Global Warming Skeptics Charge Believers with more Cognitive Biases than Believers do Skeptics: Why the asymmetry?

Skeptics accuse Believers of 9 cognitive biases.  Believers and Skeptics mutually accuse each other of 4 more. Why don’t Believers accuse Skeptics of any others?

Skeptics accuse Believers of:

  • Overconfidence — in the predictions of their computer models.
  • Hindsight Bias — Because the computer models have (admittedly) been tweaked to post-dict past cimate changes, Believers assume wrongly that past climate events were more ‘predictable’ than they really were, according to Skeptics. 
  • Illusion of Control — Believers think that human reductions of greenhouse gases will make a large enough contribution to reduce global warming, but Skeptics think that’s an illusion.
  • Loss Aversion, exacerbated by Endowment Effects — Skeptics claim Believers overestimate the costs of warming (compared to the benefits). 
  • Bandwagon Effects
  • Appeal to Authority Fallacy
  • Availability Bias with Focusing Effects — due to the vividness of climate catastrophe scenarios.

Mutual accusations include:

  • Ad Hominem claims —  by Believers that Skeptics are beholden to oil company money: by Skeptics that Believers are seeking grant money, are anti-capitalist, anti-corporation, anti-free trade, anti-development/growth, anti-consumer, or are socialist, communist, anarchist, etc.
  • Status Quo Bias —  Skeptics claim Believers want to keep the climate stabilized at its present level, and Believers claim Skeptics want stability for present manufacturing processes, distribution of wealth, SUVs, etc. 
  • Confirmation/Disconfirmation biases —  leading to irrational belief persistence

Finally, I accuse the whole gang of subjection to Polarization Effects

But where are the Believers’ accusations of bias in the Skeptics?

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  • Hopefully Anonymous

    great post and embodies the spirit of this blog!

  • Matthew C

    I second HA’s comments.

  • Dan

    To set right this asymmetry, I accuse Skeptics of Libertarian Optimism bias.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Believers think non-believers are ignorant or willfully ignorant because they are tied to carbon producing entities and the causes they support. Corporate cronies, Theocrats, rednecks. As I’m probably a minority on this site, I should add I don’t believe in GW, but I know I wish good things for the earth in general, and humans in particular, though I admit a bias towards current generations. I’m educated sufficiently that people who disagree generally consider me a shill for conservatives with their ties to Big Oil, because I’m short-sighted as well as greedy (if I had longer view, supposedly I would overcome short-term benefits to my oil buddies and their interests because I put *some* weight on my grandkids).

    Like Hayek said in The Road to Serfdom, it is useful for a scientist to assume the other side has good faith and concentrate on the more basic assumptions of fact or theory that underlies one’s policy stance. Specifically, the two sides disagree on the facts, and GW see the non-believers stance on these facts as patently untenable, to which is say: I respectfully disagree on many of these.

    Facts is dispute:

    1) CO2 increase is a net bad for humans
    2) temperature increase is a net bad for humans
    3) CO2 variation of past century is materially affected by humans
    4) Status quo increase in temperatures will be catastrophic for humans
    5) costs of ameliorating GW will outweigh benefits, especially given current institutional constraints (eg, more likely to get ethanol mandates than Pigou taxes)
    6) Models are sufficiently precise and externally validated
    7) Solar activity can explain much of the 1850-1950 and 1975-2000 temperature increase
    8) recent temperature variability is not outside the scale of previous variability
    9) Global Warming is primarily about the environment
    10) GW implies more frequent or more severe storms
    11) Glaciers are net receding
    12) Mt Kilimanjaro’s snow cap is melting due to temperature increases
    13) Polar bears are drowning due to GW
    14) there exists a debate among ‘experts’ on these issues

  • Brad Hutchings

    Throw in “narrative bias” to the list of what skeptics accuse believers of. That covers all the points Eric lists above. With the whole story of gloom and doom, how can a skeptic possibly doubt? So the reasoning goes.

    On a mathematical level, throw in “linearity bias” or “exponential bias”, meaning if we double the amount of CO2 pumped into the air, we at least double the problem. Or if we cut it in half, we at least cut the problem in half. I’d have to go back and retake high school chemistry, but I remember the concept of “buffer solutions” that could absorb an unbelievable amount of acids or bases and not change pH too terribly much. What if our atmosphere is like that with CO2? With the small range of numbers and short time spans we’re dealing with, the difference in exponents of curves used to fit the data may very well be better explained by constants multiplied by different exponents.

  • Ambitwistor

    I don’t think that even skeptics dispute your point 3 anymore.

    I don’t know who you are accusing of having this linearity bias, but “doubling the CO2 in the air” most definitely does not “double the problem” (whatever that means). The radiative forcing of CO2 is logarithmic in CO2 concentrations (at current levels), for instance. This is an extremely basic fact in climatology, going back to Arrhenius (who you may be familiar with from your chemistry example). Perhaps there is someone who believes this, but not anyone who actually works in the field. (It’s not clear to me who Robin’s “believers” are supposed to be.) I’m also not claiming that there aren’t cases where linearity assumptions are made, just that your example isn’t one of them.

    • Anonymous

      Clearly at least one still does dispute point 3- given the tendency amongst a small percentage of the population (not actually known, but assumed from genetic diversion) I think it’s safe to say that there’s a small (though possibly statistically insigificant) number that would refute that claim.

  • Loki on the run

    And I accuse you of overconfidence in your ability to construct URLs …

    They all seem to have this incorrect format: http://http//

  • Ambitwistor

    Oops, “Robin” should be “Bruce”.

  • Brad Hutchings

    I’d never call out the scientists, who are pure as the day is long (in this hemisphere this month anyway). But I am calling out the politicians. If the delta of “the problem” is logarithmic to the delta in concentration of CO2, can California cutting CO2 emissions from projected 30% growth to targeted 20% reduction by 2020 help anything? We can’t even build freeways out here needed to move our people around because politicians think they did something about global warming. It’s insane.

  • Martin

    Brad: If anything, the atmosphere may have the opposite of a buffer effect: a number of positive feedback loops that exacerbate warming trends. As the temperature rises, vapor pressure equilibrium shifts, and more H2O evaporates. On average, the soil becomes drier and the air more humid. Water vapor is itself a heat trapping gas. Also, as tundra thaws, methane gas gets released, which is also a heat trapping gas. The net effect is even more warming.

    While the thawing of tundra may open up new terrain for biomass, increased aridity elsewhere will decrease biomass. It’s unclear what the net effect will be, but these processes tend to cancel each other out (biomass would be a sink for CO2 and H2O).

    The IPCC report doesn’t take these feedback effects into account, causing some AGW proponents to accuse it of *underestimating* warming trends.

  • bruce britton

    I’m sorry about the links being messed up, and am trying to find out how 2 fix it, meanwhile if u go 2 wikipedia and put in the name of the bias it will get u there.

  • Ambitwistor

    Ok, it’s never clear to me who’s being addressed as a “believer”; many of the biases Bruce says that skeptics level at “believers” are in fact leveled at the scientists themselves.

    You’re right that people don’t quite understand the magnitude of the problem (defining “the problem” being to reduce CO2 levels to mitigate a significant amount of predicted warming). But I’m not sure that politicians are overestimating the amount of climate change that a given abatement policy will produce. I think that many of them don’t have a good notion of the costs of implementing a given policy, though. I’ve heard some politicians suggest, for instance, what essentially amounts to a decarbonization of the national economy within a few decades, as if that’s a realistic goal. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from your concern about “token gestures”.

    Even with feedbacks, forcings are still logarithmic in CO2 concentrations. However, your point stands: there are many nonlinearities involved, in both directions.

    The IPCC report certainly does take into account feedbacks, particularly the water vapor feedback (read their discussion of climate sensitivity). They have been criticized, however, for neglecting some of the more worrisome dynamical ice feedbacks as well as downplaying the possibility of some threshold responses such as thermohaline circulation collapse.

  • TGGP

    My hypothesis: The believers don’t care about the skeptics nearly as much as the skeptics care about the believers, so the former are more likely to ignore the latter.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    Dear Bruce,

    Maybe we should consider the approaches of the two camps (marginally similar to the creationist vs evolutionist debates). Believers have most of the science, such as it is, on its side. Skeptics have very little science at all (very few peer reviewed published papers take a skeptical view-point).

    Therefore believers attempt to turn the conversation towards their models, while skeptics attempt to cast doubt on the models; since they lack good alternate models, the most effective way of doing so is to question the reliability of their opponents. Defence lawyers know that it isn’t enough to cast doubts on the prosecution case; an alternative narrative is needed to sway the jury. Here the alternative narrative is “it’s because the believers are biased that the models are wrong”.

    Personally I feel the skeptics are committing a massive “false alternative” fallacy. If the believer’s models are wrong, seems to go the reasoning, then nothing worrying is happening. Of course, the situation could just as easily be far worse than what believers believe…

    On “Skeptics claim Believers overestimate the costs of warming”, however, they have a very good point. I’ve long wanted to find a believer who didn’t think the warming would be that bad, or a skeptic who thinks that global warming would be catastrophic, if it were occurring. I’ve found a few scattered people in the first case (all libertarian academics – balance of biases?), but none yet in the second case.

  • Brad Hutchings

    Stuart, I think you could safely count Arnold Kling among the skeptics who think GW could be catastrophic. His best criticism is “Hey, if you guys have figured out this modeling stuff, we economists could sure use your help!”

    I don’t really know or have any way to judge the actual science. I am not in that game. I have seen some of the key players in action. For example, I had the privilege of taking an undergraduate course at UC Irvine where 1/3 of the course was taught by Rowland and Cicerone (CFC guys). Rowland would dispassionately lay out the “science”, the chemical reactions and the models. Cicerone would whip the sorority girls into a frenzy about all the terrible skin cancers they and their kids would have and it was already too late to change that and it would take 50 years before the ozone layer could begin to recover. That was 1991. I feel like I have some perspective on the guy when he testifies before Congress as President of the National Academy of Sciences about the impending peril from global warming.

    There are so many levels of this debate where skepticism could enter. Say we accept the science (the data, models, and interpretations) as 100% true and accurate. So now, be Michael Griffin, head of NASA, and ask hypothetically who we are to determine what the right temperature for the planet is, given the variance we’ve been able to determine over even recent history (2000 years) or as long as humans have been around (1 million years or so). And he gets blasted for posing the question. On the surface, it looks like political correctness to me, but I suspect worse. Everything I learned about science was that it was about asking those kinds of questions!

    The “oddball” scientific dissenters, like the ones talking about gamma rays seeding clouds, sun cycles, etc. seem to think that 15 years will give us better perspective on the cyclical nature of global temperature. I think it’s possible to stave off political solutions for 15 years. Kyoto was circa 1999, so we’re 8 years removed from that. Double that time without drastic solutions and hedge against the whole thing being bunk or today’s mitigation plans not being the most desirable. That seems more prudent to me than making energy a sin.

    I do think that a lot of scientists and environmentalists suffer from Inner Light Bias, referring to the Star Trek TNG episode where Picard is probed and lives the life of scientist the politicians didn’t listen resulting in their planet dying. A moving episode (it even won awards!), but not a delusion I particularly want people who deal in truth to be under.

  • Acksiom

    I think I’m good and done on this one with letting Occam’s Razor support my working assumption, based upon observation, that Skeptics accuse Believers of relatively more cognitive biases for the pure and simple reason that Believers actually exhibit relatively more cognitive biases.

  • Ambitwistor


    You raise an interesting point about uncertainty. A common skeptical argument is, “the environmentalists predicted [extreme scenario X], but the reality was not nearly as extreme”. But just because there is uncertainty, doesn’t mean that the truth is likely to be less extreme as the prediction; it could be more extreme. One example is the ozone hole issue mentioned by Brad: in 1985, it was discovered that ozone depletion was much worse than had been predicted, which is what led to the ozone hole scare. A current example is the recent evidence that sea level rise, as well as especially polar ice melting and breakup, are faster than predicted by models.

    This becomes more interesting if you believe that the loss function is an increasing function of temperature. Then the skeptical tactic of casting uncertainty and doubt implies an argument for greater action! If a temperature increase of X beyond the mean prediction has larger damages than a decrease of X below the mean prediction, then greater uncertainty implies that you should act harder to prevent the increase, since the greater probability of a small effect is outweighed, in a risk sense, by the concomitant greater probability of a large effect.

    Skeptics who use the “casting doubt” strategy often implicitly assume that the actual results can’t be worse than predicted, only better. This is a bias. (The “Environmentalists are Always Wrong” bias?) To be fair, though, some of them instead assume that the loss function isn’t an increasing function of temperature (warming is good for us) … but then you have to be careful, since extreme and rapid changes are likely to be bad regardless. (See my response to Brad.)


    You raise the interesting point that climate scientists aren’t always the best qualified to predict societal impacts or optimal policy. You need public health experts, economists, etc. as well.

    I am somewhat skeptical that anyone in 1991 was claiming that it would take 50 years before the ozone hole could “begin” to recover. You may be right, but are you sure you aren’t remembering “50 years to recover” instead? Even now, the recovery hasn’t been too speedy (e.g., here).

    You’re oversimplifying the Griffin issue. First, Griffin asked what right does anyone have to determine what the optimal climate is for the human race, but ignored the complementary question of what right do the most developed nations have to determine the climate for the rest of the planet. Is it arrogant to choose what temperature the planet ought to be at? Maybe. It’s arguably also arrogant, however, to actually change the temperature and turn around and say “who are we to decide?” If you follow Griffin’s passive stance and claim that nobody has a right to decide what the “right” climate is, then you should conclude that humans shouldn’t take the responsibility to change the climate from whatever its natural state is. But humans have, and that inevitably raises the question of, if we are changing the climate, should we do it and what should it change to?

    The argument also ignores the issue of rate and adaptation. The damage function is rate dependent. We can adapt to gradual changes. More rapid changes cost more. It may have been easier to adapt when civilization was nomadic, but it’s not easy to transplant modern urban populations. The upshot is that, regardless of what the “optimal” climate may be, any change from present conditions can incur costs if the change is too rapid. Whether it actually is “too rapid” is a different question, but the point is that climate change can be detrimental even if the change is in a “more optimal” direction, and arguments about the “optimal” climate have to take that into account.

    Both those issues tie into the thorny problem of inequity. The developing world is less able to adapt to relatively rapid climate changes, yet the developed world has far higher per capita emissions contributing to that change. If the developed world then turns around and says, “Who are we to say that change is good or bad?” and advocates an abdication of responsibility, well, I think there are some ethical questions to be raised.

    Like it or not, I think that if humans are changing the climate, they do have a responsibility to try to come to a collective agreement on what that change ought to be. It is much complicated by the reality any given change may
    benefit some and harm others. But I think that you have to come to a political resolution; inaction merely is an implicit statement that the “business as usual” scenario is the best.

    Beyond that, people questioned whether Griffin is really paying attention to his own scientists. He has a right to his own opinion, of course, but it doesn’t look good for upper management to appear to disregard the conclusions coming from within the organization.

    I can’t understand how 15 years is supposed to give us a better handle on the “it’s all the Sun” theories. Numerous solar cycles have already taken place; what additional evidence is 15 years supposed to give? Both solar intensity and cosmic rays already show a distinct lack of correlation with temperature trends in the late 20th century, precisely when the rate of warming has been the greatest.

    I think you have a strawman argument against what kind of changes are being called for. Nobody is talking about “making energy a sin”. In the face of uncertainty, the optimal policy is to hedge by calling for some initial abatement, and to either cut back or ramp up the abatement as one learns more.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Ambitwistor, I don’t care if a particularly policy recommendation is “arrogant”. I’m more concerned with maximizing our mutual odds of persistence (momoop). “what right does anyone have to determine what the optimal climate is for the human race” is a question going down the wrong direction, in my opinion. It’s reactive in an unuseful way. I’d rather Griffin or whoever is currently an GW or AGW skeptic be something more than a foil to the GW believers –let’s focus on the hard questions of determining the best ways to maximize economic growth, healthy environment, and other elements necessary to momoop.

  • Ambitwistor

    Hopefully Anonymous,

    I don’t care if it’s arrogant either; I just think that it’s hypocritical to say that making decisions about the climate is “arrogant” and that abstaining from those decisions is therefore “not arrogant”, when inaction amounts to making a decision anyway, so that abstaining ends up being “arrogant” anyway. It’s a deceptive statement that distracts from the real point, which is that we have already made changes to the climate and that forces us to debate the consequences.

    Perhaps making decisions about the climate is “arrogant”, but either through action or inaction we ultimately do have to make those decisions, so it’s ultimately not important whether anyone thinks that doing so is arrogant or not.

    I do think there’s a problem when people want to avoid thinking about, or coming to an agreement about, what kind of climate change is acceptable or desirable, as Griffin appears to do.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Ambitwistor, although I think words like “arrogant” and “hypocritical” aren’t helpful for bringing enlightenment to discussing GW and what to do about it, I agree with you that it’s important for MOMOOP to think critically about climate change, optimal Earth climate for MOMOOP, and related topics.

  • Robin Hanson

    TGGP and Stuart have this one right I think – this seems an example of the “what wisdom in silence” question.

  • Martin

    Has anybody considered that AGW proponents are more likely to have cognitive biases because of the simple fact that there’s an asymmetry between the assertion of a proposition and the rejection of it (which is not the same as the opposite assertion)? The opposite of AGW would be anthropogenic global cooling, but nobody supports that view because it has no evidence. AGW and AGC are symmetrical claims, climate skepticism is just the null hypothesis, and you’re less likely to make errors when you act conservatively (and don’t make a claim).

  • Brad

    Ambitwistor, The more complete story that Cicerone and Rowland wove was that the CFCs in our Right Guard sprayers from the the early to mid 80s and from the styrofoam that kept our Big Macs warm was (in 1991) just beginning its long journey to the South Pole where the chlorine would break free, find its O3 and cause ruin. Penguins with skin cancer, Peruvians and Chileans with skin cancer, sorority girls with skin cancer, their kids with skin cancer. Girls Gone Wild wasn’t around then, or I’m sure they’d have cancer too. Sorry to be flippant about it, but that was Cicerone’s narrative. And I’m taking his word for how long this process took because he has the hardware (Nobel Prize).

    I’m currently reading Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind after hearing his recent podcast with Russ Roberts. Dan has very interesting theses on Story and Symphony, which I think one could argue that the AGW crowd have truly mastered in communicating multiple levels of data, conclusions, and suggestions. They have gone from ice core samples to (for example) California’s AB 32, which Attorney General Jerry Brown (yes, we recycle our politicians here too) is currently using to halt freeway construction in San Bernardino and stop growth in San Diego. You see, the third biggest human contributor to global warming (behind combustion and cow flatulence) is concrete production. There’s your strawman Ambitwistor. Concrete is a sin against global warming heterodoxy in California.

    As for Griffin… The question he raises is not one of science. It is one of philosophy and perhaps politics. His employees at NASA are not atmospheric philosophers, nor are they atmospheric politicians. They are atmospheric scientists. Their job is to gather data, make sense of the data, and (perhaps) propose policies that the public and politicians might want to consider. Consideration and deliberation require that conflicting goals and agendas are weighed. Atmospheric scientists’ philosophical and political views deserve no more weight than those of your average citizen. Some would argue that they deserve less because of a history of giant scientific screwups, from eugenics to DDT to MTBE to central planning, etc. I think scientists should certainly inform the debate and argue vigorously for what they believe, but the minute they pull the “I’m a scientist” card, my BS detector is pinned on red. For some reason, it reminds me of trained Oracle DBAs, but I digress…

    Realistically, it will be 15+ years until anything concrete (excuse the pun) is done on a worldwide basis about greenhouse gases. There is absolutely no incentive for China and India, representing 1/3 of the world’s population and wanting the benefits of modern life for all its citizens, to agree to any abatement whatsoever. I have Indian friends who say AGW is the West’s subtle way of maintaining its leadership and comparatively high standard of living. It’s likely common thought there and we know it’s official policy of China. Unless we all get cancer or grow gills in the meantime, science could find itself in a historically weak position, having thrown considerable weight behind an AGW emergency that doesn’t pan out. It would be quite a setback for the public’s perception of the usefulness of science.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    How was cetral (economic) planning a science screw up? The success of (non-centrally planned) markets at improving economic efficiency was a non-scientific achievement?

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    That last comment was directed to Brad, in response to “a history of giant scientific screwups, from eugenics to DDT to MTBE to central planning, etc.”

  • Brad

    Oh, I probably misread Hayek, but what sunk in was that in large systems, knowledge is dispersed and not usually available to a few decision makers to scientifically manage the system. Cases might include the USSR, Robert McNamara and LBJ planning troop movements from the Oval Office bathroom, etc.

    To offer some “balance” and perspective on this Griffin controversy… Greg Mankiw is advising Mitt Romney and recently came out in favor of the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill. I happen to agree with Mankiw and after the whole Seamus incident, I am no fan of Mitt Romney, but… let’s say their positions were opposite, that Romney supported Kennedy-McCain and Mankiw was against it (and Romney didn’t abuse dogs). Romney’s campaign would have still handled the disagreement terribly by dismissing Makiw’s opinion and chastising him for not being in lock step. I think it’s a bad feature of our politics that we don’t tolerate disagreement and deliberation inside our camps. I’m not likely to join Mankiw’s Pigou Club either, but I respect him for not being a shill and having a sense of humor about the disagreement, unlike Romney’s campaign spokesholes, who dismissed Mankiw as a mid-level wonk.

    As for those who chastised Griffin. Respect his right to have his own opinion and make a case why you disagree. Draw the distinction. Set an example of reasonable debate.

  • Michael Tobis

    Interesting discussion, some nails hit right on the head. I for one think the bias of the so-called skeptics is so obvious as not to require mention. The true skeptics, like Broecker and Lovelock, note that the things we don’t know can only make matters a little bit better but they can conceivably make things much much worse. Rationally, an unbiased skeptic of climate science would be an advocate of very strict carbon controls.

    This doesn’t apply, of course, if we are severely biased or lying, which is why the ridiculous idea of a worldwide conspiracy to inflate carbon sensitivity for some convoluted approach to personal gain has so much currency.

    I would like to clarify one point where the discussion is going off the rails a bit. Climate impact is logarithmic with total CO2, but it is faster than logarithmic with excess CO2.

    That is, the first 50 ppmv excess CO2 does not have the same effect as the subsequent 100 ppmv. That wouldn’t actually make for a consistent system.

    The natural baseline is 280 ppmv. Adding 280 ppmv will have a comparable effect to a subsequent 560 ppmv addition, but with smaller additions it is closer to linear in the addition. Going from 280 to 320 has not much smaller of an effect than going from 320 to 360.

  • Ann

    Another bias affecting some prominent believers is wishful thinking. With the demise of communism as a credible utopian mission, climate change activism provides the passion, conviction of self-rightousness, targets of demonization, and utopian grandiosity. Al Gore, as always, says it best:

    “there’s something even more precious to be gained if we do the right thing [legally committing to reduce US global warming pollution by 90% in one generation]. The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge.”

    Some believers NEED global warming to be true and truly catastrophic in order to “feel the thrill.”

    Skeptics may suffer the same bias. If the choice is between A) possibly or probably catastrophic climate change and B) messianic totalitarianism, a destroyed economy and nominally less catastrophic climate change, those who choose A no doubt hope it won’t turn out to be too bad.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Michel Tobis,
    Very impressive website/blog!

  • Ambitwistor


    I think you are just observing that while forcings are logarithmic in CO2 concentration, a logarithmic function (or any smooth function) is nearly linear over a sufficiently small interval.


    I did some digging in the literature and, as I suspected, you’re misrepresenting Cicerone. (He, by the way, does not have a Nobel; you’re thinking of Rowland.) For instance, in a 1992 commentary in Nature, he stated that because of the long residence time of CFCs in the atmosphere (to which you allude), the ozone hole could not completely vanish until the late 21st century. This estimate is not so far off from modern estimates, which place full recovery around 2050. He certainly did not claim that no recovery could take place in the intervening time, only that recovery would not be instantaneous even if CFC emissions halted immediately.

    Your biased framing of issues is not very conducive to this discussion. Regardless of Jerry Brown’s wishes, concrete is not a “sin” in California. Non-combustion CO2 emissions from concrete production, by the way, amount to less than 3% of total U.S. CO2 emissions.

    Regarding Griffin, his statements may be criticized on their own (and have been, for reasons already mentioned), regardless of the position of the scientists under his management. That those statements disagree with NASA scientists — who are qualified to predict probable climate impacts, the existence of which Griffin dismisses — is just an additional problem.

    Climate impacts are an incentive for China and India to abate, the same as for the U.S. and other industrialized nations. However, neither side is particularly willing to abate if the other side does not, since both developed and developing nations need to do so for substantial mitigation to take place.

  • mobile

    Does “being as dumb as a box of rocks” count as a cognitive bias?

  • Brad

    Ambitwistor: Your biased framing doesn’t “help” either. Griffin has not denied the data. Nor has he denied the trends. What he explicitly “denied” in the comments for which he was criticized was the premise that there is some optimum global average temperature.

    Jerry Brown is suing the County of San Bernardino. The complaint alleges that the county’s growth plans do not comply with AB 32’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, and include freeway construction (both earth moving and cement production from limestone) as sources of greenhouse gas emissions. He may or may not have science on his side, but he is most certainly using the concern about global warming to achieve his ends. The county is projected to grow by 500,000 people over the next couple of decades and lacks infrastructure for moving people. The state, a warm state BTW, is projected to nearly double to 60 million people by 2050. Why? Because Americans still vote with their feet for warmer climates. Go figure.

    Look, I am not calling the science (data collection and interpretation) bunk. I am saying however, that climate scientists are ill equipped to make the policy decisions for us. Dr. Tobbs’ contention that “an unbiased skeptic of climate science would be an advocate of very strict carbon controls” is silly. There are other things in life to consider and weigh besides what his computer models spit out. And I’m sorry, but when you create a strawman saying that skeptics think you have a secret global profit motive (see his blog) and brag about watching Live Earth to do something to save the planet (see his blog), don’t be upset when serious people roll their eyes.

    When I suggested that a bias of proponents was “Inner Light Bias”, I’m just calling what I see. The scientists will save us because they have superior knowledge and know just what to ban to save the planet from total irrevocable ruin. So goes the delusion. Look, in a period of less than 20 years, we blew up hundreds of fission and fusion devices on land, below the sea, and in the upper atmosphere. 20 years later, we were more worried about CFCs. 40 years later, more worried about C02. We cannot always predict the weather terribly accurately beyond a few days out. We cannot accurately predict the severity of a hurricane season. It seems like a very big risk to make energy more expensive, make construction more difficult, make our lives less enjoyable (Europe has proposed banning sports cars), etc. based on data we have no track record of using in a predictive manner. It is also very troubling that market friendly mechanisms never emerge as planet savers.

    At the very least, dispassionate unbiased climate scientists need to realize that their story attracts the same band of socialists, planners, political hacks, and wealth haters that haven’t had much to do since the world rejected them a couple decades ago. Gregory Benford (UCI cosmologist and close friend of Stephen Hawking) suggested more than a decade ago that we might inexpensively engineer CO2 conversion with iron and plankton in the oceans. Why is that kind of solution considered too whacky to be in the public debate while banning incandescent light bulbs is not?

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Brad, in my opinion you’re swimming in polarization bias “At the very least, dispassionate unbiased climate scientists need to realize that their story attracts the same band of socialists, planners, political hacks, and wealth haters that haven’t had much to do since the world rejected them a couple decades ago.”

    I think it brings down the caliber of discussion in this blog’s comments to go in a narrow Left/Right “Wealth Haters” vs. “Greedy Capitalists” direction.

  • Ambitwistor


    I have not said that Griffin has denied data or trends. I said that in claiming that it is arrogant to make policy choices about climate, he is dismissing the reality that climate impacts are going to occur, and we do have to decide collectively what impacts are acceptable.

    Nor have I disagreed with you about Brown’s use of global warming to achieve political aims. I merely disagree that California law makes energy use or concrete production into a “sin”.

    I don’t know who Tobbs is and don’t know what his blog has to do with my statements.

    I agree with you that climate scientists are not the best equipped to make policy decisions. They are the best equipped to state what probable climate impacts are. That being said, many scientists are not ignorant of the policy issues and there is a whole subindustry of climatologists working in collaboration with economists, health specialists, ecologists, etc. to study the effects of different policy choices.

    One common result, for instance, from diverse economic cost-benefit analyses is what I stated in my last comment: an optimal policy under uncertainty doe appear to be to cut energy use and emissions by a modest amount, and either ramp it up or cut it back as we learn more.

    Your strategy of doing nothing until we learn more only looks at one side of the picture, which is that there is uncertainty and we may find, as we learn more, that we have made a mistake. However, the existence of uncertainty is not an excuse for inaction. We may find, for instance, that the impacts are worse than currently believed. As prevention is generally less expensive than cure, it is reasonable to adopt a policy which hedges against uncertainty by initially taking relatively modest steps in making the economy aware of the costs of GHG emissions, and tuning the policy when more is known about those costs. This is the so-called endogenous learning problem in coupled climate-economic assessment. While this is a very hard problem to solve, I am not aware of any analysis which finds that there should be zero initial abatement.

    I don’t think that iron fertilization geoengineering is too “whacky” to be in the public debate. I’ve certainly seen it discussed. As far as carbon sequestration goes, the current opinion seems to be that its efficacy and side effects are still far too uncertain to propose its implementation as a reliable near-term solution; there are much better understood sequestration options on the table right now. And the effect on emissions of incandescent bulb use is far better understood than any of those. (Transitioning to more energy efficient technologies has its own set of benefits besides climate change, as well.) In the long term, who knows?

  • ChrisA

    I think this is relevant, a paper by an “expert” (J Scott Armstrong) on forecasting, commenting on global warming forecasts;

    He makes several claims of biases about AGW climate modelers, providing at least some data on them. I would be interested to see what the forum makes of the author’s claims.

    Interestingly the paper seems to suffer from the Cretan paradox in that an expert is saying that experts can’t be trusted!

  • ATL


    There is no “Cretan paradox”, because Armstrong claims that experts behaving in a certain way can’t be trusted. He does not mean all experts.

  • Jed Harris

    While I have opinions about climate change and policy I wish we could set that aside and discuss the bias question that Bruce asked.

    It seems like there are two somewhat different arguments about areas where bias is claimed:
    – What we should believe about the future and
    – What policies we should adopt given our beliefs about the future

    Regarding what we should believe, there seem to be arguments about biases in modeling, biases about how much to trust the models, and biases about how to respond to uncertainty in our modeling.

    Absent evidence to the contrary, these questions seem to be a domain of normal scientific debate. I have seen just such debates and they have converged in the normal scientific way (for example resolving the disparities between ground and satellite temperature data).

    The fact that after approximate convergence on a normal scientific consensus, the domain remains fraught with a lot of accusations of bias is unusual. Why would people who still disagree in this area argue based on claims of bias, rather than developing models that demonstrate the validity of their own positions, showing things about the distribution of possible outcomes given uncertainty, etc.?

    I’m inclined to agree with Stuart Armstrong, but in any case I think we should all agree that this is an interesting phenomenon that needs to be explained. If others have evidence for other explanations I’d like to hear it.

    The issue of policy biases is inherently murkier, because choices of policies are always murkier in our sub-lunary condition.

    While policy preferences could legitimately drive funding for scientific investigations, they cannot legitimately drive judgments of scientific bias.

    If there are strong correlations between policy preferences and accusations of bias, as I suspect, then that would be evidence as to why those accusations are made, and more generally why the scientific discussion is unusually prone to public debates about bias.

  • aaron

    Oooh, you missed a skeptic bias. I’m curious. I want to see what happens, and the results of a more active economy.

  • Chris

    How absurd to pretend that playing with matches is dangerous, when it’s clear that naturally originating wildfires have always been with us ! Seriously, it seems some cognitive sledgehammers are being used to crack some fairly obvious nuts. Climate scientists aren’t accusing their opponents of bias, because that is not their job nor their training. They produce their evidence, with the appropriate ifs, buts, and maybes, and say ‘hey, perhaps this is something that we need to be worried about’. As it’s scary stuff, and most of us don’t like being scared, particularly when our immediate comfort is at stake, a lot of people make it their very immediate business to accuse them of bias and make every effort to discredit them. Never underestimate the fear factor. QED.

  • Jeff

    All the links to the wikis within the main statement (top) titled “Global Warming Skeptics Charge Believers with more Cognitive Biases than Believers do Skeptics: Why the asymmetry?” appear to be broken (i.e. “server not found”). Is there anyway to restore the (internal) links as the question and resolutions seem quite interesting.


  • Jeff

    All the links to the wikis within the main statement (top) titled “Global Warming Skeptics Charge Believers with more Cognitive Biases than Believers do Skeptics: Why the asymmetry?” appear to be broken (i.e. “server not found”). Is there anyway to restore the (internal) links as the question and resolutions seem quite interesting.


  • Nick Tarleton

    You’ll notice that the links look like “http://http//”. Remove the inner “http//” (to get e.g. “”) and it should work.

  • Bob

    “Ad Hominem claims … Believers are seeking grant money, are … socialist, communist, anarchist, etc.”

    So: is it really “Ad Hominem” to claim that many AGW activists are communists and socialists, when they really are? Many of these folks (who used to, in fact, work against global trade and capitalism for the Socialist and Communist parties) have now adopted AGW as the most likely method to install massive government control and a socialist state. It’s not much of a stretch to think that their main motivation may not be future climate.

    It’s also clear (to anyone who has worked on grant money) that many of the AGW scientists are trying to grab a portion of the $5B grant stream (which dwarfs the moneys available from the energy industry). The resulting distortion of science and interaction with political policy is pretty close to what Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech — No, not the “industrial-military complex”, but the “scientific-technologial elite”.

  • TGGP

    Ad hominem is ad hominem even when true. “JBS Haldane was a communist” is no argument against his work on genetics.

  • Bob

    ” “JBS Haldane was a communist” is no argument against his work on genetics.”

    But, if the Communist Party had an official policy on genetics, this fact might reflect on his motivations and biases. Surely, a known or possible bias in a scientist isn’t completely irrelevant. Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” graph can’t be reproduced from his published data, for example — there has to be an element of trust involved, which immediately makes evidence of personal bias relevant in evaluating his work.

    Perhaps in a world of “perfect information”, ad hominem is not relevant, as the work can stand by itself: But, in a world where trust is necessary, evidence of bias (and personal character) becomes relevant in determining how much trust is warrented.