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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Eric Worrall and WUWT with telltale techniques - No. 3: Impossible expectations No: 2 Logical Fallacy

Sou | 8:07 PM Go to the first of 18 comments. Add a comment

The third of five telltale techniques of climate science denial is that of setting impossible expectations. The second is logical fallacies. Today Anthony Watts has put up another article by Eric Worrall (archived here). His article has both featured, and more. This article is about a special report of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS): Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective.

The report itself, like the ones about extreme events in 20112012 and 2013, describes a number of extreme weather events from around the world in the context of human-caused climate change. There's a short explanation on the contents web page, my paras, dot points and emphasis:

This fourth edition of explaining extreme events of the previous year (2014) from a climate perspective is the most extensive yet with 33 different research groups exploring the causes of 29 different events that occurred in 2014. A number of this year’s studies indicate that human-caused climate change greatly increased the likelihood and intensity for extreme heat waves in 2014 over various regions. For other types of extreme events, such as droughts, heavy rains, and winter storms, a climate change influence was found in some instances and not in others. This year’s report also included many different types of extreme events.
  • The tropical cyclones that impacted Hawaii were made more likely due to human-caused climate change.
  • Climate change also decreased the Antarctic sea ice extent in 2014 and increased the strength and likelihood of high sea surface temperatures in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  • For western U.S. wildfires, no link to the individual events in 2014 could be detected, but the overall probability of western U.S. wildfires has increased due to human impacts on the climate. 
This special supplement on explaining extreme events has now published 79 papers over the past four years. Over half of these papers have shown that human-caused climate change influenced an event's frequency and/or intensity in a substantial manner.

It could be argued that because all of these events occurred in the context of a warmer world, there are impacts on all extremes whether or not the influence is detectable with current methods and available observations. While potentially true, to make attribution results informative to adaptation decisions, scientists must take on the questions of whether the risk or magnitudes of such events have increased or decreased, by how much, and what level of confidence supports the claims. This is the challenge the authors who have contributed to this report have taken on.

The summary table (Table 34.1) is provided to give readers a general overview of their results. However, it is a highly simplified categorization of the results and does not include information about the size of the signal detected and the confidence in the results. This information is present within each individual report, and provides essential context for understanding and interpreting results for any individual event.
Table 34.1 is in the last chapter of the report. It lists the findings in the different papers in terms of strength and likelihood under the following headings:

  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Winter Storms and Snow
  • Heavy Precipitation
  • Drought
  • Tropical Cyclones
  • Wildfires
  • Sea Surface Temperature
  • Sea Level Pressure
  • Sea Ice Extent

Telltale Technique No. 3 Impossible Expectations

The WUWT article is, as expected, straight from Denial 101. Eric Worrall can't stand words like "may" and wants 100% certainty about everything - in line with Telltale Technique No. 3 of climate science denial - impossible expectations.

Science deals in probabilities, not certainties. About the closest you'll ever get from a scientific analysis is 99.999%, but that would be quite extraordinary. Fitting within 95% uncertainty bounds is considered solid evidence. 

He added:
Lets just say I would be a lot more impressed if NOAA could explain the extreme events of 2016, rather than trying to retrofit alarmist explanations to events they have no skill to predict. Starting with an assumption that an anthropogenic effect is playing a substantial role is not the same as demonstrating that this is the case. Retrofitting an explanation is easy – everyone can explain a stock market crash, after it occurs.
Eric is demanding something like a 500 day weather forecast for every portion of the globe. At the moment, reasonably accurate weather forecasts can be made five to maybe ten days out at a pinch. (The Australian Bureau of Meteorology provides 7 day town forecasts.)  There are medium term forecasts looking ahead several weeks. These are to help people who need them (such as farmers, seafarers), but they deal in probabilities and don't include extreme events - except perhaps drought. ENSO projections are an example of medium term forecasts, but again, these don't predict the timing or duration of associated heat waves, drought, storms or flash floods.

In other words, Eric is wanting the impossible.

Most people are suitably impressed by miracles, Eric isn't alone in that regard. However miracles aren't what scientific research is made up of. If Eric is wanting a soothsayer, then he is looking in the wrong place. He could try the local circus and the tent with the crystal ball.

And why is it that so many deniers compare weather forecasting to the stock market? I suppose one could argue that the weather we're getting is strongly affected by human behaviour just as the stock market is. However when humans storm the stock market, the impact is much more immediate. Human activities that affect climate are the result of our efforts accumulated over decades.

Telltale Technique No. 2 Logical Fallacy

Eric doesn't stop at setting impossible expectations, he also builds a straw man. He wrote:
Consider the following (talking about Californian wildfires);
“… A process called CO2 fertilisation (Donohue et al. 2013) tends to increase vegetation activity simply through the uptake of an increasing atmospheric CO2. Under such a scenario along with a wetter climate, vegetation growth would increase and subsequently supply sufficient fuel load.
And here I was thinking California was scheduled for perpetual drought. But I guess this is NOAA, they can disagree with James Hansen if they want.

I'm not aware of any scientific report that talks about "perpetual drought". Eric may not have been in Australia very long. If he had, he'd have understood that wildfires are at their worst after a period of strong vegetative growth. When it dries out during a drought, the fuel load isn't just big - it's big and highly inflammable. So fires burn faster and more fiercely.

The only time the word "drought" appears in the 2012 NYT article that Eric linked to, was with the adjective "semi-permanent", so there goes Eric's straw man argument:
That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.
Three years down the track and rain, when it did come, came down in extreme events with heavy flooding. Californians are hoping this El Nino will bring some relief from their long term drought.

That's not all. Eric built another straw man. He asked his readers if they'd rather drive a car or ride a bike. They aren't the only choices available. Eric made the huge mistake of assuming that there is only one energy source for cars and air-conditioning - fossil fuels. He hasn't caught up with the fact that there are now renewable energy sources available to power electric cars, and homes, and offices.

Since Eric and the most of the people at WUWT can't tell the difference between business and government, it's no surprise that he hasn't caught up with technical developments in the energy sector. He really needs to get out more.

From the WUWT comments

The "thoughts" from WUWT readers are as bad as they come, as usual. The early ones were written shortly after Anthony or Eric posted his article, so their authors probably haven't even gone to the BAMS website, let alone downloaded or read any of the papers.

I wonder how many of them know how to download a document? I wonder how many of them would understand any of the papers if they tried to read one? I wonder how many of them think that the papers were written by men in sunglasses who fly about in black helicopters? I wonder how many of them know what a scientific paper is?

PaulH is all for shifting goalposts (another telltale sign of climate science denial). Tell him that AGW will heat up the world, and show that it has, and he'll want to know if seas have risen. Show him they have, and he'll want to know if ice is melting. Show him it is, and he'll want to know the weather forecast for his location for 21 July 2019 and, unless that's accurate, he won't "believe" that we are warming the planet.
November 7, 2015 at 9:41 am
Lets just say I would be a lot more impressed if NOAA could explain the extreme events of 2016, rather than trying to retrofit alarmist explanations to events they have no skill to predict.
That reaches the heart of the matter. Get some real, specific and measurable predictions correct and I might get on board with the CAGW crowd.

Olaf Koenders has one of the silliest "thoughts" I've read today at WUWT. It's so silly, it could be that he's mocking Eric and the rest of the WUWT-ers. Unless you know the commenters, you'd not be able to tell the difference on that blog:
November 7, 2015 at 2:36 pm
Exactly. They can’t even stop rain or drought, let alone prescribe accurate weather forecasts a week in advance. In Oz, we’re currently suffering a Climate Change ©®™ show by Bill Nye, the fake science guy. Pathetic.

ferdberple is just another of the regular WUWT-idjits. He seems to think it's easy to work out the human contribution to a storm or drought. It's possible but it's not easy. In any case, he didn't bother reading any articles in the BAMS Supplement, or he would have found quite a few 2014 weather events that AGW contributed to:
November 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm
The failure to find a human fingerprint could be due to insufficient data or poor models and not the absence of anthropogenic effects.
or it could be that there are no significant anthropogenic effects.
plain and simple. if humans were truly affecting the climate in excess of natural variability, it would have been detected given the large numbers of people looking for just such a signal.

You know, when I read comments like this one, I wonder what the commenter does for a living. Do they dig ditches? Clean office buildings? Probably not. People who do manual work may well be more likely to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and those of other people. I suspect they are more like middle level clerks who think they are much cleverer than they are, and who have probably already been promoted beyond their competence.  Ian Magness wrote, shouting then mumbling:
November 7, 2015 at 9:43 am
Yet again, this is just total, utter rubbish. It’s an embarrassment to science. The whole idea seems to be that all recent bad weather events (as if they had never happened before…) MUST be attributable to AGW. So, if the proof isn’t there (and which cases actaully DO prove it?), these idiots claim it CANNOT be because we DIDN’T cause it, it MUST be because we haven’t got the measurements and evidence right.
What utter, unscientific, illogical tripe! Anyone associated with this should be fired immediatelay. Of course that isn’t going to happen. Shame.

Is pyeatte's  the sort of comment that Anthony Watts aspires to get? Probably. He seems to have got comfortable pitching for an audience at the bottom of the barrel. The most ignorant of the ignorant. The left-overs, after all the decent to mediocre blogs have had their pickings.
November 7, 2015 at 12:31 pm
The real crime is the fraud being forced on the country by the far-left. The false premise of cars causing AGW is completely unprovable on its face. The effort to eliminate cars is just a ploy to reduce freedoms. The left is a completely evil movement – they should be shunned.

me had a meaningless thought that he or she had to get out into cyberspace:
November 7, 2015 at 9:49 am
Even discussing this, even to rubbish it, is a victory for the crazies.

Latitude is another hardcore denier from way back. This time he decides it's a conspiracy, and the American Meteorological Society editors have to be telling lies. He doesn't give any indication that he's done a count of papers though. Do you think he'd be capable?
November 7, 2015 at 3:43 pm
“In the 79 papers that have been published through the annual report over the past four years, over half of these papers show a linkage to human-caused climate change.”
…that has to be a lie
It’s a prerequisite for all papers to show a linkage to human-caused climate change. 

jl wants to know the definition of an extreme weather event. For the answer to the first question, I suggest reading the report to see what sort of events scientists regard as extreme. The very task of quantifying them can help determine just how extreme is any extreme event. For the second question - duh! That's exactly what scientists are doing - taking measurements, analysing the data, comparing the data for an event to data for the region over time, and reporting the findings. It's called science.
November 7, 2015 at 5:00 pm
First, what’s the definition of an “extreme weather event”? How can one say there’s more, or less of them until we know what they are?

Deniers at WUWT seem to be affected by three main things: fear (which drives a lot of the conspiratorial thinking), guilt - or should I say protestations that "it's not my fault"; and money. Martin chooses guilt protests this time:
November 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm
“In general, when attribution assessments fail to find anthropogenic signals this alone does not prove anthropogenic climate change did not influence the event.”
In other words, we humans are guilty until proven innocent. Wow… 

The self-deluded like to think that everyone else is deluding themselves. To work out who is deluding who, just consider that the scientists are reporting findings based on facts, data, analysis and conclusions based on evidence. Compare that to Richard M, who is making unsubstantiated (factless) assertions based solely on his own wishful thinking (or deception, or other nothingness). He knows that WUWT is a fact-free environment where anyone can say anything they like, as long as it's not based in science or reality. Evidence is strongly frowned upon at WUWT:
November 7, 2015 at 6:46 pm
What we are seeing here is self-delusion. Since the climate is not doing what they thought it would do they are in a panic. They are looking for anything they can find to back their previous claims. This is actually quite a well known behavioral reaction to failure.

References and further reading

Herring, S. C., M. P. Hoerling, J. P. Kossin, T. C. Peterson, and P. A. Stott, Eds., 2015: Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 96 (12), S1–S172.

Scientists Study Links Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather - article by John Schwartz at the The New York Times


  1. Richard M sez:

    Since the climate is not doing what they thought it would do they are in a panic.

    You're right there, Richard M, but not in the way you think. Things are actually *worse* than we thought they would be by this time. Humans are ahead of schedule for soiling their own nest, mainly due to that deadly combination of greed and stupidity.

    1. It would be interesting to see if Richard M's posting history shows that he is one of Anthony's fanboys or not: I was reading the same comment and. as it described them so well, I was wondering whether it was intentionally pointed at the baying mob.

    2. "Panic" does inded apply well to the WUWT mob, but "thought" flatters them.

  2. So, Eric says:

    Retrofitting an explanation is easy – everyone can explain a stock market crash, after it occurs.

    Ok, so he agrees that events can be explained afterwards. Which is exactly what the report is supposed to do.

    I love it when they destroy their own arguments.

    1. To a denier, one positively fed back system is the same as any other. I once had a guy try to mansplain that chaos was unpredictable and you couldn't predict climate based on that. I offered him James Gleick's rather awesome book on chaos, but he didn't bite, so even trying to explain the difference between localized phenomena and exposing anomalies in complex systems would have been an outright loser.

  3. It's OK, the important people ARE taking notice.

    For example, AVAAZ are doing all they can to ensure developing countries sign up for the climate agreement which will save them.

    The developing countries simply want financial support pledged before they sign up, but we can band together and ensure they get it, by supporting (financially) organizations like Avaaz, and by signing these petitions. is a 41-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people shape global decision-making. ("Avaaz" means "voice" or "song" in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz's biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

  4. And the solutions are simple enough:

    "... if you're in a country where per capita emissions are really high -- so North America, Europe, Australia -- emissions reductions of the order of 10 percent per year, and starting immediately, will be required for a good chance of avoiding the two-degree target.

    Let me just put that into context. The economist Nicholas Stern said that emission reductions of more than one percent per year had only ever been associated with economic recession or upheaval.

    1. So what's your point?

      Is it that its better just to destroy the planet and the futures of billions of people, than stop pushing billions of dollars of 'subsidies' into the trousers of fossil fuel industry scumbags?

      Are you just celebrating how you and your pals have delayed the world's politicians taking action on climate change until it will cost far more than it should have and even if they do act now we will still see horrific consequences due to the years of inaction people like you are to blame for?

      But don't worry: if you think that our woefully inadequate politicians are going to do anything more than make insincere commitments to a pathetically minimal program of minor cuts that in the long term probably won't even compensate for world population increase, then you are even more misinformed than usual. Its all the way to 6C and beyond, the only detail is how long it will take.

    2. My goodness! Do you mean all this strident debate, all this noise and posturing, is all for nought? Nothing is going to be done?

      And do you mean to tell me politicians actually take notice of their constituents? Even when those constituents are declared (by those who know and matter) to be an uneducated, ill informed minority?

      Truly, the whole situation is astounding.

    3. I can only repeat Millicent's question.

      So what's your point?

      Where has funny marke gone? You used to provide some light relief with your inanities.

    4. "My goodness! Do you mean all this strident debate, all this noise and posturing, is all for nought? Nothing is going to be done?"

      Do you really need it spelling out in crayon?

      "And do you mean to tell me politicians actually take notice of their constituents? Even when those constituents are declared (by those who know and matter) to be an uneducated, ill informed minority? "

      By 'constituents' I can only assume you are refering to the Koch brothers. Otherwise you would be even further from reality than normal.

      "Truly, the whole situation is astounding."

      Hardly. Its what the fossil fuel industry has spent billions of dollars making sure happened.

      But, unless they are an utter psychopath or a delusional moron, I am struggling to understand why anyone would be happy about it all.

    5. 100 years ago you could have made the same claim on other subjects, perhaps " use reductions of more than one percent per year had only ever been associated with economic recession or upheaval. The name for this logical fallacy is the false dichotomy, "...a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option".

      Replacing fossil fuel with renewable sources maintains the available energy while reducing emissions - and if the (serious, i.e. not Lomborg or Tol) economic analyses are correct, the conversion to green power and corresponding industrial expansions will produce an economic _benefit_.

      And yes, there will have to be some adaptation to climate change. But that by no means indicates that we should abandon mitigation - adaptation is likely to be 5-10x more expensive.

    6. KR, you make a valid point, and I am quoting Alice Bows Larkin above.
      Alice Bows-Larkin is a Professor in Climate Science & Energy Policy as part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and based within the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering. University of Manchester.

      And 'associated with' does not specify which is cause and which is effect. (Though decline in horse use? ...associated with depression? I don't think that ever happened, wars ushered in machines, the big teams of draught horses were sadly taken out and shot, and the economy boomed with the suddenly increased efficacy):

      I am all in favour of ushering in alternative renewable energy sources.
      Wonderful stuff. I also believe that if we find we are really heading towards disaster, we have nuclear power sitting on the shelf, ready to be pulled out to fill the gap (had it not been so maligned and so effectively sidelined, (probably by secretly funded oil/coal industry plots).

      How we go about it is the issue. Precipitate action is a problem:

      I believe an international carbon trading scheme will only ever be a contrived concoction which will 'accidentally' make a few people very rich and powerful. It will not work internationally without considerable adjustments and restructures.

      Carbon taxes may work well within an economic structure (state/county) but these ideas of taxing all and redistributing to the poor are highly doubtful, given the bureacracy required and the tendency of governments to later pool taxes and use them for other purposes. (A carbon tax works if a government enforces a sliding scale pricing program on energy (the more you use, the more you pay), but the strident free marketeers scream at the thought of the government actually setting prices.)

      I am also hugely wary of 'international agreements' which seem to result in unintended consequences:

      ie: Australia (through relentlessly rising energy pricing and tariff reduction policies) is in the process of pushing all its manufacturing offshore. (Whilst labeling themselves in the their own press as "filthiest polluters per capita in the world". Brilliant negotiators, eh? You don't see the Asians or the US, or the Europeans conceding their position before the dealing starts).

      Results of that brilliance and self sacrifice on the world's output of CO2? If the manufacturing goes to China's less efficient, less regulated factories and underdeveloped transport systems:

      Steel: 2.8 times as much CO2.
      Cast iron: 4.1 times as much CO2
      Polypropylene: 18.4 times as much CO2.

      Relevance to this discussion?
      My (well known) disagreement with action calling, unscientific 'alarm articles' replete with phrases of the following type:

      .... "were made more likely due to human-caused climate change".
      .... " increased the strength and likelihood of ....",
      ".... but the overall probability of ... has increased due to human impacts on the climate..."

    7. Further on cause and effect (and in agreement with KR above):

      The 11 percent decrease in climate change-causing carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between 2007 and 2013 was caused by the global financial recession -- not the reduced use of coal, research from the University of California Irvine, the University of Maryland, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis shows.

      Well, the solution is obvious, right? (and, right now, that solution may be on the way anyway, we just need a few international carbon trading agreements to speed it up and deepen the effect!)

    8. marke, I see you say you don't understand the concept of probability. I'm sure you could find an introductory course on statistics at at one of the MOOC providers.

      Or is it just that you are uncomfortable with scientists using error bars and quantifying uncertainty. (Most deniers prefer to see the probability stats.)

    9. You seem to be missing the point - replacing fossil fuels with renewables doesn't necessitate economic slowdowns. The majority of economic analyses in fact indicate that the impact on world economy of mitigation is far far less than pure adaptation to climate changes we could avoid, by a factor of 5-10X. Your advocacy of "business as usual" is the economically expensive path.

      Carbon trading - I would personally consider it a top-heavy bureaucratic approach. Carbon taxes, on the other hand - see the example of British Columbia, which has implemented a revenue-neutral (i.e., nobody is getting rich) tax, and has had a higher growth rate than the rest of Canada in the interim. No sliding scale on the amount of carbon used, just a fixed tax on carbon usage with a fairly straightforward income based refund system to overcome the regressive nature of an unadorned carbon tax. Looks very manageable, with very little bureaucratic overhead, and goes quite a ways towards redressing the "Tragedy of the Commons" involved with fossil fuel users passing their costs (and health impacts, for that matter) onto the rest of society.

      The Australians _are_ some of the greatest polluters per capita, that's what the numbers say - and that's just reality. Oddly enough, it's also home to one of the larger percentage climate denial populations, along with the US and the UK. Which is interesting, as your "(well known) disagreement with action calling, unscientific 'alarm articles'", and in fact the majority of your posts, are replete with climate denial.

      [ Small note on nuclear, after which I'm not going to comment further on what can become a black hole of discussion - if nuclear is so great, why didn't it take over the world of energy production in the decades prior to the ecology movement? Perhaps, _just perhaps_, it wasn't cost effective? Hmmm. ]

    10. "Perhaps, _just perhaps_, it wasn't cost effective?"

      You may be onto it there, KR.

      It must have been because those dang subsidized oil and coal producers with the pollies in their pockets were undercutting them....

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