Sunday, 25 December 2016

Evolution Vs Climate Change

Does science tend to confirm or refute our innate biases ?

by Owen Martin

Darwin's theory of Evolution was not accepted at first mainly because it ran counter to our intuition. People thought that man simply could not have descended from apes because of religious reasons but also because there were no apes evolving into men in the present day. It was generally assumed that humans always existed since the beginning of time. Relative to people's everyday experiences, the theory simply sounded absurd. The theory of Evolution itself helps explain why. We evolved to survive over relatively small timescales - 40 to 80 years - so this made a theory which operated (for the most part) over much longer timescales harder to grasp and harder for our intuition to accept. 

Relativity, as Einstein pointed out, means that we really don't know where we are on the spatial map. If you are watching a train pass by how do you know that it's not you that's moving instead of the train ? What if it costs 1,000 lira to buy a cup of coffee ? Is this expensive or is this cheap ? We have no way of knowing unless we can compare the price relative to something else. It's the same with evolution, we don't see the incremental evolutionary changes because we live for too short a time relative to the timescales it operates over (we cannot see the bigger picture). Perhaps Methuselah who lived for 969 years might have had a better chance. Science helps us see past our natural biases and understand how nature operates over long timescales.

So what has this got to do with climate change ? Well, how do we know what is the correct temperature ? In the 1970's, we thought it was becoming too cold. Today, we think it is becoming too hot. But too hot or too cold relative to what exactly ? What we do know for sure is that we are living in an interglacial period. The timescales over which major climate events occur are over many thousands of years (like evolution). So once again, as humans, we don't notice these changes, each generation simply adapts or dies. However, there are smaller temperature changes and cycles that can occur over a person's lifetime. Take the Atlantic temperature cycle (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation) for example, which has a 30-40 year hot and cold cycle :

This cycle has a nice fit with both observed land and satellite temperatures - see here and here

Humans tend to think that the period they happen to live in is the norm. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. We need to adapt to the present climate to survive. Whatever happened before is irrelevant for survival. Whoever survives reproduces and passes on their survival genes to the next generation.  So if you grew up in the 1970s, you probably think that the climate being a bit on the cooler side is normal. Now that things have warmed up a bit, your intuition tells you there is something wrong - let's call this climate exceptionalism. However, if you knew that the climate got warmer during the 1940s, then cooler, then warmer again, it may not seem all that alarming. If you knew that the Little Ice Age only occurred a few hundred years ago and lasted over many generations, you might become less alarmed. 

So again, science should help us see past our innate biases. On a purely scientific objective basis, we are enormously lucky to have been born either side of a major or minor ice age period. We can't see this without the help of science. Without the aid of science, we would think that this is how the climate has always been and always will be (just like the innate idea that man has always existed). We can adapt so well to the present climate we find ourselves in, that we are not conscious of the possibility of a different climate as it would be surplus to evolutionary requirements. In any event, it's only very recently that man has learned to figure out what the climate of the past looked like by examining ice cores. Thanks to science. 

Despite all this, mainstream science has been unable to see past human's innate bias in the case of climate change.  Instead science has reinforced the unscientific public's natural bias that the climate they presently inhabit is the norm and that any sudden change in this climate (towards hot or cold) is therefore unprecedented and alarming. The media, who are mostly an unscientific bunch, then pick up on this and run with it. Many people ask why would scientists do this ? Perhaps unlike with evolution, they have been unable to overcome their own innate biases, or perhaps they've found that funding dries up when they don't reinforce the public's natural biases. After all, politicians who are successful are the ones who know how to play to the voters biases and it's the politicians who control climate funding and research.  This differs from evolutionary research which is incapable of being politicized. Nobody is ever going to become elected because they could explain so wonderfully the theory of evolution, although you might become elected in religious countries or states if you deny evolution much like if you make the case for climate exceptionalism and the dangers of a changing climate. 

The climate skeptics are then labelled deniers. We are faced with swimming up the intellectual current that is in the main driven by innate human biases.

Image result for darwin cartoonImage result for climate skeptic cartoons

Darwin faced the same biases - how dare he question the obvious fact that humans are exceptional and not part of the animal kingdom (Of course it can be argued that evolution was the mechanism by which God created us but that's a different story not relevant here). Likewise, how dare climate skeptics question the obvious fact that our climate is now exceptional. While older members of the public will tell you that the weather was different back in their day, the scientists have being working hard fitting their models and data into the theory. 

So what can we learn from this ? Innate biases are good for us - most of us have a drive to succeed in life, nobody will willingly put their hand in a fire, incest is innately bad for good biological reasons, likewise hunger is good for us. Innate biases made us succeed where other homo species didn't. But when we try to understand more complex things that science often throws up our innate biases can often work against us (confirmation bias also has a role to play).  Going back to relativity, the world looks flat from our perspective. Indeed humans can flourish and have flourished with the perception that the world is flat. Thinking that the world is not flat won't help you win a battle nor will it allow you to become a better hunter. Our innate bias still tells us the world we experience is flat (most of us would call a sheet of glass or a floor surface flat). Scientists had to overcome this bias when they explained that the world was most likely round. Think of the public bias that Copernicus had to overcome (in fact he was afraid of challenging it) when he came to the conclusion that the Sun was at the centre of the universe. 

If the theory of man made climate change is correct, it would be unusual in that it confirms our innate bias that the climate is naturally constant and any change is therefore man-made and alarming. The history of science, like climate history, tells us that our innate bias about climate exceptionalism today is probably wrong. This doesn't mean it will turn out to be wrong, but the odds are against it as a viable theory.


  1. "Thinking that the world is not flat won't help you win a battle [...]"

    It could certainly help you win a naval battle. Before steamships, say.

  2. I fail to see your point if I'm gonna be honest. You mentioned like three things were scientific observations were counterintuitive to the limited experience of the general slobs of their time. So naturally when for once scientists think that their results actually make sense they are most likely wrong? What are you even trying to say?

    1. I also forgot to mention the counter intuitive results found in quantum physics. Well the problem for scientists is that their interpretations are questionable, therefore their results are also. I didn't go deep into that here as the arguments for both sides are well worn by now.

  3. This is a pretty bad argument, and shows a poor understanding of climate science AND human cognition. It's not the absolute temperature that is of concern (given that it had been higher and much lower in previous geological eras), it's the rate of change that is the problem, and that rate of change is unprecedented. But even with this dramatically rapid change in temperature, it's still on a time-scale much too slow for it to be subject to our 'innate biases'. The natural perception is that climate isn't changing, because we have hot and cold days, hot and cold seasons. Accepting climate is changing over decades is deeply UN-intuitive. It is through the scientific method systematically sidestepping our 'innate biases' that we know the climate is changing and the effects could be very dangerous for humans.

    Oh,and comparing climate change deniers to Darwin or Copernicus is just stupid.

    1. The rate of change is not doing damage, if any is being done; the global temperature and rate of temperature change have been greater in both the Minoan and Roman warmings, and humans lived through them. Is Chicken Little your mascot?

    2. You mean the unprecedented rate of change that has a 15 year pause?

    3. Take Carbon, oxygen and water out of the earth and what have you left? Carbon and water are essential building blocks of plant and animal life. React carbon with oxygen in a fire and you get co2, react oxygen in your carbon based lungs and you exhale co2. Plants breath in co2 and exhale oxygen and fix the carbon in the ground and in their own structure. Oxygen is an element of the air and of water.

      co2 is currently so scarce in the air, that it has to be pumped into some glasshouses to improve plant growth. Tomatoes for example. co2 is currently at 400 ppm approx. This is equal to 1 part in 2,500, minuscule.

      The only way to measure polar ice is by satellite photographs and there were none before 1979. There was no emphasis on accurately measuring climate prior to Al Gore's film in 2006. The warm periods of Roman and Viking times have been removed for the data used to prove current warming. This falsely shows that current warming is unique. Corrupt governments have connived with a failed media and joined forces with celebrities to plant the idea of man make global warming in the minds of voters. It does not work, Brexit and Trump are manifestations of public rejection of them at the polls. That is what happens when you try to dilute exact science with a mix of inaccurate science and advertising. There may be many consequences to the rejection of established political and social leadership.

      I have proved conclusively that the cure of producing mains electricity with the wind and sun cannot and does not work. If proponents of global warming can't spot that after several years of trying, how can they claim credibility on climate?

      Climate like human thinking has a life cycle, a real scare causes concern leading to remedial action, a false scare causes hysteria leading to a feeling of being the victim of a scam. The people want work, growth and jobs and they want food and they want life. They can't have these without co2. It looks like America is on the way to getting it.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. How can you say the scientific method proves climate change? You need a control to apply the scientific method. What is the control for Earth?

  4. Piers Corbyn is a senior British climatologist who opposes the hysteria and cost of climate change abatement. He is a brother of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. He tweeted this comment this morning 27th Dec.

    "Remember, what liberals call "climate change" is a huge fraud designed to impoverish and disempower you while enriching and empowering them."

    I agree and can add nothing more except to advice people to learn how to count, it is essential.

  5. There are at least 2 forms of thought. Intuitive and rational. The proportion depends on the species. The intuitive thing for a pheasant being driven over shooters at an organised shoot is to fly, whereas the rational thing to do is to run away. Nearly all thought by non-human species is intuitive.

    In the case of humans, the society we have created is the result of rational (non-intuitive thought). There was nothing intuitive about Nicola Tesla's inventions, Einstein, Harry Ferguson's tractors etc. Indeed when we look at quantum mechanics, it is largely counter intuitive. It is clear that intuitive thinking has no place medicine, climate science or changes to our energy/electricity supply. In fact, if you see my videos No 1a, 1b and 1c you can see electricity generation is complex and not intuitive.

    Of course there are few votes in that and no money to be made either. With rational thought everyone has to work for a living, with intuitive thought , many can bluff their way into earning a living. Google valmartinirelandyoutube myth about wind farms,

  6. This has been published by Steve Goodard and Climatologist Piers Corbyn, , if the link does not work, search -warming - is -the biggest -fraud- in history. The comment above is correct. In order to measure something, there must be a control to measure it against. So car tyre presure is a measure between the air pressure inside the tyre and the air pressure outside it. Elevation is taken by measuring height above sea level. So how can there be an earth earth temperature measure? What control is used?

  7. The idea that the amount of climate change that can be driven by human greenhouse gases is enough to cause major negative impact is *not* something that comes from common sense. Indeed, the default position including by scientists (see Arrhenius who first proposed AGW in 1897, and thought it would create a balmy improvement in temperatures) has been the opposite. Only through decades of research have we had to confront the fact that the climate works differently than we intuitively expect, and that human and biological systems are more negatively impacted than we might hope.

    Indeed, the better place to apply the logic from your article is to the intensity of *resistance* to scientific evidence and theory shown on the topic of climate, rooted in reactions like:

    * Many routinely argue that it is too hard to believe (contrary to common sense / current expectation) that tiny humans could cause the entire surface of our enormous planet to warm. The scientists are arrogant they say, we're like ants here! Yet there are essentially no voices in science who agree with this claim (there are a few rare dissenters who believe the human effect is only a smaller part of observed warming and changes, but I'm genuinely not aware of any active scientists in the field who believe the human influence actually has no effect.)

    * Many routinely argue that small shifts in mean surface temperature (on order of a few degrees) can't possibly impact much. Indeed, you appear to agree with this! Our daily common experience is that temperature swinging around quite a bit is normal, so how can a few degrees global warming matter? Yet research of the past shows the earth was only 4 or 5 degrees C cooler during the last glaciation, which led to mile-thick slabs of ice over much of North America. And also that sea level changes like something on the order of a gigantic 20 meters per every 3ºC (over time).

    Science sometimes finds unexpected things, and people have trouble accepting it. All we see here is this pattern repeating. Ironically, your article is an example of the very thing you are trying to examine!

    I'm sure you'll disagree with this, as you seem to be fishing for reasons to reject the evidence. One thing that should give you pause (pun intended) though is that you imagine you are on the same side as proponents of evolution(!) In reality, when was the last time there was a massive public dispute about science, with all of the national academies of science (consisting of the world's top researchers) and all of the physical science associations and all of the national science agencies saying one thing, with a popular political/religious movement rejecting it? That's right, evolution. Indeed those opposed to evolution are often the same people opposed to mainstream climate science, such as Roy Spencer who has been a key leader for the anti-warming movement. You should really try to step back and look at what this debate resembles from a historic point of view – it does look like a re-run of the evolution debate, but it does NOT look like you are taking the pro-evolution side!

    1. Confirmation bias means you can apply my theory to what you believe. Its pretty well established now that in the 1970s, scientists and the media were predicting an ice age, which would kill all the harvests. Humans have being predicting climate catastrophe since beginning of time e.g Nostradamus and massive floods, the Bible etc. This proves that humans have an in built intuition about doomsday climate scenarios that are not scientific. Indeed, if an ice age does occur, then man made global warming will be of huge benefit. Current temperatures were as high in the 1940s, in Ireland actually they are now lower, there was no great catastrophe then. We also know that CO2 and temperature is not a linear relationship.

      From talking to ordinary folk who believe in climate change, the most frequent response I get is "we must be having some effect on the climate". It is like their intuition tells them there must be. So my experience is the opposite of yours.