It’s that time of the month again, and the needle on Alice F.’s wetware alternative facts detector blasted through the end stops again yesterday. As a result I felt compelled to inform assorted planetary politicians that Alice had detected that trouble was brewing:
Compiled by Dr Ole Humlum, Professor of Physical Geography at the University Centre in Svalbard (Norway), the new climate survey is in sharp contrast to the habitual alarmism of other reports that are mainly based on computer modelling and climate predictions.
Prof Humlum said: “There is little doubt that we are living in a warm period. However, there is also little doubt that current climate change is not abnormal and not outside the range of natural variations that might be expected.
As this slideshow of learned (and not so learned!) comments on Twitter reveals, the WUWT and GWPF’s claims leave an awful lot to be desired:
In particular Dr Ole Humlum’s “white paper” is not “based exclusively on observations rather than climate models” nor is it “The World’s first” such “State of the Climate Survey”. As Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville pointed out on Watts Up With That:
Ummm… I believe the Bulletin of the AMS (BAMS) annual State of the Climate report is also observation-based…been around many years.
Victor Venema of the University of Bonn pointed out on Twitter that:
@thegwpfcom Sorry Benny Peiser, if you use satellite temperature estimates, you are using a (radiative transfer) model.
All in all there’s several “alternative facts” in just the headline and opening paragraph of the GWPF’s press release, which doesn’t augur well for the contents of the report itself. We feel sure that Lamar Smith and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will nonetheless be pleased to see this report become public shortly before their planned hearing on March 29th entitled “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method“:
We also feel sure they were pleased to view the contents of another recent “white paper” published under the GWPF banner. The author was ex Professor Judith Curry, and the title was “Climate Models for the Layman“. Lamar Smith et al. certainly seem to qualify as laymen, and Judith’s conclusion that:
There is growing evidence that climate models are running too hot and that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is at the lower end of the range provided by the IPCC.
This report, however, does little to help public understanding; well, unless the goal is to confuse public understanding of climate models so as to undermine our ability to make informed decisions. If this is the goal, this report might be quite effective.
The problem with facts is that in this day and age they are not enough. My title for today is shamelessly plagiarised from an article by Tim Harford, originally published in the Financial Times.
I was born just before Christmas 1953. Way back then:
Scientists were publishing solid evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. From the viewpoint of Big Tobacco, more worrying was that the world’s most read publication, The Reader’s Digest, had already reported on this evidence in a 1952 article, “Cancer by the Carton”. The journalist Alistair Cooke, writing in 1954, predicted that the publication of the next big scientific study into smoking and cancer might finish off the industry.
It did not. PR guru John Hill had a plan — and the plan, with hindsight, proved tremendously effective. Despite the fact that its product was addictive and deadly, the tobacco industry was able to fend off regulation, litigation and the idea in the minds of many smokers that its products were fatal for decades.
Is the link with the 21st century assault on evidence based policy making by the Trump administration in the United States obvious to you yet? If not, Tim continues:
So successful was Big Tobacco in postponing that day of reckoning that their tactics have been widely imitated ever since. They have also inspired a thriving corner of academia exploring how the trick was achieved. In 1995, Robert Proctor, a historian at Stanford University who has studied the tobacco case closely, coined the word “agnotology”. This is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced; the entire field was started by Proctor’s observation of the tobacco industry. The facts about smoking — indisputable facts, from unquestionable sources — did not carry the day. The indisputable facts were disputed. The unquestionable sources were questioned. Facts, it turns out, are important, but facts are not enough to win this kind of argument.
Please read the Tim’s article in its entirety, but towards the end he mentions that:
There’s a final problem with trying to persuade people by giving them facts: the truth can feel threatening, and threatening people tends to backfire. “People respond in the opposite direction,” says Jason Reifler, a political scientist at Exeter University. This “backfire effect” is now the focus of several researchers, including Reifler and his colleague Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth.
All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world. Facts, it seems, are toothless. Trying to refute a bold, memorable lie with a fiddly set of facts can often serve to reinforce the myth. Important truths are often stale and dull, and it is easy to manufacture new, more engaging claims. And giving people more facts can backfire, as those facts provoke a defensive reaction in someone who badly wants to stick to their existing world view. “This is dark stuff,” says Reifler. “We’re in a pretty scary and dark time.”
Is there an answer? Perhaps there is.
We know that scientific literacy can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science. But a new research paper from Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson explores the role not of scientific literacy but of scientific curiosity.
Unfortunately Tim provides no link to the learned article he references, but we can put that right! Here it is:
This article describes evidence suggesting that science curiosity counteracts politically biased information processing. This finding is in tension with two bodies of research. The first casts doubt on the existence of “curiosity” as a measurable disposition. The other suggests that individual differences in cognition related to science comprehension—of which science curiosity, if it exists, would presumably be one—do not mitigate politically biased information processing but instead aggravate it. The article describes the scale-development strategy employed to overcome the problems associated with measuring science curiosity. It also reports data, observational and experimental, showing that science curiosity promotes open-minded engagement with information that is contrary to individuals’ political predispositions. We conclude by identifying a series of concrete research questions posed by these results.
This all sounds curiouser and curiouser, so let’s go deeper down the rabbit hole shall we?
In less than two decades, politically motivated reasoning has assumed an imperial reach over the study of mass political opinion formation. It has driven to the periphery theories emphasizing rational choice dynamics, heuristic information processing, public-spirited idealism, and popular disengagement. It has colonized countless individual topics from group polarization to source-credibility effects, from biased information search to the effects of factual misinformation.
The final frontier that scholars have yet to fully chart, however, concerns individual differences. Who is most vulnerable to the tendency to selectively attend to information in patterns that reflect their commitment to ideologically and like-defined groups, and who is the least vulnerable?
In this article, we report a curious finding about politically motivated reasoning. Data we have collected suggest that this form of reasoning appears to be negated by science curiosity.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of light at the end of the long dark tunnel after all? Kahan et al. conclude:
These two forms of evidence paint a picture—a flattering one indeed—of individuals of high science curiosity. In this view, individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.
whilst Tim Harford puts it this way:
Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.
What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science — somebody who can create a sense of wonder and fascination not just at the structure of the solar system or struggles of life in a tropical rainforest, but at the workings of our own civilisation: health, migration, finance, education and diplomacy.
Do you suppose that Dan Kahan is up to that job himself? Perhaps not, since his paper signs off as follows:
As we have taken pains to emphasize, this research remains at a formative stage. As always, there are unresolved questions. The goal of this article was to report the pleasure we took in observing these surprising results in the hope that doing so would motivate other curious researchers to join us in trying to answer them.
I would like to let you know about the current state of affairs in our Wonderland.
We have a new queen and a new king. Actually it is a kind of confusing situation because The Queen and The King are the same person. HeShe looks like Shiva, a god with a thousand personalities. And it has become weirder and weirder because The Queen isn’t a ‘she’, she is a ‘he’. But this is an insignificant detail. HeShe loves to scream as often as possible and as loud as possible ‘OFF With His Head’, ‘Off With Her Head’ , ‘Off With Their Heads’.
And you do remember, I hope that you remember it very well, I am sure you do. The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head’, crying and shouting without even looking at them or looking around.
HeShe is not only using the old diversion of The Queen Of Hearts, heshe is also getting more and more crazy, crazier and crazier. Almost every day heshe is growing more and more unpredictable. The Queen is the centre of the Universe, it is all about her, her huge ago and the caprice of her whim.
Do you remember the flamingos? The Queen has found new mallets – they are THEM and the OTHERS. They very reliably try to escape and to fly away as far as possible. Every day the puppet soldiers are trying hard to find new OTHERS. I am wondering what heshe would start to use if they all were gone. The Queen has also found new croquet balls, they are not hedgehogs any more. There are all kinds, every day she chooses a new sort as it pleases her.
Yesterday I had a short encounter with the Caterpillar. He said this to me:
We are in a global war of ideas. It’s not meritocracy versus imagination but it is authoritarianism versus democracy .
You do remember him, do you not? It took him another 20 minutes to say something more. He put the hookah into his mouth and he was smoking and smoking and smoking again. After that he spoke once more.
When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.
I think his words will puzzle you, because as you may remember there was not a lot civilisation here before. But that is a different kettle of fish. Apropos fish, they have all vanished from Wonderland. I wonder if they moved away of their own accord or if the flamingos helped them to disappear? It puzzles me.
I had also a short ‘tête-à-tête’ with the Hatter. He is very afraid, he is even considering leaving Wonderland. Can you imagine that? Wonderland without the Hatter.
Oh Alice, what will happen to us? We are all mad here. But are we going to be madder and madder and madder?
The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government’s premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service would be fortunate by comparison, facing only 5 percent cuts.
It certainly sounds as though wave buoys are under threat. This is from the “Climate” section of the NESDIS web site:
NOAA’s satellites, radars, buoys, stations, and gauges monitor the variability of the Earth’s climate and contribute to long-term data records.
The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) house over 20 petabytes of comprehensive atmospheric, coastal, oceanic, paleo‐climatological, and geophysical data from a variety of sources.
This data, available on a full and open basis, not only provides an accessible environmental record available both today and for future generations but also supports authoritative and timely assessments of our climate.
The division of NOAA responsible for the WaveWatch III model used by surf forecasters is the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the National Weather Service. At first sight that is not such bad news, but that does of course depend on whether the rumours are true, and if so which 5% of the NWS gets cut.
I’ve been enjoying some witty banter on Twitter with the folks from @altHouseScience for the past few days. Here’s an extract from The Hill they brought to my attention which I found particularly amusing:
However they seem to have been quiet for a while so this morning I investigated further. It seems the alternative House Science Committee have been summarily suspended by the powers that be at Twitter!
It will come as no surprise to our regular reader(s) that The Hill journalists are members of the long list in President Trump’s little black book of persona non grata, along with the once Great British Broadcasting Corporation:
Not content with trying to muzzle the climate science sections of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA for short), the Trump administration in the United States is now going after the perhaps more familiar National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA for short) too. On February 16th the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology issued a statement from their Chairman, Lamar Smith. The phrase “climate change” wasn’t mentioned, but here’s an extract:
We stand at a crossroads. Sir Isaac Newton said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Today, as we consider the next steps of the space program, we are all like that boy – or girl.
Presidential transitions offer the opportunities to reinvigorate national goals. They bring fresh perspectives and new ideas that energize our efforts.
Now is the time to reaffirm our support for the bold visions and commitments that will shape America’s future in space.
The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 is the culmination of many years’ discussions and hopefully will soon pass the Senate and House. This legislation has two goals. First, it reiterates the importance of maintaining NASA’s continuity of purpose.
Second, the bill allows the president to introduce a Fiscal Year 2018 budget request that reflects his priorities.
With a fresh perspective, the White House will be able to work with the new Congress to implement the goals and initiatives necessary to continue our leadership in space.
Lawmakers are remaking NASA in order to leave parts of the agency’s earth science program untouched but remove its climate change research.
It’s still unclear exactly how lawmakers plan to transform NASA’s mission, but Republicans and Trump administration officials have said they want the agency to focus on deep-space missions and away from climate change research, which is a part of its Earth Sciences Division. That has created uncertainty about the fate of the Earth Sciences Division, which accounts for about $2 billion of NASA’s $20 billion budget.
At a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing yesterday, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he wants a “rebalancing” of NASA’s mission.
Specifically, that could mean NASA’s work on climate change would go to another agency, with or without funding, or possibly would get cut. Smith and other Republicans avoided laying out specifics but acknowledged that earth science at NASA would likely face some significant changes in the near future.
Also on February 17th the web site well known Donald Trump supporter Senator Ted Cruz published a news release which proclaimed:
Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 442, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas). The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017.
America has a long history of leading the way in space exploration, which has also fostered extraordinary economic growth and job creation of the State of Texas and the entire nation,” said Sen. Cruz, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “This bipartisan legislative achievement provides NASA and the future of the U.S. space program with the stability and certainty it needs moving forward with a new administration. I look forward to working with colleagues in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to ensure that our nation’s new era of pioneers can continue to innovate and explore with clarity and purpose.”
This bill directs NASA to send humans to Mars, expand commercial space activity and ensures that work will continue on the next generation of rockets, engines and capsules that are currently being constructed in Florida and across the country,” said Sen. Nelson, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The great struggle of our era will be fact versus deliberate fiction. Americans have watched this battle unfold in the 2016 presidential election and the early days of the Donald Trump Administration, as a leader who plays fast and loose with the facts begins to erode the very idea of evidence-based public debate.
For those fighting to solve climate change, this is an old story. Professional climate-change denial is the original fake news.
I’m not talking about your grumpy uncle’s doubts about whether climate change is real. I’m talking about the fossil fuel-funded, decades-long, under-the-radar public-relations campaign that helped sow those doubts.
We couldn’t agree more, and this site has grown out of our previous documentary evidence of such “under-the-radar public-relations campaigns” in the Arctic sea ice subset of the climate change “debate”. Eric continues:
The goal of the professional deniers is to spread doubt about facts that have been established through decades of research. Knowing that most people reasonably enough don’t have the time or training to investigate scientific claims, they toss out random theories and see what gains traction. Water vapor, suns spots and the Medieval Warm Period have all had a turn.
We recently saw a fresh round of climate propaganda. A columnist in the London tabloid Mail on Sunday falsely accused scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of fudging temperature data. The writer used the familiar tactic of taking an obscure scientific point (there are small differences in the globally averaged temperature results published by various scientific institutions) and pretending that it discredits climate science itself. This is like calling your diet an abject failure because one scale says you lost 39 pounds and another says you lost 40. The claims have been authoritatively debunked. The so-called “whistleblower” featured in the fake news story has even come forward to say there was no fraud.
Yet inside the echo chamber of climate lies, the bogus claim spread farther and faster that those rebuttals ever will. Breitbart-style outlets hailed the “news” and conservative bloggers, tweeters and politicians amplified it. Representative Lamar Smith, the climate change–denying chair of the U.S. House Science Committee, whose campaigns are largely bankrolled by oil money, issued a breathless press release and raised the issue at a recent hearing. And Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the EPA, has been using the same kind of climate disinformation in his oral and written Senate confirmation testimony.
Please read the Time article in it’s entirety, but for our “Great White Con” sister site’s in depth exposé of “what gains traction” in “the climate change–denying chair of the U.S. House Science Committee’s” latest such campaign please also see:
According to the Scientific American editor’s note:
All but the last section of this article was written before Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, making its insights all the more remarkable. It was updated for Scientific American Mind.
Please read the whole article, but to whet your appetite here’s a few salient points. The author’s set out their stall early on:
The inability of even the most experienced pundits to grasp the reality of Donald Trump’s political ascendency in the 2016 presidential race parallels an unprecedented assault on the candidate and his supporters, which went so far as to question their very grip on reality.
They go on to draw parallels between the rise to power of Donald Trump and that of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, adding the caveat that:
We are not comparing Trump, his supporters or their arguments to the Nazis. Instead our goal is to expose some problems in the ways that commentators analyze and explain behaviors of which we disapprove. In 1934 Theodore Abel traveled to Germany and ran an essay competition, offering a prize for autobiographies of Nazi Party members. He received around 600 responses, from which he was able to glean why so many Germans supported Adolf Hitler. Certainly many essays expressed a fair degree of anti-Semitism and some a virulent hatred of Jews. In this sense, party members were indeed racists or, at the very least, did not object to the party’s well-known anti-Semitic position. But this is very different from saying that they joined and remained in the party primarily or even partially because they were racists. Abel discovered that many other motives were involved, among them a sense of the decline of Germany, a desire to rediscover past greatness, a fear of social disorder and the longing for a strong leader.
We would argue that the same is true of those who supported Trump.
The author’s then briefly outline their case:
To understand how Trump appealed to voters, we start by looking at what went on inside a Trump event. For this, we are indebted to a particularly insightful analysis by journalist Gwynn Guilford, who, acting as an ethnographer, participated in Trump rallies across the state of Ohio in March 2016. We then analyze why Trump appealed to his audience, drawing on what we have referred to as the new psychology of leadership. Here we suggest that Trump’s skills as a collective sense maker—someone who shaped and responded to the perspective of his audience—were very much the secret of his success.
As I said, please read the whole article, but here are the conclusions:
When we put it all together, these figures tell us something important about leadership in general and about the 2016 leadership contest. They underline the point that leadership is never about the character of individuals as individuals. This is the “old psychology of leadership” that our own theoretical and empirical analysis has called into question. Instead leadership is about individuals as group members—whose success hinges on their capacity to create, represent, advance and embed a shared sense of “us.”
Reflecting on the implications of this analysis for the specifics of this election, we can see that many Trump voters knew full well that their man was a reprobate, that they deplored his crudities and that they saw him as a risky choice. And yet in a world where the system is seen to be against “us” and where things appear to be driven in the wrong direction by “them,” the really irrational thing to do is to vote for the conventional candidate who represents sticking with that system.
A “guest article” by #AFW™ team member Snow Y. White, reproduced from her blog and originally published on February 7th 2017:
As part of our ongoing alternative facts research program we flipped the switch on the first beta test version of Snow White’s Alternative Facts Wetware™ (#AFW™ for short) AF detection subsystem early on Saturday morning (UTC). We were astonished when the needle literally flew past the end stops later that morning. Initially we suspected a bug must have sneaked in via one of Snow’s unprotected ear canals. However when she rather reluctantly ran her exhaustive diagnostic routines they revealed that her mission was in actual fact absolutely nominal.
What happened next therefore came as no surprise whatsoever:
For those of you unfamiliar with some of Planet Earth’s leading alternate facts exponents perhaps we should explain at this juncture that we tweeted Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (amongst numerous other local, national and international politicians) long before ex Prof. Judith Curry “blew the whistle” with the aid of John J Bates and then Congressman Lamar Smith proudly published the House Science Committee’s “#NOAAGate press release”.
Here’s a close up of the graphic graphic we sent the pols, which emerged from our prior “debate” with Nigel, who changed the subject without addressing the issue and then turned strangely silent:
We cannot help but wonder what comment Messrs Smith and Rohrabacher might wish to make at this juncture. What do you make of all this Nigel?