March 20, 2009

Holding hands for support

Speaking of Ole Humlum, here is an excellent essay from his site from last year

Handling the present period without global warming by

Global temperature has not risen since 1998. The models relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had not projected this recent absence of global warming, as well as a number of other phenomena, such as, e.g., cooling in Antarctica (Doran et al. 2002), the absence of ocean warming since 2003 (Lyman et al. 2006; Gouretski and Koltermann 2007), and that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation recently changed from its warming to its cooling phase.

The present period since 1998 with no global temperature increase thereby has caused some embarrassment for the notion that burning of fossil fuel causes a marked increase of global temperatures. The embarrassment is becoming more and more pronounced as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to increase.

As increasing global temperature 1978-1998 was the main driver for concern about future climate, one would have expected this new temperature development to be broadly welcomed as a good development. Somewhat surprisingly, this has apparently not been the case. The lack of warming since 1998 has instead been ignored or defensively explained as being without significance. Some have simply chosen to refocus on other issues without direct relation to air temperature, such as, e.g., Arctic (not Antarctic) sea ice or retreating glaciers.

A widespread defensive reaction to the recent temperature development has been that of stressing the importance of natural multi-annual and decadal temperature variations to explain the lack of warming. Previously, this was not a widespread line of argumentation among people supportive of the notion of significant anthropogenic warming:

In contrast, observed temperature increases were usually presented as indications of anthropogenic warming, and definitely not as the result of natural multi-annual and decadal temperature variations.
This way of assymetrical reasoning is interesting from a psykological point of view, and is usually considered characteristic for groupthink.

Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by members of a group, trying to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas (text from Wikepedia). During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance.

The contrast between the deliberations over two consecutive crises involving Cuba and the U.S. in 1961 and 1962, respectively, may serve as historical examples to illustrate the potential dangers and negative effects of groupthink:

In early 1961 President John F. Kennedy and his advisors fell into the trap of poor group decision-making practices that lead to their disastrous decision to launch the Bay of Pigs invasion (17 April 1961), which failed ignominiously, leading to the much more dangerous Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

As pointed out by Janis (1983) in his book Groupthink, the Bay of Pigs deliberations exhibited numerous characteristics that lead to bad decisions, such as a premature sense of apparent unanimity, suppression of personal doubts and of expression of contrary views. In addition, the group leader (Kennedy) guided the discussion in such a way as to minimize disagreement.

The subsequent October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis deliberations, again involving Kennedy and many of the same advisors, avoided those groupthink characteristics and instead proceeded along lines associated with productive decision-making, such as Kennedy ordering participants to think skeptically, inviting outside experts to share their viewpoints, allowing discussion to be freewheeling, having subgroups meet separately, and occasionally leaving the Cabinet Room to avoid his overly influencing the discussion himself (Diamond 2005).

Ultimately, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis was resolved peacefully, thanks in part to these prudent measures, and thanks in part to the courage, realism and political competance shown by both President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev .

But why did decision-making in these two Cuban crises unfold so differently? Much of the reason is probably that Kennedy himself thought hard after the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, and he charged his advisors to think equally hard, about what had gone wrong with their decision-making in 1961. Based on that thinking, he purposely changed how he operated the advisory discussions in 1962, thereby avoiding the negative effects of groupthink.

The 2008 defensive reaction to the recent lack of global warming can be considered as another fine example of groupthink. A premature sense of apparent unanimity prevails (most scientists agree that global warming is real and manmade), and any doubts and contrary views are suppressed (by official institutions launching lists of ‘correct’ answers to a number of critical questions (so-called myths), including the lack of warming since 1998).

Irving Janis (1977) devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (cited from Wikepedia):

Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.

Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.

Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".

Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.

Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

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