What scientific ideas are ready for retirement?

by Judith Curry

So, what scientific idea do YOU think is ready for retirement?

Please take a moment and think of an answer before reading the rest of this post –  I read the article before answering this question, and now I don’t know how I would have answered it.

The 2014 Edge Annual Question (EAQ) is:

Science advances by discovering new things and developing new ideas. Few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first. As theoretical physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) noted, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” In other words, science advances by a series of funerals. Why wait that long?


Ideas change, and the times we live in change. Perhaps the biggest change today is the rate of change. What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?  

Edge received 175 responses, most of which are provocative or at least interesting,  from some very interesting and even brilliant individuals. As I understand it, these individuals were invited to submit an article.

The responses can be found here [link]. I’ve selected ~20 response for brief excerpts, related to topics that have been discussed at Climate Etc.

Fiery Cushman – Big effects have big explanations

Many scientists are seduced by a two-step path to success: First identify a big effect and then find the explanation for it. Although not often discussed, there is an implicit theory behind this approach. The theory is that big effects have big explanations. This is critical because scientists are interested in the explanations, not in the effects—Newton is famous not for showing that apples fall, but for explaining why. So, if the implicit theory is wrong, then a lot of people are barking up the wrong trees.

There is, of course, an alternative and very plausible source of big effects: Many small explanations interacting. As it happens, this alternative is worse than the wrong tree—it’s a near-hopeless tree. The wrong tree would simply yield a disappointingly small explanation. But the hopeless tree has so many explanations tangled in knotted branches that extraordinary effort is required to obtain any fruit at all.

Laurie Santos – Knowing is half the battle

While there may be some domains where knowing is half the battle, there are many more where it is not. Recent work in cognitive science has demonstrated that knowing is a shockingly tiny portion of the battle for most real world decisions.

Jay Rosen – Information ‘overload’

Filter failure occurs not from too much information but from too much incoming “stuff” that neither reduces existing uncertainty nor raises questions that count for us. The likely answer is to combine the three types of filtering: smart people who do it for us, smart crowds and their choices, smart systems that learn by interacting with us as individuals. It’s at this point that someone usually shouts out: what about serendipity? It’s a fair point. We need filters that listen to our demands, but also let through what we have no way to demand because we don’t know about it yet. Filters fail when they know us too well and when they don’t know us well enough.

Paul Saffo – The illusion of scientific progress

The science establishment justifies its existence with the big idea that it offers answers and ultimately solutions. But privately, every scientist knows that what science really does is discover the profundity of our ignorance. The growing sphere of scientific knowledge is not Pope’s night-dispelling light, but a campfire glow in the gloom of vast mystery. Touting discoveries helps secure finding and gain tenure, put perhaps the time has come to retire discovery as the ultimate measure of scientific progress. Let us measure progress not by what is discovered, but rather by the growing list of mysteries that remind us of how little we really know.

Brian Christian – Scientific knowledge should be structured as ‘literature’

In my view, what’s most outmoded within science, most badly in need of retirement, is the way we structure and organize scientific knowledge itself. Academic literature, even as it moves online, is a relic of the era of typesetting, modeled on static, irrevocable, toothpaste-out-of-the-tube publication. Just as the software industry has moved from a “waterfall” process to an “agile” process—from monolithic releases shipped from warehouses of mass-produced disks to over-the-air differential updates—so must academic publishing move from its current read-only model and embrace a process as dynamic, up-to-date, and collaborative as science itself.

The scientific literature, taken as content, is stronger than it’s ever been—as, of course, it should be. As a form, the scientific literature has never been more inadequate or inept. What is in most dire need of revision is revision itself.

Kate Mills – Only ‘scientists’ can do science

If most funded and published scientific research is conducted by a sample of individuals that have been trained to be successful in academia, then we are potentially biasing scientific questions and interpretations. Individuals who might not fit into an academic mould, but nevertheless are curious to know the world through the scientific method, face many barriers. Community-supported checks and balances remain essential for scientific projects, but perhaps they too can become unbound from traditional academic settings.

The means for collecting and analyzing data are becoming more accessible to the public each day. New ethical issues will need to be discussed and infrastructures built to accommodate those conducting research outside of traditional settings. With this, we will see an increase in the number of scientific discoveries made by informally trained “citizen scientists” of all ages and backgrounds. These previously unheard voices will add valuable contributions to our knowledge of the world.

Tom Griffiths – Bias is always bad

But bias isn’t always bad. In fact, for certain kinds of questions, the only way to produce better answers is to be biased.

Many of the most challenging problems that humans solve are known as inductive problems—problems where the right answer cannot be definitively identified based on the available evidence.

The only way to solve inductive problems well is to be biased. Because the available evidence isn’t enough to determine the right answer, you need to have predispositions that are independent of that evidence. And how well you solve the problem—how often your guesses are correct—depends on having biases that reflect how likely different answers are.

Mary Catherine Bateson –  The illusion of certainty

Scientists sometimes resist new ideas and hang on to old ones longer than they should, but the real problem is the failure of the public to understand that the possibility of correction or disproof is a strength and not a weakness. We live in an era when it is increasingly important that the voting public be able to evaluate scientific claims and be able to make analogies between different kinds of phenomena, but this can be a major source of error. The process by which scientific knowledge is refined is largely invisible to the public. The truth-value of scientific knowledge is dependent upon its openness to correction, yet we all carry around ideas that science has long since revised—and are disconcerted when asked to abandon them. Surprise: You will not necessarily drown if you go swimming after lunch.

Most people are not comfortable with the notion that knowledge can be authoritative, can call for decision and action, and yet be subject to constant revision, because they tend to think of knowledge as additive, not recognizing the necessity of reconfiguring in response to new information. It is precisely this characteristic of scientific knowledge that encourages the denial of climate change and makes it so difficult to respond to what we do know in a context where much is still unknown.

Laurence Smith – Stationarity

But a growing body of research shows that stationarity is often the exception, not the norm. As new satellite technologies scan the earth, more geological records are drilled, and the instrument records lengthen, they commonly reveal patterns and structures quite inconsistent with a fixed envelope of random noise. Instead, there are transitions to different quasi-stable states, each characterized by a different set of physical conditions and associated statistical properties. In climate science, for example, we have discovered multi-decadal patterns like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), an El Niño-like phenomenon in the north Pacific that triggers far-reaching changes in climate averages that persist for decades (for example during the 20th century the PDO experienced a “warm” phase from 1922-1946 and 1977-1998, and a “cool” phase from 1947-1976) with far-reaching impacts on water resources and fisheries. And anthropogenic climate change, induced by our steady ramping up of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, is by its very definition the opposite of a fixed, stationary process. This imperils the basis of many societal risk calculations because as the statistical probabilities of the past break down, we enter a world that operates outside of expected and understood norms.

Robert Provine – Common sense

We fancy ourselves intelligent, conscious and alert, and thinking our way through life. This is an illusion. We are deluded by our brain’s generation of a sketchy, rational narrative of subconscious, sometimes irrational or fictitious events that we accept as reality. These narratives are so compelling that they become common sense and we use them to guide our lives. In cases of brain damage, neurologists use the term confabulation to describe a patient’s game but flawed attempt to produce an accurate narrative of life events. I suggest we be equally wary of everyday, non-pathological confabulation and retire the common sense hypothesis that we are rational beings in full conscious control of our lives. Indeed, we may be passengers in our body, just going along for the ride, and privy only to second-hand knowledge of our status, course and destination.

Gert Gigerenzer – Scientific inference via statistical rituals

I do not mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater and get rid of statistics, which offers a highly useful toolbox for researchers. But it is time to get rid of statistical rituals that nurture automatic and mindless inferences. Scientists should study rituals, not perform rituals themselves.
Daniel Goleman – Carbon footprints
While footprints offer a cognitive workaround that can help us make decisions that favor the planet, they too often have an unfortunate psychological effect: Knowing the planetary damage we do can be depressing and demotivating. Negative messaging like this, research from fields like public health finds, leads many or most people to tune out. Better to give us something positive we can do than to shame or scare us.

Enter the “Handprint,” the sum total of all the ways we lower our footprint. To calculate a handprint, take the footprint as the baseline, and then go a step further: assess the amount ameliorated by the good things we do: recycle, reuse, bike not drive. Convince other people to do likewise. Or invent a replacement for a high-footprint technology, like the sytrofoam subsititute made from rice hulls and mycelium rather than petroleum.

The handprint calculation applies the same methodology as for footprints, but reframes the total as a positive value: Keep growing your handprint and you are steadily reducing your negative impacts on the planet. Make your handprint bigger than your footprint and you are sustaining the planet, not damaging it.

And such a positive spin, motivational research tells us, will be more likely to keep people moving toward the target.

Alex Holcombe – Science is self-correcting

The bias against corrections is especially harmful in areas where the results are cheap, but the underlying measurements are noisy. In those scientific realms, the literature may quickly become polluted with statistical flukes. Unfortunately, these two features of cheap results and noisy measurement are characteristic of most sub-areas of psychology, my own discipline. Some other fields, such as contemporary epidemiology, may have it even worse, particularly with regards to a third exacerbating factor: the small size of the true effects investigated. As John Ioannidis has pointed out, the smaller the true effects in an area, the more likely it is that a given claimed effect is instead a statistical fluke (a false positive).

Daniel Hillis – Cause and effect

The notion of cause-and-effect breaks down when the parts that we would like to think of as outputs affect the parts that we would prefer to think of as inputs. The paradoxes of quantum mechanics are a perfect example of this, where our mere observation of a particle can “cause” a distant particle to be in a different state. Of course there is no real paradox here, there is just a problem with trying to apply our storytelling framework to a situation where it does not match.

Unfortunately, the cause-and-effect paradigm does not just fail at the quantum scale. It also falls apart when we try to use causation to explain complex dynamical systems like the biochemical pathways of a living organism, the transactions of an economy, or the operation of the human mind. These systems all have patterns of information flow that defy our tools of storytelling. A gene does not “cause” the trait like height, or a disease like cancer. The stock market did not go up “because” the bond market went down. These are just our feeble attempts to force a storytelling framework onto systems that do not work like stories. For such complex systems, science will need more powerful explanatory tools, and we will learn to accept the limits of our old methods of storytelling. We will come to appreciate that causes and effects do not exist in nature, that they are just convenient creations of our own minds.

Luca De Biase - The tragedy of the commons

There is no tragedy: there are conflicts though. And they can be better understood by embracing a vision that is open to Ostrom’s notion of polycentric governance of complex economic systems. The danger of a closed vision that only understands conflicts between state regulation and market freedom seem to be even more catastrophic when thinking at climate change and other environmental issues. When we think about the environment, the commons idea seems to be a much more generative notion than many other solutions. It is not a guarantee for a solution, but it is better point to start. The theory of “the tragedy of the commons” has now clearly become a comedy. But it can be a really sad comedy if we don’t finish with it and move on.

Aubrey De Grey – Science progresses most effectively by allocating funds via peer review

I claim that this would be largely solved by a system based on peer recognition rather than peer review. When a scientist first applies for public research funds, his or her career would be divided into five-year periods, starting with the past five years (period 0), the coming five (period 1), etc. Period 1 is funded at a low, entry-level rate on the basis of simple qualifications (possession of a doctorate, number of years of postdoctoral study, etc), and without the researcher having provided any description of what specific research is to be undertaken. Period 2’s funding level is determined, as a percentage of total funds available for the scientist’s discipline of choice, again without any description of what work is planned to be performed, but instead on the basis of how well cited was his or her work performed in period 0.

Melanie Swan – The scientific method

The scientific idea that is most ready for retirement is the scientific method itself. More precisely it is the idea that there would be only one scientific method, one exclusive way of obtaining scientific results. The problem is that the traditional scientific method as an exclusive approach is not adequate to the new situations of contemporary science like big data, crowdsourcing, and synthetic biology. Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation made sense in the past when obtaining information was scarce and costly, but this is no longer the case. In recent decades, we have already been adapting to a new era of information abundance that has facilitated experimental design and iteration. One result is that there is now a field of computational science alongside nearly every discipline, for example computational biology and digital manuscript archiving. Information abundance and computational advance has promulgated the evolution of a scientific model that is distinct from the traditional scientific method, and three emerging areas are advancing it even more.

Samuel Barondes – Science advances by funerals

So Plank got it wrong. The development of new scientific truths does not depend on the passing of stubborn conservative opponents. It is, instead, mainly dependent on the continuous enrollment of talented newcomers who are eager to make their mark by changing the existing order. In Planck’s case it was, in fact, the arrival of the young Albert Einstein, rather than the demise of his senior opponents, that propelled quantum theory forward. As Douglas Stone showed, in Einstein and the Quantum, it was the 25-year-old patent clerk, a fledgling outsider with nothing to lose, who became the driving force in the development of this theory. As for his elders, Einstein couldn’t care less.

Sam Harris – Our narrow definition of ‘science’

Search your mind, or pay attention to the conversations you have with other people, and you will discover that there are no real boundaries between science and philosophy—or between those disciplines and any other that attempts to make valid claims about the world on the basis of evidence and logic. When such claims and their methods of verification admit of experiment and/or mathematical description, we tend to say that our concerns are “scientific”; when they relate to matters more abstract, or to the consistency of our thinking itself, we often say that we are being “philosophical”; when we merely want to know how people behaved in the past, we dub our interests “historical” or “journalistic”; and when a person’s commitment to evidence and logic grows dangerously thin or simply snaps under the burden of fear, wishful thinking, tribalism, or ecstasy, we recognize that he is being “religious.”

The remedy for all this confusion is simple: We must abandon the idea that science is distinct from the rest of human rationality. When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.

Emanuel Derman – The power of statistics

Science is a battle to find causes and explanations amidst the confusion of data. Let us not get too enamored of data science, whose great triumphs so far are mainly in advertising and persuasion. Data alone has no voice. There is no “raw” data, as Kepler’s saga shows. Choosing what data to collect and how to think about it takes insight into the invisible; making good sense of the data collected requires the classic conservative methods: intuition, modeling, theorizing, and then, finally, statistics.

Victoria Stodden – Reproducibility

A problem with any one of these three types of reproducibility, empirical, computational, and statistical, can be enough to derail the process of establishing scientific facts. Each type calls for different remedies, from improving existing communication standards and reporting (empirical reproducibility) to making computational environments available for replication purposes (computational reproducibility) to the statistical assessment of repeated results for validation purposes (statistical reproducibility), each with different implementations. Of course these are broad suggestions, and each type of reproducibility can demand different actions depending on the details of the scientific research context, but confusing these very different aspects of the scientific method will slow our resolution of Boyle’s old discussion that started with the vacuum chamber.

Hugo Mercier – Planck’s cynical view of scientific change

If people who disagree with us are never going to change their mind, then why even talk to them? If we do not engage people who disagree with us in discussion, we will never learn of the—often perfectly good—reasons why they disagree with us. If we cannot address these reasons, then our arguments are likely to prove unconvincing. Our failures to convince will only reinforce the belief that we face pigheadedness rather than rational disagreement. A belief in the inefficiency of argumentation can be a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. We should give scientists, and argumentation more generally, more credit: it is well deserved. Let’s retire Planck’s cynical view of scientific change.

Sean Carroll – Falsifiability

The falsifiability criterion gestures toward something true and important about science, but it is a blunt instrument in a situation that calls for subtlety and precision. It is better to emphasize two more central features of good scientific theories: they are definite, and they are empirical. By “definite” we simply mean that they say something clear and unambiguous about how reality functions. String theory says that, in certain regions of parameter space, ordinary particles behave as loops or segments of one-dimensional strings. The relevant parameter space might be inaccessible to us, but it is part of the theory that cannot be avoided. In the cosmological multiverse, regions unlike our own are unambiguously there, even if we can’t reach them. This is what distinguishes these theories from the approaches Popper was trying to classify as non-scientific. (Popper himself understood that theories should be falsifiable “in principle,” but that modifier is often forgotten in contemporary discussions.)

Science is not merely armchair theorizing; it’s about explaining the world we see, developing models that fit the data. But fitting models to data is a complex and multifaceted process, involving a give-and-take between theory and experiment, as well as the gradual development of theoretical understanding in its own right. In complicated situations, fortune-cookie-sized mottos like “theories should be falsifiable” are no substitute for careful thinking about how science works. Fortunately, science marches on, largely heedless of amateur philosophizing. If string theory and multiverse theories help us understand the world, they will grow in acceptance. If they prove ultimately too nebulous, or better theories come along, they will be discarded. The process might be messy, but nature is the ultimate guide.

JC summary

I have only given a small flavor of some of the responses, I encourage you to visit the site and explore.  You are guaranteed to find things that interest you and that drive you crazy (of course we would never agree on which is which).  In any event, I think at least the ones that I cited have some relevance to climate science, I look forward to your comments.

383 responses to “What scientific ideas are ready for retirement?

  1. Idea ripe for retirement: Climate changes due to ‘forcings’.

    • R. Gates, Skeptical Warmist

      A random walk then? Chaotic systems operating under deterministic principles are still moved by “forcings”. The ice core record would indicate that the climate is anything but a random walk and must be moved by “forcings”.

    • True.. “it’s unicorns what dunnit guverna”

    • Heh, it might as well be, little as we know.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      We should retire the terminology – replace it with the terminology of complexity theory. Control variables that initiate non-linear changes and that may in fact – according to the NAS – be too small to measure.

    • Unicorns vs Forcings

      What’s the difference? They are both magical, and isn’t that what matters?


    • I’d day this biggest unicorn around is the co2 “control knob,” Now there’s a fantastical piece of simplistic crappola if ever I saw one.

    • There are unicorns then there are UNicorns. I still think that UNtopia in the Sahel would inspire true thinkers to modify their local environment and in the process discover the true path to “global” climate UNruption.

    • poker guy.

      “its the sun” is the most simplistic.

    • Andrew the difference is very simple.

      Unicorn: you cant tell me anything about it other than “it might cause things”
      Forcing: Lets see. What is the solar forcing: 1361watts/meter squared

      as terminology goes “forcing” is somewhat metaphorical. But guess what? science is shot through with metaphor. That doesnt make science into literature.
      However, that means efforts to purify science, are futile.

    • “the solar forcing: 1361watts/meter squared”

      I think you made that up. More unicorn similarities.


    • 1361watts/meter squared
      That is about what is currently measured by the best methods and instrumentation available. It also contains only minor variability with the sunspot cycle. But what about the past?
      2012 paper by Steinhilber et al (with no less than 13 co-authors) is the ‘best’ of the knowledge available. The results found are presented in number of diagrams including the spectra of Total Solar Irradiance TSI, which is then compared to climate data periodicities, suggesting strong link between two sets of data, at least in the spectral domain..
      Could be this a definitive paper on the subject?
      That remains to be seen, since surprisingly the TSI spectrum (on centennial scale is closely matched to the GeoPolar magnetic field

    • “That is about what is currently measured by the best methods and instrumentation available.”

      I can’t help but have multiple issues with this statement. Just for starters, “about” what is currently measured? What about what was measured? Isn’t that what we are interested in?


    • “It’s the sun.”

      Mosher, Agreed that’s the skeptics analog…

    • Thanks vuk,

      This is very interesting reading. I found this particularly interesting: “Assuming climate models include a realistic sensitivity to solar forcing, the record of solar variations implies a global surface temperature change on the order of only 0.2° C. However, global energy balance considerations may not provide the entire story.”


    • And I like this from the SOURCE Science Writer’s Guide:

      “…complex feedbacks between different components of the climate system (clouds,
      ice, oceans, etc.) make detailed climate predictions difficult and highly uncertain…”


    • Sorry “SORCE”



    • The sun does the heating.

      There is no feedback to the sun to turn the cooling on and off.

      Mother Earth controls the thermostat. When she gets warmer than she wants, she melts polar ice and turns on snowfall and increases Albedo.

      When she gets cold enough, she freezes the polar waters and turns off snowfall and lets the sun decrease Albedo.

      It is this simple.

      IR does most of the cooling of Earth, but it has no set point and feedback with narrow limits.

      Polar Sea Water freezes and thaws with small changes to ocean temperature and turns the air conditioning on and off.

    • Mosher

      Simplistic? Yes. But talk about a control knob. Turn it off and the party is over. Such elegance.

    • H.A.Pope
      If moisture is removed from the atmosphere and deposited on the surface as snow, the Earth’s rotation angular momentum conservation principle will alter rate of rotation (LOD) which in turn would be reflected in change of the geo-magnetic field intensity, therefore C14, 10Be are reflecting changes in the GMF as well as the solar magnetic activity. I am preparing short article, which will show that the most recent N. Hemisphere’s natural variability can be easily reproduced from the geomagnetic Ap index, i.e. Earth’s response to the solar magnetic impact.
      Even NASA’s –JPL scientists recognize existabce of a strong possibility linking the LOD and temperature Natural Variability
      where CAM is core angular momentum and the temperature T is overcorrected (with CO2 in mind?) since the relationship is not linear.

    • Forcings, unicorns….really all the same thing, Mosh.

      (Truth of the matter is, we DON’T KNOW what dunnit.)


    • Mosh

      Just as simplistic is:

      “It’s the greenhouse gases.”



    • Ready for retirement

      “The notion that if you don’t accept greenhouse gases as the cause for warming, you must believe it’s unicorns.”


    • vukcevic
      You wrote:
      If moisture is removed from the atmosphere and deposited on the surface as snow, the Earth’s rotation angular momentum conservation principle will alter rate of rotation.

      Water is removed from the OCEANS and deposited on the surface as snow, closer to the axis of rotation and, yes, earth spin rate is increasing. Look at spin rate data. Less Leap Seconds are being added!


    • Length of day is tied to ice volume. Ice volume does change ice extent, with a lag. Snow falls and then ice advances. Ice extent is Albedo and that does do the bounding of temperature in a narrow range. This has worked in very narrow bounds for ten thousand years.

    • Steven Mosher



      But notice that we can have an argument about solar forcing. Today its close to 1361. What about the past? Well, we can argu about estimates, and its clear that in doing so we are subjecting ourselves to empirical test.

      contrast that with unicorns. When skeptics argue that it could “something else” that causes the changes, they are pointing at a mere logical possibility. It could be unicorns.

      I counter that its not unicorns, but rather unicorns ^2,

      you see the difference between proposing a explanation that can be examined versus proposing an explanation which merely takes advantage of the problem of induction.

    • Steven Mosher


      we will never know what dunnit it.

      What we have are explanations. I explain climate change by positing the existence of entities called forcings. This positing is no different than the positing of things called electrons, atoms, quarks, you name it.

      The test of a system of posits is does it make sense of the past observations we have and does it help us to predict future observations. It will never do so perfectly. EVEN IF IT DID, there is still the possiblity that some other system of posits could explain the facts better or more simply. It could be unicorns.

      So, pointing out that we will never know, isnt really an objection that is unique to climate science. It haunts all knowing. What we have in the end is the best explanation, one that is LESS WRONG, than all the others.

      To replace this you need one that works better.

      The sun dunnit doesnt work.

    • “The notion that if you don’t accept greenhouse gases as the cause for warming, you must believe it’s unicorns.”

      So the unicorns caused the Roman warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period and the Current Warm Period and other Warm Periods in the really well regulated past ten thousand years.

      I don’t think so!

      As Monk would say!

    • Sun, God, CO2, AGW, I see a pattern here. Will have to give up on Unicorns as too many letters.
      Oh for a GUT of climate change.

    • Steven
      As you may be aware, whatever I do it is based on the best data available at the time, paleo, instrument or strait forward count of the events, with the most impact achieved by graphs. I do not bother much with statistics, since it can be used to prove/disprove mostly anything. Interpretations are matter of opinions and critics’ views.
      I do think that the TSI ‘forcing’ is relatively limited and adequately understood. and take Dr. Svalgaard’s view of + – 0.1C variability.
      However, that is not the end of possible solar ‘forcing’. On WUWT (from which I am taking a bit of a voluntary rest, too “many wild claims” ) Dr. S. states:
      If solar activity were a primary factor in Stratospheric Warmings [SSW] one would expect that to occur in both the northern and the southern polar caps as solar-induced geomagnetic activity occurs equally in both hemispheres [being global and occurring at the same time in both polar caps]. However, SSW are almost exclusively a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon [I know of only one case of a southern SSW].
      I entirely agree with that, but surely he is aware of two things: the Arctic atmosphere is subjected to volcanic activity, mainly from Kamchatka, spewing tones of various gas particles, lifted into stratosphere which are then electrically charged by solar proton showers (geomagnetic storms). Just outside the polar circle (~62-64N) there is a bifurcation of the magnetic field, forcing break up in the charged vortex.
      In contrast, the Antarctica has only one very seldom active volcano (Mt. Erebus) and omni-polar magnetic field distribution, thus consequently no vortex break up.
      Another case of solar forcing.

    • Mosher, what if you can see the hoofprints of the unicorns?

      Here is HADCRU4 Global, with rate calculated over 361 months


      Now if we use the Law Dome CO2 and Keeling curve, we can guess what the climate sensitivity of CO2 is; about 1.8 degrees per doubling:


      Now that up and down roller-coaster is the unicorns distributing heat in the Earth system, in different places, at different times.

    • The first comment was a shub saying:

      Idea ripe for retirement: Climate changes due to ‘forcings’.

      but then DocMartyn sanely suggested that forcings are real

      Now if we use the Law Dome CO2 and Keeling curve, we can guess what the climate sensitivity of CO2 is; about 1.8 degrees per doubling

      And that was with a very crude analysis. If we do a comprehensive analysis, and test it with an early period training interval, it tells us that the climate sensitivity is at least 2C per doubling.

      That of course is only a transient analysis and the steady-state will be closer to what we see via the analysis of land-only data. That gives us a climate sensitivity of at least 3C for a doubling of CO2.

      Funny how this number is pretty much the same as it was when the Charney Report came out in 1979 ! Wha’ happen? Science predicted correctly, that’s what happened.

  2. ‘Climate science is settled’ is the macro should be retired, in my opinion.

    • Since about the only people who ever say it, or have ever said it, are climate skeptics, I agree.

    • Since about the only people who ever say it, or have ever said it, are climate skeptics, I agree.

      So John Prescott is a climate sceptic, is he? And that’s just off the top of my head.

    • k scott denison

      JCH | February 2, 2014 at 5:15 pm |
      Since about the only people who ever say it, or have ever said it, are climate skeptics, I agree.
      Wow, didn’t know Al Gore and Barack Obama were skeptics. Thanks for the tip JCH.

    • Where did Obama say these words:

      “The science is settled.”

    • k scott denison

      SOTU address this past week. “But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.”

    • The climate changes, so that is a fact. Haha.

      Me, I would fire the speechwriter for not knowing that was an amazingly stupid thing to put in the speech.

      So we have a few billion quotes from skeptic blogs, a tiny handful from politicians/ bureaucrats, and not one single confirmed quote from a climate scientist of any note, and one made-up claim of a quote from a climate scientist.

    • k scott denison

      JCH, you’re in denial. Try Google or Bing. You’ll see who is saying the science is settled and it’s not skeptics.

    • Funny enough, the 2008 edition asked “What have you changed your mind about?” http://www.edge.org/annual-question/what-have-you-changed-your-mind-about-why

      Of course all those who mentioned AGW, had changed their mind…to CAGW.

      That seems to be rather rather hard to fathom, that it took a responsible scientist until 2007 to see that CAGW was compelling. I mean didn’t 97% of scientists already *believe* in global warming by that point?

      Ironically, those who had “changed their minds” and chose to write about the subject, never gave noted one reason why they had remained skeptical, or what exactly constitutes skepticism. In fact, after making the Augustinian conversion, they have nothing but pity/scorn for their skeptical peers, with whom they allegedly shared the same opinion, before Gore released AIT.

  3. Astrology. Definitely retire astrology. Scafetta and Landscheidt should be listening.

  4. Subjective Bayesian probability.

    • Wagathon | February 2, 2014 at 10:43 am |

      That is retired.

      Or at least deprecated, with computational methods.

      Would be nice, though, if people still inappropriately using even older and readier-to-retire methods would at least move up to Bayes.

      Then maybe they could use it as a stepping-stone to understand concepts like Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (in the R programming language: http://cran.r-project.org/web/views/Bayesian.html).

      • Bayes method: Start with Bayesian construct–e.g., a belief that every day will be warmer than the previous day because atmospheric CO2 increases every day. Collect data and run it through your program and get a ‘hockey stick,’ even if you data is nothing but white noise and claim you just won a Nobel prize because your conclusions are more important than reality.

    • That each day would be warmer because of added CO2? That was never a scientific idea, so it can’t be retired.

    • Wagathon | February 2, 2014 at 11:15 am |

      Well, it looks like Dunning-Kruger won’t be retired any time soon, at least.

  5. I suggest retiring “Novel scientific ideas have to overcome Galilean persecution.” There was only one Galileo, let’s move on.

  6. To generalize based on opinions, as in the above suggestions from “brilliant individuals”.

    That’s not science.

  7. My first thought was what Roger Pielke Jr calls the linear model of science and decision making. The idea that “the science” can determine political decisions. “Knowing is half the battle” is very similar to that.

    Is it a scientific idea, though? It’s about how science should be applied. I general, I think that’s something that’s often not subject to rational reflection. I think there is an unspoken idea that rationality is a quantity that can and should be maximized, and that relying more on science is therefore by definition more rational.

    • tony –

      There should be better ways of getting ‘authenticated’ information out into its respective field rather than the long winded process we currently have.

      I can think of many things that “should” be better. If wisher were horses, beggars would ride.

      I’d say that there are very good reasons to seek improvement. But it seems reasonable to ask the question of whether, in the meantime, there currently exists a better process, or whether it makes sense to disparage the system and any of its products to suggest that we’d be better off without it.

    • Joshua

      All the elements are there in place that could make the electronic peer review e-journal ( that has credibility) a reality very quickly. However, as I say, it is nice to see your name in print rather than as an electronic series of pixels.

      Perhaps it will evolve that ideas will be authenticated and published electronically rapidly, but that the printed journal will still retain a place as a sort of physical memento.

  8. There are a number of ‘scientific’ ideas almost as ready for retirement as the zodiacal superstition that the motion of planets have mysterious teleconnections to physical events on Earth out of proportion with the inverse of the third or fourth square of the distance of bodies.

    “My data” must be trashed as a phrase. There are too many cases where data has been squirreled away by researchers, poorly cataloged, badly labeled, under-documented, and wasted. Cloud storage costs next to nothing and the cost is falling by Moore’s Law exponentially. It’s time to up the data administration game in a big way, making it transparent from cradle to grave, open, and well metatagged.

    “The debate” has to be put against a wall and shot. There is no gainful “debate” in science. You can wager about the outcomes of experiments to support or impeach an explanation all you like, but until the outcome, what observation to date tells us is the explanation with the fewest untested assumptions, the most parsimony of exceptions, and the greatest universality of application is accurate or very nearly true and all else is not science. That’s not debatable in even the remotest sense. All the techniques of propaganda and persuasive chatter, emphasis on uncertainty, and politicking for more favorable conclusions to special interests that are called ‘scientific debate’ are a waste of time and impediment to understanding.

    “A scientist” is useless. Be a technician, or an analyst, or a technical analyst, but you’re never a scientist until you retire from doing the technical work and analyses, and start commentating. At which point, you’ve stopped contributing to science and started to become an edutainer who can’t sing or play a musical instrument.

    “The journal” is outmoded. Really, why isn’t there automated anonymous peer-review software out there to get ideas published credibly and seamlessly in less time than it took to get a paper into journals a century ago? Peer-review is of no better quality now than in 1905, and just as slow, and although 1905 was a wonderful year in the publishing of science, wouldn’t it be better if we improved on practices contemporary with Gutenberg, now that we have smart phones?

  9. David Springer

    Define retirement.

    • Define accountability.

    • David Springer

      How is accountability part of the question?

      Per instructions I haven’t read ahead before answering. I don’t really understand the question. Scientific – does that mean something that made it into standard texts, journal articles, discover magazine, principia scientific… what? Retirement – I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. Try to build a consensus that it’s false? Blackball journals if they dare write about it? What?

  10. R. Gates, Skeptical Warmist

    “Kate Mills – Only ‘scientists’ can do science”
    I would agree with this completely. Anyone can do science, and even do it at a high level. Of course certain fields take fairly advanced equipment for actual research, and so by default, there will be an exclusive club that can access this equipment. But any determined person, willing to spend the time to learn the basic language of science (math of course being a core one), can do science. Curiosity is key. The internet is changing the way science is done, for both good and bad, but net positive.

    • Agree, and it tallies with Sam Harris’ statement “When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.”.

  11. >I did as requested, and answered the question in my own mind before continuing: The “scientific idea” most ready for retirement is the (usually tacit) assumption that complex non-linear systems can be modeled using linear assumptions.

    IMO this subsumes West’s answer, because there’s an inseparable relationship between complexity and information. (See some of the early posts at my blog, on “How Smart is the Cell?” for examples.)

    It also subsumes many of the answers you quoted above, in that the functioning of the mind, and the brain that provides its “hardware”, requires understanding in terms of a long-evolved complex non-linear system. An understanding of the semantic mechanisms of human brains can reasonably inform an improved approach to Science. (See some of my comments at this blog for more perspective.)

    I don’t see anything particularly new or original with my answer, it’s been said before.

  12. David Springer

    Define scientific.

    • that worked in 5th grade debate. I’ll define science when you define “define”

    • I think this is a good question. What is a “scientific idea”? In this context, the implied definition seems to be an idea about science rather than an idea studies by science.

    • Oops, that should be “…studied by science”.

    • Great question Sarge. You know exactly how to get Mosher to dance on command. That’s Science!

      Scientific means: Not *messing* around. Figuring *stuff* out. Solving problems. Getting *stuff* done. Making tools for others to solve problems and get stuff done.

      Dagfinn: there are no scientific ideas (there are only ideas good and bad) and studies are not done by “science”, they are done by humans. Science is a human attitude, a state of mind. It is definitely not a product of the mind or an entity of any kind.

      Every time a “hydraulic feminine hygiene devise found hanging in showers during the 50’s and 60’s” says *Doing Science* I want to vomit.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo

      Mosher already defined “science” It’s what scientists do. Remember?

    • Steven Mosher

      At least one guy remembers. But its important to understand what one means by definition.
      There are many kinds used for different reasons

    • Steven Mosher

      Howard comes close

    • I know scientists who don’t do science.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo

      Steven Mosher.
      I remember the fallacy you comitted, yes.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo

      Bertrand Russell :

      “The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil”

    • David Springer

      Steven Mosher | February 2, 2014 at 11:55 am |

      “that worked in 5th grade debate. I’ll define science when you define “define””

      I asked for a definition of “scientific” but you don’t read well so I’ll give you a pass.

      1. state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of.

      There you go. Now define “scientific” for me as you promised. Thanks.

    • David Springer


      Yeah you get it. Great minds think alike. :-)

      Sorry to get on your ass about the big question. It wasn’t your logic or anything I just thought it was a classic example of making a mountain out of a molehill. Like a 3000 word response to the question “Why Do One Legged Ducks Swim in Circles?”.

    • Springer, “Dallas

      “Nearly infinite” is a stupid term with no meaning. ”

      That would be relative since you are making infinity relative. Declaring there is an infinite number of infinite mass astronomical bodies is like FIIK^FIIK, the Animal House Pot Revelation. Once you “define” something as being “infinite” but there is a number of infinite “somethings”, you have just created a new number set which would have a standard, i.e. 1xinfinity. Infinity just became the new unity. Then Hawking’s “standard” black hole would be a real singularity, a universal one.

      You can’t have a standard that is non-standard, so his black hole theory is wrong. Now if there were a precise limit on how large/small a black hole could be or some proof that black holes have to be some integer combination of 1x infinity, black holes as defined by Hawking could exist, but they would be finite. Instead of nx infinity, nx BH or N times a Hawking.

      If you say “near infinite” you are saying that there is no universal one, that there are degrees of infinity, but anything considered near infinite has to be greater than infinity/n, where n is less than infinity. That just means there is no “standard” for infinity or that infinity/infinity is still undetermined. Then you are stuck with descriptive terms like x is closer to infinity than it is to something else. That is why you use terms like as x approaches or nears infinity y goes to or nears zero. Both infinity and zero are fuzzy terms since zero is defined by a fuzzy term. If not, infinity wouldn’t be :)

    • David Springer

      Repeat after me, Dallas. Every black hole has a singularity. A naked black hole has no event horizon. A singularity by definition is infinitely dense and therefore also infinitely small. The standard model breaks down when infinities are encountered. So it gets really stupid talking about infinities because we can then logically state things like in an infinite universe there must be an infinite number of CaptDallases on an infinute number of earths and so forth. And Boltzman Brains become the most probabilistic explanation for the universe. It quickly leads to absurdities. Near infinite is an absurd term.

    • David, it is only a singularity because you don’t know. There are only multiple infinities because of possible diagonals. If you knew the actual number of dimensions required to avoid confusion there would be no need for infinity or zero, but everything is based on some limited perspective.

  13. So, what scientific idea do YOU think is ready for retirement?

    Looking at the history of CO2 and temperature and using a time period that they go up together and using that to calculate sensitivity is correlation and not causation.

    I have never considered Temperature sensitivity to CO2 to be a scientific idea.

    Retire it!

  14. Hawkins himself has drawn back substantially on black holes. He now refers to them as grey holes. Said it was the biggest blunder of his career.

    • It was a bit odd. How many nearly infinite mass objects can there be in a universe that is 70% dark energy?

      Dark Star!

      er.. Dark Energy Star,


    • David Springer

      In an infinite universe there must be an infinite number of nearly infinite objects.

      Don’t get me started on infinities

    • Springer, “In an infinite universe there must be an infinite number of nearly infinite objects.”

      The mass of nearly infinite objects goes to zero and the number of nearly infinite objects approaches infinity. So you are stuck with degrees of infinity or grey holes not black holes. The Animal House Pot Revelation :)

    • David Springer

      Hawkins? That’s the love child of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins.

      Presumably you meant Hawking.

      The blunder was calling them black. Hawking Radiation, produced by quantum tunneling of photons across the event horizon, is what makes them gray. Hawking described what came to be known as Hawking Radiation in 1974 so this recent backing off must be in name only.

      What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet;

      ~Wm. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet: Act II Scene II

    • David Springer

      You forgot to mention stupid, Dallas.

      The set of real numbers is infinite. How many nearly infinitely long number sequences are contained by the set of real numbers?

      I warned you not to get me started.

    • David Springer

      captdallas 0.8 or less | February 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm |

      “The mass of nearly infinite objects goes to zero”

      No sorry. That would be the volume of the object that goes to zero.

    • David Springer

      captdallas 0.8 or less | February 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm |

      “The mass of nearly infinite objects goes to zero”

      No sorry. That would be the volume of the object that goes to zero.



      And the volume doesn’t go to zero it becomes infinitely small and the standard model of physics fails because we have no quantum theory of gravity to explain what happens.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Jean-Paul Sartre demonstrated that being and nothingness cannot coexist – therefore the universe is infinite.

      Douglas Adams demonstrated that in an infinite universe the probability of the infinitely improbable is unity.

      A corollary of this theorem is that God does not exist.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Actually this one on God.

    • David, you confuse “goes to zero” with absolute zero. So the more objects you have of nearly infinite mass you have the less like infinite each object is likely to be. In the universe there would be no zero and no infinite, just quantities closer to each.

      So your basic “Black Body” would be more like a black head or zit on the universe’s butt.

      Super massive gravitational anomalies, something with a mass on the order of 20% of its host galaxy mass are far from “black” or “dark”, they shine like beacons as they munch on matter and emit radiation when not because the motion of their mass is “near” zero but not. So there are no magical event horizons and no “Standard” black holes. Just large masses of matter that have depleted most of their thermal energy and are waiting for another stage in their existence. Perhaps a dark energy nova?

    • R. Gates, A Skeptical Warmist

      “Jean-Paul Sartre demonstrated that being and nothingness cannot coexist – therefore the universe is infinite.”
      Or, we exist in a finite universe among an infinite number of universes or, there is no beginning or end to time in a single finite universe…that is, there never was a time=zero, in which the universe did not exist, thus the universe is infinite in duration, though of a finite size and total energy, and the idea of nothingness or nonexistence is only a human construct.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Or that the idea of conflating Sartre and Douglas Adams is a bit of a geek joke.

      Adams is a lot funnier.

    • @Skippy: Or as an old school chum once quipped, “Zero probability events are happening all the time.”

    • David Springer


      “Nearly infinite” is a stupid term with no meaning.

      Let’s go back to the set of real numbers which is often used to exemplify an infinity. How many of the numbers in that set is “nearly infinite”?

    • David Springer

      captdallas 0.8 or less | February 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm |

      “David, you confuse “goes to zero” with absolute zero.”

      No I don’t. We’re talking past each other. A black hole has parts. An event horizon and a singularity. The singularity is infinitely dense. The volume is infinitely small. There are three properties of the singularity that can be measured – mass, spin, and charge. You must be referring to the event horizon which, when viewed from the outside, emits nothing but Hawking Radiation which is in nanokelvins. The event horizon of course encloses a non-zero volume the size of which is dependent on the mass of the singularity. Theoretically there can be microscopic event horizons but it is believed these black holes could have only formed near the beginning of the observable universe and would have evaporated by now. There’s some interest in creating one because a tame one could be fed normal matter and in the process of being crushed would convert a lot of the incoming mass into energy radiated outward. Like a fusion reactor only better.

    • Springer, “The volume is infinitely small.”

      No, the volume could be defined so it wouldn’t be “infinitely” small or zero volume. There is a volume which would be limited by how closely packed neutrons can be or if there would be a solid “super-neutronic” mass created.

      There are semantics involved because infinity is a mathematical term, which is why you wouldn’t use “infinity” but some relevant term for a “known” quantity. If you “build” a black hole you better know that quantity.

    • David Springer

      captdallas 0.8 or less | February 3, 2014 at 10:34 am |

      “No, the volume could be defined so it wouldn’t be “infinitely” small or zero volume. There is a volume which would be limited by how closely packed neutrons can be or if there would be a solid “super-neutronic” mass created.”

      No. You’re way out of your league now. That’s called degenerate matter. A singularity is not matter, degenerate or otherwise, and there is a singularity at the center of every black hole. We don’t know what a singularity is. Standard model physics breaks down. A singularity has only three properties mass, spin, and charge. It has no volume. It has no density. Those are undefined i.e. infinities.

      See the links below. When you start writing things that don’t disagree with the enclopedic knowledge on the subject I’ll reply again.



      Note that neutron degeneracy doesn’t result in black holes. Neutron stars are visible. Neutrons get further squashed into a state of quark degeneracy. That too doesn’t create high enough densities.

      Pay attention to this:



      At densities greater than those supported by any degeneracy, gravity overwhelms all other forces. To the best of our current understanding, the body collapses to form a black hole. In the frame of reference that is co-moving with the collapsing matter, all the matter ends up in an infinitely dense singularity at the center of the event horizon. In the frame of reference of an observer at infinity, the collapse asymptotically approaches the event horizon.

    • Springer, ” A singularity has only three properties mass, spin, and charge. It has no volume. It has no density. ”

      So volume and density are figments of our fertile imaginations. I guess that is why super-massive black holes can’t exist but super-massive gravitational anomalies can? Then again with the proper understanding of all real dimensions, there would be a volume and density we just can’t visualize.

      Why not just call them Easter Bunnies?

      As far as neutron degradation goes, the temperature of a neutron star would limit how closely packed the neutrons could be. As the temperature decays to zero, the volume would decay to zero, but likely would never actually arrive at zero. Then what we call black holes would be extremely well aged neutron stars if we want to stick with neutrons. Since temperature is motion and space is required for motion, a black hole would would just require less space not zero space. Zero volume and infinite mass would not be very easy to model and likely wouldn’t exist. A very small volume and a very large mass at absolute zero could exist and could be modeled, but hey, Easter Bunnies are cool too.

    • k scott denison

      WebHubTelescope (@WHUT) | February 2, 2014 at 10:49 pm |

      If you have problems with something in the model, spit it out.

      Well, I’ve said it about a dozen times now, but let me repeat my problem, this time more slowly in hopes you can understand.






    • Guys from Wisconsin are hothead cheeseheads. You tell me that I can validate my model by making predictions?

      Good. I want to make one for about the next 20 to 50 years. I am in no hurry and will get to it when I am ready.

      And you can uppercase bellyache all you want, but you can’t speed up the clock.

  15. Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

    The linked graph retires the pseudo -scientific notion that climate shifted in 1998.


    • Generalissimo Skippy

      There are a couple of volcanoes in the earlier period – which depress the trend. But the shift occurred in 1998 to 2001 – so the change in trend is measured from 2002.


      However, the idea doesn’t rely on tropospheric temps – but on shifts in ocean circulation in the Pacific especially.

      Let me Google that for you – http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Pacific+Ocean+climate+shifts

      What should be retired is amateurs playing with wood for dimwits and thinking they thereby have a profound insight.

    • David Springer

      Yeah but the question was about scientific ideas not pseudo-scientific ideas. That’s why I asked for clarification.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      ‘This paper provides an update to an earlier work that showed specific changes in the aggregate time evolution of major Northern Hemispheric atmospheric and oceanic modes of variability serve as a harbinger of climate shifts. Specifically, when the major modes of Northern Hemisphere climate variability are synchronized, or resonate, and the coupling between those modes simultaneously increases, the climate system appears to be
      thrown into a new state, marked by a break in the global mean temperature trend and in the character of El Niño/Southern Oscillation variability. Here, a new and improved means to quantify the coupling between climate modes
      confirms that another synchronization of these modes, followed by an increase in coupling occurred in 2001/02. This suggests that a break in the global mean temperature trend from the consistent warming over the 1976/77–2001/02 period may have occurred.’ Citation: Swanson, K. L., and
      A. A. Tsonis (2009), Has the climate recently shifted?, Geophys.
      Res. Lett., 36, L06711, doi:10.1029/2008GL037022.

      ‘The use of a coupled ocean–atmosphere–sea ice model to hindcast (i.e., historical forecast) recent climate variability is described and illustrated for the cases of the 1976/77 and 1998/99 climate shift events in the Pacific. The initialization is achieved by running the coupled model in partially coupled mode whereby global observed wind stress anomalies are used to drive the ocean/sea ice component of the coupled model while maintaining the thermodynamic coupling between the ocean/sea ice and atmosphere components. Here it is shown that hindcast experiments can successfully capture many features associated with the 1976/77 and 1998/99 climate shifts. For instance, hindcast experiments started from the beginning of 1976 can capture sea surface temperature (SST) warming in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific and the positive phase of the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) throughout the 9 years following the 1976/77 climate shift, including the deepening of the Aleutian low pressure system. Hindcast experiments started from the beginning of 1998 can also capture part of the anomalous conditions during the 4 years after the 1998/99 climate. The authors argue that the dynamical adjustment of heat content anomalies that are present in the initial conditions in the tropics is important for the successful hindcast of the two climate shifts.’ Ding, Hui, Richard J. Greatbatch, Mojib Latif, Wonsun Park, Rüdiger Gerdes, 2013: Hindcast of the 1976/77 and 1998/99 Climate Shifts in the Pacific. J. Climate, 26, 7650–7661. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00626.1

      I would humbly suggest that the shifts are marked by ENSO dragon-kings which are otherwise known as noisy bifurcation – extreme fluctuations between El Niño and La Niña events at the tipping points – in 1976/1978 and 1998/2001.

      We should learn the difference between leading edge climate science on the relatively new paradigm of abrupt shifts on decadal timescales – and noisy but superficial narratives from the bleachers. And retire the latter.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      wood for dimwits – QED

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Re post by Generalissimo Skippy, February 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Skippy’s idea of science is skipping 5 years of temperature data to get his shift.

      Skippy science is very wasteful. Look what I get by leaving out only 1 year of data.


    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Generalissimo to you white boy.

      Again – and as explained – the shifts don’t depend on the surface temperature series at all but do explain the trends over relevant periods.

      Anastasios Tsonis, of the Atmospheric Sciences Group at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and colleagues used a mathematical network approach to analyse abrupt climate change on decadal timescales. Ocean and atmospheric indices – in this case the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the North Pacific Oscillation – can be thought of as chaotic oscillators that capture the major modes of climate variability. Tsonis and colleagues calculated the ‘distance’ between the indices. It was found that they would synchronise at certain times and then shift into a new state.

      It is no coincidence that shifts in ocean and atmospheric indices occur at the same time as changes in the trajectory of global surface temperature. Our ‘interest is to understand – first the natural variability of climate – and then take it from there. So we were very excited when we realized a lot of changes in the past century from warmer to cooler and then back to warmer were all natural,’ Tsonis said.

      Four multi-decadal climate shifts were identified in the last century coinciding with changes in the surface temperature trajectory. Warming from 1909 to the mid 1940’s, cooling to the late 1970’s, warming to 1998 and declining since. The shifts are punctuated by extreme El Niño Southern Oscillation events. Fluctuations between La Niña and El Niño peak at these times and climate then settles into a damped oscillation. Until the next critical climate threshold – due perhaps in a decade or two if the recent past is any indication.

      The idea that the superficial memes of space cadets challenges real science should be retired.

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Skippy, I’m afraid I can’t share your enthusiasm for Tsonis. I don’t see his work having any more predictive value than a naive extrapolation of the OLS in the linked chart, although it is a lot fancier.


      What Tsonis does reminds me of stock market charting, which I see as no better at predicting than reading tea leaves.

      But you may not be as big of a sap as I used to think. Your following sentence is loaded with hedges.

      “Until the next critical climate threshold – due perhaps in a decade or two if the recent past is any indication.”

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Let’s see – distinguished atmospheric physicist on one hand and Max the okie on the other. No contest. You are as big a sap as I imagine.

      But it is far from just Tsonis.

      Let me Google that for you – http://www.letmegooglethat.com/?q=Interdedcal+Pacific+Oscillation+surface+temperature

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Skippy, if you believe the work of Tsonis has more predictive value than a naive extrapolation of the global temperature trend, you should be able to explain why. Can you?

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      But the fundamental misunderstanding remains – white boy.

      These are predictive at all. It fact the suggestion id that these states make prediction impossible.

      ‘A vigorous spectrum of interdecadal internal variability presents numerous challenges to our current understanding of the climate. First, it suggests that climate models in general still have difficulty reproducing the magnitude and spatiotemporal patterns of internal variability necessary to capture the observed character of the 20th century climate trajectory. Presumably, this is due primarily to deficiencies in ocean dynamics. Moving toward higher resolution, eddy resolving oceanic models should help reduce this deficiency. Second, theoretical arguments suggest that a more variable climate is a more sensitive climate to imposed forcings (13). Viewed in this light, the lack of modeled compared to observed interdecadal variability (Fig. 2B) may indicate that current models underestimate climate sensitivity. Finally, the presence of vigorous climate variability presents significant challenges to near-term climate prediction (25, 26), leaving open the possibility of steady or even declining global mean surface temperatures over the next several decades that could present a significant empirical obstacle to the implementation of policies directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (27). However, global warming could likewise suddenly and without any ostensive cause accelerate due to internal variability. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the climate system appears wild, and may continue to hold many surprises if pressed. ‘ http://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16120.full

      Nonetheless we are in a cool mode – e.g. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8703 – and these persist for decades.

      It beggars belief that such as Maxy – with such a limited understanding and access only to wood for dimwits – can continue denying what science is spelling out so clearly.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Sorry… these are (not) predictive at all…

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      And – btw – both forcings and climate sensitivity are ideas that need to be fundamentally reassessed in the light of complexity theory.

      ‘Climate sensitivity is then defined mathematically as the derivative of an appropriate functional or other function of the systems state with respect to the bifurcation parameter. This definition is illustrated by using numerical results for a model of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation.’ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/tcd/PREPRINTS/Math_clim-Taipei-M_Ghil_vf.pdf

      Sensitivity is γ is the diagram below.


    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      I asked Skippy if Tsonis’ work has more predictive value than a naive extrapolation to explain why. Skippy dodged my request, but gave me 300 words in the process.

    • k scott denison

      Clearly it went over your head Max so I’ll simplify it for you:

      Tsonis says: the climate is too complex to predict.

      I think he is very likely correct.

    • And yet he says the climate may be on the verge of cooling, and that the pause could last until 2030.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Again the 2 statements – that chaos is unpredictable and that non-warming – or even cooling – over decades is likely are not mutually exclusive.

      Recognising that the current climate state is the cool mode and that these persist for 20 to 40 years is not a prediction.

      It is difficult to understand why such a wealth of science on this can be so misconstrued.

    • k scott denison | February 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm |

      Clearly it went over your head Max so I’ll simplify it for you:

      Tsonis says: the climate is too complex to predict.

      I think he is very likely correct.

      There used to be a commenter here named Tomas who would spout off and say that nothing could be predicted based on whatever.

      Yet, the longer that one studies climate science the more one realizes that all shifts in global temperature are due to an external forcing of some sort. And that there are quite a few of these, all with varying impacts. Some are incredibly large such as CO2, and some are much smaller, such as the long-term cyclic influence of tides.

      Your job is now to show how these external forcing functions are NOT driving the global temperature, which means that you will have to contradict show-stoppers such as this:

      Tsonis is a nobody to me, largely because he doesn’t look first at the obvious explanations.

    • k scott denison

      Webby, you clearly believe the climate can be predicted. And you’ve built such a great model that predicted the last 50 or so years from data up to 1950. So, let’s see what the future holds then. Show us your predictions!

      You can do it! It’s clearly predictable so predict away! Come on! Time to put up or shut up!!

    • k scott denison | February 2, 2014 at 10:28 pm |

      Webby, you clearly believe the climate can be predicted. And you’ve built such a great model that predicted the last 50 or so years from data up to 1950. So, let’s see what the future holds then. Show us your predictions!

      You can do it! It’s clearly predictable so predict away! Come on! Time to put up or shut up!!

      I will predict that I won’t listen to what a cheese-head wants me to do.

      If you have problems with something in the model, spit it out.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      ‘These shifts were accompanied by breaks in the global mean temperature trend with respect to time, presumably associated with either discontinuities in the global radiative budget due to the global reorganization of clouds and
      water vapor or dramatic changes in the uptake of heat by the deep ocean. Similar behavior has been found in coupled ocean/atmosphere models, indicating such behavior may be a hallmark of terrestrial-like climate systems [Tsonis et al., 2007].’ http://www.leif.org/EOS/2008GL037022.pdf

      Clouds are never far away – they are not feedbacks from warming but just the normal way weather and climate works.

      ‘In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. ‘ IPCC TAR

      If there any possible justification for denying what science is saying so clearly? Got me beat.

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Re bizarre comments by Generalissimo Skippy on February 2, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Skippy said “Again the 2 statements – that chaos is unpredictable and that non-warming – or even cooling – over decades is likely are not mutually exclusive.”

      Skippy, I get it. You can’t predict, except when you predict.

      Skippy also said “Recognising that the current climate state is the cool mode and that these persist for 20 to 40 years is not a prediction.”

      I’m sorry, Skippy, but I believe a prediction of 20 to 40 years of cooling is a prediction.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      So I guess we can add the use of tenses in the English language to your long list of educational deficits. What a sad commentary on the state of Oklahoman education.

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      I hope Skippy Grammar will be as much fun as Skippy Science.

      Skip, I fear your quotes from the 2009 paper by Tsonis and Swanson could leave the impression they are AGW skeptics, but the final paragraph in their conclusion, quoted below, suggests otherwise.

      “Finally, it is vital to note that there is no comfort to
      be gained by having a climate with a significant degree of
      internal variability, even if it results in a near-term cessation
      of global warming. It is straightforward to argue that a climate with significant internal variability is a climate that is very sensitive to applied anthropogenic radiative anomalies
      [cf. Roe, 2009]. If the role of internal variability in the
      climate system is as large as this analysis would seem to
      suggest, warming over the 21st century may well be larger
      than that predicted by the current generation of models,
      given the propensity of those models to underestimate
      climate internal variability [Kravtsov and Spannagle, 2008].”


    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      I apologize for the messed up spacing. If it’s hard to read, just follow the link to the paper.

    • I tried to understand this,
      I thought that they were out of their minds,
      How could I be so foolish (how could I)
      To not see I was the one behind…

    • Plus, much of that internal variability can be deterministically modelled. Pretty sweet.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Play that funky music white boy.

      Professor Anastasios Tsonis, [Meteorologist] of the University of Wisconsin, said: “We are already in a cooling trend, which I think will continue for the next 15 years at least. There is no doubt the warming of the 1980s and 1990s has stopped.”


      As for your question: at the end of the century we were sitting on the highest global temperature value of the modern record. Since then we have leveled off and we may in fact be cooling. “We have reached the top of the mountain”, therefore it’s not surprising that the last decade is one of the warmest on record. Think about it! The important aspect is that the warming of the 80s and 90s has stopped and the models missed it completely! The important issue is that we have entered a new regime in global temperature tendency. In fact, I find it very misleading that scientists will present “the warmest decade” argument to justify their beliefs (or failures).

      The penultimate paragraph from the study quoted by maxy reads.

      … the future evolution of the global mean temperature may
      hold surprises on both the warm and cold ends of the spectrum due entirely to internal variability that lie well outside the envelope of a steadily increasing global mean temperature.

      This is in the nature of the unpredictability of deterministic chaotic systems – so yes it may be warmer or cooler after the next climate shift given dynamic climate sensitivity that was discussed in the link earlier to the Michael Ghil paper. As in the NAS quote – the cause of abrupt change may be immeasurably small. Thus sensitivity – γ in the terminology of Ghil – in the region of bifurcation can be very high indeed and it can be negative or positive.

      As for modeling – there are too many unknowns. I include here both such things as cloud – for which we have uncertain data since 1979 and more certain data from MODIS since 2000. Plus a little information in the important early century transition from reflected Earthshine. But also fundamental properties of climate such as AMOC, high level blocking patterns and Arctic ice loss feeding into ice and snow feedbacks.

      Webby’s simple multiple linear regression both misses important climate factors – and has no basis for anticipating the evolution of ENSO, AMOC, climate shifts, volcanoes, etc.

      Physically realistic models show some promise – but it is still early days.

      “The ocean plays a crucial role in our climate system, especially when it comes to fluctuations over several years or decades,” explains Prof. Mojib Latif, co-author of the study. “The chances of correctly predicting such variations are much better than the weather for the next few weeks, because the climate is far less chaotic than the rapidly changing weather conditions,” said Latif. This is due to the slow changes in ocean currents which affect climate parameters such as air temperature and precipitation. “The fluctuations of the currents bring order to the weather chaos.”

      The researchers used a climate model, a so-called coupled ocean-atmosphere model, which they forced with the observed wind data of the last decades. For the abrupt changes during the 1970s and 1990s they calculated predictions which began a few months prior to the beginning of the observed climate shifts. The average of all predictions for both abrupt changes shows good agreement with the observed climate development in the Pacific.

      “The winds change the ocean currents which in turn affect the climate. In our study, we were able to identify and realistically reproduce the key processes for the two abrupt climate shifts,” says Prof. Latif. “We have taken a major step forward in terms of short-term climate forecasting, especially with regard to the development of global warming. However, we are still miles away from any reliable answers to the question whether the coming winter in Germany will be rather warm or cold.” Prof. Latif cautions against too much optimism regarding short-term regional climate predictions: “Since the reliability of those predictions is still at about 50%, you might as well flip a coin.”

      It is precisely the order – that of strange attractors in complex and dynamic systems – that Latif is talking about in ocean currents that enables Tsonis to say with some confidence that the cooling trend will continue for the next 15 years at least. Beyond that there be tipping points and dragon-kings. Which is why I have claimed to be a climate catastrophist – in the sense of Rene Thom. Both of these points go well over the heads of space cadets like webby and maxy and creates the unfortunate disjunct between the need for carbon mitigation in practical and pragmatic ways – along with building societal resilience – and the unreality of global warming as it is formulated in their simple memes.

      Science is progressing – but it is not the science they understand. The unfortunate thing is that they are so confident in their error that closed minds seem the order of the day.

  16. David Springer

    Defining scientific ideas as hypotheses and going by Karl Popper’s philosophy of science which states hypotheses must be falsifiable at least in principle I can’t think of any. Scientific ideas are valid until falsified and if they are not falsifiied they aren’t retired they are cited less. If it isn’t falsifiable it’s not a scientific idea it’s a narrative. There are a great many narratives masquerading as scientific ideas.

    • +100

    • “If it isn’t falsifiable it’s not a scientific idea it’s a narrative. There are a great many narratives masquerading as scientific ideas.”

      2+2=4. not falisifiable, but not a narrative
      science must be falsifiable: not falsifiable but not a narrative

      hey, there are an even number of stars.

      The original motivation behind Poppers effort ( and those who came before him) was to draw lines of demarcation between : math and logic, science, and metaphysics.

      Sadly, it’s based on a premise or presumption, that never gets examined.
      Guess what that presumption is.

      out of your league again springer.

    • David Springer

      Steven Mosher | February 2, 2014 at 11:54 am |

      ds; “If it isn’t falsifiable it’s not a scientific idea it’s a narrative. There are a great many narratives masquerading as scientific ideas.”

      sm: 2+2=4. not falisifiable, but not a narrative
      science must be falsifiable: not falsifiable but not a narrative


      2+2=4 is math not science. The rest of your comment is based upon the false premise that math is science.

      Try again.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Science is defined as hypothesis, analysis and synthesis. Analysis is the process of testing hypotheses and synthesis is the more interesting area of what used to be called natural philosophy.

      In Newton’s fourth rule for reasoning.

      ‘In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.

      This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypothesis.’

      Natural philosophy by this rule is the attempt to make sense of the world in a big picture kind of way by inductive reasoning from a number of validated observations. The theory arrived at thereby should itself contains the seeds of testable hypotheses.

      The example I give is the theory of relativity. An astonishing leap of inductive reasoning based on the observation of the invariability of the speed of light with respect to different inertial frames of reference – but testable – eventually – by measurements of time dilation.

      Blog science overwhelmingly evades this rule with much specious reasoning and little reference to actual data.

    • In addition to falsifiability, there are also the technological spin off’s. Quantum theory might appear completely nuts, but you can make machines based on the theoretical framework. The same happens in medical science, you can guess that doing this will give this result; it is more like pushing overcooked spaghetti than physics, but it gets there.

    • I also would like to introduce the beauty of lower math. I think that both science and our understanding of the universe (emphasis on understanding) would be well served by treating issues with the lowest level of mathematics consistent with explaining the issue itself. Something like making things as simple as possible, but no simpler. Examples abound…

    • David Springer

      Tom Fuller | February 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm |

      “I also would like to introduce the beauty of lower math. I think that both science and our understanding of the universe (emphasis on understanding) would be well served by treating issues with the lowest level of mathematics consistent with explaining the issue itself. Something like making things as simple as possible, but no simpler. Examples abound…”

      You’re right. I throw up in my mouth a little whenever anyone starts explaining coupled ocean/atmosphere physics in quantum mechanical terms. We need smaller grid cells but not that small. LOL

  17. David Springer

    Ok I read forward and I didn’t understand what was meant by scientific idea judging by the answers. These are all ideas about how science should be practiced which aren’t scientific ideas they’re opinions. One person answered that the scientific method should be retired and my interpretation is that the idea would first have to qualify as science by that method before it could be called a scientific idea.

  18. I haven’t read the article yet. Well, I don’t think it is time to throw out data-centric, or observation-centric, science. I guess I would throw out climate models, if they can be considered a scientific idea. The money spent on those would be better spent elsewhere. Keep maybe one institution funded for climate models.

  19. Paul Saffo – The illusion of scientific progress
    Brian Christian – Scientific knowledge should be structured as ‘literature’
    Kate Mills – Only ‘scientists’ can do science
    Tom Griffiths – Bias is always bad
    Mary Catherine Bateson – The illusion of certainty
    Alex Holcombe – Science is self-correcting
    Melanie Swan – The scientific method
    Sam Harris – Our narrow definition of ‘science’
    Victoria Stodden – Reproducibility
    Sean Carroll – Falsifiability


    that about sums up my views for the past 35 years.

  20. One idea that should be thrown out is that humanity is an anathema to the Earth. So also, that its rising population is bad. Humans are of the Earth and have just as much right to survive and thrive as any other species.

    Really, there are no limits to the way science is done. That is, as long as there is no central control. For like government, central control limits opportunity. In the case of science, it limits alternative hypotheses and explorations outside the mainstream. Without central control, people are free to explore nature any way they can. Some groups or individuals will chase up blind alleys, e.g. Sky Dragons, but the diversity will result in all possible approaches to knowledge being explored.

    • R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist

      Humans certainly are “of the Earth”, and we certainly do have a right to survive and thrive. A part of that survival will depend on our recognition of our responsibility toward stewardship of this planet. Without a stewardship perspective, we certainly won’t continue to thrive in the future.

      Also, keep in mind that viruses that can kill you and cancer cells are also “of the Earth”, so that criteria alone gives us very little assistance in making choices. Again, a stewardship perspective is the only viable way forward as we now so completely dominate this planet. This will inevitably lead to Anthropocene management if we are to be successful as species in the future, and the beginnings of that can be observed many places already..

    • Gates – Misplaced stewardship is rampant.

    • David Springer

      Human reproduce at the expense of reproduction in other species is a scientific idea. Whether or not that’s bad or good is not a scientific idea it’s a value or ethical judgement.

      Science needs the strict demarcation I described precisely because conflation of science and ethics ruins both.

    • R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist

      “Human reproduce at the expense of reproduction in other species is a scientific idea.”
      Not really. If anything, the study of ecosystems has shown that a balance in the ecosystem is required. The lion and gazelle need each other.

    • David Springer

      Yes if mother nature produced the human species then it follows that human activity is a natural thing too. Claiming human activity is somehow unnatural is religion not science. Specifically it’s called “special creation” which is the categorical name for any thesis wherein humans are somehow beyond nature – i.e. super-natural or extra-natural.

    • David Springer


      Yeah really.

      I hypothesize that a human population increase to 70 billion would result in a reduction in other population of other species competing for the same resources that sustains 70 billion humans.

      Explain why that’s not scientific.

    • David Springer


      A responsibility for stewardship is an ethical principle not a scientific one and it probably first appeared in the bible. I didn’t know you were such a religious guy!

    • R. Gates, A Skeptical Warmist

      “Yes if mother nature produced the human species then it follows that human activity is a natural thing too. Claiming human activity is somehow unnatural is religion not science.”
      When cancer eats your body away, it is perfectly natural following perfectly natural laws. More useful than “natural” or “unnatural” is to think in terms of that which preserves the network of relationships. The ecosystem is a network of relationships and so is your body. The individual lion killing the individual gazelle preserves that network in the bigger picture of things. Cancer eating your body destroys that network that is your body. Being good stewards of the planet would inform us to be preservers of the network of relationships that makes for abundant life. Anthropocene management is a good word for this, and science will be the basis.

    • jim2 “One idea that should be thrown out is that humanity is an anathema to the Earth.”- Agree.
      R. Gates “Without a stewardship perspective, we certainly won’t continue to thrive in the future.” – That’s a reasonable idea, but I can’t quite agree. I am always sceptical of “the only solution is …” arguments, and as jim2 says “Misplaced stewardship is rampant “. Maybe you could work from the “The lion and gazelle need each other” idea, by understanding how the lion and gazelle have both survived to date, how other species with similar interdependence have failed, and how they all translate into the human situation. I think it could get very messy indeed, and there aren’t any easy solutions – sometimes we may be smart enough to avoid an approaching mess but in general we have to be able to deal with the mess when it arrives. If we fail, we fail.

    • Mike – you have read into my post things I didn’t say, apparently. Where did I advocate the destruction of other species? The open land area of the Earth is huge. We are nowhere close to wiping out a significant number of species, for like global warming, a lot of extinctions are natural and desirable. If that wasn’t the way it was, life couldn’t adapt.

    • jim2 – I spoke of interdependence, not destruction.

  21. I think I would start by replacing the word science all together and substitute

    Many would like to add the word prediction. But not all explanation leads to prediction.

    Since the early 1900s the attempt to reference all forms of understanding and explanation to the ideal of lab science has pretty much failed.

    That doesnt entail that all forms of knowing and explaining are on the same footing as lab science. That doesn’t entail a return to a belief in magic.

    • R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist


      There is science as a process and science as a paradigm or world view. Science as a world view provides not just one, but many interrelated explanations for “life, the universe, and everything”. In this regard, science is the new “religion” for many– as it provides some meaning and context for their life. Interestingly, some people successfully integrate both– science and a traditional religion, though this was not always possible during the early years of The Enlightenment. When the Church was the authority, science was either not allowed or put into a very tightly controlled metaphysical “box”, figuratively and literally (as Galileo found out).

    • David Springer

      Gate’s sweeping generalization between science and “the Church” is of course quite wrong. See below and more at the link.


      The relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and science is a widely debated subject. The church has often been a patron of science, and founded schools, universities and hospitals. Catholic scientists, both religious and lay, have led scientific discovery in many fields. Conversely, the conflict thesis and other critiques posit that there is an intrinsic intellectual conflict between the Church and science. Pope John Paul II wrote that “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

      Where in earlier times, science and theology were considered very much intertwined, in modern times, the processes of the empirical sciences and the theological claims of religions are more commonly viewed as belonging to different (and sometimes conflicting) spheres.

      From ancient times, Christian emphasis on practical charity gave rise to the development of systematic nursing and hospitals and the Church remains the single greatest private provider of medical care and research facilities in the world. Following the Fall of Rome, monasteries and convents remained bastions of scholarship in Western Europe and clergymen were the leading scholars of the age – studying nature, mathematics and the motion of the stars (largely for religious purposes). During the Middle Ages, the Church founded Europe’s first universities, producing scholars like Robert Grosseteste, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas who helped establish scientific method. During this period, the Church was also a great patron of engineering for the construction of elaborate cathedrals. Since the Renaissance, Catholic scientists have been credited as fathers of a diverse range of scientific fields: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) prefigured the theory of evolution with Lamarckism; Friar Gregor Mendel (1822–84) pioneered genetics and Fr Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) proposed the Big Bang cosmological model. The Jesuits have been particularly active, particularly in astronomy. Church patronage of sciences continues through elite institutions like the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Vatican Observatory.

    • R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist

      In the early years of the Enlightenment, the Church and the new budding paradigm of science were indeed at odds. Galileo is the most telling example, but there are others. Of course this relationship changed over time as the power of science and its application to human existence became quite obvious and in some respects, the Church needed to reform itself as the belief in the advancement of human civilization through applied science became overwhelming. The last big battle between science and religion was over evolution, but since then, religion has by and large accepted its role in ethics, with science telling us “what” and religion telling us “so what?”.

    • Steven Mosher

      R Gates.

      I wasnt opposing science and religion.

      I was refering to this



      ” Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.”

      ” As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries — not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits18b comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.”

      ” Imagine, for the sake of analogy, that we are given the rational numbers. We develop an algebraic theory for reasoning about them, but we find it inconveniently complex, because certain functions such as square root lack values for some arguments. Then it is discovered that the rules of our algebra can be much simplified by conceptually augmenting our ontology with some mythical entities, to be called irrational numbers. All we continue to be really interested in, first and last, are rational numbers; but we find that we can commonly get from one law about rational numbers to another much more quickly and simply by pretending that the irrational numbers are there too.
      I think this a fair account of the introduction of irrational numbers and other extensions of the number system. The fact that the mythical status of irrational numbers eventually gave way to the Dedekind- Russell version of them as certain infinite classes of ratios is irrelevant to my analogy. That version is impossible anyway as long as reality is limited to the rational numbers and not extended to classes of them.

      Now I suggest that experience is analogous to the rational numbers and that the physical objects, in analogy to the irrational numbers, are posits which serve merely to simplify our treatment of experience. The physical objects are no more reducible to experience than the irrational numbers to rational numbers, but their incorporation into the theory enables us to get more easily from one statement about experience to another.

      The salient differences between the positing of physical objects and the positing of irrational numbers are, I think, just two. First, the factor of simplication is more overwhelming in the case of physical objects than in the numerical case. Second, the positing of physical objects is far more archaic, being indeed coeval, I expect, with language itself. For language is social and so depends for its development upon intersubjective reference.”

  22. I think AGW is ready for retirement

  23. I would like to see “Science is…” retired.

  24. What a terrific post.

    What I thought of before reading any of the write ups was that too many believe the science of today is the final destination and we possess all the knowledge we need to determine the “truth”.

    The other thought I had is how so many of the “debates” between our commenters, regardless of the daily topic, are tangentially touching on many of the ideas brought out by these authors.

  25. David Springer

    The only answer given that I’d even call a scientific idea is

    Daniel Hillis – Cause and effect

    And he gets the QM description wrong. He describes cause-and-effect as ready to be retired because of quantum entanglement, although he doesn’t appear to understand enough QM to call it that. Einstein called it spooky action at distance. You produce quantum entangled particles and when you measure a quantum state on one it effects what you can read on the other at a distance, instantaneously. It’s still cause and effect. It’s an instant effect is all. Moreover it can’t be used to communicate at superluminal speed because of what’s called the no-cloning theorum.

    Interestingly I just re-read yesterday an article in Sci-Am called “The Right Way To Get It Wrong” (June 2012) discussing how a scientific idea that is falsified sometimes leads to great, unexpected, tangentially related breakthroughs in the process of falsification.

    One of the examples in the article was Nick Herbert who in 1981 devised a superluminal communication device using quantum entanglement. It appeared watertight and reviewers at the journal where it was submitted insisted it should be published because “it must be wrong but I can’t find the flaw so there must be a new law of physics to explain why it won’t work”. It relied on a laser amplifier to output identical copies of photons that it received on the input side. The falsification came along a few years later and was called “the no-cloning theorum”. The laser amplifier in the process of copying the incoming photon ruined the entanglement. I’m not an expert but off the top of my head in quantum computing that’s called decoherence and it’s a wicked engineering problem maintaining entangled states.

    Anyhow the falsification of Herbert’s idea was the formulation of the no-cloning law and the no-cloning law was then used to produce an unbreakable quantum encryption where a message is sent via entangled photons down a fiber optic line and any interception along the way destroys the message (can’t copy quantum states due to no-cloning) and the attempt to intercept the message also becomes known to the sender and receiver because the quantum entanglement has collapsed and the message is gone.

    Just a little light reading on the terlet. ;-)

    • David Springer


      The Right Way to Get It Wrong

      Most errors are quickly forgotten. Others end up remaking the face of science

      By David Kaiser and Angela N. H. Creager

      Perhaps more than any other profession, science places a premium on being correct. Of course, most scientists—like most living humans—make plenty of mistakes along the way. Yet not all errors are created equal. Historians have unearthed a number of instances in which an incorrect idea proved far more potent than thousands of others that were trivially mistaken or narrowly correct. These are the productive mistakes: errors that touch on deep, fundamental features of the world around us and prompt further research that leads to major breakthroughs. Mistakes they certainly are. But science would be far worse off without them.

      Niels Bohr, for example, created a model of the atom that was wrong in nearly every way, yet it inspired the quantum-mechanical revolution. In the face of enormous skepticism, Alfred Wegener argued that centrifugal forces make the continents move (or “drift”) along the surface of the earth. He had the right phenomenon, albeit the wrong mechanism. And Enrico Fermi thought that he had created nuclei heavier than uranium, rather than (as we now know) having stumbled on nuclear fission.

      This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

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    • You are nailing it today. Errors are goldmines, even the non-productive kind. If you don’t know the sources, mechanisms and manifestations of errors, it is impossible to recognize weak signals from well hidden, powerful phenomenon.

  26. Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

    ‘we will see an increase in the number of scientific discoveries made by informally trained “citizen scientists” of all ages and backgrounds’
    Kate Mills

    As an example of citizen science, I recently discovered how to discourage chipmunks from living under my house. I theorized chipmunks, like me, would be repulsed by the taste of castor oil. So I soaked small pieces of sponge in castor oil and poked these pieces down the chipmunks’ hole. I theorized they would get that horrible tasting oil on their fur and try to lick it off. HA HA ! I laugh every time I think about it.

    It worked! I haven’t seen those little rascals since.

    I guess what I did was a combination of chemistry and biology, neither of which I know anything about. But citizen scientists don’t need to know much.

    My next science project will be deer-proofing our garden. I have plenty of castor oil left.

    • Max

      You said

      ‘But citizen scientists don’t need to know much.’

      Coming from someone whose tag includes the words’ citizen scientist’ this seems an odd admission of your lack of credentials

      Ps do you think chipmunks are related to mice, if so I might try this on our Own furry winter visitors

    • Depends on the wealth level of the zip code. In Dallas they have rats and cockroaches; in Highland Park they have squirrels and palmetto bugs.

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Tony, because both are rodents, mice may be as repulsed as chipmunks by the taste of castor oil, but I advise against using it on mice. Unlike chipmunks, mice live indoors, and I doubt you want loose-boweled mice running all over your house.

      You think citizen scientists need credentials. HA HA, we don’t need no stinking credentials. We have the right to vote, so we have the right to do science. It’s called democracy.

    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      JCH, I lost a war on squirrels. They were raiding my platform bird feeder, and while It was fun watching them try to climb the pole after I greased it with pam, I eventually grew tired of re-applying pam, and just stopped putting bird seed out.

      Because I withdrew from the battle, I considered myself defeated by the squirrels, but I took comfort in knowing the little devils were no longer getting what they wanted.

    • David Springer

  27. One technique that could get less funding is statistical studies that attempt to construct missing (current) data when a project could be mounted to obtain the actual data. We’ve had too many stat studies that do nothing but muddy the water.

  28. It’s a bit of an oxymoron. If the idea is SCIENTIFIC then by it’s very nature it shouldn’t be retired. Given a number of skeptical arguments as well as the consensus view are all based on a continuum based on similar principles (I’m thinking of low to high climate sensitivity) then probably neither of these should be rejected given the state of the science ATM.

    Outside climate science then there are is plenty of pseudoscience that seems to have more to do with mysticism and panic than science . One of my personal bugbears is the Organic Movement” which seems to say that the same chemical molecule can have properties of ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ depending on whether they arise through ‘natural’ processes or at the hands of Man.

    Given the way Oliver Manuel’s ideas about an ‘iron sun'(???) is universally ignored on this website then I think that maybe that one can safely be put to bed.

    (Having answered the question time to read the post)

    • David Springer

      “It’s a bit of an oxymoron. If the idea is SCIENTIFIC then by it’s very nature it shouldn’t be retired.”

      My sediments exactly.

    • You would have thought that would have been put to bed in 1828 with the Wöhler synthesis of urea. Farm to market and minimal pesticides are fine, but the overall “organic” movement has a strong anti-science, anti-intellectual undercurrent I find very troubling.

  29. My list of scientific ideas overdue for retirement.

    Observers in QM and quantum collapse (the modern version of the conceit of placing humanity at the center of the universe.)

    Dark matter (the fudge factor propping up our broken theory of gravity)

    Dark energy (the fudge factor propping up our broken cosmology)

    Singularities in general relativity (the modern version of the world having an edge and being able to fall off it).

    Boltzmann brains (complete and utter tosh)

    Arithmetic with infinities in physics (just torturing broken theories using broken mathematics to try to get them to confess)

    Massive neutrinos and a chiral weak force. (Hello – these are completely contradictory ideas people – NO you can’t have them both – which one are you going to give up?)

    I could go on but that list will do for a start. The first step in seeking better physics is understanding that existing physics is broken.

    • David Springer

      Define retirement.

    • Retirement = these ideas are probably wrong; replacements are eagerly sought. Except for Boltzmann brains where ridicule is probably the best response.

    • Steven Mosher


      Remove from the labor pool.

      Put another way, what “ideas”. ‘frameworks’, approaches, assumptions, catagories, that are used today by scientists are not pulling their weight in the
      labor pool. What tools used by science in the past have outlived their usefulness?

      1. the illusion of certainty.
      2. defining all sciences by the practices employed by a only a few sciences.
      3. the notion that only scientists can do science..


      So. to retire is to be removed from the labor pool. There was perhaps a time when these ideas were useful. but the suggestion is that they have outlived their usefulness. Pretty simple

      write that down

    • Permanently redundant

  30. David Springer – your post at 12.37. You must mean “Alfred the Great” not Albert – of have I missed someone?!


    • David Springer

      Nope. Albert the Great.


      Albertus Magnus, also known as Albert the Great, was one of the most universal thinkers to appear during the Middle Ages. Even more so than his most famous student, St. Thomas of Aquinas, Albert’s interests ranged from natural science all the way to theology. He made contributions to logic, psychology, metaphysics, meteorology, mineralogy, and zoology.


      Albertus Magnus, O.P. (1193/1206 – November 15, 1280), also known as Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, is a Catholic saint. He was a German Dominican friar and a Catholic bishop. Contemporaries such as Roger Bacon applied the term “Magnus” to Albertus during his own lifetime, referring to his immense reputation as a scholar and philosopher. Such as James A. Weisheipl and Joachim R. Söder have referred to him as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages.[1] The Catholic Church honours him as a Doctor of the Church, one of only 35 so honoured.

  31. Isn’t about time we addressed the lack of alignment between thermometer and satellite records and their continuing to diverge trends?

    We have data since 1979 and, so far, we still cannot make them to an agreement.

  32. What scientific ideas are ready for retirement?

    Proclamations from people who want people to think they sound smart that there are general ideas and attitudes that should be removed from the toolbox. One day I might need my ignition points feeler gauge.

  33. Matthew R Marler

    I’d vote to get rid of the idea of “stationarity”, along with “equilibrium” and “ergodicity” (which were not nominated.) They are assumed because you can derive results from them, and the results are not always terribly inaccurate over short time spans. With modern computing and other advances since 1900, they are passe. You can get more accurate results with non-stationary models via computation than with stationary models via derivation and proof..

    • The Laurence C. Smith Stationarity essay also includes this very pertinent piece which wasn’t excerpted.
      “This recognition is not new among scientists, but has been surprisingly slow to penetrate into the practical world. For example, even as awareness and acceptance of climate change has grown, stationarity continues to serve as a central, default assumption in water-resource risk assessment and planning. Floodplain zoning continues to be designed around stationary concepts like the 100- and 500-year flood, despite known impacts of land use conversion and urbanization on water runoff and the anticipated impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The civil engineering profession and most regulatory agencies around the world have been slow to acknowledge these changes and seek new approaches to address them. But viable alternatives exist, for example using the precautionary, no-regrets “probable maximum flood” (PMF) method to design dams and bridges, and incorporation of more flexible “subjectivist Bayesian” probabilities in societal risk calculations.”

    • An omitted phrase from Illusion of Certainty was “What kind of evidence will convince the doubters of the reality of what might best be called climate disruption?”

    • David Springer

      Speaking of climate disruption I bet there’s a whole bunch of folks in the US who’d like some global warming to disrupt the US climate right about now.

    • Jim D

      Is the concept of “anthropogenic climate disruption” ready for retirement?

      (i.e. the notion that climate is naturally static and benign, but is being “disrupted” in a negative manner by anthropogenic influences)


    • I think the idea of the Illusion of Certainty essay is that it is often considered that the science is not right unless it is certain. Some think climate science won’t be right unless climate disruption is proved certain, which means it will already have happened in an unmistakable statistically robust way. Then it will turn out that the climate science was right all along, but its consequences had not yet been seen.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Jimmy Dee – picks and chooses ideas and doesn’t quite get the big picture of non-stationarity.

      Hydrologic events are defined by statistical treatment of a hydrological series – i.e. typically a Log Pearson type III distribution to extend the period of the series from a very sample to something more usable. But there is non-stationarity in the series – i.e. regimes where more rainfall occurs and regimes with less rainfall. Thus the argument for a stratified stochastic analysis using the different means and distribution from different regimes for different purposes – i.e low rainfall regimes for water resources planning and high rainfall regimes for flood planning.

      I can assure you also that estimates of flows are based on rainfall taking into account catchment conditions – paving, clearing, slopes, catchment size, etc.

      Regardless – it is impractical to design any but the most critical infrastructure for the PMF. It is also not possible to estimate the impacts of climate change on PMP.

      ‘Global climate models have some skill in simulating the spatial pattern for the mean of R10mm and RX5day. However, the models have very limited ability in simulating the mean for the most extreme rainfall index (R95pT). None of the models adequately account for the spatial pattern of trends (red symbols) across all rainfall indices throughout the period 1951-2005. The lack of agreement in model trends could be due to lack of skill in simulating the large-scale mechanisms affecting Australian rainfall such as ENSO.’


      Indeed – climate change seems almost irrelevant given the paleovariability of ENSO. Mega-droughts and mega-floods the like of which is not seen in the 20th century record. Abrupt shifts between long El Nino or La Nina regimes. The essence of non-stationarity is chaotic shifts between regimes.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      … very (limited) sampe…

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Ah – very limited sample – c’est le blog.

    • Stationarity has been a common mistake in the past. Evolution couldn’t happen because species were constant. The universe was in a steady state, prior to anyone showing expansion, continents were stationary before drift was discovered, earth was stationary before they realized it orbits the sun, climate was thought stationary or at least hard to change…

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      Stationarity has a statistical meaning that is what is being discussed.

      Confusing it with evolution merely confuses the picture.

    • Yes, Chief, the last comment was my 2 cents, but I also excerpted the relevant part for climate change above. It is a major error in any kind of long-term planning to assume stationarity when 100 and 500 year events no longer have a meaning under climate change. Planning has to take into account the significant non-stationariness in climate, which is our current situation. Some are just starting to pay attention to this issue with sea level.

    • “The essence of non-stationarity is chaotic shifts between regimes.”

      Yep – over 11,000 years of hard geological data inform that

    • R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist

      Stationarity has been long ago been abandoned in the climate studies area with the advent of better and better paleoclimate data. From ice cores to sediment cores, constant change is seen. Sometimes that change is gradual and sometimes quite rapid. The real challenge has been, and continues to be, to match up changes with the combination of known forcings to develop a more and robust theory of how the climate on Earth changes through direct forcings and their related feedbacks.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      This quote by Jimmy Dee is a bit of errant nonsense. I thought I had discussed that. The actual source of non-stationarity in hydrology is the rainfall patterns and not anything to do with catchment conditions. .

      These change abruptly – and quite substantially.

      e.g. http://s1114.photobucket.com/user/Chief_Hydrologist/media/ENSO11000.gif.html?sort=3&o=192

      But the assumptions that rainfall will change with AGW – itself a wrong and irrelevant formulation of the problem – is both unproved and unquantifiable. As discussed in the report I linked to. But any change in actual rainfall is incorporated into updated rainfall analysis and is subject to the usual statistical distributions.

      Now you may question the stochastic analysis – and preferred a stratified analysis as I suggested – or you may fret about dragon-king outliers at tipping points – but these are questions for professional judgement and not for bloody amateurs to erroneously pontificate about.

      Non-stationarity is the result of dynamical complexity in the climate system. Small changes feed through multiple positive and negative feedbacks propagating instability in the system which ultimately settles into a new quasi-equilibrium state. It is known as abrupt climate change.

      ‘What defines a climate change as abrupt? Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small.’ http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10136&page=14

      The sum of processes are barely understood even with modern data and are still utterly unpredictable. Expecting to be able to do more than to broadly identify changes in paleoclimates is space cadet narrative nonsense.

    • GS, thanks for your input.

    • You can get more accurate models by assuming a forcing function than relying on this spontaneous chaos spew that gets endlessly pushed here.

    • Matthew R Marler

      Generalissimo Skippy: ‘What defines a climate change as abrupt? Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small.’

      Technically, that is not a “definition” of “abrupt” change, but an explication of one mechanism that might cause an “abrupt” change, should “abrupt change” ever be given a good definition. Right now, “abrupt” changes are merely changes that have occurred more rapidly than the majority of “non-abrupt” changes. There might have been a “transition” to a new state at the end of the last ice age, but there has been no evidence of any such transition during the era since the end of the last ice age.

    • There is no end to the number of encompassing stationary theories one can create to encompass any finite amount of data. It’s just like adding states to a Markov process.

      In the flood-control case, the question isn’t “stationary or not?” it’s “stationary with x impact of human activity on drainage or with y impact of human activity on drainage?” where x and y range across the possibilities and human activity is a measured variable. The encompassing model has sub-parts conditional on the level of human activity but x and y are fixed. If you want non-linearity added to it, let x and y be arbitrary functions of the vector of human activity instead of constants.

      Stationarity is a requirement for any theory with ambitions or pretensions of complete explanation, and that includes models with non-linear and multiple attractors.

  34. Gavin Schmidt’s contribution there was not listed here. His was “Simple Answers”.
    I also notice that the contributors were mostly from the area of psychology, possibly distantly followed by theoretical physics.

    • Another gem from “Scientists should stick to science” which says advocacy is not out of bounds.
      “Such incidents of silencing are sadly commonplace when it comes to politically controversial scientific topics. The US Government muzzled climate scientists in a similar manner in 2007, when it was reported that 46% of 1600 surveyed scientists were warned against using terms like “global warming” and 43% said their published work had been revised in ways that altered their conclusions. US preparations for oncoming climate change were checked as a result, a failing that persists today.”

    • From that same one (by a molecular biologist)
      “The scientific evidence for the efficacy of vaccines, the process of evolution, the existence of anthropogenic climate change is accepted in the scientific community. Yet, within the public sphere, goaded by a sensationalizing mainstream media and politicians seeking re-election, these settled facts are made to appear tentative. Science is based on evidence, and if that evidence tells us something new we need to incorporate that into our policies. We cannot ignore it simply because it is unpopular or inconvenient.”

    • From Anthropocenricity, we have this.
      “Resistance to new ideas frequently restricts the development of knowledge. The history of science is a succession of controversies—a non geo-centric universe, continental drift, theory of evolution, quantum mechanics and climate change.”

    • John Carpenter

      Yeah, I was surprised Judith did not mention his comment. I thought it was pretty insightful considering where he comes from. I don’t think many skeptics here would disagree with his overall perception of oversimplifying complex problems, let alone Judith who believes this.

      • Actually, Gavin’s comment was in my original list (along with Matt Ridley, Ian McEwan, Freeman Dysan and a few others), i shortened the list to eliminate duplicate topics (and to get the list down to 20). I like Gavin’s comment, but felt it was covered by others.

    • Part of Gavin’s was, and I think everyone would agree,
      “Yet collectively we keep acting as though there are simple answers. We continually read about the search for the one method that will allow us to cut through the confusion, the one piece of data that tell us the ‘truth’, or the final experiment that will ‘prove’ the hypothesis. But almost all scientists will agree that these are fool’s errands—that science is method for producing incrementally more useful approximations to reality, not a path to absolute truth.”

    • John Carpenter

      ” I like Gavin’s comment, but felt it was covered by others.”

      There was a strong theme among many comments that said as much… that theories of everything, unification theories, etc. are not likely true. Though the ideal may be parsimonious solutions to complex problems, but it appears complex problems have very complex solutions. Gavin got it right.

    • Generalissimo Skippy

      ‘Climate, however, is the bigger picture of a region’s weather: the average, over 30 years (according to the World Meteorological Association’s definition), of the weather pattern in a region. While weather changes fast on human timescales, climate changes fairly slowly. Getting reasonably accurate predictions is a matter of choosing the right timescale: days in the case of weather, decades in the case of climate.’ http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11641-climate-myths-chaotic-systems-are-not-predictable.html#.UvAJgSHTlAg

      ‘What defines a climate change as abrupt? Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small.’ http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10136&page=14

      ‘The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet, and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed, and extent of those changes. Hence, future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence, and climate surprises are to be expected.

      The new paradigm of an abruptly changing climatic system has been well established by research over the last decade, but this new thinking is little known and scarcely appreciated in the wider community of natural and social scientists and policy-makers.’ http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10136&page=1

      ‘A vigorous spectrum of interdecadal internal variability presents numerous challenges to our current understanding of the climate. First, it suggests that climate models in general still have difficulty reproducing the magnitude and spatiotemporal patterns of internal variability necessary to capture the observed character of the 20th century climate trajectory. Presumably, this is due primarily to deficiencies in ocean dynamics. Moving toward higher resolution, eddy resolving oceanic models should help reduce this deficiency. Second, theoretical arguments suggest that a more variable climate is a more sensitive climate to imposed forcings (13). Viewed in this light, the lack of modeled compared to observed interdecadal variability (Fig. 2B) may indicate that current models underestimate climate sensitivity. Finally, the presence of vigorous climate variability presents significant challenges to near-term climate prediction (25, 26), leaving open the possibility of steady or even declining global mean surface temperatures over the next several decades that could present a significant empirical obstacle to the implementation of policies directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (27). However, global warming could likewise suddenly and without any ostensive cause accelerate due to internal variability. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the climate system appears wild, and may continue to hold many surprises if pressed.’ http://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16120.full

      There is little evidence either of a broad appreciation of the new paradigm amongst space cadets – or with self appointed groupthink gatekeepers like Gavin Schmidt.

  35. David Springer

    There’s a huge problem here among some folks who can’t seem to draw a line of demarcation between science and ethics. It appears to principally be the warmists. Saving the polar bears is an ethical position not a scientific one. Testing new drugs on animals is science. Objecting to it is ethics. It’s not really rocket science to separate science and ethics.

  36. Just a while ago, there was the concept of “ether” to explain an influence or state we could not explain; as in, “it disappeared into or came out of the ether.” Not really helpful but served as a focal point of inquiry.

    During the 19th Century, qualitative and then quantitative chemistry reached into the grab bag of chemical constituents and reactions pulling out discrete formulas and processes that have served well through the subsequent centuries.

    With a nod to Newton and fleshed out in the 19th and early 20th Centuries mathematics and unseen substances were blended together into the field of physics. We are languishing under its umbrella of “explanation” currently.

    From the above, science has progressed from a grab bag of content, sampled by reaching in and pulling a defined something out and examining it. The more we looked, and the more sophisticated the instruments we used, the more we learned, but also, the more we didn’t understand which seemed to expand exponentially.

    As the instruments for inquiry became more complex and expensive, scientists evolved into the keepers of these instruments dictating who and when someone could play with them. The club, the academia arose to satisfy who would have access to these sophisticated instruments. There arose peer review for club members discussions and manipulations. And there in lies the rub.

    No longer are there many citizen scientists like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, etc to name a few. With the loss of most citizen scientists was the loss of the complementary balance of observation of nature, its measurement, and more importantly: does this make sense? Each citizen scientist came with their own learning, experiences and biases which made discussions at time raucous and at times, not all that enlightening.

    In climate science to day, as I am peeking through a narrow slit in the circus tent, there appears to be the modelers, the physicists, the biologists, the geologists, the engineers, the… so forth and so on all jostling for position into the main or featured attraction.

    What seems to be missing are the people who step back and ask: “does all of this make sense?” That role seems to being played today by a growing cadre of “citizen scientists” who are saying, from their perspective, biases, and understandings, “NO, from all that is being presented, no, it doesn’t make sense.”

    My contention: science is a process, engaged by people of bias, to inquire how nature works and requires a Greek “muse” to ask, does this make sense? This “Greek muse” who will say: today the paradigm has moved from linearity to non linearity with abrupt changes and this muse will comment again when there needs to be another paradigm shift.

    The question: who will that muse be today? By default, the muse is a choir, a polyglot of non-experts, many of whom can be found lurking on the internet and blogs, saying, no, what you are saying doesn’t make sense to me.

    Will the keepers of the faith and its guardians of the sepulcher be willing to listen or will they continue to nominate their own oracles?

    • +100 Perfect. Ain’t the truth. Too many are down in the weeds and can’t see the big picture since they are so encumbered by their models and equations and turf protection.

  37. R. Gates, A Skeptical Warmist

    ” Saving the polar bears is an ethical position not a scientific one.”
    It is not specifically or necessarily one or the other. If it could be found out that polar bears were in fact endangered and were in fact a key part of the ecosystem, then saving them might be both a scientific and ethical issue. A perfect example of when the ethical and scientific positions can come together for a clearly defined goal is the research into the relationship between smoking and cancer. It was both a scientific position that smoking increased the risks for cancer and an ethical position to tell the public and take action to inform everyone of the risks, restrict access to minors so as not to create a new generation of smoking addicts, etc.. In many areas science can inform us what the likely consequences will: “If X happens or continues then there is a high probability that y will happen.” It is then up to elected policymakers to decide what to do with that information. The nexus of science and ethics is of course with policymakers.

    • R. Gates

      No. I’d say “saving the polar bears” is more a position of “polemic”.


    • David Springer

      R. Gates, A Skeptical Warmist | February 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Reply

      “It is not specifically or necessarily one or the other. If it could be found out that polar bears were in fact endangered and were in fact a key part of the ecosystem, then saving them might be both a scientific and ethical issue.”

      Nope. Care over whether ecosystems continue or not is values not science. The universe doesn’t care whether the earth is alive or dead. Science was the atom bomb. Dropping it twice on densely populated cities was ethics.

    • R. Gates, A Skeptical Warmist

      ” Care over whether ecosystems continue or not is values not science.”
      Rather a narrow-minded perspective on science I’d say. Science does not exist separate from the human condition, nor all that follows from that condition, including compassion and caring.

    • Ah, the Endangered Species Act (ESA). What would really ensue if the polar bear disappeared. Not much except the survival of about fifty thousand more seals per year to provide much needed meat and blubber to indigenous peoples. Lets not forget that over 99.99% of all species that have ever inhabited Gaia have gone extinct, either through inappropriate genes or by way of externalities (asteroid impacts etc.). It amazes that those most adamant about the wonders of evolution too often seek to intervene in it. The ESA is perhaps the most unscientific expression of “scientific” behavior that exists.

    • David Springer

      “Saving the polar bears” was, indeed, am ethical issue when the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed in Oslo, November 15, 1973 by the five nations with polar bear populations (Canada, Denmark which governed Greenland at that time, Norway, the U.S., and the former U.S.S.R.). At that time it is thought that the total number of polar bears was as low as 5,000.

      The agreement restricted sport hunting of polar bears and outlawed hunting the bears from aircraft and icebreakers as had been common practice.

      The member nations also agreed to protect polar bear denning areas and migration patterns and to conduct research relating to the conservation and management of polar bears.

      This ethical move paid off, as the polar bear population has grown to five times the level in 1973, or around 25,000 today.


    • Here’s the link to that treaty on polar bears

  38. Here’s another one for the dustbin:

    “The more powerful the computer, the more likely the answer is correct.”


  39. Ideas for retirement.

    Bristle cone tree rings are a proxy for the temperature record.

  40. The idea that Science ‘says’ things.

  41. What scientific ideas are ready for retirement?

    Those promoted by self-serving politicians?

  42. “Sustainability” is past ready for retirement. This is the “science” based on the notion that the only way to avoid calamity is to force people to enjoy only the naturally replenishing plants, animals, water and energy in their immediate vicinity.
    It always was bunk and it’s revival- beginning in the 60s was little more than an attempt at making the austerity and violence of true socialism appear noble.
    Man has always adapted his environment to him, always will. We know CAGW is just a rebranding of the sustainability movement because the climate concerned reject energy alternatives that reduce carbon, but allow economic growth (and there are several existing and even more potential ones).
    I would also like to say that this is less about what needs to be “retired” than it is about what “science” needs to self-police against. It is no surprise that “science” suffers when any cause, political movement, or fad can produce any number of “men in white coats” to say anything they want. “Consensus” is meaningless in such a world, as are journals, peer review, authority via credential or university affiliation, etc etc etc.

    • Jeffn, my letter in The Australian 29/1/14 refers:

      Nothing is sustainable: the nature of existence is constant change, from the subatomic particles which arise and pass away trillions of times a second to the growth and decay of living things, the patterns of climate and the geological movement of the continents. The idea that any particular state or situation is ideal and should be sustained is absurd, a denial of reality.

      The only sensible attitude is to embrace change and plan for it, to adopt policies which enable us to best deal with whatever situation befalls rather than to defend the status quo. Fortunately, human beings have great skill at this: as Nick Cater says, “Human ingenuity is an infinite resource” (“Bitten by the dispiriting dogma of sustainability,” 28/1). Let us celebrate our capacity and enjoy our ever-changing world.

  43. David Springer

    Better way to ask the question:

    So, what scientific idea do YOU think is ready for retirement?

    So, what ideas about the practice of science do YOU think is ready for retirement?

  44. Ready for retirement?

    “The idea that we lived in a static natural climate at precisely 280 ppmv CO2 and that most changes to our climate since then have been the result of human-induced climate forcing, primarily by increasing CO2 concentrations.”


  45. That storms are caused by convection.

  46. Ready to be canned:

    “Studies using scientific methods in order to support a preconceived political or economic agenda are science.”


    • Max_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Max_CH, I’m not so sure about that one. Your agenda could be to make money by discovering cures for diseases. Just because people are motivated by economic gain doesn’t mean they can’t do science. A political agenda can get in the way of science, but not necessarily. Also, you may be forgetting a political agenda can be a result of science.

    • Max_OK

      Let’s not get into a chicken and egg debate here.

      It’s pointless.


  47. Here’s an obvious one:

    “Using models, we can predict with good confidence how our climate will develop based on projections of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.”

    (think “pause”)


  48. Ready for retirement:


    (Oh, wait, he is retired.)


  49. That’s a fascinating post, not so much in the question but in the answers, which tend to be at a philosophical rather than a practical level. Most of the answers give really good food for thought. However, the answer from Aubrey de Grey is dreadful : fund each scientists on “the basis of how well cited was his or her work performed in [the last 5 years]“. Science is already corrupted by the need for citation, this would make it even worse, turning science into even more of a short term popularity contest than it is already.

    I would also strongly disagree with Melanie Swan, who says that we should abandon “Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation” and just go with the computer models. That is a recipe for total disaster, as in climate science, where output from computer models is accepted as gospel even when it is obviously seriously out of kilter with the real world. There is nothing special about a computer model (or a mass of information in a computer). A computer model is topologically equivalent to a pen and the back of an envelope. In the world of computer models and “information abundance” we must work much harder on the testing side, to try to prevent science running hard up blind alleys.

    I also strongly disagree with those who mocked Planck’s “one funeral at a time”. Planck’s idea is so true today that it isn’t funny. The way forward is to recognise how insightful Planck was, and to work out how things need to be changed. That’s more difficult than it sounds, because you have to deal with both babies and bathwater.

    I did like Sam Harris’ statement “We must abandon the idea that science is distinct from the rest of human rationality. When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.”. The argument is that “there are no real boundaries ” between science, philosophy, history, journalism, religion, etc, only in the way of thinking within and around each of these. There may be a risk that the statement could be interpreted as being post-modern (everything is equal), but to me it should make us realise that the scientific way of thinking can bring value to all fields, not njust “science”.

    • Steven Mosher

      “I did like Sam Harris’ statement “We must abandon the idea that science is distinct from the rest of human rationality. When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically.”

      Yup, metaphysical questions ( what is consciousness and what is it to be human) take precendence before epistemological questions: what can I know?.

      What can I know?, leads to questions of types and classes of knowledge and understanding and results in a heirarchy of understanding where we debate what is truly scientific.

      who am I? or what is the knowing thing?, leads to an entirely different kind of understanding

    • “I would also strongly disagree with Melanie Swan, who says that we should abandon “Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation” and just go with the computer models”

      Agree with your disagreement +100

      Swan is advocating the easy squalor of post-modernism – all ideas are of equal merit, so we will not empirically test any of them in case of giving offence

    • It recognizes that there is a growing number of problems that can’t be solved with observation, and trial and error, but can be solved with computers. Yes, computers can only represent simplified versions of systems, but they can solve those simplified systems which allow for hypotheses about the real world. Computers have replaced pen, paper, log tables, slide rules, and calculators. They are today’s tools.

    • ““Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation”” should be superceded

      How will you test a computerised “solution”, Jimmy old bean ? The scientific method requires that a prediction be made from it and then tested. You don’t like that step ?

      Stop shifting the goalposts (… as if)

      Ho hum

    • The essay said computers should be used alongside these other things, but who wants to spoil a good meme? Don’t let that stop you.

  50. “Science In Progress …”

    Boobquake, which took place on April 26, 2010, was devised by Jennifer McCreight, a blogger who was then a senior in the Purdue University College of Science, in response to news reports that Iran’s Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi had blamed women who dress immodestly for causing earthquakes. On April 19, it was reported that Seddiqi advised his listeners that “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes” and Iranians should “adapt their lives to Islam’s moral codes” to avoid being “buried under the rubble”.[1]


  51. Re: Tom Griffiths – Bias is always bad

    No Tom,

    “Consensus Bias” is always bad. When there is no opposing bias to counter-balance the ignorant realclimate scientists who engage in IPCC-type pseudo science.

    For exactly the same reason that advocates /activists (with links to green organization for example) should not be lead authors in an IPCC report.
    In theory there should be nothing wrong with a professional with bias, in practice everything goes wrong (especially if there is an entire army of them).

  52. David Springer | February 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

    Thanks – one learns something every day.


  53. Pingback: Ideas About Science | Transterrestrial Musings

  54. I am aware of two glaring false “scientific” studies in the mid/late 20th century that were decided by consensus. The first occurred in the sixties/seventies and concerned how low fat, high carb diets would prevent obesity, heart desease and diabetes. The medical book called “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and it’s layman’s reader’s digest version called “Why We Get Fat: and what to do about it” documents ten years of research by Gary Taubes and how this consensus has destroyed the health of several generations. Nutritional and Climate “scientists” aren’t!

    The second type is of course is covered by this and other blogs. The difference in the effects of these two studies by consensus is that computers have entered the home and society. This has loosened the hold of the traditional information providers.

    I think I can understand how Mann and his ilk could have honestly believed that CO2 was the driver of the increasing temperature. A simple plot of temprature against CO2 in the late 20th century could have been seen as confirmation of this fact. Do not forget that computers did start entering homes until the early to mid eighties. My first was a PDT11/150.

    The thing that I cannot forgive of Mann and his ilk is that they are still refusing to acknowledge that they confused correlation with causation.

  55. Jim D

    Advocacy versus science.

    Different modules:

    – do the science and report it objectively

    – do the science and report it selectively to emphasize your point of view.

    – do the science, report it selectively to emphasize your point of view and draw conclusions about how you should change your personal behavior

    – do the science, report it selectively to emphasize your point of view and draw conclusions about how everyone should change their behavior

    – do the science, report it selectively to emphasize your point of view, draw conclusions about how everyone should change their behavior and start advocating for your cause

    As you move down the list, you are getting further away from science and more into advocacy.

    IMO our hostess is pretty much at the top of the list, while James E. Hansen, for example, is at the bottom.


    • manacker, their position in the list is proportional to how seriously they take the potential effects of climate change. Hansen, a lot. Judith, not so much.

    • Jim D

      Agree with what you write.

      Dr. Hansen is more of an activist than a scientist (since he “takes the potential effects of climate change seriously” – imminent inundations, mass extinctions, and all that sort of thing), while Dr. Curry is free to be a more objective scientist, since she has stated under oath before a congressional committee, “the threat from global climate change does not seem to be an existential one on the time scale of the 21st century even in its most alarming incarnation”.

      Thanks for helping me make my point.


    • Yes, Judith is one of the few scientists left that don’t think climate change is something that would be serious enough to need action. She used to think so, but on recent questioning about her previous statement has moved back from it. Her statement now is that there is going to be change and we have to figure out what to do, which could include nothing, when previously she thought doing nothing was the worst option. Senator Whitehouse’s questions made her current and previous positions very clear.

    • Jim D

      “Few scientists left” who agree with Dr. Curry?


      Which planet do you live on, Jim?

      There is a growing list of scientists who share Dr. Curry’s view – they just don’t happen to be the IPCC “consensus team”.


  56. Only lawyers can do science and that will be a day of reckoning for the climate community.

  57. An another idea in climate science that is ready for retirement is that isotopes in the precipitation cycle on the ice sheets (ice cores) are a proxy for paleo temperature. This idea of Willy Dansgaard is still dominating paleo temperatures and has lead to the notions that we had extreme temperature changes on very short intervals at the last glacial transition, like “more-than-ten-degrees-within-a-decade.

    Careful cross checking with other fossil records, glacial behavior, pollen records and geologic proxies clearly demonstrate that it’s not true. But any hydrologist/meteoroligist could have told that the logic is completely different.

    Non Calor, Sed Umor
    (that’s googleable)

  58. In my opinion the most obvious idea for retirement in the climate field is that there is some sort of linearity in the response to increased CO2 concentration. A study of the history of world average temperature shows discontinuities and singularities in the record. Climate change is is a is an on/off phenomena, not a continuous one.

    Look at the evidence.1910 to 1940, A period of steady global temperature increase 0.15C/decade culminating in the extraordinary reversal in 1940 to an equally rapid fall. This is beyond the realm of ordinary differential equation dynamics and can only be explained by quantum mechanics, or piecewise linear dynamics. But forget about any mathematical continuous process. My theoretical climate model (underlined above) makes this clear.

  59. Science misrepresents itself as an attempt to discover/understand the fundamental truths of nature, in reality it is a cultural activity, people decide what they want to know and how they should find out. We are looking at what interests us which is heavily influenced by the need to confirm out current world view. Consider the influence of the environmentalists in climate change and their role in influencing funding and policy. The science we get is the science that’s funded

    Science and scientists become tools in this, their expertise being used in the support of racism, sexism, capitalism, union bashing etc. etc.

    There is also the idea of science as objective and value neutral. While the scientific disagreements continue, arguments often conducted in the most childish and bad mannered way, they appear to be oblivious of the parallel discussions addressing the morality of climate action. The fact that people are already dying due to the cold appears irrelevant when advocating for future action. People don’t see science as value neutral, they see scientists without values, as in some way morally and ethically deficient. Its perhaps as well that they have less influence than they believe they deserve.

    Oh and Unicorns do exist, its just now they are smaller and fatter. They’ve also turned a grey colour, these days we call them Rhino’s.

  60. This is an easy one for me.
    Scientism is the worst idea by far, and should be crushed ASAP and preferably aborted or stillborn…

    One Sam Harris is one of the Great Proselytizers of this faith, while ironically claiming Science can eliminate faith.

    Science Uber Alles??


    Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason
    The Conversation Continues

    It deeply annoys me when the Big Guns of science spout off about protecting science. Like the rest of us have our thumbs up our asses?

    DailyKos Essay: Weinberg, Dawkins, Tyson, Porco, Sloan, andHarris –Idiots of
    Science on Parade
    This is about the idiocy and the idiots at the La Jolla meeting, “Beyond Belief: Science,Religion, Reason and Survival.” The idiots of science were in attendance: Steven Weinberg,Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carolyn Porco, Richard P. Sloan, and Sam Harris. I thought some of them were intelligent, until now.
    Science is the best hammer in humanity’s toolkit. It is the most useful tool we have.
    Because a few religious extremists have irritated the grand idiots of science, they propose to set up science as a religion. This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. It’s like a guy who has mice in his house. Instead of setting a few traps for them, he blows up the house.
    We’re going to ruin the best tool humanity has because a few religious fundamentalists got up our noses? Even I can see that there are thousands of religions and only one science. You screw up science, you screw it up for good. Leave science alone. Science sees the universe as it really is. That’s important.
    We may be too late to save it. The idiots of science have already established a loyalty oath.
    It was working at the conference. For anyone to be heard, they had to preface every remark with “I don’t have a flicker of religious faith,” or “I’m not a religious person.” This is the flip side to the religious right, not rationality.
    There is the assumption in the comments by Dawkins and his buddies that they are morally better than the religious right because they are scientists. Oh, really?

    Can fMRI Predict Who Believes In Santa Claus? Or God? Part I
    Did you know that “regions” of your brain light up when you think about Santa Claus or God? And that these “regions” are thought to be “associated” with various behaviors like excess emotion, schizophrenia, and other, gentler forms of nuttiness?
    It’s all true. Scientists regularly stick people’s heads inside machines, ask the people to think of this or that, and then watch as the machines show “regions” of the brain glowing orange. The scientists then employ statistical methods guaranteed to generate over-confidence, but which allow the scientists to write papers which contain broad, even bracing, claims about all of humanity and of how everybody’s brain functions.
    This sort of thing is all the rage, so much so that hardly a week passes without new headlines about what secrets the Whitecoat Brigade have uncovered in the brain (this week: Study shows how scientists can now ‘read your mind’).
    It is therefore of great interest to us to examine this phenomena and see what it means. I have chosen one paper which I believe is representative of the worst excesses of the field. My goal is to show you that the conclusion, as stated by the authors, and one the authors believe they have proved, is actually far from proved, is in fact scarcely more likely to be true given the experiment than it was before the experiment, and that what was actually proved was how likely scientist’s are to find in their data their own preconceptions.
    Warning: I mean this critique to be exhaustive, so while I run the risk of exhausting your patience, my excuse is that the length of this piece is necessary to do a thorough job.
    fMRIs and God
    The paper is “The neural correlates of religious and nonreligious belief,” published in PLoS One by Sam Harris and others in association with UCLA’s Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

    WRAP UP: Can fMRI Predict Who Believes In Santa Claus? Or God? Part VII
    There are a number of serious difficulties with this study. The experimental protocol is unusual; the “stimuli” used were gathered form a dubious source and were not as simply interpretable as Harris believed they were, nor were they always relevant; Harris’s definition of Christian is extraordinarily narrow; results that were not desired were removed after the experiment ended, yet we never learn how many or what effect this removal had; i.e., would leaving these data in change the results?
    The answers to stimuli were averaged within people, a dubious statistical procedure that is nowhere justified; we never learn how many questions each person received, nor how many questions from each person were tossed, nor did (apparently) every person get the same questions. The student volunteers were first subjected to some kind of purity test, yet the details of this were never explained: only 15 “committed” Christians were used and only 15 non-Christians mistakenly called “nonbelievers”, presumably non-committed. There is good evidence the selection of these students and the kind of “stimuli” used introduced a bias in the direction of the results Harris expected; i.e. the suspicion of confirmation bias is strong.
    The raw fMRI data was first statistically manipulated before being subjected to further analysis; the fMRI pictures were all ad hoc comparisons, with loose, just-so stories of what this or that region of the brain does; none of the regions that glowed orange1 were demarcated beforehand, but those areas that did glow were given a story after the fact. (See dead salmon fMRI study.)
    The paper is sloppy and disorganized. It passed “peer review”, but we know how weak a filter for truth this is. It is telling that the paper was not only published, but enthusiastically cited by other authors. Well, scientists often don’t have time to read anything but abstracts of papers. Worst of all, no other group could take this paper and re-produce the experiment: there are simply too many unknowns.

    Scanning Dead Salmon in fMRI Machine Highlights Risk of Red Herrings

    Sam Harris: The Scientism Evangelist !!

    Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

    Sam Harris Asks, “Can Science Answer Moral Questions?” No, Sam, It Cannot
    Posted on 5 April 2013 by Briggs
    I was having a back-and-forth on Twitter with Craig Mazin ‏(@clmazin) about Sam Harris’s claim that morality is a scientific and not a metaphysical question. As evidence, Mazin pointed me to Harris’s TED talk, which I dissected.
    Sam’s Happy Talk
    Now, since it’s important to begin by saying something nice, I note that Harris wore a suit, for which I praise him; alas, sans cravat. The moderator wore ugly jeans (forgive the grammatical tautology) and a sloppy t-shirt.
    Harris’s thesis is that, “The separation between science and human values is an illusion. And actually quite a dangerous one at this point in human history.” His introduction (with [my handy lettering]):

  61. “So, what scientific idea do YOU think is ready for retirement?”

    Statistics is science.

    Statistics is a tool, not a science. And any “science” published without explaining, in detail, what the assumptions were that went into the analysis, should not be regarded as science, but as advocacy.

    Publishing the stastical analysis without the underlying code (as in most temp series reports, GCMs, epidemiological studies, etc., deserves no credibility for policy purposes in the age of “post-modern” science..

    Presenting an opinion as a number, as in the IPCC’s attribution claim, without disclosing all the assumptions that went into it, as well as the method of “calculation”, is just one good example.

  62. Okay, I didn’t read the article and gave it some thought: obviously, to me, if it’s a genuine scientific idea, eg., E=MC2, then it’s not a candidate for retirement. Now I’ll the read the article and see if I get a cookie..

  63. Miss, Miss, I know this one.
    Mosher says you can’ measure stuff, as you will always be wrong, and so nothing fits, and no models can work, and so we should be happy with crap in silico descriptions of reality as our perceptions of reality are actually really crap, but we give them more weight than we should; as in E(ish)=m(ish)c(ish)^of about 2.

    • Steven Mosher

      of course you can measure stuff.
      But all measurement comes with uncertainty and assumptions.

      The very concept of measurement depends upon the concept of standards.
      A standard that does not change over time. Of course we have to assume this to start. So, my observation is this: the idea of that you can ground knowledge and knowledge claims on the practice of measurement, is fine, so long as you acknowledge that this foundation is built upon an un testable article of faith: fundamental properties. laws and standards don’t change over time.

      once upon a time a meter was defined as 1 ten millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole. and you know how a nautical mile was defined? right?

      if we want to get more technical there are only 5 things one measures:
      temperature interval, linear distance, electrical current, frequency and mass.
      and perhaps add two angles.

      everything else can be expressed as those.

    • Time is distance?

    • “The very concept of measurement depends upon the concept of standards.”

      Really? Are you saying that any special and interesting thing about the binary empirical relation “is longer than” depends crucially on the choice of meters or feet for labeling the objects that instantiate that relation? I don’t think that flies.

      This is one of those bad ideas that spilled out of certain disciplines infected by late 20th century continental philosophy.

  64. Michael Larkin

    I’d like to see retired the idea that science based on a materialist metaphysic can completely describe all reality, and that that which it can’t describe necessarily doesn’t exist.

    I’d like to see retired the idea that models of reality actually are reality (e.g. black holes, dark matter and energy). I’m not speaking of only mathematical models, but models in general. In the end, all science models reality without being reality.

    I’d like to see retired the idea that consensus means anything in science, and that dissenters are automatically untermenschen. That means science becoming more welcoming of vigorous debate.

  65. In solving problems in the physical world, simple serfs say
    cause ‘n effect, however complex should stay, and testing,
    else yer left with doctrines of incontestable truth.

  66. Dr. Strangelove

    Scientific consensus

    It’s not a scientific idea to begin with. No such animal in science. Invented by advocates who failed to convince real scientists by using the scientific method. Galileo was practically against the whole establishment. The consensus was against him. To paraphrase Galileo, one observation is greater than a thousand arguments by the authorities.

    When relativity theory was not yet firmly established, there was a book entitled 100 authors against Einstein. He responded if I were wrong, one would have been enough. It’s time to get rid of the so-called ‘scientific consensus’ in scientific debates. Look at the evidence or the lack of it! That’s how science has always been done since the time of Galileo.

    • Dr. Strangelove

      It’s time to get rid of the so-called ‘scientific consensus’ in scientific debates. Look at the evidence or the lack of it! That’s how science has always been done since the time of Galileo.

      Your observation is spot on.

      But doing this would put the IPCC and its “consensus opinion” of CAGW (as outlined in its reports) out of business.

      And this, in turn, would threaten the multibillion dollar big business that CAGW has spawned. It would also upset a lot of political agendas.

      So it will not happen easily or automatically.

      But I agree with you that “it is time to get rid” of it.


  67. Go back a few hundred years and you may be a master of your art – clock maker, mason, apothecary. Then you meet somebody that is able to speak volubly and widely in your given profession, bringing new ideas and methods beyond your knowledge. After a while you realize that this person is not an artisan, has not traveled to learn from masters, nor served an apprenticeship – this persons knowledge came from one of those new-fangled contraptions called ‘books’. Here we are now with vast knowledge and data at our fingertips and the ability of an individual to become a master without the slog of doing degrees and doctorates is determined by the will of such individuals to achieve in any given field. The scientific notion, well passed its sell by date, is the ignorant, arrogance of academics that foster the myth that an ability to study somehow translates into an ability to apply that acquired knowledge, or even an ability to create something of value. That somehow ‘science’ is the preserve of academia and its offspring. The first useful aeroplane was produced by two guys that had a bicycle repair shop. The first engine for said plain was made by one of their employees (who had never made one before) because he could not find a suitable existing engine on the market.

    • There was nothing useful about the Wright brothers’ aircraft. It was a proof of concept whose main innovations in aerodynamics and control were quickly abandoned (wing warping, anyone?) But it is true that the early inventors of airplanes were not helped too much by the science of the day. Same for many of Edison’s inventions. But the second and third-generation products that eventually transformed the world relied heavily on “book-learning” of various kinds (Tesla’s math, von Karman’s fluid dynamics, etc.).

  68. Dr. Strangelove

    Another one for retirement – 95% certainty that global warming since 1950 is man-made

    By what criteria of science can this statement be true? A small group of scientist-advocates decided by vote that they are 95% certain of AGW. This is worse than the “scientific consensus.” It’s not even a consensus of all IPCC scientists. Propaganda is more like it.

  69. The idea that carbon is bad needs to go.
    From the article:

    Societal Benefits of Fossil Energy to be at Least 50 Times Greater than Perceived Costs of Carbon
    by Staff Writers
    Washington DC (SPX) Jan 31, 2014

    It is expected that coal will continue to be the leading feedstock for electricity generation around the globe for at least the next three decades. Additionally, according to the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels will provide 75 to 80 percent of the world’s energy for the foreseeable future.

    “It has increased life expectancy, improved the quality of life, supported the cause of liberty, and brought hope to every civilization that has used it. I would hope that legislators and regulators understand this and enact and support policies that continue the responsible use of fossil fuels – especially clean coal.”

    According to the study, The Social Costs Of Carbon? No, The Social Benefits Of Carbon, over the past 250 years global life expectancy has more than doubled and incomes have increased 11-fold in large part due to increased energy production and delivery, most of which has been fossil-based. And although a Federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) estimated the social cost of carbon (SCC) to be $36/ton; the actual societal benefits of carbon – as a by-product of energy production – is 50 to 500 times greater than the perceived cost.

    “Even the most conservative estimates peg the social benefit of carbon-based fuels as 50 times greater than its supposed social cost,” Dr. Roger Bezdek, the lead author of the report said.

    “And the benefits are actual fact; founded on more than two centuries of empirical data, not theoretical summaries based on questionable assumptions, dubious forecasts, and flawed models.”


  70. peyton manning…

  71. Hey Dr. Curry, Gigerenzer’s first name is “Gerd” not “Gert.”

    BTW, for those who know Gigerenzer’s work passably well, putting his name right after Robert Provine’s assurance that “We fancy ourselves intelligent… This is an illusion” was more than a little bit funny.

    • After scanning through many pieces, the think that strikes me is how little consensus there is on which ideas have jumped the shark, passed their sell-by date, etc. No it’s even worse than that: You get pairs of pieces that directly contradict each other. That smells of pitched battles unresolved and pet peeves on parade. Count me underwhelmed.

  72. I have to axion in life that i would like to ask all or you, one was what my father use to ask the other is on I determined and in the world today these two question need to be ask far more often than they are first my father ask are you sure you understand all that you know about that, as an adult the answer is I do not but if I were to wait until I do I wouldn never get anything done. The my axion it if you ask the wrong question you alway get the wrong answer, this whole climate debate is indeed that, the wrong question has been asked and we been debating the wrong answer far too long, I personally believe it snot CO2 stupid, it is water vapor and all the liquid water this planet has., If you keep asking the CO2 question you will never understand water vapor and liquid water does to the temperature of this planet. Co2 to the most part plays no role in our climate, and from what I see the data supports that..

  73. The scientific idea most ready for retirement is the theory that greenhouse gasses have caused climate change. There is zero evidence that this has ever happened.

  74. Most scientific ideas will be retired, when they’re ready. AGW seems to be the ripest/readiest at this point. Hopefully the AGW retirement will shake some other dogmas and make them retire.

  75. So, what scientific idea do YOU think is ready for retirement?

    Please take a moment and think of an answer before reading the rest of this post

    I haven’t read the post yet. Restricting my comment to climate science the first things that comes to my mind are:

    1. give up the idea that the climate change will occur progressively through the century. There will be sudden changes.

    2. Give up on the belief that GHG emissions will be more harmful than beneficial. Not enough research has been done on that. It is a deeply buried presumption in the climate science community.

    3. Give up the presumption that climate change is the biggest risk facing humanity. Properly weigh the damages of economically irrational policies against the unlikely benefits of expensive mitigation policies.

    That’s my first, quick, off the top of my head thoughts.

    I’m deeply buried in reading “Triumph of the Optimists” at the moment; Chapters 1 and 4 can be downloaded in pdf here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7239.html

  76. Argument by infinite regress needs to be retired in a big way, too. While it was never scientific, some mistake the limitless potential of Science to address questions with explanations for a game of Infinite Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

    Science is always settled: what explanation is supported by inference on observations with the simplest assumptions, most parsimonious exceptions and greatest universality of application is considered accurate or very nearly true and remains settled until new observations require the explanation be amended.

    Do you have a hard requirement to amend the explanation based on new observation entirely impossible to reconcile?


    Then Science isn’t interested in what you have to say.

    • Then Science isn’t interested in what you have to say.
      When Science isn’t interested it is not really science.

    • Herman Alexander Pope | February 3, 2014 at 4:28 am |

      Dude, you gotta learn “No means no;” Science just isn’t into you.

      There are other fish in the sea. I know Climate Fiction hangs on your every word. And Fringe Politics? She goes weak in the knees every time you talk. Not to mention, there are all sorts of Compromised Media who will give anyone time, if you’re willing to stoop so low and don’t mind being used for cheap thrills.

      Science is obliged to dismiss crap. Don’t bring Science crap, and she won’t dismiss you.

    • Science is always settled


      Science is never settled!

    • Herman Alexander Pope | February 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm |

      Whose case am I going to believe, Isaac Newton who scrupulously proved that Science is always settled, and why, and how, three hundred years ago in a detailed treatise that has gone unchallenged in its beauty and clarity of reasoning by the entire world of Science since the day it was published in Latin, or some guy who puts up Power Point slides that look like they were drawn in crayon (no offense to Crayola intended) and addresses Newton’s argument by shouting “no!” over and over again?

  77. (This may have been covered before).

    Ready for retirement:

    :The science is settled; it’s time for action”


  78. Oh, we can never know
    What the future holds.
    So let us not
    the Inquisition be,
    constrainin’ human vision,
    instead like Nature, say,
    experimental be, bold
    but provisional, keepin’
    our options open, darin’,
    yet modest regardin’
    what – we – do – not – know.,


    • Remember when Paul Keating was hanging with Bill Gates and then shortly after announced that the CD ROM was the tech of the future? Encarta made all those old Britannicas look like potential doorstops. CD ROMs in every school! Expensive vision, that one…but good luck to Microsoft. (Nuisance is, Encarta CDs aren’t very good doorstops.)

      Then a later Oz government was sure we needed laptops in every class. Whew, did that ever cost! Luckily, you can still use the laptops as a flat surface to place an iPad.

      But alternative energy has to take the cake. Unless you’re prepared to do the necessary excavation work to turn your region into Norway, alternative means stuff you know won’t work but you have to buy it anyway.

      The problem with settled science, futurology etc is that it all proceeds from an unjustified, irrational expectation of control. In other words, neurosis.

    • mosomoso, an “irrational expectation of control”? Or fear of admitting that the world is beyond out understanding and control? Those who embrace reality, warts and all, and accept their own insignificance, don’t have to fool themselves into thinking that they can control it.

      All you can control is yourself. Start there, and everything else is less of a problem.

  79. What would be a good principle is being more careful about the use of little understood mathematical equations as the main driver of large (climate) models, hoping that computing power will deal with all issues arising. Understanding PDE’s such as low viscosity Navier-Stokes (or Euler) remains one of the big unsolved problems of mathematics at the beginning of the 21st century for a reason. Megacomputers of the kind used for climate models may assist understanding of such equations, but are not a substitute for the deeper knowledge which would seem necessary for such models to be treated with the conviction so often claimed.

    And that’s just one on a list where climate models are concerned! But scientific practice worth at least a review.

  80. “What scientific ideas are ready for retirement?”

    ~0.1°C / solar cycle

    I absolutely guarantee everyone that this darkly ignorant &/or deceptive notion is staring down the barrel of a certain-death cannon.

  81. Attributing everything supposedly negative that happens to Global Warming, and the list grows–e.g., ski resorts threatened, skin cancer, slow death, smaller brains…

  82. After several answers, many of which took issue with the question, I came up with one appropriate to our times:

    The (often unstated or unrecognized) assumption that more advanced computer models can substitute for control experiments. Control experiments will contain the seeds of ideas that you omitted to include in the models. Aka “We’ve been through the list and can’t think of anything else ™.”

    (I enjoyed the one about ‘British Chef Heston Blumenthal’s imaginative “Hot and Iced Tea.”‘)

    • Ernst Pöppel’s contribution was wholly new to me:
      “At a distance of approximately ten to twelve meters, transduction time in the retina under optimal optical conditions corresponds to the time the sound takes to arrive at the recipient. Up to this “horizon of simultaneity,” auditory information is earlier than visual information; beyond this horizon, visual information arrives earlier in the brain.”

  83. That anyone in govt shall consider input or draft legislation from climate studies that do not provide virginal data, massaged data, and the code used. Conversely, anyone providing legislation shall provide studies on which their beliefs are derived.

  84. As a non-scientist I think you guys lose yourself in detail and scoring points. See the big picture for a change. At least the proponents of CAGW had a larger view. Alas it does seem to be at the very least over simplified and becoming unsupported by evidence – mainly massaged sad to say. Is it beyond the intellect of the scientific community to distill a unified climate theory which makes more sense? It might be fuzzy round the edges but that is the real world.

  85. I have several. But first, this needs commenting on:
    “…scientists are interested in the explanations, not in the effects—Newton is famous not for showing that apples fall, but for explaining why.”

    No, actually, Newton did NOT explain WHY. He only worked up some formulas. The WHY of gravity as “action at a distance” he never did give an explanation for. He even thought others would laugh him out of town because there was no physical connection between the masses being attracted.

    These are Scientific Ideas I actually DO think will be retired within a few decades:

    1. The Oort Cloud. This was a guess in the first place. NO objects have ever been directly observed in the so-called Oort Cloud region of space. All of the stories we are told about comets head Sun-ward by getting knocked loose by “wandering stars” that pass by (a figment of the imagination in itself).

    2. The Big Bang. This will go under when researchers find that the Red Shift is not due to the Doppler effect. Along with the Big Bang will go the Expanding Universe, which goes hand in hand with it.

    3. Gradualism as the only cause for geological change to the Earth’s surface. The Younger Dryas Impact Event will be found to have been real, like the K-T impactor that killed the dinosaurs. In time OTHER impacts will be found, most of them smaller.

    4. Dark matter.

    5. Dark energy.

    6. The overarching idea that things found in math formulas are real, unless backed up by empirical evidence.

    7. The use of statistics in the physical sciences. There are not probabilities in the real world. Things either happened or they didn’t. Statistical analysis will be seen as a dead end, one that they never should have gone down in the first place.

    8. The idea that asteroids and comets are different animals. It will be found that there is a fairly continuous continuum between the purist idea of “icy snowballs” and iron-nickel meteors.

    9. The planetary nebula as the mechanism by which the planets formed through aggregation. It will be found that insufficient gravity exists to have created solid objects that have any cohesive strength much more than water vapor has – and that is inadequate to make igneous rocks that make up some of the material in asteroids and comets.

    10. Tree rings as proxies for temperature. In other words, dendroclimatology will cease to exist. The reason will be that it will not be possible to isolate out the precipitation effect on tree ring widths or densities.

    11. The idea of DNA as the end all and be all of anatomical morphology – which it has not effect on in the first place. Even though everyone thinks it does.

    12. The idea that human organs and limbs cannot be regenerated.

    That is probably enough. For now.

    No, I am not wearing a tin foil hat.

  86. I have to add one more:

    13. The silly idea that the cold fresh water of icebergs melting can shut off “the” oceanic conveyor. A: The convection at the NE end of the Gulf Stream is not a DRIVER, but an end result. B: The forces possible with convection in WATER is wholly inadequate to draw water from 4,000 miles away in a unidirectional sucking action. C: The sucking cannot BE unidirectional from something sinking in the water. Any suction would be 360° around the sinking point. YES, those deep currents exist. Their cause will be found out to be the rotation of the Earth – as it has always been. (BTW, notice that almost every map of oceanic conveyor leaves out the water entering and leaving the Gulf of Mexico. THAT current is the source of Europe’s excess heat. To leave it out is to forget a large part of what made people discover the Gulf Stream in the first place (by Ben Franklin). It isn’t just that it is a current, but that it is a WARM current..

  87. The notion space is an empty void, or it’s “space with properties” is ready for retirement.

    If a C-60 molecule was propagating as a physical wave in a double slit experiment then when you placed detectors within the slits you would detect a certain number of atoms within each slit. This does not happen. The C-60 molecule is always detected as a single entity, as all 60 atoms.

    To simply suggest a C-60 molecule propagates as a wave is refuted by the evidence.

    This is why mainstream physics is making up all sorts of nonsense such as many worlds.

    In a double slit experiment the C-60 molecule is always detected as a single entity, as 60 interconnected atoms, because it always exists as a single entity, as 60 interconnected atoms.

    Sean Carroll is suggesting we do away with falsifiability. He is suggesting this because mainstream physics is so completely screwed up it can’t understand the reason why the particle is always detected as a single entity, as a particle, is because it always exists as a particle.

    There is evidence of the aether every time a double slit experiment is performed; it’s what waves.

  88. Holy crap. I read the question as being about scientific paradigms, not the philosophy of science. Everyone listed by Judy (almost) answered this question as if it was, “What part of the philosophy of science would you think needs to be jettisoned?” That certainly wasn’t what Planck was talking about – and yet Judy put those in, anyway. Color me confused.

    Most of the “answers” but Judy’s selected people have nothing to do with scientific IDEAS but instead are about ideas ABOUT science/how we go about science. Those are two very different things.

    One of those philosophy of science answers was:
    “Hugo Mercier – Planck’s cynical view of scientific change

    If people who disagree with us are never going to change their mind, then why even talk to them?”

    This seems fundamentally true. I’ve only seen ONE scientist actually change his mind – Wally Broeker learned that there was NO ice dam failure at the ice age Lake Agassiz at the time of the Younger Dryas climate shift. By the time the ice had melted back far enough, the Younger Dryas was well on its way. While I disagree

    Outside of him I can’t recall any examples. Hugo, you got it wrong. Scientists talk past each other if they don’t agree. I’ve seen it over and over. For all intents and purposes NO ONE changes their minds. They DO have to die off.

    Planck was right.

    • Holy crap. I read the question as being about scientific paradigms, not the philosophy of science. Everyone listed by Judy (almost) answered this question as if it was, “What part of the philosophy of science would you think needs to be jettisoned?” That certainly wasn’t what Planck was talking about – and yet Judy put those in, anyway. Color me confused.

      Ha ha. This is what I thought too.

    • David Springer


      I disagree. I think a lot of scientists recently changed their minds about how important lower troposphere temperature is an indicator of global warming. :-)

    • Now she needs a thread for that question.

  89. That irksome phrase, “climate science skeptic”, and its idiot brother “climate denier” have to be retired too.

    There’s little truly skeptical about ‘climate science skeptics’ in general, it’s far more apt to regard them as “climate science inaccuratic”, flying in the face of Newton’s description of scientific conclusions being “accurate or very nearly true”. We could then also have “climate science untruther” as an idiot brother of the “inaccuratist” term.

    Try it on for size: “Lindzen, Curry and Scafetta are inaccuratists“; how does that roll off the tongue? Or, “Skydragon Slayers are untruthers“; catchy?

    • David Springer

      Sucks. Try again.

    • @ polis, it’s the headless chicken little brigade.

    • Lindzen is now claiming that climate scientists are not the best and the brightest in the scientific professions.

      Where does that put him? Oops.

    • To be fair, I’m not very experienced at ad hominem or labeling people, and may miss the point of the exercise.

      I think I’ll stick with just talking about ideas; I don’t know any of you people personally, so pigeonholing you is at best futile.

      “Lindzen, Curry and Scafetta practice inaccuracy, while Skydragon Slayers practice untruth.” Seems much better.

    • Lindzen said this about climate scientists:

      “I’ve asked very frequently at universities: ‘Of the brightest people you know, how many people were studying climate [...or meteorology or oceanography...]?’ And the answer is usually ‘No one.'”

      So I suppose that this set of not-so-bright people includes Lindzen himself. He is a climate scientist with a specialty in atmospheric physics, right?

    • I would classify Lindzen as a dynamical meteorologist (more an applied mathematician) who dabbles in climate.

  90. What is NOT ready for retirement:
    Luca De Biase – The tragedy of the commons
    De Biase’s essay is a load of bunk: semantic redefinition, strawman arguments, misdirection and misapplication. Without enumerating all the essay’s faults, here is a punch list on two passes:
    1. It isn’t just a science concept. It’s genesis is from economics later applied to ecology.
    2. Hardin may have coined the term in 1968, but the economic principle was studied as far back as Adam Smith in the late 1700s.
    3. Of course, the commons can be over-exploited. Hence, the value in not retiring concept.
    4. Ostrom’s [1999] factual approach are mostly collectivist which is but one means of preventing the tragedy. Getting less shrift is the element of private property, rule of law, and rent. It is a strawman to imply Hardin never saw a commons managed well.
    5. But the Internet has grown to become the biggest commons of knowledge in history. Misapplication: The Internet is a network of PRIVATELY OWNED assets that work in mutually accepted protocols for the benefit of their owners and customers. The Internet is in fact a set of connected pastures whose owners have fertilized and expanded at stupendous growth rates and levels of productivity for renting by customers.
    5b. Consider the information available on the internet that is (a) privately owned and managed, and (b) publicly owned and managed by governments. Which of these are generally easier to use? (Wikipedia, Amazon, Google) vs (Obamacare, Thomas.gov, Library of Congress, NASA.)
    6. Email is a true tragedy of the commons. Your InBox, something you ostensibly own, costs senders nothing to use, yet costs you time and effort to ward off unwanted, unwelcome squatters. Such a tragedy explains the rise of Social Media where communication is by invitation. i.e. Following.
    7.To save it [the internet], we can restart by understanding and preserving its clear rules, such as net-neutrality, its multi-stakeholder governance, its transparent way to enforce those rules and governance. Wikipedia has demonstrated that it is possible. A collectivist mindset, even using a privately created and managed asset like Wikipedia as an example. Wikipedia with it’s edit wars is proof enough that the Tragedy of the Commons is all too real. QED.

    The real Tragedy of the Commons is the myopic belief that government must ration and regulate scarcity. The tragedy is that freeloaders think they have rights to manage, control, and take over assets created by others.
    The optimum solution, in contrast, is for independent owners of the assets to expand the resource base and the productivity of the assets. Customers then seek the best combination of services and prices offered.

  91. The public should retire the notion that scientists are always rational like Mr Spock. I see this characterisation of the super rational scientist being pushed by left wing CAGW proponents. Chris Mooney likes to conflate liberalism with this logical scientist image. On his Inquiring Minds podcast with Jonathan Haidt, its interesting to hear Haidt@24:00 say that libertarians are the smartest most rational people out there. Too bad there’s no video of Mooney’s reaction, since liberal progressives really tend to hate libertarians.


  92. Svend Ferdinandsen

    The idea that climate can say anything of weather should be put down.
    It is the weather that makes our climate, not the opposite way around.
    An other climate means you have had some other weather, but i see no way to tell what kind of weather it should be.

  93. Curious George

    For a retirement, I nominate the idea that a scientific problem should be resolved by a popular vote.

    Science and democracy are both fine, they just don’t mix.

  94. AH! The most important “idea” in science that needs a prompt burial is the idea that computer models are not just analogs for reality, but that model runs are themselves reality.

    It is amazing how many climate papers (and others) present model output as actual reality. To the point that when reality doesn’t match the output, the modelers actually think something must be wrong with their evidence from reality. (Tin foil hats, anyone?)

    It just boggles the mind. Evidently no one these days has ever heard of “garbage in garbage out.”

  95. I am dumbfounded that someone put up
    The Scientific Method
    as ready to be discarded because the scientific method is now

    not adequate to the new situations of contemporary science like big data, crowdsourcing, and synthetic biology. Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation made sense in the past when obtaining information was scarce and costly, but this is no longer the case.

    So obtaining information is now not necessarily rare, difficult, and expensive. That is a reason to dispense with the discipline of the scientific method? Hypothesis Testing, design of experiments, working with noisy data — and preserving the uncertainty!!! — are more essential than ever.

    For these very reasons, the scientific idea that needs to be retired is the concept of Post Normal Science.

    According to its advocates,[who?] “post-normal science” is simply an extension of situations routinely faced by experts such as surgeons or senior engineers on unusual projects, where the decisions being made are of great importance but where not all the factors are necessarily knowable.

    Surgeons? Practicing one of the oldest branches of science known to man? The one whose oath is “First Do No Harm”?
    Engineers? Who abhor and work within the specter of catastrophic failure since the Pyramids?

    Time to give Post Normal Science a Post Mortem.

  96. Walt Allensworth

    Lets retire the disingenuous scientific term of “Climate Change.”

    It’s one of those mean-nothing phrases designed to simply confuse. A political construct like “pro-life.”

    Climate scientists could gain some respect by actually standing behind what they believe instead of stooping to mealy mouthed political mumbo-jumbo.

    If your life’s work is about showing there is Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming then say it!

  97. I think we should retire the idea that deans contribute anything positive to schools, colleges and/or departments of science.

    Yes, it was an irksome day at skool.

    • “Check me if I’m wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the deans, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key…”

  98. Ian Blanchard

    One of the big issues that needs retirement is the current model for academic research funding, and it’s wicked step sister ‘publish or perish’.

    Government funding in the UK (and I believe the system in the US is reasonably similar, although probably more biased towards big projects and big institution) goes to those institutions most highly rated, this rating being based on how many researchers and how much is published in the journals. As such, it is in the interests of the academics, when applying for grants, to be proposing ‘research’ where the answer is known with reasonable certainty even before the research is done – perhaps allows some incremental step forward along a pre-defined path, but guarantees some more papers, better rating for the department and a greater likelihood of future funding.

    The problem is that it totally undermines any originality in research, and almost by default forces practicing research scientists into the ‘consensus’ position in their field, as this forms the stable foundation to their application.

    Of course you also have to add into this consideration the preference for ‘policy-relevant’ research…

    While there is some justification for projects like this (for example, most doctoral studies probably need to start from the perspective of being sure something useful will come out at the end of 3 or 4 years), it holds back more ‘blue sky’ research.

    Not sure I have a particularly good solution, but perhaps some grant money should be ring-fenced and allocated to research groups who have a good history of productivity but who are looking at a poorly defined problem.

    Of course reproducibility of research is another issue – funding hardly ever goes to proving whether something already published was right or wrong.

  99. Not just the idea of falsification should be struck (the first example has yet to be found), but all five tenets of Post Modern Science, each of which is traceable to Papa Popper, the Father of PMS. In the order listed by the US Supreme Court in Daubert v Merrill Dow (1993) the tenets adopted as criteria for scientific knowledge (the fifth adopted in the negative), are (1) falsifiability, (2) publication in a peer-reviewed professional journal, (3) an established error rate (but not a success rate) for any technique, (4) a supporting consensus, and (5) respecting social consequences (e.g., the catastrophic consequences of AGW, “oh, the humanity”). Without PMS, science can settle back to Modern Science as it has been known since 1620 when Francis Bacon introduced Cause & Effect, pushing Aristotle out of the picture, and as MS is practiced pragmatically in industry and most academies of engineering (with huge success). In Modern Science, knowledge is scientific if and only it is contained in models of the real world with predictive power. The two versions, Post Modern Science and Modern Science, are orthogonal. For academics, the PMS rule of Publish Or Perish would become Predict Or Perish. PMS is factless and feckless, as demonstrated by IPCC and its climatologists. It “projected” a value for the key parameter, equilibrium climate sensitivity, over a range that excludes the several recent estimates. In the last analysis, practitioners of this branch of PMS are ironically embarrassed, slowly accepting failure under what is an MS criterion, the ability to “project”.

  100. Is this a typo>>>Paul Saffo – The illusion of scientific progress

    “Touting discoveries helps secure finding and gain tenure, put perhaps the time has come to retire discovery as the ultimate measure of scientific progress.”

    finding = funding?

  101. Late to the party, but some thoughts.

    1. A lot of scientific research sounds lovely to its authors, but doesn’t hold up very long. In some fields, half the published research can’t be replicated by anybody. Consult Ioannidis.

    Solution? There are more stakeholders than just the researchers. How about the funders, too? And if the research ends up getting into politically sensitive areas, there are considerably more.

  102. There is one scientific fallacty that is not mentioned by anyone else and needs to be retired once and for all. I refer to the Schrodinger cat scenario. In the scenario a cat is in an unopeed box with a radiocative atom. And the set-up inside the box is such that if the radioactive atom decays this kills the cat with cyanide or what have you. And, according to the traditional quantum theory explanation, until such time as the box is opened, the the cat is both dead and alive (or neither dead nor alive — take your pick). And, when the box is opened by a human observer, the wave funtion collapses and the cat is found to be either dead or alive.
    But this scenario, with the cat being both dead and alive until such time that the box is opened is completely phony. If the cat is found to be dead it may have been dead for one minute or one hour or one day and a forensic scientist would be able to tell roughly when the cat died.
    In fact the cat could even be replaced by a clock that stops when the radiocative decay occurs. And stopped clocks would have stopped one minute, one hour or one day or what have you when the box is opened.
    The fact is that cats or clocks are sufficintly complex entitities to act as “observers” of the decay – albeit stopped or dead observers as the case may be. And there is no wave function collapse that needs to take plac when a human observer opens the box.
    So, don’t — any of you — buy into the notion of cats being both alive and dead. I have it on good authority of modern day quantum physicists that what I say is entirely correct.
    It seems to me that, as far as the CO2 caused global warming hypothesis is concerned, the the box has been opened and the hypothesis has been found to be dead — for some seventeen years.

    • That’s where all the ‘missing cooling’ has gone for the last seventeen years, into the deeply dead cat. Otherwise it would be stinkin’ to High Heaven by now.

  103. @Ted Swart. +1 (or 0) roll the dice. It is time we stuffed the cat. Like Fourier Analysis, it might fit the data, it might make the math easy, but it is a lousy explanation of the workings of the world. Easy models have there place, but they do not RE-place reality.

    One of my favorite science jokes happened on Johnny Carson in the early ’80s. It went something like this:
    JC: (to Ed McMahon) You remember last week when we talked about whether a tree that falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it… does it make a sound?
    Ed: I do. And I said it did make a sound.
    JC; Yes, you did. Well…. You were wrong!
    Ed: Really? Says who?
    JC: I have a letter here from Dr. X, a professor of physics at Cal Tech. He writes:
    “I wanted to let you know that it is accepted physics that when a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, that it does NOT make a sound. More importantly, the tree does not actually need to fall before this question must be faced. According to the theory of Quantum Mechanics, it is believed that the tree does not actually EXIST until someone SEES IT!”
    (slaps the letter onto to the desk). There you have it — from an expert!

    • Ah! philosophy but again not linked to the public perception.
      Schrodinger cat scenario, you lock a cat in a box and it might die, that’s as far as you need to go for most people. and
      If a man is talking in a forest and there’s no women there to hear him, is he still wrong?
      Keeping it real, as it were.
      Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

  104. Statistical significance.

  105. I’d like to see time being spent in papers justifying assumptions that the conclusion depends on, including sensitivity analyses with alternative assumptions. But then i guess little would then be published in the soft sciences.

  106. Sam Harris suggests that our concept of science is too narrow and in his own words:
    “We must abandon the idea that science is distinct from the rest of human rationality. When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.”

    He is , in effect, suggesting that so long as we stick to evidence based exploration and adopt an assiduously rational approach we are doing science.
    If we accept this suggstion then explorations not normally regarded as scientific such a history or politics could indeed qualify as such. And, it is worth adding that adopting a sceptical approach does no harm sinc ebing open to altrnatives in t leight of actul evidence is essential.
    The other side of the coin is that claming to be scientific doe snot make it so. Whils I have known sociologosts who are scientific in their approach the Cooks and Lewandowskys of this workd are so far remeved from scientific norms that everyting they say can be discounted.
    Self-styled cimate scientist are not scientific even altugh they use the scientific label and this is because they single mindely brush asode alternatives to their CO2 caused dangerous global warming hypothesis and try to wriggle out of actual evidence that their hypotheis is badly flawed.

  107. I am really thankful to the holder of this web page who has shared this wonderful piece
    of writing at at this time.

  108. ”scientific” idea that: real climatic changes and the phony GLOBAL warming are one and the same thing, is ready for retirement!!!

  109. The Linear Non-Threshold (LNT) theory of radiation damage. Actually it shouldn’t count as a scientific theory, or even hypothesis, since it was set up by government bureaucrats not scientists. In fact it was, as far as I know, the first such theory to be produced thus and wrapped in a cloak of scientific respectability.

    Fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever that low level radiation does harm; undisputed laboratory proof that it is beneficial at bacterial level and significant statistical evidence for benefit fir large multicellular lifeforms.

    This is a oollection of links on the evidence against LNT. Despite repeated requests nobody has been able to produce any evidence for it. Which is not how real science works http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/low-level-radiation-evidence-that-it-is.html

  110. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup | Watts Up With That?

  111. I don’t think there are any truly scientific ideas that are ready for retirement. The trouble is with pseudo-scientific ideas that are pushed forward by politically motivated scientists or true believers that get accepted as science. I am dubious for example about string theory that people have worked on for decades without providing any proof that it works. Cold fusion is another candidate. In both cases I do not have enough expertise to provide proof positive that they are wrong. Climate science is different because there is a paper trail you can follow. It leads me to the conclusion that the enhanced greenhouse theory of global warming should be retired because it is demonstrably wrong. There has never been any direct demonstration that it is true. Its scientific support comes from laboratory measurements of IR absorption that were originally performed by Svante Arrhenius and others in the nineteenth century. It applies to carbon dioxide alone and ignores the fact that in the real atmosphere we have a mixture of greenhouse gases simultaneously absorbing in the IR. Only Ferenc Miskolczi theory of greenhouse gases [1] is capable of handling this general case. And when its consequences are worked out the greenhouse effect disappears. According to him, if more than one greenhouse gas simultaneously absorb there exists an optimum absorption window which they jointly maintain. For earth atmosphere the gases that count are are carbon dioxide and water vapor. The optical thickness of their joint absorption window in the IR is 1.87. It corresponds to a transmittance of 0.15 percent, a measurable quantity. If you now add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere it will start to absorb as the Arrhenius theory predicts. But this will increase the optical thickness and as soon as this happens water vapor will start to decrease, rain out, and the optimum optical thickness is restored. In 2010 he tested this concept [2] using NOAA weather balloon database that goes back to 1948 by measuring IR absorption by the atmosphere as a function of time. And discovered that absorption was constant for 61 years while carbon dioxide at the same time increased by 21.6 percent. Contrary to Arrhenius theory the addition of this substantial amount of carbon dioxide to air had no influence on the absorption of IR by the atmosphere. Yhis explains the 17 year hiatus-pause-cessation-of-warming of today. But how come it started only 17 years ago if we are dealing with application of the laws of nature. The answer is that it did not start 17 years ago.Older warming designated as greenhouse warming is nothing more than natural warming, misidentified by over-eager pseudo-scientists as greenhouse or else it is entirely faked. In this latter group I place the “late twentieth century warming” in the eighties and nineties. I warned against it in my book “What Warming?” [3] but nothing happened for two years. Then the big three of temperature, GISTEMP, HadCRUT3, and NCDC, suddenly decided not to show it again. What they did was to change their data for this period to parallel the satellites which do not show the warming. It was done secretly and no explanation was offered. So far we know that the twenty first century has had no warming but the twentieth does. Checking temperature curves we find that warming did not parallel atmospheric carbon dioxide as the Arrhenius theory requires. The total warming for the entire twentieth century was 0.8 degrees Celsius according to Hansen. There were two warming periods during this century. The first one started in 1910, raised global temperature by 0.5 degrees, and stopped in 1940. The second one started in 1999, raised global temperature by a third of a degree Celsius in only three years, and then stopped. Between them they account for all of the centennial 0.8 degree Celsius warming. But is it greenhouse warming or not? To find out, we must apply radiation laws of physics. If you want to start a greenhouse warming you must simultaneously increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is necessary because the absorbance of the gas in IR is a property of its molecules and cannot be changed. Fortunately we have the Keeling curve and its extension by Law Dome ice cores to help us decide. Checking the state of atmospheric CO2 in 1910 and in 1999, the starting years of twentieth century warming, we find the carbon dioxide curve to be absolutely smooth, no sign of any increase at all. Hence, it follows that there was no greenhouse warming during the entire twentieth century. The entire IPCC enterprize has been lieing to us for all these years and they are still trying to claim warming despite well-documented lack of warming for 17 years. That is actually two-thirds of the time that IPCC has been in existence.It was established in 1988, on the strength of Hansen’s presentation to the Senate that greenhouse warming exists. Is it possible that he actually discovered greenhouse warming despite its demonstrated absence in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? I think not. I think he made a mistake and exaggerated inadequate and poorly documented data out of all proportion to make his case. Let us send the concept of greenhouse warming into retirement, defund IPCC that has been spending huge sums to find it, and invalidate laws passed with the help of this pseudo-science of global warming.

    • References for abpve
      [1] Ferenc M. Miskolczi, “Greenhouse effect in semi-transparent planetary atmospheres” Quarterly Journal of Hungarian Meteorological Service 111(1):1-40 (January-March 2007).
      [2] Ferenc M. Miskolczi, “The stable stationary value of the Earth’s global average atmospheric greenhouse-gas optical thickness” E&E 21(4):243-262 (2010)
      [3] Arno Arrak, What Warming? Satellite view of global temperature change
      (CreateSpace 2010) pp. 48-49

    • … a transmittance of 15 percent, … is correct

    • Arno,

      It is most reassuring that you have been able to acknowledge not having enough expertise to provide proof positive that string theory and cold fusion could be wrong. You can safely add climate science to that list of topics about which you continue to remain clueless.

      Anyone reciting the screwy Ferenc Miskolczi theory of greenhouse gases, or believing that the global atmospheric IR optical thickness is somehow being made to converge to the “Miskolczi constant” of 1.87, has to be hopelessly clueless as to how the real climate system works.

      I have recently had reason to examine Ferenc Miskolczi’s published papers, and, unfortunately, they have turned out to be – as they say in Texas – all crap, no gist.

      Curiously, Miskolczi seems able to calculate line-by-line spectra with his HARTCODE model, but is somehow unable to comprehend the very basic physics of how the greenhouse effect and radiative energy balance operate in the Earth’s atmosphere. The root cause of this problem appears to be an erroneous misperception that the ground surface and the atmosphere are in thermodynamic equilibrium, and that all this is the result of Kirchhoff’s law.

      What is remarkable is that Miskolczi’s papers actually have gotten published. It seems that the first step to publication of such papers is to select a Journal with no effective peer-review system, such as E&E and the Quarterly Journal of Hungarian Meteorological Service, or to write a book that requires no review at all.

      In his E&E paper, Miskolczi acknowledges the “careful work” of the three referees. Apparently, it only takes the coordinated effort of a clueless and incompetent understanding of radiative transfer modeling on the part of one author, three referees, and an editor at E&E, for Miskolczi’s E&E paper to get published.

    • Dr. Lacis, the close co-worker of Dr. Hansen I presume. I note that in your response to me you have chosen to confine your remarks to the work of Dr. Miskolczi. Please note that the optical thickness is a measurable quantity and if you wish to criticize it you must submit your own measurements. May I take the liberty of assuming now that you go along with the rest of my comment? As far as Mkskolczi is concerned, his work is the only theory that can explain the “hiatus” of warming we have had for the last 17 years. I presume that if you did have an explanation of your own you would have brought it out. Hence, to your regret, you have to admit that you do not understand the hiatus and are not likely to find an alternative to Miskolczi. And here is a hint: the missing heat is not in the ocean bottom. In the rest of my comment I showed that there can be no greenhouse warming because all warming on record is natural warming thanks to radiation laws of physics. Having no greenhouse warming goes of course against the IPCC doctrine they have been pushing for the last 25 years. Existence of greenhouse warming is the only reason for having the IPCC in the first place. Now that it is clear that it does not exist it is time to defund all activities involved in searching for it. This means closing down IPCC and turning off the spigot of funds GISS gets for that boondoggle. As you well know your boss Dr. Hansen is supposed to have started the entire greenhouse warming movement with his presentation to the Senate on June 23rd 1988. Satellite data show nothing but an ENSO oscillation lasting 18 years in the eighties and nineties. The year 1988 falls in the middle of this period. Your boss showed a rising temperature curve that peaked in May 1988 and was “the warmest point within the last 100 years.” There was only a “1 percent chance” that it could have happened by pure chance alone. Hence, his opinion was that the greenhouse effect had been detected. But was it? As I pointed out in my comment, a fake warming appeared later in the eighties and nineties. As I said in the comment, he just exaggerated inadequate and poorly documented data to make his case. It is not likely that he knew anything about ENSO at that time which makes it very likely that his warm peak is nothing more exotic than an El Nino peak he mistook for global warming and thereby started the global warming craze. Why else would he want to hide the real temperature of the eighties and nineties?

  112. Among the ideas that are ready for retirement is IPCC-style “evaluation” of a climate model. IPCC authors use this term in evading the unpalatable fact the none of the IPCC climate models are statistically validated.

  113. تجميل وزراعة وتقويم الاسنان,تجميل الاسنان,تبييض الاسنان,تقويم
    الاسنان,زراعة الاسنان,تركيبات الاسنان,جراحة الفكين,الخلع الجراحي,
    عدسات الاسنان,متخصصين واستشاريين,

  114. Re A Lacis, 2/12/04 @ 12:16 am

    To be specific about Miskolczi’s analysis, he uses a different definition of the greenhouse effect than that which he criticizes from IPCC. In his analysis, he does not perceive thermodynamic equilibrium as charged, but instead assumes it explicitly. Miskolczi (Jan. 2007), p. 3. Nor does he derive thermodynamic equilibrium from Krichhoff’s law, but instead uses t.e. to apply Kirchhoff’s law. Id., p. 5.

    Miskolczi calculates a theoretical greenhouse effect from radiative calculations, compares his result to satellite data, and concludes

    >>the local greenhouse effect does not follow the theoretical curve predicted by the radiative equilibrium, instead, it is controlled by thermodynamic and transport processes.” Miskolczi (2004), p. 239.

    He calculates a temperature difference between the surface and an effective temperature for Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR), and determines that OLR is related not so much by radiative equilibrium, but instead some unknown “control of the column water amount”. Miskolczi (2004) p. 246.

    He says,

    >>The role of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere is very complex and is probably controlled by two major processes: the greenhouse effect and the redistribution of the system’s heat energy by general circulation. … Obviously, the general circulation models (GCMs) are the adequate tools to predict those details.” Miskolczi 2004, p. 242.

    He amplifies this conclusion in one of his abstracts:

    >>The theoretically predicted greenhouse effect in the clear atmosphere is in perfect agreement with simulation results and measurements. Miskolczi 2004, p. 209.

    Perfection? In science? Agreement between measurements and a model that is missing both clouds and an essential water vapor feedback? His model is no better than the GCMs because they suffer the same faults. Measurements are necessarily closed-loop but neither Miskolczi’s nor IPCC’s model is, at least with respect to the dominant loop. Therein lies the “root cause” in both. It is what causes IPCC to say,

    >>The RF from CO2 and that from the other LLGHGs have a high level of scientific understanding. Note that the uncertainty in RF is almost entirely due to RADIATIVE TRANSFER assumptions and not mixing ratio estimates, therefore trends in RF can be more accurately determined than the absolute RF. Citation deleted, caps added, AR4, ¶2.3.1 Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, p. 140.


    >>The radiative forcings by long-lived greenhouse gases computed with the RADIATIVE TRANSFER codes in twenty of the AOGCMs used in the Fourth Assessment Report have been compared against results from benchmark line-by-line (LBL) models. The mean AOGCM forcing over the period 1860 to 2000 agrees with the mean LBL value to within 0.1 W m–2 at the tropopause. However, there is a range of 25% in longwave forcing due to doubling atmospheric CO2 from its concentration in 1860 across the ensemble of AOGCM codes. There is a 47% relative range in longwave forcing in 2100 contributed by all greenhouse gases in the A1B scenario across the ensemble of AOGCM simulations. These results imply that the ranges in climate sensitivity and climate response from models discussed in this chapter may be due in part to differences in the formulation and treatment of radiative processes among the AOGCMs. Caps added,AR4, Ch. 10 Executive Summary, p. 751.

    Why worry about Miskolczi’s choice of the HARTCODE calculator when the GCM’s don’t agree among themselves, and when their radiative transfer calculation is the largest source of error? A root cause problem with radiative transfer is not its precision, but its accuracy. The choice of atmospheric model that will yield the global average OCR is but a guess.

    When Miskolczi’s model fails, he speculates, “Apparently in the FIR [far infrared] region there is a kind of spectral compensation in effect which prevents the FIR OLR to dramatically respond to the poleward temperature decrease.” Miskolczi 2004, p. 249. Saving his readers from trying to parse this sentence, he revisits the matter three years later, saying:

    >>[I]t is difficult to imagine any water vapor feedback mechanism to operate on global scale. Miskolczi 2007, p. 23.

    >>On global scale, however, there cannot be any direct water vapor feedback mechanism, working against the total energy balance requirement of the system. Id., p. 35.

    The energy balance requirement is an assumption, not a law of physics. And of course, that water vapor feedback exists. The GCMs use the Clausius-Clapeyron Equation to add water vapor due to warming, and then use the added humidity to increase the greenhouse effect. Those models, however, fail to increase cloud cover, so the largest feedback in all of climate, dynamic cloud albedo, is missing from the GCMs.

    For more discussion and criticism of Miskolczi’s work, search for him by name in my blog. However, I never thought to include a criticism of the horse he rode in on – Energy & Environment.

    AR4 references over 6200 journal articles and books, including over 900 duplications. The journals and book publishers number about 510. The top three journals are Geophysical Research Letters (829 cites), Journal of Geophysical Research (812), and the Journal of Climate (792). A leading candidate for the most important work is Kiehl & Trenberth (1997), one of 95 papers cited by IPCC from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 11th on the list. It contains a balanced radiation budget which the GCMs convert to an equilibrium model.

    By contrast, IPCC cited only two papers, an original plus an update, authored by McIntyre and McKitrick and published in Energy & Environment. This combined work is a candidate for the most sensational, peer-reviewed publication on climate, and is major coup for E&E and its editor, Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen. RealClimate, an online house organ for the AGW movement, claimed that the update was rejected by Nature (333 cites). Rejected in part, perhaps, but the joint paper is only rivaled in importance by the anonymous whistle blower who made public the emails at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. Dr. Michael Mann and his infamous Hockey Stick reduction feature prominently in these revelations into the inner workings of IPCC scientists.

    In those emails, Drs. Mann and Jones at CRU show their culpability in manipulating the peer review process in defense of AGW. Peer-review has become a bastion for protection of academic dogma, but it guarantees nothing but conformity as far as science is concerned. By relaxing that gate-keeping function, E&E shined a light on IPCC’s naiveté.

    Miskolski, like the IPCC climatologists before him, crash on the science from time to time. But more can be learned from studying Miskolski than from any of the thousands of conforming papers expressly because it comes from E&E. The chances of finding a germ of an idea are inversely proportional to the scrutiny of peer review.

  115. Pingback: What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement? Hypothesis Tests | William M. Briggs

  116. Retire:
    1. Post Normal Science
    2. Precautionary Principle

    Add: Transparency where Science intersects Public Policy
    1. No Paywalls
    2. Standards
    — a. Show your Work
    — b. Show your Data
    — c. Show your Methods
    3. Full documentation of models, not hidden behind paywalls
    — a. Requirements
    — b. Specifications
    — c. Code
    — d. Data Definitions (files/databases, records/tables, keys, attributes/fields, validations)
    — e. User Procedures