Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Climate Change National Forum introduces the nonsense amplifier

The Climate Change National Forum now has a section called The Fact Checker. In it they will post the nonsense of pseudo-skeptics and they promise that the CCNF scientists will respond to it. I am glad not to be a CCNF scientist, having to jump up, drop everything I am working on, get myself into the topic and quickly write a response. Until that time, the nonsense is spread undisputed. And that happens every time the CCNF journalist think some pseudo-skeptical article is interesting. Poor scientists.

These "Fact Checker" articles have the highest prominence on the CCNF homepage, they are the first thing people will see and click on and are above the articles by CCNF scientists.

Or as the CCNF journalist Michael Quirke writes in his post explaining the carnage:
NOTE TO READER: This is the fact checker section, where the CCNF journalist impartially posts up outside material (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and the scientists fact check or comment on that material.
It has come to my attention that some readers don’t understand the function and purpose of this fact checker section. I have received some criticism that, by posting up an article for fact checking and commentary by the CCNF Scientist Community, I am somehow giving credence to the content being posted. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Naturally, you give credence to the posted content. Not only will it take time until the scientists can write their response and possibly with mistakes and only responding to parts of the story because of the haste. The article above the line automatically has more credibility as the response below the line. Simply by virtue of being above the line.

Until the scientists have responded the articles go undisputed. Without explaining why an idea is wrong, the idea will stick. Even as a scientist, I try to read WUWT and Co. as little as possible, because after some time you often do not know the source of an idea anymore and may falsely assume the source was reliable. That is why I prefer reading HotWhopper to hear what happens at WUWT.
As acting journalist, I am trying to provide a sampling of the coverage that I am finding in the greater media. You won’t like all material that is posted. I guarantee that. Heck, I don’t like it. But it is not my role, as acting journalist, to state what is credible and what is not in this Socratic forum of scientists. Not at this early stage at least. That is for the scientists in the Scientists’ Comment Thread under each post. The task of the journalist in this section is to post up the good, the bad, and the ugly — whatever is out there in the online space — in a strictly impartial manner.
And I was so naive to think that the role of an acting journalist was to help the reader interpret the news. I guess we can just remove journalists from the equation completely and read random bit of news, mostly nonsense, sometimes accidentally valuable. It is probably good for the click-rates, but I personally prefer quality journalism.

Examples

One of these "Fact checking" treasures has the "title": "YAHOO NEWS article “Global Cooling — The REAL Inconvenient Truth: Part 1″: Climate is cooling and will likely continue cooling for 20 years, sunspot cycles the “real culprit” of climate change, and new evidence of data manipulation by scientists; the world is cooling, bank on it." And started with snow in Egypt. In the comments written one day later the scientists explain that while the suns intensity has dropped since the beginning of the satellite record in 1979, the temperature has increased. Many other mistakes of the Yahoo post that is reposted fully, such as the camel in the Egyptian snow, are not commented on.

An older treasure has the "title": "Dr. Garth Paltridge on JudithCurry.com: Reluctance of IPCC and others to reduce confidence levels in light of hiatus and misunderstood climate mechanisms shows a lack of scientific skepticism." It could be a stupid WUWT post pretending that global warming has stopped because the surface temperatures have not grown as fast as before, fully ignoring that the climate system as a whole keeps on warming and that only more of the warming went into the ocean rather than the atmosphere during the last decade. What makes this CCNF post even worse is that Judith Curry is defending it. Thus we have a confident wrong article above the line and little bickering scientists below the line. Great Fact Checking. That is science communication.

Solutions

My suggestion would be to create a mailing list with the CCNF scientists. That way the journalist can propose articles for the Fact Checking section. This would allow CCNF to write articles where the science is presented above the line and immediately with the nonsense. For the scientists involved this is also much nicer as they will have some more time to prepare a quality reaction.

[UPDATE. The problem seems to be solved.

] [UPDATE. This is how the CCNF now does the Fact Checking. Looks like a clear improvement to me.

]

If the "Fact checker" stays this way, I would suggest all scientists to stop participating in CCNF. Let it succumb to another WUWT or Climate Etc. There are a lot of such homepages already; one more won't hurt. That is better as a homepage that has credibility due to the participation of scientists, but that is actually helping spread misinformation.

That may happen automatically. Michael Tobis of Planet 3.0 writes:
I have been trying to convince scientists that this site presents a level playing field where the true balance of science can emerge, and I’ve been rebuffed with the idea that this site is another example of “false balance”, wherein the politically structured arguments will again take precedence. That argument is being bolstered by this article...
Scott Mandia writes below the hiatus article:
"Michael, I know your heart is in the right place but posting this piece really damages the credibility of CCNF. There is no place for the "It's not happening" argument. ... You have just elevated Dr. Paltridge to the status of the other experts who write here. You also run the risk of deterring real experts from future posts because they do not wish to be associated with this National Enquirer-type nonsense. Keep the discussion where it belongs. ... Michael Quirke Please do a search for "Familiarity Backfire Effect" and you will see why this post is not helpful."
And Bart Verheggen writes:
"Also, I’d be [in] favor of setting a higher bar for articles to be posted in that section. Most scientists are growing tired of the same old “global warming stopped” type memes and have no interest and no time to engage in a game of whack-a-mole. Plus there are excellent myth-busting websites out there already. If there’s an intelligent argument brought forward that shines a new light on something, now that’s different. Bring it on!"
And CCNF scientist Scott Denning writes:
I agree with Bart that the first impression of the CCNF forum is visually dominated by sometimes-bizarre and inflammatory posts that are not even remotely credible, and that this detracts from the quality of the forum.

It’s just not feasible to “fact-check” all these articles. Most of them are not fact-oriented in the first place. Propagandist rhetoric dripping with contempt for science has worse problems than can be addressed by simply “fact checking.”
It seems like Michael Quirke did notice the discontent among the scientists:
Will post up less of the inflammatory and complete B.S. for a while. Don’t want it to become whack a mole or lose the scientists’ participation. That being said, it is important to show readers what “the mole” looks like.
But I have the feeling, he does not really understand why. "Less of the inflammatory and complete B.S. for a while" sounds more like pacifying of the flaring protests than like a long-term solution.

I have wondered whether I should add NoFollow tags to the links to CCNF. [UPDATE: Have added rel="NoFollow" to all links to CCNF.]


[UPDATE. Judith Curry at Climate Etc. now also wrote about the Fact Checker and quoted this post at length. Please find my comment at Climate Etc. (with added tweets) below.

Thanks for the plug, even if it is a bit late, because the problem is solved by now. I was complaining about the format of the Fact Checker at CCNF. They were more positive about my input and have now changed the system. The scientists are now responding above the line and are not demoted to responding below the line in the comments. Comments which many people do not read.

Otherwise I am quite happy with the CCNF.

It is a forum with some science that can lead people back to reality, people that would most likely never visit RealClimate and Co. For the same reason I like your blog, you cite from the scientific literature and I have some hope that this lets people see the difference in quality of argumentation between WUWT and the literature.

My comment about 30 to 1 was a response to Mann calling for balance.

I was only pointing out that that would be difficult. The fraction of dissenters with blogs is way higher as the fraction of mainstream scientists with blogs. That creates an imbalance that CCNF cannot solve.

JC: It only takes one such argument, and one person making it
That is theoretically true for the scientific literature. I am sure you understand that this is not true for blog-science. Isn't that why so many dissenters are blogging?

In practice it will likely take more than one Galileo or study. Also the refutation of classical mechanics by quantum mechanics and relativity did not change many thinks we already understood at the time. It allowed us to study new things and ask new questions. That was the revolution.

Climatology is a mature field and new finding will more likely change the complete picture only little. The most uncertainty is in the impacts, improving our understanding there will have to be done one impact at a time. And more likely, one aspect of an impact at a time.
]

Related information

I have the feeling the Skeptical Science understands debunking climate myths at lot better; see their Myth Debunking One-Pager.

27 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

The house journalist does seem to be a little new to all of this. But even that doesn't explain why it didn't occur to him to hold those pieces until one or more of the scientists involved could write a comment.

I was also less than amused by this careless posting by Andreas Schmittner. It seemed to demonstrate that he doesn't keep up with the literature very well. That's completely understandable regarding material outside his immediate field, but he should have known to check first.

Victor Venema said...

I am not sure if that posting can be explained by carelessness or lack of reading. He also writes: The rate of global surface temperature change for the past 15 years has certainty not been underestimated. Kinda sad, when a scientist writes something like that. And then later redefining ecosystem collapse as removal of all life, if another ecosystem takes its place, it is just a transition, guys. :-(

Sounds like classical pseudo-skeptics syndrome. And that was not in the "Fact Checking" section. He had time to think before writing such [mod, snipped].

Steve Bloom said...

IMO Andreas in this instance is demonstrating that one can, through native intelligence emphasizing quantitative reasoning skills, a good work ethic and ability to focus, become a pretty good scientist, but that good physical intuition (i.e. derived from the science rather than personal experience) doesn't necessarily accompany it. As Planck noted, it's probably more common than not for physical intuition acquired in (relative) youth to become very hard to shake. Andreas does seem to be focused on work tending to bolster a conservative (as it were) view of the science. Probably he should branch out.

quakerattled said...

Victor,

I actually quite like the idea of this. Before I became interested in climate science, contrarians I knew would send me articles from newspapers like the ones being debunked on CCNF. I found these articles hard to swallow so I searched for information about them and would have been very grateful for a site like CCNF where I could easily read what the scientists had to say in response. It's a really great idea.

Your suggestion to have articles emailed first for perusal is a good one though. I also realise that scientists are sick of repeating the same old stuff again and again but it has to be done. This is why the contrarians are doing so well: they rinse and repeat over and over again.

Rachel Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor Venema said...

Interesting. So maybe we need a HotWhopper not just for WUWT, but for the mainstream media as well? I must admit that I often have the feeling that lay-people on the science side know the fallacies of the pseudo-skeptics much better; plus they can write much more freely. These fallacies are not stuff you can (still) write scientific articles about and often about topics you just heard once as a student and never used again.

P.S. for me the second option in "Choose an identity" gives the option of having comments emailed, but I guess that only works for people with a Google account. They do everything to force you to make an account with Google. A Google phone with android needs Gmail to download apps. :-( You have to think of checking the Email box before submitting your comment. Would I start over again, I would chose Wordpress.

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, I made several comments yesterday at CCNF and all disappeared overnight. I had checked back a few times during the day to see if there were responses or further comments, so I know they had remained for at least a few hours. Although I wasn't paying close attention, other comments in those threads seem unaffected. I emailed n-g to ask about this, but absent a real good explanation I will stop visiting or linking (which frankly I'm tempted to do anyway due to the compounding of the problems discussed above with the incoherent post by Curry).

Come to think of it, I actually did make a short comment saying it was incoherent (which it is, amazingly so), at which I suppose they might have taken umbrage, but I don't think I used stronger language than several others whose comments remain.

I did notice that the site has a functionality issue with intermittent slow/failed page loading, so that may be an indication of other problems. AFAICT Michael Quirke (the CCNF executive director and temporary journalist) put the site together, and is perhaps something of an amateur at web development.

Just now I went to the site and saw a new comment by Jim Bouldin in the sidebar, but it disappeared when I clicked on it. I suppose that might be because he deleted it, though.

Steve Bloom said...

That's a valid point, Rachel. While clearly CCNF didn't handle it well, it does seem they could fix it. I think a further problem they'll have is asking scientists to do a thorough job of debunking material that is essentially just rebunking of old arguments long since thoroughly demolished by RC, SkS or the like. Why devote the time to original writing when just a link will cover the substance? But my impression of n-g is that he won't want to do it that way.

Steve Bloom said...

I long since swallowed the Google koolaid, but some time back was forced to get a Facebook page (which I don't otherwise use) because some sites have taken to requiring it to sign in.

Steve Bloom said...

FWIW Bouldin's comment is now back.

EliRabett said...

It is rather depressing to be as cynical as Eli, but first of all, this guy Quirke is neither a scientist or a journalist, but a law student, and lawyers are advocates (esp German ones), so extending him the assumption of naivety may be a bridge too far.

Second, if you think about it, the reason that people are giving CCNF the benefit of the doubt is John Nielsen Gammon who is pretty universally respected and is the "name" behind the site and whose reputation has recruited many of the science types. FWIW John does dabble with the Watties, so don't take his commitment to truth, justice, etc. for completely granted.

IEHO John is the guy in the Bible who was landed on by fate and prayed that he believed, but begged that God help his unbelief. John knows the science but deep down prays it were not so.

And Then There's Physics said...

Bouldin's comment is quite interesting. He may be right that scientists should not describe some effect/impact in emotive terms, but the post is about an article and the idea that noone can describe something as potentially catastrophic is absurd (although, that may not be what he's suggesting). Also, it comes across a little like Tamsin Edwards's no-advocacy argument. I'm perfectly happy with scientists remaining objective in their publications but I have no issue with them publicly expressing a view as to whether or not some possible future impacts are - in their opinion - catastrophic or not.

Jim Bouldin said...

Steve, I have seen your message above and sent an email to the CNNF mailing list to inquire as to what happened to your comments.

My comment was not deleted and reinstated by me.

It may be related to Michael's attempts to redesign the site appearance, but I don't really know.
Jim

Steve Bloom said...

Thanks for that, Jim.

I did get a response from John yesterday apologizing and saying that it's a known bug. I had saved one of the comments (appended below) and so was able to forward it to him; he did offer to post it in the scientist comment section (to make sure it would stay), but only if I provided some back-up for my claim about the AR5.

As I'm irritated by the lack of any warning to commenters about what is apparently a long-known bug and by the suggestion that I should be held to a higher standard than Andreas (to whom I was responding), I think I'll decline the offer.

(For anyone who cares, a search of the WG2 TS does find a number of uses of equivalent phrases to "ecosystem collapse.")

----------

A Google Scholar search for very recent papers containing the phrase "ecosystem collapse" turns up quite a lot. The first few papers seem pertinent to this discussion.

I haven't checked the AR5, but I would be surprised to not see the phrase (or its equivalent) appear there as well.

Andreas, definitions are important here, e.g. a climax forest ecosystem replete with megafuana being replaced by a depauperate community of prokaryotes can be characterized as just a transition. Would that not be a bad thing?

But really, based on a now-vast paleo literature (much more at the link I gave) it's a scientific truism that the unprecedented fast climate transient we are in the early stages of must result in extensive ecosystem changes than can be fairly characterized as collapse in many locations.

You note that Lozhkin and Anderson don't use the exact phrase "ecosystem collapse," but the last sentence in their abstract goes to the same point: "The El’gygytgyn data also suggest a possible elimination or massive reduction of Arctic plant communities under extreme warm-earth scenarios."

Re Cox et al. (2004), we have one modeling result being overturned by another, but in the meantime some pretty ominous empirical results have appeared, e.g. this and this.

I'm realizing I need to take the time to go through this literature thoroughly to make sure I'm not missing anything, but also I see this recent paper in which co-author Peter Cox seems to be saying that he takes it all back with regard to the refuting study you referenced *on which he was lead author (!)*. The title ("A two-fold increase of carbon cycle sensitivity to tropical temperature variations") really says it all, but note as well the concluding lines of the abstract:

"We also find that present terrestrial carbon cycle models do not capture the observed enhancement in CGR [CO2 growth rate] sensitivity in the past five decades. More realistic model predictions of future carbon cycle and climate feedbacks require a better understanding of the processes driving the response of tropical ecosystems to drought and warming."

Interesting times.

Jim Bouldin said...

Hmmm, yes I can empathize with your position Steve and would likely feel the same way if it were me. If it makes you feel any better, none of us were informed of this glitch either.

I've noted what happened and posted a link to your comment here, under the newest CNNF "fact checker" post.

I'm also really hoping to address the broad topic of ecosystem stability with a post, a topic which is obviously highly important. I'm totally swamped though and there's nobody else to do it, so it will have to wait.

I appreciate you taking the time to investigate this, including the posting of links (which I'm interested in reading)

Anonymous said...

The Facebook comment plugin at CCNF is definitely broken.

I can see my comments while I am logged into my Facebook account but if I logout they disappear.

Presumably no one else can see them.

Andreas Schmittner said...

Steve Bloom:

the first article that came up following your link was "Diversity loss with persistent human disturbance increases vulnerability to ecosystem collapse". Nothing to do with climate change.

I think it is obvious that humans had a tremendous impact on ecosystems, most without climate change but because of deforestation, overfishing or killing buffaloes for fun.

I may even admit that any climate change leads to "ecosystem collapse". But in this case it is nothing special because it happens all the time since climate changes naturally a lot.

EliRabett said...

You know Schmittner, you really should RTFR. You can do that even at home if you follow the link to the acrobat file posted by one of the authors.

If you had done that you would have seen that the argument in "Diversity loss with persistent human disturbance increases vulnerability to ecosystem collapse", and within the text you find statements about how monocultures are particularly vulnerable to sudden changes including climate changes.

Jim Bouldin said...

Could we all just please just back off a bit, we're all working toward the same purpose here.

Ecosystem stability is a large and difficult question that has has to be addressed dispassionately. Steve's provided some links and stuck to the science issues, as we all should.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
EliRabett said...

Well Jim, it's amusing watching you and Schmitter pulling your Gort and Klaatu act

Eli has a message for you, you both are in the same barrel as everyone else.

Victor Venema said...

Sorry Anonymous (NikFromNYC), you may be used to the mud fight at CE, but here you have to be polite and provide arguments.

Jim Bouldin said...

Thanks Eli, I'll make sure I make a note of that, refer to it frequently, and cite you for it.

Now, suppose you tell us all about the methods of those un-named studies you refer to at CCNF that have convinced you that half the people in the world are going to die from climate change by year x.

EliRabett said...

Jim, you missed the point, the challenge was to come up with a value neutral statement that implied a catastrophe. Eli provides same and then you guys start quibbling.

If you want an example, a large incoming asteroid could suffice. Moreover, since we have no real experience of same, confidence limits are fiction, but whomever survives might not make it through the next few years of no crops.

Steve Bloom said...

Thanks for your reply, Andreas. TBC I was trying to address two points re "ecosystem collapse," first whether it's a term that gets used by relevant subject matter experts, and second whether it (or an equivalent phrase) has been used by them in an AGW context.

Given what I turned up, I have no problem with MR's use of the term in that video. From some of the subsequent comments you made, it sounds as if you may not either.

The underlying issue here, I think, is whether it's justified to use comparatively harsh terms like "ecosystem collapse" to describe future changes regarding which the timing is not clear. As MR noted, the speed of the observed changes and the general inability of the models to keep up with them (and perhaps more to the point the inability of the models to manage a transition from current to a Pliocene-like climate) would seem to be sufficient justification. Add to that the prospect that on our present emissions trajectory our descendants will be lucky if things stop at Pliocene-like.

Jim Bouldin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jzf said...

It took about 180 seconds reading these comments to recall that during those 180 seconds about 600 Hiroshima atomic bombs of energy was trapped by GHG.

AT this snail's pace of tit for tat between skeptics and the concerned, we are truly screwed.

A far better use of our time would be to get out the vote and get the TP out of office!

Xavier Becerra my CA rep, insists that TP or GOP in Congress simply couldn't care less about the facts, are beholden to ff industry and must be replaced by the voters.