Climate debate; philosophy; and combined arms


View 715 Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I will be spending the day on Legend of Black Ship Island. I have been saving some mail for longer and better treatment, but this seems a reasonable time to bring them up. Alas, my contributions will be brief, but the matters are important.


I proposed this as a rational argument for a skeptical position on AGW in another conference, and asked for comments. A physicist who often strongly supports the consensus position replied:

Let me propose some terminology, to make it a little easier to discuss the argument. The people opposing the anthropogenic theory of global warming can be divided into three distinct categories:


*policy critics


"Skeptics" are asking legitimate questions about the science.

"Policy critics" criticize the policies proposed in response to global warming, for economic or political reasons.

"Deniers" deny anthropogenic global warming, period, end of discussion.

I’ve notice that, although deniers always claim that they are in fact "skeptics," deniers and skpetics are in fact complete opposites. The key feature of deniers is that they are not even slightly skeptical of any arguments against global warming: they are completely credulous of any argument, no matter how trivially it can be shown to be baseless, that opposes global warming.

Reading through this particular presentation of Lindzen, he starts out by saying that the greenhouse effect is real, and anthropogenic gasses contribute to it exactly as much as non-anthropogenic gasses; he just disputes what the radiative response function is. So I’ll put him in the category of "skeptics" rather than deniers.

In fact, he pretty much dismisses the deniers:

"Unfortunately, denial of the facts on the left [that the greenhouse effect is real], has made the public presentation of the science by those promoting alarm much easier. They merely have to defend the trivially true points on the left; declare that it is only a matter of well- known physics; and relegate the real basis for alarm to a peripheral footnote – even as they slyly acknowledge that this basis is subject to great uncertainty."

So, let’s ignore his loaded vocabulary here (words like "those promoting alarm" and "real basis for alarm" and "sly.") Here’s what he just said:

1. The greenhouse effect is real. It’s well-known physics.

2. By denying this, the deniers are not merely muddying the waters, they are discrediting actual skepticism by turning their case into one that is disdained by real scientists because they are defending propositions that are "trivially" not true).

3. The real scientists (the ones he calls "alarmists"), on the other hand, acknowledge uncertainty.

OK, once we’ve deleted his slanted vocabulary, I’ll agree with these statements.

At no point does he use the words "hoax," "fraud," or "scam," or support people who use those terms. Good for him. Maybe he could call up the rest of the deniers and tell them "hey, just because you disagree with the scientists, that doesn’t mean that they are frauds."

With that said, the presentation shown is one-sided; he presents a case for a value on the low side of the IPCC estimate, and makes no attempt to show any part of the arguments for higher values of the radiative forcing response function. Not unusual, if you see this as a presentation of one side of a debate, but one should never draw conclusions in a debate before hearing the other side.

I then said “And this is the response ?” which brought this reply:

I’m not sure if I understand the question. This is *my* response; I wouldn’t say it is "the" response.

Lindzen’s arguments, of course, has been pretty well addressed; it’s not hard to find good technical analyses if you look for them. I find it a little disconcerting that his conclusions have remained the same but the analysis he uses to support the conclusions keep changing; this (to me, at least) looks uncomfortably like the signature of an analysis crafted to support a pre-existing conclusion, rather than a conclusion that results from a careful analysis.

On the other hand, he does use actual science in his arguments, he agrees on the basic physics (that the greenhouse effect actually does exist, and human-generated greenhouse gasses are part of it) and only disagrees on the magnitude of the response function. And, most notably, he doesn’t accuse scientists who come to different conclusions of "hoax", or "swindle", or "fraud."

So even if he cherry-picks data rather egregiously, I’m good with him.

A good article about Lindzen in _Seed_ a couple of years back, if you’re interested:

My problem is that I still have no answer to questions I asked forty years ago regarding the global warming controversy.

I said then that what we knew was well known: that in historical times the Earth has been both warmer and colder than it is now. It was warmer in Viking times until about 1300 after which the Earth began to cool. Since 1800 the Earth’s temperature has risen about a degree a century. About 1900 Arrhenius did some back of the envelope predictions of what would happen if CO2 levels doubled. Since 1900 the Earth’s temperature seems to have risen at about the rate that it had previously been rising: that is, there is warming, but there has been warming from 1800 when the Hudson and Thames froze solid enough to walk across, and the rate of warming doesn’t seem to have greatly increased so far as we can measure given the accuracy of the data. Some of the warming may well be due to CO2 but there doesn’t seem to be cause for alarm. We do need to continue to study this and develop better measurement tools.

A Bayesian analysis would conclude that it is better to invest in ways to reduce uncertainty than to spend resources on the predictions of the models; there is just too much uncertainty.

I also concluded long ago that cooling was still a possible threat: that the return of the glaciers requires energy to transport the water vapor to the cold areas where it can fall as snow, and this can have a runaway effect. That needs to be watched.

Regarding science and cherry picking: I would have thought that the experimentum crucis was the essence of science, and that’s certainly cherry picking. As I said long ago in my essay on the Voodoo Sciences, novelist need plausibility, lawyers need evidence, but scientists need data and hypotheses that explain all the data: one contrary result (cherry picking) is important. Look at the controversy over whether or not they have found faster than light neutrinos. No one supposes that if we are certain of FTL particles this will not force a revolutionary change in our standard models in physics. It won’t be dismissed as cherry picking.

As to Lindzen not having changed his conclusions over the years, I think I could easily say the same thing about many of the AGW believers. What I find alarming is that Lindzen asks questions about the models and their predictions, and concludes that there is not enough evidence to justify panic: that the best evidence is that the increasing CO2 is not a justification for alarm, and particularly not enough quality evidence to justify spending $Trillions on revising the entire industrial economy. What I get is a sociological discussion about the quality of the debate, and a discussion of Lindzen. I would not think that is a rational scientific discussion.

My conclusion is that Lindzen has the better of it: he has challenged the models and the data, and I do not believe he has been answered.


Relevant to the subject of cherry picking in science

Dark Matter, Vacuum Energy, and Aristotle’s Aether

Aristotle’s aether was not Lorenz luminiferous aether and so was no disproven by M&M. Here is an interesting comparison of the properties of Dark Matter, Vacuum Energy, and Aristotle’s Aether:

or in this article


Philosophy as I understood it when I was young seems relevant to today’s fundamental questions, but it does not seem often to be discussed by today’s philosophers. I am grateful for my education in philosophy of science from Gustav Bergmann at the University of Iowa when I was an undergraduate, and to the Christian Brothers for my high school introduction to Aristotle. And to Mike Flynn for continuing to remind us that we do not want to lose sight of the relevance of some of the old questions.



Regarding the A-10, I’m reminded of the Stuka. At the outset of WW II, it was the best close-support aircraft on either side. It was regularly in the news. By the end of the war it had disappeared from the news, just as it had disappeared from the sky. It couldn’t survive in skies with high-performance fighters. It had neither speed, armor, nor armament to outfight the P-51 or the P-38.

I think the same would be true of the A-10 in a war against a "peer" power like Russia or China. It wouldn’t survive against their front-line fighters.

Having said that, the A-10 has been extremely successful in wars against non-peer powers. One of the most effective aircraft used in Vietnam was the A-1 Skyraider, originally developed during WW II as a carrier aircraft. It would not have survived in a sky full of MiG-19s, but it didn’t have to. There weren’t any over South Vietnam. the A-10 is now doing the job the A-1 formerly did.

We may have to fight a "peer" power some day, although I hope not. We are very likely to have to fight non-peer powers in the future, just as we have for the past fifty years. Getting rid of the A-10 because it can’t outfight Chinese J-10 would be foolish. They should be kept around for when they’re suitable, not eliminated from the inventory.

Joseph P. Martino

But no one ever supposed that the A-10 would operate without air superiority, as no one ever supposed that the A-10 would be useful in performing the air superiority mission. I was on the Boeing TFX design team, and we went through that analysis: the kind of airplane that wins dogfights is not the airplane you need for close support of the ground army, or for that matter for local battle area interdiction missions. As it happens the P-47 was useful for both, but its major value was for interdiction. Trainbusting recce/strike missions by the P-47 were a major factor in the conquest of Europe, although the P-47 was designed as an escort fighter. The P-51 with the Rolls Royce supercharged engine proved better at that mission.

The Army neither wants nor can perform the air superiority mission in a peer power war. That’s the job of the Air Force, and USAF is pretty good at it: the spectaculars of dogfighting, and the more decisive but more prosaic mission of taking out the hornet’s nests. You don’t really get rid of hornets by swatting one hornet at a time, but you sure do need a capability for escorting the guy with the Flit through a swarm of hornets. Air superiority takes a combined arms approach just as winning ground forces are those with combined arms capabilities. Give the A-10 to the Army, and give the local interdiction mission to the Army, and leave air superiority to the Air Force.

History has shown that combined arms armies have generally been victorious. That would seem to apply to the air superiority campaign as well. The Warthog is important in ground campaigns, and might well perform the equivalent of the heavy cavalry charge at just the right time in battle – provided that there is air superiority so that the A-10 can perform its mission. 


How to delete your Google Browsing History before new policy

With just a week to go before Google changes to its new privacy policy that allows it to gather, store and use personal information, users have a last chance to delete their Google Browsing History, along with any damning information therein.

Tech News Daily reports that once Google’s new unified privacy policy takes effect all data already collected about you, including search queries, sites visited, age, gender and location will be gathered and assigned to your online identity represented by your Gmail and YouTube accounts. After the policy takes effect you are not allowed to opt out without abandoning Google altogether. But now before the policy takes effect, you have the option of deleting your Google Web History by modifying your settings so that Google is unable to associate data collected about you with your Gmail or YouTube accounts.

Read more:






Recovering; and some interesting places to visit.

View 715 Monday, February 27, 2012

I got the final version of Legend of Black Ship Island this morning, and I’ve been working on it all day, which pretty well used up my time. It’s a good story, but I’ve been so bunged up with this bronchitis that I haven’t had a chance to do a real final edit. It’s publishable now, but I can improve it, mostly by inserting a few details here and there. Avalon is a fascinating place, and some of the interactions with the ecology can be complicated.

Tomorrow will be an informative election.



I have found a bunch of open tabs, mostly prompted by mail, which lead to places you may find interesting. I have to clear some of them out because Firefox gets giddy if there are too many open tabs, so I’m just going to dump them. None of them take long to open, and while some of you will find different ones interesting, they were all interesting enough that I kept them open with the idea of writing something about them. I probably won’t get to.

Sing, O Muse, the Wrath of Michelle: Spengler said this before the election.

Spengler speculates on what Richelieu would have made of our wars in the Middle East.

An interesting compilation. One day I may add to it. I need to do an essay on contraception and abortion but it is a delicate subject and requires time.

I mentioned this one before, but it is the best summary of the skeptical position on AGW that I know of, and I recommend it.

Another climate change exposition: we’re freezing.–Cycle-25-need-worry-NASA-scientists-right-Thames-freezing-again.html

I have pointed to this one before on why we are getting rid of the Warthog. I have mail warning me about the site, but I know nothing about it, and the source is irrelevant: the argument is well made.

I won’t close this tab. It needs discussion. But it’s worth looking at if the subject interests you.

Ditto for this|newe|2-22-2012|new_on_the_economist

And all of that ought to be enough. I’ll be back in form in a few days. I am recovering. And I’v a mountain of work to do.