Friday, 27 November 2009

Liddle the Umpire: Love-All

I was quite mean to Rod Liddle in a comment on his blog a while ago, though some might say justifiably so given that his remarks about Climategate appeared to be painfully unresearched and his conclusions, consequently and predictably, feeble. I wasn't the only one to think so.

To his eternal credit, however, he does not censor any of these comments, however scathing. Thus open, healthy, even robust, debate with him is enabled and encouraged. It's in this spirit that he hit back this morning, in quite a thought-provoking piece, not only at, I presume, people like me (at least indirectly) who he deems to have been pushed by AGW arrogance, certitude and flawed thinking "towards an ever more antithetical position" and that that is "a flawed, human, response – very similar to the flaws exhibited by those climate change monkeys sending dodgy emails to one another," (oh, my bad then, Rod) but directly at the AGW lobby itself. I'm afraid that if I and people like me, who, thanks to our own, (according to Rod) understandable weaknesses have been "pushed" to some sort of extreme anti-AGW position by, in particular, the Climategate scandal, have attracted merely his sympathy and counsel, the warmists have attracted nothing less than his scorn - albeit a reasonably equable scorn, in true Liddle-the-peacemaker style. But his post also contains an interesting warning for the AGW lobby at large, though delivered at a warmist commenter who left some pretty scathing remarks of his own, but from the other direction, that's worth quoting.
I find it genuinely difficult to debate with people who deny my right to debate; this is the case with the climate change lobby. The danger, if you don’t watch out, is that the arrogance and certitude of the AGW lobby pushes one towards an ever more antithetical position. This is a flawed, human, response – very similar to the flaws exhibited by those climate change monkeys sending dodgy emails to one another. If you work for, and are paid by, an institution which accepts climate change as a fact, then you will be disinclined to accept scientific evidence to the contrary. You hold climate change as an article of faith, and also a conduit for remuneration. This is how science becomes poisoned; but it happens in almost every scientific endeavour, and always has done. Scientists become trapped by their own paradigms; they are reluctant to let go of ideas. This is why it usually takes a generation before paradigms change. But change they always do. Remember that a generation ago we were worried by global cooling and the coming of the next ice age.

I have no expertise whatsoever in meteorology, but I do have a bit of knowledge about stats, and randomness and chance – and it is this that leads me to a broadly sceptical point of view regarding AGW. Jim Ryan kindly responded to my blog about the UEA debacle with a lengthy and pretty rational argument, to which he appended a list of many organisations which sign up to AGW. What he didn’t say, however, was that these organisations often heavily qualify their belief in man-made climate change, suggesting that it is “probable” or “heavily probable” or “likely”. Fine. And there are many more which will not go even this far.

But it is another part of Jim’s response that interested me, because it involves statistics and displayed the almost universal misunderstanding of statistics and chance. He wrote:

“Rod, you visit a 100 tumour specialists and 97 tell you you require an operation to treat the condition. The other 3 say it is benign and does not require any treatment “

The implication being that of course the 97 are right, and that any rational person would not question this supposed fact. A 97% certainty is pretty much a certainty, full stop, isn’t it?

Well, no. Suppose the tumour which the doctors believe afflicts me is a fairly rare type of tumour, one which affects only, say, one in 5000 people. If that is the case then the likelihood that I do not have that tumour, and that those 97% of surgeons have made a wrong diagnosis, and that I therefore do not need an operation, is far, far higher than the likelihood that I do have a tumour and do need it operated upon. Jim’s analogy utilizes that difficult thing to supposedly prove his point, the false positive.

Well, OK. I think that is a fair point about false positives - and it should actually count as a serious warning to all sides of this debate: check your facts and don't be too certain about your stats. However, he still fails, like all the other UK MSM professional journos, bar one or two, to give us the benefit of his wisdom about what have emerged as nothing more or less than faked statistics. But he simply chooses to ignore the reprehensible actions (the manipulation of data to produce misleading results, the dirty tricks, the stifling of opposition and the endless, alarmist propaganda campaign and so on), some of which constitute actual fraud given that vast sums of taxpayer funding is involved, and yet he satisfies his own prejudices by dismissing the perpetrators of these deceptions as "climate change monkeys".

So, the upshot of this is that we are none the wiser as to where, precisely, Liddle stands on any part of these issues. Is he saying that the monkeys are basically correct but they've been naughty monkeys for being so certain in their belief that they seemed to imagine all established scientific norms and moral/social (even legal) codes could be suspended, such was the size of the crisis they'd revealed? Is he arguing that this was wrong (bad monkeys) and that all it has served to do is create more monkeys (who are probably right wing monkeys, to boot)? Is he merely pretending that he is the only sane, high-brow human (therefore not a monkey) left on this crazy old planet of ours, blowing hot and cold as she endlessly does?

With the first two, from this particular post we are, indeed, left none the wiser. But I do think that my last question might have an answer - and it's most definitely a "yes". Liddle's contribution, more or less, has been to massage his own ego by placing himself firmly in the middle but raised above the scrap, sort of in the position of Umpire of the Great Global Warming Tennis Slanging Match. I can just imagine him sitting on that high chair, complete with booming tannoy, calling out the scores and overruling the line judges. "False positive: Let"; "Sceptic Monkeys' Fault: Game, Warmists." He must be loving every minute of it!

But he cannot be serious.


  1. I'm a climate change agnostic I'll believe it if they can prove it without equivocation (or a foot stamping hissy-fit with some socks and sandles wearer screaming 'We're all going to die!').

  2. Lol. I think that's fine, and at least you're honest about your position. I'm just not convinced that Liddle is, you see.

    I know I've been pretty heavy duty with this stuff recently, but all I've just been trying to even things up a bit, if you see what I mean. And in the absence of any UK MSM coverage - anywhere - of this scandal, then I think it's fair game for bloggers, especially sceptical ones (though not, in truth, radically sceptical in my case).

    Ultimately, Liddle is right about one thing: everyone has a right to his opinion on this, especially when the scientific understanding is still palpably so incomplete (that's the real lesson of Climategate). But it's that last point ("incomplete understanding") that makes the warmist-alarmists go absolutely bananas - every time. That makes me kind of suspicious about their agenda, to be frank.

  3. One thing that's still missing from the non-sceptic axis - even those who've made some kind of belated concession to good faith scientific practice - is that, in future, all data, methods, code and relevent supplemental material must be released promptly so that any third party, antagonistic or otherwise, can understand the process and reproduce exactly the same results from scratch.

    If the disclosure issue isn't addressed now and this particular release of Hadley data isn't enough to kill the hysterical, Big Money, pro-AGW movement with one blow (I seriously doubt that it is), I fear that nothing lasting will have been achieved.

    Hadley et al will continue to churn out their pronouncements which, by any objective standard, and regardless of where one stands of the AGW issue, NO ONE should believe, because they've chosen to deny everyone outside of a sympathetic clique the opportunity to falsify their claims on the basis of identical data and alternative interpretations.

    I'd be interested to know what Monbiot, Liddel and other renowned journalistics talents have to say on the matter. They can't reasonably object, can they?

  4. BHS, you clearly know your Karl Popper!

    What you say, as always, is copperbottomed-sound - and extraordinarily well-expressed.

    What I think has been unleashed by these tremendous, well-timed leaks is no more and no less than...doubt. Doubt that will never go away until it's defeated precisely in the way that you describe. (I suspect it won't be.)

    That doubt is, in reality, integrity, honesty and a reassertion of that which all good people seek to be: innocent! Might sound a bit odd, that, but it applies to anyone and everyone in every thing they/we seek to do, think and say.

    People love the truth (I do), and if for one moment they are moved to believe that they have been given the lie, for whatever reason or motive, however well-meaning (that's the most dangerous kind of deceit!), they will be restless.

    After "climategate", I'm bloody resteless.

  5. That's way to kind Mr D, I didn't know about Karl Popper directly (and him a half namesake) but I've just read the Wiki page on him and it's a real eye-opener. Bizarrely, perhaps, I picked up the falsifiability criteria from Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, as a closing remark on one of his "Penn Says" video shorts (can't find the actual vid, unfortunately):

    "Because if you don’t have something that can disprove what you believe then you are believing in anything ... it must be falsifiable, you know, if something causes everything then it causes nothing.

    I am not crazy enough to come out against global warming or even man-made global warming (I just don’t know enough) but man! I wish they would try to convince me, stop exaggerating in order to clarify, because all it does is give me less trust, and I also wish they would stop saying that everything is because of (caused by) global warming, because if everything is because of (caused by) global warming then nothing is."

    As if to prove that Hadley and the Met intend to carry on as they are, there is this:

    Vicky Pope (head of climate change advice at the Met) said "... the Met Office was more than 90 per cent certain that human activities were to blame ... (but) there was no need to review data from the university."

    Why would that be, exactly?

    I think the truth is that we can very safely conclude (subject to reasonable falsification, of course) that AGW alarmists are a mixture of zany halfwits and money-grubbing BS merchants. Their behaviour and secrecy are, in an of themselves, sound evidence against their claims!

    It seems well demonstrated that the deluded are quite prone to unintended irony =)

  6. The irony would be lost on them, sadly.

    I wish you would start a blog, BHS. Your thoughts need to be read by more than the half dozen or so folks who stumble on this one every day.

    You know what, if you don't start one, I'll just start using you as a content source!


  7. You're more than welcome to use, reuse, paraphrase or anything else you want with whatever I say! I'm way too unreliable to have a blog of my own.

    Also, it'd likely degenerate into an angry monologue on how our troubles could best be adressed by nailing cetain people to firewood and the frustration caused by this not being allowed =)

  8. " angry monologue on how our troubles could best be adressed by nailing cetain people to firewood and the frustration caused by this not being allowed..."

    ...and precisely that should be your profile message :)

  9. Deverthen - you seem to me to have missed the point of Liddle's piece - he clearly states that the piece is NOT about the science, which he is studying, and to which he promises to return, but about the "proxy data", the social/philosophical characteristics of what he correctly sees as merely the latest of a series of millenarian, apocalyptic fantasies subscribed to by "right-thinking" people. I give you:

    *the DDT scandal (20m Africans died of malaria because middle class white people thought DDT was bad for their birdlife)
    *the population explosion;
    *global cooling;

    The cod science, which I am am sure Liddle will get around to - and it will be worth the wait - merely tells us why the doomsayers were deluded THIS time. Understanding the sources of the abject silliness that allowed AGW to flourish may tell us something about how to spot the NEXT fad.

    *global warming

  10. sorry, thte list of fads got interupted - hope you see what I mean...

  11. I do, Tom. And thanks for the clarification about the Rod's Liddle post. Fair commment and on reflection, you are right and I am wrong - at least about that. But I wasn't *that* hard him, was I?

    It is probably very hard to tell from this particular blogpost, but I am a fan of Rod Liddle's: I've warmed to his take on the world over the years, and to his writing generally.

    I therefore look forward with anticipation to his adjudication on the fishy science ;)


Any thoughts?