Thursday, January 29, 2015

A clash of epistemologies: why the debate on climate change is going nowhere.



(From Wikipedia) Epistemology (ἐπιστήμη, episteme-knowledge, understanding; λόγος, logos-study of) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge[1][2] and is also referred to as "theory of knowledge". Put concisely, it is the study of knowledge and justified belief. It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired. (image source)



A few weeks ago, someone barreled into the comment section of a post on climate change on the blog of the Italian Society of Chemistry (SCI) with a series of attacks against climate science and climate scientists. The ensuing clash was all in Italian but, if you follow the debate on climate, you know very well how these things go. The newcomer monopolized the discussion by repeating the usual legends; climate has always been changed, there has been no temperature increase during the past 15 years, there is no proof of the human effect on climate, and so on. And you can imagine how the scientists following the blog reacted. The discussion rapidly degenerated into assorted insults and personal smears, until the moderator closed the comments. That was way too late: the climate science denier emerged as the winner; while the scientists managed to give the impression of being both narrow-minded and sectarian.

It was a classic case of climate trolling, but with one difference. This time, the troll didn't try to hide his identity (as trolls usually do); rather, he came with a name, an address, and a CV. He was Mr. Rinaldo Sorgenti, vice-president of the Italian Coal Industry Association ("Assocarboni"). Mr. Sorgenti's exploits on the SCI blog give us a chance to understand what generates the kind of behavior that we define as "trolling."

So, I am willing to bet that Mr. Sorgenti is NOT a paid disinformer - as he was accused to be in the debate. In other words, he doesn't deny climate science because he is on the payroll of Assocarboni (actually, he maintains that he gets no money for his position of vice-president, but I figure he gets at least a few perks from it). I would also say that not even the opposite holds true: Mr. Sorgenti is not the president of Assocarboni because he is a climate science denier. No, I would bet that denying climate science and being involved in the coal industry are two non-separate and non-separable elements of Mr. Sorgenti's worldview. And this worldview has little or nothing to do with what we call science. Mr. Sorgenti is not a scientist, he doesn't know how the scientific method works or, if he knows, he doesn't believe it works or it is useful for anything. He uses the methods of debate commonly used in the political debate; a method of discussion that we can define as "rhetoric."


Mr. Sorgenti's case is not isolated. Over several years of debate (if we may call it in this way), I came in contact with a number of people who can be defined as "trolls" or "deniers". Most of them (including Mr. Sorgenti) believe (genuinely, I think) that you can use the methods of the political debate to arrive to a conclusion on a complex and difficult scientific field such as climate science; and they resent being shortly dismissed by scientists. Scientists know how much work and study is needed to understand climate science and resent what they saw as superficiality and approximation in the debate. The result is the kind of clash we saw on the SCI blog. It was, if you like, a clash of epistemologies: rhetoric against the scientific method.

As in all clashes of absolutes, debaters think they are speaking the same language and they start from the same assumptions, but they are not. The problem is identified by Adam Dawson on "The Ruminator"in these terms:

..... you have to understand that in America there are two different types of science. There’s science that is profitable for corporations, which is good and righteous and rock solid. That’s the Smartphone, the water heater, the GPS, the 700 channels on the 62 inch flat screen, the boner pills, and so on and so on. And then there’s the science that costs corporations money, which is fraudulent, con-artist mumbo jumbo. Under that second definition are things like climatology, pollution measurements, oceanography, and other disciplines that might fuck up the profit margins of energy producers and manufacturers.

I think Dawson is right on target about the "two different types of science", but the point is not so much that some types science cost corporations money. Science and technology push for change and change often means that someone will lose money, but that doesn't mean that change is impossible. The Internet, for instance, is bankrupting newspapers, but the newspaper lobby doesn't appear to be very effective in stopping the Internet from expanding. Rather, the fundamental point is that scientific fields such as climate science use different methods for gathering data and managing knowledge than, say, the science of solid state devices. It is an epistemological difference: the kind of certainty that can be derived from a well designed laboratory experiment performed on a solid state device is not possible in climate science.

The different epistemological approach becomes really fundamental when it is question to implement a policy based on the result of the models. Climate scientists mostly agree that there is no simple technological remedy to avoid disastrous climate change. Then, what we are proposing is not hard engineering, but some kind of social engineering based on a general consensus that the danger of climate change is real. Now, how do we obtain such a consensus? To start, we need to share the basic assumptions on how the conclusions of climate science are obtained and validated; this is a question of epistemology. And when we deal with social matters, the traditionally accepted methods of attaining knowledge (and consensus) are not based on the scientific method. The debate becomes political, and the methods used for political debates are completely different. As I said, it is a clash of epistemologies.


In many ways, we seem to be learning to use different epistemological methods in the climate debate: have you noticed the claim that there exists a "97% consensus" among scientists on the climate problem? It has had a remarkable impact; considering how rabidly it has been criticized on the deniers' side. But can you think of a single case in the history of science when a scientific controversy has been subjected to a majority vote? Never that I know. In science, we believe that the scientific method is sufficient to arrive at a consensus. Political controversies are a different thing; data and interpretations are much more uncertain; hence the need for a vote. 

I am not saying that science should turn into a political organization. It is already something, however, that we recognize what we are dealing with: it is a political debate, not a scientific one. And we need to recognize that to stiffen up and look offended when someone belittles climate science is not useful. Even worse is to state that someone is a paid disinformer because he is not using the scientific method. We need to be way smarter than that if we want to go somewhere in fighting climate change.





32 comments:

  1. I have been guilty many times of the sins prohibited in the last paragraph, except that I have done worse. Once I refused to argue (it was hopeless: one cannot have a discussion with a passionate, drunken denier), so I said that such a discussion was against my religion, specifically Matthew 7:6. (the prohibition of thowing pearls before pigs). As I had thought, the Denier couldn't figure it out. Once he did, very shortly thereafter, the situation turned quite unpleasant. I convinced nobody, amused a few, and pretty much ruined a party (which was going downhill anyway).

    My son, who is wiser than his father, played high school football in Detroit. He was amazed to find out than hardly anybody on his team believed in «evolution» — they believed «what the Bible says». In a desultory conversation in the bus coming home after a game (his team lost), he learned that they did not have a clear understanding of «what the Bible says» either. So he avoided the subject; he told me it had nothing to do with football, anyway.

    My son and I agree that there is no rational response to an irrational situation.

    As you said, debate is not a valid way to settle scientific controversy. I read once (I wish I could find the source) that Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, toward the end of his life, recorded in his diary a dinner conversation with his wife. She asked if there might be some truth in the Theory of Evolution. He said there might well be, with more evidence coming in. She said something like, "Let us pray that it not be so; but if it is, that it might not become common knowledge." It seems to me that the good Bishop was coming around, more on the basis of evidence than because of Huxley's arguments.

    Nevertheless, debate is part of the political process.

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  2. [Well, the old classic www interface junk. Non-verifyable operatation. Luckily I've saved my comment. So here it is, possibly once again...]

    Ridicule. Ridicule. Ideally, epistemological ridicule. That's the only way. Make them look stupid. The planet is no longer flat for all practical purpose (yes, quantum epistemology) as it has been until back last century. Meanwhile, some stupid can no longer be socially acceptable - and here is the fulcrum (cf. Kari Norgaard, Living in Denial).

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  3. BTW, it is good (but hard) to exercise some compassion while ridiculing. That the planet is no longer flat f.a.p.p. is the greatest philosophico-ethical paradigm change Homo S "Sapiens" ever had to face since the invention of civilization gods around bronze age. Yet, it simplifies everything. E.g. suddenly the Ought follows from the Is, i.e. forget Hume's guillotine, assuming a hypothetical will (forget Nietzsche) towards decent survival of our species. The hard problem is: "Why is the earth silent at this destruction?" (Heidegger, Beiträge Nr. 155, ca. 1937)

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  4. Global warming. Probably the biggest banking scam in history. Jail the fraud deniers.

    http://www.scrapthetrade.com/intro

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  5. Physicists vs the global warming industry http://goo.gl/70tzt

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    1. See? This "eric 144" behaves like a sniper. Appears, shoots a couple of links, and disappears. So, what does he have in his head that makes him behave in this way? What kind of worldview does he have? How does he see himself doing what he does?

      I mean, it is all too easy for us to dismiss him as evil or paid by the coal lobby; but I am reasonably sure that it is not the case. No, there is a tremendous rage permeating in society; a rage against everything even vaguely "official", and that includes climate science. People feel that they are being fooled by the PTB in almost every known field of knowledge and they react as aggressively as they can. Trolling is one of the way they have. In a certain way, it is even understandable

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  6. Does anyone on this board know of a scientist who has evidence of global warming caused by humans plus has published the size of the carbon footprint of the war machine and D.C. government offices, equipment and vehicles. I would accept as evidence that Democrats, Progressives, leftists and liberal people were serious about global warming when they begin to ask government to downsize in areas that do not produce better judicial systems for quicker trials, better enforcement of regulations concerning certain bankers, better care for our veterans, a better job of preventing opium from Afghanistan into our nation in the form of heroin, etc. etc.

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    1. There have to be data on this point, but some work is needed to dig them out

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  7. I think it is important to note that the epistemic status of climate science is on firmer footing than that of many of the other disciplines being brought to bear on the topic, most notably but not limited to economics.

    The epistemics of rhetoric, political science, etc. are also not on firm footing.

    The relationship between science and engineering, a constant theme of mine, is somewhat papered over in the above. You can't argue with a working iPhone, though I suppose you can believe that it is magic if it suits your world view and you don't work in the electronics business.

    Indeed, if you actually look at how pre-digital color television was made compatible with black and white television on the existing frequencies and standards, it rather was sort of magical, (actually just astonishingly brilliant) but that's an episode that is going to be forgotten soon.

    I think engineering IS different from science, though perhaps not as different as rhetoric is. I have a pretty good idea where earth sciences fall. I would very much like to know where on this spectrum. from engineering as purely heuristic to rhetoric as purely subjective, economics lies.

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    1. The distinction (or rather the confusion) between science and engineering is a core component of the problem described in the article linked to in the OP.

      There aren't really two sciences. Science #1 is basically engineering and is about the application of scientific knowledge to exercise better control over nature. This sits very well with people raised within cultures rooted in the Abrahamic religions (and especially the Western European branches of those) for obvious reasons.

      Science #2 is about understanding how the world works. Few people have any interest in that.

      There is also an evolutionary psychology aspect to this (evolutionary psychology is often practiced as a pseudoscience, but there are good reasons to think there is some truth to what I am about to say). Understanding how the world works is very good for our long-term inclusive fitness - we are headed towards premature extinction because of our failure to collectively pay attention to the already existing body of knowledge on the subject (note that by saying that I do not mean near-term, imminent extinction). However, in the short term it is a lot more beneficial for the individual to invest time and energy into science #1 (which for most people is limited to using it) - all that stuff about epistemology and thinking scientifically about the world only diverts time and resources away from the more immediate goal of maximizing one's perceived inclusive fitness in the here and now, so most people don't do that (you know how kids tend to lose whatever interest they had in science once they hit puberty). Unfortunately, evolution has selected for short-term thinking and it's mechanisms are also acting in the short-term. The end result is that it's pretty much impossible to substantially improve the situation at this point.

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    2. I agree on engineering being different from science, but more in the sense using science to Create/build new artifacts and machines, plus the fact that any machine or program also requires its own coherency, so is also a piece of "science" in itself.
      More over these days it is even more intertwined, through the measurement or experimental apparatus that science requires especially

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    3. Good comment Georgi. Humans have evolved to be tool-makers and that's what they do, like the RNA before them, and in them. A few enzymes here, a few cars and machine guns there. Throw in some ATP, some gasoline, gunpowder and we've got us a real overshoot party. They'll go over the cliff before they know what hit them, still trying to engineer their way out of catastrophe because they can't stand to look at the real guts of the systems, like avoiding frog dissection or the realization that they're a sack of cells. Anyway the Seneca Cliff awaits. See you went to MIT. My dad graduated in Architecture from there many years ago. Hope your studies are going well.

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    4. Michael, I believe that there exists a continuum that goes from "hard" sciences (say, physics) all the way to "iffy" sciences, economics, social science, and the like. As we move from hard to iffy, the decision-taking process changes. At one extreme, politics, there is no way to arrive to a consensus just by debating over it. Have you ever seen a political debate ending with one side acknowledging that the other side was right and they were wrong? So the only way to take a political decision is to force it in some way, otherwise nothing ever would be done. Democracy is one method: we may call it the dictatorship of the majority. There are other kinds of dictatorship - some are rather nasty but, in general, the decision taking system is a mix of various consensus building methods.

      The point I think is fundamental here is that we can't hope to build up the necessary societal consensus to act on climate change by using the "hard" epistemic methods. One of the reasons is because the ugly effects of climate change cannot be demonstrated in the same way as - say - the law of gravity can be demonstrated by dropping an apple from a height. So, consensus can be obtained only by utilizing other kinds of consensus building methods - within some limits; this is not pure politics, but in part it is.

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  8. Two point on that:

    Politics are a clear demostration of Dunning Krüger effect.

    Second: Physics are not subject to politics. No human laws can alter gravity. Sooner or later, that shows up in our society. Plundering the planet, peak oil, and the actual situation of economy is a clear example of the later.

    So, the result can be one, and only one.

    Politicians and corporate executives have the virtual believe that they have the power. But this is only a virtual reality. Physical reality is claiming its own power.

    Guess who will win.

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  9. If your visiting troll bollixes up the discussion with rhetorical nonsense, NAPALM the living sh*t out of him. :) Then axe any responses he makes to your Napalm.

    Forget the graphs and forget the tables. Insinuate he's a closet homosexual and communist with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. :)

    RE

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    1. Can be done, of course. But in the example I cited, the blog of the Italian Society of Chemistry, the moderator didn't have the kind of complete control of the discussion that would have allowed him to do that. So, he got involved in the flame and it was much too late when he understood what was going on.

      On a more general viewpoint, deniers are human beings, too. And I think it is not justified to napalm them, even if just in a metaphorical sense.

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    2. I agree with you, Dr Bardi. Completely. Your attitude was pounded into me by my parents, in my religion training, both regularly refreshed by church and more by my wife. However, I backslide far too often.

      My son has, too. Worse than at a party going downhill. He told me of an obnoxious executive at a company who was demanding an immediate decision on a matter requiring extensive testing. Told it was not possible, he slammed his fist on the table, shouting "Make it possible!" My son unfortunately responded, "Oh, I can get you results, not only faster but far cheaper. I will just flip a coin. The results will be every bit as valid." All present laughed hard and long. But the end result was not good for sales contract durability. Never mind that the obnoxious executive was fired within less than a year.

      We should practice virtue for its own sake. Strangely, it is generally the more beneficial course anyway.

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  10. Dear Mister Hugo Bardi,

    I have been looking into energy-related issues since I once found the Oil Drum website, in 2007, but I have always opted for not participating in the discussion as there where people like yourself much more experienced and knowledgeable in such topics. Since then I have become interested in topics such as the ones yourself usually comment here in your blog (resource depletion, worldwide dynamic modeling,etc..)
    I was once also truly convinced that man-made global warming was a reality. However, as I grew as a scientist, I started to realize that the most important aspect of a scientist is always to distrust the reports and rather look into the data. Yourself seem to be a very intelligent person and scientist and this is why I don't understand why someone with your expertise would doubt the official report from IPCC when one starts to look into the data. Yourself, better than I, know how often articles published in top journal have errors (either been from data interpretation, fabrication or just incompetence), and you have experience in first hand, when presenting serious topic to the EU deputies, how politics controls the current policies.
    So, please don't take this as an offensive comment either your reputation or professional experience, but as scientist we must also look into the data. Sometimes it is difficult as some issues are overly techincal (almost ethereal) but in this case I do not believe to be the case. One good example of critical data is displayed in the following post (from an author that probably you would know): http://euanmearns.com/nasa-satellite-climatology-data/.
    I hope you take my suggestion into consideration, as sometimes I also think that it is not easy to discard our own beliefs when confronting with new data, but that is also the most rewarding of experiences as a scientist: when one is able to grow beyond what once believed.
    Please take care and continue to post about these trouble but exciting times.

    Best regards,
    Rui Cruz

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    1. The above is another interesting case of epistemic approach to climate science. It has a veneer of "science" lingering over it, but if you examine it carefully, you see that it is a curiously warped kind of science. For instance, what does it mean that one should "distrust the reports and look into the data"? Mr. Cruz seems to be convinced that the scientists who write the IPCC reports disregard the data in order to support their political views.

      On this point, he cites incorrectly my report on the decision process at the European Parliament in Brussels. There, I saw MEPs being badly disinformed on the subject of fossil fuels, but the disinformers were not climate scientists; they were not even scientists! So, we are back to what I was saying in my report; it is a different kind, more political, kind of epistemological approach.

      About the author cited, Mr. Mearns, I know him and his work on climate, and the latter is not without merit. However, Mr. Mearn's knowledge of climate science is rather superficial and his criticism of the standard interpretation is limited to minor points. For instance, he has been criticizing the way past temperature records are obtained from ice sampling methods. It is a legitimate criticism, but it doesn't affect the core of climate science. And then, unfortunately, Mr. Mearns badly falls for pseudo-arguments such as "there was no warming for the past 18 years". Of course, first of all it is not true, then even if it were it would change nothing to a phenomenon which had been ongoing for more than a century, with several apparent pauses which were just temporary. So, we have another example of "epistemological contamination" of the debate - people discussing while thinking that they are speaking the same language, while they are not.

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  11. I like David's story up top of the party that was going downhill anyway.

    It seems to me that Climate Science makes the mistake of flying in the face of the dominant religion of Progress (whatever its practitioners attempts at rhetoric al obeisance). I mean, for example, techno-industry is self-limiting by implication!

    It is probably not surprising the powerful head of an industry had the necessary skills to put-down a small crowd of disaffected staff muttering at the back of his Works Canteen. He must have been dealing with this kind of thing all his successful life.

    We do tend to believe people (within current religious boundaries) rather than their logic, which is one reason perhaps why comedy and tragedy are reliably related theatre.

    But some Big Science still knows how to do the faith-based monument building. I read in Science today that India - Lord help them - is building a super-size special design neutrino collector. We are looking to pin down the hierarchies of neutrino masses. “But no matter what happens, insists Mondal, India will win. ‘Just having a big science project will get young people excited about science’.” And he was able to convince worried local villages with PR and job promises, having previously deferred an earlier choice of location to the Tiger (environmental reserve boundary regulations).
    best
    Phil

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    1. am sorry about the facetiousness of my comment above. It is not really very funny.

      I think what I was trying to say was that ‘we’, scientists, including climate scientists, are very much part of the same society that is, in a phrase I have come across, “intent on having our Planet and eating it”. The vast majority I guess would think it preposterous to imagine closing down the airline industry, for instance, in favour of a more stable future carbon and hydrological cycles, let alone think it necessary in order in the next decades to make preparation to provide healthy food and water for the world’s children in a severely resource-constrained world?

      For a preposterous science project, though, I think it is hard to beat this extraordinary faith-based ‘puff’ (h/tip to Matt).
      ““We don’t know where we are going to get our energy from in the second half of this century, and if we don’t get fusion working we are going to be really stuck,” he says. “We have to make [Iter] work. It’s not just because I work in it that I think that: it has to work and all this effort of thousands of people all the way round the world is to make sure that in 2100 you can flick a switch on the wall and have electricity.”
      http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/25/iter-nuclear-fusion-cadarache-international-thermonuclear-experimental-reactor-steven-cowley

      best
      Phil

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  12. Hugo - you don't mention the pretty basic factor that scientists shouldn't need to debate their findings with uneducated ideolagically motivated persons. They do so only because our politicians are, for the most part, too timid and cynical to enter the debate, being either suborned or fooled into thinking that it is more than a minority of the public that dispute the findings.

    Next, you say that the deniers are people, but don't say how you know that. As Joe Romm exposed some years ago, 'virtual persona' programs are available to promote selected viewpoints across the web's comment sections. The Obama govt was documented soliciting for such programs for use in Afghanistan. - God knows how much of the Arab Spring and the uprisings in Libya, Syria and Ukraine were catalyzed by deployment of such programs. Since they are available and in use I see no reason to suppose they are not applied by agencies of the US govt seeking to delay popular demand for action on climate.

    The goal of managers of both the astro turf denier and the virtual persona denier is surely worth considering carefully. Numerous motivations can be surmised: demoralising activists, wasting their time, discouraging scientists from interfacing with the public, discouraging the public from commenting on climate sites, erecting a false image for the public of the prevalence of deniers across the society, etc. But in my view there is one motivation very rarely evidenced - a sincere attempt to persuade people that AGW is a myth (the standard arguments used are far too crude and vulnerable to refutaion) - and one motivation that seems almost universal: the wish to maintain the focus on whether or not AGW is real, dangerous, mitigable, etc, and thereby to preclude rational impartial discussion of the extent of the predicament we face and thus the responses that are commensurate with it. For this latter reason I have no hesitation at all in recommending all sites addressing the climate issue climate to exclude obvious trolls on sight.

    Regards,

    Lewis

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    1. We have a clash of epistemologies, now what do we do about it? As a tactical matter, if the debate was strictly about climate, I would react exactly as you have suggested: exclude the trolls, and refuse to participate in discussions that fail to do this. Individually, trolls may in fact be misguided humans (or astroturf personas, or evil persons); we can't take the time to try to resolve each case individually. Strategically, we still have the problem of how to combat this. Galileo had a similar problem with the Inquisition. I would draw attention to the general tactics involved, as in this blog, and note that it is being practiced in many disciplines other than climate change: tobacco, evolution, and medicine. Plantpositive.com calls these people "confusionists." -- Keith Akers

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    2. Lewis, you make an interesting point. Do "paid trolls" exist? That is, are there people trolling the internet to spread disinformation in exchange for money? (This is not the same thing as "astroturfing" which exists and is well documented).

      Here, it is very difficult to state anything with certainty. I can only say if climate trolls exist, they have to be recruited, trained, and deployed by the PTBs. But, in order to recruit trols you must somehow advertise for the job you are offering. And these ads would surely be discreet, but should be detectable. I tried hard to find evidence for such a recruiting process, but I found none. That doesn't mean that paid climate trolls do not exist; but I think they are not commonplace. Maybe they played a more important role in political upheavals such as the Arab Spring, but that's a different matter.

      Another element that makes me doubt about the existence of climate trolls is that they do not fit with the mindset of the PTBs. In a military analogy, consensus building is created today by methods equivalent to carpet bombing. Trolling, instead, is the equivalent of guerrilla tactics. And the PTBs are not into guerrilla warfare, they can practice carpet bombing and they do.



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    3. Lewis refers us to documented facts - and obviously there is much we do not know about criminality on the net and its recruitment.

      Here is a thought about your point, Ugo, about PTB and strategic campaigns by governments and other coalitions of the willing making use of 'guerrilla tactics'. Assassination has been and is a common tool. The Americans used or incited it very commonly across the cold war and made a great propaganda commotion when the USSR (less frequently) did the same. I think we can also consider the ruthless use of drones nowadays. Goodness alone knows, as Lewis has said, about 'color revolutions', Victoria Nuland and other ' interventions.

      Large industrial scale PR strategic campaigns have also been commonplace. I witnessed close up 'non-secret' large sums of money and resources going into 'public education' in USA through a nationwide network of 'opinion makers' to win over the American public to genetic modification of crops. It was a very successful campaign and managed somehow to avoid any worries of Christians about interfering with God's handiwork. The same strategic interest failed in Europe (so far). I remember pointing out to a molecular biologist at then ICI, later Zeneca that I would take his moans about government not doing enough for them to promote adoption of his technology, if British industrial interests started to lay down the sort of money that their American counterparts had done.

      Coming back to Climate Science - somebody financed and recruited the hackers of ‘climate gate’, University of East Anglia, 2009. I think it is fair to assume this was not a lone ‘bed-sit’ hacker trawled his way through the historical data base to find any useful items and then launched a very successful character assassination?

      best
      Phil

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    4. Well, consensus building is like a military campaign and has the same objectives. Let's say that the hackers of "climategate" and those engaged in character assassination are the equivalent of special forces; they are NOT guerrillas. They are trained, specialized, and (I figure) well paid specialists who create havoc in the back of the enemy lines. Again, if you have this kind of troops available, it makes no sense to resort to lowly guerrilla troopers storming the comments of a small blog such as this one.

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    5. Thanks Ugo - points taken.
      I will adjust my definitions!
      Question in my mind still, is Eric144 (above) human or is he a very sophisticated device deployed at almost zero marginal cost targetting any small blog of interest?
      But I see already it is time to move on. Smile
      best
      Phil

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  13. We have had an outbreak of measles in California due to vaccine deniers. One of the themes from this outbreak is that anyone can do research the Internet and become a self-professed expert on anything -- all based on bad science. The Internet has the ability to educate, but also to amplify and give credibility to ideologist, snake oil salesman and charlatans.

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  14. "A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don't, then they tend to deny the problem even exists."

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141106132313.htm

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  15. It has taken me a while to formulate this hypothesis and I might be wrong, but it has occurred to me that the situation with climate deniers of today is very similar to the situation with slave holders in the South prior to the Civil War. While the Civil War was not started for the abolition of slavery, that was its outcome. For the plantation owners it wasn’t the moral issue regarding slavery, but economics. And not just the economics of labor costs. If, instead of owning the salves, they had paid the people, rented them the cabins, sold them their clothes, and sold them their food, their labor cost probably would have been the same. However – and this is the real issue – they would have lost a huge amount of their assets. If you had 100 slaves each worth $1,000, upon freeing them your loss was not just their “free” labor, but $100,000 worth of assets. That would be an asset you could have borrowed against or sell off if in need of cash. This might be the primary reason the South was economically depressed for decades after the war.

    For climate deniers today, it is not the immediate cost of mitigation the economy would face, but rather the long-term implications of what is being exposed: a complete loss of assets due to forced wide-spread lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, 150 years ago it took a destructive civil war with a huge loss of life to settle the issue. I suspect that is what we are ultimately facing with this issue.

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  16. This is a reason why climate change and peak everything have to be addressed together. Most of the climate message presumes we could still keep doing business as usual for decades to come, but including depletion into the equation makes it clear this is not possible. instead, the debate should be how we use what is left (for relocalization or more warfare, etc). But this also implies that we've reached the limits to growth on a finite planet, which even the climate groups are hesitant to mention. Recognizing peak(ed) energy could mitigate some of the climate denial, but depletion denial is far more popular than pretending digging up a hundred million years worth of stored energy is supposedly not changing the thin film of the atmosphere.

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  17. If you are interested in the epistemology of climate sceptics & many mainstream climate scientists, I urge you to read my PhD thesis which you can find here: climatepragmatism.wordpress.com. Both camps have a very similar idea of epistemology, but the scpetics are much more rigorous in their practical implementation. Of course there's much more to it, but read for yourself.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)