Archive for February, 2007

Where is zero and what happens when you squish the curve?

Shrinkwrapped thinks about The Bell Curve and Social Stability. The thinking is incomplete and a bit confused in that there is confusion about the distribution of attributes in a population and the many facets of the expression of intelligence.

Wealth is a byproduct of technological progress. It is created by that tiny fraction of the population who have the requisite abilities to take appropriate risks, devote their energies to developing their ideas, and working to bring their ideas to fruition. If this intelligent elite fails to improve the lives of the great bulk of people who ultimately depend on their success, instability is sure to follow.

One issue is the Orwellian concept of equality. This is to make a curve of the distribution of attributes so that its center is as high as possible. That means the difference between those who have least and those who have most is very small. The curve is quite high and very narrow. The other side of this is where differences are exaggerated, there is significant difference between individuals, and the curve is quite wide and never very high.

The consideration often lost in discussing these ‘bell curves’ of the distribution of an attribute over population is that there is a fixed reference – a zero point. This is the minimum attribute possessed by any in the population. A more equal distribution – the Orwellian desire whose curve is high and narrow – means that the entire population is squeezed towards the reduced attribute end. The wide and flat model with large differences between members in the population is open ended with more of the population having more of the attribute. i.e. the more divergent and diverse population will have an overall greater wealth of whatever is being measured but suffer because the difference between low and high is more pronounced which can produce envy and other negative emotion.

The other issue touched upon is about the nature of the attribute. Murray, the stimulus for the blog entry, used IQ as a general measure and was subject to much harsh criticism by those who do not like the idea that some are smart and others aren’t. But the real issue Shrinkwrapped highlights is that IQ can be expressed in many ways. In western cultures, society has promoted and encouraged the expression of intelligence in ways that promote the health and welfare of its citizens. In Muslim cultures, society has encouraged the expression of IQ that leads towards tribal conflict and dictatorships and ruthless behavior.

The distribution of attributes – IQ – in the population exists. Murray got involved in the debate about how much of it was nature and how much nurture. But, perhaps, the more important point he was trying to make is that the social importance is not in where it comes from but what we do with what we have.

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Words mean things

One of the sources of misunderstanding in many areas of debate is in what we mean by the words we use. This is an area scientists have had to confront in their own world. That has lead to them creating understandings of what words relating to measure and observation and ideas mean. But when they use those words with the public, a public that doesn’t pay that much attention to precision in the meanins of words, misunderstandings occur. This the topic of Helen Quinn’s essay
Belief and knowledge—a plea about language. The scientist cannot take for granted that the layman will understand what he means when he says theory or fact or hypothesis or model.

we need to articulate more precisely the state of our knowledge—its authority or uncertainty.

Any good scientist has a conscious range of knowing, from established fact to hunch. We continually reevaluate the status of ideas along that continuum. We serve science poorly when we either over- or underclaim the confidence with which we know something. One of the things that makes us scientists is our intricate examination of knowledge—our understanding of what we know, of how we know it, of what evidence supports it, and of the limits of that evidence. This conscious continuum of knowledge certainty is poorly understood by most listeners, but is taken for granted when we converse amongst ourselves.

The other side of this coin is that of education. All too often education is seen as an effort to gain skills and amass a storehouse of facts. It is not to understand the values of a field of study or how to interpret and understand what is being said.

A particular example of this is an article by Ronald F. Fox and Theodore P. Hill on An Exact Value for Avogadro’s Number – Untangling this constant from Le Gran K could provide a new definition of the gram. It is about the nuance of measuring how many molecules of a gas are in a certain mass of that gas and how it depends upon how we determine mass (as opposed to weight) and other such esoteric considerations. One the one hand, it can make your eyes glass over with such obnoxious detail but, on the other, it is an example of just what a good scientist does to understand what he really knows and how that knowledge can be refined and improved over time.

From knowing small things, the number of molecules per mass, the measure of mass or the speed of light, – we can create building blocks to know larger things. But just as an architect must know the strength of the bricks in his building, the scientist must know the strength of his facts so that he doesn’t try to build something that won’t stand but will collapse of its own size.

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Three mighty engines

William Rusher describes primary motivators that oftne lead people in strange directions in his Washington Times commentary Warming delirium. The example is climate change as that is the controversy of the day.

The global-warming controversy is powered by three mighty engines, which are almost never recognized.

The first is the natural human impulse to fear allegedly forthcoming disasters, especially if they are clothed in the raiments of scientific certitude. …

The second engine (also influential in the flaps over acid rain and the ozone hole) is the traditional liberal hatred of “American corporations,” which is mobilized whenever some new misfortune can be laid, however speciously, at their door. …

The third and final engine is, as you might expect, money.

You see this in ad on TV this morning – a man standing in the tracks with an oncoming train. The over voice warns of a looming catastrophe but the man indicates its no concern to him. Then he steps aside and there is a child. Implication, innuendo, fear mongering, – there is uncertainty be we cannot abide by that because “it is for the children!”

That is similar to another story on the miraculous baby removed from the womb at 21 weeks. It is taken to show that any abortion is a killing and that, yes, even a fetus this young is viable. Barely mentioned was the extraordinary costs of caring for that baby until it was viable enough to live on its own.

Recently, a think tank offered a stipend for those who could contribute to a round table on global warming. The advocates found that a small percentage of the funding came from ‘oil companies’ and used that to parade the idea that the think tank was buying anti global warming arguments.

These are clues that an honest person can use to get to the bottom of an issue. Scientific measures mean an appeal to a certitude that is false. Evil corporations are looking for a straw man target. Either the taint of money or a complete absence of regard for costs also indicate the argument of the excluded middle. When these sorts of arguments are seen, “It is time to take two aspirin, lie down and consider the matter calmly.”

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Iranian Roulette?

Victor Davis Hanson discusses the dissonance in the Anti-war rhetoric chorus

Mr. Reid summed up best the Democrats’ feeling there were plenty of reasons to remove Saddam in a post-September 11, 2001, climate. He reminded Senate colleagues that Saddam’s refusal to honor past agreements “constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict.”

But it was not just fear of Saddam alone that prompted Democrats to authorize the use of force to remove him. There was the more general, liberal notion of using American arms to stop violent dictators. While the Democratic Party has a strong pacifist wing, its mainstream has always advocated a global promotion of American liberal values — sometimes through use of pre-emptory force.

And then there is Amir Taheri wondering about Ahmadinejad and Russian Roulette

Over the past quarter of a century, the Khomeinist regime has had the prudence not to behave like suicidal adolescents. When faced with the risk of hitting something hard, it has always retreated….

The key question now is whether the Khomeinist regime, which has always played chess, has decided to play Russian roulette.

Ahmadinejad, reported to watch a lot of CNN, has seen the gunboats sail in. But he has also seen Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, Barrack Obama, and other American luminaries such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Jane Fonda who would rather see Bush destroyed than the mullahs restrained. The American gunboat ballet does not impress the radicals in the ascendancy in Tehran. And that is bad news for all concerned, above all the people of the region.

The fact is that the US confuses its enemies and not in a positive way. As in the Speaker of the House taking offense that the Vice President noted a correlation between the political party’s talk and the Al-Quiada expression of strategy, there are good odds that Russion Roulette is a safe bet. Hold the pistol to your head, pull the trigger, and the chamber will be empty becaue the will and committment of the US is also empty.

This is why the statement of one of the Iraqi leaders was of interest. He said he wanted to see the American presence in Iraq end like in Germany, Japan, and Korea – not like in Vietnam. He did not want to see the Americans posturing with empty guns.

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Rule 12 and Self Congratulations

One of the means by which people give their ideas credibility is to give themselves awards. While some may note that the award is rather lacking in standards, that is not usually a problem as long as the awards don’t get too ridiculous. It can be erosive in that it dimishes the award and dimishes the size of the group that values it. Some examples include several Nobel Peace Price awards, such as the one for a famous terrorist, and the Dixie Chics grammies.

Another award is that being considered for the move The Inconvenient Truth. As Kevin Mooney points out, Gore’s Film an Oscar Favorite but Violates Academy Standards, Critics Say. In this case the rationale appears to be “creative license” in using errors of fact to illustrate ideology. Normally such tactics would be considered a symptom of propaganda but one man’s propaganda is another’s documentary if your standards are flexible enough. And it appears that those of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are under suspicion due to patterns in their awards.

It is the behavior that sets the standard for intellectual integrity. Finding excuses to work around your rules just tells other what you really think of your own standards.

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Who is motivated by consensus?

Adamant falls into the murk of relativism (both sides are equally evil) and “Limbaugh syndrome” in showing how to argue the person and not the issue of climate change:

Not having Hollywood on their side, opponents of the ‘ Climate Change : Threat or Menace ? ‘ school of rhetoric have largely relied on the authority of a scant dozen individuals. But in science , as in politics the truth that sets men free is seldom the one they want to hear– some often seen and quoted on and in the conservative media frequently adduce views by turns obsolete , tendentious, or just plain daft. Scanning from Fox TV to the Washington Times , it seems conservative journalism stands in danger of becoming a 21st century scientific eyesore.

Chet also talks about facts

What I loved about Burroughs can be summed up in this entry from his journal for October 24, 1907: “To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine your facts is quite another.”

I do hope I managed to convey by example respect for the consensus knowledge of the world that is the hallmark of science. Facts are elusive things, and should be treated with suspicion. But, as Burroughs knew, they are also the fragile sustenance upon which we live.

What both Adamant and Chet miss is that science is not about consensus. What drives and motivates the scientist is to find something new, something that others do not know. That, by definition, means that the scientists is driven by pushing consensus.

Who is driven by consensus? Chet, as a teacher, obtains the qualification for what he teaches by consensus. Without consensus for the knowledge matter being taught, the teacher has no credibility. This does not mean that the methods of teaching or the manner of teaching have to be in a consensus mold – although that usually helps keep the teacher employed – but it does mean that what is taught has to represent the consensus of the subject being taught.

This teaching to consensus is also not fixed. A Bible school teacher is likely to be facing a consensus requiring teaching of creationism while the high school biology teacher will be facing a consensus for teaching evolution.

Politics is another field where consensus has high value. It is consensus that provides power for action.

The lesson is that when consensus is brought in as a means to rationalize and support some point of view then the discussion is about something other than science. Science seeks its validation elsewhere. That is why these arguments about consensus in a field of science are often tainted with other irrational argument methods.

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Behavior is ignored for comfort

When there is condemnation for not seeking alternative views and then for seeking alternative views, it should make one wonder. Frank J. Gaffney Jr. notes this Truly ‘inappropriate’ behavior

Scarcely anyone seems to consider the conduct of the Congress inappropriate, to say nothing of a hanging offense. As various sitting members, whose day jobs increasingly are those of presidential candidates, jockey to outbid one another in their defeatism, the talk is not about whether such behavior is appropriate in time of war — or consistent with the national interest.

Doug Feith is an old friend of mine. He is among the most thoughtful, careful and conscientious public servants I have ever known. The only truly “inappropriate” behavior evident is the ongoing effort led by Sens. Levin and Rockefeller to impugn the integrity, quality and, yes, the appropriateness of policymakers’ efforts to ensure that far-reaching national security decisions are made on the basis of the best information available.

That is only one reason why the Washington Times editorializes about Politicizing the war

Mr. Hoyer’s broken promise is indicative of the way Democrats have been talking out of both sides of their mouth on the Iraq war. For their anti-war base, Democrats are keeping hope alive that they will — at some uncertain date — oppose the war more forcefully, perhaps by voting to cut off funding. But to the public at large, Democrats don’t want to be viewed as abandoning the troops. A clear example of this doubletalk are all the Democratic votes confirming Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. William Fallon, both of whom support the president’s new war plan. For now, all the Democrats have the strength for is a nonbinding resolution that opposes the troop surge. That kind of resolve was nicely ridiculed by presidential aspirant John Edwards, who compared it to a child “standing in the corner and stomping his feet.”

The fact is that the nation engaged upon a serious endeavor as a nation. Now that we are fully engaged, some who were part of the decision process have decided that they want to go back and do it again except with what they say they know now. That isn’t how it works.

Leadership of a nation is not a matter of what suits the current moment. Decisions have been made, obligations undertaken, responsibilities faced. It is the fundamental duty of the leadership to carry through the commitments of the nation that have been properly undertaken.

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A contrast between silly and serious

Hugh compares Mark Steyn to Jonathan Chait as a demonstration of the serious and the silly. He notes

There is a vast divide between the serious and the silly. A divide that is easy to see, impossible to deny, and certain to lead to disaster if the silly are other than a source of amusement or an object of scorn.

It seems that there is a lot invested in some very silly thinking. The rationalizations and defenses get quite shrill or, as in Chait column, dripping. Fortunately, hopefully, there is notice. The history of US abandonments is available for contrast. Folks such as Hugh and others are doing more than just whisper that the emperor has no clothes. We can hope that many will notice and the serious will take charge and the silly will go back to an entertain only status.

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US children suffering?

That would seem to be the message of the UNICEF report on Child Poverty in Perspective which concluded

The United States and Britain ranked at the bottom of a U.N. survey of child welfare in 21 wealthy countries that assessed everything from infant mortality to whether children ate dinner with their parents or were bullied at school.

The conclusion itself should raise suspicion about the report. Shrinkwrapped decided to take a look at the report and discovered that its measures were not quite in line with its message.

The authors essentially admit that their measure of material well-being has almost nothing to do with actual deprivation but is almost directly related to their imagined sense of a child’s envy of those who have more than he or she does.

In other words, the poverty measure in the report was not based on such things as health and vitality. It was based on a comparison to average wealth of the nation. In this measure, those countries who have less difference between the poor and the wealthy scored highly. This suffers the point that minimum wealth is limited while maximum wealth is not. Poverty can only go to having nothing while wealth can be as much as your freedom allows. The essence of socialistic ideologies is to limit the freedom to create wealth. This report is an example of how such ideology is rationalized despite history showing that it lacks integrity if actual health and vitality are valued.

The other major flaw is that of assuming adult attributes in children. In this case it is the concept of envy. The reason we care for children is that they do not often even know they suffer when they lack what adults know to be critical necessities. Envy in a child only goes so far as an immediate presence of a current situation for a specific toy. Children don’t care if the kid next door is rich unless their parents tell them to.

The UNICEF report illustrates how good intentions can become distracted by ideology. Rather than assessing child welfare by measures of mortality, disease, nutrition, and the ability to have healthy children of their own, the measure of welfare is in matters of base emotions projected on those who’d rather just go out and play.

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It beggars belief

The IG report on an alternative assessment of intelligence said it was all legal and ethical but innapropriate. The WaPo got caught in a big error assigning Biden quotes to the IG. And now some are pointing out just how hypocritical the criticisms have become. Here’s Barone.

Of course, Feith is right. The idea that presidential appointees are obliged to treat intelligence community consensus as holy writ, not to be questioned or criticized, is loony. The fact that the same people who are criticizing George W. Bush and his appointees for accepting the intelligence community consensus that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction are also criticizing an appointee for questioning the intelligence community consensus on another point beggars belief.

It is difficult to create a rational assessment of much of the criticism about the Iraq conflict. There has always been the ‘say what?’ trying to compare the enthusiasm and rhetoric for going after Sadaam in the last ten years to the current ‘all is lost’ rhetoric now. Then there are the allegations of monolithic, secret agenda driven, fixing the case meme to this report. Like Barone says, it “beggars belief” to see how reality is twisted and history redone to accomodate current fixations.

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Will we ever learn?

The Washington Times takes note of how political gamesmanship has trumped integrity. One side playing games to avoid responsibility for action they know is contemptible and the other side to intimidated (or something) to put that contemptible behavior in plain sight.

So, the Democratic leadership effectively gagged Mr. Johnson, a Vietnam veteran who spent nearly seven years in a POW camp, barring him from offering his alternative proposal on the floor. House Republicans need to drive home the point that the supporters of the House resolution are determined to cut off funds for the troops but are too intellectually dishonest to say so publicly right now.

And from the field, Cal Thomas cites a letter he received about how the troops view this behavior.

To the recurring question about patriotism and policy, Sgt. Dobson replies: “I would never presume to call anyone’s love for country into question … I ask the same of you. Truly our nation’s honor is at stake, and we have been given the opportunity to put our hand to the flame. Should we now, in our moment of testing, shy from it? When asked how much we love our country, should we call retreat? No, we stand at a moment of great truth, let us now show our enemies just how much we love America and our way of life. Let us show them our love of country is as great as it ever was.”

We repeat Cronkite’s Tet Offensive by making success out to be failure. Now we are looking at repeating the Cambodian killing fields by abandoning our fundamental principles. And it is all under the mantra of trying to protect our troops – or something. What happened to the understanding of freedom, liberty, and the fundamental obligations of one to another that founded the U.S.A.?

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Natural tendencies

People are people and whether it is politics or entertainment. Perception is not necessarily reality and understanding why they differ is a tool for both propagandists and engineers. Oleg Artamonov describes an engineering example in discussing Contemporary LCD Monitor Parameters: Objective and Subjective Analysis (page 9)

The input lag problem is also aggravated by two things common of all people. First, many people are inclined to search for complex explanations of simple things. They prefer to think that a light dot in the sky is a “flying saucer” rather than an ordinary weather balloon or that the strange shadows in the NASA photographs of the Moon are proof that men have never landed there rather than are indicative of the unevenness of the moonscape. Any person who’s ever taken an interest in the activities of UFO researchers and other folks of that kind will tell you that most of their alleged discoveries are the result of thinking out excessively complex theories instead just looking for simple, earthly explanations of phenomena.

“complex explanations of simple things” – that is one way of saying that those who invoke conspiracy theories should be considered skeptically. the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham had something to say about this. It is that “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

What makes it difficult is that people also tend to overlook complexities. For conspiracy theories, the most common one is the problem of keeping a secret between many people. It is easy to assume many people can coordinate efforts in secret but both reality and a bit of thought will clearly demonstrate that the assumption is flawed.

That is why we must understand ourselves first. We must realize that our perceptions may be faulty and our conclusions hasty. That then must lead to understanding the limits of how we know things so we can better learn and keep learning.

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VDH and the complex reality.

Victor Davis Hanson has two on the dissonance between the reality of the world and the desires of the ideologue. In Global Schizophrenia he describes the reality.

It may be hard for the world’s new impatient generation to accept the truth: There are no simple black-and-white solutions at little cost in today’s technologically connected but politically fragmented world. Restless Americans and a demanding global public are going to have to accept that in Afghanistan, Darfur, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia and the West Bank, the United States itself — not just the bogeyman George Bush — has only bad and far worse choices.

And in Whose Fiasco? (A review of Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq) he takes off on the behavior of the ideologue gone round the bend.

That wild swing of the pendulum is usually what happens when the wisdom of military operations is adjudicated by perceptions of ongoing success or failure.

We should remember that cynical fact. We are still in the middle of the shooting in Iraq, and the final definitive assessment will reflect not only Ricks’s present perceived pessimism over the wartime ebb of the battlefield, but also the final verdict to come when we really do know who won and lost.

But there is a second disturbing phenomenon of the current genre of the Iraqi exposé besides the problem of writing “history” in medio bello: Ricks’s frustrating use of unnamed or anonymous sources.

It is well past time to call our present authors to account for this unsound practice, made all the worse by a veneer of endnotes that give us no information about unidentified informants. History is not the impressionistic art of autobiography, memoir, or essay, but is to be offered as an account of what happened with sources that provide the means of checking the historian’s veracity. Once journalists decide that they are no longer writing dispatches of the moment but real histories in the midst of a controversial and hotly debated war — and are intending to hype their work as a best-selling exposé — then they become historians and so are obligated to inform the reader, and posterity itself, where and from whom they obtained their primary evidence.

when a journalist asserts, often without documentation, that everything went wrong, then the reader is unable to discern even what may well be true.

These are the false arguments of the excluded middle and the anonymous authority to create a reality before it occurs. The damage is that we often become what we believe; we achieve what we envision. If we believe we are failures we tend to become failures; if we cannot envision a better world we will not achieve one.

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Stopping debate by stopping the ending of debate?

The recent Senate tussle about nonbinding Iraq resolutions provides a good example of misleading rhetoric and reporting. The majority leader and the MSM are complaining about a filibuster threat to avoid cloture as stopping debate. But the filibuster is to prevent the closing of the debate by taking a vote.

Q&O describes the phenomena with illustrations in Media mischaracterizes Senate Resolution vote.

Preventing an end to a debate in order to vote on something is not stopping or preventing or ducking debate. But that is what the majority leader claims and what is reported by many MSM outlets.

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Tragedy of degeneration

Thomas Sowell describes The larger tragedy, the tragedy where intellectual integrity goes out the window and people are harmed.

The larger tragedy is what this case revealed about the degeneration of our times and the hollowness of so many people in “responsible” positions in the media, in academia, and among those blacks so consumed by racial resentments and thirst for revenge that they are prepared to lash out at individuals who have done nothing to them and are guilty of no crime against anybody.

The haste and vehemence with which scores of Duke University professors publicly took sides against the students in this case is just one sign of how deep the moral dry rot goes, in even our most prestigious institutions.

This example illustrates both the academics’ bias and the racial stereotyping that is prevalent but opposite to the ‘common knowledge.’

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Recovered Memory Syndrome

Recovered Memory Syndrome is one of those labels that will certainly rank right up there with Bush Derangement Syndrom. Powerline in Memories of Vietnam uses the label with an example of the behavior it describes.

In a courtroom in Washington DC, where Scooter Libby’s trial is in progress, faulty memories are on display on a daily basis. That isn’t the only place in Washington, however, where recollections are untrustworthy.

It’s easy to imagine, of course, that Kennedy’s rewriting of history could be due to a guilty conscience. It’s harder to understand why John Warner would invent a guilty conscience over Vietnam, again in the context of urging withdrawal from Iraq. Bill Kristol makes the point in his Weekly Standard editorial, “A Terrible Ignominy,” which decries the drift of some Senate Republicans toward defeatism

To get a handle on how these syndromes can be understood, ShrinkWrapped and Dr. Sanity are good places to start.

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A fourth edition on climate change

The Economist reports on the release of the 12 page summary of the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This release has been material for widespread headlines in the MSM to the effect of long term, unstoppable, human caused global warming. The full report may not come out for a few months as it is being ‘adjusted’ to make sure it is at least politically or ideologically correct or doesn’t offend too many of the hard core activist types.

One part of the report’s job is to consider studies of the speed of change so far. This looks omnious until you look at how small the changes really are over how short a time span.

The other part of the report’s job is to make predictions about what will happen to the climate. In this, it illustrates a curious aspect of the science of climate change. Studying the climate reveals new, little-understood, mechanisms: as temperatures warm, they set off feedback effects that may increase, or decrease, warming. So predictions may become less, rather than more, certain. Thus the IPCC’s range of predictions of the rise in the temperature by 2100 has increased from 1.4-5.8C in the 2001 report to 1.1-6.4C in this report.

That the IPCC should end up with a range that vast is not surprising given the climate’s complexity. But it leaves plenty of scope for argument about whether it’s worth trying to do anything about climate change.

This points out some improvements being made supporting a more honest discussion. There is the fact that what we know is rather incomplete and the uncertainty in prediction is quite large. Good science deals with levels of confidence in matters of precision and accuracy and much of the ‘debate’ on climate in recent years has tended to ignore them.

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