Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Scott Adams puff piece on disputing climate science torn apart by Victor Venema

Sou | 11:15 AM Go to the first of 32 comments. Add a comment
Scott Adams is very perceptive of the human condition in his Dilbert cartoons. He is not as perceptive when it comes to things that matter a lot. (From my reading of his tweets recently, he fell for conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and for the lies of Donald Trump, for example.) Today he's come out as a wilful science denier - or as good as.

I would love to do an analysis of Scott Adams' new article for fake sceptics, but I have more pressing matters to attend to right at this moment. In the comments to his article I did ask him to elucidate one point he made. I wrote:
Scott, I appreciate you want to hedge your bets, that you aren't able to learn about climate science despite all the information available to the general public, and that your preferred position is that climate science is a hoax but you aren't game enough to say it out loud.

You say: "In my experience, and based on my training, it is normal and routine for the “majority of experts” to be completely wrong about important stuff."

Can you list three examples? I am keen to see examples that are comparable. That is, where 98% of the thousands of scientific experts on the subject have for decades been finding one result (made up of multiple results pointing to the same conclusion) based on theory and observation, and it turned out to be completely wrong. Not merely opinion on some minor matter, I'm talking about situations where the same theories have been shown to be consistent with observations every time in one context, but for some reason not in a different context.

If as you say this is "normal and routine", just three examples that are comparable to showing 200 years of an entire large scientific field are completely off track, should be a breeze for you. That is, unless this was just a throwaway comment of the type that fake sceptics make to support their authoritarian inclinations.

What is interesting is that he refers to his "experience and training" as support for his claim, but provides not a jot of evidence for that claim. At the same time, he dismisses as largely irrelevant the "experience and training" based on years of observations and analysis of climate scientists over the past 200 years.

While I don't have time right now to write a detailed analysis, Victor Venema did manage to make the time. So go read what he's written - and dwell on it. Especially if, like Scott, you have an unhealthy rather than a healthy, scepticism of specialist advice.


  1. That'd be this Scott Adams?

    "But if you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men. Men get to watch it all at home, in homes designed and built mostly by men, thanks to the technology that was designed and built mostly by men. I mention that as context, not opinion."

    I wouldn't bother to even start with this guy, frankly.

    1. Man, born of woman, loses all sense of self-worth and confidence after discovering to his horror that he has to share the planet with smart, educated women.

    2. Oi...
      Very well, I have to concede the truth of this. Therefore I am no man or I was not born of a woman.

  2. if has to do with science, Scott Adamas is probably very, very wrong.


    1. Hmmm... Misogyny is often hand in hand with science denial. Not unrelated is the white male supremacist "movement" and all that goes along with it - a la Breitbart.

    2. Another source: http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/tag/scott-adams/

      Scott Adams is way off the deep end.

    3. Adam Scott should take his own advice in his blog piece, Expanding Earth Theory
      : "And like all fringe theories, you can always find clues that make it seem as though it all fits together, so long as you don’t know too much about science. " Ditto for the illiterati whose nonsense is exposed on Hot Whopper and similar sites.
      Not knowing too much about science might explain Scott's exposition on pps. 244-246 in Chapter 14 "A New View of the Future" in his book, "The Dilbert Future - Thriving on Business Stupidity in the 21st Century", 1st Ed. 1998, pub. Harper Perennial, viz:
      "What if your thoughts can influence things at a distance - but only in the tiniest ways - on the order of electrons, light particles, or even smaller? Could those tiny influences make any significant difference in your life? According to the chaos theory, the answer is yes." No. According to Scott the answer is "yes".
      The above statement leads into parallel universes - "Can you steer your perceptions towards realities that are more to your liking?" and then expands into some "bizarre experiences with affirmations." Apparently, Scott used affirmations, which operate under the "Law of Attraction", to become a successful syndicated cartoonist, as you do.
      On page 252 of his book, Scott almost 'hits the mark', so to speak, when it comes to putting up with the illiterati. "It would be easy to feel helpless in a … universe where you're surrounded by idiots. Their sheer number would guarantee that you can't escape their impact no matter how clever you are or how hard you work. But I predict that will change." Which statement becomes Prediction 65 of his book: "In the future, all science will gradually free us from the optical illusions that restrict our view of reality." At the rate things are going, Scott will not live to see the 'scales fall from the eyes' of the illiterati (or the usual suspects).
      Nor will Scott live to see his Prediction 63: "The theory of evolution will be scientifically debunked in your lifetime."

    4. Adam Scott is a golfer.


  3. "My bullshit filter accepts this new information. I was having a hard time with the idea that some goober in tan pants would dig up a bone fragment in Africa and know it was his own (great X 1,000) grandmother. It just didn’t feel right. And now we know, assuming the DNA evidence is solid, that the guy in the tan pants was full of shit. All that the fossils show is that there used to be ape-people who are not us. " [emph. mine]

    Fossils are Bullshit.

    Another incredulous feelpinioner. Hence perfectly at home with denial and the alt-Right generally. Ignore

  4. Submitted the Venema analysis to slashdot: https://slashdot.org/submission/6543427/scott-adams-and-the-non-expert-problem Feel free to upvote if you have a slashdot login and think the story should be published.

  5. "...El Niño causes the world to warm while in a La Niña, global temperatures go down a tad."

    Is it not closer to the truth to say that sea surface temperatures go up and down a tad due to El Nino and La Nina? The inference being that the heat energy is not lost - it is swapped with deeper ocean waters.

    1. There is evidence that El Ninos do cause a drop in global warming. Heat that was insulated by sea water is released to the atmosphere and can then radiate away to space, this is cooling. But the effect is temporary, the cause of the global warming remains. And you can argue that on decadal scales, it makes no difference.

    2. I think these comments were meant to be posted under the No La Nina article, if anyone's wondering :)

      John - that's one way of looking at it, and that particular comment of mine was a simplification - it was the end result. Harry's got a point though. As I understand it, it's more about ocean heat being released to the atmosphere during an El Nino, and the ocean is cooler (hence the atmosphere and surface) in a La Nina because of more upwelling from the cooler ocean depths. See the link to BoM, which I included in the article.

      Any further discussion is best under the article itself.

  6. It's Michael Crichton all over again.

    (Bernard J. on a different computer...)

  7. The man is a good cartoonist, but this does not make him an authority in other issues outside his field. The fundamental error he makes is to set up a false equivalence between politics and science (I also spotted his concern troll at the start of the article). The fact that he does set up a false equivalence shows he either does not understand the scientific method, or he is being willfully ignorant of it.

    Anyway I usually just enjoy a clever cartoon, and ignore whether the cartoon reflects some truth or not. Cartoonists are notorious teases, they like to be provocative for the sake of being provocative, it is their bread and butter.

  8. Victor's critique is better than mine, unsurprisingly. He makes many of the same points but better. I wrote the text below to post on Scott's blog, but the ID verification did not work for me ...

    "1. A theory has been “adjusted” in the past to maintain the conclusion even though the data has changed. For example, “Global warming” evolved to “climate change” because the models didn’t show universal warming."

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been around for some decades now. The theory has certainly been refined, however the basic physics dates back to Svante Arrenhuis, who first calculated the greenhouse effect of CO2 in 1896 and stated

    "if the quantity of carbonic acid [CO2] increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression."

    "2. Prediction models are complicated. When things are complicated you have more room for error. Climate science models are complicated."
    They have to be, the only perfect model would be an exact replica planet. But you do not need a complex model to understand the basics: we have increased the amount of CO2 (and other GHGs) in the atmosphere, pushing concentrations 40% higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years, and producing an imbalance in the amount of incoming and outgoing radiation. Assuming the President-elect has not repealed the laws of Thermodynamics, objects in a radiative imbalance must heat up until equilibrium is restored. The only real area where 'scepticism' (Yes I'm English) is justified is by how much the planet will warm (Climate Sensitivity) and to estimate that, you do need a model of some sort. How else you gonna do it?
    "3. The models require human judgement to decide how variables should be treated. This allows humans to “tune” the output to a desired end. This is the case with climate science models."
    So climate models are 'complex' but at the same time simple enough to be tweaked? That is not actually the case, any imperfect model, which is all of them, require parameterisation, but tuning a climate model, which is physics based, to give a desired outcome is not a trivial task, and given that many are open-source, any unjustified tweaking would be detectable.

  9. Continued ...

    "4. There is a severe social or economic penalty for having the “wrong” opinion in the field. As I already said, I agree with the consensus of climate scientists because saying otherwise in public would be social and career suicide for me even as a cartoonist. Imagine how much worse the pressure would be if science was my career."

    Do you form all your opinions this way? I think this is an unjustified slur on climate scientists, the consensus is strong  because the science is strong, not vice versa. As I say the basics can be comprehended by the layman (I am one) and the consensus rests on many complimentary lines of evidence, developed by a lot of hard work over decades. Not all climate scientists work in Universities: Exxon did their own GW research in the 1970s and 1980s.
    And then they stopped.

    "5. There are so many variables that can be measured – and so many that can be ignored – that you can produce any result you want by choosing what to measure and what to ignore. Our measurement sensors do not cover all locations on earth, from the upper atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean, so we have the option to use the measurements that fit our predictions while discounting the rest."

    Indeed. We must always be on our guard against cherry-picking. However there are statistical techniques to ensure that the measurements we are using are representative. The surface temperature field is massively over-sampled and the raw data are freely available. Ditto the satellite and weather-balloon (radiosonde)data, which confirms the surface record.
    There have been numerous claims of data having been manipulated on this forum, but so far no actual, valid examples. Not one.

    "6. The argument from the other side looks disturbingly credible."
    Maybe you've been hypnotised. There really is no credible 'other side'.

    Whether you examine the literature, the opinion of scientists ( as opposed to English Aristocrats), or the position statements of every scientific organisation on the planet, the asymmetry of the 'argument' is blindingly obvious. The scientific community long ago moved on from 'Is it real?' to 'How bad is it going to get?'. That the media and public opinion have not yet caught up is, well, disappointing but perhaps unsurprising.

    1. "The scientific community long ago moved on from 'Is it real?' to 'How bad is it going to get?'."

      I think that is a useful way to phrase it.

  10. And more ...

    As for Trump, well we know what he thinks, the Donald stands behind efforts to "ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change, an immediate challenge facing the US and the world today. Please don't postpone the earth. If we fail to act now it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet"
    So we know that the President-Elect is a believer in CAGW. Or he was when he and his adult children signed an open letter to that effect back in 2009. The letter went on to urge 'Please allow us, the United States of America, to serve in modeling the change necessary to protect humanity and our planet.'

    But a few short years later the soon leader of the Free World, no doubt after meditating long and hard and considering the evidence (ha ha) declared AGW a Chinese hoax, though he later claimed he was just joking. Now he apparently believes there may be some human influence on climate, he is just not sure how much. He'll let us know just as soon as he has made his mind up. After all, these scientists, they don't know everything, right?

    Clearly the next US President is not going to let himself be hemmed in by such old fashioned notions as consistency.

    Facts may not be necessary to a Master Persuader. But one of the awesome attributes of scientific truth (as opposed to political reality) is that carries on being true whether you believe in it or not.

    1. Thanks, Phil. That's very well put.

    2. Do not undersell yourself, Phil. That would have been a good blog post. Hint, hint. Makes it more visible and easier for people to share.

  11. My golden rule for a non-expert trying to understand a controversial subject: everything said about it by "tobacco" scientists and their phoney institutes should be chucked in the bin.

    After you have done that there is no controversy over if smoking is bad for your health or about climate change.

  12. The biggest problem I have with this whole "scientists have been wrong before" approach is that in order to do nothing about climate change we have to assume that they're wrong. "They might be wrong" doesn't cut it when the consequences of doing nothing are so vast.

    Does this make sense? Not to me.

    1. It makes even less sense when you look at who the people are we are supposed to believe instead.

    2. It does chrisd:
      It's called the "Precautonary principle".
      Goes a bit like ths....
      Your daughter is going on a long-haul flight.
      You go up to the pilot and ask ... "What are the chances of your plane crashing on this flight".

      Suppose the pilot says (whatever)

      At what percentage would you prevent your daughter from boarding?

      Given that we don't have a spare planet (or a spare daughter (sarc) ) - I would suggest it would be at a figure well below 10%.

  13. "4. There is a severe social or economic penalty for having the “wrong” opinion in the field. As I already said, I agree with the consensus of climate scientists because saying otherwise in public would be social and career suicide for me even as a cartoonist."

    Oddly enough, the political party holding both houses of the US Legislature and the incoming president's career haven't suffered from holding such views. To the contrary, Republicans who don't hold such views have been largely been purged from the party. Maybe it's different for cartoonists?

  14. I have watched Scott Adams on Periscope with some interest as the election drew near, as he has some different opinions and approaches to how he viewed the candidate selection. His "persuasion filter" is how he attributed Trump's win in the primaries and ultimately the presidency. By the same token, look at how much bullsh*t Trump spewed, and how much bullsh*t the fake skeptic camp spews...

    Also keep in mind that this is the guy that endorsed Hillary for president, not because he thought she was a better candidate, but because he "feared for his life" if he endorsed Trump.

    Cartoons are funny, but that does not mean he deserves the time of day from the climate community because of his personal incredulity.

    1. It is a pity he uses his platform for this. A reply to him may be more effective than a reply to WUWT & Co. because his readers are not as entrenched in their political opposition against mitigation. I hope that some of his readers find their way to my blog.

  15. Learning more about Scott Adams, his politics, and his beliefs about science has ruined Dilbert for me. I haven't looked at the comic for nearly two months now. But it turned out to be an easy habit to quit.


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