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March 28, 2007

Gore’s Faith

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the Catastrophic Global Warming prophets are finally seeing their message reach the long-sought level of popular acceptance necessary for policy change, precisely at the same public moment that they are being hammered by high-profile experts and previously sympathetic media voices for gross exaggerations and poor science. Bummer for them. 

Michael Barone's related piece "Gore's Faith Is Bad Science" has been the topic of much offline discussion over the last few days. Barone writes:

[Gore] starts off with the science. The world's climate, he reports, is getting warmer. This accurate report is, however, not set in historic context. World climate has grown warmer and cooler at various times in history. Climate change is not some unique historic event. It is the way the world works.

Not this time, Gore says. What's different is that climate change is being driven by human activity -- to wit, increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Which means, he says, that we have to sharply reduce those emissions. But what the scientists tell us is that some proportion of climate change is caused by human activity and some proportion by natural causes -- and that they can only estimate what those proportions are. The estimates they have produced have varied sharply. The climate change models that have been developed don't account for events of the recent past, much less predict with precision events in the future.

As I've noted before (here and here), climate change models are the entirety of the case for Catastrophic Global Warming. Without them, there's nothing. Zilch. And, as I've explained in those posts, statistical models are fundamentally unable to determine that a warming catastrophe is at all likely to occur. So the only evidence for Catastrophic Global Warming -- statistical models -- are wholly unable to serve as said evidence.

But as my friend Roberto Rivera (who I want to be if and when I grow up) notes, discussions about "multivariate statistical models" tend to glaze the eyes of most folks.

True enough. And yet an enormous segment of the general public, not understanding the only supposedly empirical evidence for CGW, believes that its reality is a scientific fact. How so?

I think what we have here is what we might call the Aspirin Effect (I’m no coiner-of-terms, so forgive me). None of us know anything about how aspirin works, but we implicitly trust those guys in the lab coats who developed the stuff. We’re used to this.  We throw down pills all the time, without knowing squadoosh about any of them. We are used to trusting “scientists” without understanding what they do or how their products work.

The reason the Aspirin Effect is inapplicable here, of course, is that we only trust the scientists because we see our friends and relatives downing aspirin all the time without subsequently writhing around on the ground screaming “MYSTOMACHISEATINGMEFROMTHEINSIDEOUT!!!” and then going on to save us a spot on the Great Beyond Express. If we did see that, we’d never touch the stuff, to heck with the scientists. With Catastrophic Global Warming, we don’t have that opportunity; we just trust the scientists because they -- or, far more accurately, people claiming to represent them -- declare CGW to be true and scientifically demonstrable (which, again, it is not … back to the eye-glazing model blather).

What's becoming clear is the CGW prophets, who've gotten away with bad science for a long, long time, are now finding out that the free ride is over. Now, they'll actually have to prove that they're right.

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For the life of me I cannot understand anyone even listening to Al Gore. He lost me years ago when he claimed to have invented the internet. Anyone else remember this big LIE???

drew phillips

The big lie comes fom people who say that Al Gore invented the internet and repeated by the amazingly gullible people who believed it. What Gore said was that he was the major congressional voice for the creation of what has become known as the internet. Doesn't that seem more resonable and credible? As far as Gore being an environmental looney -- the vast majority of non-Americans agree with his views and governments around the world are creating policies that reflect this. It appears that only the American right wing are negative to his message -- could it be that you are unduly influenced by the big-business agenda that controls your republican party and much of your media?



Thanks for the comment. I have to admit that there are SO many examples of politicians claiming credit for things improperly that when I do think of the whole Gore The Internet Creator bit, I just kind of roll my eyes and scoff. Sadly, this is rather typical puffery I'm afraid.

Now, actually, you DO bring up an interesting implicit question: Why ARE people listening to Gore now? I've been thinking about that a bit, and I'll address that on Thursday.



Many thanks for the thought. I honestly really do appreciate some honest engagement by folks who think differently on matters than I do.

Two thoughts:

Who cares if a "vast majority of non-Americans agree" with Gore's views? That's not a shot, it's a serious question. What does that have to do with anything? That's kind of like claiming that the fact that a majority of the world believe in a diety of some sort *proves* the reality of such a diety. ... But of course it doesn't.

Now to your real point: the idea that Big Business controls the GOP and much of the media I choose to take in.

Of course, I cannot deny the possibility that I've been influenced by entities with a stake in the game such that I don't see things from a clear-eyed perspective. We all do well to admit our potential to fall prey to believing what we want to believe, because external entities feed us a line to our liking.

That said, I think you'll see in my previous posts on this matter that I'm pretty fair. And I stick to what I know: statistical models.


Last thought Drew: Do you have a counter-argument? Obviously, you disagree with my position on CGW. But if you think my argument (that the case rests on models, and the models are inherently unable to serve as such determinitive evidence) wrong, I'd be interested in precisely how you think I erred.


I would echo Drew’s comments. Mr. Gore never claimed to invent the internet; he sponsored legislation to help create it. Snopes.com, as well as many other web-based urban legend debunkers, has a good write-up (http://www.snopes.com/quotes/internet.asp ) on the myth. It is unfortunate that Christians so easily accept political spin as truth. Do you not agree?

Allen, I don’t think I understand your argument on CGW CCM (Climate Change Models). The business world relies on predictive statistical models to make reasoned financial decisions. The medical field relies on predictive statistical models to fight potential disease outbreaks. Like CCM, these models are limited by uncertainty. Good models, again like CCM, take this uncertainty into account, giving us a potential range of outcomes. Uncertainty shouldn’t be understood as ‘maybe it won’t happen’. In CCM, it is the level of change that is in question. Even at the unlikely bottom end, the outcome could very well be catastrophic (depending on your definition).

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