Sunday, 13 December 2009

Jurrie’s Q&A

In the comments section of this and this post, “Jurrie” asked some questions which require such a lengthy answer that it’s literally too long to fit into the comment boxes blogger provides. Above that, his questions deserve a new post as they are addressing a couple of things that are important in the climate change debate.

The interview with Minister Frans Timmermans
First of all i have to say I'm a bit surprised you refer to this video shot by Theo Richel. Everything in this video shows Frans Timmermans dislikes and mistrusts Theo Richel a lot, to such an extent it clearly affects the way he is answering. Seems like Timmermans is fully aware that Richel & Co are about. The fact he calls them flat-earthers demonstrates this.
But to the point. You write :

after seeing this recent video of Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans and his explanation of Dutch national and international policy and current state of predictions. That scares the crap out of me. And I mean specifically the part in which he says that he chooses to believe the biggest pile of research papers has more credibility to him than a small pile.
You only quote this part, but it is really important to look at something Minister Timmermans said earlier in the video (2:06):
in science, there are always dissidents. But I’m not going to change the Dutch policy because some people still think earth is flat
This quote alters the context in which Timmermans said he is following the majority of science. And personally I don’t see what you find so shocking in it.

Indeed Frans Timmermans is correct : whatever scientific topic you look at there will ALWAYS be dissidents rejecting the current status. I don’t have to explain many people with a scientific degree dismiss Evolution. There are geologists truly believing the Grand Canyon emerged in six days or by the biblical flood.

When we look at AIDS, there are scientists believing there’s no relation between HIV and Aids. An example of such a scientist is Kary Mullis, a Noble Prize winner. Nevertheless “science” believes the relation is proven and Mullis’ view is ignored completely.

There are plenty of other examples where there are people with opposite viewpoints in a scientific domain that is considered to be settled. Expecting unanimity in science is an illusion : whatever scientific subject you choose, there’ll be a scientist disagreeing with “mainstream” science.
But saying science is wrong is one thing, proving it is another thing. And when you look beyond what people say and look into the real scientific literature you’ll notice climate scepticism suddenly vanishes almost completely.

Science does not work with unanimous agreement. The theory accepted by the vast majority of scientists wins. The fact there’s a Noble Prize winner denying the link between HIV & Aids doesn’t halt government policy on aids, nor should it.

The fact the world is full of people denying Evolution doesn’t change anything about the fact Evolution is the scientific theory. The fact creationists developed an entire alternative network outside science (with even their own creationist museum) in which they are publishing “their” science about intelligent design doesn’t alter a single thing about the conclusion that science says ‘Evolution’.
Taking those things into account Minister Timmermans in my opinion simply expresses the reality any science faces: when evidence is overwhelming and considered to be solid, you can and must take actions relying on that science. Despite the existence of occasional contrarian who talks a lot and disproves very little. Do also read my post "loose thoughts on some frequent fallacies" dealing with proof versus doubt and the role of a consensus.

It’s almost funny how we differ in opinion: while you are shocked by what Timmermans says, in my opinion his words express he understands how science works.

The importance of Bias
I dearly hope I don't ever have to read another argument suggesting a distinct influence of someone's (personal) bias based on employer or position in the Climate Discussion again. For, simply said, it holds no argumentative value but does a lot in terms of suggesting that it has any
I’m afraid that I disagree with you. Bias in my opinion is the single most important thing to understand the climate change debate.

When debating climate often i find it hard to have a real conversation as many people are twisting what you say, in a way it fits the original bias, or in a way the person wants to hear it. Instead of he's listening to what you really say. I cannot count the times i had to say : "that's not what i said" or "you are adressing a strawman"

Really, if there’s one thing I have learned by debating climate science, it is to acknowledge and never underestimate the importance of bias. It can make highly intelligent people say incredibly unintelligent things. I knew there would be an influence between the beliefs of a person and how he perceives facts, but I never realized just exactly how important it was. It is necessary to acknowledge that a strong bias is the best way to end up with pseudo-science .
Let me sketch a scene to explain myself some more. Imagine a person says :
My name is Bob and I don’t believe the scientific viewpoint in this specific subject. Ten million people agree with.
Could it be Bob be onto something ? After all, ten million people can’t be wrong, can they ?
Well actually it’s hard to address the two previous questions as Bob proved nothing and the entire phrase is so vague it’s impossible to have any real understanding what it is about . Nothing is said about science itself.
Now let’s have look again at what Bob said, but this time with just a little bit more info :
My name is Bob and I’m a Christian. I don’t believe the science about Evolution. Ten million Christians agree with me Intelligent Design is the correct theory.
Still not a single word has been said about science itself. Yet the entire context of the scene changes dramatically : adding Bob’s bias does clarify a lot. To such an extent that adding Bob’s bias is even essential : I believe it’s impossible to understand why Bob is rejecting the scientific findings without this extra context.

Of course, ONLY mentioning Bob’s bias isn’t sufficient to dismiss his findings and yes of course it absolutely is necessary to look at the arguments used to be able to decide who’s wrong and who’s right. Without doing so, you never know Bob might have come up with the proof ID indeed is true and Darwin was wrong.
Yet while looking at the scientific claim is necessary, I think the little example above makes clear that adding a person’s bias does add to the understanding of the subject.
We have to realize science isn’t an isolated thing that doesn’t leave university. Important scientific findings are a part of our society and should be treated that way. It is clear that the evolution-theory isn’t just a thing some obscure biologists care about. To fully understand why so many Christians dismiss Evolution, you really cannot think invalidating the pseudo-scientific arguments used by creationists will *ever* halt the debate and make them change their minds.

After all, the real reason for the debate of creationism; evolution isn’t scientific, but starts by the world view and consequences for this worldview for (the religious part of) a society. Only mentioning and understanding the bias can explain the deeper lying reasons for the discussion.
Just like people who believe ID disproportionally often are Christians, sceptics of climate science are often located in a couple of small subarea’s of the entire population.

I mentioned before on my blog the vast majority of the best known climate sceptics are directly connected to libertarian think thanks. Others are scared the government uses climate science as an excuse to raise taxes. More exotic are the people who believe in a conspiracy of the New World Order or the people who are scared the Copenhagen conference in reality is nothing but a disguise for the underlying plan to install a world government.

Another group of people disproportionally represented are employees in the fossil fuel industry. It’s not hard to see they have good reasons wanting climate science to be wrong. It’s a logical thing : there isn't a single hard-working dedicated employee who wants to hear that a little perverse side-effect of his labour is that his job actually is “destroying the planet” (of course I don’t mean the word destroying literally). It’s the perfect recipe for people to go in denial…

dr Tom Van der Hoeven is an amateur
Global Warming simplicity
The things mentioned above are the reason I mentioned Van der Hoeven is working for GasTerra. As apparently my post didn’t make clear to you why VDH is an amateur I will update that post as it seems to have missed it's target. In the meantime before rewriting, I’ll stick to repeating saying his ‘science’ is so bad that, with all due respect, it’s embarrassing to read it.
It’s clear Van der Hoeven doesn’t know anything about climate science. Which leads to the conclusion he must have a non-scientific motive to write an op-ed in a newspaper. That thing is bias. At least in my opinion it is and for me understanding the role of bias satisfactory explains why an intelligent man like dr Van der Hoeven could end up writing such an awful piece.

In conclusion : while you say you don’t want to read ever again suggesting an influence of bias I’m afraid from my side I am convinced that knowing a person’s bias is a vital part to understand why someone comes to a certain conclusion.

Yet of course only when it’s combined with looking at the actual content of what a person is saying. Bias doesn’t prove or disprove anything. Knowing the bias is nothing but a little extra.
I do have to add that I do not find it pretty obvious as to why Dr. Van Der Hoeven is an amateur. His article is mainly about his view on the scientific argumentation used in the discussion on Climate Change and with his scientific dissertation accepted in 2004 ( I find it actually quite impossible to deny that he writes about a subject he studied and worked with on a professional level. Regardless if his claims are true or false for whatever reasons.
I have the feeling we do have a little misunderstanding here : i am not saying Van der Hoeven isn’t a scientist. He is. But he did not study and work on a professional level on climate change. Not even close.

That is important because having some sort of degree in sciences doesn’t mean you are a qualified expert in every other scientific domain. I clearly used the word ‘amateur’ in the context of ‘not a climate scientist’. As said I’ll explain why his statements make clear that his op-ed in the newspaper above anything else demonstrate that he doesn’t know the basics of climate science.
I looked up David Archer and he is "a computational ocean chemist at the University of Chicago [who] has published research on the carbon cycle of the ocean and the sea floor, at present, in the past, and in the future." (you can find this on This subject is his job as well! His livelihood! You dismiss Dr. Van der Hoeven based on the same thing! Except for maybe that Gas-company sounds worse than University. But you are not talking about company interests, but about financial dependence of people that state claims.
I think (hope) that what i wrote above makes clear I don’t dismiss Van der Hoeven on the grounds he’s working for GasTerra. I‘m convinced he doesn’t have any financial motives in the climate change debate. Yes, his ideas might may also be in favour of his company's interests, but I'm sure that’s an undeliberate side-effect and is not part of a hidden agenda.
And of course I have to repeat Van der Hoeven isn’t working on climate science. I’m dismissing VDH because his article is flawed.

Climate Cover Up ?
You give away a trophy in the form of the book Climate Cover Up and say its an excellent book. I just want you to know that it's written by James Hoggan (PR president for a firm, working for Al Gore) and Richard Littlemore (journalist and employee for the PR firm of James Hoggan, trained by Al Gore)
You seem very keen on your blog do dismiss many people based on 'personal bias'. I mentioned this before in you other post. I'm just dumbfounded by the way you take double standards in this. Can you help me out here? You are losing me.

Climate Cover Up Desmogblog James Hoggan Richard Littlemore
First of all I want to repeat I don’t dismiss people just on their bias. It’s just an extra tool to understand things in a broader perspective.

And yes it works both ways : when reading a report from Greenpeace, I am fully aware it is important to know what kind of organization Greenpeace is. When I translated a text from the Dutch Environmental defence (here) I did warn John Mashey he should be aware the original text did come from a “green” organization. So I don’t have the feeling I’m using double standards.

Above in this text I did write that knowing a person’s bias doesn’t mean a person is wrong. I knew perfectly well who are the people behind the book Climate Cover Up and what their backgrounds are. In making my judgment to recommend it, it is important to know the book contains a lot of facts I learnt about from other sources. And yes Climate Cover Up is representing those facts in a correct manner. And I haven’t read anyone claiming otherwise. It looks like the book simply is correct...
Therefore, despites the background of the authors, I feel it’s safe to recommend the book to everyone I know as it does give a very informative summary of how the organized climate lobby is working and trying to pollute the scientific debate.
And yes, the title of this book will return in my upcoming post on must-read climate literature :)


  1. Yes, good comments.

    In practice, the more relevant science someone actually knows, the stronger must be extra-science reasons to reject overpoweringly-strong mainstream science. [This is why most physicists didn't sign the silly APS petition.]

    Archer is very good, and of course, a quick check via:
    Google Scholar: d archer carbon
    yields a bunch of hits, but of course, one msut know that getting papers in Science or Nature is nontrivial, and that getting hundreds of citations isn't so easy either.

    Real scientists are rarely 100% sure of much of anything, but have different degrees of confidence.

    If someone is *absolutely sure* the mainstream is wrong that's usually a red flag.
    See the PDF @ DeSMogBlog, specifically p.42-45 on Why?

    I'm working on a newer version, and it added one more reason: PSYa: Personal: influence from respected mentor/colleauge/etc with strong beliefs,
    as that seemed to pop up in doing "seniority chain" analysis.

  2. Actually, this reminds me.
    People might be familiar with CSI (Committee for Scientific Inquiry),
    used to be CSICOP (add Claims of the Paranormal), with folks like Carl Sagan, i.e., lots of skeptics, in the real, classical sense.

    These days, they do more than paranormal, like climate anti-science.

    I don't recall who, it might have been James Randi (stage magician), but one of this bunch said something like:

    "When you go to investigate {psychics, spoonbending, etc} you can take a scientist if you like, but it is imperative to take a good magician."

    Scientists generally don't expectNature to be trying to fool them, and tyring to hide what its doing, whereas magicians expect people to, and know what to look for.

    Hence, if one is looking for PR gimmickry and manipulation, you bring investigative reporters and PR people...

    Hence, Climate Cover-UP is written by exactly the right sorts of people.

  3. Jules, well said. I would add a few points:

    - we individually have a very difficult tine perceiving climate change, and the long-term nature of a largely non-manifested threat

    - most of us have no independent capability of verifying what scientists tell us

    - we are cognitively conservative, subconsciously screen out information inconsistent with our pre-existing views, and are reluctant to go to the effort of re-ordering out mental maps when we are called out.

    - we are tribal, and so tend to be suspicious and to distrust others who are different groups (which partially explains partisan differences);

    - libertarians and conservatives have good reason to suspect that government will not well-manage climate policy policy, but that instead it will be far costlier, porky and unwieldy than those who want climate policy recognize; and

    - the "libertarian" thinktanks you mention are also often "conservative" and frequently paid to run interference for established fossil fuel interests, which have done a good job of securing political favor from both parties, but Republicans in particular.

  4. I might put this even stronger than tokytom:

    a) Many governments will screw up.

    b) Since these problems get worse as they are not attacked, the longer they go, the more likely we get to the point where truly intrusive government measures will happen from desperation.

    c) Hence, if there is anyone who ought to *really* be pushing hard for market-driven energy-efficiency, carbon taxes, etc, or whatever people think has the least bureaucracy, it ought to be (real)conservatives and especially libertarians.

  5. John Mashey makes an important point, and one that I also tried to communicate in my most recetn discussion with Tom Fuller (

    By the time society realizes “whoops, we’re in serious trouble now”, it may be too late to reverse it by ordinary means. Warning signals from the science are ignored at our peril.

    The costs of reducing emissions doesn’t rise linearly with the amount of emissions to be reduced. It rises more or less exponentially. That makes Tom Fuller's argument that we’ll be richer in the future moot, at least beyond a certain level. There are arguments made that 4% emission reduction per year is more or less the maximum achievable; beyond that the regular way of innovation and change (learning curves etc) doesn’t apply anymore. It would necessitate much stronger and much more costly and invasive measures to go beyond that. Typically the kind of measures that the “sceptics” oppose most strongly.

    Those who oppose strong control by the government, should really favor emission reductions to start sooner rather than later, to reduce the pain that the measures would otherwise cause. That point is easily overseen.

    So even from the "sceptics" own political perspective, their political stance doesn't make a lot of sense. Unless their head is seriously buried in the sand of course.