Monday, June 23, 2014

Interesting Post About the Climate Argument

I came across a recent piece discussing evidence about beliefs on climate issues. It finds  that Democrats mostly believe temperatures are warming due to human action and something must be done about it, Republicans mostly don't, but that the difference is not due to differing perceptions about what climate scientists believe. If the question is not what is true but what most climate scientists believe, Republicans and Democrats give roughly similar answers—correct in some cases, incorrect in others.

The author's conclusion is that the debate has become a status conflict, with each side taking the position that it is wise and good, the other side the opposite. One implication he draws is that the campaign to persuade people that 97% of climate scientists agree is based on the mistaken assumption that the reason people are not persuaded is that they don't know what climate scientists believe.

It struck me that his description fits my observations of the online debate. Most participants appear confident that their side is right, the other side stupid or evil. Most of the posts and comments are attempts by one side to put down the other. Substantive arguments occasionally appear, but they are largely cut and paste from popular web sites on the side of whoever is posting them.

I should add that I do not think it is clear what climate scientists believe. As best I can tell by my involvement in the argument, most such scientists think global temperature has been trending up and humans are at least partly responsible, many, perhaps a majority, think humans are mainly responsible. I have seen no evidence of what percentage take the next two steps, the conclusion that if nothing is done the results will be terrible and the further conclusion that there is something that can be done that is worth doing. But those steps are essential for the policy argument that one side of the dispute is pushing and the other side opposing.

As of 5:50 EST 6/23/14 the piece described in this post appears to have vanished. I have not yet figured out why or where, if anywhere, I can find it again.

After an exchange of emails with the author, who turned out to be someone I knew from my time at U of C Law school, the link is now fixed.


Douglas Knight said...

The correct link is here. You probably left a comment and wound up on a page about creating a comment, rather than the actual post. Your blog has the problem, too, but at least it has a link back to the post.

Anonymous said...

Climate scientists can only inform the policy discussion, not dictate it or control it.

Anonymous said...

Extortion being a crime against property, adopting the guise of "science" does not make it otherwise.

"The whole world will be destroyed," exclaims the robber, "unless you let me rob you some more!"


A lot of "scientists" performing this research are incentivized or already subsidized by this very same kind of extortion. Hmm. Because this discipline is so heavily subsidized "scientists" know they can quickly gain both personally and professionally by parroting state-approved memes. In the mind of any skeptic, that conflict of interest disqualifies the statements of many a climate change promoter.

So for some "deniers" (lol) like myself, that is the moral checkmate against "climate change" action which science cannot refute. It starts with theft.

jimbino said...

It is claimed by some that "climate-change" represents a threat to himans. One way to ease the threat is to reduce the climate change. The other, ignored by Friedman and others, is to reduce the number of humans.

The former would still leave the elephants, whales, fish, flowers and birds threatened. Reducing the breeding of humans, on the other hand, would solve all those problems and others, including that of lebensraum.

Steve Shay said...

David, I appreciate what you write, but not always how you write. Your awkward syntax serves to obscure your points. Edit, unless you haven't the time.- Steve Shay

Andy said...

"A lot of "scientists" performing this research are incentivized or already subsidized by this very same kind of extortion."

Anonymous, you clearly have no idea how science works. Scientists do not receive grant money to prove climate change is man made or will be catastrophic etc, they receive grants to conduct research that will contribute some form of new knowledge (e.g. how air currents are affected by changes in temperature). The grants they receive are not conditional on their results, only on their ability to contribute to the knowledge of society (i.e. they don't get money for saying that changes to air currents will be 'bad', 'good' or insignificant). They may well conclude that those changes will be good or bad but that's not what the grant money is for.

A scientist can, however, make his reputation by proving a case that is different to currently popular theories and hypotheses. The way the situation currently stands is that any scientist that can conclusively demonstrate global warming is harmless, or even beneficial, will get enormous credit, both in terms of reputation and future funding. This is why climatologists and ecologists pushing for a 'no problem here' conclusion are so conspicuous by their absence.

(For a text book example, see how Barry Marshall got a Nobel Prize for overturning decades of medical dogma on stomach ulcers)

jdgalt said...

With few exceptions, those who post arguments on this topic are not themselves scientists -- just people who uncritically repeat slogans. That's unfortunate. Unfortunately, the science institutions that rational people would otherwise trust have become corrupted by threats to their funding. So that is where public debate needs to focus. Until the corrupt institutions are purged or replaced, reliable science will simply not happen.

Mark Horning said...

I'm fairly certain that "climate scientists" believe that one cannot get a grant to study global cooling.

Other than that, it's unclear what they actually believe.

Benjamin Cole said...

OT: David Friedman recently suggested I read Machinery of Freedom, Part III, and I did and I enjoyed it.

I love the idea of taxes on pollution, and have since I read a book (I think by Chuck Knoll) 30-40 years ago.

The section on national defense could be even stronger, suggesting only fleets of hunter-killer and ballistic subs as deterrents. There is about a zero chance of a foreign military invasion and occupation of the USA, and our national defense should reflect that reality. (See 1970s article, Foreign Affairs, by Admiral Paul Cohen re submarine-only navy).

I have some quibbles about private arbitration to even settle a home break-in and theft situation.

Great for civil suits, but I think I have a stake in seeing that someone who broke into David Friedman's house is incarcerated. But I think only the public sector can incarcerate an individual. Maybe I read too fast in this section.

But overall, I only wish we could give David Friedman's ideas a try.

Anonymous said...

Not directly relevant to this post, but I'd be interested if David Friedman would care to comment on this article in Scientific American on the potential costs of global warming.

Josiah Neeley said...

Prof. Friedman,

Here is a recent survey of climate scientists that may answer some of your questions about what most scientists believe on this topic (the relevant pages are 45-52).

If I could offer my summary of the results: most climate scientists are fairly confident that most recent warming is due to human activity and that there are long term risks from warming, but are roughly split as to whether adaptation or mitigation is the better strategy for dealing with it.

David Friedman said...


I think you are much too optimistic about how the academic world works. You may not get a grant to get a particular result, but whether you get the grant may depend on whether your application suggests you are looking for the result the granting agency wants.

For a real world example, take a look at the beginning of _Warfare Before Civilization_. The author describes applying for a grant, having the application rejected because it implied that he thought walled villages were for defense and everyone knew that primitives were peaceful, rewriting the application to eliminate the implication and having it accepted.

Beyond that, success as an academic very much depends on getting your articles published, preferably in high status journals. An article arguing against what the editor and referees believe may not impress them as worth publishing. Taking the minority position and proving it sometimes works, but it's a high risk strategy.

One of the Climategate emails that struck me was one raising the question of whether the editor of a journal that had published an article the writer and recipient disapproved of was really on the wrong side, and if so whether it would be possible to get him removed as editor.

Tibor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tibor said...

Regarding research/science public funding:

I don't know much about applying for an individual grant. However, currently our "research training group" (RTG) is applying for further funding (an RTG is a collection of Ph.D. students from different fields who are supposed to collaborate...which sometimes works, sometimes not so much. I am quite an outlier as a probabilist in a group of mostly applied statisticians, geneticists, ecologists and econometricians, so I am not getting all that much collaboration, maybe others have it better).

There are many preparations before the reviewers, who are supposed to estimate the quality of the RTG and grant further funding, come. Most of it consists of setting up a good show with an occasional little lie here and there, but mostly telling the reviewers what they want to hear.

For example, our mandatory "diversity competence" course was a disaster (it received bad ratings from almost everyone and the university even decided not to work with the lecturer next time), but since "diversity and gender equality" is an important topic for the reviewers, we were told not to really mention it unless necessary.

I might add that we've had a rehearsal of the review and we will have another next week. Then finally this circus will be over and we will be able to fully concentrate on actual work again :) But the process really reminds me of the story of Potemkin - a Russian guy during the tzar Russia who set up these painted hollow model "villages" in the middle of nowhere and then showed them to the tzar to impress him by how the region has improved under his magistrate. I don't know if the Potemkin story is true, by the way :)

Generally, the more time I spend in academia, the more I am convinced that after I finish my Ph.D. training, I want to do some privately funded research (even at a cost of doing something a bit more applied than I might like) and the more I am dissatisfied with the way public research is funded.

So I agree that Andrew's picture is sadly a bit too rosy (although it would be nice if it were that way).

Tibor said...

Errata to my previous comment:

I found out that there were no little lies after all. One thing where I thought the talk did not fit the reality was changed some months ago (in reality not in the talk) so that now it actually does. I was not aware of that and now I learned about it in a discussion with a more informed colleague.

The rest of my impression about the funding still holds, though.

RJM said...

"Most participants appear confident that their side is right, the other side stupid or evil."

This reminds me of your webbed exchange with Rothbard. Not because either of you fell back to this profane rhetoric, of course :)
Rather you agreed with Rothbard that he "hates the state" and you don't. Or at least you criticized the very concept of "evil" in a factual debate over ideas. (I hope I got that right)

The last time I explained libertarianism to someone, his first reaction was just to inform me about his biases (basically how he feels these ideas are "stupid and dangerous"). I didn't defend libertarianism then but rather respected his negative feeling about it, knowing that this would not be the end of the debate.

And indeed eventually we continued and I had the much more pleasant opportunity to answer some of his questions (without the negative judgement on his side).

In the introduction to The Machinery you spend also some paragraphs on how others see your views as "peculiar". So spotting this pattern "stupid and dangerous" and dealing with it appropriately (i.e. on a more emotional level) turned out very productive to me.

Of course this works both ways. As in Rothbard's case: the claim "statism is evil" might be legitimate on its own. It's probably not the beginning of productive debate.

Tibor said...

RJM: Right. It is sort of self-perpetuating. If you are a libertarian of a Rothbardish variety (not all of them are like that, sure, take it with a grain of salt :)), you talk to people, accuse them of being "immoral" and basically end the debate. To that, people who are not already convinced of your ideas, or most of them at least, will mostly react with some degree of hostility. That confirms your opinion that they are evil...and theirs that libertarians are a crazy bunch :)

A friend of mine who is sort of libertarian-ish (basically a social democrat turned minarchist) told me that when he talks with people who disagree with him about political issues, he usually starts with asking them:"What would you do about this or that?" Which usually steers the conversation into a more friendly and productive one than if you start by "we have to do this and that"...and especially so if your main reason is "...because everything else is immoral".

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, you clearly have no idea how science works... The grants they receive are not conditional on their results, only on their ability to contribute to the knowledge of society.."

Immediately upon your use of the word "science" I fell into a confused state of submission. I now meekly accept unending theft of my saved resources for delivery to "scientists" for whatever purposes "scientists" determine.