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Resolving technical issues in science

One of the strengths of science is its capacity to resolve controversies by generally accepted procedures and standards. Many scientific questions (especially more technical ones) are not matters of opinion but have a correct answer.

Scientists document their procedures and findings in the peer-reviewed literature in such a way that they can be double-checked and challenged by others. The proper way to challenge results is, of course, also through the peer-reviewed literature, so that the challenge follows the same standards of documentation as did the original finding.

Such a challenge can either be in form of a new, independent paper, or in the form of a comment to a published paper. The latter is the appropriate avenue if the challenge is not based on new data (and is thus a piece of research in its own right), but is a criticism of the methods used in a paper.

Such technical comments are routinely published in journals, and RealClimate authors have of course also been involved in writing or receiving such comments. One prominent example was a comment in Science showing that a challenge by Von Storch et al. (2004) to the “hockey stick” climate reconstruction of Mann et al. (1998) “was based on incorrect implementation of the reconstruction procedure”. We discussed the implications on Realclimate after the comment appeared. Another recent example was a comment by Schmith et al. on a Science paper on sea level rise by Stefan, noting that he failed to account for the effect of smoothing on the autocorrelation in the data he used. In his response, Stefan acknowledged this mistake but showed that it does not affect his main conclusions.

That the original authors are allowed to respond to a comment in the same journal issue, and the comment’s authors get to consider this response before deciding to go ahead with their comment, are key hallmarks of a fair procedure, in addition to a neutral journal editor and independent reviewers overseeing the process. Even if the authors of comment and reply continue to disagree to some extent, this comment process in most cases resolves the issue to the satisfaction of the scientific community. It lays out the facts in a fair and transparent way and gives outsiders a good basis for judging whom is right. In this way it advances science.

There is however a different way of criticizing scientific papers that is prevalent in blogs like ClimateAudit. This involves challenging, ‘by all means necessary’, any paper whose conclusions are not liked. This can be based on simple typos, basic misunderstandings of the issues and ‘guilt by association’ though there is sometimes the occasional interesting point. Since these claims are rarely assessed to see if there is any actual impact on the main result, the outcome is a series of misleading critiques, regardless of whether any of these criticisms are in fact even valid or salient, that give the impression that every one of these papers is worthless and that all their authors incompetent at best and dishonest at worst. It is the equivalent of claiming to have found spelling errors in a newspaper article. Fun for a while, but basically irrelevant for understanding any issue or judging the worth of the journalist.

While commentary — even quite negative commentary — of papers on blogs is entirely reasonable (after all, we do it here occasionally), claims that a particular paper has been ‘discredited’ or ‘falsified’ that have not withstood (at minimum) the process of peer-review should be viewed with extreme skepticism. So should accusations of dishonesty or misconduct that have not already been conclusively and unequivocally substantiated.

This brings us to the recent claim by Hu McCulloch that a post on, detailing an error in Steig et al’s paper in Nature on Antarctic temperature change, was not given due credit by Steig et al. when they published a Corrigendum earlier this month. In this case, McCulloch’s comment on the paper were perfectly valid, but he chose to avoid the context of normal scientific exchange — instead posting his comments on — and then playing a game of ‘gotcha’ by claiming plagiarism when he wasn’t cited.

McCulloch accuses Steig et al. of appropriating his ‘finding’ that Steig et al. did not account for autocorrelation when calculating the significance of trends. While the published version of the paper didn’t include such a correction, it is obvious that the authors were aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper it is stated that this correction was made. The corrected calculations were done using well-known methods, the details of which are available in myriad statistics textbooks and journal articles. There can therefore be no claim on Dr. McCulloch’s part of any originality either for the idea of making such a correction, nor for the methods for doing so, all of which were discussed in the original paper. Had Dr. McCulloch been the first person to make Steig et al. aware of the error in the paper, or had he written directly to Nature at any time prior to the submission of the Corrigendum, it would have been appropriate to acknowledge him and the authors would have been happy to do so. Lest there be any confusion about this, we note that, as discussed in the Corrigendum, the error has no impact on the main conclusions in the paper.

There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, and pointing out errors — even fairly minor ones — is important and useful. The difference, though, between people who want to find out something about the real world and people who just want to score political points, is what is made of those errors. That is the test of constructive scientific dialog. Specious accusations of fraud, plagiarism and the like don’t pass such a test; instead they simply poison the atmosphere to everyone’s loss.

217 Responses to “Resolving technical issues in science”

  1. 101
    SecularAnimist says:

    I don’t think that this is said very often, but with all of the inordinate time and attention given to the “concerns” of the phony “skeptics”, there seems to be far less time and attention given to those of us who are truly alarmed.

    I am one of those people. I find the real-time, observational climate science that is coming out every day — let alone the projections from new and improved models — to be, in a word, terrifying.

    My understanding of the science is basically that:

    1. Anthropogenic GHG emissions have increased and are increasing much faster than expected, at or above the IPCC worst-case scenarios.

    2. It appears that the warming that results directly from GHG forcing is greater than expected.

    3. It appears that the effect of a given amount of warming on the climate, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere is greater than expected.

    4. It appears that carbon sinks are becoming saturated and feedbacks are being triggered portending a rapid acceleration of warming.

    5. It appears that the warming that is already “locked in” due to the longevity of excess CO2 is already enough to cause truly catastrophic effects.

    6. It appears extremely unlikely that humanity as a whole will do what is well understood to be needed to phase out our GHG emissions rapidly enough to avoid much, much greater warming that what is already locked in.

    In short, when I look at the science I see unmitigated, unthinkable global catastrophe, not only for human civilization but for the Earth’s biosphere itself, barreling down on us with no plausible way of averting it. Sure, we could “theoretically” stop all emissions within 5-10 years, and simultaneously launch a world-wide program of reforestation and conversion to organic agriculture to draw down the already dangerous excess CO2 and sequester it in soils and biomass, and maybe the glaciers would stop melting and the seas would stop rising and the deserts would stop spreading and the forests would stop dying. But I just don’t see any plausible chance that we will do that.

    When I look at the science, what I see is: there is no hope.

    So, forget the deniers and the delayers for a little while. Speak to the folks who are scared to death. Tell ME that I’m “cherry picking” and it isn’t all that bad. PLEASE.

  2. 102
    SecularAnimist says:

    Mark, I don’t intend to launch an off-topic discussion, but you are mistaken to refer to “psychic studies” as “not science”.

    The Parapsychological Association is an affiliate of the AAAS. There are endowed chairs and departments of parapsychology at major universities. Modern parapsychology has progressively built on a century-long history of experimental science, is conducted according to the highest standards of scientific inquiry, and is often highly technical in nature and subjected to rigorous controls. Prominent scientists have affirmed that the existence of various ‘psi’ phenomena have been successfully, and repeatedly, demonstrated in stringently controlled laboratory conditions. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, there is no question that parapsychology is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry. Even famous skeptic Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World in which he railed against superstition of all sorts, allowed that the evidence for certain psi phenomena was sufficiently strong to warrant further study.

    Unfortunately, parapsychology has been subjected to a campaign of hostile, ideologically-motivated pseudo-skepticism (sound familiar?) founded in the a priori belief of some people that the phenomena it seeks to study are “supernatural” or “religious” in nature, and therefore by definition cannot be real, and certainly are not something that scientists should study.

    In my experience, most people who glibly categorize parapsychology as pseudoscience, superstition or fakery, know very little about it, and most of what they think they know about it comes from ideologues like CSICOP.

    I have suggested here before that scientific-minded folks who defend climate science against its pseudo-skeptical critics can learn something about the motivations and thinking of those critics by examining their own attitudes towards parapsychology: are those attitudes based on careful, open-minded, impartial study of the subject? Or are they based on a refusal to countenance that which we already know cannot possibly be true?

    [Response: There’s a huge difference between exploring reported phenomena using the tools of science, and continuing to believe that these things exist despite no supporting evidence. It is not that everyone is ‘a priori’ hostile to para-psychology, but rather that despite it’s existence as a field of academic study for decades, it has produced no convincing evidence that that the phenomena it purports to study actually exist. At what point to you move on to more fruitful endeavours? – gavin]

  3. 103
    colin Aldridge says:

    If anyoneone wants to see the climate debate (between deniers,lukewarmers,AGW mainstream and alarmists) in perspective Kuhn’s 1962 work on revolutions in Science is a must read. The idea that Science evolves through consensus is not correct. A mainstream view emerges, it is elaborated and refined by its proponents seeking to correct data that doesn’t fit the theory. Eventually the inconsistencies become too difficult to manage and the theory is discarded for another which better fits the expeimental data. In another 100 years the evolution of the theories around cliamte change will make a fascinating case study. My guess is that the—- its all CO2 and the rest is natural variability— will become untenable within 5 years or so to be replaced with more sophisticated models with C02 as a major component. Till then expect the normal bad mouthing between rival camps which is not unusual in Science. There is however some progress… we don’t put deniers or alarmists on the rack like Gallileo!! ( actually he was just shown the instruments now I think about it)

    [Response: But your opinion about the current ‘paradigm’ is completely wrong. No one currently thinks that ‘its all CO2 and the rest is natural variability’. That’s just a strawman argument, easily disposed off. Where did you get this idea? – gavin]

  4. 104
    Jim Galasyn says:

    SecularAnimist, this quote seems apt:

    I can’t lie to you about your chances. But you have my sympathies. — Ash, Alien

  5. 105
    Hank Roberts says:

    There’s hope.
    Earth abides.
    Evolution will continue.
    Something good will come of all this.
    — signed, one of the dinosaurs

  6. 106
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    John Brockman’s new book, “What Have You Changed Your Mind About?” is a very good collection of short essays by scientists. The last is by W. Daniel Hillis, who had believed that Aristotle (Meteorologica) was wrong in his assertion that hot water freezes faster than cold water. Any chance that rising ocean temperatures may aid icecap recovery?

  7. 107
    Ike Solem says:

    Richard S. Lindzen has popped up again:

    “Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses…”

    His main point is the tropical temperature trend – but he ignores all recent work:

    Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface. Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect..

    The more recent work he needs to address includes:

    Claim That Simulated Temperature Trends For Tropics Inconsistent With Observations Is Flawed, Experts Argue, ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2008)

    “[Lindzen’s] claim was based on the application of a flawed statistical test and the use of older observational datasets.”

    “The second reason for the reconciliation of models and observations was the availability of new and improved observational datasets, both for surface and tropospheric temperatures.”

    For more on the improved observational datasets:

    Apparent Problem With Global Warming Climate Models Resolved(May 30, 2008)

    Lindzen didn’t try and publish a scientific response, but rather put his smear article in “The People’s Voice”, an internet site which claims to be focused on “environmental, political and social justice issues.” – and they have a lot of wild-eyed denialism, for example, stories about the horrendous politics and fraudulent science that is driving the IPCC.

    They really lay it on thick:

    We are not a corporate media monster with billions of dollars at our disposal and special interests to serve. We are at the opposite end of the financial and moral spectrum where the majority of people are.”

    That’s a relief, anyway.

  8. 108


    You are cherry picking again! Colin wrote:

    My guess is that the – its all CO2 and the rest is natural variability — will become untenable within 5 years or so to be replaced with more sophisticated models with C02 as a major component.

    You chose the first clause to criticise but the second clause was apposite. In five years time CO2 will be shown as the major component, setting the snow-line, and so controlling the climate via albedo. The albedo has a linear effect on climate, unlike back radiation which is only logarithmic.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  9. 109
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist, maybe the parapsychologists could take as their motto:

    Parapsychology: A century of null results!

  10. 110
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter Manny,
    Any scientist seeking to advance a revolutionary new idea against the consensus need do only one thing: Get evidence. So-called skeptics love to cite Wegner’s struggle to introduce plate tectonics against a skeptical geological establishment. They ignore the fact that Wegner was wrong. His ideas about how plates moved made no sense. Instead, we had to wait for evidence and our understanding of geology, material science and geophysics all advanced. H. Pylori is another favorite–a heroic struggle against a skeptical scientific community. However, it wasn’t persistence that carried the argument, but evidence.

    Science requires that we take what evidence we have and form our best understanding of the system. We can’t simply say, “Oh, I don’t like that theory. I’m going to wait until we have evidence against it.” That’s not science. Now when evidence is weak, scientists don’t take the theory seriously–that’s when you get “quarks” in “flavors” of strange, charm, truth and beauty. Ninety percent confidence gets kind of hard to argue with, though. That’s when the evidence becomes sufficiently strong that they change truth and beauty to top and bottom.

  11. 111
    Rod B says:

    chris (99), a consensus can arise from either an informed assessment or from an uninformed collective viewpoint.

  12. 112
    Rod B says:

    Hank (105), that is superb!

  13. 113
    Patrick 027 says:

    I wonder why charm and strange aren’t called ‘higher’ and ‘lower’. :)

  14. 114
    Rod B says:

    Ike (107), a little razzle-dazzle with statistical math and assessing (implied highly reliable…??) wind measurements back 30 years instead of “problematic” temp measurements, I think is interesting (seriously), but a long way from putting the tropic so-called “hot spot” dilemma to rest.

  15. 115
    Oakden Wolf says:

    I just would like to thank Dale Power for his vote of confidence. It emboldened me to post the idea elsewhere on blogs (Only In It for the Gold, Big City Liberal) where there are current discussions along the theme of “what to do about Morano”. Morano is only part of the problem. The problem is that normal skeptical people read Morano, grab his stuff, and it gets circulated over and over and over again in forums, in water cooler conversations, in church, on the street with your neighbors, etc. People take what they see and use it to reinforce their cognitive belief structures. No amount of reasoning presented reasonably will make a significant difference or inroad.

    That’s why the idea (which actually sounded better when I woke up the next morning than when I first came up with it) tries to attack this cyclical misconception circulation, and it would do two things: one, it would disable some of the favorite arguments of the skeptics, publically and obviously (and courteously!); two, it might make the skeptics begin to question all of their assumptions when they start to see demonstrated repeatedly how unfounded their cherished “climate tall tales” actually are. Virtually all of the commonly-seen skeptical arguments are effectively refuted in a number of places on the Web. But those refutations do not reach the masses. We are in dire need of strategies that reach, and persuade, the masses. The skeptics and especially the funding organizations behind them are using conventional tactics; the similarities between what the tobacco companies did about the smoking-cancer link and what the status quo valiants are doing about the climate-greenhouse gas link are striking.

    We need to fake them, outflank them, and hit them hard, like Lee did to Hooker at Chancellorsville. A superior force can be defeated with unconventional tactics effectively employed.

    Is this off-topic, RC? My original point was basically that these people don’t play fair. We need to play fair (which was done in the case of the Corrigendum), but we also need to defeat them. Soundly.

    Paging Leonardo diCaprio… time to get off the Ibiza beaches and back to work, Leo!

  16. 116
    Mark says:

    Secular Analyist: what gavin said in response.

    You can investigate paraspychology scientifically.

    You can investigate the invisible pink unicorn (and is that one supposed to be a double-entendre?).

    But neither make science until evidence and *consensus on that evidence* is attained.

    Even though I am comforted by His Noodly Appendage, I do not sully his or science’s name by making the FSM scientific…

    [Response: Enough on this. Thanks. – gavin]

  17. 117
  18. 118

    Secular Animist:

    The Parapsychological Association is an affiliate of the AAAS.

    Weren’t they, in fact, tossed OUT of the AAAS a couple of decades ago?

  19. 119


    The albedo has a linear effect on climate,

    No it doesn’t. It’s a one-fourth power law.

  20. 120
    Mark says:

    Aye, the main point was that there has to be consensus that the evidence is there and can be attained, studied, replicated and tested.

    And one reason for this is because you can see if something is scientifically sound by TRYING the scientific method on it.

    But trying the scientific method on something doesn’t make it science.

  21. 121
    CM says:

    RealClimate: The post left me curious how you proceed when you (or your guests) do a critical review of someone’s paper. I assume you set your fairness standards higher than CA, but that, being a blog, you don’t feel obliged to follow the full journal procedures you describe?

    [Response: I think the key thing is to focus on the science. We generally review each other’s posts as we would a submitted paper to make sure that we (mostly) don’t make unjustified statements. We don’t make up cute names to belittle scientists and we don’t make unsupported allegations of misconduct. We also try and focus strongly on the bigger picture – how does a new paper really fit in with the rest of the science? This is where a lot of the contrarian blogs get it completely wrong because they are looking for anything that appears to go against the mainstream, regardless of its credibility or coherence with their post the week before. So our criticisms usually revolve around the lack of context, and if we can see what the problem is (for instance in a statistical test as in Douglass et al), we’ll talk about that. But we try and focus on issues that matter, something else the greek chorus seems to have problems with. When we do see a real problem with a paper, we have often been instigators on submitting a fuller comment or proper paper and that ends up being the ‘criticism of record’ (Santer et al (2008), Foster et al (2008), Schmidt (2009) etc.). That is a much more effective and concise permanent record than the rather ephemeral and sprawling nature of blogs. – gavin]

  22. 122

    > Weren’t they, in fact, tossed OUT of the AAAS a couple of decades ago?

    They tried… John Wheeler was the driving force. But they still are an affiliate.

  23. 123
    the low iq guy says:

    Folks, would this not be an answer to the title of this article which is Resolving technical issues in science? In my small view, congratulations to Gavin and the others. Sorry, do not know how to do links

    “Because the analysis that you have provided represents a useful extension of our original analysis, and strongly shows that it is robust to large model uncertainties, we invite you to join us as a co-author” on a short piece along the lines of this response that integrates your initial comments with the additional material presented here.

  24. 124
    Walter Manny says:

    110 Thanks, Ray, and helpful clarity. The following is putting words in your mouth, but I intend no sarcastic tone even it may read that way: I take it you believe that climate theory has progressed to the “top and bottom quark” state. To its most important aspect, its predictive (projective?) ability, you believe that the theory is reliable enough, based on its predictive accuracy to date, I assume, to drive necessarily radical and international societal change. It follows that the skeptics, “so-called” or otherwise, have no evidence to offer and are mere opinion-mongers with no other goal than to obstruct and delay. As such, they deserve our mockery, and they should stop trying to poke holes in the theory, as the consensus holders are perfectly capable and desirous of refinements. It would be better, actually, if the skeptical climate scientists, as opposed to skeptics in general, would join in the consensus rather than fight it.

    If this overstates the case, let me know if you feel like it. — Walter

  25. 125
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walter, ‘business as usual’ drives necessarily radical and international societal — and ecological — change.

    Business as usual has been driving while blind and deaf to the consequences.

    Business from now on, with fifty-plus years of increasing knowledge about where we’re headed, is necessarily a change, a drastic one.

    Opening our eyes and seeing where we’re headed changes everything but our direction and our speed.

    That’s up to us now.

    Go on, with increasing knowledge, toward ocean pH change, plus whatever else is clearly going to happen?

    Short term profit putting all the costs into the next generation?

    If this overstates your business plan, please say what you think would be wise given what we have learned about ecology in the last half century.

    This may help:
    Seriously, Walter. Try to read all the way through that one page a couple of times and think about what the diagrams mean. Then look at the book.

  26. 126


    You are quite right about the effect on the temperature measured in Kelvin. But when you talk about forcings, that is in W m^2 which does increase linearly with albedo.

    That made me think, though :-)

    Cheers, Alastair.

  27. 127

    Walter, you didn’t ask me, but I’ll chime in anyway. I’d agree with your summary, up to “it follows. . .”

    From there I’d say: “The observed behavior of most so-called skeptics shows them to have no other goal than to obstruct and delay.” (Those who are skeptical–no quotes needed–but do engage meaningfully and constructively on the evidence are a distinct (but very small) group.) “As such they deserve our mockery.” (As Voltaire said, more or less, “I prayed that my enemies would be ridiculous, and my prayer was answered.”)

    “Skeptical scientists” I take to denote the second group described above. If they engage meaningfully, then they are testing and/or refining the consensus via their skepticism–no need to “join,” they are already doing what they should do. (“Meaningfully” would include publication in the appropriate venues, BTW. It arguably should also imply some attention to the big picture, as described in the inline response to #121–papers that don’t address that bigger picture in some way will tend to be largely ignored by subsequent researchers.)

    My two cents.

  28. 128
    SecularAnimist says:

    I note that Gavin has asked for an end to the comments on parapsychology, but hope I will be allowed a short comment to those who replied to my original post.

    As I said, I did not intend to launch an off-topic discussion of parapsychology. My point was only that it is incorrect to say that it is “not science” — that regardless of your assessment of the results it has obtained, it is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry, conducted according to the accepted standards of science. It seems that most here generally agree, even those who feel strongly that psi research has not been fruitful.

    For the record, in response to BPL’s question — no, the Parapsychological Association was not “kicked out” of the AAAS.

    As to the status of the evidence for the existence of so-called “psi phenomena”, I would refer interested readers to two books by engineer & psychologist Dean Radin, PhD: The Conscious Universe (1997) and Entangled Minds (2006), which provide an excellent overview of modern parapsychology and the results that it has obtained. (Gavin, I’ll see your Susan Blackmore and raise you a Jessica Utts.)

    Now, I will say no more about this.

    I am in fact much more interested in any replies to my comment currently numbered 101, in which I pleaded for someone to tell that my very gloomy view of what AGW has in store is as much the result of cherry-picking or misunderstanding as the attitudes of the so-called “skeptics”.

    By the way, I really miss the Preview button. I hope my links above are correct.

  29. 129
    CM says:

    Gavin (inline at #121),

    I was thinking along the lines of “do you look up the authors, give them a heads-up before the review is published, invite them to respond, etc.”, but the points you brought up were rather more interesting, anyway. Thanks.

    [Response: Sometimes. We did with Zeebe, Zachos and Dickens for instance. Depends on whether there is likely to be a constructive dialog or not. – gavin]

  30. 130

    Secular animist,

    You queried folks with some expertise, IIRC, not those who, like me, are more here to educate themselves.

    But for what it’s worth, I find your points 1-3 “right on,” and points 4-6 over-weighted to the negative. That is, it seems to me that you may have “could happen” and “will happen” identified a bit too closely.

    Not that unbounded risk is any cause for complacency!

  31. 131
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Ike Solem 15 August 2009 at 9:49 AM

    ” Email from American Petroleum Institute outlines plan to create appearance of public opposition to Obama’s climate and energy reform.

    “The US oil and gas lobby are planning to stage public events to give the appearance of a groundswell of public opinion against legislation that is key to Barack Obama’s climate change strategy, according to campaigners.”

    Yesterday I listened to an extremely cogent argument from a political scientist describing the administration’s abject failure to anticipate the campaign of deception they would face regarding health care and their foolish failure to aggressively inoculate the public against the entirely predictable main talking points deployed by the insurance industry PR army.

    The administration is at risk of repeating the same mistake. They seem to have a misplaced faith in the publics’ critical thinking skills. Conversely, in the health care “debate” API and their subsidiary constituents now have a very tempting example and play book to work from. This bodes of becoming another shameful episode.

  32. 132
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    I find it interesting that the Lindzen quote (post 101), flawed as it may be, essentially gives the game away. If that’s the best the skeptics have, then we’re all just arguing about How Much.

  33. 133
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter, First, radical change must happen, regardless of climate issues. Our current path is simply not sustainable. Given that, we can use science to guide that change or we can ignore science. I don’t see a middle ground here. Science–Anti-Science. Choose.

    As to the denialists, I think Napoleon gives good advice: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” And in this case stupidity consists of rejecting the science based on what it requires of us rather than on the strength of the evidence. Our current model of Earth’s climate explains an amazing amount of evidence. The denialists have nothing even remotely resembling an alternative theory. So we have a scientific theory versus… doubts that do not seem to be based on science, but rather on the difficulty of the task before us. The choice is not between radical change or the continuation of business as usual. The latter is not an option. It’s only a question of whether we let science guide us or act against science.

  34. 134
    SecularAnimist says:

    It occurs to me that in my list of six reasons why I am alarmed by the findings of climate science (comment #101) and the inadequate response of human society, I neglected to mention ocean acidification.

    Also, the ClimateProgress blog has a pretty alarming update on “amplifying methane feedbacks”.

    Also, I see that I posted an incorrect link to one of Dean Radin’s books in my previous comment. Interested readers can find the book, so I won’t post an updated link. But I sure do miss that preview button.

  35. 135
    Rod B says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (119), you say albedo has a one-fourth power law effect on climate. I don’t understand this. Doesn’t the forcing change lineraly with albedo? Or is it the surface temp that is not linear with insolation forcing? Can you explain? [If already answered later in this thread, never mind.]

  36. 136
    Rod B says:

    Doug Bostrom (131) says, “….The administration…. seem(s) to have a misplaced faith in the publics’ critical thinking skills….”

    You got that right. They clearly underestimated it greatly.

  37. 137
    Hank Roberts says:

    Napoleon: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”

    American Petroleum Institute: “Yeah, that’s it, don’t imagine we’re doing this on purpose, it’s just some dumb grassroots people … heh, heh, heh ….”

  38. 138
    Deep Climate says:

    Malice or stupidty, hmmmm …

    I’m sure most adhherents and perhaps even most proponents of the contrarian position sincerely hold (in the face of all the scientific evidence) that anthropogenic climate change is not an urgent problem.

    But to what, other than malice, can we ascribe the reprehensible dishonest PR and political campaign against the science, a campaign surreptitiously funded by fossil fuel and other interests and aided by complaisant media outlets.

    The behaviour of ExxonMobil, Competitive Enterprise Intitute, the Heartland Institute and FoxNews, to name a very few obvious examples, is not merely stupid.

    It’s utterly despicable.

    And I don’t want to leave out Canada, so I’ll name some less familiar names: Imperial Oil, Encana, Fraser Institute, Tom Harris and the National Post – all actively involved in various insidious PR campaigns to forestall meaningful action on climate change.

    So my message to SecularAnimist (back at 101) is this:

    It’s time to call a spade and spade and expose this malicious behaviour for what it is – a deceitful propaganda campaign. In my opinion, that’s the the only way of overcoming this stalemate, and have any hope for the best possible outcome.

  39. 139
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    Ray Ladbury #110, 133: Thanks for your illuminating comments.

    Stupidity may indeed be the cause of denialism, and not malice. Just a lack of education and cognitive capacity, some parroting of received opinions as facts. Malice involves what lawyers call mens rea (criminal intent). To make out a case of fraud you have to show that the accused knew that what he said was false, but he said it anyway, hoping to deceive someone else. Mens rea is in the knowledge of falsity (scienter).

  40. 140
    stacey says:

    You protest too much.

  41. 141
    Esmeralda Dangerfield says:

    I suspect some honest information exchange would go a very long way here. Information meaning raw data, massaged data, methodology, software and underlying assumptions.

    When the objective is true, honest science there cannot be too much sunshine, too many ideas, possibilities examined (accepted or rejected, but honestly exchanged). It “feels” to a lay person like there is too much hidden at RC, an unwillingness to engage.

    Even if your assumptions about the “deniers” are correct, surely you will be better researchers yourselves having been forged to most brilliant, sharp, and challenged minds by engaging them vigorously, but with intellectual honesty.

    There is politics on “your” side and you know that. Cap and trade is little more than a political football to “buy” and “give away” chits to the politically-connected. I have just read about banning private jet transport as a good, strong, practical first step. Sounds reasonable to me. If not an out-and-out ban, would those in support of cap and trade legislation, personally eliminate personal private jet travel, in the interim, as a statement of commitment?

    Your science is not about counting marbles; it is an art form, rife with potential for honest error. But if you insist upon hiding your thinking, assumptions, data, etc. it is quite reasonable to assume someone is “cooking” the globe, starting with an objective and backing the data and the math into the intended result.

    I suspect there is truly enough money to keep you guys gainfully employed even if you open the doors and your minds to all the possibilities, criticisms, and ideas.

  42. 142
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Rod B 18 August 2009 at 2:21 PM

    Yeah, really -great- critical thinking. “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare”, “Death Panels” turning off grandpa. Here’s another depressing variant of a gullible public falling for specious hyperbole offered as a substitute for reality. Same deal as the “debate” over climate change policy, just with different nouns.

    Swerving back to the general topic of climate change, confirmed cases of forged letters regarding Waxman-Markey sent to Congress now at 13:

    Amazing, truly, how the caveman combustion enthusiasts are trapped in a world circumscribed by deceit. Lies are their horizon.

  43. 143
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield 18 August 2009 at 4:15 PM

    Do you have scintilla of evidence to support your coyly expressed accusations of scientific misconduct?

  44. 144
    SecularAnimist says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield wrote: “It ‘feels’ to a lay person like there is too much hidden at RC, an unwillingness to engage.”

    As a layperson who frequents this site to keep up with the latest climate science, with all due respect, that’s rubbish. The scientists who run this site are very busy people, yet they consistently and generously donate their time, pro bono, to engage with and educate the commenters here. I have been impressed, and even moved, again and again at their thoughtful, careful, respectful answers to even the most basic or misguided questions.

    As to things being “hidden” I have no idea what you are talking about. There is a wealth of information readily available here if you care to look at it.

    Esmeralda Dangerfield wrote: “But if you insist upon hiding your thinking, assumptions, data, etc. it is quite reasonable to assume someone is ‘cooking’ the globe, starting with an objective and backing the data and the math into the intended result.”

    You have offered no evidence that anyone here is doing any such thing or “hiding” anything. You are making vague and baseless accusations of fraud. You give no indication that you have the slightest idea what you are talking about and appear to be simply regurgitating boilerplate denialist slander.

  45. 145
    Jim Galasyn says:

    So we seem to be finding methane plumes wherever we look for them. I can haz panic now?

    Giant methane plume found in the depths off California

    An oceanographic survey has discovered a 1,400-meter-tall plume rising from the seafloor off the coast of California. Water samples taken at the site, about 32 kilometers northwest of Cape Mendocino, indicate that the feature isn’t mineral-rich water spewing from a hydrothermal vent, but researchers aren’t yet sure exactly what the feature is made of.

    The mystery plume was first spotted on sonar in the dark hours of May 17, says James V. Gardner, a marine geologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. …

  46. 146
    David B. Benson says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield (141) — “It is good to have a open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”

    The actual science has been worked out over the last 150+ years. You can read about this history in “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart; first link in the Science section of the sidebar.

  47. 147
    Martin Vermeer says:

    If not an out-and-out ban, would those in
    support of cap and trade legislation, personally eliminate personal
    private jet travel, in the interim, as a statement of commitment?

    (Cherishing the mental image of Gavin, Mike, Eric and the other usual suspects dashing about in their private jets from scientific meeting to scientific meeting. Who needs NSF grants anyway?)

  48. 148
    Hank Roberts says:

    Tourist. Google:
    Esmeralda Dangerfield: I just “came” from RC. It’s… …

  49. 149
    Jacob Mack says:

    LOL Gavin, my favorite word….ephemeral…good to see someone else using it to describe temporary…

  50. 150
    Rod B says:

    Doug Bostrom (142), just because you drink kool-aid doesn’t make us (me) gullible.

    I don’t know if your forged letter comment was directed to me, but you won’t find me defending such stupid action.

    I’m trapped in whose/what world???