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Uncertainty – No one’s Friend and Everyone’s Bitch

 

Given that reliable calculations of risk and uncertainty are so central to the issue of climate change, I am struck by the diverse assessments of incertitude that climatologists, environmentalists, and climate activists are prepared to espouse under the broad aegis of climate alarmism. Firstly, we have the likes of Ben Santer. Here is someone who is comfortable with the idea of ‘gold standard’, 5-sigma confirmation of the AGW hypothesis, notwithstanding the absence of a well-defined and understood null hypothesis upon which to base the statistical calculation. Then there are those who would not sign up to such hype but still talk confidently about risk levels (and even Risk Ratios), notwithstanding the presence of uncertainties that preclude objective calculations of probabilities. And then you have those who are fully aware of the nature and ubiquity of the uncertainties and are therefore suitably cautious regarding the veracity of climate model projections (and get dismissed as fact mongers for their pains). Yet even amongst the most circumspect of advocates, one will still find a commitment to a raft of hideous looking risk mitigations, courtesy of the precautionary principle. So, no wonder there are sceptics; it doesn’t engender confidence when such wide-ranging positions are used to justify the same levels of political commitment.

Confidence is further eroded when one notices that those who declare their understandable concerns for the climate will, nevertheless, often betray a highly tenuous grasp of risk and uncertainty’s conceptual framework. It wouldn’t be so bad if these individuals demonstrated a modicum of humility but, so often, they don’t. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that such individuals have very little respect for the subtleties and philosophical difficulties surrounding uncertainty, but are more than willing to proclaim upon it when it suits their purpose.

Take, for example, Dr Ken Rice of ATTP fame. Not so long ago I attempted to argue on his own website that there may be a common ground to be found between sceptics and alarmists by adopting the techniques of Robust Decision-making. As a result of those efforts, however, I can now appreciate just how challenging it can be to have a meaningful debate on the difficulties of making risk-based decisions under uncertainty, when one party combines a lack of basic understanding of the subject-matter with a decidedly high-handed manner.

Firstly, the world and its dog thinks that climate change is a wicked problem, but apparently such a judgment is not for those who possess the genius normally reserved for the dog’s bollocks. Dr Rice, alone, can see the simplicity at the heart of the issue – just drive the emissions down to zero and all our problems are solved. Alas, it is precisely because this would be a simplistic solution (creating as many difficulties as it solves) that the problem is understood to be wicked. But, of course, what could someone such as myself, a former risk management professional of some 20 years plus,1 possibly teach Ken Rice about coupled risk? Or, indeed, what could I possibly say regarding the following nugget taken from the top drawer of Ken’s chest of counterfactuals?

Also, risk assessments are typically not based on median estimates; they’re typically based on avoiding extreme outcomes.

I tried to point out to Dr Rice the fundamental gaffe made here2 but, according to him, who am I, a mere CliScep blogger, to contradict the ultimate polymath? How can I be taken seriously as an expert on anything if I knock around with people who have the temerity to challenge the very concept of expertise? Besides, if all else fails, it seems that Ken can always call upon his winged monkeys to lecture me upon the subject of exponentially increasing loss functions, blissfully unconcerned that once uncertainty has rendered the objective calculation of probability impossible, the loss function will no longer provide an objective means of determining the risk profile.3 Moreover, Ken shouldn’t need a humble CliScep ignoramus to point out that such loss functions cannot be presumed to apply ‘typically’ to risk assessment.4

I know the guys at ATTP see themselves as superheroes, but Avengers Assembled they are not.5 So, the problem is this: Discussing risk and uncertainty with Ken (or, indeed, any of his consort) would be an abuse of my keyboard unless all parties had at least a basic understanding of the subject-matter and the grace to accept that people with opposing views will often speak with expert authority. Dr Rice appears to believe that it is in the nature of the internet that any old nut-job can pop up claiming expertise, and the best one can do is to dispatch the pretender with mocking insults ringing in their ears. The truth is that the real peril lies in the possibility that one might stray into the territory of an experienced professional who can expose you for the bull-shitter that you are. I have no qualms about Dr Rice expressing his views on this website, but it will be a cold day in hell when I next solicit Dr Rice’s opinions on risk and uncertainty management within the climate change context – or any context, for that matter.

Ken Rice is not alone; I happen to have concentrated upon him here simply because he was the cause of my most recent frustrations. When trying to persuade the ‘climate concerned’ that scepticism legitimately arises from an appreciation of uncertainties, it is very hard to get them to take such scepticism seriously – we are lightly dismissed as merchants of doubt, before being reassured that uncertainty is not our friend. However, I have worked for many years in a variety of professional roles in which it was commonplace to encounter individuals who presumed themselves to have an intuitive grasp of the concepts of risk and uncertainty, little appreciating that such intuition was rarely to be relied upon. Sometimes these individuals would surround themselves with fancy calculations, providing a veneer of scientific authenticity to what were essentially naïve conceptions of uncertainty. But no amount of fault tree analysis, MTBF calculations, Bayesian inferencing, confidence interval calculation, Monte Carlo Simulation, or whatever else, can atone for the absence of an understanding of just what uncertainty is and how it influences our perceptions of risk.

Climate scientists who make confident proclamations regarding the state of understanding within their field should be asking themselves whether they are truly justified in making such claims or just confident idiots. And those who choose to deride anyone who does not share the climatologists’ supposedly insightful confidence would do well to understand that you don’t actually need to be a climatologist to have a theoretical and practical grasp of the subject that lies at the heart of the climate debate, namely the relationship existing between risk and uncertainty. I look forward to the day when climatologists and their willing supporters wake up to the fact that they are not the experts on this central issue.

Notes:

[1] The bulk of my career was spent undertaking a variety of corporate governance and consultancy roles at senior management and board level. In these capacities I variously specialised in software quality assurance, corporate and project risk management, safety-critical systems engineering, IT security risk management, corporate environmental management and occupational health and safety. The undertaking of all of these duties required a sound appreciation of the concepts of risk and uncertainty and a technical grounding in their assessment and evaluation.

[2] Typical risk evaluations (not assessments) are based upon whether the risks exceed a defined threshold for acceptability, together with a determination of priorities for mitigation. Since risk is a function of impact and probability, the threshold may be exceeded by a number of impact/probability combinations, including those featuring median impacts. High impact combined with low probability may engage the imagination but this is often the scenario in which lack of empirical data renders reliable calculation of risk impracticable, whereby ‘typical’ risk assessment no longer applies. In the absence of reliable risk assessment, risk evaluation becomes problematic. This is where the precautionary principle comes in.

[3] The importance of this point would require an understanding of the distinction between risk aversion and uncertainty aversion – alas, a distinction that I fear may be too subtle for Ken and his canting cronies to appreciate.

[4] ‘Typically’ was Dr Rice’s word, not mine.

[5] Unless you count delusions of adulthood as a superpower. Impugning someone’s sincerity at every opportunity may be good fun, but what it has to do with a mature debate is anyone’s guess.

54 thoughts on “Uncertainty – No one’s Friend and Everyone’s Bitch

  1. John,
    Thank you for a great essay.
    ATTP demonstrated to you why I have so little regard for him. He proves that simple minds are drawn to simple solutions. Since the status quo is not creating any significant dangers, and the banning of fossil fuels will kill billions, the situation is not symmetrical.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I realised some time ago that genuine, interested, rational debate over at aTTP’s place is a rarity. Name-calling and smug assumptions of superiority and attribution of impure motives or stupidity of those who question or disagree with them are common. I take a look now and again, but don’t comment any more. Well done for trying, however.

    No doubt it could be said that we’re as much in our silo as they are in theirs. Rightly or wrongly, however, I feel that (with occasional exceptions) responses to those who disagree are politer and more welcoming here. Tangential discussions also sometimes spring up here, which can make for interesting reading. I rarely my find my interest engaged over there (though, as Ken might say, perhaps that reflects more on me than on them).

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  3. Mark,

    Name-calling and smug assumptions of superiority and attribution of impure motives or stupidity of those who question or disagree with them are common.

    I can’t tell if you’re referring to my post, or John’s.

    John,
    It’s maybe disappointing that you focussed on what I said in my initial response to you and seem to have ignored the later comments, in particular this one where I said

    Yes, this seems fair enough. I’m really not sure what you think I was trying to say. Since this is a post about reaching common ground, I will say that I largely agree with your description of risk assessment. Actually, quite hard to see how what you’ve said is wildly different to what I said here, but maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly. Dikran does make a good point above, though, that if the tail risks are very high, then we may well end up deciding that these should be avoided.

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  4. What bothers me is that the alarmists refuse to accept that there are any risks at all in their solutions. Risks apparently abound on one side, but reducing carbon emissions is apparently risk free. None at all.

    Of course the solutions proposed to limit carbon emissions are often extremely risky. That they are risky because they are likely to impoverish us, or massively restrict our liberty[1] — as opposed to potentially making it too warm — doesn’t stop them being risky.

    So for me, as for most people, the *least risky* approach is mitigation. Therefore pleas for us to reduce risk rather fall on deaf ears. We have long since factored that into our calculations.

    [1] that rather too many of the climate alarmists regard restricting our liberty as a feature, not a bug, doesn’t make me any more inclined to like their solutions.

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  5. [2] of Notes goes to the very heart of the problem. It appears to be very simple but it is seemingly phenomenally difficult for climate alarmists to grasp. They compulsively obsess about high impact, low/non-quantifiable risk scenarios whilst seemingly oblivious of the flip side of their shiny climate change penny consisting of an unnamed monarch silently voicing the opinion ‘unacceptable’ in relation to the risk/impact assessment associated with the adoption of measures to mitigate the one and only risk which daily occupies their synaptic pathways.

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  6. Isn’t there a fundamental problem in the very formulation of the statement “if the tail risks are very high, then we may well end up deciding that these should be avoided”?

    Where is there a mention of probability here? The impact of putting a chimp in charge of a nuclear reactor might be high but we don’t need to take special steps to guard against them because the ordinary procedures ought to be suitable.

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  7. As John says, the world and its dog think that climate change is a wicked problem. Mason certainly does and he (though sadly, not his bollocks) knows all about tail risk – from lying on the floor next to the kitchen sink! 🙂

    If Mason gets it, why don’t the ‘experts’?

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  8. As far as wicked problems go, they are typically defined as something for which there isn’t some solution and which mostly have to be managed. As far as anthropogenically-driven climate change goes, we know what’s causing it (our emission of GHGs into the atmosphere) and we know what we have to do to stop it (stop emitting GHGs into the atmosphere). Doing so, however, isn’t easy. There are obvious technological issue (what alternatives do we implement). There are policy issues (how do we incentivise the use of alternatives). There are societal issues (how do we do this in a way that doesn’t end up doing more harm than what we are trying to avoid). So, this is complicated and one could describe this aspect as wicked (although wicked means more than simply complicated). However, none of this changes that there is a solution to anthropogenically-driven climate change.

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  9. ATTP doesn’t even get the problem.
    He is fighting something that is man-made only in the sense it is created in his head.
    Catastrophist ideation turned into a social disorder is disturbing.
    Seeing how it presents in Ken in such a banal shallow childish fashion is rather sad to watch.
    He dismisses the astounding good done by fossil fuels out of hand and ignores the costs and harm at many levels of the consensus solutions.
    John’s point about how the consensus, no matter the facts, obsess over wind and solar, reject nuclear, and ignore the Brobdingnagian idiocy of things like wood pellets, tidal and batteries, is disturbing.
    I would also add that someone who is allegedly educated, like Ken or any number of other sufferers of catastrophist ideation seem required to reduce their thinking to the false binary choices he has bought into.
    This mental self destruction is at the heart of the climate consensus, and reading the news it seems, tragically, that Ken is not an outlier.

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  10. “As far as anthropogenically-driven climate change goes, we know what’s causing it (our emission of GHGs into the atmosphere) and we know what we have to do to stop it (stop emitting GHGs into the atmosphere)”.

    Absurdly simplistic and wildly misleading statement, not to mention tautological!

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  11. Dr Rice’s ignoring of expertise in other fields in his article are not limited to the area of uncertainty. It is in economics as well. Ken mentions 2018 Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus, then makes the statement.

    So, even an optimal pathway that potentially leads to quite substantial warming would still require starting to decouple emission increases from economic growth very soon, peaking emissions in ~20 years, followed by substantial emission reductions.

    To decouple emissions from economic growth requires clearly thought out policies. China managed 20+ years of near 10% economic growth backed by very cheap energy from coal. It would not have achieved such growth levels with hydro and renewables. Many developing countries desire higher levels of economic growth and are looking to cheap energy from fossil fuels as a means to achieve it. Loss of economic growth is a cost. Nordhaus (and the AR5) assume that climate policies will have zero (or close to zero) impact on economic growth. But if climate policy knocks 1% per annum of growth rates between now and the end of the century for a developing country then economic output in 2100 will be less than half what it would have been without that policy.
    Yesterday Bjorn Lomborg tweeted a graph based on a Nordhaus paper from August 2018 in the American Economic Review. 

    This quite nicely shows the main options, contingent on an awful lot of assumptions. Basically Nordhaus (like the Stern Review 2006) seeks to replace the projected and highly uncertain costs of climate change with the more immediate costs of reducing emissions. Unlike the Stern Review, Nordhaus recognizes that after policy there are residual climate costs. Also, if there is too much policy “we” could be worse off than doing nothing at all. But the model is based upon highly restrictive assumptions. This is basically a single economy model with optimal policy applied. That is there is a global carbon tax applied, escalated every year. 
    The real work of economics comes looking at the consequences of changing the restrictive assumptions to more real world scenarios.
    The optimal policy is a global carbon tax applied, escalated every year. President Macron and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard have learned how unpopular carbon taxes are in practice. Other policies such a subsidizing renewables, rigging electricity markets, carbon trading, building regulations and vehicle etc. are sub-optimal, meaning that the policy costs are higher and/or the reduced future costs of climate change are lower. 
    As a consequence of non-optimal policies there are business opportunities to be had from policies. Renewables and nuclear power provide assured long-term streams of revenue from an investment, with the subsidies being paid for by consumers. Increasing car emission regulations provide technological challenges and profit opportunities for manufacturers, increasing the net costs for consumers and removing from the market lower cost models. Carbon trading has provided opportunities for investment banks to run the system and poor administration has lead to “less than optimal” practices. 
    Maybe the biggest issue is that in the real world, only developed countries have an obligation under the Paris Agreement to reduce their emissions. As a consequence policy countries like the UK incur the policy costs, but make very little impact on reducing future climate costs. Non-policy countries are the biggest gainers. Astute politicians will be able to realize this. In a world where political prestige is to be gained from making statements about taking action, and ostracism from declaring one is doing nothing, the best action is to appear virtuous, do as little as possible in reality and make sure the other countries take the burden of emissions reductions. 
    It should be no surprise that after 24 annual COP meetings to reduce global emissions, global emissions are still projected to rise well into the future. 

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  12. Manic,
    Prof. Rice, actually. I think you may have misunderstood the point I was making with that comment. My point was not entirely inconsistent with yours. I was suggesting that even if we aim to follow some optimal pathway based on a cost-benefit analysis like that presented by Nordhaus, it would still require decoupling of emissions and economic growth pretty soon, and that this is clearly not going to be easy. This is unlikely to happen by chance, so if we did wish to follow such a pathway, it will require some kind of explicit intervention (carbon tax, investment in innovation, incentivising changes in behaviour).

    So, essentially, I agree with you. This is not easy and we have largely failed to achieve this in the past. We may well fail to achieve any kind of emission reductions any time soon. This, however, increases the chances that we will face substantial negative impacts from climate change in the future.

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  13. Uncertainty is a vital political concept in climate science, because it is a major enemy of environmental action. I’ve been reading about climate change since around 2014, when I was immediately puzzled by why bodies such as the Royal Society was writing about the subject with such certainty. It eventually dawned on me that the objective was to dispel uncertainty, rather than to present a proper scientific picture.

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  14. Ken,

    Mark: “Name-calling and smug assumptions of superiority and attribution of impure motives or stupidity of those who question or disagree with them are common.”

    You: “I can’t tell if you’re referring to my post, or John’s.”

    Taking each accusation in turn:

    Name-calling? Mea culpa. I chose to vent my wrath as I was aggrieved at the treatment received at ATTP. But that’s what happens. When people are treated with disrespect, they tend to retaliate. Hereon, I shall refer to you by your preferred epithet: Prof. Rice.

    Assumptions of superiority? Actually, there are no assumptions on my part, smug or otherwise. Instead, I made an assessment based upon the evidence. Firstly, there are the statements you have made on the subject-matter. Do they reflect the understanding held by domain experts? I say not, and I take the trouble to explain why. Secondly, is there anything in your professional background that suggests you would be a domain expert on the subject matter? Thomas Fuller invited you to offer such evidence on the ATTP thread. I note that you declined to respond. I, on the other hand, have provided you with the relevant aspects of my background. Feel free to challenge them.

    Attributions of impure motives? No, this is not what my article accuses you of, though it does make the claim that such accusations formed a large part of the criticism I attracted on your website.

    Attributions of stupidity? No, not stupidity, but a lack of respect for the idea that sometimes you may not always be the greater of the two authorities that are debating a particular issue. Let us be clear here, you have expertise that I wouldn’t dream of impugning. However, based upon your statements regarding risk assessment and uncertainty, I see no reason to presuppose that risk and uncertainty management form part of that body of expertise (this doesn’t make you stupid but it does increase the chances that you will occasionally say something on the matter that is plain wrong). You, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong in calling my expert authority into question, purely because of the website upon which I blog, and the fact that “anyone can claim expertise on the internet”.

    “It’s maybe disappointing that you focussed on what I said in my initial response to you and seem to have ignored the later comments, in particular this one…”

    Actually, I would have thought that you would be thankful that I did not dwell upon your attempt to repudiate your initial statement. You wrote that risk assessment is typically based upon avoidance of extreme outcomes. So I then pointed out that risk assessment is NOT typically based upon avoidance of extreme outcomes. To which you respond, “I will say that I largely agree with your description of risk assessment”. Well, unless the word ‘not’ has taken on a new meaning of which I am unaware, I am inclined to say that our differences remain quite substantive. And I don’t think this is a problem of communication. There was nothing unclear or ambiguous about your initial statement. It was actually perfectly clear, and perfectly wrong.

    As for your reference to Dikran’s contribution, I think you will find that this was not ignored by my article.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. John,

    As for your reference to Dikran’s contribution, I think you will find that this was not ignored by my article.

    I wasn’t referring to Dikran’s contribution, I was referring to my comment where I agreed with your description of risk assessment. It is a little odd that you seem frustrated by me agreeing with you, but it is the internet and I guess arguing with other people is what some people regard as fun.

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  16. John,

    You, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong in calling my expert authority into question, purely because of the website upon which I blog, and the fact that “anyone can claim expertise on the internet”.

    I’ll respond to this too. I didn’t actually call your expert authority into question. What I suggested was that, given your association with a site that specialises in dismissing the views of experts, maybe you should consider being a bit more circumspect when suggesting that people should listen to you because of your expertise.

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  17. Prof. Rice,

    “I guess arguing with other people is what some people regard as fun”.

    Well, your last three responses perfectly exemplify the difficulties people have debating with you. If you think it is fun, then you are sadly deluded. As I prophesised, I now find myself wearing out my keyboard to no avail.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I don’t think it’s fun. I was assuming you did.

    Okay, here’s the point. I wrote a quick response to Tom that I maybe should have phrased more carefully than I did. I wasn’t intending it to mean what you interpreted it to mean. I’ve pointed this out to you on numerous occasions and yet you seem unwilling to accept this. Since I can’t go back in time to write a different comment to the one I did write, what else would you like me to do?

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  19. Alan,
    Can you remind me of when that was? I vaguely remember you making the accusation, but also recall being somewhat confused about what it was that I’d said that wasn’t true (or that I knew not to be true).

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  20. John,

    “Name-calling? Mea culpa. I chose to vent my wrath as I was aggrieved at the treatment received at ATTP. But that’s what happens. When people are treated with disrespect, they tend to retaliate. Hereon, I shall refer to you by your preferred epithet: Prof. Rice.”

    I have just been accused of “poisoning the well” at ATTP (by one of the particularly poisonous denizens of that blog). I commented in good faith and the thread which ballooned thereafter turned increasingly hostile and uninviting. I can understand therefore, how irritated you must be. I only commented because I was the subject (partly) of a recent blog post on coral reef bleaching. I shall not make the mistake of commenting there again, so hostile is the reception, so condescending and arrogant are the commenters, and so biased are their views. It really isn’t a pleasant experience.

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  21. I am genuinely rather confused. The comments here can be rather abusive and yet John and Jaime seemed aggrieved that they weren’t treated with due respect on my blog. I tend to moderate any directly insulting/abusive comments (and am happy deal with any that I might have missed), but I’m not planning to change my moderation policy to include “please treat people with the respect they think they deserve”.

    In fact, I went back through the comment thread where John was commenting and I really can’t see why he seems so upset by the treatment. It seemed pretty mild to me. Maybe I’ve got used to the tone and just don’t notice when it’s not as civil as it maybe should be, but it’s hard to see why any regular on this site is in a position to complain.

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  22. Yes Jaime its a problem, particularly with the anonymous commenters who are mostly unqualified in any science. Generally Prof. Rice is polite in his comments. You brought out some of the nastier such as the D’Hog. Dave_Geologist didn’t show up so you were lucky in that regard. However, you have to sympathize with Prof. Rice. If only polite comments were allowed, 75% of the comments would have to be moderated.

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  23. Prof. Rice,

    And I have pointed out to you, on numerous occasions, that your statement was not open to interpretation. If you had meant to say something different, then perhaps you shouldn’t have happened to choose the form of words that explicitly and unambiguously espouse one of the most common misconceptions concerning risk evaluation. And, maybe, I would be more accepting of your protests of misrepresentation if you had not already attempted to use my “association with a site” as an argument for ruling my expertise as somehow not to be listened to. But whether I believe you or not is beside the point. Either way, you do not give the impression of someone who has a solid grounding in the subject-matter. Somebody who had it wouldn’t so readily invite misinterpretation, even when commenting in haste.

    I have nothing further to add.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. However, Jaime, I’m confused on the subject of coral reefs. I thought the Great Barrier reef had a long extent in attitude. So surely even under a large warming, the Southern parts would still be happy and healthy. Seems like something similar would apply along the African and South American coasts too.

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  25. John,
    Just to be clear, without a time machine I can never be forgiven for expressing myself poorly. Seems a rather harsh judgement, but I guess I’ll have to accept it.

    As far as my expertise in risk assessment, yes it isn’t something I can claim to have extensive expertise in. Hence I probably do express myself poorly at times. I didn’t realise that this was such an unforgiveable act, but I’m learning (actually, I’ve known for a long time that the climate blogosphere is full of people who harp on and on about poorly phrased comments written in haste – it’s easier than actually engaging in substantive, charitable discussions).

    Also, I wasn’t claiming that your expertise was not worth listening to. I was suggesting that if you regard it as important to pay attention to those who have expertise, maybe you shouldn’t associate with a site that specialises in dismissing those with expertise. If you really don’t like people not giving your expertise due credence, maybe you should reflect on what you write in your blog posts, and in your comments?

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  26. That’s a thought DPY. Coral reefs are going to die out they say, because tropical waters will become too hot for them. But if temperate waters become subtropical, then they’ll just migrate to higher latitudes. I can just imagine it: scuba diving tours in 2100 to see the coral reef off Bognor – the Great Bognor Reef!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. John, There is a point at which it’s best to drop the subject of past slights and move on with the substance. It is an unfortunate aspect of the climate blogosphere which has actually gotten better over the last few years. Partly that’s due to a loss of interest in this part of the virtual world so that many of the true trolls have abandoned the field and are probably smoking the evil weed in their Mom’s basements and are too stoned to care. There are still a few though.

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  28. Climate blogs (the more scientific ones) are great places to learn about science though. I’m actually surprised that places like Hot Whopperette (a truly disgusting intellectual sham) and Skeptical Science haven’t gone away. Perhaps they still have a core of devotees.

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  29. John,
    Since I’m not really a fan of engaging in too much tit-for-tat, I apologise if you thought I was saying anything about your expertise. I really don’t know your expertise and am not in a position to comment on it. The climate blogosphere is full of people who think they know more than actual experts, and I was hoping you would at least see that aspect of this issue. If it’s important to listen to experts, then this should be generally true, not simply when it suits us.

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  30. The assumptions in the banal simple-minded professor’s approach reveal a shallow non-rational approach to a complex topic.
    But that is no surprise to those who have endured his consistent avoidance of critical thinking on the climate issue.

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  31. Professor Rice @ 07 Mar 19 at 1:15 pmI am glad you are starting to understand the economic arguments. Prof Nordhaus’ argument (based on UN assumptions) is of minimization of costs (climate costs plus policy costs). But Nordhaus’ assumptions of a single economy and a single optimal policy do not apply. Actual mitigation policies were never intended to have this unitary top-down approach. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at Rio in 1992 exempted developing countries from any immediate obligation to reduce their emissions. Further the “transitional economies” – the former communist countries – were given a temporary pass, which many are still holding onto. The Paris Agreement extends that convention. There is in reality no collective global “we” for climate mitigation policy.  Furthermore there is no power to enforce policy, only to cajole.Following on from what I said above, most countries are unwilling to cut their emissions any time soon and the incentives are not there even if effective and fully costed emissions reductions plans were available from a UN online bookstore. As I stated above, the most beneficial policy, based on Nordhaus’ assumptions, for a nation is to do nothing substantial, whilst appearing to something, and get other countries to bear the costs.
    The various UN organisations are partly to blame for the virtue-signalling of most countries. To keep the show on the road. the UNFCCC accepted virtually any submitted policy intentions back in 2015. The scale of the failure so far is contained in the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018. The stated global emissions goal is as follows

    (G)lobal GHG emissions in 2030 need to be approximately 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C respectively.

    Instead, emissions are projected to be higher in 2030 than today. For the first time in this annual report, there is some breakdown by country. The following table of progress from the G20 countries towards their pledges.

    In 2017 collectively the G20 accounted for over 75% of global GHG emissions. Included in those countries that are on target to meet their 2015 unconditional NDC pledges are China, India, Russia and Turkey. From 2015 to 2030, GHG emissions per capita are forecast to increase by 17%, 67%, 33% and 102%. Conversely, the USA, despite bad boy Trump ditching the Paris Climate Agreement, is on track to achieve the largest emissions reductions of any country between 2015 and 2030, whilst boosting jobs.
    The upshot is that a nation like the UK that pursues aggressive climate mitigation policies will make that nation worse off than doing nothing. Further, the global pursuit of climate mitigation encourages virtue signalling, diverting time and resources from areas where nations can make positive changes. 
    So Professor, are you continuing to promote climate mitigation policies that are net costly to any country that implements them, whilst pretending that the world is a collective “we“?

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  32. Prof. Rice,

    “the climate blogosphere is full of people who harp on and on about poorly phrased comments written in haste – it’s easier than actually engaging in substantive, charitable discussions”

    Actually, the substantive discussion point raised by my article is this: What is the basis upon which we should afford someone a platform for speaking as an expert? So the relevant, substantive questions to be asked of you are:

    Is it advisable that I remain quiet when you come out with a howler (with or without claims of mere clumsiness) simply because of my association with a particular website? Is such association a rational basis upon which to determine expertise and the right to question that of others? Why should that be a more reliable determinator than is the ability to express oneself clearly on the relevant subject matter?

    I’m attempting a substantive discussion regarding the enablement of substantive discussion. Only you could attempt to characterize it as an effort in avoiding substantive discussion.

    Also, please point out to me how my raising the substantive point that risk assessments are not actually focused on extreme outcomes led to charitable debate on your website. As I recall, the ensuing discussion was bookended by you questioning my right to question anyone else’s expertise, and the truculently overweening Willard’s quip, ‘Close the door on your way out’. I admit that the tone of my article is hardly charitable towards yourself, but you should reflect upon the feelings you inculcate when you dismiss criticism in a prejudicial manner.

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  33. DPY6629,

    Your advice is sound, although in my defence I would argue that I was trying to make a substantive point. Nevertheless, there is little prospect of convincing Ken Rice on that issue and there comes a point when everyone will get bored watching the flogging of a dead horse. I suspect we have reached that point and it is time to move on.

    Jaime,

    I think we have shared similar experiences at ATTP. Like yourself, I view commenting there as a mistake not to be made twice.

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  34. Growing up near two universities and a large medical center was very interesting. Spending a lot of time with highly educated academic and medical people as lifelong friends and acquaintances, one can’t help but to notice that only the most insecure and immature academics make pointed references to their status in non-academic situations.
    Even physicians, in casual or non-medical contexts, rarely invoke their status.

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  35. John,
    I knew it was a mistake to respond to Manic with “It’s Prof. Rice actually” 🙂

    This is going down the rabbit hole more than I like, but a few response for you to ponder.

    What is the basis upon which we should afford someone a platform for speaking as an expert?

    There’s no basis. There is noone who can “afford someone a platform”; it’s just a blog, as is this. I don’t claim to speak as an expert. I simply write a blog.

    Is it advisable that I remain quiet when you come out with a howler (with or without claims of mere clumsiness) simply because of my association with a particular website?

    No, feel free to speak out as much as you like. In fact, you commented on my blog, you complained, you criticised, I agreed with your description and even said “fair enough” with respect to your criticism. This is what I’m still confused about. It’s not clear what more I could have done, or what you were expecting. You’re still criticising something I’m not even trying to defend. How is this a discussion? As far as I can see, it’s just you venting your frustration.

    Is such association a rational basis upon which to determine expertise and the right to question that of others?

    I wasn’t determining your expertise, or questioning it, based on your association. I was suggesting that if you regard it as important to listen to those with expertise, that you should probably do so yourself. Given your association with a site that’s regularly dismissive of those with expertise, it would seem that you’re not really in a position to expect a recognition of your expertise.

    Why should that be a more reliable determinator than is the ability to express oneself clearly on the relevant subject matter?

    I agree. Expressing oneself clearly on the relevant subject matter is preferable to highlighting one’s expertise.

    Also, please point out to me how my raising the substantive point that risk assessments are not actually focused on extreme outcomes led to charitable debate on your website.

    I didn’t say it was charitable, I said that I didn’t really understand why you seem so bothered by it. The tone is certainly no worse than is typical here; in fact, I would argue that it’s typically far better. If you’re comfortable with the tone of the comments here, I don’t see why you should feel aggrieved by the tone of the comments on my blog. In fact, I’ve read them a couple of times and I really don’t see what you have to complain about.

    I admit that the tone of my article is hardly charitable towards yourself, but you should reflect upon the feelings you inculcate when you dismiss criticism in a prejudicial manner.

    I’m not the one complaining about tone. I didn’t make you write this article as you did. My own view is that we all get to decide what tone we choose to take. If you don’t like a particular tone, then don’t use it. Could I also suggest that this might not have been the optimal way in which to start a discussion

    I feel my toes curling. Would you care to discuss how risk assessments are made with a risk management professional of some 20 years standing? Would you like to know why you don’t appear to even understand the basics?

    Anyway, this has probably run it’s course. FWIW, I would really quite like it if discussions could be had without them degenerating into slanging matches. I’m also not a fan of suggesting that people should just learn to take it (I think we should all be moderating more abusive comments, but that’s just my view). However, I don’t think one can expect perfection in blog comments, especially if one frequents a site where the tone is very clearly far from perfect.

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  36. “I don’t think one can expect perfection in blog comments, especially if one frequents a site where the tone is very clearly far from perfect.”
    How true, however, Medice, cura te ipsum.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I suspect one is less inclined to notice an inappropriate and/or unpleasant tone or comment when it is made by someone with whom one agrees, and/or it is aimed at someone with whom one disagrees. Possibly that is why aTTP fails to notice the unpleasantness on his own website, but notices it here – and vice versa.

    I try to maintain a polite level of discourse, but I know I don’t always succeed, especially if I’m responding to a comment that has particularly annoyed me; I regret that very much. Maybe we should all try a little harder to keep it civilised, even when we feel we’ve been provoked. I definitely include myself in that comment.

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  38. Prof. Rice,

    I do not wish to respond in detail to what I thought was a somewhat sanctimonious and disingenuous lecture, but I do feel that the following shouldn’t go uncommented upon:

    “I wasn’t determining your expertise, or questioning it, based on your association. I was suggesting that if you regard it as important to listen to those with expertise, that you should probably do so yourself. Given your association with a site that’s regularly dismissive of those with expertise, it would seem that you’re not really in a position to expect a recognition of your expertise.”

    What you actually said at ATTP was:

    “I would suggest that someone who spends their time at cliscep.com should be careful of throwing out claims that other people don’t understand the basics.”

    Tell me Prof. Rice, have you ever said something untoward that you haven’t subsequently tried to wriggle out of? At least we are agreed on one thing: There is no point in continuing this discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Mark,
    Yes, that’s fair point.

    John,
    Ahh, is that the comment that’s got you annoyed? Well, I’m not quite sure how that’s questioning your expertise, but I guess there’s some reason that I’m missing. Apologies for the sanctimonious earlier comment. It wasn’t intended to be, but I guess I’m not capable of saying something to your satisfaction.

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  40. Prof. Rice,

    “I’m not capable of saying something to your satisfaction.”

    I assure you that things are not that bad, but the fact that such an impression has been given is probably reason enough to draw a line here. An awful lot of stuff has got in the way of this debate and I am trying to take DPY’s good advice by moving on.

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  41. Hunterson7,

    The shame about this thread is that it has been dominated by what appears to be nothing more than a spat between two individuals engaged in a less than mature ‘well you started it first’ squabble. The reality is that there is much more at stake here than the egos of two adults who should know better. The whole premise of denialism, and the dismissal of the scepticism that drives sites like cliscep.com, rests upon the presupposition that the expertise resides within those who are making the confident proclamations on climate risk and uncertainty. In contrast, the sceptics are non-experts who simply demonstrate a lack of respect. Not only does our ignorance disqualify us from criticising the presupposed experts (or those who behave as though they are whilst feigning modesty), it also qualifies as hypocrisy, since it only suits us to respect expertise insofar as we profess to possess it ourselves.

    Well I say bullshit. That is an argument that can be applied by either camp and the only way of determining who is using the argument legitimately is to ascertain which subject areas are important to the critical decisions. Sure, an understanding of the physics is one of them, but so is an understanding of the conceptual framework for risk and uncertainty. There is absolutely no reason to assume that climatologists are the domain experts for the latter, and hence absolutely no justification for them (or their advocates) to arrogate the argument as to who is being disrespectful or hypocritical.

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  42. John,

    Sure, an understanding of the physics is one of them, but so is an understanding of the conceptual framework for risk and uncertainty. There is absolutely no reason to assume that climatologists are the domain experts for the latter,

    I agree. My argument is certainly not that climatologists are the only people with relevant expertise.

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  43. “There is absolutely no reason to assume that climatologists are the domain experts for the latter…”

    While it does not speak to the action of particular individuals, communally, a strongly enforced cultural consensus is never going to admit a lack of expertise that will undermine its very purpose for existence. Rather, the problem will be framed as one that doesn’t require the specific expertise, or that a ‘different’ incarnation or convention regarding that expertise exists within the ‘special’ domain of the consensus and is covered, or that special extenuating factors mean that while the expertise is relevant, its contribution does not have a major impact, or failing all else that because all reasonable people and orgs and lines of evidence possess conclusions that point the same way, it must be unreasonable to point elsewhere even if the flaws in the contribution are not yet apparent. This is after footsoldier tactics of merely smearing the contributors or whatever. I don’t know much about the level of expertise on risk / uncertainty deep within the IPCC and its very many input papers, though I recall various posts at Climate Etc suggesting the situation is poor to say the least. Considering that for decades the classic consensus response above has been the treatment for outside contributions on statistics for instance (e.g. from McIntyre), another highly relevant subject area, there is no reason to suspect that, communally, it would be the different for any other expertise gap.

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  44. The fact is that ATTP effectively and actively controls the conversation at his blog by censoring comments and commenters. Which leaves me wondering why he has free rein here.

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  45. Andy,

    “I don’t know much about the level of expertise on risk / uncertainty deep within the IPCC and its very many input papers…”

    From what I can see, the situation in the world of climatology is patchy. If one looks for evidence that the broadest conception of uncertainty has been considered, one can always find it (though not in AR5, chapter 2). Take, for example, the paper I cited in the above article, concerning the applicability of imprecise probabilities. Similarly, I have found serious attempts to investigate the application of fuzzy logic, Dempster-Shafer, Info-Gap, possibility theory and other approaches that seek to fully capture the effects of uncertainty. Also, one can find climatologists giving many a good account of the range and nature of uncertainties that beset climate modelling, particularly when attempting risk assessment at the regional level. So the picture is far from one of abject ignorance.

    Overarching all of this, however, is the IPCC’s mandate to achieve consensus, and I suspect that the adoption of the more forward-thinking approaches tends not to influence that consensus too much. As a result, the headline narrative is not one of challenging uncertainties but of certitude and a confidence in our ability to model the climate (with the precautionary principle waiting in the wings for those who seek only plausibility). Of course, the further away one gets from the science, and the closer to the politics, the less sophisticated is the treatment of uncertainty, culminating in the latest shrill warnings from the powers that be.

    Liked by 2 people

  46. For some time now I’ve been banging on about the limitations of probabilistic approaches and how climatologists are overlooking the potential benefits of applying possibility theory to climate model projections. For example, there was the following remark I made in a WUWT article back in October 2017:

    “Once again, one seeks in vain for any indication that the IPCC appreciates the benefits of multi-valued logic for the modelling of uncertainty. For example, non-probabilistic techniques, such as possibility theory, are notable by their absence.”

    More recently, here at CliScep, I was pushing for the application of possibility theory as the correct theoretical foundation for the assessment of uncertainty:

    https://cliscep.com/2018/11/23/the-confidence-of-living-in-the-matrix/

    Naturally, no one was going to take any notice of a nonentity such as myself. However, I see now that Judith Curry has taken up the cause:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/03/30/whats-the-worst-case-a-possibilistic-approach/

    So I expect she will be getting the credit for the insight. But will I be jealous?

    Of course I fecking will!

    Liked by 1 person

  47. John,

    to be fair, Judith has made more than passing mention of possibilistic approach and possibilistic versus probabilistic, smeared across maybe 7 or 8 years over at Climate Etc, though I don’t recall the contexts and hence the level of perceived importance or depth at any stage.

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  48. That’s okay Andy, it was meant as a tongue-in-cheek comment. The fact is that there have been a few attempts to apply possibility theory within climate science. It’s just that none of them appear to have made any impression on the IPCC. If Dr Curry can change that, then good luck to her, but somehow I feel its too late for anyone to be admitting that their love affair with probability density functions was in any way misguided.

    Like

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