Lessons From Y2K

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Bruce Webster reminisces about why the hysteria about Y2K closely resembles the hysteria surrounding Anthropogenic Global Warming – and why he is a confirmed skeptic on the whole subject. He's been there and done that.

My first clue that there were serious problems with anthropogenic global warming was, frankly, the vitrol towards and demonization of those who questioned it. In my experience, that is almost always a sign — especially in scientific circles — that the proponents of a given theory are insecure. I first saw this when Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick challenged both the data sets and the algorithms used by Mann et al. in producing the famous Hockey Stick. While I’m not a climatologist, I do know a lot about data sets, algorithms, and modeling — and what I was hearing was very disturbing. And the reaction to McIntyre and McKitrick was not to welcome open investigation and criticism but to circle the wagons and to start calling anyone who challenges global warming a lacky of the oil companies (curious, since the oil companies themselves seem to be drinking the AGW kool-aid).

It is a fairly long piece, but I rather suspect that many Crabitat readers will be very interested in it. What Bruce describes is essentially a cascade effect – where a consensus builds around a false set of data. While Y2K was a real threat, many jumped onto the bandwagon and generated additional, bogus threats that became media fodder. That snowballed the entire thing into a juggernaut that simply did not happen as predicted. There is a lesson here.

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3 Responses to Lessons From Y2K

  1. dicentra says:

    The primary differences with Y2K is that (a) the problem was well-defined, (b) there was actually something concrete we could do about it. It involved digging into a lot of old code and doing a lot of testing where you moved the clock forward on a test system and watched to see what happened.I was working for a military software journal around that time, and we ran lots of Y2K articles, but they all had to to with how to ferret out the problems in all that legacy code and fix them, not on apocalyptic predictions.OK, there was a little of that, but it wasn’t as if anyone said we had to destroy the economy to atone for our sins against Gaia. It was just a cautionary tale to programmers (hello IPv4!) that they have to future-proof their systems.

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  3. martian says:

    My wife pointed out the other day that in the mid 70’s when she was in high school all of the supposed "experts" were confidently predicting that we were on the verge of another ice age. They were talking about preparing for massive climate changes in the opposite direction of global warming and discussing ways for our civilization to survive when the glaciers came.
    Now, just 30 years later, we are poised on the brink of a manmade heat catastrophe. What does that say to me? That we, mankind, have no real clue about the atmospheric dynamics that govern weather and climate. Taht we have barely scratched the surface in our attempts to understand what governs it and that we are foolish to even try to claim that we know what’s going to happen in the next 100 years.

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