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Discussion > The chocolate teapot

As Bradshaw et al wrote in their groundbreaking 2001 work:

However, whilst numerous items are colloquially labelled as being ‘as useful as a chocolate teapot', there does not appear to be any objective standard for the usefulness, or indeed uselessness, of a chocolate teapot itself.

Building on that seminal work - and the labours of various Bishop Hill denizens in What if the slayers are right? - I here suggest an analogy for the 'big picture' of the global warming debate.

Sceptics have the job of preparing tea and scones for a world hungry for truth, as a credible alternative to the offering of the IPCC and alarmists. The tea stands for our view of the current situation, including future projections. The scones stand for the various policy prescriptions we have - such as making the tax regime on energy such that shale gas is in no way penalised against, say, wind farms - and our projections of how this will achieve the most positive outcome for the most people.

Note that it's not as simple as the tea representing science and the scones policy. One of the crucial teacups for those with limited time to take in all the nuances of the debate, for example, is the time series of deaths from extreme climate events since 1900. The tea also includes our incomplete knowledge of climate during the earth's 4 billion years or more of existence and the extraordinary stability it shows.

As seek to serve this complex refection the heart of my analogy is that the Slayers wish to substitute their chocolate teapot for the sturdy one of the conventional greenhouse effect with low sensitivity, as proposed by Richard Lindzen and the lukewarmers.

Although the scones are exactly the same in the two cases, the deficiencies of the chocolate teapot, as shown by the experiment of Bradshaw et al 2001, will cause hot water quickly to escape without making adequate tea pourable into the teacups, ruin the scones and probably scald those who have turned up to enjoy the meal.

Even the idea of substituting the chocolate teapot for the Lindzen GHE one is a disaster - especially the idea that this constitutes the key move in the debate eg AlecM this morning

So it's all about news management to keep government sweet and with that the funding whist they overcome the key problem, Houghton got some of the physics wrong.

Emphasis added. By arguing that this is the key problem we are offering the world a chocolate teapot. The consequences of the policies that will result from our loss of credibility will include massive scalding of the poorest. Bad idea.


Comments please. All analogies are imperfect but this one is designed to include all parts of the 'big picture' that the Slayers are adamant they have cracked. Cracked is exactly right.

Jan 11, 2013 at 8:30 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

As useless as...

A chocolate teapot.


A chocolate fireguard
A pork chop at a Jewish wedding
An ashtray on a motorbike
An ejector seat in a helicopter
A catflap in a submarine

Jan 11, 2013 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

Richard, despite your analogies of tea, scones and chocolate teapots, I don't think I follow what you are saying.

If you are saying that predictions of CAGW would be better refuted with a correct understanding of physics than with the dragonslayers misconceptions, then I think you are right.

But it's a faith based system, and always has been, so refutations, correct or not, are largely irrelevant.

Jan 11, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Thanks Big Oil and Martin.

If you are saying that predictions of CAGW would be better refuted with a correct understanding of physics than with the dragonslayers misconceptions, then I think you are right.

I am certainly saying that.

But it's a faith based system, and always has been, so refutations, correct or not, are largely irrelevant.

That's a great deal more difficult to answer so let me say the first thing that comes into my head! Here's a paragraph I re-read this week from A N Wilson in 2009:

I haven't mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler's neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer's book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer's serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

Naziism was also a faith-based system. Even though Bonhoeffer did not overcome it, I say better to live (and if necessary die) like him than even be thought to acquiesce. And although Bonhoeffer was also a man of faith he and his father (who, according to Michael Burleigh, brilliantly opposed the eugenics movement and outlived both his more famous son and the Nazi movement) used reason to oppose this craziness. We must eschew the slayers for that reason - and for the fact that we simply don't know how any such faith-based system collapses. But they always do. Faith in reason - if one is able to take in both David Hume and one of his greatest fans, Johann Georg Hamann - should do the trick.

Jan 11, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

An interesting sideline: is 'slayerism' a faith-based system?

Jan 11, 2013 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

I am not sure what is going on here. Some faiths collapse - Nazism, Apartheid. Some continue - Marxist-Leninism, Christianity, Islam, Christianity, Scientology.

Jan 11, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I think it depends on the type of faith and if they can be falsified.

Some faiths deliberately set themselves up so they can't be falsified. Supernatural faiths such as Christianity/Islam can only be disproved when you die and don't go to heaven, so it doesn't change anything here. Social faiths based on racial terms, such as Nazism didn't die, they were shamed out of existence, and forced underground where they exist to this day. Social faiths based on economics, Communism, die harder because it's difficult to falsify an ideal... are people happier under communism than laissez-faire? Some are, some aren't, not easily falsifiable.

The good thing we have here is that CAGW will be falsified in time. Unfortunately the keep moving the time, like some 1999 cult.

Jan 11, 2013 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

The drawback to putting any weight on slayer science, as you have put it elsewhere Richard, is that not all sceptic eggs are in that basket.

Personally I disbelieve in both the GHE and the measures to alleviate this non-existent problem on quite separate grounds.

I don't buy the GHE because human CO2 emissions are so trivial compared to natural emissions that if they ceased completely, you couldn't measure accurately enough to detect it. While CO2 no doubt does increase temperature theoretically, this is only like saying that if you keep adding teaspoonsful of water to a bath it will eventually overflow, and therefore we must tax teaspoons.

To be accurate, however, this prediction requires you to know whether the tap is dripping, whether the plug is in, and whether the overflow drains water faster than your teaspoons are adding it. If you know none of this, but meanwhile the level of the bathwater fluctuates out of sync with the water you're adding, you have an obvious problem with the intellectual case for your teaspoon tax. A warmist would simply assert that you must have measured the water depth wrongly, of course.

Discovering that adding water with a teaspoon lowers the level of bathwater doesn't, for me, alter this consequential undermining. Scientists with three Bs in their A Levels can think whatever they damn well like about teaspoons, as long as they don't tax mine.

I don't buy the solution to GW because it entails impoverishing and killing the weak and poor now to provide a benefit to people who'll be seven times richer than us in the future (if - a big if - we accept the IPCC's word for it). And future people will gain that benefit of mitigated warming only if we are accurately predicting population, technology innovation and energy price over 100-year timespans. You have only to read 100-year-old science fiction to grasp how unlikely this is.

In neither event does it matter to me whether the physics is wrong or right.

What does matter is that the CAGW faith is monolithic and admits of only one gospel, marking it unerringly as a movement from the left, whereas the sceptic perspective is not unitary but a mosaic of dissenting views that each takes issue with a different aspect of the faith's tenets. It plays into the ecofascists' hands to suggest that there's one, or even one main, basis of dissent from their doctrine, because this allows them to assert that all sceptics think X so if X can be refuted so is the whole sceptic position. There is, of course, more to it than that.

Jan 11, 2013 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

I do not think CAGW will ever be falsified...

Joseph Smith for the Mormons and Ron Hubbard for the Scientologists clearly invented their religions for reasons other than spiritual well being of the flocks they would accrue. Yet...

Even if they produced a video of Ron admitting it, the Church would go on. Senior Mormons know the truth of the Origins of the Church of the Latter Days Saints, yet they are comfortable moving forward. If you remember the Yes, Prime Minister sketch appointing a bishop?

James Hacker: Humphrey, what's a Modernist in the Church of England?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah, well, the word "Modernist" is code for non-believer.
James Hacker: You mean an atheist?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn't continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves "Modernists".
James Hacker: How could the Church of England suggest an atheist as Bishop of Bury St Edmunds?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, very easily. The Church of England is primarily a social organization, not a religious one.
James Hacker: Is it?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Oh yes. It's part of the rich social fabric of this country. So bishops need to be the sorts of chaps who speak properly and know which knife and fork to use. The sort of people one can look up to.

The "beauty" of CAGW is that you can hang anything on it. That is is why it is so attractive. It allows you to have "morals" without a price. You can sit on your high horse and others can pay the price. Perfect.

You could say that even if CAGW had not been discovered, someone would have invented it. The reality is that someone did invent it.

Jan 11, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Big Oil:
-a wickerwork canoe.

Jan 11, 2013 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Thnx Add

- A glass hammer.
- A snooze button on a smoke alarm.

Jan 11, 2013 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

Big Oil: thanks for the snooze button on a smoke alarm, of which I'd not heard, and which I think is particularly apt to our situation. We are trying to sound the alarm about the irrationality and bad effects of so-called global warming mitigation through various purported emission reduction schemes, many of which do not even reduce CO2 emissions and all of which are useless to do so unless there is worldwide agreement, and that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. These are logically cast-iron arguments, based on the traditional GHE with low sensitivity, and in due course should attract the attention of policy makers who are idealists *. But then they hear someone from within the sceptic camp say - or seem to say - that all this is irrelevant, because the GHE itself is bunk. The bullshit alarm goes off, drowning out the genuine alarm that has been sounding as a result of our very good arguments. Or the snooze button has been hit - because bullshit tends to send people to sleep very quickly.

Note how in his fierce criticism of Lewandowsky on 8th September, Anatomy of the Lewandowsky Scam, Steve McIntyre makes essentially the same point.

Little noticed at the time was Lewandowsky’s caricature of what skeptics actually believe – a caricature clearly serving to dehumanize his targets. Consider that, for example, Richard Lindzen, the leading skeptic, unequivocally agrees that temperature had increased and that increased CO2 has contributed to the temperature. Lindzen disputes the estimated impact of doubled CO2, both on global temperature and on negative impacts. John Christy and Roy Spencer, two other leading skeptics, are the architects and developers of the satellite record. They regularly report temperature data showing an increase in global temperature since 1980, but like Lindzen, believe that climate sensitivity is less than assumed in IPCC models and that the negative impacts will be less than advertised by IPCC, WWF and Greenpeace The opinions of the most prominent bloggers regarded by warmists as “skeptical” (Anthony, Lucia, Andrew Montford, Jeff Id, myself) are more or less along these lines. Arguably even Joe Bast of Heartland. This does not preclude holding an opinion that the surface temperature indices of Phil Jones and Jim Hansen are biased somewhat warm. Christy and Spencer believe this, as does Lindzen. While I’ve not surveyed blog readers on the point, my guess is that most “denizens” of “skeptical” blogs hold similar opinions. This is not to say that there aren’t a few extreme skydragons who challenge whether CO2 has had an impact on global temperature, but my guess is that they make up only a very small percentage of readers of skeptical blogs.

If someone like Lewandowsky - or his allies - want to talk up the skydragons or slayers, that in itself is a reason to beware.

* On the possibility of policy makers who are idealists: I think the situation is indeed hopeless unless these sometimes exist. So that's another of the Reasons we're all doomed for some. But I look at Canada - I've just seen Chris M doing the same and agreed - and I say it ain't necessarily so. On a similar note, I think we might gain from discussing faith-based systems separately at some point. Thanks to Martin, TBYJ and others for their insightful points on this angle. Let's keep it here for now.

Jan 11, 2013 at 3:07 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

- Disk brakes on a unicycle.

Jan 11, 2013 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

I have hinted before, but quietly, so as not to annoy people... that certain 'scientific' sounding papers such as the ones we have been discussing recently, and others which see to come out every year or so, are nothing more than clever plants by the consensus as 'nutter nets'. Give them something to believe in, wait until they've all come out of the woodwork, then laugh as you puncture the bubble.

Jan 11, 2013 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Professor Richard Lindzen said exactly the same thing, in effect, TBYJ, about those that deny the GHE, with Christopher Monkton nodding in the background, at the House of Commons on 22nd February last year. And note how Lindzen's presentation, because it avoided such confusing misdirection, made a convert of The Independent's parliamentary sketchwriter, Simon Carr, who penned Is catastrophic global warming, like the Millennium Bug, a mistake? the same day.

Jan 11, 2013 at 3:35 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

·...are nothing more than clever plants by the consensus as 'nutter nets'. Give them something to believe in, wait until they've all come out of the woodwork, then laugh as you puncture the bubble.
Jan 11, 2013 at 3:21 PM TheBigYinJames

Gosh that's a thought-provoking interpretation that did not even occur to me - despite my tendency (alleged by Bitso) to see conspiracies all around.

But a moment's thought suggests various a few reasons not to believe in it.

Perhaps as a test as to whether such a thing is possible, how about writing a spoof paper with new proof that it is Worse Than We Thought and seeing if one of the climate science journals will accept it for publication?

[On second thoughts perhaps not. The work involved in reproducing the verbosity of a typical climate science paper would be utterly horrendous.]

Jan 11, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I don't *really* believe the scientists are faking these papers, but I wouldn't be surprised if some journals are accepting an oddball paper now and again as a sort of prank, or if you are into the more sinister side of life, accepting papers with easily disputable physics in them both to discredit skepticism, and also to pretend to be presenting more balance.

Jan 11, 2013 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Lindzen calmly suggests that it would be a clever use of the alarmists' money to fund such efforts, as Monckton nods in the background. You'd still need some nutters who really believe what they're writing and hope it's the way to worldwide fame. That's where I'd leave it, unless a Climategate type of smoking gun appears. The bad effect is the same, and folks as trustworthy as Lewandowsky make hay out of it, that's what we know for sure.

Jan 11, 2013 at 5:34 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Are we really engaging with Lewandowsky or Romm or any of those guys? We can't win there anyway, and they have always misrepresented most of us as loonies. At least they might be right in the case of the slayers. Who are themselves misrepresented here. They aren't all the same, they don't all discount CO2 warming, and if they are easily refuted. well, go on, refute them. If you can't, don't come to a layperson like me and tell me I have to believe in this that or the other theory because you say so.

The way you win a debate (if there were a debate going on) is to deal with the best arguments of your opposition. It is weaselly to pick on their weakest argument and think you have achieved anything. You have done nothing when you have bested a fool.*

*True Grit.

(This tirade not directed at any individual)

Jan 11, 2013 at 5:49 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Rhoda: thanks for the final statement but, even if it had been just for me, I could take it. :)

You're right that we can't expect to reach someone like Lewandowsky. That wasn't part of my thinking at all. But I think it's instructive to look carefully at how such people seek to influence those who are more open-minded. One could say the problem wasn't Goebbels but all the people he managed to persuade - and there were ways he did so. But there's no absolute proof in areas such as this.

This relates to the first thing Jiminy said on this thread:

I do not think CAGW will ever be falsified...

Well, neither was naziism falsified in that sense. As TBYJ rightly said, there are some who still believe. But the sight of the inside of the concentration camps was enough for most people to give it a miss in future. CAGW in particular and environmentalism in general, at the start of 21stC, is different from past isms, as Ben Pile has argued recently. I think it will vanish away to something very small but it will never totally disappear. And the final outcome does depend on our passion for truth and for humanity. I know that may sound quaint but it could be important. :)

Somebody needs, logically speaking, to refute every single idea that presents itself as a challenge to the GHE. In practice we don't all try to do that. We have to generalise. But I appreciate the points you make.

Jan 11, 2013 at 6:02 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

We can't even get any of them, even the reasonable ones if they exist, to understand where we are coming from They don't recognise the term lukewarmer, and they turn the big guns on anybody who has a profile on our side. We as an influence are not even in the game, on a global or national scale. We mostly talk to ourselves, We are frozen out of the broadcast media and most of the print. But we are still winning, slowly, because the scare is wearing off. As I've said before, these things have a trajectory. This one is coming down now. But the taxes and stupidities will remain, and there will be another scare behind this one, and the same damn fools will take it up as if they have never seen one before.

Summation: We are not a group, and it doesn't matter what we do or say individualy or together. I don't much like the idea that people should be whipped-in, even if they are wrong, to maintain our narrative. Apart from that, we have no power over anybody who wants to say the sky is falling, or anything else. What are we gonna do, take their nutter's license away?

Jan 11, 2013 at 6:18 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

The trouble with refuting every theory is you spend all of your time refuting theories. Just look at the wordage I've had to employ in the GHE thread. I don't think I've convinced anyone, perhaps Dung is wavering a little now, but there are those on here I will never convince. Even when real scientists like Jonathan Jones, Paul Dennis, etc. chip in... people still don't change their minds. Even when papers are refuted or debunked, there is another wave of people who see the paper and not the debunking.. should we convince them too? Where does it end? Who's paying for all this free education?

Steve Carson at SoD says (and I agree) in order to educate people against false theories, there is no point going over all the false theories to pick apart where they go wrong, it is more instructive to go over and over the correct one, and get that into people's minds. That way they will be better equipped to sift through potential theories themselves.

At some point, I think we all get to a rather bad-tempered point where you say to yet another wave of wide-eyed believers that it's just wrong, but you can't bear to explain why any more. To them it sounds like you're faking, bluffing, part of the conspiracy, lazy, overly dismissive of new ideas, dogmatic, gullible, etc etc. It gets old.

Jan 11, 2013 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Teats on a hen

Jan 11, 2013 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave_G

Breasts on a nun (sorry your Grace)

Jan 11, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Tolson

It also underpins what I think is the subtext of these posts.... should we even be 'policing' the skeptic cause? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Jan 11, 2013 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames