Saturday, September 15, 2012

BS detectors

Climate Etc.
Judith Curry

Most likely, their bullshit detectors just went on high alert. – Greg Breining
Amidst the many explanations for rational skepticism in the face of consensus ‘truth’ about climate change, the ‘BS detector’ explanation deserves more investigation and discussion
A cool-headed climate conversation with Aerospace legend Burt Rutan describes a rational BS detection process.  If you don’t know who Bert Rutan is, see his Wikipedia bio.  Some excerpts:
Even though I’ve been very busy throughout my entire career developing and flight-testing airplanes for the Air Force, I’ve always pursued other research hobbies in my time away from work. Since I’m very accustomed to analyzing a lot of data, about three or four years ago many alarmist claims by some climate scientists caught my attention. Since this is such an important topic, I began to look into it firsthand.
Although I have no climate science credentials, I do have considerable expertise in processing and presenting data. I have also had extensive opportunities to observe how other people present data and use it to make their points. There is a rampant tendency in any industry where someone is trying to sell something with a bunch of data, where they cherry pick a little bit…bias a little bit. This becomes quite easy when there is an enormous amount of data to cherry pick from.
The first thing that got my attention, a lot of people’s attention, was statements that the entire planet is heading towards a future climate catastrophe that is attributable to human carbon dioxide emissions. So I decided to take a look at that and just see if this conclusion was arrived at ethically. It’s obviously an extremely important issue which has gotten a huge amount of media attention.  I was particularly concerned because the proposed solutions will have enormous impacts upon costs of energy, which of course, will increase costs of everything.
Many people seem to get much of their information from what they see in newspapers. I may be considerably different, in that I always like to look at both sides of things that I take special interest in. So when I decided to look closely at the anthropogenic [man-made] global warming crisis claims, I avoided focusing on media reports, and instead, went directly to available raw climate data. The intent was to see if that data might just as reasonably be interpreted differently.
Then, what really drew me into the subject, was when I found that I couldn’t obtain the raw data that I was looking for. I was shocked to find that there were actually climate scientists who wouldn’t share the raw data, but would only share their conclusions in summary graphs that were used to prove their various theories about planet warming. In fact I began to smell something really bad, and the worse that smell got, the deeper I looked.
I even read Al Gore’s book, which was very enlightening…but not in a good way. When you look for data to back up his claims, you immediately discover that they are totally unsubstantiated. This was frankly astonishing because analyzing data is something I’m very good at. All my professional life I have been analyzing complex flight test data, interpreting it and presenting it. Something that I always did in flight test is to make a chart that shows every bit of the data, and only then, decide later on the basis of real observed results which parts of the data were valid.
What I’m doing really, is just put out all of the data I can in order to enable anyone to look at everything before arriving at a conclusion. If someone forms a conclusion at the onset, they can always find and focus only on data that supports their theory.
Larry, I wasn’t really taken back so much by the hostile responses.  I expected some of that.  But later when I decided to answer some of the more than 150 comments posted at the Scholars and Rogues website, I was surprised that I was often attacked in a very personal way which denigrated my intelligence and accused me of bias. I have no reason to have any bias. Some said I was obviously being paid for by oil companies, which seemed like a joke.  If you go through and read my responses you will find that I did so with hard data that alarmists will not publish. But they don’t hesitate to publish personal attacks.
Larry, I’ve done all I plan to do on this for now, and have moved on to other interests. This debate will all get sorted out, and I am confident it will be for the better.  When I started, I strongly believed that the debate needed me because I didn’t see anyone out there really looking at the data the way an engineer looks at.  Now I see that other people are doing this, including climate scientists and non-scientists the world over by the tens of thousands, people who are actually looking at the real data just like I have. I still follow the status of the debate, and occasionally comment on it.
Whether or not you agree with Rutan’s interpretation and analysis of climate data, the approach that he has taken provides a classical example of a BS detector in action.
Conspiracy theorists (?)
The latest ‘explanation’ for lack of belief in the IPCC consensus ‘truth’ is that these non believers are conspiracy theorists.  See Stephan Lewandowsky’s editorial Evidence is overrated if you are a conspiracy theorist.  Lewandowsky’s ‘evidence’ was a scammed internet survey.  Bloggers such as Steve McIntyre,Anthony WattsBishopHill, Lucia, JoNova are all over this, and have exposed the scam (note: there are multiple posts on each of these blogs).  BS detection in action.  While I have used the term ‘auditors’ for deep investigations of problems with climate data, BS detection seems much more apt for this particular issue.
Lew, get a clew.  I hope this experience with the skeptical bloggers has revealed what they are really all about, as they have revealed YOUR conspiracy by finding a really big pile.
The ‘conspiracy’ among green climate bloggers  has been further revealed by the leak of John Cook’s secret forum (link).  SkepticalScience seems to becoming the ringleader for conspiratorial activities by the green climate bloggers.  All this is high entertainment for those of us who follow the climate blog wars.  But take a step back, and consider how bad this makes you look, and how poorly it reflects on the science and ’cause’ that you are trying to defend.
Motivated (?) reasoning
Reflecting on this general topic has led me to a new insight, or at least to a new hypothesis.  Serious social scientists have identified a split (liberal vs conservative) in terms of support vs skepticism of the climate change argument, with the conservative skeptics being generally more educated on the topic.  How to explain this, other than motivated reasoning by the conservatives?
Here is an alternative hypothesis:  the motivation reasoning is on the other side, the liberal defenders of the CAGW consensus.   Once the ‘consensus’ argument stepped beyond climate science into the realm of ‘dangerous’ impacts and ‘solutions’ involving global changes in governance and energy policy, BS detectors were triggered in people who didn’t share that motivation.

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  1. "Consensus truth" is better suited for the Vatican, not for scientific inquiry.

  2. "Consensus truth" is better suited for the Vatican, not for scientific inquiry.