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The not-just-in-Copenhagen consensus

Filed under: — gavin @ 25 July 2006

Anyone who spends any time mixing with climate scientists or really looking at the literature knows that the scientific consensus on the reality of human-related climate change is almost universal. Thus it is not at all surprising that methods designed to assess this consensus objectively – such as that undertaken by Oreskes in 2004 and recently re-asserted in the LA Times (non-subscription version) come up with very conclusive results. Similar studies could be done by looking at abstracts at big meetings (AGU, EGU etc.) or simply by talking to us. One could of course argue about what this means, but the existence of this consensus is not really up for debate. That doesn’t stop some people from trying of course, but these attempts have been rather embarrassing at best.

However, that didn’t prevent the latest incoherent and highly misleading press release from the Senate EPW committee being issued to support the effort. I was recently in conversation with a journalist, who told me that she’d asked the ex-talk-radio author of these EPW releases, Mark Morano, what exactly they were suppposed to achieve. Morano replied that it was to ‘get their message out’. When asked what that message was, no clear answer was forthcoming. That politicians indulge in politics is not surprising, but these releases are really scraping along the bottom. The only consolation is that they are being completely ignored by the media. Long may that consensus remain!

35 Responses to “The not-just-in-Copenhagen consensus”

  1. 1
    Adam says:

    Always beware of a piece of writing that has a paragraph starting, “Fact:…”. It probably means that the rest of report is full of bits that can’t be claimed as such.

  2. 2 says:

    To start a debate with deniers is a waste of time. In fact all those denier will soon feel the consequences of climate change themself.
    What they want is attention dont give them this.

    Also a listing of scepticers who became belivers would be nice. I think the consensus is like 90-99% in the science world and like 90% of humans who think climate change is happening.

    With every heatwave, hurricane natural devasting processes, the sensible of every human beeing will increase in matter of climate change and acting against it.

    Thats the reason why even scientist with the biggest reputation alarming the people.

    But in the end to counter a major climate shift we need everybody.
    And they will help once the politican rules and reglementations setup.

    Its just a matter of time and i hope we make it without to much damage which cant be undone in short human life terms.

  3. 3
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    The EPW is running into the same brick wall that some of the polluting industries did.

    In the U.S. in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the public saw the pollution and all the health and environmental problems it caused. There was an outcry for action, and this meant government regulation.

    The polluting companies brought out their public relations people to tell the public that there wasn’t that much pollution and pollution isn’t a bad thing anyway. Everyone knew they were lying and the public stopped believing anything they said.

    This is one of the reasons that “think tanks” like Cato and CEI were formed. The companies completely lost public credibility and needed a new way to get their message out.

    It’s a hopeful sign that the media is completely is ignoring the EPW releases. Maybe the press is starting to catch on to the spin and knows it not worth reporting.

  4. 4
    an old federal regulator says:

    Re #3 – I’m not sure it was a triumph of public opinion that resulted in regulation in the 70s. I think it was a bit more complex than that. Many municipalities were writing regulations. This mish-mash of regulations was causing problems for industries that operated in more than one jurisdiction. They wanted one set of national requirements. Then the Cuyohoga River burned – along with a large number of big industries along the river, costing those industries big bucks. It suddenly became in industry’s best economic interest to limit the amount of pollution going into the river. It was a number of things like this that came together to result in the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

    I mention this history because I think we’re seeing parallels today with climate change. A lot of industries are beginning to support regulations – either because they want a level playing field rather than the mish-mash of state regulations being developed – or because they see economic risks of doing nothing and/or economic opportunities in doing something. Industry support along with public opinion is what will bring about the political tipping point that we need.

    Forgive me for being anonymous. I still work for the federal government and am not as bold as some who bravely use their real names.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    This line from the press release proved particularly amusing:

    “The United Nations media hyped ‘Hockey Stick’ was broken in June by a National Academy of Sciences report reaffirming the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age.”

    Apparently Mann et al. are, rather than a group of paleoclimatologists, actually the intellectual embodyment of the United Nations. And clearly the author of this little diatribe never actually read the NAS report.

  7. 7

    It seems to me you have to make some effort to understand the climate crisis deniers. It’s really a no-brainer, but I think climate scientists don’t fully appreciate what is at stake for these people, and how far they will go to protect their interests.

    Here is a bit from an article from Fortune magazine posted on CNN this morning under the headline “Big oil dominates: But old-economy companies aren’t the only ones prospering this year.”

    Then this:

    (Fortune Magazine) — One look at the largest corporations in the world and a single conclusion jumps out: Natural resources are driving the global economy as never before.

    The only part of that I would dispute are the words “as never before.” Natural resources have been the driver of economies for human societies from the outset. What has changed, of course, is the scale, the size of the economy being driven. And, that it also drives population growth and rates of consumption should not be ignored.

    So, any suggestion that it is now somehow necessary to curb the use of the most important of these natural resources – oil, natural gas, and coal — to avoid a climate catastrophe is seen as, not just a threat to economic growth, but to the economic model itself.

    Nor is the model being threatened by climate science alone, of course. Biologists have been sounding all kinds of alarms for decades. E.O. Wilson, most famously, described this growth model as “more bacterial than primate,” plainly saying, as have so many others, that it is unsustainable.

    The core belief system is under siege from all sides, and they will go to any length to defend it… to the last drop of oil… to the last man or woman standing.

    The stakes for the species couldn’t be higher. I don’t see how scientists of any stripe can avoid being drawn into the political and policy battles, the outcomes of which may well determine our fate.

  8. 8
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    #4 (old federal regulator) You are right there was more than just public opinion involved. Its a complicated topic that is hard to explain in a comment on a blog.

    Public opinion is important, that is why the regulated industries fund the public relations campaigns.

    Some companies are now involved in the discussions about what to do about global warming. Some have taken the position that is better to accept regulations and try to find solutions that work for everyone than to keep fighting.

  9. 9
    JMG says:

    I don’t know whether it’s worth is or not, but I couldn’t help myself. My boss’s boss gets “Car and Driver” and told me about this “really good article” on global warming, which he then sent me a copy of. I fear for the United States and the world when I think about all the outlets for self-interested messages like this, and how few places there are like RC.

    Hat’s off to Patrick Bedard for his brilliant misrepresentation of the science of global warming in “An inconvenient truth” in the September 2006 Car and Driver. Man, does Bedard ever have the patter down—this is clearly a guy who can convince people that a Vega is really an undercover Corvette. It’s easy to see why people like to read his stuff so much.
    Although Bedard’s piece was one page, it would take many more than that to show why his arguments fall apart, so the best I can do in the limited space available for a reader letter is to suggest a visit to, a website where intelligent people such as Bedard and Car and Driver fans can get the real story on climate science–from real climate scientists, rather than auto engineers.

  10. 10
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE: #7

    While I agree with the sentiment and conviction of your comment, I must challenge two points:

    a) [One look at the largest corporations in the world and a single conclusion jumps out: Natural resources are driving the global economy as never before.]

    Consumers drive the global economy as never before. Consumers send drillers, refiners, all manner of employees to work each day to satisfy our consumptive lifestyle. Is there any surprise the coorporate interests will fight to the last breath any effort to curb our consumptive habits? How about we consumers taking on some of the blame and burden?

    b) [And, that it also drives population growth and rates of consumption should not be ignored.]

    The 2005 percapita GDP of all nations matched to 2005 birth rates pre thousand do not agree with your view on population growth and economic growth.

    Nigeria percapita GDP $872 and birth rate 50/1000
    Kenya percapita GDP $1445 and birth rate 39/1000
    Turkey percapita GDP $7950 and birth rate 17/1000
    Singapore GDP $28100 and birth rate 9.34/1000
    Germany GDP $30579 and birth rate 8/1000

    And, US refinery and blended net production of petroleum for Jan to June 2005 was 108 million barrels compared to 105 million for Jan to June 2006; only 3 million barrel reduction over six months when world oil prices topped $70/barrel. Imports for those months in 2005 and 2006 tell another regrettable story. As US soldiers are in combat in Iraq and Afganistan, imports increased from 80 to 81.5 million barrels during that 6 month period.

  11. 11
    Hank Roberts says:

    David Brin writes there:

    “… remind me of earlier statements about the surprisingly positive parts of human nature. Indeed, those parts were essential in order for the Enlightenment Project to happen at all… even as a fluke and unlikely, lucky-chance emergent property, rather than a first order effect of human nature.

    Indeed, I will go farther. I believe that one of the higher candidates for a “Fermi Paradox explanation” is that intelligent life does emerge many times across the galaxy… but that it destroys itself through lack of foresight and self-control. Either in self-imolation spasms or through whimpering decline and degradation into “intelligent” but grinding poverty on ruined worlds.

    Yes, this is an old explanation, but I give it a twist. Because I think it possible that – despite our self-criticism (in fact, BECAUSE of it) – we may be among the few destined to cross this crisis quickly and arrive at a civilization that is truly worthy of the name.

    Read Jared Diamond’s COLLAPSE in order to see how frail we are to ecological error. Alas, Diamond’s few “success stories” were also towering failures. For although they avoided eco-error, they did so by enforcing brutally conservative regimes, devoid of any ambition to grow and learn and improve. A wretched prescrtiption and if that is our only path to survival, I choose glorious collapse.

    Hence, am I more pessimistic than Jared Diamond???? Perish the thought. And yet, in the context of the Fermi Paradox, it seems that I must be.

    This fluke of ours, this project that arose out of the genius of Pericles and Locke and Franklin and million proud craftsmen, is very clearly an anomaly. Under the traditional and deeply human-nature driven social DIAMOND, the very best you could hope for was the genteel meritocratic imperium of Old China, in which Confucian noblesse oblige and civil service testing still allow a smidge of social mobility. That, certainly, is the vision updated by Lee Quan Yew in Singapore, and pursued by China today. It is the finest “pyramid” of them all, and they see it as the best “natural” human society. And they think we are quite mad. And they may be right.

    But that path of theirs only slows down the grinding failure mode of genteel decline. I know this, because the stars tell me so. Because, blatantly and obviously, the Confucian pyramid is a social pattern that must have been tried many times among other life forms. It is a simple extrapolation of self-interest among rulers and ruled, after all. A little smarter than most feudal patterns. One can easily imagine it happening out there…

    … because it happened (in various ways) so many times here! And here’s the point.

    The Fermi Paradox. The sky appears so empty. A Great Silence. Something is “wrong”. There are many explanations. I am the one who has catalogued them, after all. But if this one is THE explanation (“Intelligence destroys itself”) then the traditional pyramid – even the superior Confucian version CANNOT BE WORKING. It is obvious, pervasive, and the stars tell us that it must be wrong.

    What might work is a gamble on something different. So different, so demanding, so “emergent” and contrary to FIRST ORDER animal nature that it was extremely rare on Earth, as it may have been rare across the galaxy.


    …as I sit in this heat wave, I am left to wonder. ARE we smart enough? The Experiment is failing. Now, boys and girls. Right now, on the brink of our success. The neo-feudalists and their terrified-of-tomorrow allies are making their move. And the heat, the heat, this damned heat may be telling us that it is already too late.

    I don’t really believe that. I can’t.

    But oh, the irony. To have the tools in our hands. To ALMOST rise up ….

    ——– end snippet from Dr. Brin’s page, which I recommend. He’s thinking. He understands how rare science is in human history, and how fragile it is against the power to confuse and delude people when science scares money and power.

    Right now the coal lobbies are trying to scare people to where they reject science, in their own short term financial interest.
    The Fermi Paradox: “Where is everybody?” — why is the Universe silent?

  12. 12
    jhm says:

    Apparently, there are moves afoot to start a fresh campaign against the validity of GW science from King Coal. In related news, it seems that the King, along with GM might have been behind the co2=life nonsense.

  13. 13
    Steve Jewson says:

    Here’s two things that scientists working on climate change could do to enhance their impact and credibility in the wider world:

    1) start making your research publically and freely available (most climate change research is published in expensive journals that are not accessible to the general public)

    2) start making your climate change simulations publically and freely available

    Lots of smart people in industry are trying to figure out what climate change is all about, but, by and large, they are not reading your research, because you hide it away in pay-per-view journals. And some of them, naturally, wonder what you’ve got to hide.

    [Response: We’ve not got anything to hide. All of my institution’s articles are freely available: including some submitted and in press stuff. Much of our climate model output performed for the next IPCC report is also availabe directly: as well as from the IPCC archive. We welcome comments and analyses of anything we do. Let us know if you find anything interesting! – gavin]

  14. 14
    Steve Jewson says:

    I’m well aware that certain individual institutions and academics make their publications and data available on their websites, which is great. The US is generally very enlightened in this respect, versus the rest of the world. Whether anyone ever finds it then depends on how well known that institution or person is, and the whims of the google algorithm.

    But for outsiders to have a chance of really following and understanding research activity the whole lot has to be made available for free, and readily accessible from either a single web-site or a small number of web-sites.

    The IPCC archive is not, by the way, freely available to the public. You have to go through a vetting procedure. I was rejected until I promised that I wouldn’t use the data for anything commercial. So it’s ok to write about how bad climate change is going to be, but it’s not ok if you actually want to do something about it. The IPCC should reject submissions from institutions that won’t allow free distribution of all data.

    In the end the question is: how relevant do you want to be to the people in industry who are trying to understand and deal with climate change? Right now, you are not that relevant. You could potentially be much more relevant. It’d be good for you, and it’d be good for industry. It’s up to you.

    You can’t complain about being misunderstood and misrepresented by the sceptics if even people who are sympathetic and do want to understand your research (like me) have such a struggle to get hold of it.

  15. 15
    Hank Roberts says:

    What commercial use do you want to make of the IPCC data? Put your proposal up for consideration — do you want to repackage it for sale?
    I haven’t been able to imagine what you could imagine doing, pray tell?

  16. 16
    Pamela says:

    There was an interesting article published in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 25, 2006. The headline reads “Scientists split on heat wave Cause, some think culpirt is global warming but the jury is still out”

    I am amused by the comments of the dissenters:

    O’Brien criticized colleagues who he thinks are too quick to link short-term and long-term weather. He recalled that in 1988, “we had a big Midwest heat wave … which (NASA scientist) Jim Hansen told the U.S. Senate was due to global warming.” Instead, O’Brien said, the heat wave was caused by high sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific.

    Likewise, he said, during another recent heat wave, “they said that many people died in Chicago due to this global warming. In fact, it was due to old, poor people not being advised about (how to survive) the heat wave.”

    Also cautious is Philip Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University: “Heat waves have happened for many years (i.e., the Dust Bowl in the 1930s), so to say that this one particular event is caused by global warming is really impossible,” he wrote in an e-mail.

    When a scientist tells me something is “impossible” I find it hard to take them seriously. I am not very familiar with all of the complexities of global warming, so I have to ask, Why is O’Brein’s comment about higher sea surfaces temperatures evidence contrary to global warming? His comment about Chicago lends him very little credibility in my mind.

    I am considering writing a letter to the editor about this article, and I am doing some research in advance which led me to your site. Keep up the good work.

  17. 17

    Conversation is slow motion is difficult for an old fart like me, so bare with me. I may yet get the hang of it.

    RE: #10

    â��Acquiring energy and perpetuating ones kind are requirements for being an organism. This is true if you a germ or a human being.” — Paul Erhlich

    In 1804 world population was about 1 billion. We reached the 2nd billion 123 years later in 1927. We reached the 3rd billion just 33 years later in 1960, the 4th billion just 14 years later in 1974, the 5th billion just 13 years later in 1987, and the 6th billion just 12 years later in 1999. Today, six years later, we stand about 6,5 billion people.

    What accounts for this stunning increase in the rate of growth? Energy. More specifically, easy energy in the form of stored solar energy in form of fossil fuels, first coal, then oil and natural gas. This energy, or at least a significant portion of it, has been used to increase agricultural productivity, increasing the available calories and improving the ability of the human organism to go full speed with the fun business of perpetuating itself, and, in turn, putting backward pressure on the energy suppliers to provide ever increasing qualities of the magical stuff, which, in turn leads to more people, the need for still more calories, ad infinitum.

    But humans are not germs, and they have needs (calories, as noted) and wants (sexy cars , cell phones, and iPods in the case of my students), both adding pressure for more easy energy. That is, as you note, demand from the consummer. But, modern economies, while they owe much to Adam Smith, do not put their faith or fate entirely in “invisible” hands. The industrial instruments of these economies learned quickly how to manufacture demand, just as they manufacture electric toothbrushes, through highly sophisticated marketing techniques and by manipulating the playing field to favor this one and not that one.

    “Healthy growth” became the mantra of all who invest in stocks and commodities on Wall Street. It is the mantra of those who own and operate businesses and manufacturing enterprises. It is the mantra of politicians and bureaucrats whose dedication it is to insure continued prosperity through favorable treatment of business interests. And it is now the expectation of much of the world’s citizenry, though perhaps not in remote regions of Papua New Guinea (not counting cargo cults), busy as all of us are satisfying needs and wants, in addition to the fun part, procreation.

    Healthy growth — in the modern business sense — requires increased availability of easy energy and increased availability of other key natural resources (minerals, chiefly). When there are shortages, not only do people go hungry and their numbers decline, economic growth also contracts, and businesses falter, even fail. So, there is great pressure to find more people to do more work so they can buy more goods and services (all that salivating over a billion or two potential new customers in China comes to mind).

    Ever the search for “new markets” and more things to sell to them (that’s why God invented R&D), most of it falling into the category of wants, even though people may not yet know they want them (note to self: celebrity endorsements quickly follow, remedying the situation).

    The availability of cheap and easy energy and other natural resources is what makes this impossible notion of continuous growth seem real, because, for now, it is… or seems so. That it is unsustainable — given rate of depletion and the consequences for the environment — is for future generations to worry about, apparently.

    We live and prosper according to the availability of energy, whether we acquire it passively from the sun or access it by technical means in its stored forms on our planet’s surface (wind, moving water, bio-mass) or from within it (coal, oil. gasses of various kinds, uranium). It’s all solar energy, but the stored form, fossil energy, is finite. When we decided that machine muscle is superior to human muscle we committed to a course that would result in drawing down the supply of finite stored sources at an exponentially growing rate. When it is gone — assuming we continue on the present course with no serious thought for alternatives — the economy collapses, followed by a rapid decline in population (Nature, being neither Democrat or Republican and having no interest in economics, is inclined to take a blunt approach, sort of like hitting the reset button on the computer).

    We can get into endless chicken and egg arguments over energy, population, and economic growth, but in fact they have become mutually reinforcing, energy (mostly hydrocarbons) supplying the attractive gravity.

    I highly recommend E.O. Wilson’s “Future of Life,” with particular attention to the chapter titled “Bottleneck.” I also strongly recommend Jared Diamond’s “Collapse.” And, M. King Hubbert’s 1974 testimony before Congress on the nature of growth. And, Dr. Albert Bartlett’s (Professor Emeritus, Physics Department, University of Colorado) wickedly blunt lecture, “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy. Finally, because anyone who reads all that will be in sore need of a good laugh, read Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man Without a Country.” He envisions a possible solution: Martians in New York who pee gasoline.

  18. 18
    Grant says:

    Re: #13, #14

    Although it’s true that much important research is published in pay-per-view journals, it’s also true that a great deal of it can be found freely on the web. Example: a little while ago I wondered about changes in diurnal temperature range (DTR). A google.scholar search turned up lots of articles, and most of them were downloadable (as pdfs) without registration or payment. In fact, I’ve accumulated a rather large directory of climate papers from peer-reviewed journals, and I haven’t yet paid for any of them.

    Your post seems to imply that you’ve had trouble getting any substantial amount of real research without paying. My experience is the opposite; I hardly have the time to read what I’ve been able to download. I was also able to obtain a vast amount of data (including the GHCN data) freely from the web, and again, I have more data than time to analyze it.

    At the same time — I’ll agree with you(!) in that it would be very helpful if most (or even all) published research and data were freely available and easy to find.

  19. 19
    Steve Jewson says:

    Hank…I wanted to see if I could use the IPCC data to help understand various weather risks to the insurance and financial industry, related to future temperatures, ETCs and hurricanes. The details are not really relevant. I don’t want to resell the data, although the company I work for might have wanted to sell the ultimate results of the analysis in some way. But Jerry Meehl biffed my application because it was commercial (I don’t think he had any choice: I think he gets the data with conditions attached). I’ve now got access to the data for pure research, which means I’ll have to try and look at the stuff in my spare time on my home computer, which is challenging. I guess the insurance industry will just have to wait. It seems a shame that the IPCC process, and academic research in general, isn’t set up to be more useful for people who are trying to deal with climate change out here in the wider world, but I guess that is not its purpose. Maybe I just misunderstood that.

    Grant…I agree that there are lots of papers that one can download off the web if you are prepared to spend a lot of time on google. But if you are trying to follow some thread of research, then you need access to *all* the papers on that subject, and all the citations, so you can follow them up. And for it to be practical, you need access to them quickly and easily. Pick a recent scientific paper, and try and find all the citations on the internet. Bet you can’t.

    Getting hold of climate change research shouldn’t be a research project in itself. If the scientists doing this stuff care about the planet, and want to be taken seriously, they need to sort this out. Right now, the way it is, I don’t think scientists can complain if people ignore their results, and don’t take any notice of them (the realclimate website seems to be one big complaint about not being taken seriously enough).

    Mankind faces a lot of big challenges, but I don’t think that figuring out how to make scientific research available to the general public in an effective way is one of them. If you guys are smart enough to model the climate, you should be smart enough to figure it out.

  20. 20
    Hank Roberts says:

    I recall mention earlier that among the biggest users of paleoclimate modeling are the oil companies, because climate reconstructions offer guides to where the oil formed originally — then continental drift information suggests where the material can be found now.

    I’d guess that’s the sort of issue involved with the IPCC data — big businesses have far more resources for crunching numbers and doing analysis than academic or agency researchers.

    Perhaps you can convince your insurance company to contribute the money they would spend on analyzing the IPCC data to a public research effort — which should satisfy .

    I’d think an insurance agency could agree — they’d spend no more money, they’d get the IPCC data, and analyze it in full public with their resources.

    Make sense? They shouldn’t be so worried about competitors understanding where the risks are, as an oil company would worry about competitors knowing where to drill for more oil?

  21. 21
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #13, 14, 19 Open access to the peer-reviewed scientific literature has been a hot topic in recent years, esp. with regard to the biomedical literature (;; ) There are two problems here: The first is peer review – climatologists could publish all of their work at (or at, for that matter), but if there was no organized system of quality peer review, that research would lack credibility (and in light of the Wegman hearing and the accusations of an “old boy’s” peer review network, don’t even suggest that the contributors to RC review the papers they publish – journal editors work very hard to assure that peer review is as unbiased as humanly possible; and when you consider that a typical journal receives hundreds of submitted papers each year, and most of those will be sent out to two or more reviewers, you can see that peer review is an enormous undertaking. The second,and most serious, problem has been the cost of publishing hard (paper) copies of journals -until recently, that cost was borne largely by library subscriptions, which often amount to several thousand dollars (U.S.) per journal per year; personal subscriptions by scientists (or interested laypersons) are usually several hundred dollars per year, but they are a minor source of income for the publisher. Thus, until recently, if you wanted to read a research article you either went to the nearest university library (in the hope that it subscribed to the journal), or, if you know who authored it, you wrote to the lead author and requested a reprint. Online publishing (and a growing impatience with anything that doesn’t happen immediately)is causing an upheaval in the world of scientific publishing, and it will likely take a few more years to get things sorted out (i.e., greater public access to the literature). But, even now you still have the option of tracking down the lead author of a published paper (e.g., most journal articles now list an email address for the lead author; or, you may be able to track the author(s) through their institutional website) and request a reprint (many scientists now post on their websites links to PDF versions of their papers, if the journal permits that). Finally, many leading journals now post their articles online and provide free public access after a waiting period of 6 months to a year, or so.
    But, there is no question that it can still be time consuming, and frustrating, trying to obtain copies of recently published articles.

  22. 22
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #19 I already posted (I think) a partial response to Steve Jewson’s complaints about the difficulty in obtaining access to peer-reviewed scientific literature. But I didn’t address the following comment:
    “If the scientists doing this stuff care about the planet, and want to be taken seriously, they need to sort this out. Right now, the way it is, I don’t think scientists can complain if people ignore their results, and don’t take any notice of them”

    I don’t see how ease of access by the general public in any way influences the legitimacy of published research. Any single paper is of little real value until its data and conclusions are evaluated by other scientists – it has to be confirmed that the paper either better explains previous observations, or makes testable new predictions, or both; this typically takes many months, if not years. John Q. Public, or the scientific community, can ignore a new study but that doesn’t mean its results will go away – it may, however, mean that the rate of scientific progress is impeded a bit (there are many examples of important scientific results being ignored or overlooked for decades, with Mendel’s work on inheritance being one of the most glaring; one has to wonder how knowledge of Mendel’s work would have impacted the response to Darwin’s work in, say, 1870). I fully agree that it is nice to be able to download a PDF of a new research article with the click of a mouse button, but my being able to do so doesn’t have any bearing on the scientific impact of that paper. To paraphrase Santayana, Those who ignore the peer-reviewed scientific literature are condemned to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent scientific literature (at least in some fields) is full of papers in which researchers (mostly young ones) have reported data and conclusions they think are new and novel, but, in fact, are merely restatements of data and conclusions reported years ago but overlooked by the young researchers who couldn’t be bothered to become familiar with the older literature in the field.

  23. 23
    Steve Jewson says:


    Before the serious stuff, let me just poke fun at you for a moment: your post contained weblinks to pages that I couldn’t access without paying $10 (and I didn’t, so I’ll probably never know what they said, and this discussion will be the poorer for it). Maybe this was deliberate irony on your part. Or perhaps you could loan me the $10. It reminds me of the discussion that Nature had on the subject of open-access, which, again, was only fully available to subscribers. Makes me think I should start charging for my words of wisdom too.

    I’m aware that there is a long list of (mostly historical) reasons explaining why scientific papers aren’t made publically available. None of them are remotely fundamental. I have to say that, to outsiders, they just sound like excuses. It seems that either you don’t want to change, or you just can’t be bothered to put the effort in to sort it out. Let’s all hope that climate change is slower than the rate at which academics can innovate in terms of how they present their work. Then the planet might just survive. From my perspective, I just think that, in this day and age, this cannot be an unsolvable problem. And, given the stakes, scientists should be willing to suffer a bit of painful change in order to get it solved (I would guess that climate change is causing a lot more painful changes to some other people in the world).

    I’m also aware that, *in theory*, one can write to the lead author of a paper (I did that recently and the author told me to visit my nearest University library…but I do know that that is an exception). My point is, however, that *in practice*, the whole system by which you publish your research leads to a situation in which people (journalists, industry researchers, etc) can’t read science research as much as they would like to: every minute spent searching for a paper is a minute not spent understanding the scientific issues. This is a bad deal for the tax-payers who pay for most of the research, it’s a shame for scientists who do the research and don’t get the credit they deserve, it’s a shame for industries that could be more efficient if they used the research, and, overall, it’s a bad deal for society. And it’s your fault.

    Reason I made my posts in the first place is that you have this RC website, with stated aims of trying to improve the understanding of climate research. A lot of the website is very critical of other people. Seems that you are very quick to lay the blame for the misunderstanding of climate research at other people’s doors. To redress the balance, I want to point out that you should be taking a part of the blame yourselves because of the way you publish your research. Here’s my suggestion: why don’t you use part of the website to lobby for making research more publically available: this would fit your goal of improving communication very well, and would at least help you avoid the criticism I am making, which is that it seems that you are putting more energy into dissing other people than solving the problem you have in your own back yard. You will probably never change the way that some people think or talk about climate change. But the one thing you really could change is the way that you yourselves publish your work, so it seems like a good place to start in terms of making effective use of your energy and your time.

    Hank: it’s quite possible we will fund a public effort to look at the IPCC data. We do that kind of stuff all the time, and it’d be an interesting first step. But that can never be the whole solution for us: If we are really going to make use of the IPCC data then ultimately we’d need to have them in house so we can replicate the results and really understand what’s going on. That bit would not work right now, and that reduces the value of making the first step.

  24. 24
    John L. McCormick says:

    RC suffers its share of bozos and trolls but Steve Jewson is the first professed socialist to visit this web. Or, is he?

    Nothing in life is simple and neither is Steve.

    While he begs free access to peer reviewed science papers published by capitalist science journals â?? sounds like government intervention here â?? he sees a market opportunity to broadcast his knowledge.

    [Makes me think I should start charging for my words of wisdom too.]

    I read newspapers and magazine that are affordable because advertisers subsidize production and distribution. Science journals do not rely upon the corporate world to cover their costs and no science journals are being traded on Wall Street yet, so the science journal industry has not issued an IPO yet; maybe the science information industry is not a hot investment for day traders.

    Subscription rates and advertisements play a balancing act for publications. Too few readers mean less market exposure for advertisers. Free access to journal articles means no market share for advertisers. Less advertiser dollars mean subscription rates go up and subscriber numbers go down. Less science papers go into the peer-review mill. Am I going too fast for you Steve?

    Get thee to a library Steve, where most of us get our free information. Or, spend a bit more time on search engines to locate free versions of what you are so desperately in need.

    Then find something else for which to crusade.

  25. 25
    Grant says:

    I agree that access to peer-reviewed literature is not at all difficult, and that the only reason it’s harder to get an article from Geophysical Research Letters than from the New York Times is that the former has far fewer readers. By the way, *both* require payment (the NYT is not free) unless you visit a library.

    BUT: the point is that if we make research relevant to climate change more accessible, it will help the cause of motivating action on the issue. Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue! To quote Al Gore, it’s a moral issue.

    So, I think efforts to make it *even easier* to access peer-reviewed literature on climate change will be beneficial. In no way do I “blame” scientists or publishers for the current state of affairs; I’m simply saying that easier access would be beneficial.

  26. 26
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #23 Steve,
    The links were, I thought, to abstracts that are, I thought, free to the public. If that is not the case, then I apologize, and agree that it was very ironic. But, I think your criticism of the scientists is misplaced. Most scientists devote their career to conducting research and submitting it to peer-reviewed journals; if they wanted to pursue a career in publishing, they would have done so and not wasted 5-8 years in graduate school. Most journals are published by large commercial publishing companies or by non-profit scientific societies (e.g. AAAS). Until very recently, there was very little urgency by anyone, scientists or non-scientists, to obtain copies of journal articles immediately upon their publication (this still holds true for most areas of science). There is clearly a movement to make journal articles more easily available, but someone has to pay the freight. Right now, scientists can publish their papers online at the Public Libary of Science, or in certain other journals (Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences) and pay (hundreds of $ U.S., if I’m not mistaken)so they are freely available to anyone. But, not all scientists have that kind of money – research grants budgets are often very tight. While I understand your frustration at not seeing articles instantly, there is no simple solution. But, the issue is being addressed.

  27. 27
    Hank Roberts says:

    >20, 23
    Steve, thanks, I hope your employer will pursue this effort to fund that research — I’d imagine many businesses as well as foundations right now would cooperate, for everyone’s benefit.

    And don’t worry about the assertion that you must be a socialist because you’re involved in “insurance” — sharing risk is respectable; discovering real total costs is equally so. “We all live downstream” is ecology, not politics.

  28. 28
    Steve Jewson says:

    I accept that individual scientists can do very little to change the environment in which they exist. So who *should* I be lobbying?

  29. 29
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’d start by being specific if you can, contact the actual researchers and specify which information your employers want, and whether they want it to be available to the public or want proprietary access for business use. It may well be you can fund publication at a very low cost, if the work’s not tied up except by the unbudgeted expense to make it easily available. Just my guess.

  30. 30
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 23 For the benefit of Steve Jewson, here are the abstracts whose links I posted in #21 (I don’t know why he couldn’t access them, as I can do so without logging in to the Science site):
    Science 12 November 2004:
    Vol. 306. no. 5699, p. 1115
    News of the Week
    Mixed Week for Open Access in the U.K.
    Daniel Clery
    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.–Supporters of “open access” scientific publishing–in which authors pay the cost of publication and accepted papers are freely available online–have received a public setback and a private boost in the United Kingdom in the past few days.
    Science 19 May 2006:
    Vol. 312. no. 5776, p. 979
    Random Samples
    Advocates of open-access publishing got new fuel for their argument from a study published online this week in the open-access Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology suggesting that free papers get cited more often.
    The analysis, conducted by Gunther Eysenbach of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto, Canada, looked at articles published from June to December 2004 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, after the journal started letting authors pay $1000 to make their papers immediately available for free.

    By April 2005, 78 (37%) of the 212 open-access articles had not been cited versus 627 (49%) of the 1280 regular articles, which are free online after 6 months. By October, 11 open-access articles (5%) were still uncited compared to 172 (14%) of regular articles. After data adjustments for factors such as authors’ previous citation rates, the open-access papers were twice as likely to be cited by April and three times as likely by October. They also averaged more citations: 6.4 per paper versus 4.5.

    The PLoS Biology editors admit that they have “a strong and vested interest” in the paper but say that it underwent unusually thorough review.
    Science 7 July 2006:
    Vol. 313. no. 5783, pp. 29 – 30
    News of the Week
    A Mixed Bag of U.K. Open-Access Plans
    Eliot Marshall
    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.–The open-access movement chalked up a victory in Britain last week, but it did not get the universal mandate for free release of research papers that some advocates want.
    Had I not been willing to pay the cost of a AAAS membership ($120 or so) to get a Science subscription, I would simply go my university library, or the local public library, to read the journal (and read Nature while I was at it). I know that sounds rather primitive, but it works. My point here (and this will be the last I post on this topic) is that Steve’s concerns are being addressed by the powers that be in the world of scientific journal publishing (I see that I was way off on the cost of publishing an open-access article, at least in the PNAS)

  31. 31
    Ken Rushton says:

    I believe it’s time to start watching the arctic ice cap more carefully. The changes from previous years are subtle, but I believe, significant, and to me indicate overlooked ice thinning. The albedo in the IR spectrum is down: – it used to be redder, and with less blue & green; there seems to be little or no multi-year ice: and I can see transient density waves in the ice (presumably created by wind) at instead of a single stable polar high-density cap as in former years. There is even a hint of ocean currents developing.

    I believe the remaining ice in the cap is masking its thinning by spreading out. It’s hard to see the ice thickness (as opposed to extent) from the satellites (perhaps someone can point out better links?), so thinner ice only shows up on the retreating margins. Therefore the wonderful web site & specifically understates the case, and we wonâ��t see until September the full retreat of the ice.

    It would be really interesting to know if anyone has data on the historical monthly albedo / radiation balance for the Arctic cap (or can create it from NASA�s AMSU data). Visual oversight has its limits. It would be good to be able to calculate accurately the changes in heat balance in the Arctic Ocean.

    A thinner, darker ice cap has questions:
    – Will this be the year the Northeast Passage (Siberian route) opens ?
    – Likewise, will the Northwest Passage (Bering to Baffin) route open next year?
    – The arctic heat storage is much greater â�� will this affect weather? How much?
    – Will the Arctic hadley cells grow, or shink or become more difuse?
    – Will this paradoxically increase snowfall around the Arctic?
    – Will the August Sea ice index update show an accelerating trend?

    Watch the cap!

  32. 32

    Couple more comments on this:

    1) An obvious way to test whether state funded climate researchers are really doing all they can to communicate their results to the general public is to compare how well they do this versus other academic disciplines (who are presumably under similar constraints wrt funding etc). It seems to me that climate scientists don’t do very well in this comparison: almost every paper written in the social sciences (covering law, economics, finance, accounting, etc etc) is available for free at And almost every paper written in physics is available for free at A simple thing that all climate scientists could do right now, and for very little effort and no money, is to start posting their research in the relevant section of

    2) A quick comparison of page charges makes me think that the AMS journals are actually more expensive than the PLoS journals. So climate scientists could kill two birds with one stone: they could save on page charges, *and* they could make their research publically available.


  33. 33
    Grant says:

    Re: #32

    A simple thing that all climate scientists could do right now, and for very little effort and no money, is to start posting their research in the relevant section of

    What a terrific idea! We’ve been in love with arxiv for a number of years; it has *greatly* increased the visibility and accessibility of papers in math, physics, astronomy. It also greatly speeds the accessibility of papers, since it’s a *preprint* archive (and we all know how long it can take for new research to make it into print).

    Perhaps someone could even start a “clarxiv” — a version of arxiv specifically for climate science.

  34. 34

    A few years ago, the primary planetology journal, Icarus, stopped producing a print version and limited itself to an electronic version available only by subscription. The result is that I, for one, can no longer read Icarus even if I go to a University library. That can’t be good for science in the long run. Are we heading back to a time when only wealthy people or people with wealthy patrons could do science?

  35. 35
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 31, Ken, sea ice
    See the discussion around this posting;
    use the Search box at top of page for much on this