Saturday, August 23, 2014

Falsify This - what contrarians ignore (#5)

This will probably be my last installment looking at my pal K's line of reasoning over at OurChangingClimate's "Is Climate Science falsifiable" comments section.  It's been interesting I learned a few things, in particular today becoming acquainted with Mariano Artigas' examination of Popperian philosophy on fallibilism.  Something that seems much misrepresented on the internet and ties right into the neat little 'arguments' K was presenting. 

 He writes:

"citizenschallenge – the trick is that trivial falsifications do not automatically add up to a falsifiable hypothesis.  
"You need to have a necessary and sufficient falsifiable hypothesis statement. 

1) a list of observations, which if observed, mean your hypothesis is false;
2) a logical argument that the lack of those falsifications means that your hypothesis must be favored over all others (including the null).

The null hypothesis, is of course, natural climate change explains all observed climate change."

"The null hypothesis, is of course, natural climate change explains all observed climate change."

To begin with this "null hypothesis" doesn't make any sense because if we look at the situation from a geophysical perspective there is nothing unnatural about today's increasing greenhouse gas levels causing our atmosphere's insulation ability to increase, in turn causing our planet to warm.

It is only the source, human burning of fossil fuels, that is unique in the long varied history of our planet. 

It would be interesting if K or any other science contrarian can suggest a more meaningful null hypothesis, since his is broken?
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"1) a list of observations, which if observed, mean your hypothesis is false;" 

At OurChangingClimate Hans Custers suggested this list:

1. A drop in global temperatures for some period of time to the level of 50 years ago or longer, without a clear cause

2. A drop in global sea level for some period of time

3. A strong rise or decline in the atmospheric CO2 level

4. The discovery that climate forcings in the past were much larger, or temperature changes much smaller, than science thinks

5. Warming of the stratosphere

6. Major errors in equipment in satellites, measuring outgoing longwave radiation

7. Evidence of a substantial fall of relative humidity with rising temperature

8. A source of heat in the climate system that we do not know yet

9. A fundamental flaw in the scientific understanding of radiation physics or thermodynamics

10. CO2 molecules appear to behave differently in the wild, than they do in a laboratory

It was dismissed by various folks who conveniently ignored their substance instead hiding behind those glib dismissals contrarians have learned to wield so well.  They basically boil down to "it happened before" and "other things could cause that" to "possibility of some major unknown factor" along with a total lack of curiosity to explore the evidence at hand.
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Considering the complexity of our planet's climate system it seems to me it would make more sense to break down the question and evaluate it's components, which I suggest can be summarized:

Does increasing CO2 cause global warming?  [4, 5, 8, 9, 10]
Are atmospheric CO2 levels increasing?  [3]
What is the source of this CO2?  [-]
Is our global heat distribution engine warming up?  [1, 2, 6, 7]
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2) a logical argument that the lack of those falsifications means that your hypothesis must be favored over all others (including the null).

It seems to me the above list of questions provides a logical framework for evaluating the question "is climate science falsifiable" and thus a reliable source of learning and a valid foundation for basing life changing decisions on.  

Beyond that we should consider how contrarians communicate their basic premise and how well do they actually represent what philosopher's of science are saying or for that matter how honestly do they represent what climatologists are writing.  

I came across a most interesting article by Mariano Artigas titled "Human Knowledge, Reliability and Fallibilism" and I've reprinted the full text in my previous post, here I share some telling highlights:

¶2  It is well known that fallibilism is one of the main ideas of the Popperian philosophy and that it implies the negation of any kind of reliability.  {I can see where some might find this justification for rejecting anything unwelcome that any scientist might have to say.}

¶6  ... Doubtless, the central problem of Popper's epistemology is the growth of knowledge. Besides, Popper's approach to this problem is also quite clear; he basically says that, in order to evaluate any cognitive claim, what really matters is our attitude towards it: if one tries to establish it by using positive reasons, one will adopt a justificationist approach which must face strong difficulties from the point of view of logic and will be misleading from the point of view of history and general philosophy. In this way, fallibilism is closely related to falsificationismcritical rationalism and conjecturalism, which are the views opposed to verificationismjustificationism and dogmatism.

¶9  With respect to the first issue, scientific method can hardly be described mainly in negative terms. Eugene Freeman and Henryk Skolimowski have regretted "that the methodologies of both Peirce and Popper should be called by so inapt a term as 'fallibilism'", because this term suggests "the human propensity to make mistakes" and usually means "liable to err" or "liable to be erroneous or inaccurate"; 

in this sense, "the term is singularly inapt, almost to the point of caricature, as a name for the method of science", 

because "this misses the main point about what science is doing when it is making its mistakes - and that is, not that it makes them, but that 
(a) it recognizes them, and 
(b) it eliminates them, and 
(c) it advances beyond them, 
and thus, asymptotically, gets closer and closer to the truth". 

Freeman and Skolimowski suggest that "a much happier designation for identifying the methodology of both Peirce and Popper is found in Popper's inspired phrase, 'conjectures and refutations', which comes much closer to capturing the essence of Scientific Method" [Freeman-Skolimowski 1974, pp. 514-515].

¶17  Perhaps the fallibilist account is too much dependent on the classical rationalist view. It reacts against it, but nevertheless accepts the equation between legitimate certitude and a perfect and absolute certitude obtained as a mere consequence of logically linear arguments.

¶23  Fallibilism excludes any form of certitude and concludes the hypothetical character of all empirical knowledge. But it should be noted that there are different kinds and degrees of knowledge, truth, certitude and theoretical constructs : we can think, for instance, about empirical laws, general principles, models of spatial structures, phenomenological theories. It would be unfair to label all these constructs as hypothetical in the same way. I am sure that fallibilists know well these elementary distinctions. I wonder nevertheless whether they sometimes forget them.

¶24  Fallibilism emphasizes that absolute and perfect knowledge is beyond our reach. I agree with this. But we cannot conclude from this that any kind of certitude is beyond our reach.  {This seems to explain K's shoot from the hip contrarian responses: since we can't know anything without certitude, we don't know anything.  Thus all attempts at defining some agreed upon criterial for what is a necessary and sufficient falsification hypothesis statement are doomed to failure from the outset.}

¶30  ... What I consider important is that the statement "All knowledge is hypothetical" is, in my opinion, simply false, unless we accept some rationalist epistemological standards which I do not share. 

We do not have absolute and perfect knowledge. 
Nevertheless, we can obtain a knowledge that is contextual and partial but,
at the same time, authentically true.

¶33  Fallibilism denies that we can reach reliable knowledge. I will try to show that we can accept that empirical science provides us with reliable knowledge and we can even explain this in some way.

¶39  These views provide an explanation of the main features of the reliability of science, which can be summarized in the four following:  intersubjectivityempirical testabilitypredictability and progress
We have no guarantee that we will succeed in our attempts to explain nature, but if we use the scientific approach of construction and control and we are lucky, then it is easily understandable why we will obtain a kind of knowledge which will possess those characteristics.

¶43  I think that these views are compatible with some central fallibilist ideas, provided fallibilism is not understood in a too rigid way and is not inflated into an entire epistemology.  { Here's another one underlined for K to consider - The sad point is that contrarians use "fallibilism" as a bludgeon in order to keep the conversation away from the meat and potatoes of the problem we need to learn about, so it's a handy tool to twist into whatever form needed in order to dismiss whatever line of scientific evidence is being presenting.  
Nothing is ever complete or accurate enough for certitude, so if one wishes it hard enough, nothing needs to be learned… thus no changes need to be considered.  What a cheap way out.}
¶44  About this quasi-definition of fallibilism, I would introduce four qualifications. 

(a) Its validity is restricted to a total and absolute certainty that would correspond to perfect knowledge in an absolute sense; 

(b) Although any empirical statement has a limited validity, we can speak about truth in a concrete way, i. e. we can ascertain the contextual and partial, but nevertheless authentic truth of many empirical statements; 

(c) The validity of claims about truth depends on our goals, so that we can often reach a degree of certainty that is sufficient for our purposes; 
{ So simple, "sufficient for our purposes", that being anticipating the direction Earth's climate is going - Not pretending that we need to accurately predict every twist and turn to know we're in trouble and need to act!

So easy to ignore, we live on a real physical planet, with a living biosphere that moves forward regardless of any human beliefs.

Libertarian/Republicans would be well advised to take Earth's geophysical systems more seriously than they do their own desires and faith-based head-games. }  

(d) Although empirical science shares many logical features with ordinary knowledge and other cognitive claims, assertions about truth and certainty should always be interpreted according to the different goals and the corresponding standards of every human enterprise.
{ Or put another way, uncertainty doesn't mean we don't know what's going on.}

Link to original article: 
Reposted under authority of CreativeCommons license NC-ND3.0 
along with much thanks to the University of Navarra.

Another interesting source looking at the philosophical doctrine of 
"Fallibilism" on a 101 level:


Back to K's basic challenge, "You need to have a necessary and sufficient falsifiable hypothesis statement." considering the complexity of AGW it seems that a good faith effort would split the challenge into at least two components, here's another try - 

A) is our planet warming?
B) are humans the cause of this warming?
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Regarding the question of our planet experiencing a unique warming over the past century, 
NASA offers the following information at

All of the following points are open to verification, meaning they are falsifiable, based on accumulating evidence.  No one, not even K, has offered serious challenges to this information.  

Also please note that all Earth observations contain error margins, but those uncertainties must be kept in perspective with the known certainties within those observations.  Keeping a healthy perspective alive.  Contrarians and denialist have learned how to manipulate and mangle such information, which is in fact a proof of their dishonest intentions.

Certain facts about Earth's climate are not in dispute:
  • The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. Increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.
  • Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in solar output, in the Earth’s orbit, and in greenhouse gas levels. They also show that in the past, large changes in climate have happened very quickly, geologically-speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even thousands.3
The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling:
  1. Sea level rise
    Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  2. Global temperature rise
    All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880.
    5 Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.6 Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.7
  3. Warming oceans
    The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  4. Shrinking ice sheets
    The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  5. Declining Arctic sea ice
    Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  6. Glacial retreat
    Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  7. Extreme events
    The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
  8. Ocean acidification
    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.
    12,13 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.14,15
FYI. Indicator of global warming
National Climate Data Center - 
State of the Climate

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B) Are humans the cause of this warming?
Should also be broken into two parts:

Is CO2 responsible for the warming?
Are humans responsible for this increase in our planet's CO2 levels?
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There are plenty of sources explaining why CO2 is a greenhouse gas - one that I often point to because of it's excellent organization and exhaustive detail that goes well beyond what I can follow is  Anyone wanting to falsify CO2's atmospheric radiative transfer properties should consider all the evidence and lessons collected over there.  Here's a good place to start:
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For a little more background:
The carbon dioxide theory of Gilbert Plass
Filed under: Climate Science Greenhouse gases — gavin @ 4 January 2010
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Carbon Dioxide and Climate
Gilbert N. Plass explains it in a ScientificAmerican article from July 1959.

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Are humans responsible for dramatically elevating our atmosphere's CO2 levels?  

Does coal and oil produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when burned?  

Falsify that!

Does human fossil fuel burning add up to geophysically major numbers?

Falsify that!

'Human emissions of CO2 are (were) estimated to be around 26.4 gigatonnes per year (2006), up from 23.5 Gt in the 1990s, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in February 2007."

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Or for some stunning visualizations:

Crude - The Incredible Journey Of Oil (at 52:40)
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World Oil Consumption by Country

Also check out the information at:

The solidity of the above information can be examined and verified,  if significant errors are found those facets of the science would be falsified and stricken from the scientific consensus.  

The fact that we have tens of thousands of scientists and students and support staff examining these matters, with legions of libertarian/Republican contrarians looking for any and every angle they can to attack that science, yet finding next to nothing to complain about (you know, come on Mann 98/99 are a decade and a half old, talk about pathetically beating a dead horse.) should tell us much about their dependence on personal faith rather then evidence. 

Despite their own shabby record of failed suggestions and objections the Echo-chamber still assumes every main stream scientist is to be considered untrustworthy.  And the phony skeptics such a McIntyre are free to produce their science in a vacuum in the security that the Murdoch's media mega-phone is at his disposal* and sure to ignore the legitimate scientific objections to his work. 

{fyi. "An attack on science? Media use, trust in scientists, and perceptions of global warming"  by Jay D. Hmielowski}

Still, *that fact of life, doesn't make his utterances anymore authoritative, poor science in a vacuum, is still poor useless science and a sham.  It may win short term political battles, but it will destroy us in the long run.

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Ironically, while looking up links to evidence that warming continues unabated I came across the following by self proclaimed clear thinkers.  What's so crazy is that while folks like K pounce on any real, perceived, or fabricated mistake that a climatologist might make and then blows it up out of all proportion, they have an unbelievable double standard when it comes to the defenseless garbage they themselves are allowed to claim with a straight face.  Case in point:

5 Scientific Reasons That Global Warming Isn't Happening
John Hawkins | Feb 18, 2014 

1) There hasn't been any global warming since 1997:

This is a nonsensical claim indicating a willful ignorance that is appalling.
The State of the Climate (sotc) is a collection of monthly summaries recapping climate-related occurrences on both a global and national scale.
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2) There is no scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and caused by man:

Please lets not quibble about the exactitude of that 97% number, any half way objective look makes clear that there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists and experts dealing in climatology.
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Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree
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Scientific Consensus on Global Warming
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How to Determine the Scientific Consensus on Global Warming
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3) Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012:

Hmmm from Oct 2012 to October 2013, this claim is talking weather not climate, and neglects to mention 2012 was a record shattering ice melt year. 
For a more objective appraisal visit:
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4) Climate models showing global warming have been wrong over and over: 

Only if you shackle models with unrealistic, and uninformed, expectations.  Climate models are tools for developing scientific understanding and scientists are aware of their performance limitations and strengths.  Also keep in mind climate models have advanced great deal, for example check out how this model is working:
Arctic sea ice loss - climate model projections - Marika Holland, NCAR
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Modeling Our Future Climate

This claim also neglects that scientists know our planet is warming not because of models, but because of various physical lines of evidence.
Observations and paleoclimate studies. 
Geophysical understanding of greenhouse gases and their behavior in our atmosphere.  (Also we shouldn't forget this understanding was developed by the US Air Force between the late 40s and 1960s not by some long haired lefty tree huggers.)
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5) Predictions about the impact of global warming have already been proven wrong:

There have been hundreds of predictions by under-informed armchair 'experts'.  If you want to get a better sense of what actual climate scientists were predicting you need to listen to real climate scientist.

Here's an interesting lecture where Dr. MacCracken explains the state of the science, aka consensus, as it was in 1982.  At the time of this lecture he was deputy division leader of atmospheric and geoscience division, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and a pioneer in climate modeling.  It's an interesting historical document that reveals what we knew and where the uncertainties were. 

Dr. Michael MacCracken's 1982 Climate Change Presentation
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Stephen Schneider - including 1979 clips.

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