Friday, January 05, 2007

Andrew Revkin, alarmists, and heretics

Although The New York Times occasionally publish outrageous editorials about politics, I still consider their texts about science to be superior over most other dailies in America.

Andrew Revkin who often writes about the climate may be counted as an alarmist but he is still an intelligent journalist who is able to keep his head cool. On Monday, he wrote about the

who believe much of the alarmist nonsense about the "climate change" but who at least realize that there exists a lot of irrational hysteria and misinformation about the climate issues that they don't endorse. He means people like Roger Pielke Jr. and Mike Hulme, a director of a British alarmist institute whose honest article has brought him into the climate toplist of 2006.

Who is in the middle and who is not

I completely agree with Revkin that Pielke Jr. and Hulme are somewhere in between the sane and careful people interested in the climate, also known as the skeptics, on one side ... and the alarmists on the other side.

Well, it is no secret that your humble correspondent considers all people who include the "climate change", whatever it exactly is, among the top five global problems to be nutcases. Those who include it among the top ten global problems are severely mis-evaluating the known facts.

Needless to say, Revkin gives a lot of room to the members of both categories from the previous paragraph. For example, a megalomaniac from NCAR describes the "climate change" as a "mega-ethical challenge" while a person from Harvard provides Revkin with a punch line for the article that, much like all popular modern MSM articles about the climate science, ends up with the word "catastrophe". ;-) The New York Times wouldn't publish it without such a happy end.

The phrases "mega-ethical challenge" and "catastrophe" are pretty strong words for this balloon of hot air and it is likely that the people who coin them belong to the first category defined in the previous two paragraphs.

Criticism by RealClimate.ORG

While I would describe Revkin's article to be another alarmist article with some room given to the relatively silent grey zone in the middle, it wasn't good enough for the folks at RealClimate.ORG who classified Revkin's story as "curious" in their text called

That's quite a silly title: consensus is not really a new heresy. Consensus as a tool used by a scientist to decide about any scientific question is first of all a way to figure out that the scientist doesn't know what he's doing which is why he chooses to parrot others. It is silly to build a scientific analysis on consensus because consensus is not science and science is not consensus. Consensus belongs to politics. Moreover, there is no consensus about these issues. No consensus, indeed. :-)

These RealClimate.ORG guys are a good example of groupthink and redundancy in science. But this fact is not what they mean by saying that the "consensus is a new heresy". What they believe is that the "middle ground" has always been there and it is what has actually been called "the scientific consensus".

Editorial updates

Andrew Revkin has updated his article and the words "a middle stance emerges" were replaced by "a new middle stance emerges". This makes his article look like a "new story" and moreover, it reduces the power of the RealClimate.ORG criticism. Try to estimate the IQ of the readers who are positively affected by such editorial tricks: my estimate is below 80. ;-)

Fine, so are the RealClimate.ORG authors right when they say that the scientific consensus about the climate has always been identical to the "middle ground" which states, among other things, that there exists no imminent threat to the civilization?

Who determines the consensus

It depends on the person or the people who define the term "the scientific consensus" and who calculate where is the "middle ground". Of course that if this term is defined by some reasonable people, they consider all those who predict a cataclysmic climate disaster to occur this year or in a couple of years to be classical crackpots whose lunacy sometimes goes well beyond the average Jehovah's Witness: I mean Al Gore and many others. The reasonable people might agree about some of these "middle ground" predictions.

But the term "the scientific consensus" was actually mostly coined and used by the alarmist cranks themselves. After all, no sane scientist would ever use this cliche as an argument. A language is a tool to communicate and we should associate new words with the meaning that their creators - or the most influential people who determine the meaning in the community with which we want to communicate - intended or intend. If you do so, then the statement that "the world is not going to collapse in a couple of years because of the climate" is a heresy simply because Al Gore and his soulmates think that it is a heresy. It is a heresy also because Mike Hulme gets piles of hate-mail from the environmentalist church when he says it despite the fact that he is otherwise a professional alarmist himself.

The criticism of Revkin by RealClimate.ORG is therefore unjustified.

Fabricated consensus and undeniable differences

The RealClimate.ORG article continues by the authors' confirmation of various quotes by others, in order to prove the consensus. Sometimes they had to struggle before they wrote "Agreed". :-) The result is cute except that everyone who follows the developments in that field knows that there are many crucial questions where the opinions are split. For example, William Connolley, James Annan, and most skeptics agree that the recent Stern Report is a piece of scientific and economic garbage.

I am confident that most people who are preparing the new IPCC report agree, too.

But things like the Stern Report are the opinions and predictions that are most frequently associated with the "scientific consensus" in the media these days. There is probably a consensus that the report is junk among the scientists but many of them are afraid to say so in the public. So effectively, there is no consensus about these matters. That's the reason why RealClimate.ORG didn't write a single word about this report that was otherwise sold as an important report about the climate by the media.

The reason behind the silence? There must clearly exist people among the RealClimate.ORG authors who think that it is a bad idea to criticize this report publicly. Stephen Schneider has said that every climate scientist must find her optimal balance between the scientific integrity and fraud, in order to be effective, and many colleagues of Connolley's can simply live with a smaller amount of the scientific integrity.

Consensus about the catastrophe in the media

Let's ask again: what does the consensus say about the catastrophic global warming, points of no-return, and so forth? Again, it depends on whom you ask. The real scientists have always known that these catastrophic statements were almost certainly and universally bogus. But the more loud yet ignorant people you include into your ensemble, the more unreal picture you will get. If you include the journalists who are political activists at the same time, you will get pure junk.

It is not hard to show that most journalists who passionately write about this issue argue that virtually all scientists agree about a catastrophe behind the corner. Every day you get dozens if not hundreds of such articles. For example, David Swanson wrote this week:

  • Unbeknownst to many Americans, there is overwhelming consensus among scientists that we are very close to reaching a point of no turning back on global warming, which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. We are approaching a point at which all of the following will become unavoidable: massive desertification, rising sea level, explosive growth of insect populations, widespread habitat destruction, mass extinctions, mass migrations (including of humans), the disappearance of sea life, and in all likelihood wars over drinking water that will make the wars over oil look civilized. These changes are likely to lead to human disease, starvation, and death on a scale that will dwarf the current reality, much less what Americans are currently able to imagine. The desperation and suffering involved, combined with the too-late awareness of the planet's fate, will almost certainly bring about a blossoming of religious and magical thinking that will make current American evangelists look reasonable. ...

You can read 10 times more of this concentrated crap - that was nevertheless reprinted at 10+ different places - if you wish. If you think about all these subtle differences, the conclusion is clear: the more silly and politicized outsiders and journalists you include, the more powerful "consensus" about all kinds of "catastrophes" and "urgent actions that are needed" and all this nonsense you will get. But this consensus will have nothing to do with science because consensus has never anything to do with science.

And that's the memo.

P.S.: If someone complained that I only quoted David Swanson, an irrelevant outsider, it is easy to find catastrophic articles of RealClimate.ORG itself. For example, here they praise an atrocious article of Pulitzer-winning Kristof on the "apocalypse" that was expected to occur because of exploding methane concentrations. Needless to say, methane concentrations went down in 2006.

If you include the comments of the readers, 332 articles at RealClimate.ORG contain the word "catastrophic". The word "fluctuations" only appears in 93 articles. Don't you think that a scientific source dedicated to the climate science should be closer to the opposite ratio of the words "catastrophic" and "fluctuation"?

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