On a different thread, Richard asked what drove each of us to become sceptics mutant variants.

I thought the best way to reply was to include in my comment the graph that first made me question how serious climate change was likely to be.

The backstory: I was an alarmist. Like John in another thread, I had too much trust in science. Wrong things could arise, but they could never thrive in the cauldron of ideas. A friend was an avowed sceptic, and peppered me with reasons why there was no danger from carbon dioxide, many of them spurious. The atmosphere was already opaque to infra-red photons, so adding carbon dioxide would have no effect. You know the kind of thing. One assertion must have been about carbon dioxide levels being very high at some point in prehistory. I did not believe what I was told, and looked for the true figure. Then I happened upon a graph at Wiki, and the rest is history.

This did not show the monotonic decline of carbon dioxide that I had imagined occurred after the evolution of photosynthesis. My naïve idea was that plants would have exploded across the planet quite rapidly. From that point, bathing in carbon dioxide as they were, they would have stripped more and more of it from the atmosphere faster and faster until they soon ended up at starvation point – at the level at which production of carbon dioxide from decay balanced that fixed by photosynthesis. It seemed a rational idea. If you go back to the Carboniferous, the reason that trees did not decay was because there were no fungi that could do the job. The dead trees piled up, got buried, compressed, and slowly turned to coal: it couldn’t happen today because there are plenty of fungi that can decompose wood.

Anyway, photosynthesis scavenged carbon dioxide until it became limiting at “pre-industrial” levels. In my mind carbon dioxide levels had been at low levels for a couple of hundred million years until Homo sapiens upset the balance by digging up all those Carboniferous fossil trees.

Except it didn’t happen that way. This was the graph that I saw:

(Not exactly this. Someone reversed the direction of time after I first saw it.) I knew which page it was on at Wiki so I went back there to cut and paste it into a comment on Richard’s thread.

But it wasn’t there. First I wondered whether I had a faulty memory and had landed on the wrong page. Then I wondered whether some nefarious memory-holing had gone on.

Luckily if Wiki deletes something, it is not memory-holed in the 1984 sense. The old version is still there in the history; if you rummage at the back of the cupboard, you’ll find it in the end. Back and back I went, until sure enough there was my graph. The last version of the page in which it was included was dated 28th August 2018. On that day it got flushed.

Earlier version, 28 August 2018:

Current version, 13 August 2021:

As to the reason for the deletion? I cannot ascribe a motive to the Wiki editor who binned the graph for sure, but it would be natural for a typical mutant variant to regard the move as an effort to erase a fact that was both inconvenient and popular with denialists. The figure provides context to today’s carbon dioxide level of a bit over 400 ppm. It also calls into question the use of terms like “unprecedented” and “irreversible”. Any reference made to “saving the Earth” or of impending cataclysm should take note that as far as Earth is concerned, it’s a case of been there, done that.

13 Comments

  1. The alarmist re-writing of history is an interesting topic in its own right, and it’s important that we record it. The problem is that for every one we spot because we remember something that has been disappeared subsequently, there are probably loads of edits and deletions that quietly slip through without comment.

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  2. Thank you very much for doing this Jit. I don’t have much time right now, due to work and other commitments, but this I will come back to.

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  3. There is another way in which a false sense of history can be achieved, and it is a favourite method of the IPCC. It doesn’t require any skulduggery within the archives, it just requires a little inventiveness in the telling of the story.

    I first encountered this technique in AR5, Chapter 2, in which the authors explained their recent interest in the psychology of risk assessment by claiming that it resulted from important developments in the field of cognitive science since AR4 (or, as they put it, since AR4 there had been within the field of decision theory “a growing recognition that decision makers often rely on intuitive thinking processes rather than undertaking a systematic analysis of options in a deliberative fashion”).

    This was, of course, a load of nonsense. The thinking processes (i.e. relevant cognitive biases) that they claim to have been discovered recently had, in fact, been known of for some time. Take, for example, ambiguity aversion (a particular problem amongst the unskilled decision-maker, opined the IPCC). In fact, the idea of ambiguity aversion goes back at least to the 1960s and owes a great deal to the pioneering work of Daniel Ellsberg. Similarly, the availability heuristic, which the IPCC included amongst the supposedly recent insights, has its genesis in the work of Kahneman and Tversky, who were looking into this well before AR4 (1973, to be precise).

    But why tell such porkies, you might ask. Well, one reason may be because it covers up the true reason for the IPCC changing its narrative. It didn’t change its narrative to take advantage of new developments in cognitive psychology after all. It changed the existing scientific narrative simply because it wasn’t having the desired effect of scaring people enough. They had merely recognized that it was in their best interests to transfer their attention to the availabilty heuristic and current extreme weather, and hence to attribution science. The timing had everything to do with the emergence of this realization and nothing to do with the history of cognitive science.

    Fast forward to AR6 and the IPCC are doing it again. Having laid out in AR5 the plan to concentrate more on attribution science, the fruits of that plan are now explicated in AR6. But are they owning up to this history? Are they hell. Apparently, the timing of the new-found interest in attribution science has nothing to do with the scheming detailed within AR5 and has everything to do with scientific breakthroughs in attribution science since AR5. Once again, this is bullshit. All that the likes of Friederike Otto need in order to do their stuff was laid down by Myles Allen long before AR5 and nothing much scientifically has happened since then other than increased investment in an effort to bring the techniques into the limelight — as recommended by AR5. Yes, bigger computers and more model jiggery-pokery, but so what? Apparently all of this is enabling much more certainty in the attributions, but I’ll be blowed if I can see where this new-found certitude is coming from.

    I have to say that the myth of scientific progress is a well-leveraged ploy when in the hands of the IPCC. It’s a good way to re-write history and cover up motives. That’s why I felt the need to write ‘Hold the Front Page’.

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  4. On the subject of Memory Holes, Paul Homewood has just blogged:

    “Prince Charles to address Cop26”

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2021/08/14/prince-charles-to-address-cop26/#comment-195392

    I was reminded of a Charlie Boy prediction in The Independent from 9th July 2009:

    “Just 96 months to save world, says Prince Charles”

    Trying to (re)find it via Google this morning returned no hits.

    What Google did return though, was:

    “Just 96 months to save world, says Prince Charles” by The Independent dated 23rd Oct 2011.

    When dodgy predictions look like failing, simply pretend they were made later than they actually were.

    And he’s still wrong. But all credit to The Indy on its (headline) recycling policy.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Joe Public, that’s a wrong publication date not a recycled article. It has the same text as the Waybacked original:

    URL:web.archive.org/web/20090712121302/http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/just-96-months-to-save-world-says-charles-1738049.html

    I recently came across another old Indie article with a wrong date:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/news/three-days-to-save-the-world-global-warming-summit-on-brink-of-failure-1287577.html

    That was published on 8/12/1997, not 23/10/2011 – which, weirdly, is the same wrong date as in your ’96 months’ example.

    Googling the Indie’s website with ‘Sunday 23 October 2011′ finds lots of other examples. Eg:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/a-course-in-true-love-1343781.html

    That one was actually published on 24/3/96.

    3/5/2011:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/how-big-freeze-turned-heat-europe-s-best-title-race-2278091.html

    21/6/2008:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/eckhart-tolle-man-could-change-your-life-850872.html

    2/3/1997:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/sport/race-a-minor-issue-in-channel-four-play-1270641.html

    27/12/1992:

    URL:www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/1993-remember-you-read-it-here-first-6-independent-on-sunday-writers-look-ahead-to-a-turbulent-year-in-which-they-foresee-scandal-revelation-and-controversy-in-britain-and-around-the-world-musical-chairs-to-divert-1565565.html

    A quick look at your ’96 months’ example in Wayback showed that 23/10/2011 wasn’t when the article was moved to a new URL. All very mysterious.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Vinny I looked at the html
    For that second one despite the date given on the pge
    The HTML has 5 reference to publication date, all the same one
    “publish”:”1997-12-08T00:02:00Z”,
    That’s 1997-December-8th at 2 minutes past midnight on a Monday

    But for that first one the HTML uses the 2011 date throughout

    Then the third one first uses 2011-10-23T07:18:46
    Then 1996 in the rest of the HTML

    That fourth one you say is 3/5/2011:
    HTML uses 2011-10-23 throughout

    So that is all a bit of a mixture

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  7. These false publication dates are going to
    #1 show up on Google previews
    #2 Be used by Wikipedia authors when citing the Independent

    So that is corrupting the true picture

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  8. John (13 AUG 21 AT 6:38 PM):

    It doesn’t require any skulduggery within the archives, it just requires a little inventiveness in the telling of the story.

    Absolutely. (And sorry for being tardy in response to a comment I appreciated very much.)

    I think I’m going to have to channel Elizabeth Barrett Browning here:

    How do I distrust thee? Let me count the ways.

    When did Loss Aversion become a thing by the way? Bret Weinstein uses it to explain how many tech billionaires have become meek followers of the woke, rather than striking out on their own, as they obviously could. That was in his chat with Tucker Carlson on 9th July. (Warning: this video discusses things to do with Covid that are controversial. It also provides a good overview of what happened to Weinstein and his wife at Evergreen College in 2017 – the only interview that covers both areas pretty well, that I know of. But the stuff about the tech billionaires is I think independently relevant to our concerns as climate sceptics, not least about current and future memory holes.)

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  9. Richard,

    >”When did Loss Aversion become a thing, by the way?”

    I’m not sure whether that was intended as a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer anyway.

    Loss aversion is another of those cognitive biases that the IPCC highlighted as part of the ‘growing awareness’ since AR4, despite the fact that it had been a well-established concept within economics since 1979 (again down to Kahneman and Tversky). In AR5 Chapter 2, you will find the IPCC using loss aversion to explain our reluctance to embrace electric cars. So, not only are they telling porkies about its history, they are also invoking it in a most unconvincing fashion.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you John. It wasn’t rhetorical. Thus I learn more about the AR5 use of these ideas and find myself channeling Denis Healey as impersonated by Mike Yarwood: silly billies.

    Liked by 1 person

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