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Sceptics are from Mars and warmists are from Venus

Here is a fascinating article from a blog I haven't come across before called "A Chemist in Langley":

...the vast majority of the warmist community have a worldview that stresses Type I [false positive] error avoidance while most skeptics work in a community that stresses Type II [false negative] error avoidance. Skeptics look at the global climate models and note that the models have a real difficulty in making accurate predictions. To explain, global climate models are complex computer programs filled with calculations based on science's best understanding of climate processes (geochemistry, global circulation patterns etc) with best guesses used to address holes in the knowledge base. The models are "trained" by looking at historical data and seeing whether they can replicate what has occurred in the past. In a simplistic description they are trained to interpolate data and once they get good enough at interpolating data they are then used to extrapolate future conditions. Since the global climate models are works in progress they still do not do a great job at extrapolating, yet. In particular, these models have failed to predict the "pause" in the surface temperature data that has lasted for (depending with whom you talk) somewhere around 15 - 18 years. Essentially the model predictions and the measured temperatures have diverged.

Skeptics see the poor extrapolations and suggest a need to refine the models to address the divergence. From a Type II error avoidance viewpoint, given the relatively poor quality of the model predictions, putting limited resources into addressing potentially faulty predictions seems like a poor choice. Instead, resources should be allocated to improving the models and any additional monies spent on other "demonstrably real" problems out in the world. Warmists, on the other hand, point out that the models are the best tools we have to date and to ignore their predictions, just because they are imperfect, is a big mistake. Warmists point out there is a real risk that a lack of action now could result in a low-probability, high-cost outcome (a fat tail on the uncertainty distribution of the outcomes). So monies should be spent on avoidance immediately while we continue to refine the models.

(The link came to me by a circuitous route, but I believe the hat-tip is for Richard Tol)

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Reader Comments (112)

TinyCO2: "Though Onbyaccident doesn't need to stop at just one view point if he/she starts a discussion some of us will be happy to explain why we're sceptics."

Do you know I've come to the conclusion that OBA is in fact ATTP in disguise. There are three vital clues:

1. The assumption that physicists are the cream of the crop and we should all bow our knees to their prognostications;
2. The referral to SkS, the group that it's ATTP's heart's desire to get the approval of;
3. The syntax of the posts, and the use of Miss Marple phrases like, "My goodness".

Could be wrong, but surely there aren't two physics graduates with the same juvenile belief that everyone without a physics degree is incapable of understanding the physical world, and to that extent are lesser human beings. Can there?

Jan 6, 2015 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Geronimo, I was thinking along the same lines. Their titles have similarities and the tone of "debate" very much too. I can't be bothered to re-read the posts but didn't say something like I wouldn't be gutted if nobody was convinced?

Jan 6, 2015 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

A follow-up post addressing John's comments and other topics has been posted at

Jan 6, 2015 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBlair

"And if you can then maybe that is expressed in some journal somewhere."

Try the WSJ . It is peer reviewed by all the still remaining rubbish like NYT , Al Q'ardian etc.
It is also read by about anyone of importance in the US.

"But as Tamino correctly states. It isn't just about the models is it. Try the observations. Try the basic physics."
butbutbut basic physics ,thats what is IN the models, right. Basic physics and much much more and much much better, right? Or not ?? Regarding the usual waffle on warmish models, one should refer to professor Courtillot's speech a few years ago.
But anyway, observations: satellites do not observe ANY warming, except growing ice . Extreme weather events did NOT rise. Islands have NOT been immersed en masse.

Jan 7, 2015 at 12:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMars Shmallow

Blair, unfortunately your new post does not address John Shade's point. p values have nothing to do with it (and describing a 95% CI as a 'gold standard' is not very clever).
Note also that John's point was made by several other commenters (oldfart61, tetris, Rud Istvan, Harry Dale Hufman).
When 5 people independently say the same thing, that ought to make you stop and think.
The difference between "trust me" and "show me" is nothing to do with the difference between type 1 and type 2 errors.
I will post something on your blog later if nobody else does.

Jan 7, 2015 at 9:34 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I sure that the climate models have "basic physics" in them, but that is not enough. I can write a simple model of motion that uses F=ma to calculate the force needed to accelerate a spaceship to 10 times the speed of light. It is almost trivial, and F=ma is about a fundamental to Newtonian physics as it gets. It is the first equation taught in physics courses.

However, it is not physically possible to accelerate a spaceship to 10 times the speed of light. This was determined by Einstein, as a result of some very important experimental studies performed by Michaelson and Morley in the 1800s. They did their experiment several times, improving the instrumentation each time because they were getting unexpected results. They did not adjust their experimental data to fit their model - they did the experiment over and over, and other researchers followed with similar experiments, but they got an answer that did not comport with classical Newtonian physics - the "settled science" of the era.

Einstein used these results to develop the theory of relativity, and one of the consequences of that theory (which people are, to this day, trying to disprove) is that it is not possible to travel faster than the speed of light. So F=ma, the fundamental physics equation, does not work in all cases. Certainly not the way one might think it should work.

Saying that your model works because it uses "basic physics" when the real, measured, reproducible, physical data (not "data" from some other computer model) disagrees with the model results, is madness.

Jan 7, 2015 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

Every time I see alarmism justified in terms of "basic physics", I reach for my metaphorical gun.

Those two words manage to encapsulate appeal to authority and wilful ignorance of empirical data very succinctly.

People who question CAGW are not disputing gravity, or the rotation of the planets around the Sun. Yet, they get called "flat-earthers."

It's a despicable and dishonest tactic.

Jan 7, 2015 at 8:14 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Johanna, it’s the rule of the playground: if else all in your argument fails, resort to ridicule. If ridicule fails, resort to violence. I have a horrible suspicion that is soon to be on the agenda. The origins of this article are chillingly apposite.

Jan 8, 2015 at 8:42 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Howdy folks.

Well waited a few days to see what links/science you could come up with and sadly not surprised that there is very little of worth. Some of you seem to think it more relevant to discuss who I could be? I will assert though I've no idea who ATTP is and I am certainly not he/she/it. Telling though that you should even want to discuss. I'd hope as a fellow traveller here that (s)he would have no problem in writing under their own ID.

However (and I hope I don't tar you -vely here by some sort of praise) I do have to acknowledge that at least JamesG is trying to converse in scientific terms. And a peer reviewed link no less. I will for the moment not quibble that it is Richard L and take in good faith as an article from which you may take your evidence. Not seen it before but promise in all reasonableness to take a look.

Naturally JG I disagree that the ECS is a mere 1K as I've seen so many more that say higher. Also I disagree with assertion that the physics (basic or not) does not include the impact of an amount of energy contributing to the ocean warming? This is central to the modelling/observations etc...and why wouldn't it be? The vast amount of energy retained by AGW will have for various reasons (even if simply by size and specific heat reasons) gone into the seas.

Anyway promise to revert with comments JG.

Jan 10, 2015 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

"small volcanic eruptions partly explain the 'warming hiatus'

Jan 10, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Elliot

Wotty's back. We do get real physicists and modellers on these pages and the never sneer at us because we're not as intelligent as they are. Au contraire, like all people at the edge of any science they know that certainty is the enemy of scientific progress and doubt is the driver.


Jan 10, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Hello JamesG

as promised some thoughts on the Lindzen paper. In it they try and establish a low ECS in the face of a larger array of papers establishing this as much higher. The first thing that stands out is this is an attempt by them to update a previous paper done in 2009 where they acknowledge there were some things that were incorrect. The main one that I see though is that they take some data from effectively the tropics and extrapolate that globally. They were criticised for this in the 09 paper and they try and justify it here but their arguments are rather brief/poor. If the global data is there (and they collect neither so should not be wed to any of them) then why not use that for a global calculation?

What I haven't done is go through their equations. I do note that they don't derive these from first principles or show their source (and I know many published papers are guilty of this) so not saying their approach is questionable - just haven't had the time to look. They seem though (and this is where a bias would come in) to treat cloud cover as a cause rather than a consequence of climate change. I'd disagree to a large extent on that - if you take that line you need to explain why now moreso than say 200/100 yrs ago. This aspect is more commonly modelled as a feedback.

Anyway so I remain unconvinced by this paper. The tropics v global one is the aspect I struggle most with. But thanks for the ref.

@ Doug Elliott. Thank you also for the link. This I skimmed and found it to be a valid line of thought. It is one I've seen discussed elsewhere. What you guys cause the pause (I call slowdown in the increase) must have a reason and this could well be one underplayed in models a decade back. Personally I think that ocean take up of heat is more relevant (especially in the Pacific) - the one bit I can't get my head around is similar to question I pose to James' paper above re clouds...if oceans are taking up more of the heat then why now.

Jan 11, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

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