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Friday
Jun032016

What does "believing/disbelieving in" add to what one knows is known by science? ... a fragment

From something I'm working on (and related to "yesterday's" post) . . .

4.3. “Believing in” what one knows is known by science

People who use their reason to form identity-expressive beliefs can also use it to acquire and reveal knowledge of what science knows. A bright “evolution disbelieving” high school student intent on being admitted to an undergraduate veterinary program, for example, might readily get a perfect score on an Advanced Placement biology exam (Herman 2012).

It’s tempting, of course, to say that the “knowledge” one evinces in a standardized science test is analytically independent of one's “belief” in the propositions that one “knows.”  This claim isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is highly likely to reflect confusion.  

Imagine a test-taker who says, “I know science’s position on the natural history of human beings: that they evolved from an earlier species of animal. And I’ll tell you something else: I believe it, too.”  What exactly is added by that person’s profession of belief?

The answer “his assent to a factual proposition about the origin of our species” reflects confusion. There is no plausible psychological picture of the contents of the human mind that sees it as containing a belief registry stocked with bare empirical propositions set to “on-off,” or even probabilistic “pr=0.x,” states.  Minds consist of routines—clusters of affective orientations, conscious evaluations, desires, recollections, inferential abilities, and the like—suited for doing things.  Beliefs are elements of such clusters. They are usefully understood as action-enabling states—affective stances toward factual propositions that reliably summon the mental routine geared toward acting in some way that depends on the truth of those propositions (Peirce 1877; Braithwaite 1933, 1946; Hetherington 2011)

In the case of our imagined test-taker, a mental state answering to exactly this description contributed to his supplying the correct response to the assessment item.  If that’s the mental object the test-taker had in mind when he said, “and I believe it, too!,” then his profession of belief furnished no insight into the contents of his mind that we didn’t already have by virtue of his answering the question correctly. So “nothing” is one plausible answer to the question what did it add when he told us he “believed” in evolution.

It’s possible, though, that the statement did add something.  But for the reasons just set forth, the added information would have to relate to some additional action that is enabled by his holding such a belief. One such thing enabled by belief in evolution is being a particular kind of person.  Assent to science’s account of the natural history of human beings has a social meaning that marks a person out has holding certain sorts of attitudes and commitments; a belief in evolution reliably summons behavior evincing such assent on occasions in which a person has a stake in experiencing that identity or enabling others to discern that he does.

Indeed, for the overwhelming majority of people who believe in evolution, having that sort of identity is the only thing they are conveying to us when they profess their belief. They certainly aren’t revealing to us that they possess the mental capacities and motivations necessary to answer even a basic high-school biology exam question on evolution correctly: there is zero correlation between professions of belief and even a rudimentary understanding of random mutation, natural variance, and natural selection (Shtulman 2006; Demastes, Settlage & Good 1995; Bishop & Anderson 1990).

Precisely because one test-taker’s profession of “belief” adds nothing to any assessment of knowledge of what science knows, another's profession of “disbelief” doesn’t subtract anything.  One who correctly answers the exam question has evinced not only knowledge but also her possession of the mental capacities and motivations necessary to convey such knowledge

When a test-taker says “I know what science thinks about the natural history of human beings—but you better realize, I don’t believe it,” then it is pretty obvious what she is doing: expressing her identity as a member of a community for whom disbelief is a defining attribute. The very occasion for doing so might well be that she was put in a position where revealing of her knowledge of what science knows generated doubt about who she is

But it remains the case that the mental states and motivations that she used to learn and convey what science knows, on the one hand, and the mental states and motivations she is using to experience a particular cultural identity, on the other, are entirely different things (Everhart & Hameed 2013; cf. DiSessa 1982).  Neither tells us whether she will use what evolution knows to do other things that can be done only with such knowledge—like become a veterinarian, say, or enjoy a science documentary on evolution (CCP 2016). To figure out if she believes in evolution for those purposes—despite her not believing in it to be who she is—we’d have to observe what she does in the former settings.

All of these same points apply to the response that study subjects give when they respond to a valid measure of their comprehension of climate science.  That is, their professions of “belief” and “disbelief” in the propositions that figure in the assessment items neither add to nor subtract from the inference that they have (or don’t have) the capacities and motivations necessary to answer the question correctly.  Their respective professions  tell us only who they are. 

As expressions of their identities, moreover, their respective professions of “belief” and “disbelief” don’t tell us anything about whether they possess the “beliefs” in human-caused climate change requisite to action informed by what science knows. To figure out if a climate change “skeptic” possesses the action-enabling belief in climate change that figures, say, in using scientific knowledge to protect herself from the harm of human-caused climate change, or in voting for a member of Congress (Republican or Democrat) who will in fact expend even one ounce of political capital pursuing climate-change mitigation policies, we must observe what that skeptical individual does in those settings.  Likewise, only by seeing what a self-proclaimed climate-change believer does in those same settings can we see if he possess the sort of action-enabling belief in human-caused climate change that using science knowledge for those purposes depends on.

References

Bishop, B.A. & Anderson, C.W. Student conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27, 415-427 (1990).

Braithwaite, R.B. The nature of believing. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 33, 129-146 (1932).

Braithwaite, R.B. The Inaugural Address: Belief and Action. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 20, 1-19 (1946).

CCP, Evidence-based Science Filmmaking Inititive, Study No. 1 (2016)

Demastes, S.S., Settlage, J. & Good, R. Students' conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution: Cases of replication and comparison. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 32, 535-550 (1995).

DiSessa, A.A. Unlearning Aristotelian Physics: A Study of Knowledge‐Based Learning*. Cognitive science 6, 37-75 (1982).

Everhart, D. & Hameed, S. Muslims and evolution: a study of Pakistani physicians in the United States. Evo Edu Outreach 6, 1-8 (2013).

Hermann, R.S. Cognitive apartheid: On the manner in which high school students understand evolution without Believing in evolution. Evo Edu Outreach 5, 619-628 (2012).

Hetherington, S.C. How to know : a practicalist conception of knowledge (J. Wiley, Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Malden, MA, 2011).

Peirce, C.S. The Fixaation of Belief. Popular Science Monthly 12, 1-15 (1877).

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Reader Comments (44)

When your first imagined evolution test-taker also professes belief in evolution, what is being added is a statement about identity, just like your second case where the test-taker still passes yet doesn't believe. The first case affirms an identity that is not core religious, and possibly also entangled with 'science as culture' (the enterprise of science is not neutral in this respect, some culture and societal authority has grown around it). 'Not core religious', doesn't necessarily mean atheist. There are many folks conveniently in alliance with religion as it is still an important part of their social sphere. This convenient alliance is expressed by many in the form of 'god-guided evolution', which escapes the internal clash. The second test-taker who doesn't believe, is as you say expressing identity with a religious group who have a completely different view on human origin, one which has massive social inertia accumulated over millennia before Darwin. Theirs is core belief.

This can be seen as a mass measure across the population when the cultural identity switch gets flicked on / off. (Much kudos to you for promoting this technique in your various tools). So using a Gallup 2012 survey as an example (there are many more with similar results), 89% of Republicans claim belief in God, a concept entirely supported on a primary cultural narrative that utterly contradicts evolution (the bible). Yet asked a much less identity confronting question, i.e. whether they believe in creationism, only 58% are affirmative. So on this measure 31% are in convenient alliance; they are not core religious believers in fact, and indeed betray the very core narrative that belief in their God is based upon. For Democrats 73% say they believe in God, which makes that party seem like a pretty majorly religious party too. Yet only 41% believe in creationism. Hence the party is in fact not a majority core belief party, it only seems so due to the convenient alliance block; the likelihood of losing votes and high moral ground by not being seen as religious is no doubt an influencing factor.

In the climate change case, likewise flicking on / off cultural identity similarly reveals core climate cultural belief versus convenient alliance. Using Pew 2012 and Gallup 2013 (I can provide links if you want), 76.5% of Democrats profess belief in human cause climate change. Seems like a big majority. Yet when asked to rank the issue in importance, which is far less of an identity challenging question, only 42% rank this issue as highest. This is despite the core narrative claims it's an ultimate problem. Regarding core beliefs, the Democrats are about as climate calamitous as they are religious, and a minority in both cases. Some surveys are down in the mid twenties for Democrats who rate this issue highest. For the Republicans, 39.5% profess belief, but only 14% rate this as the highest priority issue. Calamitous climate culture is engaged with both parties, yet asymmetrically so, just like with religion. When cultural identity is flicked on / off, only about 15% of Republicans are shifting, but about 34% of Democrats. These 'shifters' help reveal the origin of the core culture, which is from neither political party and is a culture in its own right.

However, I agree that what people do is surely an ultimate measure. Unfortunately that is hard to know, but we do at least know what folks say they will do. Or what they want the president / congress to do. While these must be treated with caution, it's better than nothing. For the latter and seemingly even worse than above, a raft of polls say Democrats place climate change (or global warming, the wording changes) very low in priority to address, often as low as 11th or 12th if that many options exist. A Pew Jan 2015 poll on Public Policy Priorities places global warming twelfth from 23 issues for Democrats alone. Hardly a core belief regarding an ultimate issue. This puts it second to last over the whole survey, tail-ending is another common result across many surveys. Regarding the former, i.e. what folks say they will do, from FT.com : "Polling by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that people are not willing to pay much more on their monthly electricity bill to solve global warming. The average acceptable increase was about $12 in 2013. (Democrats are generally willing to pay $6-8 more than Republicans, and high-income, college-educated Democrats are ready to pay the most.)" This is what people say they would do, and for a high average income / developed nation, it's completely trivial. This would change nothing. Very few people were willing to pay higher amounts.

Dan: "only by seeing what a self-proclaimed climate-change believer does in those same settings can we see if he possess the sort of action-enabling belief in human-caused climate change that using science knowledge for those purposes depends on."

Well even in the party with the highest belief, what folks *say* they will do, albeit not what they might actually do, shows that there is not true belief in the orthodox promoted calamity. Depending on how much identity is questioned and / or true personal action is sought, either a large slice or a very large slice or indeed the great majority of Democrats, do not back their convenient belief. For Republicans, the gulf between the identity / action challenges and the 'belief without challenge' scenario, is far less, because they don't subscribe to the culture of calamity in the first place. Their beliefs and their actions are more aligned; for most, the culture of climate calamity is not part of their core identity, or even convenient alliance. This situation is opposite to the case between the two parties for religion.

June 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@AndyWest:

What they "do" is not the do is "not "an ultimate measure."

It is the *only* measure.

Professing disbelief in conditions in which that expresses identity *does* something; it does it even when the person who did it turns around *does* something *else* with a *belief* in climate change-- such as be a farmer.

The point is that it's time to get over thinking "beliefs" can be defined independengly of what is done with them.

June 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

While doingness is indeed the only true measure, I was merely pointing out that unfortunately we don't always have access to it. More often we have what people say they will do.

Your Kentucky farmer case do not support 'knowing disbelief', as my comment (and those of others) at your original post on same shows. Considering cousin Ethan helps to make it clear why. Somewhere on this blog, you agreed it was not primary / definitive evidence, yet you continue to reference as though it was.

There's no evidence that 'knowing disbelief', while it undoubtedly occurs and is an interesting behavior, is a mass effect. The point of above is that on the measures of what folks say they will do, from readily available public data, vanilla core cultural beliefs and the 'convenient belief' from endemic cultural alliances, appears sufficient to explain what's happening in the climate change domain. While 'action' and therefore real doingness is harder to perceive on a public scale for creationism (what important / committed action detectable on the public scale would confirm true belief in creationism?), the same core belief and convenient alliance pattern is nevertheless visible. No 'knowing disbelief' is required.

June 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@AndyWest--

We have access to "it."

But the "it" is not an it; the "belief" that the kentucky farmer or Pakistani Dr or SE Floridian or any other numbe of characters uses to *do* someting w/ what science knows & the "disbelief" each uses to *be* a person defined by particular commitments are (as the Pakistani Dr would put) "entirely different things."

In any case, *that* is the point I'm making. *Not* that "action" is the best or only criterion for "real" belief

June 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"In the case of our imagined test-taker, a mental state answering to exactly this description contributed to his supplying the correct answer. If that’s the mental object the test-taker had in mind when he said, “and I believe it, too!,”"

Are you saying that the ability to give the correct answer and reason with the propositions involved - "affective stances toward factual propositions that reliably summon the mental routine geared toward acting in some way that depends on the truth of those propositions" - is equivalent to "belief"?

Let's turn the example the other way round. An atheist student wants to get into a college run by a religious foundation, because it's the only accessible place that teaches the courses she needs for her chosen career. The entrance exam asks her to write an essay on how God created the world in seven days. Despite being an atheist, the student does have the detailed knowledge to be able to answer the question correctly: to reason about cause, method, motivation, and evidence in sufficient detail to convince the exam markers that her knowledge of orthodoxy is more than superficial. If you assume these premises as axiomatic (e.g. biblical inerrancy), can you figure out what consequences logically follow? That's certainly a "mental routine geared toward acting in some way that depends on the truth of those propositions".

But on emerging from the exam hall, she says to her friend "But of course, I don't believe it."

Is this no more than a marker of her identity as a member of the "tribe of atheists"? Or does it convey something else?

If she gives one answer to the examiner, but another to her friend, which tribe does she belong to? Can she belong to both theist and atheist tribes simultaneously? Is her ability to simulate theism *equivalent* to actually believing in it? If she could just as easily answer an exam question to demonstrate her atheism, (and said after "Yes, I believe!") does that constitute an inconsistency in her mental routines? Or are theism and atheism consistent with one another?

I don't know about you, but I don't find it difficult to believe that the ability to reason about and answer questions on a topic is distinct from believing it to be true. I'm wondering if the examples you've picked - evolution and climate change - are ones where you think the evidence for them is unarguable, so understanding of the proofs necessarily implies belief in their truth, so to understand the proof but then claim not to believe must be representing something different (like identity/tribal membership).

In my example, these are reversed. Understanding the 'proofs' is being used to fake tribal identity - the statement of belief is about what the subject thinks is the truth.

For that matter, belief is more complex and complicated than that. Consider again the example of Newtonian mechanics. A modern day physicist will cheerfully assume instantaneous-action-at-a-distance gravity, absolute time, rigid bodies, and so on, and mentally "believe" them while calculating the answer to the exam question. But asked separately whether Newtonian mechanics is true, whether rigid bodies are possible, whether gravity propagates instantaneously, they will of course answer "No." They're all inconsistent with special relativity.

Brains build models of the world, to predict and manipulate it. 'Beliefs' are statements about models. Newtonian physics is one model. Special relativity is a different one. Brains can operate with multiple models in different circumstances, even when they're inconsistent with one another. Each has its own uses, assumptions, ranges of validity, and social context. Humans can switch smoothly from one model to another, often without even realising it themselves. The "suspension of disbelief" we experience when we read or watch fiction is the same sort of thing. We can even build mental models of *other* worlds and (temporarily) live in them.

To be able to explain a topic in detail and then express disbelief in it is to show that you can run that mental model of the world, but don't currently consider it valid. I can explain in detail how Gandalf got to Rivendell to meet Frodo there, but that doesn't mean I think it's true. I'm not expressing any sort of political "identity" by saying so either - it's a simple fact: I know it's not true. Tolkien made it up.

The idea of multiple-model-based belief is related to the concept of 'frames' used in Artificial Intelligence research: http://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/Frames/frames.html I'm guessing there's some mainstream psychology literature related to the same idea. See also "model dependent realism".

June 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Dan

>'In any case, *that* is the point I'm making'

I know the point you are making. But your evidence for this point is not established as a mass effect in society. The Pakistani Dr is a tiny minority and requires very unusual and specific social circumstances to create and maintain. The Kentucky farmer template simply doesn't hold up at all, per previous comment. I don't think there is evidence that belief (in 'what science knows') riding in parallel with disbelief based on identity defense, is a mass effect. I.e. your 'knowing disbelief' does not explain what we see in the wide public domain regarding either creationism or climate change.

There is overwhelming evidence in both domains, that belief in the dominant cultural narrative appears strong in one political party or the other (swaps for creationism and climate change) where identity is challenged, and much weaker when identity is not challenged. And weaker still where strong commitment to action (e.g. finance) is invoked. (Consistent with your own points, what folks say they will do is an indicator of action-enabling belief). This is perfectly consistent with core cultures engaging in alliances, an endemic feature of cultures.

You believe that calamitous climate change is hard science and not a cultural narrative. If this was the case, there should be little change in strength of belief within the Democrats as identity defense is switched on and off. Yet the biggest shift is clearly in the Democrats. The smallest is in the Republicans. For the great majority of the Republicans there is not 'knowing disbelief', there is only vanilla disbelief, of the cultural narrative, and their actions are largely consistent with their disbelief. The Democrats have a much larger swathe of folks whose actions are inconsistent with their professed belief in that very same cultural narrative of calamity.

Likewise for creationism you don't need 'knowing disbelief' to explain the data, only straight vanilla disbelief. The tiny minority both knowing *and deploying* the science of evolution in contradiction to their cultural identity, will be lost in the noise.

So regarding the vast majority of the public, the 'entirely different things' do not run in parallel within their heads anyhow. Hence this separation does not require explanation, excepting for the few individuals in minority / unusual circumstances for whom it actually occurs, yet not for the public at large. Vanilla cultural adherence (so disbelief of that which threatens the culture, be it evidence or a competing culture) and cultural alliances, explain the data. Particularly, people often profess certain beliefs as part of their identity, but may not back those beliefs with aligned action if the apparent belief was only due to cultural alliance and not core adherence.

June 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

==> Yet asked a much less identity confronting question, i.e. whether they believe in creationism, only 58% are affirmative. So on this measure 31% are in convenient alliance; they are not core religious believers in fact, ..<==

Seems to me that may or may not be true.

They may simply interpret religious (or justify) doctrine differently .

==> Yet when asked to rank the issue in importance, which is far less of an identity challenging question, only 42% rank this issue as highest. This is despite the core narrative claims it's an ultimate problem. <==

Imagine how shocked I was to find that your constructed the previous description so as to lead into supporting this contention.

Similarly to your previous contention, however, I think that your logic is flawed. People can think that something is an "ultimate problem" but for a variety of reasons rank that problem in a variety of ways in their day-to-day existence. For example, they might see it as a very vexing problem, one that is very difficult to solve,one where progress at a societal level is unlikely in any near-future time frame, one that may not have an impact on a near-future time frame, and one that is not materially affected by individual action. Once again, they may interpret and justify their "doctrine" differently than they limited mindset that you want to cram them into (I can only assume because you are emotionally attached to your desire to do so).

June 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

==> The point is that it's time to get over thinking "beliefs" can be defined independengly of what is done with them.
<==

Perhaps they are not completely independent, but do you think that beliefs and actions need to be aligned with an unwavering and complete consistency? Do you think that we can reverse engineer from anyone's actions to therefore determine that they're lying if they state beliefs that (you determine) are inconsistent with their actions?

June 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

>Once again, they may interpret and justify their "doctrine" differently

A significant difference of interpretation in a fundamental core narrative, i.e. not peripheral details, *is* a disbelief in that narrative. The tale of creation by God's hand is hardly ambiguous. Neither is the primary narrative of calamitious climate change. When significantly different interpretations prompted by diverging culture occur, the canon splits and each side (e.g. Protestants and Catholics) do actually believe different things. Sufficiently to kill each other even. Significantly different interpretation can also occur due to non-cultureal reasons, e.g. the percolation of evidence prompting suspicion that the primary narrative is simply wrong. While cultural alliance and corresponding social identity may not allow for open admission of this, questions that lessen or avoid such identity reveal the lack of true belief.

For a refresh, here are snips from the dominant cultural narrative as espoused by some of the most important western authority figures regarding the dire scale and immediacy of the issue, along with the corresponding demand for forceful and immediate response plus the need not to put this issue aside.

[OBAMA] Energy Independence and the Safety of Our Planet (2006) : "All across the world, in every kind of environment and region known to man, increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it's here, and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster." Speech in Berlin (2008) : "This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands." George town speech (2013) : "Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm." State of the Union (2015) : "The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe." [FRANCOIS HOLLANDE] Paris climate summit Nov 2015 : “To resolve the climate crisis, good will, statements of intent are not enough. We are at breaking point.” [GORDON BROWN] Copenhagen climate plan (2009) : "If we miss this opportunity, there will be no second chance sometime in the future, no later way to undo the catastrophic damage to the environment we will cause…As scientists spell out the mounting evidence both of the climate change already occurring and of the threat it poses in the future, we cannot allow the negotiations to run out of time simply for lack of attention. Failure would be unforgivable.” [ANGELA MERKEL] to UN summit on Climate Change (2009) : "After all, scientific findings leave us in no doubt that climate change is accelerating. It threatens our well being, our security, and our economic development. It will lead to uncontrollable risks and dramatic damage if we do not take resolute countermeasures." Same speech : "we will need to reach an understanding on central issues in the weeks ahead before Copenhagen, ensuring, among other things, that global eemissions reach their peak in the year 2020 at the latest." And while president of the EU, on German TV in a wake-up call for climate action prior to 26 leader EU climate meeting (2007) : "It is not five minutes to midnight. It's five minutes after midnight." [POPE FRANCIS] Asked if the U.N. climate summit in Paris (2015) would mark a turning point in the fight against global warming, the pope said: "I am not sure, but I can say to you 'now or never'. Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide."

There's plenty more of course, this is just a small sample. For very many members of the supposedly most supportive US party (Dems), when not so identity challenged and / or called upon for strong personal commitment, to seriously part company with this fundamental narrative, does actually mean lack of belief. Consistently placing an issue framed so unambiguously and seriously as above (I don't recall, apart from religious texts of course, seeing anything else that could outbid the global impact and urgency of this narrative) behind a whole raft of others, and not parting with more than trivial dollars per month for a solution, *is* a lack of belief in the primary narrative. Folks who truly believe all above would (and are) placing the issue at a much higher priority.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

"(I don't recall, apart from religious texts of course, seeing anything else that could outbid the global impact and urgency of this narrative)"

The biggest one in recent times, the one that's probably best remembered, is of course the Ehrlich/Sierra Club "Population Bomb", in which overpopulation would lead inevitably to war, famine, pestilence, and death before the end of the 20th century.

But we've also had the pesticides scare, the acid rain scare, the ozone hole scare, the peak oil scare, the mineral-resources-are-running-out-scare, and many others. It's a recurring cultural phenomenon. Back when religion dominated culture, we had religiously based apocalypses, but it's not specific to religion. There's something in the human psyche that likes heroic narratives about the plucky true believers seeing the end of the world coming and calling upon the sinners to repent their sinful ways. The narrative proved easily adaptable to the scientific age. We have environmental sins, now.

They all go through the same cycle. There are always many groups of millennarian cultists raising alarms, most of which are ignored by society. But every now and then one captures the public imagination. The media follow, and it swiftly becomes something "everybody knows", skipping the evidence gathering and debate stages. Signs and portents are seen everywhere. People have heard it stated as an already established truth, and assume therefore that it is and repeat it as such themselves. The belief system snowballs. Politicians take note, and introduce policies so that they can be seen to be acting on it; responding to the crisis. (e.g. China's one child policy, sterilisation programmes.) The sceptics and doubters are shouted down as shills for industry (or back in religious days, for the devil), and derided as so completely out of touch as to deny even the blindingly obvious. Everyone *knew* overpopulation was a global civilisation-threatening crisis; anyone who said otherwise had to be mad or stupid.

Then gradually as the date predicted got closer, and it became apparent that nothing of note was happening - the third world wasn't sinking into photogenic famine, the oceans weren't dying, the oil and other resources weren't running out - the enthusiasm for it silently evaporated. There was never any grand debunking, or announcement that the crisis was over, or red-faced admissions of error and inquiries into what had gone wrong. It simply got mentioned less and less often, until it hardly got mentioned at all, and society - without getting the constant media reminders - simply forgot about it.

By that time, there was usually already another hobgoblin to alarm the population with. And it might only be years later that one or two people might wonder whatever had happened to the previous apocalypse. Did they solve it? Was it merely delayed, and still on its way?

Society really has the proverbial memory of a goldfish when it comes to apocalyptic predictions of global doom.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV, it's not like those environmental problems just went away, like you seems to suggest. In at least three of those cases you cite, society did huge, substantive things to address the darn problem.

We passed fuel standards that were accepted by industry to mitigate acid rain. We passed the Montreal Protocol that was accepted and argued for by industry to address the ozone depletion. We developed hydraulic fracking and encouraged exploitation, halving the price of natural gas, to address the Saudis having lost control of oil prices in 2007.

People are scared of problems, but they are not correspondingly politically enthusiastic about solutions being implemented. I think some people think that the implementation of solutions takes away the moral force of peoples' causes for tribal alarm, and so they don't like paying attention to it. That habit -is- annoying; it disregards the moral force that actual success should be due! But I don't think it's right to mistake peoples' display of apathy towards solutions for nothing actually being done by society.

It does not follow from alarms going away that they were unjustified. Given the scale of actions that were often taken, it just as easily follows that the alarms worked, and caused society to respond appropriately.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@NiV

Yes, we have co-evolved with these memes for at least the length of time we've been homo-sapiens-sapiens. They easily transition from religious to secular topics as you note, because they work at a deep emotive level, and have been recycled endlessly throughout history with some new nuance each time. Some combinations of these memes make it to the big time as a full blown culture, with a socially enforced consensus and policed narrative, etc. Others are smaller scale and wait their turn to to climb that ladder, or disappear in favor of more highly selective variants.

As dypoon notes not all fears and hopes (of salvation) are without basis. But they not infrequently are, and even when there is some genuine basis, there can still be a disproportionate (and therefore often misdirected too) social response due to memetic amplification. The fear of submersion by 'lesser races' spawned by eugenics, a secular inspiration, allied to national socialism and anti-Semitism in a distinctly unwholesome culture, turned out to be not at all justified by science. But if such narratives make it to a full-blown culture, they can change our very morals and values and the basis via which we perceive what is and isn't a threat. CAGW is busy changing moral values and the law right now.

These thing make much more sense from a cultural evolution PoV. Although not sentient or agential, cultural entities have their own agenda (supported via constant selection), which does not necessarily align with the interests of the human hosts. As you imply by 'The belief system snowballs' etc, these entities are emergent. Hence they are not hoaxes or such, nor are their supporters deranged or delusional or in any way impaired. This is what humanity does. We do it because over an immense length of time, cultural entities have been a selective advantage. They create consensus in the face of the unknown, a huge advantage in fact, considering pretty much everything was unknown, and come to think of it most things still are.

This is not to say they are all advantage. The advantage is net, and there can be some huge downsides, not least of which are unsavory cultures that go completely off the rails. Now we know what drives such cultures, we could theoretically limit the downsides, but this first requires wide recognition. We probably aren't too close to that, I guess. An interesting past culture based on climate narrative was that of the Lambayeque. Bad things probably happened to their elite when they failed to control / predict El Ninos. Several times.

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

"NiV, it's not like those environmental problems just went away, like you seems to suggest."

It's not that they went away. They never really existed.

But you're absolutely right - society did indeed do huge substantive things to address those problems, at a considerable cost. And then when the politicians realised that the crazy economists who had been telling them it wasn't a problem were right after all, it got quietly dropped, and the gigantic waste of resources they had just presided over was never mentioned. We keep on doing it, again and again.

--

Acid rain was never a major issue. The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) did experimental trials to measure the detrimental effect of acid rain on tree growth - the trial lasted most of a decade, employed 700 scientists, and cost around half a billion dollars. Their conclusion was that acid rain (at the concentrations expected to actually occur) actually made trees grow faster - the nitrates and sulphates acted as fertilizer. Subsequent assessments found that forest death had only affected about 0.5% of Europe's forests, the degree of damage that was normal had previously been underestimated and what looked like dying forests was actually the result of the natural cycle of drought and disease that was always going on, and large areas of forest elsewhere were apparently growing faster! Acidification of lakes and streams was something of a problem, particularly in the pine forests of central and Scandinavian Europe, but could have been solved more cheaply by other means, such as adding lime. The problem was far smaller that was claimed at the time. And exactly the same point applies today to the pollution arising in China and Asia. The effect of the particulates on people's lungs is by far the bigger issue - the trees are not currently seen as being in any danger.

The ozone hole appears to be a natural phenomenon. Ozone is created by sunlight. During the polar winters the permanent dark combined with the isolation from the rest of the atmosphere by the polar vortex causes a local drop in ozone concentration, which varies from year to year depending on how effectively the wind patterns keep the atmosphere from mixing. (There's also some contended chemistry to do with catalyzed reaction rates on the surface of suspended ice particles at around -80 C, which is not well understood. It's more complicated than I have the time to explain here.) It is entirely possible that the entire panic was caused because when they first started monitoring ozone levels the level happened to be unusually high, but dropped back to normal over the first decade or so it was being monitored. The ozone hole is still there, as big as ever, but nobody mentions it any more.

And the oil "crisis" was the result of the industry practice of only reporting the oil deposits that had been surveyed and shown to be economically extractable at current prices. The issue is that it costs money to do those surveys, so they only bother to survey enough to cover their immediate planning needs: as it takes about 30 years to go from discovery of an oil field to production. So we've had only 30-40 years of oil left for over 50 years now, despite our rate of use rising exponentially. This is the equivalent of looking in the refrigerator in your house, seeing you have food for only a few days, and declaring that by next week you'll be starving!

Geologists, on the other hand, have estimated the total amount of fossil fuel left - although obviously estimating the stuff we haven't discovered yet is a bit of a fool's game - and there's at least enough shale oil to last about 5000 years, at current rates of use! (Although we'll no doubt switch to nuclear or solar long before then - there's enough Uranium in the seas to power our civilisation for about 100,000 years, if we use fast breeder reactors.) It's just a matter of technological development, which has been rocketing along for the past 400 years and is unlikely to stop any time soon.

--

To be clear - I'm not saying that none of the examples I gave were real problems that needed to be solved at all. Some of them were. But they were ordinary problems of the sort we resolve every day as a matter of normal business, like we solve the problem of imminent starvation by going to the shops to stock up the refrigerator again. There was never any doubt that we could and would solve them. None of them were the imminent global civilisation-ending catastrophes they were sold as being at the time. We hop from stepping stone to stepping stone, each foothold only a temporary waypoint, that has to last for only a few decades until something even better is invented.

"People are scared of problems, but they are not correspondingly politically enthusiastic about solutions being implemented."

Usually this is because they are horrible solutions. The solution proposed to overpopulation was compulsory sterilisation and birth control - the horrific consequences of which are still echoing in China. (The West were more squeamish and dragged their feet, thank God. But don't imagine that they didn't consider it.) The solution proposed to the pesticides 'issue' was to ban them left and right, and so take away one of our best tools for feeding starving people. The solution proposed for global warming is a transnational world government / bureaucracy run by fanatical environmentalists with the power to regulate and dictate economic spending to subject nations, disarmament, the crippling of the industry and prosperity of the West though 80% emissions reductions, and the transfer of that wealth and technology to the developing nations for free (i.e. China), with no emission reductions required of them.

There's no surprise that people are "not politically enthusiastic" about such 'solutions'. The surprise is that they go as far as they do down the line of complying with the demands.

"I think some people think that the implementation of solutions takes away the moral force of peoples' causes for tribal alarm, and so they don't like paying attention to it."

Agreed. It's been noticeable that the green reject every practical solution to climate change, like nuclear power. They only promote policies if they're impractical and expensive non-solutions, like windmills. It's almost as if they don't want us to solve it. :-)

"But I don't think it's right to mistake peoples' display of apathy towards solutions for nothing actually being done by society."

Quite the reverse! I'm saying society does a lot about it. Not as much as the solutions' promoters would like, but far more than they should.

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> . There's something in the human psyche that likes heroic narratives about the plucky true believers seeing the end of the world coming and calling upon the sinners to repent their sinful ways. <==

Indeed, read any "skeptic" blog and you can find much evidence of such. : - )

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> There's something in the human psyche that likes heroic narratives about the plucky true believers seeing the end of the world coming and calling upon the sinners to repent their sinful ways. <==

Indeed. Look at the end of the world doom and gloom foretold by rightwingers in anticipation of regulating CFCs. ; - )

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Andy -


==> A significant difference of interpretation in a fundamental core narrative, i.e. not peripheral details, *is* a disbelief in that narrative. The tale of creation by God's hand is hardly ambiguous. <==

People can view the creation story in the bible as an analogy. They can interpret the story in any number of ways. And they can view the creation story as not core to their religious identity as Christians. Or, they can simply not hold themselves to a standard where their beliefs need to always be internally consistent. They can hold contradictory beliefs and still maintain their sense of identity

==> Neither is the primary narrative of calamitious climate change. When significantly different interpretations prompted by diverging culture occur, the canon splits and each side (e.g. Protestants and Catholics) do actually believe different things. Sufficiently to kill each other even. <==

And in other cases, people can interpret doctrine differently, or determine vastly different implications to their lives from that doctrine, w/o having it lead to "cannon splits," or with any splits that occur being relatively inconsequential in comparison to your dramatic, cherry-picked examples. Take the different basic categories of Judaism, for example. For some orthordox Jews, a failure of others to live life according to their doctrine is basically intolerable. For other Orthodox Jews, it is relatively inconsequential, certainly relative to the issue of how they live their own lives.

Looks to me like you're trying to mash these vastly complicated social dynamics and shape them together to fit your preconceived narrative, because of your own emotional attachment to that narrative, because of your own identification with your identity as a "skeptic" and with the group of "skeptics."

==> ... questions that lessen or avoid such identity reveal the lack of true belief. <==

You have no perch from which to pass judgement on others' "true belief." You have only invested that power to yourself, IMO, in order to fulfill a narrative, a convenient Just So story that fits with your own "cultural" identification as a "skeptic."

==> For a refresh, here are snips from the dominant cultural narrative as espoused by some of the most important western authority figures regarding the dire scale and immediacy of the issue, along with the corresponding demand for forceful and immediate response plus the need not to put this issue aside. <==

Political or partisan rhetoric does not dictate what belief has to be. It doesn't provide a some lockstep guide for people's day to day lives.


==> There's plenty more of course, this is just a small sample. For very many members of the supposedly most supportive US party (Dems), when not so identity challenged and / or called upon for strong personal commitment, to seriously part company with this fundamental narrative, does actually mean lack of belief. <==

You didn't respond to my counterargument, but merely restated your argument as certain fact. The way that people deal with the implications of high impact, low probability risk, on long time horizons (multi-generational),when they don't feel that risk on a day-to-day basis, is complicated. People act in ways, in their day-to-day lives, that aren't logically coherent with that sort of risk all the time. That doesn't mean that they don't believe that the risk exists. There are books about they logical inconsistencies in how people approach such risk. IMO, your simplistic calculus only serves to advance your preexisting tribal narrative. But if you respond to criticism with merely restating your arguments by assertion, there's nothing left to discuss.

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Indeed. Look at the end of the world doom and gloom foretold by rightwingers in anticipation of regulating CFCs."

?!!

I don't remember it. :-)

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Joshua

>"You didn't respond to my counterargument..."

I'm having trouble detecting one, in the sense for instance that much in your last send doesn't seem to me inconsistent with what I'm saying. The first issue below (sorry, out of order) does appear to be a disagreement though, albeit one for which you'd need evidence.

>"There are books about they logical inconsistencies in how people approach such risk."

A whole bunch of psychologists have been looking at this issue specifically in relation to the climate domain, for some years now. Hariet Palmer summarizes thusly: "Psychologists are trying to find out what happens in our heads when we hear the 'CC' words. They suspect that climate change presents a *unique* set of barriers that stop people engaging with the reality, and sap their will to act." [emphasis mine]. Prof Albert Bandura goes for 'selective moral disengagement'. Dr Niki Harré goes for 'high psychological distance' and also recommends promoting sustainability as highly moral. The American Psychological Association's CC task force goes for 'psychological barriers to change' which they claim are numerous and include the subset of uncertainty, mistrust, denial, undervaluing risk, lack of control, habit. Prof Daniel Gilbert goes for 'four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts.' Prof Robert Gifford went for 7 main barriers ('dragons of inaction') in 2011, but by 2014 he was up to 30, including limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity, plus the perceived risks of changing our behavior.

There's a raft more, most of which I haven't even looked at. But none of above guys and more seem to have much in the way of solid supporting evidence, and there isn't much in the way of a common emerging direction either, except for the frequent use of the word 'barriers'. Nor is it likely that behaviors would be unique for this domain, and by the time we get to 'numerous' or 30 barriers, which are usually expressed very generically too, then there isn't much sense of homing in or actually getting a grip on the issue. Few seem to get involved in direct hands-on actual measurement, as our host here does (much kudos to Dan for this). As far as I can tell everyone to date has assumed that the dominant climate change narrative is fully supported by science and is working with that as a hard prior. (There are frequent inserts about dangerous climate change and the urgent need for action in most of the relevant works - these are a reflection of the dominant narrative view, as espoused by leaders per snippets above). Hence they aren't looking for cultural effects (other than things like conservative resistance) to start with, so its unlikely they'd find any. The problem with the misaligned worldview reason (while a valid reason), is that it doesn't cover those who back the narrative when worldview is in play (i.e. their worldview is theoretically aligned), yet still express lack of belief in circumstances where worldview is de-emphasized, per the Dems above. Some of the proposed barriers might reduce personal commitment, but would not reduce belief.

In looking at cultural adherence and alliance, behaviors are long evolved so we'd expect them to be universal, plus social data is readily available, e.g. surveys of the creationism domain as well as those from the climate change domain. Direct comparisons can be made using same criteria / methodology, and hence one can benchmark the climate domain on the better known creationism domain. This data speaks to us. If you disagree with what it says in the climate change domain, you have to say why the same methodology on social data for the creationism domain comes up with an answer much more agreeable to you. Cultures are successfully identified in both domains. And if you feel that somewhere in the above plethora of psychological explanations for public disengagement on CC, there is something you like much better, then also say why.

>'They can interpret the story in any number of ways.'

Yes indeed. And in doing so they are expressing different levels of confidence or conviction in the cultural story. In the past, mostly, wide interpretation or outright skepticism was highly likely to produce severe response, which is why so many religious schisms have been traumatic affairs. For some of the world, and in part due to a beneficial high mixing of cultures, plus of course the blossoming of science, wider intepretations are much more frequent. They nevertheless (wrt cultural narratives) are expressing varying degrees of belief and skepticism, as related to corresponding cultural immersion and alliances. Simple questions such as those in Dan's tools (not being rude, I mean relative to the high complexity of the social environment) and public surveys, necesserily reveal simplified models of behavior. But that doesn't make them wrong, it only makes them approximate. The very shades of belief and identity complex you cite are what these questions probe. Hence I don't think your comments regarding such complexity is in contradiction. The answers are not invalid for being approximate.

>"Political or partisan rhetoric does not dictate what belief has to be."

Of course not. Skepticism has existed long before the Greeks formalized it as a philosophy. Indeed instinctive skepticism exists as a general feature of the population (Lewandowsky calls skepticism 'the key to accuracy' :) And per above many of us are fortunate to live in times when questioning cultural messages is much more tolerated, albeit such questioning may still not be received with good grace (in fact sometimes with demonization in return); plus of course some areas of the world still do not enjoy such relative freedoms anyhow. Yet you write this in relation to the calamitous climate change narrative that is not only espoused by the most powerful world leaders per the brief glimpse above, but pours out of orgs globally both governmental and not, to form the dominant authoritative messaging in the public sphere. As revealed by their relative responses dependent upon identity challenge and commitment contexts, many who on the surface claim belief in this narrative do not support it to varying degrees. Some such folks indeed only pay it lip service. Might we deduce from your comment that you likewise do not believe in this primary narrative, transmitted in rhetoric form as is the way with all cultural messaging? Might we therefore also deduce that you agree this message is indeed cultural in origin?

>"...a convenient Just So story that fits with your own "cultural" identification as a "skeptic.""

Currently, climate skeptics fail the first rule of a culture, they have no consensus. Folks on both sides of the divide have complained about this, but it is what it is. My own position regarding cultural narratives is the same for both the creationism and climate change domains. I believe what the social data from both domains says. And for clarity I strongly support the theory of evolution, in other words I'm not skeptical about evolution by natural selection as a general principle. My assessment of the climate domain doesn't ultimately rest on any of the (much disputed) data from the physical climate, whether promoted / interpreted by the mainstream or the climate skeptical sides, but from the fact that the social characteristics in this domain clearly reveal that a strong culture is operating. So the same methodology used to look at the social data in both domains says there is a culture in each; for one (creationism / evolution) a culture resists the authority science position, while for the other (climate change) a culture promotes the authority science position (note the high frequency of 'science','scientific', 'scientists' in the narrative). In both cases, I stick with the same methodology and the evidence of the social data. The primary narrative for the latter domain, is cultural.

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Andy -

==> A whole bunch of psychologists have been looking at this issue specifically in relation to the climate domain, ==>

I'm referring to a more generalized sense. I don't see the domain as distinct.

==> Nor is it likely that behaviors would be unique for this domain,....

I see no reason why they would.


==> As far as I can tell everyone to date has assumed that the dominant climate change narrative is fully supported by science and is working with that as a hard prior. [...]. Hence they aren't looking for cultural effects ==>

Not to doubt the need to control for bias...but your cause-and-effect assumption seems ill-founded; my guess, that you see the lockstep association is a product of your own biases. Of particular interest is that you assume a definitive causality in others without considering the implications to your own reasoning.

==> And if you feel that somewhere in the above plethora of psychological explanations for public disengagement on CC, there is something you like much better, then also say why. ==>

Is the "you" here, me? Or them? It it's "me," as I indicated above, I don't see why the domain should be distinguished.

==> Hence I don't think your comments regarding such complexity is in contradiction. The answers are not invalid for being approximate. ==>

I'm not completely following. My points about complexity are in critique of your simplistic determinations of causal mechanisms.

==> Yet you write this in relation to the calamitous climate change narrative ..."

I write this in relation to your characterization of the calamitous climate change narrative and your exploitation of a narrative that you are constructing to advance your agenda.

==> Might we deduce from your comment that you likewise do not believe in this primary narrative, transmitted in rhetoric form as is the way with all cultural messaging? ==>

I don't believe in your characterization of the "primary narrative." I don't think that there is a "primary narrative." That has been the theme of my comments to you here about CC as well as your more general framing. IMO, you are constructing a "primary narrative" arbitrarily, in both frames, to serve your hypothesis.

==> Might we therefore also deduce that you agree this message is indeed cultural in origin? ==>

I agree that most of this is cultural in origin. What I don't agree with you about, is the selectivity in what you consider to be cultural (and emotive) artifact.

==> Currently, climate skeptics fail the first rule of a culture, they have no consensus. ==>

I have read climate "skeptics" argue that there is no consensus, there is no primary narrative to a consensus, there are multiple consensuses, they are part of the consensus, that there is a consensus among "skeptics," and that there is no consensus among "skeptics."

The problem with each of those arguments, IMO, is that they aren't systematically or quantitatively or qualitatively articulate. They are merely assertions. I feel that your argument here is not different. Your distinctions between what are and aren't consensuses, and among whom there is and isn't a consensus, is arbitrary - not coincidentally arbitrated so as to align with your own ideological orientation.

==> My own position regarding cultural narratives is the same for both the creationism and climate change domains. ==>

Except it isn't, because you exclude "skeptics," with whom you not coincidentally are aligned, from the narrative.

==> but from the fact that the social characteristics in this domain clearly reveal that a strong culture is operating. ==>

And here is where I see a fundamental flaw in your reasoning - and I would have to say an important contradiction. As I indicated above, I reject a distinction of a "climate culture." It isn't a climate culture. It is a strand among a larger stream of issues, all of which flow along a similar course. Yet you apparently want to both consider the "climate culture" as indistinct from other cultural paradigms and as a distinct paradigm - because in so doing you can exclude "skeptics" - among whom you are, not coincidentally, aligned.

June 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

>'I don't see the domain as distinct'

Great, well we agree on that then. Some of above psychologists seem to think there is uniqueness regarding the CC domain.

>'I'm not completely following.'

Sorry I don't know why. This para addressed your points.

>'I write this in relation to your characterization of the calamitous climate change narrative'

I gave specific examples of the narrative from world leaders to make it very clear what that narrative is. They're a tiny sample of a huge communication of course, yet the rest is along the same lines. That the message starts from the top, from leaders of many of the world's most powerful / influential countries & organizations, underlines the level of dominance this narrative holds within the public sphere. These examples are not my characterization, they are verbatim quotes.
==> Might we therefore also deduce that you agree this message is indeed cultural in origin?

>'I agree that most of this is cultural in origin.'

Good. So presumably you also agree that given the dominance of this cultural messaging, attitudes in the public domain regarding CC will be formed largely from cultural factors, and not by what science may actually say.

==> My own position regarding cultural narratives is the same for both the creationism and climate change domains.

>'Except it isn't, because you exclude "skeptics," with whom you not coincidentally are aligned, from the narrative.'

Cultural entities have known characteristics, which among other things define in-group / out-group. Various mechanisms work to achieve this. A primary one is the establishment of a well-known / high profile consensus, which is also policed. When anthropologists are seeking to map a foreign culture with which they are not too familiar, so therefore they may not even know the right questions to ask a population regarding the extent of core culture, they use a statistical technique known as 'cultural consensus theory'. This maps the extent of consensus on each of a range concepts within the target population, helping to establish what are the most important ones and how widely / where these are spread. The assumption here is that the culture, and consensus, are synonomous. So, it is not me that excludes skeptics from the narrative of calamitous climate change, but the culture itself based upon that narrative, of which the dominant core value is that there will indeed be imminent calamity absent major emmissions reduction (as confirmed by the narrative samples above). Skeptics are defined as out-group by this consensus and the narrative that promotes it (typically 'consensus reinforcement' messages accompany the core values within the narrative itself, in the CC case this is the whole 97% thing).

>'I have read climate "skeptics" argue that there is no consensus, there is... etc.'

I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying here. I'm not refering to skeptic perceptions of the mainstream consensus (which you reference). But to the absence of consensus among skeptics themselves. If there is a high-profile, policed consensus among the skeptics that would be sufficient to found a cultural nucleus, we should easily be able to point to it, as we can for say Catholicism, or indeed calamitous climate culture as espoused by an avalanche of narrative from world leaders downwards. Can you point to a high-profile, policed skeptical narrative? This doesn't mean there won't be one some day. Cultures can be spawned by resistance to an existing one, where at the start that resistance is pretty much the only thing a wide variety of folks have in common.

>Yet you apparently want to both consider the "climate culture" as indistinct from other cultural paradigms and as a distinct paradigm

Your paragraph around this doesn't seem to make any sense. But at any rate as far as I can interpret from what seems to be the nub of your point above, I am doing no such thing. While 'culture' is a widely used term with many definitions, I'm using it here in the sense of which it is normally taken in cultural evolution. I presume you may be conflating this kind of definition with non-scientific usage (culture is after all, an everyday word too, so this is easily done). For clarity, I do not at all think any of the mechanisms that support 'climate culture' are distinct from those that support any other culture. Climate culture obeys all the same rules as any generic cultural entity, some of which are noted above, and which include things like an evolutionary trajectory, a core narrative based upon co-evolving emotive memes, a policed consensus, and so on. In this respect it is just the same as other cultural entities, such as religions for instance. Hence I am indeed applying the same principles and understanding to both domains identically. Climate skeptics are not part of calamitous climate culture, in the same manner as atheists are not part of (a particular) religious culture.

June 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

To respond to Dan's original post:

I thought the whole point of "belief" was that it was a signal that you were willing to act on the information! That's why believing in something is different from being confident in it (archaically, "confiding" it). Telling someone you believe in something means they can trust you to act on that belief, and that their validation of your belief is important to you! It's an important social signal with obvious function.

Chinese knows well this distinction between commitment to action and confidence in the premise: I can "xiangxìn" (confide, or trust) that someone will do X, and yet "rènwéi" (believe) that they will not do X, i.e., that they will fail. If you "xiangxìn" God, that's normal religiosity; if you "rènwéi" that there is a God, you're making the strong claim that you have some convincing proof that God exists. Modern English often obscures this distinction by using the word "believe" for both senses, and so does disservice to its speakers.

Interestingly, the "rèn" of "rènwéi" has the connotation of acknowledging or recognizing that something is true, which is a link to the accept/reject pleasure/disgust reaction.

Postscript:

My SO points out this is the distinction between "believing" and "believing in". I think it causes us both a bit of concern to see you interchanging "belief", as in "believing X", with "belief", as in "believing in X".

June 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

NiV:

Quick responses before dinner :-)

It is entirely possible that the entire panic was caused because when they first started monitoring ozone levels the level happened to be unusually high, but dropped back to normal over the first decade or so it was being monitored.

Possible, sure. Likely? Not very.

http://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/

If the patterns documented there are non-artificial, do you have an explanation for why the stabilization of the ozone hole's size just happens to coincide so neatly with the Montreal Protocol's implementation in 1987?

If not, Ockham's razor is quite against you here. It's much easier to conclude that our understanding of photochemistry is quite correct, and that the intervention worked.

The ozone hole is still there, as big as ever, but nobody mentions it any more.

I still do see occasional references to it in the news. Mostly for the benefit of clueless people who wonder why it isn't closing up yet, and don't understand the concept of a pollutant having residence time.

More strangely, you seem to be claiming ("as big as ever") that you have evidence the ozone hole was big before we started looking. Are you sure?

It's been noticeable that the green reject every practical solution to climate change, like nuclear power. They only promote policies if they're impractical and expensive non-solutions, like windmills.

This may say more about the dominance of the US discourse in the Anglosphere than anything else. France is busy trying to sell its nuclear power plants to all the rest of the world, and the US likes wind because wind power is actually pretty close to financially viable here, and land for them is abundant - we're back to our old point about saying whatever it takes to get the government to pay for infrastructure!

June 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"If the patterns documented there are non-artificial, do you have an explanation for why the stabilization of the ozone hole's size just happens to coincide so neatly with the Montreal Protocol's implementation in 1987?"

Yes. Apophenia.

There are a lot of physical processes that show slow longer-term random variations combined with short-term noise. Humans have a tendency to assume that randomness can consist only of the very short-term noise, and ascribe causes to the longer term changes.

Here's an example:
http://woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:1950

Notice how the graph seems to level off at the end, after 1998, shortly after the Kyoto protocol (signed in 1997) came into effect. The graph was level up to 1975, rose rapidly to 1998, and then leveled off again to the present day. It's clear that something happened in 1975 that caused the rise, but Kyoto obviously stabilised it. Right?

Here's a wider perspective:
http://www.kolumbus.fi/boris.winterhalter/FIG/LjungqvistNHtemp2000a.gif

Now we can see that something terrible happened in 1000 AD sending the global climate into terminal decline, which was only reversed in 1700. There are two major events in around 1700 and the mid 20h century at which the climate returned to normal.

I understand that in the 15th century they thought the weather disasters (famine, flood, storm, etc.) were caused by witches, making it a case of 'anthropogenic climate change'. Presumably they caught the witch responsible for it all in around 1700, yes?

Here's a fun experiment. Generate a series of numbers as follows:
x(0) = 0
x(i+1) = 0.9 * x(i) + R(i)
where R(i) is a Normally distributed random number with zero mean and standard deviation 1. Plot the graph for the first thousand points. (If you're not able to do this yourself - the intuition you develop from playing with it is worth it! - there's an example here; the left hand graph.)

If you look at any short section, you will see it steadily climb or fall: something's obviously changing! Over longer periods it keeps switching - if will go up for a bit and then suddenly reverse, heading down again. The times of the events appear sharply defined - we can search for potential causes around those times.

But think about how the sequence is generated. The mean at time t is 0.9 times the mean at time t-1 plus zero (the mean of the random perturbation). Since the mean at time zero is obviously zero, so is the mean at every subsequent time.

There is no trend. There are no rising and falling influences. There are no discrete external events changing the size and direction of the trends. It's all just random noise. But it's a sort of structured randomness, and humans see the structure and automatically start looking for causes.

In general, you cannot perform any fit of data to causes without assuming a statistical model of how the data behaves. If you assume "deterministic cause plus unstructured randomness" you'll come to one conclusion, if you assume "deterministic cause plus structured randomness" you'll come to another. You get out what you put in. Your conclusion is largely the result of your assumptions, and different people making different initial assumptions will come to opposite conclusions from the same data.

If you have independent reasons for thinking those assumptions are valid, that's fine. But you can't use the good fit of your data to what you expected as evidence for those assumptions. That's the fallacy of "confirming the consequent". The one that goes:
A implies B
B is observed to be true.
Therefore A is true.

It's a fallacy because there could be lots of other things causing B. There are lots of things that happened in 1989, besides Montreal coming into effect. Only someone looking for confirmation would seize on that of all things.

Here's another interesting graph. This indicates the strengths of the "sudden stratospheric warming" (SSW) events during the 20th century, when the high-altitude polar vortex suddenly changes direction, causing mixing of cold polar into the lower atmosphere. You'll note that from 1979 to 1988 there were a long series of low AMO-PDO index values which are associated with weak SSWs, which suddenly changed to strong ones around 1988 up until today. One would expect weak SSWs to maintain polar isolation and give high ozone levels, while strong ones would disrupt the polar vortex and cause ozone levels to drop. And there was a distinct change in index at around the same date as the change in ozone behaviour.

Coincidence? I don't know. It's just a hypothesis. I only found it because I was looking for it.

June 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV

'Apophenia'

Nice new word :)

June 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

NiV:

So you're asking me to consider a fitted AR(1) model (call it M1) throughout the entire time series, and compare it to the mechanistically suggested model of two fitted linear regressions, with constraints on the slopes consistent with a decline before 1987 and a less shallow decline thereafter (call that one M2). Okay.

Compute and report the odds of M1 vs. M2. If you really wanted to persuade me, you'd do it and tell me with a straight face that the odds of M2 over M1 are actually not that great. I haven't done the math, and confess I don't have a good intuition about where the borderline cases are. My ratty intuition says probably 10 to 1 in favor of M2, but probably not 100 to 1.

You think I'm cheating by drawing a model that happens to agree with the data; that's what apophenia is, right? That charge would be valid if I had no external reason to draw that model, if I had no reason to suspect that some CFCs deplete ozone, and that reduced emissions would have ameliorative effect. But I actually have a perfectly good chemical reason to believe that some CFCs deplete ozone, so of course I'm looking for confirmation of the suggested model.

Why do you have a problem with that? Oh wait: you actually don't. I quote you:

If you have independent reasons for thinking those assumptions are valid, that's fine.

If you don't accept the validity of a mechanistic explanation suggesting a model, (which is actually superficially consistent with your earlier comments in other threads about controlled experiment being the only way to substantiate causal claims), then what you need is a healthier respect for the causal inferences made in other sciences. Your current behavior, too, is a way of not according credit to others' previous successes, and refusing to find utility in them, like the greens do for nuclear power. I find it equally reprehensible in general, and all the more petulant coming from someone with your quantitative prowess.

Coincidence? I don't know. It's just a hypothesis. I only found it because I was looking for it.

-That's- apophenia! You're supposed to reason from the mechanism to the trend, not the other way around. If you reason from the trend to the mechanism, and only turn it around in rhetoric, you can "infer" that climate change is causally linked to Somali piracy.

Honestly, from my perspective, the surprise is that it worked so quickly after 1987. I hadn't looked at those data before, and had expected that it would take industry several years to adjust, and that we'd see a more gradual leveling off if anything.

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"So you're asking me to consider a fitted AR(1) model"

No. I was trying to explain that there are alternative models with properties that a lot of people don't find intuitive. AR(1) was just the simplest example to illustrate.

I have to apologise to you. I had assumed that anyone who was aware of these alternative models wouldn't make the mistake of looking at apparent breakpoints and automatically ascribing causes to them. But you obviously do know about them, so there must clearly be some other reason for it.

"You think I'm cheating by drawing a model that happens to agree with the data; that's what apophenia is, right?"

No, apophenia isn't "cheating". People have a natural tendency to look for patterns, correlations, coincidences, and relationships. From an evolutionary point of view it's a very successful heuristic. You're brain is doing exactly what it's designed to do. The bias is entirely unconscious.

I think you looked at the graph, saw the change at around 1987, knew that Montreal had been signed in 1987, and made the connection. Correlation implies causation, as our host likes to say. It confirms what you was expecting, so you don't think about it too carefully.

"That charge would be valid if I had no external reason to draw that model, if I had no reason to suspect that some CFCs deplete ozone, and that reduced emissions would have ameliorative effect."

No I think you started with the hypothesis that CFCs depleted ozone (call that 'A'), made the prediction that it would have n ameliorative effect (call that 'B'), and then looked to see that B had actually occurred. You then used this as evidence to try to persuade me that CFCs depleted ozone. A implies B. B is observed. Therefore A is true.

"But I actually have a perfectly good chemical reason to believe that some CFCs deplete ozone, so of course I'm looking for confirmation of the suggested model."

Exactly. That's the problem.

Science proceeds by falsification. What you should be looking for is disconfirmation of all the alternative models. i.e. A implies B. B is observed to be false. Therefore A is not true. This is logically valid, and the reason we use null hypothesis tests. The null is the statement you disprove in order to demonstrate the alternative.

"Why do you have a problem with that? Oh wait: you actually don't."

What I meant was that if you have independent evidence from chemistry that this mechanism is in effect, then that's what you should have presented to me. The chemistry might be evidence - the appearance of a 1987 breakpoint in the ozone hole data is not, because it partially depends on the mechanism-derived assumption that the model to use is 'piecewise linear plus noise' rather than something else.

"If you don't accept the validity of a mechanistic explanation suggesting a model, (which is actually superficially consistent with your earlier comments in other threads about controlled experiment being the only way to substantiate causal claims), then what you need is a healthier respect for the causal inferences made in other sciences."

Controlled experiments were not possible at the time. Part of the mechanism depends on reactions catalyzed by suspended nitric acid ice particle surfaces at low temperature and high altitude. It's pretty difficult to reproduce those conditions precisely in the lab. I understand that there were subsequent lab results that found that one of the critical steps in the original proposal actually happened a lot slower than they had believed. It turns out that the mechanisms are very complicated, and still not entirely understood. NO and NO2 have a major role, and Bromine and Iodine from sea salt particles suspended in the air also make significant and poorly understood contributions. Chemistry is not my specialism, so I don't judge between the competing hypotheses, but I do know enough to be able to see it's not settled science yet.

But on one point you're absolutely right about me - I have absolutely no respect for the causal inferences made in other sciences. I hold to Feynman's dictum that "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts". I reject argument ad verecundiam and argument from authority and argument ad populam. NiV is an abbreviation for 'Nullius in Verba' - take nobody's word for it.

I respect the evidence. If someone wants to show me the chain of evidence for the claim, then I'll take a look. But I'm not accepting it purely on their word for it, let alone the third-hand words of journalists and campaigners telling a simplified story about the science to push their own preferred policy solution.

When judging a new bit of science, you look for the best arguments on *both* sides to gain assurance that any flaws have been located and the conclusion is reliable. If you see all the arguments for one side and none from the other, you should be suspicious.

"Your current behavior, too, is a way of not according credit to others' previous successes, and refusing to find utility in them, like the greens do for nuclear power. I find it equally reprehensible in general, and all the more petulant coming from someone with your quantitative prowess."

There's no petulance involved. I simply disagree with the prevailing theory.

What am I supposed to do? Claim to believe in something I don't believe in simply to show "respect"?

The proper answer, if you think I'm wrong (and I accept that's always possible!) is to show me the evidence to convince me I'm wrong. The 1987 breakpoint isn't evidence. If that was what convinced *you*, I'm not persuaded that you know yourself. I would not, in any case, simply take your word for it.

"You're supposed to reason from the mechanism to the trend, not the other way around."

I did.

I explained the mechanism in an earlier comment: "The ozone hole appears to be a natural phenomenon. Ozone is created by sunlight. During the polar winters the permanent dark combined with the isolation from the rest of the atmosphere by the polar vortex causes a local drop in ozone concentration, which varies from year to year depending on how effectively the wind patterns keep the atmosphere from mixing." Obviously the mechanism makes a prediction about the trend - that ozone will be high in years with little mixing, and low in years when stronger mixing occurs.

You then presented your graph. So I asked myself whether there was any data on atmospheric mixing so we could see when we should expect changes in it. I was previously aware of the SSW phenomenon, which I knew to be connected to the vortex isolation, so I went looking for data. Lo and behold, there was a step change in the right direction at exactly the time required.

That is not evidence that my hypothesis is correct. It might instead be the timing of the general polar vortex collapse in spring every year (late = deep hole, early = shallow). Or it might be some other entirely different mechanism I haven't thought of. You say 'A implies B', I say 'C implies B' but there might be a 'D', 'E', and 'F' that also imply 'B'.

I can't give you any certain statement on the 1987 breakpoint. However, I know enough to be persuaded that ozone level is a balance between creation by sunlight and destruction by a wide range of chemical processes both natural and man-made. During the polar winters creation stops and the polar stratosphere is isolated by the vortex, so creation stops and destruction continues, inevitably creating a hole. I don't see how there can *not* be a hole, even without CFCs. And I know that wind patterns change, on both long and short timescales, so I would expect the size of the hole to vary. Why do you think it wouldn't?

"Honestly, from my perspective, the surprise is that it worked so quickly after 1987. I hadn't looked at those data before, and had expected that it would take industry several years to adjust, and that we'd see a more gradual leveling off if anything."

I had that same thought too. So I had a look for the data, and found that CFCs peaked in the lower atmosphere in 1991 and then slowly started to decline. So it's not impossible. However, if we assume the response is this rapid, it implies a very strong sensitivity to CFC level. At the rate it was going in 1997, CFCs should be down by 15-20% by now. So why hasn't the hole started to shrink? I will grant you, I wouldn't expect it to have disappeared entirely, but surely the change ought to be at least noticeable by now?

But whatever. It was just an illustrative example. If you don't like it, pick a different one.

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Andy -


==> I gave specific examples of the narrative from world leaders to make it very clear what that narrative is. They're a tiny sample of a huge communication of course, yet the rest is along the same lines. That the message starts from the top, from leaders of many of the world's most powerful / influential countries & organizations, underlines the level of dominance this narrative holds within the public sphere. These examples are not my characterization, they are verbatim quotes.

Granted, you provided good examples of a belief in "calamitous climate change" as being certain, absent emissions reduction. But I wasn't suggesting that you were characterizing such quotes in accurately, but that you were using selective reasoning in going from those quotes, political rhetoric no less, to inaccurately characterizing a "culture" of calamitous climate change. There is much diversity in how people of all stripes talk about climate change at different times and in different contexts. The rhetoric defies, IMO, such a simplistic characterization. The only thing that we know for sure about the rhetoric is that no matter what the particulars are, it represents one thread in a patterned fabric of ideological associations. As we have discussed, views on CC don't stand apart from other patterns, whether they be ideological or cultural or sociological, but reflect other patterns.


==> Good. So presumably you also agree that given the dominance of this cultural messaging, attitudes in the public domain regarding CC will be formed largely from cultural factors, and not by what science may actually say.

You are creating a false binary there, IMO. Cultural factors and what the science says is not an either/or - there is necessarily a great deal of overlap. Although the roots of how people associate on CC are parallel to ideological/cultural/social patterns, they don't exist completely independently of what "the science says." In fact, the very notion of "the science" saying something is problematic, as it isn't science which says anything but scientists.


==> Cultural entities have known characteristics, which among other things define in-group / out-group.

Yes, like when many "skeptics" say that "hardly any "skeptics" doubt the GHE (or that the climate is warming), they only doubt the magnitude of the effect. Let's look past that their characterization is inaccurate (as indeed, may "skeptics" express those doubts, or flat out state contrasting beliefs, on a regular basis), and we see that "skeptics" are trying to create "consensus" and to "police" that "consensus." That is why Judith Curry says that "no on in the room" or "no one she listens to" (paraphrasing to some extent) doubt the GHE. Or why certain "skeptics" are banned from WUWT.

Or when "skeptics" constantly refer to "realists" as "warmunists" or "alarmists" or "religious zealots" or any of the variety of other epithets. The very nature of that sort of identity-protective and identity-defensive behaviors are to delineate in- and out-groups. Such efforts are ubiquitous, as we would expect in skirmishes that are proxy for ideological identity struggles.

==> Various mechanisms work to achieve this. A primary one is the establishment of a well-known / high profile consensus, which is also policed.

Of course, this is about establishing identity delineations. There are many mechanisms for doing such. Establishing that only reasonable people align with one identity, and only unreasonable people align with a contrasting identity, is the very nature of the struggle. But that doesn't mean that the "consensus" is actually coherent, or reality-based. In this case, the "consensuses" are much more an artifact of identity struggle than they are a reflection of anything materially coherent. On each side, respectively, we have people who have a wide range of beliefs, and wide range of knowledge on which their beliefs are based.

==> When anthropologists are seeking to map a foreign culture with which they are not too familiar, so therefore they may not even know the right questions to ask a population regarding the extent of core culture, they use a statistical technique known as 'cultural consensus theory'.

And your map, IMO, is drawn with arbitrarily determined lines. It does 't follow concrete geological features, but instead is more like the gerrymandered political outlines in the U.S., that are drawn for political expediency by advocates .

==> This maps the extent of consensus on each of a range concepts within the target population, helping to establish what are the most important ones and how widely / where these are spread. The assumption here is that the culture, and consensus, are synonomous.

But then you have to actually define a "consensus" in a clear and coherent way, collect data in a scientific fashion to test the validity of your definition, and show the relative weight of your defining criteria in comparison to other inclusion/exclusion criteria.

==> So, it is not me that excludes skeptics from the narrative of calamitous climate change,...

That is so self-sealing that it's hard to know how to even begin to respond. Of course it's you that is excluding "skeptics" from the criteria that you're using to define what is a "calamitous climate change" culture. . You are determining how to define the "consensus." You are determining how people might be excluded from that "consensus," and you are determining how to draw definitional lines around an arbitrarily defined "culture."

==> but the culture itself based upon that narrative, of which the dominant core value is that there will indeed be imminent calamity absent major emmissions reduction (as confirmed by the narrative samples above).

Again, I don't agree that you have adequately defined a "culture" which has as a "core value" that there will indeed be imminent calamity absent major emissions reduction. You have picked some political rhetoric and arbitrarily used it to define a culture and a core value as is expedient to service your ideological agenda. You haven't controlled for whether other "values," say, are more explanatory for a cultural framework - even though in reading Dan's work, you have seen him provide evidence, over and over, that there are many other "values" along a whole series of issues, that reflect in a similar cultural alignment. You have determined causality without controlling for any, I repeat any, associated correlations.

==> Skeptics are defined as out-group by this consensus and the narrative that promotes it (typically 'consensus reinforcement' messages accompany the core values within the narrative itself, in the CC case this is the whole 97% thing).

And "skeptics" (1) define a similar outgroup (those who interpret the evidence of climate change differently than they, as reflected in "alarmist" "warmunist," etc., and (2) simultaneously argue that they are, in fact, part of the "consensus" (i.e., accept the basic physics of the GHE) even as they argue that there is no "consensus" and that "most akeptics" are aligned by beliefs even as they argue that "skeptics'" beliefs are not monolithic.

So what? All this means what we already know. CC has become an ideological battle field for an ongoing identity struggle.


==> I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying here. I'm not refering to skeptic perceptions of the mainstream consensus (which you reference).

I think that you misunderstood my point. My point was to describe how vague an incoherent are the various perceptions about what is or isn't the "consensus" and who is or isn't a member.

==> But to the absence of consensus among skeptics themselves. If there is a high-profile, policed consensus among the skeptics that would be sufficient to found a cultural nucleus, we should easily be able to point to it,

Just as exists with "realists" there are a variety of definitional "consensus" beliefs for "skeptics." As one example, all you need to do is read Climate Etc. or WUWT, and you will regularly see blanket statements about what most "skeptics" do and don't believe (even as you also read about how "skeptics" as opposed to "realists" are not monolithic - which of course, is a self-serving and false distinction). All you need to do is read what happened to Bob Inglis, who was excommunicated from the larger identity-group of Republicans and conservatives on the basis of his beliefs about climate change.

==> as we can for say Catholicism,

And this my point, that your definitional characterization for a "consensus" belief for Catholics is also unsophisticated and, it seems to me, developed to as to expedite your advocacy w/r/t CC.

==> Can you point to a high-profile, policed skeptical narrative?

Of course. Although there are many, many variations on the theme, the basic narrative is that presenting the scientific that there is potential risk from BAU indicates a "hoax," founded on a denial of uncertainty, trust in invalid modeling, in order to perpetrate a hoax, on behalf of enforcing a statist political agenda and pursue the self-interest of grant-seeking leftists. Read any thread at WUWT.

I'm going to leave it there...the next paragraph of yours probably does't introduce any elements not already discussed.

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

BTW, Andy -

==> I don't recall, apart from religious texts of course, seeing anything else that could outbid the global impact and urgency of this narrative

Consider the political rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates about the "attack on religion," the danger from Islamic terrorism, the destructive impact onto our society from welfare or nationalized health insurance or Chinese trade policy or taxes, the danger of illegal immigration, etc. Certainly, the focus of that rhetoric is not so much global impact as national impact, but given the importance of the U.S. to global events, certainly the envisioned scale of impact is comparable. Certainly, many Republicans see the impact of their political advocacy to have an "end times" scale of relevance. And indeed, consider the global-scale impact of their political rhetoric regarding the invasion of Iraq.

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV:

I think I owe you an apology too; I didn't understand that you thought I was using the success of the mechanism-predicted model as evidence for presuming the mechanism true. In my mind, CFCs decay to halogen radicals and radicals accelerate ozone depletion. If you reduce CFC emissions, you should see an effect. I was looking at the data series to falsify the mechanistic model; I consider it partially confirmed.

The reason why I raised that was to ask you if you had any alternative mechanisms that was at least as strongly confirmed, and you proposed the SSW events. Apophenia or not, you're absolutely right that I can't eliminate them as a factor. Even if you found it because you were looking, I must consider it because you brought it up. And the actual experts in the field apparently do consider it, which is entirely appropriate.

I would suggest we leave this example because it's not central, and I think we've hit upon an issue much more central to the discussion on this blog, which is this: even if science proceeds by falsification alone (a proposition I don't really agree with), policy most certainly doesn't. How strongly do you weight the positive predictive power of a model in your willingness to act upon its recommendations?

I don't think the answer "not at all" is rational. (As an extreme example, consider not acting as if gravity existed just because physicists can't agree on whether there are naked singularities or not.) I agree you can't make deductions based upon confirming the consequent, but can you make uncertain inferences that are certain enough to warrant individual action? social action? I think you can - indeed, I think it's most responsible to in both cases. If you disagree, and I can see reasonable people disagreeing, then I think that's actually a fundamental and meaningful difference of view, one that I'm not sure our host has ever looked at directly. Is this actually what's going on here?

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@Joshua

>'The only thing that we know for sure about the rhetoric is that no matter what the particulars are, it represents one thread in a patterned fabric of ideological associations.'

The point is that this rhetoric is not just 'one thread'. When the world's most powerful leaders, and thousands of other authority figures and orgs likewise put out this same rhetoric, it *is* the dominant narrative, so *is* the received message on climate change. How would you expect any other views to seriously compete with this firepower in the public sphere? Not to mention active suppression of other views too. Which view do you have in mind that you think is successfully competing with this narrative in the public sphere, i.e. has anything like the same clout?

>'Cultural factors and what the science says is not an either/or.'

Regarding the public understanding of CC, if one message immensely outguns all others in terms of its volume and the number / rank of the authority figures serving up that message, then most certainly the range of other views will not effectively achieve any meaningful penetration. And the demonization of many persons with valid alternate views, e.g. via the 'denier' label, will of course further impede such penetration. You agreed that this rhetoric as served up by said authority figures was cultural in origin. It is also massively dominant. Hence whatever views science (or scientists who aren't also just repeating the rhetoric, if you prefer) may be offering, will get little serious public attention. Unless or until the culture begins to falter, of course.

>'Or when "skeptics" constantly refer to "realists" as "warmunists" or "alarmists" or "religious zealots" or any of the variety of other epithets'

Yes this is emotive at least, and sometimes identity-protective behavior too. Absolutely. All humans do this to some extent. But regarding such behavior coalescing into the full characteristics of a cultural entity for climate skeptics, this has not (as yet, anyhow) happened. It may never do. The majority of this behavior comes from cultural alliance effects, as I noted in my guest post on Denialism at Climate Etc. To save time I quote from the footnotes of same:

"In the US, the culture of climate calamity has an asymmetrical alliance to political cultures, being much more strongly aligned to the Dem / Libs. Hence the Rep / Cons are largely triggered to oppose the climate culture, yet frequently do so with their normal cultural arsenal rather than arguing the evidence. (And Dem / Libs sometimes use their traditional cultural arsenal rather than primarily climate cultural devices, even while theoretically arguing within the climate domain). However, the culture on the evidential side is not skeptic fostered, but Rep / Con fostered. So both sides feature strong cultural behaviors."

Hence where this *is* driven by an existing culture, it is not 'skeptical culture', it is the old and established and powerful Rep / Con culture.

>'...we see that "skeptics" are trying to create "consensus" and to "police" that "consensus'.

Quite possibly. This is endemic behavior. As noted up thread, some cultures have been created by resistance to others. The operative word here is 'trying'. To date, there is not a high-profile, policed skeptical narrative (see below for more regarding your thoughts on this). And per above the main cultural components in skepticism are not inherent / internally grown, they are pulled in through alliance effects. This doesn't mean they aren't real, of course not. But it does mean they are not 'skeptic culture'.

>'But that doesn't mean that the "consensus" is actually coherent...'

What? The main point of a consensus is to create group coherence. Without that, it is not a consensus. If you mean that even a socially enforced consensus has some bandwidth, yes it does. But way way less of course than would otherwise exist.

>In this case, the "consensuses" are much more an artifact of identity struggle than they are a reflection of anything materially coherent

What on earth do you mean by materially coherent? If culture based on consensus is powerful enough, it can drive pretty much any materials it likes. Look at the church in medieval times, for instance. One might likewise note the enormous amounts of money and material driven by the consensus on climate calamity.

>'And your map, IMO, is drawn with arbitrarily determined lines'.

See here. Maps and characteristics drawn from data.
https://curryja.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/who-is-who-aux-file.docx

>'But then you have to actually define a "consensus" in a clear and coherent way...'

And some of my posts (and some of Dan's data too) does investigate this, per above for instance. But... are you seriously telling me that you think the existence of a climate consensus needs verification? Even the majority of skeptics acknowledge this, and those who don't are vilified, while enormous efforts on the mainstream side emphasize this very consensus. Do you think the existence of this consensus is in any way in doubt?

>'You are determining how people might be excluded from that "consensus,"'

Okay, let's take this the other way around. How many folks in the mainstream climate community do you think would include skeptics as 'in-group'? Where do you think the 'denier label' comes from?? It is not a serious argument to say that it is me who has defined this boundary.

>You have picked some political rhetoric and arbitrarily used it to define a culture and a core value as is expedient to service your ideological agenda.

'Some political rhetoric'?? Only the main message put out globally by most world leaders and authority orgs and academia and an enormous raft of auxilliary orgs for many years. It is not serious to denote that as just 'some rhetoric'. And... 'your ideological agenda'?? What agenda is that? I'd love to know, please tell me.

>'(1)'

See above on other epithets.

>'(2)'

The consensus per that world leader narrative you agreed was cultural, is about calamity not about the physics of GHE. An interesting characteristic of cultures is that they can use stalking horses, such as scientific agreement that CO2 is a GHG, which most skeptics indeed agree to, as a stalking horse for the consensus on calamity, which skeptics do not agree to. This is emergent social behavior, it is not consciously orchestrated. The principles of evolution were used as a stalking horse for consensus on racially based culture via the 'survival of the fittest' meme.

>'And this my point, that your definitional characterization for a "consensus" belief for Catholics is also unsophisticated'

I'm not sure where you're going with this. Religions (Catholicism is just one example) are the classic case of evolving cultural entities based upon a policed consensus, which for the more advanced examples have the core of their 'cultural dna', hence including consensus values, written down for all to see (e.g. in the bible and many associated works). While the policing no longer includes burning at the stake or such (well, in much of the world anyhow), I think a sub-thread in which you argue that such religions are not well-characterized cultures of this kind, would be unproductive, if that's what you mean. That is a decidedly a fringe view anyhow, though of course one you've every right to hold, if you can back it up.

==> Can you point to a high-profile, policed skeptical narrative?

>'Although there are many, many variations on the theme...'

The whole point about a policed narrative forming the core consensus values of a culture, is that most variations are outbid or suppressed, and only a narrow bandwidth is (often hugely) amplified in relation to the rest. Hence, this statement fails from the get-go.

>'the basic narrative is that presenting the scientific that there is potential risk from BAU indicates a "hoax,"'

This is indeed one of many variants. Hence there is not a consensus. This is one of many minority views, though indeed this one is cultural in origin. Yet it does not come from a potential skeptic culture but from conservative culture, as pulled in by alliance effects per the mention above. The give-away for this is that the hoax is usually referred to as a left-wing or liberal or Agenda21 or other left-labelled hoax (or conspiracy).

>'...founded on a denial of uncertainty...'

Not sure I get that, skeptics emphasize the uncertainties that the mainstream view suppresses via the narrative of certainty of calamity.

>'...to perpetrate a hoax, on behalf of enforcing a statist political agenda'

Yes, per above betraying the involvement of conservative culture.

>'...and pursue the self-interest of grant-seeking leftists.'

Ditto. None of this indicates a high-profile, policed skeptical narrative. It does indicate the involvement of conservative culture weighing in on the skeptical side, as a reaction to a strong liberal-climate culture alliance. I've written about the skeptic hoax / conspiracy memes in skepticism at various times, including my last guest post at Climate Etc.

>'Consider the political rhetoric...etc.'

Yes there is much other political rhetoric based on fear and / or salvation memes. Iraq or whatever doesn't really compete with calamity facing the entire globe. You're right the 'end times' stuff is right up there in scale, even if it hasn't achieved the same global spread as the calamitous climate narrative, yet both rhetorics indeed leverage the same emotive vulnerabilities in the population, and both are culturally driven.

June 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

"Apophenia or not, you're absolutely right that I can't eliminate them as a factor. Even if you found it because you were looking, I must consider it because you brought it up. And the actual experts in the field apparently do consider it, which is entirely appropriate."

I am lost in admiration! Truly! That's one of the most impressive displays of scientific principle I've seen in a long while!

"I think we've hit upon an issue much more central to the discussion on this blog, which is this: even if science proceeds by falsification alone (a proposition I don't really agree with), policy most certainly doesn't. How strongly do you weight the positive predictive power of a model in your willingness to act upon its recommendations?"

My position is that models need to be subject to verification and validation.

Verification measures and demonstrates how accurate/reliable they are, over what range of circumstances. What are the error bars? What does it assume? When do the assumptions fail?

Validation means demonstrating that the model is sufficiently accurate for the purpose for which you're using it. "All models are wrong, but some are useful." Validation is about telling which ones are useful and when. How accurate does the model need to be to distinguish the hypotheses? Are the stated assumptions true? Are we operating inside the limits where the model has been shown to work, or are we extrapolating outside the bounds of the known, exploring new territory?

Newtonian gravity is known to be accurate - the orbits of the planets can be predicted decades ahead to an accuracy of parts per million. It assumes slow speeds compared to the speed of light, and weak gravity compared to that at the event horizon of a black hole. We know when it works and when it probably won't. For the purposes of predicting that asteroid collision, Newtonian gravity is sufficient.

General relativity works up to a much higher limit. It will work up to the speed of light, and inside the event horizon of a black hole (most of it, anyway). Where it doesn't work is when quantum effects become important, so it's not going to work at singularities and at the ultra-microscopic scale. (There are a variety of more technical limitations, related to "boundary conditions at infinity" and "energy conditions" and things like that, but you get the idea.)

The point about gravity is that we've spent a long time exploring it and know now where most of the edges of the map are. There are still occasional surprises - galactic rotation curves and dark energy being two of the more notable recent ones - but we can be confident of the models for things like going to Mars, because we've measured the accuracy of the models.

My argument would be that only validated models ought to be used for making expensive policy decisions. High stakes don't override that need - that's the argument of Pascal's Wager. (Since the potential costs of disbelief are infinite, it doesn't matter what the probability is so long as it's non-zero. Hence it's rational to believe, just in case.) I can generate unvalidated models predicting infinite costs if you don't do what I say all day long. If we pay attention to such, we would be pushed in multiple inconsistent directions at once.

Scientists publish new theories with every confidence in their correctness, but it takes quite a few years to verify and validate, to pick apart the flaws, gaps, assumptions, and limits. The more complicated the subject of study (and we have experimental access to few things more complicated than the atmosphere/oceans), the longer it takes. Planetary orbits are simple by comparison. What I'm objecting to is leaping on a new model the moment it comes out of the door, and making expensive decisions based on it before we know whether it will survive scrutiny. I'm objecting as well to the habit of seeing such scrutiny and criticism as socially unacceptable or irrational once political positions (and scientific careers) have invested in them.

Serious scientists are quite happy to look for holes in our understanding of gravity - it's still very much a topic of active research. Why do the rules of science suddenly change when it has to do with the environment?

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Niv

>'I'm objecting as well to the habit of seeing such scrutiny and criticism as socially unacceptable or irrational once political positions (and scientific careers) have invested in them.'

Indeed. This is a feature of culture not science, and culture that has hi-jacked science.

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

=>> My argument would be that only validated models ought to be used for making expensive policy decisions.

How do you know the expense, except by relying on unvalidated models?

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"How do you know the expense, except by relying on unvalidated models?"

Experiment. Try to implement it on a smaller scale without spending any money. If you can't do it without either serious money, serious pain, or legislation to force it, then it's 'expensive'.

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> Experiment. Try to implement it on a smaller scale without spending any money.

And it may not scale. The point is that you don't know, so you evaluate the risk as best you can by using unvalidated models. All models are wrong.

==> If you can't do it without either serious money, serious pain, or legislation to force it, then it's 'expensive'.

You can't determine the "expense" if you can't quantify the cost/benefit ration of various externalities associated with the various decision pathways. That is what decision-making in the face of uncertainty is about. "Serious money" is relative. "Serious pain" is relative. Legislative "force" is relative (in a democracy). The problems arise, IMO, when people lose sight of the uncertainties and begin to think that they have special insight into "expense," "pain," and "force."

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

High stakes is different from infinite-stakes, though. Infinite stakes is silly, I agree. But you can actually discount a finite, but large risk according to the probability that the model predicting it is correct. You -could- even multiply the odds ratios from your model analyses straight through to the cost-benefit calculation, although I've yet to see that actually proposed in a regulatory context. (I don't know why they don't, actually. It's a question we're rapidly headed towards in the US regulatory advocacy arena...)

Ultimately I think that train of thought ends you right where the current US administration actually is on many environmental issues: take action on uncertain issues when known co-benefits are certain. Lawyers will (rightfully?) argue that in that case we should just be regulating in ways that explicitly consider the more certain "co-benefits" as the primary benefits, and treat the more speculative stuff as the co-benefits. But at that point we're arguing not about what action should be taken, but how it should be legitimized - an essential question, to be sure.

June 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"And it may not scale."

Fine. So expand the experiment and see how costs increase.

"The point is that you don't know, so you evaluate the risk as best you can by using unvalidated models."

No. If your economic models are unvalidated, then you validate them - same as you do for the scientific ones. You don't just throw up your hands, give up on logic, and embrace the madness!

They don't have to be perfect, just demonstrably good enough.

--
The *point* is that anyone can generate unvalidated models ad nauseam to the effect that: "If you don't do what I say, global catastrophe will inevitably follow!"

It's the logical flaw in Pascal's Wager. Pascal tried to use it to support belief in a Christian God, but the same argument can be applied to the Aztec Gods as easily, or any of the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese, or African Gods too. It can be applied to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Great Green Arkleseizure, or Zhuqiaomon: Guardian of the Southern region. Or any of the gazillions of conceivable Gods that inhabit the Platonic Realms - each with their own special demands and rituals that must be obeyed on pain of eternal ... er... pain.

The argument only works because the argument is presented in isolation - the only two alternatives on offer are Christian God or nothing. Under those circumstances, it kinda sounds plausible that you can ignore the requirement for evidence on the grounds of the potential costs being so high. But once you realise that you have to simultaneously satisfy Nyarlathotep, Dark Servitor of the Outer Gods by the same argument, the shortcomings of this so seductive line of reasoning become readily apparent.

As you keep pointing out, there are other people equally willing to foretell catastrophe if we *do* succumb to the Green Corruption - it might sound a bit unlikely, but the predicted consequences are so horrific that we ought to back off, just in case. That's the Precautionary Principle, you know...

--
The only distinction you can make, to reject the crazy predictions and keep the good ones, is to insist that all models used for policy decisions be validated. Anyone telling you that 'you don't need to validate their claims, just look at the scary consequences' is pulling a fast one.

---

"But you can actually discount a finite, but large risk according to the probability that the model predicting it is correct."

Yes. If you can agree on the probability that the model is correct! What are the odds of that, eh? :-)

But seriously - you could consider 'validation' to be the calculation of the probability that the model is sufficiently correct to be worth paying attention to. You agree, at least, that we need to know this correctness probability, yes?

What is the probability of a flaw being found in your newly published theory some time during the next few decades?
Hmm. Let's see... http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> No. If your economic models are unvalidated, then you validate them...

That's pretty funny, the notion of validating economic models - models that are based on predictions of human behavior. Good luck with that!

==> You don't just throw up your hands, give up on logic, and embrace the madness!"

Again with the false choices?

==> They don't have to be perfect, just demonstrably good enough.

Which was my point. And "good enough" is always, inherently, subjective. So the point is that you accept that subjectivity and stop pretending that (1) your own points of view are objective and (2) your own particular version of economic models are validated.


==> The *point* is that anyone can generate unvalidated models ad nauseam to the effect that: "If you don't do what I say, global catastrophe will inevitably follow!"

Of course. And anyone can say, without establishing a cost/benefit ratio for externalities, that aCO2 mitigation is "expensive."

But saying it is so doesn't make it so. If you can't internalize the externalities, then you don't know whether it is "expensive" or not. You can, of course, use unvalidated models - which are the best models that you have - to try to evaluate the probabilities and risks, with the understanding that expectations of perfect validation are foolish. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that your economic models are validated.


Here, take up the argument with a high-profile libertarian pundit:

http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-06-01/global-warming-alarmists-you-re-doing-it-wrong


==> It's the logical flaw in Pascal's Wager. Pascal tried to use it to support belief in a Christian God, but the same argument can be applied to the Aztec Gods as easily, or any of the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese, or African Gods too. It can be applied to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Great Green Arkleseizure, or Zhuqiaomon: Guardian of the Southern region. Or any of the gazillions of conceivable Gods that inhabit the Platonic Realms - each with their own special demands and rituals that must be obeyed on pain of eternal ... er... pain.

The argument only works because the argument is presented in isolation - the only two alternatives on offer are Christian God or nothing. Under those circumstances, it kinda sounds plausible that you can ignore the requirement for evidence on the grounds of the potential costs being so high. But once you realise that you have to simultaneously satisfy Nyarlathotep, Dark Servitor of the Outer Gods by the same argument, the shortcomings of this so seductive line of reasoning become readily apparent.

As you keep pointing out, there are other people equally willing to foretell catastrophe if we *do* succumb to the Green Corruption - it might sound a bit unlikely, but the predicted consequences are so horrific that we ought to back off, just in case. That's the Precautionary Principle, you know... ==>>

Too esoteric and intellectual for me to follow...


==> The only distinction you can make, to reject the crazy predictions and keep the good ones, is to insist that all models used for policy decisions be validated. Anyone telling you that 'you don't need to validate their claims, just look at the scary consequences' is pulling a fast one. ==>

Well, I agree, in a fashion. I mean I think that when hordes of "skeptics" line up to proclaim how "expensive" mitigation is (even though they don't even try to evaluate the cost/benefit both positive and negative externalities, let alone comprehensively do so) they are making self-sealing and flawed arguments - but I don't think they're "pulling a fast one." They're just engaging in unexamined motivated reasoning. Ho hum. What else is new, eh?

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The only distinction you can make, to reject the crazy predictions and keep the good ones, is to insist that all models used for policy decisions be validated. Anyone telling you that 'you don't need to validate their claims, just look at the scary consequences' is pulling a fast one[...]you could consider 'validation' to be the calculation of the probability that the model is sufficiently correct to be worth paying attention to. You agree, at least, that we need to know this correctness probability, yes?

Yes, I agree. I'm not claiming that you don't need to validate their claims. The question is rather how much and what kind of validation is necessary to support how much and what kind of action. Not every scientific discipline has access to the sort of empirical validation that experimental physics has. The historical disciplines are notably lacking in such opportunities. In so many policy-relevant sciences, validation itself is a matter of non-convergent expert opinion. Taking a stance that models ought be validated before their use in policy just begs the question - everyone concedes it, but no one can put it into practice without literally being a dictator over their discipline.

What is the probability of a flaw being found in your newly published theory some time during the next few decades?
Hmm. Let's see... http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

So discount it! Let's assume for the sake of argument that the likelihood of a single article finding being reproducible is somehow comparable to the cumulative conclusion of 30 years of past observation. That demands that we discount down the projected harms down to a factor of 1 in what, 300? Okay. For starters, that's still above zero. In the case of CO2 emissions, that's more than enough, even so discounted, to stop all subsidies to fossil fuels, which are currently a negative on the US treasury bill. That's still a reason to offer subsidies for insulating buildings, or even require such improvements. In the extreme example, you could argue for a carbon tax to be raised this year to support any model-suggested environmental intervention that didn't have a net negative effect on the country's (discounted) cash flow. And there are more of those than people in the US might like to admit.

Is this ever what skeptics of climate change action argue? I've never heard it from them. I've never heard them advocate for the common-sense improvements that are predicted to have positive NPV. You'd be the first. To me this indicates that the skeptic stance is more a fundamentally ideological position about the government's role in the economy than anything else - this is wholly consistent with the Lewandowsky finding that opposition to climate change action in the US is rooted especially deeply among self-identified free-marketeers.

I wish US agencies would acknowledge this perspective more explicitly: e.g., the EPA is trying to put a price on all carbon emissions, even though the most certain component of the environmental costs of fossil fuels come from adverse public health impacts from coal-burning emissions; why didn't they just regulate coal-burning emissions? 'cause partisan politics is stupid, I guess, and their base is no more rational than the other party's base.

e.g. the EPA is trying to simply adopt the Supreme Court's ruling in Rapanos v US, putting all waters with a significant nexus to a WotUS under the purview of EPA and the Corps of Engineers. Yet they've been clumsily silent on whether or how a legally "significant" nexus relates to statistical "significance". That's been devolving into a PR quagmire for the agency as well.

Why are you trying to convince me about the irrationality of Pascal's Wager? I know the argument, and as far as I can tell, you're the only one here who is claiming that Pascal's Wager is involved. I never made that argument, and I don't consider public policy in terms of priceless imperatives. My position throughout this discussion has been that the extent of action should be concomitant with certainty, even when the stakes are high. You don't have a problem with that alone, do you?

Yes. If you can agree on the probability that the model is correct! What are the odds of that, eh? :-)

Actually, you would only need to establish a minimum probability of having to pay out the large sum for action to be warranted, or a maximum for action to be deemed unnecessary. I have found that CDFs are easier to muster support around than PDFs in policy.

==> They don't have to be perfect, just demonstrably good enough.

Which was my point. And "good enough" is always, inherently, subjective. So the point is that you accept that subjectivity and stop pretending that (1) your own points of view are objective and (2) your own particular version of economic models are validated.

Yeah, this. As an example of how peoples' senses of proportion and valuation can differ, with reason: when Sec. Kerry denied the Keystone XL permit, even with other pipelines being approved, he basically made the determination that ~3 billion dollars of net benefit was worth it to send a international diplomatic signal. On one hand, that's an astronomical amount to me; I was very surprised. $3 billion can do a lot of good, push a lot of change, if spent well. On the other, if he considered it a goal to help raise $200-400 billion annually for climate change mitigation funding in the developing world, and foregoing 1% of that sum in private net benefits over the next 10 years might get more than 1% of the political capital to move that amount of public money, well, that wasn't exactly irrational, was it?

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"That's pretty funny, the notion of validating economic models - models that are based on predictions of human behavior. Good luck with that!"

Accountants predict costs every day - and every business relies on their accuracy. For that matter, anyone planning their household budget, or the next shopping expedition, is using an economic model to estimate how much it's going to cost (how much cash do I nee to take?) and where the items they need will be found the cheapest.

Humans are reasonably predictable about many things. They're like the weather - you don't know whether it's going to rain or shine a month from today, but you do know that summer will be generally warmer than winter. You can put error bars on them, and people do.

" And "good enough" is always, inherently, subjective."

No, it's *not* subjective. You have an accuracy requirement - e.g. predicting the cost of your next shopping trip, you need a hard maximum bound on the cost (so you don't come up short) and a softer minimum, so you don't take out too much money with the resultant loss of interest, risk of losing it, etc. Let's say you figure you need it to be within $20, so you don't have to carry more than that around with you until the next shopping trip. Then you need to estimate error bounds on your model - say experience has taught you that prices of individual items rarely vary more than 10% between trips, If you buy 10 items you can expect a variation of about 30% in the total, so if you buy about $60 worth of goods, 30% of that would give you your $20 margin of error.

Experience (i.e. experiment) has verified your model, demonstrating that you have 10% error bars. Validation has demonstrated that your error bars are within your required $20 margin of accuracy. You know you can't predict the exact price to the dollar, but you don't need to. The measurement of the model's accuracy, and the demonstration that it meets the requirement are absolutely objective.

However, if you've never been shopping before, and have no idea what things cost, you're taking a risk. Maybe it'll be $5. Maybe $5,000,000. Or a googolplex. Or infinity dollars. Who knows? It could prove embarrassing at the checkout.

"If you can't internalize the externalities, then you don't know whether it is "expensive" or not."

Then you don't know that it's worth doing.

There are lots of other things, though, that we *do* know are worth doing. So let's spend our resources on them instead, guarantee a positive return, and set your proposal aside until it's been shown that it *is* worth doing.

"Too esoteric and intellectual for me to follow..."

:-)

Was that sarcasm, or irony?

"Well, I agree, in a fashion. I mean I think that when hordes of "skeptics" line up to proclaim how "expensive" mitigation is (even though they don't even try to evaluate the cost/benefit both positive and negative externalities, let alone comprehensively do so)"

Of course we do. Bjorn Lomborg got a whole team of prize-winning economists together to estimate cost/benefits. He used the mainstream IPCC predictions, and the SRES models of economic development, and concluded that significant levels of mitigation will continue to be more expensive than they're worth for around the next 40 years, and that even after that, it's a comparatively minor problem.

It's essentially the same modelling that the mainstream did (e.g. Lord Stern) but without cheating with a nonsensical discount rate.

(Although it's not a particularly hard thing to estimate - the economic effects of warming the climate by 3 C in most places can be observed directly simply by traveling a couple of hundred miles closer to the equator. You can take a day trip there.)

But you don't need *us* to tell you - every global warming believer continually does the calculation for themselves. As I've pointed out numerous times, the easiest way to implement action on global warming is for everyone who believes in it (and polls suggest figures north of 40%) to pledge to stop using fossil fuels, and anything manufactured or transported with them. You could call it the 'vegetarian' solution. In deciding whether to do so, you estimate the personal cost to yourself in either the loss of luxuries or the higher prices of finding sustainably-fueled goods. (And if your immediate complaint is that there aren't any on sale, then that means there's a gap in the market you can fill by setting up a business to supply them. Way to get rich quick.)

We can find people who believe in the coming catastrophe, who factor in every likely and unlikely externality as if it was certain. We can find people who believe the world is going to melt and turn into Venus, that the oceans are going to dry up, the forests are going to burn, the deserts spread, and that the living shall become cannibals and envy the dead. We can figure they're probably overestimating the risks. So it's informative to check how many of them have taken the pledge, and chosen to live sustainably. Has their own evaluation of the personal costs to them of following the policies they espouse dissuaded them from taking that action themselves?

We all know the answer to that one.

It's obvious to me that we are all well aware of the high costs of mitigation. We show our awareness through our personal lifestyle choices. The argument has never been about whether the costs of mitigation are high or not - it's about whether we can force somebody else to pay the price.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> Accountants predict costs every day - and every business relies on their accuracy. ==>

Sure, and "The median fraud loss for U.S. organizations is $105,000, according to a new study, with billing and corruption schemes the most common types of fraud reported."

So my point remains, you do the best you can without fooling yourself into thinking that your modeling is validated.

==> For that matter, anyone planning their household budget, or the next shopping expedition, is using an economic model to estimate how much it's going to cost (how much cash do I nee to take?) and where the items they need will be found the cheapest. ==>

NiV - I fail to see how this response is on point to what I was saying. Of course people do the best that they can. That doesn't mean that their models are validated. That is exactly my point. People regularly make significant errors on their predictions about their budgets, precisely, largely, because such projections rely on trying to model human behavior. If you don't have anything more on point to offer, I don't see much point in further discussion there.


==> No, it's *not* subjective. You have an accuracy requirement ==>

Again, the level of accuracy requirement chosen is subjective. And again, as I see it your response isn't on point, and not much to go with there either.


==> Then you don't know that it's worth doing. ==>

You don't know with certainty. You try your best to estimate the probabilities, with the understanding that there is unavoidable probability for error. Or as dypoon keeps saying, you discount.


==> There are lots of other things, though, that we *do* know are worth doing. ==>

There are waaaaay more thinks that we *think* are worth doing, based on unvalidated modeling that helps us to evaluate probabilities. If we waited around to only do things that we *know* are worth doing, or if we only acted on "validated" models, we wouldn't get anything done. You speak of validation as if it is some absolute and binary condition. It isn't. It is always an approximation. All measurements, of which validation is one, is ultimately based on an approximation. At some point you evaluate what level of approximation is good enough. You decide what level of validation is good enough. But your modeling is never "validated" as some absolute condition, or at least very rarely so.

==> So let's spend our resources on them instead, guarantee a positive return, ==>

Except if you haven't internalized the externalities, you don't *know* what will bring a positive return.


==> Was that sarcasm, or irony? ==>

Neither. It was the truth.


==> Of course we do. Bjorn Lomborg got a whole team of prize-winning economists together to estimate cost/benefits.

Point taken. Some people do try. I haven't been particularly impressed so far, however. With Lomborg, it's mostly because of his poor reasoning related to opportunity cost, as if we know that if resources weren't devoted to mitigation they would then be directed towards other problems in ways that would bring significant change with those problems. But I have always wondered whether or not he has tried to internalize the geo-political externalities of keeping oil flowing and propping up autocratic, tryannical governments that source oil. Can you point me to where he internalized those massive externalities?


==> It's essentially the same modelling that the mainstream did (e.g. Lord Stern) but without cheating with a nonsensical discount rate. ==>

See what I mean about subjectivity?


==> But you don't need *us* to tell you - every global warming believer continually does the calculation for themselves. ==>

Sorry, NiV, not buying that one. Hardly anyone internalizes the externalities. People don't base day-to-day decisions about how to live their lives based on the long-term effects of particulates emitted to the atmsophere as the result of burning coal.

==> As I've pointed out numerous times, the easiest way to implement action on global warming is for everyone who believes in it (and polls suggest figures north of 40%) to pledge to stop using fossil fuels, ==>

That certainly works as a rhetorical device, but as means of moving discussion forward, I think it is woefully inadequate. I'm really not interested in that discussion unless you can step up your game to consider many other factors that enter into play in any situation where there is interplay between people's day-to-day decision making and how they process potentially high impact, low probability risk that plays out over very long time horizons. Let's get real.


==> It's obvious to me that we are all well aware of the high costs of mitigation. ==>

We are aware for the potential for high cost on a short term time frame. The costs over a long term time frame are significantly more complicated. And exponentially more complicated is trying to calculate the cost/benefit ratios of internalizing the externalities. Many of the economic models of which you spoke earlier speak of the vast discount represented by the "cost" of fossil fuels because the externalities are not internalized. This is a vastly complicated issue, and I think it's rather silly to present simplistic arguments as if it isn't.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Sorry - the link for the quote...first hit in a Google search:

http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/Fraud-Costs-Companies-54745-1.html

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

It's obvious to me that we are all well aware of the high costs of mitigation. We show our awareness through our personal lifestyle choices.

This is what I hate Al Gore the most for. That's exactly what he said we should do, and it's completely ineffective. Maybe he thought he was right at the time, but it certainly hasn't panned out that way.

In reality, we show our awareness through the kinds of infrastructure that we choose to use and that we advocate that our governments buy. On a household level, the dream of fighting climate change with green consumption, praying to the Kaya identity, is only an accounting fiction; it does not reflect how people express their values or participate in the market to drive change or adapt to the challenges and opportunities of a changing climate.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dWcIKJ_vfGs&feature=youtu.be&t=54m44s

June 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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