RealClimate logo


Climate cynicism at the Santa Fe conference

Filed under: — group @ 19 December 2011

Guest commentary by Mark Boslough*

The Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change was held during Halloween week. It was most notable for the breadth of opinion — and the span of credibility — of its speakers. I have long complained about the lack of willingness of most contrarians to attend and present their arguments at mainstream scientific conferences. After three years of convening climate-related sessions at AGU, I have yet to receive an abstract that argues against anthropogenic global warming. Such presentations can usually only be seen at conferences held by the Heartland Institute. There isn’t much chance of a mainstream scientist attending a meeting organized by a political think tank known for its anti-science activism, so opportunities for interaction between the groups are rare.

The conference was the third in a series (the first was held in Halifax ten years ago) that actively solicits participation from conventional scientists as well as those on the fringes. Organized by the Center for Nonlinear Studies of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, with co-sponsorship from the International Arctic Research Center, Brookhaven, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the meeting has sufficient credibility to attract speakers like Richard Peltier and Gerald North, while also providing the podium to Christopher Monckton and Don Easterbrook. Travel grants from LANL were provided to assist some of the speakers.

It quickly became apparent that the meeting would be run with a firm, no-nonsense approach to confrontation. In my original abstract, I used the term “contrarian,” which I have always considered to be a polite, non-judgmental descriptive term. Petr Chylek, LANL Laboratory Fellow and chair of the conference program committee responded by telling me, “I would like to ask you for some revision. The designations like ‘contrarians, skeptics, deniers, etc.’ may be offensive to some scientists present. Perhaps you can re-write your abstract and your presentation without using such words.” Fair enough, given the potential for contentiousness. Later, a generalized request went to all speakers: “Please, do not use any demeaning labels like deniers, contrarians, warmers, alarmists, … Please, stick to science. Stay away from personal attacks on other scientists present or not.”

I was disappointed, however, that the poster abstract I submitted with Lloyd Keigwin (WHOI), “Misrepresentations of Sargasso Sea Temperatures by Global Warming Doubters,” was rejected. This abstract was essentially the same material we presented at last year’s GSA meeting in Denver, and revealed the fact that a graph in Lloyd’s 1996 Science paper had been redrawn for the paper “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” by Arthur Robinson and coauthors. Some of the original data on Lloyd’s graph had been removed and replaced by fabricated data, apparently in an attempt to argue that temperatures are lower now than the 3000-year average. The doctored version of the graph has been used repeatedly in opinion pieces and was reprinted by Fred Singer in the NIPCC report. It is arguably one of the most widely reproduced graphs in contrarian literature, and in one form was sent out to tens of thousands of scientists to solicit signatures for the so-called “Oregon petition”.

Petr Chylek, explaining his reason for rejection, said, “This Conference is not a suitable forum for type of presentations described in submitted abstract. We would accept a paper that spoke to the science, the measurements, the interpretation, but not simply an attempted refutation of someone else’s assertions (especially when made in unpublished reports and blog site).” Of course, I’m not sure that a correction by the author of a graph that has been improperly reproduced in the primary contrarian literature is not the same thing as an “attempted refutation”.

The first day of the conference was buzzing with news of Richard Muller’s announcement of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) results. Just a week earlier, he had published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, titled, “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism (There were good reasons for doubt, until now)”. Then, only one day before the conference, David Rose of the Daily Mail broke a supposed “scandal”: “Scientist who said climate change sceptics had been proved wrong accused of hiding truth by colleague”. Muller’s coauthor, Judith Curry, was quoted saying, “There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped. To say that there is detracts from the credibility of the data, which is very unfortunate.” This story was picked up by Fox News and the narrative that spread throughout the blogosphere was that “Curry has turned on Muller.”

Reading about climate change in the mainstream media — let alone on blogs — can be like looking at reality in a funhouse mirror. When Muller got up to discuss the BEST results on Tuesday morning, the first thing he did was point out that the title of the WSJ piece did not come from him. His original title was “Cooling the Global Warming Debate.” But since his name was under the title he didn’t write, it was automatically attributed to him, as a direct quote. In fact he said, he had been misquoted more times since this was published than he had in the rest of his life. The Daily Mail/Fox News story seemed just as distorted. If Curry and Muller had a major scientific disagreement, wouldn’t a scientific conference be the appropriate place for the debate? If they were at loggerheads over the fundamental question of whether “global warming hasn’t stopped” wouldn’t one of them have mentioned it? They each gave two presentations, and this never came up in public or in any conversation I was aware of.

The conference was remarkably well run. For the most part, participants were well behaved and adhered to Petr Chylek’s strict rules—avoiding inflammatory terms, and steering away from personal attacks and interruptions. The one exception was Judith Curry, who apparently did not get the memo. She gave a banquet presentation entitled, “The Uncertainty Monster at the Climate Science-Policy Interface”. My impression was that her presentation was intended to be more of a vehicle to criticize her adversaries than to talk about uncertainty.

Her most personal attack was against Michael Mann, who she used to illustrate “uncertainty hiding” by showing a caricature of him standing next to the “uncertainty monster” holding a hockey stick and hidden by a sheet, with the cartoon-Mann saying “what uncertainty?” Next to the cartoon was and image of the cover of the book “The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science” illustrated with the multiproxy time series that Mann and his coauthors made famous. Ironically, Mann’s carefully plotted uncertainty bands were not visible on the presentation graphic, just as they were not reproduced in Fred Singer’s NIPCC report. “What uncertainty?” indeed!

Curry described her transition from a scientist who felt that it was the responsible thing to do to support the IPCC conclusions to someone who is “about 50% a denier”. She attributed this change to “climategate” and the reaction she received due to her initial comments about it. She was the only speaker who ignored the policy against the word “denier.” She used the banned “d-word” repeatedly for effect when setting up a straw-man argument against what she called “IPCC/UNFCCC ideology” — a term she coined to label notions such as “anthropogenic climate change is real” and “deniers are attacking climate science and scientists”. She assured the audience that she didn’t think there were any “IPCC ideologues” at the conference but she had heard rumors that some were invited and had declined. She called out Kevin Trenberth as a supposed example of such an ideologue (again rejecting the policy against personal attack).

Among her straw-man arguments was her dismissal of standard risk-reduction methodology for low-probability high-consequence events as a mere “precautionary principle” (the same principle that nuclear weapons engineers are taught when they told to always ask “what can go horribly wrong?”). One colleague later remarked that her approach to uncertainty quantification reminded him of an English major who had just finished reading Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

I met most of the conference participants during the course of the week, and had cordial conversations with all those with whom I disagreed. One thing I have long suspected was strongly reinforced: there is no common scientific understanding amongst contrarians. Many of them are just as critical of one another’s ideas as they are of conventional science. William Gray stood up after many of the presentations on solar influence to declare that solar variability is not important. It’s even less important than CO2, he said. It’s ocean variability that is the cause of most climate change. Petr Chylek stood up after Fred Singer’s presentation (in which Singer presented old uncorrected UAH MSU data that suggested cooling) and said emphatically, “Denying the warming makes no sense!”.

monckton_boslough I spent a lot of time talking to Christopher Monckton, who may have been the only non-scientist to give a presentation. He has no understanding of science or the scientific method, and when I asked him about scientific prediction, he called it a “fool’s errand”. He has a strong authoritarian approach to those with whom he disagrees, and his conspiracy theories run deep and dark. He names specific names and calls IPCC contributors “malevolent”. I asked him to share the very worst hacked email he could remember. The only specific example he gave was the one in which someone referred to him as a “charlatan”.

Several of us had beers at the Marble Brewery overlooking the Santa Fe plaza on Thursday evening, where Monckton recounted his efforts to get the police involved in an investigation of one IPCC lead author who (he says) committed criminal fraud associated with a graph in the IPCC report. (His own adventures in graphical misrepresentation are of course completely unproblematic).

The main lesson I took away from the conference was this: there is no consistent contrarian science, and there is no defining contrarian ideology or motivation. Some are sincere. Others are angry at their lack of funding. Some appear to be envious of the IPCC scientists’ success, and others have found a niche that gets them attention they would not otherwise get. Only a few appear to be motivated by politics. No single label applies to them, and I found myself referring to them as “contrarians/skeptics/deniers/enablers/provocateurs/publicity-seekers”.

The one common thread I found among them was the fervent belief that “Climategate” was a conspiracy and that the IPCC is rigged. This faith-based belief seems to be unshakable, and is the antithesis of true skepticism. Those I met were uniformly cynical about the honesty and motivations of mainstream scientists. If I were forced to use a single label, I would be inclined to call them “science cynics”.

*These comments reflect the personal opinion of the author and should not be taken to reflect the opinions of his employer or his funding agencies.


212 Responses to “Climate cynicism at the Santa Fe conference”

  1. 1
    Arne says:

    Here’s Scott Denning at the 4th ICCC.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkL6TDIaCVw

  2. 2
    Edward Greisch says:

    Book: “FOOL ME TWICE; Fighting the Assault on Science in America” by Shawn Lawrence Otto; Rodale Books

    page 198 “Between 1999 and 2010, the energy industry spent more than $2 billion fighting climate change legislation, more than $500 million of it from January 2009 to June 2010…”

    “There isn’t much chance of a mainstream scientist attending a meeting organized by a political think tank known for its anti-science activism, so opportunities for interaction between the groups are rare.”
    Are you really sure you wanted interactions like that?

  3. 3
    Random says:

    I like to call them “skeptomanics” (…alternatively “skeptomaniacs” should I bump into some true crackpots). The defining strain to me seems a manical urge to question anything and everything – save their own stuff. It’s about the very act of denying – not necessarily the outcome. Thus that broad range of assertions…

  4. 4
    Steve E says:

    The problem I face is designing educational programs to reach grade 5-12 students in the area of climate change. Deniers, er contrarians, have such a loud voice that they have reached many of the kids’ parents who I deal with routinely, who get enraged that I might dare teach their children about such a hoax as climate change. It is my standard operating procedure to present data as much as possible, let students examine the data and reach their own conclusions.

    Clearly, I cannot go into the sort of detail in data analysis routinely included in the research, but enough that students can get a grasp of what the science says. However, any time I begin delving into climate change as a subject, I have to deal with an irate parent, who has been made aware of the skeptical sides of the arguments.

    Individuals like Judith Curry and her statements presented here only make the hill a steeper one to climb. I welcome any suggestions on how best to approach educating our youth to climate change while keeping upset parents at bay. I strongly believe that teaching our young minds about climate change as they prepare to head off to college is vital, but it is not an easy task.

  5. 5
    Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Slightly ironic Dr. Muller talks about being misquoted when there’s a nice video presentation of him misquoting hacked emails.

  6. 6
    wili says:

    Besides denialists, were their any voices at this conference who thought that things may be much worse than the general scientific consensus seems to be right now? People like David Wasdell, Fatih Birol, or John Nissen (who, for all their faults, are at least as worthy of a hearing as the likes of Monkton)?

    If not, was there any concern that this conference would perpetuate the perception that the ‘climate debate’ ranges from the two ‘extremes’ of IPCC on one end and denialists (in their various flavors) on the other, even though the actual scientific debate at this point really does not even overlap with this spectrum?

  7. 7
    Alastair says:

    Mark,

    You have highlighted the main problem of persuading the “skeptics”, both scientists and the general public, of the dangers of abrupt climate change. They are completely convinced that they are right. No amount of logical arguments from us is going to convince them that they are wrong. And their distrust of our arguments is only reinforced by our failure to accept theirs.

    We really have to find another way of getting our ideas across to the general public that does not involve dry logic. For instance, every time there is an extreme event scientists should argue that it could have been caused by global warming, not emphasise their uncertainty by saying that there is no proof.

    [Response: Scientists should present their best estimates of likelihoods, nothing more or less.--Jim]

    Secondly, the IPCC report should include a worst case scenario. That is what we have to protect ourselves against. When we take out fire insurance on our homes, it is a totally destructive fire that we insure against, even though a minor fire or none at all is more likely.

    A house fire and an abrupt climate are both non linear events. We don’t say that a house fire is a 1:100,000 event so we will only insure our house for 1/100,000th of its value. In the same way, if sea level can rise over the next 50 years by between 10 cm and 2m, it is the 2m that we should be emphasizing. That is where the danger lies.

    [Response: That's risk assessment, not science.--Jim]

    But just as the sceptics are divided so too are we believers. My arguments will be dismissed as unscientific by my fellows. So I hold out little hope for mankind. We value our personal freedom too highly for us to act together to tackle this major threat to our existence.

  8. 8
    Chris G says:

    I learned a new term the other day, belief perseverance.
    Example: http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/caa/abstracts/2005-2009/07a.pdf

    There is a danger in assuming that because we can label something we can understand it, but maybe identifying it is a start.

  9. 9
    robert says:

    A nice summary. But I’m unclear as to the purpose of this meeting? There is no real scientific discord on these questions (warming, attribution, risk) — as gauged by the literature. Further, the denier-side participants have shown no real inclination toward intellectually honesty. It’s simply not a scientific interaction when one side refuses to acknowledge objective scientific results.

    Re: 4… Steve… My suggestion is to teach the kids about the enterprise of science, along with the science of climate. A strategy of “show the kids the science and let them decide” is simply not valid, if what you show them is the results of measurements. They’re not capable of evaluating the science on its merits. Of course you can make it plausible, and that’s good. But the real reason they (and their parents) should take it seriously is not because they’ve “evaluated the science.” Rather, it’s because a large, well-trained, sincere and competent collection of climate scientists, working within a framework that has been hugely successful, is telling them to take this seriously. Your students (and their parents) need to understand how to better assess the level of credibility to ascribe to a scientific result, based on the notions of scientific consensus and how such consensus is arrived at.

  10. 10
    apeescape says:

    It’s been so surprising how Judith Curry misses the appropriate scientific context of paleoclimate hindcasts. It’s not like she can’t check Michael Mann et al’s methods herself and see if anything makes a difference. There’s been a colorful collection of paleoclimate results at different time scales, using different data, covering different parts of the globe, with a variety of statistical methods. There are even group[s] of statisticians that focus on this issue (a complaint by Nature IIRC), along with amateurs that have access to both the data and methods. I mean it’s not like people use a completely different methodology to tease out Ice Ages. Or how about people who tease out past fish population sizes using otolith data? Are they affected by the purported lack of uncertainty of a 10+ yr old paper? I’m sure a bunch of graduate students are hard at work trying to answer a plethora of questions both big and small thanks to the explosion in interest.

    If you’re working inside the field, it should be hard to get worked up by such trivial matters like the emails. It’s like she tries to assess global geopolitics by watching Entertainment Tonight.

  11. 11
    Sebastian says:

    It looks suspiciously like the “play nice” rule set only applies to those who accept the mainstream view. Contrarian publicity hounds? They can say whatever they like.

  12. 12
    CM says:

    How does a Kuhn-reading English major quantify uncertainty?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-)

  13. 13
    Chess GM says:

    “…and others have found a niche that gets them attention they would not otherwise get.” —Let me guess, Curry?

  14. 14
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Here’s Deming at WUWT today. The title of the post is accurate, but not for the reasons given by the author, but then who would be surprised by that…

    BTW, it concerns forest ecology, so Jim might be interested.

  15. 15
    Russell says:

    I am perplexed that Viscount Monckton should abandon the honorable calling of a London haberdasher to indulge in idle scientific disputation in New Mexico.

    The wholly uncontroversial Monckton shirts I purchased from his King’s Road 1996 evidence his natural talent for haberdashery , and were he to return to his metier he might employ his connections in the Worshipful Company of Merchant Tailors, to rise to Alderman, and thence continue his progress either towards a fourth rejection by the House of Lords or universal approbation as a cricket umpire.

  16. 16
    Chick Keller says:

    I attended the entire conference and gave a review of solar forcing estimates on the last day. (I spent a lot of time pointing out problems with points some of the speakers made). The above review, while it accurately describes what was wrong with the conference, fails to highlight some very interesting papers that may have a significant bearing on attribution of climate change. One paper for example announced new observations that show significant dust recently injected into the stratosphere which would have caused a tropospheric cooling of ~.07°C after 2005. There were several interesting papers looking at the historic come-and-go of both the Atlantic Oceans ~20 and ~60 year cycles (their paleo-presence was not constant). There were also several papers discussing the latest modeling results from CESM’s simulations using the new CAM5 atmospheric and new seaice modules, all pointing to significant improvements.
    One of the main threads of agreement among those who question the amount of human-caused warming is that, while they agree on the small amount of warming due to AGHGs alone, they disagree on the large effect of positive feedbacks. Instead they claim that the 60 yr AMO seems to have added significantly to warming in the 90s and lack thereof in the past decade. This, in short is perhaps the last bastion of the critics. Currently they agree with most aspects of climate change and only disagree on the amount of positive feedback which they replace with ocean multi-decadal warming and cooling. From some of the papers given it seems at least possible that they are qualitatively correct, that AMO etc. have contributed to climate change enough to slightly reduce currently accepted climate sensitivity to AGHGs. This area needs more careful study and in pointing it out, the conference may have made a contribution to science.

    Perhaps the most lamentable aspect of the conference was the absence of top climate scientists who could easily have, through questioning of the speakers, shown the errors they had made. For example, Richard Lindzen’s paper has already been adequately refuted by Dessler (2010) where he showed that Richard had correctly described a phenomenon but had incorrectly attributed its effects. Someone more familiar with these papers could have easily pointed out Richard’s errors.

    One advantage of the conference is that it brought together both “sides” where they could informally and pleasantly discuss their differences. Too often these two groups meet only in formal confrontational venues not conducive to productive interactions.

    Were there to be a follow-on conference, I strongly recommend that a concerted attempt be made to bring in more of the “main stream” climate scientists to give it a more salutary balance.

  17. 17
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Re inline on #7
    Risk Assessment is a science that over laps with Climate Science. In human health risk assessment, there are educational standards for the people that sign the reports, standards for the data quality, and even standards for the people that review the data. Climate science is now an important input into Environmental Risk Assessments and Environmental Impact Reports, which are risk assessment documents signed by registered and bonded professionals.

    The IPCC has consistently understated risk, which has shaped the perceptions of the climate science community, research funding, policy makers, and the public. In 2007, climate science GCM (published as AR4) under-estimated the risk of Arctic sea ice retreat with all of its feedback loops. Today, climate science models under estimate the risks of carbon feedback and ice sheet dynamics.

    Climate scientists do not like to think of risk assessment as a science because their training causes them to understate the various risks.

  18. 18
    Chris G says:

    Steve E (#4),
    FWIW, I’m thinking that there were probably many an irate parent when evolution was introduced to the school system as well. If you are teaching science, it is your right (and possibly obligation) to teach the best understanding science has to offer. Unlike evolution, climate change will affect your students in their lifetime.

  19. 19
    Anna Haynes says:

    Thank you Mark for providing this writeup; it’s very helpful, to my understanding at least.

    +1 wili #6 (“was there any concern that this conference would perpetuate the perception that the ‘climate debate’ ranges from the two ‘extremes’ of IPCC on one end and denialists (in their various flavors) on the other, even though the actual scientific debate at this point really does not even overlap with this spectrum?”) – See Tobis distribution, http://goo.gl/a7oIN

    re Edward #2′s “Are you really sure you wanted interactions [with contrarians] like that?” – again, IMO it’s extremely helpful to better understand where the contrarians are coming from, and I am inordinately grateful to Mark for attending, interacting & reporting.

  20. 20
    John Mashey says:

    re: 4
    Actually, Heartland has run a pervasive campaign to reach school boards and parents. They’ve sent 14,000 copies of Jo Nova’s “The Skeptics handbook” to school board presidents.
    They augmented their circulation by adding the 30K+ signers of the OISM petition.

    They’ve regularly run ads entitled:
    Is Your Child Being Educated or Indoctrinated?
    With pictures of a child or of Al Gore.

    You might contact folks @ NCSE.
    While their primary mission has been helping fend off creationism, teachers have turned to them for help on dealing with equivalent attacks on climate science. They’ve recently added Mark McCaffrey to help this specific topic, but others have gotten up to speed as well. Anyway, the NCSE folks are great, they are long accustomed to helping fight such battles, they have an unmatched channel to numerous science teachers.

    Back to the conference: I thought about attending this for fun, but life is short.
    On the other hand, it would be interesting to know how much US funding went into this, and which speakers got travel grants.

  21. 21
    Guy Smith says:

    Cynical? Perhaps there are three points to their cynicism.

    Foremost, their reading into opposing science and the Climategate emails/code have caused them to believe that the science is note settled (science never really is, so they may resent being told so).

    Second, through the Climategate emails, they believe what science can be corrupted. From my book on propaganda analysis (“Shooting The Bull”) a quote from Robert Higgs, who has been a peer reviewer for over thirty professional journals, and a research proposal reviewer for the National Science Foun¬dation, the National Institutes of Health and a number of private foundations. “Peer review, on which lay people place great weight, varies from being an important control, where the editors and the referees are competent and responsible, to being a complete farce.”

    Finally, perhaps the cynics have merely been reading everything cynical ever said about science:

    http://www.cynical.ws/definition/science

  22. 22
    Anna Haynes says:

    I’m curious about the difference, if any, in how contrarians respond to each others’ talks, between this conference and a Heartland Institute conference.

    Mark observed in this conference that “there is no common scientific understanding amongst contrarians. Many of them are just as critical of one another’s ideas as they are of conventional science. William Gray stood up after many of the presentations on solar influence to declare…”

    So my Q is, at a Heartland conference post-talk Q&A, do the contrarians shoot down each others’ talks? (do the H. conference talks have Q&As?)

  23. 23
    Edward Greisch says:

    19 Anna Haynes: Where the contrarians are coming from is explained by the money spent by the fossil fuel industry and by the $ 1 TRillion cash-flow of the fossil fuel industry in the US alone. You are not dealing with people who have any intention whatever of telling the truth and in some cases, there may be psychiatric problems. In Judith Curry’s case, you are dealing with a geographer. Yes, I know that any PhD is supposed to be able to pick up any other field in one year without help, but I don’t believe it if the motive is otherwise and it may not apply in all cases.

    4. Steve E: Teach your students to think like a scientist and let them do the required experiments. Plant seeds so that they can come to realizations after they turn 18.
    Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person's head isn't public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else.
    “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul, 1980, University of California Press.

    “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler, 2006 Chapter 19, FILTERING TRUTH, page 123 lists six commonly used filters people use to find the “truth”. They are:
    1. Consensus
    2. Consistency
    3. Authority
    4. Mystical revelation or religion
    5. Durability
    6. Science

    The Tofflers say: “Science is different from all the other truth-test criteria. It is the only one that itself depends on rigorous testing.” They go on to say: “In the time of Galileo . . . the most effective method of discovery was itself discovered.” [Namely Science.] The Tofflers also say that: “The invention of scientific method was the gift to humanity of a new truth filter or test, a powerful meta-tool for probing the unknown and—it turned out—for spurring technological change and economic progress.” All of the difference in the way we live now compared to the way people lived and died 500 years ago is due to Science. The other truth filters have contributed misery, confusion, war, fanaticism, persecution, terrorism, inquisitions, suicide bombings, false imprisonments, obesity, diabetes and other atrocities.

    Tyndall’s experiment [in the year 1859] can be repeated by students or demonstrated easily with modern equipment and bottled gasses. Dry ice from a grocery store can be used as a source of CO2. There are videos of demonstrations on the web and RealClimate has about 52 results if you search for Tyndall.
    See the video at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5maT2CunT08
    Start 20 minutes in.
    See also:
    http://tyndallconference2011.org/

    http://richardsomerville.com/
    http://nsdl.org/

    Perhaps somebody else has the URL that I forgot or lost.

  24. 24
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the same material we presented at last year’s GSA meeting

    Is there a link to a page showing the original and the altered graphic?

  25. 25
    Michael Doliner says:

    I am not a climate scientist though I have a scientific background. It seems to me that a better approach is possible by starting from scratch. Where does a skeptic become skeptical?
    1.CO2 as greenhouse gas.
    1)Do they accept CO2 as absorbing and reradiating infra red radiation?
    2)Do they believe that it reradiates heat in all directions thus returning some heat that would have escaped to space back to earth?
    3)Do they accept that, all things being equal, this would cause more heat to be retained?
    4)Do they have some mitigating factor that might cancel this process.
    1.Clouds?
    1.Only a change is clouds should matter.
    1.Are there more clouds?
    2.If so is the increase caused by global warming?
    3.Would this mitigate warming?
    4.Is this the basis of skepticism?
    2.Anything else?
    2. Mechanism for interglacial oscillation. Ice ages oscillate between warmer and cooler periods. What is the mechanism?
    1) Gilbert Plass argues for CO2 concentrations as mechanism. http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/2010/1/carbon-dioxide-and-the-climate
    2)Plass refutes other possible explanations— problem is length of cooling and warming periods and regular oscillation. No other available mechanism.
    3)Doe skeptic agree with Plass? If so then CO2 can cause drastic climate change.
    4)If not, why not.
    5)If so why will now be different from then?
    3. Possible explanation for temporary leveling off of warming.
    1.Heat going into something other than temperature change. (Melting of ice, evaporation, chemical activity.)
    2.Temporary increase of particulate matter in atmosphere.
    1.Will not change overall trend.
    4.Where can CO2 go?
    1.Not photosynthesis.
    2.Not ocean. (See Plass)

    This is the basis of my own conviction about climate change. Large amounts of ice melting should mitigate temperatures, but since more heat is trapped every year, ice will continue to melt until temperatures rise. One might better argue with skeptics if one can pinpoint the source of their skepticism. Those completely innocent of reason must be abandoned.

  26. 26

    I think that you’re being much too charitable when you fail to note that some of them are in it for the money. That would be the case even if they were otherwise “sincere,” “angry at their lack of funding,” “envious of the IPCC scientists’ success,” had “found a niche that gets them attention they would not otherwise get,” or “motivated by politics.”

    Fred Singer, for instance, has a long history of taking money from industry groups in exchange for producing “made as instructed” polemics. See here:
    http://bit.ly/tdBKvp

    The fact that he is “sincere” is really of no moment. After all, a whore is a whore even if he or she enjoys the work.

  27. 27
    Anna Haynes says:

    Relevant (re motives, not positions), Mashey’s 2008 Taxonomy of the Reasons For Anti-Science

  28. 28
    Anna Haynes says:

    …ok, sometimes for positions…

  29. 29
    deconvoluter says:

    I am all in favour of tolerating dissidents and of discussions between people of opposing viewpoints provided they all agree to obey the same rules.
    Staying away from personal attacks is quite another matter. It may make for a pleasanter and more comfortable atmosphere but it should not go so far as appeasing individuals who depart from those rules, by creating or manipulating their colleagues evidence.

    The use of fabricated data,removal of uncertainty bands * when they are highly relevant, and doctored graphs , as mentioned above, is utterly unacceptable and should be exposed whenever it occurs. Other scientists and many of the public are quite unaware how common this practice is amongst people trying to rubbish all or parts of the science of climatology.
    ————-
    * I can see these bands in the graphic to which you have linked above. So the man should be saying “What Hiding?” and the words “Monster Hiding” should be “Cartoon showing how “Uncertainty Monster no longer large enough to conceal Monster Blade”

  30. 30
    Mark Boslough says:

    Re: Chick #16

    Thanks for filling in some of the gaps in my summary. Of course, I wasn’t attempting to be comprehensive or to summarize the science. I just wanted to give a flavor of the conference and what I learned about the various doubters.

    The one point you made where I think we disagree is your description of a discussion as being between “both sides” or “two groups”. I came away from Santa Fe feeling that the only thing that all the critics have in common is their willingness to cling to the cynical belief that “climategate” was a scandal that suggested the existence of a vast conspiracy. In terms of the science, they mostly seem to have different ways of trying to jigger the data to argue that mainstream scientists have overstated climate sensitivity.

    Many of their presentations contradicted one another. Those who argue against mainstream science sometimes make strange bedfellows and overlook their own differences, which can be greater than their differences with the mainstream.

    I agree with your assessment that (with the exception of Judith Curry’s ad hominem banquet presentation) the conference was pleasant and non-confrontational. The organizers deserve much of the credit for that, even if the rules were not consistently applied.

  31. 31
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, a suggestion — try a Google image search for the chart with the faked data, and a search for the original image and one for your comparison. I often (almost always) find that searching on any climate related question, results vary: Scholar pretty good, Google quite mixed, and Google image search really bad for results weighed hugely toward denial/PR sites.

    They’re really big on pictures as you mentioned. Seeing the actual correction as a page with pictures would really help.

  32. 32

    Regarding comments by Jim on #7, surely there’s a role for science in guiding policy and even bounding possible losses, per http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=8081. Also, given that the biggest factor in future projections of warming is the size of the anthropogenic contribution of GHGs over time, it’s necessary to entangle science with “non-science subjects”, such as economics.

    Thus, I don’t know whether or not such a break can be made cleanly. It may be wise to keep clear of these entanglements in an audience such as was described. But, eventually, these questions will need to be engaged.

    [Response: My point was not that science is irrelevant to policy making, but rather that scientists shouldn't exaggerate what they actually know, which the guy was claiming we should. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that scientists should say whatever it is they want to hear. Not going to happen.--Jim]

  33. 33
    Alastair says:

    [Response: Scientists should present their best estimates of likelihoods, nothing more or less.–Jim]

    That assertion is an excellent example of the error that I am warning about. It is a value judgement uttered with the same conviction that skeptics employ. Of course scientists should be precise when conversing with other scientists, but when they are warning the genral public of the dangers of global warming then they should use the approriate language for that audience.

    The audience for IPCC documents is not other scientist. These documents are intended to warn the public of the dangers of climate change. Up until now, they have failed to achieve that. Carbon dioxide levels are not only continuing to rise but are in fact accelerating.

    Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Do you really believe that a fifth IPCC report written in precise scientific language will succeed where the other four have failed?

    But the IPCC authors won’t make any changes. Like you, and the skeptics, they are sure they are right. That is the Tragedy of Convictions.

    It means that we will continue marching towards the precipice because no-one has the guts to admit that we have chosen the wrong turning :-(

    [Response: Don't be an idiot OK? So the "appropriate language" is exaggeration in order to scare people? And who exactly do you think the IPCC reports are for if not other scientists? None of them have "failed" in any way. In fact they have gotten better with time, and I'm quite confident that the 5th one will continue that.--Jim]

  34. 34
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Alastair, you are asking scientists to depart from scientific method and rigor when that is the only advantage we have over the denialists.

    The issue is not that scientists have not issued dire warnings–indeed, they have issued dire warnings based on solid research. Rather, the issue is that human beings suck at risk assessment and tend toward self-delusion.

    Let the scientists do science.

  35. 35
    barry says:

    I’d also like to know if the contrarians contradict each other at the Heartland conferences as described at Santa Fe. In public they rarely do. Mark has described a raft of motivations, but their actions (or lack) in the public arena suggest a common purpose where the promotion of doubt is more important than the quest for understanding. They are unified by political goals.

  36. 36
    Mark Boslough says:

    Re: John M. #20:

    For the record, I did not receive a travel grant from the conference. I did make a request, but apparently there were insufficient funds.

  37. 37
    Mark Boslough says:

    Re: Hank #24

    > Is there a link to a page showing the original and the altered graphic?

    Original figure

    Altered figure

  38. 38
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, is there text to go with those two pictures? They need something — links, caption, pointer, quote — enough for someone to find the source of the numbers charted in the picture. For the one from a publication a cite, or a link? It’d help if you edit the actual image with a bit of text so whoever finds it with an image search knows what they’re getting.

  39. 39
    Dr Mat says:

    From your description of the behavior of people at this conference, and what I have seen of “skeptics” and “deniers” in various forums, I would suggest that there is a unifying characteristic: personality disorder, in particular Cluster B type behaviors.

    Any psychologists out there game enough to tackle this in a proper study ???

  40. 40
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ah, and the link for the second one goes right to OISM, can’t be clearer than that! At least for anyone who’s looked up OISM and knows what to expect.
    Thanks, enough info after all, once I dug a bit more.

  41. 41
    Tom Dayton says:

    Dr Mat, you might be interested in the (free, downloadable, and short) “Debunking Handbook.

  42. 42
    Tom Dayton says:

    To be fair regarding risk as a science: There is indeed a science of judgment and decision making, which includes normative (ideal) decision making and behavioral (what people really do) decision making. Daniel Khaneman has a popular new book on the topic, adding to his list. But yes, the practice of actually making particular decisions is what you might call engineering by applying technologies of decision making (e.g., multi-attribute decision making). When substantial amounts of subjective judgments are required inputs to those decisions, risk assessment does indeed become more like a craft…. But when substantial amounts of subjective judgments are required for the practice of science, science also becomes more like a craft.

  43. 43
    Edward Greisch says:

    Mark Boslough, Petr Chylek and Scott Denning: you are giving accreditation to Christopher Monckton, Judith Curry and Fred Singer. You are thus helping the fossil fuel industry prevent action on GW. Don’t give any more conferences like that.

  44. 44
    Mark Boslough says:

    Re: deconvoluter #29

    The uncertainty bands were reproduced in the graphic, but they weren’t visible in the projected version (see Uncertainty hiding). This was clearly unintentional. But the bands were intentionally removed from version shown in the NIPCC report.

  45. 45
    Alastair says:

    Ray,

    You wrote “Let the scientists do science.” They do that by writing in peer reviewed journals. The IPCC reports are not used to do science. They are about informing the public of the dangers of global warming. One of the first rules of good writing is to identify your audience.

    I am not calling for climatologists to be alarmists. I am asking that they report the real dangers. For instance, and meteorologists reported what could happen if Hurricane Irene hit New York, and an evacuation was ordered. It proved unnecessary but it is generally agreed that it was a sensible precaution. Why should climatology be different? The real dangers we face should be highlighted so that the proper precautions can be taken.

    Jim, what is idiotic about that? Just because you are a “scientist” that does not mean that you cannot get things wrong. Calling people idiots is unscientific. It is time you, and your fellow climatologist, were a bit more open to fresh thinking, and be prepared to be more self critical.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  46. 46
    Amoeba says:

    The comment about Singer’s NIPCC Report using a faked graph caused me to check for myself.
    Sure enough the graph on the 2008 NIPCC report, not the version available now has been faked. The original 2008 NIPCC report is available from here: http://www.webcitation.org/644I9wv52.

    On page 3 the graph is from Keigwin 1996, but it’s not in the original form. The Axes have been faked and the line itself has been horizontally flipped.

    I have overlaid a mirror-image reversed version of the NIPPC version on Keigwin’s 1996 original here:

    http://i40.tinypic.com/34pxm38.jpg

  47. 47
    Michael Sweet says:

    I looked at Dr. Curry’s presentation. The bands are not visible at all. It is Dr. Curry’s responsibility to ensure that her slides are properly formatted, especially considering the argument she makes. She is being deceptive with her arguments.

  48. 48
    Seb says:

    Erm, Jim

    http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization.shtml

    “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to *provide the world* with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.”
    (Emphasis added)

    I wouldn’t say that the IPCC reports are just for other scientists. I would have thuoght from the context of the IPCC’s founding the target audience is policy makers (who may be expected to have some degree of technical knoweldge) within governments rather than scientists, giving them an assessment of the idea of the risks and consequences of climate change.

    Personally I find them readable, but then I’m a scientist, albeit in a different field. It would be useful, I think, for a more accessible addition to each assessment report: government policy makers get their synthesis (whether they chose to listen to it or not is irrelevant), but that doesn’t always get communicated clearly to electorates. Though no doubt that would cause all sorts of people to start jumping up and down about evil climate propoganda and UN agencies bypassing governments.

  49. 49
    JGarland says:

    The Surgeon-General’s report on tobacco http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/NN/B/B/M/Q/_/nnbbmq.pdf presented clear, easy to understand science and recommendations together with deeper detailed science in a 386 page report authored by scores of researchers and with thousands of refs. While there were decades of previous work, that was considered the first truly definitive report. IPCC 4 is really the first report that even approximates that level of definitiveness. IPCC5 will likely be on par with the SG’s report. That report, however, was only the beginning of now almost a half century of political–and economic–work that still goes on today. Why do you have the least inkling that this process will take less time w.r.t. greenhouse gases? It won’t. It will take far more.

    Part of this stems, I think, from the relatively quick success of the Montreal Protocols and the acid rain problem. There are huge differences, however: In the case of CFCs and sulphur emissions, the economic dislocations was relatively minimal, the public dislocations very minimal, there were ready substitutes/controls available at not too great a cost, and the problem could be taken care of within the existing industries. NONE of these apply in greenhouse gasses just as none of these applied for tobacco. Don’t expect anything here other than the response we got from the tobacco industry.

    Sorry to say this, but we’re just going to have to deal with these facts people being what they are.

  50. 50
    barry says:

    Seb@45

    Despite the title, the Summary for Policy Makers is the ‘accessible addition’ to each of the IPCC reports that is glommable by the GP. I’m no scientist, and wouldn’t want the SPM any simpler. Handily, this precis makes reference to the larger body of the report, which should (in an ideal world perhaps) obviate calls of propagandizing. The issue is dissemination, not the lack of accessible material. The Oz govt almost made good use of the internet (finally) when trying to educate the public about the proposed carbon tax. Overviews were easy to come by, but you had to do a bit of digging to find out the details. Perhaps I want more detailed information than the average punter, but it seems to me it should be an extremely simple matter for govt to make AR5 findings accessible the GP without having to write another summary.

    I was also a bit confused by Jim describing the assessment reports as being written for scientists. But maybe he means that the body of the report is aimed more at the scientific advisors to policy-makers than to the politicos themselves? I can’t imagine that many politicians would ever read the whole thing.


Switch to our mobile site