Climatologist Roy Spencer Rains on Global Warming Model Predictions

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University of Alabama Huntsville climatologist Roy Spencer weighs in as a global warming "moderate" in the New York Post:

Computerized models of our climate have had a habit of "drifting" too warm or too cold. This because they still don't contain all of the temperature-stabilizing processes that exist in nature. In fact, for the amount of solar energy available to it, our climate seems to have a "preferred" average temperature, damping out swings beyond 1 degree or so.

I believe that, through various negative feedback mechanisms, the atmosphere "decides" how much of the available sunlight will be allowed in, how much greenhouse effect it will generate in response, and what the average temperature will be.

Finally, remember that phrase, "the Earth's greenhouse effect keeps the Earth habitably warm?" I'll bet you never heard the phrase that is, quantitatively, more accurate: "Weather processes keep the Earth habitably cool."

Were it not for weather, the natural greenhouse effect would cause the surface of the Earth to average 140 degrees. Wonder why we never hear that fact stated?

I believe that when the stabilizing effects of precipitation systems are better understood and included into the models, predictions of global warming will be scaled back.

Despite current inadequacies, climate models are still our best tools for forecasting global warming. Those tools just aren't sharp enough yet.

UAH climatologists Spencer and John Christy are the principal investigators who have been compiling data from NOAA satellites on global temperature trends since 1978. Their data indicates that global average temperatures are going up at about 0.14 degrees Celsius per decade which is at the lower end of the climate model projections. 

See whole Spencer article here.

For my views on global warming look here and here.  

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  1. That old “butterfly’s wing” canard has more to do with the crudity of the models than the delicacy and interdependence of the global ecosystem. You may commence hurling abuse now.

  2. I guess those Ice Ages never happened…

  3. Interesting that the original populariser of the ‘self-regulating earth’ meme, James Lovelock, is now one of the biggest promoters of the idea that a disruptive change to the climate is now possible/likely…

  4. So, they are still ignoring the killer bee crisis? Typical!

  5. The atmosphere “decides” to allow a certain level of sunlight, “self-regulates” and “prefers” certain temperatures. For those who recall me arguing that Gaia worship isn’t a factor in the global warming debate, I’ll make a special exception for Roy “NY Post thinks I’m a moderate” Spencer.

    He’s certainly right that we don’t know quite a bit about weather processes. Who wouldn’t admit that? Our models are just best guesses, but that doesn’t mean we should have faith that the Earth will self-regulate (or if you prefer, God will regulate the climate).

  6. Chris S.,

    I prefer the Gia woeship. Angelina Jolee was so hot in that.

  7. Yes, funny, isn’t it, Tim, that somehow the Earth manages to stay much colder, even to the point of having Ice Ages, than the greenhouse effect would seem to indicate.

    So, yes, they did happen, Tim, and that is why we shouldn’t fly into a frothing panic over the current warming trend. Its not exactly the first one the planet has seen, after all.

  8. Global Warming Heretic! He must be stoned into silence!

    There is absolutely no dissent from the man-made global warming meme; it is a consensus. All dissent must be crushed, because consensus means ‘unanimity’, not ‘majority of opinion’, despite what dictionaries say.

    Furthermore, never in the course of history has a scientific consensus opinion later been proven wrong.

    1. at one time, the consenses was that the earth was flat. consenses doesn’t make science. facts make science.

  9. There is absolutely no dissent from the man-made global warming meme; it is a consensus. All dissent must be crushed, because consensus means ‘unanimity’, not ‘majority of opinion’, despite what dictionaries say.

    Fortunately, straw is a renewable resource, so burning it is carbon-neutral.

  10. That old “butterfly’s wing” canard has more to do with the crudity of the models than the delicacy and interdependence of the global ecosystem. You may commence hurling abuse now.

    Actually, the point is that no matter how detailed the model is, it is never detailed enough because the smallest uncertainty is multiplied over time and the system loses coherence. It’s not the crudity of the models per se, but rather that sufficient accuracy is impossible. In other words you can’t build a model that isn’t crude…

    The interconnectedness bit and interpretation is quite popular because of a prevalent misunderstanding of the NOVA special on chaos theory a number of years ago that really introduced the “butterfly effect” with respect to weather (as opposed to the older usage in time paradox science fiction based on a Ray Bradbury short story). It stated that the motion of a butterfly’s wing in Japan could change the weather in New York two weeks later (if I remember the analogy right), but the point of that was not that everything is interconnected, but rather that even the smallest change in the system anywhere would destroy the predictive ability of the model down the road.

    Unless something has changed in recent years that I don’t know about (I stopped following all of this when I went from marine biology to linguistics), the basic result was that climate scientists were saying that you can predict weather with better than 50% accuracy only about seven days out and that any incremental linear increases beyond that would be accomplished only by exponential increases in the amount of data and processing required to achieve them.

    The net result is that that butterfly in Tokyo means that it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to know the weather in Toronto in two weeks. Or think of it another way: the only system that can accurately predict the weather at any given moment in time in the future is the earth’s weather system itself. Anything else is an approximation with a sharp drop off in accuracy after about seven days

  11. Err, Dean, if the planet self-regulates like Spencer claims then we wouldn’t have had those ice ages. But we did, so he’s wrong.

    James Annan has the technical details if you are interested.

  12. Of course the hope of climatologists is that all those butterflies are so much inconsequential noise in the system when they try to extrapolate long-term trends. That isn’t actually such a bad approach because you can observe trends without accounting for all of the pieces. Just because a butterfly in South America might stop a particular hurricane from forming later this year that doesn’t mean that other hurricane’s won’t form or that you can’t predict that the season will be a heavy or a weak one for hurricanes…

  13. The money quote:

    Contrary to popular accounts, very few scientists in the world – possibly none – have a sufficiently thorough, “big picture” understanding of the climate system to be relied upon for a prediction of the magnitude of global warming.

  14. The reason we have to fight this global warming stuff has nothing to do with the science. If the planet really is heating up from human activity, global capitalism may not be sustainable. Fuck the planet, that’s our ideology down the toilet! So science isn’t the answer. Slogans and spin are the answer.

  15. Your post fails to note that Spencer and Cristy were wrong about their satellite calculations for years and years. Only under great pressure did they relent and declare their error. Perhaps they are in a similar error now? Their track record is not good.

  16. First there was that crappy Gore thread yesterday (market-based solutions are fine for us, but they make Gore a hypocrite). Now we have “science by press release” in which scientists are declared authorities without any discussion of their track record or how their observations stand up to peer review.

    I thought this place was called “Reason”. Clearly, when it comes to global warming, there is none.

  17. “a silent majority of scientists still think that global warming could end up falling anywhere between a real problem and a minor nuisance”

    Which means the question is how best to respond to an inadequately understood, but potentially serious, risk…


  18. Which means the question is how best to respond to an inadequately understood, but potentially serious, risk…

    Screech and wail.

  19. market-based solutions are fine for us, but they make Gore a hypocrite)

    Nice word trickery there. Many of us advocate FREE market-based solutions. Gore’s version of a “market” is a Stalinist based solution.

    Also, you other guys need to stop worrying about butterflies and start worrying about killer bees!

  20. Unlike a lot of people I don’t know enough about climate science to make an informed opinion either way.

    I would agree though that what goes on in the atmosphere is probably far more complex than what can be described in a model.

  21. “a Stalinist based solution”

    You wouldn’t know a Stalinist from a pile of dog shit, you ignorant fuck.

  22. Spencer and Christy appear to be the honest, dissenting scientists that so many CEI/AEI PR shills always claim to be. I’m certainly not interested in conflating the two.

    On the merits, yes, the planet has feedback mechanisms that undo dramatic climate shifts. Unfortunately, these include things like waiting for the effects of the dramtic climate shifts to wipe out whatever phenomenon is causing them, then spending several million years returning to ground state.

  23. bj,

    Apparently I can identify one well enough. What is that on your shoe?

  24. Of course the planet regulates temperature. I really don’t see any room for debate on something so self-evident. But it’s not a thermostat, it’s a naturally evolved system. Ices ages are part of the regulatory process.

  25. Roy Spencer on other scientific matters:

    In support of Intelligent design Spencer wrote in 2005 “Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied the evolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years. And finally, despite my previous acceptance of evolutionary theory as “fact,” I came to the realization that intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism. . . . In the scientific community, I am not alone. There are many fine books out there on the subject. Curiously, most of the books are written by scientists who lost faith in evolution as adults, after they learned how to apply the analytical tools they were taught in college.” Wikipedia

  26. What an exhausting conversation to keep having.

    Global warming has become an article of faith to too many people to stop it with simple logic.

    The Gorean Creed

    We believe in Global Warming
    the Sea-Raiser, the All-Powerful,
    maker of tsunami and hurricane,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.

    We believe in one Cause, The Activities of Man,
    the lowest of all creatures,
    except the ones that are brown.

    Gasses from Coal, not Recycling from Blight,
    true Cause from true Gasoline,
    made, not begotten,
    of Driving when One Could Walk;
    through Man all pollutions were made.

    For us and for our salvation
    Gore came down from heaven,
    was incarnate of the Holy Nader
    and the Virgin Chomsky
    and became truly political.
    For our sake he was un-elected
    under Pontius Harris;
    he suffered defeat and was retired.
    On the third year he rose again
    in accordance with the Documentatrians;
    he ascended into Hollywood
    and is seated at the right hand
    of the Film Executives.
    He will come again in glory
    to judge the polluting and the recycling,
    and his kingdom will have a biodegradable end.

    We believe in Global Warming, the Destroyer,
    and the taker of life,
    who proceeds from the Car and the Industry,
    who with the Suburbs and the Factory Farm
    is worshiped and glorified,
    by the prophets of GREED.
    We believe in the scientists who agree with us
    and our beliefs.
    We accept the starvation of Billions,
    for the forgiveness of environmental sins.
    We look for the return to subsistence farming,
    and the whole grain life of the world to come.

    Amen.

  27. It’s become an article of faith among some that recognizing the reality of global warming is not based on the science.

    And no matter how conclusive the evidence becomes, no matter how certain the people in a position to understand the science become, nothing is going to shake the faith of the denialists.

    Fortunately, there are relatively few of you left.

  28. Err, Dean, if the planet self-regulates like Spencer claims then we wouldn’t have had those ice ages. But we did, so he’s wrong.

    But the fact that we have had ice ages shows that some kind of feedback loop is keeping our temperature well below the greenhouse gas/solar radiation level.

    And the fact that the ice ages and warm periods come and go indicate that something other than CO2 affects, which is to say “regulates”, our weather.

    C’mon, Lambert, the fact that he put the word “decides” in quotes shows that he is not meaning it in the Lovelockian Gaia-worshipping sense.

    The rest of his comments shows a nicely scientific critique of the shortcomings of the global warming climate models, indicating that, wonder of wonder, people making careers out of predicting global warming tend to overstate its likely extent.

  29. It’s become an article of faith among some that recognizing the reality of global warming is not based on the science.

    I would say just about everyone recognizes a warming trend is underway.

    And its hardly the first one the planet has ever had.

    Its the claimed explanation for it that some of us have a problem with. Try to keep that in mind, joe.

  30. Spencer’s quite a humorist. Inspired by the Onion apparently: http://www.ecoenquirer.com/

  31. bj,

    One of the most prominent scientists global warming nay-sayers (if the most prominent) is an ID guy? That’s hilarious.

  32. It seems that there are number of issues being conflated here.

    (A) Is the Earth experiencing climate change (I really do not like the term “global warming”)?

    Yes. But that is hardly surprising given the history of this planet’s climate.

    (B) Is the change rapid in nature?

    Probably no more rapid than some periods in the planet’s history.

    (C) Is it at least in part a result of man-made processes?

    Probably. Though there are also likely other factors.

    (D) What future problems (or benefits) can we expect from these changes?

    This is where scientists seem to be all over the map.

  33. RC,

    The scientists who have spent the last few years studying the issue for the IPCC report with over 90% certainty that the current warming trend cannot be explained without the contribution of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

    Whether you agree with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists or not, that’s not “faith.” There is solid evidence for the theory, far more than for the alternate theories, and simply dismissing the evidence and all of those who are convinced by it as “faith-based” is demonstrably untrue.

  34. R.C. Dean,

    Given our carbon output over the past two centuries it wouldn’t be particularly surprising for our efforts to have some effect on the climate. I mean sure, we can’t (as far as I know) directly measure that effect, however, you can make a number of sound inferences based on the climate history data (e.g., direct measurements, proxies, etc.) that we have.

  35. It’s become an article of faith among some that recognizing the reality of global warming is not based on the science.

    Well, I am not one of them. As I have mentioned many times here and other places, I know that the glaciers are still receeding every time I see a recent photo of Lake Michigan.

  36. joe,

    I don’t deny the existence of Global Warming (out of deference to faith, I think it should be capitalized), I just refuse to see it as a moral or ethical failure on the part of the Western industrialized nations. I think it should be approached as a scientific problem, rather than proof of a decay in Gaian values.

    Global warming is real. A good bit of evidence exists that human activity is the cause of it. But, from those two conclusions, all the prescriptions of environmentalism do not logically flow.

    It’s the obscene glee in blaming the West for Global Warming and the curious coincidence that the ONLY WAY to CURE the SIN of GLOBAL WARMING is to revert to exactly the agrarian lifestyle that has been advocated by fundamentalist deep ecology since the 1960s that makes me pause and doubt.

    Global Warming is the answer to any critique of the deep ecology lifestyle or “up not out” urbanism. It’s a stick to beat any one who doesn’t want to live like they want them to.

  37. Grotius:

    nice summary

  38. Sugarfree
    That was great. I see the non christian libertarians are on the string today. But the creed really does say it all.

    Joe
    You really are an idiot but you do keep things moving.

  39. Sugar Free,

    Do you think Dr. Robert Hansen of NASA believes in a return to a medieval economy? Al Gore? Robert Reich?

    How do you reconcile the environmentalist left’s infatuation with advanced hydrogen, hybrid engine, wind, geothermal, and solar tehnology with your idea that global warming is a stalking horse for the “deep ecology” extremists?

    You know, the Nazis concluded that smoking caused lung cancer, and did a pretty good job folding that discovery into their “social hygeine” theories. So what? Smoking really does cause cancer.

  40. For those who are interested in talking about market-based solutions to global warming, you might want to check out this recent thread that I started at Jim Henley’s place.

  41. “Roy Spencer on other scientific matters:

    In support of Intelligent design Spencer wrote in 2005 “Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied the evolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years. And finally, despite my previous acceptance of evolutionary theory as “fact,” I came to the realization that intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism. . . .”

    Dammit! This is why I rarely cut Bailey and the Very Respectable People he cites any slack. Every time I come out and give them the benefit of the doubt, I end up getting burned.

  42. bioligist,

    More than likely I left something out, but thanks. 🙂

    ____________________________

    A few years ago I was a climate change skeptic. Then I did some studyin’ and learnin’ and changed my mind.

    Anyway, these days it is really the prescription issue that should be the focus of debate.

  43. joe,

    Well, what he thinks of I.D. doesn’t necessarily say anything about his skills as a climatologist.

  44. Dammit! This is why I rarely cut Bailey and the Very Respectable People he cites any slack. Every time I come out and give them the benefit of the doubt, I end up getting burned.

    Oh, I see. So if someone believes, says or does something that some perceive to be at odds with science we can then ignore whatever he says or does? Is that the standard you’re judging people by now, joe?

    Because if so, that would mean that Mr. Gore has lost all credibility on the Global Warming issue because his actions are so clearly at odds with his stated beliefs.

    I’m cool with that, because I’ve always thought Al was a pompous ass. I’m glad we can all ignore him now.

  45. Captain Holly,

    Don’t forget that Albert Gore, Jr. is also a Christian. Well, he is four weeks before an election when he is running for something and has to visit a ‘black’ Church.

  46. No, it doesn’t, Grotius, but I’m just a layman. My ability to review his hard scientific work in the field of climatology is limited. I’m basically being asked to give credence to the idea that a very idiosynchratic stance like Hansen’s should be treated as if it poses a significant problem for the overwhelming scientific consensus.

    If I’m asked to take seriously someone who is so outside of the scientific mainstream, and who is aligned with a political movement that stands out for its intellectual dishonesty and ideological aversion to evidence, that mofo better be like Caesar’s wife. The fact that he’s an IDer, and worse, that he states that his application of scientific principles led him to reject “evolutionism” (a made up word by a political movement) in favor of “Intelligent Design” (another made-up word by a political movement) throws up all sorts of red flags.

    If a significant number of scientists who don’t have red flags sticking out all over their bodies start saying that Spencer’s work poses a real problem for our understanding of global warming, I’ll start paying attention. The guy with the mimeographed flyers at the subway station might be right, too, but I’m not going to take the shopping cart lady’s word for it.

  47. joe,

    I didn’t say that they wanted that. I don’t think most of the reverends want that, but once they’ve converted everyone, it’s easy enough to pontificate about lifestyle choice. That’s when the radicals will slide under the door.

    I like to make the religion analogy because they have such a holier than thou attitude about it all.

    “I drive a hybrid, I’m so much better then you gas guzzlers.”

    “You drive a hybrid? I’m all electric, you must be some sort of monster.”

    “You have a car? I ride my bike everywhere.”

    “You ride a bike made in a factory? I whittled mine out of wood.”

    “You cut down a tree to make a bike? I made mine out of driftwood.”

    “You don’t walk everywhere?”

    As for alternative energy sources, I think environmentalists like them for their inefficiencies. It will take decades for alternative energy sources to rival the energy density of carbon, decades the reverends can use to spread envrioluddism. If they were serious about alternative energy, pebble-bed reactors or solar energy satellites would be on the table (or at least discussed more).

    Oh, and I don’t get to work by riding a cigarette.

    (Sorry, I know that was flip… at least I didn’t scream GODWIN…)

  48. Captain Holly,

    Non sequitor much?

  49. There are scientists who happen to be creationists but also do good work in other fields because they compartmentalize.

    But if somebody adopts the same role in multiple fields he isn’t compartmentalizing. And if he’s ridiculously wrong in one of those fields (e.g. offering the standard creationist arguments), well, he loses some credibility.

    And if it turns out that some of his more significant work in his professional specialty was wrong as well, then perhaps he loses credibility.

    The fact that he loses credibility doesn’t mean a priori that people who adopt similar positions are wrong, but it does mean that they need to find a more credible source. And yes, credibility does matter. If you’re talking about something very technical you’ll always need to place a certain amount of trust in the person offering the scientific arguments, because you aren’t in his specialty. You could say “Well, instead of trusting, why not see if his predictions match data, and if others replicate it?” That’s exactly right, but you still need a credible expert to interpret the data and see if they match predictions. Data is rarely unambiguous, there are always technical issues to sort out, and only an expert can tell you whether a correction to the data is something innocuous (e.g. allowing for systematic features of the instrument) or something more shady.

    Bottom line: If I want to challenge the conventional wisdom in a field, I’m going to find a credible expert to back me up.

  50. SugarFree,

    It must be quite a relief to you that pissing contests about ideological purity are wholly unknown to libertarians.

    “As for alternative energy sources, I think environmentalists like them for their inefficiencies.”

    Your entire position rests on your feelings about how your opponents must really feel.

  51. “If the planet really is heating up from human activity, global capitalism may not be sustainable. Fuck the planet, that’s our ideology down the toilet! So science isn’t the answer.”

    But capitalism could turn out to be part of the answer to global warming. What helped us out of the oil crisis in the 70s? At least in part it was the introduction of the Japanese car into American markets. I suspect it will be new technologies and markets for those technologies which will be part of the toolkit that’s going to help us stave off global warming. This is one reason trying to “slow down capitalism” might be counterproductive. I guess it depends though on exactly what ‘slow down’ will mean and how ‘capitalism’ is interpreted. Development of agricultural products that lead to greater yields, and thus saves land for forests, could be part of the global capitalist process we don’t want to slow down if we want to stave off global warming. For just one example. Another would be some of the technologies and markets for those that joe mentioned earlier.

  52. YES IT DOES!!! RON BAILEY IS EVIL!!!

  53. joe,

    …like Hansen’s…

    I thought that we discussing Spencer’s work?

    If I’m asked to take seriously someone who is so outside of the scientific mainstream…

    I don’t know that he is.

    …and who is aligned with a political movement that stands out for its intellectual dishonesty and ideological aversion to evidence…

    I don’t if he is or isn’t aligned with any political movement.

    Anyway, to my knowledge there is no scientific consensus when it comes to what I identified as the “prediction” issue. Indeed that maybe why the IPCC’s numbers fall within a range.

  54. …in reference to Grotius @10:54

  55. One of the things that should caution us about climate change predictions is the predictions we see in other areas of human life. Indeed, I think it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the farther away in time the prediction is and the complex the nature of the system which is the focus of that prediction the less likely that prediction will come true.

  56. The tectonic plate beneath California is moving north. Eventually California will have arctic weather conditions. What the hell are we going to do about that?

  57. My second variable should be something like “the greater the complexity of the system….”

  58. Grotius,

    Oops. Spencer, not Hansen.

    His statements about the level of inaccuracy in the models, and therefore the inaccuracy of the predictions in the IPCC report, put him somewhat outside the scientific mainstream.

    “I don’t if he is or isn’t aligned with any political movement.” I could have phrased that better. How about “…and who’s arguments are used to advance a position advocated by a political movement that stands out for its intellectual dishonesty and aversion to evidence…”

    Anyway, the range itself is a consensus position. In this case, the consensus is that predictions can only be made to a certian degree of precision.

  59. If they were serious about alternative energy, pebble-bed reactors or solar energy satellites would be on the table (or at least discussed more).

    Yes, where are the protests by environmentalists demanding the streamlining of design, licensing and building of new nuclear plants or the doubling of NASA’s budget to make solar power satellites to power all the electric cars that should replace our gas guzzlers?

  60. “Indeed, I think it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the farther away in time the prediction is and the complex the nature of the system which is the focus of that prediction the less likely that prediction will come true.”

    Sure, as we have no idea of what sorts of new inventions we’ll come up with in the future as well as the spin-offs from those inventions and so on. We don’t know how our new efforts and technologies will affect the environment or what approaches we’ll have when that happens. Other sorts of future social and environmental conditions are impossible to factor in when there are so many unknow possibilities that could take place.

  61. joe,

    You can never know how your opponents feel, you can only judge them by their actions and reactions. Smug comes off them like stink lines off a cartoon skunk. (Of course, burning straw men does add to Global Warming, probably.)

    As for libertarian pissing contests, yes they are fairly stupid. Wow, ideological individualists who can’t agree… joe, you cut me to the quick.

    As for the semantics of Global Warming versus Climate Change… I’ll stick with Global Warming… I like the irony of the reverends bitching about it when it’s really cold outside.

  62. Al Gore’s $30,000 a year electric bill.
    http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=nation_world&id=5072659
    But don’t worry because he buys carbon offsets (penace) to make up the difference.

    Once again:
    Warm = Good
    Cold = Bad
    Really cold = really f***ing Bad

    When everyone pushing AGW wants me to pay for something or give something up and then pay for it, I can’t see it as anything other than the largest scam ever conceived.

    Oh and by the way many scientists are Christians. In fact there was a time that most scientists were Christians. I’m not sure why being Christian makes you less of a scientist or anything else. (Point from the Christian libertarian lobby)

  63. joe,

    Wow, apparently I’ve become your leprechaun!

  64. Oh and by the way many scientists are Christians. In fact there was a time that most scientists were Christians. I’m not sure why being Christian makes you less of a scientist or anything else. (Point from the Christian libertarian lobby)

    All this time I was under the impression that I was the lone Christian libertarian!

    My Cl philosophy is: I am saved and I don’t care if you are going to hell.

    Kinda like my socially liberal philosophy, but different.

  65. thwap,

    One of the things that Bastiat discussed was the forestalling of options created by government actions. That doesn’t mean that all government actions are inappropriate, it does mean that one should be very cautious in their use. So yeah, maybe a government created carbon market might not be a bad idea, but mandating specific technologies, etc. not so much.

  66. These global warming threads are always stupid.

  67. Guy Montag,

    So what about the “Great Commission?”

  68. Christian != ID believer

  69. Yeah, maybe they are stupid, Steven, but are you suggesting that you can make better threads?

    🙂

  70. “Steven Crane | February 27, 2007, 11:42am | #
    These global warming threads are always stupid.”

    Yes, but when you’re here, they’re at least fun…

    @Grotius | February 27, 2007, 10:23am :

    that’s a great summary – as you note, it’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good start! very nice!

  71. Grotis,

    So what about the “Great Commission?”

    If someone else told them about Jesus and they didn’t listen then I am just wasting my time.

    Moving along, nothing to see here.

  72. Guy Montag,

    Yes, but perhaps you’ll be the one to plant the mustard seed! 😉

  73. Non sequitor much?

    Speaking of non sequiturs, have you tried to follow your comments in this tread?

  74. OK, I’ll be the rational one here. Most “disasters” take place in minutes or hours. They are often unexpected and random. And yet we deal with them. Things always get back to normal. People adjust. Now we are threatened with another “disaster” that will occur, the “experts” tell us, not in a day or week, not out of the blue, but exceedingly slowly, over centuries. It will happen so slowly that no one will notice. Mankind will have been adjusting all along, just as it always has, over the millennia. So am I worried? No. And you shouldn’t be either. Unless you view mankind as unthinking, irrational brutes. All mankind except yourself, of course.

  75. joe-

    No, it doesn’t, Grotius, but I’m just a layman. My ability to review his hard scientific work …

    Oh, well then, let me help you out. I ‘do’ computer modeling of very complicated dynamical systems. All models have these limitations. The models I use are grounded in exhaustively studied and very well understood systems, and have very well understood limitations and approximations. Climate modelers are in the unenviable position of working with more complicates, opaque, non-equilibrium phenomena. I commend their work, but Spencer’s criticism is valid. And it’s one very few seem willing to discuss, well, I guess until recently. I see this 90% thrown around. It’s most certainly pulled directly from someone’s ass; I guess “more likely than not” isn’t as dramatic. From my vast and expert opinion of computer models – the state of the art in my particular field (once again, better understood than climate) gives “more likely than not” precision with soft upper and lower bounds on observable phenomena. And I’m lucky. I can compare my results with a statistically meaningful sample of experimental measure

    Oh, and I tend to agree that the ID thing is a bit worrisome.

  76. I’m a physicist, and I agree with Steven Crane. This thread has no relevance to intelligent debate on climate change and CO2. RealClimate.org is a thousand times more intelligent and scientific. I question the use of the term “reason” here, and I question the climate-change denialist’s motives.

    Yes, we should be building pebble-bed reactors. High-speed electrified rail would be good for the country, too. We’re a nation in denial about the coming permanent energy crisis.

  77. the major planetary extinction events are estimated to have taken place over thousands of years, even if you can point to a single disaster that instigated the extinctions. the climate change models could be predicting a threshhold event for a disaster.

  78. The part of my comment that was cut from above … “And I’m lucky. I can compare my results with a statistically meaningful sample of experimental measurement, which still gives a less than satisfactory understanding of the overall predictive value of a given model.”

  79. John P,

    And here I thought I was writing something at least partly intelligent. 😉

  80. I question the climate-change denialist’s motives.

    We’re a nation in denial about the coming permanent energy crisis.

    You throw in the completely irrelevant issue of “the coming permanent energy crisis” — an issue, I might add, that would automatically throttle down global warming — and you wonder about the “climate-change denialist’s” motives?

    I’ll tell you their motives: They are scared to death that massive changes to the western way of life and the effective impoverishment of their grandchildren are being smuggled in under the guise of saving the planet. Your throwaway line about a permanent energy crisis doesn’t help mollify the concern.

  81. physicist = clueless

  82. Umm. We have a lot of fire and brimstone over a guy who, at the end of the day, has proposed warming within current model bounds. If the difference in policy depends on the warming difference postulated by this guy and the median predicted by the models, that just indicates clearly that the error bars are too large to make any expensive commitments.

    It doesn’t matter who this guy is, only that he is within the self accepted error of those he disagrees with. You want him out of the discussion? Get models with narrower error margins.

  83. pigwiggle,

    No one is arguing that climate models are unerringly accurate and precise. The climatologists who use them, and who make predictions based on their results, certianly don’t. That’s why they typically provide their estimates in the form of a range.

  84. It doesn’t matter who this guy is, only that he is within the self accepted error of those he disagrees with. You want him out of the discussion? Get models with narrower error margins.

    In regard to the scientific and policy questions you are pretty much spot on.

    In regard to the overall quality of science writing “for a magazine called ‘Reason'” (drink!), some of us are kind of like “WTF? Of all the scientists out there you chose to quote the one who’s also a creationist?”

  85. Christian? What does that have to do with anything?

    Not all Christians are Creationists, and if you believe IDers, their position has nothing – nothing! – to do with religious faith, but is based on science.

    If Spencer had come out with “I believe in the Genesis account of creation, and reject evolution, because it is my faith. It has nothing to do with my work as a scientist,” that would be one thing. But he didn’t. He said that the applicaiton of his reasoning skills, and use of the scientific method, led him to believe in Intelligent Design.

    That doesn’t speak well of his reason and ability to apply the scientifid method.

  86. joe-
    No one is arguing that climate models are unerringly accurate and precise. The climatologists who use them, and who make predictions based on their results, certianly don’t. That’s why they typically provide their estimates in the form of a range.

    Well, not exactly. If you are talking about the ranges of climate sensitivity given in the IPCC – those are based on the differences between the ‘in fashion’ models. And any specific model can certainly give you a measure of error for any given calculated property, that is, the likelihood of calculating a given quantity with the same model used in the same way (the error of the simulated measurement). Neither has anything to do with the relation between the simulated measurement and the True value. This is the interesting measure of error and is unfortunately unknowable. And also very different than any ranges you see reported.

  87. thoreau,

    I’m not going to defend I.D., but there is no evidence that the fellow is a “creationist” in the sense that term is generally used (i.e., young earth creationist).

    Anyway, here is the article that the quote is drawn from; the fellow is apparently skeptical of macroevolution: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=080805I

  88. The Coalition of the Shilling got a little black eye today with that ID thing.

    (Admission: I posted that just so I could use the Coalition of the Shilling phrase.)

  89. Christian? What does that have to do with anything?

    Not all Christians are Creationists, and if you believe IDers, their position has nothing – nothing! – to do with religious faith, but is based on science.

    Calm down joe. Go see the other thread. You and your friends have convinced me to embrace this voluntary carbon management idea lead by Albert Gore Jr.

    I have so embraced it that I am now content with my electric range, rather than dreaming of a gas line piped into my place. I have even abandoned my idea of converting my hybrid 1972 Dodge Charger to steam power.

    Happy now?

  90. joe,

    Probably a better way of saying it is this way:

    Not all Christians are Young Earth Creationists. Clearly all (most?) Christians* are creationists.

    *Who the heck is a Christian has of course been the subject of debate since perhaps the death of Christ (whenever that was – 60 BCE? 33 CE?).

  91. Hi all: Late to the parade here–was at a conference on whether or not terminal patients should have access to drugs not yet approved by the FDA until now.

    Spencer and ID — He’s wrong.

    Spencer and Temperature — lots of peer reviewed articles and nearly 30 years of experience in the field. As one commenter noted–his views are well within the “consensus” — As I take it he inteprets the empirical data as suggesting that the increase in global temps are likely to be at the low end of the consensus range. As for correcting their old data, Spencer and Christy did, which is what scientists are supposed to do, right?

    But still, ID? Aw crap!

  92. Ron-

    Yep, correcting data (well, more accurately, correcting the analysis of the raw data) is fine.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a hold-out who’s reluctant to revisit the original analysis. Data should be re-analyzed if/when an error is spotted, not just because the result is anomalous. Doing the re-analysis and publishing it is a sign of honesty.

    Still, when somebody was a hold-out in his field, then moves to the far end of the consensus, then turns out to be a crank in regard to another field, well, it’s a questionable track record. In the end, of course, it’s results and replication that matter. But when trying to work one’s way through a controversy, when trying to make sense of things in the midst of that process, credibility does matter. The reality is that even practicing scientists, in working their way through a problem, have to take some experts at their word, i.e. pick collaborators with skills that we lack and trust their work. Now, the continuance of that trust is conditional on their work checking out, but we begin the process by looking at credibility and qualifications. We don’t just latch onto the first collaborator who says “Oh, I know something about this!”

    I’m not saying you just latched onto him. I’m mostly addressing the question of whether we should even care about credibility (which runs the risk of being a self-reinforcing consensus) or instead just look at replication. Replication is indeed the ultimate test over the long time horizon, but in a period where results are up in the air (or at least up in the air within some range of values), credibility is a useful tool for navigating uncertainty. (Although trust must be tempered with skepticism.)

  93. Do any other people here trained in science have a problem with the term “consensus”? To me, it is a political term, not a scientific term. How about the “90% confidence” claim from the people who didn’t bother to verify the “hockey stick” graph, which turned out to be bogus. Why should I trust these people. If your showcase piece of “evidence” (scare quotes because models are not scientific evidence; they are educated speculation) turns out to be bogus, I’m going to have a hard time giving you the benefit of the doubt. Personally, I don’t see how anyone can have a good idea of what’s going to happen. We simply are not smart or knowledgeable enough.

    And fuck you all for calling skeptics deniers (you know who you are). Stop being sheep and fucking think for yourself! If you aren’t skeptical of these wild claims, you obviously are far too credulous. The “consensus” may be right, but “90% confidence” is basically a guess. It’s still a long way from proven fact. When I see real scientific evidence, I’ll immediately lose most if not all of my skepticism, but, for now, I’ll stay skeptical as I was trained to be.

  94. Still, when somebody was a hold-out in his field, then moves to the far end of the consensus, then turns out to be a crank in regard to another field, well, it’s a questionable track record.

    Dr. T, you know damn well that Newton was a freaking religious nutcase. Was his science suspect because he was a crank?

  95. “Still, when somebody was a hold-out in his field, then moves to the far end of the consensus, then turns out to be a crank in regard to another field, well, it’s a questionable track record.”

    It doesn’t make his work wrong, btw. That’s for the scientists to review and figure out.

    But when a layman like me is asked to believe that there is a major flaw with the overwhelming consensus position of the vast majority of the scientists in the field, well, you’d better not roll out some weirdo.

  96. Do any other people here trained in science have a problem with the term “consensus”?

    It’s a short-hand for “Range of conclusions supported by the bulk of the published data.”

    Dr. T, you know damn well that Newton was a freaking religious nutcase. Was his science suspect because he was a crank?

    As I understand it, Newton’s religious nuttery mostly pertained to things that (at the time) were not amenable to experimental investigation. He wasn’t always right about science, but at least in the early part of his career he wasn’t questioning experimentally (or observationally) validated theories on religious grounds. He kept the science and religion separate (at least in the most active stage of his career) and had a track record of either being right or at least being wrong on tough questions.

  97. The Real Bill,

    I almost brought up Newton denying the trinity, etc. a couple of times in this discussion but decided not to. Anyway, as far as I know most of his religious oriented worked happened after he had some sort of break, indeed after his work on optics, etc.

  98. But when a layman like me is asked to believe that there is a major flaw with the overwhelming consensus position of the vast majority of the scientists in the field, well, you’d better not roll out some weirdo.

    As an analogy, I have some concerns about the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics. Mind you, I’m not convinced that my colleagues are wrong, I’m open to the possibility that the misunderstanding is mine, but I have some questions.

    When dealing with this matter, I generally cite J.S. Bell, not some guy who thinks that the whole universe is just, like, an electron in some other atom.

  99. The Real Bill,

    People who eagerly swallow statements that cast doubt on global warming, but who reflexively dismiss the much larger body of evidence in favor of global warming, are not “skeptics.” They’re deniers.

  100. The Real Bill,

    Also, his alchemical work fit right in with the times.

    Indeed, modern science has much to thank folks like John Dee for, yet he was an occultist as well as being a mathematician and astronomer.

  101. Do any other people here trained in science have a problem with the term “consensus”?

    Yes. It’s just a variant of the old appeal to authority. My PhD advisor would pull your ears off if your explanation for doing this or that was some big name did the same thing. Replace big name with two not so big names, or a hundred nobodies and you have the same stupid reason. He got the habit from his advisor who, coincidentally, was a nobel laureate in chemistry. I guess it’s hard to appeal to authority when arguing with one. Anyway, laymen (read politicos) don’t generally understand the machinations of science. A whole lot of scientific census rise and fall, it’s what’s let in the end that matters. Problem is, if the consensus is that we have a catastrophic problem, how long do you wait for certainty? There needs to be a very careful balance between the potential damage of the problem, that harm of the cure, and the veracity of the evidence. Good luck.

  102. When dealing with this matter, I generally cite J.S. Bell, not some guy who thinks that the whole universe is just, like, an electron in some other atom.

    Or, you know, those quacks Podolsky, Rosen, and what’s his name.

  103. Oh, come on, I’ve always taken consensus to mean “Range of conclusions supported by the bulk of experimental data.” I was always taught that questioning the consensus is fine (indeed, the best part of my thesis basically found a loophole in the consensus on a particular matter), you’d just better make sure that you’ve investigated thoroughly before disregarding so many other experiments and calculations. It isn’t about authority, it’s about the accumulation of evidence.

  104. If the existence of the consensus was offered as evidence that global warming is real, that would be an appeal to authority.

    Because these scientists believe global warming is happening, it is true.

    But that’s not happening. The evidence that global warming is happening is found in the millions of pages of data and information those scientists have produced, and the relative paucity of countervailing data and information.

    The consensus is brought up merely to point out how incredibly lopsided the state of the data is.

  105. EDIT: Maybe it would be better to say that I found an exception to a major (and accepted, i.e. validated) result, because I considered a case that had not been previously investigated. A “loophole” in the “consensus” is poor phrasing.

    Anyway, I have no problem with using the word “consensus” as a short-hand for “the range of conclusions consistent with the bulk of the published data.” It isn’t about authority, it’s about evidence. If almost every experiment and calculation reaches approximately the same number but you get a different number, you’d better make sure you understand what was going on in those other investigations before concluding that you have found something that’s new and correct. Those other pieces of work are evidence, and you can’t just disregard evidence, you need to understand it and understand the source of discrepancies before you reach a different conclusion.

  106. thoreau:

    are you familiar with Bayes’ Theorem? do you use statistical analysis in your research?

  107. My PhD advisor would pull your ears off if your explanation for doing this or that was some big name did the same thing.

    Actually, there is one very good reason for doing things that others have done: To facilitate comparisons.

    While every investigation should address some new point, there will be similarities between your work and somebody else’s work. If feasible, it can be good to use the same computational tools as other people, or use most of the same experimental techniques, so that any novel discovery you make can be attributed to the specific variables that you changed or new elements that you introduced. Otherwise, one could always wonder whether your results are an artifact of a non-standard technique.

  108. biologist-

    I rarely use statistical analysis. That may sound strange, but physicists generally study systems where we can address many variables, so we don’t use the t-tests and all the other things that other scientists do. It’s more about seeing whether the result fits a curve or something. And in our theories we’re usually calculating distributions rather than p-values.

    But yes, I am familiar with Bayes’ Theorem, and I’m not suggesting that we should bias our results with a popularity-driven prior or anything like that.

    I’m just saying that quibbling over the word “consensus” is missing the point. If I put forward a result that challenges lots of other investigations, and somebody says “Well, what about those other calculations and experiments that have been done?” I can’t just accuse my critic of appealing to authority. He’s bringing forward data, not just authority, and I have to be able to identify the differences between my work and the other pieces of work, so I can explain which result is most applicable to the question at hand.

  109. thoreau,

    It isn’t about authority, it’s about the accumulation of evidence.

    In the short term at least it is often about authority. Indeed authority and the sorts of behavior that humans are prone to will block out evidence (at least again over the short term).

  110. Of course there are pluses as well as minuses to the often status driven and just as often conservative nature of science.

  111. how do you determine if your empirical results adequately match the theoretical curve?

    “I’m not suggesting that we should bias our results with a popularity-driven prior or anything like that”

    actually, that’s what I was going to suggest.

  112. oops, that was me, addressing thoreau. sorry about that.

  113. how do you determine if your empirical results adequately match the theoretical curve?

    R^2, chi^2, stuff like that. To be honest, as a theoretician I don’t have to fit many experimental results to curves. Indeed my latest work doesn’t even deal with fitting to curves. The systems aren’t really amenable to highly detailed and quantitative investigations, so I deal with qualitative results: Are most of the molecules found over here or over there? When you change a rate constant does the gradient become larger or smaller? Is the gradient larger for this molecule or that molecule? Stuff like that. Those are the only questions that can be easily addressed experimentally, so those are the sorts of results that I try to get from my calculations.

  114. ok, so you are using stats: regression and chi-square.

  115. It isn’t about authority, it’s about the accumulation of evidence.

    Yeah, I don’t think so. When most folks talk about consensus in the context of anthropogenic global warming what they are saying is that most of the people who know better than I do (the scientific community) believe it. And when we are talking about public policy that’s good enough. People doing the science obviously can’t get away with that. What troubles me, though, is that activist type folks are using the scientific consensus as a rhetorical point, like “most scientists believe in man made GW so it is a fact and we should do X”. Policy should be based on on the consequences of the problem (for which there is a consensus), the ills of the policy, and the veracity of the evidence for the problem (which is unconcerned with consensus). It doesn’t seem that many folks want to consider the last bit. It’s like “the models are flawed, so do nothing”, or “there is a scientific consensus so anthropogenic GW is fact”. That’s all I’m getting at.

  116. pigwiggle-

    It may very well be that the evidence on some key points is all over the map and hence there is no “consensus” in the manner that I was using the term above. That is a perfectly valid point to raise.

    What was getting me was the arguments that the notion of a consensus is somehow 180 degrees opposed to the conduct of good science. It isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with looking at a large body of fairly consistent evidence and taking that as a given during an investigation, as long as you are open to reconsidering that assumption if your results cannot be reconciled with the assumptions. I do that every day and you do too, I’m sure.

    I think that saying “there is a consensus in favor of [insert conclusion here]” is different than just saying “there is data in favor of…” There’s lots of data out there about all sorts of things, and a cherry-picking of it can support almost any hypothesis. A “consensus”, as I’ve understood it, refers to a conclusion (or range of similar conclusions) consistent with a large body of experimental results.

    I’m not sure that “consensus” is the best word for that situation, I’d be fine with a better word. “Theory” might be better, but too many people equate “theory” with “wild-ass speculation.” (See: creationists)

    In any case, I’d rather critique the available studies and whether they are consistent, rather than say “Look! He said ‘consensus’! He’s only interested in popularity!”

  117. Wow, good points by both pigwiggle and thoreau. I’m still in pigwiggle’s camp, though–consensus is a BS term with respect to science. A recent example (late 80s to today): The Cosmological Constant. When I began studying physics, it was considered at best a fudge factor, at worst, a goof or mathematical artifact or something. This was the “consensus” view. Later, people started thinking it might have a real meaning. Now, it’s all the rage. Science is about proof, period. Consensus is nothing but a lot of people with a belief, and we all know how often beliefs are disproven. (Or maybe we all don’t know this; the “memory hole” is quite big for some.)

    joe, I won’t even bother to discuss this issue with you at all. Everything you think you “know” about this issue is just recycled media BS. I’m not insulting you; I’m sure you know a lot of things about which I’m ignorant. I am not a denier. I’m a skeptic. I think I believe that warming is happening, but the degree to which humans are causing it is not known, no matter what the IPCC says. And I say believe about warming because measuring global average temperature accurately is far, far more difficult than you’ve been led to believe. And even if it becomes extremely accurate, the data from the past is seriously suspect, or at best, incomplete. Seriously, how does any self-respecting scientist just take this data as a given? If I had to bet, I’d bet that most real scientists have far more doubts than they express. Most people don’t want to rock the boat. Most people, unlike me, actually care what other people think about them. (Okay, I do care whether certain people think I’m a decent person or not, but I never just agree so that I can “get along.”)

  118. I should say that maybe my standard of proof is too high. I just saw, in a rather short time, so much damn politics in science that it made me sick (and a lot of sexism, too, but that’s another story). The discussions on how to word a grand proposal for the big $$$ was enough to make me distrust even scientists (and there are no professions more trustworthy than the physical sciences).

    As fictional character Greg House says, “Everybody lies.”

  119. Real Bill, I don’t like getting hung up on a word. If “consensus” means “Most popular opinion” then yeah, it’s BS. OTOH, if it means “A set of similar conclusions drawn from the bulk of the experimental data”, i.e. a consensus of people analyzing data, then it can mean something. Rather than getting hung up when somebody says “consensus”, I’d rather ask “What is this consensus based on?” It gets us back to the realm of evidence, which is where you want to go, but it keeps us clear of pedantic disputes.

  120. “grand proposal”–I previewed, yet that Freudian slip still made it through (although grand is way too small).

  121. I guess those Ice Ages never happened…

    Or were they ever reversed, either. The planet does in fact, get colder or warmer at many different times throughout history, even without human interference.

    What spencer is talking about are the complex feedback mechanisms on the earth, variables that most models are weak on, or don’t take into account altogether.

    Also note, he doesn’t say the earth isn’t warming, he’s merely indirectly pointing out that maybe the worst case scenario figures in the IPCC summaries might be, in the words of Spencer “scaled back”.

  122. Okay, T. I think the consensus is based upon weak data. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, though.

  123. The temperature record does show warming.
    Most everyone accepts that the earth has been warming for 100s and 1,000s of years with occasional dips, but mostly warming since glaciers roamed the earth.

    So the skepticism is not about WARMING!

    It’s about interpretation. If the earth has been wrming for thousands of years, why is recent warming to be blamed on technological civilization?

    What caused anomalous dips in climate trends?
    Should higher particulate emissions be allowed?

    Yes, when incomes are at stake, many will lie, even many scientists. They have expenses too.

  124. “R^2, chi^2, stuff like that.”

    You ask robots?

  125. Later, people started thinking it might have a real meaning. Now, it’s all the rage.

    Sounds like all you’re saying there is that the consensus changed. Which is normal and natural to happen in science. Maybe it’ll change again and the former view will become the consensus. The meaningful question is whether the majority view of scientists on a given matter should be held as meaningful to lay people not equipped to study the matter in the same way the scientists are. I think the obvious answer is yes, whenever there has been serious study of a matter. Sure, heretics can be later be deemed correct, and their position taken to be the new consensus. But is this the norm, or is the norm that when a scientific consensus has been reached, it is more likely to still be the consensus years later than heretical views at any given time. Unless you can show that scientific consensus is at least as likely to change as stay the same, your point that it does sometimes change is ultimately meaningless, at least for the lay person trying to decide which is more likely correct, the consensus/conventional wisdom on one hand or the heretical or alternative views on the other. If, however, it’s not true that scientific consensus is more likely to stay the same as change, if it’s as likely or moreso to change, that would seem to throw into question the very concept that science can make meaningful predictions about the world! That’s why scientific consensus is meaningful. Sure it may change, but it’s all we have at any given time. And just as it’s always a better bet to bet on two dice rolling a 7 than a 12 even though they do come up a 12 sometimes, it would logically seem that believing the scientific consensus at any given time would be the better bet than believing the heretics.

    Now, if one has some particular expertise such that one can make one’s own critical analysis of the scientific consensus, then scratch all that. But for the lay person forced to believe one “camp” or another, the so-called “popularity contest” is actually the quite logical way to go.

  126. People often have a hard time accepting that there is just as much bullshit, bootlicking, groupthink, etc. in science as is any other human institution. Given that science is the most powerful tool for understanding we have that should tell you something about human beings. 😉

  127. The matter has been settled –

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18175/page3/

    “Benford has a proposal that possesses the advantages of being both one of the simplest planet-cooling technologies so far suggested and being initially testable in a local context. He suggests suspension of tiny, harmless particles (sized at one-third of a micron) at about 80,000 feet up in the stratosphere.

    You could do the whole planet for a couple of billion [dollars a year]”

    On to the next freedom stealing scam…

  128. You wouldn’t know a Stalinist from a pile of dog shit

    Who would?

  129. “Dr. T, you know damn well that Newton was a freaking religious nutcase. Was his science suspect because he was a crank?”

    Newton was also an astrologer.

    Weren’t there leading scientists who signed on to the *science* of eugenics as well?

    Some of the smartest people can be pretty dumb outside their own field. Russell and Chomsky come to mind.

  130. eugenics (as understood in the vernacular) would work, so I don’t understand the scare quotes. it’s just considered unethical to practice on human beings. most people don’t have a problem with eugenics when we talk about selectively breeding cattle for particular traits or selectively breeding crop plants for disease and pest resistance. just don’t call it eugenics.

    in fact, the Journal of Heredity was originally titled Journal of Eugenics

  131. Sorry, biologist,
    Just sheer ignorance on my part. Thanks for the clarification.

  132. It’s completely reasonable to talk about the “science” of eugenics with scare quotes because as practiced in the first half of the 20th century (when it was most prominently applied to humans) it really was a pseudo-science. There was generally no real attempt to determine if traits had a genetic basis, or even if the traits could be meaningfully defined at all (such as “feeble-mindedness,” or my personal favorite, “love of the sea”). There was also no attempt to sort out confounding environmental factors. The importance of these considerations in quantitative genetics was known at the time; they were generally just ignored by practicing eugenicists.

  133. again, eugenics was a general term that came to have a specific, unsavory meaning because of the activities of the Nazis and the like.

    just because some people practice a particular field of science crappily and unethically doesn’t make it into a field of “science”

  134. Actually, the term eugenics was coined in the late 19th century by people specifically talking about human breeding – it was not a more general term already in existence that just came to be associated with humans. When people use(d) the term eugenics, the vast majority of the time they were/are talking about humans, and about the eugenics programs of the early 20th century in the US and Europe. So eugenics most definitely is a field of “science,” with all that those quotes imply.

  135. you’re partly right, and I’m not being completely clear.

    selective breeding of non-human animals or plants for specific traits is functionally the same as breeding human animals for specific traits. eugenics is the term coined for the special case of artificial selection for humans. some traits can’t easily be selected for, no matter the species, not just humans. it depends on the nature of the genetic control over the trait (single gene vs. polygenic) and the genotype-by-environment interaction. nonetheless, selective breeding could work in humans with varying degrees of ease, depending on the trait. it is still science, not “science”

    the term originated with Darwin’s cousin Galton, but the idea did not. still, the term has always had different meaning to different people

    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics

  136. You’re still mistaken about the meaning of the term eugenics, biologist (or perhaps wikipedia is mistaken, if this is where your definition comes from). It isn’t just the same thing as selective breeding in domesticated plants and animals, but applied to humans. It has a more circumscribed meaning dealing (mostly, although not exclusively) with very complex, poorly defined, and highly environment-dependent behavioral traits such as “feeble-mindedness,” propensity to break the law, and “love of the sea.” It is also almost always meant to refer to a specific time period, roughly the 1880s-1950s, when eugenics arose as a (pseudo) scientific movement, became popular, and thankfully fell out of favor. Occasionally someone refers to a “new eugenics” or something of that sort, but “eugenics” by itself is more restricted. This is how the term is/was used in the most directly relevant scientific fields, most importantly evolutionary biology. There may be distorted/non-standard uses in popular discourse, but if we’re talking about eugenics as a scientific movement it seems pretty clear that the precise scientific definition is the relevant one.

    It isn’t pseudoscience because humans are being bred for specific traits; obviously that can be done quite effectively for certain traits, as evidenced by the exceptional diversity of some domesticated plant and animal species and their divergence from wild progenitors (although it would take a bit longer when the target species has an 18-20 year generation time). It’s pseudoscience because the traits in question are very poorly defined, extremely dependent on environment, and may not even have a genetic component – exactly the sorts of traits one would not choose to artificially select for against. So, to sum up, eugenics = “science.”

  137. if it’s “science”, explain the Journal of Heridity, originally titled Journal of Eugenics. if the science was poor by today’s standards, that’s because genetics was in its infancy.

    also, you refuse to consider that your definition of eugenics is not the only definition of eugenics.

    Here, from my copy of A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 2nd ed., Lincoln, Boxshall, and Clark. 1998. Cambridge Press.

    “eugenics: The science of breeding; the application of genetic principles to the improvement of the heriditary qualities of a race or breed”

    no mention of humans there. if eugenics is a pseudoscience, I doubt the term would be included in a modern dictionary of science. the term is not commonly used because of negative historical connotations, not because it’s not a valid science. but please, continue to try to teach me about biology. sorry if I’m not willing to accept your unreferenced assertions as fact.

  138. Heredity, not Heridity, of course

  139. Wow – feeling a bit pissy this evening, are we? Two comments about your Dictionary of EES definition of eugenics:

    1) It should be pretty obvious that terms that are no longer in common use, or in use at all, should still be included in a dictionary of technical terms. Sometimes people working in a field like to read papers that are more than a few years old (sometimes more than a few decades old), and when they do they generally find it convenient to understand the terminology.

    2) It also shouldn’t be too surprising that a 20 word definition wouldn’t capture the full detail of a very complex topic. I have that book too, and consult it frequently; it can be helpful for thumbnail definitions on simple topics, but it obviously isn’t useful for any meaningful detail. If you want to perform a test that’s actually informative with regard to how the term is used, you might consider performing a literature search. For example, if you input “eugenics” as a topic keyword into Web of Science, you will get 485 results, all of which as far back as I scanned (the first 200, going back to the 1990s) use eugenics in the sense that I have described it, relating to humans and behavioral traits (usually; some dealt with rare recessive genetic disorders which would also be extremely difficult to purge through selective breeding). Most of these papers deal with the history or philosophy of the movement (often in journals specifically devoted to history or philosophy of biology); several mention a “new eugenics” in reference to recent events. So yes, the technical scientific definition of eugenics does in fact relate to humans, and generally to complex/vague behavioral traits.

    Regarding your assertions concerning Journal of Eugenics (or Annals of Eugenics, or Eugenics Quarterly, or any other out-of-use journal name) – if you have any familiarity with scientific literature you’re surely well aware of the fact that articles published in journals don’t always directly and specifically relate to the title of the journal. There were several seminal population genetics papers published in the Annals of Eugenics in the 1930s-1950s. They have nothing at all to do with eugenics beyond the fact that both deal in some sense with the inheritance of genetic factors and evolution in populations.

    “if the science was poor by today’s standards, that’s because genetics was in its infancy.”

    No, as I mentioned in my first post, quantitative and population geneticists were already well aware of these issues, at least qualitatively, very early in the 20th century, and by the 1920s a rigorous mathematical framework was being developed. There were at least a few prominent geneticists who were very vocal opponents of eugenics for these very reasons. But as tends to be the case with pseudo-sciences, non-scientific issues trumped legitimate scientific argument.

    “also, you refuse to consider that your definition of eugenics is not the only definition of eugenics.”

    No, I refuse to consider that a definition of eugenics that differs significantly from the accepted scientific definition of eugenics is meaningful in a discussion about eugenics as a science. You’re essentially saying, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man!” to a broadly accepted technical definition.

    And finally, complaining about my unreferenced assertions when your “references” are wikipedia and the Dictionary of EES… it’s a little tacky; you could maybe aim just a wee bit higher for your sources.

  140. if the technical definition of eugenics is restricted to humans, it seems unlikely that the Dictionary of EES would leave out the two words necessary to restrict the defintion to humans. just because the common use of the term is restricted to humans, doesn’t mean that that is the only acceptable use of the term. words can have a broad sense and a strict sense, and a common sense and an obscure sense. the common use of the term may well be the strict sense of “humans only”, but that’s not the technical definition. it’s also not impossible that the meaning of a term should change subtly over time.

    theoretical population geneticists were indeed aware of those problems, but how many empirical studies had been conducted? how does one determine a priori which traits are polygenically controlled and which have significant phenotypic plasticity?

    as for my references: a wikipedia article with 40+ references (several peer-reviewed or from academic presses) and a technical dictionary vs. no references. which is tacky? I’m not asking for a dissertation from you, nor do I have time to write one on this topic myself.

    answer one question: are there any traits, or is there even a single trait in humans that could be changed through selective breeding? if your answer is yes (which it must be), then eugenics isn’t a pseudoscience, even if the goals and methods of some of its practitioners have been poor science, unethical, or impossible to achieve. the implication of your assertion is that every incorrect hypothesis moves the experiment into the realm of a pseudoscience

  141. If you’ve spent any time looking through the Dictionary of EES then you’ve surely noticed that some of the entries are incomplete or oversimplified; this shouldn’t be at all surprising, given that they sometimes try to treat very complex subjects with a few lines of text. I think I’ve shown pretty clearly with the literature search (and presumably you could verify this yourself if you were interested) that the way the word is actually used by people who are actually in the field – in other words, the technical definition – is restricted to humans. On a side note, it seems a bit odd that you’re trying to simultaneously defend two sources with contradictory definitions of the word (or perhaps you haven’t noticed that the wiki page restricts its definition to “improvement of human hereditary traits”).

    “are there any traits, or is there even a single trait in humans that could be changed through selective breeding?”

    Of course the answer to that question is yes. The problem with it, for the last time, is that selective breeding of humans is NOT the same as eugenics. Eugenics has a more restricted definition, and specifically applies to traits that could not easily be selected for/against (for straightforward reasons that were well understood in the early 20th century), and in some cases which may not even have a genetic basis. You’re certainly free to use whatever definition of eugenics you’re most fond of, but I’m going to go ahead and stick with the accurate one.

  142. from the Wikipedia article:

    “Eugenics has, from the very beginning, meant many different things to many different people. Historically, the term has referred to everything from prenatal care for mothers to forced sterilization and euthanasia. Much debate took place in the past, and takes place today, as to what exactly counts as eugenics…The term eugenics is often used to refer to movements and social policies that were influential during the early 20th century. In a historical and broader sense, eugenics can also be a study of “improving human genetic qualities”.”

    in this latter sense, the Wikipedia definition is a subset of the ESS dictionary definition, not contradictory. Wikipedia mainly concentrates on the common use of the word (eugenics as a social movement), which doesn’t encompass all senses of the word, so effectively, you are picking which sense you prefer. you might be using the most common definition, but that’s not necessarily the most accurate one, nor the only one. I’m referring to the biology of eugenics in the broad sense, not the social movement. eugenics (the biology sense) can form testable hypotheses, and is therefore not a pseudoscience.

    also, I did perform an electronic database search for keyword “eugenics”, which mostly resulted in articles using the term in the way you advocate – apparently because

    1. biologists have abandoned the term because of its unsavory historical connotations

    2. social “scientists” and historians have written a lot about the eugenics social movement

    3. Charles Colson (of Watergate infamy) and others enjoy equating Darwinian evolution with unethical social movements

    so, I’ll take my Argumentum ad Verecundiam over your Argumentum ad Populum. it’s been fun something, but I need to finish my thesis on population genetics now.

  143. “in this latter sense, the Wikipedia definition is a subset of the ESS dictionary definition, not contradictory.”

    Come on now? you’re obviously not stupid; you can certainly come up with something better than this. One definition says the word eugenics applies to other animals and plants, the other says it doesn’t. If you take any crop plant, any domesticated pet, any food animal, or anything else besides a human and ask whether selective breeding/improvement is eugenics, the two definitions will give opposite answers. They’re clearly contradictory. You should keep in mind for future conversations you have, academic or otherwise, that people who deny the patently obvious tend to lose some intellectual credibility.

    “I’m referring to the biology of eugenics in the broad sense…”

    And, of course, by “broad” you actually mean “scientifically non-standard or inaccurate.” I don’t “advocate” for a particular definition as being inherently better or worse; I just acknowledge which one is in standard use in the field.

    And you wouldn’t be so silly as to mention your academic credentials “on population genetics” to impress me or anyone else on an anonymous blog post, would you? It kind of looks that way – that phrase seems a little too awkward and forced, tacked on there at the end of your post. If you did, you should also keep in mind that you may end up demonstrating unequivocally that you have considerably less education and experience than the people you’re trying to impress. But you’re right about one thing – you should probably be working on your thesis, after you have the last word here (if you’re so inclined).

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