Between Scientists & Citizens

Making arguments expensive

with 41 comments

Back in the golden age of the climate controversy–say, about 18 months ago–there was a time when everybody was challenging everybody else to debate. I suppose you couldn’t click more than a few links before tripping over a gauntlet.

What does a formal debate offer that the ordinary disorderly flow of arguing in the blogosphere doesn’t?  To pick up on a theme from my last post:  a formal debate allows the participants to control  what they are taking responsibility for–and to force others to take responsibility, too.  Roger Pielke, Jr. is a masterful debater, and his recent challenge to critics of “climate pragmatism” shows this strategy at its finest.

The assignment–and enforcement–of responsibilities

There’s nothing much to stop people from selecting the strongest arguments to defend their valid point of view–or from cherry-picking evidence to support a blatant mischaracterization–on their own blogs.  How to stop such loose talk?  By making it expensive.  Pielke opens his post with an “invitation” to his critics to come to his blog and “to explain what is wrong with the math and logic presented below.”  As he frames it, those who take up this challenge accept a burden of proof (a/k/a probative obligation) to clearly “identify where they disagree” with his case for climate pragmatism, and then to “provide evidence” why he is wrong.  Presumably, once a critic does so, Pielke himself will have a probative obligation to further defend his views.  No more cheap talk; let the debate begin!

Pielke’s opening paragraphs set up the debaters’ responsibilities; a good deal of the resulting debate is spent not in making arguments, but in enforcing those responsibilities.  Consider these moves in the debate that are made possible by the initial assignment of responsibilities:

Demand clarity:  One of the critics’ responsibilities to identify their points of disagreement.  Pielke is thus licensed to refuse to respond until his critics answer a “simple question, do you contest any of the 10 statements above?”

Refuse to acknowledge a comment:  The critics’ other responsibility is to offer some kind of a defense.  Again, Pielke can refuse to respond until his critic follows his “Advice: if you want to make a claim that ‘X is false’ then you need to provide evidence and an argument.”

Critique the arguer for an inadequate argument:  Even when the critic puts some kind of argument forward, Pielke can refuse to reply in detail if that argument does not fulfill the critic’s probative responsibilities.  While at the beginning of the debate, it looks like the critic is only responsible for responding to the ten listed points, by the middle, Pielke has insisted that the ten points are just stand-ins for the longer arguments made in the just-released Climate Pragmatism report (30 pages), last year’s Hartwell Paper (42 pages) or Pielke’s own Climate Fix (288 pages). When critics don’t show adequate knowledge of these works, Pielke responds with an escalating level of personal criticism for their failure to live up to the ground rules of the debate.  Watch this progression:  from a slightly condescending question and referral (to an article by Pielke):

which I assume you are familiar with?…If you are unfamiliar with [it] you can get up to speed quickly here on it…

To a request (i.e., demand) for the critic to prepare himself:

“I haven’t read it yet” And yet you feel qualified to trash it and critique it? … Please come back after you’ve informed yourself, makes for a much better conversation. Thanks!

And finally to an open shaming–a bit softened by indirect expression and a smiley:

Once again, your strong and certain critiques will be much more informed if you actually read the arguments that you are critiquing, rather than parroting what you think Romm might be on about. I’d suggest starting with TCF then reading THP then CP. You will then be in a position to avoid the embarrassment of publicly commenting on materials that you have no yet engaged 😉

By the middle of the debate, the critics’ responsibility to be well-informed has been established enough that commenters apologize in advance for their likely failure to live up to it, prefacing their point with “blushingly confess[ion]” of their inadequacies.

In sum:  about half the debate consists not of arguments pro and con, but of Pielke’s reasoned refusals to respond–refusals justified by his critics’ failures to meet the probative obligations set up at the opening of the debate.

What can a critic do?

One possibility is obvious:  Meet the announced burden of proof!  Of course, that may be hard to do in the fast-moving blog world–the first critic in this debate, for example, came in only an hour after the challenge was issued.

A second strategy is to attempt to redefine the burden of proof.  One critic tries this midway by demanding that Pielke take responsibility himself, for producing and defending a solution to AGW.  Pielke of course refuses to make a case until his critic has offered an adequate counterargument under the responsibilities set up at the beginning of the debate, and refers the critic back to all his previous works.

A final strategy for the critic:  Refuse to engage, at least on the terms Pielke has set.  This strategy has a downside;  it allows Pielke to make (slightly indirect again) accusations of cowardice and sophistry:

The “climate hawks” have usually been pretty loathe to engage in open intellectual debate, preferring instead to lob ad homs and mischaracterizations.  (Maybe they should be called “climate chickens” — that is a joke;-)

These charges are pretty easy to brush off, however.  The critic in refusing to debate can respond that he has dealt with the matter sufficiently on his own blog;  that he has other responsibilities to meet (like the need to craft his next multipage blog post);  that Pielke is unlikely to play fair;  and so on.  As the poet said, “the wise cats never appeared.”

This is why despite the many challenges to Climate Smackdowns, few have actually come off.  We in the audience would enjoy the drama of a definitive climate debate, we would relish the victory (at least, if our side won), and we would all benefit from the higher quality arguments participants would be responsible for offering.  But the debaters themselves seldom have incentives to take responsibility for what they are saying;  and so in the Gresham’s law of argument, cheap talk drives out expensive argument.

Written by jeangoodwin

August 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm

41 Responses

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  1. Even if Roger Pielke Jr loses that challenge, he still would sell more books. To his debating talent we could add marketing proclivities.

    We could also add strategical ingenuity: his opponents must read almost everything he writes to challenge him. This is not the first time Roger Pielke Jr. used this technique. He’s not alone: it sometimes is summarized as **read the blog**.

    This technique reminds me of the tale of Benkei, or better yet the Three Billy Goat Gruff:

    The main variant is that to challenge the warrior or the troll to cross the bridge one has to cross the bridge first.

    Only now do we have an idea of the length of the bridge.

    Who knows if the bridge won’t extend itself after having walked the middle of it?


    August 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  2. Hi, willard!

    Remember, one doesn’t have to challenge the troll on his own bridge. There’s lots of other bridges around, and some of them have neither tolls nor trolls. Of course, those cheap bridges may not really lead to anywhere interesting.


    August 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm

  3. Willard — “We could also add strategical ingenuity: his opponents must read almost everything he writes to challenge him.”

    And also read everything that he recommends should be read (comment #26) in order to have anything of value to say. Speaking of trolls, I see comment #64 has the tone variety. Did Cicero ever tone troll, Jean?

    J Bowers

    August 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    • Hello again to both of you:

      Let me clarify, if it helps: I think Pielke’s set-up of responsibilities in this blog post is basically legitimate. The slippage from “defend your reasoning against one of these ten points” to “defend your reasoning against all the claims in these three documents” is a bit tricky; but note that he twice identifies the ten points as being a stand-in for “climate pragmatism” more generally, so the slippage is not unexpected.

      Plus if his demands were obviously unfair in some way, wouldn’t one of his critics have pointed them out on his blog? Instead, the people that came and stayed seemed to have voluntarily undertaken those responsibilities.

      Yep, I could probably come up with a case where Cicero asked his adversaries at trial to make nice. But that would be irony, which is a little more sophisticated than trolling. Why do you think is #64 a troll?


      August 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      • “The slippage from “defend your reasoning against one of these ten points” to “defend your reasoning against all the claims in these three documents” is a bit tricky; but note that he twice identifies the ten points as being a stand-in for “climate pragmatism” more generally, so the slippage is not unexpected.”

        But when a response is more general but still relevant, RPJr says the respondent is not specifically addressing the ten points.

        “Why do you think is #64 a troll?”

        Because he’s rather discourteous himself in other parts of the thread.

        “Plus if his demands were obviously unfair in some way, wouldn’t one of his critics have pointed them out on his blog?”

        Not necessarily. Maybe they just expect it?

        J Bowers

        August 5, 2011 at 4:37 am

        • Morning, J Bowers!

          But when a response is more general but still relevant, RPJr says the respondent is not specifically addressing the ten points.

          When this happens, the respondent should be able to insist on a reply from Pielke by explaining why the response is relevant. Can you point to an example? My impression was that Pielke did answer (not just refer the person to his books) the roughly 50% of the posts that he took to be making a substantive claim.

          Your point about Pielke’s “discourtesy” (a/k/a “incivility” or “bad etiquette”) is an interesting one. It’s always worth looking at exactly what was said, so I’m thinking I’ll do that in another post. Thanks!


          August 5, 2011 at 8:29 am

  4. The key to this was spotted by willard over at the standupeconomist

    who pointed out that RPJ was very careful to point out all the costs of reducing the danger of climate change and how hard it was, and very careful not to say what the costs of not doing so were.

    Roger, of course showed up galloping gishlike, but in Part II standup pointed out that none of the claims Roger made about what he said in his talk (a video exists) were true. At some point you just have to say that Roger makes it up as he goes along. Part of his charm.

    Eli Rabett

    August 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    • Hello, Mr. Rabett! Since Pielke, like you, contributes a lot to the discussion around the blogosphere, he’s had a lot of opportunities to use more and less legitimate communication strategies, better and worse arguments and so on. I guess my question back to you is: Was the argument you wanted to make about some significant missing considerations (“costs of not doing so”) unfairly excluded from Pielke’s 10 points in the post we’re focusing on here?

      If your concern is that “Roger makes it up as he goes along,” then you should welcome Pielke’s 10 points post, I think. Although as I sketched above Pielke is imposing a large burden on critics who show up to debate, he’s also undertaking substantial responsibilities himself. He has to defend Climate Pragmatism, The Hartwell Paper & The Climate Fix against well-argued criticisms; and those aren’t moving targets. So by participating in the debate you may be able to catch him shifting from the positions set out in those documents, and be justified in telling him so to his (virtual) face.


      August 5, 2011 at 8:13 am

      • “Eli Rabett” = Joshua B. Halpern,

        Halpern (imo) is not a straightforward commentator in the climate debates.

        To be evenhanded: I’m annoyed that RP Jr. hasn’t responded to two comments re the uncertainty of the IPCC climate sensitivity estimates — mine is currently the last cmt there. Since, if the IPCC guesses are high (which seems likely to me, and to many others) this makes his 10 points rather moot.

        Peter D. Tillman
        Consulting Geologist, Arizona and New Mexico (USA)

        Peter D. Tillman

        August 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm

        • Hi, Peter: It’s true that Pielke hasn’t responded to your post. On the other hand, in his opening remarks he only took responsibility for replying to “climate hawks”–and I doubt that you include yourself in that category? So in this case, at least, it looks like he has a legitimate excuse.


          August 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      • “If your concern is that “Roger makes it up as he goes along,” then you should welcome Pielke’s 10 points post, I think.”

        But Pielke’s lack of integrity in other matters does serious, perhaps fatal damage to two important conceits in this line of argument:

        * That sensible people ought to invest their time carefully investigating his claims.
        * That we can trust Pielke to be both debater and referee, and that he will deal honestly and fairly with exposure of his errors.

        Pielke’s tactic of continually escalating the demands he makes on his critics is not an original one. It’s an effective hustle on your own ground, when people are coming to you and you can impose whatever conditions on them you like. It’s a rhetorical tactic, not a principled stand. It fails for me because Pielke has done nothing to convince me his is either trustworthy, or possessed of an interesting perspective.


        August 16, 2011 at 4:12 am

  5. […] contexts.  I’ve done a series of posts, for example, on how debate can work online (here and […]

  6. All you are really demonstrating is that AGW is such a strict orthodoxy that even Roger Pielke,Jr. who agrees with you on nearly every major point is still not orthodox enough.
    For the Rabett to assert that Pielke, Jr. makes it up as he goes is to simply make a ridiculous claim, or else to place Pielke Jr. in that rare class of person who can write books papers and other work product on the fly.
    As to the costs of doing nothing. Well, according to the AGW believer community we are doing basically nothing. Not one AGW policy has been shown to work in reducing CO2 at all.
    And the cost seems to be indistinguishable from what they were before the great CO2 obsession festered into the public square.


    August 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm

  7. Jean,

    You uphold this example from Roger’s blog as an example of a good debating strategy. Perhaps it is in the tradition of ancient Greek sophistry, but it doesn’t lead to a constructuve dialogue.

    Michael Tobis entered the discussion on the premise that the 10 points Roger had put up distilled his main thesis, so as to facilitate discussion. That’s how I viewed it (see comment nr 85 at Roger’s). Apparently though, it wasn’t. Why not? Why does Roger put up mostly definitions and facts and doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, which he presumably wants to discuss? When mt signals he finds those 10 points lacking in exactly the manner in which he has found it lacking to begin with, Roger tells him to read the report from a to z. There I was (and presumably mt as well) thinkin that Roger wanted to facilitate a constructive discussion about his main argument. Why didn’t he put a synopsis of his main argument up instead of those rather meaningless 10 points?

    I don’t want to impunge bad motives on Roger by asking these questions, but I do suggest that how way of setting the terms of the debate was entirely unconstructive. In mt’s place, I would feel tricked. One could call that good debating tactics of course (in terms of scoring points), but they aren’t helpful to discourse.

    Bart Verheggen

    August 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    • Hi, Bart: As my discussion suggested, I agree with you: Pielke does shift from requiring his conversation partners to address the 10 Points to requiring them to address Climate Pragmatism as a whole (two reports, one book). I can see why that seems tricky–although I also see that he foreshadows it in his first paragraph.

      Does that mean that this “way of setting the terms of the debate was entirely unconstructive”? Well, maybe not, if one purpose of the challenge was to induce people who had criticized his work to reveal that they hadn’t read his full arguments. I see that Pielke has said as much in his reply to your comments on his blog.

      It may sound a little mean to use a debate to embarrass people in that way. But think about it. In an ideal world, where everyone was always very careful about what they said, we might be able to have “constructive dialogues” without a lot of maneuvering. But here in the real blogosphere, aren’t there some people who occasionally speak a little loosely?–some people who deserve to be embarrassed? If so, isn’t it a good thing that we have communication strategies for calling people out–and in particular, rational, argumentative strategies that don’t involve a lot of name calling?

      Plus notice that Pielke’s strategy is not sneaky or covert. That should be enough to make what he’s doing at least a little more respectable than sophistry. He openly invites criticism, such as the one you made, and takes responsibility for answering it.

      OK, I do feel sorry that Tobis got caught in this particular web, since as far as I know he hadn’t attacked Climate Pragmatism (on his own blog, at least). The people Pielke was likely aiming at laid low. Maybe that was prudent of them!


      August 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      • “Hi, Bart: As my discussion suggested, I agree with you: Pielke does shift from requiring his conversation partners to address the 10 Points to requiring them to address Climate Pragmatism as a whole (two reports, one book). I can see why that seems tricky . . .”

        A better word would be “dishonest.” If you ask people to undertake a large burden to address ten points, and when they address them, shift your ground elsewhere, that’s weaseling out of the commitment you made, plain and simple.

        The moment Pielke admits his ten points have been answered not by responding to the critique but switching to another, even more expansive set of demands, is the moment when he admits implicitly that he has lost the debate under the terms he set.

        “Plus notice that Pielke’s strategy is not sneaky or covert.”

        How do you figure? Certainly it’s a sloppy deception, but that’s not the same thing as honest. Honest would require he include a point #11:

        11. If you answer all ten points, rather than answer back, I’m going to demand you answer every point in my books (if you somehow do that, I’ll think of something else to demand.)


        August 16, 2011 at 4:19 am

    • Bart,
      I think if you cannot deal witht he initial ground rules, it is difficult to debate further.
      Your world view requires you to believe CO2 is causing a cliamte catastrophe.
      The facts, as Pielke and many others point out, do not support that.
      You want to ignore this difficulty and control the agenda.
      Roger is wise enough to not permit that.
      The AGw movement in general is excellent at winning when in control of the data and agenda. When the discussion is equalized, the fallacies and failures of the AGW movement/culture become obvious.
      taht is why ro-AGW sites in general are much more tightly controlled in who gets to speak than are skeptical or even luke warmer sites.
      MT cannot prevail where he is forced to deal with things outside his faith/mythos.


      August 15, 2011 at 10:52 am

      • Hunter, RP Jr changed the initial ground rules (which he himself had set up). That is my argument.


        August 16, 2011 at 7:15 am

        • Bart,
          Is that like when skeptics point out that AGW is all about catastrophism, the typical believer then claims it is not about catastrophism at all?


          August 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm

  8. Hi Jean,

    Indeed Roger moved the goalposts of the discussion.

    I don’t see embarassing people as constructive.

    Roger’s views are well known to others who regularly (or even irregularly) follow his ubiquitous writings. If there’s something new and important in those papers that goes at the heart of the ubiquitous criticism/question (how does such a “pragmatic” outlook prevent too much carbon from entering the atmosphere?), then why doesn’t he lay that out in a condensed form at his blog to discuss? That would be constructive and it is what he led his readers to (mistakenly) understand he was getting at.

    The argument seems to come down to this:
    Critic: how does such a “pragmatic” outlook prevent too much carbon from entering the atmosphere?
    Roger: here’s 10 points with the basic logic and math underlying my argument
    Critic: those 10 points don’t answer my question.
    Roger: read the papers and the book for the answer.
    Critic: I though those 10 points were the basic premise; I find them lacking. Why not provide a brief summary of your answer?
    Roger: read the papers and the book.

    I’ve had previous exchanges with Roger, mostly constructive and mutually respectful while also with a feel of wrestling with peanut butter. See e.g.


    August 15, 2011 at 2:50 am

  9. Good evening Bart and jeangoodwin.

    Bart brings up, not so much an issue in my mind, as a left handed compliment that Roger has followed some of the advice on communications that you discussed on the . From the title “pragmatism”, to allowing someone to set the ppm as long as it meets the >5% decarbonization rate, to defining “pragmatism” at the end of the post, Roger has stacked the deck to discuss what he wants discussed. Take Bart’s first claim of the critic “how does such a “pragmatic” outlook prevent too much carbon from entering the atmosphere?” The answer is that it doesn’t, if there is not a pragmatic way to do so. The math and logic underlying the argument have assumptions. The criticc would need to examine the assumptions and show that it violates the premise or pragmatism. Roger goes back to “if it is not pragmatic, it will not be done” shifting the burden to the critic as he defined his post this way, and as you suggested. Remember Roger presented it as a challenge. I do not find Roger is coated with peanut butter as much as his critics don’t want to argue what he is arguing. Roger even states “In contrast, climate idealism holds that a comprehensive solution implemented all at once is the only acceptable course of action, and absent the ideal, even moving in the wrong direction is preferable” Offering an opening attack in the way you outlined. It will be easily foiled, but Roger is even offering to have the burden on his part a little bit more, just to get the conversation started. I beleive you alluded to this tactic, but it has been a long day. Perhaps, I err.

    John Pittman

    August 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    • HI, John: I think the feature you point out–that Pielke is offering to undertake a burden himself–is part of what makes his communication strategy legitimate. He is risking something–obviously not much (in this particular case), but at least something. Potentially, he too could be embarrassed by someone who could out-argue him (admittedly, unlikely).


      August 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm

      • “Potentially, he too could be embarrassed by someone who could out-argue him (admittedly, unlikely).”

        Shifting from the ten points to the books is an implicit admission that he has been out-argued — changing terms of discussion specified by yourself at the outset is always a tacit admission that you are losing the debate on those terms.


        August 16, 2011 at 4:23 am

        • Robert I agree with your methodology, but you have the winners and losers reversed. In mimicry of Bart’s short synopsis above, the following is what occurred:
          1. The IPCC puts forth one size fits all and only one size policy;
          2. Roger and group using the Kaya Identity from the IPCC chal;lenge the assumptions of the policy;
          3. Romm and the ClimateChickens (TM by RogerPJr) challenge the validity of Roger’s conclusions;
          4. Sound and Fury as Roger tries to get them to engage in discussion;
          5. They don’t engage; they try to move gaol posts as Bart states above by arguing How do you get to xxx ppm, when that is not what the claim was.

          The claim is that to decarbonize at >5% per annum has not been done before, and the economic errors that Tol and others demonstrated to occur in AR4 mean by way of the Kaya Identitiy used in the AR4 is incorrect.

          Note: Actual details are much more detailed.


          August 16, 2011 at 6:52 am

          • Here is Roger Pielke Jr.’s challenge:

            > Below, I have broken out an argument into 10 points to make it easy for critics to identify where they disagree and provide evidence to the contrary. So here is a chance — an open invitation even — for them to point out errors in the logic and math behind climate pragmatism.

            Here is the first point of Roger Pielke Jr.

            > Decarbonization refers to a decrease in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP.

            This definition stipulates that **decarbonization** is a synonym of **carbon intensity**.

            This is not the only definition of carbonization that has currency. It might not even be the main one.

            This definition partakes of points #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10. One can see that this definition gets plenty of ice time.

            One can accept that definition but still wonder why it’s been chosen over the other one **carbon intensity**

            Here’s Eli Rabett’s interpretation as to why :



            One can then wonder who’s moving which goalposts.


            August 16, 2011 at 7:33 am

          • Unfortunately, your first point invalidates RPJr by the very fact that the IPCC does not, and cannot, put forth policy. So, if we take your own appraisal as being accurate, we can only conclude that RPJr’s 10 points are a straw man from the get go.

            J Bowers

            August 17, 2011 at 6:08 am

    • Bart, John, Robert: Thanks for extending the close reading of Pielke’s attempt to get a debate going! From the details you’ve pointed out, there’s at least some evidence that by the middle of the debate, both sides are trying to reframe the “terms of discussion”/”goal posts”/”burden of proof.” If nothing else, this shows:

      1. How important it is for arguers to be clear about who is responsible for defending what position. Anyone who commented was going to be open to criticism if he/she didn’t live up to his/her responsibilities, and even Pielke was undertaking some risk.

      2. How arguers have a strong incentive to try to shift the responsibilities in a way that will favor them.

      3. And so: how difficult it is to get a worthwhile debate going. Irresponsible talk is easy–everyone can say whatever they want, but it’s unlikely to get anywhere. Setting up a debate where the burden of proof is 100% on the other side is tempting–but then no one will show up. Setting things up so that everyone undertakes some risk is a good idea–but then gets manipulated as the debate proceeds.

      Your interaction also raises for me this question:

      4. Is it possible to separate an analysis of communication strategy from one’s policy views? To say something like, “Climate Pragmatism is wrong-headed, but Pielke’s communication strategy was a good one” (or vice versa)?


      August 16, 2011 at 8:00 am

      • To question 4: I attempted to do this with reminding readers of the Kaya Identity used in AR4 which is the basis of the argument. Though I understand Willard and Eli’s point, Roger did not frame it this way, those who were framing the discussion of policy in AR4 did it.

        One can seperate an analysis of communication strategy from one’s policy veiws just as one can seperate tactics from strategy. Sticking with the thread, I briefly outlined the path taken. Willard’s and Eli’s would apply if this was the path taken, but it wasn’t.

        The correct statement is more along the lines, AR4 policy implementation of the Kaya Identity has problems, would this be a better discussion if we discussed the policy reccomendations or a better definition of decarbonization. YMMV.

        Underzstand that for me the easiest way to think of what Roger is proposing and discussing is the results of a feasibility study based on evaluating the assumptions, definitions, and conclusions based in AR4.


        August 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

  10. Roger Jr.’s title: **Simple Math and Logic Underpinning Climate Pragmatism**, and its related shout-out:

    > Pragmatism, not idealism.

    deserve due diligence.

    First, we notice how the appeal to simplicity faded in the discussion of the thread.

    Second, we notice that Roger Jr. labels his position with **pragmatism**, an epithet that is more attractive to his readership. He labels his opponents with a term that could very well be considered derogatory. To my ears, this is worse than the “chicken” joke.

    Roger Pielke Jr uses it to wedge his position against the opposition, which he even dares to call **idealist**. Climate realists might still be policy idealists, for all I know. But discussing these labels would presume that labelling is not fallacious in this case.

    “Pragmatism” can be defined in many ways. In fact, pragmatism and idealism might not even be incompatible. Nicholas Rescher’s philosophical legacy is centered around what he calls pragmatic idealism:


    August 16, 2011 at 7:31 am

  11. Here is a possible way out of the impasse:
    Bart should start a post at his blog site tracking Pielke’s arguments.
    Then he can rearrange the assumptinos and ground rules as he likes.
    He should keep a live link back to Roger’s site.
    Roger should do the same.
    This will be discordant at first- the assumptions underlying Bart’s position are significantly different from Pielke’s. But it is like parallel play in young children (and I am not trying to make a dig on anyone with this), where the play of the two actually shapes the the play of each.
    My view is, of course, from that of someone who sees the AGW enterprise as a great expenditure of resources for no measurable benefit, the social mania of our time.
    but we are going to end up with substantial AGW inspired policies at some point. We might as well choose the medicine that will hurt the least and may even help.


    August 16, 2011 at 10:33 am

    • Hi, hunter. This is amusing, plus it might work. It’s like duelists standing at 20 paces–it decreases the likelihood that they’ll hit each other, which makes dueling less risky.

      Maybe you should add that each duelist gets one or more “seconds” who will actually travel between the two and talk to each? Maybe you should be one?!


      August 17, 2011 at 7:53 am

      • Jean,
        Here I am with the pseudonym I have, and I did not think of the dueling metaphor.
        I will have to turn in my NRA card for that omission ;^).
        In a sense, this parallel play/dueling is already happening, thanks to the low cost of entry to the public square as represented in the blogosphere: Look at your site and its growth, or Climate Etc., which I believe has well passsed the 100,000 post mark in the last day or so, after much less than a year’s existance.
        The trick will be to, as you suggest, have seconds willing to shuttle back and forth like Kissinger in 1973 between Cairo and Tel Aviv.
        I am not certain if either Dr. Pielke or Bart would trust me as a second, or how I could influence the two track semi-conversation or what, to borrow a good phrase, an honest broker would look like in this context, but it would be worth a try.


        August 17, 2011 at 9:54 am

        • Here’s a related framework:

          In the spirit of honest brokering, I predict a neverending discussion of the terms of the bets.


          August 17, 2011 at 11:36 am

          • willard,
            that is interesting, thanks.
            I am beting you are correct about the endless negotiations.
            Sort of a player’s version of “Waiting for Godot”.


            August 18, 2011 at 9:15 am

          • For another example: getting presidential candidates to debate often takes weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations, on everything from format and topic order to background color and podium design. I’ve heard that the pre-debate agreements about ground-rules run into the 100s of pages.

            Probably at least some candidates would refuse to debate, wanting to avoid “expensive” speech that they are going to be highly responsible for. But the cost of not participating is even higher, since the label “chicken” really would stick. Now that the debates are an established tradition, and run by the neutral Commission on Presidential Debates, candidates really don’t have any plausible excuses for not showing up. Unlike “climate hawks”.


            August 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm

          • Here is another realistic framework, where a non-dishonest broker is issuing bets on global warming:


            The article recalls a tentative bet between Lindzen and Annan that were never contracted.

            To show how expensive was the argument, here is a money quote:

            > Richard Lindzen’s words say that there is about a 50 percent chance of [global] cooling. His wallet thinks it is a 2 percent shot. Which do you believe?

            Dr. Lindzen seems quite pragmatic when comes to estimate the his theorical idealizations.


            August 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

  12. Fascinating post and blog Jean. Please keep it up!

    For years I’ve chided RPJr for his ‘argument by link’ tactic, but I’ve never thought about it explicitly in terms of making his arguments ‘expensive’. A very apt characterization. The question that this sort of tactic raises for the less-than-casual reader is why doesn’t he (and others who use similar tactics) simply say what he believes and provide reasons for his POV. The notion that one needs to read hundreds of pages to present a cogent argument is of course ridiculous, but that is nevertheless the impression that one gets from RPJr, so nuanced are his views…

    This of course is also why he is probably the most chronically misrepresented and/or misunderstood climate blogger around. The funny thing is that I think most people would find that they agree with him more than not if he was judged solely by the content of the books that he’s published. It is his penchant for provoking controversy and disproportionate criticism of the IPCC and mainstream climate scientists that sets people off. OTOH it raises his profile and sells books…

    Marlowe Johnson

    August 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    • Hi, Marlowe: Thanks for visiting and the kind words! I too long for people just to make their points–following Aristotle’s advice:

      “A speech has two parts. You must state your case, and you must prove it.” (Rhetoric, Book 3)

      But then it occurs to me that he’s aiming to make a case for policies to address global-scale climate change caused by everything we do on a day-to-day-basis (esp. here in the US); and I become more sympathetic that it might take hundreds of pages to “prove” (i.e. support) it.


      August 18, 2011 at 9:16 pm

  13. The argument just got more expensive: in reply to a blog post by Michael Levi [1], Roger Pielke, Jr. replied:

    > I wrote a response to this post last year [2].

    In that article, we learn that **innovation** is key to deal with climate change, because **realist** (mislabelled as idealist) proposals are not politically possible and because policy analyses can’t offer the kind of guarantee realists demand. As perhaps rabid realists would say: let’s invest in pixie dust, the political world is chaotic anyway.

    I readily concede that this is not a very charitable interpretation. I’m rendering it the way it sounds to many. Realists are not into e-salon pirouettes: they get rabid when they spot appeals to ignorance.


    My own interpretation would be that there are so many escape clauses that it’s almost self-sealing. For instance:

    > Policy analysis is not about offering guarantees, but when done well it offers options that link alternative possible courses of actions with desired outcomes. The best that a policy analyst can do is to argue that taking one fork in the road is more apt to get the decision maker to a desired destination than taking a different fork in the road. Such arguments will either be convincing or will not. In democratic systems of governance the road to any destination is always treacherous, with new destinations, forks in the road, and obstacles to progress arising all the time.

    Here is a formal dialog that shows how appealing to “political possibility” can be made self-sealing:

    [Abelard] – Against A, we need to play B.

    [Héloïse] – But this move does not tackle A.

    [Abelard] – Perhaps, but it would not be politically possible (i.e. pragmatic) to play A.

    [Héloïse] – But you can’t guarantee that B would help A.

    [Abelard] – In policy analysis, nothing is guaranteed, except that those who insist in play A (i.e. Realists) are bound to fail.

    Using such self-sealing arguments can be quite practical. Perhaps this explains the choice of the label.





    August 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    • Hi, willard: I think one reason that Pielke’s argument is not “self-sealing” (and thus fallacious) is that he is making a falsifiable claim.

      Although does say that he can’t guarantee that B (the policy program of “climate pragmatism”) will solve A (the predicted effects of GW), he does say (I believe) that B has a likelihood of managing the risks of A.

      That claim could be true or false, and a critic who was willing to accept the burden of proof Pielke set up on his blog should be able to force Pielke to defend it.


      August 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      • Jean,

        I do hope what you believe is right.

        I suppose then that you’ll agree with me that not only pragmatists should say that B has a likelihood to solve A, but they should show how they estimate so.

        Alas, if we according to Michael Levi, this has not been done:

        > My problem is that their **sleight of hand** [our emphasis] obscures the fact that their strategy – even if it’s successful – is likely to leave us with some really big climate problems. They do not attempt, even casually, to estimate the consequences of following their strategy. There’s a good reason for that: There is no evidence that an innovation focused approach can make zero-carbon energy so attractive that it displaces fully amortized coal plants, or even new ones. There is no indication that a climate-blind resilience strategy would help poor countries prepare for climatic developments like the massive falls in agricultural productivity that might accompany sharply changing temperatures and weather patterns, but that wouldn’t arise otherwise. There is no analysis showing that plausible regulations on conventional pollutants won’t simply encourage the deployment of better (or retrofitted) traditional coal fired power plants in too many cases.

        That said, I’m not sure Michael Levi has paid all the fares to cross the bridge, which not includes yet another paper, this one written last year. I am not sure where in that paper these criticisms are being countered. When I’ll return from vacation, I’ll take another look.

        I agree that a critic should take the time to confront the opponent where she stands, but quite frankly, you must admit that this sometimes can be a thankless task. Besides, one can be suspicious of ferrymen that ask you to pay them before you reach the other side. Just look at the latest hurly burly over the word “correct”:

        No wonder people oftentimes shrug and move on when having to face these gruesome matches.


        I’ll simply finish this by saying that there seems to be a false dilemma at play here. Do we really have to choose between pragmatists and realists? Both should try to sell their arguments to the public and start the competition on the real battlefield. In that spirit of competition, perhaps the most direct way for realists to respond to Roger Pielke, Jr. would be to push for climate mitigation in a way to render it politically possible.


        August 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm

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