Prof Matt Strassler who blogs at ProfMattStrassler.com made an excursion into our favorite topic which is an inferior scientific discipline at the same moment, namely to the climate change science:
Try the minimalistic template.
Prof Matt Strassler (yes, I will repeat the titles as often as Prof Matt Strassler does so that even the people who like titles will soon be driven up the wall by this pretentious way to talk about the people) discusses the recent bold claims by Prof Richard Muller of Berkeley.
Prof Matt Strassler describes Prof Richard Muller in this way:
But he’s one of the most famous, now, because he was also a loud skeptic not long in the past.Except that a rudimentary knowledge of the facts is enough to realize that the proposition above is false. Prof Richard Muller himself has described his past attitudes to the climate change in an interview for The Huffington Post:
It is ironic if some people treat me as a traitor, since I was never a skeptic – only a scientific skeptic. [...] But I never felt that pointing out mistakes [in Gore's movie] qualified me to be called a climate skeptic.So the claims that Prof Richard Muller has been a climate skeptic are indefensible; they are malicious lies, a part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign. Let me admit that because of Prof Matt Strassler's references to blog articles that have irritated him, I find it hard to believe that Prof Matt Strassler hasn't encountered the information that Prof Richard Muller hasn't been a climate skeptic yet. It seems clear to me that he is spreading this misinformation deliberately while he is aware of its invalidity.
Prof Matt Strassler also argues that no one in the world can possibly be such a fast reader to be able to get through the two-page summary of Prof Richard Muller's newest claims. It's a rather remarkable conjecture of yours, Prof Matt Strassler. Well, I admit that I am among those who have these supernatural powers and I have been able to read that summary as well as "more technical results, meant primarily for scientists" that are presented on that web page (click the link). In fact, it took me just a few minutes.
It turns out I am not the only "psychic" with these megafast reading skills. As I summarized in my blog post about Prof Richard Muller's newest claims, Prof Michael Mann and Prof Judith Curry, along with Dr William Connolley and Mr David Appell, have been able to read about Prof Richard Muller's newest "results", too. They also concluded something that is obvious to those who have at least looked at the Berkeley Earth web page, namely that Prof Richard Muller has just approximated the temperature curve by a curve emulating the carbon dioxide concentration. He's been satisfied with this approximation so he decided that the suggested mechanism has to be the right explanation. Much like those other readers, I have concluded that Prof Richard Muller's justification of the man-made character of the temperature variability is childishly naive. This closes the story. I won't study his new remarkable claims again. I know everything about them and so do the other critics.
Prof Matt Strassler doesn't like the fact that Prof Richard Muller's claims about the man-made origin of the temperature variability are considered bogus so he proposes to spend a very long time by reading those two pages and delay all verdicts:
Let’s wait a few days and see if anyone makes more intelligent remarks about its limitations.The difference between Prof Matt Strassler on one side and the other professors, doctors, misters, and mistresses on the other side is that Prof Matt Strassler is only "waiting" while the other side has actually studied what Prof Richard Muller was saying and we saw that it was worthless from any scientific viewpoint. There isn't any evidence, especially not new evidence, in his claims and graphs that would demonstrate the man-made origin of the temperature variations in the recent centuries.
So there can't be any more intelligent remarks than the remarks acknowledging that Prof Richard Muller's claims are pure trash; the remarks that Prof Richard Muller's claims are pure trash are already maximally intelligent and maximally accurate remarks one can make about Prof Richard Muller's claims.
Prof Matt Strassler's second and third paragraph are "beautifully" opposed to each other. In the second paragraph, he says that it is illegitimate to criticize Prof Richard Muller so quickly because two pages written by Prof Richard Muller have to be read at least for several centuries:
Immediately, of course, he’s being lambasted for everything he’s done, on all conceivable grounds. Discredit him as fast as possible, is the approach – instead of let’s look at the study carefully and see if it does or does not have flaws. Well, I’m sure most of those attacking him right now haven’t had time to read his study yet, because it was just posted.However, as Prof Matt Strassler shows in the third paragraph, it is actually possible to quickly lambast and discredit those who actually realize that Prof Richard Muller's claims are indefensible. One of them is Prof Judith Curry whom Prof Matt Strassler describes in the following way:
One interesting question here is [Prof] Judith Curry, who disagreed with the majority view on [Prof] Muller’s panel. I’d like to understand her point of view more clearly, though honestly she didn’t make a good impression on me with her objections last November, which seemed thin and statistically flawed. My impression is that this time she views the approach to the data used in the most recent [Prof] Muller et al. paper as disturbingly simplistic. Maybe it is. The data is open for any expert to use, so this is an objection that I would think could be settled. If she’s right, more complex and complete models applied to the data should give qualitatively different results; let’s see if they do.I added the titles so that it doesn't seem like Prof Matt Strassler is only adding the titles in front of his name to spuriously elevate his credibility in the eyes of the most superficial readers, relatively to Prof Judith Curry and others.
So we have learned from Prof Matt Strassler that she didn't make a "good impression" because her objections seemed "thin" and statistically "flawed". That's enough; no additional data or explanations are needed for Prof Matt Strassler's verdict. I wonder how long a time Prof Matt Strassler needed to quantify this impression from the last November.
Incidentally, it is a complete logical fallacy to suggest that if Prof Judith Curry's criticism of Prof Richard Muller's arguments are right, more complex and complete models applied to the data must give qualitatively different results. No such dependence exists. Prof Judith Curry hasn't made a claim about the answers to the biggest climate-related questions in her criticism. Her criticism was about a much more modest point. Prof Judith Curry, much like every other remotely sensible person, has only realized and articulated the self-evident fact that the propositions presented by Prof Richard Muller as a "proof" of man-made global warming are simply not a valid proof. This observation of incorrectness of Prof Richard Muller's arguments don't depend on any future models, especially not more complex and more complete models, and I don't even discuss the utterly anti-scientific suggestion by Prof Matt Strassler that more complex models should be the ultimate arbiter of the truth in natural sciences.
Prof Richard Muller's claim about his graphs and "proofs" of the anthropogenic global warming is analogous to the "proof" (or "disproof") of the Riemann Hypothesis saying that the hypothesis must be true (or false) because 111 is approximately a prime integer. Whether it is approximately a prime or not, whatever this sequence of words means, has no implications on the validity of the Riemann Hypothesis.
I can't leave the sentence "let's see if they do" without a comment, either. Many of us are actually working hard to "see if objects do" various things. On the other hand, Prof Matt Strassler only uses phrases such as "let's see something" as a rhetorical sleight-of-hand to dismiss evidence and delay any verdict he finds inconvenient. That's also why Prof Strassler has been wrong about pretty much every single "hot" question whose resolution was just becoming available, about every question on the "cutting edge". Five months after the key error in the "superluminal" OPERA neutrino measurement was found and three months after it was made public, he was still denying that the claim about the "superluminal" observation had been invalidated. In the same way, he denied the existence of the 125-126 GeV Higgs-like boson as recently as half a year after its existence was demonstrated at a very high confidence level to everyone who actually followed the CERN experiments, who knows some statistics, and who can rationally and impartially draw conclusions out of the statistics.
In this case, Prof Matt Strassler wants us to delay verdicts about Prof Richard Muller's "proof" of man-made global warming. But the verdict has already been determined. It's been determined that Prof Richard Muller's "proof" is childish nonsense. One may repeat the title Prof five thousand times and ask everyone to delay the verdict by additional days or years or centuries and one may even forget that Prof Richard Muller has said anything, but his assertions will still be rubbish.
One may repeat the title Prof one million times but it will still be clear to all historians of science as well as everyone who simply studies the sources that the invalidity of the OPERA "superluminal" observation had been publicly known since February 2012 while Prof Matt Strassler was standing on the wrong side of the history at least for three more months; in the case of the existence of a Higgs-like boson near 125-126 GeV, he was standing on the wrong side of the history for half a year. He is standing on the wrong side when it comes to Prof Richard Muller's claims, too, and he is working hard to prevent the truth from becoming clear to everyone, as he chastises everyone who has managed to see that the evidence has already spoken. But much like in the case of his superluminal hype and Higgs denial, that can only work temporarily.
Finally, I want to focus on Prof Matt Strassler's key claim about "uncontrolled experiments" that is presented in the last paragraph of his blog entry. The paragraph starts like that:
Unlike many bloggers, I’m not willing to pontificate on a subject in which I’m not expert.If I were as ignorant about this scientific discipline as Prof Matt Strassler and if my judgments were similarly reduced to irrational impressions and attempts to selectively delay the realization of the truth that is motivated emotionally and ideologically, I would be much more successful than Prof Matt Strassler in my efforts to use the opportunity to remain silent. Prof Matt Strassler hasn't been successful in these efforts which is why he erred and posted his rant about a topic he completely misunderstands, indeed. Prof Matt Strassler's website has been around for a sufficient amount of time for us to figure out that as a source of information about hot topics, it's a completely untrustworthy source of information that usually describes things in the opposite way than how they actually are.
But let's return back to the experiments because I think that many other people have raised exactly the same talking point in the past.
But personally, I think this whole debate is missing the point anyway. What we are doing, folks, in dumping all of this carbon dioxide into our atmosphere is an uncontrolled and difficult-to-reverse scientific experiment on our planet… the only one we’ve got. (Hmmm… let’s see what happens to the Earth if we turn up the CO2! Gosh, won’t that be interesting to watch!) Would you do an uncontrolled scientific experiment inside your own home? You probably wouldn’t think it very smart to do that. And if a bunch of apparently intelligent people started warning you this might turn out disastrously — even if other people who are apparently intelligent disagreed with them — you might consider that given the uncertainty, the question might turn on an issue of prudence. Perhaps it would be wise to get control of this experiment before it has a chance to take control of us.We are producing carbon dioxide; our biological ancestors have been doing the same thing for billions of years. This uncontrollable experiment is called "life". It's a part of a broader uncontrollable experiment that started 13.7 billion years ago which may be called "the life of the Cosmos".
The giant uncontrollable experiment "the life of the Cosmos" has had (and still has) many equally uncontrollable sub-experiments that are called "life on Earth", "animal life", "life of mammals", "life of primates", "human civilization", "industry powered by the fossil fuels", and others. Those persistent uncontrollable experiments were occasionally interrupted and interpolated by shorter events such as the great oxygenation event 2.4 billion years ago. I emphasize that all of these experiments, processes, and events are fundamentally uncontrollable. The evolution in all these experiments depends on huge amounts of factors and no single agent can be sure about the future outcomes – and, even more obviously, no single agent can "control" what the outcomes of the global experiments will be (even though "ambitious" people such as Mr Adolf Hitler and Mr Ioseb Jughashvili have unsuccessfully tried the same thing that Prof Matt Strassler proposes as well, namely to control the world).
Despite Prof Matt Strassler's suggestion that "irreversibility" is the same thing as "catastrophe", almost all these experiments are irreversible; in fact, the second law of thermodynamics guarantees that all macroscopic processes are irreversible because the entropy keeps on increasing. It's not just the entropy growth that makes the phenomena in the world irreversible. There are many other sources, manifestations, and interpretations of the irreversibility – for example, life is evolving towards ever more complex life forms.
If the aforementioned list of uncontrollable ongoing experiments doesn't make Prof Matt Strassler look like a breathtakingly ignorant fool in your eyes (so that you are telling yourself, holy crap, this Prof Matt Strassler is really ignorant about the very existence of the world; how could he have written something this dumb), let me know and I can send you a much longer list of ongoing uncontrollable experiments. Almost everything that happens on the Earth and in the Universe deserves to be called an uncontrollable experiment. These uncontrollable experiments are changing the state of the world at virtually all time scales we may talk about and whoever isn't able to see uncontrollable experiments in the world around him or her is just a stunningly uninformed fool who probably lives hermetically isolated in an ivory tower that is shielded from uncontrollable experiments – i.e. from events and processes in the real world.
Do we perform uncontrollable experiments at home?
I surely do. I do lots of experiments that are hopefully both uncontrollable and unsupervised by anyone. And I am sure that billions of people are doing the same thing and they are hoping as much as I do that their acts are not being controlled by anyone. Aside from examples that have to be naturally filtered out at a polite blog, we are doing lots of more innocent experiments (I just tried to cook mushrooms we picked in the morning according to a new recipe an hour ago – just delicious).
In fact, I have even performed an uncontrolled experiment called "global warming on Earth" in my own apartment after I received a Christmas gift from Lisa Randall, a propagandist AGW toy for children. ;-)
And even without any toys, we are also using our homes for the very same experiment that Prof Matt Strassler would like to centrally prohibit at the global scale: we are increasing the concentration of the carbon dioxide. A difference is that the experiments we do at home are millions of times faster and more efficient than the analogous experiment we are performing at the global scale. Instead of a century, we need an hour to increase the concentration of the carbon dioxide by 100 ppm.
For example, Will Happer – oops, I just made a carefully planned mistake. Let me start over.
For example, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University William Happer gave a talk at Berkeley – Prof Richard Muller was in the audience – and while the concentration of the carbon dioxide in the lecture hall was as uncontrolled as it is uncontrolled in all of our homes across the entire world, he changed one adjective about the concentration. He actually made it "uncontrolled but monitored". I guess that most TRF readers don't even monitor the CO2 concentrations in their apartments and houses. Within an hour, the concentration grew from 650 ppm to 730 ppm and it continued to increase.
No one has died, no one felt sick. That's not surprising. The most sensitive humans only start to feel strange when the CO2 concentration reaches 10,000 ppm i.e. 1% of the volume of the air (equivalently, because of the equations for ideal gases, 1% of the number of the molecules). And only when the concentration gets to 50,000 ppm i.e. 5% of the volume of the air (120+ times higher concentration than what we have in the atmosphere today), a consensus that the concentration has reached toxic levels that makes breathing lethally dangerous (within an hour) emerges. One may also mention that the detrimental nature of CO2 concentrations around 20,000 ppm is really not due to the excess of CO2 but due to the associated lack of oxygen.
Animals such as humans don't directly care about CO2 in one way or the other. However, we depend on CO2 indirectly in many ways and in all of these ways, CO2 is a vital gas that is either important for something we indirectly need or it is an inseparable side effect (or "sign") of processes that are important for us. First of all, most plants need at least 150 ppm of CO2 in the air to survive and grow. It's not a coincidence that this concentration is just slightly below the minimum concentrations the Earth experienced in recent millions of years, namely during the ice ages. Why? Because it's just damn hard for plants to adapt to low CO2 concentrations – low amounts of plant food in their environment. So they only adapted to as low concentrations as needed but those plants that haven't been able to lower their tolerated levels to 180 ppm or so have gone extinct during the ice ages. It's that simple. The plants that survived simply have to sustain 180 ppm, otherwise they wouldn't be here, but they can only survive a little bit harsher i.e. lower concentrations than that.
Nature is cruel but it works. However, the detailed consequences of Nature's workings depend on the initial or immediate conditions. Nature looks different at different moments; it keeps on evolving. That's the reason behind the existence of time; time is what allows Nature and things to change and evolve – and yes, it may sound paradoxical evolution (of anything) has become the primary enemy of various left-wing ideologues, something that isn't natural, they say. Billions of years ago, almost all life forms would agree that oxygen was not only a corrosive gas but also a metabolic poison under most cellular reaction (it's still the case but we, creatures that breath oxygen in, no longer emphasize this fact much).
Oxygen used to be the shared enemy.
However, different life forms that love oxygen and depend on it have emerged. Plants – our current allies and our direct or indirect food – started to produce oxygen and they just exterminated everyone who wasn't compatible with the atmosphere containing oxygen. They were not asking about uncontrollable experiments with oxygen and if they had the intelligence to do so, they answered that uncontrollable experiments should have continued much like they were continuing in previous billions of years. It's good that they continued, otherwise we – and other modern life forms that are compatible with oxygen – wouldn't be here today. The current life on Earth considers both oxygen and carbon dioxide to be essential gases. We can't do without them. CO2 is still the rarer among them so it is a precious resource for plants. The more CO2 our atmosphere has, the better. The mankind may face some rather serious problems after it stops using fossil fuels and the CO2 concentrations will significantly drop within the following 50 years; agriculture will become harder.
But even if there were something wrong about higher concentrations of CO2 – I've explained that the atmosphere with much more CO2 in it is just fine both for animals and plants (the former don't care; the latter really love it and need it) – it would still be true that the experiment called "life on Earth" is uncontrollable. If CO2 were an inseparable product of life processes of one life form but it would be killing another life form, well, the endangered life form would either have to adapt or it would have to convince or kill the "culprit" and stop the threat. You can't expect the "culprit" to go on a suicidal mission to allow somebody else to live. Life doesn't work in this way.
Needless to say, these comments are completely hypothetical in the case of CO2 because CO2 doesn't endanger anyone's life whatsoever – it's just a hostage in irrational talking points about intolerable "uncontrollable experiments" that demagogues such as Prof Matt Strassler love to spread. But if you had a problem with some gases that appear everywhere in the environment and that is accompanied with the normal life of others, you would have to adapt, fight and stop the threat, or die. You can't expect those who endanger your convenience to kill themselves or stop things they are free to do.
Prof Matt Strassler recommends the suicidal solution for our civilization because "a bunch of apparently intelligent people" says that the uncontrolled experiment might turn out disastrously. But this is not a sufficient condition for a rational person to pay attention to such proclamations. A rational person would only pay attention to such warnings if they came from people who are both intelligent as well as rational and impartial themselves, lacking incentives that affect them more intensely than the passion for the truth. No such climate alarmists exist on this planet as of today.
But even if they existed and some rational people decided to obey the recommendations by these hypothetical intelligent yet honest climate alarmists, they could only "control" their own decisions, not the decisions of other people who may have different attitudes to such recommendations. The other people will behave differently. You may commit suicide – or stop using fossil fuels, directly or indirectly – but it's foolish if you expect that you have the "right" to change it to a suicide attack combined with mass homicide – or "force" other people to stop using fossil fuels, too.
So if someone found out that 800 ppm of CO2 were deadly for all climate fearmongers in the world – this is nonsense in the real world, as quantified above – and one needs to stop using fossil fuels to prevent the concentration from reaching 800 ppm, of course that all other people who are not climate fearmongers would continue with their business as usual because it's an important part of their life (look at the mess in India today when 0.7 billion people were without power). If the laws of Nature want to create a better world by sending the concentration of climate fearmongers to zero as the CO2 concentration is approaching 800 ppm, then Nature has the undeniable right to evolve (well, improve) the world in this way. It has done millions of similar moves (well, improvements) in the past and we wouldn't be here without them.
And that's the memo.