Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why are so many so stupid?

Right now (midnight EST), this is on the Digg frontpage. It links to a story in Investor's Business Daily (a publication known for climate change denialism) allegedly showing that global temperature change is due to changes in solar activity, and not greenhouse gases. Despite the fact that this has an overall ring of bullshit about it -- slight shifts in the energy levels of a big ball of flaming gas millions of miles away vs. centuries-long concatenation of emissions creating an observable (effective) heatsink -- I glanced over the article.

First, these twits need to tone down the hyperbole or risk being shut out of the conversation. After all, the United States Climate Action Partnership is a coalition of major businesses and NGOs dedicated to lobbying the US government to actually pass some useful fucking legislation for once. When Ford, GM, BP, and Shell (among others) decide it's time to do something about global climate change, it's time for allegedly pro-business publications to get with the fucking program.

Second, there is a familiar name amongst the bullshit. Can you guess who? Tim Patterson. This Tim Patterson. A geologist whose professional expertise is in paleaoclimatology, and who is part of a group partially funded (in secret, no less!) by the oil and gas sector in Canada.

And who else? Well, how 'bout one Kenneth F. Tapping -- an astrophysicist. Which seems quite relevant to figuring out what the sun's doing, but what the fuck does he know about climate change? And a Russian astrophysicist, Khabibullo Abdusamatov -- again, where's his fucking qualification to talk about climate change? (Not that you need a formal qualification; but if you don't have one, you'd damn well better have an argument. As far as I can tell, Tapping doesn't have one, and Abdusamatov's is rejected by his peers.)

And Bruce Berkowitz, currently with the Hoover Institution (from its Wikipedia page: "The Hoover Institution is influential in the American conservative and libertarian movements, and the Institution has long been a place of scholarship for high profile conservatives with government experience."), who has a PhD in fuck knows what. He used to work for the CIA, though, so clearly he's a climate change expert. Seriously, this is the best they can come up with? He could have a PhD in clinical psychology for fuck's sake.

(There's also some completely unsourced studies, which is pretty much wingnut code for "we're making this shit up.")

Do I need to mention that the user who submitted the story to Digg (one "LadyAmerica") has an apparent penchant for standard American right-wing talking-points? Y'know, evil Muslims, poor put-upon Israel, and so on and so forth. Does this need to be said?

I know "Web 2.0" is all hype. I've been online for over ten years at this point, and it's always the same ol' shit: the decor changes, but it's the same old rotting foundation underneath. The Web was going to change the world, and then P2P, and now it's "social networking" (which looks like newsgroups with a more annoying interface). So why does it irritate me when I see so many people adding mindless, thoughtless support to such flagrant stupidity as this? (That Investor's Business Daily is publishing it in the first place just amuses me. As noted with regard to US-CAP, they're badly misreading the trend in their target audience, methinks.)

I have got to do away with this optimistic streak; 'twill be the death of me.


undergroundman said...

Have a couple drinks before writing this article? :p

Digg is crap these days. I don't even look at it. Maybe it's sort of interesting to gauge the trend of Web 2.0 idiocy, but I have a feeling the smart people have left. I still look at Reddit, but it's not doing much better than Digg.

You shouldn't criticize people who have Ph.Ds in paleoclimatology and astrophysics as unqualified to speak on climate change. Those degrees qualify you to speak on climate change.

I'm also dubious as to the actual assertions of the article. I agree that the funding from the oil industry is relevant and suspicious. But regardless, the scientist could be right. We'll see in about 3 years.

In the meantime, check out this article on climate change and agriculture. In particular, the table halfway down. It appears to me that more of the focus should be on methane and nitrous oxide, if at all possible.

Catelli said...

Not to one-up you but I've been online for almost 20 years...

And yeah, technology does not make people smarter.

I would go so far as to say: the easier the technology is to use, the more dumb people you have to deal with. Web 2.0 (as every technology before it) is an enabler of communications, and therefore opinions. And as the saying goes every a$$hole has an opinion.

ADHR said...

Catelli: They had internet in the 80's? Next you'll be telling me they had cell phones!

It's not the opinions I mind, really; it's the lack of intelligence behind them.

UGM: Don't drink; so, no. ;)

Digg is worth it mostly for the random assortment of links they collect. But I'm trying to avoid the comments.

How do degrees in paleoclimatology and astrophysics qualify you to speak on climate change? That's like saying a degree in mathematics qualifies you to speak on economics.

Tim Patterson's a fucking hack, anyway. He pops up every once in a while in some editorial or another; he's kinda the go-to guy in Canadian journalism for the "other side" to the climate change issue.

According to that table, methane only hangs around in the atmosphere for a fraction of the time cardon dioxide does. Nitrous oxide seems to be very low in terms of concentration (the volumes are given in pp billion rather than million). So, carbon dioxide does seem the immediate concern. I'd agree, though, that we should keep an eye on the others. After all, if we do manage to change the way we conduct ourselves such that global climate change is reduced, halted, or reversed, it'd be ridiculous to have it start all over again with a different gas.

Catelli said...

What the hell is GWP? N2O has a 320 rating over CO2's GWP of 1.

If that's 320 times the potential to affect Global Warming at a higher sustained growth rate than CO2....

Does the term "We're fucked!" apply?

Catelli said...

I said "almost" 20 years. ;)

But I was on before there was graphical based browsing. Hell Windows 3.1 wasn't even out yet.

Oh the memories, I could bore you for hours.

undergroundman said...

Ah, true. I thought I was paying attention to the ppm and ppb, but I guess I missed that.

How do degrees in paleoclimatology and astrophysics qualify you to speak on climate change? That's like saying a degree in mathematics qualifies you to speak on economics.

A degree in mathematics qualifies you to speak on econometrics and some other areas of economics, probably. But I think the point you're missing is that there is no single expert on climate change. Climatalogy, like most disciplines these days, draws from several different fields. The significance of the sun in climate change can't simply be dismissed, especially by laymen such as ourselves. Similarly, if you're going to make an argument based on the historical relationship between CO2 and global warming, then you might want to ask a paleoclimatologist. These disciplines are deeply mired in the debate on climate change.

The only way to refute people like this is to go to the data, or perhaps to find other experts who disagree and don't have that suspicious funding. You can't simply dismiss people with degrees like that as unqualified.

Besides, qualifications ultimately do not matter. What matters is whether your data and analysis are correct.

ADHR said...

Catelli: According to Wikipedia, GWP is calculated based on mass. Since the concentration of nitrous oxide is three orders of magnitude (-ish) less than that of carbon dioxide, it's not yet at problematic levels, I'd think.

Actually, I remember pre-graphical browsing. Not on my machine -- as I was still using some Mac or another at the time -- but on a friend's PC. I don't miss DOS, I have to say.

UGM: Well, climatology is a subfield of geography, in that you can get a climatology qualification with a geography PhD. But I'll accept that climate science is multidisciplinary -- most of the academy, as you observe, is going in that direction.

I'm not actually saying that there sun can't have an effect on climate change. What I'm saying is actually what you're saying: there needs to be an argument to that effect. The editorial I cited was more interested in giving qualifications than arguments; hence the objection about qualifications. Unless your degree actually says "climatology" on it, you don't get to rely on that to make your arugment for you. It's pure ad verecundiam.

That said, I do recall reading something a few days after this editorial which claimed to have contacted the astrophysicist in question (KF Tapping). According to this source, Tapping repudiated the way his findings were presented in the editorial. So, there may be some distortion going on here as well.

Found the link after about five minutes of Googling: here.

undergroundman said...

I don't think a Ph.D in geography qualifies you to speak on global warming. Wikipedia claims that climatology is a subfield of the atmospheric sciences. I would trust a physicist over a geography Ph.D, as the math involved in climatology at least seems fairly intense, and the computer models are a pretty major part of it. :p

And, as a I said, qualifications ultimately don't matter past a certain point. So I'd say even people with a climatology degree don't get to just argue from their qualifications. Fallacious appeals to authority happen just as often when the person in question is (allegedly) an authority in the field.

undergroundman said...

Also, an ironic fact: IBD usually has some excellent stock picks. ;) Their founder developed the CAN SLIM method. No matter how wrong they might be on global warming, they are often right on stocks.

So it looks like the global warming deniers will continue to gain power and influence. It's time that the liberals learned how to play the markets.

undergroundman said...

By the way, if you are invested in the US market through a mutual fund or index fund, you may want to cut your losses and wait this one out...

It's such a tricky call. The stock market is trading a fairly low price relative to its earnings (Price/Earnings), but there's also impending doom with this housing crash that just keeps getting worse.

China is a possible way to avoid the crash, but that's quite risky as well. It's what I am personally betting on, but I'm young and risk-loving. ;)

ADHR said...

You don't have to be a physicist to be an atmospheric scientist. You can also be a chemist, for one. And, what do you think geographers do, exactly? From my perspective (as someone whose department is right next door to geography), they seem to do nothing but play around with computer models. Well, that, and go to the Arctic for six months collecting data for the computer models.

You get to argue from qualifications insofar as qualifications will settle the matter. So, for example, there's consensus that a force of gravity exists. If a physics PhD tells you that a force of gravity exists, the fact that he has the qualifications settles the argument. (Not come what may, of course; but it is strong evidence in its own right.) When there is no consensus, though, then qualifications won't settle it, which is where climate change deniers always fall down. There is no consensus that climate change is not happening; hence, to demonstrate that it isn't requires an argument.

I'm not sure the deniers have much power or influence. Did you follow the link to US-CAP? That's a group of fairly powerful players.

I'm not in the market. It requires disposable income. I have debt instead; it's so much more fun!