Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Occam’s Razor works for me!

with 13 comments


‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback.  I decided to purchase a copy.  Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.

In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural.  That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.  

Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!

However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’.  This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.  With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me:  Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.

Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice:  Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?

Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?

If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1)  There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”…  Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.

If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.

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13 Responses

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  1. I hadn’t realised that Michael Mann was a physicist. I have this, clearly apocryphal, impression that those who have explicit physics backgrounds are much more vocal about climate change than those from other backgrounds. Firstly, I don’t know if this is true but my guess is that it’s related to how well one understands the concept of energy conservation.

    wottsupwiththatblog

    30 November 2013 at 09:08

    • I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concept of Entropy are hard to refute. The population bomb may have already exploded but that will not alter the scale of the challenge of feeding ten times more humans than there were before the Industrial Revolution (especially as we will not always have fossil fuels to help us grow the food).

      Martin Lack

      30 November 2013 at 10:12

  2. Professor Richard A. Muller, professor of physics at the University of California and faculty senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered a non-expert.

    Here is his [repetition of the McIntyre/McKitrick (MM) critique] of Mann’s Hockey Stick [which forms the basis of Andrew Montford's book].

    McIntyre and McKitrick obtained part of the program that Mann used, and they found serious problems. Not only does the program not do conventional PCA, but it handles data normalization in a way that can only be described as mistaken…
    [As per the editorial policy of the Los Angeles Times and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers - I will no longer permit counter-factual comments on this blog. Further quotation has therefore been deleted because - as made clear in my original post - this (MM) critique pre-supposes that the scientific consensus is a conspiracy of silence and/or a false alarm. - ML]

    To the best of my knowledge, Professor Muller has never withdrawn this [repetition of the MM] critique.

    You may well consider also the criticism of Mann’s work revealed in the emails leaked by the Climategate whistleblower, some of which do not exactly encourage an over-optimistic view of the quality of his work, A fully referenced document on the subject can be found on Tallbloke’s blog (PDF).

    catweazle666

    30 November 2013 at 14:40

    • Not only has Muller never withdrawn this critique – he has never apologised for willfully misrepresenting (or simply misunderstanding) the phrase “hide the decline” in a certain data-mined email.

      http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/questions-for-dr-richard-a-muller/

      There was no ‘Climategate’ “whistleblower”. ‘Climategate’ (as named by James “interpreter of interpretations” Delingpile) was highly-successful industry-funded sabotage of the Copenhagen UNFCCC summit in 2009. This was confirmed by the second tranche of hacked emails being held back and released on the eve of another UNFCCC summit two years later.

      http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/climategate-2-0-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-climate-change-denial/

      Martin Lack

      30 November 2013 at 14:50

    • “To demonstrate this effect, McIntyre and McKitrick created some meaningless test data that had, on average, no trends.”
      No they didn’t. They actually used Mann’s original data to create their supposedly meaningless test data.

      “When McIntyre and McKitrick fed these random data into the Mann procedure, out popped a hockey stick shape!”
      No, they cherry-picked the 10 “strongest” hockey sticks out of their sample of 10000 and presented this as if they were a typical selection from their sample.

      In case you’re wondering, yes I have looked at McIntrye & McKitrick’s code.

      wottsupwiththatblog

      30 November 2013 at 14:59

      • So, let me see, who to believe, Professor Richard A. Muller, [demonstrably-unreliable and Koch-funded misinformer] at the University of California and faculty senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or a blogger… [demonstrably false ad hom (and/or case of mistaken identity) deleted. - ML]

        catweazle666

        30 November 2013 at 15:53

        • Classic false dichotomy, Catweazle. Your choice is as I outlined it in my post. The existence of contrarian scientists like Muller does not make the scientific consensus any less real, reliable, or reasonable (hence my moderation of your original comment).

          However, Richard A. Muller is not a reliable witness. He is a Koch-funded misinformer who – despite spending a great deal of time double-checking things the majority of scientists already accepted (such as that the Earth really is warming up) – continues to argue that ‘black is white’ because he is being paid to do so (probably).

          Martin Lack

          30 November 2013 at 16:00

        • Just to be clear, I’m not wottsupwiththat.com. On the other hand, if you were aware of that – and still think that I have a universal reputation for spite and venom – then there’s not much more I can say.

          wottsupwiththatblog

          30 November 2013 at 16:05

        • Thanks for attempting to rebut C666’s bullsh!t. I hope you don’t mind the way in which I ‘simplified’ your contributions to this thread (and inserted my own).

          Martin Lack

          2 December 2013 at 16:39

        • That’s fine. Makes it clearer. I notice Catweazle has not returned. :-)

          wottsupwiththatblog

          2 December 2013 at 16:43

        • Thanks for your understanding; and I am glad you agree that the clarity/simplicity of the thread for other readers is the priority.

          Martin Lack

          2 December 2013 at 17:14

    • Michael Kelly has what could be termed history . As we are aware some of that history was as a part of the team which produced the Oxburgh report mention of which is included in this CRU hack wide scope article: ClimateGate, my emphasis:

      On April 12, 2010 an expert panel consisting of:

      Chair: Prof Ron Oxburgh FRS (Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool)
      Prof Huw Davies, ETH Zürich
      Prof Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      Prof Lisa Graumlich, University of Arizona.
      Prof David Hand FBA, Imperial College, London.
      Prof Herbert Huppert FRS, University of Cambridge
      Prof Michael Kelly FRS, University of Cambridge

      concluded after thorough review of the emails and contexts:

      We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.”

      The full article is replete with apposite references, you should try some.

      Now as for tallbloke – he is clearly keen to believe and promulgate any old rubbish as long as in his mind it helps the cause of showing global warming to be a hoax. How well he does is frequently exposed at Sou’s HotWhopper.

      By dragging these wrecked zombie moles out from Tussauds’ trash bin you really are quite the comic entertainer – not.

      Lionel A

      1 December 2013 at 13:09


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