Monday, September 10, 2007

State of the blog

As of today, 9/10/07, I'd like to publicly declare that I'm quite bored with the current Ivory-bill hysteria.

If you've been paying attention (and if you have a brain in your head), it should be obvious by now that the announced 21st-century IBWO rediscoveries were mistakes, and that we're almost certainly facing endless years of intriguing glimpses, noises, bark scaling, etc, but never ever any confirmation of a living, breathing Ivory-bill.

This situation is not going to hold my attention indefinitely.

Right now, I'm much more interested in the scientific debate about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

A big difference between the IBWO debate and the catastrophic AGW debate:

1. The IBWO rediscovery claims were almost certainly completely untrue (there were zero living IBWOs in 2004), while the AGW debate is based on some scientific truth (ie, anthropogenic greenhouse emissions are almost certainly warming the earth a bit).

The crux of the catastrophic AGW debate is the magnitude of "a bit" in the above sentence.

From my perspective, the current AGW debate is strikingly similar to the IBWO debate as it was a couple of years ago:

1. If you suggest that AGW fears are likely to be vastly overblown, you still run the risk of being treated as a heretic. This will change.

2. I've heard several otherwise-intelligent people argue that deliberately stoking overblown AGW fears may be disingenuous, but "the end justifies the means" if it results in people living a more "green" lifestyle. We heard similar arguments from people who would promote a non-existent Ivory-bill population for the "greater good" of local forest conservation.

In both cases, I believe a "crying wolf" policy is counterproductive in the long run. People will be less likely to listen to your real environmental concerns if you deliberately mislead them with imaginary or overblown ones.

3. In my view, a very large portion of catastrophic AGW believers are reasonably smart folks that simply haven't taken the time to look at the facts for themselves. They remind me very much of Tim Allwood of a couple of years ago, who was an IBWO TB until he took the time to look at the flimsy evidence for himself.

4. The media bought heavily into the catastrophic AGW story just as they bought into the ridiculous IBWO rediscovery story. They're not part of any "conspiracy"; they just know a big story when they see one, and they're mostly incapable of or unwilling to do basic scientific fact-checking for themselves.

5. Both stories have a high-profile visual that has been largely discredited (the Luneau video and the "hockey stick" graph respectively).

6. James Hansen in the catastrophic AGW story is probably the best counterpart for the John Fitzpatrick role in the IBWO fiasco.

7. Lubos Motl's blog is one of many blogs filling a niche somewhat like this blog's small role in the IBWO debate.

Don't forget--like me, you could become skeptical of catastrophic AGW predictions and yet still be in favor of things like these: research for alternate fuels, recycling, forest conservation, carpooling, a brighter future for your children, etc etc.

After examining the situation for the better part of a year, here's my prediction of how the catastrophic AGW debate will play out: Just as in the IBWO debate, over time, more and more prominent scientists will publicly join the side of the skeptics. Eventually, the media will tire of the story, and like the IBWO debate, the whole thing will end not with a bang but with a whimper.

It may take years, but I believe most of you will eventually come around to my skepticism on this topic for a simple reason: you're smart and I'm right. :^)

In the IBWO debate, I ended up spending quite a lot of time debating with the TBs, and I don't intend to let that happen this time around.

For now, I've changed this blog's name from "Ivory-bill Skeptic" to "Tom Nelson". With this name change, I'll feel more free to post about anything that interests me.

I have no idea how the next year will play out. I still plan to post Ivory-bill links, but I may choose to go completely silent here for long periods.

No doubt many current readers will no longer be regular visitors to this blog. Thanks for reading; it's been fun!


Anonymous said...

Why go from one of the best most interesting blogs to one of the most boring? This could be an interesting blog about global warming. You could even be a skeptic.

But why are you stifling decent? Why the suppression of expression?

Tom said...

I'm not stifling "decent".

If you want to talk about presidential politics, intelligent design, Iraq, etc etc etc, please do it elsewhere. There are thousands or millions of places to do this, and if you can't find a blog that perfectly matches your style, by all means create one of your own. It's free, and it's fun.

If you want to discuss specifics about the logic and data that allegedly support a catastrophic view on AGW, feel free to submit a comment here.


Anonymous said...

More on Hockey sticks:

The Hockey stick graph is the a key piece of evidence used in the third assessment report, is widely used by policy makers, has received high media coverage and is based predominantly on the seminal research paper, published in Nature by Mann et al. (here). Essentially various proxy methods of determining temperature records (e.g. tree ring analysis) are combined to produce one overall index indicative of temperature change.

McIntyre and McKitrick in various papers, such as that in Geophysical Research Letters (here), argue that the technique used to perform the data transformation when performing principle components analysis (i.e. make it have an approximately normal distribution so that each component is given a fair weighting) is potentially flawed. They test this on a subset of the data from North America and show that spurious ‘red noise’ data also produces a hockey stick and that the Mann et al. dataset over-emphasises one species used to construct the index: bristlecone pine. However the method used by McIntyre and McKitrick is also questionable, and the problem essentially stems from the fact that it is impossible to both normalise records over fixed intervals and ensure that records are zero-mean over the entire duration, simply because the records span different periods. McIntyre and McKitrick chose one method and Mann et al. chose the other. Thus in essence, as explained fully by Huybers (here), Mann et al. does indeed tend to slightly bias results towards hockey-stick like shape, but the extent of this bias is exaggerated by McIntyre and McKitrick.

Importantly however, it isn't all about principle components analysis and the algorithm used by Mann et al involves several other steps. McIntyre and McKitrick criticisms have little relevance with respect to the final shape of the Hockey stick graph, and if their criticisms are incorporated,there are only very minor deviations in the shape of the graph, as discussed in detail (here).

Ilya Maclean

Anonymous said...

I'm frankly surprised that you could hold onto the IBWO story for even this long, Tom, and for those of us who want to see, and possibly affect, the way it plays itself out, you've been the best rallying point.

The Global Warming debate seems akin to me to Bill Clinton's wondering what the meaning of "is" is. I stopped biting at those worms in my college days. So, I for one will be sad to remove your link from "my favorites".

You've been a first rate blogster. Good luck with whatever you do!

Anonymous said...

Well it had to can only stretch a string so far...

The IBWO search is dead in terms of enthusiasm and belief by all but the most hardened believers. Every few months/years there will be another great "sighting", but of course, no photos or videos (at least none that can be clearly identified as an IBWO).

The interest in this bird is now largely gone. Most moderate one time believers now are convinced it is extinct, and even the most rabid believer must believe the population must be incredibly low, perhaps two or three pairs, or else there would be photos. Even if this were true, the bird can't come back with a micro-population this small. But logic clearly says they are gone.

Its been fun. Thanks for the dance.

Anonymous said...

Tom - you have picked a good time to leave the IBWO debate and knowing when to leave is important in all aspects of one's life.

Cornell didn't know when to leave the zealots selling them the "rediscovery" and they are still paying the price for that.

This blog provided an important haven of sanity during a period when SCIENCE, the birding and conservation communities, and a once great university were clearly going insane. Thanks for allowing me to keep up with the topic and for doing what you could to keep some of the greedy and emotional primates honest.

Anonymous said...

"Cornell didn't know when to leave the zealots selling them the "rediscovery""

What are you talking about? The CLO leaders were the zealots selling the rediscovery to others.

Anonymous said...

You are right,IBWO atheist, in that the CLO was the main retail supplier of the "rediscovery". But they got it wholesale from the Arkansas kayakers.

The latter were displaying zealotry. The CLO was indulging in the more mundane exercise of being greedy.