I'd add one piece -- it goes both ways. On the other side of the skeptic is the true believer, which knows that the current consensus or opinion is correct and is just looking for reasons to confirm his belief. This is the scientific malpractice the leaked emails reveal.
Both of these positions suffer from the same problem: they already know the answer before the conversation (or experiments) even begins.
By the way, these topics go way beyond climate science, or even politics. These are the same types of conversations we have in technology teams about things like TDD, or linux versus windows. There are lots of opinions and consensus (or not) but most times what we really should do is have an open mind, create a theory, perform an experiment, see what works, and adapt. Many times teams would rather argue than do this. This is because we (technical people) suck many times at being able to politely disagree.
The same problems we see with skeptics and true believers in climate science are the ones we see all around us everyday. To me understanding and being able to work these kinds of conversations have much more immediate and useful value than the types of compression algorithms Google uses on its databases.
Also it's interesting that in that particular debate, there are "deniers" but no "zealots". It's only one side that feels the need to label the others. That ought to set the alarm bells ringing.
In fact, doesn't a denier automatically, by his mere existence, claim that "the others" are "zealots"?
True enough. However coming to a discussion with no opinion is next ot impossible for someone to do. It's reasonable to imagine someone who follows the evidence will have a pre-conception of what the answer is.
What sets him/her apart is a willingness to be proven wrong (or even just a bit less right).
If you already know the answer to some complex issue that is not direct, hard science, then you are cognitively limiting yourself. If it's reproducible and demonstrable, of course, then we can still remain properly agnostic and rely on induction to save the day. If it is not, we have to be very, very careful about what our hidden assumptions are.
If you don't adjust your views of taxation and government based on data, nobody should ever listen to what you have to say on politics (or anything else). I'm trying to find a more charitable way to read this, but there really is none. Presumably, if he supported some tax policy, being shown a dozen nations that subsequently implement the policy and face unmitigated economic disaster would do nothing to shake his faith in it.
I oppose torture. You can show me 100 nations which ban torture and then suffer from preventable terrorist attacks, and it won't change my view. I would choose to ban torture even if it stops law enforcement from preventing some terrorist attacks.
Some people hold similar views on taxation, redistribution, the welfare state, etc (i.e., "tax is an immoral act of theft, regardless of economic benefits", or "the welfare state is a moral imperative, regardless of economic harms").
I suspect you don't have any hard data on the impact of torture. Not saying that torture is good, just saying that even in your example, science might change your mind.
There will always be a probability.. is there a 70% chance he knows where the bomb is, and maybe only 95% chance that the bomb is actually in place, correctly assembled and activated. NOW how many people would you have to theoretically save to make it OK to torture him?
And then there's the human factor. Who wants to be the guy that didn't torture the 70%-terrorist whose bomb subsequently blew up a mall?
What science can answer how many innocents it is OK to accidentally torture to save a number of people?
Also, maybe the airport checks are already a mild form of torture, deemed an acceptable tradeoff by some.
Anyway, this discussion wasn't about torture. I am not pro torture. All I was saying is that the OP might change his mind with better data.
What if destroying the earth would save the universe?
What if Batman wanted you to torture someone?
What if cutting off the eyelids of a brown person meant that unicorns would walk the earth?
What if I snuck into suburban households and cut up humans for body parts so my nanobots could learn regeneration techniques? What if the nanobots could reanimate all the dead humans after I cut them up?
The reason it is bullshit is because you can put anything in the place of torture and justify it by saying it "saves lives". But for some reason, the arguments that we want to justify this way always boil down to freeing ourselves from the shackles of morality. It is the will to power dressed up in the clothing of public policy.
What kind of life are we saving? Is there anything we value more than life?
What if you family was abducted and locked into an air sealed room, and the culprit was caught by the police. Your family has 1 hour left before air supply runs out. Would you still be against torture.
Again, I can't stress this enough: please read carefully. I am not advocating torture. This discussion is not about torture at all.
"Maybe if it would save 1000 lives per month? Or one million lives per month? I suspect you don't have any hard data on the impact of torture."
I didn't say you were advocating torture either. I am trying to show by example that this decision calculus can be used to justify all kinds of evil nonsense, torture being one example. You can always generate counterfactuals of this form to justify anything... so this method of justification is meaningless.
I don't know why you believe that we are not talking about torture. Maybe you don't know that you are presenting a family-based reformulation of the exact same ticking time bomb scenario used by Alan Dershowitz to justify torture. You are reusing these arguments, so maybe you should think about exactly what these arguments have justified in the last ten years.
It's true, though, that you are not talking about torture per se. What you are talking about is weighing some count of human lives against a moral imperative not to do some evil thing. Torture usually stands in for that evil thing because up until very recently, everyone agreed that it was so evil that the kind of weighing you are talking about would not be countenanced.
Let me tell a story that may explain what I am getting at. In 1984 (the year), a feminist named Carol Cohn went to a military school to learn about strategic nuclear concepts like mutually assured destruction, first strike, credible second strike, counterforce weapons, etc. What she found was that as she became immersed in that world, she learned to make similar kinds of artificial weighings of the destruction of cities against the loss of second strike capability. The decision calculus she learned to use allowed her to think about nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and geography rather than in terms of human life ("collateral damage").
"If I was unable to speak my concerns in the language, more disturbing still was that I also began to find it harder even to keep them in my own head. No matter how firm my commitment to staying aware of the bloody reality behind the words, over and over, I found that I could not keep human lives as my reference point. I found that I could go for days speaking about nuclear weapons, without once thinking about the people who would be incinerated by them."
http://www.buildfreedom.com/tl/tl07aa.shtml (the whole article)
I suggest you should not be acquiring "data" at all on this question. The only things the data could tell you would be artificial and dehumanized.
I am also not using the ticking time bomb as a general example to support torture - I was just challenging the original posters assumption that his morals were unchangeable.
Nevertheless it is nonsense to refuse to weigh lives against each other. For example, in big building projects, there is presumably an inherent risk that innocent people will die in accidents during the building process. Yet the decision is often made to build (perhaps build a hospital?). Or take streets - thousands of people die in road accidents every year (and probably many more are killed by exhaust fumes), but apparently society has decided their lives are worth sacrificing. If the decision wasn't conscious, I'd argue it would be an improvement if the decision were made consciously.
Also, nuclear weapons are a real problem. They don't go away by simply not thinking about them. Frankly it might be a good thing that there are other people than feminists thinking about it.
Lastly, I think morals are just a poor workaround for having no sound theory for why a certain kind of behavior is beneficial. The more morals can be replaced by reason, the better for society, in my opinion.
Morals may have a good reputation, but in some other countries people get stoned to death for immoral behavior. Since morals have no scientific foundation, at times we might be ashamed about our own behavior a couple of years later, when understanding improves.
Your consequentialist philosophical views also have no "scientific foundation". Science reveals the world as it is, not as it should be.
You claim that somehow you are beyond values by applying this crude calculus of "lives saved". The truth is that you have not provided a foundation for your ethics. So what is it?
I agree that you do not understand what I'm getting at. Maybe we should just table this.
edited to add:
"what exactly has been justified by the "ticking time bomb" experiment?"
If you read The One Percent Doctrine, you will learn about the people the United States tortured to try to get intel about terrorist attacks, using the ticking time bomb justification. And hello, "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." We invaded Iraq using similar justifications about the risks of WMD.
Evidence tells you how to maximize your objective function. It does not tell you what your objective function should be.
I picked a fairly strong and apolitical example  because I didn't want to devolve into a more political discussion. But maybe I have no choice, so here goes.
Many liberals favor increasing distributional equality. In math terms, they wish to maximize L = (min utility) / (max utility). This means they should be open to arguments which argue "policy X decreases L, and should be opposed". However, many conservatives don't care about distributional equality, only overall utility, i.e. conservatives may wish to maximize C = 0.75 x (max utility) + 1.0 x (min utility). Therefore, such people would be unconvinced by any evidence based argument that "policy X reduces L".
Shermer and I were both arguing that evidence can tell you have to maximize your objective function. Only ideology/morality/values can tell you what your objective function should be.
 There is no clear political divide on torture. To pick recent high profile politicians, both Bush and Hillary supported it while McCain and Obama opposed it.
I think his main point in talking about taxation and government is that there are philosophical assumptions at their roots that affect how you would interpret and use some of the data. As such whether a certain policy is a failure or not is open to debate based on our goals.
> If you don't adjust your views of taxation and government based on data, nobody should ever listen to what you have to say on politics (or anything else).
Wrong. Even if you knew exactly the result of spending $100 more on a given welfare program, that doesn't tell you whether you should spend that $100. There are two reasons (1) knowing the benefit of spending $100 there doesn't tell you whether that $100 is better spent somewhere else (2) reasonable folks can disagree on whether those benefits are worth $100. (I may be willing to spend $0.01 to make your life $1 better, but I'm not willing to spend $0.25. Your numbers are probably different and no amount of data helps us decide between them.)
More data is useful, but it isn't decisive.
In a nutshell: Global warming either (1) isn't real (2) isn't caused by humans or (3) doesn't matter
Well, #2 is certainly within the bounds of possibility. Evidence: The entire history of the earth. And, as for #3, you could actually make the argument that global warming would be a net positive. (Contrast warming with a new ice age.) Not say that it's true, but it's a possibility, and shouldn't result in intellectual exile.
He, of course, misses #4:
(4) Global warming is real; but it is #1 mainly intended to achieve a long-standing but tactically-shifting goal of governments to control capital, and otherwise generate billions/trillions for the well-connected and #2 is hopeless because China and India aren't getting suckered into it, ever.
That is something they don't want to address, because, as far as I've seen, it is the correct assessment. "Follow the money" almost always is. And if you keep following the money, you will likely find that even the most committed climate changists are not expending their own resources to short Florida coastal real estate on the weight of their beliefs.
I wouldn't place bets except on the time scale of 20-40 years and even then I'm not sure it is worth it in terms of likely pay off and time taken to research.
I know people who might serve you either #1 or #2 or #3 depending on the situation, their momentary mood or the course of discussion. Sometimes they even provide you a potpourri of all of the above at the same time.
It's like arguing with flat earthers.
Your #4 is basically saying "I concede that it's actually real but am going to deny it for unrelated economic ideological reasons."
I mean you're pretty wholeheartedly embracing the term "denier" there.
"Things have to change within 100 years" is not something that will get shareholders signing checks for R&D and wholesale changes to business practices unless there is considerable pressure from the overall consumer population.
That does assume that benevolence has a higher priority in the world than profit of course. I'm not sure.
>#1 mainly intended to achieve a long-standing but tactically-shifting goal of governments to control capital
No, global warming is not a government plan. It is an area of scientific consensus that has emerged from the work of thousands of individuals in many countries. Most mainstream solutions to dealing with global warming have absolutely nothing to do with controlling capital. In the US, we constantly bend over backwards to makes sure private enterprise controls lots of stuff (even the alternative energy technologies that are being heavily subsidized in R&D and production).
>you will likely find that even the most committed climate changists are not expending their own resources to short Florida coastal real estate on the weight of their beliefs.
This statement is at best tremendously disingenuous and at worst an amazing attempt at self-delusion. There is no good way to short houses. (Getting CDSs on mortgage backed securities is possible but there are no houses on the coast securities. Shorting those wouldn't even help, as mortgages will be paid off before the sea rises enough). Also, all the global warming sea rise predictions are on the order of decades and centuries. What highly knowledgeable scientist in there late 30s or 40s will make at bet that will be resolved when they are dead?
I'll bet you any amount of money that we will have a Korean president by 2150. Don't believe me? Unless you do, you'd better make a bet with me.
Science and govt are inseparable now. Federal grants fund huge amounts of research. This distorts science to a degree not widely recognized.
A good example is nutrition. Start with the modern consensus of what constitutes a healthy diet and trace it back to the research that supports it. Gary Taubes did that in "Good Calories, Bad Calories". What he found was a load of shit. Shit that was supported and popularized by (well-meaning) federal entities. A handful of limited observation studies with ambiguous results were blown way out of proportion.
Yes, virtually all basic research is federally funded. Does it distort science?
Nutrition is not at all easy to do as science because doing research with humans is not considered ethical by society. I think it's something we need to address, and it seems short sighted to me.
Your example is not at all convincing evidence for you rather sweeping thesis.
I see the bias most clearly in the science and studies that are not being funded and the changes that are not being promoted. Why, for example, does Al Gore focus on climate change, which is based on contested predictions of how the climate will be in 50 years, and not on eliminating the farm subsidies which make food so artificially cheap that about a third of Americans, many of them "in poverty," are obese? Could it be that addressing climate change involves increasing government power while eliminating subsidies would reduce government power?
When was the last time government paid for a study that recommended that some department or agency of the government be eliminated?
Sal Khan has videos covering all the math taught in K-12. Why don't government-funded scientists study whether thousands of math teachers can be taken off government payrolls and replaced with Khan's videos?
You can of course imagine second-order effects whereby the selection of the members of the peer-review committee is skewed by the program officers, picking panels that they think will give money to the programs they want. But if they consistently picked committee members that are out of the scientific mainstream, I think you'd hear a howl from the scientific community. I've heard plenty of complaints about the awards from people who weren't funded, but that the panels were stacked by people with predetermined ideas of what results should be obtained is not one of them.
As to your K-12 example, do you know for a fact that there are (competent) researchers who have applied for grants to conduct that study and were rejected? If not, you have no case.
If you think the government orders what research be done, you are woefully uninformed of how the vast majority of research is conducted in the US. Aside from a small number of researchers working in government facilities, research grants are awarded based on proposals from independent researchers. If no one applies to conduct a study, it won't happen no matter how much "the government" wants it to. And as far as I know, there is no government-run research facilities in the field of education.
And finally, in case you haven't noticed, Al Gore has not been affiliated with the government for a decade...
I think one of the points this article makes is that it is possible to look unconsciously for the results/proof you want. Science, especially this science, is rarely black/white. And if you are set on a specific shade of grey there is a natural positive bias towards that.
The argument is, I guess, that Federal funding is likely to favour scientists that support the shade of grey govt. wants to see. (again, a natural bias - though perhaps not so ethical...)
Not a conspiracy certainly; just a combination of slight bias and belief ending in a slightly off center result.
The problem with climate science is that to disagree with the GW theory right now means being branded a denier and a loon. So the bias shift is a emphasised.
I think that in the context of climate science, if you make a statement that you disagree with "GW theory", you are making a statement that is very close to a blanket denial. Which specific facts of the theory do you disagree with, and what is your alternative? Are you disagreeing with the IPCC number for the climate sensitivity? Or are you disagreeing with the idea that anthropogenic global warming can be true? Those are very different, the first is well within the scientific mainstream, the second is not.
No wait, all research takes place in areas that have the exact same political spin....
Wait, that's not true either... Hmm
This is pretty sad and pathetic. If you are so confident, please head over to the NSF and go through grant proposals. Let us know when you prove your case with evidence that is so obviously true to you.
>Why don't government-funded scientists study whether thousands of math teachers can be taken off government payrolls and replaced with Khan's videos?
People do study different methods of teaching. I'll think you'll find that videos are no substitute for human interaction though.
Your other commentary on various things is just rather confused, but not lacking in certainty. Congratulations on becoming a fountain of truth.
It would be pretty extraordinary if it somehow didn't, wouldn't it?
The government has its issues, but funding science is a great thing. Sure, I'd like for less money to be controlled by the pentagon. But I'd love to see even money spent on basic research.
Laissez-faire approaches tend to result in the tragedy of the commons, where the commons is some environmental factor -- fish stocks, etc. -- and science has been consistently pointing out the problems caused as a result. Therefore, to defend itself, libertarianism must discredit science.
The solution is to associate science with government; since, by libertarian definition, anything a government does is wrong, it follows that science is wrong and, by the fallacy of begging the question, libertarianism is right.
Free-market libertarians have an ideological imperative to deny any causality between activity in the pursuit of profit and environmental catastrophes.
It's no surprise that a framework based almost entirely on individual property rights is unable to protect that which is impossible to own, to say nothing of the incorrectness of treating land as partitionable property when we know the ecosystem to be a globally-connected process.
By claiming to champion rationalism, their pretenses shine through; when the scientific method reveals the impracticality of their philosophy, they attack science itself.
You know, maybe we need a less-biased source of scientific funding — how about Exxon Mobil? I'm sure they'd have enough to pay for some real independent research. Oh, actually, it looks like they've been pretty busy already:
"There's a pretty strong impulse to call somebody a "denier" in order to categorically denounce what he's saying, as well as everybody similarly skeptical."
This statement I'm in complete agreement with.
"global warming" may not be a govt plan, but the responses all involve greater govt control and the sum total has almost no predicted effect on global warming.
Since the predictions that show no effect come from the same models that are being used to predict global warming....
The proposed solutions to GW are. Politicians will play a significant part in distributing carbon credits. And you said it yourself:
> (even the alternative energy technologies that are being heavily subsidized in R&D and production).
Subsidized by whom? Private companies that only exist because of government money really aren't private.
I disagree with the OP that it's a scheme to control capital, I don't think it's a scheme of any kind. I just think politicians happen to absolutely love an issue with an absolute evil and a very difficult and expensive solution. No matter how much, the other guy will never be able to do enough.
My main beef with GW isn't the science. I think it's highly entertaining to follow stuff like ClimateGate, but my beef is with the politics. "Solutions" to GW invariably includes hugely expensive government programs.
Supposing that AGW is real and a problem. It is then a global collective-action problem. What options are there to solve something of that scale that doesn't involve governments? I'm genuinely curious.
That phrase is redundant.
I'd even go as far to say some of the science has been biased by politicians - or at the very least misused.
The hard truth is that there is no real consensus. Enough for us to start adapting and weight options certainly (and who can argue that a greener future is a bad idea!). But not enough for scientific certainty either way
We are still at the evidence gathering/observations stage and will likely be there for a while yet. :)
If he was serious about his cause, he'd be encouraging people to move away from coasts. Instead, he encourages them to invest in the products and companies he's already holding.
(straight up; I'm not here to argue that out. This isn't the right forum, it's just setting the story).
I usually get branded a climate denier (and sometimes a loon :)) even in relatively high brow discussion. Which is amusing because you get real idiot deniers sucking up to you and sensible people you want to have a discussion with ignoring you.
This raises two points.
Firstly a poor assumption has been made; because every time I start trying to compare which papers I have read with others in the discussion they either a) point me to a magazine/paper article or b) don't know what I am waffling about. It's annoying because you quickly realise that the most well read [non climatologist] on the subject are almost exclusively in the "bit of both camps" category - and, sadly, we are all still branded deniers.
The second point is it worries me that this is a Scientific field that is based on the idea that not-believing in man made GW is akin to being heathen sin and crazy talk. I hate that, it seems so irrational given the fact we are still developing the theory!
However, I don't think it's a surprise that not believing in man-made GW is met with a huge amount of distrust (I assume you mean by actual scientists) because to most climate scientists, that question is settled. There is argument over the severity of the effect, but not over its basic existence. Even if you have an good explanation of why the majority of scientists got everything totally wrong, any community has more inertia than being swayed by lone dissenting voices unless they are very well known and respected, because you will basically be telling them all that they fucked up.
It always amuses me, too, the slanging match that evolves over what could be a fairly trivial point. Truthfully we are sorely lacking in long term data (no easy solution to that) and filling that void is this "elephant".
Ultimately a rational decision must be made that is completely unnconnected to GW. And that is: what is climate change going to do, and how do we need to react?
Currently I have quiet confidence we will start to ask that within the next decade.
You lost me here, how is the question of what is climate change going to do completely unconnected to global warming?
There was a post by Robin Hanson on Overcoming Bias about it, with a long string of comments http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/05/dumping-on-denial.html
Example: Creationists demand for a complete fossil record
Since things get destroyed, a complete fossil record is not going to happen. If evolution is true: we don't expect a complete fossil record, therefore lack of a complete fossil record is not evidence against evolution.
"here are supporters on both sides of the climate debate ('warmists' and 'deniers') for whom the science is secondary. One feature of them both is that recognise no shade of gray."
This kind of polarization happens a lot in the technology field (e.g. SQL vs NoSQL, Flash vs HTML 5) - usually not by the leaders in these areas but often by people who feel they have the need to strongly align themselves with one particular perspective.
Winning quote right there.
Because considering GW as a single claim in entirety is incorrect - there is a lot of claims and elements that make it up. It is more a field than a claim.
But I admit that I'm biased -- I think that basic physical arguments will tell you that it must be happening. We can argue over to what exact degree, though.
We are the goodies. We believe. Follow us and be saved.
[See article for list of Satan's minions.]
I would prefer to see more "How I was convinced..." type of stuff. I've seen more of that on the side of the skeptics/deniers, probably because they are the underdog, and so more likely to be forthcoming. It doesn't make them right, but it does coerce them into being better proponents.
My impression is that political opposition to nuclear power plants, to nuclear waste facilities, and to GM crops have had at least as much economic impact as political opposition to vaccines. Thus, it seems to me that they shouldn't be left off this list because they're unimportant.
Perhaps the columnist thinks that the anti-nuke and anti-GM-crops political movements should be spared because they have achieved their political impact primarily by honestly making valid technical points? Granting for the sake of argument that that is a tenable position, then why ignore them? Wouldn't the anti-nuke and anti-GM movements make useful examples to clarify his position by comparing and contrasting? Wouldn't describing what is healthy and good about the thinking of the anti-GM and anti-nuke coalitions help us understand better what is so characteristically diseased and vile about anti-vaccine folk to justify grouping them with Holocaust deniers?
(I extended this comment, writing on an analogy to criticism of left-wingers as "politically correct," at http://naturalspiritofgoodcompany.blogspot.com/2010/05/on-ha... .)
The newscientist.com editors injecting some of their own belief into an otherwise reasonable article?