5.What was all that about?


Interviewer: So Michael, why did you write the last four articles (1,2,3,4) on the transmission of infrared radiation through the atmosphere: that stuff is already well known?

Me: I know, but I was irritated by a friend of a friend who wrote an “exposé” of why carbon dioxide can’t cause global warming.

Interviewer: Curious. Were they an expert in Climate Science? Or had they made a study of radiative transfer through the atmosphere?

Me: Neither. I think they were an electrical engineer.

Interviewer: An electrical engineer? Why did they think that their assessment outweighed the view of the large number of experts who had studied this intensively over the last century or so?

Me: I think it is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in which people who don’t know about a subject fail to appreciate how little they know. We are all affected by it at times.

Interviewer: OK, So you wrote all this just to set them straight?

Me: Yes, and hopefully to help others who are curious about radiative transfer. It is complicated.

Interviewer: And how do you feel about it now?

Me: Numb and Tired. But OK. I like one or two of the graphs I have created, and I enjoyed learning how to make animated GIFs. I have also learned quite a bit about MODTRAN.

Interviewer: But…

Me: But the articles took literally weeks to prepare and I still don’t feel satisfied with them. However now, if I see anyone else write stuff like this:

The bottom line is that once Carbon Dioxide reaches a concentration that makes the atmosphere completely opaque in the band where it resonates,  further increases in the concentration cannot result in any additional blocking

I will know exactly where to send them. And so will you.



3 Responses to “5.What was all that about?”

  1. edhui Says:

    Could the Dunning-Kruger effect be a significant cause of anxiety in the competent, and the more competent the person the more anxious they get because of their under-perception of their own competence?

  2. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Good point. Perhaps it is a direct corollary: the Hui-de Podesta effect?

  3. edhui Says:

    Seriously, it’s a great series of posts, almost like spending evenings in the NPL lecture theatre, just without the demos. Scott Adams (Dilbert) has an interesting series of comments on this stuff, from his viewpoint as a hypnotist / cartoonist who correctly predicted the Trump win on the basis of Trump’s persuasiveness. He says there’s a problem when scientists use facts and predictive models to persuade people:

    “Climate scientists might be right that CO2 will cause catastrophic warming. And fear is a great persuader. But this particular fear is a bit abstract. It isn’t like a nuclear bomb that can kill us all instantly. Climate worries are in the unpredictable future and won’t affect everyone the same way. Persuasion-wise, the climate scientists only have facts and prediction models to make their case. And what are the weakest forms of persuasion known to humankind?

    Facts and prediction models.

    And how are climate scientists trying to solve this problem? Mostly by providing more facts and more prediction models. And by demonizing the critics. The net effect of all that is to systematically reduce their own credibility over time, even if they are right about everything.

    I think you see the problem.”

    Part of Scott’s Modus Operandi is to be the most annoying devil’s advocate that he can be. But the general point he raises is still valid. We as scientists are used to trying to admit we are wrong when we’re wrong, and also to use evidence to form our views. Scott points out that non-scientists don’t work this way. This doesn’t matter if you’re trying to measure the accuracy of your thermometer- it doesn’t have immediate effect on the public, but it does matter very much when you’re trying to persuade a planet to act on the facts that you present. I have no advice on this- as a scientist I don’t know how to think like a non-scientist.


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