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How to spot “alternative scientists”.

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 August 2020

Recently, a so-called “white coat summit” gave me a sense of dejavu. It was held by a group that calls itself ‘America’s Frontline Doctors’ (AFD) that consisted of about a dozen people wearing white coats to the effect of achieving an appearance of being experts on medical matters.


The AFD apparently wanted to address a “massive disinformation campaign” (what irony) and counter the medical advice from real health experts. This move has a similar counterpart in climate science, where some individuals also have claimed to be experts and dismissed well-established scientific facts, eg. that emissions of CO2 from the use of fossil fuels results in global warming.


Climate science is not the only discipline where we see confusion sown by a small number of “renegades”. A few white-coated scholars have disputed the well-established danger of tobacco. We see similar attitudes among the “Intelligent Design” community and the so-called “anti-vaxxers”.


Statistically speaking, we should not be surprised by a few contrarians who have an exceptional opinion within a large scientific community. It is to be expected from a statistical point of view where there is a range of opinions, so there should be little reason to make a big deal out it.


On the other hand, there are some fascinating stories to be told. Sometimes there are individuals who can be described as “crackpots” and “quakesalvers” (e.g. a scholar believing in dowsing rods among the climate renegades and some within the AFD who talk about demons). Hollywood has even realized that some scientists may be mad, which has given us the familiar term “mad scientist”. But all “renegades” may of course not necessarily be mad.


Nevertheless, according to Snopes, the background of the individuals of the AFD is rather colourful. And there is nothing in the background provided about them that gave me any confidence in their judgement. On the contrary.


A sign that should trigger a big warning is that Snopes found it difficult to see who the AFD really are or where their conclusions really come from. The transparency is lacking and their story is murky. Especially so if the results have not been published through renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals. This is something we have seen time and again with climate change contrarians.


Any claim would be more convincing if colleagues independently are able to replicate the work and get the same results (without finding anything wrong with the process). This would require transparency and openness.


Another sign that should make you skeptical is if the claims have a dogmatic character. The AFD address is all dogma. This is also typical among the science deniers.


It’s also typical that the extreme fringes cannot falsify the established science and therefore move on to conspiracy theories. In the case of AFD, it is the alleged “massive disinformation campaign”.


Should we take such fringe views seriously? This type of “infodemics” seems to become a growing problem as described in a feature article in Physics World July 2020: ‘Fighting flat-Earth Theory’. The term “infodemic” reflects the fact that false information is just as contagious as an epidemic. Imposters dressed in white coats peddling false information can cause harm if people take them seriously.


The damage caused by erroneous information and conspiracy theories is discussed in the HBO documentary ‘After truth’, and the wildest claims can spread like a rampant disease as shown in that film.

We have witnessed how misinformation and lack of trust of true medical sciences have caused bad situations in some countries, while in others (eg. New Zealand, Canada, and some Nordic countries) the pandemic has been kept under control because the general public in general has followed the scientific health advice.


There is a common denominator when it comes to the AFD, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, “intelligent design”, chem-trail evangelists and those dismissing climate science. I think it may be useful to join forces within the broader scientific community to help the general public understand the real issues. This effort should also be on more general terms. People have a right to reliable and truthful information. Everybody should understand that anyone who spreads bullshit or lies also shows you a great deal of disrespect. The same goes for platforms spreading disinformation.


So what can we do to make people understand how science works and enhance the general science literacy? Is it better to teach people how to spot these “alternative scientists” (the term is inspired by “alternative facts”), conspiracy theories, and falsehoods, if we show a range of examples from different disciplines? We can probably learn from each others. There seems to be a lesson to be learned from the pandemic.

245 Responses to “How to spot “alternative scientists”.”

  1. 101
    nigelj says:

    KIA @97

    “Not true. As documented here a month or two ago, the earth temperature rose 14C “in a few decades” and resulted in SLR of several meters sometime around 11K or 14K years ago. That rapid climate change has not been explained to date. ”

    Maybe it hasn’t been explained fully, but one possibility could be massive releases of methane from natural sinks, another would be unusual as yet undetected volcanic activity. Be aware that by warming the atmosphere with CO2 ,we are at risk of triggering fairly rapid releases of methane. No of course you wont want to be aware of that, because your head is way down in the sand, 10 metres deep or so and GOD just wouldn’t let it happen (sarc).

    “As for the original OP article above,we’ve laughably come full circle. First, AGW “believers” bellyached that “deniers” were denying the “science”, even though similar temperature swings have occurred throughout the history of the planet. Now, today we have so-called “scientists” denying the reports of practicing Medical Doctors that certain drugs are helping their patients with COVID! It might be good to ask the author: “What are your credentials as a scientist or Medical Doctor, or are you just a writer?”

    No you are confusing things. The climate denialists are denying established credible science. The “reports of practicing Medical Doctors that certain drugs are helping their patients with COVID! ” are not science. They are nothing more than unreliable anecdotal information. Its easily to be fooled. You need proper science,so placebo based double blind trials and those have shown drugs like Choloroxyquinone dont work, not even slightly. Another common steroid drug has been shown to work, cant recall the name.

  2. 102
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigelj: It just seems that crankiness might primarily be driven by general world view

    AB: Now we’re entering the Weeds of Murky Definitions. Am I a crank?

  3. 103
    MA Rodger says:

    Mack the Maniac @66 describes consideration of an atmosphere-less Earth as being “pure fanciful, unreal, doodlings on the blackboard, wacko nonsense” yet @65 still manages to ask of the Stevenson-screen-less Moon “And what’s the temperature of the Moon measured in Stevenson screens about 5 ft above the surface?”
    The idea of measuring the temperature a few feet off the moon’s surface is an interesting one given the nature of the lunar ‘atmosphere’ which, at best, has a molecular density ten-trillion-times less than that found in the terrestrial atmosphere.
    There is a very thin ‘atmosphere’ above the moon during sun-lit hours and presumably this is heated to very high temperatures by solar and lunar radiative heating. So, as with the Earth’s thermosphere and the Earth’s exosphere, it too possibly has a daytime temperature in excess of the planet’s surface. Yet this lunar ‘atmosphere’ is so thin, I would suspect that measuring its temperature would require something a little more sensitive than the instruments found in an Earthly Stevenson screen.
    Then when the sun sets, the temperature would rapidly drop but with the constituent parts of this lunar ‘atmosphere’ being “dropped to the ground” (if these constituent parts haven’t been shot into space due to radiative heating), its temperature would be even more difficult to measure accurately. It is thus entirely possible that the lunar ‘atmosphere’ has an average temperature in excess of the Moon’s chilly surface average, especially as the average temperature of the Earth’s exosphere isn’t that much cooler than the Earth’s average surface temperature.

  4. 104
    James McDonald says:

    A (hopefully) constructive criticism to the owners/moderators of this site:

    I used to come here frequently to learn something substantial about climate science,
    but the lack of moderation and sheer amount of trolling and infantile back-and-forth
    nonsense has severely degraded its utility to that end.

    I understand it is your site. I also understand your time is limited and you provide it
    as a service.

    But at the current rate of sheer drivel it presents, I’m not entirely sure it’s a service
    worth preserving. Perhaps you could find someone to volunteer to install a better
    moderation system?

    Sorry to be so pessimistic, but I really enjoyed the original premise of this discussion
    site and am rather dismayed to see it going to hell — we need good sources of accurate
    information and it pains me to see the trolls destroying them.

  5. 105
    zebra says:

    #91 Mal Adapted,

    I understand Mal… why expend energy on smart pugnacious people when there are the Victor and KIA and DDS types to slap around with no fear of an effective counter-punch. ;-)

    But it’s possible that Dr N-G would agree with me about the other science-educational stuff, if I understand his brief and somewhat vague comment.

  6. 106
    zebra says:

    #93 Radge Havers,

    Not sure whether you are agreeing or disagreeing… did you read my entire comment?

  7. 107

    So in one post, KIA endorses climate denial, hydroxychloroquine, and dowsing. What a perfect example of crank magnetism.

  8. 108
    Keith Woollard says:

    MAR@103 10 trillion times less?????
    Really? What on earth does that mean? One times less would be zero.
    Learn some science

  9. 109
    David B. Benson says:

    James McDonald @104 — Then just skip the comments.

  10. 110

    As zebra said, it’s too easy punching down (or up) at people like Mr. KIA.

    James McDonald seems to think this site should be about providing “good sources of accurate information”.

    I would rather see discussion of climate topics that are the most scientifically challenging. Remember that the machine learning freight train is bearing down and it will discover patterns independent of what the consensus is thinking is possible. For example, check out this paper:

    Xiaoqun, C. et al. ENSO prediction based on Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM). IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 799, 012035 (2020).

    Looks promising but what exactly are they finding? They don’t even know, yet it’s definitely worth pursuing as it will tell us more about the fundamental underpinnings behind natural climate change.

    Kerry Emanuel has a recent article on this topic where he says:

    “But without those underpinnings, we are in danger of evolving into a data‐driven world in which most intelligence is artificial and simulation has replaced curiosity as the driving force of our science.”

  11. 111
    zebra says:

    #104 James McDonald,

    “trolls destroying them”

    Is it the trolls, or is it the people who can’t resist responding to the trolls?

    I’ve suggested multiple times that there could be criteria that have to be met for commenters to get a response. Why do you need a moderator for that?

    Just make a list… like with “you have to accept cookies to continue using the site”.

    So, for example:

    -“to use this site you have to agree that climate scientists aren’t part of a vast conspiracy”

    -“if you want to challenge attribution studies, you have to state whether or not you think increasing CO2 increases the energy in the climate system”

    But it isn’t reasonable to have the operators of the site carefully read everything to enforce compliance…that should be up to all the other users.

    You’re welcome to contribute to the list, but nobody is going to pay attention to it.

  12. 112
    Radge Havers says:

    zebra @ ~ 105

    Re: metaliteracy

    “But you have such a narrow definition of that… there’s nothing to teach. You make a hierarchical of list of “whom to believe the most” as JNG does, and have people memorize it. Then what?”

    Disagree, because you mischaracterize.

    So for me, “scientific meta-literacy” means teaching critical thinking and quantitative reasoning and metaphysics and logic and basic concepts like “energy”, and so on… so that these things are internalized and maintained over time, and provide at least a first-order evaluation of validity for such memes….and provide at least a first-order evaluation of validity for such memes…People still seem to be convinced that memorizing algorithms and factoids is what should constitute “education”.

    Mmmm, not exactly the “meta” we’re talking about.


    “But there’s an important lesson here about how we decide which scientific statements to believe and which ones not to believe. Those of us who are trained scientists but who do not have enough personal literacy to independently evaluate a particular statement do not throw up our hands in despair. Instead, we evaluate the source and the context.”
    John n-g
    [bold mine]

    So, first order here would be being able to read, understand (and possibly write) the original and most advanced scientific literature. That’s not feasible for the vast majority of people.

    Metaliteracy is science about science. Understanding what first order literature is, how it’s produced, how the system works, why it’s important, and what the gold standards are for the most reliable information; that’s some of what makes up metaliteracy.

    So I suppose you could regard it as second order heuristics, not perfect but good enough for all practical purposes. IOW, if you don’t have a fleet of Bentleys, one for each destination with door to door access, and you have to take a bus to the nearest station instead, that’s life. It will have to do. It’s better than the alternative, being stuck in an information desert sucking on rocks.

    This IMO would be in addition to some of the training that you recommend and targeted at the broadest possible audience.

  13. 113
    Mal Adapted says:

    From Russell‘s link:

    Stoat has an intriguing link to Fake Nous the blog of a U.Colorado philosophy professor who fears Peak Baloney is upon us

    Dunno, Russell. The linked post is good but not new. The author is hardly the first pundit to decry the coarsening of elite culture by the vulgar masses. It called to mind the Sage of Baltimore‘s sarcastic denunciations of Homo boobiens a century ago. Here’s (perhaps intentional) satire:

    What has changed?

    With the advent of the internet and social media, we have a great democratization of information. It used to be a small class of media elites controlling the information and ideas that people heard, and it was basically a one-way transmission of information from the elites to the masses.

    Hmm, it used to be that way in the 15th century, too. Then the printing press came along. Anyway, I suspected the post wasn’t wholly in earnest when I click on the About Fake Nous page:

    History: Fake Noûs was started in 2018 by Michael Huemer because his Facebook statuses had become much too bloglike.

    That’s the kind of irony we expect from you, Russell 8^D.

  14. 114
    Mal Adapted says:


    I understand Mal… why expend energy on smart pugnacious people when there are the Victor and KIA and DDS types to slap around with no fear of an effective counter-punch. ;-)

    Heh, you have my number. Now it’s time for my morning nap.

  15. 115

    #98, PP–

    My interpretation is that CC is not talking about climate scientists at all, but about bloggers & such:

    …a number of climate statistical experts are reconverting into COVID statistical experts…

    He’s probably thinking in part of Tamino–though that worthy gentleman isn’t using Covid as a crutch; he just believes, and rightly, that a national crisis in which ‘leadership’ has been a complete and utter joke at the Federal level deserves some truth-telling.


    We already had the tobacco crutch,now comes the COVID crutch.

    Clearly, ‘tobacco crutches’ are not part of climate science at all, so CC must be talking about the discourse *surrounding* climate science.

    And no, I don’t confuse, or fail to appreciate, that the state of play today in actual climate science is vastly different from Tyndall’s or Arrhenius’s, or Callendar’s. Heck, Manabe is definitely old hat at this point, even if that body of work was pointing toward the present quite a bit more clearly than anything preceding.

  16. 116

    #101, nigel quoted KIA–

    As documented here a month or two ago, the earth temperature rose 14C “in a few decades” and resulted in SLR of several meters sometime around 11K or 14K years ago. That rapid climate change has not been explained to date.

    No, no, no, no and no. That’s the changes associated with the Younger Dryas, and the rise was antiphased between hemispheres and therefor *not* a global rise.

    And as the linked article demonstrates, there are explanations (though I don’t think anyone claims that this is completely understood yet).

    Either way, it was clearly *not* an event directly comparable to the present era.

    (And by the way, we talked this all out at the time, so KIA is demonstrating yet again his flat ‘learning curve.’)

  17. 117
    Mal Adapted says:

    Paul Pukite:

    What’s intriguing about this what-should-be-obvious explanation is how rarely that simple concepts have been further elaborated on in climate science. So in the case of natural climate variability, how the strong seasonal signal interacts with the periodic gravitational forcing to essentially completely control the El Nino/La Nina cycles.

    Alas, there’s been relatively little fanfare from the consensus climate science community on this finding despite its significance in predictive modeling. Is it because it’s considered “alternative science”?

    Good example of how scientific progress is incremental. Questions about what drives internal (to the Earth system) climate variation arose during the “pause” kerfuffle. I credit JN-G again, for alerting me to Kosaka and Xie 2013 (pay-walled) when it was published:

    our simulation captures major seasonal and regional characteristics of the hiatus, including the intensified Walker circulation, the winter cooling in northwestern North America and the prolonged drought in the southern USA. Our results show that the current hiatus is part of natural climate variability, tied specifically to a La-Niña-like decadal cooling.

    The accompanying Nature News and Views article (open access) adds meta-literate credibility to the finding. A cursory search turns up lots of expert interest in the origins of decadal-scale variation since then, e.g. Trenberth et al. 2014, Marvel et al. 2015. I’d call it a timely update to the consensus, rather than “alternative science”.

    I’ll offer a more recent example, no less intriguing IMHO: two papers (paywalled, but this News and Views article may not be) in Nature last week, offer solid evidence for the peopling of the Americas as early as 26 kya. As a non-expert, I’d been dubious of evidence older than the Monte Verde I site at 14.8 kya, now I’m less so.

  18. 118
    Joel Shore says:

    #1 Mack:

    The reason we physicists don’t tend to use the term “back radiation” is we are generally not focused on the specific case that atmospheric scientists are interested in. We would just say that all objects emit thermal radiation according to their temperature and we’d be done with it. There is nothing magical about “back radiation”; it is just radiation emitted by the atmosphere because it has a non-zero absolute temperature.

    However, lots of physics textbooks do in fact talk about the atmospheric greenhouse effect as an application of thermal radiation. You can find discussions, for example, in Kittel & Kroemer, “Thermal Physics”, 2nd edition and Schroeder, “An Introduction to Thermal Physics”, two texts used to teach upper-level undergraduate physics majors. A lot of introductory physics textbooks discuss it too.

  19. 119
    nigelj says:

    Al Bundy @102

    Nigelj: It just seems that crankiness might primarily be driven by general world view

    AB: Now we’re entering the Weeds of Murky Definitions. Am I a crank?

    Nigelj: I did say “It just seems that crankiness might primarily be driven by general world view, AND with a huge distrust of the authorities, the established order, and governments high on the list,” so I was alluding to the libertarian or hard right world view, I should have just said that.

    So no you dont fit the definition of crank at all, and also because you have at least some self scepticism and flexibility of thought. However it seems you might be flirting with Mr Dunning and Mr Kruger at times.I guess we all do a little bit, the question is how much.

  20. 120
    Tom Dayton says:

    Susan Anderson: James Randi and others long ago showed there is no physical basis for dowsing. Dowsing almost certainly works, but only as a mechanism for the expression of the opinions of people who have knowledge and skill at finding water.

  21. 121
    nigelj says:

    zebra @111

    -“to use this site you have to agree that climate scientists aren’t part of a vast conspiracy”

    -“if you want to challenge attribution studies, you have to state whether or not you think increasing CO2 increases the energy in the climate system”

    Zebra, nice idea in theory, but I dont think it will actually work at a practical level. Every denialist troll will immediately agree, and troll the website with a hundred OTHER nonsensical forms of climate denial. You would need a hundred other points of agreement in principle, and that becomes impossible. These people are not completely stupid, and they are resourceful. Its also starting to encroach on freedom of speech.

    Instead, I think the website moderators need to put far more of the climate denial and trolling comments in the borehole or a monthly “craziness thread”, and perhaps open that up to replies (I recall AB suggested something like that, somebody did). It would isolate and ‘quarantine’ the craziness, and is still preserving freedom of speech, and allows people to rebut the denialists comments, should they be so inclined. The end result is all the other threads stay more on topic, and are a more evidence based discussion.

  22. 122

    Kevin McKinney said:

    “My interpretation is that CC is not talking about climate scientists at all, but about bloggers & such:”

    I immediately thought he was referring to climate scientist James Annan, who seems to be over-fitting his COVID-19 models, see this paper

  23. 123

    Mal Adapted said:

    “Good example of how scientific progress is incremental.”

    I guess that is the way that science will advance. This intriguing recent paper out of The Ohio State University on the cause of El Nino/La Nina cycles, required a more extensive review. When it comes down to it, qualitative rationalizations don’t cut it and the analysis has to become quantitative for the models to stand the test of time.

  24. 124
    sidd says:

    So, just for fun, i conducted an informal poll in my local fizix department. Apparently everyone I know there over over fifty can remember being taught how to prove sin(a+b)=sin(a)*cos(b) + cos(a)*sin(b) and similar multiple angle formulae with euclidean geometry in school. But very few under thirty seem to remember this, it seems like something they absorbed as they growed, probably thru the trivial proof from Euler’s formula once you go to the complex plane.

    I learned this in high school at some point, i cannot remember exactly when. I wonder how many of the commentariat on this thread can remember if and when they were taught these proofs via euclidean geometry.


  25. 125

    Joel Shore said:

    “You can find discussions, for example, in Kittel & Kroemer, “Thermal Physics””

    I had Kittel’s Intro to Solid State Physics and learned a lot from his 1st-order simplifying tricks, and that is indeed the case in his greenhouse gas derivation here. His approximation gives 53C for the Earth’s steady-state GHG warming instead of the accepted 33C.

    BTW, Charles Kittel died just this May at the age of 102, RIP.
    Herbert Kroemer is still around — years ago, I briefly discussed taking a post-doc with him before he got his Nobel Prize, but he scared me off :) He may have realized I took classes from Nussbaum.

  26. 126
    Mack says:

    @103 MA Rodger the Dodger,
    Nice try MA, trying to explain the temperature of virtually space…ie inside a Stevenson on the surface of the Moon. You didn’t come up with any numbers. You’ve got a “no atmosphere” situation…. so trying to read the temperature of the Moon’s atmosphere and then compare it to Earth’s atmospheric global average temperature is meaningless nonsense. Just as much meaningless nonsense as talking about temperatures here on Earth with an atmosphere (Real) and with no atmosphere (Unreal) as in what they do with the “greenhouse effect”. Atmosphere-no atmosphere.
    But as you imply with your last link…. the temperature of space is a physical paradox… but what we do know is that it’s not “cold” in the vicinity of Earth … space vehicles have to revolve … otherwise they would get about red hot on the side facing the Sun and freeze on the other.
    The temperature of the thermosphere can get upwards of 1500 deg C with an active Sun….. so it’s not “cold” up there.

  27. 127
    John Mashey says:

    1) John N-G’s:Meta-literacy: one of the first things people learned when getting hired at Bell Labs was to figure out who were experts and ask them questions. Luckily, there were many easily accessible.

    2) That applies to COVID. For high quality information, follow He’s Chair of Dept of Medicine at UC San Francisco, which of course is one of the top medical schools in US.
    He is a superb communicator, author of The Digital Doctor (great book), and has run weekly Grand Rounds video discussions with experts on epidemiology, trials, treatments, including the endless Hydroxycholoroquine nonsense.
    For accumulated history over last few months, try:

    3) Another good follow is U Washington’s
    Seriously consider getting his recent book, Calling Bullsh*t, derived from teaching a college course on topic last few years. I reviewed it:

  28. 128
    Mack says:

    @118 Joel Shore,
    “However, lots of physics books do in fact talk about the atmospheric greenhouse effect”
    Shore they do, Joel, lots of physics books have been talking about the “Radiative Greenhouse Effect” for years.
    Here’s a bloke by the name of Grant Petty who’s written a textbook… you probably would know about him? who says…
    “I say this on the basis of having written a textbook on radiative atmospheric transfer and having taught atmospheric physics at university level for 20 years.”
    Read his only one comment here,Joel
    Nasif Nahle says “….you’re handling pseudoscience”
    You want to catch up with all that commentary, Joel. I could cure you of handling pseudoscience.

  29. 129
    Mack says:

    Sorry.. “It” …could cure you…. I wouldn’t have a hope in hades

  30. 130

    KW 108: 10 trillion times less?????
    Really? What on earth does that mean? One times less would be zero.
    Learn some science

    BPL: Learn some science yourself, Keith. There is a very thin Lunar atmosphere, discovered by Bruce Hapke and Francis Glenn Graham III at the University of Pittsburgh. The Earth atmosphere has a pressure of 101,325 pascals, so the Lunar atmosphere, at ten trillion times less, would have a pressure of about 1 x 10^-8 Pa.

  31. 131

    M 126: The temperature of the thermosphere can get upwards of 1500 deg C with an active Sun….. so it’s not “cold” up there.

    BPL: And how much energy is transferred from the very hot atmosphere of the thermosphere to an object in the thermosphere, Mack? Say, the ISS, which happens to orbit in the thermosphere?

    Trick question. Let’s see if you know the answer.

  32. 132

    And for an authority on climate science, Mack quotes… Jennifer Marohasy.

    “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a pit.”

  33. 133
    Ray Ladbury says:

    With apologies to Herr Brecht:

    The denier lies through his teeth;
    And he doesn’t give a fuck;
    But the dumbest, damned denier;
    Is a guy named Mack the Schmuck.

    He goes on line, spreading bullshit;
    And a thousand stupid lies;
    To pretend his life has meaning;
    His real job is slinging fries.

    Feel free to add verses as you see fit.

  34. 134
    Adam Lea says:

    111: “Is it the trolls, or is it the people who can’t resist responding to the trolls?”

    Primarily the trolls. If there weren’t any troll posts, there would be no such provocation to respond too. Any one person choosing not to respond to trolls makes minimal difference, as long as others who they have no control over continue to do so. If a primary troll stops posting, that significantly cuts down troll responses.

    It is unfortunate that there are a minority of individuals who, analogously, seem to take pride in pouring a bucket of diarrhea onto a well polished floor, forcing everyone to wade through it to find the decent stuff they are looking for, until people find an alternative route or the owner of the floor cleans it up.

  35. 135

    Continuing on with Joel Shore’s mention of the Kittel & Kroemer foray into GHG theory, it’s interesting in the approximating shortcuts they take. Their main assumption is 1/2 the re-emitted radiation from the Earth is permanently trapped, which gives a 53C GHG warming instead of the conventionally accepted 33C.

    I mentioned my familiarity with Kroemer. I happened to take an “alternative science” graduate-level class on semiconductor heterojunction theory — essentially the topic on which Kroemer received his Nobel Prize. I considered this alternative science because the professor who taught the class I took, Allen Nussbaum, was trying out his own new theory using us captive students as his training ground. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Prof Kroemer essentially debunked Nussbaum’s model in a short letter (see this As I recall, everyone in class kind of knew that Nussbaum’s model was nuts but at least I can chalk it up to a learning experience, being able to witness up close the hand-to-hand combat that goes on in academic research.

    If anyone thinks that this kind of battle is not continuing in climate science they have to be naive. Unlike with the semiconductor devices that Kroemer and Nussbaum were battling over, there are no real controlled experiments available in climate science to validate a model. All the planetary-scale models of climate are only validated through a long drawn-out process based on what best matches empirical evidence.

  36. 136
    zebra says:

    #112 Radge Havers,

    Fair enough. I’ll label my thing meta-scientific literacy, and you guys can keep the other term.

    As Mal will attest, I can get pugnacious about language sometimes. ;-)

  37. 137

    Nasif Nahle as authority on climate change?

    Er, no thanks:

    Undergrad degree in physics, research career in biology–and not particularly distinguished there, either.

  38. 138
    Radge Havers says:

    A short, sweet metaliterate riff by the good doctor.

    Widely cited hydroxychloroquine study is ‘flawed’, Fauci tells hearing


    Intractable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Conspiracy theories are essentially irrefutable: logical contradictions, evidence showing the opposite, even the complete absence of proof have no bearing on the conspiratorial explanation because they can always be accounted for in terms of the conspiracy. The lack of proof about a plot, or any positive proof against its existence, is turned around and taken as evidence of the craftiness of the secret cabal behind the conspiracy. It is seen as confirmation of the conspirators’ ability to conceal their machinations.

    Awareness of the differences between inquiries into real conspiracies and conspiracy theories is important because contemporary conspiracy culture thrives on the perception that somehow this distinction is fuzzy, or even non-existent. Yet the difference could not be more real – or socially and politically relevant.


    Some resources from the world of journalism. Interesting to see how journalists do what they do.

    Tools for verifying and assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content

  39. 139
    MA Rodger says:

    Maniac Mack @126,
    You say that

    “in the vicinity of Earth … space vehicles have to revolve … otherwise they would get about red hot on the side facing the Sun and freeze on the other.”
    [my bold, your ‘…’ omissions]

    You appear not to appreciate that “red hot” is a phenomenon that requires temperatures to rise to above +500°C. If that is so, perhaps you are also unaware that such a temperature would not be readily found resulting from solar heating “in the vicinity of Earth.” Solar heating amounts to 1360Wm^-2 at the distance of the Earth. Such a level of heating would be matched by a body’s radiation at a temperature of [(1360/5.67e-8)^(1/4) =] +120°C, thus a stable temperature at which heating = cooling.
    Of course there are mechanisms that can boost the temperature resulting from solar heating but I’m pretty sure they would not be employed on a spacecraft trying to keep cool.

    This lack of understanding of the limit to the power of solar heating to raise a body’s temperature makes me wonder if such poor understanding also results in your inability to grasp the impact of losing the long-lived GHGs from the Earth’s atmosphere and that this loss of LL GHGs would indeed result in a snowball Earth. While most reasonable folk would be satisfied with the findings of Lacis et al (2010) to demonstrate this ‘snowballising of Earth’ using a GCM, I fear you may dispute the veracity of this paper.
    If you do find Lacis et al unconvincing, do say. The physics can be demonstrated in a far simpler manner not requiring a GCM.

  40. 140
    Al Bundy says:

    Susan A: I am surprised at how negative

    AB: ly you interpreted my totally friendly and supportive comments?

  41. 141
    Joel Shore says:

    #128 Mack:

    So, first you write a comment that tries to claim that physics textbooks don’t support the science of the radiative greenhouse effect. Then, when you are shown to be wrong on that claim, you pivot to something basically unintelligible but seeming to say basically, “Well, so maybe they do, but I don’t believe any of that pseudoscience anyway.” Your viewpoint is not based on science; it is based on your lack of scientific knowledge coupled with an ideology that you believe with a religious fervor.

  42. 142
    Mal Adapted says:

    Silvia Leahu-Aluas:

    One request I constantly pose to the scientists I work/collaborate with is to explain all the time to everybody, in particular to primary school students and elected officials, what is the scientific method. I believe that by understanding how we, humans, build our knowledge about reality it will be easier to make everybody scientifically literate and capable of discerning charlatanism/paid “Merchants of Doubt”/sheer lunacy from truth as discovered/verified/applied by and through science.

    I apologize to Sylvia for overlooking her comment at #2. It looks like she’s talking about scientific meta-literacy and how to teach it, as we’ve been discussing. I have a slight semantic disagreement with her, however: “scientific method” denotes to me the formal cycle of “observation, hypothesis formation, empirical testing, hypothesis revision,” which is easy enough to teach in an introductory high school or college science course; “scientific process” might be a better term for what I have in mind. Still, I think we both conceive “scientific meta-literacy” to include knowledge of not only the empirical tools but the key economic and social aspects of global scientific culture and the history that has led to it, emphasizing the role of mutual skeptical review by fellow specialists. Presumably not so easy to teach 8^(, but I’d love to be wrong. Like Sylvia, I wish I had a solution.

  43. 143
    nigelj says:

    Interesting tips on how to spot a crank, (using neoclassical economics as an example of crank science):

  44. 144

    BPL@130 responding to my 108
    You missed the point. I am not disputing the value of the earth’s atmosphere or the lunar one. It is the nonsensical “ten trillion times less”
    is one five times less than 5? No, it’s a fifth.

  45. 145
    Mack says:

    @ 139 MA Rodger,
    Wow, so you don’t think that spacecraft travelling between, say, the Earth and the Moon or Mars revolves in space to keep one side from getting red hot and the other side from freezing.? Do you get your science from comic strips?
    You’ve gone to great lengths with that formula… but you’ve made the mistake of dividing by 4 again. Sorry , in space, in the vicinity of this Earth, the Sun’s radiation shines constantly on an object with something over 1000watts.

  46. 146
    Mr. Know It All says:

    A timely article on the subject in the original article:

    Usually the comments on AT are as good or better than the article.

    64 – nigelj
    “…on hydroxychloroquine. This was just one doctors opinion on its value. Several clinical trials have now shown conclusively that it doesnt work for covid 19…”

    The number of COVID patients who were helped by HCQ exceeds by many times the few included in all the clinical trials combined. Why do people insist on denying what doctors and their patients have experienced? If you don’t think it helps, why do you care if some people want to take it in the HOPE that it will provide relief? You said in another comment that HCQ use would help big pharma – that is not correct. IF HCQ were a proven cure it would deny billions of $$ to big pharma because they could not sell us an expensive patented vaccine. HCQ has been used to treat lupus, RA, malaria, etc for many decades – it’s safe and dirt cheap – THAT IS WHY big pharma wants to suppress knowledge of its effectiveness.

  47. 147
    Mack says:

    @ 139 MA Rodger
    I’ve also noted that you’ve made reference to Andrew Lacis (2010)
    I’ve heard about Andrew Lacis already. He was supposed to educate me all about the science ,here…
    You might want to take notice of all the surrounding commentary as well.

  48. 148

    KW 144: You missed the point. I am not disputing the value of the earth’s atmosphere or the lunar one. It is the nonsensical “ten trillion times less”
    is one five times less than 5? No, it’s a fifth.

    BPL: You are subtracting when you ought to be dividing. That’s why it’s “times less.” He got it right, you got it wrong.

  49. 149

    nigelj wrote:

    “Interesting tips on how to spot a crank, (using neoclassical economics as an example of crank science):

    This is a much shorter version of the legendary “Crackpot Index” that Prof. John Carlos Baez first posted on the internet way back in 1992.

    In terms of climate science, I would challenge “1. Look for assumptions that are untestable”

    Very few aspects of climate science are actually under experimental control. It’s physically impossible to set up a lab experiment on a global scale and then run a controlled experiment as one could in most other physics disciplines. Thus you see in many climate science papers endless qualitative reasoning of how some global climate behavior might pan out. This makes it easy for any run-of-the-mill crackpot to join in on any discussion, as their claims are just as untestable as any other.

    BTW, Prof. Baez maintains the Azimuth Project forum which is one of the very few sites that actually holds discussions of bleeding-edge math & physics topics. Somehow this site has managed to keep cranks from posting over the years of its existence — to post you have to register and so perhaps Baez uses his crackpot detection algorithm to nip it in the bud. I’m apparently on his OK list, so that’s a relief :)

    OTOH, a site such as which ostensibly is about new physics research is completely inundated by cranks in the comments section. Somebody suggested that is advertisement-driven so it condones cranks in exchange for more site hits. And if someone mentions, that doesn’t count, as it doesn’t allow any discussion of innovative research at all. For example, any discussion of climate change is prohibited.

  50. 150
    Mal Adapted says:


    Interesting tips on how to spot a crank, (using neoclassical economics as an example of crank science):

    Thanks Nigel, that was an interesting post. It’s hard to quarrel with the author’s rules, but fools rush in, so here goes ;^):

    To his credit, Fix recognizes the disadvantage non-experts are at:

    Science is founded on the principle that there are no authorities. The only way to judge if someone is a crank is to think rationally for yourself. You must become knowledgeable in the subject matter. You must immerse yourself in the crank’s arguments, and in the counterarguments. You must study the evidence, and if needed, run your own tests. In short, to identify a ‘crank’ you must become a scientist yourself.

    You likely see the problem with this approach. Few people have the time to become experts in one subject. And no one has the time to become an expert in every subject. So the best way to identify a crank (do science for yourself) is out of most people’s reach.

    As a non-expert, what are you to do? How do you tell if your favourite internet commentator is a crank?

    First, I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t do. Then I’ll give you a few tools (which are by no means foolproof) for distinguishing between cranks, on the one hand, and critics you should take seriously.

    The first three paragraphs are wholly unobjectionable. A bootstrapping problem ensues, however. His three rules for “What you shouldn’t do to identify a crank” are “Don’t rely on credentials,” “Don’t appeal to majority rules,” and “Don’t listen to ad homenem[sic] attacks”. Those are good rules, when modified as appropriate by the scientifically meta-literate when they evaluate the source and the context of the evidence. In the real world, international scientific culture’s framework for justifying belief does include regard for credentials, which are information about a purported expert’s training and more; majoritarianism, i.e. peer consensus, because if you can’t convince most of your trained, mutually disciplined specialist peers, you’re probably full of feces; and explicit disapproval of ad hominem arguments against empirical claims, but an implicit disposition to reject ideas tendentiously rebunked by soi-disant “skeptics” who’ve been shown wrong repeatedly already, especially about the same undead nonsense they’re here to flog. Yet achieving the meta-literacy to safely evaluate scientific arguments under these flexible rules is difficult without training for a scientific career. That’s precisely the problem!

    Then there’s Fix’s contempt for “neoclassical economics”, which comes across as dogmatic, even vituperative. The wikithing lists the principles of neoclassical economics as:

    1. People have rational preferences between outcomes that can be identified and associated with values.
    2. Individuals maximize utility and firms maximize profits.
    3. People act independently on the basis of full and relevant information.

    Yes, those assumptions as stated are empirically shown to be flawed. The Devil, as they say, is in the details. Don’t “they” also say, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?

    Take “rational”, for example. If that’s defined as “conscious, exhaustive deliberation of alternatives before choosing”, it’s obviously too limited. Behavioral economics has a wider model of an economic agent’s cognition, wherein “rational preference” is more like “seems like a good idea at the time”, and includes the unconscious thought processes leading to our observable choices. AFAICT, for consumers, “rational preferences” collapses to “preferences”, signaled by our choices. As for “firms maximize profit”: again AFAICT, it’s largely true that publicly-traded corporations maximize profit by externalizing every cost they can get away with, at risk of lawsuits, bankruptcy and dissolution if they fail; privately-held firms, OTOH, may maximize something else, if the owners have non-monetary goals. “People act independently” just means that while we may be fashion victims or just inclined to buy the last thing we saw advertised on TV, nonetheless we carry our own wallets and make our own choices at the point of sale. And “full and relevant information” is always desirable in the market, but we still choose based on what we think we know, even if the only information we trust is what’s before our eyes.

    Look, Milton Friedman is dead, and “neoclassical economics” is a straw man. Whatever issues critics have with the old school, the potential net benefit of collective action to internalize the marginal climate-change cost of fossil carbon in its market price is evidently uncontroversial in the Economics mainstream. As a consumer, voter and non-expert economist, that’s about good enough for me.

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