Thursday, June 02, 2011

Does ethics require us to believe in tornado witches?

When I was a kid, something like a 10-year-old one, I didn't have the feeling that the contemporary human society is obsessed with irrationalities.

This experience of course depended on the environment; I guess that people such as my grandfather and the teachers at school were rational people which was why I made the implicit extrapolation that the mankind approaches similar issues in similar ways.

Examination of a witch

I have never really understood the psychology of the medieval zealots who would burn people at stake just because those people realized that the Earth wasn't a center of the Solar System or the Universe, for that matter. Where did such extraordinarily obsessed idiots come from, I was asking? Something like that is clearly impossible today, isn't it?

Of course, there were many other crazy stories that I used to view as a part of the history that could never return. When we visited the Salem Witch Museum 8 years ago or so, I learned some details about the Salem witch trials. As recently as in 1692-1693, the people were burning or hanging or beheading girls because a witness claimed that they saw ghosts around them or because dogs fed urine reacted in one way or another. Families just blamed bad crops, illness of the family, or a death of a child on a local outcast. That was enough for the mass hysteria to "ethically" punish the unlucky girl.

Why did they find it so important to attribute these obviously scientifically impossible features to pretty ordinary girls? Why did the people think that the worth of human beings becomes unacceptably low if we start to believe that the Sun is more central among the nearby celestial bodies than the Earth? I thought that this stupidity was unprecedented and would never repeat itself.

Of course, I learned that I was as wrong as I could be. People are essentially as stupid - and obsessed with completely crazy beliefs - today as they were in Massachusetts of the 1690s.

A huge percentage of people, including some people who are very close to me for various reasons, will start to curse you as soon as you suggest that ghosts and spiritism are nonsense or that the motion of glasses on the table, as well as the motion of all other material objects we have ever seen, agrees with the laws of physics. When you say such a thing, they make you sure that you are attacking an essential part of their soul and human dignity - because the bulk of their knowledge and perception of human dignity is built out of superstitions and lies. The bulk of their brain is composed of rubbish.

It's kind of normal for the normal people to have crazy beliefs and it mostly doesn't affect the functioning of the society. For centuries, sensible people were more likely to occupy more influential positions which is why the society could really make some progress despite the irrational beliefs of something that could be a majority of the world population. However, in recent years, much of this craziness started to be institutionalized in the very institutions that used to be associated with the scientific and rational evaluation of the evidence - such as universities.

In Italy, 6 seismologists and 1 official are on trial as killers - yes, they are already charged - because they didn't have the crystal ball needed to predict the 2009 Earthquake in L'Aquila in advance. But this article is about another story.

Anthony Watts has pointed out that the Penn State University - yes, the headquarters of the loop quantum gravity silliness and the hockey stick graph silliness, among other things - employs a completely unhinged man as an "associate professor of environmental ethics, science, and law". The description of the discipline is quite crazy by itself. But the article he wrote about the tornadoes is just extraordinary:
Why Ethics Requires Acknowledging Links Between Tornadoes and Climate Change Despite Scientific Uncertainty
Quite a title. And not only the title. I have mentioned the witch trials because Mr Brown's text is virtually isomorphic to Joseph Glanvill's 1668 essay, Against Modern Sadducism, which said that it was unethical not to believe in witches and apparition and which ideologically helped to execute those 26 folks in Salem.

(Sadducism was believed by some Jews 2,000 years ago who rejected afterlife, rewards and penalties after you die, fate, resurrection, and the evil committed by God - quite a mixture, a mostly sensible one, but Glanvill clearly uses "modern sadducism" as a synonym of "rationality" which is what he really hated.)

The page above about the tornadoes contains a remarkable number of 76 copies of the root "ethic", 28 of which are found in the proper part of the article. It's being repeated that even though we are not "certain" that tornadoes are caused by CO2, it is unethical not to "acknowledge" that the relationship exists. Wow.

What I find unethical is to say untrue things even if one knows that they're untrue - that's what Mr Donald Brown has explicitly confessed to be doing and the people who are doing so are called "liars". Mr Brown is not just a liar; he is a liar who is stealing lots of U.S. dollars from the U.S. taxpayer by saying these things that, as he knows, are lies.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Penn State University should be stripped of the status of a university and only regain this privilege once it starts from scratch and proves that the breathtaking intellectual weeds similar to Mr Brown have been safely removed from the institution in a way so that they can never return again. Just for fun, let me look at all the sentences in his article that contain the word "ethic*".
This post argues that ethics requires acknowledging the links between tornadoes and climate change despite scientific uncertainties about increased frequency and intensity of tornadoes in a warming world.
The main insane thesis of the title is repeated about dozens of times in the article. The scientific integrity, a key part of ethics of a scientist, requires to present the links between pairs of phenomena that agree with the scientific evidence. In the case of the tornado-CO2 link, the evidence in favor of the relationship is virtually non-existent, and the small glimpses of evidence suggest that these two things are negatively correlated, not positively.
This post, however, looks at links between tornado intensity and frequency and climate change and what ethics requires when discussing these links.
His post actually doesn't look at any links between those things at all. After all, the author doesn't know any science so he couldn't have achieved this goal. He just states the usual religious insanities of the type "climate change is always caused by CO2, it's 'real', and it's causing all the bad things in the world, Amen". Everyone who is genuinely incapable to demonstrate that such proclamations are preposterous religious dogmas possesses a physiologically defective brain.
IV. The Ethical Obligation To Discuss Tornado/Climate Change Links Despite Scientific Uncertainty.
Note that after several sections, there is a section number four whose headline is completely isomorphic to the headline of the whole text. This "recursion" doesn't look strange to mentally limited individuals of Mr Brown's caliber because they believe that this bizarre proposition has such a special status that if you repeat it at the top of your article, in a section, in its subsection, and at infinitely many other "levels", you will still look sane. Well, it turns out you can't.
To fully understand this it is helpful to understand why climate change is essentially an ethical problem.
More precisely, it is a problem invented, fabricated, and aggressively promoted by ideologically driven irrational zealots and their companion who believe that they can make profit out of this movement. But it's true that the "climate change problem" has nothing to do with science.
Climate change is an ethical problem because: (a) Some people in some parts of the world are putting others at risk,
That's a type of influence that people - and all other objects in the Universe - have been doing with each other since the Big Bang. The only problem is that the contribution of man-made climate change to this type of interactions between the people is zero for all practical purposes.
(b) The harms to those at risk could be catastrophic,
Except that we know that it will not be catastrophic, and it's highly questionable whether it will be measurable amid the contributions of other drivers - that may be confusingly classified as "noise" - at all.
and (c) Most of the victims of climate change can do little to avoid harm,
People in Micronesia, if the sea level are raised by less than 42 micrometers by a Czech power plant in Prunéřov as predicted by the IPCC, can move by a few micrometers away from the sea. They can do a lot. Even if there were any significant changes, such as 5 degrees of warming in the next 100 or 200 years, it would be pretty much trivial to avoid their consequences. It would be many orders of magnitude easier than to continue a civilized life without the currently essential pre-requisites such as the fossil fuels.
they must rely on a sense of justice will motivate those who are putting others at risk to reduce their climate changing causing behavior.
They do not have to rely on anything outside their world, and they shouldn't rely on anything outside their world. They shouldn't be taught to rely on things outside their world, either.
For this reason, since we now know that it is scientifically plausible that tornado frequency and intensity will increase as the world warms and climate change is already affecting timing, location, and intensity of tornadoes that will form, it is not ethically acceptable to assert there is no link because such a claim implies that there is no scientifically valid basis for concern or risk.
It is an ethical duty for every scientist to loudly and clearly say that there is no link between the CO2 and the tornadoes because all the available scientific evidence shows that there is no link and it is an ethical duty for any scientist to use and say things that are dictated by the actual scientific evidence.

There always remains a nonzero probability that something will profoundly change about the science in the future but this is true about any question about the real world and a scientist should never mix the evidence obtained from the past data, which is what science builds its conclusions upon, with unjustified speculations and/or wishful thinking about the future, which is the type of considerations associated with unscientific modes of thinking.
To understand why this it is ethically problematic to deny evidence. it is necessary to review the ethics of dangerous behavior.
Since the renaissance, people began to understand that it's always ethically problematic to say lies and that the truth really can't hurt, at least not hurt the mankind in the long run. It's been understood that the truth is often different than the first hunch or the dogmas inherited from the ancestors. Apparently, not everyone has understood those things.
The criteria of acceptability must be understood as an ethical rather than a scientific question.
That's fine except that science may often say that some people's ethical criteria are just insane. If someone finds it ethically unacceptable for people to realize that the Earth isn't the center of the Solar System or that the people promoting the tornado-CO2 links are unhinged loons, it is his personal ethical preference but this fact can't prevent a rational person from using the scientific evidence to determine that any person with such ethical preferences is a lunatic.
For instance, although science may conclude that a certain increased exposure to solar radiation may increase the risk of skin cancer by one new cancer in every hundred people, science cannot say whether this additional risk is acceptable because science describes facts and cannot generate prescriptive guidance by itself.
That's why science can't directly "dictate" that people should be "protecting the atmosphere", reducing CO2 emissions, avoid certain scientific insights about the tornadoes, or anything else of the sort. However, it's still true that a rational society and rational individuals will look at science when it makes its own decisions. They will affect them. In the particular case of the CO2 emissions, a rational society will allow the CO2 emissions to be anything they want to be because any regulation of CO2 means a reduction of the people's well-being.
The scientific understanding of the nature of the threat, of course, is not irrelevant to the ethical question of whether the risk is ethically acceptable, but science alone cannot tell society what it should do about various threats.
Right. That's why it shouldn't be doing so. That's why the IPCC or any other would-be scientific body should never try to do politics.
In environmental controversies such as global warming where there is legitimate concern, important ethical questions arise when scientific uncertainty prevents unambiguous predictions of human health and environmental consequences.
There is no legitimate concern when it comes to "global warming". All this concern has always been created by propagandistic tricks and fraudulent pseudoscientific babbling and attempted would-be "ethical" intimidation similar to this very article by Mr Brown, so it is thoroughly illegitimate.

By the way, the very fact that the uncertainties were not significantly reduced despite USD 100 billion invested into the climate research in the recent decades strongly suggests, if not proves, that the reason is that the correct answers are actually not in the vicinity of the predetermined answers.

The distance X between the predetermined answers - especially the answer "there is a climate threat" - and the correct answers is very large and its being large is essential for tons of parasites such as Mr Brown to continue to be parasites, so this distance can't be reduced by this community. Whenever the widely believed answers are close to the correct ones, USD 100 billion is enough to reduce the uncertainty X by a significant factor. It is easy to converge closer to the result and reduce X to X/2, and so on.

It's not possible in the "science" of a "global warming threat" because this "science" is qualitatively invalid, not just inaccurate. The incorrect qualitative conclusion about a "climate threat" is the very reason why those people are doing what they're doing so they're incapable (well, unwilling) to abandon this incorrect prejudice regardless of the amount of evidence. That's why they can't converge to the accurate answers.
This is so because decision-makers or those engaged in risky behavior cannot duck ethical questions such as how conservative "should" scientific assumptions be in the face of uncertainty or who "should" bear the burden of proof about harm.
There's still a rational approach to such decisions - one based on the costs-and-benefits analysis - that the rational decision makers will be close to while the irrational ones will be far from it.
This is an ethical question. And so from the standpoint of ethics, potential risks are relevant to what should be done.
Clearly, Mr Brown is using the word "ethics" as any kind of a pseudo-argument that should have the capacity to override any rational argument. However, "ethics" is not the same thing as "irrationality".
For this reason, environmental decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty must be understood to raise a mixture of ethical and scientific questions.
They have always been. However, in this mixture, one should still try to use good ethics and good science. Mr Brown's main point is that it should be a mixture of ethics of medieval bigots combined with junk science of corrupt ideologues that can always ignore the actual empirical evidence because of reasons that are described by fancy words but that are always nothing else than the desire of the fraudsters to continue with their fraud.
That only proven facts should count about dangerous behavior can be shown to be ethically problematic by looking at how societies often deal with other kinds of unsafe behavior.
If one is uncertain about the impacts, he will be more careful about these acts - and encourage others to be more careful. However, a modern society can't ban all new activities just because they haven't been tested for a long enough time. All of life - and especially life in the scientific and technological era - is about trying things that are new. One only prohibits things once there is a solid evidence that these things have some wrong consequences - because one may derive it from established science or because they have been tried (or very similar things have been tried) and there have been significantly bad consequences.
In other words, when the burden of proof should shift to those proposing to do something dangerous or how much proof should satisfy the burden of proof are ethical questions that need to take into consideration many different factors.
Well, the people proposing something dangerous are surely the people who dare to suggest that we should regulate our CO2 emissions. This idea is a threat for the well-being of billions of people - and their pets, among many other things. Mr Brown's idea is different than what he says: what he wants is to shift the burden of proof to those whom he doesn't like because they're not the same kind of unhinged and unstable kibitzers as he is.
Because these are ethical questions, they cannot be answered by an algorithm or a "value-neutral" scientific calculation.
In practice, rational economic questions about the right decisions may be answered in this way, as I mentioned. At any rate, even if we were using less well-defined algorithms than the science and the costs-and-benefits analysis, Mr Brown hasn't offered any evidence that these other algorithms would yield the answer he proposes. He has just repeated that he wants the ethical outcome to be XY but he has presented no evidence and no link with conventional definition of ethics whatsoever, except for the evidence that was relying on junk science as well so it can't be viewed as an ethical dimension of the problem.
As long as anyone is asking the question of whether there is a link between climate change and tornado damage because they want to know whether there is reason to limit greenhouse gas emissions, it is therefore ethically problematic to say there is no link.
In other words, the ends justify the means, Mr Brown says.

An honest scientist has to give and will give the same answer to a given well-defined question regardless of the reason for which the people who have asked want to know the answer. Otherwise the scientist is not a real scientist but an unethical liar and opportunist.

There is no tornado-CO2 link whether you ask because or X or because of Y. Or because of anything else.
However, it is also ethically required to acknowledge that increased tornado damage and frequency are not yet proven. However, if this said, it is also ethically important to acknowledge that increased damage from other kinds of storms is virtually certain as the planet warms.
Whether storms increase on a warmer planet is a scientific question, not an ethical question, so a medieval moron preaching about a perverse form of ethics has nothing to say about these matters. The answer of science is that a warming planet would see a faster warming near the poles, because of the stronger feedbacks, which would reduce the pole-equatorial temperature difference and the related gradients that dictate the strength of storms as well as the magnitude of weather oscillations of many other kinds related to rare and extreme events.

While there's no available measured evidence of a change of the frequency and intensity of storms and extreme events at this moment, science shows that if there is a correlation, it says that a warmer planet will see less extreme weather.
Furthermore, it is ethically important to acknowledge that tornadoes will appear in places that they would not likely occur in the absence of global warming even if tornado frequency and intensity decrease because a changing climate is already affecting tornado propagation.
Again, it's a lie - warming, even if it were occurring, wouldn't make some qualitatively impossible things suddenly possible - so it is unethical to say such things and it is even more unethical to agree with being paid a salary for spreading these lies.

You should be ashamed, Mr Brown. You should be ashamed, Penn State University, for harboring this stunningly dishonest crook. You should be ashamed, the people of Pennsylvania, for being unable to get rid of this big piece of immoral dirt that exists within your state.

And that's the memo.


  1. I'm reading H H Lamb's "Climate History and the Future," copyright 1977, and it denies all of Mr. Brown's points. And agrees with yours concerning weather in a warmer world. Particularly interesting was that winds were stronger during cold periods, and were especially strong during glacial periods. They became much lighter as it warmed. Thus observations support theory - warming reduces storm power, cooling increases it.

  2. great stuff Luboš. But we should welcome the sheer stupidity of the pseudoethical warmist. By overusing the AGW concept, he'll cheapen it to oblivion. Furthermore if AGW is a moral cause, then it's demonstrably non-scientific, as science will only take the third place after ethics and politics. So the IPCC becomes even less important, or meaningful.

  3. So, if carbon in the atmosphere is so bad and we are each responsible for our contribution then "ethically" how can this guy continue to breathe? Doesn't he know that the poison he spews could be the tipping point in causing the next tornado? Does he have no shame? Couldn't he at least keep his mouth shut and assume a supine position so that his body produces less CO2? Maybe he could sequester himself in a cave somewhere deep in the earth so that none of his gaseous eructations will cause harm to anyone else?

    But I suspect were he asked he would claim that amongst all of the verbal flatulence being released across the globe, his is truly the most virtuous and in need of being heard. He gets a dispensation because his are the words that will cause everyone else to behave differently... even though he himself will continue merrily on with his own lifestyle.

    Unbelievable. You can quite literally substitute any word where CO2 appears in his argument and the logical content of his essay would not change. The devil, pizza, Lady Gaga... all have not been shown to have a link to tornadoes. Do we have an ethical duty to assume otherwise? It is not possible that a man who makes such an argument can function properly in society.

  4. So, if carbon in the atmosphere is so bad and we are each responsible for our contribution then "ethically" how can this guy continue to breathe? Doesn't he know that the poison he spews could be the tipping point in causing the next tornado? Does he have no shame? Couldn't he at least keep his mouth shut and assume a supine position so that his body produces less CO2? Maybe he could sequester himself in a cave somewhere deep in the earth so that none of his gaseous eructations will cause harm to anyone else?

    But I suspect were he asked he would claim that amongst all of the verbal flatulence being released across the globe, his is truly the most virtuous and in need of being heard. He gets a dispensation because his are the words that will cause everyone else to behave differently... even though he himself will continue merrily on with his own lifestyle.

    Unbelievable. You can quite literally substitute any word where CO2 appears in his argument and the logical content of his essay would not change. The devil, pizza, Lady Gaga... all have not been shown to have a link to tornadoes. Do we have an ethical duty to assume otherwise? It is not possible that a man who makes such an argument can function properly in society.

  5. Major Combs, if that's true, why do hurricanes occur near the equator instead of near the poles? why do they die out as they go over colder water?

    Storms are caused by warm, moist air at the surface. It rises, the water condenses and freezes thus keeping it warmer than the surrounding air, keeping it rising. The anvil tops of the highest thunderheads are where they reach the temperature inversion at tropopause; only some clouds have enough moisture to keep growing that high.

    If air is moving up through the cloud, it needs to be pulled from somewhere. That somewhere is the low pressure spot under the storm. In some instances, it's strong and spins enough to create a tornado.

    Seriously. People know how this stuff works. A warmer planet will have more powerful storms. As Arrhenius noticed in 1896,
    "If the quantity of carbonic acid increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression."

    Of course we can't blame these particular storms, which are weather, on the changing climate.

  6. Lubos, if you believe in the laws of physics, those laws say that: localized warming and cooling is possible and happens all the time; but the whole planet's atmosphere? NO! Because O+N expand instantly when warmed up. Where they expand up is -90 degrees. Please, see on my website all the proofs, facts and formulas. Hope you will help me get it public and see the end of the misleading propaganda.