Minds are like parachutes, or are they dumpsters?

Open Minds has yet another post in a long series demolishing bizarre views of climate skeptics, particularly those from WattsUpWithThat. Several of the targets are nice violations of conservation laws and bathtub dynamics. For example, how can you believe that the ocean is the source of rising atmospheric CO2, when atmospheric CO2 increases by less than human emissions and ocean CO2 is also rising?

The alarming thing about this is that, if I squint and forget that I know anything about dynamics, some of the rubbish sounds like science. For example,

The prevailing paradigm simply does not make sense from a stochastic systems point of view – it is essentially self-refuting. A very low bandwidth system, such as it demands, would not be able to have maintained CO2 levels in a tight band during the pre-industrial era and then suddenly started accumulating our inputs. It would have been driven by random events into a random walk with dispersion increasing as the square root of time. I have been aware of this disconnect for some time. When I found the glaringly evident temperature to CO2 derivative relationship, I knew I had found proof. It just does not make any sense otherwise. Temperature drives atmospheric CO2, and human inputs are negligible. Case closed.

I suspect that a lot of people would have trouble distinguishing this foolishness from sense. In fact, it’s tough to precisely articulate what’s wrong with this statement, because it falls so far short of a runnable model specification. I also suspect that I would have trouble distinguishing similar foolishness from sense in some other field, say biochemistry, if I were unfamiliar with the content and jargon.

This reinforces my conviction that words are inadequate for discussing complex, quantitative problems. Verbal descriptions of dynamic mental models hide all kinds of inconsistencies and are generally impossible to reliably test and refute. If you don’t have a formal model, you’ve brought a knife, or maybe a banana, to a gunfight.

There are two remedies for this. We need more formal mathematical model literacy, and more humility about mental models and verbal arguments.

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