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Prospiracy Theories

[Title from this unrelated story or this unrelated essay]

Last week I wrote about how conspiracy theories spread so much faster on Facebook than debunkings of those same theories. A few commenters chimed in to say that of course this was true, the conspiracy theories had evolved into an almost-perfect form for exploiting cognitive biases and the pressures of social media. Debunkings and true beliefs couldn’t copy that process, so they were losing out.

This sounded like a challenge, so here you go:

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261 Responses to Prospiracy Theories

  1. Acedia says:

    Brilliant. I don’t know how to describe the Boomer meme aesthetic in words but it’s always instantly recognizable when you see it.

    • DawnPaladin says:

      Pretty enough that people can tell you’ve put effort into it, but not pretty enough that someone might accuse you of being a professional.

    • Winja says:

      Due to the extensive use of Microsoft Paint and Powerpoint, I’d dub it something like “MS Verite.”

    • greymatterpimp says:

      Adjacent, though not necessarily identical to chart brut

  2. phoniel says:

    Have any of your aunts ever told you that you’re such a sweet Jewish boy with such a lovely sense of humor?

  3. OptimalSolver says:

    If really was born in Kenya, where’s his birth certificate?

    Here you go

    *Not my work.

  4. Ashley Yakeley says:

    Jews control Israel! A shadowy Jewish organisation known as KNESSET has ultimate control of all aspects of the country.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You’ve probably seen it already, but https://imgur.com/gallery/pWyXCZl

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I wonder if I could get away with making my new hobby “Captain Obvious statements in a conspiratorial tone.”

      “Guys, I think Israel is controlled by Jews.
      “I think Pope Francis is head of a shadowy ancient organization.
      “Pork is made by killing pigs.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        There is none so blind as he who cannot see.

      • James Miller says:

        “Things are exactly as they appear to be, and behind them is nothing!”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Barack Obama fathered a black child!

      • Basil Elton says:

        “Smallpox is driven to the extinction by vaccines”
        “Russia is actually controlled by a KGB agent!”
        “What if the so-called ‘Crew’ Dragon recently launched by SpaceX in fact carried no crew, just a dummy in spacesuit?”

        • ex-KGB agent, I think.

          • alex.mazur says:

            There is no such thing as an ex-KGB agent.

          • Aapje says:

            The KGB no longer exists, so it would be difficult for him to still be an agent.

            Perhaps you mean to argue that he still works for the FSB and/or SVR RF, but this seems unlikely, given that he is in charge. So he gives orders, rather than taking them.

          • Viliam says:

            “There is no such thing as an ex-KGB agent” means that once you are part of the system, you have contacts to other people in the system, you owe them favors, they owe you favors, you could blackmail them, they could blackmail you, etc. Most of that remains even after you officially retire.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t see how anyone can blackmail Putin without ending up quite dead.

            Putin himself could easily blackmail other people even if he never worked for the KGB, given that he is now in charge of the FSB and SVR RF. You don’t need informal contacts when you have formal power.

            For favors, something similar is true. Any person with the kind of (dictatorial) powers that Putin has can give way more favors due to the powers he gets from his presidency, than from his KGB past.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Yes, but what people is he most likely to think fondly of (i.e. those you give favors to)?

            Ex-coworkers. Especially those who have dirt on him but never indicate in any way that they’d even think of using that dirt against him. Those people are trustworthy buddies who deserve favors.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see how anyone can blackmail Putin without ending up quite dead.

            Anybody who isn’t Russian(*) should be able to pull that off. Putin may on occasion have his thugs murder Russian citizens in foreign countries, but targeted assassination of foreign citizens in their own countries is literal act-of-war territory and so not worth the risk even without the bit where if you assassinate the blackmailer, his lawyer just opens up the safety deposit box with the blackmail files and hands them out to the press.

            It’s quite likely that blackmailing Putin would be ineffective, on account of he can just say “Why yes, that is a film of me raping and murdering young boys for fun. Anyone got a problem with that?” and get on with business. But it should at least be a survivable experience, if you do it as a not-Russian and are careful to never set foot in Russia.

            * Or a citizen of one of Russia’s client states.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            The scenario was that an (ex-)KGB colleague would try to blackmail him. Such a person is unlikely to be a (native-born) American.

            Russia has shown little restraint in going after Russians who fled Russia and are considered traitors, like Skripal, Berezovsky, Litvinenko and perhaps Rozhetskin.

            Note that Litvinenko became a British citizen and Rozhetskin an American citizen. Yet both died nevertheless.

            Putin was fairly explicit, saying: “Traitors always end badly. Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me, these people betrayed their friends, their brothers-in-arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them.”

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Vladimir Putin is linked to RUSSIA and COLLUDES with the RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT!

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Jews control Israel, but they don’t agree with each other, so it’s complicated.

      • Ashley Yakeley says:

        That would certainly explain the structure of KNESSET. Though apparently a few non-Jews have infiltrated it.

  5. Matthias says:

    I thought the Queen was German, and not an ordinary British woman. Her family even exchanges Christmas presents on December 24.

    • pozorvlak says:

      Kinda, but her family have been here a while. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were born in the UK; her great-great grandfather, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was born in what is now Germany, but her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, was born in London. Victoria’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all also born in the UK, but her great-great grandfather (Elizabeth’s great^6-grandfather), King George II, was born in Hanover. The “British monarchs are really German” meme was originally an accusation against the Hanoverians (George II and his descendents), many of whom were unpopular; also, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha changed their name to the House of Windsor during WW1, because even though they were pretty darn British by that stage it was still awkward for them to have a German name.

      Elizabeth II’s mother, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, was Extremely British.

      • pozorvlak says:

        > the Hanoverians (George II and his descendents)

        I of course meant George I, who was born in Hanover in modern-day Germany, and whose mother was descended from the Scottish House of Stuart. His son, George II, was also born in Hanover, thirty years before George I became King of Great Britain following the death of his second cousin Queen Anne (the Queen played by Olivia Colman in The Favourite). Both George I and George II faced rebellions from Jacobites, who wanted to replace them with Catholic members of the House of Stuart (Catholics had been barred from holding the throne by the Act of Settlement 1701).

      • Don P. says:

        And, semi-independently, her husband’s name/house, Mountbatten, was changed from Battenberg.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Eh, there’s a reason it’s called “England”. As German territories go, Anglia is next door to Hanover, and the Saxons were actual inhabitants of what became northern Hanover.

    • Peter says:

      Only in so far as we’re all German, well, most of us English people anyway. There was more than 800 years between Harold II and Edward VII, but our monarchy is Saxon again, just like it was before 1066. Things have truly come full circle.

    • ordogaud says:

      Maybe not German exactly, but it’s certainly a bit too far to call her ordinary given the level of selective intermarriage of the royal aristocrat class over the centuries. More like 50% ordinary 50% reptilian.

  6. Sortale says:

    Permission to disseminate these on as many platforms as possible?

  7. Clutzy says:

    I mean, this is a well known thing.

    Look at the Covington situation. If there are any tweets that remain non-deleted, you will see an initial one about the evils of the taunting boys will have 10x+ the impressions of a retraction from the same source. Why?

    Media is not a truth seeking mechanism, it probably never has been. Rather, the truth seeking mechanism is adversarial courts.

  8. tentor says:

    *whose name was also Wehrner von Braun*

    I lol’ed so hard. You out-xkcd’ed xkcd.

    • Robin says:

      I love the way he’s spelled “Werner” (the most common spelling) or “Wehrner” although his true name was “Wernher”. But hey, “Wehrner” looks suspiciously like “Wehrmacht”, the name of the Nazi Army!

    • Simulated Knave says:

      Call him a Nazi, he won’t even frown. Nazi-schmazi says Werner von Braun.

  9. Deiseach says:

    “Would there be riots? Protest? Revolution?”

    The answer to this is “No” because even though a lot of people over the years have pointed out the “why are we paying these rich people out of the public purse” thing, for the greater public (1) the monarchy is mostly symbolic, has no real power (though it does have wealth), and is looked upon as a combination of ‘tourists love this stuff’ and real-life soap opera (just look – or rather, don’t – at all the stupid tabloid bait about FEUD between Kate and Meghan! Meghan is going to raise her kid gender-neutral! and so on and interminably on) (2) they already did the ‘riots, protest, revolution’ thing when they cut off Charles I’s head, but the Cromwellian Commonwealth was so depressing that as soon as Ollie kicked the bucket, they invited the King of Bling to return and have never looked back (3) when they don’t like kings, they simply change them – see the Glorious Revolution (4) the Royals are canny enough to pander to the public when necessary; the reason why she’s Elizabeth Windsor is because they changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha because of the whole “oops we’re fighting the Germans in the First World War” public sentiment.

    • DragonMilk says:

      I thought the Queen actually has plenty of power that she simply chooses not to exercise as a practical matter?

      • Lambert says:

        The practical matter is that if she chose to exercise it, it would immediately be taken away from her.

        I think the closest thing to QEII exercising her powers against the will of the Government was the Australian Constitutional Crisis of ’75.

      • Deiseach says:

        Look at the history of it, DragonMilk.

        Charles I: *exercises power*
        The People: Yeah, we don’t like how you’re doing that, gonna chop off your head

        James II: *exercises power*
        The People: Yeah, we don’t like how you’re doing that, gonna overthrow you and replace you with your son-in-law

        Victoria: *barely exercises power after death of her husband*
        The People: Yeah, we don’t like how you’re doing that, we demand you come out and reign publicly or, y’know, we might quite fancy a republic like what the French are setting up

        Technically, the monarch has ultimate power. In practice, it’s very carefully limited by Parliament and the various officers of the government. Carry out ceremonial duties, act as a national figurehead and symbolic focus of unity, and don’t express any strong opinions on public matters out loud where the public can hear them is what is expected nowadays.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I think the last time a British monarch actually exercised political power in Britain was around 1910, when George V resolved a stand-off between Lloyd George’s Liberal government and the majority-Conservative House of Lords (largely over the “People’s Budget” which laid the foundations of the British welfare state).

          The version I was taught at school was somewhat simplified, but it basically boils down to Lloyd George asking the King to create a large number of new Liberal peers to give him a majority in the Lords to pass the Parliament Act (which removed the ability of the Lords to veto legislation). The King refused to do so until Lloyd George called and won a second election- which he did, although the Lords then passed the Parliament Act without being packed.

          • aethelred says:

            Close. H.H. Asquith was PM; Lloyd George as chancellor of the exchequer was responsible for the budget (including the land tax that was the sticking point). The two biggest public faces of the Liberals (at least as regards limiting the power of the Lords re money bills) in the Jan 1910 election were indeed Lloyd George and as it turns out Churchill (Asquith was more involved in the complex negotiations that led to the December 1910 election and thence the Parliament Act of 1911). Also, according to Le Wik (which is generally not bad on facts in this area, and I’m away from my dead trees) the original commitment to Asquith to create peers as needed was made by Edwd VII, as the whole kerfuffle took a couple of years to resolve, but Geo V was in place by the time of the second dissolution.

      • Protagoras says:

        British government relies more on tradition and less on explicit rules than the U.S. government; there is no British constitution, for example, though some acts of Parliament are treated as having near constitutional status. As Deiseach notes, the Glorious Revolution established the precedent that if Parliament is seriously annoyed, they can remove the monarch and put in a new one; while it hasn’t gotten much use since, the general shift in power to Parliament means that precedent has nonetheless become ever more firmly established over time and these days nobody questions it in the slightest. During the Reform Crisis, William IV faced overwhelming resistance when he tried to appoint a prime minister opposed by Parliament, and eventually gave in; again, without any actual new law, it has become essentially binding precedent that monarchs just aren’t allowed to do that any more. Various other precedents have similarly eliminated most of the theoretical powers that have not been officially removed by acts of Parliament, and of course the most important precedent, quite overwhelmingly established, is that if Parliament ever does get around to passing an act formally taking away one of the monarch’s powers, they do in fact have the authority to do that.

        • Lambert says:

          My favourite part of this tradition is where the house of commons slams a door in the face of Black Rod when s/he comes to let them know the Queen’s here. Just so everyone knows where they stand.

      • Galle says:

        It’s complicated. According to the actual laws of the United Kingdom, the Queen has quite a bit of power, but she obeys the norm where she doesn’t use it, and in exchange, Parliament obeys the norm where they don’t abolish the monarchy.

    • Jiro says:

      The way I heard it is that the royal family owns several historic buildings and, since they own them, need to pay for the upkeep and taxes on them. If the monarchy was abolished, the palace and such would be owned by the government who would have to pay those costs, and as a result the royal family is a net positive to the country financially.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I don’t think that’s right. The UK pays the royal family tens of millions of pounds annually in something called the “Sovereign Grant.”

        • Tarpitz says:

          Yes, but on the other hand the government receives the income generated by the Crown’s holdings.

          • Cabbage says:

            Yeah. It’s remarkably rich to take the entirety of someone’s income, then hand a tiny fraction of it back to them for them that is far less than an ultra high-salaried normal taxpayer gets to keep of their income, and then condemn them as parasites for taking government handouts.

            I swivelled overnight from an abolitionist to pro-monarchy when I realised that this was how it works.

          • Aapje says:

            Did the Queen or her ancestors actually work in the mines or such to earn those Crown’s holdings, or were they handed to the monarch and/or gotten through taxation?

            If the latter, I would argue that these holdings were never the legitimate individual property of the person who happens to be the British monarch, but rather the property of the office, which means that in the olden days, this property was primarily supposed to be used to exercise the duties of office, not for personal pleasure.

            When transitioning to a more democratic system with the monarch as a symbolic head of state and the duties being transferred largely or entirely to democratically elected politicians, I would argue that the latter then ought to have control over these properties*, so they can exercise their duties to the people, using the means that were intended to make that possible.

            * Although the monarch still has duties, for which the means should be provided by the democratically elected politicians, including the usufruct of certain property.

  10. eric23 says:

    Not my idea, but I think the point of conspiracy theories is to feel superior to other people by knowing something they don’t know (to compensate for the inferiority these people in other aspects of life). The moment it becomes obvious that the “conspiracy theory” is believed by everyone, it instantly loses its attraction to the conspiracy theorist.

    • onyomi says:

      I think there exists what I might call a “contrarian personality type.” I have it. Basically, it’s a strong willingness to believe the received wisdom about x is wrong, because knowing something most people don’t know makes you feel special. It seems there should be some actual benefit: especially in the age of the stock market, uncommon knowledge is genuinely more valuable than common knowledge (conditional on it actually being true, of course).

      I am aware of my tendency to do this and try to compensate by defaulting to agnosticism on and/or acceptance of expert opinion in areas where I don’t know much, like nutrition. For example, there is a big correlation, I’ve noticed, between people with political persuasions similar to my own and people who are really into paleo, “keto,” or “carnivore” diets. I think a lot of it is contrarianism-fueled.

      The exception is politically charged topics like global warming. I am less trusting of experts in areas with big political ramifications because I assume there’s much more reason for bias. But I also try to resist the temptation to believe the opposite of what the experts think. I try instead to just be truly agnostic. Global warming is probably especially annoying to me, because I get the sense that the ratio of people with a strong opinion on it to those who have a good reason to have a strong opinion on it is especially bad. At the same time, if everyone who isn’t an “expert” says “I don’t know” then that may amount to the same thing as just supporting whatever the experts say and all the problems that come with being governed by the faculty of Harvard, so I’m not sure there’s an easy solution.

      • Aapje says:

        Interestingly, I think that I’m a contrarian in the sense that I like talking about things that are heterodox, but I’m still quite skeptical of heterodoxy (although not so much due to social conformance, which seems to be a major motivator for most people, but due to small c conservatism).

        So I think that we need to distinguish between openness to heterodoxy and interest in heterodoxy.

        • onyomi says:

          Well, I’d like to think I’m merely more willing than average to entertain a wide range of ideas, not that I’m more likely to believe an idea just because it is heterodox, but I do have to admit to liking the feeling I’ve somehow understood something most do not, which might tempt me to believe I’ve found special knowledge more often than is really likely. I try to balance it out by thinking “how likely is it that I’m right and a whole lot of people who’ve spent more time on the problem than I have are wrong?” With non-politically charged issues the answer is generally “very unlikely,” but with politically charged issues it becomes a lot more likely (plus, almost by definition, if an issue is politically charged there will be people on both sides of the question who have spent a lot more time researching it than I have).

          • Aapje says:

            I try to balance it out by thinking “how likely is it that I’m right and a whole lot of people who’ve spent more time on the problem than I have are wrong?”

            A lot of my heterodoxy puts me on the side of those who have spent a lot of time on the actual problem and opposed to people who breeze past that step to focus on their preferred political solution and/or those who start with dogma and then ‘discover’ that reality matches their dogma.

            Mainstream orthodoxy doesn’t seem dominated by people who have deeply thought about issues, but much more by those who are guided by intuition and ‘guidance’ by intellectual authorities. Note that politicians are rarely intellectual authorities, but political authorities, which is far from the same.

            Fortunately, intuition and ‘guidance’ by authorities is not the worst guide & it is often (eventually) influenced by intellectual authorities (although usually a simplification & distortion of their beliefs).

            At the very least you can ‘beat the market’ by not falling for this simplification & distortion, if you are smarter than average and thus capable of entertaining a truth that is more complex.

            IMO, you should stick close to proper scientific research and preferably be able to explain what mistake the orthodox make.

            Take my beliefs about female sexual abuse of men. My opinion diverges from the mainstream in that I believe the CDC when they find high levels of male victims of female perpetrators, when they expanded their research to actually investigate this. The CDC is the leading national public health institute of the United States (and thus in the world). Most other research explicitly excludes female perpetrators by only looking at penetration (which women are unlikely to do, given the common absence of a penis) or by excluding male victims explicitly. The mainstream misinterprets this research into penetrative sexual abuse or female victimization as being research into all sexual abuse or victimization. This leads them to conclude that female abuse of men is very uncommon, based on misinterpretation (in part caused by bias) of the scientific evidence.

            So my actual disagreement on the facts is actually rather small, as I don’t necessarily reject the findings of many of the studies that my opponents base their ideas on, but their misinterpretation of those findings (and the too limited hypotheses of these studies). Of course, this misinterpretation does have enormous consequences, so when it comes to actual policy I am rather diametrically opposed, but that all comes from a single flaw that I corrected for, by actually recognizing what the studies show, rather than what they claim to or are interpreted to show.

            Furthermore, my explanation of why people are prone to make this mistake is based on a completely orthodox belief (‘benevolent’ sexism), which is theoretically rejected by my opponents, but in reality is often not (in part due to tribal reasons).

          • @Aapje:

            Along similar lines, in the climate context.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        The exception is politically charged topics like global warming. I am less trusting of experts in areas with big political ramifications because I assume there’s much more reason for bias. But I also try to resist the temptation to believe the opposite of what the experts think. I try instead to just be truly agnostic. Global warming is probably especially annoying to me, because I get the sense that the ratio of people with a strong opinion on it to those who have a good reason to have a strong opinion on it is especially bad.

        Being agnostic on this topic is very reasonable. On the one hand you have tons of credentialed experts sounding the alarm. But on the other hand they have been ringing the alarm for years (at least since I was a kid in the 80s), we have passed the “point of no return” several times with no obvious consequences, there is always “just 2 years left to save the planet”, and all these experts derive an enormous amount of status from governments, and the proposed solution of taxing everything seems to line up quite well with what governments would want to do anyways.

        I dont know what the solution is either, but I’m convinced that part of the solution is insisting that those sounding the alarm adhere to well established norms of the scientific method, eg, make a prediction, if it fails revise your hypothesis; computer models are not evidence and hindcasting does not validate your model; if someone presents a contrary argument do not accuse them of being in the pay of big oil and threaten jail time for “climate deniers”, …

        • meltedcheesefondue says:

          >make a prediction, if it fails revise your hypothesis

          Er, as far as I can tell, this is exactly what is happening constantly with global warming predictions.

          At a very informal level, the prediction of global warming is “the world will get hotter”, and we get the confirmation in the various “16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred since 2000” or slight variants on that (the different ways of measuring temperature agree closely but not perfectly).

          I haven’t really looked into the details of the old predictions and the temperature evidence; would you be willing to make a bet out of it if we did it together? (I’m confident the old predictions will be over-confident, because they almost always are, but I’m also confident that the old predictions got the direction of change right, and not too far off their error bars).

          >if someone presents a contrary argument do not accuse them of being in the pay of big oil and threaten jail time for “climate deniers”

          Seeing how doctors talk about homeopaths and vaccine deniers, I don’t think we can conclude anything about accuracy, based on how the ingroup treats the outgroup. “suppressing inconvenient counter-arguments by the power of prestige” and “telling the unconvinceable and wrong idiots to just shut up for once” look the same from the outside.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            At a very informal level, the prediction of global warming is “the world will get hotter”, and we get the confirmation in the various “16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred since 2000” or slight variants on that (the different ways of measuring temperature agree closely but not perfectly).

            Considering that we are in a warming trend that started since the end of the LIA, I dont find that prediction to be particularly impressive. Also, the world is either warming or cooling. So at worst, they had a 50% chance of being correct by chance. But considering the long term trend, they had an even greater chance than that.

            Seeing how doctors talk about homeopaths and vaccine deniers, I don’t think we can conclude anything about accuracy, based on how the ingroup treats the outgroup. “suppressing inconvenient counter-arguments by the power of prestige” and “telling the unconvinceable and wrong idiots to just shut up for once” look the same from the outside.

            I agree completely. This behavior happens in all sorts of fields. I still feel more confidence towards someone who is willing to take on critics in good faith.

          • windy says:

            Ths is a pretty silly argument. Quantitative predictions are not 50/50, and temperatures in the last thousand years of proxies don’t go shooting off like hockey sticks willy-nilly.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Quantitative predictions are not 50/50, and temperatures in the last thousand years of proxies don’t go shooting off like hockey sticks willy-nilly.

            I was not addressing quantitative predictions, I was specifically addressing the prediction of “it’s getting generally warmer”.

            Proxies can filter out high frequency signals and the current temperatures aren’t shooting off like a hockey stick either.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @windy:

            If you can point me to quantitative predictions that have been shown to be correct that would be great.

            Thanks.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            I bet that you can’t research how temperature adjustment is calculated well enough to explain it to your satisfaction without doubting whether or not the X hottest years on record were after 2000.

          • eqdw says:

            TBH seeing how people talk about vaccine deniers has driven me to have a strong feeling of skepticism about vaccines, and I sometimes I have to remind myself explicitly that this is science that I know and understand!

          • Eponymous says:

            @jermo

            Looks like climate models have done pretty well.

            How’s the predictive record of the skeptics?

          • but I’m also confident that the old predictions got the direction of change right, and not too far off their error bars).

            I summarized the evidence for the first few IPCC predictions here. My conclusion:

            So if we judge IPCC reports by comparing what they said the average increase would be over the period from 1990 to the present with what it actually was, we find that the first report predicted a rate about three times what actually happened. The second report got it a little high. The third report got it substantially high. For both the first and third, the actual value was below the bottom of the predicted range of values.

          • and temperatures in the last thousand years of proxies don’t go shooting off like hockey sticks willy-nilly.

            That’s tricky, because proxies mostly don’t give high resolution results, making it hard to be sure whether there have been brief periods of rapid change.

            One exception is the use of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, and they do show temperature change faster than the current (1911 to present) warming.

            My understanding—someone who has followed the controversy more closely is welcome to contradict me—is that Mann’s “trick” consisted of drawing the hockey stick graph with proxies for the early period and instrumental data for the recent period, obscuring the fact that if you carried the proxy data up to the present it didn’t show the observed sharp rise. That’s evidence not that the rise didn’t happen but that his proxies were not able to show it.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            My understanding—someone who has followed the controversy more closely is welcome to contradict me—is that Mann’s “trick” consisted of drawing the hockey stick graph with proxies for the early period and instrumental data for the recent period, obscuring the fact that if you carried the proxy data up to the present it didn’t show the observed sharp rise. That’s evidence not that the rise didn’t happen but that his proxies were not able to show it.

            That’s my understanding of the trick as well. I would say it’s evidence of alot more than just that. I would say it’s evidence that Mann is not a very good statistician. I’m no statistician but it seems to me that splicing real world data with proxy data when the proxy data for a critical period is “counter-narrative” to be negligent in the extreme. If this can be defended on any level, I would love to hear it because try as might to steelman it, I cant find an angle.

            It’s also evidence that the proxy data might have missed earlier warming episodes. Or in other words, that the proxy data is not as reliable as one might expect.

          • David Speyer says:

            I’ve been trying to figure out how David Friedman’s post and Eponymous’s Carbon Brief link can be consistent. To keep this post manageable length, I’ll concentrate on the just the 1990 IPCC report. The IPCC normalizes things at 1970 = 0, which has the effect that they have error bars on their beliefs about 1990. I am gong to compare IPCC’s low estimate for 1990 to their low prediction for 2010, their middle estimate for 1990 to their middle prediction, etc. That strikes me as more reasonable, but if someone wants to make a case for subtracting the low estimate from the high prediction, go ahead. (I use 2010 because David F. wrote his post in 2014 and 20 years is a round number.)

            IPCC estimate of low growth is (0.42-0.08)/(2 decades) = 0.17; medium growth is (0.66-0.18)/(2 decades) = 0.24; high growth is (1.00-0.33)/(2 decades) = 0.33 .

            The executive summary David quotes as “during the next century … 0.3°C per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2°C to 0.5°C).” Presumably, the greater range is because the summary refers to a longer period of time, and the IPCC expects temperature rise to accelerate in the later part of that century. David F. argues that “the graph shown for the increase is close to a straight line” so we should be able to apply those numbers over a 20 year period. I’m not sure which graph he is looking at, but it seems better to me to actually look at the IPCC’s prediction for 1990-2010, not to divide their 1990-2090 prediction by 5.

            What actually happened is harder to calculate, because temperature jumps up and down in the range of 0.1-0.2 degrees per year. The responsible thing to do would be for me to copy type the 10 years of data into Mathematica and get a best fit line. Being lazy, I’ll just compare two low years — 1992 and 2008, and two high years — 1990 and 2005. The first gives (0.37-0.07)/(1.5 decade) = 0.20, the second gives (0.56-0.27)/1.6 = 0.18 . I’m pretty happy saying that line has a slope of roughly 0.2. That’s a good match for IPCC’s lower bound, either from the executive summary or measured from the graph.

            David says that the correct slope for what actually happened is 0.1 and links to a NASA graph which does, indeed, show a best fit line of 0.1 over the 1950 – 2010 time frame. NASA is one of the data sets in the Carbon Brief graph (and all the Carbon Brief graphs are very close together). I tried to eyeball whether it was actually the same data set and I think the answer is yes, but it’s hard to say. I find it hard to even eyeball whether the NASA data is concave up or down.

            It looks to me like the main discrepancy is what time interval we average over. Working over IPCC’s estimate for 1990-2010, and with weather data for the same years, we get that the data matches the lower bound. If we take the estimate over 1990-2090 and the weather over 1950-2010, we get that the data is 1/3 the lower bound — but we would expect estimates for later times to be too large for data for earlier times, if the curve is concave up.

            To me, “IPCC’s 1990 lower bound was about right” seems like a better summary than “three times what actually happened”. However, I learned from this that (1) we are only hitting the lower bound on the 1990 report, not the upper and (2) most of the projected growth is from upward concavity in the future, not simple linear growth, so models of feedback are very important here.

            Disclaimer — I have no relevant expertise, it just bothers me when two people see different things in the same numbers.

          • Doesntliketocomment says:

            Too much “eyeballing” in these comments. I plugged in numbers from here: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2019

            Starting at 1990 we get a temperature change of roughly 0.018°C/year. Starting from 1970, which seems to be an inflection point in the graph, there is a change of of roughly 0.017°C/year. Both of these are within the bounds of the second, third and fourth reports, and below the first.

            That’s really all I want to say about that, because I am one of the people that as @DavidFriedman predicts in a later post have given up. I was optimistic 20 years ago that given an easily predictable and extremely negative consequence of our technology humankind could recognize and avoid it, but we obviously won’t change and it’s likely too late to avoid the worst of it.

          • Eponymous says:

            @David Speyer

            Thanks for looking into this. I’m not an expert, so I don’t have too much to add without digging into the data myself, which I don’t have time for at the moment. However, two quick comments:

            (1) David Friedman’s blog post was written in 2014. This was at the very end of the “pause”, when the mismatch between model predictions and data was greatest. 2015 – 2018 are the hottest years ever [ETA: in the instrumental record I mean] by a good margin, especially 2016. So it’s quite possible that in 2014 a trend fit to the data would lie below the 95% confidence interval, while if you draw a trend through 2017 (as in the link I gave) you end up well into the CI.

            (2) When comparing models, it’s useful to distinguish between forcing and sensitivity. In other words, a forecast makes two assumptions: how much CO2 (and other GHGs) will be added to the atmosphere, and how much temperature increases as a result. Only the latter is really the output of a “climate model”, while the former depends on economic and political factors. Thus I think climate models should be judged by their implied climate sensitivity, not their predictions about temperature per se. I don’t know whether this improves or worsens model fit; it’s just a strictly better methodology.

            p.s. you can get at the raw data here.

          • Eponymous says:

            @David Friedman & Jermo Sapiens

            My understanding is that (1) the proxies Mann used didn’t extend to the most recent years, and (2) subsequent research has generally supported the conclusions of the “hockey stick” diagram, i.e. that recent temperatures are higher than at any time over the past X years, for X={400, 1k, 2k) with varying but reasonable degrees of confidence.

            These are approximate statements from memory, and from a biased source, so might not stand up to scrutiny. I can look up references later for you if you like.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            My understanding is that (1) the proxies Mann used didn’t extend to the most recent years, and (2) subsequent research has generally supported the conclusions of the “hockey stick” diagram, i.e. that recent temperatures are higher than at any time over the past X years, for X={400, 1k, 2k) with varying but reasonable degrees of confidence.

            The hockey stick graph shows relatively flat temperatures for the past 1000 years or so, and then start shooting straight up very recently. It’s a very shocking graph in its implications. You can see it here.

            The fact that the current years are the warmest in the instrumental record, whether or not its true, does not validate the hockey stick graph at all. For that you would need to show that the widely recognized medieval warm period and following little ice age did not occur.

          • Eponymous says:

            @jermo

            I’m confused by your comment. I didn’t claim that recent temperature readings confirm the hockey stick graph (and yes, I’m familiar with it). I said that subsequent work on past climate reconstructions have generally confirmed the findings of Mann and his coauthors, i.e. that recent warming is unprecedented in recent history.

            Incidentally, the original hockey stick diagram did not extend to the medieval warm period, since they didn’t have good enough proxy data from before 1400.

          • Eponymous says:

            For reference, the original paper is here. Their 1999 paper is here.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @Eponymous:

            Sorry I misunderstood your comment.

            Where can I see a confirmation of Mann’s hockey stick?

          • Eponymous says:

            Here is a recent paper on historical reconstruction of temperatures since 1AD from proxy data.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @Eponymous: Thanks

          • but we obviously won’t change and it’s likely too late to avoid the worst of it.

            Have you thought about my main argument, which isn’t about IPCC temperature predictions? In most of my discussions of climate I accept them and look at their implications—and conclude that it is not clear the net effect is negative, and there is little reason to expect it to be catastrophically negative.

            My post on IPCC predictions was a result of seeing some people online claim that they had clearly been accurate, others that they had clearly been inaccurate, and trying to see whether I could produce an answer for myself. One conclusion was that the first report was badly off, the other was that they were consistently projecting high, consistently enough to make it very unlikely that it was just due to random error.

            That fits with the point I have made several times on my blog about Nordhaus. As best I can tell, a simple working out of his model gives small negative effects from climate change

            this approach is taken because of the finding of the first-generation studies that the impacts on market sectors are likely to be relatively limited.

            He then looks for negative effects he might be leaving out and tweaks the model accordingly, which makes the results look worse. Having done that, he still ends up with conclusions much less alarmist than the popular account.

            For anyone curious, this link gives you all my blog posts mentioning Nordhaus.

            Overall, my view is that both the climate projections and the estimates of their implications for humans have a lot of uncertainty in them. The existing pressures, ideological and professional, are towards making judgement calls in ways that make the effects more negative. That result is then amplified in the public discussion by further incentives, both ideological and professional—doomsday makes a better story than a wet firecracker.

            Note that, by Nordhaus’ estimate, the net cost of limiting warming to 1.5° is about fourteen trillion dollars larger than the net costs of doing nothing at all, and Al Gore’s proposal of a 90% emissions cut is more than twenty trillion dollars worse than doing nothing. The result of an optimal carbon tax, in contrast, is about three trillion better than doing nothing. (From DICE 2007, results summarized here)

            Given that he got the Nobel for his work on this issue, it is difficult to claim that the expert opinion fits the catastrophist account.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I dont know what the solution is either, but I’m convinced that part of the solution is insisting that those sounding the alarm adhere to well established norms of the scientific method, eg, make a prediction

          The predictions are still decades out for the most serious effects.

          The prediction that we would generally warm has already occurred.

          Planetary science doesn’t move at the age of humans. Even for human caused events.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            As mentioned above, the prediction that we would generally warm is not particularly convincing.

            Planetary science doesn’t move at the age of humans. Even for human caused events.

            This is in stark contrast to the claim made by many alarmists. Not the greatest example, but the one that I have in my head right now is Bill Nye, saying the reason we know what we are experiencing is man-made warming and not natural variability, is the speed of warming. In my view this is not supported by the data, other than Michael Mann’s hockey stick, which to my understanding has been widely discredited.

            So my point is, if your meaningful predictions are for decades into the future, and you’re asking to completely restructure our society, it’s quite natural to be agnostic, even if many experts agree.

          • windy says:

            What makes you think the hockey stick has been discredited? Genuine question. I should add that I’m looking for evidence that the temperature trend is wrong, not that someone did something with their data that may seem fishy to some people.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            What makes you think the hockey stick has been discredited? Genuine question. I should add that I’m looking for evidence that the temperature trend is wrong, not that someone did something with their data that may seem fishy to some people.

            The work of Steve McIntyre. You can read more here. I dont get your caveat. If the trend is based on incorrect manipulation of data, it’s wrong.

          • windy says:

            I guess my caveat is that, if one person did something fishy, you still need to check all their math before you can say that they came to the wrong conclusion. Nobody usually does this because you can win the argument by saying “fishy data.” And then you are left with a blank space on a map which you fill with your priors. I don’t know for sure if that applies to this case and I don’t have the time to litigate it, so I was hoping for some (claimed) dispositive analysis.

            Thank you for the link; I’ll take a look (though I probably won’t respond one way or the other).

          • deciusbrutus says:

            Did you mean to link here? 404 on your link.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @deciusbrutus

            Thanks for catching that. I fixed the link in the above comment.

        • noyann says:

          “point of no return” several times with no obvious consequences

          point of no return != point of arrival
          Think of a fired bullet.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Yes, I understand the concept of a point of no return. And there is supposed to be only one. Do you dispute that the “point of no return” has been used over and over for the last 20 years? If we were to take alarmists at their word from 2000, we passed the point of no return in 2002. If we were to take alarmists at their word from 2002, we passed the point of no return in 2004. And so on, and it continues today.

            At one point it starts to look like a scare tactic more than an actual warning.

          • windy says:

            Technically speaking, we pass a point of no return for a new warming target more or less constantly. But harrassing people with these kinds of claims doesn’t engender any sympathy, and I agree that the worst offenders won’t tell you that the difference between 1.5 degrees and 1.6 degrees of warming won’t be catastrophic. That being said, I do think the truly significant point of no return is yet to come, though perhaps not for a while.

          • noyann says:

            @jermo
            Do you dispute that the “point of no return” has been used over and over for the last 20 years?
            I question only the demand that the consequences have to be obvious not too long after passing a PONR. The early passed points would have been about small temperature increases, i.e., weak signals.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I question only the demand that the consequences have to be obvious not too long after passing a PONR.

            That’s a fair point.

            There should be a website to easily view all the PONR information on global warming. It could be called ponrhub.

            (Apologies to all sensible people)

          • The fact that we have passed what someone insisted was the point of no return and catastrophe has not yet arrived doesn’t mean he was wrong, since the point of no return is only the point after which eventual catastrophe can no longer be prevented.

            But the fact that someone said a date in the past was the point of no return and, well after that date passed, continued urging policies to hold down global warming is pretty good evidence that the original claim was a lie, since if he believed it he would have given up on preventing the catastrophe. At that point, the logical thing to do is either to take actions so survive the catastrophe—diking the coastline, for instance—or “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow (we all) die.”

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            That is not true if they believe the same as windy (that there is a threshold, whereafter we enter the land of no return, where any higher emissions than the lowest possible will lock in a worse outcome).

            Imagine sitting in a boat with a hole below the waterline and no equipment to repair it. You can bail out water, but not as fast as the water gets in. If you bail at maximum effort, the boat will sink in 24 hours. So once that hole got made, you entered the land of no return where you are guaranteed to sink (with no outside help) and can only choose how fast.

            If you choose to not bail out water for some time or don’t expend maximum effort, you will pass many new points of no return until you start bailing out water at maximum effort again. If you stopped bailing water for a certain number of minutes and then resumed, you might then have cut an hour off your float time.

            Suppose that you activated a one-directional emergency beacon and thus expect help, but have no idea how long it will take (and thus whether it will arrive in time). If the outside help will actually arrive after 12 hours, then that is your actual point of no return when it comes to survival, but you have no idea that this is the case. So from your limited perspective, you have a choice between expending effort and increasing the chance of rescue, not to guarantee safety by aiming for a bit over 12 hours of float time.

            Similarly, a person who keeps warning about new points of no return may hope for technological breakthroughs, but will be in the dark whether the breakthroughs will come and how much global warming those breakthroughs can solve. And/or, they can believe that it is not a binary question of survival, but of increasing damage.

            Now, I agree with windy that the optics of such statements are bad, but that is in part because people have difficulty coping with this level of nuance.

          • fion says:

            I think windy’s point can’t be stressed enough. There are multiple points of no return, because there are multiple places to which we could return.

            We have not yet passed the point of no return for the collapse of human civilisation, and unless positive feedback loops turn out to be worse than we expect, we won’t pass it for a while.

            But there’s a good chance we’ve passed the point of no return for coral, or for various fish stocks, or for the Alpine glaciers. “Catastrophe” isn’t a binary variable.

          • Now, I agree with windy that the optics of such statements are bad, but that is in part because people have difficulty coping with this level of nuance.

            The statements in question are generally made without nuance. The whole point of doomsday rhetoric is to present one side of the line as white, the other as black, leaving no room for arguments about tradeoffs between costs and benefits.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Another thing with points of no return is that we’ve had various tools in our arsenal for reducing climate change or global warming, but those various tools have various side effects.

            We’ve long since passed the point where planting more trees would solve the issue. Planting trees has few issues.

            Aerosols can probably ameliorate warming, but they have pretty bad side effects.

            Likewise other solutions.

        • windy says:

          I guess I am a little galled by the suggestion that agnosticism on global warming is a reasonable position. It seems that all of the characteristics you mention line up perfectly with the fact that environmentalism is generally championed by the (American) left rather than the right. I just find it kind of daft that that signal should overwhelm the fact that global warming is something you can reason about by reading books about physics and doing the calculations yourself. Not to tell you that you will necessarily get the right, or thr “right,” answer, but it’s better than listening to a 100 million leftists and screaming back “no!” Or, to be fair, “maybe not!”

          Also it seems daft to me that public opinion should supersede scientific opinion as a source of genuine information about what to believe. But I am definitely biased on that count. Last weekend, I visited a top atmospheric sciences program (one of which Harvard is NOT), and a background question in everyone’s mind was “how is the atmospheric forcing due to CO2 going to affect X?” They are trying to do pure science that no one in the public sphere will ever hear about, and their background assumptions about global warming are the canonical ones. These aren’t big-shot Ivy Leaguers; if you’re not in the atmospheric science community, you’ve never heard of them and never will.

          Moreover, a large fraction of their projects have nothing to do with global warming. Some are even counterindications to “current dogma.” The most excited I saw any of them was when a professor told me he had reason to believe that natural arctic sea ice variability may be much higher than previously thought. His masters student had already defended her thesis on the subject and he seemed to think it would be a high impact paper in one of those status-awarding prestigious journals. And that he would, in so many words, get status for it. Go figure.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I guess I am a little galled by the suggestion that agnosticism on global warming is a reasonable position. It seems that all of the characteristics you mention line up perfectly with the fact that environmentalism is generally championed by the (American) left rather than the right. I just find it kind of daft that that signal should overwhelm the fact that global warming is something you can reason about by reading books about physics and doing the calculations yourself. Not to tell you that you will necessarily get the right, or thr “right,” answer, but it’s better than listening to a 100 million leftists and screaming back “no!” Or, to be fair, “maybe not!”

            The kind of behavior used to champion global warming alarmism sets off my BS detector in overdrive. This is not daft, this is a visceral reaction like the one I get from a used car salesman telling me he’s got the deal of a lifetime. I do have more sophisticated scientific reasons for doubting global warming alarm, but my point here was just the fact that we’ve had many predictions of “in 5 years [some GW-related catastrophe]” and none of these have borne out, and that should test your faith a little.

          • windy says:

            At the risk of claiming no true Scotsman, I don’t think I’ve seen a believable claim from the scientific establishment of serious catastrophe in 5 years due to global warming. AFAIK the most well-understood catastrophic effects of global warming are drought in the subtropics and sea level rise, which we are seeing much-less-than-catastrophic intimations of. In the political sphere, I agree this is pretty terrible and people should stop making those claims, but I was saying that you shouldn’t let a visceral reaction to these people shape your own impressions.

            I will say that it really pisses me off when people say things like “Hurricane Michael was caused by global warming.” The recent nytimes article about the Alabama tornado didn’t mention global warming at all (great!) and the comment section was filled with people complaining that the article left it out, which I found pretty upsetting.

          • Joshua Hedlund says:

            > we’ve had many predictions of “in 5 years [some GW-related catastrophe]” and none of these have borne out, and that should test your faith a little.

            As someone who used to be a skeptic and now cautious leans the other way, I’m curious to see some examples of the predictions you’re thinking of and who made them. Ex. Were these predictions from scientists, or from the media, or from the media alarmingly reporting as certainty an upper range of a cautious prediction without nuance, etc?

            (For instance, I wonder if you’re thinking of arctic sea ice, where there were some breathless predictions that the arctic could be ice free in 5 years after a record low year, though without much scientific evidence to support such a claim. That didn’t happen, of course, but overall decline has been consistent by decade, allegedly at a faster rate than initially predicted by more supported data. Generally what I see are longer-term predictions, and what generally shifted my views was the continuing evidence of the long-term trends that failed to manifest the skeptics’ invariable claims of coming cyclical change.)

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I don’t think I’ve seen a believable claim from the scientific establishment of serious catastrophe in 5 years due to global warming. AFAIK the most well-understood catastrophic effects of global warming are drought in the subtropics and sea level rise, which we are seeing much-less-than-catastrophic intimations of. In the political sphere, I agree this is pretty terrible and people should stop making those claims, but I was saying that you shouldn’t let a visceral reaction to these people shape your own impressions.

            For better or worse, I am exposed to these claims and presumably, the journalists writing the headlines spoke to somebody in the scientific establishment before hand. My point is that these claims set off my BS detector. I yield to no one in my contempt for journalists, but I dont think they write these kinds of things without at least some support from the scientific world.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I just find it kind of daft that that signal should overwhelm the fact that global warming is something you can reason about by reading books about physics and doing the calculations yourself.

            To be clear, I dont dispute the absorption spectrum of CO2, nor do I dispute that increased CO2 increases forcing (important to note that the relationship is logarithmic though). By doing the calculations myself, I assume you mean calculating the increase in forcing from a doubling of CO2, and then assuming the increase in forcing is linearly correlated to an increase in temperatures.

            To me it is the last part of that calculation that is most suspect. I dont believe it has been established that temperature is proportional to forcing. If I am way off, please correct me. It sure seems intuitive that temperature should be proportional to forcing, and probably in a simple system it is. But the earth’s climate is not a simple system, it is a chaotic non-linear system. Even the IPCC says so.

            The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.

            source
            (sorry the main page is gone only the archive lives on)

            Obviously if the earth was to change it’s orbit to be 1/2 the current distance to the sun, this would have a massive impact on our climate due to increased forcing. But there is no reason to expect that the relatively small changes in forcing due to CO2 doubling be reflected linearly in comparatively small temperature changes. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, but one that doesnt seem to be supported by data like Vostok ice cores where temperature changes lead CO2 changes by a few 100 years, due to ocean outgassing.

          • SEE says:

            I just find it kind of daft that that signal should overwhelm the fact that global warming is something you can reason about by reading books about physics and doing the calculations yourself.

            Every time someone brings up “physics” on the issue, I roll my eyes.

            The knowledgeable people who call themselves “skeptics” and “lukewarmists”, and are attacked as “deniers” know the physics. It is absolutely true and accepted by the knowledgeable people on both sides that every time you redouble the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the physics of carbon dioxide applied to mean solar flux would, everything else staying the same, cause a temperature increase of around 1°C.

            Yet you’ll notice that the “consensus” estimate, first put forth in the National Academy of Sciences report in 1979 and repeated in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th IPCC reports is not 1°C per doubling of the concentration of carbon dioxide, but between 1.5°C and 4.5°C. Which is to say, more than the physics of carbon dioxide and sunlight justifies.

            Because, of course, the physics of carbon dioxide don’t say anything clear about secondary (and tertiary, etc.) effects of that warming in a system as complicated as the Earth, and whether they will be positive or negative feedbacks to warming. For a single simple example, more heat means more water vapor. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, but clouds increase planetary albedo and thus reflect more light back to space without turning it into infrared that can be trapped by greenhouse gasses. With current levels of water vapor in the atmosphere, would the greater feedback effect of more water vapor be positive by heat retention, or negative from increased albedo from increased cloud formation?

            Those are all the domain of speculative modeling, informed by historical studies. And as can be seen by the fact that the factor-of-three range of the “consensus” has not been narrowed in four decades of research, the empirical data over even a multi-decade timeline hasn’t done much to clear up how much warming you can expect .

            The difference between a knowledgeable skeptic and the knowledgeable mainstream currently is whether one believes a doubling will produce a warming of 0.5°C to 1.5°C (reflecting mild negative to mild positive feedback), or 1.5°C-4.5°C (reflecting mild to strong positive feedback). Both are completely consistent with the physics given the unknowns.

            And, well, the difference between 0.5°C and 4.5°C is huge. If the latter is true, a single doubling from the current 400 ppm to 800 ppm will have all sorts of major ecological impact. If the former is true, to get that level of impact would require nine doublings, from the current 400 ppm to 204,800 ppm, which would be incredibly hard to do intentionally. At 4.5°C, carbon emissions are an incipient disaster; at 0.5°C, they’re trivia.

            Thus the importance to the skeptic side of whether numbers are being fudged, whether out of simple unconscious confirmation bias, noble save-the-world impulses, or other reasons. Numbers that support a range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C per doubling are pretty fuzzy, and there only has to be a little bit of bias in interpretation of instrument data in favor of the four-decade consensus to get that range out of numbers that “really” support a range of 0.5°C to 3.5°C per doubling.

          • There is a good scientific argument for why we would expect increased CO2 to lead to warming, but the system is too complicated for a reliable prediction of the amount. Estimates of climate sensitivity vary over more than a factor of two, and are based on curve fitting, not theory.

            The effects of the warming are much less clear. Some are positive of uncertain magnitude, some are negative of uncertain magnitude, making the net value very uncertain.

            It’s worth noting that William Nordhaus, who got a Nobel for his work on the economics, makes much less alarmist predictions than most of what is public, despite the fact that his assumptions seem designed to produce a high estimate of costs (see here and here).

          • fion says:

            I dont think they write these kinds of things without at least some support from the scientific world

            The journalists definitely will have talked to a scientist or read a paper, but they’re very good at changing the message to what they want it to be.

            My father was once interviewed by a journalist for something much less hot-button than climate science (I believe it was something to do with occupational safety) and when he read the article he said that the journalist had presented exactly the opposite to what my father wished to convey. It’s very easy to get a quote from a climate scientist that you can mangle into prophecies of doom (and hence paper sales), even if the scientist’s statement was measured and unexciting.

          • Aapje says:

            @Fion

            Also, there is a strong incentive to pick experts that say interesting things over experts that say more correct, but unexciting things.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            +1 to everything SEE said.

            When I Shut Up and Multiply wrt climate change, I get something like:

            Understanding of the physics of how greenhouse gasses warm the atmosphere: .995 confidence.

            The complex climate models can reliably predict future effects of carbon forcing: .4 confidence.

            We understand enough about ecology to predict what will happen to environments and plant and animal life when the climate changes: .2 (ecology is really, really, really hard).

            We understand economics enough to predict the economic impact of ecological/climate change and the outcomes of actions we might take to mitigate it: .1 (an economist is someone who tells you today why they were wrong yesterday).

            So I multiply all that out and get a .00796. Which tells me I shouldn’t care about climate change. And if you want me to care about climate change, great, inform me as to why my confidence estimates need to go up.

          • arbitraryvalue says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            I don’t think that’s a correct application of confidence intervals. You can make that sort of hierarchy of increasingly low probabilities for anything at all; they’re technically correct but not relevant. For example, if you go into a warzone, you don’t know specifically who might shoot at you or where their bullet might strike you, but despite that, you still know with a high degree of certainty that going into a warzone is dangerous.

            Likewise, you don’t need to know exactly what the new climate will be in order to be reasonably sure that the climate will change significantly, and you don’t need to know exactly which species will go extinct to know that a changing climate will increase the rate of extinction.

          • windy says:

            Hi everyone. I think I may have unintentionally triggered a reflex with the “physics” comment. My point is not that you can derive a simple equation and plug some stuff in to figure out exactly how the forcing works. Clearly it’s not that easy. I meant that you can understand the arguments being made within the scientific community with just a little bit of knowledge in your back pocket and, crucially, that this is infinitely better than reasoning based on contrarianism. For example, it seems that people in this thread are doing the former, not the latter. People have already (at least tried to) shut up and multiplied(y), and though you probably couldn’t reproduce their work without a large background in atmospheric science, you don’t need so much to develop a well-informed opinion based on it (o
            ne way or the other).

            Edit: upon reading my first comment again, I realize that what I just wrote here is not really clear at all, so I apologize for not writing what I meant. As it reads above it’s definitely one of those obnoxious statements telling you to “dO yOuR oWn ReSeArCh” haha

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I meant that you can understand the arguments being made within the scientific community with just a little bit of knowledge in your back pocket and, crucially, that this is infinitely better than reasoning based on contrarianism.

            It would be really nice if you would re-read and respond to the comments by SEE, David Friedman and others that brought up real scientific points with more than a little bit of knowledge in their respective pockets, and not airily dismiss it as being triggered or mere reasoning by contrarianism.

          • I meant that you can understand the arguments being made within the scientific community with just a little bit of knowledge in your back pocket and, crucially, that this is infinitely better than reasoning based on contrarianism.

            Both faith in authorities and pure contrarianism are low cost ways of getting very low confidence results. Inclinations in both directions are also ways of deciding whether it is worth investing the time and energy to produce higher confidence results.

            If my default was strong faith in authorities, I might never have bothered to try to work out conclusions for myself on either population (forty-seven years ago) or climate. Since that isn’t my default, I tried to look at the arguments in each case, and in each case concluded that the orthodox position was much less strongly supported than generally claimed.

            In both cases I was starting with a much stronger background than most people have—physics, economics, some statistics. Absent that, and the time and energy to look carefully at the arguments, the best you can get is a low confidence result. The appropriate low confidence result for the contrarian is not “global warming is harmless, or nonexistent, or good” but “The current view that it is a very serious problem which requires drastic action is quite likely to be wrong.”

            Which might reasonably be described as agnosticism about global warming, the position Windy argues is not reasonable.

          • @Paul:
            Windy wrote:

            For example, it seems that people in this thread are doing the former, not the latter.

            I think that was conceding that people in this thread were not making the error he was criticizing.

            But I would be interested in seeing his response to some of my points. In particular, my claim that John Cook, who is not only the chief source of the 97% factoid but the proprietor of the most active alarmist web site, can be proved to have lied about his own work using only information that he and his coauthors webbed.

            That tells us nothing about climate but a good deal about the degree to which one should trust sources of information about climate. And, unlike most such controversies, it’s one where I believe that a little careful examination of the evidence gives an entirely clear result.

            If Windy wants to engage with my arguments more generally, my blog has a convenient search facility, and keywords such as “IPCC”, “warming”, and the like should find most of them.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Oh, phooey. I think you’re right, David; I mistakenly read the words “former” and “latter” in reverse order and ended up with the exact opposite interpretation of the comment.

            Sorry, windy…

        • pozorvlak says:

          But on the other hand they have been ringing the alarm for years (at least since I was a kid in the 80s)

          And global temperatures and high-impact weather events have continued to rise since then. The “point of no return” framing is unhelpful: climate change is not binary. We can always make things worse by adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and we can always make things less bad by adding fewer greenhouse gases (or by removing them). AIUI climate scientists prefer to talk about, eg, “the point of no return to prevent a 2C rise in global temperatures": this is more precise, but unless you're paying attention it's easy to miss the fact that the size of the rise they're talking about preventing keeps going up. For instance, we've definitely passed the point of no return to prevent a 1C rise over preindustrial temperatures, because it's already happened.

          make a prediction, if it fails revise your hypothesis; computer models are not evidence and hindcasting does not validate your model

          A computer model (or rather, the output of a computer model) is a prediction, albeit a very complicated one – but that should be unsurprising, since it’s describing a very complicated system. What’s your problem with hindcasting? ISTM hindcasting is a perfectly reasonable way to validate a model, though I agree that scientists could in principle fine-tune the model’s parameters until it successfully output the known answer. This would be especially problematic if the models were based on neural networks or some other highly-general mathematics (for which extrapolation would be basically meaningless), rather than on the physics of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere – IANACS, but I believe real climate models are based on (extremely detailed) physics. But fortunately (or perhaps I should say “unfortunately”), climate models have made successful predictions of events that were in the future at the time they were run. More here: pretty high-level, but includes lots of links for further reading.

          if someone presents a contrary argument do not accuse them of being in the pay of big oil and threaten jail time for “climate deniers”

          I think you’re suffering from the outgroup homogeneity effect here – the people calling for jail time for climate-change deniers are not the same people who build the climate models or write the IPCC reports. I had a quick Google just now, and while there certainly are people making such calls, they all seem to be activists or journalists rather than scientists. I’d welcome correction on this point if you can find a counterexample, though!

          • jermo sapiens says:

            What’s your problem with hindcasting? ISTM hindcasting is a perfectly reasonable way to validate a model, though I agree that scientists could in principle fine-tune the model’s parameters until it successfully output the known answer.

            A model needs to be able to reproduce the past. But this is often achieved by tweaking this or that parameter until a reasonable approximation of the past is output by the model. The real test though is predicting the future.

            So, you do need to hindcast, but it’s not sufficient. You cant say “my model reproduced the past” and then say “so we should trust what it says about the future”.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            This tweet, by Michael Mann, author of the “hockey stick graph”, seems to fit the bill.

          • Eponymous says:

            A model needs to be able to reproduce the past. But this is often achieved by tweaking this or that parameter until a reasonable approximation of the past is output by the model. The real test though is predicting the future.

            True, however it’s worth noting that, for a fairly parsimonious model, accurate hindcasting can be quite convincing by itself. Overfitting is less of a problem when you don’t have as many parameters to adjust.

          • But fortunately (or perhaps I should say “unfortunately”), climate models have made successful predictions of events that were in the future at the time they were run.

            And unsuccessful predictions–if you make enough predictions, some will be correct. If you look at the IPCC reports, each is giving the results for a whole bunch of different detailed models. I’ve already given the link to my attempt to compare the predictions of the first three IPCC reports to what happened thereafter.

            I agree with you, however, about the outgroup homogeneity effect. I made the point about six years ago.

          • Overfitting is less of a problem when you don’t have as many parameters to adjust.

            Correct.

            If climate models were tightly constrained, each IPCC report would show the output of only one model, perhaps with a range of parameters, most obviously the amount of CO2 put out. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

          • pozorvlak says:

            @jermo

            This tweet, by Michael Mann, author of the “hockey stick graph”, seems to fit the bill.

            That’s closer than I’d expected – thanks! But I think some caveats are in order:
            – he’s linking to someone else rather than using his own words – it’s clearly written as an endorsement, but it’s not clear how strong a one;
            – the article says “While it may be reasonable to be somewhat sceptical about climate change models, these untruths are not based upon reasonable scepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science.” So the author, Donald Brown (who I see is an “associate professor in environmental ethics, science and law at Penn State University” – not a climate scientist, but again, more “official” than I’d expected) is not talking about well-meaning skeptics like you, he’s calling for criminal penalties for those who deliberately spread disinformation about a probable existential risk. And honestly, that’s a behaviour we should disincentivise! I don’t know if crimes-against-humanity law is the right legal remedy, though: since AIUI the disinformation is mostly being sown by corporations, something that affects their incentives seems like a better fit.

            Sorry if I seem weaselly: I’m updating both in the direction of “calls for jail time, while not mainstream, are a less extreme position among climate scientists than I’d thought”, and in the direction of “actually, legal penalties for people and organizations who spread climate misinformation deliberately aren’t such a crazy idea”. I don’t know if that proves you right on this point or not 🙂 Anyway, I hope we’re at least shifting your position on the question of whether climate-change believers will engage with skeptics in good faith.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Sorry if I seem weaselly: I’m updating both in the direction of “calls for jail time, while not mainstream, are a less extreme position among climate scientists than I’d thought”, and in the direction of “actually, legal penalties for people and organizations who spread climate misinformation deliberately aren’t such a crazy idea”. I don’t know if that proves you right on this point or not 🙂 Anyway, I hope we’re at least shifting your position on the question of whether climate-change believers will engage with skeptics in good faith.

            Thanks. I know many climate change believers can engage with skeptics in good faith. Just in this comment section, I find the level of discussion to be respectful and honest, and I am very grateful for that. I also dont doubt that many scientists involved in the IPCC are respectful and honest. The problem, once again, is how the extremes are treated.

            As I mentioned in an earlier comment, if Mann tweets an endorsement of an article calling climate change denial a crime against humanity, and Occasio Cortez says the world is ending in 12 years so stop having children, neither is called out by the more reasonable faction. The reason is partly ingroup/outgroup dynamic, but there is another element at play.

            Republicans try really hard to gain respectability by calling racists racists (it doesnt work). But the moderate left is fearful of the extreme left. It’s almost like the extreme left has more status than the moderate left.

            And “actually, legal penalties for people and organizations who spread climate misinformation deliberately aren’t such a crazy idea” is equivalent to “jail climate deniers”. It’s criminalizing a difference of opinion, because “deliberately”, in practice, will not be considered. I hope I dont have to tell you how authoritarian and absolutely sickeningly fascist this kind of proposal is.

            I’m sure many on the global warming side are sick to death of Michael Mann and his proxy-data splicing “trick”, and his calls for criminalizing scientific disputes, but they are afraid to say it. Until they are not afraid to say it, the whole public debate is poisoned, and the only reasonable position for the layman is extreme skepticism.

          • he’s calling for criminal penalties for those who deliberately spread disinformation about a probable existential risk. And honestly, that’s a behaviour we should disincentivise!

            Does that apply in the other direction? According to Nordhaus’ 2007 DICE estimates, following Gore’s 90% reduction policy does about seven times as much damage as doing nothing at all. Holding warming down to 1.5° does about three times as much damage as doing nothing at all.

            Does it follow that Gore should be in jail?

            I think I have demonstrated pretty clearly that Cook lied in print about his own work. Should he be in jail?

            A policy of legal penalties for making dishonest arguments means that whoever dominates the process for doing so can shut up those who disagree with him.

          • And global temperatures and high-impact weather events have continued to rise since then.

            Global temperatures have continued to rise. Following your link, you will notice that they mainly consider those high-impact weather events that would be expected to rise with warming—hot summers, or drought increased by heat. They hedge their claims with regard to precipitation, where the effect of warming is unclear.

            And they say nothing at all about the extreme climate events that would be expected to decrease with global warming–very cold winters. It’s hard to see any good reason for that. There is an old Lancet article that tried to estimate excess mortality from both heat and cold, and concluded that the latter was nearly twenty times as large as the former.

            So a more correct claim would be “extreme climate events that would be expected to increase with warming have increased.”

        • if someone presents a contrary argument do not accuse them of being in the pay of big oil and threaten jail time for “climate deniers”, …

          I expect there are quite a lot of climate alarmists who act as you request. It’s just that as long as there are some who don’t, they will get attention. It’s hard to notice someone who isn’t saying something.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I expect there are quite a lot of climate alarmists who act as you request. It’s just that as long as there are some who don’t, they will get attention. It’s hard to notice someone who isn’t saying something.

            I dont doubt that you are correct. But it would be nice (and improve confidence in the good faith of the alarmists), if those who did call for jailing of deniers were called out publicly.

            When Occasio-Cortez says that the world will end in 12 years, or that people should not have children because of global warming, I dont see the reasonable side of the alarmists telling her that she is wrong and not helping.

            I know these are not scientific arguments. But these patterns are real and they support the view that, whether global warming alarm is warranted or not, governments (specially leftwing ones), love the idea of having a climate crisis and using the climate crisis to implement whatever they want to do anyways.

            “Never let a good crisis go to waste”
            -Rahm Emmanuel

            This confirms my view that the scientific debate around global warming is very politicized, that certain results will be welcome with open arms and boost your career, and other types of results will get you ostracized.

        • gkai says:

          Not easy to pinpoint skeptic prediction, there are many positions under the skeptic umbrella.
          Maybe this would be “prediction” most skeptic would agree to:
          1) business as usual will result in nothing unusually bad climate-wise (I used unusually bad instead of catastrophic, i feel people will vary less in what would qualify and it is less charged)
          2) proposed measures will not significantly affect the climate, but significantly affect society (economy, freedom, standard of living,…).

          1) is debatable, imho it is true
          2) is true

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Well put.

            I am quite confident in making the following prediction:

            1. Making fossil fuels significantly more expensive will harm the poor.

            2. Leonardo DiCaprio will lecture us from his private jet.

      • pozorvlak says:

        Relatedly, Eliezer has written about what he calls the Correct Contrarian Cluster. Not many people would agree with his choice of topics that belong in it, but that’s the fate of all contrarians, I guess.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        How do you make decisions like “Which climate is best, and what level of anthropgenic carbon emission targets that climate?” where lay people cannot answer the question at all, and experts refuse to?

        • Bugmaster says:

          Well, to be fair, I’d argue that any climate at all could be “best” for some specific group of people. However, in practice, sustained global warming (i.e., the kind we’re having now) will probably lead to the elimination of many coastal regions and reduced agricultural productivity of regions nearer to the equator — kind of like the Dust Bowl, writ large. Increased quantity of extreme weather effects, such as hurricanes, could also be a factor. At the same time, though, polar regions will become much more temperate.

          So, it all depends on where you live. Yes, overall, the global economy will take a noticeable downturn (due to the lack of food, reduction in land surface area, disaster recovery, etc). It won’t be the end of the world, of course — just a prolonged and sustained depression. But if you’re sitting somewhere in Siberia or Greenland, you’d get a much nicer climate, and your local economy could improve. And yes, lots of little islands will disappear off the map, but who cares about them, anyway, right ?

          • However, in practice, sustained global warming (i.e., the kind we’re having now) will probably lead to the elimination of many coastal regions

            The high end of the sea level rise on the high emissions scenario in the fifth IPCC report was about a meter by 2100. On average that shifts coastlines in by about a hundred meters. That’s inconvenient if you happen to live very close to the high tide mark, but it doesn’t eliminate many coastal regions.

            To put the point differently, we’re talking about an amount of rise less than the difference between high tide and low tide.

            If you want to get a feel for the scale of the effects, the Flood Maps page lets you set any level of SLR you want and see what is under or above sea level as a result. At one meter, the effects are very nearly invisible save in a few very low lying areas, such as the Nile Delta.

            As best I can do a very imprecise back of the envelope estimate, the increase in usable land from shifting temperature contours towards the poles is two to three orders of magnitude larger than the loss from SLR.

            One point a lot of people miss is that greenhouse warming is larger in cold times and places than in hot, due to the interaction with water vapor. That means that the pattern is biased in our favor, makes winters milder by more than it makes summers hotter, increases the temperature of Alaska and Siberia by more than it increases the temperature of Ecuador.

            Also, you omitted the most certain large effect, which is positive. Doubling CO2 increases the yield of C3 crops—most of the important ones other than maise and sugar cane—by about thirty percent, with a smaller increase for C4 crops. It also reduces water requirements.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            That’s an interesting discussion of the question. But I already knew the question was complex and hard to answer, and I was interested in a discussion of the answer.

        • MugaSofer says:

          This is sort of like pushing someone off a cliff because they won’t decide what height is best. Rapid change is inherently disruptive.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            Or like holding someone at a hypoxic altitude because they can’t tell you what altitude is best. Disruption isn’t inherently bad.

          • Rapid change is inherently disruptive. Sea level going up by a foot or two or even three a century, temperature going up by a degree or two or even three a century, is not rapid change.

      • thepatternmorecomplicated says:

        The exception is politically charged topics like global warming. I am less trusting of experts in areas with big political ramifications because I assume there’s much more reason for bias. But I also try to resist the temptation to believe the opposite of what the experts think. I try instead to just be truly agnostic.

        This is an extraordinarily exploitable heuristic. Political ramifications show up whenever anyone is studying anything that (a) suggests some course of action which (b) harms some group. And naturally the group in opposition is going to come up with reasons to doubt the evidence. If you default to agnostic in all politically controversial cases, you’re essentially committing to inaction whenever anyone cares enough to spread FUD – which is exactly the intended result.

        Closer to the object level: I’m pretty appalled by global warming ‘skepticism’ having such a strong presence on SSC. Individual evaluation of evidence has its place, but if your idea of epistemic rationality doesn’t include a strong tendency towards reliance on overwhelming scientific consensus in well-established fields, then you’re going to be avoidably wrong a hell of a lot.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I’m pretty appalled by global warming ‘skepticism’ having such a strong presence on SSC. Individual evaluation of evidence has its place, but if your idea of epistemic rationality doesn’t include a strong tendency towards reliance on overwhelming scientific consensus in well-established fields, then you’re going to be avoidably wrong a hell of a lot.

          What do you tend to do if the evidence suggests that that overwhelming scientific consensus has been misrepresented?

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            >What do you tend to do if the evidence suggests that that overwhelming scientific consensus has been misrepresented?

            Give up talking to the person who made that claim. The list of prominent scientific organisations that endorse human-caused global warming is long and covers many nations and incentives, while the list opposed is empty (see eg here).

            At that point it’s not a question of “suggesting” a “misrepresentation”. It’s global warming or a massive conspiracy; there’s no room for middle ground.

            Yes, I am arguing that the conspiracy theorists are more likely to be correct that the softer deniers.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            me:

            What do you tend to do if the evidence suggests that that overwhelming scientific consensus has been misrepresented?

            meltedcheesefondue:

            Give up talking to the person who made that claim. The list of prominent scientific organisations that endorse human-caused global warming is long and covers many nations and incentives, while the list opposed is empty.

            That’s just it. The scientific consensus, last I checked, is that the earth is getting warmer, and that human activity is a net warming factor, and that the magnitude of both, and the magnitude and even sign of the harm of both, is unknown. When I see people who deny this, I tend to be likewise inclined to give up talking to them. (Or rather, inclined to confirm whether this is the specific claim they are denying.)

            However, that consensus is often represented as being that global warming is catastrophically harmful to humanity, or as bearing significant risk of triggering a runaway greenhouse effect, consequently harmful to the entire biosphere. Or is represented as claiming several “points of no return”, as noted elsewhere in this thread, while being insufficiently clear about what we shall fail to return to, including the severity of said failure. It’s plausible to assume an incentive for skeptics to ignore the details of such points in order to strawman the warming argument, but significantly less plausible to assume that incentive on the part of that argument’s promoters.

            Are you denying that the scientific consensus is being misrepresented in this way? Because if so, I feel compelled to remind you of a major proposal circulating in US Congress with the initials GND, and I’m interested to know how people reconcile it with respect to the above.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            My comment above is in response to expressed dismay at SSC commenters having a strong GW skeptic contingent. I’ll promote a hypothesis: the majority of SSC warming skepticism is practically void of flat denial of evidence that the earth is getting warmer. Rather, that skepticism is explainable in terms of ambiguity on the specific claim being made regarding such warming. In general, it is an attempt to approach such evidence rationally, starting with drawing distinctions between separate claims, sorting them into motte and bailey, etc.

            One way to disprove this hypothesis is to produce a cadre of replies denying such evidence, without plausible counter-evidence. I admit that such a group would have little incentive to self-reveal, but the opposing group has great incentive to point them out (e.g., using comments from other threads).

            Regardless, this is a relatively low-stakes hypothesis, as it centers on SSC itself. If people want to complain about non-SSC beliefs, go ahead, and I’ll listen, but I ask specificity.

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            Paul Brinkley:

            >However, that consensus is often represented as being that global warming is catastrophically harmful to humanity, or as bearing significant risk of triggering a runaway greenhouse effect,

            I agree that is a generally bad representation of the consensus.
            I’d argue that global warming being overall a net negative is part of the consensus, but the more extreme claims are not; if that’s what you have issue with, then we don’t disagree.

          • jhertzlinger says:

            There might be more than one motte-and-bailey here.

            OT1H, there are people citing the evidence for global warming (motte) and other people claiming that industrial civilization is a crime against nature (bailey).

            OTOH, there are people citing the evidence that global warming is a relatively-minor problem (motte) and other people claiming coal burning is harmless (bailey).

            OTGH, the motte has a beautiful view and one might get insect bites in the bailey.

        • onyomi says:

          If you default to agnostic in all politically controversial cases, you’re essentially committing to inaction whenever anyone cares enough to spread FUD – which is exactly the intended result.

          I default to agnostic in all politically controversial cases where I feel highly unqualified to have an opinion–maybe because I just haven’t looked into it seriously, maybe because I am unwilling or unable to do the amount of research to get to a point where I feel I can have a somewhat informed opinion, or maybe because I am not confident the experts know wtf they’re talking about either (climate, macroeconomics). There are cases that are politically controversial but which I yet feel I have enough experience/knowledge/insight to justifiably have an opinion about. Not because I am an expert myself, but that I have at least enough knowledge to have an opinion on which experts know what they’re talking about and which don’t.

          I do agree with you about the danger of FUD and “teach the controversy”: it has probably caused a lot of harm wrt to e.g. smoking in the past (so long as tobacco companies can find a few scientists to say “smoking is okay,” that may be enough for smokers to latch onto as evidence that “nobody knows,” even at a time when plenty of evidence is in). However, since I also have a prior that too much government action is usually worse than government inaction, I am not too worried about the consequences of FUD wrt to e.g. global warming (or even, necessarily, AI risk–not because it doesn’t scare me, but because I have little confidence in a government’s ability to do anything useful about problems of this sort well before they materialize and also expect whatever action they do take to have at least some bad unintended consequences).

          Also, wrt to global warming-related FUD, I think a lot of people, myself included, don’t need to imbibe FUD to remain agnostic rather than alarmed about it. I can’t actually remember the last meme or tweet or article I read attempting to debunk climate change. Rather, I remain agnostic because, on the one hand, you have scientists continuously saying a weather-impacting disaster is “coming soon” for decades, but they have political and career-related motivations for doing so, and on the other, the weather always seems about the same to me.

          I know the weather subjectively not seeming bad is no evidence against what professional climate scientists are saying; I’m only saying when experts are pointing to a disaster I can’t personally verify exists in any way and they also have some other motivations for thinking that, I’m going to remain more agnostic than I would with a disaster I can see or a less politically-impactful case.

        • but if your idea of epistemic rationality doesn’t include a strong tendency towards reliance on overwhelming scientific consensus in well-established fields, then you’re going to be avoidably wrong a hell of a lot.

          The problem is that the “overwhelming consensus” isn’t on propositions that imply the need for action.

          John Cook, the main source for the 97% claim, said in one paper that that was the fraction of scientists who held that humans were the main source of warming. The article he based that on, of which he was lead author, gave 97% (based on abstracts) for humans as a cause for warming. Its figure for humans as the main cause was 1.6%, not reported but calculable from the webbed data.

          Obama then echoed the claim, except that he added that warming was very dangerous (not an exact quote–I’m going by memory), which wasn’t in Cook et. al. 2013 at all. You thus got real evidence that almost everyone in the field thought humans were one of the causes of warming converted in the public mind into almost everyone agreeing that humans were the main cause and terrible things would happen if it wasn’t stopped. For details see this.

          More generally, skepticism about strong scientific claims used to push policies is quite often justified. One of the things that SSC has covered at some length is the unreliability of a lot of purported scientific claims.

          I don’t know if you are old enough to remember the population alarmism c. 1960, but I am. It had very much the feel of the current climate controversy–terrible things were going to happen if we didn’t do something very drastic very soon. We didn’t do anything very drastic and the results for the next fifty years were the opposite of the predictions, nutrition going up and poverty sharply down in the poor parts of the world. Then too, the claim was that all the experts agreed, that science proved, … .

          Back when Limits to Growth came out it got a lot of that hype, but I don’t remember talking to any economist at the time who took it seriously, since it was a computer model that left out the rational feedbacks that actually keep the system from crashing—like extrapolating a car’s path while assuming the driver had his eyes closed.

          • gkai says:

            It’s true that not living in “Soylent green” society now can be seen as a reminder to take “scientific catastrophism” with a grain of sand. However, I think equaling the two is too kind on global warming (or to harsh to population bomb scare). Malthusian condition really happened, and the mitigating factor were not really nicer than starvation imho: density-dependent pathogen problems and intra/inter group violence.
            Also, I think that economists ( in general) have such a poor track record at prediction, that believing them more than the club of Rome is not the wisest decision.
            Most economists seems to consider technical progress as a magic resource, or something monotonously linked to human/financial capital, without ever thinking about pesky details like physical limits.
            They extrapolate trends from the industrial revolution onward, but I feel the last 200y were very special wrt technical progress, especially technical progress directly linked to possible human densities.
            So extrapolating on tech progress to compensate for Matlhusian trap seems crazily optimistic.
            I am not saying that Soylent green is around the corner, but the reason we will probably not go there is not productivity gains, it’s more that fertility has proven to be more dependent on urbanisation/education/… than the 70’s models though. And a catastrophic failure linked to population is not ruled out.

            On the other hand, climate scare is far less believale a threat: Contrary to 8+billion humans on earth, living in high-density cities with access to cheap entertainment/contraception, we have past climates to learn from. And much more experience about numerical simulation, so less excuses trusting tuned model prediction blindly.
            So the climate alarmism is i think different from population alarmism, and much more politically motivated.

          • fion says:

            Its figure for humans as the main cause was 1.6%, not reported but calculable from the webbed data.

            This sets off big-time surprise alarms in me. Maybe I misunderstand you. Are you saying that only 1.6% of climate scientists believe that human activity is the main cause of global warming?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Are you saying that only 1.6% of climate scientists believe that human activity is the main cause of global warming?

            It’s not merely what David Friedman is saying. It’s what the original Cook et al. paper said.

          • So extrapolating on tech progress to compensate for Matlhusian trap seems crazily optimistic.

            That wasn’t the reason for economists’ skepticism.

            Let me give you one example which struck me at the time. Suppose food gets more expensive because of population increase. In the Limits to Growth model, people try to grow more food on the same land, that exhausts the soil, so yields go down and people starve. In the economist’s model, people observe that food prices are high, correctly conclude that they will be high in the future, conclude that both present and future crop yields are more valuable than they used to be, so increase crop yields while using existing technology to avoid depleting the soil in order to keep yields high.

            As it happens, we have evidence. Food prices in Japan have been high for a long time due to protectionist policies. The result has not been the destruction of Japanese agriculture.

          • Are you saying that only 1.6% of climate scientists believe that human activity is the main cause of global warming?

            No. The fraction is surely much larger than that.

            Cook et. al. 2013 looked at abstracts of articles relevant to climate issues. They sorted them into seven categories. Category one was abstracts saying humans were the main cause of warming. Two was abstracts saying humans were a cause–the sample they gave used the term “contribute to.” Three was abstracts implying what two said. Four was ones that took no position, 5-7 ones that were to various degrees negative on human causation.

            97%, which the article reported, was the ratio of 1+2+3 to 1+2+3+5+6+7. 1.6% was the ratio of 1 to 1+2+3+5+6+7. It wasn’t reported, but the data were webbed so you could calculate it.

            Both numbers are statements of what was said in an abstract to an article, not what someone believed. One could easily enough believe humans were the main cause but not mention it in the abstract to an article on climate.

            Cook, in a later article, claimed 97% for humans was the main cause as the result of the earlier article. That was a lie, since only category 1 was main cause, and that was only 1.6%.

            Details here.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In the economist’s model, people observe that food prices are high, correctly conclude that they will be high in the future, conclude that both present and future crop yields are more valuable than they used to be, so increase crop yields while using existing technology to avoid depleting the soil in order to keep yields high.

            Historic evidence shows that this model can’t be assumed to always hold. Bison hunting was quite profitable, yet the hunters didn’t ensure that they hunted below replacement rates. Instead, General Winfield Scott Hancock accepted the loss of the Bison as a useable resource when he told some Native Americans: “You know well that the game is getting very scarce and that you must soon have some other means of living; you should therefore cultivate the friendship of the white man, so that when the game is all gone, they may take care of you if necessary.”

            Especially in situations of high competition, with no collusion (through government or privately), it can very easily be the case that exploiting a resource in a non-sustainable way is the outcome of the present incentives, as either the unscrupulous will undermine the effort of the scrupulous to preserve long term availability of the resource if it is public (like the Bisons or for fishing), or will run them out of business. It doesn’t matter that you’d make much more profit 50 years from now with a sustainable approach, if you go bankrupt today.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @Aapje — We can expect animals to be or at least have been hunted to extinction since the resource is non-excludable. Farming doesn’t have this problem, at least not as much.

          • As RealMirrorAd already pointed out, Aapje is making an argument about tragedy of the commons and applying it to a resource, agricultural land, which is not a commons and so to which that argument is entirely irrelevant.

          • Aapje says:

            The distinction is not black and white. If farmer Bob uses pesticides that kill insects, then farmer Mary will be impacted by this, even if she decides lower yields now are worth preserving the insects for the future, for better pollification.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          >overwhelming scientific consensus in well-established fields
          Sorry, you were talking about the magnitude of the anthropic effect on climate and then that phrase came out?

      • Yosarian2 says:

        As far as climate change goes, if (like a lot of rationalists) you like seeing quick Fermi calculations with rough numbers to get an idea if something makes sense or not, this blog article written by a physics professor might help:

        https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/08/recipe-for-climate-change/

        He just did some quick calculation with rough numbers and fairly basic physics and chemistry, to estimate how much C02 should have been released by us burning fossil fuels, and estimate how much of an impact that would have.

        It’s not nearly as good as the “actual” climate models of course, but it might help you get a more intuitive understanding for why the basic ideas make sense and how what we would expect to happen seems to roughly match our observations.

    • JPNunez says:

      No, there is not.

    • Joshua Hedlund says:

      The moment it becomes obvious that the “conspiracy theory” is believed by everyone, it instantly loses its attraction to the conspiracy theorist.

      Nah, you just have to make it go a level down rather than a level up. “The original conspiracy theory that Obama was from Kenya was actually invented by the government as a honeypot to track those who might believe conspiracy theories. WAKE UP SHEEPLE AND KNOW THE TRUTH

  11. erg says:

    I have two questions:
    1.Are you ok with people posting these on facebook etc. (maybe you would like to erase the slatestarcodex.com but maybe you would rather keep them in)
    2. Could you please (please!) make one for vaccines?

    • Rachael says:

      Re 1), yeah, I’d be worried that people would see them, skim them, not understand them, and think SSC was a dumb conspiracy site.
      Then again, maybe Scott is thinking that having an undeserved reputation for being a dumb conspiracy site is better than having an undeserved reputation for being a Nazi site.

      • theredsheep says:

        Baby steps. Baby steps. And yes, these are plainly meant to be shared. And yes, please make one for vaccines.

        • Deiseach says:

          Hmm – one for vaccines could involve Feminism, celebrities as trend-setters and influencers and Ancient Mystic Eastern Wisdom in one:

          Variolation was also practiced throughout the latter half of the 17th century by physicians in Turkey, Persia, and Africa. In 1714 and 1716, two reports of the Ottoman Empire Turkish method of inoculation were made to the Royal Society in England, by Emmanuel Timoni, a doctor affiliated with the British Embassy in Constantinople, and Giacomo Pylarini. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to Ottoman Constantinople, is widely credited with introducing the process to Great Britain in 1721. Source material tells us on Montagu; “When Lady Mary was in the Ottoman Empire, she discovered the local practice of inoculation against smallpox called variolation.” In 1718 she had her son, aged five variolated. He recovered quickly. She returned to London and had her daughter variolated in 1721 by Charles Maitland, during an epidemic of smallpox. This encouraged the British Royal Family to take an interest and a trial of variolation was carried out on prisoners in Newgate Prison. This was successful and in 1722 Princess Augusta, the Princess of Wales, allowed Maitland to vaccinate her children. The success of these variolations assured the British people that the procedure was safe.

          Copy Lady Mary and get one over on the closed-minded medical establishment! Have your child vaccinated today! 🙂

          An account from letter by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to Sarah Chiswell, dated 1 April 1717, from the Turkish Embassy describes this treatment:

          The small-pox so fatal and so general amongst us is here entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting (which is the term they give it). There is a set of old women who make it their business to perform the operation. Every autumn in the month of September, when the great heat is abated, people send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox. They make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much venom as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day and are in perfect health till the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark, and in eight days time they are as well as before the illness. . . . There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am very well satisfied of the safety of the experiment since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England, and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind, but that distemper is too beneficial to them not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps if I live to return I may, however, have courage to war with them.

          • Aapje says:

            Aren’t women the main opponents of vaccination now?

            Perhaps women respond more strongly to suffering, but in the absence of nasty disease outbreaks (due to herd immunity), they now respond more strongly to children who get stabbed with needles.

            The question when targeting women is then how to redirect this back to a pro-vaccination stance, which seems hard in the absence of experience with severe disease.

          • kybernetikos says:

            It’s quite fun that vaccination can be described in almost exactly the same way as homeopathy, but the communities that believe in the effectiveness of each are almost entirely distinct.

            “What if you could protect yourself from the effects of very harmful things by taking carefully prepared tiny quantities of that very thing? Would Big Pharma tell you about such a simple solution?”

          • theredsheep says:

            The logical extension of the homeopathic principle is to take so little of the substance that you don’t take any at all. And it works; I’ve never tried Oscillococcinum, and I’ve never had the flu in my life.

          • Aapje says:

            Big Homeopathy is trying to get you to pay for your placebo’s even though it is indistinguishable from tap water! They are making billions selling you what you can make yourself easily! Free yourself from being a slave to Big Homeopathy and make your own placebo’s!

          • Deiseach says:

            The question when targeting women is then how to redirect this back to a pro-vaccination stance, which seems hard in the absence of experience with severe disease.

            Which is why Lady Mary:

            “Learn the true story THEY don’t want you to know! Male doctors pooh-poohed this mother’s fight against a FATAL AND HORRIBLE DISEASE, but she SAVED HER LITTLE BOY’S LIFE!

            Find out how she did this using an ANCIENT WISDOM TECHNIQUE taught to her by NATIVE WISE WOMEN centuries before MODERN WESTERN MEDICINE adopted the same method!”

        • theredsheep says:

          I kinda want to produce Super-Discount All-in-one Homeopathic medicine, which sells for $1.20 for 20 ounces and is guaranteed to contain the same active ingredients as every other homeopathic medicine on the market. And we keep it in the cooler, so it goes down easy!

          Whoops, replied to the wrong comment. It’d be nice if you didn’t have to chase the thread up half a page to reply when it gets this nested.

    • doremitard says:

      Re: question 1, don’t you think he probably added the watermark anticipating they would be shared?

    • 10240 says:

      Are you ok with people posting these on facebook etc.

      Don’t forget to report them.

  12. anon9999 says:

    I don’t think the moon landing one is that plausible. I mean, how would they have calculated trajectories in the 1960s? With a slide rule?

    • hilitai says:

      With a slide rule?

      You want me to believe people could do advanced mathematics with little marked sticks? How dast you, sirrah!

      • Deiseach says:

        You want me to believe people could do advanced mathematics with little marked sticks?

        Aliens, man. It was all back-engineered from Roswell flying saucer tech 🙂

    • James Miller says:

      Also, when a rock the so-called astronauts “found” on the moon turned out to be from earth, the official excuse that the rock supposedly traveled from the earth to the moon just to be brought back to the earth by the astronauts was so weak that it shows the inner party propaganda units are devoting almost all their efforts to attacking our God-Emperor.

  13. JPNunez says:

    Ok, I lost it at noble lawgivers

  14. gbdub says:

    Earth isn’t a sphere.

  15. 2irons says:

    So now we post these on facebook but report them whenever we see them on other feeds…. Help unbrainwash the mods?

  16. Jaskologist says:

    I really wonder what sorts of people these are going to attract to the site.

  17. bean says:

    Brilliance. My compliments to the chef.

  18. Deiseach says:

    I am loving the “Earth is a SPHERE!!!!” one; as I was reading it I was thinking “Ooh, mantle, core – you could fit the Four Elements in here!” and what do you know, Scott had me covered on that one 🙂

    Also, the idea that the Spherical Earth is a Jesuit Mathematician Astronomer Conspiracy (“The Pope is laughing at you!”) tickles me.

  19. Incandenza says:

    One idea that kicks around in my head from time to time is that the world is just so complex these days that people are inclined to posit *secret truths* about the *reality behind appearances* and that this explains the popularity of a lot of these conspiracy theories. After all, our lives are determined by massively complex social and economic forces that no one really understands and we are uprooted from traditional modes of understanding that would lend coherence to the world (James C. Scott’s metis, etc.). But then I wonder if it was always thus – the world of the medieval peasant was much simpler, but did they have any better grasp of the forces that determined their lives? I suppose their explanation was that there was a POWERFUL MAN who lived in the SKY and he made all the RULES about how we MUST LIVE and then we would go to ANOTHER WORLD after we DIED… Maybe contemporary conspiracies are religion for a secular age? Or at least, they serve the specific function, which religion often serves, of revealing hidden truths that lend order and coherence to a world that is fundamentally uncertain and incomprehensible. (Religion can serve other purposes too, though.)

    P.S. What if we weren’t created by God but are actually the descendants of fish that crawled out of the sea???

  20. Deiseach says:

    “Only at AMUNDSEN-SCOTT STATION do the Spheres align and the Star-Winds break through.”

    Goldarnit, somebody needs to write a contemporary “At The Mountains of Madness”-based story from this.

  21. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Is it just me, or does the post abruptly cut off after

    This sounded like a challenge, so here you go:

    For other readers? Because I feel like there’s supposed to be quite a bit of content here, but all I’m getting is a brief introduction.

    • Aapje says:

      There are three pictures there. Perhaps you have an ad blocker or such that blocks them?

      • deciusbrutus says:

        A sophisticated image blocking algorithm?

      • DanielH says:

        4 images, not 3: Obama is actually from the US, the Saturn V isn’t a missile but a moon rocket, the Queen isn’t related to Sumerian deities but an ordinary British woman, and the Earth isn’t flat but actually a sphere.

  22. Joshua Hedlund says:

    Love the Obama one. The best line is “No reporter has ever found a Kenyan who remembers Obama as a child” because it perfectly uses the classic “absence-of-evidence” logic used in so many conspiracy theories that doesn’t actually prove anything but for many people gives it just enough potential credibility to start wondering about it… And thus I truly think that meme could make someone who believes that conspiracy start wondering in the opposite direction…

    Other Requests:

    – 9/11
    – Vaccines
    – Sandy Hook

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The 9/11 attacks were a CONSPIRACY. A CONSPIRACY of RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS to STEAL PLANES and MURDER INNOCENTS.

  23. Ttar says:

    Dr. Scott Alexander is Spheric and wisest human.

  24. eqdw says:

    Your third conspiracy is complete BS. “Ordinary British woman” my ass. The queen is German

  25. fopdudel says:

    Earth isn’t a sphere though. It’s round, but it’s not spherical. It’s an oblate spheroid lol. Or, even, not perfectly that, due to small imperfections in its topology (mountains, houses, anything like that)

    • deciusbrutus says:

      There’s some rock, dirt, and houses in between the sphere of water and the sphere of air- the spheres don’t fit together very tightly.

    • Protagoras says:

      OK, wise guy, make a billiard ball exactly the shape of the earth. Think any pool players or official clubs or associations will reject it for being insufficiently spherical, or even notice any deviation? Not likely. It’s not a sphere in the sense that nothing in nature perfectly represents any geometric shape; by any reasonable standard, it’s a sphere.

      • Lambert says:

        That’s not true.
        That factoid came about because somebody didn’t understand the difference between tolerancing diameter, roundness and surface finish.

        And anyway, If the Earth were as round as a pool ball, how come there’s no awkwardly placed wall in space forcing you to hold the cue at a ridiculous angle?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Would you mind elaborating on “tolerancing diameter, roundness and surface finish”? Well, perhaps just the first two, since I have a hunch I’m not as worried about the third.

          Thing is, as I heard the back and forth so far, it’s an interesting lesson on perspective. Namely, the largest deviations from mean on the earth’s surface – Everest and the Marianas Trench – are smaller than the deviations commonly found on a standard billiard ball. I get the impression from you that it’s not that simple, that we can take the discussion a step further, and I’d enjoy learning how.

          • Lambert says:

            The snooker ball standard is diameter +/- 0.05mm (c. 0.1%).
            That’s a tolerance on the size of the ball, not the shape, nor the smoothness.
            But people are interpreting it as if it were an envelope, and that anything is allowed so long as the surface remains in the gap between two spheres, one of which is 0.1mm larger than the other.

            Plenty of sandpaper does not deviate more than 0.05mm in either direction.

            I’m not a metrologist, so I don’t really know so much about how roundness is measured.

          • J Mann says:

            Earth vs billiard ball is a close question. Some sources:

            1. Discover Magazine‘s Bad Astronomy column concluded that the Earth is smoother than a billiard ball is required to be, but also less spherical, in that neither Everest nor the Marianas Trench exceed the tolerance requirements, but the difference between the diameter of the Earth measured along its axis vs measured across the equator does exceed that limit.

            2. On the other hand, the comments to that article raise some objections.

            3. Randall Monroe looks at empirical data regarding the smoothness of high-end bowling balls, and concludes that in practice they are much smoother proportionally than the Earth. (Excepting the finger holes, the grooves and bumps would be about 10 to 200 meters if the ball were Earth sized).

            Overall, it looks like the Earth is probably both considerably bumpier and oblate than a decent pool ball actually is, (assuming they’re not much proportionally bumpier than bowling balls), and a pool ball shaped proportionally like the Earth might well not be functional.

            However, it’s possible that the Earth is within the posted tolerance for pool balls, depending on how you read the tolerance, and whether you think that the oblate difference in diameter or radius need fall within that tolerance. (See the comments to Bad Astronomy for the discussion).

          • Lambert says:

            There will be a correct answer.

            Tolerances are quite specific legal things, since if it’s out of tolerance, the manufacturer does not get paid.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Aha! You’re absolutely right; I was interpreting that error from WPA Pool as a smoothness tolerance.

            You spurred me to fish around a bit, and find that your claim is upheld by a StackExchange answer and an article on Our Planet. (Which link to each other. #circularReference) According to Our Planet, this even trapped NdGT, so I don’t feel too bad, aside from the fact that I’ve seen SSCers give NdGT poor marks on evidence evaluation in the past. So maybe I should feel sheepish after all. Until now.

            Also, @JMann: according to OP, I think the earth is rounder than a billiard ball, but is certainly rougher than one, in direct contradiction to Bad Astronomy. This isn’t against a strict reading of WPA’s spec, which really just suggests to me that the original spec is ambiguously written.

          • J Mann says:

            @Paul Brinkley – thanks, that’s a helpful find.

            I agree that the Earth would be rougher than a billiard ball actually is if sized proportionately.

            I suspect the Earth is more oblate than an actual billiard ball would be, if it’s just within the tolerance, but I’m not sure whether that would be detectable by touch.

          • Protagoras says:

            Ugh. Fine. A basketball is a sphere. Try to argue that a basketball is rounder than the Earth, I dare you.

          • gbdub says:

            Are the tolerances on diameter properly read as tolerances on roundness? That is, a ball that is perfectly spherical but on the lower limit of the diameter range would certainly be acceptable, but would a ball with one diameter at the lower end of the tolerance and a diameter measured elsewhere at the high end be acceptable? It’s possible that even minor oblateness would impact ball travel in a noticeable way.

            In any case the oblateness of earth isn’t just semantic, it’s enough to have meaningful effects on orbital dynamics. It is not “close enough for all practical purposes” if your purposes include spaceflight.

            Another oft overlooked feature of earth that would make it a poor billiard ball is that it lacks consistent density. The non-uniformity of earth’s gravitational field again has small but meaningful effects on satellite dynamics.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            My research gets a ratio of equatorial diameter to polar diameter of 0.99671.

            If the earth were of uniform density and placed equator-down on a flat surface, it will roll to pole-down unless the coefficient of friction involved was high enough to hold it in place.

            How much could a billiard ball as oblate as the Earth spontaneously roll, given the actual coefficients of friction? My intuition says either “none” “One-quarter circumference” or “one-eighth circumference”, depending on whether friction always holds it in place, never holds it in place, or holds it in place except when the center of gravity is furthest from the area bounded by the base, which I intuit is when the longer diameter is 45 degrees from vertical and horizontal.

            And now I need information I don’t have, about the surface characteristics of a legal billiards table, expressed in enginer’s terms.

  26. Yoav6 says:

    Brilliant.

    I’m a little embarrassed at how much i enjoyed reading it XDD

  27. Nietzsche says:

    I love the intentional misspellings. Definitely added realism.

  28. JustToSay says:

    Okay, if you could just add chemtrails and also produce a few youtube videos, I think I could use these on my conspiracy theorist friend.

  29. fr8train_ssc says:

    I feel like these only work if the “conspiracy” has components that can be taken as “benign truth” and vice versa.

    For example, the Moon landings work well, since the “Developing space weapons” angle can be assumed as the benign truth or front for ‘really weird thing’ (In this case landing on the moon)

    I’m struggling to figure out applying Scott’s Prospiracy approach to Contrails.The best I can think of is describing “A Special Access Program was spent on Stealth Airplanes but Why? Why is the government pouring so much money into Northrop and Ophir when stealth technology can be defeated by-this-one-simple-trick”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I almost made one for “Airplane Exhaust: Benign Order-Preserving Medicine? OR CONTRIBUTOR TO CLIMATE ARMAGEDDON??!”

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        For extra credit, post a sixth picture about the claim that the contrails picture was previously suppressed by an adblocker cabal.

      • Winja says:

        Current conspiracy theories about airplane exhaust is that they’re using it to dim the skies to attempt to curb global warming AND that it’s also got something in it that makes everyone into an obedient sheep.

  30. This made my day. Just brilliant.

  31. DanielH says:

    I haven’t found other information about Queen Elizabeth not being related to ancient Sumerian gods on this site! The closest I can find is some post about noisy statistics in pull results, and it doesn’t mention the Queen at all.

    How can we trust these prospiracy theories when your “learn more” link doesn’t even work?

  32. DragonMilk says:

    Last one doesn’t have pictures, so I stopped reading it

  33. HeelBearCub says:

    Honestly, at this point, I can hardly tell when Scott is serious and when he is intending for his work to be taken as a joke. I wish Scott approached this kind of “memetic danger” with one tenth the passion that fuels his fear of those on the left.

    • raj says:

      Do you blame him? This is just punching down at idiots on facebook, vs what you suggest which could (theoretically) affect his career/personal life.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This is just punching down at idiots on facebook

        If that is what Scott is doing here, I think even less of it than my initial reaction.

        what you suggest which could (theoretically) affect his career/personal life.

        I honestly am not sure what stances you are referring to that could theoretically affect his career or personal life. The stance here has been that the danger is theoretically from the left-identitarians who are threatening Scott with death, or worse, the loss of his job.

        If you think Scott is under bigger threat from the right (and Scott agrees) then down-playing the risks posed by this kind of crazy, which seems to have a pretty solid lock on the Republican base, is even worse. I don’t think that is what you actually meant, but … making fun of the right because you fear the left isn’t a particularly good look either.

        None of which was my point.

        My point is simply that Scott doesn’t seem to treat any of the problems that manifest on the right seriously, nor does he seem to find them interesting, both of which seems to operate on a negative feedback loop of (non) neurosis. The less he cares, the less he can be bothered to care.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Honestly, at this point, I can hardly tell when Scott is serious and when he is intending for his work to be taken as a joke.

      One possible hint is to look in the tags to see if “humor” appears.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If you have to explain the joke …

        • suntzuanime says:

          A lot of people seem to have gotten the joke. I suspect you’re just looking to pick a fight.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Mmmm. No.

            I am raising a point of disagreement. That is different than “looking to pick a fight”. Regardless of whether certain people find a joke funny or not, the joke elucidates a certain world view. Humor is always contextual.

            As a further point, regardless of the tagging as “Fiction”, the previous post “Meaningful” was actual designed to push a specific point of view. Given the specific nature of this post, it is certainly ambiguous whether Scott merely found it funny, or was also trying to make a point.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I’m gonna be honest–I’m not sure what point you’re reading into this.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah I have no clue either.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            I’m not HBC but I do think this post is basically a demonstration of what Scott says in “Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons”

            The same is true of documentaries. As I said before, Harford can produce as many anti-Trump documentaries as he wants, but Trump can fund documentaries of his own. He has the best documentaries. Nobody has ever seen documentaries like this. They’ll be absolutely huge.

            but specifically applied to conspiracy-memeing: It’s just another symmetrical weapon in ideological warfare. It’s not (or doesn’t have to be) the exclusive purview of people who are wrong. At the same time, it isn’t what will tip the scales in the long run.

            Which I don’t see as a bad point to make, but maybe that’s what HBC takes issue with? The idea that there are no forms of argument that:

            1. Are very convincing.
            2. Work better for false statements.

          • The idea that there are no forms of argument that:

            1. Are very convincing.
            2. Work better for false statements.

            The advantage of false statements is that they are not constrained by truth. You tell whatever story has most punch.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Christopher Biocca:
            No, that is not what I am saying.

            You can look at my reply to Aapje for some thoughts. My basic premise is that this is not a counter-argument to conspiracy theories at all. Rather, it amplifies the actual harmfulness of conspiracy theorizing for the lulz.

    • Aapje says:

      @HeelBearCub

      Honestly, at this point, I can hardly tell when Scott is serious and when he is intending for his work to be taken as a joke. I wish Scott approached this kind of “memetic danger” with one tenth the passion that fuels his fear of those on the left.

      Sarcasm is a pretty common form of criticism and I don’t see it as a given that this is less effective than ‘serious’ refutations. This is especially the case for issues such as birtherism, which has been debunked seriously so many times, and well enough, that I don’t see what Scott could contribute by doing it one more time.

      The effectiveness of sarcasm derives in part from using stereotypes, insinuations and such, in a rather fact-free way, which makes it very suggestive and yet hard to counter. So it can be seen as a rather unfair form of criticism, that mainly exploits already existing antipathies, rather than convince people based on nuanced facts.

      To me, this effort by Scott shows quite a bit of passion in going after a certain parts of the right. He doesn’t express this passion the same way when it comes to the left, but I don’t see how you can conclude that the passion is less based on this example.

      You can easily argue that his passion seems to be so great that he cannot treat such ideas with as much respect as he affords to extreme-left narratives.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Yes, sarcasm can be a tool of potent critique, from Jonathan Swift to George Carlin.

        But sarcasm so deployed has to have bite. It has to be somewhat shocking to the conscious. This is not that.

        This is feeding the conspiratorial mindset and laughing at the result.

        This critique views the basic problem as false knowledge, rather than conspiratorial thinking. Or, perhaps more accurately, that conspiratorial thinking is something that can simply be safely mocked. This is humor written for those who already get the joke.

        • Aapje says:

          I can see this humor creating an aha-erlebnis/epiphany in a few rightist anti-authoritarians who are prone to believe these kind of attacks on the left, by having them get excited about a new argument against Obama, only to realize that they’ve been manipulated into a pro-left belief.

          I agree that this is humor for those who already get the joke, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be taken seriously and create a serious change in those who didn’t already get the joke.

          Sarcasm in particular can be outgroup-bashing humor for the ingroup and yet also be convincing to some in the outgroup.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But you don’t think that is the intent of creating it.

            Are you willing to consider the downsides to mocking people?

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the intent was to see if susceptibility to a certain kind of conspiracy theory argumentation can be taken advantage off to push people towards the truth.

            Remember the paper that found that the most education were least likely to update their opinions in the face of new evidence? What Scott did here was to aim his arrows at people who are the opposite and who fairly easily change their minds.

            Perhaps he thinks that doing the same is not possible for certain ideas that he commonly criticizes by writing long, factual articles. Or perhaps he thinks he is incapable. Or perhaps he fears the consequences. Or…

            I wasn’t advocating this kind of thing (although it is funny). I’m disagreeing with your claim that this type of engagement necessarily means that he has less passion to go after the right.

            PS. I already pointed out a downside.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            FWIW, HBC’s point about the utility of mocking others grabbed my attention even more than the rest of the thread, and so was probably worthwhile. I tried to get out of that habit myself, as of decades ago. So I viewed the OP as maybe somewhat clever, but not something I would endorse.

            I can sorta understand defending mockery as useful in certain cases. Weighing these, it feels like maybe the OP could have been sharpened better. Because, yeah, it does come off seeming a bit like a drunken cuff at the conspiracy-minded. (Who, honestly, I don’t even encounter anywhere enough to feel comfortable satirizing.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Regardless of Scott’s attention in writing these up, look at the responses.

            Let me just say, if you think a bunch of people here didn’t immediately react with “this is going to be hilarious”, … well, the old saying about a bridge in Brooklyn applies. I’m not going to point them all out, but it is clear that this is a fairly common reaction.

            Ex: Look down for the “King of No Fun” nomination…

            And Scott should have known this would be the reaction, whether or not that was his intention.

            I would further contend that the class of people most likely to be taken in by the conspiracy theories is also a class of people very likely to react very negatively to being mocked.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            What Scott did seems really mild to me though and I’m not sure that it will even be seen as mockery by many of those who are very easily swayed by conspiracy theories. People like Alex Jones already have to distinguish between conspiracy theories that they find plausible and those they don’t, so if you showed this to him, he may just evaluate this as he would evaluate other attempts to convince someone with similar types of evidence.

            I also think that people tend to get way more upset about being ignored than being laughed at.

            I suspect that people like Alex Jones have been mocked so much that they have advanced self-esteem preserving rationalizations, so they are then actually a lot less sensitive to mockery than someone who is rarely mocked.

            I suspect that Alex Jones takes mockery way better than your average college professor or CEO.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I suspect that Alex Jones takes mockery way better than your average college professor or CEO.

            What in the world are you even talking about? To the extent that anything Alex Jones does is actually real for him, and not simply a performance, he rages and weeps at the drop of the hat.

            My sense is that protecting ego is an extraordinarily strong reaction in the conspiracy theory mindset. That is one of the reasons they get so locked in to the belief in the theory.

            And my initial reaction was also fairly mild. I simply said I wish he cared more about this brand of bad behavior. People trying to argue that this shows he really cares are what has dragged this on so long.

          • Aapje says:

            Does he rage and weep at being mocked or at the injustice being done by those in power?

            My impression is the latter.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Yeah, how dare he have a little fun when he could be producing agitprop for the #resistance!

      Seriously though, this is exactly why you guys are losing the meme war. Scott’s parody of (dis)infographics here are funny and might actually have a chance of making conspiratorially-minded people take a second look at some of the nonsense they’re swallowing. It’s solid memery, with a decidedly center-left slant in terms of target selection, but his tone isn’t shrill enough so you turn your nose up at it.

      As an aside, if you’re actually wondering why Scott has stronger dislike for SJWs than conspiracy nuts, consider that the dude is a psychiatrist. He’s probably dealt with more delusional people in the last few years than both of us will in our entire lives combined. How many of those guys do you think have come after his head? How many of them run cover for the ones who did the way you do? Yeah, I’d probably prefer the nuts too given the choice.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      The left, in Scott’s circle, have successfully ended people’s lives (although without killing them), recently, for much less than heresy. If he were to accidentally commit thoughtcrime, I’d expect him to be similarly ended, by a complex system of doxxing him, performing SEO to make libel be the top hit for his name and handles, harassing his employer, and doing the same to anyone who was known to provide him aid and succor, or who simply declined to ban him from a community space.

      The outgroup can make death threats, but the ingroup can make credible threats that are harder to respond to.

  34. Ventrue Capital says:

    UN-ALTERED REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of this IMPORTANT INFORMATION is ENCOURAGED!!!!

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Reproduction and dissemination of this information is prohibited, citizen! The government does NOT want you to copy and paste into your own status!

  35. Beautiful, well-done. Definitely going to deploy these on Twitter unless you say not to.

    Also please do an anti-vaccine one.

  36. OxMountain says:

    This is onion-level hysterical.

    On a serious note, is there a selection bias in your post on Conspiracy theories? Maybe for every conspiracy theory that outruns its debunkers, there are three more than get debunked before they reach critical mass, but we don’t hear about those?

    This kind of reminds me of the wales-getting-cancer problem. FB employees are like small fish exposed to massive amounts of radiation. To get critical mass in the wild, maybe what a conspiracy theory needs most of all is a lot of dumb luck?

  37. philebersole says:

    I intend to copy your graphics and put them on my own web log on Saturday, giving you full credit.
    I hope this is okay If it’s not, let me know.
    I think you are a genius.

  38. uncle stinky says:

    The Saturn V one could get a bit more conspiratorial if, alongside the paperclipped Nazis, you threw in the Silverstein Committee. Can’t beat a bit of Jewish influence to stoke up the conspiratorial flames.

  39. Conrad Honcho says:

    The Pope and the Jews and the Professors and the Business Elites are laughing at if you do not know about SPHERE EARTH.

    I’m dying here. Am dead now.

  40. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    As far as I know, I don’t have any adblockers installed, and while I normally have JavaScript turned off when not on a website that requires it to function, I just turned it on to test, and there still appears to not even be a blank line between the “this sounded like a challenge” line and the “posted in” line. Admittedly, I only ever get anything out of images with really good alt-text since that’s all my screen reader can pick out, but apparently, images on this blog are going completely unnoticed unless I utilize my screen reader’s navigational hotkey for graphics, and it was far more noticeable since, unlike most other posts, the images are the actual meat of the post.

    Anyways, reading through the discussion of billiard balls and comparing their roundness/smoothness with the Earth, I find myself curious.

    Given a set of a sphere and multiple spheroids, all with an equatorial diameter of 100mm and polar diameters in steps of 1mm, I wonder how well the average person can reliably identify prolate/oblate for a given deviation from spherical. I’m also curious if it makes a difference how smooth the spheroids are(e.g. would a billiard ball-sized spheroid be easier or harder to identify as being slightly prolate/oblate if, instead of being highly polished, it was say, dimpled like a golf ball, bumpy like a basketball, or rough like sandpaper, or if texture would have neglible effect).

    And given the tolerances mentioned for Billiard ball diameter, given one that is smack dab in the middle of the acceptable range, I wonder if the average person could feel a trench around the equator whose trough is at the minimum diameter and a ridge around a meridian whose crest is at the maximum diameter. The dimples on a golf ball, the bumps on a basketball, the stitching on a baseball, the trenches on a backetball or tennis ball, these are all very small, but easily felt with the tips of the fingers surface features, but how do they compare with the diameter tolerance for a billiard ball?

    And given a general ellipsoid made of uniform material, I wonder how much it’s major nad minor axis have to differ from its mid-axis(or whatever the term for athe axis of an ellipsoid that is neither longest or shortest) before it’s rolling behavior starts deviating significantly from that of a sphere.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      They’re mostly text, so it would be easy to annotate them. But if you’ve never seen the source material, that might not be useful.

      Here’s the first one. All misspellings in the original. All correct spellings my fault.

      What if “The first african american president”…
      [portrait of Obama]
      …Wasn’t from Africa at all?
      Throughout his campaign,
      Barack Obama played up
      his exotic background
      [book cover; annotation: African hut=humble origins?]
      But new evidence PROVES that
      “Barack Hussein Obama” from Kenya…
      [photo of child; annotation: Note “HAWA” on uniform – nowhere in Kenya begins with those letters!]
      …is really just Barry Obama from Hawaii!

      [4 photos with captions]
      No reporter has EVER found a Kenyan who remembers knowing Obama as a child
      Obama’s father got a scholarship to University of Hawaii in 1959 – just two years before Obama was born!
      If he was really born in Kenya, where’s his birth certificate?
      Obama’s mother Ann has light skin, like many Americans, but UNLIKE almost all Kenyans!

      Immigrant-loving, anti-American liberals would be DEVASTED to learn their precious Obama is no immigrant at all, but from America- the very country they are against!

      SlateStarCodex.com

  41. LukeReeshus says:

    Isn’t it weird that I can read a More Than You Wanted to Know post, and then this post, and only the latter makes me think, “Scott has too much time on his hands”?

  42. divalent says:

    The Obama one doesn’t work on Facebook (desktop version) because the top part in a usual newsfeed is cut off, so you don’t immediately see the “prospiracy”. A person has to click on the photo to see the whole thing. It is because it is too tall and narrow. The Moon one is much better.