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A potentially useful book – Lies, Damn lies & Science

Filed under: — rasmus @ 29 March 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and ScienceAccording to a recent article in Eos (Doran and Zimmermann, ‘Examining the Scientific consensus on Climate Change‘, Volume 90, Number 3, 2009; p. 22-23 – only available for AGU members - update: a public link to the article is here), about 58% of the general public in the US thinks that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing the mean global temperature, as opposed to 97% of specialists surveyed. The disproportion between these numbers is a concern, and one possible explanation may be that the science literacy among the general public is low. Perhaps Sherry Seethaler’s new book ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science’ can be a useful contribution in raising the science literacy?

The book is about science in general and about how science often is miscommunicated in the media. It addresses a range of issues, such as how statistics often is misused, how scientific progress is made in general, that the ‘scientific method’ is not always as straightforward as one might like to think, the influence of stake-holders, the importance of knowing the context of the research, relationships between science and policy, and ploys designed to bypass logic. Many of the points made in the book are probably well known for the RC readership – albeit used in different situations to the case studies discussed in the book. There is also some discussion about AGW, amongst other subjects.

One little paradox is that the book claims (p. xx) that it will empower people of all ages and educational backgrounds to think critically about science-related issues and make well-balanced decisions about them. To me, that sounds like a big promise, and after having read the book, I started to wonder whether that statement is just the sort of claims it tries to make people become more skeptical about? Or maybe Seethaler really did succeed after all – because I saw how the arguments in her book could be applied to this promise?

The book touches on AGW, and does in general do a good job in my opinion. However, I cannot avoid bringing up some small details to pick at: The description of the greenhouse effect is not quite correct, as the reader gets the impression that it involves reflecting infrared radiation back to space (p. 84). That is not the case, as the energy from the sun lies mainly in the visible spectrum, and the infra red light from the Earth is a product from the absorption of the sunlight and a re-emittance due to Planck’s law.

Another point that I think is that the book discusses the controversy around AGW, but this can be a bit misleading. If you look in the climatological field, you may not see much controversy, but if you search the web, you may see something that looks like one. But I think that this controversy to a large extent is constructed out of thin air, an impression I feel is supported by Doran and Zimmermann’s, Eos article.

I get the impression that ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science’ has much in common with the older book ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics’, and that they try to convey similar take-home messages.

‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science‘ gives a nice collection of anecdotes and general tips. The book has a nice index and overview, so it’s easy to find your way through the book. I think the book is very useful for a lot of people – especially students, scientists, journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, and the voters.


335 Responses to “A potentially useful book – Lies, Damn lies & Science”

  1. 1
    Rick Brown says:

    Links to Doran and Zimmerman’s article in Eos, as well as Zimmerman’s thesis, can be found at Doran’s website: http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/home.htm

  2. 2
    Prof. Bleen says:

    Very nice review! One minor point: it should be Planck’s law.

  3. 3
    Bill DeMott says:

    I guess that one point is knowing how to access real science and the other is trusting “experts.” As a scientist, I feel comfortable relying on experts for information on topics outside my own specialty. For example, when I read about something related to viruses in a newspaper or hear a news report, I feel quite confortable going down the hall and asking my friend and colleague who is a virologist about it. In turn, he might ask me a question if an issue about ecology comes up. I would generally trust news articles in Science and Nature and articles in Discover magazine but usually find that news magazines, like Time and Newsweek get stories mostly right but also leave some wrong impressions.

    Americans don’t seem to trust experts. This has some good points and can also create some problems. Our tendency to question authority, even our own teachers, is a stength for American scientists–we are less reticent than Japanese or Germans, for example, to go against the consensus or are academic mentors. However, we seem to see an extreme mistrust in some quarters in the US and, perhaps other English speaking counties. In large parts of Europe and Asia, my impression is that people assume that experts, such as scientists, professors etc. are both competent and honest and can generally be trusted in their areas of expertise.

    The question arises whether this is something in the American character, or is it just due to scientific illiteracy?

  4. 4
    Joe Hunkins says:

    It seems to me that the numbers probably reflect politics rather than a lack of information. Evolution is all around us and the subject of zero legitimate scientific dispute, yet a lot of folks reject it. Another case where religious/political views trump reason. Almost all the well informed AGW critics don’t object to AGW and have not done so for *decades*, they object to alarmism.

  5. 5
    Mark says:

    “(and almost sole) ”

    A statement often made by denialists. I wonder where they get all the straw from and how the poor horses and cows manage without their winter feed.

  6. 6
    walter crain says:

    i (almost) hate to bring it up, but i think it has something to do with religion…
    an embarassingly large (40%?) portion of americans feel compelled to dismiss geology, biology, astronomy and just about every other science to preserve the literal accuracy of the ancient mesopotamian cosmology. to do this they are taught to distrust “secular” scientists in favor of the cadre of biblical scientists who have developed an entire alternate reality (e.g. “flood geology”). these crazy rationalizations aside, the best thing for them is not to learn anything “scientific” because it always seems to bump up against one or another of these alternate realities. for example the notion of us arguing about the historical temperature record going back millions of years is just nonsense to them.

  7. 7
    Paul says:

    One thing that is NOT going to help science literacy is this constant highlighting of inconsequential contrarians, which has become a staple of the man bites dog journalism over at the New York Times.

    It’s nice to see the scientists here at Real Climate filling the role of science reporting.

    [Response: We appreciate the sentiment, but we are not journalists and don't pretend to be. Science reporters are an essential part of this - we are just trying to help them out. - gavin]

  8. 8
    dennis baker says:

    Nuclear the ‘ethanol of 2017′, investment bank says
    13 March 2007
    Chris Rogers, utilities analyst at JP Morgan, believes that nuclear energy will be key to a zero-greenhouse gas hydrogen economy and that, if they want to be part of it, oil companies will have few options other than embracing nuclear power.

    JP Morgan’s report, Trading Climate Change, suggests that within the next decade nuclear energy will be at the top of the world’s agenda, with the resurgence of nuclear a key element both in the drive to reduce carbon emissions from power generation and to develop zero-emission hydrogen-fuelled transport. In fact, the report envisages nuclear energy’s contribution to vehicle fuel services in 10 years’ time to be as important as ethanol is today.

    Describing nuclear as the “renewable energy that dare not speak its name,” Rogers said that he believes that oil giants BP and Shell may already be looking at nuclear in their strategic plans, although both those companies played down any nuclear interest in press reports. However French oil company Total has already spoken up for future involvement in nuclear, with incoming CEO Christophe de Margerie declaring that the company will one day have to be part of the nuclear industry. Total chairman Thierry Desmarest has also confirmed that the company would be interested in moving into nuclear if a suitable opportunity arose.

    Future visions of a so-called hydrogen economy, in which hydrogen replaces hydrocarbons for transport, will require the production of hydrogen without associated carbon dioxide emissions. However the production of hydrogen is energy intensive, and nuclear power would provide an economic means of providing that energy without producing carbon dioxide. The JP Morgan report notes that nuclear-hydrogen offers a good value source of fuel to replace existing hydrocarbon sources, at a US Department of Energy cost estimate of $2.5 per gallon of gasoline equivalent compared to current traditional gasoline production costs are $1.5-2.0 per gallon ($5.68-7.57 per liter). On the downside, it notes that new nuclear build faces is not without challenges on the environmental, economic and planning fronts.

    Further information

  9. 9
    Hank Roberts says:

    And there’s a beautiful example of the problem — incomprehension by bobz (misunderstanding “significant” and not clear on the verb tense of “is” either). One poll question for him confirms his faith that everything published is wrong.

  10. 10
    Cassie says:

    Sadly, I believe people who are currently uninformed about climate change & the multitude of causes behind it will not be reading this book either. I think it’s fantastic to make a book that tries to simplify very complicated & hard-to-understand scientific issues. However, for the most part, the general public is not going to be interested in reading a book about it. It will most likely only be read by people who are already, in some way, shape, or form, interested in the scientific field. People, unfortunately, seem to get most of their science education from movies and/or TV these days.

  11. 11
    sidd says:

    Impressive. Doran shows that more than 95% of the climatologists who are active publishers agree with anthropogenic causes of warming.

  12. 12
    walter crain says:

    i would be curious to know whether that “58% of the general public” that attribute GW to humans is increasing or decreasing. anybody know? it seems to me (anecdotal evidence only) that it is decreasing?!

  13. 13

    The reasons for the disconnect are many, and complex. The fact that American students are not in the top 20 countries, in Math and Science, and have been sinking lower for decades, is part of it. This means that many of the reporters covering Science, have little knowledge about how Science works.

    I would guess that well over 25% of reporters do not have more than a superficial understanding what peer review is. (I have worked in television for 29 years).

    Many also have an attitude of “an interesting story is more important than some minor issues about science that no one will understand anyway”

    The post on Real Climate about Bud Ward’s book (12 January 2009
    Communicating the Science of Climate Change) is worth a re-read, and both journalists, and Scientists would get much from the book.

    Dan

  14. 14
    Lawrence Brown says:

    The main post and comment #1. refer to the re-emission of energy under Planck’s Law(E=hf). Shouldn’t this be Stefan’s Law, or am I laboring under a misaprehension?
    In any case, thank you for calling this book to my attention. It should make for enlightening reading, whether it meets its promise or not.

  15. 15
    John Mashey says:

    I look forward to reading this.

    re: 3 Bill

    Many Americans trust experts in their own turf, but several topics are subject to well-organized agnotology i.e., attempts to produce ignorance or at least doubt.

    The Proctor/Schiebinger book referenced there is useful. Chapter 3 is by Naomi Oresekes and Erik Conway, “Challenging Knowledge: How climate science became a victim of the cold war.” That is ~ written version of Naomi’s American Denial of Global Warming.

  16. 16
    JayNicks says:

    Not directly answering Walter Crain’s question but some related polls from Gallup

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/116590/Increased-Number-Think-Global-Warming-Exaggerated.aspx

    There are links on the r. side to more. For instance under Global Warming Worries,

    “There has also been an uptick in the percentage of Americans who say global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetimes, from 25% in 1997 to 40% today.”

  17. 17
    Dan M says:

    I have been reading this site for a long time and not participated in the discussion because I did not have anything to say to further the conversation, but I have enjoyed reading even when the math and science go beyond me. I like music, gardening, and I used to work with people in crisis, of almost any kind, so I have learned how to interact with others, and they tell me things. There are a lot of people that work drilling for natural gas, there is coal, and oil shale. The opinion that there is not AGW is expressed openly in public forums, as well as the alternative view. Lots of people listen to conservative talk radio, I hear it at repair shops and other places. People drive a lot here, there is a fledgling public transportation, but I am sure that the airport is used more than the train station for humans, but the train station has two or three coal trains pass through each day. There has been a reduction in energy drilling jobs and many say that environmental rules are to blame. It was cold this past winter, not as cold as any record breaking cold temperatures, but people watch the news and see another storm making life miserable for others, lots of people watch FOX news around here. It is a snapshot of a part of America.
    I finished a Master Gardener’s course with about seventy people, trying to understand the agricultural dynamics, the biological requirements of plants in this region, the bugs, and what doesn’t grow here. Some people see changes while others do not.
    My theory is that people are mostly conscious through emotion, in that what is on their mind is usually what is happening, or has happened, or maybe what might happen, filtered through the daily grind of work, food, relationships, sleep, water, air, and entertainment; and it is filtered by what we believe to be true. It you believe it to be true, then it must be true.
    And living in a moment where I am cooking dinner and trying to keep my mind on the current topic, it is easy to see why you light up the bar-b-que in a wind storm, or don’t think about science, in any form, except to say, “It sure is cold.” “Blame that global warning.”
    It is expedient to believe something so there is no challenge to your own conventional wisdom That is what I see around here. People don’t notice that we are in a different plant zone. A young lady drives her children to school in a Hummer. Our food comes from everywhere. Life is convenient, why change?
    At the moment, economics mean more than science, but technology is certainly a driving force, although it is often fantasy-driven. As a 10 yr. old, I had heard so such about the peaceful atom, I thought we would be driving nuclear powered air cars. A drilling company wanted to drill for the natural gas that was exposed to the Project Rulison atomic blast. How would you like heating your home with that? Peer review is someone talking about how you cooked on the grill.
    I think it is everywhere in America, small town, urban, or rural, having it so good that nobody wants to give it up, any of it. Shop at Walmart, give Bernie your dough for a good investment, and ignore science, except when it impacts your job. What do you think will convince all those people on the freeway, the tall buildings, sitting at home, watching T.V.

  18. 18
    Hank Roberts says:

    > agnotology

    That’d be the study of, but what’s the word for the active production and feeding of ignoramuses?
    The plural of “ignoramus” is “ignoramuses” … never a noun in Latin, only a verb, meaning “we do not know”.
    entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2317202.ece

    http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2008/08/fact-checking-john-tierney

  19. 19
    Natalie C says:

    Bringing to attention the issue of dis-proportioned views is a major step in the right direction, I agree that science literacy among the public is quite low considering what we as humans are capable of. I think a major flaw in the science and public ‘ex-communication’ issue is that many journals with current findings are not freely available to the public. Should knowledge not be free, and would it have a greater impact if it were?

  20. 20
    ccpo says:

    What is the quote? A man’s ability to understand/accept something is directly proportional to the extent to which his livelihood depends on him not understanding/accepting it? Not only have those highlighted in Oreske’s work proven this completely true, it’s also true for the public at large. Dealing with Climate Change – let alone energy and food issues, etc. – means changing our lives to a rather large extent. It’s not surprising the general public is amenable to lies, deceptions and distortions: their current lifestyle depends on them being true. Anything else means the world we know now is something our children, grandchildren and beyond will only know from stories.

    It *should* be instructive to the average American that the “greatest” nation on Earth is the least able among the “advanced” nations to accept and accommodate reality.

    I am, and have been, of the opinion that the greatest evil (I use the term non-religiously) has been done by the ability of the denialists/propagandists (there’s no way the people originating this carp actually believe it, is there?) to employ false equivalencies. As we have long known, it was/is simply the sowing of doubt that has paralyzed the public discussion of climate and energy policy. The reason THAT was possible is largely due to too many non-denialists not standing and speaking, not just clearly, but forcefully.

    (It may also be enlightening to ponder that the legal system in the US is based upon “a reasonable doubt,” so Americans are literally trained to consider anything this side of near absolute certainty as reason to reject an argument.)

    Two points come to mind with regard to denialists and false equivalencies: 1. You beat a bully by standing up to them. 2. Political Correctness, a.k.a. false politeness, is the exact opposite of honest and open debate.

    We have not been able to label liars as liars, trolls as trolls, shills as shills, propagandists as propagandists and criminals as criminals without being labeled “extremists” and “alarmists.” Allowing false equivalencies to exist without stronger reaction allows the impression that lies have merit.

    Real Climate is among the few sites that address any of this, but I’d encourage even stronger action from RC. That Watt’s site got voted the best science blog is an affront to intelligence, e.g., and should not just be ignored. That Inhofe’s office is a center of propaganda should be made clear. Etc. The “science” produced by the denialists needs to be eviscerated in very public ways, not just on blogs.

    We don’t just need climate conferences, we need a climate propaganda Public Service Announcement. A Climate Change State of the Union (World), if you will, where Obama gets on TV, tells the nation what is what in no uncertain terms and calls out the lies and liars before ceding the floor to a series of scientists to make this all very unambiguous to the nation.

    But, since such a thing is unlikely, those of us who are speaking up need to not only speak up, but do so in such a manner as to leave no doubt where the lies and damned lies about Climate Science come from and what the results of listening to them might be.

    Cheers

  21. 21
    Andrew Bernhardt says:

    The divide stems from the media’s misunderstanding, and thus misrepresenting, scientific discourse. Out of the thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles that are published every year only a handful are covered in the mainstream media, and the ones that are usually completely miss the point the scientists were trying to make. It’s as if they take the first 3 sentences of an abstract and run with it. The public is then so distanced from what is actually occurring in the scientific community that they are making up their minds with little to no true understanding of the issues. In order to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the mainstream media the media needs to no longer be controlled by advertiser-driven corporate conglomerates.

  22. 22
    walter crain says:

    though you weren’t “directly answering” me, that is exactly the kind of info i was wondering about. and, boy, it is discouraging. first, given all the talk on that “michael’s graph” thread, i have to laugh at the fact that all those trend lines are drawn starting at 1998… [do we have any "proxy data" from which to infer attitudes going back to the little ice age? :-)]

    but seriously, all those trends show how layman’s opinions on global warming have almost nothing to do with the science. it has to do with PR. “skeptics” have a formidable PR machine. we have al gore and jim hanson – both admirable men who make sound rational appeals to our intellect. this doesn’t work with most people. “skeptics” appeal to emotions and exploit ignorance (pretty easy marks).

    question for scientists here: do you think people like pat michaels and brian valentine are honest, but wrong? or are they intentionally being deceptive?

  23. 23
    Hank Roberts says:

    Natalie, look up the abstract and TOC, which are almost always online these days. If one of the authors is listed as the ‘corresponding author’ that means she will mail you a reprint, if you request one.

    Often you’ll find copies on the authors’ personal web pages, even if the journal won’t let you read the whole issue online free. Use Google Scholar, look for the various available forms and versions.

    Copyright law is its own can of worms and changing but authors are not always free to give away their work once it’s published.

  24. 24
    walter crain says:

    natalie c,
    i WISH that were the problem… those journals are way over even my head, and i would consider myself a scientifically literate layman. in my humble opinion, the literacy problem is with elementary, middle and high school science education and society’s valuing “cool” over intellect (e.g. considering a “nerd” uncool), and valuing faith/emotion over reason.

  25. 25
    dhogaza says:

    question for scientists here: do you think people like pat michaels and brian valentine are honest, but wrong? or are they intentionally being deceptive?

    Not a working scientist, but technically trained. Michaels is lying. I don’t know enough about Valentine to have an opinion.

  26. 26

    Natalie C wrote in 19:

    I think a major flaw in the science and public ‘ex-communication’ issue is that many journals with current findings are not freely available to the public. Should knowledge not be free, and would it have a greater impact if it were?

    Well, there is the argument for instance that the tax payer pays for much of the science which is done in this country — and that the articles which result from research funded in this manner should be open to the public. NASA makes much of its research available with this thought in mind.

    Alternatively, the journals need to be funded somehow, and they typically have a fairly limited audience — which increases the per unit cost — and as such they need to charge more to pay for the journals.

    Then again, while it is still somewhat experimental, there are open access journals. I managed to get a great many articles in evolutionary biology (e.g., retroelements, ribozymes, phages) that way with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    For example, here is an article that made a fairly big splash when it came out:

    Molecular origins of rapid and continuous morphological evolution
    John W. Fondon III and Harold R. Garner
    PNAS December 28, 2004 vol. 101 no. 52 18058-18063
    http://www.pnas.org/content/101/52/18058.full

    Six months after publication the articles become open access. That is what happened to the above article. Other journals do it somewhat differently.

    But PNAS isn’t just biology. Doing a quick search on climate oscillations using the internal search engine at PNAS I found the following:

    Contingent Pacific–Atlantic Ocean influence on multicentury wildfire synchrony over western North America
    Thomas Kitzberger, Peter M. Brown, Emily K. Heyerdahl, Thomas W. Swetnam, and Thomas T. Veblen
    PNAS January 9, 2007 vol. 104 no. 2 543-548
    http://www.pnas.org/content/104/2/543.full

    Rapid shifts in plant distribution with recent climate change
    Anne E. Kelly and Michael L. Goulden
    PNAS August 19, 2008 vol. 105 no. 33 11823-11826
    http://www.pnas.org/content/105/33/11823.full

    Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia
    Michael E. Mann, Zhihua Zhang, Malcolm K. Hughes, Raymond S. Bradley, Sonya K. Miller, Scott Rutherford, and Fenbiao Ni
    PNAS September 9, 2008 vol. 105 no. 36 13252-13257
    http://www.pnas.org/content/105/36/13252.full

    The first two became open access after six months. The last of these was open access from the outset.

  27. 27
    Bill DeMott says:

    Perhaps the most important education for a journalist would be to: 1. read one primary literature article (probably in a field that does not emphsize higher math) withh discussion and feedback from a scientist, 2)read a submitted manuscipt and the associated set of peer reviews, the author’s letter of responses to the reviews and the revised manuscript, and 3) read an NSF grant that was rejected with encouragement for resubmitting and the set of 6-10 accompanying reviews, as well as the review committee’s overview.

    I guess that my point is that no one outside of science seems to know how articles get published and how scientists get money to do their research. (Or how critical scientists are of their own research and that of their colleagues.)

  28. 28
    Alan of Oz says:

    A big promise.

    Personal anecdote: I dropped out of HS in ’76, did night school and a three year BSc starting in ’88. I can’t recall anyone discussing the philosophy of science, I first “got it” in ’81 simply by reading a small book written by a magician. It absolutely demolished paranormal claims in general and Uri Geller in particular.

    This was quite a shock to me since I had spent a couple of years reading nothing but paranormal books and magazines from the science sections of newsagents, bookstores and libraries. A lot of these books had large bibliographys chock full of important looking references.

    All the while becoming more convinced Uri was the real deal, after all he had FULLY wound up my watch when I was 16, through the TV! Well that’s what I though at the time, years later my Dad confesed to winding the watch with a pair of tweezers when I wasn’t looking.

    I picked up the book because it was cheap and even though he was a “non-scientist” he looked reasonably intelligent. I expected to find poo but found pearls, personally it’s the most important book I have ever read. I’m not sure if it was luck or the fact that dad was a senior engineer that made me consider looking at poo in the first place.

    I’m 50 now and still know nothing. Sadly as Randi, Sagan, Dawkins, etc, have all pointed out; that’s more than most.

  29. 29
    Alan of Oz says:

    Re #19 Patience…

    I agree that anything that comes from the public purse should be public domain but in practice projects also draw funds from corporations and individuals. Labs make money from selling IP that would other wise have to come from somewhere else.

    I’ve been hooking computers together since the mid 80′s, in the last decade the content of the web has gone from, usefull to criminals and computer geeks, to a gazzillion papers on climate change alone and from more journals that anyone knew existed.

    The web will keep improving in leaps and bounds because we humans have a strange complusion to “fill it up” with stuff. That stuff costs money, serious money, not the pitance they spend on the IPCC…anyway….my point is there will always be “user pays” vs “public pays” arguments but if no one pays it gets dropped in the bit bucket.

  30. 30
    viriato says:

    off topic.
    Can anyone explain me who is this guy :Nils-Axel Mörner? He claims there is no sea level rise, but it crystal clear if I look here (f.e.) http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/sl_hist_last_15.html
    So that I cannot understand how it is possible to deny this data.
    Please , help, this people is driving me crazy :S

    [Response: People are free to say anything they like. Whether they have any credibility is up to the listener to decide. -gavin]

  31. 31

    Natalie C. says:

    I think a major flaw in the science and public ‘ex-communication’ issue is that many journals with current findings are not freely available to the public. Should knowledge not be free, and would it have a greater impact if it were?

    I cannot agree with you enough on this point! Everything is behind a paywall, not only contemporary articles, but old articles. I can’t see a copy of Hart’s 1978 Earth model paper, even though its conclusions have been refuted again and again. Everything requires $26 or $31 or $36, and if you aren’t a professor with an institution ready to fork over the dough, you’re screwed. This is a very bad situation. It’s ameliorated just a bit because a lot of researchers are willing to put up PDFs of their papers, and some teachers do so for classes, but aside from that, most of the public is left out.

  32. 32
    Adam Gallon says:

    Perhaps this scientifically illiterate public is using its senses?
    We’ve been bombarded with horror stories about the disasterous effects of “Global Warming”, “Climate Change” or whatever it’s name is today.
    Then we, the public, compare reality to the computer models.

    [Response: Ah, 'you' the public. Well, I'm part of the public too, and your tiresome list of red-herrings, cherry-picks and outright untruths does not accord in any way to what this member of the public sees. I'm sure the other members of the public would appreciate you not speaking for them either. But since you put it all down in a list, it's easy enough to critique. - gavin]

    We’ve been told that AGW will lead to more frequent & destructive hurricanes.

    [Response: It may well do. The magnitude of such an effect is still difficult to discern. - gavin]

    We see such storms have dropped to an historic low, lower than at least the past 30 years, possibly the last 50, as measurements aren’t as good in the pre-satellite era.

    [Response: Physical understanding is not based on time-series correlations of noisy data. ]

    Speaking of measurements, we’re told that (insert year you like) is amongst the “warmest on record”.

    [Response: Well, yes. It was. ]

    We find that these records have been adjusted, possibly for good reason, but such adjustments do seem to favour reducing temperatures a bit before the 1930s, raising them a little post 1950s.

    [Response: So you would rather leave in obvious errors that reduce the overall trend? Hmm... Many adjustments also reduce the trends (such as correcting for UHI and the bucket corrections on the SST). I suppose those are ok? ]

    We see that the surface stations are poorly positioned to return accurate measurements, the ones in the USA demonstrably so, ones elsewhere are unlikely to be better.

    [Response: You fail to see that ocean temperatures, satellite measurements, glacier melting, Arctic ice retreat, changes in phenology are all consistent with a warming planet. Or that all the independent analyses actually agree, or that the GISTEMP analysis is very similar to what you get only if you use the 'good' stations? ]

    We question whether measurements from what was the USSR are trustworthy, when how cold things were in the back end of Siberia would be taken into account when fuel was allocated via a government office in Moscow, a few thousand miles away.

    [Response: Changes in vegetation as a response to warming as seen by satellites over the same areas are obviously caused by former-USSR apparatchiks painting the ground green. ]

    We’re told that anyone who questions the veracity of AGW, is a paid lackey of some big energy company.

    [Response: No. You appear to be doing it for free. You realise that you are undermining the market for professionals in this field though?]

    We note that it’s a government that’s sticking a tax on a tax with fuel duty added to the pump price, then VAT (Sales Tax) is stuck ontop of the gross sum; we note that our vehicle tax is linked to its CO2 output, so who’s making the most money from this?

    [Response: Oh my god! The UK government taxes food - they must want us all to starve! When you stop using services that the government pays for (err... like roads), I'll take you more seriously. ]

    We’re told that the North Pole is melting, more and more is going each year, with 2007′s melt meaning some 2m sq miles less than 2003

    [Response: You dispute this? Long term trends in all seasons are towards less Arctic sea ice. You truly have to be blind not to see this one. ]

    We see that the arctic sea ice extent has increased since then, currently up around the 2004 levels, so we’re told that it’s not actually the area, it’s the thickness and what birthday it’s celebrated.

    [Response: Ah, the old short term noise trick again. Don't you get tired of always using the same crutch? ]

    We see intrepid men, paddling their way to the pole, to demonstrate how much the ice has melted.
    We see them getting picked up by the ship that’s followed them and then find out that an expedition got 60 miles further north in 1922.
    We see another intrepid group, walking to the pole, “Tweeting” as they go, telling us they’re measuring the thickness of the ice, whuic has never been done before.
    We find out that the weather’s so cold, that it certainly isn’t the air temperature that’s melting any ice and that the USN has had automated bouys measuring the ice thickness, bobbing away for years.

    [Response: The reason why there is ice there in the first place is because it's cold. And the reason why we don't have great in situ measurements is because working there is tough. Pretending to rediscover these facts is no surprise to any potential explorers or to any readers. And if you looked at what the Arctic buoys are showing with respect to ice thickness, it is clear there is a long term decline. Probably just because former-USSR apparatchiks keep moving them though....]

    We’re told that the sea level’s rising, flooding Pacific Islands.

    [Response: Sea levels are rising. Or are you in complete denial of this also? ]

    We haven’t seen any being evacuated, we see that Venice is actually doing what it has been doing, ever since some bright Italian decided to build a city on a swamp.

    [Response: Actually Venice is built on islands in a lagoon, not a swamp. And they are spending billions of dollars building a barrage system to reduce their risk of flooding - which is increasing due both to rising sea levels and subsidence. I'm sure the good people of Bangladesh would appreciate your support for a similar construction across the entire Bay of Bengal. ]

    We’re told that a warmer climate is a worse climate.

    [Response: No, it's just a different climate and one we have not spent the last 200 years adapting to. ]

    We remember what our grandparents told us and old news reels show of the winter of 1947-8, where snow lay on the ground for months, livestock starved in the fields if a helicopter couldn’t get hay to them and we think “Thank (insert name of diety) that hasn’t happened this year”.

    [Response: And we remember the summer of 2003 where 30,000 excess deaths occurred during a summer heat wave. What is your point? ]

    We’re told that non-climatologists aren’t “qualified” to voice opinion on this matter.

    [Response: When it comes to the science, you are right. Expertise does matter. Your contributions for instance are pretty much worthless, other than as an indication of how people behave irrationally when it comes to dealing with complex issues. Your opinion on what society should do about scientific discoveries however is worth exactly the same as mine since that is part of the democratic give and take. ]

    We see a failed politician making films & globe trotting on a private jet; a highly intelligent man with a PhD in Engineering chairing the IPCC.

    [Response: And we see underemployed peers of the realm pretending to know something about climate give testimony on capitol hill. Or retired TV presenters complaining about conspiracy theories. Or science fiction authors briefing the president.]

    But seriously, all those trends show how layman’s opinions on global warming have almost nothing to do with the science. it has to do with PR. “warmists” have a formidable PR machine. we have Andrew Watts and Steve McIntytre – both admirable men who make sound rational appeals to our intellect. this doesn’t work with most people. “Warmists” appeal to emotions and exploit ignorance (pretty easy marks).

    [Response: Oh yes, the IPCC reports, or the National Academies are full of hyperbole and appeals to emotion. Not like anything that comes from Monckton or Art Robinson of course. ]

    I wonder if this will make it passed the censor’s red pen here?

    [Response: This is the most tedious complaint of all. Your contributions add nothing to any conversation. They simply regurgitate trivial and easily dismissed talking points you pick up from the flotsam of the blogosphere. Your freedom to contribute in your own house, on your own blog and indeed anywhere else that will have you is unabridged. That we choose to try and keep conversations on topic, civil and free of the seemingly inevitable tedium of your style of 'argument' is our choice. You do not have to read. Think of the blog like a dinner party - interesting discussion and disagreement is welcome, but boorish abuse of the hosts is not. You fall well into the latter category and we act accordingly. Now run off and complain about how mean we are. - gavin]

  33. 33
    pete best says:

    For all those going on about Freeman Dyson. Here is a physicist (Tim Palmer) who graduated with a PhD and was offered work with Stephen Hawking on supergravity which he refused. He went to to become an internationally renowned climate science modeller who I belive invented (or helped to) invent the technique called ensemble modelling which seems to incorporate some of chaos theory into this complex system.

    This article now suggests that he wants to use fractal mathematics in an attempt to demonstrate the inadequacy of quantum physics from the old philosophy of it all.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127011.600-can-fractals-make-sense-of-the-quantum-world.html?page=1

    Now he is not in laymans terms as famous as Dyson but I wonder if people would prefer to listen to dyson or Tim on the subject of climate science and modelling. I would imagine that RC know him and could ask him to post an article (not that he has the time to do I would imagine) on the subject as he seems as great a mind as anyone on this subject (maybe even as intelligent as Gavin).

  34. 34
    Mr Potarto says:

    The reason so many people are dubious about AGW is not to do with religion or ignorance. Most people are ignorant of astronomy or advanced physics, but if you asked them if black holes exist, you’d get a higher proportion agreeing than do with man-made global warming.

    People don’t believe because they don’t see it as a scientific issue, but as a political one. Once the politicians started making grandiose claims and issuing apocalyptic scenarios, climate change became – in the minds of the public – a political excuse for social engineering and taxation.

    Those minds won’t be changed now until there is water lapping at their doorsteps.

  35. 35
    Chris Colose says:

    gavin is generally correct when he talks, but after that demolition of Adam’s comments he gets extra bonus points.

  36. 36
    truth says:

    Viriato [30]
    That CSIRO link said,[ speaking of the rise over the last two decades]—- ‘Whether or not this represents a further increase in the rate of sea level rise is not yet certain’.
    Not quite crystal clear, I would think.
    And this from a senior researcher in the Netherlands, where sea levels are a preoccupation and subject of research that has more urgency than for many in the rest of the world.
    ‘ In an op-ed piece in the December 11 issue of NRC/Handelsblad, Wilco Hazeleger, a senior scientist in the global climate research group at KNMI, writes:
    “In the past century the sea level has risen twenty centimeters. There is no evidence for accelerated sea-level rise. It is my opinion that there is no need for drastic measures. It is wise to adopt a flexible, step-by-step adaptation strategy. By all means, let us not respond precipitously.”’
    http://climatesci.org/2008/12/page/2/

  37. 37
    J. Bob says:

    I don’t think it helps climate modeling when NOAA predicts a warmer then usual winter in the East & Midwest. Well we are still freezing our tails off, and heating bills are going through the roof. It also doesn’t help when you can go to climate4you.com and see a 350 year chart from central England showing a long slight warming trend, with no significant deviations, over the time span. There are a number of very good graphs of temperature and polar ice, at climate4you, to be skeptical of “tipping point” claims.

  38. 38
    spilgard says:

    Re 32:
    You forgot to include the Vikings frolicking across a lush Greenland and pasty-faced scientists getting rich by sucking the lifeblood of hard-working real folks. Now I must be off to my Monday morning conference call wherein all of the world’s scientists gather to coordinate the global coverup and discuss our fund-grubbing plans for the coming week.

  39. 39
    Scott Robertson says:

    Re #32 Extra credit for that dismantling but a shame you have to waste such time. There is no convincing people who are dug into denial. I guarantee none of those links will be clicked through.
    The book sounds very interesting and I look forward to reading it. I think we, as scientists sometimes fail in good communication especially when an issue is as complex as climate change and human effects.
    I recently taught an undergrad elective introduction to meteorology class at a school outside of Pittsburgh. We spent 3 weeks on climate change/global warming. Before we started I polled the class about who believed we were warming and whether or not we caused it. Out of 30 students only 3 thought we weren’t responsible. I found that very surprising but also reassuring.

  40. 40
    Mark says:

    “I don’t think it helps climate modeling when NOAA predicts a warmer then usual winter in the East & Midwest.”

    But which do you remember: the incident that happened as expected or the one that wasn’t expected?

    Most people remember the unexpected.

    It’s why “you wait HOURS for a bus and then three turn up all at once” remains a common meme. When you didn’t wait three hours and one bus turned up on time, you don’t remember it.

  41. 41
    dhogaza says:

    I don’t think it helps climate modeling when NOAA predicts a warmer then usual winter in the East & Midwest.

    But this is only a regional seasonal weather forecast …

    And when they predicted a warmer than usual winter, what were they referring to as “usual”? Are you certain it’s been colder than their reference for “usual”? “Warmer than usual” and “cold (which is typical of winter)” aren’t necessarily contradictory.

    [Response: In fact, NOAA now uses a baseline climatology (i.e., what defines 'normal') of 1971-2000. This climatology absorbs much of warming of the past few decades. So 'normal' by this standard, is actually 'anomalous' by average 20th century standards. And 'cold' by this standard, would probably just mean 'normal' by average 20th century standards. -mike]

  42. 42
    Mark says:

    “People don’t believe because they don’t see it as a scientific issue, but as a political one. Once the politicians started making grandiose claims and issuing apocalyptic scenarios,”

    Uh, it was the PR puff pieces from the petrochem industry that turned it political.

    And if someone had said “Stop your methods of farming or there’ll be famine and desolation!” in the 1920′s US they would have been accused of issuing an apocalyptic scenario.

    Would they have been wrong to issue such a scenario?

  43. 43
    dhogaza says:

    we have Andrew Watts and Steve McIntytre – both admirable men who make sound rational appeals to our intellect.

    This being the same Andrew Watts who recently soundly appealed to Adam’s rational by posting excerpts from a paper that outlines what the researcher (Lu) believes is the major mechanism by which CFCs diminish the ozone layer over Antarctica.

    Why did Watts post it? “New peer-reviewed paper indicates that maybe cosmic rays, not CFCs, cause the ozone hole!”. Totally misunderstanding the paper, an absolute miss.

    And the chorus? An near-endless stream of “see, this proves science is a fraud! there was no reason to ban CFC production!”.

    Watts, who frequently doesn’t even understand the papers he references, is overturning the work of thousands of scientists?

    Laughable.

  44. 44
    Bocco says:

    Re: 31 and Natalie C.

    How would you suggest scientific journals make money? Would you be willing to nationlize publishers and put some tax dollars up against that? Think of the uproar that would cause, even if it is cheeper than a CO2-machine producer bail-out. I notice your own work (BPL) “Ella the Vampire” is not available for free. But seriously, if you’re really interested in reading highly technical language then dig a little deeper (see 23 and 26 above). If the abstract make no sense to you, then you can skip the rest and come to places like RC that might help to explain it.

  45. 45
    walter crain says:

    ha! dhogaza (43), i hadn’t noticed that adam gallon (32) had taken my paragraph about “admirable men” from post #22 and reworded it. he was being clever… im honored, i think.

  46. 46
    Knut Witberg says:

    “…about 58% of the general public in the US thinks that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing the mean global temperature, as opposed to 97% of specia lists surveyed.”

    I get a bit skeptic when I read this. The definition of, and the data presentation of, the two populations is certainly problematic, especially the definition of a “specia list”. The construction of the instrument (the set of questions) that ought to make it possible to determine the outcome, is also important.

    What is a “significant contributing factor”?

    The responsible statistician has also made it a easy for himself by formulating the result of his survey “…of specia lists surveyed.” This only states a quality of the “specia lists” that the statistician came upon (regardless of the method used to achieve the sample) and actually where surveyed. If they all were friends of James Hansen, the result is not surprising.

    Then there is the question of the circumstances under which the survey was made. Was it an anonymous survey? The possibility that a skeptical scientist will face repercussions is well known.

    The survey does not state what “human activity” that the statistician have in mind. The burning of fossil fuels because of CO2 emissions? The release of carbon soot in the atmosphere? The methane emissions from the one billion cows we have on earth. The use of water for irrigation? May be all of them?

    I also find it more than a bit odd that a site that wants to be seen as solemn refers a survey like this without even mentioning the doubtful core quality of such a survey. It reminds me of Albert Einstein’s reply when he was confronted with a list of 200 Nazi scientists that had signed a letter stating that Einstein’s findings were faulty: “Why 200? It takes only one to prove me wrong”.

  47. 47

    Re 30:
    About Mörner and credibility
    http://www.randi.org/hotline/1998/0012.html
    Dowsing…

  48. 48
    Dan says:

    re: 37.
    a. You are only looking at regional temperatures (England, the Eastern US, etc.) as opposed to *global* averages.
    b. Actually, everywhere south of about 40 degree N latitude in the eastern US and midwestern US was *above* normal this past winter with the exception of Florida.

  49. 49
    RichardC says:

    44 Bocco, it’s about value-added. The information was manufactured with public funds. Pasting it into a server takes little extra effort. I’d suggest CHARGING the scientific journals a small amount to publish the papers, and then using the funds to maintain an archive. Bandwidth, storage, and search capability are cheap. $30 for a paper? You’re talking what? $0.10 for cost and $29.90 in profit? It’s a rip-off.

  50. 50
    ccpo says:

    “# J. Bob Says:
    30 March 2009 at 9:42 AM

    There are a number of very good graphs of temperature and polar ice, at climate4you, to be skeptical of “tipping point” claims.”

    You don’t seem to understand what a tipping point is. Another word for it is a bifurcation. It’s a point where turbulence enters a previously (to a layman) non-chaotic process. A good example comes from “Chaos: The Making of a New Science.” Think of a stream of water flowing out of a faucet. Imagine increasing the flow of water till it goes from a smooth-looking single stream to a chaotic, air-filled messy flow. That’s your bifurcation.

    Now imagine being able to perfectly predict when that bifurcation will happen without knowing what exactly causes it nor the speed at which changes prior to the bifurcation will be happening.

    That’s the mess we are in now.

    If you think looking at historical graphs is going to tell you when a bifurcation is about to hit, I wish you luck.

    It is the nature of tipping points that has people like me and scientists like Hansen scare to death. We can see massive climate shifts in periods of less than a decade in the historical record. Given we are pushing the climate faster and harder than at any time in the past, shouldn’t we be concerned about a bifurcation? More so, is it worth the risk?

    Cheers


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