The Republican Party’s intellectual


“The debate is over. I mean, how many more thousands and thousands of scientists do we need to say, ‘We have done a study that there is global warming?’ … I am here to make businesses boom, but let’s also protect our environment. Let’s make our air clean. Let’s make our water clean. And let’s fight global warming because we know now that this is a major danger, that this is not a debate anymore.”

Addendum: Unfortunately Friedman’s NYT column on the Right’s scientific muscleman is only available to subscribers, so I’ve quoted the relevant passages in the comments section.

64 Responses to “The Republican Party’s intellectual”

  1. anon Says:

    How about a link?

  2. Scott Says:

    Here, or click the picture. It’s to Friedman’s column in NYT, which unfortunately seems to be free only for subscribers.

  3. Carl Says:

    If you have a .edu email address, the Times will now let you get the stuff behind the paywall for free.

  4. Thomas Says:

    I heard a rumor that NYT is now free for students and faculty. I asked Google, and he confirmed this rumor:

    http://www.nytimes.com/gst/ts_university_email_verify.html

    Which is a shame, I threw away $25 right before they switched policies. (I’m ashamed to say I actually read some of their opinion pieces…)

  5. Jon Says:

    “It’s to Friedman’s column in NYT, which unfortunately seems to be free only for subscribers.”

    In other words, it’s free only to people who have paid for it.

  6. Scott Says:

    In other words, it’s free only to people who have paid for it.

    Well, they do give you a choice between a glass of milk and the whole cow…

  7. Scott Says:

    Alright, here, I’ll quote the relevant passages from the column:

    “The debate is over,” he said to me. “I mean, how many more thousands and thousands of scientists do we need to say, ‘We have done a study that there is global warming?’ ”

    What is “amazing for someone that does not come from a political background like myself,” said Governor Schwarzenegger, is that “this line is being drawn” between Democrats and Republicans on climate change. “You say to yourself: ‘How can it be drawn on the environment?’ But it is. But the great thing is more and more Republicans are coming on board for this. Seeing how important this is. And more and more Democrats and Republicans are working together. … I said in my inaugural address: ‘There isn’t such a thing as Republican clean air or Democratic clean air. We all breathe the same air.’ Let’s get our act together, fix this problem and fight global warming.”

    Last September, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

    “Everybody recognized that it was so important that we should not argue over philosophy — that we Republicans believe in this and we Democrats believe in this and get nothing done,” he said. “We did it carefully. … We gave it enough ramp-up time to start in the year 2012 and by the year 2020 we want to hit that level. I am a business-friendly guy. I’m all about economic growth. I am not here to harm businesses. I am here to make businesses boom, but let’s also protect our environment. Let’s make our air clean. Let’s make our water clean. And let’s fight global warming because we know now that this is a major danger, that this is not a debate anymore.”

  8. Geordie Says:

    Imagine if, instead of Conan, Thulsa Doom AKA James Earl Jones was the governor of California.

    “I am a business-friendly guy. I’m all about economic growth. I am not here to harm businesses… infidel defilers, on the other hand…they shall drown in lakes of blood.”

  9. lylebot Says:

    Coincidentally, I just finished watching An inconvenient Truth before I clicked over here. It made me :( and I was hoping reading about the evolution of biting vaginas being NP-Hard when conditioning on the existence of non-biting vaginas might cheer me up. But knowing that at least one powerful Republican wants to do something about it cheers me up a bit.

  10. Thomas Says:

    Oops, Carl beat me to it.

  11. rrtucci Says:

    This is not about the environment, but it’s about Bush and I found it hilarious
    http://majikthise.typepad.com/majikthise_/2007/03/the_irack.html#comments

  12. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Another great picture of our intellectual state leader.

  13. assman Says:

    Yes we should all believe in global warming because 1000 scientists say its true and in science we must believe whatever the authorities tell us to believe. We should also believe that global warming climatologists are capable of making prediction 50 years into the future because they have already demonstrated this ability my making numerous accurate and successful forecasts of future climate. The incredible number of successful predictions they have made is dazzling so of course we should be willing to bet hundred of billions of dollars that their predictions will come true.

    We should also never forget the other wonders of modern science like string theory and general relativity which have also made a dazzling number of successful and accurate predictions which have successfully demonstrated every aspect of these theories. Ah the wonders of modern science.

  14. Guy Srinivasan Says:

    assman: Can you argue both sides? I’d like reasons for believing AGW is not occurring.

  15. Vasily Shirin Says:

    We have to believe also that people like Gore are driven solely by love to humanity, as opposed to scoundrel Bush who cares only about money for himself and his friends oil tycoons. I already lived in one country where things were done not for money, but for love, so I know what I’m talking about.

  16. Scott Says:

    We should also never forget the other wonders of modern science like string theory and general relativity which have also made a dazzling number of successful and accurate predictions…

    ROTFL! I almost would’ve been 5% with you, until you mentioned general relativity!

  17. paraphrene Says:

    Which country, Vasily?

  18. Carl Says:

    Look at this chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Carbon_Dioxide_400kyr-2.png

    Normally, CO2 is between 180 to 280ppm, but currently it’s up at 380.

    Do we know for sure what will happen now that there’s more CO2 in the air than ever in the last million years? No, we don’t. That’s the whole point! In a situation like this, it pays to be conservative. If we bet on an unprecedented level of CO2 not doing anything and we’re wrong, then the whole earth will turn into Venus II. If we try to mitigate carbon levels and we’re wrong, then boo hoo, we’re stuck driving crappy electric cars and not paying countries that hate us billions of dollars for their oil.

  19. Dave Bacon Says:

    and general relativity

    “No GPS for you!”…said soup Nazi style, of course.

  20. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Which country, Vasily?
    USSR. Unforgettable experience.

  21. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Carl, I looked at the chart. It compares moving averages (each point being an average of at least 1000 years) with current data, which is not averaged in a similar manner. Hope you don’t trade stocks based on charts like this. In fact, this chart demonstrates the weakness of argumentation of GW activists.
    P.S. Heard rumours that Mars is warming up, too (you can google it). For some reason, this didn’t make headlines in NYT.

  22. John Sidles Says:

    Three points.

    (1) Scott, where’d you get the picture of my self-image? :)

    (2) NOAA Paleoclimatology posts much good GW data.

    Yikes! If the red and blue lines (CO2 and temperature) remain in lock-step, while CO2 doubles, then the planet is heading for a 35 deg. C temperature hike. Few of our grandchildren would survive.

    (3) I’ve posted it before, but here’s what John von Neumann thought about global warming (BibTeX entry):

    @inCollection{vonNeumann:55,
    author = {J. von Neumann},
    title = {Can we survive technology?},
    booktitle = {The Fabulous Future: America in 1980},
    publisher = {E. P. Dutton {\&} Company},
    year = 1955,
    pages = {33–48},
    jasquotes = {“All major weather phenomena … are ultimately controlled by the solar energy that falls on the earth. … “The carbon dioxide released into the atomosphere by industry’s burning of coal and oil—more than half of it during the last generation—may have changed the atomosphere’s composition sufficiently to account for a general warming of the world by about degree Fahrenheit. … Intervention in atmospheric and climatic matters will come in a few decades, and will unfold on a scale difficult to imagine at present. … Such actions would be more directly and truly worldwide than recent, or presumably, future wars, or the economy at any time. … All this will merge each nation’s affairs with those of every other, more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war would have done. … What safeguard remains? Apparently only day-to-day—or perhaps year-to-year—opportunistic measures, a long sequence of small, correct decisions. And this is not surprising. After all, the crisis is due to the rapidity of progress, to the probable further acceleration thereof, and to the reaching of certain critical relationships. Specifically, the effects that we are now beginning to produce are of the same order of magnitude as “the great globe itself.” Indeed, they affect the earth as an entity. Hence further acceleration can no longer be absorbed as in the past by an extension of the area of operations. … The most hopeful answer is that the human species has been subjected to similar tests before, and seems to have a congenital ability to come through, after varying amounts of trouble.},}

  23. Carl Says:

    We have to believe also that people like Gore are driven solely by love to humanity, as opposed to scoundrel Bush who cares only about money for himself and his friends oil tycoons. I already lived in one country where things were done not for money, but for love, so I know what I’m talking about.

    There’s no point in trying to figure out whether something is true or not based on the motivations of the individual. Many an honest man believe that triangles always have 180 degrees before the invention of non-Euclidean geometry, and even the Devil believes the world is round. Look to the facts, not the man.

    Carl, I looked at the chart. It compares moving averages (each point being an average of at least 1000 years) with current data, which is not averaged in a similar manner.

    So, you believe that very soon our CO2 level will drop down to 100ppm or so to balance out the last 100 years? I don’t see that as being very likely. I would rather not gamble our future on such a slim possibility of our CO2 level mysteriously dropping.

    Besides, and this is the key, taking anti-global warming steps doesn’t have to hurt us. Inventing more energy efficient devices is not painful. Not using oil from Putin’s Russia, Ahmadinejad’s Iran, or Chavez’s Venezuela is a blessing, not a curse. Making industrial carbon sinks will create jobs, not reduce them.

  24. cody Says:

    “we should be willing to bet hundred of billions of dollars that their predictions will come true” (said sarcastically).

    i hear arguments like this a lot against GW, and while i personally am only concerned because David Attenborough is (joking. of course, David Attenborough is my hero), my real concern is that i really dont know how our emissions will affect the environment, even in the near future. what we do is so unbelievably unprecedented, i feel uneasy making any claim as to the outcome.

    however, we are an enormously prosperous society, especially here in the US, and the idea that economics should be the bottom line to every decision is just silly.

    so my view is this: the unnatural biproducts of human existence are a sort of vandalism to the environment, and whether its ‘harmless’ graffiti, or structural damage, its still vandalism. and if you are concerned about the effects of vandalism, and youve got the money to fix it, you might as well try to fix it.

  25. KWRegan Says:

    As long as biting vaginas are being discussed in this top item (lylebot above), and you’ve got Lenny Susskind in town, it’s time to ask the pivotal question:

    Do biting vaginas exist?

    —in any sense of “exist” as discussed on p177 of The Cosmic Landscape and later?

    This need not require evolution as in your original item. A biting vagina is a finite mathematical structure—in fact, I think I see it in the top right of Max Tegmark’s big diagram here for his Ultimate Ensemble ToE. If a quantum fluctuation or jump could produce (our pocket of) the Universe, why not a biting vagina? Of course it might not be stable or even metastable, but if it’s a finite model of a consistent theory, it should happen “sometime” in the Megaverse, n’est ce pas? After all, as the saying goes, Reality Bites! :-)

    So maybe this is a serious question—or else I’ll start my own “Embarrassing Myself” section. My other comment on Susskind’s book (which I defended here) is that for readers who might get the “quantum jitters” over whether Higgs-level energy experiments might be that speck-in-supercooled-water, it would be good to cite Tegmark-Bostrom and the relevance of We are very grateful for cosmic rays.

  26. John Sidles Says:

    No one has mentioned Jared Diamond’s Collapse ; this is itself a warning sign of collapse.

  27. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Echoes of Lubos Motl.

  28. KWRegan Says:

    As long as others are moving this thread toward other Fermi Paradox explanations, may as well mention my favorite:

    Geoffrey Miller’s Edge 2006 Dangerous Idea essay

    “…Basically the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games…”

    At least my wife and I can directly do something about this one—kidvid time limited! But this may also tie Nick Bostrom’s computer-simulation papers to my other (waiting) post: Do computer simulations of biting vaginas “exist”? Could we tell the difference?

  29. Vasily Shirin Says:

    So, you believe that very soon our CO2 level will drop down to 100ppm or so to balance out the last 100 years?
    Make an experiment: take this graph from wikipedia, remove all text from it, then show it to somebody and ask: what is this? I bet for most people this will look like someone is spamming a stock. Buy now, until it’s too late, you see this dotted line going to infinity? Get rich fast!
    To me, this graph contains no information. ZERO. I can’t say anything based on it: whether current readings are normal, whether they are abnormal, what will happen in 100 years, what will happen in 5 years. I know for sure that Earth survived major disasters (not shown on this graph – because they were averaged out!). Even within last 100+ years: Krakatau, Tunguska, 50-megaton nuclear tests…
    I believe that not paying attention to WHO says is silly. Whatever Gore says, has political purpose, you can’t just abstract it out – it’s the key point. Marx made predictions, too, they were taken seriously by somebody, and you know what happened next.
    I don’t want to say that everything is all right. On the contrary, the problem of oil is urgent as never before; every time I pay for gas, I know part of my money goes to subsidize suicide bombers somewhere, and this is really bad. This is THE reason for me, not imaginary charts. And this reason is enough. And “enough” means that we don’t need another reason.
    If you want to ruin any idea, let people like Gore propagandize it – no one will believe any word in it, except Hollywood actors and math professors.

  30. Steve Demuth Says:

    It is true, of course, that predictions of climate change due to anthropogenic CO2 will not be precisely right. But that’s a foolish way to look at the argument.

    The physics of infrared entrapment by CO2, CH4 and other green house gasses indisputable. It’s been understood since Arhennius over a century ago, and comprehensively understood for decades.

    What atmospheric science has been trying to understand for the last 30 years is not whether rising CO2 levels will heat up the earth in the general case, but whether the various feedback mechanisms that might limit CO2 buildup and heat accumulation will a) mean that things don’t change much, b) lead to positive feedback that makes global warming worse, or c) cause some unforeseen non-linear effect that will do nobody know what, or if d) the simple linear effect that is the most obvious possible outcome will hold. Secondarily, they are trying to model the winners and losers in cases b), c) and d).

    a) is a lousy bet. Yes, it could happen, but there is no sound a priori reason to suppose it will, and plenty of fossil evidence to suppose that it won’t. Both b) and c) are very dangerous outcomes; we don’t want to find out too late that either is true. d) would be incredibly disruptive, because even if the global effect is linear, the local effect will likely be disruptive. Again, not something you want to find out is true, when it’s too late to effectively ameliorate it.

    So, the dismissal by Vasily et al of “1000 scientists” strikes me as either disingenuous or incredibly intellectually blind.

    By way of analogy, suppose you go to doctor, and she says you have every symptom of early stage cancer. Treatable, but very dangerous. Not liking that opinion, you consult 99 other physicians. 98 of them concur, with varying degrees of certainty that you indeed have early stage cancer. One says, “maybe you do, but you might not. Doctors are often wrong, and I have this theory that says everything will be al right.”

    Who amongst us wouldn’t treat the cancer?

    Now, how is the global climate change prediction different than the cancer prediction in this story?

  31. John Sidles Says:

    Steve Demuth says: Now, how is the global climate change prediction different than the cancer prediction in this story?

    Obviously a David Letterman challenge:

    ————-
    Top Ten Reasons Global Warming Does Not Exist

    (10) Humanity doesn’t have global warming insurance.

    (9) Ten billion patients, no global warming doctors.

    (8) “Waiting for Godot” of a technological fix.

    (7) Amount of paperwork is beyond frightening.

    (6) No worries, I’ll be dead before it gets too warm.

    (5) Luke Skywalker: “No, that’s not true! That’s impossible!

    (4) It’s Bill Clinton’s fault.

    (3) Can’t be solved by small government, free markets, and faith in prayer; therefore not real.

    (2) Those darn raccoons.

    —- and the number one reason —-

    (1) Homer Simpson: “Silly, that can’t be true. Because if it were, I’d be terrified!”

  32. KWRegan Says:

    [Here's my other post---with the 5 hyperlinks probably holding it up (not length) left as text. So many hyperlinks also upset the previewer, by the way]
    .
    .
    As long as biting vaginas [http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=68] are being discussed in this current-top item (lylebot above), and you’ve got Lenny Susskind in town, it’s time to ask the pivotal question:
    .
    Do biting vaginas exist?
    .
    —in any sense of “exist” as discussed on p177 of The Cosmic Landscape and later?

    This need not require evolution as in your original item. A biting vagina is a finite mathematical structure—in fact, I think I see it in the top right of Max Tegmark’s big diagram here [http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/toe_frames.html] for his Ultimate Ensemble ToE. If a quantum fluctuation or jump could produce (our pocket of) the Universe, why not a biting vagina? Of course it might not be stable or even metastable, but if it’s a finite model of a consistent theory, it should happen “sometime” in the Megaverse, n’est ce pas? After all, as the saying goes, Reality Bites! :-)

    [Or digital-simulated reality a-la Bostrom above might be what bites. So maybe this is a serious question...]

    My other comment re: Susskind’s book (which I defended here [http://www.inklingmagazine.com/articles/comments/believing-the-unseen/]) is that for readers who might get the “quantum jitters” over whether Higgs-level energy experiments might be that speck-in-supercooled-water, it would be good to cite Tegmark-Bostrom [http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0512204] and the relevance of We are very grateful for cosmic rays [http://www.kressworks.com/Science/A_black_hole_ate_my_planet.htm].

  33. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Steve, does the notion of global cooling say anything to you? There’s another way of looking at the chart in wikipedia: if you stick to 1000-year moving averages, you immediately see: we are at all-time lows! So, maybe we have to burn more coal, not less? Save the Earth! How come that within 30-year time interval, 99% of doctors, as you put it, reversed their opinion to the opposite, based on THE SAME charts with 1000-year averages? There were scientific conferences in 1970-s, stream of publications in NYT and “Pravda”: what imperialists are doing – they are freezing the Earth! Also, butter… It used to be a healthy stuff, good for you. Now it’s a bad, bad thing, doctors say it’s poison, never touch it. And so everything. For every expert, you can find another expert that is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. Let’s listen only to those who panic, and let’s panic together with them, and vote for Gore.
    My explanation for global cooling suddenly replaced by global warming is simple: we don’t understand randomness; most people believe that after 5 heads it’s SAFE to bet on tail; and if tail doesn’t come up, something must be fishy.
    If you don’t believe me, ask 100 doctors whether it’s a safe bet or not: you will be AMAZED by their answers! That’s the real reason for panic, by the way.

  34. Travis Says:

    Carl’s graph shows CO2 what appears to be at least a 400k-year high, and Carl claims CO2 is at a million-year high. Does that mean we know it was higher a million or so years ago, or that we just don’t have data earlier than that? If CO2 levels have in fact been higher, than present-day levels are not unprecedented. What may be unprecedented is the rate of increase. This may be significant if we’re pumping out CO2 faster than various negative-feedback mechanisms can compensate, of course.

    People here are throwing around numbers like a 35 C increase in temperature. A familiarity with the basic physics of the greenhouse effect will show this fear to be unfounded, unless there are dramatic positive feedback effects. Essentially, at a certain point atmospheric absorption of infrared at CO2 wavelengths saturates, and there’s not much effect from further increases in CO2.

    Large positive feedback loops seem unlikely–if the earth’s climate was an unstable system, it wouldn’t have lasted a billion years.

    It seems to me that we’re in for a modest temperature increase, and that most of the sky-is-falling claims will not come to pass. Furthermore, Kyoto-type measures are already known to be both politically difficult and climatologically ineffective. Either we find a different approach to fighting global warming, or we’ll have to learn to live with it.

    What I’ve started noticing is that many people treat environmentalism like a religion. Some of the arguments here resemble Pascal’s wager (beware the dire consequences of unbelief!) rather than a rational cost-benefit analysis. Organic foods and compact fluorescent light bulbs are approached as a form of worship by some people (anyone else realized that CFL bulbs give little or no energy savings when used in cold climates?), rather than a rational method of mitigating risk. There’s even a high priest with a rather large personal following.

    Keep in mind that global warming is only one of many threats to civilization. Others range from the old stand-bys (nuclear war) to the improbable. We have finite resources to allocate to these problems, and we should at least try to do cost-benefit analysis.

  35. Lev R Says:

    Vasily says: Make an experiment: take this graph from wikipedia, remove all text from it, then show it to somebody and ask: what is this? I bet for most people this will look like someone is spamming a stock. Buy now, until it’s too late, you see this dotted line going to infinity? Get rich fast! To me, this graph contains no information. ZERO.

    I don’t buy Vasily’s argument because the current trends in carbon dioxide levels and earth temperatures, unlike stock market data, have plausible explanations by scientists, and this what should make us think (and worry) that this trend will continue unless we act to reverse it.

    I don’t really see why there is a debate when we know that increased amounts of atmospheric gas trap light in the atmosphere, which in turn heats the earth, which in turn must have some (negative) ramifications for the planet. We need only to look at Venus to see this effect in the extreme. And we know that we’ve been the source of quite a bit of the CO2 (and other) pollution.

    In the end, I think people use their common sense in forming opinions on global warming (among other things). It’s clear to me that the burden of proof should be on the naysayers – to prove that all of our polluting, coal burning, oil drilling, disposing of nuclear waste, deforestation isn’t harming the Earth in some profound way. And it’s hard for me to see how others can see it so differently.

  36. cody Says:

    Is the CFL inefficiency due to the heating contributions made by incandescents? I think that effect would be awfully weak; undoubtedly, anyone who depends on the heat generated by their incandescent bulbs would benefit from buying a sweater, or a space heater, or any of the numerous devices designed specifically to heat things which would cream the efficiency of light bulbs. Even a toaster oven; anything with more infrared and less visible, right?

    As for global warming, my take falls into the Pascal’s wager category, (although, ultimately I tend to be a cornucopian, and suspect that everything will work out just fine). Many suggestions to curb GW seem nice, like ethanol. I suppose I view the ‘cost’ of switching to ethanol as a purely beneficial move. and I consider the ‘benefit’ to be pretty sweet too, as I value the environment more than money. Still I can’t help but think that we are such an incredibly prosperous society that the solutions to all of these “threats” isn’t well within our budget.

  37. cody Says:

    Is the CFL inefficiency supposed to be due to the heating contributions made by incandescent bulbs? Because I think that effect would be awfully weak; undoubtedly, anyone who depends on the heat generated by their incandescent bulbs could profit from buying a sweater, or a space heater, or any of the numerous devices designed specifically to heat things which would cream the efficiency of light bulbs. Even a toaster oven; anything with more infrared and less visible, right?

    Although I do tend to take the Pascal’s wager approach to global warming, I am, at heart, a cornucopian, and suspect everything will work out just fine. In light of the risk/reward approach, I reiterate, we are incredibly prosperous (I think I first saw that here on Scott’s blog), after all, its just money.

  38. Scott Says:

    Homer Simpson: “Silly, that can’t be true. Because if it were, I’d be terrified!”

    Thanks, John! :-) That’s by far the most persuasive argument I’ve seen for GW denial.

  39. Scott Says:

    Vasily:

    Also, butter… It used to be a healthy stuff, good for you. Now it’s a bad, bad thing, doctors say it’s poison, never touch it. And so everything.

    Yeah, scientists used to tell us that classical physics was true, now they tell us quantum physics is true. They used to tell us the expansion of the universe was slowing down, now they tell us it’s speeding up. Truly, why should we listen to anything the scientists say?

  40. Neratin Says:

    “How come that within 30-year time interval, 99% of doctors, as you put it, reversed their opinion to the opposite, based on THE SAME charts with 1000-year averages? There were scientific conferences in 1970-s, stream of publications in NYT and “Pravda”: what imperialists are doing – they are freezing the Earth!”

    Vasily, I think you should read these two articles:

    http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=94

  41. John Sidles Says:

    Travis says: People here are throwing around numbers like a 35 C increase in temperature.

    Everyone should understand that a 35 C global warming is predicted to accompany a CO2 doubling if we do no theory at all, but rely instead upon pure phenomenology, namely, the past 450,000 years of CO2 versus temperature data (per the NOAA paleoclimatology dataset).

    To remind everyone, phenomenological methods have a distinguished track record in disciplines like particle physics and economics. Indeed, the celebrated Black-Scholes formalism is simply a sophisticated formalism for phenomenologically pricing stock options to accord with empirical data — the Black-Scholes formalism does not embody any particularized model of the economy.

    The point being, anyone who respects the power of phenomenology in physics, mathematics, and economics, should also respect its power in predicting in global warming, and therefore should contemplate the prospect of a 35 C global temperature rise quite seriously.

    As the Homer Simpson quote illustrates—in fact, as most The Simpsons episodes illustrate—there can be a considerable element of humor in the logical contortions to which people resort, in order to avoid thinking seriously about tough issues … and life poses so very many tough issues.

    Is it just a tautology to say “Humor is the attempt to avoid being serious?”

  42. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Scott, I don’t understand your argument about quantum physics. It doesn’t reverse older theories. The equivalent of global cooling vs global warming story would be physics reversing the direction of gravitation every 30 years. My bet on butter: it will become good and healthy again within max 20 years. Expansion of Universe … well: because no one seems to understand what Universe is, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 30 years its expansion will be slowing down again by some theories, speeding up by others, and doing both at the same time by truly innovative ones. We can’t experiment with Universe on this scale, so it’s much like Laputa’s science anyway. Same goes for climatology: Laputa’s science in its purest form.
    People don’t seem to appreciate the simple fact: stability of life on Earth is a miracle. If you write these 10000 nonlinear partial differential equations – there’s 0 chance they have stable solutions. Even 3-body problem doesn’t. The only way to explain it would be to assume there’s some higher-level mechanisms, which we don’t understand at the moment, which don’t reduce to micro. As for GW: well, if all climatologists say is true, then catastrophe is already here, all derivatives are already infinite (look at the graph!), so it’s too late anyway (the more so that whatever you do here, you can’t force China to stop burning coal), so things are really bad.
    I don’t quite understand what this debate is about. We have to stop burning oil, because we don’t want to fund suicide bombers, period. Or somebody disagrees with this?
    P.S. Ethanol, if used as fuel in US, will make 3 billion people worldwide die of hunger.

  43. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Oh, forgot about plausible models: every stock analyst has VERY PLAUSIBLE model that explains to you why this particular stock FBAR will make you rich fast.

  44. John Sidles Says:

    Vasily Shirin Says: People don’t seem to appreciate the simple fact: stability of life on Earth is a miracle.

    With respect, Vasily, the literature does contains extensive — and very interesting — discussions of precisely this issue. For example, it is discussed in considerable detail, with multiple references, on pages 566-7 of Barrow and Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

    Relying on arguments due to Brandon Carter, Barrow and Tipler project a future biosphere duration of 41,000 years. They ask, “what could be the physical mechanism of [the biosphere's] demise?”

    Today, twenty-one years after Barrow and Tipler raised this question in 1986, it is very interesting that the above NOAA paleoclimatology dataset (the link is now fixed) provides a physical mechanism for biosphere extinction that has precisely the time-scale predicted by Barrow and Tipler’s analysis.

    Specifically, past episodes of global warming have occurred over a duration of order 5000–10000 years. This time-scale is thought to be set largely by the thermal inertia of the oceans.

    The Carter-Barrow-Tipler anthropic prediction is, therefore, that the next episode of global warming will have a similar duration of order 10^4 years, but this time, will proceed to extinction!

    Now, I am not myself a global-warming true believer. But I definitely am a true believer in reading and respecting the literature, and thinking about its system-level consequences for ordinary human beings.

    After all, a planet with ten billion “humazees” on it is no joke — or maybe, it necessarily is. :)

  45. Vasily Shirin Says:

    John, we may not agree on proof, but we seem to agree on the theorem, right? And the theorem has a very simple proof. So, why Gore doesn’t use a simple proof, absolutely uncontroversial proof, proof that everybody would agree with? WHY? Because simple proof requires bringing up the issue of terror. And if he brings terror into discussion, he will be indistinguishable from Bush. His goal is not to solve the problem, not to help preserve environment, not anything of any value – he has nothing but ego. And by silencing the true proof, by substituting false or debatable proof for a simple one, he objectively harms the very cause he is allegedly advocating. Do you agree with this?

  46. Scott Says:

    Vasily, any further rants focussing not on the issues but on your personal hatred for Gore will be deleted.

  47. Vasily Shirin Says:

    Inconvenient truth about Gore?
    (This is my last post)

  48. assman Says:

    People seem to object to my mention of general relativity. But why shouldn’t we believe in such an incredible theory when it makes so many predictions like for instance gravitational redshift, gravitational time dilation, the Perihelion of mercury and of course the gravitational redshit. Oh ya did I mention gravitational redshift. Obviously such a theory must be true when it predicts things like black holes, gravitational waves and allows us to discover such wonderful things as dark matter which we can’t observe and whose properties we don’t know. How far we have advanced beyond metaphysics, superstition, and the Ptolemaic epicycles. Simple minded fools that the Greeks were they had to use epicycles whereas we use far more sophisticated mechanisms like dark matter and tensor calculus!

  49. Scott Says:

    Out of curiosity, assman, how far back do we have to go to hit the rock-bottom of your scientific illiteracy: Darwin? Newton? The earth being round? Use of simple stone tools?

  50. Travis Says:

    Cody says:

    is the CFL inefficiency supposed to be due to the heating contributions made by incandescent bulbs? Because I think that effect would be awfully weak

    Nearly all waste energy from light bulbs is released as heat. Thus, a 100 Watt incandescent may only give you as much light as a 20 Watt CFL, but the incandescent gives you an extra 80 Watts of heat. If you heat with electric heaters, there’s no net savings (in winter) from switching to CFLs. If you heat with natural gas and power your light bulbs with electricity from gas power plants, the energy savings is very very small. Since most marginal power production is probably gas, this is a good comparison.

    In the summer, opposite is true–you waste electricity on your incandescent bulbs generating heat, then waste more electricity pumping the heat out of your house with an air conditioner.

    Three factors cause this summer effect to be smaller in magnitude than the winter effect: 1) It typically takes less than 1 Watt to pump a Watt of heat out of your house’s A/C, 2) Indoor lighting is used less in the summer, 3) In many parts of North America and Europe, the “heating season” (fall-winter-spring) is longer than the cooling season.

    CFLs certainly can have benefits when used in the right situation (I have several in my apartment), but we need to avoid blind adoption of such measures simply because they make us “feel good”. For an extreme example, look at the bill recently introduced in the US that would eventually require all bulbs to produce 120 lumens per Watt. Present-day CFLs only achieve half that, and I suspect that 120 lumens per Watt violates energy conservation. In other words, a few people in Congress are literally trying to (inadvertently, I hope) legislate a new dark age.

    John Sidles says:

    To remind everyone, phenomenological methods have a distinguished track record… Indeed, the celebrated Black-Scholes formalism is simply a sophisticated formalism for phenomenologically pricing stock options to accord with empirical data — the Black-Scholes formalism does not embody any particularized model of the economy.

    Phenomenological models nearly always have some grounding in theory. Just because Black-Scholes isn’t dependent on a particular macroeconomic model doesn’t mean it contains no theory at all; on the contrary, implicit in Black-Scholes is a great deal of pure theory deduced by applying the no-arbitrage rule to European-style options, among other things.

    The 35 C temperature increase “model” is the result of assuming things stay linear. Almost everything appears linear if you look closely, but over a longer range, you see more complicated effects.

    Scott says:

    Vasily, any further rants focussing not on the issues but on your personal hatred for Gore will be deleted.

    Scott, I know it’s your blog and you can do what you want to, but don’t you think this response is rather hypocritical? This entire discussion started with your somewhat back-handed compliment to Schwarzenegger over his environmental stance (‘even Republicans can learn!’), and now you’re threatening Vasily for slighting Gore. On the 1-to-Lubos scale of frothing-at-the-mouth, Vasily’s posts were hardly more than a 2 or 3. I know you probably want to avoid political comments most of the time (this being a comp sci-oriented blog), but when you make a political post you implicitly give permission to talk about politics.

  51. Scott Says:

    Travis, precisely for the reason you mention, I had no problem with Vasily posting one anti-Gore screed, or two, or even three. With the fourth, though, I just felt he was moving the thread in a tiresome and pointless direction.

  52. assman Says:

    OK I am tired of being sarcastic.

    My point of view is pragmatic: I don’t give a shit about truth or falsity. Truth is only important for narrative effect. In other words truth is good for telling stories. Evolution has almost no real predictive power and therefore for me is just a nice story to tell your children to make them feel all warm and fuzzy. I care about pragmatic power. The question I ask is always a simple one: Has this tool (it could be a scientific theory or a hammer) been successfully used in the past to do the thing I am using it for. If so use it. If not scrap it. E.g. QED maybe true but nobody uses it to design antennas so from the point of view of an EE all QED is is a good story. However a particle physicists view is the precise opposite of an EE. So everything depends on context.

    Now the important question for AGW is this: has GW been used successfully to make predictions about future climate. The answer to that is no. And actually since GW theory is probabilistic in the short term the problem is even more severe since it is necessary to make a large number of successful predictions or very long term ones in order to have reasonable confidence.

    The stupidest argument I have heard is that we should act on GW even if uncertain because the consequences are severe. That assumes that if we do act to stop global warming the consequences will not be even worse. In other words how do we know that are actions aren’t in fact preventing something even worse from happening (like for instance a global ice age). The problem with Pascal’s wager type arguments is that uncertainty always goes both ways. E.g. Maybe when you die you find out the Devil was really the supreme being and he wanted you not to believe in God and as a result of believing in God and doing good he is going to torment you for eternity.

    Also I will never understand the belief in Mother Nature being perfect, stable, unchanging and beneficent. So if we just stop vandalising and raping her everything will be all right. Mother nature gave us ice ages, mass extinctions, disease, 20 year life spans, narrow hips (so woman die in child birth) etc. It wasn’t that great before we started interfering. Even more importantly if mother nature is so perfect, stable and unchanging then why the fuck did she make us. It seems funny that such a perfect static system is capable of producing something so disruptive. In fact I think the fact that Mother Nature produced us is a perfect reductio-ad absurdum of environmentalist mindset. In fact I declare that I have now become an environmentalist. I believe human should stop interfering with Mother Nature. However humans come from Mother Nature so therefore humans should stop interfering with other humans.

  53. assman Says:

    “Out of curiosity, assman, how far back do we have to go to hit the rock-bottom of your scientific illiteracy: Darwin? Newton? The earth being round? Use of simple stone tools?”

    Let m take some liberties and rephrase Scot’s question:

    “How far are you going to go in blaspheming the religion the science has become”

    Answer: As far as I have to. It seems to me that the reason you believe in GR is not because you actually have good grounds for believing in it but simply because everybody you know believes in it and because the theory is quite old. For me this is not good enough. It is not good enough to have a few experimental confirmations that really only test certain aspects of the theory. In the case of GR experimental confirmation is actually quite poor. This is not the case with QM theory which is so well confirmed that it should now be known as the laws of QM. The same is true of thermo, classical phys, E and M etc. In fact every single year there are probably more successful experimental confirmations of any one of these theories then GR has had in its whole history. So let me ask you Scott: Give me reasons you believe in GR.

  54. Scott Says:

    The main reason I believe GR is that it’s the simplest way we know to reconcile (1) special relativity and (2) the existence of gravity. Or do you not believe SR either?

    A second reason I believe GR is that its distinctive predictions, the ones we know how to test, have been extremely well confirmed. Do you have a different theory that explains the gravitational redshift in GPS satellites or the Hulse-Taylor pulsar observations? If you don’t, then shouldn’t astronomers continue using the theory that has — as you put it — “pragmatic power” in their context?

    Incidentally, I strongly expect that GR will break down at very high energies and short distance scales. But since you only care about “pragmatic power,” surely that isn’t your concern?

  55. Travis Says:

    Scott says:

    With the fourth, though, I just felt he was moving the thread in a tiresome and pointless direction.

    Fair enough. Perhaps we could formulate a “Three strikes” version of Godwin’s Law for repetitive ranting. In honor of the ex-Vice President, I propose it be named the ManBearPig Mandate.

    assman says:

    The question I ask is always a simple one: Has this tool (it could be a scientific theory or a hammer) been successfully used in the past to do the thing I am using it for. If so use it. If not scrap it.

    If you interpret this rule broadly, then global warming passes–past CO2 data correlates with global temperatures, and our models now allow us to “retrodict” past global climate with some degree of accuracy.

    If, on the other hand, you interpret narrowly, global warming may fail, but so do all sorts of other things. For instance, since we’ve never successfully predicted the impact of a civilization-destroying asteroid, tracking asteroids is (by this narrow standard) completely pointless. Nevermind that such an impact probably wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species.

    The stupidest argument I have heard is that we should act on GW even if uncertain because the consequences are severe.

    Continuing with the asteroid analogy, suppose we identified a large asteroid with a 1-in-10 chance of smacking the earth in a couple decades. Would it be worth doing something? The correct answer is: possibly, depending on the cost of preventative measures (in particular, the opportunity cost–saying as cody did that you “value the environment more than money” is foolish), the likeliness of success, the consequences of an asteroid strike. To put it another way, we’re not going to have perfect data, at least not until it’s too late.

    The problem with Pascal’s wager type arguments is that uncertainty always goes both ways.

    That’s why you need a full cost-benefit analysis.

    At the moment, I’m not taking a position on exactly what we as a society need to do about global warming. At a personal level, I’ve done just about all I can do, although primarily for reasons of student poverty rather than environmental righteousness (being poor encourages many money- and energy-saving habits, and also prevents one from acquiring cars or Boeing 707’s). More than anything, I just want to see people approach global warming with a rational scientific and economic mindset. Right now, we’re not even close to that, and if we stumble onto the solution, it will be pure coincidence.

  56. Steve Demuth Says:

    The stupidest argument I have heard is that we should act on GW even if uncertain because the consequences are severe.

    Say what? Acting with incomplete information to avoid unwanted outcomes or precipitate wanted outcomes that we can’t be certain will happen, is the very core of human adaptability.

    It is, for example, uncertain that I will be in an uncontrolled skid in my car, leading to death or serious injury. Yet I may rationally choose to minimize the likelihood of this event by choosing a car with anti-lock brakes, and it’s severity, by wanting airbags. It is uncertain that I will die of lung cancer or heart disease if I smoke, but that doesn’t make it stupid to forgo the potential pleasures of nicotine knowing that smoking probably increases the chances that I will die of cancer or heart disease.

    On a public policy level, I don’t consider it stupid for public policymakers to insist on near-universal vaccination against, say diptheria, just because we don’t know for certain that an epidemic would occur in my lifetime, or if occurring, that I would be personally negatively affected.

    Judgments about policy, personal or public, nearly always trade in a relative calculus of uncertain outcomes vs uncertain costs. The only relevant question is whether with global climate change the likelihood of change and the likely negative severity of the change, outweigh the costs (less other foreseeable benefits) of mitigation those probabilities.

    From a scientific perspective, the likelihood of change is, as I argued previously, quite large. We already know that putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in large concentrations will trap more heat, in the absence of feedback loops to prevent this. So the burden of proof is on those who argue that those feedback loops exist, and will lead to climate stability. Otherwise, reason forces us to conclude a high likelihood of effect.

    As to the severity of the effect: this is as yet a bit more arguable, and certainly more difficult to predict. However, there are plenty of good arguments for why there is a high risk of severe consequences.

    So you have to weigh these against the costs of trying to reduce the risks and the likely severity of the results. Here we have a huge argument in favor of policy changes: the policy can be adaptive. We can’t change the physics that may or or may not lead to catastrophe, and once we set certain potential feedback loops in motion, we may well not be able to stop them, but we can change our policy now to to try to head these things off, and if the costs end up being too high to bear, given the ongoing calculus of risk vs. reward, we can change the policy.

  57. assman Says:

    “If you don’t, then shouldn’t astronomers continue using the theory that has — as you put it — “pragmatic power” in their context?”

    Actually most astronomers just use Newton’s theory. So if one cared about pragmatic power for the most part one would just use that. As for explaining about 4 things I would just leave them unexplained. Making SR match with Newton’s GR theory is easy: just don’t bother doing it. After all we have no real theory of quantum gravity and yet this does not stop us from using quantum physics. AND GR does not account for all things like for instance the Pioneer anomaly, the flyby anomaly and most importantly dark matter which is basically a massive fudge factor to account for the fact the GR is not working. The reason I mentioned the gravitational redshift twice is that it is basically one of the most accurate tests of GR. But it is only ONE test. Most other tests of GR are either extremely inaccurate, subject to heavy interpretation or they don’t distinguish between GR and Newton’s theory. Bending of light can be explained by Newton’s theory and in fact was explained using Newton’s theory before Einstein. Even gravitational redshift was predicted before Einstein accept that Einstein’s theory is in much better agreement with experimental results.

    Its interesting that one of your main reasons for accepting GR is that it fits with SR. This is basically the exact kind of thinking that gave us Superstring theory. A theory whose only virtue is that it fits with quantum and GR and yet does not make a single experimental prediction.

  58. Scott Says:

    As for explaining about 4 things I would just leave them unexplained.

    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, yes my client may have had the motive, yes his fingerprints may have been found at the scene, yes he may have bought a gun the day before with that exact caliber of bullet, yes he may have been identified by numerous witnesses. But those are four facts — four, out of an infinity of possible facts the police might in principle have discovered. Sure we don’t have any other suspects, but are you going to convict based on four measly facts? Why not just leave them unexplained?

  59. assman Says:

    “from a scientific perspective, the likelihood of change is, as I argued previously, quite large. We already know that putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in large concentrations will trap more heat, in the absence of feedback loops to prevent this. So the burden of proof is on those who argue that those feedback loops exist, and will lead to climate stability. Otherwise, reason forces us to conclude a high likelihood of effect.”

    We do know it will trap more heat. The question is how much more. Most models require a water vapour feedback to get substantial warming. We also know a C02 feedback loop does exist. In fact it must exist. There is an enormous amount of C02 emitted by natural sources which dwarfs our emissions. There is also an enormous amount absorbed. The emission and absorption almost perfectly cancel. Now how exactly did that happen when there is no direct connection between emission and absorption. The only answer is that a negative feedback must exist. Or did emission and absorption happen to somehow match each other magically through the perfection of Mother Nature. So you argued that I have the burden of proof for proving a feedback exists well I just proved it!

    You talk about car accidents, vaccinations, lung cancer from smoking etc. However there is really a big difference between these examples and global warming. With vaccinations, car accidents etc we have a very large amount of experience and many repeated examples. In Bayesian probability theory you have the concept of metaprobability which is the probability of a probability or the certainty you have that a probability designation is correct. I would argue that the metaprobabilities for car accidents, vaccinations etc are very close to certainty. So the probability of a car accident is low but we are very certain that a car accident has a low probability of occurring on a given trip because we have tonnes of data which gives us certainty about this low probability. With global warming on the other hand we are completely uncertain about it happening because it has never happened before. There have been precisely zero instances of the Earth warming because of C02 increases that human beings have directly observed. Therefore the metaprobability with global warming is close to zero.

    Let me give another example to illustrate what I am taking about from the wikipedia:

    1. You have a box with white and black balls, but no knowledge as to the quantities
    2. You have a box from which you have drawn n balls, half black and the rest white
    3. You have a box and you know that there are the same number of white and black balls

    The Bayesian probability of the next ball drawn being black is 0.5 in all three cases. However it is quite evident that you can be for more confident in the 0.5 probability assignment for case 3) than you can for case 1) or 2). In case 3) or in case 2) when N is very large (like for instance car accidents) you could use your information about the probability of the balls to make some bets like for instance betting on the next 3 balls being black. However in case 1) you would be very hesitant to make any bets because you are extremely unsure as to whether you probability assignment of 0.5 is correct. I would argue that global warming corresponds to case 1) whereas car accidents corresponds to case 2) with very large N.

  60. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, most of your arguments about GR are badly outdated. Yes you can also get bending of light from a Newtonian argument, but you only get 1/2 the GR value. Early measurements weren’t accurate enough to distinguish the two cases, but measurements since the 1960’s have shown conclusively that the GR value is correct.

    Besides the classical tests (perihelion, bending of light, gravitational redshift), there are also much more modern tests — done by Hulse and Taylor, the Cassini probe, the Hipparcos satellite, and so on — that have confirmed GR pretty spectacularly (in the case of the Cassini probe, at the 0.002% level). You didn’t discuss those at all.

    Regarding dark matter, even if you only assumed Newtonian gravity, you’d still have to explain the fast rotation of galaxies — that’s not a problem for GR per se. In any case, while there are genuine alternatives to dark matter such as MOND, many of those alternatives were ruled out by observations of the Bullet cluster in August of last year. Unlike Internet trolls, science learns more as time progresses.

  61. Steve Demuth Says:

    Or did emission and absorption happen to somehow match each other magically through the perfection of Mother Nature. So you argued that I have the burden of proof for proving a feedback exists well I just proved it!

    It’s a great argument, except it’s empirically wrong. The concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing, in a way that is roughly proportional to the anthropogenic contribution. This is demonstrated by both direct records (at Mauna Loa) and fossil proxies. In other words, we are demonstrably overloading the rough equilibrium established between post-ice-age non-anthropogenic emission and consumption.

    So the feedback I challenged you to argue convincingly exists, is one that counteracts this CO2 increase’s effect in the climate system. Water vapor effects are a candidate, and there certainly are others. But there are equally plausible positive feedback effects in the climate effects. Your argument seems to suppose that the former are somehow more likely than the latter; I see no argument or evidence that this is the case.

    Your Bayesian argument is quiet elegant, but it completely ignores my point, which is that policy must balance risks with costs. Suppose I am to be drafted for a mission that I believe puts me at some risk (or gives some chance of reward – either works) if I draw a black marble, but I can choose between drawing from bin 1, 2, or 3. Bin 1, I get to try for free, the other two have costs associated that I must pay up front. Notwithstanding your argument, whether or not I pay that fee will depend on 1) How dangerous I think the mission is, and 2) How much the cost of changing my draw is.

    This is the situation in which we find ourselves. No rational person would argue that the status quo is preferable to any conceivable cost balanced against any conceivable risk. It may be preferable to a situation where the alternative is high cost, and the status quo risk low, but surely isn’t if the status quo risk is high, and the alternative cost moderate, low or negative.

  62. cody Says:

    my vandalism point of view is actually even worse than “consequences might be severe, so we should do something”. its actually, “we dont have a clue of consequences, so we ought to be careful”. and assman, its not that i think the earth is this static thing that humans have interfered with and would return to some ‘natural’ state without us, its more that we do have the power to threaten our existence by altering our environments, such as with pollutants like lead or mercury which we have directly observed severely altering our health. when we decide to do something on such a broad scale as CO2 emissions, (as well as various other widely produced pollutants), and we understand the behavior of the whole system as poorly as we do (from our lack of experience/data, the complexity of the system, etc), we ought to be cautious about what we are doing, which in my mind involves doing it as little as possible. im not really that worried about significant temperature swings hot or cold, since the earth has naturally experienced far greater differences than we are discussing, plus im pretty sure the earth is indifferent to our existence. i suppose in the end, i just dont want to look back in the future and say, “we knew we were doing this and that it might screw things up, but we just ignored it so we could all own big trucks and tvs”, or something that silly.
    also, we seem to all be discussing cost-versus-benefit issues, the main change i want to see is a push to develop ethanol and similar alternatives to gasoline, which i dont see as being all that costly, and yet beneficial in ways much greater than just global warming. the costs that other people are thinking off, anyone have some examples?

  63. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    I don’t see why this should be a matter of politics at all. If anthropogenic global warming is not a severe problem, then we can ignore evironmentalists. If it is a severe problem, we should have anti-nuclear activists tarred and feathered.

    I am willing to keep an open mind between the two alternatives. I would prefer the first (tar and feather have other uses), but there might be accumulating evidence that that AGW is a potential problem.

  64. assman Says:

    “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, yes my client may have had the motive, yes his fingerprints may have been found at the scene, yes he may have bought a gun the day before with that exact caliber of bullet, yes he may have been identified by numerous witnesses. But those are four facts — four, out of an infinity of possible facts the police might in principle have discovered. Sure we don’t have any other suspects, but are you going to convict based on four measly facts? Why not just leave them unexplained?”

    Ah I love this analogy because it suits my argument completely. But let me change it to describe the situation with general relativity.

    “Look we have demonstrated that that the defendant brought the gun etc blah blah blah (everything Scott said) this of course demonstrates that the defendant is our murderer. However our theory that we presented at the beginning of these proceedings stated that the defendant is indeed an oggldy googldy orange guffaw. This theory is a perfect fit to the 4 pieces of evidence that have been presented. Our theory both fits with the idea that the defendant is a murderer and it further predicts that he must have killed 2 billions people, swallows children for fun, has sex with cats and uses his x-ray vision to look at cheerleaders in their changing room. Obviously given that the pieces of evidence fit our theory you must also believe in these other things that we never observed the defendant do. To do anything else would be unscientific.”