The structure of complex issues

By David Wojick

We live in a world of complex issues, which can be very frustrating. I have been doing research on the generic structure of issues for a long time. There is an underlying pattern that might be helpful to know about. I call it the issue tree. What follows is necessarily simplified to fit into a short article, but it is still a big step forward.

By a complex issue I mean one that generates a lot of discussion. Policy issues are a good example, as these can involve hundreds or even thousands of articles and comments. The issue tree explains how this happens.

The graphic below shows a simple start to an issue tree. First there is a starter statement, followed by three responses, each of which also gets three responses. In policy cases the starter might be a radical proposal for dealing with a perceived problem. Or it might be the controversial claim that a major problem exists.

There are two levels of responses. First level responses can be objections to the starter statement, questions, additional information, etc. At the second and successive levels there are responses to previous level responses. In many cases there are two or more sides to the issue, generating lots of discussion over time.

At this point you may say, so what? There are just 13 statements. How is this complex? Here the arithmetic gets interesting.

First of all, in a major issue the tree can get very big. This tree has a branching rate of three, that is, every node that has branches going down has three such branches. Thus each level has three times as many responses as the one above it. The number of nodes at level n is three to the nth power.

At this branching rate, which is common in policy debates, the number of nodes gets very large, very quickly as the discussion continues. At just the tenth level there will be almost 60,000 nodes! The whole tree will have around 100,000 nodes.

I call this the big tree problem. In a major issue it is not unusual to have 100,000 sentences written, or even a million. For example, consider this question: What is cancer and how should we deal with it? There are over 100,000 research papers alone each year on this, plus a world of other writing. The issue tree of cancer research is enormous.

As a result of the big tree problem people are simply swamped by the complexity of the thinking. They sense correctly that there is a lot more to the issue than they know and this is frustrating. Or perhaps they feel that there is not more (which is incorrect) and cannot understand why people do not agree with them.

What one can do under these big tree circumstances is to (1) master the top of the tree, (2) dig into a few sub issues and (3) understand the magnitude of the issue.

Note that grasping the top of the tree can be difficult under certain circumstances, especially where the responses are not written down for reference. In a meeting to discuss a new issue the branching rate is often well below two, because it is hard to get back to early responses.

Another source of frustration is what I call the jumping problem. This happens with writing and talking about a complex issue. It occurs because writing and talking are both physically linear, in the sense that we only produce one sentence at a time, one after another. Because we do that it is not possible for each response to immediately follow the statement it is responding to.

As a result we are frequently forced to jump from one place in the issue tree to another. For example if you follow a series of responses down several levels, then jump back up toward the top, to consider another high level response.

Jumping can easily cause misunderstanding, which is very frustrating. When a jump occurs the statement being made is not directly related to the statement that preceded it. It may be a response to a much earlier statement. When reading or hearing such a jump statement it is easy to fail to make the proper response connection.

Getting back to the issue tree, of course different responses may have very different strengths or degrees of importance. Who says what may also be important. We can also consider how big various sub issues are, or look for places where important responses are lacking, so there is no sub issue at all. WE can watch a sub tree come to life and grow rapidly because it is the present center of attention.

In fact there is a whole new science here, which I call issue analysis.

For people who want to know more I have a free textbook online: “Issue Analysis, an introduction to the use of issue trees and the nature of complex reasoning.”

It is rather crude because I did it just for my own classroom use, on an ancient mechanical device called a typewriter, in 1975. I discovered the issue tree in 1973 and here is a bit on the early history:

The point is that all big issues have this fundamental treelike structure. Technically it is called a logical form. Hopefully just knowing the big tree is there and growing can reduce frustration when dealing with a complex issue.

110 thoughts on “The structure of complex issues

  1. I find Nassim Nicholas Taleb writings to be my intellectual scalpel to help dissect and understand current day social-political issues. Taleb is the author of “The Black Swan,” “Fooled by Randomness,” “The Bed of Procrustes,” “Antifragile,” and “Skin in the Game” are all landmark must-reads for anyone who studies issues and desires understanding in a modern context. If you have not read Taleb, you are poorly intellectually equipped to discuss today’s social-political problems IMO.

    In this regard, Taleb’s understanding and writings in “Anti-Fragile” on top-down “fragile” structures versus bottom-up organized “anti-fragile” social structures to be most useful in understanding what will likely occur as we go forward in the coming decades in this struggle between individual liberty and socialist forces now on ascendence.

    • Taleb is a proponent of masks to reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections. His argument follows the intuitive belief that masks have a positive effect to reduce infections in the general population. A study of surgical centers across America from the early 80s indicates otherwise. The current estimate that half of the population of Tokyo, where, it is, apparently, common to wear masks, has been infected, with two to three thousand deaths, and concluding that they have reached community immunity indicates otherwise. Nearly half of the Covid-19 attributed deaths in America were in senior and long-term care facilities. Perhaps a choice and bad judgment. The evidence from monitoring controlled spaces (e.g. medical centers, cruise ship, recruitment center) occupied by symptomatic individuals suggests that the virus spreads primarily through asymptomatic fecal contamination. His conclusion does not seem to follow from the data on mask efficacy, peer-reviewed reports, human behavior over time, and observation in areas where there have been voluntary and enforced restrictive mandates.

      • Fooled by Randomness he is.

        As Dr Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

        I’m try to actively understand that everyday. It is difficult. Each of us are easy to fool in ourselves in preconceived notions that simply are not true.

          • Center for Disease Control data updated 11/4/20 in three simple graphics.

            Looks like the C-19 death roller coaster has culled about as many from the herd as it needs.

            NYC and 6 states together have more C-19 deaths than the ENTIRE rest of the country combined.
            NYC and the top 9 states represent over 70% of the C-19 deaths.

            There were more C-19 deaths among the 75+ demographic than the ENTIRE rest of the population.
            24% of deaths occurred in nursing or hospice care.

            Sorry excuse for a highly contagious, lethal, wide-ranging pandemic.

            More like a SCAM-demic.

            Graphic found here:

        • We can most easily be fooled by what we expect to see.

          We are NEVER fooled by what we WANT to see, because that simply means you’re lying to yourself – which is different – and you can always tell by the behavior someone’s doing it, because they go right to Goebbels’ method of constant, near-hysterical repetition, and they get that overly-earnest Adam Schift look in their too-white eyes – because inside they know what they’re saying isn’t true and the one they’re trying to convince most are themselves.

          Kind of the same mechanism used to rationalize the higher moral ground

    • I too have enjoyed each of N. N. Taleb’s popularized books and their contribution to my epistemology. I rank Taleb with E. T. Jaynes that taught to avoid ad-hockery, and to maximize the entropy of naive subjective priors. I appreciate Taleb even though I do not agree with some of his personal positions.

  2. The climate issue perches upon a three legged stool.
    If any one of the legs fails the entire edifice falls.
    1) The albedo/atmosphere renders the earth cooler not warmer.
    2) the GHG trapping/“back” radiating loop requires “extra” energy
    3) which it supposedly gets from the surface radiating as a BB
    4) which I have demonstrated by experiment

    Nick S.

    • Nick
      I’ve come late to the climate “debate”. (I use that word loosely, because it seems to be a lot of shouting and not much listening). So, forgive me if I have misunderstood your laconic analysis.

      My take is that the legs should be:
      1 Man-made CO2 warms the atmosphere, which warms the oceans, which releases more CO2, which causes more warming.
      2 There is no natural negative feedback mechanism to counter this warming mechanism, so we must reduce man-made CO2 to stop the warming.
      3 The claimed natural warming and cooling of the earth either did not exist or can be ignored because the earth is so different now to millions of years ago.

      (If all I have done here is to rephrase your three legs, then please forgive and ignore me.)

      I reckon that if sites like WUWT decided what constitute the three legs of climate “science”, and concentrated on debunking those, rather than trying to answer every damned preposterous claim, then we might stand a chance of getting some traction.

      Which is a long-winded way of saying “keep the arguments at the top of the Issue Tree, rather than getting lost down in the weeds, a thousand levels down.”

      • The issue tree is not a summary of an issue. It is the relational structure of what is said as that issue is discussed, warts and all.

      • 1) 0.04% of the atmosphere does not have the physical Hp to warm squat. Take away the atmosphere or GHGs and the 30% albedo goes with it. That means the terrestrial surface receives 20% to 30% more kJ/h. Nikolov, Kramm (U of AK) and UCLA Diviner mission all tacitly agree: take away the atmosphere or GHGs and the earth becomes much like the moon and that trashes RGHE.

        2) The “extra” energy of the GHG up/down loop shown on the K-T diagram and clones appears/disappears out of thin air, is a 100% efficient perpetual loop leaving 0 kJ behind to warm the atmosphere and 0 kJ to warm the surface, moves energy from the cold troposphere to the warm surface without the addition of work all egregious violations of LoT.

        3)The 396 W/m^2 upwelling shown on the K-T diagram and numerous clones is a theoretical, “what if” calculation that has zero physical existence and violates the energy balance, i.e. more energy leaves the surface than arrives.

        As demonstrated by experiment, the gold standard of classical science.

        Why the surface cannot radiate BB:

        Why the IR instruments measuring up/down kJ/h are wrong.

        Refer to “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Byson and “The Clockwork Universe” by Dolnick that cite several instances where unqualified nobodies totally upset the consensus science apple cart.

      • OldCynic’s first leg is that “man-made CO2 warms the atmosphere, which warms the oceans, which releases more CO2”.

        A good argument for knocking out this “leg” is that the heat capacity of the oceans is vastly greater than that of the atmosphere, so that any 1 C warming of the atmosphere would result in less than 0.001 C of warming of the surface layer of the ocean, and virtually no warming over 100 m below sea level. Dissolved CO2 in the oceans can only be emitted to the atmosphere from the surface layer. In addition, the chemistry of ocean water is complex, and other dissolved cations (particularly Ca++) tend to react with carbonic acid to form insoluble calcium carbonate, which acts as a CO2 sink. Shellfish also remove carbonates from the ocean to form their shells.

        OldCynic’s second leg states that “there is no natural negative feedback mechanism to counter this warming mechanism”. In reality, there are many natural negative feedbacks. Increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere tend to speed up plant growth, which would eventually result in an equilibrium where the increased CO2 absorption rate by plants would catch up to the emission rate, which would have the beneficial by-product of increased food production.

        Willis Eschenbach has also demonstrated that thunderstorm activity increases over tropical oceans when the ocean surface temperatures reach a certain level (about 27 C), and cool rainwater from thunderstorms will tend to cool the ocean surface.

        There is also a negative feedback from CO2 itself. CO2 absorbs IR radiation in a narrow band of wavelengths/frequencies, but with a very high absorption coefficient in those ranges. At the current concentration of about 400 ppm, the vast majority of the available re-radiation from the earth’s surface is already absorbed by either water vapor or CO2 within 100 meters of the earth’s surface, so that there is very little energy remaining to be absorbed by additional CO2 (this is called the “saturation effect”). This would set a maximum limit on the amount of warming to be expected even if CO2 concentrations reached 1000 ppm or 2000 ppm or more.

      • Your item #2 has been falsified already by Dong 2006, Gero 2011, and Feldman 2015 using the AERI suite of sensors: under ‘clear sky’ conditions CO2 acts exactly as the GHG theory predicts it should: it causes slight warming, and under ‘all sky’ conditions (w/clouds) cooling ensues. The studies were 6, 14, and 10 years in duration and literally millions of data points (Gero’s study alone was over 800,000). CO2 warming mitigated by clouds and everybody knows it.

        Since nearly 70% of the Earth is covered by clouds at any given time one is lead to infer that any studies asserting claims under ‘clear sky’ condition are entirely irrelevant to GHG’ and how they might or might not behave.

        The argument can be made that this was a geographically limited result (SGP, OH), and in fact the claims were dismissed as much, “that doesn’t prove anything globally”. I would only add that AERI sites span the globe and it would have been a relatively simple endeavor to conduct a global scale analysis of the pristine AERI data…yet that was never/has never been done (to my knowledge). In my opinion it was never done for one reason: it would have shown once and for all that the Emperor is indeed naked.

        An excerpt from Dong/2006: “For example, using the Stefan-Boltzmann equation indicates that an annual increase of 0.04°C air temperature each year corresponds to an increase of 0.4 Wm−2 per year in upward LW upward surface emission. However, the measured change is a decrease of 0.26 Wm−2 per year as shown in Figure 2e.”

        There are no legs, it is the ‘stool’ that is the illusion…


    • “1) The albedo/atmosphere renders the earth cooler not warmer.”

      The Moon has hotter surface. But on average lunar surface is cold.
      When I agree that earth average temperature has increased over last 100 year,
      I am referring to an average temperature. I am not saying the ground gets warmer or
      that surface air gets warmer, rather it’s an average temperature that rises.
      So our atmosphere increases the average temperature of the earth’s surface.
      If put a significant atmosphere on the Moon, it would increase the Moon’s average surface temperature. If you then cover the Moon with an ocean, it increase the average temperature of Moon as compared to not having the ocean added.
      A moon with atmosphere and completed covered by ocean- the ocean surface will not have surface temperature of 120 C. Instead it might be around 40 C, though it might be as low as ocean when sun shining for 24 hour when near zenith, the ocean surface is less than 10 C. It could as low as 10 C, merely because atmospheric pressure is low, and water of lunar ocean boils at 10 C. And at would be 0.0121 atm or 0.17787 psi
      And 40 C is 0.0728 atm or 1.07 psi. And would be pretty large atmosphere for our low gravity Moon, considering you don’t want lunar atmosphere to be just water vapor. Say 4 psi of non condensing gas plus the 1 psi of water vapor around region which the sun shining. Or perhaps less atmosphere would be more likely and therefore boils at 10 C [or less}. And depth ocean probably matters also.
      But roughly the the Moon with atmosphere and ocean would warmer, than the current Moon- but our moon as a water world, ocean surface could be cooler than Earth’s ocean surface temperature- thereby have lower average global temperature.
      Or Earth ocean surface temperature because covers 70% of Earth surface, “determines” or “controls”, Earth average global air temperature.

        • 1 meter below the lunar surface is a fairly uniform temperature {and does not wide swings} and it’s also cold. The lunar surface does absorb much sunlight energy. And it’s slow rotation- make it cold. Also most of it’s sunlight hemisphere does not have a hot surface.
          Earth’s atmosphere absorbs a lot of the sunlight energy, and it’s ocean absorbs a lot of sunlight energy- and has much higher average temperature than the Moon.
          But I agree average global surface air temperature, “does not matter” and better to talk about it’s equilibrium temperature. And Earth has much higher equilibrium temperature than the Moon – because it has atmosphere and an ocean.
          And I would say the warmth of Earth’s ocean {3.5 C} is at least a proxy for Earth’s equilibrium temperature. And the Moon’s equilibrium temperature is about -40 C.

          • My point is: that without the atmosphere the earth would become much like the moon and that alone trashes the RGHE theory that says earth would become a -430 F ball of ice.

    • Nick, with all respect to a fellow engineer…
      1). Compared to what ? the moon ?
      2). There is no loop and no extra energy. Only sunshine.
      3). The surface does radiate very close to a BB
      4). Your experiment demonstrates that water boils, is not a demonstration of the Stefan Boltzmann equation.
      Your old heat transfer textbooks are worth a reread. Especially the chapter on radiative transfer. The example questions on a thermos bottle are especially helpful. Unfortunately, if your heat transfer engineering textbook is more than about 20 years old, you probably didn’t cover the radiative properties of gases until you were at a M.Sc. level.

      • 3) Because of the contiguous heat transfer participating molecules – cannot radiate as a BB.

        My experiment demonstrated that energy leaves a surface/system by five major heat transfer processes: conduction, convection, advection (forced), latent (evap/cond) and radiation. These five sum to 1.0.
        Emissivity is the ratio between the radiation leaving the surface and ALL the energy: rad/(cond+conv+advec+latent+rad) = emissivity.

        That HVAC condenser sitting on the roof with finned tubing and fans demonstrates four of the processes, spray it with water and that covers all five.

        If one of these increases the others must decrease. Increase the convective transfer by turning on the fans and the HEX cools which means radiation’s share decreases.

        The energy leaving the earth’s surface behaves in a similar manner and obeys Q=1/R A (Tsurf – Ttoa) same as the insulated walls of a house.

        For current to move though an electrical resistance requires a voltage difference.
        For fluid to move through a hydraulic resistance requires a pressure difference.
        For energy to move (heat) through thermal resistance requires a temperature difference.
        Physics is physics.

        Water does not flow uphill and energy does not radiate from cold to hot.

        Stand under those IR heaters at a Home Depot checkout.
        The heaters heat the objects below, the objects heat the air.
        The heaters do not directly heat the air.

        • Hmmm, Nick… are stuck on the heat transfer from cold to hot….a very common explanation failure of thermodynamics textbooks. Let me try to explain that for you.
          Meditate on the Planck curve for a black body. There is a temperature at the maximum which is considered to be the BB temperature. That temperature is associated with a wavelength. The black body emits photons of a whole spectrum of hotter and colder wavelengths as well.
          Meditate on Planck curve again. That’s why it’s called a curve. Hot to cold.

          Black bodies don’t just emit, they absorb those “hot” and “cold” photons as well. Hmmm… Put two BB surfaces beside each other and they absorb each others photons, both the “hot” and the “cold” ones. But when all the sums are completed and the integrations done, the net flow of photons is from hot to cold. It even makes total sense if you meditate some more on two Planck curves of two bodies of different temperature, emitting their hot and cold photons at each other. The net summation is what we call “heat”. And the quantum mechanical summation confirms the older laws of thermodynamics.
          So again, yes, net heat is from hot to cold in classical thermodynamics and is confirmed by the SB equation.
          Unfortunately you deny the validity of the SB equation when you say there is no radiative greenhouse effect or “back” radiation, which I described here in somewhat unorthodox terms as “cold” photons, just for you. I hope this visualization helps.
          By the way, concerning the IR heaters at Home Depot, the mean path until an IR photon hits a CO2 molecule is a probably a couple of dozen meters, so those IR heaters aren’t going to directly heat the air above the checkout counter and will instead be absorbed by some solid surface they strike first. Otherwise, the CO2 molecules will just radiate at the temperature of the air around them that they are bumping into, so your skin can’t feel any difference. Doesn’t show anything relevant to RGHE of the atmosphere with its scale of thousands of meters.

          • What you suggest applies to a closed system in the middle of the void where it is 5K in every direction.

            In a system with an established thermal gradient, i.e. center of core to ToA energy flows one direction only just like water flows down hill only.

            BTW while you flail the air mansplaining point 2) how GHGs process up/down radiant “extra” energy you have ignored explaining where they got it in the first place or points 1) earth w atmos cooler not warmer or points 3) BB from the surface is not possible.

  3. Me I just look at outcomes with these eternally restless perpetual revolutionaries and their long march through conservative traditions-
    Do your worst lefties attempting to make everyone exactly the same because I know what works for me and mine and I’m not for changing my traditions and we don’t need your army of social workers. That’s for your progeny.

  4. I wonder just how applicable the description might be ‘How Simple Issues Are Made Complex’. Isn’t that really what’s happening here? Maybe when I read some of the writings referred to by other commenters here that’s what I’ll find.

    I developed my understanding of ‘complex issues’ not long after I first graduated from university, when evaluating claims about mineral deposits in northern Canada–and it’s stated in one simple sentence:

    ‘The World Runs on Bullsh!t and Lies’.

    Take any ‘complex issue’, and I bet you’ll find it replete with the stuff. The concept has served my understanding well for half a century now.

    • Much of what we think is true in science simply ain’t. It usually takes a young, brash physicist, not wedded to old science idea to come along and totally upset things to get science back on a path to discovery, such as the realization that time passage is not constant between reference frames.

      • Refer to “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson and “The Clockwork Universe” by Dolnick .
        They both cite several instances where unqualified nobodies totally upset the consensus science apple cart.

    • Most major issues include a lot of serious arguments. Some people here seem to think that anyone who disagrees with them is stupid, which is false. In complex cases intelligent people can look at the same evidence and come to opposite conclusions. The size of the issue tree is one reason for this. In addition, logic says the weight of evidence is relative to the observer.

      • “In complex cases intelligent people can look at the same evidence and come to opposite conclusions.”

        One of them is wrong.

        The rules of actual science should referee not pompous handwavium and appeals to authority

  5. Yahoo has chosen to avoid this issue by suspending all comments to ‘news’ articles that it has posted for the last couple of months. Their official statement is, “Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.” Of course, users can’t “connect” if they can’t post comments! I expect that Yahoo may bring comments back if Biden is installed as president in January.

    Major Media outlets announce that they have no intention of being objective and balanced on controversial topics and nobody blinks. Things are worse than they appear!

    • That’s been a growing trend across almost all media outlets. Even local news stations have either severely limited their comments or eliminated them entirely.

      They don’t seem to have taken well to being challenged.

  6. The essay is intellectual navel-gazing. You only need to look at social media to realise that most people are as dumb as dog sh!t.

    • They always have been. They are the sheep easily led to a fleecing then to the slaughter.
      Any trip to Walmart in middle America tells one that. But the real goal is to give them economic power to select what works for them, for when that happens, it happens all the way up the economic ladder. Replace that ugly capitalism with socialism in a bout of elitism-superiority complex and you end up with Venezuela and eating your pets to survive and no Middle Class in short order.

    • One of the things that I really like about my discovery is that ordinary reasoning by ordinary people turns out to be quite sophisticated. I deliberately begin my textbook with a fairly silly argument between two people, over why one bought a Ford. The branch relations are surprisingly sophisticated.

      • In 1988, my wife and I bought a new Ford Taurus station wagon. It did everything we needed it to do for more than fourteen years. But starting at about 60,000 miles, it started having mechanical reliability issues. These gradually got worse as time went on.

        The number of problems began to accelerate as the car reached the ten year mark. Every year after 1998, we would have an objective and somewhat lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of buying a replacement.

        In 2002, at about the 150,000 mile mark, one of the head gaskets blew. We sat down to do our usual analysis, but this time around it was exceedingly simple and short. My wife said to me in no uncertain terms, “We will not spend another ten cents on this car!”

        The wagon was sold to a Ford mechanic for $100 who then replaced both head gaskets himself. For another six years, we occasionally saw it driving around town, as late as 2008 — twenty years after the car was manufactured.

        The used 1999 Honda sedan we bought in 2002 to replace the Ford wagon now has over 350,000 miles on it and shows no sign of wearing out. It’s too early to predict whether the 1999’s replacement will be another IC engine Honda or an EV of some kind.

    • Yes.
      Or differently motivated.
      It is possibly to show up in a room full of stakeholders with the plan most beneficial to all and be cut down or ignored for open or hidden political reasons.
      On a daily basis, having the (technically) correct answer is not important.

          • Your life experiences are different from mine. I’m over 70, have travelled and moved in interesting circles. There’s far more dumb and illogical out there than you have realised. You should get out more.

          • I have been studying complex issues and reasoning for over 50 years. It is my research field, part of cognitive science. What have you done in this field? Do you know anything about the science or reasoning? Personal experience is not science.

      • mkelly
        By definition, half the babies born have IQs less than 100. Many never apply themselves to optimize the intelligence they were born with. By the time they reach voting age, many people have reduced the number of functioning brain cells through binge drinking, recreational drug use, sniffing glue, and traumatic brain injuries; this continues throughout life.

        Joel is just being realistic.

        • Except in Lake Woebegon where all the children are above average.

          Or my children’s high school where their class GPA was 3.5.

          Or today’s universities where barely twenty-somethings millennials pick up entitled/participation PhD’s like cupcakes at a day care.

          If the press box was stealing signs for the opposing team would you concede the game quietly? Astros?

          Donald Trump should never concede because he did not lose a second term to Joe Biden, he lost to the press.

          The fake news MSM propaganda coup machine deceived and corrupted the prole electorate with fake climate change, a fake pandemic and fake racism.

          Fake democracy from a fake fair election.

          The progressive socialism, coercion, oppression and economic calamity will be real.

          I hear that 47% of the electorate did not bother showing up. That’s about par. That means 53% was split between Trump and Biden. In other words Neither got more votes than Either. Maybe Neither should get the job.

          • The 47% that didn’t bother to show up did not necessarily have ‘Neither’ as their preferred choice. They could just as well be selecting ‘Either’, and be contented with whatever happened.

        • Clyde – I remember reading a science article in the Mensa Bulletin, quite a few years ago, that stated, while 3 out of 5 people were capable of planning and thinking ahead, only 2 out of 5 people did so. I don’t think this only a matter of laziness, but rather, a result of the profusion of expert opinions that we are bombarded with daily. Beyond other experts in the particular field, who can know what is the truth. However, you can also apply logical principles and a good sense of what is BS to weed out a good deal of nonsense.

          • JON
            It is my own life experience that most people do minimal planning for the future. They just coast along and react to the forces that control their life. I think that most people only look out about 2 or 3 days into the future for all but major events like marriage or retirement.

        • Clyde, Alexy used the “most” which is as far as I know is more than half. So Alexy and Joel could be including you in their thinking especially if you ever went to a Walmart.

          Many of those less than 100 IQ folks fought in our wars to protect us so you have the right to disparage them. So I find it uncharitable to think that way about some who may just be less fortunate than you.

          • mkelly
            While I didn’t see combat, I am an Army veteran. We all served in some capacity. I think that something like 90% of those who went to Vietnam served in support or logistic capacity rather than combat.

            What you consider to be disparaging I would call being objective. Considering how the US electorate just voted doesn’t give me confidence that most voters are deep thinkers. I suspect that most who voted for Biden did so because they didn’t like Trump. That may be OK for for the Home Coming Queen or high school class president, but for the much more important job of POTUS, it shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Results should be the only concern.

          • Clyde, Alexy used the “most” which is as far as I know is more than half

            technically, just 1 more than half can qualify as “most” (depending on the context and wording of the definition you are looking at).

            So Alexy and Joel could be including you in their thinking

            Based on your replies in this thread, I have no doubt they’re including you, and not without reason.

            The sad fact is a large percentage of the population (yes, quite probably “most”, however you wish to define that word) exhibit behavior that could well be described as “dumb” or “stupid”, and it isn’t even a matter of IQ. Some of the “dumbest” people I’ve ever met happen to be well educated, college graduates (and I say that as a top of my class college graduate myself). And I’ve met some rather intelligent behaving people who never finished high school. There’s more to being “dumb” or “smart” than a score on a test that some consider to be controversial and “fundamentally flawed” at measuring what it purports to measure.

          • That most people are stupid is a very strong empirical claim, thus requiring very strong evidence. Do you folks have any research to back this up? Note that just because people do things you disagree with does not make them stupid. You folks are not the arbiters of intelligence.

          • That most people are stupid is a very strong empirical claim

            No, David, it’s an observation and an opinion. You are not the arbiter of others opinions, no matter how much you want to be. And your opinions do not negate others observations. Feel free to disagree all you want, but given the state of the world today your disagreement doesn’t seem all that intelligently based. Just saying.

      • Interesting that you would assume I’m an American. I said ‘people’. Apparently, you think that only Americans are people. You have just made my point about most people being dumb.

        • It is a fairly common fallacy people (even Americans) fall into to assume that others are the same as they are. Which is why I distrust those who never trust others, but am more than happy to fearlessly trust those who are naturally trusting. So the assumption of your ‘Americanness’ speaks more to his own citizenship than it does his writing off non Americans as non people.

  7. At some point, logic and facts won’t lead to a useful response.

    We know that experts are no more accurate at predicting the outcomes of events than are dart-throwing chimps. Those experts have more facts than anyone else and can almost always put forward a logical case. Even so, they are no more than randomly accurate in their predictions.

    Think of it this way … if you ask someone for advice, they are predicting that their approach will work. If they can’t predict the outcomes of their advice, their advice is worse than useless.

    There are a variety of approaches to dealing with complex problems.

    Judith Curry refers to a ‘no regrets’ strategy.

    Taleb refers to antifragility.

    Christopher Monckton talks about key indicators.

    If facts and logic were sufficient, we’d be living in a Soviet workers’ paradise. MBAs would actually be able to manage. In fact, that is the one thing you probably shouldn’t let them do. link

    What’s my advice? Read everything. Talk to everybody.

    Many years ago I read of a study at HP. They found the best predictor of a successful managers was that they spent a lot of time talking to people around the water cooler.

    • One of the real problem with climate science is certainly that few very working climate scientists have actually spent much time outside of the Halls of Academia sitting in a hut in arctic Alaska or -60ºC Antartica collecting in situ data. The computer in that last 4 decades has made that arm-chair climatism too easy a way to grant success.

    • I am not claiming that logic and facts lead to useful conclusions. I am merely explaining why complex issues are frustratingly hard to grasp. I would argue that logic and facts are often useful.

      • True.

        I draw a line between facts and domain specific knowledge. If you don’t have enough knowledge and experience to put your facts into context, they will lead you astray.

    • “…experts are no more accurate at predicting the outcomes of events than are dart-throwing chimps.”

      Experts designed the unsinkable Titanic.
      Experts built the unsinkable Titanic.
      Experts sailed the…etc.

    • Think of it this way … if you ask someone for advice, they are predicting that their approach will work. If they can’t predict the outcomes of their advice, their advice is worse than useless.

      I have to disagree with the premise there. If you ask someone for advice, that are giving you advice, not a prediction. “Don’t play the lottery, it’s a sucker’s bet” is advice but it doesn’t really make any prediction about the outcome of the lottery, it merely points out the odds of winning the jackpot are stacked against you. You can go against that advice, and most people that do end up not winning the jackpot, but that doesn’t mean no one can or will win it – after all dozens of people win the powerball or mega-millions jackpots every year. If you think that advice is “worth less than useless”, then go ahead play the lottery, who knows maybe, despite the odds, the winner will be you. I know I wouldn’t bet on it.

  8. Am I missing something here?

    The implication is that there is always a tree with a clear parent/child relationship between Statement, Response and follow on Responses.

    However I would suggest that except for the most basic or for very young issues you are going to get cross references destroying the neat branching structure.

    I feel I am missing the point of this lesson.

    • I think matters what starting statement is.
      For instance: We live in Ice Age. [And warming not really a “problem” when you living in an Ice Age- cooling though, is a “problem”].

      But you have very big problem if you want government to do, just about anything. {endless chatter ensures}.

    • Good question Craig. The issue tree diagram only includes what is actually said, so references do not take you to the referred to documents. If you did add that kind of linkage you would indeed get a complex network, not a tree structure. In fact such a network might even include loops, where two documents refer to one another. Citation analysis is a well developed science.

  9. How’s this for a complex issue . . .
    You thought Obama was bad at the 11th hour:
    “Attorney General William Barr and Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said the U.S. would drop the charges and allow Mexico to investigate and determine if Salvatore Cienfuegos Zepeda should be tried in that country”
    Cartel money gets them all in the end (via the intermediary money-washing filth in the US legal profession).
    Trump just lost any remaining of support he had.

  10. I am a civil engineer with over 20 years experience in various types of infrastructure ( roads, water, gas, flood mitigation). I also have post graduation qualifications in asset management.
    But just about every year my organisation devises to do a process review.
    They get a young person with a project management degree but no actual infrastructure experience to review our processes.
    First workshop
    Young project manager “ so what do you guys actually do?”, “ we need an issue tree”
    Me “oh f***, not again”

    • You are confusing the issue tree with the issue tree diagram. The difference is like that between a road network and a road map. All of the discussion and writing you do as an engineer has an issue tree structure. My thought is that it might help you to know that.

      Issue tree diagrams, like engineering drawings, are laborious and expensive so their use is highly specialized. Writing a billion dollar regulation is an example. Or developing a strategic plan for a large organization.

      • Just prior to my assuming command as CEO/GM, the company Board of Directors and management had developed a strategic plan. Flip-chart sheets detailing the plan were taped to the walls of the extensive Board/large gathering room (many, many detailed sheets).

        At my first managers meeting, I went around the room and ripped down all the sheets. My managers where aghast; the Board had approved that plan! I told them that there were only 3 things that every employee must do strategically: 1) Make money; 2) act responsibly; and 3) have fun.

        I pointed out that each year we would develop the subsequent year’s budget. At that time we would consider any strategic issues upon which we could reasonably work during the upcoming year.

        No plan lasts beyond the first engagement with the enemy. If you no longer trust your commanders to respond to changing circumstances, get rid of them. President Trump did that when his first selectees fell short, and he was wildly successful. Its just that the Swamp fought back and the media went along with them.

      • David
        Thanks for your additional information.
        Sorry, but my example is just trying to highlight that people who do the analysis of the problem often have no idea about the background of problem.
        You said
        “As a result of the big tree problem people are simply swamped by the complexity of the thinking. They sense correctly that there is a lot more to the issue than they know and this is frustrating. Or perhaps they feel that there is not more (which is incorrect) and cannot understand why people do not agree with them.”
        I fully agree with this, but there are many reasons for this.
        Sorry if I can’t communicate this correctly but here are some of my factoids/thoughts.
        * many issues don’t actually have a right or nearly right solution. The best solution of just more right than wrong. ( say 60/40)
        * because there is no fully right solution, different teams, organisations, nations may come up with different 60/40 solutions that appear wrong to the other team.
        *nearly all instigators of solving these problems are biased.

  11. Here is a good example of effective simplification to drive a policy response to a complex issue: “Build the wall.” (Trump, addressing unlawful entry along the U.S. southern border.)

    • No in fact the scientific debate is very real. It is probably the greatest scientific debate in history. Both sides have strong arguments. I happen to think the alarmists are wrong, but their arguments are very real.

      • “Both sides have strong arguments.”

        NO, THEY DON”T!!!!!

        All they have is correlation and speculation and ZERO hard evidence or actual science enabled by the lying, fact free, fake news MSM.

        • In other words–Bullsh!t and Lies–right? And to prove that the world runs on the stuff–Vancouver (BC) council just passed a new ‘Climate Crisis’ act allowing ‘mobility pricing’. They will now tax people for travelling, and all without any discussion of ‘how much’.

        • You may be confusing your conclusion with the issue tree. The best place to see both side’s scientific arguments is the comment debates on Curry’s blog. I could quickly find 100 serious arguments and given a budget I could catalog 1000.

      • David
        It’s not a scientific debate.
        It a multi field ( science, economics, engineering social, politic) debate presented in a incoherent manner.
        I thought that what your article was trying to highlight and find a way forward.

        • There certainly are all those other debates as well. My point is simply that the science part is a serious complex debate with strong arguments on both sides. But almost no one would care about the scientific issues if there were not these monster policy consequences at issue.

  12. @David Wojick
    Your structure analysis reminds me of the methods used by computer scientists in the 70s and 80s.
    You know, flow charts, linear code, subroutines, synchronized transactions, etc.
    Then that field moved on to object-oriented, state-analysis, asynchronous events, return calls, etc.
    Now we cannot live without GitHubs to share and manage complex issues and code changes.
    Even the mighty M$ has decided to participate and bought the company.
    Maybe field-proven tools for your issue analysis are already out there …
    I’m thinking that science and other complex issues (particularly those funded by government resources, at least) should be made open-source. And managed in a similar way that open-source computing has developed over the last 40 years.
    At least we would get some curated traceability and forking is a great way to build on previous analysis investment and still allow movement in different and parallel directions.

    • Good ideas, however that what we say and write has an issue tree structure is a discovery, not an invention.

      There certainly are cases where it would be very useful to see the issue tree.

    • There might be planets where the temperature of the magma controls the lower atmospheric temperature, but not planet Earth. But keep studying it, Zoe, or Joe…

      • Drillers know that the crust gets really hot as they drill into it.
        USCRN data shows a constant temperature at about 30 m.
        That’s from the 5,700 K core.
        Take away the sun and the earth’s surface would still be heated.

  13. Judith Curry has highlighted several times about CAGW being a wicked problem.
    Rud Istvan has highlighted the need to message map the problem.
    I think we need to maybe do several messages maps or issue trees approaching from different angles.
    Sort of blue team vs red team.
    1. Map what alarmists are actually saying.
    2. Challenge what alarmists are saying.
    3. Map the problem of “climate change” properly.

  14. Your tree is upside-down. It is growing down to (not up from) the earth.
    Therefore what you call the top of the tree is not in fact the top of the tree.
    It is the seed root from which the root (and then the tree) grows.
    You are thinking ‘Microsoft’ rather than ‘Linux’.
    (Sorry Richard: ‘GNU/Linux’)

    • One issue tree is sufficient to map all of the disagreements. But it would be huge because there are so many. The top of the tree, say 2000 nodes or so, would be a big help. It would make clear that there was a great deal of serious disagreement, something the alarmists deny.

    • Since R is the average number of downward branches from those nodes that have branches, one is the least possible value. Meetings often have an R of 1.3 or so, while discussions over time where statements are preserved so branches can easily be added have an R or 3 or more.

      A low R often means many important responses are missing. This is a useful diagnostic method.

        • Complexity is not the problem, David; CliSci lies are the problem: 1) Asserting unverified UN IPCC climate models are accurate forecasters of global warming; 2) using the wildly exaggerated RCP 8.5 emissions scenario in such models; and 3) misrepresenting the likely climatic and biological effects of any future warming, without prominently listing uncertainties. Santer and Mann are notorious early and consistent liars.

          Any discussion of climate policy must begin with universal acknowledgement of those 3 lies. Then we may actually be able to simplify any complexities by developing accurate cost/benefit scenario analyses, with or without using formal trees. We would then have a basis for discussion/resolution of the various value judgements.

  15. The climate “STARTING STATEMENT” (or null hypothesis) is: Climate change is natural.
    There is no evidence that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have any measurable influence on global temperature and consequently not on climate change either. There are more than 100 other factors that influence climate (prof. Stott, UK).
    Below this starting statement, we have numerous and all kinds of more or less scientific and phantasy claims.

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