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An IT expert’s view on climate modelling

By Eric Worrall | Watts Up With That? | June 7, 2015

One point struck me, reading Anthony’s fascinating account of his meeting with Bill McKibben. Bill, whose primary expertise is writing, appears to have an almost magical view of what computers can do.

Computers are amazing, remarkable, incredibly useful, but they are not magic. As an IT expert with over 25 years commercial experience, someone who has spent a significant part of almost every day of my life, since my mid teens, working on computer software, I’m going to share some of my insights into this most remarkable device – and I’m going to explain why my experience of computers makes me skeptical, of claims about the accuracy and efficacy of climate modelling.

First and foremost, computer models are deeply influenced by the assumptions of the software developer. Creating software is an artistic experience, it feels like embedding a piece of yourself into a machine. Your thoughts, your ideas, amplified by the power of a machine which is built to serve your needs – its a eerie sensation, feeling your intellectual reach unfold and expand with the help of a machine.

But this act of creation is also a restriction – it is very difficult to create software which produces a completely unexpected result. More than anything, software is a mirror of the creator’s opinions. It might help you to fill in a few details, but unless you deliberately and very skilfully set out to create a machine which can genuinely innovate, computers rarely produce surprises. They do what you tell them to do.

So when I see scientists or politicians claiming that their argument is valid because of the output of a computer model they created, it makes me cringe. To my expert ears, all they are saying is they embedded their opinion in a machine and it produced the answer they wanted it to produce. They might as well say they wrote their opinion into a MS Word document, and printed it – here is the proof see, its printed on a piece of paper…

My second thought, is that it is very easy to be captured by the illusion, that a reflection of yourself means something more than it does.

If people don’t understand the limitations of computers, if they don’t understand that what they are really seeing is a reflection of themselves, they can develop an inflated sense of the value the computer is adding to their efforts. I have seen this happen more than once in a corporate setting. The computer almost never disagrees with the researchers who create the software, or who commission someone else to write the software to the researcher’s specifications. If you always receive positive reinforcement for your views, its like being flattered – its very, very tempting to mistake flattery for genuine support. This is, in part, what I think has happened to climate researchers who rely on computers. The computers almost always tell them they are right – because they told the computers what to say. But its easy to forget, that all that positive reinforcement is just a reflection of their own opinions.

Bill McKibben is receiving assurances from people who are utterly confident that their theories are correct – but if my theory as to what has gone wrong is correct, the people delivering the assurances have been deceived by the ultimate echo chamber. Their computer simulations hardly ever deviate from their preconceived conclusions – because the output of their simulations is simply a reflection of their preconceived opinions.

One day, maybe one day soon, computers will supersede the boundaries we impose. Researchers like Kenneth Stanley, like Alex Wissner-Gross, are investing their significant intellectual efforts into finding ways to defeat the limitations software developers impose on their creations.

They will succeed. Even after 50 years, computer hardware capabilities are growing exponentially, doubling every 18 months, unlocking a geometric rise in computational power, power to conduct ever more ambitious attempts to create genuine artificial intelligence. The technological singularity – a prediction that computers will soon exceed human intelligence, and transform society in ways which are utterly beyond our current ability to comprehend – may only be a few decades away. In the coming years, we shall be dazzled with a series of ever more impressive technological marvels. Problems which seem insurmountable today – extending human longevity, creating robots which can perform ordinary household tasks, curing currently incurable diseases, maybe even creating a reliable climate model, will in the next few decades start to fall like skittles before the increasingly awesome computational power, and software development skills at our disposal.

But that day, that age of marvels, the age in which computers stop just being machines, and become our friends and partners, maybe even become part of us, through neural implants – perfect memory, instant command of any foreign language, immediately recall the name of anyone you talk to – that day has not yet dawned. For now, computers are just machines, they do what we tell them to do – nothing more. This is why I am deeply skeptical, about claims that computer models created by people who already think they know the answer, who have strong preconceptions about the outcome they want to see, can accurately model the climate.

June 8, 2015 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

Public Relations (Spin Doctors) Deliberately Deceived Public About Global Warming and Climate Change

By Dr. Tim Ball | Watts Up With That |

Half the work done in the world is to make things appear what they are not. E.R. Beadle.

In a 2003 speech Michael Crichton, graduate of Harvard Medical School and author of State of fear, said,

I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

We are in virtual reality primarily as Public Relations (PR) and its methods are applied to every aspect of our lives. The term “spin doctors” is more appropriate because it is what they are really doing. A spin doctor is defined as: a spokesperson employed to give a favorable interpretation of events to the media, esp. on behalf of a political party. It doesn’t say truthful interpretation. There are lies of commission and omission and this definition bypasses the category of omission. It’s reasonable to argue that if you deliberately commit a sin of omission it encompasses both. A favorable interpretation means there is deliberate premeditated deception. The person knows the truth, but selects information to create a false interpretation.

Despite all the discussion and reports about weather and climate the public are unaware of even the most fundamental facts. Recently, I gave a three hour presentation with question and answers. The audience was educated people who distrust government and were sympathetic to my information. I decided to illustrate my point and concern by asking a few basic questions. Nobody could tell me the difference between weather and climate. Nobody could name the three major so-called greenhouse gases, let alone explain the mechanics of the greenhouse theory. My goal was not to embarrass, but to illustrate how little they knew and how easily PR can deceive and misdirect.

Few people exemplify or describe the modern PR views better (worse?) than Jim Hoggan, President of a large Canadian PR company, Hoggan and Associates, in the Vancouver Sun December 30, 2005.

Want good coverage? Tell a good story. When your business is under siege, you can’t hope to control the situation without first controlling the story. The most effective form of communication is a compelling narrative that ties your interest to those of your audience. This is particularly critical when you’re caught in the spotlight; it doesn’t matter if you have the facts on your side if your detractors are framing the story. So, don’t just react. Take some time now to define your company story. Then you’ll be ready to build a response into that narrative should something go wrong.

Environment and climate suffer more from spinning than most areas and Hoggan, as Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation and owner of a large PR company, has a long connection with both. He is the proud founder and supporter of the web site DeSmogBlog as he explains in his book about the climate cover-up. The objective was to denigrate people by creating “favorable interpretations” to the following questions. “Were these climate skeptics qualified? Were they doing any research in the climate change field? Were they accepting money, directly or indirectly, from the fossil fuel industry?This wasn’t about answering the questions skeptics were asking about the science. Richard Littlemore, Hoggan’s co-author and senior writer for DeSmogBlog, revealed what was going on in a December 2007 email to Michael Mann.

Hi Michael [Mann],

I’m a DeSmogBlog writer [Richard LIttlemore] (sic) (I got your email from Kevin Grandia) and I am trying to fend off the latest announcement that global warming has not actually occurred in the 20th century.

It looks to me like Gerd Burger is trying to deny climate change by “smoothing,” “correcting” or otherwise rounding off the temperatures that we know for a flat fact have been recorded since the 1970s, but I am out of my depth (as I am sure you have noticed: we’re all about PR here, not much about science) so I wonder if you guys have done anything or are going to do anything with Burger’s intervention in Science. (Emphasis added)

The hypocrisy is profound because nobody ever questioned Al Gore’s qualifications or financial, career or political rewards. No promoters of global warming, such as Bill McKibben, Ross Gelbspan, Seth Borenstein, Andrew Revkin or most members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are challenged. Borenstein exposed his bias in a leaked CRU email from July 23, 2009 to the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) gang. He wrote, “Kevin (Trenberth), Gavin (Schmidt), Mike (Mann), It’s Seth again. Attached is a paper in JGR today that Marc Morano is hyping wildly. It’s in a legit journal. Watchya think?A journalist talking to scientists is legitimate, but like the leaked emails, tone and subjectivity are telling. “Again” means there was previous communication. At least Revkin left the New York Times apparently because of such exposure.

The problem began the moment environmentalism and climate were exploited for political agendas and people asked questions. If you can’t answer the questions you either admit that or initiate personal attacks. Spin-doctors use two basic types.

• The individual is named and a slur applied. These are usually false or at best taken out of context. This includes guilt by association and taking payment from an agency or belonging to a group the slanderer considers inappropriate. It is an ad hominem.

• Individuals are marginalized by putting them in a group with a term created that marginalizes by implying they are at best outside any norm. For example, despite obvious limitations of data availability anyone who asks about President Obama’s biography is called a “Birther”. Anyone who is troubled by incomplete, unclear, or illogical explanations for events is called a “Conspiracy theorist”. There is no word or phrase for falsifying information about a group. A collective ad hominem is a contradiction. Guilt by association has some application, but a term like “Birther” has a different function. It is a collective designed to discredit anyone assigned. There can be no general name because the objective is to identify the group with a specific issue. This is necessary as part of the goal of marginalizing or isolating.

Early indicators of the politicizing of climate included the claim of a consensus. The word applies in politics not science Calling people who questioned the science “skeptics” was greater evidence. “Skeptic” is negative for the public and defined as “A person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. Most think it is the definition for a cynic, A person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons. The problem is most people don’t know that scientists must be skeptics.

The epithet “global warming skeptic” was applied to me years ago and was used in questions from the media. When I explained I accepted global warming the media was surprised. They didn’t understand when I explained my skepticism was about the cause – the claim it was due to human CO2. Some labeled me a contrarian, but it wasn’t effective because few know what it means.

When the basic assumption of the IPCC hypothesis that increased CO2 causes increased temperature stopped occurring after 1998, the attackers changed the subject and the pejorative. They raised the smearing level because they were losing the battle for the public mind. Now it became climate change and questioners deniers with the deliberate association with “holocaust deniers”.

Ironically, like all so-labeled, I am anything but a denier. My 40-year career involved teaching people how much climate changes naturally over time. The IPCC were deliberately constrained by their terms of reference to human causes and don’t consider natural changes. Rather they provide a “favorable interpretation” for their political objective to blame human CO2. It’s an interpretation a required spin to counter what Huxley called ugly facts.

Every time a problem appeared public relations people appeared and strategized a defense, usually to divert from the problem. When the emails were leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) a public relations person was engaged. After the November 2009 leak the University of East Anglia hired Neil Wallis of Outside Organization to handle the fall out. University spokesperson Trevor Davies said it was a “reputation management problem, which he said they don’t handle well. Apparently they didn’t consider telling the truth. The leaked emails triggered a shock wave that required a top political spin-doctor. Wallis, a former editor at the News of The World, was later arrested in connection with the phone hacking scandals that led to the resignation of London Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, as well as Andy Coulson, Prime Minister Cameron’s press secretary.

Michael Mann’s 2004 email to CRU Director Phil Jones was evidence of the PR battle. Confronted by challenging questions they apparently developed a defensive mentality.

“I’ve personally stopped responding to these, they’re going to get a few of these op-ed pieces out here and there, but the important thing is to make sure they’re loosing (sic) the PR battle. That’s what the site is about. By the way, Gavin did come up w/ the name!”

The “site” is the web site Realclimate, named by Gavin (Schmidt). But science doesn’t need PR, so why do climate scientists use it? The apparent answer is they are not telling the truth and worse, know it.

I opened with a quote from Michael Crichton so it is fitting to end with his closing remarks.

Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don’t know any better. That’s not a good future for the human race. That’s our past. So it’s time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism, and base our public policy decisions firmly on that.

The problem and challenge is the population generally divides into 80 percent who struggle with science and 20 percent who are comfortable. I taught a science credit for arts students for 25 years so know the challenges. This makes resolving Crichton’s challenge of “distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda, even more difficult. It is almost impossible when professional spin-doctors are deliberately diverting, misleading and creating confusion.

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.Thomas H. Huxley

A danger sign of the lapse from true skepticism in to dogmatism is an inability to respect those who disagreeDr. Leonard George.

“It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” –Thomas Jefferson

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 2 Comments