Climate Change and Flat Earthers

“There has been no universal trend in the overall extent of drought across the United States since 1900.”

“Trends in severe storms, including the intensity and frequency….are uncertain and being studied intensively.”

Both quotes are from the fine lines in the 829-page quadrennial National Climate Assessment. That’s the report Pres. Obama flogged on national television recently for nearly an hour. The president insisted something had to be done right now.

I have not read the report, of course, why should I ? (See below.)

(The first quote is in the report according to a Wall Street Journal editorial on 5/9/14. The second is in the report according to my frequent reader and commenter McHenry. He is a young man who does, or used to, believe in the threat of man-made climate change. He has good scientific training.)

A few months ago, when the Great Lakes were 90% frozen, that great scientist, Secretary of State Kerry relegated me to the ranks of “Flat Earthers.” He did this because I am very skeptical (and growing) of the climate change thesis. (See definition below.)

Of course, anyone who has been observing him from his political beginnings knows that John Kerry has no scientific competences, no competences about anything at all, except windsurfing and marrying rich widows. (I don’t knock either, no sir!) It’s also possible that he knows some French. That would tend to contribute to his misinformation, I think.

I suspect, in fact, I am almost sure, that Mr Kerry’s self-assurance is based on the belief that 97% of scientists, blah, blah, blah…

The climate change thesis deconstructs as follows:

1 There is a global rise in temperature.

That’s from some undetermined date. Hasn’t been any for the last fifteen years according to federal government’s own reports.

2 It’s caused by human activity.

This includes the burning of fossil fuels, of course but yet, there is no call for an increase in nuclear energy production which is a reliable and lasting way to relieve worldwide reliance on fossil fuels. No reason is ever given for this absence. Sometimes, perfectly serious climate change partisans also include among the causes of man-made global warming belching and flatulence by the large worldwide cattle population. The latter “cause,” of course, calls for a quick conversion to vegetarianism. (That is where secret evangelists show their hand.)

3 The world, or parts of it, or us, or some of us, are in imminent danger of a variety of catastrophes that will be caused by climate change.

Note that the three propositions are logically linked: If there is no global rise in temperature, we don’t care about human activity. If human activity does nothing to the globe ( to what, exactly?) there is no emergency. If there is a global rise in temperature and it’s not man-made, there is not much we can do. If there is global warming and it is the result of human activities and it does no harm, there is nothing we should do. If it does both harm and good (longer growing seasons in the north, access to minerals near the North Pole) then, there is something important to discuss internationally.

As the evidence in support of the thesis becomes more complicated and contradictory, the alarmist cries are becoming shriller. This makes a sort of macabre sense. Simple rationality is getting lost along the way. What we are told about urgent policy requirements does not fit with the evidence that is presented by the same people who demand urgently a new policy of de-industrialization. The climate change book is like a novel whose cover would proclaim “Joe Is the Killer” while the inside pages would sow doubt on the idea that Joe has ever killed, or even harmed anyone, has ever so much as spat on the sidewalk.

Sometimes, downright fraud is also prominently involved. That’s the case for the “97% of scientists” that I think certified incompetents like Sec. Kerry rely on. Personally, I have always known and said that there was nothing to the number. There is no 97% of anything anywhere, except in some banana republics and in North Korea. Now, we have good evidence of fraud on this matter:

In past postings on the climate change or global warming, I have been at great pains to declare, even to prove my ignorance in matters of climate science. I did this because I wanted to step resolutely away from jargon-filled experts’ and pseudo-experts’ discussions that can only befuddle people who have to make a living, rear children, prepare their taxes, pay a mortgage, go to the gym.

In fact, I have fair general scientific training: I easily recognize a good study design. (They don’t grow on trees!) I can spot bad measurements from a mile away, like a jealous wife a single long hair of the wrong color on her husband’s lapel. I also possess a skill that is rare in the general literate population but common among those who have acted as referees for scholarly journals: a keen sense of studies’ formal conclusions that shout when the findings would only merit whispering.

Note that I don’t claim I have ever committed this last little sin myself when I was a scholar. It’s damned tempting though. How can you admit, “Yes, I and two colleagues worked hard on this study for three years and, frankly, what we found does not amount to a hill of beans.”

And then, there is the vertiginous, nightmarish situation where you would have to report, “The consensus is that X causes Y. Our study, carefully conceived in every way – go ahead and check everything – suggests that X does not cause Y.” This is like yelling, “Go ahead, don’t publish my study!” (I actually published two such studies in my time, one at the beginning of my career, one at the end. The last one took twenty years! See on my vita linked to this blog: Delacroix, Jacques. “The export of raw materials and economic growth: a cross-national study.American Sociological Review. 42:795-808. 1977. Delacroix, Jacques and François Nielsen. “The beloved myth: Protestantism and the rise of industrial capitalism in 19th century Europe.Social Forces 80-2:509-553. 2001.)

There is also a general, well known anti “negative findings” bias in all scientific disciplines. Few journals have the intestinal fortitude to publish articles that proclaim: “We did not find anything.” I doubt that the climate sciences constitute an exception. Do you?

Here is a fictitious but realistic example of such a conclusion:

“Humans have been pumping ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere with increasing intensity* for one hundred and ten years and yet, there is no rise in the frequency of droughts.”

How does this work for your career, do you think?

Here is an example of bad design, specifically.

Several years ago in one of the respected American scientific magazines there appeared an article authored by three Australian professors with impeccable scientific credentials. (I am very sorry I don’t have the reference. However, my memory forgets but it does not make up stuff.) The article purported to tackle the issue of long term global warming. It was an attempt to recoup after the disaster of the “hockey stick scandal”** which involved downright cheating.

The issue is this: If it was warmer in 1000 that it is today, it’s hard to argue that gases specific to industrial societies are an exclusive or even a primary cause of global warming. (It’s difficult but not impossible; it would involve heavy scientific lifting.)

Anyway, that article relied on one form of measurement of temperature, tree rings, I think, for the longest period, extending from about year 1000, to about year 1800. Then the authors switched to other, probably better, more sensitive measurements, based on other than tree rings, for the period extending from about 1800 to the present.

That’s impossibly bad scientific design, of course. Here are the reasons. If the first measurement somehow underestimates temperature then, it’s necessarily true that temperatures in the other period from 1800, will appear higher. If the second type of measures somehow overstates or simply detects more accurately high temperatures, the years 1800 to present will necessarily seem warmer. Both false effects would tend to be seem true irrespective of the real temperatures in both periods .

It tuns out that 1800 to present is the period of interest. If you are going to prove a sharp rise of temperature coinciding with industrialization, you have to demonstrate a big uptick for that period . The design is thus not neutral with respect to results. It favors some rather than others.

It’s such breathtakingly bad design that I had to read the article twice to believe it. (That’s what caused me to check the authors’ academic credentials. As I said, they were excellent.)

The alert reader will have noticed that the potential bias I describe above can work either way: If the measurements to 1800 overestimate temperatures while the measurements from 1800 to present happen to underestimate temperatures, you may find that you have demonstrated that there is no warming that corresponds to the industrializing period although one exists. You might even show that temperature has declined on the whole although it has actually risen.

Now, suppose that the study of reference showed precisely either no change or change in the “wrong” direction. That would be no change in global temperatures, 1000 to 2000, or a slight decline of temperatures beginning, say, in 1810.

My educated first guess is that, in the intellectual climate of the past fifteen years, the authors would not then have presented their research for publication. My second, also well informed guess, is that if they had presented it, the journal editor would have turned them down. He would have turned them down irrespective of his religion toward climate change. That’s because, journals don’t like negative results of the form: “Nothing happened.” See above.

That’s in addition to the fact that many editors are members of the same intellectual class that has lost its way on climate as it lost its way previously on communism and on Third World revolutions (another story I plan to tell soon on this blog).

In conclusion: Our current system of scholarly publication almost guarantees that there is little chance that scientific findings of high quality that contradict the belief in the thesis described above will see the light of day. It does not take a real conspiracy to arrive at such a situation, just the perpetuation of well-established bad habits.

How about the three credentialed Australian professors who committed the dramatically faulty research design? Are they scum? That’s were religion comes in. It’s helpful in pretending that the bad actions you commit are not really sinful. Did you know that the crusaders who captured Jerusalem in 1099 put all its inhabitants to the sword while shouting “God wants it”?

So, OK, I am a Flat Earther. It’s not so bad, really. One of these days, I will figure out the truth by noticing that no one ever falls off the earth, no matter how far he travels. I might even figure out why some get back home simply by moving in a straight line. Paying attention to negative evidence like this pays off. On the other hand, those who live inside a square box will never learn anything. Their blindness is dangerous for everyone.

* I don’t know the actual numbers but I would be surprised if we did not, collectively, burn one hundred times more than we did in 1800. One thousand times would not surprise me, not even 10,000 times.

**Look it up. Great story!

Jacques Delacroix:

I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography

is live in the Kindle Store at:

It will be available on other reading devices other than Kindle in about forty days.

I am working on producing the print copy of the book right now.


About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
This entry was posted in Bitching, Socio-Political Essays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Climate Change and Flat Earthers

  1. Jim N says:

    Ah, the magical 97%, as if science is done by vote or consensus. Never mind that 97% of crap is still crap — just a lot of it.

    In an effort to counter the so-called consensus, for several years the “Petition Project” has meticulously assembled a list of credentialled science types (including, for instance, the late Dr. Edward Teller) who have voluntarily endorsed “The Petition” which reads in part:

    “We urge the United States government to reject [Kyoto] … and any other similar proposals … There is no convincing scientific evidence …”

    To date, there are 31,487 signatories, of which 9,029 hold PhDs. The full text of the petition, complete list of signatories and their affiliations, the process used, etc. are all available at the project site:

    Not surprisingly, our diligent and educated media have failed to take note.

    BTW, the term “Climate Change” is so passé; the new sobriquet is “Climate Disruption” — one must try to keep up.

    regards, Jim

  2. Jim: Thank you for the stylistic advice. The last thing I want to be is” passe.” (Acute accent on the e.) I suspect the petition might do some harm as well as some good. The reason is that there is a strong convention that the minimum qualification to be called a “scientist” is an earned doctorate, including a PhD. I subscribe myself to this minimal definition. The 20,000 thousand who don’t have a doctorate are scientists in what sense?

  3. Jim N says:

    Hmm. It seems that “scientist” is an oft-discussed but rarely fully-agreed-upon moniker. The dictionary, as usual, is only vaguely helpful: “an expert in science, especially one of the physical or natural sciences” or “a person who studies or practises any of the sciences or who uses scientific methods.” To some, it even includes “social scientist” — which to me is a puzzling if not downright oxymoronic title. Then, there is a tendency to differentiate between ‘theoretical science’ and ‘practical science’ which I also find a bit puzzling.

    I’m not sure I’d consider myself a scientist per se, though I’m well-versed in scientirfic methodology and application. Far from a PhD, I only formally hold a BA, and in the broadcasting subset of journalism at that, yet my last formal position was Staff Development Engineer (‘Staff’ being higher than ‘Senior’ for reasons that remain obscure). Prior to that, I held design positions at various firms, including Sound Technology and Panavision — and prior to that, as Chief Engineer at several Los Angeles radio stations. I also hold 2 design patents (no big deal; my wife has 19, with a dozen or more in the works). All of this is to say that while I’m well-versed in science and technology, I don’t know whether I’d be considered a ‘scientist’ by many standards, Yet I have the ability to research and analyze data, formulate hypotheses, change my mind when proven wrong, etc, all of which seem to mean ‘doing science.’

    How does this relate to the above? Only in the sense that I’m not convinced that a PhD is a prerequisite to “being a scientist” — and furthermore, that holding such a degree ipso facto makes one. I’ve seen too many formal graduates that are unable to think their way out of the proverbial paper bag.

    However, let’s assume that we consider only the ~9000 PhDs in the Petition Project sample, Let’s further assume that the 97% of the consensus “scientists” are also PhDs. If the ~9000 represent the remaining 3% (yes, another false assumptiion) simple math implies that there are ~300K PhD “scientists” involved in the climate debate. This doesn’t come close to passing the smell test.

    Furthermore, having seen many of the credentials of the purported 97%, I can categorically state that most are not PhDs; indeed, many if not most are less scientifically qualified than I am.

    Bottom line — I don’t see the ‘Project’ having too big a down side; the 97%ers have nothing superior in the way of credentials or credibility. What they do have is the undying devotion of a fawning media and an opportunistic government on their ‘side’.

    Ultimately, that’s what’s hard to overcome!

    regards, Jim

  4. Jim: You are making my point. Any attempt to state that //% of an ill -defined category believe that…. is bankrupt from the start. I would rather my side did not rely on such methods. My point is that they probably do more harm than good. The other side is drunk; we must be sober rather than joining them on the bar floor.

    Ascribing the quality of scientist only to holders of PhDs is a kind of convenient and conservative shortcut. Anyone with a doctorate in a large number of disciplines is likely to have had some exposure to the scientific method. Others are unlikely, but not guaranteed not to.

    “Social science” is not an oxymoron in the sense that American social scientists at least normally are constrained by common scientific methods, mostly those of epidiemology. If you check out the my two articles referenced in the text of my essay, it’s not likely you will have much to denounce from the standpoint of such methods. For the past thirty years, it has been extremely difficult to be published in the main economics or sociology journals while ignoring or violating the basics of the scientific method. In North America, a good academic career demands that one submit to this view.

    Social science is that which is published in about fifty peer-reviewed journals. Anything else is whatever. Thus, I am real social scientist but, my book of memoirs, I Used to Be French, is not social science at all. (It’s entertaining, though and a cliche buster . It’s available on Kindle, soon, everywhere else.)

    Social scientists make a bad impression for two main reasons, I believe. First, whenever a journalist or another social commentator, declares, “Studies show,” there are usually no studies. (Not really my fault!) Second, many social scientists are in he habit of shooting off their mouths much beyond what research shows. Paul Krugman, the author of very good research, is a case in point.

  5. Bruce says:

    Wow! Your book is done! Congratulations!
    I will buy it as soon as it’s available in hard copy.
    Just a thought… What if every public library and educational institution was
    required to have it like Hillary’s new book?
    As for the science behind climate change goes, it does not
    matter what the facts are or how qualified the people are making
    claims. What matters is that the crisis requires government intervention.
    The same blueprint was used for Obamacare. There is a crisis in healthcare
    and it’s so big that only the government can fix it. It’s about bigger government
    and more control by our elected representatives-and don’t forget the fourth branch
    of government- the bureaucracy that does not care what party is at the helm.
    Again, I’m excited about your book and can’t wait to get a copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s