Global Warming and Tornado Numbers: letter to International Herald Tribune

To whom it may concern: 

In Steven Yaccino’s “Winds of Destruction Lash US” (5 March 2012) the article appears to be written from a preapproved editorial template for tornado-related content.

In it, “plucky survivors” “pick up the pieces” and call upon Jesus to save them. The reporting makes things out of these people who cannot analyze why increasingly violent storms are victimizing them, because they don’t matter to the International Herald Tribune. Yaccino is apparently under orders not to mention “global warming” as a possible-to-probable cause of violent storms, and this is due to a well-funded KulturKampf conducted by The Heartland Institute and other “think tanks” which adopt a “skeptical” attitude towards global warming as part of a wider right-wing assault on science, teachers and the General Welfare. 

Let “IT” be the package of propositions that constitute “An Inconvenient Truth”: “warming occurs as a result of human activity, and among other unpleasant things it causes violent storms.” Irrespective of its truth, this is an empirical proposition which is true with probability P, where 0<P<1.

The KulturKampf does not assert ~IT (“not” IT). It does not claim that the Inconvenient Truth is known to be false with P=0. It asserts that “we doubt IT”. It claims that its own claim, symbolize it as !IT, is a solid scientific proposition.

But this means that IT is itself a possibility/probability, because if any proposition r has P between zero and 1, the probability of ~r is 1-P which is also between zero and 1. If IT is 25% probable, then ~IT is 75% probable. 

IT is advanced by scientists who in their own emails, writing as scientists, know that IT might be false and therefore have to decide at different points whether to get behind IT, because unlike a proposition in pure mathematics, IT has serious real-world implications.

These scientists, like the “father of the atomic bomb”, Oppenheimer, who had reservations about the fusion bomb, are also “citizens”, a curiously outdated word in which our identity is far more defined, and defined at-will, by our employers. In transitioning from the science to deontological claims these scientists found themselves to be targets, as do climate scientists today. 

But note that the Heartland Institute does not claim ~IT, it claims !IT. Now, !IT, the doubt, is itself a true proposition with P=1. It is meaningless to assign a probability to one’s doubt because the doubt is the assignment of an unmentioned low probability. Which to the untrained mind, and worse the mind perverted in business school, is a virtue. Gee, I am always right which means you is always wrong. Bullies and the thugs of the corporations love that. 

But this has a problem, for !~IT has the identical property. It’s always true.

The denialists have seized in their ignorance on fool’s gold, because as Karl Popper pointed out some time ago, an “unfalsifiable” set of propositions (for him, Communism and psychoanalysis) is not a scientific theory. The Logical Positivists just prior to Popper had said that to be meaningful, a proposition had to be “verifiable”: Popper’s insight was that while verifiability cannot always be a property of a proposition, it is a virtue of a scientific theory that it can be falsifiable. The IT proposition, the Inconvenient Truth, is falsifiable, but not the separate assertion that it can be doubted. That it can be doubted is dog bites man. 

In a childish duh-bate which revives what Adorno called “the nightmare of childhood”, that is, the revival of childhood patterns that he saw in Nazi propaganda, the corporate thug and bully calls upon the climate scientist to “prove it”, lengthening the vowel of prove in an ugly way and reducing adult dignity to a game in which wagers are made by discredited academics, and Gleick is invited to a roast which he declines. This is because “skepticism”, the last refuge of the ignorant can never be disproved.

But if IT is a possibility alongside ~IT, the next step is risk analysis to assess the value of countermeasures, including even newspaper articles written by reporters who talk to real scientists, or an Environment page in the International Herald Tribune, replacing the Anorexic Fashion Model page or the Recycled Funnies page. 

Now, if the risk analysis is conducted using the standards of business schools, we have to measure the costs to the wealthy, that is, the major stockholders and executives of energy firms. Job One of Don Draper is to show how his ideas add to the wealth of the owners of his firm. 

We discover that the risk of IT being true is to the wealthy, existential. It would mean an end to their income insofar as it consists in equities and bonds in energy firms.

Therefore their “rationality” consists in public relations countermeasures that assert !IT, including, it appears, getting editors at the International Herald Tribune to terrorize their reporters. Whereas if risk analysis measures the costs to all of us, we need to assume the worst case, which is IT. 

In the case of tornados, this would be upgrading shelters and warning systems. This is, however, a complete non-starter. Not only has the current Congress repeatedly stopped investment in infrastructure, it has explicitly asserted !IT with the result that the rationale for the investment  would be unmentionable. 

In the work of the Heartland Institute, which is as I write focused on further damaging the reputation of Peter Gleick, a climate scientist who admitted his wrongdoing, one finds a strange logic. Essentially, any confirmation of their case is seized upon and any contrary evidence is explained away.

For example and as regards tornado trends, they seized upon a chart of EF3-EF5 tornados from the NOAA which showed a large number of 118 EF3-5 tornados in an anomaly, outlier year (1974), much larger than the years around it and inferred from the right hand side of the chart that “tornados are declining!” 


But to a trained eye, the “standard deviation” of the data, which shows considerable variation, does not indicate any trend at all; the NOAA’s web site said that the chart shows “little trend”. Sure, if you use Excel to create trendlines, there will be a “decline” in the trendline from 1974 and a smaller decline since the start year of 1950. Spreadsheets, perhaps even more than Powerpoint, are great if you don’t want to think critically.

However, the data is too noisy, deviates too much, for a trend to be inferred save by the same wishful thinking and dishonesty with which business thugs use data in presentations to get their way; as is well known, the night before the Big Presentation you change the charts and remove data to show the trend. In Don Draper’s day as seen in Mad Men, you made the secretary work late. Today, you use Excel and Powerpoint. 

Furthermore, the chart was used throughout and after 2011, in which there were 85 EF3-5 tornados including one that almost erased a significant part of Joplin Missouri. Some of the towns visited last year by large tornados were revisited this month, presumably as God’s punishment for their failure to kill gay people or outlaw sodomy. 85 makes 2011 an outlier year similar to 1974. 

As a part of the Tea Party and Ron Paul white male backlash against the 2008 election of Obama, the claims made by the denialists are so outlandish as to make “liberals” loth to “duh-bate” with the denialists. But the elite journalists of the Times, while bored by the issue and perhaps convinced of global warming are also unwilling to incur editorial and managerial wrath by interviewing scientists on these tornado swarms. Nobody wants to return to Mom’s basement especially in Tornado Alley. 

I accuse the Times of enabling this repeal of the twentieth century, this repeal of the Enlightenment, this ongoing reversion to the seventeenth century and the nightmare of childhood. Not only have storms become increasingly violent, there’s two masses of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean: one is the Pacific Garbage Gyre, a slowly rotating collection of non-biodegradable plastic waste, and the other consists of wreckage from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. 

The right has made doing absolutely nothing a priority. To quote myself:

They don’t say much but they say it loud
O come see the boiling cloud

They try to calm the madding crowd
Cover your mother with a trash bag shroud


Edward G. Nilges


1. Many “skeptic” sites are funded by the reverse of skepticism, gullibility and wishful thinking in the form of touts who promise fools that they’ve found a surefire way to beat the stock market by haruspicating charts.

Of course, smart investors know that losers publish these books, since if they had a surefire way of haruspication, they’d use it to quietly get rich, not write books.

But they seem to be taken from the same mathematically illiterate part of the population from which the deniers are taken. They see things in equity price charts that are not there, here, where the area underneath the points in the tornado chart is indeed smaller to the right of 1974 than it is to the left (and to be fair to these bozos, prior to 1974, it is likely that the sort of destructive EF3-4 tornados seen this month, that aren’t photographed because they occur at night, and that are experienced as violent storms, were under-reported; but, another possibility is that given less energy, night time tornados did not occur).

It is generally admitted that there’s no alternative to a qualitative analysis of the stock market such as Warren Buffett recommends, in which the investor judges that a company has real potential value and/or safety. The “surefire” haruspicator, on the other hand, ignores details and focuses only on the numbers.

The same science-worship combined with studied ignorance of science, mathematics and the logic here of doubt informs the cheap thugs of investment markets. The hope (to get rich quick) is made out of the same shit as the fear of Divine punishment which global warming represents.

2. I make no apology for my symbolic argument:

a. 0<P(IT)<1 "the probability of An Inconvenient Truth is between 0 and 1, but neither 0 (impossible) nor 1 (certain)."

b. P(~IT) = 1-P(IT): the probability of the denial of an empirical proposition such as IT is 1-p (this also holds for certainties and impossibilities). If An Inconvenient Truth is 40% probable, the probability of its denial (that human activity is not the cause of warming OR warming does not occur OR it does not cause violent storms) is 60% probable.

c. P(!IT)=1 and P(!~IT)=1: the "probability" of skepticism with regards to any empirical proposition is unity. We may always doubt, but for every doubt, there exists the corresponding "doubt of the doubt", that is, the doubt of the contrary, with equivalent truth value.

d. The non-denying climate scientists are not asserting !~IT, for this would be to claim that An Inconvenient Truth is “probably a certainty”; while they doubt denialism (of course) this isn't their case, which preceded denialism. Instead they see IT as a probability. They assert IT. However, the denialists are asserting !IT with arrogance and vanity, thinking their doubt unassailable.

It sounds (to morons) somehow smarter to assert doubt. And methodologically we must always doubt assertions…especially our own, which the climate scientists have done in their private emails, only to be abused by thugs who never assert the doubt of their own certainties, only of others’ assertions, especially when those assertions aren’t made by thugs.

But science basically asserts without certainty. Galileo’s contribution wasn’t to doubt Copernicus it was to whisper “muove”, it still moves, when externally recanting is view. The Denialists in their unassailable (and therefore unscientific) doubt want us to admire them as truly Enlightened for the same silly reason they claim to admire Dr King. They want scientific and political prestige.

The denialists not only have unassailable doubt, they also have more fun than the scientists. They can agree with any part of IT and draw different conclusions: "it isn't happening, and if it is, it is good for you".

But as we'll see in the next step, denialism is foolish as a guide to policy.

e. To apply IT, ~IT, !IT or !~IT to policy, we need to do risk analysis. The risk of IT's being true to the oil companies and the considerable but not large number of people, all or part of whose incomes come not from a paycheck but from interest on bonds and dividends from equities and the sale of equities and bonds is existential; these people face ruination if IT holds.

Their rational strategy is to assert !IT, and more than that attack government itself, by tax starvation, and convincing their USA followers that the Constitution forbids steps by the Federal government to provide for the General Welfare.

But the risk to the population of the US or the world is much larger, since it means either larger or more frequent violent storms. Poor people can least defend themselves against these consequences of global warming.

The problem is that in the USA, business thinking has so saturated the public sphere that people do not notice whose behalf this implicit risk analysis is being made.

A further proposition (which manages to be a perversion both of utilitarianism and Rawls' "Theory of Justice" statement of liberalism) is that the greatest good for the smallest number will make those guys all happy, and they will "create jobs". This, along with the claim of unfairness to developed countries, was the reason the Bush administration refused to sign the Kyoto accords at the beginning of the last decade.

It's a bonafide perversion of utilitarianism as a form of greatest-good theories more usually used to justify welfare states, and it perverts Rawls's belief that "inequalities of income should be allowed if they redound to the good of the least well off but working members of society".

But its "proof" was negative when in the welfare-state era, the inverse of the policy of reducing taxes and controlling inflation was found to create "stagflation", whereupon it was decided to see if Friedman and Hayek were right (as least as understood by the sort of people who bought Hayek's major works and found them less readable than useful for whacking desks with them, as did Baroness Thatcher).

It was however found that the release of capital in the USA under Reagan made investment highly mobile. It deserted the "Rust Belt" and Rust Belt industry and sought high-tech outlets, 99% of which were a complete dud per Gresham's Law. In my own particular case, Canadians, notably risk averse, nonetheless fell for the fashion and funded Bell Northern Research but failed notably to tell me what a Member of the Scientific Staff should do, and when I suggested that he (I) might rewrite their crap SL/1 compiler, they nixed the idea.

The money thus released by tax cuts then flowed to China. Meanwhile, back at the ranch as it were, illusory booms were created by lowering interest rates all the time until this became pushing on a string. Unfortunately, the Fed never got to the point of paying me negative interest to borrow cash.

So…it's never been actually confirmed that removing John Rawls' ceiling on differences in income would create prosperity. In the current climate, it turns out to be rather pleasant for both banks and the wealthy to sit on piles of cash, like the lottery-winning couple in Frank Norris' McTeague. Since monetary authorities take such pains to prevent inflation, there's no danger in such passivity as regards investment and luxury spending.

Indeed, this is the danger in Ron Paul's idiot schemes. A gold standard would indeed make saving attractive because as in the 19th century, a bourgeois could build solid companies over time…in some scenarios. But if the money isn't inflating there's also a human tendency to just admire it, sitting in one's bank account. It's fun to go to the ATM and just check your balance, without taking money out, when you are flush. The velocity of investment slows down as compared to more worker-friendly times of higher inflation. Global warming even if not admitted could see a flight to safety by the sort of slobs who like to say "he who dies with the most toys wins" and need to fund bunkers and gated communities.


All those tax cuts and all that useless Beauty
Did not really create any jobs:
Instead it's become all this useless Brutality
And the duh-bate of the brutal slobs.
They didn't say much but they said it loud
O come see the boiling cloud.


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