Error cascade: a definition and examples

I’ve used the term “error cascade” on this blog several times, notably in referring to AGW hysteria. A commenter has asked me to explain it, and I think that’s a good idea as (a) the web sources on the concept are a bit confusing, and (b) I’ll probably use the term again — error cascades are all too common where science meets public policy.

In medical jargon, an “error cascade” is something very specific: a series of escalating errors in diagnosis or treatment, each one amplifying the effect of the previous one. This is a well established term in the medical literature: this abstract is quite revealing about the context of use.

There’s a slightly different term, information cascade, which is used to describe the propagation of beliefs and attitudes through crowd psychology. Information cascades occur because humans are social animals and tend to follow the behavior of those around them. When the social incentives are right, humans will substitute the judgment of others for their own.

A useful, related concept is preference falsification, the act of misrepresenting one’s desires or beliefs under perceived social pressures. Preference falsification amplifies informational cascades — humans don’t just substitute the judgment of others for their own, they talk themselves into beliefs most around them don’t actually hold but have become socially convinced they should claim to hold!

I use the term “error cascade” in a meaning halfway between the restricted sense of the medical literature and “information cascade”, and I apply it specifically to a kind of bad science, especially bad science recruited in public-policy debates. A scientific error cascade happens when researchers substitute the reports or judgment of more senior and famous researchers for their own, and incorrectly conclude that their own work is erroneous or must be trimmed to fit a “consensus” view.

But it doesn’t stop there. What makes the term “cascade” appropriate is that those errors spawn other errors in the research they affect, which in turn spawn further errors. It’s exactly like a cascade from an incorrect medical diagnosis. The whole field surrounding the original error can become clogged with theory that has accreted around the error and is poorly predictive or over-complexified in order to cope with it.

Here’s a classic example of missing what’s in front of your face (which, incidentally, I first learned of from James Blish’s Cities In Flight; never let anyone tell you reading SF isn’t useful). For a couple of decades, cell biologists ignored the evidence of their own eyes when counting human chromosomes. The correct number is 46, but a very respected researcher incorrectly “corrected” his early count of 46 to 48 and the error persisted. At least this one was relatively harmless; yes, the wrong number hung around in textbooks for while, but there wasn’t any generative theory that depended on it in a big way.

For a cascade with wider theoretical consequences in its field, there’s the tale of Robert Andrews Millikan and the electron mass. The famed oil-drop experiment of 1909 demonstrated that electrical charge was quantized, and by implication proved the existence of subatomic particles. For this he deservedly got the physics Nobel in 1923 — but his value for the mass of the electron was significantly wrong. It was too low.

Because Millikan was such an eminence, it took a long time and a lot of confusion and thrashing to correct this. If you get the mass of the electron wrong it has lots of consequences; all theories that use it have at least to include unphysical bugger factors to cancel the error. You end up with even applied science getting screwed up; if I recall correctly what I first read long ago about this debacle, it caused some problems for the then-new technique of spectroscopy.

And yes, preference falsification distorts individuals’ models of what others around them actually believe even in hard science. I once tripped over this in an amusing way, when I volunteered to be on a panel on cosmology and dark matter at some SF convention (might have been Arisia 2004). I did this in the belief that I’d probably be the lone dark-matter skeptic on the panel — the stuff smells altogether too damned much like phlogiston to me. But all four of the other panelists (all of them working physicists or astronomers) also turned out to be dark-matter skeptics, surprising not only me but each other as well!

For anybody who wonders, I favor the alternative explanation of why galaxies don’t fly apart that gravity departs from inverse square at sufficiently long distances (admittedly, this is a purely aesthetic difference, because that theory is not yet testable). But I digress. I didn’t tell that story to argue for this theory, but to illustrate how social pressure to falsify preferences scientists can lead scientists to get stuck in erroneous models of what their peers believe, as well as ignoring experimental evidence.

In extreme cases, entire fields of inquiry can go down a rathole for years because almost everyone has preference-falsified almost everyone else into submission to a “scientific consensus” theory that is (a) widely but privately disbelieved, and (b) doesn’t predict or retrodict observed facts at all well. In the worst case, the field will become pathologized — scientific fraud will spread like dry rot among workers overinvested in the “consensus” view and scrambling to prop it up. Yes, anthropogenic global warming, I’m looking at you!

But climatology is far from the only field to get stuck in a rathole. I have reason to suspect, for example, that Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar may have done something similar to comparative linguistics. I have spoken with linguists who will mutter, if no colleague can hear them, that Chomskian “universal grammar” has Indo-European biases and has to be chopped, diced, and bent out of shape to fit languages outside that group, to the point where it becomes vacuous (and effectively unfalsifiable). The gods alone know what distorting effects this rathole has had on analysis of language morphology (which would be like electron-mass measurements or chromosome counts in this case), but we’re not likely to be shut of them until Chomsky is dead.

There an important difference between the AGW rathole and the others, though. Errors in the mass of the electron, or the human chromosome count, or structural analyses of obscure languages, don’t have political consequences (I chose Chomsky, who is definitely politically active, in part to sharpen this point). AGW theory most certainly does have political consequences; in fact, it becomes clearer by the day that the IPCC assessment reports were fraudulently designed to fit the desired political consequences rather than being based on anything so mundane and unhelpful as observed facts.

When a field of science is co-opted for political ends, the stakes for diverging from the “consensus” point of view become much higher. If politicians have staked their prestige and/or hopes for advancement on being the ones to fix a crisis, they don’t like to hear that “Oops! There is no crisis!” — and where that preference leads, grant money follows. When politics co-opts a field that is in the grip of an error cascade, the effect is to tighten that grip to the strangling point.

Consequently, scientific fields that have become entangled with public-policy debates are far more likely to pathologize — that is, to develop inner circles that collude in actual misconduct and suppression of refuting data rather than innocently perpetuating a mistake. The CRU “team” isn’t the only example of this. The sociological literature attacking civilian firearms possession has been rife with fraud for decades. In a more recent example, prominent sociologist Robert Putnam has admitted that he sat for years on data indicating that increases in ethnic diversity result in a net loss of trust and social capital, because he feared that publishing it would give aid and comfort to political tendencies he disliked.

So…how do you tell when a research field is in the grip of an error cascade? The most general indicator I know is consilience failures. Eventually, one of the factoids generated by an error cascade is going to collide with a well-established piece of evidence from another research field that is not subject to the same groupthink.

Here’s an example: Serious alarm bells rang for me about AGW when the “hockey team” edited the Medieval Warm Period out of existence. I knew about the MWP because I’d read Annalist-style histories that concentrated on things like crop-yield descriptions from primary historical sources, so I knew that in medieval times wine grapes — implying what we’d now call a Mediterranean climate — were grown as far north as southern England and the Lake Mälaren region of Sweden! When the primary historical evidence grossly failed to match the “hockey team’s” paleoclimate reconstructions, it wasn’t hard for me to figure which had to be wrong.

Actually, my very favorite example of an error cascade revealed by consilience failure isn’t from climatology: it’s the the oceans of bogus theory and wilful misinterpretations of primary data generated by anthropology and sociology to protect the “tabula rasa” premise advanced by Franz Boas and other founders of the field in the early 20th century. Eventually this cascade collided with increasing evidence from biology and cognitive psychology that the human mind is not in fact a “blank slate” or completely general cognitive machine passively accepting acculturation. Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate is eloquent about the causes and the huge consequences of this error.

Consilience failures offer a way to spot an error cascade at a relatively early stage, well before the field around it becomes seriously pathologized. At later stages, the disconnect between the observed reality in front of researchers’ noses and the bogus theory may increase enough to cause problems within the field. At that point, the amount of peer pressure required to keep researchers from breaking out of the error cascade increases, and the operation of social control becomes more visible.

You are well into this late stage when anyone invokes “scientific consensus”. Science doesn’t work by consensus, it works by making and confirming predictions. Science is not democratic; there is only one vote, only Mother Nature gets to cast it, and the results are not subject to special pleading. When anyone attempts to end debate by insisting that a majority of scientists believe some specified position, this is the social mechanism of error cascades coming into the open and swinging a wrecking ball at actual scientific method right out where everyone can watch it happening.

The best armor against error cascades is knowing how this failure mode works so you can spot the characteristic behaviors. Talk of “deniers” is another one; that, and the moralistic quasi-religious language that it goes with, is a leading indicator that scientific method has left the building. Sound theory doesn’t have to be buttressed by demonizing its opponents; it demonstrates itself with predictive success.

UPDATE: Kudos to Bore Patch for pointing out a real humdinger of an example error cascade: canals on Mars.

134 thoughts on “Error cascade: a definition and examples

  1. A similar thing in flying known as the accident chain:
    “Aviation accidents come in all shapes, sizes and colors. However, studies, research, safety articles, books, trend analyses and mishap reports all point to the fact that 80% to 90% of aviation accidents have human factors as the primary cause. We have met the enemy and it is us!

    Usually when an accident occurs, it doesn’t just “happen,” with the possible exception of some mechanical failures. There is instead a sequence of events that leads up to it. “

  2. >A similar thing in flying known as the accident chain:

    Right, and scuba divers have the concept of an incident pit. These concepts are all loosely related.

  3. ESR — take a look at Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics for a great example of this (perhaps even closer to the AGW example based on the funding issues and desires to silence critics) w/r/t String Theory.

  4. There’s another politically-influenced branch of science that you haven’t brought up yet in this sequence: evolutionary biology. It’s under assault from both political flanks: egalitarian PC types on the left, and creationists on the right. AGW supporters love to compare AGW skeptics to creationists, but as much as they’d love for the climatology situation to be tightly analogous to the biology situation, it isn’t. The difference, of course, is that AGW stands on extremely shaky ground at best; while the preponderance of mainstream work in biology is honest science with a decent track record of predictions, and creationists really are the frothing loons that AGW skeptics get made out to be. Yet, as several of your examples show, an honest and well-meaning scientific establishment is not sufficient to prevent politics from creating error cascades.

    If I were an evolutionary biologist and came up with a new result that cast doubt on some widely-accepted conclusion (let’s say, overturned present beliefs about the evolutionary ancestry of cetaceans), I would at minimum be tempted to word my paper very carefully to prevent it from being waved about by creationists. In this way I empathize with Robert Putnam.

    What odds would you put on the discovery of a major politically-induced error cascade in evolutionary biology?

  5. >What odds would you put on the discovery of a major politically-induced error cascade in evolutionary biology?

    Very low.

    The left won’t try to use evolutionary bio because (as you noted) the left is wedded to environmentarian and tabula-rasa positions that evolutionary bio is busily blowing to smithereens. The reason for this attachment is simple: the extent to which human beings aren’t cuiturally malleable and biologically heritable differences in capabilities like IQ matter is the exact extent to which left-wing dreams of social-engineering an egalitarian utopia cannot be made to work.

    The secular right won’t try because fully accepting the explanatory power of evolution would involve it in a fratricidal squabble with religious conservatives. And the religious conservatives think evolutionary theory is a tool of the devil.

    So, who’s going to try to corrupt the field? If there were still avowedly racist factions in U.S. politics that weren’t self-marginalized frothing loons, they’d be plausible candidates to try. Thankfully there aren’t.

  6. esr, I’m not suggesting that anyone will deliberately hijack evolutionary bio to suit their political agenda. What I’m suggesting is that it could be accidentally corrupted by honest scientists who, like Putnam, are trying to shield themselves from those trying to discredit and destroy the field to suit their political agenda.

  7. >What I’m suggesting is that it could be accidentally corrupted by honest scientists who, like Putnam, are trying to shield themselves from those trying to discredit and destroy the field to suit their political agenda.

    But…Putnam’s problem is not that he’s worried about anyone destroying or discrediting sociology, it’s that he’s a left-liberal who’s appalled at the thought of anyone using his work to challenge the PC cult of multicultural/multiethnic diversity.

    It’s not easy to come up with an evo-bio analogue of Putnam, because the field is already goring a lot of left-wing oxes. If there was some attempt by people inside it to direct it away from conclusions that are politically unpleasant for people like Putnam, that has pretty obviously failed.

  8. You are well into this late stage when anyone invokes “scientific consensus”.

    Since other folks have already brought up evolutionary biology, it seems apropos to point out that there’s plenty of citation of “scientific consensus” used to argue against claims that evolutionary biology is shaky, if not downright fraudulent, science. I think it was the National Academy of Sciences that opened one of their statements with “The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming.” Of course, they went on to describe plenty of other things, but I don’t think the invocation of scientific consensus is quite as diagnostic for complete establishment failure as you’re proposing it is.

  9. I would like to pipe in about Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I’m not a religious person and I have no political agenda. I have a few issues about Darwinism. First, evolution does seem to fly in the face of entropy. The other is the actual origin of life. While there is plenty of possibility, the odds of the correct sequence of proteins is pretty astronomical.

    The big thing that I am upset about is how the evo-bio scientists try to shut down any alternate inquiry and bandy about the Therory of Evolution as FACT. Please watch “Expelled” from Ben Stein with an open mind and don’t focus so much on the differences between Evolution and Intelligent Design, but pay attention to the reaction and consequences of scientists that even look into the possibility of ID. It really comes across as the same type of reactions anti-AGW people faced.

  10. So what error have scientists made wrt global warming? I don’t think much work was hanging on the exact date of the Himalayan glaciers disappearing.

  11. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the stated observation of a consensus; there is consensus about any well-established branch of science.

    The problem is when this is used ad numerum to fallaciously argue for the merit of any particular theory.

    A theory is not correct because of a consensus, but a consensus can agree that a theory is correct.

    All it takes is for one scientist to demonstrate that consensus to be wrong, and the value of ‘consensus’ in the world of science is revealed to truly be zero.

  12. >It really comes across as the same type of reactions anti-AGW people faced.

    Bullshit. The difference is that evolutionary theory makes correct predictions of observables. AGW theory doesn’t. Instead, it explains away its failures by muttering phrases like “divergence problem” or (in the words of a pro-AGW commenter here) “the Sun did something funny”.

  13. >I think it was the National Academy of Sciences that opened one of their statements with “The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming.”

    Then the NAS has become sloppy and lazy and should be lashed with knouts. This sort of nonsense is no more acceptable to me when associated with a theory I believe is sound.

  14. Ok, I’ll bite.

    Ryan, the second law of thermodynamics states entropy is perpetually increasing in a closed system: that is, one perfectly insulated from its surroundings. Earth is not a closed system: it is perpetually receiving new, usable energy from the sun while radiating waste heat into space. Therefore, the transition from chaos to order embodied by life processes presents no conflict to the laws of thermodynamics.

    To the question of the origin of life: this is a separate question from evolution and one which no reputable scientist will tell you is anywhere near as well-settled as evolution is. While the mainstream hypothesis of terrestrial abiogenesis has some convincing support from the Miller-Urey experiment on forward, alternatives such as panspermia have by no means been ruled out and are the subject of ongoing research. Intelligent Design is not among the alternative hypotheses under consideration for the very simple reason that there is no evidence for it.

  15. >Intelligent Design is not among the alternative hypotheses under consideration for the very simple reason that there is no evidence for it.

    More: in principle there cannot be evidence for or against ID. It’s unfalsifiable, and therefore cannot be a scientific hypothesis at all.

  16. I’m not sure about big-picture evolutionary biology – although I do think there’s a tendancy to act as though some of the open questions are less open to shut up the creationists.

    Undoubtedly, though, there have been some significant error cascades in palaeontology – in no small part because it’s hard to falsify theories. Lots of authorities in the field have agreed on all sorts of things for which there was no evidence whatsoever and which were almost certainly wrong… metabolism, posture, skeletal structure…

  17. >Lots of authorities in the field have agreed on all sorts of things for which there was no evidence whatsoever and which were almost certainly wrong… metabolism, posture, skeletal structure…

    See the continuing flap over whether or not dinosaurs had feathers. I’ve always found the image of T. Rex bearing down on hapless prey like some colossal pissed-off version of Big Bird hilarious.

  18. >but I don’t think the invocation of scientific consensus is quite as diagnostic for complete establishment failure as you’re proposing it is.

    Invocation of ‘consensus’ is useless in the scientific discourse. It’s perfectly valid in political discourse. There is a scientific consensus on biology, so evolution should be taught in science classrooms.

    >The difference is that evolutionary theory makes correct predictions of observables. AGW theory doesn’t.

    Surface warming over the last 20 years was predicted. So was stratospheric cooling.

  19. Daniel, you are on the right track, but in thermodynamics we define a ‘closed’ system as one which can exchange heat and work with it environment, but not matter. It’s in ‘isolated’ systems that entropy increases. Thermodynamically the earth is more or less a closed system, because any mass flux is negligible. If you are going to drop the term ‘thermodynamics’ then you ought to use the field’s terminology.

  20. >Ryan Says:
    >I have a few issues about Darwinism. First, evolution does seem to fly in the face of entropy.

    No it doesn’t.

    Imagine you have ten cats, each different in many ways. A natural disaster occurs, lets say a flood. Five of your cats drown, (poor kitties) but the others survive because they are all strong swimmers.

    Entropy, in the form of a randomly-occuring natural disaster, has just improved the genetic swimming strength of your population of cats. Any kittens produced by your cats will have better odds of being strong swimmers than if the flood had not occured. Entropy causes evolution.

    > The other is the actual origin of life. While there is plenty of possibility, the odds of the correct sequence of proteins is pretty astronomical.

    No it’s not.

    In simple forms, the chains of carbon atoms our biology is based on are not necessarily complicated. Yes, after many millions of years of entropy+evolution, our DNA chains have become very long with very complex interactions and very sophisticated error correction mechanisms, but that’s irrelevant. The first molecules of life were probably relatively simple self-replicating structures. Reproduction errors in those structures produced us, eventually.

    You can read about proton-powered rocks for a theory about how RNA or DNA may have survived before modern cell walls evolved.

    You can also read about the RNA World and how it is possible for catalyst molecules to not only help build other molecules, but to actually build copies of themselves:

    The ability to catalyze simple chemical reactions which would enhance the creation of molecules which are building blocks of RNA molecules—i.e., a strand of RNA which would make creating more strands of RNA easier. Relatively short RNA molecules with such abilities have been artificially formed in the lab.

  21. I’ve become quite a nonfan of Chomskyan linguistics, since I started reading the literature on linguistic typology and comparative grammar. The Chomskyan grammatical model I was exposed to back in college (I understand Chomsky has adopted new models since then) claimed that the fundamental division in a sentence was into a noun phrase—what in grammar school we called “the subject”—and a verb phrase—”the predicate,” including the verb and all the nouns attached to it that weren’t the subject. Well, that’s all very well, but

    * Consider the Spanish for “I love you”: te quiero. The “verb phrase” part of it is represented by the te quier- and the “noun phrase” solely by the -o. It seems really weird to have a “phrase”—half of a sentence—be a single phoneme! Alternatively, I suppose, we could say that the whole word quiero is the verb and is part of the verb phrase, and then the verb phrase is “te quiero” and the noun phrase is ” “.

    * In a lot of languages—Japanese, for one—the natural way to analyze a sentence is that there’s the verb, and then there’s one or several nouns attached to it in various capacities. Singling out one of those nouns, the subject, as syntactically distinct from all others strikes me as arbitrary.

    An old saw claims that every philosopher is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. In linguistics, Chomsky represents the Platonic approach, seeking for the pure mathematical form of the ideal grammar, which can be deduced from deep contemplation of the grammar of a single language, usually English. But I prefer a more Aristotelian approach, in the form of a natural history of linguistic variation, perhaps along the lines of Joseph Greenberg’s work before he got carried away with the quest for proto-World.

  22. >Surface warming over the last 20 years was predicted. So was stratospheric cooling.

    Conveniently omitting the flat-or-cooling trend of the last twelve years again, I see.

    I could make better predictions than AGW theory by throwing darts, and I have made better predictions from solar activity. To confirm a theory it’s not sufficient that the theory happens to spew numbers that match observation at an arbitrarily low correlation. The correlation has to be high enough to have predictive heft, and you have to have a justified causal account behind your numbers. AGW fails both tests.

  23. First, evolution does seem to fly in the face of entropy.

    Only if you look at it on the wrong scale. If the total amount of ordered energy on Earth were absolutely fixed as of the moment of origin of Earth, there might be an argument here (although you’re still a long way from it, and the intermediate assumptions are not as simple to establish as you might think). However, in fact the Earth has been steadily receiving additional ordered energy for millions of years, in the form of solar radiation. It’s perfectly plausible for the amount of ordered energy on Earth to have increased in that time, because we know where the increase would have come from. Likewise, we know that the Sun is exhaustible and will eventually stop providing that extra energy, so it doesn’t violate increasing entropy either – or if it did, that would be surprising and troublesome, but it would not be a surprising and troublesome problem with evolution.

    Meanwhile, conjuring matter out of nowhere (if that is your interpretation of the Genesis account, as it is the creationists’ interpretation) would violate increasing entropy, so if entropy violations are your problem with the evolutionary account, a special creation cannot replace it.

  24. >Conveniently omitting the flat-or-cooling trend of the last twelve years again, I see.

    Conveniently omitting any knowledge of statistics again?

    >I could make better predictions than AGW theory by throwing darts, and I have made better predictions from solar activity.

    You’ve repeatedly failed at even retrodiction based on solar activity. Are you aware that stratospheric cooling has falsified the “it’s the sun” theory?

  25. Daniel Franke Says:
    Ryan, the second law of thermodynamics states entropy is perpetually increasing in a closed system: that is, one perfectly insulated from its surroundings. Earth is not a closed system: it is perpetually receiving new, usable energy from the sun while radiating waste heat into space. Therefore, the transition from chaos to order embodied by life processes presents no conflict to the laws of thermodynamics.

    While I don’t disagree with your answer, I’d argue that evolution doesn’t run afoul of Newton’s Second simply because the energy requirements are dealt with elsewhere.

    I’m assuming even creationists and evolutionists can mostly agree on the basics of conception and gestation. All of the energy requirements for evolution are handled under conception and gestation. At a fundamental level Evolution is describing the results of munging two pseudo-random seeds to create a third pseudo-random seed. The only part that requires energy is the act of munging (gestation) which evolution specifically does not talk about (because the results are the same whatever the process involved).

    So if anything is going to fall afoul of entropy it’d be the process of being pregnant.

    Intelligent Design is not among the alternative hypotheses under consideration for the very simple reason that there is no evidence for it.

    Also the closest thing to a prediction (that I know about) they’ve made was the theory of irreducible complexity and that was shown to be false by showing a series of “useful animal parts” that could be combined to form the motive part of the flagellum.

    No predictions = no sale.

  26. Many thanks for this excellent post on the idea of an error cascade. I’m going to think about it a lot now.

    One of the problems with the consensus=/truth issue is that in most fields there are some genuine cranks. Every math department gets letters from people claiming to have solved some famous unsolvable problem; every physics department gets letters from people claiming to have built a perpetual motion machine; etc. To an interested and even intelligent outsider, it can be very hard to tell who is a crank, especially if the crank speaks in moderate and reasonable tones. The result, following human nature, is that the knowledgeable specialists eventually get frustrated and just shout “we know you’re wrong,” because indeed the cranks *are* wrong. Distinguishing that situation from one where there has been a false consensus built up as a result of “preference falsification” or an error cascade can be very hard in practice for outside observers.

    Tangentially, here’s a hypothetical way evolution could have been proven false after 100 years of consensus. The basics of the theory of descent and natural selection were worked out with no real understanding of the mechanisms of inheritance. If, when the structure of DNA was worked out 100 years after Darwin, it had turned out that every individual within a species had identical DNA, and that the the copying mechanism was flawless, and that different species all had different sequences — if that had been the discovery, then evolution as it was understood for 100 years would have been in serious danger. (In fact, there might be fall-backs to novel ideas about saltation, but that’s an aside.) As it turned out in fact, however, the material basis of inheritance that was discovered in the 1950s was a perfect foundation for the observed macro-scale phenomena. You couldn’t have better consilience.

    (I actually am an evolutionary biologist, unemployed and on the brink of homelessness. I have considered becoming a creationist so that some church might take me in.)

  27. but pay attention to the reaction and consequences of scientists that even look into the possibility of ID. It really comes across as the same type of reactions anti-AGW people faced.

    As esr alluded to, but didn’t state explicitly, you simply cannot compare the ID and AGW “theories”. Intelligent Design cannot be verified scientifically because it makes unfalsifiable claims — that is, the theory must provide testable predictions (claims) which could hypothetically prove the theory to be false. Intelligent design, on all accounts, fails to do this. That is why scientists do not take Intelligent Design seriously.

    On the other hand, anthropogenic global warming is falsifiable — you can theoretically create a math model of the climate change and then observe if the predictions that model makes actually occur or not.

    The point of “Climate Gate” is that climatologists were caught red-handed hiding evidence that the AGW theory was proven false by its very own testable predictions. This is very different from a “theory” that makes absolutely no testable predictions whatsoever.

  28. esr:
    > Conveniently omitting the flat-or-cooling trend of the last twelve years again, I see.

    There’s no evidence of a flat-or-cooling trend for the past twelve years. That subset of data is compatible with warming, flat or cooling trends – you only have to look at the degree of scatter of the points to see that. Any reasonable attempt to model the gradient over that region alone would given an error estimate in the slope larger in magnitude than the slope itself.

    Don’t forget also that 1998 was anomously high, so starting there makes it look flat to the naked eye – but humans tend to give disproportionate weight to the edges of a graph.

  29. Forget it. Eric doesn’t know the first thing about science or statistics, nor do any of the trailer-trash ‘skeptics’ on this blog.

  30. > On the other hand, anthropogenic global warming is falsifiable…

    About twenty years ago, I might have agreed with this statement. The only problem is thus: when a claim from these rascals has even marginally matched a prediction on a small timescale (what Rich risibly calls “the edges of the graph), they have heralded it as intractable evidence of their carbon forcing models. When a similiar claim (sea ice, for example) fails on the same timescale, it is weaseled away as being statistically insignificant timescale, or due to an anomaly of some kind.

    Conversely, when a *big* problem, such as MWP, looms in the macro retrodiction, or when the Yamal series is shown to be (rather laughably) shy of any remotely sane statistical rigor… Well we’ve already seen the results! It must be “gotten rid of.” These examples alone would be suitable for comic farce, if the machine behind it was benign. It perhaps could have been falsifiable, but is now a sprawling, pseudo religion. Like a monster of Ancient Greece, every time you chop off one head, two spring up in its place. When, in five years, the arctic ice has not vanished, but rather advanced and thickened, does anyone really think that the AGW cultists will stroke their beards and say “perhaps our models are terribly flawed?” Certainly not. They would have done so by now.

  31. >It perhaps could have been falsifiable,

    I’m going to have to disagree here. Any given AGW hypothesis, unlike ID, is falsifiable in principle because it makes testable predictions. The rampant dishonesty and goalpost-shifting of the AGW crowd is a refusal to accept falsifying evidence. This is a different case from ID; its proponents are relieved of any potential pressure to accept falsifying evidence because ID is untestable by design.

  32. Of course they are not going to admit they are wrong. They have devoted their careers to this.

    If it becomes widely known that it is a hoax, eon’t this destroy some careers? The grant money will be gone, and prestige as well.

  33. Actually, ev-bio had a serious error cascade with political consequences: group selection. It recovered from it back in the 60s when the math require was shown to be unworkable.

  34. >Actually, ev-bio had a serious error cascade with political consequences: group selection. It recovered from it back in the 60s when the math require was shown to be unworkable.

    I know the general history of that episode, and I don’t think it fits the criteria for an error cascade. The group-selection models did not, AFAIK, actually contradict observational evidence; the problem was that they were non-parsimonious and vague on the mechanics. Furthermore I don’t have the impression that they were pinned in place by social pressure not to disbelieve a respected senior researcher. But my knowledge is incomplete, and it is certainly possible that the strict criteria I’ve described were fulfilled.

  35. It provided intellectual backing to communitarian as opposed to individualist tendencies.

  36. Another field that I believe has suffered an error cascade is nutrition, and in particular the low-fat-lead-to-low-body-fat dogma (along with its associated other beliefs). Taubes’ poorly-named but well-written “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, while it doesn’t actually directly reference the concept of “error cascade”, serves as an incredibly detailed postmortem on exactly how one occurred in that field. I recommend the book to anybody interested in this concept because while esr’s post here is a good high-level summary, this book shows a specific low-level instantiation of the concept with incredible detail, and having both in hand improves comprehension of the concept. (In fact, read the book with this post in mind and you’ll get a bit more out of it than the average reader.)

  37. >Another field that I believe has suffered an error cascade is nutrition, and in particular the low-fat-lead-to-low-body-fat dogma (along with its associated other beliefs).

    Yes. Taubes’s 2002 article for the NYT was where I thought I’d acquired the term “error cascade”, but on re-inspection it isn’t there. His example has all the distinguishing marks.

  38. Hey folks there is another catastrophe headed our way.

    THE WORLD IS RUNNING OUT OF DIRT!

    Let me get a little ahead of the curve and call bullshit on this right now.

    We have been farming basically, well, forever, and we have not run out of dirt yet.

    This sounds just like the chicken little cries of AGW.

  39. daniel, ryan: m.c. hawking said it better and earlier:

    creationists always try to use the second law
    to disprove evolution but their theory has a flaw
    the earth’s not a closed system, it’s powered by the sun
    so fuck the damned creationists, doomsday, get my gun!

  40. > when, in five years, the arctic ice has not vanished, but rather advanced and thickened-

    Jrok, I agree with you about climate scaremongers, but just for giggles: glacier and sea ice is laid down by precipitation. That getsinto the air in the first place because some water, somwhere, evaporated. Hotter areas evaporate more. Thus, expanding icepacks and growing glaciers are a sign of global warming.

    Contrariwise, shrinking ice and shrivelled glaciers indicate global cooling. That’s logic. I expect my IPCC check NOW.

  41. >It perhaps could have been falsifiable,
    >> I’m going to have to disagree here. Any given AGW hypothesis,
    >> unlike ID, is falsifiable in principle because it makes testable predictions.

    I understand what you mean, but there is a gray mist here, into which all falsifiable claims seem to escape. For instance, when Rich says: “There’s no evidence of a flat-or-cooling trend for the past twelve years…” Well, his statement can be specifically refuted by multiple primary sources. BUT! The term “trend” is his panacea, the talisman that wards away all falsification by merit of (in some ways accurate) attention to distribution. “Trend” is an accordion, to be flexed and contracted at the musician’s whim.

  42. >Jrok, I agree with you about climate scaremongers, but just for giggles: glacier and sea ice is laid down by precipitation. That getsinto the air in the first place because some water, somwhere, evaporated. Hotter areas evaporate more. Thus, expanding icepacks and growing glaciers are a sign of global warming.

    This is actually true, so long as the icepacks and glaciers are in the right place.

    This is why real climate science has to be done using complex modelling, rather than the hand-waving and sound-bites we get on the blogosphere.

  43. How about psychiatry? I’ve often heard Chomsky called the Freud of lingustics.

  44. > Jrok, I agree with you about climate scaremongers, but just for giggles:
    > glacier and sea ice is laid down by precipitation.

    >> This is actually true, so long as the icepacks and glaciers are in the right place.

    (my previous comment)
    > The result constitutes an ever-shifting miasma of untestable,
    > self-agreeing theories to fit any outcome or data set. If the
    > atmosphere is warmer, that is a matter of carbon forcings.
    > If it’s cooler, that is a matter of carbon forcings. If sea ice
    > is receding, carbon. If it’s advancing, also carbon.

    If the polar bears drown in the boiling seas, we are doomed. If they be fruitful and multiply we are doomed. Very convenient.

  45. Pete,

    Nice read on your article on the statistics. One question? Does the AGW model predict ice ages? When you go back to the last ice age, even taking allowing all the cruft that passes for data from the current models as true, the rise is insignificant compared to the rate of change at the beginning and end of each ice age.

    For me (and I’ll admit I’m no statistician) the alarm bell goes off when you take an minuscule time period (about 280 years if I’m remember correctly) and use that as the basis for all the other statistics. I know, the tree ring data, the ice cores, etc. But in astronomy you have something call the “standard candle”, which was what Hubble called the Cepheid Variable stars. Hubbles original calculations of the size of the universe were grossly off because he underestimated the absolute brightness of Cepheid Variables. When he discover the his error, the universe doubled in size. Since then, other “standard candles” have been found (LE Supernovae, for example) which allow us to them further away because they are brighter. These too have had incorrect values which had to be corrected and in doing so have adjusted our idea of the size of the universe.

    All of the models, all of the basics of the tree ring data, the ice cores, etc. is based on the facts we “know”, such as the measured surface temps since about 1730. If we’ve made any mistakes in the calibration of these measurements (e.g. how much a tree grows in a warm year compared to a cool year) then all the data is at best unreliable. And since virtually all the trees being counted for much this data have been dead for centuries, it’s entirely possible that other environmental or even genetic effects could have changed their ring pattern and had nothing what so ever to do with temperature.

    In short, our measurements are too short to trust the “standard candle” for AGW.

    That’s only one, simple argument against AGW. There are many more. But if you’re a believer, keep thumping that proverbial IPCC bible and the facts be damned!

  46. RE: ID and Science.

    First, for the record I’m a Christian.

    Now that that is said: ID is complete bullshit. It’s a theory warped to try to disguise bad theology as science.

    If you are a true Christian (or Jew or just about any other religion) and you want to honor your God(s), then do so by searching for the truth wherever it comes from and in whatever form it takes. From a religious point of view, logic gives us the tools to identify truth when we see it, deduction gives use the tools to go looking for it, and science gives us a handle to grasp both at the same time and (if we aren’t talking about “consensus”) to keep honest in the attempt. Science is possibly the most religious act there is, because it is, at it’s very heart, the search for truths of creation.

    If science tells you that your understanding of the Bible (or the Torah or whatever) is wrong and has stood up to reasonable attempts at falsification, then perhaps your understanding of your religion needs a bit of reevaluation. I see no conflict with my religion and science.

    Sorry for the off-topic rant, I’m just really tired of people thinking you either have to irreligious to be scientific, or vise verse. It’s a fad I hope people will get over in my lifetime… but I’m not holding my breath.

  47. dgreer: A religious person is faithful. Yes, faithful, but there are two different kinds of faith: faith in that which has been disproven, and faith in that which cannot be disproven.

    esr: an error cascade sounds similar to how railroad accidents occur. All of the safety procedures have to fail in order to have an accident. All railroaders own a thick book of rules, and are expected to have it memorized, and have it with them at all times. No seriously, because the rule book is written in blood. That is, every rule in the book is there because somebody figured out a new way to die horribly. Machines as heavy as a steam engine, or a diesel engine, or a whole train, are not forgiving of accidental contact with flesh, blood, and bone. There’s a REASON why a railroad accident doesn’t qualify you for a Darwin award.

    Speaking of steam trainss, during WWII, the Swiss had plenty of water power to run their electric trains, but they couldn’t buy any new electric trains. So they took a steam train, and converted it to boil using electricity. They put a pantograph on the roof, and made an electric steam train. Apropos of nothing, but it’s bizarre and unusual. Maybe I gotta stop posting here after 2:00AM, ya think?

  48. OK, some clarifications….
    1) I am NOT a bible thumping, young Earth creationist! I do accept the current theory of evolution. My upset is how often it is presented as fact. There is a VERY big difference between theories and fact.
    2) I have had a touch of physics, but its been nearly 20 years, so thank you to all for the education on thermodynamics.
    3) I also think that ID is bullshit.

    The direction I was really trying to go with my first post was to see if anyone else had seen “Expelled”. It brought up several intersting points (to me). The first was how scientist are fired, blackballed, and ostricized for even attempting to propose an alternate view on one small part of a currently accepted theory. The other was listing to these militant evo-biologists, when pressed on how they thought life first started on Earth, either struggled to answer one way or another or said “aliens seeded the planet”!

    Along the lines of “aliens seeding the planet”, I read “Contact” by Carl Sagan (quite a few year ago) and the end was way more interesting than the cheesy movie. The scientist (I forgot the character’s name, it’s been that long) was told by the aliens to search for evidence of the universe being created by a different species that is no longer alive. She started crunch Pi in different number bases and found when she got far enough out in Base 12 (I think), it had only 1’s and 0’s for a long stretch. That stretch could be broken up and rasterized into a circle of 1’s on a background of 0’s. Off topic and completely bogus, but interesting in the whole ID topic….

  49. >the fact that 80% to 90% of aviation accidents have human factors as the primary cause.

    Actually, many “human error” caused accidents are more correctly, or more fundamentally, attributable to shitty human factors design.

  50. >My upset is how often it is presented as fact. There is a VERY big difference between theories and fact

    You might think so. But if you’re going to object to evolution being presented as “fact”, then you’d better be prepared to object on similar grounds to … oh, let’s take the existence of the electron as an example. You’ve never seen, heard, smelled, or touched an electron; electrons are “just a theory”. But you believe they exist as a fact because theory with electrons in it has observable consequences you can check, every time you flip a light switch.

    Similarly, evolutionary theory is confirmed by its observable consequences. We can watch bacteria evolve new traits in the lab. We can describe the mechanisms of recombination, selection, and mutation and explain how they operate when bacteria will evolve. We can watch those mechanisms at work in plants and animals with slower generations. We can observe that the distribution and traits of species are effectively predicted by supposing that the same evolutionary processes we watch in bacteria in real time operate in other species over geological time.

    Furthermore, the parts of evolutionary theory fit together into a consilient whole that can be connected with other kinds of human knowledge including geography, geology, physics, and a dozen other disciplines. “Evolution” is not an isolated outcropping that can be denied without serious damage to the rest of science; in fact, it is increasingly clear that puzzles as apparently distant as human psychology and the acquisition of culture simply cannot even be approached fruitfully without the conceptual tools of evolutionary theory.

    It’s no wonder you’re confused about the difference between “fact” and “theory” and how they interact. Our schools don’t teach this at all well, scientists are on the whole, surprisingly inarticulate about it, and creationist propaganda has been distressingly effective. But “just a theory” is really a pretty vacuous objection. Almost everything you think you know as a “fact” — everything other than primary sense data — is actually “just a theory”. If you haven’t looked out a window lately, even your belief about the state of the weather outside is “just a theory”.

    And that’s OK; the right question is always “how well is this theory confirmed by its predictions?” It’s simplifying a little bit, but not much, to say that a “fact” is just a theory that is very well confirmed and solidly anchored in the midst of all our other facts (or well-confirmed theories) about the world.

  51. The “fossil fuel” theory is almost certainly a massive error cascade, and one with enormous social and economic consequences.

    The prevailing theory for decades was that oil deposits were formed by compression of organic matter in sedimentary layers. But this theory has never been satisfactory, most notably because we can’t reproduce oil formation in the laboratory under the assumed conditions. Recent astronomical observations showing that most planets are rich in hydrocarbons suggest a much simpler possibility: that Earth’s “fossil fuels” have actually been here since the planet formed. See Thomas Gold’s “The Deep Hot Biosphere” (a great read, BTW) or just google for “fossil fuel theory”.

    The acid test is whether drilling based on this new understanding leads to discovery of oil fields in places where the old theory says they shouldn’t be. There have in fact been some recent successes. It’s early days, but just imagine the implications if we discover that there’s more oil under Nevada than Saudia Arabia. War on terror? Solved problem.

  52. >The “fossil fuel” theory is almost certainly a massive error cascade, and one with enormous social and economic consequences.

    I agree that there are serious grounds to question the biological theory of oil formation. I’m dubious about the error-cascade model fitting this one, though. Is there any grounds to believe the biological theory is pinned in place by social pressure, or that it has caused factual evidence to be ignored?

  53. ut this theory has never been satisfactory, most notably because we can’t reproduce oil formation in the laboratory under the assumed conditions.

    I have no horse in this race, but among the many assumed conditions (whether or not those assumptions are correct) is one we cannot adequately reproduce in a lab – time

    As you say, the ultimate acid test is actually hauling the stuff out of the earth, examining its composition and the geological conditions….maybe that will shed further light.

    I am suspicious of the “oil here since earth formed” theory, simply because the crust within which it is found has been subsumed, melted and recycled over vast geological time periods – a process that would destroy the oil. It seems more likely, to me, that there has been some process of sedimentation, heating and compression that is responsible for the transformation. Just a hunch.

  54. Eric,

    Indeed, in scientific parlance, “theory” refers specifically to an explanation that is well-supported by the observations it predicts. “Hypothesis” refers to an explanation that does not yet have strong evidentiary support. This whole kerfuffle over “just a theory” stems from the fact that in conversational English “theory” is often misapplied to mean “hypothesis”.

  55. Jeff Bonwick,

    Near as I an tell any drilling based on the abiogenic petroleum hypothesis has so far yielded only dry holes. If you’ve got some non-crank evidence to the contrary I’d be inclined to see it.

  56. >It seems more likely, to me, that there has been some process of sedimentation, heating and compression that is responsible for the transformation.

    The version of abiogenic theory I think is most plausible has hydrocarbons constantly forming in the deep mantle under heat and pressure, then upwelling into the crust, where most simply dissipate after a vew milion years but some are trapped in pools under salt domes. So (in this theory) the hydrocarbon fraction of the crust is volatile, constantly being renewed.

  57. Abiogenic oil creation is a fun theory, but my willingness to believe it is virtually eliminated by the fact that I think if using it gave oil companies an advantage, at least one of them would have switched to using it by now and we’d probably know. There’s a lot of oil companies and we do know some have at least tried it and the results were apparently not worth pursuing further.

    An error cascade is much harder to start when you can get direct, empirical validation of a theory on a short timeframe, such as “the time to drill a few holes”.

    I’m still open to the idea that something is missing from the standard story (I’m always open to “hey, it’s not that simple”), but I don’t think abiogenic origin is it, at least not as currently formulated.

  58. I’m dubious about the error-cascade model fitting this one, though. Is there
    any grounds to believe the biological theory is pinned in place by social
    pressure, or that it has caused factual evidence to be ignored?

    Perhaps. NASA conducted and published some studies in 2005 that show that
    methane
    deposits found on Titan by the Cassini probe were non-biologic in
    origin

    Methane, of course, has been discovered elsewhere in the solar system (on
    Venus, in particular), but there is no reasonable way to doubt that the
    methane found on Titan is non-biologic in origin.

    And if non-biologic methane can be found in our solar system, then that opens
    up all kinds of questions as to whether other hydrocarbons are present as
    well.

    Still another article describes a study that purports to have found abiotic
    synthesis of
    hydrocarbons here
    on Earth
    .

    Of course, this article describes petro-geologists stonewalling and claiming
    that the scientists supporting this new abiotic theory have confused rock as
    the originator rather than the depository. I personally find the “endless
    supply” claims to be dubious, but I do find it entirely plausible that oil
    and other hydrocarbons aren’t a rare commodity produced by surface life but
    are, indeed, found throughout the universe.

  59. [esr] The version of abiogenic theory I think is most plausible has hydrocarbons constantly forming in the deep mantle under heat and pressure…

    As I said, I’m certainly no expert, and have no horse in this race….but that’s certainly an interesting idea.

    [Jeff Read] If you’ve got some non-crank evidence to the contrary I’d be inclined to see it.

    Sweet fucking Jews for Jesus….are you pathologically inclined to poison wells? Sober up.

  60. >Abiogenic oil creation is a fun theory, but my willingness to believe it is virtually eliminated by the fact that I think if using it gave oil companies an advantage, at least one of them would have switched to using it by now and we’d probably know.

    I strongly endorse this kind of “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich” reasoning. But…it’s not actually clear that “switching” would confer much advantage. It’s my understanding that the geological signatures oilmen look for aren’t really dependent on the biogenesis theory – that is, we’re already looking in the places where abiogenic oil would be readily accessible assuming the theory were correct.

    I specified ‘readily’ because many versions of abiogenetic theory would have it that you’ll find oil anywhere if you drill deep enough. Fine and good; the problem is that deep wells are expensive and risky. So as long as there’s enough shallow oil, the economic incentive to bet on abiogenic theory may not actually be present. Thus, your argument is essentially sound but contingently weak.

  61. esr:

    Similarly, evolutionary theory is confirmed by its observable consequences.

    There’s already a vast amount of DNA sequence data from many species, which provides a mountain of evidence for evolution. The new sequencing methods are about provide flood of sequence data possibly several orders of magnitude larger than what we have now. It might in fact be feasible to sequence the genomes of a significant proportion of all species. The analysis of all of that is a major undertaking, but it’s very likely going to answer all kinds of questions about selection and evolution that have been thought intractable up to now.

    esr:

    It’s no wonder you’re confused about the difference between “fact” and “theory” and how they interact. Our schools don’t teach this at all well, scientists are on the whole, surprisingly inarticulate about it, and creationist propaganda has been distressingly effective.

    The philosophy of science is rarely taught to scientists, and neither is the ‘scientific method’ as such. In a lot of universities, students in natural sciences are sort of expected to pick it up by osmosis when they learn the methodology of their own field. (I have a PhD in protein evolution and biochemistry, and I was never explicitly taught these things.) Granted, by the time you write your thesis, the concepts should be clear, at least if the supervisors and examiners are any good, but a lot of scientists never learn the philosophical terminology or hear much discourse about the ‘scientific method’.

  62. I’m going off of claims by the abiogenetic crowds that A: following their theory will lead to more oil (which I agree is dubious) and B: if they are right old oil fields should actually come back to some extent. I do think there’s enough predictions in the theory that if it were working out we’d have a good clue. But I certainly have no direct experience.

  63. The philosophy of science is rarely taught to scientists, and neither is the ’scientific method’ as such.

    Too true. So rare that I’ve never witnessed it being taught. I had to figure it out for myself. Once I had done so, a new world opened up to me, and academia looked mighty shoddy…

  64. >Too true. So rare that I’ve never witnessed it being taught. I had to figure it out for myself. Once I had done so, a new world opened up to me, and academia looked mighty shoddy…

    Once upon a time, many years ago, philosophical questions used to routinely confuse me. Then I learned how to be a brutally reductive operationalist – that is, to always ask “what, if any, observable consequences is this theory predicting?” It’s just amazing how often knotty disputes flash into vapor when I shine this laser on them…

  65. The new sequencing methods are about provide flood of sequence data possibly several orders of magnitude larger than what we have now.

    Last year there was a paper in Nature about a group in England that repeatedly sequenced a bacterial population in the process of responding to an antibiotic. They were essentially able to watch evolution happening at the level of genes in real time.

  66. @jrok:

    I’m trying to find two reputable primary sources documenting the 12-year cooling trend for an argument with someone else. Can you list some cites that I can burrow through?

  67. @ Ken Burnside
    I don’t have direct links on me right now (and can’t get them, due to the fact that my DNS is down at the moment). Have a peek at the RSS and UAH 30-year temperature anomaly plotting.

  68. dgreer Says:
    > If science tells you that your understanding of the Bible (or
    > the Torah or whatever) is wrong and has stood up to reasonable
    > attempts at falsification, then perhaps your understanding of
    > your religion needs a bit of reevaluation. I see no conflict with
    > my religion and science.

    Well hold on there. “Christian” is a vague enough term that it is hard to pin people down on it. But lets say that you believe Jesus is your lord and that he died and rose again for your sins. Why do you believe that? Basically the only evidence outside of people’s subjective experience, is a set of claims in the Bible. However, if this same Bible makes other claims which, apparently, you recognize as false, then why would you believe these later claims? If it wasn’t seven days for creation, why are you so sure the grave wrappings were empty? To coin a phrase, how can you build your house on the sand, when the rains and the floods have come up and washed your previous few houses away?

    I think this is in fact a very good illustration of the concept that ESR is talking about. That is to say, deciding what you believe based on various social pressures, and then adjusting your view on millions of other things based on that unmovable rock of a belief. All other beliefs being seen in light of, and adjusted to this one act of faith.

    I have no idea if science and religion are in conflict, it depends which religion you are talking about. However, one thing is for sure, science and the Bible are substantially contradictory.

  69. >I understand what you mean, but there is a gray mist here, into which all falsifiable claims seem to escape. For instance, when Rich says: “There’s no evidence of a flat-or-cooling trend for the past twelve years…” Well, his statement can be specifically refuted by multiple primary sources.

    Do enlighten me.

    http://zedomax.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/instrumental_temperature_record.png

    Ignore the red and black lines, just look at the points. Pick a random 10-year period. Now pick another, and another, and do a naive estimate of climate change (disregarding error analysis, which I suspect you’re doing here). Notice anything? Yep, wildly different answers of short-term change. Short term fluctuations dominate on such a timescale. Hence “trend” – the underlying, long term effect on which a much more larger short-term effect is superimposed. You don’t need any fancy theory or modelling to see that this is the case, it’s clearly present in the data. A more rigorous analysis will confirm the obvious and conclude that even if the temperature’s lower in 2008 than 1998, that’s not evidence of anything. Now, if we look at a 50 year timescale from 1960-2010…

    Also obvious is why the sceptic crowd like starting from 1998 – it hides the fact the 1998 data point is an outlier, and implies to the uncritical eye that temperatures were high before too, as people have an unfortunate habit of assigning too much weight of the end points of graphs (true significance: very low), and the slopes at those points (true signifiance: none). Almost any other start point would give an entirely different picture – even just five years earlier. If your conclusion is so extremely sensitive to where you choose to start, it’s worthless.

  70. >Also obvious is why the sceptic crowd like starting from 1998

    But you still get twelve years of flat or cooling temperatures even if you edit out the El Nino cooling peak. Sio the claim that anti-panickers are using that peak to distort the facts doesn’t hold water; we don’t need it, because our case would be just as strong if it weren’t there.

    >Now, if we look at a 50 year timescale from 1960-2010…

    If you do that, you’re faced with two awkward questions. One is scientific: why didn’t imputed GAT start tracking the increases in anthropogenic CO2 sooner than it did? The null hypothesis — the one you need to disprove rather than simply assuming to be false — is that CO2 levels shadow GAT with a time delay rather than driving it. Which, surprise, is what the ice core record says!

    The other is sociological: if cherry-picking an interval shorter than 50 years is invalid, why excuse the alarmist crowd for doing it first and loudest?

  71. >But you still get twelve years of flat or cooling temperatures even if you edit out the El Nino cooling peak. Sio the claim that anti-panickers are using that peak to distort the facts doesn’t hold water; we don’t need it, because our case would be just as strong if it weren’t there.

    Twelve years of *no clear pattern in temperature*. As becomes obvious if you consider the whole picture – we wouldn’t expect to see any clear pattern on a twelve year timescale. This twelve years looks like the twelve years before that, which looks like the twelve years before that. For each individual section, there’s no clear trend. But put all three together…

    This is why statistical analysis is subtle and difficult, and anything without an error estimate is worthless. The basic point that it’s too short a timescale. You just need to look at the graph to see that large fluctuations on decadal timescales are present throughout.

    >If you do that, you’re faced with two awkward questions. One is scientific: why didn’t impiuted GAT start tracking the increases in anthropogenic CO2 sooner than it did?

    Different question, and one that since it’s not my area I can’t quickly comment on – unlike the clear error in interpretation of data which led to the “it’s been cooling for twelve years” comment. If you really want to know, I’m sure there’s lots of publications you could read.

    > Which, surprise, is what the ice core record says!

    It’s what it showed *then*. It doesn’t mean it’s a general principle that’s always true. If there was a positive feedback mechanism between two elements (e.g. CO2 and temperature), warming could be initiated by a change in either. Whether CO2 appeared to lag or lead temperature would depend on which initiated the feedback cycle. And that’s just the simplest mechanism I can think of – the real world will be more complicated.

    > why excuse the alarmist crowd for doing it first and loudest?

    I don’t know who did, but no serious scientist has advocated AGW theory based on less than half a century of global temperature data alone.

  72. @PhysicistRich –

    Is anyone using a verifiably accurate temperature dataset? We already know that the GISS and CRU data are flawed, the source data are missing, and the algorithms for “adjustment” are either unknown or unknowable.

    But just looking at weather trends where I am (and have lived all my life), this winter is looking a lot like the winters of my childhood, 20-30 years ago.

    AGW theories don’t allow for that, they all (and I mean all) predict a continuous linear increase in temperature over time.

    In short, the greenhouse hypothesis does not bear up to accumulated data, and therefore should be either reworked or chucked.

  73. @rich
    > Do enlighten me.

    Why? I gave you the primary RSS and UAH data above, so that you may enlighten yourself.

    @esr
    > The null hypothesis — the one you need to disprove rather
    > than simply assuming to be false — is that CO2 levels shadow
    > GAT with a time delay rather than driving it. Which, surprise,
    > is what the ice core record says!

    Yes, this is Occam’s Razor wielded correctly, rather than the switchblade muggings that have dominated this field for the last quarter century.

  74. > Why? I gave you the primary RSS and UAH data above, so that you may enlighten yourself.

    A barrage of out-of-context numbers with no explanation as to their meaning, methods of collection, analysis etc. is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Do you have a paper which describes this data set and an example analysis? Raw data dumps are damn near meaningless, which is why journals require a bit more for publication.

    brian:
    >But just looking at weather trends where I am (and have lived all my life), this winter is looking a lot like the winters of my childhood, 20-30 years ago.

    But this winter is anomalously cold by recent standards, so if an *extreme* winter now compares with a *typical* winter then, surely that means warming? In any case, I hardly need to point out the lack of relevance of local observations on *global* warming, or the unreliability of personal memories. AGW theories predict an increase (not linear, not sure where you get that) of a typical global temperature with time, but allow for spatial and temporal fluctuations due to weather – it doesn’t get warmer everywhere, and does allow for occasional extremes, though they should become less frequent. You can have cold summer days and warm winter days, but that’s not typical, and doesn’t disprove the existence of the seasons.

  75. @PhysicistRich –

    But it’s NOT anomalously cold. It’s been trending colder for a freaking decade!

    And NONE of IPCC or GISS or CRU’s models predicted this. They all had the temperature creeping ever upward in lock-step with CO2 concentrations. CO2 concentrations have been increasing continuously, and at pretty much the same pace since the 90s, yet temperature leveled off around 2000 and has been decreasing ever since.

    Again, when your model does not comport with observed reality, it is not reality’s fault. The greenhouse hypothesis has some serious flaws in it.

  76. Rich says:
    > A barrage of out-of-context numbers with no explanation as to their meaning,
    > methods of collection, analysis etc. is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

    Rich, you gave a plot from someone’s blog, with absolutely no context. I gave the raw numbers, so that Ken might do his own plot. He’s demonstrated intellectual curiousity. Should I be surprised that you do not, since you have been claiming to be this and that?

    Rich also says:
    > Do you have a paper which describes this data set and an example analysis?

    Well, you could look at Spencer and Christy’s MSU analysis. But, of course, I’m sure you have already done so. After all, you claim to be so roundly informed about this subject that it’s almost impossible you haven’t read the core arguments by the leading researchers in the field.

    If you are looking for a link to this paper, might I suggest you abandon blogs and refer to the primary source’s website, which I gave above?

  77. BTW, I find it more than a little amusing that a 30-year monthly temperature grid would qualify as a “barrage” of numbers for a supposed PhD physicist. I mean… really?

    Those numbers are really vast and/or difficult for you to comprehend, Rich? Visualizations of that data, while helpful, hardly seems necessary. It is a paltry index for a broad swath of us who earn their keep in the applied sciences. So without directly questioning your credentials, I can at the very least question your sense of proportion.

  78. One thing that really indicates that something fishy is going on is that nobody seems to be happy about the news that it now seems more likely that the earth is going to be fine without the huge interventions. If I was on a ship where most people, including me, believed that the ship were going to sink unless we throw 10% of all people and 50% of all food overboard, I’d be very relieved and happy if I found out that it was just a fraud and that the ship will be fine without the big sacrifice. But where were the happy reactions after the leak? Where are the relieved bloggers? Where are the celebrations?

  79. @brian:

    Is anyone using a verifiably accurate temperature dataset? We already know that the GISS and CRU data are flawed, the source data are missing, and the algorithms for “adjustment” are either unknown or unknowable.

    What’s wrong with GISS? The code is open source, and you can download the data from the GHCN.

    @PhysicistRich:

    But this winter is anomalously cold by recent standards

    This winter is warm by historical standards. The cold in some parts of the US and Europe is a regional phenomenon (to do with the Arctic Oscillation).

    @Another Eric:

    But where were the happy reactions after the leak? Where are the relieved bloggers? Where are the celebrations?

    All that the stolen emails reveal is that Jones made some serious mistakes in his feud with McIntyre. There’s nothing in there that suggests the science is wrong. So we’re (on this side) mostly worried that the political aspects of the scandal make a solution less likely.

    @esr:

    One is scientific: why didn’t impiuted GAT start tracking the increases in anthropogenic CO2 sooner than it did? The null hypothesis — the one you need to disprove rather than simply assuming to be false — is that CO2 levels shadow GAT with a time delay rather than driving it. Which, surprise, is what the ice core record says!

    The scientists have been pretty clear that there’s a lag (in the order of decades) between co2 increases and temperature changes. The cooling effects of so2 pollution also have to be taken into account if you’re trying to explain the whole instrumental record.

    And no one is claiming there was any anthropogenic forcing during the periods covered by the ice cores. So why should co2 lead temperature in the ice core record?

    @esr again:

    The other is sociological: if cherry-picking an interval shorter than 50 years is invalid, why excuse the alarmist crowd for doing it first and loudest?

    Is anyone from the “alarmist crowd” making that mistake here? If not this is a strawman argument. Why does some hypothetical alarmist making a hypothetical statistical error elsewhere excuse anyone making statistical errors here?

  80. >This winter is warm by historical standards.

    Also, warm by recent standards. Gistemp has global temperature for December 2009 at 0.1oC warmer than the 2000-2009 average.

  81. … waiting for someone to tell pete that a ten year trend doesn’t mean anything. While I wait:

    The ice core data are compatible with both the hypotheses that CO2 shadows GAT with a time delay, and that CO2 forces GAT. We don’t need to dispute one to accumulate additional positive evidence for the other.

  82. @pete –

    What’s wrong with GISS? Seriously?

    Well, there’s the fact that none of the ground station adjustment algorithms are published.
    And that some of the stations were relocated and any adjustments that were made are likewise unpublished.
    And that when there was an anomalous station (in what raw data has been acquired) there was no attempt to figure out the anomaly, in some cases it was dropped, in others it was just averaged in.

    Read a little more Watts and you’ll find that none of the datasets being used to push AGW forward can be trusted at all. Getting from the raw station data (again, those parts that are available) to the GISS “corrected” data requires voodoo and some form of math yet to be formally described.

  83. @brian:

    >Well, there’s the fact that none of the ground station adjustment algorithms are published.

    Nonsense. The code for Gistemp is open source.

  84. Boy, the cascade flows on and on. The code for Gistemp is deemed “open source”, when it is their methodology, site selection, smoothing, homogenization, constant altering of prior data and how they “fill in their holes” that is actually in dispute.

    Hansen has been caught out multiple times fucking with GISTEMP in the nineties and the 00’s, and GISTEMP has failed to track with UAH satellite for roughly 30 years now. “Hiding the decline” wasn’t a phase that emerged from the ether. Instrumental data has been unmasking these clowns for ten years now, and the IPCC was dropping the hammer on these wizards: “Cough up all that juicy warming you promised us… or else.”

    Ah, no matter. The puerile religion of “We Are Fucking Up the Planet” has nothing to do with any particular set of facts, which are chosen and abandoned at will to defend the dogma of some carbon forced Ragnarok, brought about by the Original Sin of Western Capitalism. These sorts of apocalyptic cults spring up every millennium, and are eventually drowned out by rational thought. That’s the “climate change” that is happening right now.

  85. I’ve posted several times about the ‘post-normal’ focus of the whole AGW farce, probably leaving a lot of people shaking their heads sadly at these strange delusions.

    Antony Watts has a guest post up by Jerome Ravetz, that perhaps puts it in a different light:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/02/09/climategate-plausibility-and-the-blogosphere-in-the-post-normal-age/#more-16262

    I’m afraid that the post-modern content may be a bit nausea inducing for any sane scientist/engineer types, but if could stomach it, so should you. I’d have to say that there are still a lot of weasel words in there, but such is the nature of the beast

    Chuck

  86. in re: New oil

    Another hypothesis suggests that oil, or at least hydrocarbons, are formed by combining carbonates, generally CaCO₃, and water, H₂O, under the high pressures and temperatures caused by tectonic plates sliding over and under one another. Laboratory experiments have proofed the concept.

  87. >More: in principle there cannot be evidence for or against ID. It’s unfalsifiable, and therefore cannot be a scientific hypothesis at all.

    Eric, I don’t believe in Intelligent Design, but your statement is unreasonable. One could conceivably craft a falsifiable version of ID — it just requires one to get rather more specific than ID proponents tend to be.

    Let’s consider one version of ID that is probably in the back of the minds of many of its proponents — an intelligent designer that is effectively omniscient. I claim that such a version of ID is falsifiable. Consider the reuse of common building blocks in biology, such as homeobox genes. The homeobox genes are present in all animals, from insects to humans, and do the same thing in all of them. Now consider three hypotheses:

    1) Evolution. Common building blocks are to be expected because of common descent. The fact that mucking with the homeobox genes in any significant way is very likely to result in a nonviable organization also explains why they are unchanged from species to species — they haven’t evolved because they can’t.

    2) Cognitively limited designer. Human designers often reuse common building blocks, because of cognitive limitations — it’s the only way we can manage complexity. If the biology of our world was designed by a cognitively limited being or beings, then the reuse of common building blocks is to be expected.

    3) Effectively omniscient designer. There’s no particular reason at all to use common building blocks. An omniscient designer can simply create the optimal design for whatever purpose it has in mind for each creature, and there need be no recognizable structure nor common patterns at all. Even if one argues that some sort of biological compatibility is needed (so that some creatures can consume other creatures for nourishment), there’s no reason at all for something like the homeobox genes to exist.

    So the existing genetic evidence doesn’t distinguish (1) and (2), but it does seem to favor either of them quite strongly over (3).

    Hmm… a fallible, imperfect creator. That would explain a lot of things… :-)

  88. >I claim that such a version of ID is falsifiable

    No, it isn’t. You can always posit a mind of god with the exact quirks required to motivate anything you see in biology. Your homeobox argument is very clever, but I can posit a mind of god that wants to intervene as little as it can. Maybe it thinks a universe with lots of miracles in it is bad art. (I am certain I would feel this way if I were a creator-god.) Conservation of homeobox genes would be the outcome of a divine desire not to meddle unless overwhelmingly necessary.

  89. >>My upset is how often it is presented as fact. There is a VERY big difference between theories and fact
    >
    > You might think so. But if you’re going to object to evolution being presented as “fact”, then you’d better be prepared to object on similar grounds to … oh, let’s take the existence of the electron as an example.

    Not a good analogy. It’s much, much harder to get solid conclusions with observational evidence than with experimental evidence. Our belief in the electron is based on massive amounts of experimental evidence, including the fact that we can successfully design all sorts of wonderful machines based on this (and connected) beliefs. Our belief in evolution is largely based on observational evidence; experimental evidence in this field is very hard to come by.

    My own impressions are that the evidence for common descent is pretty solid, and the evidence for some form of natural selection playing an important role in evolution is pretty good. However, some humility is called for when we start spinning stories about how life came to be in its present form. I think that biologists overstate their case when they claim that some specific feature of an animal arose because of certain specific selective pressures. The explanation is often plausible, but how do you know that it is really the right explanation? How can you know? (That’s a different question, mind you, from whether natural selection is the mechanism driving evolution.)

    And now we find out that maybe natural selection isn’t the whole story — and maybe wasn’t even an important part of the story for most of the history of life on this planet. It’s beginning to appear that sidewise transfer of genes — between unrelated organisms, rather than between progenitor and offspring — was the dominant mechanism driving evolution for much of life’s history.

    My suspicion is that the real story of the history of life on this Earth bears only passing resemblance to anything that anyone has conceived of so far.

  90. >Our belief in evolution is largely based on observational evidence; experimental evidence in this field is very hard to come by.

    Huh? The entire Darwinian story – selective pressure, mutation, adaptive radiation, speciation — has been induced and observed repeatedly in bacteria and fruit flies.

  91. > Huh? The entire Darwinian story – selective pressure, mutation, adaptive radiation, speciation — has been induced and observed repeatedly in bacteria and fruit flies.

    OK, you have a good point there. The experimental evidence you describe makes a good case for natural selection as one mechanism of evolution. I was thinking more of the use of fossil record and DNA studies to provide evidence on how species are related, what the presumed common ancestors might have looked like, and how today’s species became what they are. There we’re talking observational evidence, and I think the conclusions must necessarily be more provisional.

  92. >>I claim that such a version of ID is falsifiable
    >
    >No, it isn’t. You can always posit a mind of god with the exact quirks required to motivate anything you see in biology.

    But that’s a different theory than the one I suggested. What you’re describing is a common source of non-falsifiability — an unwillingness to commit to specifics. If you can get an ID proponent to really pin down just what his theory is, it’ll become falsifiable.

    What I’m saying is that there’s nothing fundamentally unfalsifiable about the idea of Intelligent Design. The problem with ID as usually presented is the same problem we have with string theory — there are so many different possible versions of it that you can fit anything. But that doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t come up with a specific version of ID from which one could derive testable predictions.

  93. >I was thinking more of the use of fossil record and DNA studies to provide evidence on how species are related, what the presumed common ancestors might have looked like, and how today’s species became what they are. There we’re talking observational evidence, and I think the conclusions must necessarily be more provisional.

    Right, but that’s not the part of evolutionary theory that creates a crisis for the ID crowd either. The part of evolutionary theory that’s like an electron in my analogy is sufficient to refute the stupid entropic arguments they rely on so heavily (can’t assemble a 747 by throwing airplane parts into a tornado, that sort of thing) and isn’t “just a theory” in the dismissive sense they want it to be.

  94. Pete says:
    [blockquote]Is anyone from the “alarmist crowd” making that mistake here? If not this is a strawman argument. Why does some hypothetical alarmist making a hypothetical statistical error elsewhere excuse anyone making statistical errors here?[/blockquote]

    Sorry, Pete, but you have no credibility when it comes to science. Your continued use of pejorative terms against those who disagree with you shows that you have no interest or understanding of science at all.

  95. Great post as usual – here is a little something that made me smile :)

    Unix is user friendly – it’s just picky about it’s friends. :)

  96. just for the record, the phrase “error cascade” is not only not original, but is at least three decades old. it was used to describe what PL/C did after an error. PL/C, as you no doubt remember, was designed to be a student friendly compiler, that (unique for its time) repaired its input and tried to continue to process the remaining program after an error, eg some missing syntactic element. more often than not, it did not get the repair right, so would end up producing pages long error cascades with helpful and student-friendly explanations at each step.

  97. ESR, I feel certain that you are overselling your point for rhetorical purposes. How, in your healthily skeptical view, does one distinguish between accurate and inaccurate consensus of any group of “experts”?

    Example: Physicists and physical chemists have enabled the creation of the modern computer, but I’ll be damned if I could directly test the structure of the atom myself. I believe the experts there.

    Example: You’d belive a physician if he told you your wife had HER2-amplified breast cancer, but you wouldn’t necessarily have the background to understand the emerging scientific consensus that inhibition of the action of certain proteins would be therapeutic. How would you react to this community of experts?

    There are always reasons both to trust and to mistrust experts’ motives. What is your method for deciding how to react?

  98. >There are always reasons both to trust and to mistrust experts’ motives. What is your method for deciding how to react?

    Pretty simple: I trust the experts until and unless I notice one of a couple of danger signs, at which point I go into contrarian/skeptic mode and start digging. The most important danger sign is what I’ve previously called consilience failure. Another is that there are certain social noises that are characteristic of a late-stage error cascade and not hard to spot.

    Your first example is a good one because the fact that my computer works is actually confirmation that there is probably nothing seriously wrong with expert opinion about chemistry and physics, at least not at energy and time scales that are observable to me. Those experts have cashed out their theory as predictions that I implicitly check every day.

    Your second example is also a good one for a different reason. I’d trust the experts there because I have no real alternative; nothing I do day to day checks the predictive correctness of the oncology experts. Also, my knowledge base is weaker in that area. If someone were to say to me “D00d! Physics is b0rken! Here’s what’s wrong…” I might either accept or reject the critique but I would almost certainly do so from an understanding of the argument and a firm grasp of relevant facts. I have much less confidence about my ability to evaluate oncological skepticism.

  99. While I agree with your points in general, I think the issue is that at some point scientists just get tired of engaging everybody who disagrees with them in 1:1 debate. Sure, consensus doesn’t matter as much as evidence, and yet in MANY areas people don’t agree on what the evidence means. Often both sides accuse the other of willful ignorance. Of course you know who is right and so do I, but we might not always agree who that is.

    Every field has its “deniers.” There are many who deny that vaccines are net-beneficial to society, or that evolution has occurred. In many cases the reaction of scientists is to just dismiss this stuff but it has a big impact on public policy. I’ve even heard of some calling for having people sign off on a “statement of faith” of sorts to get a biology degree (heaven forbid we create more people with advanced degrees who disagree with us – as if people don’t change their mind later in life anyway).

    So, how on the one hand do you deal with the fact that science is never “done” and yet be able to move on? The existence of gravity, light, and matter are all just one experiment away from falsification, and yet it is not a productive use of time to debate such trivialities.

    I think this is the problem with AGW. People who believe it is happening also tend to believe that we need to take immediate action to prevent it from getting worse. Those who disagree would prefer not to pay $10/gallon for gas or whatever it takes to get there. So, the question becomes do we take action TODAY when we do not have universal agreement, and this is what leads to all the thrashing in both the scientific and political spectrums.

    The same problem exists with the teaching of evolution in classrooms. People want THEIR kids to be educated in the truth, and to not be outcasts in their schools. So, they push hard politically to make their beliefs mainstreamed. Sure, you and I know what the truth is, but the problem is that everybody else thinks they do too. And so on with having guns in your neighborhood or whatever.

    Democracy is very poor at figuring out “truth.” However, every other political system is very poor at just about everything in the long term (longer than the lifetime of a single benevolent dictator).

  100. >So, the question becomes do we take action TODAY when we do not have universal agreement

    And the answer is simple: No, we don’t. This puts the burden of proof where it belongs, on those advocating extraordinary measures.

  101. >>There are always reasons both to trust and to mistrust experts’ motives. What is your method for deciding how to react?

    >Pretty simple: I trust the experts until and unless I notice one of a couple of danger signs, at which point I go into contrarian/skeptic
    >mode and start digging. The most important danger sign is what I’ve previously called consilience failure. Another is that there are
    >certain social noises that are characteristic of a late-stage error cascade and not hard to spot.

    Social noises? Like the phrase “check your privilege?”

  102. >Social noises? Like the phrase “check your privilege?”

    Heh. I was going to say that was a bad example, but on second thought…maybe it isn’t as irrelevant as it first appears.

  103. A few remarks, first on “dark matter”: The first obvious thing is that when galaxies hold together even though there isn’t remotely enough mass to make that happen, it is quite obvious that either we didn’t find the masses, *or* the law of gravitation is wrong. After searching the missing mass for half a century, we can pretty much rule out that explanation – it is not very likely we will find this missing mass. However: A deviation from the reciprocal square law at large distances is also very unlikely, as it produces a non-scaling theory, which is very odd, especially, since the force needs to be stronger at larger distances, and then, even further away, stop being stronger, or the universe would collapse in an instant. Ernst Mach had, 100 years ago, a much better idea, though it wasn’t well thought out, and certainly not developed towards “dark matter” (which came later): The law of gravitation is obtained from observations in the solar system. There, all first order interactions are basically between a large body and light satellites, whether it’s planets orbiting sun or moons orbiting planets, there is always a big difference in weight, and the central mass is pretty much at rest (or in a stable orbit, which, according to GR, is pretty much the same as “at rest”).

    A galaxy, on the other hand, has no heavy core and light surroundings, its main mass is distributed, and therefore, everything is accelerated, and *not* at rest. Assuming that Mach is right, and only his formula has to be corrected to include a reciprocal square law, leads to promising results. Read more here: http://bernd-paysan.de/mach-principle.pdf

    The other comment I’d like to make is about intelligent design. There is ample of evidence that the design of many life forms is far from optimal, and therefore can’t have been designed by someone who can be claimed to be “intelligent”. E.g. take the squid. Its blood is copper-based, which is a really stupid idea, especially when you, as intelligent designer, already have made iron-based blood. However, the light receptors in the squid’s eye are correctly in front of the neural network, and therefore collect more light than in vertebrates, which do it the other way round (a stupid idea, the iPhone 4 has a better sensor design than the human eye).

    The reason why I comment on this is that these are all mistakes that can’t be fixed in an evolutionary fashion – they need too big changes to be fixed. The same is obvious for these error cascades, they need too big changes to be fixed, either.

    I won’t comment too much on climate change, the doubt about its existence is very US specific. This is more a result of political advocacy than of science. Though I’d like to argue about two things: The climate change we see now is still small compared to the climate changes that happened over the last few million years, which were, after all, an ice age, and ice ages are really way too cold, not too hot. And therefore, the second question is whether this global warming is good or bad – and I honestly doubt that every change is bad as such – cooling down, that would be horrible, but heating up clearly improved living conditions in the past, e.g. during the “Roman optimum”.

  104. Evolutionary biology was corrupted from the very beginning. Sexual mores in most of the world are strongly subject to a preference bias. And evolutionary biology is then subjected to immense social pressure to conform to the preference bias. This leads to error cascades in the findings of anthropologists that are almost humorous if the consequences weren’t so bad.

    There are several varieties of porn on the internet which should be extreme niches if conventional evolutionary biology explanations of sexual behavior were correct. Also, it completely fails to explain the fact that women are interested in and happily engage in casual sex if some effort is made to relieve or circumvent the social pressures on them not to do so.

    I would argue that religious fundamentalists would have very little to argue with in conventional evolutionary biology explanations of sexual behavior because it confirms the social mores they would like to see promulgated anyway. The fact that these explanations have an evolutionary basis is of no import. They only complain about science when it tells them things they don’t want to hear.

  105. > So, who’s going to try to corrupt the field? If there were still avowedly racist factions in U.S. politics that weren’t self-marginalized frothing loons

    Steve Sailer, La Griffe du Lion, are a lot smarter than Chomsky, and it is ludicrous to describe their as frothing, yet they and those who resemble them are marginalized. Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright are frothing loons, and they are not marginalized. Lionheart knows his theology and history. Breivik correctly points out the reality of the Norwegian capital, while everyone else is in ludicrous denial.

    The fans of La Griffe du Lion can carry on an intelligent conversation in which they correctly use terms from mathematics, probability, and statistics, while the wonderfully high status highly progressive banking regulators with their PhDs from Harvard think that when a hedge fund trader refers to a fat tail event, he refers to an overweight Hispanic woman attempting to flirt with him.

    You piously accept, or purport to accept, that the right deserves to be marginalized, and the left deserves its superior status due to its greater maturity and wisdom.

    The BNP is generally viewed as a mob of soccer hooligans, yet a reasonable proportion of them can use terms from evolutionary theory referring to race correctly, while their supposed superiors seldom can.

    You correctly point to all this left wing nonsense and hypocrisy, and then turn around and suck up to them.

    The right is the not left: The left is in perfect agreement on a line covering ten thousand and one issues, while continually having bitter internal conflicts over minute and trivial shadings of meaning on these issues. The right is whosoever disagrees on any one of these issues, so there are ten thousand and one completely different and unrelated rights. Each rightist therefore, is apt to cry out to his left wing masters, “Hey, I am not like all those other rightists, let me ally with you. All those other rightist are evil hateful and stupid, not like me and the left. I hate them also.”

  106. Eric Hopper Says:
    > Evolutionary biology was corrupted from the very beginning. Sexual mores in most of the world are strongly subject to a preference bias. And evolutionary biology is then subjected to immense social pressure to conform to the preference bias. This leads to error cascades in the findings of anthropologists that are almost humorous if the consequences weren’t so bad.
    >
    > There are several varieties of porn on the internet which should be extreme niches if conventional evolutionary biology explanations of sexual behavior were correct.

    To falsify evolutionary psychology, we would need to see a lot more deviation than we see: http://heartiste.wordpress.com/ repeatedly demonstrates that sexual behavior is far better explained by natural selection than social rules.

    If it appears on boards.4chan.org/d/, then it is an extreme niche.

    From which we can conclude that the only significant sexual interest which runs contrary to evolutionary biology is homosexuality. All the rest are rare indeed.

    There are several plausible ways to explain away five percent or so homosexuality. Male homosexuals tend to have sisters that are more sexually and reproductively successful than most females, suggesting that one important contributor to homosexuality is genes that should be sex linked, but are not. That genes fail to be sex linked when the should be, is explained by the degeneration of the mammalian Y chromosome. The sex determination system of mammals exposes this chromosome to Mullers ratchet, so that it devolves rather than evolves: The short of it is that the sex determination system used by mammals is failing, and sooner or later, in the next ten or twenty million years, we are going to have evolve a new one.

    Hence sexual deviations plausibly related to failure of sex determination might well be expected at the observed level. Indeed any failure of sexual behavior that would be adverse in the ancestral environment is unsurprising at the level of a few percent, fails to falsify the proposition that almost all sexual behavior today is a direct reflection of what was the optimal reproductive strategy in the ancestral environment.

    Consideration of what was optimal in the ancestral environment is an important consideration in figuring out how to pick up girls. (See Heartiste) Consideration of what is conventional in a particular society is not (See Roosh)

  107. PhysicistRich Says:
    Twelve years of *no clear pattern in temperature*. As becomes obvious if you consider the whole picture – we wouldn’t expect to see any clear pattern on a twelve year timescale. This twelve years looks like the twelve years before that, which looks like the twelve years before that. For each individual section, there’s no clear trend. But put all three together…

    One can always find a time period that gives the results you want. If you were considering buying a stock, you would be unimpressed by the rising trend.

    Surface temperatures are unreliable, as the Climategate files reveal. Let us instead look at the ice records, which show a conspicuous lack of trend. The ice records indicate that temperatures in the 1950s were about the same as today, as do the surface records in those countries for which the surface record is most reliable.

  108. Sam Getchell Says:
    > ESR, I feel certain that you are overselling your point for rhetorical purposes. How, in your healthily skeptical view, does one distinguish between accurate and inaccurate consensus of any group of “experts”?

    You don’t.

    As Galileo and Feynman point out, consensus is always unreliable. So instead of asking about consensus, identify an expert, and ask how he knows that what he says is true.

    The scientific method is summarized as “Take no one’s word for it”.

    As part of my science education, I replicated in the lab Galilean dynamics, Newtons equations of motion, (other than gravity), and most of Maxwell’s equations. I then worked through from Maxwell’s equations and Newtonian physics to deduce special relativity, following Einstein’s train examples.

    As part of the global warming controversy, I attempted to determine global temperatures from the surface temperature records, and concluded it could not be done to anything remotely like the claimed accuracy (the records are unsuitable for the purpose), and checked some of Steve McIntyre’s claims about the hockey stick.

    I did not check all of his claims, but I checked sufficient to conclude that warmists lie and/or are incapable of correctly doing statistics. Thus I can safely reject the consensus of liars and/or fools.

  109. I’m a chemist by training and a scientist by profession. All this talk of science, psuedoscience, and full-on crap has me hopping!

    1) The main trouble I see with abiogenisis of oil is the constant use of porphyrin molecules, which are common in biological systems (think hemoglobin and chlorophyll as two examples), as indicators of where the oil is from. I have colleagues who have developed the techniques and equipment for these anaylses and I trust the results. These molecules can be created synthetically, but Occam’s razor favors a biological origin.

    2) AGW – THANK YOU for not confusing AGW, which is not proven, and GW which is. (If you can’t accept GW, then you probably fall in the same camp of people who can’t accept short time scale evolution because that implies the forbidden long time scale evolution.) I will say that increases in efficiency are generally good for business, so if companies want to appease the AGW crowd by becoming more efficient it’s probably a good marketing move and good business. I also know that if AGW is real (or if GW is even 1/10 of the scenarios coming out of the AGW models) then it would be prudent to prepare for some of the changes.

    3) ID – WTF? I have a boy in our scout troop that told me he thinks humans and dinosaurs co-existed (and not as modern man and chickens, either). This is such sad distortion of logic and Occam’s razor that I was dumbfounded. This is religion disguised as science. It is the worst form of corruption. Boo!

    By the way, I hold science in higher regard than religion because I like the comforts of modern society, which came about because of science, not religion. Science is a process that corrects itself eventually, even if that correction takes longer than it should because of an error cascade.

    Thanks. I feel better now.

  110. >These molecules can be created synthetically, but Occam’s razor favors a biological origin.

    I agree, but this may not show what you think it does. Given the increasing evidence that thermophilic bacteria flourish deep into the crust, biomarkers don’t necessarily shoot down abiogenetic theory. Open-mindedness is still warranted here, I think.

    >AGW – THANK YOU for not confusing AGW, which is not proven, and GW which is.

    Until mid-2008 I would have accepted the proposition that GW is proven. Now I’m not sure and have changed my mind a couple times. What threw me into a condition of uncertainty is finding out just how sparse, imprecise, and corrupted the temperature datasets are.

  111. Matt L. Says: 2) AGW – THANK YOU for not confusing AGW, which is not proven, and GW which is.

    The world was markedly warmer in 5000BC than today, and significantly warmer than today back when Greenland was settled and farmed. There is fair bit of evidence that the 1940s were at least as warm as the 2000s

    When the they again farm cattle in Greenland again, then maybe you can claim GW is proven.

    Warming from 1960 to 2000 is probable, but that relies on data from the surface stations, which are no good.

    Satellite data reliably and convincingly indicates warming from 1979 to 1998 – but twenty years out of thirty years in unpersuasive evidence for global warming, regardless of whether it is or is not anthropogenic.

    Arguably we have been warming since the little ice age. If you start the count from 1880, Global Warming is definitely real. If, however, you start the count from 1998, or from 1940, or from 1600, looks more like global cooling. Why should we privilege the view from 1880, or the view from 1960, over the view from 1600, or the view from 1940, or the view from 1998?

    Start the count from 1600, global cooling is real. Start the count from 1880, global warming is real, start the count from …

  112. The depth of what we don’t know about what occurs beneath our very feet is abysmal :) It is possible that the porphyrins are coming from bacteria. The specificity in determining where the oil came from is based on the side chains hanging off the porphyrins and the transition metal bound to it. It is relatively trivial to make anything from gasoline to tar with plant terpenes and some relatively simple chemistry. I would think it plausible that a conifer forest that was quickly buried would have enough of the right kind of chemicals to make a decent pool of oil after a million years or so. This also makes me thing oil has a biological basis.

    My thought on GW is that the time periods are on the order of millennia. Global warming is certainly real if you count from the last ice age. I’ve met too many people who incorrectly convolve global climate change, and human caused global climate change. It’s refreshing to find a group that understands these are different.

    @James A Donald – I thought the 1600’s was a little ice age (at least in Europe), by the way. The estimates of the temperatures I found from the medieval warming period (~1000 years ago) are about the same as they are now. The data do argue that we are near the high temperature mark in the last 1000 years or so. Of course, we should be ending our interglacial warm period in another millennia or two. So, I see your point about picking the time frame. I find it ridiculous to presume 50 years is anywhere close to enough time to see larger scale fluctuations in global climate. I suppose it could be argued that it is prudent to be prepared for a continuation of the warming period in our recent past.

    Also, why the bias against surface temperature measurements? They should be the most common type of measurement directly in the area that is being investigated. The quantity of data makes it more difficult to mask random errors, although it is possible there is a constant systemic error. This kind of argument can be made about any data you don’t want to trust, though.

  113. When people first started yapping about the greenhouse effect and “models” predicting that temperatures were going to rise x degrees in the next 25 or 100 years, my first thought was: these people obviously don’t know how futile it is to “model” chaotic systems like the turbulent atmosphere. Weather forecasting has been getting better, but anything beyond tomorrow night still seems to be pretty much “long-term” forecasting.

    Anyway, I know nothing about the datasets, but, ever since this all started, I have wondered about the heat in our chaotic, turbulent, (and probably buffering) oceans. The oceans contain vastly more heat than the atmosphere. Has this been measured or estimated in any meaningful way?

  114. In the Wikipedia reference to the
    oil-drop experiment in the eighth paragraph of this blog, it refers to Millikan getting the charge, not the mass, of the electron wrong and the way subsequent estimates creeped up because no one wanted to be too far from the previous estimate.

  115. I just want to point out that this blog is supposed to be about the meaning of “Error Cascade” and the comment, above, about the oil drop experiment, isn’t just a random bitch about the blog, it is an historical example of an error cascade that did matter.

    If this is an error on the part of ESR, I hope it hasn’t cascaded as a result of this being his blog and our respect for him.

    It is also possible that Millikan got both the mass and the charge wrong or that Wikipedia is wrong.

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  118. I would like to pipe in about Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I’m not a religious person and I have no political agenda. I have a few issues about Darwinism. First, evolution does seem to fly in the face of entropy. The other is the actual origin of life. While there is plenty of possibility, the odds of the correct sequence of proteins is pretty astronomical.

    The big thing that I am upset about is how the evo-bio scientists try to shut down any alternate inquiry and bandy about the Therory of Evolution as FACT. Please watch “Expelled” from Ben Stein with an open mind and don’t focus so much on the differences between Evolution and Intelligent Design, but pay attention to the reaction and consequences of scientists that even look into the possibility of ID. It really comes across as the same type of reactions anti-AGW people faced.”

    Great comment, in that it shows exactly the same level of understanding of evolution that the author and most of his commenters have of climate science.

  119. “Sorry, Pete, but you have no credibility when it comes to science. Your continued use of pejorative terms against those who disagree with you shows that you have no interest or understanding of science at all.”

    When you can’t refute a single statement someone has made, just project a ludicrous and grossly hypocritical ad hominem at them.

    I’m fascinated by this inference rule, that I can’t find in any of my logic texts: uses a pejorative => has no interest or understanding of science. Does this inference also apply to people who use terms like “warmist” and “alarmist”? I honestly don’t think so — honestly being a key word here.

    BTW, I think the charge against the entire community of climate scientists of being subject to an error cascade is lesser in degree but of the same kind. But a genuine example of an error cascade is how the “skeptic” community feeds off of each other, as when the article above cites lies by David Rose of the Daily Mail (http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2010/01/25/205394/un-scientist-refutes-daily-mail-claim-himalayan-glacier-2035-ipcc-mistake-not-politically-motivated/).

  120. >First, evolution does seem to fly in the face of entropy.

    Go look into the work of Ilya Prigogine, a thermodynamicist who won a Nobel prize for what he called “dissipative structures”. It turns out that life is a particular case of a phenomenon common to thermodynamic systems far out of thermodynamic equilibrium, in which those systems order themselves to increase entropy faster, Far from flying in the face of entropy, life as a natural result of it.

    >While there is plenty of possibility, the odds of the correct sequence of proteins is pretty astronomical.

    You have it backwards. The compounds and structures of primitive cells are precisely those which form easily in a water environment under a reducing atmosphere – the Urey-Miller experiments showed that decades ago. Under the conditions logically imputed to the early Earth, biogenesis isn’t an a priori difficult process – in fact, exobiologists trying to model the frequency of extraterrestrial life consider it effectively certain for an Earthlike planet in the liquid-water zone.

    ID gets contempt from scientistists because it’s designed to be unfalsifiable. This is different from (and much worse than) AGW, which at least makes predictions that are testable if largely false.

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  122. What are your thoughts on the incredible failure of political forecasting from the Romney campaign and its supporters? It’s one thing to talk about epistemic closure, or to see your candidate in a good light, but quite another to be quite so definitively wrong.

    I think the thing that really blew my mind was that I asked someone to put their money where their mouth was, and they did it. People don’t do that when they’re putting on a brave face; people do that when they really, really believe what they’re wagering on. It’s hard to believe, but it really did happen.

    On the plus side, this has saved between 1/16 and 1/8 of a life, depending on whether or not the guy I made the bet with got an employee match.

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