Playing the man, not the arguments

In previous post I mentioned that it was quite remarkable that not only Tol’s views were published, but also were published without the need for a reply. This was true in the online version of the article, but a day later it was also printed in the paper version of the newspaper and it had a (rather short) reply from the policy coordinator of Bond Beter Leefmilieu.

Reply BBL on Tol (Het Laatste Nieuws December 22, 2015)

Reply BBL on Tol (Het Laatste Nieuws December 22, 2015)

There was however an intriguing common theme in this reply. Let’s look at it one by one (all quotes were translated from Dutch):

Tol is an economist who believes that money is the only thing that matters.

I don’t know Tol personally, but from his writings I don’t share that impression. Of course it might be true, but it has nothing to do with any of the arguments that Tol presented.

He comes to conclusions that differs from common sense

I have to firmly disagree with this one. About seven years ago, I also believed that the climate change issue and its proposed solutions, were common sense. Looking back, this was because I only got to see one side of the story which gave no other explanation. But when we focus on what we effectively know (not assume, suppose, model, predict, expect, speculate,…), then the global warming issue doesn’t make any sense at all.

But that is no reaction on any of Tol’s arguments.

and [differs from] the consensus among climate scientists

Yeah, the consensus of the scientists. I also believed in that one, until I realized what the consensus was exactly about. There is certainly a consensus that the Earth is warming and that humans have some contribution in it. Whether human emissions is primary cause or what the effect is of those emission on the complex system that is our climate, is not so sure at all: this “consensus” is counted by polling the opinion of scientists or classifying publications. Seems subjective to me. Which shows there is no solid evidence to begin with. If there was, then a poll would not even be necessary. Finally, whether that human part of the warming is dangerous or not, is in the eye of the beholder.

Having a consensus is fine, but as history shows, that doesn’t guarantee it is true. The search for truth doesn’t work via the consensus, but who has the best arguments. That is why discussion stays necessary.

Again this reply has nothing to do with the arguments of Tol.

and [differs from the consensus of] world leaders: climate change is one of the biggest threats ever.

I am not impressed by this one. Those world leaders have this information from someone else and it might be that they are informed in a one-sided way. There are many reasons why the world leaders would come to this consensus and for sure it is not for scientific reasons (none of those world leaders is doing scientific research on global warming). In the best case they agreed on the basic of the authority of a group of scientists.

But also nothing to do with Tol’s argument.

These risks can not just explained in lost lives.

That might of course be true, but it must be quite some argument that is more important than four million deaths per year now.

The way he compares risks with other problems is misleading.

Aha, now he is finally tackling one of the arguments of Tol. A pity he doesn’t explain which one. If it is about the comparison with temperatures/sea level rise in our daily live, then I think he would have a point. But I don’t think he meant that. A temperature increase from 6 am until 12 am is probably not the “problem” he is talking about.

If it is about the comparison with those who are killed by (real) pollution now in comparison with those that might be killed in a century from now, which I suppose it is, then I doubt he has a point. A pity he didn’t explain what he was talking about. I also searched their website, but didn’t found anything about this article.

More, it isn’t an or-or story: the fight against climate change is good for the economy, the quality of life and fights poverty. This is shown by eminent economists as Nicolas Stern.

Nice. Now we have two “eminent” economists who tell two entirely different things.

That the fight against climate change is good for the economy would really surprise me. Favoring economically non competitive, intermittent energy sources in continuous working grids is not a cheap solution. That is what we see happening in reality. We invested an incredible amount of money on wind, solar and biomass. In Flanders alone we pay more than one billion per year on subsidies for onshore wind, solar and biomass. For just a couple percent extra in our electricity supply (that is able to disrupt our grid). Those subsidized energy sources meant that other sources were not competitive anymore and therefor no investments were made, although there were desperately needed to replace our aging energy plants and also needed to deliver power when there was no sun or wind. This meant we were structurally dependent on (expensive) power from abroad. So I am at a loss why increasing energy prices, an inability to produce enough for our own needs, discouraging investments in energy sources that could produce our energy much more efficiently and importing expensive energy from abroad, is good for the economy. I can understand though that one sector will fare very well. For example, 2/3 of the profits of offshore wind comes from subsidies from our government, not from the product they sell. I am not really sure whether that is a “sustainable” situation.

That the fight against climate change fights poverty is also not what we see in reality. If energy prices go up because of a higher share of expensive energy, it will be the poor who suffer the most. Even if it true that we can adjust climate with the CO2 knob, then lowering temperatures means people in our regions will need more energy to keep their houses warm and this will add to the energy bill. That would be a double dip for the poor.

I agree with Tol that if we want to fight poverty, we need to put money in exactly that, not in a problem that might or might not be an issue for our grandchildren. The money used in projects that might or might not solve a future problem, can’t be used for other problems that we are facing today.

Nothing to do with the arguments of Tol though.

Tol is member of a group of doubt sowers (GWPF) of which has recently revealed that some of their members receive money from the oil industry.

Indeed, Tol is a member of GWPF and it is entirely possible that some members of the GWPF receive money from the oil industry. Even if that would be relevant, it doesn’t say that Tol did. By the way, the oil industry funds so many organizations, even environmental ones. I remember that an oil company was sponsoring COP15, are they then also suspect?

Yep, nothing to do with any of the actual arguments of Tol. He is obviously playing the man, not the arguments. Even when he would have valid reasons to attack at least two of the arguments. I noticed about 27 arguments in the article, yet maybe one was probably referred to and if it is, it is not even clear which one. It would be much more interesting that the arguments were countered and the best arguments could win. Now we don’t know if there even are arguments to counter Tol’s arguments and which these are. Now it just seemed to be defending the moral high ground.

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7 thoughts on “Playing the man, not the arguments

  1. Eli Rabett

    There are two things here you need to recognize. The first is that Richard is a econometrician ad believes that everything can be valued (money is just a fungible counter) but does not recognize that once something has been destroyed it cannot be rebuilt. Ecologies are prominent examples of such things.

    Second, you need to understand that a consensus is necessary for science to work and demonstrably it does work. Science is characterized by coherence, consilience and consensus, the rule of the three Cs.

    Coherent paradigms are consistent
    Consilient, paradigms explain much efficiently and are coherent
    And consensus means just what Kuhn said, that members of the community can talk with each other in the framework of a coherent and consilient paradigm. http://rabett.blogspot.com/2015/12/normal-science.html

    And third, Richard is such a pretentious prig that twitting him is excellent sport.

    Reply
    1. trustyetverify Post author
      1. That may or may not be true. But even if he is, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that what he says is incorrect.
        I don’t have the impression that he is against protecting the people or the environment. He seems to be in favor of solving current problems and against putting that money in something that might or might not be an issue in the far future
      2. I have no problem with that framework at such, but not sure though where things like for example lack of historical data, intrinsic uncertainties or politicization fit in
      3. That may or may not be true. But even if it is true, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that what he says is incorrect. That was exactly the subject of this post.
      Reply
    2. poitsplace

      I used to believe like that. Now I understand what religious people meant when they said that many people treat science like a faith…and they’re right, a lot of people do (especially when they hold up consensus as a measure of truth). I no longer trust published papers implicitly. And do you know why I don’t trust them? I don’t trust them because in many “sciences” the results cannot be replicated. I’ve started checking papers, their context, their frequent use statistical “certainty” to detect a correlation as their “certainty” that their assumption is correct. I look at their assumptions for the correlation and then look to see if they could EVER have application in real-world circumstances that could be reasonably expected.

      What I’ve found is deeply troubling. Almost every study you see pushed as “news” is deeply flawed and questionable at best. Psychology/sociology, nutrition, and climate science are some of the worst. Every time I read them I’m reminded of that quote from Ghostbusters…

      Doctor… Venkman. The purpose of science is to serve mankind. You seem to regard science as some kind of dodge… or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable! You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman!

      Reply
      1. trustyetverify Post author

        [I have the impression that the comment of poitsplace is a reaction on the comment of Karl Schwartz in previous post]

        I had similar experiences when looking at papers that for example mentioned “climate change” or “global warming”. Just before I started this blog, I also tried to look at such papers to see how they fitted in the narrative. At that time it took me by surprise that most of them said in their conclusion something like “if global warming is true, then turnips will be 50% smaller in 2050” (just some mock example). Something like that then could find its way in the media as “Prof. x found that turnips will be 50% smaller in 2050”, adding to that “overwhelming” evidence. While they in fact didn’t investigate that at all, but just took global warming for granted and went from there. That became also rather clear when I later looked into the Cook survey where most of the abstracts that were counted had nothing to do with climate. They didn’t investigated climate change, maybe not even climate, maybe not even earth sciences. They just took it for granted and went from there.

        I wouldn’t go as far as to say that every paper getting pushed as news is questionable. I have some experiences in medical science (disclaimer: I am not a scientist) and I see on a daily basis driven scientists who do they job because they like to do science and looking for answers. Medical science is still advancing strongly these days, so a lot of good work is being done and getting in the media.

        That doesn’t mean that those scientists don’t have problems doing their job. A recurring problem is funding, closely related to publication records. The more a researcher publishes in “good” journals, the higher the chance for funding. Don’t publish much or publish in minor journals, and chances of funding decrease. I heard many time the phrase “publish or perish” and I think that categorizes the situation rather well. There are also a lot of researchers in medical science, so the competition is fierce. This pressure means that some of them are presenting their results a bit nicer than they are, help chance a hand by letting things fit in better than they actually did or forget about a result that didn’t fit very well. There are of course those who commit downright fraud in their research, but as far as I know that is a very small minority.

        I also think that some fields are softer than others like for example social sciences, nutrition and I think climate science also belongs in that list. But I have no doubt that also in these fields good research is being done. Climate science has its own set of difficulties though, among them the strong polarization of the field, its relation with politics and the media, its lack of clear definitions and the inherit uncertainties coming from studying one single subject that is a complex, coupled and chaotic system with poor historical data.
        I also have no doubt that the science being done and what we see of it in the media, are two very different things altogether. I guess that is what poitsplace is alluding to?

        Reply
        1. poitsplace

          Actually we already have a good idea as to just how skewed and worthless the papers are in general. When the NSF (I think that’s who it was) started requiring that they first explain their goals for the study…positive results dropped by about 60%. The majority were literally looking for one thing and then when it failed, reporting ANY CORRELATION THEY COULD FIND as if they’d undergone a disciplined attempt to find that relationship. The problem there being that there will almost always be a (non-causal) correlation to something. But that was for papers in general…I shudder to think what concentration of those were in the soft sciences where they’re under the utterly delusional impression that statistical certainty in a general correlation is remotely similar to actual certainty that the correlation is causal and not accidental.

          I was just flabbergasted last time I was poking around on ARS Technica listening to their chief science editor telling me that it was basically impossible to challenge the sea level rise record…that it was certain because all of those published papers meant any problems had most certainly been found. But me…looking around at the actual tide gage data can tell that there’s just no acceleration to be found…not in individual stations and not overall. Its all a big load of worthless shit for a discipline so mired in group think that they simply refuse to look at the data. Its 100% pure dogma.

  2. Pingback: Interviews with Richard Tol | Climate Scepticism

  3. Pingback: UN IPCC Lead Author Dr. Richard Tol bolts warmist narrative: Calls Gore’s claims ‘complete madness’ | The Authentic Male

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