Daily Archives: Tuesday, 23:43, November 9, 2010

The Planet of the Comment Threads

It’s that time again. Every once in a while, I dust off my moldy old copy of the Nekkonomicon, and while perusing its sanity-blasting pages of Lovecraftian lolcats, check my inbox and this blog’s comment threads, gasping in dread at the terrors I behold.

For from beyond the hoary depths of the transgalactic gulf, riding on wings of night that rend time and space, come those most horrific of unearthly messengers of doom – my commenters.

I don’t get to do posts like this as often as I’d like, but over the last few months, things have been very interesting, and I’d like to share a few of these solid gold musings and my responses, with both my original replies when so given, and some postscript notes of mine afterward.

I’ve recently loosened up the commenting guidelines on this site to make things a bit more enjoyable for the vociferous among you, though discourse should remain appropriate and legal – Do try to resist the urge to libel or verbally abuse someone: that will get you banned.

Who knows? If your comment is interesting, amusing, enlightening, or even downright bat-sh*t insane, it’ll be posted on the homepage as those in this post have been. I’ll be up front about one thing before we begin – Some of the following have been edited to redact personal information and inappropriate links, and extraneous material for considerations of space, but I’ve kept them as complete and in context as possible without any changes in meaning – enjoy…

Last week I received a comment from one of my regular readers, his post in the thread of this entry (Click Me Here), and his second, after my first reply, by email. Since I happen to know and respect him, and have included my replies with this post, I’m not going to lay on the snarkitude, but just add some brief commentary after my second reply, for a bit more needs to be said.

I’m going to have to call a logical foul. Does the fact that the emails were obtained illegally, make the fact that they occurred any less true? What is the difference between the release of the ‘climategate’ emails and the wikileaks publication of secret war documents? Why is wikileaks “good” and climategate “bad”, or at least that is what the “news” would have me beleive? How can it be quote-mining whenb the emails in their entirity were posted as entire conversations? Entire email sent with entire reply. How the media then sliced and diced them is the media mavens fault. Finally, any time any scientist asserts that I or anybody else can’t see his/her raw data to check their work, as a skeptic I have to ask Why? immediately. What is my conclusion? The data used was imperfect, severely, so although Hansen’s models may be bleeding edge, GIGO. Are we changing the environment? Absolutely! Is it getting warmenr or cooler? The data is still conflicted. Was some of the data used in the original computations bad? Absolutely! How badly? Sixty one percent of the readings for the US were off by >= 2 deg. C. These are the Class 4 sites that when surveyed were found to have an artificial heating source within 10 meters. This is why other climate scientists want to rerun Hansen’s program with a data set of Class 1 and 2 sites. These sites have a reporting error of < 1 deg. C. . Such a data set would make a conclusion of change of 1 or 2 degrees meaningful, instead of in the margin of error. Unfortunately, just as there are groups who really really don’t want to find warming, there are those also who do. I would just like the facts to be found.
On a side note, one of the ‘powers’ involved, the Chicago Carbon Exchange, permanently closed its doors on election day. On the plus side, the Army is beginning to start construction of LEED certified sustainable buildings for housing. Fort Cambell has completed two zero energy homes with input from Northwestern National Lab. We at Ft. Eustis are trying to get a phase Two project for the Marseilles Village replacement of approx. 120 homes. One of the northern bases just completed LEED ‘Silver’ rated 200 unaccompanied Sr. NCO housing.
Technology is improving, and things are beginning to be built for valid economic reasons. Arbitrarily ruling that you can no longer buy a car with a black interior ala CA is just silly though. Make these changes for valid reasons, not out of fear. One parting note, although the northern ice is still very small in a lot of places, the polar bear population has tripled in the last twenty years.

Here is my first reply…

First, I’m not arguing that the emails didn’t happen, I’m arguing that they were misrepresented by being posted out of context. That alone is enough to invalidate them as real evidence of dishonesty. The fact that they were obtained illegally does, however, speak volumes about those who stole them.

Second, I don’t hold any position pro or con about wikileaks, so I am not arguing that it is good or bad. So far, I’ll have to call you on two straw-men.

Third, the data may have been imperfect, but that’s how ALL scientific data is when it hasn’t been fully processed and analyzed. To argue that the data is not perfect and is therefore crap is to commit the Nirvana fallacy. No accumulation of raw data is ever flawless, so it doesn’t follow that therefore it’s wrong.

Finally, do you have the qualifications needed to make a proper assessment of the raw data as a layman, and not as a trained expert on climatology? Probably not, so if I were you, I would first try to gain those qualifications through training before even asking to look at the data. I’m rather sure that the local State Attorney General is not so trained, hence neither he nor any other non-scientist, including myself, is qualified to understand the raw data and make any sense of it. The necessary knowledge-base just isn’t there, unfortunately.

As I said in the post, I’m not concerned with political arguments, nor the specifics on the polar bear population, or any other point that I didn’t raise in the original post.

You have a right to disagree, so I’ll leave it at that. Debate doesn’t interest me.

…Here is his email response…

I know I am probably not going to change your mind, I knew that when I started my comment.  I brought this to email to keep from cluttering your blog. To the point. The logical foul I was pointing out, and apparently wasn’t clear about was only that regardless of how the emails were obtained, they still exist. Therefore, since they are known, they should be considered.

If you want to read about the work I helped with in 2009, see http://www.surfacestations.org. Of the stations I surveyed here in VA, all either failed miserably, were inaccessible to the public, or were no longer in use. In the process I found about a half dozen stations that weren’t being used for the climate data. There weren’t on the list at all. The only Class 2 site I found fell into this group. I didin’t find any Class 1 sites. The Class 2 site is still in operation and reports daily, but as far as I know, NASA still isn’t using it’s data. It is a fully automated station with all equipment. Va Dept. of Agriculture uses its sun, heat, temperature, and rainfall data for predicting “peanut curves” for peanut farmers in Isle of Wight and Surrey counties.

I think it was late 2009 or early this year that the ground station question became moot anyway. NASA has a new climate sat up that can take multi-point surface temperature readings as it swings around the globe. These are good for both air, surface, and water temperatures. I’m quite sure Dr. Hansen and his team will be running their programs again as they start building up a meaningful database. NOAA is already using the info to track the seasonal El Nino/La Nina fluctuations.

…and with my response to that…

I wasn’t denying that the emails exist, nor that they WOULD be valid evidence of malfeasance on the part of climate scientists if that charge were found to be true, because the investigation of those same researchers immediately following the incident had exonerated them of all charges of dishonesty, which kinda negates the point of using the emails as evidence for a conspiracy.

The circumstances by which the emails were obtained, while it doesn’t absolutely disprove what they say, does raise a few red flags about the honesty of those who hacked and posted them in the first place, but that’s now a moot point after the inquiry into the researchers cleared them.

Also, there were certain points I didn’t raise in the article because I don’t consider them relevant to the points of the post, like nitpicking about percentages and exact estimate ranges. Those have no bearing on the points I raised, and the article was a personal statement of my position on generalities in the science that are as close to certain fact as can be gotten among qualified climate scientists as evolution is to organismal biologists.

The reason I won’t debate the issue of AGW is twofold: I’m not that interested in political discussions because politics is not high on my list of priorities or my knowledge base – I do not consider myself competent to discuss the subject – ditto for climate science.

I am willing to be convinced if there were any remaining room for rational doubt the AGW is happening, that we have something to do with it, and that at some point, we need to do something about it. As far as the science is concerned, it’s no longer a controversy except in the media and the minds of the public. Only politically motivated arguments about it remain.

Now, I have a tendency, call it conservative or whatever, to defer to a broad scientific consensus unless and until that consensus is shown to be wrong by qualified scientists, not politicians or economists. The consensus among climate researchers of the AGW is real, and likely to be a danger given enough time without remedial action on our part.

My understanding is that a consensus among scientists is not the same as a political one. It is not a vote, a popularity contest, nor a matter of ‘what do we want to believe.’ It is a recognition of reality. I have been known to reverse my position when something I thought settled, like the recent news of alleged protein sequences being found in Tyrannosaurus fossils, is still controversial, but only when I am given reason to do so, not merely the vague suspicion that there might be a conspiracy or the mere possibility that motives and vested interest may be at play in research.

Show me evidence of these things, and as long as it’s valid I’ll accept the claim as true until better evidence later on proves it false. That’s all I ask of anyone. I’m willing to be convinced, and I am not a rabid pot-smoking hippie tree-hugger.

Now, regarding your first comment and your second, I can only say that it’s not very helpful to me for somebody to cry out ‘logical foul’ without actually enlightening me as to what fallacy I was committing with a position I really hold.

I understand that you have very strong commitments politically, and I respect that, despite my Libtard views. But I just don’t find arguments that even smell ideological in flavor or tone compelling, even if the trappings are facts and figures. Arguments like that put my baloney detector on yellow alert at the very least, even when as well-phrased as yours were. Sorry, but that comes from my ongoing training in logical fallacies and argumentation.

Also, contrary to the view that prominent climate skeptics promote, concern over AGW by reasonable advocates is just that – concern for its likely consequences – not panic, fear, or as it’s referred to, alarmism.

I can’t claim not to have any biases of my own – I recognize mine rather clearly and live with them – but I really don’t pay much attention to either climate skeptic or environmentalist media outlets since the respective bias of both of them is almost palpable. And no, I haven’t seen or read anything by Al Gore.

That’s why I wasn’t convinced of your point, not a refusal to listen.

The “meat” of the original post was NOT a refusal to debate, more on that shortly, but an opinion piece on what we know nearly certainly about AGW. And yes, it is as close to certainty as is scientifically possible that the Earth is warming, and it does no good to quibble over points not even mentioned in the original entry as proof that the science is still hotly disputed by experts. That dispute only exists to the media and general public, and is heavily promoted by climate skeptics. Localized conditions are no indication of the global climate as a whole, and it is misleading to confuse the two.

Let me clear a few things up in my responses: I generally defer to a broad consensus of recognized experts until and unless those experts are shown to be wrong by others in the same field of expertise.

For example, if I need a brain tumor removed, I would much rather have the procedure done by a licensed neurosurgeon with a good reputation and track-record of successful operations than entrust it to a bicycle mechanic whose only credentials are a certificate of graduation from the third grade.

Being a non-expert doesn’t make you more perspicacious, trustworthy, competent, or less conventionalized, it just makes you unskilled. Climate science, and assessing its raw data, are best done by professionals, not laymen out to debunk.

There is a good reason why I do not believe Climategate to be valid evidence of a genuine conspiracy, and why I think that it’s use in attempts to establish that claim are sorely mistaken. I’ll sum this up in one statement:

  • The emails involved were obtained by dishonest means in an illegal manner – they were hacked and stolen, and NOT by a recognized law-enforcement agency acting within its (possibly questionable) jurisdiction, but by political activists for the purpose of advancing an ideological agenda – to discredit and cast doubt upon climate science.

While the means of gathering the emails certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist (and I never said it does), nor that they would not be evidence for a conspiracy should it actually exist (I never said they wouldn’t), it does cast doubt upon the motives of those who hacked and stole them and the Muir Russell Report that followed HAS invalidated the emails as evidence for anything but a lack of openness, and certainly not a Worldwide Conspiracy of a Cult of Global Warming™… It does not logically follow that because they exist, that they should still be considered even after being invalidated – Non sequitur alert on that one.

This was fun, and maybe it answered a few questions that the post it’s based on initially raised. Hopefully I managed to avoid being too abrasive, but this post is already too long as it is, and I’ve rambled enough. Troythulu ftaghn. Ia!

For Carl Sagan Day 2010: Three Views of Cosmic Carl (91 mins, 1 sec)

A good tribute to arguably the best publicly known astronomer of the late 20th century.

We miss you, Carl…

Resolving a Question (To MY Satisfaction)

Zhuangzi dreaming of a butterfly (or a butterf...

Image via Wikipedia

For some time now, I have been considering the old conundrum, “How do you know that you are a man dreaming that you are a butterfly, and not a butterfly dreaming that you’re a man?” Not only is this question an example of the Stolen Concept logical fallacy, it’s also useful food for pondering.

Well, I believe that I’ve found a resolution to this, a thing I’ve noticed while I’m awake but not in ordinary dreams — a distinct asymmetry in my thinking processes between the two states — my ability to cognitively test reality when I’m conscious and (generally) not experiencing REM sleep.

Here’s what I mean…

When I’m awake, I constantly test reality around me, though much of the processing goes on in the background in a portion of my brain evolved for that purpose. This testing allows me to note when something, anything, seems out of the ordinary, outside my usual experience or routine.

Provided this works as it’s supposed to, I am able to note danger, pay attention to interesting novelties I come across, and generally interact with reality in a manner enabling me to deal with the unexpected and seemingly extraordinary, and more to the point, be aware of the apparently extraordinary nature of these events and exercise an attempt to explain them.

In short, I question things in my waking hours using my innate cognitive models of how reality works and my own experiences, including critical thinking techniques I’ve learned.

But I don’t normally do that when I’m dreaming…

When I’m dreaming, I tend to question NOTHING, no matter how bizarre it seems to me when I wake up and remember the things that happened. The only exception to this, and not a trivial one, is when I’m lucidly dreaming, when I’m perfectly cognizant of the fact that I’m dreaming AND can control the contents of the dream.

It’s a fragile state, but while lucid dreaming I’m aware of what’s going on and how weird the events in it are, and I find it a rather useful state for trying out visualization techniques without the limits of my waking perceptions. In this state, I know that I’m not experiencing anything “out there,” in terms of anything involving complete processing of normal sensory stimuli.

Yes, I cannot know absolutely that the dream isn’t reality, or that I’m not a brain hooked up to a computer network, ala The Matrix, but that’s not the point…

The differences between the one state and the other show a pronounced imbalance that make it more probable that the one is more real in an objective sense than the other, and that I have good reason to think that the more objectively real of the two is NOT the one where I’m lacking the ability to know whether or not it’s real, not just in my head during a nocturnal ramble when I can’t tell, and don’t even think about, the difference between fact and fantasy until it’s all over. Fnord.


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