“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is there a psychologist in the house?

Just kidding, my regard for the so-called "soft sciences" is pretty low, though my father was a psychologist. But I'm trying to understand a guy like Marc Morano. Amazingly, Mr. Morano has no Wikipedia entry, so I'm tempted to think he doesn't actually exist. But he's the driving force behind the Climate Depot web site, an aggregator of anthropogenic global warming ("AGW") denial (or skeptic, take your pick) stories modeled very much after the Drudge Report.

Morano was an early promulgator of the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on John Kerry and has worked for Rush Limbaugh. I've watched Morano in several debates and he's a quick witted and intelligent man and he very clearly has his facts in hand. So what does this man believe? I know what he contends but what does he believe?

I see several possibilities: he's a true believer that AGW is false but thinks those who claim it to be true genuinely believe that it is; he believes it's false and that the professed believers know it's false and are using it as a trojan horse for control of the world's economy; he believes AGW is true but thinks those who pay him really think it's false and he wants to continue to get paid; he believes AGW is true and that his income comes from people who also know it's true but whose economic interests are more important or who think that the consequences of action against AGW are worse than the consequences of warming; and several more possibilities.

Suppose he really is a true believer. I came to the issue leaning toward acceptance of AGW and severe negative consequences but had doubts. Among other sites, my friend Michael Tobis' Only In It For The Gold web site and links and papers therefrom have led me to be fairly firmly in the "it's warming, it's us, it's bad" camp though reading the guys below and the comments on their blogs occasionally still causes doubt to creep in - this is just not my area of specialist expertise. Though I've taken a lot of physics courses I'm no physicist, and though my college major was math and I'm working on an M.S. in Applied Mathematics, I'm no mathematician. I doubt I'm smarter than Morano and I certainly don't have the time he does to devote to the issue. So how can it be that he's a true believer? Is it truly a matter of his being slavishly beholden to his philosophy?

I want to understand Morano, Anthony Watts of Watts Up with That?, Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and others. I'm not sure it would help in the battle for the hearts and minds of the public and the politicians, but it certainly couldn't hurt to know what's really going on in the minds of these highly popular and influential bloggers.


Roald A. said...

A trend I've noticed over the last four years+ of looking into the global warming issue is this: Gore / IPCC followers proceed on the premise that global warming skeptic scientists and commentators put out boldfaced lies, thus we should wonder what prompts this behavior. During the course of this analysis, we unfailingly see skeptics labeled as "deniers" while also being minimized in other ways - they're not climate science specialists, or worse, paid shills of big industries.

There is a hole in that premise big enough to drive a Mack truck factory through: No one has conclusively proven AGW to be true when they can't disprove skeptics' conclusions saying global warming may be caused by natural conditions. Add to that the Gore / IPCC followers' complete failure to provide concrete evidence of huge payments by big industry to skeptic scientists, and any far more damaging undeniable evidence of errors in those scientists' papers prompted by big industry influence.

Undoubtedly, the most effective way to wipe out an opposing argument is to prove on no uncertain terms where it is wrong, and if the person offering that argument can be proven to be shamelessly corrupt, then the argument is destroyed beyond all hopes of repair. A better use of psychological analysis would be to find out why Gore / IPCC followers continue to employ a backwards/halfway use of this tactic that is rendered ineffective when they can't prove the corruption part.

Your wondering about Steve McIntyre's motivations, for example, is hopelessly misplaced and fundamentally irrelevant if you are first unable to show where his mountain of statistical computations and discrediting of Michael Mann's hockey stick graph is irrefutably wrong. Your questioning of what drives Marc Morano's zeal takes on the appearance of a strawman argument if you are unable to debunk, disprove, and otherwise discredit the wealth of articles at ClimateDepot.com that he has no part in writing.

Why do so many Gore / IPCC followers take a backwards/halfway approach to defend their position, as opposed to a far more effective one?

Anonymous said...

Your choice of language speaks volumes. I count nine times where a form of the word "believe" is used in this short piece. Science is not about "beliefs". Science is all about proofs. This is where the alarmists fall off the wagon. The "believers" in AGW refuse to use the Scientific Method, they prefer "verifictaion" instead. I debated one of the IPPC panelists on this point and he was so deluded that he did not understand the difference between the Scientific Method and "verification". The Scientific Method states that observations MUST match a theories predcitions in order to be valid, and yet they refuse to acknowedge the failures of their predictions. It also states that one must try and disprove the theory in order to validate said theory. But even worse, these alarmists only look for "verification" of their ideas and dismiss any other data. It has been said the alarmists torture the data until it confesses, I would go a bit further and say that data that will not confess is eliminated by these charlatans(see Briffa, Mann "hockey Stick"). This is why alarmists "believe" in global warming, it takes faith.

papertiger said...


Don't forget to include the discrediting of Briffa's Yamal tree core reconstructions. When a guy needs to removed 36 tree cores, from a more thorough study done by scientists who weren't looking for a predetermined outcome, in order to get his prefered hockeystick result, the first question you should ask is why.
Then you need to ask why is the IPCC using the truncated Briffa hockeystick rather then the superior, untrucated, original study by Hantemirov and Shiyatov {pdf warning}.

The answer I find is that Hantemirov and Shiyatov's reconstruction of tree line dynamics don't show any particularly unusual or alarming warming in the 20th century.

papertiger said...

Here's something else for the "King of the Road" to chew on, from those daffy madcaps at the BBC (If you think they're crazy I might tend to agree with you).

The growth of British trees appears to follow a cosmic pattern, with trees growing faster when high levels of cosmic radiation arrive from space.

Interesting read, complete with tree rings!

So why would tree rings track cosmic rays, as opposed to rainfall totals or temperature readings? Could it be that crazy Danish fellow who claims cloud cover is modulated by interaction between the solar magnetic field and the cosmic flux is on to something?

Sure looks like it.

King of the Road said...

@ Roald A.: I think you missed my point. I acknowledged that some would call them skeptics while others say deniers. I clearly stated what I believe (in answer to Anonymous) to be true with respect to AGW. The first two possibilities I listed would indicate that Morano, et al, are NOT disingenuous. I genuinely don't know which possibility or combination of possibilities is correct but I would like to.

The "belief" issue is a complete red herring. Whatever one thinks the facts are constitutes, in an epistemological sense, a belief. It's just too cumbersome to say "what one considers to be true based on the facts and data as one understands them" so I choose to abbreviate it to "believes."

Anonymous said...

Morano is a strong conservative, probably bordering on RWA/high SDO

They tend to be intolerant of ambiguity, resistant to change, dogmatic, and lack cognitive complexity.

See John Jost's meta-analysis

A. Psychologist

papertiger said...

Hey King,

I'm pretty sure you implied that Morano, Watts, and McIntyre, are crazy.

Then you went out of your way to include Wikipedia and sourcewatch links, which everyone knows are basicly activist hit pieces orchestrated by
Will Connolley and whomever runs sourcewatch.

FYI there are no sourceswatch entries for Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann or Real Climate.

Why do you suppose that is?

King of the Road said...


Not true at all. If I thought they were crazy, I'd say so. I want to understand how what they believe informs what they do. In order to do that, I obviously need to consider what they believe.

As to links, Morano subjected himself to such scrutiny with his Swift Boat participation. I also linked to each of their web sites.

I'm smart enough to know I don't have the knowledge base or the time to go to the primary literature so I must form my opinion based on superficial knowledge and reliance on credibility of the secondary sources. Whom I have so found is clear from my post though, as stated,I occasionally have my doubts.

As to sourcewatch, I don't guess anyone is left in the dark about their point of view, but just as one can't discount facts from Watts or McIntyre because of their point of view, neither can one discount facts from sourcewatch because of their point of view.

This is all very ironic in that I'm philosophically inclined toward "small l libertarianism." Unfortunately, I don't think that's an option here. I've posted about similar conundrums (conundra for the pedant).

Bob D said...

You strike me as very confused, if this post is anything to go by. You claim that Morano, Watts, et al. require psycho-analysis of some sort. Why? Well, because they appear to be intelligent, informed individuals who believe differently to yourself and your mates. You claim the facts are so obvious that even though you are not as 'smart' as them you can see it clearly, yet they can't. You question their motives: do they really believe their strange little theories, or are they being paid?

You admit they may in fact know more about the subject than you do. But they still need analysis, so 'you can understand them', as if they're odd and rather bizarre specimens. Why? Again, because they're so obviously wrong, and yet believe themselves to be right, poor deluded creatures. You have to admit you come across as more than a little patronizing.

There is of course a single and obvious answer to all your hand-wringing, and I suggest you go away and consider it for a while: They do know a lot about the subject and they are in fact correct. They believe it because they've lived with this for years, researched it thoroughly and understand clearly that they're right.

At no point did you entertain this possibility. Why not? Would it change your perception that they need analysis? Very likely.

King of the Road said...

To Bob D,

No, I don't think (and neither said nor implied) that they need psychoanalysis. The point was that I may need the help of an expert to understand them. Quite different.

As to entertaining that possibility, of course I did. I credit both Watts and McIntyre (and others) with deep understanding of, at the least, subsets of the factors involved in the likely direction of the climate. Morano, of course, not so much. As I said, he's an aggregator and a spokesman, not an expert. My question about him involves what motivates him to choose the experts to whom he grants credibility?

I chose those to whom I grant such credibility by attempting to understand the constructs broadly. I'm not a climatologist, an expert on modeling (though I'll probably have to post on modeling since those whom I've read that criticize it are clearly confused), on fluid dynamics, paleoclimate, etc. Thus I have to try to determine whose credibility to accept based on a broad and coherent view of physics and mathematics at the 30,000 foot level. This I have done, though I still am swayed to consider alternatives.

Bob D said...

King: No, I don't think (and neither said nor implied) that they need psychoanalysis. The point was that I may need the help of an expert to understand them. Quite different.
Fair enough, but ask yourself this: If what they're saying is in fact correct, then would you need the help of an expert to understand them? Probably not - they'd just be normal folk pointing out the truth.

Everything you've written implies a priori that they are not correct. I'm suggesting it may be useful to imagine for more than a fleeting moment that they are right after all. That alone would provide you with enormous insights into what makes them tick. No experts required.

Unless of course the purpose of your post was not to understand anything, but rather to perpetuate the notion that 'deniers' are so far out there that normal, decent people are simply unable to comprehend their position, and only experts can provide insights into their twisted world.

King of the Road said...

Bob D
I agree, if Morano, et al,are right then it's the "other side" whose thinking I may not be able to understand and my original questions apply. As I said, I don't think that they are. Either way, my desire for understanding remains. I've posted about it before on a couple of occasions.

Bob D said...

OK sweet, thanks for your replies. Back to work I go...


Michael Tobis said...

Well, there's little doubt within the actual research community that the climate sensitivity to CO2 is around 2.5 to 3 C per doubling.

That would make most of what goes on at Climate Audit is nitpicking blown out of reasonable proportion and at Watts Up just plain wrong, though most of the research community is working too hard to be aware of them at all.

What makes the denial community tick, besides ample funding, is pretty clearly ideological. Probably the number of people actively lying is very small. It is interesting how communities of people can convince themselves of things that can't possibly be true on the evidence. You don't have to look too hard to find other examples. There's much in common with the pseudo-biology of "intelligent design" for instance.

Naomi Oreskes has done some fine work tracing the historical origins of the polyanna crowd (That's a generous name, of course. Polyanna was never quite so angry, suspicious and mean.) If you care to spare an hour for an interesting lecture, check this YouTube video of Oreskes speaking out.

(Somebody in Oreskes' circle has coined the term "agnotology" for the discipline of deliberate propagation of ignorance and confusion.)

Today's RealClimate lead discusses a new book on the delayer movement as well.

Anonymous said...

The AGW hypothesis has been proven to be the hoax we always knew it to be.

Because the real money is in government grants to study this non issue, we have phonys still wondering what the fuss is all about.

The truth is that is has been cooling for over a decade. Anyone with a computer who does not know this is being intentionally oblivious to this reality.

Yet even after ten years of cooling and facing 20-30 and perhaps more cooling we are being told it is warming.

Bluntly, it ain't warming, we cannot be at fault for warming that is not occuring, thinking otherwise is lunacy.

What is even more frightening is that we are being told that by raising taxes or the price of energy that we can lower the planet's tempurature.....

(Can anyone tell me when the last time that happened?)

The 20th century warming and the 21st century cooling has been explained over and over again.

Again, anyone with a computer who "cares" about the AGW hoax who does not know this HAS to be purposely oblivious to the facts.

Warmth on earth begins and ends with the sun. Anyone who tells you differently is in need of a straight jacket.

Andrew Robinson said...

Michael Tobis:

I think you'll find that the climate sensitivity you quote is heavily disputed by some.

Also disputed is the impact of anthropogenic CO2 as a climate forcing as compared to total anthropogenic forcings.

The UN FCCC uses a dodgy definition of climate change that solely relies on human emissions of greenhouse gases, not the full range of impacts (both anthro- and natural) known to be in play.

The computationally-based climate modelling that the IPCC puts so much store by is woeful in terms of its multi-decadal predictive capability.

Other more broadly based assessments of climate change are available, reach radically differing positions to that of the IPCC but are currently out of favour, as the climate science community seems hell-bent on a consensus line.

Roger A. Pielke, Sr stresses the need to distinguish between the needs of climate policy and the needs of energy policy and how all human impacts need to be taken into consideration for climate policy, not just the anthro-GHG impact.

When it comes to recent changes in global temperature, researchers argue for a range of non-warming periods to 2009 of something like 5 to 14 years.

I hope the IPCC will lose credibility in direct proportion to the failure of its claims: this process already appears to be under way, if only nascently, within the mass media.

How things will proceed from here is an open question.

Bob D said...

Michael Tobis: "...the climate sensitivity to CO2 is around 2.5 to 3 C per doubling."

The non-feedback sensitivity is 1ºC. The 2.5-3ºC figure is produced by modeling, and is based on positive feedbacks from water vapour and clouds. There is however, considerable uncertainty about these feedbacks. A quote from NASA (see the link): "Current climate models do not represent cloud physics well..."

However, research has moved on and we now know from observations (ERBE) that the feedback from clouds is actually negative, and as a result the sensitivity is more likely to be less than 1ºC (closer to 0.5ºC over the tropics), see Lindzen and Choi, GRL, 2009.

The models are incorrect because they fail to account for negative rather than positive cloud feedbacks (see Figs 2 and 3 of the paper).

This conclusion is borne out by the observed global response over the past decade to increasing CO2 levels - the temperature has declined, confirming low sensitivity to CO2. The models all showed increasing temperatures, as you'd expect if the sensitivity was as high as the IPCC (and Michael Tobis) asserts.

It also explains the lack of the tropospheric hot spot over the tropics, a modeled feature of positive feedback response to GHG warming as predicted by AR4 (Ch 9).

So there is in fact considerable doubt in the "actual research community" about your 2.5-3ºC figure.

Does that change your opinion then about the nit-picking at CA, and about Anthony Watts being "just plain wrong"?

Michael Tobis said...

Nope, Lindzen has been flogging that thing for a decade, and it's still wrong.

There are multiple streams of evidence regarding the 2.5 - 3 C number; models do not serve that purpose at all well. Models do show us what the consequences of such a sensitibity are likely to be, but the constraints are observational and paleontological.

The Annan and Hargreaves work constrains the likelihood that it's far from that range to be very small.


Watts is still just a guy who doesn't understand the material, like he's always been. Climatology remains a very interesting topic which attracts excellent scientists, among whom a sensitivity in the range I quote is considered much more likely than not.

Lindzen is the only person with any strong claim to skill in the field who believes it is much smaller. (Spencer and Christy have done good work but they are satellite observationalists, not climate dynamicists, so their expertise is tangential.)

To be sure, the Houghton and Lindzen paper on the QBO was a tour de force; one of the finest papers I've read. People who think there's no real science in climatology ought to look that one up. But you've basically got just the one guy at this point, and he's got the right ideology too.

Other than that you have dabblers with a political axe to grind. I don't expect you to take my word for it, of course, and I don't know how to prove it. But that's pretty much how it is.

King of the Road said...

I've been away from the blog for a few days due to pressing business related activities. I'm rather amazed at what's transpired, though maybe I shouldn't be.

The link to this post by Morano (and possibly from Michael) caused approximately a 15 fold increase in traffic and a huge surge in comments.

And the thrust of my original post has been widely misunderstood - I didn't imply (nor do I believe) any of the people whose sites I mentioned are in need of psychological help but rather that I need help to understand them.

I suppose that the answer to the question of which of the possibilities in my list is correct is "all of the above," depending on the individual and the facet of the debate.

In any case, the post has now transmogrified into a discussion of the correctness or incorrectness of the edifice of climate change theory. Go figure.

This is ok and the comments have not been abusive and it's puffed me up to see such activity on my site. But there's got to be a lesson there somewhere.

Maybe I need to post on Intelligent Design next. Just kidding....