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Yesterday I read that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a contributing factor. That sounds convincing to me. I'm not qualified to argue with climate scientists about climate science. But it makes me wonder how often experts have accurately predicted anything of this complexity.

That isn't a rhetorical question. I actually wonder what our track record is for predicting the outcomes of complex systems.

One might argue, by analogy, that an automobile is a complicated machine, yet it's easy to predict what will happen if you put sugar in the gas tank. Perhaps all we need to know about climate science is that any change to the global mix of chemistry is likely to change the temperature. Is it that simple?

Climate change skeptics suggest that the environment will somehow automatically regulate itself, perhaps through offsetting changes in cloud behavior. That sounds like something I wouldn't want to count on. And apparently the cloud theory of self-regulation has been debunked.

But back to my main question: Can you name some examples from history in which the strong consensus of experts - scientists or other - accurately predicted the outcome of something as complicated as the global climate?

It's no fair picking examples in which experts merely interpreted what happened in the past, such as evolution, or the birth of the universe. It's easier to figure out what happened in the past than it is to predict what will happen in the future.

I'm curious how many of you simultaneously hold the following two nearly-contradictory opinions:

1.      Climate change is real because scientists say so.

2.      Experts have never accurately predicted anything so complicated.

According to most climate scientists, we know that the average temperature of the world has increased in recent years. That part seems settled. But is it equally certain that the trend will continue and become a global catastrophe?

I believe that my question can't be objectively answered because climate change is too politicized. Your opinion on how well humans predict complex systems will depend on what you already decided about climate change. Please prove me wrong.

 
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Jul 13, 2012
I believe climate change is real, and we should do something about it, however my opinion is that historically we have believed in all kinds of ridiculous things- experts in many subjects have, say, openly handled dangerous radioactive materials... we have done all kinds of stupid stuff just because we weren't up to speed with all the information.

However, that's historically. I still think we've got bad luck with complex systems, but if 97% of the experts say "this is bad for you", I find it unwise to ignore them.

Also, it would be nice if you could get the tech people who run your blog to increase the blog account timeout- or modify it so what you've typed is not lost if you do timeout.
 
 
May 14, 2012
Quote:
"I'm curious how many of you simultaneously hold the following two nearly-contradictory opinions:

1. Climate change is real because scientists say so.

2. Experts have never accurately predicted anything so complicated."

Scott, rather than be drawn into the issue of experts' predictions where others have already given good examples, let me point out that the above argument, while sounding quite reasonable on the face of it, is actually a logical fallacy (technically called: Denying the Antecedent). You have cleverly concealed it, but broken down it takes this form:

1. Experts have never accurately predicted anything complicated.
2. Experts predict climate change (which is complicated).
3. Ergo, climate change is an inaccurate prediction.

This argument takes the form "If Mary was Brazilian, then she would know that Brazil’s official language is Portuguese. Mary isn’t Brazilian. So, she surely doesn’t know this about Brazil’s language." Even if the premise in point one was correct (and it isn't) the logic doesn't follow.
 
 
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May 13, 2012

I can’t think of time that work of legitimate scientists have questioned to this degree except by the church. Folks, these guys – atmosphere scientists – have a track record. They saved us from the ozone hole by banning CFCs but nobody questioned the science behind that. Now that the hole is closed up and UV radiation is down, we forget that the wonderful work that these scientists did for us.

I am not saying that scientists can always get it right or that they are necessarily right, but we should take them seriously. I think the biggest difference between the ozone hole and global warming is that the solution for ozone hole was relatively painless – chemical manufacturers had to find an alternative refrigerant – but the solution for global warming is much more painful – we need to burn less fossil fuels.

It is easier for layman to question the science because global warming is happening anyway but just occurring faster due to human activity and the harm is less immediate (polar bear losing habitat versus skin cancer caused by UV radiation).

The reality is scientists have a track record of dealing with very complicated systems, especially with current sophistication. We should take them seriously especially when they got it right on ozone hole not so long ago.
 
 
May 8, 2012
I think we should look at this in a slightly different way way. Like risk management. It's what we should do about it and what the concequences are. 20 years from now if we do nothing AND global warming is true were in a real mess. possible global tragedy. Is that the side of the argument you want to be on? On the other hand If global warming is not happening and we actually do spend a lot of money time, resources etc. doing something. What is the down side? Let's make it worse case and say it hurts the economy, spending money we really don't have to. Well if nothing else we will have cleaner air
 
 
May 6, 2012
I would also like to add that, unless you want to argue from a metaphysical perspective or you have specific mechanisms in mind, the concept of 'the earth correcting itself' makes no apparent sense. WHy would the earth have any such tendencies in particular? From a purely scientific perspective, there is no reason to suspect that the Earth has any inclination or reason to stay the same or have any special set point that it will go back to. It seems common for debaters to use vague statements and labels that sound good but have no real meaning in order to try to convince others. Maybe that way works much better than trying to give complicated scientific details to the general public. However, in many situations, the truth is there ARE NO actual scientific explanations for such statements anyway. Instead, the're just meaningless debate tactics.
 
 
May 6, 2012
One general comment -- a lot of people here don't seem to get the difference between a prediction and a discovery. Einstein detailing relativity is not a prediction, nor is describing missing elements. These are statements about the construction of our physical universe.

Predictions are about EVENTS, not things. "A fifth fundamental force will be discovered next year" is a prediction. "A fifth fundamental force exists" is not.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 6, 2012
Uh....the Standard Model is quite silent on dark matter and dark energy, which are 96 percent of the universe. It is hard to get excited about it being a model of super prediction when it misses by far most of what it is supposed to be predicting. Even in hindsight it can't be used to rationalize most of the universe. The Periodic Table is perhaps a better example.
 
 
May 5, 2012
I think part of the prob is naysayers up until recently insisted there was no climate change. Then they said that if there was going to be any change, it would be very slow. But now that many glaciers are melting quickly, now that they are saying that any change is not manmade anyway. Now, well they sorta have a bad track record hehe. And yes, I am talking loosely about some of the more adamant and self assured Republicans.

I think the basics are, there appears to be climate change happening now. Why and where it will go is still I think very unknown. In the ancient past, temps have gyrated around like crazy even though man was probably not a major player back then. What caused all that? I have yet to hear a decent answer. So I agree, our track record at understanding and predicting such things totally sucks. The weather man can't even tell me if it will rain tomorrow with much reliability! Yet they have the nerve to treat global warming theories as some kind of sacred cow that cannot be maligned. How do I know we won't get global cooling instead? Or global high humidity or global hail the size of cars?

On the flip side, logic would suggest that all the changes humans have made to the chemical makeup of the atmposphere are going to have some effect. I have heard that scientists have found that saturday and sundays have statistically diff weather than mondays through fridays, assumedly due to pollution from number of cars on the road. But what can we do about it? Most of the damage is done or is going to continue to be done. Much that has been set in motion probably will not stop easily if at all.

Ive heard it said that the best way to spend our money would be prepare our people to be more ready for change and disaster. That way, no matter what changes happen, either from our fault or from change in the sun or a big volcano, we will be more prepared to adapt and will have more disaster strategies in place. Other than that, we should try not to pollute our water and air too much cuz we have to drink and breath that crap ourselves after all.

But I think it's naive to think that whatever is going to happen, that we have much chance of stopping it at this point, or even that we really know what is going to happen anyway.
 
 
May 5, 2012
1. Global climate change is not politicized except in the United States by the republican party and only recently. It is not disputed anywhere else in the world to a significant degree, and even the republican party agreed with it until a push was made to politicize it on the right and sway the party to suddenly saying it was not true.

2. Scientists have predicted many, many things correctly. The Earth orbits the sun. How to make a nuclear bomb, the existence of nuclear energy in general. How to get Voyager to fly through space and pass by the planets. How to build a rocket to get men to the moon and back safely. Weather prediction (people claim it is not accurate, but it is actually very accurate).

3. Global climate change is not happening because 97% of scientists say that it is. 97% of scientists say that it is, because it is happening.

4. Global climate change is actually very small. This is the point that people seem to miss. A common temperature on Earth is about 280 degrees kelvin. The average temperature may go up 6 degrees kelvin. That is about 2%. This is not a very large change and easily causable by CO2. But it is also very significant. Set your freezer to 273 degrees kelvin and you get ice, set it to 274 degrees kelvin and you have liquid water. Small changes can have massive impact.
 
 
May 5, 2012
1. Global climate change is not politicized except in the United States by the republican party and only recently. It is not disputed anywhere else in the world to a significant degree, and even the republican party agreed with it until a push was made to politicize it on the right and sway the party to suddenly saying it was not true.

2. Scientists have predicted many, many things correctly. The Earth orbits the sun. How to make a nuclear bomb, the existence of nuclear energy in general. How to get Voyager to fly through space and pass by the planets. How to build a rocket to get men to the moon and back safely. Weather prediction (people claim it is not accurate, but it is actually very accurate).

3. Global climate change is not happening because 97% of scientists say that it is. 97% of scientists say that it is, because it is happening.

4. Global climate change is actually very small. This is the point that people seem to miss. A common temperature on Earth is about 280 degrees kelvin. The average temperature may go up 6 degrees kelvin. That is about 2%. This is not a very large change and easily causable by CO2. But it is also very significant. Set your freezer to 273 degrees kelvin and you get ice, set it to 274 degrees kelvin and you have liquid water. Small changes can have massive impact.
 
 
May 4, 2012
I think you may be mixing "climate prediction" with "measuring what's currently happening". Two subtly different things.

It's one thing to say tons of carbon monoxide WILL screw up the climate.

It's another to say that carbon monoxide IS !$%*!$%* up the climate.

I think the climate guys are saying the latter and not the former.
 
 
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May 4, 2012
I have no doubt that humans have an impact on the planet and its ecosystems. Question is, which you pointed out, no one really knows how much of an impact because there is no proof until it actually happens. I don't think the "science" has been proven yet. Keep in mind the models forecasting global warming catastrophe were built by people with agendas to prove its real while the doubters go back to the argument that it has never happened so it can't be proven.

What is interesting is on a recent show about the geological history of earth, scientists make the argument that the ice age was brought about by life while the melting of the ice age is the result of the earth correcting itself.
 
 
May 4, 2012
1) The science pretty clearly shows that climate change has occurred and that at least some of it is caused by human burning of fossil fuels: Collect the temperature data and graph it vs. time; Collect the CO2 data and graph it against time; Compare using the scattering absorption, and emission properties of CO2; Similarly compare the CO2 data to data on human population, development and energy usage. The theory accounts for a trend. The variations around the trend are assigned to other causes. The theory doesn't deny that there are other causes of variation. At this point the system is less complicated than the set of chemical interactions that connect CFCs to atmospheric ozone concentrations. And, since the theory is only modeling the average global temperature, it's less complex than predicting tsunami wave heights all over the world.

2) Predictions of average future global temperature are based on future CO2 concentrations. They assume that the other sources of variation don’t change from the past to the future. That’s a limitation. A better theory would model average temperature on CO2 concentration plus other variables. I can’t see any signs that the critics of climate change science are trying to model these other effects.

3) Predictions of future CO2 concentrations are based on predictions of future population, future economic development, and future fossil fuel burning. This is the complex system that should be compared to other complex systems scientists have tried to understand. I think this is comparable to predicting the future of the S&P500, in that future changes in people’s values actions are not predictable from their current state. Still, if you have money invested in annuities, pensions, life insurance, or large mutual funds, you are probably betting that the established trends will continue, even if you can’t predict the day-to-day variations.

 
 
May 4, 2012
You may have gotten this answer a couple of dozen times (hot topic), but just in case.

The Standard Model of particle physics has predicted the existence of new particles long before their discovery. You may be able to argue that system isn't as complicated (I actually failed that class due to laziness), but the math sure as hell is.

Also, Einstein's theory of relativity predicted that clocks would travel at different speeds in orbit long before we could get there (the math was worked out later, but I think still before the tests). Again though, you could probably argue the "system" isn't that complicated, but again the math is (but not as bad as the standard model).

I believe any system that is not dependant on human interaction, can be predicted to within certain tolerances, once we understand the factors that influence that system (which factors and how they influence). And even systems involving large numbers of humans can be relatively well understood and predicted.
 
 
May 4, 2012
The climate history of this planet is very different from what "climate scientists" suggest. We are still in a "cold period" just a few degrees warmer than "ice age" temperatures. Most of the time, the earth is like 10 degrees Celsius warmer. Just not during our (very short) human history.

I think "climate scientists" (who are effectively activists -- their paychecks hinge on social action related to a perceived climate Armageddon. There's an inherent conflict of interest) largely ignore climate history on geological time scales.

While climate change sounds very fishy to me, I find ecological problems far more distressing. Species extinction, pollution (including to a small extent, CO2 pollution), and the imbalance of invasive species seem like more-immediate, more-quantifiable problems from which our world obviously won't recover very quickly, and where recovery won't remotely be the same as not-having the problem to begin with.
 
 
May 4, 2012
Two thoughts:

1) Meteorologists have never been able predict the *local* weather with much accuracy even in the short term. Long term global climate predictions? Ha.

2) Climate change is not new to earth's history.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 4, 2012
Chemistry: A lot of the elements were predicted by looking at gaps in the periodic table. They were all found in time.

Physics: Einstein's theory of relativity was pure theory but every experiment since then has confirmed it. There's a whole branch of physics called "theoretical physics" - it's what the Large Hadron Collider is all about. Look for pictures of the LHC if you want to be impressed by something.

Biology: Evolution, etc.

In short: Prediction is a requirement of real science. You have to make predictions and then design experiments to confirm them otherwise it isn't science, it's pseudoscience.


The scientific method is:
a) Observation
b) Theory
c) Prediction
d) Experiment (to test/confirm (a) and (b)...)

What we normally refer to as "pseudoscience" usually doesn't bother with (c) or (d).

eg. An obvious experiment to test Astrology would be to try to tell what day/month people were born on by asking questions about their life/personality. Astrologers conveniently miss out that part for some reason.

[Your examples (chemistry, physics, evolution) are about predicting things that exists already, or have existed. That's much different than predicting that something will happen in the future. -- Scott]
 
 
May 4, 2012
The 'Standard Model' of physics.
Stunning predicitons. predicted properties of fundamental particles, then we went and found them.

[Predicting what exists now is very different from predicting what might exist in the future. -- Scott]
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 4, 2012
Scott,

In the last line you have insisted that you should be proved wrong. Let me try.

Your approach to the subject of climate change is confused or flawed in too many ways. It's difficult to remain polite and describe the flaws at the same time. So, hope you'll ignore if something sounds like an offense to your integrity. I am not the type who lives on opinions about people.

I'll take two examples from your post.

One

> Quote:

I'm curious how many of you simultaneously hold the following two nearly-contradictory opinions:

1. Climate change is real because scientists say so.

2. Experts have never accurately predicted anything so complicated.

< Unquote

1. 'Climate change is real because scientists say so': I think it's a political statement, not an objective one. You have used the term 'believe' as that which is accepted by the 'trivial many', not the 'vital few'. No one except an imbecile will believe something because scientists say so. And a few lines before that you said you were not being rhetorical.

Now, assuming good intentions, if you were not being rhetorical, you are not being scientific and you are not being political, does the first statement make sense?

2. 'Experts have never accurately predicted anything so complicated': I think it's a loaded observation - more like a lawyer in a court than a scientist in a lab. Perhaps you feel lawyers who choose their words correctly are smarter than researchers indulging in predictions. But, in the first paragraph, you said it is not a rhetorical question. And you are an honorable man.

So, count me out of those who hold both the positions simultaneously. Also, count me out of those who hold even one of the positions at any time. You'll find my reason in the next quote.

Two:

>Quote

I believe that my question can't be objectively answered because climate change is too politicized. Your opinion on how well humans predict complex systems will depend on what you already decided about climate change. Please prove me wring.

<Unquote

I believe, one must have the competence to hold an opinion about something. And that competence involves knowing the facts and relevant epistemic methods. For example, one cannot apply newtonian models on quantum phenomena. They are philosophically irrelevant to each other.

In the case that you have chosen, 'global warming', is not happening. You have never used the term 'global warming' in the post, but you have actually meant the same thing where ever you've used 'climate change' - something that is adversely affecting the whole planet.

Global warming was a threat. But 'Global warming' was a false alarm. It doesn't exist 'globally'.

Warming is occurring far beyond the tropics. The land on the tropic of cancer has actually cooled down year on year. I live in the desert right on the tropic of cancer. I should know. We are having rains every few months now in a place that has not seen water for hundreds of years, and the average temperatures have fallen by more than 3 degrees in peak summer. So, the term 'global warming' does not apply.

Climate change does apply, and it is good for these parts of the planet. Everything american is not global.

I cannot prove you right or wrong about your perception that everyone's opinions on whether experts predict accurately depends on decisions made by them in the past.

I don't assume the right to have an opinion about astrologers or scientists. The right to opinion is a political right, unless your own definition of politics is corrupted by historical data and you have decided that politics is bad and all politicians are comedians.

Yet, I can prove that your 'process' is flawed in reaching this point where you have to hope that you are proved wrong.

A peer review of a scientific research is non-political. Any other opinion outside that is bound to be political by default. You can't seperate them and ask to be proved wrong on one of the two dependants.

'Contradictions don't exist, check your premises' said Ayn Rand (Peace Be Unto Her Aethist Soul)

Cheers,

.
 
 
May 4, 2012
.Thinking about "factors of safety" and pondering the absurdity of much of the risk assessment data, and criteria for designing defense against natural disasters.

One question I pondered was;

" How can the Army Corps of engineers, design a structure to withstand a 500 year flood, when theres only 150 years of data to go off of, in the area the structure is to be placed"

Then I remembered a few articles on this subject stashed away in my brain and computer...

One of the articles: ( www://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7095736) from the BBC, was about sea walls near power stations in The UK . These walls where designed for a 1000 year flood in the 1970's.

But based on current calculations, the walls are currently grossly under estimated for breaches caused by flooding and human error . Nearly off by a factor of 9 from the original estimate.

A second article ( www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_18061605) was about Fudai, a small coastal village in japan that had a over built wall constructed in the 70's that saved the village from last years tsunami.

This wall was the idea of late Kotaku Wamura, A past mayor of the town. Mr Wamura's wall was heavily criticized as being wasteful and well... Over done for years.

Of coarse in hind sight, after last years tsunami the wall was praised for saving the whole town from disaster.Imagine if that wall was built with a safety factor based on "proper"calculations back in the 1970's .....

So what was the contributing factors for wamura's insistence on building such a large wall?

One: He witnessed the last big tsunami disaster in his town in 1933 and 1896.

Two: Intuition.

For my self, the lesson of both stories is that we don't have enough "accurate" data to determine how a 1000 year flood can be calculated, to determine actual accurate predictions.

Even if we had 1000 years of data for a particular area, the measurements probably cant be relied on anyway...

All this climate change arguing is stupid....

Climate change happens.

Humanity has probably spent billions of dollars arguing on something we can not control.

Lets instead allocate the argument energy on adapting to change.


Geezz people!
 
 
 
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