Kevin Kelly reviews The Deniers

Kevin Kelly reviewed The Deniers in his Cool Tools newsletter.
200902161827 About 99% of the scientists involved in climate studies, paleontology, atmospheric chemistry, and planetary ecology agree on the presence of human-caused global warming. We call that a scientific consensus. But in every science there are a few heretics who don't agree on the consensus. That 1% dissent is what powers science forward. In fact, tolerating heretics is what makes science different from religion. The dissent is usually wrong, but every once in a while if you don't kill it off, it corrects the consensus.

What should we do with the 1% who dissent about global warming? By logic, we should embrace them, but currently "deniers" of global warming have become demonized, which is a sign that global warming has become slightly religious. Which is a shame because many global warming skeptics are not crackpots or paid shills, but first-class prestigious scientists with a minority view.

Throughout its history, science usually advances from the edges. Heretics should be cherished for forcing edges to the center. The most respected scientific global warming heretics have been rounded up in this very readable book, The Deniers. Significantly, many of the eminent scientists included here don't call themselves deniers at all. They say, "I believe global warming is evidenced in all these other fields; Except in the field that I am expert in, the evidence is totally bogus." One by one the field-specific heretics make their case. And a number of them are rather persuasive. But at the moment there is no unified alternative theory of climate change, so the critique of global warming amounts to exposing holes in the current science. Any good scientific theory will have holes.

Until the heretics can change the consensus, we should proceed with the remedies that make sense no matter how climate change rolls out: getting off oil and coal, upping conservation, drastically increasing efficiency, expanding solar, wind, nuclear, and embracing cities while protecting wildlife habitat.

At the same time cherish your heretics. This is a solid, fairly evenhanded treatment of this particular heresy. It's the best volume I've seen that presents the scientific case (such as it is) for skepticism of the standard claims of anthropogenic global warming. There might be something in these skepticisms, there might not. We should fund more of these heretics. That's science at work.

Global warming heretics: The Deniers

64

  1. him say
    “We should fund more of these heretics. That’s science at work.”

    new science not always good.

  2. Sure science tolerates dissent and that’s what makes it different than some religion. But ‘science’ doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that 1% of dissent is getting a disproportionate amount of attention. It there are real stakes and 99% of the leading scientists are saying that catastrophe is immanent, then there needs to be some very serious critique of the minority position. You like to think of security theatre? This is science theatre.

  3. A post about tolerating heretics, (or a post about a book about tolerating heretics) and the first post is disemvoweled.

  4. It should be pointed out that, in this case, the heretics aren’t doing science. Every single one of their objections have been debunked. When a real scientist is shown that their argument is wrong they go back to the lab/experiment/model and test some more to come up with an improved version of their argument. The climate change deniers simply repeat their bad ideas ad nauseum. This is not science.

    For example, although he isn’t a scientist, George Will once again this weekend brought up the thoroughly debunked idea that scientists were calling for imminent global cooling in the 1970s. He’s said this several times over the years. Each time he has been corrected. Yet he keeps making the same false assertions. Why?

  5. The problem with dissent in science is that when it’s picked up by nonscientists and used politically, it can be a cudgel to “drive the edges to the center” when the edges have no validity.

    Lysenko in the Soviet Union is an excellent example: his theories were, even at the time he proposed them, fringe. But it was very politically expedient for the Communists to promote the inheritance of acquired characteristics, so they did. Mendelian and Darwinian models were driven out, and bad science overtook good for decades.

    Now, there’s some evidence showing up that in some cases, living organisms can inherit acquired traits– drug resistance is swapped between bacteria, for example. Lysenko wasn’t altogether wrong (although I don’t know if he worked on bacteria…). But decades of good science was lost because nonscientists with power decided to promote the most expedient, rather than the most correct, theory.

    Personally, I don’t have enough scientific background to analyze the conclusions of climate scientists one way or another. I do have the enough human background to judge the character of most “climate skeptics”. “The Heretics” themselves might be innocent of cynicism, but the war their supporters have waged has harmed real understanding far, far more than their unfortunate and inevitable disinvitation from the scientific community.

  6. 1. – Where does this 1% figure come from? Are we taking into account the social and financial pressures these individuals might experience? Or certainly experience?

    2.- Is an alternative theory necessary in order to render dominant theory moot? After all, a number of these “deniers” are saying that warming/cooling are in fact natural ; the alternate “theory” is that this is how climate behaves.
    Also, the case is being made that we don’t have a full enough grasp of the incredibly complex nature of climate to make the positive claim that man is causing warming. It seems to me that if this is true, hypothetically speaking, anyone who believes that will never be able to offer an alternate theory, as they don’t believe a working theory can be put to the test.
    Sounds like stacking the deck..

    3.- How big do the “holes” have to be before they can be fully taken into account? This suggestion that it’s normal for any “good” theory to have major problems is absurd.
    The onus is on those who claim the sort of warming we’ve experienced is unnatural to make a coherent case for their theory, it’s not on those who don’t believe it’s a valid proposition to prove their case.

    4.- I might agree with you that taking a number of steps you describe might be for the good, but it’s very important to pursue the hows’ and they whys’ of any such plan in an honest and “do-able” way. Such plans need to be informed by hard science.

  7. Would just about any scientific theory dream of a 99% consensus?

    There is a lot of obfuscation in Lawrence Solomon’s book.

    Solomon Defames Another “Denier”

    “The National Post’s Denier king Larry Solomon is once more inventing climate change denial where there is none – once more straining a thin thread of “science” well past the breaking point in an effort to argue that the sun, rather than CO2, is the major cause of global warming.”

    “In this, the 14th edition of his series, The Deniers, Solomon heralds the work of Dr. Sami Solanki of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Solanki turns out to be another in a long line of Solomon’s scientists who do not, in fact, deny that CO2 is the culprit for climate change.”

    “Still, even as he acknowledges Solanki’s true position in the fine print, Solomon’s headline remains: “The Heat is in the Sun. ” Solomon also argues the case for solar forcing with this: “Dr. Solanki shows an almost perfect correlation between solar cycles and air temperatures over the land masses in the Northern hemisphere, going back to the mid 19th century.””

    “Well, in addition to being almost perfect, the correlation ended with a resounding crash in 1980 as solar cycles went down and warming went up. In the meantime, we have passed more than a quarter century during which we have recorded 19 of the hottest years in recorded history.”

    “I have to say that Solomon periodically includes enough information in his articles to allow a determined reader to discern the truth. But that doesn’t seem to be his aim. Rather, his arguments are constructed to lead readers away from facts that the best climate scientists in the world find obvious and into a cloudy morass of conjecture. And when that doesn’t seem to be working well enough, Solomon is capable of just misrepresenting the truth entirely.”

  8. Setting aside for the moment the hilarious statement “About 99% of the scientists involved in climate studies, paleontology, atmospheric chemistry, and planetary ecology agree on the presence of human-caused global warming,” I’d just like to ask…

    Did anyone else read the title as if it were a French surname?

  9. So this is a tricky point, and one that scientists don’t necessarily have a good answer for: On the one hand, in science as in all human endeavors, consensus is not the same thing as being right. On the other hand, there is some true answer about the human connection to global warming, and scientific consensus based on years of study should converge on that truth. On the gripping hand, our understanding of the connection between human activity and global warming has real consequences for policy right now – and the precautionary principle dictates that we error on the side of over- rather than under-reacting.

    Which is to say, sooner or later you have to take a vote.

  10. Sometimes the heretics can be dangerous if they’re given too much respect. Take the “experts” who contend that HIV is not the cause of AIDS- the death toll attributable to those nuts is probably in the millions by now.

  11. minority viewpoints need to be considered, but “the deniers” in the climate debate keep bringing up the same tired arguments over and over and those views and lines of evidence have been considered over and over and in the end none of them have undermined the “consensus” soooo at some point we should be entitled to dismiss the deniers as apologists. They are not contributing the debate only helping maintain the status quo ante for a short while longer …

  12. Dougo- You believe %1 represents the “status quo”, or am I misunderstanding you?

    -What about the erroneous computer modeling based on the “hocky stick” graph?

    -What about the evidence that suggests rises in carbon follow rises in temperature, not the other way round?

    -What about the relationship between solar activity and climate? ( no one believes it’s the only factor.)

    -What about the political motives of those in the forefront of the Global Warming campaign? Should we not take this into account?
    If not, it’s not fair to mention any perceived connection between “deniers” and any other interests.

    – Yes, for the record, a number of scientists did claim in the 70s’ that we were headed for the next ice-age. The Club of Rome promoted the idea, just as Al Gore, a Club of Rome member, promotes the Warming agenda, as does Richard Hass, current head of the CFR, also a former member.

    “”In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill…”[1] The First Global Revolution, Club of Rome, (David Rockefeller, Gorbachev, etc.) .”

    “”…we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination…. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts…. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”[2] Stanford Professor Stephen Schneider”

  13. If I ran an oil company I would DEFINITELY fund scientists who were global warming skeptics and publicize their results with the rationalization that science is an open discipline and must listen to dissenters. You have to be fair and balanced, you’re scientists!

  14. “We should fund more of these heretics.”

    How many times? With how much funding? It’s a nobel idea, but as science and research monies continue to wither, shouldn’t we tend to favor the majority who usually get it right, rather than the extreme minority who usually don’t? Especially in an area where if they are wrong and we do nothing we kill the planet, but if they are right and we act as if they were wrong there is no known negative effect?

    Dissent in science has a role, as long as it good science. Most anti-climate change “scientists” don’t seem to fit this model — just like the scientists who argue for creationism.

  15. As much as Michael Crichton pissed me off about any number of things, I did become a convert to his pointing out that science isn’t about consensus, it’s about facts.

  16. Where does this 1% figure come from? Are we taking into account the social and financial pressures these individuals might experience? Or certainly experience?

    There are political, financial and social pressures on both sides of the debate. It would be very impossible to work out exactly how many scientists are pressured into whatever view. However even if the number was 80% vs. 20% that’s still pretty solid consensus.

    Is an alternative theory necessary in order to render dominant theory moot?

    Yes. That is the very nature of scientific evidence.

    After all, a number of these “deniers” are saying that warming/cooling are in fact natural ; the alternate “theory” is that this is how climate behaves.

    No need for the quotation marks your use of the word theory is entirely in the correct context without them.

    Also, the case is being made that we don’t have a full enough grasp of the incredibly complex nature of climate to make the positive claim that man is causing warming.

    Science can’t ever make a positive claim. Science can never be proven, only disproven.

    How big do the “holes” have to be before they can be fully taken into account? This suggestion that it’s normal for any “good” theory to have major problems is absurd.

    I actually agree with the above. It’s not a good scientific theory if it has major problems. However all new science is going to take time to work out ‘some holes’ in the theories.

    The onus is on those who claim the sort of warming we’ve experienced is unnatural to make a coherent case for their theory, it’s not on those who don’t believe it’s a valid proposition to prove their case.

    The coherent case has been made. Over and over again. If anyone wants to argue the case the onus is on them. Again science can never be proven, only disproven.

    I might agree with you that taking a number of steps you describe might be for the good, but it’s very important to pursue the hows’ and they whys’ of any such plan in an honest and “do-able” way. Such plans need to be informed by hard science.

    The “why’s” have been demonstrated over and over again. However I certainly agree the “hows” need to be explored more. Meanwhile, we should start looking at some of the many possibly less profitable but already proven methods of reducing our reliance on gas, coal, oil and anything else that releases large amounts of CO2 and start implementing them.

  17. Dasbub @ 11 – “Did anyone else read the title as if it were a French surname?”

    i read it as a thread count for stockings….

  18. In theory, the idea of supporting the dissenters is good — it is where some progress comes from and science would be worse without it. The problem comes that the general public is so unaware of how science works, what it does and what it means. The popularization of the fringe implies, incorrectly, but still in the eyes of many, that we don’t really know what is going on.

    There are more important scientific questions than those surrounding global warming but none of more pressing societal importance. Following normal scientific process on this issue is dangerous and harmful.

  19. “Throughout its history, science usually advances from the edges.”

    I submit that this is a factually incorrect statement.

    For every Pasteur, there are a hundred, a thousand scientists who expand their discipline from within that discipline. Mathematicians advance mathematics, astronomers advance astronomy, biologists advance biology, and so on.

    The last significant theory that didn’t gain acceptance from wihtin its community I can think of was plate tectonics. Does anyone have a more recent, similarly significant example?

    This appears to be yet another fake science book, this time claiming that climate deniers should be embraced because ignoring all evidence, faking evidence, denying the applicability of, say, basic physics, all makes you somehow ‘part of the system’.

    This book represents yet another attempt by the deniers to give themselves credibility. Reminds me of that so-called statement by “50 climate scientists” where the list contained not a single climatologist.

    Still, at least the title was accurate. They are called deniers because they deny reality – a stupid yet convenient position for many to take.

  20. Itsumushi-
    – Obviously many people are not satisfied with the “demonstrations” ( what demonstrations are you referring to, for the record?) .
    And maybe I wasn’t clear, but the “hows” and “whys” I was referring to were to do with the actual policies we might enforce in order to move towards cleaner energy and so forth. There are huge differences in a policy that would have us move away from coal because it’s dirty and a policy that would have us never use coal again cause we’ll all drown if we do.

    Secondly, you’re not recognizing the disparity , or schism, if you like, between the way the scientific method must operate and the way we respond to it. Stating that we must act on theories that cannot be proven because we can’t disprove them just isn’t going to work politically. It isn’t rational. Or , it is as rational as acting on a belief that a theory is incorrect because it can’t be absolutely proven.

    The doubts are real and legitimate. The political nature of the IPCC report renders it all but pseudo-science in practical terms.

    Further, I’d just like to ask all of you to consider what the likely ramifications would be for scientists in any number of related fields to come out against the anthropogenic global warming theory. We cannot get a believable figure in the current climate ( no pun).

    Anybody heard Phillip Stott speak on “global warming”?

  21. I find the idea of giving disproportionate research funding to the 1%, purely on the basis that they are maverick outliers, to be particularly stupid.

    Would you vote for a politician simply because they hold extreme views? If so, the LaRouche PAC wants to sell you some pamphlets.

    The word “heretics” is a pretty dumb label, too. This whole maverick-fetish is pretty shallow; it’s absurdly easy to pull the wool over the eyes of someone who’s uncritically infatuated by “mavericks”, as the Republicans (almost) showed last November.

  22. Global Warming advocates include a lot of really nasty cult like people and influences. It is really pretty ugly.

    The recent events on Boing boing are a case in point. All the nice tolerant boingers were respectful of someone with a different view, oh, wait, that didn’t happen, no, the boingers beat the crap out of someone with whom they had minor differences in doctrine.

    Although I am not a climate scientist I do believe in global warming, but many of the global warming supporters are at best annoying and at worse they are frankly dangerous.

    They are not smart enough to treat people who disagree with them the way that they do.

  23. I may get disemvowelled for this; so be it; but in defense of #1, I would like to point out that Charles Platt has, in fact, written a lengthy comment on this post at Kevin’s blog (currently at #35).

  24. OK, to correct my post @23: Kevin says he’s not advocating that the 1% of outliers should get >1% of funding; he says they should get exactly 1% of funding.

    IMO this is all somewhat of a distraction. Funding decisions should be (and mostly are) made by considering the merit of the proposed research, not on whether the work is controversial or orthodox.

  25. Obviously many people are not satisfied with the “demonstrations” ( what demonstrations are you referring to, for the record?)

    I’m not going to try and argue the science behind the end results because I don’t know enough about it (and unless you’re a climate change scientist you don’t either). But I’m referring to the “why’s” I’m referring to are:

    * Rising sea levels, eliminating current coastlines
    * Extreme weather patterns becoming more and more frequent. (Read some of Australia’s recent weather issues, massive floods in 2 states, massive bushfires wiping out entire towns in my state, if this is a sign of what’s to come I really don’t like it!)
    * Massive amounts of refugees as a result of huge amounts of currently populated land becoming uninhabitable for above reasons.
    * etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

    Stating that we must act on theories that cannot be proven because we can’t disprove them just isn’t going to work politically. It isn’t rational. Or , it is as rational as acting on a belief that a theory is incorrect because it can’t be absolutely proven.

    Of course it is rational.

    Someone put it better than I could the other day. I can’t recall exactly what they said but it basically was along these lines.

    If someone is in an office and they’re fairly certain (we’ll say 80% certain) that their house is filling up with poisonous gas what should their course of action be?

    A – Stay inside and continue working for their $$ until they’re utterly certain that yes indeed their house is filling with poisonous gas and probably die.

    B – Get the hell out of there and assess the evidence properly before going back inside? (whilst losing some profit).

    So when it comes to action on climate change. We can

    A – Keep doing what we’re doing to make $$ until we possibly run into what could be the worlds worst disaster in human history.

    B – Start reducing our reliance on CO2 emitting technologies. Possibly reducing profits and entering a financial depression.

    Personally I believe that we can achieve a greener and more profitable society if we start implementing things correctly.

  26. If science were super effing duper at finding either causes or solutions to problems of widespread global concern, than shouldn’t 20-30 years and trillions of dollars of investment have generated a cure for AIDS? The unsavory truth is that if an operating paradigm – whether in the field of immunology or climatology – is WRONG, the careers of countless scientists educated and thusly invested in these specialities are jeopardized. In science, EVERYBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition. The scientific method and peer review ain’t so good at handling paradigm shifts. (lotsa books about this). I’m not saying that theories about human causes of global warming are right or wrong. I’m just saying that the slightly rotund *person* has not sung. In fact, eff it completely, what I am saying is that biological research investment in environmental topics is a straw dog that happily masks the unknown pneumonia that silently killed your grandmother. Why doesn’t anybody care about the structure of science in biological research while the it becomes a primary concern in the really nebulous crap about the environment? I think that you all should go visit a nursing home and talk to a few doctors and then see how you feel about flipper being short a few plankton. Of course, having read this site for a while and basked in the glory of the post-humanistic Kurzweilian doctrine, I have absolutely no expectations of a realistic perspective from this crew. In fact, eff it BoingBoing, I think you all are making me Republican.

  27. I don’t feel qualified to enter this debate, I haven’t studied theology.

    But since a number of people have commented that they don’t feel qualified to comment on the science and then gone on to comment anyway, I wont let that stop me.

    First we need to clean up our act. From a risk/benefit perspective the equation is simple: it will cost less to clean up our act should the theory be wrong then it will cost to do nothing and the theory is right. The theory is compelling enough to support acting now.

    Secondly, we don’t know enough. We need to look at the problem from all angles. People saying, “but Antartica is getting cooler” was the diver for additional study that showed only parts are getting cooler – the rest is warming up. If you suppress the dissent you may miss that critical line of investigation that ends up making it possible for us to stabilise or reverse the trend.

    In science questions are a good thing. Leave the inquisitions to religion.

  28. Who is this book for? The subtitle “The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud” doesn’t really indicate that one might expect a balanced consideration of the issues.

    I can’t imagine anyone reading it who isn’t merely looking to bolster their preformed views.

  29. To rephrase allennoble’s risk/benefit comment above, as my high school physics teacher memorably put it:

    we may not be 100% sure that pumping CO2 into the atmosphere disastrously harms the environment,

    but is pumping more CO2 until we are completely sure REALLY AN EXPERIMENT WE WANT TO DO?

  30. LOL…two hundred years from now the descendants of oil co. owners/execs and the deniers will be hunted down for justice/revenge, as the earth starts to stop being hospitable to human life.
    We only adapted oil for big-time use in the early 1900s because the military bully-boys wanted to enhance their power, anyway. All the rest of oil’s use is just by accident, or to switch our sytems to oil to further justify the military’s decision: like Eisenhower as Army officer recommending a national highway system in the 30s…or car/tank cos. “recommending”/engineering the dismantling of streetcar systems.
    The oil-based economy…may not be survivable…due to a lack of insight into atmospheric chemistry, in the decades 1860-1980.
    That the oil and the (associated) military guys are the richest and most powerful on the planet, does not bode well for the ease of our switching off fossil fuels.

  31. @35- At one time, whalers were the richest and most powerful people in New England.

    Look at it this way– the power comes solely because of their ability to deliver a product. Once they can’t do that…pffft.

    And, of course, things _are_ survivable. For some. Hell, the human species has been through ice ages, mega-volcano eruptions, warming periods, drying periods, flooding periods, desertification, etc, etc, etc. The species will be fine. Individual cultures and societies on the other hand…

  32. Good god, not this again.

    What should we do with the 1% who dissent about global warming? By logic, we should embrace them

    We should not embrace them. What we *should* do is listen to them and evaluate the evidence they put forward. Only, in that “we,” I don’t include myself, because I’m not a climate scientist and thus can’t adequately evaluate climate research. In fact, I can’t even stay awake through a climate science article.

    I am, on the other hand, an academic scientist in a different field, and what I can add to this conversation is the observation that most of what I read in these arguments has little to do with the practice of science and much to do with tribalism among non-scientists.

    Why, for instance, do so many people feel that a list of talking points they pull off a website gives them ammunition to contest climate change on a scientific basis? It’s not because of a character flaw; it’s out of an ignorance of what actual scientific debate and consensus-reaching really look like.

    For the same reason, I constantly hear the motives of climate scientists described in terms of dogma or political agendas – because these discussions are generally happening in the context of politics and tribal identification.

    Actual peer-reviewed, original data reports that go against the consensus of one’s area of specialization can sometimes be more difficult to publish, but by no means impossible. I’ve done it myself. And if the evidence is strong, it can make your career. If scientists become guilty of becoming dogmatic, it’s usually about the one, specific niche they carved out and built their career on, but this is always going to be more specific than the bigger political questions on which people pick sides. The long-suffering heretic who can’t get his work published because, and only because, of his field’s cant, just doesn’t exist. His view may not become mainstream, but his voice can be heard if the data is worth a damn.

  33. Cicada, some things are not survivable….and the possible end-point of a runaway greenhouse – which is a possibility – would not be.

  34. @38 That’d pretty much put the earth back where it was during its warmest periods. Which admittedly means that any survivors would be enjoying the balmy savannahs near the poles, but survival it is.

  35. As I’ve said before when these topics came up – please have a read of http://climateaudit.org/

    It is all about the science and statistics of climate change – particularly of the paleo-climate reconstructions used in the hockey-stick graph and similar “hottest since xxx” pronouncements (e.g. recent warming Antarctica study etc).

    They largely find that the basic data collection behind the analysis has many flaws, and the statistical analysis is equally flawed. So the only conclusion they can come to is that we just don’t know.

    This is not a polemic “skeptics” blog, but it can seems so sometimes because the science behind much of the pronouncements has so many problems.

    And if you want to check up on them, they generally post all code and data used in their analysis of the problem for you to download and run yourself.

    This is the sort of skeptical science that needs to be funded – not more “yes men” on one side, or “heretics” on the other.

  36. A perfect example of what science historian Robert Proctor calls agnosis. The spreading of ignorance by the introduction of endless amounts of doubt.

    The global warming deniers are exactly on the same page as those who once denied smoking causes cancer. They are in exactly the same camp as the Creationists. All they can do is point holes in someone else’s theory, while offering no cogent theory of their own.

    Pointless to suggest this, but those of you (for example) who argue that the sun is the cause of warming should read the research summarized in the latest Sky and Telescope. Actual bits of data from actual scientific instruments. But the deniers will go so far as to deny even this non-political data, claiming that somehow the telescopes that took it are part of some liberal plot. It reminds me of the Church suggesting Galileo’s telescope was an instrument of the devil. This is the level of their “science.”

    We are indeed now living in a post-fact society.

  37. “”We should fund more of these heretics.”

    Yers, because the big problem with the climate change debate is that the denialists don’t have any powerful, wealthy industries on their side.

  38. All they can do is point holes in someone else’s theory, while offering no cogent theory of their own.

    I don’t understand why you need a better theory in order to disprove an existing one. A murder suspect doesn’t need to prove who did it, they just need to prove it couldn’t have been them. Similarly, the skeptics don’t need a better theory – simply pointing out (scientifically) where the current theory doesn’t hold water is fine.

    Actual bits of data from actual scientific instruments.

    And those scientific instruments were present and operational during the previous ice-ages, the MWP, the holocene climate optimum etc so that we can compare with now? But yeah, I would be interested to read that – do you have a link to the article online?

    It reminds me of the Church suggesting Galileo’s telescope was an instrument of the devil. This is the level of their “science.”

    So here’s one for you – have you read Climate Audit, or the published, peer-reviewed papers by McIntyre and McKitrick, etc.? Or do you not need to do that because the science is settled?

    Do you agree that the state of the weather stations used to collect the base-line data doesn’t matter, even though there is some evidence of increasing UHI effects, significant evidence of bad sitting of a large number of stations, and a significant drop-out in the number of stations, particularly rural ones?

    Do you agree that continuing to use paleo-climate proxies that the NAS has recommended against is perfectly acceptable, even though we can prove mathematically that these flawed proxies contribute a significant portion of the hockey-stick shape?

    Do you agree that the modern divergence problem with tree-ring widths doesn’t matter? You know, the problem where we have actual bits of data from actual scientific instruments, but these values diverge from what we would expect if the hockey-stick proxy analyses are correct. The explanation?

    In the absence of a substantiated explanation for the decline, we make the assumption that it is likely to be a response to some kind of recent anthropogenic forcing. On the basis of this assumption, the pre-twentieth century part of the reconstructions can be considered to be free from similar events and thus accurately represent past temperature variability.

    Translation: using tree ring widths we “proved” it must be man causing this heating. However, the current tree ring widths don’t match that analysis. As we have already “proved” that man caused the heating, lets just say that man caused the tree ring widths to change too (as we couldn’t possibly admit step 1 might have been flawed).

    This is the level of their “science”

    I certainly agree, but I think we may differ on who we are pointing at…

  39. Most of this discussion, and most of the sites linked to in this discussion are not about science at all. They are about people promoting ideology.

    Here’s the difference. Scientists proceed by analyzing all the available data, weighing it up, investigating its validity, and evaluating which theory best explains the evidence. It is a community endeavour, with checks and balances such as the peer review process. It is also self-correcting (although sometimes it takes a long time to discover mistakes).

    Ideology starts with a belief, and then selects just that evidence that reinforces the belief. So in discussions such as this one, posters who throw in a “Yeah, but what about X”, are most likely to be arguing ideology rather than science. They cherry-pick bits of evidence to reinforce an argument, rather than weighing up all the evidence.

    Unlike most posters, I believe I am qualified to judge the science of climate change. Although climatology is not my main field, I’ve spend the last few years working alongside climatologists. I’ve visited some of the leading international climatology research labs. I’ve actually read the IPCC reports (and am most bemused by posters such as #21, who clearly has not read them).

    I’ve yet to meet a climate scientist who isn’t genuinely scared by what they know. These people are very smart, and most of them are typical physics PhD types – socially awkward geeky types, with relatively poor communication skills. And they despair at the nonsense written in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere about climate science, and especially the supposed “science” coming from the so-called “deniers”. The deniers don’t do science. There is not one peer-reviewed publication in the field that sheds any doubt whatsoever on the theory of anthropogenic global warming. As Piminnowcheez points out, if these deniers were doing good science, they would be able to publish it. They don’t. They send it to the media. They are most definitely not scientists.

    And as for the science itself, it truly is scary. The problem is so big, and so complex, that even very educated people fail to understand it. Much of it is counter-intuitive, which makes the spread of ignorance described by Slicklines so much easier. (see here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/f367413412565006/ for an academic study that demonstrated that even MIT students don’t understand the basic physics involved). As Sterman points out in some of his papers, the mental models that most people have of how carbon emissions work violate the laws of conservation of mass.

    The point is that, if you take time to understand the science, you’ll start to realize that nearly all suggested policy prescriptions for dealing with climate change, even the most aggressive, fall well short of the mark needed to avoid dramatic, accelerating warming over the next 100 years. The challenge of de-carbonizing the entire world economy within the next two decades is one of the greatest challenges ever faced by humanity. We can’t do it while we waste time arguing ideological positions, while failing to understand the science.

  40. Making this discussion about the human contribution to CO2 is a win for the deniers. In my (industrial) neighbourhood, the combination of vaporized soybean oil and rubber and metal flakes that deposit *everywhere* contribute more directly to the ill-health of the local people.

    The maxim should always be: maximize benefit, AND minimize harm. Exclusionary arguments always serve one perspective at the expense of the other, which ultimately does not help.

  41. nonsense, Uland, he’s explaining why some refuse to face the music.
    Time to start shutting down your personal internal-combustion engines.

  42. Example:
    A:”God does not exist.”
    B: “A, stop making religious statements.”

    A: “2+2=4, those who say otherwise are wrong.”
    B: “No they don’t. Stop being so ideological.”

  43. On second thought, Uland, maybe you are correct.
    Perhaps ideologies which believe in the primacy of truth (like rationalism, like “Enlightenment” values, like empiricism, and like science) are not to your taste.
    Personally I am tired (and bored) with all of these religious or other believers (hi, free-market dogmatists! you Commies, too! and you racists ands bigots!), trying to drag everyone down to their level of “gut-feeling” moral “science”….

  44. thank you, Greebo. An excellent post.

    I have to admit, I am a natural-born skeptic of anything that tells me the sky is falling. It just rubs me the wrong way, yknow? I am very interested in any published work that looks into the holes and interpretation of the data we have on climate change, but I have to say, even as a skeptic, these Deniers aren’t very scientific. The book’s language betrays them.

    As a scientist, the last thing you want on the cover of your work is something as zealous and explosive as “The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud**And those who are too fearful to do so”!
    haha! You may as well write something like “The aliens told us so” or “As seen on FOX news”. No cred, man.

  45. @Uland: not necessarily. Depends on whether metaphysics is itself a science. How about this: if the conclusion that a particular view is ideological is the best explanation (theory) of all the available evidence, then it is a scientific conclusion. Provided of course that we’re open to the idea that new evidence might come along that could contradict this theory. Every so often, I go and dig around in some of the various websites discussing climate change, in the hope that I will find evidence of science being done. In particular, I would love to find evidence that the theory of AGW is not true. I’ve still not found any evidence of actual science on any of these site, although realclimate.org deserves an honorable mention for at least trying. (@Farrango: don’t confuse data and charts for actual science – the key question is how you engage with the data).

    There is a lot of ideology on all sides in public discussion of climate change. If people took the effort to actually understand the science, we would be having very different discussions right now. Unfortunately for the human race, we’re not. Unfortunately, we’re only human.

  46. Another thing that advances science: times of extreme stress (like wars for example). Trying to find ways of dealing with global warming may be more beneficial to advancing technology and understanding climate than simply saying “it’s not true, don’t bother with it.” Even failed experiments are supposed to teach us something.

    It seems to me the bottom line of their argument is “we shouldn’t clean the air or use our resources more wisely.” If they instead agree that we should clean up the air and be more frugal with our resources, well. . .what are we arguing about then? Politics? Egos? Money? Those are things we are always going to argue about anyway, global warming or not.

  47. I wish people would quit tossing nuclear into the “alternative” energy mix along with solar wind. As if they were even comparable in terms of environmental impact. they are not!

    Are we doing this as an emollient for wounded Republicans or something? I should stop worrying and learn to love radioactive waste, eh?

    Let me use this analogy: recent medical developments have produced a pill within which one could fit a lethal dose of arsenic, which is proven to pass through the system harmlessly 99% of the time. You’re saying, let me go get a beverage to go with that. I’m saying, f*** off, do not want under ANY circumstances, even if will also turn my poop into rainbows that smell like apple pie (that would be the electricity benefit part of the analogy).

    OK, switching out of cranky mode.

  48. I don’t understand why you need a better theory in order to disprove an existing one. A murder suspect doesn’t need to prove who did it, they just need to prove it couldn’t have been them. Similarly, the skeptics don’t need a better theory – simply pointing out (scientifically) where the current theory doesn’t hold water is fine.

    No one is arguing that the world is getting hotter (or at least no scientists with any credibility at all). This means the argument lies on why it is getting hotter. So any argument that consists of pointing out holes in a theory without offering any alternative holds no weight whatsoever.

    And really science isn’t law. It’s not a matter of ‘reasonable doubt’ it’s a matter of providing a better explanation of why something is as it is.

  49. Reading this I just can’t help to think back to the late 80s AIDS/HIV 1% dissent and wonder how many people died because it was just so much ***easier*** to believe them. And fast forward to today, and the same thing applies. It’s just so much easier to believe that we can keep going the way things always have been. How many people will die this time around?

  50. #46, farrago:

    Translation: using tree ring widths we “proved” it must be man causing this heating. However, the current tree ring widths don’t match that analysis. As we have already “proved” that man caused the heating, lets just say that man caused the tree ring widths to change too

    This is incorrect. The tree ring widths say nothing about whether it is ‘man causing this heating’; they just indicate that it’s likely that the climate is warmer now than in the past (in agreement with other proxies).

    As I understand it, tree ring widths show good correlation with temperature where records exist, until about 1960, where they start to diverge.

    This correlation has been extrapolated backwards to model temperature in the past, and results broadly agree with other proxies.

    If the post-1960 divergence is caused by man, then this approach is perfectly valid. If not, then the models will have to be adjusted.

    This problem is not being ignored by ‘orthodox’ climate scientists; in fact the very same workers criticised by McIntyre have published on it recently.

    There’s a good bibliography here regarding dendrochronology and climate change.

    Incidentally, none of your links to climateaudit actually work. Possibly something to do with BB adding rel=”nofollow” to every link?

  51. Possibly something to do with BB adding rel=”nofollow” to every link?

    Go to top of page, see moderation policy for explanation.

  52. #60, mdh:

    Not sure what you mean by that. I have no problem with “nofollow”, I just wondered why the link’s not working.

    Farrago’s link seems perfectly formed, but gives an Error 403 when connecting to climateaudit.

    Trying an identical link (including the “nofollow”) on a webpage of my own works as expected.

    Maybe climateaudit just rejects all traffic referred by BoingBoing? Seems rather petty.

  53. Dear Kevin:

    I don’t mean to comment anonymously; the link to create a Boing Boing account didn’t work. I’m Kevin Crean; I live just up the road.

    I can’t decide what your precise, non-biased position might be with respect to these dissenters. On the one hand, you rightly point out the crucial role that dissent can play in the development of science. On the other hand, the tone of the article (“such as it is”) definitely falls within the “damning by faint praise” category. You signal that while the deniers might not be nuts, they certainly find themselves in the fringe, both numerically and substantively. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have pointed out the need to take policy actions based on the real truth, i.e., prudent deference to the current-majority models.

    I think you’ll be surprised to discover that you’ve made a fundamental error in your analysis. You implicitly contend that climate models have become so developed that they can only be displaced by a validated alternative, and that such an alternative hasn’t been proposed by the 1% (the fringe). This mis-states the science profoundly. We’re not in the hypothesis testing stage yet. We’re in the abduction stage, prior to the formulation of an hypothesis.

    Sound bold? Two or three peer-reviewed papers should do the trick. First, review J. Scott Armstrong and Kesten Green’s work on how the IPCC just refused to abide by peer-reviewed rules regarding how forecasting should be conducted:

    http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/4361/1/MPRA_paper_4361.pdf

    Second, review Spencer’s work on the very simple direction-of-causation problem (there’s a link to the paper contained in the really simple, profoundly insightful post):

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2009/05/a-layman’s-explanation-of-why-global-warming-predictions-by-climate-models-are-wrong/

    Third, look at Armstrong’s work on how to integrate specified causal forces in a forecast (e.g., I’m thinking cloud cover causing temperature rise): http://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/ideas/pdf/armstrong2/causal.pdf

    Lastly, look at Tetlock’s or Armstrong’s or Green’s work on expertise as it relates to forecasting. (a bunch of papers, easily available on Armstrong’s website or Green’s). Experts? Not that helpful? Say it ain’t so! Eye opening.

    The upshot is: we’re only now beginning to propose methodologically serious hypotheses that can be tested by appropriate data, such as that coming out of more accurate satellites, such as MODIS. Consequently, it is the burden of the proposer (not the dissenter, as you suggest) both to hew to the observed facts when constructing a climate model and to describe an experiment that would falsify the hypothesis. That’s textbook science and textbook philosophy-of-science.

    Tell me, where is the climate model that incorporates MODIS data and a negative feedback loop, while conforming itself to evidence-based, peer reviewed forecasting rules? Oh? There isn’t one? QED. We’re not talking, then, about a mature field of study. We’re just emerging from the wild-ass-guess phase. And in that phase, despite all of the pretty models, and all the scary films, no one holds a privileged place–yet– when it comes to proposals as to the underlying mechanisms of causation. Therefore, there is no fringe.

    Because we don’t have the foggiest (perhaps a bit of a pun intended) notion of what’s going on with the fundamental, underlying cloud feedback mechanisms, these “1%” folks should be judged by the integrity with which they cobble together the questions (and eventually, the hypotheses), not how many of them there are.

    You’ve jumped the gun and, perhaps unwittingly, subtly maligned them in the foregoing review. The tone is entirely that their little research efforts are unlikely to bear fruit, but that we should tolerate them, while we go about taking action based upon the big science that the more numerous and credible folks have put forth. Would you have reviewed Galileo’s work similarly? Just checking.

    Armstrong issued a challenge to Al Gore. Money on the barrel-head: predict the average temperature 15 years out [I probably have the time period wrong, but it was something like that]; winner takes all. Gore’s office replied that he didn’t want to be so unseemly as to gamble money publicly. So Armstrong re-issued the challenge: just do it for bragging rights. No dice. Gore’s office said he was too busy to respond. (!) Then Armstrong sent him a letter, wherein Gore would simply have to check a box–he didn’t even have to sign the letter–to accept the gentlemen’s bet. Gore wouldn’t do it.

    What’s going on is well known in the scientific community–heck, it was well known in the late 1800’s when T.C. Chamberlin first did his seminal work on the scientific method: these theories become our children, and eventually, not only is it difficult to see their faults, we actively avoid trying. That’s the real lesson to the chord that this book has struck, and the unfortunate social reality that, I believe, caused you to theoretically agree with the value of dissent, while in substance doing the exact opposite.

    I think that you’d do a real service to the Long Now community if you were to weigh in on the merits, given the above-referenced articles. Given the sometimes harsh social treatment that is meted out to many of these folks, they need your actual public support now, not just some kind of Jim Crow tolerance.

    They’ve taken a risk to advance science. Where do you stand on the SERIOUSNESS of their claims and criticisms? Given the devastating, un-refuted insights of Armstrong and Green, and the recent, unbelievably important issue of causation clarified by Spencer, you can’t just stick a paragraph in your review that says, in effect, “Of course, we’ll be most wise to just carry on with actions defending against global warming, even if these cost billions of dollars, because those actions accord with our assumed conclusions.” That’s like saying that we have to continue to accept the majority-peasants’ opinion that the sun revolves around the earth because at large gatherings, only 1% of the so-called “deniers” have raised serious concerns that “poke holes” in the prevailing theory.

    What the dissenting scientists have said is clear and devastating: given our understanding of both causal forces and the rules of forecasting, we CANNOT, at this point, make accurate climate change forecasts. Period. Given the asymmetry of scientific claims (i.e., burden on the proposer to outline a situation in which the claim could be falsified; and then to run the replicable experiment), this means that the entire global warming crowd has proved nothing. We’re simply facing uncertainty. The climate might change; it might not change. Average temperatures might rise; they might fall. Are you seriously asserting that a) one can draw policy advice from that state of affairs? and b) that the strongest lesson you can draw from Solomon’s book is that we might want to fund some of these outliers on the off chance that something useful turns up?

    The scientists in Solomon’s book sketched a broad, strong claim that the Emperor of Climate Change has no clothes. That’s not a claim to be belittled or taken lightly. And it has policy implications for those of us willing to be rational. I might create a computer model that has little basis in fact, but that predicts a scenario in which the sun explodes. Shall we then begin to devote billions of dollars to prevent the catastrophe I’ve assumed?

    Moreover, one has to grapple with the social dynamics, and consequences, of this debate and see climate change for the stalking horse that it is. You’ve supported the marginalization of the dissenters. How does that feel? Responsible?

    Give me a fact-based, forecast-rule respecting, direction-of-causation respecting model that can be tested, or go home.

    Why? Because there’s a difference between science and religion and we shouldn’t be shy about noting it.

  54. Given the strong current scientific consensus it is unwise to spend limited research funds on climate change deniers. They already get funding from oil companies and other huge industries who have billions at stake in preventing climate mitigation.

    Massive research funds should instead be directed towards the heretics in fields researching different mitigation policies and alternatives. Large reduction in meat and milk production/consumption is a good example. Many people feel hesitant about that and politicians are afraid to touch the issue. Yet that industry is the single largest climate change contributor. Mitigation has little individual cost (only some lifestyle changes, no signification economic costs) and likely macroeconomic benefits (meat is linked to great waste of energy, water, land and to higher health care costs). So, start funding “heretic” social and political scientists on the most effective ways to make the switch from meat happen.

Comments are closed.