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The obvious answer

Filed under: — rasmus @ 28 January 2011

Climate science appears to be just like any other science. At least, this is the conclusion from a fresh publication by Marianne Ryghaug and Tomas Moe Skjølsvold (“The global warming of climate science: Climategate and the construction of scientific facts” in International studies in the philosophy of science). This finding is not news to the research community, but this analysis still hints that everything is not as it should be – because why would anyone report from a crime scene if the alleged crime has not even been committed?

The background of this story (the “crime scene”) is a ‘Science and technology Study’ (STS) by Ryghaug and Skjølsvold, who attempted to make some sense out of the leaked e-mails from CRU for clues on how climate scientists work. I must admit that I sometimes see some irony when reading texts from social sciences about the ‘tribalism’ of natural sciences. For instance, many of them use a very formalised language that can be hard to follow, while they describe different parts of the science community as ‘tribes’ with its own norms, codes, and dialects.

One real difference between the ‘tribes’ of natural scientists and STS scholars may be the perception of ‘facts’: Ryghaug and Skjølsvold conclude that “scientific facts are made and not just discovered”. In contrast, I think most natural scientists feel that facts are facts, whether we know about them or not. Nuclear reactions and atoms were real, even before people knew about them. But Ryghaug and Skjølsvold’s assertion that “Fact-construction relies on persuasive skills” may give some people the wrong idea about how things work, perhaps ironically a bit like the word “trick” in the CRU e-mails.

Denial or ignorance?

Our scientific knowledge embodies the most convincing description we have of our universe, so I think they really mean that science is a ‘knowledge construction’, which involved publishing in the scientific literature, testing, review, etc. It seems to me that ‘facts’ for them refers to ‘established facts’ in the scientific knowledge. And construction is in a sense a bit like traditional mathematics which to a greater degree is based on a logical construction rather than sudden discoveries (the final answer sometimes can be seen as a discovery nevertheless).

But facts are based on discoveries too – for sure! Like the discovery of penicilin, evolution by natural selection, the DNA, and the photoelectric effect. After the discovery, findings are interpreted, and the new knowledge must find a place in the framework based on all other knowledge since we like to think that our universe is self-consistent.

Ryghaug and Skjølsvold argue that science is about communication, discussions, and persuasion. That may come as a surprise to some people, but it is fairly obvious to me. The author of Don’t be such a scientist, Randy Olson, argues that communication is an integral and essential part of sciences that cannot be separated from the objective and analytical aspects. It does a scientist no good at all if their discoveries are not effectively transmitted to the wider community.

Communication, discussions, and persuasion play a role known as “experimenter’s regress“, and this is an obvious way for science to proceed. Ideas are re-examined and tested over again for different situations, times, and settings, and findings which are consistently replicated can be regarded as a manifestation of some universal natural order. As opposed to an ‘audit’ which is limited to just one particular case, science is about approaching universal truth. Mainstream science is the consensus simply because it is most convincing.

After having studied the discussions in the CRU-emails, Ryghaug and Skjølsvold find that they suggest that climate sciences appear to be doing scientific business-as-usual. As did earlier inquiries. But this is not really the interesting part. The interesting story concerns the reactions in the aftermath of the CRU-hack and the notion of manipulation and the absence of transparency. In this story, it is a paradox that we only have seen the tip of the iceberg – what lies below the surface is hidden – while questions of manipulation and transparency has been at its heart (and hence Ryghaug and Skjølsvold’s STS study).

Since there wasn’t any improper manipulation of scientific data, the ‘manipulation’ in this story involved taking the contents in the e-mails out of context and the generation of wild accusations devoid of any real evidence. The manipulation really was about the perception of the climate research community and how that was presented in blogosphere and the media.

When it comes to transparency, I cannot think of any more murky environment than that of think tanks in which many accusers thrive. In order to be taken seriously, they need to be open too, sharing their code and raw data as they have demanded of Phil Jones and the CRU. I wanted to reproduce some results of a solar-climate study, but the authors refused to divulge their code. I have also asked to see the methods of some Norwegians who claim that climate models fail to reproduce the recent trends and have made a big fuss out of climategate – all without a positive outcome.

I think that representatives from the contrarian community are the ones who really play the shady part in the story of “Climategate”. Has anybody ever seen the original data and methods from people like Scafetta & West, Svensmark, Lindzen, Michaels, Piers Corbyn, Lomborg, Easterbrook and Douglass? I haven’t. Similarly, I have seen no clamor in the contrarian blogosphere demanding it, even while their conclusions are eagerly accepted. I agree with Ryghaug and Skjølsvold that scientific knowledge is about persuasion, which implies that evidence must be presented in a clear and transparent fashion (divulging both method and data), published in the scientific literature, and tested over time. The evidence must sway the majority and create a consensus.

It is also a mystery to me why the mainstream media has not seen the real situation concerning who played the different roles and what was actually hidden – hence it could be appropriate to rename “climategate” to “climategåte”, where “gåte” means riddle in Norwegian. We still don’t know who the hacker(s) was (were) (and hack it was).

What does the media actually see?

The media’s inability to perceive the real situation is a concern because it often holds a powerful position. Furthermore, journalism is supposed to unveil questionable practices, but apparently the media itself does not practice openness and transparency. There are questions that are relevant to the information we receive, such as: What happens in the editorial rooms and how are decisions made? What are the criteria for selecting the ‘experts’ for debates, and hence frame them from the start? What part of the story is left out in news reports (which can be considered as manipulation if citations are taken out of context or video clips are cut and re-assembled in a way that gives the wrong idea) ? I would like to confront journalists and editors with these questions, because the real difference when it comes to power is not the scientific knowledge, but how it is communicated to the policy makers and the general public. Hence, I find it quite ironic that journalists I have talked to after the CRU-hack on the one hand were so preoccupied by manipulation and transparency and on the other didn’t seem bothered about these aspects when it came to how the story was told through the media.

Hopefully some of these questions will be discussed at a seminar organised by CICERO, British council, and Oxford Global Media (‘Science to Headlines’) in Oslo on February 8.

A question that remains is whether the “climategate”-incident will end up boomeranging so that the people behind the CRU-hack will live to regret it. When the sun shines on the trolls in the old fairy tales, they burst. Shedding light on this story may do the same.

118 Responses to “The obvious answer”

  1. 1

    The picture of the bird who thinks gravity is nonsense reminds me of one of my favorite sayings:

    Observing a bird in the sky doesn’t disprove gravity

    As you so rightfully say, “After the discovery, findings are interpreted, and the new knowledge must find a place in the framework based on all other knowledge since we like to think that our universe is self-consistent.”

    Good essay.

  2. 2
    Nick Barnes says:

    The Climate Code Foundation view is that all climate scientists should release all of the code underpinning their publications, and absolutely this should apply at least as much to those – such as Scafetta – making claims outside the mainstream. On several notable occasions (e.g. Essex & McKitrick, McKitrick & Michaels), code release has allowed the rapid and utter refutation of the work. Without release of the code, such a refutation would be considerably harder, resembling your fruitless exchange with Scafetta.

  3. 3
    James Allan says:

    Nice article. I’d like to hope that the people responsible will get their comeuppance, but I’m not holding my breath; many of the arguments of the more prominent deniers have been shown time and time again to be intellectually bankrupt even without the full disclosure of their methods and data, and yet still the press keep going back to them when they want a counterpoint. The biggest problem is the fact that what the press cares about is stories, not facts, and the deniers know how to tend to that particular fire such that the general public doesn’t know who to believe.

  4. 4
    Craig Nazor says:

    So far, the ONLY crime that has ever come out of “Climategate” is the hacking of the CRU emails, and there has been little interest by the media as to who did it and why. I guess that there are so many plausible answers to that question that it has become disinteresting.

    I also think that, since the dawn of the age of the Internet, the media has decided that because so much more information is available, the quality or bias of that information has become less of a responsiblity of the purveyor and more of the responsibility of the reader. This has a lot to do with the new competition for attention. Let the reader beware!

    Successfully negotiating the media maze now requires even more education, so thanks, RealClimate, for your continued excellent web site.

  5. 5
    Jaydee says:

    “Furthermore, journalism is supposed to unveil questionable practices, but apparently the media itself does not practice openness and transparency.”

    Journalism may well be supposed to unveil questionable practices, but they are employed to produce copy that sells. Being controversial sells more than “Climate change still going on as predicted”. See which articles get the most comments.

    This is perhaps a little simplistic, but only a little,

  6. 6
    Warmcast says:

    I think this article also highlights the myth that science is some sort of democracy, that the reality around us can be chosen, based on personal beliefs.

    I think there is a touch of a clash of cultures in this maturing ‘war’ of words. It is clear in some discussions that those opposed to science are basically from a humanities or pseudo-science background. I wonder if C.P.Snows observations of UK culture after the war is resurfacing. I think when combined with ranting political ideology from the likes of James Delingpole, one gets a heady mix of childish anti-science and attempts at re-inventing scientific processes in the name of politics, rather than science.

    Probably a good opportunity to mention the BBC Horizon programme broadcast this week in the UK called ‘Science Under Attack’. It is unsurprisingly primarily about climate science and is presented by Paul Nurse, Nobel prizewinning biologist. He interviews Fred Singer and James Delingpole.

    Hopefully it will be broadcast elsewhere.

  7. 7
    CM says:

    Skimmed it.

    A methodological concern first: Ryghaug and Skjølsvold (R&S) discuss the ethical problem of using stolen mail, and raise the question whether all the material is authentic, but they fail to discuss the biased sampling, which to my mind is a bigger potential issue. The hackers claimed to have released only a portion of the mails in their possession, and since their aim in releasing them was to highlight what they could spin as reprehensible practices, they may to some extent have filtered the emails based on content. Arguably, with the approach R&S take, this is not a problem (they might have made largely the same selection anyway). Still, the first question researchers should ask of a pile of sensitive data that some shadowy player dumps in their lap is, What are they not showing us?

    Two distinctions might perhaps have been usefully drawn. First, between areas of research that are more or less the subject of political controversy. Climate science falls into the more controversial category, mainly because a political fight against carbon controls is being waged by proxy as a manufactured controversy over the science, by people who will stoop to personal smear campaigns against individual scientists, some of whom were among the CRU correspondents. Second, between scientific research (including writing of review articles for other scientists), and writing super-reviews aimed at policy-makers, which is what some of the emails cited was about.

    As Rasmus summarizes, the paper seems to be saying that the scientists practiced scientific business-as-usual. And in many emails this is indeed the case. I’m not sure, though, that this is “the obvious answer” where the discussion concerns how to present science that is under fierce political attack in assessments for policy-makers. Isn’t it surprising if scientists are so unruffled that their exchanges are indistinguishable from BAU? If their remarks on contrarian papers — with obvious flaws, planted in the peer-reviewed press for political purposes, sometimes by amateurs — are indistinguishable from the ordinary “negotiation” of methodologies among scientists?

    R&S end up focusing on the vigorous methodological debate in the emails over proxy-based reconstructions, between highly credentialed workers in the field. Given this focus, it is perhaps natural that they find scientific BAU. This leaves open what they would have found e.g. if they had not chosen to leave out the “politics of publishing”.

    But if the emails, on the whole, represent ordinary scientific informal practice, does it just tell us that scientists will be scientists, no matter the political provocations that surround them? Or does it speak to the robust nature of informal scientific discussion in general? Or does it suggest that that Science and Technology Studies (STS) has blown up the “political” aspects of ordinary scientific work to the point that its practitioners cannot tell the difference between an academic seminar and a Congressional hearing?

    PS. Speaking of social science jargon, ReCaptcha offers “ismic”.

  8. 8
    Alan Page says:

    We live in a time of pervasive ‘fact’ manipulation for profit. The kind of inspection and reporting you are hoping for will not be forthcoming (or have any impact) as long as the fallacy that – long term compound growth is good and harnessing it is a sign of success – remains uppermost in the public agenda. It is telling that the State of the Union address did not reflect any of the recent reality of the dire situation we may soon face due to storm intensity, drought, sea level rise… just more business as usual.

    A functional part of the natural sciences, forest culture and the supply of renewable products, has been under very successful assault for the fifty years of my professional career. The assault has been conducted by those who profit from substitution of non-renewable materials and energy allied with other parts of society that benefit from ‘efficient‘ use of human labor – as opposed to normal rural life which occurs at a slower, less efficient pace. Of course, this trend has now turned from employing these displaced rural populations in the USA to doing the same in other countries where wages and controls were lower. In MA we have seen the rewriting of ‘fact’ about functional temporary carbon uptake by forests. The media has not been willing to expose the lack of a logical basis in the document that contains this misinformation. It is now coming out that there may have been a major power play underway by groups around the political arena who had linkages to the governor and the contracted entity that prepared the study. I suggest that the similarities between ‘climate gate’ and the ‘MA renewable materials gate’ (yet to be fully exposed) come from this money driven fixation of the powerful and that the root of the problem is the desire for exponential growth of power. This inappropriate drive is now being expressed in the manipulation of basic facts. I do not have any suggestions for immediate modification of the situation because we have not yet emerged from a time when it was appropriate for anyone to have as many children as possible. The American ethos that life will be better the next generation for more people than were supported in the previous generation is just another example of denial of where we are. The ERRORS in the public response to the Meadows and company publication of the “Limits of Growth” has still not been adequately addressed. Similarly, the response of the Federal Reserve to the economic crisis has not reflected an appropriate public purpose – not the protection of the most influential bankers for instance. So the call for a clarification of who is at the bottom of the misinformation in the climate portion of society will only be possible when and only when the rest of these problems are also able to be exposed. They all come from the same source.

  9. 9
    Joel says:

    It’s worth remembering that the original -gate scandal was about political operatives illegally stealing documents, not the contents of those documents.

  10. 10
    Roger Albin says:

    You’re amplifying a point made by Naomi Oreskes. The STS types and some philosophers of science have been preoccupied with the constructed aspect of scientific knowledge and its potential for abuse by the powerful. Here we’re seeing the opposite. Scientific knowledge about the negative consequences of our industrial civilization is a real threat to powerful vested interests and to a very popular ideology. The powerful and their ideological allies react by producing what really is socially constructed “knowledge” that is a parody of actual science.

  11. 11

    Thanks for another great post. It touches on some deep issues, as well as some that may not be so deep, but which are quite urgent.

    On the “deep” front, there’s the epistemological question: is scientific knowledge ‘discovery’ or ‘construction?’ For what it’s worth, I’d agree with Ryghaug and Skjølsvold that it is ‘construction.’ Not because the universe–and more specifically, the phenomena subjected to scientific study–isn’t real, but because at the end of the day the knowledge is NOT the reality it describes, even in cases where the description is accurate, robust, and complete. The ‘knowledge,’ in se, is the description we have formulated–otherwise, the whole idea of an ‘unknown reality’ becomes a contradiction.

    I think this notion actually can be of practical help at times. For example, take the question of the physical mechanism by which the greenhouse effect actually works: is it the increasing altitude of the effective radiating layer? Or is it (as you would think if you read Callendar ’38) back-radiation to the surface from the warmed atmosphere? This question has been bruited online, with skeptics pointing to these models as incompatible or contradictory. My take on it is that this is a double error: first, it conflates the knowledge with the underlying reality, and second, it misidentifies the main locus of the knowledge. (Here I’m venturing into my epistemological understanding; corrections and comments are invited.)

    The main locus of the knowledge isn’t the verbally-based descriptions just outlined: it’s the mathematically-based description which more fully model the interactions of the parameters involved and which allow computation of (falsifiable) predictions. Viewed this way, the verbal descriptions come into focus as different consequences of the model: as optical depth at the relevant IR frequencies increases, the effective radiating layer’s altitude increases as a consequence, and so does back-radiation at the surface. (Is that correct, to a reasonable approximation?)

    Then there’s the urgent question of transparency/communication. About that I have less to say, because what I might say is probably pretty obvious (and by now, repetitive as well.)


    –Transparency is not in the interest of those who perceive uncertainty as desirable.
    –I’m struck by the observation that Scafetta & West, etc., etc., haven’t released their data and/or software. I’d actually forgotten the Scafetta brouhaha. It’s still the only such I’ve heard about, as far as I can recall–have there been others?
    Certainly the denialist blogosphere will never ask for the release of such details; in their view it’s unnecessary because opposition to some conclusion or facet of the mainstream science on AGW is the only meaningful criterion for validity.
    –“Media” is a very wide term–and in this context, so is “reporter.” Andy Revkin takes some criticism here for (basically) exhibiting too much patience with contrarians, but I haven’t heard anyone question his seriousness and commitment to accuracy. (And my perception is that he does very well in this regard; he really, really wants to get it right.)

    Compare and contrast James Dellingpole, another reporter to be sure, but one whose commitment to actually getting it right appears to be absolutely non-existent.

    See, for example, the interview with Sir Paul Nurse, available on Youtube. Note before you click that this video is an hour-long BBC program! (H/t to Tamino.)

  12. 12
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Warmcast, science is not a democracy. It’s about as close to a functioning anarchy as you can find. It works because those involved are motivated primarily by a drive to understand what they are studying–by curiosity. Those centripetal forces are sufficient to overcome the centrifugal forces that would otherwise cause the community to fragment

    Warmcast: ” It is clear in some discussions that those opposed to science are basically from a humanities or pseudo-science background.”

    Not so much. Singer was at one point a scientist. In fact some of the dumbest denialists on the Intertubes have a background in science, engineering or computers. Some denialists are even fairly prominent scientists in their own discipline. All it shows is that scientific training–and even intelligence–do not necessarily provide immunity to human stupidity.

  13. 13
    CM says:

    Warmcast (#6) said: “those opposed to science are basically from a humanities or pseudo-science background”

    Warmcast, we’ve met the enemy and he ain’t the Faculty of Arts. Try harder.

  14. 14
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Climate science is just other science of course. Climate change denial is like generic denial except that climate denial is the most most organized, funded and vicious instance. “In order to be taken seriously, they (think tanks) need to be open too….” No, it works the other way for them. They depend on talking a good game an putting up a public front with nothing laudable behind it.

  15. 15
    andreas says:

    \One real difference between the ‘tribes’ of natural scientists and STS scholars may be the perception of ‘facts’: Ryghaug and Skjølsvold conclude that “scientific facts are made and not just discovered”. In contrast, I think most natural scientists feel that facts are facts, whether we know about them or not.\

    I would interprete the meaning of \facts\ used by the authors in a different way. Not fact in the meaning of elektron mass, c, h etc., but in the meaning, when a theory is accepted as a \fact\ by scientific community.

    For example Einsteins theory of relativity was not at all accepted as a fact at once, there was instead a period of discussions and measurements.

    Nevertheless I’m not sure, if the authors were aware, that convincing in scientific community means convincing by measurements, not convincing by brilliant speeches.

  16. 16
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    The source of most of the problems with the acceptance of AGW lie in politics not science. A man can’t be reasoned out of a belief he hasn’t reasoned himself into.

    The reality is that there won’t be change until the status quo becomes too painful, and by that point, the options for mitigation could fit into a matchbox.

  17. 17
    Warmcast says:

    re: number 12 and 13.

    I seem to be misunderstood!
    There is a reason why I started the sentence with:

    ‘It is clear in some discussions…’.

    What I was referring to were ‘journalists’ and other commentators that combine political ideology with a possible historical and personal lack of affinity with science. Of course it doesn’t apply to many people, but it probably enhances many ‘characters’ attitudes and views.

    Delingpole in particular maybe an example (maybe not, I only know that he rants a lot).

    Having been a masters degree student at an art college with an engineering degree and career under my belt, I have some personal experience of a lack of understanding between the two cultures. I even joined in with the mocking of a scientist who was convinced Mathematica was better than Macromedia Director/Flash for producing multimedia (I think he deserved it, he was pretty arrogant coming to an art college and doing that).

    The point I make is that one can immerse one self in a culture so much that you see another culture as ‘the problem’. Maybe Delingpole needs to be taken on a tour of science institutes and an intense course in basic science?

    [Response: You can take a source to science, but you cannot make him think. – gavin]

  18. 18
    Edward Greisch says:

    What the article proves to me is that the social sciences need the modifier “social” because they are not sciences. Saying that facts are constructed rather than discovered is simply nonsense. It says a great deal about the social “scientists” who come up with such nonsense.

    Of course physicists should try to find easier ways of doing things like quantum mechanics. The “old” formulation is much too hard to learn. If an easier mathematics can be found, it is well worth the effort. But don’t hold your breath.

  19. 19
    Danny Yee says:

    I posted a piece recently on climate science not being fundamentally different to other science, with the somewhat provocative title “tectonicists, warmists, evolutionists” – a “tectonicist” being someone who believes in plate tectonics.

  20. 20
    Geno Canto del Halcon says:

    Plato’s allegory of the cave is still an insightful way to correlate human understanding with “reality”. Our understanding will never be complete or perfect because, if Heisenberg was right, it cannot be. The models, constructions, theories, equations, etc. that we use may be useful for making predictions about future events and having some understanding about how our universe operates, but they will always contain some uncertainty.

    Most folks, some who are even scientists and engineers, fail to understand this.

  21. 21
    Radge Havers says:

    Roger Albin @ 10
    Excellent point and well stated.

    Ray @ 12
    Hmm. True enough, but Warmcast has a point. There are elements within art culture which are specifically anti-science, and I can attest that artists can be unusually creative when it comes to devising challenges to your patience.

    Generally regarding transparency in the media: After watching way too much TV, I can’t help thinking that most broadcast journalists are unaware of their biases and are incapable of examining them, as the primary tools of their trade are designed for taking the audience on a dramatic journey and then stroking herd sentiments into middlebrow passivity afterwards.

  22. 22
    Tim Joslin says:

    The trouble is, Rasmus, that the history of science shows that, unfortunately, “facts” are not immutable facts. The Sun doesn’t go round the Earth even though for centuries this was believed to be the case.

    Concepts are even more slippery than facts. They make sense only within a particular belief system. The words might be retained, but the meaning may be quite different. The modern “atom” for example, is very different from its antecedents.

    Which brings us to scientific paradigms or belief systems. As Thomas Kuhn observed, when a scientific discipline undergoes a paradigm-shift, the whole conceptual framework necessarily changes. Statements made from within different paradigms are incommensurate.

    Though there’s a lot to be learnt from the history and philosophy of science, some social scientists conclude that science is just another belief system. But this ignores the fact that scientific theories are tested against the real world. The relativist proposition must therefore be rejected.

    In fact, supplanted theories – such as Newtonian physics – are usually shown to have been imperfect approximations to the new theories – in this case relativity and quantum mechanics. So new theories are closer to the ultimate truth. This occurs, of course, because our set of observations of the real world is continually growing or at least becoming broader in the sense of encompassing a greater range of conditions.

    Why, then, do imperfect theories persist for as long as they do?

    In part, because no-one comes up with a better alternative, but mainly because theories are socially useful, so there is no need for a better alternative. Imperfect theories – even theories with known problems – can persist for a long time because they make socially useful predictions.

    The point of this discussion is not to suggest climate science is imperfect, but to make the point that the game is not, as you suggest, about absolute truth, but addressing social concerns.

    This suggests a couple of points about climate change:

    1. Clearly a lot of people don’t see the theory as socially useful, perhaps because it seems to challenge existing lifestyles and future goals. Hence resistance.

    2. Could the theory of climate change be made more socially useful (to overcome point 1)? Yes, I believe it could. What we have to do is focus on near-term climate predictions – that is, the impact of climate change on patterns of natural variability. The mistake that’s being made repeatedly, IMHO, is to say “well, that record snowfall (or whatever) is all very interesting, but it doesn’t alter the long-term trend”. This may well be true (or “true” as the social scientists would put it!), but simply distances climate science from people’s everyday concerns, or at least divides climate science artificially into “climate change science” on the one hand and meteorology on the other. What’s needed is for the same community as that which highlights climate change to be seen to be making accurate predictions over timescales of months to decades. What you want to be able to say is “that record snowfall – told you so”. That’s the challenge.

    Btw, Mike Hulme’s book, Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity, seems to me to be a good starting point for discussing why scientific objectivity doesn’t automatically translate into political action.

  23. 23
    gneiss says:

    Edward Greisch @18:
    “What the article proves to me is that the social sciences need the modifier “social” because they are not sciences. Saying that facts are constructed rather than discovered is simply nonsense.”

    I’ll put in a kind word for social scientists, not all of whom take a social-constructionist perspective. Many others emphasize discovery, hypothesis testing, and replication in a spirit that most natural scientists could recognize. Albeit, using different kinds of data.

  24. 24
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tim Joslin,
    Your post doesn’t make sense. First, a scientific theory is not so much a social construct as an explanatory tool and guide to direct future research. Second, the reason “incorrect” theories persist is more because measurements are not sufficiently precise to highlight the incorrectness. Once the incorrectness of a theory is manifest, work will begin immediately on its replacement. That is how you make a name for yourself in science. Indeed, the Michelson-Morley experiment was performed in 1887, and by 1900, most of the math to explain it had been worked out. It remained for Einsten to put it into a coherent framework. This is astoundingly rapid progress for a complete revolution in human thought! Now quantum mechanics, I will grant you took awhile to develop after the Ultraviolet catastrophe was discovered. Here, too, though, work on new understandings was ongoing.

    However, my real qualms are with your insistence that climate scientists should predict weather. They should not. Climate and weather are distinct. Climate manifests on timescales of decades, weather on scales of minutes to years. “That record snowfall” ain’t climate. It’s weather. That increasing trend of record precipitation events over the past 20 years is climate.

    The reason we disagree about climate change is the same reason we disagree about evolution–some of the human population is so ideologically blinkered that they refuse to recognize reality. An improved 10 day forcast ain’t gonna change that.

  25. 25
    Didactylos says:

    Tim Joslin:

    I’m going to ignore your discussion about “facts”, since you have spectacularly missed the point of the original post.

    However, you demand that science improve long-range weather forecasting is all very well, but your idea that it will change anything to do with climate is just wrong. Without making unjustified suppositions about your own position, I have to point out that we are seeing this fallacy more and more from deniers recently. Where is it coming from?

    The meteorologists are working on the long-range forecasting. Go and annoy them if you want, I don’t care.

    What I do care about is that no matter how good we make weather forecasts, they will inevitably diverge from reality at some point. And climate science doesn’t care about this. It works despite it. It works because of it. That’s the truth we need to convey, not muddy the waters by calling for better weather forecasts.

  26. 26
    Didactylos says:

    Edward Greisch: What drives me nuts about the language used by Ryghaug and Skjølsvold (and other people in various other contexts) is that everything they say is absolutely fine, so long as you use a particular and not very usual definition for the words they are using.

    First there’s the talking at cross-purposes, then there’s the tedious definition of terms, then finally there’s the realisation that absolutely nothing new or insightful has been said, and there isn’t even any conflict.

    It’s all a bit of a let-down. I can get a little hung-up about definitions, so I have had conversations along these lines before. Usually, but not always with people who have English as a second language.

  27. 27
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    When people who are not philosophers resort to philosophy (or to informing others at length that no one knows everything or you will never get the last decimal point of data) it is usually because the don’t like the answer from systematic investigation of nature and are looking for a way out. Or they just like to argue.

  28. 28
    Geno Canto del Halcon says:

    [edit – sorry, but religion is always OT]

    In the long run, “truth” will always win, but, as Keynes reputedly said, in the long run, we’re all dead.

  29. 29
    Foobear says:

    Is there anyone who thinks that climate science would be better off if all data and methods were kept private? Of course not.

    The only real question in Climategate was if Phil Jones’ FOI dodging was reasonable or not.

    On the issue of philosophy of science, climate science is akin to geology or astronomy, in that it doesn’t have spare Earths lying around to conduct controlled experiments with, but empirical observations, modeling, and predictions are still possible.

    So not as scientifically rigorous as physics, but more rigorous than social science.

    I think our society needs more categories than just “science” and “not-science”.

  30. 30
    SecularAnimist says:

    Um, folks:

    It’s not social scientists, and it’s not arts and humanities majors, and it’s not “postmodernist” philosophers who are driving the hostility towards climate scientists and denial of climate science.

    It’s billionaire fossil fuel corporation executives.

    And it has exactly NOTHING to do with C. P. Snow’s “two cultures” and everything to do with a culture of ruthless, rapacious, relentless, reactionary corporate greed.

  31. 31
    chris says:


    “Is there anyone who thinks that climate science would be better off if all data and methods were kept private?”

    That would be very silly foobear. Happily the methods and data are published in the scientific literature and deposited in databases. What were you thinking of??

    “The only real question in Climategate was if Phil Jones’ FOI dodging was reasonable or not.”

    That’s a pretty minor point I would have thought. It’s obvious (a) that the FOI onslaught was a contrived harrassment..and (b) that whether or not FOI requests existed or didn’t or were responded to or not, is immaterial to the science. I assume you’d agree that the science is the ultimate importance here…

  32. 32
    tamino says:

    I prefer to discuss the science rather than the politics. But perhaps we need to discuss the politics more than the science.

    And I agree with #30 (SecularAnimist)

  33. 33
    Michael W says:

    SecularAnimist, I don’t blame you for wanting to save the earth – more power to you. But until the people who want immediate climate action start taking the average person seriously, and stop with the childish blaming “executives”, very few minds will be changed.I have reasons I will not support climate legislation (and reasons why I give ear to skepticals). These reasons are not greatly leveraged by institutional powers. They are common sense reasons such as:
    1. Climate science is in its infancy.
    2. There are more important things to waste my worries on.
    3. I have absolutely no faith in the knee-jerk climate solution of the week.

    [Response: 1) is wrong for the principle problem that is being dealt with. The role of human-produced CO2 in affecting climate is well-understood. 2) is irrelevant – why you need to personally spend time worrying about legislation is a mystery to me. If you want to think about things that more important to you, go ahead (but why you are commenting here?). 3) is a strawman. While an industrial policy of picking clean energy winners might be something you would not support, a carbon pricing mechanism that adjusts the playing field so that any solution that actually works becomes favored in the market place avoids that entirely. I’m happy to take you seriously, but none of your reasons for inaction are convincing. – gavin]

  34. 34
    M. Joyce says:

    I prefer to call it \deniergate\. After all, it was the deniers who acted deceitfully.

  35. 35
    Michael W says:

    “…climate is well-understood”
    150 years of direct climate observation can be a tiny blip depending on your time frame perspective. Whether I think we have enough of a climate sample for me to put any importance in climate mitigation/adaptation is a personal decision. My thinking may be wrong, but its not ridiculous. I can see these 3 signals in a lot of peoples thinking. My point is, it has little to do with “executives”.

    Point number two is very relevant. There are many crises in the world right now now and I don’t blame anyone for putting “carbon pricing mechanisms” at the bottom of their list.

    [Response: But the idea that new legislation only happens when it is at the top of everyone’s list is just odd. That isn’t the way anything gets done – not even in Switzerland. – gavin]

  36. 36
    SecularAnimist says:

    Michael W wrote: “taking the average person seriously … stop with the childish blaming ‘executives’ …”

    The founding, funding and direction of the propaganda machine that has conducted a generation-long campaign of deceit and denial by fossil fuel corporations, e.g. ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, is a well-documented fact, and is THE reason that “average persons” such as yourself have been systematically disinformed about both climate science and the solutions to the problem of anthropogenic global warming.

    It is no more “childish” to discuss this reality than it is “childish” to discuss the equally-well documented reality of the similar (though far smaller) campaign by the tobacco corporations to mislead the public about the carcinogenicity of cigarettes.

  37. 37
    Didactylos says:

    Michael W:

    1) The fundamental principles of climate science pre-date the discovery of DNA, pre-date relativity, pre-date plate tectonics. Over the many decades since, great advances have been made. Just how old must climate science be to emerge from “infancy”?

    2) Climate change is largely a problem because it makes other problems worse. Many, many other problems. Some will affect you directly, some won’t. Whether you care about food security, political stability, foreign aid, the likelihood of extreme events – all these situations are expected to worsen due to climate change.

    3) There is one climate solution. Reduce emissions. Don’t get confused by the media’s need to spin a new story every day. One solution, and that solution hasn’t changed in decades.

  38. 38
    joe says:

    Here in Finland one of the political parties is gaining momentum by saying that we need to abandon EC’s emission trading system since the cost will be too high on the low-income families (due to lost jobs I assume).

    Of course we are a small country… insignificant when the big boys play… but I think that in many European countries the political elite is backing up the idea of climate change while ordinary people are indifferent and might sway any which way

  39. 39
    Jean-François F says:

    ‘‘It is also a mystery to me why the mainstream media has not seen the real situation concerning who played the different roles and what was actually hidden.’’

    Well, I think that this question is rather naïve. Why? It must be understood and said, that behind this confusion, there is a political agenda. How old are our leaders in press, economy and politic? 50, 60, 70. They have born in the 1940’s, the 1950’s or the 1960’s. They lived in a world where no restrictions were necessary and they profited from it and they are often proud of their apparent success.(*) When they are part of the lunatic political fringe (I mean mainly many among the conservatives in USA and rather less in other foreign conservatives), they don’t accept the existence and the responsibility (the younger are also responsible, of course) for the climatic mess. First, they don’t accept the idea of the states interventions and then the wrongness of a lot of their economical conceptions.
    By greediness, intellectual laziness and narrow-mindedness, they don’t accept to give up the old and outdated facilities and ways to produce energy, to transport people or merchandises because of new rules. Personally, I don’t deny the fact that there are some corporations, some businessmen which are proposing and marketing some new equipments which are more energetically effective but these last ones are generally younger and perhaps a bit more concerned about their own fate and the fate of their children than the first ones
    In current life, it is so comfortable to deny the reality of a remote, abstracted problem (at least, for them) for going on putting oil in their powerful cars. Do you imagine the sensation of power which can come from the vision of huge (energetically inefficient) buildings, big (energy wasting) light signs, big (polluting) industrial fuming facilities? Do you imagine the downfall for this kind of sensations with the meanness of the rubbish sorting for the reprocessing when you had only to pill up everything you had to throw in a bag and to put the bag outside? Do you imagine the torture of someone who felt so powerful alone at the steering wheel of his (her) car and who is now forced to share his (her) car with other people, to take busses, trains or to ride a bike or, unconceivable, to walk?
    Beyond the gross incompetence of many journalists and their childish research of debates, I think that behind the lack of eagerness toward the necessary information cross checking there is the secret hope that after all of this could be wrong and that everything could go one as usual.
    And I don’t think that the scientists must torture themselves if they are speaking correctly of science or not. You don’t need to serve jam to these people.

    (*) : in France, e.g., the climato-pseudo-sceptical (yes, yes, ‘‘pseudo’’ because scepticism supposes rational grounds) are found mainly among the people who are more than 60 years old and are (French) conservatives.

  40. 40
    Majorajam says:

    It’s the universe of greed that matters, not merely that represented in the executive wash rooms of the multi-trillion dollar global fossil fuel industry (not to diminish the role of the autocrats and other ownership interests ostensibly occupying of political office of course).

    The universe of greed importantly includes that which causes peoples ears to seal as soon as they hear words ‘gas tax’ or ‘higher electric bills’. It’s this type of nimbyism, myopia, hoarding, etc. that leaves us yet, nearly 15 years removed from Kyoto, so absurdly far from action. The doubt happily furnished by the former merely provides a handy legitimation for the latter. But if you take John Updike at his word, the bar on requisite credibility there is going to be difficult to slide a sheet of paper under (thank God, right Bob Carter?).

    As long as we’re naming names, we’d also have to call out whatever it is that makes so many people on the political right incapable of seeing through the smokescreen. As perfectly illustrated by Michael W above, they are profoundly unwilling to attach any weight or credibility to the work of so many deeply qualified people. I understand of course that this is a well established empirical fact of the world. Just saying it’s a curious one still wanting for sensible explanation.

    Perhaps the social sciences could help there? Maybe it’s best not to hold my breath.

  41. 41
    SecularAnimist says:

    Michael W wrote: “My thinking may be wrong … it has little to do with ‘executives’.

    Actually the fact that your thinking is wrong has EVERYTHING to do with the generation-long, fossil fuel industry-funded campaign of deceit, denial, delay and obstruction to which you and every one else has been subjected.

    It can be difficult to admit that one’s thinking has been heavily influenced by deliberate lies. But beyond a certain point, one must recognize that reality, or become complicit in self-deceit.

    Michael W wrote: “There are many crises in the world right now now …”

    There are indeed, and every single one of them will be made far, far worse by unmitigated anthropogenic global warming.

  42. 42
    Michael W says:

    SecularAnimist #36,
    Disinformed? I’m well informed as are you. We both have full access to websites like RC. Furthermore its not too difficult to spotting and dismissing a company like Koch Ind and their propaganda. You give these execs way too much credit.

    Corruption is everywhere, and always needs good people to confront it. But once you win and expose Koch Ind, you still have many people like myself to convince before you can transform 21st century lifestyle. I’m just saying you may be wasting your time lamenting Koch Ind.

  43. 43
    Deep Climate says:


    commenting on rasmus:

    ‘‘It is also a mystery to me why the mainstream media has not seen the real situation concerning who played the different roles and what was actually hidden.’’

    I agree that it is not such a mystery, but my explanation would be somewhat different from J-F’s. Depending on which specific outlets one is speaking of, there is either culpability, gullibility or reticence (sometimes combined in various measures).

    Prime examples of culpability, of course, are such U.S. outlets as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. They have played a “hidden” role themselves (not so well hidden actually).

    In a lot of cases the more responsible mainstream media have attempted to achieve a misguided balance, which is largely traced to gullibility and ignorance.

    But there is also reticence. Has Andrew Revkin, for example, even once pointed out the role of media outlets in promoting climate disinformation? And yet he can hardly be unaware of the problem. And he continues to impute legitimacy to scientists, like Pat Michaels, who long ago sacrificed any claim on credibility.

  44. 44
    JeffT says:

    Michael W and those who have responded to him:

    While I disagree with MW’s conclusions, he makes an important point. The vast majority of those who refuse to accept the human role in climate change are NOT paid by others. It may be true that climate denial is sparked and supported by “billionaire fossil fuel corporation executives;” but most deniers don’t see it that way. And you can’t make them see it that way.

    What you can do is to say that deniers and “skeptics” have their own bias in this argument: the fear of costs of mitigation. That point is especially important for the “scientists say whatever is needed to get funding” crowd.

  45. 45
    Isotopious says:


    Gavin “…a carbon pricing mechanism that adjusts the playing field so that any solution that actually works becomes favored in the market place avoids that entirely…”

    I think even Noam Chomsky has noted that an incentive such as a price on carbon does not necessarily guarantee a clean energy breakthrough. After all, the billion dollar fossil fuel industry is there for anybody to take, what could be more of an incentive than billions and billions of dollars?

  46. 46

    Michael W., if you care to study the history of climate science in reference to its ‘maturity’, you can begin here:

    Or just click on “AIP. . .”, the first link under “Science Links” in the RC sidebar. It would flesh out Gavin’s and Didactylos’ responses some for you.

    As to your original point #2, it’s difficult to imagine a more important problem than climate change: I don’t know of anything else as potentially destructive, barring full-scale nuclear exchange or some of the ‘cosmological accident’ scenarios–which last we REALLY can’t do anything about at this point.

  47. 47
    Deep Climate says:

    Of course it’s not part of the scientific literature, but the truth about the Wegman Report’s “analysis” has only emerged recently, more than four years after the fact. David Ritson’s criticism, for example, could have been confirmed and vindicated much earlier if Wegman et al had released their code as promised (which they still hasn’t done).

    The Wegman Report sees Red Noise.

    Replication and Due Diligence Wegman style

  48. 48
    John W says:

    So, I’m to believe that a geologist that spent years matching strata from either side of the Atlantic would stonewall requests for his data for verification purposes? Admittedly, I’m not a geologist or a climatologist, but if someone requests raw data from my lab (process chemical / environmental); I’d better produce it PDQ or be updating my resume’. BAU? Not in my business, I guess research science is just different from applied science.

    IMHO, its people like me that you’ll have to convince for popular support for action on AGW and obvious zohnerism won’t fly. For every one like me in this country there are a couple hundred ordinary people who’ll believe those like me over anything in the media simply because they know us personally. I’m as open minded as the next person, but presentations that are obviously slanted to lead me to a conclusion tend to have the opposite effect, like when you’re talking to a used car salesman, you can’t help but be hyper-skeptical. I remain unconvinced (albeit precariously) that the warming that is essentially occurring due to man’s activities is enough to worry about, and less convinced that emissions reduction would be the best way to deal with it if it is a problem, and I’m completely repulsed by assertions of imminent doom and a need for immediate action (like with “the deal won’t last” high pressure sales technique). I realize that the original research scientists (such as those here) are not necessarily responsible for those presentations and in an attempt to offer a more constructive criticism as apposed to just whining: I’d suggest you continue actively setting the record straight (like the recent debunking of the food scarcity article, kudos) and (as I’ve suggested before) a page dedicated to what GW is not. Also, explore some evidence that doesn’t necessarily fit the theory, nothing “proves” a rule better than a good exception; and bring up something that y’all disagree over and debate it, it’s unfathomable to me that y’all agree on every aspect of AGW theory when a question about the tiniest minutia of a reaction can start an argument (I mean debate) between me, a Chemist, and a Chemical Engineer here even though the differences come to naught at the end of the day (reaction). [Admittedly, I haven’t “made the time” to read everything here, I have read most of the reference materials, new articles when I can, and I use the search function to research particular issues. If I have missed some of the above I apologize for my slackness.] [PS: one more thing; insulting and ignoring those that don’t agree with you doesn’t win people over very often, probably never. Those of us in applied science deal with the scientifically illiterate every day for the most part without insulting or ignoring them, like post #33 in the bore hole, that is a missed teaching opportunity. If I could post to the bore hole I would gladly take the time to explain why his day/night experiment is flawed and why Gavin and the IPCC are correct. Yes I realize that the IPCC is technically correct (mostly)! However, technically correct doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the whole story or “truth”; for example the term ocean acidification is technically correct in that the pH is going down, but it’s hardly acidic or likely to be much lower than it is considering how buffered it is.]

  49. 49
    Didactylos says:

    Michael W:

    The success of the denial campaign is evident in your refusal to believe that your opinions have been shaped by it.

    But shaped they were. Or is it coincidence that you arrive here reproducing old and tired pre-packaged misinformation that you somehow arrived at completely independently?

    It’s surprisingly easy to make someone think that an idea is their own.

    Every single one of your “common sense reasons” are common denier talking-points. Obviously, you didn’t get them directly from a coal industry executive! No. The path is long, and was laid a long time ago. The coal industry lined up a few scientists they had in their pocket, created various front organisations, got various media groups on their side, and above all, created an environment of doubt, where it is easy for the “average guy” to say “there’s a lot of uncertainty, this doesn’t affect me, I don’t need to do anything”.

    Think this is fantasy? Do a little research.

  50. 50
    dhogaza says:

    John W:

    So, I’m to believe that a geologist that spent years matching strata from either side of the Atlantic would stonewall requests for his data for verification purposes? Admittedly, I’m not a geologist or a climatologist, but if someone requests raw data from my lab (process chemical / environmental); I’d better produce it PDQ or be updating my resume’. BAU? Not in my business, I guess research science is just different from applied science.

    Oh, it’s much worse in many practicing applied science. Try getting seismic and other data from oil exploration companies, for instance, without paying for it …