Thursday, March 09, 2017

Scott Adams sees through 15 of 20 main alarmists' tricks, still calls himself a believer

Eclectikus told us that Dilbert's creator Scott Adams – who has correctly predicted Trump's triumph and described a psychological theory behind Trump's victory – has written a wonderful guide telling the climate alarmist propagandists
How to Convince Skeptics that Climate Change is a Problem.
It's basically a detailed list of 14-15 features in the alarmists' talk – or their interactions with the skeptics – that obviously look fishy to a rational person such as himself. Nevertheless, at the top, he still introduces himself as a believer in the claims of the currently (and for a few more months?) dominant (i.e. alarmist) climate scientists. Some alarmists have reacted angrily. Some of them claimed that Adams doesn't actually believe the alarmists and he doesn't actually want to help them.

I tend to agree with this "insight into Adams' skull". It seems hard to imagine that someone would understand these "15 things that are fishy about the alarmists' claims" so clearly and he would still take the alarmists' statements seriously. In fact, I think that Adams' isolation of the problems, clarity of his understanding of these problems, and the comprehensiveness of his list places him above most of the "amateur climate skeptics" whom I have met. If he understands some of the skeptics' arguments more clearly than most of the skeptics, is it plausible that he ends up as an alarmist?

It's plausible. I just find it very unlikely. It seems much more likely to me that he is just playfully rewriting his identity, much like when John Cook was signing 3% of the comments on his server as Luboš Motl. ;-)




Let me look at Adams' brilliant list in some detail – and explain why his points are so important. Some of them are frequently mentioned by some skeptics, others are sometimes mentioned by skeptics but Adams looks at them from a slightly new perspective, and some of them seem rather original in the climate debate. You will also notice one point where I disagree with him.




OK, let's start:
1. Multiplicity of "models" implies that none of them is too good.
Climate alarmists often brag that they have great "models" and those predict the catastrophe in the future. It almost looks like they are proud about having many models. Maybe they assume that the listener imagines that each model has some muscles or a vote in the democratic elections. The more models, the better for alarmism!

As Adams and every rational person knows, it's the other way around. If the physical problem were really settled, people would be using one model and not many. For example, in string theory, we don't know what's the right way to compactify the extra dimensions to deduce the exact Universe around us. It's often stated that the number of semi-realistic candidates is about \(10^{500}\). But imagine that string theorists would claim that all the predictions – e.g. for the \(100\TeV\) collider – are "settled" because we have so many models. Clearly, the large number of models or compactifications implies a lot of uncertainty. And even if many models share certain qualitative features, the high number of models in that class doesn't make the features more likely (the anthropic people could disagree but they are wrong).

I think that intelligent people must understand this point. If things were scientifically clear, people would only talk about one model – just like they talk about one special theory of relativity, one general theory of relativity, one Standard Model of particle physics, and indeed, one string theory – as the connected framework with many solutions. When an advocate of the climate panic brags about many models and he claims that things are settled at the same moment, he must clearly misunderstand something absolutely elementary about the rational reasoning that we know in science.

Lots of scientifically illiterate people won't notice, however, and millions will be impressed that the climate modelers play with hundreds of models. That's a lot. They must be so smart and sure about everything if they have hundreds different movies about the future! ;-)

Some folks such as Barius Pelagic try to defend the "multiplicity of models". It's good for the IPCC to work with many models as an ensemble and do "signal processing". Models are eliminated as they disagree, many survive. Except that this procedure obviously hasn't worked. No one could have eliminated models producing wrong predictions for the year 2100 – because no one knows what the actual temperature in 2100 will be – and no one has actually eliminated the models that gave too fast trends in the recent 20 years, for example, because about 97% of the persistently used models overestimated the temperature change in recent 20 years and nobody seems to care. But even if one were carefully eliminating the losers, the gradual selection would be a case of data-fitting and the "survivors" simply couldn't be convincing and promising as sources of predictions. When you start with many models, it's unavoidable that some will agree with the data reasonably well but by chance and that's why the mere agreement of a subset of models with the data shouldn't be interpreted as strong evidence that these surviving models understand something right.
2. With hindsight, it's trivial to retrodict the past, so it's silly to brag about it.
Sometimes climate alarmists brag that they can perfectly describe the past – by using a model and adjusting some parameters. In most cases, this success is nothing else than data-fitting and it must be obvious to any intelligent person that it's data-fitting. John von Neumann famously said: "With four parameters I can fit an elephant and with five I can make him wriggle his trunk."

You can pretty much always do that, even if you can't make any successful predictions of the future at all! Adams mentions that the situation looks similar to economics where it's also trivial to "interpret the past" but everyone seems to agree that no one can really reliably predict the future.

I would say that this point is indeed comprehensible to many laymen – the "fight against data-fitting" seems to be a powerful grass root movement. Well, I actually think that most laymen overreact in this obsession. Why? After all, all scientific theories are only established by a successful comparison of their predictions with the data. And they must be data from the past – because the data about the future aren't known yet.

The ideal is to keep a fixed theory, make a prediction, and wait until the future becomes the past. If and when the predictions work, while the theory wasn't modified while the predictions were being tested, and if the predictions were unlikely to be right by chance, the theory is probably right. It's a fair rule of the contest except that it's often unrealistic because 1) in most of the complex, climate-like situations when we want to theoretically understand something, we keep on modifying, improving, and adjusting the theory at the same moment while we're collecting new data; and 2) because in fundamental questions, e.g. when we test theories in particle physics, it's hard to get some "truly new experimental data" at all. You really need to build a new $20 billion collider to go beyond the LHC data. Without that, particle and string theorists have to play with the patterns in the effective theories that have been basically known for 40 years. They're unlikely to get any new experimental input soon.

At any rate, this is a point where I would believe that Adams is genuinely advising climate alarmists. It often seems that they misunderstand the fact that most of the self-confident laymen know very well that data-fitting (of the known curves describing the past) is easy and doesn't require a genuine deeper understanding. Maybe, many of the climate alarmists don't really understand data-fitting themselves!

Whenever the climate alarmists boast about data-fitting, something that most outsiders with common sense know to be rather straightforward, it unavoidably and justifiably reduces the credibility of the alarmist message. Data-fitting is straightforward and if it is one of the best things you know how to do, it probably means that you don't know too much!
3. The relative contributions of humans and Nature are never quantified.
I do think that this point is widely appreciated by most laymen and neutral folks in the debate. For example, Tucker Carlson of Fox News has recently asked the very same question to Bill Nye. If you have mastered these phenomena, you must know what percentage of some changes is man-made and what percentage is natural, right? So why don't we ever hear some clear numbers about these matters?

Nye has replied with some anger and with the ludicrous assertion "100% man-made" – because he is not a climate scientist, only an exhibitionist. But the truth is that no climate scientist defending the climate panic has ever provided us with some meaningful quantification of the relative importance of men and Nature. The relative importance surely depends on the exact question that you may ask. But every intelligent person who has ever left his house knows that the contribution of Nature isn't zero. And if this person is told that "everything is understood" but he can never get any answer to any quantitative question, he may easily see that he's being had.

Things are obviously not clear when such numbers are unknown. In fact, they don't even seem to be known approximately. For that reason, the people who say that things are settled are obvious liars. Again, every intelligent enough person – even without any official scientific training – may easily deduce that they are liars.

Just to be sure, my answer would be that the contribution of humans and natural effects to the 20th century global temperature trend could be between 20%-vs-80% and 80%-vs-20% and roughly this interval is plausible. We only know that the greenhouse warming (including feedbacks) is "roughly comparable" with the observed one, they may be very close, but the greenhouse warming may very well be less than 50% of the observed one, too. Everyone who would claim something else is either denying the greenhouse effect altogether; or he is completely denying the huge, basically 50%-100% error margin of the climate sensitivity admitted even by the IPCC (and I generously overlook the fact that even the actual change of the temperature since 1900 isn't known too accurately).
4. Adams thinks that climate alarmists shouldn't attack creationists.
This is a point I obviously find bizarre. Adams says that creationism is compatible with science – much like the simulated Universe. Well, I agree that they're about equally compatible with science. But the compatibility is zero in both cases. We don't live in a world where species were created by a creator, and we don't live in a computer simulation, either. Adams has been deluded by some New Age pseudoscientific nonsense is he believes in the simulated Universe.

But I agree that the mocking references to these religious or simulated paradigms don't belong to the climate debate because they're completely independent. A climate skeptic isn't always a fan of creationism or simulated worlds – I am not. And a self-described climate alarmist isn't always an enemy of creationism or simulated worlds – after all, Adams presents himself as a fan.

All these laws linking the climate skepticism to creationism, simulated worlds, flat Earth, and many other things are purely nonsensical. And you know, it's nonsensical propaganda that most people can see through as long as they're not completely brain-dead. They actually know some people who believe in Creation but have bought into the climate alarmism or vice versa. Almost everyone knows some people with such combinations of views. So everyone knows that the claims linking the climate skepticism to some pseudoscientific or obsolete or unpopular views are nothing else than a self-evidently deceitful propaganda! Correlations between people's views do exist but they're not terribly strong and certainly don't allow you to treat these very different questions as equivalent.
5. Alarmists never show a better chart eliminating the natural variability.
Adams says that skeptics show quite detailed charts of the fluctuating temperatures in the past, in various epochs, at various timescales. So climate change is a natural process, isn't it? If the ongoing climate change is not, it must be much faster than the changes in the past. So alarmists should be able to show "better graphs" proving that the climate was basically constant in the past, relatively to what was happening in recent decades.

Well, yes, alarmists have tried to present such alternative facts. The most notorious example was Michael Mann's hockey stick. The only problem is that all these alternative facts have been thoroughly discredited. The change (resulting from linear regression) of the global mean temperature by 0.5 °C per century has always been rather normal. In thousands of years, it was always possible to get several degrees Celsius of change. Mann's graph was basically obtained by splicing the instrumentally measured, highly variable recent era with artificially flattened, and therefore nearly constant, reconstruction of the past that resulted from a completely different method. What a surprise: When two parts of the graph are obtained by very different methods, they look different and differently smooth. A hockey stick.

Alarmists can't provide anyone with alternative facts that would indicate that the climate change was relatively non-existent in the past because such alternative facts totally contradict everything we know about science. Climate change has been with us for billions of years and the rate rarely stayed "dramatically slower" than the recent trends for too much time.
6. Cherry-picking of poles is obviously fishy.
Climate alarmists love to talk about the North Pole that has seen more warming but they are silent about the South Pole that has basically seen none in the recent 50 years. Even though some alarmist propagandists must believe that it's "very clever" to hide the existence of one of the poles from the laymen ;-), it's not really clever because there are many people who have been able to figure out that the Earth actually has two poles. Everyone with the IQ above 65 can see that the asymmetric references to the two poles mean deception. This deception is self-evidently another alarmists' own goal.
7. Don't change the discussion from temperatures to sea levels whenever you're in trouble.
Again, almost all the people can see that it's fishy when someone, instead of admitting that some observed data disagree with his big thesis, tries to change the topic. It's something that is only done by permanent losers whose theories don't agree with anything and who are permanently running to escape the contradictions. All sensible people know that it's fishy.
8. Record high temperatures can't "beat" the observation that the rate of change is unspectacular.
Here it's a bit unclear what Adams' main point was. But skeptics shouldn't get the last word, Adams says, and their last word often is that the apparent trends are within the natural variability. Alarmists often change the topic – i.e. admit that skeptics deserve the last word on that – and speak about some record temperatures somewhere which clearly can't beat the skeptics' stronger argument.
9. Cherry-picking of places with record high temperatures is a trick obvious to everybody.
There are sometimes record high temperatures somewhere but people occasionally hear about the record low temperatures, too. When someone only talks about the former, people will notice and they will realize that they're being had. Only very stupid people could get deceived by this extremely cheap trick.
10. Alarmists shouldn't brag about the number of models but describe the progress and percentage of past models that survived tests of predictions.
It's a variation of a point at the beginning. It's easy to data-fit the past but many models doing so will make predictions for the future that will be falsified. A good or promising model is one that won't get falsified, at least not by much or if it will survive for a much longer time than others. Sometimes in the past, there were clearly no good models like that. People gradually learned to forecast weather etc. If people became able to predict the climate or long-term weather, when did the change take place? Who made the key advances? How much did the situation improve at that time? None of these questions is ever answered or explained. Again, people are not quite stupid. These things are never discussed, explained, or answered because the underlying big claim – that people are capable of predicting the climate in the distant future – is rubbish.

We never hear about the breakthroughs that allowed the people to reliably predict the future climate because no such breakthrough has taken place yet. If it had taken place, we would have been told something about it!
11. Claims about a dramatic sea level rise seem to contradict all the information that people can easily find.
Alarmists are often spreading the alarm about sea levels. Except that when you look at your favorite beach, nothing is changing. When you look at insurance rates for the real estate near the seas, nothing is changing. Warren Buffett tells you that these hypothesized changes of the climate or sea level aren't influencing his business. Top searches on Google tell you that the sea level is only changing by trivial amounts. Wouldn't it be wiser for the alarmists to give up and abandon this basically indefensible talking point?

No person with IQ above 90 who has done some elementary research into the topic will buy into the claims about the catastrophic ongoing sea level rise. The talk about the fast sea level rise only helps to further reduce the alarmists' credibility.
12. We have never seen any evidence that a warmer world was worse for the humans.
People could have heard lots of things that make perfect sense about the wonderful climate optima – an unsurprisingly optimistic name for the warm epochs. When it was easy to grow wine in England, cathedrals were being built. When the weather was chilly, people were in trouble etc. So even if we got some warming, it would probably be a good thing, right?

Why aren't the alarmists showing the "real science" with all the people who were delighted and thrived one mile beneath an ice sheet? Animals who were fed up with the warm weather in the Amazon forest so they decided to swim to the Antarctica? Well, let me tell you why: These claims are self-evidently rubbish. Everyone, including the alarmists, knows that a warmer weather – especially in the cold or moderate zones – is a better weather. Alarmists' credibility would increase if they admitted this point that everyone knows.
13. Models and basic science/theory shouldn't be conflated.
Right. The alarmists often speak as if they couldn't see a difference between a climate computer model and a textbook with some equations describing the theory of the climate. These are different things, Adams correctly says, and the theory generally has a higher credibility than the computer models. This is a point that Adams understands, but so do many other reasonably scientifically literature people. It's primarily the models that are fishy. People worshiping them are basically confusing the real world with a fictitious one from a computer game. A convincing computer game or movie can have this effect on a human – but when a human is impressed in this way, it's something else than actually having a well-defined and successful theory about a physical phenomenon.
14. Any talk about Pascal's wager means that you have lost the debate.
There is a nonzero risk that because of the CO2, the climate will be so destroyed that everyone and everything will die. So it's basically an infinite expense which must be avoided at all costs. Precautionary principle. Adams, like every rational person, realizes that this is simply not how anyone can think. One may invent tons of hypothetical stories how the whole world could get destroyed. But we can't take them seriously – we don't treat them as real. When someone wants to spend trillions of dollars, there simply seem to be better investments – even if your goal is to make the life of your country or ecosystems safer. And he gives some examples.

His 15th, unnumbered, recommendation is to stop calling skeptics "anti-science" when it's rather clear to everybody that what they typically demand is absolutely reasonable. They just don't want to be offered "climate science" that looks just like financial scams. And the previous 14 points serve as good evidence that the climate alarmism that is typically fed to the public looks just like the most well-known examples of financial scams.

At the end, Adams says that the climate alarmists are the Hillary Clinton of the climate debate. He is most interested in the psychology of the confrontations and he has predicted her to lose.

OK. Adams' recommendations telling the climate alarmists "what you should do or avoid doing in order to look more credible" make perfect sense. Do the climate alarmists understand that they're constantly scoring own goals? Why do they keep on repeating these cheap tricks, cherry-picking, obfuscating, running away from the arguments, failing to admit defeat whenever they're obviously defeated, and so on?

Let me tell you what I think the answer is. The tricks described by Adams are cheap, pathetic, and they obviously lower the credibility of the alarmists in the eyes of everyone whose IQ exceeds 90 or so. But these demagogic tricks and ad hominem attacks and cherry-picking etc. are still the best arguments in favor of the climate panic that the climate alarmists have – and that's why they keep on using them. They're not trying to persuade the people with the IQ above 90 because it's simply not possible – so they're trying to get as many people with the IQ below 90, e.g. the Hollywood actors, as they can get!

If I had to summarize Adams' advises, I would recommend the following to the climate alarmists: If you want to increase your credibility by a few orders of magnitude, admit that you were wrong, understand and embrace all the obviously correct insights and observations by the skeptics, and become a skeptic yourself.

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