To Score Quick, Cheap Points, Label Someone as Anti-Science

By Keith Kloor | September 19, 2014 5:26 pm

When I was interviewing Robert Kennedy Jr. for my recent Washington Post magazine profile, there was one charge leveled against him that he deeply resented. “I am not anti-science,” he insisted on numerous occasions, and my suggestion a year ago that he was anti-science perturbed him more than anything.

After all, Kennedy, like many greens, embraces what science says about climate change and other pressing environmental issues. So how could he be anti-science?

Similarly, GMO opponents hold views that are often broadly characterized as “anti-science.”  For example, here’s how a tweet described Jon Entine’s presentation this week to a National Academy of Science (NAS) committee on crop biotechnology.

The tweet by Entine’s organization (Genetic Literacy Program) was referring to the numerous GMO critics who don’t accept overwhelming evidence showing genetically modified foods to be safe, and who were invited to share these views with the NAS committee at a public meeting.

But is it fair to label anti-GMO activists–and their claims–as anti-science? Like Kennedy, many of them, if not all, also hew to the scientific consensus on climate change. But if they dismiss the same scientific consensus on crop biotechnology does that automatically make them anti-science? [In fairness, nowhere in Entine’s NAS presentation–which is excellent–does he use the term “anti-science.”]

Entine, in his remarks to the NAS committee, acknowledges that

many of those who maintain that GMOs are potentially harmful, while sincere for the most part, are engaging not in science but in politics.

Sound familiar? Earlier this year, a Harvard panel explored the reasons for persistent opposition to action on climate change. As a write-up of the event explained:

The underpinnings of the anti-climate change movement have given it political resonance, [Naomi] Oreskes said, because of ties to cultural traditions of independence, self-reliance, and small government.

“It becomes an argument about big government,” Oreskes said. “For Republicans in Congress and elsewhere, it’s not about climate change, it’s definitely not about science, it’s about government.”

In other words, it’s really about cultural values and political ideology, not science. Yet, in so much of the discourse on climate change, these views are framed as belonging to “anti-science deniers.” You couldn’t craft a more antagonistic term.

Now I’m not suggesting that we sugarcoat denialism of any sort, but I do think the disparaging language that takes hold in a public discourse can be off-putting to those who perhaps identify with a certain tribe but not necessarily buy into all its positions.

Then there’s the backfire effect. This is something that, in lieu of a recent study on vaccine safety messaging,   public health communicators need to pay special attention to. Similarly, you have to wonder if insulting people you disagree with–calling them idiots or deniers or evil–is counterproductive to your goal, be it reducing greenhouse gas emissions, elevating the GMO dialogue, or allaying parental fears about vaccines.

So it goes with tarring someone as anti-science. Why poison the well even more?

I ponder this as I continue to write about GMOs and other hot button topics. It’s relatively easy to debunk urban myths, call out false balance, shake my fist at agenda-driven fear-mongers. (I’m sure I’ll continue doing that.) But I see diminishing returns with this approach. It seems more fruitful to engage in a debate about the socio-cultural values that underlie opposition to GMOs and that inform strong views on related sustainability issues.

Along these lines, I don’t see how characterizing a person’s beliefs, a political party, or an NGO as “anti-science” is helpful. I’m sure it’s good for scoring points and sharpening the lines in a debate, but beyond that, I’m not seeing much value. Additionally, just look at how casually ubiquitous the term “anti-science” has now become. Plug the phrase into Twitter and see for yourself.

 

 

I could show plenty more, but you get the idea. So am I putting too much emphasis on tone? At the very least, I think the meaning of “anti-science” has become so elastic and overused as to trivialize its use.

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  • FosterBoondoggle

    The problem is that the bogus arguments on vaccines, climate change and gmos are presented with a scientific veneer. That’s what makes this thorny for people who actually know the practice of science. The anti-vaxxers talk about thimerosal and “too many vaccines for the immune system”. The climate change deniers invoke “scientific uncertainty”. The anti-gmo’ers trot out a tiny number of poorly executed and deliberately misrepresented “studies” that are presented as scientific evidence of harm.

    They *know* the experts disagree with them. Nevertheless, they believe what they believe. But they also know that science is, to most people, not much more than a totem — we live in a technological world full of magical devices and drugs, and most people have no clue how they work except that “science” provides the magic. So invoking science gives the deniers the superficial blessing they’re after for the masses and clouds the debate and convinces some who are already predisposed for one reason or another.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to call them out for doing so. It surely doesn’t win everyone over, but then again there’s almost certainly no argument that will. Look at how many people still believe in heaven, hell and a personal relationship with a judgmental god.

    • chadke

      I didn’t realise there were natural variation in climate deniers.

    • Buddy199

      The climate change deniers invoke “scientific uncertainty.”

      ——

      Well, since the climate models have consistently overestimated global temp rise, and missed the pause in global temps the past 17 years or so, it’s not unreasonable to conclude there remains a good degree of “scientific uncertainty” regarding the workings of the most complex geo-physical system on earth. When the models can accurately predict global climate conditions 5 years out, say, or exactly when the current pause in temps will cease they’ll be a lot more persuasive.

      • http://chrisoestereich.com/ Chris Oestereich

        “Well, since the climate models have consistently overestimated global temp rise, and missed the pause in global temps the past 17 years or so”

        The Skeptical Science site responds very thoroughly to the “pause” assertion here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-january-2007-to-january-2008-intermediate.htm
        I hear a lot of folks stating that warming has paused, but have yet to see anyone tackle the evidence presented there. Care to humor me?

        • JH

          I’ll humor you. Damned straight.

          First: what’s “the pause”?
          It’s a a significant slow down in the rate of increase of global warming. Right? It doesn’t have to be a total stop. It doesn’t have to be exactly zero. Are we good there?

          Second, what does Skeptical Science say?

          It says:
          “The flaw in this interpretation is in drawing conclusions about long term climate change over a relatively short period of time. Only over a period of decades can you confidently discern climate trends.”

          Summarizing:
          “there is a pause but we don’t think it’s significant”.
          Right? Isn’t that what they say? Is there anything in that passage that refutes a pause in global temperature rise? I don’t see it.

          They don’t even attempt to refute the “pause.” Which is not surprising, since they go on to offer numerous explanations for it.

          So do you agree with that? They offer several explanations for a pause, so there must be one. :)

          Third:
          Compare this: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47
          With This:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Warming_Predictions.png

          See the difference in the form of the curves? The model projections are exponential, the “reality” – according to Skeptical Science – is linear.

          Right? Do you disagree with that?

          Fourth: No one knows what’s causing the pause
          Skeptical science is offering many plausible explanations for the ongoing pause. But are these “the” explanation(s)?

          Who knows? There is no consensus on what’s causing the ongoing pause. SS’s explanations are plausible. But they aren’t widely accepted and certainly not universally accepted. That’s why there are numerous papers offering many explanations for the pause, most of which SS doesn’t discuss.

          FIFTH: Is the heat going into the ocean?.
          DUH!!!!! Of course it is!!! It has to go somewhere! At least some of it, at any rate. Sheesh. Somebody ought to slap Trenberth for that one. That’s the Ignobel Prize winner if I’ve ever heard it!

          It misses the point. The exponential curves on the model projections show that the heat is not supposed to be hiding in the ocean. Right? It’s supposed to be in the atmosphere making us all sweat. It ain’t there.

          The fact that the heat is going into the oceans means at least some of these things must be true:

          a) we don’t understand the potential for the ocean to retain heat
          b) we don’t understand the current distribution of heat in the oceans
          c) we don’t know how oceanic heat interacts with atmospheric temp
          d) we don’t know how much heat is entering the system.
          e) we don’t know how heat cycles in the oceans

          Right? So we had some predictions. Those predictions are failing. They’re failing because we don’t understand the science.

          OK, enough.

          • http://chrisoestereich.com/ Chris Oestereich

            Exponential curves look fairly linear, until they don’t.

          • JH

            :). So there you go. Like skeptical science, you’re going to ignore what you don’t want to hear.

          • http://chrisoestereich.com/ Chris Oestereich

            There you go making wild assumptions… Just because I don’t feel inclined to address every point you made, doesn’t mean I’m running from them. Have a nice day.

          • JH

            Apologies. My bad.

          • Tom Scharf

            Linear “curves” also look really linear, and keep looking linear.

            The longer it takes a non-linear curve to deviate from a linear estimation, the weaker the non-linear effect is.

            When a projected curve that was expected to accelerate instead decelerates (turns the opposite way), some would question the underlying model. Others do not.

            You can fit a linear, a second order polynomial, exponential, logarithmic fit to any data set.

            If the underlying mechanisms (physics of climate in this case) aren’t ruled by this type of equation, the predictive power is likely to be poor.

          • http://chrisoestereich.com/ Chris Oestereich

            I can fit a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious curve to the data set as well, but it won’t change the fact that the climate, which includes the oceans, is warming. If it starts cooling, for reasons other than something like a major volcanic eruption, we’ll all celebrate and I’ll gladly admit to having this wrong. I hope that happens as my pride would be an insignificant cost to bear.

          • DavidAppell

            “The exponential curves on the model projections show that the heat is not supposed to be hiding in the ocean. Right?”

            Wrong. Over 90% of the extra heat goes into the ocean…. Sometimes that will be 93.9%, and sometimes it will be 94.1%…. But it’s always been clear that the oceans absorb much of the extra heat.

            And why do you think all that heat will stay there?

          • JH

            I don’t because it won’t.

            But the question is the rate of atmospheric temperature rise. Right? If the heat is in the ocean, it won’t be in the atmosphere until later. Right? So the long term rate of temperature increase is lower than previously projected / predicted / claimed.

            Right?

            “Sometimes that will be 93.9%, and sometimes it will be 94.1%”

            Or sometimes it will be 0.05°C/decade and sometimes it will be 0.17°C/decade. Depends on where you start and finish. Right?

          • DavidAppell

            “So the long term rate of temperature increase is lower than previously projected / predicted / claimed. Right?”

            Not right. Models have heat exhanged between the atmosphere and the surface. But that can’t predict that on short timescales.

            Models solve a boundary condition problem, not an initial value problem. (Because no one knows all the initial values needed to start a model at.)

          • DavidAppell

            “Or sometimes it will be 0.05°C/decade and sometimes it will be 0.17°C/decade. Depends on where you start and finish. Right?”

            And sometimes it will be +0.28 C/decade (1989-1998, and 1982-1992). Should we call those periods “anti-pauses,” indicating they cancel out the slowdown of the mid-1990s and early 2010s?

            Do you think people in the year 2100 will care that the surface temperature went through a few gyrations a hundred years ago? Any more than we care about the trends of the early 1900s?

          • JH

            ‘Should we call those periods “anti-pauses,”‘

            Sure. They’re periods of extraordinary rise in temp.

          • DavidAppell

            Since 1960 we’ve had +0.8 C of warming, according to Cowtan & Way’s dataset.

            Did any contrarian suggest that?
            Can any contrarian explain it now?

          • JH

            Heavy reliance on one paper David. I thought this was a big consensus? No?

          • DavidAppell

            BEST also uses kriging, having decided it’s the best method for infilling areas without stations.

            On the other, the reliance on RSS LT to show a “pause” is heavy reliance on one paper — while ignoring all the others ones that don’t (and without admitting that RSS ignores polar regions)?

      • DavidAppell

        Cowtain & Way shows +0.16 C of warming in the last 17 years. Some pause.

        It’s not possible for climate models to have predicted any slowdown in the last 17 years.

        First of all, climate models don’t predict, they project.

        Second, models would need a forecast of the future to project short-term trends — what ENSOs too place, and when, what volcanoes erupted, what changes occurred in solar irradiance, etc.

        How exactly do you expect models, or modellers, to read the future?

        • JH

          I don’t. that’s how I know they’re not correct.

          • DavidAppell

            What scientist has ever claimed a model is “correct?”

          • JH

            Ha David your too much.

          • DavidAppell

            Just answer the question.

            (Ever heard of George Box?)

    • JH

      “climate change deniers”

      It’s kind of funny that people keep repeating that term. The average so-called “climate change denier” agrees with / accepts an overwhelming majority of the science regarding climate change.

      Put that up against the anti-GMO folks. And the thimerosal thing. Scientifically, that’s a ridiculously simple issue compared to climate, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, etc. It’s laughable to compare them.

      The climate science situation isn’t a good one to model for several reasons:

      A) Some simple facts about climate change aren’t following the “pro-science” game-plan – for example, tropical storms aren’t increasing in intensity or frequency. Yet the “pro-science” people still insist that these features will unequivocally be part of future climate change scenarios.

      B) Some members of the climate science community have serious credibility problem. It’s fine to say that you think the “pause” is from natural variation. But really it strains credulity badly to say there is no pause.

      C) The IPCC has credibility issues. Many of the statements in the AR5 SPM are astoundingly vague, alarmist and, as many skeptics have pointed out, often at odds with the details in the science sections.

      Perhaps the reality is the opposite to what people imagine: perhaps the climate science debate and the screw ups of some climate scientists have generated wider damage to the scientific community.

      • DavidAppell
        • Tom Scharf

          David apparently only believes in “North Atlantic” warming, instead of global warming.

          Strange that you keep posting “North Atlantic” numbers when you know global numbers don’t reflect this, and the most recent IPCC and SREX reports also reflect no global cyclone trends.

          I’ll take your NA trends and raise you a record breaking 8+ years and counting since a Cat3+ hurricane made landfall in the USA (you know the NA). One of the reasons NA ACE is higher is likely because the hurricanes are staying out to sea, where landfall diminishes energy very quickly.

          It’s past the Sep 10 hurricane season peak now, and we are in one of the weakest years on record. But a single year in a sporadic volatile extreme event trend is not deterministic of much.

          But for some a single storm (non-hurricane) Sandy in a single year is in fact proof of AGW influence.

      • DavidAppell

        “But really it strains credulity badly to say there is no pause.”

        Except there is no pause, just a slight slowdown that isn’t even a slow a the one in the 1990s:

        http://davidappell.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-lesser-of-two-pauses.html

        Cowtan & Way show +0.18 C of warning over the last 15 years. UAH LT shows +0.19 C. But deniers avoid these, and only quote RSS LT, as if it were made of gold. That’s what being anti-science looks like.

    • First Officer

      Not to mention that their actions are causing people to die, sometimes their very own children.

    • JH

      “Look at how many people still believe in heaven, hell and a personal relationship with a judgmental god.”

      And look at how many scientists still believe in the Population Bomb and Peak Oil. :)

      And here again you see the distinction between claims about GMO, vaccines and the like – claims that can all be tested and refuted on a lab bench – and claims about climate change, peak oil, and the population bomb – none of which can be either verified or refuted by any means except to wait for the future to arrive.

      • DavidAppell

        “And look at how many scientists still believe in the Population Bomb and Peak Oil. :)”

        Maybe. But world oil production per capita peaked in 2005, and is now 3.1% below that.

    • DavidAppell

      “The climate change deniers invoke “scientific uncertainty”.”

      Do you think scientific uncertainty doesn’t exist?

      It’s scientifically clear that CO2 traps heat and warms a planet, and that this is happening now due to man’s emissions. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about how that will play out. But since when is uncertainty a reason for doing nothing? You don’t live your life that way — do you not buy fire insurnance because you don’t know the exact year your house will burn down? Do you not stop smoking because your doctor can’t tell you the specific year you’ll get lung cancer? Of course not.

      • Strangerinastangeland

        But I don’t take out a second mortage to pay for fire insurance. We manage risk rather than letting risk manage us.

        • DavidAppell

          So in your opinion we can’t shouldn’t a problem because it costs too much?

          What is the cost of not fixing it?

          Nor do we need a second mortgage — just a percent or two of our income — and perhaps nothing at all:

          “Fixing Climate Change May Add No Costs, Report Says,” NY Times 9/16/14

          http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/science/earth/fixing-climate-change-may-add-no-costs-report-says.html

          • JH

            Oh, yeah! A scientific reference to the NYT!

            How’s that thumb doing David?

          • DavidAppell

            The New York Times has great journalists…. Would a link to the study itself make any difference? (It’s in the second sentence of the NYT article.)

          • Tom Scharf

            For the record David, do you believe that “Fixing Climate Change May Add No Costs”?

            Just wondering. I know a report says that, I am wondering if you actually believe it.

  • celcus

    You mean like this?

    “Bobby Jindal: White House ‘science deniers’”

    http://www.politico.com/story/2014/09/bobby-jindal-white-house-science-deniers-111003.html

  • Benjamin Edge

    Just to set the record straight, @GMOSF is not anti-science. It is the Twitter account for the FaceBook forum GMO Skepti-Forum (https://www.facebook.com/groups/GMOSF/ ). While many so-called “skeptic” groups take the name to mean that they are against whatever they are “skeptical” of, GMO Skepti-Forum uses the term in the correct sense, in that it uses reason and scientific evidence to address topics of interest and claims that come before the group.

    GMO Skepti-Forum also archives its discussions in Wiki format so that they can be used as a reference when needed by its members, or anyone who cares to use it, to refute claims about subjects related to GMOs, whether it be safety, environmental impact, or nutritional composition. The Skeptiwiki can be found here: http://wiki.skeptiforum.org/wiki/Scientific_Literature_on_GMOs.

    GMO Skepti-Forum is part of the Skepti-Forum Project, which has pages devoted to general skepticism, vaccines, health, energy, environment, and others, in addition to GMOs. The mission of the Skepti-Forum Project (http://www.skeptiforum.org)
    is to offer a variety of forums for rational, respectful, and
    evidence-based exploration of important current issues related to
    science and technology, especially for those subjects surrounded by
    confusion, misinformation, and misconception. We promote the tools of
    skeptical inquiry and scientific reasoning to nurture an open atmosphere
    for exchanging ideas, sharing disagreement, and asking questions. We
    also believe that both experts and non-experts can contribute tools,
    resources, and ideas for thinking about science and scientific claims.

    One of the key features of the Skepti-Forums is that anyone can post any opinion they want, as long as it is not rude or insulting to other members, BUT if challenged, they must provide evidence to back up their opinions. I invite everyone to check out the GMO Skepti-Forum or any of the other Skepti-Forums.

    • mem_somerville

      Maybe he meant that as a “cc” (heh–remember carbon copies? do the youngstahs have any idea what that means?). Twitter can be challenging that way.

      But I would also like to add that the rep from GMOSF called in and submitted a terrific comment about how none of the issues that had been raised so far on herbicides, patents, etc, were unique to GMOs and urged the committee to separate out those things. Great job.

      They are definitely pro-science. No question.

      • Benjamin Edge

        That is what I figured, too, in respect to the cc:

        Or it may be that an intern (do they have interns?) at GLP mistakenly thought that GMOSF should be included with those known anti-GM organizations.

        But I wanted to clarify so that no one gets the wrong impression. Kerri Burson did call in to the NRC committee meeting and gave a good statement about the Skepti-Forums.

        • Tom

          Regarding your comment about GLP interns – I’ve had to ask them to correct their articles on a number of occasions. Things like mixing up herbicide and insect resistance, no clear understanding of what the target of glyphosate is etc. I think GLP needs to be very careful about labeling other organizations as anti-science if their own staff hasn’t got the appropriate level of scientific training.

  • tmitsss

    I stopped buying Discover when they bought into CAGW

  • Buddy199

    “It becomes an argument about big government,” Oreskes said. “For Republicans in Congress and elsewhere, it’s not about climate change, it’s definitely not about science, it’s about government.”

    —-

    That’s probably the lens through which a progressive sees it. It’s not about how big a government is. It’s about how cost effective and efficient government is at accomplishing it’s designated functions for the citizenry. Given the track record of our big government central planners with regard to Obamacare and it’s square wheeled roll out, to cite just a recent example, I’d say skepticism is reasonable and entirely warranted. That antipathy is further enflamed with every example of bureaucratic arrogance or abuse, such as with the IRS and domestic spying scandals.

    • DavidAppell

      Your argument might make sense if contrarians were proposing their own solutions that accord with their own ideology. But, aside for a very few (like the R Street Institute), they aren’t doing that at all.

      • JH

        Contrarians don’t have an “ideology”. More Appellisms.

      • Tom Scharf

        “Wait and see” is a solution.
        “Do nothing” is a solution.
        “No regrets” is a solution.
        “R & D for clean energy” is a solution.

        You are employing your “No True Scotsman” solution filtering mechanism here.

        You don’t believe these will be effective, so they aren’t solutions.

        I believe “solutions” that don’t alter the trajectory of global emissions to also not be solutions, even if they make some feel warm and fuzzy inside and coincidentally align with a progressive agenda.

        Call Asia and tell me what their solutions are. It matters.

    • Sterling Ericsson

      That’s funny, considering Obamacare is working and working so well that Republicans have been more or less afraid to bring it up again for months now, since they’ve have to face all the evidence of how it’s even exceeding expectations on how well it would work.

      http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/obamacare-is-working

      As for your last sentence regarding “the IRS, VA and domestic spying scandals”, it’s funny that all of those controversies were originally started under a Republican presidency, the last one especially.

      • Buddy199

        I mean…seriously.

        Obamacare is “exceeding expectations”? In what alternate universe? Look at the polls – and pols, in any competitive race who are running away from it like poison. Sure, if you take all the Administration’s happy face BS numbers, and ignore all the waivers they issued so as to not demolish democrats in the 2012 and 2014 election cycle, and ignore the fact that Obama scammed the American people with the PolitiFact Lie of the Year – well, yeah it’s working swell and other than that Mrs. Lincoln how did you like the play?

        The IRS scandal overwhelmingly targeting conservative groups is Republican’s fault. LOL! I guess Lois Lerner crashed her hard drive and resigned to protect…republicans?

        The Obama Administration was given a heads up on the VA mess in early 2009, as I read in the right wing rag New York Times. And they did nothing, except blame Bush 5 1/2 years after he left office, as usual. The VA is the morality tale for big government and the holy grail single payer system that liberals still clamor for.

        • Sterling Ericsson

          You can say the numbers are made up all you like, the CBO just records the facts and figures and it has consistently been finding the Affordable Care Act doing better and better.

          Well, considering the IRS actually targeted just as many progressive groups and the only groups it actually removed were a few progressive ones, the claim they overwhelmingly targeted conservatives is facetious at best.

          The VA definitely could have been handled better. That’s one i’ll certainly give you.

  • David Skurnick

    Bobby Kennedy embraces the science of climate change, but he also embraces aspects that go beyond what science says. Kennedy is certain that climate sensitivity is very high. The IPCC scientists say they don’t know the true value of climate sensitivity. They provide a “very likely” range, but acknowledge that the correct value might be outside this range.
    Kennedy believes climate change is settled science. However, climatologists acknowledge that they don’t know with certainty why warming has slowed or ceased for the last 15 years or so. Scientists have various theories to explain the pause, e.g., missing heat is going deep into the ocean. However, if this explanation is correct, then all the models used by the IPCC are wrong, since none of them reflect heat going into the ocean at differing rates.

    • DavidAppell

      “why warming has slowed or ceased for the last 15 years or so.”

      Warming didn’t stop 15 years ago, neither on the tiny sliver of the planet that is in the surface, nor in the world’s thermometer, the ocean.

      “since none of them reflect heat going into the ocean at differing rates”

      Climate models have heat going into the ocean at an assumed, constant rate? I doubt it… Can you prove that?

      • JH

        David david david.

        Back to the “no pause”! :) You just cant resist hitting your thumb with that hammer.

        • DavidAppell

          The evidence shows there is no pause, just a slight slowdown in surface warming. So what? Surface warming was ABOVE projections during most of the last decade — you remember, the decade when deniers questioned the accuracy of the surface data, and Anthony Watts promised to accept whatever result the BEST project came out with?

          But it seems now the data is just fine, to claim there’s a pause.

          Q: In which year will the data again be questionable?

          • David Skurnick

            David, my point is that climate models are unreliable. Your observation that the models also failed to predict rapid warming in the late 20th century is more evidence for my point. The models don’t work very well.
            Many warmists explain the pause by hypothesizing that the ocean absorbed heat faster than it had been doing. I don’t know whether or not this hypothesis is correct. In any event, none of the IPCC- 5 models reflect this assumption.

          • DavidAppell

            It wasn’t the last 20th century, it was last decade. How do models look if you take a longer view?

            You are only looking at short-terms. How are modelers supposed to be able to know the next two decade of two of ENSOs, volcanoes, solar changes, ocean cycles (PDO, AMO, etc)?

            And if they can’t know them, how can they project climate over that time period?

          • David Skurnick

            I agree. And, the models merely assume that CO2 will have a certain impact on water vapor, which actually has a more powerful impact on climate than CO2 does. No research justifies this key relationship. Modelers also can’t look at fine enough areas. Many other aspects of climate are unknown, such as all the possible feedback mechanisms. All these reasons are why the models are not reliable.
            What we’re left with is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Growth of atmospheric CO2 contributes to long-term warming, but scientists don’t know what the net impact of CO2 growth is.

          • DavidAppell

            “And, the models merely assume that CO2 will have a certain impact on water vapor,”

            False. Models *calculate* the impact on, and of, water vapor, by solving the PDEs that describe the physics.

          • David Skurnick

            David — It’s inconsistent to predict doomsday scenarios, but then promote action inadequate to deal with those scenarios.
            Yes, for all I know, climate sensitivity might be 4.5 or 6 deg. C or even higher. With CO2 doubling every 70 years, climate sensitivity of 6 deg C means that in a century, the world would be hotter by almost 6 deg C or over 9 deg. F. If that’s the case, then conservation is suicidal. The plan promoted by Obama and the EPA is suicidal. Our best hope would be an immediate surprise attack, using our nuclear weapons to kill everyone in China and India,
            I like to look at data. From 1979 to 2014, satellite temperatures rose by about .4 deg. C. That’s a rate of 1.1 deg C per century. IMHO our starting point best guess should be that a combination of anthropogenic and natural causes are causing global warming at a rate of 1.1 deg C. per century, or 2 deg. F. That’s not catastrophic, so I oppose the kind of radical action mentioned above.
            David, do you favor radical action to reduce CO2 emissions? If not, why not?

          • DavidAppell

            “It’s inconsistent to predict doomsday scenarios, but then promote action inadequate to deal with those scenarios.”

            Who is predicting doomsday?
            Who, among those people, is proposing inadequate action?

          • David Skurnick

            David, I’ve told you my opinion. What do you think? In your opinion:
            1. What’s the true value of climate sensitivity?
            2. What should we do about climate change?

          • DavidAppell

            No one knows the “true” value of climate sensitivity. I go with what the science says.

            We should stop polluting the atmosphere and ocean with carbon.

          • David Skurnick

            IPCC 5 said sensitivity was “very likely” between 1.5 and 4.5 deg C. Thus, they admit that climate sensitivity might be lower than 1.5 or C or as higher than 6 deg. C. Is that the scientific opinion you share?

            To stop CO2 “polluting” would mean the deaths of millions or billions of
            people, because carbon-based fuels are currently essential to our lives. Even the poor Africans depend on the burning
            of carbon-based fuels in their wood- or dung- based fires. Furthermore, ending the use of carbon-based fuels would mean an enormous drop in the quality of life throughout the world. I agree with you that political leaders and people throughout the world are not willing to adopt so extreme an action However, suppose you somehow had the power to immediately end “carbon pollution” by ending the use of carbon-based
            fuels. Would you use that power end the
            use of carbon- based fuels, despite the dire consequences of doing so?

          • DavidAppell

            “IPCC 5 said sensitivity was “very likely” between 1.5 and 4.5 deg C. Thus, they admit that climate sensitivity might be lower than 1.5 or C or as higher than 6 deg. C. Is that the scientific opinion you share?”

            I don’t have an “opinion” on climate sensitivity. I know what the science says.

            The error bars are, I think, the 95% confidence limits (the upper limit isn’t 6 C, it’s 4.5 C). So it’d be foolish to ignore them, in either direction.

          • David Skurnick

            BTW it’s not the case “Science says” anything. There are climate models with sensitivities from below 1 deg C to around 9 or 10 deg C. There is no consensus among scientists as to the true value of sensitivity.
            Yes, the IPCC came out with a (purely judgmental) range. However, many top climate scientists were not part of that judgment. Even the IPCC scientists didn’t have enough consensus to pick a most likely estimate for climate sensitivity, as they had done in prior IPCC reports.

          • DavidAppell

            “There are climate models with sensitivities from below 1 deg C to around 9 or 10 deg C.”

            All models aren’t created equal. If a model wasn’t assessed in the 5AR, there’s a reason — like maybe it does a lousy job of hindcasting.

            And you don’t have to be an IPCC co-author to get your work assessed in an AR — they assess work from the published literature, whether an IPCC co-author wrote it or not.

            The IPCC assesses science, so “the science says” is a good description for it.

            Again: Which model(s) predict(s) global cooling?

          • David Skurnick

            Global Cooling is Here
            Evidence for Predicting Global Cooling for the Next Three Decades
            By Prof. Don J. Easterbrook
            Global Research, June 28, 2014
            Department of Geology, Western Washington University and Global Research 2 November 2008

          • DavidAppell

            “To stop CO2 “polluting” would mean the deaths of millions or billions of
            people, because carbon-based fuels are currently essential to our lives.”

            No, ENERGY is essential to living. How it’s generated isn’t.

            “Even the poor Africans depend on the burning.”

            But you’re a lot richer than them. So why shouldn’t YOU have to use clean energy?

          • DavidAppell

            “Furthermore, ending the use of carbon-based fuels would mean an enormous drop in the quality of life throughout the world.”

            30% of Germany’s electricity now comes from renewable sources:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany

            What has been the “enormous” drop in their quality of their lives?

          • DavidAppell

            “Would you use that power end the use of carbon- based fuels, despite the dire consequences of doing so?”

            I don’t accept the word “dire.” American is now easily rich enough to afford carbon-clean energy. And we’re put more of it up there than any other country. It’s time we stop changing the climate.

          • DavidAppell

            “…despite the dire consequences of doing so?”

            Dire? I buy 100% green offsets from my power company. It costs me an average of $1.85/month. That’s not “dire.”

          • DavidAppell

            You didn’t answer my question about the linear extrapolation….

          • DavidAppell

            Now, why did you assume the future rise in warming is linear compared to the past?

          • Tom Scharf

            “Who is predicting doomsday?”

            Try Googling catastrophic climate change and see if you get any hits. My model predicts you will.

          • DavidAppell

            “Our best hope would be an immediate surprise attack, using our nuclear weapons to kill everyone in China and India”

            You just lost a lot of credibility (not that you had much).

          • David Skurnick

            Ah, David.

            1. There are no “error bars” in the range of 1.5 to 4.5. That range doesn’t come out of a statistical model. It’s purely judgment, and IMHO, a somewhat political judgment.

            2. You said 30% of Germany’s electricity comes from nuclear, not 30% of its energy. From 1980 to 2007, German GDP grew at a pretty steady rate of about 2% per year. Since then, it stopped growing even declined slightly. See https://www.google.com/search?q=germany+unemployment+by+year&rlz=1T4GGNI_enUS497US497&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=NV8fVLr4IsH7oQTl_YKADQ&ved=0CEgQsAQ&biw=1344&bih=646&dpr=1.25#tbm=isch&q=germany+gdp+by+year&facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=uK8WUWnrqv5s6M%253A%3BdlSE7W8YpX853M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.financialsense.com%252Fsites%252Fdefault%252Ffiles%252Fusers%252Fu673%252Fimages%252F2011%252F1115%252Fgermany-total-energy-and-real-gdp.png%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.financialsense.com%252Fcontributors%252Fgail-tverberg%252F2011%252F11%252F15%252Fthe-shared-fate-of-gdp-and-energy-growth%3B753%3B454

            3. Why a linear trend? IMHO that’s an appropriate starting point, when the trend is based purely on numbers. (IMHO the various models are worthless, so I base my preliminary estimate on a linear trend. Of course, global temperature might start to fall, as some models show, or might grow exponentially, but since there are no reliable models, I would base policy on a linear trend.

          • DavidAppell

            “There are no “error bars” in the range of 1.5 to 4.5.”

            The 5AR says

            “Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high
            confidence), extremely unlikely less than 1°C (high confidence), and very unlikely greater than 6°C (medium confidence)”

            but you’re right: there is no best estimate with 95% confidence limits.

          • David Skurnick

            Those are not error bars. Error bars come from statistical models. Those likelihood figures are just POOMA by a committee. They have no actual meaning.

          • DavidAppell

            “You said 30% of Germany’s electricity comes from nuclear, not 30% of its energy.”

            Yes, and only 10% of ours does (excluding hydro, which many do not consider “renewable.”

            “From 1980 to 2007, German GDP grew at a pretty steady rate of about 2% per year. Since then, it stopped growing even declined slightly.”

            Gee, do you think a huge worldwide recession and the deep economic problems of the European Union might have something to do with that?

          • DavidAppell

            This shows German GDP growing after about 2009 (the worst of the economic crisis):

            https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/DEURGDPQDSNAQ

            by 11.4%, after it bottomed out in 3Q09. That’s about 2.3% per year, which is just about the long-term average for economies.

          • DavidAppell

            “See https://www.google.com/search?…”

            That data stops in late 2009! Here is current data, which shows the growth since 2009: https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/DEURGDPQDSNAQ

            So your claim that more renewable energy means “an enormous drop in the quality of life” is not borne out by Germany’s energy policies.

          • David Skurnick

            Good job finding the up to date graph. You mis-stated my claim. I said ending the use of carbon-based fuels would mean an enormous drop in quality of life. Germany is far from that point, with carbon based fuels accounting for 70% of electricity and 100% of fuel oil, gasoline, and natural gas all being carbon-based.

          • DavidAppell

            So the “enormous drop in quality of life” doesn’t happen until fossil fuels get to zero, then it drops suddenly and completely?

            No. It would happen gradually. But there’s no evidence this has happened for Germany, who uses a higher than average share of renewables.

            There’s no evidence this has happened in British Columbia, which instituted a carbon tax several years ago — their FF emissions are dropping, and their economy is outperforming the average Canadian province.

            Sweden now gets 65% of its energy from noncarbon sources:

            http://sandiegofreepress.org/2013/09/sweden-getting-65-of-its-energy-from-non-fossil-based-fuels-now

            with no apparent impact on their GDP:

            https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/SWEGDPNQDSMEI

            with this:

            “Fred Bergsten, the director emeritus at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, said that, “Sweden has one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe; it runs a budget surplus every year; its corporate tax rates are considerably lower than U.S. rates; and it spends more on research and development, as a share of its economy, than we do.”

            http://willblogforfood.typepad.com/will_blog_for_food/2013/09/president-obama-the-us-should-follow-swedens-renewable-energy-lead.html

          • DavidAppell

            “Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free?” Paul Krugman, 9/18/14

            http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/19/opinion/paul-krugman-could-fighting-global-warming-be-cheap-and-free.html

          • Tom Scharf

            Well if Krugman believes it, it must be true. That will convince everyone for sure. NYT columnist on-board with climate agenda, stop the presses.

            There is no reason to doubt that fixing climate change will be free, is there?

            In other news, WSJ appears to be not on board with “free”.

            http://online.wsj.com/articles/climate-science-is-not-settled-1411143565?KEYWORDS=climate+science+not+settled

            I’m so confused. Who should I trust? Appell I suppose.

          • David Skurnick

            Thanks for the link. Krugman is a brilliant economist, but he is such a partisan. That column is baloney for a number of reasons which someone of your sophistication can figure out.

          • NiCuCo

            “I said ending the use of carbon-based fuels would mean an enormous drop in quality of life.”

            A recent macroeconomic study of a carbon fee and dividend policy in the US showed:

            CO2 emissions decline 33% after only 10 years, and 52% after 20 years relative to the baseline ($0/ton of CO2).

            National employment increases by 2.1 million jobs after 10 years, and 2.8 million after 20 years. This is more than a 1% increase in total US employment we don’t get without a carbon tax.

            Real incomes increase by more than $500 per person in 2025. This increase accounts for cost of living increases.

            Google “REMI report” to find information on the study.

          • David Skurnick

            Interesting. A couple of points.
            1. REMI considered a revenue-neutral carbon tax. I suspect that if the US adopts a carbon tax, it won’t be revenue neutral.
            2. A carbon tax is very different from ending the use of carbon-based fuels. Regardless of tax structure, there simply isn’t enough energy to fully replace the current amount from carbon-based fuels. So, ending the use of such fuels would mean less energy available.
            3. Heaven only knows how valid REMI’s study is. I’ve created lots of economic and financial models. In most cases, you can get an enormous variety of results depending on the assumptions you choose.

          • NiCuCo

            Thanks for the comments.

            “I suspect that if the US adopts a carbon tax, it won’t be revenue neutral.”

            If the US adopts a carbon tax, it will have to be revenue neutral. Democrats want to reduce fossil fuel use and revenue neutral is largely irrelevant to them. Republicans will not vote for one if it is not revenue neutral. Basically, the Republicans are in control. Democrats want to reduce fossil fuel use. Republicans get to decide what proportion of that is free market, via a tax, versus regulation and subsidies.

            “So, ending the use of such fuels would mean less energy available.”

            Somewhat, part of the changes in energy use would be “negawatts,” reductions from conservation and efficiency. There are graphs in the study showing, over the next twenty years, the sources of energy with and without the carbon fee. The fee changes the energy mix substantially.

            “In most cases, you can get an enormous variety of results depending on the assumptions you choose.”

            True. REMI has done a great deal of this work in the past. I assume that they have received feedback on it.

          • DavidAppell

            “That’s a rate of 1.1 deg C per century. IMHO our starting point best guess should be that a combination of anthropogenic and natural causes are causing global warming at a rate of 1.1 deg C. per century, or 2 deg. F.”

            On what basis are you assuming future rises will be linear?

            PS: UAH LT shows 0.5 C of warming since 1979; RSS 0.4 C.

          • DavidAppell

            “It’s inconsistent to predict doomsday scenarios, but then promote action inadequate to deal with those scenarios.”

            In today’s America, it’s useless to “promote action inadequate to deal with those scenarios,” because obviously Congress would never pass such a thing. So people who are concerned promote what might help and can realistically be accomplished.

            But some people do. Ken Caldiera in particular is very outspoken that we need to stop all carbon pollution.

          • DavidAppell

            “…water vapor, which actually has a more powerful impact on climate than CO2 does.”

            This is a misunderstanding often seen from deniers.

            Water vapor certainly has a effect on the basic greenhouse effect, BUT VERY LITTLE on changes to the greenhouse effect. Water vapor is a feedback, not a forcing. Unlike CO2, no one can change the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, except by changing the temperature of the atmosphere. See the Clausius-Claperyon equation. That is, it’s a feedback (and an important one).

            Then there’s this, from Pierrehumbert’s textbook “Principles of Planetary Climate”:

            “One sometimes hears it remarked cavalierly that water vapor is the ‘most important’ greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. The misleading nature of such statements can be inferred directly from Fig 4.31…. If water vapor were the only greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, the temperature would be a chilly 268 K, and that’s even before taking ice-albedo feedback into account, which would most likely cause the Earth to fall into a frigid Snowball state…. With regard to Earth’s habitability, it takes two to tango.” (p. 271)

          • DavidAppell

            “Modelers also can’t look at fine enough areas.”

            How fine must their areas be?

          • DavidAppell

            “Many other aspects of climate are unknown, such as all the possible feedback mechanisms.”

            Which ones are models missing? And how do you know?

            “All these reasons are why the models are not reliable.”

            Models do great jobs of reproducing detailed features of the atmosphere (see Gavin Schmidt’s TED talk), and of hindcasting the 20th century. They also get the same result for climate sensitivity as paleoclimate studies: about 3 C. That shows they have skill — and certainly enough skill to know there is a significant risk of serious warming by our large CO2 emissions.

          • DavidAppell

            “…but scientists don’t know what the net impact of CO2 growth is.”

            That’s wrong (just based on paleoclimate studies alone), but let’s assume it’s right. So why is that a reason for inaction? If, as you claim, scientists don’t know, how do you know it’s not WORSE than what they claim? How do you know climate sensivity isn’t on the high side of their estimates — 4.5 C, or 6 C (as seen in some models).

            Since when is ignorance a reason to avoid dealing with a problem? (Ever hear of Cheney’s 1% doctrine?)

    • Sterling Ericsson

      http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/4/044022

      There hasn’t been a pause, unless you’re purposefully looking at skewed data.

      • JH

        “There hasn’t been a pause, unless you’re purposefully looking at skewed data.”

        “When the data are adjusted to remove the estimated impact of known factors on short-term temperature variations”

        So wait – there’s no pause but the data have to be adjusted to find that out. Right? :)

        IOW, there is a pause and Foster et al have postulated an explanation for that pause. As have numerous other researchers.

        And it may be that Foster et al are right. Or maybe Cowtan and Way are right. Or maybe Tung and Zhou have got it right.

        Sterling, my friend: The coffee is on.

        • Sterling Ericsson

          You do know that the El Nino effect of 1998 skewed the data, right? It was an outlier of especially warm weather, the global temperature has still been increasing from the baseline of the years before (and even surpassed the 1998 level several years ago).

          • JH

            “global temperature has still been increasing from the baseline of the years before”

            Not from the 1980-98 “baseline” (whatever exactly you mean by that).

            Connect the low points on the trend from 1980-98 and project them to 2013. The projection is well above the the most recent highs. :)

            The 1980-1998 trend has broken down. There’s no doubt about that. No rocket science required.

          • DavidAppell

            “Not from the 1980-98 “baseline” (whatever exactly you mean by that).”

            Wrong.

            First of all, a “baseline” isn’t ambiguous — it’s the average temperature from January of the first year to December of the last year.

            Given that, and using GISS data, I find:

            baseline (1980-1998) = 0.28 C
            average (1999-present) = 0.57 C

            so there has indeed been signficant warming since 1980-1998.

  • Sterling Ericsson

    Considering this is Discover Magazine and not Mother Jones, Keith, you’re going to have to deal more with deniers of climate change in this comment section than deniers of GMOs, though your article applies just as much to the former as it does the latter.

    I doubt they’ll listen though.

    • Buddy199

      Sounds like you’d be much more happy living in the far left Mother Jones blogosphere where your confirmation bias will be predictably hand fed and nurtured each day.

  • Jeffn

    “Anti-science” isn’t “elastic” or trivialized because it is “overused.” It was a particularly nasty, dishonest political campaign employed by the left that became an embarrassment once it became painfully obvious just how wrong it was. Now you want to declare “a pox on both their houses” and forget the whole thing before the backfire gets out of hand.
    It isn’t enough to simply note that “politics” (however you define it) colors how we assess threats and then apply that to “Republicans in Congress” as Oreskes does. There were certainly people marching in NY yesterday whose willingness to accept the idea of catastrophic global warming is driven by their belief that it means global socialism is the answer. Take away the catastrophism and the socialist solution and they will be as “pro-science” on AGW as they are on GMO.
    And the fact of the matter is most of the nation would intensely question the certainty of AGW if advocates ever get around to stating what they really mean by “action.” It’s been funny to watch Appell dodge that question below.
    Finally, history is relevant. The left has a long history of pushing half-baked “sciency” arguments to force their agenda from a position of “scientific authority,” sometimes with ridiculous unintended consequences. We saw it (just to name some big ones) with DDT, nuclear (where even Monbiot says the greens are lying), vaccines, Malthusian revivals, and GMO. But, oh no, it’s absolutely certifiably insane to hold any doubt that this time they got it right – they have figured out every aspect of the global climate.

  • bobito

    If one denied the validity of the following article would they be pro or anti science? I can’t decide:
    http://online.wsj.com/articles/climate-science-is-not-settled-1411143565?mod=WSJ_hp_RightTopStories

    Clearly we need a fascistic system of government to tell us which it is since a nuanced stance is sooooo 20th century…

  • Nom de Plume

    The term “anti-science” is bandied about much the same way as “heathen” in a bygone era, or “fascist” and “commie” in some circles: as a negative term and not much more. Since science is a method, a strict meaning of the term anti-science is to oppose the scientific method. The rejection of a study is not in itself anti-science, for if it were, any criticism of a questionable study would, in itself, be called anti-science, despite that all of science is based on just this sort of scrutiny.

    A more fitting term is perhaps irrational, as it summarizes the disconnect. So if, say, a geologist objected to GMO, it’s hard to argue that they are anti-science, as geology is a field of science. Describing the opposition to GMO as irrational is more accurate and more fitting.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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