Tag Archives: Faulty Comparison

Hornsdale Power Reserve: the mouse that stopped the elephant from falling

After writing previous post, the RenewEconomy article kept going through my mind. The author of the article suggested that the response of the Hornsdale Power Reserve to a tripping coal fired power unit was extraordinary, when in reality it was insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I wondered why on earth the author was so lyrical about what was in fact a poor performance…

Then it suddenly struck me. It might well be a misinterpretation of how the event was represented.

Let me explain.

There were two graphs presented in the article. The first one is the frequency versus the response of the Hornsdale Power Unit and it stood central in previous post. There is however a second graph in the article and it is this graph that could easily lend itself to misinterpretation. It shows the sharp decline of the tripped coal unit combined with the response of the Hornsdale battery:

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Imagine that 11,000 doctors tell you that you are dying of cancer…

When I looked at the stats of my previous post a couple days ago, I noticed that there were quite some visits coming from Twitter. However, when I looked at the tweet linking to my post on my own twitter account, I didn’t see that many views and hardly any engagements, so only few clicked the link. These stat views definitely didn’t come via my own tweet. This prompted me to search for the distribution of the link to my previous post on twitter.

I quickly found some twitter accounts that picked up the link to my previous post. Two of them were interesting, these are both replies on tweets about (alarmist) articles from the Guardian and the Independent.

This is the tweet that originated from the Independent:

The tweet stated that a sane person would not need more convincing than the 11,000 scientists backing up the “report” (it is actually a viewpoint). He took the list of 11,000 “scientists” as a confirmation that we are in a climate emergency (and maybe even are too late already). I am pretty sure that the tweep didn’t look at that list…

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Realists need not apply…

Continuing from previous two posts on the “interview” of Nic Balthazar, something that was clear from the beginning was that Balthazar was not very keen on “realism”. I certainly can understand why and will explain it later in this post. One of those realists that Balhazar looked down on is a certain “climate critic” (whatever that may be) (translated from Dutch):

A climate critic was in De Morgen (Belgian newspaper) this weekend and he said two things a) that two percent [sic], that is not enough anyway, also we should not cheer about it. Even if we get there, it would be far too little and 2) [sic] there are many other important things for many people on this planet, namely, do I survive today? Do I survive this week?

My first thought was that it must be Bjørn Lomborg. He got, to my surprise (and that of many others), interviewed in that (left-wing) newspaper only about two weeks ago. I knew that Lomborg indeed claims that there are more important things than climate, but then, as far as I knew, he didn’t claim that “two degrees is not enough/far too little”.

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The doctor’s analogy again: the climate is like a child with a diagnosed cancer

The doctor’s analogy is frequently used in climate change communication. In most cases, it goes like this: “Wouldn’t you go with the advises of your doctor when he tells you …?” or “When you have cancer would you go to a cardiologist?”. Last Sunday I saw that doctor enter the analogy in a different way in the interview of Nic Balthazar in the current events program “De 7de dag” (see previous post) (translated from Dutch):

Screenshot of “de 7de dag” of December 16, 2018. Nic Balthazar: making the doctor’s analogy

You should really have to compare to, an unpleasant comparison, the doctors come and they say, madam and sir, your child has cancer. At the moment, it could still be contained, we can operate, do chemo therapy, everything. It is going to cost, it will be difficult, hard and all, but we can get that child to recover. And when you now talk about our economy, we can really come out of this better. We can, with renewable energy, cleaner air, end up in a much safer life in geopolitics. But it will be difficult. Would that father and mother then say, yes but, pfff, it’s a bit too expensive? No, they will not do that. We [sic] are going to say: whatever it takes. Just look at Music for Life, everything is possible at that moment. And yet we do not do it, and an annoying comparison, one single child that have cancer, but we are talking about all the children of the world.

and also later this emotional appeal (translated from Dutch):

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The doctor’s analogy: people defer to the expert consensus of climate scientists

Another term that I recently learned is “False Equivalence” (when two things are proposed as being equal, although there are substantial differences between the two). Reading the Skeptical Science article “97% consensus on global warming” that I discussed in previous posts, I spotted one right away. It is the good ol’ doctor’s analogy.

This is how it is explained in the article:

Expert consensus is a powerful thing. People know we don’t have the time or capacity to learn about everything, and so we frequently defer to the conclusions of experts. It’s why we visit doctors when we’re ill.

Which is all true. Expert consensus is indeed a powerful thing. It is also true that people are not able to learn about everything and, in things we don’t know much about, we turn to people who (seem to) know more about it. One such example is going to a doctor when being ill. Not everybody is able to get a degree in medical science, so when we feel ill, we turn to those people who got such a degree. For the record, I will happily go to a doctor when I am ill, knowing that medical science, while not perfect, is rather reliable and if I listen to the advice of the doctor, chances are that I get well again.

My eyes started to roll when the author of the article states that:

The same is true of climate change: most people defer to the expert consensus of climate scientists.

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Belgium fossil-fuel free in nine … err … ten steps

While looking for more information on the fossil-fuel free in nine steps campaign (see previous post), I encountered a similar looking campaign: ten measures to ban fossil energy to the past. It was similar because nine of the ten measures/steps were identical in both campaigns, though they were placed in a different order. Unlike the webpage of the nine steps campaign, this page was actually dated. The ten-measures list was published on November 17, 2016. A week after the US elections.

This made me curious about the relationship between the nine- and the ten-steps campaign. Did the nine-steps campaign came first and was one step added in order to come to the ten-steps campaign? Or did the ten-measures campaign come first and did it morph it into the nine-steps campaign by one measure being tossed out? I needed to find the date of this nine-steps campaign.

Then I got the idea to look into the source of the page. Some webpage generators write the publish date into the meta data of the header, maybe this was also the case here. Looking into the page source, it became clear that they use the WordPress Wunder theme and, yes, the creation date was in there.

The creation date of the page is November 16, 2016 at 12:28.

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“Climate Risks” as conclusive as the link between Smoking and Lung cancer?

Via the Cliscep post “Don’t call me an alarmist,” says alarmist, I landed on this livescience article: Treading the Fine Line Between Climate Talk and Alarmism. It is an op-ed written by Sarah E. Myhre about climate change communication and her wish not being called an alarmist.

One thing that caught my attention in the op-ed was this statement:

We would never fault an oncologist for informing patients about the cancer risks that come with smoking. Why would we expect Earth scientists to be any different, when we’re just as certain?

It is not clear from the text what we should expect from those Earth scientists. Luckily, the links goes to an article in Scientific American, titled “Climate Risks as Conclusive as Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer”. So apparently, she means that the Earth scientists know as much from climate risks as medical scientists about the link between smoking and lung cancer…

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Small amounts of very active substances can have large effects, but this doesn’t prove that carbon dioxide is such a substance

Two things came together today. First was A Guide to Understanding Global Temperature Data by Roy Spencer, which I read a week or so ago. Second, I was pointed to an article in the Guardian in which a white paper written by the same Roy Spencer was being rebutted.

Initially, it was not clear which paper was referred to and, although there were also 13 questions involved, the rebutted items didn’t seem to be similar to the guide that I read earlier. So I was a bit confused. Did Spencer wrote another white paper in which he also used that 13-questions format, but with other arguments?

Becoming curious, I went back to the beginning of the article to look for the source, and surprisingly, when I clicked the link of the white paper, the Guide to Understanding Global Temperature Data popped up. Strange. The white paper that the Guardian was rebutting, seems to be the exact same paper that I read a week ago…

The author of the article, Dana Nuccitelli, claimed that the arguments in the guide were an example of a Gish Gallop and therefor too time-consuming to rebut. Therefor he pointed to the Climate Myth database that was compiled by Skeptical Science and in stead of rebutting the arguments in the white paper, he just linked to entries in that database.

So far, so good. Let’s start with how the first argument was rebutted:

1) ‘Carbon dioxide is a trace gas’ is rebutted as Myth #127.

That was odd. I didn’t recognize this being one of the arguments that Spencer used in his guide, yet here the answer on question 1 seems to be reduced to “Carbon dioxide is a trace gas” and was rebutted as such. Meaning as if was being said that CO2 couldn’t have important effects because it is a trace gas in the atmosphere.

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The Observational science that is mistaken for an Experimental science

In my weekly catching us with the news I came across this article: Why the environmental movement can let the GMO-dossier go. In it, an environmental activist writes about how he changed his mind over genetically modified organisms. Before, he campaigned against them, but after looking into the matter, he changed his mind.

That is all very praiseworthy of course, but it was the way he changed his mind that surprised me (Translated from Dutch):

I decided to do the same as environmental movement relating to global warming: look if a scientific consensus exists that is based on the most reliable scientific studies such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses published in leading peer reviewed top journals like Nature and Science.

When he found there was a consensus that there are no indications that GMOs are harmful, he changed his position. The rest of the text was about further exploring this consensus position.

This was strange to me, because he seemed to be an intelligent guy with several university degrees, yet when he wanted to investigate an issue, he based it solely on the consensus position…

I have been there also, so I realize that of course it is not entirely illogical. When a group of scientists (who have it as their job to study a certain issue and therefor are experts in their field) agree on something, then it is not difficult to see that other people (who didn’t study it that closely) have no reason to doubt such a consensus. Whether we believe a “scientific consensus” is meaningful or not. How could those who didn’t study the issue as closely as the experts, criticize this consensus?

It is not really unreasonable to agree that a consensus is the accepted view with our best current understanding and the best starting point when we try to grasp a new field of study. In a way, I still hold this view, still today. If I am told by the experts that the consensus is that earth circles around the sun or that gravity exists, as a non-expert I have no problem with that and the consensus would be a no-brainer. Legitimate authority matters.

So why would I think differently when it comes to climate science?

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That doctor’s analogy again

During a web search I came across this page: Climate Change Communication: Taking the Temperature (Part 11) with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. It seems to be part of a series consisting of interviews with 12 different climate scientists about climate communication. The answer on the second question was really interesting, I recognized immediately the often used, but flawed, doctor analogy:

2. How do you view your role in communicating science?

I see the role of a climate scientist as similar, in some ways, to that of a physician. We might suspect something is wrong with our bodies; but until we go to the doctor, take the tests, and wait for the evidence, we don’t know what is going on for sure. In the same way, we might see something changing in our climate; but until scientists collect the observations, analyze the evidence, and draw conclusions, we don’t know for sure what is happening. As climate scientists, we are the “physicians of the planet.”

With that role comes responsibility: to tell people about what we find. Imagine if you went to the doctor and they found something wrong, but didn’t want to tell you about it – because they were afraid you might react badly to hearing the news, or it would be against your religion or your politics to receive treatment. That scenario may seem far-fetched to us. In the same way, though, I feel that as climate scientists we have a responsibility to tell people: what is happening, why it’s happening, and what the outcome of our choices as a society will be.

In a way I could understand that both doctors and climate scientists are studying complex systems. But even then there are differences that prevent the analogy to fly.

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