Sunday, 1 February 2015

Joining the ranks of those smeared by Luboŝ Motl

Through an interaction on the Physics Stack Exchange, I got the honour of a blog post by Luboŝ Motl.  I had never heard of the guy, but I have since realised he is somewhat known.  He has articles about him on Rationalwiki, Wikipedia, Skeptical Science, and Sourcewatch.  Long ago he wrote a clever paper on string theory.  Harvard was impressed and took him in, but he didn't stay there.

His personal attack puts me in good company:

I read he occasionally has the tendency to remove replies, so I am adding a copy of my replies to his post here.

My first reply to his post:

Hello there! Thank you for this amusing post. I feel honoured that you went to check out my (15 year old) home page and my (not so old) PhD thesis for discussion material. At least you're not misquoting me in that part, like you do where you attribute particular scientific views to me in your first paragraphs.

I didn't realise until now that I didn't get my PhD thesis for scientific contributions, but for my political activism. That's why I had to show my socialist party membership card at my defence, of course¹! And somehow I must have misunderstood my colleague scientists whenever we were discussing politics over coffee or lunch. Clearly we all agreed, for if politics are not approved by the Party, Greenpeace, Ted Kaczynski, and the pleasant postgenderists of Deep Green Resistance, one will never get succesfully passed the panel during a PhD defence.

And oh, the crime of linking to other people's work in the introduction of my thesis! "A bogus ecological paper" (better known as the 4th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indeed compiles a vast body of science attributing climate change to human activities. I do apologise for not replicating all this science, but being a parrot and accepting the main conclusions as they are. After all, citing other papers implies the inability to think critically and independently. By the way, did you use "ecological" as an insult here?

And clearly, modelling the climate is very simple. More uniform surface temperatures, less extreme precipitation. That's why we don't see intense rainfall in the tropics, because temperatures are relatively constant there. Clearly, a more uniform global temperature means we can finally use those classroom models with an isothermal atmosphere. Great! See also

I look forward to our next focussed discussion on elements of physics of the climate system. Perhaps you would like to contribute to the Earth Science Stack Exchange <>? It might be contaminated by "dishonest left-wing extremists" already, join before it's too late!

best regards,
Gerrit Holl.

¹One friend who did his PhD in southern Germany had to declare he had never been a member of the Communist Party, in order to get admitted as a PhD candidate. I guess this university cannot possibly produce climate scientists?

To this, Motl replied:

The problem isn't that someone who is a communist or a socialist or environmentalist activist or another crap like this gets a PhD in a scientific discipline.

The problem is that PhDs in your discipline are being distributed for these political attitudes - which also means that no one *else* can get it.

That's why your degree is just a joke and I certainly don't recognize it.

I was going to let this one slide, but then a friend asked him to back up this claim with evidence.  After some back and forth he ended up replying with an essay by the well-known anthropogenic global warming denier Lindzen (Wikipedia).  That was his first contribution that did not contain any personal attacks — and Lindzen is somewhat more polite than Motl (who is personally acknowledged in Lindzens essay), so I decided to post my opinion on Lindzens essay:

Thank you for the reference. Indeed an interesting article, which I would call a mixture of a personal essay and a collection of anecdotes. I have read the main part, but not the appendices. Some comments.

Firstly, the main allegation that you cite from it (that climate scientists are hired for their political allegation) is not supported by statistical evidence. Statisticas evidence which would be a statistically representative survey of political preferences by climate scientists, compared to political preferences by other scientists, and by the general public. Then one could calculate the statistical significance of the difference. Instead, Lindzens paper rather cites a few examples of climate scientists who are also active in the environmental movement. It automatically assumes that they then got their scientific position because of their environmental activism. It does not address at least two other possible explanations: (1) They became environmentally active because of their scientific findings, or (2) They chose to research climate science because they were worried about the environment. The paper ignores climate scientists who hold conservative points of view — personally, I know quite a few of those, but I have not made a study out of it.

Lindzen also claims that "corrections" (to models or measurements) are always in the desired direction. His evidence, again, does not hold up. He presents a number of _examples_ where indeed, there was a correction in the direction he describes. He ignores the fact that there are also many examples where data were corrected in the opposite direction. Again, evidence for such a claim would require a representative sample of all climate science, to establish statistical significance. A collection of anecdotes (sometimes referred to as "cherry-picking") illustrates only that such corrections exist (and he does admit that those are "probably legitimate corrections"), not that they prevail over other corrections.

Then he cites his experience that his papers are criticised. This is true, but hardly evidence for his claims that "attempts to deal with the science of climate change objectively have been largely forced to conceal such truths". It shows that his papers are controversial (note that I am /not/ claiming that it shows that his papers are wrong. I'm personally an observer. I might contribute to work affecting the historical satellite data record. In either direction.). If a paper is controversial, I find it reasonable to expect others to read not only the original paper, but also the responses and the replies to the responses. Whether it's Lindzen, Svensmark, or one of the other scientists who posits that substantial evidence for (anthropogenic) global warming remains to be seen.

P.S. It might make for a more pleasant discussion if the tone of your contributions had the same civility as the tone of Lindzens contributions.

I know I've wasted too much time on this already, but the more I find out about Luboš Motl, the more proud I am to be honoured on his blog ;-)

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