Free Markets, Free People

Science vs. “science”

Megan McArdle touches on one of the great political truths of today:

Ask a Washington dinner party full of moderately well informed people what will happen with Iran over the next five years, and you’ll end up with a consensus that gee, that’s tough. Ask them what GDP growth will be in fall 2019, and they’ll probably converge on a hesitant “2 or 3 percent, I guess?” On the other hand, ask them what’s going to happen to the climate over the next 100 years, and what you’re likely to hear is angry.

How can one be certain about outcomes in a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling? Anyone who’s familiar with the history of macroeconomic modeling in the 1960s and 1970s will be tempted to answer “Umm, we can’t.”

And that’s sort of the root of the problem, isn’ t it?  The “science” of “climate change” is based in modeling “a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling”, just as in years past economists attempted the same thing with similar results.

So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”.  Seems to me its a guess at best.  That’s certainly what economists found when they tried to model economies or even parts of economies.  The number of variables is just too vast and the knowledge of those variables is imprecise at best.

McArdle goes on to talk about the experience of economists and how models have pretty much been put in their place in the “dismal science”.  They’re aids, but they’re certainly nothing to bet your career or economic policy on.

Somehow, however, that’s not been the case with climate models – even when they’ve been shown to be horribly inaccurate time after time (in fact, not even close and have such a tenuous grasp on the mechanics of climate they can’t even reproduce the past).

That’s not stopped those who proclaim the “science is settled” from attempting to vilify and condemn those who disagree.  Money grafs from McArdle:

This lesson from economics is essentially what the “lukewarmists” bring to discussions about climate change. They concede that all else equal, more carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm. But, they say that warming is likely to be mild unless you use a model which assumes large positive feedback effects. Because climate scientists, like the macroeconomists, can’t run experiments where they test one variable at a time, predictions of feedback effects involve a lot of theory and guesswork. I do not denigrate theory and guesswork; they are a vital part of advancing the sum of human knowledge. But when you’re relying on theory and guesswork, you always want to leave plenty of room for the possibility that your model’s output is (how shall I put this?) … wrong.

Naturally, proponents of climate-change models have welcomed the lukewarmists’ constructive input by carefully considering their points and by advancing counterarguments firmly couched in the scientific method.

No, of course I’m just kidding. The reaction to these mild assertions is often to brand the lukewarmists “deniers” and treat them as if what they were saying was morally and logically equivalent to suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.

And that’s where we are.  McArdle ends with a plea for sane and objective discussion but in my opinion, that ship sailed when we saw state Attorney Generals band together to prosecute “deniers” under the RICO statutes.  Of course that doesn’t change the science or “science” but it does make it much more difficult to dial back the rhetoric.  There is a reason for that:

The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it’s cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.

This I wholeheartedly agree with and the actions of those who believe in man-made climate change constantly validate my position. This has moved well beyond objectivity and rational discourse.  It is into the realm of religious belief.  It is interesting which side of the ideological curve tends to believe the “science” presented and to agree with the oppressive sanctions offered to silence those who disagree.  The same ones who will tell you they’re “progressive”.  For those of us who read a bit, we know the history of “progressivism” and what is happening on the “progressive” side of this issue is exactly what you’d expect from them.

Now apply that knowledge to other “progressive” ideas and policies and you’ll soon understand what their end game looks like.

~McQ

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

29 Responses to Science vs. “science”

  • “you’ll soon understand what their end game looks like.”
    A lot of dead progressives?

    Oh.

    THEIR end game.

  • Climate change environmentalism is a fertile field for false dichotomies.

    I wrote a post years ago where I listed a whole bunch of potential positions about climate change / global warming, something like the following:

    1. It’s real, humans are the main cause, it’s going to cause catastrophic outcomes, and we should do just about anything to stop it.

    2. It’s real, humans are the main cause, it’s going to cause catastrophic outcomes, but there isn’t anything of consequence we can do to stop it.

    3. It’s real, humans are the main cause, but the outcomes won’t be catastrophic. Given that warm periods were some of the best in human history, it’s not a particularly bad thing.

    4. It’s real, but humans are not the main cause, and so there’s nothing we can do except adapt to it.

    5. It’s real, but humans are not the main cause, and the natural causes are cyclical, so we just need to wait around until the cycle turns.

    6. It’s probably not real, but we don’t really know because the models are crap and the data is manipulated. The people doing the so-called science have bias in favor of it being real and dangerous because that gets them grant money.

    7. It’s definitely not real – it’s just a ploy by people who want to gain power and influence over the rest of us.

    There are others more fine-grained that could be listed. But the point is that the entire climate change industry and all its celebrity shills want you to believe that people only believe either #1 or #7. So if you think any of the others are closer to reality, they just lump you in with #7 and call you a conspiracy theorist. Plus, since one of their hidden assumptions is that they always act from the best of motives, #7 can’t possibly be true, and anyone who thinks it is whacked (even though we know people who want to gain power and influence over us absolutely exist).

    So they rig the entire argument so that they never have to defend their position. False dichotomy, plus an unspoken assumption about their own superior morality, are all they need to dismiss every claim, every piece of data, every flawed model, and every reasoned argument anyone can make against their extreme position.

    • “So they rig the entire argument so that they never have to defend their position. False dichotomy, plus an unspoken assumption about their own superior morality, are all they need to dismiss every claim, every piece of data, every flawed model, and every reasoned argument anyone can make against their extreme position.”

      Perhaps the best explanation I’ve ever read – thanks.

    • It’s like reading the morally superior delusions of the people who write for, and read and comment (favorably) on opinion pieces in the NYT.
      Most recent example Clown Friedman excusing madam felon for her lies about her email and server. Sure they were lies maybe, but you know, not hurtful…just personally damaging bad judgement, but the other kids are worse mom! They lied too!

  • If Orwell had included a global warming subplot in “1984” the novel would have been rejected as too implausible.

  • Speaking of dishonesty, Vox says:

    CNN has finally figured out how to cover Donald Trump’s constant lying

    Strangely, no word on whether they have ever figured out how to cover Hillary’s constant lying. It’s been going on a lot longer, but somehow they just can’t figure out how to expose it. Odd, that.

    • Fail.

      Obviously changing CO2 levels by upwards of 20% should — assuming the coefficient is natural — produce approximately 20% of this warming effect.

      The assumption is invalid.

      • The best analogy for CO2 heating is to think of a glass box containing bees. What are the chances of hitting a bee when there are X in the box. What is the probability when it’s 2X .. then 3 X, etc.
        Eventually, you see that bees (and CO2 molecules) aren’t points, they have size, so at some point, the more bees you added .. there is no change.
        This is why the relationship of CO2 concentration to absorbing sunlight is asymptotic .. and we’re already above the knee of the curve.

      • DocD,

        Jason Smith responds to you in a an update at the bottom of the post. I’ll reprint it here:

        Someone linked to this post in comments on a pro-free market blog, which prompted a response (quoting me above and adding emphasis) that gives an excellent counterexample of the proper use of the null hypothesis:

        Fail.

        Obviously changing CO2 levels by upwards of 20% should — assuming the coefficient is natural — produce approximately 20% of this warming effect.

        The assumption is invalid.

        If the assumption is invalid, there must be a reason. That is the entire point of the strong CP problem (the assumption of a natural coefficient for the CP violating term in the QCD Lagrangian is orders of magnitude off, for which the axion is offered to explain). And if the assumption is prima facie invalid, its negation should be a valid starting point — i.e. assume the coefficient is unnatural. Sounds rational! And if the coefficient is unnatural, why is the earth not a ball of ice?

        This commenter would look at the hierarchy problem and say: What’s the big deal?

        • Professor Linkwhore sends a minion.

          1. Naturalness is not a physical requirement. It is an aesthetic pleasure of certain physicists.
          2. There is no heirarchy problem in climate models. Not CP violation.
          3. Feedbacks, saturations, buffering, etc, you morons.

    • If analogies are hard how about just examining realities?
      World not flooded as predicted, check.
      World not burning up as forecast, check
      Millions not dying in climate disasters, check
      Superstorms not running rampant, check
      But but but but we were last the tipping point!
      If we didn’t engage in meaningless carbon futures trading schemes to enrich the already powerful we were all doomed!

      Screw the models binky, just look at how the predictions of doom in 10 years (from ANY date) have all fallen flat.

      Paging rich Al Gore, sucker at analogies are hard holding on line 2.

      • Rule of thumb #23.

        If someone cites the Dunning-kruger effect then they are themselves suffering said effect.

        • The overall trend seems to be rampant denial of readily discernible reality in favor of the globally acceptable favorite end of the world belief.
          The end of the Mayan Long Count bringing about the end of the world was just superstitious gobbledygook!; but cow farts and 1st world SUV exhaust accumulating to create a global greenhouse that will destroy all of us, that can only be corrected by declaring that all atmospheric CO2 is owned by governments and rights to it can be purchased, assigned, and traded and if we don’t do THAT, we’re all going to die….there’s no gimmicky gobbledygook going on there, oh no.

          The mean planetary temperature 15 years ago was less than 15 years away from reaching the PONR and those of us left were doomed to spend heaping great gobs of time surviving and burying those who didn’t make it through the floods, fires, famines, storms, wars, meteor strikes, plagues and various unmentionable acts of world wide mayhem.
          Or, lately, it seems perhaps, simulated mayhem because now it’s intellectual to have stoner discussions about the universe being a simulation, and we didn’t even get stoned to have it! How awesome is THAT!

          Ah!
          There, see, that’s what it is, we SHOULD have warmed past the tipping point, but the blofmorgs running our simulation invoked a cheat code to prevent it.
          Same as they’re tinkering with the US election in game so we have a felon, a commie, and Donald Trump as our choices for President.

  • So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”.

    Harry Potter magic unworkable…say time wasting scientists.

    Enough said.

    • So real “scientists” are writing papers that would be better if published as scripts for Mystery Science Theater 3000?
      And quite possibly are being paid for with grants or funds from other organizations?

      Is there a sign up sheet?

      • Heh. Well to be fair the papers are all written by undergrads and the “journal” is just an exercise at one university. So, just a practice arena for young-uns to try out writing and reviewing papers.

        • Damn
          What you’re telling me is I’m going to have to get a job doing research funded by the government then.
          Something no one understands, like, the probability that the sun will rise in the east 365 days out of any given 365 day year.

        • or developing the Obamacare Web Site….

        • Do you know of something like “Naturalness for Dummies”? I have been trying to get my brain to grasp it, but I don’t think I get it. So far, it just seems to me like a way to simplify assumptions. Or, as we learned in numerical analysis, to get the model to run on a computer without too many problems (e.g. multiplying very small numbers by very large numbers).

      • “Arise my wives and…”

        Kudos to anyone who can finish this sentence from the MST3K gem, Manos, the Hands of Fate!

        • “… hear the will of Manos.”

          I think. The sound quality was so bad, it could have easily been “heal this shawl of man sauce”.

          “Someone get that cat off the piano.”

          • Bzzt. Think politically incorrect…

            “Arise my wives and iron my workshirts!”

            With three sons, much conversation is referenced to MST3K. So inside baseball with those around us that it’s probably rude. I’m too busy laughing to care.

          • Yeah, some of the MST3K favorites around here are:

            “Mitchell!”

            “Great heaping gobs of butter.”

            “They had a crew!? I do not believe they had a crew!” (My son does theatrical lighting design, and this is one of his favorites.)

  • (Channeling Jethro Bodine) – the line should have been…. “And commence ta cat scrappin!”

  • So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”.

    Yes, how could 19th century scientists come up with thermodynamics without modeling the position, mass, and velocity of every single gas molecule??? They must have just got lucky when they ignored that and got it right in spite of ignoring all those variables.

    Or maybe, the macro system is not particularly dependent on all those details from the micro states of the component parts (i.e. gas molecules)?