Friday, August 22, 2014

How scientists feel about climate change plus Anthony Watts mixes logic and emotion

Sou | 12:55 AM Go to the first of 13 comments. Add a comment

Joe Duggan has a blog on which he's posted letters from Australian climate scientists, expressing how they feel about climate change.

There are a lot of them and they are heart wrenching and frightening. They remind me of the seminar I attended earlier this year, which caused my stomach to knot up with dread for the future. At the seminar, none of the scientists spoke about their feelings. They didn't have to. The science spoke for itself. At the time I could only wonder how they had the stamina to continue to work in their field, knowing what they know.

In these letters we get a glimpse of what must at times be personal torment. These are from people who understand more than anyone else what we and our children and their children are going to have to try to cope with.

Take a few minutes and go and read the letters at Joe's blog.

If you are a climate scientist or do research in a related field, then you won't need to read what your fellow scientists are dealing with.  I've worked a lot with scientists. As a general rule, scientists don't wear their heart on their sleeve. They tend to be analytical rather than emotional. These letters were in response to a specific request. They are a rare opportunity for human insight rather than just plain science, from people who understand, more than the rest of us, what the future may bring.

Anthony Watts mixes logic with emotion

Anthony Watts copied and pasted the blog article in full. Then he wrote (archived here):
Two things:
1. Logic (Science) and emotion (feelings) are polar opposites. Mixing the two is a sure recipe for logical disaster. Ref: fMRI reveals reciprocal inhibition between social and physical cognitive domains. NeuroImage, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.10.061
2. I feel like I want to hurl.
(h/t to Maurizio Morabito)

Apart from noticing the obvious denier reaction, did you pick up on the intentional or unintentional irony? Anthony speaks of logic and emotion being polar opposites. (They aren't of course. One can interfere with the other but one can also enhance the other.) And after talking about mixing the two resulting  in logical disaster, Anthony decides to mix the two anyway, saying he feels like he wants to hurl.

When scientists open up and express how they feel about what they know, it really brings it home how courageous they are. And if you ask me how I felt after reading their letters, it was immense sadness.

If you were to ask me how I felt after reading the reaction of WUWT deniers to these letters, the first reaction was like Anthony Watts - I felt like I wanted to throw up. Then I felt scorn. That's a funny word, scorn. Imagine the deepest scorn you could feel for anyone at all, then double it. That's the level of contempt that swept over me. It didn't last long though. The WUWT comments were too silly for strong emotions. In the end, the WUWT crowd are just a bunch of good-for-nothing layabouts. It's hard to maintain emotions of any kind about people at the bottom of the heap, character-wise.

It's always interesting from an intellectual standpoint though (to me), to try to fathom how anyone can disregard the knowledge of experts. And particularly how people can dismiss how the experts react as humans to the knowledge they hold, is beyond me. Oh, I know there are sociopaths among us. And there are people who are wilfully ignorant, perhaps in an effort to preserve their sanity so they can function day to day. Maybe some deniers know that if they accepted the facts, they wouldn't have the strength of character to continue.

Those of us who don't work in climate science or an environmental science - we spend most of our time thinking about other matters, like earning a living or caring for family and friends or simply enjoying life as it happens day by day, or struggling through life as the case may be. We can avoid thinking about what we are doing to the world for much of the time. People who work in climate science every day - they cannot avoid it. They can be likened to emergency room doctors and nurses, or perhaps to that special group of health professionals who work for organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières.

If you thought the climate scientists were getting a bit too touchy feely  in their letters, some of the same scientists are in the video below, which is anything but touchy feely. (There are a few references that only Australian's will get.)

From the WUWT comments

If you've read the letters from the scientists, you might not want to read any further here. Still, I'll copy some comments just for the record. Maybe people will look back from the future and be as perplexed as we are today at the incomprehensible reaction to science that some humans manage to maintain. How human nature is such a strange affliction.

Marose thinks if a person responds to a question about how they feel, they need psychiatric support, and says:
August 21, 2014 at 3:52 am
Are these people all seeing the same psychiatrist?

hunter thinks it's scientists who are out of touch, not the science deniers and says:
August 21, 2014 at 3:54 am
Even if the question asked them to focus on their feelings it is still showing that these professionals are unbalanced and highly out of touch with reality. The misanthropic prejudice, the self-absorbed,self declared importance of how they see their work, the short term hysterical perspective they have on what climate is doing at this time. All their words illustrate while many of them are undoubtedly at an emotional level sincere, their work feeds their emotions, not their reason. 

Unmentionable is another person who thinks that talk about personal feelings is a sign of neurosis, and says:
August 21, 2014 at 6:08 am
I couldn’t read more than a few page scans of that goop they’re all neurotics. At least the Poms do the stiff upper lip, they don’t just let it all hang out in a display of feeling sorry for themselves for their private self-appointed mission failure to stop the world adapting to itself. Aren’t these people paid to lecture and mark student examination papers and bore each other ‘n stuff? Whence the universal self-appointed Messiah complex? Must we remind you about how that turns out?
I need a group hug and a hot beverage with cinnamon in it.

PaulM is just another deluded denier who thinks that the experts don't know their subject matter, but he from his rocking chair does, and says:
August 21, 2014 at 3:58 am
Pity he didn’t ask them if they had any empirical evidence that the current climate change is not natural. If they did have some good empirical evidence then they would probably get they action that they desire.

M Seward compares the scientists to paedophiles and says:
August 21, 2014 at 3:59 am
Sniff, sniff…. sniffle…….. I feel so emotional. My fellow, educated Australians writing such heart rending insights into their humanity. As an an alumnus of USNW …. I so FEEEEL (sob sob) for these scientists now putting their hearts and souls into saving us from potential catastrophic and anthropogenically caused climate change…. NOT.
What an obviously orchestrated bit of utterly childish drivel. It shows the sniffling, self important little sook level at which these disgusting creeps are prepared to operate at to get their way and maintain their status and privilege..
Honestly, it is like listening to paedophile priests saying bring unto me the little childrem….

Rob Dawg decides that it's all the scientists fault that people like him don't believe the strong, clear message that scientists have been telling the world for the last few decades, and says:
August 21, 2014 at 4:06 am
There is a common reaction in the letters. They are frustrated no one believes them. The truth is they are ineffectual in making the case for their opinions to prevail. Appeal to authority positions are notorious for generating pushback yet they seem surprised by the reaction.

There's lots more of the same. It's as if these people are living on another planet. Perhaps another universe. One wonders how they cope in other spheres of their life. Maybe they don't - cope, that is. Robin Hewitt says:
August 21, 2014 at 4:23 am
This is wonderful. If these people are disappointed and frustrated that we are not stupid enough to fund and support solutions suggested by models that have lost all touch with reality, maybe there is still hope. Phillip K Dick defined reality for us, “Reality is everything that doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it”. Delusion is believing something to be true despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.

M Courtney says:
August 21, 2014 at 4:51 am
If our Australian friends are a little embarrassed by this, I do have something complimentary to say about these esteemed researchers.
They do have good handwriting.
Australian academia should be proud of its achievements. 

starzmom is showing her age. She must be going on for 100 if she has children (as her name suggests), because copperplate and similar flowing scripts were done away with by the 1960s. She says:
August 21, 2014 at 5:20 am
Is there any particular reason these esteemed scientists with fancy degrees print instead of writing? Most of these letters were as neat as a third grader’s paper. At least compared to when I was in third grade. Then we learned to write. They also make almost as much sense. I expect third graders to let feelings guide their actions. 

A lot of WUWTers were saying that expressing deep sentiment is childish, but they don't seem to mind comments like this one from Stephen Richards who says:
August 21, 2014 at 5:46 am
What pathetic, small minded little morons. They certainly need a phyca or a phsyco. Perhaps Loo Papar-donsky can help them while he help himself.

rogerknights seems to think there are contrarian arguments that hold water that scientists don't know about, and says:
August 21, 2014 at 5:48 am
They sound as though they haven’t been exposed to contrarian arguments except in strawman versions. They also sound as though they wouldn’t seek out disconfirming arguments. 

Tom J says:
August 21, 2014 at 5:50 am
What a bunch of pathetic, spoiled babies.

I haven't got to the end of the comments. There may be some gems I missed. If you added up the intelligence quotient of every WUWT-er do you think it might get to 100? They are an ignorant, coarse bunch, aren't they.


  1. I learned cursive in Canada in the 80s; seems to still be taught, according to some rants from a friend in the US whose school-age kid is suffering it. Apparently there's a debate there about whether to stop teaching it.

  2. Those of us who don't work in climate science or an environmental science - we spend most of our time thinking about other matters, like earning a living or caring for family and friends or simply enjoying life as it happens day by day, or struggling through life as the case may be. We can avoid thinking about what we are doing to the world for much of the time. People who work in climate science every day - they cannot avoid it.

    I do not think that climate scientists think more about the worrying possible consequences of climate change as you do. Most of the time you are thinking of how to get a detail of a detail of a specific small question as accurate as possible. During working hours there is normally no need to think of the big picture, except those few that are active in science communication.

    Maybe people will look back from the future and be as perplexed as we are today at the incomprehensible reaction to science that some humans manage to maintain.

    These humans only claim to have problems with the science. There is no need to assume they really do. If they were interested in better science, you would expect them to put much more care into selecting the best possible counter arguments, instead of publishing the most improbable nonsense possible. Most likely they simply do not like mitigation and pledge allegiance to their cause this way.

    1. You may be right, Victor. It's as good an explanation as any for why people who don't think climate change is anything to concern us, why they spend so many hours of the day, days of the week, weeks of the year, and years of their lives shouting their denial from the (cyber) rooftops.

      If they really weren't concerned about it, they'd not spend hours every day on anti-science blogs.

    2. Sou

      If they really weren't concerned about it, they'd not spend hours every day on anti-science blogs.

      Oh yes. As I have said before, they are terrified. Partly of CC (hence the vehemence of the denial) and partly of being forced to accept that there is no freedom without responsibility. They are very like children.

  3. I dropped a single drive-by comment there, which I expect will be greeted with fury and/or removed. What a den of fools.

  4. Glad to see there was one letter from a biologist. I'm a wildlife biologist/ecologist and understand that viewpoint. Where most people admire a coral reef and its denizens, I see what once was there, I see the decay, I see the sickness. I know what species should be there and in what numbers.

    Same with forests. I see the trees that once would have been there, I see a bird species and know that even within my lifetime it would have been 80% more abundant. I hear the chorus of birds in the spring mornings, and recognize it's just a former shadow of the chorus from 40 years ago, a 100 years ago, 500 years ago.

    In short, I see slow creeping death nearly everywhere I look. The sound of birds migrating overhead at night makes me shed quiet sad tears---I'm not quite sure why...it's all jumbled and confused but there's a sense of loss, a sense that things are damaged, a sense of passing like maybe the magic is slowly draining from the world.

    To counter the sadness and sometimes despair, I read Edward Abbey's quote a couple of times a week (it's pasted on my desk wall). It starts, "One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out". Google the rest if you haven't read it---well worth it.

    1. Dan, as an ecologist also I feel exactly the same things that you do, and Anthony Richardson's letter echoes my own thoughts.

      I've often spoken about Dan Pauli's shifting baseline concept, and I see it manifesting more frequently, and more strongly, over the last few years. I also see the precipitous decline of many species I worked with during my Masters and PhD candidatures, and in my professional life afterward, and I know that many if not most are already committed to extinction by human-caused global warming. And yet getting politicians, bureaucrats, and uninformed lay people to understand and appreciate the loss seems to be an impossible task...

      The Great Barrier Reef is an extraordinary manifestation of this. What many people fail to understand is that it's decline will follow an increasingly-precipitous decline trajectory (whether hyperbolic, exponential, sigmoid, or similar) where things will seem to tick along fine for a while, and then a calamatous failure will occur over a relatively short period. It's pretty much already locked-in as a consequence of inevitable carbon dioxide emissions, and the Coalition government's kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry in terms of export through the World Heritage Area is simply shitting on the corpse before it dies.

      Many other ecosystems will follow to a greater or lesser extent, and this will include systems on which we inextricably rely.

      The problem is that human thinking at both cultural and species levels is fundamentally flawed. Oh, the way it evolved to a few thousand years ago is fine, as it produced useful algorithms to cope with lions and tigers and bears, but the refinement of the algorithms wasn't honed at the same scale of time required for the evolutionary experiments of opposable thumbs and bipedalism, and of complex language and symbolism, to manifest their synergies. The result is that magical thinking trumps logical and informed understanding.

      This is exemplied in the typical incorrect assumptions that predict the result of the two-balloons experiment. Humans too frequently assume that one system can reliably describe another - for example that two inflated, connected balloons would mirror in action two bodies of water at different heights, linked by a tube - when such assumptions ignore other conditional phenomena such as hysteresis (which, by the way, is why the Coalition is likely about to set back higher education and research in Australia by at least a generation).

      Humanity's respond to global warming has been the same as that of a smoker who has the beginning of emphysema but who won't listen to his doctor's exhortations to quit. There's simply a disconnect between the addicted-to behaviour and the consequenses of the same. And like the smoker we've already committed the planet to severe damage: the question is how badly we'll compound it before we try to pull away...

      Of course, on the greater scale of time evolution will realise that the experiment with intelligent, standing, chattering apes was a bit of a mistake, and eventually clean up after the mess.

      I hope that every one of the people who deny the existence of, and/or obstruct action on, human-caused climate change tells as many of their friends and family that they do so. In that way there will at least be folk around who know who are the people who have been complicit in the destruction of the only habitable planet in the known universe.

      Our kids will want to know who it was that scuttled their ship.

  5. Eric Holthaus writes about that we should be appealing more to people's emotions to raise awareness of climate change.


    Reading Anthony and co's comments on his blog made me so angry. He and his followers really can be nasty pieces of work.

  6. Watts and his readers remain clueless about science and the environment, and are only interested in a pissing contest about their indifference??

    Who knew?

  7. "One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out"

    In an entirely different context, I still recall my favourite saying that I used to have pinned to the wall of my office cubicle.

    = If enough people beat their heads against a brick wall, it _will_ fall down. =

  8. It's observing the people around me that makes me despair: the addiction to a slob lifestyle where everytime you leave your property boundary you do so in a car, even if its to drive just 200 yards to the local shops.

    In the vastness of the US or Oz it might be necessary to own and drive a car. but here in the densely packed island that is the UK it is very easy to live without one. But its very rare. And what makes it even more odd is that living without a car has considerable benefits for your health and your finances. I would not have been able to retire before I was 50 if I'd been giving a large chunk of my disposable income to the oil and motor lobby over the previous 30 years. And I would not have been so fit and healthy. I get told how 'lucky I am' by people who could have been in the same position if only they'd been prepared to get off their fat arses.

    But it goes beyond even that now. We had an air pollution incident where the combination of weather and diesel engine pollution was killing people. Not even that would stop the slobs from driving, even for just a few days until it cleared. It seems to me that my generation is, very largely, the dregs of humanity.

  9. "In the end, the WUWT crowd are just a bunch of good-for-nothing layabouts".

    Your comment pretty much sums it up. They are intellectually lazy.

  10. Punchy. That is what these Wattsian impulsives make me feel. Their common value is disrespect, born from willful ignorance.


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