Pielke Jr's take on an amazing "Conversation with a Climate Scientist"

Gosh! Who would think a climate scientist could get so angry about people criticizing a politician? Here is an amazing exchange seen on Prometheus. Some highlights and excerpts follow

  • Gore Critics are “Palpably evil”
  • Suggests critiquing Gore’s science “morally comparable to killing 1,000 people”
According to his bio, Michael Tobis of the University of Texas is a “Research Scientist Associate (in practice, mostly a software engineer) at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in the delightful city of Austin.” Tobis is also editor of the EGU journal Geoscientific Model Development.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog conversation:
“As for the scope of the ethical risk, let us consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a mere part per million, a per cent of a per cent of a per cent. The expected mortality from this is a thousand people. Is that morally equivalent to actually killing a thousand people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.” […] Tobis later asks: “I’d sure like to know how I ‘gave ammunition to my enemies’”

Pielke Jr. writes about kerfluffle:
“I am beginning to get a better understanding why some scientists react so strongly to some of the things we write here at Prometheus. For instance, one climate scientist suggests that my calling out Al Gore for misrepresenting the science of disasters and climate change (as well as Andy Revkin’s comparison of that to George Will’s misrepresentations) to be the morally comparable to killing 1,000 people. I kid you not. I wonder how many climate scientists share this perspective.”
Keith Kloor, a journalist, summarizes the exchange [Pielke Jr.] had this week with that climate scientist: http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2009/03/02/climate-gutterball/
What are we to make of Michael Tobis, a University of Texas climate scientist,  who on his blog recently said this about Revkin: “I don’t think his dragging Gore into Will’s muck was a minor transgression of a fine point of propriety. I think it was palpably evil. (End excerpt of Tobis.) […]
Tobis is just getting warmed up. In the comment thread of his post, he has this exchange (which I’m excerpting) with Roger Pielke Jr (who Tobis and other bloggers blame equally for his role in the Revkin piece that equates Gore with Will). Tobis: “It is difficult for me to state how grave I think the transgression of ethics committed by Revkin and Pielke in this matter is. Consider some statistical expectation of human lives that will likely be lost as a consequence of the delay due to this confusion. I think such a number could present a very grave picture indeed.”
Pielke Jr’s response.:
“If you think that it was unethical for me to point out that Gore was misrepresenting the relationship of disasters and climate change (based on my research I should add), then I am really amazed. What kind of scientist says that misrepresentations are OK or should be ignored if politicians with the right values are making them? [And maybe I read you wrong, but are you really suggesting that Revkin and I are complicit in “statistical deaths”? Please do clarify that odd claim …]”
Tobis obliges:
“Implying an equivalence between Gore, who is constantly treading a fine line between effective politics and truthful description of risks, and George Will, who is wrong from beginning to end in conception, detail and emphasis is unacceptable because it perpetuates this dangerous skew. As for the scope of the ethical risk, let us consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a mere part per million, a per cent of a per cent of a per cent. The expected mortality from this is a thousand people. Is that morally equivalent to actually killing a thousand people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.” – Pielke is incredulous: “Wow. These sort comments give far more ammo to your political enemies than anything I could ever say or do. Eye opening stuff.” – Tobis asks later in the exchange: “I’d sure like to know how I ‘gave ammunition to my enemies’? – Pielke Jr. is now asking on his blog: “Anyone care to give him an answer?”
Read it on Prometheus

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Aron

If Gore is Mr Efficiency who believes we should only consume what we need, how is he gaining so much weight so fast?
If he believes the seas are going to rise by up to 20 metres, why did he just buy a beachfront property in San Francisco?

Stephen Wilde

There couldn’t be any confusion if the science were settled.
If it were indeed settled no amount of bluster from so called deniers (actually sceptics) could have any effect with the public.
If it were indeed settled then sceptics would universally be regarded in the same way as astrologers, that is, benign eccentrics (I hope trhat does not insult any astrologers too much).
The fact that sceptics are traduced in such a way tells us much about the current state of climate science. It seems to lack any self confidence or support with the lay public.
Just suppose that the warmlings are wrong and energy rationing kills billions through economic devastation, third world poverty and cold without it ever having been necessary. Would they accept a corresponding level of individual personal responsibility to that which they seek to impose on sceptics ?

Dan Evans

It’s been kind of chilly lately. Maybe he’s a just little bit under the weather.

Leon Brozyna

Holy guacamole! {See – I can make my expletives green}
So, to measure this against a recent post here on WUWT, the two Jeff’s {C & Id} are morally evil for criticizing the Steig et al paper. I mean, if criticizing a failed politician is so bad, how bad is it to criticize a politically correct scientific paper {never mind those minor technical errors; their hearts were in the right place, right?}?
Send out the thought police.

Mike J.

Comparing hot heads to religious folk is an insult to religious folk.

Phil

If criticizing Al Gore is the moral equivalent of killing 1000 people then what would be the moral equivalent of punching him in the face? Presumably the destruction of all life on the planet.
On the other hand maybe giving him the Nobel prize is the moral equivalent of curing all disease. Which doesn’t seem to have happened yet. More sacrifices are needed. Maybe sainthood for Al Gore would save us all.

psi

Tobis asks later in the exchange: “I’d sure like to know how I ‘gave ammunition to my enemies’? – Pielke Jr. is now asking on his blog: “Anyone care to give him an answer?”
It was this kind of moral grandstanding, and the uncivil ad hominems that accompany it, that led me finally into the skeptics camp. Dr Tobis has every right to continue to believe that AGW is real. And I suppose that, under the 1st Amendment of the constitution, he has the right to insult and personally attack those who hold a different view, by using statistics, abstract “ethics” or any other means he deems appropriate and effective.
I, for one, am not impressed by this grand “philosophizing” — really nothing more than emoting in public. Tobis knows nothing about engaging in civil debate in civil society, and is a damage to himself and his cause. Skeptics should give him a bullhorn and soapbox. He’s no match for George Will (and I say that as someone who frequently doesn’t agree with Will, but always respects him).

Frank Lansner

OT, short update:
The warming that started around 8 jan 2009 seems to have ended medio feb. But feb will appear warm in statistics to come.
However now we are back at the situation where 2009 global temperatures are near 2008.
Ice area in the arctic is very near the normal for 1979-2000.
Cosmic rays persist to stay at record levels, Oulo Finland.
http://www.klimadebat.dk/forum/attachments/opdatemar09.gif
And what i find rather interesting: Just as last year, the refreeze of ice already started near 20 feb! – And a quite nice start too:
http://www.klimadebat.dk/forum/attachments/antice240203032009.gif

As a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, B.S. Chemical Engineering 1977, I am saddened and dismayed by the ever-increasing embarrassing pronouncements issuing forth from that once-proud institution of higher education.
Their green belief is well-entrenched now, however. Our alumni magazine is full of such articles predicting gloom and demise from global warming, yet the letters from alumni (we call ourselves Texas Exes) shows that many, perhaps most, of us do not agree with their conclusions.
To the point of this posting, that persons should be accountable for inaction that may (conceivably) result in one thousand premature deaths, why focus on this? Should we also hold accountable those who obstruct known technologies that improve health and prolong lives, such as sanitation, chorinating water, DDT to prevent malaria, basic medical care, and refrigeration to reduce food spoilage?

Ross

“…
As for the scope of the ethical risk, let us consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a mere part per million, a per cent of a per cent of a per cent. The expected mortality from this is a thousand people. Is that morally equivalent to actually killing a thousand people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.
…”

His statement assumes, though at low probability, that AGW will take place. And what is the “ethical risk” to proponents of AGW if there is a one in a million chance of disastrous global cooling — the onset of an ice age — happening instead?
Tobis’ argument is specious and has no merit because no one knows the true chances of either or neither taking place.

MattN

Tobias is [snip, cute but too close to profanity]

Frank Mosher

It’s amazing how irrational people get when one refuses to drink the “kool aid”.

Denis Hopkins

OT: Have you seen the report
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/18/20090303/tsc-space-rock-gives-earth-a-close-shave-50a9c9d.html
about the asteroid that just missed us Monday lunchtime?
Size of the Siberian incident in 1908.
came within 45000 miles… twice the orbit of a satellite. according to yahoo news.
sorry if the link does not work. Never sure how to do that! I just paste the address page.

David L. Hagen

Increasing death rates caused by efforts to reduce global warming.
1) Temperature and Fatalities
Evidence: More deaths are caused by cold weather than by hot weather.
Application: Adding CO2 to raise global temperatures will reduce weather related deaths.
2) CO2 and Food
Evidence: Global population is increasing.
More food will be required to feed the global population.
More people die from famines than from excess food.
Primary productivity increases with increasing CO2.
Application: Adding CO2 to the atmosphere will increase food productivity and reduce the number of deaths from famine.
3) Fuel & Income
Evidence: Families with little work have insufficient income to purchase food resulting in increased deaths from malnutrition and famine.
Use of fossil fuels has strongly increased economic output and incomes.
Consumption of fossil fuels below the population growth rate will reduce global economies unless replaced by less expensive renewable fuels.
Application: The effort by global warming alarmists to reduce CO2 emissions will result in millions of more deaths from cold and from famine than would occur by adding CO2 from consuming fossil fuels.
Challenge: Locate data and apply statistical methods to quantify these trends.

voodoo

Thanks to Al Gore and ‘green fuels,’ people in the third world are starving today. Do these green fools take responsibility for that?

Antonio San

It will be a civil war before soon of a magnitude that makes the Russian civil war and subsequent goulag look like an incomplete draft. People re-read Solzhenytsyn…

Allan M

To quote the Canadian economist, Marshall McLuhan:
“Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.”

George Bruce

Given that the extreme hazards predicted by Gore and others can only be reduced or avoided by drastic reductions in CO2 omissions, ( assuming the AGW brotherhood is correct), then heavy carbon taxes and outright bans on hydrocarbon burning must take place as soon as possible. This will directly and inevitably result in reduced economic activity and lower general prosperity. What is the moral responsibility for those who call for such policies? Reduced economic activity will result in greater poverty, especially among the poorest of the poor, that is, the poorest people in the poorest regions. It is not some abstract and hypothetical risk that faces such people, but very real and statistically measurable increases in malnutrition and disease. We would face an immediate and sustained increase in infant mortality, malnutrition, lower life expectancy, and greater deaths from preventable diseases. Is Mr. Tobis willing to accept direct moral responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands, or millions of the most vulnerable people in the world? Does he even consider them?

Frank Lansner (10:26:29) :
Cosmic rays persist to stay at record levels, Oulo Finland.
Cosmic rays are no higher this minimum than at every odd-even minimum since 1952, and have in fact started to come down.

Allan M

Isn’t it the easiest thing in the world for these guys to gather for a conference in Bali, or Copenhagen or Kyoto or wherever, and give themselves a pat on the back JUST for being who they are. Now that’s REAL dignity. (sarc. off)

Yet another Kamikaze attack.

Mark T

Ross (10:32:09) :
Tobis’ argument is specious and has no merit because no one knows the true chances of either or neither taking place.
Yes. Furthermore, the typical response of an advocate is to ignore negative consequences (negative w.r.t. his or her hypothesis) when citing already specious arguments. I.e., his fallacy is compounded by the possibility that such warming might decrease cold related deaths by say, 2000 (a number just as arbitrary as Tobis’), resulting in a net gain of 1000 lives. By his own logic, we should be sainted for advocating warming.
Mark

Mark T

I should add: “as pointed out by David L. Hagen’s examples above,” since he noted the possible means for a decrease in deaths before I came along. 🙂
Mark

Ed Fix

Professor Tobias takes himself WAY too seriously.

Will

I hope my kids don’t see this one…it’ll be, “I’m not lying dad, I’m ‘treading a fine line between effective politics and truthful description of risks'”. Really that line is pretty good, it had to have come from from an SNL writer.

Robinson

Is this based on a Washington Post article? If so, can someone link it in please. Thankyou.

mrwx

With comments such as “death trains” and “deniers” (implying a connection to Holocaust-deniers), there is a clear signal of the belief in the need to ratchet up the language to invoke a more urgent response. With recent polls suggesting climate change is at the bottom of the list of worries, you can sense a bit of desperation here. This is quickly becoming science vs. (climate science) religion. And these once-scientists have strangely become the religious zealots now.

Robinson
climatebeagle

The parallels of AGW to HIV/AIDS just gets stronger. Just today on WUWT we have:
– warming being delayed for 30 years, just like the period of the progression of HIV to AIDS kept getting extended.
– claims that denying the science is equivalent to killing people

Dave

“…
As for the scope of the ethical risk, let us consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a mere part per million, a per cent of a per cent of a per cent. The expected mortality from this is a thousand people. Is that morally equivalent to actually killing a thousand people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.
…”
Pure, unadulterated sophistry.

stephen richards

Sorry this is off topic Anthony but can’t see an ‘unthreaded.
I’ve been following the PDO and it appears to have hit a low well below that seen for january for some years; Ie 2nd coldest since 72 and not seen before that since the 50’s. It has been consistently low, and that’s unusual, for some months

Pierre Gosselin

The climate kooks are desparate.
Their grand vision of a “green” society is clashing with economic reality.
Implementing the “green” dream now with the world economy in crisis would be political suicide. The green kooks are beginning to sense that the pols are getting ready to abandon them. And the current cooling is further compounding their misery.
They’re getting shriller and shriller.
Just think about how much Gore and green investors have at stake.

John Galt

Is anybody really surprised by the rhetoric and vitriol? Why debate your detractors when you can silence them instead?
Calling AGW a cult is an insult to cultists everywhere.

Pierre Gosselin

Their comments show that these people belong in padded rooms, and not in science labs.

Fred from Canuckistan . . .

We should all hope Prof. Tobis can get the help he needs. Anyone who believes Al Gore is a hero is in a serious state of denial.

Robinson

The parallels of AGW to HIV/AIDS just gets stronger. Just today on WUWT we have:
– warming being delayed for 30 years, just like the period of the progression of HIV to AIDS kept getting extended.
– claims that denying the science is equivalent to killing people”

I’m a little uncomfortable with people drawing parallels between being a sceptic on this issue and being a sceptic on lots of other issues. In fact I would prefer it if general scepticism was excluded from the debate, because it makes us all look like nutters. Thanks. 😉

Anthony – it’s time to formalise a proper scientific challenge to AGW. I have drafted one (as “egrey”), and have tested it on Richard Dawkins’ website
http://www.richarddawkins.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=72103&st=7&start=50#p1775962
against some AGW proponents one of whom I believe is a university professor. So far so good.
Would you be interested in picking this up, refining it, and issuing it as a formal open scientific challenge?
If so, please email me (my email address is entered with the comment).
I have some ideas on how the challenge should be conducted in order to make it properly open and accountable.

Yet Another Pundit

Someone should do a remix on the famous Mac 1984 ad with Al Gore’s face on the big screen.

Austin

There is no difference between those who “scientists” pushed for Collective Farms in the Soviet Union based upon “efficiency” and those who push for CO2 controls nowadays. CO2 controls are just the modern day equivalent of Farm Collectivization and will lead to the same thing if taken to their rational conclusion.
Coal and other fossil fuels supply over 80% of mankind’s energy needs and cannot be removed from the equation for at least two generations.
What Tobis and his ilk propose will lead to the extermination of much of humanity.

lulo

I can’t find where, on Roger Pielke’s blog, he is asking us for opinions, as stated on the last line of this article (above). I would be willing to offer him my support non-anonymously if I could find it.

Yet Another Pundit

Someone should do a remix on the famous Mac 1984 ad with Al Gore’s face on the big screen.

Stefan

I know a guy who was told when he was a teenager by his very religious older sister that looking at a porn mag was no different to physically committing rape.
OK, so if printing an article is no different to killing 1000 people, then it should be OK to kill the author of the article to stop it being printed, as you have just saved 999 lives. Correct?!
These imbecilic arguments show that these people haven’t he faintest idea about complexity, balance, and the real world. They are very narrow minded and reduce things to absurd simplifications. Ironically, they are doing this whilst trying to appear “holistic” and “saving” the world. Saving the very world they are so unable to comprehend.
Sure, small actions can have large consequences–that is their little insight–but as we are all of us performing actions every day, the total outcome of all those billions of small actions have completely unpredictable consequences. I am sure I read a Buddhist teaching explaining this; every event has a vast multitude of influences and causes, so the proper attitude is to be humble about one’s ego and humble about one’s degree of control. Even if I did go do some amazing thing, there were a multitude of influences which caused me to do it and which presented the opportunity to do it. So it wasn’t really “me” that did it, so much as the whole flow of life. Which doesn’t absolve one of responsibility, but it does teach humility.
And the other problem with these silly comparisons between coal stations and “death trains” is that they belittle the real atrocities. And a whole lot of people should be upset about that.
So these greenies may really believe that their thinking about morality is indeed new and better–that comparing coal stations to death trains is an enlightened perspective. Well most of us capable of hearing what they say already know that theirs is an inferior, limited, and brain dead perspective. They took some basic ideas and went too far and got stuck down a dead end. It is patently obvious to the rest of us. We are certainly capable of thinking the way they do and understanding them–we just already know that theirs is a limited and useless point of view on things, one which leads to silly judgements. The environment is a real problem, but theirs is a silly and already outdated discourse.

tty

This way of looking at large but low-probability calamities has interesting corollaries.
AGW is an unproven theory, and even in the most extreme cases is unlikely to kill billions. The only (doubtful) past instance of “runaway” global warming, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum had fairly limited effects.
Asteroid impacts have definitely occurred many, many times in the past and will most ceratainly occur again in the future. A large impact (like the one at the end of the Cretaceous) could definitely kill every human being on Earth.
It seems to me that according to professor Tobis reasoning, any objection to or delay of efforts to locate and deflect asteroids that might hit the Earth must be equivalent to mass-murder, and that resources used to mitigate lesser threats (like AGW) should immediately be re-allocated for asteroid defence.
QED

jae

Pierre Gosselin (11:19:00) :
But Obama has it all figured out: http://masterresource.org/?p=1217

mercurior

you just cant make this stuff up. Anything I can imagine as a spoof, turns out to be beaten by the “apparent” truth.
its poe’s law..

Brian in Alaska

I hate to repeat myself, but these ecomaniacs want most of the world’s human population living in pre-industrial conditions at best, at worst, dead. For them to be claiming that they’re interested in saving lives is pure moonshine.
Aron (10:05:30) : “If he believes the seas are going to rise by up to 20 metres, why did he just buy a beachfront property in San Francisco?”
Great question, Aron. When will someone in the mainstream media ask it?

Phil

Here is how the logic goes…
1. Criticizing Al Gore is the equivalent of killing 1000 people
2. Not allowing criticism of Al saves 1000’s of people
3. Ensuring no criticism by any means necessary will save untold lives
4. Eventually…climate sceptics better learn to check under their cars in the morning before turning the key in the ignition

LarryOldtimer

If it were science at all, would be my statement. What hogwash all of this climate “prediction” has become. And what hogwash in believing there are such things as “trends” from which future temperatures can be predicted. All nonsense from any mathematical or science standpoint.
As it happens, I am a professional civil engineer, and have a good deal of experience in both hydrology and hydraulic engineering. And there are such things called by the labels of year frequency storms, such as 10 year frequency storms, 25 year frequency storms, and the like.
So if I were to be so foolish as to make a prediction as to whether a 50 year frequency storm would happen this year, I would be foolish indeed. In fact, any 10 year old child could make a guess as to whether one of those would happen, and that child’s guess would be every bit as good as mine.
I might have the knowledge of the engineering terms to make it seem as though I was making a profound and knowledgeable statement, but it would be only a guess. It would be what we civil engineers used to refer to as a “Scientific Wild Ass Guess”
Oh well, there are still a good many who are attempting to write computer programs which will indicate reliably just whether the stock market will go up or down. Wasn’t it all those well educated and well experienced people who not only didn’t see the collapse of the stock market as is presently happening but lost huge amounts of their own money just now? Sure enough. Those are simply fools, who believed there was a “trend”, and bet their fortunes on it, and convinced many others to bet their fortunes on it.
There is no basis in science for a belief in “trends”, none whatsoever. Trends are only in the mind, and past performance, whether in the stock market or climate, is not any sort of even indicator as to what future performance or future climate or weather will be.
As we are in a temperate zone here in the US, there is good reason to think that summers will be warmer than winters. And that is about just how far it goes. Anything else is nothing but guesses, how ever “scientific” the language used seems.

Jeff L

Post I made over at Promethius :
Prof Tobias,
If you believe your agrument of “morally comparable”, couldn’t the same arguement be made in reverse? It is pretty clear in the world today that health & lifespan is a function of the energy a particular society uses. The countries that use more energy per capita are healthier & live longer because they are in a prosperous society, which is tied directly to energy use (and thus CO2 production). So, if we impliment massive curbs on energy production (the only realistic way to reduce CO2), wouldn’t we expect the overall health & lifespan of people to decrease & then YOU would be the guilty one of a “morally comparable” death of 1000’s. And this is not even considering that the CO2 – AGW hypothesis may not be valid at all. And if this were the case & unneeded energy curbs were put into place, how guilty would you be then.
Not that I think you are guilty, but I do think you need to be more careful how you choose your words. You have to consider the backlash against all environmentalism that may be coming due to a languishing economy & taxes for causes that many see as nothing more than a big govt money grab. The more extreme the envirnmental position that is made, the stronger the backlash will be (that’s human nature) and I am afraid that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. And that ultimately will make the environment truly worse, not better.