Friday, November 27, 2009

On calling things by their right names, or Data Deniers

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

--Chinese proverb


While my own tradition holds that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, as regards worldly affairs there is something to be said for the Chinese view.

We have of late been treated to headlines about rallies protesting “against health care”. As I have noted in other forums, with the exception of devotees of faith healing and in certain narrow circumstances involving incurable terminal illness, no one is against health care, at least if the words are used as we speakers of English use them.

The most egregious abuse of language, of late, however, is the use of the word “denier” as a universal pejorative. To deny the truth, be it the reality of the Shoah or something unpleasant about oneself that a therapist or confessor is telling you, is either folly or a species of lying. However to deny a falsehood, to deny the folly of others misnaming things, to deny the deceits of purported authorities is a form of honesty.

The phrase “climate change denier” (It seems it can’t be “global warming denier” anymore, since mean global temperatures stopped going up.) is, of course, like “opposing health care” an absurd accusation: no one denies that the Earth’s climate changes, while a great many of us do not credit claims that recent changes in the Earth’s climate have been cause by human activity (be it burning fossil fuels or raising farting livestock). And those of us skeptical of such claims have also noticed the complete absurdity of continuing to blame “greenhouse gas emissions” for climate changes of other sorts (be they droughts or changes in frequency of storms in some region) in the absence of increasing temperatures.

Even during the 1990’s when the mean global temperature seems to have been increasing, the only support for the theory of anthropogenic causation were computer models—a pack of nerds playing an apotheosis of SimEarth on supercomputers. The entire enterprise has always been prima facia absurd: a discrete model of a continuous chaotic dynamical system with, what is worse, unmodeled and even unknown inputs, cannot possibly be useful for long-term prediction. Compound the problem by not using realistic boundary conditions for the PDE governing the greenhouse effect, and “GIGO” is the only rational response, though not one heard from self-proclaimed “climate rationalists”.

But now, thanks to some hackers whose names, when we learn them, should be enrolled with Pasteur, Edison and Turing among the great benefactors of mankind, we find out that they weren’t even playing an honest game of SimEarth, but were using the mathematical modeler’s equivalents of downloaded game cheats to get their desired anti-capitalist, anti-development, and in the final analysis, anti-human outcome.

Much has been written about the e-mails in the Hadley CRU file dump. These could be seen as merely revealing the sort of cattiness that the “big science” model of research funding has made endemic in some fields—only our theory should get funded, only our theory is worth publishing—because grant-funding is indeed a zero-sum game. Read this way, they would reveal only that some of the leading proponents of the anthropogenic theory are unpleasant people, perhaps beset by self-doubt that even tenure and a few fat grants have not assuaged.

But it was not just e-mails that have come to light. Code for “analyses” on which published papers and the IPCC report were based turn out to include explicitly identified “fudge factors” which create output showing warming when the raw data showed none.

Honest scientists, finding that a run of recent dendrochronological data did not correspond to temperatures measured in the same period and location would have rushed to publish a paper calling into question the conventional wisdom about how to model temperatures based on dendrochronology. Instead, the climate modelers at the University of East Anglia, applied a SimEarth cheat, and replaced the measured data with bogus numbers made to look like their desired outcome.

Nor is the crew in East Anglia the only ones using cheats in their SimEarth game: the New Zealand NIWA was finally obliged to provide its raw data to someone outside the cozy world of capitalism-slaying climate crusaders, and mirable dictu, the “increase” in mean temperatures in New Zealand over the past 160 years turns out to have been the result of another SimEarth cheat: the raw data shows no such increase.

Until last week I had assumed that being an “anthropogenic climate change denier” was rather like being a “phlogiston denier” or an “spontaneous generation denier”: someone who upheld scientific truth by denying a specious theory. It seems that it is more like being a “Piltdown Man denier”.

Let us start being wise, according to the Chinese proverb, and start calling things by their right names: those of us skeptical about the anthropogenic global warming theory are the climate realists and climate rationalists, and those who use fudge factors, baseless corrections, or even merely fancy that computer modeling is a substitute for empirical science are pseudoscientists, and (dare we say it?) data deniers. Any diplomat, legislator or bureaucrat who thinks he or she is benefitting mankind by hobbling the world economy to “cut carbon emissions” is a fool, and any who knows better and goes along with such schemes is a rogue and an incipient tyrant.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

--George Orwell

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