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Pielke père et fils in Nature

Filed under: — gavin @ 29 March 2006

There’s an interesting profile on Roger Pielke Jr. and Sr. in Nature this week. As readers here are probably aware, both of them have blogs (Prometheus for Jr., Climate Science for Sr.) and both have contributed to the discussions on RealClimate. Readers will also be aware that the discussions have at times been heated, though have usually remained collegial. There have been a few times when the discussion may have seemed to be at cross-purposes, but overall the exchanges have been enlightening.

As it happens, I was interviewed for the article as well and was quoted in this passsage:

In the example of climate change, Pielke Jr says, many researchers have taken one of two sides: backing either mitigation policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, or adaptation policies to deal with climate change as it occurs. “One of the most important roles science can play is to invent new options and introduce them to decision-makers,” he says. “When scientists take sides, they are giving up that role.” He persistently challenges scientists who he thinks are acting as advocates for a particular position, including members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists who run a blog called RealClimate.

“To be frank, that irritates the hell out of me,” says Gavin Schmidt, co-founder of the RealClimate site and a climate researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “What he considers to be advocacy, to me, that’s just interacting in the public realm.”

Lest anyone take offence, I should be clear that this refers to a longstanding discussion/disagreement that I have had with RP Jr. relating to whether the mere existence of RealClimate and its public outreach on the science of climate change is necessarily advocating for any particular policy. I have argued that it isn’t, but RP disagrees (see here, here and links therein).

Personally, I see our role (as scientists) to be providers of more context to scientific discussions (that are going on in the public domain regardless) and to be correctors of examples of bad scientific arguments used by others. This is not per se political (in anything other than the absolutely broadest sense) and it certainly isn’t partisan. We do not criticise only those who have policy agendas we might disagree with, but have criticised abuses of the science both by those who would like climate change to disappear as an issue and those who would exaggerate the threat or our level of scientific certainty. This can be a difficult tightrope to walk sometimes, but I think we have done a reasonable job.

I don’t doubt however, that there will be more discussion on these points in the future…

64 Responses to “Pielke père et fils in Nature”

  1. 1
    Dano says:

    Contextualization is key. Google doesn’t have a context button, nor a wisdom button.

    IMHO, there needs to be a better bridge between the researchers, the knowledge in their results, and us. RC is a good start.



  2. 2
    Blair Dowden says:

    I fail to see how the blogs maintained by the Pielkes are any more or less about advocacy than RealClimate. Any means for scientists to communicate directly with the public is a valuable service.

  3. 3
    Coby says:

    I think Roger Jr, at least, uses terms in ways that are not the common understanding. Any communication from a scientist that is not in the form of a research paper is political by his definition and he considers it policy advocacy to say we need to reduce CO2 emissions to avoid dangerous warming.

    I understand that there are perhaps two major routes, emissions reductions or adaption, but for me, policy is at the level of detail of carbon sequestration versus nuclear power or taxation versus carbon credit trading, that kind of thing.

    I think unstated disagreement on these definitions is at the root of alot of the arguments. For example, it is commonly perceived that politicizing science is a Bad Thing(tm) but by Roger’s definitions and his own admission, it is in fact essential and unavoidable. He puts the problem in another box, what is good vs what is bad politicization.

  4. 4
    Gar Lipow says:

    Also it seems to be characteristic of scientists to enjoy explaining them to the public if they happen to have the skill.

    Stephen J. Gould, Steven Pinker, and Dawson to name three examples that come to mind from people outside the climate science debate.

    Oh and off topic a bit. Remember William F. Ruddiman? Contrarian but not GW Skeptic, with hypothesis that human intervention changed climate much sooner. Not convincing (to me) but interesting none the less.

    Well he has popular book out – “Plows, Plague & Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate” which is entertaining and well written though still (to me) not convincing. I note it here for the following reason:

    Climate skeptics tried to embrace Ruddiman simply because his views differed from conventional models – even though on the side of much greater sensitivity to human intervention. Determinedly apolitical and rather conservative by temperament, Ruddiman found himself forced to pay attention to them. He was so repulsed by their dishonesty and lack of scientific rigor that he includes a short section rejecting the climate skeptics and any association of himself with them.

  5. 5
    Matt says:

    The site as been fair, and has adjusted its position or waited for further data when necessary.

    I think Colby had it right in comment 3.

  6. 6

    You guys are human beings as well as scientists, and it is our common future that is at stake. If some urgency creeps in now and then, that is only natural and appropriate. I think this site is tremendously useful and important and hope it continues.

  7. 7
    Doug Clover says:


    If I understand it right Roger Jr is saying that we shouldn’t even read the conclusions section in a scientific article. There might be some of the author’s opinion in there.


  8. 8
    Alan says:

    Everyone seems to agree that science should advise policy not the other way around. To then go on and say that public access to reputable science and associated insightfull viewpoints equates to political advocacy, is in itself, a policy advising science. The message of the policy is clear, it attempts to tell science to sit down and shut up.

    The idea that articulate scientists should be “seen but not heard” is repugnant, paticularly when my tax dollars are supporting the scientists, the policy makers, and all the “admin” in between.

  9. 9
    A.Syme says:

    The emotional level of the GW debate is different from other debates in science because it involves a sense of individual responsibility, if GW is the problem, what should I do today to change the situation.

    On the scientific side it’s a balance of terror between “what if the data is correct” and “what if the data is wrong”. As a certain 60’s rock star put it “is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?”

  10. 10
    Doug Clover says:

    Just a side note. Down here in NZ I have been at a CC conference for the last two days. There were a number of climate scientists (including Kevin Trenberth, David Vaughan of the the BAS and Myles Allen of Oxford) who presented clear well balanced summaries of their work and the current state of knowledge. The audience included polititians, officials, non science academics, students and the interested public.

    Everyone I talked to appreciated the effort the scientists took to help us understand the issues and the uncertainities.

    It was science communication at its best.


  11. 11
    Mark A. York says:

    I was just invloved in an advocacy charge over illegal immigration with an opinion writer who has in-laws involved in the issue and thus advocated that position. It clearly biased his position. This is different. The science is what it is and reporting it accurately is critical. Scientific conclusions should not be relative to POV or political ideology. They stand or fall of their own merit. Playing it up or down as desired is not a good thing. Realclimate is as real as the global warming problem.

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    Gar (#4)– Ruddiman’s contribution here:

  13. 13
    Jim Redden says:

    I feel compelled to making my first post after a long period of lurking–as I was just thinking about the notion of a refiner’s fire found in the evolving opponent process working over time.

    Discussion and disagreement would seem to be essential parts of a transformative process. While not a proper scientist, I have been following the issues relating to climate change and the temporal dynamics of earth systems science since a 1978 high school class in marine biology.

    Since then, progress has been clear in the world of science, but the power brokers and decision makers of the human populace seem bent on a very risky course of action. Must we pass a tipping point of no return to learn our lesson (for all we know, it may have already passed – stay tuned)?

    Even the ABC-Time popular media expose of this week did very little to explain and drive home the latency of effect of CO2 on ocean temperatures and climate. The issues of necessity of action prior to observed effect is concerning. Conundrum comes to mind when one considers the totality of the issues. Blindly, we have already committed decades of anthropogenic influence, and Fred Singer would gladly compel us to commit yet more.

    What is strikes me about the realclimate blogs’ here–is the highly lossy and compressed format of typographical technology serves to construct psychological models and profiles–to observe both scientists and a unique sample of the human populace grapple with issues of climate science.

    By extension, these derived conclusions intersect with aggregate social psychology and value systems–indeed, it becomes quite clear that individual attitudes filter the processes by which we attribute and apprehend: sense data to information to knowledge.

    Thus, when the responses are summarily collected, we have a constructed body of relational knowledge, and the reader who brings to bear analytical strategies is afforded the greater possibility of a higher order of personal learning. This can be great stuff.

    At the last AGU conference, I watched the journal editors briefly consider a departure from the adherence to technical language in paper abstracts to a more “readable approach”, and it was mentioned that even scientists outside the narrow discipline of their own ilk had trouble sometimes “getting” what their scientific cousins were angling at in their opening volleys. I would argue that this serves as an impediment to emergent new knowledge; moreover, sharing and provoked consideration is the catalyst for synthesized knowledge, those deep abstractions that emote from the depths of unconscious and preconscious consideration. In sum, novel hybridized thoughts are good thought fodder and are to be encouraged.

    As one who often enjoys and spends time sorting out scientific papers in order to understand implications, say, for example, how ocean warming plays out in the water column, to see how it might effect, on a granular level, the life cycle of plankton, or the symbiotic relationships of corals and phototrophs, any vis-a-vis discussion of climate issues is appreciated, and I have come to love realclimate for both the salient and clear mount point of issues, and even some of the more random postings as I see varying levels of cognitive abstraction integrated in questions and commentary of participants.

    Moreover, it is important to see the arguments of all sides, and fully consider them for what they are worth. Richard Lindzen–who–if I understand in proper context–asserts that the hydrologic cycle simply makes more cumulus clouds to counter a surface temperature rise brought by a doubling of CO2 – well, this leaves one to consider just what happens when those clouds significantly reduce sun–like leaving an amphibian more prone to a skin fungus? Or what happen when all that mass of extrema water vapor, increased to new upper levels, supersaturated, inevitably finds minute particles to form a rain drop, and in due course, overwhelms a flood plain, already stressed by deforestation in the surrounding watershed… Will those environs now be asked to accommodate what used to be a 500 year flood, that now happens every few decades? Was that hydrocarbon man’s 1999 Christmas gift to the Venezuelans, an event that took 10,000 lives, give or take a thousand that was barely a blip on our TV screens?

    Moreover, if those processes have been at work, and model parameterizations currently yielding results consistent with observations are working, then can we expect new kinetic upper boundaries as a new phase in a CO2 climate forcing scenario with less polar ice comes to dominate?

    So, then can all the coal in China be burned before there is any negative effect on humanity? Can we just pretend there are no limits? Any rational consideration of the issues is a resounding no, but informed consideration is clearly in short supply in the popular culture.

    I think I read it in Richard Somerville’s book, The Forgiving Air, or heard him mention it at the AGU, but he pointed out that models are not climate, but still very useful (apologies if misreferenced but The Forgiving Air is, nonetheless, a very readable book for a non-scientist).

    What is clear is that science is suggesting a prudent policy, and it is being disregarded, to the detriment of all stakeholders, fauna, flora, and the planet. We can remove the subsidies of oil, discourage consumption by price, and support the implementation of solar, wind, and wise design (subsidies to alternates taken from carbon revunues). This means policy and politicians become a part of scientist’s eoprative Venn diagram. Scientists need to demand – and depart from the notion or perhaps myth, of a scientific objectivity.

    A geometrically rising urgency compels scientists to find a way to reach influentials in the global venue; humanity is in such desperate need of some rational thought, to transcend avarice, and to attract our collective thinking in evolving policy to action. I look to the scientist to increase their use of emotion and invoked sense of morality to propel their action.

    Scientists, by sharing amongst all communities, using forms of communication and technology, that have meaning and relevance to the recipient, can engender a more evolved form of collective emergent intelligence. This can arise in disparate scientific niches, and be a driver and mover of the polemics of fiscal policy.

    Sanity, rather than an insane approach to living in a finite space, should be the order of the day. The duty is a moral one fully consistent with a protracted self interest as well. I would ask scientists, who believe in what they do, to find the same kind of outrage that James Hanson expressed when some punky tragic soul saw fit to conspire with anti-intellectual forces to censor, and to venture into even more active postures of outreach and education.

    Blogs, forums, and discourse are a fine constructivist vehicles. Hats off to the realclimate scientific contributors for putting their thought on the line and plying their patience with the oft trying bizarre netizens…

    On a personal activity for my own contribution, I have been working on a distillation and simplification of some of the energy relationships of water, energy, the hydrologic cycle and climate; when I have a working prototype of the learning module, I hope to mention/outlink it here for technical feedback prior to a general placement on the web for all to see.

    This has been kind of a rant off of the top of my head, so if you have gotten this far, thanks for your attention, if offended, mea culpa, but I feel much better post facto.

  14. 14
    rasmus says:

    The next European Geophysical Union’s annual General Assembly 2006 in Wienna April 3-7th has advertised a ‘Great Debate’ on “Earth scientists could do more for society”

    I should think the discussions there would be in the same vein as this post.


  15. 15
    Adrian JC says:

    RP Jr. seems to be advocating a policy position in this blog entry where he says:

    1. Anthropogenic climate change is real.
    2. Greenhouse gas reductions make good policy sense

    Reading both sides (RP and RealClimate) it seems that the argument is one of focus. I found RealClimate in Google because I was trying to resolve, with my layman’s background, the attacks on Mann98 that appeared in the blogosphere and also to assess the credibility of journal publications in Energy and Environment. For this purpose RC is invaluable as it gives the public access to the science — which is very different from making the science accessible. Too often one has to be a climatologist to understand many of RC’s blog entries. RP Jr and Sr seem be focusing on making the science more accessible to the public, and they’re doing this by focusing on regional impacts of climate change. However, a focus on region climate change and their effects on people actually has greater risk of policy advocacy pollution through the stronger emotional response such science will inevitably stir up. They have yet to convince me how they avoid this.

  16. 16
    Chris Reed says:

    I read RC and Pielke’s Snr’s Climate Science blog (now I’ll be browsing prometheus). Both are interesting, both draw criticism from me.

    But “backing either mitigation policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, or adaptation policies to deal with climate change as it occurs.” is like an episode of BBC’s Horizon. In Horizon they often take an aspect of science and turn it into a ‘2 camps at war’ issue. The intention being to make the programme more ‘sexy’. Policy maker’s do not need ‘sexy’ they need carefully considered opinion.

    It is reasonable for scientists to take the position that they feel moved to take when discussing the implications of their work. Policy makers can then use advice from scientists to form policy. But on the issue of climate change it is not a case of Mitigation OR Adaptation. For policy maker’s it is vital to keep an eye on both balls. Mitigation AND Adaptation.

    It is vital that policy makers not be fooled into the Horizon approach of 2 camps, one wrong, one right. Here we have 2 camps, both right. Mitigation is needed to try to reduce the effects. Adaptation is needed to deal with the effects.

    For the record, I’m with adaptation, I don’t think mitigation will have any measurable impact. But for those arguing for mitigation, best of luck to you.

  17. 17
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Science isn’t an exact word, but part of science is the sharing of information. Real Climate translates to interested laymen what scientists are coming up with. That’s an important part of science.

  18. 18
    Paul says:

    Scientists that work hard to gain the attention of scientific colleagues through innovative work are always welcome in the field of policy. But those who merely take contrarian positions and criticize loudly to gain the attention of journalists should simply be ignored.

    Roger enjoys taking the latter path.

  19. 19
    Coby says:

    Re #16, Chris,

    I was with you til your last paragraph. I want to add, I hope I did not give the imression in my comment (#3) that adaption and mitigation are either-or propositions. That is why I was agreeing with everything you were writing, right until you undermined your whole message with “I’m for adaptation” and “mitigation will have no measurable effect”. What happened to needing both?

    The statement that mitigation will have no effect is completely unsupported by the available science, in fact, science tells us quite the opposite.

    [Response: I fully agree. Adaptation and mitigation are both essential in any responsible climate policy. There is no either-or question. Even with effective mitigation, we will see as much warming again over the next 50 years as we have seen over the past 100; this makes substantial adaptation inevitable. But without effective mitigation, any adaptation measures will fail in the long run. Take sea level rise: perhaps managable with adaptation up to half a meter, at most a meter. But without mitigation efforts, we are likely committed to several meters of sea level rise (see last week’s Science issue). Then we’re not talking adaptation any more, we’re talking abandoning major cities and large tracts of coastal land. Adaptation and mitigation can only work together, if both are wholeheartedly implemented. -stefan]

  20. 20
    pete best says:

    Climate and its impact on all the other systems including man made ones is complex and time consuming and when we take into account politics too it can seem almost intractable. And here we are in 2006 at 380 ppm with the latest energy technologies slated to be mainly fossil fuel based for at least 30/40 more years (lifetime of fossil fuel based equipment)and that means at 2 ro 3 ppm yearly that we are signed up for around 460 pm to 500 ppm by 2050 for definite. Factor in 2.5 billion additional mouths by 2050 (falling after this I believe) and we come to the startling conclusion that 500/550 ppm is the more likely total.

    What will be the impact such rises ? Tim Flannery thinks he knows in his book the Weather Makers I read recently. Amazon to dry out and probable THC slowdown, Increased acidification of the oceans which kills of coral atolls and reefs etc, drought and rain to be disrupted globally, rivers to alter, and sea level rises to name a few effects following on from endeavours.

    Oh yer one more thing, becasue climate lags decades behind actual effects due to the oceans takin a long time to change state we will be by 2050 experiencing weather of around 2030 time line I believe.

    It all seems very ominous to me

  21. 21
    Hank Roberts says:

    Coby, thanks (as always) for a timely sanity check.

  22. 22
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Well if scientists are political and pushing policy, then why aren’t the politicians doing the right thing and combatting global warming?

    I have to keep harping on this issue, but policy-makers should be way on the precautionary side of science, requiring much lower standards of proof for such a serious problem as GW. If policy-makers were doing their jobs correctly, honestly, and sincerely in the public interest, then people would be criticizing scientists, not for being “political,” but for being too conservative, cautious, and slow in their claims.

    In any case, it looks like a “no win” situation for scientists & for all of us. Even oil guys (who seem to be the big winners in all this paralyzing wrangling), even they have to worry about things like increasing hurricanes destroying their off-shore drilling.

  23. 23
    Ike Solem says:

    I really think that the great value of this site is in stimulating discussions between climate scientists as well as in making those discussions accessible to the general public and to policy makers. If we assume that science plays an important role in society, then it is just as important to communicate science to the rest of the public as it is to engage in actual scientific research.

    It would be nice to assume that ‘policy makers’ are disinterested public figures who listen to all information and make rational decisions based on that information – but we often find that policy makers have close ties to certain business interests (or other interests) that may unduly influence their viewpoints. (I think I said that as nicely as it could be said). Thus, in certain instances scientists may have to be particularly vocal in order to be heard.

    Personally, I think we should be engaging in a ‘Marshall Plan’ focused on promoting carbon-free energy sources, especially solar and wind. Why don’t all the oil companies start thinking about new business models that would fit in with this scheme? I also think that climate science is a particularly fascinating and important area of scientific inquiry (after all, it is the planet that we live on; we should pay some attention to what’s going on) and as such should be well-funded by government agencies.

    But enough of that. Take look at what this recent study says about above-surface warming in Antarctica. Regarding the recent discussions of modelling, here is another fact that requires the models to be re-tuned:

    above-surface Antarctic warming 3X greater then rest of planet

  24. 24
    llewelly says:

    On the BAS news release – which the article Ike linked to is based on (thanks Ike!) Assuming this holds up, does Antarctica warming faster than the global average constitue more evidence for polar amplification in general?

  25. 25
    Eli Rabett says:

    Colby points out that “I think Roger Jr, at least, uses terms in ways that are not the common understanding. ” and he is perfectly correct, but he does not go far enough. Roger Jr, understands that whomever defines the subject wins. This is one of his tactics to own the debate. Occasionally, after being beat over the head with a dictionary he will concede that his definition is the only correct one and everyone else should follow him. (witness the constant denigration of the FCCC definitions of climate change). Dad does the same thing.

    I close with some Lewis Carroll–

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    ‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

    ‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

    ‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

    ‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    ‘Ah, you should see ’em come round me of a Saturday night,’ Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, ‘for to get their wages, you know.’

  26. 26
    Hank Roberts says:

    Some good lessons from a different area

  27. 27
    Mark A. York says:

    This is what you’re up against in the layman’s world of scientific ignorance.

    Wayne’s World

  28. 28
    PeterW says:

    By giving quacks like Fred Singer the ability to define climate science all scientists have made a political statement whether they like it or not. Their silence is an endorsement of the propaganda. There’s no in between on this issue.

  29. 29
    Woody says:

    As a member of “Wayne’s World,” I appreciate honest science that seeks real solutions to proven problems versus “other science” which seeks drastic, expensive, and unsupported actions to cure unproven hypotheses. Take the time to do the studies right and propose practical solutions before going off half-cocked. It’s my money, too, that you’re using.

    [Response: You appear to confuse the scientific statements (the world is warming and greenhouse gases are a big part of why) with political statements (what should be done). By all means argue about the implictions, but don’t be surprised when honest scientists criticise you for using bad scientific arguments to push your political POV. -gavin]

  30. 30
    llewelly says:

    Woody, please read Stephen’s page explaining the greenhouse effect for basic explanation, or the IPPC TAR The Scientific Basis to learn more about the scientific basis, and see Coby’s site which addresses mistaken impressions.

    Stephen also has a good description of the impacts of climate disruption, as dodes the IPCC TAR Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability .

  31. 31
    Woody says:

    I’ll do the right thing and read the links that you provided…but, I want to do them justice, so this will have to wait until the work day is over. I have an open mind, despite preconceptions.

    Just to clarify, I’m not pushing my political point of view. I do challenge others who push theirs via global warming demands–not necessarily everyone here. I also am skeptical of scientists who depend on global warming grants, which present a serious and potential conflict of interests.

    I simply want the truth and the facts untainted by politics or selfish motives. Honest and accurate science should be able to create the reproducible models necessary to explain cause and effect–not pictures of retreating glaciers. There are livelihoods and alternative uses of tax money at stake, and I don’t want to sacrifice them if the models don’t support proposed solutions.

    [Response: Scientists don’t depend on ‘global warming’ grants. There is so much that still needs research in the field of earth system science that there is no shortage of money independent of ‘global warming’ – Look up the NSF grants in the fields of climate change, look up my own grants even. Let me give a related example – funding for studying stratospheric ozone depletion decreased sharply once the basic principles were worked out, the observations and models gave similar results and the Nobel prizes were given out. Did all those researchers suddenly find themselves out of work? No. They mostly moved on to other (related) topics – strat-trop exchange, solar forcing mechanisms etc. Neither they then, nor us now, have any real incentive to exaggerate. If anything, we should be pushing uncertainty (to encourage more research) rather than conclusions. Your percieved ‘conflict of interest’ just doesn’t exist. – gavin]

  32. 32
    Mark A. York says:

    Ah Gavin but that won’t stop him from hanging fast to them.

  33. 33
    llewelly says:

    Woody, thank you for taking time to read the links I posted. I certainly didn’t expect anyone to read them all in a day (though some people do), there’s a lot to read there.

  34. 34
    Woody says:

    Gavin, conflicts of interest and greed do exist in all fields and in all people. Don’t put scientists above common human frailties. Also, the APPEARANCE of conflict of interests is enough to make an outsider skeptical of claims. For instance, a CPA may be, in fact, independent of a client; but, if he is perceived as having a conflict of interest, then his credibility and his certifications are called into question.

    I do know of scientists who claim that their grants dried up, thanks to Al Gore, when they didn’t jump on the global warming bandwagon.

    I’ll be back later after I finish my reading assignments.

  35. 35
    Mark A. York says:

    That would be Dr. William Gray who claimed this ludicrous assertion.

  36. 36
    Ian K says:

    Are not scientists trained to consider the ethical implications of an experiment before conducting it? Dont they sit on ethics boards to consider the implications of other scientists proposals before giving approval?
    Scientists have discovered that we have been running an uncontrolled experiment on the planet with results which, although knowable in part, are unpredictable in others. Given their training, their first line response should be to caution us to stop the experiment. We pay these guys to be not only careful but also conservative (ie to call a halt on any potentially dangerous experiment). Therefore I dont regard calls by scientists for mitigation to be policy advocacy. They are just being scientists.
    If other people, like R Peikle Jr, want to say that mitigation is impractical, too expensive, etc then why should scientists suddenly opt for adaptation. We train them to be cautious. We train them to value experimentation. What evidence is there that mitigation will be too expensive and wont work anyway? It hasnt been tried.

  37. 37
    John Monro says:

    When I first “joined” Realclimate as an occasional contributor , but inveterate reader, I sent the scientists who run this site quite an impassioned e-mail, to the effect that science is not something completely separate or divorced from the real world, and that if scientists, in their studies, concluded that mankind was doing something rather stupid and likely very dangerous to the world, that they are duty bound, as ordinary but certainly not disinterested citizens, to actually do something active (political) about this. I received a very thoughtful reply about this. Realclimate’s basic premise was, that in THIS FORUM, the issue would be science, and only science, and as much as they have been able, they have stuck to their guns. This then did not exclude contributors or scientists or editors from taking action in OTHER FORUMS, as their conscience might dictate, and it would certainly be true, also, that in these “comments”, science and politics become inextricably entwined.

    So where does this take us? I am certainly no philosopher, but it is my thought that there is no such thing as “pure” science, especially as it interacts with the real (political) world. I have not heard, for instance, that the White House has been particularly busy supressing the latest science on black holes, or string theory, or the biology of Cryptopsaras couesi, the deep sea angler fish. But I have heard, from an extremely reputable scientist, Jim Hansen, that the White House has been busy trying to supress the science of global warming. Yet is the “science” of global warming somehow less a “science” than abyssal ocean biology? Of course not. They are the same. Yet one is subject to political interference and the other isn’t.

    So it is not the “science” that is the issue, it is entirely the impact of that science on the real world. The simple fact is that every scientist now involved in climate science, from the study of isotope ratios in deep ice cores to the emission of methane from tropical forests, is not only a scientist, but a political commentator and activist. Scientists may or may not like this, but it is true. And there is no avoiding the issue either. Whether scientists choose to inform or comment on Realclimate, or publish in “Science”, the science itself will become the fuel for the most intense political debate.

    I believe that this is entirely as it should be. After all, what is the point of science if it isn’t going to be made use of. The public, via taxation, provides billions of dollars for climate research. The strange thing to me is not that science should become a political football, but that so many people in society, having directly funded the sciencific enquiry into climate change, presumably so that they and the world can benefit, are so keen to completely disregard the findings.

    But what I am beginning to detect, arising out of a morass of ignorance and indifference in society at large, is the merest glimmer of understanding just beginning to penetrate that carapace of social apathy, that global warming is a real issue, that it might actually affect the comfort and ease of the population at large, or of their children and grandchildren, and that perhaps we should do something about it.

    And how has this come about? Because of sites like this one, where, in their own quiet, “scientific” way, the contributors have sought to inform the public, and because of other sites or media outlets, some more politicised and strident than this one. Whilst it would be impossible to measure the actual contribution of Realclimate to the debate on global warming, as opposed to any other site or other media outlet, it is and has been part of an increasingly assured, trusted and believeable focus on global warming and the likely consequences for mankind, and it is, slowly at first, but increasingly effectively, like the melting Greenland glaciers, having an effect.

    For instance “The Independent” in the UK has, in the last few days, been encouraging readers to send e-mails about their concern for global warming. This is what a leader in the paper has said “This response has been heartening because it shows an increasing number of people – and not just in this country – engaging with the question of climate change as never before. It also serves as a powerful rebuke to the twin forces of fatalism and cynicism.” They also go on to say this “Believe it, politicians everywhere. People care now about the threat of global warming. They care very deeply. And they want you and your colleagues to act decisively to counter it, in a way that you have so far not yet done.

    So keep up the good work, Realclimate. As I have previously said, by all means keep to the science, that is your job, but realise that your science is the ammunition we will use in our fight to save our planet from our own stupidity. The more secure the science, the heavier the weapon it will be.

  38. 38
    Woody says:

    When two sides disagree, sometimes you have to choose one or the other based upon information that they produce and sometimes just on “gut feel.” In my opinion, there is inadequate proof of global warming claims and solutions, which makes me say, “slow down.” In addition, many on the side of “global warming” do have alternative agendas and cause me to mistrust them–the gut feel factor. Let’s be sure of the truth before we do something stupid.

    There are many credible scientists who do not accept the views expressed here and by other scientists. You have opponents of the theory whom others here have rejected on ad hominem bases rather than having considered the science issues that they raise. True scientists are not afraid of questioning.

    I ran across an article today by one of your critics, which describes the loading of witnesses and fear of contradiction in a global warming debate in a Senate committee ( here ). That makes me feel uncomfortable that true science does not guide the debate and that a pre-conceived idea is guiding the science. As I stated before, there is a conflict of interests or, at least, the appearance of conflict of interests.

    If the global warming crowd wants credibility, then it should focus on correcting or quieting the radicals and, well, nut cases who profess to speak for them. I want proof that something will work before I put my money into any project.

    P.S. I haven’t had time to read all the articles referenced to me, but I will.

    [Response: I’m shocked, shocked! to find politics being played in the Senate… (but this is but one example, there are just as many examples on the other side) , but you should get your information from sources that aren’t so clearly politically motivated. There will always be people on any side of an issue who get things wrong, exaggerate, or want to use it for some other agenda. No one can keep this from happening, and so instead of listening to the fringes you would be better off listening to the conservative (small c) mainstream. Like the National Academy of Sciences for instance. -gavin]

  39. 39
    Aaron says:

    Woody said:
    If the global warming crowd wants credibility, then it should focus on correcting or quieting the radicals and, well, nut cases who profess to speak for them.

    That reminds me of a comment from an another forum which claimed that an actor in a BP commercial somehow spoke for all of the climate scientists who have worked with the IPCC.

  40. 40
    Coby says:


    What, if it were demonstrated or found out, would you consider “proof” of global warming?

    BTW, I think it is essential, absolutely essential, to completely seperate in your mind the scientific questions of AGW and the socio-political questions of what should we do and if so how should we do it.

    I think that you are an intelligent enough person that you do not need to rely on your “gut”. Avoid political arguments and political sources and go straight to the scientific evidence. It is not hard, though it will consume some time depending on the depth of understanding you desire. But once you do take that time, it will be abundantly clear that the settled science is consistent with the available evidence, logical and solid whereas the vast majority of the scepticism is self-contradictory, illogical and unsupported by available evidence.

    There is no way that a combination of honesty and effort will not lead you to that conclusion, it really is that clear.

    What does it mean for the future, and what can/should we do about it are much more dificult and legitimately controversial subjects.

  41. 41
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah Milloy is a Woody et al staple and not a vaid source, yet for the untrained and politically susceptible it’s enough. MIlloy’s smearing of Jim Hansen made me so mad I wrote Hansen imploring him to fight back lest he be snowed under by these propagandists. He wrote back saying he didn’t have time to fight every sceptic naysayer and that he’d responded to the Michaels’ claim. He sent me the proof, but as is always the case it didn’t play as much as the smear. Mark Twain’s observation comes to mind in that “a lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting its boots on.”

    I’m happy Jim Hansen is fighting back now. The truth needs winged sneakers more than ever these days.

  42. 42
    Woody says:

    Gavin–Not to be argumentative, but check that site yourself. I don’t like weasel phrases like “always be uncertainty”, “strong evidence”, and “likely that”–and, that’s just in the first paragraph. Then they get into the politics telling nations to take “prompt actions” (expensive actions based on weasel conclusions.) Then they say that the poor nations will suffer most, as if global warming targets the poor. That’s like the headlines in the joke about the Washington Post that say, “World Ends Today: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest.” Next, they want world leaders to “acknowledge” that the threat is “clear and increasing,” when their own introductory paragraph couldn’t say that. Then, the statement is signed by “whom I don’t know” but of whom most are from nations that would love to see the U.S. economically handstrapped in the world market. It also takes a lot of nerve for representatives from India and China, two of the worst polluters, to unload on other nations when they wiggled a pass on the Kyonto protocol.

    Besides the hypocrisy and double standards, the scientists put enough questions about themselves, their motives, and especially their conclusions in their writings that I have to dismiss practically everything that they say. That’s the problem. Some of the information that they provide might be helpful, but they cast doubt on it all by making unsupported claims and by taking political positons. I want a “second opinion.”

    It might be that some of you are too gullible or too willing to accept anything that supports this science fad (just like the past fad to support global cooling) rather than to do what is right and dig more into claims and evidence. I suggest that it would be better to get solid evidence or admit in all candor that it can’t be done before we demand that nations spend trillions based on a theory. As for me, I see better things to do with our money until the theory takes on more credibility.

  43. 43
    llewelly says:

    Woody, please read what has already been posted here about what you refer to as ‘the past fad to support global cooling’.

    Thank you for your continued interest.

  44. 44
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 42.

    Woody, I see some of what you said in what I heard yesterday.

    there’s much work to be done
    save the planet for another day
    be the rain

  45. 45
    Woody says:

    Thanks, llewelly. Mark York had reference that link to me in the past. Keep in mind, I’m not referring to the past global cooling fad as to being accurate science or even being similar to this as much as I am saying that it was simply another fad that everyone liked to embrace. Just as Time put out their “alarm everyone to sell magazines” issue, Newsweek did the same thing on global cooling around 1972 or 1973, as I remember.

    Pat, that person you talked to probably has more interest in global warming than the average person who knows very little. At least she had an understanding and some counter-points to consider. I care about global warming–if it’s a real threat. I just don’t know that it is.

    I think that many of you believe that most of us who take a different position than you are ignorant, fundamentalists, or Bush supporters–which you may consider a redundancy. However, consider me simply a skeptic. My background is accounting. Besides tax returns, I do financial audits for a living. I’m naturally skeptical and I am trained to obtain adequate evidence to make representations and conclusions. I can’t tell a bank that I think that a client’s financial statements are accurate because 68% of the public believes that or because there is a group of “concerned accountants” who back them. I need facts and proof–not stories of melting glaciers by people who may not can be trusted. Give us some credit for demanding proof rather than being followers who will jump on any bandwagon.

    Okay, I have to go. I have hockey tickets tonight, but since the ice is melting I think I’ll stick around and watch the Final Four.

  46. 46
    Woody says:

    Sorry, Coby. I just saw your reply up further. It really is hard to separate the politics and the science, since they were thrown together so long ago. However, if scientists can agree on the global warming issue and create reproducible models to support it, then I might accept it as a fact. Today I listened to global warming expert Steve Forbes on FOX (yeah, I know), but he said that there was a group of 17,000 scientists who did not accept global warming. How do I resolve their positions with yours? It’s an honest question.

    Finally, Mark York dared me to post a comment that I made elsewhere today. I’m not ashamed of the comment, but I’m a big enough man to admit if I’m wrong on it. It made sense to me. So, here’s the site and the comment starts out talking about a lesson from the Illinois State Museum about 21 comments down.

    Now, I’m going out to enjoy this hot weather. Maybe it’s here to stay.

  47. 47
    Coby says:

    However, if scientists can agree on the global warming issue and create reproducible models to support it, then I might accept it as a fact.

    Well, good news! Scientists do agree on Global Warming. Every major institution dealing with climate, earth or ocean science accepts the reality that the earth is warming rapidly and anthropogenic GHG emissions are the primary cause. See this page for a listing:
    it includes some major oil company statements too.

    There are no longer any papers in the climate science field published in mainstream journals that doubt or deny the consensus position as express by the IPCC. There are plenty of controversial topics in climate science and lots of uncertainty to resolve but the basics are clearly and overwhelmingly agreed upon.

    The models *are* reproducible, though the question implies some big misconceptions you must have. This has some basic info and a few links to details:

    Have a look at this page in the IPCC report to see the success these models have in hindcasting last century:
    Would a prediction of temperature for year 2000 made in 1900 have been validated? Would politicians in 1900 have been wise to heed the warnings of science had science been able to do this at that time? Clearly, yes.

    This 17000 scientist petition is an old scam. If you want to put your “gut” to good use you should really consider the source of that document and the quality of the news sources that still cite it.

  48. 48
    Dano says:

    Steve Forbes on FOX (yeah, I know), but he said that there was a group of 17,000 scientists who did not accept global warming. How do I resolve their positions with yours? It’s an honest question.

    It may be honest, but it is woefully and sadly underinformed. You’ve been duped by Steve Forbes.

    But, luckily, you can actually find out what their positions are, because you may see one occasionally: many of the folk in that petition have MD or DDS after their names. Next time you are getting your teeth cleaned, ask your dentist whether they believe in global warming and get back to us.



  49. 49
    Woody says:

    Dano, actually, what you mentioned is one reason that I was skeptical about the scientists who called themselves “concerned scientists” and signed on to global warming. Among them were psychiatrists. Now, I can think of one commenter who supports global warming and who may need a psychiatrist, but I don’t think that the opinions of people in that speciality mean anything to the argument. You and I are together on this. I have no idea what group it is that Forbes referenced.

    This just shows that it’s hard to trust anyone from either side of the argument. I have much interest in science, but I cannot understand complex math models that go far beyond my standard college math. So, until I know who to trust, my reaction is to sit back and wait before I do anything.

    My dentist wanted me to spend thousands on my kids’ teeth for bonding and braces. You can bet that I took the time to understand the process and expected results before I spent that money. I didn’t give him a check until he proved it to me. BTW, I’m going back to the dentist on the 19th and will be sure to ask him about global warming.

    One side or the other has to overcome a credibility gap.

  50. 50
    Woody says:

    Oh, one more thing. When I first saw this site, I assumed everyone here was nuts. I figured this was your religion, like being a Presbyterian. Based upon more reading and replies, I’ll give you credit for being legitimate and sincerely concerned from a scientific standpoint. I’m not sure that you are entirely open minded about opposing view points, but at least the site adds value to the discussion.