Earlier this evening an Instapundit reference reminded me of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s insightful essay Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs, in which he uses a clever physics analogy to explain why cult-like groups often respond to strong evidence against their core beliefs by becoming more fanatical.
Glen Reynolds used the reference to take a swipe at what political feminism has become, but a more interesting example occurred to me. I think AGW (anthropogenic global warming) alarmism is beginning to undergo some serious evaporative cooling. Let’s examine the evidence, how it might fit Yudkowsky’s model, and what predictions it implies.
The 15-years-and-counting period of no statistically significant measured increase in GAT (Global Average Temperature) has been increasingly embarrassing to AGW partisans for years, but the “strong evidence” I’m thinking of is well expressed by this quote from Judith Curry which she reported presenting at the American Physical Society in March 2014:
“The most recent climate model simulations used in the AR5 indicate that the warming stagnation since 1998 is no longer consistent with model projections even at the 2% confidence level.”
This is cautious jargon for “AGW theory is in a state of epic fail”. Curry is saying that by all the usual standards of scientific evidence, the IPCC sheaf of climate models that alarmists rely on is completely, utterly busted. Its dismal incompetence to predict the behavior of the actual atmosphere can no longer be ignored by actual scientists without doing violence to those standards of evidence.
(I really cannot resist pointing out that I have been predicting this something like this quite loudly since at least the beginning of the grand solar minimum in 2008, when I forecast correctly that measured GAT would track the falling direction of change in incident solar radiation rather the rising direction of CO2 levels. By a year later I had demonstrated a better predictive record than the IPCC ever has.)
Here’s a major sign of evaporative cooling: the American Physical Society has since appointed a committee of working scientists (one of whom is Curry herself) to reexamine and possibly reverse its public commitment to AGW alarmism. As well it should; the alarmists’ predictions have failed so massively that they no longer have a scientific case – they’re going to have to rebuild one with a set of models that at least retrodicts the actual data.
Whatever findings the APS committee issues, the very fact that it has been convened at all is a sign that (in Yudkowsky’s analogy) the higher-energy molecules have become excited by the counterevidence and are exiting the cold trap. Or, in the metaphor of an earlier day, the rats are looking for a way off the sinking ship…
This is happening at the same time that the IPCC’s AR5 (Fifth Assessment Report) asserts its highest ever level of confidence that the (nonexistent for 15+ years) global warming is human-cased. What Yudkowsky tells us is that AR5′s apparently crazed assertion is a natural result of the mounting counterevidence. The voices of sanity and moderation, such as they are in the AGW crowd, are evaporating out; increasingly, even more than in the past, their game will be run by the fanatics and the evidence-blind.
Thus, we can expect the screaming about “denialists” to become ever shrill and frantic as the edifice crumbles further. Many alarmists are now vocally hoping that a massive El Nino event will spike GAT to where it should be according to the models (directly contradicting their own previous argument that the 15-17 year apparent cessation of warming is a data artifact caused by a 1997-1998 El Nino spike). This reifies Richard Feynman’s famous warning about “cargo cult science”; if they wait with faith and purity, surely reality will conform itself to the sacred theory!
Others are attempting to bolt epicycles onto the models to make them retrodict the “pause” correctly; that’s why you’ll see references to “stadium waves”, “ANSO”, and “multidecadal oscillations” increasingly leaking into press accounts. All these attempts have the shadow of doom on them, something even many of their proponents seem to half-understand. But Yudkowsky’s analogy predicts nevertheless that these efforts will redouble.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the simplest explanation for the observed facts is that the CO2/H20 positive greenhousing feedback central to the alarmist models simply doesn’t happen – it was an unphysical fantasy all along. CO2 levels do affect GAT, but only in a straightforward logarithmic/sublinear way that leads to extremely low climate sensitivity – and even that effect is now basically saturated (the atmosphere is thermalizing as much as it can).
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the popular press to catch up to that, alas. They can be counted on to continue siding with the fanatics long after the sane scientists have left the building. Actually, to quote Douglas Adams, “There is another theory which states this has already happened.”