists only reply with a manufactured criticism that Will is certainly doing an "elementary error" because he would definitely think that if a stock in his portfolio goes down, the whole portfolio must be losing its value. Unimpressive.

The global climate expresses the "average" of all places in the world, and it is scientifically unacceptable to humiliate one piece of data and pretend that it is less important than other pieces of data. Some places are cooling down, and some places are warming up. The number of places in one group may be different from the number of places in the other group - Nature never guarantees an exact democracy - but that's certainly far from being the reason to reduce the annual growth of the world economy by one percent or even more. The very question of the trend of temperatures in the Americas is very subtle. The people at RealClimate.ORG will never publish an article that South Texas sees the first white Christmas in 86 years this year. They know what's their goal, and they know which data they must throw away to achieve their goal.

Back to Will.

Will quotes Fiona Harvey, the Financial Times's environmental correspondent, who explains that climate predictions are much like financial forecasts but they involve many more variables. I think this is an excellent analogy. If you look at the actual forecasts in the financial world, you will see how unreliable they are. The climate may be even more complex. The evangelists have nothing to say about either of these things. Instead, they quote three favorite bureaucratic bodies - obviously containing scientists with comparable political bias as themselves - that stated that the global warming probably exists and probably has human-induced components.

But the most striking comparison of the two articles is the discussion of the evolution of a fashionable panic. Will's text especially talks about the global cooling believed in the 1970s, and it's incredible how little these nine evangelists seem to know about the history of "their" field and probably not just the history. The nine evangelists only say that Will is wrong and they may explain it sometime in the future. On the other hand, Will wastes no time and presents a lot of explicit sources that show how real the global cooling panic was, for example:

  • The New York Times (Aug. 14, 1975) reported "many signs" that "Earth may be heading for another ice age."
  • Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned about "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation."
  • "Continued rapid cooling of the Earth" (Global Ecology, 1971) could herald "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age" (Science, March 1, 1975).
  • The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that Nebraska's armadillos were retreating south from the cooling.

My readers already know that I think that the threats that the climate is heading to a disastrous warming are products of junk science and organized brainwashing, and therefore it's not the main point that I find worrisome about these debates. The most worrisome thing is how many junk scientists are actually being paid as scientists, even though nine of them are obviously less able to construct a rational argument, article or a paper than a single journalist. They should be ashamed and they should be fired.

Update: RealClimate.ORG has also published a more detailed attempt to debunk George Will. This more detailed version is a little bit more meaningful, but it still seems to me less meaningful than Will's text.

6 comments:

  1. Too many scientist take global warming as gospel. There may or may not be effects on the planet based global warming. But, shouldn't we find out if a)there are truly negative effects based on global warming and b)what are the true causes. Is it caused by the Sun's temperature, is it part of the earths natural cycle or is it caused by man.
    One more thing, there have been increases and dips in the Earth's temperature for thousands of years before cars and industrializaton. What caused the increase in temperature then?

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  2. Lubos you say that the RealClimate site has a "personal attack" on George Will. That is simply incorrect - they attack his article - personal attacks seem to be more your specialty.

    You cite their critique of Will's article, but fail to cite their specific discussion of the book and factual questions at issue. Those who want to understand their arguments against Crichton's (and Will's and Motl's) view should check out the link.

    You say that they claim Will is "probably stupid." That is an outright fabrication on your part. I quote the paragragh in question.

    Will commits one of the most basic mistakes in examining climate change -- using evidence of cooling from one location to question whether the earth as a whole is warming. (If Mr Will finds that one stock in his portfolio has declined, does this lead him to conclude that his entire portfolio is losing money? For his sake, we hope he takes a more global perspective on his financial affairs than he does on the subject of climate change.) What they said of course is that Will (and, I would add, Crichton and Lubos) make an elementary error when they cite behavior a few locations to infer anything about a global trend. That is indeed an elementary error. The only person using the word stupid here is, as usual, Lubos.

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  3. Lumo: The most worrisome thing is how many junk scientists are actually being paid as scientists...Perhaps it will be a small consolation to you Lubos, that the number of people being paid to study human caused global warming, a phenomenon with ample experimental support and potentially huge economic, political, and other implications, is a lot fewer than the number being paid to do superstring theory. Which, by the way, stacks up exactly how on the counts above?

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  4. Right, Gindy.

    Pig: I am not questioning that planning the future and the climate etc. is an important thing. But I think that it should be done in a scientific way, which is not the case today. You know, string theory, even in the speculative case that it does not describe the real world, is a world of serious math where things are checked and rechecked and everyone can do it.

    Climate is a highly politicized field where many people are just too happy to humiliate every paper or piece of data that does not fit their agenda. The institutions who study it should be carefully designed to be politically neutral - one half of right-wing members, one half of left-wing members - and they should satisfy many other rules, otherwise it's apparently impossible to keep them unbiased.

    My summary of the realclimate.org was an abstract, but I insist that it is a fair description of their article.

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  5. While I respect your work as a physicist you need to look a bit harder at the GW stuff. Or cooling, in this case. I'm amazed you've chosen to pick up on the 70's scare - this is the weakest part of Wills stuff. See www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ for details. You just have to read the journals.

    -William (of RC too).

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  6. Hey William!

    Welcome here. I have read several of these 1970s articles about global cooling. At that time, the environmentalists did not have the right tools to brainwash everyone, so the theories never became too powerful politically.

    Be sure that I would be as skeptical about global cooling as I am about global warming!

    Your website is painful, but of course the 2nd, more complete criticism of Will is a little bit stronger than the first one. Note that I can appreciate any improvements.

    All the best
    Lubos

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