How To Model A Smoking Gun

Conspiracy theorists just love to get hold of a piece of new information and claim that it is the 'smoking gun'  that 'conclusively proves' their pet theory.  The psychology behind this mode of argument is so subtle that a 'smoking gun' proponent may not just fool many ordinary members of the public.  They may fool themselves also.

The Importance Of Context.

It is so obvious as to be fairly trite to say that words have meanings modified by the other words with which they appear: the linguistic context.  There is a rule of law that any statement must be examined within its whole legal and linguistic context.  The art of the agendist is to exclude the true context and to substitute a false one - to exclude logic and to substitute rhetoric - to exclude the difficult scientific context and to substitute the easy common-sense, homespun theoretical context.

The magician, conjurer or prestidigitator knows the value of distraction and false context.  The military theorist knows the arts of distraction and of camouflage - a special form of false context.  In fact, it was the military mind that invented the straw man - a target against which ammunition may be expended to no effect.  The straw man argument and the smoking gun argument are often used in conjunction.  (Obviously, a smoking gun is ineffective against a straw man.)

In summary, a false context can be aural, tactile, visual or linguistic.

The Consensus Context Of Anthropogenic Global Warming Studies.

It is held by the vast majority of scientists working in climate-related fields that our planet is warming and that, as a result, our climate is changing in various ways.  It is also their view that, notwithstanding natural variations and historic warming and cooling cycles: the current warming episode is predominantly due to human effects and is alarmingly rapid.  This view is a consensus interpretation within a synergistic context, of the overall picture emergent from many thousands of scientific papers on climate and related topics.

The Agendist Context Of Anthropogenic Global Warming Studies.

It is a view sincerely held by quite a few people that the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong.  In the majority of cases, I suggest, that view was formed from a reading of well written and highly targeted bad science.

The context promoted by agendists unites three major elements: the contrastive scales of our planet and a mere human; the contrastive scales of geological time and human historic time; a global conspiracy to promote the global warming idea.  The conspiracy is variously thought to be a device to promote entrepreneurs, western economies, oil barons, right-wing agendas, left-wing agendas, world domination seekers, etc.

Against a background of the  'every schoolkid knows' variety of science, extracts from emails can look very much like smoking guns.  But just sharpen the focus, put back the complete scientific context and the smoke blows clean away, revealing that the gun came from the magician's sleeve.

Putting The Climategate Emails In Their True Contexts.

Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.
Skeptic Web sites pointed out one line in particular: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t,” Dr. Trenberth wrote.
In a 1999 e-mail exchange about charts showing climate patterns over the last two millenniums, Phil Jones, a longtime climate researcher at the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, said he had used a “trick” employed by another scientist, Michael Mann, to “hide the decline” in temperatures.

But It's Only A Computer Model

Sceptics will gladly shift the public focus towards or away from computer models according to the point they are currently trying to make.  The 'we can't account for lack of warming' email relates to climate modelling.

Climate scientist and IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth was talking about the global energy budget; what may be called the global thermal cycles model.  We know from satellite observations that there is global warming.  We can model all known sources of this warming.  When we add up the known sources and compare with the satellite data there is a warming shortfall.

Read within the entire conversational context, the words which have been quoted entirely out of context can be stated in paraphrase as "we can't account for the shortfall in our figures."

The much-repeated 'lack of warming' is an error in a mathematical model.  Remember models?  You know, those things that deniers wouldn't touch with a bargepole because they are not accurate enough.

A self-consistent denier should say:
"We can't account for lack of warming', but what the heck, after all - it's only a computer model"

The Decline And Fall Of The Tree Ring Data.

The annual growth of tree rings is positively correlated to temperature.  However, when trying to reconstruct a time series of temperatures from tree rings it is important to know about sources of error.  Data since 1960 shows that recent temperatures as reconstructed from tree ring data diverge from temperatures as actually recorded by thermometers.  This 'divergence problem' is widely known: it is under investigation and allowed for in all climate models.

The standard practice is to calibrate annual tree ring width (and/or wood density) to the temperature under which the trees were growing using a linear model based on recent (e.g., 20th Century) data, and then interpret past rings widths as indicators of temperature.
In a recent research paper (Loehle, 2008), I show that if this linear model is mis-specified (i.e., a linear growth response is assumed but in reality the growth response is non-linear), even a model that appears to work well during the “training” (or “calibration”) period—the time during which both temperature and tree rings are available—may fail miserably during the reconstruction period ...

The words in the email about a 'trick' refer to a method of eliminating errors.  The 'trick' was to use direct readings from thermometers for the last 100 years of data rather than rely on 100 years of tree ring data known to produce a flawed reconstruction in a computer model.

The much-repeated 'trick' removes an error in a mathematical model.  Remember models?  You know, those things that deniers wouldn't touch with a bargepole because they are not accurate enough.

A self-consistent denier should say:
"We can't account for the divergence problem', but what the heck, after all - it's only a computer model!"


Will the science of psycholinguistics ever advance to the stage where we can accurately model agendist ambivalence regarding the accuracy and utility computer models?

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