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And Then There Are Physicists

Professor Lord Martin Rees thinks that runaway anthropogenic global warming poses one of the greatest existential threats currently facing mankind – and he should know, given that he is a co-founder of The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Furthermore, as a former President of the Royal Society, his scientific credentials and professional integrity are surely beyond reproach. You will not find his name listed on the Pro-Truth Pledge website, simply because his stature places him well above the need for any virtue signalling. In the eyes of a doom-groomed public, his opinions carry a lot of weight. And guess what? He’s written a book.

Professor Rees’s book, On the Future: Prospects for Humanity, should be of interest to the readers of Climate Scepticism because his support for the CAGW hypothesis enjoys such a high profile. Accordingly, he gives the subject plenty of attention, particularly under the section heading, ‘Deep in the Anthropocene’.

Clearly, the bad news for the Anthropocene fans hasn’t reached Professor Rees yet, but that is not what I want to focus upon. Instead, I want to stay on the subject of personal credibility and how it matters when an individual holds forth on safety-critical issues. If someone like Professor Rees is worried, surely we should all be. And believe me, there is much in Professor Rees’s book to be worried about. For example, there is plenty of talk in his book of tipping points, together with alarming statements such as:

“The consensus of the IPCC experts was that business as usual, with a rising population and continuing dependence on fossil fuels, has a 5 percent chance of triggering more than six degrees warming in the next century.”

Despite my lack of training in climate science, I would venture to suggest that these are overstated risks. But Professor Lord Martin Rees, UK Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society of London, says I’m ambitious; and Professor Rees is an honourable man.

Maybe so, but in a book in which he throws his scientific authority behind CAGW, we also find the following statement, commenting upon his level of confidence that particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) do not pose a threat to mankind:

“It is presumptuous to place confidence in any theories about what happens when atoms are smashed together with unprecedented energy. If a congressional committee asked: ‘Are you really claiming that there’s less than a one in a billion chance that you’re wrong?’, I’d feel uncomfortable in saying yes.”

Well, I find that very odd, because on CERN’s Media and Press Relations website, the same Professor Lord Martin Rees, commenting on the findings of CERN’s LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) 2008 report, is quoted as saying:

“There is no risk [in LHC collisions, and] the LSAG report is excellent.

To spell this out, he categorically dismisses the risk and then goes on to write a book that refuses to rule out the possibility that the LHC could destroy everything we know!

What are we to make of this? Is this the behaviour of an honourable man? If he is prepared to flatly contradict himself on matters of existential risk can we believe anything Professor Rees says about his views on CAGW? I suppose this all goes to show that there’s physics, and then there’s what physicists are prepared to say.

The kindest thing I can say regarding Professor Rees’s book and its claims for the existential risks associated with particle accelerators, is that he is playing upon lingering doubts. No matter how confidently one dismisses risks, the very fact that they were considered in the first place can leave one with an uneasy feeling. Furthermore, the LSAG report says there is no conceivable threat, but what it really means is that the conceived threats were all unrealistic. So, under the circumstances, it is tempting to be risk averse and say that if we only avoid the destruction of one universe, then the effort would probably still be worth it. Nevertheless, the LHC was switched on, it did its stuff, and the universe survived. And I suspect Professor Rees knows this.

Appendix: The science behind the supposedly existential risks of LHC operation1

Professor Rees’s book does not go into very much detail regarding the posited existential risks of particle accelerators, and it certainly fails to detail the scientific investigations that have already ruled them out. For those who are interested, this appendix provides such background. It has nothing to do with climate science, so feel free to ignore it if you wish.

In fact, the risks to which Professor Rees alludes had already been addressed long before the commissioning of the Large Hadron Collider. To be precise, the spectre of doom was first raised not for CERN’s LHC but for one of its predecessors – the Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in the USA. As a consequence of these concerns, a safety committee was set up by Professor John Marburger, Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, which reported in September 1999. When similar concerns were echoed for the LHC, a further investigation was instigated by CERN, which built upon the RHIC investigation. An initial report was published by CERN in 20032, and a follow-up, extended report appeared in 20083. The 2008 report was categorical in its findings:

“We conclude by reiterating the conclusion of the LHC Safety Group in 2003: there is no basis for any conceivable threat from the LHC. Indeed, theoretical and experimental developments since 2003 have reinforced this conclusion.”

In coming to this conclusion, the LHC Safety Assessment Group had considered the hypothetical creation of four objects, each of which could seriously ruin your day:

Microscopic Black Holes:

According to conventional general relativity theory, it is not possible to create a black hole as a result of a collision between two protons; the gravitational forces involved are just not great enough. It is only when one considers speculative gravitational theories based upon more than four space-time dimensions that such a possibility cannot be discounted. Even so, LSAG calculated that the energy generated by two protons colliding within the LHC is equivalent to two colliding mosquitoes, and so any black hole that might be created by the LHC would have to be much smaller than any known to astrophysics. Nevertheless, a black hole is a black hole and you wouldn’t want one in your back yard.

Thankfully, however, all black holes are destined eventually to evaporate to nothing as a result of Hawking radiation. The key point here is that the smaller the black hole, the faster the rate of decay, such that the type of black hole that might be produced by the LHC would lose mass faster than it could accrete it. As a result, the black hole would decay to nothing long before it had the opportunity to escape the walls of the collider. LSAG also backed up this theoretical argument by pointing out that ultra-high energy proton collisions are commonplace within the cosmos and so the LHC experiment has, in effect, already been conducted ten million, trillion, trillion times since the creation of the Universe.

Strangelets:

The LHC research programme includes the collision of heavy ions, the purpose being to reproduce the plasma formed at the birth of the Universe. Most of the plasma’s material will be constructed from quarks that constitute ‘ordinary’ matter, i.e. from the up and down quarks. However, other more exotic quarks will also be produced, including the so-called strange quark. Nuclei that combine both up, down and strange quarks are known as lambda particles. Such particles have already been created experimentally (for example, by the RHIC) but have always proven to be unstable, decaying in about a nanosecond. The problem Martin Rees alludes to is this: What if stable strange matter (known as strangelets) could be produced? Such material might be more stable than the ordinary material with which it were to come into contact. A runaway conversion to strange matter could result, and the energy released during the conversion process would be enough to turn the Earth into a molten lump.

The technical argument offered in LSAG’s 2008 report is somewhat long and complicated, but it amounts to this: Firstly, no strangelets have ever been created in the laboratory, despite several years of RHIC operation. Secondly, even if stable strangelets were a possibility, a runaway conversion of surrounding matter would not be possible due to the thermodynamically determined upper limit for strangelet production – the strangelets would literally have a snowball’s chance in hell. Finally, a similar argument to that used for microscopic black holes is invoked: stable strange matter cannot be that easy to produce, otherwise we would surely see evidence for its existence in nature. For example, the Moon has existed for billions of years under the bombardment of high energy cosmic material, unprotected by a magnetosphere, and yet has remained resolutely non-strange!

Vacuum Bubbles:

Those of you who have a general interest in quantum mechanics will already be aware of the concept of the vacuum state. Put simply, a physicist does not consider empty space to be empty but permeated instead by fields, with virtual, field-mediating particles constantly flitting in and out of existence. The vacuum, therefore, has an energy state. The presupposition is that the vacuum energy that universally appertains is at a stable minimum since, if it weren’t, the state would have degenerated before now. But what if the vacuum energy is currently at a false minimum, i.e. the vacuum is in a meta-stable state? If this were the case, a high energy event in a particle accelerator could destabilise the existing vacuum to create a bubble of ‘true’ vacuum. The bubble would then expand at approaching the speed of light until it eventually engulfed the observable universe. The problem is that such a new order could not hope to support physics and chemistry as we know them, let alone biology. A more absolute catastrophe is impossible to conceive. Comforting, however, is the realisation that it hasn’t happened yet, despite 13 billion years of cosmic turmoil, so there is nothing to fear from the relatively puny efforts of the LHC.

Magnetic Monopoles:

Fears of magnetic monopoles were not raised in Professor Rees’s book, but I will deal with them anyway.

Of all the exotic objects posited by the LSAG study, magnetic monopoles are easily the weirdest. I do not have space to do them justice here but all you really need to know about them is that they exist only as a theoretical entity and, if they did exist in nature, they would be far too massive to be created in any existing particle accelerator, nor indeed any conceivable future accelerator. Furthermore, if they could be produced, their Earth-bound orgy of destruction would be short-lived since the energy generated by the destruction would propel the beastie out into space long before you could say “Oh dear, what can that matter be?”

References:

[1] This article’s appendix largely comprises extracts from my previously published essay on the subject of particle accelerator safety, “Armageddon and Other Failure Modes”, the full version of which may be found in “25 at 25 – A selection of articles from twenty-five years of the SCSC Newsletter Safety Systems”, ISBN 9781540896483.

[2] Study of Potentially Dangerous Events During Heavy-Ion Collisions at the LHC: Report of the LHC Safety Study Group, Blaizot et al, CERN 2003-01.

[3] Review of the Safety of LHC Collisions, Ellis et al, CERN-PH-TH/2008-136.

 

48 thoughts on “And Then There Are Physicists

  1. So yet another cynical science apparatchik writes a transparently deranged bit of fear mongering non-science.
    How far the intellects have fallen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The consensus of the IPCC experts was that business as usual, with a rising population and continuing dependence on fossil fuels, has a 5 percent chance of triggering more than six degrees warming in the next century.”
    If this statement is true, then then the opposite could also be true. “…has a 5 percent chance of triggering more than 5 degrees COOLING in the next century, or even a 95 percent chance of nothing much happening. There will come a time when many prominent climate scientists will end up with egg on their face.

    Like

  3. Hunter,

    The remarkable thing about this example is that the individual concerned is not just peddling an alarmist message, he is peddling a message that has already been debunked. Moreover, he is peddling a message that he himself has already debunked! Mind you, it has had the desired effect. It certainly gave his book plenty of publicity:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/10/02/forget-climate-change-large-hadron-collider-set-to-destroy-the-world/

    They say we sceptics are cynical. Is it any wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From the website of The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk:

    “Our current vacancies
    DEADLINE EXTENDED: Senior Research Associate: Academic Programme Manager”

    Deadline extended? Nobody interested?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John,

    The good professor, in his book, is quoted as saying:

    “It is presumptuous to place confidence in any theories about what happens when atoms are smashed together with unprecedented energy.”

    The LHC Safety Assessment Group 2008 report, whose findings the professor endorses, is quoted as saying:

    LSAG also backed up this theoretical argument by pointing out that ultra-high energy proton collisions are commonplace within the cosmos and so the LHC experiment has, in effect, already been conducted ten million, trillion, trillion times since the creation of the Universe.

    Not so ‘unprecedented’ then! Just the small matter of it having happened 10 million trillion trillion times before! Ah, yes, but not on Earth, and not in the Large Hadron Collider! Climate scientists are also very fond of using the word ‘unprecedented’ – for very similar (and rarely justified) reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Physics is pretty dependable.
    You can bet your life on it, in fact.
    Imagining that the energies we are currently able to apply to our physics experiments are possibly of cosmological significance seems to be based on a level of ignorance, not sophistication.
    It is at least as crazy as the idea that Earth could experience a run away greenhouse effect based on simply burning fossil fuels.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Despite my lack of training in climate science, I would venture to suggest that these are overstated risks.

    I assume that his comment is based on this figure, which shows that there is a small chance of more than 6K of warming if we follow a high emission pathway (or, more correctly, a high concentration/forcing pathway).

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  8. Hunter
    “Physics is pretty dependable.
    You can bet your life on it, in fact.”

    Schrödinger’s cat shouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ATTP,

    Yes, I imagine that is the figure that Professor Rees had in mind. As you rightly point out, it indicates a small chance of warming in excess of 6K. It is tempting to look purely at the spread of possibilities indicated by model ensembles and conclude that the spread comprehensively captures the uncertainty of the situation. However, as I believe we have debated before, there is an argument that parametric and structural uncertainties may not be adequately propagated in such a picture. Take, for example, the quote I offered recently when discussing Paul Mathews’ article, ‘Apocalypse Delayed’:

    “As [the] IPCC, in a search for objectivity in uncertainty assessment, has turned more to describing uncertainty in terms of the characteristics of ensembles of model outcomes, the deficiency in such an approach (its exclusion or limited treatment of systemic, structural uncertainty in models) has become increasingly apparent to the community (Winsberg 2010; Knutti et al. 2008; Goldstein and Rougier 2009)”.

    This was written by a couple of IPCC AR authors, not your run-of-the-mill sceptics. Admittedly, it is an old quote, but when I look at SR15, I don’t see anything to indicate that it no longer applies.

    That said, I wouldn’t wish to get distracted too much from the central point of my article – that a prominent and respected scientist is not above putting out statements that starkly contradict each other, just to suit the occasion. I thought it was only we cognitively challenged, climate change conspiracists that were able to achieve such mental gymnastics.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Just to note here ATTP’s figure is outdated and has been quite significantly revised by the IPCC to show a much lower temperature response to total emissions. Nic Lewis has a nice post at Climate Etc. on this and his figure 1 is the latest one. I am unable to figure out how to paste the figure itself but its easy to find in the top post at Climate Etc.

    Fig2.A.3_CO2budget_SR15
    Figure 1: Temperature changes from 1850-1900 versus cumulative CO2 emissions from 1876 on.
    Solid lines with dots reproduce the temperature response to cumulative CO2 emissions plus non-CO2 forcers as assessed in Figure SPM10 of WGI AR5, except that points marked with years relate to a particular year. The AR5 data was derived from available ESMs for the historic observations (black) and RCP 8.5 scenario (red) and the red shaded plume shows the uncertainty range across the models as presented in AR5. The purple shaded plume and the line are indicative of the temperature response to cumulative CO2 emissions and non-CO2 warming adopted in SR15. The non-CO2 warming contribution is averaged from the MAGICC and FAIR models and the purple shaded range assumes the AR5 WGI TCRE distribution. The 2010 observations of temperature anomaly (0.87°C based on 2006-2015 mean compared to 1850-1900) and cumulative carbon dioxide emissions from 1876 to the end of 2010 of 1,930 GtCO2 is shown as a filled purple diamond. 2017 values based on the latest cumulative carbon emissions up to the end of 2017 of 2,220 GtCO2 and a temperature anomaly of 1.04°C based on an assumed temperature increase of 0.2°C per decade is shown as a hollow purple diamond. The thin blue line shows annual observations, with CO2 emissions from Le Quéré et al. (2018)[xix] and temperatures from the average of the HadCRUT4, NOAA, GISTEMP and Cowtan-Way datasets. The thin black line shows the CMIP5 models blended-masked estimates with CO2 emissions from Le Quéré et al. (2018). Dotted black lines illustrate the SR15 remaining carbon budget estimates for 1.5°C. Reproduced from SR15 Figure 2.A.3, which is a version of Figure 2.3 that additionally shows warming projections (not used in SR15) direct from the MAGICC and FAIR models.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. From the introduction

    Humans are now so numerous and have such a heavy collective ‘footprint’ that they have the ability to transform, or even ravage, the entire biosphere. The world’s growing and more demanding population puts the natural environment under strain: peoples’ actions could trigger dangerous climate change and mass extinctions if ‘tipping points’ are crossed-outcomes that would bequeath a depleted and impoverished world to future generations. But to reduce these risks, we don’t need to put the brakes on technology; on the contrary, we need to enhance our understanding of nature and deploy appropriate technology more urgently. These are the themes of chapter 1 of this book.

    Lord Rees suffers from a deficiency in understanding that is common with other alarmists. He treats all 7600 million human beings in nearly 200 countries as a common collective. With respect to policy this is not case. The Paris Climate Agreement, in line with the Rio Declaration of 1992, separates “developed” from “developing” countries. The latter group has no obligation to reduce their emission and have signaled any intent to do so on a timescale that might reduce global emissions to zero by 2055 or earlier. As these “developing” countries now account for around two-thirds of global GHG emissions, this means the aspirations of the Paris Agreement will not be achieved. Further, those countries who rely on the export of fossil fuels for a large part of their GDP (Middle Eastern countries, Russia, Turkmenistan etc.) have shown no inclination to reduce their fossil fuel production to zero in a generation.
    Referring to the world as “we” when moralizing about policy thus shows a detachment from global political realities. The consequence is that costly and ineffectual policies are being promoted by people who are bright enough to work this out for themselves.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Alan

    “Schrödinger’s cat shouldn’t.”

    He’s perfectly safe inside his box. But when the lid opens, he’s got a 50% chance of discovering that the rest of the universe has inexplicably dropped dead. You can always rely on the solipsism of felines.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Ben Pile had an article at Climate Resistance on a previous book by Martin Rees which gave the human race a 50-50 chance of surviving to 2100. The book was called “Our Final Century” so you can see where Sir Martin was placing his bets. 20 to 1 odds on temperatures reaching 6°C are more attractive to a betting Lord Professor than evens, though he won’t be there to pick up his winnings, which rather spoils the fun.

    Professor Lord Keynes was known to drop everything and take the Friday night boat train to Nice when the Monte Carlo roulette table suppressed the zero, thus upping the odds to evens. He was risking his own money (and his reputation). Professor Lord Sir Martin risks nothing, which is what makes him the perfect co-founder for The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk . Existential schmexistential. The good Lord Professor has got the willies about not being immortal, as we all have past a certain age. But at least he’s got a publisher’s contract.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Michael,

    When Willies About Not Being Immortal Collide was one of the best pr0n-coms to emerge from the golden age of the studio system. What Asian sensation Pornchuck Steponyatetsokul’s performance lacked in girth and Moh’s hardness it made up for with the kind of timing that can’t be taught. Alas, another talent taken from us too soon by the scourge of prescription drug dependency.

    Manic,

    “Referring to the world as “we” when moralizing about policy thus shows a detachment from global political realities.”

    That reminds me, I should polish off my draft post entitled ‘We, Some People….,’ in which every paragraph opens:

    ‘We, some people, being endowed with the inalienable right to a constant temperature at all times, do hereby….’

    Polish or perish!

    Like

  15. John. You raise a very important point with this post: should we pay attention to the opinion of the eminent when their scientific expertise is not in climate science? Even more importantly, should I oppose the combined opinion of the many when my expertise lies elsewhere? I am torn by these questions and have been for some considerable time. Over time, however, they have become less important and I have settled them more or less to my satisfaction. But perhaps this is accumulated lethargy!
    The quick and dirty answer to the first question is probably to trust the expertise of the expert with first hand experience in the field of study, rather than with someone only conversant with it.
    But then I consider my own history. My expertise and experience has been entirely as a geologist, and one also involved with “deep time”. Thus this would seemingly have little relevance to questions of whether or not human emissions of CO2 could adversely affect our climate. Yet I had the chutzpah to lecture first year undergraduates that there was other evidence and different opinions about CAGW that perhaps they were unaware. My contrary opinions, located as I was at the heart of climate change orthodoxy, arose because I found certain critical (to my eyes) questions not being addressed or being swept under the table. Over time you get to disrespect opinions of those you previously valued. Either you are pursuing a true path or you are becoming a crank. I believe the climate sceptical universe contains both.
    Then comes the second and more difficult question. How can you stand against your own fears that you might be wrong, that you, without specialized knowledge, happen to be following the true path, while those who have devoted their lives to pursuing their truth, hundreds and thousands of them, are all misguided. This becomes particularly pertinent when amongst their number are those you respect and admire. I never found the answer to this question. Throughout my time at UEA I was plagued with doubts that I might be horribly wrong. I suspect each climate sceptic has their own answers and they probably differ from mine. The simplest answer to why there is a consensus (and I believe there is one) supported by the overwhelming majority of learned societies (including my own) is that they are right and I am wrong. Yet I refuse to submit and submerge myself within the doom-groomed majority. I have no real answer to explain my refusal to submit to the majority, except perhaps outright cussedness.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. “Then comes the second and more difficult question.”

    In many, perhaps most seriously disputed questions, there is no means to know who is right or wrong. Simply favouring the majority likely grants a statistical bias to correctness (as determined by the only real arbiter – future history), but helps not at all if one craves an answer to one particular dispute. In fact the situation seems even worse than this, because in *all* serious disputes, one cannot know whether the answer one favours is ‘right’. This makes sense; if there was a magical tool with which to divine truth without the hard process of winnowing evidence, we wouldn’t need the often slow and incremental process of science, we wouldn’t need debate and argument and evidence gathering and so on… we’d just use the magic tool.

    Yet for a subset of cases, there is in fact such a tool. Which is why I started above by implying there may be a means to know more, for at least some disputed questions. And amazingly, this tool needs no domain knowledge whatsoever, i.e. no knowledge of physical climate for the climate change dispute, no knowledge of evolution or religious theory for the creationism dispute. In fact, it works better without any domain knowledge at all (less chance of bias creeping in). Unfortunately, it has a limitation too. Even where applicable, it can only tell you who is *wrong*, not who (or therefore what), is right. But knowing who is wrong, is a huge start on the path to truth.

    It works by using social data (so not domain-dependent data, like physical climate stuff or evolution stuff for the above examples), to determine whether or not the position of a side is strongly cultural. If it is, that side is wrong; all strong cultural consensuses are wrong. This doesn’t tell you what is right, of course. And if there is strong culture on *both* sides, one needs to work out the alliance pattern to see where the ‘root’ culture for the issue lies. So for instance creationism is spawned by religious culture, which in the US has a net alliance with Con / Reps, pulling Dem / Libs into opposition on the issue. The root culture is neither Con / Reps or Dem / Libs, despite all their cultural fire going both ways, but religion. Ditto in the climate change domain, with the parties reversed and the root culture being one of climate catastrophe. (The former case seems very obvious, but helps illuminate the latter case, as most people don’t think of independent climate cultural drives in the US, only Libs versus Dems). So all this tells us that whether ACO2 is good, bad, or indifferent, the *social* consensus on catastrophe is wrong, as is all that is done in its name (this is the prominent policy driver). Of course this does not say which particular sceptic theory on physical CC is right, and indeed they could *all* be wrong too. Though being very varied, this is comfortingly inconsistent with a ‘sceptic culture’, which would have its own consensus, and in turn this means that whether any turn out to be right or wrong, we know already they are not wrong by virtue of being cultural). As noted ACO2 could still be bad, even very bad maybe. BUT nevertheless, the *current messaging* on ‘very bad’ is wrong because it is detectably cultural. Note, this method can only work where there are plenty of surveys and much social data or (unbiased) academic social investigations, otherwise the possibility of culture (especially writ small, e.g. group-think in closed domain), could never be exposed, or at least in a provable manner.

    ‘How can you stand against your own fears that you might be wrong….. I have no real answer to explain my refusal to submit to the majority, except perhaps outright cussedness’

    You are wise to question your feelings, even though in the absence of all other help one may in the end go with innate feelings. We all have an innate ability to detect that the thing bearing down on us looks like a manufactured cultural consensus and not a reflection of reality. This is a balance against cultures becoming too dominant, and could be the source of your ‘cussedness’. But unfortunately, this detection kit is typically inhibited if the consensus happens to align with our existing cultural values (and made more sensitive if the consensus challenges our values). Also, the kit was constructed long before the invention of science, and so sometimes mistakes the ‘inarguable’ (a trigger condition) that stems from great evidence, with the ‘inarguable’ that stems from cultural consensus policing. In other words, our gut feelings can be wrong. But the above tool is a means of detecting the same conditions independently of our fallible instincts.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Manic,

    It’s always fun to ask believalists to Google the conclusion (“climate science is a hoax”) and see who’s been saying it online.

    Since I haven’t tried it for a while, let’s see if this still works.

    Okay…. yup.

    Of the top 10 uses of that clause according to my computer,

    – 0 are attributed to skeptics.

    – 10 are the words of one S. Lewandowsky.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Andy,

    As far as I can tell there’s only one shortcut that works in scientific disputes, and the heuristic is as follows:

    The side that brandishes a consensus as evidence has no evidence, and consigns itself to ridicule and oblivion.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Alan,

    “Throughout my time at UEA I was plagued with doubts that I might be horribly wrong.”

    What was it about this possibility that made you lose the most sleep? What was the plaguiest part that really haunted you? Was it:

    – that if CAGW is real, then the planet is in existential danger

    or

    – that if CAGW is real, you’ll look like a twat for having been the one person in the room who argued otherwise

    There’s copious experimental evidence, IIRC, showing that for most people, the latter terror trumps the former. Even the most cowardly/sane person has the courage/insanity to ignore the sighting of a shark fin, or unexplained smoke, or a flashing red light on a console, if everyone else in the room is ignoring it. But only one man in a thousand has the courage/insanity to openly bet against the wisdom of the crowd. Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men was every bit as unrealistically superhuman as James Bond. In real life, that guy keeps his doubts to himself and everyone gets to go home early.

    My favorite is the experiment where a bunch of confederates intentionally face the wrong way in an elevator. The unsuspecting subject gets in, is bemused at first, then invariably, sheepishly falls into line with people he’s pretty sure are facing backwards. Why? Because when the door opens again, and they all discover they’re looking the wrong way, nobody loses face.

    EDIT: one special group is obviously exempt from the above “rule” of social psychology: scientists. No scientist would allow zerself to be influenced by peer pressure, shame aversion, safety in unanimity, or the thousand other infirmities to which the flesh of homo selfconscius is heir. Not for a second. And it’s precisely this rabid independence of mind, unique to scientists, that allows us to trust whatever they say, saving us the tedium of using our own critical faculties.

    Like

  20. Brad, there is a third option/fear;
    that if CAGW is real, I have been horribly wrong. My reasoning has been faulty in a big way and I can no longer rely upon my scientific reasoning and logic – for anything. When you strike into the scientific unknown, even in the tiny, unimportant parts of geology in which I delved, you rely upon your reasoning, logic and observational skills. If these are shown to be faulty and you have been guilty of ignoring expert advice, your underpinnings could well crumble.
    When doing “small” science being wrong is not a big deal. I have been wrong many many times, you hope to capture most errors before going into print. But even if you don’t, you probably have advanced your science, giving the opportunity to someone else to put you right.
    However at UEA I lectured impressionable young first year undergraduates, telling them they should remain open minded and seek out different interpretations. Even if my scepticism turns out to be incorrect, I can reconcile my proselytizing with engaging in and promoting good practice. I can now look back from the comfort of retirement, but during my time in the trenches I needed much reassurance. That is why sceptical blogs like this one are so important and why I contribute to them.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Alan,

    It may help if you kept the following in mind:

    For the purposes of the debate, the World’s population is divided into two types: There are scientists and then there are non-scientists. Someone clever has asked all of the World’s scientists about what will happen to the Earth if it gets 2K warmer. They all responded to the survey and 97% said that a 2K increase would spell utter disaster. The reason they know this is because a subset of scientists, known as the IPCC, was created to investigate, and this is what they concluded (High Confidence). Since scientists have learnt that they needn’t question each other, this is what all scientists (barring the incompetent 3%) came to believe. We non-scientists got to know about all of this because some of the non-scientists, known as ‘journalists’, told us all about it. Nevertheless, some of the non-scientists still find this difficult to accept. A special group of scientists, known as the cognitive psychologists, investigated this phenomenon and found that the doubters are all anti-science and have been paid by Big Oil to fail to understand the importance of scientific consensus.

    Yep, I think this is just about sums it up.

    On a more serious note, your doubts and anxieties are simply the price you pay for retaining an open mind. It’s a healthy sign. Even though it may give you insomnia, you must try not to lose any nights sleep on it.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Hi Alan,

    “When you strike into the scientific unknown, even in the tiny, unimportant parts of geology in which I delved, you rely upon your reasoning, logic and observational skills. If these are shown to be faulty and you have been guilty of ignoring expert advice, your underpinnings could well crumble.”

    As an exercise: what difference, if any, could the deleted clause possibly make?

    What if you’d said:

    ” If these are shown to be faulty, even though you are innocent of ignoring expert advice, your underpinnings could well crumble.”

    Would that have been as, more, or less true?

    Doesn’t relying upon your reasoning, logic and observational skills entail NOT relying on expert advice?

    Like

  23. John, according to Rotten Tomatoes, persisting at this stage in disputing The Climate Consensus is precisely as pitiful and futile as refusing to accept the truth universally (97%) acknowledged among professional American media critics: to wit, that Black Panther was in fact the “multilayered Shakespearean epic of 2018,” despite appearing (to a muggle like you) to be little more than another sausage-link in Marvel’s multilogy of mall-pleasing ephemera, like the 17 pieces of dreck that preceded it, and which it resembles in every effable way. To take your critiques of the movie seriously one would have to imagine that the citizenry of the most powerful nation on earth is engaged in some sort of …. snort…. mass conspiracy of politeness, just to…. what? Make two centuries of slavery OK by waving a magical Oscar around in the face of some undeserving filmmakers of color? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it happening. I’ll go with the experts, thanks. I’m not even going to bother watching it myself, because the seminal ambitiousness of its ideas would probably go over my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Brad:

    ‘The side that brandishes a consensus as evidence has no evidence, and consigns itself to ridicule and oblivion.’

    Yep, this is the same as I said, but much shorter 🙂 . I simply included a little about why folks endemically promote cultural consensuses (it is not conscious behaviour), and that to be sure we have to verify this is indeed the case using social data. And that if two cultural consensuses are mixed up, we have to figure out which one is root for our issue. With nascent science, and / or if consensuses get established early, it is not otherwise easy to be sure from a surface viewing (or if bias blinds our viewing, and who thinks they have no biases?). The consensus on saturated fats is collapsing after 50 years of dominance; I wonder was there enough social data around to have known for sure this was group think a long time ago, for instance?

    Unfortunately the side with the cultural consensus does not always consign itself to ridicule and oblivion, but may stay powerful (with the rewards that brings), for generations or longer. The cultural consensuses supporting the major religions have lasted around a couple of millennia, and via creationism still challenge evolutionary theory for about half the population in the US, for instance, along with controlling much else still, and including very major resources. CAGW is hitched to science, hence as this advances one would think the ability to keep the catastrophic rolling would simply run out of manouvering room at some point soon (hints of such with SR15). But also, cultural entities have demonstrated amazing ability to morph to other persistent forms (and despite the contradictions this may bring). There is no guarantee that ridicule and oblivion will occur, or is even near (this is not the perception of society as a whole yet). Nor will such an outcome undo all the damage of decades along the way.

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  25. Andy

    “The consensus on saturated fats is collapsing after 50 years of dominance; I wonder was there enough social data around to have known for sure this was group think a long time ago, for instance?”

    I doubt anyone even has the data necessary to say there was a “consensus on saturated fats” in the first place.

    There probably was, as a purely anecdotal guess, but can you tell me what percentage of adipologists, sugar apologists and trans/cis/queer-fat studies professors endorsed it? I doubt it. Because nobody quantifies consensuses in non-pathological sciences. Who would pay them to do so, and why? After all it’s a question of zero scientific interest, by definition, except perhaps to social scientists studying the structure of opinionological revolutions.

    The exponents of the “big fat lie” may have been wrong, they may even have been lying, but whatever their faults, they still fall into a category of lesser heinousness than Oreskes’ crimes against science, for this reason if no other:

    At least they refrained from publicly using the percentage of scientists who endorsed their falsehoods as an argument in favor of those falsehoods.

    Had they sunk to Oreskes’ level I would count them, too, as traitors and traducers of three centuries of scientific method—science deniers in the most literal sense!—and I’d be recommending them as guinea pigs to calibrate the drop-length tables for Climate Nuremberg.

    “CAGW is hitched to science”

    Well… sort of. Nominally, at most.

    If the hypothesis had actually been made an actual hostage to actual science, then the first thing Teh Scientists would have done would have been to pit CAGW against its own null. Before a single dollar was aburinated on a single Climate Centre for Excellence, the anticlimactic verdict would have come in and this entire putrid “debate” would have been put to rest while the Berlin Wall still stood.

    But nothing of the sort happened, because nothing recognizable as science has ever been allowed in the same room as CAGW.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Brad:

    ‘Who would pay them to do so, and why?’

    A main point of cultural consensuses is that no-one ever needs to pay anyone for them to work. They are an emergent feature of human society, due to long evolved behaviours (they were once a huge net advantage, and may even now be a net advantage despite many severe bad episodes / downsides), and have endlessly occurred throughout history.

    ‘…they may even have been lying’

    And while some dishonesty will be bolted onto the side of any human enterprise that is large enough, lying is not the core causation. People don’t need paying because they passionately believe in their consensus, due to long consumption of powerful emotive cocktails. So the great majority of supporters are not lying, they are merely believing. Of course some corruption of the noble cause kind will also occur if the culture gets strong enough, i.e. for those at the far fringe for whom belief completely takes them over.

    ‘Had they sunk to Oreskes’ level…’

    We don’t know that, within the circles of the relevant community, and back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s before the internet and beneath current knowledge (I personally haven’t ever attempted to look, but for sure much will be lost by now, and much never recorded in that era), that some folks didn’t employ similar modes to prominent climate change orthodox priests today. Regarding this issue or calamitous climate culture or eugenics or others, the only difference is in the scale, which to a large extent depends how much of an existential concern can be projected into society. The mechanisms are the same for all.

    ‘But nothing of the sort happened, because nothing recognizable as science has ever been allowed in the same room as CAGW.’

    I suspect a lot that is certainly recognizable as science has and is happening still, albeit with heavy constraints and some by folks frightened for their careers. And maybe on islands in a rising lake of bias these days. But climate science is no more a homogeneous whole than any other enterprise, and critically, the cultural consensus is not anyway centred upon science (despite after 3 decades+ it hugely leaks back into science and so is causing that ever rising bias). The consensus of high certainty of global catastrophe (absent major emissions cuts), as propagated by rafts of presidents and prime ministers and UN elite and NGOs and *some* scientists and many other orgs / individuals, is actually centred outside of mainstream science. Despite all its group-think, and the immense emotive pressure that cultures can bring to bear, the IPCC working group reports in no way support the global catastrophe narrative that all those in the list above propagate, and which drives the main policy action. The (vocal) scientists within that list still represent, to date, a minority disagreeing with mainstream findings and ‘conservatism’ (as they call it). And it is highly unlikely that this will be any different for AR6. This situation has so far not constrained the growth of calamitous climate culture at all; the mainstream / majority have not indeed signed the papers to catastrophe, but neither do they make any effort whatsoever to push back to the aforementioned presidents and prime ministers etc. While the original concern regarding ACO2 indeed came out of science, it has very long since slipped the leash, growing upon the emotions of millions outside of that enterprise, plus demanding more and more backing from its loyal adherents who are still on the inside, and tilting the table more for those who are not yet adherents. Nevertheless, its survival does currently depend on an underwriting by science, which is becoming an issue as the supportable space for catastrophe shrinks. But per above, the ability of cultures to morph around obstacles can be pretty amazing. The public of course, thinks those vocal minority scientists propagating catastrophe narrative *are* the mainstream, why would they not? The A list authorities likewise; they are not lying when then make their apocalyptic speeches, they really think it’s what mainstream science concludes, yet this is not the case at all.

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  27. ‘…they really think it’s what mainstream science concludes, yet this is not the case at all.’

    No sceptics / sceptic theories are even needed to debunk climate catastrophism; even genuine knowledge of the mainstream position would be enough!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Brad. I don’t believe you are showing how the scientific community operates. There are very few scientists who operate in lonely splendour. Many more work in groups, and then there are others, like me, who (in academia) often worked on individual projects. However, whenever possible you shared your results and conclusions with others, seeking their opinion and sometimes their advice. So you are both correct and wrong. Expert advice will be sought and considered. You will use your expertise to evaluate this advice. Especially if the advice comes from someone you respect or have relied upon in the past, you only reject it with considerable care. Most scientists therefore work in a loose community. You cut yourself off from this at your peril. Your reputation depends upon it, commonly promotion and research funding also. Thus to be outside the mainstream on matters like CAGW should have had severe repercussions for me. I never understood why they didn’t. If anything I gained respect in certain quarters – not CRU!

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  29. Hi Andy

    I appreciate your generosity in penning such detailed and careful responses. However, I’m not actually making some of the arguments you appear to be criticizing. You’re obviously not strawmanning me in any malicious sense, of course. Rather I suspect that, despite our best efforts to effect a meeting of minds, my comments have inadvertently triggered some schema in your conversational repertoire—entrained through long exposure to other skeptics’ arguments—to which you’re reacting (with admirable patience, congeniality and thoughtfulness)—reacting, in other words, to an argument you think you’ve read a hundred times before. If this is what happened, it isn’t an indictment of you! I fall into this kind of trap, mutatis mutandis, on a regular basis myself, and thereby wind up replying at cross-purposes, often at great length, to an argument that seems tediously familiar, failing to notice that my interlocutor actually said something more original and/or interesting than I’m giving them credit for.

    To take only the first example, I asked “‘Who would pay them to do so, and why?’”

    I gather you read this as the familiar question: who would pay them to agree with each other, and why?

    …to which you answer (rightly!) that….

    “A main point of cultural consensuses is that no-one ever needs to pay anyone for them to work.”

    However, I wasn’t asking that age-old question you answered; I was asking something more specific, and also more idiosyncratic, than all that. I won’t repeat it here, since I’m satisfied with the way I put it the first time, I’ll just invite you to read it again.

    If you’re unfamiliar with my schtick, you can hardly be blamed for missing the particularities. The best way to deal with me is probably to assume you’ve never encountered such brilliant/stupid ideas before, and read them word for word, without preconceptions (to the extent that that’s humanly possible), bearing in mind that I strive, like you, to write exactly what I mean.

    BTW I probably have you at something of a disadvantage, Andy, having recently binge-read a bunch of your writing here and at your old (c. 2015) blog—much to my edification and enjoyment. You, by contrast, could be forgiven for being a bit rusty on your Bradology.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Alan,

    “Brad. I don’t believe you are showing how the scientific community operates.”

    Of course I wasn’t, I wasn’t trying to. (It sounds like a pretty ambitious ask for a mere blog comment.)

    I was merely trying to tease out, or rather goad you into teasing out (please!), the amount of, and reasons behind, the culpability you’d feel (“guilty” being the word you chose) if it turned out that you’d wrongly gone against expert advice, versus wrongly taking expert advice, versus wrongly used your own intellectual resources alone to get your answer. If your answer turned out to be wrong, would having doubted/believed/ignored your peers’ answers make your mistake more, or less, costly to you? What prospect frightens you more, hypothetically: being the only person in the room who was mistaken, or being party to a unanimous mistake?

    And since I’m out of practice in the use of irony, let me be explicit: when I suggested that scientists are a special demographic that’s impervious to the temptation to turn and face the rear of an elevator because everyone else is doing it, or to pretend they like Black Panther because all of white America is also pretending, I was kidding!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Brad:

    Apologies, my Bradology is indeed very rusty. In general, I didn’t see myself as arguing in fact. Rather as filling in more detail / depth around some general agreements, with difference in nuance. But I do come across too strong for sure on occasions when in a groove, and can indeed mess-up too when I read and type too fast in-between other tasks. I see indeed that I misread your sentence on ‘who would pay them’. Sorry 0: We don’t necessarily need such formal studies, although social scientists quite often measure such things nowadays, I don’t know whether they did 25 or 45 years ago. Just conference minutes and memos and network analyses and such can be helpful, but indeed the issue is probably out of our grasp to measure now, and possibly even back when.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. All this talk of culture and consensus is very interesting but, when it comes to Professor Rees, we appear to be dealing with something a little more puzzling. Normally, consensus and disagreement require more than one individual to be involved, but the dancing Lord seems to be doing quite a neat tango all by himself. When dealing with his CERN buddies he is more than willing to throw his weight behind a report that dismisses the risks categorically. And yet, when dealing with a wider audience, he suddenly takes issue with himself and comes out strongly on the side of the finger waggers. Lewandowsky believes that the ability to simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs is the true sign of a climate change denier. It seems not. Former presidents of the Royal Society also appear to possess such remarkable cognitive dexterity.

    I wonder what the boys and girls at CERN thought when one of their flagship endorsers went on to write a book accusing them of recklessness.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. ‘…but the dancing Lord seems to be doing quite a neat tango all by himself’

    agreed. I think Geoff has a plausible scent here; some folks project outwards the threat of their own mortality, which for obvious reasons would happen much more when they’re older.

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  34. It might be worth speculating what folks such as Rees and ATTP, so fond of invoking the precautionary principle, would have been thinking at the beginning of the 19thc when some people were worried whether the female body would be able to withstand the strain of being transported at 50 mph in a train or even try this account of how train travel could lead to insanity https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/railway-madness-victorian-trains

    However, train fear can be explained as the problems of facing up to new technology. Worries about climate change based on the lack of understanding of something that has existed since the planet was formed is another sort of problem altogether.

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  35. Brad I’m not going to answer your hypotheticals or your general questions. I have in fact answered the question of why I was afraid of being wrong about CAGW. Climate science was always an interest but I never could claim any special knowledge. My judgement was that, from what I had read and understood, CO2 was not a significant control, thus most of the fears related to climate change were unreasonable. Furthermore, even if I were wrong in this, there was nothing we could do. Humans will not give up their use of fossil fuels, rather the opposite, we will increase our use of them.

    The main fear was that my judgement was wrong, something that I valued. The fact that I was pitching my own non-expert opinions against the combined “wisdom” of an expert consensus and the combined might of scientific “authority” only made the situation worse. I felt very vulnerable. But I did have one colleague who had also publicity declared his scepticism which helped greatly.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Hi Alan,

    “Brad I’m not going to answer your hypotheticals or your general questions.”

    Yes you are (immediately following this puzzling refusal). Was the word “not” inserted by mistake?

    Anyway, I’ve appreciated your unflinchingly introspective answers to my hypotheticals and my general questions. Cheers mate. Feel free to ask me some hard ones in return. I’ll do my best.

    How have you been, BTW? We haven’t been properly reacquainted since my return from hiatus.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Brad:

    We haven’t been properly reacquainted since my return from hiatus.

    This explains Brad’s long absences. Like John Carter in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Princess of Mars,” he can only get back down to earth when the planets are correctly aligned. Here’s hoping that Then There Are Physicists busy finding more planets for Brad to descend from.

    Liked by 2 people

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