Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hockey Puck Michael Mann

The Hockey Puck Michael Mann
©2012 Ross Williams

I was privileged – if that word can accurately describe the feelings left over from intellectual assault – to involuntarily endure an NPR radio Science Friday segment last week; my office-mate turned it on. The topic in this particular segment was global warming as delivered by the unctuous sanctimonarian Michael Mann, inventor of the oft-debunked “hockey stick” graph which shows, as one of the scientific foundations cited as corroborating its findings says, “Sloppy method + Correct conclusion = Bad science”.

Mister Mann possesses a PhD in physics; he apparently obtained it as a prize from the whack-a-mole sideshow at the carnival because he didn’t seem to display any knowledge of actual science during his interminable preachings on Science Friday.

He began his screed by responding to the recent brouhaha over the matter of the Heartland Institute, where one of Mann’s colleagues was caught stealing Heartland’s documents and/or forging documents meant to embarrass the notorious global warming skeptic outfit. Neither Mann nor the NPR host for this show, Ira Flatow, seemed terribly troubled by a scientist having been caught in larceny or forgery for the sake of his ideology; in fact they never mentioned it. But they were incensed about the Heartland Institute being described in the stolen [or forged] documents as preparing educational material for our nation’s schools to address the academic holes in the hypothesis of global warming.

And there are many such holes.

His response to the Heartland Institute problem consisted of balefully ruing the tendency of their enemy – termed The Deniers – to use invalid criticisms, which he termed “attacks”, against their science. These attacks are disingenuous, veritably dishonest, he claims, because they do not follow the scientific process and instead rely on fallacy and immutable groupthink.

During the course of his sermon he dismissed, out of hand, two scientific challenges to the science of global warming, and reduced the East Anglia Affair to a conspiracy theory perpetrated by Deniers. His common method of response to critics is a slightly more academic rendition of “I know you are, but what am I?” He trivialized the several recent and famous defections of prominent scientists over global warming’s own immutable groupthink by saying that disagreements over science is necessary and valid; yet he used the incidents later to dismiss those very disagreements as invalid by his inimitable gainsaying He ultimately marginalized all scientific discussion, both for and against, as little more than the rearrangement of deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, and declared that the real issue is ethics: “How are we going to leave the planet for future generations?”

Back up the global warming bandwagon, there, sparky.

Fallacy, you say? Okay. Do you know what fallacy it is when you reduce your academic opponent to an undifferentiated mass? Yes, that’s right: False Generality – throwing people into the same group whether they belong there or not and refusing to concede differences among them. Psychology calls this the creation of The Other; a means of separating the good guys from the bad guys and recreating the issue as a moral problem. The argument in favor of global warming, and the words of Michael Mann, PhD, do that – you’re either with us or against us. This was unfair and anti-intellectual when George Bush did it with a war in Iraq, but if you’re a global warmer and the subject is your academic ego, then it’s perfectly fine to label enemies a Denier. Yet most Deniers do NOT in fact deny the effect of mankind on his environment ... up to and including the climate. What they deny is that Mann and his ilk are doing good science.

The cutesy-pie term Deniers is, additionally, a second fallacy called Ad Hominem – arguing against the man. It can take two forms: circumstantial and abusive. Being labeled with an academically and intellectually unwarranted term can be considered abusive, but it is used most commonly circumstantially. “You criticize the science: you are a Denier. We talk down to Deniers and ignore what they say.”

There are some people who deny that mankind affects the environment, and certainly doesn’t affect the climate. These people are few and far between, though. By far the most numerous critics of the current hypothesis of global warming as it is being pitchforked about in public consists of those who understand that mankind does indeed affect the environment and can, and almost certainly does, affect the climate as well. But these critics are unsatisfied with the arguments made by global warmers due to the global warmers reliance on fallacy in making those arguments ... which now number two: False Generality and Ad Hominem.

Additionally, in responding to all critics as if they deny the phenomena altogether, global warmers create a series of Straw Man positions: the only reason for being a Denier is that you don’t understand that CO2 is a thermal insulator capable of trapping heat. And so, to every instance of scientific criticism, the global warmers thrash the Straw Man, which only serves to demonstrate to legitimate critics that global warmers are unwilling to engage in honest discussion. Critics are dismissed and not addressed; criticisms are ignored; nothing is gained; science is not furthered. And the conclusion that Mann and his ilk are practicing bad science is all the more supported. There are now three fallacies supporting the science of global warming.

Most critics are aware of the scientific process. Science cannot make a claim and go on faith that the claim is valid and true. Such assumption, instead, is the basis of religion, and science is not supposed to be rendered into a religion. Science has to prove that what it says is valid and true, and part of that proof lies in ruling out all other known explanations for the same observed phenomenon.

Science tells us that CO2 is a thermal insulator capable of trapping heat. Science shows us that CO2 in our atmosphere has increased since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Science shows us that burning fossil fuels – which began in earnest at the advent of the Industrial Revolution – releases CO2. And none of these things are seriously under debate. Critics of the hypothesis of global warming understand all this. What the critics of the hypothesis of global warming are critical of is the straight-line conclusion that populist science has used: mankind is the only cause of the increase in CO2; this increase in CO2 is the only cause of the observed phenomena.

This is a fourth fallacy called Post Hoc [ergo propter hoc]. Just because something occurs after something else does not require that the something else caused it. Or to put it in a standard academic scold: correlation does not imply causation. Or to use the inimitable phrasings of Ambrose Bierce: a person who had never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit would conclude the rabbit caused the dog.

Yes, CO2 is a thermal insulator. So what? Yes, CO2 has been increasing in the atmosphere. So what? You have to do more than to take a few temperature readings and declare Mystery Solved. Scientific process, remember? Part of the scientific process includes ruling out all other known causes of the same phenomenon. Failure to properly rule out other explanation is a marker of religion: We know that banging on iron with a hammer causes loud, explosive sounds; thunder is a loud explosive sound; therefore, thunder is caused by someone HUGE banging on iron with a HUGE hammer … and let’s call this guy Thor.

The list of all physical processes which causes the atmosphere to warm up is virtually endless. How many of those other causes have been ruled out by the global warmers? Almost none; global warmers aren’t even looking at other factors, in fact, something they have admitted countless times. They have arrived at their preferred answer and deny that anything else, let alone everything else, is still in the mix. They are the homicide detective who concludes the butler did it before taking off his jacket and lighting his pipe.

The preferred answer – CO2 made by burning fossil fuels – completely discounts every other possible explanation. Fluctuations in solar output despite solar astronomy being nearly as young a science as climatography. Thermal radiation following the deforestation of the low latitudes – I have yet to see this even addressed even though it is the same phenomenon on a large scale as the long-recognized Urban Heat Island which has been found to be a primary source of misleading global warming data. Geological processes; the earth itself: one moderate volcanic belch emits as much CO2 as all human industry in a year – and man-made CO2 still accounts for only 3% of the CO2 made each year. The planet makes 2000% more.

While we’re ruling out other known causes for the same phenomena, what caused the Medieval Warm Period?

Scientists, even those belonging to the Church of Global Warming, are unsure. It could have been any of several things [and they’ll rattle off some of those things if you ask them nicely], from solar fluctuation, to geological forces, to an as-yet unexplained “cyclic” phenomenon. It could have been any of these factors, singly or in combination.

So ... how do we know that one of these things isn’t causing the current observations? Because, they will say, CO2 in the atmosphere is a thermal insulator, and it’s been increasing since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. ...and back we go to Post Hoc. Okay, how about CO2 in combination with any of those speculative causes of the Medieval Warm Period? Nope, they respond, CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing because mankind burns fossil fuels and that’s the only cause.

Global warmers don’t know what caused other similar circumstances in the past and can’t even name them all, but they do know that none of those are causing what is happening today.

...because of the CO2. And mankind’s CO2 at that.

This is the fallacy of False Cause, fifth in the lineup. Otherwise known as begging the question, or leading with your conclusion. You assume as proven that which your argument is designed to prove. Mankind’s CO2 is to blame for the observed phenomena, and this is proven by the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere since mankind started making CO2 industrially, and since CO2 is a thermal insulator ... what more proof does anyone need? It’s a QED moment, apparently.

Except science properly using the scientific method can never allow QEDs.

This QEDing is the basis for at least one prominent Nobel Laureate’s dramatic exit from his scientific conference, recently. He scolded his colleagues that they could argue about the existence of multiverses, whether gravity is a constant, whether light is a particle or a wave, and whether or not the mass of a proton changes over time, but they cannot propose that global warming may not be occurring or have a cause – in whole or in part – for any other reason than mankind burning fossil fuels.

These five logical fallacies are strung together by the cold, empirical scientists who, without seeming irony, whine about skeptics “illogically” pointing out the flaws in their scientific argument. Skeptics who, by and large, are fully on board with the whole “mankind changes his environment” thing.

But even this isn’t the last of the illogic dispensed by the rigorous logicians. For, as Mann declared, the real issue is ethics. It is pointless to discuss whether Climate Science has its Ts crossed and Is dotted, because the “real” problem is how to fix it – for it is absolutely and with guaranteed certainty a major problem that requires fixing – which brings us to the 6th fallacy in the series: Appeal to Fear.

Never mind that the conclusion of a problem needing to be fixed in the first place is, once again, an unproven False Cause. Even if they are correct about global warming occurring as they claim, and it being solely mankind’s doing – neither of which can be determined with any degree of accuracy for generations at best – it being a Bad Thing® has not been discussed, let alone proven. It has only been asserted as authoritative [7th: Appeal to Authority] and is accepted as an article of faith.

Yet the last time the planet warmed up a significant amount, it brought with it greater food production and hence prosperity for every culture for which there are any records, written or archeological. The Medieval Warm Period saw the end of the Dark Ages in Europe, their rediscovery of science and engineering, exploration and expansion. The Vikings, now free of sea ice keeping their longboats in port, roamed and raided and settled; the Mongols and Turks and other Asian peoples roamed and raided and settled. All of these are more or less directly attributable to an abundance of food. An abundance of food that was created by a warmer, and more stable climate.

At the same time, several Copper Age cultures of Mesoamerica flourished and reached their “classical” periods, as well as the Anasazi of the US desert southwest, and the Mississippian Mound Builders of the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. The Khmer culture of Indochina also flourished at this time.

A warmer climate is instead, from all the evidence, a good thing. The end of the Medieval Warm Period, on the other hand, saw the collapse of the classical Mayan culture, the Khmer civilization, the complete disappearance of the Mississippian culture and the Anasazi, and a drastic drop in agricultural output which thus made Europeans more susceptible to passing plagues. Alpine glaciers started growing once again, wiping out villages in slow motion, and it was all ascribed to a vengeful God punishing the wicked for their sins.

The dire apocalypse of warming and the beneficial stability of cooling touted by the greybeard wizards of science defies the known evidence of the past...yet they nonetheless demand immediate policy changes over the “ethical” problem it unprovenly poses to our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Global warmers do not know, exactly, what global warming will do in the future, but they can guess and none of their guesses are pleasant.

Among the unpleasant events they prophesy are melting glaciers and polar ice ... which will match the conditions toward the end of the Medieval Warm Period where Alpine villages flourished without permanent ice hanging over their heads, and the Vikings discovered North Baffin Island in wooden ships. All this melting ice will cause sea levels to rise possibly a half inch a decade, and that will endanger those who live on seacoasts. Those who live on seacoasts are apparently rooted to the beach and can’t outrun a half-inch per decade rise in the sea level; they would seem to be trees or rocks.

But we must change political policy now, and forestall any and all pointless quibbling about whether it’s happening, to what degree it’s happening, what is the cause of it happening if indeed it is, and what it will result in and whether it’s good or bad or a little of both. We must act now ... “just in case”.

This – and it’s a whopper – is the 8th logical fallacy of the hypothesis of global warming: Pascal’s Wager.

During the early Renaissance when scientific rationalism was a threat to the Church, scientists were accused of heresy or worse unless they could justify their continued religious devotion in ways that didn’t arouse the local Cardinal’s suspicions. Mathematician Blaise Pascal famously rationalized why a belief in God made logical sense. He formed his argument for belief in the Almighty into a risk/reward table of superficial dichotomies:
Either God exists, or he doesn’t;
Either I believe in God, or I don’t.

If God does not exist and I believe in him, I’ve wasted all that time in church;
If God does not exist but I don’t believe in him, I haven’t wasted time in church;
If God does exist and I do believe in him, I will have eternal salvation;
If God does exist but I don’t believe in him, I will have eternal damnation.

Ergo: belief in God is a logical thing to do. From a risk/reward standpoint, time in church being wasted or not is small potatoes to the prospect of eternal damnation versus salvation. Hey! It’s science!

...except that Pascal’s Wager is a recognized fallacious argument construction and it is anti-science. Show me someone arguing a “just in case” policy built on idiotic dichotomies, I’ll show you someone – such as TSA, or Monsieur Pascal – playing politics. Playing politics is fine, if still illogical, for politicians for they are idiots and illogic is about all we can rationally expect from them; global warmers have been playing politics for decades:
Either global warming exists, or it doesn’t;
Either we act on it, or we don’t.

If global warming does not exist and we act on it, we’ve wasted all that time fretting;
If global warming does not exist but we don’t act on it, we haven’t wasted time fretting;
If global warming does exist and we do act on it, we have saved the future of mankind;
If global warming does exist but we don’t act on it, we will have doomed the future of mankind.
Ergo: to act is better than to not act.

Michael Mann has no problem with any of this. From the implicit name-calling to the reduction of his science into a table for ‘tards, let alone all the religious nonsense in between, he is perfectly fine waving his hand and dismissively pronouncing, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

Stephen Schneider went out of his way to declare that he could not and would not be honest discussing the subject; Peter Gleick resorted to criminal activity to protect his church.

We expect more from our scientists. We demand more, actually. Stop calling us ill-fitting names, patting us on the heads and condescendingly rehashing the same old fallacious explanation that isn’t even under discussion in the first place. Stop reducing science to a religion that we must believe or else suffer the damnation you have presumptuously defined for us based on a rather pronounced lack of historical evidence.

We already understand that we influence the environment, and we undoubtedly influence the climate portion of the environment as well. But we are not so single-mindedly blinded to other factors playing a part, and we know better than to accept the notion that Gaia is punishing us for our sins.

Grow up please, or turn in your PhDs.


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