RealClimate logo

The obvious answer

Filed under: — rasmus @ 28 January 2011

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

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

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

Denial or ignorance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the media actually see?

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

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

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

118 Responses to “The obvious answer”

  1. 51
    Didactylos says:

    John W:

    People love to drag in Wegener. Usually when they realise that comparisons to Galileo would look ridiculous.

    But Wegener could not propose a mechanism for continental drift, or rather, proposed several mechanisms but could prove none of them. So, at the time, the theory was not taken seriously. It was only when more evidence became available, and the mechanism became clear, that plate tectonics took off.

    Climate science is exactly the opposite. The mechanism came first, the predictions were made a long time ago. The observation of warming came later.

    You should also be aware that FOI requests must be complied with, but compliance does not always involve handing over the data. If the data is not yours, or the requests are vexatious, for example – both applied in the CRU case.

  2. 52

    Tim Joslin @22:

    “As Thomas Kuhn observed, when a scientific discipline undergoes a paradigm-shift, the whole conceptual framework necessarily changes. Statements made from within different paradigms are incommensurate.”

    You’ve chosen to highlight the most some of the most demonstrably insupportable parts of Kuhn’s thesis. In particular, Kuhn’s “incommensurable” meme (NOT “incommensurate,” by the way) is simply nonsense on stilts. Even the most casual examination of history of science conclusively shows that results are cummulative, which they could not possibly be if that “incommensurable” stuff was even remotely correct. Kuhn himself spent the remainder of his life backing away from these egregiously silly, relativistic claims.

  3. 53
    SecularAnimist says:

    John W wrote: “I’m completely repulsed by assertions of imminent doom and a need for immediate action …”


    Seriously, why are you “repulsed” by such assertions?

    Do you have an a priori belief, or instinct, that such things simply “cannot be true”?

    Because the evidence that “immediate action” is not only urgently needed, but long overdue, if we are to have any hope of avoiding truly catastrophic consequences of AGW, is overwhelming.

    That’s why pretty much every major scientific organization in the world that has anything to do with climate has called for urgent, immediate action to reduce the emissions that are driving global warming.

    The notion that urgent calls for immediate action to avert catastrophe are only coming from some lunatic fringe, or from “politically-motivated radical environmentalists”, is just plain false — and is a key component of the fossil fuel industry’s campaign of deceit.

  4. 54
    Michael W says:

    Didactylos #49, pick any major issue, and you will find a plethora of players with bills of goods to sell with experts in their pockets, vested interests trying to hold on to market share, etc. Most of us learned how to not be played for a fool back in grade school.

    As for the current climate crisis, no need for a long path. My opinions were conceived when an organization claimed “the world is ending”.

    [Response: Which organisation would that be? – gavin]

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    > ocean acidification … considering how buffered it is
    The buffering has worked at geological rates, not at the current rate of change. Look it up, eh?

    > borehole … education
    Look up past attempts; look for repetition or evidence of change over time. Some are buffered to the point there’s little likelihood of edification.

  6. 56
    tamino says:

    Michael W:

    Although I disagree with your conclusions about the science, I admire that you’re willing to come here to discuss them (apparently, open-mindedly). And I agree with some of your statements about communication, and the target audience for enlightenment on this issue.

    But I think you underestimate the influence of the denial campaign. Your analogy of a used-car salesman (whom we all mistrust) may be revealing; rather than look on the vast majority of the climate science community as trusted seekers of truth (a common perception of scientists, and deservedly so) you may have turned a jaundiced eye to climate science. And frankly, those who suggest that some of your claims are straight out of the long-debunked denial playbook, are right on target.

    I suggest you keep studying the science, and be far more skeptical of the so-called “skeptics.”

    For all readers: I’d also like to relay an analogy I saw on a blog today:

    You are in a theatre and a fire inspector shouts “Fire.”

    The guy at the concession stand and the theatre owner say, “Hey, no problem.”

    Fortunately, that very day there are forty fire inspectors in the building to help you make up your mind.

    Thirty-nine say “Run.”

    One –- coincidentally the cousin of the theatre owner -– says, “Hey, the problem is exaggerated. Stick around. Spend some money. Maybe we’ll buy a new extinguisher.”

  7. 57
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Michael W. and John W.,
    You guys related? Because you seem to be getting your information on the science–or lack thereof–from the same sources. It certainly is not from the scientists or the scientific journals. When you have 97.5% of the experts in agreement; when there is not a single professional or honorific society in related fields that dissents from the consensus; when the few denialist scientists have so utterly failed to propose an alternative theory/model/mechanism that accounts for even a tiny fraction of the evidence; when the evidence becomes unequivocal, then the only way to justify inaction is to base one’s opinion on ignorance.

    So you have a choice. You can start learning the science. Start With Spencer Weart’s history:

    Ask questions. I’m about as big a hardass as there is on denialists as there is, but I and most others here a re pretty good about answering sincere questions.

    Learn what the evidence is and what it means. Learn why the experts are concerned. Realize that we are not talking about half a dozen guys who got together and decided to do climate science, but thousands of scientists–some very, very smart–doing the work.

    You don’t want to take someone’s word for it. That’s fine and potentially admirable. So, either learn enough about the science to form an intelligent opinion or stay ignorant. Your choice. Frankly I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t have kids, so it won’t be my progeny suffering if we do nothing.

  8. 58
    David B. Benson says:

    Ray Ladbury @56 — But I have children and grandchildren. In fact, maybe not so many years before a great-grandchild.

  9. 59
    ghost says:

    John W., so you’re a chemist, huh? Your ocean acidification comment makes me wonder if you shouldn’t have a spin through the biochem world. For example, would you consider a pH drop from 7.40 to 7.25 to be acidification worthy of comment? How about if it’s your blood pH we’re discussing? Have a squint at what happens to you with a blood pH change of +/- 0.20. Then consider whether you want to bet that buffering in the most bio-rich strata will be adequate to avoid bio-hazardous marine acidification, bearing in mind that we depend on stability in those strata for a huge amount of our food. If you truly are a scientist acting objectively, then I must infer from your post that you haven’t engaged this field fully. Regardless, you’ve come to the right place for the physics; the biology might take you elsewhere. :)

  10. 60
    John W says:

    RE #53

    Seriously, why are you “repulsed” by such assertions?

    Ok, just look at the track record of such ASSERTIONS.
    Tell me what you do when a salesman tells you “buy it now or you’ll miss out”?
    Assertions, no matter how loud aren’t convincing to me, sorry. High pressure sales tactics don’t work on me either, well at least not anymore, I can’t say I haven’t fell for a high pressure sales tactic in the distant past. Again, I’m sorry if that’s bothersome, but I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve seen emergencies and deals that won’t last come and go. I’m not worried.

  11. 61
    John W says:

    RE #54 Hank Roberts

    The buffering has worked at geological rates, not at the current rate of change. Look it up, eh?

    The buffering works right now and on geologic time scales. There are layers of buffering mechanisms that come into play at different rates. Some are nearly instantaneous for all practical purposes. I don’t have to look it up, aqueous solutions is my field. If the oceans were DI water it would take relatively little to move the pH a great deal, but alas they are not. It would take a concerted effort on humanity’s part to neutralize the ocean and it would be at great expense.

    [Response: We are indeed making a great effort – and we are not yet sure how expensive it will turn out to be. – gavin]

    > borehole … education
    Look up past attempts; look for repetition or evidence of change over time. Some are buffered to the point there’s little likelihood of edification.

    OK, I’ll take your word for it. I guess sometimes one has to give up on a lost cause. I wonder if he’d trust a “fellow skeptic” even if I’m not so skeptical of the science per se. Would a reply by me in “unforced variations” make any difference? I’d be willing to try if anyone thinks its worth a shot. (I think we all can agree that educating everyone to the point where they are questioning “how much warming”; “what effects will there be”; and “what do we do about it” is preferable to “whether CO2 is a GHG or not”. If everyone understood what we’re talking about it would come down to risk tolerance as the deciding factor which, IMHO, where it belongs.) Now that I think about it, I have to admit I have a high risk tolerance; perhaps that’s the root of my skepticism. Hmmmmm, something to think about.

  12. 62
    John W says:

    RE #56 Ray Ladbury

    I have read the history of GW and most everything else in the “start here” tab. Actually, a lot of that information is not very convincing. (more on that later)

    I do understand why the scientists are concerned and the evidence behind it. I suspect(that means I don’t know and haven’t made up my mind at all) there’s a force at work that occurs a lot in my profession as well, I’ve dubbed it “mountain from mole hill syndrome”, once someone is very knowledgeable about a particular subject a lot of potential events, consequences, feedbacks, etc. are known and understood, these potentials seem to from my observations become familiar and the likelihood of occurrence seems to in the expert’s mind increase even though in reality the likelihood is quite small. We can talk more about this later, I have literally hundreds of examples that I have documented. (Maybe I’ll give it to a physiologist one day.)

    I appreciate your offer for Q&A. Shall we start now?
    Ok so, the link you provided, it’s been a while since I read it but I remember while reading it, it occurred to me that within the modeling of climate, that chaotic behavior is accepted as the behavior of the actual climate. I have yet to see any observational/measurable evidence for climate to behave chaotically, but I can absolutely see where a climate model would be replete with it. Is this perception of a difference between model climate behavior vs. actual climate behavior reasonable? If not, why not? Have I missed some evidence?

    Oh, one more thing about the Q&A that I do appreciate, I do have children and grand children and a fairly demanding job, so please forgive me if my posts are few and far between. I mean no disrespect!

  13. 63
    Edward Greisch says:

    Thomas Kuhn did a great dis-service to science and to civilization as do Ryghaug and Skjølsvold. But Thomas Kuhn started the nonsense. Since Thomas Kuhn was supposedly a physicist, it is hard to understand why he failed to understand general relativity and quantum mechanics as extensions of classical physics.

    The harm is that non-scientists lost respect for science in general. Thomas Kuhn made science out to be just another humanities. It isn’t so. The invention of science is the greatest invention ever made.

    Thomas Kuhn turned scientists, especially climate scientists, into Cassandras. Recall that Cassandra was able to predict the future but nobody believed her. If civilization is to be saved, people must believe what scientists tell them.

    Of course the Koch brothers are more to blame than Thomas Kuhn. And Thomas Kuhn is ancient history. I’m not assigning percentages.

  14. 64
    Dappledwater says:

    John W – “The buffering works right now and on geologic time scales

    And yet the pH of the oceans has dropped 0.1 units (close to 30%) in the last couple of hundred years.

    It would take a concerted effort on humanity’s part to neutralize the ocean

    Neutralizing the oceans?. What does such a ludicrous assertion have to do with concern over ocean acidification?. Sounds very much like trolling to me. Not Pat Frank are you?.

  15. 65
    Chris Colose says:

    John W (#42, on the chaotic climate)

    A key issue related to your question is whether there is a possible sensitive dependence to initial conditions, internal to the climate system, which is sufficient to swamp the forcing provided by large increases in CO2 on decadal to millennial timescales. By “large increases” I refer to the order doubling or more of CO2 expected over the coming century and beyond. Similarly, what can observations (or proxy reconstructions) tell us about the “chaotic” nature of the climate system?

    When you include the fully coupled climate system, with an atmosphere, mixed layer and deep ocean I see no a priori theoretical reason why the climate should not exhibit some sort of chaotic behavior. We do in fact see predictability loss on timescales of years with ENSO for example, although how an El Nino or La Nina evolves and decays is fairly well known once it gets going. While this can affect how individual years rank on a top 10 list (by altering the tropical/global mean temperature) it is not going to fundamentally change the temperature increase due to some persistent external forcing. The general working hypothesis is that climate change can be largely thought of as a function of related forcings on the system and associated feedbacks, and it’s these parameters which conspire to create the characteristics of the new climate regime. In this respect, no evidence exists to suggest that any initial-condition sensitivity is present which is important enough to compromise projections of statistical changes due to large rises in anthropogenic GHG’s in the near future. This might be a bit different in past climates (especially those with lots of ice, although I’m still very skeptical of this), but no model rapidly produces climate changes comparable to that seen by a doubling of CO2 with Holocene-like boundary conditions.

    Observationally, the Holocene provides rather good evidence of stability. It might be interesting to see how things may have changed if civilization started a bit earlier or something, but it’s hard to see how the stability property associated with the post-glacial climate would change. The past climate record in turn is filled with instances where we can turn to fairly well understood physical causes (usually CO2 being involved) to explain a climate anomaly…glacial-interglacial cycles being paced by orbital variations for instance, or the PETM forced by CO2 rise. I have not seen much evidence to require invoking chaotic behavior to explain these things.

    Climate projections in turn involve many runs with slightly different initial conditions, and the ensemble runs do fluctuate about the mean, but the trend is a robust feature of a CO2 rise (and the difference between the ensemble members relative to the trend is quite small). Any good model has weather in it, and indeed the problem of weather prediction is largely about the assimilation of data to best initialize a model to see how the atmosphere evolves over the course of a week. Climate predictability however concerns the statistical features of the system and how they evolve in time. For example, the projections for a ~2-5 deg C/2xCO2 have not not significantly changes in many decades. In that regard, I see no fundamental disagreement between models or obs as your question implies.

  16. 66
  17. 67
    Didactylos says:

    Michael W:

    If you can’t accept the possibility that you are wrong, or that you have been misled, then you are beyond hope. You have set your opinions in stone and you don’t care that the foundations are a pack of lies.

    That’s not a situation any reasonable person wants to be in, which is why we always question everything – particularly our own opinions and beliefs. Why do we think what we do? Are our assumptions correct? Or are we just using a statement by “some organisation” as an excuse to believe what we prefer to believe?

    I know it’s not a nice thought to consider that our opinions have been twisted without our knowledge or consent. But shying away from it and pretending it didn’t happen is no answer at all.

    And please make no mistake: from everything you have said here, we know beyond doubt that you have been misled on many important details. Whatever authorities or media sources you are getting your information from, some of them are lying to you, and you are choosing to believe the lies rather than deal with science.

    As someone who repeatedly calls out the “warmists” when they loudly make silly claims that the science does not support, or twist the probabilities of future events, you won’t get any traction with me by making vague claims of alarmism. RealClimate are just as vigorous in their defence of science against exaggeration, as recent posts can prove.

    Try to deal with the scientific reality, not some constructed version of what you think climate change is because you dislike the idea of climate change so it must be a preposterous thing. That’s no logic at all.

  18. 68
    Didactylos says:

    John W:

    False analogy. When someone tells you the building is on fire, you GET OUT. No matter how loudly you are told. You don’t say “Hey, stop using high pressure tactics, I’ll get out of the building when I have decided for myself. Now excuse me while I go and play with matches.”

    Also, have you ever considered some of the genuine past global alarms? What happened to that ozone hole? Oh yes! We banned CFCs, now the hole isn’t a scary problem any more.

    No doubt you will counter with some flaky false alarm, and try to compare it to climate change. But you know that won’t fly – climate change isn’t a storm in a teacup.

  19. 69

    A ‘media person’ for many years, I agree with much of your comment on the media, especially the claim that \the media itself does not practice openness and transparency\.

    Then again, how open is the research community if I have to pay US$34.00 to read the paper by Marianne Ryghaug and Tomas Moe Skjoslashlsvold?

  20. 70
    tamino says:

    Re: #62 (John W)

    I think you’ve got it backwards. We all accept that weather is chaotic. But not climate.

    [Response: It’s worth pointing out that whether climate is chaotic (perhaps as a function of the base state) is very much an open question. Climate models as currently configured are not chaotic in their climate properties – neither the mean global temperature, nor the climate sensitivity etc. exhibit a sensitive dependence on the initial conditions, neither am I aware of more than a couple of cases where there are real multiple equilibria. However, as we add feedbacks to the system (in particular dynamic ice sheets and isostatic rebound), it is not clear that this will remain the case for long timescales. From the real world, people have argued that the Stage 3 glacial period (from ~100,000 years ago to 20,000 yrs ago) appears to have chaotic elements (i.e. the D/O events), but it’s very hard to tell. For short time periods (say, centennial), these issues aren’t particularly relevant. – gavin]

  21. 71
    Alan of Oz says:

    John W – “I’m not a geologist or a climatologist, but if someone requests raw data from my lab (process chemical / environmental); I’d better produce it PDQ or be updating my resume’.?”

    Has your lab been subjected to a coordinated FOI attack where 60 FOI requests were received on one weekend?

  22. 72

    John W,

    I’ll let others tackle the science. But this particular statement of yours really bothered me:

    IMHO, its people like me that you’ll have to convince for popular support for action on AGW and obvious zohnerism won’t fly. For every one like me in this country there are a couple hundred ordinary people who’ll believe those like me over anything in the media simply because they know us personally.

    If you honestly believe this to be true (and it well could be), then you have taken on a huge, huge responsibility. Those hundred people will talk to another hundred people or more. Your own position will sway many, many people, and it could be the people like you that ultimately make the difference in getting this right and getting things done.

    So, you go on to say:

    I’m as open minded as the next person…

    You damned well better be more open minded than “the next person,” because people are habitually closed minded. They have to be, to handle the plethora of problems and information and decisions that come at them daily. People need to be fairly selective about when and where they “open” their minds, in order to avoid overload.

    So if you think you have all of this power, you also have a huge, huge responsibility. You need to get this right, and you can’t react emotionally with attitudes like treating scientists as if they are salesmen trying to pressure you into making a deal (and what, by the way, do they make in the way of commission?).

    You also can’t afford to misunderstand basic issues such as the acidification of the ocean, or how climate models work.

    You damned well better truly accept your responsibility and do a considerably better job at learning and understanding than you’re doing now. You hold a vast amount of power, and you can’t afford the level of hubris and “educated ignorance” that you’ve demonstrated so far.

  23. 73
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John W.,
    Wow, a strongly stated position…and 100% evidence free. All you have done is construct a Just-So Story for how you think climate science could have gone wrong without even bothering to verify that what you think bears any relationship to reality. I am curious as to how your allegation of groupthink would manifest itself across thousands of scientists in hundreds of institutions and across 7 continents. Neat trick that. It is particularly interesting that you think this despite the fact that all of these institutions and scientists are in competition with each other to understand the climate, and indeed, that they have been very successful in doing so. In particular, they have been MUCH more successful than the few scientists reamining in the denialist camp.

    As to your suggestion that climate behaves chaotically, I am wondering where you got that–certainly not from Weart. Certainly there is no evidence that climate exhibits chaotic behavior about its current state subject to small perturbations. I appreciate that you are busy, but perhaps it would be a good idea to re-read Weart, this time with an eye toward comprehension.

    I would also urge you to look at evidence relating to climate rather than attempt sociological analysis of scientists. The utter failure of many professionals in STS to comprehend how scientific cultures function ought to serve as a caution to amateurs in doing so.

  24. 74

    John W,

    This made it into the Bore Hole (with the rest of a comment). It’s OT, but I thought it worth addressing:

    A hint about ocean acidification: alkalinity not pH. (No, they’re not the same thing.)

    The addition of CO2 to the ocean does not change alkalinity. It only changes pH.

    The addition of CaCO3 (through geologic changes) does change alkalinity.

    But the two mechanisms are very different, and we’re engaged in the former, not the latter.

  25. 75
    SecularAnimist says:

    Michael W. wrote: “My opinions were conceived when an organization claimed ‘the world is ending’.”

    If by “the world” you mean the rich, diverse, thriving, relatively stable biosphere and climate system within which the human species, and in particular human civilization, evolved and upon which we are utterly dependent, that world has already ended.

    We are living in a different world NOW — a globally warmed world, in which the consequences of the warming we have already caused are rapidly emerging, and in which rapid and extreme warming continues as our CO2 emissions increase year after year. And the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence tells us that this new and different world will be far, far less hospitable to human civilization, to the human species, and indeed to the entire biosphere.

    I understand that it is easier to “conceive the opinion” that this cannot be true, than to deal with it.

  26. 76
    John W says:

    RE: #65 Chris Colose
    Thank you, that’s exactly what I needed to know.

  27. 77
    John W says:

    RE: #66 Hank Roberts

    You are in an echo chamber, take a chemistry class.

    RE: 68 Didactylos

    False Reality! OK, using your analogy: 1988 Hansen says the theater is on fire if we do nothing then “A” the theater will burn down; if use fire extinguishers then “B” the theater will not be completely burned but will be irreparably damaged; or turn on the sprinkler system and then “C” the theater will be saved.

    Yet, we did nothing and the theater didn’t burn down, so was Hansen’s 1988 shouting about saving the people in the theater or selling some popcorn?

    [Response: Look, this kind of made-up hand-waving just doesn’t cut it here. The scientific papers are all online and can be checked by anyone – and nothing in them corresponds to your strawman caricature. Either ground your comments in reality or go elsewhere. – gavin]

    Ok on to another disaster track record. BP oil spill. From day one I was fielding outrages concerns people had heard in the media (admittedly I don’t know whether they came from scientists or not). I told people the microorganisms would take care of it and it would not reach NC coast; and the “worst disaster ever” whimpered away.

  28. 78
    Steve Metzler says:

    Kevin McKinney (#11):

    –I’m struck by the observation that Scafetta & West, etc., etc., haven’t released their data and/or software. I’d actually forgotten the Scafetta brouhaha. It’s still the only such I’ve heard about, as far as I can recall–have there been others?
    Certainly the denialist blogosphere will never ask for the release of such details; in their view it’s unnecessary because opposition to some conclusion or facet of the mainstream science on AGW is the only meaningful criterion for validity.

    Indeed. One wonders what will happen when it becomes common knowledge in the blogosphere that the ‘statistics’ in the Wegman Report were about as accurate and original as the plagiarised text. I suspect the deniers will just ignore the facts, as usual, because they are inconvenient. Deep Climate has a thorough analysis here:

    Replication and due diligence, Wegman style

    It turns out that McIntyre overcooked the persistence in his ‘trendless red noise’ by using ARFIMA rather than “AR(1) with parameter = 0.2” as Wegman assumed. Then McIntyre cherry-picked a sample consisting of the 100 most upturning hockey sticks out of a run of 10000 and archived them. It was 12 of these that Wegman chose to show in his report. So he didn’t even check McIntyre’s work. And how was this discovered? McIntyre archived (some of) his code from M&M05 right here:

    The Auditor gets audited and pwned. How fitting. I suppose it was only a matter of time. Of course, McIntyre is swearing that he used AR(1) to generate the red noise. But then where did Wegman get all those hockey sticks that are pixel-perfect identical to McIntyre’s from, hmm? Because Deep Climate shows that if you use AR1(.2), you sure don’t get hockey sticked shaped PC1s like Wegman is showing.

    I tried pointing this out on WUWT when it first came to light a few months ago. Silly me for even trying :-(

  29. 79
    Didactylos says:

    John W:

    That’s called stretching an analogy until it breaks. You can do it with any analogy. The point is to illustrate some fact or point. If the analogy matched exactly, then the analogy wouldn’t be an analogy any more.

    But as for the bits of your comment that could be imagined to be fact – well, you’re just wrong. Hansen never said that it would be “game over” by 2011. No. His actual forecasts were very close to the reality that followed.

    But thank you for attacking Hansen like that. It made it clear that you are a know-nothing denier, here to annoy people, rather than here to learn or debate.

  30. 80
    CM says:

    Re: facts and constructs

    Keep in mind that the “facts” under “construction” here are not settled physical laws, like gravity, nor discoveries on a par with penicillin or the PV effect. At issue in the email exchanges R&S studied was what various proxies tell us about the climate of the past. The proxies, laboriously assembled, were of various kinds, with different strengths and weaknesses; there were various corrections that had to be applied, and different ways of processing the data statistically. The field was in rapid development, the correspondents were among the principals in that field, and they championed different approaches; in short, these were “facts in the making”.

    There are so many different sources of data and so many ways of interpreting them, that there is much space for disagreements and no single set of logical criteria that allows for easy closure of the controversy. In this situation, whether a finding is convincing seems to depend just as much on ‘wise use’ of the data as on the data themselves and the tools that are mobilized to interpret them. (Ryghaug and Skjølsvold, p. 297)

    Moreover, there was a pressing social demand for clear-cut scientific advice forcing the point. So there was vigorous debate over what findings to present, how to present them and how to deal with the uncertainties.

    To speak of the “construction” of facts through “persuasion” here is hardly to deny independent physical reality or to raise any deep epistemological challenge to the truth claims of science. “Construction” here goes on in constant dialog with the data and allows for successive approximation of scientific knowledge to a reality “out there” — at least that’s how I choose to construct (!) R&S’ subheading, “Working to Improve the Construction of Climate Science Facts”.

  31. 81
    CM says:


    Glad to hear that I misunderstood you. (I don’t think the misunderstanding was one between two cultures, though!) Anyway, that’s a cool greenhouse effect simulator on your site.

    Edward (#18, 63),

    Before you grandly denounce someone for doing civilization a disservice, don’t you think you should at least read what they actually say, in context? (That’s what we do in the humanities, you know. Look up sources and work to understand them, then draw conclusions.)

    Gneiss (#23),

    Uh, nice of you to stick up for the social sciences. But there is no conflict between a social-constructionist perspective and “discovery, hypothesis testing, and replication” in social science research in general. The original theoretical framework (Berger and Luckmann) was about the social construction of social reality — institutions, roles, and the knowledge about them. I submit that we can study social phenomena in this framework without subscribing to the idea that physical reality is a social construction, and without necessarily granting social factors a significant influence on the construction of most scientific knowledge about physical reality.

  32. 82
    bigcitylib says:

    Rasmus writes:

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

    If the natural scientists really think this, then they are wrong, and I’m not sure they do really think it.

    For example, lets take a global average annual temperature for year X. This figure seems to me to be massively “constructed”. Nobody has a single thermometer that gives you it. Instead, a thousand point measurements are adjusted, massaged, and otherwised fiddled with so that the one figure can be produced. Yet I would say it is nevertheless a fact.

    [Response: I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here. The point is that whatever number we come up with for the global mean temperature, is not the “fact” we are referring to. That’s simply an estimate of some unknown value which we know, conceptually, must exist–and which if we define it precisely and can carry out the necessary measurements that derive from that definition–we can discover, to some stated degree of accuracy and precision. That is the “fact” that scientists are after. To come up with a single value from a number of other values is not the “construction” to which these authors (apparently), and the postmodernists in general, are referring. The latter are alluding to something entirely more radical–essentially that there are nothing but opinions, which we construct from our thoughts and language, which in turn are the products of our culture. Everything essentially spins out of our heads and mouths. Most physical and biological scientists reject this idea as utter nonsense.–Jim]

    That’s all that saying that facts are in some sense “made” need necessarily imply. There are some sociologists who write as though there is something more sinister at stake–that our broader political ideology drives the way we “make” the facts. Someone like S. Fuller comes to mind. But it needn’t be taken to imply that; these words are meant to suggest the idea of LABOUR as much as INVENTION.

    This might be of some importance, given the misunderstandings of a few science journalists like Fred Pearce, who thought that the fact that nobody ever asked Phil Jones for his “raw data” signified a breakdown in peer review. But why would anybody want to re-do the work Jones already put into his data set? This would only be useful if Jones had been incompetent or a member of some kind of worldwide Marxist conspiracy. Which of course he wasn’t, so why bother?

    [Response: There’s nothing wrong with asking for data, raw or otherwise. Data should be as freely available as possible for science to advance. The problem is how it gone about with respect to the various restrictions, publication rights, time and money constraints and other particularities that the requester needs to understand before going off in a self-absorbed tizzy.–Jim]

    PS. Are you supposed to need a PHD to enter the correct Captcha code? Yours are HARD.

  33. 83
    Greg Simpson says:

    Hank Roberts:

    All: this animation from that page is worth passing around:

    Or there’s the larger version.

  34. 84
    Andrew Hobbs says:

    John W.
    I am curious. If the fire alarm did actually go off in a theatre, would you insist on staying until you could actually see the flames and smoke and it is possibly too late to get out.
    I know that isn’t the recommended procedure, but I suspect you would be in the running to win a Darwin award for that approach.


  35. 85
    J Bowers says:

    Re. 49 Didactylos.

    Frank, of Decoding Swifthack, came across a graphic by Heartland of how they operate. Very instructive as a concise summary.

  36. 86
    SecularAnimist says:

    John W wrote: “Ok, just look at the track record of such ASSERTIONS.”

    What “track record” of what “ASSERTIONS”? It’s difficult to “look at” it if you don’t specify what you are talking about.

    The “assertion” that comes to my mind as in some ways closest to AGW, is the anthropogenic deterioration of the ozone layer. And the “track record” in that case is that the warnings were heeded, and appropriate action was taken, and a global catastrophe was averted.

    So what, specifically, are you talking about?

    John W wrote: “Tell me what you do when a salesman tells you ‘buy it now or you’ll miss out’?”

    It is interesting, and I think revealing, that you frame this in terms of a “salesman” trying to get you to “buy” something.

    Who is it that you think is trying to “sell” you something?

    Climate scientists are not trying to “sell” you anything.

    Climate scientists are not analogous to salesmen, they are analogous to doctors, telling you that you have early signs of lung cancer and you really must quit smoking cigarettes or you will soon develop irreversible, untreatable cancer and die a horrible, premature death.

    And at this point, you’ve gotten a lot of opinions from a lot of doctors, and 97 percent of them are telling you the same thing.

    Meanwhile, the tobacco companies are telling you there’s no problem, your hacking cough is just the result of “natural causes”, there’s no need to be hasty about giving up your smokes, and by the way, all of the doctors you’ve consulted are no more to be trusted than used car salesmen.

    And you believe the tobacco companies — because you are a “skeptic”.

  37. 87
    Kooiti Masuda says:

    Re: fact and social construction

    Spencer Weart said in the section of “Reflections” in the book “The Discovery of Global Warming” (2003):
    “Certainly, in a restricted sense, one could call the … understanding of climate change a product of human society. We should not call it nothing but a social product.”

    I think that this view resonates with the view of Thomas Kuhn as I learned from the posthumous collection of his philosophical essays “The Road since Structure” published in 2000. I think that his description of science conforms what scientists conceive science themselves.

    Epistemology of Kuhn is basically Kantian. The world as “thing-in-itself” is real, but we cannot directly describe it. What we can recognize are phenomena, which result from interactions between the world and ourselves. In a sense, facts are constructed by us, but then we face resistance by thing-in-itself so that we cannot arbitrarily construct them.

    Among human efforts to recognize the world, science is special in the methodology that a group of people share their way of recognition, i.e. share so-called their paradigm. The paradigm of a group may not be easily translated to the paradigm of another, here arises the issue of incommensurability.

    I disagree with Gary Hastein’s and Edward Gleisch’s understanding of Kuhn’s thoughts, though I admit that Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolution” is an ambiguous book which may be interpreted in their ways.

    By the way …

    I have found a sad fact that a Japanese environmentalist read the Japanese edition of Mosher and Fuller’s book, and wrote “It was revealed … that IPCC … had systematically hid the fact … that global mean temperature had not risen since 1998” in an otherwise respectable book on the history of interaction between nature and mankind in Japan just published. This seems to be an example of “nothing but a social constraction of ‘fact'” which became considered as real fact by some.

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    > salesman
    There’s your mistake: listening to salesmen.
    Listen to scientists.

  39. 89
    Septic Matthew says:

    24, Ray Ladbury: First, a scientific theory is not so much a social construct as an explanatory tool and guide to direct future research. Second, the reason “incorrect” theories persist is more because measurements are not sufficiently precise to highlight the incorrectness.

    Scientific knowledge is both an explanatory tool (“accurate”, “useful”, “true” in the sense of accuracy as in a “true” plumb line), and socially constructed. Social scientists who study the social construction of science (who like to emphasize things like the Einstein-Bohr debates and the communications among members of the “invisible” colleges), merely focus on the social interactions. Like other scientists, they start (as here) with fragmentary and biased evidence, and formulate ideas that they share with other sociologists of science, and socially construct a knowledge of the processes in a particular discipline at a particular time.

    Even the most self-sufficient or solitary of scientists, like Newton and Einstein, have been fully aware of the other scientists of their time (“shoulders of giants” for Newton, patent examinations and collegial discussions for Einstein — to select just a few.)

    The article highlighted in this thread is not the last word, merely the first, or among the first. I am sure that it will be followed by many more examinations of the social interactions of climate scientists.

    Of all the socially constructed belief systems, “science” is the best for understanding nature. But it is certainly socially constructed.

  40. 90
    dougdevos says:

    Ok; so science needs selling. But don’t get too embroiled in the \climategate\ thing, please. Remember the ride we’re all on: the rollercoaster to Armageddon!

  41. 91
    Radge Havers says:

    Call it second rate postmodernism, fear-based tribalism or whatever you want, thinking you can magically make up reality and force it on the world is bogus whether you’re into bad philosophy, Carlos Castañeda, or narcissistic oligarchy. It infects our society top to bottom, and that’s a big problem IMO.

    Speaking of opining, here’s something in the Guardian:

    Reheating the climate change story
    “The media have dropped climate change, with its tricky science. But cast in economic terms, it could recapture public interest”

    “…As a revealing snapshot, 5,000 journalists attended the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, whereas only 2,000 accredited journalists attended last month’s COP 16 climate-change summit in Cancún. But beyond the number of gumshoe journalists patrolling the climate change beat, the plummet in coverage also came about because global warming is no longer perceived as novel and dramatic. Climate change is a slow-burning tick-tocker of an issue marked by incrementalism, slathered in arcane science, and often lacking whipsaw political theatre. The “hottest-year-on-record” media morsel hasn’t held its fresh taste…

    “…The downturn in the quantity of climate change media coverage is no small matter, since it affects public perceptions about the seriousness of climate change: if an issue does not remain on the public’s mental fingertips, concern dwindles and urgency becomes overkill. Plus, it allows our elected leaders to squirm off the political hotseat. But as the world burns, quality matters, too, and journalists have – right there, in front of them – a short-term solution to the quandary of covering climate change: economists who can lend climate disruption the gravitas and drama it deserves.”

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
    Philip K. Dick

  42. 92
    Hank Roberts says:

    > socially constructed

    But do you listen to the people around you when the little voices in your head are telling you otherwise? There’s a judgment call involved here.

    “As astronomer Carl Sagan and his wife and co-author Ann Druyan noted, science is like a little voice in our heads that says, You might be mistaken. You’ve been wrong before.”

    The context in which Philip Dick wrote that memorable sentence quoted above is at least cautionary: How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later

  43. 93
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Conventions and metrics are constructs. They are standards, and as a very wise woman (my wife) once said, “A standard need not be ‘the best’. It need only be repeatable.”

    So, the temperature of a geographic region or even of the planet is a construct–a standard. The time series of that standard is a fact, just as assuredly as the pencil marks recording the height of your child as she grows up are facts, but the units in which you record the measures are constructs.

    So, if we are to say that scientific facts are constructs, we are not fully conveying that those constructs convey information that constrains our models and allows us to understand mechanisms. It is true, we could be using other constructs, but the time series constructed from the same simple measurements must contain the same information or one of us is wrong. The fact that there is a right way and a wrong way to develop a statistic is what makes scientific facts–even complicated ones–more than mere social constructs. This is what many STS types do not understand, and it is the fallacious basis from which beret-wearing wankers potificate about science being just “another way of knowing.”

  44. 94
    John Mashey says:

    I think the cigarette analogy is slightly off. What climate scientists are telling people is that if they don’t taper off smoking as fast as they can, their next few generations of descendants will be born:

    a) Already addicted to nicotine.
    b) At birth, suffering the same level of effects as their parents at that time, i.e., each successive generation will be worse for a while.

    I.e. think of secondhand smoke building up in the atmosphere rather than dissipating.

  45. 95
    Brian Dodge says:

    “I told people the microorganisms would take care of it and it would not reach NC coast; and the “worst disaster ever” whimpered away.” John W — 29 Jan 2011 @ 12:37 PM
    “Here we show that DOSS was sequestered in deepwater hydrocarbon plumes at 1000−1200 m water depth and did not intermingle with surface dispersant applications. Further, its concentration distribution was consistent with conservative transport and dilution at depth and it persisted up to 300 km from the well, 64 days after deepwater dispersant applications ceased. We conclude that DOSS was selectively associated with the oil and gas phases in the deepwater plume, yet underwent negligible, or slow, rates of biodegradation in the affected waters.” (a report on a science cruise to see what’s happening with oil and the environment in the Gulf of Mexico)
    “In November Penn State biologist Charles Fisher led a NOAA-sponsored expedition that found colonies of ancient sea fans and other coral coated in brown sludge, 1,400 meters down. Nearly all the coral in the area was “dead or in the process of dying,” Fisher told me. And he echoed something I heard from many other scientists: in a career of studying these creatures, he has never seen anything like this.”
    “Sure enough, after the sediment is put through a battery of chemical tests, Hollander has his results. “Without question, it’s petroleum hydrocarbons.” The thick black layers are, he says, “rich in hydrocarbons,” with the remains of plants and bacteria mixed in. The fluffy brown top layer has less oil and more plant particles, but the oil is definitely there. It will be weeks or even months before Hollander can trace the oil to BP’s well, but since he has found BP’s oil at this location in the DeSoto Canyon before, that confirmation is likely. If we are fishing for oil, as Hollander had joked, this is definitely a big one.”

    It took 4 years after the Exxon Valdez spill for the herring stocks to collapse, and they still haven’t recovered because of the long term changes in the ecosystem. “See, I Told You So: Oil Disappears”
    Not your best source of scientific information.

    “For example, lets take a global average annual temperature for year X. This figure seems to me to be massively “constructed”. Nobody has a single thermometer that gives you it. Instead, a thousand point measurements are adjusted, massaged, and otherwised fiddled with so that the one figure can be produced.” bigcitylib — 29 Jan 2011 @ 3:48 PM

    The figure scientists produce from all those measurements isn’t reality. There is a reality that is the global average temperature for the year. The figure scientists come up with is a measurement that is the best estimate of what the real average temperature was, with a certain number of decimal places, but reality operates with many orders of magnitude more decimal places. Our “constructed” measurements of reality will always have errors – that is the fundamental difference between measuring and counting. Some things that theoretically could be counted, like the number of molecules in a mole of water, are measured instead, by weighing, to a usually known accuracy. Others, like the number of molecules in the earth’s atmosphere, have to be estimated by combining a series of measurements; average sea level pressure, area of the earth’s surface, average composition and molecular weight of the atmosphere. All those measurements have errors, so the final estimate of the number is inaccurate, but it’s about 10^44 molecules. But we don’t need to measure the energy of each of those molecules to see how much warming CO2 is causing. With just ~10^4 thermometers, or ~40,000 individual 1.1 degree FOV satellite radiometer measurements, and enough adjusting, massaging, and heavy duty mathematical fiddling, the global average temperature can be approximated. The agreement between the two methods is pretty remarkable proof that we are measuring rising global average temperature.

  46. 96
    Rich Creager says:

    Ray Ladbury #93
    Thanks(to you and your wife) for hitting the nail squarely on the head and driving it flush with the board in a few perfectly chosen words. Really enjoy all your comments, but this one deserves a public thanks.

  47. 97
    SecularAnimist says:

    Septic Matthew wrote: “Social scientists who study the social construction of science … who like to emphasize things like the Einstein-Bohr debates …”

    The Einstein-Bohr debates go much deeper than the “social construction of science”. They address fundamental questions about the nature of physical reality, and were really driven by Einstein’s reluctance to accept facts that were not in accord with his concepts about how reality “should” be.

  48. 98
    Lynn Vincentnatnathan says:

    Uh-oh, cultural deconstructivism. A few months ago some denialists, when I asked for peer-reviewed proof against AGW, included such a study on their list: Myanna Lahsen (not a climate scientist). 2005. “Seductive Simulations? Uncertainty Distribution around Climate Models,” Social Studies of Science 35(6):895-922, 2005 (see ). To which friends here at RC pointed to another article by Lahsen that deconstructed denialists: 2008. “Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist ‘trio’ supporting the backlash against global warming.” Global Environmental Change 18:204-219 (see. So at least she is “balanced.”
    Social scientists follow different assumptions.

    Without taking the time to read their work, it seems to me that Ryghaug and Skjolsvold are ideological determinists — they think human behavior is determined by culture & ideology. There are also material determinists — the Marxists & neoclassical (capitalist) economists who think all is determined by economics (which is actually social determinism), and those who think all is determined by the environment and/or technological level (technology actually being more of the cultural realm). The ideological determinists seem to be winning the day, maybe because they have the most fancy and contorted language and can claim all knowledge is a sociocultural construction (what about theirs ???).

    So now the American Anthropological Association is even changing their mission statement to delete the word “science” and replace it with “study.” We environmental anthropologists were fiercely discussing this on our listserve, because at least we rely on science to tell us what happening out there in the material world.

    My own social science assumption is a multidimensional framework of analytically (not concretely) distinct dimensions. I see the human condition as impacted by the environmental, biological, psychological, social, and cultural dimensions, with each interpenetrating the others and the whole, and none being a sole determinant. Because of this interpenetration of dimensions it only seems, I suggest, that any one of these dimensions is sole determinant of the others & the whole, depending on the researchers biases. Often two dimensions are conflated for explanatory power, as in Foucault’s conflation of power (social) and knowledge (cultural) in his famous dictum: “Power is knowledge” (how about what’s out there, like the environment, as an additional, if not sole basis for knowledge???). Of course, even with this multidimensional approach a particular study to be logistically feasible would have to hold most dimensions and variables within them constant, so psychologists might talk about “the reality principle” — which is all the other non-psychological dimensions and variables.

    What we really need are many more sociocultural deconstructions of the denialists, in addition to Lahsen’s, and include other dimensions – like power, economic, ideological, and psychological factors.

    Anyway, don’t be too bothered by qualitative hermeneutic interpretive studies, which cannot in any way establish proof the way quantitative studies can, but only offer well and poorly thought out hypotheses and wild guesses. Ryghaug and Skjolsvold have proved nothing, except that they forgot to look at what scientists do on the job, aside from emailing each other.

  49. 99
    Septic Matthew says:

    97, SecularAnimist: The Einstein-Bohr debates go much deeper than the “social construction of science”.

    That is true but it doesn’t contradict what I wrote. The science that Einstein was disputing was itself socially constructed, much of it in interactions at Bohr’s institute in Copenhagen, and much of it through letters, publications, reviews of publications, and so on.

  50. 100
    Majorajam says:

    Course Einstein’s reluctance to accept things his perspicacious scientific intuition struggled with also included Newtonian mechanics. To imply other than a dearth of omniscience and capacity for error is to distort history and one person’s place in it. Not to mention, who knows what will come of string theory- he could yet prove the prescient.

    Anyway. This whole thing is just opportunism dressed up as academic inquiry. As if it were even possible for any academic not to understand that the hacked emails ‘meant’ little more than that what happens in our field writ large is a lot like what happens in theirs (minus, or course, the profound smear & sow doubt & disbelief campaign devised and bankrolled by a good cross-section of the most powerful and corrupt special interests on this earth).