Thursday, May 27, 2010

Is using the term "Denialist" unfair?

Cry-babyImage via Wikipedia
Took one of my infrequent trips to RPJr, was annoyed by the limp nagging to "play nice" that is his staple of trade, and found this garbage:

"The Tyranny of Denial" by Edward Skidelsky - Words that think for us -

It is very poor undergraduate level writing.
  • "Ours is a relentlessly positive culture." is given as a reason why "Denialism" is a naughty word.  Irrationality by culture is no impetus to hamstring my own vocabulary.
  • "An accusation of “denial” is serious, suggesting either deliberate dishonesty or self-deception." Packing a moral judgement into a word is supposed to be an affront to gentility? He then says something mushy and vague about the Holocaust.  Pathetic.
    You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in being informed by judgements of motivation. Forums where there are peculiar restrictions on when motivation can be considered simply exists to aid the Art of Controversy.
  • "It is a form of the argument ad hominem: the aim is not so much to refute your opponent as to discredit his motives." It is not "ad hominem" if the logical errors are laid out as well - judgmental language has no infective property to discredit all the text around it. Bizarre that Eddie gets in some jabs at people who use the term "denialist"; Eddie is under no burden to follow the spirit of his own censure.
  • "One of the great achievements of the Enlightenment—the liberation of historical and scientific enquiry from dogma—is quietly being reversed." - this is a silly overstatement of achievement - The Enlightenment rid us from all dogma?  The gross overstatement is part of a naked plea to join in the author's own hysteria.  And those laying down the charge of "Denialist" are anything but quiet - the moral judgement is foremost.  There is no point here.
Blubbering from those tarred with the epithet 'denialist' notwithstanding, the issue is Skepticism vs. Denialism. If you value judgement, you value skepticism.  Much foolishness tries to impersonate the appearance of skepticism, and that foolishness can be assuredly called Denialism.

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Speaking of Uncertainty with a Mumble-Bumble-Mouth - Mike Hulme

This tornado damage to an Illinois home would ...Image via Wikipedia
Mike Hulme: We must stop saying ‘The science demands…’ by Tim Black - Spiked Debate

Mike Hulme prattles on about uncertainty.  [Ignore the bio photo of MH staring triumphantly at his rightmost piece of horizon]

Oh bleh, this Mike Hulme is not even operating at the level of the blogger Phillip Price, who is simply blogging on this topic as a layperson. Hey Hulme, we have tools for discussing uncertainty, and we can demonstrate the deniers are actually asserting much more certainty about the future, evident by their unwillingness to "take out an insurance policy" by starting to tax carbon even at a small amount. And they are asserting a much lower sensitivity than any physical theory can justify:

Phillip Price actually takes time to draw the curve of his uncertainty, a rigor the denialists avoid, no matter how Phillip Price attempts to draw it out of them:

I agree that science, morality, and policy are best kept separate. But just using the word "uncertainty" for anything besides Revelatory Holy Scripture is silly, acting as if we cannot meaningfully compare different qualities and quantities of uncertainty.

If I take out an insurance policy on my house today, and my neighbor does not, it can be argued that I am rationally dealing with uncertainty, while my neighbor is simply non-rationally wishing it away, ineffectively.  I do not necessarily buy insurance today because I am _certain_ that I will have suffer arson or tornado.

If Hulme's writings lead to less harmful confusion of science, morality, and policy, I will provisionally temporally forgive him sloppiness with the term "uncertainty".
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Greta Christina: Why I'm Drawing [a stick figure of] Mohammad

Greta Christina: Why I'm Drawing Mohammad: "
This is my drawing of Mohammad [...]
[M "Moe" G: leaving the drawing out, not important for my point below]
 I wish I were a better artist, and could draw something other than a stick figure. But I actually kind of like its purity. If a simple, entirely undistinguished, smiling stick figure with the word 'Mohammad' above it can be so offensive as to earn me a possible death sentence... that makes the whole silly idea seem even sillier. And I like the fact that it's a photo of my hand actually making the drawing. Gives it a certain punch, I think.
Today is Everybody Draw Mohammad Day: an event in which people around the world... well, draw Mohammad. We're deliberately violating the Muslim law against creating images of the prophet Mohammad -- a law that some radical Muslim extremists are attempting to enforce with violence and death threats. On everyone. Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
But if we don't draw Mohammad, the terrorists win.

Atheist writer Greta Christina says "[...I]f we don't draw Mohammad, the terrorists win."

But, technically, it is actually "If we don't draw Mohammad's face on a dog's body, the terrorists win."

Greta Christina is still tacitly adhering to the double-standard that there is one limit for sacrilege of Muslim figures, and another limit for Christian figures.  The difference being that no Christian groups called for the death of the artist who created "Piss Christ".

Greta's stick figure Mohammad is too cute by half, if the point is to call attention to Muslim death threats to cartoonists.

I am an atheist, but I also was born into an Evangelical Lutheran faith.  I am an atheist, but I still acknowledges the need in the majority of humans for personal and collective transcendental experiences - experiences of a humbling sort - and I feel deeply that this part of the human condition can, should, be called beautiful.

I am an atheist, but I am also a coward.

The main thing that prevents me taking a noteworthy public stand to represent the prophet Mohammad's face on a dog's body is my fear of how my life would be complicated and inconvenienced, if not actually how my life would be jeopardized.

Also, beyond my cowardice, I would feel terrible if an earnest Muslim, just trying to live their life with peace and meaning, told me that my actions deeply personally hurt them.

But my tenderness does not overshadow my cowardice.  Being honest with myself and giving a true evaluation of my mettle.

So I don't know how to put my feelings into a socially acceptable neat description (socially acceptable to the group I most identify with: the Atheists).  All I can do is be honest.

(I am not trying to score "points" against Greta Christina, a writer I read regularly and admire.  But I feel obliged to state the complications that argue against a pat, cute endorsement of calling a stick figure a brave political stand.  The artists who are currently suffering under the real threat of violence are so because their cartoons had more provocative meaning, undeniably.)

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding committing Cognitive Biases, not merely identifying them

Via Boing Boing, via The Quantified Self, from the Royal Society of Account Planning:
[A] visual study guide to cognitive biases (defined as "psychological tendencies that cause the human brain to draw incorrect conclusions). It includes descriptions of 19 social biases, 8 memory biases, 42 decision-making biases, and 36 probability / belief biases.

Very nice to categorize all these cognitive failure modes, but just knowing about these biases does nothing to prevent one from indulging in them.

For example, Ian Plimer called out those who denied evolution, but now practices the most shabby form of global warming denialism, using exactly the same shabby techniques of the creationists he previously battled.

There is the very nice (and surprisingly thin and readable) _The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making_ by Scott Plous.  Very nice feature of the book is that after identifying each bias, Plous gives the research on effective techniques to avoid committing those biases in your own thinking.

[Edit 06/01/10]

More here:

Steve Easterbrook - Serendipity: Another cognitive bug: Attempting to correct a misperception often reinforces it
I’m fascinated by the cognitive biases that affect people’s perceptions of climate change. I’ve previously written about the Dunning-Kruger effect (the least competent people tend to vastly over-rate their competence), and Kahan and Braman’s studies on social epistemology (people tend to ignore empirical evidence if its conclusions contradict their existing worldview).
[F]actual corrections in newspaper articles don’t appear to work for those who are ideologically motivated to hold the misperception, and in two out of the four studies, it actually strengthened the misperception. So, fact-checking on its own is not enough to overcome ideologically-driven beliefs.
Maybe the press handling climate disruption as "he said/she said" is actually doing science a favor by not laying out the scientific case.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keith Kloor: Compulsion for the formula of "He said/She said"

View of the inside of the Elmer Holmes Bobst L...Image via Wikipedia

My God, threaten to take away their "he said/she said" journalistic device, and they become completely unhinged. Very embarrassing post from Keith Kloor. Taken with the comments below, the post is completely self-refuting.

Quoting Michael Tobis in the comments:
Is it any wonder the opposition starts down the road of exaggeration as well? There’s really no advantage to telling the truth here, and it is the fault of the fact that there is no institution delivering any news that isn’t political, in other words, nothing seriously resembling scientific or environmental journalism.
It’s as if all I had to do to get an innocent person I dislike condemned for murder is to accuse him of two murders. If the judge and jury were journalistically minded, it would be a pretty simple matter to get them to split the difference.
My own comment:

Keith, you turn criticism of the "he said/she said" journalistic device by your betters into an _example_ of the "he said/she said" device as you shrug off responsibility to differentiate the two sides.  [Following the link is not necessary, it is as bad as you would expect]
My lack of compulsion to frame the world as "he said/she said" makes it difficult to see equivalence between the extremes of  Joe Romm and Jeff Id.  The above by Jeff Id is classic bed-wetting 9/12 conspiratorial agitprop (if I may use the word out of historical political context).

Getting back to the beginning of my comment: the issue is shrugging off responsibility.


Here is a very important article by Jay Rosen of NYU Journalism school on PRESSthink:

Jay Rosen - He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User


Kloor responds so:
[...] The irony is that if you really, really wanted to do something about greenhouse gases, you’d stop bitching about the things you can’t change (like msm journalism and skeptics) and start thinking of new ways to reframe the issue.  (Hint: Climate catastrophe is not working. So how long you want to stay with that one? Another couple of decades?)
If you see preventing climate disruption as a moral issue (and I think that is the proper way to view it), you will gasp at the moral bankruptcy displayed.

Whatever the irony is or isn't... some players are incorrigible; best to recognize those players early; embrace the moral foundation of the issue because only there is moral motivation to be found.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seth Roberts, wrong about doubting Climate Disruption Risk

Artist's rendition of Earth's magnetosphere.Image via Wikipedia
Wanted to highlight Phillip Price's responses to Seth Roberts, on the existence of human caused risk of climate disruption.

Seth Roberts, wrong about doubting Climate Disruption Risk:

Phil Says:  May 11th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Seth, as you might imagine I disagree with almost everything you say here. But let me give just one example. You say:

“Here’s what I would consider reasonable evidence for serious human-generated global warming:

1. Temperature higher now than in the past.
2. Temperature increasing at a higher rate now than in the past.
3. Good (= verified) model shows serious human-generated warming.”

But in fact, neither of the first two would be reasonable evidence of serious human-generated global warming if they are true, and the absence of them does not indicate absence of serious human-generated global warming if they are in fact absent.

Here’s the key fact that you seem to be unaware of (but that scientists who study this know very well): MORE THAN ONE PARAMETER AFFECTS THE TEMPERATURE OF THE EARTH. It’s not all about carbon dioxide concentrations.

If high temperatures in the Medieval Warm Period were due in part to higher solar activity, then those temperatures don’t tell us much about climate sensitivity to CO2. So your point 1 doesn’t really make sense. The issue with point 2 is pretty much the same, except with regard to the derivative of temperature rather than temperature.

And for the models…you assert that the models aren’t good enough to estimate temperature sensitivity, but you’re wrong.

Yes, I know that scientists, like everybody else, tend to be overcertain. But I don’t think that means that nobody knows nuthin’.

I asked you before, more than once, to give YOUR estimate of climate sensitivity (defined as the steady-state change in global average over preindustrial levels in response to a doubling of CO2 over preindustrial levels). You still haven’t answered that question. But it seems that for some reason you put very little of your probability in the range that almost all climate researchers think is most likely. So who is being overcertain?

Phil Says: May 12th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Check the IPCC report, chapter 8: there is an extensive discussion of climate modeling and why it is good enough to be sure that anthropogenic climate change is real and why the key parameters are likely to be not extremely far from the (admittedly wide) range of estimates.

But what I am taking issue is with much larger than your three assertions, though I think they are all incorrect.

You are criticizing people for being “overcertain” because their estimate of climate sensitivity has an uncertainty of “only” 6C, but your own estimate has less uncertainty than that, in addition to being centered much lower than the experts think is reasonable. I do not think you have any basis for having a narrower confidence interval than the experts do, and I do not think you have any basis for having a much lower central estimate than the experts do.

[ Edit 05/13/10; Michael Tobis weighs in ]

Michael Tobis Says:  May 13th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

To your first two points, there is nothing that says that warming has to be simultaneous with greenhouse forcing. Under present circumstances we in fact expect the contrary: the thermal inertia of the oceans and the masking of industrial dust mask the committed warming. So your proposed tests simply aren’t valid.

Also, climate models make effective predictions of many things, not limited to global mean surface temperature. As a particular point, they show and have shown since the 1980s that greenhouse forced warming is a near-surface phenomenon, accompanied by stratospheric (upper atmosphere) cooling. They also show a pattern of warming that concentrates on land areas in continental interiors. These long standing predictions did in fact emerge. So your claim that climate models are without skill are without foundation.

All of this is silly; it treats “global warming” as a falsifiable theory, a claim of a causation that is either true or false. This is foolishness. The underlying phenomena, (thermal radiation, absorbtion and reradiation in gases) is two hundred year old physics that is as well established as anything in science.

What’s at issue is not “whether” but “how much”. As Phil correctly points out, those who call themselves “skeptics” are not making an argument from ignorance, they are making an argument from certainty. If we really had no idea what the sensitivity was, we should be more concerned than ever. The attitude suggested by people who claim to be “skeptics” is utterly inconsistent with a lack of confidence in the underlying science. It is a claim that the the sensitivity is certain to be much less than all prevailing evidence indicates.

(Phil’s a bit pessimistic; I’d say the consensus range is 2 C to 4.5 C per CO2 doubling. )

And what if it were zero? Would we be out of the woods? No, even with a global sensitivity of zero we could have huge forced climate change, say, warming the poles and cooling the tropics. There is no doubt that the amounts of CO2 and other gases we are adding to the atmosphere change the way energy flows through the system, a system which at heart is fluid and easy to change. Even in the absence of knowledge and a low global sensitivity there are huge risks.

And then there is ocean acidification.

Sorry. We have to deal with this.

[ Edit 05/13/10; my comment added ]

Seth Roberts says:
seth Says: May 12th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
[...] I’ll provide you my confidence interval in a few days.
It will not be forthcoming.  This was all a predictable exercise in the Art of Controversy.  But it is good to document how these each can be swatted down with minimal effort.
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Friday, May 7, 2010

The difference between Skeptics and Deniers

Monument of the People Revolution, Laksi Circl...Image by adaptorplug via Flickr
[ This post started life as a comment on the wonderful blog "Watching the Deniers" by Mike in Melbourne.  I am so happy Mike started his blog, because the Climate Disruption Deniers have a very shallow bag of trick, and they have them well worn from past fake controversies like tobacco carcinogens.  So it is great to have a blog dedicated to this.  ]

What is the difference between being skeptical and being a denier?

Skepticism can be a positive attribute.  Being called a denier is always a slur.  Is there a difference?  This is how I make the distinction.

(1) If skeptical, you realize the goal is to eventually replace the mainstream narrative with a new, fundamentally different narrative, at a higher standard of argumentation from statements of certainty.  If you are a denier, you are content to perpetually muddy the water to generate fraudulent controversy.  The test between the two is that the skeptic will dish out their harshest approbation to people on their own side who have no capacity for being constructive and who have no capacity to make valid judgments about quality of argumentation; where the denier in comparison will hold embrace any momentarily useful troll.

(2) The mainstream must accept the discipline of the highest standard of argumentation and demonstration - that is only right to be seen as mainstream.  If you are a denier, you take this to mean that the enemies of the mainstream are allowed to have no standard.  If skeptical, you allow the opponents of the mainstream to have a lower standard, but a standard none-the-less (a lowered standard is to remain productive until a cohesive alternative narrative has been fully developed).  The test is that the skeptic will throw people on their own side out of their camp if they cannot maintain consistently a minimal standard of quality of argumentation and demonstration.  The denier will continually forgive transgressions for any momentarily useful troll.

(3) If skeptical, you take delight in sound results, no matter from your own side or the opposing side.  If a denier, you have boos and hisses for all results, no matter how sound, from the opposing side - and cheers and huzzahs for all results, no matter how shabby, from your own side.  The true skeptic has more latitude with their boos, hisses, cheers, huzzahs.

(4) if skeptical, you see the value of provisional agreement on results today, perhaps to informed by new facts tomorrow, perhaps not.  If a denier, you shriek at any provisional agreement, no matter how relatively settled it is compared to matters of no discernible meaningful controversy, like planetary orbital physics.  If a denier, you shriek at any attempt to blow the foulest vapors of shabby results out of the room.  The denier does not need his viewpoint to prevail - the denier is satisfied with a permanent state of cacophony of controversy.  The skeptic is motivated by having their viewpoint prevail by quality of argumentation and demonstration.

(5) if skeptical, you see that uncertainty can be a valid reason to act today - for example, I buy home-owners insurance today because of uncertainty.  Nobody waits to buy insurance until they get a letter of intent from an arsonist that their home is scheduled to be set on fire.  If you are a denier, you give a privileged status to the status quo - if a denier you effectively say we must not deviate from the existing state until all uncertainty has been eradicated, which is a socially acceptable way to say we must not deviate from the existing state ever.

(6) if skeptical, you value sound results over decorum - all things being equal, decorum is preferred; but no amount of decorum can substitute for sound results.  If a denier, there is no amount of production of sound results that can forgive an opponent of a perceived violation of decorum.

These 6 are unnatural for people, because humans will regress to tribal behavior under stress.  The are only evident in people who value truth over the status of their own tribe.

In my own case, I am most interested in the economic and political consequences for AGW (Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming) or climate disruption, and I am not in complete agreement with the mainstream of the AGW believers when it comes to the economics and politics.  But the standard is so weak on the alleged skeptical side, I can only meaningfully develop and test my personal ideas with the AGW believers side.  That has been my experience.  Even Joe Romm, who is supposedly the worst of the worst of the AGW mainstream believer bullies, has demonstrated nuance when it comes to considering different economic tools.

I would like to see a demonstration that the AGW/climate-disruption mainstream side is worst at being skeptical of their opponents, than the skeptical/denier side.  The standard is so low on the AGW alleged-skeptics/deniers side, they would never agree to the above 6 points.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weird Al - Entertaining across generations

Was eating at sushi bar with my little family, watching my daughter watch old-school Weird Al music videos on her iPod Touch (I paid for the DVD "Weird Al Yankovic - The Ultimate Video Collection"; I paid for CloneDVDMobile.  The purchase of the second made the purchase of the first worthwhile to me - the beginning and the end of the economic analysis.)

I was the same age as my daughter is now when I got into Doctor Demento and Weird Al.  I had '"Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D' (1984) in vinyl.  This is a long an impressive career.  Now, I am most likely to see him on Tim and Eric.
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