Friday, January 13, 2017

Binary thinking: Anthony Watts is unhinged by Californian rain (and Bill Nye and Ben Schneider)

Sou | 9:14 AM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment
I said a short while ago how surprised I am that wacky science deniers are not getting any less wacky now that climate science deniers are running the show in the USA. I'd have thought they'd take a step closer to reality and relax and bask in their glory. Instead they've continued to attack reality with a vengeance.

It's Anthony Watts turn today (archived here). He thinks that the fact that the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge was three times as likely because of climate change should have meant that it would never again rain in California. He launched a misplaced attack on Bill Nye, under an article with the wrong headline: "With record rainfalls in California, another Nye-Lie bites the dust".

Going by his article, Anthony Watts thinks that if scientists said that the drought in California was exacerbated by human-caused global warming, then it would never get any reprieve. Once a drought always a drought and not a drop of rain would be got.

In other words, it's not just the drought that might be breaking, the brain of Anthony Watts is broken. But that's not all that's wrong with his article - read on for more.

No, Anthony, it wasn't Bill Nye you quoted

In this weird article at WUWT today Anthony Watts singles out Bill Nye for attack. He referred to an article from October 2014 on a website attn.com, where Lindsay Haskell put up a video by Bill Nye.

Yet it wasn't a quote from Bill Nye that Anthony used to twist into his binary thinking article, it was an exchange between Lindsay Haskell and Ben Schneider. From the article at attn.com:
We also asked an expert: Ben Schneider, Communications Director of Defend Our Future, a non-profit with a mission to persuade politicians to protect our environment.
In that exchange was the quote that Anthony derided:
And in the case of the California drought, a recent study suggests that there is 95 percent confident that human-caused climate change tripled the chance of the development of a persistent high pressure system in the Northern Pacific Ocean, which is the cause of the California drought because it deflects precipitation away from the region.

Anthony Watts quoting Daily Caller and Attn.com quoting Bill Schneider quoting the Daily Mail quoting Daniel Swain and BAMS

Climate conspiracy theorists rely on other climate conspiracy theorists to justify their conspiracy theories. One of Anthony Watts' two sources was the Daily Caller (a bigoted, right wing, climate-science denying website), which mentioned the following tweet from Bill Nye, where he posted a picture about the California floods and implied climate change is a danger:

Anthony's other source was, as I said above, the article at attn.com, from where he filched the misattributed quote. Anthony copied the quote, including the link, which went to an article in the Daily Mail. That article in turn was about research by Daniel Swain et al, which discussed the impact of climate change on the Californian drought and, in particular, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. That paper was published in the October 2014 Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) on extreme events.

At the time, Anthony Watts protested that article, too, making out that the drought wasn't as bad as all that (and he lives in California for heaven's sake). The researchers found that the conditions causing the current drought are three times more likely to occur with global warming than without. (The authors had a previous article on the subject, published in ScienceAdvances.)

Nowhere did the authors suggest that it would never rain in California again. Nor did they suggest that the Pineapple Express would never appear again. On the contrary, in the BAMs article they wrote:
California typically experiences strong seasonality of precipitation, with the vast majority coinciding with the passage of cool-season extratropical cyclones during October–May (e.g., Cayan and Roads 1984).

Yet to say a drought means it will never rain again is exactly what Anthony Watts is trying to pin on Bill Nye (when it wasn't even him, it was Ben Schneider who said the words that Anthony Watts put in Bill Nye's mouth).

Now if Anthony Watts was the type of person who went back to original sources, rather than attributing quotes to the wrong person so he could launch a misplaced attack on them, he might have attacked Daniel Swain instead, for doing research on the weather in California.

A couple of days ago on his blog, Daniel Swain wrote about the rain event that brought floods to California (which Anthony referred to as "record rain"). In case you missed it, California has just had another extreme event - this time rain and snow:
A very warm and wet “Pineapple Express”-type atmospheric river (with origins in the subtropics) brought widespread rainfall to California over the weekend, even at very high elevations in the Sierra Nevada. Flooding, mudslides, and avalanches shut down most major travel corridors through Northern California on Sunday for at least some period of time, and a number of larger rivers have approached or exceeded flood stage.
The interesting thing is that the swings between dry and wet may get bigger. In an article about the recent downpouts, by Tara Lohan at UPI a short while ago, Daniel Swain is quoted:
And while the storms may be welcomed now, it's also something the state may need to start getting used to. Swain said that there is still uncertainty about how precipitation in California may change as the climate warms, but the research is stronger when it comes to understanding atmospheric rivers, the kind of storms that have just walloped the state.

"It now appears likely that California will see stronger atmospheric rivers in the future, with an increased risk of extreme precipitation events and flooding," said Swain. "But that doesn't necessarily mean that we're likely to get wetter overall; there's also increasing evidence that we'll actually experience wider swings between drought and flood."

Can a broken brain be mended?

Does that mean Anthony's brain will never work again? Maybe. Then again, to say that Anthony's brain being broken this time means that it would never work as designed ever again, would be to use the same illogic as Anthony does himself.

Nevertheless, it's a chronic problem. Some deniers cannot accommodate the slightest nuance. If something is not black then it must be white. It cannot be anything in between. (I looked up this affliction. A similar dysfunction is referred to as splitting in psychology in relation to self. In logic, this binary thinking fallacy is referred to as the false dilemma. In both cases one could regard it as a cognitive malfunction.)

Now that's not to say that the denier brain cannot accommodate the notion that something can be both pure black and pure white at the same time. We know that's true as well, particularly when it comes to conspiracy theories.

Does jealousy cause brain farts?

What prompts someone like Anthony to have such an extreme and wrong reaction to an extreme and dangerous event like the one that's been taking place in California? What prompts him to launch an attack on Bill Nye like this, based on something he didn't say? What causes Anthony Watts to demonstrate with such clarity his cognitive disability of binary thinking (it was dry therefore it can never be wet again).

I can't help thinking that he's a teeny bit jealous. Bill Nye is a successful "science guy", known throughout the USA. Anthony Watts isn't on television any more, and was only ever a minor weather announcer. Nowhere near as well-loved or respected as Bill Nye the Science Guy. He's only known in science denying circles as a climate conspiracy blogger. And while his blog appears popular in those limited circles, he's not exactly a household name. Most scientists would never have heard of him. He's popular in conspiracy land but is not known in the mainstream.

(I mentioned brain farts - but I don't know if that's accurate. A brain fart is a temporary lapse in cognitive function.)

Has the California drought ended? (Not yet)

The map shows the state of the California drought as at January 10, from the US Drought Monitor website. I've added the map I had on hand for just over 12 months prior - 29 December 2015.

The drought has eased a lot. The northern part is now drought free, but the south west has not emerged from severe drought with a small section still in extreme drought.

From the WUWT comments

Sorry that this article is not highly polished. I hope it makes some sense, even if Anthony Watts doesn't. I've got to go out now. No time to peruse the comments. You can do that yourself here.


  1. The time-honored technique of straw manning.

    My guess is the articles will continue to be wacky as long as the funding continues.

  2. As i see it the problem is that when a paper is published it sets out the high and low probability.
    As to the aspect of California never ever having a rain event this is incorrect.
    However it would appear that any aspect of a projection will be leaped on and the message is " See all wrong we just had a rain event there for anything to do with that projection is incorrect and this is just all natural and everything is great so go back to watching Fox News who tell you the real truth"

    1. You're right, John. However, the point in this case is that there was no projection.

      The scientific paper referred to by Ben Schneider (not Bill Nye who Anthony attributed it to), was about current (at the time) and past events, not future events. It was about the drought as at 2013, the role of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, and the the likelihood that greenhouse warming played a role. It said nothing about whether this would continue in the future, or not that I could see.

  3. The drought in California is far from over, if ever in anyone's current lifespan. A brief period of heavy precipitation only means that surface water has been replenished, but actual ground water will remain low which is slow in the measure of decades and centuries to replenish. With a population of nearly 40 million people the latter source will continue to be depleted.

    A wet winter filling reservoirs does not remedy the situation of an area that is naturally arid and is reverting back to this state from a century long wet period. The difference now is that a warming planet has exacerbated this condition.

  4. I'm confused at your model that predicts that deniers would chill out after their guy won the political leadership of the US. I would expect the precise opposite: when the extremist wins power, that's the time to froth the most -- right on the cusp of being able to take actual action.

    If they don't, the people they helped elect might lose track of the priorities and just steal money first, rather than wrecking the environment first.

    1. :)

      Yet another proof that all models are wrong, eh?

    2. They might froth a bit if it turns out that the new CEO of Exxon doesn't shell out cash to deniers with the same enthusiasm as Tillerson did.

  5. The five year drought was the worst on record. As of now, this winter is far wetter than the wettest year on record. It will be some time before experts in attribution analysis weigh in on this, but we know the climate is changing and it's natural to hypothesize that these increasing extreme events are related. Science will tell, no matter what deniers say.

  6. The state it would appear usually is dry however over the last 100 years has been some what wet.
    Yes i know broad statement from what i have read.
    At this time there has been some rain which is very welcome.
    It appears it will not replenish the underground water supply.
    It is also obvious now that information from the movement of heat content etc means that yes the state is now having a rain event.
    However this may not mean that every thing is honky dory.
    If the Pacific Ocean does not send that area into a La Nina it is possible that once again the state will be not receiving the expected follow up rain and snow needed.
    Look down the track in 6 months and see what the projections are.

  7. I wrote a little poem a while back. It seems this may be the appropriate thread to unleash it in.

    An Owed to Tony

    The weathermen; they are birds of a feather.
    The weathermen; they're all in it together.
    The weathermen; they can't predict the weather,
    Even when it's yesterday's.

  8. So the science says...
    Humans are causing global warming
    Global warming is causing a drought in California

    Therefore, if it rains, humans don't exist?

    1. Correct MightyDrunken, humans don't exist, as far as the climate is concerned. According to some people,though, we can melt glaciers, raise the seas, and just simply energise the climate of the whole planet,disruption of the global climate.more snow..less snow, more rain..less rain...so the science says...simply ripping stuff..

    2. "According to some people,though, we can melt glaciers, raise the seas, and just simply energise the climate of the whole planet,disruption of the global climate.more snow..less snow, more rain..less rain...so the science says...

      Yes, it does say that*.

      So with which fact(s) don't you agree, KarenMackSunspot?

      1) CO₂, through the agency of the non-zero electrical dipolar momentum between its carbon and oxygen atoms, can absorb and reradiate photons of electromagentic radiation.

      2) Climate sensitivity is such that doubling the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere will raise the temperature of the surface of the planet by a global average of 2-4.5 °C, via the mechanism of the aforementioned non-zero electrical dipolar momentum between the carbon and oxygen atoms of CO₂.

      3) Humans have, through burning fossil fuels, increased by ~43% the concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere.

      As a consequence...

      4) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the change in the phenology of living species.

      5) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the shiftings to increased latitudes and altitudes of many plant and animal species.

      6) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the melting of glaciers and sea ice.

      7) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the rising of sea levels.

      8) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the alteration of weather phemonena in cordcordance with the physical understanding of a warming atmosphere.

      9) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the temperature strata in boreholes around the planet.

      10) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by changes over time in oxygen isotope deposition by corals.

      11) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by changes over time in patterns of pollen deposition.

      12) The warming of the atmosphere in response to the ~43% increased CO₂ is indicated by the changes over time in the date of the first blooming of cherry blossoms in Kyoto, and other parts of Japan.

      13) The warming of the atmosphere in response to increased CO₂ more generally is indicated by the variation over time of oxygen isotope deposition in ice.

      14) The warming of the atmosphere in response to to increased CO₂ more generally is indicated by the patterns over time of diatom/foram shell deposition.

      15) The warming of the atmosphere in response to to increased CO₂ more generally is indicated by the patterns over time of silt and other sediment deposition.

      You're welcome to pick and argue about any and as many of the above numbers as you care to select, but please make sure that you address the first three, as they especially underpin the validity or otherwise of your claim.

      [* I note that your difficulty with correct use of punctuation marks is as persistent as ever.]

    3. What's up KarenMackSunspot? Do you have an actual scientific fact stuck in your craw?


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