comment on scientific consensus: distorting a debate to hide the majority view

I just discussed with “sceptics” on twitter about climate change. There Ronan Connolly ‏(@RonanConnolly) showed me his article which tries to give the impression that there is no scientific consensus about climate change being man-made. I spent some time answering that, and I want to share those answers here so they do not get lost in twittering.

This is how that started:

Ronan Connolly: @ArneBab @dhb7 @randal_olson Arne, have you read my "Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?" essay? — 8:14 PM - 27 Jun 2014

These are my answers, in the short format I used on twitter, just with the recipients taken out (because those are highly repetitive):

The structure and style of the article

your scale of 1 to 5 mixes up two completely separate issues: “Is it a crisis” and “is it man-made”

You later complain that people mix global warming and man-made, but that’s what you do in the article.

Your claim that modellers want to hide uncertainty is also wrong: They are up-front with uncertainties.

At this point I saw a reply from Ronan (I had missed about 5 others because I was busy actually reading the article and watching the videos linked in it):

Ronan Conolly: Did you read the Shackley et al., 1999 article I referenced as an example?

that article says that modellers don’t talk publicly about adjustments they themselves call fudge-factors which correct for stuff the models cannot represent correctly yet - and links to a 15 year old paper which scientists have since acted upon and replaced the adjustments by measures backed with solid theory. To give the article of Ronan credit: It does also link to chapter in the IPCC which states that those flux adjustments are no longer used.

If you wonder why some don’t talk openly, just read your own article. I already debunked lots of it. Will you include that?

Ronan Conolly: Which bits have you debunked?

The core of my criticism (1/2): you show man-made + crisis vs. natural + harmless — and then complain people mix that up.

core criticism (2/2): You show 5 equal positions, while even Singer says “most disagree with me” ⇒ Misrepresents statistics.

You show a linear range, but there is a distribution of scientific views - with the huge majority on the man-made side.

If you give as much space for a fringe position as for a majority position, you distort the actual distribution.

You list “examples”, but actually you picked a scale and then show 2-3 on each point on the scale. Try that with racism.

and the range you show isn’t actually one range, but two distributions. Man-made is almost a consensus. Catastrophic is not.

you complain about terminology (global warming vs. man-made g.w.) and then you use a scale which mixes both together.

The scientists arguing for natural causes

On Prof. John Christy: I saw some model-results this week. Models cannot yet predict regional changes.

(he claims that the regional distribution of temperature change disagrees with models, and uses that to argument that there is no global warming)

On Prof. Christy: Greenpeace showed, when cutting all subsidies wind is already cheaper than nuclear.

Ronan Connolly: 1) Can you give a reference? […]

Reference to greenpeace showing that wind and water are cheaper than coal and nuclear:

Debunking Prof. Carter: “half the scientists think the warming natural” ← None from the ones I know personally.

Debunking Singer: The oceans in the last 15 years show the warming. Same for satellites: …

But to give Singer credit: He correctly assessed that most climate scientists disagree with him.

Also you cite Prof. Svensmark and then say the equivalent of “the base of their theory has been disproven”.

Ronan Connolly: 1) I said Svensmarck's work is hotly debated, not "disproven". 2) Do you agree that there's wide range of views on global warming?

On Svensmark: I said “it’s the equivalent of disproven”, because including new data destroys the correlation it’s based on.

(the second part was already disproven earlier in this article: Not one range, two distributions with a very clear consensus-peak at man-made)

Doing it right

To make the article halfways accurate in reflecting the scientific view, there are two most important points to change:

Done right (1/2): 2 scales: man-made vs. natural and crisis vs. harmless. ⇒ consistent with complaint that people mix these.

Done right (2/2): Ask scientists instead of using media interviews (distorted due to the fair-and-balanced doctrine).

(note that the fair-and-balanced doctrine is special to climate science: On Russia they never require fair-and-balanced)

(naturally the scientists have to be picked at random, so the distribution of views is sampled correctly).

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