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Unwarranted Climate Predictions

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From The Weekly Standard, The Party of Reason, by Jeff Bergner

Excerpt:

Unrepeatable events like the evolution of the world’s species and the evolution of the world’s climate are inherently difficult to explain, and their future course is even harder to predict. Discernment of patterns over time does not constitute knowledge of future developments. The cyclical warming and cooling of the Earth over millennia is precisely not what is at stake; what is claimed is that man-made global warming is a new planetary phenomenon. In the absence of a hypothesis to account for the rate and direction of change, predictions of its future course are simple extrapolations from the past—that is, mere guesswork.

Even when there is such a hypothesis, predictions may be unwarranted. For example, evolutionary biology—which is held up by some climate change acolytes as the gold standard of settled science—teaches that species have adapted over time. With this theory in hand, evolutionary biology can infer the existence of certain intermediate life forms even in the absence of fossil evidence. If such fossils are found, their discovery supports the underlying theory.

But evolutionary biology does not predict the future course of evolution. Past experience suggests we should expect adaptation and natural selection to continue to operate. But evolutionary biology tells us nothing about the types, numbers, or characteristics of the species yet to come. If and when species evolve a certain way, all that can be said—after the fact—is that this must have come about through adaptation and natural selection. The ability to predict replicable events is one thing, the possibility of predicting the onetime evolution of the Earth, its species, and its climate quite another. In short, climate activists are asking far more of global warming models than is asked of evolutionary biology.

Today’s knowledge of global warming consists of longer and better records of temperatures observed around the world than ever before. This is historical knowledge. The careful recording of global temperatures over time is no different in principle from the recording of the U.S. unemployment rate or the rise and fall of kingdoms. From this kind of knowledge alone, nothing can be predicted about the future.

We also have models which purport to account for the rise of global temperatures, most of which focus heavily on carbon dioxide emissions as a “forcing” factor for global temperatures. The best, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, begins correlating temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the mid-18th century, when global temperatures were beginning to rise. A persuasive model, however, would be able to map accurately earlier periods of rising and falling temperatures. More, it would contain within it an implicit hypothesis (about the climate sensitivity of the planet) that could generate a correct and potentially falsifiable prediction about the future. No model has done either. None predicted the relatively flat global temperatures of the past 17 years.

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Making Rulers Uncomfortable

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One of my favorite blog postings this year is The Left is Too Smart to Fail by Daniel Greenfield at Sultan Knish.  Science is for Stupid People is equally worthy and an excellent companion piece to the first article.

Excerpts:

Science, the magic of the secular age, is their church. But science isn’t anyone’s church. Science is much better at disproving things than at proving them. It’s a useful tool for skeptics, but a dangerous tool for rulers. Like art, science is inherently subversive and like art, when it’s restricted and controlled, it stops being interesting. 

But manufactured intelligence has the same relationship to intelligence as a painting of the ocean does to the real thing.

The real ocean is complicated and messy. So is real intelligence. Manufactured intelligence is the fashion model playing a genius in a movie. Real intelligence is an awkward man obsessing over a handful of ideas, some of them ridiculously wrong, but one of which will change the world.

Real intelligence isn’t marketable because it doesn’t make an elite feel good about its power.

Biblical fake prophets were often preferred to real prophets because they made rulers feel comfortable about the future. The modern technoprophet assures a secular elite that it can effectively control people and that it even has the obligation to do so. It tells them that “science” is on their side.The easy way to tell real religion from fake religion is that real religion doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t assure you that everything you’re doing is right and that you ought to keep on doing it.

The same holds true for science. Real science doesn’t make you feel smart. Fake science does.

No matter how smart you think you are, real science will make you feel stupid far more often than it will make you feel smart. Real science not only tells us how much more we don’t know than we know, a state of affairs that will continue for all of human history, but it tells us how fragile the knowledge that we have gained is, how prone we are to making childish mistakes and allowing our biases to think for us.

Science is a rigorous way of making fewer mistakes. It’s not very useful to people who already know everything. Science is for stupid people who know how much they don’t know.

A look back at the march of science doesn’t show an even line of progress led by smooth-talking popularizers who are never wrong. Instead the cabinets of science are full of oddballs, unqualified, jealous, obsessed and eccentric, whose pivotal discoveries sometimes came about by accident. Science, like so much of human accomplishment, often depended on lucky accidents to provide a result that could then be isolated and systematized into a useful understanding of the process.

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Sensitivity to Contradiction

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from The Global Warming Statistical Meltdown by Judith Curry in The Wall Street Journal

Excerpts:

Human-caused warming depends not only on increases in greenhouse gases but also on how “sensitive” the climate is to these increases. Climate sensitivity is defined as the global surface warming that occurs when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles. If climate sensitivity is high, then we can expect substantial warming in the coming century as emissions continue to increase. If climate sensitivity is low, then future warming will be substantially lower, and it may be several generations before we reach what the U.N. considers a dangerous level, even with high emissions.

We also estimated what the long-term warming from a doubling of carbon-dioxide concentrations would be, once the deep ocean had warmed up. Our estimates of sensitivity, both over a 70-year time-frame and long term, are far lower than the average values of sensitivity determined from global climate models that are used for warming projections. Also our ranges are narrower, with far lower upper limits than reported by the IPCC’s latest report. Even our upper limits lie below the average values of climate models.

Our paper is not an outlier. More than a dozen other observation-based studies have found climate sensitivity values lower than those determined using global climate models, including recent papers published in Environmentrics (2012),Nature Geoscience(2013) and Earth Systems Dynamics (2014). These new climate sensitivity estimates add to the growing evidence that climate models are running “too hot.” Moreover, the estimates in these empirical studies are being borne out by the much-discussed “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming—the period since 1998 during which global average surface temperatures have not significantly increased.

The sensitivity of the climate to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide is a central question in the debate on the appropriate policy response to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climate sensitivity and estimates of its uncertainty are key inputs into the economic models that drive cost-benefit analyses and estimates of the social cost of carbon.

Continuing to rely on climate-model warming projections based on high, model-derived values of climate sensitivity skews the cost-benefit analyses and estimates of the social cost of carbon. This can bias policy decisions. The implications of the lower values of climate sensitivity in our paper, as well as similar other recent studies, is that human-caused warming near the end of the 21st century should be less than the 2-degrees-Celsius “danger” level for all but the IPCC’s most extreme emission scenario.

This slower rate of warming—relative to climate model projections—means there is less urgency to phase out greenhouse gas emissions now, and more time to find ways to decarbonize the economy affordably. It also allows us the flexibility to revise our policies as further information becomes available.

HKO

Reliance on models has created a delusional sense of urgency.  When so much effort has been devoted to models for so long it is human nature for the designers of the models to develop defensiveness to facts that contradict them.

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Nasty Little Tyrants

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From National Review, Robert Kennedy Jr., Aspiring Tyrant by Charles Cooke

Excerpts:

Those who contend that global warming “does not exist,” Kennedy claimed, are guilty of “a criminal offense — and they ought to be serving time for it.”

Kennedy’s insidious aspirations are the inevitable consequence of his conviction that he is in possession of the truth and that all who have the temerity to question him are, in consequence, wreckers. At the best of times, and on the least shaky of epistemological ground, this is a dangerous instinct. In this area in particular, it is downright frightening. Of late, it has become drearily standard to hear theKennedys of the world pretend that if one acknowledges basic climate mechanics, one is forced to take notoriously unreliable computer models at face value and, further, to acquiesce in whatever political “solutions” are currently en vogue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever “consensus” can be said to exist in the realm of climatology is largely limited to the presumption that industrial activity is bound by the same chemical, biological, and physical rules as is any other human pursuit, and to the acknowledgement that if one changes the makeup of the atmosphere, the atmosphere will change. Quite how it will change, to what extent, and to what degree any such transmutation represents a problem for life on earth, however, remain open questions. At present, there remain serious disagreements as to what has caused the current “pause” in global warming; as to what accounts for the embarrassing failure of so many of the forecasts on which we are expected to rely; as to how much of an effect modulations in the climate are having on extreme weather events; and as to how much we can possibly know about the future anyhow.

When the likes of Robert Kennedy reveal themselves to be the nasty little tyrants that we have always suspected them to be, this lattermost question comes screaming back into focus. If this affair has revealed any “treason” at all, the guilty party is not the skeptical population of the United States, but Robert Kennedy and his enablers. To fantasize about jailing one’s opponents is, I’m afraid, a sure sign of mental imbalance, and a gold-leafed invitation to be quietly excluded from polite society. Goodbye, Robert.

Scientific knowledge, by its nature, cannot ever be said to be so “settled” as to justify the silencing of critics. Still, even were the debate over climate change in some way to be resolved in perpetuity, the prospect of incarcerating those who dissented would be no less grotesque. In the small part of Planet Earth in which man can be said to be free, governments exist to secure the liberty of those that employ them, not to serve as arbiters of truth. When Robert Kennedy contends that there ought to be “a law” with which the state “could punish” nonconformists, he is in effect inviting Washington, D.C., to establish itself as an oracle, to ensconce in aspic a set of approved facts, and to cast those who refuse to accede as heretics who must be hunted down and burned in the interest of the greater good. In other words, he is advising that we dismantle that most precious of all liberties: the right to our own conscience. As the blood-spattered history of the human race shows us in appalling and graphic detail, the wise response to the man who insists that the Holocaust did not happen, or that 2 + 2 = 5, or that the United States is geographically smaller than Sweden is to gently correct him — and, if one must, to mock or ignore or berate him, too. It is never — under any circumstances — to push him through the criminal-justice system. The cry “but this is different” remains in the case of climate change precisely what it has always been: the cry of the ambitious and the despotic. Once the principle of free speech is subordinated to expedience, circumstances can always be found to justify its suppression.

And yet the importance of keeping Kennedy’s view at the fringes goes much, much deeper, relating as it does to core questions about liberty, scientific inquiry, and the manner in which the two feed and support one another. There are fair arguments to be had about surface temperatures, chlorofluorocarbons, and the troposphere, but not a single one of them can be productively indulged if the price of the game is the destruction of its less popular players.

HKO

“The urge to save mankind is often a cover for the urge to rule it.”

The less tolerant of dissent, the more likely the theory is wrong.

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Trust Them This Time

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From Erick Erickson in Townhall, The Continued Farce:

excerpt:

In the United States today, more and more publications refuse letters to the editor from skeptics of global warming. As the world stays in this plateau of no warming, which we have been in for 17 years, the left works harder to silence dissent.

In A.D. 325, Emperor Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea to establish the parameters of Christian doctrine. St. Nicholas, before passing out presents to children, attacked Arius, an Egyptian cleric who embraced heresies in the Council.

Two thousand years later, the secularists have convened their own Council of Nicaea under the rubric of the IPCC to set the parameters of their secular religion. But instead of Santa Claus attacking heretics, the left has journalists attacking a skeptical public as “holocaust deniers” for daring to be skeptical of moralistic crusaders who have caused the deaths of many and been wrong so often in their environmental and scientific prognostications. But trust them this time.