Closing down the debate!

Making Science Public has allowed Dana Nuccitelli to respond to Ben Pile’s recent post What’s behind the battle of received wisdoms?. I think Dana’s response is very good, but I would say that wouldn’t I?

One of the things that Dana was responding to was a comment by Mike Hulme, that I discussed in an earlier post. Ben Pile took some interest in this post and, in particular, in some comments made by Tom Curtis and wrote a post of his own, mentioning my post and discussing the comments made by Tom Curtis. That he put so much effort into dismissing Tom Curtis’s comments, makes me think that Tom must have been hitting a nerve.

In Ben’s post he referred to me as Troll-like. I found this a little odd and thought he had somewhat mis-represented my post. I commented on his post and discovered that the issue may be that I’m being confused with Wotts Up With That. Just, for clarity, that is not me. Anyway, we clarified this and Ben Pile edited his post. However, the rest of the discussion was remarkably frustrating. I also, rather unfortunately possibly, failed to hide my frustration. I don’t particularly like it when that happens, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid. I can’t see the point of discussions in which both (or one of) the parties are unwilling to consider that anything the other person says has merit and are unwilling to consider that some of what they say may be wrong, or not as well-founded as first thought. Also, rather naively, I think that if I try to be pleasant, others will reciprocate. It’s not a requirement, of course, but it does make the discussion more enjoyable. So, essentially I ended up having a discussion with a group who were, by and large, unpleasant (with some exceptions) and who clearly thought that the way to engage in such a discussion was to poke holes in the other person’s argument and avoid acknowledging any issues with their own.

Anyway, what I found ironic is that part of the argument that Ben Pile seems to be associated with, is that John Cook’s consensus project is being used to close down the debate. The suggestion being that people are using the results of John Cook’s study to state that the science is settled. Maybe Ben Pile and co. weren’t actually closing down the debate, but they were certainly making it difficult to actually have one. In a recent post on Judith Curry’s blog, Dan Kahan is quoted as saying

[T]here’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization. That’s because “scientific consensus,” when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.

Now, this comment by Dan Kahan may have some merit. I certainly don’t think that illustrating that there is a consensus implies that the science is settled. There may, however, be a subtlety here that many are not recognising or, maybe, not acknowledging.

I sometimes wonder if one issue with this whole debate is the difference between how physical scientists might think and how social scientists might think. As far as I’m aware, there are no fundamental laws in the social sciences. You can’t debunk someone’s ideas about politics or economics by simply showing that it violates some fundamental law of the social sciences. There may be theories and ideas about what works and what doesn’t, but there are no fundamental laws. So, maybe in the social sciences it is much more accepted that all ideas should be on the table.

In the physical sciences, however, there are fundamental laws that all physical scientists (or, at least, all credible physical sciences) accept. These are the conservation of mass, the conservation of energy, and the conservation of momentum (linear and angular). Einstein has shown an equivalence between mass and energy, but that doesn’t matter for the climate change debate. There are also other laws (thermodynamics) but these are essentially associated with these fundamental laws. If a scientific idea violates any of these fundamental laws, it is wrong. There is no debate about this. There is no point in having a discussion with someone who’s idea violates one of these laws or who doesn’t realise that these laws exist.

So, for example, Murry Salby claims that the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration is not anthropogenic. This, however, appears to violate the conservation of mass. How can the biosphere both be a sink (absorbing all anthropogenic CO2) and a source (releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than in the past)? Bob Tisdale seems to think that the surface heating we’ve seen recently is simply due to ocean cycles (ENSO events). This appears to violate conservation of energy. How can the energy that is heating the surface be coming from the oceans when the amount of energy in the oceans has been increasing? There are other examples of people who think they can find some function that fits the data and that they’ve then explained something. Well, in this case they haven’t actually considered any of the fundamental laws. It’s a pure curve fitting exercise, and until they can show that their function has some physical relevance and doesn’t violate the laws of physics, it doesn’t have any real merit (it can be illustrative, but not much else).

So, the point I’m trying to make is that although the debate should be open, there are some things that are not open to debate. When it comes to policy decisions, maybe all ideas should be considered and the debate should be completely open. When it comes to the science, however, some things are just simply wrong and can be shown to be wrong. The problem is that if someone doesn’t understand the fundamental laws of physics, it becomes hard to convince them that these ideas are wrong. That’s why people should talk to and listen to scientists. They understand these things.

I don’t know if I’ve made this argument particularly clearly but it does seem that people’s view of the consensus project may be biased by their field of expertise. Those who are interested in policy may think all ideas should be considered. They might be right about ideas related to policy, but they’re wrong about science. Not all scientific ideas are right. Some are just, quite simply, wrong. So, as a scientist, what I see the consensus project doing is trying to illustrate that the science behind global warming is much more settled than many are willing to acknowledge.

My view, therefore, is that this isn’t an attempt to close down the debate, but an attempt to distinguish between discussions about policy and discussions about the science. I’m not even saying that the science is settled, simply that it is more settled than many think and that many (if not most) of the alternatives that are in the public domain violate the fundamental laws of physics. Although how we should address global warming (the policy decisions) should be completely open to debate, there is – in my view – a subtlety. If your views about what policies would be best, or what we should do, are based on a mis-understanding of the science (as I think it often is) then maybe you should consider that your opinions about what the best policy is may also be wrong.

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147 Responses to Closing down the debate!

  1. Latimer Alder says:

    H’mm.

    Thermodynamics is not a sort of minor cousin of your conservation laws. It is separate and equally fundamental. It tells us in which direction things change.

    And as we have discussed many times it shows that heat flows spontaneously from hotter bodies to cooler. Not the other way round.

    All theories about the future of climate ..and especially ‘deep ocean heat’ have to acknowledge this universal truth. If heat is going into the deep cold oceans, its gonna stay there.

  2. I agree, I wasn’t trying to diminish thermodynamics, I was simply trying to avoid having to go into too much detail (i.e., I mentioned it for completeness, but didn’t explain it). If the ocean was simply a column of water, hot at the top, cold at the bottom, I would agree with you completely. But it isn’t. It’s extended and it’s not clear that ocean currents can’t move the energy from the deep ocean in one place to the upper ocean in another place. However, I accept that this is something that is still uncertain, so rather than going around in circles – as we have on Twitter – let’s accept that the 2nd law of thermodynamics does indeed need to be satisfied and that you do have a point. One might expect the energy in the deep ocean to stay there, but it is not absolutely clear that this will always been true.

  3. I know I probably shouldn’t start this again, but given that I have more space here than on Twitter I can’t resist :-). Even if the energy does stay in the deep ocean, it may not make any real difference. We don’t need this energy in order for surface heating to continue in the future. The system is tending towards thermodynamic equilibrium (atmosphere, land, ocean). At the moment it appears that most of the excess energy is going into the oceans, with some possibly going into the deep oceans. As equilibrium is approached we would expect that the distribution of this excess energy will change, with more available to heat the surface and atmosphere. So the resumption of surface heating does not require that the deep ocean energy is released.

  4. Tom Curtis says:

    A minor point. If the partial pressure of a gas over a liquid in which it could dissolve was entirely determined by the temperature of the liquid, then Salby’s theory would actually be correct. Therefore it does no violate the conservation of mass as such, but only our knowledge of the equilibrium dynamics of gases in solution. Of course, in addition to that there a laundry list of flaws in the way he attempts to support his theory.

  5. bratisla says:

    Latimer, define “spontaneously”. Because it seems, from my numerous discussions on this topic, that laws of thermodynamics are often misquoted …

  6. bratisla says:

    sorry, with a “please” in it. I am not trying to sound offensive, I am rather curious about you understanding on this subject.

  7. What drivel.
    There are plenty of laws of social science.
    Climate models violate the laws of physics.

  8. Latimer Alder says:

    D’accord. The resumption of surface heating doesn’t require such a thing.

    But until it does resume – and we have no idea if and when that might be – then the idea of imminent dangerous (or any) climate change induced by global warming in our biosphere is pretty much dead.

    If the atmosphere ain’t warming, then whatever phenomena we see today cannot be attributed to a warming atmosphere. Anything post -2000 cannot be a consequence of such warming since there has been no warming. If the cause is not there, there can be no effects of it. We must look elsewhere to explain the phenomena.

    And, of course the real elephant in the bathroom is ‘why did the heat stop warming the atmosphere and go into the deep ocean (if indeed it has)?’ Because without a decent answer to that question – and some *experimental* proof that it’s actually there – then it is clear that there is a huge hole in our climate understanding. It is not as simple as people have claimed for 30 years.

    And any forecasts that do not have such an explanation are wrong. In racing terms – all bets are off.

    Maybe this is the mysterious factor that causes all (yep all) of the 70-odd climate models to be running ‘hot’. I suggest that finding the reason – and getting the experimental data – is the most urgent climate problem today.

    And much more important than counting the number of climatologists that can dance on the head of a consensus pin.

  9. andrew adams says:

    Where you have a scientific issue which potentially has significant policy implications and there are therefore many interested parties (ie, policymakers and the general public) who are non-experts, then I don’t see how it’s possible to have a meaningful public debate on the subject without having a common understanding of what the mainstream scientific position is and the extent to which it is shared by those actively working in the relevent areas. Obviously that shouldn’t preclude proper consideration of the uncertainties involved and credible alternative views where they exist but where there is widespread agreement on particular questions it is entirely right to recognise this.
    In that sense recognising the consensus doesn’t shut down debate, it opens it up, at least where the political argements arround climate change are concerned, because otherwise people who don’t feel capable of discussing the scientific questions from first principles (which let’s face it is most policymakers and members of the public) would be excluded.
    Even when laymen (like myself) do want to learn more about the science itself I think generally we want, at least in the first instance, to make sure we are getting our information from credible mainstream sources and avoid those which are superficially plausible but unreliable. That’s not to assume minority views must be incorrect but I’d rather be able to aproach them with some background knowledge in order to be able to spot any obvious flaws.
    The basic fact is for non-experts, policy makers, interested layments etc, the distinction between credible and non-credible sources of information is important, which is why the likes of Ben Pile are trying to blur this dusctinction and pretend that all opposing views should be given equal credence.

  10. Jaime Jessop says:

    To suggest that (a) Anthropogenic global warming theory is internally consistent with all the fundamental laws of physics and that most alternative explanations for climate change are not is utter nonsense and a major diversion from the issue at hand. The Laws of Physics do apply to all atmospheric processes but, if you think that you can extract and isolate them from a hugely complex oceanic-atmospheric inherently chaotic system in order to prove warmists’ pet theory about climate change, or disprove the challenges put forward by many sceptics in this field, you are woefully misguided and naive.

  11. t_p_hamilton says:

    Why the consensus project is important to let the public realize just how many are on each “side”:

    “Hill and his colleagues set to work to review a full range of approaches open to them. Dismissing as shortsighted the idea of mounting personal attacks on researchers or simply issuing blanket assurances of safety, they concluded instead that seizing control of the science of tobacco and health would be as important as seizing control of the media. It would be crucial to identify scientists who expressed skepticism about the link between cigarettes and cancer, those critical of statistical methods, and especially those who had offered alternative hypotheses for the cause of cancer. Hill set his staff to identifying the most vocal and visible skeptics.

    These people would be central to the development of an industry scientific program in step with its larger public relations goals. Hill understood that simply denying the harms of smoking would alienate the public. His strategy for ending the “hysteria” was to insist that there were “two sides.” … This strategy — invented by Hill in the context of his work for the tobacco industry — would ultimately become the cornerstone of a large range of efforts to distort scientific process in the second half of the twentieth century.”

    http://www.alternet.org/story/50359/how_a_pr_firm_helped_establish_america's_cigarette_century

  12. Latimer Alder says:

    Spontaneously = without outside intervention.

    Example – a hot body placed in cooler surroundings will spontaneously cool.

    It can be heated up again (eg kettle full of water) but only by intervening – external source of energy.

    Good enough for you?

  13. BBD says:

    LA

    The usual misrepresentations and incomprehensions, I see.

    But until it does resume – and we have no idea if and when that might be – then the idea of imminent dangerous [STRAWMAN] (or any) climate change induced by global warming in our biosphere is pretty much dead [UNPHYSICAL, PARTISAN NONSENSE].

    If the atmosphere ain’t warming, then whatever phenomena we see today cannot be attributed to a warming atmosphere [RUBBISH – tropospheric temperatures last decade are the hottest in instrumental record]. Anything post -2000 cannot be a consequence of such warming since there has been no warming [MISREPRESENTATION – see previous – hottest decade in instrumental record]. If the cause is not there, there can be no effects of it. We must look elsewhere to explain the phenomena. [RUBBISH – hottest decade etc]

    And, of course the real elephant in the bathroom is ‘why did the heat stop warming the atmosphere and go into the deep ocean (if indeed it has)?’ [IT HAS – OHC 0 – 2000m] Because without a decent answer to that question – and some *experimental* proof that it’s actually there – then it is clear that there is a huge hole in our climate understanding [BLATANT MISREPRESENTATION]. It is not as simple as people have claimed for 30 years [MATCHING BLATANT STRAWMAN].

    Increased wind speed, increase rate of Ekman pumping – see Balmaseda et al. (2013). Only one link per comment so google it.

    Hard to believe you are still coming out with this sort of thing after all the correction you have had elsewhere.

  14. bratisla says:

    Could you elaborate ?

  15. bratisla says:

    I’m sorry, but I still don’t get your stance – I have to ask questions to better understand. Do you believe the Earth is an isolated system or not ?

  16. There are plenty of laws of social science, such as the Petersburg Paradox and the Philips’ Curve.

    Climate models violate the laws of physics because in discrete space you cannot satisfy all of them at the same time.

  17. Mircea says:

    What about this article by Mike Hulme as a credible source of information ?

    http://www.academia.edu/3003822/Lessons_from_the_IPCC_do_scientific_assessments_need_to_be_consensual_to_be_authoritative

    The consensus is that GHG warms planet. The debate is by how much and how fast. All the participants to this debate are well inside the “consensus”. Thus, no more information is gained from the knowledge of this “consensus”.
    On the otehr hand (and this is one fault with “consensus” paper beside the acusation of polluting the debate) a non-specialist hearing that the “consensus” was reached will think that the consensus applies to the debate (about how much and how fast climate change happens). The moment when he sees that scientists well inside the consensus are still debating the issue this non-specialist will feel cheated with the consequent reaction of rejecting further political action in favor of climate change mitigation.
    If this paper would have appeared before climategate nobody but the “sceptics”. would have criticised it

  18. Are you suggesting that mathematics is a social science, Richard?

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paradox-stpetersburg/

  19. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard, as near as I can determine, the St Petersburg Paradox is a paradox of game theory, ie, mathematics, and hence no more a law of social science than is pythogoras’ theorem. The Philips curve is a conjectured empirical relationship that has been known to fail on a number of occasions (most notably the 1970s) and hence also does not qualify as a fundamental law.

    Further, while climate models are only ever approximations to physical laws, that is not because the climate disobeys the fundamental laws but only because the models are imperfect due to limited computational power.

    It seems that your examples are not counterexamples to Wotts’ claim.

  20. @Tom C
    You may want to study climate models a bit harder.

  21. BBD says:

    Actually, Richard, you may want to expand on your response to Tom. Otherwise some – not me, of course – may assume that you are bluffing.

  22. Latimer Alder says:

    @bratisla

    Depends on the context. For cosmology – no . For a hot kettle cooling down on the worktop, then the kitchen is pretty much an isolated system. Why do you ask?

  23. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard, are you saying that the physical climate itself disobeys the fundamental laws of nature? If not, the inability of climate models to do so is only a function of incomplete approximation. It is not due to being merely digital because:

    1) Computers are universal Turing Machines, and by the Church-Turing thesis can therefore calculate anything calculable (including anything compliant with the sum of physical laws, which are mathematical statements and hence computable) given enough time;

    2) In principle, if never in practice, a computer could calculate use cells with the side of the planck length, and the planck time for time steps, at which level the world is also digital.

    It is the need to have model results in a practical time that requires the use of approximations to the physical laws. Not the fundamental nature of computation.

  24. Latimer Alder says:

    @BBD

    Just a few points.

    1. 0-2000 m is not ‘deep ocean’ where heat is alleged to have gone.

    2. At the top of a mountain you are high up. You are not still climbing. There is a difference between T and DT/dt. Try calculus.

    3. Thanks for the UPPER CASE. It reminds me that its probably time to check my eyeglass prescription.

    I didn’t see anything else worthy of comment. But its good to see that your calm, logical style hasn’t been affected by our long absence from each other’s acquaintance.

  25. There is some math theorem that shows that you cannot satisfy all laws of conservation in the grids used in climate models. Most climate models have chosen to violate conservation of mass, which matters not so much for atmospheric physics but messes up atmospheric chemistry.

    It is tough nut to crack. Some of the smartest people I know have been working on this for years, but without much to show for.

  26. BBD says:

    LA

    More:

    1. 0-2000 m is not ‘deep ocean’ where heat is alleged to have gone.

    See Balmaseda et al. Read. Work on that ignorance.

    2. At the top of a mountain you are high up. You are not still climbing. There is a difference between T and DT/dt. Try calculus.

    You were engaging in a particularly blatant distortion and got called on it. Stop pretending.

    3. Thanks for the UPPER CASE. It reminds me that its probably time to check my eyeglass prescription.

    Straw. I used capitalisation to make my inline responses clear and unambiguous. As you know perfectly well, which makes what you are attempting to do at (3) and below even more unacceptable.

    I didn’t see anything else worthy of comment. But its good to see that your calm, logical style hasn’t been affected by our long absence from each other’s acquaintance.

    Evasion and misrepresentation for cheap rhetorical effect. Unacceptable.

  27. Latimer Alder says:

    @BBD

    Correction. I meant, of course, dT/dt. The capital ‘D’ slipped in by msipront.

  28. While I find merit in Dan Kahan’s position, I believe it downplays an important asymmetry in the strange game ClimateBallers play. Once upon a time, I tried to capture this with the help of an analogy:

    Imagine a football game with many teams. There are more than two teams, but each teams has two roles. (We do not need the concept of team, only the concept of role, but I think the teams are imposed by the role. More on that another time.)

    A team can play offense or defense. When a team plays offense, it has to move the ball forward. When a team plays defense, it has to prevent the ball to move. Ideally, it needs to get the ball, but that is not necessary. (We could argue that it must, but not now.)

    Here is another important point: offense cannot grab, defense can. Like in American football, so it’s not hard to understand. So the roles are not symmetrical, both in the ends and in the means.

    http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/384966743

    To see this in strategical terms, suppose a game of Chess where one of the two players has a big edge. What should he do? According to the usual algorithm, he should seek to simplify, which in principle diminishes the dynamical possibilities from his adversary. The player who has a bad game should do the opposite, i.e. create chaos. His only way out is if his opponent makes mistakes: there are better chances if things get a little bit irrational. A very good book on this is **Chess for Tigers**, by Simon Webb.

    ***

    If we were to transpose this game into a play, I’d say it looks like Waiting for Godot rewritten as a comedy of menace, whereby concerns are constantly raised to an imaginary referee by appealing to an imaginary discussion. That Mr. Pile acts like he does is part and parcel of what he calls “our PR”. It should be easy to see that Richard gets both rewarded to trash talk “like an economist” (cf. Roger’s “straight-shooting Dutchie”) and playing the victim (cf. many of his retweets, especially his being called a “denier”). No wonder so many furiously rejoice this morning in Making Science Public‘s comment threads, just like Don Don did yesterday in this very blog.

    These analogies should suffice to make sense of the strategies involved, and to see that Dana, to name one name, should seek to emulate you, Wott. He has nothing to gain by following his own strategy. On the other hand, the provocations are so intense that it’s tough not to understand his reaction, and that he did tone down his post. I applaud his use of “contrarianism”, for instance, which means little, as I already use that term.

    ***

    This is why we should always thank contrarians for their very important concerns, and that we should be reminded of Douglas Adams’ motto. Do not panic.

    PS: Have you noticed that Hulme said that Mr. Pile was “spot on” when Mr. Pile basically repeated what Hulme himself holds until at least 2007? That ought to remind auditors of check kiting. Scientists should learn the difference between “This is spot on” and “This rings a lot like what I say since the beginning of my implication in this hurly burly”.

  29. Yet another comment by Andrew Adams to which there will be no reply.

    Oh. Wait.

  30. chris says:

    Richard Tol your comments on this point are similar in type to your complaints against the “consensus paper”, in that you seem to be criticizing something that’s really rather good (climate models; consensus paper) in the light of some notional expectation of perfection that you’re unable to articulate very well (“there is some math theorem that shows…”).

    Climate models have done a rather good job so far. They predicted polar amplification of warming response to enhanced greenhouse forcing and the delayed Antarctic warming response…..they predicted enhanced tropospheric moistening at a time when at least one prominent “skeptic” was asserting that the upper troposphere would dry in a warming world…they predicted tropospheric warming in response to enhanced greenhouse gas levels during a long period when erroneous tropospheric measures were indicating the opposite (models predicted correctly again)… clearly the broad elements of the climate system and its response to greenhouse forcing are amenable to well constructed computations.

    The idea that something you think up might be a problem doesn’t mean that it is a problem! You need to do the hard work and show that the problem exists in reality and makes a material difference to the outcomes…

  31. Might be drivel. Who am I to judge? But, really – climate models violate the laws of physics? Mass conservation? Energy conservation? Momentum conservation?

  32. Richard, so I don’t actually do climate modelling but if the equations are anything like the equations I use, then they fundamentally obey the laws of physics. There may well be issues with errors from the computational technique and why robust techniques should minimise these errors. That, however, does not mean that the fundamental theory violates the laws of physics, simply that the conservation laws are not exactly conserved in a simulation. Typically, however, you know the error in this quantity and can then know how much of a problem this non-conservation actually is.

  33. Tom, I’m sure you’re right but – to be honest (and I know I probably shouldn’t do this) – I don’t quite understand how this is true. Presumably, this would still require that something changed in the mid 1800s so that, via some natural process, all our our emissions were absorbed while atmospheric CO2 concentrations rose.

  34. I think you misunderstand the point I was making and also misunderstand the fundamentals of climate modelling. That it is inherently chaotic, does not mean that the equations cannot be cast in a form that satisfies the fundamental laws of physics. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are indeed cast in this form.

  35. Andrew, I agree and that is entirely consistent with what I was trying to get across in this post. If we don’t trust the scientists then we can’t establish which scientific arguments we should be taking seriously and which we should be ignoring. It’s not about giving the scientists any kind of control over decision making. It’s about giving the policy makers and the public the best possible information that also, as you say, includes any uncertainties and alternatives.

  36. @Wotts
    Thanks for confirming that you did not really study the subject at hand.

  37. Teach me to try and be honest. I am learning quickly that being open in these discussions does me no favours when dealing with those who’s desire to be reasonable is limited.

    By the way, when did you study the details of the physics behind climate models Richard? You trying to suggest that as an economist focusing on climate change that you somehow understand the physics behind climate models better than I do? It’s possible I guess, but would be quite remarkable if true.

  38. Thanks Willard. Trying to maintain an element of civility is becoming more and more difficult and I’ve certainly let my frustrations bubble over a bit too much recently. In a sense, I guess, I am trying to do what your analogies indicate. Keep it reasonably simply and simply try to explain the basics as clearly as I can. Get it wrong now and again (and I’ve realised that acknowledging my limitations really does my no favours) but still try to do my best.

  39. Jaime Jessop says:

    I don’t think we are talking here about the mathematical equations which form the basis of climate models which, of course, one would definitely expect to be consistent with the known laws of physics. They are, however, simplifications (approximations) which attempt to model in artificial isolation an extremely complex real situation and one cannot, with all certainty, look at certain aspects of that system in isolation and say for certain that the laws of physics are being violated, especially when it seems that the motivation behind such action is to conveniently dismiss valid criticism of the ‘settled consensus science’ which underpins CAGW theory.

    I’m not sure I do misunderstand your point in that you are most definitely saying that most criticisms levelled at CAGW theory violate the known laws of physics – that IS what you said, is it not? I might furthermore be tempted to believe that by expressing this opinion you are attempting indeed to close down the legitimate debate on climate change.

  40. BBD says:

    Notice that apart from the predictable attempt to delegitimise you by taking advantage of your good faith, RT has made exactly zero substantive response to Tom, or to yourself, thus far.

    While I genuinely admire what you are trying to do here, I have learned – the hard way – that malice, dishonesty, framing, misrepresentation and projection are the stock-in-trade of the vast majority of “contrarian” commenters. Frustration, anger and occasional bouts of bare-knuckled responses are more-or-less inevitable unless one is capable of Willardian objectivity and self-control. Which I am not 😉

  41. Sure, I agree that it is complex but I think that the science is more settled that maybe you realise or are willing to admit. For example, the influence of CO2 in the atmosphere – well studied in laboratories, through modelling, and through direct satellite measurements for example.

    As far as your second point. I was maybe a little vague, but thought my illustrations might have helped and used the term “public domain” to try and indicate that I mainly referring to those who try to provide alternatives through blogs, rather than through the scientific process. I’m certainly not indicating that the science is settled and that we should not debate the science. The point I was trying to make was subtler than I think you realise. I thought it was clear, but maybe not. There are aspects of science that are not really open to debate – the conservation laws for example. There are others too. Second law of thermodynamics, for example. That means that certain aspect of science are settled and should not really be debated.

    That’s not to say that climate science is settled, simply suggesting that people should recognise that science is not based on opinion and that not all views are equally valid. If this subtlety could be recognised, I think it would be a positive step forward. As I think I’ve said elsewhere, this doesn’t mean that scientists should have some kind of special power and that the policy debates should be unduly influenced by scientists. Simply that if everyone could have a better understanding of which parts of the science are largely agreed and which parts aren’t, the entire debate would benefit. It’s my view that this was the goal of the consensus project. Clearly others disagree.

  42. Yes, I’m learning that quickly and the hard way. It is very tricky and although what Willard says sometimes confuses me 🙂 he does have a very good way with words, and remarkable self control. Someone else who I find amusing and with, what seems like, a similar level of self-control is Eli Rabett.

  43. Mircea says:

    An example is a dam. Once the lake is full, the height of the water in the lake depends only on the height of the dam and not on how much water pours in the lake.
    Salby’s assertion is that the sinks are so big that the only thing determining the CO2 level is the temperature (the height of the dam). I personally find Tom’s arguments pretty clear.

  44. @Wotts
    I spent 7 years with the climate modellers in Hamburg.

  45. Look, this is all rather a silly discussion. Your comment was curt and largely irrelevant. Mine was simply a response to that. Sure, I know you’re work in climate change. I know that you probably do know about climate modelling. I must admit though, that you claiming that there are fundamental laws within the social sciences that are comparable to the fundamental laws of physics, does seem a slightly odd thing to claim.

  46. Okay, thanks. I understand now. I wasn’t implying that Tom’s argument wasn’t clear. I was (stupidly probably, given how these admissions get used against you) illustrating my own ignorance. Having said that, the second part of my comment above is therefore presumably valid. For Salby’s ideas to have merit, something (natural) must have changed sometime in the mid 1800s so as to change the atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Plus, being slightly pedantic, presumably – strictly speaking – Salby’s argument includes an assumption that the sinks are essentially infinitely big and so, in some sense, still violate the strict conservation law 🙂

  47. Mircea says:

    Hi Wott,
    You write:
    “If a scientific idea violates any of these fundamental laws, it is wrong. There is no debate about this. There is no point in having a discussion with someone who’s idea violates one of these laws or who doesn’t realise that these laws exist.”

    Fundamental laws are violated in many cases: The vaccum has energy, the space is expanding, quantum fluctuations can violate energy conservation (for times smaller then quantum times). All the above would have been dismissed according to your saying. Heck… the relativity would have been dismissed because broke other well established laws. Nature is really surprising and every time we start to be arrogant about our knowledge she sends us back to the study room.

    The problem with unknowns is exactly this: They are unknown. One cannot establish rules of rejection a priori. That’s possible only in religion.

  48. Hold on a minute. Sure, I agree and I almost mentioned this. But let’s agree on one thing. We’re talking about climate science. Everything you’ve mentioned refers to quantum mechanics or the expansion of the universe. So, yes there is a possibility that our understanding of the fundamentals of science is wrong. But if that were true it would change everything, not just the results of climate science. So, as far as I’m concerned, if someone wants to propose an alternative that violates (macroscopically) the fundamental laws of physics, they have to then show why this law no longer applies. It would be fascinating if they could do this, but it would still be a requirement.

    I’m also not suggesting that science shouldn’t consider that we don’t understand the fundamentals (and there are clearly things we don’t understand) but this isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the idea that – as it stands – when it comes to climate science, the science has to satisfy (or not violate) these laws. Until someone can show that these basic laws don’t apply, I can’t see how this isn’t a reasonable thing to assume.

  49. > The consensus is that GHG warms planet. The debate is by how much and how fast.

    There is one debate about how much, and there is another debate about fast.

    There is even a debate about the fact that GHG warms the planet.

    There are many debates. Some are less resolved than others. None are closed for ever and ever.

    None of this is relevant to the consensus studied by Cook & al. They measured the level of endorsement on the hypothesis that the A is a fundamental cause of GW. Holding that GHGs warm the planet does not suffice to endorse what Cook & al. measured.

    What they found does not contradict Hulme’s old claim, unless we accept his doubtful premise that a consensus prevents debate from happening.

    Conversely, that there is still a debate on the fact that GHG warms the planet does not prevent a consensus to build on the question.

    That so much climate pundits improvise themselves philosophers of science provides a saddening farce.

  50. @Wotts
    Why is that an odd claim? There are rather a lot of researchers in the social sciences, and we trace our roots to Socrates. What do you think we have been doing all that time?

  51. Richard, I’m not insulting – in any way – the social sciences. I’m making a very simple claim that fundamental laws (like the conservation of energy, mass and momentum) are unique to the physical sciences. I know that there are lots of researchers in the social sciences. I have a great deal of respect for the social sciences. This is in no way trying to claim that one is better than the other. But – unless you can convince me otherwise – fundamental laws like those I’ve already mentioned, do not exist in the social sciences. Do you disagree?

  52. I smell straw:

    The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections — the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.

    http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html

    So yeah, in principle, the speed of light and the law of contradiction could be revised.

    As if this warranted pussyfooting on the best explanation we got is that A is a fundamental cause of GW.

  53. Mircea says:

    Yes, it’s true. In what regards climate science the mentioned fundamental laws must be respected. The problem is that I can build many plausible theories that respect the fundamental laws which obviously are not all true. One example are the CGMs. We can build a multitude of projections (the theory) all respecting the fundamental laws but only one (or one ansambly) will realise (will describe the reality). One cannot a priori (not even a posteriori) reject ALL but one CGM.

    I understand your point. You say that there are some basic laws that must be respected by any possible theory in order to qualify as plausible. For example: The AGHG effect must be taken into account. Exactly this is the point. One cannot establish such general litmus tests in science. Each theory must be listened and will survive or die on its own merits. It is true that 99.9999% of theories that do not respect the basic laws will die very quiqly.
    The problem with this division in consensus and anti-consensus is that many of the 99.99999% instead of dying become stories in that 3%. And, my question is, what if one of those theories rejected happens to be partially true? Wow, the scandal, the incriminations (and rightly so), the …

    I posted above a link to an article by Mike Hulme article which explains better.

  54. Mircea says:

    Hi,
    Please see my answer to Wott above.

  55. Mircea says:

    I will give you an example:

    What if the temperature plateau continues the next 5 years, this is perfectly possible as per theory. The outcry will be huge…
    One cannot build a long term policy, invest money and prestige on abet that the next 5 years will be warmer. The only solution is to incorporate the minority in the majority. Let the theories be disputed in the scientific forums (the IPCC why not?) and let them die or survive there on scientific merit.

    Mircea

  56. You say

    We can build a multitude of projections (the theory) all respecting the fundamental laws but only one (or one ansambly) will realise (will describe the reality). One cannot a priori (not even a posteriori) reject ALL but one CGM.

    The issue I have with this is that you seem to be confusing satisfying the fundamental laws, with matching reality. All of the GCMs can (and probably do to within machine error or numerical method error) satisfy the fundamental laws. The reason they don’t actually match reality is partly a consequence of the fact that the climate is a system that is deterministically chaotic and hence very sensitive to initial conditions (sensitive enough that even rounding errors can influence the result) and because some natural variations (ENSO events for example) are essentially random – which doesn’t mean that they violate a fundamental law, simply that predicting precisely when an event will occur is probably (given our current technology) not possible.

    I’ll go a bit further. The chaotic nature of the system and the effective randomness of some aspects of the models means that considering single models doesn’t really make sense. By chance a single run may match reality, but that would be chance and not really because that model run was initialised better than a different run, or because the model was better than another. Hence, typically ensembles of model runs are considered so as to give a better understanding of the long-term evolution of the climate. This, however, has the unfortunate consequence of smoothing out some of the natural variations and, hence, enhancing the long-term trends. This can then produce mismatches between what is observed and the results from the ensembles of the model runs. There is evidence to suggest that this could explain the current mismatch between the models and the observations (although to be clear, they are still consistent at the 5 – 10% level).

  57. I’m slightly confused by your example. We’re not really worried about the next 5 years. We’re concerned about the long-term. Next 50 or 100 years or even longer.

    So, let me give you an example. Let’s imagine that we can estimate the equilibrium climate sensitivity quite accurately. Just in case you don’t know, this is the temperature that the surface will eventually reach given a certain rise in CO2, including all feedbacks (technically its for a doubling, but that probably doesn’t matter for this). So, we know how hot it will eventually get. Let’s say we’re confident about how long it will take to reach this temperature. In reality, however, there will be periods when the temperature is rising faster than at others. Does what we do depend only on what the surface temperature is doing now, or do we base what we do on what we know (or can assert scientifically) will eventually happen (either to adapt or to mitigate against)?

  58. Models ain’t theories, Mircea,

    Thank you for your concerns.

  59. Mircea,

    I think that when communicating with the public it’s necessary not just to convey the fact that a consensus exists but to properly define it as well. Exactly how one does this will defend on the particular audience – there are different levels it could be pitched at, but I would say that “GHGs warm the planet” while being inside the consensus would be very incomplete as a definition of it.
    Adding the caveat the we don’t know exactly how much or how much is fine, it is after all true. But it is also necessary to add a further caveat that we have a plausible range of likely scenarios with the lower bound quite tightly limited by paleo evidence. And that even if the lower range of estimates turn out to be correct this will still lead to far warmer conditions than we have experienced in the history of human civilisation.
    Same with impacts – lots of uncertainty, lots of debate, but still lots of potential severe negative consequences.
    At the same time it may also be necessary to point out that uncertainty is not our friend in this situation.

  60. BBD says:

    Mircea says:

    The only solution is to incorporate the minority in the majority.

    If I understand you aright, this is to accord unwarranted validity to marginalised positions which are marginal precisely because they lack supporting evidence and/or internal coherence.

    You are effectively arguing for false balance, false equivalence of merit, in a system (science) which operates as a meritocracy of ideas.

    Why you would do this is puzzling, unless it is a mechanism for promoting weak hypotheses above their intrinsic level of merit. And why would anyone wish to do that?

  61. BBD says:

    If this paper would have appeared before climategate nobody but the “sceptics”. would have criticised it

    If true, which is debatable, your assertion illustrates the extent to which contrarians have been successful in introducing a pernicious meme into the public consciousness: that “climate scientists” are untrustworthy.

    This is clearly the aim of much contrarian discourse and it is essentially an attempt to delegitimise with rhetoric that which cannot be countered by scientific argument derived from evidence.

  62. Mircea says:

    Willard,
    “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Scientists create scientific theories from hypotheses that have been corroborated through the scientific method, then gather evidence to test their accuracy. As with all forms of scientific knowledge, scientific theories are inductive in nature and do not make apodictic propositions; instead, they aim for predictive and explanatory force.” The definition includes vry well a CGM IMO.. But if you don’t like it I will not dipute it. I was just giving an example. Does this stop you from understanding what I meant? If this is the case I most probably can think of another example to help you understand. Btw, what are models in your understanding?

    Regards!
    Mircea

  63. Martin says:

    Actually, that would be an interesting question, too. What about those fundamental laws? They are obviously not formulated in, say, economics, as they are in physics. But it doesn’t follow that they do not exist. Fundamental laws in a scientific context should be emerging from experience (or the failure to falsify for extended periods, if you want so), not postulated as such, shouldn’t they? Is there anyone actually acquainted enough with social sciences here to actually contribute to an answer? Links would be OK. E.g. diminishing marginal returns sounds like an interesting candidate, contrary to the glib dismissal above, but I am not sure if it amounts to the rank of a law – though I also do not know a usefull demarkation criterion as to what constitutes a law in that sense.

    Btw, a friend told me a story. There was a guy, always standing around at the street corner. His name was Richy Lot, and he was a goon: rather than exhibiting the expected behavoir, he bopped everybody he didn’t like on the head, even if they approached him with the best intentions. And when my friend learned about him, Richy really had a reputation for this. But something very very strange was going on, my friend told me: people got completely obsessed with Richy. And every single time their trying to talk to him ended up with them getting beaten up. And they whined and whined and whined how they learned the hard lesson how things work. Some whined how really HE is wrong, because THEY are the reasonable ones. How this proved how Richy throws away his reputation (even though his reputation was that of a goon). One guy went to Richy and said:”Look, there is no reason…” BUUM! And he whined how this was completely unwarranted. And then one of his friend whined with him, and together their whining was even more effective. And another joined in. Until they all (all of them guys, for some reason, always) whined. And they whined, and whined, and whined…

    The story has no end, I am sorry to say, and up to this day, people walk to Richy to get a beating for reasons that seem perfectly reasonable to them, I am sure, and are highly convinced to do something useful and that Richy is the loser.

  64. So, a few comments. This post was more about the fundamental laws than about theories. Apart from the exceptions you illustrated in an earlier comment, we can quite reasonably assume that these fundamental laws hold when discussing climate science.

    As far as theories versus models are concerned, I think what Willard is trying to illustrate is that a model is normally developed from some theoretical framework. Take hydrodynamic theory. There are a set of equations that describe how a gas should evolve in time (density, linear momentum, thermal energy – essentially mass conservation, momentum conservation, energy conservation). If you combine these with an equation of state (which tells you how you convert kinetic energy to thermal energy under compression) you can develop a model that you can use to simulate how this gas should behave. The theory is well-defined and, mathematically, satisfies all the known laws of physics. Whether or not the model reasonably represents reality will depend on how you initialise it, how well your method handles errors, and whether or not what you’re modelling is chaotic. So, the theory is fundamentally correct (in terms of the laws of physics) but that doesn’t guarantee that the model you developed based on that theory will correctly represent the reality you are trying to model.

  65. To be honest, I don’t get the second part of your comment – although it was moderately amusing to read. As far as the first part, I have often wondered if one couldn’t apply conservation laws to, for example, economics but I have no knowledge of whether or not this has been done of whether or not some kind of fundamental laws have been proposed and tested for the social sciences.

  66. Mircea says:

    Wott,
    You say: “I’m slightly confused by your example. We’re not really worried about the next 5 years. We’re concerned about the long-term. Next 50 or 100 years or even longer.”

    Yes, of course you are not worried for the next 5 years. But the politicians and the ones that risk their prestige are worried. The ones that risk their money are worried. Bob Inglis should have been worried. Again, one cannot build a long term policy on the bet that next year will hotter. I see that you know the theory pretty well. As such we agree that it is a probability that next year will not be hotter that this year. Have you seen the interview with Edward Davey? He was destroyed, he’s message was muted. What it will happen next year in the above mentioned case?
    I honestly do not understand why you guys insist in making life more difficult than it is. There is help and there is wrong help.

    I totally agree with you the explanation of the plateau but is’t is better to discuss about it in the IPCC and in the journals then trying to explain it among the shouts of outrage in the blogs or in angry television interviews?

    Hi BBD,

    You say
    “If I understand you aright, this is to accord unwarranted validity to marginalised positions which are marginal precisely because they lack supporting evidence and/or internal coherence.

    You are effectively arguing for false balance, false equivalence of merit, in a system (science) which operates as a meritocracy of ideas.

    No, you don’t understand me all right. All I am saying is that you should not exclude anyone and anything a priori by “consensus” lists and rejection rules. Let the theories that deserve to die die by themselves of natural death. Don’t try to kill them faster because they have a nasty habit of resuscitating as zombies haunting you through all the blogs.

  67. I totally agree with you the explanation of the plateau but is’t is better to discuss about it in the IPCC and in the journals then trying to explain it among the shouts of outrage in the blogs or in angry television interviews?

    Certainly, I agree that it would be better to focus on what the IPCC says and what is said in journals. I just don’t see that there’s anything wrong with discussing it on blogs – although I would say that wouldn’t I :-). However, I would agree – if this is what you’re suggesting – that policy makers referring to blogs rather than the IPCC or journal articles would be concerning and does, as far as I can see, actually sometimes happen (to be fair, referring to a blog that properly explains the IPCC position or what a journal paper says might be acceptable if done carefully). I have been trying to keep this blog civil but given that I don’t yet have a moderation policy I haven’t yet been trying (or quite know how to) to influence what others say – I, although, have been trying to avoid shouting and being outraged myself.

  68. Let the theories that deserve to die die by themselves of natural death. Don’t try to kill them faster because they have a nasty habit of resuscitating as zombies haunting you through all the blogs.

    I should add that I partly agree with what I think you’re trying to say here, and partly not. So, I’m a big adherent of what is typically called the scientific method. Papers get published, some good, some bad. Over time, the ideas in the good ones are confirmed or modified and science progresses. The bad ones effectively disappear and science advances. However, you do need to communicate to the public with regards to what ideas are regarded as credible and what are not. The public (and policy makers) can’t gain an understanding of the current scientific understanding without some engagement with scientists. In the case of climate science, it’s my view that the Cook et al. survey is simply trying to do this. As I’ve said before, others clearly disagree.

  69. BBD says:

    No, you don’t understand me all right. All I am saying is that you should not exclude anyone and anything a priori by “consensus” lists and rejection rules.

    I don’t see where or how this is happening. Contrarian hypotheses on climate change are marginal because the lack supporting evidence and/or internal coherence. There is no a priori exclusion. I’m not sure you understand what the scientific consensus is or how it arises – from evidence.

  70. Mircea says:

    Wott,

    You say: “However, you do need to communicate to the public with regards to what ideas are regarded as credible and what are not. ”
    Yes, indeed, but do it has to be done on the science merits, case by case, and not becasue of the implications of the conclusions or the posture of the author. Of course, I have to add immediately, this is mostly the case. However, this consensus paper while not giving any new knowledge about the scientific position creates a separation (at least the image of separation). It’s doing it at a wrong time.

    This is my opinion. It was a very pleasant discussion! A la prochaine! I need to go to sleep, it was a very long day.

    Thank you!
    Mircea

  71. Mircea, so we partly agree and partly disagree. Not a bad outcome. All I would add is that if the consensus paper is creating the image of separation, then it’s my view that this is more because of the reception it has received in some quarters than because of the paper itself. Anyway, sleep well 🙂

  72. Mircea says:

    I do not contest the point. Do you like more the idea that models are hypothesis (in the sense that have not been confirmed by reality yet?). Ok with me. But I can surely think of theories that have not been confirmed by experiment yet however the logic behind them convince us that they must have thuth in them. The holographic universe, for example.
    I consider the models as having a strong consistent logical foundation and as such I called them theories.
    But yes, we can be very rigouros and call anything not verified yet by experiment a hypothesis only.

    Best regards!
    Mircea

  73. Mircea says:

    Btw, what are fundamental laws if not theories? And what are theories if not models trying to represent reality?

  74. I’m not a fan of being pedantic. I was simply trying to explain what I think Willard was illustrating and trying to explain why I think that doesn’t necessarily match our observed reality.

    To go a bit further. I’m not a big fan of the argument that is sometimes made in this debate that if something is not falsifiable, then it’s not science. As you seem to be saying, there are very elegant models/theories/hypotheses (string theory, for example, I think) that – at this stage at least – we can not test. They, however, are elegant and provide possible explanations for the existence of our universe. That we can’t test them now (or ever) does not mean that people working on this are not doing science and does not mean that this work has no value.

    So, I think, we largely agree – in some sense at least.

    Best regards too.

  75. Mircea says:

    Richie is Whatts Up With That and you are one of the resonable guys 🙂

  76. To answer your short follow up. My view is that fundamental laws are things that we have tested but don’t have some underlying reason for why it is true (unless there is something hidden deep within the standard model of particle physics). For example, we know that energy is conserved, but do we know why? You could call this a theory if you like but I think I would call a theory something that is more complicated. Hydrodynamic theory for example. It is a theoretical underpinning of how gases and liquids behave and is based on the fundamental laws of physics.

    However, I wasn’t intending to get pedantic about this whole issue. Just trying to illustrate that there are fundamental laws/theories that we can use to distinguish between credible scientific ideas, and ideas that are not credible and that should really just be ignored.

  77. Martin says:

    Idk, perhaps you are new to this, but freaking out because Richard Tol said something ON THE INTERNET!!! and subsequently blowing it out of proportion is a tradition for about a decade now. People who know his style for years still pretend to be disconcerned by his behavior. They still engage in dramatic hyperbole, e.g. asserting that Tol is “burning his reputation”, as someone put it here, or an academic troll, conveniently overlooking that his reputation is based on his published research and put him in a position virtually none of his critics can even dream of. Comment thread battles are a convenient compensatory outlet where they can win their way through disputes on topics that are dear to them, but to which most of them have not contributed, contrary to Tol. Also, the usual self-congratulatory collective victory burping to have out-argumentated Tol in a discussion that, frankly, he doesn’t even seem to take seriously himself, never fails to materialize. That these petty battles are almost always fought exclusively by men tells me that there is more there than the urge to discuss excitedly about facts.

    Note that this does not go against you, individually. But the history of regular nominally Tol-ignited conflagrations can’t be explained by a casual interest in correcting a perceived contrarian’s views or by a high general interest in what he says (given the complete lack of interest in his actual research, when it comes to the exact same persons). There would be exactly zero persons who’d even know about the comment draft if it wasn’t for the usual crowd’s obsession to fight Teh Tol (as I conjectured, I don’t even think he’d have written it). Is this the most discussed comment draft, ever? I mean, come on, this is not normal any more.

    This whole episode was worth exactly the couple of tweets it produced in the beginning. Of course, one can always talk about everything, endlessly, and everybody is free to do so, but on the merits I think this has been a big-ass waste of time for quite some time now, for everybody involved.

  78. Martin says:

    Um, no Richie Lot is not WUWT.

  79. In truth, I think you make a perfectly valid point. I’m still learning a lot about how to engage in this whole debate and – in fact – whether to be engaging at all. I actually can’t really disagree with much of what you say to be honest. Live and learn is – I suspect – going to become one of my catch phrases.

  80. Mircea,

    Models are realizations or implementations of theories.

    If you are having problems with a model, you have many choices. You can revise your theory, of course. But why not revise your model instead? Way more economical, most of the times.

    But suppose you get tired of your models and want to revise your theorical apparatus. Where do you start? Nothing in your experiments will tell you that. You can’t even determine which theory you should revise, most of the times.

    In the end, you need to preserve the phenomena and no experimenum crucis can help you.

    Modellers would be the first to beg for a climate equivalent of Nalimov tablebases in chess. Alas, we don’t.

    In the end, holism wins and falsificationnism is dead.

  81. kap55 says:

    So you’re saying that if the world was different than it really is, Salby’s theory would be true. A correct but useless observation.

    In the real world, we know we’ve burned 350 billion tons of fossil carbon since 1750, creating 1.2 trillion tons of CO2. Where are those 1.2 trillion tons right now? If Salby is right and the soils and oceans are acting as a net source of CO2, then he has “disappeared” those 1.2 trillion tons from existence. That’s a violation of conservation of mass in my book.

  82. That was certainly my view, but I think Tom is simply making a point about the possibility (according to physics) that a system could exist such that what Salby is suggesting could be true. However, I think that system is not consistent with our own system – although maybe Tom could clarify.

  83. Tom Curtis says:

    wotts, yes, climate models violate the laws of physics. Left to run unforced for a long period they tend to violate conservation of energy, for example, but models are only considered reliable if that violation is very small relative the effect of forcing trends. More importantly for this discussion, those violations arise solely because of the coarse grid used in models that require approximations. So, in the simplest case, models may have a multilayer atmosphere with, for a given cell, at a given layer, the gas pressure and temperature being constant within the layer. That is an obvious approximation for ease of computation, but strictly violates conservation of energy.

    However, that is not germaine to this discussion. The deduced theorems of climate science do not violate the laws of physics, and nor does anybody suppose the climate itself does. Importantly, if somebody showed that a model violated the laws of physics not just due to necessary approximation, but in the fundamental relationships it describes, that model would be considered falsified until the problem was corrected.

    In this situation, climate science is in a far better position than economics, which does have certain general laws, said laws being based on general assumptions that have all been shown to be false in particular instances by experimentation. Economics proceeds confidently anyway on the largely correct assumption that the violations have little consequence to the overall pattern, and tend to cancel each others effects out. In general, social sciences take this pragmatic approach to laws. Consequently the laws of social science are not comparable to the laws of physics in the way that you have described.

    Frankly I am not sure where Richard is going with his objections to your comment, which do not seem well founded to me. Perhaps he merely suffers from physics envy, and does not like the invidious comparison you made, no matter how justified.

  84. Martin says:

    @ Tom Curtis

    When has the law of diminishing marginal returns be violated?

  85. Tom Curtis says:

    Martin, consider a factory, all geared to go, with employees standing by; but held up because a vital part is out of supply. Should the part come back into supply, marginal production will increase with each additional part until the factory is working at (approximately) normal capacity. Beyond that diminishing marginal returns will apply.

    This sort of situation is not unusual. If you look at economicshelp.org you will see a graph showing marginal cost and marginal production for different levels of application of fertilizer to a field. Marginal cost decreases, and marginal production increase up to the point Q1. Up to that point, in other words, marginal returns increase rather than decrease with each increase in the single factor of production.

    Despite the not unusual situation in which for some part of the increase in a single factor of production, marginal returns increase, these situations are rare in the economy because when they are met, the single factor tends to be increased rapidly. So the law is a good empirical generalization even though not universally true of all situations. In that it contrasts with physical laws.

  86. dana1981 says:

    Thanks. I understand your frustrations with Pile. I think I got the same feeling reading the comments on my post, and also watching Neil interview Davey. It’s like talking to a brick wall where one side just refuses to consider what the other side is saying. In the BBC case, it was Davey trying to get Neil to consider all the available evidence (warming oceans, melting ice, rising sea levels, etc.) and Neil refusing to consider anything but surface temperatures.

    In the Making Science Public case, a whole bunch of commenters said I hadn’t addressed the “we’re all part of the 97%” point even though that was a significant part of my post (i.e. pointing out the 96% consensus on AGW > 50%). Almost all the commenters were contrarians like Don Don too. I’m not sure what the professors were aiming to achieve with that blog, but if the comments on my post are representative, I don’t think they achieved it.

    That was the overarching point of my post – contrarianism is not skepticism, and it’s just not constructive. When one side isn’t listening to the other, the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere. Another example was Pile in the comments on his post claiming we don’t understand our own study, unlike him. At that point I realized arguing with him would be a waste of time.

    The reason Dan Kahan isn’t a fan of consensus messaging seems to be that it won’t convince the ‘dismissives’ (using the six Americas categories) – folks like Pile. It seems clear to me that those folks won’t be convinced by anything. If Kahan can figure out a way to do it, props to him, but personally I think it’s a waste of time. Let the contrarians stay in the dismissive category and work on communicating with everyone else. The consensus is good for that.

  87. Martin says:

    But the law does not say that marginal returns must always diminish!

    For clarity, let’s formalize with only one production factor (as in your link). We define a family F of real-valued functions, defined and differentiable for positive real (for simplicity) values, for which the following holds: for every memeber f of F, there is a positive number X, so that for every (x1, x2), f'(x1) > f'(x2), if X < x1 < x2. Note that this does not simply mean that f is concave or monotonously falling. The law of diminishing marginal returns says thus: if x represents a factor of production, and P(x) a production function, P(x) is a member of F. (Yes, more to the point one should define a real-valued function of a set of variables, but I don't think this leads to confusion here).

    To paraphrase: as you note yourself, nobody ever said that a production function cannot be convex and increasing on a certain interval (on the contrary, that's a quite common behavior for low levels of production). The law of diminishing returns simply states that for every production factor, ceteris paribus, the slope of the production function will eventually decrease. The examples in the link are in perfect agreement even with that casual rendering (in your case the production factor is labor). Note that I am not redefining the definition for my purposes: Your link reads "If the variable factor of production (e.g. labour) is increased, there will come a point where extra workers become less productive than previous workers." No word about intervals with increasing returns, BUT "there will come a point" beyond which marginal returns become decreasing.

    Has there ever been a violation of this law?

  88. Tom Curtis says:

    I apologize, Martin. Clearly I over generalized in that as stated, there has not been a violation of that law because, as stated, it is impossible that a violation of the law should ever be observed. Specifically, if we observe a production process that has improved marginal production for each addition of a factor of production over the entire range of a series of observations, the law has not been violated because “the some point” is not defined.

    But thank you for bringing my attention that economics is happy to call unfalsifiable generalizations “laws”.

  89. Martin,

    This wins:

    I think Three Billy Goats Gruff might provide an alternative ending to your story.

  90. Martin says:

    No, you are just snarky. But I don’t see why: How should “some point” be specified if the production process has not been specified (what product, long/short run, what factor, etc.)? This is not an over-generalization, you just got it wrong, and your answer is cheap talk: you state an absurdly self-evident claim and do as if it was a result of modern economics. Of course such a claim would be preposterous. That’s why neither me, nor any economist states it.

    I do not ask for a violation of the self-evident result that marginal returns cannot result in a paradoxal production catastrophe by approaching infinity. The point is that a specific production function yields diminishing returns from a certain point on. Where that point lies is an empirical question. In your link, the point would be Q1. That’s why I said that your example is perfectly compatible with the law, it actually exemplifies it. It is also not self-evident, as you apparently believe, or at least claim as a convenient straw: that an increase in an input would yield higher returns does not automatically mean that it is done: there are other constraints, as the factor itself becomes more expensive, for example, so that the increase in yield is offset by the increase in costs.

    So, has there ever been found a production function (an existing example) that didn’t exhibit this behavior? E.g. where such a point has not been identified? Please don’t answer with lazy snark, I am really not interested in that.

  91. @Dana
    Re. talking to a brick wall: You are someone with an incomplete training in the natural sciences. People like Hulme and Kahan, who completed their training in the social sciences and whose experience vastly outstrip yours, argue that, as a communication strategy, consensus does not work. (I argued the same in the first drafts of my comment; later drafts focus entirely on its statistical merits). People such as Pielke Jr and Sarewitz have repeatedly shown that the so-called Deficit Model of SciComm is, simply, false.

    Yet, you keep banging on.

    Consensus is not an argument to the people you want to reach.

  92. Tom Curtis says:

    Martin, I have already acknowledged that I initially overgeneralized. My further comments, however, where not snark (if snarky in tone). My impression of economics as an academic discipline (already fairly low) has definitely been lowered by this episode. The simple fact is that the “law” as stated in unfalsifiable. Literally cannot be falsified by any set of observations because of the use of the vague point “at some point”.

    To take an example, suppose physics took as a physical law, “What goes up must come down.” That at least is superior to the law of diminishing marginal production in that it is falsifiable. However it is so vague that a series of experiments to test it could all fail to falsify it, and you would be no closer to being able to predict if it would fail under some circumstance. As it happens, it had been universal human observation that that “law” was true up until the 1950s. No body having been observed by humans to be projected upward had failed to return to Earth. Never-the-less, scientists knew that what went up need not come down because they had quantified laws for the trajectory of projectiles.

    So, granted economists have a “law” with the same informative content as “what goes up must come down”. Granted that as yet the inflexion point has been observed for every production process examined closely. That leaves them in the same position as the crude physicist attempting to verify “what goes up must come down”, except with the added disadvantage that the economists law is strictly unfalsifiable. They do not know on the information available that there are no production processes for which, if the additional supply of the production factor was extended infinitely there would be no inflexion point. They can conjecture it, and the conjecture may have universal assent among economists.

    If the law were cast in the form where predicted, not the inflection point, but the general shape of the trajectory of the production curve (equivalent to Newton’s (?) prediction that the trajectories of projectiles would always be conic sections), then that would be a law (if tested) worthy of respect. But seriously, you want respect for academics for casting an empirical generalization in an unfalsifiable form? Give me a break!

  93. Thanks, Dana. Richard, that there are disagreements about how best to communicate science and the agreement within science is clearly something worth discussing and is a completely different discussion to the one about whether the Cook et al. study has merit or not. However, you have possibly read the article that Brian Cox and Robin Ince wrote for the new statesman. You can probably find it if you haven’t read it. Their article resulted in quite a lot of online debate and was criticised by a number of people who seemed to be science communicators. Unfortunately, this came across as more like a group of people who were ticked-off that a comedian and scientist had communicated something better than they could, as very little that they said about the article actually disagreed with what the article was trying to say. There are aspects of this debate that seem similar, IMO.

  94. Steve Bloom says:

    Richard, are you always wrong about everything?

    “Hulme and Kahan, who completed their training in the social sciences” Wrong. Not a single relevant degree between them.

    “Pielke Jr and Sarewitz have repeatedly shown that the so-called Deficit Model of SciComm is, simply, false” How could that be, when its application has never actually been attempted? The medium being the message, a small amount of media coverage of the climate change threat is essentially self-cancelling. From the audience perspective, if climate change were a serious problem, it would be getting saturation coverage. Obviously there’s some sort of failure in that, arguably of multiple things, but it’s not of the untried deficit model.

    “as a communication strategy, consensus does not work.” Who ever said it was a complete strategy? It’s only needed because some people choose to ignore the substance of the science. More to the point, does it help at all? Yes, with the caveat that it is by no means enough to complete the job. If you want to show the contrary, you’re going to need more than an argument from the shaky authority of Hulme and Kahan.

    “Consensus is not an argument to the people you want to reach.” Here, you’re inadvertently spot on. This is because the small percentage of dead-enders (Leiserowitz’s dismissives) are unpersuadable by *any* communication from outside their social network. But the doubtful, disengaged and cautious categories are a different matter. They are the proper target. Indirectly, as they move, likely they’ll pull along some of the dismissives given how much the latter rely on social network support for their views.

  95. Jaime Jessop says:

    @Dana. My how you guys love to twist the argument 180 degrees back on itself in an attempt to claim the (scientific) moral high ground. You claim: “In the BBC case, it was Davey trying to get Neil to consider all the available evidence (warming oceans, melting ice, rising sea levels, etc.) and Neil refusing to consider anything but surface temperatures.” The complete opposite was in fact the case.

    Warmist scientists and politicians have been banging on about rising surface temperatures for two decades as being irrefutable evidence of anthropogenic climate change. The models which the scientists use in order to ‘prove’ the scientific case for this are primarily based upon rising atmospheric temperatures – 15 year pauses, contrary to what is now claimed, were not ordinarily accepted and fundamental to the scientific debate, at least not that which was communicated to the wider public. Nor indeed was the concept of ‘missing heat’ mysteriously ending up in the deeper ocean layers, having managed to somehow bypass the surface.

    So, Neil, quite rightly, questioned Davey on this one aspect, in an interview necessarily short on time. Davey chose to largely ignore the relevance of the warming hiatus and instead divert the argument away from this to claim that Neil was completely ignoring other supposed indicators of a warming climate. The whole point of the interview from the perspective of the BBC, Neil and I suspect the wider public, was to question the Energy & Climate Change Secretary on the significance of the 15 year warming hiatus, particularly with regard to the recent downgrading of Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity and Transient Climate Response (yes, it really DID happen). Davey’s response was basically dismissive and scientifically ill-informed, with the customary last resort to the fabled 97% consensus. Neil in fact did express to Davey that these other possible indicators of climate change could be dealt with in a later interview, so to claim that Neil was the guilty party in dodging the debate is totally unjustified and disrespectful to the integrity of Neil as a journalist.

  96. Jaime, the problem I have is that what I see are people trying to add more evidence so as to more fully understand what we’re currently undergoing. What you seem to be seeing are people who are trying to use this new evidence to divert our attention away from what you think we should focusing on. So, one could argue that we talked about surface temperatures in the past and that’s what we should stick with. This, however, is science and as we gain more understanding, and as we gain more evidence, what we focus on can and does change. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is trying to be devious or trying to divert the discussion.

  97. Richard Tol says:

    @Steve
    Forgive me for taking the liberty of including the behavioural sciences and the humanities under social science. I had assumed that was implied in Wott’s post.
    Kahan has trained as a legal scientist and is sufficiently well-versed in psychology to hold an honorary chair in that discipline.
    I had assumed that Hulme would have obtained his second PhD by now, but an (outdated) version of his CV suggests he his still working.

  98. Jaime Jessop says:

    This is of course how scientific understanding progresses, with the net gradually widening so that other aspects of developing knowledge can be incorporated into theory. I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with ‘reactive theory-making’ whereby proponents of CAGW seek to diminish or explain away the collapse of a central tenet of their theory by resorting to some decidedly dodgy intellectual/scientific gymnastics.

    I guess we will disagree vehemently on that point, but that is the way I see it and i suspect I am not alone in that analysis – I even hazard to suggest that I may have the company of more than 3% of people currently engaged in debating the pros and cons of climate change theory!

  99. Again, it seems like a perception issue. Let me give you an example. I’ve been aware of the physics of global warming for quite a while but haven’t really been following the climate change debate particularly closely until recently. The consequence seems to be that I’ve always thought of global warming as a process through which greenhouse gases essentially trap energy and increase the amount of energy in the climate system. So, I’ve never really seen it as only being about surface temperatures. However, until recently, the only reliable data set that provided information about global warming was the instrumental temperature record. Hence, this is what was typically presented. Furthermore, it is one of the things we would like to know more about (i.e., how will the surface temperature change with time) so it is always going to be relevant. Now, however, we have better satellite data telling us about the Earth’s energy budget and about Arctic sea ice. We have much more information about the ocean heat content and about how sea levels are changing.

    So, I guess what I’m getting at is that the surface temperatures are not the central tenet of GW theory. The central tenet is fundamentally that the total energy in the climate system should be increasing. Surface temperatures have been used to illustrate this (and are one aspect of the climate that is clearly important to us) but there is much more to global warming than simply changes to the surface temperature.

    As you say, though, maybe we’ll just have to accept that we disagree. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that as long as we’re willing to consider what the other person is saying.

  100. Jaime Jessop says:

    There is a very good reason why temperature is central to global warming theory – only in a few very specific instances (where phase changes occur) can you add thermal energy to a system without it registering as an increase in temperature. CO2 sensitivity is phrased in the language of degrees celsius response of the climate to doubling of CO2. Thermal energy and temperature are almost (but not quite) interchangeable as concepts. You also cannot directly measure thermal energy, only its effects upon the system, usually manifested as a general increase in molecular excitation which is measurable as temperature. It is all very well stating that it seems that satellites have measured a deficit in heat being returned to space at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), therefore earth must be ‘warming’. Indeed, it did for a while and everything was hunky dory. Now it is not, perceptibly, therefore we are left with the conundrum of explaining why suddenly it has stopped, even though seemingly heat is being continually added to the system. Somewhere, if these measurements of the heat budget deficit are correct, heat must be being dissipated as ‘work’ (more energetic weather?) or, as the favourite theory seems to be, it is disappearing into the deep oceans resulting in an effectively immeasurable (with any reasonable degree of accuracy) temperature increase.

    One must remember that calls by politicians and environmentalists to decarbonise our industries and homes are intrinsically wedded to the concept of imminent (i.e. within the next 100 years) rising temperatures and the effect of this upon the global environment. If this is failing to manifest, we must ask those politicians (and the scientists whose advice they take) whether this impacts upon the urgency of the costly measures which they are taking in order to mitigate global warming. This was what Neil was trying to do in his interview with Davey and he has been vehemently attacked by the warmist camp for doing so. Not a mature or reasoned, indeed reasonable response in my opinion.

  101. Anonymous says:

    Jaime Jessop, a 15 year pause is entirely normal in a data series with the slope and residual error observed in the temperature series. There will always be a 15 year pause and always has been, even as the planet is getting hotter and the slope of the temperature series as a whole is positive. That you don’t understand this fundamental aspect of linear regression is a really sad fact, and I advise you not to broadcast your ignorance in public in this way.

  102. Steve Bloom says:

    “legal scientist”

    That’s priceless, Richard. I am reminded of Scalia’s remarks about CO2.

  103. Martin says:

    This is not what this is about. You repeat your claim about the lack of falsifiabillity even though I pointed out that it is not right. All you have to find is a production curve for which no diminishing returns have been found. I am talking about the real world here. I am not saying that you have to find a production process for which the self-evident claim that you talked yourself into believing to be the law of diminishing returns – that a production function cannot be convex or linear increasing forever – cannot be violated in principle. As I said, that would indeed be nonsese, and no-one ever said such a thing.

    By the way, you still didn’t tackle the definition itself: there is no claim about an “inflection point”, the derivative need not change sign and the function thus need not “come down”, after going up. Yes, every function would have to eventually: if not, one would use up the whole universe for the production of this one good (or run into physical limits much, much earlier). But this misconception actually illustrates once more that you simply didn’t get what the law is about: this not a doh!-assertion about a gedankenexperiment that is both obvious and non-falsifiable, apparently. Inflections in production curves, so that there are not only diminishing, but even negative returns, happen. But it has not been observed fo all (or even close) production functions. That’s why there is no such formulation about a “law of negative returns” – even though it is clear for every child that in principle, every production process would have to yield negative returns, eventually. Whereas, properly defined, diminishing returns are something observable (not claimed as a non-falsifiable principle) to an extent that this law is universal. Or so they say. According to the law of diminishing returns, your production curve can slope upwards forever and ever – because it doesn’t account for prinicpal physical limits, and in economics, such a limit simply isn’t always found.

    If you have an counterexample, tell me. Btw I do not care how you “feel” towards economics, and neither should you. This is not interesting. If you actually know something – and I am not talking about personal impressions – I am happy to learn, though. Here, your dislike stems from the absurdity of a claim that you wrongly assign to economics.

  104. BBD says:

    Now it is not, perceptibly, therefore we are left with the conundrum of explaining why suddenly it has stopped, even though seemingly heat is being continually added to the system. Somewhere, if these measurements of the heat budget deficit are correct, heat must be being dissipated as ‘work’ (more energetic weather?) or, as the favourite theory seems to be, it is disappearing into the deep oceans resulting in an effectively immeasurable (with any reasonable degree of accuracy) temperature increase.

    Data denial. In the real (physical) world, you do not get to just throw out the OHC observations. This is global OHC 0 – 2000m. Please note the red curve indicating the three month average derived from ARGO measurements. While uncertainty increases with time, the most recent data are considered robust. The increase in global OHC 0 – 2000m is clear and indisputable.

    Do you see that far from making any scientific argument you have Instead descended into denialism? Do you see that?

  105. Steve Bloom says:

    So Jaime, what’s your fall-back argument when the next clearly warmest year happens? ENSO? Then the year after go back to saying it’s cooling again? Just curious.

  106. Steve Bloom says:

    Just to note, Dana, that Warren has made clear that he’s using the blog as a trust-gaining exercise. Presumably he thinks it will make them more likely to fill out questionnaires and otherwise cooperate with his research.

  107. Martin says:

    Gah, I am not sure because my English is not good enough, but I think I made a mistake: if “slope up” means that the second derivative is positive, of course diminishing returns do not mean that a production function can slope up indefinitely. What I meant to say is that they can, in principle, monotonously increase forever, but clearly the second derivative is to be negative once dminishing returns are realized.

    Thinking about it, there is, I think, also no specification poertaining to the question if the function is to be bounded – as I said, this is not an observation about principal pyhsical limits, but about economics as we observe it.

  108. Tom Curtis says:

    Martin,

    1) I have already conceded twice that I do not know of an empirical example in which no point above which a reduction in marginal production has been found, yet still you are demanding that I concede that point.

    2) If you have diminishing marginal production, then the plot of marginal production must slope down. The law as stated is that eventually this will occur. Ergo, prior to that eventuality the plot of marginal production must either slope up, or be flat. Hence there must be an inflection point, ie, a point at which the plot goes from zero to negative slope.

    3) In your arguments you appear to be confusing marginal returns on production with marginal production. It is not obvious that for every production process there is a point at which further inputs of any singular production factor would reduce the amount produced. That is only “obvious” for diminishing marginal returns. Further, there is absolutely no reason why, if we found a production process with no known upper limit beyond which marginal production did not increase that we would feed the universe into it. Just because we could produce a billion qazmos in no way implies that we desire to do so. Absent your confusion between marginal production and marginal returns on production there is no basis for that non sequitor.

    4) Some elementary logic of falsification. Universally quantified statements cannot be verified as that would require checking literally everything in the universe to see if the statement was true of them or not. They can, of course typically be falsified by one instant. Singular existential statements, on the other hand, can be verified by finding any example of which they are true, but cannot be falsified, for to do so would require searching the entire universe to ensure that they were false of each thing.

    The law of diminishing production as you state it contains both universally quantified and singular existential elements. Therefore it cannot be verified (without searching all possible production processes, and finding for each such process the number X), nor falsified (without for each apparent exception, if we come across one, searching all positive numbers to ensure that for each such number it is not true that beyond that number production diminishes).

    5) Regardless of my attitude towards economics, the issue here is whether or not economics is as rigorous as physical science. The existence of a literally unfalsifiable empirical generalization being cited as a law clearly demonstrates it is not.

  109. I had the impression that margin returns followed directly from the theory of production and that it was considered as some kind of principle or paradigm. Not a law of nature but a law that holds ceteris paribus:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ceteris-paribus/

    The concept of law of nature does seem to have problems of its own.

  110. Richard Tol says:

    The law of diminishing marginal returns can easily be tested: Estimate a production function. Examine its properties. Has been done a million times. Law holds for labor, capital, intermediates. Not for knowledge, not for public goods.

  111. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard, I was not denying that it could be tested for individual cases. I was denying that it could be falsified as a law, ie, as something that applies to all cases (as it is stated by Martin). Further, I would like to know how it has been falsified for knowledge production, given that that would require examination of an infinite series of numbers to see if it does not hold for that number. (Of course, you may not wish to claim the law of diminishing marginal production.)

  112. Richard Tol says:

    @Tom
    We measured the speed of light only a finite number of times, yet we believe that it also holds when we’re not measuring it. Ditto for the law of diminishing marginal returns.

    As to violations, one is enough.

    As to how: It’s a second partial derivative.

  113. Martin says:

    OK, nitpicking aside, you point about generalization is simlply not true. For the third consecutive time, you claim that there is a general formulation of some “law” that entails that we have to search “all positive numbers to ensure that for each such number it is not true that beyond that number production diminishes.” That is not implied.

    The claim is, that production processes are organized in a way that negative returns are observed, always. If you have just an example of a production function that stops where returns are increasing (e.g. no diminishing returns are observed), the claim is refuted. This does not refute the claim that there might be another, higher input value beyond which returns diminish (which would be an immunization against every possible counterexample, as you can never exclude that). However, there is also nobody claiming such a thing. You make a reverse conclusion not implied by the defintion: because for every production function there is an input value above which returns diminish, you say, you cannot exclude that there be such a value even if we do not know it, by principle. Not implied. That’s why I formalized. The claim, as it stands, is: if P is a production function, it must be a member of F. Your claim is, if f is a member of F, it must be a production function. Not implied, never claimed.

    This is neither obvious, nor intuitive, nor hollow. It is well conceivable that a production stops because, increasing returns notwithstanding, the cost of the production factor increases more rapidly than returns. In that case, we’d observe, for these cases, production functions that never exhibit diminishing returns.

    But we don’t, so the claim. Industrial processes are apparently organised in a way that constraints concerning the input do not hit before returns are decreasing. Instead, returns decrease, increase average costs, and production gets limited by the price to which the firm can sell. Either this is universal, or there is a counterexample. I know of none, you do neither, which doesn’t mean a lot. However poking on the hollowness of a law the existence of which nobody ever claimed is burning convenient straw, nothing else.

  114. Martin says:

    willard,

    nobody claims it is a law of nature. It’d be a law of economics, holding within limits where economic activities under today’s paradigms exist. If these laws are of the same “form” would indeed be interesting. However, for that one would have to deliver a specific demarcation criterion. I took a relative loose meaning as basis: a law as a universal statement that all events in the field in question obey.

    One such statement would be:”The total energy of an isolated system cannot change.”
    Another, the one in question here:”Every production function exhibits diminishing returns.”

    I think nobody doubts the first. I am not sure w/r/t the second, but it seems a reasonable claim to think about, and it can be refuted by simply stating a production function for which diminishing returns have not be observed.

  115. So, I must admit that I’m slightly surprised that such a discussion has broken out here. I didn’t really consider that some might think that there were laws within the social sciences that are comparable to the fundamental laws of physics. The laws that I was discussing with regards to physics essentially hold throughout the universe. Of course one could argue that actually mass and energy are the same (according to Einstein) but that just means that you could recast everything into a conservation of energy if you wish. Also, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle means that energy can be created for a very short period of time. But for processes associated with climate science, this isn’t really relevant (well apart from geothermal energy from radiocative decay).

    So, I would argue that any law of social science only applies to our own society and we cannot assume that it applies throughout the universe. However, there is an alternative way to look at this. There may well be examples of ideas within the social sciences that violate some well-founded and well-tested principle/law. One would then reject these ideas on the basis that they violate what is accepted as a law. That, however, doesn’t really change part of what I was getting at in this post (although I was indeed making a distinction between the physical and social sciences). If there is such a possibility within the social sciences (and maybe there is) that some law can allow one to reject an idea, it is still consistent with the suggestion I was making; that some things are simply not worth considering as they violate a very fundamental, well-tested, well-founded, and well-accepted principle/law.

    That was really one of the main points I was trying to make here. Just because someone thinks their idea has merit, if it can be shown to violate one of the fundamental laws of physics (or cannot be shown to satisfy them) then it really shouldn’t be considered. Not all ideas have equal merit. If this could be recognised by more people, I think the debate about climate science would be more constructive.

  116. Martin,

    Thanks. I think Richard and Wott would have benefited from distinguishing laws of nature and natural laws. At least I do, as I did from reading this:

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/

    I think my point of calling marginal returns a principle is justified by what you say here:

    > production processes are organized in a way that negative returns are observed, always.

    If that’s the case, then the principle partially defines what it means to produce something, as opposed to consumption, say. The alternative could be to say, as Richard seems to point out, that the principle has not been observed for certain production processes.

    production processes are organized in a way that negative returns are observed, always.

  117. Jaime, I don’t want to go around in circles, but the point about global warming is that it is quite possible to add energy to the climate system without surface temperatures rising. Maybe, more correctly, that our climate consists of oceans, atmosphere, land, polar ice the way that the excess energy associated with global warming is distributed through the system can change with time. Sometimes, most goes into the oceans and very little heats the land and atmosphere, at other times this distribution can change. If we focus only on surface temperatures then we will see periods when warming is slower than at others. This, however, does not necessarily tell us how much global warming is actually taking place.

    So, there are two main issues that I have with the Neil – Davey interview. One is that Neil focused on global surface temperatures only. As an interviewer that might be fine. What isn’t fine is that he was using this to suggest that it indicated global warming had stopped. If the interviewee thinks this interpretation is wrong – as Ed Davey did – the interviewer should be willing to let them make the case. Neil did not and hence forced the discussion to focus on something that isn’t a good indicator of total global warming. The other issue is that he appears to have used the Met Office decadal data. The data point for every year is actually produced using 21 years worth of data (10 years before, the year in question, and 10 years after). This means that after 2002, there really isn’t 10 years of data after the year in question. As I explain in this post, what this does is produce a slowdown even if it isn’t slowing down, or enhances a slowdown if it is slowing down. Given that the debate was focused on the past decade, this was – essentially – the most unreliable possible data that Neil could have chosen to use.

  118. Martin says:

    @ wottsupwiththatblog

    I understand the distinction, but then the statement that eventual laws concerning social interactions do not concern to whole univers is somewhat trivial – the contrary claim does not even begin to make sense.As far as social interactions are concerned, society is more or less the univers. On the other side: what about a claim about economic fundamentals if you transplant, say, Belgium to another planet?

    To be honest, I am not even sure that the suggested law concerns “mankind” as a whole. The statement counts within certain limits where economic activities are carried out under modern paradigms. The slightly eurocentric touch the word “modern” here notwithstanding, I’d not dare to make conjectures if, for example, the Pirahã, who know no counting system and, according to one account, not even concepts to compare relative quantities, fall in the field of interest. I.e. claims about economics are certainly more limited than claims about cultural anthropology.

    But then, this is not so surprising, after all. There are also funtamentals governing genetics that it makes no sense to extend to the universe. Chemistry is a subfield of physics, that has fundamental laws (electroneutrality, conservation of mass) that are specific to the field, but do not necessarily hold on a subatomar level – and the field breaks down at suffieciently high pressures or temperatures, where the notion of chemical interactions as commonly understood makes no sense.

    @ willard

    I don’t think that it partly defines anything. As I tried to point out, it is entirely plausible to imagine production processes that break down without ever exhibing negative returns. But we do not observe them.

    I didn’t benefit from that distiction as I wasn’t aware of it. What I meant with law is to be found in what I have written. I am not particularly educated, but I have read enough Popper to be convinced that haggling about words is a waste of time. For what it’s worth, I think nobody here was talking about what yout link refers to as “Natural Laws”, e.g. laws having a normative character.

  119. Jaime Jessop says:

    @BBD I wonder who is the data denier: “Observational datasets derived from the Argo float data and
    20 other sources indicate that the ocean heat content above about 700m did not increase appreciably during the 2000s, a time when the rise in surface temperatures also stalled.” [Meehl et al – http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Staff/Fasullo/my_pubs/Meehl2011etalNCC.pdf%5D

    There is a fairly extensive network of Argo floats covering the ocean surface. Below 700m, the coverage is not as good. Even with the surface, we are looking at temp increases of 0.07-0.1 celsius with a claimed error of only 0.01 degrees. Warmists claim that, with the Argo float data, they can reliably say that the entire ocean mass, from 0-2000m has warmed significantly and continues to do so. Given the above, I would seriously question such an assertion, especially with regard to ocean heat content below 700m. With the actual ocean surface, we can say with reasonable certainty that it has not warmed at all in the last 10-15 years, having data from a number of sources, including Hadcrut and Argo.

    @Anonymous: “There will always be a 15 year pause and always has been . . . ” What’s that supposed to mean? It’s nonsensical.
    You say that a 15 year hiatus period is ‘enirely normal’. Read this from Meehl et al 2013: “. . . 1 instance of a 15 year zero temperature trend. Thus the occurrence of a 15 year duration internally generated zero temperature trend, though rare in the model (one event in 375 years of model simulations . . . . ” [http://www.cawcr.gov.au/staff/jma/Decadal.trends.Meehl.JClim.2013.pdf] Is that really ‘normal’ or to be expected, as in nothing out of the ordinary. next year when we get to 16, then maybe 17,18 years, where will you be then? Still on this blog claiming everything is still ‘normal’, always has been and always will?
    “That you don’t understand this fundamental aspect of linear regression is a really sad fact, and I advise you not to broadcast your ignorance in public in this way.” That’s very kind of you to offer your advice re. not publicising my ignorance. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of your book and go ‘Anonymous’ instead of using my real name, then at least if I am exposed as an ignoramus, it won’t matter too much!

    Finally, @Steve Bloom “So Jaime, what’s your fall-back argument when the next clearly warmest year happens?”
    If the planet resumes warming, according to the latest Hadcrut satellite data, then I’ll be the first to admit that the 15 year hiatus period (unlikely though it was in the model simulations) has ended allowing for the possibility that the warmist models may be on the right track. What are you going to fall back on when the hiatus period continues or, heaven forbid, Earth starts cooling?

  120. Martin. I don’t disagree. I wasn’t expecting this to become a debate about the physical versus the social sciences. Maybe I should have been more careful in how I wrote the post. I was really just trying to make the case that some seem to think that all ideas should be given consideration. Although this may be true in some sense, the instant one can show that an idea violates (or does not satisfy) what I’ve been calling the fundamental laws of physics, it should be disregarded instantly. Maybe there are equivalences in the social sciences and so maybe I shouldn’t have suggested the distinction that I was making, but that doesn’t really change the point I was trying to make in the post.

  121. Martin,

    Sorry, I meant ceteris paribus laws, not natural laws.

    You sure can test if this law of diminishing returns applies to any relevant behavior ranging from ethological realms to genetic algorithms. Richard has provided two instances where it may need some ceteris paribus tweaking.

    A ceteris paribus principle contains conventional components that can’t dismiss an “against definitions” stance. Even Popper admitted this. I’m not suggesting that we adopt my avatar’s conventionalism, but that the concept of production is intimately connected to a principle that may even hold for conversations.

    Are there conversations with no diminishing returns?

  122. Martin says:

    This was not at all the impression I wanted to convey. First of all, your point is very well taken, and I do not dispute it. However, I thought it raises an interesting question if there are fundamentals to be found in social sciences. So I thought about one, that is far from obvious, but seems reasonable. Sorry for my leaden ear, if you feel this derails the blog from the actual topic, you’d really have to spell it out, I don’t get hints.

    Btw at no point did I feel that was a dabate of social vs physical sciences. If so, my raising the question would imply that there is something desirable about “laws”. I don’t see a special quality one way or the other: I am not aware of a demarcation or ranking criterion that makes claims specific to laws (on the contrary, e.g. in a falsificationist framework you have to spell out the non-dogmatic nature of laws, however well established they might be: Paulis ad-hoc postuliation of an (anti-)neutrino due to an observed violation of energy conservation sollicited special interpretation by Popper, for example, that Feyerabend disputed). I have no preferences with the regard to the existence of laws, and it never crossed my mind that the presence of laws makes a field more “scientific” – the latter being a property that I believe to stem from methodology, not achievement. Feynman disagrees, but he is distinctively anti-Popperian here:

    Also note that, for example, Chomsky’s “Minimalist Program” follows explicitely Lakatos’ epistemology, but Chomskians get irrate if you call it unscientific. Claims about what is scientific should be accompanied by what epistemological framework one is referring to. A specific field might take a certain stance as authoritative, often unaware that they do actually refer to one and often combined with the condescending opinion that those others are blind to the obvious. So, this is irrelevant, and that a certain field works differently from another has no implications whatsoever. It is, I think, an interesting question if social sicences know “laws”, but if not, I’am just fine with that.

  123. Martin, okay I see. Yes, I agree that the idea of laws within some of the social sciences is an interesting topic. I may have mentioned in an earlier comment that I have wondered about whether or not one could apply (or maybe it has already done) a conservation law to economics. I have to acknowledge that your and Willard’s knowledge of some of the subtleties of this are quite a bit more advanced than mine.

    Feynman’s video is quite something. Interesting but, in some sense, quite controversial.

  124. Martin says:

    I don’t understand what that entails: ceteris paribus simply means that you hold all other factors constant. This might mean that one have to elaborate if the function is not separable, for example, but I don’t see a specific problem to the question at hand. Actually, ceteris paribus is no tweak, but in the underlying claim. I formulated with one variable, because I didn’t assume that one gain more information for the most general case, while the conversation gets much less crisp. But I might be wrong.

    Could you specify what, exactly, it adds to the case, if we explicitly state that other factors have to be held constant? What is a “conversations with no diminishing returns”?

  125. Martin,

    Thanks for the references. My remark about conversations was a quip around a way we use to bring a conversation to its closure. It had a point, but I can’t expand on it before tonight. Meanwhile, here’s something that might interest you:

    > The law of diminishing returns, first described by economists to explain why, beyond a certain point, additional inputs produce smaller and smaller outputs, offers insight into many situations encountered in clinical medicine. For example, when the risk of an adverse event can be reduced in several different ways, the impact of each intervention can generally be shown mathematically to be reduced by the previous ones. The diminishing value of successive interventions is further reduced by adverse consequences (eg, drug-drug, drug-disease, and drug-nutrient interactions), as well as by the total expenditures of time, energy, and resources, which increase with each additional intervention. It is therefore important to try to prioritize interventions based on patient-centered goals and the relative impact and acceptability of the interventions. We believe that this has implications for clinical practice, research, and policy.

    http://www.jabfm.org/content/23/3/371.long

  126. BBD says:

    There is a fairly extensive network of Argo floats covering the ocean surface. Below 700m, the coverage is not as good.

    Badly wrong.

    Each ARGO float dives to 2000m then returns to the surface, reporting temperature and salinity profiles after each dive. The sampling density for 0 – 700m and 0 – 2000m is identical. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

    You are still denying the ARGO 0 – 2000m OHC data, and now you have started misrepresenting the current understanding of what is happening – warmer water mixing down below the 700m layer. You have not read or did not understand Meehl et al. and in consequence misrepresent it. I’m reasonably sure you got this rubbish from WUWT. You have been badly misled. Please get your information on climate science from elsewhere in future. You will do much better for it.

    Global OHC 0 – 700m and 0 – 2000m compared.

  127. BBD says:

    according to the latest Hadcrut satellite data

    🙂

  128. BBD says:

    warmist

    You mean “scientists”. There is no such thing, outside the paranoid imaginings of contrarians – as “warmists”. This is essentially anti-science rhetoric. It implies an agenda which is, of course, conspiracist ideation.

    Are you aware of how detached from reality this rhetoric is? Presumably not, or you wouldn’t employ it. Be clear though: it marks you out as a dupe.

  129. Martin says:

    willard,

    as I said, I don’t get hints. Thanks for the link. Physicists have their physics envy, economists have their economic imperialism, and I can get completely drunk and still stand up early next morning, so everybody can feel superior.

  130. Marco says:

    BBD, Jaime Jessop advertizes herself as someone who is anti-establishment. Just so you know where she’s coming from…

  131. Jaime Jessop says:

    @BBD You are correct; I was wrong in my assumption that the Argo floats covered mainly the surface layers. I can admit to being wrong without a problem. This does not however destroy my main argument which is: the surface ocean layers have not warmed in 15 years. You seem to have great difficulty in accepting this FACT. As you give the impression that your knowledge of oceanic heat distribution is far superior to my own, perhaps you could explain why no surface heating has been observed for 15 odd years, yet the insistence is that deeper layers are still warming, taking up the ‘extra heat’. How does it get to these deeper layers without first registering as surface heating? If the oceanic surface does initially absorb energy (as it must – you simply cannot transfer heat from the atmosphere to the deep ocean by bypassing surface layers) but is presumably swiftly subducted to greater depths by prevailing ocean currents during so called hiatus periods, why is this continued surface heating not being measured on land? Is it that, during hiatus periods, the heat trapped by CO2 in the atmosphere decides not to venture onto land but to avail itself instead of the ‘unusual’ ocean currents hungrily waiting to sweep it quickly below 700m and mix it with much colder water?

    Ah, so we’re ‘contrarians’ now. Sceptics is passe. The new buzzword employed by warmists (oops, my mistake, ‘scientists’) to describe us low-lifes who question the received wisdom of global warming theory – even, it would seem, those scientists who dare to question CAGW. Scientists now can only be those who do not question the consensus ‘settled’ science of global warming. Strange how you freely employ this new term ‘contrarians’ yet see in my use of the term ‘warmists’ evidence of an unhinged mind and belief in a conspiratorial agenda. Breathtaking, self-assured arrogance on your part I would say.

  132. Marco says:

    Jaime Jessop, did you read that paper from Meehl et al you cite? That zero trend IS zero, not the 0.04 per decade that we have had in the last 15 years (HADCRUT4).

    Note also that the very extreme El Nino of 1998 is highly skewing the data. Take 1999 as the starting point, and the slope is much larger. Not a single model run contains such extreme El Nino events, so that adds another level to the inappropriate way many have used (or should we say “abused”?) the trend over the last 15 years.

  133. BBD says:

    This does not however destroy my main argument which is: the surface ocean layers have not warmed in 15 years. You seem to have great difficulty in accepting this FACT. As you give the impression that your knowledge of oceanic heat distribution is far superior to my own, perhaps you could explain why no surface heating has been observed for 15 odd years, yet the insistence is that deeper layers are still warming, taking up the ‘extra heat’. How does it get to these deeper layers without first registering as surface heating?

    – “SSTs not warmed in 15 years” is a cherry-pick to the peak of the 1998 El Nino. See Marco’s comment above. Try it without the cherry-picked start point:

    HadSST3 1996 – present

    – You are confusing SST and OHC. Solar SW penetrates beneath the surface The ocean is not warmed from the surface skin layer down by DSW.

    – Sub-surface downward mixing continually removes energy from the uppermost ocean layers so modulating the emission from the surface.

    – An increased rate of downward mixing would flatten SSTs and also reduce the rate of *atmospheric* warming, consistent with observations.

  134. BBD says:

    Contrarian is a polite term in long usage. You are not a sceptic.

  135. BBD says:

    Marco

    Thanks for the context. I wouldn’t exactly paint myself as pro-Establishment myself (UK English) but that is no excuse for sloppy thinking 😉

  136. BBD says:

    Have you got any of that “Hadcrut satellite data”? As a UK taxpayer, I’d like to know if our lot have sneaked a satellite past the Exchequer. And are they hiding the data? There should be a public enquiry. I am poised to write to my MP. In green ink, of course.

  137. Jaime Jessop says:

    That’s a gobbledygook non-answer if ever I heard one. Your ability to communicate scientific concepts is either very limited or you don’t really know what you’re talking about and are quoting directly from scientific papers, so you cover up your lack of real understanding by resorting to terse, uninformative comments coupled with copious use of abbreviations. It appears you are suggesting that short wave solar radiation penetrates well beyond the surface layers. Are you using this as an explanation for how heat manages to bypass the upper 700m? Seriously? And what does short wave solar radiation have do with the argument? This is the heat energy which is received directly from the Sun. You are arguing the case for anthropogenic CO2 heating of the oceans which would necessarily involve re-radiated LONG WAVE infra-red radiation. Any SW radiative heating of the ocean surface (and layers below) is attributable only to the effects of direct sunlight.

    You’re right, I’m not a sceptic. You’re wrong, I’m not a contrarian. I’m a realist, a rationalist and an open-minded enquirer who requires a rather higher degree of ‘proof’ of an overwhelming anthropogenic influence on climate than you and your compatriots are seemingly able to provide in the current ongoing debate.

  138. BBD says:

    Are you using this as an explanation for how heat manages to bypass the upper 700m?

    No. If my explanation is unclear, then I apologise.

    And what does short wave solar radiation have do with the argument?

    But given this, I’m not even sure where to start.

    * * *

    You are arguing the case for anthropogenic CO2 heating of the oceans which would necessarily involve re-radiated LONG WAVE infra-red radiation.

    No, you don’t understand the basics. The warming troposphere doesn’t warm the ocean. It reduces the rate at which the ocean cools.

  139. BBD says:

    You’re right, I’m not a sceptic. You’re wrong, I’m not a contrarian. I’m a realist, a rationalist and an open-minded enquirer who requires a rather higher degree of ‘proof’ of an overwhelming anthropogenic influence on climate than you and your compatriots are seemingly able to provide in the current ongoing debate.

    You should be more sceptical. This would involve first making an effort to understand the evidence, then considering it objectively rather than dismissing it without understanding it at all.

  140. BBD says:

    you cover up your lack of real understanding by resorting to terse, uninformative comments coupled with copious use of abbreviations.

    * * *

    SST – sea surface temperature (Centigrade, Farenheit, Kelvin)

    OHC – ocean heat content (Joules)

    SW – shortwave radiation: visible sunlight

    DSW – downwelling shortwave radiation

  141. Jaime Jessop says:

    “No, you don’t understand the basics. The warming troposphere doesn’t warm the ocean. It reduces the rate at which the ocean cools.” I think I can just about grasp the concept of reduced heat loss from the oceans due to a higher tropospheric temperature, resulting in a less steep temperature gradient between ocean and lower atmosphere. The problem is, the lower troposphere has warmed very much less than the climate models predicted.

    I’ve no wish to continue trading veiled insults with you BBD. I respect that you know some of your stuff but I think you have been misled by ‘consensus’ CAGW theory. In a couple of years time, your position may be vindicated if our planet has resumed surface warming, ice caps have melted further, sea levels have risen etc. I strongly suspect that that will not be the case and we may well be looking at a significant solar-mitigated cooling. Time will tell.

  142. Jaime Jessop says:

    Solar MEDIATED that should be.

  143. BBD says:

    I think I can just about grasp the concept of reduced heat loss from the oceans due to a higher tropospheric temperature, resulting in a less steep temperature gradient between ocean and lower atmosphere.

    The thermal gradient across the few microns of the ocean surface skin layer determines the efficiency of energy loss to the atmosphere. Energy must cross this *conductive* barrier before it can leave the ocean by radiating from its surface.

    If the atmospheric temperature at the surface skin layer is raised it reduces the thermal gradient across the skin layer and so the efficiency of conduction of energy through it.

  144. BBD says:

    I respect that you know some of your stuff but I think you have been misled by ‘consensus’ CAGW theory.

    I am trying, as we all should, to understand the science. However unpalatable the implications may be.

  145. Anonymous says:

    Jaime Jessop, it’s not “nonsensical,” it’s a basic principle of linear regression. The test for statistical significance of a slope in linear regression is the ratio of the value of the slope and the standard error. Standard error increases as the number of points decreases. If you take a 15 year sub-period of a 30 year series, for example, standard error increases by sqrt(2) and the test statistic decreases by sqrt(2), reducing the chance of observing statistical significance. For a slope calculated from a temperature series starting in 1950 (60 observations) a 15 year sub-period will in general yield a test statistic only half the size of the whole series. If you don’t beleive me you can test it yourself with manufactured data in excel fairly trivially.

    This problem becomes even worse when the largest value in the data set is the first point in the sub-period – as is the case for data series starting in 1998 and ending in 2013 (“the last 15 years”) and is almost as bad when the largest value in the data set is the second point in the sub-period (1997-2012). In these cases you will see a much shallower or even negative slope, with very large residual error. In the case of the temperature series specifically, the last 15 years contain a large number of record values, so if you start the series from the highest value (1998) or a value close to it (1997) you will always observe a very flat slope, with an increased standard error due to the reduced number of observations.

    If you still think this isn’t a problem and you’re sure that if there is warming the 15 year sub-period should be adequate to test it, try this thought experiment. Suppose that the temperature series really is increasing as the scientists claim. Suppose that next year is another el nino and sets a new record temperature. Next year your 15 year sub-period will run from 1999 – 2014, so the 1998 record drops out and you get a strong positive slope from the 1999 low to the new record. Thus you have statistically significant warming (no pause) in the past 15 years. But if you take a 16 year sub-period you are estimating a line from the second hottest to the hottest temperature in the record – it is nearly flat with large standard error, so tehre is no statistically significant warming (a pause) in the past 16 years. How do you think that’s going to work out for you? With “warmists” gloating over a 15 year period of warming, and you claiming a 16 year pause. Somehow the data is simultaneously warming so fast that it can show statistically significant increases in 15 years, but so slowly that warming has paused for 16 years. What does this tell you about your chosen rhetorical device?

    There is another reason why you don’t want to make policy decisions based on assessment of whether short term trends are statistically significant. Can you think what it is? (Hint: “Reagan-era economic growth”).

  146. dana1981 says:

    Strawman – I’m not arguing in favor the deficit model. That doesn’t mean that all information is worthless. As quite a few studies have shown (Ding, Lewandowsky, etc.), the consensus is effective messaging. I have yet to see an argument to the contrary that explains why their data are incorrect.

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