The gentle art of interrogation

How do you dig down to the core of a person’s beliefs? Can you really hope to influence ‘the unpersuadables’ (a term recently coined by George Monbiot)? Is it worth arguing science and empirical evidence with ‘non-greenhouse theorists’ (you know, the really way-out-there kooks, who won’t even acknowledge that CO2 traps and re-emits infrared radiation)? Should we bother talking up nuclear engineering triumphs like ‘passive safety’ and ‘total actinide burning’ with anti-nuke zealots (you know, the ones who just know that atomic energy is bad)?

I’ve argued elsewhere that, in the greater (global) scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter that such ideologically straight-jacketed people exist. They always will. Rather, Hansen (and others on this blog) have argued that powerful vested interests — principally those with a major stake in fossil fuels forever — are far more dangerous. I’d have to agree, especially in the way they are so easily able to use the climate change/nuclear ‘antis’ as their pawns — usually, but not always, inadvertent — to slow the transition to real alternatives to coal, gas and oil (I rank them in that order of danger). But overcoming the influence of these powerful interests will need a lot of political currency, and that can only come by influencing enough sensible but weakly informed sections of society to advocate for the sort of pragmatic action that is in their own best, long-term interest.

Okay, so is there a way to get through to these people — or, perhaps more pertinently, to get others to see through them? Yes, I know of at least one method — I’ve tried it many times, and it works. I call it ‘the gentle art of interrogation’ (although I’m hardly the first to use this term).

There are a number of ground rules. First, be patient and persistent — you’re unlikely to get instant pay-off, especially if someone has entrenched views. Second, don’t be confronting, aggressive or agitated — people almost inevitably go on the defensive if you act in this way. Third, don’t be smug or condescending — that’s another sure fire way to put people offside. Nobody likes a smart arse.

Okay, with those underpinning principles in place, let’s look at the method itself.

In short, it involves questioning, not arguing. The key is definitely NOT to feed people a whole lot of information — technical data, peer-reviewed scientific studies, charts, reference to expert consensus, etc. Been there, done that, does’t work. That’s only useful later, when people are genuinely open to finding out more about a topic (be it climate change, nuclear energy, whatever). Nope, instead you have to get out a little metaphorical chisel, and start chipping away slowly at their belief edifice, with ever deepening interrogation.

Let me illustrate briefly, with a hypothetical example. Mr Hartigan is talking to Kevin, who has just proclaimed that “Man-made global warming is a crock!“.

Hartigan cocks and eyebrow and says “Which do you mean — that the climate is not warming, or that it is not caused by human activity?“.

Kevin quickly replies “Climate is always changing; we have nothing to do with it“.

Okay“, follows Hartigan, “So you accept that it is getting warmer?

Well, I suppose” says Kevin, “But its not caused by CO2“.

Hmmm. Do you agree that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is rising?” (Hartigan)

Yes” (Kevin)

Do you acknowledge that this rise is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels?” (Hartigan)

Yes, but the rise is effectively irrelevant” (Kevin)

Could you clarify? Do you mean that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas that traps and re-radiates infrared?” (Hartigan)

No, obviously it’s a greenhouse gas, but its effect is logarithmic and is no longer of importance at current concentrations” (Kevin)

Do you mean, by this, that all of the outgoing wavelength absorption bands are saturated?” (Hartigan)

I suppose so, I don’t know the details” (Kevin)

Fair enough. But can we agree then that if all of the radiation bands are not saturated — and I can show you the physical measurements that demonstrate this — then you will need to re-evaluate your position on the relevance to climate change of adding extra CO2 to the atmosphere?” (Hartigan)

… and so on. As you can see, it takes time and patience, but potential distractions continue to fall by the wayside. (Perhaps, in the comments section of this blog post, you can develop some other ‘hypotheticals’ — be it on climate sensitivity or the sustainability of nuclear energy, or any number of other points).

Of course, Kevin could have answered differently at any particular juncture, in which case the line of questioning would have naturally followed a different path. The interrogation process has no obvious end — it simply allows one to follow various chains-of-(il)logic to their irreducible conclusion. As these various lines of argument are systematically exhausted, the points of outstanding contention or confusion become ever clearer. As a result, the ‘opponent’ is forced to think harder and harder about the basis of their beliefs, and whether it is important to them that it is supported by sensible deduction or induction. Even if the Kevins of this world are ‘unpersuadable’, those observing the process may well maintain a more flexible position.

Really, this is the only useful way to have a public debate on a polarised issue like climate change or nuclear energy. Forget the prepared speeches and slideshows. Instead, allocate time for each ‘debater’ to gently interrogate their opposition, in turn. There is simply no more effective way to strip away spin and hyperbole, unmask hidden assumptions, reveal the extent and importance of uncertainties, highlight cherry picking, and so on. The downside is that it can be very difficult to get the disingenuous to agree to such a format. But I’m now quite convinced that if you can’t, then you might as well not bother.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

About these ads

70 Comments

  1. I don’t think people would be “persuaded” by argument at all.

    People will believe in whatever their leaders do. Even if their leaders do little to nothing, it takes stern stuff for a typical citizen to believe that their leaders are doing something wrong. It is more comforting to believe that their leaders are doing the right thing.

    That is why politicians fight. They know that once something is done (a law passed, a policy implemented, or a tax instituted, for instance), the populace will usually accept it.

  2. One problem with this is that it assumes more good faith on the part of deniers than is sometimes the case.

    Some people just want to create the illusion of disagreement, as an excuse to keep doing nothing. They will happily argue in circles forever.

  3. I’ve always thought that a good contentious argument is valuable not for the conversion of an unconvertable opponent, but for the benefit of the audience to the debate.

  4. James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming neatly expresses a key assymmetry that arises in debates between those supporting and those questioning the consensus view that climate change is primarily being cause by human greenhouse gas emissions:

    “When it comes to staking out positions and shifting the middle ground, industry-funded strategists seem to have seized and kept the strategic initiative. Any time anyone on the science side makes even the smallest overstatement, they immediately face the full resources of a think tank echo chamber attack. And because conscientious scientists are so quick to recognize and acknowledge when something is not exactly correct, the attackers have won many apologies, corrections, or reinterpretations, which they have used to argue that all of climate science is frail and uncertain.

    At the same time, the more exuberant deniers have often said things that were flat-out wrong, and then have refused to acknowledge or apologize for their misrepresentations. In response the environmental community – lacking both the resources and sense of common purpose more typical of the antiscience crowd – has been ineffective in launching countercriticism. (p. 130 paperback)”

  5. Man, you guys are all so smug and righteous about it. Who could fail to want to agree with you?

    It’s funny, I see more similarities between anti-nukes and AGW alarmists. You know what I mean, the holier-than-thou attitudes, the paranoia, the demonization of anyone who strays from orthodoxy…

    Bah, and I’m not accomplishing anything here by poking fun at people either. Let me just leave it with the assertion that gentle interrogation isn’t going to convert anyone – people are too tribal and too good at rationalizing.

  6. Milan, you’re obviously a thoughtful, articulate and concerned citizen, and it seems you’re doing a lot of good work educating people.

    However, I have a small bone to pick with your comments on this article:

    You link to a debate you had on a blog with a climate skeptic, and it demonstrates someone arguing in circles.

    http://www.sindark.com/2009/07/28/hfcs-and-climate-change/#comment-80289

    Might the interaction have gone differently had you done some gentle interrogation in the manner Barry illustrates in this article, instead of forcefully confronting the errors as you do in the interaction?

    I think you’ve just illustrated that one way of debating with zealots doesn’t get you very far. You haven’t provided evidence that Barry’s approach wouldn’t work.

    Also, the considerations you raise about the asymmetry in the debate seem right, but isn’t that all the more reason to take Barry’s approach? It puts the burden on the deniers to stake out a position and have it interrogated, instead of staking out a position and having to defend it.

    Barry, good job. I think this is the right approach, and it generalizes well to all manner of discussions with zealots, whether the issue is climate change, evolution, or politics.

    Jim

  7. Barry – I use this approach all the time. However there is a serious danger in debating this way. Sometimes the other party also remains open and asks questions and they end up teaching you something. Terrible!

    What I want to know is if the beliefs of people are so hard to change how is it that the secret society of fossil fuel barons can telepathically cause people to believe nuclear power is satans tool? Any ideas on what technology they are using? Maybe I could borrow it for my crusade against taxation.

    All beliefs are held aloft by evidence. The evidence may be wrong or even irrational (eg Freds dog bit me therefore all dogs are dangereous) however people don’t have beliefs without a body of evidence. Barry is right that you need to work on peoples evidence base.

    Evidence (right, wrong, rational or irrational) sits below ever human belief. And belief (right, wrong, rational or irrational) sit below ever human action. The most pontent of all beliefs, the one that rules the roost are the beliefs about the self. The beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of. These are identity beliefs. These are more sacred to us than life itself. Change these and you change everything.

  8. p.s. Here is an example of creating a destructive identy belief that I did for years. First I would observe that I sometimes procrastinate. That’s my evidence. They I’d globalise this into an identy belief, “I am a procrastinator”. Then I’d ask myself a destructive question “why am I a procrastinator”, at which point my trusty brain would fetch a list of reasons. Now I had an even bigger pile of evidence to support my destructive identity belief. Belief creates behaviour so guess who procrastinated a lot? Unpicking destructive belief systems can be readily done but it is much easier with an understanding of beliefs and the power of questions. How we frame questions is very important. Today I have a habitual question running through my brain which is “what must I do next?”. It is much more productive than the old question.

  9. The Socratic method is of course effective and it is of great value in those circumstances when it can be employed. But as others have pointed out, we often do not control the battleground to the extent we can chose the dialectic rules.

    I have become convinced that the only possible way we are going to swing majority opinion our way, is to hold our noses, and apply the methods of the opposition. This is not easy I know. Most of us came to hold the positions we do, because we we smart enough to look beyond the propaganda, and evaluate these subjects rationally. However we simply can’t expect the number of people we need to make this a populist issue to take the same path.

    This is not to say the majority are stupid or dull. The problem is that many just do not have the time, or the inclination to background themselves to the depth we did, before we were able to start evaluating these subjects in detail.

    To reach them we have to be willing to get our hands dirty, because that is part of the political process. we need to bring the fight down on the street. we need a simple message, and we need simple, attainable objectives.

    But most importantly we need to take control of the agenda. We cannot keep fighting defensively. Until we come to grips with the fact that all of the ‘problems’ with nuclear power are just bait that the other side is using to get us to fight on ground of their choosing and that they have framed these issues in such a manner that they can claim they cannot be solved to their satisfaction, we are going find ourselves working against our own cause. I know it’s not easy, the shear stupidity of these argument grates the nerves but we will never make any real progress if we keep trying to fight these by debate. What we need instead, and what has been sorely lacking in the nuclear debate is sales pitches that accentuate the positive aspects of nuclear power without restating the artificial problems that the antinuclear movement has thrown in our path.

    From what I can see, the same holds true with the AGW deniers: they have armed themselves with some talking-points they know will make supporters see red, and will just keep repeating them no matter how often those point are shot down. That’s their key strategy – to create the illusion of a debate, where one doesn’t exist.

    We really must stop and re-evaluate our overall strategy, if we want to get a significant amount of public opinion on our side.

    A new poll in the U.S. shows almost 70% of the population there is at least softening their attitudes to nuclear energy, by in large because of worries about AGW. This is not because of what pronuclear advocates have been doing, rather it is happening in spite of it, in my opinion. We must focus the message now on the benefits of nuclear energy, and let the antis expose themselves as the short-sighted Luddites that they are.

    We must stop engaging with them, and start to talk to everyone else, and in terms that gets the message across with as little complexity, and as much fanfare as possible.

  10. What you say is quite right DV8. Over at Deltoid, one of the contributors coined the term “goldfish troll” to describe someone who despite having gone the journey and having lost the ground they wwere standing on the make a claim, simply repeats the claim in some later posts asd if the discussion has never happened, inviting anyone who will to repeat the process. Like the goldfish with the alleged 14 second memory, they simply keep looping the tank for the “first” time.

    In a broader sense, this is what all the deniers eventually do because they persistently ignore the fact that their talking points have been shot down, as “Terry Krieg” and “realscientist” did in that other thread. They appear to breathlessly iterate something in a tone that sounds as if they think it revelatory, when it is simply regurgitation.

    Behaviour like this shows that what we are dealing with is not a rational response to real world phenomena but a form of cultural tribalism, instantiated in debates about mitigation and therewith the scientistic verbiage and concern/tone troll posturing these tribal warriors grasp is key to defending their ground.

    Accordingly, one should never enter a discussion with these types hoping to have them permanently concede any matter of substance. They can’t and they won’t. If you do it at all, you do it for the people on the sidelines or for your own satisfaction that their nonsense is corrected in this place too.

  11. DV8, you are quite right, it is essentially the Socratic Method that I’m talking about. You are also correct that we should not be fighting defensively. I would say that the method of questioning is useful in this context because it forces (perhaps I should say ‘gently eases’) the opponent onto the defensive — at which point they are at their weakest.

  12. Duncan,

    I think your “holier-than-thou attitudes, paranoia and demonization” receptor is picking up shit from the cosmos that just isn’t there. It’s the nature of all argument – if you feel demonised by it, perhaps don’t engage in it. The demonisation, I believe, is largely in your head.

    I’ve found that gentle interrogation can and does work. I have had these conversations with many *rational* friends who have been agnostics on these issues, and are open minded enough to listen. Generally, people will, at the very least, accept that there is a risk.

    Obviously this is just one method. You’ve gotta pick your playing field based on who you’re dealing with. I think often if the people you’re trying to engage with (or convince) are blatantly breaching several of the ‘ground rules’ Barry outlined, they’re generally not going to be the type worth engaging with.

  13. It’s not just about deploying killer arguments, it’s about psychology and motivations too. In the face of apparent ‘scientific uncertainty’ on climate change— greatly exaggerated by the contrarians of course— without an obvious immediate threat to personal safety, and lacking the expertise to make judgements themselves, people will justifiably ask themselves why they should adopt a particular viewpoint: “what’s in it for me?”

    So I’m coming round to the idea that the rationale for change needs to incorporate nearer term imperatives such as energy security, peak oil, and health. Things people can readily understand, and which may well bite sooner than the more obvious adverse effects of AGW. Thinking back to the previous two posts here, I’d say that certainly applies to the UK and many other densely populated developed countries— though perhaps not to Australia (which is maybe why the debate on BNC has a distinctive flavour!)

    The climate change argument still needs to be made, of course, but it needs to be framed differently: not as an environmental problem, but as a human problem which manifests synergistically with other human problems of real and pressing concern to the general public.

  14. Interrogation, or Socratic questioning, is a particularly useful approach in these sorts of contentious areas, for two reasons.

    First, it enables communication by actually asking the other person what they think and why. Even if you disagree with someone, this can be a genuine and interesting enquiry, without being threatening or overbearing. It offers the possibility of a genuine engagement.

    Second, it allows the other party to fully ‘own’ their conclusions, and the position they might be led to. This is potentially a positive and empowering experience, and much more likely to be embraced than a negative and depowering experience, which is what the “you’re wrong and here’s why” style of argument can do.

    I think that what we’re about here is advocacy, and being more effective advocates requires bringing people along with us rather that beating them down.

    “goldfish troll” – that’s great. I remember getting so sick of going round and round in circles with Stephen Gloor like you say that I just asked him to enumerate all his objections to Peter Lang’s renewables studies, and then tracked them as we dealt with them, so we couldn’t go round in circles. It worked, to a degree – when we got to the end, he withdrew from posting. Not a positive outcome, but at least no more goldfish circling.

  15. This is a good method for people interested in truth. But I think the climate
    “debate” is going through a phase very similar to the death throws of
    the tobacco debate. Long after the science was in, smokers began to
    seize on any shred of doubt that the tobacco lobby tossed into the
    room and also poured all manner of dung onto the heads of the
    non-smoking “zealots” as they were called. Smoking was associated
    with freedom from the straight jackets of “health nuts”.

    Gandhi had almost right:

    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you … then
    you win.”

    but I reckon the climate debate WAS won, and then slipped back into a fight again.

  16. Some time ago, there was in fact conspicuous and forceful hostility displayed on BNC towards Jim Green of FOE. It also sprang up on the Blog Owner’s thread concerning how anti-nukes and AGW deniers are “similar”

    So this evidence does not support current statements about BNC as a locale for Socratic questioning. Can this be because on trend BNC posters are in one of the two big social tribes, with anti-nukes on the other? Those tribes might be called authoritarian/individualist with a technocrat turn and egalitarian/collectivist respectively.

    Geoff Russell called for some caution on BNC weeks ago concerning the BNC damning of anti-nukes, saying as I recall that they were needed to stop coal.

    Of pro-nukes, only Jim Hansen to my knowledge has ever put his body on the line by getting arrested during an anti-coal demonstration in Virginia.

    The question is. how many of BNC are prepared to “hold their noses”, to use the phrase of “Le Hab” in Montreal and to take direct action as Hansen did? As I read it: none. Because across the ideological board, can it be that BNC’s adamant tribal allegiance is much more similar to that of any fossil fuel engineer than it is to that of a social worker chaining herself to a Hunter Valley (NSW) railway track to stop coal transport?

  17. @ Peter Lalor:
    Some time ago, there was in fact conspicuous and forceful hostility displayed on BNC towards Jim Green of FOE. It also sprang up on the Blog Owner’s thread concerning how anti-nukes and AGW deniers are “similar”

    So this evidence does not support current statements about BNC as a locale for Socratic questioning.

    We need to do whatever works. No reasonable tactic within the bounds of legality should be excluded. If Socratic questioning produces results, all well and good.

    Can this be because on trend BNC posters are in one of the two big social tribes, with anti-nukes on the other? Those tribes might be called authoritarian/individualist with a technocrat turn and egalitarian/collectivist respectively.

    I’m not going to critique this gobbledygook too deeply, as I reckon your purpose in bringing it up is to divert the debate away from the central topic. I pause briefly to wonder what definitions those words hold for you. How in the world could anyone associate the trait of authoritarianism with individualism rather than egalitarian collectivism?

    The question is. how many of BNC are prepared to “hold their noses”, to use the phrase of “Le Hab” in Montreal and to take direct action as Hansen did? As I read it: none. Because across the ideological board, can it be that BNC’s adamant tribal allegiance is much more similar to that of any fossil fuel engineer than it is to that of a social worker chaining herself to a Hunter Valley (NSW) railway track to stop coal transport?

    Pro-nuclear advocacy is currently at about the same stage of development as the anti-nuclear movement in the early 1970s, or possibly even earlier, given that much of the anti-nuclear structure was already in place then, piggybacking on the anti-war/anti-bomb movement. This is just the beginning.

  18. Peter Lalor…. What’s to say your social worker doesn’t support nuclear power ? she was stopping coal after all and not uranium.
    Also I have taken part in many forest protests such as Chaelundi (north coast NSW)…. which was a victory and I support nuclear power. Don’t go tarring everyone with the same brush.

  19. Sorry Peter … if you have a serious point to make, I’m afraid it eluded me.

    I’m not authoritarian of any sort, and I absolutely positively would like to shut down coal and massively cut back on crude oil combustion in a hurry.

    I see nuclear power as being key to making that project plausible in the long run.

  20. Geoff you’re absolutely right. I’ve been involved in several activist circles in the last few years, and they’re mostly so focussed on ideology and bringing about mass social change that high intensity/energy focus on one issue (the climate one, the most important one in my opinion) just doesn’t happen. Of course, many actions on different issues are justified, there’s just no prioritising.

    And Peter Lalor, I agree with COCO2, don’t categorise people like that. I’ve been involved in a few direct actions and numerous other actions against big coal in the last few years. Funny thing is, I honestly wouldn’t feel safe holding up a pro nuke banner on top of a coal train – and it wouldn’t be the police I’d be fearing most.

  21. oh to have more capacity to interact more with quality blogs such as this one. So many great discussions to be had.

    I am roused to comment because it is our own core beliefs that we can most productively engage with — those of others are basically a mystery unless we have some particular talent in that regard.

    As someone who is profoundly skeptical of the story that has built up around “climate change science”, and being able to safely say that I understand radiative physics better than most, I am hopeful that it is worth pointing out that such mock conversations can spin from different starting points.

    How about pulling apart the science of the assertion that current warming is unprecedented in a thousand years. How about the assertion that atmospheric CO2 sat at around 280 ppm for the last thousand years and only started rising with the onset of the industrial revolution. etc.

    I say to those who want to converse with ‘skeptics’, even to convince ‘skeptics’ to change their views; I say you need to first convince the skeptic that you are different from the others, that you do actually care about the science, and that you have the courage to clearly denounce those aspects of “the science” that are bullshit – regardless of how that fits or conflicts with your own core beliefs.

    Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time, and my time is valuable, and I have much else to do.

    happy blogging to you all!

  22. Barry,

    I was amused at your example debate between Mr Hartigan and Kevin. During my conversion from AGW sceptic to believer , I was, at one stage, a typical Kev. Might I explain why?

    Hartigan uses two words – absorption and saturation – that I interpreted wrongly. I visualise things in a child-like manner to help bring me to understanding. I learn that protons of a particular wavelength are absorbed by CO2 in the atmosphere. Ha! I get it. The CO2 molecules are like predators (raptors to be precise in my mind’s eye). They float over the surface awaiting an appropriate prey item (a rising proton) to gobble up before it can escape to space. Poor proton – digested, absorbed, metabolised and its remains excreted – is proton no more. However, eventually, given a finite food supply of protons, the arrival of more predatory CO2 molecules ,along with an accompanying increase in fellow predators (water vapour) will not effect the numbers of protons escaping to space because all of the appetising ones (of relevant wavelength) will have been ingested (absorbed) already (predator saturation without Malthusian consequences for the predators). To embellish a little, my predators are low ground flyers which can’t soar in the atmosphere – water vapour having no cold tolerance and CO2 being so much heavier than air that it can’t get far off the ground.

    The above seems to be sound thinking for a biologist. Imagine my astonishment when I discover that physicists are using absorption to mean something that doesn’t mean absorption at all – and I thought they were meant to be clever people. They explain that when a proton hits a CO2 molecule, it may temporarily stick to it but, very soon, it will be spat out again. Why didn’t they say so in the first place instead of talking about absorption and confusing me? A new, more appropriate image springs to mind. CO2 molecules become pins in a pin ball machine. Yeees but what about saturation? I know a cloud of concentrated CO2 will hug the ground. It took me quite a time before someone explained that this didn’t apply to CO2 at normal atmospheric concentrations – individual molecules can apparently soar high in the atmosphere so long as they are not so numerous as to impede each other’s flight. OK, now, at last, I can accept that, though saturation may occur low in the atmosphere, it is far less likely higher up where there is little water vapour. Progress tortuously made.

    Now I begin to understand effective radiating levels and brightness temperatures. Next, I think that, if one really wants experimental and irrefutable proof of AGW, all one has to do is measure how they change in response to atmospheric changes in GHG concentrations. I’m feeling quite clever now but then wonder why the experiment hasn’t already been done. Perhaps these physicists aren’t as bright as I thought. Haven’t you got an appropriate measuring device that’s sensitive enough to accomplish this mission, I ask. Oh yes, they say but nobody’s given us the money to launch it in the needed satellite. Pity, that because, if they had, there wouldn’t be many AGW deniers left (unless, of course, the results were not as predicted!)

    Moderate if you consider this too flippant. There is a half serious point in there somewhere.

  23. DV82XL, on 25 March 2010 at 6.42 Said:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/03/25/gentle-art-interrogation/#comment-51300

    “The problem is that many just do not have the time, or the inclination to background themselves to the depth we did, before we were able to start evaluating these subjects in detail. ”

    An observation (FWIW) based on a sample of one – me (so you may skip this observation if you think such observations amount to mere anecdotes):
    I have always been responsive to new information. I have usually not been good at finding it myself.
    I stumbled across the concept of peak oil, from which my current sense of alarm arose (climate change and fiscal insanity are other problems that I now believe are equally serious), by being in a video store while the proprietor was playing “The End of Suburbia” on the TV over the counter.
    My previous background to things was from reading the likes of Gwynne Dyer, Noam chomsky, anyone who clearly presented facts in support of an argument.
    From my sample of one, I wonder if a background in energy is so necessary.
    Just in case that was the supposition being supposed.
    If my observation has any worth, then what is needed is to promote more awareness first.
    I certainly support advocating the best solution at the same time – I (again) suppose that people respond better to problems presented along with a realistic solution than to problems presented with no good options.

  24. Geoff Russell:

    Thanks for the link. Could you elaborate a bit? (You will appreciate that for one who mixes his protons and photons, things have to be kept very simple.)

    It seems that ERBE satellites launched ERBS, NOAA-9 and NOAA-10. The instrumentation was designed to characterise TOA budgets (incoming short wave versus outgoing long). I accept that lack of balance would have correlated with surface warming but we know warming is happening anyway. What I wonder is whether the design would have picked up declining chunks of specific OLR and whether the declines match increasing GHGs to the expected extent and wavelength.

    Further, I understand that the scanning instruments on all ERBE-launched satellites failed. I also understand that radiometers are scanning instruments. To summarise: Did these instruments achieve any of their objectives and, if so, would the results obtained have answered the questions I raised?

    I have previously been led to believe that my questions will only be answered when the Triana (DISCOVR) is launched and that this has been sitting in mothballs for years awaiting funding before launch. Have I got the wrong end of the stick?

  25. Lawrence, on 26 March 2010 at 17.19 Said:

    “Now I will go quite far away from the topic at hand to ask a question – what is the difference between these three.
    My limited understanding (akin to a guess) – seigneur = landowner, provost = manager, habitant = worker”

    Close enough.

  26. Douglas: The ERBS just measured energy intensity of radiation at different
    wavelengths arriving and leaving the planet … but it can’t tell anything
    about the nature of the predation … to follow your analogy. Chapter 2 in
    AR4 has plenty of information about aerosols and their measurement that
    complicates the picture, but the detail is well beyond the physics I remember
    from a long time ago!

  27. When I read some of the posts by Peter Lalor (e.g. 25 March at 17:24) and others of similar ideological persuasion, I get the impression their advocacy of climate change has nothing to do with climate change at all. Rather, it is all about using climate change as a means to advance their political agenda. They believe that breaking the law is perfectly acceptable, in fact it should be condoned and encouraged, if it involves breaking laws they do not agree with. At the same time they want to force more laws on society that they believe are correct. They’d expect everyoje to obey the laws they agree with.

    This is familiar. The hippies and anti-nuclear protestors of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had similar beliefs, causes, agendas and methods.

    Most of these people have negligible understanding of business and investment, but believe they do. They see profit and investor returns as evil. They do not seem to realise that by making the investment climate more difficult for business, everyone’s income is reduced, and the effects flow on through the economy – less government revenue and less to spend on all the things the community wants from government (e.g. health, education, infrastructure).

  28. @Lang:

    (leaving aside the fact that I am not “advocating climate change”; you surely mean “advocating measures to stop AGW”):

    1. as you like to appear as a hard-nosed evidence-based Master of the Universe viz. neoliberal engineer and apparently class me as a hippy anti-nuke, perhaps you can furnish adequate evidence beyond your “impression” to buttress your allegation that I/we am/are using AGW to advance my/our nefarious agenda. There is a robust front-bar saying in AU of which you will be aware, and it starts with the words “Put up…”

    You appear to impute to me/us a global conspiracy similar in nature and scope to that imputed by AGW denialists to climatologists. Such enterprises are de facto unwieldy and hence unlikely.

    2. as an engineer underpinning the powers that be you will not necessarily be conversant with the long history of civil disobedience and its relationship to subsequent amendments to legislation. Presumably you respect Bertrand Russell as a mathematician, so you might like to read him on the topic.

    In AU you enjoy universal suffrage and certain freedoms of opinion and assembly etc., even though I can be fairly sure you wish the hoi polloi and stirrers and bolshy troublemakers who might reduce your personal ROI did not.

    3. currently, international financial law ie the lack of it permits via CDS, credit default swaps, the investment equivalent of taking out insurance on your neighbour’s home or your boss’s life. This was banned in the UK centuries ago. Informed opinion has it that these instruments may yet bring us down. So it might beggar belief that neoliberals continue to pretend some sort of social as opposed to privatised utility for corporations as they have developed over time, but if you know such people it is no surprise:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/22/in_landmark_campaign_finance_ruling_supreme

    <>

    You will also be aware that power companies eg Areva or E.ON or RWE in the EU have irons in all energy fires ie nuclear, renewables, fossil. The CEO of RWE said recently in an FT interview which I cited on BNC that he he had no intention of pulling out of coal just because RWE was also in wind and nuclear, given the business case for staying in coal, esp. in regard of China. And are such people/companies to bring about your nuclear renaissance because they see money in it?

    3. I have asked you repeatedly on BNC to outline how you envisage the “social engineering and education” you advocate for the AU populace, at least, in regard of NPP rollouts. I suggested to you that I thought you might favour the Chinese approach to dissidence, inasmuch as persons such as yourself tend to, historically speaking. You have declined to reply so far. Now there was a NSW premier you will recall called Sir Robert Askin. During the Vietnam war and when confronted by demonstrators, he is alleged to have said to his driver; “Run the bastards over”.

    Given the gravity of AGW, is it not time for nukies to bite the bullet and turn to advocacy of more efficent non-nonsense methods of implementing the preferred solution?

  29. Given the gravity of AGW, is it not time for nukies to bite the bullet and turn to advocacy of more efficent non-nonsense methods of implementing the preferred solution?

    For context Peter, I would appreciate it if you could explain your preferred solution to addressing anthropogenic global warming. John Morgan has asked you this simple question a number of times, and you’ve never answered him. I’d also like an answer.

  30. @ Lalor

    Given the gravity of AGW, is it not time for nukies to bite the bullet and turn to advocacy of more efficent non-nonsense methods of implementing the preferred solution?

    Would you like to suggest an objective way to decide the optimum way to reduce GHG emissions from electrcity generation? What would be the key measures?

    For example:

    1. $/MWh (for the whole system)
    2. $/tonne CO2 avoided (for the whole system)
    3. Time to reach specified emissions levels (from the whole system)

    Do you have something in mind that is objective and can be used for evaluating options?

  31. Speaking of direct action … anybody from Newcastle (Australia) on BNC?
    MEDIA ALERT
    People’s Blockade of Newcastle Coal Port: Greens MP Lee Rhiannon speaks

    What: peaceful action to\
    occupy Newcastle Harbour to stop the movement of coal ships
    Who: NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon
    When: 10 am onwards, Sunday 28 March 2010
    Where: Horseshoe Beach, Newcastle

  32. Social engineering to facilitate nuclear rollout in AU? It’s happening as
    we speak and BNC is part of it. I’ve met quite a few people who have
    been involved in direct actions and were anti-nuke a few years ago and
    are changing. Within my little circle, there are anti-nukes who are reconsidering
    the issue because they know I wouldn’t change my mind lightly. I can talk to
    people who wouldn’t listen to establishment politicians. Ditto many other
    people. I ran into a guy at the James Hansen talk who I hadn’t seen for years.
    He thought I’d still be anti-nuke and was interested in changing my mind and
    I had the same idea with him … snap … very funny. Polls need to ask an
    activist question: “Would you blockade a nuke?” … I’ll bet that number
    is low and and falling.

  33. Hi Barry, I like your approach. It works well if you have an indepth knowledge of the science, such as you do.

    But I’m not a scientist so I don’t have that breadth of knowledge and understanding (wish I did) and can’t therefore lead a conversation in whatever technical direction it goes, nor handle a detailed exploration of the science.

    Nor actually, do I want to. I think everyone is on their own journey and when they are ready, will see the truth. So it’s not my business to ‘convert’ them.

    What I find does work (occasionally!), if a person is actually seeking information, rather than defending his beliefs, is to offer to lend them the books and/or documentaries that lead me to believe the science and suggest do the work so they can make up their own minds.

  34. Barry, an interesting correspondence that I just caught up with. I am with Clive Hamilton that climate change denialism is a cognitive disorder, a maladaptive coping strategy.

    Sadly, cognitive disorders can be very powerful things, and can do a lot of damage over long historical periods. For hundreds of years it was thought in Christian Europe to be a virtuous act to go on crusades to kill Muslims ( ”killing Muslims is no sin””), and to burn women as witches. Later, under the Enlightenment, a perversion of social Darwinism made modern racism respectable in Europe and North America and here – coloured races were definitely considered inferior to white races before 1945. Anti-Semitism has a long and terrible history.

    You are not going to find it so easy to eliminate climate change denialism by patient logical argument. In my youth I used to try to do that with anti-Semites. I learned it was a total waste of time.

    Paradoxically, climate change denialism will get worse as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity: the coping strategy will become even more urgent to cling to. ( We saw this human tendency satirised in the movie ”2012”.)

  35. Quiet sun puts Europe on ice

    BRACE yourself for more winters like the last one, northern Europe. Freezing conditions could become more likely: winter temperatures may even plummet to depths last seen at the end of the 17th century, a time known as the Little Ice Age. That’s the message from a new study that identifies a compelling link between solar activity and winter temperatures in northern Europe.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627564.800-quiet-sun-puts-europe-on-ice.html

  36. The problem with the interrogation method is that the guys (and they’re always guys) don’t stick around to answer all your questions, they get bored and upset after a bit and wander off, then come back again the next day somewhere else saying exactly the same thing.

    Interrogations only work when the questioned person can’t leave.

  37. Good job in getting that agreed to beforehand, I think that gives you if not the advantage, at the very least a position from which you can exercise some control over the debate.

    I wish I could be there.

  38. Pingback: Thinking Critically about Sustainable Energy (TCASE) – the seminar series « BraveNewClimate

  39. Great site you have here.
    Good to see people not getting aggro with each other..
    Unlike many other sites..
    Quote:”Can you really hope to influence ‘the unpersuadables”
    Possibly not.
    A good example is the book ‘The Hockey stick Illusion” by Montford.

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/

    Many people I know will not read it because they are worried about what it contains.
    Which is probably a form of cognitive dissonance.
    Perhaps some form of socratic arguments could be suggested here to read convince people to read it…? :)

  40. @Williams: a cursory look at Montford`s secretion reveals that his noisome ooze is a slime aimed at Michael Mann and the hockey stick.

    It never ceases to amaze that denialists like you attempt to steal the clothes of the honorable 2,000 years of Scepticism by adverting to words like: cognitive dissonance; socratic argument.

    One line of Gavin or Mike or Rasmus or Stefan at http://www.realclimate.org is worth more than the sum total of you astroturfing front men for corporate fossil fuel interests.

    Piece of advice, sonny: when you have finished confusing temporary cold weather wherever you are with “global cooling”, at least weatherise your house. I mean, Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin lovers (or UK chav- Aust. Bogan counterparts) can well be short of month-end cash to meet those power bills, so cover your AGW denialist ass with some self-serving insulation, y’all hear me now?

  41. quote “@Williams: a cursory look at Montford`s secretion reveals that his noisome ooze is a slime aimed at Michael Mann and the hockey stick.”

    Wow..What can I say. LOL
    I thought on was on an adult site where people would not lower themselves to puerile ad hominem.
    I was being light hearted because its a great book.
    If you have no scientific and specific criticisms then..well… I rest my case..:)

    Quote “It never ceases to amaze that denialists like you attempt to steal the clothes of the honorable 2,000 years of Scepticism by adverting to words like: cognitive dissonance; socratic argument.”

    wow again.
    More rudeness/ad hominem and an appeal to authority thrown in.
    That you believe you response is related to “2,000 years of Scepticism” is mildly amusing.

    Quote”One line of Gavin or Mike or Rasmus or Stefan at http://www.realclimate.org is worth more than the sum total of you astroturfing front men for corporate fossil fuel interests.”

    More adhominem/another appeal to authority.
    But back to 2,000 years of Scepticism..show me proof that proof that Montford has anything to do with fossil fuel interests. :)

    quote”Piece of advice, sonny: when you have finished confusing temporary cold weather wherever you are with “global cooling”, at least weatherise your house.”

    I never mentioned the word/idea about any “confusing temporary cold weather ”
    Straw man bait and switch…
    So far tiger it aint looking to good so its amusing you are trying to give me any form of advise.

    quote” I mean, Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin lovers (or UK chav- Aust. Bogan counterparts) can well be short of month-end cash to meet those power bills, so cover your AGW denialist ass with some self-serving insulation, y’all hear me now?”

    Look, no offence..I was making a mild and polite point which was aimed at any polite adults on this site who have a brain.
    There is a difference between robotically using term “honorable 2,000 years of Scepticism” and then doing the complete reverse.
    Hence your use of several fallacies.

    quote”Piece of advice, sonny”

    From someone who will not get an F for being manners and using fallacious lines of reasoning..sure.
    Since you have failed so brilliantly..then you are out of the game. :)
    Perhaps a socratic argument would be.
    question:Has anyone here read the “‘The Hockey stick Illusion” by Montford
    Response “Its all must be lies..Montford is paid by fossil fuel….he is a cheat and a fool.
    Question:But , if the facts are correct, then would you agree, there is a problem with the core of the whole AGW.
    Answer”yes…but it must be lies”.
    Question”fair point..but would you agree that if you cannot show what facts Montford has wrong and you are sadly reduced to acting like a child and being rude, then your belief system has a problem.
    Response:its all lies he is paid by big oil.
    Oh Dear.. :)

    Mike

  42. Michael, your inserted responses do not tally with the response I would expect from any scientist.

    “But , if the facts are correct, then would you agree, there is a problem with the core of the whole AGW.”

    My first response would be “which facts, in particular, are you talking about?” (having not read the book)

    My 2nd response would be “If the palaeoclimatic reconstructions were shown to be in error, or biased, it would mean that the methods used to make inferences on past temperatures was too uncertain to say much that is useful, or, it might mean that it was warmer in northern Europe 800 years ago than it was in the 20th C”. (that’s IF).

    But I would then ask you:

    “Why do you think that this undermines the whole core of AGW?”

  43. Hi Barry

    quote:”Michael, your inserted responses do not tally with the response I would expect from any scientist.”

    I did not realise scientists would not be able to recognise bleeding obvious examples of ad hominem or appeals to authority.
    Or that non scientists could not point them out either.
    What a strange new world we live in. :)

    quote:”My first response would be “which facts, in particular, are you talking about?” (having not read the book)”

    Kind of makes it hard if you have not read the book. : )
    But, the central tenet is that Manns proxy reconstructions are not very good.
    And there may have been a bit of “cherry picking” involved…
    There is a paper coming out soon in Annals of Applied Statistics listed here which is saying the same thing.
    http://www.imstat.org/aoas/next_issue.html Blakeley B. McShane and Abraham J. Wyner
    The paper is here.

    http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/mcshane-and-wyner-2010.pdf

    quote:”My 2nd response would be, if the palaeoclimatic reconstructions were shown to be in error, or biased, it would mean that the methods used to make inferences on past temperatures was too uncertain to say much that is useful”

    Correct.

    quote:”But I would then ask you: “Why do you think that this undermines the whole core of AGW?”

    I did not say in undermines the core, but I like your way with words… :)
    But, to push the point..if the palaeo-climatic reconstructions are not rigorous, then it leaves the small number of palaeo-climatic guys and gals having to go back and fix the data,start again, and perhaps working with statisticians next time round.
    Obviously, if the proxy data is lousy, then previous temperature estimates pre instruments are useless which makes it virtually impossible to make statements about what the earth is doing and if temperature variations are within natural variability.
    One of the comments in the abstract says “We find that the proxies do not predict temperature significantly better than random series generated independently of temperature. Furthermore, various model specifications that perform similarly at predicting temperature produce extremely different historical backcasts. Finally, the proxies seem unable to forecast the high levels of and sharp run-up in temperature in the 1990s either in-sample or from contiguous holdout blocks, thus casting doubt on their ability to predict such phenomena if in fact they occurred several hundred years ago.

  44. Mike Williams, I make no comment on the ad homenims of Peter Lalor — I’ve been on the end of them myself too many times to even recognise or care about them any more.

    Whether it was warmer in northern Europe in 1100 than in 1950 has no bearing on the question of climate sensitivity due to greenhouse gas forcing, so why is this relevant to AGW theory? It might be relevant to projected impacts, at least at 1950 to 2000s levels of warming, if Europe has experience these sorts of temperatures before. But it’s utterly irrelevant to how much more the Earth will warm due to ongoing GHG forcing. So, with that context, my next question is:

    “Why do you think the question of Mediaeval warming or otherwise is relevant to the question of climate sensitivity due to GHG forcing?”

    It’s always been a (n interesting) sideshow affair for me with relevance only for interpreting present-day impacts.

  45. While on the topic of ad hominems Brooks, and given your previous comment that I have “strange views” try these on for size:

    1. it was amusing that in your most recent discussion with Ian Lowe on the ABC just now that Lowe alleged in your (audio) presence, as I recall, that Iran and N Korea were proliferation-related dangers. The species of ABC flunkey interviewer paid to subsist in your Feral Murdochracy will never counteract this US-driven neocon mendacity, but I was indeed wondering what you yourself would reply to Lowe?

    I mean, as a man who supports civilian NPPs to the hilt, you will be aware that Iran enriches to about 20%, well short of weapons grade. And the Internet is full of scholarly ex- and current CIA men (among others) disavowing any notion that Iran has a bomb and/or is enriching at weapons grade.

    However, your often-evidenced vassal loyalty to the US corporate elite line cf. your BNC hosting of US corporate apologist Haydon Manning, won through, did it not? and you let Lowe and the ABC get away with their anti-Iranian and anti-civilian NPP lie on air.

    So much for your oft-stated claims about Evidence-based and Numerate Rationality. Looks like you want NPPs alright, but not if they are Iranian ones.

    2. Noticeable also your recent tweet to encourage the US (specifically) to compete with Russia on nuclear: I thought
    the idea was a la Tom Blees to encourage peaceful NPP rollouts everywhere?

    Brooks, you call this blog “unashamedly Australian”, as you have? In the way that John Howard was happy to be George Bush’s South Pacific Australian sherriff, I’d say.

  46. Hi Barry

    QUOTE :”Whether it was warmer in northern Europe in 1100 than in 1950 has no bearing on the question of climate sensitivity due to greenhouse gas forcing, so why is this relevant to AGW theory? ”

    You are sort of not quite getting it.
    It doesn’t matter if northern europe was warmer than now or not… to you…but..to the major AGW players, this period did matter, that’s why they tried to make it vanish.Yes, I realise you will tell me you do not care but the heavy hitters in the AGW camp did care and did not want the general public to know this.But you would be aware of this. :)
    For a start, the models that were trashed by this paper, were originally Killed off by McIntrye and McKitrick,The Wegmann Panel etc and now this
    Virtually everyone else but you Barry, you know, the small players..in the AGW camp, like Al Gore, RealClimate,The Paleoguys and gals and The IPCC used the Mann models to promote AGW is here and the earth is suffering unprecedented warming.
    So lets looks at your “green house gas forcing” = temperature increases that are unprecedented…from this papers perspective..first..

    “This is disturbing: if a model cannot predict the occurrence of a sharp run-up in an out-of-sample block which is contiguous with the insample
training set, then it seems highly unlikely that it has power to detect such levels or run-ups in the more distant past. It is even more discouraging
when one recalls Figure 15: the model cannot capture the sharp run-up even in-sample. In sum, these results suggest that the ninety-three sequences
that comprise the 1,000 year old proxy record simply lack power to detect a sharp increase in temperature……………“In fact, our uncertainty bands are so wide that they envelop all of the other backcasts in the literature. Given their sample width, it is difficult to say that recent warming is an extraordinary event compared to the last 1,000 years. For example, according to our uncertainty bands, it is possible that it was as warm in the year 1200 AD as it is today…“In fact, our uncertainty bands are so wide that they envelop all of the other backcasts in the literature. Given their ample width, it is difficult to say that recent warming is an extraordinary event compared to the last 1,000 years. For example, according to our uncertainty bands, it is possible that it was as warm in the year 1200 AD as it is today.” (McShane and Wyner AOAS 2010, )
”

    Then we look at the Hadley data.

    No unprecedented warming there.
    The NAS (National Academy of Science) did not affirm Mann’s conclusions:
    “Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium” ”

    National Academy of Science
“Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years”
-page 4

    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11676

    No unprecedented warming there.

    Lets finish with good old Phil Jones himself.
    BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming
    Phil Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

    Or, we could play another game.Where are the reliable temperature instruments for your belief.?

    http://www.surfacestations.org/

    Yes, I realise CO2 levels have gone up and that it can, with positive feedbacks drive temps up so no pea and thimble games on that one please. :)
    Or this

    Or this from NOAA

    QUOTE“Why do you think the question of Mediaeval warming or otherwise is relevant to the question of climate sensitivity due to GHG forcing?”

    Huh.?
    You dont appear to have either read the paper or if you did, you dont appear to understand it.
    Its saying ALL THE PROXIE records for backcasting temperatures records, that have been used by the AGW proponents to tell the world, that the earth is going through unprecedented warming…are useless.
    You do understand that for anyone to make any claims about modern temperature increases being significant, you have to look into the past, you understand that right.?
    So now, all you have, is an increase in CO2..that you can point to..and thats it..
    To help you understand this complex subject, by sources other than the mainstream media you should try these books.
    Peter Taylor The enviromental analyist

    Dr Rpy Spencer, Climatologist and ex NASA.

    Professor Paltridge the atmospheric physicist.

    There are many others on the net.
    I realise scientifically and historically illiterate people like “Pete Lalor” with his juvenile comments appear to have bought the mainstream media idea that ALL sceptics of the AGW hypothesis are shills for big oil..I asked for proof of his one claim amongst his mad little rant..the silence answered that question.
    But the reality is different.If you follow the $ trail. the big $ is behind AGW and not againts it.
    At the end of the day the IPCC will publish a paper, refuting (McShane and Wyner AOAS 2010, ) just before the cutoff date for IPCC submissions which will not have to be accurate or with robust statistics.
    The trick is to make sure it is published too late for any responses to it to make it into the next IPCC report. :)
    Same old games..The AGW crowd are safe though, mainstream media wont report any of this.
    If the AGW crowd concentrated more on the science and less on the patronising “Platonic arguments” in this thread, which was just sloppy sophistry anyway, then more people would respect them.
    That you guys dont get the point that the science is more important than mendacious word games..is…telling.Hello Brave New World..
    But dont worry, you can keep pushing for AGW critics to be gaoled or silenced.. :)

  47. I realise scientifically and historically illiterate people like “Pete Lalor” with his juvenile comments appear to have bought the mainstream media idea that ALL sceptics of the AGW hypothesis are shills for big oil..I asked for proof of his one claim amongst his mad little rant..the silence answered that question.
    But the reality is different.If you follow the $ trail. the big $ is behind AGW and not againts it.

    Who bears the greater burden of blame? The one who cannot think, or the one who can, but uses that intelligence to distort and mislead? The overwhelming evidence is that the anti-AGW claims are beatups backed by those who have the most to lose if the fossil fuel infrastructure is retired.

  48. Fossile fuels are bad for the enviroment and we need to pursue alternative forms of energy to get away from polution such as coal and nuclear.

    Hmm. But Stefan, there are no reliable and easily expandable forms of energy less polluting than nuclear.

  49. Pingback: TCASE Video – Interactive discussions about the future of nuclear power « BraveNewClimate

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s