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Copernicus and Arrhenius: Physics Then and Physics Today

Filed under: — eric @ 21 December 2011

There was a really interesting article in Physics Today this past October on the parallels between the slow acceptance of the idea of anthropogenic climate change and of the idea that the earth circles the sun.

Author Steven Sherwood writes that:

“Many who are unwilling to accept the full brunt of greenhouse warming have embraced a more comforting compromise reminiscent of the Tychonic system*: that CO2 has some role in climate but its importance is being exaggerated. But accepting a nonzero warming effect puts one on a slippery slope: Once acknowledged, the effect must be quantified, and every legitimate method for doing so yields a significant magnitude. As the evidence sinks in, we can expect a continued, if slow, drift to full acceptance. It took both Copernicanism and greenhouse warming roughly a century to go from initial proposal to broad acceptance by the relevant scientific communities. It remains to be seen how long it will take greenhouse warming to achieve a clear public consensus; one hopes it will not take another century.”

A really important point is that what Sherwood is talking about here is not about acceptance of anthropogenic greenhouse warming within the scientific community — that acceptance has already happened — but amongst the general public. Of course, the analogy with Copernicus is still a good one, because it did take some time for understanding of the greenhouse idea to really take hold within the scientific community. Indeed, it has only been in the last year that the American Physical Society (APS) has considered climate change a central-enough topic to deem it worthy to start a climate change ‘topical group’. (The APS topical groups are formal, structured discussion groups that have to be approved by APS. Note for those that might think politics might have played a role in slowing things down: this most certainly isn’t the case. The APS leadership is simply very conservative about what is deemed central enough to Physics to approve a topical discussion group; for example, a colleague of mine spent several years trying to convince APS to support such a group on Quantum Information. That climate change is now an APS focus group topic makes a strong statement, but not a political one: it simply reflects the maturity of the field. Members of APS that are interested in climate should consider joining; there are bound to be some very interesting discussions in areas such as radiative transfer and atmospheric dynamics.)

Sherwood’s article deserves to be widely read. It is freely available on the Physics Today web site.

For more on the history of of the development of the greenhouse idea within the physics community, our own Ray Pierrehumbert’s article in Physics Today (pdf) is also a very worthwhile read.

*Tycho accepted the evidence that the other planets orbit the sun, but tried to come up with a way to still keep the sun orbiting the earth.

107 Responses to “Copernicus and Arrhenius: Physics Then and Physics Today

  1. 51
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ron Manley wrote: “Phrenology because some sceptics think that climate science is at the same level.”

    Anyone who thinks that climate science is “at the same level” as phrenology is not a “skeptic”.

  2. 52
    Hank Roberts says:

    Geoff, watch the sites for a few years. Each year a few orange dots far outside the rest of the data show up as provisional; each year those disappear when the provisional data have been checked. It’s routine.

  3. 53
    Susan Anderson says:

    Ray Ladbury@22Dec 1:05 pm

    “The true alarmists are those who prophecy disaster in every carbon tax or cap and trade bill. The end of fossil fuels is the way forward.”


  4. 54
    Susan Anderson says:

    mulp 23 Dec 2011 3:32 AM

    These comments about elites are very disturbing. Conservatives appear to me to believe more in elites than the rest of us – those with power and wealth. They appear to want to be left alone to take and not give back. When they don’t like reality, they label the communicators of that reality, in this case scientists, as dangerous and use a variety of dishonest arguments to defeat them.

    Unfortunately, the world we live in is an objective and independent of us in many ways. Scientists have developed a variety of means to describe and understand and are very careful to limit themselves to things they can make relatively clear so their work can be reproduced and matches objective facts. Over time, they have accumulated layers of knowledge which provide, for example, the computers we are using, the vehicles we drive, the plumbing we use, modern medical procedures, and things like that. It appears that when they say our continuous expansion and exploitation is beginning to exhaust our resources and poison our environment, and point out that the recent consequences anyone without blinders can see all over the planet are only to be expected and will get worse, conservatives get busy vilifying them.

    The political right does appear to be averse to regulating anything that might endanger the rich and powerful, at the expense of the victims of their exploitative attitude. Our financial system has no limits on usury, for example, since the Reagan era when there was a maximum of 16% imposed on creditors. The “out of control” elites to me are the ones who regard their profits as sacrosanct and not subject to limitations that are beneficial to all of us, not just the few, and over time, not just in the short term.

    At this point, the looming pollution of all types is accelerating and the evidence is mounting, so the attacks on the messengers are also gaining in skill and volume.

    new subject: the Democratic political organizers have also abandoned environmental issues. This business of letting polls determine our morality is all too insidious.

  5. 55
    vendicar decarian says:

    Fourier analysis can not be used for extrapolation since it presumes that at the end of the time series, the function returns to it’s initial state at the start of the time series.

    Hence a simple line with a positive slope will always be shown by extrapolation of the Fourier series to have a negative slope as the function declines to it’s initial value.

    For extrapolation Empirical mode decomposition provides a much more reasonable way to proceed since it doesn’t presume that the base data set is itself periodic.

    “If an approach involving natural cycles is to be abandoned, the reason should be that it is proven to be useless and not because it is not directly based on our physical science.” – 14

  6. 56
    Jim Harrison says:

    There are various kinds of elites: besides wealth, people can excel in knowledge, charisma, beauty, breeding, political power, even perceived piety. In fact, a lot of political scientists don’t treat the super wealthy as constituting an elite. They treat oligarchs as belonging to their own category because a group that dominates solely because of its economic power doesn’t operate like the other groups. Which makes sense in the current situation. Conservatives find it perfectly natural to be anti-elitist at the same time that they lionize the very wealthy. Money is a very populist variety of distinction. It requires no particular feat of imagination to identify with a billionaire, and Americans have always done so. Scientists, on the other hand, are a rather alien lot because you really do have to be a bit of rocket scientist yourself to understand what’s up with the rocket scientists. Meanwhile, everybody is one lottery ticket away from riches.

    These thoughts would be off topic except that reactionary populism is a frequent component of climate denialism. “Where do these guys get off telling me that?”

  7. 57
    Hank Roberts says:

    > various kinds of elites: besides wealth, people …
    and corporations. Don’t forget, they’re people too.

  8. 58
    MARodger says:

    Is Ron Manley’s website (@42/49) a new form on the web? I have productively visited some of its pages in the past but would question its motives after my visit there today. Of the three pages I have just sampled, all rang alarm bells, two of them very loud alarm bells. This site gives the appearance of provide background understanding of climate change (and it does in some areas) but it is actually promoting climate apathy with a strong seasoning of out-and-out skepticism.

  9. 59
    Ron Manley says:

    In age when everyone concerned with climate is either classed (or classes themselves) as ‘sceptic‘ or ‘warmist’ it may be difficult to believe, but Pat and I had no hidden agenda when we set up the web site. My main, but not only, field of professional activity is hydrological modelling. These days this invariably means taking account of climate change projections. The web site was designed to demonstrate my skills in this area.

    I fully accept that some of the data I present, and the conclusions I draw from it, sit uncomfortably with some claims of climate change. However I could only be described a sceptic if I had falsified the data (and I present details of the source so you can check it if you want) and my conclusions were at variance with the data (which might happen – I am by nature a contrarian).

    If I had a sceptic agenda why would I present clear evidence of warming at 8 at 12 km altitude ( or why I would I be as harsh on Plimer as on some of the figures in Archer & Rahmstorf. I talk about tree rings and Bristlecone pines without mention of the controversy and I mention that growth patterns in Southern Hemisphere trees do appear to follow temperature trends; would a ‘real sceptic’ do that?

    As we say on the FAQ we are open to comments on our choice of data and our interpretation of it.

  10. 60
    Geoff Wexler says:

    The excellent article in Physics Today is packed with good points. It is of course impossible to find perfect historical analogies and this is no exception. For example, I agree with the author’s reservation:

    The current theory of global climate change is hardly elegant or scientifically revolutionary, and in that respect it seems like no bedfellow to the others.

    which implies the creation, rather than a shift of a paradigm. Also the apparent lack of elegance is a product of the subject which is complicated and messy and has its counterparts in other areas of non-fundamental science.

    Applied science needs sound basic foundations, and there was no space for them in the article or in the time line. Many of the foundations were being developed during (or close to) Tyndall’s lifetime; e.g. spectroscopy, thermodymamics,fluid mechanics and the theory of thermal radiation. These are very firm foundations and non-physicists may not be well informed about them. It is not obvious that they have counterparts in the heliocentric vs geocentric controversy.

    Another difference between the two examples is that climate change involves an effectively irreversible phenomenon. If we wait for another century things will not just ‘go around’ once more.

  11. 61
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Ron Manley

    Stuff like this FAQ, if “think” means opining on climate, is way outdated.

    “… there are many unsolved problems whose solution could change the way we think. Examples of this are how the Milankovitch cycles affect the climate and the cause of cycles such as El Niño.”

    How do those forcings weigh against what’s known from CO2?

  12. 62
    Dan H. says:


    Merry Christmas!
    We have always had it within us to do what must be done. We just do not always choose to do it. The desire for power and greed does not only rest with the rich and powerful. Maybe we can determine the path to save us all. Then again, maybe not.

  13. 63
    Radge Havers says:

    Ron Manley @ 59

    “In age when everyone concerned with climate is either classed (or classes themselves) as ‘sceptic‘ or ‘warmist’…”

    The above lofty and slanted description of the “debate” in and of itself makes the rest of the statement difficult to believe:

    “…it may be difficult to believe, but Pat and I had no hidden agenda when we set up the web site.”

  14. 64
    John Mashey says:

    re: #4 Steve
    “The history behind the APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate is a bit more complicated than one might imagine.”
    Yes, but it is EVEN MORE complicated.

    Almost any science-related group can have a small fraction of people who strongly reject the science of AGW, for various reasons.

    Starting in 2009, there was a concerted effort on the part of various people to change the position statements of various societies, usually by petitions, votes by small subgroups or publicity campaigns created while the overall organization wasn’t watching carefully enough. Large groups can be vulnerable to such tactics. All it takes is small group of people with intense beliefs, especially if inside a larger group not focused on the specific topic.

    Generally, these have taken the following forms;
    1) Small subgroup, maybe even single person, drives views for a local chapter or committee. Examples:

    1a) Laurence Gould of University of Hartford became co-editor of the APS New England Section (APS-NES) ~2005, see this, but by 2007 see his editorial, pp.4-9.
    For more history, see pp.95-96 of PDF @ Another Silly Climate Petition Exposed. Gould helped Monckton with the 2008 APS FPS issue, and went on to become one of the 6 organizers of the 2009 APS Petition and a speaker/expert for Heartland. Gould continues, see pp.10-14 of the Fall 2011 APS-SNES newsletter. Gordon Fulks (Oregon, I think) writes letter whacking Andy Dessler:
    “Moreover, Dessler anoints himself as some sort of heavenly “messenger” warning the rest of us of “unchecked climate change.” That’s a bit melodramatic for a scientist who completely ignores the logic and evidence that sets science apart from another human pastime: telling tall tales.”
    Then there’s a letter from Roger Cohen (Durango, CO, I think), a retired ExxonMobil guy, saying for starters:
    “[The following letter pertains to the October 2011 issue of Physics Today]
    The two latest global warming articles (Physics Today 64, 10 (2011)) continue the consistently
    one-sided advocacy drumbeat that has characterized AIP publications and posture….” He also denigrates the Somerville/Hassol article. Cohen is another organizer of the 2009 APS Petition. Then Gould comments:
    “It is most regrettable that Administrators of the AIP have continued to accede to the AGW
    alarmist claim, through, e.g., one of its member organizations (APS). This behavior has directly
    resulted in the resignations from the APS of two sterling physicists: Ivar Giaever (September
    2011) and Hal Lewis (October 2010) …”
    Such material is typical of the APS-NEWS newsletter over last few years.

    1b) IOP(UK) in 2010, see Physics World or later Stoat. In this case, IOP snuffed out the silly subgroup, albeit in quiet British fashion.

    1c) The Ohio chapter of the AIPG (American Institute of Professional Geologists, mostly petroleum and mining geologists) decided it did not like Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade (that’s OK, that was certainly arguable), but then claimed to reject it for entirely scientific reasons, p.3. Not all their members agreed with this, but they did a position statement, published in the national magazine, here, pp.14-15. (Slow download, be patient.)
    They asserted credibility as scientists … but people might read that statement and see how many citations and references come from Heartland newsletter, OISM, Fred Singer, etc. The OH president Matthew Justice got an award (p.13) for bringing relevant professional geologic judgment to national policy deliberations. OK, if they want to base their professional credibility on Heartland, that is their choice.
    A sensible commentary was given by Andrew “Drew” Diefendorf on pp.19-20 and the Exec. Director asked for civility on p.27. Wikipedia says “In March 2010, AIPG’s Executive Director issued a statement regarding polarization of opinions on climate change within the membership and announced that the AIPG Executive had made a decision to cease publication of articles and opinion pieces concerning climate change in AIPG’s news journal, The Professional Geologist.[92] The Executive Director noted that “the question of anthropogenicity of climate change is contentious.”[93]”

    Opinion: it would have been perfectly plausible for AIPG to say, upfront “we have no relevant expertise,” although better would have been “We do not have the expertise, so we defer to our colleagues at AGU and GSA.” But instead, OH-AIPG collected Heartland info and sent it to elected officials, claiming expertise. The AIPG tagline is “Competence, integrity, ethics…”.

    1d) Big meetings of societies that have relatively minimal involvement with climate issues and relatively little effective review of sessions can be vulnerable to determined efforts to get speakers who would be laughed out of an AGU meeting. For example, Ed Wegman and Yasmin Said generated some amazing talks for the 2010 Joint Statistical Meeting.

    1e) Of course, even better is to have your own conference. See Appendix A.6.4 in Strange Scholarship, in which Wegman’s Interface 2010 (statistics) had talks by Fred Singer, Jeff Kueter (President of George Marshall Institute), and Don Easterbrook (of imminent global cooling fame).

    2) Attempts to weaken or prevent statements on climate change by societies.
    2a) American Chemical Society (ACS) has seen petition attempts, run by Peter Bonk (with Heartland even having a booth at 2009 ACS meeting), and like 1d) generating “interesting” sessions for ACS meetings. Fortunately, Ruby Baum is pretty savvy and keeps an eye on these things, documenting Bonk’s weird session at last ACS, like 1d above.)

    2b) Geological Society of America (GSA): In 2009, Bill Ruddiman was driving an update to strengthen the GSA position, which did happen in April 2010. Bill had assembled a blue -chip panel, who together had at least 1,000 peer-reviewed publications, many relevant. Fred Singer and others tried to derail this, which didn’t work, although it took ~4-6 months from when they were done until the position was finally approved, hinting at internal resistance from somebody. When a society actually has a useful number of knowledgeable people, it is much harder to play games.

    2c) The noisiest effort was APS, documented in detail in Another Silly…. This got ~200 signers, or less than 0.5% of the 47,000 APS members, with demographics heavily skewed older, likely skewed male and with conservative political views. Rather than a grassroots effort, this was clearly driven by the social network around the 6 organizers:
    Robert Austin (Princeton biophysicist, NAS member)
    Roger Cohen (ExxonMobil, retired)
    Laurence Gould (University of Hartford)
    Will Happer (Chairman George Marshall Institute, also Princeton atomic physics, also NAS)
    Hal Lewis (emeritus nuclear physicist, since has resigned from APS)
    Fred Singer (SEPP, which ~= Singer), who was an APS member in 2009, although apparently not right now, and I don’t know if he was a member just before this petition thing got going.
    That leads to APS GPC:
    The petition bounced off the generally-sensible APS executive, despite all sorts of letters by the organizers, including hassling the incoming 2010 President Curtis Callan. Having failed to reset the position, then they pushed very hard to set up a topical group, which in fact got enough signatures to do so. (Of course, other APS members who think GPC might be a good idea supported this. I did.)
    See Topical Group on the Physics of Climate. It is currently in the hands of an 8-person organizing committee, of whom *2* members are Robert Austin and Roger Cohen…
    Having recorded the list of APS signers (less than 0.5% of APS), I have been able check their APS Directory entries and have found that about 50% of the signers (90+) have joined GPC … despite the fact that very few have any obvious professional involvement with climate research. I’ve done some sampling, and the other 99% of APS is not signing up at anything like a 50% rate. Certainly, Austin/Cohen would have their emails and keep them informed and presumably they will vote. We all look forward to hearing who the candidates will be.

  15. 65
    Edward Greisch says:

    Some free things to help our revolution along:
    The Debunking Handbook
    Short but excellent. Has a great sample of how to debunk climate denialism.

    Strategic Frames for The Occupy Movement

    A Change Maker’s Guide to Economic Paradigms

    The Debunking Handbook has definitely changed the way I will write comments for dotearth from now on. The last 2 are strategic rather than tactical. Our campaign will change the Economic Paradigm, or climate change will change the Economic Paradigm. That is what makes the latter 2 relevant here.
    Well, actually, the other way to achieve a GW avoiding economic change is to change the economic paradigm first. We knew that.

  16. 66
    Ron Manley says:

    Hank Roberts #61 and Radge Havers #62

    “How do those forcings [Milankovitch and El Nino] weigh against what’s known from CO2?” The answer of course is that they don’t appear to but it is possible that when we understand them better we’ll have a better understanding of the feedback mechanisms in which CO2 plays a role.

    After all, the site is not about ‘climate change’ and promoting a particular perception of it, it is about ‘climate data’ and the Milankovitch page is one of our most popular. There has recently been a some discussion in the Blogosphere on the way the perturbations in temperature due to El Nino/ La Nina might have masked underlying temperature trends; we have recently added a page on El Nino and precipitation ( which show a strong link between them. A lot of the stuff on the site is there simply because it is interesting; the reversing polarity of the sun spot cycles, in all probability, has no influence on climate, but the diagrams are pretty. ( The site is something of a voyage of discovery for us and, we hope, visitors.

    I appreciate that this discussion is ‘off topic’ and I’m grateful to the moderators for giving me a chance to respond to comments on our site. I repeat my request to tell us of specific areas where you think there is a disconnect between our data and our words about it. For this purpose I have set up a discussion thread on our web site which can be accessed via the above link.

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    >not about ‘climate change’ and promoting a particular perception of it

    It seems to be about obscuring a particular perception, rather.

    I’m just poking at one of the blatant issues, not reviewing the whole site, which as others noted has pages and loads of subtle spin and distortion.

    You claim that if you knew the Milankovich contribution it might change how you think — but you know the Milankovich forcing is trivial compared to CO2 and you omit that.

    How do you justify not informing people about the rate of change?

    Would you provide the relevant information if that were professional work? Surely how fast a change happens and how large it is relative to other changes would be important information to provide.

  18. 68
    MARodger says:

    Ron Manley @59 & @66
    You say these days everyone is either sceptic or warmist and go on to say that you are no sceptic (because you do not falsifying data, although you do come to some contrarian conclusions).
    Your website however is strongly sceptical. Whether its ‘climate data’ or ‘climate change,’ its still sceptical. If the views expressed there reflect your own, then you are indeed a sceptic. Giving primacy to WUWT in your climate blog search function, using PIPS to underplay the loss of Arctic sea ice, presenting graphs & text on snow cover that a sceptical propagandist would be proud if. Those were the three pages I visited earlier that rang alarm bells. Elsewhere I note that your only concern with burning fossil fuel is in not running out of the stuff. In my book, that’s a bit of a clincher.
    You may deny being a sceptic but I see scepticism as being in denial about a whole lot of stuff, so denying being a sceptic would not come as that much of a surprise.

    [Response: Skepticism is a noble tradition that forms the backbone of all scientific progress, if you are not discussing true skepticism (see Bertrand Russell for instance), try to use a different word. – gavin]

  19. 69
    Hank Roberts says:

    MARodger, I suggest “obscurantist” — user of smoke and mirrors.
    There’s an award in the category; climate nitwittery won last year:

    “The Stockholm Initiative lobby group
    receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award, as it
    ‘… mainly works to deny the state of scientific knowledge in climate science, promote home-made and often contradictory theories about how climate ‘actually’ works, disseminate conspiracy theories and relay unsubstantiated rumours and unfounded accusations against climate scientists.'”

  20. 70
    Hank Roberts says:

    Obscurantism is studied. No surprise, it works, while people are fooled:

    Support for climate policy and societal action are linked to perceptions about scientific agreement

    Ding, Maibach, Zhao, Roser-Renouf, Leiserowitz
    Nature Climate Change 1, 462–466 (2011)

  21. 71
    bigcitylib says:

    Gavin wrote:

    Response: Skepticism is a noble tradition that forms the backbone of all scientific progress, if you are not discussing true skepticism (see Bertrand Russell for instance), try to use a different word. – gavin]

    You know, I don’t think this is a particularly good example. Or that philosophical skepticism in general is what scientific skepticism is. The philosophical version basically says we can know NOTHING; not just the truth of a scientific theory, but whether you exist or the computer I am looking at exists. Without taking a long philosophical detour, I’ll just say that it is not clear that this is a coherent position.

    If I were to say what scientific skepticism was, I’d say its more like the “I’m from Missouri–you’ll have to show me” attitude.

    [Response: Read the link. Russell is specifically making the distinction between practical/scientific skepticism and the more Pyrrhic kind of philosophical tradition – gavin]

  22. 72
    MARodger says:

    Hank Roberts @69/70
    Yes I was aware of using the ‘s’ word quite frequently although I was but complying with the sceptic/warmist dicotomy defined by Ron Manley.
    Obscurant I know but the word ‘obscurantist’ is a new one on me. Obscurantism “the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known“. I like it. All that is missing is the verb – obscurantise?

  23. 73
    CM says:

    John Mashey #64, that’s a valuable overview. Thanks.

  24. 74
    Hank Roberts says:

    > All that is missing is the verb – obscurantise?


    Verb: Keep from being seen; conceal.
    darken – dim – hide – conceal – cloud – overshadow

    See Elisa K. Ong and Stanton A. Glantz, Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms. American Journal of Public Health: November 2001, Vol. 91, No. 11, pp. 1749-1757.
    doi: 10.2105/AJPH.91.11.1749

    (If anyone reads Swedish, this might be worth looking into; the 2010 award was a year ago and I only stumbled on it today)
    The link I gave above
    has a link to the VoF site where The Stockholm Initiative lobby group receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award (for 2010):

    “Vetenskap och Folkbildning, the Swedish Skeptics …. is a Swedish non-profit organization set out to promote popular education about the methods of science and its results….. VoF uses the following definition:

    ‘Science is the systematic search for such knowledge that is independent from any single individual, but that anyone could rediscover or verify. Pseudoscience is statements not based in science but presented in such a way that gives them the impression of being so.'”

  25. 75
    John Mashey says:

    re: 72 and others
    see also Agnotology, a term coined by Robert Proctor @ Stanford.
    The various books referenced there are worth studying and those interested in the tobacco turf will want to see Robert’s Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition.

    People may recall that various people have pointed out the odd role of the tobacco industry in fostering the machinery of ignorance and anti-science in the US, inherited by those who promote climate anti-science. Oreskes & Conway, in Merchants of Doubt, went into the odd ties, but actually, it turns out that more is available by diligent searching of the tobacco archives. Most of the thinktanks that push climate anti-science have long history of taking tobacco money.

  26. 76
    Rich Creager says:

    More obscurely- one who practices obscurantism must be an- what else- obscurantista.

  27. 77
    MARodger says:

    Hank R. @74
    I’m not at all happy with ‘obscure’ as a verb to charictarise the actions of “them”. An obscurant obscures. An obscurantist would then surely practise something more narrow than ‘obscuring’.

    In UK we object to folk splitting infinitives or breaking other silly grammatical rules. In the US things are more flexible. What do they say in the US? “You can verb any noun.” So let’s verb ‘obscurantist’ = ‘obscurantise’ or ‘obscurantize’.

  28. 78
    Hank Roberts says:

    > not at all happy with … a verb …

    Eh? argue with the Swedish; I report, others opine, that was one translation of part of the page at

    Here’s another translation (google translate):
    Till Årets förvillare 2010 utses lobbygruppen Stockholmsinitiativet.
    Year deceiveth 2010 appointed lobby group Stockholm Initiative.

    And a different one again, same site, also google translate:

    Årets förvillare 2010: Stockholmsinitiativet
    för sitt förnekande av det vetenskapliga kunskapsläget inom limatforskningen.

    Year confuses 2010: Stockholm Initiative
    for its denial of the scientific state of knowledge in climate research.

    Whatever. One can get the idea.

  29. 79
  30. 80

    #77–Obscurantise? Nah; it’s just too impactful.

    But I’m verging on an obscu-rant.

  31. 81
    Hank Roberts says:

    Just call’em förvillare.

  32. 82
    Hank Roberts says:

    and here’s another translation: “misleader”

    All in the ballpark.
    The association “Vetenskap och Folkbildning” (Science and Adult Education) appointed me “Årets förvillare 1998” (Misleader of the Year 1998)….

  33. 83
    CM says:

    Hank #74ff.,
    A fairly direct translation of the Swedish prize could be “Misleader of the year.” I’m not a native speaker, but I guess that this nouning of the verb “to mislead” is about as natural in Swedish as it is in English. It is awarded to those who have “contributed to creating confusion and lack of clarity over the methods and results of science” (my translation). “Obscurantist” looks like a good English title, and the “Stockholm Initiative” looks like a most worthy recipient…

    BTW (and with a smidgen of relevance to the Santa Fe thread), Nils-Axel Mörner was awarded the same anti-prize in 1995. Not for denying sea-level rise, but for his university courses on dowsing.

  34. 84
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Edward Greisch #41

    Science is neither conservative nor liberal, but science is pro freedom.

    Which science do you mean Edward?

    * Science as practised by physicists at CERN
    * Science as published by medical trials
    * Science as described by Braithwaite, Carnap, Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend etc.
    * Science as it comes out of the IPCC
    * Science as practised by Dr Mengele

    Remember the conservative/liberal brains are different. See Wikipedia:

    According to studies relative hypertrophy of the portion of the brain that processes fear and identifies threats (the amygdala) is correlated with right political orientation/conservatism, whereas having a relatively larger part of the brain that processes conflicting and contradictory information is correlated with left political orientation/liberalism.

    These differences show up on brain scans. Would it be an interesting scientific experiment to see the brain scans of our leading scientists? Seems to me that processing “conflicting and contradictory” information is important to science.

    P.S. Is Einstein’s brain still preserved?

  35. 85
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Hank Roberts #52

    Thanks. I have found examples of what you describe.

    The Post Peak Oil Historian, Oct 12th 2011 has a graph copied from the NOAA site that ends in 2010 for Svalbard. This shows some very high provisional figures from the end of 2010. The current version has these readings removed. (Was there a better way than eyeballing these graphs?)

    Following this up I found a comment of yours on Semiletov vs. Dmitrenko which gave me more reason to panic and more reason to believe (perhaps ‘feel’ is more accurate?) that the there is a conservatism around that can’t cope with the reports from Smeliatov and Schakhova.

    I liked the slogan the blog author reported


  36. 86
    bigcitylib says:


    [Response: Read the link. Russell is specifically making the distinction between practical/scientific skepticism and the more Pyrrhic kind of philosophical tradition – gavin]

    He is not making in fact making that distinction: he is saying that he will in practice ignore the kind of skepticism he accepts (and is commited to) in theory. To be forced to ignore a chain of reasoning you admit to be valid is, unfortunately, the fate of empiricists like Russell. And saying that though a truth cannot be certain, it can be very probable, is arguably incoherent. Like saying you can get closer to a place that is infinitely far away. It also muddles the distinction between statements about which we ARE certain and statements which really are just very likely. It is certain that the world is round and orbits the sun; that AGW will cause X effect is only “very likely”.

    Again, this is perhaps just nit-picky;but I don’t think discussions of scientific certainty gain much from discussions of the philosophical version.

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    for Geoff Beacon:

    > very high provisional figures … removed. (Was there a better way
    > than eyeballing these graphs?)

    Age and experience helps. At the website they caution against using preliminary uncorrected information; believe them. Corrections happen with most any data collection. Raw data is available as people demand it–but people do fool themselves with pictures. Crap and noise have to be removed from raw data, carefully testing each step. It’s routine, complex work.

    Another example of backing away from methane overhype: “… Their response clarifies their differences with other research groups and emphasizes the importance of critically evaluating scientific findings before rushing to conclusions, either alarming or reassuring.”

  38. 88

    #87–I’m not sure that S & S are “backing away” from anything. Here’s a bit that I wish Revkin had highlighted (though he does quote it):

    Last spring, we extracted a 53-meter long core sample from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, to validate our conclusions about the current state of subsea permafrost. We found that the temperatures of the sediments were from 1.2 to 0.6 degrees below zero, Celsius, yet they were completely thawed. The model in the Dmitrenko paper assumed a thaw point of zero degrees. Our observations show that the cornerstone assumption taken in their modeling was wrong. The rate at which the subsea permafrost is currently degrading largely depends on what state it was in when recent climate change appeared. It makes sense that modeling on an incorrect assumption about thaw point could create inaccurate results.

    Given that Dmitrenko was Revkin’s basis for “all’s well on the methane front” piece, you’d think he might have acknowledged this new uncertainty.

    Scientifically, I’d love to hear more about this–I think.

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    As one reader to the rest — until our hosts start another methane topic (there have been many) — would you consider holding off the methane stuff ’til you can put it in the January open thread?

    It’s off topic in two different threads now.

    Remember hypertext — post the link, and people can read the original and followups at the original source. You don’t need to post full text copies.

  40. 90
    Craig Nazor says:

    Merry Christmas to you, also, Dan!

    Excessive greed and the desire for power appear to me to be basic human traits. But the ability of these traits to cause damage to human culture is directly proportional to the wealthy and political/economic power of those so afflicted. Peasants and servants did not denounce Copernicus. He was denounced by the clergy, the veracity of whose dogma (and therefore claim of control of the path to an afterlife), and as a result the accrual of enormous economic power, was threatened by heliocentrism. Likewise, the strongest attacks on anthropogenic global climate change have come from the dirty carbon industry, and all the ancillary industries that have based their technology on carbon fuels. These are some of the wealthiest corporations that have ever existed, with mammoth investments in infrastructure. To make it worse, money is now “speech” and corporations are now “people.” The question is, can the strength of a strong scientific consensus and the empowerment of the average person by democratic forms of government defeat public ignorance and political corruption in time to save the planet?

    And a really depressing question: have things really changed that much since the mid-sixteenth century? It took the Catholic Church until 1835 to finally officially drop their censorship of Copernicus’ final book.

    Stay tuned to the next episode of RealClimate to find out (about the science, at least)!

  41. 91
    Susan Anderson says:

    When working with the public, please use the simplest words and, unlike me, keep your sentences short, straight, and to the point, with examples from real life.

    Love the “I am a bomb tracker if you see me running try to keep up”. I couldn’t get the link but found it here if anyone else is interested:

    The half black blog in captcha does make it harder to see.

  42. 92
    J Bowers says:

    @ Ron Manley

    In this graph from your website, would it be possible for you to add the traditional error margins, and perhaps change ‘IPCC 1990’ to ‘IPCC 1990 – Central England Temperature‘?

  43. 93
    Septic Matthew says:

    26, Ray Ladbury

    Good post.

    Could it be that our reliance on fossil fuels has similarly limited innovation in energy development? Might it have made us lazy by providing an easy and reliable path forward? Could it be that far from bringing prosperity to an end, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels could usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity?

    Answer to first question, No. That’s my answer anyway. or at least “not necessarily”. Alternatives have been explored for the entire 20th century, and the current solar technology is the result of decades of R&D. What differs most now is the relative inexpensiveness of current manufactured products.

    Answer to second question, No, or at least not necessarily. Again, that’s just me. It wasn’t laziness, but direction of effort in more profitable directions.

    Answer to third question, Yes, sort of. Fossil fuels have gotten more expensive and difficult to extract, and there is no good reason to think that the trends will end; everything points to higher demand and more difficult and expensive extraction. As innovative markets usually do in such a case, innovators are finding alternatives that will, eventually, supply replacement energy at lower cost. PV, wind and biofuels could expand rapidly enough that the net costs of electricity and fuel will not permanently increase above what they are now.

    To me, the most relevant policy debate is whether the development of alternatives needs to be speeded up in order to prevent global warming; the developments that Secular Animist and I regularly post about are ongoing and will almost certainly persist for decades.

  44. 94
    flxible says:

    PV, wind and biofuels could expand rapidly enough that the net costs of electricity and fuel will not permanently increase above what they are now.

    Baloney – even with the “could” modifier. With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population, the costs of electricity and motor fuel will ever increase, there is no chance the alternatives can even take up the slack as fossil fuel supplies level off and decline. Nearly 100% of your food depends on fossil fuel fertilizers to grow in the quantities needed today, even with a large portion of the world population malnourished because they can’t afford the petro-fertilizers. Nearly 100% of the transportation to market of your food and consumer goods depends on fossil fuels, there isn’t enough arable land available to produce biofuels to replace that unless you take over land currently used for food production, as the situation today with corn crops in the US.

    What “cheap” fossil fuels have done is not made humanity “lazy”, but allowed the population to increase beyond the carrying capacity of the planet – and of any possible energy supply.

    CAPTCHA knows: istherw nature,

  45. 95
    Hank Roberts says:

    > policy debate is whether … to prevent global warming

    Why do you think it’s possible to prevent global warming?
    That seems like the policy debate about pi or evolution, doesn’t it?

  46. 96
    Septic Matthew says:

    95, Hank Roberts: Why do you think it’s possible to prevent global warming?
    That seems like the policy debate about pi or evolution, doesn’t it?

    It’s possible that human created CO2 is causing global warming, and it’s possible that reducing CO2 sufficiently might prevent global warming from continuing in the future. Some modifier like “too much” future global warming should be in my sentence. If it is not possible to prevent “too much future global warming” then the public policy debate is ended. If it is not possible to prevent too much global warming then James Hansen gets arrested for nothing.

    I don’t believe it’s certain or even very likely that future global warming can be reduced or averted by dramatic reductions in anthropogenic CO2, only that it is possible. By posing your question, are you asserting that it is not possible?

    94, flxible: there isn’t enough arable land available to produce biofuels to replace that

    Hence the interest in breeding algae with higher oil production; interest in breeding salt-tolerant varieties of soybeans, camelina and miscanthus; and interest in catalyzed creation of H2 and syngas powered by electricity and by sunlight directly. 100 years ago people mocked automobiles stuck in mud and objected to federal investment in air mail. The only things we know for certain about future fuel supplies are (a) we can’t violate the laws of thermodynamics and (b) anything that we do not work on will not be developed. The word “lazy” was introduced in the prior comment by Ray Ladbury, not by me. Your answer to his question was considerably more pessimistic than my answer to his question, for what it’s worth.

    Baloney – even with the “could” modifier. With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population, the costs of electricity and motor fuel will ever increase, there is no chance the alternatives can even take up the slack as fossil fuel supplies level off and decline.

    Two decades of consistent R&D in cane ethanol in Brazil reduced the cost of ethanol to less than the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, on an energy-equivalent basis. It is possible that increased development of biofuels generally can reduce the increased fuel costs that would result from increased demand and increased extraction costs of petroleum.

  47. 97
    Ron Manley says:

    Comment by J Bowers #92.

    I take your point about the graph on the web site. Rather than modify the graph itself I have modifed the description of the graph, with a more accurate reference to the IPCC 1990 report and mention of error bands, at:

  48. 98
    Ron Manley says:

    I’m grateful for the forbearance of the moderators in allowing me to reply to comments on my web site. I have given more detailed replies at:

  49. 99

    There is resistance to change for many reasons:

    1. religious doctrine (such as what Galileo had to face when embracing Copernicanism)

    2. the effort required to alter a well-established routine (such as the need for most people to exercise, eat right, and lose weight)

    and 3. the lost revenues that certain industries would face (such as the logn-argued point that smoking causes cancer by the tobacco industry once upon a time, and the present issue of climate change being argued by industries connected to fossil fuels.

    The best chance for successful change will come with improved education of the population at large, and the provision of means to make the required change as easy as possible. Only then will we manage to overcome the hurdles we presently face.

  50. 100

    #94–I take your larger point, that growth (of various sorts) has to be seriously considered, rather than assumed to be desirable.

    However, this bit–“With ever increasing demand from an ever increasing population”–seems counterfactual, according to most demographers. To them, it appears that we have (other things being equal) about 30 more years of (decelerating) global population growth until we reach a peak of around 9 billion or so.

    Of course, many here suspect that there will be numerous ‘other things’ which do NOT remain equal, and which will cause the peak population to be lower than that–and to decline from peak more steeply than one would desire.